Monday, March 29, 2010

Is This For Real?

I am now heading towards having lost 35 pounds since January 2009 and 45 pounds from my highest weight ever, and that just amazes me. I can’t believe what I have accomplished. It’s astonishing. Is this for real?

The problem with asking is this for real is that there is a little voice in the back of my mind that sometimes answers no. It’s not. You are right to doubt this. Come on, do you really think that you can continue to lose weight and keep it off once you reach your goal weight? Get real. The real, fat Michelle will come back out and make sure you return to your obese state, where you were for more than ten years and where you really belong. Why do you think this time will be different?

I’m not swamped by these doubts and negative emotions, but they are there at times. Given that I am an emotional eater and can let unacknowledged emotions self-sabotage my good intentions and induce me to overeat, I can’t ignore these thoughts and feelings. This disbelief can also grow when I’ve had a stretch of time when I’ve not lost weight or even when I recognize that I’ve been backsliding a little and eating more while moving less. That pretty much describes where I’ve been in the past month or so.

A couple of weeks ago, I walked into Weight Watchers and found out I had gained .2 of a pound. That’s nothing to get upset about, but it was the third week in a row of fairly negligible movement on the scale. I was getting set up for my doubts to grow.

I walked into the meeting, sat in my usual spot and noticed a newcomer in the front row. She was slender and was wearing a pantsuit that I liked and could see myself wearing. She had a similar hairstyle and was probably in her 30s. She screamed professional and in many ways, she reminded me of myself. I thought she might be a big shot from Weight Watchers there to observe the meeting. She was way too thin to be there to lose weight.

It turns out that she is going to be a group leader, and my brilliant group leader is mentoring her for a few weeks. As part of this process, she conducted part of the meeting and shared her weight loss journey. I almost cried.

When she walked into Weight Watchers for the last time several years ago, she was attending one of the best colleges in the country. She had a handsome husband and an active, good life. She was successful by almost every measure of success, but she could not control her weight. She could control everything but the weight. She could accomplish just about every goal she set for herself, but she could not lose the weight. Her rock bottom came when she had to get bigger clothes for a nice vacation because nothing she owned fit anymore. Pretty soon after that vacation, she began her weight loss journey. Now, she is 45 pounds down from her highest weight and lost 35 through Weight Watchers. Do those numbers sound familiar?

Her talk gave me chills, and I could have cried if I let myself. I had a strong, visceral reaction to this. It wasn’t as strong as the one to the Fear of Success talk, but it stands out as the second strongest reaction. I’ve heard much more dramatic weight loss stories, but her story could have been mine.

She could have been talking about me. I don’t have the handsome husband, but I have attended one of the best colleges in the country and succeeded in many other areas. With all that success, I had still been haunted by the fact that I could not lose the weight no matter how much I could succeed in other areas of my life. My most successful attempt ever in terms of weight had started in January 2009, and I had lost about the same amount as she had: 45 pounds from my highest weight and about 35 with Weight Watchers.

And, now, I was staring at a woman who had lost the same amount I had, and it challenged those little doubts I’d been having lately over whether my weight loss journey was for real. It forced me to see just how dramatic a 35-45 pound weight loss could look when I compared her current appearance to her before photos. I couldn’t help but ask was the difference as startling in me. Why wouldn’t it be?

Her story could have been my story, and hers had a happy ending. She has been at her goal weight for three years and has managed to keep it off. If it is real for her, why can’t it be real for me?

Just in case I had missed the lesson I needed to learn that night, it was reinforced again before the conclusion of the meeting. A newer member was complaining that it was hard for her to keep going because she couldn’t really believe this time would be any different from her previous failed attempts to lose weight. The group leader said that this time would be different. He then turned to look at me and asked, “Right, Michelle?” I nodded in agreement.

Yes, this time is different, and it is for real. I’ve added the woman who reminded me of myself to the unofficial list of success stories I keep. Collecting other people’s success stories gives me hope and helps me believe that I really can lose this weight and keep it off. They can inspire me to believe I can do it and think about how I can make my journey to becoming a healthy writer a success. Forcing myself to confront and analyze what happened to me, how did I gain the weight, what behaviors made me gain weight and in turn what behaviors made me lose weight ultimately give me more confidence that this is for real.

What do you do to encourage yourself when you start asking is your weight loss success for real? How do you find ways to encourage yourself when you start doubting the possibility that you can lose weight?


Diane Gaston on March 29, 2010 at 8:26 AM said...

Michelle, I'm using YOU as my inspiration. I just bought a new scale, a digital one, and you'd have thought it was Christmas, I was so excited about it!

Michelle Butler on March 29, 2010 at 9:27 AM said...

Thanks, Diane! That's quite a compliment, and I'm glad I can be an inspiration.

Enjoy the new scale. I don't think I've ever been excited by purchasing a scale, so you are ahead of me. :) I do think Tawny got some kind of fancy scale months ago that she was excited about too.

