December 28, 2011

Falling trees

Last year, as I headed home for the holidays, I was a ball of anxiety. I'd been doing so well with my weight loss - down about 75 or 80 pounds - and had a killer routine of eating well, hitting the gym, and blogging daily. I was nervous about being back in an environment that not only had me apart from my healthy habits, but was the birthplace and breeding ground for the unhealthy habits that made me 23 and 345 pounds.

I made a very detailed plan - running maps, a little notebook for tracking my food, and even a list of the healthiest possible food choices at any of a dozen restaurants my family was likely to eat at. In spite of my good intentions, the allure of Christmastime-only things that my mother cooked (and some pressure from my family) was too much, and I indulged - within reason. I still worked out, still ran, and ate well every day except Christmas eve/day, and was able to return to Chicago and log a loss.

This year, I was oddly not nervous - my family dynamic has changed entirely, and there wasn't supposed to be a big feast. While the holiday itself was scaled back incredibly, the house is still filled with an abundance of a lot of foods that I do not typically eat or even trust myself to keep in the house - namely, refined carbs. Since moving to California and making close observations of my food patterns, I have remarked that eating processed snacks and refined carbs (like bread, crackers, and pasta) tends to trigger me into overdoing it with snacking. Perhaps because I like to get "the most" out of my calories and would rather have an apple or a banana and 25 grapes than 6 Triscuit crackers, or a few ounces of chicken breast and some veggies than a few ounces of pasta - fruits, veggies, and protein just fill me up more, and that feeling of comfortable fullness is important to me - not stuffed, but satisfied. Bread, pasta, cereal, etc., just don't do that for me.

I would like to be able to control my portions with them someday, but I can only reasonably work on one issue at a time. Right now, as a recovering binge/compulsive eater, it's easier for me to abstain and try to get my weight under control. When it comes to carbs, I'm like an addict ... one is too many, a thousand will never be enough.

Resisting trigger foods can be easy when I am on my own - especially when I'm focused on how lucky and how truly blessed I am instead of fixating on short-term problems like job and relationship stresses. But what I hadn't counted on with this trip back was being faced with the reality of my family situation, and all the emotions that came with that. I haven't been on the East Coast since this time last year; all of the changes here happened while I was away. It's been very difficult, and as an emotional eater, I've made my share of bad food decisions - both in terms of quality and quantity. It's a very poor excuse for actions inconsistent with the ones I know I need to be taking in order to obtain my goals. But in the moment, as I feel myself being overwhelmed and my heart being overtaken with anxiety, grief, and all the emotions I don't adequately deal with while living over 3000 miles away, it becomes easier to give in to old habits, to seek the familiar comfort of a carb crash.

I'll be heading back to Chicago tomorrow, and returning to California two days after that, and to be honest, I am not quite sure what to expect when I step back on the scale. I know how I look, how I feel, and how my clothes fit. But the number itself is unknown to me. There's no scale here, and as a daily weigher, that's been another challenge. Terrible pun aside, I need to find a happy balance for me with the scale. When I weigh daily, it can sometimes be discouraging. But when I don't weigh at all, I tend to feel like I am not in control of the situation. It's almost as if I don't trust my body to keep working unless I am constantly checking up on it's progress in this one measurable way. Sort of like "if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" - if I eat well and stay active but don't weigh myself daily, will I still lose weight?

What about you? How do you stay in control of binge/compulsive eating urges while dealing with family stress at the holidays? How often do you weigh yourself? Any recovering daily weighers - how did you divorce yourself from the scales, so to speak?

December 23, 2011


I made it to Connecticut safely, and have been enjoying my time here so far. Running to the marina and to the beach, spending time with the people I love most in the world, and thinking an awful lot about my weight loss journey. Being home always gives me a lot to think about and reflect on, not to mention plenty of time to do so, so I am gathering a lot of notes and ideas for future posts.

I flew into Hartford's Bradley International Airport on Tuesday morning, and as I walked towards the baggage area where my two sisters were waiting for me, I realized that besides videochatting via Skype, we hadn't seen one another in an entire year. I walked towards them, and although they were looking right at me, it took them a moment for my identity to register. Then, there were hugs, laughs, and stories, and the feelings of familiarity rushed back. The marvelous thing about my siblings is that there is so much genuine love between us - and it has never, ever been affected by my physical body. It's just love, pure and simple.

Though I've recently made a lot of progress on accepting my plateau and not considering myself a failure, I still feel a little depressed about it from time to time. I look in the mirror and feel unsatisfied - which is strange, because when I hit this weight on the way down, it felt amazing; now, after a few months here, the feeling varies.

Something that has been surprisingly difficult since returning to Connecticut, then, is keeping all of this in mind. Because these people have not seen me in a year, the changes seem remarkable to them. The three of us sisters went out to dinner Tuesday night and afterwards I said that I felt huge, and they both said I was being ridiculous. What they see and what I feel are two different beings, apparently.

It makes me think of an idea you see often in books and movies - a character believes him or herself to be living a certain way, only to find out that the people that he or she knows see him or her differently. Am I who I am as I know myself, or am I the person others perceive me to be?

With weight loss, I think it's a mixture of both. Even though an outsider may see a 150 pound loss, I still have trouble seeing the forest through the trees, so to speak. I generally like how I look, even though I still have trouble sometimes seeing the changes in my body and properly acknowledging. But I also know that this is not where I want to end up - this is not my goal. It's tough, but it's a good feeling, I think. I still have work to do, and I haven't lost sight of that.

December 19, 2011

Heading out

Last Friday, I bought myself a little pre-Christmas present:

Glorious, no? It's something I've wanted for a while - my small one got left in Chicago - but I was waiting for a refund debit card from the company I use for my home Internet connection. Best part? It was on sale! So I got to get the food processor *and* some spinach, fruit, and unsweetened vanilla almond milk!

It's big enough to use as a blender, too, which I love. I don't really have a problem eating fruits and veggies, but having this healthy smoothie option back in Chicago curbed a lot of my sweet tooth snacking. And - I'm very excited to get back to making my own bean/veggie burgers. And one ingredient "ice cream"!

Today, I am back in Chicago - just a quick pit stop before heading back to Connecticut tomorrow and spending a little over a week there. Then, another day and a half in Chicago before returning to California to get ready for Spring semester 2012!

I'm writing this post before I leave for Chicago, of course, so I hope I made it in one piece ... and that I'm not frozen to death. I bought a hat at the grocery store yesterday since my dad got rid of all my winter stuff back in Chicago - "you won't need it in California!" he said, apparently not realizing I wouldn't be staying here forever.

(I dyed my hair pink, by the way. Needed a change, wanted something fun. I am seriously loving the amazed smile from every little kid. Child, you too will grow up and have a super amazing life.)

The Connecticut shoreline this time of year is about 10-15º colder than my part of California, and Chicago is 15-25º colder than that. I'll be running around trying to do some Christmas shopping today - at the very least, I need to hit up the Lego store and get the Death Star, something my brother has wanted for years but that I can only now afford to buy for him.

I'm surprisingly not worried about Christmas and holiday eating. Thinking back to last year, when I made myself a survival binder and started dreading heading home even before Halloween ... it was a lot of anxiety. This year, things are different. My family dynamic has shifted greatly, and I won't be facing down a big holiday meal or any baked goods - my dad is on a fairly strict eating plan because of his health problems. As strange as it will be to not have Christmas like usual, I'm certainly grateful for a few days in a "safe" food environment.

What about you? How are you planning on enjoying your holidays? What's at the top of your wish list?

December 17, 2011


Well, that's a wrap, folks. I submitted my course grades last night, so my first semester at my new job in California is officially completed. How good it feels to exhale! It's been an intense four months, without a doubt. It certainly feels like it's been much longer. There have been some great moments, though I've also felt my share of lows ... and not just as far as weight loss has gone.

My lowest official Chicago weight was 192, though I noted 191 in my food journal a couple days later (the day before I left for California); since then, my weight has generally been 196-198. Sometimes it goes up a bit, sometimes it drops down. But it always evens itself out. Essentially, I've been maintaining, and if I had to say my biggest regret about weight loss since moving, it's been that I didn't give myself permission to do so from the beginning.

