February 26, 2011


The other day my mom shared something with me - a picture she took of a note my brother had written down while listening to all the frantic phone calls about my dad's health problems.

i need to hug this kid
It's completely heartbreaking. I can't imagine being his age and having to deal with all the things he's seen and heard - I'm having a hard time dealing, and I'm more than twice his age.

Since coming home from the hospital in the middle of last week, my family has had to do a lot of adjusting. Many of these adjustments should have been made after my father's first heart attack, but now that he's had a second, the rules are even stricter and harder to adapt to. It's hard enough to make a voluntary decision to lose weight - but this decision was made for him. He has no real choice here: it's eat better and lose weight, or die.

His calorie intake is limited and the list of acceptable foods and portion sizes is full of new things he's never tried and old favorites in unfathomably small servings. It's hard for him to begin with, but being at home makes it surprisingly harder. It shouldn't be that way, but it is, and I understand this first-hand - it took me months to get mentally prepared to spend a couple of weeks there. My mom called me the other day and when I asked what they were having for dinner, she said veal stew - when I asked how that fit in with Dad's meal plan, her response was, "Well, we all have to eat, too." I had a nearly identical conversation with her last night when she told me about measuring out 3-oz. of pasta to cook for my father, served with a half cup of spaghetti sauce and two small meatballs - and everyone else got pizza.

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.

We all need a support system. For me, it's this blog - I write my thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences; people read them and offer questions, comments, advice, and support. This works for me, but it would not work for my father. His support system is my mother and my siblings, another choice that has basically been decided for him. But instead of proper advice or support, he gets to sit next to a pepperoni pizza and pick at three ounces of whole wheat pasta with turkey meatballs. With a little willpower, it can be done - it will be hard, but he can get through this, and he'll be better for it. I just wish the rest of the family would recognize the support he needs and make a solid effort to offer it. They'd all benefit from the same dietary changes, so what better time to make them than now when they would all be starting the journey together?

February 25, 2011

Roses and thorns

Another week down! I'm feeling a little better - I took Wednesday off of working out and just went home to rest, and it made all the difference, I think. In spite of the sickness, I would say that this has been a pretty good week. I would say an even bigger thorn this week than catching a cold is that my office computer hasn't worked all week, so I'm unbelievably behind on reading and commenting on blogs. After the gym tonight, I'll be making the rounds!

This morning the scale has me at 232, which I am definitely very pleased with. It's a 4 pound loss for the week, and it makes my total loss 113 pounds. Which means that while I started in August with 210 pounds to lose, my pounds-to-go total is no longer a triple digit number. 113 down, 97 to go. That is truly something wonderful!

Something else completely wonderful that happened this week: a nice boy that I know sent me an e-mail the other day:
You seemed kind of down today :( This always cheers me up.
with a link to this video on YouTube of a live performance by the Flaming Lips of their song "Enthusiasm for Life Defeats Internal Existential Fear":

The song starts around 1:22, and it's completely dreamy and perfect. I've listened to it about four hundred times since he sent it to me ... on Wednesday night. I'm a little bit in love with the song, and I'm sort of smitten with the idea that this very nice boy noticed that I was out of sorts. It wasn't sadness, just sickness, but still - this guy knew something was up. His is a story I'll have to share soon, I suppose, though I'm nervous about writing about this kind of thing - you know, something that is presently unfolding? So maybe more drawings are in order, or some other sort of non-traditional post. It's just that all my other boy stories are ancient history, and that makes them a bit easier to write about without the bias of current developments. *sigh* Oh, life.

And what about you? How was your week? Any fun weekend plans?

February 24, 2011


I've been thinking a lot lately. (I know that's hardly a surprise, but humor me.)

Recently I've been thinking about my high school health class and the days when we learned about mental and emotional health. We often talked about stress and how our mental state of well-being can affect our physical health, and something that surprised me was discussing two different types of stress: eustress and distress.

When I think about stress, I am usually thinking about distressors - the negative sources of stress. These are things like projects due for work, papers to grade, worries about my father's health. Eustress has a similar effect on the body, but the sources are positive. This would be things like planning a fun party, going out on a first date, or riding a roller coaster - even though the experiences are completely different from the distressful ones, they're still sources of stress in our lives.

I have a lot of both of these kinds of stress in my life these days - and that's not a bad thing, I don't think. They're currently balanced, which I can deal with just fine, but for the moments when they're off-center, I've been trying to come up with a way to deal with them both - a way to soothe and calm my nerves and anxieties that does not involve food. Something that I've been considering for a while is taking a vacation somewhere, but I've realized that even that is a source of stress - and I'm not quite sure what kind.

