March 18, 2016


This week, I started working with my personal trainers through the Exercise and Sport Science program at the university where I work. The first meeting was really good - mostly paperwork. I am working with two students, David and Dana. They're both very nice and understanding so far. Dana was a student in one of my French courses, and she's my age, so we had talked a lot before now about my fitness history and goals - I'm so, so glad she reached out to me to volunteer as their client.

I gave them my name, address, phone number - all that background stuff. Then, the bigger questions. Some medical history, some specifics like height and weight. I filled them in a bit on my story - I summed up my almost thirty years as "big as long as I could remember, suddenly fit, then back again just as quickly." All we did for measurements the first day was body fat percentage (yikes) and waist circumference. Yesterday we did tests for flexibility - no big surprise, I have a lot of work to do. I'm weaker on my right side, and I have pretty terrible balance.

There were two big things we did each day. Tuesday, we set a goal for the training period - but I will come back to that. Yesterday, we reviewed a paper they'd had me fill out. I was given a chart with a few different categories to fill in: mainly, what I eat, where/when I eat it, how much I eat, and how I feel about eating it.

I told them Tuesday that I could fill it in then and hand it right back, since I basically eat the same thing every day. But Dana told me to take it home and spend some time on it, so I did. I wrote down everything I ate Wednesday, plus water, and the times/how I felt. My hunger was never extremely high because I try to eat a little something every few hours. I didn't do anything out of the ordinary: yogurt for breakfast, Think Thin bar, Lean Cuisine for lunch, veggie straws and Jello, chicken/rice/broccoli for dinner, and then apple slices with caramel. 980 calories plus dinner, which I guessed was around 500 calories.

I anticipated that she'd comment on the snacks or the Lean Cuisine and mention I need to eat "real" food, so I went to the store and got some carrot sticks and individual hummus cups to replace my afternoon snack of veggie straws - I figured I'd come in, show her the report, and dazzle her with what I'd already realized and changed.

I handed her the form, and she looked at me strangely. "Wait, is this seriously what you ate?"

Uh oh. That look on her face! Not quite anger, but definitely something strong there. So I went to tell her all about the carrots, and she stopped me with something I did not expect at all.

"I can tell you right now, you're definitely not eating enough."

I was stunned. I honestly had no idea how to react or respond. I stammered a bit, then finally got out "Well, I mean, it's just that ... I am a chronic dieter, all I know for weight loss is that I should eat less, I don't know how to do this any other way." And I admitted to her something honest, that I am just recently realizing myself: that I've been dieting/restricting in one way or another for almost all of my life. I said since I was 5, but I'm sure it was earlier, and I've just blocked it out.

So many childhood memories center on my body. Memories of lectures from grandmothers on both sides, lovely women with food issues of their own, who preached about healthy choices while one smoked and heavily restricted and the other hid "bad" foods in her bedroom closet. Home movies of cousins parading around, talking about how they were gorgeous and Mary was smart. I remember loving my body for all of about thirty minutes when I started to get boobs - when I thought, here it is! My DJ Tanner moment!

I wanted that so badly - to be the sweet, chubby girl who hit puberty and grew into herself, whose weight rebalanced itself around new height and she became lovely and confident and got a cute boyfriend and everything ended happily. And I remember my mom making negative comments, not only to my face but around other family members, and I remember feeling so incredibly embarrassed and ashamed. I knew, then at 8, and earlier, and since then, that the only acceptable behavior was to hate your body into submission. So I retreated back into myself, and yo-yo'd one step forward and two steps back for the next decade and a half.

I could write a book about my tiny specific details, but this is it, as succinctly as possible: how a person could possibly lose 150 pounds and then regain nearly all of it. There's been so little self-love, no matter what my age, no matter what my weight. But there's been plenty of anger, frustration, punishment, and hate.

It's what I've read and reread a million times in Geneen Roth's books, but haven't been able to commit to: you can't hate yourself thin. Her brilliant quotes from "Women, Food, and God" always touch me so closely: "The promise of a diet is not only that you will have a different body; it is that in having a different body, you will have a different life. If you hate yourself enough, you will love yourself. If you torture yourself enough, you will become a peaceful, relaxed human being ... for some reason, we are truly convinced that if we criticize ourselves, the criticism will lead to change. If we are harsh, we believe we will end up being kind. If we shame ourselves, we believe we end up loving ourselves. It has never been true, not for a moment, that shame leads to love. Only love leads to love."

