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My Health Hero – Chris and Heidi Powell

Last week I received an email from the Outreach Coordinator at a company called Oscar Insurance who provides health insurance in New York and New Jersey.  They were looking for influential bloggers to write about their Health Hero, a person in their life that helps them stay on track and stay healthy as part of their campaign to help spread the news about their new approach to healthcare.

I’m not the type to take the word “Hero” lightly. When I say someone is my hero it’s because they are someone who I look up to. A hero to me is someone who has by some act or another saved me.  When you ask me who my Health Hero is, there is really only one true answer: Chris and Heidi Powell.

When you name someone famous as your hero usually you come off sounding like an obsessed fan. But the truth is though I am a fan, a big fan, I’m a fan because of how they have both helped me through some of the darkest moments of my life and encouraged me into the light during times that nobody else could.

Losing my father halfway through my weight loss journey was devastating

150519b2b2fb11e2b6f822000a1f8cdf_6My Father was the champion of my weight loss journey. His concern for me at 420 lbs., being treated for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, clinical depression and sleep apnea  and not wanting him to leave the world uncertain of how long I would be left in it was what propelled me to try to make some health changes.

Although I was still motivated to lose my weight, not having him there to say “I’m proud of you,” and cheer me on along the way left me feeling alone in what felt like the hardest journey I was ever going to take.

Around this time I wrote to Chris Powell for the first time expressing how much I admired him and what he does on his show and how much I desired to help others lose weight by becoming a Personal Trainer myself. I was so ecstatic when he responded to that letter and told me how awesome he thought I was. Having him say he was proud of me, not just for losing the weight but for the emotional obstacles I had overcome was the closest thing I could image to hearing my Father tell me he was proud of me.

Now I hated my body more than I ever had

I think many of us affected by obesity start out thinking that if we get skinny all of our problems will be solved. Since I was a little girl I believed that if I wasn’t “fat” my life would be much better. Boys would like me, girls wouldn’t bully me, people wouldn’t stare at me and kids wouldn’t make fun of me.

As an adult the same disillusionment that wouldn’t be so unhappy if I wasn’t so horrifically overweight followed me. Once I lost my weight I was startled to realize that I wasn’t any happier with the version of me I saw in the mirror than I was before I had lost my weight. Even though I had reversed all of the health conditions that obesity had caused me I still needed to deal with the depression and my new struggles issues with body image.

8ede362ab2fa11e2aee522000a9f15b9_6Luckily watching Chris Powell’s show Extreme Weight Loss had somewhat prepared me for this. His approach to total transformation and how in order to change your body you had to change your mind helped me start to wrap my head around food addictions and helped me start to understand why I hated my body so much. The realization that as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I associated my body with what had been done to me was a huge part of my transformation process.

The day Chris Powell became my Hero

I spent a year doing several rounds of reconstructive plastic surgery to have the skin removed thinking that I could cut it off and get rid of what I now considered the remnants of my abusers.  But no matter how many surgeries I had, there was always some evidence of the fact that I once weighed over four hundred pounds. The day I realized that those old ghosts still haunted me was one of the darkest moments in my life.

In a moment of panic I reached out to Chris again via Facebook and asked him to read a blog I had written, “If you’re still hearing my voice I could use a pep talk right now.” Once again he replied.

“Pandora you have come so far. Never forget that! I am still so proud of you. I hope you won’t give power to those who hurt you in the past and still haunt you. It is YOUR body. You have achieved much but the journey continues doesn’t it? When you look at yourself in the mirror I want you to see what YOU have accomplished not what the past may still try to remind you of.”

I’m not sure there was anyone else that could have said those words that I would have been able to hear them from.  Sometimes we’re not ready to hear a message no matter how much truth it contains. I honestly believe that Chris saved me that day with his words. Had he not answered me I’m not sure that I would have learned the lessons his words contained and I might have spiraled into very unhealthy place.

