I’ve been watching the new show, “This is Us,” on NBC. It follows a family with triplets (well, two triplets, since the third died in childbirth, and the parents adopted a third baby who had been abandoned at the hospital) and the daughter has a weight problem. Shown as a girl of around eight, she was already a little chubby, and her mother was encouraging her to eat fruit when her brothers were eating sugary cereal for breakfast. Then there’s a discussion between the two of them where the mother says, “You know I love you. I’m just trying to help.”
Those scenes take me back to my own childhood—well, actually my adolescence—when I gained weight too quickly and my mother started in on me. But she wasn’t as gentle as the mother in the TV show (played by Mandy Moore). So I’m watching to see how their relationship changes as the daughter gets older. (The show goes back and forth between decades, showing their childhood and later the kids as adults.)
In the scenes where the “triplets” are adults, “Kate” (played by Chrissy Metz) is seriously overweight. In one scene in Episode 2, Kate meets “Toby” (played by Chris Sullivan) at a therapy group for people with weight/food issues. Toby is attracted to Kate and convinces her to go on a few dates, but as he pushes for intimacy, she is obviously afraid. There’s this one scene that tells it all for me, when Toby asks her to go somewhere with him where they can just be themselves and not think or talk about food and weight issues. He says something like, “Life is not just about being fat.” She replies, “For me, it’s always going to be about the weight.” As Avery Thompson says in Hollywood Life:
It invades every aspect of her life, and she just can’t change what she feels in her core. Her confession is an honest one. Not many people have the guts to talk about what really troubles them deep down in inside so openly.
I felt her pain in my gut a she said this. And I understand that it’s “what she feels in her core.”
There’s a slim young woman in Kate’s overeating therapy group who has body-image distortion issues. I also identified with her, from back when I was running an aerobic dance business in the 1980s and weighed 116 pounds. I would look in the mirror—in my spandex tights and leg warmers—and still believe that my thighs were too fat. (Of course I’d give anything to weigh 116 again.)
So when Kate says it’s always going to be about the weight, I worry that I’ll never be free of this obsession. I worked so hard to lose that 15 pounds last fall, winter, and spring, and then so easily gained back 10 of it this summer, and now I’m ready to start losing it again. But the prospect of having to focus on everything I eat (again) isn’t a happy one. I’m tired of this lifelong battle. Of course when I share this with people, I get lots of suggestions about different diets and lifestyle eating choices. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate people trying to help, but I’m pretty well informed. But “knowing” is only half the battle, if even half. For me, it’s about waking up every morning and as part of my morning prayers asking God (and Mary of Egypt, my patron saint, and my guardian angel and Mary the Mother of God) to help me that day to be disciplined in my eating and exercise habits, and to please help me lose weight.
I’ve been praying that prayer almost every day since I was a teenager. I’m sixty-five years old. And now I’d really like to lose 25 pounds, which sounds like moving a mountain.
Anne Lamott said (in an article for Oprah Magazine in 2009) that one thing she did to become the person she was meant to be was “…whenever I could, for as long as I could, I threw away the scales and the sugar.” She makes it sound so simple… to quit caring about her weight, but also to quit eating sugar. Neither is something simple.
And so I begin again. Today. I’m going to try to talk to myself as a kind, sweet, supportive, non-judgmental mother would talk to her daughter. As I know my own mother thought she was doing, God rest her soul. I’m going to try to quit blaming her. I’ve already forgiven her, which is a big step, but taking responsibility for my own actions and leaving her out of it is much harder. Today I’m going to focus on my writing projects (three!) which I love—proof-reading galleys for one book; working with an editor on the manuscript for another; and honing marketing plans for a third—and hopefully the joy this work brings me will flow over into a more positive focus on food and exercise. Deep breath. Here goes….
Today I am declaring the summer of my discontent as officially over. Three long, hot, hard months of weight gain, depression, grief, sloth, lack of exercise, over-eating, over-drinking, and over-thinking are OVER today. Labor Day seems like a good time to turn this ship around.
