To get myself writing a little more frequently, I've decided to give myself themes to share and ponder for each day of the week. Not that I'll post daily, but that the type of post I'll make will be determined by the day, so to speak. I certainly can't take credit for the idea, as I blatantly stole it from Stephanie Pearl McPhee's incredible knitting blog, http://yarnharlot.ca/blog/, where she features such recurring posts as "Random Wednesday".
So Thursdays are now set aside for "Thursday Theories", the point of which will be to share some lessons that I've learned (or that I'm still learning) in this transformative process of growing up. Some will probably be a bit obscure, but for this first "Thursday Theory", I've chosen a topic very close to my heart that I feel is also quite universal: dieting advice.
I know that there is a huge community of people of all ages who are struggling with their weight. I know this not only because I am involved with many of them, but also because the statistics regarding obesity in America are absolutely staggering. For example, while in 1991, no state had obesity levels over 15%, as of 2011, 38 states had obesity levels over 25%! And just for the sake of argument, we are talking about clinical obesity, which is a measurable metric defined as "having a body weight more than 20% greater than recommended for the relevant height and thus at risk from several serious illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease." (Visit http://www.ncsf.org/newsarticles/0-155/2011UpdatedObesityStatistics.aspx for more information on obesity in America.)
A little more than a year ago, Westley and I finally accepted that we were, in fact, members of this obese community. At the time, I was carrying 243 lbs (110 kg) on my 5'4" (1.6 m) frame. I won't reveal Westley's starting weight, but suffice it to say he was also feeling many negative effects. Despite the fact that we had both quit smoking a year prior, neither of us could climb a standard flight of stairs without pausing for breath. We were involved in community theatre and both feeling the recurring sting of our body weight dictating what roles we could (in his case) and couldn't (in my case) play. Even without the added weight, our fast-food-huge-portions-high-sugar-low-vitamin-no-water diets were literally making us sick. With a poorly feuled immune system, I caught every cold and flu that ventured anywhere near South Jersey. I frequently ate so much in an evening that I would wake up in the middle of the night to vomit; not intentionally, but because my body simply could not process the amount of food I was consuming! Westley and I were in love and we realized we were killing ourselves. We wanted a long and happy life together and we knew, just as we had when we had decided to quit smoking together, that it was time to get serious about losing weight.
Now, I could go on for a very long time about our journey over the last year. There were triumphs, disappointments, setbacks, and celebrations aplenty. I could tell you about our early experiences with meetings (we joined Weight Watchers - a responsible, healthful program that I'm happy to suggest to others), struggling with portion control, blowing out my knee the first time I tried to exercise... I could also tell you about great stuff - like the fact that we no longer snore or get sick easily, that last Summer was the first Summer of my adult life that I weighed less than 200 lbs (90.72 kg), or that between the two of us we've lost 140 lbs (63.5 kg)! But the reason I'm really writing this is to share with you one of the most important things I've learned in this process.
Don't eat food you don't like!
Each of us has healthy foods that we can't stand. I think quinoa is disgusting. Okra makes me sick. And frankly - and I know this is generic - I don't like salad. (There's actually one exception - but that's for another day.) When I started my weight-loss program, I was convinced that the only way I was going to manage to consume my fruit-and-veggie requirements, stay full, and stay within my Points (for non-Weight-Watchers, think calories or food rations) was to eat a huge salad every day.
Gross! As The West Wing's Toby once said of his salad "...you can cover this thing in barbecue sauce and it'd still taste like the ground". Exactly. I would choke down these huge meals of raw lettuce and carrots and other assorted weeds and all I could taste was mud. Adding dressing, croutons, and bacon upped the Points values and, so I thought, defeated the purpose. Not to mention when I tried I found myself wanted to drown the blasted vegetation in the stuff.
For months I struggled with this. I would eat these huge disgusting salads, feel full, but still have intense cravings for all the stuff that I was trying to avoid. Walking by the work vending machine without buying Doritos or Hostess - even when I was packed to the gills with romaine - required an act of divine intervention. I was miserable, struggling not with hunger but with cravings every single minute of every single day. I gave in from time to time. I didn't feel like I could help it. I beat myself up about it. I kept eating those damn salads. I kept craving the crap. And though I initially lost a bit of water weight, the subsequent weekly losses were pathetically under par.
One day, I was sharing some of my frustration with my cousin, LittleT, and she said the simplest thing. "If you don't like salad, don't eat it."
It's true. Eating food you enjoy leaves you feeling not just full, but emotionally satisfied. That means it fends off cravings, which are every dieter's true downfall. And just as we all have healthy foods we hate, we ALL have healthy foods we enjoy! Strawberries, clementines, nectarines, green beans, spinach, zucchini, and dozens of other nutrition-packed yummies are on my list. I'm not saying I don't still indulge in a Ben & Jerry's Half Baked binge every now and then, but the desire is much less frequent and I'm capable of saying no if I know I don't have the room in my diet.
On the contrary, eating food you hate feels like punishment, which reminds you that you've been bad to yourself by becoming overweight in the first place, which increases your self-loathing, which kills any self-esteem that early-morning walk might have bought you, which leaves you vulnerable to give in to cravings, which makes you want to punish yourself, which restarts the cycle and ultimately sets you up to fail. But what might be the worst part is that even food you hate is still food! It still has mass and it still has calories - even if it is 0 Points. Add that to everything I've already mentioned and it turns out that eating food you hate can actually contribute to weight gain!!!
And that, my friends, is why salad is bad for me and why brussels sprouts (or cabbage or broccoli or whatever food generally considered 'healthy', but which you absolutely despise) are bad for you.
Now, I've still got a ways to go to meet my goal, but I'm losing steadily again, week by week.
Well, except for over the holidays. That was a disaster.
But I'm back on the horse, so to speak, and so is Westley. We're doing well. We're keeping the kitchen stocked with healthy, low- and 0-Point things we both love. We're happy. We're getting healthy. And we're eating stuff we like. :)