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How We Talk About Weight Loss - SYDNEY: unfiltered.

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How We Talk About Weight Loss

Yesterday, when I wrote about Hiking My Feelings (totally capitalizing it), I talked about how before we hiked the Trans-Catalina Trail in December 2016, I decided that from that hike and moving forward that I wanted to honor my inner athlete. Making that admission to myself was some of the greatest permission I’ve ever granted myself. That’s when things really started to turn around for me.

I want to talk about the framing and language we use around losing weight, because I’ve been on one hell of a journey and I don’t even know how to talk about weight loss anymore, to be honest.

The Seed

When I think back to the beginning of when I started to make healthier choices out of love (for myself) rather than fear (of getting fat), it started with the language I had been using, and the corrections I made.

I’m obsessed with nuance around language and how it can affect our day-to-day lives. One of the best gifts that my skydiving career gave me was my first introduction to reframing a statement from a negative to a positive.

For example, I would get down from a training jump and I’d say “ugh, I screwed up that (insert skydiving thing here).”

Pretty simple observation, right?

Try this reframe on for size: “I’m looking forward to seeing the video of that jump, so I can understand what went wrong on (that skydiving thing) and how to correct it.” 

Feels lighter, doesn’t it? The first one feels heavier because I’m coming from a place of “I screwed up, I am a mistake” vs. “I made an error, I’m a human who can correct this mistake.”

Similar to my post about the nuance between you LOOK beautiful vs. you ARE beautiful, it started with the language.

From that post:

You look beautiful.
You are beautiful.

Can you feel the difference? LOOK sounds like it’s fleeting, like it could go away. ARE feels like a state of being, something inherently true about you, something with more depth.

I do LOOK beautiful in these pictures, thank you. I’ll take it.

ANDBUTALSO more than my looks, which can change dramatically in the span of 5 months thanks to a chronic condition, I AM beautiful.

Let’s walk through it.

The Awakening: Choosing Love

By saying “I want to honor my inner athlete” I chose to come at this next weight loss attempt from a place of LOVE. By choosing to honor my inner athlete, I open my mind and world up to experiences and opportunities that allow me to do that. The way we stumbled into paddleboarding is a great example. When I got home from my trip to Paris last May, Isle Surf & SUP was having their spring sale before the summer season. It was our perfect opportunity to get paddleboards at an affordable price. We hadn’t ever tried it, but I knew I liked being on the water, and I knew this was going to be another fantastic activity to get me off the couch and out of my head, into my body. So we went for it. Paddleboarding is a now a very important part of my life, an activity that my husband and I share and enjoy doing together, and has contributed to my overall wellness. It can be a hell of a workout if you want it to be!

Naturally, as I dug into the whole “inner athlete” thing, I thought back to the last time I truly felt healthy, and I knew immediately: when I was on the women’s rowing team at the University of Kansas my freshman year. I had been a cheerleader/gymnast for most of my life up to that point, only briefly dabbling in athletics in middle and high school. When I got to KU and knew that I wouldn’t be a cheerleader (to be fair, I assumed I couldn’t be a cheerleader at KU because I thought I was too fat, I didn’t try out), I walked on to the women’s rowing team.

While my time on the team was short, it was potent. Rowing, an activity that I loved desperately but just wasn’t cut out for, was one of my first opportunities to learn how to love my body – and I failed.

I was in the best shape of my life, the most supported I’d ever been (student-athletes get TONS of resources), and I did it healthily. I wasn’t starving myself. I was eating right, fueling my body, working out in a structured/supervised way with the team, and loving every second of it. It turns out I was “too big” to be a coxswain, but I was too short to row Varsity because I couldn’t generate the same kind of power with my 5’4 frame as these incredible, seasoned (and taller) rowers could.

These were facts – not judgments on my body – but I took them to be judgments and it broke my heart. In my mind, I was doing everything right, and I still wasn’t small enough – that’s really hard news to hear your freshman year at college, out in the world on your own for the first time.

Me and some of my teammates from the 2003-2004 Novice Women’s Rowing Team at the University of Kansas

The Awakening: Choosing Fear

Everything else I’ve tried never stuck. I’ve started an adventure toward health a million times and it usually began from one of these places (fueled by fear: fear of being seen, fear of getting fat, fear of being worthy, fear of success, etc.):

“I want to lose X lbs by X date so I can prove to these people (at an event) that I’m not a lazy sack of shit and that I’ve made something of myself.” 

