Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Good News, Bad News

Ok, internet—let’s play a game of Good News, Bad News. Which do you want to hear first? I always want to get the bad news out of the way so that the good news is like a little present you get for sitting through the stuff that sucks, so away we go!

Bad News: I’ve had a ridiculously stressful week since my last post. Know what you get when you combine family health issues, work stress, and a little revisited relationship drama for garnish? Crazy Casserole, that’s what.

Good News: I’m still 100% on my weight loss game. SERIOUSLY! Turns out a heaping helping of Crazy Casserole daily doesn’t have as many calories as you’d think. Looking over my emotional balance sheet, it turns out that I’ve freed up enough margin to handle everything life’s tossed at me lately. So far.

Bad News: I have been slacking in the workout department. Digging around in my big bag of excuses yields the following:
  1. My walking partner is my dog who is terrified of both thunder and fireworks, so she’s spent most of July hiding in my closet instead of at the end of her leash.
  2. The average ambient temperature the last few weeks has been just a degree or two below that of the surface of the sun, so one could theorize that I haven’t been slacking so much as avoiding heat stroke.
  3. I don’t have a gym membership, so I can’t exercise indoors. (Which happens to be a lie straight from the pit of hell, because I totally DO have a gym membership but lately I’ve preferred outdoor exercise and thus have to consider the $34.99 I pay each month as less a membership fee than a voluntary fat tax.)
Good News: I recognize that my excuses are crap. Turns out I really miss working out (well, I miss the part after the first 10 minutes of repeating “God I hate this” over and over in my head) and am making a concerted effort to get out for a walk every day—even if it’s a little treadmill time at the gym or a 15 minute jaunt around the neighborhood, with our without canine companionship.

Bad News: I’m still fat.

Good News: I never got as fat as I once was, and I’m not as fat as I was just a few months ago. I am down a full size from where I was in May, and these clothes are starting to get a little big so I predict it won’t be long before they’re relegated to the goodwill box and replaced with the next smallest batch of garments in my closet.

Bad News: I’ve been avoiding owning up to the numbers on the scale, purposely talking around them and hinting at my current weight here in the vaguest of terms (example: the BN/GN that immediately precedes this paragraph) in a vain attempt to maintain some semblance of my dignity.

Good News: That ends today. I’ve spent countless breaths and bytes extolling the virtues of honesty in this weight loss game, and everything I know deep down in my fat-girl soul tells me that it’s easier to fight the good fight out in the open, so in my continuing effort to suck it up and keep it real, I present you with the following photographic evidence:

Bad News: Posting that wasn’t very much fun.

Good News: It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, it was kind of liberating. Yes, weigh 313.3 pounds, but I don’t weigh 383.6 pounds anymore. Yes, I used to see a number that started with a 2 just that many years ago, but I am confident I’ll see that number again soon enough. Yes, I wear a size 22, but I don’t wear a size 24 like I did in April, or a size 28 like I did way back at the beginning of my weight loss journey. I’m still learning that the number that hateful little bucket of bolts coughs up each week isn’t who I am, it’s just a snapshot of five seconds of my life on 1 day out of thousands. It’s simply data, one tiny piece of information that is part of a larger picture, and it exists whether I shout it to the world or not. So, world, consider yourself shouted at.

Bad News: I’m ending this post because I’ve got no more bad news to report.

Good News: See “Bad News” above.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What's Hunger Got to Do With It?

