Meet Michelle (an interview- part 1)

Thanksgiving is this week, can you believe it?! With the added stress of the holiday decadence, I knew that I had to introduce you guys to one of my very best friends. Michelle has lost a total of 130 pounds and I had to pick her brain on how she did it. Also, I am in the middle of a project so an interview is perfect because time is of the essence in my current situation. Today’s post will be introductory and will focus on navigating the holidays. We will continue form there, because Michelle is also a writer and she has given me some lengthy answers. If you take one thing away from this blog, let it be the fact that Michelle is very candid and authentic in her answers. She is an actual human being and doesn’t have a quick fix answer.  (also, sorry for the spacing issues. Not sure what the problem is today…)

Michelle and I have known each other for about 13 years. We met in a very roundabout way which is another story for another day, if I choose to ever disclose it. Regardless, Michelle is a person of perseverance. When I think about her the words “determined,” “intelligent,” “motivated,” “kind,” and “bad ass,” come to mind. To give you an idea of who Michelle really is, she is the kind of woman who when the going get’s tough, she get’s going. She has traveled the world from China, to Ukraine, to India, and Europe. She has like 500 degrees or something like that. That is clearly an exaggeration. She worked her ass off as a waitress and teaching to put herself through college at Leeds. And that is only one of her many pursuits. Aside from her extensive resume on paper, in person Michelle is sweet, silly, kind, understanding, and compassionate.

Never afraid to speak out for what she believes in, Michelle may seem quiet and reserved at first but that is just her intellectual exterior. She comes to life when you discuss all things books, and tea, and philosophy. She is fearless and when she sets her mind to something, she simply Does It. She is unafraid to feel. Feeling to her is essential to her being, and if she needs to cry and rage and laugh and scream, she will. And then she will finish whatever task is at hand with grace and beauty. She is as captivating in person as she is in this blog and if you’re lucky enough to meet her, she is truly one of a kind. Without further ado, here is the first part of her interview.

1. You’ve lost a total of 130 pounds. That is a huge feat. What started this journey for you? 

I’ve always had trouble with my weight, ever since childhood, so I feel like this has been an ongoing battle for most of my life. It’s always something that I’ve been unhappy with, but I wasn’t really able to make myself buckle down and really do something about it. Sure, I would say I wanted to lose weight, but I wasn’t able or willing to do what needed to be done to lose the weight and keep it off. But about two years ago, I found myself in a really dark place. I had dropped out of what I thought was my dream graduate degree program and was unemployed for months on end. Everything felt out of my control and like no matter what I did nothing was improving. So, in the depths of my depression, I decided to take control of the one thing I truly did have power over – my weight. I couldn’t change the fact I had dropped out of school and couldn’t do any more than what I was doing to find work, but I could control what I ate and did with my body. So I did my research, found the support I needed, and took control of my weight.
 
2. What was your childhood like in terms of food? 
I would say it was traditional Southern – food is love, clean your plate, that sort of thing. Food was a part of pretty much every aspect of life. Someone having a hard time? Let’s bake them some cookies. Celebrating an achievement or a holiday? Let’s go out for dinner. Someone did something kind for you? Take them out to lunch to say thanks. This has become super obvious to me over the last several months as I still default to wanting to show my love by baking sweet things whenever something good or bad happens.

3. How do you navigate the holiday indulgence of food?

There are several things I keep in mind during any special occasion, but especially during the holidays:

