The Bad Decision

Of the posts I have written, by far this one is the most difficult I’ve had to write. I won’t lie, I still debate as to whether or not to publish this post, knowing my friends, family, and strangers who have come to respect me and look up to me will read it.

Awhile back, I promised that the goal of this site was to share the real experience of being an eventually former fatty, warts and all. I have been described as both “self-deprecating” and “excessively honest” in my real life, which is why so many of you reading this have encouraged me to give voice to this process of weight loss – the reason for my blog. Despite the embarrassment and emotion this post is displaying, I feel it is really important to give voice to my personal struggles throughout this process in the hopes that others on this same journey experiencing something similar can learn from my experiences, even the bad ones. Maybe especially the bad ones. Because aren’t those the ones you kind of need to learn from?

This road has changed my life in so many ways and has been so overwhelmingly positive that if there has been any dark side to losing this weight, I hadn’t discovered it up until now. I was trucking along, delighting in my progress. I soaked up the compliments and the changes happening to my body. I rejoiced in building my talent for creating new recipes and building my skills as a home cook. I’ve gained a community of friends whom I cherish. But most of all, I have felt the empowerment that comes with taking back control of my life, my body, and my depression that led to weighing 340 lbs in the first place. I celebrated the number on the scale and those victories that could be seen without looking at a number. I felt wonderful.

My progress was so consistent that I got cocky. I thought “This losing weight thing is SO easy once you just make some basic habit changes!” I knew I was doing things the healthy way and people were noticing. Some people even told me that they found me inspirational, which I don’t even know how to respond to or deal with. I felt extra motivated to succeed, knowing there were eyes on my progress and people who were invested in my success. So I persisted and the weight came off like clockwork.

And then it stopped.

Now plateaus are a very natural thing when you are losing weight. Many people, especially those with a lot of weight to lose, experience certain sticking points in their progress. Having done my research, I felt prepared for this. So when it happened at 70 lbs. lost, I barreled right on through it. I increased my calories for a week, and then went back to my healthy, lower calorie habits. Voila! I began to lose again almost instantly. No big.

But then it got stuck AGAIN just 8-10 lbs later. That’s the one I wasn’t prepared for. I had prepared myself for some pit stops on the journey, but I hadn’t prepared myself for things to get truly difficult. Remember, I had gotten cocky and decided that this was easy if you just stuck to your habits. Suddenly it wasn’t, no matter how persistent and consistent I was.

Suddenly, my body stopped cooperating. It threw weight tantrums. I could eat the exact same meals for three days in a row, and there would be no consistency showing on the scale. Suddenly it felt like I was taking two steps forward, one step back, then two more steps back, then another step forward. Just as a means of experimentation, I dropped myself down to 800 calories one day and then 1400 the next. It made me livid that the scale could stare back at me, unchanging seemingly no matter what I did.

And you might say that’s when the madness set in.

I was so determined to take control of my body back that I did something stupid. I knew it was stupid. It’s not very often that you have the foresight to know something is a bad idea and then choose to do it anyway, but there you have it. I made a conscious decision to do this weight loss thing the wrong way, at least temporarily.

Here’s the hard part to actually confess to the internet: I dropped my calories down to around 500 per day.

Yeah. Told ‘ya it was a poor choice.

Now, I want to be clear. I had lost 80 lbs through absolutely healthy measures. I feel the need to say this because I don’t want to negate all the legitimate hard work and persistence I put in prior to this stupid decision. I so desperately want you (my friends, family, and supportive strangers) to continue to believe in me.

I felt such a need for results on the scale that I convinced myself that MY body was the exception, and that I had always been healthy, and that surely I could do this in the short term with no ill-effect.

I was wrong.

You know how they say “Consult with your doctor” blah blah blah? That phrase corporations use to free themselves of liability when things go wrong? Turns out that’s something you should actually DO and not brush off.

Now, I have some underlying issues. Some demons I am working on, if you will. I have huge amounts of anxiety associated with going to the doctor. This is really ironic, considering I work in a hospital. I grew up in a household where the prevailing medical opinion was “suck it up and walk it off” and “What’s a doctor going to do about it that we can’t do at home?” When I reached out for help with my depression at age 16, I was blown off by my mother, who thought it was some sort of ploy to get my parents to cancel an upcoming trip they had planned. It wasn’t. I was depressed. Pretty severely, I would later realize.

After that, I learned to stop seeking help when I felt there was an issue, so that just kind of stuck. As much as I despised the “Suck it up and walk it off” mentality, it is how I learned to live my life. I learned to adapt to a lifestyle of skipping out on going to the doctor until the proverbial shit hit the fan.

I’m not sharing this to pass blame on to someone else, least of all, my mother. Her habits were just as parent-engrained and life-learned as mine, and frankly, her upbringing gave her many more demons than mine ever will. I am an adult, and as the loss of more than 80 lbs shows, fully capable of deciding to create new habits. I am sharing this because I suspect I am not the only overweight person who dreads going to the doctor.

We’ve probably all experienced it in one form or another: the constant attribution of every symptom to weight, dreading stepping on that scale and seeing the hard truth in quantifiable numeric form, trying to find a chair in the waiting room without arms, bracing ourselves for the words “obesity” and all the feelings that go with it. If you’re like me, you are well aware that you are living an unhealthy overweight lifestyle, but going to the doctor can just feel like shining a giant spotlight on all your problems you would rather just hide in the shadows.

