I have been skinny most of my life.
When I was a teenager, I was too skinny. But around the time I got married, I settled in at a healthy, happy weight, near the middle but slightly on the lower end of my healthy range. This is what I weighed in the picture above, taken early in our marriage, before that lovely green car behind us died tragically in 2003. I’ll call this happy, healthy weight “X.”
From time to time, I bounced above X, but I always found my way back. One summer, I made it up to X+15, which horrified me. My doctor recommended the South Beach Diet, so I gave it a try and was back to X within a month. So that is how I continued. I didn’t worry about my diet until I got to X+10, then I would do South Beach and get back down.
Then this happened:
This, my friends, is X+45.
Fortunately, I was one of those disgustingly annoying mothers who had a very easy time breastfeeding. Couple that with the fact that I was a tightwad, and that Iliana had serious stomach issues and wasn’t keen of eating solid food, and you get 22 months of calorie-burning breastfeeding goodness! It didn’t take me long to get down to X+10, and for the next few years, I hovered between X+5 and X+10.
I was embarrassed that I had to buy a size 8 for my brother-in-law’s wedding… Iliana (she was 3 in this picture!) wore her dress on special occasions for the next 4 years.
I kept losing, slowly, even after Rob’s mom died unexpectedly in 2011. I was looking pretty good by the time we set sail the summer of 2011, and I was between X and X+10 during the summer of 2012.
Meanwhile, my work situation was becoming less and less wonderful. It was getting more cut-throat, while the pay and benefits were decreasing. The hours were increasing, taking me away from Iliana. I began to see work as the price I had to pay, for 3 months of cruising.
And in 2013, I began to question that price.
That year, I was moved from the middle school to the high school. At first I was on my guard and gained weight from emotional eating. I wrote my first blog post about the topic, at this time. I started a small support group, which was helpful for a couple of weeks.
Then it hit the fan at work, and I was thrown into insecurity. I began to eat a pizza everyday for lunch. First, one from Subway, but eventually that evolved into a Hot ‘N Ready. As I made plans to make changes in my life, it only got worse. I felt unsafe, and food grounded me.
Here I am with my sister-in-law on my first visit to Texas. I was between X+15 and X+20.
I thought moving to Texas would bring relief, but I found myself caught up in the same drama at work. I gained a lot of weight that first year, getting up to X+43.
We had a “greatest loser challenge” at work, and I took fourth place, getting down to X+30, which is where I remained for the next 3 years. I was not excited about this weight, but I started working out and practicing yoga, which taught me a great deal about accepting where I am in any given moment, physically and emotionally. (More about yoga in a future post!).
I began to notice that I was emotionally eating, and that I was unable to detect my hunger cues, so I started working with a dietician. This was incredibly valuable, as she helped me to see my patterns and to brainstorm alternatives. My dietician introduced me to the book, “Intuitive Eating,” which gave me many tools that I had been previously lacking and helped me to stop demonizing certain foods. Through working with her, I was able to weigh myself regularily, without attaching so much emotion to the number on the scale. It is just a data point.
Then came the 2017-18 school year. This period of time brought more significant challenges than I had ever faced before in my life before then. I began to use food as a coping mechanism more than ever. It started out with a candy bar here and there, especially after work.
I stopped weighing myself during this time, but my weight was definitely creeping up.
By Christmas, I was grabbing fast food after work, because the feeling of a full belly was so comforting.
In the end, I was ordering a pizza for lunch–a whole pizza, delivered. I would munch on it all day, to soothe myself at work. Then I would still grab fast food on the way home, before eating dinner.
Then, on March 1, I went on leave from my job, permanently. I wasn’t losing weight yet, but the pattern was broken.
The above picture is a selfie that Iliana and I took the first day I got to walk her to the bus stop!
My second week on leave, we took this picture of me at my “happy place,” Elijah’s retreat in Jacksonville, Texas. When I got home, I finally stepped on the scale. X+50. I was 5 pounds heavier than my pregnancy weight!
After leaving my job, I did find that I was emotionally eating a lot less. I started going to yoga daily, which helped me to better process my experiences over the past year. And I decided that I was ready to start actively working on weight loss. I began with my old standby–low carb–and lost 7 pounds in 2 weeks.
After this initial success, I went out for smoothies with one of my closest friends, who had gotten me through my challenging year with near-weekly smoothie dates on Saturday mornings. I mentioned that I was eating low-carb, and she said, “I always had a lot of success with Weight Watchers. I am a lifetime member now, which means I don’t have to pay to go to meetings.”
The seed was planted, so of course I had to check it out.
I browsed Weight Watchers’ website, and I really liked the simplicity and flexibility of the eating plan, and I knew that the emotional support at the meetings would be beneficial for me. So I took advantage of an offer where I paid for 3 months upfront, and got 50% off.
My first meeting was an extremely positive experience. I found that the positive atmosphere stood in contrast to the typically punitive attitude toward “dieting” that is pervasive in our culture. It felt good, and it fit very well with what I had been learning in yoga and with my dietician.
Yes, we had to weigh in first, but it wasn’t the daunting experience I thought it would be. People talked about weight and numbers very matter-of-factly. It was one indicator of progress, and for me, it was a starting point. I set my goal for X, and enjoyed hearing all the practical ideas people shared in the meeting. I felt immediately accepted, and I loved our leader. She was one of those people who instantly lights up a room.
In Weight Watchers, you earn charms for meeting milestones, and it did not take me long to earn my 5 pound charm. And right after I earned it, I spent the weekend downtown at a moped rally. I had asked for ideas about this upcoming rally, in the meeting. Some people recommended choosing healthier choices at restaurants, carrying my own snacks, or even just not tracking and getting back on track after the weekend! As much as I prepared, when it came down to it, I chose the latter. And had a great time!
