My Weight Loss Story: Taking the Long, Bumpy Road Home

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/26/2010 8:24 AM   :  209 comments   :  26,914 Views

Saturday was my second Spark-versary. I technically joined the site before I was hired, but I really didn't have time or energy to spend much time on the site.

The woman I was on April 24, 2008, seems wholly unrecognizable now.

Two years ago, I was stressed and exhausted. Moments of happiness were fleeting, and the real me struggled to emerge. I knew what I wanted, but I was having trouble reaching it.

Today, I'm a yoga teacher. I'm running my first half marathon in two weeks. I am well-rested, I like getting out of bed in the morning, and I like coming to work. I have a new home, a wonderful boyfriend, and the world's best cat.

At 28, I am healthier and happier than ever. For the first time, I am content with my body. I accept my flaws, love myself and focus on the positive. Today I feel strong, strong enough to share my own story about weight loss. (It's long, so bear with me.)

After graduating college in 2003, I gained 40 pounds. In 2005, while living in South Korea, I lost it. Though I was "overweight" for less than two years, my issues with weight and food date back 16 years.

It's hard to remember exactly what triggered it, but the summer before I started junior high I fell into a decade-long struggle with eating disorders. I was 12 years old, 5' 7" and 120 pounds. I wore women's clothes while all of my friends were still in girls sizes. I was flat as a board and quite thin, but I felt gigantic and out of place. On top of that, I was transferring schools, had just moved in with my dad and stepmom and was dealing with my mom's second divorce. Life sucked--and it was spiraling out of control.

I started by skipping breakfast, then lunch. I stood up in choir class one morning and the world went black. I didn't pass out, but I got scared. I hadn't eaten in three days.

By that summer I was subsisting on saltines and jam, and fat-free yogurt. I baby-sat all day, so my parents didn't know that I counted calories religiously and never ventured above 500 before 5 o'clock. I ate dinner in my room and flushed most of it.

The week that eighth grade started, my weight was 98 pounds--and I was 5' 8" by then. I had dropped to a size 1--that was before stores carried size 0. My parents confronted me, and instead of starting school with the rest of my class, I spent a week in the hospital.

My willpower was broken, and though I never dropped that low again, I continued to hate my body. To me, thin meant pretty. I was a smart girl in a small town, and I felt like an alien. I was tall, flat-chested and pale with black hair. I couldn't be blonde or tan, but I could be skinny, which I thought would make people like me more. I was a giant ball of emotions, and the only way I knew to control them was to control my food. I judged myself constantly, comparing my weight and clothing size to every other girl I saw.

By 10th grade, I weighed 120 pounds, still underweight for my height. I starved myself all day--for four years my lunch was a handful of pretzels and a blueberry cereal bar--then binged when I came home from school. Soon, I started throwing up, and I lost 10 pounds. My parents found out and I stopped for awhile, but for another 10 years, I made myself throw up when I was stressed or felt fat.

When I graduated from high school, I weighed 125 pounds. At college, I finally felt free to be myself. Away from the small town that stifled me, I ate freely. Beer, pizza and dining hall food packed on the freshmen 15, but for about two years I didn't care about my weight. I was too busy living. For the first time in years, my thoughts weren't consumed by food and weight.

I had another battle with anorexia my senior year of college, when the stress of my future became too much to handle. I lost 15 pounds but gained it back throughout the year. My weight stayed stable until my first post-college job.

I worked nights at a large daily newspaper, and the only time I really socialized was after midnight when my co-workers went out for drinks. A cocktail (or three) and deep-fried bar food, fast food and takeout piled on the pounds. I joined a gym, but working out just made me want to eat more. I added expensive twice-monthly Pilates reformer classes, but it wasn't enough. I was eating (and socially drinking) to fill a void. At 183 pounds and 5' 10", I was unhappy.

I worked nights and weekends, I was dating a guy that no one in my life liked, and I didn't do much besides go to work and go out.

