Wednesday, January 23, 2013

how did you do it? part three

The biggest difference in my weight loss this time was all the processing, the reflection, the connections made.  This happened largely in a COMMUNITY called "weigh in wednesday".  A dear friend from college who I haven't seen in twelve years started courageously posting her weight on her blog every Wednesday.  Her actual numbers.  And she invited others to join her.  Women would post their thoughts and experiences with eating, exercising, and surrender to Christ and their weight each week.  I decided to join a few months after I had my baby boy.  I didn't think anything would be different in my weight loss song and dance, I would lose 15, maybe even 25 pounds and then quit and start gaining them back, but I thought this was a good place to begin the dance.  One would think the transparency of having your actual weight out there for all to see would create some kind of accountability and motivation, but I felt so much love and grace that this was not the case.  And I learned over time that I don't think "accountability" really changes lasting behavior all that much.  After months of participation in this community I was able to put my finger on why it was so helpful.  It was weekly.  It was consistent and frequent enough to keep me engaged and it encouraged me to WEIGH MYSELF ONCE A WEEK.  Any more or any less amount of times on the scale seems to be counterproductive for people.  It also gave me a place to VERBALLY PROCESS.  I knew there would be a group of women to "listen" to what I had to say about my struggle and pain and even better than talking to them, I was forced to write which limited my "rambling" and caused more concise and profound reflections.  I so looked forward to Wednesdays.  I knew if I hadn't lost an ounce or if I had lost four pounds, I was going to check in, post my weight, and talk.  I had tried doing something similar in a journaling setting before, but for me it made all the difference to know someone would actually read and perhaps respond to my thoughts.  These women provided a space for me to do my hard work.  They were there every week.  They encouraged and lifted me up.  They were the catalyst God used to heal me.
Another difference in my "approach" this time was STARTING WITH MAINTENANCE.  I thought "what if I start with a regiment I could live with the rest of my life?" instead of starting with intense exercise, great calorie reduction, and avoidance of certain foods.  This mindset really took so much pressure off as I never had a "last chance workout" where I wanted to die; I never "craved" something that I wasn't "allowed" to have; I ate m&ms every day.  I just measured them.  I decided to  COUNT CALORIES as this seemed the simplest way to go.  At first I just kept track on a slip of paper, but later I loaded my fitness pal onto my phone and keeping track was even easier.  I chose a calorie amount that would maintain a healthy BMI for my height and gender and I kept it at that the entire year.  I found that if I fed my body more nourishing foods I would actually feel better and when I slacked in that my body would actually dislike it.  I started each morning with a green smoothie and still do.  This ROUTINE helped set up my day and it made me feel clean on the inside and I wasn't as quick to want to mess that up.  (Of course when I was eating to quiet voices of pain it didn't matter how my body felt).  I worked to make things easy.  If it wasn't convenient I wouldn't do it.  If it didn't fit with the flow of my day, no matter how great of an idea, it wasn't going to happen.  So, I made containers with all the ingredients for one morning's smoothie so I merely dumped and blended it.  I applied this principle to exercise as well.  I started walking with a friend.  Although exercising with her made it much more enjoyable and I knew she was counting on me, just her presence wasn't enough to keep me showing up (I really hate exercise).  But because we set it up to be so "easy" I never missed a day.  Actually it wasn't "easy" as much as it was "mindless".  I would get up, get everyone ready, drop older children off at school and pull into the mall parking lot.  I would unload the stroller, strap in my infant, grab my water bottle and start walking.  There wasn't an opportunity to decide whether I would do it or not.  I gave myself no choice. I also got cute yoga pants and matching jacket so that I could go grocery shopping or meet a friend for coffee afterward.  I took out every excuse I had made and gave myself no option to "bail."  I found that the walking not only helped with my weight loss but it improved my mental health and attitude so much that it actually contributed to my emotional healing.  It wasn't about "the burn", but more about fueling my body and my mind as I changed my view on eating, exercise, everything.  Finally, being more PRESENT in my life and not numbing myself with food caused me to see that I could act apart from my circumstances.  The number on the scale or the day I had with the kids or the phone call that triggered my fears did not have to control my behavior.  In this new discovery I was able to keep making the thousands of small changes it takes to add up to one new life.  I could still exercise even though my baby hadn't slept more than two hours at a time for months.  I could stop eating the m&ms at one serving even though the shocking diagnosis I had just learned of in our family and I "deserved" to eat more.  Even when the scale showed no loss and I had worked hard that week I didn't derail.  I knew that I had stayed the course that week and if I stayed the course the next week and the next the scale would have to move.  I would often chant, "JUST KEEP SWIMMING" to myself.  I would do it in Dorie's clueless and chipper voice too because that's part of the beauty of it.  Even though circumstances around her were dire, she just kept swimming, la, la, la.  And sometimes you have to do that until things do make sense.  You just keep doing the right thing until it becomes habit, until it starts to change you, until it is who you are and you don't even have to think about it anymore.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

