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Food Addictions

The Me vs Her Perspective

May 2013 336I have a lot of photos of myself from days long past.

Photos of myself at an extremely unhealthy weight.

Photos of myself at a time that I was eating as a way of dealing with my emotions.

These pictures represent a time in my life where I was constantly sad, constantly depressed. They represent a time when I felt completely unworthy. They are pictures of a woman who put on a fake smile to hide all the pain inside.

They capture a woman who felt like she was drowning in the co-morbid conditions that the disease of obesity had brought her too.

I was full-blown diabetic, I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, severe edema and severe depression. There were days that I was simply non-functional.

I knew that my weight was causing these medical issues and truthfully, I didn’t care. I had given up on life, love and the pursuit of happiness. I very consciously made the decision to not care about what my lifestyle behavior choices were doing to my health and to my body.

Pandora420lbI had a lot of days that I really wished I wasn’t even there. I was very aware that I was digging a grave with a fork and a spoon. In fact, if I am being completely honest, that was very much my intention.

These photos portray a woman who truthfully didn’t love herself. A woman who didn’t believe that she was worthy of being loved.

They portray a woman who was still very much caught in the survivor mentality of life. A woman who had grown up a survivor of physical, sexual and verbal abuse. A woman who was psychologically using her weight as a way to build walls and keep people out.

PandoraChildhoodObesitySometimes I post photos of my transformation, a before-and-after photo of myself and I look at it and I think “Oh my god, who is that girl?” or “I don’t recognize that woman anymore.”

Almost instantly someone will see my photo and tell me that I was just as beautiful then as I am now or that I have always been the same person.

I very rarely respond to these comments because I really don’t know how to explain. Really, that’s your interpretation, not mine. I don’t need you to qualify my beauty and I don’t need you to diminish the celebration of my transformation.

Pandora400PlusLet me pause here and clarify something – if you have ever been one of those people who came on to my post and made a comment like this, I am not spanking you. I realize that you’re trying to be a positive voice in a negative world. I realized that you are trying to be supportive and kind and I appreciate that. I try to do the same and there are far too many people out there that are willing to tear each other down rather than to build each other up.

What I am trying to do is maybe get you to see the situation through a different perspective. I’m trying bring light to the fact that sometimes what we think is positive and supportive, if contrary to how someone feels about themselves, really isn’t.

november11 009Sometimes I think we are so busy trying to make sure that those that are dealing with obesity do not feel shamed or stigmatized that we forget that obesity is a very complex disease and that it can be caused by many different things.

If I was a recovering drug addict and I posted a before and after photo of myself with a tourniquet around my arm and a needle in my vein would you tell me that I was just as beautiful then as I am now?

May 2013 335I am one of the first people to stand up against weight bias, weight stigma and weight discrimination. Nobody should ever have to experience those things and I spend a lot of my free time trying to help educate and raise awareness to fight these societal intolerances.

I am also the first person to stand up and say that obesity is not healthy. Obesity isn’t a pretty disease. It is as unkind and ugly as any other deadly disease. Just like you can’t look at a photo of someone and decide that the reason they struggle with their weight is because they make poor lifestyle choices and over consume food; you also can’t look at a photo and assume that it’s not.

NKOTBCropAs a recovering food addict, someone who used food to feed my feelings and someone who was purposely and systematically killing herself with food, when I look at a photo of myself and say “I don’t recognize that girl anymore.” — I don’t need someone to tell me that they do.

I’d much rather see my transformation acknowledged in a way that doesn’t focus on looks but rather on the accomplishment. “Way to go! What an amazing transformation.” “That’s awesome, congratulations on your health accomplishments!” “What a great job. Look how far you have come.” There are a ton of ways we can acknowledge before and after transformations without using beauty as our quantifier.

May 2013 339As someone who has very openly discussed body images issues after weight loss, I can honestly tell you that when someone tells me I am just as beautiful then as I am now I have to remind myself that they are talking about on the inside. Because just a couple of years ago a comment like that would have me standing in front of my mirror wondering what I needed to “fix” about my body to make it noticeably different.

When I look at those before photos and all they represent, I don’t think I was beautiful then. I think I was suffering. I think I was in a very dark place and I think my obesity was a very physical symptom of that ugliness. I’m relieved everyday that I was able to bounce back from it.

I look back at those photos and I am thankful that I have managed to find a way to maintain my recovery from obesity and food addictions in a world that is food centric. I look back at those photos and I am grateful that I wasn’t successful at trying to end my life via obesity.  

Some people look at those photos and think that I hated myself because I suffered from obesity. The truth is I suffered from obesity because I hated myself. The moment I learned to start loving myself and finding myself worthy, I started making healthier lifestyle decisions.

I am not the same person in those photos. Not on the outside. Not on the inside. I have successfully navigated a lifestyle transformation. If I was the girl you see in my before pictures, you likely wouldn’t have the pleasure of knowing me today, my friends would have been shopping for a casket by now.

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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.

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.
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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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