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Staying on the Wagon April 22, 2015

Posted by J. in Genius.
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What motivates you?

I was slogging away on the treadmill on Monday. I hate the treadmill with the fire of a thousand suns. You want to learn to hate running, get on a treadmill. But I got my new running shoes (FINALLY!) and it was raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock outside, so I got on the damned machine to get a couple of miles in. I haven’t been running much all winter and it’s time to get those muscles back into shape and all that.

So I’m at the gym, pushing myself through every sucktastic minute, when it gets to be 5:00 and the local stations all go to news. Monday’s lead story across the bank of TV’s overhead was coverage of the Boston Marathon. And I saw people in wheelchairs crossing the finish line, and a runner who’d lost a limb in the bombing two years ago out running, racers hugging and helping each other when they couldn’t stand up anymore. And GOD…this.

Boston MarathonLOOK AT HER FACE. She just ran 26 fucking miles and LOOK AT HER SMILE. They showed a clip of her and the men’s winner running together with their hands joined and up in the air and it took my breath away.

Suddenly my legs didn’t feel tired anymore. I cranked up the pace and ran my last half mile as hard as I could without going so fast that I ran the risk of tripping and putting a Jen-shaped hole in the back wall of the gym. It was only two miles and it still mostly sucked, but seeing that kind of dedication and endurance and sheer love of the sport made me want to keep running forever. It was the motivation I needed.

But this isn’t about running, exactly. I had a friend ask me a couple of weeks ago, “What motivated you to stay on track with your diet?” And I had to stop and actually think about it before I answered, because nothing sprang right to mind. The fact that I couldn’t answer her surprised me. I guess I figured there had to be something and I just couldn’t think of it when put on the spot, but it occurred to me that there might not be anything.

Shit. Now what do I tell her?

I don’t tend to look at other people who’ve lost a lot of weight for inspiration or motivation. Lately, that’s had the opposite effect on me. Seeing other people who’ve reached their goal weight and look phenomenal with their tight abs and smooth thighs kind of piss me off and make me not even want to bother. Believe me, this is part of my personality I’m not proud of. It’s the deadly sin of envy, and it’s part of what is eating at me, but that’s another story for another day.

So when I get down to it, I’m not even sure how seeing me lose weight inspires anyone else, to be honest. If I was my fat self and could look into the future at what I am now, I’m not sure I’d be inspired to keep going. Maybe the idea of what I could be kept me going for awhile, but as that image slowly evaporated, it’s no longer a motivating factor.

At the moment, the only thing motivating me to not eat all the things is the fact that I refuse to wear fat pants again. Which is less motivation than it is a deterrent. It’s a powerful one, but hardly inspiring, and you really can’t count it. And it sucks because I know people are looking at me as inspirational and one does want to find the right words when asked about it to help others find that motivation to get started, or keep going.

When it comes to my diet, I don’t have a lot of motivation to stay on it, and that’s the God’s honest truth. Another friend asked me if I’m always perfect with it and I was all OH HELL NO. I fuck up all the time. I make great plans and don’t follow them. I still binge. I still turn to food for comfort more often than I’d like, and there are foods that will always make me weak in the knees. Her response was OH THANK GOD and if it was motivating to hear that you can change your eating habits but all is not lost if you’re not perfect, they yay for me. Because I’m the poster child for Not Perfect by Any Stretch of the Imagination.

It’s a commentary on the state of the diet industry today that when I tell people I lost my weight by eating less and moving more, they look at me like they’ve stumbled across a unicorn. Like I’m one of a rare specimen of human being for whom diet and exercise actually work. Like I’m blessed with abnormal genes that the average human lacks.

I assure them, and you, that I’m not. I am not, at any given time, particularly motivated to stay on my diet. I would like very much to go back to eating the way I used to, even though it makes me feel unwell and makes my weight shoot back up.

So what do I say? What motivates me?

I realized that for me, staying on track is not about finding some carrot to chase to keep going. And it’s not entirely about the fear and loathing of my past keeping me from turning back, either. The truth is, I’m not always on track. I fall off. I have bad days. I have bad weeks…months even. I don’t just fall off the wagon; I jump off and hide in the bushes until it’s out of sight.

