Category Archives: Lessons Learned

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.

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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.

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!

Maintaining…and Maybe Losing a Little

I haven’t blogged in awhile, because my kids started school and all those fun after school activities started as well. I also teach music as a volunteer at my kids’ school, so I started back up with that too. I think I’ve gotten into the groove of things now.

It is almost 3 months after I hit the 100 lb. loss milestone, and I’m mostly maintaining, although still losing a little bit very slowly. I still weigh myself every day, and my weight goes up and down a bit throughout each week, but there is a very slight downward trend over time. This is why I like having a digital scale; I use the Withings scale, which has an iPhone app with a graph that shows the moving average–or general trend–of my weight. Today I hit a new low weight, putting me only 1 pound from my original goal of 135 lbs. I don’t know whether I will actually stay that low though…sometimes these outlier lows and highs happen, not sure why. Still not really trying to get to the 135 lb. goal before my skin reduction surgery, though it would be fine if I end up there.

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My moving average from the last 6 months

At the weight I am today though, I am just inside the “healthy” range on the BMI scale. That happened for the first time 10 days ago (Sept. 6), but then my weight went back up by a pound or so and I was back at the very bottom of the “overweight” range. Just goes to show that the BMI thing should be taken as a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. I am really healthy right now, a size 8 (and sometimes a 6 depending on the store), I look and feel strong, I am full of energy, and that is all before any of my skin reduction surgery.

As I had hoped towards the end of my weight loss, maintenance has merely been a matter of continuing on as I was doing throughout this whole journey. The only thing that has changed is I feel a bit more free to go out to dinner occasionally, and perhaps have a treat now and then. I still eat lots and lots of veggies and quite a lot of fruit, and watch my portions on everything else. I don’t feel at all deprived, I am eating delicious food. I honestly can’t imagine going back to eating all the junk I was putting into my body before. I still go to the gym almost every day for an hour, and I alternate between cardio (usually Zumba or Cardio Kickboxing) and strength training (usually BodyPump). On days I don’t have the time to get to the gym, I often do the 7-Minute Workout so I still benefit from the energy boost of a workout.

When I first started losing weight, I remember reading this study about maintaining weight loss that made me very depressed. Basically, it said that when an obese person loses weight, their metabolism slows down because the body wants to return to the weight it had grown accustomed to. The study also said that the hormones that regulate appetite change so that a person who has lost a lot of weight is hungrier. So maintaining a weight loss was very difficult, if not impossible for the people in this study.

However, if you read the study further, the people in this study were put on a highly restricted diet, and lost the weight very quickly. As far as I can tell, they never learned to eat healthier, or to live in a healthier, maintainable manner. This is why I continue to tell my friends (and anyone else who actually reads my blog), PLEASE DON”T GO ON A DIET! I feel like you are just setting yourself up for failure if you do. Just try to gradually make healthy changes in your lifestyle until you are living in a way you can maintain, that will also help you achieve your goals.

Is It a Plateau? Nope, It’s Just May

I haven’t posted in a long time, mostly because it is the end of the school year and life is super busy. Also, not much has changed…I just keep on keeping on. Still going to the gym almost every day, still eating lots and lots of veggies. The other thing that hasn’t changed much in the last month is my weight. I have stayed within 5 pounds of that 100-pounds-lost target for awhile now. Would this be called a plateau?

I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t. I think a plateau would be when your weight doesn’t changed for an unknown reason. The reason for this current standstill is pretty clear. So far this month, I’ve gone to Las Vegas for 4 days with a group of girlfriends (so FUN!), and celebrated my wedding anniversary, Mother’s Day, and my birthday. All with dinner out–and booze. Honestly, I’m just happy my weight has been relatively stable.

What I am especially happy about is that even though my weight hasn’t done much, my body fat % continues to drop. Honestly, I feel like I am probably at about the weight I am supposed to be, and that continuing to tone my body is going to be of the most benefit. If I wasn’t SO CLOSE to having lost 100 POUNDS I would just be going into maintenance right now. My body fat % is well within the normal range (averaging about 26%), my pulse is in the range for athletes (in the 50’s), and my blood pressure is good. Except for the extra skin, I’m pretty happy (most of the time) with how I look now.

At one point I was getting a little frustrated at my lack of progress this month, so I looked up some information on losing the last 10 pounds. I found an interesting article by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, who runs the blog Weighty Matters. In the article, he talks about how if you sacrifice and “diet” to lose the last 10 pounds, and make changes you can’t maintain, they’ll just come right back on. It was a good reminder, as this has been my philosophy through all the changes I’ve made. I am eating and living in a way I know I can maintain forever. My smaller body takes a lot less calories to maintain, and if I drop too much lower it may be less calories than I am comfortable eating. I need to just keep on keeping on. I want to go ahead and drop the rest to get to 100 pounds lost, just because that would be cool. However, I need to constantly remind myself that there is no rush getting there. Now that the celebrations of May are past, perhaps the weight will start slowly dropping again. Stay tuned!

