So this whole weight loss thing? Turns out it’s really hard. Humbling, eat-my-words hard.
In case you’re new to the party, I put on twenty pounds after getting married last fall, at which point I was already fifteen from my preferred weight. And if you slept through elementary school math, that means I recently found myself a solid thirty-five pounds overweight. Ouch.
I’ve never really had to lose weight before. This is not to say I’ve been some perfect skinny-mini my whole life. I’ve struggled with my weight over the years, like ya do, and I have a history of deep-seated body image issues. I’ve always been curvy and have probably felt truly okay with my body only twice in my life. Even at my worst, though, I was usually a mere five to ten pounds away from my personal ideal (heck, even fifteen felt manageable). I’ve never had so far to go to get back to where I want to be.
And before anyone gets all concerned that I’m too focused on the scale, please understand that, as much as this is definitely about wanting to look better (let’s keep it real), it’s also just as much about wanting to be and feel healthier. And even as I talk about “weight loss”, I do know the importance of muscle as it relates to metabolism and that it weighs more than fat, and I am keeping that in mind as I work toward being healthier. But I’ve also got to be honest with myself, and I know that my current poundage is not the healthy kind.
On paper I appear quite healthy, and, for the moment, I’m sure I mostly am. My bloodwork is awesome and my blood pressure is eye-wideningly low, but that doesn’t give me a license to pack on extra weight. Numbers can change, and even a few pounds of excess fat can have longer-term implications. Plus, I’ve learned that once you’ve put on a few, a few more doesn’t seem that bad, and then a couple more is kind of like whatever, and then all of a sudden you’re somewhere that you never thought you’d be. It’ll only be more difficult to get ahead of it as the years go on.
And I have to admit that the “difficulty” of it all is something I took for granted. I have always preached that weight loss is difficult, that it takes time and effort, that it’s the result of a combination of eating mindfully and engaging in physical activity. It doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve known and believed all of these things for years. Living them—though they’re still every bit as true—is a different beast.
During the past month I’ve been making an effort to eat better for my body and to be active in ways that make me feel challenged and fulfilled. I’m taking care of myself, taking control of my health, and the weight is starting to come off.
Reading that last paragraph back to myself, it sounds like such a simple, pleasant endeavor. So easy. It’s what everyone tries to sell: just do it and you’ll see results! In the past I believed that it was all as plain as making a decision to be healthier and acting on it, and I’ve beaten myself up over the past year for not making that change or for trying and falling off a few week in. Because, on a very superficial level, it is about making that choice. Of course, there is more to it—and just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.
First, it has taken me a while to internalize (rather than just intellectually understand) that this is a process that will take time. You hear it, you know it, but it’s a different thing to live it. When confronted for the first time with the kind of weight that takes months to lose healthily, some naïve, impatient part of me came alive with expectations that it would happen quickly and miraculously.
I think part of the issue is that many people in my life, who I don’t necessarily interact with on a frequent basis, have lost weight recently. It’s surreal when you haven’t seen someone in a while and, out of the clear blue, their waist is smaller and their jawline is more defined. It seems like it happened overnight and it’s hard not to expect the same of yourself. What I’ve had to keep reminding myself, even when the voice of unrealistic expectation is criticizing from within, is that it took them time, time that I didn’t have to experience. It is going to take me time to get there too.
Another part of the issue is that I have a really hard time giving myself credit. This is a chronic problem in my life, whether it has to do with something I’ve cooked, a photograph I’ve taken, a drawing that I made—basically any accomplishment. I constantly tear myself to pieces and focus on all the reasons why whatever I’ve done isn’t good enough instead of letting it be worthwhile. And any time I started to lose weight over the past year, I turned down that same path. My self-critic convinced me that the weight loss wouldn’t actually begin until the twenty pounds I gained since the wedding were gone. Those twenty didn’t really count, after all. They were just something that I had to suffer through to get to the real starting point, punishment for allowing myself to get this far. As a result, every pound lost felt like failure.
