No Big Surprise Here…Maintaining Weight Loss Is Hard Work

  

 Just over 2 years ago I reached my goal on my health and fitness journey. I had lost 100 pounds! About a year ago, I posted that maintaining that weight loss was fairly easy, I just needed to keep doing what I had been doing to lose the weight. I didn’t have to log my food anymore! I was one of the 5% that could keep the weight off! That was true at the time. Now, however…

Maybe you get busy, and those little bad habits start creeping in. Like snacking between meals when you aren’t really hungry, just bored. Who knew that all those wonderful whole foods (fruits, nuts, veggies with hummus) that are good for you still have calories? (Oh right, I did know that.) Like eating that wonderful whole wheat sourdough bread, even though you know it is one of your trigger foods. (And putting butter on it, since all the news reports now say it is healthy!)

Or maybe you are forced to slow down on the exercise. Perhaps (you know, just an example) your rotator cuff starts hurting every time you do any exercise that uses your shoulder very much–Zumba, kickboxing, circuit training, push-ups; pretty much every exercise you were doing except walking/jogging.

Maybe you go on a couple of vacations and end up eating lots of foods you don’t normally eat…and it all tastes so good, and hits all your feel good triggers, that you perhaps eat more than you should. Perhaps there are a bunch of fun family functions while you are vacationing, with lots of really yummy things to eat that are just too hard to resist.

So yeah, all that happened to me. And this could be where I explain that I put all the weight back on (plus 10 pounds), and I can’t believe it happened so fast.

Thankfully, I was still weighing myself regularly. When my shoulder first started hurting and I backed off from exercise, I gained about 6 pounds. I caught it and started logging again, and dropped most of those pounds.  Then I got very busy, and stressed out with end-of-school-year stuff, and I stopped logging my food, and I found myself–after a trip to see family on the East Coast, and a vacation in Disneyland shortly after that–up 10 pounds. I can see clearly how weight regain happens to the majority of people who manage to lose the weight. Those 10 pounds went on in the span of about 3 months, with a big weight gain during each vacation. To me, since I wasn’t really paying attention, it felt much faster than that.

So, I’m back to logging my food, but also trying to figure out how to continue maintaining without having to yo-yo up and down for the rest of my life. My suspicion is that I should keep logging my food most of the time for the rest of my life. That’s what I thought while I was losing, but then I thought that I didn’t need to when I maintained for so long without it. However, if I look back now (and I think I mentioned this before) my weight was very slowly creeping up during that time, at a rate of maybe a pound or 2 a year. Maybe eventually I only need to log every other week, or one week a month, but if I don’t occasionally track my intake, it seems to creep up without my noticing. I justify that it is just another piece of fruit. But that piece of fruit has almost 100 calories, and if those are calories my body doesn’t need, I’m still going to gain. I thought that I could just listen to my body’s signals so that I didn’t overeat. But there’s some research out there that once a person has been obese and loses the weight, the body’s signals get messed up and are constantly trying to return to homeostasis–or a return to obesity. As the research suggests, it is possible that the hormones that control hunger and satiety (ghrelin and leptin) are out of whack with me.

I’ve been logging for a couple of weeks now, and thankfully the weight is coming back off pretty quickly. I’m seeing a physical therapist for my shoulder, and still can’t go to the gym. However, I’m jogging with my big pooch a few times a week, and trying to get my (at least) 10,000 steps every day. The thought of logging forever isn’t filling me with dread (most of the time), instead I’m just letting my control-freak nature fly and embracing it.

I think I’ve said it before, health and fitness is a life-long journey. I’m just happy I’m not starting the journey over again with the very first step.

Really, Truly, Love Your Body

This is one of those posts that I feel like the universe was telling me to write.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fat acceptance, and the prejudice against fat people. It is something I really hate in our society, that it still seems just fine to make fun of people for being fat, in a way that isn’t acceptable against people for race, religion, or sexual orientation. I think the reason that prejudice against people who are fat is still considered “okay” by most people is that society seems to blame fat people for being how they are. They must be lazy, or lack self-control, or some other thing that is totally, absolutely, their fault. However, as a formerly fat person, would I seem like a hypocrite for speaking out against this prejudice? Obviously, I must think it isn’t okay to be fat, right? After all, I worked so hard to change that part of my life.

