''How I Found My Inner Spark''

I will never forget my first New England winter. Despite stories of the relentless snow storms and unbearably icy winds, it came to represent an unforgettable time in my life. Not the most confident person then, I was surprised to find an inner strength I felt I had been waiting my whole life to discover and had unexpectedly found.

I stumbled out of bed on a cold November morning and fought off drowsiness with a cup of black coffee and the morning forecast. Inspired by a prediction of a two-foot snow storm, I rummaged through the hall closet in search of a coat. Another casualty of other moving days, I realized my winter coat had joined the ranks of other sentimental, lost things like a ring left behind in D.C.; my rollerblades forgotten in Kansas City; and my 11x14 framed photographs in Philadelphia. Luckily, this particular possession was less sentimental and more easily replaced than the others.

Still unfamiliar with the area, I chose the department store closest to my apartment. I was never picky about clothes. So long as it fit, wasn't utterly ridiculous, and on sale (my mother always told me to never to pay full price), I would take what was available at a reasonable cost. With the storm coming, I had little time to waste. Mid afternoon on a weekday, the store was nearly empty. It was my favorite setting in which to shop. In crowded places, my imagination assured me that everyone's eyes were silently fixed upon my most obvious imperfection. My size. Draping several discounted XL's over my arm, I claimed the narrow fitting room furthest from the door. After a deep breath, I slipped my arms into the sleeves of the first coat, black pea coat with a faux fur collar. I felt the fabric pull tight across my back. Gripping the front panels, I struggled to fasten the middle button. Convinced that the size tag was mislabeled, I moved on to the second candidate. Ten minutes later, I sat defeated. Staring down at a heap of polyester-wool blends, I realized how much my body had really changed.

Memories of back-to-school shopping with my mother surged into my mind. I was fourteen years old and unpleasantly pudgy. I imagined that most mothers and daughters look back on such times endearingly. I remember sitting in the car on the drive home. Arms folded. Head down. A shopping bag full of resentment on my lap, probably headed straight for the back of my closet. “This wouldn't be so difficult if you weren't fat,” she said nonchalantly. Her words stung more than the tears I quickly turned my head to hide. I didn't know it then, but those words would stay with me forever, always creeping to the forefront of my mind in uncomfortable situations. And even sometimes when I thought I had perhaps become more content than was deserved.

Was the devastating hurt congruent to the truth behind her words? Had I robbed my mother of a fond experience fit for a more attractive daughter? A single tear slipped from the corner of my eye and coaxed me back to reality. Organizing the jumble of ill-fitting outerwear, I returned them to their respective racks and rushed back out. I surveyed the neon signs lining the modest plaza, looking for a suitable distraction from my dilemma. My eyes came to rest on a bright orange marquee above a fitness center. “This month only – Membership sale – $19.99 a month.” I absentmindedly watched the words scroll by several times before skittishly stepping into the spacious lobby.

The clanking of metal and the echoes of swift footfalls greeted me as I stood wringing my hands nervously, shifting my gaze from side to side. I felt painfully out of place in my faded jeans and dumpy sweatshirt as I forced myself up to the counter. Caught off guard by the bubbly greeting that fiercely contrasted my glum disposition, I struggled through several long, speechless seconds before expressing my interest in the offered tour. It was just a formality, as I had already made up my mind to sign the two-year contract, no matter what the strain on my already scant budget. I needed to do this.

I don't know where I found strength that day—perhaps in the desperation of my circumstances. Room was made inside me for something new when I suspended my pride and admitted to having a problem. Hope? Bravery? Ambition? Perhaps my bridled pride now allowed space for all three. That night I sat with my laptop next to an open window, absorbing the chilling air and the lyrics of Depeche Mode's “But Not Tonight” emanating from my headphones. A favorite of mine for years, the song suddenly made more sense than it ever had before.

“The moon
Is shining in the sky
Reminding me
Of so many other nights
When my eyes have been so red
I've been mistaken for dead
But not tonight”

I started my day three or four times a week with a sixty-minute workout. It became as much a part of my day as waking or sleeping. I loomed over my laptop every night, reading anything and everything about nutrition and the human body. Frequenting SparkPeople's weight loss forums, I found myself offering advice to others and effortlessly answering their questions. It consumed me, and it became my passion. My mornings at the gym were the only time in my day that was one hundred percent devoted to me. I did not seek a gym partner. I did not join a weight loss group. Despite the difficulty, it was important to me that I did it alone. I needed proof of my sustainability. I needed to know that it was forever. And that it was for me.

I was awakened by a frigid breeze one recent September morning. It's already getting cold again. I stumbled sleepily into the bathroom and tossed my night clothes into a basket as I peeled them off. Taking a deep breath, I stepped onto my scale and blinked sleepily down at the digital display. Smiling to myself, I recited the number over and over in my mind. I had lost sixty-five pounds in ten months. After spending most of my childhood and all of my adulthood on various diets, it didn't seem entirely real. What was different this time?

My newfound strength, drawn from coats that would not fit, has helped me in countless other aspects in my life. For the first time I feel very comfortable with who I am and with what I will never be. I'll go shopping for a new winter coat today…and an expensive pair of size twelve jeans. I will feel the eyes of others watching me. And I will watch back.

Thanks to Spark People for helping me along the way.

Editor's Note: SparkPeople would like to thank Lauren (LAURUMZ) for sharing her inspirational story with our members! You can follow along with Lauren's progress by visiting her SparkPage or subscribing to her blog.