The higher I can aim, the better. I remember one year, when I blogged at Journey to Ithaca, my resolutions were: eat less poison, get completely off the grid, produce no more than one grocery bag or garbage per month, put together a 12-piece wardrobe, and have my Christmas shopping done by December 1.
I did eat less poison and put together a 12-piece wardrobe. And with the other goals, I learned a lot about goal setting.
Another case in point? My efforts to exercise consistently and lose weight.
I tried to start exercising my senior year of high school, when I was still thin. After a year of therapy and medication, I had successfully quit my meds and was sitting in my last therapy session. My therapist was not stellar (in fact, I had to go to therapy as an adult to unlearn a lot of things that I learned from the professionals I worked with during that time of my life!), but she did have one nugget of advice to give me. When I asked her what I could do to help maintain my mental health, she was adamant that I start an exercise program.
I set out to do some research, and I learned that our local community center offered a free step class for high school students. I eagerly attended and felt comfortable amongst the teens of various shapes, sizes, and ability levels in the class. Our instructor was a cheerful 20-something named Jodi, with a bouncy pony tail. We all really liked her.
I went to that class for about 6 months, until I graduated. It was a few months until I got brave enough to attend my first class as an adult.
I started at the community center, since it was familiar. But I noticed that the adult classes lacked community. I also noticed that my heart rate often got too high during class, so I had to use less support under my step and smaller weights. I became very self-conscious about this.
In the brochure for the community center, was an ad for a new women’s fitness center. I went there and immediately loved the community!
What I did not love, were the large mirrors. I was skinny and weak. I could noticably do less than everyone else. I paid for 28 classes, but stopped attending before I used them all. When I thought about going back, the center had gone out of business.
When I first got married, I visited a local health club. They offered me a great deal and a trainer put me on a program. However, I looked so weak compared to the teenage athletes who were also working out, that I only went there twice.
I did a couch-to-5k plan from Prevention magazine. I followed it until I was running 5 miles…Until I ran past some redneck teenagers in our neighborhood, who followed me, mocking my slow running.
It was 10 years before I tried working out again.
I have told my hit and miss yoga story here, but the short version is that I did not stick with a work-out until I found a tight-knit, small yoga studio with a teacher who was patient enough to work with anybody. And only then, did I notice the benefits I was gaining from yoga, to the point where I experience physical pain and noticable mental differences if I miss more than 2 classes in a week.
Diet is the same pattern. I tried diet after diet, giving up when I “slipped up” or “fell off the wagon.” Weight Watchers, in the end, left me with no excuses. It was only acceptable to speak of your journey in positive terms, and it became easy for me to see how much happier I am when I am eating well.
Recently, I regained 9 pounds. But when I finally weighed myself, I also noted that I have kept 19 pounds off. It’s not even a matter of the glass being half full, versus half empty.
So I am getting back on track.
So are you planning on making any New Year’s Resolutions? If you are, here are some lessons I have learned from my experience in setting (and achieving!) goals:
1. When (not if) you “slip up,” first look at the reasons for your “lack of motivation.”
Why are you not motivated to stick with your changes? Is there a good reason? Before you judge or muscle your way through, look at your reasons for quitting. I quit the step classes because I was self-conscious and needed a close-knit community without mirrors. I quit the yoga classes at the gyms, because I did not feel like I belonged. Once I found an exercise program that met my needs, motivation was no longer an issue.
2. Look at your reasons “why.”
After you look at your reasons for slipping up, look at your reasons for making the changes. Are you doing it just because someone told you to do it, or you think it is what you are supposed to do? Is this what you really want?
3. Try not to compare.
We are all different, and everyone struggles with something. If you are struggling with making a positive change, then the thing you are trying to change is not easy for you. So don’t compare yourself to the people who have it easy! Close your eyes, and make your best the only thing that you need!
4. Look at the big picture.
Slip-ups are a part of making changes. Growth is not a straight line, but it is a general trend. I regained 9 pounds, but I have still kept 19 off. Focus on the 19, not the 9. You are going to fall on and off the wagon. That is life.
5. Find supportive friends.
When you are frustrated, don’t talk to just anybody. Some friends will help you focus on the positive, and others will discourage you further. Learn to tell the difference.
What positive changes are you working on in the upcoming new year? What strategies have you found to be helpful when making changes?
We spent the past week visiting family and tying up loose ends in Michigan.
It was a week of changes and travel. We flew to a hotel in Detroit, rented a car and drove to our hometown of Midland, spent 3 days staying in a travel trailer at my father-in-law’s house, visited with my grandmas for one day, drove 3 hours to Grand Haven where we cleaned out our old sailboat, spent a rainy night tent camping on the beach, drove 3 more hours to Buchanan to visit my brother-in-law and meet my new nephew, spent one night at their house, then drove for 3 days with our friends who moved to Texas, camping along the way.
At my Weight Watchers meetings, we have talked a lot about vacations. The consensus is that these are times to maintain, or even just try to minimize the weight gain. It is perfectly okay not to track while on vacation.
This is all well and good, except that I had fallen off the wagon big time in the two weeks before we left. I gained weight at two meetings in a row. I was feeling anxious and lethargic, and I really needed to get back on track. When I eat better, I feel better.
So I tracked everything I ate on this trip, enjoyed some yummy treats, and planned ahead for each scenario we encountered. While this might not sound like fun, it actually helped me to feel better physically and mentally. I kept a level head throughout the trip and had a much higher energy level than I have in the past.
I do not weigh in until Wednesday, so we don’t know the official end result. But looking at my own scale, I lost somewhere between 2-4 pounds.
How did I have an amazing time, eat yummy food, and still lose weight? Let me tell you about each scenario and how I handled it!
