By guest contributor Hannah Gray
My two-year-old daughter studied her reflection in the mirror for a minute, then sighed and felt her tummy through her new princess dress.
That was my wake-up call. Because of course, at two years old, she wasn’t judging herself – she was just doing what you’re supposed to do when you look in the mirror.
Because that’s what I was doing when I looked in the mirror.
But this is not a sad story. It’s a story about growing. And then shrinking and growing and shrinking some more…but also growing as a person. Hello, my name is Hannah and I am not a yo-yo dieter…I am a bungee jumping dieter! Over the last 20 years of wildly vascillating up and down the scale by as much as 100lbs (and sometimes more) at a time, I learned lots of valuable lessons. I have done just about every weight loss program out there. I have gone from despair that I’ll ever be worth anything because of my weight, to elation that I’ve finally gotten where I wanted to be, to anger and rage over being judged based on my appearance. I once went a full month without eating anything but protein powder and ground flax seeds. Stick with me and I’ll give you the skinny on what worked, what didn’t, and how I learned to live with myself through thick and thin.
How’s that for a metric tonne of weight puns?
I didn’t realize until that moment that if I didn’t get my food and body-image demons dealt with, my two tiny daughters (ages 2 and 4 months) were going to grow up with a really bad role model. And that thought was horrifying enough to cut through the haze of sleep deprivation, post-partum depression, and compulsive over-eating that characterized my first five years of motherhood. I don’t really remember much of that period, but right there? That was the turning point.
I knew I had to change, but how? At over 260lbs, I was obese and ashamed of myself. I was overwhelmed with the demands of being a stay-at-home mom to two babies, I had a husband who traveled most of the week for work, and if I’m honest I resented his freedom to keep building his career while I was trapped at home. I mean, I knew I was lucky to be able to be a stay-at-home mom while my babies were little and I wouldn’t have had it any other way, but I had lost myself in the process. I knew I couldn’t go back to the career I had been working toward since I was a kid, and I was petrified of what the future might hold. In hindsight, it was a good place to be for a pretty major re-invention!
I started running. Every day, I’d pack my little sidekicks into the double jogging stroller and I’d go outside and run until I couldn’t any more. Then I’d walk until I could run again. The running experiment didn’t last long – at my weight, nursing, and with hips that hadn’t recovered from having two babies in 19 months, running HURT. Also, it was November. Next project?
Around that time, I got a phone call from my sister-in-law: she was going to do a triathlon with a bunch of her family and she wanted to know if I’d join them. Without having any clue what I was getting myself into, I agreed. I called the YMCA and found out that there was this thing called child care that was available while I worked out. I couldn’t believe it – I could have an hour to myself every day? For real?
The other cool thing about triathlon training was that swimming, biking, and running was way easier on my body than just running. I began plowing through books on endurance training, strength training, and sport psychology, and playing around with developing my own training programs. Ever so slowly, my body started shrinking and I started feeling better and better. I didn’t want the junk food that I used to use as a crutch to keep me going.
Over the next year, everything changed: I lost over 100lbs, I did five triathlons in my first season, and I went back to school to study personal fitness training. I started teaching group fitness classes to pay for school. I slept better. I was happy.
Let me take a moment here to stress what an extreme departure this was from everything I stood for up until then: I always hated exercise. As a kid I always wished that I could be an athlete, but the more teams I tried out for unsuccessfully, the more failures at sporting events that piled up in my wake, the more Canada Fitness Tests (remember those? Yecch!) I bombed, the more bitter I felt and the less inclined I was to even try anymore. I was a nerdy musician and that was the end of it. Exercise was not for me.
So you can imagine, that year when I ran into people I hadn’t seen in a while, I couldn’t even tell them what I was doing with a straight face. It was awesome and ridiculous and overwhelming and I was on cloud nine.
Fast forward ten years to today, and I am STILL on cloud nine as far as my career is concerned. I have loved every minute I’ve spent being a personal trainer…and I would love to tell you that that last 100+lbs round of weight loss was the end of my fight against obesity and I stayed lithe and healthy and lived happily ever after.
But I’d be lying.
Really what happened was that I kept the weight off for about five minutes. I could write for days about all the silly things I tried, all the health problems and psychological battles that happened…but the short version is that as I write today, the scale says that I am alarmingly close to where I started. Of course, it’s a completely different body that I live in now, and I look forward to telling you a little about that journey. But here’s the thing about bungee jumping: once the wild bouncing up and down stops, you have to detach yourself from the cord and climb back down to earth. And solid ground feels pretty good!
Stay tuned for more of Hannah’s story in the coming weeks, or visit her at Glenora World Health!