This is one of my favorite questions that Jessica Ortner posed in her best-selling book, The Tapping Solution for Weight Loss and Body Confidence, and it’s one that I savored the opportunity to answer in great detail for myself when I first started this coaching journey. Why am I so curious about past attempts to lose weight? Why do I even care what you’ve tried before or what unfolded during that process, aside from the fact that (obviously) “it didn’t work”? Shouldn’t the past be left in the past? I’m glad you asked!
When you commit to answering that same question– honestly, reflectively, and as thoroughly as possible for yourself– a whole world of themes, beliefs, and fears is revealed. We gain meaningful insights into why the diet(s) “didn’t work”, on both conscious and subconscious levels. We discover your unique ideas about “what it takes” to lose weight and to keep it off, as well as the golden nuggets: what you believe about yourself when yet another weight loss attempt fails. Priceless. So:
What Happened The Last Time You Lost Weight?
Here is what I wrote in response to that question. After reading it, I encourage you to take some time to yourself, to grab a soothing hot beverage to sip on, and to journal as much of your own story as you can. Write it down without censoring yourself or worrying about crafting an award-winning essay. This won’t be written for an audience and it certainly won’t be submitted to a panel of grammar judges, so just go ahead: write down what happened the last time you lost weight.
Over the next few blog posts, I will highlight some themes that can be teased out of your answer– food for thought, if you will. I’ll use my own answer as an example on the blog, but if you feel you could benefit from personalized coaching around your specific answer, you’re in luck! I’m offering free sessions around weight loss and body image for a limited time. You can e-mail me and I’ll be happy to set up a private session with you over Skype (you can decide whether you’d like to Skype with video or not).
The last time I lost weight, I lost a whole bunch of it (almost 20 pounds) in a relatively short amount of time (just over one month). As is de rigeur for me, I wasn’t following one of the trendy diets (South Beach, Atkins, Paleo, etc.) at all, and I definitely wasn’t worried about counting calories or grams of anything. However, I was undertaking a very regimented “cleanse” type of process– an elimination diet. (You can read about that craziness here.) There was a gigantic list– 7 printed pages, to be exact– of foods that were uniquely “safe”, “neutral”, and “unsafe” for me, which I had obtained through a food sensitivity test. Being the A-student I’ve always been, I had committed to follow those test recommendations to the very letter, and I felt almost excited (thrilled!) to embark on a new culinary challenge. WATCH ME EXCEL AT THIS ELIMINATION DIET! I WILL EMERGE VICTORIOUS AND SLIM!
A few weeks into the process, yes, I was losing weight, but I felt that I was always in the kitchen, prepping the “right foods” and then doing the dishes afterward. It was a very systematic process, this elimination diet. There was absolutely no room for error, and no one else– not even my dear husband– could be trusted to keep the program unfolding properly. All of the shopping, food prep, meal planning, and raw sauerkraut making fell to me, but no one could have wrestled that control away from me even if they had wanted to or tried. Over my dead (but gloriously slender!) body. I needed to feel in control, even though the responsibilities of overseeing the Elimination Diet overwhelmed me.
Marty and I printed out calendars and stuck them on the kitchen wall– one for each of us. Every morning, we would weigh ourselves and write down our numbers on our respective calendars. I had penciled in ingredients that were being re-introduced or “tested” for each of us on specific days, and if we experienced any suspect symptoms (bloating, gas, heartburn, whatever), we would write those down with diligence, too. We recorded everything. I was losing weight quickly and substantially, and I secretly relished getting to see my numbers shrink while Marty’s stayed relatively the same or crept down slooooooowwwwwly. I win!, I’d crow to myself when I could knock a half-pound off of my weight, but on days when I’d stay the same weight or– gasp– gain a few ounces, I’d be crushed. Why isn’t this working? What am I doing wrong? This can’t be happening to me! It was torture.
This was around the time of the Mayan Prophecy (December 2012), and Marty and I were slated to go back to Calgary in time for the end of the world. (It was important to Marty’s parents that we all be together when the world stopped spinning on its axis, and who were we to argue with them? Or with the Mayans?) Marty’s parents were aware that we were on “a diet” before we arrived, and they fretted as they tried to locate vegan, gluten free, soy free, and sugar free non-perishables to stock for us in the basement, graciously preventing us from starving in case the power went out and civilization halted at the stroke of midnight. On my end, I was fretting about the visit itself. I could sense the disapproval of Marty’s mom from 1100km away, and I hadn’t even started packing for the trip yet. Inconvenient, newfangled, complicated, useless diets. Always failing in the end. Always managing to ruin Christmas dinners in the meantime.