Friday: Flying Out
Rob and I discussed our meal plans for the airport, ahead of time. We knew we would be eating there, since we like to give ourselves plenty of time to get through security. I looked on the airport’s website and saw that there is a Chick-Fil-A there. I had planned on ordering grilled nuggets, which are 1 point, but they did not offer them. After quickly consulting my app, I ordered a grilled chicken market salad with no dressing. This was 5 points, and it tasted amazing, even without the dressing.
For the flight, I packed my favorite 0 point snack–boiled eggs!
A quick tidbit of wisdom: If you are flying with a bag of boiled eggs, take them out of your bag when you go through security. While they are not considered liquids, the scanner identifies them as such, which can lead to having your bag searched. Of course the TSA agents found this highly amusing, as they had never encountered someone flying with a bag of eggs before!
Saturday: At the Hotel and On the Road!
We spent our first night at a hotel in Detroit, where we were treated to a continental breakfast. I enjoyed 1/4 of the gigantic waffles made by the machine, for 2 points. I also grabbed some 0 point fruit.
We then drove our rental car 3 hours to Midland, and we stopped at a grocery store on the way. I bought provisions for my favorite on-the-road lunch: sandwiches. We bought low-calorie bread (1 point per slice), light mayo (1 point per tablespoon), 98% fat free turkey lunch meat (0 points for 3 slices, 1 point for a full serving), and water. I also grabbed some fruit, fat-free cheese, Greek yogurt, and ranch mix to use once we reached our destination.
Saturday Night and Sunday: Visiting and Cooking Collaboratively
We arrived at my father-in-law’s house in time for dinner, which was sloppy joes. My stepmother-in-law and I always prepare meals together when I visit, so using the substitutions I brought was not a problem. (I do have a rule that I will eat anything that is homemade when visiting, because cooking is an act of love). I used my low-calorie bread and kept my sandwich open-faced. Ground beef is 4 points, sloppy joe sauce is 1 point, and the bread was one point. I had been conservative in my point values, so I also had enough points to enjoy some 4 point potato salad!
My stepmother-in-law keeps a fruit bowl in her kitchen, and she said we were welcome to munch on it during our stay. Whenever I was hungry, I nibbled on grapes. We planned breakfast together and ended up having French toast (made with my low-calorie bread, so it was 1 point per slice) with homemade strawberry syrup (I made mine without sugar, so it was 0 points), and sausage (3 points). The next morning, we had scrambled eggs (I used fat free cheese in mine, so they were 0 points) and sausage.
Fun in our hometown!
Lunch was, of course, sandwiches, and we went out for pizza on Sunday. This may seem like an impossible situation, but I had one slice of pizza, which I ate mindfully and thoroughly enjoyed. Then I finished my meal with a salad with no dressing.
Monday: Conquering the Chinese Buffet!
I treated myself to an early-morning yoga class on Monday. This got me some exercise, which I had been lacking, and helped me to stay positive and energized!
After having eggs for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch, we headed off to visit my grandmas. We spent a lovely time with my grandma Eileen at her house, then went to do some work at my grandma Misty’s house. (Her real name is Elaine, but I called her grandma Misty as a child, because I got my two grandma’s names mixed up. Fun fact: “Elaine” and “Eileen” are both variants of “Iliana”!)
When we moved to Texas, we left some items behind, and they eventually ended up my grandma’s garage. Our mission on this trip was to remove these items and drive them back to Texas in my father-in-law’s truck, which we were borrowing.
But before we set to work, we needed to eat. And we have a long-standing tradition of eating at Chinese buffets with my grandma and my Aunt Anne.
Yikes, right? Nope. Yum!
I began with hot and sour soup, for 3 points. Then I loaded up on 0 point shrimp and vegetables. I decided to have small servings and sesame chicken and General Tso’s chicken for 3-ish points, then used the rest of my points on Szechuan chicken (7-ish points) and half of an egg roll (3 points). I left feeling full and satisfied, without going over on my daily points!
Tuesday: Rainy, Yucky, and Stressful!
Then Tuesday happened. After a healthy breakfast of eggs and sausage, we drove to Grand Haven to work on Moonraker, our old boat. In the summer of 2012, we had sailed Moonraker from Bay City, on Lake Huron, to Grand Haven, on Lake Michigan. We had dry docked the boat with the mast down, planning on beginning the Great Loop the next summer. However, we moved to Texas instead, and the boat has been dry docked ever since.
We were determined to make this our last “working” trip to Michigan, so that meant that we had one day to empty and clean the boat, so that we could make arrangements for the marina to broker it.
The good news: The boat was in remarkably good shape.
The bad news: It was yucky and rainy all day.
I had hoped to make it to a yin yoga class in Grand Haven that evening, but the traffic we encountered on our trip to the store made that impossible. We finished at 6:30 on the dot. I had thought that the office closed at 6:30, but they actually closed at 6. So we weren’t able to sign over the title. We will do that by mail.
That evening we headed to our wet campsite on the beach. I had made reservations when the forecast looked good, or otherwise, we would have stayed at a hotel. We had found a tent in my grandma’s garage, which she said we could have. The stakes did not take hold in the sand, so it drooped.
That evening I was hangry! Grand Haven was supposed to be the high point of our trip, and it was nothing but yuck. We were not really able to enjoy one of our favorite port towns, from our sailing trip.
I didn’t make sandwiches for dinner. I went to Subway.
Did I order a salad? A low-fat sub?
I got myself a pizza. With extra cheese. And not fat free cheese either. Rob and I split a large bottle of wine.
And I tracked none of it.