One of the very best things about Weight Watchers is that there truly is no food that is off limits.  Since the program is centered around the POINTS system where each food is evaluated by their calorie, fat & fiber content, literally any food you can name can be worked into the plan.  And it’s not even cheating!  
This flexibility is the reason that WW is the only plan that has ever made sense to me.  You see, I refuse to live in a world where a burrito the size of a Chihuahua or a cheeseburger on a grilled buttered bun isn’t an occasional option in my life (the operative word being “occasional”, of course.  If anyone tries to sell you a magic pill that allows you to eat these kinds of things every day and still lose weight, prepare for disappointment.  Or explosive diarrhea.  Probably both!).  
The ability to still eat the foods that the typical diet declares forbidden makes Weight Watchers the only plan that I have even a hope of following for a lifetime.  If, every once in a while, I want to eat a grilled sourdough melt sandwich, crinkle cut french fries, a couple of fried cheese curds, and then indulge in the world’s finest Turtle Sundae, I CAN.  And that’s how I ended up in a booth at Culver’s on Saturday night, wiping ketchup off of my chin with a greasy napkin and engaging in the following exchange with my 15 year old son:
Me: That was delicious.  Are you ready to order ice cream?
Son: Nah, I’m not hungry enough.
Me: I didn’t ask if you were hungry, I asked if you wanted ice cream.
Son: What’s the difference?
Me: What’s the diff…who are you, anyway?
Son: I’m your son, Mom.
And that isn’t even the first time we’ve had nearly that exact same conversation.  It boggles the mind that any child of mine could reject food (especially ICE CREAM) on the basis that he “isn’t hungry”.  In my world, whether or not one is hungry has very little (or nothing, even) to do with the decision to eat.  
Hunger isn’t a feeling I’ve been terribly well acquainted with in my life.  I don’t know if I’m just missing the synapses that appropriately fire the “I’m hungry” message from the stomach to the brain, or if I have too many of them so I always think I’m starving.  It could be that for most of my life I just never stopped eating long enough to really BE hungry.  
I’m inclined to believe that there’s some truth in that last theory, to be honest.  I vividly remember one day early on in my weight loss journey when I was busily working toward a deadline on a work project and I started to feel strange.  My stomach began to ache, and as I continued to push on I found myself rubbing at a pain in my temples and getting a little light headed when I went to stand.  I worried that I was coming down with something and began to panic, when I glanced over at the clock and realized that it was nearly 2PM and I’d worked straight through lunch.  It dawned on me that I wasn’t sick, I was HUNGRY.  I took a few minutes to eat the lunch I’d packed, and a la peanut butter sandwiches--I was cured!  
There is a school of thought that holds that they key to fighting the obesity epidemic is to learn to eat more intuitively, to let our bodies tell us that we need to eat, and to recognize the clues that reveal when we should stop eating.  I’m told that people without food issues do this instinctively, that they listen to their bodies.  I listen to my body too, and if you put your ear up to the screen and remain very, very still I bet you can hear it right now saying:
And that’s pretty much what I hear every day.  All day.  Oh, it changes up the material now and then, sometimes it’s not quite that loud and every once in a while it throws in some stuff about how well I’m controlling myself and how much better life is now.  And then there are the days when it speaks in hushed tones, when it hisses that I can try to ignore it, but sooner or later I’ll give it what it wants, that the food will make things right again.  The yelling is a pain, but the whispering feels louder sometimes.
I wish that my body was trustworthy enough to listen to.  I wish that it was easy for me to instinctively eat just as much as my body needs to function well, and no more.  But if wishes were fishes, well let’s face it, I’d eat ‘em.  But wishing my obesity away hasn’t been a particularly affective technique for weight loss in the past.  I’m not sure my relationship with food will ever be easy or that my instincts where it’s concerned will ever be normal.  My body may always speak to me the way it does now, so maybe instead of learning how to listen to it, I need to learn how to talk to it.  To reason with it, to cajole and guide it in the direction I need to go to really honor it.  How to ignore it if necessary.  To give it what it needs instead of what it thinks it wants.
Like a Culver’s turtle sundae, for instance.  My body REALLY wanted one the other night.  It told me all about the reasons it should have one, it quoted my remaining points for the week and did the math and gave me it’s best “come on, you know you want it!” speech, it pouted and frowned and whined about how I never let it do ANYTHING fun…so I told it to hush.  And you know what?  It DID.  And it turns out that self-control tasted just as good as that sundae might have.  
Maybe even better.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Every time a bell rings...

