If you’ve been a long time follower here and have seen recent pictures of my best friend Heidi, you know she lost a lot of weight this year. It’s been something she’s wanted to do for a long time–something she attempted many times before, but this time, something was different. Over the years of our friendship, we’ve talked about weight many times. When you want to lose it and you can’t, weight can be a very present theme in your life, and close friends support each other through all the very present themes. Her weight loss journey this year has been about far more than pounds on a scale, and we’ve had some fascinating important discussions through it–discussions that affect a lot of women. We finally sat down for an official interview about it, and I’m so proud to share Heidi in this space today.
Kelle: I want to start with what we’ve been talking about a lot lately, and that is the reaction to your weight loss. First of all, you look amazing, and the work you’ve done–because let’s face it, this took a lot of work and dedication–is really noticeable. I mean, in my DMs alone whenever you’ve shown up on my Instagram lately, I get flooded with the sweetest comments from people noticing and applauding your hard work. I know encouragement from the outside has been meaningful to you and that it’s nice to have your hard work noticed, but you’ve also said the reaction has been eye-opening, overwhelming at times and speaks to our current weight culture. Tell me more about that.
Heidi: First of all, I know the compliments are well meaning, and it’s amazing to have so many people rooting for you. I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to have so many people cheering me on. But I wasn’t prepared for the flood of reactions, and at times, it’s made me think, “Wait–was I really that overweight before? Is it that drastic of a difference?” Because I didn’t feel like I was that bad. And I guess it’s made me feel sad for the pre weight loss version of me. Most of the reaction is so supportive and encouraging, but there is a small percentage of people who treat me different now–like I have more value now that I’m thinner. I’m the same me. There are so many other women out there, wanting to lose weight who probably feel that way–like they aren’t valued as much because of their weight–and not feeling like society values you is awful. The other reaction I wasn’t prepared for is the onslaught of questions–“What did you do? What’s going on? How did you lose it?” People want a magic pill for weight loss, and if one existed, I would have lost this weight a long time ago. My weight loss was hard earned, and the way I did it is so complex–a lot of mental health and pattern changes in my life.
Kelle: We know it’s not about numbers, but you do have a number here. You lost a total of 59 pounds–some of that lost in an earlier phase of weight loss, but most of it lost this past year. You’ve laughed and said no one noticed the first 40. It wasn’t until the last 20 came off that people started saying things like “You look like a different person.” You’ve also received some shaming/condescending comments though when you mentioned your number–like “so sad you have to mention the number. It’s not about that.” I know you have thoughts about this.
Heidi: First of all, of course I know it’s not about a number. But I think goals are good because it gives you something to shoot for and just saying “I want to be stronger” or “I want to feel better” (even though that’s true) is kind of a gray area. Numbers don’t work for everyone, but they can be great for measuring progress. When the number goes up, it’s just a sign to reevaluate what I’m doing. When the number goes down, it can be really motivating to keep going. Eventually, when you’re in a good place with how you are taking care of your body, you can lose the numbers. Here’s the other thing–if I want to use a number, I can use a number. People can pick whatever damn plan they want, and what works for you might not work for me. If you’re not getting shamed for being fat, you’re getting shamed for how you’re losing weight.
Kelle: Amen. Preach! Okay, we’ve been friends for years, and losing weight has been something you’ve talked about a lot over the years. You lost a lot of weight several years ago, put some back on–whatever. My point is, in our friendship, it’s definitely been a topic we’ve had to communicate about. I knew it was a theme in your life, and I wanted to know how to support you. I remember one time you made a joke about yourself being fat and, thinking I was building you up, I kind of awkwardly laughed and said, “Oh stop, you’re not fat.” And you corrected me and said, “But I am. And you don’t have to do that when I say I am–you don’ t have to tell me I’m not.” That opened up a big conversation where I asked you how you want me to support you through this weight thing. I wanted to be what you needed, and I wasn’t sure what path to take. When you made comments about your weight, I always said things like, “Weight doesn’t matter, you’re beautiful just the way you are!”(which was true!). But at one point, you made it clear that you didn’t want that anymore. You wanted to lose the weight, and you wanted more of a cheerleader–someone who would help you stay accountable to your goal. Tell me more about this shift.
