Thursday, December 29, 2011

Solving for X

So I've got some food issues.

I realize this is not exactly a shocking confession. It's not like I started this post with the line "So I'm a man now, call me Chuck." or "So I once killed a hobo" or "So I'm a republican". One might assume that anyone who has achieved a level of fatosity (Not actually a word. Don't look it up.) as impressive as my own likely has a food issue or two (or twelve) lurking around in their psyche somewhere. And I don't disagree.

I do, however, believe that not every overweight person on earth is cut from the same cloth. Line up 100 average sized people and ask each of them what their particular brand of crazy is and you'll get quite a variety of answers. Organize a similar line up of people who struggle with obesity and ask them about their food issues and you'll get an equally impressive array of responses.

Some will profess to be emotional eaters, others will confess that they eat compulsively. Some will cite mindless eating as their major problem, while a few will call out an underactive thyroid or other endocrine condition as the reason for their weight problem. A surprising number of respondents will tell you that, despite all visible evidence to the contrary, they don't actually have a problem with food (and it turns out that massive denial of the existence of food issues isn't strictly a "food issue" in and of itself, so kudos to anyone who manages to squeeze through that loophole). And at least a few people will tell you that their problem is that they simply love food.

Me? Always the overachiever, I fall into several of the categories above. And the truth is that I think most obese people do. I also think that obesity is still such an oversimplified condition that most people continue to view it as primarily a character flaw, a problem that can easily be solved by working the factors in the basic formula for weight loss:
As a fan of math from way back, I tend to believe that the above equation is essentially valid. But I also believe that it's incomplete. We all know that consistently taking in fewer calories than we burn will result in a decrease in our weight over time. And yet, despite the simple mathematical certainty we all cling to, the world is still full of Lane Bryant stores, airplane seatbelt extenders, and a zillion blogs just like this one. If it really were just that simple, we'd all be taking turns lifting up our shirts and flashing people who walked by just so we could mutually admire our washboard abs.

So after some careful thought and a lot of intense dry erase board work (insert imaginary movie-montage here, think "Good Will Hunting" only replace Matt Damon with a middle aged fat girl and WAY less actual math), I surmised that the formula above is missing a single factor, one tiny letter that has the power to drastically alter the outcome. I submit:
Ah yes. The elusive "X" factor. What is it, you ask? It is...whatever it is. It's what stands in the way of the first two factors in the equation. I'd like to be more specific, but I can't--and that, I believe, is the problem. It's whatever brand of food-crazy you suffer from, the monkey wrench that turns the mechanics of weight loss from a 2nd grade math problem into algebra. My X may be different than your X, which is different than his X, which might not look anything like her X. We have to define our own X factor and learn how to fight it if we want to make it to the solution side of the equation and achieve the elusive state of "smaller butt".

But any time you add a step to a process, it ups the difficulty level. Not only do we need to eat less and move more, we've got do wrestle with and remove our X factor with every bite and step we take. Keeping two balls in the air? Easy. You’ve got two hands to do the job. But toss in a third, and suddenly you're juggling. Which, it turns out, is WAY harder than it seems when cartoon clowns do it. It takes a lot of practice and no one, not even the most talented circus performer under the big top, doesn’t drop a ball every now and then.

I'm starting to believe that the secret to keeping all the balls in the air lies in accepting that you're going to drop one from time to time...and that’s OK. Maybe on the days when one ball goes crashing to the floor, we hold tight to the two still in our hands. And if it turns out we need both hands to manage just one of them, we drop a second ball and hold on like hell to the one left. And on the inevitable day that we lose our grip on all three we take a deep breath, shake out our fingers, and pick them back up and try again.

I can eat less. I can move more. I can beat back my X factor of the day with a whip and a chair and the words on this page. Lately, I can do all three at once. What effect is all this juggling having on the size of my butt?

Do the math.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What I did for Love...

Nearly six weeks into my suddenly single status change, life has evened out a bit and this new normal is starting to feel, well, "normal". Which happens to be WAY better than the whole "shattered into a million pieces" feeling it started out as.

The truth is, the despair didn't stick around as long as I feared it might. And actually, after the initial shock wore off, it turns out that the prevailing feeling I had wasn't really despair at all. Hurt, yes. Embarassment, you betcha. Disappoinment? In spades. And underneath it all was an tinge of something I couldn't quite put my finger on--until one morning I woke up in my brand new bed, looked at the empty space beside me, and let out a long sigh...of relief.

You see, I knew that Tim wasn't my lobster.

It wasn't love at first sight. At least not for me. I had some serious reservations about whether or not we were a good match for eachother, and I thought long and hard about what I could live with--and without.

Sex advice columnist Dan Savage is fond of saying that "there is no settling down without settling for", and I believe that's true. 

So in my usual style, I weighed all the pros and cons (ad nauseam, ask my friends and family) and decided that despite what he couldn't give me, I was willing to settle for what he could. Maybe he was lacking a few of the traits on my top ten wish list, but maybe I was aiming too high. Maybe, I reasoned, you don't get two chances at great love in a single lifetime. Maybe, at 40 years old, you just don't have the same choices you might have had earlier in life. Maybe close enough would be good enough, and if I decided it could be enough, it would be. So I settled.

I settled right back into eating too much as well. Food, after all, was something we had in common. It was an easy way for us to spend time together, to do something we both enjoyed. Conversational lulls seem natural when your mouth is full of ice cream. Silences don't seem as awkward when they are filled with the sound of cracking crabs legs and sizzling porter house steaks. Wondering what you'll have to talk about at all after the wedding is over seems immaterial over 6 flavors of cake on your plate.

If I had been paying attention, I might have noticed that some of the food-crazy I'd gotten very good at controlling was creeping its way back into my life. When I found myself wolfing down a 20 piece McNugget in a parking lot on my way home from the office, I probably should have realized that all was not right with the world. The day I put three Mounds bars in my desk drawer "just in case" should have been a clue. When I stood in the light of the refrigerator late at night and ate the leftovers I'd packed for lunch the next day right out of the tupperware, it was a red flag that I shouldn't have ignored. I chocked it all up to the anxiety that comes with planing a wedding. Maybe I didn't realize that "wedding stress" and "stress about the wedding" were two very different animals, that the former was about choosing dresses and flowers and invitations, and the latter was about who you chose to stand beside you that day.