So when the problems started with my stupid plan, I did what I had always done: I ignored them. I sucked them up. I walked them off.

This past Saturday I woke up with a headache after spending the week before eating an average of 800 calories per day. The scale had continued to prove frustrating even at the 800 calorie level and I started to feel a little desperate. I had cut my calories so much in hopes of it “shocking” my body into doing something, and yet very little was happening. My magic formula for success wasn’t working. Saturday also happens to be my “cheat” day, which I indulged in. Then, on Sunday, even after I wrote a great blog post on dealing with cravings, I went on a sweets binge, probably because I was starving. I ate around 1200 calories worth of cocoa rice krispie bars alone. That headache was still there, but I figured people get headaches, right? Headaches are normal. It was an unrelated headache, I was sure.

Then on Monday, I ate 554 calories and drank around 100 ounces of water. The headache persisted. Then on Tuesday, 493 calories, same amount of water. Man, this headache just won’t go away. Wednesday, 552 calories, even more water. Add to that the fact that my job has me running around a hospital and walking an average of four miles per day. One day, MyFitnessPal and my Jawbone UP band estimated I had burned all but 16 calories I had ingested with movement alone. I reasoned that many people consider these amounts of calorie burn an overestimation of the amount actually burned. But at the same time, there was a little voice inside of me (in the form of an unrelenting headache) that told me that I was not giving myself enough calories for my body to function correctly.

By Thursday I couldn’t ignore that there was something wrong. This headache had been around for six days. I got kind of scared. I knew that wasn’t normal. My head started to feel swimmy when I stood up, like there was an ocean inside my head and my brain was floating on it. Worst of all, I had a pretty solid guess as to the cause, but how do you confess that you did something stupid that you knew was stupid and unhealthy the whole time? I knew I needed to go to the doctor at this point, but the thought made my physically queasy. I ate a big supper in hopes that just eating more would make it go away and I could skip out on the doctor and pretend this had all never happened, but the headache stuck around.

As Shel Silverstein put it, the “what-ifs” crawled into my ear. What if my doctor yelled at me? What if he thought that because of this one temporary blip in an otherwise healthy weight loss that I had some sort of eating disorder? What if he told me I had to stop my weight loss for awhile? What if I had to shut down my blog because I was a hypocrite for two weeks? What if I had done some real damage? What if I had to be admitted to the hospital where I work and my coworkers, many of whom have become friends, were able to see what I had done to my body? What if my fiance was disappointed in me? What if everyone was disappointed in me?

I finally broke down and told my fiance the whole thing. He didn’t lecture me or get upset which I am eternally grateful for. Naturally, he was concerned. He insisted I go to the doctor, which I already planned on and agreed with. He told me I had to tell my doctor everything, because it would do me no good to lie, just like all those episodes of House where people omit the most crucial of information until it is on the brink of too late. He also told me that he wanted access to my food diary every day, which given the circumstances I found to be a reasonable request from someone who cares about me. I was so tired of this self-inflicted hell that it was a relief to have someone watching over me a little more closely, and frankly, a relief to give up just a little control.

This morning, I called the doctor’s office literally as soon as their office opened. I was hoping they could schedule me in before work, but unfortunately that’s not how life works. So I called in to tell my boss that I would be late, explaining the basics of my situation yet conveniently omitting that this issue was likely due to a poor choice on my own part.

Thankfully, my doctor, a complete stranger to me (remember, I have doctor anxiety, so I hadn’t seen any doctors in my area for quite awhile) was both professional and understanding. He listened and took me seriously. He didn’t treat me like I was an idiot, even though he wouldn’t have been completely wrong to do so; I had definitely displayed I had made an obviously poor decision. He stuck to the facts, realized that I had been scared straight, and dealt with the problem at hand: figuring out if I had done any damage that would last.

He put me on some meds to relieve my headache pain in the short term and ordered several labs to detect any sort of vitamin deficiency, metabolic, or blood sugar issues that might have resulted from my poor decisions. As I write this, I am still waiting on the results of these tests. It is more than a little nerve-wracking to wait and see whether I’ve harmed myself in a significant way. My sneaking suspicion is that I flushed the sodium and potassium right out of my body with all the water I was drinking. Spoiler alert: your body needs those things.

If one of my friends, family, or fans had said to me “Hey, I have a plan to eat 500 calories a day for awhile,” I would have said to them “Are you NUTS? That’s not healthy! Don’t be drastic. Slow and steady wins the race! You might lose weight in the short term, but that kind of thing isn’t sustainable at all and will screw you over in the long term.” But the problem is, I didn’t ask myself as if I were someone else, and I suspect that there are others who have fallen into this trap as well. So many times we are able to take care of those around us, but we forge to take our own advice.

I tell so many of my fans in forum posts, in private messages, on social media that “You are worth fighting for.” I wholeheartedly believe that in order to be on this journey, you have to believe that. You have to believe in the power of your own worth. But now I know that you have to continue to believe that, every day, because if you lose sight of your worth, ugly things happen.

We are worth fighting for. We are worth choosing the healthy route. We are worth the time it takes, however long that may be. We don’t need to take shortcuts through dark parts of the woods. We are worth taking care of. We are worth a lifetime of happiness, not stressing out about making a scale do our bidding. We are worth good, healthy decisions every single day. Every. Single. Day.

Arise. Persist. Transform.

Ashley

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