When It Gets Tough

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I was doing Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred a few days ago (level one because I’m only in mediocre shape at the moment), and something she said has been on my mind. During the second strength circuit, toward the end of the lunges, she says something to the effect of, “I know this is tough, but when it gets difficult, when it’s uncomfortable, those are the ones that count the most. That’s when you have to push through. That’s when real change will happen.” I’ve done this DVD dozens of times over the years. I’ve heard her say those words countless times, but the last week, as I’ve been contemplating how I’m going to get some weight off for good in the coming months, they had extra meaning for me. Weight loss happens outside of the comfort zone. When it’s easy–when I feel like eating light meals and skip with delight into spin class–those times don’t count for much. If every day were an easy day, I wouldn’t find myself with 50 extra pounds. It’s the days when I want to eat everything in sight and can’t drag myself to the gym to save my life that really count. When it gets tough is when it counts the most. My inability to recognize tough period and push through it has held me back for years.

Tina from Carrots n Cake and I share a love of motivational quotes. She posted one the other day that I can’t stop thinking about: “If you’re tired of starting over, stop giving up.” Talk about a truth bomb, and one I needed to hear as I’m quite literally back at my 2006 Weight Watchers starting weight, 10 pounds shy of my highest weight ever.

The first way I’ve implemented this philosophy is with hygiene. I have to admit I’ve never had a nighttime routine. I brush my teeth before bed only half the time. I rarely wash my face on nights I don’t take an evening shower. I know I need to work on these things; I want this face and these teeth to look as good as possible 60 years from now, when I’m (hopefully) an old woman. I also have an Invisalign retainer that I must wear at least a couple nights a week, otherwise my teeth will start to drift and space almost immediately. Here’s my usual cycle: Wear my retainer for two nights in a row. Don’t wear it for two weeks. Put it in and practically cry from pain for the first thirty seconds. Repeat. It works well enough that my retainer always fits and my teeth are still straight, but it’s certainly not ideal. I took the “tired of starting over” mentality and applied it to my nighttime routine. For the last five nights, I’ve washed my face, whitened, flossed, brushed, put in my retainer and moisturized my skin before climbing in bed. I know it’s cheesy, but I tell myself, “It’s time for your self-care routine. This will only take five minutes and is a priority.” My retainer has been fitting really well, and I can tell my teeth are straighter than normal. I’m hoping this will turn into a habit.

The rest of December is going to be a bit nutty, between a trip to Florida for a wedding, Disneyworld (SO EXCITED to experience it as an adult), and of course Christmas and New Years. I’m working on maintaining a decent fitness level by getting in at least three good workouts a week, and I’m trying to keep my meals healthful despite the overabundance of Christmas cookies (many of which have ended up in my tummy, I’m sorry to say). I already know my goals for 2013: Lose some weight to feel more comfortable in my skin and follow through on a serious writing project. Both these goals require tremendous discipline. I’m preparing to get uncomfortable, and I will never give up.

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Sound familiar?

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I’m part of the Indianapolis chapter of a fantastic national writing organization, Women Writing for a Change. Our instructor recently commented I might like the poem “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by American singer, actress and author Portia Nelson. She was right. I relate to it in regards to many aspects of my life, but especially my weight struggle. I thought I would share!

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

By Portia Nelson

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

 

Aside

I’ve gained a considerable amount of weight in the last two years. Not only did I gain back all the weight I lost a few years ago, I’ve also gained a good twenty new pounds. I’m still about fifteen pounds lighter than my highest weight ever (reached during college in 2006). But I’m fifty pounds above my happy weight. That’s pretty scary.

In college, my husband (then-boyfriend) and I gained a considerable amount of weight during the first two years of our relationship. Happy love weight, if you will. But the numbers were far from happy news: Sixty for him, fifty or so for me. Those years marked my first experience being truly fat. Before that, I’d only really been “curvy.” In those days, we ate as if every meal were our last meal. I vividly remember my regular order at Moe’s: A steak burrito with everything and a full order of chips with a large side of queso. We ate like that several times a week: Biggest Loser pre-show bingeing nightmare scenes.