Here’s the thing…about a month before I started on this journey, I had totally and completely accepted the fact that I was fat. Not that I was absolutely happy about it, but I figured that I would always be fat, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I gave up trying to change that fact, and just decided to be as happy as I could be in my fat body.

Then one day I started having heart palpitations. I’ve told this story before, but that was the experience that changed my life. While the doctors all said it was normal, I figured that a stronger, healthier heart probably wouldn’t have issues like that. I realized that while I might never lose weight, I had to love my body and my life enough to make my heart stronger. I started exercising, not because I hated my body, but because I loved my body and wanted to make it better. The scale didn’t influence whether I kept working out, the fact that little by little my body felt stronger is what kept me going. After a while, I realized that if I really loved my body, I should start thinking about the fuel (food) I was feeding it, and I started eating healthier. I researched healthy eating, and worked hard to separate fact from fad. Every time I took a bite of food, I thought about what good that food was doing for my body. Very occasionally, I would eat something because it was good for my soul (hello dark chocolate mousse!), and I would never eat something that tasted gross just because it was healthy (I love my taste buds too), but most of the time I thought of food as the fuel my body needs to run, and eating healthy food as a way to help it run better.

I couple of days ago, I was chatting with a friend about healthy eating, and she mentioned that she knows what she needs to do to eat healthy, she just can’t do it. And yet, she feeds her daughter healthy food. Today while shopping at Trader Joe’s, I heard the clerk talking to a co-worker about how she feels sick all the time, and she knows it’s the crap she is eating. She said someone asked her about how she could feed that stuff to her kids, and she stated that she would never let her kids eat like that, they eat healthy food. I was the same way, my kids have always eaten healthy, even when I was eating crap. I taught them to listen to their bodies to decide if they were still hungry, even when I was not doing the same. Why do we do this? I think it is because we love our kids enough to teach them to love their bodies. We need to love ourselves and our bodies the same way.

These experiences were all leading me to come to this realization, that it is all about really, truly loving your body. Then this afternoon I saw this amazing video from Caroline Rothstein,  Fat is Not a Feeling, where she talks about this exact thing. She says it much more powerfully than I could ever hope to. I have a serious girl crush going on.

Is it easy to overcome years of compulsive eating, emotional eating, self-hate, self-doubt, all the other destructive behaviors and thoughts that got us where we are today? Hell no, I still struggle with it almost every day.

Every time I start to “feel fat” or get afraid that I will gain the weight back, that is when I lose sight of why I am doing this and put my health in jeopardy. If I just continue to love my body, and give it the food and exercise it needs to be healthy, it will continue to be healthy. It really is that simple…and that challenging. Love yourself enough to overcome the challenges and love your body enough to treat it the way it deserves to be treated.

Gingerbread Apple Muffins

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Wintertime always makes me want warm spices and apples. I tried out a Ginger Apple Crisp recipe from Whole Foods when my hubby hosted a work dinner in October, and then made it for his birthday at the beginning of November, and then again for Thanksgiving. It was that good. I need to bring something breakfasty to a meeting at my kids’ school tomorrow morning, and I got it in my head to use the same flavors as that wonderful apple crisp, except in muffin form. Surely, there must be a healthier, lower-sugar, whole grain ginger apple muffin out there, right? Hm, not so much. Time for a bit of improvising…with baking…that’s a little intimidating.

I started with Cook’s Illustrated Gingerbread Muffins. However, they had white flour, 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar, and no apples. So I had a bit of work to do. I swapped white whole wheat flour for the processed white flour, used half the sweetener and changed it to molasses, swapped out half the butter for some applesauce, and added chopped apples. I also made them mini-muffins, as I like the smaller serving size–and quicker cooking time. They turned out delicious! My husband said they are the best apple muffins he’s ever eaten. They may be the only apple muffins my husband has ever eaten…but I’ll take the compliment anyway! They are soft, sweet, spicy, and the apple pieces stayed just a little bit crisp so they added some lovely texture.