Iliana, however, had a great time. She played with the other kids in the campground and loved the sand. We saw a lovely sunset over the water and watched the musical fountain, which had been a mainstay of our week on the seawall in Moonraker.
Wednesday: Visiting my Foodie Brother-in-Law
Wednesday is supposed to be my weigh-in day, and I had found a meeting near my brother-in-law’s house in Buchanan. If we broke camp at 6 am, I could make it.
We broke camp at 8:30.
So I had no idea how much damage I had done, but my weekly points had reset. I carefully chose a breakfast sandwich from Subway, tracked the points, and enjoyed the drive to Buchanan.
After finally meeting my 7 month old nephew, Will, we discussed our plans for the day. We decided to make our own wraps before heading to a winery. We were treated to a tasting, before settling on the most wonderful, caramelly tasting Pinot Grigio I have ever experienced.
Then we returned home for dinner and my brother-in-law made us very large, very delicious steaks, with mashed potatoes. I finished a portion much larger than a deck of cards and enjoyed every bite.
Breakfast was the most wonderful biscuits and gravy that I have ever eaten, along with hash brown potatoes. And orange juice.
By the time we left that morning, I had 0 weekly points remaining. Yes, I ate them all in one day! (And if the truth be told, I actually went into the negative by 18!) I have no regrets.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday: Road Trip!
After eating that breakfast, we hit the road, so we could meet up with our friends who were moving to Texas. I bought fruit and boiled eggs for snacks (both are 0 points), and we ate sandwiches for lunch.
We camped in the evening and grilled turkey hot dogs (2 points) over the fire. Breakfast was fruit over Greek yogurt, and I added a salad with my lunch that day.
Lots of water, lots of salad and sandwiches, and lots of fruit and boiled eggs. Every morning, we stopped at the grocery store before we left.
Friday night, we stayed at a campground with a fitness center. I stepped on the scale in the evening, when I was full of water weight, and saw that I had lost 2 pounds! I am excited to see how I do at my weigh-in on Wednesday!
In my last post, I told you about how getting rid of my Smartphone changed my life, in a positive way. And one of the largest positives was that it led me to spend less time on Facebook.
My relationship with Facebook was already complicated. In November 2012, I deleted my account, and did not have another account for a year. I found that my life was less stressful and I wasted less time online, in pointless arguments, once I deleted Facebook.
I kept in touch with many people in the minimalist blogging community through email. I did spend way too much time writing emails, as I used email as my substitute for social networking. It was enjoyable and addictive at first, but eventually the emails fizzled.
A year later, many of the bloggers I had connected with were either ending their blogs or moving forward and trying to expand and monetize. I had moved to Texas, and my blog was more of a photo-sharing site for my family at that time. I communicated with my relatives across the country through mass e-mails and pictures on my blog. I found that Facebook was a much simpler way to do this, so I created a new account.
Facebook was incredibly helpful as I settled into my new community when we moved into the marina. I connected with a Moms’ group and two special needs parenting groups. I connected with friends from yoga. Through Facebook I arranged play dates, found out about local events, and participated in a “Freecycle” type group. It really helped me to get settled in here.
Throughout that time, however, I was learned and changing, rapidly. I was developing a new view of myself and of life in general. I was learning to value myself. There were popularily-held ideas that I was beginning to question.
The first sign that my Facebook days were limited came after the Santa Fe school shooting. This was practically in my back yard, and I know people who were personally affected.
I found out about the tragedy on Facebook, from my friends marking themselves and their children “safe.” I got no housework done that morning, and spent hours on Facebook, learning what was known about what happened, and making sure the people I knew were all right.
Then, as I binged on blueberries and plain Greek yogurt (I got a gold star for that at my next Weight Watchers meeting!), I realized with dread, where the conversation was going to go next. It was going to turn into a heated political debate, and then a subgroup of people would be scapegoated.
I remembered that in past school shootings, people with autism were blamed. And after Parkland, it was people with mental health diagnoses. That seemed to be the most popular group to turn into “others”. Because we can’t believe that a “normal” person like us, could ever do such a thing.
Unfortunately, we all have issues, and if you are actually working on yours, you are probably going to have a mental health diagnosis, or many, in your lifetime. And I am no exception. I have been told that I have no mental health diagnosis now, but at various points in my journey I have been placed in many different categories within the DSM. It’s just how it is. Like everyone else, I had a lot of crap to work through. But if you know me at all, you know that there has never been a point in my life where I was at any risk of becoming a mass-murderer.
But you can also imagine that seeing people who have received a diagnosis, being marginalized and scapegoated, is a wee bit upsetting for me.
At first I asked questions and even argued with people. Then I saw that, without commenting on anything, one of my friends turned her profile picture to, “Closed for spiritual maintenance” as soon as she heard about the shooting.
A lightbulb went off in my head, and I refrained from logging in for a few days. I decided that people were just talking nonsense, because they would never say any of those thing to me in person. And if they did want to talk about how incredibly dangerous I was when I was having social anxiety, they could be my guest, in person.
This break was lovely, and my mind settled rather quickly. I started going out and seeing friends more. But Facebook was still right there, and it pulled me in after a couple days.
The second sign that it was time to leave Facebook happened a little less close to home. It was when Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain died.
Now, I can’t afford designer accessories, and I don’t have cable television. So I had absolutely no idea who either of these people were, or what struggles they faced in their journies.
But I did see everybody’s response on my newsfeed.
Just like the school shooting, we don’t want to believe that a “normal” person like us could die by suicide. So of course, we have to establish that they are “others.”
And you guessed it. They were “others” because they had mental health diagnoses. Depression, specifically. I lost interest in knowing what labels I had and when, since it has just been a continuous journey for me, but I do know that it was “depression” at least once.