I think for me, the problem with chasing that carrot is that eventually, you either catch the carrot and have to keep finding new snacks to chase, or you grow tired of chasing things and not catching them, so you decide to just stop running. It’s where motivation fails me.

The only way I find myself able to hunt down the wagon and climb back on it is by looking at why I fell off in the first place. There’s always a reason that I went off track, let things slide, or just walked away for awhile. And it can be any one of a number of things, really too many to list. But I don’t accept excuses anymore, and I don’t say “I can’t”, either. I can, and when I put my mind to it, I do. There are obstacles that come up all the time, and I have to keep finding out how to get past them.

So when I’m off track, I have to take a hard look at why. Why did I throw up my hands and say “fuck it” this time? Is it something new? Or, as is usually the case, is it a recurring issue that still needs work? I think that dealing with the sometimes painful truth of the answers is the hardest part of losing weight.

I saw this graphic online back when I’d lost maybe 30 or so pounds and it stayed with me because at first it pissed me off. YOU DON’T KNOW MY LIFE.

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It’s so very accurate, which is why it pissed me off. And I mentally argued against it, because that’s what I do when I’m outraged. And it’s what I do when I’m faced with uncomfortable truths about myself. It’s easier to make excuses for not doing something than it is to actually grow a pair and, you know do something. I know this now, and I knew it then.

The key to staying on track is not about being motivated to do so, but in being honest with myself. Becoming more self-aware. Know what my strengths are, but knowing my weaknesses, too. I think the reason diets fail for most of us is that people who attempt to diet are given the physical changes to make, but not the mental and emotional tools to accomplish it. There’s a big dose of Self-Awareness that needs to come with The Diet Plan and The Workout Schedule.

On the up side, the nice thing about knowing this information is that everything you need to make the changes in your life that will lead to weight loss is inside you already. And when you’re honest with yourself and learn to let go of all the things that are tethering you to the lifestyle that keeps you fat, the diet and exercise part really falls into place. It’s like if you get your mind in gear, your body comes along for the ride.

The down side is that it takes some work to uncover it, and as I’ve said all along, it’s not a lot of fun. It’s hard work and it’s exhausting, and sometimes painful. And at times, when it’s really rough, those excuses are soooooo attractive. They are so easy.

I think motivation can be fleeting. It’s fickle–there one minute, and gone the next. What’s important is what happens when there’s nothing pushing you forward, or keeping you from turning back. I’ve come to think that it’s a better use of energy to look for the reasons behind falling off the wagon and take steps to correct them than it is to look around for a carrot to keep me in the chase.

I keep getting back on the wagon because I can see that I am becoming who I want to be. It’s something worth working for, and maybe that in itself is my motivation.

Goal? April 9, 2015

Posted by J. in Genius.
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I have occasion to direct people to my blog when they find out about my weight loss and want to know what the what is up wit all dat. They ask for advice, and honestly, I have no idea where to start. I probably should come up with something, because working at a gym, I get lots of questions in that particular vein. I tell people I learned to eat less and move more, but that’s such a cop-out of an answer. It’s the short, small-talk version of “I didn’t have bariatric surgery, if that’s what you’re asking.”

The actual answer is so much more involved, and when the conversation is a more in-depth one and seems to head off in the direction of lengthy explanations and anecdotes, I tell them I changed my relationship with food, that it’s an ongoing process that I’m still working out, and in lieu of a facile answer, I direct them here.

The adage is that losing weight is 90% diet and 10% exercise, but that is just the physical part. It’s 100% mental, and I realize the math on that comes up to 200%, but math isn’t my strong suit and I’m not sure it can be quantified anyway. If there’s one recurring theme to all my posts about losing, it’s that there’s an awful lot of shit going on in my head, lots of it ain’t real pretty, and there are times I feel very much like I’m falling to bits.

I’m currently picking myself up off the ground after the last knock-down round and dusting off.

I had my first meeting with a plastic surgeon, just to get the lay of the land of what the next part of the journey will be.

