"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible." ~ T. E. Lawrence
Immediately the side-by-side images of a body pre- and post-diet spring to mind, right?
My own before and after is a different story. I do have those more common before and after photos. But they aren’t the ones I want to share with you. People talk about their weight loss journey as a series of lessons in self-control, in commitment to a goal, and sometimes as a road to a destination called happiness. And it can be all of those things. But my weight loss journey wasn’t a good one.
Sometimes I still have to remind myself to be kind to the 5’2″ me that exited high school weighing in at 145 lbs and wearing a size 10 in jeans. When you’re a small person there’s not a lot of real estate to spread that weight around. I remember people reminding me about healthy eating habits or suggesting I work out with them. Sometimes even well-meaning family would comment on my weight gain through my high school years. So one day in college I decided enough was enough. I was going to change and I would be happy.
I would drink a sugary chai tea in the morning, sometimes paired with actual food. I’d go to work and afterward head over to my mom’s and snack on whatever leftovers I could find in the fridge. My dog and I would head out for a 2 – 6 mile walk. Then it was off to my rented room or a classmate’s house for my online night classes. I wouldn’t eat dinner, unless my classmate had made something and insisted I eat. This became my routine for at two years. For one of my biology projects I tracked the calories I consumed for a week – about 1200 per day.
Slowly the weight came off. I consistently lost about 2 lbs per month. My legs and heart were strong from all the hiking but the almost constant headaches, sense of cold that permeated my hands and feet daily, and the tiredness that no amount of sleep could erase took their toll. My mantra became, “From the lips to the hips.” Even after college I continued this “diet” for another four years. I learned to take pride in my self control and even found a strange satisfaction in feeling pangs of hunger, as if my suffering was a sort of martyrdom. I looked at my family history of heart disease, diabetes, and digestive issues and took comfort in the fact that even if I didn’t eat good things, at least I didn’t eat much.
I shrunk down to a size 0 eventually and at one point made it down to 115 lbs but couldn’t maintain that weight without feeling like I would faint. 120 lbs became my new normal, and I fought dearly to stay there. Even traveling abroad and fighting daily exhaustion didn’t stop me from controlling every morsel that passed my lips. It was especially important to me that I master this one aspect of my life when other things were out of control; when my parents’ divorce hit, when I struggled through relationships.
It wasn’t until a friend of mine, a naturapathic doctor, introduced me to some protein shakes that I started to change my eating habits. She prescribed shakes to replace (or in my case, become) breakfast and lunch, with healthy snacks mid-morning and afternoon, and a nutritious dinner. I was afraid the new regimen would make me fat, truly one of my greatest fears. Instead for the first time I felt satisfied. I gained weight but it was solid, lean muscle. I learned what it was to feel strong and healthy.
My new-found appreciation for food continued. I learned how to cook – started buying organic, local, and seasonal produce. Thoughts on food, and even on the criticisms of my body have changed so much. It’s been 3 years since I last forced myself to skip a meal. I don’t want to go back to that. I’ve gained some weight now that I’ve changed my eating habits. I’m now back to that original weight of 145 lbs. Funny thing is that people never guess it though. I wear a size 4, I have a bit of a belly, and I have a lot more muscle.
What I really love though is seeing my body perform. My legs pumping like pistons to pedal my bike up a hill, the burn in my lungs as I hike up a mountain, the rhythmic beat of my feet against the dirt on a trail run, the ache in my forearms as I reach for that last hold on a climbing route, and the steady tension as I ease into a yoga asana. This is my reason to eat well, to be healthy, to strive for fitness. Not because of the pressure to wear a teeny polka dot bikini, not for the need to compete with the false offerings of Hollywood, and not in a misguided effort to be happy.
My before photo is a girl struggling with her own body image, chasing “thigh gap”, fighting her anorexia, and meeting the expectations of her society at the cost of her health.
My after photo is a woman who is discovering how to be comfortable in her own skin, enjoying nutritious food, embracing an active life, having “fat” days and “skinny” days, and learning not to apologizing for her size or shape.
I don’t know if this will resonate with some of you, but I really hope it does if you’ve walked a similar path. These struggles (at least for women) seem to be way more common than we care to admit. In a world of facades and where we project our ideal life online for all to see, I think a little authenticity is in order.