October 16, 2010

Much afraid

When I moved to Chicago in August 2008, it was after having lived at home with my parents for the summer. I've always been fiercely independent, so spending more than a week or two at home is challenging for me - I don't drive and my parents' house is pretty small, so there's no freedom and little privacy. look how brown that table is...
Those three months were rough, but the light at the end of the tunnel was moving to Chicago and starting a new chapter of my adult life.

Despite not being a television watcher, that summer, one show I made sure to watch every day was a BBC reality-type show called "You Are What You Eat," where this woman (Gillian McKeith) would go into people's homes and try to help them eat better and get more active. One particularly striking thing Gillian would do was to monitor what people ate for a week, then lay it all out on a table for them to see. It was shocking. And gross! And it made me really reevaluate what I was putting into my body. And so, when I got myself set up in Chicago, I had been so moved by this show that losing weight was easy. I didn't want my "table" to be covered in fried junk and soda pop.

This past August when I first started this blog and tried starting to get healthy again, I wanted to recapture the momentum I felt after seeing "You Are What You Eat." So I sought out documentaries - some about healthy food, some about exercise, some about obesity. And it worked. I watched them and took notes. I blogged about them. I felt so inspired by these documentaries, and I was ready to have a success story of my own. Since I've been in the most roller-coaster-y of moods lately, I decided to look around Netflix last night to see what was new, what else could inspire me. total sasstress
I ended up finding the first two seasons of a show from the Style Network called "Ruby." It's a reality show about a woman who weighs nearly 500 pounds (but was over 700 at her highest) and who is trying to reverse her death sentence by losing weight.

I watched the first couple of episodes, and I cried an awful lot. There were a lot of feelings, I guess, and crying just seemed to help deal with them all. I was proud of Ruby for not giving in and accepting the restricted life she had been living. I was happy for her being so positive and living her life as best she could given her physical restrictions. I was empathetic when she didn't want to eat well or didn't want to push herself to do exercises. I was heartbroken when she talked about a man she loved very much who basically gave her the ultimatum of losing weight and marrying him or staying obese and him leaving, and she felt so out of control that the latter seemed to choose her. (I was also very glad that when this man came back into her life, she stood firm in letting him know that she was not interested in someone who loved her only under certain conditions.) And I was very jealous of her support system - she has friends and family around her at all times to help her stay on track and stay motivated.

One of the steps Ruby is taking to help her along her journey is to have a whole team of experts guiding her - a general doctor, an obesity speciality, a physical trainer, a nutritionist, and a psychiatrist. While speaking with her psychiatrist, the subject of fear came up quite a bit. Her fears and anxieties controlled many of her decisions, and the doctor explained that becoming aware of her fears would help loosen their control over her. She will have to shine a light in all the dark places where she's been hiding her secrets and fears. She came away from the meeting understanding that the weight loss journey is not just about food and exercise - there is a mental component that, at times, can be even harder than the dietary changes.

It got me thinking a lot about my own mental blocks this past week, and how they relate to fear. With all my focus on "only" losing one pound this week, I had completely overlooked reaching my third mini-goal. I now weigh less than I did in October 2008, the last time I seriously tried losing weight. beach, winter 2k9 - photo by jill farrellWhich makes this my lowest weight in about six or seven years. And yet, I still find myself stalling. What am I afraid of?

To be completely honest, I'm afraid of a lot of things. Terrified, even.

I am venturing into the unknown. I've never been a thin person. Even as a kid, I was always a little bigger than everyone else. And even though my long-term goal weight is still 161 pounds away, I'm fearful of having to live a life I never thought possible. I've used my weight as a crutch for so long. It's been my armor - as long as I was obese, I didn't have to deal with the things most people my age were dealing with. Finally getting exposed to the world? Beyond frightening. There are the recurring dreams and fantasies about shopping for clothes wherever I want, about going out and not worrying about breaking chairs, about not dreading getting my picture taken - but those have always been just that: fantasies. The thought of dreams coming true has never been real to me, and so, I'm afraid.

