Right now it seems like everyone is joining a gym and eating kale. It’s what we do in early January, a fresh attempt to get healthy after indulging over the holidays.
Three years ago, I was no exception. I don’t want to tell you this story, because I hoard personal information like some people hoard their chocolate stash: kept hidden, enjoyed alone, and given sparingly. So I don’t want to tell you my weight-loss story because it feels so personal. But oftentimes vulnerability is the best way to set us free from what’s plaguing us. It’s a Biblical principle that our weakness lets God show Himself strong in our lives. I’m working on being a more open person. So thanks for listening.
Three years ago I waited in a hospital while a beloved relative underwent heart surgery. Despite a healthy lifestyle, he battled heart disease caused mostly by genetic factors. It was my wake-up call. Although I exercised, I was still overweight. I love carbs and have a sweet tooth the size of Texas. To this day, my favorite meal is chocolate cake. If we’re going to get technical and say that a meal must include at least two foods, then ok, put some whipped cream on the cake.
Here’s the thing: change is hard. My counselor says that people will change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing. I’m telling you, watching a loved one on the brink of death and knowing I could be next, was the motivation I needed to finally change my eating habits.
But because change is hard, I had to be realistic. I wasn’t going to do any juice cleanses, fasting, mail-order shakes, or whatever people do to their colons to lose weight. I wanted to cut down on refined carbs, add veggies, and still have the occasional piece of chocolate cake. Using an online body mass index (BMI) calculator, I picked a target weight that was realistic for my age and body type.
And then I started by overhauling lunch. Lunch for this homeschool mom had been my oasis in the middle of a long day. I now had to be mindful about what I put on my plate and watch my portions, and also ditch the frugal mindset that kept me from investing in quality foods that I would actually want to eat. For example, I knew I could happily eat a salad if it was made with good toppings. And by “good” I mean “carbs”; I sort of hyperventilate if there are no croutons on there. I found I liked vegetables – a lot – if they were roasted with olive oil. To avoid feeling deprived, I added a few low-calorie things I could have whenever I wanted, such as good coffee with cream. If I was out and needed a treat, I’d head for the nearest Starbucks.
Healthy weight loss means slow weight loss (no more than 1 pound a week for women). Knowing this helped me be patient. To check my progress, I got on a scale once a week. Any more than that and I could have become OCD about it. Some people go by how their clothes fit, but this would have given me excuses; I could have needed a crowbar to get dressed and still told myself I was fine. The objectivity of the scale worked for me.
As the scale showed progress, I stumbled over an unexpected challenge. Weight loss is visible, and we’re fascinated with it, so I was scrutinized and questioned wherever I went. I had no idea getting healthier would make me public property – a social experiment or the proverbial bug under the microscope. It gave me empathy for people who suffer physical difficulties; compared to them, I had nothing to complain about. We have no idea how negatively we affect people with our scrutiny, our staring, our noticing. The best thing we can do for people who look different from us, or different than they used to look, is to treat them as if they don’t.
Then it went beyond staring to commenting. While some people meant well, most were curiosity seekers bordering on rude. People wanted details about what I ate, how much I was exercising, how I felt. They wanted to know exactly how many pounds I’d lost and what my husband thought. The comments from men were the hardest to handle. Here’s the deal, guys: unless you’re married to or closely related to a woman who’s changed her appearance, say nothing.
And sadly, the thinner I got, the more respect I received. Yes, I say sad, because the respect was solely based on my “improved” appearance. No one cared whether I was healthier or whether my character had improved (the jury’s still out on that one). I can tell you firsthand that our culture is indeed obsessed with thinness. Not health. Thinness.
Even as my health improved, I was under so much scrutiny that I started to wonder if this weight-loss thing was worth it.
next week: surviving weight loss