August 14, 2010

Strengths and weaknesses

As I begin another week, I'm forced to sit back and think about what I will need in order to continue doing well. While I love occasional spontaneity, I am definitely the kind of person who loves to plan things in advance, to make lists and have an idea of how things ought to go. So, with my lifestyle changes in mind, I've been working on two lists: (1) what are my strengths? (2) why have I failed in the past?

It seems there are always reasons not to do what you should. Doing the right thing is almost always the hardest thing to do: making dinner instead of ordering out, walking instead of taking the bus, choosing water over soda, exercising instead of watching a movie. It's tough to keep your eye on long-term goals when short-term satisfaction is so easily attained. One of the biggest problems I have always had with losing weight has been with keeping my "eyes on the prize," so to speak. It's hard to remember that gaining the weight didn't happen overnight, so losing it won't either.

I can't let myself get discouraged. When I first moved to Chicago, I was really hopeful. Starting over again, and this time in a city of millions of people! I went to the gym regularly and ate sensibly. that magic moment!I lost almost 30 pounds in two months! It was incredible. I remember the first time I saw the scale dip below 300 pounds - I cried. It was such an overwhelming feeling of success. I looked good, I felt great, and I carried myself with confidence. Unfortunately, the same thing I loved about the city proved fatal for my weight loss efforts. I had no positive reinforcement - no one knew me, so no one could tell that anything was different. There was no Past Me for them to compare it to. I'm not saying that I need a permanent cheering section every time I go to the gym, but it's just very difficult to work so hard towards a goal and have no one recognize your efforts. So that, combined with the demands of teaching and going to grad school full-time, the exercising stopped, the diet changed, and the pounds came back, plus some.

Another source of failure in the past has been my methods of weight loss. In the past, I've overdone the dieting or the exercise to the point where I either get hurt or end up bingeing like crazy. I have only recently realized that, like alcohol or drugs, my addiction to food is something that I am going to have to live with for the rest of my life. Quick fixes like starving myself work short-term, but I cannot count on them to help me in the long run. I see my weight loss journey as a marathon - I need to pace myself. I can't burn myself out quickly and then hit the wall.

In spite of all my past failures, I know I can succeed at this, and it helps to have strong support from family and friends. They will help me through this journey like they have loved and supported me through all my journeys. I think my strongest support comes from my cousin Sarah. me and sarah(This picture is us as little kids - so lovely!) When I moved to Chicago, she was one of the very few people I knew, and when I moved out of the graduate dorms into my own apartment, I was lucky enough to find a place on the same street as her. We would make dinner and watch a movie every Friday, or just get together for tea every now and then. I don't know how I would have survived that first year without Sarah. She is one of the wisest people I know, always listening and providing sound advice when I need it most. A few months ago, she sent me an e-mail that really struck a chord with me:
Hi Mary my Dear,

I've been thinking about you a lot in the past couple days (in a good way!), and I wanted to reach out (cheesy, I know, sorry).

I just had a conversation with a mentor of mine, who is awesome and wonderful, and she started telling me about her work with Seattle Sutton's, and what has been good, important, challenging, etc. I'm *not* writing this email cause I think you should do that program, but after talking to Cam, I realized that I've never actually asked you how I can support all the work you have done (and are doing) to live a healthy life. Really, being healthy of course isn't just about food, but I we don't often talk about the food part. Not that we should all the time- but I don't want to miss a chance to support all that you do, because you really deserve to succeed in everything (I seriously, seriously mean that).

You are a real visionary, Mary, and you've set up all kinds of systems for your success, and I want to support you in anyway I can. I think I've been a typical [last name] with our eating habits- thinking that it's cute or awesome to 'cheat' on taking care of ourselves. But we know from our family that the cuteness wears off. None of us want to end up like the relatives. I can't even point fingers, it's just a mess, of course- I'm just really glad that you, me and some of the other cousins are taking the steps to be healthier people than the older generation (in lots of ways).

That all being said- the real point is that I love you so much, and I'm really inspired by your creativity, your brilliance, hard work, and real beauty that you bring to life. And honestly, I just want to support you in any way I can, but I haven't done a great job of asking you what that means, so I'm asking now- if there's anything I can do to support your goals to be healthier, please let me know. I'm sorry it took this long for me to just try and listen!

If this is all just insane and offensive, I'm sorry. I just wanted to, again, reach out cause I love you to pieces.

