December 11, 2010

Final grades

Yesterday, as I turned in my grades for the semester, a familiar feeling of relief and satisfaction came over me. It means I have a couple weeks of vacation, which is nice, but also, it means that it's the end of my time with a few dozen students. a real escargot - paris, 2009Fifteen weeks ago, they were dreadful - not lost causes, just very unpolished. And now, after several months of hard work, their written and spoken French has improved incredibly. They've put in a lot of hard work, and their efforts have more than paid off.

It's really interesting to be on this side of the academic process. I was always the student who sent e-mails to professors, asking how I did. Now, as the recipient of dozens of similar e-mails, I find myself frustrated and overwhelmed. No one wonders about their grades for fifteen weeks, but in the thirty-six hours before grades are due, I get a dozen nearly identical e-mails, with small variations on the same themes:
"Mademoiselle, is there any chance you can tell me what the exact grade I need to get on the final to get a B in the class?"

"As far as my progress in the course, is it still possible to receive an A at the end of the semester?"

"I was hoping you'd be able to give me an idea ... I'm just really hoping I could receive a B in this course."
The thing is, everything that they submit gets graded and handed back to them, so with the exception of how they did on their final exams and an exact figure for class participation, they know how they did in the class.

I don't quite understand the panic - if you had received A's and B's on every exam, had come to class and participated every day, and had turned in your written assignments, how could you possibly think you'd fail the class? Even if you bombed the final, the worst you could do was a C, and even that sounds low! I'm a very fair grader, and no one has ever questioned a grade I have given - if you submit average quality work, you will see those efforts met with an appropriate grade. And likewise, if you go above and beyond and try your absolute hardest, of course your grade will reflect that.

I'm trying to keep this thought process in mind as I embark on a few scale-free weeks. I'm going to work hard and do the best job that I can for the rest of the month, because that is all that I can do. And in the end, after all my efforts, even if I can't quote an exact number, I should know generally how I have done. Doing the bare minimum or less will not magically produce high marks; putting in a solid, consistent effort cannot equal failure.

December 10, 2010

Roses and thorns

I lost one pound this week, making my current weight 265 and my total loss 80 pounds so far. Even NSVs can't save my spirits right now, and that's a shame, because there were several this week - like when a group of my students came for pre-finals tutoring and I admitted that I had lost 80 pounds this semester, and they applauded. Or another faculty member telling me that I was such a huge inspiration and that because of my saying that I was running, she decided to get back into running herself. Or buying size 20 jeans for the first time in ten years (and discovering that they are too big). Or this picture I just took of me wearing a pair of work pants that were tight on me in June:

those were lane bryant 28s. i can wear old navy 18s.
Emotionally, though, I'm drained. Just completely exhausted. I'm ready for a little time off. It just feels like everything conspired against me this week. With the stress of wrapping up the semester, I felt hungrier than usual, and while I worked out about the same as I usually do, it just wasn't enough to balance my choices (which, in retrospect, were not as great as I thought they were). I can still manage great losses with an occasional splurge - but a little something every day adds up.

I'm pretty disappointed in myself, to be honest. Not because my loss was "only" a pound - a loss is a loss, and I'm okay with that. But because I actively made poor choices. Mom made me feel bad on the phone, so I broke down and ate one of the ginger cookies. I'm trying to eat what's in the house before I leave for Connecticut, and one of those things was a frozen container of macaroni and cheese (and not my spaghetti squash with reduced fat cheese, either - the real deal, made before I starting eating better). art by baptiste ibar for the science of sleepAnd I knew my boss was ordering pizza for the staff for exam night, and so I ate dinner before I left the house - then I felt hungry post exams, and the sight of it filled my brain with all sorts of warm, comfortable thoughts, so I ate some.

My problem in these situation is not actually about the food so much as my feeling of not being in control. It's not about the pizza - I don't want things to be off-limits, I want to be able to control myself. My problem is with the fact that I forbid myself from having it and ate a full dinner, THEN had pizza. If I had just allowed myself the pizza to begin with, it wouldn't have been so bad. And when my mom made me feel bad, I ate a cookie - not the two or three dozen I would have eaten in the past, but still, I find myself turning to my old coping mechanisms when I feel stressed or overwhelmed.

