December 28, 2012

Body confidence

Another Christmas has come and gone, and I'm trying to find the silver lining in not being able to be with my parents and siblings for the holiday. For now, it's realizing that my eating was definitely much better than it would've been at home. We had a little celebration with my cousins and went out with friends on Christmas Eve, but it wasn't the dozen kinds of desserts and hors d'oeuvres and big dinners that my parents usually have. Christmas dinner was my homemade chicken parmagiana - baked, not fried, with a serving of whole wheat pasta and spinach. Far from traditional, but appropriate for us and our needs right now.

I'm glad I've been able to keep my holiday eating under control, because I've been feeling pretty down about my body lately. Luckily, I think the folks at BabyCenter, one of my favorite go-to websites for pregnancy updates and advice, sent out an appropriately timed article called "How to Feel Good About Your Pregnant Body." I thought I'd share the highlights here, since a lot of the advice is the same as I've encountered on my weight loss journey (and some I think don't apply in both cases!).

Stay active
Oh yes, can't argue this one enough! One of the best feelings in the world is the end of a workout you almost skipped. Knowing you put aside what you want now for what you want most? Awesome. This always made me feel more body-confident - getting out there, heart pumping, knowing I was investing in myself and my body ... nothing made me feel happier.

Don't underestimate the power of makeup / Embrace your inner fashionista
Combining two here cuz I think they belong together! Just because you're a size X and want to be a size Y doesn't mean you shouldn't take the absolute best care of yourself. Invest in a few nice outfits, even if you don't plan on staying your current size for very long. I wore size 26 jeans for months, until friends commented on how they looked. By that time, I fit in size 18 jeans! Even now, I'm embracing this. I've been wearing a lot of Matt's old clothes, trying to save money since I don't want to be this size forever. But the thing is, pregnancy takes a long time - Nugget isn't due for another four months! So for my birthday, Hanukkah, and Christmas, I got a lot of girly clothes in my current size. It is incredible how an outfit that fits well and that you think you look good in can change your attitude.

Avoid hair-raising hairstyle changes
This one I don't necessarily agree with for both cases. While I know a bad haircut at the moment might make me cry (entirely possible, since I cry at almost everything nowadays), I think anyone who isn't a hormonal mess could make the best of a new 'do! Before I started losing weight, I would change my hairstyle (color, usually) to mix things up. It was one thing I had control over, something I could easily change.

Don't neglect your skin / Splurge on a spa treatment
Another great pair. These go along with makeup and clothes - don't wait for someday to take great care of the body you're in. It's the same body now as it will be then, just a different size. Getting a massage was something I dreaded for ages (oh no, a stranger touching my back and arms and legs!), but after having a couple, I know there was nothing to fear! Now, it's something I want to incorporate as often as I can - sites like Groupon and LivingSocial help make them super affordable. I have a voucher for a massage that I need to use soon, I need to call and make an appointment with a masseuse who specializes in prenatal massage.

Talk yourself into a good mood
The BabyCenter article said it best: "Beauty is a state of grace, not a certain look, size, or weight." Look at yourself - truly look, and not just at the physical. Realize you're much more than just the number on the label of your pants or the reading on the scale. I'm not at my goal weight right now, but this body carries my son, so it is nothing less than beautiful, wonderful, perfect.



What about you? What do you do to feel good about your body?

December 21, 2012

Smoothies

So much of what I avoid eating now is due to the smell. It is hard for me to cook meat, roast vegetables, or even open a jar of peanut butter or hummus without gagging. There are ways to get around this, of course, like buying a pre-roasted chicken, but you really need to be careful with those - some of them can be real sodium bombs! When I am served these things (or, I am not involved with the direct smell of them), I am fine - at a Hanukkah dinner at Matt's dad's house, I was able to eat carrots and hummus with no problem. Another excellent help was when Matt bought us a George Foreman grill at Target's Black Friday sale. I can put some meat on there to cook, walk away, and let it do it's thing.

In an effort to consume more veggies, I've taken to trying to drink them. It's an interesting challenge, not only in creating ways to make them more palatable, but in the fact that this is a struggle at all. When I first started losing weight, something that made the whole process a lot easier was that I completely love vegetables. I had loved broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, and countless others, even at 345 pounds. So the fact that I struggle so much right now is really surprising.

I've bought mini cans of V8 to drink for breakfast or a snack, but they're another source of too much sodium, even the reduced sodium variety! And a veggie juicer just isn't practical at this time. So, I've been trying my hand at making smoothies. I've made them countless times before when I was actively losing weight - spinach/blackberry and spinach/blueberry were some favorites. But now, we're trying a few new things, with mixed results.

Our recipe for smoothies-for-two is, basically, as follows:
- two handfuls of greens
- a handful of fresh or frozen fruit
- a 6 oz. cup of Greek yogurt
- enough unsweetened almond milk to make it into a drink

Our go-to green veggie is usually spinach. We tried kale the other day, and honestly, I wish I'd somehow recorded us drinking it. It was torturous. Like mowing the lawn, and then trying to drink that. There wasn't enough pineapple in the world to make it better.

The fruit is tough, because it's mid-winter, and berries in our budget come almost exclusively frozen. We usually keep blueberries, pineapple, and peaches on hand for snacking, and all of those go great in a smoothie.

We're coming up short on ideas, though, and would love some input. What about you? Do you make fruit and veg smoothies? Suggestions for fruits? What greens do you use? If kale, please, some advice!!!

December 15, 2012

Numbers

I had a prenatal checkup yesterday morning. We're just shy of 21 weeks right now, still in the second trimester, so my checkups are still once a month. The standard procedures: I give various samples based on what they need to test/check/verify, they weigh me and get my blood pressure, and then I meet with a midwife to discuss Baby's progress and my overall health.

Ideally, I'd see Tracy (my assigned midwife) consistently, but my last two appointments have been with two different midwives. Both times I asked to be scheduled on a day when I could see Tracy, and both days they've screwed up the scheduling. But I guess you get what you pay for, and being on public aid at the moment, complaining is a useless exercise.

My main frustration with not seeing Tracy consistently is that I felt very comfortable when I met with her, and spent no less than a full hour telling her absolutely everything about my history - about my weight loss, my relationship with Matt, my past experience with depression, and anything else that could even possibly be a concern with this pregnancy. She knows my whole story - the other midwives get the ten second "But! But! But!" version while they make huge assumptions based on my current health.

Which, by the way, is awesome.

  • I had a fasting blood sugar test a month ago - most pregnant women undergo the test in the third trimester, and I will repeat it at the normal time, but given my weight and family history with diabetes, Tracy recommended having an additional test done around week 16 or so. After fasting for eight hours, a person who drinks a sweet drink (glucose-based, I believe) and then tests with a blood sugar level of 200 or higher is considered diabetic. I've seen various positions taken on different websites for what a normal/healthy fasting blood sugar level is - some said under 100, some said under 90, some said under 86. Either way, mine was less than every one of those numbers.
  • My blood pressure is still excellent and considerably lower than the level considered to be pregnancy-related hypertension.
  • My nuchal translucency scan results show that Baby was negative for Down's Syndrome, Trisomy 18, and other intellectual/physical disabilities. He's the perfect size, both in length and weight. His heartbeat is in the perfect range. In fact, the midwife's exact words were "your baby is perfect." And that made me feel incredible.

It all made me feel incredible, really. Until I was told, in not so many words, that I'm actually incredibly unhealthy. Apparently, because I've gained quite a bit of weight since becoming pregnant, even though everything else about my health is in top shape, my BMI is the only number that matters.

I read a statistic recently that said the average general physician only has about 15-18 hours of study in nutrition; I'm guessing it's even less for a midwife, who only needs a Masters and not a PhD. So I'm trying to take with a (very small) grain of salt the seemingly terrible advice I was given at the appointment. Like, when I said I had Greek yogurt for breakfast, and the woman said I should be eating meat with breakfast for more protein. (I'd rather have two yogurts for the same calories and protein - I still struggle with eating meat sometimes, the smell is just too much for me.) And when she immediately assumed my weight gain was due to the fact that I likely don't know about calorie counting, and that I'm "probably drinking all [my] calories and [I] don't even know it." I told her that I only drink water, and her only response was "Well, the calories are coming from somewhere."

She followed that up with one of my least favorite weight loss mantras: saying that "it's really just calories in and calories out." Because even though that is the case, it isn't - at least not always. Not all calories are the same, and the bodies of formerly super obese people (just as is the case with formerly severely underweight people) treat calories differently. My body spent nearly a decade in the 300 pound range. It felt comfortable there, even if I didn't. And the rest of my life, I'll have to watch my calories closely and stay moderately active - not a complaint, I'd rather monitor all the vitals closely forever than spend another day over 300 pounds. But for now, the inability to exercise how much/how often/how intensely I did when I was actively losing weight is a source of distress.

