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Posted on Jun 26, 2012 in Dear Diary | 20 comments

Modesty, Validation, and Acknowledging Our Strengths

Talent. Strengths. Passion. Career. I know I’ve been waxing on and on about this stuff for a while, so depending on how you’ve felt about it in the past, I imagine you will be either delighted or disappointed to read the following. See, in my current quest to figure out not only WHAT I want to do (which, as you will probably be shocked to hear, is NOT to be stuck in a cubicle for the rest of my natural-born-life), but also HOW I’m supposed to do the things I want to do in a fiscally responsible, not-gonna-move-back-in-with-my-parents kinda way, I’ve done some thinking. Go figure. And while my recent revelations may cause some of you to be like, “Uh, duh?”, I’m going to talk about them anyway. Probably in a fairly nonsensical and stream-of-consciousness kind of way. Because I can. Thbbbt. 😉

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It actually all started when I attended the Kristin Chenoweth concert a couple weeks ago. In between beautifully-sung songs and anecdotes about how her mom accidentally (but continuously) calls Fuddrucker’s “Mudf*cker’s”, she also told us quite a few stories from her pre-celebrity days. She talked about what it was like to be little and to have her first solo in church, performing and getting her first role on Broadway and as she spoke, there was no false modesty. She didn’t fish for complements, or underplay her talent. She is, and apparently always was, an absolutely incredible singer. We know it. She knows it. And why wouldn’t she? I mean, how annoying would it be if she were to say something like, “Well, I can sing fairly well, I guess…”? I’d want to smack all 4’11” of her. Hearing her talk about herself that way didn’t make me think she was conceited or immodest, even though in everyday life, my first instinct would be to mark someone as such if they were doing the same thing.

So obviously the rules that apply to celebrities don’t necessarily apply to us regular folk, it’s true. I mean, hello? Lindsay Lohan is still getting work. Wtf. Regardless, the whole experience still sparked something that I thought deserved a little thought. Our society of polite interaction and political-correctness puts a premium on modesty. You might be extremely talented, but you’re not supposed to be the one saying “I’m a gifted artist!” or “I’m a great writer!” or “I’ve got a fantastic voice!” No, that would be bragging. Society tells us that validation is supposed to come from other people. And eventually, even if we start out believing in our own abilities, it is still discouraging not to be able to tout our own strengths. Having to rely on the validation of others’ opinions gives self-doubt a lot of wiggle room.

I feel like that doubt is what ultimately prevents us from pursuing the things that we really want. Take me, for example: I want to write. I think I know that I’m a good writer. With drive and perseverance, I might even be great someday. But I don’t feel like I can really say that. What I CAN say is, “I love to write,” or “I’m passionate about writing.” It feels conceited to even think, let alone say, otherwise. Even if my intentions are correct (though, let’s be honest, when are they ever really? Haha), it still feels like bragging. So I rely on other people instead. And when their comments don’t come, or when they’re not what I want to hear, or when I’m not constantly showered with reassurance, the doubt crawls back in. I start to think, “I’ll never make it as a writer, why bother trying?” And then the mental battle ensues once again.

This applies to more than just creative talent, of course. How many of us that are on the weight loss track didn’t really feel like you were making any progress until you started to get comments and compliments from others? I lost THIRTY pounds before I started getting regular comments from people I knew, and thus it wasn’t until I was thirty pounds into my weight loss that I felt that I had succeeded. But before I lost 30, I had lost 25. And before that, I had lost 20. And so on, and so forth. Shouldn’t I have felt proud about those accomplishments, too? That thought never even occurred to me. It was only “Well, I guess I need to keep going because nobody’s noticing.” I probably fall victim to this line of thinking more than the average person, I’m sure, because I have a long and sordid history with my self-esteem. Some of you might be reading this and want to roll your eyes, chalking up my feelings to my own self-worth issues. That’s a fair reaction, although I do honestly think it goes beyond that. I can’t possibly be the only one who feels this way, after all.

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I don’t have an answer for how to really fight against this way of thinking. I’d like to be able to say it’s as simple as coming up with a mantra that you repeat as you fall asleep, or sticking a Post-It to your computer screen, or writing on your mirror in lipstick, all to remind yourself that you’re awesome! You’re amazing! You’re a rockstar! But c’mon. That doesn’t exactly tackle the root of the problem, does it? I want to be able to get to a place where I don’t NEED a constant visual reminder to acknowledge that I’m good at something. That I’m possibly — GASP! — fantastic at something. And, perhaps most importantly, I don’t want to feel guilty about thinking that way when I do.

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Posted on Feb 16, 2012 in Dear Diary | 65 comments

One

It just takes one.