I think I am especially disappointed because this is my last weigh-in before going to my parents' house. Right now, I am in Chicago, and I am in charge of what I buy and prepare to eat, and I am in charge of when I go to the gym and for how long. If I can't control myself here, how will I do in Connecticut when I am not in charge? I wanted to have a hugely successful last few weeks before heading to the place where I feel weak and powerless and vulnerable. This week was supposed to be a success, because this week I am here, and this week things should have been easy. Chicago is easy - Connecticut is hard. And this is not stair race hard. art by baptiste ibar for the science of sleepThis is not Couch to 5k hard. This is a different kind of hard, a mixture of physical and emotional, and goodness knows the emotional hards are my weak point.

I wish I could just take off whenever I wanted and go to the gym or to a park or whatever like I do when I am in Chicago - but without a car (or a drivers license, for that matter), I'm very dependent on everyone else's schedules. I wish I could keep my own food in the house to prepare for non-holiday meals without criticism. I wish I could offer to make meals for my family without being greeted by either gagging noises or teasing about my being a "health nut." I don't wish that going home will be easy, I just wish that it felt manageable, and not like some huge obstacle. Racing up my office building seemed huge, but I trained and I did it in great time. Running for a minute at a time seemed impossible, but now I'm running two and three-quarter miles at a time. So why does going home to be with my family feel so much tougher than everything else I have done up to this point?

One of my goals for this trip home is to focus more on feeling and less on numbers. My parents don't have a scale in Connecticut, and so this will also be my last weigh-in for 2010. I'm kind of relieved, to be honest. I want to feel in control and make the decisions that are the best for me and my body without fixating on numbers as much as I tend to do. I know exactly when I am eating well and exercising enough, and I will consider my trip to Connecticut a success if my weight upon returning shows maintenance. I'm not looking for a huge loss - or any loss, for that matter. I just don't want to gain. And most of all, I don't want to feel like I am not in control.

December 9, 2010


Amazing fact: I have been mostly done with my students final averages since Monday. All that remains is finishing up grading the final exams they took Tuesday night - one of my sections is done, I have one class almost entirely done (5 of 6 pages graded), and one whole class to go. Totally manageable - I'll be done with everything tomorrow.

This is terrific for so many reasons. First, because grades have to be turned in by noon on Friday, so I am usually up all night Thursday hurriedly trying to put everything together - and then I show up at my director's office on Friday mornings looking like quite the hot mess. And second, because as of this moment, I have managed to get through exam week without a binge. I'm pretty impressed with myself - sure, there is considerably less stress now that I am faculty and not a grad student. But still, my default reaction for dealing with any end-of-semester stress has always been to binge.

I can't lie - it's been tough. I've been pretty good with my eating choices, but I *have* eaten more than I usually do. from recovering lazyholicI don't have the urge to binge, but I'm feeling snacky - you know the feeling? I think Andrew summed it up best a few days ago:
It's important when you're exhausted to be extra vigilant. I want to put everything in my mouth. Cake, chips, the stapler. Today is a day I really need to count calories.
Amen to that. I went to the gym yesterday even though I wasn't scheduled to in order to try and make up for the extra calories, but my unofficial peeks at my weight are showing hardly any change from last week.

I think this is extra difficult because right now I am also transitioning into a new phase of my weight loss: a purgatory, of sorts. It's the limbo between my extreme high and my goal low, where things are neither great nor awful, neither fast nor slow. I don't want to downplay it - it's extremely important, and it's going to be challenging, but not "just getting started" challenging or "almost there panic" challenging. This phase presents more of a "staying strong" and "not giving up" challenge.

When I started, it was very easy to lose 4-6 pounds a week. Exercises I do now burn fewer calories than when I did them seventy-some odd pounds ago, and that's both awesome and frustrating at the same time. (Just like an awful lot of things weight loss related, I'm finding out.) Now, to get those kinds of losses, I have to either exercise a lot more or eat a lot less - and since work has had me busy, I've been staying about the same on both food and working out, and just accepting smaller losses. I am okay with smaller losses - I knew this would slow down eventually, and I'm trying my hardest to be proud of it.

