Just in case you missed it, here's the video a former client of mine produced for her midterm project. She attended The Academy of Art in San Francisco and I am so proud of her!
I think it's fair to say that our society is pretty fixated on the idea of "improving" things. We love renovations, trash to treasure, corrective surgery, and Transformation Tuesday. Never heard of that last one? Do a Google search and check out the images.
We love that shit.
Those side-by-side photos of dramatic weight loss do a horrible job at telling the story of the individuals journey. I know, because I am one of those stories. And I've been blessed to be an integral part of so many other people's stories.
In actuality, my weight loss story would feature a TON of before/after images. Before I started dressing my size and I wore oversized shirts to hide the fact that my pants were unbuttoned and unzipped ( I refused to by jeans in a size 20 so I squeezed into 18s). And after I started dressing my size when I was a teenager shopping at Lane Bryant. Before I binged, after I purged. Before I I hit the gym, after 2 hours on the elliptical. Before depriving myself of energy and nourishment for a full day, after going to bed with an empty stomach and feeling proud and accomplished. And so on. Those are just a few of the small details that reveal the in-between. All the shit a person might endure before and after a substantial weight loss.
Rarely is it ever as pretty a picture as the one we show. In fact, I deemed my images and writings so ugly that I destroyed them all a long time ago. I was disgusted with myself. Embarrassed, ashamed, and most of all, angry. So I destroyed the evidence; almost everything that linked me to my past. I have almost no photos of me from before about 2006. No journals. No old "big girl" jeans. No artifacts from my inner travels. I'm lucky when I uncover one of these rare relics in my mother's garage or a family storage unit. They make me smile now, whereas they made me sad before. There's another before and after for you.
Besides hiding the story, these images also create a sense of insatiable yearning for some viewers. I'm still, after 5 years in the health and fitness industry, shocked at how many times I receive a message, inquiry, email, or face-to-face exchange about someone wanting to look like someone else. I get it ALL the time. "I want her results!" or "I want to look like him!" It's as if for a brief moment, we forget we are individuals and have our own bodies. You will NEVER look exactly like anybody else. Nor will you EVER share the same story. I happen to think that is amazing and I wouldn't want it any other way.
Of course, that wasn't always the case. I too used to fantasize about other bodies. But most often, an extreme version of my own. I wanted to be thin. Very badly. My weight goal was far below what was healthy for my body but I didn't know that, and I wouldn't have cared anyways. All that mattered to me was the number on the scale and the number on the tag inside of my jeans. And any way I could measure a decrease in those numbers made me happy. Well, a funny thing happened when I would do anything to lose weight: I didn't lose any weight.
So, why do I share my before and after photos then? Probably for some of the same reasons other people do. To inspire and motivate. To encourage and support. But most importantly, to educate. I share my photos to reveal just a small part of my story. A picture is worth a thousand words. Which means a before and after photo is worth two thousand...at least. My intention is to educate others so that you're not led astray like I was. Yes you can change your body, if that's what you would like to do, but it has nothing to do with buying diet books, fake food, or joining the gym. It has everything to do with being honest and vulnerable; sharing your innermost fears, embarrassments, failures, and feelings with others so that you can empower yourself to WANT to do and be better...however you define that betterment. Share your story with the world. Don't hide. Don't be embarrassed. And most importantly, don't compare yourself to anyone else.
Actually, I'd be lying if I said that this has only happened to me once. I blow myself away on a regular basis. Dare I even say it happens everyday? Yup, sure does! It's because I have a ton of love and respect for myself. And I take a moment everyday to check in on my badassery and acknowledge myself on the inside and out.
That's usually when "it" happens.
Some days it's as simple as, "Wow, I can't believe I got up and made shit happen at 7am!" or "Damn, I just cooked an insane amount of food in just a few hours!" Other times it's more monumental..."Did I really just toss that cookie simply because I didn't like it and felt not even a smidge of pressure to eat it all?" or "Are you fucking kidding me, I'm at 15% body fat?"
