My whole life, I have always thought there was only one way to “be” as a woman: eat less, weigh less.
That’s how you get thin; that’s how you stay thin. And, women should be thin.
After years of trying and failing to commit to eating less, somehow, I finally got a grip on that chain, and I’ve been toeing that line for a decade.
It’s exhausting. There’s a reason that all of the studies show that most people who lose weight will gain it back. (Even my nutritionist tells me that I’m the first person she’s ever met who is part of the National Weight Control Registry.) I have spent years living in fear that I will gain it all back too. To combat that fear, I clung to this truth: “If I eat less, it can’t happen.”
Starvation is a full-time job. There are no breaks when you turn restriction into a lifestyle. When every calorie matters, food becomes an obsession: the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about at night. It even invades your dreams. You learn to live at a low level of hunger at all times.
I am so tired of being hungry.
Three months ago, I stumbled into a local gym that provides personal training and specializes in educating their clients about all things health-related. During my consultation, I told the owner that I had nutrition down but was ready to learn about exercise.
For the first couple of months, I continued to do what I’ve always done: eat less. I asked even more of my body, and I was so angry at it when it “failed me.” In frustration, I did, again, what I’ve always done: I doubled down on my commitment. I decided that I would eat even less, I would work out even more. That has always been the answer: eat less, move more. Right?
And then, about a month ago, after literally crying outside of the gym after a particularly bad day in which I felt weak and like I had regressed in my strength training, I found this video by a female fitness (and especially strength training) guru, Natacha Océane. In the video, she halved her caloric intake for a week (dropping from her normal 2,500-2,800 to just 1,400 calories per day, which was about what I was eating at the time) but continued her typical exercise routine. Suddenly, she couldn’t lift nearly as much weight, she was exhausted, and every time she ate, she just felt more hungry.
I felt like I was watching myself from that morning at the gym – unable to lift what I’d just been able to lift a couple of weeks before.
And something clicked. And I watched more videos, read more articles, scoured the internet world of female strength training and…holy…crap.
There is an entirely different world out there.
There is a world of women who are eating more, gaining muscle (which means, yes, gaining weight on a scale), and yet somehow being leaner and stronger and a million times more alive than my starving self.
There are countless women showing how they moved from an “eat less, weigh less” lifestyle to an “eat more, f#@% the scale” strength training lifestyle and are now actually a few dress sizes smaller despite a higher number on the standard scale.
But, more than that, there are women who have said “f#@% the scale, f#@% my appearance, I want to be strong. I want to be able to do pull-ups. I want to run a Spartan race. I want to deadlift double my weight. And that is what is going to fulfill me.”
At first, I was thinking “well of course it’s OK for you, super fit women, to eat more; but, not me. I’m not allowed to eat that much.”
What sealed the deal for me, though, was my trainer very bluntly telling all of us that he sees so many of his female clients come in eating next to nothing and desperately trying to lose weight, and that his goal for us was to see us eating more, getting stronger, and focusing on performance goals.
That told me “Yes, you…specifically you…who are not super fit or lean like the women in those YouTube videos, you who still have a lot of body fat…even you are allowed to eat more. NEED to eat more. This will work even for you.”
And, so I am.
Slowly, and with a lot of fear and trepidation, but also with trust and just as much stubbornness and willpower as it took to restrict, I am increasing my intake. I am changing my goals.
I am no longer trying to eat less to weigh less; I am trying to eat more to get stronger and to develop a lifestyle in which I am thriving – doing so much more than trying to stay thin.
And, it’s working.
I went from never running a mile straight to being able to run a 5k in a matter of weeks. (Aiming for my first 10k on Thanksgiving day!)
If you follow me on Instagram (@saladflambe), you’ll have already seen this, but I gained a pound this month, and it was all muscle; plus, I still lost some fat. All while eating more, not less.
I want to shout it from the rooftops… every time I see someone talking about how little they are eating, I want to take their face in my hands, look them in the eye and say “you don’t have to do that! There is another way to live! And to really, truly be alive!”
Yes, even for you.
It has been 3 weeks since I last stepped on a scale; I have no idea what I weigh right now. Not only that, but for the last 3 weeks, I have eaten the number of calories that somebody else has set as my target number of calories. It is higher than I would choose to eat on my own.
I’m anxious, but that is OK.
I am anxious, but I am doing it anyways.
I’ve been relatively quiet on here about what exactly I’m doing right now, because I was honestly not sure that it would last. I was afraid to tell you all and then to fail…not unlike how I failed to give up tracking my food. But, I’m going to go ahead and talk about it now; if I fail, you’ll get to see it, but that’s ok. It’s all part of the journey.
