It was December of 2015 and I was at a Phish show. I weighed more than 300 pounds, but I loved dancing no matter my size. This time was different.
I began to feel faint and nearly passed out. My best friend sat down next to me. I was sobbing, humiliated. I said to him, “I am taking care of this. I am so done.”
That year, I had hit rock bottom. It was the culmination of a lifetime of diets and the resulting shame when they didn’t work. I was a successful real estate agent who was too ashamed to see my clients in person anymore. I took a management position so I could train other agents instead, and my clients wouldn’t see how big I had gotten. But I was embarrassed even in a training position: I didn’t look like I had my life together or like someone these agents would aspire to become.
Now that I look back, so many of my actions when I was overweight were motivated by the thoughts in my head. I felt like I had to make up for being overweight by putting on a show. My inner story was, “I know I’m fat, but I promise I’m awesome — let me put on this performance for you.” The funny-guy schtick was exhausting and it made it hard for people to connect with me. I thought I was destined for a sad and lonely life.
My inner story was, 'I know I'm fat, but I promise I'm awesome — let me put on this performance for you.'
I never dated. On dating apps, I would post a photo from the shoulders up — for some reason I don’t gain much weight in my face. But usually before meeting, potential dates would ask to see a full-body photo. On the rare occasion they didn’t, I would show up for the date and they would have that “oh my” moment and look on their face. I felt so isolated. I was binging a lot.
A year after that Phish show, I’d lost 200 pounds. Almost five years later, I’ve kept the weight off. I didn’t do it with any fad diet. Believe me, I tried them all. When I was young, it was cabbage soup or Atkins; as an adult, I’ve done keto, carb cycling — you name it, I’ve tried it. I do like Whole 30 for the way it makes me feel, but that’s not ultimately how I lost the weight. In 2015, I had weight loss surgery (a sleeve gastrectomy). That, plus exercise and a healthy diet, worked for me.
Once I lost the weight, things changed for me. Suddenly, people who never paid attention to me before did. The attention came from everywhere. It made me nervous, and it made me angry, too. I couldn’t help thinking, “You a--holes never gave a crap about me when I was fat.”
I had replaced food with alcohol. I had to get sober.
I started going out more and drinking more, too. First, I drank to calm myself. But it was a slippery slope. There was a period of time I was drinking all day. I was never really drunk — never sloppy — but I was buzzed most of the day. At one point, I was drinking 12 glasses of wine a day. People in my life started pointing out to me, “Hey, you’re drinking a lot.” I had replaced food with alcohol. I had to get sober. I did. It will be two years in April. The alcohol cravings are gone. The food ones are not.
You know those before-and-after photos of people who have lost a lot of weight? Instead of before and after, I prefer to say past and present — because it’s not as though the work is done. This transformation is something I have to show up for and do work for every day.
For me, that means logging everything I eat. Once it becomes a habit, it’s a really easy way to hold yourself accountable. I attend a group fitness class four times a week and take long walks with my dogs.
When I’m tempted to binge eat — and believe me, it’s often — I use a tool a life coach taught me. I ask myself, “How do I want to feel in 30 minutes?” I don’t like feeling too full and I don’t want a sugar hangover. Just asking that simple question is often enough to keep me on track. It’s a tool I plan to use over the next few weeks of holiday parties and family gatherings. I’ll take long walks with family members as a way of catching up one-on-one. I’ll stick with my fitness routine so that if I do indulge (and I plan to!), I’ll still have the workouts that make me feel great.
Most of all, I’ll remember that the holidays are a special time — it’s OK to eat the things I love — and once they’re over, I’ll get right back to normal life. That’s true food freedom.
As told to Genevieve Brown