My friend and fellow Woman’s Day cover girl tried to warn me about the uphill battle after major weight loss.
Kirsten Helle and I shared breakfast on the morning of our photo shoot. She lost 110 pounds and managed to keep it off for some time. I asked her how she stayed on track. She said weight loss and weight maintenance were two different journeys, and the latter would be harder. I naively thought, not for me. I’m too happy to let this feeling slip away.
I was on cloud nine for about nine seconds when the magazine made its debut before the anxiety of achievement slithered into my mind. Who was I without the weight? I felt like I was skydiving, but instead of embracing the breathtaking view, I was falling into the fear of the unknown.
In the year after I celebrated my big achievement on the cover of the magazine, I gained twenty pounds. I was embarrassed and exhausted.
The weight was the giant in my life—my Goliath. If you’re not familiar with this epic battle in the Bible, I’ll catch you up.
“A giant nearly ten feet tall stepped out from the Philistine line into the open, Goliath from Gath. He had a bronze helmet on his head and was dressed in armor—126 pounds of it! He wore bronze shin guards and carried a bronze sword. His spear was like a fence rail—the spear tip alone weighed over fifteen pounds. His shield bearer walked ahead of him.”
1 Samuel 17:4-7 TM
Here’s where the hero, David, comes in.
“David took off from the front line, running toward the Philistine. David reached into his pocket for a stone, slung it, and hit the Philistine hard in the forehead, embedding the stone deeply. The Philistine crashed, facedown in the dirt.”
1 Samuel 17:48-49 TM
“Then David ran up to the Philistine and stood over him, pulled the giant’s sword from its sheath, and finished the job by cutting off his head…”
1 Samuel 17:51 TM
Losing one hundred pounds felt like my David and Goliath moment, but who was I without a Goliath to fight? The battle with my weight consumed so much of my life that it became a part of my identity. I was so attached to my adversary that I felt lost without it. I was in unfamiliar territory, and I began to soothe the discomfort of the unknown with a familiar antidote—food. When I snapped out of my bad habits, I tried to put in extra work in the gym to mask it, but you can’t outrun that kind of spiral.
Every month, the scale ticked up. By winter of 2016, almost a year after the magazine’s debut and seven months after my wedding, my one-hundred-pound weight loss achievement was in the rear view. I weighed nearly 190 pounds, and I believed that made me a failure. So why when everything I worked and prayed for was in front of me, was I finding comfort in toxic familiarity? Therapy, prayer, and time revealed what was behind my self-sabotaging cycle: imposter syndrome, destination addiction, and old wineskins.
“I’m gaining weight, Dr. Nottingham. Why am I doing this to myself? I fought so hard. Don’t I want to be happy? Do I even deserve to be happy?”
My therapist first made sure I understood gaining weight, even after a public victory lap like Woman’s Day, didn’t mean I failed. It just meant I was human. And she reminded me that I was being way too hard on myself. Happy couples often see a few extra pounds after they say, “I do”; however, because she knew my history, she offered a deeper analysis of what my eating habits also represented—imposter syndrome giving way to self-sabotage.
Imposter syndrome is defined as “anxiety or self-doubt that results from persistently undervaluing one’s competence and active role in achieving success, while falsely attributing one’s accomplishments to luck or other external forces.”
Imposter syndrome sucks, and it can rob you of the joy of any dream come true. Dr. Nottingham reminded me of all the incredible things I experienced in 2016: marrying the love of my life, appearing on the cover of a national magazine, and achieving a weight loss goal I fantasized about for so long.
On a deeper level, she said I likely felt unworthy of all the good things coming into my life. She was right. There were moments I felt guilty for being so damn happy. Why do I get to be the one to have it all when so many others are struggling? I wasn’t considering all the dark moments and heartbreak that came before this explosion of favor. I didn’t feel worthy, and I fell back into a dysfunctional and oddly comforting coping mechanism. It was more than innocently enjoying a few extra decadent dinners while out on the town. I was overeating in secret again, and the brief relief from it was followed by a crushing weight of disappointment. It was my own self-punishment to prove I was indeed an imposter.
Dr. Nottingham shared ways to combat self-sabotage on my Decide to Live talk show on October 29, 2019:
“I understand that issue of modesty and not believing that you deserve this blessing or this opportunity. But once you get it, if you could just embrace it and actually be able to appreciate it, I think that’s more of the answer than whether or not we deserve it. Because sometimes, if you’re a modest person, you’ll never feel like you deserve everything you get. But whatever you have, if you are appreciative and thankful, I think that’s all that’s needed to keep you going in the right direction. Just embrace it. Embrace it! Celebrate it! If you shift the focus to just relishing in it and being thankful for it, that’s all you need to do in order to grow. In the moment, be mindful of where [you] are.”