I had learned that depression–or whatever emotional struggle was a part of my journey at any given time–had physical and cognitive components, and for that reason, there was a lot I could do. In yoga I learned breathing exercises and stretches to calm my central nervous system. With my dietician, I learned which foods would help settle my mind. I knew that walking and listening to uplifting music would do a lot for my mood. I knew that I needed daily exercise and eight hours of sleep. I had an entire toolbox of cognitive strategies that I could use when my thoughts were spiralling.
I knew that if all of these tools weren’t enough, I could see a doctor and get medication to help. And I knew that if, God forbid, I had persistant suicidal thoughts, I could seek help through crisis resources. I never needed to pursue either of these avenues, but they were there in my toolbox nonetheless.
But this is not how “depression” was portrayed on Facebook.
First, there were “awareness” posts about how people struggle with depression everyday, and it is a physical illness just like diabetes. Then, there were people who had a diagnosis of depression, who posted that this purely physical illness could flare up anytime, and they could be the next to die.
My thought was that if they are actually getting proper treatment, they should know they do not have to be the next to die. Drugs alone are rarely enough.
I felt horrible reading these posts, and I talked to one of my friends about how negative Facebook had become. She recommended some positive pages to follow. I did, and I put them at the top of my newsfeed. But then one of these pages joined the “it’s going to be me next” conversation.
I tried joining the conversation, sharing my experience. But my voice was just one of many in a very destructive echo chamber. People believed they were ill, that they had no hope or control, and they would only hear other voices confirming that. I did my best to leave the conversation.
At the same time, I noticed a number of my relationships were changing, as I was changing and growing. A lot of my friendships were based on the notion that we were both ill, “broken,” or “crazy.” The difference in our paths became obvious in the prevailing conversations on Facebook. It became clear that we had very little in common, other than our diagnoses.
They could not understand or support my new direction and achievements, and I could no longer give them the validation or co-misseration that they needed. I realized I needed some distance, and that I needed to spend more time interacting with people who were supportive of the course my life was now taking.
As I agonized over this, one of my friends urged me to deactivate my account for 48 hours, to give myself some breathing room. I did, without telling anyone I was going to do it, and my mind immediately calmed down. I gained some clarity about what I needed to do next.
By the end of 48 hours, my next course of action was obvious.
Facebook was convenient, but the cons far outweighed the pros.
It was sucking up hours of my day.
It was an echo chamber for negativity.
People said things on Facebook that they would never say in real life, not in a good way.
I was never happier after spending time reading my newsfeed, no matter how many people I unfollowed.
The negativity on Facebook spread, while the positive messages just seemed to fizzle away.
On Facebook I felt pulled toward slactivism. I wasn’t going to change any lives by posting about my positive experience in overcoming my challenges. In real life, I at least stand a chance of making someone’s day brighter.
So I pulled the plug. I messaged the friends I wanted to stay in contact with, and gave them my information. I downloaded all of my photos and videos (as well as the recipes that my friends had posted!).
Someone recently asked me if I missed it. The answer is easy: not at all. I am more present in my daily life. I am more mindful about the people I choose to spend my time with. And I am finding my voice.
At first glance, it can be easy to assume that the echo chamber of social media would help me to find my voice and articulate my thoughts. But it always led me to seek validation, and, as was the case with the mental health issues, it led me to feel crushed and intimidated by the echo chamber. Just having the space to think clearly and begin to speak my truth, has been amazing. It’s increased my confidence significantly.
The first time, I left Facebook, my reasons were more universal, almost political. This time, they are all personal. Someday, I might create an account again, and be very careful about the people I connect with.
Today’s post is one that have been thinking about a great deal, and I will probably spend a lot of time writing it. Because it is about something that is extremely near and dear to me. And that something is my yoga practice.
When I tell people that I practice yoga daily, they make a few assumptions. They assume I can do this:
Or maybe this:
Or at least this:
They will tell me, “You’re so lucky to be flexible! I could never do yoga.”
But the first time I walked into a yoga class, I could touch my knees when I folded forward, if I were warmed up. My shoulders were hunched forward, my left leg was shorter than my right leg, I didn’t even know that you were supposed to be able to move your hips, and I was unable to sit or stand up straight. I not only lacked flexibility, but strength as well.
I had intended to lose weight before going to my first class, but that did not seem to be happening quickly, and my curiosity finally won out. My best friend in Michigan loved yoga and kept talking about how great it was, and how nobody judges you. So I had to see for myself.
Adventures at the Gym
I wrote about that first yoga class, and a very inexpensive gym, here. I made my baby steps for over a year, going through spurts of consistent practice. After I moved from the apartment to the boat, I missed class for quite a few weeks.
When I went back, we had a different teacher. She moved a lot faster and did more complicated poses. I was unable to keep up, and unable to figure out how to modify them. She did not offer any suggestions, and I felt like I did not belong. When I got home, I texted our previous teacher, who said that she was no longer teaching at that gym. She suggested that I try the gym where she practiced, which happened to be very close to the marina.
The good part about living on a teeny tiny boat is that you often have more disposable income. So we paid to join this very fancy gym. They had a separate room just for the yoga classes. They had mats we could borrow–which was great, because the cat had destroyed mine–and something I had never seen before: props.
There were blocks that brought the floor up to my hands when I could not reach it, straps that helped me hold my legs up in the air, and these weird wedge things. I asked a girl in the class what those were for, and she said she thought they were for sitting on (they are not). So we both began every class by sitting on a wedge thing.
I don’t think the teacher had any idea what to do with me, but she often encouraged me to be creative with my use of the props. I felt welcome, and my flexibility improved a little while I was going there.