Nearly 3 months ago, I joined a small local gym and began exercising regularly for the first time ever under the guidance of group personal trainers. I expected to burn out on it quickly, but, actually…I think I kind of love it.
I quickly noticed that, in order to perform well, I needed to eat. But, of course, the eating disorder part of my brain panics about that. So, I was caught between a rock and a hard place: one part of me wanting to perform well in the gym; one part just wanting to lose weight.
I am choosing performance.
Right now, I am taking part in a challenge at my gym during which I have made some commitments:
- To work towards being able to run 5k without stopping — (Accomplished this morning!!)
- To work towards my first pull-up — (stilllll a ways off)
- To eat enough protein — (I am still tracking my food; but, I am eating more than I would typically eat. And, in fact, my goal is to be eating even more in time)
- To not weigh myself except for those weigh-ins required by the challenge (one at the 4-week mark; one at the 8-week mark both on a body composition scale – because scale weight is a crappy tool for measuring anything worthwhile)
I am also working with my eating disorder nutritionist to challenge my eating disorder; it is becoming a lot easier to distinguish that ED voice from my own, because while I am focused on performance, the ED is not.
Right now, I am at this stage where pretty much everything I’m doing makes me (and/or the eating disorder) anxious:
- lifting weights = stalling out on the scale
- eating more food = fear of weight gain
- not weighing myself = feeling out of control
- eating fear foods = feeling like I am completely losing control of myself and am a bad person
I’m doing it anyways. All of it. Because enough is enough. Because life is too short for this bullshit. Because I want to actually be happy and live life and not sit on the sidelines terrified that a plate of pasta is going to mean that nobody loves me.
My nutritionist told me that if I continue to “do it anyways” (listen to the other trusted professionals who have told me what it is I should be doing rather than listening to my eating disorder (previously thought of as “myself,” but I prefer now to think that I am not my eating disorder)) that one of two things will happen: either the anxiety will fade or I will be able to say “I am anxious about this thing, but I am doing it anyways,” and that will be OK. I’ve already seen this starting to happen.
I don’t want to make this blog too long, but I do update my Instagram regularly now; you can find me @saladflambe
I’ve been posting a mixture of “What I Eat in a Day,” race and lifting videos and photos, eating disorder challenge posts, plus pics of my daughter and my cats 🙂
I am 3 weeks into my gym’s 8-week challenge, and I am already thinking about what I will be doing next. I discussed it with my nutritionist this week, but I’m not quite ready to “commit to it” here. So, stay tuned… If I can work up the courage, it’s going to be big (for me), and it’s going to be terrifying (but, in a good way). Good thing I’ve got these guns to keep me safe now 😉
Everyone loves a good before and after photo; lots of people loved mine a few years ago. (Let’s be honest – as much as I wish it were the other way around, it’s the photo that made that post go viral, not my writing.) But, for me, before and after photos perpetuated a lie.
A “good” before and after photo is no better than an ad in a magazine with a too-thin model. A “good” before and after photo says “it is possible to achieve society’s standard of an acceptable body!”
I wonder what my before and after photo made you think…
But, here’s the thing…
Real “after” isn’t so pretty.
Real “after” isn’t always a flat stomach, smaller rear, and toned limbs.
Real “after” is loose skin and stretch marks that I will always carry with me, because I was overweight, and I can’t ever escape that.
Real “after” is persistent and painful skin infections that I get due to moisture getting trapped in the sagging skin on my abdomen.
Real “after” is looking in the mirror and constantly questioning “are those rolls of fat or just loose skin?”
Real “after” is seeing one body when you’ve got clothes on and an entirely different one when you’re naked.
Real “after” is adjusting your own droopy skin throughout the day, trying to make it look more flattering or feel more comfortable.
Sometimes, real “after” is just as uncomfortable as “before.” Sometimes, possibly more uncomfortable.
Real “after” can mean body dysmorphia.
I wish we could take before and after photos of our minds. What might those look like?
Are “after” minds happier? More relaxed? Freer?
Are they satisfied? Full of self love? Content?
Is life easier?
Or, are they more anxious? Terrified of losing “what they worked so hard for?” Lost? Lacking in a definition of self?
How much mental time, energy, and space is maintaining that weight loss taking up? Can the “after” mind even accept that “after” is here?
And, if we could see before and after photos of minds, would we still choose to pursue weight loss?
And, if so… why?
“I am Whole30!” That’s what those who complete a round of this elimination diet post on day 31 (or beyond). Well, today is my day 31, and so, today, I felt it important for me to say…though I successfully completed a Whole30 round, I am not Whole30.
