Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The First Different Choice

This will be the last time I post about Operation Get Healthy.

I lost a total of 60 lbs over the course of 6 months.   I feel better, I look better, and I'm used to the new me, now.    I still go to my Jenny Craig appointment every week to talk to my consultant and get weighed in; I will do this for at least another 6 months.   Maybe longer.

I'm in maintenance mode, now.   I ended up at about 5 lbs less than the goal weight I set for myself in April - a weight that seemed like a pie-in-the-sky ideal at the time.  I laughed when we set the goal weight, because I didn't believe for one second that I could get there.  

"Forget Body Mass Index, forget what the experts say is a healthy weight - where do you want to be?" Jen asked me, six months ago.    "Don't give me a number you think you can achieve, give me a weight you dream you could be, and tell my why you think it's right for you."

I thought for a moment.   I remembered a time, back when I was 23 and working out regularly, eating healthy, with a young metabolism and all the time in the world to concentrate on myself.    One day, after a particularly good workout, I weighed myself - something I rarely did.    I gave Jen the number I saw on the scale that day, a weight I hadn't been in almost twenty years.

"But if I can get within twenty pounds of that weight," I continued, "I'll be thrilled."

"Don't sell yourself short," Jen replied.  "You're just beginning - don't think about the end game, think about now."

About a month ago I stepped on the scale at my weekly Jenny Craig appointment, and there was that magic number. 

I cried.

"See?" said Jen.  "You can do anything you set your mind to."

I wanted to correct her, but I didn't.  I didn't set my mind to achieving that goal weight; I took my mind totally out of the picture.    Getting sober I learned an important lesson:   I can't think my way out of something like this, because my thinking got me to the problem in the first place

Jen doesn't know it, but at my first visit with her I surrendered myself to the problem.  I turned myself over to her expertise, her care, and let go of the outcome.    I also prayed on it; along with asking for help with my sobriety, every day I would ask for help with food.   "Please, let me have the strength to do the next right thing," I prayed.   "Take my will out of the equation." 

I know how to eat well, and exercise.  I know the difference between a healthy portion and an unhealthy one.  I can count calories, look at fat content, and understand about balancing fat, fiber and total calories to eat well.

I have known these things for years, but it didn't help me lose weight.   I gained, steadily, over the years, even with all this knowledge tucked away in my brain.

I resisted asking for help with losing weight, because I believed with all my heart that I knew what I needed to know, I just had to do it. 

It's the doing it part that's hard.    I would justify myself right back into a heaping plate of pasta or an extra snack or two, thinking:  it's been a hard day, I worked out a couple of days ago, I didn't eat that much today. 

My thinking got me into trouble every time.  

Because of getting sober, this habit was familiar to me.   I can't stop drinking now, the holidays are coming up.  I'll quit in January.     Even when I knew I had a problem with alcohol, that there was no such thing as one glass of wine, that once I started I couldn't stop, I would try with all my will to alter that reality.   Tonight I'll stop at one, I know I will. 

It was the same thing with food.  I kept telling myself:   I'm not that bad.    Instead of looking at the reality of the situation, that people who don't have a weight problem don't expend tons of mental energy to justify their eating, they don't prop rationales around food choices.  I chose to skirt around the truth.   I ignored photographic evidence that I was getting bigger.    I kept buying bigger sized clothes, thinking to myself:  I'll just get these larger jeans until I can get that extra twenty pounds off.    I did this until it wasn't twenty pounds that needed to come off, it was sixty.  

Like death from a thousand paper cuts, I just kept applying band-aids over the bleeding, thinking I was solving the problem, and ignoring the underlying issue:   I was afraid to tell myself the truth.

It's a sad reality that most of us don't make big changes in our lives until we're in so much pain we have no choice.   Until our health is failing, our family is angry and disappointed, our self-esteem is so low we can't look in the mirror.  

We cling to those things we use to numb ourselves, to fend off boredom, anger, sadness, loneliness, because we think they are working.  

Never - not once - did I finish a fistful of cookies or polish off a huge plate of food, and think:  There. That fixed everything.  Now I feel better.    As soon as I was done with the act of eating, the temporary distraction consumed and gone, all I felt was sad resignation.