In the end, every concession I made to be with Tim was mitigated by the idea that he was a good, kind, honorable man...but it turns out that he wasn't ANY of those things. And he was a lot of things I didn't know he was. Like a liar. And probably a cheater (a claim I make after a forensic analysis of his cell phone records and an anonymous phone call to someone named "Dawn" who was a party to 252 text messages in a month). And a colossal pussy. So when he left the way he did, he went from 5 out of 10 to -3 out of 10. There just wasn't anything to miss.

Though at first it felt like I'd been shot in the chest, it didn't take me long to realize that I had actually dodged the bullet on this one. Love shouldn't be something you have to talk yourself into. Relationships aren't always easy, but they shouldn't be that hard either.

Six weeks have passed, and when someone asks me how I'm feeling I can say I'm fine--and actually mean it most of the time. I've made peace with the food again, found some of the control I'd slowly been losing and my weight is back on the way down. Life may not be great yet, but right now it really is OK.

And all things considered, that's something I can settle for.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lost Kitten

Nobody panic! My cats are fine, in fact as I type this one is likely sleeping in a puddle of fur on the kid's pillow, and the other is bullying the dog out of her kibble. THIS is the cat I lost:

For the record, this is not my child. I don't even know who's child it is. But I have always dreamed of having a redhead baby, so just for today, let's pretend this IS my child. Isn't he cute? Polite too. Never rolls his eyes, doesn't layer on the Axe products so thickly that my eyes water, always flushes the toilet, lets me cut his hair short, and has never once sent me racing to the ER after he got hit by a car on his bike. He is totally my favorite son.

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

According to my good friend Google, Marie the cat weighs 1.6 pounds--which happens to be exactly how much weight I lost this week.

I've had a second excellent week on the Weight Watchers program, and for my effot I was rewarded with a loss of a buck and change at the scale today. Do I wish it had been more? Well, duh. Of course I do. But in a lifelong battle with the fat, it's the cumulative effect of every small victory that adds up to long term success. A respectable 1.6 pound loss works for me.

Google also informed me that 1.6 pounds also happens to be the weight of the 3G, Wi-Fi enabled iPad 2, so I could have said I lost one of those too. And if you happen to find one laying around on the bus, or a park bench, or sticking out of the backpack of a distracted hipster--then I DID lose one, and you can send back it to me via UPS. Overnight, please.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Nothing so shocking as a glimpse of her stockings...

It has been said that idle hands are the devil's workshop.

And if by "the devil's workshop" they mean "an excellent vehicle for shoving cheezits into one's mouth" then I totally agree.

Though I have amassed an impressive collection of reasons to eat that have nothing to do with hunger, sometimes it's simply the lack of anything better to do that finds me in the kitchen. Or in the drive-through lane. Or digging around in my desk drawer to find that tootsie roll I'm pretty sure I threw in there last Halloween. Over the years I've learned that one way to rechannel my brain's obsession on all things food is to give it something else to do, another task to direct my freakish ability to focus on.

And that's why I decided to make new Christmas stockings this year. A few weeks before my world imploded, when I was still concerned about not looking like a satin wrapped bowling pin in front of my family and friends, I did the mental math and computed that if I traded my nightly raid-the-cupboards-for-random-carbs-and- watch-TV-with-the-family-pre-bedtime-ritual for a maniacally-cut-and-sew-and-applique-and-embroider-while-repeatedly-injuring-myself-with-sharp-objects-routine that I might be able to both lose weight AND complete three new stockings to hang by the fire before Christmas Eve

You know how some people decorate for the holidays and their freshly cut, snow flocked trees are draped in golden ribbon, sparkling white lights and perfectly coordinated ornaments that form the centerpiece of a whole-house theme that looks like something Martha Stewart herself oversaw the completion of before the House Beautiful photographer showed up to document it for the December issue?

I am not one of those people.

I believe that a Christmas tree should be a festival of multi-colored lights and a home for every ornament your kid has ever made, that any relative or friend gifted to you, or that you made to hang on the pitiful tree in your college dorm room so that the only things on it wouldn't be colored condoms and paperclip chains. The sleigh bells on a plastic belt that always hung on your beloved Grandmother's front door should continue to find a home on yours, and the cheap porcelain nativity set (the one that had to be glued back together when you came downstairs and found the severed head of Joseph perched menacingly on his walking staff after your three year old broke it while making the figurines fight like ninjas) should be set up on the end table by the couch every year.

This decorating philosophy is what made me settle on old school felt craft stockings covered in sequins and stuffed and embroidered with retro-chic fabulousness. I picked out three appropriate designs and got to work on them. And, miracle of miracles, my plan worked. I had managed to curb my night time snacking, AND I'd finished the first stocking!

I was nearly finished with the second one when the person whose name had been embroidered on it decided to go all Houdini on me and disappeared from my life. After the shock of the first few days began to wear off, I sat down one night and ripped off the stitches that spelled out his name and tried to decide what to do with it. I considered boxing it up and sending it to him, but I figured that an unfinished stocking embroidered with "Ass-Hat" would probably just get thrown away and I couldn't see letting all that hard work go to waste, so I just went ahead and finished it. I've been trying to decide what to do with it.

I guess that since he never used it, I could save it for someone else someday. In fact, I could embroider the name of the next person I go out with and give it to him on our first date--because that's not creepy or anything, right? Though now that I think of it, that might be a great idea! I mean, if I give it to the guy and he loves it, then I know he's an over eager freak and I go running the other way as fast as I can. And if he finds it off-putting and frightening then HE goes running away as fast as he can, and...oh, wait. I didn't think that through very well. Never mind.

In the end, I decided to put it away and work on the third stocking, and that's what I've been doing for the last few weeks. It's just one little sled-riding bunny away from being done, and I think it will be finished before the week is over.

