Jul 05, 2014
Since I embarked on this endeavor two years ago this month, the mirror is showing me a person 96 pounds lighter these days. Ideally, I suppose I should say that it was my willpower and regular workouts that had this effect. As I am not sponsored by any major franchises to tell those kinds of fibs, however, I can say that I have not at any time gotten around to "exercising" nor have I chained the refrigerator door shut.
I went on my first diet (that wasn't imposed upon me by my parents) at age 12. I was already used to being told that sugar was off limits--to ME, not to the rest of the family--and was frequently regarded as some ravenous monster inexorably bent on self destruction that had to be policed in the kitchen at all times. I was used to being made to do sit-ups or some other exercise before I could eat even a healthy food, while my skinny sister sat on the sidelines, blissfully exempt from this torture. I doubt my family consciously realized that they were doing everything in their power to make me FATTER, since all I felt was hunger and all I wanted to eat was sugar as a result of all this exclusion. Dieting had the same effect. The strictness isolated me and the tremendously reduced portions left me feeling hollow. And yet, dieting and exercise was always touted as the only real way to lose weight, and I tried and failed off and on for years, ballooning even bigger after every failure until at 5' 5" I topped out at 255 lbs from a starting weight of 140!!!
As the old saying goes, "I wish I was as skinny as I was when I thought I was fat". Never more true. Looking at "before" photos of myself I cursed both me and my family for perpetuating the myth that I was horrendously overweight when I was clearly a normal, albeit sturdy, weight. My belly always jutted out unusually far, even as a toddler, which no doubt contributed to the overall impression that I was heavier than I actually was. In later years it would be endlessly mistaken for a mid-term pregnancy by countless well-wishers. Most of my teen years were a blur of diet scams and exercise crocks. I never dated. Couldn't be interested. Everything was body/food/weight 24/7. That was my main focus.
There comes a point in every weight loss attempt where you KNOW that it's about to fail. Exercise starts to drop off,& that first taste of a forbidden food has left you obsessed and unable to concentrate until you give in and gorge until you were satisfied---a point which may take days, weeks, or months to "burn itself out" of your system, and by then the damage has long since been done and you're worse off than when you started. At nearly 40 years of age, it has dawned on me concretely that dieting is one of the best proven methods to GAIN WEIGHT ever devised. The cycle of deprivation and then gorging to compensate is a patented formula for weight gain that has yet to be equaled. Most people who take on diets are people who are, for all intents and purposes, setting out to prove that 2 plus 2 CAN equal 5 (if you really know what you're doing).
At 255 lbs. I was not particularly motivated to get back on the ol' treadmill of starving, sweating, and failing. I couldn't exercise very well anyway, not least from my size but also from the fact that I had developed bone spurs on what felt like the bottom of both heel bones, and every step was a stab up the leg through the foot that was crippling and agonizing. I began having visions of being in the motorized chairs provided by supermarkets. Trouble was, I could not give up and accept disability, because I am a caregiver for two seniors already in wheelchairs and they depend on my ability to walk to help them, lift them, and do chores for them. I had to do something, all right, but I couldn't do what I had been doing, because that would only be temporary.
1) One foot in front of the other. The eating habits that had gotten me to 255 lbs. were, predictably, excessive. Everything was eaten in multiples (2 bowls of cereal, two sandwiches for lunch, to bowls of ice cream for dessert, etc...) First point of call was to reduce whatever I was eating to just units of ONE, even if the portion size didn't change. ONE bowl of cereal, ONE sandwich for lunch, and so on.
2) Once I got a handle on that concept, I began to reduce the size of the portions I DID eat. During this process I did measure and/or weigh portions to get a good visual cue on what a recommended serving looked like in a bowl, on a plate, in a cup, in my hand, etc.
Knowing I was trying to eat less had my nerves set up to crave the usual fullness I was used to. To soothe my brain/stomach sensors I just increased the vegetable portion of the meal to maintain approximately the same bulk in the belly without adding excess fats or heavy carbohydrates.
3) Substitutions for diet staples was integral to the next stage. Fat Free cheese is better than going completely without regular cheese. Skim milk works just as well in cereal. Fat Free Mayo and Light/ Fat Free dressings used sparingly still give a taste of the good life better than a plain sandwich or salad. Diet soda / fruit juices still provide flavorful drinks without excess sugar. Truvia is a smooth sweetener that works well in fruit salads and homemade hot chocolate. Fat Free Half & Half or Evaporated Milk are still good in coffee. Egg whites with a pinch of salt can hold their own without the yolk (you can fool your brain by adding yellow food dye to scrambled eggs, as well). Low Carb yogurts and sugar free Jello are good for sweet cravings, and Pop chips, Rice cakes, or baked corn chips are excellent for satisfying the salty crunch so many diets forbid.
