March 5, 2011

Take Two

Every day I take mass transit to get to my office. I work at a huge public university in one of the biggest cities in the world. None of this is crippling. But the thought of certain social situations - parties, bars, and almost anywhere with large groups - fills my stomach with nervousness.

I wasn't always like this, though it also is not exactly a recent development. I think it started when I moved to Chicago and gained a ton of weight in grad school. My classmates would often head out after our late Thursday night seminars to grab a beer and decompress a little, and I always had an excuse why not to go - exams needed to be modified, books needed to be read, lessons needed to be planned. And eventually, the invitations stopped coming, because they knew I'd always say no.

I was never so busy that I couldn't have spent one night out with my friends enjoying a drink and talking about something that isn't coursework-related. I was just too afraid and embarrassed, to be honest. I feared everything from breaking barstools to getting hurt as I tried to get my large, tipsy self back home. And since drunk people tend to speak their version of the truth, if people would yell mean and nasty things at me from their car windows when they were sober, I just couldn't bear to think about the painful things I could hear in situations involving alcohol. I was embarrassed enough just leaving the house for the errands I had to do, but to go out in addition to that? It wasn't worth the pain to me.

A few weeks ago, some of my students asked me to go to see a French movie with them downtown. I said maybe, then ended up staying home and having a small panic attack over the idea of going out and being social. There wasn't going to be any alcohol, of course, but still - I felt vulnerable. What if I don't fit in the seats? What if someone says something mean and nasty to me and my students hear it? It's illogical, I know it is. But these thoughts pop up all too frequently. I don't want to get hurt, so I don't take any risks.

Obesity was a shield for me for far too long. Ironically, it was the reason why I had so many fears in the first place, but it also provided me with an oddly comforting place to hide from facing them. I'm still obese, and I'm making progress to fix that - but I need to work just as much on facing my fears as I do with staying active and watching what I eat. Truly living life requires a little risk taking. I'm not sure of the source, but there's this quote that I love: A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.

Tonight, my students are going out again, and this time, I will be going with them. I have all day to brace myself and do whatever I need to do in order to get ready, but I have committed to this - not to them, to myself. I want to see this movie. I want to support my amazing students while they do exactly what every teacher dreams of - truly love, enjoy, and seek the material outside of class. And I want to live my life fully, in spite of the risks and possibilities.

from college - i miss that great camera

March 4, 2011

Roses and thorns

I had a really great phone conversation with my best friend Jill last night. It's really hard living nine hundred miles away from her, especially since we were constantly together through most of college.we are more than most will ever find It's also very strange right now because we have not seen each other at all since I started losing weight - we were supposed to hang out when I was in Connecticut over winter break but a giant snowstorm kept us on our opposite sides of the state. We occasionally video chat, but it's not the same as going out and being crazy or even just sitting down and having a real conversation with the person who knows you best.

Last night we were talking about some of the struggles I've been having lately with my transitioning body, and it was really interesting to hear the ideas of someone who knew me at my biggest. She's a photographer and she always takes tons of pictures whenever we go on adventures, so my "before" has been fairly well-documented. From last July:

"Unhappy" would be an understatement.

compare that with my new side view - holy moley
*sigh* Compared to my new side view - holy moley! Sometimes it's hard for me to see that I've changed all that much, but pictures like this help me see what really terrible shape I was in and just how far I've come.

Jill is my best friend, so the size of my body was never really something she thought about, but looking at some of my "before" pictures now, she agrees that it's hard to recognize that person. I made huge offline progress by sending her the picture from my post the other day, and she was really positive and supportive. Offline, I'm an extremely secretive person, even with my best friends sometimes, so exposing myself like this was a pretty big deal for me, and I'm very proud of myself for it.

I've had a strange week. I'm not really sure how I feel about it all. In terms of weight loss, it's been alright - I lost 3 more pounds this week, bringing me to 229 for a total of 116 lost. That's good, I think, although I feel like I was kind of sluggish and wishy-washy all week. General malaise, can't pinpoint the cause exactly. Part winter, part work stress, part just general life exhaustion, I think. I'm really looking forward to catching up on sleep tomorrow and then grading this stack of compositions and the exams my students will be taking today - maybe if it's nice out, I'll bring them to the park or somewhere where I can sit in the sun and enjoy life a little. Wonderful English word I recently learned: apricity - the warmth of the sun in winter. I'm hoping for some this weekend.