As a diversionary tactic, the stocking project has worked like a charm. It's kept my hands busy, making it much harder to use them to transport food to my mouth during these dark, cold winter evenings. But equally importantly, it's kept my MIND busy, helped me not to obsess over the unexpected turn that life has taken in the last month.

Yep, that's right. It's been a month--and I'm still alive. And I'm not just alive, I'm also OK.

And we have new Christmas Stockings.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Food: 0, Sara -6

Against all odds, it's been a really good week.

In the last seven days I've managed to do something that I literally haven't done in YEARS: I rejoined Weight Watchers and spent a full week completely, 100% on program. And it paid off. Know how I know?

Because when I stepped on the scale today I was down SIX POUNDS.

BOO-yah, Baby! I'm back!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Fourth Stage of Grief: Tater Tot Casserole

After learning of my ex-fiance's surprise disappearing act a few weeks ago, I immediately did what any self-respecting woman in my position would do: I called my therapist.

After she picked her jaw up off the floor (and there were numerous floor/jaw bruise incidents that week. Seriously, how did NO ONE in my life see this coming?) she told me that as luck would have it there had been a cancellation in her schedule and that she could see me that afternoon.

After I did my best to lay waste to an entire box of tissues in her office, she produced a slightly modified list based on the Kubler-Ross "Five Stages of Grief" model (with an extra step thrown in, because hey, I'm an over achiever) and told me to be aware of the steps I'd have to go through as I adjusted to the abrupt end of the relationship. And I, being a homework loving geek from way back, have been clutching it ever since. Observe:

An actual scanned copy of the list my therapist gave me, which I've included here because its germane to the post, and not just because I really wanted to use my new hand held wand scanner. Which totally rocks. And that's on the lowest resolution! I'm not saying I also scanned a throw pillow and my dog's back, but if I HAD done that you'd totally be able to see every fiber in the fabric and each individual dog hair. On both the pillow and the dog.

Step 1: Denial passed pretty quickly. I don't spend a lot of time mired in those parts anymore. Check!

Step 2: Anger? Um, yes. A lot of it. That one hasn't faded as quickly, and I'm given to understand that these steps are somewhat fluid in nature and that anger might linger even as I make my way through the rest of the list. Check. Check. Checkcheckcheckcheckcheck. CHECK!

Step 3: I'm still a little fuzzy on the whole "bargaining" thing, but I'm pretty sure it refers to all those times I thought things like "maybe if I hadn't gained weight" or "If only I hadn't gotten mad at him that one time 5 months ago when he totally deserved it" or "maybe if I click my heels together three times and wish REEEEEEEEAAALY hard I'll wake up and none of this will have happened." So, check. I guess.

Which brings us to the stage I am currently firmly ensconced in:

Step 4: Depression.

I wish that I could tell you that I am so well adjusted that I had a good cry and then got right on with the business of acceptance, but I can't. I'm sad. I'm sad that the future I had counted on isn't possible anymore, that someone I loved would treat me with so little consideration and respect. I'm sad because, let's face it, cancelling a wedding is a depressing task. And for me, food and depression often go hand in hand.

When I'm depressed, it can be hard not to seek comfort in dishes that fall into the category that has the word "comfort" in the title. On days when it feels like the empty space inside of me will swallow me whole, the only thing that has a chance to fill that void is something warm and satisfying. It's a temporary fix, one that will leave me empty in the long run, but in the short term that rarely seems to matter. I fall prey to the brand of magical thinking that whatever ails me will certainly be cured by a gooey grilled cheese (and if it happens to include bacon, so much the better). Or the perfect almond cupcake. Or a mountain of fettuccini alfredo with butter soaked breadsticks and a token salad.

Or a plate full of savory-on-the-bottom-gooey-in-the-middle-crispy-on-the-top Tater Tot Casserole.

I made some the other night. I'd been thinking about it all day, going over the ingredients in my mental kitchen inventory, and practically sitting on the floor watching the oven window like a television as I watched it bubble and brown. As I scooped it out onto my plate, I could barely wait for the steam to dissipate so I could engage in casserole therapy to drown my sorrows. Giddy with excitement, I inverted the pepper grinder over my plate and, just as I began to turn the barrel, I felt the top give way and watched in horror as a full cup of peppercorns spilled all over it. As the tiny spheres stuck to the creamy sauce and got lodged in the molten cheese, I reacted perfectly appropriately by bursting into angry, heartbroken tears and loudly asserting that HE had done this to me, had loosened the top of the peppermill on PURPOSE, a last insult before he left designed to further RUIN MY LIFE!!

It was a short lived, though impressive, tantrum. All the hurt and anger that I'd been keeping at bay for the last few weeks came pouring out in a flood of tears over a very peppery heap of ruined dinner in the sink. When I pulled myself together, I calmly served myself up a replacement helping, then sat down to eat it. It was good, but it wasn't as good as I thought it might be. It wasn't comfort, it was just food.

It turns out that all the work I've put in on myself during the last few years hasn't been in vain. I am convinced that without it I wouldn't be where I am today, just three weeks out, and already working my way back to normal, to a life that goes on toward new hope.

Get ready, Step 5. I'm heading your way.

Friday, December 2, 2011

One Good Thing

Years ago, a friend gave me a terribly simple yet profound piece of advice. She said:

"Every night before you go to sleep, find ONE good thing about the day that just ended...even if the only good thing is that the day is over."

I have never forgotten those words, and I've tried to live by them.

There are some changes coming to this site, a line in the sand that I'm drawing and crossing as the next phase in this ongoing journey is before me.

The best thing about this day is that a NEW one starts tomorrow.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

World Fall Down Go Boom

Hello Internet.

So you've noticed I've been MIA, but I suppose with all the life living and wedding planning you gave me a pass on being incommunicado, and I thank you for your patience. How've y'all been?


Honestly, I've had better weeks.

Of all the lessons that blogging about my weight loss journey has taught me, the single best one is the value of honesty, of the phenomenal power that the truth can wield in our lives. A secondary, though no less important, lesson I learned is that sometimes the truth hurts.

Internet, I got dumped.


