February Starting Weight: 295 pounds
December Goal Weight: 195 pounds
Weight to Lose: 100 pounds
Goal Rate of Loss: 8-10 pounds per month
Time to lose weight: 12 months
Once more, with feeling.
This year, I’m fully committed to losing at least 100 pounds. I say “this year” because I said the same thing this time last year. So yes, I fell off the wagon, but at least this time I’m doing things in the right order: First, deal with the emotional crap, then the physical. I’ve always felt that dieting is 90 percent mental. Turns out I’m right.
Back around August 2008 I went to see Dr. Bean, my GP—who looks like Marcus Welby, BTW (if you’re too young to know who that is, shut up). I wasn’t feeling very well, kinda out of sorts, couldn’t seem to drop any weight though I’d been going to the gym, etc. Weight-loss surgery was not an option; I knew I could succeed without anything like that. I just needed … something. An appetite suppressant? A diet pill? Dr. Bean nixed those, and started asking me several uncomfortable, personal questions about dealing with the pressures in my life, and the next thing I knew I was crying and spilling my guts. He became my father confessor, then first doctor, ever, to have my complete medical history.
I left the appointment with a prescription for a depression medication. You know, loony pills. And an authorization form for counseling.
In a minute, I’m going to share with you why he did that because it’s central to this whole weight thing. I’ll try to make this as painless as possible because I’m not into sympathy, empathy or pity parties. I firmly believe in the importance of understanding how past events shape you—in my case, literally—but I’m all about the business of moving forward.
So here’s my story, in a nutshell: I’ve been overweight since around age 10. I can’t recall much about the years before that, and that has something to do with protecting myself from hurt. I can recall a few of the people involved over the years—the fact that I was repeatedly sexually abused is not something I’d ever forgotten, just never chose to dwell on. I didn’t see the point. This was not by family members, so home was more or less “safe” in that regard, and that’s where I stayed. Yes, I went from a skinny, outgoing kid with a cruising speed of “chaos” to a clinically obese introvert—in the span of one summer. I didn’t need a shrink to tell me why.
Except there was this thing called bulimia, which I’d battled since college. And this nagging bit of fear that I need to protect or hide myself in case I attracted the wrong attention. Oh yeah, and this other thing about feeling obligated to give in to those giving me the “wrong” attention—like I have no choice. And do tack on years of pain and trauma for being shunned and ignored most of my childhood.
I lost quite a bit of weight during high school by getting taller and forcing myself to join the volleyball and basketball teams, and later went up and down the scale, but mostly up, up, up post-marriage, babies and, especially, post-career: I slowly gained 50 pounds over the past 10 years.
I wasn’t unfamiliar with shrinks. I visited one several times while in Washington in the early 1990s, when going for counseling was almost a fad—just before Prozac Nation hit the best-seller list and Girl, Interrupted hit the big screen. Per usual, I wasn’t very honest with this psychiatrist. I didn’t have to be because he couldn’t (wouldn’t?) pull from me what, deep inside, I needed him to have.
Which is how I got busted by Dr. Bean. Remember, he now knew everything, including how I’d gamed a shrink a few years back. Over the next few months, we’d tried at least three different meds of varying strengths, but none seemed to “take.” I sweetly suggested we skip the meds, but he’d already zeroed in on the real problem and was professional enough to make it sound like a compliment: If we were ever under enemy fire, he would want to be with me.
When I got home, I looked up “hypervigilance." Dr. Bean had figured out I was mentally overriding the drugs’ effects, and had given me a sample of something new that targeted anxiety instead of depression. Combined with counseling, he said I could be off it in about a year, so I decided to cooperate.
That was just over a year ago. I’d been dragging my feet on the counseling part—was it really that big of a deal?—but I don’t like taking meds of any kind, so I caved and found Tanza, a psychologist, and struggled to open up. It was very difficult because my history is one of asking all the questions, not answering them, but after two months of progress I decided I was strong enough to get the weight off, and announced via personal blog I would lose 100 pounds in 2009. I was gung-ho, excited … and totally dishonest with myself.
It was just too soon. In therapy, we had just begun to scratch the surface. Many times in the ensuing months, I left Tanza’s office feeling raw. Disoriented. I both loved and hated seeing Tanza, but I felt I also was able to trust her with the truth—and not just all the incidents of that one awful truth, but the third rail, the oh-no-you-didn’t-go-there mother of all truths: relationships with my parents, brother and especially my sister.
And like Dr. Bean, Tanza’s completely immune to my B.S.
Bottom line, trying to lose a great deal of weight while simultaneously trying to get at the root causes for my need to protect myself with weight wasn’t going to work. My sessions with Tanza were often difficult—they’re not supposed to be easy, I guess—but ultimately worth it. Unfortunately, thanks to an insurance company “oversight” I had to suspend my weekly sessions several months ago. Thankfully, we’re starting up again next week. No way am I dropping all this weight without her.
ALL THAT TO SAY THIS: I know why I’m overweight, and though I could blame it all on my past, ultimately that’s just a cop-out. Scientists and doctors call obesity a disease. I say it’s a symptom.
Whatever you want to call it, I’m getting rid of 100 pounds worth this year. Doing it “out loud” in this very public, daily blog means, hopefully, greater accountability. To fail in such a public way would be horrifying. (Hey, I do have an ego.)
But I’m also doing this for African-American women, because we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic, and it’s not raising the level of alarm is should. Ladies, we’re clocking in at an 80 percent rate. That’s four out of every five black women in the United States today being classified as overweight or obese. If 80 percent of white women suddenly developed hammer toes, there’d be a national call to arms, and you know it.
I’m 48, so my life isn’t even half over. I want to fly comfortably for hours to California and hike the San Gabriels with my friend; spend a weekend outlet shopping in Virginia and return with bags of stylish clothes that fit me; be eligible for the lowest life insurance rates possible, and be able to donate healthy organs when I die.
And that’s just for starters.
What I want to know is, who’s with me? I’ll be blogging daily—sometimes twice a day—and I’m looking forward to hearing some tips, but more than anything, good words.
Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist, head of WellSister.com/The Leslie Agency Inc., a bookstore habitué and veritable font of useless knowledge.
Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.