by Gail Hughes-Morey
I’ll spare you the sordid details of my childhood weight struggles, save the fact that I was skinny until I wasn’t and then I was again, until I wasn’t. When I first met my husband I was 30 years old and 220 pounds. I am 5’3” short.
I informed him one day that I would like to lose some weight. “How much?”, he asked. “Twenty-one pounds.” That was my goal. Just being less than 200 pounds would be good enough for me because it was my destiny to be overweight. I was not in awful shape, believe it or not. I was active. I always walked a lot and I could rock the elliptical for 30 minutes without a problem. Sure, my blood pressure was borderline high and my resting heart rate was 90 beats per minute, but my cholesterol was perfect and I was, at this point, already down 50 pounds from my all time high of 270. I was feeling pretty darn good about myself, despite the warning signs from my blood pressure and heart rate.
My husband and I had a lot of fun those first three years together. We had 65 pounds worth of fun, to be exact, his share being 31 and mine being 34. At 254 pounds I was struggling with my self-image and at 33 years old I was starting to think about what old age was going to look like. Frankly, it scared the hell out of me. My husband had never been overweight in his life and was having a hard time even tying his shoes. He’d been put on blood pressure and cholesterol medications and he was just plain angry all of the time because he did not feel well.
My knees and hips hurt. I could not go on rides at amusement parks. I could not hike into the wilderness. Gardening was painful. I wanted to learn to swim and go kayaking, but my body kept getting in the way. My world was getting smaller and smaller while I was getting larger. Old age, if we were lucky enough to see it, was looking grim.
People often ask me how I did it. How I lost weight. How I “got motivated”. It was a series of uncomfortable steps, but every one of them was worth it. This is what it looked like for me:
Step 1. Consider getting fit and then become irrationally angry because you can see no one believes you will do it. They believe you CAN do it, mind you, but they don’t believe you WILL.
Step 2. Shovel food and booze into your gullet through tears of rage and frustration because those jerks from Step 1 don’t believe in you!
Step 3. Have beer-fueled epiphany (meat sweats optional). Step 2 behaviors are why those from Step 1 aren’t betting on your horse. And you know what? Neither are you.
Step 4. The hardest step: Look at yourself honestly, and without hurling any insults at the “fat stranger” in the mirror. She seems kind of sad and lonely. Funny you never realized. Maybe you two can go for a bike ride or something sometime. I bet she’d like that.
Step 5. Decide to do something, anything, and then get frustrated and ridiculously self-conscious because everyone does it better than you. (Note: This step usually involves spending an inordinate amount of money on something like a brand new bike, even though you’ve never ridden one in your life. Also acceptable is signing up for a marathon without ever having run, or a triathlon if you can’t swim. This step often involves injury and is thus not a recommended step.)
Step 6. The realizations come pouring in. Realize you were lying when you said you were happy the way you were, but also realize that being overweight and/or out of shape is not a sign of weakness, it is not a lack of willpower, and it is not your genetic destiny. IT IS NOT A MORAL FAILING. Do you hear me? Your value as a human being is not inversely correlated with your weight or how long it takes to catch your breath after a flight of stairs. It is just math. Math is logical not emotional. Realize it is time to stop hanging your emotions on the refrigerator door. They do not belong there.
Step 7. Bet on your own horse.
For me, the hardest part of the journey was getting to Step 7. Once I had stopped beating myself up about being overweight and unfit, I was able to think logically about how to move toward my goals. That isn’t to say I had realistic goals at this point, but I did come up with a realistic plan of attack. It started in the kitchen. I learned about calories, portions, macronutrients, and the importance of the almighty vegetable.
As the weight started to come off I found enough confidence to start riding that bike I bought. I still remember feeling like everyonee was staring at me. Some of them were. One guy, who was old enough to know better, shouted “Wow! Good for you!” as I rode past. I heard “I see you. You’re fat. Fat and on a bike.” I felt like a circus act. Then that little switch inside me flipped and I simply stopped caring what people thought. I even started wearing tank tops out in public. (I know, right!) I. Did. Not. Care.
Before I knew it I was under the 200 lb. mark and gaining momentum. Winter came and I traded out my bike for snowshoes. I was delighted to be able to buy the women’s snowshoes because the first time we went to look I was above the weight recommendation for the women’s styles and I left the store near tears. I bought the girliest ones they had (floral snowshoes anyone?) just because I could. We got a ton of snow that winter and those snowshoes saw a lot of action.
In February of 2011 I started thinking I needed more, and a friend suggested I email Nancy at The Kettlebell Fitness Center. I did, and on Valentine’s Day my husband and I headed to our introductory session. We learned the deadlift and the basic swing with a 12-kilogram bell that day. I left feeling good though Nancy warned us that we may feel it the next day. She was not kidding. I had never worked those muscles on the bike or the snowshoes. I did not even know I was in possession of some of them. How could such a tiny weight have wreaked so much havoc? I was intrigued.
I signed up for a group class and met Nancy’s other clients. I was hooked. This was the community I had been looking for from the beginning. There were women and men of all shapes and sizes and they were so strong! I remember watching a woman swing a 24-kilogram bell and thinking “mother of god….” at the time. The best part was everyone genuinely cheered for one another. It didn’t matter if it was your first time trying Get-Ups and you finally nailed that leg sweep, or if it was pressing The Beast, we were all just as excited. It was inclusive with no standard definition of perfection.
Sweet, sweet freedom.
If you had told me then that in five years time I would earn an HKC instructor certification to teach hardstyle kettlebell training and start coaching at The Kettlebell Fitness Center, I would have called you a liar. But here I am.
I was never going to look like those women you see in fitness magazines. Why? Well, for one thing losing over 100 pounds some years north of thirty leaves behind evidence in the way of loose skin. But more importantly, because I did not want to look like those women anymore. I finally understood that those women make tremendous sacrifices to look like that and they dedicate years of their lives to it. That simply is not the path I am on. I did not want fitness to be my life. I wanted it to be the way TO my life.
The people I met at TKFC were teachers, musicians, professors, retirees, and stay-at-home moms. They were all there for the same reason and it had nothing to do with looking like a fitness model. It had everything to do with the enjoying the life they were already living. Through them, I finally saw fitness not as an end in and of itself, but as a tool, and that is something I carry with me now as a coach. I want people’s own lives to be their inspiration to be fit – not me, not a body shape, not the size of their pants – but the things they want to do, now and tomorrow.
Eventually, with the support of a like-minded (fit and medication-free) husband and an amazing fitness community, I hit my target of 135 pounds…and then I gained some weight. Oh, the horror, right? Nope. It’s about balance. I am stronger and more confident than ever and if I want to have a beer or chocolate (or both) after dinner I can. My resting heart rate is in the mid-fifties, my blood pressure is 112/68, and I have climbed 20 (so far) of the 46 tallest mountains in New York State. There are FAR more important numbers than the one on the scale.
Don’t get me wrong, every once in a while the “fat stranger” shows up in the mirror again, but the difference is I know her and I like her now that I know how strong she is. So when she goes a little too far and the pants sizes creep up I don’t wallow in the anger and frustration; I double down on her horse.
By day, Gail is an anthropologist and Assistant Professor at The Sage Colleges. She lives in Schenectady, New York with her husband, two derpy dogs, and a rather annoying cat. In her free time she enjoys hiking, maintaining her dog’s blog, and naps.