March 18, 2016

Love/hate

This week, I started working with my personal trainers through the Exercise and Sport Science program at the university where I work. The first meeting was really good - mostly paperwork. I am working with two students, David and Dana. They're both very nice and understanding so far. Dana was a student in one of my French courses, and she's my age, so we had talked a lot before now about my fitness history and goals - I'm so, so glad she reached out to me to volunteer as their client.

I gave them my name, address, phone number - all that background stuff. Then, the bigger questions. Some medical history, some specifics like height and weight. I filled them in a bit on my story - I summed up my almost thirty years as "big as long as I could remember, suddenly fit, then back again just as quickly." All we did for measurements the first day was body fat percentage (yikes) and waist circumference. Yesterday we did tests for flexibility - no big surprise, I have a lot of work to do. I'm weaker on my right side, and I have pretty terrible balance.

There were two big things we did each day. Tuesday, we set a goal for the training period - but I will come back to that. Yesterday, we reviewed a paper they'd had me fill out. I was given a chart with a few different categories to fill in: mainly, what I eat, where/when I eat it, how much I eat, and how I feel about eating it.


I told them Tuesday that I could fill it in then and hand it right back, since I basically eat the same thing every day. But Dana told me to take it home and spend some time on it, so I did. I wrote down everything I ate Wednesday, plus water, and the times/how I felt. My hunger was never extremely high because I try to eat a little something every few hours. I didn't do anything out of the ordinary: yogurt for breakfast, Think Thin bar, Lean Cuisine for lunch, veggie straws and Jello, chicken/rice/broccoli for dinner, and then apple slices with caramel. 980 calories plus dinner, which I guessed was around 500 calories.

I anticipated that she'd comment on the snacks or the Lean Cuisine and mention I need to eat "real" food, so I went to the store and got some carrot sticks and individual hummus cups to replace my afternoon snack of veggie straws - I figured I'd come in, show her the report, and dazzle her with what I'd already realized and changed.

I handed her the form, and she looked at me strangely. "Wait, is this seriously what you ate?"

Uh oh. That look on her face! Not quite anger, but definitely something strong there. So I went to tell her all about the carrots, and she stopped me with something I did not expect at all.

"I can tell you right now, you're definitely not eating enough."

I was stunned. I honestly had no idea how to react or respond. I stammered a bit, then finally got out "Well, I mean, it's just that ... I am a chronic dieter, all I know for weight loss is that I should eat less, I don't know how to do this any other way." And I admitted to her something honest, that I am just recently realizing myself: that I've been dieting/restricting in one way or another for almost all of my life. I said since I was 5, but I'm sure it was earlier, and I've just blocked it out.

So many childhood memories center on my body. Memories of lectures from grandmothers on both sides, lovely women with food issues of their own, who preached about healthy choices while one smoked and heavily restricted and the other hid "bad" foods in her bedroom closet. Home movies of cousins parading around, talking about how they were gorgeous and Mary was smart. I remember loving my body for all of about thirty minutes when I started to get boobs - when I thought, here it is! My DJ Tanner moment!


I wanted that so badly - to be the sweet, chubby girl who hit puberty and grew into herself, whose weight rebalanced itself around new height and she became lovely and confident and got a cute boyfriend and everything ended happily. And I remember my mom making negative comments, not only to my face but around other family members, and I remember feeling so incredibly embarrassed and ashamed. I knew, then at 8, and earlier, and since then, that the only acceptable behavior was to hate your body into submission. So I retreated back into myself, and yo-yo'd one step forward and two steps back for the next decade and a half.

I could write a book about my tiny specific details, but this is it, as succinctly as possible: how a person could possibly lose 150 pounds and then regain nearly all of it. There's been so little self-love, no matter what my age, no matter what my weight. But there's been plenty of anger, frustration, punishment, and hate.

