Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sugar highs, sugar lows

Part of successful weight maintenance is learning how to manage the various foods and social situations that inevitably surface.  This weekend, my challenge was my sister-in-law's baby shower - more importantly, the cake, and ice cream, and brownies, and rice pudding (two kinds!), and cookies, and fillozes (Portuguese doughnuts) that were served at the baby shower. Portuguese folks sure know how to make some tasty sweets, and they're super hard to resist.  So I planned to have a modest amount of cake, skip the ice cream, and have small bites of everything else just to taste it.

That was a pretty good plan, and I followed through on it all right.  There are two problems for me, though, when it comes to eating sugary foods.  The first is that I'm "out of practice" of eating them, so even a small amount hits me like a ton of bricks.  Don't misunderstand me here - I have no desire to get back "into practice" of eating them!  I'm just much more aware of how they affect me now than I ever have been before.  The second problem is that sugar makes me want more sugar.  It seems to have the same disinhibitory effect on me when it comes to sugary foods as alcohol does on pretty much any kind of food.  So not only do I want more sugar, I'm much more inclined to have more sugar.

Then if you add on the fact that many of the sugary foods I had I like a lot, you can see where this is going.  I'm sunk.

So yesterday I had my cake and tasters of everything but the icing.  And then at dinner out at, I ordered dessert.  And after that, another fillozes.

My reward?  A sugar hangover this morning which made me feel like my head was packed with wool and my stomach was tied up in knots.  I felt so awful this morning that I slept two hours later than I intended to, and missed my opportunity to go running like I planned.  I realized this morning that how I felt when I woke up today was how I felt pretty much every morning before I started on the MNP program.  Every day before I began losing weight, I felt physically awful and I couldn't think clearly.  That realization was very sobering.

But not sobering enough, apparently.  Today, I brought home some cake and rice pudding that my mother-in-law gave me as a care package for my husband.  He had a piece of cake, I had a piece of cake.  And then I started obsessing about the cake - specifically the icing.  And then I caved and ate the rest of the icing that was left.

Fortunately, I realized that things were not going to get any better if the cake stayed in the house, so I put it down the sink garbage disposal before any more craziness could occur.  No, I've never gone into the trash to take out something I have thrown away, but I didn't want today to be that day.

There's a reason I don't keep sweets in the house.

In the grand scheme of things, I probably haven't done myself any lasting damage - as long as this doesn't turn into a pattern.  What's frustrating is that, once again, I need to feel the pain of these bad choices more than once in order for the lesson to sink into my thick skull.  Lots of refined sugar might taste good, but it doesn't feel good.  It makes my stomach cramp and my head light and achy, and a little buzzed right after I eat it.  Then I feel bloated and sick.  The buzz wears off quickly, and I'm left with just the discomfort.  Which lasts.

I can't decide if I'm hoping to wake up tomorrow with another sugar hangover or not.  Part of me, the part that thinks I need to be punished for my bad choices, is rooting for the sugar hangover.  The more merciful part wants me not to have the hangover but to remember how icky I've been feeling for the last day and a half.  The temporary pleasure is definitely not worth the pain and discomfort!  And it's not worth the risk of losing the health and fitness I've gained over the past year by losing all this weight.

So at my next meal (which will be breakfast tomorrow), it's back to my healthy eating plan.  Back to what I know works.  Lots of veggies and salads, lean proteins, healthy fats, and sugar free drinks.  Back to food that makes me feel energized and empowered and in control.  Back to exercising for at least an hour a day.  And back to the new life I'm building for myself.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Some thoughts on Fear*

This has been an emotional day. Not just for me, but for everyone in our country. The memorials of 9/11 have been wide and varied, and I suspect every single one has brought tears to the eyes of the viewers or participants. Even watching something as simple as a trumpet player play "Taps" on TV before the football game started this morning made me cry. Yes, I'm a notorious sap, but today has brought that to the stark forefront.

As my husband Mike and I reflected on where we were, what we were doing, and how we felt when 9/11 happened, it hit home to me how much our lives have been impacted by Fear*. Fear of outsiders, fear of being hurt, fear of not being good enough or smart enough to prevent problems from happening, fear of the unknown. And Fear can drive us to do crazy, foolhardy, vicious things - both to ourselves and others. I listened with increasing horror as Mike recounted a story about one of the customers who came into his shop shortly after the Twin Towers fell. Apparently this customer was so full of Fear and Rage he was talking about going to a nearby Muslim school and burning it down. Fortunately, Mike was able to talk the customer out of that plan by reminding the customer in no uncertain terms that he was talking about hurting innocent children who had absolutely nothing to do with the tragedy in New York, but the level of fear and anger that man felt was all-encompassing and led him to plan an action that probably never would have even crossed his mind previously.