Then we went on Weight Watchers together. Slowly, I lost around forty pounds. Seemingly effortlessly, Jeff lost sixty pounds. For almost six years now, he has kept this weight off with no problem. So how have I gained it all back?

My lifestyle looks nothing like those scary college nightmare days. I love healthy cooking. I workout consistently. I keep healthy snacks in my drawer at work and drink tons of water and unsweetened green tea. I avoid fast food. I go on walks and take the stairs. I do all the things “they” tell me to do, and yet I feel more hopeless than ever.

Two years ago, I went on a 900-calorie-a-day low-carb diet and lost about twenty pounds. My starting weight was already thirty pounds less than I am now, so by the end of the diet I was at my lowest adult weight ever. I looked awesome, but it wasn’t sustainable. I began gaining weight back almost immediately. For months I ignored the gain, too scared to step on the scale. How did I manage to gain back all that weight without really noticing?

Damned stretchy pants.

ImageThe winter of 2010-2011, I had three pairs of thick, stretchy “dress pant” leggings from New York & Company. I wore these to work with boots and sweaters almost every single day, avoiding my jeans like the plague. Today, while unpacking some of my winter clothes in the attic, I encountered this pair and was filled with instant anger. Why did I let that gain happen, when I knew it was happening? What went wrong? Why couldn’t I pull it together and reach a comfortable weight during my wedding, instead of feeling like the fat bride?

I know part of it had to do with my high-stress job, which robbed me of the energy to put myself first. I was in survival mode, being eaten alive by stress and fighting off daily anxiety attacks. But I have been in a much happier, lower stress job now for almost a year, and somehow I’ve continued to gain.

Emotional eating? Not really. Boredom eating? Maybe a tad, but I don’t even buy tempting foods, so the worst it gets is an extra handful of almonds or some Greek yogurt when I’m not exactly hungry. Huge portions? No. Inconsistent exercise? I’ll admit my workout motivation has been lacking lately, but it’s not enough to account for the uncontrollable gain. Is there something wrong  with me?

Weight gain isn’t the only symptom I have going on. Irregular periods, abdominal pain, acne–check, check and check. Slowly I began to wonder if I could be suffering from PCOS, polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal imbalance that affects around 5-10% of women. If it’s indeed the problem, I could have fertility trouble in addition to difficulty losing weight. Jeff and I are still a couple years away from starting a family, but it still really freaked me out. The scariest part is that there’s no real cure for PCOS; one of the only ways to restore fertility is to lose weight, which is really difficult for women with PCOS to do because the imbalance affects hormones that control weight.

I met with my doctor a few weeks ago to review my concerns. She agreed I possibly have PCOS, but wanted to do some blood work before jumping to any conclusions. I still haven’t heard back on the results, so I think I’m going to call tomorrow to check.

Regardless of what the tests say, I know I don’t feel good right now. I’m 28, but I feel like I’m living in the body of a 40-year-old. I don’t feel sexy. I don’t feel good enough for my husband. I don’t enjoy shopping, because I know everything will look terrible on this lumpy body. Sometimes I catch myself wishing time would speed up so I could at least have an explanation for looking like this. It’s just no way to live. I can’t imagine getting pregnant at this weight; I already feel completely miserable in my body, so the thought of adding thirty pounds is terrifying. I need to reclaim my body for myself before even thinking about growing a baby in it.

That’s where I am right now: Knowing now is the time to shed this weight once and for all, but feeling completely lost and confused. Maybe the test results will shed some light.

But one thing is for sure: When I do lose this weight, I’m never wearing stretchy pants on a regular basis ever again!

Stretchy pants are no one’s friend.

TapNRun Indianapolis Recap

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A few weeks ago, my friend Jen and I decided to sign up for the Indianapolis TapNRun, a beer-themed run around Broad Ripple Village in Indianapolis, my stomping grounds. The 4K race featured small beer cups to chug at each water station, as well as a full beer at the end, and it was being sponsored by one of my favorite craft breweries, Chicago’s Goose Island. It’s billed as a very low key, non-competitive, fun race. Additionally, people evidently wear ridiculous outfits. Um, hello. We had to sign up!

