Burn The Ships

Last weekend we sang a new worship song, Burn The Ships by the duo For King & Country. It’s a powerful song with a deeply personal backstory mixed with this story about a ship of explorers. Here’s what Luke Smallbone said in an interview about the song:

“I read a story about an explorer going to a new land. When he arrived on the shore, he calls everybody off of the ships and said, ‘Hey let’s go explore this land and see what there is to be seen,'” Luke explains. “All the men were terrified of going into the unknown and he realized that even those boats were grimy, stinky and small, they wanted to stay on the boats because it was familiar. The next day he calls them out again and when all the sailors were on land, he gives the command to burn the ships because he said, ‘We’re not going to retreat. We’re going to move forward in our lives.’ 

Over the coming days the song would not leave me and neither did the story. It hit me because I intimately understand the comfort of a fully destructive comfort zone. The sailors knew the ship was “grimy, stinky, and small” but it was far more comfortable to stay in the horror you know than to step into the unknown. It actually reminded me of my closet.

Yes, my closet.

I used to have what I called My Closet of Hope. It had clothes in every possible size. If you needed formal wear I had gowns from a size 16-28. How about an outfit for work? I had you covered from a size 14-32. Casual day wear? My largest inventory from large to 6x!

Why?

I stayed on a roller coaster of weight loss and weight gain. When I lost weight I’d still hold on to my bigger clothes in case I gained again and when I’d gain weight I held on to smaller clothes in the hopes I’d fit them again. After weight loss surgery I decided that I was no longer hanging on to my old clothes. It was harder and far more emotional than I ever dreamed it would be. I kept ONE shirt and ONE pair of pants that I bring when I speak at the hospital.

What does this have to do with the worship song? My Closet of Hope was really a Closet of Fear. Much like the sailors, I feared something new. I’d been overweight for 30 years and it may seem odd but it was scary to even think of being anything else! Holding on to those clothes was almost like giving myself permission to retreat back to the way I’ve always been.

Up to that point I’d been a slave to food because I was using it to cope with my often crippling anxiety. I hid my feelings behind a wall of shame and ate to feel better… yet always felt worse. I was incapable of asking for help and would use humor as a means of deflection. After RNY I unknowingly made the decision to “burn the ships” in my closet. By donating all of my clothing I was propelled into a new way of living with no easy way to retreat. This also meant confronting my feelings, adjusting my coping behaviors, and getting help for my anxiety and food addiction.

That was my ship. Your ship could be removing yourself from a toxic relationship, stepping out in faith at a new opportunity, or leaving anything behind that no longer serves you. It’s never easy to burn a ship, to leave a comfort zone, to try something new. I had to step out in faith, trust God, and fall to my knees before I fall into ice cream.

What’s your ship and are you ready to set it on fire?

Read more of the personal story behind this song and hear the song: Billboard Article – Burn The Ships.

Check The Environment

The other day an Instagram friend posted this quote:

“When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” – Alexander Den Heijer

I loved this because it resonated in me. But as swiftly as the thoughts came in, life swept them away.

I was going through my Facebook newsfeed a few days later and was quickly reminded of that post. It was from an article in the Paris Review from author CJ Hauser. The essay titled The Crane Wife was an incredible read about how a woman found herself on a crane research trip after breaking off an engagement. Here’s the passage that took me back to that earlier post:

Here is what I learned once I began studying whooping cranes: only a small part of studying them has anything to do with the birds. Instead we counted berries. Counted crabs. Measured water salinity. Stood in the mud. Measured the speed of the wind.

It turns out, if you want to save a species, you don’t spend your time staring at the bird you want to save. You look at the things it relies on to live instead. You ask if there is enough to eat and drink. You ask if there is a safe place to sleep. Is there enough here to survive?

Why did this hit me so hard? Spending the last five years ardently working on myself by dealing with my weight, my food addiction, and my (often crippling) anxiety I discovered a link I never knew I was missing! I’ve been so focused on myself that I haven’t paused – consciously – to consider my environment.

When a person has a weight issue it’s often because there’s an imbalance somewhere. Many will consider that imbalance to ONLY be calories in far exceed calories out. It would be nice if that were true. It’s just one part of a much more complex algorithm! There’s usually an underlying cause that leads to the pure calorie math.