…and sometimes, I wouldn’t even let myself start:

“Skip your high school reunion, you look like a slob, and nobody gives a shit about you anyway.”

“Nobody wants to see an overweight woman on stage, stop applying for speaking gigs.” 

and the most serious of the offenders:

“I’ll do that when I lose weight.”

How many times have we said that? How many times have we said no to something that could likely have brought us joy if we weren’t so caught up in our appearances and what other folks think about us?

After that day in March of last year where shopping was no longer a torturous activity for me, and I walked out of there loving my body, I thought “hey, wait a minute, is it that easy to decide to love myself?”

If it’s possible for me to make good choices and see positive results, then is it possible that all those people who spout about “happiness is a choice” have been right all along? Was I jaded when I rolled my eyes at that?

The Choice Is Yours

This phrase keeps nudging me in an introspective direction. Between September 2017 and Thanksgiving, five days a week I would walk up and down the “hill of death” in our neighborhood, and do three rounds of bodyweight exercises with the TRX straps slung around the tree in our backyard. This routine was sustainable, and I could do it on the road. At the time, I was practically living at the Sheraton at Universal Studios because I was commuting up to the NBC offices every week to sit with the team in-house on behalf of the agency. I remember being so damn proud of myself for working out in the mornings before heading down to their offices, and I remember the satisfaction I got as the MASSIVE climb from the Universal/NBC lots up to the hotel got more comfortable each week.

As I continued to prove to myself that I was capable of making healthy decisions, it opened up this portal into evaluating other choices. If it was true that I could make good health choices, then what else was possible? What other lies have I been telling myself? To what other shitty stories have I been holding on?

Since “happiness is a choice” is a nice example, let’s keep going there – it’ll tie back into weight loss, I swear. 🙂

These days, when I hear “happiness is a choice” thrown around, I want to throw a big YES AND after that. That phrase is thrown around oppressively – like if you’re not happy, that’s on you, and you’re a problem, so fix yourself. What if we changed the connotation? What could be possible if we chose new language instead of throwing “happiness is a choice” around like some universal truth that doesn’t make accommodations for the fact that we’re all born into different foundations?

I don’t think happiness is a choice. I believe happiness is a byproduct of making decisions aligned with what you genuinely want instead of what society, your family, your friends, or your inner critic tells you that you should. 

“Happiness is a choice” is limited in scope because by saying that, we assume that folks have the capacity and resources to make the best choices they can for themselves (and/or that if their choices aren’t the same as ours, then that’s why they’re in the position they’re in), and that we’re all making these choices from a level playing field. Well if diabetes and weight-loss have taught me anything, I know that couldn’t be further from the truth. Let’s apply that logic (happiness is a choice) to the decisions we have to make every day to manage our health.

I’d say a good half of my success in managing diabetes so far is because I have the resources to care for myself. The other half is the discipline to get it done. If I didn’t have insurance, I’d be in a different position. If I had to work three jobs to make ends meet and I wasn’t able to create space for movement in my life, I’d be in a different position. If I lived in a part of the city/state/country/world where fresh food wasn’t available and I couldn’t correctly nourish myself, I’d be in a different position. If I wasn’t able-bodied, I’d be in a different position. And if I weren’t white, I’d be in a different position (because while women in general struggle to have their health concerns heardwomen of color have it way worse).

All of these factors affect my ability to manage my disease (and for folks in general to handle all the situations that come up in their life, not just their health), so think about how many factors affect our ability to make choices aligned with what we want:

✔ Our home environment
✔ Our school environment
✔ Our work environment
✔ Coaches, instructors, mentors, teammates
✔ Where we live
✔ How we are taught to communicate and process emotion
✔ Our access to resources (money, fresh food, clean water, housing, clothing, etc.)

If just one of those categories (and there are a ton more factors not considered here) is misaligned, we can find ourselves in a challenging position, unable to make the choices we SHOULD be able to make living in this country.

So once we wrap our heads around the fact that everything is a choice (and we all start from different foundations from which to make choices), how do we get from having that knowledge to taking decisive action?

