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Posted on Jan 23, 2014 in Dear Diary | 19 comments

What’s Different the Second Time Around

Sooooo, apologies in advance that this entire week is evidently full of super heavy posts. I’m thinking it’s like 25% because I have so many feelings about restarting this whole weight loss endeavor, and like 75% because — as evidenced by the tears that welled up in my eyes during last night’s viewing of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse on FX — I am PMSing pretty hardcore.

So last week I finally manned up and openly admitted that I’ve regained the majority of the weight that you all watched me lose once upon a time. And it was probably one of the hardest and most emotionally taxing things that I’ve done in a really, really long time.

I mean, c’mon, it’s hard enough having to admit you’ve gained weight… to yourself. But add in an entire internet audience, and, as I’m sure you can imagine, it becomes just a liiiiittle harder. And as if that weren’t enough, lest we forget, this is the SECOND time that I’m having to admit it. So, we take everything that was difficult about typing out my weight and then pressing “publish” that very first time, then we pile on all of the victories and defeats that accumulated in the following couple of years — wherein I actually LOST 60 pounds and was feeling pretty good about myself — and then multiply it all by the fact that everything I already went through ended up being for nothing. Because here I am again.

So yeah, it sucks.

And I’m going to be honest and admit that I’m already really struggling this time around. Not struggling to get back on track, because I’m actually doing pretty well so far: Tracking all my food, eating well, getting some exercise in, doing a lot of good things in that department. No, instead I’m struggling with all the mushy, icky, complicated emotional stuff. I’m struggling with the HOW. As in, how could I possibly have let myself regain FIFTY pounds? How could I not have noticed, how did I live in denial for so long, how could I not have stopped myself sooner, how could I have let it happen at all?

After everything I went through the first time, after all the progress that I made and all the things I accomplished and all the ways that I grew AND all the ways that I shrunk, how did I get back here?

As I explained in my post last week, I’m not really 100% sure. I think the main thing is that I stopped really caring about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, I stopped prioritizing good choices over easy choices, and I just stopped paying attention to my weight. And for someone like me, someone who loves food entirely too much, someone who is oftentimes physically repulsed by the thought of exercise, someone who has a known history of abusing food, abusing her body with food, and abusing herself because of how she’s abused food… not paying attention is pretty much an automatic precursor to backsliding.

So when I try to think about what’s different now, the second time, I can’t think about how maybe it’ll be easier because I already know what to do, or how because I’ve already done it once before, that must automatically mean I can do it again. No, all I can think about it how much harder it already is. And I’m not even really talking about the actual losing weight part: the calorie counting, the working out, the being accountable. That stuff is honestly all the same, because, yes, I have, done it all before. I do know that I can do it, and while I hate all of it just the same, it really is just like falling back into old habits. It’s the emotional weight that is now attached to every pound I gained, a weight that still remains even as they are starting to fall back off.

The stakes feel so much higher this time. I’ve already failed once, after all. Who’s to say I won’t fail again? Who’s to say that this won’t just be ANOTHER huge waste of time? I mean, no, I know that it wasn’t really a waste of time the first time around. I learned a lot of things about myself, I finally started to really fight back against my addiction to food, my binge eating, my relationship with my body, with myself, blah, blah, blah… but still, when you look at the hard facts, when you break it down to the fact that a year ago I weighed fifty pounds less than I do now, it’s hard not to see it all as a total wash.

One of the most difficult things that I’m having to face is how easy it was for me to gain all the weight back. I mean, it’s not like I was going to the drive-thru every night and cramming fifty pounds worth of Baconators down my throat. I clearly wasn’t trying to gain weight. I knew my eating habits weren’t great and I wasn’t getting much exercise, but it’s not like I was going balls-to-the-walls here, either. It was a pizza night here, a pasta night there, going out for a friend’s birthday here, sharing an appetizer AND getting dessert there. The pounds came back on slowly enough that for the first 10 or 15 I barely noticed anything (since 10 pounds on my frame one way or the other doesn’t exactly make for an earth-shattering different in appearance). And after I did kinda-sorta start to think maybe I was gaining weight back, I was entrenched enough in my habits that I guess I just didn’t want to think about it.

