Finding My Motivation

Last week I watched that new A&E show “Heavy,” which documents the struggles of morbidly obese individuals as they attempt to restructure their lives and essentially slay their dragons with food addiction.

And make no mistake about it, food is definitely as easy to develop a habit for as any drug, and sometimes even harder to kick. It’s a socially accepted across this great land of ours to eat a lot of stuff that isn’t good for us. We have shows about it where man takes on food in what no doubt will ultimately be a death match that just lasts over the span of years rather than minutes.

Wherever you go, whatever you do you’re going to be faced with the issues that make you eat more than the guy next to you. For him, ordering a super size fry might be just a weekly indulgence.

For you it might just be lunch.

So Heavy seeks to set people on the course to wellness by confining them first at a facility where they are totally closed off from their normal routine and re-taught how to get their body moving (and no doubt learn about portion control and picking the right foods.) The trainers aren’t the loud and abrasive kind like Celebrity Fit Club’s Harvey or She Who Will Not Be Named from the Biggest Loser. They don’t take grief and it’s a completely “no excuses” zone, but they – from what I’ve seen anyway – seem to understand this is an individualized process.

Successful weight loss isn’t *just* about what you eat or how you move. It is a lifestyle change that simply isn’t one-size-fits-all. Sometimes you really physically can’t go from zero to sixty when you’re lugging around extra weight equal to that of hoisting a refrigerator on your back.

I think that is where a lot of people fail – both as the trainer/expert/motivator and the person who is struggling with the new physical activity that may seem like more than they can bear.

My high school experience was made nearly unbearable by a hard ass coach who would punish the rest of my class for things I couldn’t do like my thinner counterparts. When I tried to explain I couldn’t run a mile like someone carrying fifty less pounds his response was, “Do you really want to be fat?”

No, you dickwad, I don’t want to be fat. But making me the most hated person in my (newly co-ed) sophomore class isn’t going to help motivate me.

Therein lies the rub, and something that the female trainer brought up that I’d never thought about before. She got to spend time with the gal trying to lose weight (sorry, I didn’t take notes on these names) and wanted to find out what motivated *that person* specifically. She said that everyone says they want to lose weight to feel better, be healthier… but what does it *mean* specifically to that individual?

In finding that out, she knew how to train this woman to go beyond what she thought she could do and accomplish what she had believed impossible. This is that secret ingredient that goes beyond what this woman eats or how she exercises.

It focuses on the *why.*

What motivates you won’t motivate me anymore than what motivates that trainer was going to motivate her student. For that coach, being shamed into being inferior might have been a motivator for him to work harder and do more. For me it just added to the shame I already carried thanks to the incident when I was four. It fed into my feelings of inferiority which in turn made me turn to food (and other self destructive patterns) for additional comfort and/or escape.

Over the course of these last thirty years I’ve been conscious of being overweight, I’ve had many reasons I’d want to be thinner. I wanted to be thinner so the guys I liked would notice me, but that was always a double-edged sword because if the guys I liked really DID like me it would have scared me to death and made me turn tail the other direction so fast it would have made their heads spin.

I chase the uncatchable for a reason.

I wanted to be thinner so that I could “fit in” to high school. I wanted to stop the hateful voices of my tormentors who found teasing me for my weight to be a rightful good time all the way till I finally ditched school in that fateful sophomore year. I could be smart, talented, sweet and funny… but as a size 20 I was all too disposable for the majority of those superficial teens fighting for their own acceptance by tearing down others to quell their own insecurities.

Typical high school fare that none of us were really immune to, I was just primed to internalize every single critical word and turn it into my gospel.

Again, their negative voices reinforced (and wired) the damnable chatterbox which still spits out these ancient recordings when I least expect it. It fed into my sense of worthlessness that was soothed best by anything that was either deep fried or covered in sugar.

After high school the idea was to lose weight so that I could be loved, and God knows I bounced off many an asshole trying to find that one guy who would want me and accept me as is. When that didn’t happen I reverted back to finding the guy I would want and making that work come hell or high water.

And of course I always wanted those most who didn’t want me, at least initially.

Eventually I wanted to lose weight so that Dan would love me the way that I loved him – wholly and completely without ever needing anything else to stimulate his desire. He was really fit and very active and well… I just didn’t fit the mold. He preferred petite blonds with small breasts, who found camping/hiking/running/martial arts as fun as he did.

But Dan cared about me and wanted me to lose weight for my own health. He often adopted the role of drill sergeant because as someone who was so physically fit he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t *want* to do the work to get thin. Especially since it was a huge part of the reason I was so self-pitying.

After being raised by a former marine, Dan’s approach to weight loss was not unlike Coach Mahoney’s. It teetered often between two extremes. I was either shamed I couldn’t do more or made to believe I had to go to extremes to feel like I was doing enough.

No pain, no gain.

Over the course of that relationship I ended up losing about fifty pounds and ultimately gaining 100 pounds and more. I was both my thinnest and my heaviest with Dan – I think mostly because I ultimately gave up that I could never be the girl he wanted and packed that disappointment under tons of food.