It's what I've read and reread a million times in Geneen Roth's books, but haven't been able to commit to: you can't hate yourself thin. Her brilliant quotes from "Women, Food, and God" always touch me so closely: "The promise of a diet is not only that you will have a different body; it is that in having a different body, you will have a different life. If you hate yourself enough, you will love yourself. If you torture yourself enough, you will become a peaceful, relaxed human being ... for some reason, we are truly convinced that if we criticize ourselves, the criticism will lead to change. If we are harsh, we believe we will end up being kind. If we shame ourselves, we believe we end up loving ourselves. It has never been true, not for a moment, that shame leads to love. Only love leads to love."


Perfect, beautiful girl. You deserved better, and I want to make it up to you. I want to become the grownup you needed. I want to become someone you'd be proud of.

All they asked me to do was write down a day's worth of food and drinks. But it made me sit down and look at 29 years of a disordered relationship with food, and realize I truly need help if I want to do this right and do it in a sustainable way.

So I told Dana: I don't know how to do this in a balanced way. I know how to overeat to be big and unhealthy, and I know how to undereat to be small and unhealthy. I don't know how to eat normally, and I don't know how to properly nourish my body.

And what a perfect response.

"It's okay, we're gonna review this, look at all the measurements and test results, and we're gonna come up with a calorie goal and some sample meal plans for you, okay?"

Dana's story is her own to tell, but she's shared some of it with me, and I'll say that it's quite similar to my own. So I trust her, even though I'm scared. I'm scared of having to learn something new. I'm afraid to step away from something - because even though it's something that isn't working, it's something familiar. And, just like Geneen Roth said, it's the penance I've given myself, with the hope of salvation. I overate and got myself this way, the only way I've ever behaved is to charge the other extreme to make up for the poor choices. But dieting "my way" only works for a few weeks, and then I get discouraged, get too hungry, get overwhelmed, and I give up entirely.

I don't know what to expect, and I guess that's something else to hand over to the trainers. I need to readjust my approach to food, and readjust my approach to expectations. I was also told something else I've known for a while but ignored: that I need to weigh myself less often, but take other measurements to track progress.

This will help. This will all help. I won't be back to my lowest weight tomorrow or a month from now or even by the end of the year, probably. But I'll be my healthiest self, and that's the goal, right? To do this in a healthy, sustainable way?

I ordered some lunch boxes from Amazon, and I'm going to try to replace my Lean Cuisine lunches with something (a) homemade and (b) more nutritionally dense. Not Whole 30, but definitely more whole foods. More fruits and veggies, fewer snacks with isolated nutrients and empty carbs. And I'm going to try to pack breakfasts, too - something more substantial than just a yogurt, but also nutritious.
I'll need it, especially going back to what we did Tuesday: our plan for the training. We've got six weeks or so once the testing is done to set some goals, do some one-on-one work with the trainers, and then retest at the end to see how we're coming along. They asked what I'd like to accomplish in that time, and I told them boldly:

I want to run again.

Specifically, I want to run one mile without stopping. They both laughed a little, and asked how I could possibly love it so much. Both are super athletic, but neither one enjoys running, so they genuinely were curious, and so I told them.

I told them that in 2010, I could barely walk, and I hardly ever left my house. But then one day, I did. And I walked a few blocks. And then I walked a few more. And then I did the stairs in my office building, and after that, I learned how to run. And I totally get it - not every run is great. Sometimes you hit a wall, and sometimes it's not necessarily super exciting. But when you've sat on a couch and wondered how you got to that point, and seriously thought about how much time you had, how many more binges it took before you were entirely immobile ... to have gone from being that person to someone who could run, someone who could move gracefully among athletes - no, to BECOME an athlete herself ... that was incredible.

And I want that back.

There was no self-hate when I was running. I look at pictures of me racing, and there's something immediately striking about every single picture:


Invariably in these race pictures, my posture, my poses ... always the same: hands on the hips, absolutely owning every second. Beautiful, perfect girl. Someone I was proud to be, finally. There's more than adrenaline. There's passion. There's a feeling of being invincible. There's confidence just pouring out of me.