So, yes, the fact that it was so easy to gain all that weight back — and how capable I was of ignoring the gain — is absolutely terrifying.

Because everything about this second try seems hard right now.

I’m really not trying to pull a sympathy plea here. Just like I tried really hard not to come up with excuses in my initial post, I’m not trying to backpeddle and plug them in now either. I got myself back into this situation and I’m the one who wants to change in the first place, so everything that’s happened and everything that will happen moving forward is on me. I’m not looking for anybody to baby me (well, that’s not really true, I actually love being babied, according to the still-growing collection of stuffed animals hiding in my closet), I’m just trying to be honest. Honestly trying to figure out how I got back to this point, and honest about why, even though I’m going through a lot of the same motions, it all feels different this time.

Because now, on top of the shame and guilt for having already failed once, there’s this overarching, pervasive layer of fear. Hell, maybe there always was, and I’m only just now recognizing it. I’m scared, okay? I am scared that I won’t be able to get back to where I was. I’m scared that even if I do, I’m just going to regain everything all over again. I’m scared that even if I don’t regain a single pound, I’ll never be able to stop paying attention, stop prioritizing, stop caring so damn much about my weight. There won’t ever be an end, there won’t ever be any reprieve, and I’m scared knowing that I will continue to have to fight for the rest of my life.

I’m not saying that it’s not a good fight — to fight for your health, to fight for yourself? It’s probably one of the best fights out there. But the thought of fighting, all the time, from now until forever? To have to continue to carefully portion out how much I eat, to count calories, to be mindful at all times of what it is that I’m eating and how active I’m being, not just whilst losing weight but forever afterwards as well? Find me one person on this Earth that isn’t exhausted just thinking about that.

The fact is, I will always love eating. It will probably always be the thing I suggest when there’s something to celebrate, the first thing I want to do when something’s made me sad, the way I like to bond with others. But as much as I love food, I do know — whether due to years of misguided dieting or having a bad body image or maybe just because I’m programmed this way — that it’s entirely too easy for me to take it too far.

And I definitely do not love what overeating does to me. I don’t like feeling bloated or having digestive issues or being fat. I don’t like being out of shape and weak and exhausted. I want to be healthy, I want to be strong, and, as I discussed yesterday, sure, I also want to look bangin’. The point is, I do want this. And so for now, I just have to keep going down this road, and hope that part of the reason that this second time around feels different is because it is also destined to end differently.

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Posted on Jan 9, 2013 in Dear Diary, Fashion, Working Out | 39 comments

Now and Then

So, alas, this post isn’t about the absolutely marvelous 1995 movie, Now and Then.

No, sadly (though we can get into all the various ways in which that movie changed my life when I was 7 another time) this post is simply about, well, me. And I would apologize for that, only I’m pretty sure that if you didn’t like to read about me talking about myself, you probably wouldn’t be on a blog that literally has my name in the title. I mean, just scroll back up to the header if you need a reminder, haha. There’s a picture of me, too. Just saying.

Anyway, one of the things I like best about this blog is how it enables me to have open (and thoughtful and intelligent and generally awesome) conversations with you guys about topics that are really near and dear to my heart. These also tend to be topics that not everybody really likes to talk about. So when I was able to submit myself for an opportunity to sample ON’s new line of Activewear and discuss how my workout wardrobe has changed over time, I jumped. Like, seriously, jumped right out of my desk chair. Not just because I was so excited to get a $50 gift card to go pick up some new Activewear items (don’t get me wrong, I was totally excited for that — $50 goes REALLY far at Old Navy! I got FIVE things and only went like $8 over!) but because I was also immediately inspired to re-open and re-discuss one of those hard topics. But one of those really necessary ones: body acceptance, body image, and body confidence.

