Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dispatches from BW

You may be wondering who this strange new voice here on the BDHQ blog is. My name is Melissa, and I’m a long-time participant in the Biggest Winner program, aka BW. For those of you not aware of the program it’s a program that runs in a 12 week cycle, offering four group workouts per week, plus nutrition and life coaching, to participants who have a significant amount of weight to lose. More info on the program is available here. There are as many stories and reasons for being in the group as there are participants, and I’m not qualified to speak to anyone’s experience but mine. I’m sharing it here because, based on conversations I’ve had with other B-Dubers, I know that there are elements of it that other people will relate to.

I’ve struggled with weight and body image my whole life. And when I say my whole life I mean that starting in Grade One I wouldn’t wear jeans because I thought they made me look fat. I’m 35 now, so suffice it to say that I have a lot of years’ experience in viewing my body negatively. It’s my shtick. It’s what I do. The danger here is that a repeated thought can become a belief, and that belief can become a truth. In essence, I thought myself fat.

About four years ago I came to the Biggest Winners program because I was frustrated, fed up, scared and ashamed of how much weight I had gained. I met Michele, and, not going to lie, was a little intimidated by the her intensity. She scheduled me in for a fit test, and shortly thereafter I was signed up, head spinning, wondering what I had done.

My first two sessions I lost somewhere between 30 and 35 lbs. I felt stronger and more confident than I had in years. I stopped because I thought I had the foundation to carry on on my own. Not so much. Over the next year I gained about 12 lbs back. Not a catastrophe, but not fantastic either. I rejoined for a session, lost about 10 lbs and left again. I had a lot of reasons (read: excuses). It was expensive. I was tired of it. I should be able to do it on my own. Looking back I can see what was really going on - I’d lost enough weight to not be the fat girl but not enough to be the hot girl. I was in the Neutral Zone, and as much as I wasn’t particularly happy there, it was home.

Just before Christmas of 2010 I had a health crisis. I’ll spare the gnarly details; suffice it to say that several years of neglected IBS joined forces with mounting work stress to form a storm of anxiety and GI problems that that forced me to take an extended medical leave and, eventually, quit my job. The year that followed was incredibly rough, and I am very fortunate to have had a lot of support, including from BDHQ, in getting through it.

In some ways, my health apocalypse was a blessing. When you’re sick and at home for an extended period of time, it’s pretty hard to get away from your own BS. I admitted to myself that my life, in some very fundamental ways, was just not working for me. I was forced to seek help for the anxiety and GI issues, and doing so helped me to admit to some much longer standing problems. My issues with body image and food had culminated in over 20 years of struggling with alternately restricted eating, binge eating and bulimia. I knew it was time to take this head on, and I started working with a counselor and nutritionist at the Eating Disorder Program. It’s a daunting and emotional process, but I decided I've given enough of my life to shame and self hatred, and it was time to move on.

Working with the Eating Disorder Program has helped me to make some key realizations, that, while specific to me, I think will resonate with a lot of people, and not just BWers.
  • Obsessing about food, weight and my body has not made me thinner, happier or healthier. It has made me overweight, anxious and depressed.
  • I repeat patterns because they are working. Even if I think they aren’t working (keeping me overweight and miserable) they are working (insulating me in some way).
  • Going to the gym and working out is the easy part. The hard part is owning up to the head game and stepping up to take it on.
  • It’s all well and good to intellectually recognize these truths, but I have to be willing to do the emotional work to face them and move forward. Recognition in and of itself won’t have a lasting impact.
  • Overweight, incapable and a quitter is not who I am. It is a story I have told myself about who I am.
  • It doesn’t matter where the story I tell myself about who I am came from. I am accountable for it now, and I am responsible to change it.
  • Changing my story is going to take a lot of work.
I’m working really hard to get this all sorted out, and part of that work is redefining my relationship with my body, food, and what Healthy means to me. It’s a work in progress, and this is where it stands so far:
  • I have issues with body image, food and weight. I am not defined by them.  
  • I am striving for a balanced relationship with body image, food and fitness.
  • Strict messaging about food puts me at risk of trading one form of disordered eating for another. I recognize that I need to develop a ‘normal’ relationship with food before I can jump to a laser focus on strictly ‘healthy’ eating.
  • Labeling certain foods as good or bad has not served me well. There are foods that should be eaten in greater abundance than others, but no food is inherently bad. 
  • I acknowledge my physical challenges and limitations, will work to overcome them, and have the grace to not feel defeated if I do not.
  • I will accept my body’s biology (physical and mental). I will work to mold it into the strongest, fittest, healthiest version it is capable of, but will not dishonour it by attempting to force it to be something it is not.
  • I will appreciate and work to enhance what my body is capable of, not obsess over what it is not, or what I wish it could be.
  • I understand that with work and determination my body and mind will be capable of more.
  •  I will not overlook the small accomplishments. I will high-five myself on a regular basis for my achievements.
  • I will stop worrying about what other people are doing, and how my efforts compare. 
Am I 100% on task with these 100% of the time? Heck no. Am I totally terrified of failing miserably and going back to my comfortable shroud of habitual negativity? Heck yes. But ... I have a set of parameters to guide me going forward, and having shared them I can be held accountable to them.

After our last workout Michele asked us to share with the group why we were there. Why BW. I have a lot of reasons, but tired and sweaty at 10am on a Sunday is not my most articulate time. These are my reasons:
  • I recognize that no amount of exercise and diet advice is going to have a long-term, sustainable impact unless I work on the underlying issues of why I use food and weight to repress myself. I am committed to tackling these issues through counseling, and believe that empowering myself physically by working out will support the work I am doing mentally. 
  • I want to create a future where I recognize my strength and capability, and feel empowered.
  • I struggle with motivation, and am more likely to show up when I am accountable to a group.
  • Among that group are people that inspire me daily, and make me feel like I can achieve more. I’m looking at you, Molly.
  • I have strong relationships with trainers who have my best interests at heart, support me, and believe in my ability when I sometimes do not.
  • I believe in the strength and ability of each individual in that group, and that, in turn, makes me trust in mine.
I have a lot of work to do, but with the support of the amazing group of people in BW, the trainers at BDHQ, the counselors at the Eating Disorder Program and, most importantly myself, I am developing the confidence that I can get there. I can have respect and love for my body and myself as a whole. I can have a normal relationship with food. I can eat for pleasure and for health. I can create and meet fitness goals.

If any of this reads as familiar I urge you to seek support. Talk to your doctor about counseling options. Seek the advice of a nutritionist. Work to change your messaging about food. Every diet, every negative thought about your body and your relationship to food makes it harder to regain a balanced relationship with food, nutrition and body image. You are capable. Sometimes it just takes finding a few people to believe it for you until you can start to believe it yourself.

1 comment:

  1. Great post - some very wise words Melissa - and congratulations on your journey - your courage to share your story is inspiring!