Also worth noting, instead of averaging 1500 calories a day now, I keep it between 1800-2000 - which doesn't seem like a big leap, until you also consider that before, I was also biking daily and running three times a week in California, and still running three to four times a week in Chicago plus walking (upwards of 10 miles a day on several occasions). Now, I walk a little, but the variance in my work schedule can occasionally complicate things. On my days off, I get out and move around as much as I can. But when I spend a shift from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on my feet (and it's dark by 4:30, and there's 45-60 minutes of commuting time both before and after the shift), it's hard to find additional time and energy.

I'm really conflicted by what the midwife said, and am trying to see the positives in the bigger picture. My son is healthy and growing as he should. Weight-vs-height comparison aside, every number and measurement says this is a well-cared-for body. Now that I'm over the nausea and morning sickness, I'm able to add more healthier foods back into my diet (the first few months were very bland and flavorless, lots of crackers and pasta to try and avoid becoming stomach sick - any strong flavors or smells could set me off). It's just a matter of finding a healthy balance for myself given my current constraints. I still have days when my eating is imperfect - like days when I'm ravenous and listen to my hunger, or like the night before the appointment when we had not one, but two Hanukkah events to go to ... definitely not ideal right before a weigh-in, but I know that despite occasional treats, my average day is pretty good. There's certainly room for improvement, but I'm absolutely not like some of the other expectant mothers in the clinic, with diets of fast food and convenience store snacks, munching on bags of hot Cheetos and Slim Jims in the waiting room. Talk about a terrible interpretation of what the midwife meant by meat with breakfast...

My goal going into the appointment with Tracy was to get advice on how to maintain/lose weight in a healthy way while pregnant, and even though I met with someone else who didn't know my personal story, I did secure the one thing I wanted to come out of the office with: a referral to the hospital nutritional counselors. I'm going to meet with them as soon as possible, and hopefully come away with some good advice and suggestions. On my own, I'll also watch my food intake (quality *and* quantity), and hope for a more positive experience at my next appointment in one more month. As perfect as my and Baby's numbers may be at the moment, I know that the underlying message in the midwife's poorly expressed criticism about my weight is that if I'm not aware and cautious, the results could change in the future, and I need to take excellent care of myself so I can take excellent care of the little one inside me.

December 6, 2012

It's a...

On Sunday night, I was reading an article on one of my favorite websites, Mental Floss, that discussed "pieces of folksy wisdom that are actually true." Most of them I'd heard of, until the last: eating bananas will make you have a baby boy. The last banana I ate gave me such bad heartburn that I've temporarily sworn off them, but still, I read on.

The article explains the logic behind the claim: while a baby's sex is determined genetically and not by dietary intake, it appears that a woman's diet may affect the success rate for certain chromosomes. While the cause is uncertain, the cited study observed that "high levels of glucose encourage the growth and development of male embryos while inhibiting female embryos." In industrialized countries where lower calorie diets have been more common, there has been a slight increase in the birth rate for females. The author also points out that this is not only the case with humans, but wildlife as well: higher-calorie foods lead to a higher birth rate for males.

The article, like pretty much anything these days, made me cry, especially as I thought back to late July/early August when we became pregnant. The weeks before, during, and most likely after I got pregnant, I was binge eating like crazy. It was after our 42+ mile bike ride and the ensuing sunburns so severe, we probably ought to have gone to the hospital. And it was after getting rejected from a fantastic job at a French-speaking high school in Chicago, my confidence shot after being told, interestingly enough, that they needed someone more self-confident. And it was after dozens of other job applications went ignored and unanswered.

I had intended to run the Chicago Marathon, and stopped because I was so exhausted and uncomfortable when running - pregnancy side effects, I realize in retrospect, but at the time, I just thought I was lazy and suffering the result of my binges. Though they certainly didn't help the situation, there was a lot more going on than I was aware of. And in my sad ignorance, I continued to binge. The job I was supposed to come back to was taken away. The apartment I was supposed to move into burned down. And now, I wasn't going to run the marathon after all. I felt like a failure. And I ate every single one of those feelings.

If you recall, this was around that time that I joined Weight Watchers in order to try and get the binges under control. I'd weighed 189 the day I left California, maintained 188/189 for several weeks, and then found myself back at 198 for the half marathon and 208 the day I signed up for Weight Watchers. I followed the program for two weeks, until we got the positive results on our pregnancy tests.

Since finding out, I've had days when I ate a lot - either because I waited too long to eat or because I was just hungrier because the baby was growing - but I haven't binged. Still, as I read this article Sunday night, I was terrified, and shared the article with Matt. Walking to the train station on Monday morning, headed to the hospital for our anatomy ultrasound, I told him, if this baby is a boy, I'm going to feel guilty for the rest of my life. He tried to calm me down, but I couldn't let go of the thought. You were in the healthiest shape of your life before you got pregnant, he offered. But my mind trailed back to the study - the participants' BMI had nothing to do with the outcome, just their diets. For the month or so before conceiving, both my eating habits and I had been absolute messes.

Then, the ultrasound. The technician measured the baby to check its progress. Arms, legs, head, spine. Do you want to know the sex? she asked next. Yes, we did - and there, lo and behold, was our answer.


It's a boy.

And I cried. Tears of joy, first and foremost - regardless of what condition I am in right now, our son is healthy (though already stubborn) and growing perfectly. We love him so, so much, and there are so many other people who love him and who can't wait to meet him. But also, tears of guilt and remorse - I can't shake the idea that his sex is a permanent reminder of my own downfall. I screwed up, I reacted to sadness and stress and anxiety in an inappropriate way, and unlike the countless binges of my past, the July/August 2012 ones I'll remember forever.

I'm trying to see this baby as nothing less than a miracle. I was told I couldn't get pregnant, then I did. Now, I find myself gaining much more weight than I would like - given my current "all-I-can-afford-slash-tolerate-is-walking" exercise mode, it's clear to me that I'll be spending the rest of my life very active, or I'll end up back at 345 pounds or higher. But, the baby's second miracle - Matt was right, we became pregnant at a point when, despite a few weeks of poor eating, I was in a very good place health-wise. My doctor has remarked that even though my weight is high, all my vitals are perfect, and I owe that to 2 years of living well. I may not have gotten pregnant at my goal weight, but at least it wasn't at my starting weight. And you know, I lost these pounds once, and in a few months, I'll do it again. I have made mistakes, and now, with our little one on the way, I'm even more motivated than ever to get to my goal weight. I want to be a healthy mom, a self-confident role model. I want us to run races with Baby at the finish line, and eventually, with him by our side.

December 2, 2012

Challenge

I remember how stressful the first December was when I first started losing weight. From Thanksgiving through Christmas is a horribly tempting time, with all my family's major overeating holidays packed into one stressful month. I made a plan before heading home for Christmas, and stuck to it as well as I could. I returned to Chicago a few pounds lighter and without any of the typical self-loathing that followed up after a holiday meal.

This year, we'll be doing Christmas in Chicago, just Matt and me. It'll be nice, I'm sure - we're still talking about what we should do, but we want to find some unique tradition of our own. The best part, though, will be that our eating should be on point because we won't have any of my mom's wonderfully tempting Christmas treats around. No huge meals, no trays of baked goods.

I don't know what kind of challenge it would be if we were there for the holiday. I've been lucky in that I very rarely desire sweets - with the exception of fruit, especially oranges and grapes, I've been mostly craving savory things. But the past week or so, I've had a bit of a sweet tooth, and have given in to the cravings more often than I should have. It isn't every day, but even twice a week feels like too much when I have the guilt of what-I-eat,-baby-eats on my mind. (Not to mention the looming stress of knowing that in six months, I'll be able to work out again, and whatever I eat now will contribute to the weight I need to lose then.)

The challenge I'm imposing on myself, then, for December: stay focused with my eating. I'm trying really hard to keep my eating as good as possible. It's a lot harder than I would like it to be, because so many things are unappealing to me these days. One way I've found it fairly easy to get both meat and vegetables down is via soups, and I've either made or bought several in the last month: turkey sausage/kale/potato, tomato, tomato basil, chicken/turkey noodle. When buying or making soup, I do whatever I can to make it as low in sodium as possible - I usually use 1/3 of the broth they recommend, subbing water for the rest, and what broth I do use, I make sure is reduced sodium. It's still plenty salty for our tastes.

