Summer is almost here, so it’s that time of year where many people start to seriously focus on their figure. During winter we might have been focused on just trying to stay warm, hiding underneath layers of protection, and not stepping outside as often. Springtime is a time of renewal; fresh starts are so motivating and often prompt some much needed Spring cleaning. I recently dropped a lot of weight, so I wanted to share my secrets.
Does it Still Fit
The first secret is that I use a lot of metaphors. Not for losing weight. I haven’t done the research, but I am pretty sure there is no correlation between heavy metaphor use and weight loss. Losing weight is the metaphor. I am not here to teach you how to “get it right and keep it tight”. Although this post is not about how to shrink our waistlines, I would like to share about a very different weight loss journey.
It’s usually not the scale that signals to me that I have excess weigh to lose. There are plenty of signals, the ones that get ignored and the ones that refuse to be. Once my clothes won’t fit anymore, I can no longer remain oblivious. I understand basic physiology. I understand that my actions have consequences, so intellectually I know that being neglectful of my workout routine, undisciplined with my eating choices, and making overall poor healthy lifestyle choices, will only result in an increase of both unwanted weight and tears. Unfortunately, it is not until I am forced to rely too heavily on stretchy pants that I take action. A few years ago, I decided that I would not buy the next size up, and that I wanted the activity and flexibility that comes with dropping pounds. I didn’t just want to look better, I wanted to feel better.
Around this same time, I was working two or more jobs, seven days a week, while going to school. My entire life became either working or studying. I didn’t have time, money, or energy to do anything else. My relationships with friends and family were affected the most. During a rare Facebook cameo, I noticed that both my friends and family were leaving comments about how they missed me. Even my two roommates, the very people I lived with, would tell me they missed seeing me. It was confounding: how is it that EVERYONE in my life is missing me? Who am I spending time with? What am I doing with my life? I felt heavy. My life begin to feel too tight. It didn’t fit me anymore. I was tired of the worn and faded things I kept wearing over and over again. It wasn’t me anymore. I realized I needed to change.
Check the Scale
One of the scariest parts about deciding to lose weight is stepping on a scale. Sometimes it’s a confirmation of what we already suspected, but sometimes it’s a wake up call. 2010 was the first year that I stepped on a scale in a really long time. I stepped off in tears. I was well over 200 pounds. How did I get so far off track!?! It was a wake up call to make better choices. I started doing more physical activity and eating better. I cannot say that I remained consistent or disciplined. I face many derailers, especially self sabotage. I make mistakes, I learn as I go, and when I know better, I try to do better. It parallels my personal quest to follow my dreams. There aren’t the same scales to step on, but there are ways to see if I am out of balance. I was making strides in my personal life: I lost weight and had more energy; I earned my associate’s degree and was ready to transfer to a four year university; I got to dance almost everyday of the week; I fell in love. Yet, even with all these strides, I still felt an unrest because I was too far away from my dreams. I didn’t have a simple solution for losing the heavy weight that pressed on my chest, depressing me and making it hard to breathe. I couldn’t just become more active. Joining a boot camp and eating more kale weren’t going to help me become the creative artist I had longed of becoming.
At first, I decided that I would just have to work less to devote more time to my craft, but I quickly discovered that it opened me up to more financial instability. If I worked any less, I couldn’t pay my rent or bills or eat or buy books. I balanced periods where I would lose copious amounts of sleep trying to do it all: work, be social, and create. The only way I could ever save money was by depriving myself of essential things. The first thing I skimped on was always food, either I didn’t buy much or I bought really cheap stuff that wasn’t good for me. Then bills always got priority over luxuries like replacing worn out shoes and clothing, repairing something, or going to the doctor or dentist. Needing new shoes is the worst. I would wear my shoes until they literally fell apart, and then I would wear them a little bit longer after that. One pair of cross trainers, that doubled as my work shoes, looked as though they were holding conversations, the soles were so worn that they would flap up and down, exposing my socks, as I walked. At my lowest, and most shamefully broke, I was desperate enough to wear black swim shoes to work (we must wear non-slip shoes to work, and you can’t get any more non-slip than swim shoes). I worked too hard, for too long, to be living so destitute. If working more and sleeping less wasn’t the answer, and working less and creating more wasn’t sustainable, then what was the solution? It took me several years on the hamster wheel, in a crazy perpetual cycle between what I thought were my only options, before I realized how to get out of it. I needed to lose more weight! I needed to scale back!
Consume Less, Give Up Sweets
Not every lesson must be learned the hard way, but I will say those are the lessons that stick with me the most and the ones I appreciate more deeply. My “aha! moment”, when I realized what it was really going to take to “lose the weight”, came at a painful price but I value it highly. No matter how much I worked to increase my earnings, it seemed the bills would rise to meet them. I was barely getting by and constantly juggling late fees. I had what I realized was a cash flow issue. I would work to earn enough money to pay my bills, but it wouldn’t always be available when I needed it. The first of the month was notorious for leaving me bankrupt. If the 1st came too far away from a pay day, then I would be forced to pay unanticipated late fees, which caused further strain on my ability to pay off the next set of bills on time. I was stuck, in a classic hamster wheel scenario, working really hard, yet getting no where. I could never get ahead, even though I saved money, because my savings would often get spent covering the discrepancy.
