The Unbearable Fatness of Being

I find it best to delay discussing a goal until some steps have been made toward achieving it. Otherwise (at least in the history of my life), speaking or writing about an aspiration seems to be a certain talisman against it becoming a reality. For example, about a year ago, I wrote about how I was hoping to get back to the weight I’d achieved at the peak of the long-term diet I started back in 2010, when I lost 135 pounds over the first three years of this decade. So what happened after I wrote that? I gained 25 pounds over the next year.

It’s true that soon after I wrote that post I started having knee trouble, the first of several physical challenges I’d face. The knee issue was just the door opening to the revelation of my ruptured lumbar disc and eventual spinal fusion surgery. I remained as active as possible with the challenges I faced, but I did not want to focus much on what I was eating.

I do fix some indulgent desserts and dinners from time to time, but I am not going to blame my cooking for my predicament. I really believe that the lack of home cooking leads to more weight problems than cooking itself does. I have found that I can eat whatever I want. I just can’t eat as much of those things as I’d like to.

A couple weeks ago, my sciatica resurfaced, like heat lightening spotted far into the horizon. These flares first appeared in the wake of eating something disagreeable in volume or content. I figured that I may have been approaching the tipping point where my back might be straining over the weight I’ve gained. From seeing the multiple images of my spine through x-ray and MRI images, I can see that I still have the exaggerated lordosis, or back curvature, of someone who was seriously overweight. Gaining lots of weight again certainly would not help this situation.

As last weekend began, I woke up with the certain knowledge that the time had come to do something about it. It was one of those moments when you know that you must turn back and choose a different path, that change could grow so hard that only a future “rock bottom” moment could right your course. I had to stop myself from doing a Nestea plunge version into obesity: a trust fall into a sea of french fries and Little Debbie snack cakes.

I had taken that plunge before, more than once unfortunately. In my early 30’s, I reached a the point where I felt so at home with my fatness I justified it sometimes as an act of subversion. Being fat seemed to be the ultimate protest against consumer culture. I wouldn’t buy what was being sold if I couldn’t fit into it. Never mind that I didn’t consider that food is a huge part of consumer culture.

I was secretly pleased when people I didn’t like spotted me and couldn’t completely disguise their shock or displeasure with my size. When I despaired over waking up in the middle of the night to eat ice cream once again, I’d take comfort in a photo moment that never happened: how great it would be to see my daughter’s absent father be shocked if he finally returned and saw me weighing 300 pounds. I imagined that the look on his face would be priceless.

I did not reach 300 pounds. My rock bottom moment was discovering that I weighed 260 pounds at a doctor’s appointment seven years ago. By the way, I am only 5’1″ tall. For a person my height, just 26 pounds separates a borderline healthy BMI (24.9) from start of obesity (30.0). While I was gradually putting on weight this year, I kept thinking that I still weigh so much less than I did way back when. My excuse was the error of my past ways. I didn’t stop to consider that I’d crossed back into obesity.

Since my reckoning last Saturday, I have lost five pounds. I’d like to lose all of the weight I gained this past year. I’m sure that my back will thank me for it.

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Finding Balance

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Nearly two months have passed since I sprained my knee and began a hiatus from daily mindfulness about diet and exercise. In that time, I have seldom exercised beyond physical therapy and walking. I am pleased to report that I have not inflated in size and am enjoying a break from my workouts. This injury was not a setback but a call to balance. Looking at my Fitbit logs was starting to make me feel like I’d become something of a hamster running on a wheel, a daily grind whose reward did not justify neglect in other matters, such as the dust and unsorted piles of paper in my house.

I am emerging from this break thinking that I’ll focus on walking for exercise and do a harder workout once or twice a week. My sprain was an overuse injury, so higher impact exercise was not as helpful as I thought it was. If the price of all that intensity could be arthritis or a knee replacement in my later years, I would rather be walking, especially since that type of exercise seems to work best for me at controlling depression.

This week I recalled the moment that made me bold enough to believe I could walk away from a lifetime of poor body image, which was crucial to my later weight loss. Several years ago, I had a brief delirium during a bout with the flu. I looked at myself in the mirror and in that reflection was a hallucination of my body perfected. Instead of seeing a morbidly obese women with tangled hair, I saw a supermodel in that mirror. I have held onto that image ever since. Not long after that fever, I met the man who would become my husband, and I started slowly losing weight. How I thought of my looks made all the difference.

As I make less of a priority of watching my weight, I am not so worried that I will fall off the proverbial wagon. I am enjoying getting back to the kinds of things that can’t be multitasked so well with working out, such as writing. Even if I were to fail eventually with my weight, I have the comfort of a good body image that I’ve held so long that it would be unshakable even if I were to become super jiggly once again.

The Appetite Control Snack Trio

When I am trying to lose weight, as opposed to maintaining my weight, there are three snacks I try to eat every day. All three have good nutrients and help me control my appetite:

  • An ounce of nuts
  • An ounce of cheese
  • A serving of whole grain crackers

Typically I choose six Triscuit crackers, twenty-three almonds and a slice of cheese. I usually stagger them though my work day, but I sometimes eat two of them at once. These snacks are in addition to usual meals.

I think that these snacks help me because the three together have a good amount of fat, protein and fiber. I do not avoid high fat foods in moderation. If I do, I have a much harder time controlling my appetite. My health “numbers” have been good as well. I have had the opportunity for cholesterol screening and the like on a yearly basis. My total cholesterol has ranged from 135-166, and my triglycerides have been >50.

