Breath & Shadow
Summer 2020 - Vol. 17, Issue 2
"How to Lose Over 100 Pounds in Only 10+ Years"
If God was going to give me multiple sclerosis, I was going to take advantage of perks like pre-boarding. I boarded with the other disabled passengers, took my seat up front, and quickly pulled out my headphones. Getting only four hours of sleep the night prior and with it now being 5:30 AM, I was in no mood for small talk. Luckily, people don’t usually start a conversation with someone wearing headphones. It was my little secret
that they were not turned on for the first hour of my flight. A timid man, presumably in his thirties, pre-boarded as well. As I rolled my eyes, I had a good guess as to why. He struggled to take his seat and summoned the nearest flight attendant for a seat belt extender. Sitting down with a thump, he didn’t notice that his back fat, which was now in folds, was resting on the back of his armrest. I suddenly felt awful for his soon- to-be-determined seat mate. Once airborne, I watched him clumsily
reach for his carry-on under the seat in front of him. He pulled out a big yellow sharing-size bag of peanut M&M’s, you know, the bag that stands up on its own, and proceeded
to shove handful after handful into his mouth until the bag collapsed. Fat people who can’t get it together bother me for some reason. I’ll have to ask my therapist, Kathy, why this is. I don’t do my binge-eating in public, but I know deep down, I am just like the man on the plane.
I self-published my first book in 2017, entitled But You Look So Good and Other Lies: A Memoir. I’ll refer to it as Lies going forward. Lies was a memoir of my life up to the age of forty-two. I am proud that it has been both well received and reviewed, and it did help in my ongoing healing process but, apparently, not enough.
Lies dived into the complicated relationship that I’ve always had with my mother and the shocking realization that she lied to me about my biological father my entire life. This, by far, isn’t all Lies covers, but it is a common thread throughout. I grew up feeling unwanted, second-best, and unloved by my sometimes present (when not working, gambling, or partying) mother and by my absent father.
One of the marketing tools I took advantage of was to purchase two large car magnets. I designed them to read:
But You Look So Good and Other Lies:
Have you discovered the secrets and lies?
With a title like that, you should look good, right? Well, I didn’t. I had fallen off the weight-loss wagon yet again. I hated getting out of my car with these magnets screaming out to anyone who passed me. I was certain every single person was laughing at me and knew I was an imposter.
With this said, I seem to be able to carry my weight well. If that is even a thing. I do have the ability to take a picture and appear to look a bit skinnier than I actually am and not with some app that takes inches off, but with specific angles, poses, filters, and by wearing Spanx and holding my breath to suck everything in. When I peel my Spanx off, my true body is revealed. I look like a can of Pillsbury rolls when you press down on the tub with a fork, and it partially pops open with the dough overflowing at the seams.
Let me back up for a moment. At my heaviest in 2007, I weighed 287 pounds. At that time, my cholesterol was through the roof. So much so, that I was put on medication for it. With my love of sweets and sugar, I also have no clue why I hadn’t also developed diabetes.
Travis and I were married just shy of ten years, and he is the father of my daughter. Unfortunately, he passed away in a car accident in 2007. At first, I was losing weight because while grieving, I had no appetite. As the number on the scale started moving down, I was confident I could do this. I stuck with it by not eating fast food and by walking nightly and ended up losing over one hundred pounds in a little under two years. At the time, did I address the issues that caused me to turn to food in the first place? Of course not.
I met Gregg in August 2010 and by early January 2011, I was pregnant with our son. We were devastated when we lost him well into my second trimester. Even though there was no longer a baby in my belly, I still looked very much pregnant. Eating just made me feel better and almost half of the hundred-plus pounds I lost in 2007 was becoming a distant memory.
I have been struggling with my weight since early adulthood, and in 2012, I finally had had enough. Again. I begged my husband, Gregg, for a personal trainer for a few weeks who would adequately set up the gym’s equipment and follow me around counting my reps and encouraging me. I killed myself in the gym almost daily for six months, stopped all sweets cold turkey, and the weight fell off again. Now was I addressing the issues that caused me to turn to food for comfort again in 2011 after our son died? Again, no.
