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Unbearable Lightness and how it helped me understand

This may get a little more personal than most of you are prepared to read. So that is your warning.

Here is the story of my battle with weight-loss, obsession and understanding.

Starting from a very young age I was overly conscious of my body. It was obvious to me that I was more worried about it than most others. I learned quickly how to put up a front showing otherwise, but deep down I felt more insecure than anything. The first time I really remember becoming worried about my body when I was about 8/9 years old and mom and I went shopping for school clothes… I ended up in the girls plus department, and it made me feel dirty, an outcast. It only worsened when I began dance lessons. Although I loved dance class I hated feeling like the larger girl in class. I was a good dancer, able to do most of the things the other girls could do (with the exception of the elite girls). One particular time sticks out in my memory- When I was in an advanced class my ‘assignment’ so to speak was to allow 2 other girls to lift me up and then do a back bend over their arms supporting me. I knew that I could physically do it, but I was so worried that the girls wouldn’t be able to lift me up, that I refused to do it and made the instructor switch my positions with one of the thinner girls because I knew I could help lift no problem. I did this discretely but I’m pretty sure everyone knew my reasoning.

Years later in high school I felt out of place. I started high school weighing in at 162 lbs and at 5’3 was fat. Eventually over the next year I managed to drop down to 136 which is where I remained over the next 3 years. Even through the weight loss I was still feeling like the only over weight one out of all my friends. Or at least that’s all I saw. Even though I’d lost 20 lbs in my mind I was a fat slob. I started using dieting pills at age 16. Xenadrine was my pill of choice, the one before they changed all of their formulas to be ephedra free. I would like to say it helped, but instead it just started the defeatist attitude that would plague me until I moved to home from Disney. From that point on my lunch time pizza and fries turned into regret. I ate it anyway, as everyone at our lunch table ate it, and I didn’t want to be the only weird one eating a salad. I knew this was a bad thing, but I didn’t care, not only did I want to fit in, but quite frankly, I liked sardella’s pizza. The excessive rollerblading around the block began, a way for me to workout without question. Lap after lap after lap. I quickly realized that “fitting in” really wasn’t going to happen and began working as hard as possible to graduate a semester early, hoping I would feel like I fit in once college began.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. The pressure to fit in subsided slightly, but the stress of now needing to succeed in college and beginning going to a gym made me feel even more self conscious. While at the gym they took our measurements, height, weight, body fat, and all body measurements, which made me feel vulnerable. I wanted to be told that I was relatively average, and instead of needing to lose that really my best interest was just to maintain where I was. Instead my personal trainer told me to do these workouts, do this much cardio, and eat this type of food and I’d be down to where “I” wanted in no time. Month after month my weigh ins didn’t go the way they should have. All my hard work in the gym wasn’t paying off, I was staying right where I was, in the 136-140 range. No one explained to me that muscle would do that to me, even if they would have, it wouldn’t have mattered. All I could see was the all important number on the scale. What would plague me for the next 9 years. I did different workout programs, whatever I could think of. I did different boot camps and worked out with different trainers. I became sort of a gym rat. All the while though, my weight stuck at the 136-140 range.

Throughout college there were ups and downs, but my weight slowly crept back up to the 150 range. I hated myself for it. I didn’t know how I could let that happen. And so shortly after moving out of my parents house the serious dieting began. It started with just lots of time at the gym. Starting with a half hour here, half hour there, then hour here and hour there, until there were times that I was working out for a full 3-4 hours a day 6 or 7 days a week. On top of that I was eating a strict 1400 calorie diet. Eventually it caught up with me. Being back near the 136 lb mark was fine and good but the mood swings and exhaustion was too much to deal with. So I cut back to a reasonable hour a day 6 days a week. The scale slowly crept back up the 150 lbs over the next year.

At some point a radio dj had done the cookie diet to lose 100+ pounds. And he had managed to keep it off for almost a year! I decided I had to try it. The diet itself was ridiculous, but I stuck to it, religiously. Eating their dry, stale tasting cookies, drinking their chalky tasting shakes and sticking to a strict protein and veggies dinner of under 500 calories. The weight fell off, quickly. Soon the dreaded scale was showing an amazing 132 lbs! Ecstatic doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings. Once here the doctors at the program determined this was a healthy weight for me, sent me away with the so called tools needed to maintain this. I started doing bikram yoga every day for 30 days, felt great too, until I puked my guts out from dehydration and lack of nutrition. I slowly began incorporating more foods into my diet which only brought my weight up slightly, to 135 where it stayed for about 8 months.

Where I started culinary school. Why a girl with food problems decided it would be a good idea to go to culinary school, I have no idea. But nevertheless… Over the course of the next 12 months the scale only went up to 145. And with all of the decadent foods made at Scottsdale Culinary Institute that was an amazing accomplishment! A move across country is never easy, and doing it alone makes it even harder. You want comfort food. You want to be comforted. And luckily (or unluckily) for me, Disney World had every food you could possibly imagine. My comfort food of choice- the triple chocolate brownie (from Hollywood Studios or Downtown Disney), and let me tell you, if I could find someone who had that recipe I would be a happy girl. The TCB and I didn’t meet very often, maybe once every week or once every other week, but there were plenty of other things to help my weight creep back up to 150 lbs. Some of it was emotional eating, as the bf and I were having some major issues with not only the distance but also with him thinking I was choosing work over him, where in my mind he should have been seeing it as the opportunity of a lifetime. All in all looking back now, Disney taught me more than could have been learned at any University. I am grateful now for the opportunity I was given, and wouldn’t have traded it for anything, even the weight I gained while there.