I wanted to believe that I could seamlessly transition from the Midwest to the West Coast, that despite my entire world changing and being turned upside down, I could keep up my healthy habits and stay motivated to do right by my body. But I know myself better than that, and in denying myself a few months of treading water, I set myself up for feeling like a failure. The pressure to lose weight, on top of all the other pressures I've been feeling, has had me ready to burst for months. In permitting myself to maintain, I still would have ended the semester at my current weight, but I wouldn't feel so broken.

I went for months and months without a binge, but with all the changes suddenly thrust upon me these past few months, it's been all too easy to slip back into the sick comfort of compulsive eating. I'm not proud of it, though I'm taking it as a small victory that my regain has been limited to this 5-7 pound range. There's no doubt in my mind that I could have regained at least 50 pounds since moving - again, because I know myself very well, and I remember all too vividly my past hurts and how I self-medicate with food.

My main goal for 2011 was
"ending negative self-talk ... no excuses. The changing exterior is great, but the physical weight loss won't matter if I still hate the girl inside."
And while I made some great strides, I'm not sure I can say I've accomplished this just yet. One of my worst habits while binge eating is letting the voice in the back of my head step up to its little invisible microphone and berate me while I continue to eat.
Look at you! You're stupid. You're a failure. Your mother was right, you're obsessive and you can't succeed at this long-term. What is wrong with you? Don't you want it bad enough?
And there, essentially, is the basis for my plateau. Right now, I don't want it bad enough. I don't really want it at all. I'm so overwhelmed with changes, I need even just one thing to be constant.

When I started losing weight, I was in Chicago, and everything came together perfectly. I was starting my first full-time job, but it was a job I had already done, with faculty/a staff I had already worked with. It was a new phase in my professional life, but the transition was a smooth one. I had local, offline support. I had the means to transport myself - walking to the grocery store, taking the bus to the gym, riding the train to my races. I set up new routines that were easy to stick to because I felt in control in other areas of my life. Right now, that isn't the case.

It's a weak excuse - you can't wait forever for the "perfect" moment, for an ideal situation where everything is in your favor, because that moment might never come. So my goal for 2012 (besides continuing on my quest to quiet my negative self thoughts) is to redefine *my* perfection. With one semester under my belt, I am looking forward to no longer being new here, to having my familiarity with the job and the town be a constant I can depend on. Conditions might not be flawless or ideal, but I need to do my best with what I have. I'm reminded of one of my favorite blog posts by Ellen:
... we aren't seeing the overall importance of who we are right now, because we are too focused on the small details. We sometimes lose ourselves when we forget the big picture: how far we've come; how much we've changed; what we've learned ... The past isn't as important as the present; I don't care how many times we feel like we screwed up. If it takes 5 times, 20 times or 50 times to let go of these de-motivators, at least we're here, trying.
Because when it comes down to it, I really do want it bad enough. I want to live a healthy, happy, satisfied life. And that satisfaction isn't found in a binge. I felt it when I properly nourished and hydrated my body, when I worked out because I loved to and not to punish myself for overeating, when I felt happy with my life in spite of imperfections because every decision I made was one that supported my long-term goals.

December 15, 2011


The fall semester is coming to a close - which, for anyone on either side of the academic process, is a somewhat light way of expressing an incredibly heavy thought. Both students and teachers know that the last week of the semester, with all the projects/exams to either make/take or create/grade, is one of the most stressful all year.

While we still have a few days to go before the official end, Justin left on Tuesday morning. He's back home on the East Coast now, and when this post goes live, he'll be standing in front of a committee defending his dissertation. I'm nervous, excited, proud, and uncertain, for many reasons. He's been noticeably stressed quite often lately, and I hope everything goes well this morning so he can finally exhale.

I'm sure I'll miss him in the few weeks when we're in separate states on the same coast. But for now, this week ... I'm secretly a little glad that he's not here. I'm surviving finals week in one piece thus far, which I am grateful for; this was notoriously one of my most binge-heavy weeks as a student, and I'm glad to be feeling in control right now. I'm not sure this would be the case if Justin was around.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about observing his healthy eating habits, and how I enjoyed observing someone eat who is not recovering from an eating disorder. And for the most part, I still stand by the things I said. But as his deadlines grew closer, I started to notice a change in his food choices - more refined carbs, fewer vegetables - and it got colder in the mornings, so he started driving to work instead of biking. Up until about a month ago, whenever we ate together, it was always home-cooked - since then, though, we've gone out three or four times. Once a week might not sound like a lot, but considering that I only ate out maybe twice in my first 12 months of weight loss? It's significant for me.

Rereading some of my even older posts, and I found one where I had talked about the difficulties my father was having with sticking to a healthy eating plan while my mother and siblings ate unhealthy foods:
I remember when I first got started with losing weight, and how hard it was to commit to eating better and eating less. Eating habits are among the hardest to break, because they're rarely just about the food itself - there are feelings and emotions, too. Personally, I had always associated food with comfort instead of hunger, so even though I knew better, it was still unbelievably easy to eat junk food in excess - and to give up on diets because I missed those comfortable feelings. This time I stuck with it, formed new habits, and now fast-food cheeseburgers are completely undesirable to me - I prefer the good, clean feeling I have when I nourish my body properly.

That said, if I were continually surrounded by these temptations - especially in the first stages of changing my eating habits - I am not entirely sure I would have been so successful. A lot of people ask me how I could lose so much weight so fast, and to be honest, I think living alone has a lot to do with it. There's no one to come home to who objects to chicken breast for what sometimes feels like the fifteenth night in a row and insists we go out, my treat, come on sweetie, please? Just no more chicken! There are no dinner dates where I have to scour menus nervously and still consciously decide to put half my dinner in a takeout box before the plate is even in front of me. I go to work, I go to the gym, I occasionally run errands. I'm in charge of every decision, and there's very little temptation in such a simple life.

These aren't complaints - for the most part, I like being alone, and at this stage in my life, it's almost a necessity in order to stay focused on my journey. But I think about my father and what he must be thinking, how he must feel sitting at the dinner table with a small fraction of what he's used to eating while everyone else's plates are piled with pizza and not a vegetable in sight. And I can understand his desire to take off to Florida and wanting to be in control of this part of his life, even if I can't understand why he would act on the desire given his physical condition.
It's much easier for me to stay focused when I'm entirely concentrating on cooking and caring for one. The reality, though, is that that isn't sustainable long-term, considering that I would like to one day be married and have a properly nourished, healthy, happy family of my own. There will be other people's tastes and opinions to consider. Now, in the short-term, where I find myself cooking for two once or twice a week, I still try to do what I did when I first started eating better: healthier versions of the things I was craving as I detoxed from my unhealthy habits. But wanting to cater to someone else's desires occasionally wins.

Last week, he was cooking us dinner (a homemade version of the Thai lettuce wraps we'd shared at the Cheesecake Factory), and I said I was glad that we were eating something with vegetables. I was sitting on one of the kitchen island's stools while he chopped up cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, and carrots, and I told him about a dream I'd had a few days earlier: we were both in my childhood bedroom back in Connecticut, holding each other and kissing a little, when suddenly he jumps up and runs out of the room - I think he's going to get a condom, but he comes back with a giant bowl of popcorn. The significance of this is, I think, pretty obvious.

I honestly believe there's a place for everything in my long-term eating plan. I had one piece of quiche, and felt satisfied - but Justin ate four. Half a quiche is more calories than I eat all day. I commented that he must be starving, and he said "it's just really good." And I felt conflicted.

I love that he loves my cooking, but at the same time, I hate feeling responsible for his recent weight gain. It isn't much, and I have no worries that he'll slim back down once the dissertation stuff is done with. But still, I feel guilty. I know it's his choice to eat things or not, in whatever quantities he wants. But I also know that as a recovering food addict, what you actually want is not usually food. I care about him very much, and seeing his habits shift with his stress level has been difficult. It may be a smaller scale than I have experienced as a binge eater, but it's still stress eating.

What about you? Do you cook for a friend/partner/spouse/family? How do you encourage healthy eating habits while also keeping everyone feeling satisfied? What are some of your go-to recipes when cooking for two or more?

December 11, 2011


I've always loved the expression "when it rains, it pours." I love rain, thunder, lightning ... ever since I was a little kid. As lovely and warm as a sunny day can be, there's certainly something to be said for pouring rain all day long. The sound, the smell, the feeling. Absolutely nothing like it. It's one of the things I miss the most since moving to California (it's only rained two or three times since I moved here - a far cry from the wet Chicago summer we just had).