Sally Kilpatrick on March 29, 2010 at 9:29 AM said...

Michelle, thank you so much for sharing your journey. I think one of your greatest gifts to others is sharing your story as the future group leader shared hers. We all need to know that we can, and we all need to know that we can be successful in weight management as well as other areas in our life.

I'm going to figure out a way to join Weight Watchers because your post today coincides with what I have been thinking about all weekend: I have to figure out why I eat or I'll never stop overdoing it. Now, if I can work that $10 a week and whatever fee it is I have to pay into the budget....

Michelle Butler on March 29, 2010 at 9:57 AM said...

Thank you, Sally. That's very kind of you to say, and I needed to hear it today. I met with Elise Hayes, my critique partner, yesterday and I had shared with her my very rough draft of a healthy weight loss book I'm thinking of writing based on this blog, etc. She was kindly suggesting that I might think of it more as a memoir, get more of my journey, etc. in there. She knows I'm kind of a private person (this blog notwithstanding), so my first reaction was I'm NOT going to write a memoir. I did a better job of considering her suggestions in the past 24 hours or so, and I'm getting some ideas of how I can follow her suggestions and still be comfortable with it.

Weight Watchers has really helped me, and finding a group leader who speaks to you is so important. Shop around until you find one who resonates. I think they even have open houses at times where you can attend meetings for free.

The cheapest way to attend in my experience is the monthly pass - $39.99 per month. It does add up, and it can be a budget sacrifice. I do think I get my money's worth though.

Best wishes! Getting a handle on why I ate for "non-physical hunger" reasons (aka emotional eating, stress eating, eating for reward, etc.) was a very long journey, but I think it's really key to my success at losing weight and (hopefully) keeping it off for the rest of my life.

Anne MacFarlane on March 29, 2010 at 11:02 AM said...

Michelle, I can relate to your concern that this time won't be any different than all the other times. I've lost and gained weight so much over the years that sometimes it seems I'm almost waiting for that day when the pants won't fit.

But that was then and this is now. I've made changes. I have no larger clothes in my closet so I'll be in trouble if I gain weight, I'll be forced to wear my housecoat. LOL.

I'm also committed to going to the weekly meetings. I haven't had to pay since reaching my goal in 2009 but it was close last week. I gave myself bonus points because I knew I gained a couple of lbs but I still showed up.

I'm also continuing to journal and weigh my foods because unlike all the other times I know this battle is not won, it's managed.

Elise Hayes on March 29, 2010 at 11:05 AM said...

I'm going to agree with the other posters, Michelle--You really have been my inspiration this past year on making myself rethink what I eat and my exercise patterns.

I've really been working to include more vegetables/fruit into my diet, both for me and my family. I've upped the number of veggies I serve with dinner from one to two; and I've been serving bananas and other fruit as snacks for my daughter and me.

I was quite proud of my daughter when we went to a spring festival this weekend. Her goody bag included a big, golden delicious apple, and it was the first thing she reached for--she just pulled it out and started munching.

Michelle Butler on March 29, 2010 at 11:11 AM said...

Good for you, Anne, for going to a meeting even though you feared you might gain so much that you have to pay! Sometimes, it's just good to know/confirm what you fear so you really know you need to make some changes.

Thanks also, Anne, for sharing your experience with keeping the weight off. I did not know you were still attending weekly WW meetings after reaching goal. There's a few people who have reached goal and still attend meetings fairly often at my regular Tuesday night meeting, but that seems the exception instead of the rule. It's also interesting to hear that you still journal, measure, etc.

Best wishes with keeping the weight off! I know you can do it! :)

Elise Hayes on March 29, 2010 at 11:15 AM said...

Give yourself time to think about adding more personal narrative to your book, Michelle. If you'll recall, it usually takes me between a month and a *year* (in one, infamous instance) to take in and contemplate big revising suggestions when you make them on my fiction.

It will take time for you to figure out the right balance between what feels too personal to share and what doesn't. But in the meantime, as I think the comments on this blog attest, you're already helping people.

Michelle Butler on March 29, 2010 at 11:15 AM said...

Wow, Elise! That's great that I can inspire you. You've always been one of my strongest, healthy role models on this journey in terms of what you eat, how you feel about eating, how you enjoy eating and your life, how you exercise regularly, how you have done so for decades and can identify what you enjoy in terms of fitness, your really healthy and positive body image, etc.

Awesome that your daughter reached for an apple first - especially if folks were selling junk food at this festival! :)

Michelle Butler on March 29, 2010 at 11:20 AM said...

Thanks, Elise! I'm already more open to your suggestions than yesterday and even have some ideas on a new structure. I think I'll continue to mull the healthy weight loss book in the back of my mind and return to my historical manuscript's revisions (which I was mulling over in the back of my head as I worked on the nonfiction book) - and keeping up with this blog. :)

It really helps me continue on my own journey by writing these weekly pieces, and it makes me feel good that these pieces help others succeed on their own journeys.

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