Once I got home I felt as though I was at a loss of control of my life. I was supposed to come home for a week and then move to Colorado, but my one week stay turned into two months as my bf was ‘busy’ with work. My lack of control over the situation gave way to my newest obsession. Tracking every calorie I put into my body and working out 6 days a week. This time using workout dvds, which I love. My mom tried to convince me that eating one egg for breakfast even if it was with an english muffin wasn’t enough. But since I was going to be eating in exactly three hours I told her I was fine. I ate anywhere between 800-1400 calories. Mostly staying around the 1200 calorie mark with a few exceptions. It worked, the scale slowly came back down in the two months of being home it had gone back up to 157 lbs and come back down to 147 by the time of Rachel’s wedding. I was so excited, elated even, that I hit the 10 lb mark before that special event! My treat for myself was a to enjoy my trip to Maine. And I did.

Right after returning home I moved to Colorado, where the real fun began. Life no longer revolved around anything else except what was going into my body and what I was doing to help counteract it. I did a lot of research in this time to find out how you should be eating, how often and how to determine calories in vs calories out. It became an obsession. Everyone around me praised my will power and my ability to stick to my workouts. Honestly it was easy. The bf was off playing at the mountains for 5 days straight and I worked 5 days a week (including his days off) so that left me living in a new town with very few friends and no family with very little money and therefore nothing to do. In turn tracking calories and workouts became my life. I tracked every single calorie that I ate, and to make it a little easier I ate nearly the same things every day. (Cereal with protein powder for breakfast, couple egg whites with a slice of cheese and salsa for snack, open faced chicken sandwich with a side salad for lunch, snack of protein bar or pb&j and chicken breast with bbq sauce for dinner.) It was almost a perfect 38/38/24 ratio. I changed up my chicken sandwich based on what I wanted at work but it was almost always chicken or turkey. I rarely ate things I wasn’t “supposed” to. Except during the binges. My downfall was the peanut butter. I love peanut butter. How could anyone not?!? So creamy, salty and sweet. I would eat it by the spoonful, or sometimes by the fingerful. And when I craved chocolate too, I would sneak upstairs and dip into the mini chocolate chips and throw them in with my peanut butter and just chomp down. Sometimes eating 2 or 3 servings in one sitting! I disgusted myself when this happened. Everyone thought I had such will power, but they were wrong, pitiful. Thats what I was, just pitiful, and pathetic. Sometimes I would contemplate purging after my binge, but I hated throwing up. Even when I had the stomach flu, I cried when I had to do it. So instead I would just promise myself that it wouldn’t happen again, and I would work it off the next day. Do a double workout… through good times and bad my workouts were there for me. They were stress relieving. They were intense. I was proud to call myself a power90 success story and shortly after a p90x success story and shortly after a ChaLEAN Extreme success story. All intense workouts, all completed! My favorite was ChaLEAN Extreme, not only did I love her personality, but there was something about feeling STRONG. And that’s exactly what it made me feel. The guys at work joked around with me, poking my abs and joking about how many MAN push ups I could do. It was nice to feel like people noticed my hard work… Everyone did… Everyone except me. I liked the way I looked, true. But no matter how thin I got or what size I wore. I looked at my abs and they weren’t good enough, my thighs were too big, my arms were too flabby, my breasts had shrunk to nearly nothing. Just before moving to Maine the dreaded scale hit a number I never thought it would 129 lbs, 25% body fat, and my jean size- 4!

