“I grew up as any typical only child of 2 working parents does: starving for attention. I also ate as your typical Midwesterner does: meat and potatoes and bread with just about every meal. My parents worked hard to provide for us, and we certainly never went without. But they were gone a lot, and when they weren’t home I wasn’t allowed to leave the house. There was always plenty of food in the house, but as a kid you aren’t thinking of eating a square meal and getting all of your veggies in. When everyone was home, meals tended to be out at restaurants where, again, no one was thinking of nutrition, only what tasted and sounded good at the time.
I’d always been on the heavier side of normal in elementary school, but these wild eating habits caught up to me quickly as puberty started to hit. It almost seemed like I woke up one day and was suddenly significantly bigger than I had been before. No one ever really commented about it at the time, but I started noticing it, especially when shopping for clothes for school. And it was embarrassing. And even worse, I was too young to know what to really do about it and I didn’t want to say anything to my parents since they were already working so hard for me and they both also had their struggles with their weights.
In some ways, I just accepted this was my fate – I’m destined to be heavy too. So I just rolled with it and bolstered up my personality. You could always count on me for a good laugh. You could always count on me to bring you out of a bad mood. Rarely, if ever, would I speak out loud of the thoughts running through my head about my feelings of inadequacy, my absolute fear of gym class and letting people see how out of shape I was. Or even worse, having my classmates see me try to run, or do a cartwheel, or anything most kids did during gym class.
Then towards the end of my freshman year of high school, my parents made an announcement: we’re moving. This move took me from my tiny school where everyone knew everyone and their families, to a significantly larger school where I knew no one. And I knew how they’d judge me: the fat girl. They didn’t know how funny I was, or how good my grades are. All they’d know is what they saw, and I was terrified.
So I started exercising. I still didn’t know what I was doing, or what was safe and what was unsafe, but I knew I needed to move and I knew I needed to eat less. Step aerobics was booming at the time, so I asked for a step for my birthday and I got going. As far as eating went, I stopped eating breakfast, lunch was a Granny Smith apple, and dinner was half of my usual portion of what my parents were eating. And surprise, surprise, it worked.
After graduation I stopped working out as much and the weight started coming back on. But life got busy: college, meeting my future husband, kids, then later divorce. And with each change, my already marginal habits got worse. Suddenly I had teenagers, was divorced and alone, and looking to buy size 22 jeans.
Having family photos taken of me and the kids was the best wakeup call I ever had. There’s a smile on my face, but in my eyes, you can tell I’m not feeling it. I looked at that picture for the longest time. I thought of the habits I was passing on to my own children. I thought of how I felt when I woke up in the morning, of how I avoided looking in the mirror. I thought of the years of bad habits and knew something had to change. Luckily I had become a nurse, and had a fair amount of training regarding diet and nutrition.
I also decided that whatever changes I made needed to stick long term – I didn’t want a quick fix. Because birthdays will still happen, girls wine night will still happen, LIFE will still happen. And I didn’t want to be one of those people that had special requests because of diet choice. So I started easy: I bought smaller plates. In doing that, I was forced to take smaller portions. That simple change made such a huge impact on my own perception of hunger. I stopped eating because it’s lunchtime or dinnertime. If I thought I was hungry, I would have a glass of water and decide if I was wanting to eat because the clock told me so, or because my stomach told me so. More often than not, I was eating for the clock, not my stomach. I also started paying attention to how certain foods made me feel. I noticed that when I ate fresh vegetables, like in a salad, I felt satisfied and not sluggish. One ‘old’ meal and I felt like I needed a nap after the meal.
All of this really rocked my world, to put it mildly. It forced me to think about me and who I am and what I want and what kind of person I want to be. And through all of this I realized that the person I had become is so far removed from who I really was, and it was time to let people see the real me. It was time to stop letting people walk all over me just to have a friend, it was time to bring me my power back.
And in bringing my power back, I remembered how much better I felt after exercising and I knew I needed to bring that back as soon as possible. I started by at first doing exercise videos at home just to get used to moving again. I also started going for walks. Eventually I joined a gym and fell in love with the camaraderie there to where I go every day that I can. As I got in better shape, I made it my goal to run a 5K before I turned 41. My first one was a disaster, it was a ‘challenging’ course meant for more experienced runners. But I’d come too far to give up that easily, so three days later I ran a much easier course. And on Independence Day 2018, I ran my first ‘real’ 5K with a time of 37:51, and I haven’t looked back.
I’m doing this my way, in a way that will stick. In a way that doesn’t require me constantly looking up nutritional information, but instead focuses on how I FEEL. Our minds and our guts tell us a ton, but first we have to learn to listen to them. When we do, it changes every single area of our lives in a way that is nothing short of amazing. I’ve never been happier, and I certainly don’t plan on going back to old habits anytime soon. I didn’t like how I looked or felt, so I set out to make changes. I stopped eating like a toddler and started exercising. It’s not been fast, and not always steady, but it’s staying off long term. My 40’s are way better than any other decade so far.
My children have benefited by seeing what happens when you eat better and exercise more, and in that, I feel like I’ve accomplished a nearly impossible mission. At the ages of 17 and 16, my children choose to make wise food choices and also join me at the gym as often as they can even, though that means they also get to watch mom dance to the music at the gym. But hey, life was meant for living and having fun and feeling good, and as a family, I think we’re doing all three!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sharon Wilfong, 41, of Portage, Indiana. Do you have an inspiring weight loss journey? We’d love to hear from you. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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