It’s no secret that I hit a bit of a rough patch in the last few years. It seems perfectly logical to me that we refer to difficult times as “rough” because it does feel a lot like someone is forcibly dragging you, barefoot, over sandpaper. It smarts at first, becomes excruciating quickly, and the longer it goes on the more it wears you down. And that’s why getting to say the following sentence feels like an amazing gift, a privilege in fact:

Life, my friends, is good.

I’m smiling again. Writing again. Wearing color again. I’m LIVING again—and it feels great. Just the other day I was telling a friend that it’s like I looked up one day and the little storm cloud that’s been following me around was gone. They smiled and said “It’s time for you try out your wings.” So that’s what I decided to do. Literally.

Last night I faced down a fear that has plagued me for the better part of 20 years. It was a step so bold that the decision to finally do it had taken on mystical significance in my mind. I have suffered for my resistance to cross that line and agonized over the possibility of finally taking the plunge.

Janeane Garafolo once said that there are two kinds of women in the world: those with shapely upper arms, and those with matronly upper arms…and never the twain shall meet. At my highest weight, I fell firmly in the matronly category, add in some weight loss (and gain, and loss) and an already touchy underarm situation went from bad to worse. Skin that was once stretched tight with fat has been slowly morphing into a wing like structure (affectionately termed “bat wings” by the fat-fighting community) that keeps on waving even when I stop. I’ve become a devotee of the ¾ length sleeve, and acquired an impressive collection of shrugs and sweaters and wraps and shawls to drape over anything that has less than adequate sleeve coverage. But yesterday afternoon, when the mercury topped out at 111 degrees in the shade, I threw caution to the wind, and....


Well, perhaps “threw caution to the wind” is an overstatement of my zeal. The decision was easy to make, but the execution required a little moral support. I called my sister in law for some cheerleading and minor commiseration (because she has lovely upper arms, no matter what she says) complete with a few texted photographs of the offending arm flappage. We decided that if I felt more comfortable keeping my upper arms at my side that I could totally get away with just moving them from the elbows down, kind of like T-Rex. I then quizzed my 15 year old son about whether or not my uncovered arms would be embarrassing to him, which earned me eye rolling and several variations of “of course not!” (note to self: raise his allowance). I took a few pictures to commemorate the event:

This one wasn’t so bad, really. I mean, I’m certainly larger than I’d like to eventually be, and my hair hadn’t been styled since 7:30 AM, but from a purely arm-focused perspective I don’t look deformed or anything. As long as I don’t start enthusiastically flapping my arms and pretending I’m an airplane, no one will have to see this:

I was understandably less thrilled with this photo. I told myself that I didn’t HAVE to post this one here, but it didn’t take long before I decided that I would. My arms are getting flappy for sure, but striking that exact pose is probably only going to happen if I’m held up at gunpoint or spontaneously break out into “the robot”, and the chance of either of those things occurring at a Wednesday night marching band show seemed somewhat unlikely. Plus, in the event that there was an emergency that required us to evacuate the area, I could spread my arms and coast off the bleachers to safety a la a flying squirrel! But at the end of the day, those are my upper arms. And they’re only going to get worse.

I have spent most of my life disliking my body. I have scrutinized its glaring imperfections in the mirror, and averted my eyes to that same reflection just as often. I have wished it was leaner, longer, less lumpy, or more attractive. I’ve liked how I look, only to have that feeling stolen by photographic evidence to the contrary. I’ve bemoaned the negative aesthetic consequences the positive changes my weight loss has earned me. And you know what? I’m tired of it. My ever increasing bat wings aren’t terribly attractive, but that same skin wasn’t exactly fetching when it was stuffed tighter with fat either. Pick your ugly, I say.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life hating my body. I don’t want to have every good change I’ve made be mitigated by new insecurities. And I certainly don’t want to spend even one more scorching hot summer under long sleeves because I’m worried that my upper arms might offend the world at large.

And so it happened that at 6:15 PM, on July 14, 2010, I left the house with my arms on display for the world to see in all their naked glory. It was a little scary at first, but that fear was quickly replaced with a feeling of liberation. Turns out it WAS time for me to try my wings. I did it, you know what? I’m probably going to do it again. Soon.

