On feeling good

I began The Comfort Zone Project unofficially on Feb. 10, 2014 when I plunked down the baht to join Fitness Thailand in Chiang Mai. In the three months since I started this project, I have morphed into a different person both physically and mentally. I’m feeling … good. Actually, I’m feeling fucking amazing. God bless endorphins. And adopting a lifestyle that is healthy and happy.

Oakley Originals photo

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: Oakley Originals

The exterior

Standing in the mirror at a few days into my new exercise lifestyle, I analyze my body. Fat. Cellulite. No tone. No definition. Definitely no muscle. My skin is dingy and uneven. My hair is dull. I am not bright. At all.

This is going to take some work.

But, I embrace the work it will involve. I know me well enough, and know my affairs with gyms are typically short-lived. In fact, these past three months are the longest and hardest I have ever worked at improving myself. I hire a personal trainer, Patty, a sweet 25-year-old Thai woman, and together we embark on a Thai-glish journey of upper body days, lower body days, circuit training and mass amounts of spin classes mixed in with heaps of Google Translate.

When I do well, she tells me dee khun (much better). And, when the sweat drips down my face and my muscles are at the point of exhaustion, she pushes me that little extra bit. “Come on. One more set.”

Week by week, we work together. On the days I don’t work with her, I still go to the gym (averaging five days a week, two hours a day), doing abs classes, the treadmill, whatever I can get my hands on. It is at her suggestion I drop in to a spin class one evening. And, I’m hooked. The energy. The music. The mass amounts of calories being burnt in 50 minutes of group exercise.

Is this real?

From then on, I begin to see improvements.

Diana Edelman and the Comfort Zone Project

Mid-April 2014. Two months in to the Project.

I take photos weekly and send them to my mom so she can see the work I am putting in. While the improvements I see are minute (and, yes, there are plenty of times I get completely discouraged and think nothing has changed since Feb. 10), she e-mails me with one-word messages like “WOW” which power me on to the next gym session.

About two weeks ago, I begin to notice a shape coming out of the fat of my body. Tricep muscles. Biceps. Deltoids (oh, sweet, sweet deltoids). Under the layers of pudge is a body that is slowly emerging. I can see the beginning of abdomen definition. My face is brighter, my skin looks better, my hair isn’t falling out as much.

Looking at my dusty mirror at the body I now inhabit, I get teary-eyed. I stand there, in a sports bra and workout pants, still glistening with sweat from my spin class, and just stare. There is a body tucked under those layers.

This. Is. Me. This. Is. My. Hard. Work.

I’m not finished, by a long shot, but seeing the results of three months inspires me so much to keep going. To keep working. I leave for Europe in less than one week, and I am already working with FitWeek to help me prepare to burn calories when I’m stuck on a bus, or a 1o-plus-hour long haul flight, or a gym is not at the ready. I’ve already scouted out fitness centers on my route where I can go and workout for a couple of hours. I’m actually looking forward to hiking in Cinque Terre.

I’m physically a different version of myself, and I could not be happier. The work it has taken to get to this point has been incredibly fulfilling … and I am actually excited to continue working on me because — for the first time in my life — I value myself more than I value anything else. I feel beautiful both inside and out.

Which leads me to the mental changes I’ve made …

The interior

I pretty much have quit drinking. I am a non-smoker now (officially five weeks today). I have cut all of the toxic, cancerous things from my life (both the things I ingest, inhale and the company I keep). I’ve learned about boundaries. I’ve spent so much more time with myself that, somewhere in these past three months, I have actually realized that I like who I am. Yup, I like me. It took me 34 years to say that and mean it, but it is true. I have given myself a gift of being happy, and the tools I need to make that so. I value my health. I value my career. I value … me.