Normal people would have been beyond happy with those numbers. But not me. I looked at myself and said that 4 could fit a little looser. That 129 could be 125. Then I moved to Maine. Over the course of the 5 days it took to get there I gained 3 lbs. Mostly water weight, I wasn’t too concerned, until I couldn’t get it to come off. Suddenly I was living with my bf and my best friend and her husband. I didn’t have all the time in the world to track calories and workout. I stayed at the 132 for a few months, but then weight slowly crept back on. Tracking calories was tedious, boring, depressing. I hated doing it. And now that I was cooking dinner for 4 of us I couldn’t stick with my current fail safe food plan. I kept trying to figure out different plans, but over the course of the next year and a half my weight crept back up to 157 lbs! I was devastated. All that hard work, gone. All of that praise, gone. All of those cute clothes, unwearable. I was a failure. I promised myself that this time was different. I would maintain my weight once I got there. The problem with that statement is nothing was ever good enough. Mini goal after mini goal after large goal and more mini goals… My goals kept getting lower and lower. There was never an end in sight. Depressed and now living with my new boyfriend (now husband) I began working out again. TurboFire this time. Kept it up for a while, but got bored. Started tracking calories, but hated it. Decided a new diet plan would solve my problems. Began eating vegan 6 days a week, via the 4 hour body. After 4 weeks, 7 lbs were gone. Starting to feel better about myself I went back to counting calories and back to TurboFire. I got a bodybugg and was shocked to see how many calories I was burning a day. Turns out I was eating too little. This helped a little, another pound gone. Lost motivation again. Got engaged to a wonderful man, who didn’t care that I was 14 lbs more than I was when I met him. Flaws and all he loved me. You would think an engagement would be some killer motivation for losing weight, but when you’ve done it over and over again, its so hard. My goal before the wedding was to just stay the same, and amazingly that is exactly what happened. The few days before the wedding I must have lost another pound or two due to stress cause my dress was a little big but all in all I was proud of myself. I married the love of my life and wasn’t stressed about my weight for the first time in my life that I could remember. Until I saw the pictures the next day. I was shocked. So disappointed that I didn’t try harder. Didn’t do better. Didn’t look better for the day we would remember for the rest of our lives. Disappointment doesn’t even begin to say how I felt about myself. The more I look at the pictures the better I feel about them, hopefully in due time I can look through them and not see my flaws on my perfect day and instead just see the amazingly perfect day where I married the love of my life.

Since that day I have struggled to get back to my weight loss. Plagued with problems, once back into the swing of things I refused to listen to my body. I was sore, no big deal right, everyone is sore after a fresh workout after a few weeks off… Next day, pushed through, again sore but no biggie right. Third day, could barely move, was so sore, more sore than I think I’ve ever been in my life, and what do I decide to do? Work out, you know, to help loosen up the soreness. Unfortunately I refused to listen to the pain my body was in, pretending it was just soreness so that I could continue towards my goals. Since that day I’ve had some severe back pain. Its hit or miss depending on the day. Sometimes it barely hurts at all and others it feels like a stabbing pain going throughout my entire body. Now something that has to be dealt with because my body was screaming out in pain and I refused to listen.

This has forced a probably much needed break from the weight loss arena. Being unable to workout has been hard. Harder than you can imagine. But now I’m realizing this happened for a reason. While taking a break I have been able to read more. A friend recommended Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi. That was a few months back, and I didn’t want to read it. I was afraid of what she had to say. But finally after trying to prolong it, I gave in.

Saying it was hard to read is the understatement of the century. I found myself wanting to cry at times and I found myself reeling through my memories as if they were old movies. I understood where she was coming from at many points throughout the book. I’d felt some of those same emotions. I also felt relief, that it wasn’t just me. No one likes to talk about the binging that goes along with dieting, although we all know that it happens more often than not. And to finally read that someone else was having similar problems made me feel better. I connected with it in a way… Although I wish I couldn’t say that… Up until the last chapter I was hoping for her to find a successful cure, because then maybe there would be hope for me. And then I realized I’ve had hope all along, just the wrong tools. While reading the epilogue I started crying. I was so relieved that she had been able to break the terrible habit of binging that it gave me hope. Although we’ve all been told everything in moderation, no one ever really goes into how that can happen. But Portia did. And I would like to thank her for that. To explain that its not easy, and that eating diet food won’t help and that not eating the things you love because you can only have them certain times won’t help. I stopped listening to my body years and years ago, figuring it obviously didn’t know what it was talking about. Although now I don’t know if I ever really heard it in the first place. While I was dieting I was telling my body that it was hungry every 3 hours regardless of if it was. I was telling my body what it needed instead of listening to it. It never dawned on me that my body is a well oiled machine, and it knows what it wants and what it needs. As stupid as it sounds, but I needed someone who had been in my shoes to tell me its ok to eat those chips or fries if its what my body wants, but that I need to listen to it tell me when its done. I needed someone who has been there tell me that I may gain a little weight in the beginning doing this but eventually if I listened to my body it would even out.

Over my years of dieting I know that I asked a million and a half questions, to experts, to colleagues, to friends, to family. And I always listened to their answers and did what was recommended. But never once did I ask my body what it wanted or needed and listen to it. It seems like such an obvious answer. How should someone else know what is going to be best for my body? They won’t, only listening to my body will be able to tell me that.

Tonight I told Nick that I was going to stop dieting as of today. And I cried. I don’t think I’ve ever said that aloud in my life. Counting calories is not a lifestyle, its hell. Starving or depriving yourself of what you love terrible. And as its been said- I’ll help you diet, but you’ll just gain it back anyway. It will not be easy to unlearn everything that I know about food, nutrition, calories and working out. But it has to be done. It will not be easy to accept my body as it is, flaws and all, although having a loving husband who loves me even with those flaws helps.

If you know anyone who would benefit from reading this, please share it with them. And I urge you to read Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi if you or anyone you know or love has struggled with weight loss ever in their life.

I look forward to seeing where this new sense of self takes me. I look forward to looking at food as food, not a number. I look forward to seeing the best in myself. I look forward to learning new hobbies along the way. And last but not least- I look forward to spending the rest of my life with my loving husband by my side who is there for me through it all.

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