So: I'd like to try and avoid any sweets until Christmas - and same for going out to eat. I want to get back into cooking more, not only for the health benefit, but for my wallet - with the holidays and all, this is going to be a very tight month financially. It's all too common to work a long shift and then, exhausted, want to grab something quick and easy for dinner before heading home.


I know that achieving my goals is not hard when I set my mind to them - right now, it's just a matter of setting my mind to them!

What about you? What are your December goals? What is your plan of attack for the upcoming onslaught of holiday temptations?

November 23, 2012

Perfect fit

What a week this has been! We flew out of O'Hare on Sunday morning for our first babymoon: this one, to Minnesota.


A few folks marveled at the term "babymoon," saying they'd never heard it. A babymoon is like a honeymoon - a trip for the parents-to-be before the baby arrives. We'll be taking two - both to visit our families since they're all out of state. We're hoping to get to Connecticut in January or February, once work slows down a bit for both of us. First, up, though was Minnesota. Meeting some of Matt's family was wonderful, as was seeing where he grew up.

We had a really wonderful few days, and I came home only one pound heavier, which I am pleased with, considering every meal was eaten at a restaurant - and it was my birthday! I think staying hydrated helped, plus we did a fair bit of walking around the Twin Cities and the Mall of America. Tuesday, for my birthday, we went out to dinner with Matt's mom, his grandmother, one of his brothers, an uncle, an aunt, and two cousins. It was lovely, and I definitely cried when his mother and grandmother gave me such thoughtful birthday presents. The best, though, was from his mom: two adorable maternity dresses.

In an attempt to (a) avoid regaining weight and (b) save suitcase space, I got rid of anything that wasn't a size  medium when I left California. Two months later, though, we found out we were going to have a baby, and suddenly I wished I hadn't dropped off those jeans and tee shirts at the thrift store. Since we're definitely in transition right now and unsure about our work/living situations when the baby gets here, I have been trying to stick to a budget and avoid unnecessary expenses. One way that we've done this is that I've been wearing Matt's hand-me-downs.

Matt has also lost nearly 100 pounds, a good portion of it this year. So, all his winter things from last fall/winter are too big for him. Instead of buying a brand new winter coat in a size I don't plan on fitting in next winter, I'm wearing his from last year. It's quite big still, but as my belly grows, I'm sure it will work out just fine. For shirts, I've done the same. Almost every shirt I wear these days is a Wisconsin Badgers tee, because Matt went to school there and loves wearing Wisconsin clothes. I don't mind it most days, because I'd rather spend the money on things we really need, like a crib and clothes and a million other things for Nugget. But some days, especially the days when I get self-conscious about my body, I get a little sad.

I can say with certainty that a lot of it has to do with the three other ladies I know who are pregnant right now: girls from high school and college, all stick thin with adorable little baby bumps. We're all due within a few weeks of each other, but I see their pictures and feel like an outcast. In an oversized tee shirt and jeans, I feel just big, and not so visibly pregnant. I get upset, frustrated, and feel unattractive. My body isn't even huge yet, but already feels cumbersome compared to the lighter version of myself I was 18 weeks ago. Remembering how liberating the break up felt, I cried on the train after making my first purchase at Lane Bryant in nearly a year and a half.

"Have you shopped here before, Miss?"

Lady, you have no idea.

It was a new bra, which I should have bought months ago because my chest is growing with incredible speed and can no longer fit in the largest cup size at Victoria's Secret. But I resisted. Walking back in there felt like failure, and I felt, once again, like the 345 pound version of myself, hoping to get in, get out, and go home with minimal self-loathing at the condition of my body.

It's not right, and it's not fair to myself. In all my months of active weight loss, I never once coveted someone else's body. I never wished for so-and-so's arms or his-or-her flat stomach. I was self-conscious about loose skin, but the skin was mine, and the stretch marks were my history, and I owned the situation. I was in love with my body and all it could do. I'm not sure why I'm struggling so much with it now, especially since what my body is doing is nothing short of miraculous and incredible.


In only a few months, I seem to have forgotten one of the most important things about weight/body confidence: dress for the size you are. You not only look better while wearing clothes that fit properly, but you feel better. By wearing your old, too big clothes, it's almost as if you're still trying to inhabit a past version of yourself. Be present. Enjoy your current state, and work towards whatever you'd like to come next.

In preparation for the trip and for Thanksgiving, I bought a couple of new dresses at a clearance sale. In the dressing room, I found myself sincerely shocked that the best fit was only one size up from where I was in August, not two or three. And wouldn't you know, the simple act of putting on something that fit properly changed my attitude incredibly. I spent my birthday and Thanksgiving in lovely outfits, feeling feminine and genuinely cheerful and content with my body. Looking in the mirror, I finally saw in myself the glowing happiness I've seen on my other friends.


P.S. With this post, I should hit 300,000 page views on this little blog. Thank you so much, always, for reading along and following my journey! I owe so much of my success with weight loss and finding happiness with myself to you, the community I've found here.

November 20, 2012

Twenty-six

Today, I am 26 years old.

(And by today, I mean the day this post goes live. As I sit here and write it, it's a few days earlier, and I'm finishing up a few last minute chores before I go to sleep and we head out on our first babymoon - we'll likely have two, both trips to visit our families before the baby gets here.)

But still. 26.

Thinking back to previous birthdays, both blogged and not, there seems to be a common theme. Every year, I marvel at how I'm not where I'd thought I'd be at this age.

At 23, I was depressed. I was nearing 350 pounds, stressed like crazy over my graduate work, and devastated that, at the same age, my own mother was both married and pregnant. I still had hopes that I might meet someone someday, but a year or so before, my doctor told me calmly but sternly that, miracles and IVF aside, children would be out of the question. I'd done it to myself, with years of obesity.


At 24, I was motivated. I had lost just short of 75 pounds, and was feeling fearless and ready to take on the world. On my 24th birthday, I ran a mile without stopping for the first time in my entire life. I don't remember the time, because that wasn't what mattered. I set a goal, and I reached it. I was not only motivated, but hopeful.


At 25, I was uncertain. I was maintaining double the previous year's loss, but through occasionally unhealthy measures. I loved most aspects of my job, but hated the location. My relationships were in transition, and though I spent the morning of my 25th birthday running, I spent most of the rest of the day and evening on my living room couch, talking to a guy who mattered an awful lot to me - the only one who remembered it was my birthday.


And at 26?

Today is no exception to the standard of years past. I've gained weight from last year, but with the temporary justification of the lovely little baby I'm nourishing and carrying at the moment. (I'm also now incredibly aware that even if you still have all your external PCOS symptoms despite losing weight, you may now be able to get pregnant. Play it safe, folks.) I'm changed, for better and for worse. I'm in a different place, both physically and emotionally. I'm at a part-time grocery store job that I don't particularly like, but am grateful to have in order to pay my bills until I find a full-time teaching position. I'll be spending my birthday on a little vacation, enjoying some time with the same wonderful guy from last year - except this year, we'll be spending time face-to-face and not over the phone.


(Sorry your parents are weird, Nugget. And sorry we're not actually sorry.)

Things to look forward to at 26:
... hopefully finding a new job in my field, and possibly moving (we're remaining open-minded, knowing that with a newborn, a full-time teaching salary almost anywhere would be worth relocating for).
... enjoying my time with Matt as a just-the-two-of-us couple, and preparing for parenthood together.
... becoming a family with the birth of our sweet, beautiful baby.
... working back to my pre-pregnancy weight, and continuing on to my goal weight.
... running again, with my little Nugget waiting for me at the finish line.

Even though every year I seem to be in an entirely different place, I always approach my birthday with the same idea: that it's my "happy new year," my chance for resolutions and my opportunity to look forward and anticipate the upcoming changes that will, if history continues to repeat itself, land me in an entirely new condition once again. As the saying goes, the only thing constant is change, am I right?

November 16, 2012

Off limits

I subscribe to a great mailing list that offers pregnancy advice and updates on your baby's progress. It's so fun to share them every week with Matt - this coming Sunday, for example, is day one of week 17, and the baby will be about 5 inches long and weigh about 5 ounces, about as much as a turnip. There's a cute fruit or veggie comparison every week, which is fun to visualize. When we first started to follow, Nugget was just a blueberry!

Some of the emails they send, though, are ominous, and genuinely put the fear in me. This week's was a list of holiday foods you need to avoid - followed by a list of holidays and at least one thing for each.