And, somewhere in these past three months, I got something I have never really had: confidence. No, I’m not going to tell you I am the most awesome, amazing, talented person in the world. But, I have no problem telling you I actually think I am pretty. I am deserving of love. I am deserving of loving myself. I am talented. I am kind. I’ve stopped knocking myself down, which, in itself is an amazing feat for me since I was oh-so good at mentally beating the shit out of myself.

I’ve also let things go. Ideas about how I am supposed to live. Ideas about falling in love. Ideas about friendships. Ideas about how I am supposed to be living my life here. It isn’t always easy, and there are times when I find myself getting mad, frustrated, but I don’t linger on it. I feel it and let it go.

I look forward to challenges now. When Shana from FitWeek told me I should climb the stairs of the Eiffel Tower for a workout, I balked. Then, I started to think about it. How cool would it be to do that? To accomplish something that is not easy? Maybe I will do it. Because I can. Five-day-a-week workouts? OK. Healthy eating? No problem.

It’s all about respect and I have finally come to respect myself — both physically and emotionally.

Here’s to the next three months of The Comfort Zone Project.

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Diary Get Your Shit Together

Southeast Asia is comfortable

After being an expat in Chiang Mai for almost two years, there is one thing that I can say for certain: I am comfortable.

Which means, as a part of The Comfort Zone Project, it’s time to get out of Southeast Asia … at least for a little bit.

It has become second nature to navigate the tiny sois throughout the Old City. It has become too easy to tell a songthaew driver where I want to go and then negotiate — in Thai — how much I want to pay. I’ve become so used to smiling at the same people on my walk each day, going to the same restaurants for lunch …

It’s time to get out.

Tel Aviv travel

Fly away … with me.

So, in the middle of May, that is just what I am doing.

I’ve got my friends manning my house and keeping an eye on the cats, and I’m heading on a solo European adventure. Why? Because I want to feel my heart race a little bit. I want to wakeup in the morning and not know if I am going to stay put, or hop on a train to another country where there is a different language, a different currency …

I want to challenge myself emotionally, the same way I have been challenging myself physically since February.

It is time to get out of the comfort zone of Thailand for a month and head to the gorgeous, cobblestoned, steepled Europe for a month.

The challenge will continue there — I will be looking for gyms along the way so I can put together a cheat sheet for others who want to work out while traveling. Plus, I’ll be documenting the activities I do like finding gorgeous hikes and healthy places to eat while I Europe trot.

I’m also partnering with FitWeek to help me with a fitness plan for my time abroad. I mean, there’s no way I’m going to go to the gym everyday. And, let’s face it. There’s wine. And pizza. And a quest for the best gelato in Italy. And the best chocolate and beer in Belgium.

After all, what’s the point of getting out of your comfort zone if you can’t at least have a little fun?

Diary Get Your Shit Together

How I quit smoking

Olympic stairsI sit, tuckered out from a long day of travel. Situated on the former Olympic Steps in Sarajevo, surrounded by green mountains dotted with homes which used to be in the middle of a war zone, I take it all in.

Then, I light a cigarette, inhale deeply, and really begin to take a look around what is — in this moment — my world.

The dilapidated steps, crumbling into the weeds growing alongside what used to have been something bustling, something grand.

I sit, and as I pull the toxicity into my lungs, I get it. I let myself open up to the history of Sarajevo being surrounded, the struggles, the pain, the rebirth of this city.

When I stub my cigarette out, I light another one and ponder some more.

Smoking and Travel. The perfect couple.

The lure of the nicotine

This moment doesn’t just happen once. It repeats itself throughout Europe. In the technicolor island paradise of Solta. Against an ancient stone wall when I get word of my grandma’s passing. And, it transcends travel and creeps back into my re-entry. Into my life in America.

Sure, I quit smoking a few times. In fact, before I went to Europe, I had not smoked for almost two years. But, it all changed when I grew stressed. When I grew lonely. I began to make justifications.

Just one rollie is fine. I won’t get addicted to smoking again.