In a moment in my life where I literally felt like my past was burying me alive his words were the little bit of oxygen I needed to get me through as I started to dig my way out. He taught me to stop giving power to people who didn’t deserve it and to give that power to myself instead by learning to love myself, to appreciate and be proud of what I saw in the mirror because it clearly displayed how far I had come.

The Powell’s continue to be a pillar in my journey to a healthier mind and body

e46b8660b2fa11e2a47922000ae90d5b_6In the next year I got the opportunity to meet him and his wife Heidi Powell, who I instantly connected with because we shared the commonality of both having recently lost our fathers.

As time has passed there have been a couple other times that I’ve reached out to them. Sometimes I just need to hear them say they are proud of me.

When I was struggling with the number I was seeing on the scale after my last round of reconstructive plastic surgery and was emotionally paralyzed with the fear of re-gain, it took Chris telling me to stay off the scale and let my body heal for it to sink in.

In the last year or so I haven’t needed them as much in those ways because the lessons that they have taught me have stuck with me. They’ve added tools to my weight loss journey tool box that have left me better armed and now, my journey continues through my job as a weight loss and wellness coach and through sharing what I have learned with my clients.

But almost every day I see a post from Chris or Heidi that affects my life; A water check-in that asks me if I’ve drank half my body weight in ounces of water or a post asking me what exercise I plan on doing for the day that reminds me to move.

During the seasons of Extreme Weight Loss I keep my gym here in North Carolina open late so my clients and I can spend time on cardio machines watching the show together and Chris and Heidi are always sure to take the time to give me and my clients a virtual high-five to encourage us.

I’m constantly sharing posts from Heidi that I know have messages that will help others affected by obesity when they find themselves in those dark places that I was once in. Articles about body image issues, self-acceptance, a new workout routine or a healthy recipe that sounds delicious and makes you not feel so deprived.

Being a blogger it shouldn’t  be so amazing to me that having only meet Chris and Heidi Powell once, their correspondence with me via social media outlets has enabled them to be such a huge part of my life. Everything they have done for me, the support they have given me, the constant encouragement and motivation they provide hasn’t only helped me stay on track with my health but has made me a better coach and helped me help others stay on track with theirs.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.

The Teeter-Totter of Weight Bias

DssButton2FB2-150x150As a Weight Loss and Wellness Coach, I often use the illustration of a teeter-totter when sitting down with a new client to go over the theory of “calories in, calories out” and to explain the importance of putting good fuel in our bodies to support vigorous activity.

As I lay in bed restless tonight, I am thinking about an article I read about people who sit on both sides of the spectrum of weight bias. That is, those who know what it’s like to be overweight and struggle with obesity but are not anymore and now live as people of so-called normal size.

In thinking about this strange predicament, that image of a teeter-totter resurfaced.

 

Being the Chubby Kid

As a victim of emotional, physical, verbal and sexual abuse in my childhood, my mind is my playground. My imagination was my escape mechanism from the time I was very small child. As I grew older, food became my friend, confidant and lover. Before I even realized it, my escape into food had pushed me into the furthest reaches of the weight spectrum.

From as young as five years old, I recall being the chubby kid that nobody wanted to pick for dodge-ball and the target of weight biased jokes. “Fatty Fatty two by four she can’t fit through the kitchen door” is one of the first childhood rhymes I remember the “mean kids” chanting at me.

I remained the largest child in my class long into high school. That fact affected my relationships with both girls and boys alike. I was an unpopular outcast who got teased and ridiculed. In the sixth grade, I became the target of a school bully – shocking, considering that the bully was a boy very much in the same predicament as me.

He was heaviest boy in our class, endless teased himself, and in reaction he started punching me as his way of lashing out. One day, after he shoved me out of the lunch line and into a wall, I asked him one day with tear-filled eyes, “Why do you pick on me?” His answer was to punch me in the stomach. Confused and bewildered, that night I asked my father “Why do they hate me so much?”

