Let me start at the very beginning of my journey. During the summer of 2014 I was admitted into the hospital for emergency abdominal surgery. This however was not my first surgery but in fact my second in six months. My first surgery had been messed up so badly that it created more issues causing me to have to undergo another 4-hour long procedure in Kenya, Africa. After my second surgery, I remember my doctor coming into my room and telling me that I really needed to lose weight. At this point I was nearing 300 pounds and I did not realize the weight (no pun intended) of my situation. It is hard when someone tells you that you need to lose weight but I managed to convince myself I wasn't as overweight as he claimed. So, I brushed it off. After being released from the hospital, my dad and I had a conversation about me losing weight and I remember telling my dad, "I have no motivation to get healthy." And well... I didn't. Going to the gym was daunting, eating healthy seemed nearly impossible and well I just didn't have the time.... or so I told myself.
Fast forward a few months and now I was living in Maryland, working two jobs and gaining weight rapidly due to my fast food and soda addictions. I felt terrible. I was out of breath just looking at a flight of stairs, my weight on my joints was taking its toll and I wanted to know why my insides felt so terrible. After getting tested by a GI doctor, I was told I had IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). A nice way of saying, he didn't fully know what I had and he didn't really feel like doing anymore testing. I felt a little defeated. I turned to my small group and asked for prayers that I would find relief from my intestinal issues. I remember my small group leader looking at me and saying, "Angela, you know I'm a nutritionist right?" An immediate answer to prayer sitting two chairs down from me. However this was just the easy part!
Holly (my small group leader) asked me to journal what I ate every day for an entire week. Let me just tell you that was the most honest I had ever been with anyone as to how bad my eating habits had become. Sitting at her kitchen table the next weekend as she silently read my food journal was super intimidating. In her most perfectly honest manner she told me everything I ate was total junk. Even the things I thought were the healthier option were really not healthy at all, instead unhealthiness wrapped in a healthy packaging. However, Holly did more for me than just tell me what I was eating wasn't healthy, she gave me the tools to changing my entire lifestyle.
"I want you to eat no processed foods, no dairy, no gluten, no sugar and no caffeine for an entire month and see how you feel,” Holly said to me to help me figure out what was causing me to feel so bad.
That first week to be entirely honest, was hell. The first three days I went without caffeine and sugar felt like I had quit drugs cold turkey. I was experiencing chills, weakness, shakes, nausea and had to leave work early because I was so sick. I called Holly and asked her what the heck was going on. She calmly told me I was fine and that I was simply detoxing. I HAD become addicted to sugar and caffeine in ways I didn't know were possible. That first week I had to teach myself to drink water. YUCK! Up to this point I only drank water when it was the last possible option available (Or my mom made me drink it!) I really detested the taste of water and yes, I would argue that water has a taste! It wasn't satisfying to my sugar addicted taste buds.
Also during that first week, I had to learn how to shop. Now as a girl I know how to shop, my aunt and I can shoe shop like professionals. So no, that's obviously not the kind of shopping I'm talking about. I'm talking about tackling the grocery store. It’s a very scary place honestly! It’s not as simple as browsing the aisles and deciding on what looks good. You have to carefully read ALL labels to find out what is really in the food, research different stores to figure out if they use preservatives and insecticides on their fresh produce, and find out if "organic" is really organic or not. It is not a feat for the faint of heart or something I could have done on my own. I called and texted Holly so many times that first week I'm sure she was nearly sick of me! Finally, with my fridge loaded up with all natural fruits and vegetables and a lot of chicken, I began clean eating.
Now, clean eating isn’t easy. There is no just popping through the drive thru and grabbing a meal. It is a lot of planning, cooking, recipe finding and frustration when it doesn’t come out right the first time. There is a huge margin of trial and error that can lead to a lot of choice words and near defeat. My creative experimentations began to emerge as I learned what foods I did like and how I could pair them with other things. It took a lot of prayer and patience as I began to find my way with eating clean.
Now here comes the amazing part… After the first week of clean eating, I began to feel so much better. I didn’t hurt all the time, I had more energy and as weird as it is to say, my insides felt clean. Now I didn’t have some massive burst of energy but I found I wasn’t as tired at the end of the day and I was able to maintain a steady pace throughout the day.
During that whole first month my goal was never to lose weight. In fact I didn’t think I would lose any weight. Holly however knew differently. At the end of that first month, she asked me to weigh myself to see how much weight I had lost. I almost laughed out loud thinking there was no way I had lost any weight. Timidly I approached the scale and almost fell off when I read the numbers. I had lost 19 pounds in a month. 19 whole pounds was totally gone just by me changing my eating lifestyle! Not only did I feel amazing but I was able to lose weight in the process. Talk about motivation!!!! I had a new-found determination and drive to want the pounds to come off and to continue to feel better than I ever had! So I started running! (Another story for another time!)