I believed that. Until I was buying a pack-a-day in Europe. Until I was sitting on my balcony in Vegas, hiding the fact that I had fallen off the wagon to everyone.

On and off it went, my little love affair with smoking. My best friend who played any role in my life I needed.

Lighting up in those moments of stress seemed like a way to calm down. But, lighting up in those moments when I wanted to take it all in made even more sense.

I mean, nothing lets a gorgeous scene in Samui sink in better than inhaling sweet tobacco, right?

It isn’t just me who makes those excuses, either. It is plenty of travelers I meet. Travelers who, in their real lives, don’t smoke at all, but when they hit a foreign patch of land, they light up.

Why? What is it about traveling that makes us just want to smoke our faces off?

I look at them and think, “dude, if you don’t smoke in normal life, why on earth are you putting this into your body now?”

Then, I look at my orange, glowing cherry and relish the fact that I smoke. That I don’t have to give myself permission on holiday to pollute my body — I do it every day. That I am a grown-up and just like if I want to eat an entire package of Oreos, I can smoke until I can’t breathe.

I get it. I enjoy nothing more than savoring a new place, an old place, a moment, a situation, with the company of that glorious, burning, stick of nicotine. It just feels right. 

Smoking compliments travel in the worst way. It is a chance to be outside of the normal self. It gives us permission to do things we normally wouldn’t do. It lets us sneak nasty habits back into our lives. I mean, I cannot count the number of times I have given myself permission to act a certain way because of traveling.

Being conscious

I’m one of those closet smokers. When I’m around people who don’t smoke, I am incredibly conscious of it. I am conscious of the way it smells, the direction the smoke blows, whether it bothers anyone else. Yet, I still smoke. I just sneak off to my own quite corner of a place, where I cannot poison anyone else.

Now, with The Comfort Zone Project and working on my health and fitness, I know it is time to break up with my best and most cancerous friend, the cigarette. (Really, Cigarette isn’t my best friend at all. More like my worst enemy … but cloaked in an addiction that makes it far more friendly.)

So, the other day, I finally stopped putting it off. Actually, I had an attitude adjustment.

I’m typically not one for self-help books. I mean, I read “The Secret” and all, but really … it is just about the power of your own mind, and we all know this and don’t need to pay X amount of money for a book to reiterate that. Or … do we? Because, I read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, and damn if he didn’t say everything I didn’t already know. But, reading it made it seem that much more … real. Like, I needed to read that I have been brainwashed, that I have brainwashed myself to the power of smoking, in order to actually smoke that final cigarette.

It hasn’t been that long since I crossed over into a world I feared desperately — the non-smoker’s world — but I actually feel pretty good about it. I quit for me. I didn’t sacrifice anything. I gave myself a gift.

Before I quit, I had a conversation with my friend about kicking the habit. I mentioned how worried I was to quit smoking just before I go to Europe because all the wine … the cheese … the views … the travel-related stresses … the social situations … but the book reminded me I don’t need to smoke to enjoy (or not enjoy) any of those things. That smoking does not calm me down. It does not make meals taste better. It does not make me a more social person.

Unlike other times I have quit, this time it isn’t about willpower. It isn’t about sacrificing smoking for not smoking. It is about giving myself the gift of treating my addiction, and coming out healthy.

Now … I am finally going to readjust the habit. Spectacular view? Great. I’m going to sit outside and take it in. I’m going to breathe that fresh air deeply. And, I’m going to love it.

This post previously appeared on d travels ’round.

Diary Get Your Shit Together

Bye bye, Booze

The Comfort Zone Project and my quest to not be “fat” in Thailand are leading me down a path of mindful eating, five-day-a-week workout sessions (three of which are with a personal trainer) and breaking up with booze.

OK. So, not really “breaking up,” but more like “we’re going into a very restricted relationship. Almost like a break-up, but from time-to-time, we can still hook-up and remember how much we loved each other.”

Diana drinking in Prague

Cause, yeah … I’m not ready to quit you, sweet red wine. I just need more time for me than you.