At this point, I was X+38!
After the rally, I got right back on program. I found that I felt better when I was more active. Not exercising, per se, but just incorporating more activity into my day. Weight Watchers has “fitpoints” that you track, so I wore a pedometer and started walking whenever I could. A day’s worth of laundry could earn me nearly 9000 steps! As my fitpoints goal increased, I noticed that I was hungry a lot more. I started allowing my weekly points to go into the negative, by 20-40, and I kept losing 1-2 pounds a week. If I was not as active, I gained weight.
And before I knew it, I earned my 10 pound charm! By this point, I was getting comments about my weight loss, and I had to retire some of my clothing. My yoga pants were falling down in class! But the flowered dress still fit…
Things slowed a bit after that, but with consistency (and a few ups and downs), I found myself at X+31 the first week of June.
What you don’t know is that Iliana was showing the earliest signs of heat stroke in that picture, and her temperature spiked to 102.5 that night…it was terrifying…
With consistency, as well as taking a break during the occasional week, I made slow and steady progress. I found that working through emotional eating required diligence. I had to make more changes to my life, and make sure that I was spending time with people who were supportive.
And so here I am, currently at X+27!
So….In the spirit of the many guest posts I wrote when I was a “serious” blogger, I am going to end this story with a take-away!
Here are some lessons I have learned in my weight loss journey:
Start with the groundwork.
I worked with my dietician for over a year before I lost a pound. At my first appointment, I had expected her to give me a meal plan that I could follow, so that I could lose weight quickly. Instead, she helped me to see that I already knew a lot about nutrition. And you likely do, too. The information is readily available, and following any diet/food plan will result in weight loss. Low-carb and low-fat are equally as effective. So the important question is, why aren’t we eating the way that we know to eat? I was unhappy, and food was my addiction that helped me cope with being unhappy. Finding peace and happiness required a MAJOR life change that had nothing to do with food. I don’t think weight loss would have happened if I had not quit my job. Weight gain is a part of a larger picture, and a lot has to be unraveled before the pattern can be permanently changed.
2. Consider professional help to get you started.
I worked with a dietician and a therapist. Emotional eating is an addiction. It is a very socially accepted addiction, but it is an addiction nonetheless. I was overeating because I was unhappy. If I hadn’t worked with professionals to learn tools and to gain the clarity to make changes in my life, I may have replaced my overeating with a different addiction. It would have been the same scenario as the AA members smoking outside, before their meeting. Ending the cycle is hard, and having access to professional support can be very valuable. I paid out of my pocket to see my dietician, and I will likely do it again after I reach my goal, to help me maintain.
3. Actually read the book “Intuitive Eating.”
It’s not what most people think it is. It is not about eating whatever you want and forgetting the consequences. It is about honoring your hunger and respecting your fullness. And about allowing all foods into your life. In the end, the focus turns to nutrition and making informed choices. This book and the workbook have helped me tremendously in Weight Watchers. While a lot of people in my meeting are strict about what they eat and avoid, I have indulged in poutine and lost weight! Rob and I go out to a bar and split a burger and fries, and I order a beer. A lot of people on Weight Watchers avoid pancakes, but I eat them (in smaller portions) most mornings.
4. Approach it with a truly body positive attitude.
Like intuitive eating, the phrase “body positive” has been distorted in popular culture. Notice how many “before” pictures I have, and how I am smiling in all of them. I enjoyed seeing and posting the selfie and Iliana and me, on my first day on leave from my job, because I could see how happy I was. I was beautiful in that picture, because that was such a powerfully life-changing day. And in the picture when I was my heaviest, I was sitting in my happiest place, having made it through an unbelievably awful school year. I did not hate myself for being obese, and I do not hate myself for being overweight. However, I love myself too much to remain a slave to an addiction. I love myself enough to find peace and happiness. Overeating was a poor substitute. I love myself enough to be healthy. I feel more energetic when I eat balanced meals and am active. My moods improve when I take care of myself. Yes, I feel prettier when I weigh X. But that does not mean I am ugly when I do not. Being body positive means getting to know your body. I weigh myself daily, so I can see my patterns. I fluctuate by 1-2 pounds, then I dump down when it is close to a week. One time I dumped the day after a weigh-in!
5. Find movement that you love!
I have never forced myself to go to yoga. It makes me happy, it makes me feel good, and it is a community where I belong, am valued, and am connected. I modify, based on what I can do each day, so it never “kicks my butt.” My practice has become such a joyful part of my life, that I happily get up and go to class at 6am twice a week! Sometimes I do extra side planks during sun salutations, and sometimes I spend most of the class in child’s pose. But showing up is never a problem. Find your version of that, and you will never struggle to be active again.
6. Find supportive friends.
Enlist your tribe! I found supportive friends in my yoga class, and one of them actually joined Weight Watchers with me. I have connected with a number of people from my meetings as well. The reality is that not everyone will be supportive when you are making changes. Weight loss is about so much more than weight loss, and it will lead to changes in your relationships. Make sure that you are around people who are positive and supportive.
7. And LAST…find a flexible food plan (or two).
The food plan really does come last! Because if you don’t do the groundwork, you will not stick to it. But when you do it, remember that any diet will cause you to lose weight, if you can follow it. So pick something that is easy to follow, for you! The best advice I read, was to have two food plans. Start with a food-list plan (such as low carb or low fat), then have a counting plan (such as calorie counting) as a backup. That way, if you eat bread or a doughnut, you are not off the hook. You can count calories and stay on track. Weight Watchers is primarily a counting plan, but it also has a food list component. I use it as my framework, then vary how I eat within it. Sometimes I do vegan, sometimes I do low-carb, on and sometimes I just eat small portions of my American favorites!