I'd like to sugarcoat it, to make a joke or two and a glib reference about how I lost 260 pounds in a single day, but the truth is that I just don't have it in me to laugh this off just yet.

Two weeks ago I was getting married. The dress was bought, the deposits were paid, the reservations were made, the invitations were picked out and the engagement pictures were taken.  I woke up one Thursday morning and engaged woman, dressed for work, kissed my fiance goodbye and told him to have a good day, and by noon everything had changed.

He called me at work. Said he'd done something that would come as a big shock, and that he never meant to hurt me, that I was a wonderful person with a great kid and an awesome family...but that he had moved out. Told me it wasn't me, that it was nothing I'd done and there was nothing that I could do. It was over. And it was.

He was gone. So were his clothes. And the couch. And the TV and entertainment system. And our bed. Every gift I'd given him, every item he'd moved into our home...gone. He turned off his phone, and there hasn't been a single word from him. No goodbye, no apology, no "Dear Sara" note on the mantle, nothing.

I never saw it coming. At all. Sure, he'd been a little tired lately, but he'd injured himself at work a few weeks before and had a lot of lingering pain. But we'd just had engagement pictures taken on Sunday. We tasted wedding cakes with my family on Friday.The day before his disappearing act he'd taken my car to get the oil changed, called me at in the afternoon to tell me that he was heading off to work, have a good night, love you, bye.

And now I stood in the rubble of my ransacked home, and as I stared at the fallout all around me and my mind tried to make sense of what had happened, I grasped for reasons that he had done this to me.And all I could think was:

I must be my weight.

I know that this is silly. Yes, I've gained some weight since we met over a year ago. But he had put on quite a few pounds too, and he wasn't a delicate willow to begin with either. He never made my weight an issue, he made me feel beautiful and special and I started to believe that I was. I believed that it was finally my turn to be happy, to win one for all the fat girls out there who secretly believed that falling in love and being overweight didn't have to be mutually exclusive.

At the end of the day, I have chosen to take him at his word and believe that it was nothing I did or didnt do, and that his cowardly little escape act was the result of a deep seated character flaw within him.  We had always marveled at how, with such a crazy upbringing and tumultuous childhood, he had turned out so normal.  Turns out he wasn't.  Normal, good people don't do what he did. He's defective, an anomaly.

He left me holding every bag, with every burden that his leaving brings with it. He left me to pick up the pieces of my son's broken heart.  He left me to tell the world that the wedding is off.  To call all the vendors, to cancel all the plans, to stare every day at the non-returnable wedding items that hang in my half-bare closet.  He left me without a bed to sleep in. He left me.

And now I've got to find me again.

Wish me luck

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Crazy(ish) no more...

An eavesdropping fly on the wall one week ago might have heard the following snippet of conversation:
Me: I've been thinking that I don't need to see you as often anymore.
Therapist: I think you're right.
Well bring on the propeller hat, rainbow wig and bright orange rain poncho (which I assume is standard attire for such an occasion) because I've officially graduated from crazy school!  
Well, that's how it feels anyway.  
I've spent my Thursday lunch hours discussing the finer points of my emotional well-being with a therapeutic professional in a year-and-a-half long quest to find out just what the hell is wrong with me.  And to my great surprise, I think we did just that.
It was a personal crisis of epic proportions that led me to her in the first place. I walked into her office full of plush furniture, eclectic decor and shelves stuffed with self-help literature without knowing what to expect.  All I knew is that I felt broken, like there weren’t enough king's horses and king's men on earth to put me back together.  A lifetime of cartoon images of bespectacled, clipboard toting men asking patients lying in prone positions about their mothers didn't prepare me for the soft spoken, scarf wearing, easy smiling, kind eyed yet sharp tongued woman who introduced herself as Cynthia when she invited me to sit down anywhere on her cushy furniture and tell her all about it.  
There was no in-depth analysis of my dreams or dramatic recounting of childhood traumas.  There were no shock treatments or repressed memory discoveries, or creepy attempts to reenact my birth experience.  Instead there was conversation.  There was advice.  There were sometimes tears, but also a lot more laughter than I'd expected.  There was talk of the fat, but there was more talk about all the other things I am.  And--to the great delight of my inner nerd--there were worksheets, handouts, diagrams, and homework.  And, most importantly, there was progress.
Therapy gets a bad rap sometimes, I think.  The red-blooded American pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality that runs deep in our collective veins can sometimes mistake reaching out for mental health support as evidence of a weakness of character, a convention of a modern age that relies on science and medicine to cure what a good kick in the ass should be able to knock out of us. After all, people have survived for thousands of years without therapy and antidepressants, why do we need them now all of a sudden?  That argument is short sighted at best.  People lived without antibiotics for thousands of years to...and they died of ear infections and strep throat.  If I had cancer, I'd get chemotherapy.  I had a case of the crazies, so I went to therapy, and I'm so glad I did.  The hardest work may be over, but I'm not done yet.  
I am the same woman who walked into that office for the first time, but I am not the same person I was that day.  That girl was so lost in her fear and despair that it makes me ache to remember her.   But the woman writing this?  Her I like.  She’s strong.  She’s resilient.  She knows where she's going, and she’s tough enough to keep working to get there

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Scared Straight

Scared Straight
Yesterday I did something momentous.  If, that is, one defines “momentous” as “something I’ve done like a thousand times since the age of 12”.  
I rejoined Weight Watchers.
If you’d like me to spend oodles of time and space explaining the particulars of just why keeping my ample buttocks on the proverbial wagon on a permanent basis is an impossibility, you can drop me an email and ask for a dramatic recounting of my numerous climbs onto and spectacular nose dives off of said wagon.  
Or you save me a lot of time (and fritter away a bunch of yours) by going back and reading my archives. I did just that recently and have realized that something I’ve said before in the last few years happens to be true:  
The longer I do this, the more convinced I become that this journey is essentially an endless series of beginnings, of moments when draw a fresh line in the sand and start over.  Sometimes the fresh start comes from a place of zen, a calm acceptance of the infinite struggle between ourselves and a lifetime of obesity.  
But there are other times when we see a moment in our future where we’d just really rather not be quite so fat, thank you very much.  Like, say, the prospect of wearing a big white dress in front of your friends and family while pledging eternal love and faithfulness to a man just crazy enough to love you.
That’s right, friends.  Tim and I are engaged.  A year from now we’ll be dressed in our best and saying I do.
(Shout out to the citizens of hell who are all enjoying tall glasses of ice water today—You’re welcome!)
The quest for the dress and a body that fits into it begins today.
Let the adventure continue!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The fog's getting thicker--and Leon's getting lllllaaaarrrger...

