A Whole Lotta Nothing

One of the books I read this month was a collection of monthly columns written by an author documenting the books he purchased vs. the books he read.  If I actually kept track of this, as well as books checked out at the library, I would look like an out of control addict.  Garrett and I went to the Bay Area this weekend and as is customary on the way home we stopped at our favorite bookstore in Concord.  As I walked through the doors I said, “We were just here a few weeks ago.  They have nothing I need.  DO NOT LET ME BUY ANYTHING.”  And 90 minutes and $67 later I walked out the door, head hanging in shame.  I don’t know what it is about buying books:  the unknown, the potential for a good story, the pretty covers — but I can not control myself.  

Speaking of complete lack of self control — I find this Charlie Sheen business sort of fascinating.  It’s like a trainwreck that you just can’t stop watching — like many blogs I read actually.  Did you know that I have an entire subfolder entitled TrainWrecks in my Google Reader?  I’m a terrible person, right?  Anyway, if Charlie Sheen had a blog he would so be in that folder and I would be refreshing CONSTANTLY.  I wish he would quit talking to TMZ and go on Celebrity Rehab because that would be entertaining.  I’m sure he would turn Dr. Drew’s hair even whiter and hit on every D-List chick celebrity that was on there, but come on?  That would be great TV.

Do you know what TV disappointed me last week?  The Real Housewives of Miami.  I have long said I would pretty much watch anything Bravo served up.  I don’t know what it is about their particular formula of television but it just works for me.  They could produce a show about Lion Tamers and I’d probably sit through it mesmerized each week while simultaneously wondering if Andy Cohen would be my friend in real life.  My love is deep.  But Miami was only meh, in my opinion.  I hope the franchises aren’t starting to go downhill because that would be a bummer.  The only saving grace is that Bethenny Ever After premieres tonight and I kid you not if you would like insight into my relationship with Garrett please watch that show because I am convinced that they are living our lives.  Granted, the fabulous wealthy New York version, but there are some strange coincidences.  I think what I am telling you is that I’m annoying and overbearing and Garrett is cute and mellows me out.  There I just saved you an hour of your life trying to decode the similarities.  Don’t say I’ve never done you any favors.

Well since this post has turned into a rambling pointless post full of nothing, why don’t you tell me something equally silly?  What was the weather like where you were this weekend?  We were supposed to have a Snowpocalypse down in San Francisco and while the weather wasn’t tropical, it was sunny as hell.  Snowpocalypse?  It didn’t even rain.  But people were talking like it was time to start building rafts.  We’d be laughed out of the midwest and east coast, I’m sure.    California weather people just make things up.  I think they like to hear themselves talk.  Sort of like this blog post.  I have no way to end this. 

Here, how about this funny picture of dogs.  (via @offbeatariel) 

Yes, that ending is perfect. 

Odds + Ends on a Friday

Before I get into this giant mish-mash of a post, I just want to say a big thanks to all of you who have emailed, commented, tweeted, and sent me nice messages on Facebook about my Weight Loss Series.  That was originally supposed to be one post, I don’t even think I really knew how much I had to say until it all came pouring out.  It felt a little vulnerable and none of you were jerks about it — man that was nice!  I plan to continue it, but I am going to take a bit of a break because one can only discuss weight loss and food so much, you know?  We’ll get back there though, so don’t you worry.  And really, thank you again for all your kind words.  So nice you are! 

Completely unrelated to that moment of gratitude, I have realized that I’m in a bit of a funk.  I’ve composed a thousand posts in my head over the last week or so, but I just haven’t felt like sitting in front of the computer and getting it on the page, you know?  It’s weird though, it’s not like a depression funk, but more of an anxiety funk.  I’ve mentioned before that I have a tendency to take on too many things at once and a couple of weeks ago I started to feel that inertia forming, so I’ve just been trying to take it easy, workout, get enough sleep, and enjoy life.  So what is the funk all about, you ask?  Well, I guess I’m just not super comfortable “enjoying life”.  I sometimes have this anxious feeling that I am letting an opportunity pass me by or dropping a ball somewhere.  I’m marinating on it, it’s lame.  If I have a grand epiphany I’ll let you know.  Promise.

Potentially contributing to this funk is that my weight loss has slowed down – who has a sad trombone for me to play? Garrett would yell at me if I didn’t qualify “slowed down” and explain that instead of losing 10-15 lbs per month, I’m now only losing 6-10lbs per month — which for a reasonable person would be totally acceptable and not worrisome at all.  But since I teeter on the brink of unreasonable a lot of the time and have an irritating passion to overachieve at completely unnecessary things — this seems disappointing.  Obviously I realize I am being lame, yet can’t actually stop feeling this way.  I’m trying to let it go, but that might also be part of the funk.  Who knows?

I’m feeling this perpetual guilt though because my workouts have also slowed down DRAMATICALLY.  I’m only CrossFitting 3 days per week and in the last 2 weeks I think I have run once.  I’m getting a half-marathon training FAIL.  If only the guilt were actually motivation enough to get me out the door.  I keep complaining to Garrett about it and he reminds me that I have until June, and I don’t have to be so rigid about everything, and I can run 4 miles comfortably at this point so I probably won’t die.  But in my mind, I’m sure I’m going to die and then I will have to come back here and blog all about what a giant failure I was at running this half-marathon and how I am a failure at life.  God my penchant for melodrama is just stifling sometimes. 