Of course it helps that I’ve got such exciting news on the publishing front and plenty of work to be done to get those two (and maybe three) books birthed in 2017. There’s definitely a correlation between my depression lifting and those emails and phone calls and meetings with publishers the past couple of weeks.
Today’s post might seem to be as much about physical as mental health—and it definitely is—but for me, the battle is always as much mental. After watching the Olympics in August, and now the U.S. (tennis) Open, I’m reminded over and over again how much success in athletics is a mental thing. My two favorite sports to watch are tennis and golf, and I’ve seen many a seasoned athlete lose, not so much to other players as to himself. We beat ourselves when we let stress and negativity overwhelm our efforts at success, in any area of our lives. So today, I’m focusing on one of those areas I’ve neglected this summer—exercise.
During my years as an aerobic dance instructor (1982-1991) I worked out regularly and never really thought of it as exercise, because it was fun. I love to dance, and I love to teach. (And yes, I even loved the cute outfits with the leg warmers and headbands back in the 1980s.) But when I quit teaching in 1991—twenty-five years ago—my battle with exercise began. I tried taking aerobics classes, but found it hard to motivate myself when I wasn’t the instructor. I had temporary success with Curves (circuit training) in 2001 (when I was recovering from surgery for cervical cancer) but that was the last time I participated in any kind of organized exercise program.
Breaking my neck, leg and ankle in 2013 greatly hindered my efforts at exercise. Walking on hard surfaces (outdoors) hurts. I can’t do yoga. Pilates hurt my back. Swimming takes too much time (okay that’s my excuse, though I may have to get over that one day). And so I’ve pretty much been limited to the elliptical machine for the past four and a half years. And it’s right here in my office, with a view of my flat screen TV. In the air-conditioning. How difficult can that be, right? (I’m trying to take inspiration from Venus Williams, who is ranked #6 in the world at age 36, in spite of having Sjogren’s syndrome. Makes my arthritis and other aches and pains seem insignificant by comparison.)
With new information encouraging us that 150 minutes a week is good enough, and that those minutes can even be broken up into 10-minute intervals, I should have no problem hopping on the elliptical once or twice a day and logging those minutes. Which I plan to start doing again. Today. (And I’m trying to remember that exercise isn’t just about weight-loss.)
I’ve gained back 5 of the 15 pounds I worked so hard to lose over the past year, so I want to lose it again and another 10 or 15 more. I know it won’t be quick, and I know success will depend upon overcoming my eating disorders and committing to exercise. And not just for weight loss—I realize I also need to start doing some strength training to build muscle and bone. Haven’t figured out a plan for that yet. Today, I’m all about getting back to the diet and exercise.
Happy Labor Day!
Evidently there are two (French) secrets to getting and staying slim: “the decision and apples.”
That’s what Tish Jett’s internist told her. Jett is the author of Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style and Substance. I’m devouring this book in preparation for our trip to Paris in a few weeks, but also because I’ve always admired French women-the way they dress, their natural-looking complexions, their slim and youthful bodies.
Six months after starting my weight-loss program, I hit a wall—emotionally and physically. I had lost 17 pounds, but I keep gaining back 2 pounds, then losing them again, then gaining them back. I feel stuck. I’m tired of counting calories and I’ve had a few emotional struggles that sent me on binges. Not the really big, bad binges I used to indulge in, but off the track and up the scales, for sure.
So this morning as I continued reading in Jett’s book, I found some strength to carry on. Part of Jett’s research for the book included interviews with friends. (She lived in France for ten years.) All of them slim. None of them ever diet. But their whole approach to food is based on a mindset I’m trying to adopt. Like her friend, Alexander Fourcade, an internist and mother of three daughters between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six, who has never been on a diet:
Diets are passé…. They are too mentally time-consuming. I don’t even think about eating anymore. I know what’s good for me and what isn’t. My body tells me. I’m attuned to how I feel when I eat well, or less well. When I make exceptions for wine, champagne, or a dessert, it’s a conscious decision and I enjoy every second.