Losing Without Logging

I’ve just finished my first week of eating without keeping a daily food log. With the exception of time off for vacation here and there, I have been keeping a daily food log since May of last year. For the last month or so, I’ve been thinking that I may actually have a handle on this eating thing, and could keep going without a food log. I am now 16 pounds from my initial goal (!!!) so I want to see how I do at judging my food intake on my own.

The first week went great, I still lost a little over a pound, and I have to say that it was very nice to just eat in a natural way without writing it all down. After all this time logging, I have a pretty good idea of what quantities of protein and carbs I should be eating, and now I don’t feel the need to think about every single vegetable I am eating, I’m pretty much going full gusto with the veggies. Still limiting my fruit to 2 or 3 servings per day, since they are higher in calories. I’m still weighing high calorie foods some of the time, like nuts and dairy, just to make sure my portion sizes aren’t creeping up. However, I think my move towards eating close to zero processed foods has simplified things quite a bit for me. It is much harder to overeat when what you are eating is mostly nutrient dense, but calorically light, veggies.

I still recommend to anyone trying to lose weight that you start out logging, and do it until the way you are eating becomes second nature. Really figure out what works for you, and do it for a long time. If at any point I stop losing weight, or feel like my eating is no longer in control, I know I can always go back to logging. It’s a relief to think I might not need to, as when I started I thought I might have to log forever in order to maintain my weight loss. It is amazing to feel, for the first time in my life, that I have control of my weight.

Vacation to Barcelona, Spain

I returned last week from spending a week in Barcelona with my family. My husband had a conference there this week, so we all went a week early and spent a week on vacation, then I returned with the kids while he stayed to work. It was an amazing trip, mostly for the sights we saw, the beautiful city, the amazing architecture, the art, and the culture. However, the other thing that was amazing for me was how my new lifestyle has affected my experience of travel.

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Barcelona Cathedral

The first change was on the airplane. I used to barely fit in an airplane seat, and would make sure I sat next to my daughter so I could put up the armrest and use some of her seat too. I often had to ask for a seatbelt extender, which I found a rather humiliating experience. Now the seats felt almost roomy, my daughter and I could use our armrests, the seatbelt fit with room to spare. I was able to put the tray table down all the way, and eat my (yuk!) meal in some semblance of comfort. Also, just having to sit in one spot for so long, while still not a pleasant experience, was not nearly as uncomfortable as it used to be.

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Building by Gaudi at Park Guell

I decided to take a break from logging my food while in Barcelona, and enjoy their culture of food as part of the entire experience. The way they eat in Barcelona is to start the day with a croissant or some other pastry and a cup of coffee. Then for lunch there is a fixed menu lunch, and/or some tapas (though these are sometimes eaten as a snack between), then dinner around 8pm or so. We got onto a pretty late schedule–maybe a little too late, but it worked well for us–and would usually have tapas for our lunch. I think once we made it in time for the fixed menu lunch, but I came to really enjoy the tapas and we did that most days. Eating only a croissant for breakfast was a new thing for me, but it worked out okay for the week. I even tried their local specialty pasty, the ensaimada, which was very croissant-like, but even had powdered sugar on top. Definitely not the kind of thing I’ve been eating recently.

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Passion Facade of La Sagrada Familia by Gaudi

While I didn’t worry too much about what I was eating, enjoying the local foods, I still payed attention to how much I ate, making sure to stop when no longer hungry. I chose seafood dishes most of the time–certainly easy to do in Barcelona, since it is right on the Mediterranean. We made sure to start our dinners with a vegetable, which you have to order separately, generally as an appetizer, and they are not usually part of an entree. My husband and I didn’t eat many desserts–though the kids had gelato almost every night. And, perhaps most important of all, we walked like crazy. I wore my fitbit on the trip, and we walked about 25,000 steps every day. We didn’t rent a car, so we were either walking or taking the Metro (subway) everywhere. Also, our apartment was on the 6th floor of the building, and we took the stairs instead of the elevator.

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Inside of La Sagrada Familia

Towards the end of the vacation, I had some digestive issues…let’s just say things were not moving along at their normal pace. I’m guessing this is from the severe change in my diet. While we were ordering vegetables with our dinner, and I would usually get some vegetable tapas, I was not eating veggies in nearly the proportions that I normally do.

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Another Gaudi building, Casa Batllo

I returned home on a Saturday night, and when I weighed myself on Sunday morning I had gained 5 pounds since before we left. As I said, my digestion was (ahem) not moving at its normal pace, and I guessed I was also retaining a bit of water from the flight, so I tried not to worry too much. I figured I might have gained a bit of weight, but probably not that much. As I continued to weigh myself during the week, it went steadily down. By Friday, my normal weigh-in day, I was down 3 pounds from before we left on vacation 2 weeks earlier. Obviously, the 5 pounds was just water weight and digestive issues, and since I doubt I lost 3 pounds in 1 week, that probably means I lost a little weight while on vacation. Very happy news, and a bit of a revelation that these lifestyle changes seem to be ingrained enough that it is part of life even while relaxing and having fun on a trip.

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My kids and I in front of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya on Montjuic hill

The whole trip was an amazing experience. It has made me realize how different travel is for us now, we seem to always choose fairly active vacations, and I am finding traveling much more rewarding as a result. I’m already planning for our next trip!