(source)

 The race was only 2.5 miles, but Jen and I hadn’t been training at all. I established a rudimentary training plan (four runs, in addition to our twice-weekly spin classes). We’ve been traveling for weddings literally every weekend for the last five weeks, so I managed only three runs. However, I was pretty proud of how well my cardiovascular endurance from spin class held up! On my second run, I was able to run two miles at a 10:30 pace without much trouble. Compared to the first time I tried to run a few years ago, it was a total breeze! I’ve been really consistent with spinning for the last six months, and it was so cool to see it pay off in the form of better physical endurance, even if I’ve still been struggling to get the pounds off.

We registered as team Smarty Pints and dressed up in suspenders and nerdy classes.

We walked to the start point, which was only around a mile from our house. It was HOT. I’m talking 90-degrees-no-breeze hot. It started at 5 p.m., and I’d spent the whole day at an outdoor craft fair downtown, so I was worried I’d already spent too much time in the heat and on my feet. I started to get a little nervous.

However, as soon as we arrived at the start line, I knew I had nothing to worry about. Watching “runners” smoke cigarettes and chug full beers just minutes before the race, it was clear no one takes it too seriously! People were wearing everything from old prom dresses to ’80s workout gear to tutus. A couple guys were “Team Crotch Rockets,” and let’s just say they had fashioned rather phallyic appendages out of foam noodles and Solo cups, and then proceeded to hang these devices from their waists. It was freaking hilarious and Jen and I were totally cracking up.

Soon, it was time for our wave to run. We were handed 4 oz. cups of beer, chugged them, and with that we were off! I paced myself and did pretty well for almost the whole first mile. Then, we turned onto College Avenue in Broad Ripple. It was a long stretch with no beer station in sight, and the heat was unforgiving. With the start line beer sloshing around in my stomach and the heat beating down on me, I started feeling pretty rough. I had no choice but to stop and walk. My legs and body felt terrible after a whole day in the heat (not to mention several drinks and not enough sleep the night before). Jen and I played “Pick a Landmark and Run Until There” for the next stretch, then ran to the beer station, where we chugged another 4 oz. along with some water.

We ran strong to the next water station, only stopping to walk once. We chugged yet another 4 oz. cup, and Jen dumped several water cups over my head to cool me down, saying, “You’ll either hate me for this or love me for it!” It felt great, though!

We walked and ran to the next station, passing tons of spectators cheering us on. At this point, the combination of beer and heat was making us both feel pretty dizzy. Almost everyone was walking. We walked a good chunk of the last stretch, then ran strong to the finish line. A full 16 oz. pint awaited us, along with cool medals that looked like bottle openers! We had to get a picture with a guy wearing some, ahem, very interesting underwear over his clothes.

Even though it was gruelingly hot, the race was SO FUN and will absolutely be an annual tradition moving forward. We ended up finishing in 31:06, just falling short of our goal to finish in under half an hour. Not bad for my second-ever race and almost no training, though! I told Jen, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to someday beat our 4K run time when running a whole 5K?” I think I officially have a goal for the Drumstick Dash this fall!

Return to Blogging!

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Hello, friends! Apologies for my unplanned hiatus from blogging. The last seven months have been absolutely insane but also pretty wonderful. There have been high points (our AMAZING wedding on October 9, buying our first home, starting a new job I absolutely love) and also some low points (my grandmother becoming ill and passing away in a matter of 11 days). I’m finally starting to find my rhythm again, and I’m ready to return to blogging.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the direction of both my journey toward a healthy weight and the direction of this blog. In the months I’ve taken off from blogging, I’ve been reading lots of healthy living blogs, as always. Some of my favorites are Caitlin at Healthy Tipping Point, Kath at Kath Eats, Emily at Daily Garnish, Tina at Carrots ‘n’ Cake, and Anne at Fannetastic Food. These women are all extremely talented bloggers, and I enjoy their work immensely. However, I’m realizing I definitely have a voice to add in the healthy living blogosphere. None of these women understand what it’s like to truly struggle with weight. They’ve all been slightly overweight, and have absolutely made amazing transformations in adopting healthy lifestyles that work for them, but they’ve never stared an extra 80 pounds in the face. They’ve never experienced the frustration of realizing that, for you, there’s no such thing as eating moderately, and that piece of toast, pancake, french toast or baked good can never belong in your daily diet.

