How I lost 108 pounds -- Or how Lily and the Spirit of Craving Changed Everything

Lily at home first day in my arms.jpg

I have now lost 108 pounds.


1          0           8.

The changes in my body have been, and sorry for the pun, immense. People who have never been obese can’t know about all the little things. Walking up ramps becomes Herculean. STANDING is Herculean. Squeezing behind the wheel of the car can be nearly impossible, and cause for slight panic when you can’t get out.

And, as I always seem to be hotter than anyone in the room (even at my current weight), showers were scalding, equatorial events and so grueling I would actually start to swoon before I got out. Seat belt extensions on flights were a constant and necessary request, one that I finally became sort of defiant about.

I have battled weight for much of my life. And I am 61 so THAT means that there have been decades of my life when I have been concerned about weight. And, over the years, I have successfully lost enough weight to equal the poundage of a beefy football team. I have counted calories, carbs. I have measured and can recite intricate facts about the values (and lack thereof) of many different foods. I can glance at a protein source and tell you how much it weighs. Etc. ad nauseum.

But until this journey, this particular weighty passage, I didn’t really get it. And it was not – God knows – from lack of trying.

I have become a different person in the past ten years. Great hardship, financial ruin, illness in my family, loss of a soul dog, a breakdown, a Mom going into dementia – these stressors were the reasons why I gained 150 pounds in the past decade. At my astonishing three-day long 50th birthday party (celebrated shamanically with beloveds) I remember remarking to a good friend – well, either I start to lose now or give it up. Alarmed, my beloved said, “Start now.” I couldn’t, and I did give up. It was a slide and not a conscious decision. A way of saying, “I am too weary, and need to just lie down now.”

It’s easy to be facile and all-knowingly wise with quips about weight. Phrases like:

  • My heart is heavy
  • I am hungry for something
  • My back is bending from the weight I carry

I could (and I bet you could, too) go on and on and on with the platitudes about some of the emotional reasons for obesity. They roll off our tongue as easily as donut holes can roll around our mouths. We don’t need to examine them or think about them. It’s easy and it makes sense to chalk it up to the latest phrase from the latest “this is the way, the answer” book or article.

But these sayings are facile, and abstract. And it’s easy to find good reasons to get fat. Money (it costs too much to eat right). Time (my God, I am up early, work hard all day and night, and when am I supposed to find time to do food shopping let alone cook). And, of course, it is uber-easy to blame the vast array of fast food around us (better to eat something, and besides, it’s easy and cheap), and pontificate about our lack of relationship to the food that grows here on our blue orb. We have lost connection with our food, but that, too, is reductionistic.

I started this particular weight loss journey for two reasons: I was getting a puppy, who was my heart dog coming back to me after his death, and because I was diagnosed with diabetes.

Star Gazer’s Lily, my young bearded collie, as many of you know from blogs on this site, is a miraculous 16-month-old bearded collie who has a soul merged with that on my old shamanic partner (also a bearded collie) named Star Gazer.

After Gazer’s death, it took years of mourning before I was really ready to invite another dog into my life. This was especially hard because Gazer was clear about his intention to come back into another dog body to “continue our work” after he passed. Tricky stuff, realizing his soul would come back in — but not only his soul. A brand new being in a brand new body — in this case, the sugar-sweet Lily — a mysterious spiritual miracle and blend I still cannot, and have stopped trying to, understand. I just adore it — and her.

Anyway, when we finally were ready emotionally and spiritually to ask for her to be born, a new problem came into focus. I LOVE bearded collies. Love their goofiness and pirate-like nature (I liken beardies to Captain Jack Sparrow). I have NEVER met any other dogs who are both so consistently smart (almost SCAREY smart) and so in love with life and play. They are, in short, exuberance on four feet.

At 329 pounds (yup, that was the top), I could barely walk to the car let alone romp with a beardie. Worried and scared, I started looking at other breeds. I love Bichons and learned a lot about Coton de Tulears, Maltese and Havanese. I happily researched my way across the many beautiful dog breeds to learn about smaller dogs. My reasoning? I am 61, and just too old to have a beardie puppy.  But the unspoken and more-than-obvious reason was plain: I was way too fat to keep up with a puppy. And so came close to deciding on one or two smaller breeds that were, indeed, fetching.

But there was a problem. When Star Gazer said he wanted to come back to help me continue my “work,” he said he wanted to come back as a beardie.

