For a long time, Elyse would sneak into the back of my class, do her thing and scoot on out. I knew who she was, #instagram, but we didn't speak much until we connected over this project. I asked her out for a cup of coffee (obviously) and she shared her story with me. Speaking to Elyse felt so familiar, so relatable and so easy. Her resilience and shift in mindset and confidence are exactly what I wanted to highlight in this project. When I asked her if she'd be on board, her response was perfect: she said YES because she is trying to do more things outside of her comfort zone. I am THRILLED to share Elyse's story with you!

My weight loss journey started at a young age or rather, my preoccupation with weight loss started at too early of an age. I know this because, at the age of 11, I had a terrible case of food poisoning—I ended up in the ER, missed a week of school AND lost 5 pounds. I would tell people “yeah, it was horrible and I was so sick but at least I lost weight!” I cringe every time I think of little me saying that. For my middle school graduation, my mom and I went shopping as and usual I picked out outfits for the size I wanted to be and not my current size. I ate salad and barely anything else for a few weeks to fit into this outfit. My mom would say I could buy smaller outfits IF I could lose the weight by whatever time I needed to wear it.

This was my normal. It was exhausting but it's all I knew. As I got older I started to see the hypocrisy in her messages of "what's on the inside is the only thing that matters" and her actions—crash dieting and body shaming. It wasn't until college where I realized that it was such an unhealthy mindset and that's a long time to have those thoughts ingrained. 

We both shared closets full of varying sizes and dreams of skinnier selves. I wasn’t an active child—I liked books and watching old movies and food. I yo-yo dieted for years and would continue that into my early 20s. My relationship with food and my self-esteem eerily mirrored that of my mother’s. My mom would often tell me that what mattered most was on the inside and at the same time would say that she, as a heavy person shouldn’t/couldn’t show her arms or wear jeans or short dresses or clingy outfits–there was a whole list–one she still adheres to to this day. We’d crash diet together, binge together, curse all the skinny models together.

I remember getting ready for our first cruise. We bought "cruise clothes" which meant they were 1 or 2 sizes too small and we pledged to diet; that meant salads and stewed chicken breasts, lots of complaining and being miserable all in the name of looking nice (and going back to old habits) for a week. 

There were other times where we'd eat full meals at 2am, not out of hunger, just boredom? Bonds forged over food.

There were always comments about another woman’s body–“She could stand to eat some bread.” “She’s too fat for that.” “She would look so nice if she lost some weight.” “She’s way too muscular. That’s gross.” And on and on and on.

I’ve never been good with any changes in life, big or small, and starting college, something I was wholly unprepared for was great proof of that. Instead of dealing with the anxiety in a healthy way, I ate like I’d never eaten before. 

One night I consumed nearly 3 Spanish takeout meals. Each contained ~2 cups rice, beans and chicken. Another night I ate half of an Entenmann's cake, an extra-large pizza pie and a bottle of wine. I'd feel empty beforehand and during—I wanted to stop but I just felt like I couldn't and then afterward, shame over my gluttonous behavior. 

My mom got sick during my freshman year and her health rapidly deteriorated. My solution to this: more food. Instead of the freshman 15, I gained 30-40lbs. I would eat until I’d pass out on the couch. I hit 198lbs at 5’1’’ and I was exhausted all the time. Those years are all a blur; my doctor practically begged me to do something so I made small changes to my diet and didn't expect progress overnight (something rarely realistic for me) I didn't take a "before" picture because A. I HATED pictures and B. I had this sinking feeling that I wouldn't be able to lose the weight. 

I'd thought I'd gone too far. There was no return and my habits with food. I couldn't sustain diets in the past, how would I do it now? And I remember being so miserable when dieting,  just to lose 10 or so pounds and then gain it back over and over again. It didn't seem doable.

I started with very small changes in my diet, just drinking water and not soda was a big hurdle. Adding a salad to my meals. I always liked vegetables, I just never ate them. I lost 40 pounds over 2 years. It was a very slow process. Painstakingly slow. My mindset of be-as-skinny-as-possible was off but I was very proud of that. 

When I did start working out I began with spin classes; they were seated AND in the dark so I didn't have to look at myself in a mirror or compare myself to anyone else. I lost 30 pounds.

I had zero interest in strength training; I just wanted to be as skinny as possible until I'd read about lifting weights and burning calories 24 hours after working out. Getting skinnier even faster? Sign me up! The only problem was that these classes weren't seated and there was a ton of light. I was incredibly uncomfortable and initially just jumped from gym to gym looking for a class where I didn't cry afterward and with a male trainer. If I was going to work out in all this bright light, I didn't want to see some fit woman leading the class (the horror!) I was terrified of heavier weights and bless my trainer's heart for putting up with me and my stubbornness. I didn't want to look like a man or run the risk of injuring myself. There was a woman in the class, let's call her Wonder Woman. She was around my age and height but she was strong and fast and initially I was irritated by her superhero qualities. One day I'll thank her for being my first strong idol. 

When I first started telling people my weight loss story a few years ago, I was mighty proud of losing 73 pounds, having a 27-inch waist, reaching my goal weight of 125lbs, my super strict and tracked diet of healthy foods. I was living the dream! That's what I thought I was supposed to be feeling. Everything in my life was supposed to fall into place once I was "the right size."  Except my depression and anxiety didn't immediately disappear and that was the most frustrating thing. I was still incredibly uncomfortable in front of a mirror or showing any amount of skin.

After an injury in the gym sidelined me for nearly a year, I had to start at the beginning all over again and 30lbs heavier—at the exact same weight I was when I ventured into strength training the first time but this time, with a different mindset. I had two years of therapy under my belt. I made a different promise to myself this time; while I enjoyed spin class, I wouldn't spend hours in the dark until I reached the "right size" to go back into weight training. It was difficult as all hell. I cried after the first few classes but I kept going. And I'm so glad I did.

Dealing with all the extra time I had to sit with my injury was not easy. At all. I reverted back to old habits for a short time but as the weight piled on and my mood worsened, I thankfully decided on a whim (and I am the least spontaneous person alive) to dye my hair blond and visit my best friend in London. Big changes are difficult for me but it was a great distraction and huge help. I think I underestimated confiding in a friend and taking time for myself. Once back from the trip, I heeded my PT's advice to start slow with Pilates and work my way back up the fitness ladder. 

I'd like to say that I had some “aha” moment where I just stopped emotional eating or that I loooove my body every single day. I don't. I stopped pushing for "perfect" and started looking for better—a better version of myself. Fitness began as the path to an amazing life but is now a tool. It's definitely a major part of my life but I'm not looking for it to fix everything anymore. I still have bad days when I think I look the WORST and will eat more cake than should be humanly possible but those are anomalies, not my normal. I love my muscles and crop tops even at this weight that I never imagined I could be happy in… something that my mom and I definitely don't agree on but that's ok.

It feels so amazing to spend my energy on loving myself and not criticizing myself for where I am right now. It's still very much a work in progress as old habits die hard but I feel so much stronger now, not just physically. 

When I first read the words “Ultimate Self,” I thought "like, the perfect version of me where I eliminate all the bad" but then I thought it's just being better than I was yesterday—even if by a small amount. 

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