I was right there with her for a while, but lately some of those exceptions haven’t been completely “conscious decisions,” and I end up depressed.
So what’s a “woman of a certain age” to do when dieting isn’t working? Again, Jett’s internist says:
There are two secrets: “the decision” and “apples.”
He keeps several apples in his car for those times when he’s hungry or just having a craving. And Jett’s friend Francoise never leaves home without hard-boiled eggs when she isn’t sure healthy food will be available to her. Another friend, Anne Francoise, always keeps a bag of almonds in her handbag. Apples. Boiled eggs. Almonds. Not Reece’s pieces or potato chips or Cokes.
I remember going on a road trip with a friend who successfully lost 30 pounds and kept it off. She kept small containers of tuna in her car—the pop-top kind—so she could pop one open for a quick protein snack. She carried bottled water, and instead of stopping at gas stations (unless she actually needed gas) she stopped at state park type rest stops, which were less likely to have lots of tempting fried foods and sweets.
These ideas sounds good, except that they seem to only apply to people who actually get hungry. In her book Jett says that people eat for two reasons: hunger and pleasure. I rarely eat because I’m hungry. In fact, I love the way I feel when my body gets physically hungry, and I often do my best mindful eating in that state. It’s when I’m bored or anxious that I look to food to replace those unpleasant feelings with pleasant ones.
Another physician Jett interviewed talked about another important issue for those of us who struggle with food cravings:
An impulse lasts for twelve minutes…. She suggested that we can overcome an impulse by immediately doing something for twelve minutes, like polishing our nails, for example, or making a phone call. Mindfulness helps us identify the menace and keeps us in the moment; then we decide.
Of course I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness for some time now, but this twelve-minute impulse thing is intriguing. I often get cravings when I’m out shopping. I want to hit up a drive-thru for something really “bad” like ice cream or French fries and Coke. Or going through the checkout line at the grocery—after purchasing all healthy foods—I’ll pick up a package of mini Reece’s. Other times cravings hit when I’m alone at home and struggling about something emotionally. I try not to keep potato chips and other “trigger carbs” in the pantry for this reason.
There’s lots of other specific, helpful information in the book, but these are the gems I wanted to share today. Forever Chic also has lots of information about skin care, hair care, and wardrobe choices, all of which I’m enjoying and some of which I’m applying. I was already on track with good hair care (and spending a fair amount of money on good hair cuts and color) but my skin care regiment needed revamping. Thanks to Jett’s wisdom, I’m making some changes that I hope will result in healthier skin.
I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from the chapter on healthy eating:
With few exceptions, my friends and the women I met while writing this book told me they are gourmands at heart. Translation: they love to eat and might fleetingly consider larger portions of their favorite foods if they didn’t love some of their favorite clothes even more.
Most of those women can still wear clothes they purchased ten or twenty years ago, because of impulse control and good choices. And so I continue the journey with renewed enthusiasm… less than a month before we leave for Paris!
Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today, “Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backward,” was just what I needed to read this morning. Although his writings are more of a spiritual than mental health nature, I don’t think we should separate these two important elements of our selves. In fact, I believe our mental, spiritual and physical health are tightly intertwined. So today I’m writing about two steps backward in my ongoing weight-loss journey.
After losing 17 ½ pounds over a period of five and a half months (and wanting to lose at least 15 more) I’ve come to see my “diet” as a new lifestyle. As my metabolism slows (and sometimes seems to come to a halt!) I need to learn ways to care for my aging body so that it will serve me in what I hope will be a couple more active decades.
This morning the scales showed that for the first time since I began this journey, I had gained weight. Two pounds. This didn’t surprise me—I’ve slipped back into old habits of mindless eating for the past few days. But thankfully I’m not letting it plummet me into depression and despair, as I once would have done. Instead I’m trying to learn from these “two steps backward.” Why/how did I let this happen? And how does Rohr’s lesson—which is really about how Holy Scriptures help us in our spiritual journey—apply to my backsliding experience?
