The Things In Our Head We Never Say

Let’s talk about those things in our heads that zip along our neural pathways.

The things we never talk about.

The things we do in secret moments.

Things that cause regret and self-loathing and self-flagellation for days afterward.

And when I just can’t get those thoughts out of my head it feels like my mind is a pinball game being played by someone else – that little silver ball ricocheting over every emotional sensor and lighting it up like the night sky on the 4th of July.

“Why did I do that!?” “Ugh, I hate myself” “So ugly” “So fat” “You can’t do this” “That was a TERRIBLE run” “You’ll never get better”.

If you’re a woman (or a man, but I can only speak from the female perspective) in the 21st century who is struggling towards some sort of goal, I do not have a doubt that there are times when you’ve been inches from throwing in the towel and re-embracing every bad habit that you were trying to purge from your daily routine.

For me, emotional binge eating is the rabbit hole that leads through twisting caverns to the angst-y thoughts and feelings above. There are many things that can trigger this primal NEED to eat something sugary (usually, almost always, unless the dairy industry goes belly-up — ice cream): a busy, stressful day at work; good news; bad news; those moments when I remember that my dad is dead (because after 6 years you just sometimes really kind of forget that it ever happened); being awake late at night; accomplishing something. Really, there are just a myriad number of things that can pique the desire for self-soothing with sugar.

This week, the rabbit hole involved a particularly long fall with a hard thud at the bottom. The specifics are not particularly important but, for the first time in several months, I actually gave in to the beckoning finger of my weakness. The call is ever so soft, like the hiss of a serpent’s tongue just beyond your ear. It is not loud, but it is persistent. There was ice cream AND cookies AND pizza. I didn’t meal prep and plan ahead. I didn’t get my usual days of exercise in.

And here is where I think the root of the problem lies:

BAD RUNS.

You know what I’m talking about. Those days where you feel impossibly slow and uncoordinated. Like a gumby doll that is trying to move like a gazelle.

In the running community we tend to all shamelessly ask about pace and PR’s and long runs and mileage. As a new runner, my top 3 concerns are 1) getting it done 2) not injuring myself in the process 3) being consistent. At this point, I could care less about my miles per week or my pace per mile. I’m only running 3-4 miles – enough to complete my October 5K. My main priority is cardiovascular and pulmonary endurance – ensuring that my body is well conditioned enough to complete the race without face-planting on the pavement somewhere in the middle.

But I let the chatter get to me. I started comparing myself to everyone else.

When I started experiencing numbness in my left foot during runs, I FREAKED out. It slowed me down and I had to walk for portions of time which affected my splits and made me feel like a total failure. So, naturally, I started skipping some runs because I was afraid my foot would go numb. And if my foot goes numb, why is it going numb? Do I have some unknown neurological or orthopedic problem? Did bedside nursing ruin my back? Will my foot always be numb when I run? How is it that I’ve only lost 30lbs!? Well, of course my foot is numb; I’m still so fat!

You see what I mean, it’s a vortex of ridiculous thinking that ends in self-loathing and sugar binges.

This morning I woke up after a busy work week of seeing dozens of patients and gave myself my “snap out of it!” pep talk. I reflected on all that I have accomplished since I began this journey in January. I have exercised more and more consistently than at any other time in my life. I started practicing yoga – something I have been scared of doing for years because of my lack of flexibility and bodily grace. I went to the City Fit Girls FitRetreat and met beautiful, strong women of all shapes, sizes, abilities, and backgrounds. I finished my Master’s degree in Nursing, became a Nurse Practitioner, and started a new job. I adopted the most adorable senior dog!

And those are the things that matter. How fast or how far I run are a drop in the bucket and are really not even accurate measures of the person that I am. Emotional eating will always be a struggle for me, but I continue to hone my ability to spot my triggers, recognize warning signs of impending doom, and skirt those smooth-talking sugary serpents. The best thing about this life is that the sun will rise to warm a new day, a day during which you can just start over so to speak. I can’t undo a bad day, a bad week, or a bad month, but I can make different choices going forward and get back on my proverbial horse after falling off.

Health, wellness, and weight loss don’t come effortlessly. I think it’s important to give a voice to the things we struggle with, to speak those thoughts in our head that we think no one else has. There is safety in numbers. There is also acceptance.

If you have also been struggling with a personal goal – keep on, be persistent. Revel in every accomplishment.

One of my favorite quotes is from Rainer Maria Rilke and I think it is quite applicable in times where we lose faith in ourselves:

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final”.

Lastly, a bit of cute to get you through. My Lhasa Apso, Chappy. He is somewhere between 13 and 15 years old.