One thing that has been oddly strange to get used to with pregnancy is consulting ingredient lists to see if I can or cannot eat something. There are extensive lists of foods that are considered off-limits to pregnant women, and some of them are surprising. Raw/undercooked meat? That was a little obvious. But sandwiches?! I wouldn't have thought. Sushi is off limits, including varieties with cooked fish, as you can't be sure if it's been kept at a healthy temperature. Smoked salmon, soft cheeses, apple cider, eggs cooked any way other than hard boiled or scrambled ... even tea!

When I really think about it, I suppose it is obvious. Sandwiches with cold cuts/deli meat may contain listeria, a bacteria that is usually broken down with ease but can affect pregnant women and their fetus(es), so your choices are (a) toasted sandwich or (b) something else. Runny eggs, soft cheeses, and cider, when unpasteurized, also carry the listeria risk (as does the mailing list's Thanksgiving threat, stuffing that has been inside a raw turkey). And the effect on pregnant women from the herbs in most varieties of teas has not been studied, so doctors recommend avoiding it.

I asked a midwife at the clinic this week about teas, because most days, I have a hard time getting my water in. I used to drink three or four 32 ounce bottles a day! Now I struggle some days to finish one. She suggested adding lemon to the water to maybe make it more palatable, or Crystal Light, which, to be honest, I'd be more worried about drinking than tea. I'm a lot more worried about the effect of artificial sweeteners on my baby than the herbs from tea!

She also said that if I reallllllly wanted to, I could drink tea if I wanted, just in moderation. Women who are coffee drinkers are asked to keep it to one cup a day, and soda drinkers should reduce consumption as much as possible. But tea, that's the one she said was off limits!

I'm a bit torn. I find it hard to believe that women in Japan avoid sushi for nine months, that women in France avoid cheese, that women in China avoid tea. Still, I would rather be overly cautious than not cautious enough, and so I am sticking to the rules.

It's interesting, because something that I struggled with for so long before losing weight was the idea of restriction. If I was told I couldn't have something, I wanted it harder. I craved it. I couldn't stop thinking about it. Then, I'd binge, and the "diet" was over. This time, I found success in weight loss because I permitted myself the things I craved, just in a healthy way. I bought pieces of string cheese one at a time, instead of a half pound block. I bought just one cupcake instead of a dozen, and it was eaten in a bakery, not alone in the dark of my living room. I had pizza for lunch once a week, except it was Lean Cuisine and not Pizza Hut. In doing these things, I found the balance I needed in order to avoid overindulging.

Now, I have restrictions. And I don't have a say in them. It doesn't matter how badly I want smoked salmon sushi (hint: REALLY badly) or how delicious a poached egg on a toasted English muffin sounds (hint: REALLY delicious). I think it's a lot easier to avoid a binge, though, than my previous diet attempts, because I know what's at stake here. I need to be strong and fight the cravings to make sure my baby is safe and healthy.

November 8, 2012

Kosher Lasagna, and pregnancy eating

First, an update on my blog decision: after some thinking, I have decided to start a second blog for writing about my pregnancy and, eventually, parenting. While my updates here will still involve being pregnant, of course (it's the biggest thing going on in my life right now), they will be more related to weight, diet, and exercise. My other blog, Kosher Lasagna (which you can also follow on Facebook if you would like), will have more of a focus on the other aspects of pregnancy, and especially about our decision to raise the baby Jewish. I needed the separation for my own clarity, but feel free to follow along there, too, if you would like -  especially if you're a parent! We need all the advice we can get!

Second, let's talk about what I've been eating.

Since finding out that we're expecting, my eating has shifted a little, both in quantity and in content. There are some days when I am very hungry, and I listen to my body and feed it accordingly. There have also been days when I have little or no interest in food, and still, I eat accordingly. The days when I am very hungry seem to come several in a row, then are followed by a return to normal habits. According to the baby books and websites, the increased hunger is almost always explained by where I am in my weekly progress - as the baby hits a growth spurt, my body reacts accordingly.

As far as content, the changes in my diet have been frustrating. Especially during the first 10 weeks, my stomach was incredibly sensitive, and practically nothing appealed to me. In the first few weeks, my weight jumped - not surprising, since I went from a well-balanced diet and running 3-4 times a week to eating crackers almost exclusively and no longer being able to run (my last attempt, around Week 8 I think, was disastrous ... very narrowly avoided making an awful morning sickness scene in a park. Running scrambles my guts too much right now, unfortunately). Other things I ate in the first 8-10 weeks:

  • Larabars - but only the lemon ones (any other flavor, especially the chocolate/cookie type ones, gagged me - and still does)
  • Greek yogurt - I still prefer Fage Total brand to Chobani, as it is less sweet; I switched from 0% to 2%

I struggled a lot with water intake, as even that gagged me for a while - I went from three or four 32 ounce bottles a day to barely finishing one.

Since the worst of the morning sickness ended, I've been able to diversify beyond Goldfish crackers, though I still have several strong food aversions. One of my favorite salad toppings, raw broccoli, actually gagged me for the first time since I was a little kid. Meat and eggs are mostly still gross to me - if someone else prepares it, it can be okay, because I think the smell of cooking it has a lot to do with it. I ate tempeh and seitan (vegetarian/vegan meat substitutes) for a few days but the cost just isn't in our budget right now. I've done alright, though, getting protein in the Greek yogurt I usually have for breakfast. Hummus is good too, but it can't have any flavor - my mind misses my favorite kalamata olive flavored or garlic lovers' ones from Trader Joe's, but my stomach will have absolutely none of it.

Another possibly surprising food aversion I've had is peanut butter, one of my previous big trigger foods. I can't stand the smell of it, and the thought of eating it makes me gag. I told Matt, and he offered a very thought-provoking suggestion: what if my eating disorder is beyond mental, and my physical body knows that this is what it craves in times of stress? It could be possible, then, that my body is making me averse to something it knows I would likely binge on and potentially hurt the baby.

I thought it was brilliant, and honestly wish there was more research being done on eating disorders. I'd be interested in seeing what other folks in recovery thought about this, specifically the experience of other pregnant women - if they, too, became averse to foods that once triggered binges. I spoke with one girl, who said she'd read an article once that suggested that the foods women crave during pregnancy are related to nutrients they may be lacking - so a woman craving ice cream could not be getting enough calcium. It's an interesting idea, for sure.

As far as my own cravings, I've only had a few strong ones. The first was avocado, which was interesting because so many strongly flavored things were unappealing to me at the time. Lately, my cravings are fresh fruit (especially cold grapes and oranges) and cottage cheese. I've been having that instead of Greek yogurt the past few days - just as much protein, so that's good. It's not great sodium-wise, which I need to be extra mindful of, but as far as cravings go, I'm glad it isn't much unhealthier.

I guess I always pictured cravings to be different - I would want my favorite foods all the time, and I would eat them with the justification of pregnancy. And I *did* like cottage cheese before, but it wasn't something I would think I wanted to eat every day if I could. That would've been peanut butter, for sure!

November 1, 2012

Skeletons

The other night, we finally finished telling our families, so it was time to tell our friends. We decided to announce it at a Halloween parade with an idea I saw on Pinterest:


Possibly hard to see, it was a bit dark - we're skeletons, and mine has a baby skeleton on the belly! (Instead of buying the iron-on transfer, I painted them myself onto black shirts with glow-in-the-dark fabric paint.) It was a terrific success, and our friends have been amazingly congratulatory and incredibly supportive.

It has been so wonderful to have this kind of positive atmosphere the past few days, because I've been having a bit of a tough time. It's mostly based in the fact that I'm not feeling like myself - after a very active year maintaining my weight, I'm feeling both uncomfortable and self-conscious lately.

Some truths:
  • The baby weighs about an ounce and a half right now, but I've gained about 15 pounds. I'm supposed to gain 25-35 through the whole nine months. We're not due until April.
  • I understand the gain (no more running, plus with almost everything making me queasy and nauseated, I ate mostly pasta and crackers for the first few months), but I'm still uncomfortable with it.

I spoke with my midwife about it, given my history of disordered eating and super obesity, and she said that one good thing was that even though I am not at my goal weight, I'm incredibly healthy, and all my vitals are perfect. That's good for me and great for baby. As for the weight gain, she said that even though running is out for now, I was very active before, so I can still be active as long as I'm not overexerting myself. I want to join the gym next to where I work - even an hour on a stationary bike four or five times a week would be better than nothing - but I haven't been able to yet, since I'm trying to get my financial situation in order (transitioning to depending on my paychecks instead of continuing to use my savings from teaching).

