Project Healthy Holly
Today is my two year PHB’versary. As far as weight loss and health go, that is about 23 months longer than I have ever committed to myself. If that isn’t an endorsement of the power of this program and the likelihood that it is a life-long commitment, I don’t know what is. I am also staring down the milestone of being one hundred pounds lighter than when I started (so close!). That is a staggering data point, but the physical change is secondary to the evolving that I have done on the inside. This program has transformed my entire life – from my physical health, to my marriage, career, and friendships. It has also sent shock waves of better health out to my immediate and extended family, my circle of friends, my Facebook circle of friends, and many friends of friends. This is not a quick fix. It is not a diet. It isn’t something that you do to fit in a certain dress for an upcoming event (which, by the way, never works anyway). This program is a sustainable, life-long commitment to better health that blossoms from the inside out – and it is the greatest gift I have ever given myself.
The work of better heath and vitality is simple, but it is far from easy. It has been a series of stops and starts, sometimes long plateaus, and sometimes it has felt like two steps forward and one step back. It is a sequence of micro steps, which in aggregate, equal big changes. Every moment is an opportunity to make a choice rooted in health and self love; just as every moment is an opportunity to do the opposite. When I look back at the past two years, I can see clear stages that I have moved through – each focusing on a different element of healing and self-love – and all being essential steps in cultivating the life that I want for myself.
2017 was the first year of my healing and it was mostly physical. There is a motivation and pace that exists in the beginning of any new health program, and for me, PHB was no different. At first, the weight-loss exploded like a rocket! There was something about the idea that I was no longer restricted in what I could and could not eat that gave me the freedom to make consistent healthy choices. Jennifer’s program spoke to me in a way that all of the “diets” that I had previously tried ever did. That is because PHB is not a diet. I have learned to view food as fuel, not an event; food is energy, not a reward (or a punishment). For years, my near constant focus on food and weight was a way for me to avoid feeling. Which is probably why I would enjoy an initial drop in weight with every new diet that I tried, but once I was no longer distracting myself with food, I was left with my feelings and would end up giving up and going back to my old unhealthy habits. Around and around I went for twenty years. Each time regaining all the weight plus a little more.
This time was different because while I was learning how to heal myself through food, I was also learning about self-love. Before PHB, I had no idea how much I actually hated myself. If asked, I would have honestly answered that I was a pretty confident and authentic. Which is kind of funny because confident and authentic people don’t punish themselves with food and then hate themselves. The tandem work of changing my outsides and my insides at the same time is at the root of why this program has been so successful for me and many others. Looking back now, I can see the stages of my growth so clearly.
2017 was about getting the program basics down: learning the PHB formula for eating, discovering the negative roommate that lives inside of me and how to keep her on lockdown, and scratching the surface on feeling my feelings.
That year was a monumental shift in my health and vitality that started with making small changes in my habits. Layering in those small changes, over time, led to huge results (both physically and mentally) and were the building blocks that I needed to have in place in order to be successful long-term and face the hard work of building resilience and tackling my long-standing challenges of feeling my feelings instead of eating them. Feeling my feelings became the second stage of my healing, and how I will most remember 2018.
By the beginning of 2018, I had the program basics pretty much nailed. Gone were the days of wishing and hoping that this would be the last stop on my quest for greater health and vitality. I was confident that the PHB program is a sustainable and life long way to not only maintaining my health, but also achieving greater wellness by staying humble and continuing to learn more. Like Jennifer always says, “there is no THERE there! In terms of food, I was consistently making good choices. There were still occasions that I made less healthy choices, but those decisions were conscious and free of the guilt, shame, and all or nothingness that had plagued me for years. On the rare occasions that I blew it and fell off my bike, I was quickly back on – and also noticed that the space of time between falls was getting longer and longer.
Despite demonstrating all of the fundamentals, I was still stuck in a pretty lengthy plateau. I had some more issues with my thyroid medication – but even after that was ironed out, I struggled to lose weight. When there was still no movement by springtime, Jennifer suggested that I try finding a therapist to help me unblock whatever was stalling my progress. I agreed, and hindsight, working with a therapist was absolutely essential to me doing a deep dive into the emotional component of my issues with weight.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung
I have always been a positive person. It comes very natural to me, and it is easily my greatest strength. It was also arguably my biggest hurdle to pushing through my health plateau. Through working with a therapist, I uncovered that I was using my positive nature to keep from truly feeling things that were hard. One of the strategies that helped me start to unpack this was to connect feelings to my body. It sounds basic, but it really helped me begin to identify the authentic underlying feelings I was experiencing. When something would happen, I would ask myself how I felt and then ask where in my body I was feeling it. It was a way to slow myself down and consciously walk through my feelings, instead of glossing over them completely and eating them later. With practice, this work has become less and less deliberate – and as suspected, contributed to kick starting my weight loss back up again. Hooray for therapy and hooray for feeling our feelings!