But even though the image of rainstorms is pleasant to me, that doesn't seem to be the popular opinion, and I don't think I've ever heard the phrase used positively. It means that when something goes wrong, a shower of other bad things tends to follow.

It doesn't have to mean that, though, does it? We can have good things happen one after another, right? I think we tend to overlook when wonderful stuff happens. We can list the tough stuff one after another, and only in extremes do we become "a complainer." But (at least for me, anyway), as soon as I start listing the great things that have been happening, I start to feel self-conscious, and fear that I sound like I'm bragging.

Today, I'm owning my victories.

I'm eating well. The scale is moving in the right direction. And yesterday, I finally accomplished a goal I've been striving towards for months:

Not only sub 30, but sub 29.

I woke up early, went to the university to give a final exam, came home, and napped. After my nap, I was going to skip my run, but pushed myself to do it - remembering something seen I've variations of on dozens of blogs, Tweets, pins, etc.:
you never regret running, but you will regret not running.
So I ran. And after 2 miles, I wanted to quit. But I wasn't home anyway, so I pushed myself for the last mile. And when I hit mile 3 in 27:53, I realized what I was about to do. And I kept going.

The first year or so of my journey was full of goal-setting followed by goal-reaching, and so something I've struggled with a lot since moving has been the transition time; just coasting and trying to maintain my sanity has been necessary, but very difficult considering the giant leaps with weight loss and physical fitness I had consistently taken forward in the twelve months prior. Stability has been my top priority, and it's still something I'm seeking. But I'm finally feeling a little settled in my little California farm town. Being able to celebrate a few victories like weight loss and personal records ... well, I'm feeling a kind of joy and happiness that I haven't felt in a few months, and that I've missed incredibly.

I still have more than my share of very difficult days - this is not an easy place to live, especially transitioning from a world-class city like Chicago. But it's getting easier, and I'm so grateful. I'm committed to doing all I can to not just survive here, but thrive.

December 9, 2011

Roses and thorns

It's almost the end of the year, and I'm getting a little introspective. Looking back on my goals for 2011, and thinking about all the progress I've made - not just weight-wise, but also overall mental and physical health. I'll write about it all when I have a bit more time - this week has been quite busy and shows no sign of slowing at the moment, as it is finals week, and now I am heading to the office to make my final exams for my courses. Yesterday was the last day of class and my students applauded as I thanked them for a fantastic first semester. Given all the semester's struggles, that little moment of recognition felt great.

I haven't shared a weigh-in in a while, so I suppose I'm due for one. I've still been weighing daily, but like always, I typically just look at the number and then carry on; since Ben has been recording and sharing his daily weights, I've started keeping track of mine in an Excel spreadsheet.

I'm not sure if it's seeing the numbers there (and being forced to remember them and note patterns) or general motivation or what, but it's working.

Another visual:

Nothing feels better than moving forward in a good direction.

193 is the lowest weight on weigh-in day that I've recorded since August ... before I left Chicago. My lowest weight so far is 192, and I'm trying not to count any chickens before they hatch, but I'm feeling good about making progress from here.

I was looking over my other progress spreadsheets (yes, there are several) and realized that in 2010, I lost 80 pounds. If I get to 185 by December 31, it'll be another 80 in 2011. Not to mention that 185 is already an incredibly significant number for me, as it would move my BMI from obese to overweight. It's a big goal, but I'm feeling confident and ready to reach it.

The bumpy little rough patch marks a significant time in my life, full of countless changes; and as frustrating as it has sometimes been, I have no regrets about an entire semester of weight maintenance. But the time is right for me to get seriously focused again. No dilly-dallying. No excuses.

December 6, 2011


On Saturday night, Justin and I headed to Fresno, a small city about an hour south of us, for dinner. He said he wanted to go to The Cheesecake Factory, and my whole body tensed up. I told him that it's the worst restaurant on the planet in terms of calories and sodium, and he said he just really wanted their Thai lettuce wraps. I could have easily made them at home (and the next night, he did - just as delicious and certainly healthier), but that wasn't really the point, I suppose. Sometimes, you just need to get out of town.

We shared one order of them, and both immediately said "no, thank you," when the waitress asked if we were interested in any cheesecake or ice cream. I've been a little concerned about our eating lately (I'll be writing about that later this week), and so this was a very good thing, I thought. No pressure. I honestly didn't want it, which was a great feeling - in the past, I'd eat a piece there *and* take one home for later (which almost always meant "later that evening, when my friends weren't watching").

Since we'd driven an hour or so to get there, we decided to walk around the mall a little bit, to stretch and explore. It was pretty standard, as far as malls go. But it was nice to walk and talk and enjoy some good company.

The first shop we went into was Brookstone. If anyone is unaware of this place, it's a fascinating little odds-and-ends place - the front displays were bathrobes, a plastic shelf for holding your iPad while you read, and a massaging chair. We went over to the display of massagers and took turns trying them all out on each others backs through our coats. Absolutely glorious.

We returned to the front of the shop and Justin asked if the sales clerk would give him the five minute demonstration of the massage chair that was advertised on a sign posted right next to it. He sat down, and the girl started fiddling around with the buttons and switches. He said it felt incredible, and I continued to peruse the store while he made small talk with the clerk.

I made my way back about a minute later, and the clerk was telling Justin that the chair is a very popular model, and that athletes use it to relax their muscles. Justin looked at me and smiled, and said "You should get this!"

Then, the response I anticipated, but that surprised him.

The sales clerk looked at me and said, "You're an athlete?"

Deep exhale. I bit my tongue and shoved my hands deeper into my coat pockets.

"Yeah, kind of."

Justin looks shocked, and defends me. "Yes, she is. She's a runner."

And the clerk looks me up and down, and the conversation ends there.

I'm used to people reacting like that. After decades of being this way, I've come to understand that people don't expect much of a big girl. It's not right and it's not fair, but at least it hurts less than it used to. I know the truth, and I use it for fuel. Right now, we're standing in a gadget store at the mall. Tomorrow morning, I'll be running eight miles - five fewer than I'll be running in six weeks at my first half marathon.

A few weeks ago, Tim reminded me of one of my absolute favorite motivational sayings:
if you have a body, then you are an athlete.
One of the greatest lessons I've learned on my weight loss journey is that you can't judge anyone based on outside appearances. I might not look like someone's ideal image of an athlete. But I also don't look like I used to 150 pounds ago. My body is perfect the way it is - and so is yours. We are wonderful and lovely and capable of amazing things.

December 2, 2011

Workouts: November

For November, my goals were simple: run more and bike less. And I can say with confidence that I succeeded at both.

I logged 41.1 miles of running in November - much more than the 24.5 miles in October! My half marathon training is going exceptionally well - last Sunday I knocked out an amazing 7 miler, and tomorrow I'm set to do 8. My mid-week runs, I work on speed; on, Sunday long runs, though, I take it nice and slow. Focus on distance, and run at my intended race pace for practice. I'm very pleased with the splits from my last long run:

I can't say it enough, I love running long and slow. As much as I desperately want that sub-30 5k (I tried again a few weeks ago and was slow hitting the stop on my Garmin, and it turned to 30:00. Blerg! That was my closest yet!), I really love the feeling of running for over an hour. The feeling of physical health, yes, but also, intense mental clarity. With the end of my first semester here at my new university winding down, I couldn't ask for a better stress reliever.

I biked 296.9 miles in November - still quite a bit, but nothing compared to the 519.66 miles I had logged in October. I'm very happy about this because the scale still isn't moving. That might seem backwards, but hear me out - the scale didn't move with 200+ more miles logged, either. I didn't overdo it on the biking because I had to counteract huge binges. My eating in November was not ideal, but certainly better than previous months, and I'm pleased with where I'm looking to end up by the end of the year.

It's strange to think we're already at the end of the year. I'm working on a list of 2012 goals, which I'll share later this month (as soon as I finish). I'm still so in awe of all this year's changes and transitions - with weight, with location, with friends, with family. But all in all, this year has been a good one, full of hard-learned lessons and so many wonderful people and moments. Looking back on my 2011 goals, I feel incredibly pleased with my progress, and I'm looking forward to the year closing with as much passion and excitement that I had at its beginning.