Remember Zima?

My relationship with alcohol began when I was a teen, as most stories of underage shenanigans begin. I didn’t even like booze at first. It tasted nasty, but that is likely because as high school students, we were totally inexperienced drinkers.

While I didn’t drink much in high school, I definitely had my little trysts with the hooch. At my friend’s house on some half-days, we’d go down to her dad’s liquor cabinet and grab the chocolate liqueor because, well, it sounded tasty and a shot is supposed to get you wasted, right? Then, we’d ruin it with orange juice (see, I told you we didn’t know any better), fill the bottle back up with some water, place it back in the cabinet, then head upstairs with a cheeky buzz.

I remember when Zima came out. It was the rage at my high school. People would doodle the brand’s name on their brown-bag-covered text books and most epic weekend party stories began and ended with name-dropping the clear (and crappy) alcoholic beverage’s name.

Fake IDs and Freshmen Life

In college, we were a bit more civilized. We opted for picking our poison, rather than being at the mercy of the grown-up’s stash. Armed with fake IDs or an upperclassman, we’d head to the drive-up liquor store and purchase tasty cases of Keystone Light or Natural Ice (yeah, we still didn’t know any better and uttering “micro-brew” would have made us wonder what science lecture we missed). Occasionally, I’d be bold and try some hard stuff like Southern Comfort or Seagrams 7 (which, to this day, I cannot stomach thanks to the way that crap tastes coming back up).

Nights in Bowling Green, Ohio (where I partied … er attended college … for 1-1/2 years) were a mix of frat parties, dorm room binge drinking and the worst — filling up a mug with boxed white zin and taking it into the shower and drinking it there because the hot water thins your blood and then you are drunk quick — and then promptly the puking of said alcohol content thanks to the gruesome image of warm mayonnaise sandwiches in the microwave when the spinning got to be too much.

Of Legal Age

When I finally turned 21 in Towson, I had already done my fair share of partying. After all, I had someone else’s expired Maryland driver’s license and was a regular in the college town bar scene, so the owners and staff of the bar I went to knew I wasn’t 21. When someone did card me, they’d turn the card over in their hand, question me as to why it was expired, and then did a shot with me.

At 22, I got into a relationship with an alcoholic  10 years my senior, and the boozing continued. Our poison back then was shots of Gran Marnier in little thimble glasses at the bar where I used to work. Followed by pints (yup) of Red Bull and Grey Goose, Blue Moon (see, I got a little classier) or Coors Light bottles (and there goes the class).

It really never stopped.

On the road

In my travels, going out for drinks has always been a bonding experience with fellow backpackers. I never thought to pass on the booze and just sip water. I have always wanted to be in the moment, to be engaged with others (i.e. make out with the cute backpacker boys with foreign accents), and I always assumed the only way to do that was to be like them.

Plus, when traveling, I feel like the world gives us permission to have a glass of chilled white wine while overlooking the Adriatic Sea … at 10 a.m. Or, having a Pilsner because, hello, I’m in Prague. Or a shot of Jameson because Ireland and my liver isn’t vital, right?

So many of my most incredible nights in foreign countries have included booze. It served as a celebration for new friends, a reward for finding the hostel with crap directions, something to calm my nerves.

I could never pass it down because it always seemed like it was the right thing to do … the right moment to have that beer/wine/shot/moonshine.

Until now.

Chang and Chiang Mai

Granted, I’ve never considered myself an alcoholic. In the environments I have lived, I have always kept up, but never needed booze. I have never woken up with the shakes (although I have had some nasty hangovers), but drinking has never impacted my life in a negative sense — unless you count the general unhealthiness of it.

Living as an expat in Chiang Mai, I noticed something about myself I didn’t like — when I wasn’t at the office, when I wasn’t sleeping, I was drinking. Why? Well, a lot of it stems from sheer boredom. I’d get home after a day at the office and didn’t want to sit in my house, alone. I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to do anything … but leave and go hang out with the other expats who like to have fun.

