6 weeks ago I entered into a 42 day fitness challenge. I clung to a thread of hope that on the other side I would have a wee bit more energy, a touch more health, a dash more confidence, enough weight loss to fit into my pre-pregnancy wardrobe, and, if I was exceptionally lucky, I’d come out on the other side with my money back in my pocket.
Having never made it past 4 workouts at any one facility or class in my adult life, yoga excluded, committing to 18 workouts was a pretty big deal.
The investment of time, energy and money put a strain on me, my marriage and time with the kids. I was terrified of pushing too hard and too fast and finding myself crumbling under a mountain of pain and fatigue again.
I am proud to say I survived 18 workouts. The last 7 of which I worked so hard in that I had moments where I couldn’t believe this was my body, working this hard, and getting this strong.
The workouts were incredible. The instructors were supportive. The atmosphere was fun. Around the 5 week mark the owner decided to “school” us – he programmed multiple days of “easy” exercises and showed us how to give it our all – leaving us gasping for air and aching from head to toe. I had no idea I could push myself so far without throwing myself over the edge. In 22+ years of chronic pain and illness I have frequently found myself falling over the edge or playing it too safe and not even venturing close.
I spent most of the 6 weeks sleeping on a mattress in the kids’ room. The idea of walking across the hall to answer a middle of the night scream was far more energy than I could muster. I had the energy to lift an arm to snuggle, but not to lift a scared child and carry it back to its room.
To ensure I met the meal plan, I did all of the cooking for lunches dinners and all of the grocery shopping.
I had a few failures and challenges, and several successes:
During week one I found myself at Costco in the evening with two hungry kids. Their dad promised them hot dogs and chicken fingers, but I was the one out shopping with them. I fulfilled the promised food and ended up snacking on one chicken finger. I pulled off most of the breading and nibbled on the white meat. I ate a hot dog wiener without the bun. I ate a fry. I felt like a failure, but also recognized that old me would have eaten a hot dog, eaten all of the remaining chicken fingers and fries, and probably would have had a pop or two – so it was a loss and a win.
Every Saturday I weighed myself. As an adult I’ve never really been to conscious of my weight. The postpartum depression and anxiety, I still battle, reared its ugly head before each Saturday weigh in. I began to look at food as can and can’t, good and bad, and was having trouble finding balance. I wasn’t sleeping well and my stomach was in knots about the money spent and the potential of straying on the diet.
As Christmas drew nearer I successfully avoided every dessert brought into the office by my colleagues; but I worried about the message I was modeling for my children. A world of can’t and don’t, of restriction not moderation. I wasn’t ok with that.
Trent and I decided to accept that I would likely not achieve the fitness challenge benchmark and get our money back, but we would have an opportunity to show our children what moderation and hardwork looks like.
I made a commitment to my kids to live in the moment. My mom thought dad would be healthy enough to travel to our place for Christmas. She was celebrating finding the time and energy to bake. I was determined to celebrate with her. A few months ago we had thought dad wouldn’t make it to Christmas, so we were preparing to celebrate a miracle.
On Christmas Eve I built a gingerbread house with the kids. Not a single cookie, drop of icing or candy made it in into my mouth.
I voluntarily gave up most of my allocated carbs over the holidays. I ate one of my mom’s peanut butter squares, I ate a delicious dessert square from a friend, and finally on boxing day I ate a couple of slices of lefse and left the rest for my children. The lefse was extraordinarily touching for me as my grandmother had made it 3 years prior before she passed away. Usually I would have eaten every slice from every available roll, so to have only eaten a couple of slices was a huge achievement.
My mom and I prepared Christmas dinner to align with the diet.
With each win, each temptation and each uncertain step I had the opportunity to share on an incredibly supportive closed group made up of other challengers.
Aside from one occasion where I felt I was attacked for my ‘negativity’ the group became a supportive family in a very short period of time. I looked forward to celebrating others’ successes and encouraging others to resist when they were tempted not to workout or not to follow the meal plan. After a hard workout I could look forward to someone commenting “good job mama” or “way to go.”
