Monday, 28 October 2013

The Truth Behind the Before and After

Before and After pictures are HUGE among the fitness crowd. So much so that there is a whole special day and hashtag dedicated to them on instagram - #TransformationTuesday. I have always shied away from sharing my numbers and talking about weight loss for a couple of reasons - but the biggest reason being that the number has nothing to do with my health, the things that I have learned, and the journey that I have been on. But for some reason, despite almost never mentioning my weight or the scale, I have had many people asking about it. In fact for the last month "Darwinian Fail Weight" has been among the top 3 search terms in my google analytics. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

So today I have decided to share my numbers (as horrifying as that is for me...) in hopes of showing that this has been a process. Before and After highlight these amazing dramatic changes - it is probably why we love them. But they don't show all that happens in between. And it is what happens in between that really matters. I did not start out running marathons. I didn't (and still don't) always eat the right things and train the right way. And sometimes the things I did were down right unhealthy. But after 10 years, I think I may have figured it out...

Before Numbers.. 
(** I used the US Navy Calculator to put together my Body Fat Stats**)
Age: 19
Height: 5'4
Weight: 168 lbs
Body Fat: 32%
Body Fat Category: Obese
Blood Pressure: borderline high  
Pant Size: 12 
Surgeries: 2

So I can't give you an accurate account of my "Before" weight. I was honestly too scared to step on the scale at a certain point. So when I eventually weighed myself I was probably already a month or so into making changes to my diet and exercise routine. I think it is very possible, that I was actually in the 170's when this whole journey began.

How it all started...
The picture that made me cry
The weight gain started just how it starts for anyone. At first it was just a couple of LBS and a bag of chips to ease the stress of my fresh diagnosis. Then a few more. Soon my clothes no longer fit, but I lied to myself and said that I didn't care. And decided that maybe this was just how things were going to be from now on. So my bad habits continued, there was some more stress eating, and then before I knew it I didn't even recognize the girl I saw in the mirror anymore. I hated it, but I didn't really know how to change it, so I ignored it.

Then one day while struggling to find a pair of pants that fit, a friend sent me a photo from the night before, and I started to cry. I looked about twice the size as all of my friends in this picture. And looking at that photo I couldn't ignore it anymore. I had gained a lot of weight. And I had used my health as an excuse. I wasn't fat because I had a heart condition. I was fat because the life I was living wasn't healthy. I could not continue to stay on this path. And it was going to take a lot of hard work and honesty on my part.

Starting Small...
That night I ordered 3 Vegetarian cookbooks on rush order from Amazon. I also spent the night plastering my walls, bulletin boards, and cupboards with inspirational notes and images to help keep me focused and on track. And then the very next day I went to my first hot yoga class.

I started to make small changes, and decided that I needed to make health a priority. My goals were simple - try to eat healthy and try to exercise. That is all I did. I didn't count calories, but I opted to go Vegetarian. The plant-based lifestyle came highly recommended by my cardiologist and it also made many of go-to treats unavailable (aka no burgers, no chicken wings, no late night pepperoni pizzas). It helped me avoid temptation. And I had never met a Fat Vegetarian, so it seemed like a good idea.

I also started to go to the gym. My goal was to be active 4-5x a week. I started going to yoga once a week (it was all I could afford on my student budget) and I went to the university gym the other 4 days. Most of the machines scared me, and I didn't really know what I was doing. So I spent most of my time on the elliptical. I worked my way up from 30 minutes to 60 minutes, but adding 5 extra minutes to my sessions each week. And slowly weight started to come off.

I Started to Run...
That summer I stayed at school to take a summer course and to work. I bought a bike to get around, and stuck to my new vegetarian diet. I also started running, after one holiday Monday threw a monkey wrench in my ellipitcal plan. The gym was closed! That meant no ellipitical and no workout. I didn't want to skip my workout, especially when I just started to build momentum. So I begrudgingly laced up my sneakers - after procrastinating for several hours - and then hit the streets. I did a short loop downtown, and didn't totally hate it.

