Several years ago, after I got married and settled into my current job, I started experiencing asthma-like attacks. I’d be walking home on a cold night and the next thing I knew I’d be trying to clear my throat and find that I wasn’t able to. I’d have a dry cough, a wheeze, and sweat pouring down my forehead. If I ran across the street because the walk signal was changing, I’d spend the next five minutes trying to catch my breath, sometimes finding that I couldn’t. I ended up in the emergency room two or three times. I started seeing a new doctor who put me on Advair. I worried that I would be asthmatic for the rest of my life—or at least every allergy season.
My doctor had another suggestion: he told me to lose 100 pounds. Well, what he actually said was, “you need to lose 50 to 100 pounds.” I was floored. Fifty to 100 pounds? Although his voice remained flat, it felt like an indictment. Like I was guilty of some horrible crime, and he was condemning me.
I confess that what followed was a long period of denial. I searched my reflection in the mirror, and didn’t see that I was overweight. Or at least not so heavy that I should have trouble breathing. I still looked like me, and I enjoyed dressing in cute clothes from Old Navy and the Gap. I needed to lose 100 pounds? Really? I thought about Richard Simmons, I thought about diet plans and exercise DVDs and gastric bypass surgery, and I wondered, am I going to have to do all of that?
Around the same time, my husband and I started trying to get pregnant. We gave it a few months and found it wasn’t happening easily. Consultations with specialists led to a similar recommendation: Lose weight—as much as you can. No constructive advice beyond that. There must be a sense among those in the medical community—and maybe even more widely—that overweight people know why we’re heavy and what we’re doing to cause it, and that we can just decide to stop that behavior. It’s as though they think we’re all hiding Oreos under our beds or having lunch at McDonald’s every day. I have never been a junk-food junkie, and I had absolutely no idea how to lose weight
I wanted to have a baby so badly that I did the best I could. I gave up pizza. I skipped meals. I ate mostly salads. And, I grumbled. I felt deprived and I’d get angry when family members arranged dinners at Italian restaurants where I stared at the food telling myself I wasn’t allowed to eat it. I lost about 15 pounds. And then I had a baby. And then I had another. And then I was out of the baby-making business and back where I started. The weight came back and I was back on Advair. When I looked in the mirror all I could see was someone who needed to lose 100 pounds.
I didn’t want to go back to withholding my favorite foods from myself—that had felt awful. I couldn’t let the denial derail me, either. So, this is what I told myself: Right now I am where I am. I can see myself as I am. And, I want to be the best version of myself I can be.
I found a dietician, bought an exercise bike and installed a calorie-counting app on my iPhone. In time I learned that losing weight wasn’t about withholding food from myself. I didn’t have to give up pizza. What I had to give up was the shame. Seriously. I know that sounds corny, but it’s true. So true, I’ll say it again: Give up the shame. I saw that the only way I was going to change my weight was to change my thinking.
My biggest breakthrough came when I attended a support group with other women who had food and eating issues—including some who withheld food from themselves. I was so amazed to see what we had in common. The denial. The voices in our heads telling us not to eat the foods we craved. The feeling of being alone. I told everyone there that my doctor wanted me to lose 100 pounds. I said it out loud. I’m even saying it here, because I am no longer ashamed of it. That 100-pound benchmark no longer feels like a curse or a judgment. It’s just one doctor’s recommendation for optimizing my health.
After getting an exercise routine going and finding foods that made me feel satisfied and nourished, I saw a marked improvement in my overall health. Maybe I’ll lose 100 pounds over time. Maybe not. But, every day I am where I am. I am the best version of myself that I can be right now. And, I can breathe!
Rebecca Weiss is a writer, mom of two, and director of communications for a New York City auction house. In 2012 she started a fitness and wellness journey. She is a monthly contributor to Mom Dishes It Out.