Thursday, January 15, 2009

Don't be a hater...

So, there's a lot of conversation lately about how Oprah (Saint Oprah, as so many call her) finally confessed and admitted that her weight has now come back and she's over 200 pounds. This is a woman who has had what I think is the most publicly scrutinized and unforgiving battle with her weight than any other celebrity (except for maybe Kirstie Alley). Now, I'm not a big Oprah fan -- I can't deal with the fact that there's a commercial on her show every 5 minutes. However, I do still recall the day when she walked on stage in that pair of designer jeans, the tight black turtlneck, pulling a wagon filled with 67 pounds of fat -- the amount of fat that she trimmed off her once obese body with an all-liquid diet. I remember that day because since then, I too, like so many others, dreamt of one day doing the same.

So now we know the gig is up... Oprah's not infallible. She's not untouchable. She's not perfect. She is a flawed, imperfect human, just like the rest of us, who faces the same struggles as we do each and every day. Yet her very public battle with her weight has inspired so very many people to take back control of their lives and live what she has always called their "best life."

Now, I too am engaged in what is becoming a more public battle with my weight and my demons. I recently opened up my blog, and have been getting various people sending me messages and commenting on how they've been intrigued, interested, inspired by what I've had to say. In fact, today I received an e-mail from a high school friend, who I've reconnected with (thanks to Facebook) -- an e-mail that caught me totally off guard and touched me. She tried to post it here, but as I'm figuring out this blog thing, I had too many controls in place, and she couldn't post it (I've since fixed that). So, I thought I'd offer it here, because as someone who has a really tough time taking positive feedback or praise, it's an important step for me to celebrate moments like these that make me feel so incredibly powerful and proud.
"Hey Chris. I've just found another great way to wast time via FB: reading your blog! I tried to comment on you last entry, but i'm not a user so it wouldn't let me. It's such a public diary. Must have been a big a step for you to write all that.

Anyway, I too have recently gotten into following the eating clean principles and exercising, especially weight training. I just wanted to let you know how proud I am of you for all your efforts. I have yet to unlock the secrets to my issues with food, other than I just love chocolate and sweets! I love to reward myself, which contradicts all my efforts at the gym.

It is now my sole duty in life to keep [my family] healthy and happy so i take the fitness and diet pretty seriously. So when I see someone such as yourself making the efforts that you are making, I want to be there to support you. Of all the friends I had over the years [of high school], you were one of my greatest, and I'm very proud of what you've accomplished over the last year and want to be a source of support on your journey.

I'm off to the gym now. I'll be thinking about you."
So, amid my own increasingly public journey, I've been giving a lot of thought to Oprah's. And most recently to how her recent confession also inspired Erik Chopin, the winner of the 3rd season of The Biggest Loser. This guy lost over 200 pounds... unreal. And I recall being amazed by his accomplishment... again, dreaming of the possibility of being able to focus exclusively on doing the same, with the support of dedicated trainers, top-notch equipment, and NBC. Of course, that was not my reality, but as I've been a loyal fan of the The Biggest Loser over the past few years, I also realize that I've grown very cynical and skeptical about what the show helps people to accomplish. I even stopped watching it for a while because seeing these people (who do nothing but eat well, exercise 5+ hours a day, and sleep on national television) lose more weight than me was starting to leave me feeling defeated and dissatisfied. I mean, who loses over 200 pounds in under a year... that's nuts!!! How is that healthy? How is that maintainable? I even remember watching a show where Erik got a full body lift to get rid of the excess skin that didn't retract over the course of his weight loss, because he lost the weight so fast! I remember thinking how lucky he was that not only did he basically get to lose all of his weight courtesy of NBC and The Biggest Loser, but now he was getting $35,000 plastic surgery discounted courtesy of a network, too. All of this, thanks to the media magnates who not only celebrate when people lose weight, and find that their struggles make for great television, but who also accept advertising dollars from companies whose products, programs and services are often at the core of North America's problem with weight and obesity. So, I began to rationalize the fact that I would not have access to a Biggest-Loser-esque experience, by becoming cynical and judgemental about what the show represents and what it indirectly promises to do. I'll admit.. I don't do jealousy very well.

All that said, I've since come to respect what each and every participant in that show does. Their battle, their demons, their journey is not unlike my own. They've chosen to go about dealing with their stuff in a different way -- just as other programs may work for other people. All I know is that no "program" has ever worked for me. The only thing that has, has been being honest with myself, dealing with my shit and taking the common sense healthy eating and exercise approach to things. And I've grown to be a bit more forgiving of people who are doing their work in a different way -- it may not be the way that I am doing it, and it may be doing it in a way that I found didn't work. But every person who fights this battle has to do it on his/her own terms, make mistakes, celebrate successes, and accumulate accomplishments and lessons that ultimately lead to success.

My need to be non-judgemental crystallized last night when I learned that Erik Chopin was recently on an episode of Oprah, 'coming out' about the fact that he has now re-gained almost half of the weight that he lost. He spoke about how he felt like he was letting people down.... that he felt sad, depressed, alone, defeated.
I've been there, too. So why judge? Why hate? It doesn't make me feel any
better about my own battle... so instead of passing judgment on those who aren't doing it 'the right way' (read: my way), I stand in solidarity, in support, and in pride with them as they too travel the bumpy road and carve out the journey of a lifetime. I stand beside people like Erik Chopin... people like Oprah... people like me... whose only fault is having the courage, the strength, the determination to admit our imperfections, our infallibilities, and confront head-on (and sometimes publicly), the demons, the shit, and the messy twisted ways of thinking and being in the world that got us to where we are at. It's only in so doing that we will get to that new place... that stage where we pull a wagon full of fat.... the scale where we see our total weight loss... or that personal goal that indicates our ultimate success -- knowing that the work we are doing is work for life. And there's no other way about it.

Kia Kaha.
Stay strong.