And if anyone has a problem with that, they can kiss my big, fat, white ARMS!

So who else is ready to fly? If you’re up for the challenge then bare those arms, smile for the camera, and tell me ALL about it at

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


52 is a strangely random number to have cultural significance, don’t you think? It’s the number of cards in a deck, the number of weeks in a year, and how many white keys there are on a piano. Add a “B” and it turns into a mighty war plane (or a kooky but bitchin’ Atlanta based house band). Exhaustive research (a.k.a. 5 minutes of exercising my master googling skills) reveals that 52 is the atomic weight of Chromium, and the name of the only fully licensed bathhouse in Newcastle’s vibrant “Gay Quarter”. It’s the 66th & 67th (and 172nd and 173rd) digits of pi, the percentage of marriages that will eventually end in divorce, and the Psalm where David uses the simile “like a green olive tree in the house of God” to describe himself (I don’t know what it means either). The number 52 even has its own Facebook page, is the title of a comic book, and is the numerological value of the word “INFINITY”.

52 also happens to be the number of days that I’ve been back on my game. IN A ROW! Which, given that for nearly 14 times that number of days that came before I couldn’t seem to stay 100% on program for even two days (heck, sometimes two HOURS), makes that whole “infinity” numerology reference seem pretty accurate.
It was 52 days ago that I woke up ready to get back down to business, and it’s been 52 continuous days of practicing the mechanics of weight loss. 52 days of journaling everything I’ve eaten, increasing my activity level, and making mindful choices. 52 days of being back in control. And it feels good. Really, really good.

It turns out that 52 days is long enough to see some real progress. On day 7, I saw my first payoff at the scale. On day 18 I graciously accepted the premise that pizza is an entrĂ©e and not a full meal and enjoyed one slice for dinner. On day 20 I realized I was already using my inhaler less than I had been just a few weeks before. On day 36 I didn’t break a sweat while hooking my workout bra (resistance bands have NOTHING on that lycra monster!), and on day 51 I was comfortable enough with how things were going to change the status of this recent leg of my weight loss journey from “fluke” to “status quo”.

From day 1, I’ve been enjoying a level of commitment that has been what my battle with the fat rarely is: EASY. I’ve spent 52 days back on program without having to wrestle my natural inclinations to the ground. I’m not sure just who to thank for the relative peace of the last 52 days, but I’m not sure it matters why the sailing has been so smooth thus far.

I think that the biggest mistake we can make in this whole weight loss thing is buying into the idea that it’s finite in nature. If we believe that we’re working toward a magical finish line off in the distance that marks the and the beginning of a new life, then our weight loss efforts are a temporary discomfort that buys our admission into the fabulous life that the fat’s been denying us. It seems so simple: be good, get to heaven. Conventional weight loss terminology encourages this mindset: Follow a set of rules, reach your “goal” and then sail on into “maintenance”. We throw in a little lip service about the key to weight loss being permanent lifestyle change, but deep down we’re pretty sure once we shed the weight that we can kiss this weight loss thing goodbye and finally start to LIVE again.

For me, giving up the idea of the imaginary finish line was the death of a dream I’d had since my very first diet attempt way back in the second grade. It took me nearly 30 years to realize that if I kept waiting for three magic numbers on the scale to appear before living my life, that same life was going to pass me by. It occurs to me that maybe the prize isn’t at the end of the road, but at every stop along it. I don’t know what waits for me at day 60, or 420, or 6,932. But I know that day 52 feels a lot like success to me, and that it’s the first day of the rest of this journey. 52=Infinity indeed.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Elephants never forget either...Coincidence?

I have this theory that 90% of being smart is simply having a really, really good memory. Intelligence is essentially the ability to retain information, be able to recall it at a moment’s notice, and then to see how it relates to all the other things you know. It’s being able to connect those random facts into meaningful chains of information and then relaying those connections to the world that makes someone sound so gosh darn smart.