My mental process when considering a vacation is like this. Blue is eustress, green is distress.

I really miss my family, so I'd like to go to Connecticut to see them. But think about how tough Christmas was. It took months of emotional prep work and I still had a very hard time there. i miss my baby bro so muchI want to go back to Connecticut and see my friends, too - they haven't seen me at all since I've started to lose weight, and I miss them like crazy. But I always feel really guilty going out with them because I don't drive and I live nowhere near them. Plus, I can't just go and see them - they have full-time jobs that they'll be working at while I'm on spring break. So I'd end up being with my family most of the time anyway. Okay, new idea. What if I took a real, grown-up vacation that didn't involve going home? I haven't been on a real vacation since Paris 2009. All the planning of the itinerary - goodness knows I love to neurotically plan every detail of a getaway! But would that hurt my parents' feelings? I miss them so much, and a "real" vacation would wipe out my savings. So I don't know when the next time I'd see them would be. But I'm an adult. I need to wean myself a little bit, have real experiences, enjoy life a little. This is what Mom was talking about: she and Dad put everything off for "someday," and now they can't travel and have adventures like they always dreamed they would. And that makes me feel guilty too. Besides, I really ought to save this money for an emergency.

It's all so conflicting. I think one of my biggest sources of vacation guilt is wondering if I'm being selfish by spending a lot of money on something frivolous just for me. And that gets me to wondering if, like stress, there are different kinds of selfishness. There's the bad kind, of course - focusing only on yourself, but with negative intentions. But what about a second selfishness, one where it's seen as alright to focus on yourself?

I don't want to hurt or offend anyone by taking a vacation alone, especially not my family. In fact, I don't want to hurt or offend anyone with any of my positive selfishness -for example, I don't want my friends to be upset that I won't have a drink when we go out. It's just that I'm working very hard to do things to help my body, and drinking calories doesn't fit into my plan. So I'll go out, I'll just have water - a good, healthy compromise that lets me be a little selfish while still being social.

What about you? Do you think a little positive selfishness is a good thing? How do you apply it in your life? And what should I do about this vacation?!

February 23, 2011


I went to work yesterday feeling incredibly light. I think getting my thoughts about Richard off my chest helped a lot - I've been thinking of and meaning to write about him since before everything happened with my dad - but also, it was going to be just one of those good days. I could feel it. I had an all Frank Sinatra playlist on my iPod, the weather was cold but not snowy or windy ... it was just perfect.

Teaching went well, and my office hours were fine. Then, I was giving a makeup exam, and as I went to read the listening part, I realized my nose was completely stuffed. My head suddenly felt very heavy with sinus pressure. My whole body ached a little. Yuck. Not good. Not good at all.

I still went to the gym, but figured I'd flip Tuesday-Thursday with Wednesday-Friday and I just biked for about fifteen miles. I just didn't think I could have a satisfying run - and I didn't want my nose to suddenly unstuff while I was running, which it tends to do. Double yuck.
Unrelated tangent: in French, the expression for "to have a runny nose" is "avoir le nez qui coule." [ah-vwar le nay key cool] The verb "couler" is the same verb they use for running water, which I think makes it one of the grossest expressions in an otherwise lovely language - I start to picture a faucet, then get super grossed out.

I also don't like that the word for a scab is the same word as for a pie crust, but that's even more unrelated than the runny nose. Medical terms are not my favorites, I guess.
I very rarely get sick - once a year at the very most - but when I do, it completely knocks me out. It always tends to happen once a very stressful time passes - the last time was right after I finished grad school, and now that things are settling with my dad and I don't feel too worried, a whole mess of germs have decided to manifest themselves and make sure I always have something to be concerned about.

I'm hoping I feel well enough to run tonight. I know it's not fatal if I need to skip a day or two and just sleep, take some vitamins, and drink some tea. But I'd still like to stay as active as I can as long as I'm not risking my health further.

So, I'm wondering: what about you? Do you avoid the gym when you're sick, or do you still work out? If so, do you modify your workout? Any advice is appreciated - this is my first time dealing with this as an active person, and the idea of staying on the couch for a few days is conflicting. I feel lousy and know rest may be best, but at the same time, I'd like to be doing whatever I can.

February 22, 2011


In spite of a few really terrible guys, I'd venture to say that I've been really, really lucky with the men I have known in my life.

