I really don’t go back and look at old pictures of myself because while I’m proud of how far I’ve come I’m still quite embarrassed about how large I let myself get. This week for #TBT (Throw Back Thursday) I actually posted a picture of me sitting on a balcony at a resort in the Dominican Republic in 2009. I have no idea what I actually weighed then but doctors tell me I likely weighed 400 pounds. I’d add another 60+ pounds in the next three years before starting to make changes.
I don’t know what to make of the old pictures. I have fought the battle of Before and After pictures since I lost the first 100 pounds. Every time anyone in the media does a story on my weight loss, or I’m asked to guest blog on some health and fitness site they always want before and after pictures, and I always give the same response -but I don’t think I’ve ever written about it. I don’t believe in Before and After. This is a core value in my weight loss journey, and it’s cost me some opportunities (and likely some money) along the way.
The argument is simple: on a journey to healthy living I don’t believe there is an “after.” What do they they even mean? Before you got healthy and after you got healthy? Before you lost weight and after you lost weight? If that’s what they mean they should call them Then & Now – because I’d be okay with that. Both just represent where you were at a certain point and time, and acknowledge that at another point in time you could be somewhere else all together.
“After” is just too definite. It implies the change is behind you and the work is done. That’s not the journey I’m on. This will never be over. My whole life – no matter what I weigh – I will be obese. It’s as much a disease of the mind as it is of the body, and while science can wrap a band around my stomach and help me live with it – at my core I am a broken man. When I think I’m “fixed”, when I think the journey is done and that I am living the “after” I will fail, and I will fail in a large way.
In my book I talk about how success for me has slowly become defined as normalcy. I just want to do all the normal things that other people do without their weight being a consideration. I’m still not there but I’m getting there. I’m in no rush – because I’ve learned that progress and acceptance come with living in the “now” and not obsessing over the the ever elusive “after”. Too many people lose their passion for their journey because they’ve defined success as a destination – an end point – rather than an acceptance.
Still though, there’s a dark truth under the success of every person who battles their obesity – and that’s that while you shrink to a normal size, and wear normal clothes, and do normal things – you just aren’t wired to be normal. It wasn’t normal to make the decisions you made to get where you landed at the start of your journey. The people who fail, and gain weight back, are the people who start to believe their own deception. No matter the number on the scale, I’ll always be mentally obese. That doesn’t mean I’ll always be 460 pounds in my head – it means my brain will always be wired to make the bad choices, and that every day I have to battle against that natural urge and make better choices. Living easy is anything but when you know you’re your own worst enemy.
It’s all perception. When I post an old pic of me at my heaviest people seem to draw some inspiration from that – they see it as a testament to what real change can do. When I see them though, I don’t see all the days of success since that picture was taken. I see all the dark days that led me to be in that picture in the first place – and then I get scared, because the brain that was making all of those decisions is still the brain I’ve got now, and if I don’t work on it everyday, it will go back and make those decisions again. Lap-band or no lap-band.
A lot of this new thinking is second nature to me now, and that makes some decisions easier – but I’m reminded daily that I’ve spent two years challenging my mind to see my life and my choices differently than it did before. Now it’s an easier choice to plan a healthy meal, but it’s still a hard choice to convince myself I want to do the things I was afraid of for so long. There are days when perfectly small tasks seem like monumental decisions simply because the amount of mental wringing it takes to convince myself to do something my mind so stubbornly does not want to do – simply because it’s still holding on to three decades of conditioning that I can’t break in just two years.
I think the people who fail are those who are in this for the “after “picture and the life they think goes with that, and I think they give up when they realize this never really ends. I’ve accepted that I’ll never be done, and that parts of this may never be easy.
We learn settle for better . We learn to settle for easier. We learn to settle for progress and call that success.