How a different kind of weight kept me from drowning in a new, maddening perspective after my massive weight loss.
It was 2004. I’d recently lost somewhere in the ballpark of 150 pounds.
Like size 26 me, size 6 me was living alone in the same shithole apartment, walking to the same bit job, and getting coffee at the same mom & pop cafe.
Like size 26 me, size 6 me preferred dirty jokes, strong coffee, and loud music.
Inside, little had changed.
But my outside was a new and novel thing.
It was absurdly small.
Hip bones and stomach muscles and clavicles. Oh my.
Moving was wild. It was nothing to get into and out of my car, climb the steps to my door, and walk to work. Hugging blew my mind; feeling the whole length of me pressed up against the whole length of them.
As someone who’d never been active, who’d always been obese, and who’d always struggled with obsessive thoughts, depression, and shame, I was “in my body” more than ever before. I spent time noticing and enjoying how it felt to lift an arm, to stand, and to breathe.
This made the earliest days of being thin awesome.
The vibe I got from other people helped, too.
It felt like I was living in a music video.
Strangers made eye contact and smiled.
People held the door open for me.
I got more compliments.
I got more pats on the back.
I got more invites to lunch.
All this nicey-nicey validation worked on me like a drug.
Between the positive attention and my new body awareness I floated for a while, high on my strange new life.
Nothing’s new forever.
I started to get used to getting in and out of my little Saturn coupe.
I stopped thinking as much about how easy it was to walk up stairs.
My focus was moving off my body, and back into my monkey mind.
And I was.
I spent more and more time thinking about how people were treating me.
I realized that I was being shown more random kindness in a single thin day than I might have gotten in a year or more when I was overweight.
“Holy shit,” I thought. “Compared to this, I’ve been treated like crap my whole life.”
Not just by the high school kids who used to scream “Fat Ass!” from passing cars.
Not just by employers who wouldn’t interview me for jobs once they saw me in person.
Not just by the doctors who wrote me off before I even told them why I was there.
I’m talking about everyone. Co-workers. Acquaintances. Family. Strangers.
For a while, every smile I got made me think of all the ones I’d never gotten.
Every door held open reminded me of all the ones that closed in my face.
Every “Come to lunch!”
Every “You look great!”
Every “Can I buy you a drink?”
All the kindness and courtesy and flirtation made me angry.
And without strong tools to help me cope with this new perspective in a healthy way, everything I did just made it worse.
I acted out.
I used men who would never have given large me a moment’s notice. I started showing up late and leaving early. I treated my friends like shit.
I acted in.
I drank more. I ate more. On the weekend I woke up in the afternoon in my shithole apartment hating myself.
I still woke up hating myself during the week, but in the morning. (HA!)
I smoked on the steps downtown, ruminating on how I’d been wronged, hoping someone would start a fight with me so I could do something with my rage.
But no brawls came.
I was thin, but I was gaining weight and losing ground – mentally and emotionally – fast.
I needed to get out of my head. I needed to get back into my body somehow. But how? None of the standard girlie exercises appealed to me.
I was only willing to run if I was being chased.
Yoga was for wusses.
And only gals who looked like Jamie Lee Curtis in 1984 actually did aerobics.
I wanted to feel powerful. I wanted to win that fight I kept hoping I’d get into.
One Saturday morning, in a fit of clarity and uncharacteristic action, I put on a pair of sneakers and took my anger to the gym.
I’d never been there before.
The front desk gal was tall and solid. Friendly looking. Her name tag said “Denae”.
“Hi,” I said. “Any chance you could teach me how to lift weights?”
“Sure,” she said.
She taught me the most basic lifts that day, and told me to ask her questions as they came up.
I thanked her, put headphones over my ears, and angrily lifted weights for the first time in my life.
I kept my head down and counted reps, one for each breath.
I didn’t notice if I was being noticed.
An hour later I wiped the sweat off my face and smiled. I felt my body: warm and alive and satisfied.
I walked out without checking myself in the mirror.
The next day I went straight to the gym after work. I slapped on my headphones and angrily lifted weights. An hour later, I noticed it again.
I felt it.
I noticed my muscles humming and my blood pumping and my joints yawning and it felt like love.
I kept going. I kept lifting. Not once did I regret it.
Every time I left the gym I was aware of my body, connected to it, and grateful for it.
Pushing myself with weights helped me stop obsessing about how other people saw me, how they felt about me, and how they happened to treat me, thin or fat.
Lifting weights helped me focus on how it felt to be me, in my body, in this moment.
It was a gift, and without it, I believe my life and my health would’ve turned out very differently.
Regardless of your weight, you may obsess about how you look or how other people perceive you. Challenging yourself every day can help free you from your mental quicksand and help you come back into your actual, physical self. Present. Grounded.
And, after a good workout, prob’ly feeling great.
You don’t have to lift weights. Some women shouldn’t. Really, any activity will do. What’s important is that the activity be genuinely challenging. That way, you HAVE TO concentrate on what you’re doing (read: not be trapped in the storm in your head).
Some folks need recovery days, like hard-training athletes and heavy lifters. But if you’re walking, lifting moderate-sized weights, dancing, or doing yoga, the benefits of daily practice will probably outweigh the benefits of scheduled days off here and there.
If you’re trapped in your head – whether you’re angry or depressed, anxious or obsessed – this formerly obese personal trainer’s advice is simple: find a safe, challenging physical activity and do it every day.
Activity will help get you out of your head and to focus on what’s important: not the size of your body, per se, but that you get to be in it, that you get to care for it, and that you get to enjoy it for as many moments as possible in your one precious life.