Please note that this is a quick overview. I discuss my earlier weight journey and my life in more detail in Lies. Let’s just say you really should go read that book and then come back to right here. Go ahead. I’ll wait. #shamelessplug.
Welcome back. I’ve been through some shit, huh? Haven’t we all!
So yeah, I ended Lies with a lie. I let my readers know I was trying to love myself, had finally started therapy in 2015, and had lost twenty-five pounds and counting. That wasn’t the lie. I did lose twenty-five pounds as I wrote my book, and I was in a good place mentally when I finished it. The lie was that I didn’t keep it up. Again. How could I with my mother texting and e-mailing me at all hours of the night, threatening to sue me
over Lies? Or with her and stepdad #3 leaving me awful fake book reviews, without even reading it, just because they could.
My stomach was even more disgusting than that man on that plane and his rolled back fat. I can hold my stomach in my hands. With gaining weight, then losing weight, then
gaining it, then losing it, then gaining again, flabby skin is undoubtedly guaranteed. I wear long t-shirts to cover my stomach, and underwear one size too small better to hold
my stomach in closer to my body. I don’t dare tell my husband or daughter that most of my clothes are starting not to fit again or that I binge when they aren’t home.
I know from experience that marijuana helps with many of my ongoing MS symptoms, and it is legal for medical and recreational use in Nevada, which is where I live. As I get
stoned, I get hungry. Or maybe I just think I’m hungry. It doesn’t matter. It is the excuse I need to raid the kitchen. I binge when they are home too.
I always feel like shit afterward, telling myself how worthless I am for eating a whole bag of candy and an entire sleeve of cookies. Grabbing at my stomach, I call myself a fat ass, always promising to do better tomorrow. Tomorrow comes, and I start my day with a pumpkin donut and a large hazelnut iced-coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. Fuck.
I need to talk to Kathy about the man on the plane, and about losing control once again. She’s a therapist but not an eating disorder specialist. This I know. I also know that any help with an eating disorder, at least in Las Vegas, is virtually non-existent.
I have always loved the newness and optimism of New Year’s Day, and the start of 2019 was no different. Once more I told myself I’d get back on track, and once again, I failed. Why couldn’t I do this? Why would I eat well for a few weeks or lose a few pounds but then binge on an entire pizza and finish that off with a cannoli, and then tell myself, “Oh well?” Although proper nutrition and exercise were never taught as a priority
in the home I grew up in, I knew this was nobody’s fault but my own.
I walked into Kathy’s office, afraid to tell her I was struggling. Again. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I expressed my revitalized unhealthy eating habits and weight.
“There is no way you are over two hundred pounds!” Kathy exclaimed as she looked me up and down.
See, there’s that “I carry my weight well” assumption I was talking about.
“Believe me, I am. Most of my extra weight is in my mid-section,” I lifted my oversized shirt to show her. I never showed anyone.
“Oh.” Kathy whispered.
See, she’s disgusted with me and my body too. I changed the subject.
“I’d also like to talk to you about this man on a plane I saw over a year ago.” I proceed to tell my therapist my recollection of the seat belt extender, the back fat, and the M&Ms.
Kathy leaned in, “People are often uncomfortable with someone who shares qualities that they themselves feel are wrong or shameful.”
“Well, that’s deep, isn’t it,” I smiled.
I left her office and ordered a Big Mac.
On April 1, 2019, as I was driving to the gym for the first time since 2012, I kept repeating a phrase to myself that I had read on Facebook or Instagram that has always stuck with me: Nothing changes if nothing changes. Now I did google this phrase to give credit to the author, but it is unclear who coined the phrase. Well, whoever said it, I thank you because I still repeat it to myself every morning.
I need to set a good example for my family. I deserve to be well. I deserve to be happy. In a year from now, I’ll be glad that I started today. These were some of my other thoughts when I pulled into the gym. As I walked in for my first Aqua Fit class, there was a sign at the front desk that read: “Fall in love with taking care of yourself.” Again, deep.