That last one happened two weeks ago, and I'm still a little shocked about it.
I've never had my body fat measured via hydrostatic testing before. This is also known as a "dunk tank." The last time I had my body fat measured with any accuracy at all was when I was a teenager and it was also the first time I had ever had my body fat measured. I had no idea why it was important or what the numbers meant. I just knew my results (45%) and what the technician told me (you're morbidly obese). Devastation, guilt, and shame set over me and I carried it with me every where I went.
Am I killing myself? How much bigger am I going to get? What happens now? What am I supposed to do? How did I let this happen? Why did I let this happen?
The only answers I ever seemed to get led me to extremely low-calorie diets, a deep sense of self-hatred, and a neverending cycle of binging and purging. It was the darkest and loneliest time of my life.
My weight has been a topic of discussion, an issue, a THING for nearly my entire life. I was almost 10lb when I was born...so I've been big since Day 1. From a big baby, to a chubby girl, to a pretty face, to nobody. People seem to get uncomfortable around fat people. Especially fat adults. Because if you're a fat kid, it's not your fault. But if you're a fat adult, you're lazy and pathetic. Even though I was fat, I used to compare myself to other fat bodies and wonder if I looked as grotesque or disgusting. I always came to the same conclusion...no. What I saw and thought never had anything to do with the person I was looking at or thinking about, it had everything to do with me. I felt ugly. My body seemed grotesque. I was disgusting. But deeming others worse off than me made me feel better. I was a bully.
Fast forward to 2006 when I left the country for 14 months and was officially reborn. It took me that entire time away to realize who I was, what I wanted for myself and my life, and why I had become the person I was. A person I was desperate to love and accept. I felt my potential exploding within me and I wanted so bad to let it out. When I finally did, my whole world changed. And it wasn't until that moment, when I just let go and embraced me in my entirety, that I became the person I had always wanted to be.
When I returned home in late 2007, I was finally ready to reveal my true self to the world. Between now and then I graduated from college, paid off all my student loans and other debts, rekindled some precious relationships within my blood family, came out to my family as a gay woman, got certified as a personal trainer, then as a fitness nutrition specialist, then as a health coach, traveled to 3 different continents and explored more countries than I can list, met the love of my life, moved in with the love of my life, proposed to the love of my life (she said yes), adopted two furry kids, started a business, and have been financially self-sustaining and independent for two full years now. None of any of that would have been possible without my own self-love and acceptance.
So where does the weightloss come in? Notice I didn't mention that in my grand list of achievements. Why not? Because my weightloss was a byproduct. As a result of me embracing myself in my entirety, I made my health my number one priority. And then, I defined what it meant to be healthy. It was easy for me to do that once I stopped listening to others. Health = happiness. Simple as that. What makes me happy is being outside, helping others, exploring, cooking, eating, traveling, dancing, animals, good people, and love. So, I just cranked up the volume on all of those things and left everything else in the dust. Consequently, I lost 140 lb. But because I stopped focusing on the numbers, how hard I was working, how often I was exercising, how long I was on the treadmill, etc., the weight came off of me like a snakeskin. Slow, bit-by-bit, and revealing a brighter version of the same person underneath.
I stopped weighing myself, I stopped caring about carbs and sugar, I stopped worrying about calories, I stopped restricting foods from my diet. I ate what I want, when I wanted, and however much I wanted. Nothing was off limits. Nothing was a "bad" choice. I wanted to be free of my abusive relationship with food and that's how I did it.
And that's why I, again, exceeded my own expectations two weeks ago. I had no idea just how hard I've been working, how strong I've gotten, how much muscle I've built, how much body fat I've lost. No idea because I'm happy as hell about everything in my life, therefore I know I'm healthy! So, fuck numbers and scales! That's not how I measure my success. But, it's an amazing feeling to know what I was/am capable of and to see the physical transformation I've made. Ready to see my results? :)
And now, the numbers:
- Previous weight: 300+ lb
- Current weight: 168lb
- Previous body fat: 135lb or 45%
- Current body fat: 26lb or 15.9%
Before the test, Aeron asked me what my body fat goal was. I promised the participants of my current 90-Day Program that I would join them on their journey every step of the way, so I knew I had to have a goal to work towards just as they do. So, I just threw out a random number that I felt was attainable in that time frame given a lot of hard work...
