By Nicole Terwey,
Life Coach, Sport Nutrition Specialist, & Fitness Coach
In the eight years I spent on active duty in the Navy, about half of my time was spent on keeping extra weight off. This was true for me and for many of the other military women I worked with, lived with, traveled with, and read about.
AN OVERWEIGHT OFFICER
Being overweight as an armed forces member was not ideal. It was not how I imagined my role would be as a military woman. When I joined the Navy, I imagined myself resembling the quintessential modern military woman – fit, in control of her actions, confident, and proud. Those things had nothing to do with how my clothes fit, but when my uniform got tighter and larger over the years, I felt like I was getting left out of my own vision.
I noticed I started pulling myself away from activities, trainings, courses, TDYs, and other opportunities that I may have enjoyed because I was becoming heavier and more insecure of myself as a Naval Officer. I did not look the part I imagined I would when I joined back in 2004. So, to feel better and more in control, I followed what my military sisters were doing, which was to exercise ad nauseam and eat minimally over the week, then feast on the weekends because we “worked hard” and deserved to “play hard.” It’s how the boys do it, anyway.
I did this for years.
When I made the decision to get out of the Navy, I vowed to find a way to make weight loss permanent, enjoyable, sustainable, and worthwhile. Not just to fit into a uniform or a look because I was no longer going to be wearing those clothes, but because I could. I did not want to repeat the misery of being overweight in the military in my new life as a civilian. My body, weight loss, and feeling fit have always been something dear and important to me.
DEPRIVATION & MILITARY WOMEN
Since getting out of the Navy, I have seen something in military women that I did not expect: deep deprivation.
As a civilian now, I attend as many military networking events as I can, because I love connecting with the people I meet. It’s like being back in the military but the guys have long hair and the girls are wearing long, beautifully manicured nails. The sea stories are the same, and the memories and laughter are just as good, if not better. But there aren’t that many women that attend. Where are they? Where are my sisters?
The reason, I’ve been told, is because we don’t connect with the word “veteran.” For the majority of people in the U.S., the image that comes to mind when we think “veteran” is a Desert Storm, Vietnam, Korea, or WWII male who is in his 90s wearing the ball cap of the operation or ship they were on. And people across the country love our veterans, but military women can’t connect with that representation because we served, dare I say it, differently.
This is what is actually happening: We don’t stop and take a step back long enough to see how much has changed in the past 50-70 years. We’re not fighting the way the brave men of the 1950s fought… and that’s OK. Maybe we didn’t “fight” at all – but we still served. We still followed rules, orders, traditions, and served at the best of our capacity. And that is more than enough. “Veteran” means “having served,” and that’s what we did.
However, because we believe, in our minds, that we are not “enough” or not “similar to the real vets,” we feel inadequate or left out. When we feel that way, we hide, or don’t go to events that we wish we had attended, or we say goodbye to everything about the military including the things and people we loved. We end up leaving ourselves out of what could be real and amazing for us. And then, we feel bad about feeling inadequate and left out, and sadly, many of us will eat and/or drink to feel better. The added weight can make us feel even more inadequate and unwanted, and we prove to ourselves that no one wants to be around us… we don’t even want to be around ourselves.
This is a hard truth to see. We are causing our own misery by believing we are not deserving enough. We don’t stop and step back far enough to see that, truly, nothing and no one is making us feel inadequate or left out. It’s our own thinking that is causing us to not show up how we want to or how we could. Though it feels justified and true because many military women seem to have the same sentiment, it’s still not a fact; otherwise, every military woman would be struggling the exact same way, but we’re not. What happens is we hide from our own lives and feel so terrible about what is unwillingly being created that we seek food, alcohol, or solitude to feel better. In reality, those “solutions” only make us feel worse. And that’s where I have the good news…
HOW TO FEEL BETTER
I want to help women and men lose weight and keep it off forever because it’s possible. However, that won’t happen when we’re feeling inadequate, left out, or unworthy.
