Since I gave my TEDx talk last February, I’ve lost weight…again. And yet, the losing, it didn’t start right away. Not after the eighteen-minute speech, not after I realized precisely how far off-track I’d gotten, not even when my shame was five-alarm. No, it started when I wrote “Losing and Gaining.” A blog post.
But not a blog post, in the ordinary sense. In fairness to that post, it was one of the most important things I’d ever written — not for anyone else, no. Purely for myself. It wasn’t about telling you I’d gained weight, though, sure it was, in the sense that I’d failed to maintain some of that weight loss success story you might have come to know me as; it was that releasing my shame created space. Space for relief, for acceptance. It was one thing for me to ruminate for months on how much I’d gained and how much sanity I’d lost in the process, but saying it all aloud — that forced a reconciliation. I had to tell you, not only that I’d gained weight — and hey, that was almost the least of the troubles — but on a real, serious note that I wasn’t OK, that I was struggling with binge eating again, and that I had a lot of shame built up about it. In the end, I might have heard what I said the loudest.
The post did what can only be done when you stop procrastinating and do exactly the thing that feels undoable, insurmountable, and downright ruinous. You do the scary thing — the thing you’ve tried not to do because you don’t want to face it, and then, something lifts. You might feel worse immediately, but within a day, a week, you’re freer somehow. You air out the tiny particles of fear, of anxiety, all the stuck-on bits of your resistance, and then they’re just floating out there, unattached to you.
Only recently have I begun to wonder if I didn’t need to experience some of that depression. If I didn’t need to regain some weight — and lose it again — just to relearn a major lesson. And that lesson has to do with my favorite pastime: Procrastination. Boiled down, it’s this: The notion that I can run away when I get uncomfortable, that I can procrastinate feeling or dealing with a situation and handle things later — causes me nothing but more discomfort.
For me, other than the five pound gains that come after holidays or big, fun vacations, significant weight gain is often pretty reflective of where I am emotionally. The weight, it means that something’s off for me. It’s a siren, and also and a symptom. It tells me that I’ve lost my balance. Often, I’ve begun binge eating, or I’ve become so overwhelmed with some part or parts of my life (a relationship, work, comparing what I’m supposed to be doing with what I AM doing, others’ perceptions of me, you name it I feel it) that I have to avoid living in the present altogether. I eat.
I procrastinate dealing with the feeling by focusing on food for the time being. I put anxieties, turmoil, and whatever else I may want to avoid away to the back of my mind, and I instead fill my mind, my time, and then my body, with food. It’s a procrastination by way of distraction, and at its heart, an avoidance of the present.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield writes on procrastination, “We don’t tell ourselves, ‘I’m never going to write my symphony.’ Instead we say, ‘I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to do it tomorrow.'” This speaks to me. It speaks to how I feel about dealing with challenging emotions and also how I have, in the past, felt about starting the process of losing weight. It’s not that I can’t, or won’t, handle this situation/emotion, or this big weight loss goal; it’s that I can’t handle it right now. No, right now I just have to take a second to myself and find a little bit of comfort. And the sick trick of it is: tomorrow I only feel worse. I’m only further away. I’m only more lost, with emotions even muddier, and needing — oh you know — one more day to sort it out.
The older I get, and I’m just approaching thirty, the more acutely aware I am of the false sense of security that distraction and procrastination provide. When I think logically about those things — the feelings, the situations — that I tend to avoid, I realize that what I’m essentially telling myself is that I can’t or won’t be able to handle them. That if I let the feelings in, or if I deal with the situation — that they’ll crush me. But will they? Think about this for yourself. There must have been a time when you were sure that you couldn’t make it through something — death, a breakup, divorce, job loss. Did it do what you thought it would? Did it kill you? If you’re reading this, I’m guessing it didn’t.
We choose, often and at times not fully consciously, to believe that we’re not ready or not able to deal with the uncomfortable stuff — but in the end, when we avoid and wait, and wait, and wait, we’re only worse off. We’re only less confident, less believing in ourselves, more afraid, and more comfortable in that waiting room that we’ve created.
When you don’t deal with your stuff (the weight you need to lose, the job you want to leave, that difficult talk you should have, the relationship that should be over by now), you become a hoarder. You pack it in, and it ends up somewhere. For those of us who emotionally eat — those feelings? They’re on us, in the form of pounds of flesh.
It’s time to unpack them. It’s time to make sure we’re not adding to a collection we never meant to start in the first place.
The heart of the message of my TEDx talk, and the real answer I give to anyone who asks me what the most valuable piece of advice I can offer about weight loss is — we can’t keep waiting until the time is right, until we feel better, until everything’s in its right place, to start. We’ve got to get to it. We’ve got to deal with the stuff we might not like, we’ve got to labor, and that means today. Now.
This year — from February forward — I feel a real shift happening. A good shift. I was catching up with an old friend the other day and when he asked me how I was doing, I found myself on the verge of choking up as I told him that for the first time in a long time, I mean it when I say: I’m doing really well. And when I say that, it’s coming from a place of genuine gratitude. I get how kind of yuck talking about gratitude can be. A little too syrupy, at times fake-seeming. But as someone who has felt a deep and gnawing void, has wanted to make a real exit from everywhere, has battled a profound sense of hopelessness, I’m OK with how odd it might sound to say that I’m just so happy to be alive, in this place, feeling good. That goodness is something for which I am so, so unbearably thankful.
I’ve lost a fair bit of weight since May — somewhere around 30 pounds — and I feel a lot more like myself. Physically, more like the person I was for 6 of the past 8 years. Emotionally, mentally — I am clearer, more balanced, less anxious. The weight — of course it doesn’t just fall off when I feel better, but in some ways, it’s easier for me to let it go. Food no longer exists as the the only thing that brings me a rush of good feelings. I can move more; I can eat better.
Depression lifts and suddenly, everything’s possible. I’m able to tend to the less savory parts of my life, and in doing that, I realize more fully that I usually survive if I work through rather than around.
What does any of this mean for you? I guess it means that you, like me, might have things in your life that need tending to. Things you’re avoiding, projects you just can’t bring yourself to tackle, shame that’s so overgrown you can’t even find its roots. Those things — maybe they drive you to distraction. And you, like me, might have begun to procrastinate living.
If you have, maybe now’s the time to get honest. To deal with your stuff, because even if it seems like you’re just waiting and you’re promising you’ll start soon(!) — that time and buildup is showing itself in other ways. It’s making you feel worse; it’s aggressively spreading into other areas of your life; it’s piling on as weight; it’s waking you up in the middle of the night.
The more you deal with the stuff you hate — sift through it, throw it away — the better you get at it all. And soon, you’re not so overwhelmed. You’re not so stuck.
It’s time to feel, and really be, OK. And that’s not something you can put off. Not even for a day. So start. And we’ll both see where we are. We’ll air shames. We’ll compare notes. And maybe we’ll both feel released and relieved enough to get on with the living that’s to be done.
But do start.