Losing weight is strange when you’ve decided to take away the power your scale or size held over you.
My entire life has been spent obsessing over my weight. If I were to guess, my body awareness started when I was like 7. Growing up with cheerleading as my main sport exposed me to kids who were half my size. At that age, you have no concept of how biology plays a role in your size and no way to understand that, even at my smallest, you would literally have had to saw my body in half to make me a flyer. I had an athletic build, the product of being a daughter of a NFL defensive lineman, but as a kid I just wanted to be a flyer because they were the stars of the mat.
Around 5th grade I started dieting. Consciously choosing to bring salads or grilled chicken to school instead of PB&J. I was a normal, healthy, athletic size but I wanted to be tiny. I went home and cried when my cheerleading coach called me buff because I thought she meant I was fat. Although my main sports (cheerleading and softball) relied heavily on lower body strength, I purposely avoided any exercise that would make my quads any bigger than they were. It didn’t stem from home. My mom provided healthy dinners without any problematic connotations to us needing to lose weight. My dad was the opposite – when it was his turn to feed us, we got the fun stuff like McDonald’s. My mom always took interest and supported if I wanted to eat healthy or exercise beyond my practices, but she never once made me feel like I had to. I had a great support system at home – it was everyone else (myself included) that made me feel like shit for the way I looked.
When I quit cheerleading, that issue of feeling like shit for being overweight didn’t go away. It decreased a bit, because I didn’t have the added pressure of being in enough shape to stay on the squad, but it was still lingering. My only sport was softball, which wasn’t competitive so never had things like hell weeks or conditioning practices. I was involved in musicals, and would take some dance classes here and there, but the constant high level physical activity was removed and I started gaining weight. Without much knowledge of how to maintain my weight in a healthy way through a normal exercise routine, I just stopped eating. I never ate breakfast, rarely ate lunch & always ate just enough at dinner to keep my family from getting suspicious. I grew used to headaches & dizziness. I weighed myself constantly. I was obsessed with my weight & all things weight loss. I watched the Biggest Loser religiously. I tried all the diets. I would even freeze yogurt cups to eat as “dessert”. Inevitably, after losing like 15 pounds in two weeks, I’d be starving enough to completely binge & then continue to eat too much (and all the wrong things) for about a month. I’d gain the weight I lost and then some.
This followed me into adulthood. I’d gain too much weight then do some fad diet to try and lose it. I’d lose 20 pounds, get sick of dieting, then gain 40. I went up and down and up and down & the only thing that stayed constant was I never liked the way I looked at any weight.
I was at my heaviest when I broke my knee. Breaking my knee put a sudden stop on my comedy career, which at the time was thriving, and launched me into one of the worst depressions I’ve ever faced. I completely lost my identity since I wasn’t performing or coaching anymore. On top of that, I lost the control over my body that I took for granted up until then. There was one particularly difficult day– I was relearning how to walk for the first in what would be four times and the walk from my bus stop to apartment, which usually took five minutes, was defeating me. It took me five minutes to go two blocks & I was still about four blocks away. I was exhausted, I was tired & I was depressed. I promised myself that I would never take my ability to walk for granted again. All I wanted to do was be able to walk a few blocks without crying from pure exhaustion.
My first mountain was walking. Then regaining the muscles in my leg, only to have them depleted recovering from my first surgery, then walking again, then building up my muscles again, then having them shrink to nothing with my second surgery. After my second surgery, I wasn’t allowed to touch my foot to the ground for over two months, which meant I was in a wheelchair and left to completely depend on my right leg (all while living alone & far away from family). I remember how going to my pantry to grab a few graham crackers felt like running a marathon. The sheer amount of energy it took to get to the bathroom left me dehydrating myself as much as I could. Everything was physically difficult. When I was finally allowed to start using crutches, there were still a million little mountains to overcome, but I knew the worst of it was over. I was in awe of how strong I was to have gone through the type of recovery I had.
I thought back to my initial promise at the start of my injury — I will never take the ability to walk for granted again. I realized that promise grew. I told myself I would never take my body for granted. That it is one fucking powerhouse of a vessel. Although I was the largest, most out of shape and damaged I have ever been in my life, I finally starting loving my physical body.
Instead of wearing old ass clothes that were cheap because I wanted to lose weight and didn’t want to spend money on clothing my size, I bought nice things that looked good on me. I donated all of my smaller jeans & rid my closet of any of those “skinny” items I wanted to badly to eventually fit in that only made me feel like shit. Through loving my body for getting me through everything it had thus far, I finally accepted and started loving my size. For the first time, literally ever, I was happy to live in the body I was given.