Just like with drinking, I only felt temporary relief while in the act of drinking - the minute I stopped and the euphoria wore off, or I woke up feeling tired and sick, I'd think:  See?  I'm worthless and weak.   I did it again.   And I'd reach for the very thing that was causing all the trouble to numb the pain I felt from the guilt, the shame, the fear. 

Change is hard because solutions seem very far away.   It's hard to imagine our lives without these things we cling to; it's far easier to stay stuck in the pattern, stuck in the suffering, because at least it's familiar. 

And, if you're anything like me, instant gratification takes too long.   I want to be there - NOW.   

It doesn't work that way.  Change happens slowly, steadily, subtly.  It is the combination of thousands of choices and actions designed to break a lifetime of habits, thoughts and patterns.

It starts with the first time you eat a low fat yogurt instead of a cookie, or have a soothing cup of tea instead of a glass of wine.   Just that one action is the first step towards freedom.    It doesn't solve everything instantly, so it's easy to overlook how monumental that one action is:    you wanted wine, but you drank tea.   You wanted cake, but you went for a walk.     That is HUGE.

And it hurts.   If you want a relaxing glass of wine or a fistful of chips and you don't have them, you're going to feel it.   The emotions you're seeking to escape from are going to plunk down in your lap and introduce themselves:  "Nice to meet you - I'm boredom.   Have you met my friend anger?   He's here because you feel like you don't have a life of your own.   Thanks for making us feel right at home."

But little by little, next right thing by next right thing, you'll get used to the new you.   Each and every time you break the pattern of stuck, it will be a little easier.   You'll stop seeing the world as full of things you can't have, and start seeing it as a place full of opportunities you never had the ability, or the inclination, to pursue.

Over time, the culmination of all those next right choices will slowly and subtly change your life.   One day you'll realize you're just doing it.   And, oh, it feels so good.    Sure, boredom, anger and sadness still show up; they show up all the time.   But they don't own you.   You have learned to sit with them, right-size them, see them as a natural part of life.    You realize that by trying to erase them, hide from them, you were only giving them more power.

Three weeks ago I went to buy some new jeans.    On a whim, I grabbed a pair that was the same size I wore in college.   They fit.  

I expected to feel jubilant, celebratory, over-the-moon.    What I thought was, "Of course they fit.  This is my new normal."

I had reached the end goal, but the journey never ends.  I'll never be one of those people who can eat anything and not gain weight.   I'll never be someone who can have just one glass of wine.

But I finally, FINALLY, don't look at my life as full of what I can't have.    All I see, everywhere I look, are all the things that are possible.   

And it all starts with the first different choice: the first time I wanted a glass of wine and didn't have one.   The first time I ate salad for dinner instead of a heaping plate of pasta.   

It didn't feel like much at the time, but it was everything.


  1. I love it when the thing we need to hear appears for us. Thank you.

  2. That was exactly what I needed! Congratulations & thank you!

  3. "Nice to meet you - I'm boredom. Have you met my friend anger? He's here because you feel like you don't have a life of your own. Thanks for making us feel right at home."

    Brilliant. I mean it.

    I am SO inspired by you. CHEERING!

  4. I hope this won't be your last post on Operation Get Healthy. Whether it is your posts about weight loss or your posts about recovery, I find myself in them even though my circumstances are very different from yours. You inspire me to face my fears and to do the next right thing. Thank you and please keep writing about this subject.

  5. I lost 57 lbs from May 2009 to May 2010. All of the things you've described, I've felt in the last year and a half. And while I've maintained this entire summer and fall, I'm still about 15 lbs away from my goal. My ultimate goal. I already hit my "dream goal", and like you, I cried. Then I hit my "I'll never get my weight that low goal" and again, I cried.

    I'm at a standstill now. Some of my crappy eating habits are coming back to haunt me. And it scares me. I keep telling myself, "You can fix this again. YOU CAN."

    Maybe I need outside help like Jen.

    I really needed this post right now. So thanks.

  6. Congrats on your new you. :)

    I'm also on a 'Get healthy operation' and I have set my mind to loose an amount of weight that no one thinks is reasonable. I've always weighed 30 pounds more than my friends, but, for a brief period of time, I *know* that I weighed what my goal is now. Here's to achieving it like you did!!

  7. Bless your heart, Ellie! This made me cry. You're a hero, in your own way! Tight hug. :)

  8. I agree with Barb - I hope you won't stop posting about Operation Get Healthy, either!

    This was absolutely the most on-target thing I've ever read about weight loss. No book, no group, no trainer, nobody has ever put it this exactly RIGHT.

