Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Emotional Weight of Weight Loss (or "Keep Calm and Transform On")

Me? In a frilly pink prom dress? YES!
How do you see yourself?
photo by Christine Rose Elle
Before I start, please "see" that I am holding both of my hands over my heart in gratitude to all of you for your support and encouragement of the past few posts I've written. Truthfully, my fear of putting myself out there so vulnerably nearly prevented me from sharing my story - and now it seems SO SILLY that I may not have written about my weight loss for fear that "no one" would understand it. 

As it turns out, many of you are right there with me in the trenches, trying to decide whether or not it's "time" to make thoughtful changes in your life, and the changes range from making healthier food choices to creating more meaningful relationships and discovering your true passions in work and life.  And so, as I've often learned and re-learned in my 41 years, we are never alone in our struggles. It only takes one person piping up to cause a ripple effect (which is why we must spread joy and inspiration, not negativity... but I digress; that's a topic for another day.)

Today, I want to address the emotional weight of weight loss, but you could substitute any sort of major transformation for "weight loss": the achievement of a major goal, a promotion, marriage, getting pregnant or having a baby, getting a fabulous new job opportunity, the beginning or ending of a relationship, moving to a new place, etc. The transformation does not need to be physical or outwardly dramatic; as someone mentioned at my yoga retreat, sometimes the greatest changes are not brought about dramatically (as with the death of a loved one), but occur slowly, quietly, and over a long period of time. For simplicity's sake, though, I will use my own weight loss as the springboard, but I encourage you to think about your own journey and the shifts you've experienced.

When I decided to start Weight Watchers, I didn't tell anyone. I didn't tell Raf, arguably my greatest cheerleader EVER, for at least a day. I also didn't tell my kids for a few weeks (and that wasn't my desire because I didn't want my "food hang-ups" to affect them negatively; instead, they noticed I was eating differently and I had to be honest with them about wanting to make better choices for my health). 

Why didn't I share my new lifestyle right away? For one thing, I didn't know if it would work. I didn't want anyone to look at me and ask about it, judge my food choices, tsk-tsk if I didn't lose weight. I didn't want to feel an "I told you so" coming on. (Of course, that was in my head... it's all in my head).

Also, I have to be honest: I was ASHAMED. As I mentioned in my first post about weight loss, I had already seen a nutritionist, talked to my doctor, joined gyms and fitness classes, and adopted a mostly vegetarian lifestyle (that focused on fruits and veggies, trying very hard not to fall into the "muffin-tarian" trap, in which non-meat-eaters rely upon baked goods and starches rather than "real" foods). I thought I knew what I had to do and yet... I was still "fat." (And, to be clear, by "fat," I mean my BMI number indicated I was "obese" for my height. Oh yeah, you read that right. Humbling, isn't it?) 

I kept beating myself up - I"m a smart woman. Why can't I do it on my own? I was shoulding all over myself: I should eat less, I should exercise more, I should be able to do this on my own... 

Well, my little Bodhisattva warriors, my true inner voice - the wise one, the nurturing one - was lost in the negative self-talk. Only now can I see that my body was holding onto - literally gripping within its extra pounds - the weight of old habits and stories. And they weren't TRUE. I had made them up, based on years of observations of those around me and fears and insecurities. It was so much easier to be unconscious,  to just go along with what I'd always done, to not rock the boat, to not stand up for my own life and health.

Of course it's easier! It's unconscious! 

I didn't have to think about anything. I let all those fears and insecurities decide for me. And those fears liked to eat chocolate cake. The insecurities didn't feel "good enough" for pricey, fresh, organic food. After long days with kids, I felt I "deserved" wine/chocolate/ice cream/chips/a big meal/an extra helping... 

*shaking my head*

No, what I DESERVED was a healthy, happy life free from fear and insecurity and ego-attachment to food.

(Can I please get an "amen"?)

Okay, so once I realized this basic desire - to take awesome care of myself - my WW journey really kicked up into high gear. I ate less, but what I ate *had* to be a better quality - it had to really *earn* my approval (meaning, if I was only going to treat myself to a tiny piece of chocolate, for example, it had to be the very best quality I could get, or else I'd skip it and save my WW points or calories). I started to feel better. I began to see success at the scale. I had to buy new clothes. 