Heidi: One thing I know from being different weights is that when you are in a circle of women and you bring up weight, especially if you’re the one that’s heavier, it becomes a giant elephant in the room. Everyone gets uncomfortable–no one wants your feelings hurt, no one knows what to say. If you make a fat joke about yourself, is it okay for other people to laugh? The funny thing is I was never uncomfortable talking about it but everyone else was.
Kelle: So tell me your advice for someone who wants to support her friend who’s dealing with weight issues and wants to lose it.
Heidi: First, having an open conversation is important–like exactly what you did for me. You asked, “How can I best support you through this?” And then follow your friend’s instructions. If she wants a workout partner, show up to work out with her. If she wants accountability, check in with her. I think one of the best things you did for me was to become part of my goal. You weren’t just a coach checking in. You wanted to do the things too. I remember telling you I was going to go off sugar, and you said, “Okay, I’ll do it with you.” And we called each other and reported. And if I tried something new–from the fat bombs I made to a new sugar free dressing I bought–you tried it too. And then the workouts. Doing workouts together and making each other work out made this so much easier and fun! That is the most supportive thing a friend can do.
Kelle: Okay, so everyone wants to know. What really did it this time? You’ve tried to lose weight for years, started and stopped. But this time was so different. I know a lot of the back story because I’m your friend, and it’s been such a beautiful story to watch. But tell us more about what made you try again and why it worked this time.
Heidi: There were two major things that were wakeup calls for me, and they both happened around the same time. One was an article I read. I was in the doctor’s office for one of my kids, and I picked up a magazine and happened to see this headline about the new guidelines for hypertension put out by the American Heart Association. I read the article, and I had so many of the symptoms. I started googling all about it, and it scared me. I was already feeling so sluggish, unhealthy, worried about me weight, and now I was over 40. I knew I could no longer ignore it. But the biggest thing was more of an emotional wakeup call. I found an old journal of mine–like from when I was 19. I read the things I wrote, and I cried. I didn’t value myself then. All I cared about was pleasing everyone else. I was constantly shrinking, giving my voice away. And maybe it’s because of the oppressive religion I grew up in, but I always thought that was a good thing. I martyred myself–never spoke up, let everyone walk all over me and thought that it just meant I had a big caring heart. And here I was 20 years later, and I still recognized so many of those traits. I wanted to own my voice like I never had before. Here’s where I was forced to face some ugly truths. I had some really unhealthy patterns in my own life that went well beyond food. And maybe all the other times I tried to lose weight before never really succeeded because I was only focusing on that category of my life. My relationship with food and my body was so tangled up with other relationships, and I knew that I needed to do a deep dive into all of those. This past year hasn’t just been about weight. I’ve been working a lot on finding my voice and getting myself strong on so many different levels. I have pushed myself into so many uncomfortable areas, and I’ve made myself stay there to do the work. There’s been more of an inward change than anything else. And I’m still working on it. It’s not like I’ve arrived to some magical place. It’s life long work, you know?
Kelle: I’ve been there for all of it, and can I just say from someone on the outside, I’m so proud of you. I feel like I’ve watched someone run a marathon. One of the things you’ve talked about through this that I think is such a golden nugget of truth–a major AHA!–is the “why” behind your motivation. Because we hear the “I did this for my family” story a lot or “My kids motivated me–I want them to have a strong mom.” And I love what you say about this.
Heidi: Part of the whole reason why I reached my lowest point was this sacrificial philosophy we’re taught to adopt–that I had no business doing anything unless I ran it through the “Is this going to benefit your family?” filter. I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I lost my voice, I lost my confidence, I lost my determination because I didn’t know how to think outside of living for my family and my kids. I love my kids more than anything, and I’d die for them, but I’m very proud of the fact that I didn’t do this for my kids. I did this for me and me alone. Does a healthier stronger me benefit them? Sure, that’s a nice bi-product, but that’s not why I did it. If you need the motivator of “I’m doing this for my kids or my family” because doing it selfishly for yourself isn’t motivating enough, then you need to figure out why that is. And honestly, if that’s you’re motivator, you might not be successful because if you don’t value yourself enough to do it just for you, even if your kids are crying “Don’t leave” every time you go the gym, then you might not value yourself enough to stick with the plan. You owe it to yourself, regardless of how it benefits your family. I did this for me.