  9. I think I might need to print this out and read it daily. Thank you.

  10. This was very timely for me. I am battling depression and anxiety, my weight is an issue, but not a major one. The biggest thing though is learning to accept the feelings and thoughts that come, and process them for what they are, and not let them get the best of me. Same as what you laid out here. Very good words!
    Congrats on your new normal!

  11. Ellie, I agree with everything all have said..its a beautiful, honest, and startlingly true look at how we each tend to cope (or not) when facing challenges. I just want to add that it seems as though you've truly received a grace - and I do mean that in the spiritual sense - to not only succeed yourself, but to gently encourage others through the gifts that God has given to you. Keep on keepin' on. Hugs, Emily

  12. Yesterday I was honestly thinking about emailing you and asking for help. To ask about how you do it, just one step at a time. How to focus on doing the next right thing. I said many months ago that you had inspired me to lose weight alongside you - and yet while you have reached your goal, I have made no dent in mine.

    I wondered if it was because I don't have anything *major* to tip me over the turning point - I'm not an addict, I'm not obese, I'm not xyz.

    So I make excuses? Perhaps that was it. I certainly am not putting myself first at all - maybe that's why I don't believe I can do it; I don't believe in myself?

    As I said, I was going to email you, but I didn't know what to write. How to explain myself. Or even know what it is that I wanted to ask you about/for.

    And then you wrote this.

    That answered it all.

    Please don't say this is the last post about Operation Get Healthy. It *may* be, but I like to think that you may be inspired in the future to write another one. Perhaps 'How to get through the festive season without overeating and making excuses?!'

    It seems like so many people have been inspired by your post, that you must have been inspired yourself. Emily (Partyof7) may well have it spot on.

    Thank you for your honesty and willingness to receive the grace you have been blessed with. And to pass it around.

  13. I'm with the others who don't want you to stop posting about your weight loss and goals. I am 9 lbs. down (about halfway to my goal!), but I feel like it's fake. Like if I decide to treat myself with one little thing, it's all going to come piling back on.
    It's the keeping it off that I worry about and that has giving me trouble in the past. You are doing such a great job at that and describe so perfectly the conflicting emotions that come with it. Please keep us updated from time to time about how you are continuing to do. It really does help all of us who are fighting right there with you.
    In my case, it really helps to have any support, even from strangers because I have someone close in my life who is pretty determined to sabotage me. (No one in my family thank goodness). It really helps to have a place to come to from time to time and know that someone else knows how I feel.

    With that, congrats on how well you've done. I will, of course, keep coming back even if you do retire Operation Get Healthy. I find that many of your addiction related posts help me with my food issues also!

  14. Thank you, everyone, for your comments and for telling some of your own truths, too.

    I guess I said it would be the last Operation Get Healthy Post because I'm fearful of being one of those people who prances around talking about how much weight she lost. There's me worrying about what other people think -- getting all up in your heads. Letting go of the people pleasing is a work in progress, to say the least.

    I didn't realize how people were connecting with the feelings I talk about when it comes to food/dieting/body image, etc. How the parallels between addicition to food and addiction to other substances are very much there.

    I won't stop talking about that part of it -- the feelings, the path to recovery as it relates to food, too. I'll talk about struggles, fears of relapse, and share some of how it's going. I'm not really a tips-and-advice kind of a girl, but I like the idea and if I can find a way to do this without being annoying, I'll do it.

    I'm really struck by the responses this post has gotten - here in the comments and on email. There are so many of us with the same feelings, the same struggles and the same triumphs. It's helpful to know we're not alone, isn't it? Just like with alcoholism - together we are a force to be reckoned with.

    Thank you.


  15. So uplifting--you're definitely not alone on this one!

  16. I'm just re-reading this before I go home - which is usually when Lonely and Frustrated and Angry and Sad try to join me for dinner (and drinks.)

    I think I'll invite them along, but I'll let them know that I'm in charge of the menu and that we are also going to invite Curious, Creative, and Gentle.

    And we're all going to hold hands and go for a walk after dinner.

  17. Anonymous 4:01pm - I love your comment, so much. And the imagery of holding hands, walking together -- that's one I'm going to carry in my heart. Thank you.


  18. I think I might need to print this out and read it daily. Thank you.