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Recognizing a Health Hero

This is the piece that I would have written if I hadn’t missed the dang deadline for the Be Well Philly “Health Hero” essay contest. I felt that I should still send these words out into the world because we should be talking about the amazing people in our lives.

Tema Esberg saved my life. I know that probably comes off as a ridiculously hyperbolic statement, but it’s true. Each year of my life, for as long as I can remember, the scale has marched steadily onward and upward towards one freakin’ huge mountain of a number: 313. At 5’3″, that is an insane amount of weight to be carrying around on such minimal scaffolding. In January of 2015, I turned 30 and felt that the universe was giving me an ultimatum to either grab the controls on this runaway train of emotional binge eating and weight gain or witness the epic, fiery crash into diabetes, high cholesterol, and disability that was to be my inevitable end. I really couldn’t continue throwing excuses down on the tracks as I had just graduated from my master’s program at the University of Pennsylvania, I had pretty much processed the grief of losing a parent at age 24, and I did have some money that I could put towards a gym membership or other fitness-related spending.

I met Tema when I signed up for one of those snazzy package deals for Balance Chestnut Hill via GILT. I plunked down a hundred or so dollars for five sessions with their B.I.O (Balancing from the Inside Out) team and figured that I could commit to 5 sessions before jumping in wholeheartedly or bailing and never looking back. As a fat person, I am largely (oh yes, pun intended) skeptical of most things that suggest that I just might reach the goals that I want to achieve. Afterall, next to Nursing, weight loss is my other full-time job – one that doesn’t pay, one with a terrible boss, and one where I never excel. I also tend to be skeptical of those in the fitness/wellness profession because I am often being told that I need to conform to what they envision as “success” – cut out sugar; what the hell, cut out 5 food groups!; exercise until you feel like you want to die; spend $100’s of dollars a week on classes and training sessions; lose 20lbs in 2 months; send daily emails that include every single morsel of food eaten; weigh myself weekly; and on and on. I end up undertaking things to please the professional, to obtain approval and acceptance, which just ends up feeling like a whole lotta work that I’m not doing for myself. Fat people are often “yes” people. The more I say “yes” to someone else, the more I disappear within myself. I end up with no voice, unable to be accountable to even myself. Eventually, I rebel like a 13-year-old who has just discovered punk music and I rage against that machine that wants me to cram my round peg into the square hole and then I quit.

Tema, though? She’s my soul mate. I’ve been working out with her at least once per week since February. If I could serenade her (which NO ONE wants me to do), I would sing “Wind Beneath My Wings”. It would be like a scene out of Beaches and everyone would cry. (If I ever get married – this could be a real possibility if I overdo it on champagne during the toasts.) She really does lift me up. She responds to my crazy text messages of self-doubt and self-loathing with pure positivity and encouragement and love. She affirms the negative feelings I’m having with empathy but then makes it clear that she is not attending my pity party and I better find something to like about myself (Bad run? Ain’t no thing as a bad run, girl! Only the one you didn’t do!). She is joyful. No sir, she does not hide her light under a bushel. She shines brightly which makes you want to shine just as bright. She constantly reminds me of my progress during our workouts and compliments my moves even if I look like a whale trying to walk across a tightrope. She varies our workouts so that I never seem to realize they are getting harder (a sneaky move since I tend to run far far away when workouts are intense). When I wanted to start running, she got out her pom poms and cheered every milestone. She even put together a women’s running group on Sunday morning’s to keep me motivated and help me find a safe space within the running community. She NEVER asks me what I’ve been eating or what I weigh. EVER. That may actually be the lynchpin that makes all the difference. She knows that I am making progress because I can do things now that I could do six months ago or because I tell her about the clothes I can fit into now. Tema has helped me to dig up the woman inside of me who is active and healthy and happy.

Do I want to be under 200lbs? More than you know! But I am surprisingly content with the journey. I’ve lost weight, I’ve become stronger, I’ve tried a whole host of new things and inserted myself into new social situations, I’ve rediscovered some great wardrobe staples. Tema saved my life because she helped me uncover a new identity. One where I am a person who exercises, who kayaks, who runs, who ziplines. She helps me keep the self-doubt and self-loathing at bay. That’s what was killing me. The anxiety. The depression. The continually feeling “not good enough”.  Forging a new identity isn’t as complicated as one might think. I imagine it’s the same way people discover their identity as a vegetarian – it’s just something you believe in, something you do every day, something you are passionate about.

If anyone is meant to be deemed a “Health Hero”, it’s Tema. She is the little spark inside of me that whispers “even when you are going through hell, keep going”.

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