Losing Weight Is Just the Start
“So, essentially, those hundred plus pounds have underscored everything. Even though I no longer carry them physically, they showed me how much I can carry emotionally. “
Do you need to tackle a weight loss of over a hundred pounds? The statistics related to losing weight and maintaining the loss long-term are grim. I am not sure of the exact numbers, but, let’s just say, if you are facing the challenge of losing weight, the odds are not in your favor for keeping it off, even if you succeed in the short term. As such, I often forget that losing over a hundred pounds, AND keeping it off, is kind of a big accomplishment (at least in the context of my fairly privileged life in North America and our societal backdrop of abundance). My hope is that by sharing my story, I might offer you some insights, encouragement and belief in the fact that you are capable of derailing the weight-loss roller coaster and creating the mind/body balance you crave.
I am fast approaching the fifteen year mark of when I began my efforts at losing weight and getting myself out of the crazy space I was in with food in my 20’s. The term “weight loss journey” almost seems cliche these days, but that is really what it has been; an internal course of travel from one way of being to another, with lots of interesting sights and detours along the way. And, while general balance is more of my focus these days, rather than weight loss, I remind myself that many people are still stuck in that funky, out-of-whack place with food and searching for hope that things can be different. There is hope.
Prelude to the Weight Gain
I am told my first nutrients, outside the womb, came from a specially formulated powdered concoction, derived from cow’s milk and other substances, as it was the “modern” thing to do. Of course, I have no recollection of this and simply pay homage to the cows and food scientists that sustained my infantile existence.
As self-awareness evolved, I think my food memories probably mirror those of the average person on the middle-class North American scene; generally abundant, possibly with a side of the remnant scarcity mindset unconsciously passed along by immigrant grandparents, in the form of “eat everything on your plate… there are children starving in the world!” There were food traditions created spontaneously, some passed along through family “cultural” recipes, and some, no doubt, the result of strategic ad placement on the part of large corporations.
Overall, my semi-nomadic life as the only-child of an engineer and a homemaker, was probably quite similar to that of many thin and fit people out in the developed world. So, what happened to me? Why did I find myself tipping the scales at almost 250 pounds throughout most of my 20’s and into my early 30’s, always focusing on losing weight, but never finding balance?
Laying the Foundation
I can’t blame my parents. They did their best to provide me with a “balanced” diet (and life), maybe unconsciously modeling some addictive tendencies, but nothing too far from the center of the “normal” spectrum. We moved to Spain when I was twelve years-old and I remember suddenly being very conscious of what I was eating. I was still on the cusp of puberty at this point, and quite slim, so I was not focused on losing weight, but became fearful of gaining any. Maybe it was the culture shock and looking inward for things I could control.
Also, I had recently developed severe acne, and a Spanish doctor had given me a long list of foods I should avoid eating to improve my skin. I think that was the icing on the cake for the restrictive mindset I would develop around food, as my skin was a source of great self-consciousness and I desperately wanted to find the “solution” to the acne problem. Then, as one might expect, when we restrict something for too long, oftentimes, a natural urge to resist the self-imposed restraints sets in. For me, this manifested in episodes of compulsive overeating in my teens, evolving to nausea-inducing binges into my 20’s, all interspersed with periods of restrictive dieting, obsession with losing weight and occasional interludes of more “balanced” eating and exercise.
Glimpses of Balance
I was actually good at losing weight. I did it a handful of times over the years, sometimes losing as much as 60 or 70 pounds. One of these times was in preparation for our first attempts at pregnancy in my mid-20’s. After being told I would never be able to have children, due to PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), my motivation was strong to rebalance my health and exhaust every reasonable pathway to fertility. And, as fate would have it, after losing weight and minimal medical intervention, I got pregnant. Though, yet again, the habits I put in place to lose the weight did not stick post-partum. I had counted calories and followed a “low carb” diet preconception, to take off the pounds. But, as soon as I got pregnant, my focus shifted from losing weight to just “eating healthy,” which, consequently, resulted in eating too much of everything, including the healthy stuff.