(Pop quiz time: name the movie that inspired the title of this post.  Anyone?   The answer, of course, is the 1980 cinematic tour de force "Airplane!"  Eminently quotable, funny stuff. Check it out.) 

So it has been a busy month here at  Oh, not in the posting department, because as you've no doubt noticed that hasn't been at the tippy top of my priority list of late.  There are three main reasons for this:

 1. I'm preparing a new media venture with an obesity & weight loss focus that is turning out to be way more work than I thought it would be.   It seemed so easy, a microphone, a computer, set up shop on iTunes and start talking--but it would seem that there's quite a bit more involved in the world of independent radio production that meets the overzealous and untrained eye.  Thankfully I had the foresight nearly 16 years ago to give birth to someone who is turning out to be quite an able podcast producer and is helping his poor old mother navigate the process.   I'm super excited about the new project, stay tuned for details soon!

2. Tim and I have been doing a little more foodie-tourism traveling and juggling work and family responsibilities as well.  So much to do, so little time, blah blah blah--and working on #1 above is where I've been spending my meager discretionary time.

3. I, like the aforementioned Leon, have been watching my weight tick up the charts lately--and I don't even have the fog to blame.  Well, unless you count the comfortable fog of love, that is.  Suffice it to say that my life long quest to catch up to, get on, and stay on the proverbial wagon continues and the increasing certainty that there is a big white dress in my future has convinced me that keeping my butt planted right here on this hay bale is still a top priority in my life.

I'm writing about 1, 2 and 3 above, stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Excuse me, I believe you have my stapler...

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about having weight loss surgery.

I’ll give you a few moments assemble the villagers and get into full-on angry mob mode. Got your pitchforks and torches ready? Great. Start marching, but promise me you’ll read the whole thing before setting fire to the comments section, ok?

It’s not the first time I’ve thought about it, of course. I’ve considered the pros and cons of the various procedures that fall under the umbrella of weight loss surgery (WLS) for years. In fact, I remember being in grade school the first time I heard about someone my parents knew who was getting their stomach stapled. At the time, the fat and I were just starting our life-long tango, and I was already painfully aware that my weight was a problem that needed solving. I recall hearing my Mom talk about how the person would lose a lot of weight after the surgery, but if they ate too much the staples could rip out and they could die. It scared the hell out of me, partly because the name of the procedure conjured up an image my head of my second grade teacher Mrs. Nelson pointing her taupe metal monster of a stapler at my midsection and slamming her palm repeatedly onto the arm of it (she was a scary broad) and partly because of the whole “if you eat too much you die” thing. Even then I knew I could never have my stomach stapled. I always ate too much.

WLS has come a long way since then, with a bevy of procedures with fancy names and less invasive techniques. Call it gastric bypass, roux-en-y, duodenal switch, lap band, or even good old stomach stapling, it all comes down to the same principle: drastically reduce the body’s ability to take in food by drastically reducing the capacity of the stomach. It’s major surgery, a measure once thought of as a last resort that has become an increasingly more popular. Hundreds of thousands of people each year weigh the pros and cons of jumping on the WLS bandwagon. I’ve weighed them myself.

Cons: It is major surgery that permanently alters the regular functions of the digestive system, and the effects cannot be reversed. It has a stated mortality rate of 2 % within 30 days of surgery because of the complications that severe obesity brings to the surgical table, and post-operative complications arise at a higher level for WLS patients for the same reasons. It’s life altering, dangerous, and comes with a long list of life-long limitations, requirements, and side effects that one must accept in return.

Pros: It works.

As weight loss techniques go, it’s hard to argue with results. Most people who have bariatric surgery lose weight. A lot of weight. They lose it faster than those who go with the diet and exercise route exclusively, and—this is important—they keep the weight off a lot longer. Because patients no longer have the ability to overeat (at least at first), the procedure takes the concept of willpower out of the equation for a period of time, allows the body to shed weight under the premise that it will be easier to keep it off in the long term. Of course there will always be notable exceptions, but statistically speaking if you want to take off a lot of weight and have a better than normal chance of actually keeping it off for a significant period of time, then going under the knife is your best chance at doing so.

But don’t say that too loudly.

Get any group of people together, and no matter how united they are in their common purpose, they will find a way to divide themselves. In the community of people who are fighting morbid obesity, WLS is a very divisive issue. Log into a weight loss message board and ask a group of people struggling to lose 200+ pounds whether they have ever considered WLS, and you’re likely to get a flurry of responses from people who have considered it, but ultimately decided against it. I’m one of them. It isn’t the content of some of these responses that surprises me, but the tone.

There’s an air of superiority that hovers over the debate against WLS. Much pride is expressed in the decision not to take the “easy way out” and to lose weight the “right” or “healthy” way. It’s as if there’s a moral code in fat-fighting circles, and those of us who go the traditional diet and exercise route are dutifully playing the hand we’re dealt by the rules, while those darn WLS people try to sit down at the table with aces stuffed up their sleeves. We’ll show them. We don’t need to cheat to win, we can lose just as much weight the old fashioned way!

But the thing is, most of us don’t. The weight loss recidivism rates for traditional diet & exercise are astronomically larger than those for WLS patients. And believing that there is a “right” way to lose weight only buys into the theory that obesity is primarily a character flaw, and that the tools we choose to combat it fall somewhere on that same moral compass. I can use a butter knife to loosen the screw holding the kitchen light fixture in place, or I can go the garage and get a screwdriver to do the same task. Just because it took me longer to get and use the screwdriver doesn’t make the light bulb replacement process more righteous or the light in the kitchen brighter. My choice of tool has nothing to do with the end result. And at the end of the day, that’s what WLS is. A tool.