A few things I am grateful for:
  • A due date in late April, so I'll be ready to exercise and lose weight again in the summer (much better than having to restart in the middle of a Chicago winter)
  • An incredible partner who is understanding and motivating, and will help me not only control my weight gain but will support me as I work my way back down to my pre-pregnancy weight and then lower to my long-term goal weight

I have a lot of diet-related thoughts and ideas, but I'll save them for a post of their own. I want to keep blogging about weight and exercise, etc., and keep most of my baby-specific things to a separate blog, maybe. I have so many questions and so much to say, I need an outlet for it!

October 25, 2012

Checkup

I'm rather glad that I got yesterday off from work, rather than just work an evening shift, because my quick doctors appointment in the morning ended up lasting for hours, including a trip to the hospital emergency room.

I told Matt he didn't need to come to the clinic with me - it wasn't a big important appointment, and since he works nights, I'd rather let him sleep. So I headed there myself, and met with my midwife, Tracy.

First, a note: I went to the clinic two weeks or so ago for "OB orientation," a program for moms-to-be to find out about this clinic and the services they offer. It's run by the medical school at the university where I went to grad school, and I'll be delivering at the university hospital, which I feel good about - 1 out of every 6 doctors in Illinois is a graduate of their medical school. That said, though, I didn't like the orientation. I felt very talked-down-to, and it was sort of impersonal.

Meeting with Tracy, though, was incredible. She was fantastic, very comforting, and I feel great being in her care. She asked me a ton of questions, and I told her everything: about my weight loss, about California, about my history with Matt, about our families, about my current work situation, and about my morning sickness (gone) and my latest cravings (cottage cheese). She said my weight loss was fantastic, my blood pressure was great, my resting heart rate was low, and that even though I've already gained some weight, I have a great understanding of why it happened (no longer running 3-4 times a week and an increase of bland flavored carbs like crackers/pasta to settle my queasy stomach in the first trimester) and how to maintain and control the gain.

Then she had me lay down on the table and said, Alright, are you ready to hear your baby's heartbeat? I've been waiting for this for weeks. It's what got me through lousy days at work - knowing that in a few days, I'll be at my appointment, and I'll hear our baby.

She gets the Doppler going, feels around, and ... nothing. Moves to the left, nothing. The right, nothing. She picks up something faint, and then checks my pulse and confirms that she only hears *my* heart, not the baby's.

It's not necessarily bad, she said. But it's not always good. The next step: I get sent to the university hospital emergency room.

By the time I get there and am wheeled up to the OB/GYN emergency area, I'm sobbing so heavily that I can't explain why I'm there. They get me into a hospital gown and try their Doppler - still nothing. So while the technician consults a doctor on what to do, I'm left alone in a tiny room saying over and over, Please, please be okay, Baby. Mommy loves you. I'm sorry if I did something that hurt you. And I start obsessing over every little thing from the past few days - when I put my subway card in the wrong turnstile and pushed my stomach hard into a bar that didn't turn, when I had a sandwich at Jimmy John's (on lettuce instead of bread, and not toasted - deli meats are not recommended unless they're heated to kill germs)...

The next step was to be brought into the ultrasound room to check viability. I had an ultrasound scheduled this morning anyway to check for a few diseases and conditions, but this was a quick one just to verify (a) there was a heart and (b) it was beating. Another midwife popped into the room to talk before the doctor was ready, and said that she didn't want to give me any false hope, but also that she's seen cases where a hard-to-detect heartbeat wasn't a concern. Still, I worried.

The doctor put some goo on my stomach, then started up the ultrasound machine. Within a few seconds, she found it. I started to cry again, but this time, tears of joy. There it was. Our baby. Alive. Healthy looking. Heart beating perfectly.

The trouble with hearing the heartbeat had to do with the location of the placenta - the doctor said that this also means I will feel less fetal movement as the baby gets bigger, since instead of kicking me directly, it will be kicking something like a pillow between us. We're so, so lucky that it wasn't something very serious!

This morning, we had another ultrasound - an appointment this time, not in the hospital emergency room - and Matt was able to get off work early and come with me. We went into the room and an ultrasound tech student did the scan and got the baby's measurements. The little one would barely stop moving around so the woman could measure it! Definitely the child of two runners.


I haven't been able to stop looking at the pictures we were given - at first they gave us one of just the head and torso and it wasn't very clear, so I asked for a full-body one (the one above). That's the head at the bottom near the "CRL," with one arm up as if it's waving hello to us!

I'm so glad Matt came with me today - not only in case something went wrong (everything was perfect, except the baby's fidgetyness!), but so he could see the baby too. I think today is the day when it became "real" for him - seeing it move, seeing its brain and spine and arms and legs and teeny tiny everything. And this dialogue with the ultrasound tech:
Doctor, what's that moving right there?
That's the heart beating.
It was, as he put it, a "jaw drop moment." He's been so good to me, especially lately - rubbing my back and shoulders when I'm achy after work, putting up with me when I get super emotional and start crying for absolutely no good reason, being on the lookout for good deals on gently used baby things (he has already found us a stroller, tub, and high chair!), and not eating the ice cream I hid in the freezer.

My next appointment with the midwife is in two weeks - a diabetes screening test, since it runs in my family - but our next ultrasound isn't until early December. That's when we'll find out the sex of the baby - er, I'll find out. My plan is to find out alone and then incorporate it somehow into Matt's last-night-of-Hanukkah present. I'm trying to think of some interesting, creative way to reveal it - there are a lot of cakes and balloons on Pinterest, but I would like something more unique!

What about you? For your kids (now or future!), did/will you find out the sex? How did/will you share this with your partner? What were your cravings?

October 14, 2012

Stretch marks

On the days when pregnancy and impending motherhood is exciting, I am usually thinking about the wonderful things to come that will make the struggles and stresses of right now worth it all.

There are, of course, tons of things to look forward to once the baby is born (we're due in the end of April, by the way) - baby smiles and laughs, little hands and feet, a tiny voice speaking French, and so, so much more. But there are also a lot of things about being pregnant that I am either already enjoying or can't wait to experience.

Like my curlier hair and thicker fingernails.

And feeling the baby kick and move inside me.

And seeing my belly grow as the baby gets bigger.

And getting stretch marks.

That last one seems a bit strange, I'm sure. Almost every pregnancy blog I've read so far - and even an awful lot of weight loss blogs - talk about stretch marks, and the terrible fear that people have of getting them.

I used to fear stretch marks, too. From about age 16, I was afraid of losing weight, for both the loose skin and the stretch marks. So I continued to gain, making both situations worse than they would have been if I'd initially committed to living healthier. It was not about vanity, but rather, the idea of permanent reminder of my failures. I could lose all the weight I wanted or needed, and appear average to anyone passing on the street. But secretly, when naked and vulnerable, I'd always have a visual forcing me to recall the very big mistakes I'd once made.

Today, I have a lot of loose skin, and more than my fair share of stretch marks from huge gains and rapid losses. It's not as upsetting as I'd once anticipated - this far into my journey, I have a better understanding of and stronger love for my body, and I know that the weight loss milestones, the smaller jeans, and the race medals are incredibly worth the loose skin. Still, it's difficult - it can be uncomfortable, especially now. I have a very tiny little bit of a bump, but in order to feel it, I have to lift the skin of my lower stomach.

I have both excited and terrified days with regard to the pregnancy, just like the happy and sad days with weight loss. Losing weight is great, but sometimes, when my self-esteem is not what it should be, weight loss is depressing. Do I have the right to celebrate something when I maybe ought to be upset that I got myself that big to begin with?

Yes, I do.

I can't change the mistakes I made as a little kid, trying to ignore loneliness by binge eating, filling the emptiness in my heart with food. Maybe someday, at my goal weight, I'll be able to have surgery for my loose skin.

But the stretch marks - those don't go away. Those marks will always be there, a reminder of a different time.

So, I can't wait for stretch marks from pregnancy. For marks on my body with a purpose. Ones I don't feel guilty for. These stretch marks won't be from sitting in my grandparents' dark and cold house as a teen eating cans of Chef Boyardee and chicken nuggets, or from the countless dozens of cupcakes and cake balls that helped induce my carb comas in grad school, or from crying in my apartment in California and eating pizza. They'll be from doing something good with my body - carrying and properly nourishing my child.

October 8, 2012

Perfect

After a few interviews, waiting on results of a background check, and some paperwork, I finally start my new job tomorrow morning. It's an orientation day, from 9-5 at a different store than the one where I will be working. The rest of the week is full of training shifts.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to be working again, and thankful for the paychecks. Still, it's hard to not get down on myself. The last time I worked a job that paid an hourly wage was the summer before grad school. I hated it. The town I worked in was full of wealthy people who treated people in my position like trash. I'm talking, throw the change on the counter instead of possibly accidentally touching my hand when you go to pay for your groceries. Ridiculous. But I did what I had to in order to make a little money before heading to Chicago.

