That night before I got in the shower I weighed myself. The number that I saw sent me into a downward spiral of despair. I cried. I sat crumpled in the shower and bawled. I looked at my body as the water washed over it; the rolls of fat on my stomach, the enormous thighs, the flabby arms. I hated it. I wanted it all gone. I remember wishing I could just slice it all off.
When I got out of the shower I sat for hours at my computer, looking for SOMETHING. Looking for "it". The magic pill. Surgery? Hypnosis? I had to do SOMETHING. I had to. Now. I couldn't live this way anymore. I hated my body and I hated myself and I was absolutely at rock bottom.
I considered meal replacement shakes and a twelve week body transformation but I couldn't afford either. There were several people amongst my friends on facebook that had lost a lot of weight with the latter and their success had made me so acutely aware of my own perceived failings that I even went so far as to hide their updates from my facebook feed. Out of sight out of mind.
Finally I went back to a free site and tool that I had tried before but only briefly called MyFitnessPal - a calorie counting app with an online community. I immersed myself in MFP. I read success story after success story, envying the transformations while at the same time feeling hopeless and stuck. I saw mention of something called a "fitbit" in several forum posts and remembered hearing about it once before from a fellow blogger who had changed her life and her health and I decided to look into it.
As I have already said, I had never been an active person. Physical activity was difficult for me and because of that I didn't enjoy it. The only real exercise I had ever enjoyed was swimming, but I felt too fat to even do that. Once in my early twenties I joined a gym and went every single day at six am - for two weeks. I gave it up because I was too hungry to stick with my Weight Watchers points if I worked out and because the scale didn't move.
Fitbit had a simple premise. It was basically a glorified pedometer with which you could set step goals (eg 10 000 steps a day) and that told you the energy you had expended in a day. It synced with MFP and gave you "exercise calories" to eat back on top of your allotted minimum.
I bought one. From the day it arrived in the mail - one year ago today - I have worn it constantly, only taking it off to shower.
In the beginning I set my fitbit and MFP to something along the lines of a 1000 calorie a day deficit, but even at that rate I was "allowed" around 1800 calories to eat a day and still lose weight. For someone with a restrictive background such as mine, that was an enormous amount of food to be eating while losing weight and it didn't feel like a diet. I was still not eating sugar and I upped the salad quotient considerably, but moving more meant that I could still eat regular family meals and come in under my calorie deficit goals for the day. I am really grateful to MFP and fitbit for sowing the seeds of being able to eat more from the very beginning. I know now that I had "failed" so often in the past because I was just plain starving. When you don't give your body the fuel it needs, it will find a way to get it.
I started to lose weight. I told no one to begin with; I had tried and failed so often. I had made grand declarations so often. But the losses were constant and I started to feel better. I told my partner and I added some support people on MFP.
I had always thought it naff to call the time between starting to lose weight and reaching a goal weight a "journey", but it really is the best way to describe the path I have traveled in this last year.
To get to my step goal of 10 000 steps a day I HAD to make an effort. In my normal day to day life I was very sedentary, maybe racking up 3000 steps in the course of a day, and if I was not moving my calorie allowance didn't go up, and if my calorie allowance didn't go up, I would "over eat" and lose my deficit or "over eat" and purge. So I moved.
It wasn't easy. I had a sports ID wrist band made up with my details on one side and "Just. Keep. Going." on the other. I took it one day, one walk at a time. I walked in the cold, in the rain, in the dark. The only time I could get out to walk on my own was after dinner when my partner was here to watch the kids, so that's when I went.
My walks got longer and faster. I got an elliptical and worked out on that for forty minutes a day. I felt good after I worked out, I had more energy, I was beginning to feel healthier but I still had unhealthy and disordered habits, not least of which was my growing obsession with the scale.
Weight fluctuations happen for so many reasons. Our weight changes hour by hour, day by day and is no real indication of our health or how much body fat we are carrying around. Intellectually I knew this, but I still let that number dictate my mood for the day.
Initially I had started weighing in with MFP once a week, with a sneaky mid week weigh in or two to see how I was going, but that soon changed to daily weighing as I began to obsess about the numbers. Down was good, up was bad, the same was bad. Down, I was good, up, I was bad.
When I got my fitbit and took those pictures up there from April, I had a goal in mind. I wanted to get back to that upper weight range for a healthy BMI that I had been so mortified with in that science class and fit into a size twelve. That was my ultimate dream of dreams goal.
As I approached that goal, the goal posts began to shift. I was within sight of that weight, and beginning to fit into those clothes, but I did not feel enough. I did not feel how I thought I would feel when I began, I did not look how I hoped I would look.
Sure, I felt better - I had lost a lot of weight. I had gained a lot of fitness, but inside, I was exactly the same.
I was not enough. I was the number on the scale. I was the lumps and bumps I saw in the mirror. I was the good food or the bad food I allowed myself to eat and I was sick of having to think about every meal before I ate it, having to save enough calories budgeted for everything, having to think about it, all the time.
I realised that if I kept on the way I was going I would NEVER be enough. No matter what I weighed, I did not like what I saw in the mirror and the negative self talk would just keep getting louder. I had to do something differently if I wanted different results.
