Tag Archives: self image

The Choices We Make

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I have a co-worker, a young millennial who has a loud vibrant personality. She is brash, unapologetic, and funny. I wouldn’t have her any other way. She recently moved offices and I miss the energy she brought to an otherwise mundane job.

Every day as she breezed out of the office, she would mockingly say over her shoulder, “Make good choices!” And we would all laugh.

Recently, I was part of a pilot group with my therapist. If I had  not written this before, I am seeing someone to help me with my binge eating. She is writing a book about how to lose weight and keep it off forever.

The group I was a part of has been reviewing her book and launching a kind of support group where we read chapters of her book and discuss the ideas in that chapter. We were her beta readers/guinea pigs. This past weekend, we all met in person to discuss what we thought of the book and make suggestions for the support system she wants to create. I am so glad to have been a part of that group.

The book is very interesting. The book is less about what we eat and more about why we eat what we eat. She really encouraged us to explore the reasons behind our eating habits.

Of course she thinks the best diet for weight loss is low carb, high protein focusing on eating fresh meats and fish, high protein vegetarian options, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Very similar to any good bariatric diet, right?

So, why can’t we stick to it? Why do we constantly sabotage our diet plans? Why do we make choices we know will not help us on our path to a healthy weight and relationship to food?

Those are the questions through both my sessions with her and the book she’s working to address.

For me, a lot of my bad choices have to do with my inability to deal with stress and toxic people. I get very stressed out when I think about the toxic people in my life, and there have been several who have entered and left my world. Some stay longer than others. It has taken me a long time to realize their behavior is about them and not me and to create a distance between me and them, even if that barrier is just a mental one.

I also suffer from a low self-image and self-confidence. Many people who know me would certainly be surprised to know this. I hide it well most of the time. It is hard for me to find good things about myself.

After I had lost about 130 pounds, a guy I am friends with complimented me on a shirt I was wearing. He said something like, “That green color looks very good on you.”

I immediately replied with how much more weight I needed to lose, my hair looked awful, pick any one of the myriad of negative thoughts inside my head.

A female friend standing nearby turned to me and said, “No! Stop, Colleen. He complimented you. Your answer is, ‘Thank you!'”

She knew what I was doing. I was not used to being complimented about my appearance. She knew this. And she put the brakes on my negative thought train. At least the verbalization of my negative thoughts.

So, I have been exploring my insecurities. My inability to deal with stress and toxic people. My negative thoughts. And why I look for solace in food.

It is hard to constantly stop myself before I make a bad food decision and analyze the why. In the past, I’ve made a decision about what I wanted to eat and then just ate it. Even if I did not eat it to excess, I still often made very bad food choices.

So, this is what I do when I want to eat the cheesy poofs or whatever food I am craving at the moment. I stop and ask myself some questions.

  • Do I need this to feel full and meet my nutritional goals? (Is this choice a need or a want?)
  • Why do I want to eat the cheesy poofs?
  • What is going on? Am I stressed out? I am feeling bad?
  • What happened today, last night, yesterday to make me feel this way?
  • Will eating this particular food help me achieve my weight loss/health goals?
  • What impact will this choice have on my calories, protein, carb intake for the day?
  • What can I eat that I like that will keep me on track?
  • What other choice can I make?

 

Sometimes I even stop and pull out my phone and enter the cheesy poofs into myfitnesspal.com just to see what that choice will do to my daily goals.

I am successful in making better choices probably 95% of the time. Do I slip? Sure. One example, I had an extra slice of toast one day. Normally, that is enough to send me into a tailspin and think the whole day is lost. But the next day, I entered everything into myfitnesspal.com, and I was only a couple of points high on my carbs. I met my protein goals and calorie goals.

So, great choice? No. Diet-killer? Not even close. I was still on track.

Another thing I do is I try not to think of my entire weight loss goal every time I eat. I do keep that goal in mind every day, yes. But for each meal or snack, I think only of that meal or snack. I might think of how it fits into my daily goals, but in the moment, I do not think too much beyond that.

I chose that approach because sometimes thinking of the entire goal is too overwhelming and seems unattainable. Today, this moment, this meal, that is a doable goal.