Rohr says that three steps forward are like “moving forward toward the mercy, humility, and inclusivity of Jesus” whereas our steps backward are like “regressing into arrogance, exclusion, and legalism.” I can see God’s mercy in the weight-loss success I’ve had so far, especially given my history of sexual abuse and eating disorders. And I’m learning humility as I struggle to submit myself to a calorie budget on a long-term basis. And yes, when I slide backwards into mindless eating, I can feel the legalism clipping at my heels. The voices saying “bad girl, you broke the rules” or “see, you can’t really do this.”
And so I begin again today, my spirits lifted by the reminder that it’s all grace, and that God wants me to succeed in this endeavor. To take care of the temple which is my physical body. And in the process—or maybe an important part of the process—to care for my mental and spiritual health. I’m actually looking forward to eating less and exercising more today. I feel better already. (This quote is taped to the lamp by my computer.)
On this rainy Monday just before Christmas, I’ve got a song on my mind that isn’t exactly a Christmas carol.
Last week I watched a TV special about Karen and Richard Carpenter. I loved their music back in the late sixties and seventies, and was devastated by Karen’s death from anorexia at age 32. As Richard said on the special last week, little was known about eating disorders back then, and by the time Karen went in for treatment, it was too late and she died. I’ve never known what drove her to anorexia—there were only vague references on the show about the stress she was under with her career. But I found myself weeping as I watched her sing “Rainy Days and Mondays,” one of my favorite of their songs. Especially when she sang this verse:
What I’ve got they used to call the blues.
Nothing is really wrong.
Feeling like I don’t belong.
Walking around, some kind of lonely clown,
Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.
My mother used to say she was “blue.” I think it was her generation’s term for depression. Or maybe for feelings that could grow into depression or just sit there on the soul like a mild sadness. Sadness as an emotion doesn’t have to become malignant. But sometimes it overpowers us. And for some of us it’s often there. As Karen sings:
What I’ve got has come and gone before.
No need to talk it out,
We know what it’s all about….
Did she? Did she know what it was all about?
I remember a time in my thirties when I wished I had anorexia. Yes. It was becoming prevalent in the news and although I struggled with bulimia and body image distortion and exercise addiction for many years, most of all I wanted to be skinny. And free of my food and body issues. I became severely depressed on and off during that time, and to this day those feelings can overwhelm me at a moment’s notice. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to deal with my emotions better—and my food cravings.
Anorexia is about control. I’ve always had control issues, and since control is pretty much an illusion (how many of us really have control over our lives?) those of us who crave it look for ways to tamp down that craving. Or we look for areas in our out-of-control lives where we can create order. Controlling what we eat is one of the ways that we sometimes seek out. Even as I continue the 1000-1200-calorie diet I’ve been on for three and a half months (and I’ve lost 15 pounds!) I recognize the high I get when I punch my calories into my LoseIt! app on my iPhone and stay under my limit for the day. And the euphoria when the scales register even another half pound loss is greater than the pleasure of a favorite food or drink. Most of the time.
What a journey I’ve been on most of my sixty-four years. I’m thankful for my spiritual life, which helps moderate my tendency towards emotional and behavioral imbalance. I still go over my calorie budget occasionally, and some days I give in to that martini that tips the balance a bit too far. But the good days are becoming more frequent than the bad ones, and for that I am thankful.
Even on rainy days and Mondays.
I’ve been on this 1,000-1,200-calorie diet for about three and a half months now. Still holding at a loss of 13 ½ pounds. (I got kinda “stuck” this past week while making home made fudge and taking it to a cookie swap.) But I press on, even with the holidays in full swing. It kind of helped that we missed two Christmas parties Saturday night due to my husband’s illness. I was so sad to miss the chance to celebrate with my husband’s work colleagues and then with neighbors, but I took advantage of our situation and stayed on track with my calories.