Then, in 1999, during the middle of this first pregnancy, I was exposed to some information about the realities of animal agriculture. For me, the mindset shift was immediate, and even though the 1999 vegan scene on the border of Tennessee and Kentucky, where we were living at the time, was non-existent, I wholeheartedly became vegetarian. Actually, at that point, I had never even heard the term “vegan” to describe diet and lifestyle, and I was still stuck in unhealthy compulsive cycles with food, eating out a lot, and not really understanding that there are animal products in everything! So, it took me a couple years to move towards being fully vegan, as I gained more resources, support and community.
“Actually, at that point, I had never even heard the term “vegan” to describe diet and lifestyle, and I was still stuck in unhealthy compulsive cycles with food, eating out a lot, and not really understanding that there are animal products in everything! “
One would assume this shift to a plant-based diet would have a positive impact on my weight, as vegetarians are generally regarded as health-focused and leaner. But, being vegan has never been all about health for me. It is an ethical stance and the least I can do to minimize suffering in this world, even though it did not end my own internal suffering with overeating and binge-eating. Still, veganism was the catalyst for my consideration of conscious eating (and living) and eventual move in the direction of the healthier “whole foods” vegan diet that aided in losing weight and finding a better balance in my body.
Still, the reasonably uneventful, but exhausting, pregnancy of my second child threw me for a loop. By the time he was a few months old, and I was entering my 30’s, I found myself tipping the scales in the 200’s again. Though I often thought about “doing better tomorrow,” I still put off making any big health changes, as it felt like it was all I could do to make it through the day caring for my three year old and a newborn. My son had a rough start to life, with illness in the first year, which, also, impacted my health from the extreme sleep deprivation, constant worry and elimination diets. Losing weight became secondary to just feeling okay, day to day.
“…I found myself tipping the scales in the 200’s again. Though I often thought about “doing better tomorrow,” I still put off making any big health changes…”
As any mom knows, we would go to any length to help our children, and since I was breastfeeding, and my son was suffering with severe eczema, I spent much of his first year on removing all sorts of potential allergens from my diet, prompted by health professionals, to possibly help his condition. This did not help my already warped mindset with food, nor did it make much of a difference in my son’s condition, unfortunately. By the time he was a year old, I found myself facing the task of of losing weight, yet again, and this time it was over a hundred pounds.
The Beginnings of Real Change
All of this, while relevant to the human I am now, was simply setting the foundation for lasting change. By the time I was 30, I was tired of the cycles of deprivation and gluttony, and weary of promises to myself to change on Monday. So, I resolved to just stop thinking about the reasons why I was overweight. I stopped looking for the solution in my history. Instead, I focused on the types of thoughts and actions I would have to put in place if I wanted to become someone who did not feel completely dysfunctional in my relationship with food and my body. I pushed my thinking brain out of the way, like I would if I were cleaning the house or driving to a destination; the actions needed are clear, and deviating from them would not get the house clean or get me from point A to B in a timely manner.
This is how I navigated the first few weeks of 2005 and of my conscious movement towards greater balance in my life. I knew, from past experience, that the initial onset of dietary change is hard; your body feels the withdrawal of reckless eating and rebels against new routines. So, armed with this dietary wisdom attained from past failures, I just moved through the discomfort of the first few days and weeks.
This time, I did not allow myself any internal debate as to why I should postpone my efforts at losing weight, go easier on myself, maybe start next month, go see a therapist first or join a weight loss support group. I just made a commitment to journal my food every day and walk 30 minutes around our relatively flat neighborhood. I tracked calories, made notes about how I was feeling, and slowly, but surely, began to look forward to my evening walk.
“I had to go deeper and set the bar higher for myself in this area of my life, until the habits became effortless and reverting to old ways of being with food almost feels impossible; like choosing to go back to an abusive relationship, years after you have left and experienced a healthy relationship with someone else.”