Let me paint you a word picture. I went to James Madison University for college. JMU is a beautiful little (well, not really so little) school down in Harrisonburg, VA–the furthest south I have ever lived. It’s a really gorgeous place, with the old (er, historic) campus on one side of highway 81 and the newer part of the campus on the other side, bridged by… uh… a bridge. And when I first enrolled, as a wee young Freshman, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and totally naive to the concept of skipping 8 AM classes (oh, how quickly that changed) one of the shining gems of the newer part of campus was–and I’m assuming, still is–UREC. The University Recreation Center.

Actually, I just realized I don’t need to paint you a word picture. I can show you a real picture. Heh.

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Pretty nice, right? And it was–er, is. It’s got tons of machines, an indoor track, raquetball and basketball and whateverball courts, group fitness classes… and a ROCK WALL. Sweet, right? Only, I never got a chance to test out the rock wall. Not once in my four years there. In fact, I could probably count the number of times I actually ventured into UREC on both hands. (Well, okay, maaaaybe it would take three hands.) ‘Cause here’s another thing you should know about JMU. We have a widespread reputation throughout the state of Virginia (perhaps further than that?) for having really hot girls. I know. I’m so proud.

So anyway, here I am, just one of thousands of faces, enrolled in a school that is literally known for the hotness level of its female students. Talk about pressure. And, of course, we all know I had my eating issues, and my body issues, and those led to my weight issues… and by the time I started realizing that my weight was getting out of control, by the time I actually wanted to DO something about it, well… things didn’t go very well.

See, at first I thought, Okay, here we go. I’m going to go to the gym every day and eat super well and things will work out, you’ll see! Except I was already ashamed of my body, ashamed that I had gained so much weight, and comparing myself to every Jessica and Lindsay I passed certainly didn’t help (seriously, there were, like, six Lindsays living in my Freshman dorm). Because you know what those girls spent their spare time doing? Working out. Doing yoga. Going running. At UREC. In spandex capris and tight tank tops, and sometimes just in their sports bras. To say it was intimidating is like calling a jaguar a cat. UNDERSTATEMENT.

So each admittedly infrequent time I would actually get up the nerve to go to the gym, I was so afraid. So afraid that someone would see me, that they would judge me, that they would know I don’t belong. So I’d put on my baggy t-shirts and my loose-fitting sweatpants thinking that they hid my bulges, and I would pull my hair back and stuff headphone in my ears and pretend like I wasn’t watching the taut-bodied, long-legged girl reading Glamour on the elliptical. I’d huff and puff for maybe 10 minutes and then would get too discouraged to keep going, because I was so certain that SOMEBODY was going to look at me and think, “Ew, why is she even here? It’s not like it’s going to help…” and then I’d make sure I grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich from D-Hall on my way home.

Yeah, I know. It was messed up.

But the point of this story isn’t to dwell on the sad-sack Gretchen. Eventually she found in-office gyms and home workout videos and a diet that finally worked, and she ended up pretty okay. The point is to focus on the things that made her feel like she needed to cover up, to hide, to feel ashamed. Because even though, yes, I was overweight, it’s like there was a rule that said I wasn’t allowed to like the way I looked, or wasn’t allowed to associate with the skinnies, or wasn’t allowed to look cute at the gym. It was all self-imposed. A symptom of my complete lack of body confidence. And the ironic part is that before my senior year, I wasn’t even “that bad.” I didn’t reach my highest weight until 2009, the year that I graduated. I’m sure that I think I’m still heavier now than I was when I started college. (I graduated from high school around 185.) But, man, 197 pounds feels really different on this side of the void, that’s for sure.

I wish I had some photos of myself in “gym clothes” from back then. (But of course I don’t. I would never have let anyone take that photo, haha.) I wish I had something to really show you how low I thought of myself back then, how I thought I needed to hide, that how I looked was somehow offensive. How I hid my curves and rolls and completely HUMAN imperfections under unflattering giant t-shirts and old pairs of stretched out Soffe shorts.

