Monday, February 28, 2011


I've been thinking a lot over the last week about why I am the way that I am.

This food and body stuff didn't happen never does, right?

You see...things happened to me as a child that made me feel anxious and insecure.  I was thinking really hard about how this all started, and one of the events I can trace it back to was in first grade.  My teacher asked me to come up in front of the class and start a record we were listening to for our phonics exercise. Yep, that was back in the days of phonics. All I had to do was put the needle on the record.

At first, I was excited that she asked me, but when I got to the record player, I was suddenly shy, nervous and intimidated...and paralyzed by fright.  I stood there before it, unsure of what to do. Finally, my teacher said, "just put the needle on the record!" Her tone, as I recall, was slightly exasperated, like, "let's get this show on the road."

The kids in the class giggled and I slunk back to my desk...mortified.  This gave me a feeling of failure and no faith in my ability to master unfamiliar tasks.

I can think of many more events, and quite a few of them involve my teachers in grade school.  I don't know why these seemingly inconsequential events had such an impact on me... but I think it was because I really put my teachers on pedestals and I was a people-pleaser.  I wanted them to see what a good girl and a good student I was.  I was once publicly humilated by one of my teachers because another boy and I had traded shoes... (weird, I know) something kids did in the 5th grade to indicate they were "dating."  She announced to the class that this kid and I had "officially traded shoes."  The class giggled and bent down to look at my feet.  For some reason, her scornfulness (and their curious attention) made me feel that I didn't deserve a boyfriend, not now...not ever.

And of course, there are the stories of my embarrassment and failure in gym class... being picked last for teams, getting weighed and being almost the fattest in the class, (over 100 lbs in 3rd or 4th grade) having boys call me a fat whale in gym class, tasting blood in my throat after doing a shuttle run...dreading the pull-up test because I knew I would not be able to hang for even 10 seconds.

Paralleling these events in grade school was my chaotic home life and my dad's alcoholism.  I can remember going home at the end of the day, never knowing what I would find.  This jacked my anxiety up to insane levels, and I started having panic attacks at a young age...perhaps nine or ten.  I didn't want to go anywhere that was unfamiliar because it made me feel out of control.  If I tried to sleep over at a friends' house, I would often have panic attacks and insist on leaving once it got dark.  This alienated me even further from my peers and didn't do anything to improve my social standing.  In fact, several girls "dumped" me as a friend after I wussed out at their slumber parties.  I couldn't bear the thought of being in a strange house and having people "fall asleep on me." I liked to be at home where at least there were certain things I could do to master my own surroundings.

I was considering about all of this yesterday as I ran on the treadmill... and I started thinking.  I had this paralyzing anxiety and insecurity as a child and teen, but when I was introduced to alcohol in 1988, I found something that put a band aid on all of it.  I know this isn't going to be a shocking revelation to anyone else who drank to deal with things/feelings... but alcohol was the thing that helped me deal with all emotions...good and bad... well, essentially I mostly used it to not feel.

When I drank, I felt powerful, invincible and strong.  I didn't feel insecure about my body, self-conscious or anxious.  I realized with my first drink that alcohol gave me a coat of armor that nothing could penetrate. It made me oblivious to the world around me and removed my preoccupation with "self." Is anyone looking at me? Are they talking about me? What are they saying? I didn't care when I was drinking.

So, starting at the age of 15, alcohol was the tool I used to NOT get a brief reprieve from my constant self-examination. From that point forward, my development was arrested and I did not experience emotions fully and authentically.  Chemical help enabled me to go out with people and be something I was not.  I didn't have to feel uncomfortable or anxious with alcohol as my companion.

I know lots of people use drinking to loosen up at a social event, which isn't such a big deal, but I always took it to the extreme. I NEEDED alcohol to interact and talk to people.  I had half a box of wine with my old boyfriend Dale before walking across the stage to receive my high school diploma, because I couldn't bear the thought of everyone looking at me and thinking "Hmmm...I think Melissa has gained weight.  Is Melissa getting fatter?"  As if everyone in the audience was fixated ONLY ON ME.  Of course, that's crazy and paranoid, but it was how I felt.