I know people who have had WLS and are living healthy, fulfilling lives in bodies that let them move freely through the world in a way they never could when they were morbidly obese. They have followed the post-surgical recommendations, accepted the limitations of their newly plumbed digestive systems, and tell me that what they’ve lost is absolutely worth the new life they’ve gained. The comorbidities that their obesity brought with it are gone, and they are healthier than ever. They are the poster children for what WLS can do for someone who has struggled with obesity for most of their lives.

But I also know people who have had WLS whose experiences haven’t been as picture perfect. People who never lost all the weight they expected to, who experienced debilitating post-surgical complications, who weren’t able to follow the strict guidelines they were given after their procedures and suffer because of it, who changed their physiology without addressing the psychological components of their obesity and eventually ended up right back at the weight they were before the surgery, and higher. I know of people who have lost their lives as a result of the same surgery they hoped would save it.

I believe that it’s crucially important that both sides of the story be told, that anyone who is contemplating a surgical remedy for their obesity should know that it isn’t a cure, and that there can be disappointing, dangerous, and sometimes fatal consequences to WLS, that the risks sometimes outweigh the rewards. But I believe that it’s equally important that we should also accept and celebrate the successful outcomes of WLS, we should revel in the successes of our fellow fat fighters who have chosen to add WLS to their arsenal of weapons in their weight loss battles, and that the reward is sometimes worth the risk.

For the record, I’ve decided against WLS. I have weighed the pros and cons, and my obesity and I are living together pretty peacefully lately and continuing with Weight Watchers still feels like the right path. For me, the possible risks of WLS to my health and future aren’t worth what might be gained, nor are the sacrifices I would have to make worth it to me right now. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s a universally bad choice, or that I might never consider it again. If I have learned anything on this journey, it is that I don’t have all the answers. I do not begrudge anyone the right to choose their own weapons in fighting our common enemy, and I wish us all peace in making the choices that are right for us.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Come on baby, (re) light my fire...

Psssst! Hey, fellow fat-fighter. Yeah, YOU!

Are you losing your motivation?  
Did you start this journey with a long list of reasons to get healthier and an iron resolve that seemed to only get stronger with every pound shed? Did you feel invincible and wonder why on earth everyone couldn’t get their act together like you did?
I did.  
And then one day I woke up and it just…wasn’t…there…anymore.
I searched for it, I tried to relight it, I even accepted that it might never burn as bright as it did once upon a time.  I missed the old flames, yearned for them.  Wished and hoped that one day they’d rekindle.
And then I got over it.
I can make a list of a thousand reasons I want to lose weight, but the truth is that weighing enough to call this board home means that there is a single reason to stay in the fight that I must never lose sight of:
I want to LIVE.
I want to experience life in a body that doesn’t limit my choices and opportunities at every turn. I want a life that isn’t cut short by the health issues that obesity fosters. I want to make decisions free of the fat, to not have to the width of my body decide what I can and cannot do.  I don’t want to be crushed under the weight I carry or the emotional burden it brings with it.

If I was stuck in a burning building, I wouldn’t sit idly by while the smoke got thicker wishing I could breathe better.  I wouldn’t walk half way to the door where the air was a little clearer and sit back down.  And I certainly wouldn’t stay there as the flames got closer, telling myself “Well, at least it’s warm in here…”  
Of course not.  I would run, I would fight, I would break down the walls if I had to. I would do everything I could to escape the flames and breathe clean air again.
This is not about wearing cute clothes or turning heads.  It’s not about being a certain size or shedding a specific number of pounds. This is about LIFE and DEATH.
I choose LIFE.  
Which do YOU choose?  What are you going to do today to make it happen?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Have Food Issues, Will Travel

You know how when you go into the monkey house at the zoo, and the smell of the place assaults your unsuspecting nostrils and you can’t help but gasp and exclaim “Wow, it smells AWFUL in here!” to anyone in earshot? And then you’re all like “Hey, look! Baby gorillas!” and you find yourself enjoying watching the chimps frolic on their jungle gym and laugh as the cranky old orangutan flips the bird to the crowd with a big, gummy grin, and after a while it doesn’t smell so bad because you’ve gotten used to it and you don’t even notice it anymore until someone new walks into the building and you hear them gasp and say “Wow, it smells AWFUL in here!”

Turns out I was living in the monkey house.

It didn’t occur to me just how much life I’d been missing out on in the last several years until I started actually living again. All of a sudden I felt free to actually DO things, amazing and exciting things like running out to the store on a whim, or going to a movie on a weeknight, or having a leisurely Saturday night dinner with a friend, or going to sleep before 10 PM. And—if I wanted to get REALLY kooky—maybe even a romantic weekend trip to someplace exotic and fabulous.

Like, say, St. Louis.

Ok, so maybe it isn’t exactly synonymous with romance, but it was the destination of my first weekend getaway with Tim last November. I could tell you that we settled on that city because the prospect of a ride up to the top of the Gateway Arch and the promise of two free beers at the end of the Budweiser Brewery tour was just too tempting to resist. Or maybe because we both love long car rides that are unencumbered by a bunch of pesky scenery, but you wouldn’t believe me. Of course if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, the real reason we chose to go there won’t surprise you at all. We decided to spend the weekend in St. Louis because it was the closest metropolitan area to this:

Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston, MO.  The birthplace of many an eventual heart attack, I'm sure.

Several years ago, I saw Lambert’s Cafe featured on a Food Network special about the country’s best places to “pig out”. Famous for it’s gigantic portions of down home specialties, side dishes served family style by roaming restaurant staff, and their world famous “throwed rolls” (which are served to you from across the room via jump-shot, and if you want one you have to catch it midair—totally worth the burned fingertips!), a visit to Lambert’s went on my personal bucket list. When I mentioned to Tim that I’d always wanted to eat there, being a foodie himself (and a fan of car trips in general) he was all in. We decided to make a weekend of it, and thus found ourselves spending a three wonderful days driving across Missouri, drinking free blueberry beer, roaming the charming shops of St. Charles, viewing the city from 630 feet above the river, and driving two hours to the thriving metropolis of Sikeston where I was served this slab of chicken fried steak & mashed potatoes smothered in cream gravy in a 12 inch stainless steel skillet (a meal which I believe legally qualifies as a suicide attempt in every state except Missouri).