December 8, 2010

About: Running

Today will be a marathon of final exam grading, followed by a much-welcome break to go to the gym and run. I'm in week eight of C25k this week - which is unbelievable to me. I couldn't believe I was capable of running for sixty seconds during the first week, then I couldn't believe I ran a full mile without stopping in the fifth week. Now, I can run two and a half miles like it's nothing! I totally understand what everyone has been talking about when they have used the term "runner's high."

lovelovelove nike+ ... it's so fancy and fun!
Last week, I was doing some research on running for the winter holiday survival guide that I am preparing to help get me through my trip to Connecticut. I am going to finish C25k while I am there, and then I will keep up my running for a couple more weeks before my first 5k on 1/1/11. Although I have walked in 5k and 8k races before, I wanted to see what information and advice was out there for first time runners in road races. Luckily, I found dozens of great articles on, one of my personal favorite websites. I feel like totally gets overlooked in terms of awesome sites. I refer my students to it often, as their explanations of French grammar are terrific, and there are a lot of quizzes with immediate feedback that can be taken for extra practice.

Two articles in particular were relevant, so I added them to my guide. One talks about outdoor running in winter - everything from how to properly dress to how to stay safe in less than ideal conditions. That article can be found here.

The other [ linked here ] gives tips for the day of your first race. Since I have walked races before, I'm familiar with a few of them - picking up your race packet early, eating a nutritious breakfast and drinking water on the course, pinning your race bib onto the front of your shirt, and not getting right up at the starting line (unless you would like to be trampled, or at the very least, cursed at). Since this is going to be my first running race, I'm going to have my support team at the finish line to cheer me on. I'm also not focusing on breaking any records - all I'd like to do is finish.

The one thing I found interesting was their last bit of advice:
10. Don't Wear the Race T-Shirt
Lastly, you'll most likely get a race T-shirt when you sign up for the race. Don't wear it until after you've completed the race. Not only are there superstitions associated with wearing it in the race, but it also makes you look like a rookie!
This one really made me think. The other stuff is pretty obvious - make sure you don't eat too much or too little, make sure you stay hydrated, etc. But this one left me wondering. go go green 5k - 10/23/10Even though they will be giving us shirts at my first running race, I'm planning on having my brother help me decorate a shirt to wear over a technical shirt and under a fleece (the race is along the Connecticut shoreline - not as cold as Chicago, but still pretty chilly!). But for my walking races, I've always worn the shirts that they gave us - most people do. It's neat to see everyone in the same uniform, ready to accomplish an awesome task. I posed the question on Twitter, and Jayme said that while she does not believe in superstitions, it does make sense to "earn" the shirt before wearing it. I had never thought of it that way!

What are your thoughts on this? Any other advice for a first time 5k-er?

December 7, 2010

Winter Wonderland Warriors

The fabulous Amy from Life's Journey With a Smile is hosting a pretty amazing challenge to help us all beat the winter blues. w w w - just what i need!Since I am the kind of girl who totally loves a challenge, you can count me in!

The details are in this entry of Amy's blog. Basically, each week she will be sending out a survey (always fun!), and we will post them in a blog entry along with a positive picture and updates on the ten goals we set for ourselves to achieve by the end of March. Here are my goals:

1. Achieve my 100 pound weight loss.
I'm about twenty pounds away right now ... I can do this!

2. Train for the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle Chicago 8k on 4/10/11.
A few weeks from now, I will be ready to run a 5k - by the end of March, I think I could reasonably add less than two more miles. A per mile pace of 15:00 or better is required (my pace in my first walking 8k was 16:12). I'm a little apprehensive because right now I am running 2.5 miles (about 4k) with a per mile pace of about 14:00, but I also haven't even ran a "real" race yet - my first is 1/1/11. So we'll see how feasible the Shamrock Shuffle is. It would be the biggest race I've been in so far, in terms of participants - I believe it's the second biggest in the city, after the Marathon. In any case, goal #1 will help with goal #2!