I was, in short, a hot mess. I was that girl--the girl who cried too much, dragged her emotional baggage out at inappropriate times and turned to food for comfort. I took too many risks and wasn't very responsible.

So I made the decision, at 23, to flee my life.

I gave notice, started studying Korean, dumped my boyfriend, and moved to Seoul to teach English. While I still wasn't in the best place emotionally, I did make some significant changes to improve my life.

I envisioned a new life, one that started with a major goal: to lose the 40 pounds I had gained.

With no car, I walked to the supermarket and carry my groceries home, sometimes up 15 flights of stairs (the elevator in my building was often out of order). Because my Korean wasn't very good, I couldn't read menus or labels very well at first, so I was forced to cook, something I had always loved. Eventually, as my literacy improved, I was able to branch out. By then, I had adopted a Korean style of eating: plenty of vegetables, a bit of meat and rice, and flavorful, low-fat condiments--and very few sweets.

I was on my feet all day at school (we were reprimanded if we were caught sitting), and I was constantly on the move, exploring Seoul. I only worked about 30 hours a week at most, and with few responsibilities or commitments, I had plenty of free time.

I started walking the two miles home instead of taking the bus. My friends and I spent all day Saturday wandering the city. I even climbed a small mountain. (Suraksan, which was within walking distance of my apartment.)

I joined a gym and spent two hours a night there: A half-hour of cardio, then either weights or a Pilates/stretching class (taught in Korean!) and a few minutes in the steam shower. As the only wae-guk saram (foreigner) at my gym, I drew some stares at first. I was taller and much bigger than most Korean women.

It would be a few more years before I really found peace in my life, but that year in Korea was pivotal. I learned how strong--and weak--I really was. I didn't see my family for an entire year. I made new friends from all over the world. I convinced my childhood best friend to move to Korea. I navigated a city of 10 million people, learned to read, write and speak a new language, and I fell on my face both literally and figuratively. I fell in love, had my heart broken, and mended fences with my sister, who is now one of my closest friends. I paid off debt, traveled to six countries and took the long way home with a two-month trip through Europe.

I wasn't perfect, and I probably made more mistakes in that one year than I have during the other 27 years of my life. Still, I have no regrets.

I returned home, and all my new-found confidence evaporated.

The school I had worked for had been stealing money from its employees. The month's wages of severance pay (standard in Korea) wasn't waiting on me as it was supposed to be. The money I was going to use to get me through the summer--before I headed off for another year in Korea--wasn't there. My parents were paying for my sister's wedding, so aside from a car and a place to live (very generous), they weren't able to help me. (I got the money six months later, after many emails and a few early-morning calls to the Korean department of immigration.)

After two months of living with my mom and stepdad in the small town I fled at 18, I decided to stay in the States and get a job. Eventually I landed in Cincinnati, a decision I now regard as fortuitous. I didn't want to be back in journalism, and I wanted to flee again. I was experiencing what I now know is called situational depression, or adjustment disorder. My family had no idea what to do with me. Neither did I. I was such a mess at my sister's wedding that her friends referred to me as Sister "Cray-Cray" (as in crazy) for years.

For about six months, I cried all the time, missed Korea desperately and generally had an awful time trying to adjust to my life. I felt trapped, and suddenly thought all the progress I'd made had evanesced. During that time, I clung to a healthy diet and exercise. I was eating better, working out and practicing yoga.

Eventually the black cloud lifted, I found my niche in Cincinnati, and I came to terms with my decision to stay. I learned to take responsibility, listen and think before speaking, and keep superfluous emotional outbursts to a minimum.

Today, I look back on my life, and I'm proud of who I am and who I was. I'm not proud of every decision, but they brought me here.

I am strong, inside and out. I am beautiful, inside and out. And I am happy.

I took the long road getting here, but every bump and sharp curve was worth it.

Thank you for reading.

Have you learned more from the good times in your life or the bad?

Photo: Me, in Philadelphia, practicing padmasana (lotus pose), a moment of peace on a cold winter's day.