Whole30 did not make me whole.
Like most people with food and eating issues, I have relationship problems.
My relationships with people? …fragile.
My relationship with food? …complicated.
My relationships with numbers? …obsessive.
My relationship with myself? …abusive.
Like a lot of people with or without food and eating issues, I often struggle with a feeling of “never enough.”
Never enough money.
Never enough time.
Never enough energy.
Never full enough.
Never fulfilled enough.
Never thin enough.
Never strong enough.
Will I ever be enough?
Funny thing about food issues — they are rarely solved by food. Neither the addition nor elimination of it. That’s because food issues are rarely about food.
They are about fullness. Enoughness. Worthiness.
They are about feelings and the overwhelming act of feeling them.
They are about aloneness and emptiness and the desperate search for connection and safety and something reliable…that will not leave you, nor hurt you, nor change.
They are about control and the terror of realizing how very little of it we have in life. Over anything. Not even over our own bodies.
No diet, meal plan, exercise regime, or heroic amount of self control can solve food issues. And, I desperately wish I could sit here and tell you what can solve them, but your answer will likely be different from mine.
I can tell you that it’s not Whole30. It’s not Weight Watchers or keto or going paleo, vegetarian, vegan, or raw. I can tell you that the answers aren’t there. Those are merely different ways of eating, and food issues aren’t solved through eating (nor are they solved through starving).
In fact, maybe food issues…at least mine…aren’t even food issues at all. Maybe they are, in fact, a coping mechanism for something not even remotely related to food.
This is tough shit, guys. This is coming face to face with yourself and realizing that deep fear of “not enough-ness” you (I) carry will not just go away if you (I) lose weight.
Changing the number on the scale… that’s the easy part of this. Changing the “number” (the value) I assign myself… that’s the hard part.
Let’s go beyond literal answers to this question. Yes, I was overweight because I ate too much and moved too little; but, I eat less and move more now, and that’s how one fixes symptoms without ever fixing the root issue. Why was I fat?
It was safe.
When I was larger, I was less visible. Not because I was fat, but because I believed being big meant I didn’t deserve love, attention, or to be noticed by those more worthy than myself. I made myself less visible because I was fat and ashamed of it all the while convincing myself that my size was the reason that nobody wanted me. The truth is that many people tried to love and get close to me when I was fat, but I didn’t allow myself to receive it because of my self hatred.
Being fat also made me an easy target for some people’s bullying. And, somehow, it seemed safer to be on the receiving end of that. If I was a target, then I was not a threat. If I was not a threat, maybe they would stop tearing me down. These were people who I wanted to love me but who were unable to do so because of their own issues, but I didn’t understand that at the time. All I knew was that I desperately wanted to be good enough for them, and that seemed to mean losing weight. It seemed like the only thing I had to do to finally be good enough for them was to lose weight. But it was never enough. I would starve myself down 40 pounds, and they would push for 10 more. 10 more, and I would be good enough. But, I was starving, and I hated myself for still not being good enough. Inevitably, I would gain it back and remain a target. I was never allowed to stop being fat…even when I wasn’t fat.
An assortment of theatre/drama photos from high school. Can you find me?!
I believed it was inevitable.
One side of my family has always struggled with weight; three people on that side of my family have had weight-loss surgery. In fact, when I joined Weight Watchers, I did so in order to prepare myself for weight-loss surgery. My mom had told me that Weight Watchers would “teach me how to eat,” which was a skill I would need after surgery. I fully believed that surgery was going to be my path (and know that it is a path that I do not judge – it has worked wonders in my family members’ lives).
I was shocked when I began losing weight on Weight Watchers. I thought, like with everything else I tried, it would be unmaintainable. I thought that I would fail. I thought that I’d give up. That was my real resignation: I believed that I would give up; I believed that I would fail. Attempting something while believing you will fail makes you about a hundred times more likely to quit. I’d say I was about a month or more into the program before I started believing that it might be possible for me to do this.
“That look” hahaha
I tried to fill the void with food.
This….this is probably the biggest reason I was overweight. I still struggle with this today.
For every happy memory, special person, and celebrated occasion in my life, there is a food. There’s my Nana’s mac and cheese, my grandmother’s doughy rolls, my ex-stepmom’s Moroccan stew, my dad’s meatloaf, my mom’s spaghetti. There’s the crab soup we ate at the beach, the cold watermelon we ate all summer that my dad taught me how to pick out, the sweet tomatoes with salt we pulled from my great grandmother’s garden. There’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the tang of ocean water still on my lips, there’s fried chicken before Santa shows up to pass out presents, there’s red velvet cake before we sing happy birthday. For everything, there is a food. My memories are tied to food. My emotions are tied to food.