So many of my unsuccessful attempts to get healthy in the past can be attributed to focusing only on numeric long-term goals, so this time I have broken the numbers into smaller victories. Now, I am realizing that I need to do the same with mental and non-scale goals.

October 15, 2010

Roses and thorns

I'm ending this week in much better spirits than when it began. My weigh in for this week is considerably less remarkable than most have been for the past ten weeks, but I think that even more important than the number is the fact that I was so profoundly upset (despondent, even) after spending the first half of this week feeling lousy and unmotivated.

It was my stairathon weekend! I was supposed to hit my 50 pound loss this week! I had a plan, darn it! But instead, I spent the first half of the week feeling like I had hit a wall. I had great intentions on Tuesday after dropping Kate off at the airport: get right back on track. Instead, I went to work, came home, ate an unorganized dinner of whatever leftovers I could find, blogged, and went to bed. No walk. No Wii. It was awful. The next day, I woke up not necessarily in pain, but feeling uncomfortable. And I hated it. I thought I was past this - I thought I had "seen the light" and was never going to have awful mornings like this again.

I'm not sure where I saw it the other day, but I saw a blog the other day where the author posted something every day that she was grateful for. (I'm kicking myself for not saving the URL immediately, and if anyone might know, please share! Otherwise, I'll be cruising my Internet Explorer history tonight...) So, when waking up on Wednesday morning, I decided to do this as well. I had a small pink Moleskine notebook, and I've been making notes in it every day of things I am grateful for. Thursday, for example, I may have woken up an obese person, but at least I woke up. And after I woke up, I set out to do amazing things. I am so grateful that I have these opportunities in my life, that I am capable of achieving great things.

This week, one of those great things was starting over again, again. Stopping feeling sorry for myself and just getting up and going. Eating well. Taking walks. Doing the Wii. Drinking more water. Taking my vitamins. Rinsing and repeating. Within a day, I felt great again, and as of this morning, I'm ending my week with a one pound loss. It's not what I had hoped for, but it's still a loss, and I cannot possibly complain. If it were easy to lose weight, everyone would do it - there wouldn't be an obesity epidemic in this country. If everyone could start losing weight and achieve incredible losses every week, there would be no market for half the weight loss products out there - people could just hop on and off the wagon when they needed to. chicken little christmas ornament - a-dorable.I'm in this for the long haul, and some days it won't be easy. This was one of Those Weeks. I'm treating it as an educational experience, and education is never a waste.

All of my classes watched movies this week, which left me with a lot of time to think and write in my handwritten journal. As much as I love blogging, sometimes what I really need to do is put paper to pen and scratch out my frustration. I made a chart of every day when Kate was here, and wrote down what I ate and how much I exercised. Looking at it in retrospect, the food wasn't nearly as bad as I had thought. But the exercise was practically nothing. So I made a note to make sure my plan for Christmas gives equal weight to food *and* exercise, and I closed the notebook. This past weekend is over. I'm moving forward.

One of my brother's favorite Disney movies is "Chicken Little." It's actually pretty adorable, and I admit that I watch it every now and then when I'm feeling down. Everyone is making fun of this kid for thinking that the sky is falling, but every single day, he gets up and tries to change things. He often repeats his mantra to himself: Today is a new day. I'm trying to keep this in mind.

October 14, 2010


I live in Chicago, and ketchup is a four-letter-word out here. I grew up on the East Coast, and ketchup was on most restaurant tables, but here in the Midwest, you have to ask for it - and it gets delivered begrudgingly.

So for today, I'm going to ... wait for it ... catch up (bad joke, I know) on a few orders of business from last week - awards from Debbie and Amy. You ladies are an amazing source of inspiration for me, and your support is invaluable!