I was stuck in this comfort zone that I knew wasn’t good for me, but made me feel good.

Buckets of booze are prevalent in Thailand. And tasty.

I liked the company. I liked the buzz. I didn’t like the hangover, but I learned how to skip that with the help of 500 mg of Paracetamol. (Not healthy, I know.)

I quit you (ish)

So, with the launch of The Comfort Zone Project, I decided to change the way I engage with others. To replace nights of Sang Som and Coke with nights of Singha Drinking Water. Not every night … I let myself not be straight-edge once a week or so … but that’s it.

It’s been interesting so far.

Sitting at Tiger Bar, one my local hangouts, I pull up a shallacked wooden bench to join my friends. The owner of the bar, Dang, comes up to me when she sees the chilled bottle of water her husband had given to me, sitting on the patterned tablecloth.

“You drink water?” She asks, looking confused.

“Ka,” I say, smiling and grabbing the little bottle.

“You not drink wine?” Disbelief.

“Ka,” I say.

She smiles, slaps my shoulder playfully, and then walks away.

Thankfully, most of my friends don’t pressure me. They all know I am trying to make changes in my life. To escape the suck of Loi Kroh, the candelight of The Lost Hut, the raunchy talks at Smith.

I go home early as the rest of my friends continue on with their night. I don’t go home because I am bored. I go home because I want to.

For the first time in a long time, I am listening to my body, listening to my mind. Not listening to the part of me that says “you have nothing else to do with your time.”

Cause, you know what?

do have other things to do with my time.

I explore more of the city. I communicate and keep in touch with friends from all over the world. I catch up on all of the television shows I miss. I cuddle with my rescue cats. I write. Goodness, I  write. I plan my next trip (coming soon!). I go to sleep early. I wake up feeling energized instead of groggy and shity. I  pick up more Thai since being sober is my new lifestyle choice. I am more mindful of my living and how I choose to live, and the company I keep. I  have revitalized and stronger, healthier relationships with like-minded people and have established boundaries I needed with others. I’ve learned more about the things — and people — I want in my life. I talk to my parents more. I focus more on me. I work my ass out. And, I am happy and have a good time without being drunk.

Even in the early stages of my decision to only drink twice a week (I’m five weeks in to this new lifestyle),  I feel really good about it. I’ve even surprised myself. My two nights a week of “party” have turned into maybe two nights a week. And the “party” has been replaced with a few select beverages. The first real party I allowed myself was seven drinks in six hours, plus plenty of water. I wasn’t drunk. But, the next morning, I had a hangover that lasted 36 hours. Yes. Thirty. Six. Hours. The following week, I had three beers over six hours and woke up with a headache. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t fair. But it is my body’s way of telling me to keep with the healthy behaviors and leave the toxic ones behind.

So, Comfort Zone: 0; Diana: 1.

This post previously appeared on d travels ’round.

Diary Get Your Shit Together

And then comes the curveball

lucky-the-cat

It’s Sunday night, and I’m in my bedroom, getting ready for bed. I look down at my teak wood floor and see Mr. Lucky, laying on the ground.

Odd, since that isn’t his normal behavior.

I scoop him into my arms and place him on the bed. He tucks his little orange and white paws under his body, and lays his head flat against my mattress.

Something isn’t right.

I try to cajole him … but he is listless.

Something is wrong.

Panicked, I call my boss and tell her. She refers me to a 24-hour emergency vet. Then, I call my friend, Ae, and ask her to please take me. It is 11 p.m., but she agrees.

As I am preparing him for his ride, I look into the litter box. Blood. Poop covered in blood.

No. No. No. No. Please. No. Something is very, very wrong.

My little rescue cat, with four lives already gone, is now pooping blood and not really moving. Tears fall from my face and when Ae arrives and we drive to the vet, I can feel the dread beginning to sweep in.

