At this time, one year ago, I was being prepped for weight loss surgery. I was scared, and hopeful all at the same time. I understood that the road before me was going to be difficult and at times I might even wonder what the heck I had done, but I had no idea how I would feel sitting here one year later.
Sure, the body transformation has been nothing short of miraculous. There’s this sculpture that sums up perfectly how I have felt. Chipping away at my outer shell to reveal who I was underneath all along…
I didn’t hit my -100 goal, and that’s okay. -97 pounds is nothing to sneeze at. My body has a rhythm to it now a days. I lose a few pounds, then I maintain for a few weeks, then I lose again. In between I eat well, and balanced, and I exercise. Around that pattern I have a full life. I work, hang out with my family, explore my new state, spend time with friends, new and old. The difference between now and a year ago is the order in which I prioritize those things.
I wanted to memorialize for my self the top 10 things I’ve learned this year so I have a place to look back going forward when the road is bumpy or I’m “in a mood” and don’t want to prioritize my health that day…so here it goes.
- It’s not about perfection: I used to approach health and diet with an all-or-nothing vision. If I was perfect at eating and working out and drinking all my water and never having a treat I was successful. The second I would slip, which was inevitable, I threw in the towel. Sometimes the towel laid there for a few days, but more often it laid there for weeks, months, or years. Today I don’t plan perfection in the first place. I plan healthy meals and know I’m going to crave this or that on occasion and I make room for that, be it in a calorie trade-off or a little extra time on the treadmill. It’s okay.
- Exercise is a necessary evil: Sure there are mornings I’d rather sleep in, or read a book, or do just about anything besides move and move fast, but once I get in there I have come to enjoy the time with myself. I don’t take for granted what my body can do now a days. A year ago I was so uncomfortable moving. Walking up stairs winded me for minutes at a time. The thought of walking two miles, slowly, was daunting. Today I marvel at the strength I have regained and the muscles that are emerging. If I want a treat now and again without gaining back what I’ve lost, moving is part of the payment for that privilege.
- Honesty is imperative: I told myself so many lies over the years. “I’ll start Monday,” “It’s only 10 pounds,” “you’ve had two kids, this is the body you get after that,” “I worked 10 hours yesterday, I deserve to sleep in. I’ll work out later today.” Today I’m much more honest with myself. If I sleep in and don’t work out, I don’t play games. I simply own it. “I am choosing not to work out today.” With choices there come trade offs. With lies there comes a sort of blindness. If I choose not to work out, I know I have to be more careful with my food choices that day and that one day off is fine, a week is not. Before I would make an excuse for not working out Monday, then Tuesday would come and I’d have another one. By Thursday I was out of excuses and I just ignored my behavior which eventually led me to morbid obesity. Being an ostrich isn’t a great game plan.
- Support is important: I am so thankful I have a tribe. My husband, my kids, my friends. People who have supported me along this journey. Who have not tired of me talking about the pitfalls and hard times. People who have celebrated my successes and been sincerely in my corner since day one. These people have helped keep my journey real and when I was crazy-talking, (like when I lost the first 40 pounds and didn’t see a difference), they helped me see the truth (buy new clothes). Having the ability to talk through issues, share my fears, celebrate my achievements with people who love me along the way has made me want to continue to strive to be a better version of me. I’m sure I drove them nuts from time to time along the way, but none of them ever let on. Not one of them. I am so thankful for my tribe.
- Touchstones are a MUST: What are touchstones? Things that remind you how far you’ve come. What’s required? A tape measure and a camera. I can’t emphasize the importance of things other than the scale. In the beginning I shed weight like crazy. I’ve said before the first 50 post-surgery dropped off like rain falling. It just seemed to happen. -5 a week was not crazy. Today I might lose -1 in a week, maybe, but then I’ll “plateau” and stick at the weight loss for a few weeks before I lose another -1. That can be frustrating when you get close to your final goal. I am now only 20 pounds shy of my end game weight and I’m fighting for every pound like anyone else would be. The way I keep from getting frustrated and throwing in the towel is looking at my measurements. The scale may stall but my body continues to tighten and get smaller. In a year I have lost:
- Waist: 11″
- Arms: 4 1/2″
- Bust: 9″
- Hips: 9 1/2″
- Thighs: 6 1/2″
- Calves: 4 1/2″
- Neck: 4″
- Wrist: 1 1/4″
- TOTAL: 49 3/4″
- Watch the self-talk: I used to spend so much time focused on goals and then beating myself up for not achieving them in the time I thought reasonable. My poor inner child…I sure spent a lot of time pounding on her. No wonder I didn’t feel successful. Today I am much kinder to myself. I talk to myself like I would talk to a close friend who is struggling. I try to find the strides I’ve made along the way. Instead of thinking “the scale didn’t budge,” I think “man, you chose not to eat that mini snickers bar yesterday and haven’t given it another thought…go you!” I try to reflect on what I did well each day rather than where I might have slipped up. It’s not that I’m ignoring where I could do better, but I believe praising someone towards a better behavior works a million times better than beating them up for missteps. I always tried to praise my kids when they were heading in the right direction so they’d repeat the action to get more praise. I treat myself much in the same way. And to my surprise, it seems to be working!