When describing my run later that night over drinks with some friends, one of the girls (re: a real runner) informed me that I had actually conquered a fairly good distance, likely 4 km! What? Me?! I was hooked, and started regularly running a 10km loop she helped me map out. I couldn't run the whole distance at first, walks breaks were required. But every week I ran I a little more. And then a little more. And eventually I could run the whole thing.

People started to notice that I was losing weight. My clothes started to get too big. And by the end of the summer I was down 45lbs. I felt great. I was proud of myself for making these changes, but I was convinced that at any minute I would gain the weight back. In fact I couldn't even bring myself to get rid of my bigger clothes. I kept them in a box in the basement for 2 two year, just in case I needed them. And I found myself stuck in a vicious cycle.

The Vicious Cycle...
I only chose healthy things to please the scale. It wasn't about being healthy, it was just about being skinny. And it was definitely a struggle to find a happy balance. My weight fluctuated between gaining and losing the same 5-10 lbs over and over again. I would never go so far as to say I had an ED. But I battled with food and exercise. There was lots of crazy restrictive eating phases, promptly followed by a junk food binge, promptly followed by excessive exercise. It was a cycle of guilt and negativity. I wasn't thin enough. I wasn't pretty enough. I didn't measure up. I simply was not enough.

The scale ruled my life. If the number wasn't what I wanted it to be then I spent the day miserable and plotting how I would change that. If I felt okay about the number than I didn't need to exercise and I would probably snack on some chips later. The number became all consuming. There were regular meltdowns about the size of my thighs, or the way a certain dress looked. And all of it was about that number.

Saying Good-bye to the Numbers...
This vicious cycle went on for years, until about 2 years ago. After getting my positive BRCA diagnosis, and deciding the go through with my double mastectomy, I realized I was going to have to get right with my body (flaws, fat, and all) or else I was going to spend the rest of my life hating my own reflection. I didn't want to be that girl anymore. I wanted to be healthy. And I wanted to be happy.

I knew that having surgery was going to take its toll on my body, so I set out on a mission to make sure I was as healthy as possible going in. I signed up for a bunch of local races. And I started to run to train, rather than to lose weight. I wanted to run to challenge myself.  I wanted to run to make my body strong. And slowly I stopped taking my body for granted. I realized how lucky I was to be healthy enough to run. And as I conquered each new distance I realized that my body really was so much stronger than I ever gave it credit for.

Suddenly things started to change. I stopped stressing about the scale, in fact I stopped weighing myself all together. I stopped stressing about my meal plan. And started to eat intuitively and to fuel my training. I started reading up on cancer prevention and diet. And I started seeing how food could help heal my body. And I started writing this little blog.

After Number...
(** I used the US Navy Calculator to put together my Body Fat Stats**)
Age: almost 29
Height: still 5'4
Weight: 112 lbs 
Body Fat: 17%
Body Fat Category: Athletic
Blood Pressure: Perfect
Pant Size: 0-2
Surgeries: 6

According to my Before and After transformation I have lost 56 lbs., but it took me 10 years and toasting the ta-tas to get to a healthy place. The path to get from Before to After was not exactly straight forward. There were ups and downs - both emotionally and physically. And there are still days that I struggle to see how far I have come, rather than the insecure, chubby girl, who is battling her body.

I have had 6 surgeries since this adventure began. I have also run a marathon, 5 half marathon, 2 triathlons, and whole bunch of other races while I was at it. I have learned that having a glass of wine and some dessert won't make or break my efforts. And while I try to eat clean most of the time, I still like pizza, and burgers, and chicken wings. After-Me has learned that missing a workout isn't the end of the world. Life is short, and it is meant to be enjoyed. Your health is important, but your life should also be celebrated. The truth is I gave up stressing about being skinny , and started to focus on what really mattered, being healthy. (a small change but it made a HUGE difference) It is how I discovered balance.

Over the years I have had to work hard to make this broken little body strong and healthy again. And it is my health that I am most grateful for. In a few days I am going to run my second marathon, and I know how far I have come. It is the journey that defined me, not the numbers. It took me a long time to get here, but I am so glad I made it.

Love Your Favourite Darwinian Fail,