I bought an expensive bathing suit, and because it felt so fancy~schmancy, I asked Favorite Daughter to take pics of me in it. Looking over the photos, I find it validating that Favorite Daughter captured how healthy I feel.
I like my new bathing suit, but more than anything, I love this extraordinary time in my life where I’m happy, and healthy, and well, and loved. My “Mari tank” is filled with things that make me proud.
There are many things I’ve done to get to where I am today. One of the greatest ideas I had, when I was at my lowest, was to do thing, after thing, after thing, that made ME proud.
In order to get to this life I love so much, I became discerning about things I did that made me unhappy. I quit doing things I didn’t want to do, or things I felt I was doing for the wrong reasons: I am honest with myself about my reasons for doing things and vigilant about not doing anything to win anyone over. I never accept invitations or agree to do things I don’t feel are right for me, or for my family.
Another big step, for a feisty girl like me, was learning the grace to not accept invitations to argue with others. We don’t have to show up to every fight we’re invited to. We can simply RSVP with “REGRETS, sorry, not available.” #sorrynotsorry
Our society is changing age old paradigms; we’re finally realizing that old recovery programs designed for privileged narcissistic white males (to bring them down a notch, to humble them, to render them powerless) is not what a woman—especially a Latina like me—nor what most people without privilege, need.
We don’t need to be brought down; we don’t need to be told we’re powerless. It’s exactly that feeling of powerlessness that has overwhelmed us.
Many of us have been beaten down, which has led us to lives we feel the need to escape, and self-medicate from.
We need to be built up.
From the rock bottom ground up.
Then create lives full of who. we. really. are. Lives, we never EVER need to escape from.
Because who you really are, at your core, is not someone you need to leave or escape.
And we need to accept that anyone—no matter how much we love them, or think we can’t live a day without—who wants to ”humble” us, projects that we’re “too much,” or “not enough”, or acts like kryptonite to us, has no place in our newly forming lives.
Only then, can we begin addressing the diet, the exercise program, getting off the couch, getting off the carbs, not needing a glass of wine—or cocktail—every. single. night. Or the need to chase material things to fill deep empty wells, and why we chase people who don’t have the capacity to love us back, and so many false parts of ourselves that only seek to continually break us down.
Let’s stop breaking our own hearts.
If you want to begin the process of building yourself back up, do something that makes you proud; something that requires work and effort. Do this as you deal with that thing you need to give up—sugar, carbs, wine, crazy men, shopping, Keeping Up with The Jones, trying to please insatiable people, or WHATEVER it is that keeps breaking your heart.
Maybe what makes you proud is breaking a sweat on a three-mile walk. Or spending an afternoon with that elderly person and letting them beat you at Scrabble. Or serving food to the homeless. Or helping build something for someone else. Or cleaning that corner of your garage that’s been making you feel like a hoarder.
Whatever it is, using your credit card doesn’t count. Don’t do this step with the intention of impressing another. Impress YOURSELF. Make yourself proud. You must expend physical energy, and do work that means something to YOU because that will fill your tank with YOU.
I still struggle to work, while sitting at my desk, without a pastry to nibble on when stressful things happen—which is almost every hour when you’re in a responsible position. I could sure use that little dopamine hit, to relax me a bit, to absorb my discomfort. But when I’ve done enough things that make me proud, I have some of me in the tank to draw strength from.
I hope you do something that makes you proud, and that you fill your tank with YOU.
After Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdin died by suicide, a number of my Facebook friends posted suicide prevention hotline numbers. My friends wanted to help others in whatever capacity they could.
Most of us don’t know the debilitating mental anguish which leads a loved one to feeling their life and existence is not worthwhile; that their friends and family would be better off without them.
In certain cultures bringing shame to family and friends is a reason to die by suicide. It’s almost expected. It can be anything from the shame of an unmarried woman becoming pregnant, to the shame of failing in school, or doing something that is perceived as bringing dishonor to your family or group.
In the late nineteen-twenties, men jumped out of their top story office buildings because of the shame of losing all their money. They felt hopeless and worthless.
According to Dr. Brene Brown, shame is an epidemic in our culture. Shame is highly correlated with (to name a few) addiction, eating disorders, depression and death by suicide.
Take that in for a minute.
Shame makes you feel empty and worthless. As a woman who was once twice her weight, I know this feeling well and it’s one of the most sickening feelings I know.
Dr. Brene Brown says shame is often disguised as “not good enough.” And following not-good-enough is “who do you think you are?!”
Shame is insidious.
Shame is a focus on self, not on a behavior. Guilt is, “I did something wrong.” Shame is, “I am bad.”
Shaming is also a method of mind control. Manipulators know that if you can shame someone, make them feel small or inferior, or worthless, you can control and dominate them.
WHEN YOUR BODY IS “NOT GOOD ENOUGH”
A dear girlfriend confided to me that she’s been feeling depressed. She cried as she told me her husband is demanding she lose weight, and has made demeaning comments about her body for the pounds she’s never lost since having her second child, and from stress eating. She’s signed up and paid for all sorts of things to help her lose weight. She’s started about five diets since the beginning of the year. She told me she’s obsessed with her weight, and that when she looks in the mirror that’s all she sees now. To add insult to injury, her husband is upset about the money she’s spent while not getting a result. Every time I talk to her she sounds more desperate. The last time I talked to her she was thinking of going on a 400 calorie a day diet, and asked me what I thought.