Permission Granted

One of the best things I ever did for myself was to change the way I use social media. The reality is I cannot escape it and, to be honest; I don’t want to. I love the communities I’ve found thanks to living out loud online. When I permitted myself to use the platforms the way I want to use them vs. what everyone else is doing or what I SHOULD do (or how to make money or how to gain a bazillion followers or how to maximize hashtags etc.), I noticed my whole world changed.

I first started by following a bunch of body-positive accounts and hashtags. My favorites right now are Megan (@bodiposipanda)Anna (@glitterandlazers), and @nonairbrushedme. As I saw more and more diverse bodies in my newsfeed, I started to feel more and more comfortable in my own skin. The single decision to curate my social media environment to be supportive and inspirational, coupled with taking physical action to care for myself (love me some self-care rituals), was the perfect bridge I needed to get from “okay I know I want to make some changes” and “now I love myself.”

I find it ironic that I’ve taken photos in swimsuits all over the world and the one place I was told to cover up was Las Vegas. Sure, thin girls in thongs and pasties are A OK but a plus girl in a full coverage suit, trying to take an epic editorial shot- now that’s just too much. Jokes on them though, I’d already gotten the perfect photo. They can’t erase this happened. I’m learning as I push myself to do more editorial type concepts, the push back is greater. But that’s why I push. It’s more than just a girl in the city of sin in a bikini, It’s a statement. We will be seen. We’re not hiding anymore. And we’re going to wear whatever we want, wherever we want. Not just in Vegas. EVERYWHERE. Change is coming; the question is are you going to stand in the way or help us push through? Bikini by @curvybeach #lasvegas #plussize #fashion #bodypositive #confidence #idowhatiwant 📸 @larabellenewyork

A post shared by Glitter (@glitterandlazers) on

Regrann from @ny.works – “We are taught as women to hate our bodies. To hide them. And in some cases that they aren’t ours. Showing too much of your body is “asking for it” but not showing enough isn’t attractive. We are taught to be at war with it from a young age. It needs to be thin, but not too thin. It needs to have curves, but not too many curves. It’s needs to be fit, but not too fit. It will be ridiculed for all of its flaws. We should fix all of those flaws, or at least keep them hidden. Nobody wants to see your belly rolls, loose skin or stretch marks. They are deemed ugly. I say f*** that. I’m not going to hide my body to make others feel comfortable. I’m not going to be ashamed of it. I’m not asking for it by showing it. My body is mine to live in and I won’t spend my life being at war with it anymore. I earned all of these “flaws” and I embrace every single one of them.” – @capricious_fitness #allbodiesaregoodbodies – #regrann

A post shared by N O N A I R B R U S H E D M E (@nonairbrushedme) on


The way all of these accounts showed how beautiful it is to just show up for yourself started shifting my mindset. I went from seeing images and feeling less-than to feeling a full-body HELL YEAH every time I scrolled past someone standing in their power. Now, my feed was full of inspiration, not images that internalized this limited and toxic standard of beauty. As my feed was filling up with bodies that moved away from the typical USA standard, the way I looked at myself in the mirror changed. As I read the words of these folks and folks like them, I had a new filter for how to talk to myself.

Now, I’m having a bit of an identity crisis in this body. It is so different and I haven’t made space to get caught up with myself and understand how to move through the world in my new reality. That’s a whole separate post, and that one’s coming soon. Tomorrow we’re doing the 5 Peaks Challenge at Mission Trails Regional Park, and I’m sure I’ll hike my feelings on that trip and come back with a shit load of insight and inspiration.

Do The Work

I’m a solutions-oriented person, in that I don’t like to call things out without first trying to think of a solution. We don’t get very far by stopping after we identify the issue, and I believe we owe it to ourselves to keep digging and following that thread. So in that spirit, what work can I do to move some energy, get into my body, and understand what I’m feeling here?

Treat these as journal prompts or thought-starters. I highly recommend getting out of your head and into your body before beginning, so you can make space for the insights you have within to emerge:

⭐ Does my social media feed enrich me? Who inspires me?
⭐ Can I make room for more positivity in my life? What would need to go in order to make that space? Am I willing to let go of that right now? If not, what are some next steps I can take to get comfortable making space for positivity?

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