Just hours earlier, I had walked from my house to the gym, about a 45-minute walk. Then, I did 20 more minutes of cardio and a grueling 90-minute yoga session which resulted in my hair being plastered to my face. And now? Now I am bordering on a complete breakdown as I cradle Lucky in my arms and the vet tells me he has distemper.

Hooked up to an IV, I leave him for the night. Feeling hopeless. Helpless. Devastated at the complete turn of events in such a short amount of time.

The next morning, I walk to the clinic, about a 30-minute walk, and go to see him. The doctor reports they gave him a tiny bite of food and he has not pooped or vomited blood since the night before. There’s something not right about this clinic though, so instead, I decide to take him to my normal vet, Dr. Nook.

Once again, Ae comes through and picks me and Lucky up, takes me home to get my other cat to make sure she does not have distemper, and then takes all of us to Dr. Nook’s.

After an examination of Lucky, she runs another test and he doesn’t have distemper, but thinks he has another highly contagious virus. She escorts us out, instructing Ae to take me to Tesco and get bleach and for me to disinfect my house.

I go through the morning in a daze. I barely eat. I clean like I have never cleaned before. At night, I return to the vet and take my other cat home (with a clean bill of health), and then try to eat dinner.

The next day, it is much of the same. I got to the vet two times — the second of which I am informed Lucky now has a fever and his white blood cell, red blood cell, platelets and hemoglobin have all dropped below an acceptable level and he is now being treated for blood parasites — and then dinner.

More daze. Even when I am sitting with Simon (who changed my life on the Adriatic years earlier) and his girlfriend, I can barely eat the pizza I normally love.

While Lucky is sick, I get sick. And, I skip my workouts because I am too sick, and too worried about Lucky and going to the vet every night to get his blood results and hold him. And, right now, all I need to do is eat comfort food.

Because in this moment, food is the only thing I can control.

I don’t think about the gym. I don’t think about my mission to not be the fat girl in Thailand or The Comfort Zone Project. All I think about is how worried I am about Lucky, how sick I am, and what the hell I can eat to make me feel better

I devour a pizza. I dump a bottle of malt vinegar over fish and chips. I inhale a chimichanga. But, I don’t do my normal escape route: I don’t get drunk. I have a glass of wine or a cocktail with dinner twice, but then it is over. And I let myself be in my reality. My stressed out reality. I want to feel, even though feeling in the moment is terrible and painful.

When I finally am able to bring Lucky home, my need to control everything begins to wane. My health begins to get better. I finally let myself breathe again.

While I skipped the gym last week, I didn’t give up. I didn’t let the week set me back to the point of quitting. Because I’m not quitting on The Comfort Zone Project. I am not quitting on me.

Yesterday, I returned to the gym and did 30 minutes of cardio, 20 minutes of legs and a 30-minute ab class, then had a healthy dinner, drank some water and went to bed.

It felt phenomenal. The endorphins that had been absent last week radiated through me.

Sure, it was a bad week. Yeah, I didn’t eat well. But, I didn’t go into old D mode and freak out, get drunk and cry. Instead, I allowed myself to be present. To feel what I was feeling. To do what I needed to do.

It’s back to game on this week.

I’d like to give a very special thank you to Dr. Nook and her team for saving Lucky’s life.

This post previously appeared on d travels ’round.

Diary Get Your Shit Together

Being fat in Thailand

Being overweight in Thailand

“Oh, why you so pom pui?” People ask me. Strangers. Friends. You name it.

Pom pui.

You’d think one of the first words I would learn in Thailand would be how to ask someone’s name, or how to ask for directions. But, nope. One of the first words I learn other than “drunk” is pom pui or “fat.”

And that is because everyone asks me why I am fat. Or tells me I am fat. Or says I am soai  (beautiful) followed by pom pui. 