Now, I’m not the smartest girl on earth but judging by my “smart=keen memory” theory alone, I just might be smarter than your average bear (and for proof, I offer our shared affinity for all things that come in pick-a-nick baskets!). Genetics blessed me with a brain that stores copious amounts of information away for future reference. Those same genetics did not, however, provide me with a particularly reliable system for cataloging and classifying that data. It seems to me that the space in my noggin that stores to the lyrics to every song I’ve ever heard, the position on the page of pivotal sections of various novels and textbooks, and every line uttered in Monty Python movies might be put to better use for things that are potentially lucrative. Like, say, physics equations or blackjack card counting. Or where my car keys are.

So it should not come as a surprise that there is a substantial percentage of my brain that is devoted to foods gone by. I went out for lunch the other day with a friend and she hesitated while placing her order, unable to remember what ingredient it was that she wished them to leave off her pizza. At her pause, I chimed in “She’d like you to hold the mushrooms, and bring her a side of ranch dressing too, please.” When the waiter left she laughed about how I knew how she liked her pizza better than she did, and wondered how I remembered that. Easy, I told her. It involved FOOD, and I never forget a meal. She shook her head at what she recognized as another manifestation of what I call my “food-crazy”, and told me that she couldn’t think of a single pivotal moment in her life that she associated with the food she’d eaten that day. I told her that my food memories could fill volumes.

I don’t recall anything specific of a childhood trip to Baltimore other than it was the first time I had freshly steamed shell-on shrimp at a stand by the harbor. I don’t remember a thing about the Phillies game we took in one summer other than that the hot dogs came pre-dressed with mustard and were a soggy-bunned disappointment. I assume that New York’s Grand Central Station was an impressive sight to behold, but I was too busy enjoying the bagel & cream cheese I’d gotten on the way in to notice. The reason for a business trip to Chicago years back escapes me, but I do remember that I had the best Caesar Salad I’ve ever eaten. The meal I had at an Alabama truck stop in college remains the standard by which I’ve measured every other Chicken Fried Steak since, and I could rank from memory the cake at every wedding I’ve ever attended from best to worst (or just “not best” because, come on, there’s no such thing as bad cake). And once, I ordered a baked crab pasta dish at a restaurant in New England that my 13 year old self turned her nose up at when it arrived, and I fervently wish that I could have that moment back as an adult because I just KNOW I’d love every bite of it now. I vividly remember the first time I consciously overate, and I clearly remember countless times I’ve fought NOT to eat whatever was in front of me. I could fill scrapbooks with anecdotes about what I ate, when I ate it, and how I’d like to (or not to) eat it again.

This leads me to believe that there’s an extraordinary amount of my grey matter that’s sole purpose is remembering what I’ve put in my mouth over the years. Extraordinary in the most literal sense of the word: More than is ordinary. My brain, it would seem, is hard wired toward a food obsession that I’ve struggled with for most of my life. And this could be a pretty depressing revelation for me. Except that it isn’t.

I believe that fighting the good fight against the fat each day is a noble and never ending pursuit. But I also believe that there is a lot of power in the concept of surrendering to the forces that drive my food issues as well. If I accept that, on some level, my relationship with food is inherently a little on the crazy side, then I can also accept that it will probably always be that way. And that means I can stop wishing it wasn’t that way, and start learning how to work toward being healthier and slimmer with the full knowledge that my brain will never be “normal”. If it is what it is, then I am what I am, and I don’t have to hate myself for it, for being ME.

I’m learning that accepting the nature of my relationship with food doesn’t mean that I have to accept the obesity fostered by it. I can work against my nature on a daily basis, and I can also work with it. I can channel my laser focus on all things food toward my weight loss goals, try new strategies for shifting that obsessive energy away from behaviors that keep me fat and into new habits that honor my body and spirit.

So that’s what I’m going to keep doing. One day at a time, one meal at a time. I’m meeting a friend for conversation with a side order of my all time favorite tuna salad sandwich today for lunch. And if you ask me later how it went, I’ll be able to tell you ALL about it…well, all about the sandwich anyway.