When the summer ended, I kept the card that I used to clock in and out, and I kept it on my desk all through grad school, along with a note: consider the alternative. No matter how stressful teaching was, no matter how many pages I had left to write, the hours, sweat, and tears I invested in grad school were an investment in my future. I was making sure that someday, I'd be doing something I really loved.

And for two years following graduation, that was the case.

I've been fighting my own heart and head lately. I'm trying so hard not to think that leaving California was a mistake. I didn't regret it for a second, until I found out I was pregnant. Suddenly, it wasn't about me anymore. I wasn't happy in California for any of a dozen reasons, but for that kind of money, for security ... I don't know. There would be negatives about raising our child there, though - even just being pregnant there. The closest hospital was an hour or so away, and the town would not have been a great place for a little kid - bad schools, no parks, no museums, no library.

I'm trying to appear very brave and very positive, even though I'm entirely terrified. Some days I'm excited, but it's fleeting. I'm mostly scared to my core. I know the job situation is temporary, and a teaching position will open up soon - in fact, I've already applied to one and am in the process of applying for another, for Spring or Fall 2013. Neither position is in Chicago, but they are both very prestigious schools, and should I receive an offer from either one, relocating would be a no-brainer. Branch of the University of California in the middle of nowhere? Bad idea. Ivy League schools on the East Coast? Worth considering.

Still, I can't count chickens before they hatch, so my focus right now is figuring out how to make everything work with the situation I'm presently in. It isn't ideal, but it's the way things are currently. Cashiering is not what I'd envisioned in my future after spending over half a decade and tens of thousands of dollars on my education, but I am neither afraid of hard work, nor ashamed of doing what I need to do in order to provide and make a good life for my little family.

I don't know what is going to happen long-term. But one thing I am certain of is that I want to break my perfectionist habits before the baby arrives. I don't want him or her to feel pressured by my unreasonably high standard for perfection and success. I want a happy, self-confident child. A child who doesn't feel the need to hide his or her true feelings in order for others to think that he or she is flawless and unafraid.

I'm on the right track to reassessing perfection. It sounds silly, or perhaps a bit cheesy, but I think it's this overwhelming feeling of selflessness that's come with being pregnant. That my decisions aren't my own anymore, that they don't affect only me. It's a good part of why I haven't binged in six weeks - because if it hurts my large, fully grown adult body, I don't want to imagine what it could do to the helpless little fig-sized baby growing inside me. The decisions I make are not always perfect, but they are always the best I can do in a given situation - taking an hourly wage job, for example, instead of waiting for a salaried teaching position.

At a moms-to-be orientation at a local clinic the other day, I met with a midwife, a nutritionist, and a breastfeeding counselor. I shared a bit of my story - my weight loss, my history with eating disorders, my moves in the past year - and they offered good advice and support. I talked about being terrified of failing, even now, before the baby is born. One of the women put her hand on my knee and said
Mama, everything you do for this baby is perfect.
She clarified, saying that by eating well, I'm doing the baby and myself a tremendous favor - but mostly myself. The baby will get whatever it needs - if not through my food and my prenatal vitamin, then through my body. (For example, they said expectant mothers who don't get enough calcium from milk, yogurt, cheese, etc., tend to have problems with their teeth, because your body surrenders its calcium stores in order to make a healthy baby.)

And I waited until after I got my blood drawn and walked out of the clinic to let the tears flow. I repeated it to myself, over and over and over.

Everything you do for this baby is perfect.

I'm soothing myself and my stresses by taking that to mean exactly what I need it to right now.

September 27, 2012

Smaller

With the Chicago marathon less than two weeks away, I've been thinking an awful lot lately about this year: how it started, where I assumed it would go, where it has actually lead me. There have been many smiles and an awful lot of tears; I'm grateful for the balance of both to keep me present and aware of how good things are, even when skies are grey.

When I stopped training for the marathon, it wasn't because I was lazy or it was too hard so I gave up. I was simply exhausted, and the thought of running 15, 20, 26 miles had me in tears. So, I found someone to take over my bib, and I gave in to the exhaustion, sleeping 10 hours at night plus at least one nap every day. And not a catnap. Like, 4 hours of midday sleep.

I still wanted to run, just not 26.2 miles. I had a half marathon scheduled in early September, so I kept running - until I couldn't. I could do three, four miles or so. But by the end, the pain was excruciating. My body felt very sore, and I found myself forced to stop. So, I found someone to take over my bib, and I gave in to the soreness, sticking instead to long walks for my exercise.

One thing I've developed since becoming healthier and focusing more on my health is a good sense of understanding. I am much more in-tune with myself than I was at 345 pounds, and I know almost immediately when something is not as it should be.

The exhaustion. The soreness. I knew something had to be going on.

I had a hunch, got tested for it, and then it was confirmed.

At 345 pounds, I was a lot of things, but happy and satisfied were not among them. I had just finished my Masters and had a great job lined up for the fall. It was time to invest in my body the way I had with my mind. I was ready to be truly, genuinely happy with my body. I was ready to be fully, completely satisfied with my life.

The last two tears have been a constant pursuit of those goals, and I'm extraordinarily pleased with where I am now, who I am, what I have become.

Since the beginning, I was obsessed with the idea of matryoshka, Russian nesting dolls. The idea that there was a big thing - lovely, but big - yet inside, you could find something just as lovely, just a bit smaller.



And then smaller still.



And then even smaller.


Now, I'm about to embark on a new phase of my journey. One that, like so many things I've experienced so far, I'd only previously dreamt of, not considered actually possible.

Like everything on this journey, it's new, it's scary, and it's going to make me stronger.

Like everything on this journey, I have incredible offline support to cheer me on and encourage me, between my friends, family, and absolutely incredible partner.

And once again, I'm finding that inside this lovely smaller thing is something just as lovely, but even smaller.


Stay tuned.

A small note: if anyone knows me or Matt in real life, PLEASE do not post anything about this to Facebook, Twitter, etc. - we're still in the revealing process and would like to do so on our own terms. Thank you in advance for your understanding!

September 22, 2012

Exhale


My last few posts have been deceiving, to put it lightly. I have loved my walking adventures with Matt, don't get me wrong. But there is an awful lot more I'm not sharing.

Namely, my intensely private struggle with depression.

Part of it has been related to my employment situation, part due to a health issue that has me not only temporarily unable to run but slowly yet steadily gaining weight. It's been a tough year, and it hasn't entirely eased up since returning to Chicago. Things are infinitely better, and there's no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice. But still, there are challenges, and some days, the pressure feels like it could break me.

I try so hard to always wear a brave face and a smile, even when the pain is overwhelming. No one has any clue how much I'm hurting, because I keep it all to myself.

A friend from grad school asked why I left California since things seemed to be going so well for me there. And I don't blame him - they did seem okay when you look at what I put forth, particularly on Facebook: long bike rides, teaching victories, scenic pictures.

What I hid was considerably darker.

"Wow," he said. "I would have never guessed."

And that's how I've wanted it to be, for years, not just limited to California. Fiercely independent, I've always felt the burden of my struggles is mine to carry and mine alone.

The independence extends to my job search. As my savings account begins to slim down, I feel a bit of a panic and wonder when I'll finally get a call back from anyone - even retail applications have gone unanswered. But the thought of letting anyone know how deeply, truly terrified I am is gut wrenching. Almost scarier than the fear itself. I know that even if things were to become desperate, I have people to count on - the promise of financial support from my father, for example. But again, the need to be independent kicks in, and I feel terrible even thinking I might have to borrow money temporarily.

This stuff keeps me up at night. I lay there, staring at the walls, trying to think of what measures I could go to in order to ensure that I (a) don't need to be dependent on anyone else and (b) don't let anyone find out how truly stressed out I am.

Something I firmly believe, though, is that the universe is a wonderful place, and mysterious things happen all the time. At the right time, when you're feeling down on your luck and about ready to throw in the towel, that's when things tend to surprise you and turn around.

I got a phone call the other day for a job interview.

And the next day: another.

I went to both, and after a series of interviews, I was offered both positions. Since the schedules conflicted, I took the one that offered a better salary and more hours. As soon as my background check clears, I'm set to begin training and jump right into working again.

