I'm a firm believer in the idea, that in order to give something up that's not working for you, you need to adopt something that does. So if in 2010, we're going to choose not to hop on the big fat cycle of panic, fantasy, fear, anger and self-loathing, we need to find an adequate replacement.
The only adequate replacement is self-love. As my good friend Clint reminded me this morning. It is the starting place for all real change in our lives. It is elusive and difficult to achieve--but completely necessary for moving forward. How do we achieve it? Let me tell you a little story:
Believe it or not, I wasn’t birthed fully formed out of the womb as a fitness guru who calls herself The Fat Chick. Like many of you, I have endured days of sadness and frustration. The journey from sad sack to magnificent fat chick was a long and bumpy, but very exciting road. Let me tell you a little bit about my story.
I remember the day quite clearly. I was in the kitchen with my husband and I was crying inconsolably. I was crying because I was fat and I believed being fat was cause to be miserable. My husband told me that I looked great. He assured me that he loved me just the way I was. The sad thing was, I would not and could not believe him. I tried to diet, but found I couldn’t stick with it. I tried to exercise, but I really struggled. I hired a personal trainer, but grew tired of the badgering and emotional abuse, and I quit. I tried a step aerobics class, but was tired of struggling at the back of the class to lift my aching knees as fast as the other students. I tried to train for a marathon, but wound up with a stress fracture in my foot by the third week. I felt like a failure, and I was miserable.
Now, fast forward to another day, much later, in Springfield Missouri, as I’m about to cross the finish line of my first marathon. It was very quiet. There was no “finish line” to speak of (they had taken it down hours earlier). But I limped across the sidewalk where the finish line had been, raised my exhausted arms in victory and sobbed like a baby. But this time, they were tears of joy. My friend Mary Ann and I cried together as we celebrated my first ever marathon finish.
Comes another day, later still. It was at least 95 degrees in our makeshift video studio. My friends Nora, Mary Ellen, Mary Ann and I had been doing aerobics in that heat for over four hours, shooting footage for my new exercise video, The Fat Chick Works Out!
So how did it happen? How did I motivate myself to evolve from that pathetic, sobbing creature in the kitchen to a triathlete, marathon runner, licensed aerobics instructor and personal trainer and fitness celebrity who proudly calls herself “The Fat Chick”?
Actually a lot happened during that time of conversion. But it started with one little idea that changed everything. It was a simple idea, and in retrospect, an obvious one. It was very simply, “what if I stopped obsessing about my weight, and started living my life as if I already had lost weight?”
It was a revolutionary concept. I stopped weighing and measuring every morsel of food that went into my mouth. No more food exchanges. No more points. No more food journal. No weighing myself. And no more measuring my self worth based on the numbers on a scale.
I began living my life as if I were already thin. There were so many things I wanted to do after I lost weight. I wanted new clothes. I wanted a new hairdo. I wanted to teach aerobics classes. I wanted to be on TV. I wanted to be a Hollywood producer. And one day, I decided to stop wasting my life while minding my waist and to start living the life of my dreams, right now.
So one day, I went to the local YWCA and told them that I wanted to become an aerobics instructor so I could help other beginning exercisers. Frankly, some people looked at me funny. Several said that it wasn’t a good idea. I almost gave up. Then I met Ahmena, a loving, beautiful, joyful woman who taught aerobics at the Y. She also happened to be fat. I am so grateful to her. She taught me the mechanics of teaching a successful aerobics class. What’s more, she never doubted for one second that I could do it. Before long, I was teaching a class of my own.
I learned an awful lot from teaching aerobics. I learned that with ANY type of exercise, you need to start from wherever you are. If you can only do five minutes of the class, then do five minutes. Then the next week, do six minutes. Do only what you can and don’t be embarrassed by it. Another thing I learned, was that when you separate fitness training from the expectation of weight loss, it is really fun! I discovered that I loved it! And for the first time in my life, I really appreciated what exercise could do for me. I slept well. I felt great. Stress just melted away. I also saw what exercise did for my students. Some lost weight. Some didn’t. Some got off diabetes or blood pressure medications. Some found that they could now run up to our second-story dance studio without huffing and puffing. Some found a new, bolder and braver sense of self. Some simply found a way to spend an hour away from family and work obligations to take care of themselves. There was something for everybody. Ultimately, I became a certified aerobics instructor and personal trainer.
But I didn’t stop there. On New Year’s Eve my husband and I went to dinner with our good friends Jeff and Mary Ann. It was an eight-course dinner with a very nice wine. We drank a lot of wine. Mary Ann mentioned that she always wanted to do a marathon. “Me too!” I cried. (Did I mention there was a lot of wine?) By the time the fruit and cheese and midnight champagne arrived, Mary Ann and I had made a pact to do a marathon together. She was with my every step for 26.2 miles. The training was hard. Finishing was grueling. But it was one of the most spectacular moments of my life. I am so grateful to Mary Ann for helping me get there.
Over the years, I have had a lot of time to reflect about what it took to get me across that finish line. I had to accurately assess, without shame or embarrassment, exactly what my level of fitness was and devise a plan to gradually and safely ramp my exercise abilities to meet my goal. I had to learn to redefine success to something that was reasonable and achievable for me. I had to make sure that I wouldn’t walk and run 26.2 miles just to feel like a failure. And I had to learn to rely on the kindness of others. Without my husband, my parents, Mary Ann, Ahmena and many others, I never would have made it.
I learned to have confidence and I learned to have faith. I learned to find help and accept help. I learned that by making one small step and then another, I could conquer marathons and climb mountains. And I most of all, I learned not to waste any more of my life worrying about my waist. When I think back of all the lost years--the years I could have been happy and the years I could have been moving forward, it makes me sad and angry. But mostly it makes me determined. Not just to live every day of my life as fully and deeply as I can, but also, to help others learn what I have learned. It’s a tough life sometimes, being The Fat Chick. I’ve been yelled at and bullied on television and national radio shows. I’ve been spat at by complete strangers in the course of sharing my story. But you know what? If I can help you reclaim one year, one week or even one day of your life, it will be worth it. I am committed to helping you stop weighting around for your life to start.