So I don’t have photos of exactly that, but I do have a couple of photos that might help show what I mean:

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These photos are unrelated to gym apparel, obviously, but they make a point. Here I am, in giant, oversized sweatshirts–which I wore A LOT in the hopes that that they would fool the world into thinking I was smaller. Silly, right? Because in reality, all that wearing big, baggy, oversized stuff does is make you look oversized. Which makes you feel oversized, which makes you not want to show off the goods that God gave you. And the cycle continues.

So. We thank our lucky stars that those days are done, and we revel in the fact that the same girl who used to think like that and hide her body, well, now she wears stuff like this:

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And like this:

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I got a camera remote for Christmas and I am SO EXCITED but still figuring it out, haha. Can you tell?

And she doesn’t just wear them, she feels legitimately awesome in them. Confident. Unashamed. And yes, it helps that she’s lost a lot of the weight she put on during college and beyond. But her stomach still bunches up when she does crunches and things still jiggle when she’s on the treadmill and–gasp!–her thighs will always (ALWAYS) touch. But who cares? She doesn’t. And neither should you. What she does care about is the fact that the sweat-wicking technology in her tops helps keep her cool, and the spandex in her bottoms help her stretch and bend and reach without showing the world her buttcrack.

Old Navy has always been awesome about providing clothing that fits almost every shape and size of woman. It’s why it was one of my favorite places to shop THEN, and it’s still one of my favorites NOW. Because I appreciate the fact that they make it so that you can look good, no matter what number is stitched on the inside label of your jeans. I’ll go into detail about the actual utility of the pieces I’m wearing in a later post (for your reference though, I’m rocking the Active GoDRY Mesh Tanks and Active Fold-over Yoga Pants in both pics, with the Active GoDRY running top added in the second). The point is, workout apparel like this — clothing that clings and is fitted and has technology that helps make us better and faster and stronger… that is what’s important. And the fact that it all comes in awesome colors and flattering shapes and helps us look cute even when we don’t have that perfect body yet? That’s just gravy, man.

AdvertisementThis post is sponsored by Old Navy. Check out Old Navy’s Active wear in stores or at oldnavy.com. Active by Old Navy is 40% off until January 16th! I received a gift card and stipend for my participation but my words and opinions are 100% my own. #GetYourActiveON

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Posted on Dec 3, 2012 in Dear Diary | 21 comments

Mirror Image

Hi! So, notice anything new around these parts?

Yep, that’s right, I’ve got a brand spankin’ new theme to go with my brand spankin’ new blog server. I was having MUCHO ISSUES…O with the website over the past few weeks, as many of you probably (and unfortunately) noticed. So my brother/web tech extraordinaire helped me migrate over to a new host, which should hopefully mean no more 404 error pages, and NO MORE WEIRD AD REROUTING! Huzzah!

I’m still working out some of the layout and design stuff, so let me know if there’s anything in particular you really miss about the old layout, or if you hate something about this new one, or whatever. I’d love to hear your input!

In other news, my book is OFFICIALLY BEING RELEASED THIS MONTH! Let that settle over you for a sec. I’m in the VERY FINAL (I know I throw the word “final” around here a lot with regard to my book, so I wanted to make sure you knew it was REALLY final this time, hahaha) editing phases, thanks to a few very talented and verrrrry patient individuals that probably totally regret ever agreeing to work with me. Heh. I’m pretty satisfied with where the book is overall, but I’m just trying to get rid of all those nasty typos and weird/awkward sentences. Because I love you guys so much. If any of you have a Goodreads account, you can also officially add Terra to your “To Read” list! I created a profile for the book this morning. 🙂

Okay, so down to the actual crux of this post. This morning, I had this weird, crystallizing moment of clarity this morning, and it was kind of awesome. I was just standing around in my bra and undies, getting dressed and ready for my day. And I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My stomach wasn’t sucked in, my hands weren’t on my hips, I wasn’t coyly putting my weight on one leg. I wasn’t employing any of my tricks to make myself seem thinner, or shapelier, or whatever-er. I was just, standing. I might have even been bending over a little (and I think we all know what bending over does to even the flattest of stomachs, let alone nice rolly-polly ones like mine). But I wasn’t thinking of any of that stuff. All I thought was, “Hey, that’s one normal-looking chick.”

