This last week I used PMS as an excuse to not work out as hard or with full effort. I don’t know if any of you girls have used that excuse to avoid fitness, but I just did! Not a great one, I admit it. I did my workouts but sort of half-heartedly. I did yoga a couple of days too, but only for 30 mins instead of the full hour. It was definitely better than nothing but the whole time my heart felt distant from it. I am at that horrid part of exercising where the gains come less rapidly and you start to get discouraged. I am not at the point where I am happy to maintain where I am at or make new challenges. I am at that point where you have that just little bit extra to go but you feel like quitting half a mile away from the finish line. I am sure many of you out there are sharing my feeling right now. But it isn’t the first time I have felt like this, and this time I really want to push through it. I think the change in my attitude is that I am feeling more healthy and I am focusing on that, rather than my looks. It is still hard, though, as you all know. It is a conscious shift in mindset every time.
Last night, my husband strongly encouraged me to jump on the treadmill and “just go for a quick brisk walk”. So I did. I did it protesting and whining the whole way to our treadmill in the basement, but I got on that treadmill. My minimum is 30 minutes, but I was so down about having to workout that I set the timer for 15 minutes. I decided to do a steep incline walk to “make it count” and 15 minutes came and went. I stayed on. I did closer to an hour. It felt amazing to sweat! I realized how much I missed it and that I just need to mix it up a little to stay engaged. Thank goodness for my husband or I would have just binge-watched Downton Abbey and eaten a box of crackers. *sigh*.
I remember a time where I would get fired up for about a week over a new idea to get fit, then give up.
The summer before I turned 15 years old was tough. At 14 years old, I had decided eating wasn’t for me, and tried to eat like a bird. This hurt my metabolism. So, at 15 years old, when I gave up and decided to mainline donuts while shutting out the world and reading 10 hours a day, I started to gain weight. I was very unhealthy. By grade 12, in 3 short years, I went from a size 6 to a size 16. I didn’t even really notice. I remember sort of noticing that men’s jeans fit me better at the waist because they were wider, and the nervous, “I-will-hate-this” feeling whenever my parents suggested getting a grad dress. When my dad and I finally drove to the city for a dress, the lady said, “Let me see what I can find in bigger sizes in the back” and my heart sank. I bought an eggplant purple floor-length dress with side panels, to give the illusion of hips, and a shawl to hide my meaty arms. I felt okay in it, but I knew I had a problem.
The thing is, knowing you have a problem, and knowing what to do about it – or even wanting to do anything about it- are different things. My depression took over and I continued to eat my feelings and hate everything.
I moved away to University, where I was sure a magic wand would be waved over me and I would magically shrink because I would suddenly know what to do to be happy. I would LOSE the freshman 15 instead.
I settled for what I could afford at the grocery store. I didn’t know how to choose correctly within my budget or how to read packages. I tried going to the gym, but even going to the University gym didn’t help because I never spent more than ten minutes on any machine. Instead, I ate and my self-esteem tanked…. so I ate to forget that too. I ate out of stress or to reward myself. I ate when I felt lonely, or overwhelmed, or bored. I ate to “fuel my studying” or “stay awake” or “feel sleepy”. I accepted dates from fellow chubby guys who I didn’t like, just so I wouldn’t be embarrassed eating in front of them. I pushed away guys I actually liked so that I could be the one to reject them first. I was a mess. I would go for walks…only to reward myself with a Slurpee at the end of it. I was so sick of worrying about food. I would want to prove to myself I had willpower, so I would buy a box of candy, chocolate or treats and leave them in my closet, sure I could eat only one. The end of the story was always the same. I would get stressed over something and decide to just eat a couple, only to find the whole box gone in under ten minutes. I would come out of my state, confused, looking down at the empty box and a bunch of empty wrappers. Every time, it was as if I was coming to, not sure what had happened. Sometimes, I would cry afterward. I think I got the idea that it would make me feel better from movies. The beautiful girl, in messy bun and chic pajamas, treating herself to a pint of ice cream or chocolates because her heart was broken. I thought I could be that occasional binge-r and be okay.
