When people ask what motivated me to lose 100 pounds, I usually don’t tell them about the most humiliating day of my life. Instead, I share a version of the truth that isn’t quite so revealing. I talk about a breakup, my childhood obesity, or the embarrassment of squeezing into an airplane seat.
The real truth is a private moment. I was 22 years old and weighed 265 pounds. I was in the shower, and as I cleaned myself, I mindlessly swept out the deep, unexplored cavern of my belly button and felt something.
In a panic, I dug around and pulled out a ball of lint as big as a marble.
Sagging against the shower tiles, I stared at my stomach, disgusted and ashamed. I asked myself, How could you let this happen? Do you hate yourself that much?
I wanted my body to be different. I wanted to respect myself. I wanted to feel beautiful. But those things felt impossible.
Just start small, some wiser part of me whispered.
So I did.
No More Diets
I started gaining weight when I was in elementary school, and, by the time I turned 22, I had been on myriad weight-loss plans. I tried Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, and multiple fad diets on my own — the low-carb diet, the cabbage-soup diet, the no-fat diet. And the diet where I ate nothing but peanut butter, hot dogs, and pickled beets.
I joined a hospital weight-management program. I met with nutritionists, doctors, and weight-loss cheerleaders.
None of it worked for me.
So, after that day in the shower, I began an experiment: I cherry-picked the things I’d learned from a variety of dieting disciplines and mixed them in a way that made sense to me.
My weight loss was up to me, so my plan was custom built for me, by me.
I made up my own rules:
1. Never diet again.
2. Pay attention to my body in some way every day.
3. If what I’m doing isn’t working, try something else.
To kick things off, I learned about nutrition. What did the food I ate do to my body? What made me feel the best? How much did my body require?
Giving up the fast food I ate regularly was clearly the place to start. With no more trips to the drive-through, I quickly lost 30 pounds.
Then I began cutting the amount of sugars and unhealthy fats I ate.
I read a book explaining Weight Watchers’ point system, which I loosely followed to learn about portion sizes. From Drs. Mark Hyman and Andrew Weil, I learned about real food — proteins, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains — and avoiding processed foods. I tried cooking foods I’d never had before, such as kale and quinoa.
While I educated myself about food, I also set out on a mission to learn to love exercise. I bought a pair of running shoes — and discovered quickly that I hated running. It left painful red blisters on my inner thighs, and I had to humiliate myself in public to do it.
Instead, I selected a bunch of workout videos and sweated in the privacy of my own living room every day. There, I could try all kinds of exercise without feeling like anyone was looking at me. I stepped, danced, and kickboxed my way to a 70-pound weight loss.
Weight Loss Interrupted
About three years into my new way of life, I switched on a kickboxing video. As I performed a twist and sidekick move, I ripped a psoas muscle in my lower back. I fell to the floor, crying in pain and panic. My first thought: How would I exercise now?
For a month or two, I curtailed my activities and my weight loss plateaued. Then a friend recommended physical therapist Phil Orenstein in Edina, Minn., who held therapeutic yoga classes for people with injuries. Phil showed me yoga poses that strengthened my core. But it was the words he spoke to the class that changed my life.
Phil talked about the importance of listening to our bodies, learning the body’s signals, and respecting its limits. At the same time, he asked us to push ourselves — carefully — past where we thought we could go. He told us our magnificent bodies would surprise us and teach us about how our minds tripped us up. He was right.
Eventually, yoga taught me how to change the negative thoughts I had about myself that had led to overeating. The self-hatred I’d carried with me for so long began to dissolve.
As I grew stronger, I tried every kind of yoga class I could find until I settled on the styles that suited my body and personality. I added interval training to my cardio routine two or three times a week, and my body really began to work for me instead of against me. I lost the last 30 pounds over the next few years and bought a pair of red pants to celebrate the summer I turned 28.
Keeping It Off
I’m in my 40s now, and I still follow the rules I set for myself in my 20s. Don’t diet. Pay attention. Try something new. Through the birth of my daughter and the aging of my body, I’ve had to continue monitoring my health and find new ways to stay engaged.
Over the past few years, I’ve strength trained with a personal trainer, tried Zumba, joined group-cycling classes, and headed to the pool for swims with my daughter. Each day for the past 10 years, I’ve gone on walks — logging countless miles with my dog. On any given day, I might head to a yoga class, jump on a treadmill, or launch an after-dinner dance party in our living room.
I continue to experiment with new cookbooks and regularly whip up big batches of the healthy meals I love most. Then I put them in serving-size containers and freeze them. I know I make less-healthy decisions when I’m hungry, so I keep healthy snacks (such as almonds, fruits, or veggies and hummus) on hand.
The most important thing I do for my health is continue to manage my unhealthy thoughts. I work hard to send my body messages of acceptance and respect. It’s not as tight as I’d like. My stomach will never be flat. I have parts that wobble and permanent stretch marks.
But my body has worked so hard for me over the years. It moves me where I want to go. It holds my husband and daughter close. It is — I have finally realized — beautiful.