Then that teacher moved to Arizona, and the gym reduced their yoga classes to one evening a week. We had one teacher I really liked–a young new mother who passionately taught us about something called vinyasa. She encouraged us to practice with our eyes closed, which I loved and still do, and to move at our own pace. As we did those first sun salutations, I felt like I was dancing. She had no individual advice for me, but we often talked after class, about listening to my body, not being self-conscious, and about letting go and moving with the breath.
Motherhood quickly called her away, and we had an older lady teaching our class. I set up my mat in my usual space, in the front of the room, off to the left. The teacher–she never even told us her name–came in and set up her mat to the left of where I was sitting.
“We face this direction in my class,” she told me. I nodded and turned my mat to face the left side of the room.
“I am telling you, in case you don’t want to be in the front,” she said.
“Okay,” I replied, and continued setting up my props.
“You might want to go to the back, so you can watch everyone else,” she said.
“Thanks, but I’m okay,” was my response.
“Go to the back of the room,” she insisted.
Embarrassed, I took my mat to the back of the room. I did not watch everyone else, because I preferred to practice with my eyes closed. Being in the front of the room was important to me at that time, because I was still working through body image issues. It was my way of telling myself that I belonged. Maybe this teacher was just trying to help me, but I did not take it that way at the time.
I was acknowledged one other time during the class. We were supposed to clasp our hands together behind our back and lift our arms. The teacher suggested that we might want to use our strap for this. My shoulders were extremely tight at the time, and I had a previous injury to my left shoulder. I tried it with the strap, but it hurt a lot. It was much more comfortable without it, even though I couldn’t lift my arms very high.
The teacher walked to the back of the room and told me to use my strap. I said that it made my shoulders hurt, but she just handed it to me and repeated that I needed to use it. So it did, even though my shoulders complained, loudly.
The funny thing is that I didn’t even stay until the end of class. On the schedule, the class was supposed to be one hour. Iliana was allowed to stay in the childcare room for up to two hours, so I had come and hour early to run on the track.
When we first started, the teacher said that, by the way, her classes were always 90 minutes. I did not have that much childcare time left, so I was not unhappy to pack up my mat and props and leave the class 30 minutes early.
That was the last time I set foot in the yoga room at that gym.
I went a few months without yoga, and after we bought a new boat, we could no longer afford the fancy gym membership. So when I decided to start working out again, I was looking for less expensive options.
I found a free Zumba class at a nearby apartment complex, and I began pricing out yoga classes. There were a lot of studios in our area, but they were all more expensive than the gym had been. I googled “donation yoga class,” and much to my surprise, got a hit. A small studio, not far from the marina, was temporarily offering class for a donation, one night a week.
I had no idea what to expect at a yoga studio. I had such mixed experiences at the gyms, and I wondered if someone as tight and weak as me would even be welcome somewhere specifically dedicated to yoga. I pictured a room full of people doing handstands. But the price was right, and I was eager to start practicing again.
So on February 1, 2016, I ventured in to Moonlight Yoga and met the person who would change my life forever.
I was used to being invisible in the large gym classes, and I really did not want to draw a lot of attention to myself, since I didn’t exactly have a “yoga body.” So I quietly made my way into the studio, deposited my money into the box, and was drawn like a moth to a flame, over to the vast prop rack.
It was like Christmas! I grabbed myself a blanket, a strap, a couple blocks, a strange-looking cushion to sit on, a bolster, and a sandbag. The mysterious wedge was also there, but I left it. I found myself a spot kind of in the middle of the small room, next to a table that I could use to help me balance.
As I was getting settled in, a petite woman with the bounciest curly hair I have ever seen, approached me with a disarming smile, and introduced herself as Cass. She asked me my name, and if I had practiced before.
I said, “I look like a beginner, but I’m not. My muscles are very weak, but there is nothing wrong with them.”
Cass said we could work with that. I told her the names of the gyms where I had practiced, and said the problem was that the teachers I liked kept leaving. I joked that I had yoga teacher abandonment issues!
Cass laughed and said, “Well, I have been here for years and I am not going anywhere.”
Maybe it was because only one of my previous teachers even knew my name, but I felt anything but invisible during that first class at Moonlight. Cass very quietly helped me to modify nearly every pose we did, using my multitude of props. I didn’t just feel like I was not in the way–I actually felt welcome.
That night, Cass messaged me on Facebook, thanking me for coming to class. We chatted a bit, and discovered that we both had experience working in special education. She didn’t say anything about my wonky muscles, and I came back to class again the next week. And the week after that.
One time in class, my shoulders hurt too much for me to hold downward dog at all. Cass stopped the flow we were doing, and had all of us do shoulder stretches. It felt amazing, and I had no more pain for the rest of the class. I tucked that away in my mind, because I knew that I now had a tool I could use, whenever my shoulders were sore.
One night on Facebook, Cass posted that she had helped someone get into a handstand. I jokingly commented that I wanted to do a handstand. Cass surprised me by responding, “If you are determined, then I can get you there.”
She messaged me and said that her favorite quote was, “She believed she could, so she did.” I got that printed on a tank top, upside down, so it will read rightside up when the time comes!
Well, if I wanted to do a handstand, then I would need to find it in my budget to go to class more than once a week. So I told Cass that I would be going on Thursdays too. She said, “I don’t teach that class, but CJ does. You will like her.”
So off I went, not nearly as defensive as I had been at my first class with Cass. CJ was very quiet and calm, and I told her all about my wonky muscles. She said that was fine, and throughout the class, she encouraged us to be curious about what we can do, rather than being judgemental of our bodies or focusing on our limitations. Every time she had the class do a pose, she would work with my individually to help me modify it.