Needless to say, I didn’t lose any weight the first couple of years of University. I didn’t weigh myself, but it is guaranteed I gained. In third year, I was fast-tracking my English degree so I could try out for Journalism instead and “get that over with”. I was desperately trying to get my life on track, but it is hard to feel you are a whole human when you spend 99% of your time in class or at home writing 20 page essays. Seriously, my whole life was essay assignments. I dreamed of highlighters and pens, words and paper, angry red slash marks and bad grades. I needed an outlet. This was the year raves became a thing again. They were so popular. I would work my butt off all week and dance until 6 am for one whole night, then sleep the rest of the weekend. Then start over on Monday. I went to a lot of the raves sober, but I just needed the coloured lights, the dancing, the repetitive beats to make me feel like I was more than an essay making machine. The raves seemed more comfortable than the bars, as long as you stayed away from the stupid drugs and that crowd, and there was no alcohol allowed, which made me so happy, since the men usually acted more gentlemanly and didn’t slobber over you or hit each other. I liked to sit and get lost in the lights and dance like a fool for hours and hours and hours. Turns out, dancing is great cardio, (Haha, kidding. Of course you and I knew that!) so I slowly lost some weight. Now, I didn’t know how important eating healthy was to proper weight loss, so I was still a little chubby, but I lost a lot of weight in the meantime. I was proud of myself and was sure I would never let myself gain weight again. I vowed I would never let it get that far.
Fast forward to a few years later. I am 20 and living in Japan, teaching English. I am not sure how to read the sparing amount of English on the packages, and I am stuck in a job that is not what it was advertised. I work constantly and gobble convenience foods as fast as I can on breaks. I am in a small town (beautiful but I felt isolated!) and just want to get through it. I eat pre-made bento boxes, essentially fatty fast food, and too many carbs because they are the easiest to order. I bike everywhere, so I figure it evens out. It doesn’t. I still haven’t figured out how to put out more calories than I take in. I have the clothes I brought and don’t fit in to the clothes in Japanese stores so I have to make do with what I have. I can kind of tell the clothes in my suitcases are getting tighter, but I figure when the rainy season is over, I will bike more and I will slim down. I eat extra sweets every night, as I read and journal, too shy to make friends or walk around the small town on my own. I gain more.
Every week, I have a class that is two friends who come together to practice their English. Around 50 years old, the two men come to chat, with me and with each other, sharing their passion of learning other languages together during their busy business day. A version of a coffee break, I guess. Being Japanese business men, they are most likely so busy during the week that this is their only chance to see each other and hang out. They start to tell me about famous Japanese landmarks, especially mountain hikes that you can climb to see temples. They stop in their explanation to remark,
“Except you. You could never climb it. You’re far too fat! You will be lucky to get to 30 years old, much less climb that mountain.”
Then they laughed uproariously. That night I looked at myself in the mirror and was horrified to see that they were right! I was shocked at how blunt they were and very hurt….but I wasn’t mad at them at all. I needed that. Secretly, I was so grateful. I always will be.
I started to eat barely anything at night and tried to eat better amounts during the day. I was starving but also shrinking. I used my bicycle more. I was a bit smaller when I flew back to Canada to go to my sister’s graduation. I was happy about that and knew it had to continue. When I went back to Japan, I got a new job in the city of Osaka and joined a gym as soon as I was able. When I joined the gym and weighed myself, I was shocked to discover that 4 months of starving myself (essentially) had brought me down to 180 lbs. What was I before! I knew I must have been over 200lbs, easily, based on the inches I had lost. I vowed to get myself together. I made a promise to myself to work out at least twice a week and eat smaller portions.
What happened after I lost the weight is very similar to what happened to Andie Mitchell after she lost her weight initially. I went from working out twice a week to 6 days a week. I worked part time, mostly on the weekends and in the evenings, so it left my days free to workout. Most of my friends were former students that worked during the day, so I had a lot of free time. I got a personal trainer and would do the exercises she gave me, then attend a couple of classes, then do some more cardio and sit-ups before leaving. I would often spend 2-6 hours there. Commonly I would spend 4 hours there. If I didn’t have at least an hour a day to spend at the gym, I would feel panicky.