It isn't just fears about 9/11 that impact our lives. As I was thinking about the story my husband was telling me, I began to think about all the small and seemingly inconsequential ways Fear eats into my life. Fears about managing my food intake, about whether I'm getting enough (or too much) exercise, about not being good enough in my chosen field or letting down my supervisors in some way that only I could imagine. Fear is a box that keeps me trapped when I'm not careful about how I let it affect me.

For me, weight maintenance is an exercise in managing Fear. The scale fluctuates from day to day and week to week. It varies with my monthly cycle, with what I ate, with how much and what kinds of things I drank, with how much sodium was in my food, with how recently I went to the bathroom, and a million other factors I have no idea about. I've had to learn to give myself a window of acceptability when it comes to looking at the scale, and I have to remind myself to think in terms of trends, not in terms of any one particular moment's weight. However, when I get on the scale and see it up a couple of pounds (especially if I had a less-than-stellar week of managing my food intake), the moment of Fear strikes me and I have to consciously battle it down and remind myself that it's not necessarily a problem. Yet. Then I have to decide what, if anything, I need to do differently to make sure it doesn't become a problem - without getting sucked into Fear. Because when I get sucked into Fear, I start thinking crazy, extreme thoughts about how little to let myself eat, or how much I'm going to make myself exercise in order to "make up" for my perceived failures.

At our bi-weekly coached runs, our head coach Alfonzo Jackson always starts us out by giving us a pep talk and reminding us of the reason we train the way we do. Sometimes he also highlights current events that tie into our desires to make the world a better place. Yesterday, his message was simple: remember the people whose lives were sacrificed on 9/11 not by mourning and wailing, but by bringing more love and light into the world. Not to say that we shouldn't grieve their losses, but there's more to remembering them than just sadness. He pointed out that before 9/11, there was a much lower level of "us versus them" feelings within our own country. Since then, it seems like people who could be put into a "them" category have been threatened, ostracized, wounded, and had their rights unjustly taken away. Fear, leading us to do crazy, foolhardy, vicious things.

So here's my vow, and I hope you'll consider it too: I will pay more attention to Fear. I will not let it lead me blindly into snap judgments or thoughtless actions. I will not let it use me as a vessel to unjustly hurt myself or others. I will honor it when it's real, and soothe it when it's not. And I will do my best to show love to myself and others despite Fear's strongest intentions.

* You'll notice that Fear is capitalized in many places in this post. In keeping with the Narrative Therapy tradition, it's capitalized because in those instances, I see Fear as an outside force acting on me, rather than being an integral part of me. It helps me remember that I can control the impact I let Fear have on me.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Running 9 miles today

Today's the second half of two landmark trainings for me. I will be running 9 miles, the longest distance I've ever run in my life. The last time I ran 9 miles was 5 years ago, in early August 2006, and it was on that 9-mile hill run that I injured my IT band and soon after had to drop out of the training and the race because of how slowly my IT band was healing.

The first of the two landmark trainings occurred two weeks ago, when we ran at Redwood Regional Park in Oakland. I ran 8 miles that day, and the course was essentially one big hill. Four miles up, four miles down. I knew I would need to take it easy on the hills, especially the downhills which are particularly hard on knees. With the help of my friend and running buddy Christina, we took the course on with patience and completed the 8 miles in 2 hours and 20 minutes. We ran as much as we could, walking the steepest uphills and downhills and gently jogging the less steep hills, and when we rolled back to the start line I felt tired but good. And most importantly, I felt no hint of injury.

So I managed to keep myself healthy on the long hill run - good! Whew! What a relief! I've learned a lot about how to run hills since 2006, and you can't discount the dramatic change in my weight and base level of fitness as major contributors to my success this time.

Now it's time to conquer the distance half.

My goal is to get out there today and just relax into the run. I'm not going to push my speed - no pace targets for me today. I want to stay focused and in tune with my body, keeping conscious of my footfalls, posture, and form. And most importantly, I want to make sure attend to any area of my body that hurts in any way, and to have the guts to cut my run short if I need to in order to keep myself healthy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Goal weight!

It's been a while since I posted. I apologize for that! I've been scrambling to keep up with everything that's been going on lately, with work, school, eating again (!), and training for my half marathon. Unfortunately, the blog slipped by the wayside. The good news is there's a lot of great both on the weight loss/eating and fitness front! Rather than doing one huge post, I'll break the news into smaller, more digestible bites. So first, an update on...