Well, that is just the beginning of this story. 19 pounds lost turned into 50 pounds lost. 50 pounds lost turned into 76 pounds lost and now I am nearing my goal weight. But this journey is so much more than just changing how you eat or running three days a week.
This journey is riddled with so much pain, hardships, frustrations and at the same time so many joys and excitement. I don’t say this as a discouragement but simply to share the honest truth of my journey.
When I was nearly 300 pounds, I didn’t realize how overweight I was. I knew I was big but I didn’t know how big I was. I think your mind sees what it wants to see. Of course as most girls do, I dealt with body image issues but for me a lot of them stemmed from my height not my weight. For example, in high school one guy refused to date me on the basis that I was “too tall for any normal person.” Which of course crushed my 17 year old heart.
I didn’t start having weight body image issues until I had really begun to lose weight. I think I was around 50 pounds lost when I started realizing just how big I was. I began to shame myself for ever letting myself get to be that big. Thoughts would (and still do sometimes) rage in my head like, “How dare you ever let yourself get to that size” and “no wonder he didn’t want to date you! You look as big as a cow!” The want to lose weight also became intertwined with the disgust of what I had let myself become and the drive to never let that happen again. It is hard for me to look back at pictures of myself from two years ago and not judge myself or wonder what other people thought of me then. It’s like somewhere in my mind I equate size with rejection and yet I know that it’s just something my mind has created.
When you start to lose significant amount of weight, people will start to come up to you and say things like, “Wow you look great!” and “I can’t believe how small you look!” Now for any normal human, we bask in the glory of these moments! Our minds think, “YES! Finally all those mornings in the gym and eating right is paying off! People are finally noticing!” We began to lose weight for the sake of those compliments rather than because we want to do it for ourselves. It’s also what fuels comparisons.
One of the most dangerous traps weight loss books don’t tell you about is the comparison game. You are doing just fine until somebody else starts losing weight faster than you or others start noticing their weight loss. Suddenly you look at your own journey and wonder what you are doing wrong or why it isn’t coming off as quickly. Truth is (as cliché as it sounds) all of us lose weight differently and our journeys will look different. I will admit it is hard to drill that truth into your head when you are not only the tallest in the room but one of the biggest. It’s a truth I continually have to reteach myself.
These issues of body shaming and body issues rear their heads strongly when I step outside of the clean eating menu. Temptations are everywhere from Starbucks to the local grocery store. When I give in to temptations and have a brownie or a cinnamon roll, the second the last bite goes in my mouth I instantly feel shame. I feel like I’ve let everyone down and I almost instantly become scared I’m going to gain all the weight back that I’ve lost. Then the justification stage sets in. “Well I didn’t eat a big breakfast and I’m going to run later so this brownie really didn’t count.” ANOTHER DANGEROUS TRAP!
Justification is the precursor to falling off the band wagon entirely. If you are not careful, you will start justifying why you shouldn’t work out, why ordering a pizza is easier than going to the grocery store and before you know it you are right back at 300 pounds.
I know a lot of this seems heavy but this is the dark side of my journey. There are days when I don’t want to get up and go for a run. There are days when I do have a brownie and guess what I ENJOY it! (The key is not letting it become a daily necessity but an occasional treat.)
All of the struggle and pain has brought me so much joy! One of the biggest joys of this journey is the day that my dad and I went on our first run together. As a little girl I used to “run” with my dad around our yard. My dad has always been amazingly athletic and I remember growing up he would run every morning. I would wake up early some mornings and cut across the yard to catch up with him and run as fast as my chubby two year old legs would carry me. I remember thinking to myself “I can’t wait until I am big and I can run with daddy.” Well I got big but I never was able to run with daddy. I was too overweight and too embarrassed. But finally, my childhood dream of being able to run with my dad came true. (Yes I am sitting here typing this is tears!) As we ended our mile long run tears began to stream down my face. What a rush of accomplishment and joy.
That mile run was a catalyst for the next six months of me living at home. We went from one mile to two and eventually to three and even four miles. At the end of each run my dad would high five me and say, “Good job Ang”. To hear my dad say that is something I cannot explain. It makes me want to run another 10 miles!
Another joy for me has been getting to inspire others. To share with them my knowledge but also to encourage them and lift them up like so many have done for me. I love getting to celebrate with others their joys and being there when they stumble and need a hand. I know I couldn’t do this without my coaches, mentors and motivators. I would be SO lost without them!
So whether you are on your own weight loss journey or not, I hope this gives you a window into what it really is like to lose weight. It’s not always daisies and butterflies and there are days when I want to quit but I still fight. I fight because I want to be the healthiest I can not only for me but for my family and for my future family (Lord willing). Weight loss is a physical representation of an emotional and spiritual fight. A fight no one can face alone but requires support when you get knocked down. Most of all, this is a fight YOU CAN WIN! I promise to keep fighting, will you fight with me?