I have a void inside of me. It comes from a desperate desire to be loved, to be good enough. Sometimes, I try to fill that void with food. I make and eat my Nana’s mac and cheese and, for a few moments, she’s alive again, and I am loved by her. I have my dad’s meatloaf and, for a little while, it’s a really special day during my childhood (he only made meatloaf on special days). I’m good enough in the past for those few short present moments. I re-create my ex-stepmom’s Moroccan stew and, for a time, that divorce never happened, and my family never fractured. I eat and eat, remember and feel, and I try to fill the void.
Only the void can’t be filled with food or memories. I can’t go back and make the people who didn’t love me in the past have loved me then. I can’t bring back my grandmother or my great grandmother; those goodbyes have been said for the final time. I can’t be a child again and get to experience all of the things I missed out on. I can’t go back; I can only go forward.
So, how do I fill the void left by what I missed out on in the past? Not by trying to re-capture what’s gone, but by creating love now. By capturing the love around me today. Not through food but through the experience of love and those people who give it now. Through being fully present for today’s times of love, care, and being good enough. Slowly, piece by piece, the void is filled…as I let go of the old, worn-out pieces I’ve been trying to cram into it, set them aside to be valued for what they are, and allow new, solid, foundational pieces to fill the void. This will allow me to be filled by something much more permanent than food — by love.
In my first post, Before, 3 years ago, I said “I’m not to After yet, but I’m closer to After than to Before.”
I now weigh 117 – 120 pounds (depending on the day), and standing at 5-foot 6-inches, that measurement means that After is very, very here. But, before you congratulate me, dear readers…if I have any…and dear friends and family who I know follow this blog… I have to come clean with you: I don’t feel like I’m at After. I’m terrified of being at After. And, I don’t like that After is here.
The tagline of my blog is “uncovering myself one pound at a time.” For most of this blog, I’ve spoken strongly about how my relationship with food and myself was what caused my weight struggles. I stand by that. The thing is, the symptoms have resolved faster than I’ve been able to treat the deeper disease. I’ve lost the weight, but I’ve failed to uncover and learn to truly love myself in the process. Truthfully, I have no idea who I am without “needs to lose weight” being one of the primary parts of my identity.
This is why I have not been posting…because this blog is not about weight loss…it’s about life gain. I could not bear to post here about the beautiful things one can gain in life by learning to love yourself while, in the background, hating myself so hard while the weight melted off. Progressing on the outside while regressing internally. Because, that’s the truth, readers. The last stretch of this weight loss hasn’t been healthy OR happy: it’s been agony. It’s been sad. It’s been an exercise in mourning.
I’ve gotten so good at putting on the happy face. At “smile, nod, yes, thank you, I have lost a lot. No, I’m not trying to lose any more; you don’t need to worry.” I’m very good at this script, but it’s been such a lie, readers. The truth is my body melted away, and I stared at myself in the mirror not understanding why I couldn’t love the skin I’m in. Why? I thought After was the goal!
But I made a mistake.
A crucial mistake.
I forgot that the number on the scale is only a number. Only just a number. It’s not a before. It’s not an after. Getting that number to a certain set of digits is not my After.
I’m not at After. There is no After – happily ever or otherwise. There is only today. Just today – During.
I tell you this now not to discourage you but to hopefully prevent someone from making the mistake that I did and associating After with a number. I weigh 120 pounds and still struggle with my weight. Losing weight does not mean you no longer struggle with your weight; I wish I had truly understood that. I still struggle with food. I still struggle with me.
Looking at the picture I put first in this post, I have to pause. I look at me … past vs. present. That is me. All of those pictures are of me. People say they do not recognize the girl in the other pictures. I’m here to say: that girl is me.
Don’t look at her as an abomination, because enough people, myself included, did that already.
Don’t congratulate me on no longer being her; I still am her. And doesn’t she deserve to be?
Don’t tell me I look better; I don’t. I look different.
Don’t speak of her as if she is a poor, piteous person. She’s not.
She’s standing right here, and she is fucking strong.
There. Is. No. After.
There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of weight loss because the rainbow has no end.
There is today. There is now. There is during. There is life.
I uncovered myself one pound at a time; now, I must REcover myself…I must DIScover myself. And that…that is the new goal. Not numbers. Not sizes. Not inches.
Me. I am the goal. Finding. Loving. Being.
Can anybody hear me?