January 2nd (and the Monday after New Year’s) are HUGE days for anyone wanting to lose weight. I’m rebooting this post as a way to encourage anyone shooting out of the starting block today.
Seven years ago, I had a dream which I’ve never really been able to shake. I always wondered what it meant. I think I’ve finally figured it out. At the time, I was working with a therapist. I shared the dream’s details with her. I described the dug-out pit I occupied and how it resembled a sunken site of an old, archeological dig. We surmised why the pit’s fence – which ran along the top of the ground above me, at shoulder height – seemed more like a military perimeter. With its bulky timbers reinforced by steel rebar, I wasn’t going anywhere. Why did it need to be so strong? More intriguing, however, were the holes underneath the fence. Someone had dug out gaps underneath the fence. Just enough space for a torso appeared along the edges every ten feet. Why had no one filled them in? Had hope carved out each escape route, and I hadn’t bothered to replace it? Maybe there was no point, since a pair of army boots stood patrol on the other side of every hollow. Why the necessary precaution? Who was out there, standing in those boots, and why did I stand inside, alone? I felt trapped. My solace was the open, blue sky above me. Puffy, white clouds paraded over me. This brings me to my biggest question…
Why didn’t I just fly out?
All notions of “flying dreams” aside, this seems a legit question. I acted as if the sky was a roof. There wasn’t anything holding me back, except me. In thinking of the top seven lessons I’ve learned throughout my weight loss journey, that’s the clincher. I see this self-limiting pattern over and over. Each of these seven ideas healed some element of whatever, or whyever, I was my biggest obstacle.
- Food can transform from currency into contentment. For most of my life, I’ve used food as currency. Food to feel my value. Food to reward my effort. Food to stand in for any desire I could not fill. The problem with this strategy is that I never experienced fullness. By using food as currency, I limited the amount of joy and contentment I could feel because food can only do so much. In addiction terms, I could only get as high as my next hit. I couldn’t stop this limiting cycle until I felt my intrinsic worth. I needed to connect with that unearned merit which abides at depths universal to us all. A Biblical poet put it best: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55) When I experienced my natural worth — which I cannot earn or have enough of anything to pay it back with — that’s when food transformed from currency to contentment.
- I do not have to lose 100 pounds before I feel better. When I first decided to lose 100 pounds in 1 year, I thought I wouldn’t be happy until I dropped all that weight. In reality, I felt better after shedding just 15 pounds. I can remember having more energy, feeling less pain, and sleeping better within weeks. The 100 pound goal gave me enough hope to launch my journey, but it didn’t have to power me all the way. In fact, the inherent restriction of my goal, as it was defined by a total number of pounds within a given time frame, became a burden. That expectation felt heavier than the extra pounds I was carrying. In order to continue, without the heavy restriction, I had to trade big expectations for tiny victories. It’s those everyday wins which took me the rest of the way, bringing the finish line to me.
- “Set Point Theory” isn’t as sexy, but it makes more sense. “100 Pounds in 1 Year” sure rolls off the tongue, but without the pressure of numbers, I made space to learn an amazing lesson, called “Set Point Theory.” Basically, it’s what keeps lost pounds from never coming back. Researchers have found that a slow burn — no more than 5% of total body weight every three months – keeps weight loss below our starvation radar. If I lose weight any faster, then I could be wasting my time and shooting my future self in the foot. According to Set Point Theory, in order to lose 100 pounds in 1 year, I would have had to start out weighing over 500 pounds. Indeed, that’s exactly where some folks start. For others, however, patient, compassionate weight loss and a return trip to the calculator and will avoid return trips to the diet isle.
- Weight loss is not a straight line but a meandering path through the woods. If I zoom out on my journey, taking a Google Maps view, I see lots of pitfalls and rabbit trails along the way. At first, I hated these obstacles because they slowed down my weight loss. But the hurdles just kept coming. They didn’t slow down until I slowed down. Turns out, I needed the hidden meaning in every detour. I learned to sink into the sand because there was probably something in there for me. If I tried to skip over it, I usually came back to it, anyway. I could only go as fast as my heart and mind could handle. Ironically, once I geared down to soul speed, I found oodles of freedom to play and experiment. Pit stops became hidden treasures and weight loss an adventure in living. My self-limiting insistence on a linear, start-to-finish highway to happiness seems silly and unrealistic to me now.
- Relationship brings results. So often, I’ve turned to tips and strategies for results, but copying other people’s fitness success works more like trying to push a button from behind by yanking on the circuitry. Tactics like counting calories, logging hours of exercise, or tracking total steps, these aren’t what cause fitness. They’re what comes after; after the choice to just show up, after frustrating days of missed workouts, and after the next day when I decide to pick up where I left off. All of these moments create a relationship, which is what really brings results. By sticking only to what worked for other people, I actually limited my options. When I drilled down to healing my relationship with myself, that’s when the power kicked in. I found out that I could trust my gut to lead me to my next, best step. Granted, it didn’t feel great all the time. I had walked around like a floating head for years; I was that disconnected to my body. It was scary to reconnect with my heart and mind through my body, even painful at times. But by staying authentic, no matter the circumstance, no effort was wasted.
- Get thinner but never stop getting thicker. I want to get thick, in my soul I mean. I want to slather on layers of life. I got into this journey by opening up to desire. I don’t want to stop now. I want to stay engaged with the juiciness of the Big Wow that infiltrates every part of every day. I think back to my days of eating drive-thru in my car on my lunch hour. I remember how utterly bored I felt with my life. To me, becoming thinner has happened more out of a sense of fullness, rather than depriving myself of joy (with food or otherwise.) By feeding awe and curiosity, I continue to uncover reasons to keep making healthy choices.
- I decided that I Already Have My Body Back. After losing 62 of my 100 pounds, I came to a crossroads. You may remember a recent blog when I slammed the proverbial table and declared, “I want my body back, dammit!” You know what came up after that release of pent-up angst? A quiet voice humbly whispered, Why not just decide to have it, then? This challenged me. What do you mean? I retorted. I can’t JUST DECIDE. Turns out, I can. There’s this tune from The Antlers, called “Palace” (totally the sound track to my journey.) One phrase slays me: “…the day we wake inside the secret place that everyone can see.” That’s what this is. It’s inhabiting the beauty I’ve kept hidden from myself but which everyone around me has always seen. It’s the decision to fly out of the pit. This is possible because getting down to my real self wasn’t like peeling layers of rotten flesh from an onion. Not at all. It felt more like connecting with the orb inside. I kept nurturing myself. The onion grew bigger, got brighter, until its paper skin could no longer hold the glowing bulk and had to break off and fly away to make room for more. Granted, I couldn’t have gotten here before now. I needed more than a nice idea to try on. I needed to experience my body in healthy ways. I needed to trade out old clothes for new. I needed to climb mountains. I needed to see muscles flexing in the mirror. Now, though, I am ready to be who I’ve always been.
Why not just fly out?
For more in-depth, down-and-dirty-details of how I learned these lessons, check out the 100 Pounds eGuides