Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Here We Go Again

Debby really nailed it today at Debby Weighs InShe captured the essence of the weight maintenance experience -- the never-ending grind of making the right food choices and resisting the wrong food choices, again and again and again and again. And every morning you wake up to the same struggle as the day before, as though you were the Bill Murray character in the movie Groundhog Day, only it's the sequel, Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Goes on a Diet.

Well done Debby!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Swiss Chard Fantasies

I just returned from a three-day work conference. I like conferences. It's a chance to get away from the normal grind and learn a few new things. Usually I have my own room and I enjoy that too, mostly because I can sleep in a quiet place, away from rambunctious cats who act like four AM is the best time to run relay races. This conference was no different. The hotel was nice, the goings-on were well organized, and the presenters seemed to know their stuff.

Oh yeah, did I mention that the food sucked?

Why do I use this highly technical term, "sucked"? Perhaps because there was a conspicuous lack of an entire food group? Can you guess which? Yes, of course. Vegetables. 

The other food groups were well represented, especially the grains group. Bread abounded. Pasta was prolific. Danishes danced across the breakfast buffet. Meat and potatoes and dairy were also plentiful. The rare appearance of something vegetable in nature coincided with the copious use of mayonnaise, butter, and bacon as flavor enhancers, because everyone knows that veggies are not tasty enough on their own. In other words, it was normal eating.

What to do? I've written about this phenomenon before, I know. In the past, I often got mad, silently fuming; sometimes I got mad, non-silently protesting; other times I got mad but decided to grin and bear it. This time, I didn't get mad, silently or otherwise. This time, I just ate. To be fair, I ate less than normal to account for the extra calories (and carbs!), and I skipped the ice cream bar on the last night. In short, I made the best of a bad food situation and tried not to get all verklempt about it.

Did I feel sorry for myself, plunged into food dystopia through no fault of my own? Not really. I'm not sure how to explain my mellow response to this situation. I think some of it has to do with my recent weight gain, which has made it abundantly clear that there are two paths I can take. One is to eat "normally" and gain weight. The other is to eat "abnormally" and keep my weight where I want it. It's not a sadistic punishment visited upon me by the weight gods, it's simple biology and physiology. And -- shockingly -- the world seems disinclined to make much accommodation for my fat-prone metabolism, so I just have deal with it on my own, period.

You should know that it wasn't a complete disaster. I did speak to the conference organizer and provided constructive feedback about the meal choices, with suggestions for improvement for future conferences. And when I got home, I weighed myself and found I had gained only a half pound. Not too shabby.

Don't mistake any of this for blissful acceptance of my plight. It would be more accurate to say that I'm resigned. And I still get frustrated by the fact that there is such a laser beam focus on the failings of the overweight person and very little on the deficient nature of the food environment. Oh why oh why can't fat people eat in a sensible, healthy way, the eating experts moan, while paying no mind to the dietary minefields we weight-challenged folk traverse each day. Like a conference without vegetables.

Now that I'm home and master of my menu once more, I see lots and lots of Swiss chard in my future.

Yup. Yum.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Truth About Truth

I've been wondering about stuff lately.

This is what happens when you've been successful in dealing with a problem for a while -- I've lost a lot of weight and kept it off for years! Go me! -- and then that problem turns around and bites you in the ass.

I'm starting to get back into the "eating-this-way-will-keep-my-weight-down" saddle again. Perhaps you noticed that I didn't use the phrase "healthy eating" or its cousin "eating a sensible diet." It's not that I don't believe in healthy eating or sensible diets, it's just that I don't know what either of those things mean for me.

The way of eating that keeps my weight down, in my experience, is low carb eating. I know that's trendy now and has many devoted followers (and detractors), but it works for me. By low carb, I mean a about three servings a day, maybe some oatmeal with breakfast, a slice of bread with dinner, the occasional ear of corn in the summer or baked potato in the winter. Now, complex carbohydrates are supposed to be "healthy," part of a "sensible diet," but if I eat more of these foods than what I've  just described, I gain weight. Nonsense, you say! Well, whatever, that's what happens.

There are other things I eat that are not too healthy or sensible I would guess. Such as, I'm a diet Dr. Pepper addict. Drinking diet Dr. Pepper, however, definitely helps me keep my weight down. So my question is this: what is better for my health, to eat in a way proclaimed "healthy" and gain weight? Or to eat in a way that includes some not-so-desirable aspects and be at a weight proclaimed "healthy"? And is that my only choice?

You don't expect me to answer that last question, do you?

By now, I should be some kind of expert in this weight maintenance thing, but it seems the more I know, the less I know. I'm always amused when I see an ad for a "miracle" weight loss product. Knowing how hard it is for any one person (um... me) to figure out the perfect balance between health and weight, it amazes me that anyone would think they have the answer for everyone. People buy into it though, not because they don't know better, but because I think they do. The last seven years of my life have been spent in an unending quest to discover what works for me, only to come to the depressing realization that what works for me is not a constant, unassailable truth for all time. Crap. This is one god-awful battle. Who wouldn't prefer a "miracle"?