One disparaging comment.

One possibly judgmental glance.

One ill-fitting garment, one unfortunate glance in a store window.

One moment for the weakness to set in, for the thoughts to take hold. A single second, and suddenly your world turns. It takes all your strength not to run to the kitchen and rip open bags of tortilla chips, boxes of leftover pizza, pints of ice cream. It takes every ounce of resolve that you possess not to jump into the car and head straight for the nearest drive-through. To drown your remaining shreds of self-esteem in french fries, chicken nuggets, and double junior bacon cheeseburgers.

You’re having a normal day. Maybe even a great day. You don’t expect it. You can’t predict it. It happens so fast. It catches you off guard. And it only takes one.

As you are all well-aware, I’ve been feeling pretty good about things lately. I may still be dealing with my holiday weight gain, I may not be at goal, but in general I’ve been feeling like things are really starting to fall into place. So yesterday, when I dropped by my parents’ house to pick up some vegetables that my mom was trying to get rid of (free brussels sprouts? Heck yes!), I wasn’t prepared for the conversation that came in response to my blog post showcasing the epic Valentine’s Day meal that I had the night before.

“I have too much produce,” she said, thrusting a bag of brussels sprouts, spinach, and a container of blackberries into my arms.

“Thanks for these! Yeah, you do have a lot. It’s going to go bad while we’re in Orlando,” I replied, eyeing an entire drawer full of peppers, leafy greens, and tiny purple eggplants. Suddenly, she pinched the skin on the underside of my chin.

“You had better not eat steak anymore. Look at your face.”

“What are you talking about? I lost a pound this week!”

“I saw. But I can’t believe it.”

So I left. Well, I guess “stormed out” is the more appropriate term. And the very instance I stomped out of the room, my head was filled with self-deprecation, loathing, and hatred. I know that to her, the comment was nonchalant. Moms are moms, and she has nothing but love and concern for me. I know that I’m a sensitive person in general, and I’m extra defensive when interacting with my family. I know that there have been miscommunications between my mother and me in the past. I know that her intention was not to hurt me. I know these things. But knowing doesn’t stop it from hurting. It didn’t stop the tears from welling up in my eyes as I slammed the front door behind me, or from falling once I got to the car. It wasn’t about what was said, it wasn’t about who said it. It could have been anything. The point is that it happened: one comment got under my skin, and brought with it an emotional flood that I hadn’t experienced for some time.

I wrote a post a while ago about trying to figure out my identity as someone who has lost a significant amount of weight (“My Name is Gretchen, and I Used to be Fat“). In it, I questioned why I have such a hard time letting go of my “old self”, as it were, and embracing my new mindset and my new body. I talked about not wanting to forget who I was, for fear of slipping back into those habits. My experiences today only affirmed those feelings. Without fear of backsliding, without the constant reminder of how you once were, you forget. You let your guard down. You are vulnerable, and it takes just one thing before… you slip.


Summer 2009

I was fortunate this time. My mind may have slipped, I may have let in that self-hatred and beaten down my self-esteem but I had the strength to resist the temptation to binge. Instead of eating $18 worth of Taco Bell, I came home. I chopped onions and roasted brussels sprouts and sauteed mushrooms and I didn’t succumb. But I wanted to. I wanted to binge. I wanted to fill my stomach with crap until it felt like I was going to burst, and then I would have wanted to purge. I managed to fight against that, and I’m both grateful and proud that I was able to. But the physical act of bingeing is only one side of it.

The worst part is the emotional damage that one simple, innocuous comment can do. How it can unravel you. How in a split second, it can undo a year’s worth of repair to your self-esteem. Sure, I won the binge battle, but the emotional war? It’s still raging, even now. I’m my own enemy, fighting against all the thoughts I’ve been trying to keep out for so long. And not only do I have to fight against old thoughts, but there are new ones too. Like feeling that being happy about my life and making peace with my appearance is the very reason why I let my guard down in the first place.

I’m still fat.

I’m not good enough.

Nothing’s changed.

Nothing will ever change.

This is your fault.

You’re soft. Weak. Complacent.

You’ll never make it to your goal because you’re too content with how you look. Hate yourself more.

Having this blog helps, it really does. It lets me go back and see where I began. It lets me reflect on how far I have come, in so many ways. It helps me rally the strength to fight, because I owe it to myself, and I owe it to you, to try. It convinces me that instead of wallowing in a pool of self-pity and dysmorphic self-image, I should try on my newly delivered dresses. It allows me to revel in the fact that I fit firmly into a regular ol’ size L, something I would simply not have been able to do a year and a half ago. It proves that change has occurred.