For people who don’t have a genetic predispotion to morbid obesity, there is such a thing as eating moderately. Counting calories alone works. Carby foods can appear on a daily basis without any real repurcussions. But I think an increasing majority of the population does not fall into this category. Our bodies are broken, confused by the endless barrage of processed simple carbs. Our hormones are too off balance for our bodies to even consider dropping weight. For us, it’s not just about calories in and calories out, it’s also about insulin levels. We must be willing to accept that our diets cannot resemble that of our former selves if want to convince our bodies to drop tons of extra fat. It can be very isolating to realize that every bite matters, and “eating intuitively” will not get the results we want. Anyone who has ever been extremely overweight knows that chips, cookies, pasta, cereal, granola and warm bread with butter cannot be eaten in moderation without serious willpower, which wears down with time like any other muscle.

Studies have shown that overweight people simply do not react to food the same way that normal people do. Our brains go crazy in the presence of triggering foods, and the urge to overeat only gets stronger as we lose weight. Our bodies are designed to tell us to gain as much weight as possible, a lingering instinct from the not-so-distant past when food shortages were a real concern.

I have experienced the insane brain chemistry issue firsthand more times than I can count. Recently, during a team lunch at a barbeque restaurant with my coworkers, I ordered pulled chicken with two vegetables sides. I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch and felt quite satisfied when finished. A couple of my coworkers decided to order a few desserts to try, since we were enjoying a company-paid outing. They ordered bread pudding and pecan pie for the table to split. The servings were ENORMOUS. Each of us had an appetizer plate loaded with several bites of each dessert. After we’d all finished our small plates, there was still quite a bit of each dessert left. Picking up on the cue that one small plate of dessert was the socially acceptable maximum for a lunchtime outing, none of us dove into the remainders. I observed the differences between the thin people at the table and the overweight people. The thin people seemed to enjoy their 6-8 bites of dessert and move on, not thinking about the remainders. The overweight people kept glancing at the dessert. We were sitting on the patio and it was a hot day, and I found myself becoming slightly panicked as the fresh, creamy vanilla bean ice cream accomanying the bread pudding began turning to soup. My internal dialogue became laser-focused: “It will only be good for a few more minutes! Why is no one eating it?? It was soooo good! Oh my God, are we seriously going to let that go to waste?? That pecan pie was so outrageously good. I’ve never had moister bread pudding. Will someone please eat it so I don’t have to think about it anymore?” I found myself paralyzed by the rapidly-melting desserts. Our waitress came by to drop off the check and didn’t remove the desserts from the table. I remember desperately hoping she would take the plates away so I’d be able to calm down and move on.

This perspective is what I hope to bring to the healthy living blogosphere: The experience of the increasingly-average American for whom the weight loss deck is not in favor. There’s a reason something like 90 percent of people regain at least some of weight lost: We live in the fattiest, most sugary, saltiest, most excessive, most decadent, most unhealthy food environment ever known to mankind. Contrary to what diet books may tell you, losing weight is neither simple nor easy, and maintaining weight loss in the Western world is an even more challenging feat.

I want this blog to document my experiences trying to live “against the grain,” if you will. I want to show that it’s possible to radically limit the foods you choose to put in your body but still enjoy your life.

That’s all I have for today, but I’ll be back with more soon. 🙂

Visalus Update and Overnight Oats Recipe

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I thought I’d share some quick updates on how my 90-day Visalus challenge has been going. I’ve been having two shakes a day, but I doctor them up with frozen fruit and other ingredients to make them a bit tastier–and more nutritious! Typically I’ll have a shake in the morning, a small lunch and a shake in the afternoon after my workout.

