How Running a Naked 5K Helped Me Accept My Saggy Skin and Stretch Marks
My body changed a lot after losing 150 pounds and baring it all finally helped me embrace it.
I've been overweight my entire life. And the funny thing is, I wasn't even aware of it until a little boy called me "Miss Piggy" in second grade. That's the first time I realized: "Oh crap. There's something wrong here."
My entire family is overweight, so I always just fit in. But by the time I reached third grade, it became evident that I wasn't like everyone else I went to school with. And it mostly had to do with what I ate. My family lived in poverty. My mom cooked what she could afford for six people so it ended up being a lot of pasta, ground beef, pizza-terrible-quality food in large portions.
As I got older, eating became a way for me to numb the pain I didn't know how to deal with as a kid. I was 26 years old and just kept growing in size until, at one point, I weighed over 300 pounds. (Related: How to Tell If You're Emotional Eating.)
I didn't have what they call a "rock bottom moment" or a health scare where I went to the doctor's office and they told me "You're going to die if you don't change something." Rather, it started when I was in my early 20s and struggling to make ends meet. I was a high school dropout so I was working whatever jobs I could get with a GED. As somebody who grew up not really educated, I just always thought that my size had to do with the fact that I was "big-boned." It wasn't until I started reading and watching shows like Oprah (cliché, I know) that I felt inspired for the first time in my life and realized that anyone can lose weight and overcome adversity.
The second step was moving across the country from Oklahoma to Washington and removing myself from the environment that perpetuated my unhealthy lifestyle. I didn't have a job lined up, but I found a small studio apartment to live in and was determined to become a new person. Soon enough, I was surrounded by people with healthier mindsets and lifestyles, which served as an excellent motivator. (Related: Should You Work Out Alone or In a Group?)
But the breakdown moment happened when I unexpectedly got pregnant with a man I had just met. My boyfriend at the time had schizophrenia. I was working part-time. And I was in the middle of trying to fix my life. I wasn't in a place to keep the baby.
So I ended up deciding to have an abortion. It was my first time going to a doctor as an adult. In hindsight, it was probably the most pivotal moment in my journey because not only was I ashamed of being so irresponsible, but I realized that the only reason I hadn't gone to a doctor the whole time was because I was ashamed of my size.
I didn't know my cholesterol level, my blood pressure-I didn't even know my height. Honestly, I could barely fill out the intake forms where they ask you all those health-related questions. Thankfully, I found out I had no serious health issues. But the whole experience was a huge blow to my ego and made me realize that I had to start being more responsible for myself, both physically and emotionally. (Related: Make the Most of Your Time at the Doctor's Office)
So I really dove into my weight-loss journey-and lost 150 pounds that first year. I started by simply changing small habits. Since I was still living paycheck to paycheck, I started walking to work to save some money. Then I made it a conscious habit to walk more around work, and then around my neighborhood whenever I had extra time.
The next "aha" moment for me came after I started journaling and finally got honest with myself about my food. I downloaded a calorie-counting app and started to hold myself accountable. In my mind, I really didn't think I ate that bad, but documenting my eating habits made me realize that I was eating pie for breakfast, cookies for lunch, and potatoes for dinner-and that had to stop. (Related: 5 Tips for an Accurate Food Journal)
While I didn't follow a traditional "diet"-those had never worked for me-I just started to swap out unhealthy foods for healthier options. At that point, I had never eaten fish or avocados or asparagus-so I started to expand my palette and eat a better selection of foods. Eventually, I started keeping track of not only my calories but also my micro- and macronutrients, something I still do to this day.
About a month into changing my eating, I got my first gym membership. It was the most difficult experience of my journey. I had never been to the gym before and was scared to be over 300 pounds in a room full of average-size people. But taking that step was the catalyst I needed to actually stick to my goals. Mostly because I put so much money down on that membership, I started going twice a day to make the most of it!
Eight years later, I've maintained my weight loss and have continued to challenge myself physically. I've run marathons, gone skydiving, and got into hiking, but I never really did anything that tested my ego. That's why, last year, I decided to run a naked 5K. I felt that putting myself in a situation where I was purposefully embarrassed would help me release some of the shame I was holding on to in relation to my body. After I lost 150 pounds, my body was not what I had expected it to be: I had saggy skin and stretch marks that were hard to deal with. I thought the 5K might help me let go of that once and for all. And it did. (Related: What I Learned About Myself from Trying Naked Yoga)
My mind was occupied with thoughts like, How is my body going to move? and Are people going to stare at me? So when I actually won first place for my age group and gender, it was the last thing I expected. Standing on the podium, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. It was the first time in my life that I felt my body was a good thing.
But it took a lot to get to that point. During that first year of my weight loss, I still saw myself as a 300-pound woman. Most of my identity for over two decades was being the "fat girl." For a while, I thought I wanted skin removal surgery, but I couldn't afford it. Over the years, I've focused on what my body can do physically as opposed to what it looks like. Now, I don't feel the need to cut off my skin.
My weight loss was never about accepting my body but actually accepting myself. Once I learned that-and was no longer ashamed of who I am and where I come from-accepting my body came naturally. The fact that this is my new normal is still totally crazy to me, but I wouldn't have it any other way.