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What Defines You? December 24, 2013

Posted by J. in Genius.
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I was sweating away on the Arc trainer the other day, as I often do, watching the bank of TV’s overhead to take my mind off the aching in my thighs and the sweat trickling into the crack of my ass. I actually like watching A Baby Story because it’s nice to see women in more pain and sweating harder than I am, but I happened to be Keeping Up With the Kardashians that day, and a commercial came on. I usually ignore the commercials because they don’t tend to close caption them, and besides…commercials. But a Special K ad caught my eye.

Defined by a Number

It says that from the time we are born, we are defined by a number. And they show a baby and kids being weighed and then adults standing on scales. The point of it is they’re asking about what your goal is. Is it just a number, or is it something more? Shouldn’t it be something more?

It got me to thinking hard about my goal weight, and whether that was a term I still wanted in my life. When I started, I set my goal weight at 200 pounds. I know it’s still fat, still outside the healthy weight range for a woman my height, but for mental reasons, it seemed like all I’d be able to manage. I didn’t want to set myself up to fail if I didn’t have to. Plus, I know I look pretty darn good at 200 pounds. I’m still plus sized, but the pluses are all in the right places. It’s nothing to sneeze at, and still meant a 160 pound weight loss, which is pretty daunting all on its own.

As I’ve crept closer to 200, my thinking has changed. My health has improved and the things I can do are growing all the time, albeit slowly. Just being able to walk for 30 minutes a day seemed huge at first, and now it’s nothing. Hell, it’s a bare minimum. I do that if I’m sick. A 30 minute walk at this point is practically phoning it in. And as I close in on that original goal–I’m within 40 pounds now–getting to my healthy weight range seems more important. Two hundred is still too overweight for my frame. There is no reason I can’t get to between 120 and 150 pounds. I can’t imagine being under 140. I really want to look good, and healthy. If that happens at 150, sweet. If I get to 120 and look amazing, that would be great, too. I have made my closest friends and family PROMISE me that if I start looking like I have The Cancer, they’ll intervene. And on my part, I PROMISE to listen and not make excuses.

It’s a concern. I doubt my ability to be objective. We all know there’s a line between ” you look great” and “okay, enough is enough” and I want a safety line there so that I’m not constantly pushing myself to a lower and lower goal just to prove that I can do it. Or because the allure of being in sizes I’ve never conceived of draws me in. Or because having been fat my whole life I feel like I have something to prove.

I still don’t have a hard number for a weight goal. I keep waffling, because I really don’t know where that line is. One-forty seems like a good round number, but it’s fairly arbitrary, and I’m leaving it that way. At the end of the day I know I have nothing to prove by hitting it, or not hitting it, by staying at it, or by keeping on past it.

And as the thoughts consume my brain, I see this commercial come on between shots of Kim K’s ass asking me “What defines you?” Is it a number on the scale? Or on a tape measure? Or on the tag of a piece of clothing?

Or is it something else? What, Jennifer, is your REAL goal in all of this?

That opened up a whole new line of thinking. Goals have always been weight oriented. Number oriented. And they have their place. Numbers are used to measure things, including health, whether people like it or not. Getting to a healthy weight and size is important, and the numbers are there for a reason, and will continue to be. Kind of like how you don’t need a thermometer to tell you it’s cold out, but you do need one to make sure you won’t get food poisoning from the meat in your fridge.

But what are my real goals? I think I was on to something when I set 200 as an initial goal. Because I set it to something I could attain. I knew I had done it before and ergo, I could do it again. I set a goal for myself to “not fail.” It was an intangible, unmeasurable goal and I felt like it was a cop-out. I was scared of 140 because I’d never made it that far. But I realize now that the thought was right, even if the number was not.

The Special K commercial asks the question, “Is a number inspiring?”


Sometimes it is. You should see the look on people’s faces when they ask how much I’ve lost and I answer “120 pounds.” You’re probably making the face right now. And I can imagine the expressions when the answer is 240 pounds. That’s an inspiring number. And when I think of my progress and my journey in terms of numbers, that healthy weight range is inspiring. It’s motivating. It’s a very real, tangible goal.

But it’s not the end of the story. The commercial goes on to say “We believe in a more powerful motivation. Pride. Self esteem. Confidence. Not a number, but the way we want to feel. Beautiful.”

The tag line of the ad is “Tell us, what will you gain when you lose?”

Now that’s food for thought. It takes weight loss goals out of the tangible and brings into focus what really matters. What will you gain when you lose? Jesus…I don’t know.

