It was June and sunny. I was walking the sidewalk on one of the busier streets for no reason other than I needed fresh air.
Somewhere along the broken concrete I began tinkering with the idea that maybe I would commit to walking a couple days a week and actually attempt to lose weight for the first time in my life.
As I was rounding the last quarter of my one mile walk, about 40 minutes in, I had decided I was tired of being overweight. I really didn’t want to be fat anymore. I was willing to do whatever it took to lose weight.
But I also knew enough to know losing weight would involve going within and exploring subconscious feelings I had been avoiding up until now, mostly the processing of emotions and experiences I had allowed food to buffer.
I had been overweight since I was five. My mother says I just blew up. It was kindergarten when my tiny body expanded twice it’s size, seemingly, overnight. I spent all of my school age years as “a big girl.” Despite some periodic teasing, I was, for the most part, able to be okay with my weight. I embraced it even. I played in the marching band and summer softball. I had friends and my fair share of interaction with the opposite sex. I never felt my weight limited me in any way.
The day I decided I was done I came home and stood naked in front of my bathroom mirror, all 319 pounds and 71 inches of me, and took it all in.
Heck yeah I cried. Years of dissatisfaction came pouring out of my face as I sobbed. I wanted to be one of those people who got up to run three miles before work, could do a single pull up, or fit into the Millenium Force at Cedar Point.
There were so many things I wasn’t able to do because of my weight. I was staring at physical parts of myself I did my very best to hide, cover, and slim on a daily basis since I was in elementary school. Fears immediately rose to the surface as I flashed through various experiences when my physical weight caused me anxiety, shame, and fear—junior high P.E, the 8th grade prom when the guy I “went” with was hesitant to take his picture with me, and the first time I noticed stretch marks on my abdomen—all came flooding through my wall of denial.
I had been in a similar place before, not so much with my weight, but with the acute self-realization that I was essentially using a substance in an addictive fashion to be emotionally okay. Food was my drug, too.
This time I possessed the tools to figure out why, and I was ready to do that. By now, I had already worked the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous and spent about three years delving into all things metaphysical— chakras, affirmations, meditation, Reiki, A Course In Miracles, Doreen Virtue, Debbie Ford, Marianne Williamson, Native American sweat lodges, and anything else I felt would help me become more balanced, peaceful and free.
This idea that I was tired of being fat, using food as a drug and being in denial came suddenly. An undecided decision of willingness and clarity that came from beyond my understanding.
I call it God. Sometimes I call it The Universe; other times I call it Spirit. It’s all the same to me.
As I stood naked in my bathroom mirror I realized a handful of things that were enough to get me moving on my weight loss journey. Firstly, most of my weight was positioned around my sacral and root chakra, the chakras associated with survival, emotions, and sexuality—why was most of my weight here?
Secondly, there was a sudden knowing that I had put weight on my physical body as a means of protection and safety most likely based on my childhood experiences of being terrified of my father’s hand, and the sense of impending doom that seemed to fill our household.
I was the kid that would eat all her Halloween candy on the bus before it ever got to school, or sneak as many Oreo’s as I could carry. One Christmas I consumed so much summer sausage, cheese and crackers—along with varying other appetizers my mother had set out for the day—I projectile vomited to the point my parents thought I had food poisoning.
But why did I do all this?
Finding a problem and not looking looking for a solution is stagnating. So, I decided I would take up self-defense classes as a means to feel safer. I was instantly empowered.
In my Google search for self-defense classes I stumbled upon sites about personal trainers. The premise was the same, I thought. If I felt stronger, I wouldn’t feel the need to be bigger. Self-defense or personal training, it didn’t really matter to me, both addressed the deeper issue of needing to feel safer, stronger.
I made the leap and connected with my first personal trainer. At first, I couldn’t get through twenty minutes of leg day without my blood sugar plummeting and needing orange juice so I wouldn’t throw up or pass out. Upper-body day sometimes consisted of going to the batting cages to keep my enthusiasm up, and a 20 second run tasted like an old iron pipe.