My answer: "20%"
All of my blogs start out as invisible (to the public) drafts on my website. I have sometimes dozens at a time just hanging out, sometimes for more than a month, waiting to be published. I take my time to write because I have a lot to say and I tend to be pretty emotional so I gotta make sure I get my point across. I've been wanting to write about this for a looooong time but didn't know what to call it or even how to start. Then, all in one day, 3 things occurred which totally inspired me to not only start the blog, but finish it in record time:
- I had a conversation with a friend who told me about her experience craving chicken and giving into that temptation. She is a self-proclaimed and very proud, long-standing, and vocal vegetarian.
- I discovered through my other friend and fellow health coach, Lacy, that there is actually a website dedicated to "outing" ex-vegans. WHAT. THE. ____?!
- I read a few conversation threads on Facebook from another friend who recently started exploring a vegan lifestyle. Some of her friends were saying some really wild shit.
So, here I am. Let's talk about this: Foodism. I first have to wonder why people are so interested in what other people eat. Unless of course, you're a health coach, like me, and a person is coming to you for guidance. I happen to care a lot about what other people eat. But not because I think they're right or wrong. Mostly because I find nutrition science, the culinary arts, the human diet, the human body, food choices, and food in general to be FASCINATING. It's my life. I understand general curiosity, though. I'm a super curious person too. But to want to know so you can pass judgement is something entirely different.
"Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, and identity." I read that recently in a fabulous book entitled Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I highly recommend it. This quote stuck with me. When I apply it to people in other parts of the world it evokes warm feelings for the most part. I think of my German family, folks living off the land, communities and villages of people sharing food with each other. But I have a harder time thinking about it pleasantly in an American context. Images of disconnect, inequality, over abundance, mass consumption, and factory farming race through my mind. I realize all of that happens in other countries too. And there are even people starving, at this very moment, while we stress about which restaurant we're going to hit up for dinner. But I experience mostly American culture because I live in America. And I know our food culture is corrupt.
So here's the thing. People rarely protest and raise hell when you quit smoking. Or when you start. When you begin to study and practice a new religion. When you change your name. What about when you check into rehab and initiate healing for substance abuse? When you carry out a family tradition or spiritual ceremony. Or how about when you start exercising? Those are all cultural, habitual, identity related things too! So...ahem...tell me why it matters so much when we choose different foods?
Let's jump to the 1st situation that happened...a long time on-and-off-again-between-vegetarianism-and-veganism friend eating chicken. We'll just call this friend Bob so I don't have to keep typing "friend." I will admit that I found Bob's story shocking. Like, I would have never expected him to call me and tell me he ate chicken. But I listened to his story and felt for him. How absurd and sad that ONE food choice becomes such a difficult experience and brings so much pain, guilt, and shame. W-H-Y?? And why, when someones decides not to eat meat for whatever reason, is it SUCH a big deal if they change their mind? I mean poor Bob fought this craving for a whole week until it was consuming his every thought and he was losing sleep over it. Giving in actually made him feel as though he had relapsed (Bob is also a recovering alcoholic). He even began to question his own morals. And do you think he went onto Facebook and posted about his delicious escapade? Think he took an Instagram selfie? Hell no. He PRAYED that no one would see him walk into the restaurant and order the chicken let alone eat it. Is this not some deep shit?
And now, about this ex-vegan website. I can't get into this too much because I could probably write a book about it. This is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard about in the realm of food. I can't imagine how devastating it would feel to be labeled as a sellout over food. Really? I just don't understand. I would like to let you know that if you don't eat meat (or eggs or dairy), you are NOT better than anyone else. And if you do eat animal foods, you are still not better than anyone else. Our food choices are not what define our worth, intelligence, character, or heart! Food may be part of your identity but it's not who you are as a person. You can STILL eat meat and care about the planet and animal welfare. You can STILL eat meat and be a good person. And you can still be a role model, leader, and positive source of inspiration for everyone...even people who DON'T eat meat.