This was easy to do after three pregnancies.

Then along came Steven who loved me as is and accepted me/wanted me without the caveat of losing weight. All he wanted was for me to be healthy. We had a pact when we first got together that he’d give up cigarettes and I’d lose weight.

He kept his end of the bargain, but I, as usual, fell way short.

Then I decided I was going to put off our wedding until I lost significant weight, but even that wasn’t enough to really motivate me. Having that vague date on the horizon only meant I was putting off life itself, and in truth it wasn’t helping me make the changes I needed to make. I finally set a date and prayed for the best. I ultimately did lose weight for the wedding, but not a lot.

It still makes me cringe a bit to see the wedding photos.

Yet, shame has been a part of my emotional makeup since I was four. I think there might be a part of me that wouldn’t know how to function without it.

The one thing that seemed to motivate me best was death. When Dan died my mortality was no longer just some vague notion on the distant horizon… it was a stark reality. I think I had always operated under this belief that as long as I had stuff to accomplish I couldn’t die. When Dan died at the tender age of 43, it dawned on me that I don’t have any guarantees that I’ll get to do all the things I want to do.

And I’ve been putting most of that off waiting for The Great Until.

Those dark days after he died every bite I took felt like a gun being aimed straight into my mouth. Suddenly I knew I had to do *something* to change things.

I had two sons who needed me then more than ever, and I couldn’t abandon them just for the sake of having that extra bite of cheesecake.

That’s what started my journey in 2003. And things went along swimmingly until the shame began to take over again. The idea that I wasn’t as successful as I wanted to be when the weight just *wouldn’t* come off like I had planned. My body was changing and I was healthier, but if that scale didn’t move I felt like I was doing something wrong.

With my public blog, every week I couldn’t record a loss felt like I was letting everyone down. It reinforced every negative thing that anyone ever said about me, including myself. I was faced with the bitter reality that I just couldn’t do what I wanted to do or be a success at anything I attempted, no matter how hard I tried.

I was walking that extra lap of the mile again, and those words from my 10th grade coach whispered in my ear.

I began to grow angry at myself, and angry at the world. I was depriving myself and working extremely hard to make these changes but the changes just would not come. It felt so grossly unfair. Eventually I withdrew from the spotlight and all that public accountability that had kept me honest for so long. Needless to say that after having done that it was all too easy to slip back into dangerous patterns and routines. By then stark fear of my mortality had ebbed once more into the comfortable place we all keep it so that we can function and find joy in our day to day routines.

And of course by then I found another place to funnel my attention. I could toss all my energy toward someone who really didn’t even notice if I was alive. It was very safe.

At first this diversion was easy to justify because I was making some positive changes even if they weren’t the forward progress on my weight loss and physical health goals. Truth be told I’ve done a lot of growing from my association with this person, and you might think I’d have gotten the motivation to make the physical changes as well considering he’s so physically fit and appreciates that in other people.

Not only would he be proud of me making these changes but I’d be more confident to do all the things he probably knows I’m capable of, but I haven’t yet decided if I deserve.

If I could slay this one dragon – I could take on the world.

God knows I’ve tried to make these things my motivation. I’ve given myself time limits so that I can lose the weight and make him proud whenever he sees me after months at a time. I tell myself if I could just to see that validation in his eyes it will really mean I can do anything.

But it’s never worked the way I want it to, and therefore even HE isn’t enough of a motivation for me, nor is the idea of doing anything else of value (like pursue my career.)

The end result: I have plenty of motivation to stay fat – fear, shame, insecurity, feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. I’m afraid of failure but at the same time I’m quite comfortable there. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know, kind of thing.

So what is my motivation to get fit?

I honestly don’t know. Health hasn’t done it. Love hasn’t done it. Self-esteem hasn’t done it. Death did it, but only briefly.

I gotta find it, y’all. I gotta find the one thing that will make me turn from all the behavior that got me to this place that I really don’t want to be.

Or do I?

To be continued….

Monday weigh in: 290 (pounds lost: 5) (yayyyyy!)
Food diary found on


2 thoughts on “Finding My Motivation

  1. you’re addicted to the self pity as much as you ever were to food. addicted to the feeling of defeat you’ve let yourself fall into so many times. to the ( undeserved ) shame. get yourself hooked on something better.

    1. That’s true. The food just fed the self-pity, like any other addiction. That feeling of worthlessness that nothing you try will ever really succeed is a self fulfilling prophesy because of it… shame feeds self destruction, etc.

      Figuring out how to flip the switch is the trick. I need to pin down that motivation to change and get hooked on that… and it can’t be anything other than my own sense of self worth.

      Tomorrow’s blog talks about Slaying the Dragon with the help of mini-goals to keep positive improvements in forward motion, even if it’s a tiny step at a time.

      (Changing perspective is SO much harder than diet/exercise. I know how to eat less. I know how to move more. But figuring out how to conquer my emotional triggers is not so simple.)

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