Timing is Everything.
“I’ve been played for years, and so have you, and inadvertently, I fed into the lies you’ve been told your whole life. The lies that say that being healthy means nothing unless you are also thin. The lies that say that you are never enough, that your body is not a beautiful work of art, but rather a piece of clay to be molded by society’s norms until it becomes a certain type of sculpture. And even then, it is still a work in progress.”
Before I read An Open Apology to All of My Weight Loss Clients this morning, I had intended, today, to return to a 1200-1500 calorie diet because I am not seeing any weight loss with exercise alone. I even logged this morning’s breakfast into a food diary before I logged on to Facebook and read this article. The juxtaposed timing of a friend sharing this article and the beginning of my diet made me feel like there was more at play than coincidence. I was convinced that this was something I really needed to hear.
“I’m sorry because I put you on a 1200 calorie diet and told you that was healthy. I’m sorry because when you were running 5x a week, I encouraged you to switch from a 1200 calorie diet to a 1500 calorie diet, instead of telling you that you should be eating a hell of a lot more than that.”
Ignoring Invisible Progress
When Adam and I started going to the gym at least 3 times a week and weightlifting for at least 2 of those visits, one of the staff members gave me a fitness assessment to chart what I could safely lift. It wasn’t much, and at first, I was very embarrassed and discouraged… but Adam reminded me that you have to start somewhere.
At this time, last year (when we began our adventures in fitness), the heaviest weight I could lift on any of the machines was 80 pounds — and that was on the leg press. My weight setting on most of the machines was 10-15 pounds (seriously). As for cardio, it was a small miracle if I could do 10 full minutes on the elliptical trainer before I overheated and either had numbness in my feet or started having seizures. Despite that, every time I worked out, I felt proud of myself at the end and was sore as hell the next day. My mantra was “I’m getting stronger every day.”
It’s 1 year later, and I’ve found myself being super-pissed that I’m still the exact same weight as when I started… but my inner judgmental bitch has entirely ignored the fact that this body can now regularly lift 75 pounds on the chest press, 100 pounds on back extensions, and 140 on the leg press… that I can ride a stationary bike for 40 minutes or do the elliptical for 30 without causing myself to have a short pseudoexacerbation.
It’s like body shape and weight are somehow the only things that matter. Endurance? The inner bitch doesn’t care. There’s something wrong when, rather than celebrating the fact that I am now much stronger than I used to be, and I can now do things like walking to and from the grocery store without fear of falling, I am angry with myself and ashamed of my continued plus-size status.
I’ve been so upset about “not making progress” that I actually went to my primary care doctor and asked her why I’m not losing weight. Her response: “It’s probably one of your medications or the combination of all of them that is making it so you can’t lose weight. Keep up your routine, it’s a good one.”
I think it’s deeply unfortunate that even though I know that I couldn’t exercise at all for 3 and a half years for fear of having seizures in public or fear of hurting myself, I innately feel shame over not losing weight rather than pride for achieving a milestone… that I feel embarrassed about my shape and size, rather than elated at the progress I’ve made… Knowing that I can discount all of my hard work makes me sad. It lets me know that my priorities are out of whack… that I’m focusing on the wrong things.
Ignoring Past Progress
Two years before I was diagnosed with MS and a seizure disorder, I lost 70 pounds by eating reasonably and working out almost every day. Going to the gym gave me a sense of community and purpose in my days. The weight came off at a slow pace. It actually took almost 2 full years. I was ecstatic when I finally couldn’t shop at “fat girl stores” anymore because I was too small. In 2005, with undiagnosed (but active) MS, I actually achieved the goal of being smaller than I was in high school… and I still didn’t feel good about my body.
When I was 8 years old, I started going to Weight Watchers meetings with my parents and charting my food intake because my pediatrician was concerned about my weight. Needless to say, Weight Watchers didn’t work for me. The coaches were always on me for not eating enough vegetables and for not eating the full amount of food that I was supposed to be eating. I kept gaining weight. My culinary paradigm was comprised primarily of Weight Watchers or Lean Cuisine frozen meals and Special K. I didn’t exercise or drink as much water as I was supposed to. (I still have problems drinking enough water.) Failing at Weight Watchers was the first time that I really latched on to the thought, “I’ll never reach goal weight.”
So, when I lost those 70 pounds, I was still very much concerned that I was still 20 pounds overweight according to the BMI charts. They still said I was overweight, so despite my new “hottie” status, I still saw myself as a fat chick. My black-and-white irrational thinking went like this, “You’re still not at goal weight. You’ve never reached goal weight your whole life, and the fact that you’re not there now is simply proof that you’re lazy and gluttonous.”
Fast forward 8 years, 2 chronic ailments, and a 50 pound re-gain thanks to being couch-ridden for 3 years, and that’s where I was, mentally, when I got up the courage to start exercising again.
I would have hoped that a year of consistent fitness activity would change my shape or my weight or at least the way I think about myself… but without visible results on my body, it’s been a constant struggle to maintain a positive attitude toward fitness. I always hear my ex-boyfriend in my head saying, “I question your commitment to fitness.” Some days it makes me laugh. Other days, I worry he was right.
Fitness & Chronic Illness
It’s damn near impossible to be body positive when you have a chronic ailment (or 2) that causes you to not be able to physically perform the way you want to. When I get upset about it, I tend to internally yell at my body for its shenanigans, as though my body’s not a part of me, but some external, unfeeling thing that I can verbally abuse without consequence.
But that’s not the way it works. Trying to separate your “self” from your body so that you have an outlet for your anger is not practicing good self-compassion… in fact, it’s exactly the opposite. I wouldn’t berate anyone else in the whole wide world if they couldn’t lose weight despite actively trying, so I can’t allow negative self-talk to my body. It’s doing the best it can for me.
Truth be told, if someone had told me, in 2009, when my seizures were at their worst, that in 4 years I would be able to lift weights and go hiking again, I would have flipped out on them for feeding me lies and promising false hope. I was so thoroughly trapped in my body from the near-constant seizures that I couldn’t get off the couch without Adam walking me to the bathroom or to bed. That’s where I lived: my couch and my bed – and that was it. I got excited when I was able to go to the grocery store or pharmacy. That was a big deal.
There’s got to be some sort of memory dysfunction that makes you forget pain and ignore progress (or rather see all progress as expected and as it should be). 2009 Rachael would not believe I could ever be the woman who I am today. Past Rae used to pray and dream of a time when she would be able to cook again. That time has come, and my happiness over that huge accomplishment dwells in the shadow of my vanity.
You Better Work, Bitch.
“You want a hot body? You want a Bugatti?
You want a Maserati? You better work bitch.
You want a Lamborghini? Sip martinis?
Look hot in a bikini? You better work bitch”
Right now, my favorite song to work out to is Work, Bitch by Britney Spears. It reminds me that everyone has to work hard to achieve the fitness level that they want. (That is, unless they’re naturally thin or they don’t care about their size.)
I’ve worked hard for a year. It has paid off in ways that I never considered. I’m stronger, sure, but I also can do things I wasn’t able to do before, like cleaning without making myself feel sick. I’m less afraid of my illness. I have more confidence in my ability to do pretty much anything aside from losing weight… I’m able to cook again. I’m able to shop. I’m able to hike again without fear that my husband would have to carry me back to the car.
All of that should be celebrated, rather than ignored. Exercising at the gym is clearly a good thing for my overall well-being. I just need weight loss to not be the reason that I exercise. I’m going to be putting more effort into loving what I see in the mirror than trying to figure out how to shrink it.