“Lisa Finds Her Why”; A story

This is a story about a fictional person. I made her up.

Lisa was fat. But so was her Mom. Lisa’s sister was skinny, but so was their Dad. Lisa could never be called thin, but she wasn’t really super fat either as a kid. She was chubby. When Lisa was 15, her Mom, who was quite fat, died from complications associated with her Type 2 diabetes. A lot of people in Lisa’s life were fat and she heard about diabetes a lot. Her Mom had often eaten special low sugar stuff and fibre crackers. Sometimes. Apparently it hadn’t done her any good. Her Mom had always talked about losing weight, but it had never happened, and now she was gone.

Lisa liked to look at magazines a lot and watch reality shows. She would see thin celebrities on the covers constantly, and in the ads for weight-loss shakes. Magazines were always talking about weight loss. Reading them, she would definitely feel the urge to do something to lose weight. Buy something, start something. But, Lisa hated the taste of weight loss shakes, plus they cost money. She liked the bodies of the celebrities though and wished she looked like that. But how? Not eat? At 15, she was starting to realize her body was very ugly because she was fat, so she avoided mirrors, and didn’t look at herself when she undressed to shower. Lisa began to get fatter after her Mother died. She missed her Mom, and eating was when she felt good. It was nice to just sit there and eat and eat and eat. Afterwords she would feel faintly ashamed at how much she ate, but that went away with time. After all, she was fat anyway. While before she had always been “the chubby one”, she now began to become seriously obese. By the time she was 18, three years later, Lisa was officially obese for her height and weight, and still getting bigger. She bought a lot of magazines that always had weight loss "success" stories. She watched Oprah, Dr. Oz, The Biggest Loser, and other talk and reality shows, where weight loss was a constant theme. There were always new tricks, tips, special foods, being promoted for fat loss. It seemed funny to Lisa that Oprah was always talking about fat loss, but she stayed fat too, but she didn't really know why. Oprah was rich and could afford all the special stuff, so that must mean Oprah was fat because of her genes, or something.

"Even all the money in the world can't keep Oprah skinny", she thought.

Lisa was told by her family doctor that she had to lose weight, but no method worked for her for long. She would get too hungry. Exercise hurt, and she quickly got tired. Every doctor told her to lose weight or she was in danger of developing diabetes, heart disease and all kinds of health complications like her Mom. Lisa hated going to the doctor, she never wanted to weigh herself either, so she would switch doctors constantly, to avoid being told she "had to lose weight". She refused to even know her weight. She ate what she liked when she liked, but mostly by herself. Lisa knew she was fat, she knew she ate uncontrollably and she knew it wasn’t healthy. When she looked in the mirror it was obvious to her. But how to go from being fat to not fat was something she didn't know how to do. Nothing worked. She always went back to eating. Diets didn't work on her. She started avoiding thinking about it at all. She was good at other things, but not at being skinny. She never had been, why keep trying and failing? Every time she tried a new diet, she would fail within a couple weeks. Lisa knew she had "fat genes", because she had always been chubby.

"That’s what “having fat genes” means, right?" she figured.

A lot of the people in Lisa's life  were fat too, so she never felt out entirely of place just because of her size. There were lots of fat people around her, in her city, in her immediate family, and in general, it seemed.  Sometimes she would exercise, but mostly she was embarrassed to be seen moving around in front of other people. It was really embarrassing to work out. She felt awkward, hot, uncomfortable and everything would hurt very quickly. She didn't know what workouts to do, and classes were too intimidating. She would watch The Biggest Loser on TV and secretly wished she could be forced to lose fat somehow, even though it looked like torture and she had read that most of the contestants regained a lot of the weight. What was the point then? But she was a bit certain that if she could force herself to lose fat, she would keep it off!

She contemplated stomach surgery, but the doctors told her she was too young, and to lose weight first. She ordered pills from Dr. Oz’s website. Oprah liked him, and she liked Oprah. But, eventually she would just go back to eating. Despite knowing a lot about different types of diets, superfoods, organic foods, bad foods, fat loss supplements and reading labels when she remembered, Lisa never lost weight. She was getting bigger every year. At 22 she was fully obese.

