In 2005, I began my weight loss journey — one that lasted for 13 humbling months and concluded with me losing 135 pounds. It was the most transformative experience of my life — and not simply in the ways one might expect. Of course, I had changed my body dramatically. But once my body changed, the work wasn’t done; I had to transform my relationship with my body and eating. This past January, I published a New York Times bestselling memoir, It Was Me All Along, about growing up big and struggling to find peace and balance with food. Here is a glance at my journey:
I had always struggled with my weight. I was the one who was teased, the one who wore a women’s size 12 dress to her first communion…but after my sophomore year of college, in the summer after I turned 20, I knew I was the biggest I’d ever been. The jeans I’d just bought in size 22 were already snug. I decided to join the YMCA with my best friend, just as we’d done for the past few summers. We walked into the locker room to put our bags down before working out, I stepped on the scale to weigh myself, and when 268 pounds stared back at me, it was the most terrifying moment. I couldn’t think of a time in my life when I hadn’t been overweight, when I hadn’t been aware of how big I was. I recognized that if I’d only ever gained weight, if I’d only ever climbed up and up and up on the scale, the scary part of weighing 268 pounds wasn’t being that particular weight, it was going beyond that weight. 300. 315…
The day I reached my highest weight, I was set on fire with motivation to change my life. I started eating better: more fruits, more vegetables. I added salads to my life, swapped my usual snacks for a serving of nuts, and removed soda entirely. I committed to going to the gym five times a week and either doing group fitness classes, using the elliptical, or power walking. I joined Weight Watchers for a few months at one point, before eventually settling into a comfortable routine of calorie counting and keeping a journal of what I ate. Six months into my journey, I did the unthinkable: I started jogging — something I was sure I’d never be able to do. In time, I was able to run for four, or sometimes five, miles without stopping.
A little over a year after I’d started, I stepped on the same scale I’d first weighed myself on. I was 135 pounds down.
It was the most exhilarating thing — thinness. I’d never felt anything like the confidence I had then. And at first, the motivation that had carried me through weight loss kept me going strong into maintenance. But when it started to wane and I could feel myself wondering when the dieting would end and the living would start, I realized that I had to begin a new journey — one that involved real balance.
Over the course of the next year, I worked on my emotional relationship with eating. I went to therapy and journaled when I felt myself slipping into old patterns. It was a slow process, but I was beginning to unpack and work through the reasons I had struggled with my weight all my life. And getting to the root of those — and recommitting every day to being aware of my triggers to eat emotionally — is what allows me to live a full and balanced life now, 10 years later.
Losing over 100 pounds gave me this belief in myself, this sense of strength — knowing that I’d not only done something I’d always promised myself I’d do, but also that I could commit to goals and achieve them. For a time, I felt like there was nothing I couldn’t at least try to do, and that feeling of hopefulness, of tremendous power and possibility, is just about the most incredible thing I’ve ever felt. Even now, when I feel my confidence flagging or self-doubt creeping in, I think back to having accomplished that, and I can draw at least a little strength.
But there will always be those days — the late afternoons or evenings — when I feel a nostalgic and insatiable hunger creeping up. The way it feels when it hits me is so familiar now that I can recognize it as emotional, and not physical. It’s always hard in those moments to dissect what’s really going on that has led me to want to eat. Am I anxious? Am I stressed? Am I bored or lonely? Do I want to procrastinate this project or task? It’s hard to choose to work through those feelings, rather than feed myself to cover them over. But I do, because ultimately, I’m aware that eating to cope with all of life’s challenges — big and small — led me to morbid obesity. And that’s not a place I want to find myself ever again.
Practically speaking, my best advice for those just starting out — and for anyone, really — is to just try to eat real, whole food as much as you can. It’s not a diet rule, or a 12-week fix — it’s a way of life. Cut out the processed foods (within reason — your life is yours alone, so adjust as you’d like). Eat foods with as few ingredients as possible — foods that are as close to their original form or source as you can. Add more fruits, more vegetables…more foods that give you energy. You find, slowly, that you inch out the things that might be a little less than desirable.
But the real heart of what I believe about life and weight loss is just this: Do it today. When you have a lot of weight to lose, as I did, it feels so, so overwhelming to think about the future — all the days you’ll have to keep at this journey. You wonder, Will I ever just be able to fall off the rails and eat a massive slice of cake again? Can I just have buffalo chicken pizza? Those feelings of overwhelm can really send you into a panic that makes it so that you stop trying to lose weight altogether. You keep promising yourself you’ll start tomorrow. But what helps is committing to just today. All I tried to focus on when I was losing was the present moment. I’d ask myself, Can I make it to the end of the day in the best way I know how? I didn’t think about tomorrow, or how hard it would be to stay on track at happy hour on Friday, or at brunch on the weekend. Just today.
That’s my mantra with everything — doing the very best I can just for today.
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