What I learned in 2007 by Vicki Bright
I weighed 210 pounds on January 6, 2007. Spurred on my the desire to improve my health I decided to actively lose weight and through a year of effort and support I weighed 60 pounds less in December, 2007. While I had gone through the year trying not to think about “the number” and trying more to focus on how I feel, I found that the numbers became central in my life. Other people appeared to have no concept of what I actually weighed, so when I told people I lost 60 pounds they would stare in disbelief. I would say “I was 210 pounds” and they remained shocked. I understood that weight was in the eyes of the beholder and not easily quantified by others. I have met and have read about people who have lost a great deal more than 60 pounds. I have lost “half of me” as one woman said to me of her over 100 pound weight loss. I lost 2 full bags of 30 pound dog food, 12 newborn babies or 6 bags of grapefruits.
It was quite a journey losing the weight and the impact on my personal and public life was astounding and devastating. I was not mentally or emotionally equipped for the end result. The constant development of my inner identity and my self-esteem was amazing and a sometimes surreal journey. I will not deny I enjoyed getting thinner and achieving a slimmer, healthier body yet in the end it was not worth it financially or emotionally. It was the reaction of others I actually did not think about when I decided to begin to try to lose weight. It never occurred to me that I would have to develop a whole new way of responding to others when they are talking about me in a very open and public way. It seemed to be OK for others to give me advice to “stop now”, as if it was like turning a light switch on and off.
My weight loss that year was physically dramatic. I was in the public eye, available to be commented upon and questioned. When one makes a body transformation one is putting themselves out there for scrutiny and questioning. People question whether you are sick, stressed or on drugs. The ego becomes ever-present, because when engaging in weight loss in public you are allowed to talk about your achievements freely. I had one day planned to count the number of days my weight loss was a topic of conversation or garnered some attention. While I never did this I expected it was at least 10 times a day. People are fascinated by perceived positive body change. I found myself to be a source of encouragement or envy, depending on which side of the fence one sits.
The internal, very deep and personal changes cannot be explained, sometimes even to me. It is almost as if I was blindsided to the results of the effort. I imagine planting seeds, spending the season tilling the soil and watering the garden only to discover a huge bounty, an unexpected abundance and being surprised by the enormity of the result. I questioned my ability to be able to achieve a significant weight loss, because the propaganda running through my head said that if I managed to be fat before why did I think I am capable of managing to lose it now? This is just the beginning because no matter how hard you try or what you achieve based on cultural expectations it will never be enough. I chastised myself because giving no thought to the emotional ramifications indicated that I was shallow. When “thin” world is something new it is easy to get sucked into the illusion that being thinner means you are physically so much more desirable. As a feminist I am mortified that I admit to buying into the ideal that thin is better.
The decision to lose SOME weight was premeditated. As a human being I have failings, and am often full of judgment of others. I own this part of myself; I know that I have at times been sucked into the crap that comes with fat phobia. I am openly anti-consumer culture and the way society generally over indulges in food and drinks and lifestyle generally choosing to be unhealthy was often on my mind. I judged myself for being lazy, not putting in the right amount of effort needed to be able to not have a BMI in the “obese” range. I am entirely guilty of paying attention to the reports on the rising cost on social and health care of obesity in North America. I too had several weight related health issues over the years, and ridding myself of regular heart burn and back pain was very appealing when I decided to take the plunge. Being overweight clouded the lens from which I viewed myself. I would know I was overweight, I could stand naked for hours and see myself with rolls of fat and no definition, yet I did not see myself as being really overweight. Yet I still strived not to be that woman I saw in the mirror.
I am an extroverted type, outgoing and generally friendly. I am constantly “working on myself”, wanting to make improvements physically, spiritually, emotionally. This is a major and important part of who I am. I had several revelations the year I lost weight which made me wonder if I had lived up to my true potential or was the person I am “meant” to be. I also came to recognize that my life is actually just beginning and not over yet. If anything I began to wonder why I waited this long to make these changes to “better” myself.
I turned 40 in June, 2007 and I wanted to be able to say “I am 40” with pride, not in a way that indicated to others that I was just another overweight middle-aged woman losing the drive to be healthy or fit, or pretty or whatever I was told I needed to be. I also knew that I was growing personally in a way that comes with being a 40-year-old woman. I felt smarter, capable, more open and I liked myself. If this was the case why then did I want to change.
When one is overweight having an outgoing manner can divert attention away from the body type and the weight “issue” and allow the person, or people around you to focus a bit more on your behaviors. I believe that overweight people are not a threat to “others”, and so “others” can associate with overweight types, their control and power intact. Research indicates that there is a belief by the thin world that those who are overweight as slower and dumber. I have always been a physically active, and was working towards a graduate degree in 2007. I was not thin, but I am not dumb.