For example, consider the environment in which a person lives. Has food insecurity ever been an issue? A person who was deprived food through poverty or even through a parent’s withholding can be a factor.

I personally know a woman whose mother was terrified she’d grow up to be fat. She was slightly overweight when we were kids and her mother was obsessed with how much she ate, what she could eat and where she could eat. Her mother constantly micromanaged her food. When I saw her ten years after we graduated from high school she had gained a lot of weight. I often wondered if leaving her parents house where she had no one to stop her or manage her food led to her weight gain. Turns out her mother was heavy as a child and was taunted throughout her school years. Her desire to save her daughter from the same treatment was the motivation behind her behavior.

Trauma is another item to consider. Comedian Russell Brand famously said this:

Cannabis isn’t a gateway drug. 
Alcohol isn’t a gateway drug. 
Nicotine isn’t a gateway drug. 
Caffeine isn’t a gateway drug.

Trauma is the gateway.
Childhood abuse is the gateway. 
Molestation is the gateway. 
Neglect is the gateway. 

Drug abuse, violent behavior, hypersexuality, and self-harm are often symptoms (not the cause) of much bigger issues.

And it almost always stems from a childhood filled with trauma, absent parents, and an abusive family.

But most people are too busy laughing at the homeless and drug addicts to realize your own children could be in their shoes in 15 years.

Communicate. 
Empathize. 
Rehabilitate.

— Russell Brand

When I first saw this, it hit me hard. The weight of that truth sunk into my core. Although he doesn’t specifically mention food, when it’s abused food can be just as dangerous! When I started to take on the challenge of my weight I had to consider the source! What is the root of my eating? It wasn’t only WHAT I was eating (calorie math) but WHY was I eating (complex algorithm)?

I was stagnant in my behaviors for years. I discovered that despite how I felt about myself the greater risk was in changing. It was far easier to stay the same! I willingly chose a life where I was so miserable in my own skin because even though I was unhappy with myself it was far more comfortable to stay in my misery than to attempt to do something and potentially fail… again. I knew my misery and ended up making it my friend. I was the flower that wouldn’t bloom but I didn’t have the strength to consider switching my environment!

Looking back, I see how taking the steps to work on myself contributed to a change in my environment. To be successful in how you live after surgery you have to be able to eat according to a plan. Before surgery I’d often order food or go out to fast food. I’d have a steady supply of ice cream, chocolate, and cookies at my disposal at all times! You can’t do that after surgery. The first environment I changed was my kitchen! I didn’t even realize that’s what happened!

If you’re struggling or lost, have you considered what in your environment is hindering you? Look around and take stock. Then look inside and try to uncover the roots. Having the courage to honestly get to truth of your weight and being willing to challenge the environment around you will lead to success.

The Doctor Is In

I had an opportunity today that was different than any other I’ve had in the past. I was asked to sit on a panel at Rhode Island Hospital with other bariatric patients to answer questions from doctors about obesity and our experiences with medical professionals before, during, and after surgery.

I was so comfortable when I got there. I’ve been very open about my life before surgery and the many changes after so I was expecting another opportunity to share how this process can be lifechanging and beneficial. Then something happened.

The doctors arrived. 

As they entered the auditorium in their scrubs and white coats I started having flashbacks. The flood of memories for every medical professional who treated me poorly or dismissed any issue I could possibly have because I was fat and wouldn’t look any further. Every piece of exasperated advice that left me feeling defeated and alone. Every time nurses would stifle a laugh or talk about me in an adjoining room. Every painful memory came flooding back and I was shocked.

When it was my turn to speak I shared how I was too heavy to be weighed on the scale in the office and the doctor – without looking at me – told me if I wanted to get my weight I could make an appointment at the Providence Post Office and get on the freight scale. No compassion, no understanding, and I felt so low and demoralized. Every single person on the panel had stories about sub-par treatment from medical professionals. It can be alarming to hear what’s been said to people especially when they are seeking help. It was initially overwhelming.