You might ask, if it's so bad, why do it? Why not accept a higher weight and get on with your life? Don't think I haven't asked myself that same question. So for that reason alone I'm grateful for my recent weight gain -- I have been reminded in the rudest possible way why I do this. Not for some vague notion of health. Not for some vain notion of being healthy. I just feel better when I'm thinner. Period.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. Eating-this-way-will-keep my-weight -down. And just what way it that?

I'll let you know.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Few Thoughts on the Last Year

Hey. It's been a long time hasn't it? I've been busy these last ten or so months due to family issues that I'll talk about some day. For now, let's just say it's been a tough year. 

One thing I noticed over the last year is how easy it is to slip into old habits when you're under stress. By old habits, I mean pasta-gulping, ice-cream slurping, bread-noshing habits. I read somewhere that when the body digests carbohydrates, it creates serotonin, otherwise known as the "feel-good" hormone. Well, I needed a lot of help feeling good these past few months.

Of course, that's an excuse. A good one for sure, but an excuse nonetheless.

So as I sit here writing, I also sit dealing with weight regain, thirty pounds to be exact. There are two ways to look at this I think. The first is to see myself as a complete and total failure, an utter sham. Why, don't I know that no one can keep the weight off forever? The second is to see myself as a person who lost 100 pounds and kept off 70. You see, in the past, when I regained weight, I gained it ALL back, And then some. To have gotten ahold of myself at a 30-pound regain and stopped it right there, now that is something different.

I'm spending most of my time these days in Way To Look At It #1.

It's interesting to note how I've been dealing with the practical ramifications of this weight regain, the most significant of which is that none of my clothes fit. I did keep a few "fat clothes" as insurance, but only a few, and even those don't fit well. I've been very creative at mixing and matching a limited number of ill-fitting items to cobble together five outfits for the workweek -- and who says you can't wear the same thing twice in a week? What I was determined to avoid was buying new, that is, larger, clothes. Because that felt like even more failure. Not only did I regain a large amount of weight, but I gave up and bought a new wardrobe. 

I will not not give up! I will lose this regained weight! Dammit!


It's about health, right? Well, yes. And no. It's also about who I am as a person. It's about how I relate to my family and friends. It's about seeing myself as someone who is worth something, thin or fat. It's a metaphor for my life.

A few weekends ago, I got fed up (no pun intended) with the situation, so I decided to buy a few pieces of clothing to alleviate my discomfort. Not a new wardrobe, but a few items. I went to Salvation Army and spent $17 on four shirts and one pair of shorts. Woohoo! Way to treat yourself girl!

I'm not sure what the next few months hold, but what I would like to do is get back to my old new eating habits and see what happens. Maybe I'll be able to lose some of the weight I regained. Maybe not. Certainly I'll feel better if I eat better. Perhaps along the way I'll discover why I equate feeling good (and to be completely truthful, BEING good) so exclusively with food.

 I don't expect this to be easy. After all, we are going into macaroni salad and ice cream season. (Damn you creamsicle soft serve!) But then again, we are also going to fresh-vegetables-at-the-farm-stand season.

There may be hope after all.

Monday, September 2, 2013

First There Is A Donut, Then There Is No Donut, Then There Is

There’s a billboard that I pass on my way to work each morning that touts a local medical practice specializing in bariatric surgery. The ad proudly proclaims that they are responsible for 5000 smiles since 2002. Right before and after this billboard are other billboards. These other billboards advertise fast food restaurants, places like Dunkin Donuts, replete with tantalizing images of delicacies, such as Bavarian Kremes and Maple Frosted Coffee Rolls.

All of which makes me wonder. Is the problem the donut or the person who eats it?

It seems to me that, in the quest to find the “cause” for obesity, most of the attention has been focused on the eater, not the eaten. Holy crap, you say! Are you living under a maple-frosted rock? How could you have missed the onslaught of ads for Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig, South Beach, ad infinitum? Do the words low-carb, paleo, Mediterranean mean nothing to you? If anything, you say, we are obsessed to the point of insanity with the eaten.

Ahem. I am, of course, well aware of the Diet Industrial Complex, that endless blitz of diet programs and diet books and diet philosophies, which reap great profits for everyone but the desperate people who follow them. It seems to me that all this food noise is not about what is to be eaten, but rather, about seducing vulnerable people with how good they will look, how sexy they will feel, how righteous they will be if only they renounce fat/sugar/salt/wheat/meat/fill-in-the-blank and do exactly what this particular expert/author/blogger/health guru says. That our hapless eater is immersed in an ocean of donuts is of no consequence as long as they remain a true believer and change themselves.