I had not come this far to revert back to my old ways - and I could feel it coming. I could feel the frustration, the impatience, the weight of imperfection baring down on me.
At the same time that I was beginning to feel like I was treading water I found a podcast called "Fat 2 Fit Radio" on the recommendation of a couple of my buddies on MFP. I love podcasts and listen to them constantly on my walks, my walks are my "me time" and listening to a podcast or an audio book makes it that much more enjoyable. In the last year I have cycled through quite a few health and fitness programs, but this one was different. These guys had a crazy theory that to be the fit and healthy person you wanted to be, you just had to live it. You didn't have to have a 1000 calorie a day deficit, as that, as I was quickly coming to find out, was an unsustainable way to live, you just had to make small changes and live the life of the person you wanted to become. Progress might be slower, but it would be progress that you could live with and maintain for the rest of your life.
Hot on the heels of those episodes I heard an interview with someone called Amber Rodgers on another weightloss podcast, she too was telling me I could eat more and be healthy. I remember her saying that she had worked out what someone at her healthy goal weight would eat calorie wise to maintain their weight and she figured if she did that she would eventually be that weight without deprivation or struggle and it had worked.
I felt like I was ready for that.
I wouldn't have been in the beginning. That's why calling this thing a journey is appropriate after all, because we are shaped by the paths we take, the decision we make, the places we have been and the things we have seen. Sometimes you need to visit places you don't want to go to realise that you don't indeed want to be there.
Patience is my superpower:
Suddenly I felt re-energised. Instead of the long hard slog of weightloss I could begin on the business of the rest of my healthy life.
I set MFP and Fitbit to reflect the weight goal I wanted and set my calorie goal to maintain. I joined the support group that Amber had set up on facebook called Eating The Food. I got a weight bench and started to lift. I put my scale away and decided it wasn't going to tell me my worth anymore. I tracked my calories but the extra leeway of maintenance calories meant I didn't have to analyze every meal or worry about ruining my precious deficit; everything I looked at told me I was already where I wanted to be. I felt great. I had "let sugar creep back in" to my diet for some time, but I started to look at it as just another food instead of a bad food that I shouldn't have, and that in turn took it off a pedestal.
I stopped binging.
And then, I got the scale out. Just to peek. Just to see how I was going.
It hadn't moved.
It had been a week.
I can see the insanity as I type this. I had upped my calorie intake significantly and started weightlifting, I was feeling healthy and energised, yet the second I stepped on the scale and saw the number had stayed the same FOR ONE WEEK, I lost it.
Completely lost it.
I took to Instagram and MFP and just let it out. Was the self hate ever going to end? Why did the number on the scale have such power over me? I felt like the great new path I had started down had suddenly flooded and I was stranded on a rock unable to go forward or turn back.
I cried. I swore. I took deep breaths. I took that scale outside and smashed it with a brick.
Well. I tried to smash it with a brick. In reality, it smashed the brick, but I kept at it and then I left it out in the rain for good measure.
The last couple of months for me have been the best of the the last twelve. Better than the rapid weight loss in the beginning. Better than the praise I got when I hit the thirty kilograms down mark and people decided it was okay to start commenting.
The ETF group has been a game changer for me. The people in that group give freely of themselves and every single one of us is there for a reason. Some of us have diagnosed Eating Disorders, some of us undiagnosed. Some of us have been healthy and gained or lost weight to unhealthy levels, some of us are perfectly healthy looking on the outside with disordered thoughts about food or our bodies. There are as many reasons to be a part of that group as there are people in it, but it has helped me so, so much.
When I talk about Recovery, I'm not just talking about bulimia, I'm talking about years and years of self hate, body loathing, fear of food, negative self talk and neglect. I am talking about thinking I am making healthy choices for my body when I am actually punishing it by eating too little or exercising too much. I am talking about comparing myself to others, about comparing myself to different versions of myself. I am talking about thinking about other women's bodies with envy or disdain. I am talking about judging myself and others by the weight of their bodies not the weight of their deeds. I am talking about thinking of foods as bad or evil or like they have some sort of power over me. I am talking about letting a number define me and dictate my mood or my actions.
In the last couple of months it has all come together. Mind and body health, for the first time in my adult life.
I am not skinny. Another first is that I don't want to be skinny. I want to be strong. I want to be fit. I want to be happy. The bodies I admire now are not in fitspo images with "No Pain No Gain" emblazoned on them, but the bodies of people who have been through something. The bodies like mine with with mummy tummies and stretch marks, the bodies with strong lean muscles from putting in the time lifting heavy, the bodies that are softer than they used to be because they are allowed to rest and eat, the bodies that run marathons, the bodies that have survived adversity. We only get one body. Some bodies have different challenges to our own but they are still good bodies.
My body is a good body.
