I was 21 years old when I was a contestant on NBC’s The Biggest Loser in 2007. Cast as one of the “outlaws” on Jillian Michaels’ team, I found myself on a scale, in front of millions of people each week in less clothing than I’d even let my mother see me in for several years.
I convinced myself (and family and friends) that my journey was in the name of adventure, and that my starting weight would be the last time I ever saw a number so high flash across a scale. I lost 113 pounds during the eight-month filming season. I was also working out four to six hours a day, and only eating 1,500 calories a day.
As you might guess, my journey with my weight was not over when the show ended. It proved impossible to maintain those habits once I returned home to a job and a social life. Throw in a pregnancy and I was almost exactly right back where I’d started — where I swore I’d never be again.
Last year, I found CrossFit Vector and my coach, Aaron Martin and I fell in love with working out. More importantly, I fell in love with my body, imperfect as it was, as much as I resented it. I began to value it for what it could do, rather than what it couldn’t, and, for the first time in my adult life, post-Biggest Loser, I started losing weight. Not network-TV-quickly, by any means, but sustainably.
Now, well on my way to my new body goals (which, consequentially, have nothing to do with the scale, but are rather performance markers), I have a deeper perspective on lessons I hadn’t learned until after my Biggest Loser days; lessons I believe prevented me from maintaining weight loss in the past, and lessons I believe now are crucial for my success (and happiness!) in the present and future.
1. Your weight isn't the thing holding you back.
My entire life, I sidelined myself. In school plays, soccer teams, and cheerleading tryouts, I'd instantly apologize to myself, and my audience, for my body. I'd tell friends I couldn’t go to a beach or out on a boat because I didn’t want people to see me in a bathing suit.
Being overweight isn’t what holds you back from living your life: Being ashamed about being overweight is what holds you back from living your life. And once you stop feeling ashamed and start feeling alive, I promise the momentum of your happiness will drive you to make choices that allow you to become more alive, more excited, and more capable.
2. There's a difference between concern and shame.
I know someone will read the first bullet point and assume that I think you should just forget about losing weight and do whatever you want. Wrong! There is a world of difference between being concerned about your weight — what it means for your health, your future, and your capabilities — and being ashamed about your weight.
Body shaming anyone, especially ourselves, for any reason, is a waste of time and counterproductive. It shifts the focus from what we want (to be healthy) and instead virtually bullies us. Commit to talking about and to yourself the way you'd talk to your best friend.
3. Your body will always look like your body.
During my time on Biggest Loser, I kept a journal with pictures of celebrities I wanted to look like. I was convinced that, on the other side of the finale, I'd have the body of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.
But I didn’t. My body looked a lot like … my body. Just smaller. My stomach did not go from round and curvy to washboard. My thighs still had cellulite. My arms still jiggled, even though I could do one-armed push ups like it was nobody’s business. I did not look like a swimsuit model. That, at the time, was incredibly disappointing.
This time around, I made the commitment to fall in love with my body as it was, before I tried to change it. And now, I kind of love that my stomach will always be soft and feminine. I love that no matter how small my body gets, my hips will still curve and my butt will never be flat. This is the only body I’m ever going to get, so instead of spending time wishing I had someone else’s, I make it a priority to appreciate my own.
4. People of all sizes have great relationships and great sex … with great people!
Newsflash: Anyone who chooses to can have sex. Before I went on Biggest Loser, my thin acquaintances would act like my then-boyfriend deserved a medal of honor for dating me: “How great he loves you for you.”
Um. Yeah. How great your boyfriend/husband/whatever loves you for you.
The notion that you have to be a certain size to be sexy is absurd. I’ve been many different sizes in my life, and I’ve never been forced into celibacy due to a lack of interest from men. Most of the men I’ve had dated seriously have been traditionally good looking, smart, accomplished men. And, we’ve had fulfilling, passionate relationships — in and out of the bedroom.
5. Everyone has body (image) issues.
I love all of my friends, dearly, but I have to admit to being completely annoyed when my 135-pound, gorgeous girl friend “can relate” to me because she has to lose 10 pounds. And I have to lose 50. But then I remember this: Everyone has their own issues — physically, emotionally and intellectually.
Someone could have our version of the “perfect” body, and it may not feel perfect to them. Someone may have deep-seeded issues that have nothing to do with what they look like, and we truly can never see what’s below the surface of someone’s insecurities. I want my friends to be tolerant and supportive of my journey, and that has to go both ways.
6. People are going to treat you differently. And that can be hard.
When you’re working on your weight, it’s like the rules change. People feel free to tell you candid truths, seemingly without fear of repercussion. These are some things people actually said to my face:
- I always thought you were pretty, but now you’re HOT.
- I was wondering when you’d lose the weight. I couldn’t understand why you weren’t afraid of dying.
- Isn’t it crazy how some people just don’t care about their bodies? Like, they never lose weight. They're just are so lazy.
Just because they're referencing your past doesn’t make it easy to hear. It’s never easy to swallow that they thought you were negligent about your health. Or that they categorize people who share your struggle as lazy. Remember everyone has a different point of understanding, and just take their comments as what they are: One person’s opinion.
7. You’ll never ever get to “take it easy.”
Anyone who tells you that once you “get there” weight loss is easier to maintain has never had to maintain weight loss. You feel like because you’ve crossed the finish line, you should get to take a break. But the journey to a healthy weight is a life-long, challenging road that will probably contain a relapse or two, and that's OK. You just have to keep doing what you know works for you.
I’m a believe in cheat days. Heck, I’m a believer in living life. I eat chocolate cake at birthdays. Or pizza some Fridays. But I also make good food choices 80% of the time. For the rest of my life, I will have to workout a minimum of five days a week and limit the amount of Italian bread I let myself eat. And honestly, it’s hard and completely unfair. But, for me, the trade off is worth it.
8. Shift the focus from weight loss to life gain.
We’re bombarded with airbrushed images of perfect celebrities. Our grocery aisles are chock full of “weight loss” products packed with chemicals and sucralose. We think “working out” needs to be a lifeless, boring hour of elliptical.
We’ve got it all wrong. Being your healthiest (and subsequently fittest) does not mean eating Lean Cuisines and slogging it out at Planet Fitness to fit into a bikini. Being your healthiest means going on adventures. Running around with your children. Having unabashed fun at a beach party.
Throw out your scale and start a life journal, instead. Measure your success by what you accomplish and what you gain, rather than what you lose. Because, ultimately, losing weight doesn’t do anyone any good if it doesn’t come with genuine health (physically and mentally), a re-ignited excitement for life, and a life-long commitment and lust for being the best possible version of you.