I consider myself to be an idiot savant when it comes to losing weight. How can I not be? I have gained and lost the same 30 pounds more times than I care to admit. I am really good a losing weight. But like most, I become a statistic when it comes to keeping it off. When I have lost this weight, I have done so not on crash diets, rather, the doctor recommended program of Weight Watchers (WW), which is considered to be a relatively healthy program to balance calories with healthy foods. WW is great for losing weight, but I think something gets lost in helping continuing the program to keep it off. Makes sense actually because the program is designed to pay to lose weight – not to keep it off.
The last time I participated in any such program was 2008. Once my entire lifestyle changed when moving to Seattle, I fell into the “statistic” of gaining the weight back. It’s happened before. Why should it surprise me? I swore I’d never do it again, and I haven’t. Like all of the other times, I came to accept my failure as just something that will be with me forever. I’m not meant to be thin and maintain a “perfect” number on the scale without starving myself or fanatically working out to burn calories. I’m good at a lot of things, but this would not be one of them.
When Ed got sick, the last thing I cared about was how I looked. I remember one day he told me how nice I looked and I said “Cancer doesn’t care how I look”. His response was, “that’s fine, but I do, and I think you look beautiful today”. I felt like an asshole (because I was being one), and realized that my husband loved me no matter how I looked – fat, thin, made up or not – it had nothing to do with the physical me. It had to do with the whole me. I also had to learn this hard lesson watching him physically change when he was sick. No matter how sick he looked, I only saw him as my beautiful husband. Even the night before he passed away as he stood in front of the mirror shaving (something I always enjoyed watching him do). He was thin, weak, frail, and a version of himself that I could not ever have imagined him being. But he never looked that way to me, even at that moment, which is one of the last memories I have of him before he passed away. He was my strong, brilliant, beautiful man that I loved with all of my heart. I loved the whole him as a person. After he passed away, I realized how much time of ours I wasted counting calories, foregoing foods and wine that otherwise might have been immensely enjoyed because I was “dieting”. I realized that skipping all of those photo opportunities because I didn’t like the way I looked was something I’d regret because now all I have left are photos of memories of experiences – many missed. I promised I’d never do it again. And I haven’t.
Fast forward though the days, weeks and time that can now be measured in years, that I am learning how to live this new life that I didn’t ask for. When Ed first passed away, I had no appetite whatsoever. I was eating enough to not lose weight, but was not eating healthy at all. As time progressed, I started getting back to “normal”, however, I hated to cook for myself and worse, and I hated eating by myself. That led to foods that were easy to make and mostly packaged, and they had to be easy to eat while sitting on the couch in front of the TV. I wasn’t alone if I was with my Real Housewife bitches 😉 (Thank you for Andy Cohen and this gift). Eventually, as time passed, this caught up with me. I put on a few extra pounds which made me uncomfortable. I was no longer comfortable in my skin, which I actually had finally accepted. I also felt like shit all of the time. Something needed to change, but I would not “diet”. Never again. The definition of insanity is doing something the same way over and over again, expecting a different result. I am not insane. In order to find peace physically, spiritually and mentally, I needed to figure this one out once and for all. And let’s be clear – the answer to how to be physically healthy has never changed. Being physically healthy (which technically I am – low blood pressure, low bad cholesterol, high good cholesterol, good blood sugar levels), really boils down to balancing a checkbook – debits and credits of calories in and out. But what I realized is I needed to figure this out mentally – and not by way of willpower not to eat certain foods. There was more to it, but I didn’t know what that lightbulb was. Clearly, it never was switched on. In fact, I think there was duct tape over it in the “off” position.
Through my widow community, I was introduced to Michelle Steinke-Baumgard, who lost her husband in a small plane crash and has detailed her journey since he passed and living her life to its fullest. She found solace in her grief through working out, and since has created a community called OneFitWidow which recently rebranded as OneFitLife. One of the many reasons I enjoy Michelle so very much is her beautiful writing which has the ability to connect deeply in the soul providing validation of many of the feelings I have experienced, not just in losing my spouse, but in her life prior to her losing her spouse – corporate job, stressed, overweight, prioritizing everyone and everything but herself. I was looking at a mirror image of my life. So when a newer program that OneFitLife was offering came across my Facebook feed, I said, “why not”. It was called the “12 Week Fitness Challenge” and it was based upon clean eating, building lean muscle mass and NOT FOCUSING ON THE NUMBER ON THE SCALE. This was different than what I have done in the past as WW programs are all about the scale. Under the WW program, every week you check in on your progress in front of someone else, so you need to be accountable. And when you reach your “goal” weight, you celebrate and then you’re “done”. Over the course of the 12 Week Fitness Challenge I would realize how wrong this approach was, and likely one of the crucks of my prior “failure”.