Everybody take a breath. 
Compounding the suckiness is that I have read some craptastic books this month — my ONE FREAKING PLEASURE!  Only one really jumped out and grabbed me (which I’m looking forward to telling you about next week when I do my monthly book review) but it is another book about dead babies, and man if the best book you read all month is about a still born child, that is a bad month of reading.  I actually had to put two books down in the middle because I just couldn’t read them anymore —  AND I HATE THAT.  I feel like the authors, and the internet, and my old English Professors are going to hunt me down and chastize me for my lameness.  It hasn’t happened yet, but I sure looked over my shoulder once or twice just to make sure when I dropped them  both back in the bookslot at my local library.

Life isn’t all bad though, I got to see my whole extended family last weekend when we all got together to celebrate my twin cousins’ 30th birthdays.  It was loud as hell, but really?  If you expect any different then you do not know my family at all.  We whisper IN ALL CAPS. 

We took a nice family photo, which although not quite as hysterical as this one still made me happy.  I have 7 cousins who are all late 20s/early 30s (plus two younger cuties who are still in school AND a little baby 2nd cousin!) and we started this random tradition years ago on my cousin Jim’s birthday that when you turn 30 you get a walker.  You know, because YOU ARE OLD AND DECREPIT and who is going to give you a ride to the Old Folks Home?  Coincidentally my cousin John, whose birthday it was along with his sister Jenny (who is sitting front and center in the pic above), happened to break his ankle the week before (I’ll let you figure out which one he is in that pic) and so being the ruthless assholes we are, we all had a blast ribbing him about  the timeliness of his injury.  That is a funny group up there, you all and I’m happy to be related to them.  

Oh, also in the category of things that totally don’t suck — I got new hair and I pretty much love it:  

Well, I did not love it in the pouring down rain this morning because this haircut goes from 0 to Drowned Rat in about 6 seconds, but it’s fun and different so I’m going to hang on to that all weekend while I bitch through the rain, sleet, and snow.  Yes, that’s right, I said snow — IT MIGHT SNOW THIS WEEKEND!  Which, in Sacramento, has not happened for almost 10 years.  So that could be fun.  Of course I won’t actually be in Sacramento because we are heading down to San Francisco for another 30th birthday party for some of Garrett’s friends that was originally supposed to be outdoors but has now turned into a pub crawl.  Good choice.  This basically means I am going to spend my weekend drinking Irish Coffees and laughing hysterically I’m certain. 
So you know, things are looking up. 
Happy Weekend friends!

Part Five: Food, Glorious Food

If you missed Part Four check that out first.

So when we last left off my Naturopath had dropped two bombs on me: Insulin Resistance and Adrenal Fatigue. The Insulin Resistance was brought on by a long term dependence on high carbohydrate foods, and the Adrenal Fatigue may have been brought on by another long term problem: undiagnosed food allergies or sensitivities. He let me know that when you continually put food in your system that causes an inflammatory allergic response it ends up causing “stress” on the body. This sounded sensible enough, but I didn’t really feel at that moment like I was allergic to any particular foods.

I was not a person who ate things that made me feel sick, which is what I imagined food allergies to be given all the horror stories you hear. He was quick to remind me though that sensitivities to food don’t always appear in the form of immediately tangible or traumatic reactions. Sometimes food sensitivities can cause inflammation in various parts of your body that then compound other problems over time. And many food allergies go undiagnosed in our “everything in moderation” society. He suggested I try out an Allergy Diet (which I detailed here if you are interested) to see if my body had any response.

It seemed pretty strict at first, and I did struggle (especially with the sugar withdrawals) but I can sum up my experience with that allergy diet in two words: Life Changing. Here is where I start to get a little nervous. Oddly enough, after telling you about my insecurities growing up and how I have struggled with weight, it is actually this part of my story that I’m finding the hardest to write: The Food Part. I feel very Mimi Smartypants-esque about people talking about what they eat :   “Just eat it. Be quiet.” Right? There is really no topic that comes across more judgy or condescending than talking about what you do and don’t eat. But I have been hinting about what revolutionized my years of struggle, and the truth is – it was actually the food I was eating all along. So that’s why I’m going to talk about food for a minute, on the off chance it will help you. But let me be clear when I say — If what you are eating is working for you, Hooray!  No judgment here.

I had spent years eating a low fat, high fiber diet full of “healthy whole grains” that leaned towards vegetarian.  I’m not saying that diet is wrong, but it was not right for me.  All I had to show for it was a lot of frustration, guilty feelings for not being good at it (since I had extra weight), some low grade problems that I chalked up to “getting older” and being overweight, and then there was that whole part about carrying around a lot of extra pounds. But after a few weeks of eliminating sugar, grains, dairy and gluten and incorporating more lean/grass-fed meats for protein and lots of seasonal vegetables I began to realize the following:

Those afternoon slumps I always felt around 2 pm? Gone
Those occasional breakouts? Gone
That feeling of wishing I could nap after a meal? Gone Ups and Downs with blood sugar? Gone
Multiple Low grade headaches? Gone
Persistent Mystery Cough? Gone
Allergies that gave me nosebleeds? Gone
Migraines? Gone

In fact, I not only haven’t had a migraine since I started this little experiment which was not the norm for me, but I have all but kicked my Advil dependency. I don’t even carry it with me anymore. But the real kicker was that with no feeling of deprivation (once I got over those sugar withdrawals), guilt, obsessiveness, or really any extra effort my blood pressure, triglycerides and glucose improved almost instantly and I dropped 30 lbs like a bad habit.

