January 2009 is the month my life changed forever. And not just because I stepped on the scale at my doctor's office and looked down at the numbers instead of away. Looking away from reality was something I'd become adept at by the time I'd reached the age of 44. Nearly four decades of continual practice had me expertly looking through certain elephants in the living room as if they were invisible. Here's a short list:
* Dissatisfaction: With the unhappy and unhealthy relationship I'd been languishing in for nearly 20 years
* About that abundance of friends in my life: There was nagging evidence, but again, I looked away from the fact that most were accrued because I was a five-star people-pleaser
* The dull ache of sadness: It silently seared me as I watched my father, for more than a decade, die of Alzheimer's.
* The rage I kept caged and subdued (through chronic carb-ingesting). Deep down, I seethed with anger because my coping mechanism carried such a high price tag. The difficulty I had moving through the world, whether it was wedging myself out from under the steering wheel of my car to make an exit, gulping for air after taking a single flight of stairs, or walking sideways in a crowded restaurant to avoid spilling drinks and knocking tables with my hips, was an energy drain in more ways than one
* The numbers: Always the numbers on the scale. For 19 years I knew I'd passed the 300 mark, but I wanted no part of knowing exact figures on visits to the doctor. It was enough of a reality check to wear black stretch clothing every day of the year. The rest, I didn't want to hear about.
* The abnormality of my eating: And not just the quantity, which was vast, but the choices, which were a study in sugar, fat, and all manner of white carbs, preferably potato chips mounded with clam dip and Italian garlic bread drenched, fondu-style, in melted butter.
I don't recount these details with scorn.... especially the last one, because I needed the food to remain sane. For many years, it was the only coping mechanism I had or wanted...and it served a purpose. Until one day, it no longer did. And my Higher Self must have made this realization prior to little old me, because suddenly, as I stood helplessly on that digital scale that January afternoon, I found myself looking down, and seeing the numbers 345. It was a spontaneous, unplanned moment. It wasn't born of a grand design to take the bull by the horns once again and start a diet. I chose to look at reality because something told me it was time. A truth that was bolstered two hours later when I sat sprawled on my chaise lounge with potato chips and dip (my favorite version of a high-ball) and watched an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show in amazement as a glowing and slender Carnie Wilson spoke of a man named Dallas and how he helped her get her life back.
Carnie's always been my genetic twin and that's all the impetus I needed for a Google search where I found Diamond Dallas Page, his DDPYOGA workout, and an amazing community of cyber support. I was ready. And not because I was unhappy with my weight. For years I'd hoped against hope that disgust and self-loathing would be the ones to provide me with the magic bullet of motivation and the three of us would go skipping arm-in-arm down the yellow-brick-road, an elated trio on the way to svelteness and problem-free living.
Nope, didn't quite work out that way. That's because no positive or lasting change blossoms from negativity. During those 20 years I trance-ate my way through life I decided to give peace a chance. In other words, I knew dieting was futile. I'd done it since age 9 with no lasting results. So why not eat whatever I wanted and simply accept my size and myself? It may sound contrary to logic, but this is exactly what I needed to do after a lifetime of absorbing society's toxic messages about people of size and hating myself with a ferocity that still makes me sad when I look back on it.
By the time the calendar said January 2009, my soul had ripened to a point where I knew some physical changes were in order, but they would never define my self-worth. Self-worth, self-acceptance and self-esteem are all treasures that are intangible and by nature transcend weight. I repeat: your appearance does NOT and never will define your worth. No matter what those wily industries and potion-selling con artists are barking at you.
DDPYOGA turned out to be a sound approach to fitness that was designed even for people like me. One look at Arthur Boorman's video and I knew it worked, but the efficacy of it hinged on my willingness to expend effort. There was no magic, only faithfulness to action. As I began the workouts, I also slowly and non-frantically made changes to my eating habits. Dieting or any of its clever disguises were out. So when my well-meaning nutritionist at the time instructed me to count fat grams, I chucked the advice because I knew it would drive me batty. I had already cut out junk food and was concentrating on whole foods cooked at home; that was enough of a change for me to acclimate my life to. Also, I'm pretty sure no one ever became obese drizzling extra virgin olive oil on their salad. Get what I'm saying?
I learned to rely on my body's wisdom for food choices and quantity. And any time I was drawn to overeat, I remained calm, and rationally recognized it not as me screwing up, but rather an instinctive reaction to an emotional sandstorm. I learned to tend my emotions as well as my body. And that is probably the biggest tool for me in keeping the weight off. But all of it is important: eating well, moving, feeling...there's no one answer. Yes it's a part-time job, but so was my binge-eating, and the trade-off has been more than fair.
These past seven years have been great, but hardly unmitigated bliss. Many longtime friends have slowly faded out of my life or have steadfastly avoided the new me. The truth is, I'd attracted some people who found it appealing to have a fat friend...for varying reasons...I'll leave the analysis to Freud. I mourned the losses (OK, in some cases I rejoiced) and moved on because what can you do? I still worry about my weight when it creeps up, and that's probably never going to end. I also can't eat as much now that I'm at a lower weight and I don't like that because I LOVE FOOD! Aside from that, the only other negative I can think of that stems from being 180 pounds lighter is being much more temperature-sensitive in reverse. In my old life I donned windbreakers in the dead of winter because heavy down overcoats were redundant. Nowadays, I get chilled indoors quite easily. But do you know how EASY it is to reach for a sweater or hoodie vs. trying to cool off while clad head to toe in black on a July afternoon?
I underscore the negatives because it's the simple reality that the diet industry doesn't tell you: weight loss doesn't magically vaporize all the yucky things in your life. The only thing weight loss will do for sure is make you physically freer and lighter (a fantastic feeling if there ever was one) but it's up to YOU to conjure the inner happiness, which by the way, is not a permanent state. I've learned to ride out the emotional storms without food and as a result, they're much tamer in severity and don't keep recurring or haunting my unconscious mind as they did in my eating days.
So here I am 7 years to the day later, nearly 200 pounds lighter, and a whole lot wiser. I hope you'll look at the whole picture I'm giving you. I'm eternally grateful for the turn of events that have helped transform my life. It feels wonderful to wear color, move easily, and not be hog-tied to the habit of ceaseless binge-eating. It was no way to live, and my soul knew that.
I had so much help and support from Diamond Dallas Page, Terri Lange, and the whole gang at Team DDPYOGA. Also true was the fact that I'd done 20 years of inner work, therapy, 12-step meetings, and self-help books to get me ready for January 2009. Preceding the outer transformation was the inner one. I had successfully transformed my psyche to align with the belief that I deserved happiness and supportive, kind people in my life. Believe me when I tell you that back in my 20's I would have swatted anything smacking of goodness away, or assumed it was intended for the person standing behind me.
The weight being gone doesn't mean there aren't days I'd like to get cozy with a bucket of fried chicken or just lounge on the couch doing something constructive like reading (a favorite rationale) instead of working out, but then I stop and do a quickie Q&A. As Dallas taught me, discerning what I want is most helpful in this never-ending journey. Most days I decide I want to remain healthy, energetic, emotionally aware, and physically strong more than I want the momentary pleasure of a binge food or the purported respite from a workout. Most days I choose a protein smoothie over a decadent dessert and unfurl my yoga mat in front of the television instead of sinking into the couch. The truth is, I can read a magazine later, and often I do...but there's power in collective discipline...and 7 years worth has been very, very good for my body and soul.