I get weighed every two weeks, and in that moment, I only think of my bi-monthly goals. I do sit down with the doctor afterwards and talk about long-term goals, but only a month out. Most importantly, I’m not weighing myself every day and stressing out about the numbers on the scale.

Biking and exercising also helps. I have been biking quite a bit, although the impending snow storm in our area has really put a damper on that recently. But biking takes my mind off the stress of the day, releases endorphins, and generally makes me feel better. Not to mention, it is great exercise for a weight loss plan.

The result is, of the 58 pounds of regain, I’m down 18 pounds. And my overall goal is now lower as well. So, now instead of needing to lose 94 pounds, I only need to lose 76 pounds.

So, good news all around. I am working on improving my mental health and making better choices. I’m also losing weight, exercising, and feeling better!

Will I always make good choices? No, definitely not. No one is perfect, and I know I am not. But I know that if I stay focused, I can make much better choices moving forward.

I’ll just keep my co-workers voice in my head every time I reach for those cheesy poofs reminding me to stop and “Make Good Choices!”

 

 

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Struggling & Finding A New Direction

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I have to admit it, I have been struggling since the turn of the New Year.  I got sick on January 2 on my way to work.  Unpleasant, to say the least.  I’ve hit a very long plateau in my weight loss which has me thinking that I may never lose another pound.  That thought terrifies me as I am very afraid that I will start gaining again.  I want to lose another 46 pounds, but if I don’t I’m sort of OK with that.  I’m not OK with the thought of gaining any weight at all.  I also have been struggling with the number of hours I have been working.  That has really taken a toll on my over all mental well-being, mostly because I have no time for anything else and I’m exhausted all of the time.

Mostly though, I have been surprised by the number of emotional battles I have been fighting as well.  That has kind of caught me off guard because I have really been riding an emotional high for a very long time.  I think some of it has to do with the fact that my weight loss has slowed, and I fear regaining the weight.  Some of it I think has been dealing with people who just refuse to see all the work I have done and how I have changed.  To them, I will always be the out of control overeating fat girl who needs to be constantly reminded that her efforts aren’t good enough and never will be.

One of the reasons I have always hated losing weight is the public consumption of my weight loss.  I know…oh the irony of a blogger making THAT complaint.  But it’s true.  Any time I have dieted in the past, everyone always commented on my weight loss, or lack thereof, the food I ate, and whether or not I gained weight when the diet eventually failed. Making a change like that is a very personal, and often, painful journey, yet the whole of society feels free to comment and pass judgment on it.  I think that’s part of the reason I decided to blog my weight loss since the surgery.  If the whole world, (at least my world), was going to watch me lose weight, I was going to at least control the dialogue…this time.

But really, I think a large part of my emotional struggle has been trying come to terms with my own identity.  I don’t know if I’m really done losing weight.  I hope I’m not.  I do want to lose the last little bit I have left.  Still, whether I’m done losing now, or some time in the not too distant future, the end of my weight loss journey is in sight.

For many years I was simply the fat girl.  Then for the past year and a half, I have been the girl who is changing her life by losing an incredible amount of weight.  I now know a lot of people who knew me when I was fat and are now getting used to the new me.  And I’ve met a lot of people who never knew me as the fat girl, who just know me now and do not understand where I have been.

I guess I have really been struggling with who I am now that I’ve lost the weight (or most of it, at least).  Who am I if I’m not the girl who is losing weight?  I guess I’m the one who lost a lot of weight, but that title can only last for so long.

The truth is, however, none of that really matters.  What the world thinks of me is really none of my concern.  What I need to do is decide for myself who I am and where my journey goes from here.  I can choose to have a future where my excess weight no longer defines who I am.  It’s an idea that is as freeing as it is terrifying.  But this is the world that I have chosen to create for myself. Now I just need to find a way to live in it.

So, I made some decisions about this.  I went to a couple of my writer’s group this week and in both of them, we had to set writing goals for the new year. Also, my birthday was yesterday, and it coincided with the Chinese Lunar New Year, which I think is a great time to refocus and start something new.  This is now the year of the horse, and I was born in the year of the horse.  I do not put much stock in astrology, but I do feel that it could be a sign this will be a good year.