What about you? What are you hoping for this weekend?

March 3, 2011

Cauliflower pizza

I teach full-time at a university here in Chicago, and it's my absolute dream job - I love everything about it, from the amazing students to the fascinating material to the office with the incredible view. It may seem hyperbolic, but I can't rave enough about how happy teaching makes me.super dreamy view from my office I love every single day. Even on the days when I'm completely exhausted, stressed, and a little frustrated, I'm still incredibly in love with working here and wouldn't trade it for the world. The past few weeks have fallen under that description since we're in the middle of the term, and for my students it seems that Spring Break can't come quickly enough. They have papers, exams, and projects in every class due around the same time, and that means they all show up to class completely worn out and unmotivated.

I've tried to do my part to make it a little easier for them - lots of review games and worksheets - but the time has come for their onslaught of assignments from me. A composition due tomorrow and an exam on Friday means stress for them, and lots of work for me. If they do well, it should take only about twelve hours to grade everything - but it usually ends up closer to twenty hours. And that's if I don't dawdle! (Possibly surprising news: I'm a hopeless procrastinator. The worst. Which is why I neurotically make to-do lists - I have to keep track of all the things I'm not doing or else!)

Since so much of my time will be devoted to work this week, I'm trying to find quick and delicious recipes for weeknights. After teaching, office hours, and hitting the gym, I want something tasty that will be ready in a short time. The other night, I was completely exhausted and craving something saucy, and I thought about a recipe for cauliflower pizza that I read about a while ago on Lyn's blog. Perfect!

I usually post recipes on Sundays, but this was so delicious that I simply could not wait. As usual, I changed the recipe a little to suit my own personal needs and tastes. Here is my version - with pictures!

Preheat your oven to 440ºF. Mix together a cup and a half of grated cauliflower, 1 egg, and some spices - I did 2 teaspoons each of dried basil and red pepper flakes. Spread the mixture on a cookie sheet - be sure to either spray it with non-stick cooking spray or use a piece of parchment paper. I used the paper since I had it in the house. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until it is brown.

delicious eggy goodness
Mine didn't look nearly as brown as Lyn's did, even after I cooked it an extra five minutes. Maybe because I skipped her step of adding cheese to the crust? Oh, well. It held together, so I carried on.

Top the "crust" with some tomato sauce and whatever toppings you would like - I did fresh mushrooms, sliced olives, and a piece of string cheese. Put it back in the oven for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

yum yum yum
All melted and nice! And ready to serve. Lyn said hers was strong enough to pick up and eat like "real" pizza - next time, I'm going to try baking the heck out of mine, because I had to just eat mine off a plate with a fork.

No real complaints, though - it was incredibly tasty and totally quick to make. Preparing the cauliflower was fast with my food processor, and it completely satisfied my want for saucy pizza-y goodness.

Definitely a keeper. I'll be revisiting this one soon enough and trying new things with it. Especially since this whole pizza only had about 300 calories! Perfection.

What about you? What's your favorite quick weeknight meal?

March 2, 2011

Rabbit, rabbit

I did not realize until nearly 8pm last night that it wasn't February anymore. To tell the truth, my life operates on a more academic calendar than anything else. I knew yesterday was Tuesday ... and I knew it was week 8, day 1 ... but the month or date didn't cross my mind. I'd likely still be in a February-like stupor even now if I didn't go to record my workout from last night in Excel and realize I needed to make a new document for the new month.

My February workouts were alright, I'd say.

not great but okay
Room for improvement in many areas. I didn't swim at all in February - I finally had to admit that my bathing suit was way too big and I didn't want to be showing off any of my business at a public pool. I want to get back in the water, but I need to find a decent new suit first, and given the family situation, buying a bathing suit just wasn't on my February priorities list. It's at the top of the list for March, though, because I'm dying to get back in the pool.

