The photo on the right was me six years ago. After years of failing to control my weight and pretending that I was going to do something about it, something clicked and I was able to shed weight rapidly and reasonably healthily. After a six-month diet (that extended to eighteen months) I lost a significant amount of weight, and more importantly, felt better than I had in years.
Swearing off processed sugar and diet soda and eating a largely plant-based diet of 1,500 calories a day not only made me look like the person I wanted to be, but to feel like the person I wanted to be. I had more energy, slept better, and was probably even a bit more cheerful.
Strangely, it wasn’t easy to accept the new version of myself at first. I had to have help getting rid of all of the clothes that no longer fit because I couldn’t accept that those were no longer a part of my life. My old habit of diminishing my presence in a room to appear smaller may never have left entirely. Once you accept a certain vision of yourself, it’s harder than you might think to believe that the new you is really you.
Despite this, I remember thinking then that I would never go back to the size I had been, that it would be easy to maintain the new me because it was the healthiest version of me. It was the version of me who could hike the Highline Trail and enjoy simple things like walking to school every day. It was the version of me that existed when I was seventeen, and who doesn’t like that version of themselves best?
But, as is obvious to those who know me, I haven’t kept up the regimen that was so effective—and so good—for me. While I still have a long way to go before I get back to the person I was in 2008, I’m slowly moving in that direction. And I’m not sure I could accept that person returning.
It’s embarrassing to fail. It’s embarrassing to have two sets of clothing in your closet, one a reminder of what you once were and another, worse set, a reminder of who you are. It’s embarrassing to feel like you’ve let people down when they were so excited for the healthy changes you made in your life. It’s embarrassing to announce you’re going to change your life to your friends only to fall short. Worst of all, it’s hard to look at yourself when you know that you’re capable of living a different life and have simply chosen not to.
The truth is that I have been incredibly fortunate. I’ve never had any health issues emerge from my weight. In my travels, I’m still able to do fifteen mile walking days in cities and do almost all of the things I’d like to. Ironically, the most serious complication I’ve faced was losing my gall bladder, most likely as a result of cutting fat almost entirely from my life.
And perhaps that lack of complication has eased my slide into bad habits. Without any health crisis to force a change, I’ve perhaps let myself ignore what I know to be true. One day, maybe not soon, excess weight will limit what I can do and diminish my quality of life.
And the truth is that there are too many places to see and things I want to do to let that happen. I can hardly call myself a traveler if I don’t make it to Machu Picchu, right? I can hardly experience the wonders of places all over the globe and here at home if I have to chose routes that are less challenging and almost certainly less interesting.
The person I was in 2008 wasn’t just overweight; he was deeply unhappy. I’m not that person. While there are certainly still painful moments and failures, I love where I am in my life and feel good about the person I am. And that person deserves to feel good, both emotionally and physically. Given that I think I know how to live that way, there’s really no excuse not to give it one more shot. I might fail, but it’s important to try.
I was about to write that “my life has transformed in an almost entirely positive way since 2008,” but that isn’t true. I’ve transformed my life that way. And it’s time to apply that transformation to the food I eat and the activity I undertake. I owe this much better person inside me a much better place to live.
Wish me luck. I suspect I’ll need it.
Important caveat: While working on this is important to me, I don’t think anyone has the right to judge another person on his/her weight or level of physical activity. I also don’t believe that it’s always something a person can control. As much as we’d like to pretend that willpower is all that’s needed to change our lives, that simply isn’t the case. No one is in any position to judge another person in this area. It’s cruel and indefensible.