In my second, much smaller writer’s group, I said I would start writing on this blog more (again) and maybe change the focus a little.  I want to talk more about my over all health as opposed to just weight loss.  If I really am reaching the end of my weight loss journey, I need to do that.

I’m not sure where this New Year will take me, or what direction my life will go. I’m not really sure what this blog will become.  If the weight loss does start up again, I will definitely update that, but it won’t be my main focus.  I do want to write more about food, body image, health, and weight loss in general.  I am hopeful that I can come to terms with who I am now and where I go from here.  I hope you’ll join me on the next step in my journey.

Living For Myself

illusionSometimes it is hard to tell when you are living according to your own dreams or when you’re living for your own dreams.  For years, I allowed the opinions of others to be more important than my own.  What other people thought of me was more important than what I thought of myself.  This was an enormous mistake.

Of course other people are always going to try to impose their will and expect you to live according to their expectations.  I was a shy and insecure child, who turned into an insecure teenager.  I had low self-esteem and I always looked to others to for approval.  I also had a habit of surrounding myself with people who needed to put other people down to make themselves feel more important.  So, myself esteem was really in the toilet.

Living like this almost destroyed me.  I weighed 315 pounds at my heaviest and my body was really suffering the effects of long-term morbid obesity.

Fortunately, I realized my life was going in the wrong direction.  I cut out of my life the people whose vision of who I am did not match up with who I thought I was.  I stopped associating with and seeking the approval of anyone who had to try to make me feel bad to make themselves feel superior.  I started befriending people who treated me with the respect I deserve.

In some cases, the end of a friendship was mutual.  In other cases, I was not able to cut a person out completely, either because they are married to  a friend or family member, or closely connected with one of my groups of friends.  The difference between now and before, I know who I am and how I feel about myself.  I can keep their negativity in perspective and give their opinions no consideration whatsoever.  In short, I do not listen to them or allow them to affect my own self image.  What they think of me or how they treat me says more about them than me, in my opinion.

None of this was easy.  It is never easy to end long-time friendships, or distance yourself from people you care about.  I learned that I had to care about myself more and that if they cared about me at all, they would have to learn to accept the new me on my terms.  Some of them, I’m happy to say did. Others did not.  Those friendships have either gone by the way side, or I only associate with them on special occasions.

Once I made the decision to care about my own opinion over the opinion of others, I was able to make choices that helped me improve my life.  I feel and look better than I have in years.  I am happy.  And for the most part, I feel I am making better choices.  I’m not all the way there yet.   But when I look back at where I’ve been and realize how far I’ve come, I know I can get there.

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Oh, Go On…

I read this article this weekend on Today’s Health called “Why Women Are Terrible At Accepting Compliments.”  It was a great article.  They also embedded a video from Comedy Central’s Amy Schumer where she pokes fun at this phenomenon.  This video is quite over the top, but I think it illustrates the ridiculousness of deflecting compliments.

A few months ago, I posted how my friends called me out when I did just that, deflected a compliment I received.  After having been morbidly obese for about a million years, (OK 25 or so, but who’s counting), I have really been struggling with the fact that I am no longer invisible.  Also, being morbidly obese means you do not like to hear about how you look.  You know you look awful and generally if someone is complimenting you appearance, you believe it is a lie.  Or you believe they are talking about how fat you are behind your back, which let’s face it, they probably are.

People are commenting on how I look to my face now pretty much all of the time these days.  And it is taking me sometime to handle hearing good comments on my appearance.  I especially have difficulty handling it when men compliment my appearance.  Gay, straight, young, old, married, single doesn’t matter.  I get flustered and I blush.

It’s easier to deflect than to simply say, “Thank you.”  Saying “thank you” means that I have to openly admit to being attractive, or at least more attractive than I was before, and that’s something I have never been comfortable with.  It appears that I am not alone:

“When someone tells me something good about myself, I always have a reason why they’re wrong,” she says. “I think we all feel ‘less than’. Less than what we should have been. Less than what we thought we were going to be. Or we listened to people who said we were less than. This is a big issue with women.”

Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., says it has to do with the mixed messages women receive about what behaviors are desirable or acceptable.