This blog post is my answer.
I don’t judge my friends’ diets or nutritional programs but I do worry when their choices are made from a place of desperation, and not from a place of self-respect and care.
My girlfriend is a high powered business woman. She’s athletic, a leader in our community, an activist, a wonderful mother, dedicated to her family, a cherished friend, she keeps a beautiful home and has all the appearances of living the great life–except for the major point that she’s depressed, obsessed and feels not good enough for her husband. She’s added ten more pounds just from worrying, and now she drinks every day. She feels the hardest thing will be to give up her daily drinks because it “unwinds and unstresses” her at the end of the day.
Some of the weight my girlfriend’s put on is what I call living-the-good-life-pounds: baking Birthday cakes with her children, hosting friends in their lovely home for gatherings and great BBQs, eating exotic meals on some of the trips she takes, and from plenty of dates with girlfriends where we share appetizers and toast a great glass of wine (or a lemon drop).
In the middle of an apparently successful picturesque life is my dear girlfriend feeling “not good enough,” obsessed and depressed. I could venture to bet that Kate Spade felt that way, too. Kate was a highly creative woman, who was wealthier and lived grander than my girlfriends and I do. And yet, she took her own life.
My dear friend’s next step isn’t a new diet or to hire a personal trainer. That will continue throw more money after bad, all a huge waste. Her next step is to identify the shame that’s being projected onto her, and deal with it.
No diet, nutritional program, extreme exercise routine or personal trainer is going to be able to address the toxic situation my girlfriend is dealing with.
I had plenty of people shame me about my size, including me. One woman (I’d call her a friend, but looking back she was far from one) called me into her office to tell me I needed to lose weight and how (one salad a day). She used her position with me to lord over me with her arrogance and unsolicited advice. She told me she didn’t do double digits for clothing sizes, implying I shouldn’t either. Then she proceeded to tell me how wealthy she was. It was one of the most demeaning experiences of my life. I also had a “friend” who talked about my weight struggles behind my back passing judgement about me. She did this about all of us and while it wasn’t a shock that she did this to me, too, it was still hurtful. I ran into her at a Trader Joe’s recently and it’s obvious she has an eating disorder. She’s unhealthy and unhappy looking.
In twenty-five years of being with Jon, many of them with me overweight, he never once shamed me about my weight. Not once. I had enough shame for one hundred people; it would have only made things worse for me. I have deep appreciation for the respect Jon has always given me. He definitely appreciates that I’m healthier but mostly he loves that I’m happier.
Happy wife, happy life.
HOW DID I FINALLY LOSE THE WEIGHT?
I walked away, and stay away, from anyone who attempts to shame me–toxic people. I’m vigilant about identifying that sickening shame feeling. I won’t be shamed about my body, who I am, how I love, who I love, my home, my family, my friends, and what I feel and believe. And I won’t be shamed for my life’s story, how I came to be who I am today, nor for proudly sharing it.
MARI, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?!
Who-do-you-think-you-are is an attempt to shame you at your points of pride–the things you feel good about yourself, your confidence, your deep sense of self.
I’ve even had people attempt to project shame onto me because I proudly share my weight lifting workouts on FB. Really! The message was “who-do-you-think-you-are-posting-so-much-??? This very activity that is making me well and happy is not up for shaming or trying to make me feel inferior. I politely ask people who don’t like my posts to unfriend me. I’m not their kind. I’m really not.
Finding true wellness is achieved by ditching the shaming–and the shamers. Step away from the toxic people.
WHAT IS THE ANTIDOTE TO SHAME?
Empathy. Dr. Brene Brown says shame can’t survive with empathy.
I believe it.
I hope I’m not being over simplistic with this definition: “empathy” is being able to comfortably be in someone else’s shoes.
A few months ago, I spent a couple weeks with dear friends. They’re both doctors, both raised by loving families and lots of privilege, which they honor with their dedication to their patients and the family they’re raising. In those two weeks we had time to share many of our stories. I felt it was safe to talk about deep shameful aspects of my life. I opened up and shared. I didn’t get pity or condescension from my dear friends, who’ve had better lives. They didn’t act as if I’d said too much, which would have shamed me even more. They were empathetic. They listened. They asked questions in a gentle way. I felt they were there with me, trying to feel the insides of my shoes. I felt heard. My story mattered. They voiced their pride for what I’d created in my life, in spite of my life’s circumstances and the disadvantages I’d struggled with and had to overcome.
Empathy is a beautiful gift you can give another.
Becoming aware of shame is important to our well being, which includes listening to how we talk to ourselves. Are we keeping the I’m-not-enough-shaming alive in our heads? Are we saying to ourselves:
“I’m so fat?”
“If only I was (fill in the blank)?”
“I’m not good enough?”
Let’s change the message to “I am enough.” “I’m-a-good-person.” “I matter.”
From this place, if you feel you want to drop some pounds, add a few workout classes, give up the daily drink, then you have YOUR own power to do so.
And let’s raise our kids better. Let’s not shame them. Not about their bodies, their struggles, their intelligence, who they like, what they think or believe, nor who they really are.
