My Dearest Girl,
When you were four, I began my journey to healthy living. You probably don’t have many memories of me as a 246-pound woman, but you have lived through this long and winding process towards health, confidence, and unconditional acceptance of myself. You’re 9 now – quickly approaching 10 years old. I think often about the way I talk to myself, the way I treat my “before & after” images, and the way I write about my weight loss.
One day, you will be able to fully absorb it all, and I have to make sure that my own actions don’t negatively impact the way you see yourself. You may be a tiny twig of a thing today, but that really has no bearing on the struggles you may or may not go through later on in life. And it’s my job as your mom to make sure everything I say and do screams acceptance, love, and worthiness. Because no matter what you look like in all the years to come, you’ll always be perfect.
So here is what I want you, my precious daughter, to know about my weight loss.
1. Before losing 100 pounds, I was beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, and capable of anything. I’m still all of those things, but the difference is that I fully realize it today. I thought my weight negated all of the “good” things I had going for me. It wasn’t true, of course, but that didn’t make the negative feelings any less real in my head. I was morbidly obese, yes, and I had incredibly unhealthy habits, but I was always a good person. It’s taken me years to understand that having faults only means that I am a human being.
2. Your dad never treated me any differently regardless of my size. When we started dating, I was 15 years old and 130 pounds. Over the next 12 years, I steadily gained weight. 116 pounds of added fat later, and he still loved me as much as the day he met me. I would beg him to tell me I was fat. I would beg him to tell me to lose weight. I thought if he said the right thing, it would jumpstart my weight loss. He wouldn’t do it. He couldn’t do it. He loved me and he found me beautiful. I need you to know this, because your dad is my hero. He has loved me even (and especially) when I didn’t love myself. The size of my body did not influence his affection for me. And if your future husband doesn’t do the same, he is not right for you. Please remember that.
3. My discontent with myself affected my life much more than my body ever did. I let my weight stop me from going to the beach. I let it stop me from wearing clothes that fit my style. I let my size keep me in the background when I could have been standing out. My weight did none of these things. It was how I perceived my weight. And how do I know that? I know that because I’m still not a supermodel. (Although you tell me often that I’m the most beautiful woman in the world, and I believe you. I really do.) I’m still struggling with my body and my love for it. I could pretend otherwise, but I pride myself on being honest with you.
However, I’m no longer allowing my body’s appearance decide what I do in life. My “imperfect” thighs have helped me run a marathon, and they give me the ability to climb mountains regularly. So yes, I will show them off proudly while wearing shorts. You know I still struggle with the loose skin on my upper arms, but they give me the ability to envelop you with love and comfort when you’re having a bad day. I refuse to hide them in long sleeves when they are strong and capable of so much. My body is so much more than how it looks, and I’m working hard to remember that daily. But regardless of any thoughts I may have, I will never again let my body keep me from doing something that interests me.
4. You are powerful. More powerful than you could ever possibly know. I tried for years – unsuccessfully – to change my unhealthy lifestyle. But one day I looked into your big, beautiful brown eyes, and I took in your face that mirrors mine, and I realized that I was setting you up for the same struggles I was going through. In 20 years, would I want you to be a hundred pounds overweight? Would I want you to have to figure out how to be healthy from scratch? That’s what flipped the switch: knowing that it was my job to help you navigate these tumultuous and deep waters. Life is hard enough as it is, and I would be beside myself with guilt if I didn’t do everything I could to at least make it marginally easier for you. Baby Girl, just by existing in this world (along with your brothers), you have changed my life. You did that.
5. When I look at my “before” images, I don’t see a woman who is unworthy. I don’t see a woman who is any less deserving of love or respect. I just see a woman who felt lost and used food to fill a void. So when I compare my “before” and “after” pictures, I feel pride in the fact that the “before” me was brave enough to fight through the fear even though the future was uncertain. I’m proud of the woman who said, “I can do this!” even when she wasn’t totally sure. I don’t feel a bit of shame about who I was before. I feel like an incredibly powerful person. Not because I’m now thinner or more beautiful by society’s standards. I feel powerful because I had a goal, I made a plan, and I saw it through. And as a result, I realized that I can do just about anything.
And the woman on the left loved you every bit as much as the woman on the right.
6. It’s unfortunate, but I did get treated differently because of my size. I was laughed at and ridiculed when I was larger. I’m shown respect and politeness now that I’m smaller. But the ones who love me – the ones who know who I am on the inside – they are the same with me. And as much as I sometimes want to focus on the outside people’s opinions of me, I have to stop and remember that they thought I was less of a person when I didn’t look the way they wanted me to. The people in my life who really count – you, for instance – love me and find me amazing no matter what I weigh. And I treasure that. I do.
7. I will have to battle my weight and bad habits for the rest of my life. I wanted to believe that once I became healthy, the rest would be easy. I wanted to believe I wouldn’t have to worry about calories or fat grams once I hit that magical “goal weight.” But the truth is, I don’t know how to eat and move mindfully. I’ve been trying for years to live the way others told me I should, and it hasn’t worked. So when you see me counting calories, taking the smallest piece of cake or meticulously logging my miles, know that it has nothing to do with dieting. It has nothing to do with trying to fix my body or being obsessive about losing weight. I am learning to treat my body well. And by counting calories, I’ve found the way to do that. For me. My way of living mindfully will not be the way you do it, and I will constantly remind you of that. I count calories because I want to make sure I’m eating both enough and not too much for my current level of activity. But unless or until you find yourself struggling with living mindfully, I don’t want you to think about calories. Got it?
However, I wouldn’t complain if you ate a few more veggies each day. I promise you, tomatoes, zucchini, asparagus, and mushrooms are not nearly as gross as you think they are.
8. The way my body looks does not indicate my level of happiness, and I find that to be true with all women. Do not assume that being a certain weight means your life is better or worse. When I’m taking care of my body, I find that I’m happier. That was true at size 20 and size 4 (and all the sizes in between). In fact, I’m much happier today than I was even just a few years ago, when I was 20 pounds lighter. My happiness comes from knowing I’m being a good mom to you and your brothers. It comes from my relationship with your dad. And it comes from adventuring and helping others. Losing weight hasn’t made me happier – it has simply enabled me to do more things that I love.
9. It took me 30 years and a 100-pound weight loss to gain the kind of confidence you have naturally. Hold on tight to the positive self-esteem you possess and nurture it constantly. That has been my greatest gift in this whole journey. I’ve become a better wife, mother, and all-around person because I now know I’m worthy, important, and capable of anything. I now understand I am valuable while simultaneously being imperfect in a multitude of ways.
Each time you go for the strawberries over the candy or offer to walk with me when you could sit and watch TV, it reminds me of my success. It reminds me that the weight loss is secondary to the healthy life we have created as a family. When we hike together, I experience a kind of euphoria that seemed impossible only a few years ago. You do that for me. Not my weight loss. It’s you and your dad and your brothers. I could not have been successful in this journey without the four of you.
My best girl – my dear Audra – thank you for all that you are to me now, all that you’ve been to me in the past, and all that you’ll be to me in the future.