When we step back and look at the facts, this is what we’ll find:
- ) We served X-number of years in the Armed Forces (if you raised your hand and swore an oath, you served)
- ) We wore a military uniform
- ) We went through basic training of one form or another
- ) We were trained in one job, or many jobs, and did them the best that we knew how
And that’s it. These are facts that all military women and men can share no matter what decade, era, operation, or war we served in.
No one member is better than another. Even those souls who gave their lives, they still did the job they were trained in and did the best that they knew how. I promise you this: if you compare your actions to theirs, you will always feel unworthy. It’s not fair to you, not fair to those around you, and not fair to those who died, because I don’t believe they died so that you would live your life feeling unworthy. That’s not how they would have wanted you to live.
Back to the point at hand. By looking at the list above of things that ALL service members share, we can see that how we choose to think about those facts is what determines how we feel about ourselves. That means that feeling inadequate and unworthy are optional. You have the option – and have always had the option – to feel however you want about these circumstances. Ask yourself these questions:
How would you rather feel about these facts? What do you want them to truly mean to you?
The women I see most often at veteran events have beautiful answers when I tell them this. They say they feel proud and content about having served. They feel delighted, pleased, and successful. How is it that other women feel inadequate or unworthy when they did the exact same thing? It’s because of the thoughts they are choosing to believe. There is a difference in how you feel when you think, “I did my time and it was enough” (probably feel pleased) from “I didn’t do enough in my time” (probably feel unworthy, or like an impostor).
Notice how what you feel determines how you act and behave? When you believe that you did your time and it was enough, which creates the feeling of pleasantness or contentment in you, you don’t judge yourself or your actions when you served. You may notice you don’t even compare yourself to others and what they did; it’s not a factor. You may even notice you stay in touch with your military friends and keep up with them over the years. You hold on to precious military emblems and gifts that you gained over the years. You may also notice that you have more power and confidence to make changes in your new civilian life thanks to what you learned and gained in the military. This creates a more fulfilling life that you’re proud of – not hiding from.
The opposite will also manifest in your life. If you believe that you didn’t do enough in the time that you served, you may feel a sense of unworthiness. When you’re feeling unworthy, you may hold back from things you want to do – staying connected with friends or meeting new people. You may stay at home or pursue jobs that don’t really interest you. You may notice that you don’t take care of yourself and give in to urges more frequently for food and alcohol so that you can feel better. Maybe you develop habits that produce instant gratification because they offer you reprieve from the feeling of unworthiness in your body. This creates a life that is not enough for even your own expectations where you are not doing enough of what you want in your own life.
These scenarios don’t apply to every military woman who gets out, but from all the women I’ve spoken with and read about – and from the multitude of support groups, speakers, and events designed to help military women when they separate – this is the trend I see.
Weight gain is a symptom of what we’re doing and not doing. Our lack of action is coming from how we’re feeling about ourselves. And how we feel about ourselves only comes from ONE place: our own mind. Our own thoughts about ourselves. When you change your thoughts about yourself, you change your results.
No matter where you are at the moment with your weight or with your life after the military, you have the power to change it. You do that by asking yourself better questions than you are now. For example ask yourself, “How do I want to define what veteran means to me?” or, “How would I rather choose to think about myself as a veteran, or former member?” Your answer might feel better, and when you’re feeling better, you’ll show up differently and in ways that serve you instead of hurt you. By doing this, you can change your life in ways you didn’t know were possible.
About the Author: Nicole Terwey is a certified life coach, a sport nutrition specialist and certified fitness coach. After serving in the U.S. Navy for eleven years as an Intelligence Officer and earning a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership, Nicole embarked on helping women and men with the mental-emotional component to weight loss. Her personal struggles with years of weight loss and weight gain at the Naval Academy and her time on active duty led her to find her solution for permanent weight loss – the cognitive element, the mental strategy. Combined with her knowledge, experience, training, and coaching skills, she now works with women and men who want to lose weight once and for all by tackling the hardest part of weight loss: undoing urges around food. Nicole offers a free Undoing Urges Mini-Course at her website.