You. Are. Enough.
STRONG and BENDY
(Pictures: left is with Jon many moons ago. The right is a few weeks ago at a Havana themed party.)
There are only two choices: hard, and hard. That’s it.
If it was Choose Your Easy, it would be done already. And let’s admit it, that would be boring.
We’re well into January, and this is about the point where it gets harder and harder to keep those New Year’s resolutions: to drop some pounds. Get off sugar. Eat clean. Make most meals at home, all healthy. Get off bread. Abstain from alcohol. Go to the gym–five times a week. Run. Yoga. Circuit train. Begin that weight lifting program that “Mari” suggested. For some of you, I know it’s pretty hard right now.
What no one tells us is that motivation and “will power” are limited resources. They’re each sources of energy that often help us get started but when they run out, or it just gets too tough, we can’t count on limited motivation or will-power.
It’s hard to eat the way you decided to. It’s hard dealing with cravings and temptations. It’s hard on rainy days to make the exercise happen. It’s hard to pass up the cocktail, or wine, with friends. It’s hard to plan the menu, by the good food, prep it, cook it and clean it all up.
Being true to yourself is hard.
You know what else is hard?
Giving up on yourself–that’s the hardest! Excuses are hard. Not meeting your goals is hard. Feeling out of shape is hard. Eating in a way that you feel is wrong is hard. The after effects of too much alcohol is hard. Letting time go by and not changing your condition is hard. Buying bigger clothes is hard–that’s super hard.
Letting yourself down is hard.
If motivation has run out, then it’s time for grit and continued resolve. You may be realizing that this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And it’s one hard choice after another.
It’s time for love. Time to love your big ole badass self enough: to continue. To push. To endure. To be good to yourself. Because what you want and what you dream for yourself matters.
Here are some of my hard won tips:
1. Get used to being uncomfortable. Yep, it’s uncomfortable to exercise regularly and to pass up yummy fatty or sweet food. This is where you have to get over yourself and learn to be in some form of discomfort to make your goals.
2. Buy the good food–the food you decided was on your plan–and eat it first. Have it handy so that when you have a craving for other things, you can tell yourself that if you still want pizza or the lasagne or the burger later, that you’ll consider it after your healthy meal.
3. If you don’t feel motivated to exercise, just lace-up. Then walk out the door. Just start your run, or your gym warm up. Don’t think further than just that moment. I can’t tell you how many times I didn’t have the motivation to exercise. Still, I laced up and walked out the door. I’ve now done hundreds of exercise sessions I was NOT motivated to do. You want to know how many of those I regret doing? None. I’ve never once regretted a workout.
4. If your exercise routine is wearing you out then rest. But don’t quit. Which brings me to #5.
5. Recovery is just as important as exercising, especially with intense work. Make sure you’re eating a post recovery meal. That you’re drinking enough water. That you’re eating enough protein. And that your exercise sessions are spaced far enough apart to allow for recovery.
6. If your diet has you lethargic or feeling off, talk to a professional and get some advice on how to tweak your plan. Tweaking is good. Quitting, not so much.
7. Make sure you’re sleeping well and enough. This is as important as nutrition and exercise.
8. Find your tribe in this area of your life. I watched my friend, Babes, join a tribe of fellow runners. She’s been running for forever. I noticed a dramatic change when she found her running tribe. She began to run marathons. The tribe meets up and runs together. They support one another. They run in cute costumes and they even post pics of their early morning runs celebrating each other’s birthdays. Her tribe inspired me to find and create my tribe of like-minded athletes and healthy eaters. Finding my version of my tribe has helped me to have support and encouragement, and even a little bit of cheer-leading.
9. Get tougher. Sometimes when the going gets hard, you just have to be tougher than any resistance you are feeling. Be stronger than the push against you. Tap into your grit.
10. It’s normal to want to give up, or not feel motivated. Everyone feels that way. Just take it one day at a time. One lace-up at a time.
11. Once you form better eating and exercise habits, it begins to feel easier to live your life in this higher plane.
12. Be kind to yourself. If you went off plan, don’t beat yourself up. Forgive yourself quickly. Makr your next meal on plan. If you missed a workout, just pick up your game in your next session. Don’t get crazy and decide that because you went off plan at dinner, you’re going to restart the following Monday. This could turn into much longer. I encourage you to make your very next meal on plan.
13. Forget about perfection! Progress is made by being consistent. Let’s say you decided to workout five times a week, that’s 210 times in a year. But since you’re not perfect, you laced up 175 times this year. I promise, it will still be a huge win! Same goes with your healthy meals. If you eat healthy 90% of the year, I bet that’s a lot better than last year.
Diets Don’t Work Because They’re NOT Sustainable
I want to tell you why–in the long run–diets don’t work. Over 90% of weight lost is regained within eighteen months. In many cases, more weight is put on than was originally lost. It’s discouraging.
The downward and unsatisfying cycle of dieting goes something like this: put yourself on a strict diet. Be disciplined about it. Lose weight. Go off the diet. Eat everything you’d forbidden yourself to, then hate yourself when you get on the scale. You brace yourself to prepare to diet again. Procrastinate the diet because you feel disconnected and hate your life when dieting. More weight creeps up. Because of an upcoming event, you need to lose more weight in less time. You start thinking of maybe having your meals purchased all freeze dried, or maybe some hormonal injections are in order because you REALLY REALLY need to be strict now. The obsession and negative self-talk is at a full roar.
