Saturday, November 26, 2011

Annie: Thanksgiving

And so, here we are.

It's now six weeks or so beyond our original "Canadian Thanksgiving" deadline, and almost three months since I passed the 100-pound line... and now, finally, this project officially comes to a close. I'll explain why now in a bit; for now, there's other business to attend to.

1) Figuring it out, part 2

In a post what seems like aeons ago, I wrote about Geneen Roth's book, Women, Food and God, and what a tremendous impact it had on me -- specifically, helping me figure out what my problem is with food. I said I'd come back later to explain, and I fully intended to: but as time went on, I wanted less and less to talk about it.

To be perfectly honest, I think that, once I figured out my problem, I quickly came to be tired of thinking about food all the time.

(And, promises-to-my-blog aside, that's a good thing.)

But in sum, here is what Roth's book helped me see: simply put, I am a stress eater. I discounted this for a long, long time, since I over-ate even when I felt I wasn't particularly stressed at work. The thing I realized, though, was that "stress" for me goes beyond the kind of professional stress I used to have on the job.

My big revelation: I am an under-achiever. That is, I always feel like I'm under-achieving. I have always felt this way, as far as I can remember -- and even when I was receiving awards in high school, I felt like an impostor... and was sure that someone figuring out I was actually a fraud was always just around the corner.

I can't explain why I've always been this way, but I have. It's who I am.

A couple of years ago, my family doctor referred me to a counsellor who specialized in eating disorders. She asked me to fill out a journal of my thoughts that would track what I was thinking immediately before each time I had the impulse to over-eat (or eat something I knew I shouldn't eat).

It only took me a couple of hours' worth of journaling in this way before I recognized the pattern: each food impulse was immediately preceded by thoughts about all the things I had to do, how many balls I had in the air. On the drive home from work, for example, thoughts about what we were going to have for dinner led to thoughts about what needed to be picked up at the supermarket, which led to wondering how long it would take me to get to, in, and out of the supermarket, which led to concerns about being late to pick up Child at daycare, which led me to McDonald's.

It doesn't make any sense, but that's how it worked.

My "stress" wasn't traditional big-stakes-decision-required stress, it was you-don't-have-your-shit-together stress.

So I recognized that connection a couple of years ago, but then, didn't know what to do with it. The counsellor, though very kind, was more of a "tell me how YOU feel" kind of person than I generally have patience for, so I didn't stick with her -- but I did value that little bit of learning.

Roth's book, though, brought that recognition back and explained how feelings of insecurity could become an addiction to food.

In a nutshell (at least, the nutshell I take from it), my brain knows that I live in a state of waiting to be proven to be a failure. My brain knows it's unpleasant to feel that way. So my brain gives me something else to focus on that's less scary: food.

I never understood before how the "self-medication with food" thing worked; now I do. It isn't that the physical ingestion of the food medicates -- it's that the mental focus on the food prevents me from thinking about my impending failure.

And, of course, the lack of control with food is a failure.

I can't tell you how much it helped me to understand this, after all these years; it was like scales fell away from my eyes or whatever they say in the bible. It was literally a life-changing book for me.

2) But I'm not "all better"

Recognizing my problem was hugely helpful, but not because it cured me.

I'm not cured, and I don't expect I ever will be.

I still have those same impulses, every day, in response to the same things -- I'm just better equipped to deal with them now.

Most of the time.

3) A new me

In the months since I reached my goal (and for the record, I am still below goal weight, though I have gone up and down the same 5 lbs at least three times since having hit it), I have received a huge number of compliments from people I hadn't seen in a while, and even from people I had seen fairly regularly.

In my work, I meet new people every year, and it's been interesting for me that I have scores of people in my life now who never knew me overweight, even though I wasn't overweight so long ago.

But the "new me" isn't about the way I look -- it's about the way I look at myself.

This is where I come to the next part of the key that unlocked this whole thing for me: running.

As any reader of this blog knows, The Faithful Mo motivated me and mentored me from a time -- less than a year ago -- when I couldn't run more than 28 seconds straight, to having run a 10K last month (in, I might even say, a time I never would have thought I could achieve!).

In the beginning, the "learn to run" program she created for me was a way to begin integrating activity into my life: at the time, I was still well over 70 lbs overweight, and many activities were simply impossible for me.

I began the program she made for me with sets of walking 9 minutes and running 1; and that was really, really challenging for me.

Nine months later, as The Faithful Mo and I crossed the finish line on my first 10K, I cried. And I cried. The race photographer took a picture of us right after the finish, with our medals around our necks, and I look awful in it -- I should have just let myself bawl in it, because the crying-attempt-to-smile is actually kind of weird-looking.

I couldn't believe it; and there are times when I still can't.

But most of the time, I don't feel that way. I do believe it. I feel like a real runner, even though I'm slow -- I feel like I'm part of a really warm and supportive community that extends even beyond The Faithful Mo, and her husband, and my brother and his wife, and my husband and his sister -- all of whom were runners before I was, and all of whom have been really, really supportive of me.