First, Debbie's - thank you, Debbie, for the Very Inspiring Blogger award!

Three things that I would change about my looks if I could:

1. My hair. It's super thick, and I know a lot of people would think that's a blessing, but to me, it's frustrating. It takes forever to make it look nice, so I usually don't try. I've mastered the messy ponytail. I wish it were more manageable, or at least a nice, easy style.

2. My arms. I'm very self-conscious about most aspects of them ... like the jiggly tops and the hairy forearms. My dad's family is Italian - my sister Lisa got the olive skin and dark hair, and I got hairy arms. Sometimes life isn't fair. It's not excessive, I don't look like a wolfman. But it's enough to make me hide my arms as often as possible.

3. My calves. They've been supporting so much weight for so long that they're pretty big, and unlike my thighs (and the rest of me), it doesn't feel like there's much to be lost down there. I'm hoping they shrink even just a little.
And second, from Amy - the Fall 2010 Favorites award. Thank you, Amy!

Seven things that inspire my life:

1. The past
Looking back at where I've been and learning from it the best I can.

2. The future
Looking ahead to where I'd like to go and what I'd like to do, and what I can do today to make sure my dreams are realized.

3. My little brother
Everything he says is innocent, honest, and full of pure love. He loves me no matter what I weigh, and I'm so grateful for his truths.

4. Success stories
I love hearing other people tell stories in general, but hearing about someone beating the odds or working hard to achieve goals and then succeeding? I melt.

5. Stories of failure and defeat
In the same breath, I really love hearing about people's setbacks - if they've learned from them. Cautionary tales, if you will. To hear someone say "I tried hard and won" can be amazing, but "I tried hard, failed, then got back up and tried again" can be even better.

6. Seeing the lightbulbs go on for my students
Complain though they do, nothing beats the instant when a tough concept becomes real to them (that second when they finally "get it") and you can totally see a change in their facial expressions. Those are the best moments - for them as language learners, but also for me as their instructor. It means I must be doing something right!

7. Nature
I know it sounds silly, but there's something really peaceful and calming about the way nature works. It's miraculous and awe-inspiring. And nothing can make you feel smaller than trying to picture yourself in comparison to the size of the universe!

[[ Aaaaaand, at 9:30am, I realized I forgot to pass them on. Yikes! Early mornings are not my forté. I'd like to give the first one to Ann and the second to Jess! Thank you so much, ladies, for being you! Thank you for sharing your stories and offering such fantastic support! ]]

October 13, 2010


Yesterday morning I brought my kid sister to the airport for her early morning flight, and then headed to the office. And let me just say, that twenty minute train ride to work was one of the longest of my life. Time seems to always feel longer when you have so much to think about.

It wasn't a complete failure of a weekend, but I still felt unsatisfied. I generally ate well ... no cupcakes, no soda, no mindless snacking, and two relatively okay restaurant meals. But it was so easy to forego exercise in favor of doing something else, and that kind of scares me. en route to the stairathon
I was so proud of my NSV a few weeks ago when I started to crave exercise more than binging junk food. But this weekend, exercising was the last thing on my mind. Even though I didn't eat nearly as much (or as poorly) as I used to, there was a lot of sitting around - we watched a movie one night, and then after the stairathon we took naps then went to the movies.

I thought I had it all figured out. I had stayed on track for ten weeks, I had created a system of success for myself, and I had a plan to stay focused during her visit. This was supposed to be the test for Christmas with my family, and it was supposed to be relatively easy - a new element thrown in, but still, I was in my comfort zone with my plan. Now, I'm reevaluating my plan for Christmas. I'm fully capable of maintaining success, I just need a more solid foundation than I had prepared for this time.

Part of the problem is that my weekends are almost always me running around doing errands and trying to keep busy so that I don't eat mindlessly. I asked Kate before she came out here what she would like to do, but she never made a plan. In case it isn't completely obvious, I need plans to function. I very rarely enjoy spontaneity - I have to be able to look ahead at what is going to happen and prepare myself for it. There was a lot of spontaneity this weekend, and it wreaked havoc on my brain.