Which reminds me...I have to say, in both my personal and professional life, I have come to sense several levels of implied elitism in the food world. I'm not gonna sugar coat it. Often, people who decide to stop eating meat all of a sudden think their shit don't stink. And they wanna talk about this shift in their life incessantly and share all of this vegan propaganda. Now before you go hootin' and hollerin' let me clarify that I don't have ANYTHING against vegans. I don't care if you eat meat or not. Really, it holds NO significance in my life. I'm also not a food elitist. In fact, when I eat meat, it is a conscious decision EVERY time. One that gets harder and harder everyday. And animal food propaganda exists too. A LOT of it.
The sword is double-edged. I hear people argue that folks who choose not to eat meat are lacking in common sense and protein. Rude. And incorrect. Similarly, people who start eating 100% organic or gluten free, or dairy free, or grain free, or sugar free, or color free (still paying attention? Good.) act like they're the new gods and goddesses of the food world too. Like, "WHAT?! You ate conventionally grown strawberries?!" Or, "O-M-G that steak is totally not grass-fed, I can't believe you're buying that." Just all around judging going on. Give me a freaking break. We're all just individuals trying to do the best we can for OUR lives. Live and let live.
"Praise has a transformative power. Criticism has a corrosive impact." I read that in another book which I highly recommend called How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams. Another fabulous read. Let's try praising people who make changes in their life for the better, regardless of if you think the change is better or not. It's not your life.
Which brings me to my 3rd experience with my other friend, let's call her Bobbie. Bobbie is new to the vegan lifestyle and although she is struggling with being consistent, she is very excited about it. Good for her. It's great to try new things and discover yourself. But I notice that her enthusiasm gets both a lot of praise and a lot of criticism from friends and followers. However, neither seem to be constructive.
Allow me to explain...
Some of Bobbie's friends who are in support of this lifestyle change express this in an oddly, passive-aggressive/condescending way. I've seen such comments as: "Welcome!" And, "Congratulations, you're no longer mindlessly contributing to global warming" And, "You made the right choice." Tell me friends, "welcome" to what? Is there a secret, password-protected vegan society in existence? And how does one know (especially so early on) that Bobbie has made the "right" choice? What is "right" anyways? And isn't that for Bobbie to decide for herself? I won't even comment about mindless contribution to global warming. So you see? All of a sudden these folks come out of the shadows with their strong opinions and for what? Is this praise and support? If so, it's blatantly at the expense of judging others.
Likewise, I saw comments like "But I thought I saw you post about getting a turkey sandwich yesterday for lunch, that's not vegan!" And, "Are you still eating eggs? Because otherwise you're not going to get enough protein." Oh and, "Be careful with your soy intake, eating soy products causes cancer!" And my personal favorite, "How long do you plan on doing this?" Let's see here...what good does it do to point out something as obvious as the fact that turkey meat is not a vegan food choice? I hope that comment made that person feel better about themselves, I really do. I have nothing to say about the egg protein comment. Again, I could write an entire book. Same with the cancer causing soybean. Very dangerous little pod that is! Lastly, why are we sooooo obsessed with time, speed, and duration??? How long did it take you to lose weight? How many days do I have to eat like this? How do I reach my goals faster? UGH!!!! Calm the hell down, sit back, and enjoy the ride.
Alright so now you see why it took me so long to even begin writing about this idea of foodism. I feel like I barely scratched the surface. It's something I have to deal with on a DAILY basis in my career and I just hope that as people gain more knowledge and awareness they can shift more of their energy on themselves and let other people just be.