I can remember going to a wedding of a friend when I was 19.  I looked around at the reception hall of people, of girls dressed up in little cocktail dresses, and felt fat and out of place. I imagined them looking at me with scorn and evaluating me.  I felt panic wash over and I knew I would not be able to talk to anyone until I had a few drinks. I went straight to the bar and ordered a beer, and stood there drinking for a half hour or so by myself until the alcohol had taken the edge off my anxiety.

Age 28, feeling fat and out of place at Charlie's Club because my drunken date John was draped across a table of women who were regarding me with reproach.  I quickly excused myself for the "bathroom," went to the bar and downed two shots of Jager.  That did the trick. I returned to the table, not caring what the other women had to say about me.

There are thousands more situations like this where alcohol was my helpful "aide," and I continued to use it into my late 20's... despite many consequences and problems that resulted.  The funny thing that happened though, was that once I got into the later years of my drinking, alcohol no longer worked. It didn't relieve my nervousness, in fact, in made me MORE nervous, especially the next day when I was sobering up and my central nervous system was "waking up" after a night of drinking.  the consequences and painful repercussions far outweighed the brief "pleasant" period.  Also, I didn't have the period of calming buzz and euphoria I loved so well...I was buzzed for maybe a half hour and then went into a blackout.  Buzzed to blackout.

The point of all this, in a nutshell, is that I used alcohol to NOT FEEL from age 15 to age 30.  Here I am at 38, and with going on 8 years logged into recovery, I still feel like a teenager.  I have a lot of trouble asserting myself, and this bothers me.  I've been mulling over this for the past week. Shouldn't I be farther along by now?  Shouldn't I be fixed? Why do I seem to be getting worse?

Throughout the day, things will happen... I'll be put into unpleasant situations... and my mind will scream, THIS IS WHY I DRANK.  I get through it, without alcohol of course... but it doesn't seem to get easier.  Or maybe it does with some things? I can finally dance sober...

Exercise definitely helps me feel strong and in control of myself, it has helped in so many ways.  "Gaining control of the physical body puts you in the driver's seat of life," says the 4-Hour Body guy... and I agree. Exercise has helped me to gain mastery over many things and to see myself as capable and worthy.

(it's so funny... as I am wanting to type "exercise" I keep thinking of the world "ALCOHOL." LOL)

So what's the answer??? I don't know.  Becoming aware is the first step, right? I have become aware recently that I am not as far along as I would hope to be... that I am still a people pleaser at times, I still feel socially awkward most of the time.  I thought it would be getting better, but it's NOT. I thought with practice, it would come easier, but it doesn't.

Anyway, I had a great weekend...Friday night I had a few cheats (pizza, Girl Scout cookies), but Saturday morning I had a hard run and an hour of bootcamp working out with some other folks at the gym, which was great.  Yesterday I had a 4.5 mile run and exercises on the bosu ball. Monday is one of my off-days for exercise.

I am going to keep thinking about this and trying to figure it out... what it comes down to is that my poor body image made alcohol the perfect solution to my problems at the time... but after many years of using it as a coping mechanism, I am still trying to put the pieces together and figure out who I am.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Answers to Questions

Morning everyone!

Thanks for following my blog, I am excited about it! It was also great to reconnect with Christina again, but old fitness friend from the AOL journal days! We have been comparing notes on our different diet/exercise plans which has been fun.

Lately, I've been getting some questions from various people on the internet and also in real life about why I eat the way I do... so let's clear a few things up.

1. I am not trying to lose weight, just maintain.
2. No, I don't think I'm "fat," but like most women I have insecurities about my body.
3. I don't think any food should be forbidden, even if it's straight lard.
4. I don't think fruits, grains and dairy are BAD... per se... just dangerous for me.