“[We’re told] love yourself, but not too much. Be confident, but practice a style of humility this culture never requires of men. Believe in yourself, but never admit it out loud, lest you make another woman who doesn’t feel good about herself feel bad,” she says. “If you’re raised to think it’s arrogant to ever say something positive about yourself, it makes it hard to accept a compliment.

I’d say there’s a lot of truth in that.  I was always told that I was fat and unattractive.  To hear that insult constantly and then to suddenly hear how good I look is frankly, difficult to believe.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, it is easier to believe that bad stuff.  I don’t know why that is, but it is.

I’m getting better at it.  Having my appearance change and look better pretty much monthly helped.  My friends making me sit through compliment therapy where they complimented me and I was not allowed to say anything but “thank you” helped as well.  But learning to, if not always believe, at least embrace the good things in my life helps the most.

Now when people tell me how great I look, despite my constant blushing or my stomach my exploding into a million butterflies like teenager on her first date, I just smile and say “Thanks!”

I think if I do that enough, maybe one day I’ll actually believe it.

Have You Been Brainwashed?

Apparently, Dustin Hoffman has been, at least that’s what he says in this AFI clip on YouTube where he discusses the making of the movie Tootsie.  He talks very openly about society’s critical view of anyone who does not fit the standard definition of beauty and how that affected him as a man who was tasked with playing a woman on-screen.

I remember seeing this movie years ago, but admittedly, I do not remember much about it.  I am going to have to go back and watch it now, if for no other reason than to watch it with mindfulness and a critical eye to traditional definitions of beauty.

As a woman who spent her life struggling to find a way to fit into the world of the beautiful people, I certainly know what it is like to feel inadequate by comparison.  I think this is something all women, (and a lot of men, quite frankly), feel.

I spent the better part of my life totally brainwashed, thinking that I was nothing if I was not beautiful, or beautiful as defined by fashion magazines, movies, TV, etc.  But the truth is, I am a beautiful person.  I may not have perfect skin, or the best figure in the world, but I am smart, capable, funny, cute, thoughtful, helpful, caring, loving, the list goes on and on.  I have a lot of great qualities to share with the world, as did Tootsie from what I do recall from the movie.

The only thing that ever stopped me from sharing those qualities was my own self-imposed limitations because I never felt that I measured up.  Granted, those limitations were reinforced because I put too much value on the low opinion of others.  I guess it is easier to believe the bad stuff.  Why is that, exactly?

Well, I am done with that.  Yes, I still struggle with body image and the like.  I may never fully get beyond that, although I wish I could.  But I do not let it destroy me or override all of my other good qualities.

At the end of the clip, Hoffman opines how he allowed himself to be limited.

“There are too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed.  This was never a comedy for me.”

I am going to turn this idea on its ear a little bit here and look at it from a slightly different angle.

I have allowed myself to limit my own experiences in life because I had been brainwashed; because I never felt beautiful; because I allowed the low opinion of others to matter more than my own dreams and wishes.

Too many people do this, especially women.

When I started this weight loss and blog project, I began the process of putting that behavior behind me forever.  I am not completely there yet, but I feel as if I have made a lot of progress.  I am taking care of myself.  I am writing more.  I am putting myself out into the world and opening myself up to all of the good possibilities that are out there.  Yes, there is the risk that I will fail, get hurt, be rejected, but I no longer care about that.  There is also a chance I will be successful and embraced by the world.  Either way, I’m not going to allow anything to hold me back any longer.

Have you ever allowed yourself to kill your dreams because you didn’t feel as if you were good enough?  What is stopping you from achieving them now?

Am I Enough?

Last night I had a very long conversation with one of my gamer friends about why I stopped gaming.  He was calling BS on the fact that gaming is a problem for me.  Mostly because he would like me to really get into Guild Wars 2.

We had a great gaming-social network back in our WoW days and I think he wants to try to re-create that in GW2.  He misses the camaraderie of our group.  We played pvp (player vs. player) battles.  Our faction, the Alliance, battled against players who made up the other faction, the Horde.  Our group extended beyond our Alliance team.  We were also friends with many of the people who played Horde characters.  We talked back and forth on the message boards and we joined each others vent chats.  (pre-Skype voice chat program).  We had a lot of fun.

He misses that, and frankly I do too.  I just cannot bring myself to game right now.  I may never again, at least not at the same level I did before.

