Since crossing the finish line at the Provo City Half Marathon last Saturday, I have been on an emotional high. I have been feeling like all the hard work I have been putting in to lose weight and eat right this year is starting to pay off in a BIG way. All of the kind comments and encouragement from my friends, family, running family, and the readers of this blog have only extended the euphoric feeling that started when I crossed the finish line and saw 1hr 35min on the race clock. Over the last couple of days my average pace per mile during my workouts has dropped over 40 seconds due my surge in confidence from my race results. I have also begun re-evaluating what time I think is possible for me to run at the Marine Corp Marathon in October. What is it that has had the power to bring me back down to Earth? Ironically, it is the race photos from the event that was responsible for the euphoria and surge in confidence in the first place. Why, you might ask? Simply put, when it comes to me looking at photos of myself, I am my own worst enemy.
As someone who has struggled with their weight as far back as I can remember, I have developed a tendency to look at my body (whether in the mirror or in photos) with an extremely critical eye. As I looked at my race photos from last Satruday’s race, I immediately was drawn to, what I felt, were the negative parts of my appearance that need to be worked on. I have placed some of my race photos below and have added captions to them containing some of the thoughts that went through my mind when I first saw them. Let me preface these photos by saying that I know that the negative captions I have placed in them are not true statements. That is what makes the photos so upsetting to me. It does not matter that I have lost 46 pounds since January first and that I just ran a half marathon at an average pace of 7:19 a mile; when I look at these photos, I see someone that sticks out like a sore thumb in a crowd of seasoned athletes.
I’m sure many of you are now thinking, damn, this guy needs some serious therapy. If any you are thinking that, you need not worry, when you have had the life experiences I have, you keep your therapist on speed dial.
I can’t pin-point when my negative perception of my body began. In my mind, it seems like it has always been that way. My body has always been different than my two older brothers bodies. I remember feeling embarrassed when my mother would take us shopping for jeans. She would tell the sales associate at the department store, “I need two pairs of slim fit jeans and one pair of husky fit.” My mother had no malicious intent, but I remember how much I hated being different from my brothers.
The first time I remember being put on a diet was when I was about seven years old. The memory has faded with time, but I remember my mom and brothers sitting me down at the kitchen table and helping me make a list of foods I could eat and foods that I should avoid. They did this with the best intentions, but once again, I felt different from my brothers because they ate whatever they wanted and were rail thin.
Once, on a family vacation to Disney World with my father, my grandmother took me on a ride that my brothers did not want to go on. As my grandmother and I returned from going on the ride, my brothers were both eating one of those Mickey Mouse shaped ice cream bars. My dad did not know it but I heard him telling my brothers to finish the ice cream before I got there. Naturally, I wanted an ice cream bar as well. I asked if I could have one too and was told that I did not need it. Of course, being a child, I asked again. I was told again, “no, you don’t need it.” I responded, “but you bought one for my brothers.” My dad could see this was a no win situation for him so he caved in and bought me my own Mickey Mouse shaped ice cream. I ate the ice cream through tear filled eyes because I knew, once again, that I was different from my brothers. In my father’s defense, he wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings, he was just doing the best he could to protect me from myself and my ever growing waistline.
Although all of the events listed above happened before I was 10 years old, the emotional scars remain. I’ve made significant progress over the years, but as the picture above illustrates, when I look in the mirror, I don’t see what is really reflecting back at me. I always see a person that needs to lose weight. For this reason, I hardly ever look in the mirror without a shirt on, I rarely take my shirt off in public, and I often feel out of place at races when I am surrounded by individuals with traditional tall and slim runner’s builds.
Over time, I have developed my own way of dealing with bad thoughts about my body. Now, when I feel my thoughts going down a negative road, I go through a checklist of positive points to recalibrate my negative thoughts. First, I always remind myself that I am running and weight lifting 4-5 times a week and that I am doing my best. If I am looking at a race photo and comparing myself to the others in the shot, I remind myself that I am running the same pace and, in many cases, am passing runner’s that are much slimmer than me. Finally, I remind myself where I started. I no longer weigh 262 pounds and no matter what, I am far better off than I was then. These two or three thoughts, are usually enough to put my mind back into a more healthy state.
One of the things I have liked most since starting this blog is meeting others who have been on a similar journey with their weight. I am curious how those of you deal with any lingering issues you may have with your body image. Do those of you who have lost large amounts of weight struggle with negative body image as well? Do you have a checklist of positive affirmations that you use to bring your thoughts back to a healthy place? I would love to hear about anything that you do to help yourself.