Weight Loss
The big news - I hit my goal weight!!! My original goal was 150 lbs. As I lost weight, I decided to revise it down to 140 because I wanted to be within the BMI range for my height - mostly because I never wanted a doctor to nag me about my weight again. But as I got lower and lower, I realized that 140 might be too low for where I am right now, in part because I have to factor in the extra skin that may or may not ever shrink back. So I decided to split the difference and call my goal 145. I reached that goal on June 20th. An even bigger accomplishment is that I've been able to successfully maintain my weight loss since that time. No creeping back up, just the normal 3-5 pound fluctuations!

Reaching my goal weight has led me to be in a body I never even dreamed of. I have never *ever* been at a healthy weight as an adult, so I had no idea what to expect when I finally got to my destination. While losing weight, I have also been increasing my fitness to epic proportions (for me anyhow! LOL), which has also changed my body in ways I couldn't imagine. I can feel bones in places that I never knew I even had them, my face looks remarkably different (and consequently the family resemblance to my sister and Aunt Joanne has never been stronger), and I can fit into the Mythical Size 6.

I remember once, when I was a teenager, I had a person offer to help me lose weight through hypnotherapy. He was certain he could help me, and I vividly remember him saying, "I think we could even get you into a size 8." I think he was trying to be encouraging, and at the time I was about a size 16 so I probably should have been excited to hear him say that. But all I remember thinking was, "But I wanna be a size 6!" Maybe that was society's influence talking in my head - there certainly is a lot of pressure for women to be small and wear smaller sizes - but for whatever reason, the size 6 got implanted in my brain. At the same time, though, I never believed I would actually get there. I didn't think my frame was physically small enough.

Goes to show what I know. The day I tried on a pair of size 6 jeans and zipped them up (only *slightly* feeling like a stuffed sausage), I literally cried in the dressing room of Ross Dress for Less.

So I've dropped from a size 24/26 down to a size 6. After training for my half marathon (and if my loose skin shrinks back up) I might even fit a size 4. Time will tell about that one. I don't feel the need to fit into a 4 the way I coveted fitting into a 6. I've learned in a very visceral way that my frame is much tinier than I ever thought, having been fooled by years of wearing extra cushioning. My brain is still working to catch up with my actual size - I still have a self-concept of being bigger than I actually am - but that's normal with rapid weight loss, and will pass with time.

The most important thing to me, even beyond staying in the Mythical Size 6, is maintaining my fitness and my ability to be active. The pounds fluctuate, there are good days and bad days with food, and sizes shift depending on water fluctuations and time of the month. But to keep running, and to continue to feel like the person I am on the outside matches the person I feel like I am on the inside, that's what goal weight is all about for me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Preparing to transition

For the past three weeks, I have known that I will be transitioning back to regular food beginning on Monday June 13th. I have gotten slowly closer and closer to my goal, and decided to transition on June 13th even though I will not exactly be at my goal because I wanted to make sure I had a full month of eating "regular" food before beginning my pre-doctoral internship on August 10th. The transition process takes four weeks, and each week a new food or set of foods is introduced so that my body can slowly become acclimated to digesting solid food again instead of just the shakes.

I have very mixed feelings about going into transition. On one hand, I'm extremely excited. I am very close to my goal, and I know that with the remaining time I have on the shakes with the weight loss I will have during the transition period itself, I will be at my goal in no time. However, the part of me that has found great comfort in not having to worry about what to eat or when to eat it or even having to prepare food is very nervous. It's very easy to think it's been three hours, it's time to eat again, pull out a shake, mix it, and drink it down. For the past year, my routine has been that simple. With the introduction of food back into the equation, I now need to think about meal planning, grocery shopping, and time for food preparation. I also need to think about planning food that can be easily packed to travel with me during the day so that I am never without the food I need to sustain me. Right now, this feels very daunting.

In my waking hours, I notice my anxiety in little ways. Being aware of food on a more heightened level is one, and an underlying sense of buzzy anticipation is another. I even experience this anxiety when I'm sleeping. Fears and worries about transition have crept into my dreams, and have made it difficult for me to have a solid night's sleep for easily the last week and a half. I have nightmares about eating the wrong food or regaining the weight so quickly I can't stop it from happening. I just hope that I can find a routine to settle into that allows me to keep myself satisfied and with the proper nutrition to keep myself nourished without becoming crazy or obsessive about eating and food.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Recording a personal best for the mile… again

Today was the first Team in Training track practice, and in today's track practice, I reached another milestone. A huge milestone.

A while back, I wrote a post about why I like to run, as well as why I want to run and improve at running. You can read that post here, but the gist of it is this: I had a horrible experience running a mile when I was in sixth grade. It was physically and emotionally painful, as well as humiliating. On that day, the mile I completed was somewhere around 13 minutes, and the 13 minute mile has been my bogeyman ever since.

