October 9, 2010

Lotus focus

When I first started doing the Wii Fit, one of my favorite cool down exercises was a simple meditation game to improve balance called "Lotus Focus." During the test, has you sit on the balance board and stay perfectly still for three minutes while focusing on a burning candle. There are a few tricks to try and get you to move - a buzzing fly, squeaking floorboards, and moving camera angles - and making it the full 180 seconds was surprisingly difficult at first.

I've never meditated regularly before, but I have been trying to do it more lately. It isn't as complicated as it may seem. In my high school health class, the teacher would light a candle and have us sit there for five minutes and just become aware of our breathing. It's remarkable. the candleIt's all about clearing your mind of clutter and really guiding your thoughts so that you can focus on one thing.

And so the other day while I was in the grocery store, I had a brilliant idea. Since I was planning on finally getting rid of the big 3 out in front of my weight, I bought a numeric birthday candle and decided I would melt it down and meditate while it lost its form. Kind of cheesy, yes. But I'm all about symbolism. I needed to destroy the number. I cannot let it come back, not again. If I melted it down, it would become incapable of regaining its form. And while it melted, I would think about where I am, where I have been, and where I would like to go.

I lit the candle last night and dripped a little wax on the tray to hold it in place. I sat there quietly and really thought about the progress I have made so far.
• I thought about the way my body felt nearly fifty pounds ago - the backaches, the general discomfort.
• I thought about how I felt physically - and emotionally - after a binge.
• I thought about being a kid and feeling so much pressure to be smart since it seemed to be all I had going for me.
• I thought about how much I love to sing, and how I avoided trying out for school plays.
• I thought about always staying home instead of going to parties or school dances.
• I thought about the lies I have told friends to avoid social situations.
• I thought about the numerous times when someone has told me things like "but you have such a pretty face" or "when you lose the weight, you're going to be a really good looking girl!"
• I thought about every guy that I let hurt me because I didn't think I deserved better.
• I thought about every time that I said "yes" even though I meant "no" because at least it was attention, and I thought that it was better than being alone.

Funny story about birthday candles: unlike "real" candles, the wick doesn't go all the way to the bottom.oopsIt's only meant to last through a 30-second song; I sat there, so focused on my past, that I didn't realize the candle had gone out. So I laid it down, put it in a pot of shallow water, and heated it up until it melted into an unrecognizable puddle. And while that happened, I focused only on my present and my future.

•I am beautiful.
• I am strong and capable.
• I am powerful.
• I am incredibly open to and completely deserving of honest, faithful, respectful love.
• I am experiencing a tremendous success as a result of my hard work and my determination.
• I am determined to get healthy.
• I am taking the right steps to improve the health of my body and my mind.

• I will continue to eat mindfully and properly nourish my body.
• I will continue to live an active lifestyle.
• I will continue to educate myself in order to improve all aspects of my life.
• I will continue to be grateful for the new chances and the new opportunities I am given with every single day.
• I will continue to give thanks for every single person in my life - my family, my friends, and my blogging community - and for the love and support they all give me.

This wax disc is going to stay on my desk to help keep me focused and to remind me of the feeling of peace I had when it finished melting. It was a sense of closure. It used to be a 3. I'll never forget that it was once a 3, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I can't completely ignore such a huge chapter of my life. The important thing is, it isn't a 3 anymore. And it never will be again.

October 8, 2010

Roses and thorns

This has been another really difficult week. I'm totally excited to go pick up Kate tonight, but other than that, my week has been pretty stressful. I'm really looking forward to being with family - and taking some time off of thinking about work.

I think one of the most frustrating things about this week was feeling strangely unsatisfied. I lost weight and stayed active, but there was still a general feeling of malaise. I got blog awards from two ladies whom I find totally inspiring and whose love and support I am beyond grateful for, but it's hard to accept things like this when you feel like you aren't doing all you could. Case in point: the other night because I had to stay late at work to finish the grades and I didn't get home until after 8pm, so I couldn't go for my walk and therefore I didn't hit my 10k for the day. I was devastated. I've been around 11-13,000 every other day so I should be able to make 310,000 for the month, but still, I was really upset.allez - french formal command - go! I know sometimes things happen and we have to do the best we can, but still, it's my own challenge, and I couldn't do it. The stress of having to do the work mixed with the guilt of not being able to get in my 10,000 steps really soured my night.

One of the hardest lessons I need to learn is that no matter how much a person weighs, sometimes, you have bad days. And sometimes those bad days turn into bad weeks. But even when the bad days aren't weight related - no, especially when they aren't related - I can't let it drag down my morale. The best I can do is persevere. One day does not equal failure. (Easier said than done, but I'm trying my hardest to honestly subscribe to the idea.)

