Eleven Pounds Lost

I’ve lost 11 pounds since June 5, when I started tracking calories. I resisted tracking for a long time because I imagined it would be a major hassle, and I didn’t want food to control my life in that way. But, to be honest, food has controlled my life since I was six or seven years old; I can’t remember the last time I ate a donut or other “bad food” without a twinge or anxiety. For better or worse, I think counting calories is an effective tool if you want to lose weight.

In the past, I might have lost a lot more weight over a six week period. But this time around, I wanted something sustainable, something I felt like I could do long-term. I didn’t want to cut carbs, desserts or fats out completely. I wanted at least one small, sweet thing a day. So I’ve been tracking, and allowing myself to eat carbs and sugar within reason, some days more within reason than others. I know that in order to better manage my pre-diabetes I’ll need to cut further back on carbs/sugar, but I’m taking it one step at a time. I’ve been working on this lifestyle change for about three months now:

April: I started walking with my coworker during lunch break. We started off doing about 1.5 miles, and eventually got to about 2-2.5 miles. I know walking doesn’t burn massive amounts of calories, but I enjoy it, and it helps me mentally. Walking consistently tends to mean I’m feeling in control and my anxiety is manageable. I’d say that regular intentional walking is a sign I’m doing well. I do about 45 minutes of intentional walking everyday — and by that I mean I’m not counting the steps I get walking to my building from my car, or walking the hallways; I’m counting the time I spend outside, in the sun, walking to clear my mind, with no specific destination in place. I spent all of April just working on building my walking habit and didn’t even worry about food. Although it wasn’t necessarily my intent to improve my eating habits, I do think I binged less than usual in April. I don’t think I lost any weight, but I felt better after that month.

May: : I started working on my binge-eating in May. One day I hope to have the bravery to talk about binge eating in depth, but that day is not today. But I can tell you what helped. I started listening to this podcast called Weight Loss Made Real hosted by a woman called Cookie Rosenblum, who takes a very CBT approach to binge and emotional eating. In one of her episodes, she talks about how even though binge-eating feels like being out-of-control, there is a moment, a small, tiny moment, when you do actually have control and can stop yourself. The more you’re able to stop yourself from starting or continuing the binge, the easier it becomes. I’m not sure why, but her approach has worked well for me. Not perfectly. I’ve had two half binges since May, but I was able to stop myself before I was completely out of control, and before I reached the shame stage of a binge. I’ve practiced saying no to binges hundreds of times since May. It’s only been a couple of months, and I still get the urge sometimes, but this is the longest I’ve gone my entire life, dating back to when I was six or seven, without experiencing periods of binging. I think dealing with this behavior been the hardest part so far. I was white-knuckling it the first month, constantly dealing with compulsions/desires to overeat or binge, but I just kept telling myself no, and it’s gotten much easier. I assume this will be a lifelong battle for me, but right now, I’m going through a period that feels like a reprieve. During May, I didn’t worry much about overeating or emotional eating — I focused exclusively on continuing my walks and NOT binging, and this took pretty much all of my energy.

June: I started tracking in June. The first few days, I just ate normally (sans binging), and found out that I was eating about 2500-2800 calories a day, and at least 2x the fat I’m supposed to consume in a day. Since then, I’ve been averaging about 1900 calories a day, and I’ve mostly avoided processed foods. My headaches have decreased. I have a physical on July 24, and I’m hoping to get some validation in the form of lower blood pressure, a lower A1C, and lower cholesterol.

Chronicles of Weight Not Lost

For the last few years, I’ve been intrigued by the fat acceptance movement. I’d abandoned all attempts at weight loss around the time I turned 30, and I was unsure what to do with myself as a result. When you’ve been fat all your life, losing weight — whether you are actively trying to lose weight, thinking about it, being talked to about it, or feeling ashamed about it because you’ve gained all of it back — takes up a lot of mental space. Up until a few years ago, I’d been trying to lose weight since I was eight. I remember doing the Mayo Clinic Heart Patient diet with my mom when I was 10 or 11. Weight loss has been such an ongoing part of my life that I consider the desire to lose weight to be an integral part of my identity. When I gave up on the prospect of weight loss (mostly because all past weight loss attempts ultimately left me heavier and more ashamed than I’d been before) I was adrift. I started reading about fat acceptance, body positivity, inclusivity, etc., and decided I would just try to live my best life as I was.