His reply: “Because you’re different and unique and sometimes that scares people or makes them jealous and people do some really mean things when they are scared or jealous. They make fun of the thing that makes you different because it’s the only thing they have to justify their feelings.”

 

A Traumatic Adolescence

As I got older, this life lesson followed me as I grew in age and, unfortunately, also in size. As the bullying continued, I continued to question why people seemed to hate me so much. I also developed coping mechanisms to deal with it with what I felt was an inevitable fact. I was overweight, actually now I was plagued with obeisty.

So I became sexually active. I dressed in all black. The other kids called me “goth” and considered me uncool for it. I began to cut myself and the other kids accused me of doing it simply for attention. I cried myself to sleep at night, wondering why nobody understood me. I wasn’t doing any of these things for attention, but to try to feel better.

Sleeping with boys made me think someone loved and cared for me. Dressing in black, I thought, was figure flattering. I cut myself because when I got to a point where I was emotionally numb, the pain reminded me that I was still alive. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to win. The more I tried to survive, the more the bullies tried to push me underwater.

I did have a few brave moments when I stuck up for myself. One time a girl in my class took a note I had written to a boy we both liked and she photocopied it, passing it around for lots of other kids to see. I confronted her, asking why she hated me so much. Her answer was sharp and simple: “Because you are fat and ugly.” With nothing to lose I challenged her, demanding to know, “Why do you care that I’m fat?” She had no response.

I was fifteen at the time and I had spent nearly a decade – most of my life at that time – being  of the victim of weight bias, bullying and fat shaming.

 

Coming of Age

When I finally decided to take my life back from obesity, I was shocked that my true battle was to stop seeing myself as a victim and learning to see myself as a survivor. From there I learned to live, to thrive and strive. I’m proud to say I lost my weight, I have won that round in my fight against obesity. In this victory I told myself, “I will never again be defined or disliked by the number that shows up on the scale or the way my body looks.”

But oh how wrong I was. Because I hadn’t learned yet that in the world of weight bias, there was a teeter-totter – and a whole different end of the spectrum.

I’m new to the world of being slender. It’s ironic how hard I fought to get here – thinking if I did I’d win my battle – only to find new battles to fight and new demons to face! Body image issues took their toll on me, and I found myself associating the extra skin that hung from my body with my former abusers and the emotional addiction that perpetuated my obesity for so long.

To help free myself of the remnants of that past, I turned to reconstructive plastic surgery. I fought with body dysmorphia – that is, not being able to see the true image of myself in the mirror. I also felt haunted by “ghosts of the past,” the people whose behavior drove me to inflict so much harm on myself.

I beat myself up emotionally when the number on the scale, along with the Body Mass Index, told me that despite the fact that I’d lost more than 250 lbs, I was still “overweight.” I allowed that emotional self-abuse to hinder where I wanted to go in life and who I wanted to be. I put off my career in the weight loss, wellness and fitness industry because I thought I needed to be perfect before I could help others fight obesity.

Thankfully around this time of my life I found an organization called the Obesity Action Coalition, an organization that fights weight bias through education and empowerment. I got the amazing opportunity to attending their inaugural “Your Weight Matters Convention” in 2012. There I was able to sit at a “Lunch with the Experts” table with Dr. Robert Kushner, M.D. who helped me realize that neither the BMI nor an extra 5-10 pounds of weight loss was going to change how effective I could be or how inspirational my story would be to those that employed me seeking help in their weight loss journey.

Over the past three years, my membership to the OAC has taught me more than I can ever write in one article. It has also given me the courage to stand up against weight bias, weight stigma and weight discrimination whenever I see them.

You’ll understand the irony, then, when I tell you that it was at the third “Your Weight Matters” Convention this month in Orlando, Fl. that I discovered for the first time that I would battle weight bias no matter where I fall in the weight spectrum.

 

A New Day, A New Battle

Without going into the details (and perpetuating a lot of drama), I found out that someone had made a very harsh and superficial judgment about me based on this new body I’m working so hard to love.