My eating plan may seem drastic to people (the way I essentially avoid simple carbs, fruit and dairy). I don't advocate that everyone do it this way... and some people's metabolisms are able to tolerate more carbs/fruit. Many people I know eat whole grains and fruits regularly and have no problems keeping their weight off/down. I have just found though that my body LOVES to store carbs, so I avoid 'em. In fact, almonds, cheese, fruit, nuts, and nut butters (seemingly innocent in moderation) have derailed my progress on more than one occasion.  They are like "trigger" foods for me, much like sugar, which means once I start in with them I have a lot of trouble stopping.

I think my metabolism was ruined as a child...making my body predisposed to storing anything that is not protein or fiber (or a vitamin/mineral-haha). Of course this is kind of my own theory and I have not proven this beyond a shadow of a doubt... all I know is that when I start adding my off-limits stuff back in on a regular basis (and believe me, I have done it) my weight starts edging upward. I start to think, "oh I can have whole grain bread, just a few slices" "I can have cheese, just this once" etc.. and then I start craving more and more. Maybe it's my predisposition to addiction that makes me this way... but I tend to have very all-or-nothing views in certain areas.

My eating system operates on the glycemic index. I have done a lot of blood-sugar checking in the past to test my body's response to certain foods, and since I pretty much eat the same things most days, I don't need to check all the time.  On cheat days or when eating new foods, I will check out of curiosity more than anything.  I don't eat foods that increase my blood sugar over 100 mg/dl. Nothing I eat really raises it much, except nuts maybe. Elevated blood sugar=insulin spike=fat storage for me. Of course, there are exceptions to this - for example after doing a hard workout, a lot of people like to eat carbs/fructose to replenish glucose stores, and I am not against this because it's going right into your muscles anyway - just don't take in more than you need.

For me though, I have altered my body's system to where it burns fat primarily for fuel - not carbs.  Because of my lower carb diet - I have trained my body to operate like this. Most people favor burning carbs - which is efficient and not bad... but for people like me who like to store everything as fat... burning fat for fuel is where it's my opinion. LOL 

I have also asked one of my professors about my diet and if there are any dangers involved in primarily burning fat for fuel (I can't think of any, but it helps to get an expert opinion, right? LOL) he seems to think it works very well for me and I shouldn't change anything.  So, that is the name of the game, finding a system that works for your own body.

Don't get me wrong - I am not "carb-phobic." I eat around 100 grams of carb a day (average American eats 300-350) but mine are from beans, nuts and vegetables.

As for dairy - I've never been a big fan. I have hated milk since I was a child, so I don't miss it. I think dairy is overrated, personally. I get plenty of calcium through other foods. I find it to be irritating to my digestive system and makes me bloated and sluggish. Yogurt is ok in my opinion ONLY if it's the plain variety - because it contains healthy bacteria - probiotics. I did make a mental note to start eating some for this reason... but haven't gotten around to it. Sadly, most yogurt on the store shelves (Activia, Yoplait, etc. ) is swimming with sugar - about 25 g per serving - so be careful!

I do eat eggs (yolks included... they have a lot of healthy minerals - choline-) you cannot get elsewhere - and the cholesterol argument is old and flawed. Yes, eggs have a lot of cholesterol, but EATING it will not necessarily raise your blood cholesterol. Eating refined carbs will. Yolks also raise levels of good (HDL) cholesterol. I eat a lot of eggs and my cholesterol is 155.

I also eat butter.. not tons, but a tablespoon or so per serving. Butter/fat helps me feel satiated and I find I NEED this. The low fat route sucks and doesn't work for me. Fat is essential and necessary for cell function. My diet is probably 40% fat. If you get a chance, rent the documentary "Fathead." Amazing. Shatters old beliefs/myths about fat making you fat.

I don't eat grains much for the same reason as dairy - they make me feel bloated and give me terrible stomach cramps and pain.  I used to eat a huge baggie of Triscuits every day at work - and every afternoon I would be doubled over with stomach pain.  Guess what? I quit eating them and the pain went away.  Grains just seem irritating to my system or something! I feel so much better when I am just eating protein, veg and beans.. I have tons of energy and my system seems to run much smoother.