After a lengthy exam in which he kneaded my abdomen like a cat and took careful measurements of my skin suit, the verdict was that I’m an excellent candidate for abdominoplasty, which is the fancy word for a tummy tuck. He said that what is left there, and under my arms is all skin. There’s no fat left there, so no liposuction would be necessary as is sometimes the case. He said I did that all with diet and exercise. He was a little less enthusiastic about my thighs, but it was because (as he explained) that legs aren’t his area of expertise. It’s a lot more involved and he’d refer me to someone who specializes in that particular area.

He’s confirmed what I had suspected from reading weight loss forums about results following skin reduction surgery, and that is that I’m probably carrying 20 pounds or so in excess skin that’s not going anywhere. As a rough estimate, mind you. But considering his years of experience, I’m going to assume his ability to eyeball such things is pretty darn good.

Now, I say it’s not going anywhere for two reasons. In the first place, I can’t diet or exercise skin away. He confirmed that the skin of my lower abdomen was shot, it was mostly stretch marks from hip to hip, and that the slack there was permanent, unlike the healthy, resilient tissue of my upper abdomen. Same with my arms and everywhere else. It’s not something that can be tightened up, and while healthy skin will shrink some, mine is mostly stretched past that point.

The other reason it’s not going away is that it will require surgery, and my insurance company does not approve claims for skin reduction after weight loss unless there is a medical necessity, and the only thing he said he’s seen them cover it for is in the case of a brittle diabetic with skin ulcers that would not heal. And even then he said they only covered a partial procedure to excise the extra skin and not the full procedure that basically resculpts the skin of the abdomen into something resembling a healthy torso. The tummy tuck alone is an $11,000 procedure, which puts it well out of my price range. That doesn’t include the upper arms or the more involved legs.

I’ve had a lot of well-meaning advice about how to get it covered, but in truth, insurance companies aren’t flexible, and plastic surgeons aren’t philanthropists. And I knew that going in. He pulled no punches about how my particular insurance company rejects claims for this particular procedure like it’s their job (which it is) and while I’m sure there are doctors who would maybe give a girl a break on some work if there was a true hardship, I really don’t have any hardships other than “I don’t have the money for this.” It’s nice to think about, but I can’t live my life with unrealistic expectations of the outcome. I’ve done quite a lot of that so far, and I’m trying to cut back.

So now I am at a point where I’m forced to sort out the ramifications of what that means for me, and where I go from here.

I should add that back in February, I sat down with my food journal and after bemoaning that I was “doing everything right” and still not losing weight, really took a good look at what I was doing back when the weight was coming off and found out I was WAY off track. I did manage to take it back to basics, and lo and behold, the weight dropped off. I had set 179 as a temporary soft goal to reach, and I met it. So now I’m down 180 pounds and have lost more than half my body weight. Which is a big accomplishment and being able to get to this point feels great.

As I sit here at 177 pounds, and factor in the loose skin estimate of 20 pounds, I actually weigh around 157, which is only 2 pounds over the high end of a healthy weight for me. I feel I still have fat left to lose from the waist down. My abdomen and arms might be all skin, but my thighs and ass are where the fat seems to want to hang on, and it won’t hurt me to continue to try to lose that fat.

Not being able to get rid of that skin means that there’s a sort of discrepancy between the two realities of my body, and I realize that this shit is all in my head. But in truth, all of this whole process has taken place in my head. My body is just along for the ride.

A long time ago, I spoke of picturing myself in a fat suit. There’s a skinny girl inside me trying to get out (I ate her), and all I have to do is take off the fat suit a pound or so at a time and she’ll emerge eventually.

11091497_10205886798078799_2784792768890149397_n

I don’t know to whom I should credit either the photo or the sculpture, but I love it very much.

I guess I didn’t really bank on the whole suit not coming off. I pictured what you see there: tight, flat abdomen, perky boobs, thin arms…I bet she’s got some amazing quads under that fat suit, too.

The reality is not that at all. I imagine I have a six pack of abs. I can feel them, but they’re still buried under the folds of loose abdominal skin.

I have an impressive set of biceps. Unfortunately, the four-inch long flap of skin that hangs from it is what you see first.

I have runners quads. I also have loose, ripply, wrinkled thigh flesh that sags over it and hangs down and partially obscures my kneecap.

