A lot of weight loss stories start with a clear lightbulb "aha!" moment, when life takes a baseball bat and whacks you over the head, and you decide once and for all that you're going to commit. A health scare. A bad photo. Seeing a specific number on a scale. A comment from a stranger, or from a loved one. A desire to be around for children or grandchildren.
I never had such a moment. For decades, my life had consisted of nothing BUT those moments, and the shame and guilt and loathing were not enough to make me believe it was possible to change. I didn't actually make a conscious decision to lose weight, or make a big lifestyle change. There was no flick of a switch. It was a series of things falling into place. Life didn't whack me over the head with a two-by-four, it just positioned me in such a way that all the right elements were in place when a spark was lit. The ember smouldered for awhile, being fanned patiently into small flames, until it eventually caught and became a fire.
That spark? Dental work.
I had about 3-4 weeks in the summer of 2011 when I could barely eat anything. I broke a tooth on one side of my mouth and had to chew very carefully, only on the other side. While fixing that tooth, and the rest of my mouth, the dentist hit a nerve with the needle on the other side, making it nearly impossible for me to eat solid foods without screaming in agony or kicking the nearest person. I survived on smoothies, yogurt, and soup (during a particularly bad heat wave, no less).
What I realized in that time was that I didn't need nearly as much food as I had convinced myself I did. I wasn't starving. I didn't feel bad. The story I had been telling myself was a lie. When I could finally eat real food again, I basically went back to my old habits, but I made a few modifications. Ate a little bit less. Tried to cut back on drinks with sugar in them. Only ate out a few times a week instead of, oh, every day. Started having a salad a week, instead of never. They were very small changes, small enough that I didn't feel deprived or like I was on a diet. I just no longer could tell myself that I needed as much food as I had been eating before the dental work proved otherwise. Over time, those small changes led to noticeable weight loss.
Now, also around this time, other things in my life had changed. I had moved jobs earlier that year, and the new job was with the right people, the right manager, in the right system, at the right time. I was back in my home town, after years of living abroad and out of province, and even though my most recent job had been much closer to home, I was now in a community that I knew. That had family and friends and a support system, and therefore fewer daily stressors. In short? I was happy.
I also no longer could park conveniently close to work, as I had at all prior jobs, so I had to walk a bit further on a daily basis.
I was also working in a building under construction, with a less-than-reliable elevator, so I learned to take the stairs unless I absolutely needed to carry a big load of books that Health and Safety would report me for carrying up and down stairs. (I am happy to report that I never got stuck in the elevator. Other people were not so lucky!)
I was also working in a place with a water fountain that had cold water (a necessity for me; I don't enjoy lukewarm water), and it was conveniently located. For the first time in my life I willingly drank water regularly.
I was also commuting less with this new job, so I had more time before and after work, which was a factor when I finally started swimming. In the meantime, I wasn't as tired or grumpy or stressed because I didn't have to deal with the annoying traffic I'd been facing on a daily basis.
A lot of small changes, which all added up over time.
See? That's a lot of sticks on the fire, built on a foundation of kindling made of happiness and hope.
But it was dental work that was the spark.