The one odd occasion stemmed from a post I made about success at the halfway point of my challenge journey. In the message I identified that on the weigh-in charts it seemed like very few people were close to meeting the challenge weight loss goal, so I wondered if success was measured in a different way considering 87 percent of challengers are successful. I identified I considered myself successful already because I was learning how to fuel my body well with appropriate proportions and good nutrition. Others responded quickly to share that they did not expect to meet the weight challenge, but identified ways they to were succeeding, everything from eating better to pants feeling much looser. Soon after someone commented that we needed to stop with all the negativity. A subsequent post included calling out the negativity within the group as bringing others down and contributing to them not being successful. While my intention in the post was to discuss what defines personal success, the commenter could only see my identification that people weren’t necessarily going to lose the weight, and missed the question about whether success was determined in other ways. They also missed a whole slew of people celebrating their personal successes. I deleted my post. It was not intended to be negative, but I hated the idea of any one thinking I was being negative. I was broken over the idea that my reservations about the diet or my challenges would make it harder for someone else to achieve their goals.
After Christmas was done I was in it to win it. I added walking. I was more active with the kids. I voluntarily gave up my carbs for the last two weeks.
I was fighting a cold most of December. The kids were sick all of December. My fibromyalgia was wildly flaring up. I couldn’t stand anyone touching me and working out was excruciating, but I noticed I was started to feel better about the world and my anxiety had been dialed down a notch or 30.
I swung wildly between being ok to have invested money in my own health and welfare and feeling desperately regretful about having spent money we didn’t have on something I didn’t give 100 percent to 100 percent of the time.
Around workout 15 one of the instructor’s commented on how much my body had changed. They asked if I thought I was going to win. I said no. I explained that I had given myself permission to demonstrate moderation over the holidays, there was no way I could win. She said she wouldn’t be so sure. She thought I might be pretty close to the percent body fat loss goal. Oh my goodness. A renewed sense of hope and fear and stress came flooding through me.
I was diagnosed with strep throat on the Sunday. Workouts 16 through 18 still lay ahead. My female friend, Aunt Flo, arrived prior to workout 17 and ten days early.
I started chugging water and protein shakes. My weight was fluctuating 5 to 8 lbs from am to pm.
I was so scared. So anxious about final weigh in.
What if I won?
What if I didn’t?
Full disclosure, I didn’t win, but the results were damn impressive:
As soon as I was finished weighing in I ran out to Trent in the car. I had lost 4.9% body fat. I had missed winning the challenge by 1.1% considering the challenges I faced including temptation, chronic pain, illness, chronic fatigue and limited time. I had killed it. Not getting our money back played with my anxiety. At the same time I wanted to celebrate with my new family in the accountability group.
I posted the following on my way home from errands:
When I got home I couldn’t wait to see how the other challengers had done. I went to navigate to the closed accountability group and found I was no longer a member.
I was devastated. I had been through so much with everyone for 6 weeks. My cheer squad, my family, my fellow warriors, my friends. As someone who struggles with chronic illness the opportunity to be social and develop relationships is limited. Suddenly I found myself fiercely connecting with a group that came into my home on my terms and who I got to spend up to 3 hours a week in person with.
I posted an emotional Facebook status update where I lamented the loss of the group and wondered why I no longer belonged. Was it because I had posted results? That was my last interaction with the group, had I said something wrong? Was it because I lost the challenge? Maybe it was because the challenge was over? Perhaps because I wanted to know who the winners were? I hit send and walked away from my phone.
Over the next 24 hours my Facebook page was very active, but I wasn’t anywhere near my phone. An individual observed that my status update identifying my insecurities about why I was no longer part of the group were silly. Another response from the same person suggested I was being dishonest about the outcome. Soon thereafter many of my friends and family stepped up to the plate to defend me and my right to feel a sense of loss for not winning the challenge and being removed from the group.
I didn’t know this was going on, instead late in the afternoon the next day I picked up my phone to 47 notifications and many private messages and text messages.
My confidence was already depleted. I took my phone to Trent. “I don’t know what is going on. I don’t want to read it if it is something bad.” Trent read through the Facebook posts and described to me what people had posted.
Tears. So many tears.
While I was busy mourning the loss of my new found community, I was being chastised on my private Facebook profile in a personal post to my friends. My integrity and intentions were questioned.
