August 14, 2010

Strengths and weaknesses

As I begin another week, I'm forced to sit back and think about what I will need in order to continue doing well. While I love occasional spontaneity, I am definitely the kind of person who loves to plan things in advance, to make lists and have an idea of how things ought to go. So, with my lifestyle changes in mind, I've been working on two lists: (1) what are my strengths? (2) why have I failed in the past?

It seems there are always reasons not to do what you should. Doing the right thing is almost always the hardest thing to do: making dinner instead of ordering out, walking instead of taking the bus, choosing water over soda, exercising instead of watching a movie. It's tough to keep your eye on long-term goals when short-term satisfaction is so easily attained. One of the biggest problems I have always had with losing weight has been with keeping my "eyes on the prize," so to speak. It's hard to remember that gaining the weight didn't happen overnight, so losing it won't either.

I can't let myself get discouraged. When I first moved to Chicago, I was really hopeful. Starting over again, and this time in a city of millions of people! I went to the gym regularly and ate sensibly. that magic moment!I lost almost 30 pounds in two months! It was incredible. I remember the first time I saw the scale dip below 300 pounds - I cried. It was such an overwhelming feeling of success. I looked good, I felt great, and I carried myself with confidence. Unfortunately, the same thing I loved about the city proved fatal for my weight loss efforts. I had no positive reinforcement - no one knew me, so no one could tell that anything was different. There was no Past Me for them to compare it to. I'm not saying that I need a permanent cheering section every time I go to the gym, but it's just very difficult to work so hard towards a goal and have no one recognize your efforts. So that, combined with the demands of teaching and going to grad school full-time, the exercising stopped, the diet changed, and the pounds came back, plus some.

Another source of failure in the past has been my methods of weight loss. In the past, I've overdone the dieting or the exercise to the point where I either get hurt or end up bingeing like crazy. I have only recently realized that, like alcohol or drugs, my addiction to food is something that I am going to have to live with for the rest of my life. Quick fixes like starving myself work short-term, but I cannot count on them to help me in the long run. I see my weight loss journey as a marathon - I need to pace myself. I can't burn myself out quickly and then hit the wall.

In spite of all my past failures, I know I can succeed at this, and it helps to have strong support from family and friends. They will help me through this journey like they have loved and supported me through all my journeys. I think my strongest support comes from my cousin Sarah. me and sarah(This picture is us as little kids - so lovely!) When I moved to Chicago, she was one of the very few people I knew, and when I moved out of the graduate dorms into my own apartment, I was lucky enough to find a place on the same street as her. We would make dinner and watch a movie every Friday, or just get together for tea every now and then. I don't know how I would have survived that first year without Sarah. She is one of the wisest people I know, always listening and providing sound advice when I need it most. A few months ago, she sent me an e-mail that really struck a chord with me:
Hi Mary my Dear,

I've been thinking about you a lot in the past couple days (in a good way!), and I wanted to reach out (cheesy, I know, sorry).

I just had a conversation with a mentor of mine, who is awesome and wonderful, and she started telling me about her work with Seattle Sutton's, and what has been good, important, challenging, etc. I'm *not* writing this email cause I think you should do that program, but after talking to Cam, I realized that I've never actually asked you how I can support all the work you have done (and are doing) to live a healthy life. Really, being healthy of course isn't just about food, but I we don't often talk about the food part. Not that we should all the time- but I don't want to miss a chance to support all that you do, because you really deserve to succeed in everything (I seriously, seriously mean that).

You are a real visionary, Mary, and you've set up all kinds of systems for your success, and I want to support you in anyway I can. I think I've been a typical [last name] with our eating habits- thinking that it's cute or awesome to 'cheat' on taking care of ourselves. But we know from our family that the cuteness wears off. None of us want to end up like the relatives. I can't even point fingers, it's just a mess, of course- I'm just really glad that you, me and some of the other cousins are taking the steps to be healthier people than the older generation (in lots of ways).

That all being said- the real point is that I love you so much, and I'm really inspired by your creativity, your brilliance, hard work, and real beauty that you bring to life. And honestly, I just want to support you in any way I can, but I haven't done a great job of asking you what that means, so I'm asking now- if there's anything I can do to support your goals to be healthier, please let me know. I'm sorry it took this long for me to just try and listen!

If this is all just insane and offensive, I'm sorry. I just wanted to, again, reach out cause I love you to pieces.

That's all. Love you! <3

At first, it completely floored me. In spite of my visibly out-of-control weight problem, no one has ever really said anything to me about it - and definitely not like this, in a heartfelt and supportive way. I wrote her back, confessing that I had a problem and that I would love her help with maximizing my potential. It felt really good to admit out loud that I needed help and that I felt out of control. Her messages are always so comforting.
"I've actually been working on this email since last night, here and there, trying to find the best things to say- but I guess the bottom line is that I'm here, and I want you to know it- but really more important is that I want to listen and help. Whew- scary and exciting, huh?"
Another strong influence on my success is my best friend, Jill. We met in college and instantly became very close friends. jill and me (This picture is us on a bateau mouche in Paris!) We have a lot of similar interests and tastes, but enough differences to keep things interesting. We had always talked about opening up a bakery/bookstore together, and I'd like to think that someday, maybe when we're older, we can still make it happen. For now, we live 900 miles apart and only get to see each other a few times a year, but when we do get to hang out, it's just as comfortable as if I never left. She's a lifestyle photographer whose business is taking off like crazy, and I'm so proud of her for it, even if I can't be in Connecticut to be a part of it all.

Which brings me to ... me. photo by 60b photographyI need to be my own secret weapon. There are so many factors that will influence my weight loss, but through it all, the only constant will be me. I need to be brave enough to put in the work to succeed, strong enough to know that what I am doing is for the best, and mature enough to know that slip-ups occasionally happen and when they do, I need to just pick myself up and get right back on track.


Jessica said...

I am so glad you have such a great support system. That is one thing I am lacking. Other that my blog friends, I don't really have anyone supporting my healthy lifestyle. I so wish my husband would get on board with me, but he simply isn't interested and it becomes a sore spot if I push it too much.
Hope you have a great weekend.

Amanda Cravens said...

Aww, the letter from Sarah made me a little teary eyed!