What the hell, self-critic?
Between those bizarre, unrealistic longings for it to happen overnight and never allowing myself to mark progress when it happened, how could I ever hope to succeed?
I also encountered the problems that arise from watching one’s weight minute to minute instead of focusing on the overall trend. After losing a few initial pounds and feeling pretty awesome, I stepped on the scale one morning to find that a couple had suddenly reappeared overnight. A rational person would have chalked it up to water weight, realizing that it would be gone again in a day or two. But since this process has a way of making one (okay, me) irrational, I stepped off the scale feeling a profound sense of failure and thought, I hate myself. After which I immediately thought, Wait, that’s not good.
I realized that I was giving those daily fluctuations too much power, letting them dictate my opinion of myself as well as my mood for the day. It’s the kind of thing that, in the past, would have totally derailed me. Ughh, see? I can’t win. Imma go git me some cake…. Of course, I know how easily weight can fluctuate—especially being female—and that weight loss looks more like a craggy, downward-sloping mountain range than a slide. Still, it was another one of those tough moments where I had to face that getting in shape isn’t just an end goal, it’s a journey.
Why am I sharing all of this? Because nobody ever told me that weight loss can feel like self-doubt and failure, even when it’s going well. Nobody says, “I lost 20 pounds in 10 weeks! …and it was effing hard, ten weeks felt like forever, my weight fluctuated, there were times that I honestly thought I would never reach my goals, and it’s only because I pushed through all that crap that I’m here.” Once you’ve made real progress and start to find your groove, and especially once you’re there, it can be easy to forget that there were times when it didn’t feel so great. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who walks away from glowing success stories under the occasional cloud of dubious envy, and I want to put this out there before it starts looking like sunshine and roses in my yard too.
So, with that, I’ve condensed a few of the steps I’ve taken and realizations I’ve had on my journey toward a better body and better health. They’re not revolutionary, but maybe they’ll help you on yours.
1. Weight loss is hard. No, like seriously. It’s really not easy–especially at first. At times you may want or even expect it to happen faster than it can. It won’t. You will probably have setbacks. That’s okay. Have your setback and keep going. If you’re committed to it, it will continue to happen.
2. Find a healthy way of eating that you connect with and enjoy (Paleo, vegan, portion control, whatever) and be honest with yourself; keep a food journal. Let yourself be imperfect when you need to be—in fact, set the expectation that imperfection will happen—and know that just because you ate that giant bowl of mac and cheese tonight, it doesn’t make you a failure and doesn’t mean you can’t go right back to eating the way that makes you feel best tomorrow.
3. Find some sort of exercise that makes you feel good. Know that, if you’re out of shape, it may not feel so good at first. Be where you are. If you’re weak, you will get stronger. If you’re tight, you will become more flexible. It will take time and you will probably tell yourself, “I am never going to be able to do this,” at some point. It’s not true. You will, and it will feel amazing when it happens. And don’t try to skip out on this—being physically active is important, not only for your body but also for your mind.
4. Look at the overall trend. If possible, don’t step on the scale every day. I know that I personally cannot resist weighing myself each morning. So I made an agreement with myself that, if I continue to do so, I cannot let it affect me day to day. To track how I’m doing, I record my weight in my food journal every Monday and, if I want to check on my progress, I compare my weight week to week. This gives me a clearer idea of the direction in which I’m moving without placing emphasis on the perfectly natural ups and downs along the way.
5. Celebrate the small victories. Whether you have five, thirty-five, or one hundred and five pounds to lose, allow yourself the accomplishments as they come. Maybe that accomplishment is a single pound, maybe it’s that you went to the gym today, or chose to have fruit for dessert. Set attainable mini-goals if that helps. Success doesn’t suddenly manifest when you reach your final goal; it lives in the steps that you take and the progress you make along the way.