Today I still count calories and wear my fitbit daily. I eat at maintenance for a weight that was ten kilos below what I weighed when I last weighed myself but as that is still a deficit I don't sweat it if I go over sometimes; if I am hungry, I eat. I try to eat enough protein to support muscle repair and I get excited by strength gains instead of weight losses. I eat whatever I want in moderation - not a limit I put on myself but a limit my body puts on itself. When you are restricting something, like sugar, it's all you can think about and you think you could happily live on ice cream for every meal for the rest of your life, but when all food is just food? Sometimes you feel like ice cream, and sometimes you don't.
I am not the person I was a year ago, but I bet you aren't either. A year, as fast as it seems to go by, is a long time, and the things that we go through every day change us; it is up to us to guide the shape of that change and to have it help or hinder us. We are always growing.
Lose 20 kilos in 20 Weeks!:
I know there are at least a couple of people reading this who are disappointed. This is not what they were expecting (believe me, I understand, it was not what I was expecting to write, either). They wanted less story and more tips. Less talk more weight loss action plan.
There, I cannot help you.
I can tell you what I did. I can tell you the path I traveled to get where I am now, but I cannot tell you how to get here too. The twists and turns and roadblocks in my journey have shaped and reshaped the destination.
I can't tell you what to eat or what exercises to do; there is enough of that crap out there as it is and the best I can do is to tell you to ignore the majority of it. I can tell you what I would tell you if were speaking face to face and you told me you were feeling as desperate and hopeless as I was feeling twelve months ago:
Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your body. Accept it as it is, respect what it has been through and what it has done and continues to do for you. It is your one and only body.
Do not compare. Do not look at other people and wish you were them, wish you had their thighs, their toned arms, their flat stomach. You are not that person, you don't know their struggles or the things about themselves they are wishing were different at the very same time you are wishing you were different. If you and a friend are doing the same things and eating the same foods and she loses a kilo in a week and you stay the same, you have not failed. You have a different body. Really, try to look at that as a positive. Turtleneck jumpers are going to come back in one day and they are really hard to find with two neck holes.
Ignore the hype. This is one of the hardest things to do, and I should know because I have often been there, done that and drunk the sugar-free koolaid. When you are feeling desperate, you will try anything, want to believe anything, and attribute results to things that do not deserve the credit. Paleo, quitting sugar, low carbing - all ways of restricting calories and foods that are more socially acceptable than a traditional Eating Disorder. Don't put food into categories of good or bad, it is all just food. I would like to apologise now to anyone that I have sent down the garden path in the past while praising the benefits of some restrictive regime or other; I was so, so wrong. I have a particular place in my collection of loathsome things for a twelve week progam you HAVE heard about, and that you may even be a part of, it seems I know more people who have done it than have not, but it's a fad folks and fads aren't forever. It is a low calorie program that by it's very name is not going to serve you well through a lifetime. Save your money and buy me something nice....
Move more. Walking IS exercise. Do whatever you want to do that you can fit into your life for good. Month long squat challenges or grueling boot camps are fine if you enjoy them, but they are not necessary. Incidental exercise - just moving more in your day to day life - will make an enormous difference to your health and well-being and will go a long way to changing the way you live your life.
Fuel your body. 1200 calorie diets are for nobody. NO BODY should be starved of the nutrients and energy it needs to function and serve you well. I want to say that diets of any kind are not for you. We have been conditioned to seek out quick results in weight loss, but quick does not equal healthy or sustainable. I know I would prefer to lose excess weight slowly and keep it off for good than lose it quickly and then continue having to lose it over and over again for the rest of my life. Your body needs calories to function and it needs more calories than you think. It works harder for you than you think and restricting it leads to a whole new set of problems.
Resistance training. Start it in some form, right now. I didn't and it is a big regret, not one I am going to dwell on, but I wish I had listened when I was told early on to lift to preserve muscle mass while losing weight. Plus, it makes you feel totally badass. I am all for anything that makes you feel badass while making you strong, or just for anything that makes you feel badass full-stop. I think I also like saying badass. Badass. Badass yo. Try it. You'll like it.
Know yourself. If you can't have a scale in the house without jumping on it every day and letting what it says dictate your mood or choices for the day, throw it out. Weigh at the gym once a week if you feel you need to or try not weighing at all. Take progress pictures, take measurements, notice the fit and feel of your clothing. If you feel good I promise you are doing good. If you are eating well and moving more and challenging your body, nothing and no-one should make you feel differently.
Get support. When I started I started alone. Scared of failure and embarrassment, I did not want to be vulnerable and share my struggles, but if I hadn't reached out, I wouldn't have made it. We need to know we are not alone. We need to know we are not the only ones. We need a personal cheer squad, we need to be lifted up when we are falling down. Wherever you are comfortable finding that support, find it and utilise it.
Read on you crazy diamond:
If you have made it this far, you are probably over reading for at least the next week, so bookmark these pages and come back to them when your eyes can focus again.
Knowledge is power and the internet has been an incredible tool for me throughout this process. Below are sites, groups and products that I think could teach you a lot of things worth knowing, and help you just as much or more than they have helped me.
Fat 2 Fit Radio
Evil Sugar Radio
Eating The Food
180 Degree Health
Body Image Movement
And finally (finally, finally!), if you are struggling with an ED you do not have to do it alone and you CAN get better. It takes a lot of work but you can do it and you owe it to yourself and your body.