I respect dogs – a lot. I never thought I would buy a dog from a breeder or choose a pure bred dog. But when I was very ill, I went looking for a dog who would want to be with me when I was in bed AND when I was mobile. A smart dog. And when I saw bearded collies in the AKC show ring the first time, I was a goner. The floating gait. The tassled silver coat shimmering. And the famous “beardie leap” where they take to the air like dancers, all twirl and pirouettes, just because they are ecstatic by nature.

I think beardies chose me rather than me choosing beardies. And so began a love affair that has never ended.

But the dilemma was clear. Beardies love activities like herding and agility and endless (and I mean endless) play. They MUST be trained or they will train you.

I hold that dogs have a right to live as they are inclined by their nature. Dogs are not fuzzy children. I shared my life with a Malamute when I lived in Montana, and he carried 50 pounds on camping trips – his favorite thing to do. Every dog is unique to his circumstances and breed, and it is an honor and privilege to live so closely with another kind of animal in sync with his nature.

For some time, I was very, very sad. I couldn’t be fat and have a beardie. But desire is a determined spirit,  and I finally decided something.

I would never be thin again (I thought). In my brain, thin equals fitness and not a sylphlike anorexia, but I surely I could lose some weight. I figured that I would lose a pound for every one she gained.  I would, I reasoned, lose 50 pounds – the average weight of the beardies I have known. And while it might still hurt, I DID want to play with my puppy. And train her. And I feel you have to be able to pick up any dog you own, and so if I lost 50, I could reasonably pick up a 50-pound beardie if I had to.  And, and, and….

I was very wary. I had done this before. Made promises to myself before. But this felt very different. I wasn’t promising me. I was promising a newborn whom would have a good life or not depending upon, in large part, how we lived with her.

The picture on the top of this page is one of Lily and me taken less than thirty minutes after she first arrived home. Some people may wonder why I would choose a picture of me 108 pounds heavier than I am now to put on the cover of a blog about the spiritual issues of weight loss. But it’s because I was happy that day. Because this is where I began and beginnings matter. Because you can see Lily at 10 weeks here, and see why I felt such a deep commitment to this young (and old), almost impossibly precious soul. And because if you are reading this, you may have a pound or two or 80 to lose. Or you are on your way and have already lost weight. You are my sisters and brothers.

It was very hard to sit on the edge of my deck with Lily in my arms that day. Or rather very hard to ease myself down, and DEFINITELY hard to stand up with her in my arms. And I was NEVER going to do anything that put her in jeopardy. I held her and NOTHING was going to hurt her. Especially not me.

Meanwhile, I had met a great woman on Bainbridge Island some months before named Ann Whitmore through a class I taught. I loved her wit, and her sensibility. She worked in health and weight loss. She never once mentioned my weight, of course. But over time, my respect for her charm and smarts grew, and so I asked her about what she did.

It turned out she was a coach for a program called Take Shape for Life. I was immediately repelled by the notion of the food. Five prepackaged meals per day and one “Lean and Green” meal – a combination of fresh protein and vegetables I would prepare daily.

I was appalled at the calorie count. Around 800 calories a day. NOT healthy, I thought. Not good for any part of you. Or so one cosmology in weight loss would suggest. And, experientially, I have discovered it IS healthy.

And while it is not a carb phobic plan (like Atkins), it did involve being in “fat burning,” and very mild ketosis. Of course, I had tried Atkins (I had tried everything), but rejected it long ago as being just plain weird and, again, pardon the pun, unhealthily weighted in its extreme bias against ALL carbohydrates.

She did not preach. She did not sell me. She layed it out – the benefits and results. I read. I pondered. There were three components – a coach (free), the food, and education.

FAST weight loss is the dieter’s dream. Tales of losing upwards of 5 pounds a week on this plan were damn alluring. But I was no novice; I was VERY, VERY GOOD at losing weight. I was truly lousy at change, permanent change that would keep it off.

No one who is alive today – fat or thin – does not know the words “You have to change your lifestyle.” Sounds easy, right? And it LOOKS easy, deceptively so. I mean, we KNOW what to do. Eat less, eat right and move more.

