I can remember this conversation like it was yesterday. Three years ago, I emailed Fred DeVito of exhale, with what I can only call a cry for help.
For those of you who don’t know about my connection to exhale, I’ll set the stage. I moved to New York City for the first time in July 2001. Then, of course, 9/11 happened. My things were here, my job was still ending in Boston, and my master plan to “just get a job in New York” was made a bit more impossible. I met exhale’s CEO Annbeth Eschbach in a coffee shop ostensibly for a temp job, but a quick coffee at what was then eTrade on Madison Avenue led me to help her create the foundation of what is now exhale. I was her assistant, the HR consultant, their girl about town finding instructors: whatever needed to be done, I did it. So, when I left for good in September 2004, right as the flagship launched, I felt good about where I’d left the company: with the primary mission to create a mind body connection between the breath and the body that causes optimal health, healing and happiness. I was also in the best shape of my life and healthier than I’ve ever been.
Now, let’s cut to 2011, seven years later, and I’m back in New York. I’m struggling pretty badly. I’m sick, I’m obese, and I’m completed disconnected from myself. I don’t know why I turn to Fred (who is one of the co-creators of Core Fusion and the VP of Mind Body Programming for exhale,) but I do. I write him an email that pleads with him to help me save my own life. I have no connection, I think I wrote. I am lost, I am sick and I need help.
Fred flies into action. What do I need? I explain that I’m almost 100 lbs overweight, that I’m at risk for heart attack, stroke and diabetes with what seems like a death sentence from my doctor. He agrees to hand me the tools to help me but that I will have to be the one to take advantage of them. I agree. I take what seems like a thousand Core Fusion and yoga classes. I meet with a nutrition expert. I lose a little weight.
I gain it back.
I lose it again.
I gain a little more, then lose that amount again.
At some point, Fred explains to me that the exercise isn’t the problem, that it’s got to be food. I’m physically strong enough to handle pretty much any workout anyone throws at me.
He says to me, “You have to learn to see food differently than you do now. You have to eat to fuel your body, not your soul.”
On some level, I hear this and I think, “Oh, so LOW FAT is better.” I gorge on low calorie everything. Nothing works, I even gain some weight back.
I get discouraged. I try other workouts. Clearly, something is wrong.
And then, about a month ago, when I had come dangerously close to a weight that I swore I’d never see again for health reasons, what Fred said finally clicked in.
My God, I’m not eating because I’m physically hungry; I’m eating because I’m emotionally hungry.
I realized this as I was holding a diet soda in one hand and a box of low-fat cookies in the other, snacking because “I deserved it.” I put it all down and sat back. What the Hell was going on?
After digging through the layers of “I deserve this,” down into “I’m under a lot of pressure right now” and underneath “I’m sad, frustrated, angry and tired,” the real answer was sitting there, waiting for me:
“What if I fail?”
The fear of failure was the fear of what would happen if I lost the weight. What would happen to me? What if being thinner wouldn’t solve all those problems? What if I lost the weight and nothing else changed? Worst, what if I got healthy and then turned my brain off and gained it all back again.
“What if I fail?”
The importance of this self-discovery is huge, at least for me. It’s why I stopped writing the blog for so long, it’s why my food choices went to Hell: I didn’t trust myself to succeed. What if I screwed this up?
What if I broke my own heart?
That was the giant fear underneath all of the excuses, the yo-yo diets, the inconsistent eating habits. What if I had gotten to a place where I trusted myself, knew myself and loved myself only to turn my back on myself again and bury all of it under an avalanche of food? Could I really be trusted to take care of myself, make good choices and handle disappointment if things got tough again?
I looked at the low-fat cookies and the diet soda. Was I really about to take the easy way out and just use excuses to keep myself in a state of perpetually proving that “this exercise and eating right thing doesn’t really work?”
Nope. And so, I threw it into the trash and grabbed a paper and pen and wrote a rewards list that I get to experience with every two pounds. I jotted down every single thing I get to do when I’m finally at a healthy weight and out of heart disease and diabetes range. That’s 22 lbs from now. It’s a super fun list, and I’ll be chronicling all of those things here.
But at the top of the list, it says “I will not break my own heart.” Every day I fill my emotional needs with actual emotion or healing, every time I turn stress eating into physical stress relief, every single moment that I come closer to that number on the scale where my doctor will say, “Your risk factors are gone,” I prove that I can trust myself, that I love myself and am worthy of the life I’m trying to build. No lipstick, no new item of clothing, no cupcake can fill that space within. It’s my job to fill myself up and to trust that I’m going to be there, that I deserve every happy moment that’s coming.
I can handle it. I will not break my own heart. I am worthy of the woman I’m striving to be…and there’s no cookie that tastes as good as that self-love and trust feels.