In the January issue of “O” magazine Oprah says she now weighs 200 pounds and has “fallen off the wagon.” There are many of us out there that want you to know; we know how ya feel, girl.
“I’m embarrassed...I can’t believe that after all these years, all the things I know how to do, I’m still talking about my weight. I look at my thinner self and think, ‘How did I let this happen again?” ---Oprah, "How Did I Let This Happen Again?"
Anyone who has ever been concerned about his or her weight knows it’s not only a struggle to lose it, but to keep it off as well! In response to Oprah’s article in the January issue of “O” magazine, NBCPhiladelphia.com has asked a series of individuals to write about their experiences with weight loss.
I began my weight loss journey five years ago in the public eye on the TV show “The Biggest Loser”. I naively thought that after months of standing on the world’s largest scale in my all-too-revealing weigh-in spandex, sick to my stomach with dread that I would not have lost enough weight to keep me from elimination, that back home, back in the real world I would begin to wage my war on weight privately. Boy was I wrong!
Since then I must admit that at times I have felt that all eyes were on me, watching, waiting to see if I would keep my weight off or not. I have gone to restaurants and had my server scream “Biggest Loser” and all trace of an appetite has disappeared with guilt that I was going to order something that may be scrutinized and found inappropriate for someone struggling to maintain weight loss. I have gone to the grocery store and had people stop me in the aisle to see what I have in my shopping cart. The panic that ensued was unreal. It has taken me several years, and a lot of soul searching to realize that I do not need to live under this microscope anymore.
I began this journey of weight loss for myself. I did not have a husband or children that I felt I had to get healthy for or else I wouldn’t be around to love and care for them. This journey was always about me and what I wanted for myself. I swore that I was going to take back control. I was going to remember that although I truly wanted to be a good example to others, especially my students, that I had to be able to live a real life, and that meant letting go of feeling there was some unrealistic ideal I had to live up to in the way I led my life. I am a real person, a perfectly flawed human being, who happened to be on a weight loss TV show.
Weight loss is such a private thing for any person. Generally no one else knows our weight except maybe our doctor. I had lived a life trapped in the body of a fat person and the mind of a person who wanted to be invisible. Now I was constantly asked in the airport, at school, on the street what I weighed. It was as if people honestly thought they should remain privy to what I was tipping in at on the scales even though my time on the show had long since ended.
For me I became a slave to the scale. All I did was weigh myself several times a day, and if that scale tipped in the wrong direction I would begin obsessing. I would drastically reduce my caloric intake and exercise as if it were my job. The problem was this wasn’t the ranch anymore, I had a job, I was directing plays, I was dating, and I was thrust back in the real world with all its stresses and distractions and unfortunately, working out and obsessing over losing weight could not be my full time job.
For years after the show I lived the extreme weight loss mentality I had gained on the show. I would exercise for at least 4 hours every day and eat barely 1200 calories in order to just maintain my weight. It was a cruel and endless cycle that left me frustrated, sad, and unfulfilled. I had forgotten that I had taken the opportunity to go on the show to work on myself so that I could come home a better-version of myself and thus more fully enjoy life.
I wasn’t living life, I was denying myself life the way I denied myself temptations on the ranch. I felt alone and trapped. I avoided social events (there might be fatty foods there), I cancelled all the time on my friends, and dating…what was dating! I slowly learned that life isn’t about fitting into size 8 dresses especially if I had nowhere to wear the dress because I have no life.
I took a good hard look at myself and decided that I wanted to be healthy and happy. Living for being thin wasn’t making me happy! I had worked so hard, should have been so proud, but that never seemed to be enough. I had been given the opportunity of a lifetime to lose weight and change my life on a hit NBC TV show.
I felt I had to prove daily I was worthy of that opportunity that so many desired. Yet I was slowly beginning to realize that I had nothing to prove to anyone but myself. I had made a commitment to get healthy not rail thin. Rail thin will never be my reality and that was why I was feeling like a failure. I had gone from a size 24 to a size 8 and I still looked in the mirror and saw a plus-sized girl! I hinged all my hopes on being thin…”If I can just get thin then I will get that promotion, I will meet the man of my dreams and be swept off my feet, I will be loved, happy!"
I had deluded myself into believing that thinness was the missing link to my happiness and as soon as I attained it all would be well, I would finally feel fulfilled.
I know now that isn’t true. It has been a hard lesson to learn. I have struggled to maintain my weight these last five years and found that losing weight was not the hardest challenge but keeping it off was. I had now begun to live life again. I was spending time with family and friends. I was directing plays again and I even fell in love. In the midst of all these things I began to relax. I began to relax and with that I began to forget. I began to forget all the things I had learned about putting myself first, about not losing myself to life. Not giving and giving to others so that I could hide myself behind this mountain of giving and no longer been seen.
One of the things I struggle most with is putting me first. My father is always telling me, “Thinking of you isn’t selfish. Thinking only of you is selfish.” Many people may wonder why this concept is so hard to grasp but for anyone who has struggles with self-image and ultimately, self-esteem this will make perfect sense. I had spent years wanting to fade into the background to be like everyone else but that was hard to do hulking around a 242lb. frame.
