When I tell people that I lost 130 pounds, they often ask me two questions.
“How did you do it?” is one, obviously hoping for some easy cure that they can also use.
The other is, “What prompted you to lost weight then?”
What I find more interesting, though, is what people don’t ask. “What was the experience like?” or “What has it been like since you lost weight?”
I can’t fault anyone for this, because it’s not something I ever thought about either. What did it matter what the experience was like? That wasn’t the point, as diets will tell you. The only goal is to get those numbers on the scale down, to change clothes size, to fall into the “normal” range on the BMI chart.
As for what life is like afterward, the answer is so obvious that the question doesn’t need to be asked. Once you lose weight, everything will be perfect. Won’t it? Aren’t thin people always cheerful and popular and have their lives together? it’s easy to think that when you’re on the heavy side, but the reality isn’t that simple.
When I think of this now, and realize that the experience and what comes afterward are the truly important parts, my heart aches at my own short-sightedness, fueled by society’s take on weight.
We are so afraid of truly feeling, especially if it’s pain or loss or sorrow, that the idea of experiencing our bodies and emotions is downright terrifying. We shy away from delving into the questions of why – why we gained weight to begin with, why we eat when and what we do, why we are not happy. We forget that even the worst of it has an end, that we will not be trapped in those emotions forever.
As I started fumbling my way through reconnecting with my body, with learning about myself, I had two advantages. One was knowing that I could cope with those dark emotions, having been forced to do so. The other was having a specific goal about what I wanted to do once I lost weight: I was going to climb Katahdin.
Beyond that, though, it was as if my life on the other side of weight loss was a blank slate. I never thought about it, or realized how drastically different it would be.
Yet as Joshua Rosenthal, founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, notes, “Health is a vehicle, not a goal.”
The question is, a vehicle for what? To just rest on your laurels and say you’d done it? To go back to the way things were? Even if I’d wanted to return to my previous life and habits, I couldn’t. The experience had changed me too radically. I was no longer content to hide in shadows, to live in shame and fear and guilt.
I still couldn’t quite articulate what I did want, but I love how Geneen Roth describes it – to feel alive and good in your body, to discover what we’re here to do in this world that only we can do. For me, it was learning that this form of ministry is my calling, to help others along their own journey, to support them as they ask and answer their own questions.
I never would have guessed that, but I can not now imagine not doing this work. It is what I am here to do.
I only hope that my small efforts will help to bring this understanding to more people – that our goals for our health are not simply about numbers or bathing suits or external criteria, but about loving your life and yourself, living with passion, and being the person you were meant to be.