This past weekend I read two articles that address different elements of my situation. The first one was excerpted in Spry Living, from a longer piece by Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, which I found online here:
I was especially interested in Kirkpatrick’s article because of my church’s tradition of fasting—on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, and for longer periods of time during Advent and Lent and before other major feasts of the (Orthodox) Church. It’s interesting that this intermittent fasting recommends reducing calorie intake for two days each week. On those days, you eat two meals of about 500 calories each, which is actually about what I’m eating every day on my current weight-loss diet. The article says that this calorie-cutting can reduce cravings, which I’ve definitely noticed these past three months. But I’ve been wondering what I’ll do once I reach my goal, and this sounds like a healthy idea. And it can be nicely woven into the spiritual fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.
The link to this second article was sent to me by a friend on Saturday:
This friend was aware that I’m allowing myself a vodka martini (210 calories) most days, which amounts to 20% of my daily caloric intake. Doesn’t sound very healthy, does it? And yet, this article cited studies done at Harvard—involving 20,000 women, which found that those who drank two glasses of wine a day had a 70% reduced risk of obesity compared to non-drinkers—and another long-term study by the National Center for Disease Control looked at more than 7,000 people over 10 years and found that alcohol consumption didn’t increase the risk of obesity. You can read the article to get more details, but for now, I’m not beating up on myself on the days I include a drink in my calorie budget. And as long as I work out on the elliptical, I can have 1200 rather than 1000 calories. Perfect—30 minutes of exercise=one Kettle One martini. Works for me!
It’s been almost three months since I started this diet. (See “Counting Calories” from August 31.) The good news? I’ve lost 12 pounds. And I’m learning things about myself every day as I continue this 1000-calorie discipline I’ve chosen.
The not-as-good news? I’ve hit a weight-loss plateau. Without going over my calorie budget more than one or two days (and then only 200 calories over) I can’t seem to keep those pounds coming off. Thankfully, I haven’t let it send me into a serious funk, which always leads to binge eating or drinking. But I’m ready to see those scales move again.
So today I did a little research, and the article I found most helpful was “Getting Past a Weight-Loss Plateau” from Mayo Clinic. It seems that I’m burning muscle along with fat… muscle that keeps my metabolism going. What do they recommend?
To lose more weight, you need to either increase your physical activity or decrease the calories you eat. Using the same approach that worked initially may maintain your weight loss, but it won’t lead to more weight loss.
Not what I wanted to hear. The article went on to say that they don’t recommend going lower than 1200 calories, which is what I’m actually eating, since I subtract 200 calories for every 20 minutes I spend on the elliptical machine. Here’s what Mayo says about that:
Rev up your workout. Increase the amount of time you exercise by 15 to 30 minutes and possibly the intensity of your exercise to burn more calories. Adding exercises such as weightlifting to increase your muscle mass will help you burn more calories.
So, as I’m approaching the 3-month mark in my diet, my plan is to work out on the elliptical for 40 minutes/day rather than 20. Just long enough to watch a one-hour TV show without commercials. I see a Law & Order SVU marathon coming on!
Only problem is we’re headed to the beach for Thanksgiving… no elliptical machine in our condo. So my alternate plan is to walk for one hour/day on the beach. And enjoy fresh seafood instead of cornbread dressing and desserts. It helps that I’m not cooking all my favorite dishes this year. Have a great week everyone!
I had planned to write more about my mother and Alzheimer’s today, but when I woke up I had something else on my mind. So instead I’ll share an article from The Guardian (October 20) that has some excellent information on dementia and caregiving:
“The Deviousness of Dementia” by Dasha Kiper. Here’s a teaser:
Dementia, of course, has been identified, classified, and even anatomically annotated. And because we’ve labeled the anomaly, describing it as something carved out in the brain, a swerve from the norm, a deterioration of cognitive ability, we believe we understand it. Having lived with a dementia patient for more than a year, I am not sure I agree. I believe that something remains hidden, something we’re not inclined to see, precisely because dementia steers us away from it.