Diets, lists of “bad foods” you’re not allowed eat, and deprivations, don’t work in the long run. Why? Because living this way is not sustainable. It’s probably a good thing because whenever I’ve gone on a strict diet my sweet temperament has turned to a “hangry” one. I’m not an angry girl–unless I’ve been dieting. I’ve tried all sorts of diets, including two rounds of HCG (a 500 calorie-a-day, hormone injecting diet) and a couple of juice/protein shake fasts. No extreme diet worked in the long run. They actually slowed down my metabolism, messed with my hormones, and made me a bit more cray-cray about food and nutrition. For the sake of the relationships in my life, it’s probably a good thing I can’t sustain a crazy diet.
It’s been five and a half years since I made the significant changes that resulted in my transformation. I didn’t plan to lose 170 pounds. I didn’t make the changes I did with dieting in mind.
I get asked all the time what I did to lose weight? What was the game-changer? What I’m really being asked is what diet did I use.
Toxic Relationships and a Shift in Convictions
My life changed when I decided to walk away from toxic relationships and a toxic tribe that I was suffocating in. I felt like I was the worst version of myself. One day, when enough was enough, I gained clarity about the situation I was in, and without any doubts, I knew that it was time for me to let go.
I didn’t know then that a shift in my convictions would touch off a series of changes that would radiate to every part of my life. You can see in the before picture of me that I didn’t look healthy and I needed to make some changes.
Some of the manifestations of dealing with toxic people are that you’re upset, disturbed, bitter, defending, out-maneuvering, anticipating, worrying, and dealing with all sorts of negative feelings. These feelings, not only mess with your hormones, your nervous system, your adrenals, and your ability to rest, they take away your inner peace and the deep sense of love for yourself and others.
I had to let go of a lot to find my way back to a real sense of myself again. When I say I let go, it was simply that–I LET GO. I took the high-road. I didn’t engage in a bitter battle of how right I was, or how wronged I’d been. I never asked anyone to take sides. I refused to engage, no matter how tempted I was. I took a friend’s great advice: I ignored utterly any toxic behavior. I simply refused to reinforce toxic behavior by giving it my attention. If you want to get a toxic person to stop using you as a target, simply ignore all efforts to taunt you. Toxic people are addicted to drama and chaos. Disengage. Rise above it. Healthy people will respect you all the more for it.
By letting so much go, I inadvertently let go of bitterness, anger, hate, and resentments. I started to feel wonderment and curiosity. I became interested in my life as if it was a new beginning. This opened me up to the miracle of peace and love, and a feeling of well being.
If I hadn’t taken these actions, I’m not sure I’d still be alive.
When I see people in toxic situations: they have high blood pressure, adrenal problems, elevated cholesterol, ulcers, they’re angry and resentful, they’re combative, they smoke, they drink too much. They look miserable and they don’t age well. Some miss the signs that result in a heart attack, because dealing with toxic people consumes you, and you don’t pay attention and quit listening to your body. Toxic people like to have someone to hate and fight with. This is very wearing on body and soul.
I’m not being melodramatic when I explain how I saved my own life.
Neuropath Ways and Habits
Your life is a mass of habits. Think about how you get up. What are the habits you use to get your day going? Habits form the neuropath ways that your mind uses to get things done, without having to rethink everything you do. They reduce space in your head. If you didn’t have these little neuropath ways up there, your head would be too big for your body.
Unbeknownst to me, I began to form new pathways after I let go of so much toxicity. I began to feel good and I found I had newfound energy. I needed to burn it. I started by walking only seventeen minutes.
One day, I was upset so I reached into our pantry to eat a treat. I stopped myself and thought, “Mari, this is NOT what you need. What is it you’re really upset about right now?” I missed someone. I missed them so much. I was broken hearted. I decided to write this person a letter. I never mailed it. I just wrote everything, and sat there with all my tears. As I wrote, I felt ALL THE FEELS. I got through it. The next day I felt better. I went for my first three mile walk. It felt so good.
As I got stronger, I quit consoling myself with treats. This broke my old habits. I started making yummy nutritious meals. I found writing made me feel better.
Then I started running. At first, I ran for about fifteen minutes, but soon I was up to an hour. Then two hours. If I was mad or upset, and had that type of energy to burn, I would run.
I continued to evolve. Nutritious food felt better. Before, nutritious food wouldn’t stick to my ribs, but now it’s all I wanted.
I started rowing on the machine at my club. I got to where I could row for hours.
I changed behaviors, and they made feel better, they then reinforced other positive behaviors which built on each other. I slowly created brand new neuropath ways. These pathways are my new habits, which feel natural to me now. I can’t go a week without exercising or eating well.
These changed behaviors, habits and newly formed neuropath ways are the fundamental reasons that I lost 170 pounds. More importantly, it’s why I have NOT regained the weight.