- Create a list o’ treats: I used to think this was silly. A list of rewards for hitting goals. Probably because I had little faith in my ability to hit goals after the first -5 pounds. But now I do. And the “treats” aren’t food-related. -5 = pedicure / -10 = dressed up date night / Completing a 6-mile hike in the sweltering humidity of the south = massage, etc. I really look forward to my treats. And I like that they are not all tied to weight loss. I have lots of achievement markers. Weight, clothing sizes, new body goals (being able to stretch in pike position laying my body flat against my legs for 20 seconds is my current goal). I’m always looking for new ways to challenge, and then reward, myself. It’s been so fun to try new things along the way.
- Record the journey: Journal, blog, Facebook, however you best record your life do it. If I hadn’t started at the very beginning recording the steps along the way there would be so many little things I would have missed. I go back and re-read my journey often. It reminds me how far I’ve come, the challenges I’ve overcome, ,the successes I’ve enjoyed and helps me navigate where to go next. It’s been both a great record and really therapeutic for me this last year. I’m thankful I’ve taken the time.
- Step away from the scale: Daily weighing will mentally exhaust you. I can be up as much as two pounds from the previous day. Water retention, ToM, steak; all these things can lead to bloat. Heck a good workout without enough water will cause the scale to go up. I weigh once a week, and even then I don’t put a lot of stock in what it says. I’m of course excited when it goes down. It’s one way to gauge success, but the weeks when it goes up or doesn’t budge, I rely on my clothes and how they fit to tell if the scale is being a liar or not. When I have a really big goal, I won’t weigh sometimes for a few weeks, just so I don’t throw my mind-over-matter power out of whack. Numbers are a mentally powerful thing. I refuse to give in to it any longer.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help: I tried for so many years to go it alone. I tried every fad diet, and some pretty healthy ones along the way, and I always seemed to come up short. Some of that was because of some of what I’ve stated here (perfectionistic thinking, negative self-talk, etc.) and some of it was because after years of yo-yo’ing my body was plumb tired. Doing it alone wasn’t going to work for me. Getting a seriously good, quality trainer and committing to going all in, changing my eating habits over the long-term may have been the answer. Going to my doctor to be medically supervised as I created a plan might have worked as well. For me, my health was in jeopardy, mixed with my family history, I decided to ask for help by way of surgery. I’m thankful I did. It gave me a leg up, a head start if you will. It’s not for everyone. I seriously believe that. It’s just not. Talk about having to be all-in. The point is, reach out. If you feel overwhelmed, like you don’t know where to turn, turn to someone. Turn to someone who has gone before you and been successful. Turn to your doctor. Don’t go it alone. You shouldn’t. You don’t have to.
- Be all-in: The last bit of wisdom I have gained is that you have to be all in. I mean 110% in. To save yourself, your health, potentially your life, you can’t be luke warm. You can’t be gingerly about the changes that need to be made. You can’t pick and choose. You have to be willing to make the changes that are hard. You might have to eat food you don’t love, until you learn to like it. (I never imagined cauliflower rice would be a favorite, but now it is). And you have to move. Even on the days you’re tired and just want to hit the couch. I found that if I got up first thing and knocked it out of the way, I had a much better chance of making it happen. And I do that to this day. I’m at between 5:30 and 6:00a every morning. Even on the “light” workout days. I eat according to plan most of the time. That means small meals every three hours. I don’t eat after 7pm and I try to avoid carbs in my last meal/dinner of the day. Your plan may look different, but this is what works for me. And I hit it about 85% of the time. I’m not perfect, but I’m on more often than I’m off plan, that’s for sure. I had to come to a point where I was important enough, my health was important enough that I was willing to do the things I didn’t love to make a difference. And by being all in, I didn’t leave room for dishonesty or excuses. When I wasn’t on plan, I owned it, I also owned the scale going up, my clothes not getting looser and my body not changing. By the same token, staying on plan over time, I owned my successes and I revel in them today.
What I can tell you after year one is that it’s so so worth the time, the changing, the hard days. I never imagined in my wildest dreams how good healthy would feel.