And now back to what was foremost in my mind this morning: diet and weight loss. I’ve now lost 8½ pounds (towards my goal of losing 33 pounds) and while I’m pleased, I wish it was happening more quickly. I’ve been dieting for almost two months and had hoped to lose 2 pounds/week. But I’m like that about most things in life—I want it NOW. Instead I’m learning some things about myself and this process that I might not have the opportunity to learn if it happened quickly.
One thing I’m learning is to delay instant gratification (I know, that seems obvious, right?) in order to experience a bigger goal. Isn’t this what we do in other areas of life, like spending less money on small things in order to be able to enjoy the larger things—a bigger house, a new car, a wonderful vacation? Which is why I decided to call my plan a “1000-calorie budget” rather than a “diet.” I just don’t like the word, “diet.” And while budgets can be hard to keep, they can also be rewarding.
I just spent a week in Denver visiting kids and grandkids. I was a little worried that I might gain back some of the weight I’ve lost since I wouldn’t be at home where I could more easily control the budget. And I wouldn’t have my elliptical machine, on which I usually burn about 200 calories a day. But thankfully I lost one pound while I was there! How?
I let my kids know about my budget and they were supportive. They never said things like, “Oh, Mom, come on, you can splurge just once.” So, the evening that my son and daughter-in-law fixed Italian sausage spaghetti for supper, I only ate the chopped salad. And the night we had Kentucky Fried Chicken at my daughter’s house (I LOVE KFC!) I pulled the crust off of a small thigh and skipped the mashed potatoes and mac and cheese. One morning my daughter was picking up breakfast from McDonalds on her way back from dropping Gabby at daycare, and I asked for a sausage and biscuit. Knowing they have 430 calories (!) I only ate half of it. It’s my favorite fast food, so I enjoyed it slowly, savoring each bite as I watched my two-month-old granddaughter sleeping on the couch next to me. Which brings me to another point.
My daughter is working on getting her three-year-old to focus on one thing at a time. For example, if we are playing a table game and she gets up to play with another toy during the game, she is encouraged to leave the toy alone and sits back down. Same thing goes for watching TV while eating, which we all do from time to time. As I watched this lesson she was trying to teach her daughter, I thought about how much more I could enjoy each activity if I focused on the one thing—eating my tiny meal, playing a game, watching a TV show, reading a book. That one thing should be enough to entertain me at the moment, and its enjoyment is increased by the singularity of focus. (I never eat food in front of my computer because I am so hyper-focused at the computer that I would not enjoy the food.)
Hope everyone who is trying to lose weight or get healthy in any way will appreciate these simple observations today. Have a great week!
If you’re new to my blog and want to catch up on my posts about my weight-loss budget and journey, here are a few, with tips on the Lose It! iPhone app, exercise, shoes, and more:
You know how some people buy jeans a size too large in order to have some wiggle room? Well, that’s part of the reasoning behind my 1,000-calorie diet. The first week I set the budget at 1,200 calories, but then I decided (1) I wanted to lose the weight more quickly and (2) I needed a little wiggle room. This past weekend I was happy to have those “bigger jeans.”
We had out of town company. We went to an awesome party Friday night (open bar, BBQ ribs, lobster mac and cheese, etc.). I ate 3 meals on Saturday. (I usually eat 1-2 actual meals a day.) And yet I still managed to (1) work out on the elliptical every day and (2) stay under 1,200 calories. How much weight did I lose? ZERO. How much did I gain? ZERO. So after two weeks I’m holding steady at 5 pounds lost, although most of it was lost in the first 10 days. I guess I’ve hit a plateau, but I don’t plan to stay here very long. I’m renaming today: MOVE FORWARD MONDAY!
That’s all. Check back in on Wednesday for a post about the MidSouth Book Festival in Memphis this past weekend. Terrific speakers, panels and workshops.