After class, I noticed that CJ had a book by Ekhart Tolle. I asked her about it, and we ended up spending the next 30 minutes discussing our favorite books and authors. I only left because I was almost late taking Iliana to her scheduled activity that evening!
What evolved was a friendship defined by books, coffee, smoothies at the food co-op, and tales of unusual misadventures (that we both seem to have!). CJ introduced me to yoga nidra, which did more to teach me about my own mind, than anything else.
Increasing Awareness and Beginning to do the Impossible
As I began attending yoga class 3 days a week, I learned more about my wonky muscles. I built strength and learned that my challenges with flexibility were due to tight shoulders, hips, and hamstrings. With regular practice, I made slow but consistent progress.
One of my first major milestones happened during the summer of 2016. A lot of people liked ending class by going “legs up the wall.” My legs did not want to go up the wall, but I could kind of convince them to, if I put something under my bottom.
Then one day, I happened to be sitting in front of the room in class, right next to Cass. I mentioned that I was able to get my legs up the wall more easily there, probably because I was in a corner. Cass said, “No, the corner has nothing to do with it. It’s easier, because your hamstrings are lengthening.”
After savasana was over, I noticed that all of my props had been put away. Cass gave me a huge grin and said she was proud of me.
The shape of my legs changed. They had always been square on the back, like Ball Park hot dogs. Now they were becoming more rounded, as my hamstrings became more defined.
From a very early age, I had been told that my legs were 1 1/8 inches uneven. I wore a lift in my shoe for awhile. But one day that summer, I noticed that walking felt different. More balanced. I sat on the ground, stretched out my legs, and noticed that they were the same length. I had stretched out my hip muscles a lot, and that affected the way the length of my legs appeared.
My legs were looking different, feeling different, and hurting a lot less. I decided it was time to have another go at a goal of mine: running a 5k.
I began training with my neighbor and best friend, Deanna. We would wake up early, run around Clear Lake Shores island, shower, then ride to yoga together. We noticed that we felt a lot more limber during yoga class, after running.
And so I ran my first 5k…and second, and third. Each time I set a new personal record.
Tools for the Journey
I faced a lot of growth and challenges during the past 2 years, and yoga was my rock through all of it.
During the 2016-17 school year, I lost contact with a very close friend and mentee, and yoga helped me to sit with the difficult emotions, rather than stuffing them down or numbing. During a yoga nidra class with CJ, after the guided meditation was over, I found a way, using visualization, to say good-bye to this friend. After class, I told CJ about it, and she sat with me, holding my hands, while I cried. Not trying to fix anything, not worrying about coming up with words, but just being with me while I processed. It was one of the most beautiful things anyone has ever done for me.
After Hurricane Harvey, Cass got the studio open as soon as possible, and a large group of us met, with fans still running to dry the flood water. Cass lovingly led us through a restorative class, and at that moment it seemed to all of us that everything was going to be okay. Being back with my second family was a return to normalcy.
As soon as Harvey ended, my challenges begun. Yoga was the one constant through my difficult year. There were evenings when I spent most of the class in child’s pose, with a blanket over my head. I felt safe. I felt protected. And I knew that I could sit with my emotions, undisturbed. Other times, I threw myself into my sun salutations and felt strong.
Yoga saw me through a shoulder injury that put me on leave for 3 weeks. I took off my sling when I got to class, and promised not to put any weight on my shoulder or do anything that hurt. Cass and CJ both helped me do stretches to relieve the pain and to maintain my range of motion. In spite of constant fighting with my insurance company and doctor’s office, which led to me getting neither a diagnosis nor treatment, my shoulder recovered fully.
The most important yoga class during this past school year, was the 6 am class. This class met twice a week, and during the school year, I was the only student, at least once a week. Cass and I had many conversations during these classes–sometimes while doing poses and sometimes while sitting on our mats. She absolutely refused to let me fall into self-pity, even when it could be argued that I was entitled to it.
It was from these conversations that I learned to count my blessings, even when the world felt like it was falling down around me. I learned to find reasons to be grateful, regardless of my circumstances. I learned to stay hopeful, and I learned that I still had choices. I always had choices.
The most important lesson I learned from those early-morning conversations was that I had value. I saw how a pattern of not valuing myself had led me into my current situation, and that if I was going to get out of it, I would need to see my own worth.
When I look back on the past year, what stands out is not the pain and abuse I suffered, but the love I experienced. It was a rare time, when I was able to see how many people loved me, and how much. I will always remember those 6 am conversations with great fondness.
The most beautiful part of the story is that after I was able to get out of my situation, when things improved for me, the 6 am classes began filling up again. I don’t know what you believe about God or anything being at the center of the universe, but it seems like more than a coincidence to me.
Triumphs and Victories
I still had a Facebook account when I started going to classes at Moonlight, and it was helpful if we checked in. I tried to do this frequently, but I always wanted to say something different and witty.
One time I said that I was training for the Yoga World Championships. Then I googled it and found out this was a thing. It seemed so wrong, since yoga is my nature non-competitive. I then decided that my event would be savasana.
One time when I checked in, I said that I would be triumphant. Another time, I was excited that I was able to do deer pose in class. Deer is a restorative shape, but at that time it was challenging with my tight hips.
I posted on Facebook that night that I was victorious for accomplishing this. Cass responded with, “Everytime you come to class, it is a victory.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
Note: Please visit Cass’s website. And if you are on Facebook and would like more positivity in your newsfeed, you can follow her page here!
When I was a teenager, I was too skinny. But around the time I got married, I settled in at a healthy, happy weight, near the middle but slightly on the lower end of my healthy range. This is what I weighed in the picture above, taken early in our marriage, before that lovely green car behind us died tragically in 2003. I’ll call this happy, healthy weight “X.”