Gingerbread Apple Muffins
based on recipe from Cook’s Illustrated

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 large eggs
3/4 cup molasses
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 finely chopped apple (I used a medium Honeycrisp)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a mini-muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and allspice in medium bowl until combined. Whisk together eggs, molasses, and buttermilk in large bowl until combined. Add melted butter and whisk vigorously until well mixed. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until just combined (do not overmix). Add apples and stir to distribute.

3. Use cookie scoop or spoon to drop batter into greased muffin tin. Bake until they spring back to the touch and toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean, about 10 minutes, rotating pan from front to back halfway through baking time. Cool muffins in tin for 5 minutes and then transfer to wire rack until cool enough to handle and so you don’t burn your tongue when you can’t wait anymore to sample their deliciousness–those little apple pieces stay really hot! Don’t worry, I think my tongue will recover.

Everything is Awesome

My son used to have a very negative attitude when he approached any new situation. He would assume that it would be awful, and as a result, most of the time it was. I told him every time that his attitude is what made the difference. If he assumed things would be awful, they probably would be. However, if he went into something new thinking that it would be awesome (or at least sort of fun), then it was more likely to turn out that way. Turns out repetition–or at least growing up a bit–works, as he now can approach things with a more positive attitude, and more often enjoys each new experience.

In the past, if I thought about losing weight, I would think about everything I would have to live without. I’d never get sweets again, never have donuts, or fried food. I’d have to give up ice cream, and pasta. I’d have to get up early and go to the gym, and get all sweaty and disgusting.

However, none of that is true (well, I do get kind of sweaty and disgusting at the gym, I guess). I can have sweets, and if I wanted to I could eat donuts and fried food. I had ice cream (with homemade apple crisp) on Saturday night to celebrate my husband’s birthday. My vegetarian lasagna is in our regular rotation for Meatless Monday. The secret is making sure that if I am going to eat something beyond what I know is really healthy for me (fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins, plant-based carbs), then it has to be awesome. I don’t have sweets every day, I save it as a special treat and only eat dessert if it is awesome, like an amazing chocolate dessert at a fancy restaurant. We don’t go out to eat all the time anymore, we save it up and go out for an awesome meal every couple weeks or so.

Here’s the thing–by getting to the point where sugar and processed carbs are an occasional thing for me, my taste buds and digestive systems have changed. I no longer want that donut (too sweet) or the fried foods (I know I would suffer later). It is easier to eat healthy because that is the food that tastes best and makes me feel awesome every day.

That’s not to say that I no longer have a sweet tooth, because I do, it’s just not as sweet as it used to be. If I am tempted by something I know wouldn’t be healthy I first judge whether it is awesome. If not, for example if it is just a store bought cookie at a pot luck, instead of telling myself that I can’t have it, I remind myself that I only eat that stuff if it is awesome, and I can always get myself an awesome dessert the next time we eat out.

As far as exercise, instead of waking up thinking “I have to go to the gym today” I remind myself how awesome I feel all day if I get some movement in the morning. If I’m going for a walk, I download a podcast (This American Life and Serial are my current favorites) so I get to listen to a story while I walk. I don’t let myself listen to those podcasts anywhere else, so I look forward to my walk.

In order to maintain my weight loss, I need to continue with my healthier lifestyle every day for the rest of my life. By changing my attitude, that prospect no longer seems like a burden, most of the time it feels awesome.