It was a long way to travel for dinner, but you know what? It was totally worth it. We had a fantastic time, and look forward to going back someday. It won’t likely be any time soon, though. Partially because we value our cardiac health, and partially because there are lots of other restaurants in the world that we’d like to visit.

The idea of foodie-tourism is something that’s always appealed to me (surprise!), and I’ve had a running list of places I’d like to eat someday that’s been growing for years. I blame cable TV, which is the food-addict equivalent of internet porn. If Guy Fieri features a particularly interesting Diner, Dive or Drive-In, it goes on my list. If Adam Richman from Man v. Food eats sandwich on french bread loaded with grilled pastrami, cheese, cole slaw and french fries (ON the sandwich! OMG!), then you can bet that someday I’ll find an excuse to get to Pittsburgh and try one.

There is a piece of conventional weight-loss wisdom that says we should strive not to have food be an “event” in our lives. If we remove the mystique surrounding special occasion meals and diminish the excitement of an anticipated treat, we can begin to view food only as the fuel our body needs to function, and nothing more. We can train ourselves to believe that Thanksgiving is about family, not oodles of food as far as the eye can see. July 4th is about the celebration of our freedom, not eating the world’s best lemon bars. Vacation is about seeing new sights and experiencing the culture of unfamiliar areas, and not about catching a hot roll with your bare hands before slathering it in sorghum & butter and devouring it.

I disagree.

Well, not totally. I believe that my food-crazy is part of who I am, and I am never going to eliminate it from my life. But I also believe that I can train myself to channel it in a way that makes my life easier to live on a day-to-day basis. For me, the problem isn’t that I put special food events on a pedestal, it’s that I put EVERY food event on one. There are days that I look forward to having a stick of string cheese with the same anticipatory glee that the thought of dumplings and kraut once a year at Thanksgiving induces. I have daydreamed all afternoon about the tater-tot casserole that we’ll be having for dinner with the same kind of palm-rubbing glee that a piece of my sister in-law’s chocolate cake incites in me a week out from a birthday party. Maybe the trick is to make everyday food unimportant, and to let the special event foods keep their mystique. If I can work each day to see food as fuel, then I honor my body by keeping it healthy and fit enough to really enjoy those moments when food is allowed to take center stage.

So that’s what I’m trying to do. Tonight I fuel my body with grilled chicken & brown rice & veggies. Tomorrow I fill the tank with steel cut oats, fresh strawberries, and low calorie popcorn. And the day after that I will cheerfully dine on low fat cottage cheese, steamed brussels sprouts, and baked tilapia--because I know that, someday, there’s a 22 inch loaded chili dog in Phoenix that’s got my name all over it…

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

You had me at Hola...

I am a woman of many quirks.

Among them, just to name a few, are: an impressive ability to remember the lyrics to every song I’ve ever heard (whilst also often not remembering to close the freezer door or let the dog back in the house), a bordering-on-creepy obsession with a certain late singer songwriter (I don’t want to name names, but his rhymes with “Fan Dogleberg”, a nearly pathological fear of mold (seriously, I would throw a dish AWAY before cleaning out anything of questionable or fuzzy nature), and a total inability to sleep in a bed where the covers are untucked from the foot of the mattress.

And those aren’t even the WEIRD ones.

I choose to believe that these tendencies fall somewhere to the left of the border between “charming” and “crazy” but I’m well aware that very choice might actually have tipped me over the line into crazy-town. I think we all have our own crazy, and embracing it makes life a lot easier to manage.

Case in point: For some reason, after any fairly prolonged bout with illness, when my appetite returns I find that there are only two things that sound at all appealing me:

1. Diet Coke, and

2. Mexican Food

The Diet Coke thing is a mystery, as I don’t particularly like soda in general and never have. Under normal circumstances the only time you’ll ever see me drinking a diet soda is if the restaurant in question doesn’t have fresh brewed iced tea (Unsweetened. Only. EVER!) or if an armed assailant has ordered me to do so at gunpoint. Yet for some reason my body craves—nay, DEMANDS—that my post-illness thirst can only be quenched by the Coca-Cola Corporation’s flagship diet soft-drink. It passes eventually, the craving wearing off slowly over a few weeks.

The Mexican food thing is less mysterious, as I have long been a fan of any food item that even vaguely sounds like it comes from south of the border. Burrito? Sign me up. Enchilada? Yes, I think I will! Taco? Sopapilla? Enchirtio? Quesadilla? You betcha! Basically if Alex Trebek would sound insufferable pronouncing it, then I’ll gladly eat it (with sour cream and a side of beans and rice!). But for some reason, post-sickness Sara wants to eat it—and only it—for every meal. Six years ago, after a heinous bout with the flu (and I mean the big daddy himself, the actual “influenza”, which kicked my ass so hard that it is maybe the only time in my life I ever thought to myself each night that I might not wake up the next morning) I ate nothing but taco salads for two weeks. Literally. I ate a taco salad every day for lunch, and nothing else the rest of the day. (Except for diet coke, of course. Duh.) Eventually my appetite becomes less laser focused and other foods begin to appeal to me and all goes back to normal. Or as normal as it gets with me, anyway.

After beating this latest viral foe back with a whip and chair, I find myself right back in diet coke & taco territory. I’ve managed it a little better this time around, choosing to embrace the diet coke-iness (sodium and all) and to only occasionally indulge in duly journaled and accounted for Mexican food. When I relayed this to my therapist two weeks ago (whom I adore, and whom I also had to explain my five-minute tardiness due to the hold up in the line at the McDonald’s drive thru where I had been forced to stop before our session in order to purchase a $1 large Diet Coke) she nodded and said that she was curious about whether there was a psychological reason that these things in particular seemed to comfort me after being sick. I responded that I was pretty sure it wasn’t the result of any long buried trauma. It’s not like I had once been accidentally locked in a dumpster where my life was saved because I managed to survive for a week on a half empty can of diet coke and a discarded chalupa. I think it has less to do with the type of food, than it does with food itself.