Perfect, beautiful girl. You deserved better, and I want to make it up to you. I want to become the grownup you needed. I want to become someone you'd be proud of.

All they asked me to do was write down a day's worth of food and drinks. But it made me sit down and look at 29 years of a disordered relationship with food, and realize I truly need help if I want to do this right and do it in a sustainable way.

So I told Dana: I don't know how to do this in a balanced way. I know how to overeat to be big and unhealthy, and I know how to undereat to be small and unhealthy. I don't know how to eat normally, and I don't know how to properly nourish my body.

And what a perfect response.

"It's okay, we're gonna review this, look at all the measurements and test results, and we're gonna come up with a calorie goal and some sample meal plans for you, okay?"

Dana's story is her own to tell, but she's shared some of it with me, and I'll say that it's quite similar to my own. So I trust her, even though I'm scared. I'm scared of having to learn something new. I'm afraid to step away from something - because even though it's something that isn't working, it's something familiar. And, just like Geneen Roth said, it's the penance I've given myself, with the hope of salvation. I overate and got myself this way, the only way I've ever behaved is to charge the other extreme to make up for the poor choices. But dieting "my way" only works for a few weeks, and then I get discouraged, get too hungry, get overwhelmed, and I give up entirely.

I don't know what to expect, and I guess that's something else to hand over to the trainers. I need to readjust my approach to food, and readjust my approach to expectations. I was also told something else I've known for a while but ignored: that I need to weigh myself less often, but take other measurements to track progress.

This will help. This will all help. I won't be back to my lowest weight tomorrow or a month from now or even by the end of the year, probably. But I'll be my healthiest self, and that's the goal, right? To do this in a healthy, sustainable way?

I ordered some lunch boxes from Amazon, and I'm going to try to replace my Lean Cuisine lunches with something (a) homemade and (b) more nutritionally dense. Not Whole 30, but definitely more whole foods. More fruits and veggies, fewer snacks with isolated nutrients and empty carbs. And I'm going to try to pack breakfasts, too - something more substantial than just a yogurt, but also nutritious.
I'll need it, especially going back to what we did Tuesday: our plan for the training. We've got six weeks or so once the testing is done to set some goals, do some one-on-one work with the trainers, and then retest at the end to see how we're coming along. They asked what I'd like to accomplish in that time, and I told them boldly:

I want to run again.

Specifically, I want to run one mile without stopping. They both laughed a little, and asked how I could possibly love it so much. Both are super athletic, but neither one enjoys running, so they genuinely were curious, and so I told them.

I told them that in 2010, I could barely walk, and I hardly ever left my house. But then one day, I did. And I walked a few blocks. And then I walked a few more. And then I did the stairs in my office building, and after that, I learned how to run. And I totally get it - not every run is great. Sometimes you hit a wall, and sometimes it's not necessarily super exciting. But when you've sat on a couch and wondered how you got to that point, and seriously thought about how much time you had, how many more binges it took before you were entirely immobile ... to have gone from being that person to someone who could run, someone who could move gracefully among athletes - no, to BECOME an athlete herself ... that was incredible.

And I want that back.

There was no self-hate when I was running. I look at pictures of me racing, and there's something immediately striking about every single picture:

Invariably in these race pictures, my posture, my poses ... always the same: hands on the hips, absolutely owning every second. Beautiful, perfect girl. Someone I was proud to be, finally. There's more than adrenaline. There's passion. There's a feeling of being invincible. There's confidence just pouring out of me.

When I say I love running, this is what I mean. I love the movement of my body, but even more, I love the movement in my soul. I love the person that it makes me - even when I was still struggling with food issues, I was able to forget them for a while, and feel invincible.

I've got new running shoes on their way. I've dusted off my now-antique-looking Garmin, and we'll see if she still works. I've got a goal, and a schedule. One mile, no stopping. I've got this.

March 14, 2016

Spring break

Between the week off of work and the time change, we certainly did not want to get out of bed this morning. I had plenty of energy, surprisingly enough, it was the little one who was dragging his feet. I turned the bedroom light on and rubbed his back a little, and he looked at me so confused and said "Mama, can you turn the light off? I have one more sleep to do." He is so adorable, it kills me.

