From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Setting Goals and Reaping Rewards

When I talk about my weight loss to people who have never had a significant weight problem, I tell them that I did not see reality in the mirror. Sure, I knew what the scale said and what size I wore, but before losing seventy-five pounds, I only saw what I thought were my positive attributes when I saw my reflection. I saw fabulous hair, expressive eyes, youthful skin and a pretty face. I didn’t see what 225 pounds really looked like on a 5’2” frame. My brain, in denial, didn’t let me see my fat.

I realized I was truly obese when I overheard another therapist at the clinic where I teach children with learning disabilities tell a parent, “Your son’s teacher will be the heavyset woman in the staff picture.” I had taken a picture with several colleagues, and the picture was framed and put in the lobby where I worked. There were four fit women, and then there was me. On a day when I thought I looked my best, I photographed as a fat, frumpy, middle-aged woman. I was devastated.

Having never been successful with a diet because I never truly thought I needed one, I didn’t know where to start, so I just stopped eating. For a month, I lived on salad, diet soda and anything with zero calories, especially zero-calorie gum and hard candies. I bought a scale and saw “225” staring back at me, but with this semistarvation diet, I saw no change. I told a friend about my diet and the frustration of not losing. Her reaction was, “That’s because your body is in starvation mode. You have to eat or it stores fat.” She said she ate five or six small meals a day, was never hungry, and unless she binged, she kept her weight down.

It’s often difficult to take diet advice from a thin person, but I knew my friend understood nutrition. Knowing my eating habits, she suggested Atkins. I bought the book and my husband and I decided we could be happy with this change of eating for the long term. We decided that this couldn’t just be a quick diet and then back to bad habits; we would have to change our eating habits forever. Atkins was not a difficult diet to follow, and within days of starting a low-carbohydrate lifestyle, we began to see the scale move downward.

As an educational therapist, I had the added advantage of knowing what setting goals and receiving rewards does for children who see what appear to be insurmountable problems. I have often used goal setting and rewards to help them achieve more than they thought they could. I decided I needed the same motivation to keep me on track. I kept a chart for myself and my husband and posted it on the mirror in our bathroom. On it, we wrote our weight and measurements. On mine, I also listed my goals and the rewards. Crossing off each one was also a reward in itself.

My goals were very simple and fun. When I lost ten pounds, I made my hair lighter. When I lost ten more, I got my ears pierced. When I was down thirty pounds, I added more holes in my ears. I told my coworkers, friends and family about these, and when I had something new, such as a third hole in each ear, the reaction was a positive, “How much have you lost? I see you rewarded yourself!” There were additional goals. I had a red suede jacket that I had bought years earlier and quickly grew out of. When I fit into it again, I went out and bought a smaller black suede jacket for a lot less money because I didn’t have to buy it in a specialty store for large women.

I had set up goals like weighing less than my husband and fitting into a pair of tight white jeans like the ones I was wearing when I met him. As with most weight loss, the early pounds are the easiest. As time goes on, there is still loss, but the amounts tend to be less. Getting rewards for goals made the potential frustration seem more attainable. Throughout the last year, I’ve mentioned to people that when I lost seventy-five pounds, I was going to cut my hair short. For years, I hid behind a long mane of hair, which I thought hid my size. In fact, it was a security blanket of sorts. It hid nothing.

Several weeks ago, I had it all chopped off. Snip. Snip. Snip. Over two feet of hair fell to the floor. The reaction from almost everyone was that I looked great and YOUNGER. When I got on the scale after my haircut, I weighed two pounds less, too! Of course, I lost two pounds of hair! I’ve even dyed my hair back to its natural color, knowing now that I need no more disguises or security blankets.

I also no longer need rewards. I have another twenty-five pounds to go, and the reward now is the weight loss and the knowledge of how much control I have taken of my body, my life and myself. That’s the greatest reward of all.

Felice Prager

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