Obviously I was astounded by the results.

But I am a bit of a skeptic, and I wasn’t sure that these few tweaks could really have make such a difference, so I continued doing a little more research. I learned about how insulin works in the body and particularly how it relates to fat storage. I began to really wrap my brain around how sneaky sugar can be and how it can mysteriously appear where you least expect it (to your body’s dismay!)  I started understanding what happens to the body when you eat grains (particularly wheat) and as I researched I continued on the path of this Allergy Diet, and continued to feel the proof. After even just a month of feeling A TON better and having my body obviously working more efficiently (seriously, you all, the weight was just falling off) I was totally convinced.  I couldn’t imagine going back to my old ways. 

A lot of the research that I did led me to information about Primal and Paleo diets.  And when it did I rolled my eyes so hard I tipped over, because really? All these comparisons to cavemen and our neanderthal ancestors really had my fad diet marketing meter on High Alert. This was not my first rodeo and I really felt like the catchy names and caricatures of cave-people were really sort of off-putting at first.  And I certainly wasn’t interested in supporting any of the BS Low-Carb propoganda that is out there.  But then I real Robb Wolf’s site and his book The Paleo Solution, where he really delves into the science behind all of it. And so much of it resonated with me.  I began to understand how my body worked, why this was working, and why it wasn’t a Low-Carb fad diet. Catchy names be damned, I thought this Paleo/Primal stuff could really work.

And it has.

In Part Six I will tell you a bit more specifically about my kitchen’s transition to a more Paleo Diet and give you some good resources if you are interested.  I’ll also address the: OMG, HOW DO YOU LIVE WITHOUT BREAD? Factor. I’m also going to talk a bit about fitness since this also changed quite a bit when I adopted this new diet.

Part Four: Now What?

If you missed Part Three check that out first.

The important thing to say about the challenge of weight loss is that it is not the only challenge. Sometimes it’s painted as this constant, overwhelming daily dramatic struggle with oneself and I think it doesn’t have to be that way. It is not always your fault and it is not an indicator of Who You Are. Sometimes we are just missing a key piece of information — a life changing efficiency, even. Sometimes we are dealing with more than one thing at a time and (OMG) losing weight is not the Most! Important! Thing! That is not to say that I don’t think being overweight is hard — it is hard. But so is losing a parent, being in debt, having relationship problems, and not getting along with members of my family. It’s ALL hard but we rise to the occasion and fight the good fight and relish the successes we do have. And I think that viewpoint is underrepresented in the whole weight loss oeuvre.

What I’ve wanted to do with this entire story is not gain sympathy for this one struggle that I’ve had, or propogate healthy ideas that aren’t really all that helpful (ie: eat less, move more). What I want to say – hey, this struggle was hard for me but maybe it doesn’t have to be hard for you. Wherever you are in your journey, you will be just fine. But on the off chance this info will help you, here are some ideas that changed my life.

Life long journeys aside, about a year ago I did a little bit of that Navel-Gazing Inventory that us bloggers are so well known for, and realized that no matter how free I felt from the chains of the weight loss game (and at that point, I felt free! FINALLY! It can be done!) physically I was not where I needed to be. I was tired of having the “Have you thought about eating a little less and moving a little more?” conversations with my doctor. I was also coming to terms with the fact that my increase in blood pressure was looking less like white coat hypertension and more of a consistent reflection of what was going on in my body. What really got me freaked out though was that soon Garrett and I would pursue our dreams of having a family and because of that I would basically be contractually obligated to put on a few pounds. Most people love that permission, but honestly all I felt was fear.

I knew I didn’t want to go back to Weight Watchers, and since I felt good that I was already exercising regularly and eating intuitively and “healthy” by the standards of conventional wisdom, I was sort of at a loss. What other options were there?

Boy have I been waiting to answer that question!

The first thing I did was go see a Naturopath, and yes I know that sounds like a douchey hippie thing to do, so thank you for mentioning it. But as I said earlier, traditional doctors were not giving me advice I found useful and instead I was getting a lot of the raised eyebrows when I said “Yes, I exercise 3-5 times per week with a combination of cardio and strength training.” And “No, I don’t eat fast food so forgive me, but that advice to quit isn’t all that helpful actually. I don’t hate Western Medicine or anything but DUDE, COME ON! So I thought I’d get crazy and try something different.

I’ve talked about my experience with my Naturopath here and here but I’m not sure I’ve ever recounted the best thing he did for me: he listened to me talk about my lifestyle without a raised eyebrow in sight. Then he looked at not only my blood pressure, but an extensive panel of blood work, hormone levels, and neurotransmitter levels (seratonin, norepinephrine, glutamate, etc.) and said, “I have an idea of what’s going on. Two things stood out to him, and both were not only terms I had never really encountered (and I consider myself someone pretty engaged and curious about my own health) but HUGE game changers with respect to my weight loss.

1. I was Insulin Resistant.  If you have had trouble losing weight in the past and take just one thing from this post – please research insulin resistance. It is a fairly common condition where insulin (a hormone, by the way not just some random thing in our body) becomes less effective at lowering your blood sugar over time. If you are Insulin Resistant and you are eating a diet high in carbohydrates, or even really “in moderation” (as delicious as they are) it probably isn’t doing you any favors. Your body is failing to absorb the “energy” (which is the great thing we all hear about carbohydrates) and instead it is negatively affecting the rest of your body. Obviously this is a gross oversimplification, but I am planning on recommending a few reads about this in the future that really lay it out for you.

