Losing weight can be hard. Keeping it off can be even harder given our environment that almost seems to encourage the opposite. And approaches that don’t add up to the best weight loss program practices for most of us. Annabel from Feed Me I’m Cranky shares her formula for success in our interview below. During her six-year journey from a 280-pound teenager to a 150-pound-lighter young woman, Annabel realized her weight-loss goal had become a health-gain goal. As she so articulately says, “One goal can be achieved and abandoned; the other is a lifelong commitment.” Below, she shares more valuable insight about what she’s learned along the way.
You talk about weight loss as a goal and health as a “a lifelong commitment.” Can you elaborate on that and how you came to that conclusion?
Weight loss was an enabling goal. It was one step of many to help me achieve better health. But any efforts to obtain and maintain one’s health have to be life-long and holistic. You can’t lose 50 pounds and then revert to your old, poor eating habits. Likewise, you can’t maintain a healthy weight but allow your mental health to suffer. Health is so much more than our weight. It’s what we eat, how we eat, how we handle stress, etc. — it’s basically how we live our lives day-to-day and how those daily choices impact our future.
My most important step in gaining my health was educating myself in how to live a healthy life. We take for granted that some people really don’t even know how to read and interpret the nutritional label on a pack of food. Some of us really don’t know what a calorie is and how calories are not equal and how very much what we put into our bodies and minds truly impacts how we appear on the outside. Learning those very things and acknowledging the behaviors that fueled the lifestyle choices leading me to 280 pounds, was truly the groundbreaking part of all of this. As I continue through this journey, I still find myself gaining knowledge in how to live a healthy lifestyle and even still struggling with remnants of previous, ingrained bad habits.
You say your twin brother was a huge motivation and inspiration. Twins have a very special bond. Do you think you could have lost the weight without him? Do you think everyone needs a partner in getting healthy?
Having a weight-loss partner was extremely useful and meaningful to me. From a technical standpoint, no one needs a partner to lose weight. My twin lost his goal amount of weight well over four years before I got to my goal weight. Having said that though, I cannot say for sure if, without him, I would have ever truly believed that I could lose the weight. I had spent so much time focusing on my previous failed attempts to lose weight that, until I saw him begin to lose weight, I didn’t believe it would ever be possible for me. I think people in your life can serve as an impetus to get you on the right track and they can serve as motivators and cheerleaders, both of which are priceless. But when it comes down to it, my health quest has felt like a very solitary journey. No one can be around you 24/7 monitoring what you eat, how much you exercise and how you live your life (unless you’re on The Biggest Loser and that’s just not real life!). Even still, no one truly understand the forces within you that you grapple with when you’re trying to make a life change. You have got to be strong within yourself to push through the inevitable set-backs. No one can (or should) hold your hand through every tough moment in life.
Have you noticed yourself change in ways that aren’t just physical since you’ve lost weight? How?
Absolutely. Because losing weight was a very personal and isolating battle, I learned to believe and trust in my strength as a person. This has given me confidence to persevere in challenges well outside the weight-loss sphere of my life.
Do you fear putting the weight back on?
Yes and no. My weight has fluctuated up and down 30 pounds in the past couple of years. I am currently working on preventing such large fluctuations as, knowing my body and habits, they are not “natural” as much as they are consequences of reverting to food as a coping mechanism. I fully accept that my weight will fluctuate as I grow older, as I (some day far in the distant future, fingers crossed) become a mother, and as my body naturally adjusts. I aim not to accept putting weight on, or even losing weight, due to unhealthy lifestyle choices.
How do you stay motivated?
Motivation is a tricky subject. We all know that one day we can be absolutely assured that there is no turning back, that our reasons for staying healthy are so incredibly compelling, and another day, we can say “why bother?!” We can have a positive attitude but low motivation and alternately, have a bad attitude but high motivation. My blog title says it: I’m a cranky person! But that crankiness is typically linked with a very high degree of motivation. I accept that some days (weeks, even months!) I lack motivation, but I eventually push through it. Recently I’ve gone through a slump and two things really helped me: 1) A friend told me I needed to break the vicious cycles that got me into the slump. This forced me to reflect on what had initiated my lack of motivation. I was able to see that there were certain situations I continually put myself in that leave me emotionally drained and lacking the desire to do anything good for myself. I realized I had to step outside of myself, outside of my comfort zone, and truly break ties with the things that were holding me back. 2) I simply repeated to myself, “You are not allowed to give up.” Seeing other people living a healthy lifestyle and persevering through their challenges is very motivating too, which is why I entered the blog world to begin with. I wanted to hold myself accountable and stay motivated. My fellow health bloggers have really helped push me through a lot of “I lack motivation” days. Thanks, guys!
When you look at pictures of yourself when you were larger, how do feel about that person back then?
That’s a hard question. I know a lot of people look at their old pictures for motivation, but for me it’s still a bit hard because I know that the extra weight I carried was a symptom of a larger, emotional problem mixed in with unhealthy choices. Losing weight didn’t remove me from the web of inner struggles that got me to my high weight in the first place. So, I see me. A lot of that person back then, is right here typing.
You are quite young to have achieved such significant weight loss. What do you say to people trying to lose weight who have been overweight their entire adult lives?
I tell them that today is always the best day to get started. I tell them that sometimes the best thing to do is get angry and to use that anger to fuel them to make healthy choices. I ask them to find a common denominator relevant in things they deem personal successes so that we may see if we can apply those motivators and tools to their weight loss.
What’s your basic philosophy about healthy eating?
Healthy eating is a very personal decision in that what works well for one certainly does not work for everyone. My eating habits have and continue to evolve every day. In a nut shell, my philosophy is eat the way you think you should eat the majority of the time after you have done your research. Adjust as you learn more. As you can see, I really prefer not to tell people how to eat or what they should eat since I firmly believe it’s dependent on a number of variables.
What do you tell people who are trying to live a healthy life but are surrounded by others living a very different lifestyle?
I say “welcome to my life” haha. It’s challenging and can be a sick test of will-power to be surrounded by people who choose to indulge in things you would prefer not to, or to be around people who prefer not to exercise, etc. So, you can either wait for every single person in the world to change before you do (and die waiting) or just do it. I know that sounds harsh, but we can’t put our goals on hold because we fear others will impede our progress or won’t support us. With that said, you can help yourself out by seeking out, and building relationships with, people who share the goal of living your ideal healthy lifestyle. You can’t choose your family, co-workers and peers, but you can choose your friends. I have been very fortunate to have friends to set positive examples and who share my lifestyle choices.
You say in your bio you’re finally grasping what it means to thrive. What do you mean by that?
I have realized that to thrive in life I have to accept and take responsibility for my shortcomings, but never allow them to inhibit me in pursuing my happiness. So much of my younger life was spent bemoaning the things I couldn’t do, blaming the circumstances that were out of my control and allowing myself to become discouraged and emotionally impacted by negative criticism. While I am certainly not immune to taking criticism personally or from feeling discouraged, I try to spend my energies focusing on what I can change and feeling empowered by the opportunity to do so. Living my life with the belief that I can achieve everything I want to achieve, is truly the definition of thriving.
Did anything Annabel shared resonate with you?