What about you? How was your November? What are your goals for December? What is the best advice you've heard for surviving the holidays?

November 27, 2011

Eggplant "bacon"

Last Monday, I hosted my second dinner party since moving to California - this time, it coincided with my book club's second meeting. We discussed F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night" - a surprisingly tough read for me. By the end, it was better, but the first part was a struggle - I just didn't fall head-over-heels the way I did with "The Great Gatsby."

Given the story's settings in France (both the South, and Paris) and in New York, I had originally intended to prepare dinner to match the theme. Unfortunately, while the south of France is well known for seafood dishes, one of the guests is a vegan/social vegetarian (will eat eggs/dairy), so my adventures in bouillabaisse will have to wait. Since the meeting also synced up with my birthday, I decided to venture into pizza making. I love pizza, but cannot not eat it all on my own, so having six or seven other people to cook for made this the perfect opportunity.

In Chicago, before getting healthier, I'd make pizza all the time. I would hop on a couple of buses to a little Italian bakery on Grand Avenue that sold raw pizza dough by the pound (and arancini, and cannoli, and amazing non-deep dish pizza by the slice - I'd get something to munch on while waiting for my pizza to cook, of course). It was amazingly delicious, and my mouth is watering thinking about how many little things I miss about living in The City of Neighborhoods, things that are unavailable in small town California.

Since D'amato's just isn't an option right now, I decided to try and make my own crust. I used The Pioneer Woman's recipe, which was not only delicious but ridiculously easy.

The star of the pie, though, was not the crust, but the delicious smoky eggplant "bacon" I topped it with. I have seen several different recipes around on different websites, and combined the suggestions of a few of them to make these bits of crispy veggie deliciousness:

1 1 lb. eggplant, handsliced in 1/8" slices
1/4 c. low sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp. liquid smoke
olive oil cooking spray
Preheat oven to 425º. Arrange eggplant slices in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 8 minutes, then flip, respray, and bake for another 3-5 minutes or until lightly browned and a little crispy. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 350º. Combine soy sauce and liquid smoke and dip eggplant slices into the mixture, then replace them on the baking sheet. Bake for 3-5 minutes or until cooked through.

As easy as that! Crispy like bacon. Smoky like bacon. But meat-free and much lower in calories! I put them on the pizza with baby portobello mushroom slices, homemade tomato sauce, and a blend of Italian cheeses - not exactly a low calorie dinner, but better than if I had used real bacon.

Since the eggplant didn't soak up all the soy sauce/liquid smoke mixture, I saved the rest of it and tried basically the same recipe with brussels sprouts yesterday afternoon - I heated the oven to 400º, tossed a pound of halved sprouts with the leftover liquid (about half the original recipe), then arranged them split-side-down on a baking sheet I had sprayed with cooking spray. I baked them for 5 minutes, then flipped them over and baked them for 8 more.

I loved brussels sprouts before. But I think I love them even more now.

I want to investigate more into liquid smoke, and see what I can do with it - if I could use it without the soy sauce, since even low sodium soy sauce is very salty. Liquid aminos, perhaps? We'll see. Expect more good things from my kitchen soon!

What about you? What new ingredient(s) have you tried lately?

November 26, 2011

Love and clean water

One of my favorite French expressions is vivre d'amour et d'eau fraîche - I first discovered it through a vocabulary-based mailing list that described it as such:
Have you ever been truly, madly, deeply in love? Then the French expression vivre d'amour et d'eau fraîche or se nourrir d'amour et d'eau fraîche might describe how you felt, as if you didn't need food, friends, family, or anything else but your love and maybe a bit of water to survive.
Literally meaning "to live on love and clean water," it's most commonly translated as "to live a carefree existence, with no worries or responsibilities." You hear it sometimes used with a negative connotation, but that wasn't the one I had on my mind these past few days.

I canceled all my classes on Wednesday - attendance is usually so poor the day before Thanksgiving that it simply isn't worth it to hold class - but Justin still had to work all day, so around 5 that evening, we headed north for Shasta Lake, a small man-made waterway about five hours or so away.

I spent all day Wednesday making CDs of music and audiobooks for us to listen to en route, but he failed to tell me that burned CDs very rarely work in his car's CD player. So we talked. And talked. And talked. And luckily, he had a few audiobooks in his car - a couple collections of Sherlock Holmes stories - so we'd listen to one, then talk some more.

We got to the cabin quite late - it was a long drive, and luckily we didn't hit any Thanksgiving traffic, but with a couple of pit stops (gas for the car, dinner for him - I anticipated road food and ate a big healthy lunch a few hours before we left), we ended up at our cabin around 11 p.m., and we fell asleep right away. (In separate beds, don't worry.)

We slept in a little, and then I made breakfast - we brought eggs, bacon, and whole wheat bread - I don't eat bacon, but he does. I made The Pioneer Woman's egg-in-a-hole for both of us while he set to figure out how to roast the turkey breast we brought. (Since it was just the two of us, and we both prefer leftover sandwiches to the full holiday spread, it was perfect for us.) Having forgotten a roasting pan, and with only saucepans and frying pans in the cabin, we had to get a little inventive, but it worked. While it roasted, we played a little Scrabble, and I showed him no mercy.

When the meat was done cooking, we suited up and headed down to the lake. A few weeks ago, Justin bought a tandem sit-on-top kayak, and we brought it along with us. He wore a wetsuit; I wore his waders and fishing shoes over my thermal shirt and sweatpants.

It was an unbelievable experience, on several levels. First, because I was on a kayak at all - the weight limit is 400 pounds, and a year or so ago, this wouldn't have been physically possible. Second, even if the weight limit were higher, I wouldn't have done it, I would have been too afraid. (In fact, I probably wouldn't have come to the cabin at all, for fear of the embarrassment of being too big to do anything.) Third, Justin is a fit and healthy guy, and I was wearing his waders and his fleece jacket. Wearing anyone else's clothes is astonishing to me. I didn't think they would fit before I put them on, and he assured me they would - sure enough, they went on with no problem ... and room to spare.

As Justin is an avid fly fisher, and this lake is supposedly one of the best for fishing in California, we brought fishing poles and flies to troll for fish while we paddled around. The weather was overcast, which he said fish like (too much sun has them hiding, as they feel exposed to predators), but we still didn't catch anything. I was hoping to accomplish #92 from my 101-in-1001 list ("Catch a fish.") but we'll go out again soon, he promised.

I fished and he paddled, then we pulled over to the side of the lake and switched places in the kayak. After almost two hours of paddling around, he declared he was hungry and ready for some turkey sandwiches, so we quickly rowed back to shore. I took a quick shower while he prepared the sandwiches, and let me tell you, it was the most delicious turkey sandwich I'd ever eaten. I may have just been starving from the workout of all that paddling, but regardless, it was absolutely perfect.

Earlier that morning, Justin had asked what my family did on Thanksgiving, and I told him that we ate our meal, took a family nap, and then watched "It's a Wonderful Life," one of my dad's favorite movies. So after our sandwiches, we napped (again, separately), then he suggested we go to the nearest city (about 20 minutes away) to see a movie. We ventured out and saw "Hugo," which I was unsure about (the previews seemed interesting but not anything I felt overly compelled to see), but I'm so glad we saw it. It was absolutely marvelous. I loved it.

More sandwiches and Scrabble at home before retiring for the night. The next morning, more of the same. He slept in later than I did, so I walked down to the lake to explore and take some pictures. The skies were clearing up and the sun was coming out, which was really nice.

More talking, more eggs, more Scrabble, and then we packed up and headed out. Before making the trek back to our little town, though, we made a side journey to Lassen Volcanic National Park. The rain we had seen at Shasta Lake was snow there, so we couldn't go too far into the park. But we drove in as far as we could, then hiked around for an hour or so around Manzanita Lake.

We could see trout swimming in the lake, and immediately regretted leaving the fishing poles in the car. I did, however, still get to accomplish something on my 101-in-1001 list: #91, go hiking. It was so nice, being out in the woods and breathing the clean air. At one point, we found ourselves stuck with a stream between us and the continuation of our path, and we had to shimmy across this pipe - about six feet in the air. Justin did it without a problem, of course.

But I was shaking with nervousness. I can't do this. Come back. Let's turn around. I made my way across, balancing so delicately. I was convinced I would fall, but I kept my cool, took it slow, and I made it!

