This is an older article from Glamour.com written by Margarita Bertsos about her weight loss journey.
About a year and a half ago, I stood at the edge of a gym pool wearing a baggy old college sweatshirt over my swimsuit. I was there to begin a weight loss program I desperately needed, but I couldn’t bring myself to strip down. Still, I knew I had two options: go back home and continue to live my life miserably overweight, one spoonful of frozen yogurt at a time, or pull the trigger on my weight loss and dive in. I peeled off my shirt and jumped.
I don’t know how much I weighed when I got in the pool that day. I had spent 10 years in denial of the numbers. I would even close my eyes when I stepped on the scale at the doctor’s office. But I didn’t need a scale to tell me how big my weight problem had become: I could barely look at my own reflection in the mirror. I used a compact to apply makeup, blow-dried my hair over the kitchen sink, left the lights off in the bathroom when I washed my hands. And it wasn’t just the mirror that told me I was too big. I’d stopped visiting relatives in Greece because I was always greeted at the airport with hugs and “Wow, you’ve gained weight since the last time we saw you!” At home in New York, boutique owners would peel back the curtains of their dressing rooms if I took too long, nervous that I’d rip the clothes. I put on a “fat but happy” face, but I was secretly crumbling inside a body I hated. And, as I had ever since I was a teenager, I ate compulsively to relieve some of that loathing.
People often ask me if there was a moment that made me ready to get healthy. But my whole life was a succession of moments. Like everyone who’s ever tried to lose weight, I’d start countless weight loss plans on Monday and would be ordering cheesecake from the 24-hour diner by Friday. What made this time different? I realized that getting rid of the awful pain of hating myself was more important than losing pounds. That was the beginning; these are the other secrets I learned along the way.
Change your mind first (your body follows).
In the past, when a few weeks of working out didn’t land me in a string bikini, I would’ve gotten discouraged and ended up curling up with a pint of ice cream in bed. But this time, I knew I had to retrain my brain. So I stuck with swimming even though I didn’t see immediate results. I loved the sense of weightlessness, the escape from thinking about my thighs, the inability to hear the world telling me I was too big. I gave myself realistic expectations: It had taken me longer than four weeks to get here, and it would take me longer than that to get out, too. Then, a few months after my first flirtation with the pool, my body winked back. My legs were feeling a little less jiggly when I walked down the street; my 20-minute swim had turned into a half hour; and—most shocking of all—when the pool closed for renovations, I found myself traveling uptown to use a different one.
After another few months, I needed to mix things up, so I tried spinning. I could ride in the back corner of the room, with remixed Rihanna to zone out to. One night, a blond instructor in neon spandex named Lacey Stone wedged herself three inches from my face, looked me in the eye and screamed, “Go! Pedal faster! You’re stronger than you think!” “No, I’m not,” I cried back, feeling like my legs might break off. “Yes, you are!” she yelled louder. For the first time in my life, I felt like someone saw my body—my imperfect, out-of-shape body—as strong, capable, even powerful. It meant the world to me. So I hired her to be my trainer, or—what I really felt I needed— my own personal cheerleader.
While I see Lacey only once in a while now, working out has become an almost daily ritual I look forward to. I used to lose my breath just walking up the subway stairs; now I can jog nearly five miles outside. I practice yoga, I’ve tried countless group fitness classes at my gym, and I even took surfing lessons. I’ve found so many forms of exercise I enjoy that my routine is different every single week—and it’s no longer something I dread.
About four months after I started working out with Lacey, none of my clothes were fitting, but for a reason that was foreign to me—they were too big. Even my shoes were looser. I went shopping and was trying on skirts three sizes smaller than anything in my closet. My body was reacting to the changes I was making, and instead of just hoping I could shape up, now I knew I could. That’s what I’ve figured out about losing weight: You can’t sit around and wait for the motivation to strike. Do the work—then the motivation comes.
Don’t lie to yourself about what you are eating.