If you have difficulty losing weight, if you store weight around your middle, if you are hungry shortly after eating, if you find yourself tired often (especially after meals) – this is a condition you may be contending with. It is not just your “lack of will power. It is unfortunately becoming an American condition. Hormones like insulin have A LOT to do with feelings of hunger, satisfaction, contribute to how and where our body stores fat, and are DIRECTLY CONTROLLED BY THE TYPE OF FOOD YOU EAT – meaning carbs, fat, protein. Because I was eating the Standard Recommended High Carb/Low Fat American Diet, I thought I was doing everything right. But really I was doing so much damage.

2. I had Severe Adrenal Fatigue – The best (read: easiest to understand) overview of Adrenal Fatigue that I have ever read is right here. This sounded like a hippy dippy diagnosis to me at first, but the truth is the more reading I did, the more I realized that this is not only fairly common and undiagnosed, but also a major contributor to overall health problems. The main reason for this is that the adrenals control the balance of all the hormones (there’s that word again) in your body — directly or indirectly. Many women who suffer with untreated Adrenal Fatigue end up triggering infertility, PCOS, and long term hormonal imbalances.

My Naturopath took one look at my levels and told me that he was surprised that I could get out of bed each day and function in society. I’ve always been someone who could push through tough times, but hearing that was definitely a wake up call. I needed to make some changes. I left his office feeling sort of dumbfounded that all these things were happening inside my body without me even really having a clue. I was causing damage and aggravating things inside of me when all I had ever tried to do was to be healthy and thriving. But I felt relieved because my body was holding on to all this weight as a reaction to these things. I wasn’t just someone who couldn’t count calories correctly. But the best thing I felt was hopeful, because I finally had a plan for the future that was just right, just for me.

In Part Five I will outline exactly what that plan has been, and how it has so far helped me drop 70 lbs in 6 months with relatively little effort. It can be done. And it has been done.  And I really can’t wait to tell you about it.  

Part Three: Giving Up

I’m talking weight loss this week. If you missed Part Two check that out first.

So my first adult foray with Weight Watchers went well, for a while, but as I mentioned it felt like a huge life sacrifice.  I realize that not everyone is like this, but I can become a bit obsessive when it comes to data tracking and food logging was no different. It became the thing I thought about most, and began to affect how I felt in all aspects of my life. There were weeks when I did everything right and lost no weight. Then there were weeks when I did nothing right and lost tons of weight — and the lack of rhyme or reason felt frustrating to me.

It didn’t compute for me that if the only variable was “points” then how come I could never guarantee success at the scale? There had to be other factors involved but I had no idea what they were and no idea where to start. The one size fits all approach, and its emphasis on calories in/calories out, (which is a giant oversimplification of how weight loss works) made Weight Watchers feel like a temporary solution to me. I didn’t want to live that way long term. I wanted to find a lifestyle I could maintain.

(Sidebar: I know things have changed about the program these days and there is more of an emphasis on whole foods, and I don’t mean for this to be an all out assault on Weight Watchers; however, it obviously did suit my personality. If it suits yours and you are happy with it: ROCK ON!)

From where I sit today, having lost a significant amount of weight without sacrificing my life or sanity makes this a convenient literary turning point. It’s so obvious to me that giving that up was the right decision (for me) but at the time quitting the only method I knew was a leap of faith. And success certainly did not happen overnight.

What I realized was that I wanted to lose weight. But I wasn’t willing to do something that didn’t feel right to get there. I decided I would rather be fat and happy, than miserable all the time worrying about it — and it was the best decision I ever made. I want to shout from the rooftops that if you are not experiencing success with losing weight, or if you are beating yourself up about your lack of “self control”, or if you are “doing everything right” but giving up other parts of your life that bring you joy: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY! THERE ARE OTHER OPTIONS FOR YOU. And most importantly YOU WILL NEVER HAVE SUCCESS IF ALL YOU ARE DOING IS BEATING YOURSELF UP AND FEELING GUILTY! But I didn’t know all of that when I made my decision.

And as you might have guessed, I gained most of that weight back. And then even more over the next 6 or 7 years. I did feel varying levels of guilt and went running back to Weight Watchers here and there in a panic, but it still didn’t feel right and I never had long term success. There were times when I would feel like an absolute loser and that this was something I would never get under control. But there were also so many times that I would feel really at peace with my decision not to obsess. Sure I struggled with the idea that I wasn’t a person who wasn’t skinny, but I had great friends, an awesome family, a loving boyfriend, and I just wasn’t going to feel bad about this one thing for the rest of my life. My weight did not define me. And I went about trying my best at carving out a successful life.

And then the strangest thing happened. When I really decided to give up on trying to lose weight – or rather, when I gave up my drive to pursue the physical ideal, I started eating more intuitively. I started to think about food as something nourishing, not something I was at war with. I began to think about what I put in my mouth, researching the benefits of a whole food diet vs. eating processed foods or eating “everything in moderation”. I also began to learn about where my food came from and made the decision that Factory Farmed meat was not for me.

During that time period I tried many diets that my body didn’t thrive on — and it wouldn’t be until later that I would discover why — but I was open to everything and it was all because I had given up on Being on a Diet.

One of the most important things I did along the way was learn to cook. I challenged myself to learn different techniques and different cuisines. I discovered a passion that had been dormant in me, and that alone ended up being one of the healthiest things I have ever done for myself. I can honestly say I don’t think I would have spent years exploring my culinary side had I not let go of measuring every single thing I ate, or more importantly the guilt I felt when I didn’t. Giving up was one of the many secrets to the success of my journey.

