In 2011 I lost 35 pounds in 6 months. It was awesome. I was surging with energy and felt great. My friends and family complimented me left and right. I liked how I looked in photos—the true test of self-confidence.
But I have a confession. I didn’t lose it naturally. I lost it with the help of some prescription medicine that someone suggested I ask my doctor for. This medicine kept me from getting really hungry—it removed the feelings of extreme hunger so I rarely ate. I didn’t care that I was a hypocrite and preached about long-term, slow-going diet changes because I was skinnier and that’s what mattered.
Problem is, you can only take these pills for 6 months because your heart rate is elevated almost the entire time and it can damage your heart after a while. So I stopped taking it; doctor’s orders.
That’s when things got really messy.
A year before that, I came back from a glorious year of living overseas where I walked everywhere, to a new city, Charlotte, North Carolina, where I went directly into a cube to sit all day long. I didn’t handle the transition well.
So there I was, stuck in a cube, fatter than ever, sadder than ever, and someone had a solution for me that really worked. Of course I took it.
“It will just be a temporary jumpstart to my real diet!” I said. “This is just to get me going and I’ll feel SO good about myself, I’d be a fool not to keep it off!”
Man, was I wrong.
The Graceless Spiral
As you can imagine, after I stopped taking the pills I started getting hungry again and lost the surging energy I once had. I hated it. But I ate because I was hungry. Needless to say, I started gaining the weight back. 2 or 3 months later, I was up 10 pounds or so. Well, that’s an estimate because I stopped weighing myself – it was too discouraging to look anymore. Gaining weight made me unbelievably sad and embarrassed.
What do you do when you’re sad, angry, or embarrassed? Do you work out? Journal about it? Talk to your friend or spouse?
Not me. My first inclination? Laziness. Numbing. Escaping. And this viscous cycle is what happened next:
I was so mad, embarrassed, and disappointed in myself, I’d come home from work and lie on the couch to watch TV until I fell asleep. For months. Then I gained 10 more pounds, and that made me sad. How did I cope? You guessed it, laziness. And then? Yep, gained the other 10+ pounds back. How did I cope? Laziness.
People stopped complimenting me and instead they looked at me with those, “Oh honey, are you okay?” eyes. Ugh. That made it even worse.
Has this ever happened to you? Looking back on it, it all sounds ridiculously pathetic. And I wonder, “Why did I feel so helpless?” If I had just reminded myself that I was in control and I was not a victim of my own self-destructive thoughts, I COULD have changed. I COULD have bounced back. If I had given myself an ounce of grace, I believe that spiral would have stopped dead in its tracks.
“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” ― Brené Brown
(Watch her amazing TED Talk here)
Shame = I have failed, I am bad and worthless. Guilt = I did something wrong. I acted poorly. There is such a thing as healthy or appropriate guilt. If you’ve slipped, own up to what you’ve done and move on. Shame, on the other hand, is toxic.
You see, feeling shame for gaining a few pounds back was like gasoline on a fire. It was like pouring grease on a downward spiral to depression and more weight gain. I told myself:
- “I knew I couldn’t keep this weight off. I knew I didn’t have the willpower anyway.”
- “I’m a failure. I have failed and will continue to fail.”
- “I will always be overweight.”
- “No one will ever love me like this.”
- “Screw it. I don’t care.” (the most dangerous words you can ever say)
Instead, grace could have stopped it. Grace could have been like a fire blanket on my shame. I could have told myself the truth.
- “I’ve gained a few pounds, but it’s okay and I’m in control. This is my body and I control how I treat it.”
- “I don’t feel shame, rather, I feel powerful and I accept the challenge to feel better about myself.”
- “I ate a huge fried meal and feel awful, but it’s okay. Tomorrow I promise to myself that I’ll eat a salad for lunch and run an extra 5 minutes.”
- “Being lazy makes my body feel lousy. I don’t want to feel lousy. I want to feel good. I’ll feel better if I go take a walk.”
- “When I look good, I feel confident. Laziness is not worth the discomfort of my tight jeans.”
- “I will allow space to rest and relax, but after I go take a walk.”
Grace could have kept me from being so angry with myself. Grace could have covered my shame and given me a clean slate. If I had only remembered grace, I could have “picked myself, dusted myself, and started all over again.”
Be kind to yourself. You’re in process. Don’t unravel. In that space between messing up and shame, insert an ounce of kindness.
I pray that you (and I) will give ourselves a little grace the next time we slip. Let the grace you give yourself (and God’s grace) be a fire blanket on your Downward Shame Spiral.
If you need a little help being kind to yourself, check out Brene Brown’s book, or maybe sing this song like I do: