About a year ago, I was a mess. I hovered between severe depression and moments of insecure elation sparked on by the desperate need to feel something besides the darkness that inhabited my mind. I wonder sometimes if most new graduates feel the way that I did, best described as lost and without identity. With my mood swings came extreme binging, followed by days of guilt and attempts at starvation which only led to more uncontrolled eating. By the time I reached my 22nd birthday, five months after graduation, I was about 185 – 190lbs, putting me into the obese category for a girl of only 5’6”. My mom had recommended Weight Watchers to me several times before, but I had always thought there was a stigma to joining WW so I put it off, tried juice fasts that left me dehydrated and loopy, carbohydrate cutting which made me gain ten pounds because of my inability to stick to the science of a seemingly simple but very complicated approach. Finally in July 2014, I took my mothers’ advice and joined. To say it changed my life would be cliche and an understatement, but life is a beautiful repetition of things that have already been said, so here it is. Here’s a snapshot of how Weight Watchers helped me salvage my identity.
Walking into the first meeting was intimidating.
I felt like I was heading into an Overeaters Anonymous meeting with my head hung low. I had already been defeated, surrendering to the idea that I was going to be fat for the rest of my life, and WW was sure to be another reminder that I was, and would always be, an incapable failure. I sat in the front, ready to hear a lecture of things I thought I already knew, and watched as people filtered in, hoping no one I knew would waltz in. The leader was welcoming, greeting each person as if they had come just to see her. I loved the companionships in that room. It allowed me to break down the walls blocking my ears from hearing. When Tina started class, I straightened up, smiled, and took out my reading materials , ready to follow along like the good student I always wanted to be.
I can’t remember what that meeting was about, but I’ll never forget one of the things that Tina said.
“Don’t break all the china…”
“If you go to your china cabinet, and you’re pulling out some of your best glassware that you received from your wedding twenty years ago, and as you’re going to set the table, you drop one, shattering it to bits and pieces. What do you do? Do you just say screw it and start smashing the rest of the plates? Of course not! Don’t break all the china just because you broke a plate or two. Don’t give up just because you ate a whole bag of chips or a piece a cake, or a whole cake and a whole bag of chips.”
Now that I think about it, I think that meeting was called “Don’t give up.” It hooked me because I thought I had already given up.
I stayed after the first meeting to do the new member orientation. After Tina’s discussion, I was excited to learn everything that the program had to offer— ready for any tips and tricks that might roll me into success before I could say PointsPlus System. I remember looking at all the material, and being sure that I was missing something.
Surely, it couldn’t be this easy.
Tina took me and two other new or rejoining members through the basics of the program, and at the end when Tina asked for any questions, I raised my unconvinced hand. “What about sugar? You said the points are calculated on Protein, Fat, Carbs and Fiber, but what about sugar?” I asked, trying hard not to sound as skeptical as I felt. I had just finished a month of yo-yo juicing after watching “Hungry for a Change” and I was convinced that sugar was not only the most addictive substance known to man-kind, but also forbidden if I had any hopes of regaining control over my life.
Tina shrugged at my question, and said “Well, we find that if you eat things that are low in PPV they are generally low in the bad stuff, like sugar. We don’t want to overcomplicate the program by having our members worry about all of those things, like calories, sugar, chemicals, etc.”
“Oh ok,” I nodded. It sounded too good to be true so I made mental note that I’d have to keep track of the sugar and fake sugars I was eating as well. Surely Weight Watchers corporation had no idea what they were talking about. They couldn’t have known that I was addicted to sugar, so I would have to do extra work in order to succeed in this program. I knew more than they did anyway. This program wasn’t made for smart people like me. Losing weight couldn’t be that simple.
I was wrong.
The very first week I lost four pounds. Even with sugar, carbs, and food that wasn’t consumed through a straw or out of a cardboard box. The weeks passed, and I was on a WW high, loving the losses that I was experiencing just by doing the program. I knew at some point it was sure to come to a crashing halt, but I was enjoying the losses even as I wondered when the looming gains would creep upon me.