But at the end of the day, I still had weight to lose. And that weight had its consequences. In Part Four I will tell you about the turning point that made me seek out professional help and realize it was time to get back on the horse.

Part Two: Weight Loss in the Real World

I’m talking weight loss this week. If you missed Part One check that out first.

It should come as no surprise after yesterday’s post that I was self conscious about how I looked in high school.  But I’m guessing you felt self conscious too because good lord, it was high school — Bring on the awkward times!  My weight loss (or lack thereof) was something I did think about, but it also ended up being a non-issue because there were so many other things going on.

Exhibit A: My High School Cheerleading Schedule:

I mean, did I do any homework that month? Sheesh!

High school was a mostly good experience and really don’t look back on that time feeling like I should have focused more on losing weight. I was active and a good kid with good friends – it wasn’t worth freaking out about.And then I went to college.

Let me tell you about college in one word: Trainwreck

Despite my parents best efforts to teach me how to be a functioning adult in The Real World, I spent college eating cereal for dinner, having diet coke for breakfast, and sleeping through my classes — which is shocking since I worked at Starbucks which meant that there was nary a day without a Frappuccino. Life was good for the most part. My diet, however, was not.

I barely knew how to boil water which meant I either ate meals out at restaurants (thank you student loans that I am still paying back with interest 15 years later!) or I cooked something out of a box. You don’t need to be a Michael Pollan zealot to know this is not a nourishing lifestyle. But I worked out like a madwoman during that time and not because I felt like I had to, but because that was just how I was raised — Active! Exercise was always something important to my parents. My dad had been dragging me kicking and screaming to weight rooms with him since I could lift, and even though I was NOT a girl who wanted to lift weights, I knew that exercise was something of value. It’s one of the things now that makes me so sad when I have a particularly good lift day at CrossFit because I know my dad would just be beaming with happiness that I have finally seen the light!

So working out was just something that had to be done — like eating or sleeping.  I had been a dancer (taking 13 classes a week)  and then a cheerleader (you saw that practice/gymnastics/competition schedule) so physical activity was my church.  No matter how much I have weighed during different phases of my life, I have never been someone who didn’t  have a regular exercise routine.  I have told this to doctors and personal trainers and friends who have all raised their eyebrows at me like I am a lazy liar, but it is the truth.  And it is a truth I’m proud of.  I have always had a gym membership, and enjoyed outdoor activities.  Improving my athletic performance is just something I am interested in. 

But steadily gaining weight over all those years impeded that part of my life. Slowly in my 20s I began to turn things around with respect to my weight. I had a personal trainer who educated me about “healthy eating”, and I went back to the dreaded Weight Watchers.  I committed to logging every item of food that went in my mouth, I counted points, I exercised like a madwoman at a West Hollywood gym that provided enough material for the Great American (Smut!) Novel, and I lost 50 lbs. I was still nowhere near the “healthy weight range” for my height (which is bullshit, by the way), but I was the thinnest I’d been in years.

I was also obsessed with every single thing I put in my mouth. I was consuming Diet Coke like I owned stock, would starve myself on weigh in days, and consumed up to 100 oz of water the night before just to make sure the scale cooperated.  Lean Cuisines were my savior at that point and it was feast or famine in my life.  It was a success when it came to weight loss, but it was a sacrifice when it came to life.  I was thinking about food and planning what to eat and when during every waking moment and it began to get exhausting.

So you know what? I stopped.

In Part Three I will tell you how I gave up the Weight Watchers head games and got my life back. And how a turning point in my health sent me down a road that made me question everything I knew about “healthy living.” It’s how I found a way to have a life, and a waistline that I loved.

Part One: Weight Loss – The Early Years

I’m talking weight loss this week.  If you missed The Prologue, it’s right hereIf you are not into this kind of stuff, here is your warning:  Go ahead and skip this one.

I personally think weight loss and body image are fascinating topics.  Hell, Oprah has practically built her career addressing these issues and while she may not be a role model for success in that particular arena, her openness to discuss her struggle is respectable.  Context is key though, I think.  Who wants to hear a supermodel talk about how they’ve lost those pesky three pounds and are finally bikini ready, right?  So to give you an accurate understanding of what a profound change my weight loss journey has been in my life, I want you to have a little context about my life in this respect. That is where we are going to start this story.

I feel like I have struggled with my weight all my life. The more complete truth of that statement is that I have struggled with body image all my life. I know how to lose weight. I have lost weight. I’ve gained weight. You know that story, I’m sure. Though closely related, those things are two separate problems and gladly at 32 I am finally able to tell the difference.  As an adult I have grown to love an accept my body and have less of a body image issue, but the weight was still problematic.

When I see pictures of my younger self I was certainly no waif, but I also wasn’t obese.  I was just perfect, actually — but I was also the daughter of an NFL defensive Lineman, and my body reflected that — we’ve talked about this before.  It became problematic because I was a competitive dancer and that is a subculture that doesn’t take kindly to all body types — this shouldn’t surprise you.

What may surprise you, is that I went to my first Weight Watchers meeting when I was 9 years old.  It was a gray room of old people (in my estimation at the time) and I remember leaving with books and bars and boxes of powders and no clue what they meant or what to do with them.  I was probably also hungry.

