Welcome to “Slim Chance,” a twice-monthly series in which author Amber Petty documents the happiness and crappiness of losing weight.
Weight: 233 pounds
Lost in Two Weeks: 2.6 pounds
Total Lost: 20 pounds
A few years ago, I was driving with my husband and little sister to meet my mom for Christmas. The road was a little slushy, but the snow wasn’t coming down too hard. I was mostly annoyed that this small highway in Oregon had been so crappily plowed.
As the car revved to a daring 35 mph (I’m a very tentative driver), the wheels slipped. In a second, the car spun around completely in the middle of the two-lane highway. My sister screamed, while my husband grabbed the dashboard. In utter calm, I slowly applied the brake and drove into the turn to try to avoid fishtailing. I mean, that’s what my driver’s ed flashback from 15 years before had led me to believe was the right call.
We slowed to a stop. The car was in the wrong lane, facing traffic. Unperturbed, I drove to the correct side of the road and pulled over at a nearby gas station to let my husband enjoy the joys of snowy driving for a while. Luckily, there was no one on the road, so we weren’t hurt, the car was fine, and we traveled on like nothing happened.
When everything was the scariest, I’d stayed totally calm. My thoughts were clear, and I knew if I didn’t overcorrect, we’d probably be fine. But a few miles down the road, as my husband drove on a stretch of sunny, clear highway, I broke down completely.
This whole snowy story illustrates that I process stress weirdly. When things should be horrible, I’m fine. When everything should be fine, I’m horrible.
So three weeks ago, when I heard “we’re terminating your employment” from the boss of my full-time job, it set off a string of interesting reactions.
But first, the good news:
Weight-wise, things are going really well. I haven’t bought jeans in two years because there was a part of me that thought I didn’t deserve to wear jeans at my size. I know how that sounds, but for a long time, not buying jeans was a way I punished myself. You grew out of your old jeans, fatty. What’s the point of getting new ones? You’ll just get too big for those too, I thought to myself.
When I spoke with Dr. Peake (who I introduced a few chapters ago as the woman who’s helping me with the mental and physical changes of weight loss), she told me to get some clothes that fit. Not stretchy leggings. Something with a waistband.
She wanted me to get jeans for two reasons. One, with jeans, you can feel them get bigger and smaller, so you rely less on the scale to notice changes in your body. Two, jeans force you to actually feel your body. You feel them on your skin as you move around. That tactile response reminds you that your body is there and can’t be ignored. That might sound simple, but for someone like me, that’s a big shift.
I’d normally put on leggings or a dress and I’d hardly feel the clothes, so I could ignore all signs of my “horrible” body and just pretend it wasn’t there. Honestly, if I come across a mirror during the day or even just a well-cleaned window, I’d avert my eyes immediately so I wouldn’t have to deal with actually seeing myself.
But by wearing something form-fitting, I have to actually acknowledge my body. It’s not something to hate and try to hide, but something I can start to feel good about—no matter my size.
So I begrudgingly went to Old Navy to get my first non-stretch pants in ages.
At first, I was going to grab a size 20 and get the hell out. But I decided I needed to deal with my body and find my actual size. And surprise: I was a size 18. Sure, the jeans were a little tight, but I could sit without bisecting my insides, and they didn’t create a muffin top extravaganza. So I gave Old Navy my $20 and gleefully carried out my new denim purchase.
Then, I did something really crazy: I bought shorts. Without trying them on! A daring move. But I figured, I’m an 18, these shorts are on sale online, and if they don’t fit now, they’ll definitely fit soon. And when they came in the mail, all three pairs fit me just fine.
Now, this might sound like the lamest victory of all time. Becoming a size 18 was what spurred me into the world of diets seven years ago. And I know a lot of people would be morbidly depressed to be that far into the plus department. But I’m happy as hell!
Also, everyone should celebrate when they find shorts that fit. I mean, shorts are normally made in some kind of evil lab to fit women as poorly as possible, so I have no shame in rejoicing in the fact that multiple pairs fit over my fat stomach without going up a size.
I’ve been celebrating a lot of things.
Before I used to think, You lost two pounds, but who cares? You need to lose 75 more. But what good is that negative thinking? It doesn’t help. Now, if I feel like I landed on the moon because I resisted popcorn at the movie theater, or if I don’t turn to ice cream in a time of sadness, those wins make me happy. It makes the whole enterprise of weight loss feel a little easier. Most of the time.
… and onto the bad news.
I got fired from my job. And my husband’s not working at the moment. What fun.
Well, it’s actually a little funny because guess what my job was? Writing copy for a diet company! I guess since I’m getting rid of the diet mentality, that included my job too.
Now, the company I worked for didn’t promote any kind of horrible diet—it was actually pretty reasonable. But I’d see a lot of comments from members saying, “This diet worked so well, I lost 40 pounds. Anyway, I gained it all back, but now I’m excited to start again. This diet is great!”
That happened over and over. And it’s not because that company was bad. It’s because diets are nearly impossible. So it’s only fitting that I stop writing copy about how a diet can get people the body of their dreams since it’s not something I believe anymore.
Still, I wasn’t thrilled with the news that I’d be unemployed.
Unlike my snowy driving incident, I did have an immediate reaction to this news, and it was crying. I cried a lot that day. And after that crying jag, I felt a lot better. In fact, I felt totally fine: I applied to jobs right away, set up coffee dates with people to help me find something, and worked on one thing or another around the clock.
Who needs rest? I need a job, I need money, I’m totally fine but I better find something right away or the whole last year of my life will be a waste and I’ll never have a career and I’ll have to start all over again for the second time but no it’s cool trust me I’M FINE!
As you might have guessed, this burst of energy didn’t last: Just like my breakdown miles after my near car accident, I fell apart. I was so stressed I made myself physically sick. My chest felt tight, but I was tired all the time. Because I tried to push all my feelings aside (after a brief crying episode), they all came back full-force a couple weeks later.
But good news again: I did not use food to help me through this.
Was my first thought after I was fired to stereotypically eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s? Yes. But I didn’t. I didn’t use food all throughout these moments of overwhelming stress, and that would not have happened three months ago. My healthy eating and activity habits stayed strong because I’ve kept them in good practice.
My healthy emotional habits? They still need work. It’s funny: When I push my feelings aside, I don’t really notice it. I’m so used to low-level stress and trying to stay busy that when all that anxiety builds up, I turn a blind eye until it becomes too much to bear. Then it all goes haywire.
So in the past couple of weeks, I’ve had moments where I felt like the hottest bitch on Earth because some shorts fit, followed by moments where I had to lay under the covers in a pitch-black bedroom to try to breathe and stop my heart from pounding.
Since I can’t use food to numb myself, I’m a little more emotional, and that’s OK. It’s just an adjustment, and the more I get used to recognizing my emotions in the moment and dealing with stress right away, the less likely I’ll be to burst into tears when having coffee with a friend. This has happened twice recently, by the way—if you know me in real life, and I burst into tears over nothing, don’t be alarmed. I’m just practicing emotional health.
So for the moment, I’m calm. And I know that as long as I don’t overcorrect, I’m going to be fine.
Amber Petty is an L.A.-based writer and a regular contributor to Greatist. Follow along as she shares her weight-loss journey in her new bi-monthly column, Slim Chance. Take singing lessons from her via Sing a Different Tune and follow her on Instagram @ambernpetty.