About a month ago, I recorded my first mile that was less than 13 minutes, which gave me an amazing and victorious feeling. But like the final home run ball for Barry Bonds, my personal best had an asterisk next to it. You see, when I recorded that time, I was in an area where the mileage was not marked, and I was going downhill the entire way. So even though I had broken the 13 minute marker, I didn't truly believe it.

Today, however, was an entirely different story. We were running on a flat track. A standardized track where four laps is a mile. And I completed four laps on a standardized flat track in 11 minutes and 31 seconds.

I'm tearing up even as I'm thinking about this, because now I know in my bones that the 13 minute bogeyman has officially and truly been defeated. Like finishing my half marathon for the first time, truly defeating the 13 minute bogeyman makes me wonder what kinds of things I have always wanted to do but never thought I was capable of. It makes me wonder how much I'm limiting myself. The door has officially opened for me to dream bigger, go farther, and achieve dreams I never even dared to dream.

I am incredibly grateful for the help and support I have received from my husband, my friends, and my family to help me get where I am today. Particularly today, I am grateful to my dear friend Christina Coto, who ran with me this morning and encouraged me, while still reminding me to focus on my breathing and my form. Without the encouragement of people like Christina, this would be a much more difficult and lonely process.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The First Buddy Run

Today was the very first official Team in Training (TNT) Buddy Run for the summer 2011 season. I was a little bit nervous about coming to this Buddy Run because I am a mentor this year, which means I am responsible to make sure that the run flows smoothly and that all the participants are accounted for at the beginning and the end. I was also nervous because I have never done a Buddy Run at Lake Merritt in Oakland before, and have only run around Lake Merritt once or twice in my life, so I wasn't very familiar with the territory where we would be running. On top of all of that, I had my usual nervousness about whether or not I would be the slowest person running, and what other participants would think of me given my slow running speed.

Despite all these trepidations, I arrived at the Buddy Run site ten minutes early, and found the location where we would be meeting very easily. I was the first mentor there, so I was the welcoming committee for the various members of the team who decided to run with us tonight. I expected to be somewhat nervous about this part as well, but found that it went quite smoothly. All of the ladies who attended the run were very friendly, shared their names and a little bit about themselves, and soon we were talking about how the run would go.

The beginning of the run was fairly disorganized, I'll admit. Between my lack of experience running Lake Merritt, the injury to one of the other mentors who was supposed to be helping lead, and some confusion about how far people should actually run today, it felt pretty scattered. But we made it through, and we began the run - if little bit later than we would have otherwise hoped.

Sure enough, as soon as everyone took off running, I was in the back of the pack. But unlike previous run with TNT, I was not as far back as I have been. In fact, I was just a little bit behind the other folks in the group, a new situation, and one that I was quite happy with. Initially, I was running by myself, and found myself focused on attending to the surroundings and how the runners in front of me were doing rather than my own running experience. However, as I eased into the run, I found my body responding and relaxing. Then some of the gals in front of me slowed down. I realized with a start that although they had started out faster than me, I was in better shape for a longer run than they were. That was a revelation!

I caught up to them quickly, and struck up a conversation with one of the gals who looked like she was struggling a little bit. For the remainder of our time around the lake, she and I talked about training, my experience with TNT, and her questions about different ways she could move forward to get herself where she wanted to be. It was a great feeling to be able to offer her my experience and suggestions, as well as information that would help her move towards her goal.

It was also a personal accomplishment because I have very rarely run with other people, and when I do I usually don't have enough breath to hold up a conversation. But today's run was different because I was able to have a conversation with another runner while still running. Granted, I had to take a few deep breaths from time to time, and my sentences were a more choppy than if I were just having a normal conversation, but I was able to do it! Having the conversation with her helped the rest of the run pass very quickly for me, and I left the run feeling happy about how I did both as a runner and as a mentor.

What a great way to start!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Got Louie?

First of all, a word about my conspicuous absence. It's been about 3 months since I've posted, and I apologize for dropping the ball. Somehow, spring semester at school always seems to kick my butt more than fall semester did, and this year was no exception. I managed to survive through internship applications, interviews, and selections as well as completing the last classes required for my graduate program and still maintain my focus on self-care and weight loss. It's a little bit miraculous that I've survived this well, actually. All that being said, life is calming down (a little bit) right now, and I have the luxury of taking a few minutes to myself to write to you again.