I realize now that I didn’t give myself the time to bask in the joy of reaching that one-hundred-pound weight loss goal. Deep down, I asked, Who am I to have so many of my dreams come true? I now know I deserve it simply because I exist. Joy is our birthright. God wants us to have an abundant life. We deserve a big, beautiful, incredible experience on the earth.
I used my weight to gauge my level of happiness. I mentally annotated the memory of every achievement based on what the scale read.
When I graduated as valedictorian at West Jefferson High School back in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, I weighed 212 pounds. I recall feeling like a failure—even though I was making history as a Black valedictorian.
When I graduated from Florida A&M University with a perfect 4.0 GPA, I was 220 pounds. I felt proud because I was down thirty pounds from the previous semester.
When I got hired for my first reporting job in Jackson, Mississippi, I was 236 pounds. I was disappointed because I gained weight after college graduation.
When I started working at WTKR News 3, I weighed 245 pounds. My spirits were up because I was down fifteen pounds from the 260 pounds I weighed during my last few months in Jackson.
The pattern was exhausting. I felt low and defeated when I was gaining weight. But when I was losing weight, it was like an incredible high. I would ride out the euphoria long enough to make progress until an emotional pitfall put the cycle back in gear.
I thought I was free from the problematic pattern once I lost the weight. Seeing those numbers on the scale sparked the greatest high I’d ever felt. Part of me wondered if I would ever experience that type of rush again.
As I was trying to understand why my weight wavered so much in the months and even years after the magazine was released, a series of tweets about struggle addiction from my Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated sister and fellow FAMU alumnae Tera Carissa Hodges brought it into perspective.
“Who told you struggle was right and peace in ALL areas of your life was wrong?”
“Struggle is uncomfortable for a reason...you’re not meant to stay there.”
“You have to get use to victory because victory feels different than struggle.”
“4 ppl whose minds have been trained by scarcity, failure, & struggle, success is offensive to them... including their own hence self-sabotage.”
“If you are not careful, bondage, lack, and struggle will become your addiction. You will lose everything you have to maintain it.”
Tera’s tweets resonated with me on a spiritual level. Dr. Robert Holden also describes the cycle as destination addiction:
“Destination addiction is a preoccupation with the idea that happiness is somewhere else. We suffer, literally, from the pursuit of happiness. We are always on the run, on the move, and on the go. Our goal is not to enjoy the day, it is to get through the day. We [always have] to get to somewhere else first before we can relax and before we can savor the moment. But we never get there. There is no point of arrival. We are permanently dissatisfied. The feeling of success is continually deferred.”
I was so used to struggling that I thought it was normal. Unwittingly, I was addicted to the high of achievement, so I welcomed the lows to pull me down so I could “get high” all over again.
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”
Matthew 9:17 NLT
My attachment to the scale was a big part of my inner conflict, too. The fear of being anything other than the “picture perfect” 167 pounds was daunting. I became obsessed with the scale, relying on the three digits on a battery-operated device to measure my worth.
I knew better. Weight is just one snapshot of our health. Blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, mental wellness, and overall peace of mind are just as important—if not more important—than the gravitational pull between you and the earth. My brain understood that, but fear of backsliding to 267 pounds hovered over me.
One of my fitness inspirations in Virginia, personal trainer Cassie Reamy, lost one hundred pounds on her journey. She shared this powerful message on social media about the scale as I was coming to terms with my own relationship with it.
“I was so stuck on trying to lose weight and trying to get that number on the scale to drop that I lost focus on the fun of working out. [I think about] how much time I wasted by worrying about what the scale said and not being happy. And that’s what this whole fitness thing is about. It’s about being happy with yourself.”
“Throw your scale out. Just start living life the way that you should. And be healthy with your food and make good choices and it’ll happen. If you want to turn this fitness thing into work, it’s going to be miserable and you’re not going to want to keep it up. But once you start enjoying your workouts and enjoying what you do and enjoying meeting new people in classes, that’s when it’s going to work out for you.”
Her perspective resonated with me. I’d become so hooked on the scale that I ignored every other health achievement. It dictated how I felt about myself. Was it time to part ways, or at the very least, take a break?