Fat AND beautiful. Now, that is a nice backhanded compliment. Thankyouverymuch.

Unlike in Western cultures, weight here isn’t one of those hush-hush things. It’s an in-your-face thing. Comments people make here that would make me cry if someone Western was saying it simply roll of my back. Or, they try to roll off my back.

But.

After awhile, those “you’re fat” comments begin to take a toll.

Skinny is everywhere in Thailand. If you’re above a size 8 (and I think I’m being quite forgiving when I say that), you won’t be able to find cute clothes. I’m a size 10 or 12 (depending on the day), and yeah, shopping at the department stores leaves me feeling defeated when I look at a pair of pants that can’t even fit an arm through the leg, let alone my ass.

The only place I can shop is Tesco Lotus, and then it is clothing that is more like a tent than anything cute and form-fitting.

I’ve always battled with being overweight, and here in Chiang Mai, it is a constant reminder of those battles.

The Skinny Syndrome and Las Vegas

When I lived in Las Vegas, I lived in a world where beauty was directly attributed to a tiny waist, big bust (check), spray tan and hair extensions. It had nothing to do with anything else. You got further in Vegas if you were skinny, and I was not a fool.

Even when work asked that I get a headshot, the photographer worked magic.

“I’m just going to make your nose a little smaller, your eyes a little bigger, your teeth a little straighter, your face a little smaller … oh, but you are beautiful,” he said, as he Photoshopped me to a younger illustration (or caricature) of myself.

After only a few months in Sin City, I began to do PR for a doctor who shall remain nameless because after years of following his business, I think he is the most unethical doctor I’ve ever met or heard of. This good doctor had a weight loss program that basically was a cocktail of diet pills and seizure pills that resulted in the heaviest of people transforming quickly into slimmer versions of themselves.

As I sat on the table after getting an EKG done, he looked at me and said “You’re going to be blown away by how fat you are.”

I kid you not.

Sure, I was tipping the scales at 200 at that time, but for a doctor to tell me that broke my heart. And yes, it is his job, but to say so in such a callous way …

He handed me two bottles of pills, a Phentermine concoction for the mornings and Topomax for the evenings, and prescribed me a weekly fat burning shot.

The shit worked. Within six months I had gone from a size 16 to a six four. I had gone from fat to toothpick. It was a miracle drug, but it had its prices. My vision became blurry. My heart would race like I had just snorted an entire eight-ball of coke for breakfast. I was skinny, but it wasn’t me.

As the good doctor put it, I was now sexy. I had newfound attention from men. I had gone from the ugly duckling in the corner watching all of the couples snuggling to the girl with guys at her side. I had gone from the girl who hid her body behind enormous, billowy shirts to the girl wearing tight dresses. I had the body I had always dreamed of.

Until I didn’t.

After nearly a year of taking the pills, I decided to stop them. Cold turkey. Within months, my weight shot back up and I was back to the loose clothing.

People would look at me with their brow furrowed, casting me their deepest sympathies for my weight gain. I was back to being the girl in the corner.

It was then I made the conscious decision that I would not let those stares ruin me. I would not let those stares define me and my body. I would take control. I enrolled at the gym and started working out. I didn’t get back to a size four, but I made sure I could have control over my weight.

The thing about weight-loss is, you have to be all in, or not at all.

I had worked out for about six months when I started to get depressed, and soon even lacing up my sneakers was a challenge. So, instead I ate. Papa John’s. McDonalds. I drank. I did whatever I could to camouflage my insecurities by doing something I could control — my intake of food and drink.

But, when your intake trumps your exertion, you gain weight. So, I ballooned back to the weight I was when I arrived in Vegas.

It’s all about control

It wasn’t until I left Vegas and relocated to Atlanta that I finally was able to control my weight again. For at least six months. Then, depression again. Weight gain again.

I thought traveling would make me skinny, so when I set out for my career-break, I decided I would lose weight. I lost a little — there’s something to be said for walking places with a huge backpack on your back that causes those calories to just burn, burn, burn.