4) EDUCATION. I didn't get obese on information. I ignored a few classes. I distinctly remember the 12-year old me looking at the low calorie count of a teaspoon of sugar and the zero fat content and thinking that the experts had it all wrong. Sugar has almost nothing in it! It's the other stuff that sugar is mixed in like cookies and candy that makes it high fat and bad for you, right? I ate brown sugar by the cupful, thinking that I was sitting on a goldmine of untapped insight that proved sugar alone didn't affect weight. Ugh. It's a wonder I'm still alive.
As a person with thyroid disease, I had to face up to my egregious misunderstandings about my go-to craving food. Sugar, when ingested, in converted to glucose by the liver which the muscles use for energy. Too MUCH sugar in the bloodstream kickstarts the pancreas to produce INSULIN, which essentially converts all excess sugar into blood fat (triglycerides) which gets stored as fat both in fat cells and, if in large enough amounts, can increase fatty buildup in the veins, arteries, and organs. This is why babies of diabetic mothers who have difficulty controlling their blood sugar are more likely to be bigger and heavier, because the baby is storing the blood fats from all the excess sugar he's sharing with the mother. I might have been less eager to pound down as much sugar as I did if I knew for a fact that I was increasing my blood fat (and consequently body fat) exponentially by doing so.
FAT in the diet is not evil, if you choose the best sources. Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats are easygoing in the bloodstream and not as likely to clog it as Saturated or Hydrogenated fats. Simple formula: if it's solid at room temperature, it's going to be solid in YOUR arteries. Liquid at room temperature is liquid in the bloodstream. That's an oversimplification, of course, as even too much liquid fat is still going to be stored as fat if your body doesn't burn it.
5) CHILL THE #&*% OUT. The worst part about traditional dieting is the obsession. Counting calories. Numbers, numbers, numbers. Adding, then re-checking. Standing on the scale at all times of the day. Wearing out the measuring tape to see if that half inch is coming off. Watching the clock religiously while exercising to make sure you hit that 30 - 45 minute mark every time. Feeling pure panic whenever you're not sure how many calories are in something, or that the one extra bite you took has just undone your entire day. It's absolute misery. Calories have their place in the world, but it's far from an exact science, and it's pointless to pretend that any system of counting them outside of a lab is foolproof.
It's worth knowing how many calories would be needed to maintain your desired weight, but portion sizes are a better and more visible marker for keeping tabs on your overall input than numbers on a box or in (God help us) a calorie counting book. I have realized more than once that calorie counting can actually encourage one to eat MORE, even when one doesn't want to, because if I was under my daily calorie intake quota I had set for myself, I used to eat my way up to that number so I wouldn't feel like I had cheated myself out of those precious remaining calories. Absolutely ridiculous behavior.
I cast a casual eye over calorie content to make sure that serving sizes for a snack don't have an astronomical number like 400 calories or something, but I otherwise I couldn't tell you how many calories exactly I eat a day, and that's a glorious feeling.
6) HUNGER NATURALLY FLUCTUATES. Our culture really tries to put a vise grip on this truth and suppress it, but it's just another part of being a living eating being. Some days are hungry days, some days are "meh" days, and we don't always know which one it's going to be. Sometimes we females get the munchies when the monthly cycle is approaching. Lack of sleep can spike the appetite. Sudden stress can (and I don't know how) sap the blood sugar and cause it to drop, prompting instant and demanding cravings. Hard work, and even thirst, can bring about the sensation of hunger. There are just going to be days when you want to say "the heck with it. I'm eating ALL of this!" And that is totally fine. For THAT day. Chances are you won't be as hungry the next day anyway after all that. Hunger tends to mean "weakness" for dieting alumni, which is only an example of how much a human being can deceive her/himself with abusive mantras and faulty logic. Hunger is a demand for action, whether that be eating, drinking, or sleeping. It's another means the body uses to regulate its functions.
NOW: There is a DEGREE of self-governing that would do well to be kept in place most of the time. My lifetime of binges and gorging have branded me with the automatic tendency to want to eat mindlessly, especially when I'm tired and just feeling too lazy to do things properly (the #1 most seductive excuses for a pig-out. I guarantee you that if you find yourself thinking of a mega-feast or fast food every time you're tired, you'll find that yourself feeling tired A LOT.). Have backup plans in mind for those days. Healthy meals that don't require a lot of preparation. Holidays and birthdays, so long as they are not in excess of more than twice in a month, can be "feast" days within reason, which is to say don't make yourself ill "catching-up" on gooey foods. We only taste the first and last bite of most things, anyway, so make the most of that.
7) I'm no expert. I lost 75 lbs. the first year and 15 lbs. the second. I had more weight to lose the first year than the second, as well. At 159, I'm only 19 lbs off from my original weight of 140. I don't know if I'll get there, but it's getting better.