I dig some parts of it, my forearms, for example. And my hands. I know, I know but a girl has her favorites.
But the rest of it, not so much. Most of my life, I could barely look at myself with clothes on, much less with them off. Mirrors were not something I had around the house.
My secret was that I was a walking contradiction.
Deep inside, I thought of myself as a beautiful, sensual woman. Yet, every time I would looked at myself or a picture of myself, it would crush my soul. I don't want to give the impression that I wanted to be too perfect or too thin or that my vision inside was of Gisele Bundgen. I know and appreciate that we all come in different shapes and sizes and that the general view of women and how we're supposed to look is sincerely fucked up. And yes, our society puts unhealthy and unattainable expectations on us. Any trip to the local mall or newsstand confirms all of that.
But my view of my body was and has always been my own. I don't have any body role models. For me, it's matching the woman on the outside to the woman I was convinced I really am.
For years, though, I buried her, deep, deep inside. I gained weight. I used excuses for not working out and I endured those trips to the mall when I could not find anything that fit me, when trying on clothes was an exercise in humiliation. It was on those trips when I'd feel regret, when I'd wonder to myself why I wasn't doing something to change my life, when the girl inside would scream "let me out!" But time marched on and she tumbled ever deeper into the abyss, far away from clothing stores and mirrors and from any kind of serious self-assessment, landing far, far away in a place where it seemd there was no return.
With each passing year, I knew I was losing her to the rolling tide of my life. It was as if I was on the bank of a wild rushing river holding onto her hand, trying not to let go, but knowing it was inevitable, that I could not hold on forever. My girl was slipping from my grasp. Could it be that she wasn't really me?
It was during a trip to Europe in 2009 that she started to talk to me again. Three weeks of eating and drinking, of the kind of general debauchery that accompanies a vacation with food and wine people took a major toll on me. Looking at me in the photos of the trip, I look awful, my face is sallow and tired looking. I seem older than my age and while I'm outwardly smiling, it's forced, chagrinned, like I know better than to think the world is mine. I was facing serious marital problems then, a pain inside that I have yet to truly understand or measure, drowning in a sea of someone else's relentless negativity. And, ugh, I am unbearably heavy -- more than 200 pounds and, I didn't quite appreciate, also adrift and alone. While I loved that trip for the time spent with my friends and for seeing Italy for the first time, the memory that endures of that trip is of the nightly stomach aches, how walking the streets of Venice should have made me feel more alive, but instead I just felt old and slow. How the song in my heart those days was so deeply and seemingly irretrievably sad. It brings tears to my eyes just writing about it now.
I had not only lost that girl, I'd lost me too.
The first place I went when I got home was my doctor. He suggested an elimination diet to see if I could figure out the stomach aches and general fatigue. I started looking around but it wasn't until the spring of 2011, when a friend sent me The Ultra-Simple Diet book by Dr. Mark Hyman. Let me stop here and say I am not a follower. I do not have gurus and I hate doing anything in a group. I believe people should find what works for them and that not everything works for everybody. But this diet changed my life to the point where I can draw a line in the Story of Me on the calendar at August 8, 2011 -- the day I forced myself to stand in front of my bathroom mirror so I could memorialize my out-of-shape, over-weight, tired old self for all-time.
I post that photo here with with a lot of hesitancy. because it makes me uncomfortable to look at that girl now. She's not me anymore. Which is also why I keep it around -- as a reminder of how far I've come. And it's motivation, too, for where I'm headed. At any rate, it's over there, screen right.
It's a picture that speaks for itself, clearly, but let me give you some more perspective:
209 pounds, 45 percent body fat, 47-inch waist, clothing size: 2X.
Let those numbers sink in. Twenty fucking years of mistreating my body. How the hell was I going to fix that?
I started that day, following the new diet plan, which required me to eliminate coffee, alcohol, wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, Nightshade vegetables, red meat, processed foods, sugar and predator fish.