How did you DO it? part two

My grandma loved to tell a story about me as a toddler.  She told it with a smile and affection in her voice, but when I grew up and realized what it meant, it hit me like a punch to the stomach.  She would tell of my little blonde-headed self bragging to anyone who would listen about how I was "finning" out.  Yes,"finning" out.  Apparently I meant to say "thinning".
I've been trying to "lose weight" since I was two.  I have valued being thin since before I was out of diapers.  

Yet that thing I spent so much of my time chasing after slipped through my fingers.  For three decades I tried everything the world of weight loss had to offer.  I even caught on eventually that one had to resolve their emotional/spiritual issues to gain true mastery over their weight.  I always knew I had issues with food.  I just couldn't figure out what those issues were!  I tried so very hard to unravel the mystery as I was told this was the only way to lasting weight loss.  I knew I wasn't using food as a friend like many people do.  I wasn't overeating to give myself a protective cloak of weight, although I understood why a lot of women do that.  It took me tuning into my pain to find the key to the door I had been slamming my head into for years.  The only way I have found to gain freedom, is by sitting in, soaking in, exploring deeply, and marinating in pure, unfiltered, pain.  Now you see why this isn't a popular diet plan.  It hurts.  To actually look at your pain, your really deep pain, and stare it in the face, and not take one of the thousands of free passes to escape it is hard.  It is really, really hard.  There is ugliness and shame and rejection that cannot be shaken until you actually look it in the eye and move through it.  And I've never met anyone who's instincts didn't tell them to run from that kind of threat.  When everything in you tells you to flea and you stand firm, and even move toward the danger, there you will find what you've been looking for.  
I didn't know that every time a hint of that pain would show itself, I could put it back in "it's place" with food.  I could distract, deny, rationalize, and just plain avoid by eating.  It was simple really.  And I was so good at it, I didn't even know I was doing it.  

This cartoon is meant for a laugh, but I stopped laughing after I realized how true it was. Eating a cookie is not a bad thing, but when the cookies take over your life and steal your freedom and you spend more time plotting how to get the cookies, and hide the cookies and consume the cookies without anyone seeing you, it is a very bad thing.  

There was a moment I engaged in a battle to look at my pain it turned out to be a defining moment in my life.  A friend of mine had hosted a bake sale.  I had attended the bake sale and purchased and eaten responsibly.  But the next day at my doorstep was a grocery bag filled with her leftovers-homemade cookies, brownies, and other treats.  My very favorite way to escape.  When I opened the bag my heart actually began to race.  My body tensed.  I felt panic.  I started to breathe heavy and I felt compelled to do what I have always done around sweets.  I needed to consume them all, and quickly.  I needed to make this intense discomfort stop.  And I felt there was only one way to do that.  I knew the routine, I had done it so many hundreds of times before.  My body didn't need a command from my brain.  But this time I stopped. I recognized the anxiety I was feeling.  I stopped.  I chose to feel the panic and not act on it.  I asked myself-"what is the worst thing that could happen if I just didn't eat these?"  I felt like I would die.  I really did.  I felt such palpable fear.  Of course my rational self knows that is ridiculous.  Of COURSE I wouldn't die.  I didn't need to eat anything to live another day, let alone a sugary pastry.  Clearly this was about more than caloric intake.  This was something far beyond a nutritional requirement.  This was a much deeper need.  I needed to feel safe.  I needed to feel in control.  I needed to stop feeling helpless.  And I could avoid all of those horrible feelings with just the consumption of some "treats".  It seemed like a worthwhile trade.  I had made that trade all my life.  The problem was, I wasn't just trading some of my time and a few pounds extra on my hips.  I was trading my life.  I was captive to this compulsion.  It gave the orders in my life.