3. Begin looking for jobs (try to apply for at least one).
My contract at the university is up in May. I need to start looking for lecturer positions ASAP - the earlier the better, I think. I also need to update my CV - I'm competing with PhD's who also need jobs, so I have to pull out all the stops and let these colleges and universities that I'm the absolute best candidate out there.

4. Be an amazing teacher.
This sort of ties in with #3 - having completed my first semester of full-time teaching, I now have a whole list of things that I am not satisfied with and that I would like to improve on. I'd like to implement as many of them as possible for my Spring 2011 classrooms; this challenge will start before the semester begins and will end shortly after midterms.

5. Complete two of my 101-in-1001 goals.
I'm looking at you, reading based ones.

6. Visit three museums on their Free Days.
Every museum in Chicago has at least one Free Day a month - it's warm, indoors, and free. In the middle of winter in Chicago, you can't ask for a better deal!

7. Spend 1/4 of my tax return on new clothes.
I'm not expecting a huge return, but still, part of it needs to go towards getting clothes that don't make me look like a little kid playing dress up.

from velsen dot blogspot dot com
Yeah. Just like that.

8. Make art.
This is a really inspirational time in my life, and I would love to express some of these feelings via my artwork. Doesn't matter the medium, I just want to create as much as possible!

9. Do something every week to make me feel gorgeous.
This was one of Jess' goals for Drop Dead Gorgeous by December, and I totally love it. Especially at this point in my weight loss journey, I think that doing little things to help me feel lovely is incredibly important.

10. Go to the opera.
I know this seems silly, but I'd like to make it to the opera at least once before winter's over - it's such a lovely way to spend a few hours. Last year I went twice - I went with my cousin Sarah to see "Tosca" and with my sister Katie to see "The Marriage of Figaro." It's warm, relaxing, and totally luxurious - one of my favorite ways to spend an evening in Chicago!

December 6, 2010


I spent most of Saturday listening to Christmas records and cooking treats for my co-workers - it was finally snowing for the first time, and I was totally full of Christmas spirit. This may not sound like much, but I'm usually not over-the-top full of holiday cheer, so this was really wonderful. I think quite a bit of it had to do with the new-jeans-self-esteem high I was riding on, but whatever the source, I was grateful for it.

After cooking for most of the day, I headed to the gym to do my running for C25k - another two and a half miles under my belt! As I was leaving the gym, I noticed that I had a missed call from my family. Usually I wait until I get home to call them back, but seeing as how I had over ten minutes to wait for the bus and it was snowing, I figured a quick call would help pass the time and maybe even keep me a little warm.

My whole family was talking on the speaker phone - they were all sitting around the kitchen table playing a family game of Scrabble. With my heart full of spirit, I honestly wished that I were there. They asked what I had done all day, and I told them about baking dozens of gingersnaps, and I told them how proud I was of myself that I hadn't even eaten a single one!

There was silence. Then indistinct whispering.

Jokingly, I asked, "Are you guys talking smack?"

My sister Lisa quickly replied: "Yeah."

"What's going on?"

"You can't eat even just one cookie?!"

"Well, I could, but I don't want to. One cookie is like 150 calories. That's fifteen minutes on the elliptical machine. It's not worth it to me."

Then, my mom spoke up: "You're not going to be a freak when you come home, are you?"

Cue me, standing in the snow under a streetlight, sobbing.

I know what she meant: more "obsessive" than "circus side-show." But the tactless choice of words brought up so many deeper feelings that I've been harboring.

I spoke with a therapist a few weeks ago about my apprehensions about going home, which have been plaguing me since August when I started trying to eat better and exercise. The stress is based on more than simply maintaining healthy eating habits and regular exercise.

This is my family back in May when I graduated:

wisconsin cheese tour
This is me the last time they saw me, compared with me now:

ow oww!
I am by no means "thin" - at nearly eighty pounds lost, I'm still not even halfway to my goal. But I am thinner than I was, and (more importantly) healthier than I was, and that already sets me apart. I might not be the smallest one just yet, but it is likely that the next time I see them, there will be a huge physical difference setting me apart from them.