In some ways, the fat acceptance movement was good for me. I realized being happy and fat are not mutually exclusive. I realized you can be fat and have a good, caring partner. I don’t feel as insecure and ashamed about my size. I don’t fantasize about being a waif-sized bohemian flower-child anymore(you know the kind I mean: The magazine picture of the girl in a straw hat running through a field of flowers smiling coyly at the camera, her loose flower-patterned tunic flowing in the wind. This girl is so thin she can afford to wear clothing two sizes too big. No one will accuse her of hiding 100 pounds of extra fat under the at tunic). Nowadays, I can see beauty beyond a size 8, and I think this is progress. I let go of the desire to control my food intake; I stopped mentally balancing my calorie checkbook. But my weight crept higher and higher, to the point where a few weeks ago, I was at my heaviest weight ever.

These movements, especially the Health at Every Size movement, encourage intuitive eating and stipulate that individuals can be healthy at any size. I love this idea. I’ve read countless articles and books by body positive writers, and I admire many of them. I think these ideas have done wonders towards acceptance of different kind of bodies. But the thing is, I don’t know what intuitive eating is. After almost 30 years of disordered, highly fraught eating, the concept of intuitive eating is alien to me. It’s not that I’d have to relearn intuitive eating; it’s that I’ve never actually been an intuitive eater. My problem with eating has never been because of physical anger; instead, I’ve used food to deal with negative emotions, namely boredom and restlessness in my case. I love the idea that being thin isn’t my only option anymore. I feel I’m allowed to be fat in a way I wasn’t when I was growing up. But the fact is, I have a problem with food. If we pretended alcohol was my problem instead of food, I probably would’ve had a stint in rehab by now. I haven’t had a normal relationship with food as far back as I can remember, and this has caused me to link my size with a feeling of shame for most of my life.

While I think it’s definitely possible to be healthy at many sizes, I also know that I am not especially healthy at my current size. I am 34, and I have high blood pressure that never came all the way down after developing preeclampsia while I was pregnant. I have elevated cholesterol, and I am prediabetic. I feel uncomfortable tying my shoes or giving my daughter a bath, and I sweat profusely if it is over 70 degrees outside. I’m winded after going up more than one flight of stairs. I love the idea of hiking up mountains, running, and long-distance biking, but in reality, my extra weight makes many activities more arduous than fun. When you are heavy — and I don’t mean 30 or even 50 pounds overweight — I mean morbidly obese — everyday things are just harder, at least in my experience. Yes, I want to burn down patriarchal, unhealthy societal norms — but I also don’t want my life to be harder than it has to, and I don’t want to have a stroke in my 30s or 40s.

Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means for me. I don’t want food and weight loss to be the main focus on my life the way they were for so many years. I really, really don’t. It’s exhausting. But at this moment, my weight — and my relationship with food — is causing me significant health issues. I don’t see these health issues magically fixing themselves through fat acceptance. I know I need to repair my relationship with food and exercise. I came across the term “radical acceptance” a few weeks ago, and it dawned on me that this is something I may have to apply towards my relationship with food and with my weight. Maybe I need to radically accept that I can’t eat whatever I want. That in my particular case, I can’t seem to be able to be both morbidly obese and healthy. That I am going to have to exercise a degree of control and oversight over my food intake. Do I need to accept that because of whatever combination of factors — genetics, personality, environment, society, marketing, etc. — food will be a lifelong (or at least long-term) struggle and I may never be able to have an easy, casual relationship with it? I think I always somehow hoped my food issues would resolve themselves, but maybe I just need to accept that this relationship — between me and food — will always be complicated and complex.

Over the next few blog entries, I want to focus on a few things: Exercise, discipline, binge eating, emotional eating and overeating. I want to lay out what I’m doing and what I plan to do, and what it would mean to me to gain control — or at least more control — over food and my weight.

Bagel

I tend to develop short-term obsessions. My current obsession is Lox Bagels: Cream cheese, salmon, red onion on toasted wheat, no capers. On Sunday, in Philadelphia, I visited a fancy bagel shop and paid over $14 for one measly bagel. This same bagel costs about $7.50 in my neighborhood bagel shop. I live in the outskirts of D.C., so I don’t think just being in Philadelphia accounts for the outrageous cost of the bagel. I felt really stupid pay that much for a bagel.

That’s all.

Faith

I am interested in the mechanics of faith. Sometimes, I listen to Christian podcasts or read books or articles written by people with a Christian or religious worldview. I find this kind of thing soothing and curious. I hold no overarching beliefs or religious views, but I sometimes find myself envious of those who do, and of the fellowship and community attached to places of worship. I imagine it is comforting and affirming to view your life — and your particular role in life — through the lens of your religion, and to believe that your views are right and true.

Silence and Solitude

I recently read The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, which is about a man who spent 27 years living in the woods of Central Maine with almost no human contact. It was an interesting read. It made me think. It’s been a long time since I’ve spent any time alone and in silence. So yesterday, on my 40-minute commute home, I gave it a try. No radio, no audio book, no podcast. Just me and my thoughts.