I told Justin after crossing about the issues with balance that I used to have when I first started losing weight - physical balance, where I would fall out of bed because I wasn't yet used to the reduced effort it now took to throw my body out of the bed. He laughed in a warm way - not in mockery, but more of surprise. There was a sense of understanding even though he couldn't relate with an experience of his own. He said what I have done is remarkable, not only because I am healthy now, but because I've had the chance to live two entirely different lives in my one short lifetime.

He's right, and I don't often think about it that way - I've made the connection, of course, but I try not to dwell on it. I've only seen the negative side of the comparison, that I have a new body and a new life that I've never known before, and this new way is scary and confusing. There are countless positives, though - good things to focus on, so much of the world that I can now see and experience that I wouldn't have been able to before (or that I would have denied myself because I didn't see my life as being one of value, one that ought to be filled with as many wonderful things as possible).

November 23, 2011

Game plan

One of the many contributing factors to my plateau has been my attempts to widen my social circle. It started when I was dating Matt - a skipped workout here and there, and then making excuses with my eating. This was the case with friends this summer, too - it was easy to meet up for lunch or frozen yogurt and hang out talking for hours. Do I regret it? Absolutely not. For someone who spent years upon years sitting on her couch, lying and making ridiculous excuses to friends about why I couldn't meet them here or there, this was a long overdue venture into some semblance of a social life.

Something I've honestly believed since starting to get healthier is that my living alone has been a major factor in my weight loss success. Whatever food is in the house is here because I have bought it; I can stick to a daily workout schedule there's no one around to convince me otherwise. This idea seems to have been especially true at holidays. The off-plan eating temptations don't worry me ... because there aren't any - no need for a huge holiday spread when there's no one else around.

Last year for Thanksgiving, I made a piece of chicken with salsa, broccoli, and reheated some leftover spaghetti squash with cheese - after walking an 8k race that morning, it was perfect.

This year, I am not racing (and I'm a little heartbroken). And - I will not be alone. Justin and I will be celebrating the holiday together - leaving tonight for a bit of a road trip. I'm not worried, though. We will be eating well and staying active, and we will still enjoy the holiday.

As for the details (the where and what of adventure), I'll reveal more when we return (late Friday, so an update Saturday, perhaps). I'm certainly excited to get away for a while, to not worry about all the things on my emotional plate right now (my dad was admitted to the hospital yesterday for something fairly serious).

Hope all the folks celebrating Thanksgiving enjoy it - and for everyone else, happy regular Thursday!

November 20, 2011

Quarter life crisis

Today, I am 25 years old.

Last night, as the clock approached 12:00 a.m., I found myself staring at it, counting down the final minutes of 24. In the last few seconds, I took an incredibly deep breath, and held it. The hours and minutes reset as the date changed from the 19th to 20th, and I exhaled. It felt heavy. Like I was letting go not just of the number 24, but of everything I've experienced this past year.

I'm about 75 pounds less than I was on my birthday last year - about half of my total loss so far - and accompanying every physical ounce of that has been pounds and pounds of emotional weight. It's interesting: the beginning of my year was very strong for both the numbers on the scale and the feeling of overall peace and emotional lightness. But both seem to have plateaued in the past couple of months. I'm finding balance lately, and even though I'm still at a relative stand-still with my weight loss, I'm feeling a bit more like my cheerful old self. But believe me when I say this peace has been hard earned.

I'm turning 25 in onederland, the first birthday here since I was a preteen. But this isn't the only new location I've discovered this year. I'm 2167 miles away from where I imagined I'd be celebrating this birthday. In several aspects, I can say that I'm in a place I never imagined I'd end up.

In the ten minutes leading up to midnight, I was chatting a bit back and forth with Matt about perception of age. It's certainly different for males and females; for me, at 25, I feel old. It's a little silly, I know. Age, I think, is kind of like clothing size. I can be anywhere from a medium to an extra large still depending on the store, so that really isn't a measure of progress for me anymore; a person can feel old at 25 and young at 90, depending on the quality of the life he or she is living. Don't pay too much attention to the numbers, just focus on how you look and feel.

My feeling of malaise isn't necessarily founded upon a feeling of dissatisfaction with the way things are right now, but more a nervousness based on what I thought I would be doing at this age and what I'd like to do in the next five years or so. My current heavy thought is on my personal relationships - romantic, but not only. I always assumed I'd marry young. My mother did - by the time she was my age, she was married and pregnant with her second child. I've gotten to know a few guys this year - all interesting, but mostly the wrong ones, for one reason or another, with the exception of one that I believe to be someone who'll become increasingly present and important to my life story in the next few weeks, months, and hopefully years. But I'm still quite far from being even close to considering marriage right now.

I'm also at an interesting crossroads with my friend and family relationships. With the exception of a few nasty e-mails and blog comments, I haven't spoken to my mother in over half a year. I terminated my six year friendship with my best friend from college with absolutely no regrets - it had run its course - but just like with most very close relationships, our separation brought the tough realization that in losing her, the relationship dynamic with most of my other friends from college is also forced to shift. I found a group of healthy, active people in Chicago, but that was met with the challenge of physical distance within a month and a half. We keep in touch, and I know I'll run with them again someday, but it was still so hard to feel like I finally met some people with similar goals, only to lose them just as soon as they had been found.

I've even grown distant from the blogging community I used to feel so much love and support from, due in part to bad experiences but also, my plateau and feelings of failure. To lose 150 pounds in a year and then nothing at all for months and months has been very painful for me. Claire put it exceptionally well when she told me that
With so much success so quickly, your standards are high.
I agree, and in the back of my mind, I know it's silly to stress out so much over gaining and losing the same few pounds. Given my past with binge eating disorder and my tendency to cope with stressful situations via compulsive eating and inactivity, I ought to be at least content, if not happy; all things considered, I'm just thrilled that my highest weight during all this has been 8 pounds higher than my lowest recorded Chicago weight, and that for the most part, I'm maintaining at 4-6 pounds higher.

When I was in Chicago a few weeks ago, I got to hang out with my cousin Sarah and her boyfriend Marty. All along this journey, they've been my strongest supporters, without a doubt. I felt very conflicted before seeing them, because as much as I love them, I was also feeling very ashamed that I've made no progress in the months since moving to California. Per usual, though, they made me feel incredibly better about everything. First, they explained, no progress in terms of pounds lost doesn't translate into no progress, period. And second, it's okay to take a little time to maintain and figure out what my goals are for this new chapter of my life, and what I need to do in order to reach them.

Marty reminded me that it took me twenty-three years, two of which were in Chicago, to get to a point where I was ready to make the changes I needed in my life. Everything aligned - the timing was right, with a perfect work situation and familiarity with my location that allowed me to transition my habits and routines into healthier ones. Right now, I'm still figuring California out. I didn't gain the weight overnight. I didn't lose 150 pounds overnight. And I can't expect myself to be completely, perfectly, peacefully transitioned after a few weeks or months. This semester, I need to focus on discovery: of my town, of my job, and of myself. Continue to eat well, keep moving. But don't call maintenance failure when it's exactly what's appropriate for the situation.

And so, today, I am 25 years old. Not where I thought I'd be, but nonetheless happy to be here. And happy to be healthy. And a runner. And a big sister. And a friend, both long- and short-distance. And employed full-time. I'm happy to be enjoying and celebrating as many these things as I can - not just today, but every day.

November 18, 2011

Roses and thorns

I've been writing a lot less in general, but this week I was extra silent. To be honest, this has been a pretty exhausting week mentally.

I had my first observation by my new coordinator on Wednesday, which was mildly stressful - I typically enjoy getting observed, but since this was my first time at this new university, I guess I was just extra nervous. It was also interesting, I suppose, because my coordinator doesn't speak a word of French. I think that somehow made me more nervous; since it's introductory French, even someone who doesn't speak a word of the language should still be able to understand most of what I am trying to communicate. I think it went well, though - we'll meet to discuss after the Thanksgiving break. She did say afterwards that she enjoyed the class and that she loves my French accent, if that counts for anything!

Another thing that made this week stressful was a discussion I had with one of my students, who was discussing the lecturer who previously held my position at this university, and some specifics on why she was let go from the job. Without getting into too many details of the situation, I guess there was a tragic incident involving one of our students, and her relationship with the young man (professionally) was called into question.