Kelle: SLOW. CLAP. I think you’ve made a very important revelation here. Besides this internal work, obviously there’re some specific things you’ve done that have played an important role in your weight loss. Can you tell me some changes you made that contributed to your weight loss?
Heidi: One thing that was definitely different this time was hiring a trainer. I had done diets before but never really did the workout portion, partly because I told myself I couldn’t–I didn’t think I was strong enough, and I thought I had a bad back. And the funny thing is, if you’re not exercising, that could be a major reason why you have a bad back and aren’t strong. I was given a gift card to a training facility a year prior by my friend Brooke, and finally I decided to use it. I was TERRIFIED. It’s a very vulnerable thing to walk into a training gym when you feel heavy and sluggish and low. I went online and found the gym first and ended up sending a direct message that said something like, “Hi, my name is Heidi. I think I’m finally ready to hire a trainer. I have a bad back. I’d like to make an appointment in the next couple weeks.” And they messaged me back, “How about tomorrow, 9:00 a.m.?” which I wasn’t expecting. But I made a promise to myself at the beginning of this journey to say yes to everything. So I said yes.
Kelle: Tell me about that first training appointment.
Heidi: I know this might sound silly, but I actually took a video of me walking toward the gym, and I said out loud to myself, “You’re going to want to remember this. It’s going to be different this time.” It wasn’t easy. In fact, I actually fell off the treadmill after the workout because my legs were so sore from not working out–like fell on my face. It was embarrassing, but I just kept telling myself to keep going–to laugh at myself but get back up. Do you remember coming with me to the second training appointment?
Kelle: I do. You had a little bit of a breakdown.
Heidi: I sobbed. We were doing an exercise that was really tough for me, and I think it was a combination of the struggle and seeing how easy it was for you, but I just lost it and started crying in the middle of the gym in front of everyone. You and the trainer were both really great and supportive and let me know it was totally normal to cry. But I think a lot of it in the beginning was just regret and anger with myself. How did it take me this long to love myself and take care of myself? I hated myself and I hated my lack of self confidence, and I couldn’t believe how low I let myself get. But I didn’t give up. I just kept going, tears and all. It really helps to find a gym or trainer where you feel 100% comfortable. Of course I didn’t feel comfortable at first, but no one ever made me feel “less than.” Even though I didn’t know how to do the exercises, even though I may have looked weak, all my trainer did was build me up. When I said something bad about myself, he stopped me and said, “Tell me something you’re good at.” And do you know how hard that was for me at first? I didn’t want to say one thing. But things started mentally shifting when I was working out. I heard my self talk, and it was shocking. And to have someone push you through it and remind you to shift your self talk, to think of yourself in powerful positive ways–finally, patterns started shifting. I don’t think I could have done it alone. I needed support. Training was an investment–and that was really hard for to do because I kept seeing that money as taking away from my family. But there I go again–always using that filter. We are valuable and worth it, and spending money on a trainer was the best thing I ever did.
Kelle: I remember when summer came around, you had made all this progress with training, and you were really scared that it would all fall apart when you left to go Michigan. You were so good at preparing and setting yourself up for success. Tell me about that.
Heidi: Having a trainer is a game changer, but obviously you have to figure out how to keep your workouts up at home and how to maintain taking care of your body when you don’t have the luxury of trainer. And let’s face it–it is a luxury, and I know that there are plenty of people who simply can’t make their budget work for a trainer. Once I learned some exercises I could do on my own, I went to Target–do you remember that trip because you came with me? We basically built a modest summer home gym. You showed me some of the things you were using, and our plan was that we would work out together over FaceTime throughout the summer, so we wanted to make sure we had the same equipment. I bought 5 pound weights, 10/12 pound weights, a set of resistance bands, and a weighted ball. And we used those in FaceTime workouts together all throughout the summer.
Kelle: Can I tell you how much fun that’s been? Supporting you and being a cheerleader during your weight loss process has inspired me to keep up and have fun my own wellness plan and make sure I’m routinely exercising, especially this past summer. I remember being up in Michigan, doing squat sets in my dad’s front lawn, and he laughed when he saw that I was working out with you from the screen on my phone that was propped up on a tree trunk knot. I also remember a huge accomplishment for you this past year was running a 5K. Want to talk about that?