So my vacation was ___(insert the most positively exuberant word in existence here)___. Truly. Traveling is a necessity in my life. I HAVE to go somewhere new with some kind of regularity. The world is such a beautiful and interesting place. Plus, I love people. People are amazing. And I'm always just blown away at how different cultures, customs, environments, governments, religions, opportunities, education systems, etc. can shape a person. It is incredible. I want to see it all.
I've been to Germany several times before. And I've traveled around both western and eastern Europe a few times as well. This trip was unique for me because I have evolved so much since the last time I traveled there. It's only been 2 years but so much has happened in that time that I returned as a different person. More free-spirited, more open-minded, more tolerant, healthier inside and out, more positive, filled with love for myself and others, happier, and more relaxed and willing to let go. That's what made this trip so enjoyable.
Unexpectedly, I was without internet access for the time I was away. I fought it at first, but only for the first couple of days. I brought my cell phone with me every time I went out in the hopes of finding a store, cafe, train station, restaurant, or house with an open wifi network. I felt so distant and worried that I was missing out on something important. But I wasn't. Not through my phone or on the internet anyways. I was missing out on an opportunity to fully take in my experience. And almost instantaneously I realized that now I had the perfect chance to do something that I've been wanting to do for so long now but lacked the willpower to commit to it: get unplugged.
Now, I've had vacations in remote areas and trips to the wilderness without my phone or internet access a bunch of times before. But not since I've seen my world and almost everyone in it make the shift from respectful, face-to-face, personal, meaningful conversation and communication to anonymous, impersonal, pointless jibber jabber via Facebook. I despise Facebook. I despise it's grasp on me and how it makes people feel badly about themselves and how it creates a space for people to say or do ugly things that they would normally never say or do and how it sucks the life out of you and how people are constantly posting the same things over and over again and how others post about things with no real significance and how everyone always talks about living their life yet they're on a constant Facebook stream. Facebook is not real life. Nor is it a proper means of meaningful connection to others. I do not want to know about my friend's lives through Facebook and vice versa. I actually had a GOOD friend recently tell me that she "just assumed everything was great" in my life because she follows me on Facebook when I asked her why we didn't talk more often. WHAT?! Do you realize how absurd this sounds? Most people do no post about the heartbreak, the disappointment...the darkness. They want you to see them as great, happy, achieving, unbreakable. They share the good, not the bad. It's a waste.
When I returned to the states, I gave myself a day or so to get acclimated and then I made phone calls. I didn't announce it on Facebook. I called my family and I called my close friends. Normally, I would have switched my phone on immediately after landing, checked my email, logged on to Facebook and checked in at SFO with a message for the world like, "It's good to be home" even though I literally just touched down and haven't even stepped foot into my house yet. I just don't want that kind of life anymore. If it wasn't compulsory to have a personal page linked to a business page, I would have deleted my personal page long ago.
But having 4 weeks of forced detachment was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I feel so free without Facebook, aside from my business page. That is where, I have to say, Facebook has been SORT OF a good thing. It has brought me many new clients and I love to read my personal messages from fans and followers. However, recently Facebook changed the reach potential for pages and now only about 10% of my followers actually see the content I am posting. Thank you Facebook, for implementing yet another way for me to waste my time. It's a damn shame! I refuse to pay for ads or to "boost" my post. That's horseshit. If something is free, it should be FREE. But there is, unfortunately, nothing free or freeing about Facebook...except when you're not on it.
Since I've been home, I've managed to do all those "things around the house that there's never time for" with plenty of time to work, cook, maintain relationships, and LIVE my life. I'm talking about the kinds of tasks that you just find impossible to get to and therefore they have been on your to-do list for ages. I also deep cleaned my ENTIRE house from floorboards to ceilings and reorganized my closet and all storage compartments in the garage. I donated 5 bags of clothes, blankets, pillows, shoes, and 3 boxes of household goods and appliances. Because guess what, without being glued to the computer or television (I also didn't watch TV at all while I was away) you CAN actually get those things done. I probably spent less than the average person on my phone, tablet, computer, and TV and already this change has made a HUGE impact in my life. I can only imagine what it would do for you and others...
And now for some photos!