In my last entry, I talked about how I’m trying to lose weight, but that it’s going slowly. So I wanted to explore that a little bit more and talk about some things I’ve learned along this journey.
Considering that about 45 million people diet per year, (and some estimates go as high as 90 million folks), the fact that I’m also dieting and trying to lose weight puts me in pretty good company. Consumer Reports did a diet survey in 2007, which showed some pretty interesting results. Women, not surprisingly were more likely to diet than men (47% versus 34%). Women also had more lofty weight goals than men – with 23% of women and 15% of men trying to lose 50 pounds or more (complete pdf report here). Weight loss results were somewhat promising, with 38% claiming to have maintained their target weight for the past 5 years. ’Claim’ is the key term here, as I’m not sure that everyone who says they have maintained their weight loss really have. In a strictly unscientific survey of my friends, most have gained weight over the years rather than lost it. (Of course I’m in the age range where women have toddlers or young children, so having been through a pregnancy may have contributed to some of that. But I’m just saying…)
And I’m definitely in the weight gain category. I’m about 20 pounds heavier than I was in high school and about 10 pounds heavier than when I was in my mid-20’s (I’m 39 now). So, my weight seems to have a upward trend of about 1 pound gained per year. Good when considered in the micro sense, but bad when I realize that I could be 40 pounds heavier when I’m age 80! The thought of my older, wrinkled, heavier self is fortunately enough to horrify me, so I’ve been working diligently to reverse this weight gain trend.
So what am I doing about it? I’ve always been relatively fit and active. My eating habits have always left much to be desired, however, and I’ve only been consistently eating healthy for the past 10 years or so. By ‘relatively’ fit and active, I mean that you could usually find me in the gym or out jogging at a minimum of 2 days per week (in my less active seasons) all the way up to 5 days per week (when I was really motivated). Currently, I work out about 3-4 days per week, focusing mainly on cardio (meaning running on the treadmill or outside). My miles are still relatively low at the moment – about 2-3 on the weekdays, maybe 3-4 on the weekend), but I’m starting to have fun again. I’ve been enrolled in school full-time since 2006, as well as holding a full-time job. So, as you can imagine, much of my former workout ethos has gone by the wayside in the past 5 years. The main thought that has guided me since 2006 has been – just do enough to maintain (while focusing my energy on school of course). And, doing enough to maintain meant about 2 days per week at a moderate intensity. Which explains the pound per year weight gain.
So this year I have re-committed to a more balanced and consistent approach to weight loss, fitness and health. As mentioned, my eating habits have always left much to be desired. A perfectly fine meal for me would be a grilled chicken salad and Diet Coke, followed by a nice large brownie with ice cream on the side. And don’t even get me to talking about Apple Cobbler, fresh-made cookies, pound cake or Krispy Kreme donuts. I used to sincerely believe I liked desserts more than I liked people (and for some people, that probably still applies). Desserts were my heaven and my hell. They would transport me to highest realms of delight at their sheer deliciousness and then cast me down into despair and remorse with bloat, oversized calories and a sad, empty feeling in my stomach. Why, I wondered, didn’t Krispy Kremes love me the way I loved them? Why did I immediately feel sick after attempting to eat six at a time when I thought to cleverly split the box with a friend? Why could I not have apple cobbler as often as I wanted it? Weren’t apples, in fact, considered HEALTHY? Forget the sugar, butter and crust for a minute – weren’t apples GOOD FOR YOU??? I was terribly frustrated people, let me tell you. All the things that felt so very right turned out to be so very, very wrong for me. Sad…
So eventually of course I realized that my love of dessert was leading me down the toilet. In effect, it was cancelling out every workout I did and negatively balancing every healthy thing I put into my mouth. Sure, it was good that I loved to eat salads and soups and ate small portions, but surely that didn’t make up for the Cinnabon or Auntie Anne’s monster Cinnamon Pretzel I’d ingest because I felt like I’d been so ‘good.’ And while it was great that I in fact liked working out (for the most part – mostly when it didn’t involve me getting up at 4am) and that I’d consistently run and that I could still fit my clothing. But surely I could have done better than just maintain my weight at different periods of times and actually lose weight if I could put those darned Krispy Kremes down.