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Comments

  • 159
    Thanks for the inspiration. We all need to remember that things can always get worse and we should be happy for the good we have in our lives! - 4/27/2010   3:06:59 PM
  • 158
    Wow Stepfanie, the stories we have to tell, simply amazing the things a person goes through! The strength and endurance you have gained has changed your life for the better! I have found spark almost two years ago and have changed my life because of it. I have learned so much, eating right, working out, the balance of living . I want to thank you for sharing your life. Some times it is very hard to open up about what triggered you to make changes. Thank you! - 4/27/2010   2:00:08 PM
  • 157
    Dear Stepfanie:
    Thanks so much for your story! How cool that you came through all this inner turmoil with so much gained - a new language, experience with new cultures and travel and a better plan for self-care. You didn't mention if you ever sought counseling at all; it could have helped you at the various stages where you were suffering so.

    Wishing the best to you! - 4/27/2010   1:50:18 PM
  • CHICKENGRRL
    156
    Love your story! Thanks for sharing. I'm soooo glad you ended up @sparkpeople.com. You rock!!! :) - 4/27/2010   1:16:38 PM
  • 155
    I recently came back from a job in a place of astonishing beauty, made some wonderful friends there and lived a healthy and rewarding two months. Now that I'm back home I'm suffering- I feel like I'm submerged in a Black Submarine and yes, you can call me Auntie Cray-Cray! Thanks for giving me hope that I, too, can feel the warmth and light of good health and a good life, too. - 4/27/2010   1:08:37 PM
  • 154
    Thanks for that story. I'm going through a rough phase in my life, but your story reminds me that we can get better help, in good times or bad, with effort. - 4/27/2010   1:05:38 PM
  • 153
    Good for you..alot of people will still be "wandering" - 4/27/2010   12:53:06 PM
  • 152
    I have had ups and downs, but have always tried to look at everything as a learning experience. I have learned patience, and long-suffering along with a sense of humor. I am who I am because of all the trials I have gotten through. Life is full of trrials. They can break you or make you. Thanks for sharing. - 4/27/2010   12:51:14 PM
  • FUNKYMONKEY302
    151
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I'm going through a bit of "situational depression" myself right now - 27 years old and living at home with my parents in a city I left at 18 and never thought I would reside in again. It's comforting to see someone on the other side of this mountain and know that you are happy with yourself and your life. Thanks again. - 4/27/2010   12:42:56 PM
  • 150
    Happiness rocks! Thanks so much for sharing your journey. =) - 4/27/2010   12:03:11 PM
  • 149
    Thank you for sharing your struggles and successes with us. Your story really moved me. I am just learning about myself now at age 61. I wish I had had your strength of character in my youth. - 4/27/2010   12:02:45 PM
  • 148
    What an incredible, inspirational story. Thank you for sharing :) - 4/27/2010   11:53:11 AM
  • 147
    Thank you for sharing your journey. May you always be happy! - 4/27/2010   11:52:57 AM
  • JAY75REY
    146
    I'm glad you found the path to contentment. Especially given the eating disorders. My daughter is about your age and still struggles with similar problems so I totally relate. Struggling with her eating disorder and related problems during her teens was one of the bad times that I suppose has made me "stronger" and wiser. From a mother's perspective, it's a nightmare knowing that your child has an eating disorder that could ultimately prove fatal and is a long-term situation. I don't pride myself in "being stronger" because of this; I feel more like a survivor. Peace. - 4/27/2010   11:44:01 AM
  • 145
    Thank you so much for this blog post.
    I too have struggled with an eating disorder and was a huge emotional mess for most of high school and half of college. I am currently in my first post-college job and relate to the feeling of being lost and using food and exercise as outlets for stress and a way to feel in control of my life.
    Sparkpeople has been a huge help to me, because it's reminded me to keep a healthy relationship with food and exercise (while going through a bad breakup, I would do 3 hours of cardio and eat less than 500 calories a day, or sometimes eat 0 calories).
    Now I eat (mostly healthy) foods and am working on exercising within reason. Yesterday I looked in the mirror and for the first time in a long time, was happy with the figure I saw looking back at me, even though in the past I would have been upset with the number on the scale .