It had me thinking a lot about the students I work with, and about people in general. How you never really know someone's story, so you ought to treat everyone fairly and with respect. It reminded me of a kid I taught back in Chicago. To be totally honest, I couldn't stand him - he was incredibly annoying and a bit of a smart aleck. But the kid adored me and my class - at the end of the school year, he even gave me a copy of a film he told me repeatedly that I should watch (but that I never really sought out on my own). In the second semester of teaching him, he missed two weeks of class at a time; he later came to my office with documentation because he had spent some time in the hospital. This was a very boisterous, very social kid that I would not have imagined to have issues with stress, anxiety, and depression. And since then, I guess I've taken extra care in observing student behaviors, in making sure everyone feels welcome and comfortable in my classroom, that I don't show preferences or treat any student differently than anyone else.

With that weighing pretty heavily on my heart, I've also been feeling a little down because it's my birthday this weekend. I guess that deserves a post of its own, though, so I'll expand upon that on Sunday with whatever recipe I dream up.

Weight is down two more pounds this week, to 196. I'm glad to be losing, but not celebrating anything just yet. My new eating plan seems to be working - but the real test will be continued loss and dropping into the 180s. I've figured out how to turn a good day into a string of good days, and those become an overall good week. Now: to practice stringing together good weeks.

I still owe you my thoughts on my plateau after conversations I had in Chicago. Soon, I promise.

November 14, 2011

Fire Up: Week Nine

My positive picture for the week:

I ran five miles yesterday for my half marathon training - my longest distance since I left Chicago. As much as I love short and fast runs, there's something really relaxing and enjoyable about taking it easy and running for a long time. Claire, my healthy living idol and Do Life twin soul back in Chicago, posted a brilliant quote on her blog a while ago that hits it perfectly for me, I think:
I knew aerobic exercise was a powerful antidepressant, but I hadn't realized it could be so profoundly mood stabilizing and - I hate to use the word - meditative. If you don't have answers to your problems after a four-hour run, you ain't getting them.

Christopher McDougall, "Born to Run"
I'm not quite at four hours yet, but I know the feeling, and I love it.

What have you done this week towards your goals?

(1) I weighed in before I left for Chicago at 198. Came home 200. Last Friday, I was back to 198. My 185 goal will not be met, but as long as I continue to make progress in the right direction, I will feel okay about this.
(2) After dinner eating has not been an issue in a few weeks - that I am certainly pleased about.
(5) I completed another 101-in-1001 goal: #98, make a wish at 11:11 on November 11, 2011.

I was out riding my bike when it happened. I'm not typically a wisher, but with all those elevens, it felt appropriate, and I cast my wish out at just the right time. Can't say what I wished for because then it won't come true, but I can already see gears in motion, and I'm feeling very hopeful.

What have you done to make yourself feel fabulous?

I started eating differently. I don't want to get too into it until I make significant progress, but I just feel amazing. I was 200 pounds last Monday and am down to 196 as of yesterday morning. Einstein famously defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Mixing things up is just what I needed, I think - I've been at a plateau for far too long, and for a smart person, I've certainly been ignoring the obvious in terms of what needs to happen.

Something I'm proud of:

Full jars of peanut butter are still a few steps away, but I'm at a point where I can keep the single-serve containers in the house again. I had some on a banana after my run yesterday morning, and it suddenly dawned on me that the container of peanut butter only has 250 calories if I eat the whole thing. Just take a scoop out, spread it on the banana, and save the rest for later. Totally simple, but a necessary lightbulb moment.

Mark my words: I'm gonna do well at this long-term.

What is the most positive thing you've taken away from this challenge?

Strengthening my stick-to-it-ive-ness. I'm not going to make the most important goal I set for myself, but I'm far from throwing in the towel.

It's your last week, the run to the finish, what is your priority?

Keep eating well, keep moving, keep getting enough sleep, keep drinking enough water, keep saving money, keep being positive.

Desert Island, you can take 1 person, 1 famous person, and 3 items besides food and water. Who and What do you take?

1 - My little brother, because I miss him so much these days. Chicago and Connecticut were far enough apart, but now we're on opposite coasts, and it's tough.
2 - Julia Child, if she were alive. Her book "My Life in France" completely changed my life. So inspirational!
3 - notebooks/pens for documenting everything, a Scrabble board, and my running gear :)

November 13, 2011

Pumpkin black bean chili

It's finally starting to look and feel like autumn in central California, and not a moment too soon. It's still relatively warm compared to what I'm used to, between Connecticut and Chicago. But the leaves are changing and starting to fall just in time for my birthday next Sunday, so that's good enough for me. It's funny, as a kid, I always wanted a pool party for my birthday, but seeing as my birthday is in the end of November, that just wasn't possible. I don't think I'll be swimming on my birthday, but it's technically an option, and that's so strange to me.

It brings to mind one of my favorite quotes by Margaret Atwood:
As for my birth month, a detail of much interest to poets, obsessed as they are with symbolic systems of all kinds: I was not pleased, during my childhood, to have been born in November, as there wasn't much inspiration for birthday party motifs. February children got hearts, May ones flowers, but what was there for me? A cake surrounded by withered leaves? November was a drab, dark and wet month, lacking even snow; its only noteworthy festival was Remembrance Day. But in adult life I discovered that November was, astrologically speaking, the month of sex, death and regeneration, and that November First was the Day of the Dead. It still wouldn't have been much good for birthday parties, but it was just fine for poetry, which tends to revolve a good deal around sex and death, with regeneration optional.
So brilliant.

One of the odd things about the late onset autumn is that it's felt a little strange eating typical fall foods. I don't crave soups because it's still warm - it still feels like sandwich and salad season. So with the current chilly weather, I've taken advantage and made some soups for loading up my freezer.

Exhibit A:

Pumpkin black bean chili. Delicious, nutritious, simple, and cheap. My four favorite things!

1 medium sweet onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 15 oz. cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup of canned or frozen corn
1 15 oz. can of pumpkin purée
28 oz. fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 cup of vegetable broth
1/4 c. water
1 1/2 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
In a 6-8 quart pot over medium heat, cook onions in water until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, but not overly browned. Add all spices and stir. Add vegetable broth and let simmer for 2 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, then reduce hear and simmer (covered) for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

This was amazingly delicious, with a nice subtle pumpkin flavor (I made it a week or so ago, and ate one of my frozen containers last night - the pumpkin definitely was more pronounced in the leftovers). With the ingredients I used, it made six big servings for 195 calories each. I also made my dad's cornbread to go with it - which I also cut into six pieces and froze in individual bags, to take out with the chili as needed.

Cornbread à la corn
1 box corn muffin mix (we use Jiffy brand)
1 14 oz. can creamed corn
Cook muffin mix according to instructions on the package, substituting creamed corn for milk and egg.

It's as easy as that! 185 calories for a good sized piece (in the picture above, that's one slice broken into two pieces!). I've also made it with canned pumpkin and a shake of cinnamon instead of creamed corn, and it was quite good.

What about you? How do you like your chili? What foods scream 'autumn' to you?

November 10, 2011

Falling short

Last Saturday, I ran the Hot Chocolate 5k in Chicago.

I made a goal of finishing in under 30 minutes, and even though I stopped running when I moved to California, I was feeling confident with my recent training that I'd be able to make it.

It was a gorgeous autumn day - sunny and cool - and there were tons of people in the park. Tens of thousands. Based on post-race figures, the number of people who raced is about half the population of the town I moved to in California. It felt incredible to be back in my city, but also, to be back racing.

I never lost my love for it, but I think that when I moved and drifted away from running, I temporarily forgot just how great it feels to race. Running is excellent, but racing is an entirely different experience. They're both wonderful in their own ways - running is some quality alone time, but when you race, there are hundreds or thousands of other people there, people who love being active and who want to live healthy lives. It's as inspirational and motivational as it is fun.

In the past, the race was held along the lakefront paths, but as it has grown into a much larger event, they moved the course to the city streets this year.

Perfect. It was a nice course through the downtown area of a city I love endlessly and miss fiercely.

I laid it all out on that course. Tore it up. Gave it my all. Had a ridiculously big smile plastered across my face the entire time. I knew when I finished that I hadn't made my goal - I had started slow due to a lot of congestion. (I fully support and cheer for people who walk 5k races, but the majority of them need to not be at the 10 minute mile starting line.) But I still felt amazing - I knew I gave it my all, and that felt fantastic.

