I was well over 200lbs graduating high school. I often wore sweats because I didn’t want to try too hard to dress like/look like everyone else, and then get mocked for being “so fat” and trying “so hard.” (This photo is me, at a very happy 240lbs.)
I remember my mother’s frustration with my size – I was a size 9 in the 4th grade, and we thought it was kinda funny that I was built like a grown woman… until I started getting grown woman attention. Sure enough, that was the point where I started trying to hide myself. Before I knew it, my Mom moved us to a more upper-class area where everyone was healthy, and I was so busy trying to hide myself that I simply never noticed. I never noticed that I put on about 60lbs throughout high school.
I mentioned that I’ve always been a bit of a writer, because I wrote to myself about a day in gym class that I’d endured. Yes, endured. It was the dreaded one mile run for the Presidential fitness test. Everyone was lapping me. It took me 17minutes to make one mile. One fella – I even remember his name, and we’re still friends although I believe he’s long forgotten – crept up to me (with his friends giggling behind me) and asked me how much I weighed, and I said 191. I was lying – I’d shaved off about 25lbs from that. That was all he needed, and he went back to his football player friends giggling about it. I’d written it off, and just kept on walking my mile.
I’d written to myself that I didn’t need to be skinny to be a person of value to my community, my country, or my world. I mean, for crying out loud – skinniness isn’t what makes a person phenomenal! I don’t need to be skinny to be dynamic! I don’t need skinny to rock your world! Being skinny isn’t what makes a chick bangin’! I can do ALL of that without being a single-digit size. I WILL do all of that without a single-digit size.
And… off I went.
College was first. I was all OVER the place. Involed in this, running this, name in the paper, elected to that. When I finally started dating (’cause I didn’t do that until I left Mom’s house), I was NEVER single… happily involved, healthy long-term relationships. And I was on it. You couldn’t go to an event without seeing me. Why? Because I was focused on proving wrong that high school mentality that I couldn’t shake – that I didn’t need to be skinny to be dynamic.
Well, years later, during the time I should’ve been getting to know and love and learn how to take care of ME, I realized that I didn’t do much of that at ALL. I was a broken person trying to prove wrong an outside stigma that existed long before me, and would probably exist long after I’m dead and gone. And to top it all off, I was now the mother of a beautiful baby girl… and the thought of passing my broken understanding of how to be a healthily-happy-with-herself Black girl to her made my spine tighten up in pain.
I surrounded myself with women who were healthy and extremely patient… not wanting to damage our friendships but wanting to point out a need to take care of myself, how to learn. It wasn’t until one helped me realize the nutritional error of my ways, that I finally started going east instead of west. It all just started to make sense.
As I’ve mentioned before, by the time I’d hit the 300lb mark, I was dealing with pitting edema. Doctors were fearing I’d developed diabetes. It felt like everything was crashing down on me, and damn if I had any idea how to address it I would. I just didn’t know. If I hadn’t made a change, I can’t imagine where I’d be right now.
In hindsight, looking at what I wrote to myself – “I don’t need to be skinny to be dynamic! I don’t need skinny to rock your world! Being skinny isn’t what makes a chick bangin’!” – I didn’t lie! I was dynamic! I was awesome blossom! I didn’t need skinny to have, be or do anything that my heart desired. Being a wonderfully humble and modest individual isn’t predicated upon size or level of attractiveness. It has nothing to do with that. And it took me trying to hold myself up as the exception and almost killing myself in the process to realize that.
I couldn’t get past that childish mentality that said “I’m already cute, and I’m already happy and successful. I’own need to lose weight to be hot.” I wish I could grab Young Erika by the shoulders, slap her one good time and say, “This ain’t about being hot to a bunch of idiotic teenagers. This is about not having so much fluid in your legs, your blood can’t circulate properly in about 6 years. This is about being healthy and making sure that you’re around long enough to see your babies have babies. This is about developing and maintaining a lifestyle that nurtures and nourishes the best of you. This is about not spending your life trying to prove your value to a society that doesn’t care anyway. It’s about not letting a dysfunctional society succeed in devaluing you in the first place! It’s about believing in the worth you were given at birth, and ensuring that you’re around for as long as possible to make sure that you can put that worth to USE!”
