Everyone who is anyone in fitness and nutrition will tell you that setting goals is paramount to any weight loss or fitness program…I think that’s bullshit. Goals have an end point, whether you set big goals or small goals they are attainable, they can be completed. When I started losing weight, I didn’t have a number in mind because I didn’t want to limit how far I could go. I didn’t want to make boundaries for myself that would dampen in my progress. Goals should be about a direction (stronger, faster, and leaner) not a destination.
I’d like you to imagine that you’re back in middle school looking all fabulous with your braces and zits and robed in pubescent awkwardness. Try to remember back to the math lesson where you learned the difference between a line segment and a ray….remember a line segment has a finite beginning and ending and rays have a beginning point but go on forever in one direction. Let’s look at our journey as a ray not a line segment….and I only say this because I don’t want you to stop. I want you to be hungry for things you never thought possible.
When I was a little girl growing up in a broken home without any money or stability and too many children (there were 5 of us- that seemed like too many at the time), I made goals for myself. I wanted to have a husband who would never leave me (check), a number of children that I could afford to support and pay for college for (that’s 2), a nice home and a career that I loved. Looking around, I’ve accomplished that before 40 sooooooo where do I go from here….Should I have shot for more? Were my goals too attainable and now that I have the husband and the kids and the dog and the house, can I dream bigger or am I limited by what I’ve already accomplished? I know lots of people who are dieting and exercising to lose weight for a vacation or a class reunion….once they get there, they will inevitably put it back on because their goal was attained….without a specific goal, there is always something to work and strive for…this seems like a lifetime commitment and isn’t that the kind of commitment we all seek?
When setting your fitness goals or your life goals in general keep them open and loose…I know there’s a sexual innuendo in there that I’m missing, feel free to fill in your own. Your goals are only a direction for you to go, the start of a ray that goes on indefinitely…don’t limit yourself to a number, a size, a quantity but dwell in things unimaginable and I’m pretty sure that you will find them to be attainable too.
The most powerful thing I’ve learned in the last year is the power of the word “no”. It’s in our nature to say “yes”. “Yes” means you’re included, “yes” means you’re helpful, “yes” means you’re adventurous but “yes” as a response has way more significant consequences than “no”. “Yes” leaves you open. “Yes” leaves you vulnerable. “Yes” puts you out there at the whims of others. “No” is finite. “No” says I choose for me. “No” feels powerful.
It took me a long time to be able to say “no” to food (especially emotional eating instead of fuel eating) but once those words became a familiar swirl in my mouth, I dropped them like the “f” bomb. Saying “no” to food that wasn’t good for me was far easier than saying “no” to other things that added no value and detracted from my self-esteem, my identity, and my self-worth.
I’ve said “yes” to some pretty horrible things in the last year as I’ve struggled to find myself in this new skin. I’ve taken chances that could have cost me everything, and still may. I’m a pretty outgoing person. I have a big mouth and a raunchy sense of humor. Losing weight made a lot of the big parts of my personality smaller at least to the world at large. I didn’t know how to fit that big personality in the smaller frame. And even though I loved the attention of comments about my dwindling size, the attention on my size made me anxious in a way that I had never felt before. When I was big and loud and brash, people weren’t looking at my body but that had all changed now and the smallest of glances made me want to retreat. So I started saying “yes” to things privately. I withdrew into myself and became secretive. Saying “yes” to risky things in private allowed me to test this new body and the transformations that were coming along with it. I had spent the first 36 years of my life living outside of myself but now there was this desire to move inward, to test out who I now felt I was becoming and it scared the shit out of me. “Yes” left me open to new experiences but not ones that made me better but made sicker instead.
A year into this journey I’ve learned the power of the word “no”. While everything I thought I was for the first half of my life became a jumbled mess, the word “no” righted that sinking ship. “No”, just because I look different on the outside doesn’t mean I’ve lost my morals, judgment, or self-value. No allowed me to say it’s not OK to treat me this way. “No” said I’m worth more than what you’re giving. “No” said I’m choosing things that are going to make me stronger, healthier, and not break me down. As your body changes and people start to see and treat your differently use the word “no” like a sword that keeps bad things at bay- use “no” as a weapon you use to defend yourself and to fight for the person you’re becoming.