I so wanted to just live a normal life. I didn’t want to worry about every morsel of food I put in my mouth. I didn’t want to have to admit to my boyfriend that I couldn’t see him because I needed to work out or else I would most assuredly blow up into a fat cow again like I was before I met him. I wanted to just live in the world of a thin person who didn’t have to worry every day whether or not she would gain her weight back.
I found I started skipping workouts; I started eating to celebrate, eating to feel better, or eating to seem normal. I slowly did start to gain weight back. As I did I began to feel worse and worse about myself. I would then go on dieting binges and work out like a maniac but I had cultivated a new life that did not allow me to sustain this because I needed to appear normal, like everyone else.
My friends weren’t tempting me with bad foods; my boyfriend wasn’t asking me to skip workouts. I was doing that. Once again I had become my own worst enemy.
Anyone who has struggled with weight will tell you that so much of the battle is mental. You feel trapped in a body you despise and therefore, you begin to despise yourself. I only felt worthy if physically I looked good. I only felt loved if I physically looked good. I began to verbally beat myself down. I began to fear all the time that my boyfriend couldn’t love me because I wasn’t thin enough, pretty enough and therefore, ultimately worthy enough. All the glow and confidence I had gained because I had conquered a life long battle were long forgotten memories. I lived once again in fear and shame. I began to gain weight and lose weight in this endless horrific cycle.
Finally I got to the point where I couldn’t separate who I was from the image I saw in the mirror, and I hated that image. I had gained maybe 25lbs but to me I might as well have been back to 242lbs. I started wearing baggy clothes, avoiding mirrors, dreading bumping into people who would recognize me from the show. I began to lose the wonderful girl I discovered throughout my incredible journey and although I still had all the knowledge in me to turn it around I had no idea how to begin.
Luckily for me I have an incredible family and friends who sat me down and gave me the tough love I needed. One friend went as far as to write down the top ten things she admires about me. Seeing this list I realized that nothing people loved about me was wrapped up in how I looked but in who I am. I started to think and I started to remember and I started to get strong! I found the will power to make the right food choices again and I rediscovered the thrill of working out and getting leaner and healthier.
I won’t lie, some days it is still so hard and I still have trouble letting it go and believing in me but on those days I just dig deeper and if I fail in some way I forgive myself and move on to the next new day that is fresh with no mistakes in it – yet!
When Oprah’s interview came out that she felt disappointed in herself for gaining her weight back I was moved. I felt oddly connected to her because we are on a similar journey and will continue to be the rest of our lives. That seems so surreal to think Oprah Winfrey and I are similar but we really are!
We both have lost weight publicly and have been big proponents of healthy living and healthy life style choices. I was so moved by her utter candor and frank talk. I know that sense of disappointment, of having attained a goal and then carelessly through my own will and choices let it slip through my fingers. I know many people probably think, “well if Oprah can’t do it and she has have every advantage I don’t how am I ever to possibly do it.”
To that I say you can have the world’s best trainer, like I did in Jillian Michaels, you can have someone cooking healthy meals for you every day but the reality is that you have to still make the choices to eat right. You still must be the one to exercise and put your body through the rigorous activity. In the end it is you who must make the decision to do this.
Honestly, just because one has lost weight doesn’t mean that it is easy to keep it off. I do not care whether you are a celebrity like Oprah Winfrey or a contestant on “The Biggest Loser” like me, when it comes down to it we are all just human beings. We all have some of the same needs, the same wants, and yes, the same cravings!
I am sure Oprah will agree with me that there are just days when you want to sit down with your skinny girlfriends and dive into a cheese steak or a piece of chocolate cake and feel no remorse or fear like your girlfriends. The reality is we should be able to have these moments.
We cannot live everyday worrying about disappointing people. If anything it makes us more like the people we are trying to inspire. If they feel the reason we are successful for losing weight is because we never fall off the wagon, then they might despair it is hopeless for them because they know they will fall off.
I have lived my life hating the number on the scale. I realize I will never be happy with that number because we live in a society that presses us to be unrealistically thin. Therefore, that number I think I should see every time I find the courage to brave the scale will be forever elusive and I will then be forever unhappy! Now at 32 I am making a promise to myself to no longer live by that number. I am not a number. I am a unique and wonderful young woman and that defines me, not my weight.
To Oprah I say, “You have inspired millions because you are a strong, giving woman who has found her passion in life and thereby found her purpose in life. That alone is reason to hold your head high. Do this for you and you alone. You may inspire others along the way but the journey and the burden are yours to bear, and it is a heavy burden without adding the weight of disappointing others to it. You are on the right track with focusing on being healthy and fit, not thin. I wish you the best of luck.”
If there is truly any wisdom I can impart to people struggling to lose weight it is to work diligently, chose wisely, forgive slips when needed, and love yourself completely. Remember this is a life journey for those of us who struggle with weight – how many people undertake a life journey and never lose their direction along the way? The way they reach their destination is by finding their way back to the path and putting one foot in front of the other. I wish you luck on your journey!