It's easy enough to look back at Sam, Scott, and Steve and say that they were all jerks with no redeeming qualities. While I suppose the argument could be made for Scott, there were certainly good things about Sam and Steve - namely, there were the lessons I learned and the things that enriched me as a person even though the relationships didn't work out. Sam was really creative, and he taught me about the Magnetic Fields, old British science-fiction spy television shows, and the importance of integrity and honesty in art. Steve was exceptionally well-read, and he shared with me his interests in Belle & Sebastian, the Tragically Hip, and philosophy. I'd say that from both of them I figured out the importance of not entering into a relationship with an agenda.

While these three were my most painful experiences with men, they are, of course, not the only three men who have ever had important roles in my life. staff photos, fall 2006 - no anchor!There have been quite a few others with whom I have had really fascinating and meaningful relationships, and though they were not romantic ones, I definitely gained wisdom, life experience, and new interests.

Today, I'd like to tell you about Richard, a co-worker from college. He went by Rich, but I always called him Richard for some reason - or "kid," even though he was a good two or three years older than me. He was studying computer technology, but he wasn't your average ITS guy. He was what some would consider to be very attractive, with lots of muscles, a great smile, and a personality like no one I'd ever met. He was super macho and tended to offend most people within minutes of meeting them - nothing profoundly disturbing, he was just very much a 22-year-old guy.

If for nothing else, I will always remember Rich for being the one who took care of me when my grandmother passed away. My sisters called me early in the morning to let me know what had happened, and when I called my friends, no one picked up their phones. I called Rich, blurted out what had happened, and he said "I'll be right there." He bolted upstairs and was in my room not even thirty seconds later. I was completely devastated, a total mess ... and he laid down in my bed with me, held me close, and let me cry all over him. That I believe to be one of the signs of true, honest friendship - the kid still liked me with my nose all runny and his shoulder covered in my tears.

Or I'll remember him for my twentieth birthday, when he convinced his ITS co-workers to lend him a movie projector. He hung up a sheet in our basement and we watched "Casablanca" - totally dreamy and wonderful, right? He even bought movie theater snacks and Coca-Cola in glass bottles to make it a classic experience. I couldn't have loved him more.

we'll always have paris
Unfortunately, my strongest memories of Richard are related to the lessons I learned from knowing him: lessons about what it means to be a good friend, as well as not judging people based on their appearances. The girl I was at that time was a darker version of me, an immature one that I don't necessarily regret being (I had to be her to learn the related lessons), but that I regret hurt other people in her learning process. Richard was one such casualty.

At first, I could hardly stand Rich - our personalities contrasted remarkably - but after a few late nights of duty together where we got to talking, it turned out that this crass, rude kid was actually sort of interesting and - get this - emotional. No one could believe it when I told them. My friends who worked in other buildings were in complete shock that the guy who could barely get through a sentence without saying something inappropriate would pour his heart out to me. But it was true, and it was wonderful. I had mentioned in passing how much I loved handwritten letters, and a few days later, there was a note slipped under my door.

The letter was incredible, a totally honest outpouring of his soul. The content meandered from his love life, to our friendship, to his family,i have so much love for this letter, even still and so much of it completely threw me for a loop.
"Why should I be so miserable, I really don't have it that bad. I have a roof over my head, food on my plate, and most of all I'm surrounded by good people. Still I have this hole in my life, a void that simply can't be filled. I tell myself, if I keep myself busy I won't hurt as much. It only works for so long. Every night it creeps back. Honestly I don't know what to do. Could this all be because of a girl, or is it deeper than that? Is it because of school, or am I scared to live a life how I want to? I just don't know. Even now, I'm laying in bed writing this and I can't stop complaining. I'm sick of hearing myself. Sometimes I'm sick of being me. Other times I feel like I know all the answers. All I have to do is act on them, but that is the hardest part."
I was dumbfounded. Rich was a popular kind of guy! He was incredibly hot! Yet here he was, feeling the same kind of things I felt. I wasn't sure what to make of it. At the time, I was sort of blinded by immaturity. I didn't pay complete attention to what he wrote about himself because I was so distracted by the fact that he was writing to me about another girl. he made it after my nana diedI didn't think he could honestly feel this way about himself, and if he did, he had no reason to - because again, he was popular, and incredibly hot. If this one didn't work out, there were literally millions of others who'd gladly take her place.

I just didn't understand. If he could have these heartfelt chats with me, if he could make me art and write me letters, then what was keeping him from wanting to be my boyfriend? It was my body, it had to be. And I started to hate him for what I assumed were his thoughts. Maybe he just didn't want to ruin a great friendship. But I was too selfish to see anything besides the focus on my physical self. Something I need more than anything is to dismantle my very selfish view of the world. It's a defense mechanism I picked up while becoming a super obese person, another way of protecting myself by alienating myself. No one knows the pain I feel, no one understands what it's like to suffer the way I do. It all relates back to my warped image of perfect body, perfect life - I have heartaches because I'm 300+ pounds and that is what I deserve for mistreating my body as such, but you with the muscly arms and rugged good looks, what you're feeling isn't as strong or isn't as important, because how could you possibly understand?