ModClothed

Chalk it up as cheesy, self-indulgent, narcissistic. Label it as just another trend. But blogging helps me see the progress I have made and will continue to make. As long as I keep trying. As long as I can rebuild, stay the course, and be prepared for the next time this happens. Because, as much as I wish it weren’t the case, the sad truth of it is that it will happen again.

It just takes one.

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Posted on Oct 13, 2011 in Dear Diary, Weight Loss | 78 comments

Stuck in the Middle with You

Unfortunately this post is not about the classic 1972 Stealers Wheel song. It’s about clothes. And yes, it’s probably going to get pretty superficial up in hurr. I find myself stuck in this strange middle ground between the size I am and the size I plan on getting to. I am stuck in Clothing No (wo)Man’s Land.

The wedding I went to this past weekend made me painfully aware that I am rapidly running out of wearable clothing. I know what you’re thinking. “Waaaah, waaaah, poor little Gretchen has lost too much weight and now has no clothes to wear,” said in your most sardonic mental voice (sidenote: does that sound like the start of a twisted nursery rhyme or what?) I mean, yes, you’re right. It’s not like I’m going naked here. I’ve got enough cutesy t-shirts to last me a millenium or two, but when it comes to A) work or B) dressing up, it is slim pickings in terms of clothes that I feel comfortable and (or?) attractive in. But while I’m not a size 20 anymore, I’m still a bit short of my goal size (an Old Navy 8, or a 10 anywhere else, haha.) So I keep struggling with whether I should buy new clothes that will fit me now, knowing that I will just shrink out of them (well, hopefully…), or whether I should wait.

See, I am very much of the opinion that, as much as I want to save money, clothes that are too big just don’t look good. One of the first myths I adhered to when I was obese was thinking that big, roomy clothes would hide my flub. WRONG. They just made me look even bigger. Which, in turn, just made me more depressed. Thus, part of this whole rebuilding my formerly devastated self-esteem thing is to try to feel good about the way I look. That might sound shallow but… well, if it is, then we are ALL shallow, aren’t we? 😉

To illustrate my point, I traveled into the depths of my closet to find a few pieces of now-oversized clothing that haven’t quite made the trip to Goodwill yet (I say as if the other four grocery bags full of too-big clothes aren’t still sitting in my car. Oops.) Allow me to present the following comparisons:

Blouse + Pants Front View

Oof.

Blouse + Pants Side View

These portraits were taken mere minutes apart, but you can’t deny how different I look. The pants and top on the left are two sizes too big, and there’s no doubt that they make me look bigger too. Of course it isn’t always as blatantly obvious as the example above, but it’s the smallest things — a droopy sleeve, a billowing bust, a puffy waist — that make a big difference in how you look (and thus impact how you FEEL about how you look.)

Dress for Success

Take, for example, the dress on the left here. At first glance, it’s really not so bad.

Dress Side View

Turn to the side, however, and you can see just how gaping the bust is, making my chest look droopy. Dangling ta-tas at 23? I DON’T THINK SO. And the side-bra view? Not cute.

I’m not saying that you should get rid of all your clothes as soon as you outshrink them. Nor do you have to rush your favorite pieces to a tailor right away. As if I could afford either option! There are a lot of things that you can do to make your clothing wearable for as long as possible.

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Bad + belt = better.

Belts and I have become besties, and scarves and cardigans are part of the gang too (to hide those pesky safety pins!) My closet is still full of clothing that I can’t yet bear to give away (um, like all the above pieces?) One of my biggest “regrets”, if you want to call it that, is that TWO WEEKS before I decided to start this blog and go on my final diet, I went to New York City with some girlfriends and blew over $500 on new clothes. Of course, within 3 months, they were rendered obsolete. Which might explain my current clothes-buying hesitation situation, now that I think about it.

Flatter Me
Same jeans, different tops.

I definitely feel that certain items of clothing “matter” more than others when it comes to fit and feeling good about yourself. For example, I see absolutely no reason to downsize my coats, sweaters/cardigans, jackets, and even skirts (A-line being the exception) since for the most part, it doesn’t matter if they are a bit big. But jeans, work pants, dresses and blouses are what I seem to notice most. Oh, and don’t forget about undergarments. Getting my bra resized is one of the things I was most adamant about!

I’m not trying to replace my wardrobe just yet — I’ve got a shopping spree from my parents (my blogiversary present!) for that! It’s just that as I continue down this road and get rid of these last twenty-ish pounds, I want to make sure I’m doing all that I can to stay motivated, in control, and most importantly, happy.

What is your stance on buying clothes when losing weight? Save up and wait? Pick up sale & thrift items as needed? Or replace your closet as you downsize?

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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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