On Public Failure

One of the thorny facts of my existence is that I am, and always have been, overweight. Something that merely three years ago, I wouldn’t have said out loud with my mouth, but something that my body said out loud every single day. Obese, actually, according to my former BMI.

After several years participating in (closed) online communities for weight loss, there seems to be three schools of thought on whether to tell people about embarking on a health/weight loss/diet/fitness program.

  1. I don’t tell anyone because I am afraid I will fail (again).
  2. I don’t tell anyone because I don’t want rude/negative comments.
  3. I don’t tell anyone because it’s none of their business. This last one is code for: “I prefer to martyr myself and walk this long, lonely road alone.” OR, see #1.

There are a few who tell immediate family or very close friends, but it seems the majority of people hide it from the world. So I thought I would share a different perspective. A long one, but hang in there.

I have been overweight or at least struggling with my weight since I was 10 years old. My mom and I had been on every yo-yo diet ever. Richard Simmons Deal-a-Meal. Susan Powter’s exercise videos. Slim Fast. Atkins, South Beach, and every variation of low carb there was. I’d watch her weigh in at Weight Watcher meetings and stop for a dozen doughnuts on the way home (I just went along for the doughnuts.)

When I was older, I tried all of those things again, and Hydroxycut, Alli, appetite suppressants, HgH, meal replacements, Nutri-System, extreme calorie reduction, more low carb, everything. I peed on strips, choked down shakes, popped pills, and even tried to be hypnotized.

And the most important factor of all of these diets – HIDE them. She and I were the only ones who knew when each other was dieting, and when I got into high school and college, sometimes we would even hide it from each other, afraid of making the other jealous or feeling like a failure or withstanding comments from the other.

We HID everything. The fact that we were on a diet in the first place. The food we would HIDE to binge on later (literally – we both had places to hide the food and the evidence.) And the weight we gained or lost would also be HIDDEN – neither of us actually told each other how much we weighed during any of this process. And I never told anyone else either.

I’m sure you can see how unhealthy this all was. We *thought* we were holding each other accountable, “diet buddies”. But in fact, we were locked in an unhealthy relationship with each other and with food, and unfortunately, my young self learned everything from my mother’s behavior.

Bodies, weight, food, diets = SECRET = HIDE IT = BAD = GUILT = SHAME.

This is the way I grew up, and the way I felt for about 34 years.

The change I needed was a psychological one. About 2.5 years ago, I hit a high weight of 280 pounds. I stumbled in, for the third time, to a Weight Watchers meeting. I had finally changed to a less stressful job that would allow me the time to attend a lunch hour meeting down the block. I started in October 2016, convinced it would be just another failed attempt. I told NO ONE. Three months into this journey, I was doing ok with the program and had lost about 20 pounds.

But I discovered another SECRET.

My husband of 10 years, who had already been unfaithful to me multiple times and who was an emotionally abusive narcissist, cheated on me again. This time, with MY MOTHER.

(Pause for the obligatory jaw drop. Yes, there will be another, maybe several blogs about that.)

It was a SECRET relationship that had been going on for years, and unfortunately everyone around me, including my brother, saw things were “not right”, except me. I saw a lawyer in January 2017, a therapist that February, and a judge in April. In 4 months, I ended a 17-year relationship with my husband and a 34-year relationship with my mother.

I’m obviously leaving lots of details, pain, counseling, and heartache out here, and you’re probably thinking, “What does this have to do with anything?”.  I was about 6 months into my Weight Watchers journey, and despite all of the stress of divorce/moving/drama/single parenting, I was sticking to the plan. It was like the one sole thing that I could control and I hung onto it.

It was at this point, I decided to do everything different.

In the past, I would eat to soothe stress and emotions. So I didn’t, and found other ways to self-soothe.

In the past, I would go “off plan” for a meal, and then the day, and then the week…So I didn’t, and got right back on plan with the next meal.

In the past, I would HIDE or SNEAK food when no one was around. So I didn’t, and purposely ate in front of others.

In the past, I would have a bad day and not track my food, not wanting to see the damage. So I didn’t, and I tracked everything.

In the past, I thought I needed to reward myself with food. So I didn’t, and chose other rewards that I wanted even more.

In the past, I would tell NO ONE about what I was doing. So I didn’t, I told EVERYONE.

And a funny thing happened with this last one. I started by telling my son, really early on. He was 8 at the time and my ultimate “why”. I told him mama needed to be healthier so we could do more things together. And he was a safe space, because I knew that if he was the one telling me, “Mama, should you really eat that?”, that I was more likely to come to my senses and not get defensive with him. I will probably write a whole blog about how he has supported me and what he has learned – that I never did from my mom – through an out-in-the-open health journey.