Progress was not always linear or pretty, but I accepted the stumbles and set backs as part of the journey. There were gut wrenching moments of desperation and frustration with where I was, fear of going back, and feelings of being stuck.
I found myself once in a doctors office in Detroit writing my information on an index card with a pencil for diet pills I had to pay cash for and a couple months of binging and purging. One ended me up in the hospital in four weeks, and the other didn’t let me lose a pound. I forgave myself; I had to if I wanted to keep moving forward, and so I did.
Twenty months later I was down 109 pounds. My focus was on doing it “the right way” through diet and exercise. I wanted to keep the weight off. I wanted to know myself more, and most importantly, I wanted to love myself.
My goals were always about changing my relationship with food, making better choices, and looking for why.
Why did I crave chips when I was angry, and pizza and chocolate milk when I was sad? Why did I despise doing anything ab related and throw toddler fits in the middle of the gym floor when they were suggested or instructed? Why did pigeon pose make me cry?
Why was I now, at the smallest I had every been in my adult life, layering my clothes more than ever? All of these answers addressed the non-physical components to my weight loss. My attitude was that I was taking steps to be healthier on all levels, losing weight was a bonus, not so much a goal.
If I craved ice cream, I asked myself why. I refused to deprive myself. I will not to tell myself I can never eat x,y, or z food again. If I want ice cream because I simply want to enjoy ice cream; I will. I will scoop it, sit at my kitchen table, and enjoy every bite. If I find I want ice cream because I don’t want to feel what I’m feeling and wanting to take the carton in front of the TV, then there is something else that needs my attention.
There have been times when I’m able to put down the ice cream to write or meditate when I realize I am hiding and other times I cannot. It’s about progress not perfection, and at least I am aware there is a deeper issue that will need my attention later. I may have avoided it now, but I will have to go back at some point.
In the beginning it’s about small steps, often choosing the lesser of two evils.
Have two cookies instead of four, leave a few bites of hamburger, eat a hoagie sandwich on wheat instead of a piece of iced lemon coffee cake for lunch, take a walk if you skip the gym—these things should evolve and become even healthier choices as you grow. For example, one or no cookies, and a piece of chicken and some vegetables. These are all choices I’ve made, some days, leaving a few bites on my plate was a success.
It’s simple and about self-awareness, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s truly a journey. I can’t say it enough.
I’ve learned mostly to be gentle with myself emotionally and push myself physically. I talk to myself the way I would talk to my best friend. If I wouldn’t say it to them, I won’t say it to myself. It was about being more conscious while I ate, and re-connecting with my body and becoming in tune with what it needed, instead of what my mind wanted. I was so far removed, this re-connecting felt like a first time meeting.
Asking the question why will provide answers.
It may come in the form of a book, a conversation, an inspired idea, or a knowing. I tend to find answers in books, two in particular changed my life and relationship with food entirely.
Yoga, personal training, and hypnotherapy had the biggest impact on my weight loss, but at varying points I did keep a food journal, explore Overeaters Anonymous, and have a fantastic cardio friend that was willing to hit the gym with me at 2 a.m., almost any day, even on holidays.
Shedding that much weight is emotional, and it changes people. Obviously, some days are better than others. Such is life. I watched my true self step out with vigor, and I shined. I wouldn’t have done it any other way. If I didn’t deal with the underlying causes, my psyche would have simply found another way to numb myself.
Right now I’m working through 40 pounds I’ve gained since moving away from my entire support system almost four years ago. It doesn’t matter if its 10 pounds or 100; the questions are still the same and the self- awareness still a necessity.
I’m here again asking myself why, building another support system, and most importantly accepting where I’m at right now with grace. I don’t so much view it as a starting over as much as I do a continuation, another facet to my story.
Author: Dottie Hollingsworth
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Photo: Courtesy of Chris Burkeybyle/station515