I look back at my life and see that I was actually "out of my mind" when it came to food.  I did not see food as something to sustain life, a daily ritual to feed my body, or even something to be enjoyed.  I was anything but logical.  I ate out of big feelings and I ate to avoid big feelings.  I was desperate to consume more and I was desperate to quit.  Because these feelings were so deep, so strong, so powerful, I couldn't see.  I couldn't see what I was doing and therefore I couldn't see a way out.  The day I stopped in the face of a mountain of baked goods and breathed instead of mindlessly consuming,  was the day that changed my life.  I was alone and no one but my friend knew I had those cookies.  I could've eaten the entire pile and hidden all evidence.  I know I could've because I've done it so many times before.  But, because by the grace of God I leaned in to my pain, felt my fear, and still lived to tell about it, now I am free.  I still had a long road ahead as one hundred pounds did not fall off that day.  There was much work to be done and more discomfort to feel, but I knew things would never be the same.  And they never have been.

So you're probably left wondering, "What do I actually DO?"  How do I change without a plan, a diet, or a book? I would give anything to be able to give you what you want.  Sadly all I can do is invite you into your own pain.  All I can offer is asking you to find your place of fear; become a detective in your own life.  When do I overeat? How do I feel when I'm about to overeat?  How do I see food?  When is a time I have felt anxious or when I am out of control?  Once you find it, then I ask you to sit.  Sit and feel.  Sit and feel and breathe.  Breathe a lot.  Once you've started to recognize and feel and be present in the moment you will need to process.  The feelings need somewhere to go.  For me, I was able to do this with a weekly "meeting" online with friends exploring the same issues in addition to talking with my sister, husband, and best friend.  I think this could be done most effectively with a quality counselor.  Weekly.  If not, more frequently.  There is much to feel and much to reflect on and many connections to be made, but there is also much hope.  The beauty is, once these feelings are felt and released, they leave you alone; for good.  Like a counselor professor I once knew said "Things that are not completely dealt with in a horror movie, always return...and always at the worst possible times."  It my be more comfortable to "put these things down" with a cookie (or ten), but they will always, always, always come back.  Once we stop appeasing our hurt and bribing it to stay quiet, we are free.  Christ has come to set us free.  He bore our pain at great price and the least we can do is let him have it.

(I have one more post of practical "tips" that were helpful for me in the day to day.  But, I cannot emphasize how UNhelpful they will be without this critical step.  It IS what made this time around different.  I pray it will be different for you too)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

HOW did you do it?!

"How did you DO it?"  It's a question I was often asked as people began to notice my weight loss.  People i knew, people I didn't know-they all demanded my "secret".  It was a bit frustrating trying to explain a story to someone who was wanting a product, a plan, or a pill.  

It has been a journey, an awakening, and a process.  I've done all the plans, tried all the products,  and swallowed all the pills.  And some of them worked.  None of them lasted.  This time was different- so different.  I lost over 100 pounds in a year.  And it has been almost a year since.  I am not following a diet.  I am living a new life.  I'm not white knuckling it.  There is no willpower involved.  I am a different person.  A person who is at a healthy weight for the first time in her entire life.  A person who doesn't spend a majority of her thought life thinking about weight and food.  

For so many years I spent hours a day dreaming about what it would be like to walk into a "normal" clothing store and be likely to find something that fit.  So much of my time I fantasized about being able to wear a swimsuit without shorts and t-shirt.  I thought it would be the most amazing experience in the world to be "skinny" and have others compliment my body.  Incredibly, these are not the things I delight in on the other side.  What i enjoy most now is the freedom.  Not the freedom to share clothes with my girlfriends and shop where I want, but the freedom from all the time and emotion I spent on being a prisoner.  I am overjoyed at the freedom from fear when I look at a tray of brownies.  I am not a hostage.  I am not a puppet.  I now choose what I do and that has made all the difference.  

So I still haven't answered your question, have I?  "How DID I do it?"  Well, that's a story that God started in me long ago, but it really started taking shape two months after I had my third son in 2011.    How God redeemed my ugly relationship with food is nothing short of miraculous in my opinion.  The entire time it was happening I kept saying and feeling like "this is not my own doing".  And I was right.  It was supernatural.  How he did that in my particular circumstance is a long story.  I will try to condense it into one post, or maybe two.   

Why do I write this now?  I write this to give you hope.  I lived thirty three years under this oppression.  I believed I always would.  I write to give him glory.  And to let you know his healing is waiting.  

There is that thing you think about every day.  That pattern you wish, hope, pray, beg for to go away, to leave you alone; that thing you've tried countless times to "quit".  There is this thing you'd pay a million dollars to leave you alone.  You don't have to live with such a cruel bedfellow.  To divorce yourself from it is a ripping, pain-filled process.  But the freedom you get in exchange is worth any price.  
I know.