It also felt fantastic to cross the finish line of such a huge race, look over, and see a familiar face. I sped up and put my hand on his shoulder.

I knew he would be there - he e-mailed me a few weeks ago with an apology for his behavior this summer and an inquiry as to how I have been. We've been in contact since, and when I told him I was coming to Chicago, we decided to have breakfast and catch up. In a small diner near O'Hare, I told him about California; he told me about how he's finally seeing a therapist and how he took my advice and did C25k and has fallen in love with running. And as nice as it felt to be with someone with whom I have a little history, it felt even better to see him finally taking the necessary steps to get emotionally healthy; as much as I enjoyed being with him, he couldn't have loved me this summer - because he didn't love himself.

Race times were posted later that day, and I was initially a little upset - I knew I hadn't made my goal, but I didn't think I had been that far off. Later, though, the times were modified to reflect an emergency course reroute that ended up extending the course from 3.1 to 3.25 miles. So my official time of 32:15 was updated to include an estimated 30:45 5k time.

Technically, I fell short. I set a goal, and I missed it by seconds. I felt bad for myself for about three seconds, until I realized my average pace was under 10 minutes per mile, and 15 months ago I weighed 345 pounds and could barely walk twice that fast.

I'm not yet where I want to end up. I'm not where I thought I'd be four months after first getting to onederland. I'm on the right path, it's just a little foggy. The fog is lifting, though, and everything is coming back into clear view - my immediate and long-term goals are back in my sights. But I'm still doing terrific things - making progress for myself, and continuing to have a positive influence on others.

November 7, 2011

Fire Up: Week Eight

My positive picture for the week:

I got to enjoy some real autumn in Chicago this weekend!

What have you done this week to work towards your goals?

(1) I'm facing the hard truth that it would take a real miracle to make this goal by the end of the challenge. I'll be writing about some plateau-related revelations I had in Chicago later this week.
(2) I'll be doing a 5k write-up later this week as well. Long story short, I did not make my goal. *sigh* So I'm on the lookout for another race (close by) before the end of the challenge.

What have you done to make yourself feel fabulous?

I ate this after the 5k...

... and I didn't feel the slightest bit guilty.

How important is a social life to you? Are you a loner or a butterfly or somewhere in between?

I've always been kind of shy, but I'd say that I am somewhere in between the two, I think. I enjoy social situations but I definitely need some alone time afterwards to recuperate.

How do you balance life outside your home with healthy living?

I surround myself with people who support my goals. All of my friends eat well and are active people - get-togethers are very rarely food-based, and if they are, it's healthy and normal portions.

What do you like to do for fun?

I love artsy, creative ventures - painting, drawing, collages, you name it. I just love creating. I also really enjoy traveling, reading, watching movies, running (especially racing!), and now biking too!

November 4, 2011

Roses and thorns

Provided all went well last night, I'm in Chicago right now, wandering around my favorite city in the world and waiting for Lorelei to finish work so we can explore together. I'm drafting this before I leave, so I hope that when this goes live, I'm as happy as I presently hope I will be. On deck for this trip: my 5k tomorrow (nervous), seeing some people I love, and enjoying a non-80º autumn.

Since I'm away, there's no weigh in for today - I'll add it to my Fire Up update on Monday. All the more motivation to stay focused while I'm out of town!

Enjoy your weekends, folks. Make good choices!

November 3, 2011


I'm heading to Chicago today. I have a few plans, but am mostly going to just relax and take it easy. I'm really looking forward to some time away - as exhausting as it is, all the traveling is nice, because it's some time for me to process all the things I have on my mind lately. Specifically, my goal for this trip is to do some deep thinking about my recovery and what I need to do to get entirely back on track - I keep mastering one area but falling short in others, and I need all around balance if I'm ever going to break this plateau.

Part of my recent struggles has been my relationship stress, for sure - my relationships with my family, my friends, and of course, with Bobby. While in Chicago, I'll be seeing a lot of people, and I'm not entirely sure he will be one of them. We talked about getting together for dinner on Saturday night, but to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if I leave Chicago without spending time with him at all.

I've stayed pretty quiet about our situation - I guess hearing that reading about my dating attempts was like watching a train wreck made me retreat into myself a bit about it. I'm going to maintain my silence about the details, but I guess the best thing I can offer on the subject is a bit of wisdom from my dad: in a long distance relationship, you tend to learn a lot more about the things you don't have in common than the things you do.

Since I've been writing less here, I've still needed my outlets for unburdening myself of the thoughts and ideas. Skype chats with Lorelei have been great, and I can't wait to see her tonight for in-person catching up. And, of course, there have been countless talks with Justin.

We went out to dinner last night. First we went to the store to exchange my TV, then went to a restaurant downtown - my first restaurant meal since my dad was out here. We ate Indian food and talked, and while driving home, he said that his eating has gotten a lot better because of me. And I told him that was interesting, because I had just told some people about how observing his eating habits has been helping me get back on track with my recovery. And he said, so, we're good for each other.

True that.

Driving home, he asked what my favorite kind of ice cream was.
Pumpkin, even though it's seasonal.

What about from Baskin-Robbins?

Well, I don't know, because I've never been there. But anything that doesn't have too many chunks. Peanut butter, always.
And we started talking about peanut butter, and how good it is, and how bad it is for you. I explained to him about my problem with jars of peanut butter and bingeing. I told him how I binge - and why. I told him that being able to keep peanut butter in the house will be a huge victory for me someday.

He didn't tell me I'm crazy. He just listened intently. And I cannot tell you just how good it feels to open up to someone who's honestly listening.

November 2, 2011

Workouts: October

For October, my goals were to keep up the biking, try to find an organized race so I can try for my sub-30 5k, and complete my 345-in-2011 goal. I biked 519.66 miles in October, over 50 more miles than September! And I registered for a 5k in Chicago, which I will be running this Saturday, and a sub-30 finish is looking really good. I'm nervous but confident.

With my training runs, I logged 24.5 miles of running in October - more than double what I did in September - and I officially satisfied my 2011 goal of running 345 miles on October 30! I couldn't be happier. My first mile was in Connecticut, my middle miles were in Chicago, and I ended it in California. *sigh* It's been quite a year.

I can't believe it's November, but it's true. We're officially in the midst of the unholy trinity of difficult fall/winter holidays in terms of food: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Halloween was tough, but it's likely to be my only challenge - because of my family situation back in Connecticut, with my folks separating and all, I'm definitely not heading back for Thanksgiving, and whatever we end up doing for Christmas is certainly not going to be the food-based holiday of years past. So I'm breathing a little easier.

I don't want to believe that my weight is the same at the end of October as it was at the end of September, but that's true, too. 196, 196. A very hard pill to swallow after seeing the number of logged miles, but it is what it is. I'm still struggling with binge eating, and am seeking offline help (which I will be writing about soon).

In spite of the consistency with month-end numbers, I can feel changes in my body. I cannot for the life of me locate my measuring tape, but I can feel in my jeans that my legs are leaner and more muscular - it's the biking, for sure.

My workout goals for November are to run more and bike less. I'm not sure if I ever formally announced it on the blog, but I registered for another race the same day I registered for the 5k in Chicago...

The half, of course. Oh M G, indeed.

So I'm going to keep up with my training for that; in the interest of not killing my knees, I've been taking the bus and getting rides to work from Justin a few times a week. I know ironmen run and bike an awful lot more than that, but I'm not a triathlete - I know my limits, and I don't want to risk any injury.

I also want to incorporate other workouts into my routine - even if it's just Wii Fit, I want to get back into more diverse workouts. I got my teaching schedule for the spring, and it's going to be very different from anything I've done before: teaching afternoon/evenings! So I want to also start looking for a gym to join once the semester ends that I can also use in the spring. I miss the elliptical!

What about you? How was your October? What are your goals for November? Any races or challenges on the schedule? What's your game plan for surviving the fall/winter holidays?

October 31, 2011

Fire Up: Week Seven

My positive picture for the week:

I bought this necklace off Etsy - a bit eccentric, I know. But bees and skeletons keys are two of my favorite things in the world. I was looking for a necklace with a key, and when I saw this one, I knew I had to have it! I don't usually buy myself frivolous things - I'm all about functional gifts and rewards. So this was a pleasant change.