I am grateful to whatever divine spark carried me through and sustained my motivation in the early years. I credit my children for the inspiration to get started, as I just could not accept the kind of mother and compromised version of myself I would be if I kept on with my self-destructive health habits, nor the example I would be for them. However, even my love for them could not have sustained my behavior long-term. I had to go deeper and set the bar higher for myself in this area of my life, until the habits became effortless and reverting to old ways of being with food almost feels impossible; like choosing to go back to an abusive relationship, years after you have left and experienced a healthy relationship with someone else.
The Honeymoon Stage
For the first couple of years, around 2005 to 2007, I was motivated, secure in my capacity for permanent change and felt like I had finally won the first leg of the battle against the self-sabotaging me of the past. I had worked hard to establish new habits, and I felt a sense of peace being released from the grip of yo-yo dieting, the obsession with losing weight and constant fear of spiraling out of control with food. Life was feeling balanced; not perfect, but having a body that was easier to carry around made me a lot more optimistic about other areas of my life, as well.
“For the first couple of years, I was motivated, secure in my capacity for permanent change and felt like I had finally won the first leg of the battle against the self-sabotaging me of the past. “
According, my focus start to shift inward, having realized that the weight I had just lost was only one of the pieces in the puzzle of my health. I began gravitating towards learning all things about holistic health, and spent much of this time fueled by a passion to be my best self and entertain the company of those inspired to do the same. In this time, I lost about 115 pounds and had been maintaining at around 135 pounds for six months or so, when I got pregnant with our third child.
As would be expected, pregnancy came with some inevitable weight gain. But, I kept right on with the same conscious-eating and movement habits I had established over the past couple years. At 34 years old, I felt even more motivated to care for myself during this pregnancy. It was a very peaceful time, spent enjoying my two other little children, and getting excited about our new addition.
“However, because I hadn’t reverted to crazy binge-inspired eating habits, and I had been consistent with daily movement, I felt confident things would shift back in the right direction. “
Nonetheless, a month or so after our new bundle of joy arrived, I weighed in at around 155, about twenty pounds heavier than where I started. But, I didn’t panic. I knew I had “relaxed” a bit on portion sizes, and had heeded to some pregnancy cravings and aversions. However, because I hadn’t reverted to crazy binge-inspired eating habits, and I had been consistent with daily movement, I was not focused on losing weight and I felt confident things would shift back in the right direction. And, they did. It took a little time to get into new routines of self-care with a new baby and two other young kids, but within a year, or so, I was back at a comfortable 135 pounds. I hovered around here for a couple more years, with little effort.
In 2009, I got inspired by the idea of a raw food (vegan) diet, which would alter my course a bit and teach me a lot about myself, culture, and nutrition. I wrote another blog post about my eight year raw food adventure, so I’ll keep it concise here and just give the highlights, as they pertain to losing weight.
I did not expect this “upgrade” in my diet to shift my emotions dramatically or impact my behaviors surrounding food, as I was already eating fairly healthy. However, I was naive to think that such a big dietary detour would be effortless and without new lessons. The biggest lesson was that I needed to eat MORE volume of food, as when switching to eating primarily fresh produce, fiber goes up, but calories go down. So, to feel the level of sustained satiation I was used to on a cooked food diet, I had to increase the volume of food I was eating, or I ended up under-eating.
“Surprisingly, this switch-up triggered some old emotions and I found myself facing some old impulses towards binge-eating that I thought I had completely overcome years earlier.”
This was a frustrating space to be in; thinking I was following the healthiest dietary path possible, but struggling to find my own balanced amidst its guidelines. Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly in hindsight, this switch-up triggered some old emotions and I found myself facing some forgotten impulses towards binge-eating that I thought I had completely overcome years earlier. This took me off-guard and I spent the next few years experimenting with various versions of a raw vegan diet, reading a lot, attending health fairs, festivals and finding community.
Through trial-and-error, and more education on nutrition, I came to understand how to better balance my raw diet, which, for me, included more healthy fats, greens and moderate amounts of fruit. I rocked this lifestyle for another five or six years after that, with only occasional ups and downs, and plenty of self-awareness gained surrounding food culture, my body’s cues and my own preferences. This lifestyle had become almost effortless and I thought I would just ride life out in my raw food bubble.