From time to time, I bounced above X, but I always found my way back. One summer, I made it up to X+15, which horrified me. My doctor recommended the South Beach Diet, so I gave it a try and was back to X within a month. So that is how I continued. I didn’t worry about my diet until I got to X+10, then I would do South Beach and get back down.
Then this happened:
This, my friends, is X+45.
Fortunately, I was one of those disgustingly annoying mothers who had a very easy time breastfeeding. Couple that with the fact that I was a tightwad, and that Iliana had serious stomach issues and wasn’t keen of eating solid food, and you get 22 months of calorie-burning breastfeeding goodness! It didn’t take me long to get down to X+10, and for the next few years, I hovered between X+5 and X+10.
I was embarrassed that I had to buy a size 8 for my brother-in-law’s wedding… Iliana (she was 3 in this picture!) wore her dress on special occasions for the next 4 years.
I kept losing, slowly, even after Rob’s mom died unexpectedly in 2011. I was looking pretty good by the time we set sail the summer of 2011, and I was between X and X+10 during the summer of 2012.
Meanwhile, my work situation was becoming less and less wonderful. It was getting more cut-throat, while the pay and benefits were decreasing. The hours were increasing, taking me away from Iliana. I began to see work as the price I had to pay, for 3 months of cruising.
And in 2013, I began to question that price.
That year, I was moved from the middle school to the high school. At first I was on my guard and gained weight from emotional eating. I wrote my first blog post about the topic, at this time. I started a small support group, which was helpful for a couple of weeks.
Then it hit the fan at work, and I was thrown into insecurity. I began to eat a pizza everyday for lunch. First, one from Subway, but eventually that evolved into a Hot ‘N Ready. As I made plans to make changes in my life, it only got worse. I felt unsafe, and food grounded me.
Here I am with my sister-in-law on my first visit to Texas. I was between X+15 and X+20.
I thought moving to Texas would bring relief, but I found myself caught up in the same drama at work. I gained a lot of weight that first year, getting up to X+43.
We had a “greatest loser challenge” at work, and I took fourth place, getting down to X+30, which is where I remained for the next 3 years. I was not excited about this weight, but I started working out and practicing yoga, which taught me a great deal about accepting where I am in any given moment, physically and emotionally. (More about yoga in a future post!).
I began to notice that I was emotionally eating, and that I was unable to detect my hunger cues, so I started working with a dietician. This was incredibly valuable, as she helped me to see my patterns and to brainstorm alternatives. My dietician introduced me to the book, “Intuitive Eating,” which gave me many tools that I had been previously lacking and helped me to stop demonizing certain foods. Through working with her, I was able to weigh myself regularily, without attaching so much emotion to the number on the scale. It is just a data point.
Then came the 2017-18 school year. This period of time brought more significant challenges than I had ever faced before in my life before then. I began to use food as a coping mechanism more than ever. It started out with a candy bar here and there, especially after work.
I stopped weighing myself during this time, but my weight was definitely creeping up.
By Christmas, I was grabbing fast food after work, because the feeling of a full belly was so comforting.
In the end, I was ordering a pizza for lunch–a whole pizza, delivered. I would munch on it all day, to soothe myself at work. Then I would still grab fast food on the way home, before eating dinner.
Then, on March 1, I went on leave from my job, permanently. I wasn’t losing weight yet, but the pattern was broken.
The above picture is a selfie that Iliana and I took the first day I got to walk her to the bus stop!
My second week on leave, we took this picture of me at my “happy place,” Elijah’s retreat in Jacksonville, Texas. When I got home, I finally stepped on the scale. X+50. I was 5 pounds heavier than my pregnancy weight!
After leaving my job, I did find that I was emotionally eating a lot less. I started going to yoga daily, which helped me to better process my experiences over the past year. And I decided that I was ready to start actively working on weight loss. I began with my old standby–low carb–and lost 7 pounds in 2 weeks.
After this initial success, I went out for smoothies with one of my closest friends, who had gotten me through my challenging year with near-weekly smoothie dates on Saturday mornings. I mentioned that I was eating low-carb, and she said, “I always had a lot of success with Weight Watchers. I am a lifetime member now, which means I don’t have to pay to go to meetings.”
The seed was planted, so of course I had to check it out.
I browsed Weight Watchers’ website, and I really liked the simplicity and flexibility of the eating plan, and I knew that the emotional support at the meetings would be beneficial for me. So I took advantage of an offer where I paid for 3 months upfront, and got 50% off.
My first meeting was an extremely positive experience. I found that the positive atmosphere stood in contrast to the typically punitive attitude toward “dieting” that is pervasive in our culture. It felt good, and it fit very well with what I had been learning in yoga and with my dietician.
Yes, we had to weigh in first, but it wasn’t the daunting experience I thought it would be. People talked about weight and numbers very matter-of-factly. It was one indicator of progress, and for me, it was a starting point. I set my goal for X, and enjoyed hearing all the practical ideas people shared in the meeting. I felt immediately accepted, and I loved our leader. She was one of those people who instantly lights up a room.
In Weight Watchers, you earn charms for meeting milestones, and it did not take me long to earn my 5 pound charm. And right after I earned it, I spent the weekend downtown at a moped rally. I had asked for ideas about this upcoming rally, in the meeting. Some people recommended choosing healthier choices at restaurants, carrying my own snacks, or even just not tracking and getting back on track after the weekend! As much as I prepared, when it came down to it, I chose the latter. And had a great time!
At this point, I was X+38!