What a horrible friend I was to this kid. I listened, but never wholly. I was incredibly selfish and immature about the whole relationship i am such an awful person- his friendship was honest and sincere, but it wasn't enough for me. Some time after the film screening for my birthday, I started getting colder towards him, and when I moved to Chicago, I was livid that he was invited to my going away dinner. Just seeing him caused so much anger - "just friends" wasn't enough, it had to be romantic or nothing.

Now, several years later, my heart is aching as I write this. I can't believe I was such a terrible person, especially to someone who loved me in such an incredible way. I never want to hurt anyone again the way I hurt Richard. I need to sit down and write the kid a letter. I want to apologize, and ask sincerely how he is doing, and tell him how much it meant to me that he was there for me when my Nana died ... and give him a copy of this letter, in hopes that he'll see how he's grown as a person in the last four years or so. I hope he's well, I honestly and sincerely do. I just wish I could have been mature enough to tell him that years ago.

February 21, 2011

WWW: Week Eight

My picture for the week:

blue line love
This is a serious NSV for me - this is my formerly gigantic body fitting in ONE seat on the subway. No spilling over, no encroaching on my neighbor's spot. This realization made me unbelievably happy. (Also: the thighs are already loose on these jeans. The waist fits, but my legs are getting really toned because of all the running and biking. No complaints, but it's weird - I would never have thought any part of size 16 jeans would be loose on me!)

What have you done this past week to help you achieve your goals?
(2) This week was really tough - I skipped my long run last Sunday and totally messed up my medium run on Tuesday, but I got my act together and totally kicked butt on Thursday's 2 miler and yesterday's long run - my longest run ever, 4 miles!
(3) I applied for a job! It's not a lecturer job, but it's a position I'm interested in and it would keep me in Chicago. My boss also alluded to the possibility of extending my lecturer contract for next year, so I'm feeling more and more hopeful.
(4) For some reason, my students were very giggly and hyper last week - it was a great week. All the other teachers are baffled by how my students always have the greatest time in class. I just try and make it the kind of class I would want to take: interesting, understandable, relevant, and fun.
(9) It's a little silly, but the thing that I did this week to make me feel gorgeous was to take a few pictures of myself. I had just finished my long run and was totally feeling the runner's high still, so I took some pictures to remind myself of that fantastic happy feeling the next time I feel down.

so incredibly happy here - i hope it lasts
(I was just out of the shower - wearing a towel, I promise!)

Pretty much everywhere this past week experienced some mild weather – did this change have any effect on you?
Yes! It was in the negatives the week before, so having weather in the mid- to high-40s was heavenly. Given the totally lousy week I was having, the big change made it feel much better.

Walk us through your ideal workout.
I totally love working out - which is not to say that I don't have off days, but in general, I really like being active. If I am not feeling totally enthusiastic, I don't do it that day, because it wouldn't be enjoyable. My current schedule is generally like this:
  • Sundays: long run (length varies), short bike ride (3-5 miles)

  • Mondays: elliptical (aim for 800 calories burned)

  • Tuesdays: medium run (length varies), medium bike ride (5-8 miles)

  • Wednesdays: elliptical (aim for 1000 calories burned)

  • Thursdays: short run (2 miles), short bike ride (3-5 miles), weights

  • Fridays: rest days

  • Saturdays: elliptical (aim for 1200 calories burned)
With the exception of last week, I generally stick to the schedule for days when I run, but the other days I'm flexible with. If I am not completely feeling it, I do less - or I skip it and do something else, like maybe a little Wii Fit. (I love almost everything, but especially skateboarding and rhythm boxing!)

What happened in the last week that you have to brag about?
I did my longest run ever - a full 4 miles - in 49:37. That's about 12:24 per mile, which is great for me. I registered for the 8k saying I'd need 65:00 to do the whole race (which is 4.97 miles). I'm faster on the road than the treadmill, so that plus the adrenaline of running with 39,999 other people ... I'm hoping to finish in under an hour.