Why I Have Sucked at Blogging

I just had a realization about why I end up taking these huge breaks from blogging, and it takes me forever to get back to it. It just felt too big, like I didn’t have time to sit down and write a profound, inspiring post, so I might as well just skip it. It’s the same reason it took me forever to start getting healthy. It felt too big to do it right, I figured I’d have to change everything about what I ate and start exercising (when I had hardly been moving off the couch), and that was too overwhelming to imagine. The answer to getting healthy was taking small steps each day, letting them build upon each other, and eventually I found I had changed everything about what I ate, and I was exercising nearly every day. So, I am going to try to start posting more often (I know, I know, I’ve said that before) and not worry about being profound or particularly original.

This week I received paperwork to become part of the National Weight Control Registry. The NWCR is a research study of people who have lost at least 30 pounds, and kept it off for at least a year. They are trying to come up with answers about how people successfully lose weight and keep it off. I had read a lot about the study while I was losing weight, so it feels like another big success to become a part of the study.

I posted (oh so long ago) that I really believe the secret to being healthier is to stop eating processed foods. Whether you are overweight or not, processed foods are not healthy for your body. I’m not the only one who now believes that, and I’ll post articles as they come up to support me on this. For now, with Halloween coming up, here’s a great John Oliver piece about what I believe is the #1 problem in the Standard American Diet (SAD), added sugar. Along with all the other health and weight benefits of reducing (or eliminating) added sugar, I have a friend right now fighting cancer, and she has found some research showing that sugar may feed cancer cells. Sugar is now added to so many foods we eat, and our taste buds have become dulled as a result. When you eliminate the added sugar, real foods start tasting so much more complex and delicious. It can be hard to get to that point, and there are many (many) books and websites out there encouraging a cold turkey method to eliminating sugar (i.e., I Quit Sugar and the 21 Day Sugar Detox). While this may work for some, I think I would have found the idea of going cold turkey to be too overwhelming. I believe the answer to reducing the amount of added sugar (and all processed food) in your diet is in taking small steps that lead you in the right direction. Start by replacing one of your sugary or processed-carb loaded snacks with a piece of fruit. Have a bowl of plain oatmeal with cinnamon, banana and chopped almonds for breakfast (my favorite!) instead of cold cereal (since they all have added sugar, or they would taste like cardboard). Try to make a small change each day, or even each week if you want to take it slower, and let them build upon themselves until you have achieved success.

Happy Anniversary To Me!

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One year ago today I reached my initial goal of losing 100 pounds. When I first started losing weight, I read so many discouraging statistics about maintaining weight loss that I was actually quite worried. However, as I went along my journey, I came to the realization that the changes I was making were permanent, so as long as I kept up my healthier lifestyle, there was no reason to believe that the weight would come back on. Thankfully, that has proven to be the case. I actually never came to a decision to stop losing weight. At some point I just stopped losing weight while eating healthy food and exercising, and I figured I must have reached the best weight for me. I have hovered between 100 and 105 pounds lost from my original weight for the last year. I don’t count calories, or keep a food log anymore. I eat real food, I don’t eat processed food and I limit treats, and try to pay attention to portion sizes (except for the veggies, of course). I exercise an average of 6 days per week, and I have developed a love of fitness.

My entire life I thought I was just someone who was destined to be fat. I felt like I had no control over my weight, I felt powerless against lethargy, and tempting food. I can’t even express how amazing it is to be free of that, how healthy, strong, and in control I now feel. I am always so happy when I hear that I have inspired others to live healthier lives, to eat real food, to get out and exercise. My greatest hope is to continue to inspire, that someone reading my blog realizes that it is possible, and takes the first steps towards living a healthier life.

The Secret to My Successful Weight Loss and Maintenance (I Think)