The reason I had to stay late at work the other night was because we're in the midst of midterms (already!) and even though my students don't take midterm exams, I have to give each of them a six week progress report. It takes about four hours to compute averages and write out comments, plus we have to have a meeting of approximately half an hour with our director before passing them out to students. The students get them, glance at it, crumple it up, and most don't take any action, even if they desperately need to. It's terribly frustrating but mandatory, and once in a while a kid sees they're not doing great and they try to turn themselves around.

Another joy of these midterm weeks is that we have our students complete midsemester evaluations - where they can let me know how they think the class is going and how they feel in class. Of the three classes I teach, my one major "problem" class is a bright bunch but they never speak up, and on most of the evals they said they were shy about volunteering in class. Hopefully after my pep talk in class tomorrow, they'll improve ... typically that's what happens, anyway. We'll see. A serious teaching flaw of mine is a tendency to blame myself. If the students don't want to talk in class, that might mean that they're not comfortable in the classroom atmosphere I try to create. If they don't do well on exams, it could mean that I'm not explaining something as well as I should. Of course, there are so many factors that contribute to blank stares and less-than-perfect exams. It's just really hard not to take teaching stuff personally sometimes.

So, with all that said, despite my mind running around like crazy all week, my eating habits stayed sane and I managed to walk most days (and do the Wii Fit every day!). And the results were ... superb.

two-topia? i'm still sort of at a loss.
I saw it, and I cried. It's unreal to me. I am not a person who weighs over 300 pounds. I used to be. But I am not anymore. I am a person who cares about her body and who wants to help it and nourish it in every way that she can. I am only getting started, and I still have a long way to go. But I am making moves. And I am going to do everything that I possibly can to make sure I never, ever get back to 345.

October 7, 2010


My father has been a serial dieter his entire life. He was the sixth of nine kids, the first eight of whom were boys. They all played sports when they were young, so meals were mostly functional - time to refuel. dad at hammonassett state parkAlways meat and potatoes, and always lots of both. My dad's specialties were football and track and field. He was a big, strong guy in high school, and so he ate a lot. But he was also very self-conscious, so his off-seasons were filled with exercise and rigid diets to try and feel better about the way he looked. After high school, he went right into the work force and although he still played some sports with friends socially, he wasn't playing nearly as hard as he did in school. Unfortunately, his eating patterns stayed the same, and it lead to weight gain.

He would try diets every now and then, and they'd work temporarily, but then he would fall off them and regain everything. Growing up, my sisters and I always heard the story about the time he went on Weight Watchers with Nana (his mother) and lost 40 pounds. Even though he gained it all back and more, he was always so proud of that accomplishment. I'm not sure if that's just the way Weight Watchers was in the late 70s, but he told us the key to his success was that essentially all he ate was "chicken breast and bags of scum mix."

scum mix ... yuckA brief aside:
I'm not sure who started it or exactly when we started calling it "scum mix," but in our house growing up, scum mix was the bag of frozen vegetables with lima beans in it. I believe there were also the standards - peas, carrots, and corn - but all I distinctly remember are (a) lima beans and (b) no one ever eating it even though it was always on the table.

With my own dieting past, I've always tried to emulate the success my father told us about literally thousands of times. I would convince myself that only eating a piece of broiled chicken and a bag of steamed mixed vegetables could be quite delicious ... and my diets would usually last about a day and a half before I cursed it and ordered takeout.

It never really occurred to me that despite his 40 pound loss, it couldn't have been too great of a plan if he eventually broke it. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my sister Katie a few months ago. One of my favorite foods is cereal (seriously, any kind), and I was talking about how I would eat only cereal for the rest of my life if I could. Kate was a considerably better student in science than I was, and she told me that I would die if I did that. Even if your body is full of food, you can die of malnutrition. dad and dannyYou have to have a balance of protein, carbs, vitamins, and minerals. It's like your body is a car, she said - if your car has a full tank, that's great, but it will only work if the tank is full of gas. A full tank of milk isn't going to get you anywhere.

I think one of the keys to staying on track is maintaining a balance. I try to make sure that I am eating enough of everything - not all one thing or another - and it prevents me from getting bored. By not getting monotonous with the foods that I eat, I am less likely to want to binge. I eat chicken, but I also have pork, turkey, and fish - and lots of non-meat protein sources. Once a month I eat red meat, and I am okay with that. And there's a whole world of vegetables outside of the frozen food aisle! Trying new recipes helps, too - it's great to know that I can lose weight and eat delicious and interesting foods. I'm not condemned to a life of plain, unseasoned chicken and scum mix!