Love and Nutrition, and Keeping Food Real
In making my nutritious food taste even better, I still used a little butter here and there. I ate toast a few times a week. I bought chocolate ice cream bars that were calorie measured and I ate those a few times a week. I made great salsas and I doused my eggs in them. I made fish tacos with corn tortillas and avocados. I ate if I was still hungry. I found that the deep empty hunger I always had went away the better I lived, and the better I ate. I made my own salad dressings, or used ones I preferred because I knew I needed the nutrition from salads and vegetables. I didn’t gain 170 pounds because of salad dressing. I ate fruits and didn’t listen to anyone that said they were high in sugar, because it was baked goods, not pears that had made my dress size a 28.
My healthy loving behaviors became my new habits and formed my brand new neuropath ways. I even developed self-soothing habits I use to deal with the hard stuff. I believe that these new pathways are why I’m a rare massive weight loss success.
STRONG and BENDY and Neuropath Ways
With my newfound understanding of habits and pathways, I decided my next step in life was to get STRONG and BENDY. I needed to continue to change the composition of my body and I wanted to age with strength and mobility. I’ve observed people get injured from bad form in weight training. So, I researched and hired the best personal female trainer I could find for my needs. I decided on Cece English at Red Dot in Willow Glen. When we met, she did a full assessment of my mobility, my strengths, my range of motion, and asked me a ton of questions while she watched me do a series of activities. My STRONG and BENDY’s clearly stated objective was appreciated by Cece, so much, that besides all of her other professional qualifications and her knowledge in injury prevention, I knew I’d found my trainer. She and I are have become quite the team.
I promised myself that I would move mountains, if I had to, but I wouldn’t miss one single scheduled session with my trainer. I knew that if I kept showing for my sessions, I would set my new neuropath ways. All events on my calendar, including work, are scheduled around my training sessions. Gotta love healthy habits!
I feel empowered by my own body. Nutrition and fitness are a staple of my life. I don’t really think too much about my routines and the foods I buy because they’re embedded in how I live.
Dieting, and feeling bad about yourself, isn’t going to work because you won’t create healthy behaviors that make make you feel more fulfilled. Maybe there’s a bigger issue that’s keeping you from the healthiest of behaviors for your life. Maybe you need to let some negative stuff go?! And I mean, LET THAT STUFF GO. Only you know what the game-changer is for you, and only you can change it.
Sticking to healthy habits and behaviors over a longer period of time, create new neuropath ways. The healthy neuropath ways will be the back bone of securing success.
I know this time of year, I should write a blog post talking about love and kindness. But the Universe has failed to fully recognize that it’s the Holiday Season over here, and recently I’ve been thrown some curve balls. Actually, it’s been a year of a few curve balls.
Reflecting on this, I thought I’d inspire you to be more UNFUCKWITHABLE. And you know that when I’m talking to you, I’m really just talking to me out loud.
First a Story
A while back ago, I had a business situation with a client from Atlanta, whose big order to us was being compromised by a supplier of his not willing to work with my engineers. My team tried all manner of reason to deal with this supplier and when it wasn’t going right, they escalated it to me. I tried everything I knew to do. Nothing worked.
I got on a flight to Atlanta, and flew in one of our engineers, Robert. We went to our client’s plant, but after our best efforts, the supplier was not cooperating. I somehow managed to get a meeting with the supplier–I won’t put in writing how–but I did. In the meeting, I decided to pay really good attention to this man. I listened to him, his word-salads and his better-than-you attitude. He was a weak person with an overblown sense of himself. He reminded me of the manipulative catty mean girls from grade school.
He seemed to have disdain for people who exhibited healthy behaviors, like my engineers. He was rude, uncooperative, and seemed to enjoy fucking with people. I wasn’t going to take it. Not for my client. Not for our company. Not for me.
I had nothing to lose, so I called him on it. I told him he reminded me of a catty mean girl. I could see I shocked him. He’d thought he was making ground intimidating me, but he wasn’t. He was just too weak and too full of himself to get a good estimation of me.
I called this big male executive a girl.
To my engineer, Robert’s relief, the supplier immediately began cooperating, and we managed to coordinate enough to service our client. The biggest surprise of this story, is that I was immediately offered a job by the supplier’s company. I’d never want to work for weak manipulative people but it was an interesting twist to our experience.
That night at dinner, my engineer, Robert and I had a nice Scotch and we went over the situation. He was so happy with me. He said I was UNFUCKWITHABLE. I didn’t realize how much that meant to me until much later.
A few months after this happened, I was thinking about how I felt with my body. I’d been dieting, and dieting, and depriving, and depriving. I’d get on the scale and it would make me feel sad. I just kind of felt unsatisfied about this whole-body-shrinking-quest. It left me feeling weak. Weak. Weak. And weaker.
And, then I had an idea: UNFUCKWITHABLE. I needed to tell my body who the boss is. I just didn’t know how. But I came to realize this: some image of how small my body is supposed to look wasn’t going to cut it anymore. I needed to question this belief and this image. It needed to be about how I felt. I needed to flip this weak feeling, whole-body-shrinking-quest into a feeling of empowerment.
So, I did something I do well: I started paying attention.
I started looking at people who have healthy physical behaviors. People who are strong and empowered by their bodies, not weakened or shamed. I paid attention big time.