Maybe this makes you wonder what kind of heathen parents I had to make me do this, but I assure you my mother only took me there after weeks of my persuasion — and I’m quite persuasive.  The message from my ballet teacher was loud and clear:  I needed to lose 20 lbs if I was going to have a career as a dancer and damnit if my little 9 year old Type-A self wasn’t a hair close to the character Natalie Portman plays in Black Swan.  I was going to be perfect!!!

I knew that losing weight was going to be the solution to this problem, but at that age I had no idea how to get there.  Losing weight is not something you know how to do at 9.  I thought I would go to these meetings and get better.  No one was discussing the basics of food and I certainly didn’t do the grocery shopping, so the relationship between what I ate versus what was happening with my body wasn’t linear in my mind.  I attended these meetings where women talked about using food to soothe their emotions but I couldn’t even relate.  I ate when I was hungry, I didn’t when I wasn’t — I knew I wasn’t “using food” but I also still had this extra 20 lb problem that seemed to not be getting any better.  

The whole thing is ridiculous in hindsight.  In defense of my parents, my mom meant well and I’m sure her perception of how things happened is much different than mine.  Also, she was doing her best to help me with the tools that she had.  I’m sure my ballet teacher meant well too — she could see my competitive zest and probably wasn’t trying to nip “my problem” in the bud early but the only real thing I remember during that time period was that I began to know shame. Shame about my body. Shame about my inability to solve problems. Shame about who I was allowed to be looking how I looked.

During one of my meetings I ran into another girl from my ballet class and I was super happy to see her.  A friendly face! But her mother pulled me aside afterward and in an almost scolding tone took me by the arm and said “Please pretend you never saw us here.  And DO NOT discuss it with others at the studio.”  It taught me that I should be embarrassed about being in this club no one wanted to join, but still, no one thought to talk to me much about food.

Obviously this experience was not a success for me.  I know, you can close your mouth from shock now.  But at 13 I quit dancing altogether and transitioned to cheerleading with most of my friends and the point became somewhat moot.  I still wasn’t tiny, but I was athletic. I was a good student with good friends and I was pretty sure the competitive body pressure was behind me. 

To my surprise one day our (crazy lunatic of an) adviser approached me in front of a room full of people during our uniform fitting and said: “Wow, those are some boobs!”  So yeah, that was awkward.  Then she quietly suggested that I may want to try and lose 20 lbs and had I ever tried Weight Watchers, lots of people had had success there?  And suddenly there was just bile-rising panic. I remember feeling so defeated, thinking I would never escape those damn 20 lbs and now all of a sudden I had to be worried about my enormous boobs?  GREAT.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to take the necessary steps to look a little different at that point either, but honestly, I still had no idea how. I still wasn’t grocery shopping, I still wasn’t cooking, and all our meals at home were “healthy.” Why was I carrying this enormous albatross? I had friends who ate worse and looked better! Was I ever going to escape this?  

In Part Two I’ll tell you about how moving out and managing my own kitchen finally started yielding some results.  Though not exactly the the results you might think…

The Secret To My Success: Prologue

Over at Bodies this week I’m talking about how I feel.  What else is new, right?  Specifically though, how I feel when people ask me what The Secret to my weight loss success has been.  (Spoiler alert:  it’s not all wine and roses.)  The truth is, there hasn’t been one big secret but a succession of little secrets.  I’ve mentioned here a few times that I just made a few tweaks to my diet and exercise routine.  But what I want to be very clear about is that I did not — I REPEAT, DID NOT — just learn to eat less and move more.  I am so tired of hearing that generic piece of advice about weight loss that I want to stand up and shout it out right now, but I won’t since my co-workers would probably look at me funny.  Besides, no one wants to listen to a crazy person.

I’ve been wanting to tell you about a few things that I’ve learned while shedding almost 70 lbs since August, but I also want to emphasize that this has only been my experience.  I don’t think there is a right and wrong way to get healthy, I only know that I have been trying for years to be at my physical and mental best and what I have been doing lately :::cliche alert::: has TOTALLY CHANGED MY LIFE.  And I don’t just mean because it has made me thinner.  That has been one small (but welcomed) side effect. 

There is so much judgment tied up in getting healthy or losing weight, and because of that I have sort of kept my talk about these issues to a minimum.  But on Monday I am going to post the first in a series of articles that will hopefully contain no judgment, just my personal story and some potentially helpful information.  My intention is to share my story in hopes that it will inspire you to find out what will work for you, if you are in fact looking.  If you aren’t looking, maybe it will just be food for thought.  If you aren’t interested in this business all, well then here’s your warning that you may want to skip those posts next week.  We can still be friends.  :)

I want to tell you these things because in the end, we are the only ones responsible for our own success:  at work, at life, with our families, and with our health.  And the things I will be talking about have changed the way I view all of these parts of my life.  It’s a good story, if nothing else. 

So join me on Monday, will you?  Because The Secret  (snicker)  will be revealed.   

Want to read more:

Part One: Weight Loss – The Early Years
Part Two: Weight Loss In The Real World
Part Three: Giving Up
Part Four: Now What?
Part Five: Food, Glorious Food
Part Six: Transitioning To A Paleo Diet
Part Seven: A Week In The Life Of Our Bellies

January Books

So hey, I read 8 books this month.  