That was the year Lisa’s Dad died from a heart attack. Her Dad, opposite to Lisa and her Mom,  had always been thin. He drank a lot of Coke and didn’t exercise much. He liked barbecues and fast food a lot too and chewed tobacco regularly. He could eat a whole lot and never seemed to gain any weight at all, just like her sister. Maybe it was because he had a hard factory job, where he was on his feet all day, but she didn’t really know. Clearly being thin didn’t mean someone was healthy or whatever, because he had died just like her Mom. The doctor's said his "smoking and unhealthy eating" had contributed to his having a heart attack at a relatively young age. Lisa got scared.  She knew she had to get help, or a similar fate would find her. She finally decided to go to a Dietician.

The Dietician listened to her talk about her problems losing fat, listened to the ways she had tried to lose fat in the past, and listened to Lisa's hopes for something that "would work right away". The Dietician then recommended something she was surprised at. She recommended Lisa see a psychotherapist as well. The Dietician said that losing fat was a mind and body thing. Lisa had never heard that before. She didn't quite know what it meant, but she agreed. She began to see a Psychotherapist and the Dietician. She went to her appointments faithfully, even when she didn’t feel like it. The thought of her parents made her go. Dietician asked her to weigh herself but said she didn't have to know the number if she didn't want to. Therapist said that losing fat for good was something she had to fight for, with her help. With Therapist, she could talk to someone about her thoughts, emotions and frustrations about food, and that felt good to be able to do. Lisa felt relief sharing her struggles with someone who didn't judge her. Therapist told Lisa that she was using food to soothe her difficult emotions about her parent's deaths, and Dietician gave her practical strategies for improving her diet right away like eating at the same time, how to build a balanced meal, and what "carbs, protein, fat, minerals and vitamins" were in real food. Lisa learned that decreasing her calories would be what would get her losing fat, but that her new habits would help her decrease calories automatically, without a lot of tiring counting and monitoring. This was a relief to Lisa as well. Counting everything she ate had been tiring and frustrating before.

"Keep a simple journal and write down what you eat for one week faithfully" said Dietician, "then I will be able to help you make small, sustainable changes you can stick to, and we will build from there."

Dietician said it would be hard at first, but that she could train her body to like new, better foods, and still be able to eat enough to not feel hungry all the time. Dietician said that eating lots of fast food or processed food meant she was eating lots of calories that helped her stay fat, but didn't provide the nutrients that would leave her feeling satisfied and allow her to eat a lot of food, but with less calories in them. Lisa had thought diets meant eating foods that were healthy but didnt taste very good, like lettuce and chicken, and only eating a little at every meal. Dietician said no, it didn't have to be that way at all, but that she would have to be willing to learn to like new foods, and find foods that taste good to her.

That first week, Lisa cleaned out her pantry, and got rid of all her packaged, boxed canned and “premade” food except stuff like rice, oats and pasta. She began to learn to cook, and made a huge effort to start picking more natural foods she hadn’t heard of before. It was a bit confusing at first, so she got a recipe book. She also realized that she had to do a lot more planning.

"The important thing is that you keep working at making better choices. You do not have to be perfect, just better a little at a time" said Therapist. This made Lisa feel better. It was hard to change.

"Yes, it is hard to change" said Therapist. "But it's possible."

Her dietician recommended she eat food she had to cook herself, and at first that was really hard. She wasn't used to cooking at all, and didn't know how, but she started trying. She avoided bringing home or buying the foods she traditionally binged on like ice cream, crackers, granola bars and frozen dinners and pizzas. Her Dietician said it was better she avoid those foods at first. She stopped drinking soda and stayed with sparkling water. In the beginning she avoided fast food, sweets and desserts completely. When she got a craving, she’d eat fruit. Lots of it. She started eating more protein at every meal, and as many vegetables and fruits as she wanted. She ate to contentment, Dietician said, stopping and sensing when she felt full. After a few weeks it got easier. She bought a whole bunch of spices and started experimenting with them to make her meals tasty. She certainly wasn't hungry all the time now, and didn't feel that awful urge to eat her face off, as she would have called it, as much. Still, it was really hard. She failed many times and some days the thought would creep in that she wouldn’t be able to do it after all.

"What's the point? I have fat genes anyway", the thought that would come.

"It's hard, but possible" said another thought.

Suddenly she had a small, new thought, something she had not really thought before. A brand new thought.

"Maybe I can do it after all. Maybe it really is possible."

She remembered her parents and went back to trying.

