July is halfway over and I am two weeks into being 36 years old. I am finally ready to admit that I have let myself go, and that it’s time to make my health a priority.
I could have acknowledged this the first time I had to buy new clothes because literally none of my clothes fit. But instead, I tucked it into the back of my brain for another day. And I did that again when I literally started wearing maternity pants because none of my pants fit anymore. To be fair, they were given to me when a friend purged her closet, so I didn’t go out and buy them. But still. At maternity pants, I didn’t even take a good look on the scale or in the mirror. A combination of things came together to help me see that I had let myself go, and bathing suits would not be my only concern if I kept eating and drinking to deal with stress.
It’s been a stressful couple of years. I started a new job two years ago, and when I did that, I threw myself into it–I wanted not just to work, but to perform, to impress, to go above and beyond. This is a critical piece of my personality that explains why I would gain 40 pounds in 3 years. I am a people pleaser, an approval whore. I can’t deal with the idea that someone I respect or admire is disappointed in me or my performance. With that mindset, my job took center stage and I started a long descent of not taking care of myself. It’s important to note that I even work in a place that encourages self-care. It is just part of my personality, or lack of confidence, that I imagine that I need to do things that require me to put my self-care aside.
Money has also contributed to this weight gain. My car, which was paid off, completely died shortly after accepting this new job in 2014, and I found myself needing to buy a new car, in addition to moving. I miscalculated what I could afford on my new salary, and 3 months after starting, moving to a cheaper (and more functional) apartment, I also needed to start a part-time job. That was a real struggle. I was exhausted, but at least my bills were paid. Oh and the food at the restaurant I worked at was AWESOME–Cafe 1500 in Midtown Harrisburg if you ever want to check it out. So I ate way more than I burned, and I didn’t make it to the gym very often. Exhaustion regularly led to red wine at the end of the night. This helped immensely in the short run. Like the hour after work. But in the long run? I could not escape exhaustion.
After almost a year of working two jobs, I decided I would go back to school for my master’s degree in public health. I felt like I would be better able to do my job and help other people if I got my master’s degree. It’s probably true. I probably would be better at my job, but the fact remains that I want so desperately to perform at the level of some of my other colleagues that I thought a master’s degree would help, so I went for it.
This was a mistake. I was already working really hard at work, and I did not anticipate the workload for graduate school, even though my first two classes were lenient and easy as far as grad school goes. I stopped doing anything well. I was exhausted all of the time and burning the candle at both ends. I had to take a lot of time off of work to complete coursework, and it was just completely out of control.
I ate everything.
So, I gained 40 pounds since 2013. What was it that helped me stop this out of control weight gain?
It was honestly getting poison ivy.
Here’s how this happened. I was on a walk in late June with my fiancé, and didn’t know I brushed up on it. By the time I went to urgent care, thinking maybe a spider bit me, I had it on my face, and it was spreading. The doctor prescribed prednisone. I had heard bad things about it, but had never been on it, so I thought, “How bad can it be? I’m just using it for poison ivy.”
Well, it was bad. Initially, I didn’t notice symptoms until the third day on it, at which point I would get car sick immediately, and in general felt sick all of the time. July 1-4 were spent largely in bed. As the dosage came down, I felt better, but I was absolutely the WORST after I came off the prednisone. My boyfriend and I were invited to his friend’s lake house in Virginia July 8-10, and so of course, we went. I felt carsick for the entire 4 hour trip, and I started to get a new symptom: joint pain. Looking back, throughout the weekend, I hardly did anything. I wasn’t much for conversation, and I didn’t do much physically. That was partially because I didn’t feel good, but even if I did, I was so embarrassed of my weight, and especially the way I carry it, that I didn’t want to call any attention to myself by doing anything with my body.
After the trip was over, I made it home by 7pm, feeling carsick the whole way, and went to bed. The next day was my last dose of prednisone, and I was ready for it to be over. But Monday didn’t go so well. I made it into work only to turn around and come home. There was no way I could work. I slept all day and all night. The following day I worked four hours and came home and slept the rest of the time. Heavy, deep sleeps that had been a part of this prednisone treatment. The pattern was that my heart would race, my breath would get shallow, and I would crash into a hard, heavy sleep that I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up from. The week continued that way until Friday, when I finally worked 8 hours.
This is where the poison ivy made me take my weight gain and health seriously again. The symptoms that the prednisone gave me really made me appreciate my health and the fact that I was ruining it by drinking too much, eating too much, and not exercising enough. Also, it pulled me out of my work world long enough to recognize that I can’t work at my best when I’m not taking care of myself. And to realized that it is worth it to take the time to prepare meals and go to the gym. It helped me see my health as my number one priority. Without my health, I have nothing. I have attempted to work out three times since stopping the prednisone and each time, I am amazed and saddened by how little I can do. I believe that is a side effect of prednisone withdrawal, so I hope it doesn’t last. Three weight-lifting exercises and 15 minutes of cardio has me completely spent and out of breath. I really hope this is not my new normal.
So here I am. I finally stopped being in denial about how much weight I’ve gained. I was forced to take time away from work, and I am now able to put my health back at the top of my priorities.
In order to actually get started, though, I had to really take stock of my body. Weigh and measure. Cringe. Then get on with it. I’ve learned that you can’t hate yourself into losing weight. You can’t deny your way into weight loss. You can’t pretend it’s not so bad. And until now, that’s what I’ve been doing. Pretending it’s fine if I have ice cream every weekend and sandwiches with fries regularly.
My first step to losing the weight was picking up Martha Beck’s The Four Day Win, because she deals with the psychological reasons people don’t lose weight, which is exactly my problem. I decided that my second step needed to be learning and practicing better boundaries-guarding my time. Part of the reason I’ve gained weight is because of the people pleasing. I say yes to what other people want me to do when it costs me the ability to go to the gym or prepare my meals for myself. I have let self-care slide because instead of getting up in the morning and writing about what’s on my mind and what my goals are for the day, I feel like I need to get to work as soon as is humanly possible. So I started with self-care and recognizing that I need to practice putting my health first, and I need to practice saying no in order to meet my own needs.
But that’s not enough, you actually have to change your diet and exercise more. But I also have the problem of doing too much too fast and then I completely fall off, so I had to figure out what my “eat less, move more” goals would be. I decided to start tracking my calories and exercise on myfitnesspal. I’m not going to necessarily change what I eat dramatically, but I am going to eat less of it, and measure my food. Today I did change what I eat dramatically. I ate my weight in vegetables, I think! But I know that’s not sustainable, so I will allow for this change to be slow. My whole goal is for it to result in permanent changes in habits so that I never find myself 40 pounds overweight again.
Here’s an honest before picture:
I find encouragement in knowing that your choices create the circumstances in your life, and I can start making choices that will reflect the person I want to be: strong, healthy, disciplined, and fit.