Now, you have to understand, I don’t mean to word this in a self-deprecating way, and I’m definitely not fishing for compliments (this time, hahahaha). For someone like me, someone who has struggled with self-image and body image and loving my body and loving myself for SO long, just feeling normal is a huge victory. I try to preach a lot about loving yourself as you are, embracing the body you have now, etc. I even post pictures of myself from my vacations, totally out there (well, not TOTALLY out there, but in my bikini), because I’m trying to prove that I really believe all of that. And some days, I do.

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But let’s be honest. Most days, I’m really embracing the “fake it” part of “fake it ’til you make it.” And most days, if I had my way, there is probably no limit to the number of things I would give up in exchange for a thin, svelte body. I know that. I mean, hell, the whole reason I started this blog was because of my vanity. Sure, along the way I discovered myself, I discovered all the benefits of being healthy, and I realized that there are a lot of things that are better than just being skinny. But at the very core of my being, OF COURSE I still want to be thin.

Now, that said, I think today was a pretty important step for me, too. Because for the first time in a really LONG time, I looked at myself in the mirror — REALLY looked at myself — and I didn’t hate on a single thing. Yes, my stomach isn’t flat. Yes, I am still a lot more zaftig or voluptuous or hefty or ::shudder:: fat than a lot of women out there. But who says that has to be a bad thing? I’m squishy and soft, which means I’m a lot of fun to hug. I’ve got giant bazoomas, which means dressing up to go out can be kind of fun (though dressing for work can often be challenging). I have an hourglass figure, which means I have a nice, proportional waist even if my hips are wide or my thighs touch.

I know that I’ll have good days and bad days. I know I’ll still have days where I wish that every single thing about me was different, and that all my problems would go away if I was just a little thinner. But I like to think that this is the start of me having quite a few good days, too. Days when I don’t question why my boyfriend is attracted to me or think that every other woman on the street is judging me. Days where I feel confident and sure of myself, not just because I’m funny or witty or a good writer or any other number of non-physical traits, but because I look perfectly fine.

And I think that’s pretty cool. Yes, I still want to tone up, and I want to present the best possible version of myself. But I think I’m finally getting my head wrapped around the idea that the best possible version of myself doesn’t have to be “thin.” She just has to be me. A happy, healthy me.

Man, I sound so well-adjusted. I’d better cut myself off before you all start to get the wrong impression of me, eh? 🙂

<3

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Posted on Sep 25, 2012 in Dear Diary | 57 comments

You’re Not Alone

All right, let me say right up front that I think the subject matter of this post may be potentially triggering for someone who might be struggling with body image, destructive thoughts, disordered eating, or self-hatred. However, I received such an amazing response from readers on my last why-so-serious post (“Ghost“) that I feel compelled to dive a little further into it.

I talk a lot about honesty. I am really pretty honest in this blog. Sure, it’s not a complete and totally unfiltered retelling of my life (I probably drop a lot more F-bombs in real life than I ever would on here, haha), but nothing really is. I don’t pretend like this is ALL of me, but I also don’t try to sugarcoat my life, or show you only the sunny side. Um, obviously. Hahaha.

In my post last week, wherein I described how I still sometimes struggle with the echoes of my eating disorder (and, more importantly, the disordered thoughts that informed it), there was one paragraph that seemed to resonate with some of you quite surprisingly:

…I remembered all of the times that I would go out to eat with my friends. Upon finishing my meal, which was a restaurant portion (read: huge) that I likely ate in its entirety, I remember the feeling of yearning I had toward any unfinished food on my friends’ plates. I always wanted to eat that too. Their leftover french fries, the last quarter of their burger, that last couple of chicken wings. My friends probably (hopefully) didn’t know this. I like to think they didn’t notice the longing in my eyes, the twitching of my fingers. Because it would never even occur to them. They had control of their eating. They didn’t feel the need to stuff themselves to the limit and beyond…

I had really only written it to paint an image of what my thought process used to be like. To illustrate the way my attitude toward and relationship with food was warped. But in the comments and emails that I received, so many people expressed how glad they were to know that there was someone else who had these kinds of thoughts. That there was somebody else out there like them. That they were not alone.