She stopped eating out several times a week like she was used to, and was more picky about activities with her friends that involved food. She knew she couldn’t yet trust herself to stick to her new resolutions all the time, and that it was better for now to remove herself from the temptation of her old habits. Lisa had a lot of weight to lose, and it was tough to start doing something different. It was tough to be different than her friends. Many of them were overweight themselves. She told her friends why she really wanted to lose weight, and asked them to support her. Sometimes they wouldn’t, but sometimes they did, and either way the memory of her Dad and her Mom kept her going. Sometimes her friends would pressure her to "relax a bit and not be so strict", but Lisa didn’t want to die young, and she had to do this!

Therapist said that she needed to build up her self-trust, in order to build her self-confidence. Lisa didn't quite know what that meant, but Therapist explained that self-trust was built through doing what she had told herself she was going to do, and that confidence in herself would come from knowing she was keeping her word to herself.

"After awhile", said Therapist "that trust and confidence you have built will become a habit, something you do automatically,  and good habits keep you making good decisions with less mental effort."

Lisa looked forward to that. Losing fat was slow work, but it was working. She could feel it.

"Soon you will  start to enjoy the good things you are doing for your health. Stick with it, and soon it will feel good" said Therapist.

Therapist taught her that understanding her emotional triggers around food, is what would allow her to avoid overeating, and that would be the start of building that trust in herself, so that she could give herself the choice to override those feelings. Lisa understood that this meant when she felt like eating her face off uncontrollably, she must be tired, too hungry already, or anxious and upset. Those were the times she would be more tempted to eat or give up on her good choices and make bad ones.

"Right now, it's hard work. Soon it will be work I want to do because I will know how good it makes me feel to take care of myself", thought Lisa.

Lisa started noticing when she felt like binging and why.  Lisa started thinking more about what she was feeling around food and discovered she often want to eat, rather than think about her feelings. She started to think about her feelings. She noticed that when she slept badly, or didn't sleep as much, it was really hard to resist making bad choices. Being tired made everything hard. Dietician said sleep was needed for her body to do the work to lose fat.

For exercise, Lisa started walking.

"It is simple", said Therapist.

"Easy to do on your own, anywhere", said Dietician.

She started with 10 minutes a day and could barely finish even that, the first couple of weeks, but within the year was up to one hour and a half. Everyday. For her 23rd birthday, she got a puppy, and together they explored her neighbourhood in their walks. Lisa was astonished to find how much she liked walking after a couple weeks. She started to miss it when she didn't! She was now steadily losing weight, and decided she was ok looking at the scale number now. A year after starting with Therapist and Dietician, Lisa had lost 50 lbs, slowly but surely. She had learned to cook meals she liked. She didn't hate walking for exercise. She was enjoying it!

Lisa knew that restricting her food choices, to fix her habits, had been necessary, but now Therapist said the next step was to trust herself to make good choices without avoidance. Lisa started allowing herself to make the active choice to indulge in dessert, or grab a soda, if she felt like it. In the first year, she had relied on Dietician to tell her when she could have a treat, and she was nervous at first that she would go back to her old ways of binging and overeating. But things were changing. When she looked in the mirror, she now saw someone better than before, and she knew she liked that person more than the one she had been a year ago. Slowly but surely, Lisa began to look at herself without hating her body.

As she lost fat, she wanted her body and shape to look good.

Dietician said, weights would build muscle tone.

Therapist said weight training was great for building strong bones too.

"But how do I start?" Lisa wondered. Lisa started googling.

She searched bodybuilding websites, and watched Youtube videos about exercise and lifting weights. A lot of it was a bit confusing, and she saw a lot of the same types of ads for weight loss, instant results and quick fixes, but she knew better now. She kept learning. Six months later Lisa had lost 20 more lbs, but she looked like she had lost 30 more. Her muscles were growing and her body felt firmer. Not so soft and mushy. She started to really look at herself in the mirror, and then one day it happened; she smiled at what she saw! She had visible muscle tone in her arms, back, and legs! She could see the sides of her abdominals for the first time in her life! Something else was happening too. She no longer felt she had to avoid social situations that had a lot of food. She wasn’t feeling tempted to binge eat much anymore, or at all really. She didn't have to drag herself out of bed to exercise. She wanted to! She slept soundly, and woke up feeling good about the day.

"I can have my cake, and eat it too" Lisa laughed to herself.

