I started this as an email reply to a beautiful friend of mine I have just reconnected with after a too long absence of contact. We are in a group together trying to lose weight. A behemoth of friends carrying too many pounds who are following The Biggest Loser timeframe to gee each other up to shed the kilos and get off the couch.
Amongst other things she mentioned how she hates the person she becomes when she’s on a diet – the guilt, the obsessing, the self-loathing and the crankiness.
And as I started to reply I thought this needs to be a post. Some of you are already so bored reading this your head’s fallen off so apologies about that, but for others this may be of some use.
For I too hate who I become when trying to lose weight. It’s like the seven stages of grief but with food:
1. Shock and denial
The decision to try to lose weight normally means getting on the scales and then almost bringing up your breakfast, lunch and dinner at the number before you. You get off, you get back on, you bounce up and down a little, you rock side to side. That can NOT be right.
But it is.
Sure, you might be a few grams lighter with that pair of undies off or that morning wee done but dude, that is the number. The denial is that you had no idea you’d gotten that big. So you look at yourself in the mirror. You realise you’re wearing the same two or three outfits in various combinations because in a wardrobe FULL of clothes they are the only ones that fit. You look in the mirror and see yourself. Feel free for some sobbing.
2. Pain – or panic – and guilt (OH THE GUILT)
The pain is the acknowledgement of just how much weight you have to lose. For some losing 10 kilograms is as good as losing 40. It stretches out before you like some soft sand training on a February day in Sydney. Meaning you’d just rather retire to the back paddock and be done with it.
For me it was less pain and more panic. Sheer unbridled hot anxious panic. A panic at surviving a Sydney summer fat. A panic at the lack of clothing and no budget to rectify. A panic at how can I just instantly lose at least t.e.n. of those kilos or maybe just get below a particular number of the scale and I’d be so.much.better.
Seriously, this panic is allconsuming. It pervades every waking hour, it keeps you awake at night. Curiously, on its own, it does not get your arse moving. It often however, sends you back to the pantry or fridge. Because yeah, shovelling more food in is really going to make everything so much better.
And then the guilt starts – about everything. I used to beat myself up if I put a thicker layer of the mega low-fat philly cream cheese on my toast! The guilt is a killer. Irrespective of what you eat you feel guilty about it. I shouldn’t have had that. I should have left some on my plate. I should have had x instead of y. And so on and so forth.
Awesome isn’t it?
3. Anger and bargaining.
OH MY LORD the anger. I used to be the crankiest COW when I was trying to lose weight. Angry at the WORLD for this gross unfairness. I would shake my fist at the universe for making me fat, all the while knowing the only one making me fat was me. OH I’d apportion blame to my mum, to my dad, to my aunties and uncles and cousins who had used me as the butt of many a boombalardy joke over the years (or simply not come to my defence when said jokes were being laid on). I’d blame everyone but even then it was nothing like the anger I’d direct at myself.
Why did you do that to yourself? Why didn’t you order the salad instead of the pasta? Why why WHY???
Seriously, I don’t want to scare you but I could come over all Marcia Marcia Marcia at a nanoseconds notice.
And then the bargaining. Well, you can eat that but then that’s it for the day. At 11 o’clock in the morning. Oh yeah, that’s SO going to end well. If you eat that you can’t have that later on and so on and so forth. Curiously the bargaining can also work in a healthy and dynamic way but at this point I was no where NEAR healthy anything.
4. Depression, reflection, loneliness.
Is there anything more despondent than turning down a slice of that cake at the staff morning tea for someone’s birthday? Rejecting that second glass of wine with dinner? Saying no when someone in the office was going for the 3pm choccie run? OH I’M ALL ALONE. This sucks. I hate my life… and so on and so forth.
But this stage is important. It’s when you do actually start to seriously – ie without all the melodrama and blame-gaming – look at just how it is you got to be where you are. You realise that you now do virtually no exercise at all. You realise that you’re eating enough in one day to really be able to spread over two, maybe even THREE days. You realise that you don’t actually hate yourself, or the world but you just hate feeling like this. You hate that you are always pulling the corner of your t-shirt down or adjusting your shirt because it rides up or the chaffing you endure in summer or whatever it is. You start to localise what it is that is making you so goddam sad, bored, angry, lazy, and pavlovian-doggish when it comes to your body and food.
These first four stages can take years.
5. The upward turn
You do something about it. You join a gym (good luck on that front), you start going for a walk when you get home from work or first thing in the morning, you download C25K (AND ACTUALLY DO IT – MARY I’m looking at you). Oh sure, you’ll be all gung-ho at first and set completely unrealistic goals and burn out and stop. But at some stage you will come back to it or will actually find something you enjoy that is, gasp, GOOD FOR YOU.