And really the kicker was that slow creep. One pound a year isn’t so bad until you visualize where this slippery slope will take you. One pound a year meant I’ll be 10 pounds heavier at 50 and 10 pounds even heavier at 60 and so on and so on until I finally couldn’t fit my clothes and I’d have to admit once and for all – what I’m doing is just not working!
So, I admitted that what I was doing was just not working! This finally became clear to me about 6 months ago when I get serious about losing weight. Now, when I’d lost weight before (read: when I was younger), it had been relatively easy. I’d start running insane miles, or do low-carb or some combination of the two. And the weight would magically fall off (or at least that’s the way I remember it).
Then of course I’d eventually creep back up to my regular weight because I couldn’t sustain running insane miles and if I had to eat another bag of beef jerky as a ‘snack’ I would punch somebody out.
So I decided that this time, I’d make only sustainable changes. I’d eat moderately, exercise consistently (but not insanely) and, overall, make better food choices.
And – for the most part – that’s what I’ve done.
Of course, it’s been a somewhat up and down journey for me. I am down a net 3 pounds since my highest weight, but have been down lower at different points and of course gained it all back when I got a bit too relaxed (or rewarded myself just a bit too much).
The problem with me is that I get comfortable, busy or distracted. I mean, I’m not really overweight, I’ll start thinking. So why am I bothering? And then I’ll have a little too much to eat for a little too long and watch the pounds come back on. Or, I’ll get super busy at work or at school and of course there is no good way to write a 14-page paper or finish a project without the sustaining influence of a nice bag of kettle corn. So over one weekend, I’d erase all the hard work I’d just put in the previous week. Or I’d find some other worthy goal to pursue and attempt to get to work by 7:00am every day (never happening of course) or to be more spiritual or to treat people better or to call my friends and family more often or whatever self-improvement project I’d assign myself that week. And while those goals are indeed worthy, they didn’t help with that extra few pounds creeping back on.
Besides the above, I discovered something truly horrific when I got back into my more serious workouts. Remembering the glory days of running 4, 5, 7 or even 10 miles, I thought I’d immediately jump back to my previous level of fitness. I’d decide to LOSE THE WEIGHT, start back on my running program and get in a good 10 or 15 miles a week, no problem.
I found that just doing the minimum for the past five years had prepared me for…..just doing the minimum! I couldn’t jog more than a mile or two without sucking wind (and I literally found out what that meant one day when I was gasping for air), thinking something might be wrong with me, or collapsing in a pool of sweat. I literally thought I had some medical condition when I finally realized – hey – I’m just out of shape! This lethargic, sweaty, heavy-limbed, asthmatic feeling is how you feel when you’re out of shape. Wow! Big lightbulb moment,obviously. And the sad part was - it really was.
So it took a good 3-4 months of jogging to even get close to what I used to run easily. I was so angry at my 20-something self for taking for granted how easy it was to run 5 miles, or hit the gym 5 days a week or any of the other things she could do and I no longer could! I’m sincerely telling you – it’s better to maintain some level of fitness than to let it go entirely. It’s so much harder to get back from a big drop than to continue doing what you’ve been doing.
So first I had to get myself back to a reasonable level of fitness. And that meant getting up in the morning at 4:45 IN THE MORNING (the only time I had free), committing to working out at least 5 days a week and, overall, eating fewer and healthier foods. It’s been a challenge – no lie.
As I said, so far I’ve lost a net 3 pounds, but gained a whole lot more in knowledge. I’m truly focused now on obtaining and maintaining good habits that I can sustain for a lifetime rather than a 2-month mad dash to lose 10 pounds (which I would eventually put back on).
I’ll write more next week about the specific foods I’ve been eating, what meals I’ve found that are both tasty and low calorie and the eating tricks that have literally saved my sanity.