As I develop my identity as a formerly super obese person, I am losing a huge connection to my family.

There's always been an odd tension because my parents are blue collar folks with high school diplomas and I'm an academic professional with a graduate degree - not a problem, more of an odd distinction that we just can't relate or agree about some things - for example, my mom couldn't understand why I would want to go to college to study French literature, and my dad panicked at the idea of student loans. It's also difficult that they're all in Connecticut and I'm in Chicago, so if Mom is sick or Dan has a chorus concert, I just can't be there the way the others can. They are living a life that I am part of, but only as an extension. And so, wanting to eat healthy and exercise is another thing that sets me apart from a family I already feel hugely distant from.

I've always considered my family to be extremely close. I love them more than anyone or anything else in the world, and I would do absolutely anything for them. I know it's completely irrational, but my heart aches just thinking that they're not going to love me the same as they did back when I was inactive and overindulged on food.

My family, unsurprisingly, are big eaters - especially at the holidays. Everything is rich and heavy, and everything is excessive. I'm not planning on being a "freak" when I get home. I'm not expecting huge losses while I'm there, but I would at least like to maintain - that in itself would be a tremendous victory. I fully intend on enjoying the holidays (within reason) - but Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are only two of the seventeen days that I will be in Connecticut.

After hanging up the phone, I went home and finished making my cookies. I ate one, and it was highly unsatisfying. It didn't make me happy like it used to, and it didn't make me forget how sad I felt after what my mom said. I remember holidays past, sitting in front of the cookie tray and eating every single one of whatever my favorite kind of cookie was that year. I don't want to feel forced to do things I do not agree with because I want to fit in - I don't do that with friends or co-workers, and I certainly won't do it with my family. Hopefully doing well with my exercising will help keep me focused on eating well, and it will help counteract the occasional small indulgences - like I said, I'm not expecting the kinds of losses I see while I am out here in Chicago and completely in control of what gets bought, cooked, and served.

Speaking of exercise, as a final note, my dad called yesterday morning and, in true Dad fashion, told me that he had a surprise for me. He said he knew I was feeling pretty anxious about coming home and being able to keep up my good work, so he had a present for me: a one month membership to the gym in town. I'm so grateful - and partially relieved. I know that between that, the Wii Fit, and training for/running in my 5k on 1/1/11, I will be totally set in terms of physical activity. But the food is my big concern right now, and I'm still really anxious thinking about the pressure I will be faced with in terms of holiday eating (from my mom especially).

December 5, 2010

Drop dead gorgeous

My positive sign for the week:

i love this face!
This is the time of the year where I get crazy with stress, and the littlest things can set me off. So I'm trying to focus on positives as much as I possibly can. This week, it was buying new pants, which was awesome threefold:

1 - They are smaller than the last pair I've bought.
2 - In fact, they're smaller than any pair I've bought in the last decade.
3 - I've never bought jeans "down" before - I've always needed to buy bigger, never smaller.

I put the receipt and size tags in my shoebox along with all my race bibs and timing chips - this is something to remember!

Challenge start weight: 332
Current weight: 266

Of the 79 pounds I have lost, 66 have been during this challenge!

Progress on my DDGbG goals: My new recipe this week was, unfortunately, not a healthy one - I made toffee for my co-workers for Christmas gifts. It was pretty easy to make, and it's really lovely - I'm not going to post a picture here, though - this season is hard enough to get through without having to see sugary treats all over someone's healthy living blog! I didn't eat any, which was good - I wore my new jeans while making it to ensure that I stuck to my plan!

ONE thing that you are proud of for the week: Finishing the semester in one piece! Well, I'm done with teaching, at least. This week will be full of grading, but once I am done, I get a couple weeks of vacation! And I am *so* ready for it.

ONE thing that you can improve upon for the following week:Finishing my Winter Holiday Survival Guide - a project I've been compiling to bring home to Connecticut to help me stay focused and maintain success while still enjoying my family's company and the holiday.