This was the part of my weight loss story were I allowed myself to be oblivious to how heavy I was becoming. I remained in a rather Sisyphean cycle for far too long, so I am now grateful for the catalyst which made it impossible for me to ignore my unhealthy weight gain. My symbolic squeeze into yoga pants came in the form of an eviction notice. I had lived in the same apartment for over 3 years. I was so unhappy there. I could never get work done there, and it was infested with tiny roaches, despite regularly scheduled pest control visits. They were not your average roaches; they must have been teenage mutant ninja roaches. They lived without fear. They would not wait until the kitchen was dark and unoccupied, they would just come straight for our plates as we sat at the dinner table. They enjoyed lovely lamp lit strolls through the microwave while it radiated food (which I consequently trashed, first the food and eventually the microwave). They got into EVERYTHING! I stopped being able to enjoy any of my nice things.
Not only did I live in a roach motel, but the walls were so paper thin, that not only could you clearly hear every word of every conversation of every person passing by or in the adjacent apartments, but you could also smell every other meal being prepared. On top of everything else, the washers and dryers were constantly breaking down and stealing your quarters, and even if the appliances were robbing us, ladies had to worry about some perv who stole underwear and bathing suits out of unsupervised dryers.
Home was not at all a sweet home. However, I paid the largest percentage of my income to maintain that unsweetened roof over my head. So imagine my absolute disgust when, after explaining how unexpected financial burden left me unable to pay all of my rent until Friday, which had been 4 days away, I was told that if I didn’t pay the remaining balance by midnight that night, that I would be issued an eviction notice the next day and that my roommate and I would be forced to vacate by Friday. I was livid! I felt certain that the apartment management was using manipulative, unlawful scare tactics. We were not months behind on our rent, and in fact, my roommate had paid her portion on time, but a partial rent payment was still enough for them to feel an eviction notice was warranted. I explained my situation to someone in the office and my roommate loaned me money from her parents so that we wouldn’t have any stains on our rental history. The whole situation left a bad taste in my mouth, and I decided that when our lease was up, I would not renew it.
When I thought about where I would live next, I didn’t have a clue. What was most important to me was to get rid of the heavy emotional and financial burden the apartment had become. Something clicked. I realized that there was only so much I could work and only so many expenses I could cut out. If I could save on the high cost of rent however, then that would give me a chance to catch up. It was the solution to my cash flow issues. As it got closer and closer to the move out date, I decided that I wouldn’t look for another place to stay. It seems drastic, but when you have limited resources, and you have been deferring your dreams for so long, drastic measures become appropriate. Facing eviction made me take a serious look at my conviction. If money was the main thing stopping me from pursuing my dreams, then I would do whatever was necessary to eliminate it as the problem.
Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows that success depends on burning more calories than you consume. The simplest plan is to create a calorie deficit by becoming more active and consuming less. That is the big secret to my weight loss; I became more active and consumed less. I write everyday, I seek acting and dancing opportunities, I constantly work with children and learn more about how best to teach them. I also realized I can live comfortably with a lot less stuff, and I stopped consuming the empty calories. Eliminating sweets, or expensive creature comforts, had the same effect of drastically reducing my calorie and fat intake. I lost weight right away. Now, I feel so much lighter, and I have more energy. I can now work less if I need to, without the debilitating fear of being homeless. I am already homeless, and as it turns out, it is not the worst thing in the world. Discovering that I can live with a lot less, has made it possible for me to take more risks. The money that used to be dedicated to paying rent, is now being reinvested to fund my dreams. I still don’t have a clear cut path or clear directions on how to get there, but at least now I have the capacity and energy to make the journey.
Don’t focus on the numbers, focus on consistency. Do things fit better?
So, I probably look and sound like a crazy person to quite a few people. When I have to explain that I do not have a permanent address, or a bachelor’s degree, or a high paying job, or a concrete plan, I can understand how people might interpret it negatively. But when losing weight, there comes a point when your trainers tell you to stop focusing on the numbers on the scale. The numbers may discourage you, however it’s important to remember that muscle weights more than fat and that a little fluctuation is normal. The professionals know that it’s not all about the numbers; it’s about consistency. They ask us instead to look at how we feel, how our clothes fit, how much energy we have, and at our overall health. I am learning to pay less attention to the numbers (how I appear to other people, the titles and pieces of paper, or my net worth) and to devote more energy to becoming consistent (reading everyday, writing everyday, posting at least once every week, practicing dance at least five times a week, performing/studying improvisation and character study every week, telling more stories everyday). If I can do the work and lose the excess weight, so can you. So maybe I mislead you with the title, and perhaps you really wanted tips on shedding unwanted belly fat and bringing sexy back, that is the beautiful thing about any good metaphor, the lessons still apply. The skills are transferable. Whatever it is that you are seeking, whether physical or intangible, I hope that you discover beautiful results.
Perhaps you do not have to do something as drastic as giving up the stable roof over your head and other worldly possessions, and perhaps you do not have as many hardships standing in the way of you and your dreams. If that is the case, I want you to really think about it…
What is holding you back? What is weighing you down? How can you lose that weight and change into something that fits you better?