It’s all about technology right? We live in the modern age where any question can be answered by Google and no matter what you need help with there’s an app for that. We’re accustomed to getting our solutions efficiently and from a plethora of technological resources. But we suck at using our best resources, people.
Don’t get me wrong. Technology is to be embraced especially if you’re trying to lose weight or be healthier. I use Pinterest to plan my nutritional meals and I love Skinny taste as a resource for this! I use a Fitbit to count my steps. I follow several fitness coaches on Instagram to motivate me and give me new ideas for workouts. I track what I eat in a day in this great app called My Fitness Pal. Technology is bringing the answers to us better than ever before. But when was the last time you actually asked someone about what they were doing to be healthier, fitter, leaner. My best resources have been the people who are working on similar goals, they have given me the best tips but maybe the reason that they work so well is because their ideas are tied to a bit of humanity that we are all so starved for. Whether we know that we are craving it or not, we value and need that human connection more than ever on our fitness journey.
Someone I interacted daily with for the last 8 years went through an amazing physical transformation too and while we always smiled and exchanged pleasantries throughout the day, I got to know him because of our conversations about our parallel physical transformation. He was the one who told me to not worry about spending an hour on the treadmill, that it would do more for my interest, sanity, and body to bounce around to a variety of machines. His suggestion worked for me and probably because he saw me every day for 8 years not be able to sit in one spot for more than 10 minutes.
It’s all algorithms with technology- if you search for something or like something there is an algorithm that predicts what else you would enjoy but humans have connections that offer far more variables that may better suit what you would like or what you might be interested in. A prime example is this slightly older woman who I see every day at the gym. We say “hi” and smile but I’m obsessed with staring at her rack- it’s spectacular and while I search and pin about exercises to make your chest better I finally got up the nerve one day to ask her what exercises she does to make her boobs look so great. “Oh honey there aren’t exercises for that, there’s only surgery.” She took my hand and let me feel them (yeah that’s the kind of stuff that happens in the women’s gym at 5 am- in case you’re wondering) and I remember thinking how they weren’t soft like mine and how much my kids would hate cuddling against them. Try that on Pinterest…if you like her boobs, you might also like your own fleshy mammary glands. Algorithm broken.
People watch and then ask…while you might not get your answer as quickly as Google, you might be surprised by the answer you do get and it might help you on your fitness journey in ways you didn’t expect. I always watch people when I’m working out and I’m never afraid to ask how to use a machine or ask what they do to get a desired result (although I wouldn’t recommend asking men- I’ve learned the hard way that asking how to use a machine somehow translates into a request to be penetrated). Use your human resources as you get stronger and leaner and besides making some new friends and having some fun stories to tell, you might make a connection that an algorithm can’t make for you, a human connection.
Making time is infinitely more difficult than finding time because it requires choice. We make a million choices in a day but how often do we make choices that benefit us. I dream of a day before women’s lib when I only had to be a housewife. Now, we are expected to do it all and somehow in this radical liberation, that means I choose less and less of what I want to do because I’m too busy doing everything. If it’s important to you, you will MAKE time for it.
