The Most Important Thing I Learned in 2011 (And After Losing 145 Pounds)
Wednesday, January 04, 2012
About three months ago, a trainer at my local gym with whom I’ve had nothing more than casual, friendly contact stopped me and said, “Hey, I had NO IDEA you’d lost so much weight. I can’t even picture that. Would you be willing to bring in a picture sometime?”
I’m usually a little thrown off by other people’s curiosity, though the details of that could fill another (or several) blog(s). In this particular instance, it jarred me from my current reality as a healthy person at a “normal” weight and pulled me back into a different reality that I now have the luxury of occasionally forgetting: I used to weigh 140 pounds more than I weigh today.
While I told her I’d be happy to bring in a picture, it took me a little over a month to make good on that promise. When I finally brought in a picture (or pictures, rather), she, like many people, asked me a lot of questions—questions about what I’d done, how I’d done it, how much better I must feel, etc. She also asked me a question I hadn’t been asked before:
“What’s been the hardest part of all of this?”
I answered her without much pause. “Actually, the past six months.”
“Really.” Her response was more a statement than a question, though the surprise and/or confusion in her voice were clear. And let me tell you, I was just as surprised at my answer as she was. Well, at the time.
Thinking about it now, my candid response was honest and accurate. By far, the past six months have been the hardest part of this journey.
Let me back up and paint a slightly fuller picture. I began making the changes that would precipitate my weight loss in the summer of 2009 when I weighed just about 280 pounds. The path was not always linear and not always smooth, but I stuck to it and reached the upper limits of a “healthy” weight—and my initial weight loss goal—in November of 2010, weighing 165 pounds. Between that date and sometime around August, I managed to shed another 25ish pounds. And since then, I’ve fluctuated between that spot and about 6 pounds less, depending on the quality of my workouts, my diet, etc. I’ve also had more binges in the past six months than I did in the 18 prior.
Now don’t get me wrong: getting started was hard. It took me years of trying and not reaching my goal before I got real, found the things I needed to deal with in order to succeed, and made the changes in my life necessary to facilitate my goals. No part of that process was easy. It meant a lot of hard work, a lot of emotionally hard work, a lot of sweat (literally), a lot of struggle around food and food-related events (what ISN’T a food-related event?)—and it meant a lot of loss: loss of relationships, money, comfort, security, much of which I’m still grappling with and grieving.
But here’s the thing that made the past six months the hardest part, a time pock-marked with binges and feelings of being entirely out of control—AND probably the most important lesson that has come out of 2011 for me. Are you sitting down? Are you ready for it? When I lost weight, I wasn’t instantly happy and my problems didn’t immediately go away. And you know what else? My relationships weren’t immediately neat, tidy, healthy, and fulfilling either.
I’d heard other people, people who’d successfully lost weight, say the same thing, and I thought it was a load of hooey. THEY were screwed up. I just had a weight problem. Right? I said, RIGHT?
I worked with a therapist and a support group through my weight loss—and I enlisted the help of those in my life who seemed safe or able to offer support. The work I did in those spaces was not typically easy, though I believe that work really preceded or precipitated the weight loss. What I didn’t realize is that so long as I had the “project” of weight loss to focus on, so long as I held myself in the process of becoming something or someone else, I had a great distraction at my disposal anytime I wanted to call on it. When the internal “project” became too scary or threatening, I could (and did) turn my attention to the Weight Loss Project (WLP). When it came time to confront or, heck, just FEEL something that needed to be confronted or felt from my past, I could feel it just a little bit, then disappear into some drama in the WLP. Need to deal with the anger I’m still swallowing from that abusive relationship in the past? Okay, let me dip a toe in that, and then WOAAAH, hold up, look at this weight-related drama over here that I clearly need to focus on!
I know from experience that not everyone who has a weight problem or who binges (I mean really binges) on food necessarily has skeletons in their closets, things in their past that need healing. But it’s been my experience that the majority of us do, even if we may not see the skeletons on our first (or second or third) proverbial “closet inventory.” Heck, those guys are just skinny little sacks of bones, easy to overlook! I, for one, am currently drudging skeletons up out of CLOSETS I didn’t even know existed. I’m grateful I started doing this work, even if it wasn’t perfect or un-interfered with, years ago, when I was heavy and first starting out. And I’m infinitely humbled to find that after having lost all the weight I intended to lose plus 25-30 pounds more, I still have a lot more skeleton tackling ahead of me. A lot more.
When I was heavy, I used to see weight loss as a panacea. I believed that if I could JUST reach X weight, I’d be a happy person, I’d respect and love myself, and I’d believe myself deserving of living a good life with fulfilling, healthy relationships, career, etc. I believed this in my bones, despite hearing from others who’d walked the walk that it’s not. Of course, I was the exception. The simple—and valuable—truth I learned in 2011 is that peace, self-love, healthy relationships, and all other “right” feelings do not come from reaching a body weight or achieving a goal. They are feelings that take work and practice to achieve. And that work and practice should start as soon as we recognize the need and desire for them, not asked to wait for “someday when I am fill-in-the-blank.” The true irony is that often, that very work we’re putting off—of confronting whatever needs confronting—we put off either because we believe we don’t NEED to do it, or because we believe we will do when we’ve lost X pounds—when that very work is what allows us, after years of struggle, to finally release weight in a healthy and lasting way.
And for me, I’m discovering that just as that work shouldn’t be made to wait until fill-in-the-blank, I cannot expect that it will end just because my weight loss goals are met. In fact, this has been when my hardest work has begun—when there’s no WLP to distract me (though I’m good at trying to create one, thus the increase in binges in the past six months!).
What I wish all those people who warned that “losing weight doesn’t solve all your problems” had told me? Every bit of work you do to “solve your problems,” whatever they may be—and at whatever size you are—is absolutely worth every bit of possible struggle along the way. It’s a beautiful gift—even if you only catch a glimpse at first—to feel like you deserve peace, contentment, and love.