As of today, I've lost nearly 140 pounds. That number is staggering. There are many fully-grown, healthy adult women who weigh less than I have lost. I can't even wrap my brain around how much of a difference it is. In order to get a sense of it, when I was at the pet store the other day, I calculated that it would take four of the 35-pound dog food bags I normally get in order to match how much weight I'm no longer carrying. This was all the more stunning when I picked up one of the bags and realized how heavy it felt. There's no way I could pick up four of them at once! Yet that is what I was carrying around with me every day. All of a sudden, the reason for my constant fatigue and difficulties doing the things I wanted to do became crystal clear. Of course I was exhausted! Of course I couldn't move around well! Of course my body hurt every time I did anything at all!

I am so grateful for where I am right now; words simply aren't enough to express my feelings. I'm not at my goal yet - still 20 pounds to go - but I'm now in the process of planning what I will eat when I'm on maintenance to ensure my success at keeping the weight off. My husband is the (mostly) happy recipient of my culinary efforts, and has found his own energy level picking up as I have begun feeding him well-balanced, wholesome meals. I've also gotten to the point where I've decided on a transition date (pending the doctor's approval, of course). On June 13, I will have my first solid food in literally a year, and will begin the difficult journey of negotiating food and calories in the "real world" once again. Excited? You bet! Terrified? For sure.

As you know from reading other entries in my blog, one thing I have really enjoyed doing as I have gotten more fit is running. My running has improved significantly since my weight loss has begun (I know, big surprise, right?), but it has particularly gotten better in the last several months as I have trained for and completed two 5k races. My next 5k race is scheduled for June 5, and my hope is to run it at an average pace of less than 13 minutes per mile.

Part of losing the last of my weight and keeping all of it off is making fitness part of my life in a way that it never has before. The first time I tried to do that as an adult was in 2006, with my first season in Team in Training (TNT). I made huge progress - going from not being able to run a single mile to running nine miles in one morning - but injured myself and didn't reach my goal of running a half marathon. Well, now that I'm healthy again (in knee as well as the rest of my body), it feels like time to pick that goal back up and finish it. I have rejoined TNT, and will begin training for the Nike Women's Half Marathon in June of 2011. I'm so excited! Not just for the possibility of finishing my goal, but also for the structure and support the team will give me around fitness and exercise. I have learned that I just do better when I'm on a team and I have a goal. The best part is that this time, I do believe I can "do the dam thing" (as Coach Al from TNT would say) because I've already successfully completed one half marathon, and my level of fitness now is far better than it has ever been in my life.

The theme for TNT this year is "Got Louie?" You can read his story here, but the short version is this: Louie was a man who battled chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), and after he regained his strength from going through treatment, he decided he wanted to complete an Ironman triathlon to show that he could still live his life despite his illness. Ten years ago, he completed his Ironman triathlon and inspired multitudes of people with his story, and his strength. Sadly, he passed away a year later, but his strength and vitality live on in the memories of those who saw him battle his disease and live his life the way he wanted to.

This year, the folks at TNT are asking us, "Got Louie?" because they want to know who it is that inspires us to do what we do. I have lots of Louies, and you'll hear about them more later, but what's striking me right now is this: Because of my weight loss and my tenacity in running training as well as many other areas of my life, I am Louie too. I have had friends tell me I should be a motivational speaker; in fact, on Monday night I have received my first request to speak about my weight loss process to a group already (and I'm not even done!). I have had countless people, friends and acquaintances alike, tell me that they have been inspired to do something to improve their health, fitness, or weight because of seeing what I am doing for myself. To be that kind of inspiration to someone else is a profound and unexpected privilege that I hope never to take for granted.

Who's your Louie?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Willpower is overrated

A lot of times when a person begins a weight loss program (whether it's through a company like Weight Watchers, or one of their own devising), their first thought is about how to handle difficult situations.  The answer?  Usually "willpower."

When people compliment me on my progress, one of the most common comments I hear is, "You have such amazing willpower!"  The truth is, my willpower isn't any better than it was before I started the MNP program.  The trick hasn't been using brute force to compel myself to do (or not do) certain actions.  My success has been much more due to recognizing how my drives come about, where they come from, and addressing them in a way that doesn't involve food.

One of the things they spent a lot of time on in the beginning of the MNP program is instilling two ideas:  1)   understanding behavior chains, and 2) "It's not about saying no to food, it's about saying yes to yourself in non-caloric ways."  The two ideas work together like two highly skilled dancers improvising a tango.

Behavior chains are exactly what they sound like: a series of behaviors that has the potential to lead to a place I don't want to go.  Becoming aware of those behavior chains is the first step in preventing myself from doing something I don't really want to.  Recognizing those behavior chains in action is the next step - after all, I can't stop something if I don't notice it while it's happening.  The third step in dealing with a behavior chain is choosing alternative actions that lead to a different result than the path I might ordinarily take.