I think I was more tired at the end of last week than I was at the beginning. Having time off from work was nice, but we definitely kept very busy. Stuff to see and do every single day, lots of driving, lots of exploring, a good bit of walking.

It wasn't as much walking as I would have liked - when my sister came alone, we made time every day to go to the track or to the park. My brother used his pedometer, but I questioned its accuracy after a full day walking through the gardens yielded a smaller step count than a day at an outdoor mall.

I made mostly good food choices. The first few days were easy, when I was riding high on a few great choices, and we weren't super busy yet. I ate my meals at home, and when we went out, I ate as simply as possible - choosing salad at my favorite burger place is always such a victory for me.

But then my mom made homemade pizza, and even though I kept my calories low all day, my weight shot up. And then we got busier, and my family tends to eat a big breakfast and then not eat again until a big dinner (whereas I eat smaller meals but eat more frequently throughout the day). I still made better choices while out...

... but I wasn't drinking nearly as much water as I usually do, because we were out and about and not like when I am at work and can use the bathroom a dozen times a day.

So, weird food schedule, plus not enough water, plus not great sleep (staying up too late to spend time with my brother and sister, and then sleeping on an air mattress the floor of my son's room so my mom and her boyfriend could have my bed) ... plus the usual family nonsense (even on vacation, they couldn't stop arguing and bickering). And to top it off, we had temperatures in the mid/high 70s, and the air conditioning wasn't working in my apartment, so I sent them off one day to explore on their own while I stayed home and had a technician working on it for seven hours.

By the end of the week, I was feeling lousy, super bloated, and crabby. The scale was up insanely high - and as much as I love my family, I was ready to be back to my routines.

They left Friday night, and we spent the weekend just recovering. As soon as we said our goodbyes Friday, I went into the kitchen and purged the fridge and pantry.

Anything that I felt wasn't triggering, I packaged up in single servings and put in the freezer - the entire extra pizza my mom had made, for example, and some bacon and breakfast sausages. I threw out anything that I knew I would struggle with having around: a half-dozen boxes of leftovers, a jar of alfredo sauce, lunch meat and cheese from the deli. I felt bad throwing away something she'd spent good money on, but at the same time, I know I would not have been able to eat any of it in moderation. Lastly, I rounded up anything unopened (like a jar of mayonnaise and some pancake syrup - we didn't have a single breakfast or lunch at home all week, I don't think, but she felt compelled to buy this stuff) and returned it to the store. With the money I got from items I brought back, I got Noah five short-sleeve shirts, which he needed a lot more than we needed potato chips or butter.

A lot of my food guilt is brought on by money. When times are tough and money is tight, being able to feel full feels like everything is alright. That was my mom's issue before it was mine - she grew up very poor and always told us stories when we were kids about her own childhood, and having gravy on white bread for dinner some nights. So being able to feed us in excess is success to her.

It's not just with grocery shopping either, it's restaurants. I know we're going out to eat, I know she had to work hard to earn that money, so if I don't eat as much as I possibly can, I'm being wasteful.

I wish I could sit down with my Younger Self when she started thinking this way. You're not being wasteful, love. You're doing right by your body. Overeating now doesn't resolve the problems from your mother's childhood.

After two days back in my own bed, asleep early, well-hydrated, and fully on-plan, I'm less bloated and down nearly all of what the scale said I'd jumped back up. By my Friday weigh-in, it'll be all of it, for sure - especially since tomorrow I'm starting my work with the physical trainer class. I'm excited to see how that goes.

So, overall ... I enjoyed seeing my family, I love them very much - but again, it's nice to be back in my own healthy routines. I like eating to nourish my body and not in excess. It feels so nice to treat myself well and to respect my body. I like being active. I had a lot of good talks with my sister about our food issues, and about steps we can take to live our best possible lives. She's talking about making some big changes in her own life, including possibly moving down here with me - I would love that. She was my workout buddy in Chicago when she was in college and I was in grad school, but we always got too busy with school and let fitness fall by the wayside. One of my greatest regrets is that I got healthy and lost all my weight the year after she lived with me, and that I didn't do more to help us get on a healthier path while we were together. I would love to have the chance to fix that.