The positions were both in retail/customer service - not ideal, not teaching, but it's work, and I'm intensely grateful. I'm grateful to have an income again, even if it's a wage and not a salary. I'm grateful to have something to do all day besides wander the city and wonder what I'll do when the money runs out. And I'm grateful to have one of my major worries taken care of. I'm still actively searching for teaching jobs, but in the meantime, I'll be busy and making enough money to afford the roof over my head, the food on my plate, the clothes on my body, and even a few little extras.

It feels so, so good to smile genuinely again, and to exhale deeply and let go of this one stressor.

September 15, 2012

Another walk

When I first moved to California, I exercised every day for nearly two months without a rest day.  In the area of California where I was, it rained very rarely - maybe six or seven times in the year I was there. Even gray, overcast skies were uncommon. I was so used to Chicago weather, wanting to take advantage of sunny days and no rain/snow, that I was out biking every single day. I finally figured out what was happening and took it easy for a while. Now that I'm back in Chicago, I'm in a mostly healthy mix of active and relaxing days. (Though I certainly miss the biking. It's the only thing, besides having a steady income, that I miss about California.)

The weather is finally cooling down here, which is so nice. Some days, it even feels like autumn, my favorite season - for the colors, but also, for the perfect temperatures. Not too hot, not too cold. Chicago is emptying of its summertime tourists and bracing for whatever winter will bring. Right now, things are perfect.

Last week, Matt and I took a 15 mile walk to/around/most of the way home from Chinatown, south of our apartment. For this week's long walk, we headed north for a nearly 13 mile trip.

It was less scenic than the Chinatown route was - no wild, graffiti-d ethnic neighborhoods - but we still had a really great time. It's a wonderful bonding opportunity - we walk, we talk, we discover what's near our home, and we burn a few calories.


We stopped at a Peruvian corner market and found a drink he'd heard of and wanted to try. We also stumbled upon a candy and nut factory that we had no idea was in our neighborhood, and popped into their open-to-the-public store to browse.

We first went a few miles north and a bit east to Devon Avenue, the traditionally Indian/Pakistani neighborhood. Matt remarked that it's the part of the city that reminds him most of New York City, and I certainly agree. It's a vibrant, colorful neighborhood, and of course, there are a ton of really great restaurants. We stopped for dinner at a place his Pakistani colleague recommended, and we had a terrific meal. He had a grilled chicken dish, and I had aloo palak (spinach with potatoes). We also both had naan (flatbread) and a samosa (a savory appetizer filled with potatoes, peas, and chickpeas). It was quite good, and we left feeling full but not stuffed, perfect since we still had a few miles to go.

We continued east and then continued north until we left Chicago city limits, entering Evanston.


Back in early July, on our 42+ mile bike ride, we went from the city's southernmost border (IL/IN state line) to the northernmost (Chicago/Evanston), so we have a similar picture next to a nearly identical sign from there. This was more inland, though, whereas July's excursion into Evanston was along the lakefront bike trail.

It was starting to get dark, but we carried on, and eventually made it to the Evanston/Wilmette town line. Into a whole nother town! Our destination was a mile or so past the town line: the Baha'i House of Worship.


We went into the main auditorium and looked around for a while, taking in its overwhelming magnificence. It's an absolutely stunning building with incredible grounds - I've only ever been at night, but I'd love to go back in the day some time and explore the gardens and fountains.

We walked down the street a short distance further, and found ourselves at Linden - the last stop on the Purple Line train. We thought about whether we should walk back home or take the train, and since the last three miles or so had been very poorly lit, we decided to just jump on the train and head home.


He wore his Garmin, and clocked it at 12.74 miles - pretty good, I'll say!

I am absolutely loving these little adventures we're going on, and I hope we can get a few more in before the snow comes.

September 10, 2012

Days off

Because Matt works nights, if he has just one day off, he has to keep his schedule of sleeping days - the only good thing about being unemployed at the moment, I'll say, is being able to stay up all night with him on those nights to hang out and talk and enjoy being together. (Usually we go on a hot date to the laundromat at 2 a.m.)

When he has two or more days, though, he can be awake during the day since he'll have time to recuperate before going back to work. We usually try to do something fun - like our spur-of-the-moment trip to Madison in March or our 42+ mile bike ride in early July. This week, we were craving Chinese food, and decided to earn it ... by walking from our apartment on the Northwest side of Chicago to Chinatown, about 10 miles away, and then back.

It was really lovely - first, to get some exercise without feeling overly exerted (he's still not supposed to be overdoing it with physical activity since his surgery about six weeks ago); second, to enjoy some good food without worrying excessively about calories; and third, to enjoy each others company for a whole, sunny, beautiful day.

It was really great, walking and talking about a variety of topics. To get soft for a second, I really love talking to Matt. He's definitely more of a texter than a caller, so most of our conversations for my time in California were sent via text messages. Hours and hours of texting, getting excited to hear the text alarm ring, knowing it was him, missing him so fiercely. Now, I am so, so lucky to get to spend a good amount of time with him and have face-to-face talks whenever we please.

The scenery of the route was great, too. We walked through my old neighborhood, Pilsen, called "Little Mexico," and marveled at all the amazing art and graffiti everywhere.


The kid really loves Batman. Too cute.

Finally, we got to Chinatown, and wandered through the main plaza looking for Mario Bros. toys for my brother (no such luck) and then looking for a place to eat. I saw a couple of dim sum places that looked interesting, but we finally decided on Joy Yee, a noodle shop we actually went to last summer on one of our first few dates. (He's a creature of habit, for sure.) Last time, I got an amazing Vietnamese banh mi sandwich - one of my all-time favorite sandwiches - but I have a few food restrictions right now, so that was out. I ended up getting pineapple fried rice with chicken and shrimp. Look at this amazing presentation!


The rice wasn't very flavorful, unfortunately, but the fruit and meat/seafood were pretty good, and if you got a good bite with everything in it, it was great. After walking for hours, it really hit the spot.

We walked around a bit more, and went to Chinatown Square where all the Chinese Zodiac statues are. 


We also went to a bakery and I got him to try a moon cake (little cookie filled with sweet red bean paste) - he wasn't crazy about it, but I was proud of him for trying it! He is definitely getting more adventurous with his eating, which is fun - as much as I am also a creature of habit, I occasionally like to try new and exotic things, too.

The plaza we were in is off to one side of Chinatown - but the big, bustling "Main Street" is Wentworth Avenue,  and we headed over that way just as the sun started to set.


It felt so lovely, walking down the street, holding hands, and just enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of one of Chicago's cultural neighborhoods.

We started to walk home, and got about halfway before I had to call it quits - I could feel a blister forming on the bottom of my foot around mile 10, and by the time we finished (almost 15 miles), walking was excruciating. Before heading home, though, we got to this amazing bridge on Kinzie Street that we stumbled on a week or so ago on our last spontaneous long walk (that one was only 7 or 8 miles, I think, along Milwaukee Avenue, one of Chicago's diagonal streets). It offers a great view of downtown - the skyscrapers, the river. Totally magical.


It was one of those days/nights that reminded me exactly why I fell in love with Chicago in the first place, and why I ached so strongly to get back. I gave up a lot in California, career-wise, and with some recent struggles, I've been thinking a lot about quantifying exactly how much I sacrificed. I didn't leave for money, though. The money meant absolutely nothing. I left for my sanity. Being here in Chicago, with friends and family and the boy I love - not going to bed in tears every night and waking up dreading every single day - that is worth all of this temporary job-related anxiety.

(P.S. Good thoughts for this Thursday - I have a job interview! It's part-time and in retail, but it's work, and anything is more than what I make right now. I'm feeling lucky to at least have heard back from one of the dozens of jobs I've applied to at this point.)

September 3, 2012

Checking in

I can't believe I haven't posted in almost a week. I used to post something every single day! This past week, though, has been insanely crazy, and I simply haven't had much to share. Canceled Weight Watchers, haven't yet found an OA group. Other than that, not much. To be as honest as I can given the forum, I spent a good amount of the last week pretty sick. A few appointments, a lot of rest. I'm staying hydrated and eating as well as I can, given that my appetite is mostly gone. I barely want to eat regular meals, so at least I can claim the small victory of no binges.

I've been having some physical issues with running, so I have been taking lots of long walks to try and stay active. Right now, my mind needs working out just as much as my body does. There was an issue with my debit card and the bank so I am debit/credit card free until a new one comes in the mail. When it does, I'm headed to the gym. I miss biking so much; even if it's stationary biking, I want to move my body that way again.

I went to the zoo today with my cousin and her boyfriend. Lots of walking and talking. It was really nice. I've seen a lot of friends and talked to a lot of family in the past few weeks, which has been wonderful. When I struggle and need help the most, it's so good to know I have so much incredible support.