I ate smaller and smaller portions at home and would snack sparingly. If I knew I was going out for dinner, I would eat nothing or only vegetables all day, then eat supper out that night. I felt thin and beautiful and ashamed that my self-esteem was so attached to something so superficial, so as a result I became obsessed about calories and anxious about food. I ate less and less, small snack size meals twice a day. If an unexpected snack was offered, it was rude to refuse, but I would get anxious over how it would affect my weight loss or progress. I would alter the amount I worked out the next day accordingly. I began to be proud of myself for how little fuel my body needed during the day. Who cared if I was always light-headed? I hit 124 lbs, a weight I hadn’t seen since 8th grade. I could do 60 sit-ups and work out for 3 hours on a cup of yogurt and a cup of steamed rice. I stopped being hungry. I was “above needing food” and a “more efficient machine”. These lies I told myself made me very proud of my progress, even though I felt I had a long way to go. ‘I’ve done it,’ I thought, ‘I will never again be a fat girl. I can relax.’
But it couldn’t last. I went back to Canada and ate everything in sight. (Especially pizza!) I was trying to save up to move to a new province, so working 4 jobs left me no time to workout, or sleep, or stay sane. I even got an infection in my lungs that nearly turned in to pneumonia because I was working so many hours. (Even today, whenever I get a cold, it wants to move straight in to my lungs and I have to be careful). I gained quite a bit of weight again; gaining inch by inch. I was aware of it this time- and sad about it. I remember the depressing realization that a short flight of stairs left me winded. Feeling as if I was starting from scratch was a terrible feeling. My self-esteem once again tanked and I got in to an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship that only made it worse. The scale tipped towards 190 lbs. I had gone from having a form of body dysmorphia to binge eating.
I moved to Vancouver, hoping it would be the place that I would figure myself out and be happy. Surely, I would spend all my time walking the seawall and eating fresh fish, find my career path and be bolstered by the fresh sea air. Um, no. No place is a magical cure-all. That is within you. I ended up working at Starbucks. The temporary job ended up being a four year stint. I worked a ton of hours for very little money, which isn’t a good thing in an expensive city. I ate the pastries at Starbucks, for the most part, because I got a discount. I flirted with bulimia. I went back to unhealthy binge-eating. I stopped eating and drank only smoothies for a bit. I then realized I was depressed and trying to fix my body issues in all of the wrong ways. I hated my relationship, was broke, and felt lost. I needed help. The one thing about Starbucks is that the benefits are amazing. They do try to help their employees, at least back when I worked there. I took them up on their free therapy sessions and went there to get help. The therapist I saw gave me homework, let me cry, and then led me to my own realizations. She gave me the courage to get on with the big decisions. I also went to a life coach that supported these decisions the therapist helped me with. I broke up with my boyfriend and started to go for runs with two friends of mine. I ate better and spent more time with supportive friends. I eventually moved away from Vancouver and moved to Calgary to pursue a better job in a slightly less expensive city. It took courage, and mentally I had to rely on myself, but I have never looked back.
Today, I am in a healthy relationship that my husband and I very strongly believe was fated by the stars to be. He loves me no matter what my size and encourages me to “be healthy”, whatever size that is for me. He sees me for my soul, and my attitude, and my creative spirit- not for my weight. Since I know that, it makes it easier to pursue weight loss for myself, and for my health, rather than for vanity (although there is a bit of that too!). I do it to keep up to my kids, for my future health as I age and to be my best self. I love weights now, something I thought I would never try! I like feeling strong. It makes me feel like Wonder Woman and gives me the courage to start new things that I would otherwise shy away from. I am still working on feeling okay working out in my tank tops and fitted shirts around others, (even my supportive husband) but I am slowly gaining confidence. I know that my mental attitude has to catch up to my physical appearance, but years of beating yourself up over your appearance takes a while to fade. Slowly, slowly, the tortoise wins the race. Am I right? I have made sure my support system is strong, my friends have pure intentions and that I shift my mental attitude whenever it gets too negative (which is a lot of work!). I have come too far to turn back now. Recognizing that it’s an exciting life-long journey full of new discoveries and constant changes is what it’s about for me now, and in my good moments I see that easily. In my low moments, I have to keep constantly reminding myself, but that is part of the journey too.
The thing I always remind myself is that we all started from somewhere. You cannot tell that by looking at someone; you cannot see their whole history. We all have our struggles and our strengths and jealousy will not get us anywhere. Be compassionate, be strong, and live your story the best way you know how.