Here's an example: If I don't get enough sleep, I tend to get hungry pretty early and pretty consistently throughout the day. Then if you add on something crappy on top of it (like if I were to get in a fight with my hubby, or get a speeding ticket or something), I'm more likely to want to eat. If you take those two things and then put me in the kitchen, it's difficult to say no to food but still possible. If you take those two things, with me in the kitchen holding open the fridge door and staring inside, it becomes even harder. If there's something tempting in the fridge that's staring back at me, it becomes harder still.  If that tempting thing is in my hand, it's near impossible. If that tempting thing is on a fork and on its way to my mouth, I'm done for. It's like trying to stop a freight train going 200 miles an hour in 2 seconds. It just doesn't happen without a miracle.

See how the chain works?  The further the chain is from the beginning, the harder it is to stop.  Each step creates inertia to move towards the next step in the habit.  Stop myself at the beginning, however, and it's much easier to make a different choice than I might otherwise.  And if I can match the choice with the actual need at the moment, the new choices are even more effective in keeping me from eating.

So how could my example scenario be different?

  • If I don't get enough sleep, I'm pretty hungry and tired.  The best solution at this point would be to recognize that I'm tired (and probably hungry because I'm tired) and to take a nap.  Remember my "patience" post?  If I took a nap, that would most likely put me in a better mindset to deal with whatever else the day would bring.
  • But let's say for some reason I can't take a nap.  If I then get into a fight with my hubby or a speeding ticket, I need to check in with myself and see how I'm feeling.  Am I angry? Frustrated? Upset? Do I need to talk to a friend about how I'm feeling?  Do I need a hug from someone?  Do I need to take a walk or do something physical to work out the aggression?  Or maybe writing in my journal would help with giving me a place to dump all of my unhappy emotions.  If I did even one of these things to take care of my needs, I would again be in a better mindset to handle the rest of the day.
  • For the sake of argument, though, let's say that I couldn't take a nap, and I didn't deal with my unhappiness from the negative event.  Now I'm pretty vulnerable, and I'm starting to move into willpower territory.  You'll notice it doesn't take a lot to get to that point.  If I'm aware that I'm vulnerable and I'm in the kitchen, walking into another room would probably be the best solution, just to keep me from doing something I didn't want to do.  The best thing at this point (after walking out of the kitchen) would be to check in with myself and backtrack to address the needs I ignored earlier.
The closer I get to the food in my mouth, the more willpower is required to stop myself because there's part of me that's already decided that the best way to take care of myself is to eat.  My intellectual, intelligent, compassionate self understands that's not what I want or need to do in the long run, but the upset, unhappy, unattended to screaming kid inside of me is now throwing a fit, telling the rest of me that the only way to fix the problem is to eat whatever it is I had my sights set on.

So when you see me moving away from the room with the food at a party, or taking a step outside to get a breath of fresh air in the middle of a food-related event, you'll know - I'm not using my willpower, I'm paying attention to my behavior chains and giving myself what I need.  Of course, you're welcome to give me a compliment on my willpower if you'd like!  Just don't forget that there's a lot more to it than simply willpower.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Patience, grasshopper.

This phase of my weight loss program, heck, of my life, is one where I need some serious patience.  Patience with myself, mostly.  At a time when I'm feeling better and better about what I can do with my increasingly fit and slimmer body (I felt my hip bones today!  How cool is that?), I've also run up against some unexpected limitations.

Back in September, I started experiencing an odd symptom; namely, my right arm began to tingle sporadically and with no discernible pattern.  It was uncomfortable and disturbing, and after it went on for a couple of weeks, I went to see my doctor.  She encouraged me to try anti-inflammatories and referred me to a neurologist if the symptoms didn't resolve within a week.  Well, they didn't resolve, so I made the appointment to see the neurologist and waited anxiously.

Because of my symptoms and my family's medical history, my neurologist had me do bloodwork, a cervical spine MRI and a nerve conduction test to figure out what was going on.  Bloodwork, no problem.  I do that all the time, and I have a really great vein for drawing blood (but that's another story).  Cervical spine MRI, also no problem.  It was the second MRI I've ever had, the first one being on my knee, so I knew what to expect. And since I'm not claustrophobic, the small space didn't bother me one bit - especially because I had no trouble fitting into the MRI machine!  (Another benefit of having a smaller body these days.)

That nerve conduction test was a nasty experience though.  Imagine having your arm tasered with increasing levels of electricity in a wide variety of places.  Then, once that was done, the doctor stuck a needle into each of the muscles of my forearm and upper arm, wiggled it around to find the nerve (OUCH!!!) and then made me move my arm with the needle in it (DOUBLE OUCH!!!!).  I'm not a fainter, but I almost passed out at the end of that test.  It sucked.