The thing that convinced me to work with Ann, apart from her obvious integrity and compassion, was that THIS plan focused on getting you to goal weight and then beyond. MANY people lose weight and it never comes back, So weight loss is only phase one of this plan. Rephasing food back in is another. And then continuing to become healthier for years is another still. Ann would be around for years after I took off the weight, she said. And I believed her. I checked with in with my doctor first, and she was all for it.

But of course, it isn’t easy. At all. Not if food has been a companion, a comfort friend, a way to mute pain and offer delicious distractions. An unconscious response to hardship. I had had a lot of hardship, and had the poundage to prove it.

I am first and foremost a shamanic practitioner and teacher. This is my life’s calling and Why I Am Here. I know everything has a spirit. And I knew that unless I dove deep into the spiritual experience of losing weight, and work with the Spirits of the process, it would not really work.

I had never tried this before, this notion of living the journey of weight loss. Of course, there are a zillion books — some good, some not — about the emotional reasons for weight gain. But I knew something about all this: I had read the books. I had tried working through it all on a strictly emotional level. AND on a physical level. But with the spirit of it? No. And this was, as are all things shamanic, A Much Bigger Deal.

And life is not necessarily a cakewalk now at 108 pounds gone with 50 more to go. Like almost all the people I know, there are financial troubles and ordinary reality overwhelm. I am in what I think of as the sandwich generation. I have no kids or grandkids, but I do have a 93 year-old mom who is facing Alzheimer’s. Two businesses (and a third coming). I handle a whole, whole lot. I am truly amazed to have found work I adore (shamanism and writing), and am more grateful for it than I can ever express. But they are not simple or relaxed professions. In short, life is, well, very life-like, and often very intense.

It was a crushing blow to be diagnosed as a diabetic. I had survived eleven years of chronic illness that was cured by — and was my calling to — shamanism. I did NOT want another (ever), and yet, I had one. But like CFS, diabetes has a spirit. Is a teacher. Can be learned from, I theorized. And the more power I had to deal with THAT spirit, I knew, the better.

And so it began. With my shamanic drum, a scale and water bottle. And a puppy and a whole lot of packaged meals (and for someone who passionately believes in organic and local, the packaged food stuff was just plain weird). Strangely, I have come to like the shakes and food bars – figuring out what I liked took time.

And as Lily grew, I shrank. A kick-ass will power, when engaged, can take you a long way. Yes, will power can help you take it off, but it can’t keep it off. But I was spiritually aligned – and very open -- this time. I had completely grieved my losses (um, saying you have grieved all your losses is sort of like saying that water is not running somewhere when you turn off a spigot).  My spirit wanted this, not just my head.

And I had promised Lily.

The food plan was, well, easy. I mean it.  After a terrible first week (I have an uber sensitive body and this is a good thing in my shamanic work, but can make for dicey time in ordinary reality) of migraines, shakiness and over-all fatigue (I was told by nutrition support they had never known for anyone to react so violently). But by day 6, I had to teach a Way of the Shaman class.

I woke up that morning with a clarity of thought and an exuberance that astonished me. Of course, the spirits had a whole lot to do with that, as they do always show up when I am teaching (that SOUNDS blasé, but is not – it’s a huge, glorious mystery). I was truly and honestly energetic, more so than I had felt for years. That was the promise of the program, but I was shocked when it actually delivered.

I set my food times and taught all weekend. With ease.

I was a non-breakfast eater, and more of a “eat when I feel like it or starving” kind of gal, and so getting into the habit of eating every three hours was extremely hard. I still have to think about it sometimes, but my body now feels weak and not very good when I don’t eat every three hours. I am now learning how to listen to that. I have cultivated a good sensitivity. Drinking water all day was extremely hard. Now, I honestly cannot imagine not having a water bottle with me all day – 96 ounces a day is now the standard. When I taught last weekend and forgot my water bottle, I came home and drank 32 ounces in one gulp. I was truly parched.

Having that strong willpower helps to address all this. Helped me marshal the focus to start.

But it was the changes of soul I could not have anticipated.

I lost weight on the program like a man. Losing sometimes as much as 7 or 8 pounds a week in the beginning. This is amazing weight loss. Amazing. And, wow, it is this carrot that keeps you keep hopping. I was gleeful. This was EASY! I could do this! And my cravings seemed to just plain vanish in the beginning. While my blood sugar was still too high, it started to level out.