I guess I’d start with what I have gained so far. Today, I know I think of myself in different terms than I did a year ago. It’s Christmas Eve, and I went to the gym. I was happy to go to the gym. I’m going to eat Chinese food later, and knowing that I offset the calories with a good workout made me feel…nothing. It was something that is healthy to do. Tomorrow, I’ll eat more than I usually do and foods that I wouldn’t touch the rest of the year because they’re not good for me. But this year, I’m not white-knuckling my ability to get back on that wagon. I’m not preemptively ashamed of a binge I know is coming. This year, I know that it’s a holiday, and everything is a little more relaxed. I’m going to eat and not count the cost, and I know, unlike last year, that I will step right back into my groove on Thursday morning, because it is who I am. Healthy is who I am.

Last year I was unsure, and the success I had gained seemed tentative. This year, I am confident.

I have gained confidence in my ability to do the things I need to do, and to bounce back from the occasional events that come up. That’s big, because they are always going to come up. Life happens, and being able to roll with it is important. I will not be derailed by Chinese food or tomorrow’s pie. I will enjoy every bite, I will savor it, and it will pass into memory.

Last year, I was not an athlete. I have gained health. When I started, walking for half an hour was a chore. I couldn’t do the elliptical or the Arc trainer at all. At this time last year, I was about to get a gym membership as a gift. The idea that after a year, I’d still be going 6 days a week seemed impossible. But I’ve done it. And I am measurably stronger, fitter, and healthier. I can sit in any chair. I fit in restaurant booths again. I run up flights of stairs without breaking a sweat or even breathing hard. They’re things healthy people take for granted, but I don’t. I remember not being able to do those things, and I’m not going back. If I never lose another pound, I’m sure I’ve gained years I might not have otherwise had.

I keep looking at my body image issues as a loss. I have felt for so long like I lost the person I used to like. To go for the better part of a year not wanting to look at myself in a mirror has been painful beyond words. And the fight for that self-love has been so hard fought.

So very, very hard. I am battered, and bruised, but I refuse to break.

But to look in the mirror and see myself as I am, and be okay with it has come as a joyful relief. I’ve gained back some self-esteem, or maybe a new self-esteem to go with my new self. I’m seeing myself as new, I guess. Not the same fat person I was. I’m seeing a thin person coming out. I see her now, and while I’m still trying to gain patience where this is concerned, knowing that she’s there, and she’s beautiful is a wonderful gift. Or maybe it’s not a gift. Maybe it’s a reward I’ve earned. I think that’s more likely the case. I’ve gone to the mat for months with Mean Jen over how I feel about myself and I got back up. I earned the right to look in the mirror and say, “You’re damned right.”

I have gained strength I didn’t know I had. I’ve learned to reach inside myself and really look for those things that matter, while rejecting the things that don’t.

I’m not going to be defined by the numbers that measure me. My goal is not a number: not a weight, not a size, not a percentage. My goal is to be whole. My goal is confidence, self-esteem, pride, strength, and courage. My goal is control, discipline, and drive.

I know no one is going to give them to me. I can’t pray for them or wish on a star. I have to work for them, and fight for them, and pay for them in sweat and tears.

So to answer your very excellent question, Special K, “What will I gain when I lose?”

Me. I will gain ME. How fucking cool is THAT?

Merry Christmas, and here’s to a mind-blowing 2014.


I’ll Take It December 17, 2013

Posted by J. in Genius.

Today, I had a feeling come over me that I’ve never felt before.

I’ve mentioned how so far I haven’t felt like these lifestyle changes are permanent, or that this is the time I’m really, actually,  honest-to-God going to lose all the weight and keep it off. It’s been more than I can contemplate. In my own defense, I have no success to build on. I’ve never done it, so it’s not like I know I can do it. I’ve already lost more at this moment than I ever have before, come further than in the past, and I’m in uncharted waters. I don’t know what the next year, or two, or five will hold for me. There’s no way I can know.

And all along, over the past 13 months, this has all felt both unattainable, and very tentative. And lately…hoo boy. Mean Jen has been hammering at me. Every day, for what feels like hours. I’ve felt low, like giving up, and at the same time feeling trapped. Let’s face it: if I fail this time, I’m going to do it very publicly. Even if I want to quit, the thought of having to admit it here, for my friends to see me get fat again, isn’t something I can face, so I grit my teeth and keep going.

Today, I was getting dressed for the bus stop. It was 10 below zero, and I gotta tell you, I’m fucking freezing to death. No lie. I’ve lived here my whole life and this winter has hit me like a ton of very cold bricks. I have lost 120 pounds of insulation, and apparently my body won’t really thermoregulate well until my weight stabilizes, so as i continue to lose, I can count on being cold.


So I pulled my LL Bean long red union suit on over the t-shirt I slept in, and pulled my new jeans on over them. I haven’t worn jeans in many, many years because I’d reached a level of fat where there was no way they were ever going to fit properly, and stretch pants are so much more comfortable. But now I’m in a 20 petite, and they fit over my long underwear. Which felt pretty cool. And all at once I felt that this wasn’t temporary. Only the size I’m in right now.