And upon receiving several messages with that same sentiment, the idea for this post began to formulate in my head. Not because it’s an easy post to write, but because I think it’s necessary. Because it is so much harder to face your demons by yourself. And because nobody really is alone. So to prove it, I’m willing to lay it all out there. The self-image issues and the irrationality and the dangerous amounts of self-loathing that I battled on a daily basis, back when I was at my highest weight and in the throes of my eating disorder.

Maybe all this post will do is illustrate just how far-gone I was back then. And maybe it will alienate my real-life friends, or embarrass my family, or who knows what. But you guys often call me brave, and even though I don’t really think that’s true, I want to be. And I want you — whoever you may be — to know that you weren’t then, and are not now, alone.

***

Imagine it is somewhere in the 2008 – 2009 time frame. I am 20 years old and a college senior. Forget trying to lose the Freshman 15. Unfettered access to campus dining halls and the multiple fast food drive-thrus that populate Harrisonburg, VA has helped me pack on a good 60 pounds over the past 3 years while at school. I am lonely, unfocused, and depressed. I am very overweight. And I feel, deeply, that the latter is the reason for all of the former.

I loathe the way I look, and yet I am obsessed with my body. I strive for the ideal (skinny) body that I have yearned for since I was a pre-teen, and want to get there as quickly as possible. Evidently, this means I am living in a constant cycle of trying to see how long I can go without eating anything at all, and then breaking into a binge when I “fail” at that. And due to my “failure” to starve myself into skinnyness, I hate myself even more.

Despite living in a house full of fun, vibrant women, I find myself retreating more and more into the solitude of my bedroom. This is where most of the damage is done. I come home with fast food in my purse, having already thrown away the extra sodas that came with my multiple value meals from Wendy’s. Because, sure, ordering value meals instead of individual items costs more. But at least this way, the woman in the drive-thru window might not think that all of this food is for me. She might not know to pity me.

I constantly fear judgement. From my housemates. My friends. My classmates. The svelte, denim mini-skirt wearing girls around campus in their Uggs and giant sunglasses who always have a boyfriend. (Of course, I know now that many of them probably weren’t any healthier than me, but it didn’t make it hurt any less that I didn’t look like them.) I can’t let anyone know about my secret food lifestyle. Even just being me, as obese as I am, I feel like I am constantly being judged. God forbid they really see what’s going on behind closed doors. So I try to hide it all.

I rarely use the kitchen, except when nobody else is home and I can make two boxes of macaroni and cheese in peace. No matter what I am eating, it is almost always alone in my room. I shovel down the food as quickly as possible, usually with the TV on so that I don’t have to pay attention to the thousands of calories I’m consuming. I also need to get it over quickly on the off chance that someone might walk in and catch me with my smorgasbord of crap. It sounds cliche, but that feeling — that bursting-to-the-max, uncomfortable, can’t-possibly-eat-another-bite-and-yet-I-do fullness — really is numbing. It helps distract me from myself. It depends on the day, but if I’m really feeling TOO full, then maybe I’ll try purging in one way or another. But probably not. I don’t weigh myself because I don’t want to know.

I’m not completely anti-social. I do have friends, and of course we sometimes go out to eat together. I do struggle with the menu, trying to balance what I want to eat (everything) with what is acceptable to eat. But then I just remind myself that Taco Bell is open until 2 AM and I can always add onto my caloric bill later if need be.