I have a long history of using food in ways that have nothing to do with nutrition. For as long as I can remember, food has been a comfort to me. I have used it as a reward for a job well done, for consolation for a broken heart, as a sedative to dull the panic that sometimes rises within me when my stress level soars out of control. Never mind that I know full well that it’s a fleeting fix, that eventually the same thing I reached out to for comfort will cause even more discomfort in it’s wake, because sometimes the need for temporary comfort outweighs the consequences. Spoken like a true addict, no?

Just today, after a long morning sitting in the ER with my 15 year old son (who it turns out is just fine, the shooting abdominal pains that sent us there with him doubled over and moaning have been explained and treated and all is well with the world), as I made my way into the office to salvage what I could of the work day, I rolled my neck to try and release the stress and worry accumulated over the last several hours, and out of the corner of my eye I saw two words that advertised exactly what I knew would make me feel better right then:

Taco Bell.

I found myself changing lanes and positioning the car to make the turn into the drive thru lane, my mind racing with the kind of magical thinking that only those of us acquainted with my level of food-crazy can understand. Yes, a $.99 chicken burrito make me feel better, I just KNEW it would. Mexican food makes everything right. Sure, it would cost me 11 points, and I would probably eat the lunch I’d packed that day when I got to work anyway, but I wasn’t going to get anything done feeling like this anyway, so valium via burrito seemed perfectly justified. As I made the turn toward the parking lot, I looked up and saw the golden arches next door and thought to myself “Maybe a $.99 double cheeseburger would make me feel even better. Ooh! Or an apple pie! Or….”

And that’s when I snapped out of it.

A burrito wasn’t going to make me feel better in the long run. What ailed me wasn’t going to be soothed by a burger, or pie, or even a $1 large diet coke. No, the only thing that would really bring me a little peace would be a few deep breaths, a few hours of catching up at work, and a few moments spent getting it out of my head and into words.

Guess I really am starting to feel better, huh?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Love, Bread Pudding, a viral near-death experience, and the “F” Word…

Hello Internet!

Long time no blog, friends. Did you miss me? I have REALLY missed you, and I would go the traditional route and spend this whole paragraph apologizing for the prolonged silence, but the thing is that I’m not all that sorry, particularly, and a long drawn-out mea culpa would be less than sincere. So instead, how about I just fill you in on the events of the last few months and then we pick up right back where we left off and pretend like nothing happened, ok?

So love came back to Sara-town last September, and guess what? It’s still here! The last five months have been quite a whirlwind around here (Hmm. Has it really been only five moths? Side note: that means that in one more month I’ll get to start appropriately quoting one of my very favorite movie lines of all time from Sixteen Candles when Sam and her Sister Ginny are discussing Ginny’s upcoming wedding to the man everyone refers to as ‘the bohunk’ and Ginny says very earnestly “Sure, there are other men who have loved me, but not for six months in a row” which always cracks me up whenever I see it, or even think about it. Can’t wait!).

It turns out that navigating the pleasures and perils of new love can really take a toll on a gal. It’s like one day you’re just living your life, finally confident in the balance of flavors you’ve struck in the casserole of your life when: BAM! A big old handful of boy gets tossed in the pan and all of a sudden it’s a whole different dish. One that seems like it might be a little heavier on the cheese than you’re used to, and that takes a lot longer to prepare. And bake. And eat. It even seems to leave way more dirty dishes in its wake. All that takes some getting used to. And it just might pack on a few pounds, too.

So I gained some weight along the way. 22 pounds, to be exact. To be fair, he gained some too, thanks in no small part to the veritable feeding-trough of our first round of holidays together. Leave it to me to fall in love with another foodie, but say what you want about him—the man can COOK. I may have filled the December air with the sweet scent of jam shortbread, pumpkin loaves, and the finest molasses cookies the world has ever known, but he in turn treated us all to some kick-ass Jambalaya, a Christmas Gumbo, and a bread pudding so delectable that everyone privileged to have eaten in on December 24th is STILL talking about it wistfully two months later.

As we headed into January, we both got back down to the business of weight loss, helped out on my end by a return to Weight Watchers and diving head first into the new PointsPlus program revision, a viciously contorted update photo shoot involving my conveniently forgotten about white pants (stay tuned, if you dare), and also by the contracting of a virus of epic proportions that treated me to a five week stint of mono-like symptoms including excruciating throat pain and debilitating exhaustion. On the plus side, it facilitated really impressive results at the scale due to the whole barely-eating-anything-and-sleeping-14-hours-a-day routine I got into for a while. It was just last Saturday that I woke up and thought to myself “Hey, I don’t feel like hammered crap this morning!” and it felt like I was (finally!) on the mend. Just in time for...


That’s right folks, on this past Monday the first digit of my age flipped over and I entered a whole new decade of my life. Interestingly, it didn’t bring with it any of the angst or wailing and gnashing of teeth that 30 sent my way (seriously, that sucker nearly killed me). In fact, it was a pretty great day. Since I share my birthday with Valentine’s day, the weekend was packed with celebrations. A romantic dinner out on Saturday, a family trip to the Japanese steakhouse on Sunday, culminating in the back yard grilling of perfectly ginormous steaks and baked potatoes the size of regulation footballs (and steamed broccoli, because that evens things out, don’t you think?) on my birthday proper.

I enjoyed every bite, tracked the points for them too, and was rewarded at the scale on Wednesday with a gain of 1.2 pounds, after which I shrugged, declared that it had been totally worth it, and got back down to business. When I relayed my weigh in results to the man I my life (who I shall refer to as “Tim” from here on out, because that happens to be his name and all), he agreed that it was a deserved, but temporary effect of the weekend’s festivities. He then said that he hoped I would start blogging again, so that he’d having something new to read on my website. And since I wanted to, I did.

So that’s what’s been up with me. You?