I began this journey by thinking I need help. I needed a guide to follow, because I know myself and I am human and I know that I need something to be accountable to. Despite this thinking in the beginning I realize the thing I am accountable to is me. This concept alone tells me that the human psyche, the ego, is a controlling and vicious critic.
Once the decision was made I told my friends. There were certain people who I knew would be questioning my decision and motivation for the change. I remember almost ceremoniously ensuring I had time with certain friends, announcing that in the New Year I will begin to lose weight. I recall one day in particular standing on a corner with my friend and blurting it out “I am going to lose weight”, almost as if I was dumping a lover. I believe I told my friend in this way because I respected what she thought and also because I needed her support. I could not do it on my own, and I knew this. If I could I would have done it before now. I decided that I would not be a person who would hide what I was doing as if I was ashamed. I joined Weight Watchers (WW) on January 6, 2007 after researching the location and timing of the meeting.
Upon my arrival on the first meeting day the first people I saw were women I knew from work. This was a bizarre and funny beginning to this journey, as we sat together in a cold basement on a Saturday morning. These women asked me not to mention that I had seen them at the meeting, “the secrecy of weight loss”, though I understood their reason for the request. This type of trip has a great deal of “knowing” which comes with it, and this can only come from being in the same place as others. Like a member of an AA meeting unless you have been an alcoholic you cannot begin to understand the language or the struggle. You need to have been there.
I had one very interesting exchange with a friend of mine, a former work colleague who came to have lunch with me when I had lost a considerable amount of weight. She openly and easily conversed in language of WW, asking me how my maintenance had gone and how much I could be below my goal before I got penalized. This friend is very petite and when I asked if she had been to a WW meeting she said “No, but my friends go”. I realized that she was able to speak the language because she was around others who speak the language, you did not need to be part of WW to be part of WW.
I knew of WW as a middle-class phenomena where privileged , mostly white, women came together to buy into the thin ideal. I researched the origins of WW, turned off by the fact that the founder, a woman hailed from the US, a “house wife” and a product of the 50’s. But still I went, because I needed the support and I did not want to pay $400 a week for plastic food, drink weird slimy shakes 5 times a day or eat eggs, bacon, mayonnaise and butter as my staple diet.
The moment of truth, the weigh in, revealed the 210 pounds I carried. The scale I weighed on the first day was the only scale I weighed myself on all year. I quickly learned that in order to stay on the path to weight loss I needed to follow these small mental tricks. As Jane, the leader of my meeting stated “ Losing weight is 95% mental”. I must say I agreed with Jane about this, I learned all year how my brain could play tricks and how easily my efforts could be sabotaged.
And so I did it. I fought to become a thinner version of me, to display myself proudly in slimmer clothes with my male friends describing me as “hot”. This always led me to wonder what they thought of me before. I will never know.
The journey of weight loss was less than a year and it did not last. Fast forward 7 years later to the here and now. I wrote most of this piece immediately after I lost the 60 pounds and spent a fair bit of hard-earned cash for the support to do so. It was such a thrill to weigh in and see a smaller number on the scale yet it was never enough. I always wanted something else and this is why involving oneself in a group weight loss mentality was not healthy for me.
Over the 7 years I have put on some of the 60 pounds I “released” in 2007. I ended my 18 year marriage in which I was deeply unhappy and which likely contributed to some of my emotional eating. Upon our parting he said to me “I even loved you when you was fat, I did not have to do that.” In hearing these words I remember smiling to myself and realizing I could no longer be with anyone who thought of weight as a contagious disease.
I met the love of my life in 2009, remarried and had a baby girl at 43 years old. I became a vegan, after being vegetarian for 30 years. I moved from city Canada to country Australia. My life completely changed and what I found was when I did not care about weight and I loved me for me I am happy!
I am still anti consumer culture and give little thought to fashion or celebrities in fact even less so now. I pay attention to living a stress free as possible, I meditate, I maintain few but quality friendships and spend my days ensuring my family and the ones I love have their needs taken care of by themselves and by me.
The one lesson I learned from losing weight, from chasing skinny, is that numbers on a scale do not make you who you are. I am not 145 pounds or 210 pounds or anything in between. I have no idea what I weigh. As long as I am healthy I do not care. I pay careful attention not to comment on the “size” of others as I do not want to be part of the dialogue which condemns people for being who they are.
Today I am a vegan cook and blogger and I spend my days thinking about food in a different way. I write about food, I create recipes and I do my best to I think about health, nutrition and being good role model for my children.
I am glad 2007 happened. I am able to look back on that year as one which was literally life changing and I can see the lessons I was supposed to learn. For that, for all of it, I will be forever grateful.
Vicki Bright writes the blog Vee’s Easy Vegan.