Dead F*cking Last

IMG_26785 for CHOP Run – Philadelphia, PA – 5.21.2016

One of my worst fears came true today.

I finished last in a race.

Not last as in “back-of-the-pack” last.

The Philly Fire Department paramedics were stalking me with their ATV — last.

The geese on the trail were out-pacing me — last.

Last two feet over the Finish line — last.

I am-going-to-throw-in-the-towel-and-quit — last.

D.F.L.

Dead. Fucking. Last.

Thinking about it one Bloody Mary, one beer, and several hours later, though, I am A-ok with that.

My anxiety failed to convince me that I wasn’t worthy of finishing. For the first time in life, my body is overriding the self-doubt and self-deprecation and my legs are carrying me; propelling me forward like the coupling rods on a locomotive, further and further. I am actually almost glad that it happened so that I could stop agonizing over the some-day possibility, dust myself off, and say “so what!?”

As trite as it sounds, I feel that I am a winner. I am never going to “win” any race I enter but I am slowly conquering that part of me that refused to even make an attempt.

“A winner is just a loser who tried one more time.” (George M. Moore, Jr.)

I am glad that I have kept trying. That even though my original goal was weight loss, that I have not let a scale dictate my accomplishments, that I have exceeded the meager expectations I set for myself, and that I continue to seek the life the exists outside of my comfort zone.

Every time my nerve denies me (which is often when you are stuck inside the insecure body of a 320lb person who just CAN NOT be you), I channel my inner Cheryl Strayed, remembering my favorite words from Emily Dickinson, and I go above my flippin’ nerve. Nothing I accomplish ever seems pretty (there were two Beauty Queens in this race – WITH tiaras) – it is sweaty and uncomfortable, skin chafes, my hair gets frizzy, and my thighs ache the next day. It gets done, though.

Dead Fucking Last will always trump D.N.F.

Did Not Finish.

{This experience also provided me with a rare moment of grace. Another race participant, whom I loosely know through the Philadelphia running community, re-entered the course AFTER he had finish his race to find me and run with me to the end so that I did not have to finish alone. I will always remember the instant, warm sense of comfort that comes when someone else reaches out to convey that “hey, you’re not alone in this”. I will strive to pay forward that kindness to someone who may find themselves in my shoes.}

 

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Goodbye Gastric Band!

It has been over a year since I began my journey from fat to fit. My priorities and goals have changed dramatically during that time.

In January 2015, my priority was weight loss to become a thinner person. My goal was fiercely driven by shame, vanity, and embarrassment. I so wanted to feel small, to not take up so much space in a room, on an airplane, in a theater seat. I wanted to wear a clothing size whose number was not also accompanied by an “X”.

After a shower, I would stare at myself in the mirror and gape open-mouthed at the expansion of my flesh – it oozed in every direction like a marshmallow in the microwave. I couldn’t remember exactly how I got to that very moment except for the vague recollection of cumulative moments that involved lots and lots of food and the belief that I was so far gone that no amount of exercise could change what I had become. I also felt deep, hot shame over having had gastric banding in May of 2012. Now I was even heavier than when I had the procedure 3 years ago. Could I be a bigger failure!?

Today is April 26th 2016 and I have whittled myself down from a weight of 320 pounds to 273. I am an athlete. I have become a runner, completing three 5k’s with more races on the horizon. I have begun a yoga practice. I have tried a zip line and swung through the trees on a fine June day. I have kayaked and been able to pull myself out of the boat. I have made wonderful new friends. I went to a New Year’s Eve party. I started working as a Nurse Practitioner. I have discovered a community of body positive athletes. Somewhere along the way, my goals shifted focus from becoming a thinner person to becoming a happier person.

I am happier when I exercise. I am happier when I achieve concrete goals. I am happier when I use food as fuel and not as a friend, reward, or punishment. I am happier when I am surrounded by supportive, like-minded people. I am happier when I am strong enough to do the activities I’ve avoided for years. Am I “thinner”? You bet! And don’t misunderstand me, it feels exhilarating to pull things out of the closet that I couldn’t wear for 2 or more years to have them slip right on. That feeling is icing on the cake, though, because most of my joy is now derived from becoming the person who says she is going to accomplish something and then does so. I don’t know if I will ever be considered a “thin” person but I am becoming more and more comfortable with focusing on the journey rather than the destination. I love that there are others out there who agree; who believe that you can still be “fat” AND fit, that your fitness is not equal to your dress size, that you don’t have to keep yourself hidden away until you’re ready for that “after” photo (Mirna Valerio and Tulin Emre  have some very powerful words on these topics).