Heidi: God, that 5K. Putting that on my calendar and saying I was going to do it was huge. I think it’s important to have a visible goal like that. I know a 5K might not seem like a big deal to people who run, but you have to understand–I couldn’t run a block. A 5K in my mind might as well have been a marathon. I was terrified. I cried over it multiple times as it got nearer. But it gave me something to fight for–something I had to work to prepare for. So I was out running in my neighborhood every night.
Kelle: Like how far were you running to prepare? A mile?
Heidi: A mile?!? (laughing) More like 10 houses down and back. And I could barely breathe over that. I remember someone once saw me running in the neighborhood and laughed and said, “You’re not even running.” I was like, “Oh yeah? Fuck you. My ass is out here. My shoes are on this pavement. I’m RUNNING. I’M A RUNNER.”
Kelle: That 5K is a really special memory for our friendship. We drove out to Lover’s Key early in the morning, and you were practically hyperventilating before it started. But it was beautiful. And the beach was there, and the sunlight was coming in through the palm trees. And then we just started running. Me and you.
Heidi: Wait–weren’t we in the bathroom when they started the race? And we walked out and everyone was gone, so we were already behind–which is probably great, because it took the pressure off. But man, that race. It was so hard. The heat was insane, and I started getting a migraine. Remember when I started sobbing and said I couldn’t finish? So then we started walking.
Kelle: I remember you started really strong, but when you started failing–when you had to slow down or take a break, the old negative self talk just came flooding back.
Heidi: I remember you made a rule on that run. You told me that every time I said something negative about myself, I had to fix it by following with a positive inverse. And I was bitching non stop, so there were a lot of inverses. Remember at one point I said, “I’m seriously going to die right now,” and you gave me the look, so I followed with, “I’m going to die, but it’s not going to be today, bitch.” And when I said, “I’m going to puke,” I fixed it with, “I mean I’m going to puke, but that’s okay because I love puke.” And we had to stop because we were laughing so hard. But there were so many other runners who were working hard that day. I remember noting a lady–she was older and overweight–and she was speed walking faster than I was running. And then at one point, to make me feel better, you said, “But look! There’s a 10-year-old behind us. You’re beating the 10-year-old!” And right as you said that, the 10-year-old sprinted past us–and she was aggressive about it. You were like, “I guess we don’t have that anymore.” We laughed a lot during that race. And I, of course, cried. But I did it. I crossed the finish line, probably last, and my kids were there and ran to hug me. I had a migraine for the rest of the day, but I also got to say I ran a 5K after I said I was going to do it–even though I couldn’t run a block two months earlier. I remember the mantra I kept telling myself through the whole thing: “You can go longer. You can go further.” And that’s been my mantra through a lot of things this year.
Kelle: Just for fun–I know music is a huge motivator for all of us. I know people who have gone through big things listening to the same song over and over for comfort, and I know music can be a powerful motivator for workouts. What are three songs you have on repeat during workouts.
Heidi: Don’t Give up on Me by Andy Grammar. When the song was playing, I would tell myself the song was about my kids, but let’s face it–it was probably about me. Lizzo for sure. And then Madonna and Britney Spears.
Kelle: There are so many women out there right now who don’t feel good about themselves. Maybe it’s their body, maybe it’s unhealthy patterns. Maybe it’s the fact that they’ve tried to reach a goal over and over, and they’re not getting there. Maybe they feel really stuck. What would you say to them to help them get started?
Heidi: Do it for you. Make the choice to do it for yourself, and if that’s hard to do, ask yourself why. Be willing to face truths about yourself and recognize patterns. Be willing to own choices that got you where you are, but then own the truth that you can change those patterns any time you want. You can make new choices. Also, you can’t do it alone. Find support. Ask your friends, find cheerleaders, find accountability partners. Invite people in.
Kelle: I love you so much, and I’m so proud of you. I don’t care what you look like, but the confidence you’ve found through this makes me so happy. I always want to see you at your best self, no matter what that is, and seeing you work so hard to achieve that is inspiring.