Once I got my feelings in check I realized what an incredible opportunity this is for us and for them. They are here because they are interested in what we have to say and how they could treat people living with obesity with dignity and respect. They asked detailed questions, listened to our stories, and took a genuine interest in treatment from our perspective. I could only imagine the next time they are faced with an obese patient that they will have a better understanding based on this conversation.

I’ve often spoken of Miriam Hospital’s Center for Bariatric Surgery as a haven for information, support, and treatment for people looking for weight loss and management solutions. Today, their commitment to helping their peers – as well as their patients – only confirms what I’ve always known about this program since I walked through the door in 2014, and watched my life transform before my very eyes. When you’re ready for help, they’re ready for you.

For more information about Miriam’s program click here:

Miriam Hospital Center for Bariatric Surgery

Broken Windows

I saw a quote the other day that I loved:

To believe that you must hide all the parts of you that are broken, out of fear that someone else is incapable of loving what is less than perfect, is to believe that sunlight is incapable of entering a broken window and illuminating a dark room.

Mark Hack

I think we often do that. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has tried to be the absolute BEST possible version of myself when I start dating someone. You don’t want your crazy showing too fast! We have high expectations of others and just as high for ourselves. But after a while, we become more comfortable, more trusting, and more vulnerable. In these moments the proverbial rubber meets the road. You’ll either accept the less than perfect aspects of each other or you won’t. The most successful relationships seem to be the ones where you can truly accept your partner… warts and all.

I remember the day that Jeff and I had our first real conversation. We discussed things that I never spoke of to another human being, and it was without effort. I remember being surprised as each word came from my mouth and even more surprised that he didn’t run from the room! He did the exact opposite. He stayed, listened, and comforted without judgment. I am far from perfect and have made many mistakes and questionable decisions in my day. So has he. So has everyone. Being open about these things only solidified our relationship. We let the light of love shine through our broken pieces.

I was so grateful that Jeff could see me past every decision I ever made but it was a long walk to forgive myself. I used to replay the same broken record of my disappointments and spending way too much time being disgusted with my body and my inability to “fix” it. It was a few years into our relationship that we reconnected with Christ and began an entirely new way to live, to relate to one another, and to ourselves.

Having a relationship with Jesus gives you the ability to see things from an entirely different perspective. The Mark Hack quote takes on an even more beautiful meaning. No one is perfect. We all have brokenness. We all have faults. We have all made mistakes. We all have pain. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23 NIV This doesn’t change that fact that we are all windows and through our brokenness, our suffering, and our pain, God’s light will illuminate even the darkest rooms of our hearts.

The Cruelest Words I’ve Heard

I read a post on a bariatric group a few weeks ago that just stayed with me. She wrote this:

It’s so sad that strangers are so much nicer to me since I lost weight.

This is a fact that many men and women notice after weight loss. People can be truly cruel, especially when someone who is not an ideal body type. I’ve often said that weight is the lowest hanging fruit on the insult tree. The first thing people grab when they want to throw an insult.

You fat (enter insult here)!!!

Don’t think this is limited to just overweight people. Thin people get this too and it’s just as damaging. I used to think calling someone skinny was the ultimate compliment because I wanted to be thin so badly. It’s not an compliment regardless of your intention. It’s a stone that when thrown leaves a mark. You can’t see the mark but trust me, it’s there.

Ultimately, people are much kinder after weight loss. When I first started walking I didn’t want to walk outside because I didn’t want the stares from people on the street or hear insults yelled from cars. This has happened more frequently than you can imagine.

I was eating an ice cream cone at a county fair minding my own business when a man walked up to me and said:

That’s probably part of your problem.

I don’t know what he gained from this. If your mission in life was break me down emotionally by attacking me verbally, then you won, good for you. If you thought this one second insult made in passing somehow got through to me and I would drop my ice cream and join a gym, that’s where you went wrong. You only succeeded in making me feel bad about myself which is the precursor to bingeing. You literally threw a log on the slow burning embers of my fragile self esteem. Congratulations.

Next my mind wandered to a different place. I’ve fought the battle of my weight for over 30 years. Thirty years of not feeling beautiful – and thinking people who said I was beautiful was lying or crazy. This is not a way to live. Then it hit me:

The cruelest words I’ve ever heard are the ones I say to myself daily.