Hopefully I will still manage a loss this week, but nothing like I have been experiencing for the past ten weeks. I'm disappointed, but not devastated. The good thing is that, unlike times in the past when I have started to veer off track, I'm not interested in throwing in the towel. baby katieIn the past, my mindset has always been "I've already slipped, why not free fall?" I'm not going to quit this time. I got right back on track yesterday, and participating in Twitter's FitBlog chat really helped me reclaim some of my lost steam.

So, for this week, I need to take my weigh-in in stride. This week was a learning experience. This is a journey, there will be bumps. I'm starting the Couch to 5k this week, and having a new challenge will help keep me on task. I'm also super close to hitting three major landmarks - my 50 pound loss, plus mini-goals #3 and 4 - so that is helping me refocus. I printed out the pictures I sent my mom (and posted here) last week where you can definitely see a change in my body shape and hung it up very visibly in my apartment. And I keep touching my shoulders and hips where I am starting to feel muscles firming up and I can detect the presence of bones - it's silly, but it's new to me, and I'm addicted to these simple measures of success. This is how I am feeling after ten weeks - I absolutely do not want to revert ... I want to stay strong and see what the next ten weeks bring!

October 12, 2010


As promised, here is the recap of Sunday's stairathon. For anyone in the dark, the stairathon was a personal challenge I set for myself about a month and a half ago. I was broke (teaching = all summer with no paycheck) and wanted to do something to get more physically fit. mile 16There were posters all over the city for the Chicago Marathon on 10/10/10, and so I decided to make that my special day, too. Since a marathon is still far away in terms of physical preparedness, I decided to try and climb the stairs in my office building - a 28 floor highrise.

I started out on September 4, a Saturday. I decided to start at the basement and see how far I could go. After eight minutes, I was up on the fifth floor, and I thought I was going to die. My legs throbbed, my lungs felt heavy, and it hurt to breathe. I didn't think I would be able to make 26 floors in just a little over a month. the endI told a few friends that I would be doing the stairs, for two reasons - one, to make myself accountable, and two, to have someone there in case I died on the stairs. It was a legitimate concern.

I made a chart and planned out my daily stair routine, gradually increasing the floors. After over a month of training, the morning of October 10th came. My sister and I headed downtown for my event, and as we boarded the Blue Line, the marathon runners were passing by, starting mile 16. It was profoundly inspirational, and I hope to be one of them someday.

marathon runners
We met up with Lorelei (a friend of mine from work), my cousin Sarah, and Sarah's boyfriend Marty, and we all headed into the building.starting line Lorelei was in charge of water on floors 8, 16, and 24. Sarah was in charge of the stopwatch. My sister Katie was the official photographer. And Marty held my training chart and a Sharpie so I could mark off finally finishing. We headed down to the basement and I did some stretching. Then, I was off.

I think it's important to note again that the first day, I did five floors in about eight minutes. I wasn't really interested in timing myself during the race - it wasn't about speed, just completion. I wanted to set a goal and meet it. Unofficially, though, I prayed I would be able to finish it in less than an hour. After the first day, I was really concerned that I would not be able to make it.

I started up the stairs, and everyone else headed to the elevator to meet me at the first rest point (the fourth floor). halfwayWhile training, I had been making sure to stop every four floors or so to breathe for about ten to fifteen seconds before carrying on. So, as I headed up the stairs, I hit four, and no one was there. I breathed a little, and just as I was about to move on, they entered the stairwell. I had beaten them there! At first I was thrilled, but as I moved forward towards the next resting point (and my first water point), my mind raced. Adrenaline is a powerful thing, and it was pushing me above and beyond the limits I'd set before. But I didn't want to go too fast. I didn't want to "hit the wall," so to speak, before reaching my goal. So I carried on, stopping every four floors for a few seconds and stopping every eight for a bathroom-sized Dixie cup of water.