After the rally, I got right back on program. I found that I felt better when I was more active. Not exercising, per se, but just incorporating more activity into my day. Weight Watchers has “fitpoints” that you track, so I wore a pedometer and started walking whenever I could. A day’s worth of laundry could earn me nearly 9000 steps! As my fitpoints goal increased, I noticed that I was hungry a lot more. I started allowing my weekly points to go into the negative, by 20-40, and I kept losing 1-2 pounds a week. If I was not as active, I gained weight.
And before I knew it, I earned my 10 pound charm! By this point, I was getting comments about my weight loss, and I had to retire some of my clothing. My yoga pants were falling down in class! But the flowered dress still fit…
Things slowed a bit after that, but with consistency (and a few ups and downs), I found myself at X+31 the first week of June.
What you don’t know is that Iliana was showing the earliest signs of heat stroke in that picture, and her temperature spiked to 102.5 that night…it was terrifying…
With consistency, as well as taking a break during the occasional week, I made slow and steady progress. I found that working through emotional eating required diligence. I had to make more changes to my life, and make sure that I was spending time with people who were supportive.
And so here I am, currently at X+27!
So….In the spirit of the many guest posts I wrote when I was a “serious” blogger, I am going to end this story with a take-away!
Here are some lessons I have learned in my weight loss journey:
Start with the groundwork.
I worked with my dietician for over a year before I lost a pound. At my first appointment, I had expected her to give me a meal plan that I could follow, so that I could lose weight quickly. Instead, she helped me to see that I already knew a lot about nutrition. And you likely do, too. The information is readily available, and following any diet/food plan will result in weight loss. Low-carb and low-fat are equally as effective. So the important question is, why aren’t we eating the way that we know to eat? I was unhappy, and food was my addiction that helped me cope with being unhappy. Finding peace and happiness required a MAJOR life change that had nothing to do with food. I don’t think weight loss would have happened if I had not quit my job. Weight gain is a part of a larger picture, and a lot has to be unraveled before the pattern can be permanently changed.
2. Consider professional help to get you started.
I worked with a dietician and a therapist. Emotional eating is an addiction. It is a very socially accepted addiction, but it is an addiction nonetheless. I was overeating because I was unhappy. If I hadn’t worked with professionals to learn tools and to gain the clarity to make changes in my life, I may have replaced my overeating with a different addiction. It would have been the same scenario as the AA members smoking outside, before their meeting. Ending the cycle is hard, and having access to professional support can be very valuable. I paid out of my pocket to see my dietician, and I will likely do it again after I reach my goal, to help me maintain.
3. Actually read the book “Intuitive Eating.”
It’s not what most people think it is. It is not about eating whatever you want and forgetting the consequences. It is about honoring your hunger and respecting your fullness. And about allowing all foods into your life. In the end, the focus turns to nutrition and making informed choices. This book and the workbook have helped me tremendously in Weight Watchers. While a lot of people in my meeting are strict about what they eat and avoid, I have indulged in poutine and lost weight! Rob and I go out to a bar and split a burger and fries, and I order a beer. A lot of people on Weight Watchers avoid pancakes, but I eat them (in smaller portions) most mornings.
4. Approach it with a truly body positive attitude.
Like intuitive eating, the phrase “body positive” has been distorted in popular culture. Notice how many “before” pictures I have, and how I am smiling in all of them. I enjoyed seeing and posting the selfie and Iliana and me, on my first day on leave from my job, because I could see how happy I was. I was beautiful in that picture, because that was such a powerfully life-changing day. And in the picture when I was my heaviest, I was sitting in my happiest place, having made it through an unbelievably awful school year. I did not hate myself for being obese, and I do not hate myself for being overweight. However, I love myself too much to remain a slave to an addiction. I love myself enough to find peace and happiness. Overeating was a poor substitute. I love myself enough to be healthy. I feel more energetic when I eat balanced meals and am active. My moods improve when I take care of myself. Yes, I feel prettier when I weigh X. But that does not mean I am ugly when I do not. Being body positive means getting to know your body. I weigh myself daily, so I can see my patterns. I fluctuate by 1-2 pounds, then I dump down when it is close to a week. One time I dumped the day after a weigh- in!
5. Find movement that you love!
I have never forced myself to go to yoga. It makes me happy, it makes me feel good, and it is a community where I belong, am valued, and am connected. I modify, based on what I can do each day, so it never “kicks my butt.” My practice has become such a joyful part of my life, that I happily get up and go to class at 6 am twice a week! Sometimes I do extra side planks during sun salutations, and sometimes I spend most of the class in child’s pose. But showing up is never a problem. Find your version of that, and you will never struggle to be active again.
6. Find supportive friends.
Enlist your tribe! I found supportive friends in my yoga class, and one of them actually joined Weight Watchers with me. I have connected with a number of people from my meetings as well. The reality is that not everyone will be supportive when you are making changes. Weight loss is about so much more than weight loss, and it will lead to changes in your relationships. Make sure that you are around people who are positive and supportive.
7. And LAST…find a flexible food plan (or two).
The food plan really does come last! Because if you don’t do the groundwork, you will not stick to it. But when you do it, remember that any diet will cause you to lose weight, if you can follow it. So pick something that is easy to follow, for you! The best advice I read, was to have two food plans. Start with a food-list plan (such as low carb or low fat), then have a counting plan (such as calorie counting) as a backup. That way, if you eat bread or a doughnut, you are not off the hook. You can count calories and stay on track. Weight Watchers is primarily a counting plan, but it also has a food list component. I use it as my framework, then vary how I eat within it. Sometimes I do vegan, sometimes I do low-carb, on and sometimes I just eat small portions of my American favorites!
What has helped you on your weight loss journey? Please share in the comments!