    Thank you for giving me the hope and encouragement to keep up the positive thinking and HEALTHY habits! - 4/27/2010   11:24:55 AM
  • 144
    Wow Stepf I feel like I just learned so much about you lol. You have had a very interesting and adventerous life so far. I didn't know you used to live in Korea :) This was an amazing story and thank you for sharing. I'm so happy that you are living a happier life :) - 4/27/2010   11:09:34 AM
  • 143
    Thank you so very much for sharing your path with us. It is inspiring and reminds me that my life and health are in my hands. - 4/27/2010   11:07:20 AM
  • 142
    What a wonderful read. I'm happy for you that you found yourself. I fled to Australia a long time ago and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Sometimes I wish I could do it again, but I now realize that even though it was life-changing, it was still fleeing. I guess every decision we make, even the bad ones, can have a good outcome. Thank you for sharing. - 4/27/2010   11:00:23 AM
  • 141
    Great story of your journey thanks for sharing and you should be very proud of the person you are in spite of all the rough bumps. You are home and happy and that is what counts best wishes as you continue one day at a time. - 4/27/2010   10:51:03 AM
  • 140
    It's amazing what we learn from life's experiences, good or bad, happy or sad, we still learn. Great story Stephanie! Thank you for finally sharing what a lot of us go through every day. - 4/27/2010   10:44:26 AM
  • 139
    WOW! thanks for sharing your journey to a better place. I have come to a better place too. I don't regret but one part of my journey. The rest of my journey is a life learning lession with God by my side. Mine started in a rotten abusive childood and came to a bad dead marriage that will be over soon. God's gotten me to a better place. Thanks God. And I hope that your next adventure turns out so good. God Bless - 4/27/2010   10:33:19 AM
  • 138
    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. I connected with it in a lot of ways. - 4/27/2010   10:29:10 AM
  • 137
    Wow, what a fantastic, inspirational story! Thanks for sharing it! - 4/27/2010   10:07:34 AM
  • 136
    stepf,
    thanks for sharing my friend, what an amazing journey you have had. i am so glad you have found you way in life and that our paths have crossed. good luck at the flying pig, i think that will be on my to do list for next year. - 4/27/2010   10:04:05 AM
  • BRTREDVALLEY
    135
    What an inspiration! Thank you for sharing. - 4/27/2010   10:02:29 AM
  • 134
    What an ADVENTURE!! My mother told me when my father was sick: Do what you need to do so you don't have any regrets because you are the one left behind when he is gone. I try to live my life so that I have no regrets & you "hit the nail on the head" by saying that everything in your past brought you to where you are today. No regrets, just opportunities for improvement and change. Thank you for sharing! - 4/27/2010   9:56:34 AM
  • 133
    Stef-thanks so much for sharing your story. You are who you are today because of that. You are still so young but very wise. You are an amazing young woman and I am proud to say you are my friend! Anne - 4/27/2010   9:51:16 AM
  • 132
    What a great story! - 4/27/2010   9:32:11 AM
  • 131
    Kudos to you, you have touched my heart today - 4/27/2010   9:31:02 AM
  • 130
    I feel your past turmoil, the ups and downs, the hopelessness......it's amazing what putting a name to it can do, and great that you could turn it around! - 4/27/2010   8:56:31 AM
  • HANESN3
    129
    Thank you for sharing your story. At 40, I am still trying to find that centered place in my life. I know that it will happen as many others have overcome struggles to be in a better place. My time will come too. You are an inspiration to many. Thank you! - 4/27/2010   8:55:15 AM
  • JULIENPETERS
    128
    Thank you for your story, it was moving, and so much ran parallel to my own. You give me hope. - 4/27/2010   8:48:18 AM
  • 127
    Thank you for sharing! - 4/27/2010   8:32:55 AM
  • LAURA9021
    126
    Thanks for sharing your story - so glad you are healthy now and have overcome the eating disorders. Congratulations! - 4/27/2010   8:29:01 AM
  • 125
    Thank you so much for so openly and candidly sharing your story.. the good, the bad, and the ugly. You've been through a lot! I give you so much credit for moving to Korea and overcoming so many fears and obstacles!