My husband and I have lived together for 18 years and anyone who has been together that long knows that life (i.e. CHILDREN- those pesky little time suckers) get in the way of a lot of togetherness. He comes home at 8, we wolf down dinner, the kids sometimes humor us by going to bed before 11, and maybe we get 10 minutes to talk to each other before we pass out from the wine or sheer exhaustion. And recently, I’ve felt really horrible about that so I’ve started MAKING time to be together… and while he didn’t particularly enjoy being woken up at 3am the first time, I’ve streamlined my approach and those pre-dawn sessions have re-energized our marriage. You can make 30 minutes (lol just kidding- 5 minutes) of your day be about connecting physically to your mate
The same holds true for finding time to work out. People always ask where I find the time to work out and I remind them that I’m fucking important so I make the time. I also look for those stolen moments- minutes in my day that I can multi-task some fitness in. For example, every time I get up to pee in the middle of the night (and since I’ve had 2 children that means about 3 times on average), I drop to the floor in my bedroom and do a 60 second plank. I think I may have given the husband a mild heart-attack the first time I dropped down on the floor “Bec, are you OK? Shit I thought you passed out. Damn, I’m good.” I’ve just stolen 3 minutes in my day to workout. I sometimes do a wall-sit against the lockers when I’m on hall duty. I park my car in the most remote spot in the parking lot at the mall or grocery store. I do the stairs twice when I have to get something from the top floor at home or at work. I do my Kegels every time a commercial comes on the radio during my commute to work (don’t forget about those muscles….grrrr). I do lunges every time I walk back and forth from the laundry room to my bedroom, sometimes with a load of wash for those all-important arm muscles. I do squats in-between unloading and reloading the dishwasher. My kids make me do push-ups every time I swear in front of them (I especially like the f-bomb so recently my arms are looking pretty ripped). There are a million moments to steal for yourself, for your health, for your fitness if it’s important to you, you will MAKE the time. If not you will make excuses. You only get to choose one. Choose wisely.
So much of eating and exercising was always tied up in my head to some kind of S&M fantasy. I liked to punish and reward with food…sometimes when I was rewarding myself for some trivial accomplishment…I would think to myself-“Yeah eat that fatty” like a bad line from a 90’s porno….and then I’d feel the pain of it later and that felt just as good as the crime. We are all driven by rewards and punishments and since infancy food seems very tied to this mechanism (a special dessert if you got a good report card, no dinner if you got bad call home). So I took that S&M relationship with food and exercise and I made it work for me.
Now people, with a lot more knowledge and training in psychology and nutrition and fitness will ardently disagree with my approach but it’s what worked for me and while it may not work for you- I implore you to stop listening to tv weight loss commercials, stop pinning workout plans that you have no intention of doing, or meal plans that require you to eat a bunch of poison that has been substituted for real food. Find what works for you- even if it’s a little crazy because ultimately if it doesn’t work for you, you won’t do it right?
I broke some hard, fast weight loss rules right away (but I am a secret bad-ass so that shouldn’t surprise you too much). First, I get on the scale every day, every time I see a scale, even at work, and if I was small enough, I would have weighed myself on the vegetable scale in the produce aisle and you would have had to skirt your children away from me and explain THAT over dinner. You check your bank balance regularly. You check your kids’ grades online (I know you do). You check your partner’s texts and emails (ok that may not be all of us) but you get the idea. I needed immediate feedback…and blah blah blah about the time of day and water weight and all that other completely factual and relevant information. If I gained, I ran at the gym, in front of people with only a sports bra on top which was truly embarrassing. If I lost, well I can’t tell you what I’d do but it was very pleasurable. Come up with your own punishments and rewards- incentivize yourself with what motivates you.
Second, I never did cheat meals in the first 6 months….I was in food sobriety and until I learned how to be stronger than my impulses- tempting myself seemed like an easy way to relapse. You wouldn’t cheat on your partner just on the weekends, right (“But baby it was Saturday- you can’t be mad”). That is not to say there isn’t a time for a slice of pizza or a greasy cheeseburger but that time isn’t in the first 6 months. Got it. See how bossy I sounded there… that was me cracking the whip.
Day 1. Any day can be a Day 1. Mine was on a Tuesday in January. Yours can be today. I decided, and aren’t those powerful words because we all have the power to control things, we have to just decide to do them…and continue deciding to do them every day. I decided that I was going to be a vampire eater….no food during daylight hours…water, green tea and no food until dinner. Now I grew up Italian…there isn’t a carb I don’t know intimately and I decided to say goodbye to those as well…sigh. I got up at 4:45 on the first day with my stomach gurgling and imploring me to put something inside it- preferably a donut- I got dressed for the gym and was there by 5 am. I did cardio machines for 40 minutes and then a few half-assed attempts to do some weight machines and then I went home and resumed my busy life.