The followup appointment with my neurologist came, and I was prepared for the worst.  I'd worked myself up into a solid anxiety state in the eight weeks since my first appointment.  The neurologist came into the room, bravely faced me and my husband (whom I'd brought for moral support), and informed me I had... muscle tension.  Or maybe inflammation in the nerve, it was hard to say for sure.  But it wasn't any of the diseases I was half-convinced I had (thank God!).  Later that afternoon, the neurologist called me and let me know that there was one unusual and unrelated finding on the MRI that he thought we ought to check out.  Turns out the radiologist reviewing my MRI noted that my thyroid gland looked enlarged, and recommended further testing in that area.

At this point, I feel the need to point out that about five years ago, I began to wonder if I had thyroid problems.  Anyone who knows me knows that my body temperature runs on the cold side.  I distinctly remember one night when my particularly cold feet elicited a "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" yelp from my husband who was warmly nestled into bed.  There's the fatigue that I have regularly felt, even after getting 12 really good hours of sleep.  And then, of course, there's the struggles I have had to lose weight even when counting calories very carefully.  But my doctor has always run the basic blood tests in response to my questions, and told me I was within normal range (so shut up).  You can imagine, then, how vindicated I felt to have this unknown radiologist recommend what I had been asking for over the course of years.

To make a long story short (I know... too late, right?), the thyroid ultrasound showed that my thyroid was enlarged as well, and had no signs of cysts or cancer (whew!), and my doctor finally sent me to an endocrinologist to look at my thyroid situation.  Within a few minutes of talking to me and reviewing my test results, he gave me a preliminary diagnosis of Hashimoto's thyroiditis.  In other words, my immune system is attacking my thyroid gland and it's failing.  He did some blood tests to confirm the diagnosis, and when those results came back as expected, he gave me a prescription for a thyroid supplement - which is the standard treatment for this condition.  Incidentally, it's pretty standard for it to take 5-7 years for this condition to be diagnosed, so it's entirely possible my hunch from five years ago was on target.  We'll never really know.

I've been on the medication now for about a week and a half, and it's been an odd transition to say the least.  My body temperature, which has always been cold and has been even colder since being on the diet, now swings between being cold, being normal, and alternating hot and cold.  My energy levels fluctuate pretty significantly; one day I'll be peppy and the next day I'll be dragging my ass from stem to stern, with no particular explanation as to why.  My mental clarity and memory also fluctuates to some degree, though thankfully I haven't had days when I really just can't think or remember what I need to know.  My weight loss, which has slowed down over the past month or two, has picked back up again but still varies pretty dramatically from week to week.  My endocrinologist says it takes about two months for the body to adjust to the new level of thyroid hormone being provided by the supplement.  Until then I'm riding the roller coaster.

Which brings me to having patience with myself.  I'm used to being able to just do what I want to do without consideration for my body's condition, my mental exhaustion, or anything else.  Over the course of the last seven and a half months, I've started giving myself that consideration instead of pushing myself to the extreme and then giving myself food to compensate for the poor treatment.  This new phase, however, is like the advanced placement course in patience with myself.  I literally don't know what to expect from one day to the next, or one moment to the next.  Thankfully, I have a normal level of functioning that I don't ever lose, but there are days when the plans I've made just can't happen because I'm too tired physically or mentally, or I'm feeling too off-kilter.  The good news is that since I've spent the last seven and a half months paying attention to what I need and giving it to myself as best I can, I'm much more OK with acknowledging what I'm capable of in the moment.

On that note, today's a tired and mentally foggy day, especially as the day progressed.  You might have noticed by the rambling above.  So now, I'm headed to sleep.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pictures of my progress

Just a little visual aide for you to see how I've changed since beginning this weight loss program...

July 2010 - about 3 weeks into my weight loss program, about 20 pounds down
January 2011 - about 7 months into my weight loss program, 100 pounds down

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tis the season of milestones... and a little about running

In the last seven months, I have been on an incredible, and sometimes incredibly difficult journey.  One of the things that makes this journey worth it is the milestones I have been able to reach as I get closer and closer to my goal.  So here are a few milestones that have stood out to me in the last two months, roughly in chronological order, along with some notes about why these particular milestones matter to me.