I passed all the landmarks I had come to notice while training - like a used dryer sheet in the corner of the landing between floors 7 and 8, and a sticker someone stuck to the wall between floors 15 and 16.coming up to 26 I remembered so many specific moments from my training - as I passed floor 7, I remembered how impossible seven floors once seemed. And the same for nine. And fifteen. And twenty. And I thought about all the days when I was tired from working, stressed out, dreading the stairs ... and how I pushed myself to do them anyway, knowing that all my hard work would eventually pay off.

Finally, as I charged up the stairs to floor 26, I was overcome with a feeling of success. I did it. Me! Mary! The girl who used to take the elevator up one floor to see the secretary! I raced up twenty-six floors - or fifty-two flights - of stairs. I freakin' did it!

Everyone was there, cheering me on. As I reached the stop, I called out, "Time!" Sarah had gotten distracted for about a second or two, so she quickly went to check the stopwatch.

Nine minutes, 0.82 seconds.

It would have been under nine, but that hardly matters. A month and a few days earlier, it took me almost that long to do five floors. Now, on 10/10/10, I did nearly the whole building. It was incredible. I didn't cry, though I kind of wanted to. We walked around the 26th floor, and I didn't think about being publicly sweaty or wonder if the pictures Kate was taking made me look extra fat because of bad angles. champing itIt didn't matter. I was a champion. I set a goal, and I not only met it, but I exceeded my own expectations. I pushed myself, and I ended up doing something remarkable.

But remember, my building is 28 floors, not 26. I had done nearly the whole building, and I was feeling unbelievably powerful. Unstoppable, even. So, after finishing walking a lap around the 26th floor, we headed back to the stairs, and I (untimed) went up to 28. We couldn't get in to walk around and take pictures out the incredible scenic panoramic windows they have up there, but it hardly mattered. We walked back down to 26, then took the elevators to 16 (where my office is) for a small party in the conference room. I had wanted to bring cupcakes to celebrate, but they came out completely awful (my baking skills are getting rusty - which I am mostly okay with, except that it was kind of wasteful), so I brought everyone apples (and a banana for me!).

I stood at the lectern and gave a little speech - I had thought about speaking, but I didn't prepare anything. I just got up and spoke from the heart. I told them about how that was the room I had defended my Masters research in, how I wanted to live a healthier lifestyle, and how grateful I am that I have their love and support in my endeavors. I started out someone who took the elevator for single flights of stairs, and now, 48 pounds lighter, I can master the whole building in under ten minutes. It was perfect. Marty told me later that he almost cried - that meant an awful lot to me.

I also used that opportunity to tell them that since the stair challenge has been met, I am planning my next big personal challenge, which is starting the Couch-to-5k program this week - with the eventual goal of running a 5k at Disney World in the end of February! It's a big goal for someone who hasn't ran a mile without stopping in ages, possibly ever. But you know, a month ago, the stairs were an insurmountable feat, too...

October 11, 2010

In loving memory

I promise pictures and a recap of yesterday's stairathon tomorrow. For today, though, I want to tell you a few stories about my grandmother, who passed away on this date four years ago.

My grandmother met my grandfather on the beach in 1948. There was a resort in Connecticut, Ted Hilton's, that had a pool and sports and all sorts of fun activities. My grandmother, who lived outside of Boston, went with her best friend Gertie; my grandfather lived in the Little Italy neighborhood of New Haven, CT, and he went with his best friend Sal. ted hilton'sThis picture was the day they met - it was instant attraction. They dated for a few months and got married in early 1949 (I'm not sure what month, but I know they went down to Florida for Yankees Training Camp for their honeymoon since my grandfather is a lifelong Yankees fan - they have honeymoon photos of themselves with Joe DiMaggio. Phil Rizzuto, and Yogi Berra!).