When we arrived in Calgary, giant knapsack of “safe”, “acceptable” foods in tow (just in case!), I was greeted with outright alarm, as though I was wasting away with a full-blown case of AIDS. You’re so skinny!, Marty’s mom exclaimed in sheer horror, mouth agape. Embarrassed and self-conscious, I tried to deflect her concerns about my figure with mumbles about how the elimination diet had been prescribed for us by a doctor and how it was (sort of) being supervised throughout the process. In the evenings, when I was alone in the bathroom, I would secretly admire my slender thighs in the full-length mirror and whisper a furtive Thank You to the universe for granting me that most coveted of prizes: slimness. Daytime was a different story, though– I was always apologizing for my lithe physique, offering empty quips about candida and sluggish digestion to anyone who approached me with question marks in their voices or eyes, and I basically affirmed on a near-constant basis that my body was only like this for temporary, medical reasons. I felt ashamed and burdensome to be such a culinary nuisance at my in-laws’ house, and I felt mortified well in advance for gaining back the weight– another wacky weight loss scheme, failed. Point: Marty’s mom.
It took me a total of two months to lose that weight and a mere two weeks to gain half of it back again. By then, Marty and I were on a road trip, heading south to the Arizona desert for sunshine, hiking, and relaxation. Before we even hopped into our van for the journey, I had already convinced myself with dismay that maintaining such a strict diet on the road would be difficult-slash-impossible. Lo and behold, I was right. During the two weeks it took us to arrive in Tucson, I didn’t deviate too terribly from my staple veg-and-grain fare. We’d stop in grocery stores and I’d buy hummus and baby carrots. As per usual, I’d slather avocado on everything and eat a small child’s weight in almonds. However, for the amount of weight that piled back onto my body in an alarmingly quick span of time, you’d think that I had switched over to an all-fried, all-the-time diet. Failure had taken hold.
I was mortified by this weight gain, feeling like a miserable, good for nothing elimination dieter and becoming anxious about being the only chubby person enrolled in Holistic Nutrition School (which I had planned to start that September). By the time our vacation was over and we were back in Canada again… I had gained all of the weight I had originally lost on the elimination diet back. A few months after that, too, I had put on even more weight, tipping the scales to the highest they’d ever been for my body, ever. (Note: that’s when I swore off any and all future diets, cleanses, fasts, and other food-based approaches to weight loss. I realized that my mind, my emotions, and my beliefs held way more sway over my body than actual food and calories did, and I couldn’t bear the idea of subjecting myself to any more exercises in willpower, self-control, self-discipline, and winning at diets. No more. Not worth it.)
Anyway. Overall, the last time I lost weight was characterized by:
- A distinct discrepancy between my private admiration of myself and my public apologies and deflections for the way I now looked.
- Not feeling like I could fully step into my slender body, owning it and totally rocking its beauty without shame.
- Definite fear about gaining back the weight– imagining my own failure in advance of it happening and then worrying about having to carry extra weight on my body as a veritable badge of failure. Visible to everyone.
- Signaling to myself and others that being slim was something to defend against– that it wasn’t safe to be slender. I wanted my appearance to be a non-issue amongst my friends and family members, but how could it be so when I was constantly on alert and continually scanning the room for comments or subtle facial expressions that needed to be defended against?
- Feeling the need to justify my weight loss (as well as the pace of my weight loss) to others in quasi-medical terms: “candida”, “gluten intolerance”, “dairy allergies”, “multiple food sensitivities”, and “absorption issues”. Regardless of how true or applicable these terms were/are for me, this only reinforced to my subconscious that ‘x’ degree of weight loss was either impossible at worst or unsafe but temporary at best.
- Comparison, competition, and being overly focused on people’s (real or imagined) reactions to me. I competed with myself (more! faster! better!). I compared my own progress to Marty’s (which makes absolutely no sense, considering I am a woman and he is a very athletic man). I projected all of my insecurities onto other people, believing them to be judging or criticizing me and my body.
Now it’s your turn.
In your journal (or in a new word doc on your computer), ask yourself:
- What happened the last time you lost weight?
- What motivated you to try to lose weight in the first place?
- How did you feel during the process?
- How did others react?
- What sort of program did you follow, and how did it feel adhering to those rules and regulations?
- Did you experience any ‘success’ on your program? If so, what?
- What about ‘failures’? If so, what?
- How long did the process take?
- What felt easy about the process?
- What felt difficult, like an obstacle that needed to be overcome?
Write down as much detail as you can, and once again, don’t worry about the flow or sequence of your story. (My story was edited here to make it more coherent and grammar-tastic, just so you know.) Next time, we’ll dive into some of the themes that can emerge from your answer. These themes might lead you to have lightbulb, ‘a-ha!’ moments on your own, but like I say, if you’d like more personalized support to explore your unique story, just let me know.