Spring Fever has hit the stores ... what's your favourite thing to shop for in the Spring?
To be honest, I have no idea. I never used to like clothes shopping - it was something I had to do every now and then, and I dreaded it. This is a new year, though, and I'm looking forward to buying fun dresses for spring and summer. Once in college, my best friend Jill needed a dress for an occasion, and she just went into a store, grabbed one, and bought it. It was the cutest dress, and I was unbelievably jealous that she could not only wear something that cute, but that the process was so easy for her. This season, I'll be enjoying some of those experiences myself!

February 20, 2011

Dessert hummus

To start: this week's recipe, a fun and delicious one - a non-savory hummus. Specifically, peanut butter chocolate chip dessert hummus. When I saw a recipe on Mama Pea's blog, I wasn't sure how to make heads or tails of it. I was skeptical at first - I'm a hummus fan, and I especially love it with carrots, cucumber slices, or raw mushrooms. I simply couldn't picture myself making hummus without tons of garlic. But oh, trust me - it works.

unbelievably yummy
Oh my goodness gracious. It's enough like cookie dough to be satisfying, but different enough that I found myself able to enjoy it without overindulging. Mama Pea's is a vegan version of this recipe - since I didn't have most of the specialty vegan items, I used Evan's original recipe.
2 cups chickpeas
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup chocolate chips
Drain, measure, wash, and peel your chickpeas. (Peeling them isn't absolutely necessary but it makes for the creamiest hummus and really is worth the effort.) In a food processor, add the first 4 ingredients and process until the hummus is completely smooth and emulsified. Remove the blade and fold in the chocolate chips. Move into a deep serving bowl and serve.

As easy as that! Evan recommended serving it with graham crackers or baby carrots (Mama Pea served hers with pretzels) - I had it with apple slices, and it was delightful. Peeling the chickpeas totally made a huge difference in the texture. I used mini chocolate chips because it was what I had in the house, and I liked it - I think bigger chips might have been too much. I also didn't use the full peanut butter amount because I buy peanut butter in single-serve containers (about 2 tablespoons each), but I think it was okay because I didn't use the full 2 cups of chickpeas either (there is a cup and a half in a 15 ounce can). All in all, this was a nice little dip that I've already had to promise my co-workers I'd bring to our next office potluck - they were drooling over the picture and description!

And now, some thoughts.

In spite of occasional difficult times, I truly believe myself to be the happiest girl in the entire city of Chicago because while I have my struggles, I also have more than my fair share of things to be grateful for. There are tough days, but all in all, I would not trade this life for any other. I am accomplishing truly great things right now, and even though sometimes I find myself curious and unsure about the body of the girl in the mirror, I need to keep in mind that no matter what my exterior shows, I'm still the same person. skyline from lincoln park zooAt 345 pounds, I was intelligent and interesting, I had a great sense of humor, and I was capable of incredible things - such as deciding to change my life and get healthy. I'm still all those things, and more. I need to make sure I don't lose sight of that while I adjust to the look and feel of the new outside of me.

Jayme reminded me yesterday that when we experience a loss - even of something like weight - grieving is a natural process. I wish I could stand here and tell you that every day is easy and that the positives of weight loss are enough to eliminate all the tough times, but it simply isn't true. Don't get me wrong - I am very happy most of the time, and many days are relatively easy - but new challenges present themselves every single day, and learning to grow and change with them is not always simple. In fact, they're usually pretty scary and kind of overwhelming. I'm not just losing weight here - I'm losing my comforts and my crutches. I'm losing the shield for so long I've used to protect myself. I am losing a huge part of my identity, the only way I've known how to live my entire life.

These are things I never really considered at 345 pounds - at that point, my plan was very basic: lose weight, or else you will get sick or die. I had never lost more than thirty pounds and honestly thought this time would be more of the same - great intentions destroyed by self-doubt and feelings of weakness and inadequacy. I definitely romanticized the end result: I saw only how unhappy I was at 345 pounds and how perfect I imagined everything would be once I got to 135. from the lincoln park conservatoryI never really thought about what it would be like at 295, or 245, or 195, or any other point in between - I focused on the destination, not the journey. With each lost pound, my goals have gained newer and more specific points of focus. I have to learn how to treat or cope with the new set of life issues - my problems aren't entirely the same ones they were at 345 pounds, but there are still problems.

Going to the Lincoln Park Zoo yesterday really helped me feel better, for a number of reasons. It was nice to get out of the house and breathe some fresh air. The sun was shining and even though it was still a little chilly, it was completely refreshing. And I thought back to other times when I have visited the zoo - how embarrassed I was that I was holding my friends back because I had to stop and rest. This didn't exhaust me - it wasn't even a workout. I followed it up by walking to the grocery store and then the gym. Feeling the progress I've made helps me feel better about the visual transitions.