The hard work of walking through the emotional muck of my weight loss took me about six months. Through it, I really hunkered down and allowed myself to feel. I was a quieter and more authentic version of myself. I learned to ditch the pressure and expectation of being “fun Holly”. I also gave myself permission not to drink at events, if that was what I wanted. It didn’t give up drinking, I just allowed myself to decide whether or not I truly wanted to have a cocktail. I also allowed myself to be sad. I think that was the most profound change in 2018 – the permission to feel sad. For so many years, I stuffed less desirable feelings down deep where I couldn’t feel it. The thing is, though, you can’t stuff them down deep enough that they cease to exist. They have to go somewhere. My strategy was to eat them, which is really lose/lose (or gain/gain, depending on how you look at it).
After the fog of the emotional work settled, I really felt myself transition into a more authentic and confident version of myself. With that authenticity came something unexpected: perceived abundance and less controlling behavior. This was the most enjoyable holiday season that I have ever experienced, because of that work. From Halloween through New Years Eve, I was truly present with my family and friends. Instead of focusing on excess, my focus moved toward moments. Moments like my whole family coming to share Halloween with us – or getting up early to do the turkey trot and Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant instead of cooking all day at home – or how hard we laughed when my parents coming to the dinner table in their pajamas on Christmas Eve. And those are just the bigger moments. I also soaked in the small ones. Like when I watched Craig interacting with the girls and could feel how much he loves them. He is such an amazing father. As for controlling behavior, those who know me know that as excited as I get to put that tree up after Thanksgiving, that B is coming down the first chance I get after Christmas. My friends will be shocked to know that my tree is STILL up because I have been enjoying it so much. Not in a Christmas in July kind of way that only intense therapy and Marie Kondo can unpack, but in a relaxed and happy way that healthy people enjoy things (PS it’s coming down today).
The holidays used to be stressful for me, though I don’t think that I fully realized it. Not only was it stressful for me, but I’m sure it was no picnic for my family either. Especially for Craig. When I was unhealthy, I placed a lot of value on big gifts. Like having a certain handbag or piece of jewelry would make me feel better about myself. I would place enormous pressure on Craig to get me a particular gift, and if I didn’t get it, I would be disappointed. I’m embarrassed to even admit that.
One of the first things that Jennifer told me on our initial call was that I do not get to dictate how Craig shows his love for me. I really took that to heart and quit cold turkey. Since that call two years ago, I haven’t asked Craig for a single thing. I haven’t given him any hints, either. Not because I have stopped myself from coercing him, but because the root cause of my wantiness has been cured. It wasn’t the handbag or the jewelry that I wanted (I mean, I do love them, of course). What I wanted was to feel better about myself. And now that I feel better about myself, I have learned that I already have everything that I need.
Moving away from stuff and into experiences opened me up to receiving the greatest and most thoughtful gift I have ever received. My birthday happens to be on Christmas Day, so I’ve never really made a big deal out of it. This year, Craig spent six months compiling surprise video messages from my family and friends (and a few BRAVO celebs) wishing me Happy Birthday. I was completely blown away. I laughed, I cried, and most importantly, I felt incredibly loved. I was immediately keenly aware of the fact that had he done this two years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to truly receive it. I would have thought it was nice and funny – but I probably would have been secretly disappointed that I didn’t get a “thing”. This was better than any material item I have ever been given, and I soaked it in completely. I especially loved the introduction from Craig. It reminded me of when he proposed to me, because I could hear his heart beating and feel how much he loves me. For the first time in my life, I am aware that I have an abundance of love. Love from my family and friends – and most importantly, love for myself.
But like Jennifer says, there is no there there. The past two years in PHB have changed my life from the outside in – but there is still plenty of work to be done, and I can’t wait to see what 2019 will bring. I used to think of this as a health journey, but that isn’t exactly right. At the heart of it, it is a love story.