That's all, folks. What about you? How was your week? What are you looking forward to in September?

August 29, 2012

Reflections, part two

My second week of Weight Watchers went better than the first, if only because almost everything I ate was at home instead of at restaurants. I missed the meeting yesterday - I had a very busy day, lots of errands to run - but will be heading to the center this morning to cancel my membership.

Weight Watchers is a great program for a lot of people. After a few weeks, though, it's abundantly clear to me that I am not one of them. It's a shame, because I wanted it to work out. Though honestly, I think what I wanted most of all was somewhere to go, a new group of folks to reach out to.

My Leader, Lisa, was fantastic, and if anyone in Chicago is thinking about Weight Watchers, I can't recommend her 4 p.m. Tuesday meetings on Clybourn (between Racine and Southport) enough. I talked with her a lot about weight loss, about running, about my struggle to find balance, and about the necessity for understanding nutrition in order to achieve successful sustainable weight loss.

The meetings, though, were not what I hoped or expected. I guess I thought it would be more support-based, and maybe if you stick it out long enough or have a particularly friendly group, you might find that kind of help in a meeting. But they're honestly more like lectures with some audience feedback and participation, not talking in terms of nutritional value or activity merit, but in Points, the currency of Weight Watchers. After the first talk about beverages, I was skeptical - the understanding of certain foods as better because they are zero Points instead of the reasoning why they are zero Points - but the second week's topic of sitting and activity levels really got to me.

In defense of the program, the talk may have been really fascinating and informative outside of Chicago. And Lisa *did* bring in a lot of interesting magazine and newspaper articles, though not much time was spent discussing their content. The focus instead was on the Active Link, a new tool for calculating Activity Points that is being tested in a few metropolitan markets, Chicago included. Everyone's questions revolved around the gadget, and not why "sitting disease" is a risk even for people who go to the gym often.

Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm asking too much. Perhaps someone walked away from the meeting with a good idea about how to make this a great week for his or herself. But sitting there, in front of a table covered in boxes of Active Link monitors and prepackaged Weight Watchers meals and snacks, I couldn't help but be reminded that Weight Watchers is, above all else, a for-profit corporation. Not that I'm radically anti-corporations - I'm sane, I promise - but the focus of the meeting seemed to be sales rather than education, and it irritated me. I paid to be in a meeting where I heard about something else I could buy. That isn't the plan for me.

As for a plan that *will* work? My next step is to investigate Overeaters Anonymous, since that sounds a bit more in-line with what I am hoping to get out of a meeting. (Is "Mike and Molly" still on? I watched about half of the first season and enjoyed the emotion and candor of the OA meeting scenes.) If that works, great. If not, back to the drawing board.

Something I've discussed with a few local folks is starting my own sort of meeting - an informal get-together of people of any size who are interested in discussing health, nutrition, fitness, etc. I actually discussed it yesterday with Lorelei while out for a walk, and she thought it was a great idea. If you can't find what you're looking for, create something. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.

What about you? I'm really interested in hearing reactions to last week's activity meeting topic from folks who aren't in Active Link test areas. And for both WW and non-WW folks: how do you balance activity and your daily tasks - for example, if you have a desk job, how do you assure that you aren't sitting for eight hours straight?

August 21, 2012

Reflections

Though the weekly informational meeting isn't until this afternoon, I walked to Weight Watchers this morning to weigh in - down 1.4 pounds. I'm surprised, to be honest - despite my best intentions, I unexpectedly went out of town for most of last week/the weekend, and didn't track with the tenacity I'd hoped for, had I stayed in Chicago. Still, even small losses are movement in the right direction, so I'll take it and focus on making this week great.

I didn't binge while I was away - little victory - but I also didn't make the best choices. Eventually, it will be easier to eat out and understand how to track it, but right now, my understanding of the Points Plus system is very basic and in need of refinement, so I'm going to stick to home cooking as much as possible (helpful for my wallet as much as my waistline).

I'm sure my thoughts about the plan will be different next week, after an actual week of committed tracking and activity. At the moment, though, I have mixed feelings.

Let me preface this by saying that I have absolutely never been interested in Weight Watchers. Perhaps it was horror stories from my grandmother and father growing up - hearing about their weight loss success eating nothing but broiled chicken and frozen vegetables. They lost weight, but as soon as they went off the plan, the weight returned. It clearly wasn't sustainable, at least not the way they followed it.

Last week, when the receptionist at the center explained the program to me, the first thing she said was that "Weight Watchers is not a diet, it's a lifestyle change." And I have a specific understanding of what they mean by this. I knew two years ago when I started to lose weight that I would not be on a diet, that my lifestyle would have to change - eating better, eating less, and being more active. Weight Watchers, though, is a different kind of lifestyle change. It encompasses all of my goals, but on their own terms. Weight Watchers *is* the lifestyle - everyone I have spoken with who has found this to be the best program for him/her has admitted that (1) they use/used the Weight Watchers plan to lose weight (2) they continue/will continue to use the Weight Watchers plan in maintenance. Forever.

I still have a small glimmer of hope that someday I'll have a mostly healthy relationship with food. That I won't have to count calories or Points until I die, that I'll be able to eat without obsessing about numbers, that  I will be able to understand hunger and find a healthy balance with food and activity that allows me to maintain my weight. I know this is all possible. I've experienced it. Right now, I am struggling, and I need the structure of a plan with imposed limits.

Still, I have qualms about Weight Watchers, and find myself perhaps overthinking a lot of it. When I started writing and reading blogs a few years ago, I didn't follow many Weight Watchers blogs. Their plan was incomprehensible to me - foods have Point values that aren't exclusively based on calories, and a while ago, the plan was revised to increase "zero Point" foods. I wasn't neurotically counting calories myself, but I had a general idea of how many calories I was eating daily, and the thought of not counting fruits and vegetables bothered me.

I don't want to lose sight of nutritional information by converting my brain to this new system of food tracking. I have a good understanding of what foods are healthy and what is a better choice to make, given two options. The positive thing about shifting the Points system to make many fruits and veggies "free" is that people may be more likely to snack on a banana if it is 0 Points than if it is 3 Points, the same as a 100 calorie pack of cookies or crackers. I don't want to choose a banana because it's a bargain, I want to choose it because it is a healthier choice. An example of this: at last week's meeting, we talked about drinks, and we opened the meeting with a quiz. The first question asked what a better breakfast choice was, an 8 oz. glass of orange juice or an orange. Everyone knew the answer was the piece of fruit, but when asked, they said "because oranges are 0 Points." My answer would've been the fruit too, but my reasoning would be "because juice often has added sugar and preservatives, and the whole fruit has more fiber than just the juice." (Of course, I've never been a juice drinker, even before, so I'd pick the fruit regardless. Maybe someone who likes juice would be faced with a tougher choice.)


I get 34 Points per day - well, I did until this morning ... thanks to my 1.4 pound loss, I am down to 33 Points. I have tried to visualize the 30something Points as 10 per meal; for example, my usual breakfast of Fage 2% plain Greek yogurt (3 Points) and a container of Jif To Go peanut butter (7 Points) is pretty filling, and a liter bottle of water and midmorning piece of "free" fruit carry me through to early afternoon.

I also get 49 Weekly Points, which I plan to use rarely/never (several commenters on my last post said they try not to use them, and that, given my proclivity to binge eating, it may be more useful to add 7 Points to each day rather than see it as a big pile of 49 Points), and I can earn Activity Points by being active. There's a little gadget you can buy to track your activity, and if I decide to stay with Weight Watchers after this first month, I might invest in it. (It's something they're trying in the Chicago area, and a few other big cities, before launching nationwide. It seems neat, and if anyone uses it, I'd love feedback!)

For tracking, you can use a paper tracker (they give out free small paper ones at the center, or they sell a fancy notebook):


Or, with certain membership options, you can use eTools, which is sort of like MyFitnessPal, except using a different currency, so to speak. I'm trying both right now to see what I like better - I like the convenience of being able to calculate Points with my iPhone while I walk through the grocery store, but the app isn't as good as the MyFitnessPal one - namely, the barcode scanner is a separate app from the tracker.


This week will be a real test - to see how I work with the program, and how the program works for me. I have my skepticism, but I'm trying to let it go - a mantra I've been trying to keep in mind is a quote from one of Kris' latest brilliant posts: "give myself over to the program and follow it without question." (I absolutely love her recent series of reflections on Weight Watchers, especially since she's in a similar position - trying the program to jump start motivation after experiencing success on her own.)

I want a plan with rules, so I have one. Now, to follow it, and observe the results.