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On Losing and Gaining

October 8, 2014

I’m not sure why, but this is strange to write. I have no problem posting my half-formed ideas about songs, or my predictions about baseball that I know will be wrong almost right away (go look at my last post and then go look at, and I’m not particularly averse to explore shifting priorities, emotional growth, or even personal failures. This post started in my brain over the last few weeks, and then moved to the actual WordPress drafts folder in an entirely unprintable (in that it would be an awful read) form.

Ostensibly, this is a post about good news, but in order to talk about it, I have to admit that I had (and, to be fair, have) a problem.

Since the beginning of July, I’ve lost a little more than thirty pounds. It started first as a commitment to spend my summer beyond my couch, and it slowly morphed into a different way of looking at my life. Week by week, I watched my weight creep lower, occasionally passing by tangible milestones until the odometer of my body mass ticked back to numbers I haven’t seen in nearly half of my life. I didn’t plan on losing weight this summer, but looking back I realize that I probably needed to do so.

Over the past year or two, I started feeling strange looking at certain pictures of myself. It first started with certain angles, leaving me free to rationalize that I was contorting weird. When my clothes didn’t fit as well, I assumed I was shrinking them in the laundry despite not knowing how to do that on purpose. When I was mildly active, I felt like I was going above and beyond. It didn’t add up.

When I started going to the gym this summer, it coincided with the end of a month with a few unexpected financial expenses that meant the beginning of the next month needed to be on a budget. I started going to an affordable gym so that I wouldn’t sit around all day or go out shopping and/or to buy lunch. With this and the Fitbit that my mom gave me last winter, I made myself accountable for a certain amount of physical activity, whether it was on the elliptical machine, walking around my neighborhood, or running errands. Around the same time, Jenny showed me an app that would link my physical activity to the food I was eating, and that opened my eyes.

I knew I wanted to be more active. What I didn’t know was that I needed to rethink how I thought of food.

I’ve never eaten particularly healthy. Over the last few years, I’ve also not eaten with any discretion. I am usually good about breakfast and lunch, and I used that as a blank check to eat a giant snack, a giant dinner, and anything else I wanted to eat. It wasn’t rare to finish a large bag of chips and salsa in two or three days. When I started keeping track of how much I ate, I had to confront the fact that I had no discipline whatsoever. In the summers, this was worse; if I was bored, or tired, or event faintly productive, I rewarded myself with food.

So I started keeping track of what I ate, and before I realized it, I was on a “diet.” It was a strange realization, but I think it’s what’s helped me stick with it. Knowing that I had to log whatever I ate made me think twice about grabbing crackers every time I walked by the box. Figuring out how many servings of something I ate made me question the true number of “servings” that was common for me, and made me think about what I put in front of myself. Most importantly, plans to go out for food made me think about what I ate at 3:00 on the couch, knowing what I’d likely have in store that night.

To that point, I’ve developed habits that many, including myself a few months ago, might deem extreme. I weigh out almost everything from my cereal in the morning (I’ve gotten good at getting within two grams of my cereal on the first pour) to the dozen tortilla chips I’ll have as a snack. While visiting friends this summer, I kept tally of the Goldfish I ate while we played cards, knowing that if I didn’t count, I’d likely eat the whole bowl.

I also embraced another tried-and-true diet mantra – I didn’t deny myself. With only a couple occasions, I haven’t had to completely forgo something I truly wanted – I only needed to eat a reasonable amount. For instance, after I publish this post, I’m going to have some (coconut milk) ice cream, but I’m going to have a small amount of it (I realized my “normal” serving was probably closer to three servings, and looking at the label while doing that math makes my head explode). I’ve still had pizza and Shake Shack, but I just don’t have it every night (or, in some occasions in the past, every meal). I haven’t turned down an invitation to go out to dinner, but I have thought two or three times before ordering. At home, I’ve measured out portions and gone back for another if I was truly hungry. What I started to find out was that I often wasn’t, and that I kept eating past being full because it was easy.

I also realized that I saw food as comfort. When I had a long day, I rewarded myself with a snack. When I was too tired to cook, I took comfort in whatever junk I had in the kitchen. If I had a good day, I deserved a burrito. None of these things are a problem alone – my problem was I often combined a few of these on top of full meals. I especially needed to stop rewarding every tiny accomplishment with a thousand calories of junk.

I’m convinced that I’ve been successful because I didn’t set this as a goal when I started, and that I’ve been lucky to have had relatively consistent success every week. It would have been frustrating to know I needed to lose tens of pounds only to see a quarter pound difference on the scale even if it was only a few days later. I still haven’t really set a goal (according to BMI, an imperfect statistic, I just entered the top range of “normal” weight) and instead I’m looking to let my weight stabilize based on my new, mindful eating patterns.

I’ve also been successful because I fell into a new habit. I’m not going to the gym every day or nearly as much as I did during the summer, but I’ve hit my activity goal every day since the first week in July, including a few nights where I left the house in darkness to go get the rest of my steps. I think this daily attainable goal speaks to the same compulsion that helped me blog every day in 2009 and much of 2010, whether it was finding solace in the routine or fearing breaking the chain.

In general, I feel better. My clothes fit again (or, in the case of some items, fit for the first time). I think I need to get some new belts and retire a couple pairs of pants. I don’t feel as exhausted at the end of the day. Even while working out, I’ve found that my effort (and my heart rate) goes further with less exertion. I was lucky to make these changes before it affected my health (knock on wood) and during a point where I could make “getting in shape” my full-time job. It made coming back to school that much easier.

The first crack at this post was to talk about why I was successful. I thought that naming the apps and habits and other routines might be useful to others, but it felt cheap. I think I was uncomfortable making it celebratory because I never really got to the root cause: accepting that I needed to make a change. I’m grateful that I was able to make the change before I could articulate that I needed it, and I’m especially grateful to the people in my life (Jenny in particular, who has watched me do very strange things like weigh Goldfish into a coffee filter*) who helped me with this both knowingly and unknowingly.

This brings me to my last point – I’ve found results, and I’ve changed my habits, but I have to stay on top of myself. Even just this afternoon, I started down the familiar trap of “a burrito would be really good on this ride home.” I’m not sure if I’m ever going to stop seeing food as a potential reward, so the best I can do is to be aware of my own thought processes and stop myself when I’m being counter-productive. I don’t think I’m going to weigh my meals the rest of my life, but I also know that I can’t stop doing it tomorrow.

In short: I’ve come a long way, and I’m getting there. Once I’m there, I have to make sure I stay.

*OK, one piece of advice – we have a lot of basket coffee filters and no longer have a coffee maker that uses them. I’ve found that they work great for covering a bowl in the microwave when reheating something. I’ve also found that if you want to measure out a reasonable portion of a snack food, they are the perfect size, and they don’t create more dishes and are cheaper than paper towels. I told you it was weird.


From → general blogging, me

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