Despite a debilitating fear of sharks, I’ve always loved the water, so a fitness class in this gym’s pool seemed like a good fit. And boy, was it! Squats in the water? Frog jumps? It was so much easier! And fun! I was removing the impact on my joints and
ligaments and improving my cardio strength, endurance, and muscle strength using the buoyancy and resistance of the water. And as someone living with multiple sclerosis, being in the pool helps keep my core cool as heat can make many with MS experience a temporary worsening of their symptoms.
I was diagnosed with MS in 2000 when I was twenty-five years old. I chose the title of my memoir, But You Look So Good and Other Lies, for a few reasons. One reason is that when I tell people that I have multiple sclerosis, I am often met with (no matter my weight), “But you look so good.” I try to use moments like this to educate and remind people that not every disability is always visible.
Should someone with MS be exercising? According to many publications, including the National MS Society, yes! Make sure you talk to your health care provider first and find an exercise plan that fits your abilities and interest. For me, finding exercises I love was key.
In 2012, that trainer had me on weight machines, killing myself (and crying a little) doing burpees, and then walking on a treadmill or riding the stationary bike. I didn’t mind the bike or treadmill, but the weight machines were set up for me, and I was never really taught how to proceed once that trainer and I stopped working together. To be fair, I didn’t ask how to set up those machines once we stopped working together either.
On our last session, I did tell said trainer that I was never doing a burpee again in my life, and I’m proud to say that I haven’t and won’t. If you are reading this, and you like to do burpees, well, we don’t have that in common. Giving up sweets cold turkey was never a good plan for me, so it’s no wonder why I didn’t stick with the gym and my fitness goals in 2012.
I adore my pool classes, the instructors, and the friends I’ve made. We use weights in the water, too and unlike in 2012, I enjoy myself. Along with my Aqua Fit classes, I also love Aqua Zumba. I like that in the water, no one can see my legs going in the opposite directions of everyone else. This white girl thinks she can dance, but to some in my family, that is debatable. I still get on a treadmill or stationary bike on occasion and have
discovered I really like racquetball. I don’t know all the official rules, but I definitely break a sweat running after and swinging at that little ball. It’s all about moving in ways you enjoy. So, why is this time any different?
1. I have found exercises and classes that I love.
2. I follow the 80/20 food philosophy. No more denying myself the foods I enjoy like pizza and chocolate. I just don’t want to live in a world without pasta and cake. I have learned to allow myself these foods on occasion and get back on track with
healthier food choices the next day and the day after that. This was not easy at first, as I have a history of binge eating, but the next few steps have made getting back on track easier for me.
3. I schedule my gym time like I would a doctor’s appointment. I write out my schedule and to-do list for the week every Sunday and then add to my list the classes I’m going to take that week.
4. I commit to going to the gym 3-5 days a week. If I’ve just taken the time and energy to work out, I’m not “messing that up” with unhealthy food choices.
5. I try to sleep at least eight hours a night.
6. I drink mostly water.
7. I am patient. Significant changes to your lifestyle and seeing results takes time, but I promise you that you’ll get there.
8. I don’t focus so much on the scale. Do my clothes fit better? Are people mentioning that I look leaner? Do I have energy? These are all signs of progress too.
9. I try not to obsess. This one is still hard for me, but I’m trying. I always get a little annoyed when I’ve worked so hard, and my weigh-in shows I’ve lost no weight or - the horror! - gained a pound or two, even when I know other positive changes are still happening to my body. I still sometimes feel a little guilty eating the 20% of “bad” foods. I still worry that I’ll slip back into old habits, but I’ve noticed I worry about it less often. I attribute this to months of making healthier habits now becoming my regular routine.
10. I’ve been in therapy for years now. Take a moment to look at how you got here. Why do you have issues with food, willpower and/or self-control? This goes back to loving yourself. Should you be seeing a therapist? A trainer? A nutritionist?
Should you be meditating? Cutting toxic people out of your life? All of the above?
