“How did you do it?”
That’s a question I get a lot these days. When you lose 75 pounds, people all of a sudden get to talk about your weight openly.
Nobody asks you, “How did you do it?” when you gain weight. When you’re overweight, or if we’re being honest, obese, weight is not talked about at all. When you go with your friend to a trendy boutique, you do not tell her that the sizes there don’t go up high enough for you to wear. When your waistline is expanding so much that even your shoe size increases, nobody asks you what size you wear because nobody buys you clothes besides socks.
I lost weight slowly. No crazy crash diet. Eat less, move more. It was subtle for a while. A lot of people commented on how different my hair looked. But it wasn’t my hair.
Soon, it becomes so evident that people can’t NOT comment. For me it was around the 40 pound mark, when I was forced to buy new clothes that finally fit me. And that’s when the questions started.
“How did you do it?”
They wanted me to have an easy answer, and I could see their disappointment when I told them I counted calories and worked out. That was no fun. It was simple but hard. Who wants that?
But the real answer was actually much more complicated.
Here’s what my diet plan truly looked like.
7 Easy Steps to Weight Loss
Step 1: Move to a city where you don’t know anybody. Eat a lot of candy bars because you are lonely. (Weight change: +21 pounds)
I moved to Colorado when I was 26. I was actually pretty healthy when I got here. Which was appropriate since it’s one of the healthiest states in the country. In my first year, I got outside a lot, went on lots of hikes — even dabbled in running.
But I was also lonely. And starting a new job was much harder than I had anticipated. Some bad habits crept in. I ate a lot of chocolate and French fries (not together … I had standards!) I started putting on weight, and found myself avoiding healthy activities. Which compounded the problem. And then …
Step 2: Turn 29. Watch your metabolism slowly shrivel up. (Weight change: +18 pounds)
In my early 20s, I lost around 20 pounds. Literally, all I did was change what I ate. I started incorporating more salads and actually reading labels. But exercise was no part of my weight loss. I remember going to the gym with my roommate a few times, and walking painfully, ridiculously slow on the treadmill. I had probably burned more calories changing into my workout clothes than I did working out.
But when I hit 29, changing my diet no longer did the trick. My metabolism slowed dramatically. I even went to the doctor, convinced something was wrong with my thyroid. SURELY it wasn’t my diet of burgers and pizza.
When everything checked out fine, I tried a new approach …
Step 3: Try a bunch of fad diets. Eat slow carbs. Eat no carbs. Read books about carb cycling while eating cookies. (Weight change: +16 pounds)
Did you know that fad diets don’t work? Not long-term at least. Nothing I tried would have ever been sustainable long-term. That’s why those diets always fail.
Can you eat cabbage soup and drink water with cayenne pepper and lemon for a week? Sure. Can you do it for a year? Not a chance.
Step 4: Go to grad school. Spend 2 years and $40,000 on a writing degree. Eat a LOT of pizza. Drink a LOT of coffee. And soda. (Weight change: +11 pounds)
Maybe it’s not grad school for you? Maybe it’s the aftermath of a break-up. Maybe it’s a job change or a death in your family. Whatever it is, this is the point where something else takes all of your energy.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that’s pulling your focus away from your health, but it’s in this season that self-care vanishes.
At this point in the process, you will have gained 66 pounds. You may think “Wait, I’m doing something wrong.” You will look in the mirror and hate what you see. You will feel tired and bloated and unhappy with yourself. That’s why this next step is so important.
Step 5: Have grace for yourself.
I know it’s tempting to skip this step. But if you really want to know my “secret,” this is it.
Valuing yourself will look different for all of us. For me, I had to figure out when I stopped loving myself. When I lost sight of myself as created in the image of God.
For me, it started with going to an amazing counselor. She and I dug a lot into my childhood, where we discovered, I didn’t have a lot of grace for myself. Whenever I felt myself getting sad about something that had happened in my past, whenever I sensed that familiar darkness approaching, I would just say “Suck it up, Campbell.” (Apparently, I turned into a high school gym teacher when I got sad.)
But exploring my past, both in counseling and through my writing, flipped some kind of switch. As my familiar childhood fears and insecurities came back, I wanted to hold her hand and tell her it was going to be OK. I wanted to kneel by her and look her in the eye and tuck that constant wayward lock of hair behind her ear and tell her, “Things feel bad now. They will get better.”
I’ve thought of her, of little Brandy, a lot in the last year. I’ve thought of her as I’ve sat on my patio and eaten chunks of tomatoes and cucumbers dipped in hummus, knowing she would have preferred veggies she had picked herself out of the garden, but would have turned her nose up at the hummus, declaring it “gross.”
When I’ve gone on runs at the park near my house I’ve thought of her, how she would have loved the playground there but would have felt overwhelmed by brashness of the big kids. The swings would have been her favorite.
And I’ve thought of her the most as I’ve looked in the mirror. I no longer look at that person with disgust. Even before the weight loss really took hold, back when people were still asking “Did you do something different with your hair,” I would stare in the mirror, into those familiar blue eyes, and think, You can do this. It’s hard, but you are worth it. You are worth more than greasy food and feeling out of breath and sad all the time. You are worth it.
Which leads me to step 6 — the final and most important step. The step you must take before you actually lose a pound.
Step 6: Like yourself.
You don’t even have to love yourself to start with. Just like you. Stop talking to yourself like your high school gym teacher. Start talking to yourself like your friend.
I’ve always gotten a little tripped up over the verse that says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Because, historically, I have loved my neighbor better than I’ve loved myself.
For me, liking myself involved lots of prayer and self-care and surrounding myself with people who demonstrated God’s love to me in real, tangible ways.
I prayed that God would give me strength for the journey. Because it is a hard journey. And a lot of days, I wanted to give up. But I leaned into the belief that God created me, and I need to value his creation.
My counselor reminded me often that taking care of yourself isn’t “selfish.” There’s a reason the theme of “rest” occurs over and over in Scripture. A day of rest. Jesus getting away for rest. Eternal rest for the saints. So I began taking long walks and hikes and saying no to things that weren’t healthy and yes to things that were.
And God then filled my life with people who were His hands and feet. The friend who encouraged me on a hike that I didn’t believe I could do. A co-worker who, out of the blue, told me I was an inspiration to her. Over and over, these people held up my arms when I was too tired to do it myself.
Step 7: Count your calories and work out a lot. (Weight change: -75 pounds)
But that’s the simple part.
Copyright Brandy Campbell 2016. All rights reserved.