These are terrifying words to hear, especially when they refer to your three-year-old daughter. I already knew the treatment protocol, the expected side effects, and the five-year survival rates. I was no rookie. My older child just completed the 2 ½ year chemotherapy regimen to treat the same malignancy. I knew what hell we were about to endure. As their mother, I was in no shape to fight this again. My weight was out of control at 250 pounds. I needed anti-anxiety medications to function. I had symptoms of insulin resistance. I knew something had to change, or I would never be able to carry my family through this for the second time.
I started walking every day, pushing my sick baby in a stroller. After a while, I tackled hills. I shed twelve pounds this way. These walks improved my mental state, and I was beginning to emerge from the darkness that had consumed me since cancer infected my life.
An evolution began. Walking turned into using the elliptical, which gave me the stamina to endure an entire Zumba class. Zumba turned into running, and running gave way to racing 5k’s. Weight training gave me the strength to improve my abilities in all these activities.
The entire time, I ate food. I ate lots of food. I never cut out an entire group of food, either. I ate carbs, meat, sugar, wheat, eggs, and every other “bad” food the diet industry has labeled as such. I never, ever starved myself. Food gave me the energy I needed to be the woman I needed to be, for myself, and my children. It powered my workouts. It made me feel good.
It’s been 3 years and 4 months since my daughter’s diagnosis. I’ve lost 81 pounds so far. I’m no longer medicated. I don’t typically weigh myself, as I prefer to measure success with things like a new 5K personal record, carrying all the groceries into my house in one trip while feeling sexy in heels, having my ass fly out of the seat on a roller coaster for the first time, or fitting into the racing harness of a Lotus speeding around the track. By no means have I figured this all out, and I still have days where I’m frustrated. I’ve learned so many things, and these are a few of the most important:
1. Get active doing something you enjoy. I hate running on the treadmill, so I don’t. You won’t continue doing something you don’t love.
2. If you can, hire a well informed, experienced trainer. If this isn’t an option, get a workout buddy. It makes it more fun, and helps keep you motivated.
3. Don’t set a time limit. It’s taken me years, and I’m not done yet. It’s OK. This is my life, and I don’t want to be consumed with losing weight. I went an entire summer without losing a single pound. I was traveling with my family and having a blast. I was eating delicious food and not being as active as I had been, and I was OK with it.
4. Eat foods that make you feel good. Food should be enjoyable. The notion that food is only to fuel your body is bullshit. It’s as ridiculous as saying sex is only for conception. I don’t mean to imply I survive on fast food and doughnuts. I mean I eat a wide variety of foods most would label as healthy, but I also eat doughnuts sometimes. Doughnuts are fucking delicious.
5. Don’t use the scale to measure your success. Fuck what the scale says. According to the scale, I’m still overweight. I give zero fucks about that. I can run, lift heavy weight, and dance like a stripper going broke at Zumba. I love my body. It can do amazing things.
6. Don’t compare your body to anyone else’s. Everyone is different. I’ll never be tall enough, or long legged enough to be a ballerina. That’s OK. I have thick, strong thighs that can power up a hill past other runners. I can bust out some sweet squats, too.
7. Always practice moderation. When you love your body, and have a healthy relationship with food, you don’t feel the need to binge, or over exercise.
8. The most important piece is kindness. Always be kind to yourself. Stop beating yourself up if you overeat, or skip out on a workout, or several. The dialogue going on between your ears is the most powerful one.
In the end, we all seek happiness. For me, happiness is being active and enjoying really good food with my family, who are free of cancer now. I don’t know what the future holds for my family, but neither do you, my friend. I say, eat that chocolate cake if you want. Fuck what other people think. Fuck the labels they put on you and the foods you eat, and fuck cancer in particular.
Guest post by By Jenny Cumbie
I’m a 34 year-old mother of two girls. I battled obesity my entire adult life, and I decided I’d had enough. It would take as long as it would take to do it right. My goal has always been to improve my health, not to be at a specific weight, or pants size. I hope my story inspires other women, especially mothers, to take time for themselves, and improve their health. It’s not an act of selfishness to spend some time on yourself. It’s modeling good behavior for your children.