Trent reassured me the Facebook thing was handling itself and it would be ok. That’s when I found a private text message with screen shots of the same challenges and successes and fears I have shared with you above, from where I originally shared them on a private accountability group. They were sent to me to let me know why I failed. To remind me that had I followed the diet I would have gotten my money back. The text implored me to be honest. To let me know people were upset to discover I felt so negatively about the experience.
I was gutted. Gutted.
I had failed my family. I had been weak. Look here’s the photo evidence. Photo after photo. In the moment I couldn’t even process that some of the images weren’t from me failing, but were posted to celebrate wins like the untouched gingerbread house. I gasped for air. I cried until my tear ducts ran dry.
I hadn’t had a negative experience. I had had an incredible experience. I rated my experience 5 out of 5 on Facebook. I was planning a blog post about how extraordinary my experience has been and how much benefit both myself and Trent had gotten out of everything. How Trent had lost an impressive amount of weight by just following the simple nutrition plan I had been provided. How I was heart broken that our budget would not allow me to continue, but if we managed to come up with a side hustle that would be the first place I would be spending my coin.
Instead the self doubt came crashing down all around me. Was I unlikable? Was it silly to feel that I had been unceremoniously kicked out of a support community that I had been so proud to belong to? Were more people going to add to the negative chatter? Did people hate me? Why didn’t I get to say goodbye? What happened to family? Why do people think I am being negative? What’s negative about thinking I had done something wrong? What’s negative about feeling abandoned? Isn’t that a sign that something was working exceptionally well and is just in need of refinement on the closure side?
I later learned I was removed after final weigh in because I hadn’t bought a membership.
Perhaps, my only recommendation for change would be to give people a few days to celebrate and say goodbye or even better let people self select when they say goodbye as long as they continue to be positive contributors to the community. I can only imagine how desperate I would be to buy a membership after watching others transform their lives and bodies in real time.
So, instead of being a blog post about this kickass challenge I did and how The Undad and I learned how to put the best of fuels into our bodies, manage our cravings and place value on our own physical health, it has become a bit of a cautionary tale about the power of the internet and social media to build and challenge, empower and support, and break a person down. There is weight behind words and intention. There also is a difference between what someone shares in closed groups and on private profiles and what they share publicly.
I am working to reconcile the loss that came on the other side of a substantial accomplishment.
Everytime a new text messages arrives my heart races.
I deleted my twitter account.
I regret having openly shared my challenges, success, and feelings because of the affect on others and how their subsequent affect on me.
I am conscious of how tone cannot be read in text.
It is my intention, always, to leave the world better than I found it. To approach each day through a lense of joy. To push down the discomfort and rise above. To be curious. To push further. To be me and only me.
Free fitness challenges in sponsored ads are abundant across Facebook right now. They are a business model. They fill classes. They recruit and retain new members. It would be naive to think these were crafted solely around changing one’s life. Of course they are a commercial venture, but here’s the thing, in this instance I believe also in the feel good, gushy side. In the wanting to help people succeed while being successful.
I get the defense response to my emotional personal status updates came from a raw and very real place of wanting, needing, things to work and succeed and wanting to curtail the glitches that could derail the plan.
I love the idea that a member is a member because they are a family member and having watched the staff talk to, encourage, and play with my children, so I could get a good workout in, I know there is truth and teeth to this approach.
So, I guess I would write a different ending if I could, but this is where we are.
I started by spending money we didn’t have.
I started scared of pushing too hard and ended scared I didn’t push hard enough.
I started lonely and ended in the same place, but in between I had beautiful glimpses of what a strong supportive community can look like. Also, I have a Facebook friend posse of people I have and haven’t met, that, according to Trent’s play-by-play, are super ready to go into battle for me (and that’s pretty cool).
I started with my confidence at an unreasonably low level, built it up, had it squashed, and am now working to resurrect it again.
Trent and I are still committed to the values this challenge taught me (us).
Our fridge is filled with veggies and lean proteins, water is our constant companion, and we are going to keep moving our bodies.
One day I was scrolling on Facebook and a sponsored ad caught my attention. I clicked and said “I don’t know if I would qualify.” The ad talked about getting fit, but should have said ‘a change for the better’.
Perhaps with a small asterisk identifying that nothing worthwhile comes easy.