Fitbit Hack

I started using a Fitbit back in November of 2015. Prior to that, I had been logging exercise online, which I found tedious. Curious to see how much such a device could encourage me toward consistent exercise, I bought the starter device Fitbit Zip. I appreciated its flexibility in recording both steps and exercise bike workouts. All I had to do to record a bike workout was clip the Zip to my shoes. After a few months, I was curious to see if I’d benefit from having heart rate tracking, so I moved up to a Fitbit Charge HR. I’ve enjoyed seeing all of the data generated by the Charge HR. It’s been encouraging at times to scroll through months of my activity, seeing that there is good likelihood I can sustain that level of activity in the future. My sole frustration with the newer device was low to no recording of steps taken when my arm is stationary, such as when pushing a shopping cart or riding a bike. This week I tried a different placement of the Charge HR to remedy this problem while maintaining heart rate tracking. I placed it inside the band of my socks while riding an exercise bike, and the HR recorded my workout as accurately as it does when I wear it on my wrist. I also went grocery shopping with it inside my sock band. This also worked well. Once I find a way to reliably fasten the HR to the inside of my sock band, I will regularly change its position to my ankle as needed.

Success is a Point of View

Recently I wrote about my success in keeping off 115 pounds for three years. Looking back, I’ve held that weight at bay for nearly four years. In the interest of full disclosure, I will reveal that I haven’t been absolutely successful in this battle. Who has been?  I actually lost 135 pounds originally, and I have reached a turning point where I know I must be positive or I will eventually gain back more weight. Now is the time to refocus my efforts and to get back closer to my goal. If I had consistently followed the tips I outlined in the above link, I believe that I would not have slowly gained back twenty pounds over this time. My weak link is being honest with myself about how much I eat. This kind of self deception can grow slowly, where I start eyeballing servings to create larger portions and so on. This week I am trying to “get real” about what I eat and more accurately record my intake in my food diary. I don’t watch what I eat on holidays, and back when I was losing weight, that meant actual holidays. I have created a few too many extra food holidays during my weight maintenance.

I don’t have nearly as much struggle with exercise. I think this is because it is easier to record activity honestly, especially with my use of a Fitbit.I’ve also made exercise convenient by putting a TV in front of my elliptical machine. I can slowly binge watch series on Netflix and the like while getting in a work out. While I was saving up for an elliptical, I wore out an exercise bike in front of the TV.

One motivation I had in maintaining a 100+lb weight loss was the fear that I didn’t have it in me to do that again. That concern has served it purpose, and I think I do have the strength to lose those twenty pounds again. Even if I do not succeed in that venture, I still have maintained a 115 pound weight loss.

A Recipe for Cheap Diet Soup

I have a few recipes for inexpensive, diet-friendly dishes. Back when I was broke (not so many years ago), I made a goal of seeing how little money I could spend on cooking and still create something nutritious. This soup was part of that quest. The butter can be omitted, but I think adding a little fat helps with flavor and nutrient absorption. Of course, this recipe can be varied. I’ve found that mushrooms and a 1/2 cup of cooked barley are nice additions.

  • 8 cups chicken broth (boullion may be used)
  • 1 lb carrots, sliced
  • 1 bunch celery, sliced (include the leaves if you love celery)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 lb dried kidney beans, cooked
  • 1 bay leaf (optional, really enhances the flavor of the soup)
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 T butter

Melt the butter in a dutch oven and cook the onion over medium heat for five minutes. Next add the celery and carrots and cook for fifteen minutes more. Adding the remaining ingredients and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Remove bay leaf before serving.

I plugged this recipe into a recipe calorie calculator at caloriecount.com and these were the results if the recipe were divided into 12 servings:

recipe calories

 

How I Lost 115 Pounds and Kept it Off

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I have maintained a 115 pound weight loss for four years. I would like to share my strategies for two reasons: to help others would like to achieve similar results and to renew my goal of keeping my excess weight off. The hardest part of sustaining weight loss is determining how much focus needs to be devoted to that effort. I admit that I have not found an easy formula for setting this priority, but I know that it needs attention every day. I have learned that I was overweight because I have little sense of proportion regarding food and physical activity. For example, if I do not make a list of what I’ve eaten, I will just keep on eating. Likewise, I won’t move enough without a record of the exercise I’ve done.

Based on my experiences, I think there are many ideas in circulation about weight loss that are discouraging. The darkest one is the notion that it should be done quickly. It is better to think of weight loss like paying off a long term beneficial debt, such as a mortgage or student loan.

My journey also leads me to doubt common ideas about how restrictive a diet needs to be. I think the intensity and duration of exercise suggested is probably inflated, too. I have rarely eaten less than 1500 calories a day. Actually I average eating 2000 calories  and walking 12,000 steps a day. While I was losing weight, those numbers were closer to 1800 and 15,000. I also gradually worked up to those numbers needed for me to lose weight.

Here is a list of what has helped me manage my weight:

  1. Keep a Food Diary and Count Calories – Calorie information is widely available online and on food packages. After a while you will gain a good sense of estimating calories.
  2. Use a Pedometer – At first just use it to get a baseline of your physical activity then gradually increase your steps to 10,000+ a day. You may be pleasantly surprised at how many daily steps you can sustain. Then try some more intense exercise like an elliptical workout or strength training. This last part isn’t absolutely essential, but you may find it feels so good that it helps you stay dedicated to watching your weight.
  3. Limit Restaurant Meals – I try to limit take out meals to once a week. I aim to spend the majority of my food dollars at grocery stores. It is easier to stretch your money and calorie budget by making your own meals. The portions of ready made meals at the grocery store are usually smaller than at a restaurant, too.
  4. Short Term Failures are Inevitable – I think it is impossible to eat right all the time. I have had many bad days with food. I have repeatedly gained and lost the same ten pounds. I try not to see these setbacks as signs of doom. I used to do that and yo-yo dieted my way to 260 pounds as a result. Keep trying, even if you have a bad day, a bad week, or a terrible month.