October 6, 2010

Dollars and sense

In my family, my father is definitely the more frugal parent. My mom always makes sure we have the things we need, but my dad is behind the scenes making sure spending stays within reason. When I moved out on my own, some of the best advice my dad gave me about budgeting was to "take care of the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves." It works in a lot of areas of life, to be honest. When you focus on taking small steps and working on projects or issues one at a time, the bigger picture tends to fall into place and regulate itself - or at least it becomes a more manageable task.

Ever since I came back to Chicago after visiting my parents in Connecticut this summer, even before I started this blog, I've been nervous about returning. I knew I wanted to get active, eat better, and lose weight, and leaving Chicago would mean leaving my daily patterns. It would mean food temptations and considerably less exercise - or at least, it always had in the past, so I had every reason to expect the same this time. And it would mean spending time with my family, whose love and verbal support I have, but who can always justify unhealthy meals and taking just one night off of exercising ... and then another. I love them so much, and getting healthy myself makes my heart ache for them, their sedentary lifestyle, and their unbelievably unhealthy eating choices.

As it turns out, though, and without my even realizing, my taking care of my own pennies (getting myself healthier) has started to regulate my dollars (alleviating the stress of going home):

e-mail from mom
I got an equally emotional phone call from both my parents - plus e-mails from both my sisters and my cousin Sarah.

Finding that picture on the left has been ... revolutionary. My dad was telling me how amazing I look and how well I am doing, and he stressed making sure that they don't get me off track at Christmastime because he doesn't want to see my successes fall apart. I told them that the best way to do that is to eat healthy alongside me and to try and be more active, and they responded really well to that. I'm feeling incredibly hopeful - and considerably less anxious - about December now! I am still working on a plan to make sure I keep myself in check, but these conversations have been incredibly reassuring.

October 5, 2010

The girl in the mirror

I have quite the collection of pictures of myself taken in mirrors. With viewing screens on the back of digital cameras, it's easy to check the reflection and make sure it's a good picture before snapping it.

amazing, i thought i looked fine at each of these phases
(There's about twenty pounds of increase from one picture to the next.)

It's funny, because I have always generally avoided mirrors since they made me face the reality of how big I was, but with a digital camera and the proper angles, you can focus only on the good parts.

I know I still have a very long way to go with my numeric weight loss, but I'm extremely pleased with the great strides I have taken so far to work on my self-esteem. I like looking at my reflection in the store windows as I walk my on my evening walk - I'm shrinking! I'm smiling a lot more - not only because I look better, but because I physically feel better - and having a positive attitude is absolutely contagious.

holy difference of 43 pounds, batman!
(Left picture is May 13. Right picture is October 3.)

Another great side effect from losing weight and getting more active is that I am taking much more interest in the care and keeping of my body. At 345 pounds, I figured that no one else was looking at me so why bother looking nice? Now, nearly fifty pounds lighter, I'm finally realizing that it doesn't matter who else is looking at me, and I should be looking nice for myself. I keep my nails neat and trim, I wear clean clothes and shower at least once every day, and I don't hide under big sweatshirts. I'm working so hard to get a healthy, more attractive body, and I want to show it off!

One silly simple change is my hair - I'm in the market for a flattering new haircut/style. I've always just bought the cheapest shampoo and conditioner because it didn't matter to me if my hair looked good, I always just swept it up into a ratty, unbrushed ponytail. Last week, I spent an extra buck and a half on Aussie Moist shampoo and conditioner, and, oh my goodness, it's amazing. My hair is soft! It feels healthy! And I love the way it looks! It's a small difference, maybe unnoticeable to anyone but me, but to me, it's phenomenal. My entire world is feeling different ... and I love it.

October 4, 2010


This is going to be a huge week for me, for a few reasons.

First, after work on Friday, I have to head to Midway Airport to pick up my little sister Katie, who will be visiting me for the weekend. this is going to be EPICIt was surprise trip I planned for her, a Friday night to Tuesday morning long-weekend getaway that includes two practically front row seats for Monday night's Belle and Sebastian concert at the Chicago Theater. I had planned the trip before planning my stairathon challenge, but as luck would have it, Katie will also be here for that, and I'm so excited - and glad that she'll be there cheering me on!

And second, as long as I stay on track, I should finally get under 300 pounds for the first time in two years. This is unbelievable and also totally exciting. I've been working incredibly hard and it feels amazing to know that I still have so much more fight in me!