I am seldom without a pair of control top nylons or a pair of Spanx. I do not wear anything sleeveless except to exercise, and short sleeves must come to my elbow. Skirts cannot hit above my knee. I am not at all sure that I will be donning a swimsuit this year.

I understand that I’m not much different than most women, and I’m sure more than a few men as well. Everyone has body parts they hate and do their best to disguise or hide with clothing. I know women thinner than myself who won’t wear shorts because they hate how their legs look. I know women who won’t put on a swimsuit for love or money even though I look at them and go, “Bitch, you cray.” I get it.

I guess when I thought about taking that fat suit off, what I pictured the thin person inside to look like was an actual thin person, not just a less fat version of myself. I’m pretty good at figuring out what looks good on me most of the time, but I’m not sure why I resent having to shop for camouflage.

I suppose it all has to do with unrealized expectations I mentioned, and coming to terms with the fact that my expectations may have been quite unrealistic to begin with. I expected that I would be able to get down to 140 pounds. Or at least 155. The skin is most likely going to keep me from ever seeing those numbers. I need to figure out how to let that go. I’ve always been so reliant on the numbers as a concrete measurement of how I’m doing. For me even to assert that my weight is in the 157 range feels like a lie, because the skin counts. It matters, even though I’m the only one who decides if it matters or not. I feel if I say I weight less than I do, that I’m lying. But at the same time, including the skin seems not entirely honest either.

Even my back-up tape measure lies to me. I can lose another 20 pounds, but my upper arms still won’t fit into a size medium shirt, even though the rest of my torso does. I’d love to shop for single digit sizes, but the skin is going to always be in the way of that. And the skinny me is under there. If I had a big, fat bag of cash, a good surgeon could find her. He could strip away the last of my fat suit and get me to my goals.

As it is, I feel like in some ways, I’m at my goal. I have done what I set out to do. Even though the number on the scale is still high, allowing for excess skin, I’m at a healthy weight for my height. Or I should say I’m not carrying an unhealthy amount of fat for someone of my height and gender. That, of course, is another drawback to the extra skin in that there’s no way to get any sort of an accurate body fat measurement because what I’m measuring is empty skin, not fat. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do. No surgery. No pills. No fad diets. I have done what I have always thought impossible, and as much as I struggle with many, many parts of this process, nothing takes that away from me.

On the other hand, I feel robbed of my actual goals. Part of me has always been uncomfortable with even rounding my accomplishments up. “This is Jen, she’s lost 180 pounds.” I always stop them. “Well, no. I’ve lost 177 pounds.” I get looks, and a series of “pffffft”s, but it’s hard for me to take credit for something I didn’t actually achieve. So lopping off the skin weight like it’s not there feels like cheating. Like I’m throwing myself a bone. Or taking credit for something I haven’t done. I know it’s weird. It’s not that I’m unhappy with how I look, I just thought I could do better. To look at myself and know that this is really as good as it’s going to get…it is a little disappointing. I won’t lie. Some days it’s a lot disappointing, and if that’s vain, so be it.

I know logically that it’s up to me where I stop. There’s no one setting goals for me, or even advising me that yeah, you can and should lose another 20 pounds. I’ve not reached the point where my most trusted friends are ready to tell me that I’m too thin, or that I look unhealthy.

If I decide right now that it’s enough, then it is.

I’m on the cusp of making that decision. I don’t know in the grand scheme of things why it would be so much better to be 20 pounds lighter and maybe a size or two smaller, if the skin will be there fucking it all up anyway. It seems like it might be a lot of unnecessary work, you know?

I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to stop concentrating so hard on the straight and narrow that I have to follow to lose weight and shift my mental energy towards coming to grips with my body as it is. I don’t see it getting measurably better any time soon. I don’t see any reason to change what I’m doing, necessarily. If more weight comes off, great. I can afford it, still. I need to not go up at all, and staying where I am is going to be hard enough.