I am ashamed of my judgment of that man on the plane. It’s not like I haven’t almost needed a seat-extender myself, had my fat overflowing to the next seat, and one year I ate 24 full-size candy bars ready for Halloween and secretly had to replace them. Who was I to judge? There are every shape and size at my gym, and that has humbly reminded me that you just never know. Maybe that man did work out. Maybe he was trying. Or perhaps he had no desire to be healthier. It is none of my business, and I should just let him live his life.
For me, I want to be done with broken promises to myself. I deserve the best version of me that I can be, and so do those around me. Feel free to check in with me regarding my own accountability via my Author Cher Finver Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you. I will always have a stomach that hangs like an apron, but when I look in the mirror today, I do see progress, not regret and hope, not fear. For the first time in my life, I have genuinely fallen in love with taking care of myself, and it feels incredible. I can once again say that I’ve lost well over a hundred pounds since my heaviest in 2007. And counting!
Oh, hey, hi. It’s me again. I wrote this essay in both 2018 and 2019. The rest of 2019 was spent gathering up the courage to send it to a few select publications, hoping an editor would see its worth. Thanks, Breath and Shadow! Now it’s 2020, COVID-19 hit, and before this essay is released, I felt it necessary to revise the above talking points. What’s different this time, and how will I stay on track?
It was easy! At first. My beloved gym is currently closed. Well, Las Vegas in March and April this year was pleasantly mild. I walked around my neighborhood and went on moderate hikes with my quarantine crew several times a week. I even completed my first 5K! Virtually, of course. My eating habits remained healthy, but I did notice I allowed myself to indulge in an ice-cream treat more and more frequently as my crew convened nightly in our living room. We have gotten in the habit of taking turns introducing the rest of the group to a beloved movie from our youth, or one that we have meant to see but
just haven’t had the time, until now.
As the weeks inside have turned into months, I find myself confiding to my therapist, via teletherapy, that I am depressed and stressed. I mean, aren’t we all to some degree? For one reason or another? Most likely, several reasons. The unknown is scary, and the deaths and political division are heart-breaking. I try not to watch the news 24/7. Try. As someone with a compromised immune system, when will I feel safe enough to fly to New York and hug my 70-something-year-old father again? You’ve read my book by now, so you know how important it is to me to continue to protect and nourish our
The Vegas weather gods have already issued a few excessive heat warnings. With my MS, I get even dizzier and feel more sluggish in the heat. So, forget about me hiking, walking, or doing a 5K during any Las Vegas summer. I get up most mornings between 5 and 7 AM. I could go for a walk before the sun starts its assault, but with how I’ve been feeling lately, I just don’t have the motivation. There are writing projects to get to, and hello, Netflix isn’t going to watch itself.
Last week I ate two candy bars and then washed it down with a peanut butter milkshake. That’s my eating disorder winning. Me writing that out, owning accountability, that is me winning. It is okay to “slip” because we all will. As the saying goes, relapse is
a part of recovery. Every one of us is dealing with a pandemic many of us thought we’d never see. Who’s to say how we should handle it? I believe just surviving is handling it.
I’ve seen Legally Blonde several times, so I know all about those exercise-induced endorphins. I know I need to head out the front door for fresh air and be active instead of sitting in my recliner most mornings. My gym will most likely be open again by the time you read this. I do look forward to getting back to my water classes, but only when I feel safe to do so. And who knows when that will be. On occasion, I have enjoyed working-out to the exercise VHS tapes of my youth, which are all on YouTube. It’s the whole nostalgia thing, like our movie nights. These tapes I can do away from the relentless heat, at any time during the day too.
Under quarantine, eating is something to look forward too. But I know in order to stay on track on my weight-loss journey, I need to limit my unhealthy snacking. I am working on it. I will celebrate small wins. I feel it is essential for us to be as healthy as we can be, especially in the era of COVID. But for now, like so many of us, I’m just trying to get through this crisis. And that is enough.
For Before & After pictures of my journey, click here!
Cher Finver is the author of the memoir, But You Look So Good and Other Lies, as well as several essays and works of fiction. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with her husband, daughter, and three dogs.