I didn't want to talk to anyone (besides Raf, my WW group and my very closest friends) about it - it felt so private to me, this transformation I was undergoing - and the cool weather allowed me to cover up with bulky clothes and sweaters. But my face was thinner (even though I tried to cover that up with bangs and long hair, too) and my clothes began to hang on me. The more layers I lost on the outside, the more I felt myself building up a wall of self-esteem and self-worth on the inside.

So I was doing great on the inside... And then...

After losing about 20 pounds, people began to notice. And that's when the mind-tripping began. 

O.P.P. - Other People's Poop

Lovely, secure people say things like, "Wow, you look amazing. How do you feel? How did you do it? Yay you!" 

But some people can't let go of their own poop. Why people feel a need to impart their own "expertise" on others who clearly aren't asking for it, I don't know, but somehow my very personal transformation seemed to invite others to comment. The  most annoying comment I heard, over and over, was, "YOU LOST WEIGHT!" It was barked, like an accusation. Where was I supposed to go with that? Around this time, I also heard this one: "Are ya sick?" It came out of nowhere and the only thing I could manage to utter was, "No, I'm not, thanks."

Once I shared that I was on WW or that I'd changed my diet (because people have a very hard time understanding that I'd changed EVERYTHING - it was a lifestyle change, not a diet), even well-meaning friends and acquaintances would try to tempt me with foods I didn't want to eat or say, "But it's got flaxseed/peanut butter/yogurt/low-fat cheese/fat-free dressing/etc... It's healthy!" Some wouldn't take "no, thanks" for an answer or would take a moment to tell me about their past diet failures. "Oh, well!" they'd say and take a forkful of food, shrugging. 

Another strange comment is "You've got to stop losing weight! You'll get too skinny/wither away/your skin will sag!" Ugh. This one is tough. It's a rude comment disguised as a "compliment." Listen, you know your body. You will feel GOOD as you reach your health goals. If you exercise while you lose weight healthfully, your skin will not sag (I am living proof; and my arms look like Madonna's - ha ha!). This "too skinny" comment also implies that you can't stop yourself or that your body won't tell you what it needs or that you won't listen to it.

OPP began to overwhelm me. I couldn't hold space for their accusing words or angry energy. I felt like a sponge for all their failed expectations. It made me want to hibernate or continue hiding under big clothes or disown all the awesomeness I'd worked so hard to cultivate.

But I was only a little way into my journey - at that point, I still had at least 15 to 20 pounds that I wanted to lose. I couldn't stop working toward my goal - I felt sooo good on the inside! I had to learn how to deal with OPP or risk letting OPP derail my success.

More than anything, OPP is needless noise. Your own thoughts are hard enough to control and when you add in these crazy "opinions" from others, well, it's just plain nuts. Not only that, these "well-meaning" folks and their "helpful" comments might serve to make you doubt yourself. 

OPP tried to limit me.... But I was proving to myself that I had no limits. I could do anything, even take on my long-held beliefs about how I couldn't lose weight. 

And so, I took some deep breaths, talked to Raf and my best friends, and learned a few new things. In no particular order, here are a few things I've learned from my weight loss. Not all of them deal with OPP, but they may help you protect your own awesomeness during a time of heavy transformation.

A List of Things I've Learned

1 - People want you to succeed. No matter how awkward their comments may be, people love a success story because they want to see themselves in that light. If the comments are borderline mean, it is NOT personal. It just means they are not seeing YOU in all your awesomeness; instead, they are holding up a mirror to their own shadows and seeing failure. I have found that meeting these comments with compassion is the best remedy; if the person seems interested, I will tell her about WW and Kris Carr and plant-based eating.  If not, I smile and allow myself a graceful retreat.

2 - A support system is invaluable. You need at least one person in your corner when you embark upon a big change, to talk you off a ledge and cheer you on and share your successes. Once, when I ordered take-out and Raf went to pick it up, he saw a big order of french fries in my bag - yes, I'd ordered them as a "treat" without telling him - and he sent them back. I whined when he got home, but truthfully I appreciated his support; after all, he didn't know I ordered them and knew I didn't really want them. He had my back, even when I didn't. This is an area where WW excels - the meetings are a sanctuary of support and encouragement.