So I started the 12 week fitness challenge on April 1, 2016. As part of the program, you do have to weigh yourself and take measurements (and no, I am not sharing what those numbers were) because this is one measure of progress, but only one, and checking in on this one measurement takes place one time per month. I was “all in”, which is normal for me when starting anything. I followed every instruction, read every article, did everything that was asked, tracked food intake, did the workouts etc. The first three weeks were considered “detox” from sugars and processed foods with this being a more strict time (or so I thought). At the three week mark, I had a business trip to Chicago, and of course, a certain level of planning had to take place. How could I follow this program but not go back on my promise to not deprive myself of some of the things I love to eat while in Chicago? I was going to “blow it” which now I have come to understand in my mind means “I’m not being perfect so why should I even try”? So I evened my mind out and decided I would do my best, however, my life will never exclude Lou Malnati’s pizza :-). And this is a decision I made. The trip turned out fine, I didn’t go ape shit crazy eating bad foods all week, and I made good choices. Small steps to a better life, which is the actual basis of this particular program. I wouldn’t understand how important this realization was until about a month later.
So month one, or the first four weeks into the program – 1/3 complete, I wasn’t doing too badly. A week away however, threw me off a bit, and while I didn’t fall “off the wagon” while I was away, I did a bit when I returned. I had not been perfect. I was now in the “why bother” mode. It was “here I go again” – I’ve failed, but not completely. I was however still making better eating choices, but I was not really tracking, not working out, and basically getting lazy. In the spirit of “go big or go home”, if I wasn’t going to be perfect, than why bother? I was just failing again.
But then something happened…
My Facebook memory feed started showing my past triathlon pictures. I remembered that feeling of accomplishing these races as something I never thought I would be able to do. It’s not something I can describe but something that connects in your soul. I thought to myself I’d like to have that feeling again. So I looked up what events might be coming to the area, and found one in early August. The negative self-talk started: “You’re not in good enough shape to do this”, “You can’t be ready for this in such a short amount of time” etc. etc. Then a different voice spoke and said, “what if you just go for a bike ride today and see how that feels”? Not perfection. Not training. Just get out on the bike and enjoy the ride. And so I did. It was hard – I couldn’t believe actually how hard it was to ride a short five miles. After all, as a triathlete, I crushed 15 miles in 45 minutes AFTER a ½ mile swim. How could this be? But it still felt great. I was moving again. A shift was happening.
The final light bulb went on one day when I was on yet another bike ride, which was becoming a regular occurrence, along with some attempted running. I’d never get to a triathlon again without this, although I don’t get nearly the enjoyment from running that I get from bike riding. Anyway along this bike ride, I saw a woman on the trail that had a beautiful, natural, healthy looking figure. I said to myself, “I would like to look like that”. In the past, there has been much negative self-talk response that said, “Why bother? You’ve never looked like that and will never look like that. Your body isn’t built that way”. For the first time ever I did not hear this. Instead, the voice in my head talked back to me and said “Well why can’t you”?
The duct tape was now off of the light switch, it was flipped “on”, and the bulb burned brightly. Mentally, I had taken a turn in “getting it”. The failures I’ve experienced have not been physical. It’s because of where the focus has been; how we appear physically to others; what that magic number on the scale should be; being accountable to everyone other than myself.
So in the first 12 Week Fitness Program, here’s what I have gained:
- The realization that for years, I lost the same 30 pounds over and over in an effort to look good. The weight loss was a goal and destination – not a way to live my life. My brain has now caught up. I can only do this for me and only me. I have to look at myself in the mirror and be happy with what I see. I am responsible to create my own happiness. Me. No one else. And when I do this, I feel great!
- The comprehension that the people you love see you as you are as a person. The physical doesn’t matter. Love shows you the person in all of their beauty and not just their physical appearance. I believe Ed saw me the same way I saw him; our better halves.
- I am a perfectionist and it is not a strength; it is a weakness. I continually fall into the trap of if it’s not done perfectly, then I’ve failed. Here’s what I’ve learned. Even doing a little something right is better than doing nothing at all. Not measuring, tracking food, or working out for one day, does not mean failure. It does not mean “why bother”. It just means do it right at some point. Some of the time. But the more you do it right – and not perfectly – the better you’ll feel mentally, which will lead to the physical results. Every day is not perfect. Every hour is not perfect. But make them all good and make them all count.
- Working out does not have to mean hours of cardio and sweat, or a very structured program. Just get moving and for no reason other than to move. I sit at my desk all day long, and just riding my bike – not for a certain number of miles or any kind of goal other than to get out, enjoy the sunshine and nature and just moving my body is enough. The goal is to move every day – not to burn calories or lose weight.
- Being a perfect number on the scale has nothing to do with participating in life and being happy. Period. Hard stop. Participate in life every day in every way and only in ways that lead to happiness.
What I have learned over in those past 12 weeks weighs more on me than any loss on the scale. And in the best possible way. I’m participating in the next 12 Weeks Challenge can feel my mind shifting in even greater ways. That’s a story for another time J
Thanks for “reading” 🙂
Wishing you all Strength, Courage Wisdom….Faith, Love and Hope,