    I'm so glad, though - that you're here now! I look forward to your insightful and informative articles and blogs. It's wonderful how much you're giving back to the world through your experience, and sharing so much is a true gift to us all.

    So happy that you're happy now, and finding a healthy mind set along with your healthy, vibrant body! Spirit is so important! And you're obviously shining brightly! - 4/27/2010   7:47:01 AM
  • 124
    Thanks for sharing your story, Stepfanie. You inspire so many people here. :) - 4/27/2010   7:35:30 AM
  • 123
    Bad decisions, difficult times lead to the best us possible. Struggles yield who we are now. If there were no darkness how would we recognize the light?

    You are 28. How great that you have learned all of this and have so much life to live! I am delighted for you. - 4/27/2010   7:31:51 AM
  • 122
    thank you for a very inspiring story - 4/27/2010   7:19:39 AM
  • 121
    Thank you for sharing this! - 4/27/2010   6:37:06 AM
  • TANIALEEM
    120
    You have come a long way and should be so proud of yourself! Beautiful story. An inspiration to others. I am still dealing with past issues also but do hope that someday I will be where u are now. Thank you for sharing your story:) - 4/27/2010   6:32:32 AM
  • 119
    Thank you for sharing your story, Stephanie, it will serve as a beacon for many, I am sure. - 4/27/2010   6:23:04 AM
  • 118
    Thank You- You give hope! - 4/27/2010   6:19:31 AM
  • 117
    Thankyou for posting your story. It was so interesting and inspiring to read. I've saved it to my Spark favourites. - 4/27/2010   3:59:40 AM
  • 116
    thank you for your story...i can relate to your life.. i had a bumpy road so far as well with an eating disorder!

    I know i can get there also - Sabrina - 4/27/2010   3:38:36 AM
  • NEFERKAI
    115
    It is both the good and the bad experiences and how we deal with them or not, that make us who we were yesterday, are today and will be tomorrow.

    Life is ever changing whilst we travel to our destinations. - 4/27/2010   3:25:46 AM
  • PHUNKY_FAERIE
    114
    Very nice story - 4/27/2010   3:23:02 AM
  • 113
    Most touching story I have ever read!! It ministered to me so much...thank YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING, YOU SAVED A SOUL!!! - 4/27/2010   2:45:21 AM
  • 112
    Am about twice your age and don't have anywhere near the peace with myself you do. There were times in my life when I wish I had had the nerve to do something like you did when you went to Korea. Remember one time when in between jobs - an aunt and uncle suggested opening a map, closing my eyes, moving my finger around and where ever it stopped, move there. Even though it had some appeal to me, my mother was not too keen on the idea so dropped the idea.

    Thank you for bringing up situational depression. Had never heard of this type of depression. Reading about it and some additional related information has given me some insightful information to discuss with my doctor.
    - 4/27/2010   2:19:02 AM
  • 111
    THANKS YOU FOR SHARING YOUR STORY. IT SPOKE TO MY HEART.
    CONGRATULATIONS FOR COMING TO TERMS WITH YOURSELF! I AM STILL WORKING ON THAT! - 4/27/2010   2:05:40 AM
  • PERKINSSISTERS
    110
    I've learned from both the good and the bad times. The best for me were when I was pregnant with each of my girls. The bad sometimes seem to stand out more for me because they seemed so awful and I didn't know how to get through it. I'm 48 and some days it seems so difficult to be in my own skin but there are many days lately that it seems to be easier than before. Many times for me it's just a matter of perspective and choosing how I want to feel. - 4/27/2010   1:53:48 AM

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