I didn’t have much time to consider, or even enjoy the feeling because I had to get the kids to the bus, but when I got back, I thought about it for awhile. It was the first time I really felt like I was going to lose this weight. It was a small, kind of quiet knowledge, but the feeling of “this is going to happen” was there. Like there’s no stopping it. No room for discussion of any sort. Just a certainty.

And somehow I knew that I wasn’t going back, either.

I made a promise when I started that as I lost the weight, I’d get rid of my fat clothes. If I don’t have them, I can’t gain it back. I can’t keep them and prepare myself to fail. So I’ve been passing them on as I go along, replacing my wardrobe as necessary. Today, for no reason at all, I went through all my clothes again and tried stuff on, and this time as I filled a garbage bag with things that are too big and will never fit again, it felt good. I didn’t get that usual feeling of “What if I need them again? I liked this shirt, I can’t ever replace it once it’s gone.” I knew I’d get better shirts. Smaller shirts. I will NEVER need the big ones again.

I took a few pictures of me in things I’d worn in the past. I was told I could keep one thing from when I was at my heaviest just to pull out to see how far I’ve come. I picked my “good shirt.” It was my go-to when I wanted to look good. It was the most flattering top I owned. And this is how it looked a couple of months before I started my diet.

At my 25th High School Reunion

At my 25th High School Reunion

You’ll have to pardon the bad mirror selfie, but this is how it fits now.

Fucking crazy, man.

Fucking crazy, man.

It’s at least 3 sizes too big at this point. My pajama pants that I bought at the beginning of the summer to take on my trip literally fall off my hips now. My compression running tights don’t really compress anymore. My 2X workout shirts are too big to be comfortable or practical to wear to the gym.

For weeks, all I’ve been able to see is how far I have to go. Every time I look at my body, I see what’s left, not what’s gone. I mean, I know I look better. But better isn’t necessarily the same as good, and I was having a hard time.

Part of that is because I haven’t been able to run. I’ve started the Couch to 5K program twice now. The first time I quit because it was killing my knee. I don’t want to need a replacement at 44, so I went back to walking. Lost some more weight and decided to give it another go. This time, while walking, I pulled a damned glute, so my ass and hip were killing me. I couldn’t even walk, I had to switch to the Arc trainer instead.

It felt like defeat, and Mean Jen wouldn’t let it alone. I know, because I’ve been reminded by my sister, that there’s never been an athlete alive that trained for something that didn’t have to deal with an injury. And that’s what I’m doing, so some setbacks are bound to happen.

But I also know that I got hurt, and it took a long time to heal, because I’m carrying too much weight for my muscles and joints to handle. Doesn’t matter how much I’ve lost, or how many inches, what matters is that I’m too fat to run.

I felt like I did when I first started at the gym. Fat. Slow. Like I didn’t belong there. And having to stay on the Arc because it’s low impact was the worst. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t see the progress, or the fitness level I’ve achieved, only that I was stuck babying my joints because I was so very, very fat. Not with the runners, the real athletes. With the people who can’t run.

Logically, I know the Arc is hard work. I know I have some pretty rockin’ stamina on it. But not having that choice bothered me. Still does. Not being able to do a lot of the exercises I’d like to because my body can’t support my weight is hard. All I see is how far I have to go, not how far I’ve come. And for weeks now, Mean Jen hasn’t let me see all the parts of where I am.

I don’t know what happened, or what changed, but I looked in the mirror today and saw a huge change. The difference between who I was and who I am is astounding. I looked at myself in the mirror for a long time, and was able to point out the things I really love to see.

The curve of my hip is smooth, it no longer bulges.

My waist is small and my tits are holding their own.

I have collar bones, and a jawline, and bicep definition.

I look at least 10 years younger.

And I thought of the things that go with it, beyond what I can see.

I can run up a flight of stairs without being winded.

Walking to the bus stop is no problem. Except for the freezing to death part.

There are tons of things I can do now that I couldn’t when I was fat.

That’s actually a joke between my sister and me. I said something one day and she said, “Remember when you were fat?” She wasn’t being snarky, or funny, or mean. She meant it. I thought it was hilarious because let’s face it: I’m still really fat. But I don’t think like a fat person anywhere near as often anymore. I think like a healthy person most of the time. I take for granted being able to do the things I avoided at my heaviest. When I was fat.

Today, I felt that. I’ve been feeling all along that it’s a process. What I could feel was changes, and they’ve been hard. It’s been painful. I’ve cried. I haven’t enjoyed seeing the scale go down, or seeing smaller numbers on the tape measure or clothing tags, or any other non-scale victories for a couple of months. It’s been a hard, long, dry, awful stretch.

Today, it clicked. I’ve had that feeling and I can feel it again. I will feel it again. There’s a calm, quiet, serene knowledge that I will get there. It will happen when it happens. And right now, I look good. Yes, better than I did. And not as good as I’m going to look. But right now, in the moment, I can smile at the reflection in the mirror.

I’ll take it.