Before & After
No, this is not a weight loss before/after piece.
Bear with me.
Recently, I was asked to speak and tell my “story” to a group, and as I was writing it out I realized a lot of things about myself.
When I was a kid, I struggled with my weight. I struggled with being the “big girl” in my friend groups. I struggled with kids at school teasing me for my weight, and even my overall appearance.
I learned lots of things back then.
I learned how to eat my feelings. I learned how to hide snacks from my family. I learned that, as a latchkey kid in the morning and afternoon, I could have ice cream or a heaping plate of nachos (or both!) for breakfast (and after school snack) and no one would know.
Bored? Cheese & crackers!
I didn’t know anything about calories, or healthy foods, or portion control – but I knew that I really liked to eat.
When I was a teenager, I experienced several tragedies within a few years – my parents divorced, I later witnessed ongoing abuse, and I lost a very close friend to a tragic car accident.
After those things happened, I became a really angry, rebellious kid.
But these were new emotions that I didn’t know how to deal with. So instead of eating my feelings, I starved them.
My senior year, I lost 40 pounds in 6 months, subsisting solely on saltine crackers and soda.
I almost didn’t graduate high school on time, because I missed so many days due to my physical health. I was fainting several times a week, having panic attacks, and just overall was an unhealthy mess.
I remember my mom going to the high school and arguing with my principal about my medical excuse and my ability to graduate after I continued to miss days of school.
My parents were at their wits’ end trying to figure out what was wrong with me, with no real answers.
I can look back now and identify all of the pieces of grief and depression that I was experiencing that had begun to manifest in my physical health when I stopped taking care of myself.
Fast forwarding a few years, I had my kids at age 23 and 26. I piled on 80 pounds when I was pregnant with my oldest – in hindsight, that much weight wasn’t due to some medical issue that caused me to go to extremes, but just because I was terrified of this stage and how my life was changing.
I had begun eating my feelings again.
I lost 15 pounds, at most, between pregnancies, and then piled it back on for the second one.
In 2011, my husband had an emergency surgery on both his knees and was out of commission for 8 weeks (we had two kids under 5 years old at the time).
We ate our weight in Oreo cookies almost daily during those 8 weeks.
This picture is me. No, not pregnant, actually a full 5 years after my youngest child. Since I had never learned anything other than to eat my feelings or starve them, losing the baby weight was an impossible task. Every stress that I had through those next few years just compounded my weight problem.
When I decided to go to graduate school for counseling, I knew that I was going to have a lot of work to do in order to be emotionally healthy – for myself and for the clients that I see.
By the time I graduated, I had identified the different times in my life that I had let anxiety, depression, and trauma get the best of me and control the course of my life.
I did years of my own emotional work throughout grad school and afterwards that helped me learn my true worth in this world. I learned that my worth has nothing to do with what I accomplish, how I look, or even the horrible things that I had experienced.
Instead, I intrinsically have value because I’m a human, which automatically makes me worthy of love.
Just like you, by the way.
This emotional work is an ongoing battle. Maybe you know that because of your history, too, but if not, just know that sometimes when you go through trauma, you bump through life and don’t always realize that the reason that you experience things the way you do is because of what you told yourself over the years about that experience.
Or because of what someone else told you about yourself a long time ago.
Or what you believed about the world around you because you had to endure a really difficult experience.
At some point during that work, I realized that I had more power over my thoughts and more control over my behaviors than I had ever believed.
I gathered support, accountability, and encouragement from the truth-tellers in my life that could help me prop up my new understanding about myself and my life.
And throughout that time, I realized that the same way that I had been telling myself that I was unworthy, unlovable, and not enough – I had also been telling myself that the food that I used to comfort myself was all that I needed to make everything better.
So I added that to the list of things that I needed to reprogram in my brain.
Now look, I’m not saying that I’m at my ideal weight, and that I never struggle with food anymore. But what I’m saying is that nowadays I’m very aware of when my cravings are coming from a place of wanting to cope with something. I’m aware of the messages that I am believing about the food I consume.
And I’m aware that there is no number on the scale that will make me a better person than I was before I lost any of the weight.
So no, this isn’t a weight loss before and after photo. This is a mental health before and after photo. These pictures were taken before and after I began to make changes to the messages that I was believing about myself.
A side effect of telling myself the truth about my worth was that I was able to lose weight – which is great.
But the biggest side effect was that I began to take my life back from the chaos that I had allowed into it.
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor serving South Carolina. You can read more about her here.