renee-michelle-harris_web.jpgEditor’s Note: After close to two decades of being significantly overweight, South Florida Times Associate Editor Renee Michelle Harris is setting out to lose the weight once and for all. Harris has enlisted the support of a life coach team to deal with what she says is the inner journey and will join exercise programs in the tri-county area to transform the physical. She will chronicle her experience twice monthly. In this first installment, she introduces the journey.

Sexy high-heeled sandals, a cute pair of jeans with a brown leather belt and tucked in white shirt, form-fitting halter sundress in my favorite color (orange) and maybe even a slinky black swimsuit, gold hoop earrings and a wide-brimmed hat.

A summer trousseau for a weekend trip to the Keys? No. Try beloved outfits banned from my wardrobe almost two decades ago, when pounds that used to cling to other folk’s hips and thighs began to stick to mine.

No longer willing to delude myself with a never-ending list of excuses, getting fit is now a priority in my almost 48-year-old life. I know that permanent weight loss begins within, so I’ve done the internal work, the soul-searching, the figuring out why I gained the weight in the first place and whether I’m seriously ready to let it go.

I am.

And while looking good in certain clothes is one of my motivations, the primary reason is far more substantive: I owe it to myself. Approaching the half-century milestone has a way of putting things in perspective and, for me, self-analysis is a major part of that process.

Knowing myself – really knowing myself – is an ongoing pursuit. It’s because I know myself that I’ve chosen to keep a record of this transformation. As my girl Oprah would say, “What I know for sure” is that whenever I’ve achieved a meaningful goal, it involved me taking a major step outside of my comfort zone.

When I coveted my dream social work job, the leadership role at a program to help strengthen poor families, the creative approach that I took to obtain the position was unlike any that I‘d ever done. When I switched careers from social work to journalism, stretching myself and speaking freely from my heart about what a community paper could be landed me an on-the-spot job offer.

Likewise, getting fit will require moving past the familiar and comfortable into new and different territory — like telling all of South Florida how much I weigh, what I eat and the ups and downs of weight loss. I’m an extremely private person, raised with a strict “what happens in this house, stays in this house” mentality, so this degree of transparency certainly qualifies as new and different territory.

I haven’t always been fat. I had a brief chubby period during childhood but nothing major. By the time I hit middle school, all of the baby fat was gone. I was voted queen of my high school, where I was also chosen “most attractive.” During my college days at Florida State University I was fit and trim, full of what I called joyful jogging (I did it because it made me feel good) and moderate eating.

Food did not become an issue for me until about four years after I got married. In 1989, my safety net dissolved. My eldest brother was murdered, another brother moved back to our birth place (New Jersey) and my baby brother left for the U.S. Marines — all over the span of a few months.

Having a sibling move away can be emotional but is usually not life-changing. My brothers’ departures were major because of the losses that our family had already experienced: we lost our mother and a brother within six months of each other. Also, because of unspeakable abuse that I endured as a little girl, my brothers’ presence in my life represented security and protection.

Long story short, I began packing on pounds because I started feeling increasingly unsafe in my attention-getting body and, without my safety net, I felt lost.

Through years of spiritual development, reading and prayer, I realized the why of the weight gain. Now, with the help of life coach team Charles Taylor and Shakira Clemetson of Charles & Shakira Unlimited, I intend to peel off the pounds.

Stay tuned.