Bariatric surgery is just the far end of the spectrum in this conviction that the answer to excess weight is to modify the person carrying it. And so, you must be a warrior against the donut, ever vigilant, forsaking conventional ways of eating in favor of that prescribed by your new food religion. The other end of this spectrum favors a more psychological approach, in which you change your psyche, making peace with “food demons” so you can practice moderation and, above all else, be sensible. Regardless of where you exist on this spectrum, when you are successful in transforming yourself, your weight will take care of itself and life will be wonderful, full of smiles even. If you can’t change yourself on your own, then you have no option but the knife. And I don’t mean the butter knife.

Let’s step back for a minute. It is a fact that the reason I lost 100 pounds is because I modified myself. Not through surgery, but in a radical way nonetheless. I changed my diet in the extreme. I changed my exercise habits in the extreme. Doesn’t this prove that the “cause” of obesity is to be found in the eater?

Before we jump on that anti-gravy train, let me relate a few more facts. First, I have not “won” my battle with obesity. I still struggle with it. Every day. And, second, it is entirely possible that I will someday regain all the weight I lost. I keep this nasty picture in the forefront of my mind, as a hedge against the abysmal odds. You see, a big part of the fight has to do with living in a world awash with donuts (and their fatty, sugary, salty co-conspirators), requiring near superhuman willpower to resist. When I fail to resist them, 100% of the blame is assigned to me. And only me. Because I made the “choice” to eat those foods, right? Don’t I know, to misquote The Matrix, that there is no donut?

Um, excuse me, but... There most certainly IS a donut.

It seems counterproductive to me that we focus on fixing, even “curing,” the currently/formerly fat while ignoring the food environment that surrounds us, though I understand why it happens. There’s a whole culture and a whole economy dedicated to donuts and their gastronomic kin. It’s ingrained in us to a point that we don’t question it. It’s just the way it is. So of course an orange costs more than a donut. And it follows naturally that given the choice of an orange or a donut, most people would choose the donut. To do otherwise would be a huge change in the status quo.

And, as any overweight person already knows, big change is hard. Really, really hard.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Food and Everything

If you pay attention to what our culture says about weight loss – articles in women’s magazines, ads for weight loss programs, or television shows like The Biggest Loser – you will hear one constant theme and it is:

What You Will Gain When You Lose.

Because everyone knows that losing weight is nothing if not a winning proposition. You will gain greater health. Increased confidence. Delight in being able to do whatever it was you couldn’t do because of your weight. Other people will admire you. And find inspiration in your accomplishment. It will be a happy-happy-joy-joy experience.

This is untrue but the idea persists, I believe, because most of us don’t spend too much time in weight maintenance. Most of us lose a lot of weight and, after a few glorious months as a thinner version of ourselves, gain it all back. And then we must start the cycle all over. This would be an accurate description of my life with weight for close to fifty years.

Somehow, in 2007, I found a way to break that cycle – I lost a lot of weight and have kept it off for over five years. Not that my weight has been completely static during that time. The actual situation is that I gain a few pounds, then I lose it, then I gain it back, then I lose it again. The key is “a few” pounds. Not one-hundred pounds.

Another way to describe my life in maintenance is that I’ve slowly been coming to grips with what I lost, in addition to the weight, that is. It took a few years for this to really sink in, which is probably why I never got here previously – I’ve never spent this much time in the maintenance phase before. When the novelty of being thinner wore off, I started noticing some things. Like the fact that many of my relationships involved going out to eat. That my ability to deal with stress was directly proportional to my ice cream consumption. That chocolate could fill any void. Without the balm of food, it’s just me and my problems, all alone in an often exasperating and disappointing world.

So this is my challenge now, to live a satisfying life, one in which food nourishes my body and soul, but is not everything. The idea that food is not everything would have been inconceivable to me for my first fifty years. Now, five years into this maintenance thing, it’s a belief that has got to go. And that’s a loss as big and as real as anything I’ve ever contemplated losing before.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Vegetables Are Where It's At!

It’s hot!

For most of my life, hot meant summer and summer meant ice cream. This summer, I’m trying something different. This year, I’m going hog-wild for fresh fruits and vegetables!

On Tuesday, I made my favorite green bean salad in herb Dijon vinaigrette. Plus, I’ve got Brussels sprouts and carrots in the fridge, waiting for roasting – and I will roast them, heat wave or no! I’m also thinking that I need to buy cauliflower (to be roasted with garlic and paprika) and kale (for a luscious kale and mango salad). We had corn on the cob on Tuesday too, and even though corn is really best considered a carb, fresh, local corn is a summer luxury for those of us who live in the Northeast. I decided I was worth it!

On the fruit front, I made an apple salad this week. When I came across this recipe, it was billed as an “autumn salad,” but it’s pretty good in the summer too. The recipe goes like this:

2 Granny Smith apples, washed but not peeled, cut into bite-size pieces
2 large celery stalks, finely chopped
2 large scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3 tbsp walnut oil
1-1/2 tbsp sherry vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients, toss until everything is coated, and marinate for at least a few hours. This salad tastes better the second day and even better the third day.


With all of this fruit and veggie goodness, who has time to obsess about creamsicles?