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.
"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.