Doctors have long debated about the best way to handle the scale, too. In an article “Experts Debate: Should You Weigh Yourself Every Day?” featured on the MyFitnessPal app, weight loss physician Charlie Seltzer, M.D. suggested weighing yourself every day allows you to see a pattern; however, behavioral health expert Paul Davidson, M.D. said, “It is wise to think of a weight goal, but also to develop general health goals to stay focused on continuing the process.”
Davidson further explains, “Factors including blood sugar, cholesterol, body composition, weight circumference, and blood pressure are better indicators of health changes than weight alone.”
I needed to be honest with myself about how my relationship with the scale evolved. A tool that once helped me focus had become a small prison. Stepping on it every day was like waiting for a verdict—worthy or not worthy. My only crime? Using former strategies, old wineskins, in a new season of my life.
Follow David’s Lead
What you read in a few pages in this chapter took me a few years to understand. Imposter syndrome, destination addiction, and old wineskins all played a role in the bad habits I fell back into after the magazine debuted—habits I wrestle with even now. I have yet to “reclaim” the coveted 167, and I’m okay with that, as long as I know I’m doing my best from day to day.
But how do we make sure Goliath is gone for good? Learning more about David’s journey helps me with my own. The sermon “Same Devils, New Levels” by Pastor Steven Furtick reveals that Goliath was not the only giant David would face. As explained in 2 Samuel 21:15-22 NIV, four more giants from the same land as Goliath threatened David. He could no longer use a slingshot to take down the giants. Instead, he enlisted help. He used a new strategy to fight a familiar adversary.
We can use David’s wisdom to win in our own lives—enlist help and employ a new strategy. Shift your methods to match your season. Here’s how I’ve learned to follow David’s lead.
First, I learned to accept help. I asked my husband to throw away the scale in our home. Distancing myself from it for a few years—because that’s how long it’s taken me to heal from that unhealthy attachment—helped me adjust my lens and focus more on the entire picture of wellness.
Second, I placed more value on all of my numbers—blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. I’m making an effort to focus more on making sure those numbers are in good shape. And instead of putting so much value on the scale, I’ve chosen a few articles of clothing to be my gauge. Too loose, I’m losing. Too tight, take a closer look at my habits. Just right, and we’re holding steady. I’ve done enough soul searching and healing by now to reintegrate the scale a few times a year at the most; however, I won’t hop on if it’s right before or during my menstrual cycle, after a treat meal the night before, or if I’m doing it to gauge my worthiness.
I finally see the scale for what it is—a small piece of a wellness pie. It took me several slices of pie—figuratively and literally—to get to here, but that’s what a journey is all about. You don’t always travel journeys in one direction. Sometimes you’ll have to circle back to pick up the lessons you left behind.
When it comes to imposter syndrome, here are four things that help me focus on the joy of reaching my goals without the guilt.
1. Celebrate the achievement. Take a moment to soak it in. Whether it’s weight loss, being sober for a length of time you never thought possible, or removing toxic habits from your life, pat yourself on the back. Do a fun photo shoot. Go on a trip. Take some time for yourself. Mark the occasion with joy! Changing is not easy, and you deserve to do a little dance when you’re headed in the right direction.
2. Embrace the new season of life. Every time you reach a goal, you become a new version of yourself. Respect what you’ve accomplished and adjust the way you see yourself. For example, instead of always telling yourself “I am losing weight,” say, “I make healthy decisions” or “I live a healthy lifestyle” or “I am a healthy, healed person.” Describe the person you’re becoming, so when it happens, you’ll already be in that mindset.
3. Adjust your strategy. Pay attention to how the strategies that helped you achieve your goal function in your new chapter. Do they still help you feel motivated? Or do you feel defeated? Obsessing over the scale was my Achilles’ heel. For you, it could be as simple as a workout routine that no longer challenges you, or as serious as a friend who no longer supports you. Take inventory of your toolbox and make any changes you need for your growth. Be patient with yourself as you adjust. Remember, old wineskins spoil new wine.
4. Find someone who is miles ahead of you on the journey and ask for guidance. Sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why we need people who are well ahead of us on the journey to help us navigate unchartered waters. I’ve confided in friends who’ve lost a lot of weight and kept it off for a decade or longer. Their experiences remind me that challenges come with the territory, and you may have to revamp your strategies every few years. Weight gain can come and go, but it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means you’re human.
These days, I’m looking ahead on my journey with patience, and I hope you do, too. Remember, it is impossible to see the beauty around you if you’re always looking down.