Sometimes, I stand in the shower and turn the water as hot as it will possibly go. I know it is completely illogical and irrational, but I stand there under the scalding stream and savor the pain of the heat, hoping that by some miracle of physics and biology that all my fat will simply melt off my body. I fantasize about getting plastic surgery: gastric bypass, liposuction. I research fad diets, crash diets, celebrity diets. I wonder whether Fen-Phen is still a thing, and if I could get some (it’s not and I couldn’t, thank goodness). Sometimes, on really dark days, when I’m staring into the mirror at the body that I inexplicably despise, I fantasize about just cutting the fat off of my body.

I don’t weigh myself because I don’t want to know. All I have is the size label on the inside of my jeans and the knowledge that I am too big, too heavy, too undesirable. And yet, never, not once, does it truly occur to me to change my lifestyle. To stop this destructive cycle, to reevaluate the way I see myself. To say to myself, “if I want to lose weight, I can just start eating healthier. I can start exercising. I can do it right.” I mean, sure, I KNOW that’s what it will take. Cognitively, logically, I know that works. But it seems like too much effort with too slow of a result. I want to be skinny, but I want it fast, and I want it now, and I want it easy. Anyone’s comments of concern or efforts to help just drive me further down. I don’t NEED their help. I don’t WANT their advice.

It will be another year and a half until I finally change. Change my thinking, change my lifestyle, and, between those two things, finally change my body. And I thank God every day that I did.

***

I obviously still have moments where I struggle, but it is nothing like it used to be. And while I do still want to lose weight, it no longer comes from a place of self-loathing. And that is a big step.

When I went to the Cirque du Soleil show last week, I told my friend Rachel that I was thinking about writing this post but was scared. I was scared of what it would mean to put all of this out there: my darkest thoughts, my secret shame, the truth behind why my relationship with food became so toxic in the first place. I’ve obviously put out snippets of my behavior before, but not quite like this. And she and I got into a really interesting discussion about shame.

I was ashamed of my body, and I was equally ashamed of my behavior. Even now, I remain ashamed of those thoughts. It is mortifying to put out there. To know that I was that desperate, that I hated myself that much. To think that this body, which can do some pretty awesome stuff, was such an embarrassment. If I’d had the resources back then, there is probably no limit to the unhealthy extremes I would have been willing to go in order to achieve my perfect body. But I also know that I can’t possibly be the only person who has ever had those kinds of thoughts.

As women in modern society, we are given so many conflicting messages. We are supposed to strive to look a certain way, to achieve a certain size, to hate ourselves if we don’t fit that mold. But not too much. Don’t hate yourself too much, like I did, because that’s just as shameful. You can’t possibly love yourself either, though, not while you’re so fat/ugly/awkward/plain. You have to hate yourself just enough to drive yourself to be beautiful, THEN it’s okay to love yourself. You want to talk about what’s a real shame? Let’s talk about THAT.

I think the real root of my personal shame when it comes to my disordered past stems from the idea that my thoughts were not okay to think. That they weren’t normal. I was the weird one, the strange one, the one with all these problems that needed fixing. It was isolating, and that estrangement manifested itself in some dangerous ways. I just wish that back then there had been someone to tell me that I wasn’t alone.

There’s a chance that some of you may not be able to relate to the content of this post at all. And that is seriously wonderful if that’s the case. But even if you never had to deal with the exact behavior I described, I would bet that anyone who has ever struggled with their body image or self-worth can relate at least a little bit. We are not alone.

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Posted on May 26, 2011 in Dear Diary | 23 comments

The Covert Art of Comparison

Yesterday, I was supposed to run.

Well, more than that, I was supposed to go on a fun run with a small group organized by Road Runner Sports in Falls Church, and this “fun” run was supposed to be 4 miles. Obviously, I was freaking out about it. I mean, 4 miles is exactly .9 miles more than I’ve ever run in my life! And having the entire day to dwell didn’t exactly inspire my confidence.

I’ll skip ahead to the end and tell you now that no, I didn’t end up going on the run. But I swear it was not because I chickened out! It was because I had to return to the dentist to get my cavity filled after work. Boo.

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While I figured that a 2:30 appointment would mean I was good to go by the 6:30 run, I think my dentist may have tried to overcompensated for my dental fears by shooting me up with so much novocaine I was numb until 7 PM. Plus, I was numb from my chin up through my left eye socket! Fail. I take back everything I said about disliking going to the doctor more than the dentist.

