My friend Racheal reached out to me to ask if she could write something for my blog. She told me she had been inspired by my blog but that there is something more now to that inspiration and she wanted to share it with my readers. I, of course, said yes. It was both humbling and exciting to even have been asked. Racheal has been a part of my life for over 8 years now and with me throughout my journey since very early on. I am beyond thrilled to share her story with all of you :)
I have spent most of my life disliking the way I look. From a young age, I had been told by my family and the kids at school that I was overweight, that I was fat. Hearing this repeatedly, especially from the people in my life that are supposed to love me unconditionally, helped me learn and adopt several bad behaviors. The first, to dislike myself and the second, to have a bad relationship with food. By the time I was 16, I had successfully learned how to use food to make me feel better and that if you eat too much, you can never lose weight. Along with that, the message that "fat girls don't get married" became a regular thing that my mother said to me. So as most teenagers do, striving to fit in and being extremely aware of my size (my first driver's license listed my weight at 235 pounds), I pretty much stopped eating. I saved my lunch money daily and bought cd's instead of lunch and didn't each much for dinner. After having this kind of behavior for two years, I gained 18 pounds and graduated from high school at 253 pounds. And you know what, I still hated the way I looked.
In college, I tried different weight loss diet plans. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, the drops, and so on. You name it, I tried it. I still managed to gain weight despite trying to follow these programs as well as any college kid can. And I still hated the way that I looked and the way I felt about myself. But I did enjoy my time in college and made some really great friends.
After graduation, I moved out on my own with my first real job to start my career. I went back to Weight Watchers, because I figured life was different now. I wasn't reliant on the school cafeteria anymore and I could cook my own food. This time around with this program, it was different. I lost almost 60 pounds over the course of about a year. And you would think that I would feel great about myself and my accomplishment. But I didn't. I still didn't care much for the way I looked. I still saw myself as the 286 pound woman that I was the year before even though my clothes were significantly smaller and I was starting to shop in the Misses department. I really didn't know why I was so unhappy with myself. I mean, I had grown up being told how my life's happiness would come from losing weight. But it wasn't. I mean, I had a good job, amazing friends, supportive family, a great place to live, and most importantly, aside from my weight, I was in good health. What more could I ask for?
What more could I ask for? I repeat the question intentionally. From the outside, I felt like everything should be perfect. From the inside, I still hated the way I looked. I hated my body. And for the next 8 years of my life, I would continue feeling the same way. I even got married in that time, advanced my career, had some amazing experiences that most people could only dream of having. And yet, deep down, I wasn't happy with myself. I was still an overweight woman and even though fat girls do get married, this fat girl still had major apprehension about her body.
A few years ago, Dacia reached out to me and shared a link to her blog with me. I started reading her blog, and what she had to say really resonated with me. I could relate and for the first time, I felt like someone else got how I felt about myself and what I was going through. Even sitting through those Weight Watchers meetings, I felt like no one understood my journey and the mountain I felt like I was facing. And of course, through her blog, I started reading others, and a lot more books, articles and magazines about health and weight loss. There was one common theme that I kept seeing. Anyone can lose weight, but not everyone can keep the weight off. Those that have kept the weight they lost off have been the ones that have learned to love themselves as they are.
Learn to love myself as I am. That seems simple enough. I mean, I love my personality, my ability to do my job really well, how I build relationships, and so on. But here's the thing, that's all the stuff that's on the inside. Not once have I ever loved my outside. So now here's another tough question that I had to figure out. How do I love my outside when I've spent a lifetime hating it?
How do I love my outside when I've spent a lifetime hating it? I agonized over this question and how to answer it for the longest time. I read more about health and weight loss. I grasped at every topic even closely relating to this topic. I even considered bariatric surgery to help me learn to love my outside (this consideration did not last long for me, not that there is anything wrong with it, it's just not for me). I was almost obsessed and still striving on some level to "lose weight to feel better about myself." But I already knew that this wasn't the answer. I'd lost weight before (that 60 pounds I lost, I gained it all back along with 20 more) so how would losing weight again help me love myself? It doesn't. Weight Watchers even told me repeatedly that as you lose weight you'll start to love your new body. I started to hate my body even more as I had lost the weight. I mean, almost every part of me between my shoulders and my thighs was covered in stretch marks and my boobs were starting to sag something fierce. This was like a new barrier in my mind even. I mean, how could you love looking like you have the skin of a senior citizen when you are in your early 30's?
This past November, I tore the ACL in my right knee. I had surgery in March to reconstruct it, just so that I could walk enough for my job daily, let alone anything else. During the first 3 months of recovery, I learned how to answer the question. So how have I learned to love my outside when I've spent a lifetime hating it? It all started with having this surgery. Instead of being angry about everything that I couldn't do, I appreciated what I could do. This started with the littlest of things, being able to get into the car to go home from surgery without bending my one knee. The people at the hospital honestly thought they were going to have to do more to help me, and when I realized after the drugs wore off that I did that all by myself (mostly), I was proud. This appreciation and pride in my body started so small, but kept going. Every day was something new. I could get myself in and out of the bed by myself, shower by myself (if you think climbing over the side of a tub while on crutches and with a knee that doesn't bend is easy, think again), and so on. This appreciation and pride that was growing helped me tell my husband daily that we were not having fast food for dinner, we were going to have something home cooked and healthy.
I sit here now, 3 months post op, and I am in a very different place with myself than I could have ever imagined I would be because of that whole thing. But honestly, finding that appreciation of my body and what it could do has really helped me drastically change the way that I feel about myself. I love my outside just as much as the inside. And as that change has taken place, all of my choices have changed drastically. I opt for healthier food because it's what I want, not because it feels like a chore. I exercise because it's actually fun and not a chore, even doing some of the things that I hate doing are more fun. And I'm realizing with the 12 pounds that I've lost since I had knee surgery that if I wouldn't have found this love for myself that I think my health would be greatly suffering.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that anyone should have knee surgery, or any other kind of surgery, to find their appreciation or love of themself. What I am saying is that you should take the time to look at what you can do and appreciate that about yourself. Even if it's something as little as getting in and out of the car, or as much as running a marathon. It takes time. Day by day, being proud of all those little things that you can do adds up and makes a difference.
I hope you enjoyed reading Racheal's story as much as I did. As you know, I am an advocate for self love and body acceptance at any/every size- I feel that is the key to being able to lose and then maintain weight loss for me. I am super excited to be able to support Racheal along on her journey the way she has done for me. So please send some love and encouragement her way - talking about the tough stuff on a public forum is not an easy thing to do. This girl definitely has chutzpah!
Love and hugs,