It sounds like a lot and it is. As determined as I was, I wasn't convinced yet. I did not believe. I wasn't sure I could stick it out. I knew I had to try. And so I did. And honestly, that was the first of four major revelations -- which is not to look too far in the future. One day at a time. One step in front of the other.
My plan was to stay on the diet for three weeks and then re-access based on my progress and my discipline. I made it through the first three weeks and then went for another three and then another. Roughly eight weeks in, I took the second photo and, yes, I'm wearing the same shirt as the first shot.
The progress, if not remarkable, was evident. More important, I was hooked. While I've modified the Ultra Simple plan over the ensuring years, I've pretty much stuck to the idea. I keep my distance from gluten and dairy and, while I enjoy my liquor, I have all but given up beer. I eat as regularly as possible and I avoid processed food anything. I don't eat fast food. I try not to eat after 8 p.m. at night and I practice portion control. When I eat out, I stick to vegetables when I can, keep away from butter and cream sauces, skip dessert. I find I like vegetables a lot and I don't really miss my old eating habits.
While the weight-loss was a great barometer of my progress, I came to my second revelation: I began to realize that my stomach aches were not only gone but I suddenly realized that I had always had them, that this was the very first time they were not a daily part of my life.
The third revelation came while on a visit to San Francisco with friends, all much younger and fitter than me, when we were all running to catch a Giants baseball game. To get to our seats, we had to climb the back steps of AT&T Park, which is a hill of concrete steps, close together, and straight up. A lot of fucking steps. In the past, I would have taken one look at it and taken the elevator. It was an easy choice because I could blame my shortness of breath on my having lost a lung to Cancer in my 20s, but the truth was that I was an overweight couch potato who had let herself go. That night I hurried up the stairs without thinking, realizing at the top that I was breathing more freely than I had in years. And my knees and back didn't hurt either. That moment I became a true believer.
Revelation four came when I added exercise to my routine. I started to ride my bike. I got serious. I fell. I got back up. I suffered to get through 10 miles. Then I got to 15, then 20. I avoided hills, and those I did attempt to climb would usually end in my getting off and walking my bike up them. But I persisted and then I was getting up bigger and bigger hills.Two weeks ago I completed my first 50-mile bike ride with 2,000-feet of climbing -- with one freaking lung. A week later, I did 42 miles with a head cold. In the last 12 months, I've ridden 1,500 miles and covered 10,000-feet of climbing. I've come to enjoy the hard stuff, to welcome the challenges. I'm not surviving them anymore, I'm taking names and kicking ass. Two months from now, I'm planning to ride my first century -- or 100-mile bike ride. I have no doubt I will do it. Since the beginning of the year, I have added cross-training to my exercise routine. My knees and back don't hurt anymore. I do things I never imagined. I'm in the best shape of my life.
The numbers? They are hard for even me to fathom.
But they are real: 50 pounds lost, 12 1/2 inches off my waist, five inches off my thighs and three off my arms. I am at 20 percent body fat. On my last trip to the mall, I tried on size 10 jeans and they were too big. I can bench press 45 pounds on 15 reps. I can do 10 real pushups. I can curl 25-pound weights in both hands. I can run three miles without stopping. I can plank for a full minute. And I look like this:
And I ain't done yet. The woman inside me has shown herself but we've come to an understanding, we two. We know it's only the tip of the iceberg. She wants more. I want more. And I won't stop until she's all the way out.
And here's something else, I like my body now. I like the way clothes hang on me and I like going to the mall just to try stuff on. I like looking at myself in the mirror. Call it vanity, addiction, whatever, but it feels good to be in shape. It feels good to bust my ass in the gym, to sweat, to be able to climb mountains on my bike. It feels fucking great.
And you know what? I'm happy. I can't wait to find out how I'll surprise myself tomorrow. All I know now is that I'm up for the challenge. Any challenge. So seriously, bring it on. Bring. It. On.