And I did gain.
My first gain came around Week 8, and I remember feeling devastated. I text my Mom, as I did every week after a weigh-in, and all the message said was “I gained.”
“That will happen. How much?” she asked.
“0.8lbs.” I responded.
“Guess you’ll have to poop before you go next week.”
Thanks, Mom. Those simple words kept me going. 0.8 lbs is only a shit away from a loss.
Then a realization hit me like an extra 20lbs of fat that I was no longer attached to.
Keep going. Don’t give up. When you give up, that’s when you disappoint yourself and you get fatter to smother those feelings that you want to be able to run from or be moved with.
Now I dance, and I sprint. Giving up on myself is no longer my default setting.
Plateaus did come though,
and those weeks, and sometimes months, were hard. A specific plateau that sticks in my mind is the one that came in October, right before the food centred season of giving that scared me like a wandering fat kid in a carnival, stuck between the decision to run and find her mom, or hiding away to eat the banned delicacies of elephant ears and ice cream as she waited to be found.
I told my leader Tina that I was having trouble with losing, gaining and losing and gaining and losing the same three pounds that I had been gaining and losing for about a month. When I told her how I felt she said, “Yeah, I understand. Keep going. Eventually they will stay lost.”
Once again, my all-knowing leader nailed it on the head with her simple way of saying things.
Plateaus will come. And plateaus will go. They aren’t valleys. They are just plateaus, and if you give up, you will never find your way down the hill into your next destination.
I broke through my first plateau by setting little goals for the turkey, cookie, and boozing holidays coming up.
My goal was to lose another ten pounds by Christmas,
and the idea of setting myself up to lose through November and December gave me a determination that was unbreakable. I was able to say no to seconds, I was able to say no to the special treats that came into the office daily, and I was able to indulge in little favourites that were made all the better because they were rare treats worth savoring. When most people gave up for the holidays, I was able to lose another ten pounds because Weight Watchers gave me the gentle reminder that the holidays are really only a few days out of the whole year. They weren’t months despite the celebrations that go on without end, and I was in control of all aspects. I knew I was going to lose the ten pounds after I survived Turkey Day.
The meeting, the day after Thanksgiving,
is imprinted on my mind. I was so determined to lose weight that week, eating about a pound of WW friendly green beans that I had made for the occasion, measuring out and tracking every ounce, half cup, and tablespoon of food that went into my body. I was shocked by how little I ate but how satisfied I felt with less, and how even though I was controlling my servings, I didn’t feel deprived. I walked into the meeting the day after Thanksgiving feeling sure that I would experience a loss. An unprecedented loss of maybe a whole three damn pounds. They’d worship me after that. I’d be the ruler of Weight Watchers, and they’d give me lifetime status on spot for losing the day after Thanksgiving.
Well. I gained. I believe it was 0.2 lbs if I remember correctly. I stared at that scale, hoping that if I just rearranged my footing it’d tell me the truth— that there was no way I had gained when I had been so dutiful through the week. I had even measured out my two tablespoons of gravy! I hadn’t used anything but lemon pepper on the green beans that filled over half my plate! I didn’t eat a roll!
I sat down at that meeting feeling very angry, but knowing the battle was just beginning. The topic of the week was about reseting our bodies after an overindulgence, rubbing the fact that I hadn’t overindulged right in my 151.2 lb face. But the message was clear.
Even when we do everything right, sometimes, the scale doesn’t reflect it. That’s okay, because the journey is filled with non-scale victories that are even more important than the digital number that sometimes taunts us.
I had made a huge NSV (non-scale-victory). There were too many NSV’s in that one day to count. Even though I hadn’t lost, I knew I’d lose those ten pounds by Christmas because the girl who sat at that dining room table last year was not the girl who was sitting in her WW meeting now. My family was noticing the changes happening inside and outside, and they brought it up at the dinner table during our festive feast.