1) “Honor the journey then honor the feast.” Someone told me this last holiday season and I love it. Start every holiday gathering by honoring the journey by getting a plate and filling it with healthy stuff – veggies, fruit, lean protein, all of that. Once you finish that, get a small plate (to help you control the portions) and allow yourself to honor the feast – go through and get small bites of the things that you love. By doing this, you’ll take the edge off your hunger with healthy foods which helps you get small portions of the other stuff, letting you have the things you love while keeping the calories under control.
2) Listen to your body. As you honor the journey then honor the feast, listen to your body so you know when to stop. When you’re not hungry, stop eating. You do not need to feel full. You definitely don’t need to feel stuffed. You do not have to clear your plate. It’s okay to throw stuff away. It’s okay to not eat what you’ve taken. I know that’s easier said than done, but listen to your body and stop when it tells you to stop.
3) If you do overindulge, it just slows you down – don’t let it stop you. The easiest traps to fall into is “Yesterday was so bad, so why bother today?” “I’ve already screwed everything up, so who cares what happens now?” or “I’ll start again next Monday.” Don’t do that to yourself! You ate too much yesterday? That’s okay! That was yesterday! Today is a new day with new choices. You do not have to let yesterday’s overindulgence mess up today. This is true in general, not just during the holidays. You have a rough day, get right back on it tomorrow. In the grand scheme of weight loss, a day is not the end of the world. It’s barely a blip! As long as you don’t allow that day to become another day, or a week, or a month, you’ll be fine. Jumping right back on it the very next day is another thing that becomes easier the more you practice it.
Remember – this is a lifestyle change, and you need to live your life. You will eat pizza. You will eat chocolate. There will be holiday parties. You will have high calorie days. And that is okay. As long as it’s in moderation and you balance it with enough low calorie days, everything will be fine and you will lose. Make the best choices you can, but don’t stress too much if you have an off day every now and then – as long as you don’t do it too often and keep it to a day and get back on it tomorrow, you’ll be fine. It may slow you down, but you don’t have to let it stop you.
4. You did this the old-fashioned way: Learning how to eat, and exercise. What would your advice be to those starting their own fitness journey?
Since I like to think of weight loss and fitness as two separate things, I’ll give advice for those starting out on both:
For weight loss, I realize that counting calories isn’t for everyone, but for me it was an absolute game changer. Learning about the calorie content of food has seriously opened my eyes. No wonder I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life when I was regularly eating 2,000 calories in a single meal! So for people who are just starting out, I highly recommend downloading the MyFitnessPal app, or any other calorie counting app, and just recording for one week. Don’t make any changes to your diet, but honestly record everything that you eat for one week. Doing that blew my mind – I had no idea how much I was eating, and most of it was mindless snacking. Once you see what you’re doing, make small, manageable changes slowly. Don’t go from a 3,000 calorie diet to 1,400 – you’ll just be setting yourself up to fail. Instead, take small steps. Maybe cut out the sodas. Have only 3 slices of pizza instead of 4. Eventually, those small steps add up. You aren’t dieting – you’re making different, better choices. Yes, it’s slow, but it’s the best way to make sustainable, lifelong changes.
For fitness, small steps are key here, too. You can’t go from 0 days at the gym to 6. You’re just going to burn yourself out. It took me 9 months to build up to that so that it was truly sustainable. Instead, find something you love and commit to it once a week. Meetup is a great place to find different activities like hiking, kickball, etc,, and if you’re interested in Zumba, zumba.com has a “Find a Class” feature that shows where instructors are holding classes. Most classes aren’t at a gym and you just pay for the class when you attend (usually about $5/class – no membership needed!). Different instructors have different styles and intensities – I tried 4 classes before I found the one that works best for me.
But something to keep in mind for both, and I can’t stress this enough: every day is a new day, and every day you are given a choice. What you eat, what you do – you are making choicesYou have control of those choices. You don’t need to wait until the beginning of a week to make better choices, and honestly, I would strongly encourage you to not do that. Instead, start today. Start right now. One of my favorite proverbs goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Get started, get going, make those choices. When you slip, don’t stress too much – examine why you slipped, learn, and try again. Every day you get to make a choice. Make the ones that’ll make you happiest.
With love,
-S. (And Michelle!)
Remember to be kind to yourself and if you or someone close to you is in serious distress or simply needs to talk to someone, please call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741. 

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