At Weight Watchers, they have these things called “Bravos”. They’re little green stickers shaped like stars with the word “BRAVO” in white across the middle. Your meeting leader gives them to you if you let him/her know of some kind of a behavior change that you’ve made for the better (for example, being stressed at work and going for a walk at lunch, rather than being stressed at work and walking to McDonald’s for lunch where you order and eat three different items that all start with “Mc”). I know the BRAVOs sound corny, and maybe a little ridiculous, but you’d be surprised at how good they are at making you realize that you’re making changes for the better and sticking with them (no pun intended). Because, really, losing weight isn’t about dieting. It’s about changing the behaviors that made you unhealthy in the first place.
At any rate, why on earth is a grown women rattling on about star shaped stickers? Well, a week ago Friday was my first meeting after the marathon. My leader Maggie asked if anyone had anything they wanted to brag about, and I shot my hand up like that nerdy kid in school who was dying to give the answer to the teacher’s math question (that was also me, by the way). When Maggie called on me, I said that I had just run the NYC Marathon. I gave a brief story about it, and talked about the wind and how it was by far the hardest physical thing I have ever done. Then I explained that I’ve done marathons before (five now, but who’s counting?), but the reason why this is a behavior change is that the old Fat Girl I used to be would have quickly given up on anything that was so difficult. I would never have pushed through, because I never believed I would succeed.
The meeting attendants clapped, and Maggie gave me a chain of Bravo stickers, estimating that there were about 26, one for each full mile of the marathon. Then others raised their hands to discuss their Bravo-worthy achievements and the meeting continued. At one point, Maggie tried pointing out a similarity between me and another member, and she something like “and Alison is a runner --” and I cut her off. I said, “Uh, no. I’m not a runner.” Maggie finished her point with the other woman and then then turned to me and asked, “Alison, you just finished a marathon (again, my fifth, but who’s counting? :-), and you don’t consider yourself a runner?" I had a one word answer: “No.” Maggie’s next question to me was, “What will it take for you to tell yourself that you’re a runner?” I came up with the intellectual answer of: “I guess I just need to believe it and accept it.” That was apparently the right answer because Maggie left me alone and continued on with the meeting.
For the last week or so, I’ve been thinking about that meeting. Yes, I know I’m a runner, but I’m always too scared to admit it to myself. Why? Well, the reasoning is kind of weird. I guess I keep thinking that if I tell myself that I’m a runner, an athlete, or a person who lives a healthy lifestyle that it will all just go away. Somehow, I think that if I tell myself that I am no longer Fat Girl that she will coming banging down my door with a large meat lover’s pizza and then make me eat the whole thing and wash it down with a 2 liter bottle of Coke.
I’ve been thinking about something else all week, too. I’ve been thinking about that last marathon. Every now and then, I play different parts in my head: looking at all the spectators who cheered us on by name, hearing that roar of the crowd that met us when we turned onto First Avenue from the Queensboro Bridge and how that felt, my sister whispering encouraging words in my ear at mile 11 when I was already feeling beaten. I thought about turning onto Central Park South and knowing that it was almost over and I was actually going to make it. Mostly I thought about after I crossed the finish line, and while I was being herded out of the park thinking about the enormity of what I had just accomplished.
Flash forward to today, where a funny thing happened. It started innocently enough. I have a black running turtleneck with a big hole in it and a new black turtleneck sans hole that I had just bought to replace the other one. Every evening I pack the next day’s work clothes into my gym bag and then don’t see them again until I am getting dressed at the gym after my workout and shower the next morning, so I didn’t want to accidentally grab the black turtleneck with the gaping hole in it and be stuck having to wear my coat at work all day to cover it (I’m talking very large hole in the back. Don’t ask; just keep reading). I went to put the ripped turtleneck in my running clothes drawer and realized it was overflowing with a mix of summer stuff I wasn’t going to need for several months (sigh), and winter stuff that I had been pulling out of the pile stored in my closet one freezing day at a time. I shifted my workout drawer from summer to winter (again, sigh), and then decided to take care of the other clothes in my dresser. I took a pile of summer stuff to my closet, and as I climbed the step ladder that is permanently in there (and where is your 6’4” husband when you need him?), my eye fell on some clothes in the back of my closet. These were clothes that hadn’t been worn in years. They’ve been hanging in my closet for so long that they have actually collected dust on the shoulders. They are my fat clothes.
Yes, that’s right. I’ve been at my goal weight for close to 5-1/2 years, and I still have enough clothes to dress a baseball team’s worth of women who are 5 feet tall and 70 pounds overweight. I turned away from that part of my closet, climbed the step ladder and put away the pile I was holding. Each time I went back in my closet to exchange seasons, I’d look at the fat clothes and then look away again, like the way you used to look at the person in high school that you were absolutely in love with but who didn’t know you existed (admit it; you had that person. We all did).
When I was done with the piles, I left my closet and was about to leave my room. But, I didn’t. I thought about last week’s Weight Watchers meeting. I thought about Maggie asking me what it was going to take for me to admit that I was successful. I thought about the answer that got Maggie off my back but that I couldn’t actually accomplish: I needed to just believe in myself and admit it.
You clearly know what happened, or I wouldn’t be writing about this. Yes, I turned back around, went back to my closet and packed up all of my fat clothes. There are women out there who are trying to get back on their feet and get jobs, but they don’t have the proper clothes to wear to work or even to an interview. And I have a small wardrobe of clothes that don’t fit anymore and are never going to again.
I kept one item (actually, two. The first is a dress that frankly I always loved and still cannot part with. And to everyone who knows me and whose heart just stopped for a second, yes I really do own dresses, and yes, I actually have one that I loved and wore frequently). The second is a pair of pants that I have never worn. I bought them years ago. When I bought them they were snug but I loved them and told myself that in a month or so I’d fit into them (with no plan on how I was going to do that). I put them aside, and several weeks later I put them on to pin and then take to the tailor to get hemmed (and all of you tall girls have no idea how much money you have saved in your lifetime being able to buy clothes that didn’t need to be shortened). But, they were way too tight. I could barely get them up and certainly couldn’t close them. I remember taking them off and how disgusted I was with myself. I had put them back in my closet, never to be worn.
I still won’t ever wear those pants. They’re too big now (and still too long. Why hem pants you’re never going to wear?), but I want to keep them as a symbol of where I was and where I am now. I think that will be my favorite part of the story when I talk about it at Weight Watchers next week and get a new Bravo sticker.