This appears to bode very well for my goal of reading 50 books this year, but before I go puffing up my chest with pride and amending my goal I will let you in on a little secret:  I always read a lot in January.  Winter is a good reading season for me because antisocial sloth is my natural state.  I mean is there anything better than a curling up on the couch with a book when it’s cold out? So yeah, I’m not getting too cocky just yet.  When spring and summer show up, life always inevitably happens so I am still going to keep my goal of a book a week, and some months I’m sure I will excel, and during others I will surely fail miserably. My aim is to read more and talk about books here more, so let’s get to the talking part, eh?

(Here is a reminder on how I evaluate books.  Don’t worry, it’s not scientific, and doesn’t even involve math!)

Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner
I picked this up when I was in a hot pink covered book mood.  I know you know this mood whether you like to admit it or not.  It is the follow up to Good in Bed  and I liked that book well enough, so I was interested in what the characters were doing 10 years later which is the premise here.   Hot pink or not, I have to give Weiner credit, she is a very smart writer and I think too often her books are sort of relegated to “chick lit fluff” but I think she really does bring something a little different.  One of the things that stood out in this book was the relationship between Cannie and her daughter, and their family unit as a whole.  It was complex for fluff and she certainly knows how to capture that complexity.  Without spoiling it, I will tell you that the end of the book made me very emotional. It was not so much about the events of the plot as it was the words Weiner used to talk about them.  She captured a feeling that I know well in a very beautiful way and heart wrenching way and I got a little misty, y’all!  That’s more than I can say for many other hot pink covered books that tend to dwell a bit in cliche, so plus for you Jennifer Weiner. 
Verdict:  Very Good Writing.  Somewhat Engaging Premise, if you’ve read the first book.  Page Turning.

unSweetined by Jodie Sweetin
Aha! I see what you did there, Jodie.  
Come on, you are morbidly curious about Jodie Sweetin’s meth addiction and whether Uncle Jesse’s hair really got him laid in the 90s aren’t you?  Well I will admit it, I was curious and when this showed up on an end cap at my library, I gave in to that curiosity.  It’s kind of a sad story — I always feel bad when I read about people who “have everything”  but turn to drugs to deal with their insecurities — but the book felt like a bit of a cash grab and didn’t make me feel super sympathetic.  Especially when she spends the whole book saying she’d do anything for money, and confesses to giving false interviews to People magazine just to stay in the press and stay relevant.  All of that made me somewhat leery about this whole “I want to tell my story to help people” tone, you know?  It came off as opportunistic, which frankly I don’t fault her for, it’s obviously a story people are curious about, but it felt a bit inauthentic.  It was short and sweet though — a very quick read.  And hey, I may actually click through when I see an article on People.com about her now just to see if it smells of bullshit — so hey, Mission: Accomplished Jodie!  For whatever that’s worth.  
Verdict:  Poorly Written.  Engaging Premise.  Pretty Page Turning.

Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
This was a great guide to what science has to say about nutrition but in the voice of a journalist.  A science-y journalist though, not like an US Weekly reporter.  Not that there is anything wrong with US Weekly, just thought it was worth making the clarification.  I like to learn while still reading something interesting and this book definitely fit the bill.  Sure the subject matter can get tedious and the book is sort of daunting, but overall incredibly informative.   Lots of good stuff clarifying the role of carbohydrates, insulin, cholesterol and really debunking some of those common fear mongering beliefs that our society holds as “Conventional Wisdom.”  It turns out a lot of it isn’t all that wise, and doesn’t have a sound scientific basis.  It makes me feel sad that nutrition and health have become such a mine-field of marketing.   
Verdict:  Good Writing.  Engaging Premise.  Not always a Page Turner, but that’s sort of par for the course.

Looking For Alaska by John Green
I read this because after finishing Certain Girls, I read an interview with Jennifer Weiner where she discussed reading a lot of YA Fiction while working out how to write the character of Cannie’s teenaged daughter.  I had been wanting to revisit some good old YA fiction and when I looked this book up it seemed to be something I would enjoy.  And it was for the most part.  A good coming of age story, entertaining characters, and I loved all the factoids about famous people’s last words.  It reminded me of an angsty teen 80s movie in the best way. 
Verdict:  Good Writing.  Engaging Premise.  Page Turning.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
This was another book Weiner recommended and while I liked it, it also reminded me of why I get annoyed at YA fiction.  All the characters are just soooooo affected and remind me exactly of how Kristen Stewart plays Bella in all the Twilight movies.  Sometimes I get fairly impatient and want to roll my eyes and get on with it.  So imagine my surprise when at the end of this book I read something that said Kristen Stewart was in the movie adaptation of this book. Who knew?  A good choice, I guess.  That said, this book really was so well written. She nails the angst. The shame.  High School.  UGH.  And she doesn’t hit you over the head with The Secret that the main character is struggling with.  It’s a good read, this one.  As for the movie, I don’t know if I will be able to take it but if I watch it, I’ll let you know. 
Verdict:  Good Writing.  Engaging Premise (you want to get to the bottom of the secret!).  Page Turning (mostly because it was short). 