All of these people shared one thing in common: they all strength trained/lifted weights. Every one of them. They enjoy great meals, but mostly eat nutritiously as their way of life. They all limit their alcohol intake. They don’t “diet.” Not one of them. Rather they feed their bodies, fuel their workouts, and they’ve let their bodies do the process that good nutrition and strength training create for a healthy body. Some of the weight lifters also like to run and bike, but this is on top of their strength/weight training. I also noticed that they never talk about shrinking or depriving. And they’re NOT weak.
I began my research. And I came up with STRONG and BENDY. It just sounded so right to me. I found a seasoned highly educated trainer, whom I have come to have so much respect for, and we set it all up. I started out a little–or maybe extremely–intimidated, but completely willing to give it all that I’ve got. I’ve never looked back. I am absolutely in love with weights and strength training.
I feel so good about myself. I feel STRONG. And I’m stronger, if not daily, then weekly. And BENDY. My range of motion has improved so much.
A few weeks ago, our family got thrown a curve ball. A tough one. So, I upped my sessions. It’s how I now deal. It beats eating extra cupcakes. I do three weight/strength training and two HIIT sessions a week now.
I am a better help to my friends and family when I start with me. The healthier physically, and the greater my state of mind, the more of me they have.
A couple weeks ago I was feeling really sad about one of our curve balls. The Hubs came over and asked me about attending a Holiday party. I said I didn’t think we should go considering our recent curve ball. The Hubs said, “I’m taking out a sexy UNFUCKWITHABLE woman to this party. Get yourself a cocktail dress and I’ll take you out” (I like it when he talks all-commanding-sexy-guy like that). I immediately ordered a pretty pretty dress.
Heart disease has hit our family. Last week we lost a dear friend to cancer. I have two other friends currently dealing with tough cancer prognoses. And I have a lovely friend that deals with Lupus every single day. My cousin, Ruben is still in physical therapy recovering from the effects of a massive stroke. These people have taken UNFUCKWITHABLE to new heights, and I’m in awe.
I don’t know what curve balls life has in store. In the meantime, I’m not going to sit around deprived, disappointed and weak. And hungry.
If you’re beating yourself up about your weight, and the whole-body-shrinking-quest, or curve balls, I encourage you to find your UNFUCKWITHABLE. Maybe it’s Yoga. Or running trails. Or joining me to lift sexy weights. I invite you to find it.
The Holiday Party? We had the best time. Because even when life throws you a curve ball, getting all dolled up with a sexy cocktail dress, with a tall handsome escort, can make you feel empowered and UNFUCKWITHABLE.
1. I lost a bestie-friend six years ago, and when we went to create a photo slide show for the memorial, we didn’t have a single picture of her with me. Not one. This is one of my biggest regrets. I now take pictures of me often. I’m trying to make up for lost time. I take and share lots of glorious pictures of me with friends and family, or just of me. No one that really knows my story projects any negative feelings about my photos. My transformation is a mind bender for me, something that sometimes still feels surreal, and somehow, these photos help me to mentally process how much I’ve transformed and who I am now.
2. If by sharing this, I can help others to raise awareness for the pain and suffering other girls go through, then maybe it’s worth all the scary feelings I’m having as I hit the “post” button on my blog.
Here we go…
I grew up in a highly abusive home. I knew that one of the adults in my home wished I didn’t exist at all, as in it would have been better if I hadn’t been born. I was barely in kindergarten but I was extremely sensitive to that then, and I’ve remained extremely sensitive for all of my life. I sensed it. I felt it. It was palpable. My childhood was filled with regular physical abuse as well as being told almost daily how horrible and unworthy I was. The words used were, for the most part, screamed at me in profanities attacking me and my value and calling me all sorts of sexually illicit names. I remember this from age 4 until I left. Many times, I didn’t know exactly what these sexual words were and my siblings and I would have to figure them out. I would feel shame and degradation. I think of the two types of abuses, the screaming by destruction and shaming of my esteem was the worse.
Since I can remember, I mothered and nurtured my siblings, a role I would have with them for most of my life. One day, when I was about nine years old, five Sheriff cars showed up at our home to take all five of us (my four siblings and me) away–and save us. Five neighbors had called them because our beating that day had been so terrible, and public, many neighbors heard it and called the county Sheriff. We lied to the Sheriffs–no one had ever told us to do that, it was pure reaction to fear on all of our parts–and we minimized the horrible beatings we’d just experienced, fearing being separated from each other. And as described in Stockholm Syndrome papers, we were worried about what would happen to our abuser. The Sheriffs interviewed us and reluctantly left. Things were okay for a while, but abusers always go back to their patterns. I left home before my 15th birthday because it was killing my soul to live there.
I credit my heroes for keeping me in some semblance of sanity through the days of my childhood, my beautiful altruistic school teachers. They often made me their favorite student, maybe because they knew I needed it, maybe because I was also smart and sweet, and because they recognized a quality in me that I felt no one else did. One day, God also sent us the most amazing Christian youth group. These beautiful ministers and their wives took us under their wing and loved us hard through our tween and teen years. They taught us values, kept us busy and made us feel so special and worthy. I learned from these loving generous Christian people, and my teachers, that my life could have more meaning, and that it could be gentle and kind. It gave me hope. I’ve been the loving non-abusive mother to my children for all of their lives, partly because of these beautiful souls. And because as I was growing up, after every time I was hurt and abused, I would promise myself that I would never ever be like my abusers. And I’m not.
