I’ve been sitting on this post for some time now, trying to make up my mind as to whether or not to go forward with it. You see, this one is not about hitting the road. This is a different kind of journey I’ve taken, a far more difficult one than we’re planning now, but at the same time, much more fulfilling.
Please understand, I’m not looking for sympathy, or even encouragement. But rather I’m sharing this in the hope that maybe I can help someone else who may be struggling along the same path. I know you’re out there, and I know your pain.
A bit of background: From the time I was a small child, I’ve been fat. Let’s not gloss it over by calling it chubby, or fluffy, or big-boned or any other cutesy name for it. I was F-A-T, fat. Perhaps it was because my mother fed me infant formula made with Carnation Evaporated Milk (apparently this was a ‘thing’ in the sixties.) Maybe it’s because of family genetics (I come from a long line of full-figured women). It could be because I was never allowed to leave the table until my plate was empty. But as nice as it would be to have someone else to blame it on, most likely it was all due to the fact that I love food. REALLY. Love. Food.
Don’t Be Cruel
So naturally, I was reminded of my size at every possible opportunity. It’s only human nature to want to help, right? The fat girl obviously doesn’t know she’s fat, so it’s our responsibility to help her figure it out. Kind, thoughtful people.
The first instance I can remember of this, I must have been around three years old. Family members had dropped by for a visit, and my very large (at least he seemed that way to a three-year-old) and very loud cousin made up this little song about “Kelley with the big fat belly” while tickling me as I squirmed, trying to get off of his lap and away from him. Everyone laughed and laughed. It’s the first time I can remember being ashamed of how I looked. I didn’t laugh.
As I got older, my dad, being the tease that he was, would loudly proclaim to anyone in earshot that I wasn’t fat, just “pleasantly plump.” I’m sure he never realized how embarrassing this was, and I know he loved me. But it didn’t help.
School was the same story. I was bullied, teased, shamed and made fun of. And not just by the other kids, but one of the teachers as well. He placed athleticism above all other things, and took every opportunity to remind me, in front of everyone, that I was never up to his standards. The fact that I was a straight A student held no water with him. I allowed him to make me think I was worthless because I couldn’t do a chin-up.
I remember one afternoon, he was writing on the board and I went to pass behind him on my way to get a book I needed. Just as I reached him, he swung unexpectedly (he didn’t realize I was there), and I ducked to avoid his arm. We didn’t collide, and I just mumbled “Excuse me” on the way past. He announced to the entire classroom that he now knew what it felt like to be just missed by a train. Cue the laughter. I spent the rest of the class pretending to read while wishing I could crawl inside my desk and die. I was twelve at the time.
Hungry Like The Wolf
I entered junior high with a change of schools, and decided here was a chance to make a fresh start. I needed to get my eating habits under control, and I did, just not in the smartest way. Due to now having to catch an early bus, I started skipping breakfast. No big deal right? Sure, I was hungry by lunchtime, but it really wasn’t that bad. I really don’t remember if I lost any weight or not, but here was something I felt like I could control.
At fifteen years old and 180 lbs, I started high school. The very first day the cafeteria was so crowded, there was hardly an empty seat anywhere. So that, and the fact I was painfully shy, led to the decision to start skipping lunch as well. Most lunch hours were spent in the library or student lounge, completing tomorrow’s homework. I would be ravenous by supper time.
So I was down to one meal a day. Definitely not healthy, but what does a teenager know? I was tired, moody, and prone to fits of depression (and admittedly, a few unhealthy thoughts) but the weight was starting to shift. By the end of grade 10, I was down to 160 lbs.
Graduation 2 years later found me at 140. Looking back at pictures of myself from that time, I can’t believe I ever looked that small. If you’d asked me at the time, I still considered myself VERY overweight. In my mind, I was still the fat kid.
Slip Slidin’ Away
University started a downhill slide. I was on my own (so to speak) with no one to keep me in check. I was making new friends, had a steady boyfriend, and a newfound confidence in myself. I was going out for pizza, drinking at house parties, and generally living it up. Not to mention that my dorm room was a package deal, meaning all my meals were included, and it would be wasting money to skip meals. Frugality outweighed willpower. I started eating again.