My grandmother dropped out of high school since she saw no point in it - according to her father, her best bet was to try and convince someone to marry her. She never thought she would - who would marry someone with a body like hers? Her father was very verbally abusive, and his biggest complaint was always how fat she was. Even as she aged, I think the most my grandmother ever weighed was 150 pounds. Looking at this picture of a young girl, a little younger than me, totally twitterpated with a tall, dark, and handsome Italian boy she just met on the beach, it breaks my heart to think that someone she loved treated her so poorly because of her body. She married my grandfather as soon as possible (she was 22!), not only because she loved him, but because their marriage meant my grandfather would save her from her home life.

My grandmother was always dieting. After having nine kids, she went on a strict diet and got back down to 135 pounds - her marriage weight. Somewhere at their house, there's a picture of her wearing her wedding gown, sitting in the backyard, surrounded by all her kids. My dad was always incredibly close with his mother, and she felt every ounce of his pain with his own dieting problems -she never wanted her kids to feel judged the way she had growing up, and so she worked right along side my dad on the Weight Watchers diet I wrote about last week.

After my parents got divorced, my dad moved back in with his parents. It wasn't completely awful since my grandparents lived in Florida nine months out of the year, but still, being 12 and living in a house full of people in their 70s and 80s was exceptionally difficult.summer 2006 I was well over 200 pounds by the second year of living there, yet I resented my grandmother for telling us we should try to lose weight - it was before I knew her story, and all I saw was someone trying to take away the only coping mechanism I had. I still loved her, but I was so overwhelmed with my own anger and frustrations that I never got terribly close to her emotionally.

When my grandmother passed away in 2006, I was profoundly upset. First, because I had generally avoided going over to see my grandparents in recent years because of the old resentments; but also, because I was finally growing up and maturing, and now that I wanted to hear her stories and learn about her life, she was gone. I never got to sit down and have a real, grown-up conversation with her. A wealth of information, a lifetime of trials ... gone. I was sad for the loss, but also quite mad at myself. At her funeral, everyone told stories and shared pictures, and one of the ones that hit me the hardest was hearing someone I'd never met tell me how proud my grandmother was of me for graduating high school.

If I could spend five minutes with my grandmother, I would ask her what heaven is like, and if she plays Scrabble with my great aunt like they used to, and what she thinks is the most important advice to keep in mind about life. And I think I would take a few minutes and tell her that I love her, that I miss her, and that I'm sorry we never got to watch her favorite movie together ("Gone With the Wind"). I would tell her that I'm finally getting my life together and trying to lose weight and get healthy, and I would thank her for always caring about my and my sisters' health, even if we weren't ready or willing to listen.

October 10, 2010

Drop dead gorgeous

My positive sign for the week:

it's true!
I need to keep this in mind, especially when the going gets tough, which it has a lot lately. I am stronger than I think I am, more than I give myself credit for.

Challenge start weight: 332
Current weight: 297

Looking forward to working my way through a whole new set of numbers!

Progress on my DDGbG goals: This week's recipe was an amazing lentil and onion soup that I found via a defunct blog [ link to the recipe here ].

I made a few substitutions, per usual - since I'm not vegan, I subbed out vegetable broth (which I could not find a low sodium version of) for 1 part water, 2 parts low sodium beef broth. I didn't feel like buying pearl onions, which cost eight times what the others cost, so I doubled the sweet onion (and used the written amount for the red onion). I also only had quick lentils on hand, so I cooked it for 30 minutes instead of 2 hours. Delicious! And also good cold, which was great because the temperature was in the 80s this week! Ridiculous.

ONE thing that you are proud of for the week: Keeping up with my stairathon training, even when I was tired and stressed. Really looking forward to the event later today!!!

ONE thing that you can improve upon for the following week: Not letting bad days get to me. I was so easily discouraged this past week for some reason. This week WILL be different!