It’s become important for me to share this hard part of my life, because it’s part of telling the truth of my story. And two, because maybe when you see that “big girl” seated next to you on the airplane, that maybe you can skip judging her, and realize that maybe she has a story. Maybe you don’t know the pain she’s been through. And maybe you can just connect, at a human level.
We can’t save people, they have to save themselves, but one of the most healing and loving things we can do is connect.
And if you’re the “big girl” or the “drinking too much girl”, or you’re the “doing drugs girl” or you’re the “NOT eating girl” and life is out of control and you feel you just want to disconnect and numb from life and others because it’s so painful: Girl, you’ve got a story. You can do this. You got this. Really, you do. You have it all inside you already, enough to deal with it. God made you with all of it. Your work is to find it. And maybe you need to find the support people that have some maps to help you navigate your way back to you. Maybe you have to un-become and un-learn some things to be what you were meant to become–YOU. You, in all your perfect imperfectness, beautifully messy and healthy and well. You are so worth it.
3. I still feel like I’m lying when I’m in a clothing store and ask for my jeans in a size 10. I feel like a total imposter when I try them on, and I then ask for a size 8. I still expect someone to say, “You’re cray-cray, girl! Get out of here, we don’t carry your real size.”
4. This happened a lot for a while, and now it only happens infrequently: when I’m walking down a street, thinking my own thoughts and I suddenly see myself in the reflection of store windows. It still surprises me, that that’s me. Really. Really. Surprises me. This part has been something I’ve had to process. Sometimes I just stand there and stare.
5. Losing the weight and changing my life was about two things for me: self-care and healthy behaviors. Over five years ago, doing these two actions became the priority of my life. If I wasn’t sure about something I would review it against whether it was self-care or a healthy behavior. That alone nixed crazy fad diets, because they’re just crazy behaviors. There’s a point about six months into it that I realized that I was gaining newfound respect for myself. For the first time in my entire life, I respected myself by myself. Not because another person did, but simply because I felt good about me.
6. I was really really mad shortly after the beginning of my transformation. I was especially mad at a guy friend. I didn’t know how to deal with so much anger, but I knew my anger had powerful energy. One day, after I’d already lost about twenty-five pounds, I took all my anger to the treadmill at my gym. I ran for two hours, until I felt better and I wasn’t mad. Imagine me about 150 more pounds heavier than I am today, running for two hours. I was practicing taking the HIGH ROAD about my upset so I ran everyday that I was mad at my friend, which was almost daily. One day, after about a year of this, this friend showed up at my house while I was making Sunday breakfast. We talked, and talked, and talked. He stayed for dinner. It wasn’t lost on me how hard it must have been for him to show up and talk to me. We made things right. And over time, we got back to being friends again. The funny thing is after we made up, I didn’t know how to run without my anger at this dude. I had to find my way with this. Now, anytime I feel mad or upset, I know to get my running shoes on, and take that anger for a big ole run.
I learned how to channel the power of anger, and I also learned that love and friendship can be rebuilt, even when we thought that would be the most unlikely thing.
7. People sometimes cry or get the the chills on their arms when I tell them how much weight I’ve lost. It still surprises me. I’ve run into people that hadn’t seen me in a while, and even after I said hi, they didn’t recognize me. One man, Mark, whom I’ve known for about twenty-five years, and his wife, absolutely didn’t recognize me until I said, “Mark, it’s me, Mari.” The look of shock. Wow! It’s a mind bender for other people too.
8. I feel that people are more accepting of a drug addict or an alcoholic, than they are of a “fat woman.” The reverse also seems true to me, from my experience: people are more praising of someone that’s lost a lot of weight than they are of someone that’s in recovery working hard, daily, to overcome drug addiction, or alcoholism.
The gift of sobriety, and the gift of health are equally amazing. Overcoming these crippling diseases, through hard work in recovery, makes us all superheroes.
9. When I hit what I call my rock bottom, I was in so much pain and so disconnected from my real life. Changing what I did, how I did it, and what I believed about myself took a huge act of courage. I refused to have a batch of brownies, or a cupcake to numb the hurt. Broiled fish and steamed zucchini didn’t numb a thing. I learned to sit with pain and learn from it. Pain is a great teacher, if you can see your way through it without a glass of wine or a cupcake. I learned many things from pain but it’s greatest teaching to me was deep-seated empathy, and compassion for others in pain. I’m embarrassed to admit that for all my life’s extensive spiritual studies, I lacked empathy and compassion, and this lacking kept me so disconnected.
10. Jealousy: for all the crazy wiring and emotions I have, jealousy is not something I experience. I’ve experienced serious jealousy only once in my life, and that was as a child when I knew a little girl that was just like me, who had the exact name as me but she lived with loving, supportive and kind parents. Even now, I’m not even sure that was jealousy or serious longing. As I’ve lost weight, I’ve encountered some jealous reactions. I actually lost a friendship with a friend that wanted to lose about 125 pounds. She couldn’t tolerate the attention I was getting for my healthy changes, that she wasn’t changing for herself. We drifted apart.
About a year and a half ago, a bestie girlfriend called me and vulnerably and honestly told me she had felt jealous when she’d run into me at a mall because she felt I looked so good. You’d have to know this girlfriend to understand how surprising this was to me because she’s lost a lot of weight herself, she’s blonde and attractive, smart and kind. We stayed with the conversation to see what we could uncover about this for us. And I came to one of my biggest realizations.
