Coach was asking me questions last night trying to understand fat girl thinking (OK, he called it mindset and mentality – but I haven’t had coffee yet) and what enabled me to change so he can better work with people like me in the future. I did a terrible job explaining it – asking an introvert an unexpected personal question in front of people they don’t know is never going to have a good outcome. But with a little coffee (maybe more than a little) and some music and the stillness of the morning, my real thoughts…
The number of people who go from fat to thin, and stay there, statistically rounds down to zero. Seriously – not a single study that says otherwise. But yet, and still…..if I start thinking about myself and a half dozen of my FB friends….on average we’ve all lost about 100 pounds each and kept it off anywhere from 2-5 +years. That shouldn’t be possible – except for the fact that the statistics only tell part of the story and there are common threads to the stories of the people who are successful.
One of the odd questions that I sometimes get here in Hawaii is “what does a skunk smell like?” How do you adequately describe the essence of skunk? I’ve been giving a terrible explanation of how skunks smell for years. When I try to describe a migraine or an asthma attack to people who have never had them they immediately relate them to their experiences of having a headache or a bad cold and again I’m left with this void of understanding and communication. It feels the same way when trying to describe the fear of going to the gym to someone who has always been fit. Its not a rational fear except for the fact that fat phobia is one of the last acceptable prejudices and most obese people have many horror stories of being treated terribly both in public and in the gym.
My friend April who lost 150 pounds would tell you that “the thought of the gym was fearfully paralyzing. The gym atmosphere ranked right up there with the 7th level of hell.” She started walking at night because she was too ashamed to be a fat woman walking in daylight. My personal journey started in a physical therapy clinic where I had no choice about showing up twice a week no matter how embarrassed I was. Actually getting into the gym on my own without any obligations and despite knowing the owner of the gym for 10 months and where I knew I was welcome….well that can only be described as an epic meltdown. I would drive by not having the nerve to pull into the parking lot and if I made it into the parking lot, I wouldn’t necessarily make it into the door. Hyperventilating, stomach in knots, and a shame spiral so encompassing that I started going to the gym during the 5 am class figuring that it would be the smallest class size and I could stand in the corner and kind of hide in the dark. When April added her gym membership, she called and asked what the least busiest times were so she would not be seen as a fat woman working out. Just getting in the door is a huge success. Staying is the next challenge.
Creating a safe, non-judgemental space to stay in the gym is important but not nearly as important as creating a spark of hope of change. As Brene Brown wrote “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” Exercising and losing weight is not new to obese people – they’ve either tried it hundreds of times before without success or have succeeded and failed in maintenance hundreds of times before. For me, that spark of hope of change came from Coach Lee. He’d been asking me to do these small, teeny tiny steps of improvement for ten months in physical therapy - one more rep, one more movement, one more pound, one more minute. Baby steps – but every step, every improvement had initially seemed impossible. I burst out laughing once when he asked me to do 15 reps of leg raises because I KNEW that he might as well ask me to jump to the moon. His response? Just try. And I did the 15 reps . My spark of hope was his belief in – “Be patient, but be persistent, you will get there” and he’d already taught me to trust him when he asked me to do impossible things. While I was still on physical crutches, his belief that it was possible was my other crutch to lean on when I couldn’t believe in it on my own.
April describes finding that spark of hope moment so eloquently in her blog that I smile every time I read it (http://aprilhauck.blogspot.com/ ) “The man at the front was a beautiful Hispanic man. His name on the board read: Meshi. He looked so focused. And he was fit. I remember seeing the sweat pour off of him, glistening on his biceps. “Dear God, how did I end up here?!” I thought to myself as I settled into the ride and my determination, trying hard not to fret that my ass was so fat that it would block those behind me in class. My bike was set up incorrectly and he got off his to came over to help me. Class had started. I could feel myself blushing and not from exercise. I waited for the moment when his face would register that he was disgusted by how fat I was. It didn’t. He helped me, smiled and walked back to the front. I was confounded. I scrutinized this man. I remember Meshi saying something during that class that would impact me forever: “Sometimes I wonder why I do this.” between sweat and huffs. “And then I remember, it’s the little bits of joy. You have to find your little bits of joy.” Those words hit me hard. I wanted joy more than anything. I wanted to be happy. I wanted freedom from the imprisonment of my body and from all the ways I had silenced my heart from actually feeling the life I was living. I knew spiritual joy yes. But I didn’t know the actual physical embodiment of it. Was this it?” For Meshi, I’m sure he had no idea that those words were going to change April’s life – but they did.
Once the spark happens, I’m not sure how much you have to worry about the rest. Form follows function. Always. Coach was asking me about the patience of losing weight and how much time it takes last night. For the people who are successful at changing their bodies in the long term, the weight and time becomes secondary and it doesn’t matter. The body does what it does and it doesn’t follow a prescribed time table.
The spark hopefully sets your life on fire and leads you to find your love or passion. I don’t know anyone who has been successful with long term weight loss that “works out”. “Working Out” became their play – their fun, their joy. For Marty, he fell in LOVE with dance and his definition of fun is out on the dance floor. For April, she loves the endorphin rush of movement and teaching others her joy. Eric fell in love with Crossfit and opened his own gym. Willie loves to run and he travels the country running with people who became his friends. For me, I love weightlifting and would still do it if I never PR’d another weight the rest of my life. Changes to the body are secondary to the changes in lifestyles and thinking/mindset that come along with it.
OK….time for another cup of coffee and time to start moving this morning. Maybe not so much a better explanation, but what can one expect on one cup of coffee?