I have to say I was shocked when I first found that out. Part of me thought it was a joke. But over the past three years of being in the weight loss community there seems to be a recurring cycle of drama and bullying. I’ve seen individuals targeted and shut out. I’ve seen others discouraged from associating with those so-called outcasts and I’ve heard from people who felt pressured to alter themselves and their friend lists just to fit in – or at least to prevent themselves from being the next victim. I’ve heard stories and recounts of this sort of behavior that predate my own presence with this community.

It puzzled me at first, how a group of people who have fought such similar battles – and have had such similar experiences with bullying, weight bias and stereotyping – could behave that way. You would think our common experiences would bond us together in a united front, make us join arms and rally for the same cause and empower us to support one another. After all, we’re all fighting the same fight against a disease that impacts more than 93 million people in our country.

But there I was facing a situation I had been through so many times. The fact that I was on the other side of the spectrum didn’t make it any less hurtful. I found myself once again asking that question, “Why do they hate me so much?” Apparently, now it’s because I’m skinny and my breasts are too big.

The shock I felt at that moment is about the same as the shock I felt when plastic surgeon told me that there wasn’t enough fat left on my body to perform the procedure I was asking him to do. My jaw hit the floor.

Never in my whole life did I think people would dislike me for being “too thin.” I won’t even touch the ridiculousness of the comments about my breasts.  After taking a moment to recover from that information, I asked, “Don’t you find it a little hypocritical that we’re sitting here at a convention that fights weight bias and weight stigma and that we protest judging and shaming people for the size of their body, the number on scale and their outward appearance and yet, that is exactly what I am apparently being judged for?”

 

Balancing Your Core

The answer to that question made me angry. Yes, it is ironic. It’s stupid really. And it needs to stop. I’ve sat on this experience for a few weeks now. I’ve dissected it to figure out what lesson it was supposed to teach me. Now, as I lay in bed tonight with that image that teeter-totter in my head, I’ve finally sorted out what I want to say.

While I was in Orlando, I met with a remarkable woman named Melinda Watman, the chair of the Weight Bias committee of the Obesity Action Coalition. I explained to her why I’m so passionate about fighting weight bias, why I wanted to be a part of OAC’s Weight Bias Committee and why the OAC’s Bias Busters programs calls to me.

Every year that I attend the OAC’s convention something absolutely life changing happens to me and I learn something I would never have had the chance to learn otherwise. This year, I learned that there is two very different sides to weight bias and that each of them are equally stigmatizing. I also learned that stigma, in general, is a lot less traumatizing when you have a solid foundation and a strong perception of your core strengths and beliefs.

Because when I was told that some people didn’t like me because they thought I was too thin or they thought my breasts were too big, I didn’t react the way I did so many years ago. I didn’t crawl into the solitude of my room and weep. Instead, I stood firm in my convictions and called it for what it was: weight bias.

The truth is, neither the size of my body nor the size of my breasts define who I am. When I am gone and the winds have called my name for the last time, neither of them are what the world is going to remember me for. In fact, I rather hope that the only numbers in my eulogy are the years I existed in the world. Instead, I hope to be remembered for the person that I am and the way I lived my life.

As an exercise instructor, my class and I stand in front of the mirror constantly moving our bodies in an effort to improve them. There are days I like what I see, and there are some days I don’t. But at the end of each day, the only person that has to like my reflection is me.

So if you ask me what I took away from the OAC “Your Weight Matters” 2014 Convention this year, my answer is very simple, I took away not only the education, but also the realization that if I want to truly stand up against weight bias, weight stigma and bullying I have to be prepared to do it from all sides and angles.

In the gym my clients often quote my tips on maintaining good posture while exercising and to build their core strength: “Shoulders back, girls out, core engaged.” Finally tonight, I understand why that teeter-totter was so prevalent in my mind. Because no matter what side of the battle of obesity you are on, if you can stand in the middle of that proverbial teeter-totter and engage your core, retain you balance and posture, you’ll be much stronger in your stance and your fight.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.
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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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