The jealousy my friend had, had nothing to do with me. I was simply a trigger. My friend felt that she wasn’t doing her own work, caring for her business by doing something she wanted: to lose another ten pounds. She lost those ten pounds and has been happily rocking her body since. I consider her one of my sweetest friends.
I realized that when someone doesn’t feel they “have game” by their standards, they can be triggered by someone that does. So dealing with jealousy is easy, and it can be dealt with lovingly: it requires having our own game on. Unless there are personality disorders involved, it’s that easy to fix.
As women we deal with plenty, and we need one another to inspire and build each other other up. We rise by raising others up.
I’ve spent a great deal of my life and energy studying and working on being an awakened and enlightened person. “Awakened” and “enlightened” are much prettier words for “owning our own struggles.” I believe “strength” is a sibling to “awakened and enlightened” because owning our own struggles requires strength to carry their weight too. Not easy.
Today, I’m reflecting on what being the strongest I’ve ever been means to me, it’s really starting to hit me, and I need to share it.
My daughter, Daniella, tagged along to a recent strength/weightlifting session. She got a chance to meet my trainer, Cece, and agreed with me that I’d made an excellent selection.
Daniella videoed and photographed me as she watched me workout. It was a session of jumping rope, TRX, dead lifts, weighted monster lunges, push-ups, kettle bell work, medicine ball tosses to improve my range of motion, etc., with everything heavier or harder than last time; and my trainer continued to teach me and push me for perfect form within each move I made.
Daniella said that I workout hard and that I’m the strongest she’s ever seen me. I know she meant this both physically and emotionally.
There’s something that feels deeply acknowledged when someone that’s known you for thirty years tells you that you’re the strongest they’ve ever seen you. Seriously.
When I got home, I saw the pictures and video that Daniella took. Though I already felt it, I could see in them that I’m in my most happy place. There I was in the picture and video, holding the heaviest kettle bell I’ve held for that exercise–or as some of you may have heard me call the kettle bell before, a “sexy-beast.” What’s not to love about kettle bells?
Hard. Sexy. Unstable. Beasts.
And while I love it, it IS (insert expletive) hard work. The kettle bell is designed to be unstable and it requires I give it more of my focus, more of my strength, more of me. My trainer counted slowly to three as I held the kettle bell up above my head. Three is a long time when you’re holding something heavy and unstable over your head! I did three sets, and I could barely finish my last set without some serious deep digging.
I’m doing something I’ve never done, something that physically drains me and challenges me, and makes me question in the middle of it why I’m doing it. Then I use my mind, not just my body, to dig deeper. I keep showing up, doing it harder, heavier, better, and with more grit.
Some of the exercises are explosive and require form, speed and force collectively – those are some of my favorites.
Nothing about my training is comfortable, or at least Cece never lets it stay that way. As a matter of fact, most of it is just downright uncomfortable. I am far, far, far from my comfort zone. These exercises continue to break tissue, I drip with sweat all over, and I get so, so sore. I go home and I tell the Hubs how tough it was–he gets it. I eat something, I shower, and I recover.
Almost daily, I can feel I’m changing and transforming into something I like and value.
A couple days later, I meet my trainer again, on time, ready for more. And it feels like elation.
The elation comes from having a better sense of myself. I’m not thinking so much about how I look–though I see so much more muscle definition and my body shape changing–it’s become so much more about how I feel. At this point, I need it to be about how I feel.
I feel strong. I can feel, as I move through my day doing my thing, that I’m in much better control of my motion and movements.
Self-care is a beautiful thing, even when it’s uncomfortable.
This past week, I had coffee with an old friend, we celebrated his (very) belated birthday. He and I have weathered a couple of rough storms (and one tsunami) together, so we both appreciate how far we’ve each come. He told me I looked great and well. He’d seen my workout videos and pictures that I’ve shared on social media. He knows me pretty well and he teased me by telling me that he can see that I’m addicted.
I responded by telling him, “My name is Mari–first names only–and I’m seriously addicted to feeling strong and well.”
Doing life strong and well? How else should we do it?
Not stronger than others, just stronger than before, or maybe stronger than ever. For me this is becoming something greater than what I can lift or move physically. It’s become mental and emotional–to see how much deeper I can dig when it gets tough. With the goal of becoming strong enough to feel certain that I could get a little broken, sweaty, sore, pushed and stressed–and even question why I’m even bothering–but still push through. Then go home and tell those most important people in my life how hard and tough it was, and have them recognize the struggle. Recover, and do it again. And again. With even better form, harder, heavier, faster, and with more power.
We all start for different reasons, but we don’t get strong just for ourselves, and we don’t do it just for others; we do this to enjoy what we have, to enjoy our family, our friends, and ourselves. To age with grace and autonomy. We do it to live well.
Just like the path of being spiritual and awakened required that I tap into my truest self, which at some point I came to realize I had it all along, so is strength and being strong. The strength, grit and explosive force is all there, waiting to be tapped into, practiced and used. We’ve always had it.
Strong. Rinse. Repeat. Stronger.
(Pics and video by Daniella d’Ambly)