It took a long time to find this photo.
It took even longer to summon the courage to share it.
I searched high and low for a photo of me at my heaviest.
I didn’t find one. This photo is about 30 pounds lighter than my heaviest.
There was a time when one of my greatest skills was avoiding the camera. I learned quickly that if you were the one with the camera, you took the photo. You weren’t in it. It was an easy way to avoid photographic evidence of my appearance. My Facebook profile photo was always a picture of a pet or a landscape or that big, beautiful Power “T” for Tennessee.
Fast-forward to today.
I’m almost exactly 100lbs lighter than I was three years ago.
I can’t explain how difficult that is to comprehend, but there we have it.
Only recently have I not just realized what an accomplishment that is, but embraced it. It hasn’t been an easy journey. There have been peaks and valleys, days when I wanted to give up on my goals because it was just too damn hard, and days when I called my mom, ecstatic because there was no longer an ‘X’ on the size tags of my new outfit. There were the Weight Watchers days of counting points and the miles and miles I logged walking a path around my Nashville apartment complex because that was the only exercise I could do.
In the last few months, I’ve heard some variation of “you look amazing” more times than I can count. At first, I deflected. “Thanks! How was your weekend?” “Oh, please, you’re the one who looks amazing!” It was an internal struggle, to accept a compliment.
How does one accept a compliment when they’ve never felt attractive enough to deserve one?
I can’t pinpoint the moment where that attitude started to change or my confidence took a turn upward, but I think it corresponds loosely to a J.Crew Factory order I placed as the temperatures began to heat up. The size 8 this and size medium, once sizes I only dreamed of, were all too big and had to be returned. As I shipped them back, I remembered something – there was a time when I couldn’t fit into J.Crew clothing.
This is the thing they don’t tell you about losing weight – how hard it is to accept it. I believe anyone who has been on this journey thinks, at least on some level, that “things will be better when I’m skinnier” but when they do reach their goals, there is a whole new set of obstacles to contend with. There is self-confidence to be found, fear to confront, insecurities to wrestle with. I’ve learned more about what it means to both have grace and give grace in the last six months than I have in 30 years of reading the Bible and going to Sunday School.
A couple of months ago, we received new tanks in the studio. I took a large one off the display because that’s the size I wore, a large. Hanna, the studio owner and one of my dearest friends, took it from me and gave me a medium, saying “that’s going to be way too big.” I doubt she remembers doing it, but it was a moment I won’t forget for a while. It was a moment in which I started to accept how others see me.
When I’m teaching classes and see students struggle, I try to encourage them. I tell them things like “You can do this!” “You are stronger than you realize!” “The hard part was showing up!” I use the word “beautiful” 10 times a class, easy. Sometimes, I worry I sound like the obnoxious fitness video instructor that’s marching in place and proclaiming how easy the workout is while they glare at the TV in their living rooms.
Yet, I tend not to believe those things about myself.
I learned maybe I am a little stronger than I realize during just my second visit to The Gym on Friday. The weight for box squats got heavy and I looked at my trainer like he was insane. There was no way I was lifting that. He informed me I was stronger than I realized, I just lacked confidence, and got me under the bar. He’s a lot bigger, not to mention more knowledgeable, than me, so I wasn’t going to argue. He was right. He was right again a few minutes later when we moved on to deadlifts.
Me, doing box squats and deadlifts, teaching barre, and working on my personal training certification. There’s a list of things Sarah three years ago didn’t dream of doing.
What’s the point to all of this?
The point is that losing weight is hard. Being overweight is also hard. So is accepting that I can wear J.Crew and be a barre instructor and lift weights and run 5ks.
Previously, I haven’t liked to talk about my weight loss journey. Frankly, I still don’t. I’m still toning and slimming down, watching my calories and drinking protein shakes to recover from two workouts in a day.
But, I need to talk about it. I need to talk about it because I’m in a position as a budding fitness professional to understand my students and clients in a unique way. I need to talk about it because it’s a part of my story. It’s something hard that I accomplished and that I still work on and struggle with each and every day. It’s something that I need to take ownership of. It’s something that I need to accept.
I shouldn’t be embarrassed by what used to be.
I should embrace what is.
We can all do hard things. If we accept that we can.