My son Isaac’s basketball coach told the kids recently that unless they had the commitment and discipline to train themselves during this pandemic, they’ll never grow as athletes. They’ll always be starting over again. Beginning anew with little evidence of past success or growth.
That struck a chord.
Most of the “successes” in my life — those that I would reduce to bullet points on a resume — have come rather easily to me. Certainly there have been challenges. From my husband’s career transitions and our vairious health scares to mothering my children through the hard process of growing up, I have worked hard to navigate through the muck of real life, unscripted, unpredictable, often painful. But the path I expected to take — college, graduate school, career, lucrative work — came easily enough. It is my great fortune that I was gifted with curiosity and aptitude that my parents nurtured and encouraged. I won the lottery of being born white, American and upper middle class. School came easy. Good grades, good schools, good jobs. This road was mapped out for me before I was even born. Following it was easy. To deviate would have been the challenge.
But I have carried one problem with me my entire life. It has been perhaps the central focus of my thoughts despite all the great fortune I have been so lucky to experience. No matter how full life became, I have carried incredible shame about my weight. I have “called in fat” to birthday parties. Disappointed friends. Deprived myself of experiences that could have brought incredible joy. As I’ve gotten older, and let go of many limiting beliefs, I’ve begun to live life more fully — like the thin person I wish I were. Countless experts will advise you, if you’re overweight, to live the life of the thin person you want to be. This is wise advice and I have followed it.
But if I’m being honest, despite hiking the Santa Monica mountains daily and skiing bluebird days in Snowmass, I am not satisfied with my weight.
Controlling my weight has never been easy. There have been countless attempts and too may “fuck its” when I threw in the towel. It was never too hard to get the A, write the perfect admissions essay, interview for the right job in the most prestigious firm or join the right board of directors.
But abstaining from excess food seemed impossible.
Controlling my weight has been a series of“fuck its” and renewed attempts.
I’ve never believed I could actually be thin.
I’ve given up more times than I care to admit.
Here I am, starting again, with little evidence that I can control my weight long term. Here I am, feeling foolish, listening to the words of my third grader’s basketball coach. I need to be able to this for myself. By myself. On the easiest of days. And in the middle of a global pandemic, when I feel lonely, worry that life will never return to normal, fear that I’m stunting my children’s psychosocial growth as I keep them home with us, in our bubble of four.
But I have renewed motivation.
Weight loss coaches will tell you that you need a compelling reason to lose weight.
While I’ve generally trudged through life in size 14 or size 16 pants (back in the days before I adopted my uniform of black leggings and pricey, flowing tunics), there have been times where I’ve attempted thinness.
I can count them on one hand.
I sought thinness to protect my job prospects in law school and to get back at old boyfriends.
After I gained twelve pounds my first semester of law school, I calculated that I would weigh 286 pounds at graduation if I continued to gain at the same rate. I knew the employment prospects in New York City law firms for a 286 pound alumna of Columbia and Cornell would be limited at best. I would not have hired myself at 286. Anticipating law school debt in the six digits and young and ambitious enough that I still thought becoming an associate in a big firm was the apotheosis of success I transformed myself from chubby and bookish to thin and elegant in slingbacks and Theory slacks that skimmed my slimmed down hips.
And there were the breakups. The boys with whom I fell in love for a few moments but who broke up with me, who decided to choose others. There was heartbreak and tremendous jealousy —the fear that those boys were after the effortlessly thin type of woman I could never be. Those boys who met me in my fleeting moments of thinness expressed concern that I might gain all my weight back. I was accustomed to rejection and that tremendous grief — and fear that I would never find love — motivated me to restrict my eating. I would get thin and show them what they were missing. I am embarrassed to admit that one of my life’s most satisfying and joyous moments was having to reintroduce myself to a college boyfriend whom I passed at 86th and Broadway.
“Holy shit, Liora Powers got hot.”
If tattoos were my thing I would have inked those words on my heart.
Mine were probably not “right” reasons to lose weight, but they were salient. I was motivated to get out of bed in the morning and pack my meals up, eat according to a food plan, say goodbye to food after dinner and know that I was abstaining from bagels with cream cheese, or beer at law school parties, because there was something I was desperately motivated to achieve.
My reason for losing weight now is equally if not more motivating.
I want to stay alive.
Dan Beutner’s warning about the novel coronavirus was at the top of my Facebook feed this morning, among a chorus of similar warnings. In bold letters it read: “ If you’re under age 55, obesity is the #1 risk factor. So, eating the right diet, getting physical activity, and managing stress are some of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from the disease.”
This weight problem never was just cosmetic.
My health was always compromised.
My thought, however, is that being overweight has just become much more dangerous. That the danger is ominous and immediate. We know about heart disease, high cholesterol, increased risk of cancer. We know very little about the virus. We don’t know how to treat it. We can’t anticipate its damage. Who will have the sniffles. Who will be intubated.
And so this morning, before I sat down to work, before I made the kids breakfast, I put on my mask, tucked my hand sanitizer into my sports bra, and took the dog out to walk 15,874 steps through one of my favorite spots on earth — Will Rogers State Park, a stone’s throw from the house we just moved to.
I am moving.
I am walking to strengthen my heart and lungs. To bolster my immune system. To reduce my weight. To feel the pleasure of the sun and the Pacific Ocean just below me.
I am walking for my life.
I am reducing my weight.
I am treating my body the way I always should have.
I will not be distracted.
I will not say “fuck it” this time.
© Liora Powers