I returned to America a smaller version of myself, but still not happy. I looked in the mirror and saw a fat, fat girl who hated herself for not being able to control her own body.

Of course, the normal lose weight-gain weight battle once again ensued upon my arrival back to Vegas. I was up to five days a week at the gym, busting out an hour of cardio a pop, followed by yoga or pilates. I was counting calories. Cutting down on the booze. And, then, I wasn’t. Again. Because it is all cyclical.

The expat life

When I moved to Thailand, I was the heaviest I had ever been. Standing in front of the mirror in my room at Smith, looking at myself naked … I would burst into tears.

I. Am. So. Fat.

Thoughts would race through my mind. I will never find someone to kiss me again. I will never find someone to sleep with again. I will never find someone to love me.

The worst part about living in Thailand and being overweight, is living in Thailand and being a western women. The chances of finding a guy are nearly zero.

I’ve always operated with the belief that beauty is everywhere … that I shouldn’t have to be skinny to fall in love or to have someone fall in love with me. That no one should be anyone they are not … that as people, we are all gorgeous, whether skinny, fat, short, tall, etc. I’ve dated men who I wasn’t initially attracted to, but as I got to know them, they turned into the world’s hottest people.

Attraction is important, yes. But, there are other things, too. And, I always held tight to the belief that people would like me simply for me. For my heart. For my mind. For my passion. Not because I am or am not a size four.

I guess I’m not everyone.

Even as the pounds began to fall off — a total change in diet (cutting out meat), along with sweltering heat and sweating my weight out of me daily — dropped the scale about 20 pounds. But, it didn’t matter. People saw me the same. Fat. Pom pui.

And soon, it became just a part of my life. Everyone commenting (and I mean everyone — strangers, friends, people I see everyday and can only exchange bits of broken Thai or English), even when their comments were not asked for or welcomed.

I have no idea why anyone thinks it is ok to tell someone they would be so much prettier/better/etc. if they weren’t fat.

Sometimes, it boggles my mind.

I don’t look at them and say, “you know, you would be better if you pulled that stick out of your ass and completely rearranged your face?” It would certainly not be met with an understanding smile. So, why the double standard? Why is it OK for someone to give you their opinion about what makes you “not worthy” of being loved? And since when does weight become the single most important factor in any part of life?

I know people here don’t mean it to cause pain. It is either no big deal since calling someone “fat” is normal, or they tell me because they think it can help me become a better me. But that doesn’t mean it just rolls off my back. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact my self-esteem. Or the way I feel about myself.

Today, I’ve grown accustomed to being “fat” even though my weight continues to drop. Men here still don’t look at me. And, I still get judged as to the person I am based on my clothing size.

Is it disheartening? Yes. Is it defeating? Yes. Is it life? Sadly, so long as I live  here, it is. No amount of weight loss … no amount of lifestyle change will ever amount to me having the Thai version of a perfect body.

While it used to make me sad (hence, staring at the mirror in tears), today I look at myself and think “fuck you. Really. Fuck. You. If you don’t like me for who I am, cellulite and all, then please. Do me a favor. Fuck yourself and go find a skinny woman who will be your everything.”

Because I am worth more than my weight.

At the same time, I want to give myself a chance to kick this once and for all. I want to look in the mirror with confidence, even if the people around me don’t see the beauty I possess, regardless of whether I am 100 or 200 pounds.

It is one of the reasons why I started The Comfort Zone Project — because I want to push myself to be the best version of me I can be, and give myself the best version of the life I am living.

I enrolled in a gym. I hired a personal trainer. Drinks are cut down to twice a week. Smoking is going to stop.

Either I will be a fat girl in Thailand and embrace the shit out of it, or I will do my damned best to be the not-so-fat girl in Thailand and love myself. Because, you know what? I deserve it.

This post originally appeared on d travels ’round.

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