He is a recovering alcoholic and has been doing the 12-step thing for about 15 years or so.  And I have talked about my battle with food on this blog as if it was an addiction.  I feel that for me, it is.  He wanted to understand how I felt gaming was part of the problem.

He thought I was blaming WoW for making me fat, which is what he was calling BS.  I was not and I do not blame World of Warcraft for my obesity.  I was fat before I started gaming.  I have only myself to blame for that situation, (my mother will be greatly relieved to hear that).

Here is my problem with gaming: avoidance.  While playing games, I ignored all of my other problems.  I allowed the game to consume all of my time so that I didn’t have to deal with my life falling apart around me.  I did not want to deal with my financial problems or my health problems, so I immersed myself in an imaginary world where my characters were powerful, capable, and financially solvent.

Gaming didn’t stop my other problems from getting out of control and taking over my life.  Gaming didn’t make my real life any better.  Just like binge eating didn’t solve anything.  My problems only got worse because I was not dealing with them.  In the end, I had to face my problems, both health and financial.  I had no choice.  I had to reign in my finances or risk losing everything I have.  I had to deal with my health or start preparing to die.

I was explaining this to my gamer friend when he asked me, “So what changed?  Why make these changes now?  Why, all of a sudden, are you enough?  What do you see now in yourself worth living for that you didn’t before?”

Those are hard questions, and I struggled to find an answer.  I imagine that these are questions he had to find answers for during his own recovery from addiction.

I am not sure if I have a complete answer for this or not, but I simply just decided that if I did not want to die, I had to find a way to live.  To quote Stephen King’s Shawshank Redemption, “It comes down to a simple choice.  Get busy living or get busy dying.”

I may not have thought I was enough of a reason, or good enough period, but I knew that was something that I needed to work on.  And I did.  I wouldn’t say I’m completely cured of low self-esteem, food addiction, avoidance, etc.  I struggle every day with all of my problems, but each day does get easier.

Once I started working on my problems, I was amazed at the number of people who were willing to help me, who cheered me on, who were so supportive in so many ways.  My sister encouraged me through the whole process and took me into her home for a month.  My mom helped me financially and came down to Virginia for the surgery.  My niece, who may not understand all of the changes I have made, totally loves it that I can go to museums with her and walk all over DC and go to fairs with her.  My brother and his wife are really happy to see how much I have improved.  My writer’s group dedicated an entire meeting to writing stories for and about me.  Not to mention, the members of my writers group routinely cheer me on and tell me how great I’m doing and how happy they are to see the positive changes in my life.  (I totally heart you guys!)  Even my gamer friend is happy for me, even if he is disappointed that I am not playing GW2.

I may not have thought that I was enough of a reason to live for when I started this process, but I quickly found out that a lot of people care about me and want good things for me.  I am constantly amazed and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love.  They think I am enough.  And that’s good enough for me.

Shenanigans

A couple of my friends called shenanigans on me last night.  I wrote the other day about feeling uncomfortable with some of the new attention I have been receiving, especially increased attention from men whether it is compliments, touching, hugging, or being ogled by random men while on a business trip.

Well, last night after my writer’s group several people complimented me on my weight loss.  I usually handle that well.  Then a guy friend of mine, we’ll call him Bobby, came up to me and complimented the t-shirt I was wearing and said, “You look really good in green, you should wear it more often.”  A really nice, neutral, fairly innocuous compliment.  My response?

“Oh my hair is just a mess today!  I look awful!”

When I said that, another friend, we’ll call her Joanna, jumped in and said, “Oh no, no, no, no, no!  That is no way to respond to a compliment!  How would you feel if I came up to you and said, ‘I don’t want you to get all bitchy on me Colleen, but you look really good in green.’  Rude huh?  That’s basically what you just did to him!”

I turned back to my friend and sheepishly said, “Thank you, Bobby.”

Then a bunch of them spent the rest of the night complimenting me and then applauding when I said “thank you” instead of deflecting the compliment with a self-deprecating comment.  One guy even told me I am simply going to have to get used to it because I am apparently a “looker.”

What can I say to that other than I know, right? 🙂

Anyway, this picture of me was taken last week at my training class in Texas, so it is fairly recent.

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