Because of all that self-love, I cared more about feeling good in general. I started eating well because I was sick of feeling lethargic. When my surgeon cleared me to join a gym again, I got lucky and ended up at one with a group of people who pushed and supported me as I continued to hit recovery milestones. Instead of dieting, I looked at food as nourishment. I picked stuff that I knew was full of nutrients and avoided things that made me feel sick. I didn’t make anything off limits and indulged when I wanted to. I just made sure to make the best decision I could in the moment. I started weighing myself daily – not as an obsession like I used to, but more of a measurement like height. I was also curious to see if my theory of throwing away diets, calorie counting & starving myself actually worked. Two things learned from weighing myself daily… 1- My weight fluctuated by 2-5lbs daily, so weighing myself every morning & taking an average for the week was much more accurate and healthy than picking a day of the week and letting whether or not I’m holding excess water have an impact on my mood. 2- The power that my weight held over me started diminishing by making it a daily habit. Removing the significance of “weigh ins” removed the power of the number. Also, for the first time in my life, I had a healthy relationship with a scale.
My theories checked out & it all resulted in me losing a bunch of weight. Obviously I knew the combo of my crazy gym schedule and healthy eating would result in that. But it’s strange when your motivation wasn’t how you looked. I wanted to be athletic again, enjoyed the social life at my gym, and liked that I never really got nor felt sick anymore. I wanted to give my body everything I could after what it got me through. I wanted to be able to pay tribute to my ability to control it again. It was never about how I looked.
I don’t know how to teach that. People ask what I’m doing and I can tell you my logic. That I have an exceptional gym & friends who make working out the highlight of my day. That I try to pack in as many veggies in as possible, which resulted in me eating plant based most of the time, but allow myself to scarf down a cheesesteak during an Eagles game once a month. That my mom equipped me with a base of knowledge around nutrition so I don’t have to count calories to figure out how much I’m eating, I just know. That I love cooking & the food I make, so controlling what I eat isn’t too hard. That I realized I’d much rather eat ice cream than the crappy cookies at work, so I hold off on those & then don’t feel guilty about a Jennie’s trip every now and then. But the real game changer for me was finally being in a place of self-love. I don’t know how to teach you how to get there without breaking your knee for you. But I hope you can figure it out. Being there allowed me to be patient & approach healthy living from the point of view of wanting to pay homage to my body.
Which is why I started crying while cleaning my closet the other week. I no longer fit in my clothes. I was starting to get back in that place of “oh I’ll just wear whatever because I don’t want to spend money on clothing when it won’t fit soon anyways”. But after my pants wouldn’t stop falling down on a night out, my best friend finally told me I need to get over this shit and buy new jeans. Before buying new jeans, I needed to clear out the old.
I didn’t expect to get emotional at all. Everything about my weight loss was so against the norm that I didn’t think a cliché closet crying scene would be part of my journey. But I had a really hard time letting go of my stuff. So much so that two bags of it are still sitting in my closet, hoping to find a home with friends and family instead of a stranger because I love them so much. I fell in love with the body I have in these clothes. It was a powerful shift in my mindset & literally changed my life. I have such important memories and deep connections with those damn clothes. The pleather jacket my mom bought me for Christmas two years ago that made me feel like a badass when my confidence was at an all-time low. The two Calvin Klein shirts I bought in plus size when I finally let go of the stigma I felt about shopping in that section. The black pants I did my last show in. The boyfriend jeans that never dug into my stomach. All the workout clothes I bought so I would feel better about myself being one of the largest people at my gym. They were all so personal to me. But I have a habit of lingering too long in fear of closing chapters & I had to move on. Plus literally everything wouldn’t stop falling off my body.
After parting with my clothes, my first stop was Old Navy. I grabbed a bunch of jeans a size down & tried them on. They were all too big. I grabbed another size down & they were still too big. I went back to the jean section and literally stood there staring at the jeans, not knowing what to do. I couldn’t fathom that I lost three sizes. Some nice 55 year old Old Navy associate asked if I needed help, because I looked insane, and I told him that I had no idea what size I was. That all the sizes I thought I was were too big but there’s no way I’m a size smaller. That I lost a bunch of weight but I’m trying not to make a big deal about it because it wasn’t that I wasn’t happy with how I looked & diet culture is wrapped up in so much bullshit. Bless his soul, he simply looks at me and goes “I think we just need to find you jeans that fit. Also, you can be proud of yourself”.
I realized my aversion to diet culture & love I feel for who I was at the start of the journey was keeping me from fully giving into the love I should feel for who I am now. Being proud of my accomplishment isn’t taking away from the love and respect I have for who I was when I started it all. I can be proud of both. But by not fully serving and loving the person I am now, I’m keeping this whole recovery chapter open when it really ran its course. It’s more of a novel now, really. The first book in a trilogy. And while I have that part of my life to thank for where I am now, it’s over. Time to write some new shit.