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In 2009, I received a phone call that changed my life. My father called to tell me that my 16-year-old brother had been in an accident and that he had passed away. I was 19 years old and going into my sophomore year of college; I found myself living my own personal nightmare. I stopped taking care of myself and six months later, I didn’t recognize the woman I saw when I looked in the mirror. I had gained over 75 pounds, my clothes stopped fitting, and I felt like I had lost control of my life. The weight gain was gradual but it felt like it happened overnight.
I was consumed by grief and insecurities about my weight. I was angry, lashing out, and I started pushing my friends and family away, so my mom stepped in. She told me that I deserved to be happy and that if I wanted to make a change, she would help me make it happen. It was like ripping off a Band-Aid. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I’d let myself get to that point. I knew I needed help but I didn’t know where to start. So I accepted the help and decided to get my life back.
There’s no secret to weight loss. There’s no secret pill or magic exercise that will make you lose weight quickly. It just comes down to what you eat and how often you get active. I re-did my diet and ate proper portion sizes of lean meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains for an entire year. I dragged myself to the gym to torture myself on a machine at least 5 days a week. It wasn’t fun but a year later, I lost the weight I’d gained after my brother passed away.
Recently I received a notification on Facebook that I’d been tagged in a photo. I clicked the notification and found a picture of myself that I never knew existed. When I started gaining weight, I deleted every photo of myself because I was ashamed of the way I looked. I was convinced that people would judge me for my weight and I did everything I could to erase that part of my life. This picture was taken maybe a month after my brother passed away. While it’s not a photo of me at my heaviest, it’s a picture that I would have reached out and asked my friend to delete. Today I look at it and feel grateful that it exists.
Looking back, I wholeheartedly regret my decision to attempt to erase that time in my life. I regret spending so much time and energy caring about what others thought about my weight and I primarily regret feeling ashamed of the way I looked.
When I look at this picture, I feel a lot of things but surprisingly, embarrassed isn’t one of them. This is me at a time in my life when I was doing everything I could to simply get out of bed. I was trying to survive the unimaginable, sudden and tragic loss of my younger brother.
My issue with ‘Before and After’ photos is that they place the before photos in a context that implies that it’s unacceptable to look like what we look like in our after photos. Newsflash: Even after I lost the weight, my life didn’t magically change. I was still incredibly unhappy because I hadn’t found the one thing that helped me feel proud and empowered by my body, running.
Running helps me work towards something more motivating and rewarding than a goal weight. I don’t have the stereotypical runner’s body I was convinced I was going to acquire when I decided to run my first marathon. My thighs touch, I have love handles and I have stretch marks. My body looks nothing like the women I see in many brand’s Instagram feeds, but I can run fast AF so I feel nothing but beautiful in my US size 8/10 frame. Running taught me that it’s not about looking a certain way, it’s about feeling a certain way. STRONG.
If you want to make a change, start running, or adopt a healthier lifestyle, go for it! I’ll be the first to stand beside you and cheer you on. But if you love the way you look and feel, then keep doing what you’re doing because you’re already living your best life. If there’s one thing running has taught me, it’s the importance of patience, persistence, and perseverance.
This isn’t a “before” and “after” picture. It’s simply me in two different stages in my life. Neither is more “beautiful” or “better” than the other, they are both simply me.