I told my best friend. She, like me, had been up and down on many weight loss/fitness journeys in the past. I hesitated to tell her at the time because she was also riding the waves of her own struggle keeping weight off after skin surgery. I didn’t want her to feel guilty or compare to where she was currently. But because she’s my best friend, miraculously, she didn’t. She told me she was proud of me for sticking with it despite everything I was going through. These are the people that you hold close in your life.

Then I told my co-workers. I was lucky at the time to have a very supportive team, and being in HR, we were the ones kicking off lots of employee wellness initiatives. It felt good to start living by example. Two other women in the department were also on their own “programs” and we started encouraging each other, banned unhealthy snacks from the common area in the office, and kept lots of food in our desks and shared with each other. It was the support of this 9-person team that prompted me to come out of HIDING. I realized that the world IS full of people who will actually support you, not judge you, stay in their own lanes, but be there for you all the while.

It grew from there. My boss. My son’s teachers. Moms at his baseball games. Former co-workers and professional acquaintances. Even my ex-husband. I even talked about it in the interview for the job I have now.

Yes, there were people who I had to “let go of”. The ones who, upon seeing my now-noticeable weight loss, would comment “Look at you skinny! Ugh, I am so fat!”. I’m sure I had done it in the past, but I finally realized how unhelpful and un-encouraging it is to lift someone up by simultaneously putting yourself down. So I avoided interacting with those people. Or the people who would make comments like “Good luck, hopefully you can keep it off.” I didn’t need that kind of doubt or pre-conceived failure in my life anymore.

And most importantly of all, I let go of the most toxic of all the relationships – my mother. The one who taught me that what you eat in SECRET, you will be forced to wear in public.

Finally I started to date again – a scary proposition when you are a “work in progress”. I debated whether or not to “act normal” when going out for food. But by that time, a year into my journey and 80 pounds into my weight loss, “normal” WAS healthy. So I DID ME. The very first date I had told me I wasn’t “athletic enough”, whatever that means, in a text 30 minutes after our date. Despite having shared full-body (clothed) pictures beforehand, apparently a size 16 me who had just started to take up running just wasn’t skinny enough. So I texted back, “I may not be what you are looking for, but you should know that I have worked very hard and lost 80 pounds to get to this point.” Bye Felicia. I went on another date with a different guy the next week.

I dated for about 6 months and every guy I went out with more than once heard my story. Brave, I know. But I needed someone who was going to walk right alongside me. Accept where I was, where I am, and where I will be, whenever I decided where that was. I needed someone to join me on all the new adventures I get to have, who will put up with my distance running and race schedule, who won’t force me to eat a burger when I need to eat a salad (and won’t laugh when I use a very ginormous bowl).

And that goes for everyone in my life. They either belong, or they don’t. They either support every aspect that makes me ME, or they don’t.

About a year ago and still 80 pounds down, I also shared some of my story on social media. The outpouring was enormous. The people who don’t care – I’m sure they scrolled on by. But the people who did care, they SHOWED UP for me. They check in with me privately now, and I’ve had 12 different people – friends from high school, college, or even people in my professional network – ask me for help. What program did you use? How did you start running? What shoes should I buy for my first 5k? How did I get off a plateau? They’ve told me that I’ve inspired them – there are three mother/son duos I know who are out running their own races now because I’ve shared my story about me and my kid.

I started Noom after a year stalled out at an 80-pound loss. What had been working wasn’t working anymore, so I did something DIFFERENT than I would have done before – rather than give up, I changed strategies. Since joining Noom 16 weeks ago, I’ve lost another 20 pounds and have only 2.5 more pounds until my official 100-pound loss. I started at a size 22 and 2x, and now am a size 10 and Medium.

For those of you that are afraid to share with others because you don’t want to fail publicly – where do you think I would be without the support network, without weeding out unhelpful people? Even IF I would have lost some weight and gained it back, those people would have noticed I failed anyway. (You wear it in public, remember?)

And they would have never gotten the opportunity to be part of my success. I would have never received the benefit of their support and encouragement. I would have never known who is a loyal friend, and who is only worried about comparison and competition.

So I’m not telling you to go shout it from the rooftops. I understand having a spouse who is not supportive, a family who puts you down, nasty co-workers, or friends who don’t build you up. But what I am asking you is to stop thinking about this in terms of failure. Stop refusing to share because you already have it in your head that people will pre-judge you for a failure you haven’t even experienced yet. If your network is really so bad that you can’t trust anyone to treat you with kindness – you need a new network! There is power in telling a stranger your story, and you never know who you might inspire.

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