“Wow, Chloe. It’s like we’re sitting with a different girl this year,” my mom said.
“What do you mean?” I asked, putting my fork down and sipping on some water.
“Last year we were worried about getting to close to you because we were afraid you might suck us in with the rest of your food!” My Dad laughed. My siblings giggled, and I looked at my plate. It was weird to be reminded of the person who I hated so fiercely, and it made me insecure to think about who I used to be, afraid that I would slip right back into those size 16 pants.
“We just feel like we got the old Chloe back, sweetie,” my mom said. “It’s nice to see you again.”
I did lose those ten pounds by Christmas,
and I felt like I was on fire, running four miles sometimes five times a week, measuring out portions like I was getting paid to do it, and eating carrots and hummus like the world was going to run out of carrots and hummus. Then I got a stress fracture, and thought the world was going to end. It was only four weeks before my big flight to Cambodia, and I was sure that this meant that it was the beginning of regress because I didn’t want to have to change around my entire workout schedule just to accommodate this injury. It’d just be easier to not exercise for the next month, right? Can’t do weight bearing things on my stress fractured tibia anyway, and that means I can’t do like, anything, right?
Wrong again. I love being wrong.
That’s when I started getting more into weight lifting,
focusing on things that didn’t stress my leg, and building up my core and upper body strength. I was able to lose weight even with the lack of cardio I was getting.
When I first started Weight Watchers, I was so far gone in my head that I thought I was going to lose the weight without ever stepping foot in the gym or running an inch on the pavement. Exercise terrified me. I couldn’t move out of my Iowa City apartment without losing my breath every time I had to go up the three flights of stairs to my room. I panted like a lifelong smoker after the first six steps.
“Jeez, are you sure you’re not the one who is almost fifty?”
my Dad had asked after single-handedly throwing out a queen sized mattress. I had just carried down a a bag or two of canned goods and walked back up. His breath wasn’t even heightened. I felt dizzy, and ready for a nap, not another hour and a half of moving my belongings out into the Cavalier.
This wasn’t the first wake up call. Life had been begging me to wake up for quite some time, but the phone kept ringing, and I gave up on answering.
I didn’t exercise with Weight Watchers at first, but by the fourth or fifth week I had started to go on walks with friends instead of going out for drinks with buddies. I started to suggest hikes instead of lunches, and I started take my Boxers and Chihuhua for long walks. The walks got longer and the hikes got harder without me noticing because I enjoyed those activities. Before I knew it I was running, and then suddenly I found myself in fitness classes like LesMills Body Pump again. And then I was sprinting. And then I was soaring. Weight Watchers gave me the power to do those things because they nudged me into my first step. With each win, whether NSV or in the numbers, I gained the confidence to try new things.
Chloe 2012 would not recognise the girl that I have become, and I love knowing that. I am now in better shape than I was even in high school because now my mind matches my health. Satiated and whole.
Lastly, this brings me to the beauty of imperfections.
I have no doubt that juicing, carb-no diets, and lemon-water-apple-vinegar-honey cleanses work for some people. I’m just not those people because I love food. All food. And loving all food is what gets me in trouble with diets where I have to cut out EVERYTHING in order to succeed. With WW, loving food became an asset because I also love healthy food. Weight Watchers is for all the imperfect people and I am perfectly flawed. Even now I am finishing up writing this post while eating a delicious bowl of full fat ice cream after a sweaty day in Wuhan’s wonderful sauna.
BUT CHLOE? How can you in good conscious write this whole post while eating FULL FAT ICE CREAM WITH M&Ms ON TOP?
Because life is about balance, not perfection. I need that reminder in my life, and Weight Watchers gave me a much needed permission to embrace my imperfections and use them to push forward into the person I have always wanted to be.
I will always remember being broken but now I know I was not in need of fixing, just nourishment.