1.  Fitting back into my high school prom dress.  Of course, I don't ever intend to wear it again, but it's one of those things that makes me think back about how far I've come over how much time.  What's interesting is when I wore my prom dress the first time, I weighed something in the neighborhood of 180 lbs.  When I fit back into it a decade ago, after losing 80 lbs with Weight Watchers, I was about 190 lbs.  This time, I fit back into it at 210 lbs.  The major take-away from this difference?  I have a lot more lean body mass now than I used to in high school or when I was 25, because I was physically the same size even though I weighed more.  I've been working with a personal trainer once a week for almost a year now, and I think my smaller size is due to that work.  Hooray!  Truth be told, I don't really care what my final weight is as long as I feel healthy and I'm happy with how I look, and being fit and strong is a big part of that final goal.

2.  Being able to shop at (AND buy clothes from) stores like Gap and Old Navy.  I've always wanted to be able to shop at Old Navy, but I was afraid I wouldn't fit their clothes so I never went in and tried.  As a kid, I used to enjoy clothes from the Gap, but they quickly became too small for me to squeeze into.  It took a lot of courage that first day to walk into those stores, unsure if anything there would fit me, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Not only did they fit me, I was able to find stuff I liked and could afford to purchase! Awesome. :-D

3.  Realizing when clothes from a certain store don't fit me, it's not a problem with ME, it's a difference between the shape of my body and the shape of the clothes... nothing more.  On the same day I tried out Gap and Old Navy, I also went into Banana Republic.  They have cute clothes and stuff that would be very work-appropriate, so why not, right?  I started looking around, and found a pair of size 16 slacks that looked interesting.  Then I did a double-take, looking at the slacks more closely.  Banana Republic's idea of a size 16 is NOWHERE near Gap or Old Navy's idea of a size 16 (it is, of course, much smaller).  Not only that, Banana Republic seems to design their clothes for women who have less difference between their waists and their hips.  That person will never be me.  I will probably end up with a figure approaching Marilyn Monroe's once it's all said and done; no matter how much weight I lose, I will always have an hourglass figure so Banana Republic may never be a store I shop at.  It's nobody's fault, and nobody's bad... it's just not a good fit for me.  What a relief to realize that!

4.  Getting under 200.  When I reached my breaking point with my weight and decided to go on the MNP, I was almost 300 pounds. I weighed 298 lbs, to be precise.  I was desperately afraid of what would happen to me if I allowed it to be OK in my mind to have a "3" be the first number in my weight.  To go from that place of fear and worry to now having a "1"at the beginning of my weight is an incredible relief.  And it helped that it was nearly simultaneous to the next milestone...

5.  Losing 100 lbs.  This is the most weight I have ever lost in my life. In fact, I've lost more than my 10-year-old nephew weighs.  That's pretty darn stunning. It also means I'm about 2/3 of the way to where I think my final goal weight will be.  Woohoo!  To celebrate, I got myself a massage.  :-D

6.  Getting to the point where I can run one mile again.  This is a biggie for me.  When I was growing up, I used to dread "Presidential Fitness Testing" season.  You know, where someone tells you to do a whole bunch of exercises that you've hardly ever done before in your life, and then expects you to do well at them and criticizes you if you don't.  Not a very happy experience for someone with perfectionist tendencies.  In particular, the one mile run was a form of torture I would have happily foregone if there had been any way of doing so.

I remember one particularly bad year, in 6th grade, when we were told to run the mile for Presidential Fitness Testing.  I had just recently developed asthma and didn't have any aerobic exercise as part of my regular routine due to the majority of my time being spent in singing rehearsals. The combination of those two things plus pushing myself to do well and desperately wanting not to be the last person to finish left me exhausted, nauseous, jittery from the overuse of my asthma medication, and humiliated.

This memory has stuck with me my entire life, and you can imagine how I felt about running for many, many years.  Then, in 2006, I had the realization that maybe the reason why I didn't run so well that day was because I had never TRAINED for running, and had never been TAUGHT how to run for longer distances by the school that was supposedly preparing us for these fitness tests (I'll save the rant on physical education in the schools for another day), and I decided to learn how to run one mile by training to run a half-marathon through Team in Training.  That was one of the best experiences of my life, with amazing and supportive coaches who accepted me where I was without hesitation.  Most of all, they taught me that running is about gait, not about speed and that in order to run, I have to find a pace that works for me and go from there.

Unfortunately, I injured myself that year (my overenthusiasm got the better of me and I pushed myself too fast, too far), and spent several years doing physical therapy and walking to strengthen my leg to the point of being able to think about running.  When I had been able to run, though, I absolutely loved it. I loved the way my body felt when I was striding along at my comfortable pace, and I loved how my mind cleared after getting into the groove of the running motion.  Being able to get back to that has been a long-time goal for me.  About two weeks ago, I was able to run my first mile in a long time, a huge, amazing gift, and one that I don't take lightly.  I'm really careful now not to push myself too far or too fast, because I know re-injury is just around that corner, and running is something I don't ever want to have to give up again.