On D’Angelo, “New Girl,” and Becoming a New Creation

Next week will mark two years that I’ve maintained a 40-lb. weight loss. I do, of course, feel excited and blessed to have been able to hold on to this milestone. I have not consistently kept off more–having flirted briefly with 45 lbs. down, and nearly 50 lbs. down–but I know that I’m in a much better place than I used to be on many levels.

I feel convinced that I will continue to maintain my weight loss, but a couple of things lately have reminded me of how tenuous weight loss success can be, if we’re not careful, and how necessary it is to work on any emotional issues along with refining your eating and body.

The first is the recent return of R&B’s elusive genius darling, D’Angelo. Over the course of 15 years (10 years ago), he only put out two albums, but both were hailed as soul game-changers. He was one of the artists on the front lines of neosoul in the 90s, and with the 2000 release of Voodoo, he started to meld together other kinds of influences and branch out with his sound.

And then a legendary video did him in. The video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” with the newly chiseled man and the music stripped down, ultimately loomed larger than the classic album. I attended two shows on the concert tour for the Voodoo album, and I remember several women rushing the stage, on the strength of what they had seen in that video.

D’Angelo had refined his body, but it seemed that part of him wished he never had. Drummer Questlove, of The Roots, had this to say about being on the road with D’Angelo during this period:

“Some nights on tour he’d look in the mirror and say, “I don’t look like the video [‘Untitled,’ which featured nothing but a chiseled, naked D’Angelo from the waist up.]” It was totally in his mind, on some Kate Moss s***. So, he’d say, “Lemme do 200 more stomach crunches.” He’d literally hold the show up for half an hour just to do crunches. We would hold the show for an hour and a half if he didn’t feel mentally prepared or physically prepared. Some shows got cancelled because he didn’t feel physically prepared, but it was such a delusion.”

D’Angelo eventually retreated from the spotlight for about a decade, more or less keeping out of the public eye, except for occasional brushes with the law. Mug shots from arrests for drugs and solicitation showed he had not maintained the trim body that he perceived to be the stumbling block that kept people from really paying attention to his music.

Musically, the only (official) peep heard from D’Angelo during this time was the song “Glass Mountain Trust,” on Mark Ronson’s Record Collection album in 2010. Rumors swirled that he was recording an album, but no one really believed they’d see it come to light. Then, in late 2011, there were whispers that he would be performing, in Europe. In late January of 2012, D’Angelo was able to add several completed concert dates to his resume. It’s unclear as to whether D’Angelo has conquered his demons, if he will continue to tour, or if the album, rumored to be called James River, will materialize this year, but European fans took to social media to gush over a man who they’ve said (and backed up with video footage) hasn’t lost a step with his singing and musicianship, even with the four new songs the audiences were treated to. And he has also gotten himself physically back to essentially the same shape he was in on the last go-round.

Another thing that has stuck in my mind recently is the plight of the character called Schmidt on the TV show “New Girl.” Schmidt, who has known most of his friends since he was much heavier and much less outgoing, has lost a substantial amount of weight and now struggles with a variety of insecurities. This came to a head with the celebration of his 30th birthday, in which a close friend from the past seemed to become more of the guest of honor than Schmidt himself. Schmidt wanted to impress this guy, who he always thought was cool. But when his friend arrived, he seemed to be more of a frenemy–trying to put down the new, improved Schmidt, but also showing that he never really cared for the old Schmidt in a reciprocal way, as we saw in flashbacks. (The low point? In the past, overweight Schmidt sang a parody of Starship’s “We Built This City”: “We built this Schmitty on Tootsie Rolls!” His “friend” strong-armed him into singing the song during his birthday celebration.) I don’t think Schmidt would sabotage his successful weight loss work in the same way that D’Angelo did–he seems too into himself to ever let that happen–but it’s clear that the mentality of his “before” picture is still lingering under his well-manicured new exterior.

I think that’s the danger for many of us. We can get into a routine of healthy eating. We can spend hour upon hour every week in the gym. We can successfully change our physical appearance and improve our blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. But if we don’t also work on the mental and emotional issues that cause us to turn to food, or have kept us in a state where we place little value on ourselves, we will not be fully enjoying the promise of a full life that we have given ourselves.

There have been many naysaying articles published in the past several months indicating that sustained, significant weight loss is challenging to achieve for various physiological reasons. But I like to think that the mind has a lot to do with it as well. I think our drive to live at a smaller weight has to be greater than our drive to use our old patterns (including food) as an attempt to solve our problems. I think that if weight loss causes us to see ourselves in a positive light and go after goals for success that we never before thought were in our reach, we have to be a new voice of encouragement for ourselves, and avoid letting the old voice of doubt and fear drag us back down. I think that we have to understand that weight loss means becoming a new creation. I think people who have lost weight should reexamine their lives, their motivations, and their coping strategies, and weed out any of the old that may threaten their accomplishments.

A certain set of behaviors kept us weighing more than we wanted to, for however long that lasted. We have to fully embrace a new set of behaviors to maintain the weight loss that we’ve achieved, even if our bodies do have an easily tipped momentum toward regaining the weight. And we should keep examining ourselves to preemptively address any fears and behaviors that threaten to keep us from living our best lives.

I have to be honest and say I’m still examining myself regularly. Over the course of the past month, I have come face to face with areas in my life that I still face with old patterns, or that I have not yet begun to tackle head-on. I think this will be an area that I need to address before I can make a permanent dent in the last 20 lbs. I hope to lose.

Have you lost weight and realize your old ways still have sway over you? Have you successfully shaken off the worst aspects of your old self? How do you fight to keep the ground you’ve gained when it comes to weight loss?

UPDATE: In July 2012, following a lengthy article in GQ magazine, D’Angelo made his official comeback in the US by delivering a solid performance at the BET Awards, generating excitement for summer touring and the elusive third album.

It seems like he has gained control of his burdens, in a way that some artists unfortunately die trying to do. There are no solid plans yet for the new album (aside from “later this year”), but I and other fans are proud to see him back and in rare form.

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