There are quite a few blank days - some were planned rest days, but blocks of two days in a row mean something wasn't right. The first two, blizzard; the second two, Dad. I'm unapologetic for and unbothered by these. Life had to come first.

My goal of running 345 miles in 2011 is coming along well - I missed a few runs in February, including a 3.75 mile long run, but I'm still confident and holding strong. Including last night's 2 mile run, I've logged 53.33 miles - about 15.5% of my goal. I'm a little short, but I'm sure I'll make up for it this month when my long runs get even longer!

When I was in elementary school, the principal would always say "rabbit, rabbit" when doing the morning announcements on the first day of the month. It's a superstition of sorts, if you say it before you get out of bed, you'll have good luck that month. In my 24 years of life, I've never remembered once, but I'm still really hopeful for March 2011. Less snow, more sunshine, and flowers starting to pop up - not to mention Spring Break in two and a half weeks (not that I'm counting down or anything).

What about you? What's on deck with you for March? What are you most looking forward to with spring approaching?

March 1, 2011


Just a bit of warning before you start to scroll ... there's a picture in this post that may be considered mildly inappropriate. Or at least not safe for work, school, or the like. It's just me ... and some cute underpants.

A couple of weeks into the semester, one of my students (whom I also had in class last semester) came into class and asked if I had lost weight, because, as she put it, "you look absolutely amazing!" I said that yes, I had lost about 95 pounds at that point, and thank you for noticing. Then another student made a comment that threw me for a bit of a loop:
"Now we have to find you a boyfriend!"
I quickly retorted "What makes you think I don't have a boyfriend now?!" and the kid got pretty quiet while rest of the class cheered in approval. In fairness to this student, I think he was flirting a little - he had also asked the previous week if I would ever go out for a drink with a student if he or she wasn't my student anymore. *sigh* I diffused the situation with my standard response to statements like this: I'm in transition right now, and I need to figure out who this girl is before I introduce her to someone else. The answer satisfied everyone, and we went on with that day's lesson.

That is, of course, a severely shortened answer - you could honestly write a book about dating and weight loss (and I'm sure someone out there already has). I'm not sure I believe in a correlation between number of dates a person goes on and the number he or she sees on the scale - bigger people date, fall in love, and get married all the time. I've had really great sex while I was in the 320 pound range and really lousy sex when I was in the 230s. What it boils down to, I think, is confidence.

For some reason, I was much more comfortable in my own skin as a super obese person than I am now as someone who is simply obese. Perhaps it had something to do with the nature of what I sought - at the higher weight, what I wanted was to cultivate experiences with guys and make up for lost time, and it gave me a false sense of power and strength. But now, I'm seeking emotional connections as well, and that exposes a vulnerability for me. While I've done quite a bit of dating in my day, I've never been in a real relationship before, and that adds another element to an already complex and stressful situation. On top of the usual getting-to-know-yous, there's the awkwardness of being 24 years old and having the relationship experience of a preteen. I cried the first time I bought a pair of jeans at Old Navy because it was new and scary and something I'd never done before - so even the thought of being in a relationship at this point fills me with anxiety. Because it's not just the novelty of being in a relationship that I'm nervous about - there's the I've-lost-weight talk.

The weight loss journeys for people with 10 pounds to lose and people with 210 pounds to lose have many similarities, but here is one point where the paths diverge. There's a huge physical change that comes with extreme weight loss, and it's not always easy to cope with even as the keeper of the body in question. I've dreamed about this talk innumerable times - in my fantasy version I'm out with a nice guy I've been seeing for a little while, and things are going great, and we get to talking about our pasts. I slowly admit that I used to weigh 345 pounds, and his jaw drops in disbelief. That's where I snap out of it and the fantasy ends, though - because I don't know what to expect next from him, not even ideally. Is he proud? Disgusted? Curious? Nervous? What kind of thoughts are racing through his mind at this point? For most people, visualizing a 100 pound weight loss on someone totally clothed is difficult - now add in the effect of this loss on the body underneath the outfit. What does he expect from me? Will this mean the end of the great thing we have going?