That's all. Love you! <3

At first, it completely floored me. In spite of my visibly out-of-control weight problem, no one has ever really said anything to me about it - and definitely not like this, in a heartfelt and supportive way. I wrote her back, confessing that I had a problem and that I would love her help with maximizing my potential. It felt really good to admit out loud that I needed help and that I felt out of control. Her messages are always so comforting.
"I've actually been working on this email since last night, here and there, trying to find the best things to say- but I guess the bottom line is that I'm here, and I want you to know it- but really more important is that I want to listen and help. Whew- scary and exciting, huh?"
Another strong influence on my success is my best friend, Jill. We met in college and instantly became very close friends. jill and me (This picture is us on a bateau mouche in Paris!) We have a lot of similar interests and tastes, but enough differences to keep things interesting. We had always talked about opening up a bakery/bookstore together, and I'd like to think that someday, maybe when we're older, we can still make it happen. For now, we live 900 miles apart and only get to see each other a few times a year, but when we do get to hang out, it's just as comfortable as if I never left. She's a lifestyle photographer whose business is taking off like crazy, and I'm so proud of her for it, even if I can't be in Connecticut to be a part of it all.

Which brings me to ... me. photo by 60b photographyI need to be my own secret weapon. There are so many factors that will influence my weight loss, but through it all, the only constant will be me. I need to be brave enough to put in the work to succeed, strong enough to know that what I am doing is for the best, and mature enough to know that slip-ups occasionally happen and when they do, I need to just pick myself up and get right back on track.

August 13, 2010

Roses and thorns

Friday means weigh-in day for me, and I'm really pleased with this week's loss! I am down 10 pounds from last week - it sounds like a lot, but this is usually the way losing weight goes for me. I lose quite a bit the first week or two, because my body is adapting to the changes in diet and activity level. Within a week or so, I should be down to a healthy weekly loss (my goal is to lose two pounds per week).

Something else I would like to do for Fridays, besides announce my numeric progress, is talk about the ups and downs of my week. I read somewhere once that as often as possible, the Obama family sits at the table for family dinner and they share the highlights and lowlights of their day - they call it "roses and thorns." Somewhat less poetically, my parents would have us do the same thing when we were little: we would all share our "good thing and bad thing" about the day. Regardless of your politics, I think everyone would agree that it's a wonderful idea, and it definitely helps families come together and share their lives while sharing a meal.

So, without further ado ... roses and thorns!

Roses for the week:
1. Starting my blog and getting great feedback so far has been unbelievable. I am so excited to see where this all goes!
2. Losing weight - and better than a lower number on a scale is the healthy feeling I have. It's only a fraction of what I need to lose long-term, but the small changes in diet and activity level already have me feeling better.
3. Aguas frescas from the Mexican grocery store.sabroso! I don't like juice, but I wanted something fruity. They're no sugar added, so I can make them and add as little Splenda as I want (I don't really like sweet drinks, I prefer them fairly watered down). The watermelon is definitely my favorite, and a 30 cent packet makes two quarts. I might freeze some into popsicles this week!
4. I watched quite a few documentaries about food and about obesity/weightloss, and I have a lot of great ideas now about my purpose and my goals. I will definitely expand upon these in a future blog entry!

This week's thorns:
Just one - the weather! It's been in the 90s and humid here in Chicago - I don't mind the heat, but the humidity makes it feel so much worse. Soon enough, though, it'll be cold here and I'll be longing for days like these!

August 12, 2010

Looking to the past

I spent a few hours last night looking around Blogger for other blogs dealing with weightloss. One of my biggest problems has always been feeling completely alone in the process, and I hope that by creating a community for myself of people who know how I feel, I will make myself accountable for keeping on track.

So, if anyone is out there, thank you for reading this. Thank you for your encouragement, and good luck to you with your own journey!

Before I write about where I am going, I need to start by explaining where I have been. How did I get so big in the first place? At 23 years old, I weigh nearly three times what I should. If the weight that I have to lose was her own person, even she would be overweight!

Looking back, I can clearly outline several major milestones in my weight gain. The first would be my childhood. me, at six, maybe?I remember holidays and get-togethers as a kid, especially summers when everyone from my big Italian family would gather at my grandparents' house. The grandkids would swim for hours and hours, then eat PB&J sandwiches hanging out of the side of the pool so we wouldn't have to get out! Dinners were big and buffet-style, and there was dessert every night - homemade blueberry pies, fudgesicles, even make-your-own-sundae night! Now there are well over 20 grandkids, but back then, there were only seven of us - all girls. The four girls from Illinois were all very thin, and they all modeled in Sears catalogs, Hostess cupcake ads - even magazine covers! There's an old home movie where we have a fashion show with our great aunt's wild hats - the Illinois girls' modeling careers are all listed, and I am labeled "the future valedictorian." I was definitely a bookworm, very academically-minded, and always a little bigger than the other kids - but I was also really active. I played softball in elementary school, plus I was always riding my bike, jumping rope, or playing in the yard with my sisters.