Aaaaaanywho, I guess I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a modicum of relief when I had a bonafide excuse not to go on the run. All day I was freaking out about the very idea of going:

I’ve never run 4 miles before! What if I can’t finish?
What if they’re all super experienced runners?
What if they judge me for not being able to keep up?

These are just some of thoughts that were flying through my head (and out of my mouth as I whined and complained to my coworkers — sorry guys. Heh.) Clearly I had forgotten the fact that I’ve run three 5Ks, something I never would have dreamed of being able to do in the first place. By now I should have confidence in my ability to run at my own pace and know that I’m the kind of person who (mostly, hehe) finishes what she starts.

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But of course, your emotions don’t always follow what your brain knows you should feel, do they? In between freakouts, I started thinking about the comparisons we all make when it comes to health and fitness, especially as part of the healthy living blog community.

I love this community. I love how supportive it’s been in my journey to lose these 50 lbs so far. I love having been able to make so many new friends, both solely through the interwebs (isn’t technology amazing?) and in-person as well. And I love how I am continuously amazed at the strength of others in this community, other female bloggers especially, and how their example keeps me motivated to keep going to lose the rest of this weight.

But.

When you are constantly delving into the lives of such beautiful, healthy, fit, amazing women, it is almost impossible not to compare yourselves to them. I mean, c’mon. I was a teenage girl not so long ago. I think I know a thing or two about judging yourself.

Yep. That was me with my friend Colin before Prom my senior year of high school. What can I say? Teenage Gretchen was kind of a badass. (HA!)

In all seriousness though, I think that comparison issues are something that all women deal with (and I’m sure guys do too, but I have no direct experience with that perspective obviously, haha.) We are bombarded with magazines and TV shows and celebrities that are constantly feeding our insecurities, asking us to compare ourselves to them and figure out what we’re doing wrong. But I also believe that as we grow out of our teenage years, we tend to feel the need to compare for self-worth a little less severely. That is, unless you are, or at one point were, overweight.

I cannot even tell you how many times a day I made comparisons to justify how I looked when I was severely overweight. It was a skill, really, to be able to compare covertly. I would walk down the street and try to compare my reflection against those of women walking past me in store windows. I would look at a woman sitting in front of me in a restaurant and try to see how much of her was spilling over the seat of her chair compared to me. I would justify my poor health by always trying to find someone bigger, someone older, someone who dressed less flatteringly, someone who was simply less attractive. All for the sole purpose of being able to think, “Well, look at that. See? I’m really not that bad.” I know that this probably makes me sound horrible but before you judge me, please take an honest look at yourself and try to tell me that at some point in your life you haven’t done the exact same thing.

Family Vacation - December 2009

Family Vacation - January 2011

I know I’m not the same person I was before I started this blog. But when I’m not busy comparing the person I am now to the person I used to be (which I feel IS okay to do), I have to admit that I continue to struggle with comparing myself to others. To the strong, beautiful, incredible women whose blogs I read daily.

She is thinner.
She is more beautiful.
She runs faster.
She can run longer.
She is more flexible.
She has better hair.
She is more fashionable.
She makes more money than me.
Her blog is more successful than mine.
She has lost more weight than me.
She has lost weight faster than me.

All of these thoughts, of course, are absolutely ridiculous when you actually stop and think about it. We all have different strengths, different voices, and different battles to fight. I mean, hello! I have no desire to run a marathon, let alone multiple ones! And I’m not quite so deluded to think that I will ever be a size 4, or have washboard abs, or be able to cook like an Iron Chef. But the temptation to line myself up beside someone else and pick out all the ways in which one or the other of us is better is still there. And I’m just trying to figure out how to feel about myself, about my accomplishments, without needing someone else to stand against.

Do you struggle with unnecessary and destructive comparison? In what ways? How do you cope? I’m hoping that acknowledgement is the first step.

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