Another thing that helps burn fat is to make sure you're eating a high protein breakfast as soon after you wake up as possible - say 30 grams or so. This will help you burn more fat throughout the day.

Sometimes it sucks to think about food all the time... I wish I could just be a regular person in life who eats and doesn't think about.   My husband is funny like that. He tells me, "here's my diet plan. I get hungry. I eat. I wait a while. I get hungry again, so I eat." Simple. haha.  He has a reserve problem, though, wanting to PUT ON WEIGHT... so he has the same fixation... just opposite of mine... haha

I guess it comes from years of being fat and then years of losing and regaining... I don't want to go through that again... and now that I've found what works for me, I don't have to!!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Works for Me

I saw this lady at the mall last week...she was pushing a stroller with two kids and dragging a third by the hand. This woman was morbidly obese, trying to manage these three kids by herself.  We went into the same shoe store. I watched her struggling to bend down and put shoes on her kids' feet.  Every movement seemed to require a great effort.

I observed her discreetly and felt a huge amount of empathy. Being fat is hard. Caring for kids by yourself is hard, doing it carrying around an extra 200 pounds is next to impossible.

Being in her presence really drove home the fact that I REALLY REALLY want to help people live healthier lives. I watched her and I felt her pain, I mean I could relate. I think my history of being fat and overcoming it is almost more remarkable than my decision to quit drinking. Both were addictions I struggled to beat. The thing with food of course, though, is that you cannot just "stop eating."

I was overweight most of my life up until I turned 30 and decided some drastic things needed to happen. I wouldn't have been categorized as "morbidly obese," but carrying 185 pounds on a 5'3" frame definitely made life difficult.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the days when I struggled to lose weight, to find motivation to exercise and to stick with my resolve to lead a healthier life. I can remember thinking, "I just wish someone would give me something that would work. If I could JUST SEE RESULTS, I would stick with it."  I was super motivated to lose weight, which was probably why I tried so many things. So many things that didn't work. If someone had just been able to give me the secret...

Do I have the secret now? Well, sort of. Partially, maybe. At the very least, I have something that works for me, after years of trial and error.

Soooo.... here's a list of things that DON'T work for me...

1. Relying on diet pills to lose/maintain.
2. Telling myself I can "NEVER" have a certain food.
3. Obsessing over the scale.
4. Beating myself up for missing a workout.
5. Requiring myself to exercise every single day.
6. Being rigid and inflexible. (overly strict)

Here's what DOES work for me...
1. Allowing myself "cheat" meals each week. I eat clean, to the best of my ability, Sun-Thurs.  Friday is designated a "squishy" day. This means I do "soft" cheating. LOL It is certainly not a "whole-hog" day - but I do allow myself a few deviations from my regular diet. A few examples are, sugar-free vanilla lattes from McDonald's (I usually avoid artificial sweeteners) protein bars (I usually avoid packaged food of all kinds unless it is a "cheat" day) my favorite protein bars are from GNC. They're called "Oh Yeah" in the peanut butter variety. Seriously, it tastes like a Kit Kat with peanut butter - I adore the taste and texture. I also like the Supreme Protein bars. Tastes like a candy bar and does not raise my blood sugar - although they do contain chemicals/additives which can throw off the body's natural fat-burning hormones - so these are a treat, not a staple of my diet.  I only eat them 1-2 days/week. Other "squishy" day favorites include peanut butter, almonds, other nuts, raisins and Carb Smart ice cream...another fave that does not raise blood sugar!

Saturdays are my "free" day. This is a work in progress. Some days, I go "whole-hog," where I overdo it, feel sick and have a food hangover the next day. This probably happens every third Saturday. I do try to be thoughtful about my food choices because I enjoy it much more when I put thought into what I want.  I always start the day with my normal, healthy protein breakfast and do an extra long workout as "insurance."  Then, if possible, I enjoy my cheat foods between noon and early evening and stop eating after that to minimize the damage.  For example, this past Saturday, my cheats were 4 Girl Scout cookies (PB patties), 3 pieces of Tombstone pizza, a handful of chips (stale, ugh!) and a huge bowl of Carb Smart.  I thought later it would've been really good to crush up some Thin Mint cookies in the Carb Smart...maybe next week.  I was really happy with my control on this day - I didn't go overboard - but still got to have what I wanted! (I ate my normal "clean" foods for my other meals). I also felt great the next day. 

