Let me tell you about my weight loss story. I was a high school and collegiate athlete. I lettered in cross country and track. My personal best in the mile is under 6:00 minutes, and I have even gotten medals for placing overall in several 5K races. I was under 100 pounds until my junior year of college. I ate what I wanted, because I would always burn it off. Generally, I would run over 40-50 miles a week, I lifted 3-4 times a week, and additionally I was an ROTC cadet, so I did military athletic training once a week. When I graduated from college and got married, the weight started to come on gradually. After I got off birth control pills, I realized I had a significant problem called poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). When I was diagnosed, I left the military to have children.
It took a few months to realize how badly I needed to lose the weight, despite my desire to continue eating to deal with my stress, depression, and hopelessness. But I had two children who needed me, my husband was gone, my father was slowly killing himself by not managing his diabetes and weight issues, and I wanted to feel like I did in high school. I started running again.
At first it was hardly running. I would run for 1 minute in the middle of two 19:30 minute walks. Then 1 minute became 2 minutes, and 2 minutes became 5 minutes, and 5 minutes became 10, and so on and so forth. I started running 3 miles on the treadmill, and signed up for a 5K race. I finished the 5K in 35 minutes, so I signed up for another, and finished even faster than that. As my mileage increased, my weight decreased significantly. I started running at around 180 pounds, I was now solidly in the 150s. I went from a size 16-18 to a size 8-10. I continuously increased my mileage until I was running half marathons, and then I signed up for my first marathon in over a decade . Now, I’m training for marathon number 10: the New York City Marathon. Competitively speaking, I could stand to lose about 10-15 more pounds, but I’m at a relatively healthy 135-140, and I’m happy.
That being said, there were some things that happened during this journey which came to as a surprise to me, and I wanted to share them with others who are about embark on a similar journey. I don’t want to discourage anyone from losing weight and becoming healthier, I just want you to be prepared for things they don’t mention at Weight Watchers Meetings, on the Biggest Loser, or at the doctor’s office as you prepare for weight loss surgery.
1. Weight loss is SLOW. This is especially true if you are losing the weight the “old fashioned way” by diet and exercise. It took me 9 months to put all the weight on, and my daughter is 8 years old, and I am STILL trying to lose the weight I gained with her.
2. It HURTS. Especially if you are starting an exercise program. When I restarted running there were joints that hurt that I didn’t know I had. When I started Cross Fit, there were even MORE joints and muscles I didn’t know existed!
3. When you lose triple digits, you will have extra skin. Especially when you are in your 30s, your skin doesn’t bounce back to what it was before. You won’t have 6-pack, you’ll have a 6-pack and then you’ll have a glob of skin hanging down below. You’ll have extra skin on your arms and legs (though those tend to bounce back earlier).
4. Speaking of extra skin… The skin on your stomach will rub and chafe. The skin on the underside of my extra skin is often raw, bloody, and itchy—especially when I’m training for a marathon.
5. You won’t notice your weight loss. You will not notice it until you look at pictures of yourself next to each other, or if you take a before picture. When I was at my heaviest there are no pictures of me, I was so ashamed of my appearance, and I didn’t want anyone to photograph me. The first time I had pictures taken was after I had lost 20 pounds, and even then there is a significant difference. To this day, I still look in the mirror and see “fat Jodi.”
6. You will get negative comments. If you have been heavy all your life, people will be amazed at your weight loss. If you were thin, then fat, then thin again, you will get comments, and sometimes they can be discouraging. I often get comments about how I looked healthier when I was fatter. Even though I know that I was not healthier (I was pre-diabetic and hypertensive), when family members tell me that I look sickly, it bothers me.
7. People will be hyper about what you eat. Even though you are on a cheat day, or are allowing yourself to eat something considered unhealthy, or even if you order a salad at dinner, you will get feedback. The comments range from “Are you sure you should eat that on your diet?” to “You are not eating enough!” I have even gotten surprising comments when people have seen me eat after a long run—when I run 20 miles and burn over 3,000 calories people are surprised at the sheer quantity of food I can put down.
8. It can be expensive. Every 10 pounds is another size. Eventually you will have to buy a few new pieces of clothing to accommodate your changing body. I could normally get away with having clothing a few sizes larger (like if I was a size 10, I would keep clothing that was a size 12), but slowly you will shrink out of your clothing. Workout gear is also expensive. The first place I lost weight was in my boobs, so I was constantly replacing sports bras.
9. You have a growing awareness about your body. Through this weight loss journey, I have learned the value of various things I put in my body. Before, I would just eat, just because it would make me feel better. Now, when I eat, I am more meticulous about what goes into my body. I think about the effects various foods might have—will binging on a 1-lb bag of candy really fulfill me? Would I feel better taking a walk instead? I learned that the irritable bowel syndrome I suffered with for many years was brought about when I eat too much wheat or too much dairy. I learned that I feel better when I drink enough water. I sleep better when I get exercise.
10. The feeling of accomplishment erases all the negative feelings and self-doubt you feel when you see 1-8. No matter how negative people around you appear, the sense of accomplishment you feel from doing things you never felt possible is amazing. Whether you are able to walk up and down the stairs without losing your breath, or finish your first 10 mile run/walk, the feelings are immeasurable. There is not much that can erase the good feelings I have when I accomplish a fitness goal.
original photo credit: Flickr