6. Reconstruction and working through
Ahhh – the nirvana of weightloss. You know the few who go to a weight loss program or don’t get kicked off Biggest Loser or make incredibly inspiring videos about their own weight loss? This is them. The other 99 per cent are on the rat wheel of stages 1-5 wondering why it’s not them and how unfair life is and they try really hard but maybe there’s something wrong with their metabolism or they need to see an endocrinologist or or or…
This is when you just stop worrying and obsessing about all the other shit about why and how and OH MY GOD it’s just so hard and just friggin’ do it. You get moving. You stop eating crap or over-eating the good stuff. You stop using alcohol as a reward and you quit eating like you’re a teenager whose parents have gone out for the night.
It varies as to why and how people get to this point. For some it’s a health scare, for others it’s having a child or the years of therapy finally paying off.
7. Acceptance and hope
You realise that how you are is not set. That you can change. That you do not need to feel this way about yourself anymore. The weight starts to shift, the scales start going down. You may even have occasion to do that weird little jiggle on the scales to check the numbers are correct because you can’t believe they’ve fallen below a certain point.
And lo, it comes to pass that you feel good about yourself! So you keep going. You set a new goal and chip away at it. You grow up.
Last year in October my panic about another fat summer was at its peak. My self-loathing was moving into dangerous territory and I was so freakin’ angry about it all. Then Di and Annie started the Boombah Club and I thought – just do it. Just like that. Those squillions Nike has spent on advertising finally paid a dividend. I thought, ‘it’s going to shit me seeing these girls losing weight leading up to Christmas so maybe the fear of NOT losing weight in front of an audience will kick-start me’. And blow-me-down-with-a-feather it did!
I started C25K – it was perfect FOR ME. That does NOT mean it wasn’t hard or that I didn’t make excuses or hate every bloody minute of it when I started but I had to be a grown up. I had to accept if I want to eat the foods I eat and enjoy my life and love me, then I had to do it.
I kept a food diary so that when the inner demons would start – oh you’ve blown in, might as well eat the entire packet of chips now etc – I could LOOK at it and go, well actually, that’s OK.
I found I gave others inspiration to get moving and to keep going and that made me feel good about myself so I wanted to keep going.
I found inspiration and commonality with others and realised that a ‘bad’ day/meal/afternoon/weekend is just that and that was no reason to then embark on an endurance race of fear and self-loathing.
And here I am. A week into February and able to run 6.5km. Getting up at 5am three mornings a week to do so. I’m a few kilos down on where I started – about 5kgs or so. I’m still wearing all the same clothes but they fit better.
Then today, I went up a spot on my belt.
So to my beautiful friend, who is feeling all the anger and the guilt and the resentment and OH BOY the crankiness, here are:
The allconsuming 10 points to weight loss success:
1.It will so be worth it.
2. You are so worth it.
3. Don’t worry about a year from now, just look on the next 13 weeks – FOR YOU (don’t even look at the spreadsheet of how much others are losing and how fast!) – DUDE, 13 weeks ago I was breathless after the 5 minute walking warm-up and ready to give up after running for 1 MINUTE and now I’m running 6.5km. YOU.CAN.DO.IT.
4. It has to be sustainable. There is no point doing the whole ‘I’m never eating pasta for dinner again’ approach – that kind of thing is the cornerstone for keeping you at Stages 3 and 4 and the pantry door.
5. Quit the obsessing. Write it down so when it starts you can look at it there, in black and white, on the page and tell that inner demon to shut.up.
6. Just.keep.going. and NEVER.GIVE.UP
7. When you’re in that downward spiral of “GOD I NEED A … (chocolate/drink/packet of chips etc) just stop. There are TWO things I want you to say to yourself:
1. You can have whatever you like, but you have to wait 20 minutes. If you still want it then, you can have it. If you forget/don’t remember until 25/30/45 minutes later then you don’t – and didn’t really want it at all. (nearly all human emotions last for 20 minutes – guaranteed you will start to completely forget about looking back at the time and would have moved on to something else)
2. Is this real hunger or something else? When did I last have a big drink of water? OR Am I feeling bored/lonely/sad/worried/stressed/happy/elated/nervous/insert any emotion here. If the answer is, no I’m hungry, go for it. If the answer is a bit of a kick in the proverbial dust, a hung head and a sheepish, well actually, I’m just kinda bored/lonely/sad/worried/stressed/happy/elated/nervous/insert any emotion here then BE.THAT.EMOTION. Just let it wash over you. Allow yourself to feel it in all it’s glory. And have a big drink of water.
8. Ditch the resentment, it’s like the anchor holding you to what got you to this point. Cut it off and keep moving forward.
9. Let go of the anger, it’s really just fear of failing and irrespective of what the scales say, look at what you’re doing and how you’re eating – there have been big changes! For the better!
10. You are so loved, no matter what.