When I say I love running, this is what I mean. I love the movement of my body, but even more, I love the movement in my soul. I love the person that it makes me - even when I was still struggling with food issues, I was able to forget them for a while, and feel invincible.

I've got new running shoes on their way. I've dusted off my now-antique-looking Garmin, and we'll see if she still works. I've got a goal, and a schedule. One mile, no stopping. I've got this.

12 comments:

BLMV said...

You have somehow seen inside my soul.. I am amazed how eloquently you write about what pains me so much. Here's to the first steps towards that mile!
Thank You

Valerie said...

GOOOOOOOOO MARY!!!!!!!!!!

Jill Walker said...

OMG, I'm BAWLING! You have ABSOLUTELY got this, and being a runner myself, you know I totally get it. I am SO excited for you, and I can't WAIT to cheer you on!!!

Vickie said...

Really great post. Well written. Great thought behind it. I hope you keep writing. It will be very interesting to hear about you and your work with them.

I can't remember if I told you this - I was in a Pilates class with a TV newscaster a few years ago. She had a really crazy schedule. A friend of hers from college was taking a class like your trainers. Not in the same town. But newscaster worked with her friend. They did it long distance by Skype. Not ideal, but with their schedules, they made it work. Newscaster said the information, support and steady schedule made a huge, positive difference for her.

Amy said...

THIS. This post is one of the biggest shifts I've EVER read... and you know I've been here since the beginning. This is huge. I got teary at the end. You have this. You do... I think adding self love practices to your monthly goals is another thing that you would hugely benefit from. Examining yourself and learning to love yourself (not just doing something for yourself, but exploring it through writing). I have this book beautiful you - a daily guide to radical self-acceptance by Rosie Molinary - I think it would be great for you to look into!

LynnieG said...

What a wonderful post! It made me cry. All of our stories are unique, but I have to admit ours are very similar. I'm old enough to be your mother, but have just in the last few years realized most of the things from my past that you have already discovered for yourself. It's painful, but hopefully healing. I have work to do, but I struggle with finding the right resources and pulling everything together. I'm glad you're finding what you need. Thank you so much for sharing and thank you too for your beautiful words. I've actually been following you for a few years and am so glad you let us all in on your life. Peace.

Jennifer Roe said...

A simply amazing post. Wishing you all the best on your continued journey. Miss you and think of you often.

Caron said...

I loved this post so much, and only wish I had been as wise when I was your age and battling the bad feelings about myself and my weight. I'm old enough to be your grandmother but I have only begun to understand a few of the things behind my bad relationship with food and my lifelong dieting in the past 15 years. We are looking forward to hearing all about the next six weeks. :)

Brianna Williams said...

I know I write this every single comment, but you're such a beautiful writer. I'm so excited for you. Sometimes you need someone in your corner to tell you that they've got you if you fall. It sounds like you've found just that person.
XO, B

Running Meg said...

I just want to hug you right now because you deserve it. I also love your trainer and want to hug her too. You are incredible.

Erin Myone said...

I can't really express how this blog makes me feel. There is a lot of familiarity, fear, sadness, and pride reeling around me after reading. I want this too. I am trying too. You can make this work. And so can I. Thank you for writing.

Cynthia Malm said...

OMG I always waiting for my DJ Tanner moment too! And now I'm watching Fuller House and I see her now and I think, why don't I look like that? Why did my moment never come? Did I miss it somehow?

When I was in my over exercising phase (a form on an eating disorder believe it or not) I always remembered an episode of Full House when DJ did something similar but I just couldn't stop myself. I have always seen myself in her.

I'm going to pick back up Geneen Roth's books. It seems like she has so much wisdom on this topic.

Again thank you for sharing. You have a way of sharing that mirrors back my own life.