Don't Wait, Go For It!

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Home | Columnists + Experts | Ceslie Armstrong | Don't Wait, Go For It!

What Are You Waiting For? Really?

If I had a dollar for every time a woman said, “When I lose ______ pounds, I’m going to _______.” Well, you can imagine how wealthy I’d be! Think about it. How many New Year’s resolutions have you made to lose weight? How many times have you told yourself that you won’t buy new clothes until you lose weight? In the meantime, the clock does not stop ticking. The minutes, hours, days, and ultimately years of your life continue to pass by. It’s a little game that women play with themselves—a dangerous game that usually results in negative body image, low self-esteem, and poor health.

Most women find it difficult and selfish to put themselves first. By first, I mean to think of their own needs on the same priority level as their mates, kids, family members, bosses, and even their pets! We are born nurturers and caretakers. Most women I know truly enjoy helping and pleasing others; however, when the meal is finished, or the school project is complete, we are left with the reality of our own personal needs not being met. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why don’t we reward ourselves for the accomplishments in our lives rather than punishing ourselves for what we perceive as failure?

Over the past few weeks I have been questioning women in my life about this and they have confirmed what I have also learned over the years from many other women I have interviewed: it’s a feeling that because we don’t look our best, then, we must not deserve the pay-off. For example, we think we don’t deserve a new little black dress because our middle is broader and our upper arms are flabbier so we wear the same old dress and then feel bad because everyone else in the room looks sexier. It’s a circle of self-degradation. Here’s what happened to a woman I know, (I’ve changed her name to Carolyn and I bet you know a “Carolyn” out there too), when she turned 42:

Carolyn was a happily married professional (marketing manager) woman with a teen-age daughter. She had always been a few pounds above her desired weight, but, enjoyed cooking and entertaining and never really tried too hard to manage her weight or health. Carolyn was the friend we always counted on to be the life of the party. To hear Carolyn tell the story, she says she just woke up one morning, looked in the mirror and became gravely depressed. She felt fat, unhealthy, and thought she had “lost her edge,” that she looked “old-fashioned and un-hip.” So, Carolyn decided to take action. To her, that meant depriving herself of things that she believed she didn’t deserve until she lost that “number”—that 20 pounds that she had convinced herself she HAD to lose. The truth is, Carolyn probably needed to lose 12 pounds and exercise a few times a week for health reasons. She really did look great as she was; but, she didn’t think so.

For the next few months, Carolyn continued to perform at work and home; however, there was something missing. She had lost her zeal—her spark. Her self-esteem had plummeted to an all time low. Over time, she stopped grooming herself as she had always done so expertly. She let her roots grow out. She did not buy herself one new thing in over six months. She let her nails go. She became anti-social. Carolyn was so depressed about her looks that she deprived herself of looking good. The depression caused her to be even more sedentary than before and she actually gained another 10 pounds. She was overlooked for a promotion at work because she had lost her positive attitude that used to radiate and wow those around her. Also, she felt her marriage slipping away and she and her husband hadn’t had sex in almost a year. It was time to take action! She asked her girlfriends for help. We had tried to intervene before, but she wasn’t ready. Now she was.

A group of us sat in her living room, shared a bottle of wine (or two) and analyzed the situation. Could it be that her method of punishing and depriving herself as the motivation to lose 20 pounds backfired? YES! Carolyn is so smart. She would have NEVER allowed her child, or husband, or co-worker to do such a thing; but, as typical women do, she put herself last. So, we devised a plan and went shopping!

I took Carolyn to a nutritionist, day spa, and for some much needed retail therapy. It wasn’t about spending the money to look better, rather, it was about holding on to who she really is without punishing who she thought she had become. The inside was the same. It was the outside that she used to punish herself. Knowing that she now had a reasonable plan to lose the weight, we went shopping for some affordable basics that would be her temporary wardrobe. We agreed that as she reduced in size and became healthier, she would donate the clothes to charity. I did not want her to keep her “fat clothes” as a crutch. The goal was to get Carolyn to a healthy size 12 in six months time. Within a week, she was so motivated and it showed in her performance at work (and in the bedroom!) right away. She says it’s because she looked good and her self-esteem was back. She knew she didn’t look her absolute best; however, when you look good, you feel good and that was the ultimate incentive for her to look even better.

Carolyn made up her mind that she deserved to take the necessary time to focus on herself or else she wouldn’t have the capacity to make the others she cared about happy. She believed that she deserved an extra hour a day to either exercise or go to the spa. She scheduled shopping time with her girlfriends and made a promise to herself to buy something new and trendy at least once a month—no matter what size!

I’m thrilled to say that Carolyn has lost 28 pounds and is happy! She is once again the life of the party, although, a much healthier life. She is a fantastic role model for her daughter and her marriage is stronger than ever. I spoke with Carolyn yesterday and she told me that her one regret is that she wasted a year of her life “waiting.” When I asked what she meant, she said “I felt I didn’t deserve to reward myself because I didn’t like how I looked, so, I kept telling myself that I was waiting to take the weight off. I would play a little game in my head telling myself that when I lost five pounds I would go to the salon—five more pounds and I would buy a new purse—five more pounds and a new dress,” she continued, “it was a vicious cycle of self-deprivation that didn’t help anyone around me.” Carolyn also told me to write this column because we all know women who fall in to the same trap. The good news for Carolyn is that she only “waited” a year. Are you waiting? Ask yourself “what for?” and then go shopping!
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