As I lost weight, everyone asked, “What diet are you on?” “Sorry,” I’d say, “but I’m not on one.” Of course I had to say goodbye to my old habits—I was eating too much takeout, cheese and red meat, not enough healthy carbs, fruit and veggies; I slept too little, worked too late and spent every paycheck on decadent dinners and dessert cocktails. First, I gave up diet soda (or, as I called it, diet crack) because I noticed that my soda addiction went hand in hand with my visits to the office candy jar. My cravings for Kit Kat Minis started to wane without my even trying. Then, at the salad bar, I faced the truth that goat cheese, cheddar, avocado, cashews and “green goddess” dressing weren’t going to turn me into a Greek goddess anytime soon, despite the bed of lettuce they were on. The Body by Glamour food plan said I needed fat, but not five kinds of it at every meal—so I swapped the cheese for broccoli, discovered beets and soon realized I could actually taste the veggies without all of that creamy dressing. I still haven’t completely licked my tendency to overeat, but now it’s more likely to be fruit salad, not two pints of ice cream.
Surround yourself with people who believe you matter.
Before losing weight, my friendships had become a little lopsided. I don’t blame anyone but myself for that. I made myself indispensable to everyone around me: I was the assistant who came to the office every weekend; the daughter who spent summers working at her parents’ restaurant when her friends were at the beach; the girl you could call at 3:00 A.M. when you were stressing out about your job or your boyfriend or your toenail color. But when I needed to be taken care of, I cradled myself in a pizza box.
As I tried to get healthy, one thing became nonnegotiable: I’d have to be a better friend to myself. As a result, my relationships went through growing pains. Friends would say things like, “OK, Margarita, now don’t lose any more weight; you’re going to disappear on us!” or wonder why I couldn’t split dessert like I always had. A dear friend e-mailed me on New Year’s Eve: She was glad to see my new confidence but worried I’d changed and didn’t have time for her anymore.
I was heartbroken. I actually questioned whether my happiness was worth having my friendships deteriorate. But I reminded myself that nurturing my own needs didn’t make me selfish. I stayed committed to my new lifestyle, even if it meant my relationships would change. Today, instead of my friends and I bonding over cheese fries, we jog, go to yoga, cook dinner at home. And without all the resentment and sadness I used to feel, I’m able to be a better friend.
My family life has changed too. I often feel like my parents and brother are meeting me for the first time, at 28. They used to say they didn’t know anything about me. I had used my body as a barricade to shut people out, but I’ve slowly been able to chip away that wall and let people in. Sometimes, when I’m visiting my parents in Connecticut and tying my shoes up for a jog, out of the corner of my eye I’ll see my mom and dad smiling at each other as if their daughter has recovered from an illness. And I feel like I have.
Don’t wait for the finish line to celebrate how far you’ve come.
I’ve realized that this process isn’t just about getting to a “goal weight.” If it were, I still wouldn’t be there, and I’d be beating myself up instead of focusing on all my little breakthroughs and accomplishments, everything from winning a squat-holding contest at a fitness event to volunteering to blog about weight loss and body image on glamour.com. I love taking risks that used to terrify me. For someone who’d spent her life ducking to avoid attention, letting myself accept these kinds of opportunities was a real milestone.
I don’t know if I’ll ever cross a finish line: There will always be that little voice telling me there is more weight to lose, a muscle to tone, a size to fit into. That doesn’t mean I can’t stop and celebrate the transformations—physical and emotional—that I’ve made so far. On the day of my photo shoot for this story, I walked over to the photographer’s digital screen after she’d snapped a few test photographs. I looked at the girl in the photo and started to cry: I didn’t recognize her. She was happy.
“I ask myself what I’m hungry for. Actual food? Or something to satisfy an emotional need? I’m relearning the role of food in my life as physical nourishment, rather than as escape or comfort.”
“The less sugar I eat, the fewer cravings I have for sweets and other less-healthy foods. Dessert for me these days is a 2 percent Greek yogurt with fruit. Surprisingly, it’s totally satisfying!”
“Exercise is changing my relationship with my body. Every workout teaches me to love my body for what it can do, rather than what it looks like—and it gives me a nonfood way to de-stress.”