Here’s a pretty typical shake: 2 scoops Visalus shake powder (90 calories), several large frozen strawberries (50 calories), one cup unsweetened almond milk (35 calories), one teaspoon chia seeds (60 calories) and one tablespoon sunflower butter (100 calories). The result is a really filling, tasty, well-rounded breakfast for 335 calories. This holds me until lunch EASILY and has plenty of protein.

I mix up the shake in my Magic Bullet (love that thing).

Then I eat the smoothie in a bowl (a la Kath) along with some coffee (French Vanilla Keurig blend with vanilla soy milk, if you’re curious). The breakfast of champions.

So far I’ve definitely lost a few pounds since starting the Visalus shakes and I’m liking the program!

Overnight Oats Recipe

I’ve had a few requests for my overnight oats recipe and decided to capture it.

The cast of characters: Rolled oats (NOT quick oats), chia seeds, cacao nibs (optional), vanilla and almond milk.

I must stress this–chia seeds make overnight oats what they are. I suppose you could leave them out, but they add an amazing chewy texture that I find insanely addictive. Not to mention their tremendous health benefits! I typically buy them at Whole Foods, but any local health food store should carry them. *End Chia Seed PSA*

For my mix, I usually use 1/3 cup rolled oats, one tablespoon chia seeds, one teaspoon cacao nibs (another superfood), 3/4 cup almond milk and one teaspoon vanilla extract. Just combine all those together in a glass or bowl and let it do its thing overnight (or for a few hours, if you’re impatient like I am).

The end result in divine: doughy, chewy oats with chia seeds that have swelled up like tapioca pearls.

I recommend topping it with some granola for added crunch and sweetness. If you recall, I don’t use any sweetener in the oats themselves, so this is where I bring in that flavor. I also add berries and a teaspoon of sunflower butter. I like to leave most of the sunflower butter on the spoon so I can manage my ratio. I find when I mix it in, I hardly taste it–which doesn’t seem worth the calories to me.

The finished product!

I swear to you I’ve actually leapt out of bed with excitement about my overnight oats. If you haven’t tried it, you must do so immediately.

My Favorite Number, My Best Year Ever?

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On Monday, I turned 27. I’m extremely excited about this development for a very simple reason: 27 is the best number ever.

  • Jeff was born on March 27.
  • Sydney, our dog, was born on September 27.
  • Our good friend Roman (Jeff’s best man) was born on December 27.
  • Jeff received his job offer that enabled us to move home to Indianapolis on April 27.

Just a few reasons why the number rocks my world. I have a feeling 27 will be the best year ever!

We had an absolutely fantastic weekend celebrating my favorite birthday. On Friday night, we hung out with our friends Neil and Jesse, playing games and drinking sweet tea vodka. On Saturday night, we officially celebrated with a group of friends at a delicious restaurant in downtown Indy called Black Market. I didn’t bring my camera, but we had an amazing spread of food–duck sliders, chickpea & kale fritters and beef tongue (surprisingly delicious) to start, followed by a chipotle flank steak for the main course and Greek yogurt panna cotta to finish. I will be making this at home very soon!

On Monday, my actual birthday, my brother and I hit an amusement park to ride some rollercoasters! His birthday is actually the day before mine, so it was a dual celebration. 23 and 27 for the win!

Then last night, Jeff and I had dinner at my parents’  house, where I received the BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER. Jeff and my dad collaborated to buy me a Nikon D3000 point-and-shoot DSLR camera!!!!!! I have a feeling this will take my blogging to a whole new level. Some pictures from the evening:

Of course my first shot was of Sydney and Jeff. 🙂

Then I snapped some shots of Sydney with one of my parents’ dogs, Bowie. I have a feeling dog photos will be a frequent recurrence!

Next I practiced some candid shots of my family, and then Jeff took a couple good ones of me with my parents.

After a tutorial on the different settings from my dad, a seasoned photographer, Jeff and I headed home. On the way to the car, we got caught in an intense downpour. By the time we’d walked the eight yards to the car, we were completely drenched! I couldn’t resist getting a pic of Sydney all wet and dejected.

I had an absolutely amazing 27th birthday, and I’m beyond excited for a year that includes marrying the most amazing man I’ve ever met. In short, bring it on! 🙂