I can look back and say, now, why I openly and outwardly failed to address my weight loss concerns. Because I knew that my efforts would be met with dismal results. I wouldn’t be prepared. I wouldn’t be knowledgeable. I wouldn’t understand. I would lose. I would fail. I’d be embarking on a 20 mile hike in a jungle, and would forget something simple and stupid – like water – get set back, have to go home, and never get the motivation to get up and have another go at it. I’d only be disappointing myself, so why bother?
The funny thing is, once I finally began to address my emotional barriers to weight loss, I hit another road block. I set myself up with excuse after excuse. I can’t afford to eat healthy. I can’t afford a gym membership. My insurance won’t cover a nutritionist. I don’t want to sweat my hair out. I have clients to tend to. It takes too much time. I have a daughter to raise. I’m hosting the Pope at my house, and I’ve got to bake pastries. All kinds of crap. It made me question what purpose those original barriers served in the first place. Was that just to protect me from the emotional letdown of failure?
I never really set out on some dynamic goal. I didn’t start at 330lbs with a goal of losing 150lbs. Remember, I tried the gym thing and felt like I was doing TOO much with no reward, and I gave up. Changing my eating habits wasn’t about losing weight – I had already, at that point, accepted that I wasn’t going to do that – it was about just eating healthier. The weight FELL off at that point. THAT is when my focus shifted… when I discovered my achilles heel. When I saw that it WAS possible. For those who don’t follow this site regularly, I started at 328. Today, I’m at 185lbs. Trust me, that wasn’t in the plan.
To think that I denied myself health because of some goal to prove that I could be of value without being skinny… to think that I denied myself health because of a fear of disappointing myself… to think that I denied myself being who I am because I was afraid of what being that person would bring me… all the years I wasted, all the time I lost. How dreadful I was to myself. Using meaningless external excuses to justify allowing my body – my gift – to suffer at the hands of my bad habits.
So, I put all this out here to say… losing weight isn’t about… well, losing weight. A healthy outlook on this whole thing is having a goal of changing your lifestyle. The effort should be placed within making small changes to eat and live healthier. The end result of doing these successfully is weight loss. Any effort to skate around that will fail you in the long run, and will bring about the disappointment that we all fear. Don’t defeat yourself before you begin. And definitely don’t make excuses for complacency… because it can ultimately kill you. Let me reiterate that – the goal is not weight loss. It is a healthier lifestyle. Please believe you can lose weight by unhealthy means, and wind up worse off health-wise than you began.
I had healthy goals – eating healthier, being more active – that gave me healthy results. My goals weren’t rooted in vanity, they were rooted in a desire to not have my daughter grow up as confused and emotionally stunted as I was. I want her to have a healthy relationship with food, and a respect for herself that included knowing how and when to take care of onesself. I’m proud that I’ve started that within her, all while re-teaching it to myself. (this picture of me is from Thanksgiving. You know you love my ‘fro!) Now, I’m considering more vain aspects of my physical appearance because, quite frankly, I can. I now know that I can healthily focus on me without punishing myself for “not being what I covet,” but “respectfully pushing myself.” Because I learned early that my value isn’t in my new-found physique, I still develop my intelligence, my ability to give to my community and my ability to love. It makes me that much better of a person, because I no longer fear tackling my issues head on… because I now have new-found faith in my ability to take care of ME. I don’t question my value because I know where it is, and because I value me… I care for me like I care for my child. Because I love myself… like I love my child.
1,600 words all to say… resolve to love yourself. Resolve to care for yourself. I’ve always been happy. I was always successful. But I looked at the way I love my child and wondered why I didn’t pour that same effort into myself.. and once I did, my world changed and my life lit up beyond what I could’ve imagined. Show yourself that kind of love, and see how your life changes.