It didn’t take long. By the end of school year, I was back up over 175 lbs. A bad breakup and some self pity shot it up to 200. I worked at a fast food take-out for a summer, and it hit 215. When Mike and I married, I was 235. A couple of kids later and it was 260.
That’s not to say I never tried to lose the weight. I can’t count the number of times I’d start a diet or exercise regimen with the hopes that this time would be “the one.” Only to fall off the horse a month, or a week, or sometimes hours later. I never quit trying, I just quit getting results. And frankly, after years of this, I just quit caring.
So here I was, middle-aged, sloppy-looking no matter how I tried, and quite literally afraid to look in a mirror. Pathetic.
In the spring of 2013 just past my 45th birthday, a routine blood screening revealed what I should have been expecting: Type 2 diabetes. Not severe (yet), it was just over the line where they diagnose. But diabetes runs down both sides of my family, and I was at the heaviest I’ve ever been at 285 lbs. I’d hit bottom. I’m suddenly prescribed Metformin to go along with the Atenolol I’m already taking for high blood pressure. When the doctor informs me I’ll probably be on both drugs for the rest of my life (I despise taking medications), something snaps.
Enough of the pity party. Time for a major (and long overdue) shift in thinking. To hell with the weight loss. I want to be healthy.
Naturally, the first step involved getting rid of sugar. Now, I’ve never considered myself to have an extreme ‘sweet tooth.’ I’ve always gravitated more towards the chips, french fries and other greasy, salty goodies. So, no great shakes. I made a conscious effort to eliminate the refined sugars in my diet. No biggie.
The first month, I dropped 10 lbs. Huh? I really didn’t think I’d been eating that much sugar. But I’ve been wrong before. And the best part was that I wasn’t really missing it. So far, this was pretty easy.
Holding Out for a Hero
But if my past history and lack of self-discipline taught me anything, if I was to go farther, I was going to need help. As usual, my knight-in-shining-armor to the rescue. Mike had come across a free weight-loss app called Lose It. It’s basically a calorie counter with a few other features thrown in. You set up an account, enter your vitals and weight loss goals, and it sets a daily calorie ‘budget’ for you. When you run out of calories, you’re done eating for the day. As your weight decreases, so does your calorie budget by small increments, so you start eating less and less without really noticing. Very simple.
But the best part came when I expressed my doubts about being able to stick to logging food everyday. Mike stepped up and without being asked to, promised he was going to do it along with me. He showed me where we could ‘friend’ each other, and share log entries, recipes and other things, making it easier to keep track, and keep each other honest. He’d be right there with me every step of the way. With that kind of support, how could I lose? Or in this case, not lose?
So, on March 16, 2013, we started. The first item on the agenda was purchasing a kitchen scale, because it turns out neither of us had the faintest idea about serving sizes. We were waaaaay off. So we started weighing and measuring everything. That really helped to get things under control. Looking back, it seems unbelievable at what we thought was a proper serving. Yikes.
Yes, it was kind of a pain at first, measuring out everything and logging every bite. But as you log, Lose It keeps track of your personal food database, so the next time you eat that item, it remembers the amount that you had the last time, making logging it as simple as a click. If you’ve eaten more or less than the last time, servings are completely editable, so no trouble. So the longer you use the app, the easier it becomes. At the end of the first week, we both had achieved a 2+ lb loss. Suddenly, the weighing and measuring didn’t seem like such a pain, and we became truly motivated.
With My Mind on My Money and My Money on My Mind
It helped to think of the calorie budget as a kind of bank account. If we knew we were going to go over budget (say for a night out on the town, or a special occasion), it was a very easy fix. As eating depleted the amount of calories available, exercising added back into the account. The app also had a large database of exercises and activities to choose from, and these were logged the same as your food. So if you knew a large spaghetti supper with the in-laws was coming this evening, get off your ass this afternoon and do something. Calories In must equal Calories Out to stay on track.