These two events seem unrelated, but there's a lot more in common than it may appear. The last time I was under 300 pounds was October 2008, and my healthy eating and exercise routines abruptly stopped when Katie came out here for a long weekend to visit colleges. I had been doing well, I was going to the gym every day and I had dropped from 324 to 297, but the weekend with Kate was full of inactivity ... and brunch. october 2008 outside - where else? - MSIAfter she left, it felt impossible to regain momentum, and by the end of grad school this past May, I had gained it all back (plus an additional 21 pounds).

It isn't fair to blame it on Katie's visit. It wasn't her visiting that was the problem, but her visiting, if that makes sense. I was on a very strict diet and denied myself practically everything, but when Katie was in town, I said yes to everything. I was also going to the gym for about an hour and a half every day, but when you have a guest in town, it's really difficult to find time for all the things you want and need to do. Priority was given to visiting college campuses, hours on public transit, and then relaxing and hanging out with my little sister. When she left, I had to catch up on schoolwork and lesson planning and grading. It was overwhelming, and I had to put school before exercise. Then school got even busier - I would always try to get back going to the gym, but I would get to go maybe one or two times before I had to refocus on getting caught up with school.

I'm a little nervous about this week's visit, but I also feel very strong and much more prepared than last time - I know that I am in control and that I can handle this. Dropping out of the three's is a huge motivator - it has taken so much hard work to get here, and I'm doing so well, so I don't want any setbacks. i've pretty much mastered basic step aerobicsMy eating habits are not insanely strict like they were the last time - I enjoy food and I make healthy choices, and I know that "failure" is not determined by the events of one meal (or even one day).

So, my plan of attack for this weekend: (1) Since I have the Wii Fit now, I can wake up early and do some exercise before we even start our day. Without the commute to and from the gym, I'm saving so much time that can be spent having an amazing time with my sister! (2) I've already planned out a basic menu since Kate is totally cool with me cooking most of the meals - but I've also decided we're going to have one dinner out, because it's a mini-vacation and we can't just stay at home. And (3) I decided weeks ago that everyone is going to Molly's Cupcakes after the stairathon, and I am not going to feel guilty about that. There is room in my life for occasional treats - there absolutely has to be - I just need to make sure that I have ONE cupcake and not a dozen.

I'm hoping that by the time I bring Kate back to Midway next Tuesday morning, it feels like a victory. This is a test for spending a few weeks in December with my family - and even though this is like a 5k compared to the marathon that Christmas will be, I know that if I can maintain my resolve and stay focused this weekend, by the time December rolls around, I will be ready for whatever happens!

October 3, 2010

Drop dead gorgeous

My positive sign for the week:

all forward motion counts.
"It's good to experience the bittersweet,
to taste defeat, then brush my teeth..."

Relient K, "Forward Motion"

This was a long, emotional week. Besides all the amazing support from you all, what got me through it was keeping this mantra in mind. Even if others can't see it, I know that I'm working hard and moving forward, and that's what counts.

Challenge start weight: 332
Current weight: 302

(I worked out a little extra each day because it was my TOM week and I didn't want to feel bloated, so I'm down another 6 from last week! I hit my second short-term goal and am well on my way to 50 pounds lost!)

Progress on my DDGbG goals: (1) Wrote a postcard to my mom, just because I love her! (2) Another delicious new recipe, this time courtesy of Astrid's blog (she is another DDGbD-er). Wheat pumpkin gnocchi - totally easy and delicious!

1/2 cup pumpkin puree
A little less than 1 cup whole wheat flour
Some ground cinnamon, ginger, and cloves

1. Mix it all up.
2. Roll into logs.
3. Cut up into bit size pieces.
4. Cook in boiling water for about 3 minutes (until the gnocchi float).

And that's it! Amazingly simple and totally delicious. For some reason the logs didn't work for me, so I just rolled them into little balls and pressed them with a fork. Also, Astrid served hers with shredded cheese and marinara sauce - I tossed mine up with some olive oil, garlic, and crushed walnuts, then sprinkled a little parmesan cheese on top. Dinner in under 20 minutes? I'll take it!

ONE thing that you are proud of for the week: Taking out my frustrations on the pavement instead of a cake. Every time I choose not to binge when I am stressed out is a remarkable moment for me.

ONE thing that you can improve upon for the following week: Feeling self-confident and proud of my successes so far. Today, I am going swimming with my friend Lorelei, who is not only fun and interesting, but amazingly supportive with my weight loss. I haven't been in a bathing suit in public since I was in middle or high school, probably. This is going to be a really big day for me, and I want to enjoy swimming laps without worrying if everyone is grossed out looking at my arms or my stomach or my thighs.