Half Baked by Alexa Stevenson
Well, I’m about to get fired from The Internet.  I did not love this book.  
Now, before you stone me, please understand that my opinion of the book is completely separate from my opinion of Stevenson’s harrowing ordeal miscarrying one of her twins and going on to have the other one at 25 weeks.  That is an incredible story, and WOW — I definitely have a lot of respect for her.  But — now I guess you can get your stones ready — this book!  Oh, this book!  It was so incredibly overwritten in my opinion.  Everything is a freaking metaphor with some obscure reference that isn’t really that obscure but just sounds so obscure and OHMYGOD when it comes to sentences Less is More, Alexa — LESS IS MORE.   I just really found the act of reading this great story to be a giant pain in the ass at times.  She spends the whole book talking about how neurotic she is, and I get that this is kind of the point:  stressful situations + neurotic people = compelling novels about learning lessons in life.  But it was a bit contrived.  Instead of saying “I was feeling anxious” and owning it, the whole book was like “haha let’s all talk about Shrodinger’s Cat  and quantum mechanics because OMG it is such an apt metaphor for my life right now.  Like totally!”  And that god old, yo.  So yeah, maybe I just just resign from The Internet instead of waiting to be fired, because seriously all that hype about this book seems to me to be more about having warm, fuzzy feelings about this author and her blog rather than actually about the writing in my humble opinion.  Maybe we can just agree to disagree?
Verdict:  Irritating Writing.  Engaging Premise (harrowing, insane story).  Kind of an anti page turner since I already knew the ending and really got impatient with almost all of her sentences.

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin
I feel like I should confess to you that I kind of have a thing for Steve Martin.  Not like I’m hot for him, but I just have this sort of crush on him as a creative person.  He just does so much (seriously? movies! music! writes novels!  I just want to have coffee with him and hear about his life) and I think he is kind of underrated.  That said, this book is weird.  The main character is weird.  The whole premise is weird.  And that’s kind of why I loved it.  It’s actually a novella so it is a quick and easy read — I read it on the plane home from New Mexico — and the voice is very unique.  I love that Martin is not afraid to be a little different.  I’d probably read anything he wrote.
Verdict:  Interesting Writing.  Oddly Engaging Premise.  Page Turning.  

Why is this the first Colum McCann book I have ever read?  That will be remedied soon, I hope.  This book was an amazing compilation of stories portraying New York in the 1970s somewhat centered around the tale of a tightrope walker who is performing between the Twin Towers.  Honestly, it was a bit slow to start — not terrible, but not super page turning — and then one night I was reading one tiny little paragraph in the bathtub and I was like, OH MY GOD! I GET IT!  It’s about the space in between — the liminal spaces (hello, college buzzwords!) those moments of potential, the physicality of transition.  The book sort of knocked me over the head actually and it from there was one of the most wonderful things I’ve read in a long time.  It was complex and beautiful.  It was the kind of book I always wish to find and I loved it.

Verdict:  Gorgeous Writing.  Engaging Premise (the spinning of the tales was flawless).  Not a huge page turner.  More of a book to savor.   

So, if you actually got to the end of this long ass post, tell me:  What did you read last month that you loved?

Be Where You Are

I know, I know two posts in one day — you hardly know me anymore.  I’ll explain it with this complicated series of mathematical equation:

Training for a Half Marathon = Lots of running
Lots of running = Lots of time with my own thoughts
Time with my own thoughts = Notes to Myself = Blog Posts

So that pretty much sums it up, mmmkay?

Anyway I had a terrible run today which sucks, obviously.  It doubly sucked because my run on Saturday was so awesome that I felt like I was finally getting the hang of this running thing.  I was having all these grand epiphanies, feeling pretty great during the run, and fantastic afterward.

Today, however, was the pits.  I was supposed to run 3 miles and only ran 1.5.  When I showed up to the gym all the treadmills were taken.  When I went back a second time my brain had practically given up before I even got on the damn thing.  

(Sidebar:  I think treadmill running is sort of equivalent to water torture, but right now it is a necessary evil so that I can fit in some training runs in during the week and not totally kill my post-work social life.  And by social life, I mean time I spend CrossFitting, running errands, cooking dinner, seeing my boyfriend, oh yeah and sleeping.) 

Life is wild these days, my friends.  

So where was I?  

Ah yes, a sucky run.  My run was so sucky in fact, that it took me just as long to shower and clean up afterward as it did to actually work out.  And I spent the bulk of that primp time beating myself up for having such a crappy run — reminding myself that I would never get anywhere with a performance like that, and how the hell did I expect to be ready to run 13 miles by June if I can’t run 2 without bitching out on a Tuesday afternoon?  

But then do you know what I realized?  I realized that I did not sign up for this half marathon to add another item to my List of Things I Feel Bad About.  Oh, and Newsflash:  Beating myself up is not going to make me run faster.  So eff all that noise!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad lately since starting CrossFit and taking on a few more athletic endeavors.  He was a great athlete and super educated about all this stuff that I am bumbling around and trying to figure out and sometimes I feel really sad that he is not around to give me advice or that I can’t call him like I wanted to last night when I PR’d on my deadlift at CrossFit (255 lbs baby…Holla!)  But I know he is around and supporting me, and every once in a while I can hear him clear as day.  And today in that locker room was one of those times.

Be where you are, he said.

Don’t beat yourself up for where you aren’t.  
Be where you are.  
Own it.  
Build on it.
And you will kill it. 

Yes today’s run wasn’t my best.  But 6 months ago I made a tiny change by prioritizing fitness.  5 months ago I wouldn’t have gotten up and packed my gym bag to bring to work.  4 months ago  I wouldn’t have gone to the gym on my lunch break.  3 months ago I wouldn’t have gone back a second time when all the treadmills were full.  2 months ago I wouldn’t have run on that treadmill for 25 minutes.  

Had I not taken one tiny, seemingly meaningless step forward 6 months ago, I would not be where I am right now.  So I am just going to be over here where I am if that’s ok with you.  Not feeling a damn bit guilty.  And 6 months from now?  Who knows where I will be.

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February 2011
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