Yes, people definitely treat me better now that I’m smaller, however, that’s an issue that will only be changed when people learn to accept that all body’s are different but all deserve respect. I can’t change other people’s thoughts, opinions, or even their cruelest words. I can control mine.

I don’t believe in diets or resolutions. I believe in creating lifestyle changes that will better my heath and wellbeing. This year I’m working on that nagging voice that gets in the back of my mind and tells me I’m not enough, not ideal, or not worthy. Negative self talk ends today.

The bible verse 1 Corinthians 6:19 (NASB) is a great reminder:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

Notice it reads “your body is a temple.”

It doesn’t say your body is a temple when:

  • You lose weight
  • You gain muscle
  • You cut carbs
  • You fit your high school prom dress
  • You get your body back after childbirth

Your body is a temple – without qualifier! Again, I’m not one for resolutions but I am all about a good, healthy goal. My goal this year is to silence my inner evil critic and remember my body is a temple and should be treated with – and spoken to – with respect.

Who’s with me?

Farewell 2018

Thank you 2018. What a whirlwind year! Goals achieved, dreams realized, and relationships cultivated; tempered with loss of loved ones, physical health issues, and personal challenges. From the joy of publishing my book and speaking on the famous red dot of TEDx to the tragedy of losing my aunt, this has been a year.

What I’ll take from every joy and pain of 2018, is that life ebbs and flows moment by moment. We tend to trick ourselves into the newness of a year on January 1st but a new opportunity is born every second. Not just on January 1st, not on Monday morning, but every moment you’re alive is a chance to do better or be better. Don’t get sucked into the hype of a new year. Be present in moments. If you stumble, all is not lost! With the simple blink of an eye, by the grace of God, you can try again.

Thank you 2018. If you’re reading this then my heartfelt thanks to you! What a gift and pleasure to share this space with you all. I can’t wait to show you what’s planned for 2019!

God Bless!

Regina

Perfectionism, Food Issues and Karate

I’m definitely a perfectionist. I like things done. Right. The first time. I like doing things well and I’m obsessed with things like order and placement. From a marketing perspective this can be considered great or even ideal. One thing that really changed my life was when I discovered perfection’s back story. Perfection is really fear, anxiety, and procrastination doing an elaborate dance.

What does that mean? I can’t speak for all people, but I can certainly speak to my own experiences. Looking over my past behaviors – which was essential to weight loss – I discovered that I would often opt to do NOTHING if I couldn’t do it PERFECTLY. Inevitably, the task I needed to do would likely take more time to complete but I’d want to do it immediately. If I didn’t have the time to do that, I’d leave it to another day.

Perfection is merely procrastination in a tuxedo.

In our last house I had an office studio where I’d make personalized items. After the holiday season it was usually a wreck. I’d open the door and want to clean it to sheer perfection. Realizing how that was impossible I’d simply shut the door and wait until I had more time. If I did get to the place where I’d actually tackle it, I’d often get so overwhelmed at the enormity of it all and shut down. Greetings Anxiety! I knew you’d show up eventually!

As I began the process for weight loss surgery, I noticed how a lot of this behavior was not only in office clean up but heavily tied to my food behaviors. I would never say, “I’m going to cook dinner tonight.” I would say, “I’m going to cook dinner every night for the rest of my life!” When I failed once at my Lifetime Cooking Goal I’d go right back to ordering out because I failed.

I had to recognize that I was constantly setting myself up for failure! In my office I could’ve planned to break down what needed to be done into smaller, more manageable tasks, set a deadline for completing those tasks, and worked toward completion. With cooking dinner I could’ve endeavored to cook that one night and work up to cooking more often.

I mind-tricked myself out of my own wellness!

My internal need for perfection would often have me procrastinating until I felt that I could accomplish something perfectly. What a realization!

As I applied this model of breaking things down into smaller and more manageable tasks, I realized it was not just in office cleanliness or wellness that I had this issue. Karate brought out a lot of this behavior. I wanted to have black belt skills as a white belt. Yeah, that’s not possible. I’d often go home after class and beat myself up for not learning fast enough or looking as good as my peers. It was challenging physically and even more mentally.