Under my skin, I was harsh. Militaristic. Fanatic. Not ONE extra morsel crossed my lips (actually, this is a good attitude when you start this plan as is is a very finely designed, subtle and precise balance of carbs, fats and protein). I walked the walk (well, I didn’t walk much, but I did everything by the book).

The proverbial book. There is a book and workbook that are the third leg of this plan. I thought the reading and journaling would be the easy part as I love to research and write. But I kept avoiding the book and workbook. Which was just plain weird. But I would buck like a bronco when I sat down to read, and this never really changed.

I have really thought about this. And this is what I think about it now, which will probably shift as more time passes and more weight is lost. This is the time of my life to finally live in my body. The only other time that I ever really lived in my body is when I lived in Montana in my 20s and early 30s. I met nature there. I found my church. My soul. I was wild like the bears, and only truly content when I was in the wild.

In part, I so love shamanism because it is experiential. I am rebellious, and a born entrepreneur. I want to experience things, and I want to know what is going on.

And as I have become more practiced with core shamanism, and leaving my body, I have discovered one of the great paradoxes of my life. Being called to shamanism was a way to be in my body that I never understood before I left it intentionally.

The discipline of shamanism requires you to fully inhabit your body before your spirit leaves — and finally returns — when you work. I have consistently learned more about being in my body because I work shamanically than through any other practice in my life. But to be in the body for the long times in between journeys and to savor that time when not roaming in the wilderness? This, this was extremely challenging.

Things started to get very weird after the first fifty pounds were gone. As the weight loss went from 30 to 40 to 50, I could not relate to who I was. Sounds strange, I know, but a profound dissonance started, a confusion that was much larger than my weight loss. I was fat; it’s who I was. I knew myself as a fat person. I knew – for sure – that losing weight was not going to be the point for me; keeping it off would be. But because I WAS deeply engaged in the process and not just the outcome, I was open to my spirit, and it was confused. Friends and others who knew me would say, “You look great! Wow! You must be so happy!”

I did NOT know how to say, “I’m pretty freaked out.” Fear was my response to losing weight, not glee. I had been fooled by accomplishment before. “Doing” it had nothing to do with “being” it. And that was a lonely place. I was having the exact opposite response to what I had expected.

And, certainly, I blew it. Many times. And learned – albeit slowly – that on this plan, that cost me in a way it never had before. It takes days to get into fat burning mode, and every time you go off program, it takes days again to get back in. Enough times of doing that, and you begin to think, “OK, is this worth it?” You begin to choose. And so after months of being a martinet, and then months of being wishy-washy (still mostly losing, but much slower), I found my home and trust in following the plan.

I’d look in the mirror or move to a new size, and the fear would return. Who WAS I if I wasn’t fat? Fat was like height to me or the color blue in my eyes. It was an identity. And that astonished me. I had not known that. That, for me, being obese was part of my identity, the way I lived in and was with the world.

Fat was my armor.

Many decades ago, I had been raped. Fat made me invisible to men.

Loss and pain had made me fearful of life; fat kept me rooted. Fat kept things at low volume. As the song says, comfortably numb.

These were not thoughts, not truisms or sayings, but bodily revelations. AHAS! that came when a craving would arise, and I now knew that cravings really weren’t physical on this food plan. If anything, many cravings go away on the plan. And so I began the long, slow and uncomfortable process of welcoming the craving when it arrived. Sort of like your Aunt Edna, whom you have never liked, shows up at your front door unexpectedly, and you are being compassionate by choice as you welcome her in for a visit.

The Spirit of Craving. HUGELY intense and scary for me, too. I mean the craving to eat something when denied turned into sheer fear and overwhelming desire in my body. I could feel it in every cell. Sometimes, it morphed into intense sadness. Sometimes, my body shaked with fear. I had read all the books, done all the metaphors, abstracted the whole thing (so typical in our culture), but had never, never just bowed my head and felt what the cravings were. Again, it’s a tired and trite thing to say, I am hungry for something other than food. It’s an abstraction. But feeling myself break into a sweat or finding myself moaning or bursting into tears? This was not trite or easy or convenient.

It took a long time to decide that I had to be OK with cravings. A long time indeed. This is Life Work, so named because you work with it through your entire life. I had to invite the Spirit of Craving to take a seat when it arrived. I had to be with him (and, for me, the Spirit of Craving is male) by choice, and not run screaming from the room and into the kitchen. This is some of the bravest work I have ever done. The Spirit of Chaos is no lightweight either, and is the good pal of the Spirit of Craving; they often travel together, I have found.