I still turn to food when things get rough. After seeing the doctor, I got through Monday okay, but woke up Tuesday fairly despondent. If it had been only one thing, just the disappointment of seeing this door close for the time being would have been sufficient unto itself. But life has a way of tossing extra shit in sometimes, in the when-it-rains-it-pours phenomenon. Or as April Winchell of Regretsy fame once pointed out:

Burning House

So I spent a few days wrapped in the embrace of Easter candy and toast dripping with peanut butter and marshmallow while I licked my wounds (and fingers) and sorted some shit out in my head. And talked some stuff out that needed addressing. And did the things that were needed to heal. The toast didn’t help much, but when life gets to be more than you can bear, you get through it however you can with the skills you have.

A weight-loss guru would have pulled herself up by the bootstraps (or shoelaces) and gone to the gym to exercise out the frustrations. Especially when she’d normally outrun her demons, only her new running shoes are still backordered and she’s just healed up yet another IT band issue and doesn’t want to screw that up again with being impatient.

Stupid body breaking down at the most inopportune times.

But then I’ve never claimed to be anyone’s guru. I’m human. I have a binge-eating disorder. I self-soothe with food.I eat my feelings more often than I care to admit. I’m far from perfect and most of the time I feel ill-equipped to advise anyone about anything.

I think if I focus hard, I can learn to be more accepting. I feel pretty certain that I can let go of the disappointment of not weighing what I thought I should, or being as small as I had planned. I know it’s all up to me, and I need to try to see myself through other people’s eyes more. I need to try to gain a bit more objectivity about something that is so painfully personal, and that’s a tall enough order.

The hardest stretch will be learning to love my body as it is, folds of wrinkly, ugly, stretched out, floppy, flabby skin and all. So far, it’s been the most difficult thing to handle. Knowing that I’ll probably never see the beautiful muscle tone I work so hard for is something I am going to mourn. Like food, or more accurately, the ability to eat whatever I want whenever I want in whatever quantity I want, it’s going to take work to get to a place where that doesn’t make me sad. It’s a genuine loss, and I have to allow those feelings to happen because no matter who invalidates them or how hard I try to shove them in a closet, if I don’t deal with them, they’re just going to come rocketing out of nowhere and knock me on my ass forever.

I’m going to mourn the loss of cute sleeveless dresses, or a pin-up bathing suit because I just don’t have the body for them. It will be okay. I have the body for lots of things that other women don’t. Fitted tops and tight sweaters. Pencil skirts. High heels. Turtlenecks. You know how many women can’t pull off a wrap dress? Lots. I can, and I look smashing.

One of the hardest things, and something that knocked me on my ass out of nowhere recently is seeing other people lose weight right past me. Hearing a friend say she bought clothes in the size I currently wear, even as she self-identifies as overweight, and is herself losing weight, made me realize that she is going to be thinner than me. She will find the success that I won’t see because of this stupid skin.

Knowing that she has a lot less to lose than I did is only a bit helpful. Being told that she is in the first mile of a 5K while I’m on mile 24 of a marathon was a bit helpful. But sweet bleeding Jesus did I begrudge her that victory. And I hated myself for it! I wanted to be happy! I know I’m an inspiration to her and a lot of people, but seeing others find success where I feel I have failed is hard. I think it’s part of why giving up on my original goals is so hard. I feel like a failure. I feel like it’s quitting or copping out. Or dropping out of the marathon at mile 24.

Before you jump in my shit for this, I know I haven’t failed at anything. I know it’s not a race or a competition. I’ve succeeded beyond my own hopes and dreams, and I think past what most people thought I could do. I have made other people consider that maybe they, too, can figure out their own relationship with food and make changes that will last. But I am learning to let go, and to be accepting, and meet myself where I am. And that’s going to be a hard slog.

This is all part of the work. No one tells you about it, but there it is. So if you find yourself in a place like this at some point, hopefully you won’t be blindsided by it like I was.

Maybe someday I will be able to afford the surgery and I’ll find the thin girl that I ate all those years ago, with a few new long, purple scars. Maybe I’ll never have the surgery and I’ll come to love the thin girl who’s just got a bit more meat on her than I thought she would. Maybe I’ll see a thin girl in the mirror who wears the remnants of her fat suit as a badge of honor and with pride of who she was, and what she’s transformed herself into.

Maybe it’s time to let go of goals, and accept that there’s no end. The only thing to work towards is happiness.