After a while, you realize that you will only get better with dedication and practice. I am not a black belt so I won’t have black belt skills. What I can do is learn and practice. I will not know anything instantly. I will have to break it down, learn it in pieces, and put it together over time.

One of the most valuable pieces to all of this is the realization that doing something – even something unbelievably small – is better than doing nothing at all. Gracefully bow out of the Dance of Perfection and Procrastination and begin.

Progress not perfection.

Did You Do It Yourself

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to have a booth selling and signing my books at the Rhode Island Women’s Expo. I loved sharing Food, Sweat, & Fears with new people.

Weight is so personal. You could see it in how people chose to engage at the booth. Some didn’t want to engage at all, while others had more curiosity. Many people opened up and shared stories of about themselves or a loved one battling the issues of weight. Most people seemed like they were looking for The Secret Missing Link Of Weight Loss.

The most frequent question was this:

Did you do it yourself?

The battle rages on. People still seem to believe that weight loss surgery has no element of work and is considered “cheating” weight loss. There was a woman who had surgery and called it cheating! I was stunned. She intimately knows how much work is involved in this process and still called it cheating!

My work is not done. I will continue to speak and share my message about the surgical options for weight loss. Surgery is NOT for everyone but removing the stigma from this option can save lives.

Weight loss surgery is not a quick fix or even a guarantee of weight loss. Long term success eludes most people after surgery. This can be directly attributed falling back into unhealthy eating behaviors after surgery. When you’ve spent your life exhibiting poor eating choices – like me – or you use food as a primary coping strategy – like me – this can be extremely challenging. You have to do the work. No matter how you choose to lose weight there will be work to do.

Coming out of the Thanksgiving Food Olympics and heading straight into Christmas Cookie Season, makes me really sensitive to people’s comments. Probably because the hardest workout I do this season is shaking my head from left to right refusing your offers of cookies and cakes.

I have to do that all by myself.

______________

Did you know you can preorder my new, expanded cookbook Healthy Fare today? Ships before Christmas! Check it out here: Healthy Fare

Thanksgiving and the Emotional Bondage of Food

FLASHBACK: This was originally posted on my Facebook page on November 14, 2016. For reference, this was nearly 2 years after surgery and one week after the NYC Marathon.

Food. If Halloween is like the World Championships then Thanksgiving is definitely the Food Olympics. This is where you gather with family and friends and eat. Then eat. Then loosen your pants and eat. Followed by eating and packing takeout boxes for eating later when you can eat in sweatpants or leggings.

I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. After being classified as Super Morbidly Obese for most of my life and then having RNY Gastric Bypass surgery I’ve managed to lose 250lbs. But please know that surgery may have cut my stomach but not my mind. I still love food. I’d love nothing more than to do a backstroke in a pool of stuffing but this is no longer my reality.

Yesterday, my church hosted this enormous Thanksgiving Dinner for our community completely free of charge and we get about 300 people. The night before we start to set up. I’m feeling tired and achy and thinking it’s just “post Marathon stuff.” It wasn’t. It was growing anxiety about being there. Being around people eating whatever they want in any amount. I miss being that free with food but when I was that free I was being held captive in a body that was so weak and sick.

By the following day, I was so tense thinking it was other things but really I was thinking of how many times people will offer me food, or pie, or anything! Will they say:

“Not even a little?”

“This can’t hurt!”

“Are you sure?”

Or when I explain why they say “Forever? Why would you do that?”

I would do that because I was miserable. I would do that because I was sitting on the sidelines watching life happen to other people. I would do that because I wanted to be healthy.

I know most people have no idea about the emotional bondage that food has for many people. If that’s never been your reality just know that for others Thanksgiving and all of the food holidays can be very hard.

So if I’m a little quiet, a little withdrawn, or refuse your invitation all together just know that it’s me and what I’m working through not any reflection of you or me not wanting to be there.

Missing our church Thanksgiving was hard but necessary. Missed you all!

2018 Addendum
Please, be aware of your words and actions with the people in your life who are dieting, making lifestyle changes, or who are trying to better their lives by reducing their weight. If they refuse your offer of food just know that it may be the HARDEST THING THEY’VE DONE. 

How Badly Do You Want It?