And, once arrived, Craving stayed for an always-unpredictable amount of time. Again, truisms didn’t work at all. The old, “Go-for-a-walk, take-a-bath, listen-to-music, talk-to-a-friend ” standard responses were – most definitely – not it. When Craving comes for 9 hours, there is no way to walk it off, rinse it off or talk it out. While these “tricks of the trade” sound good, they are really just that — tricks. Sure, some times they help, but the truth is that Craving is a river that is always ready to flood you, gushing from heart or soul. Not so much tricky or scary to me now, but a true reason to stop and say, “Hmm. You are here again?” and then feel why rather than trying to understand why. I have a nice, quick little brain and, for me, why questions hold less and less value. Spirit lives in mystery, and I’d rather dance in mystery than try to dissect it.

But finally, finally — after so, so many episodes — I began to notice something. If I tried to shut Aunt Edna out and NOT answer the door, pretend I was not home, she would just pound on the door harder and make such a ruckus that she would wake the neighbors.

If, however, I kindly let her in, she would plunk herself down for a while, and then she would decide to leave.

So I became better practiced at pulling up a chair and hanging out with Craving. Not pleasant and often intense. But illuminating. And the first time I actually felt it all, a miracle occurred. The call of the Spirit reached a yowling crescendo and then began to withdraw. The typhoon became a wind. The floods receded. Without feeding Craving. Or rather by offering myself to it honestly to know it. Very scary, but, for me, essential spiritual work.

This was an embodied practice. No words, no journaling. This will always have to be a practice. Because we do not eat mindlessly or compulsively for thoughtful reasons. Our spirits are howling or are suffocating, and a spirit comes in to let us know. When you work with powerful spirits, you do not (or, I should say, I do not) get combative. I have learned that to compassionately merge with MY helping spirits is what works. Power meets Power, and respects it. Eating through Craving is disempowering. Being with it, and doing all you can to cultivate kindness, even though it hurts, is the work.

And through this exercise, you begin to regain self-respect. Not because you are losing weight. But because you are aligning with your spirit and your deepest longings. Day in and day out. Minute by minute. Every sip of water makes you realize the miracle of water. Every bite of cucumber instead of a Snickers bar makes you feel better on the most subtle, cellular level.

This is the truth as I know it: You really do want to be harmonious. But when disharmony or pain has become your habit, you need to cultivate self-compassion. You did nothing wrong. You, like every other being on the planet, has had to deal with the hugely painful aspects of ordinary reality. We either live in compassion with ourselves or we chastise. And we berate. And we compare. You may not believe me, but I know something about you. You are really doing the very best you can. 

This is now a very, very long write. And I have barely scratched the surface. There is so much more to say. But I want to write about this slowly, and in my own time.

Now people ask me if I am proud of myself again. And it’s both odd and telling to say that I am not especially proud — that just isn’t the word. I grew up with a dad who did spectacular things through will, but it was always in shadow — a sense of pride, accomplishment or accepting praise. When he or anyone else did something BIG, it was considered just the way it was supposed to be; either you achieved or not. So no fireworks and celebrations. This kind of lack of pride could be seen as lousy self-regard. But there is really another side to this. I am not especially proud, BUT I FEEL GOOD ABOUT ME. I am beginning to live in rhythm with the beat of my heart, the beat of the drum.

And as for Lily? This is her on her first birthday:


Lily YR 1 SUPERDOG.jpg

And her coming back with Star Gazer's spirit to help me? Gazer had told me before his death, before his spirit merged with Lily’s that they were coming back into help me with my work.

But my assumption was wrong. She is not here to work shamanically with me primarily. Really, the work I am now most focused on is learning how to live in a body that enjoys movement, the way I can move through life. This is not natural yet, but I feel it coming toward me.

As ever, my Gazer knew more than me. And now my Lily is my dear teacher, showing me that the best way to live is by kissing each moment. By opening the door.

With thanks to Lily, Gazer, and Ariel. And Ann and the Gusto gang as well as, especially, Audra. Thanks for your amazing support. And for the BNB folks — especially Karen, Ali, Lisa, Lauren, Leah , Linda, and Susan — new inspirations and my new fashionistas. And, of course, my husband Don who has ALWAYS seen me as beautiful

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