The new me loves the feeling of being able to run. The new me remembers what it was like to have trouble walking, and is filled with gratitude and joy at the chance to step outside into the fresh air and just go.

There is so much gratitude, I can barely contain it.

4) The Thanksgiving Project, by the numbers

When I first started running outside last spring, I would send Mo emails called "this morning's run, by the numbers."  I'd report on how far I'd gone and how fast... and how many buses, how many dogs, how many other runners, etc. I had passed.

In the spirit of those emails, here's The Thanksgiving Project, by the numbers:

Total pounds lost: 106
Weeks it took to lose 100: 48
Weeks maintained: 12 (so far)

Starting clothing size: 22/24
Ending clothing size: 10/12

Distance run: 550K+ (so far)

Distance left to run: as far as I can cover in as long as I live.  :)

5) Giving thanks

I couldn't be more grateful for all the people who helped get me to this point, and who I know will be there to support me as my struggle continues the rest of my life.

First, Mae, whose friendship, commiseration and encouragement helped get me going, and helped keep me going.

My supportive girlfriends, some of whom also struggle with their weight and other personal challenges, who shared resources and cheered me on.

My brother, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law, who encouraged me to get started and helped me believe I could keep going... and welcomed me enthusiastically into the family running club!

My husband, who made significant changes to his life and lifestyle to accommodate the changes I wanted to make in mine -- and who I really believe thinks I'm beautiful, no matter how much I weigh. It can't be easy to live with someone struggling with food and self-esteem issues, but in the almost 16 years we've lived together he never once gave any hint at frustration with my constant cycle of finding and losing my motivation to get healthy. I don't know that I could be that good.

My parents, for whom it must have been so hard to watch a daughter they loved self-destruct as the years went by. As a parent now, I can only begin to understand how difficult that must have been for them. They, like all my family and my husband, walked on the eggshells of trying to figure out what if anything they could say or do to help me, without hurting me. I put them all in an impossible position, and they loved me through it. Incredible.

And finally, of course, The Faithful Mo. I call her that for a reason: she never, ever, ever gave up. And I'm sure she wouldn't have, either, had it taken me another 10 years to figure my shit out (if I'd managed to live that long).  I've already said she was my motivator and my mentor: but she was also my coach, my cheerleader, my conscience, my trainer, and my developer-of-training-programs-for-newbie-runner-friends. She was relentless... but quietly so. Long before this Thanksgiving Project began, she bought me a subscription to Women's Health magazine. A year and a half ago, she ran a children's 1K with Child, in the hopes that seeing them run together would motivate me to run, too. She didn't nag, but she was there, encouraging, quietly.

And then, not so quietly. As I embarked on my running program, she encouraged loudly. She cheered loudly. She travelled thousands of kilometres to cheer me, encourage me, and run by my side. And she shared my success loudly: so proud was she, that she wrote an article in a national magazine about our family, centred around me and this project.

The night of my first 5K last May she gave me a card, the front of which said: "Nothing is impossible."

Now, that card sits atop a bulletin board on the basement wall, next to my treadmill. That bulletin board is home to my race numbers from the three 5Ks I've now run and the 10K, and the two medals I've earned... and will be crowded by this time next year. I look at that bulletin board, and Mo's card, every single day, and reflect... on how far I've come, on how lucky I am, and how much I have to be thankful for.

6) Giving thanks, again

In the time since I hit my goal, I've become a walking ad for Weight Watchers. I've lost count of how many people have asked me how I did it, sat down with me for advice on how they can do it too, and told me I've inspired them to lose weight too.

It's a huge compliment every time, and makes me feel fantastic that maybe I can pay it backward a bit -- to help other people the way so many people helped me.

But one person in particular really drove home to me how important my journey was, when she told me that, when she saw me hit the 100-pound mark, she had quit smoking. This stopped me in my tracks, because while I've never smoked, I've seen enough people struggle with quitting that I have an idea of how difficult it is. I tried to tell this person what a tremendous honour it is for me to think I could have played a role in her making that potentially life-saving decision -- but I don't know whether I was able to. Even now, writing about it, I'm choking up.

There is so much to be thankful for.

7) The Boy

Now, the reason this blog couldn't be closed Thanksgiving weekend: The Boy.

Mae and her Mister welcomed a strapping, handsome little man earlier this week, bringing Mae to her finish line.

While the course of her journey changed mid-stream, Mae's year of focus on her health came to a successful finish, too: she controlled her weight during pregnancy, and obviously did it right: The Boy is perfect!

7) The future

Now, Mae and I both begin our "afterlife."

In the three months since I crossed my 100-pound finish line, I've confirmed what I already knew: for me, the Thanksgiving Project will continue on. While I don't have to focus on achieving a loss every week, I do have to remain focused -- and I've discovered that for me, that will mean eating and running as though I'm still on the Thanksgiving Project most of the time.

The difference is that now I have the latitude to have a little fun every once in a while, too.  :)

I've learned that, while eating "normally" isn't something that comes naturally to me, it's something I can imitate; and that's probably the best I can ask of myself.

So that's what I'll do.

And I'll be ever thankful to everyone who played a role in helping me figure that out.