The first time I heard of the Ironman Triathlon was in 1982, watching the Wide World of Sports. I don’t remember why it was on or why my absolutely non-athletic self was watching it, but I will never forget what I saw. I had never heard of a triathlon let alone the Ironman in Kona, Hawaii, but there I was watching an unbelievable finish that I didn’t understand until years later.

Before I tell you about that particular day, let me explain the Ironman race. It begins with a 2.4 mile swim in open water immediately followed by a 112 mile bike race then finally transitions to a marathon adding another 26.2 miles to the already ambitious day. Now, there are Ironman distance races on every corner of the earth, but THE Ironman will forever be the Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. The heat and humidity added to the challenge and set the stage for the grueling 1982 Ironman.

Julie Moss was in first place, and she was at the end of her energy. As she headed toward the finish line in front of hundreds of spectators and on national television, her legs started to tremble, and then she collapsed. She got up and started again, and moments later she fell again. It was painful to watch. She continued on falling and getting back up over and over again. When she couldn’t get up any longer, she began to crawl – resisting efforts from people to help her – and made her way to the finish. As she crawled using the last of her strength and moments from the finish, the second place woman passed her for the win. Twenty-nine seconds later she crawled to the finish, threw her arm over the line, and collapsed. Those final 29 seconds remain the narrowest margin of victory in the history of the Ironman.

I remember watching that so clearly and thinking I want to do the Ironman! Despite my complete and utter lack of athleticism, I really did want to do it. I didn’t understand why for many years. As an adult, we can look back on things from our childhood or past events from a different perspective. This fresh perspective of how a woman who has pushed herself to the absolute end of her physical limit but not the end of her mental limits meant something completely different to my adult self.  It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to compete in an Ironman.

I wanted to want something that badly. 

We all want things but how many of us will push ourselves out of our comfort zones? How many of us will sacrifice comfort, safety, or health? Julie Moss wanted it badly and it wasn’t the WIN it was the FINISH. When Kathleen McCartney passed her, she could’ve just stayed on the ground. She didn’t win. That wasn’t the goal. She wanted to finish what she started. She continued to crawl for 29 more seconds until she did it. A half of a minute may not seem like long, I challenge you to hold your breath for 30 seconds to feel how long that can be!

When I look over my health and my weight through the years I could say I always wanted to be healthy… but did I want it that badly? I did for a while but never sustaining success. I wanted it but not enough to commit to it for the long haul. This could be due to my living and eating patterns that were so deeply ingrained in me, and I needed more serious assistance. RNY Gastric Bypass was the tool to begin that work. Focusing on movement, exercising portion control, recognizing food triggers and being diligent in my food choices continues the practice. Some days can be difficult and as we begin the Unofficial Foodcentric Holiday Season that starts with Halloween and lasts through April (which begins Unofficial Summer Body Creation Season), it can be more than a challenge to continue to focus on what you know… to resist what you want right now for what you want most.

Now that I’ve tasted what true physical health feels like I want to keep it. Training for a marathon was a great way to maintain consistent movement with a hardcore focus on nutrition. Running also provides a sense of peace and clarity. I hate getting out of bed in horrible weather and going outside for a run. It never mattered if it was raining, cold, or awful outside, by mile two I was always happy I went out. Training keeps me accountable, and I miss it.

I decided to look for an event that could provide me with a sense of challenge and put me back into training mode. I was looking up marathons, then thinking of a century ride (100 mile bike race) or an obstacle course race.  The more I looked my brain kept going back to Julie Moss and her epic finish in the 1982 Ironman better known as the confirmation of her desire and dedication. Then I thought to Sister Madonna Buder from the Nike Unlimited Youth campaign AKA The Iron Nun, and I knew what I would do. It was time.

I searched for Ironman distances online, and I found one on my birthday! I can’t think of a better way to turn 47 then taking on Ironman Wisconsin! The next 300 days will be an adventure. I’m ready!

Want more information about Julie Moss? Read this article: Julie Moss: The Moment That Changed My Life

Who is the Iron Nun? Watch this video: Nike – Unlimited Youth

Want fun facts about the Ironman Triathlon Championship in Kona? 39 Things You Didn’t Know About Kona