The first ten minutes were physically painful. I kept looking at my phone. I wanted noise. I wanted to be entertained. Several times I reached out and touched my phone–for comfort, I think. After the initial withdrawal, I entered a 10-15 minute period of serenity. Inner peace. Calm. Zen. Whatever you want to call it. At traffic lights, I was almost hypnotized by the tiny droplets of rain so daintily peppered across my windshield. I was startled every 20 seconds or so by the wipers erasing the entire canvas of delicate drops. I noticed how light reflects off the wet road, and how hard it is to see the lines clearly at night during a misty rain. Driving is more involved and complicated than you’d think, and there we all go driving down the highway at 60 miles an hour, almost unaware of our tiny swerves, our subtle braking. All the tiny things we do to stay alive on our way home from work. Then I noticed the boxy concrete buildings that define outer suburbia: McDonald’s, Starbucks, Panera, body shops, parking lots, 7-Elevens. Utilitarian, ugly, even, but familiar in a distant way. All the noticing started becoming burdensome.

Then I started thinking. Goodbye zen. I started thinking of possible diagnoses for clients I’d seen during the week, about a friend with mental illness, about the near impossibility of helping people get better, when we all have such deeply ingrained behavioral patterns and personality flaws. Is it all hopeless? What does it take to help someone? I took a few deep breaths in an attempt to recapture the zen. It didn’t work. I took more deep breaths. Nothing. Just a never-ending list of labels and questions: Did the presentation of the last client I saw most accurately point towards autism? bipolar disorder? schizoaffective disorder? schizoid personality disorder? avoidant personality disorder? schizotypal personality disorder? Trauma? What was I missing and why couldn’t I fit this client into a neat little box? How does superior intelligence factor in the presentation of mental illness? Is it possible the entire mental health field is messed up and reductive and people are just people and all these labels do more harm than good?

Then I was home. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d kept driving, what phase I would have entered next. It was a strange experience, one I rarely have, since I work with clients all day and live in a multi-generational house where I’m rarely home alone. But I am curious now. I’d be interested to expand the experiment a bit, to sit somewhere alone, in silence and see where my mind takes me. Maybe try 90 minutes. But the thought of 90 minutes alone, in total silence, is viscerally unnerving. It’s more the silence than the aloneness that unsettles me.

Snowy Day and New Year’s Resolutions.

snowy day

It’s been snowing all day, and I’ve spent most of the day with the baby or reading children’s literature. I read the first book in the Winnie-the-Pooh series and am now working my way through Dr. Seuss. I hated Dr. Seuss as a kid, but as an adult I kind of love his work. Just one of those cozy days: light snow falling all day, curled up inside with a book.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions very often because I rarely do any of the things I say I’m going to do, and I end up disappointing myself. But I figured I’d give it a try this year again. Plans for this year:

1.) Buy myself a nice pair of emerald earrings.

2.) Establish family tradition, such as “bagel day” or “breakfast day” on weekends my husband is off.

3.) Find a volunteer opportunity, preferably at a park I love.

4.) Find a playgroup for the baby and my mom.

5.) Find a book club that’s a good fit and commit to it, even if I have to drive 30 minutes.

6.) Read at least 25 books by writers of color. I tend to gravitate toward white women writers, and I’d like to read other perspectives.

7.) Make an album of baby’s first eight months; make framed collage for my mom, sister and aunt.

8.) Paint at least three completed water color pictures.

9.) Completely finish one short story.

10.) Actually finish C25K. I’ve gotten close, but I’ve never actually finished.

That’s it for now. Some are pretty doable, some are a reach.

Family Hike

On Sunday, my husband, the baby and I went on a short hike at a local state park. The scenery was pleasant but nothing special: lowland forest, a small marsh, occasional bay views, squirrels and woodland birds. But the way sunlight filtered through the trees, the way the marsh waters glittered and the sun made the tree bark shine…it was so beautiful it almost made me cry. I rarely experience that kind of appreciation of nature in winter.
My husband had the baby in the carrier and we put a knitted pink hat and fleece blanket on her to keep her warm. She looked around like she was seeing everything for the first time because she was. The ground was so saturated from the relentless rains we’ve had the leaves didn’t even crunch beneath our feet. My husband, who grew up in the rain forest, pointed out a bald eagle gliding a few hundred yards above us and a blue jay flittering from twig to twig in a thicket of dry sticks.

It was the first time it struck me that we – me, my husband and the baby – are a real family, and it made me so happy to see us in this light. We are a we; our very own unit.

Before our family hike, we had lox bagels at a strip mall bagel place, and afterwards, we went to REI and picked out a bike rack for our new car. It was such a great day.