We also tried to keep with the diet recommendations I had received from the dietitian. We changed white flour for whole wheat and full grains, increased our vegetable intake and cut down on our carbs. We started seeing results right away, which sort of developed into a bit of a competition, all in fun of course. One week, Mike would lose a bit more than me. But the next week, I’d lose more. It kept us focused and on track, and we were both happy with the results. We started going for more walks. Our long-ignored gym equipment started getting used regularly. My sugar levels stabilized. In general, we were getting healthier every day. And the best part was, it really wasn’t that hard since we were supporting each other.
There were added benefits as well. Things I’d never even thought about. My chronically high blood pressure leveled out. The Achilles tendonitis that had plagued me for a few years gradually vanished, even though I was still in a full-time retail job and on my feet for eight hours a day. The constant heartburn that I took Zantac everyday for was gone. The severe headaches and migraines all but disappeared. I could sit and cross my legs (couldn’t even come close before). I could tie my shoes without getting winded. I could pass a mirror or view a recent photo of myself without feeling like crying. My self-confidence, as well as my energy level soared. I started to enjoy buying clothes again. I had to have my wedding ring resized for fear that I would lose it. I even had to adjust my rear view mirror while driving, because I was actually sitting lower than before.
Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad
In May 2014, I hit my lowest recorded weight since starting Lose It. 191 lbs. It may not sound that great, but I had gone from a size 24 jeans to a size 10 in just over a year. Mike was down 65 lbs and I had lost 94. So in effect we lost an entire person between the two of us. We joked that we’d always thought we were a couple. Turned out we had been a threesome.
I won’t pretend it’s been all rainbows and unicorn poop. If you’re going to do this, you have to be HONEST. Don’t log chocolate as a vegetable because it comes from a plant. Don’t eat a family-sized bag of chips and call it one serving. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that ‘just this once’ doesn’t count. It does.
But at the same time, don’t deny yourself. You can still have those little treats, as long as you make room in the budget for them. You have to find that fine line between taking responsibility for yourself and not becoming a food nazi about it. It sounds like a cliché, but balance is key. Become one with the Force.
It’s now been over four years, and fight is far from over. I still haven’t reached my goal weight yet, and there have been issues, plateaus and pitfalls since. Maybe I’ll post that story in the future. For now, I’m currently off all medications, controlling the diabetes with diet and exercise only, and my blood pressure is consistently in the normal range. I’m healthier, happier and more content with myself than ever before. And I’m not finished yet.
I have no illusions. I know I’ll never be in a bikini or asked to pose for Playboy. I also know that if I want to achieve it, it’s something that I can’t slack off on. This is a battle I’ll fight every day for the rest of my life. And you know what? I’m okay with that.
It Don’t Come Easy
Admittedly, some days it’s not easy. I’m only human. Some days I get frustrated, forgetting how far it is that I’ve come. Some days I’m just plain bone lazy. But I’m also probably one of the most stubborn people you’ll ever meet. I may lose a battle or two, but I have every intention of winning the war.
So I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me, and I’m not asking for your admiration either. This has been a very difficult post for me to write. It lays bare a part of me that I tend to keep out of the light, and it makes me feel very vulnerable. But it’s honest, maybe brutally so, and I think it’s important that people learn just one fact:
There is NO magic bullet.
Wonder products, miracle powders and 5-minutes-a-day-gadgets will only help lighten your wallet, not your waistline. They are a temporary fix, if they work at all, and most don’t. You can’t buy what you need. It has to come from inside you.
I’m not trying to sell you anything. I’m not even trying to push Lose It. I’ve since switched to My Fitness Pal for reasons I’ll go into another time. But the simple fact is, if you want to drop the weight, there’s only one way.
Calories burned must outnumber calories taken in.
There is NO other option. It’s a cold, hard fact of life. But the good news is, if you’re honest and diligent, it will work.
I know there are so many of us out there that struggle daily with this, and I wanted to reach out with the kind of support that my wonderful husband has shown me. Trust me, it helps to know someone’s got your back.
Feel like sharing your story? Have a question? Need a friendly ear? Or some much needed support? Or just a kick in the pants? I’m here. No judging, no shaming, just understanding and honesty. I’m not only a wicked talker. I’m a hell of a listener.
Please feel free to contact me, either in the comments below, or privately through the contact page. We can lean on each other, and maybe even help each other. ‘Cause sometimes it’s good to know that you’re not alone.