I’ve made a promise to myself and the people around me to be more positive this year, to stay out of the bogs and bear traps of criticism, gossip, and judgment, and to be a kinder person.
And I will.
But first, I have to reach back into 2019 and reflect on some promises I made last year in support of my physical health, because if the fit of my clothes right now is any indication, I did not succeed and I really, really wanted to. My health goal at this point is not to get back to a certain weight but to live a long, productive, and illness-free life. I also want my clothes to fit because I like them, I paid money for them, and I don’t want to waste them. Finally, I feel better about myself when I control my habits and not the other way around.
So, I stand before you today, a person with a history of disordered eating spanning four decades as measured by weight that has fluctuated by up to 30 pounds. I need your help. It’s been my experience that accountability works where other strategies don’t. I wish I could do everything for myself by myself, but the world doesn’t work that way.
Accountability: My Story
Years and years ago, I was a nearsighted nerdy awkward chubby 12-year-old first generation child of immigrants navigating my first year of high school (no opportunities for bullies there, eh?) Pre-teens are particularly vulnerable to believing that they are what people tell them they are, and if they don’t look like, talk like, or act like the cool kids they have no value. Planted early in life, that feeling of inadequacy never really goes away. It’s hard to not compare yourself to your peers or to aspire to unrealistic ideals, no matter how old you get or how many accomplishments you rack up.
It looked like I wasn’t going to win 9th grade unless I got some help, and my brother stepped up. We made a bet that I’d lose weight. It was either 20 pounds or down to a certain goal weight, I don’t recall, but if I did it, he’d pay me, and if I didn’t, I’d pay him. In today’s dollars it wasn’t much, maybe $20 or a dollar a pound, but it wasn’t about the money; it was about accountability.
It worked. I lost the weight, and when I lost the weight, I felt better about myself and when that happened the bullying stopped. Unfortunately, that pretty much proved to me that high self-worth and low body weight are the same thing, a lesson that would take years to unlearn. I’m still unlearning it today.
Four Decades of Yo-yo
Ten years and three eating disorders later, I got another wake-up call. I was told to lose weight to keep my job. That’s right: it was the 80s and employers did that. I cut out carbs and started running, lost the weight, kept my job, and — bonus! I even got married.
It worked. But these events reinforced two ideas.
Idea 1: The lower a person’s weight, the higher their value.
Idea 2: Accountability (or, in this case, terror) brings results.
Ten years later, bolstered by unimaginable stress, my weight had climbed higher than I’d ever seen it before. This time, the road to weight loss wasn’t through a person; it was a literal road. I left my husband, my job, and LA with the clothes on my back and about $300, and for the two or three weeks until my first paycheck in the new city, after rent I had nothing left to buy food. I ate one free meal a day on my lunch break at work. These days, we’d call that intermittent fasting.
It worked. I lost the weight. It also didn’t hurt that I didn’t have a car and walked everywhere, only really ate while at work, and found joy in solitude, reflection, books, movies, and writing (a very unmarketable romance novel) instead of cake.
I went back to LA. Another decade, another 20 pounds, this time not so much stress weight as a steady accumulation of unhealthy habits. I joined Weight Watchers and made them my accountability buddy.
It worked. Hello, goal weight my old friend.
Break-ups are hard. I broke up with WW several times, but took them back with less and less success each time. In between, I’d go it alone. I run, which you’d think would help, but when I train alone I pack on pounds from extra treats that “I’ll burn off training.” Then I found a running buddy at work and we trained for the LA Marathon together.
It worked. I lost about 10 pounds and felt great! Then she moved away.
Accountability in Bite-size Pieces
So here we are. I’m older and wiser; I’ve learned over time that good health and low weight are not the same thing. This time my goal isn’t a number on the scale but better health physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Last year, I decided to stop encouraging my lifelong codependent relationship with food, which seemed to rule my life. I was always counting something: calories, carbs, water, menus, points, fasting hours, and the more I counted all that the more pounds I had to count. I stopped counting and privately committed to 12 transformative actions for better health by creating a note on my phone I called “My Health Commitments.” Not surprisingly, it didn’t work, as no one can effectively multitask 12 actions, especially with no help.
So the note is gone, and list of healthy actions is here for me and for you. No more multitasking; I’m working on one at a time. Join me if you like, as I focus on one each month in 2020. Each month’s commitment will build on the earlier ones and hopefully that brings a good outcome by the time we’re all facing 2021.
- Be accountable for my success, and be there to help others be accountable if they need me.
- Eat when I’m hungry, don’t eat when I’m not. Have tea or water — or wait it out instead.
- Choose company over solitude when eating — make eating a social — not solitary — experience. That means actual people, not devices.
- Eat meals instead of grazing mindlessly all day.
- Be mindful of stressful events that cause uncomfortable feelings. Feel the feelings, then and seek comfort not in the fridge, but in what brings joy: walks, music, friends, reading a good book, writing, anything I love and that loves me back.
- Choose yummy stress-relieving foods like unsweetened yogurt, almonds, eggs, oatmeal, blueberries, greens, veggies, instead of empty, guilt-inducing foods.
- Eat healthy oils like avocado or nuts not hydrogenated or animal fats.
- Avoid processed foods, simple carbs, or foods with added sugar.
- Eat fewer animal products — choose the plant-based food if available. So many reasons to do that.
- Move more. Take a 20-minute walk or something like that daily.
- Get enough sleep. For me, that’s 7–9 hours.
- Do my best. If I screw up, reflect on it, learn from it, and move on.
Be accountable for my success, and be there to help others be accountable if they need me.
Let’s work together.