Take the “Before” Picture

I’ve been on a bit of a journey during the pandemic.

I don’t want this to sound boastful, but I’m really excited about the result. In terms of how proud I am of myself, this ranks right up there with my three VBACs.

Three VBACs means I’ve given birth to four kids, and as is expected, my body went through a lot of changes between 2010 and 2018. I shed a ton of weight with my youngest because he refused to eat solid food until he was over a year old, so there were many months of nursing All. Night. Long. I didn’t lose much weight by nursing with the other three, but the all-night sessions really did the trick! I learned I could eat anything I wanted, as much of it as I wanted, and whenever I wanted, and I was still losing weight. (Did you know breastfeeding can burn upwards of 1000 calories per day?)

When he finally weaned, I squandered all that “free” weight loss by continuing my terrible eating habits. Not long after, my husband lost his job, and I added in a lot of comfort chocolate and comfort ice cream. My body changed again, and it made me sad, but with four kids and a full-time job, how could I invest in myself? I resigned to being heavier than I wanted and trying to be happy about it.

But I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy about how any of my clothes fit (or didn’t), and I hated every picture of myself. Once, thirty minutes into a 4-hour drive to visit my inlaws, I asked my husband to pull into a rest area so I could change my pants; the ones I was wearing were so tight, I was in actual pain.

Then came the moment, a few months into the pandemic when I was on furlough from my job, that I unpacked my summer clothes.

And I cried.

Every single thing I put on was tight, didn’t fit at all, or revealed problem areas. I was miserable, and I was tired of trying to be happy. And on top of all that, I wasn’t healthy. Going up staircases was harder than it should have been, and I ate so fast and so much at meals (every meal) that I felt sick afterwards. I could not stay on that trajectory.

So I changed. I put on my tight workout clothes and laced up my tennis shoes and started walking for an hour every day. I downloaded a calorie-counting app and started making more responsible (though far from perfect) food choices. And maybe the hardest thing I did?

I took the “before” picture.

Not only did I hate that picture, but it was also worse than I expected. I could have let it make me cry all over again, but instead, I determined to make that picture a memory. Eight weeks of calorie counting, approximately 700 miles, zero dollars, and ten months later, that’s exactly what it is. A memory.

The “before” picture makes the “now” picture 100x sweeter.

No matter how upset I was about the “before” picture, I wouldn’t be as proud without remembering where I started. It’s physical evidence of the journey, of the progress, of the really hard work I did. And there’s nothing wrong with being excited about it.

“Before” pictures aren’t just for weight loss and getting healthy. They’re for home improvement projects and new hairstyles and watching your kids grow up. They’re for lawns mowed and spaces organized and stacks of books read.

Maybe they’re for writing, too.

I recently explored a lot of old files and realized just how long I’ve been writing and just how much I’ve written. My voice and style have changed and evolved so much over those years. Even the novel I’m querying right now has changed tremendously from its first incarnation. Any time we work hard to grow or develop something, it’s worth a look back to see where we came from. To see how much better we are at it. To celebrate and be proud of our accomplishments.

Eventually, where we are now will change, too. When we take the time and brave the disappointment to take the “before” picture, someday we’ll look back on this time with nostalgia (and maybe a little bit of embarrassment, but that’s okay too!) and be thankful it was a step on the journey.

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