This week has been a true milestone for me. After 2 years of complications stemming from the gastric band, I had it removed yesterday. I feel so liberated. I am free from that young woman who thought that she had to have surgery to be healthy and happy. Free from that young woman who was depressed and despondent. I am so excited to eat raw vegetables and to not have to leave the table in the middle of a meal and to be able to fuel my body properly to continue to achieve the fitness goals that I set. I got some skeptical looks yesterday from the surgical team – “you? a runner? riiiight” – when I asked when I could return to my training plan. I think they were put in their places when my resting heart rate  of 48 caused the monitors to alarm. We still have a lot of barriers to break through in the healthcare industry when it comes to the obesity debate. I feel that I am a better Nurse Practitioner because I can use my own experiences to inform my interactions with my patients.

I took photos to commemorate this moment. I am proud of the progress that I have made. My skin is not taught, my belly is not flat, and now I have 5 extra scars to add to the landscape. I am wearing my first pair of Katie K Rushhour Capris, though, and that is very exciting. Talk about a woman who supports #fithasnosize. I am inspired by women near and far who are also putting in lots of hard work to achieve their own dreams. In a world where we focus on how social media can be used for so much evil, isn’t it nice to see all the good that it does, too?

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*Can we also talk about how I bought this City Fit Girls tee 2 years ago and it finally fits! It’s 2XL and my Katie K capris are a 3x plus. Get them before they are gone – they are on sale now!

 

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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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In Which I Become the Person I Want to Be

I started running in March.

I had been working with a personal trainer – Tema of Potentia Personal Training – for a few months and felt the itch to tackle what I felt to be the mother of all fitness challenges.

My brother has always been fond of telling me “you’d lose weight if you just started running”. This from the mouth of someone who has been phenomenally athletic since childhood, excelling in multiple sports, maintaining the physique of a Greek god despite appearing to be a bottomless garbage pit for all sorts of foods from those dreaded inner grocery store aisles.

Sometimes, during my walks (the earliest form of cardiovascular fitness that I attempted), I would feel myself going faster and faster to the point where I felt that my feet wanted to take flight beneath me. I would punch up the MPH on the treadmill and tentatively jog for 30 seconds or so until I couldn’t stand feeling so self-conscious about everything jiggling up and down between my neck and my knees. The feeling persisted, though. I wanted to move more and cover greater distances. I wanted to propel myself down local trails under my own power. I wanted in to that secret club that runners seem to so enjoy being a part of. I wanted to put my mind to something of a physical nature and actually accomplish what I set out to do. For once. Just one bloody time.

And I wanted my brother to stuff it.

Naturally, I turned to the Apple app store. Because there is an app for EVERYTHING (and if there isn’t, it probably wasn’t important anyway). Even overweight 30 year old nurses who fancy themselves runners. Trust me – it’s called “5K Runner”. I started the program with a healthy dose of self-doubt, anxiety, and trepidation. How many times had I attempted to lose weight and magically morph myself from sloppy slug into the svelte, physically active butterfly I imagined myself to be? I’ve lost count.

The beauty of the 5K Runner app (or the Couch 2 5K or whatever other “learn-to-run” method you might use”) is that it actually works. If you are persistent and consistent – my trainer’s mantra – your body adapts to the new levels of physical activity as your cardiovascular endurance increases. My weight did drop. A healthy 25lbs came off in the weeks it has taken me to complete 62 runs. Honestly, I thought it would be more. This is probably because I still sometimes maintain the fantasy that I will go to sleep one night and wake up the next morning in a new body. Since March, I’ve really had to come to learn to appreciate the work my body is doing – the increased lung capacity I’ve developed, the ability to go from lifting 2lb weights to 10lb weights, the feel of jogging up the stairs in my house without feeling like I need my rescue inhaler, the new jawline that has emerged out of the fat.

At some point, exercise in general and running specifically became about more than weight loss. Physical activity is something I look forward to, I enjoy the sense of pride and accomplishment, I love the floating-on-cloud-9 feeling that the endorphin rush brings. I’ve made so many new friends with the new-found confidence I have developed. My calendar is filled with fitness events of all things! It turns out that the running community isn’t the exclusive club that I imagined it to be. If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter your size, shape, or speed. As long as you get out there and get it done. It’s the non-running community we should all be afraid of – that is where the detractors lie. Those are the people who will question your motivation and your will.

Those are the things that I have to continuously remind myself of when I step on the scale and realize that I am not yet below 250lbs. I have to pat myself on the back for dropping below 300lbs and keep plowing through the nagging, biting, excoriating self-criticism that says “you are failing”.

Recently, I started subscribing to Runner’s World magazine. This is where I “met” Mirna Valerio. She is my new hero. Others might see her as the exception, but I see bits of her inside of me. Her story snapped me out of my most recent funk with the whip-like crack of a bungy cord, yanking me away from barbs of my own self-loathing. Read it. You’ll be inspired, too. It will given you the sweet sustenance you need to power through your own roadblocks.

So now my nose is back to the grindstone.

One foot in front of the other.

Persistence and consistency.

(And I am feeling pretty darn smug knowing that my brother is a little more tight-lipped about his comments now that I am officially – a “runner”)