Except now, she didn’t want the whole cake. A big piece every once in awhile was fine. One day, she recognized she enjoyed the taste of different foods and her palate was more broad and inclusive. Her meals were big and satisfying with protein, veggies and carbs and cooking was kind of interesting. She ate lots of veggies and fruits, rice, potatoes and lean meats. She tried all kinds of fruit! She discovered she loved salmon, and that asparagus was her favorite vegetable. Dietician had told her the year before,  that as she lost weight, she would experience temporary plateaus. That meant that to keep the weight off, her metabolism would need time to adjust to functioning better, and the number on the scale wouldn't go down endlessly.

"You don't even want it to go down too fast," Dietician warned "you want slow and steady fat loss, that stays lost."

"Two steps forward, one step back, is how the scale number will go when you are losing weight. Your body is complex and changes from day to day. If you stay slow and steady, you will lose fat and the number will trend down over time, and better, you won't regain the weight."

"Trend means it will stop going down sometimes, go up sometimes, but down overall" Lisa reminded herself.

Lisa was looking at her weight number now, and knew not to panic if it didn't go down constantly from day to day.

"It shouldn't anyway" she thought.

With lifting weights and building muscle, eventually Lisa could eat a bit more, and still she was losing fat. Building muscle meant her body and metabolism needed more food, even as she continued to lose fat.

By her 24th birthday, Lisa was a new person inside and out. She no longer needed to have strict rules for her diet. In the first few months, of being really strict with herself and building the motivation to stick to her resolutiosn, Lisa had continually been terrified of messing up her diet. She thought she would never be able to eat desserts again, or trust herself with chocolate in the house and that to lose fat she would have to forego ever thinking she could really enjoy those foods again. They were just foods that made her fat! After a day of failing to make good choices, she would feel guilty, dirty, mad and want to not eat anything the next day.

"Don't do that", Therapist cautioned "everyone makes mistakes, that's ok. Beating yourself up about it won't help. Just go right back to trying the next day. You will fail many times before you succeed. That's normal."

Dietician said that as her health improved and her body was brought back into balance, she would not have to be super strict with herself forever, because she would have new habits, that would prevent her from doing the same things that led to her gaining lots of weight in the first place. Lisa enjoyed the thought that she would not always be tied down to rules about her diet to keep her habits in check. Her new habits, once established, would give her freedom.

"Strict rules were necessary when I was so fat, and my habits around food so emotional", thought Lisa. "Good habits give me freedom, because I know how to make good choices. I miss my parents, but eating won't make missing them go away."

She felt in control of herself now and able to maintain her good habits. She looked back at herself in the past, and could understand better how food had been her emotional crutch and her way of soothing her painful feelings. She also realized that she hadn't learned good nutrition habits in her family. Even if she had started off chubbier by design, her parents hadn't been able to teach her what she knew now, because they didn't know it themselves. Her genes certainly weren't like her sister, but she was not doomed to be fat forever, as she had thought.

After two years, Lisa had lost 90 lbs and was at a normal bodyweight for her height, with strong legs, a beautiful back and toned arms.

4 years later, at the age of 28 Lisa went to her 10 year high school reunion. The year before, she had gotten into Crossfit, and was now much fitter than anyone in her old friend circle. She sat at the table, at her reunion, next to her shocked friends with a smile on her face. After dinner, she said yes to the offer of dessert. Her friends were floored. Most of them had said no to dessert. And didn't she used to be fat? Didn’t everyone avoid dessert? What happened to Fat Lisa? Now she was so fit!

"Did you get surgery?"

"Tell me what special diet you did?"

"What's your secret trick!"

"You Crossfit? Do you do Paleo?"

Lisa talked about her new habits, but saw that her friends quickly got bored of listening about sleep, walking and learning to cook.

"Tell us what you really did to work this magic?" they laughed.

"What can we buy to lose fat fast?" they insisted.

Lisa frowned.

The next day, Lisa saw something in the news about The Biggest Loser show. She hadn't seen the show for so long. The article said that hardly anyone from the show could keep the weight off, and unless they kept up with cardio workouts for 2 hours a day, and eating only lean protein and vegetables and keeping their calories really low, they just regained the weight. Most of the contestants failed at keeping the weight off. The point of the article suggested that it was hopeless to try to lose weight and keep it off. People were better off giving up, as sustainable weight loss wasn't really possible for those who were really fat.

She frowned again.

The next day, Lisa decided to become a dietician.


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