I haven’t posted in a (very) long time, mostly because I couldn’t decide what to post about. While I have posted a lot of ideas here about ways to get healthy and lose weight, none of them felt like the root cause of why I was successful this time. People would ask what my secret is, and I’d say “healthy eating and exercising” and while that was true, it didn’t feel like the whole story. They would say “you must have worked very hard,” and I would just nod my head, but honestly it didn’t seem that hard. That was the big mystery: Why did it actually seem relatively easy, when every time I have tried to lose weight before I have failed? This Saturday, I will have maintained my 100 pound weight loss for a year (hooray!), and I think I may have finally figured out what my secret really was.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that my weight was on a very slow upward trend. Thinking about it, I realized that I was still having some sweet cravings, and in response had been eating a lot of dried fruit–healthy, but also very high in calories. I also was still having honey in my coffee in the morning, the last bit of added sugar I still had every day. I decided to try an experiment, and do without the honey in my coffee and see if I could still enjoy a cup of coffee without it. I told myself I would just try it for a week, and then I could always start putting it in again. I started just having my coffee with milk. Almost instantaneously, I stopped having cravings during the day. My weight has been slowly dropping again, with no extra effort from me.

Around the same time, my sister-in-law, who had recently gone gluten-free the right way–removing all the processed foods that contain gluten, and not replacing them with gluten-free processed crap–commented on how her appetite had regulated, and she was finally getting normal hunger cues.

I knew that cutting processed foods was an important part of why I lost weight and have kept it off. Processed food has almost no nutritional value, and just adds a bunch of unneeded calories. It digests quickly, so you get hungry again fast. I now think that wasn’t the whole story.

So, here is what I think is my secret: Sugar and other highly processed carbs were messing up my satiation (fullness) and satiety (hunger) cues. Previously, I always felt out of control of my weight, I was just hungry more often than other people, and had a bigger appetite when it was time to eat. I thought that people like me were just different, and that if I wanted to lose weight I would just have to always resist those factors, and be hungry all the time. Now I believe that I was partly right. I think some people are different, in that sugar and processed carbs affect some people more than they do others.

These foods with a high glycemic load raise blood sugar levels quickly. Insulin is released to drop blood sugar levels, and low blood sugar levels cause hunger, and may lead to cravings for more foods that will quickly raise blood sugar levels again, and the cycle begins again. According to a study published about a year ago by Dr. David Ludwig, these foods also trigger the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, which can have an addictive quality in some people, and lead to overeating. We all have that friend who eats tons of junk, and still stays lean. Just like some people can drink alcohol without becoming alcoholics, some people can eat these highly processed carbs, and not end up with weight problems. But for others, like me, we are better off abstaining.

By starting to exercise vigorously, I think I was able to break this cycle without even realizing it. There is some evidence that exercise helps to regulate blood sugar levels, and that is what I think happened with me when I started doing Zumba. After that, I was able to start down the path of healthier eating without my cravings being overpowering, and as I cut out more processed food, I had even less cravings. With the removal of these highly processed carbs, my fullness and hunger responses corrected themselves.

I think this also may explain why some people are very successful on low-carb or paleo diets, since those would also cut out added sugars and other processed carbs. However, I feel like these diets are often too restrictive, and cut out some carbs that are actually pretty healthy.

I’m also not saying that all you have to do is cut out added sugars and processed carbs. Other things I’ve discussed such as eating lots of vegetables and fruit and watching portion sizes are still very important. However, I think by cutting out the added sugars and processed carbs, it may make everything else infinitely easier.

I still allow myself a sweet treat now and then, but only occasionally, so it actually is a treat. I savor every bite, and I eat it with the knowledge that I will have to exercise a lot of willpower to not give into cravings later. Often I will have the treat at the end of the day (say, for dessert after dinner), and just make sure to not eat anything else after.

So, if you are struggling with your weight, my secret may or may not be your secret as well. There is no one who argues that added sugar and other processed carbs are good for you, and almost everyone agrees that they are bad for you, so you have nothing to lose by not eating them (except some unwanted weight), and you might gain a control over your eating you never thought possible. The process of cutting out the added sugar and processed carbs will not be easy, but I feel like it is incredibly worth it, to finally feel like I have some control. I’m unsure how long it will take for the cravings to completely go away, or how much processed carbs you will need to cut to feel the effects. It could be (and likely is) that each individual is very different in this. Over the next few days, I plan to post some tips on getting rid of added sugar and processed carbs.

Please, give me feedback on what you think of this idea, and whether you are going to try reducing your added sugars and processed carbs!