My kids noted that I didn’t cuddle in the bed with them to wake them up instead hitting the lights and shaking them slightly. My students were shocked when I sent a pretty mild-mannered kid to the time out room for a minor infraction. My husband wasn’t too pleased to come home from a job he hates to find the house wasn’t as clean as it normally was (hey a girl has to get to the gym in the afternoon too) to find a meal (that while delicious and homemade) lacked a certain carby brilliance (“Bec, no homemade bread tonight”?). You only have so much energy- I teach math so I know that the equation has to be balanced- that when you add something, you inevitably lose something and that has to be a reality that you are willing to face and own and deal with daily. When people ask how I’m able to do everything, I always answer “I’m not doing everything so well”. There are sacrifices to be made. Being selfish is OK as long as you’re willing to be selfish.
I put the kids to bed and cried to my husband. Real tears over carbs…not that I could express it at the time…I told him I was sad and tired and while he tried to listen and make me feel better, he couldn’t have….I was literally crying over being hungry. Which in itself seems kind of dramatic- I mean I don’t have a distended belly like some poor child starving in some third world country. Hungry doesn’t mean food most of the time though…hungry means comfort and I was uncomfortable with not being able to mask my emotions with food. So I cried, not because I was starving, but because I was allowing the sadness I had pushed down for the last 20 years to manifest and spread like chicken pox and there was nothing I could do but scratch at it. I started thinking about my childhood, my marriage, my general lack of dissatisfaction with myself. It itched and spread but it felt good to rip at that skin even if I knew it would leave a scar.
Plan for this for a couple of weeks- unexplained moodiness, crying over nothing, not wanting to be touched or cuddled- it takes a while for your body to relearn what hunger really means and there will be a revolt but since I’m female, I just looked at it as 2 fun-filled weeks of PMS. It doesn’t seem worth it until you hear that first comment “You look good- what are you doing?” and then it all seems worth it. I lost 5 pounds in that first week and the loss now transforms to the ultimate gain…the satisfaction from eating something bad is now superseded by the words you will start to hear and I swallowed those words like a fat girl at a birthday party and let them sit in my empty stomach until I was full.
Huh. 3 Little letters. Slang of the lowest level….an incomplete utterance at best. That was what transformed my whole life. I posted a picture of my fat self after a workout and some old boyfriend from high school posted “huh” as his comment. I let “huh” sit with me for a day or two- like “huh- you look like you don’t spend enough time at the gym” or “huh, you’ve really let yourself go after high school” but I was shocked when I finally inquired what “huh” meant and he responded “I want to fuck you.” You know how TV shows in a science classroom always have this elaborate set up of impressive glassware with brightly colored bubbling concoctions that sizzle and fizz until the moment when some careless person bumps into them setting off a chain reaction that results in a massive explosion resulting in a purple plume of smoke. He was the careless person who set off the calamity that would change my world, him and those 3 little letters. Huh.
I started thinking about the way I looked for maybe the first time in years…I’m a mom, a teacher, a wife, and a hundred other boring things that make you feel asexual at best…while I try to look my best- I never really have the luxury of time to think about it. I remember the night after the “huh reveal” I took a hand mirror, got completely naked in front of the floor length mirror in my bathroom and spent 20 minutes looking at my flesh from every angle. I don’t recommend doing this, no matter how perfect you look, without a few glasses of wine on standby. It’s raw in a way you can’t understand until you see yourself up close and uncovered, vulnerable isn’t a painful enough word. I think we have a vision in our heads of what we look like but it never really matches reality- well I saw reality and it horrified me. Even though I had been fat my whole life, I knew something had to be done…after all I was now viewed as “fuckable” to someone besides my loving husband. And just in case you think I forgot about him and this story is all about fucking some other man, it’s not. I am one of those lucky women whose husband fell in love with her because of who she was, not what she looked like. My husband is significantly better looking than I am, way out of my league in terms of his body, style, and looks. Honestly I wasn’t his type but I was a good girl and he was blinded by that. Lucky me.
So this is how I did it. I lost 60 pounds in a year. I went from a size 14 to a 6 without any miracle pills, pre-made meals, or gadgets and gizmos. Just raw iron will power, a lot of crying, some poor choices that will probably end up costing it all; a small price to pay to lose that much. But be warned…you can follow what I did and probably end up with the same results but remember this disclaimer. It only looks better on the outside because this journey shows how my dramatic weight loss didn’t change that I was fat and ugly on the inside too.