Some research I did on this subject a few months back provided a few bits of advice for how to deal with this discussion - since I was looking for "dating after extreme weight loss," I found mostly post-weight loss surgery therapy sites, but the ideas are universal: what it all boils down to is that the right person will be accepting and positive about this part of your identity, and what matters most is that *you're* confident and comfortable with your new body and your new life. I've been working so incredibly hard these past few months to eat better and stay active, and in doing so I have whittled away slightly more than half of the weight I want to lose long-term. This is remarkable and exciting, but also stressful - someday, with my clothes on, I'll be able to pass on the street as just another someone completely removed from the world of the super obese. Underneath, though, the visual effect of the to-date loss is already present.

a body in transition
It's unbelievably hard to look at and feel my new body and not feel terribly remorseful for all I have put it through - and terribly nervous about how someone else will react to seeing or feeling it. I want to look at my body and see positives - realistically, I know there will be off-days or things that I will like less than others about my body, but right now, all I want is to see something. I want to see my body as more than just a reminder of how horribly I treated it for such a long time. And I hope to expect the same of the gentlemen I will date.

February 28, 2011

WWW: Week Nine

But first! I wrote a guest post that you can read today over on Colleen's blog - talking about the "secrets" of losing over 100 pounds. Feel free to check it out, and I totally recommend following Colleen's blog. She's fun, strong, motivated, and incredibly supportive - and a must-follow if you're one of the 7-day-chip crew!

My picture for the week:

francy pants
I have two bedrooms in my apartment, so the smaller one I use as an office and library. It's so wonderful - all I need is a comfy chair in there and I'd never leave. This is one of my little areas of knick-knacks on top of a bookshelf. My garden gnomes, my little brass Eiffel Tower, and a perfect Little Prince toy I found at a thrift store that I can't wait to give to my first child someday. Also in this area: a ring, given to me by a boy I used to know - one whose name and story you haven't even heard yet (mercy me, but I have a lot of stories!). I used to wear this ring every single day, until it got too tight - long after the boy himself went away. Now:

i wonder if he remembers me
I can't wear it. Not that I would - that part of my life is long gone - but still. It just slides right off. Lovely NSV!

What have you done this past week to help you achieve your goals?
(2) My long run yesterday was 4.25 miles, and it took me 52:26 (about 12:20 per mile pace). I'm pleased, especially since I felt a little sluggish towards the end. I'm getting bored of my music, I think - any suggestions for good running tunes?
(3) Yesterday my co-worker and I got a rejection letter from the language symposium committee, so unfortunately we won't be presenting at the conference in April. I'm trying to see this as a singular, unique event and not foreshadowing of continued bad job-related news.
(4) I felt like my teaching was not up to par last week, mostly because I was sick. It was a good week, just not my best.
(5) I mailed five more Postcrossing postcards!
(8) I made a little collage, nothing fancy, but it felt good to create, and it has me wanting to make more stuff. Whatever I come up with this week, I will share next week!
(9) I got my eyebrows waxed! I desperately needed to.

Today's the last day of the month - how do you feel you've done in February?
This was an exceptionally challenging month, and I can look at it in a number of ways. I ran two miles in 24 minutes. My dad had a second heart attack. I binged for the first time in over six months. I ran my longest run ever - 4.25 miles. I "was not among those selected for presentation" at the symposium. I lost 11 pounds. So ... ups and downs. I'm ready for March and everything that I hope it brings: nicer weather, good news on all fronts, and continued success with healthy living.

What is your go-to favourite meal to cook? Share the recipe if possible!
Hmm ... this is a tough one. I love cooking, and I especially love trying new recipes and new ingredients. I'm not sure there's one recipe I cook more than others, though. I have seasonal favorites, I guess ... I love soups in winter, though by now I am getting sick of both winter and soup. I'm ready for spring and some well-made sandwiches!

Share a quote or saying that is inspiring you today.
I really love this quote by Mexican poet Rosario Castellanos: "I'd rather have a couple of scars than a memory like an empty hope chest." I have it written out on a Post-It note on my bathroom mirror as part of my non-scale goal to go out and live life no matter what I weigh. Another quote that I love is one from Maude - she left a great comment on one of my posts a few weeks ago and at the end she said "I'm so excited for you. You're standing on the edge of great things - the next few years are going to be amazing. I know it! " Standing on the edge of great things - I completely love it. A visual representation of that idea has been running around in my mind like crazy lately. I might need to paint it.