This all changed around seventh grade, when my parents got divorced. The time after school that we previously had spent running around and playing was now full of waiting - my dad worked days and my mom worked nights, so during their hour or so of overlap, we would go to our maternal grandmother's workplace and wait in her car. She would drive home to her old farmhouse the next town over, which was right on the way home for our dad. At Dad's, there wasn't much to do - he moved in with his parents, who were in their 70s and 80s, but who lived in Florida for nine months out of the year - and worst of all, he couldn't cook to save his life. Even our mother, no longer a stay-at-home mom for the first time in over a decade, wasn't cooking like she used to. The homecooked meals of our childhood were replaced by processed foods like chicken nuggets, giant cans of Chef Boyardee, and takeout. Between the divorce, my best friend moving halfway across the country, and being a girl in between 12 and 13 years old, I became a compulsive eater - bingeing as often as I could, hiding what/how much I was eating - and gained a hundred pounds in a little over a year and a half.

may 2005My weight gain was steady through high school, and my college entry physical listed my weight as over 300 pounds. Unlike the majority of my friends from high school, I didn't go to the University of Connecticut; I saw college as a wonderful new place, as a new beginning where no one knew where I was from. There was a gym on campus, and my meal choices were completely up to me. In the first few months, I lost almost 30 pounds! I looked great and felt even better. Then, of course, I made friends and got busy with schoolwork, and going out or ordering takeout took priority over going to the gym. I gained all the weight back, plus some.

As it turned out, college was not the wonderful movie-like experience I had hoped for, and I got very stressed out around the middle of my second semester. june 2005Between new social groups and an increased workload, I found myself in a very deep depression, and my weight increased again. My father's response was to send me to stay with my aunt in Illinois for the summer - no stress, just eat well and exercise and recuperate. I found myself eating very little and exercising fiendishly, and I lost nearly 40 pounds in a month and a half. One day I went to get in the shower and the next thing I knew, I was waking up, laying down in the tub with water now ice cold, unsure of how I got that way. I returned to Connecticut a month and a half early, and quickly regained all the weight I had lost.

It's five years later. Since that first trip to Illinois, I have graduated college, moved me and dan at MA graduation, may 2010to Chicago, received my Masters degree - and gained nearly 50 pounds. I have decided to postpone pursuing my PhD for at least one year so I can take control of my life and my weight. It will certainly be an interesting year - the first time since I was four years old that fall does not mark my return to school! But being a teacher, working as an assistant to the program director, and being a full-time grad student lead to my overeating and making terrible choices while I worked on my MA. I need some time now to focus my efforts - for so long, I have put everyone and everything else first, letting my health get moved to the back burner.

I guess it just finally hit me that if getting my PhD took five years, I would be nearly 30 years old when I finished, and who knows how much I would weigh by then? At present, if I keep on schedule and lose about two pounds a week, I will reach my goal weight when I am 25! The number on the scale is arbitrary, really - I just want to be healthy, to look and feel good.

August 11, 2010

My life as a writer

I recently purchased a notebook destined to be the fourth volume of my handwritten journals. volume 4I started keeping handwritten journals in 2005 after a visit to Chicago. I had kept an online journal through most of high school and the beginning of college, and when the website crashed, I lost everything. I suppose that a paper journal is not much safer, but if these notebooks got burned, for example, I would at least have ashes to cling to, something material. After the diary-X crash, all I was left with were dead links.

Though evidence points to the contrary, I would hardly classify myself as a "writer." In spite of hundreds of pages of handwritten records of my day-to-day events, my thoughts and feelings, and my hopes and goals, I think that my writing is still very unpolished. I've done a great deal of academic writing, but my personal writing has largely been contained to the spiral-bound notebooks I keep on my nightstand.

That said, I am still going to give this a try.

I am starting this blog in order to make myself accountable for my weightloss. I have had my epiphany, and I feel that I am finally at a point in my life where I can fully commit myself to my weightloss efforts. All too often have I turned over a new leaf, making strong efforts to eat well and exercise, only to fall victim to doubts and weaknesses. With this, I am hoping to write about my struggles as well as my successes; having an (assumed) audience will hopefully give me some encouragement as well as help with keeping me focused on my short- and long-term goals.

a small lossThe title of my blog, "a small loss," comes from one of my journals, in fact. I had a fantastic dream where I unzipped my skin and my bones went for a walk. The sound of the wind whipping through my ribcage was this magical, carefree, weightless whistle - though, I didn't have ears to appreciate it; in my hastily scribbled "upon waking" journal entry, I noted this as "a small loss." The symbolism was, to me, fairly obvious, and the image of a skeleton strolling down the street, completely unburdened, haunted me for months. Finally, I painted it. It is the most personal painting I have ever made, and expressing it gave me the most pleasant feeling. I hope that this blog has the same sort of effect - to help me let go of some of the emotional weight while I also fight with the physical weight.