3 - Our society has an absurd, almost pornographic obsession with food. Don't believe me? Check out ads for fast food joints and really listen to the comments made on the Food Network (close your eyes for the full effect). It's all around us, as much as or even more than sexualized images of women in the media. Some foods are described as "better than sex" or "death by chocolate," etc. The old McDonald's motto of "You deserve a break today" comes to mind - but I doubt you really want a supersized dose of fat and sodium when you've had a hard day. And even the wonderful offerings at "artisanal" restaurants, butcher shops, food trucks, etc. don't support our actual hunger for a good life. I don't want to be a buzzkill Betty, but I can't buy into the hype anymore. I'd rather be "safe" and eat what I know will support my success. Often, that means eating at home, and I know it's not "fun," but you know what is? Waking up feeling GOOD, not bloated or puffy or with a sugar hangover. Take that, Ronald McD.

4 - The idea of deprivation is a fear of lack. When I thought about losing weight, I thought I'd have to "give up" all the foods I loved. WW definitely tells you NOT to give up what you love and I'd agree: if you deprive yourself, you will resent it. But at the beginning, I found myself obsessing over various foods - birthday cake, for one - and eventually I came to a big realization: I've had 41 years of eating birthday cake. I know what it tastes like. I really don't need to try it again to "remember" the taste. If I need a bite, I'll take one, but if I don't, I know it will be there again when I want it. It's not going anywhere.

5 - It's okay to say "no" to trigger foods and situations and start new habits. I had to train myself to recognize old habits flaring up and it has saved me. I sometimes decline invitations to dinner or I'll invite people over to my house so I can be in control of my food (and maybe expose them to a new way of eating). I carry snacks with me EVERYWHERE. I eat before I go out, so I'm not starving and looking at a menu of yummy food. I exercise my feelings (rather than eat them). I drink water instead of cocktails when I go out. I don't rely upon traditional foods to help me feel a holiday experience. I bring a "safe" dish to potlucks. I don't succumb to the peer pressure of eating or drinking; it doesn't support my success.

6 - We each have a remarkable body intelligence. Once you start eating to live (and not living to eat), your tastebuds will blossom and your stomach will stop you from eating recklessly. You'll be in control of your hunger, not the other way around. And that's real power, being in control of your life.

7 - You can start NOW. I have heard so many people say, "Well, I know I ought to watch what I eat, but I'm too busy/stressed/upset/etc. I'll start after the holidays/summer vacation/wedding/stressful event/etc." I have compassion for this remark, but the thing is: you eat every few hours, every day. There are hundreds of food choices to make each week, hundreds of opportunities to eat well. Saying that your health and your best life can wait is allowing yourself to go back to sleep rather than wake up to the possibility of a NEW LIFE, of NEW CHOICES, of being your BEST SELF!! Once WW told me what to do, I was on fire to do it. I couldn't wait to see progress and I jumped in head first. Changing your life isn't a toe-in-the-water kind of thing. It is a flame that engulfs you and makes you shine brighter. I was like, "Yes! Sign me up!"

And that's what I want for you: to shine bright like a bonfire of passionate living. 

Transformation isn't easy, but it is WORTH THE EFFORT!

Now tell me, how do you see yourself?


  1. I want to see a before pic. I don't remember you as fat at all.

    1. Emily, there's a picture on the post from a few days ago (the first of the weight loss series). But I won't post any other "before" pics - it's no longer relevant! :-) Thanks so much for reading!!

  2. Your transformation is going to inspire soo many people. Talk about ripple effect. Thank you for being willing to share your vulnerability! I love you!

    1. Thanks, Xtine!! I am so happy to share it and I love you, too!! xo

  3. Thank you! I joined WW and could not get myself to "do it"! Then my brother got Cancer and I had to go with him and my sister in law for 2 surgeries and thought about WW and missed my group. Now I was going to just not go and write out what I am suposed to eat and pack my food then thought ahh I can't no time. On FB I read Christine Rose Elle had your blog and decided to read it and Ok "I can do this"!! Thank you for not beind afraid to post about this journey. Grace xoox

  4. Grace!!! You came to the right place! Stay focused on your health goals and making small changes - drink lots of water, plan out your meals, pack a snack EVERY TIME you leave the house - and remember: only YOU can ultimately take good care of yourself. And you're worth it! Best wishes!! xo

  5. Mid way through reading this I went downstairs to separate the children and I grabbed a snack. Instead of something carby and heavy I washed a bowl of blackberries and ate them instead.

    ...and other observations...but I think you know. Hugs.

    1. Awesome, Kim! Those blackberries may have just now helped you change your life...! Yahoo!!!! Love you! Xoxo