What's your make-up routine? Wear any? Lots? Do you have a must-have?
I never used to wear makeup at all, but now that I'm starting to care about what I look like when I leave the house, I've started wearing a little black eyeliner. It seems silly and simple, but it makes me feel pretty and confident, so I'm all for it. Small brag, I guess: I never wear mascara because my eyelashes have always been really long and full. When I was a kid, total strangers would compliment me on them. Weird! I would never say that to a kid, especially one I didn't know.

February 27, 2011

Pasta Whatever

I had every intention of sleeping in yesterday and being mildly lazy since I'm still feeling under the weather, but it turned out to be a rather productive day.

I woke up even earlier than I usually do during the week after having a really wonderful dream, so I had to grab my notebook and write down every detail I could recall before they disappeared forever. It was extra remarkable to me because I haven't had any detailed dreams in a very long time. I used to have extremely vivid dreams quite frequently, something I always believed to be linked to my binge eating and especially to late night eating: going to bed with my stomach full meant my body would be working while it was supposed to be resting, and my brain was just doing its part to keep active. This time I wasn't snacking before bed, though, so I'm very happy to know that my vivid dreams aren't extinct due to my decision to live a healthier life.

And oh, it was nice to dream! I've missed it.

After writing my dream down in my paper journal, I finally got an idea for what sort of challenge I could do with Lesley - we both weigh about the same, so I've been trying to think of some sort of friendly competition we can do. It finally hit me: it's about 16 weeks until the first day of summer, and we both weigh in the low 230s. So we're racing to get to onederland by then! I'm very excited, and I think a little competition will be good for both of us - especially since here, we both win! At the same time, though, I'm a little nervous; the idea of having a 1 out in front of my weight is unfathomable to me. Last summer, I was 345 pounds - but this summer, I'll be under 200. I'm already thinking about how to mentally prepare for the triple digit transition - 3 to 2 was tough, so 2 to 1 will likely be even harder. I haven't been under 200 pounds since I was 12 years old and in middle school! So I'm hoping that the challenge will help me ease into this new phase a little.

After sharing my idea with Lesley, I put together some things and headed to the post office, a necessary chore I've been putting off for weeks. I got international postcard stamps for sending more cards through Postcrossing! Then I headed to the salon to get my eyebrows waxed (beyond necessary, yikes!) and from there I went to a thrift store to see if there were any books I couldn't live without or any of the vintage Pyrex that I love - nada. From there to the grocery store, and from there to the gym, and finally back home to have some dinner and enjoy a book on my Saturday evening. So I guess it wasn't a hugely productive day in terms of getting very important things done, but I stayed busy, and that always makes me feel good.

Usually I spend Saturday mornings deciding what my new recipe will be, then I collect any ingredients I may need while I am out running my weekly errands. Yet in spite of how much I got done all day, I somehow completely forgot to pick out a recipe before I got to the grocery store. I am a neurotic list-maker, so this was not great. Everything was a possibility.

There was a sale on small scallops, and since I've been really wanting seafood lately, I picked up a quarter pound of them. I figured I'd throw them together with stuff I had at home, but unfortunately, I forgot that my cupboards were mostly bare, and I ended up making a pretty random mixture of pasta, vegetables, shellfish, and spices.

man this was good
Looks may be deceiving - odd as it was, it was actually pretty good. While boiling one cup of tri-color rotini, I cooked six or seven broken up spears of asparagus in a tablespoon of olive oil and two teaspoons of an Indian spice mixture my mother got me for Christmas. When the asparagus were cooked but still a little firm, I took them out and cooked the scallops in the same spicy pan, then readded in the asparagus and then the cooked pasta. Tossed it all together, and voilà! Delicious.

This isn't a recipe that'll win any awards any time soon, but it's so versatile that you could do pretty much anything with it. What about you? How would you make your ideal "pasta whatever"? Pick a pasta shape, vegetable, protein, and spices, and let me know - I'm always looking for new ideas!