Where’s the Finish Line?
I’ve always behaved as if weight loss is a race. Everything changes with the shot of the starter pistol, and I’m off to lose the weight and cross the finish line an entirely new, incredibly happy person, with the “before” and “after” photos to prove it.
One year ago, I visited my doctor’s office – she’d just moved to a new space, and along with upgraded waiting room chairs, there was a new scale. Digital, not the traditional kind with clunky weights that allowed me to live in scale denial.
There was something comforting about not knowing my actual weight, although at a size 18, I knew I was heavier than I should be. I’d ballparked myself at 220, but I’d been working out – maybe my weight was closer to 210 or 205. I stepped on the scale and looked straight down – the only alternative was to press my nose against the freshly painted wall.
I obediently followed the nurse into an examining room. She completed the other routine checks: temperature? Blood pressure? Normal. As soon as she left, I sat back in my chair and waited for the waves of shame to flood my eyes with tears, and my ears with roaring, accusatory voices. Oddly enough, I thought of my feet, how many mornings I’d swung them over the edge of my bed, placed them on the floor, and stood up, expecting them to carry my 241 pound body without complaint. The words “thank you” bubbled up and I spoke them aloud, to my feet, and it felt good to be nice to my body. It was a beginning; the starter pistol had fired.
I signed up for Weight Watchers. I’d been thinking about for a while, ever since Oprah invested. I liked that she hadn’t dropped a ton of weight in a hot minute. I liked the idea of having a coach, because I desperately needed help. I was terrified of failing, and said so when I filled out my coaching questionnaire. I’d tried to lose weight before – what would make this time successful?
I’m still not sure of the answer to that question, but I’ve run my race. I’ve counted points for a year, I’ve lost 80 pounds, and I’m four dress sizes smaller. It’s not a stretch to call that a success, but as wonderful as I feel about the changes, this “new me” doesn’t feel like an end or a finish line.
Maybe I missed it. Was it when I hit my goal weight? My weight continues to rise and dip, thumbing its nose at my naivete at setting a goal in the first place. Was the end a pants size? I was shooting for a size 12, which I wore in high school and college, but I’m currently wearing a size 10 (sometimes even that feels a little loose, but me fitting into a pair of size 8 pants might trigger some sort of zombie apocalypse and nobody needs that right now).
I’m cold all the time – and it’s only Labor Day. I still crave the same foods – I’m afraid I’m only one milkshake away from weighing 241 pounds again. Food used to have a numbing effect on bad days and difficult conversations and sadness, but I can’t push through with a smile and an extra doughnut anymore. Now I just sit in my feelings, like a kid falling backwards into a mud puddle, life soaking through my pants.
The most surprising thing about my weight loss is my response to being seen by others. I’ve heard the nicest, sweetest compliments about how great I look now (along with furtive “Are you TRYING to lose weight?” questions to ensure I’m not terminally ill), yet every time I want to fold myself in half and hide in my layers of sweaters. Ever since high school, when my brain equated attention with being picked on, I’m afraid when people notice me. It feels dangerous, even more so now that there’s less of me to protect my spirit.
Do other people feel this way? There’s not much online about life post-weight loss that doesn’t look like a promotional ad or a dream sequence. I have “before” and “after” photos that will make you a believer, but I’m not feeling all that glamorous or celebratory. Instead, I keep searching for an elaborately decorated finish line, so I can break through the tape into my new life where things are settled and my work is done.
I’ve always been drawn to the excitement of something new, scurrying to build my life in each new place without ever considering building a foundation first. Inevitably, when the walls begin to crack and my life comes off its hinges, I abandon what I have and find somewhere new to start over. I’m considering the possibility that losing weight doesn’t mean I abandon myself for a new me; instead, I stay, armed with spackle and tools to rebuild at the spaces that need care and attention. I work on maintaining myself and my life with gentle, loving gestures. I don’t leave my 241 pound self behind.
If weight loss is not a new beginning, then there is no end. The body I see in the mirror today is the cumulative result of 365 days of choices, and I plan to keep at it, with or without a finish line.