But, as life will do, more experience (dietary and otherwise) was gained, perspectives shifted, and around the Fall of 2017, I found myself craving another transition in my diet, moving back in the direction of adding in healthy, whole cooked vegan foods. This remains my preference, as of now, providing more flexibility and variety, and it just makes me feel good. But, I have no doubt, with age, more adjustments to my diet, mindset and routines are on the horizon.
Amidst all this dietary experimentation, I was never prepared for the level of “busy” I would feel as a homeschooling mom of three active kids, especially one playing travel hockey. But, even feeling like I was, sometimes, losing myself, I endeavored to keep good nutrition and a positive mindset as my navigational beacon for the life I was trying to create for myself and my family.
Nonetheless, at times, this “busyness” has been one of the biggest obstacles to self-care. It has taken ardent self-awareness to keep myself focused on balance with food, despite sometimes feeling totally out of balance with sleep, social connections, personal pursuits and just time to think! But, I recognized that good health is not about being in balance in all areas of our life, all the time, but rather the active pursuit of that balance. So, I persevered with less focus on losing wight, and more determination to achieve day to day balance.
“We often hear that resistance builds strength, but there is a point when resistance takes you out. “
Sometimes I did have to go back to that initial mindset that carried me through the beginnings of behavioral change, push my ever-busy thinking mind out of the way, reaffirm my intentions and prioritize my own “oxygen mask,” so to speak. I have often had to move in the direction of least resistance to maintain sanity. We often hear that resistance builds strength, but there is a point when resistance takes you out. So, knowing when to let go and flow with the current is as important as knowing when to push through.
In less metaphorical terms, sometimes this “letting go” looks like foregoing the hour long workout you were looking forward to because you are physically exhausted already, accepting that ten sit-ups and push-ups and a little running in place will have to suffice for the day. Other times it looks like doing the hour long work-out, even though you really just want to watch another episode of whatever. The challenge is taking the time to explore these feelings, in the moment, extend some compassion to myself, and work through the emotions, rather than eat through them.
So, in this sense, my process of losing weight, or my “weight loss journey,” has really been a story of self-discovery through the lens of diet. And, as any good photographer would, I have expanded my collection of lenses over the years, but still appreciate the simplicity of the original one that sparked my passion and allowed me to create the image of who I wanted to be.
“Those feelings of despair and hopelessness that I often felt in the overweight, imbalanced body of my 20’s, provided me with a deeper compassion and empathy for those that struggle with all types of addictions.
Living on the Plateau
Many years have passed, living on the dietary plateau; that space where thoughts weight and food no longer dominate my thoughts, but have become measures and tools for feeling good. I maintain a comfortable weight, though I am not super fit and content to still sport my squishy “mom belly.” Given time and energy, I will definitely continue to make a few health upgrades in the fitness department, and I’m sure I will strive towards growth and self-development for the remainder of my days. However, I feel no desperation to get fitter or lose the last ten pounds RIGHT NOW, as the view from the plateau is peaceful and serene at the moment.
I acknowledge the First World accomplishment I achieved losing weight so many years ago, even though when I look at it in the context of the problems of the world, it can sometimes feel a little dramatic talking about my “weight loss journey;” the transition from gluttony to moderation. But, when I really think about it, it was what this life gave me to work with. Those feelings of despair and hopelessness that I often felt in the overweight, imbalanced body of my 20’s, provided me with a deeper compassion and empathy for those that struggle with all types of addictions. It, also, provided me the challenge of overcoming something that felt hard, yielding emotional grit and deeper self-awareness.
So, essentially, losing weight and those hundred plus pounds have underscored everything. Even though I no longer carry them physically, they showed me how much I can carry emotionally. It is most certainly a place to which I would never want to return. But, I am forever grateful to have made it through the weight loss jungle with the insights and understandings I gained.