What have you done this week towards your goals?
(1) Weighed in at 196 on Friday. Eating well, moving plenty, staying hydrated. I feel great!
(3) My long run yesterday was 3.5 miles, which I did in 34:03 (a 9:43 pace). It's a few seconds per mile slower than I'll need to do at Saturday's race to finish sub-30. But I'm pleased with it, for sure.
(4) Got paid today, put most of my check immediately into my savings, wrote out a budget for the rest! Don't anticipate too many big expenses this month - besides a coat, since my 4X and 2X coats from last winter got donated back in Chicago.

What have you done to make you feel fabulous?

I wore a dress to last Monday's book club meeting!

When you're losing weight and dropping sizes so quickly, it's a bit easier to feel confident and lovely, but since my plateau, I've started feeling more self-conscious about my body. So to wear a dress in public was a fairly big deal. I felt pretty darn fabulous!

How do you pull yourself out of a slump or prevent yourself falling in to one?

I'm always on the lookout for new ways to get out of a slump, be it emotional or physical. Going for a run is always great - there's an incredible freedom of thought that comes when you hit the pavement for mile after mile. Writing picks me up too - either blogging, or actually writing on paper (which can be quite cathartic). My main tactic lately has been to try and focus on how many things are so good instead of fixating on the few things that are not.

Are you naturally positive or do you have to work at it? How do you keep yourself positive?

In spite of the rough patch when I transitioned from Chicago to California, I'd say I'm naturally positive - optimistic to a fault, I'd say. I always see the best in situations, which can be a bad thing sometimes because I tend to see only positives and not glaring red warning lights.

I'm on Holiday right now, if you could go away anywhere tomorrow (and work wouldn't get weird) where would you go?

The south of France, I'd love to explore there. Or Brussels - some of my students did a lesson on Belgium and now I have this intense urge to go there!

October 29, 2011

Trick or treat

At Wednesday night's dinner, my friends and I all talked about our plans for the weekend. A few people in our group were planning on going to parties in local cities, but for the most part, no one seemed all that interested. To be honest, I hadn't realized it was Halloween already - it's hard to get into the spirit of the season when it's still high 70/low 80 degree weather every day.

The conversation turned fairly quickly to candy; since four of our group of five are new to the area this year, we wanted to know if we should expect trick or treaters, and how many. The one woman who has been here a few years (Kristin) said that she wasn't sure, it varies, and in any case, she doesn't give out candy. She said she does raisins, apples, or toothbrushes. And suddenly, our group was divided.
  • Kristin is vegan and a bit of a health nut, so she doesn't like the idea of giving children candy.
  • Adam and Justin said that giving kids toothbrushes is a great idea in theory, but is pointless in practice because it is a waste of money - kids will just throw it out and go to every other house for candy.
  • Minal is from India and is not used to the American Halloween tradition, and was a little confused, and thus undecided.
And, per usual, I stayed quiet and observed the discussion, collecting my thoughts.

I thought about last year, when I was only a few months into my commitment to losing weight, and how tough Halloween was. I fought it as hard as I could - I even made a note card for my desk next to the bucket of candy I bought for my students to help me keep my hands out of it. It had calorie counts, in a way: one mini Snickers bar = 10 minutes of Wii Boxing. This year, though, it hasn't even crossed my mind. Maybe because I go to Target a lot less and am thus not as tempted by the holiday-themed aisle.

Given my plateau for the past few months, I've been trying to focus on NSVs as much as possible, and not eating any Halloween candy has been a huge victory for me. It's so easy to be a secret eater at Halloween - buying a few giant sized bags of candy in July is suspicious, but towards the end of October, no one seems to question the recipient. In Chicago, I lived in a second floor rear apartment with no doorbell - I never saw a single trick or treater - but I certainly bought my share of candy bars. Dump them all into a bowl like I was getting ready to give it out, then sit on the couch, shelling and popping them into my mouth like peanuts, watching "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and reeling in the intoxicating sugar high.

Fortunately, gorging myself on candy isn't at the front of my thoughts right now, but I still have the festivities in mind. I'm thinking mostly about kids, and in which ways Halloween is different now from when my parents were young, or even from when I was a kid. Kristin (and a few commenters on yesterday's blog post) said that a local dentist offers kids a few dollars per bag for turning in their candy, and again, we found ourselves torn. Given the rates of obesity in the United States, it was surprising that dentists are willing to intervene, but not pediatricians. Kristin thought it was a great idea - again, from a healthy food stance. And the boys disagreed with her again, saying it's one day a year and it's part of being a kid.

My own trick or treat experience is limited - I can only remember a few Halloweens - but of course, we loved it. There were no rules governing our candy, at least none I remember, or that were strictly enforced. I doubt it lasted more than a few days, and then I'd get into my sisters' bags. Lisa more than Katie - Lisa never really liked candy, so I don't think she noticed or cared if the pieces went missing.

Since I started losing weight, I've thought a lot about my own future children - wondering how to raise healthy and happy kids who don't have issues with food like I do, and especially figuring out how to approach food-related holidays and traditions. I love the idea of doing 5k races with my husband and kids on holiday mornings - even if we just walk them as a family, we'll be out there, active, focusing on family and not just food. But the food is still there, in the background. So, how do you find balance?

I can't say for sure, since I am nowhere near marriage and parenthood right now. But ideally, I think I'd let my kids go trick or treating, but then figure out some way to ration out the candy. Try to teach moderation, and don't criminalize food. It's a personal goal that I hope to master, then instill in my children via example.

October 28, 2011

Roses and thorns

This has been a pretty good week. It never fails to surprise me how wonderful it feels to eat well and exercise adequately. I biked less this week than I have in most weeks before - I even took one complete rest day! - and still managed a great loss. Perhaps because there was more of a sense of balance, because I wasn't biking like a fiend to counteract overeating and poor food choices. I made mostly good food choices. I biked. I ran. I stayed hydrated. I closely monitored my sodium intake. All that adds up to success! (Now: to just keep doing this for the rest of forever.)

(From my morning commute: fields of cotton plants, ready to harvest)

I'm weighing in at 196 for the week - a 2 pound loss. Slightly behind my Fire Up for Fall goal schedule, but I'm feeling confident that I'll be able to recoup it next week. And even if I don't make the goal on time, I'm just so incredibly pleased to have good losses two weeks in a row. It finally feels like I'm fully back on track, and I couldn't be prouder.

And it wasn't easy.

Though the weekend was, surprisingly.

And so was Monday - we had our book club meeting, and it went really well. I discussed the book like a champ and successfully avoided homemade apple pie with ice cream.

But Tuesday was incredibly stressful for some reason - I was overtired and premenstrual, and probably should have told Justin not to come over (since we had our book club on Monday, we moved our West Wing dinner date to Tuesday). I didn't feel like cooking anything fancy, so I made turkey burgers and chipotle sweet potato fries. He still loved it, and when I apologized for it being so plain, he said that it doesn't have to be so extravagant every week. I still felt like a bum, though - I wanted to cook something nice and new, but I just didn't have the energy. Then, the DVD player in my brand new TV decided to stop working. I have had this TV for barely over a month! So that bugged me. We played Wii Bowling and streamed some of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" on Netflix (decided we liked it infinitely less than the book, and couldn't finish it), and he did his laundry - by all means, it should have been a decent evening. But I had a pudy attitude all night and it was just strange.

(More of my morning commute - so lovely!)

I sent an apology text the next morning for being so grumpy. He told me I was crazy and that I had been just fine. Then, "premenstrual" became "currently menstrual," and suddenly it all made sense, and the rest of the week went off without a hitch. Wednesday night, he cooked for me and a few of our friends from the university - it's Diwali, so he made a-freakin'-mazing homemade Indian food. All vegetarian, and all incredibly delicious.

During dinner, we all got to talking about Halloween coming up, and we had a pretty interesting discussion about candy that I'm going to flesh out in a post for tomorrow. Some preliminary research, though: what are your Halloween plans? Do you dress up? Go to parties? Avoid candy like the plague? Buy some of your favorites and ration it out?

And my biggest question: for people who have kids, what do you do with them for Halloween? Do they trick or treat? What, if any, are your rules about the candy afterwards?

Looking forward to everyone's feedback!