I've been having weekly cheat days for two months now, (I NEVER used to do that - I was always too afraid of weight gain) and I've actually LOST a few pounds! So it's definitely not hurting me - and my brain hates long-term deprivation - so it's a great solution.  I used to get bummed because I wouldn't allow myself to enjoy the little treats in life that other people take part in seemingly without thinking. For example, my husband and I used to like going to the DQ on Friday nights, get a treat and drive around our neighborhood. A simple little pleasure. Well, I would always force myself to have a "crappy" treat, like a fat-free fudge bar or something.. what fun is that??? hahaha I was so fearful that having what I REALLY wanted (a peanut buster parfait) would totally derail my progress and make me gain millions of pounds. Realistic, right? haha!! Well, I was really sucking the fun out of life by NEVER allowing myself to have a treat. If I want a piece of cake at my kid's birthday party, well damnit, I'm going to have it and NOT feel bad about it.  Now that I allow myself  "fun" foods, I feel like I'm even more disciplined during the week, because I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel...AND I have proven to myself that a couple of treats per week will NOT lead to weight gain, as long as I stick to my plan the rest of the time.  Not only that, but after a day of indulging, I cannot WAIT to get back on my regular food plan. I always have a kick-ass workout on Sundays, too... to burn off some extra stores :)

3. Drinking water. I used to HATE drinking water...thought it was boring, time consuming and disliked making frequent trips to the bathroom. LOL  Well, I have read a lot lately about the importance of water. Water flushes out your liver, which plays a huge role in fat metabolism/storage. If your liver is not functioning properly, it cannot effectively do its job! Now I carry water with me at all times to ensure my liver can be a fat-burning machine.

4.  I do not expect things to happen overnight. My old dieting days were always filled with despair because I wanted things to happen instantly. I was going for a quick fix and not a lifelong plan I could live with. Now, I honestly feel like I am working a plan I can live with. 

5. I am not a slave to the scale or the measuring tape. (or the calipers!) I really try not to weigh myself more than once a week. The scale is just another measurement tool and there are great fluctuations in weight due to food, hydration, menstrual cycle, time of day...etc.  If I stay within a 5 lb window, I feel I am doing fine. Seriously, I used to FREAK OUT if my weight was up a pound or two one day...thinking I was surely on the fast track to fatsville.

6. I take days off from working out. There was a time when I ran EVERY DAY for an entire year. I did not give myself one day off. Ridiculous. That was getting a bit obsessive. Plus, I didn't lose any weight!!! I think it was all the cortisol I was flooding my system with!  My current schedule is running  Sat/Sun/Tues/Thurs and weight training on two of those days.  I very rarely take more than two days off in a row from working out...usually I work out every other day and try to be active on the other days. This is not hard for me to do since I have two small kids and a house to keep up... plus hiking around campus is good exercise, too!

6.  It's a constant battle - but I have learned portion control.  I start out a meal with about half as much as I think I need, and I try to eat mindfully.  I CHEW my food thoroughly (what a concept) and drink water with my meal.  If I think I want more, I try to make a conscious effort to wait about 15 minutes before I get seconds, so I can see if I am TRULY full.  This has worked wonders for me, this "delaying gratification." A lot of my feeding behavior before used to be very reflexive and impulsive, I would grab food and shove it in my mouth without thinking.  Now I also try to avoid eating in my car and other places where I don't have to pay attention.

7.  I avoid "white stuff" like the plague.  That means all sugar, white bread, pasta, starch, refined carbs...etc. Sugar/junk carbs-> insulin spike-> fat storage for me.  I also pretty much avoid grains... not necessarily because I think they are "bad," more because of how they make me feel - bloated, sluggish, not good. (unless it is Saturday of course and then all bets are off :D

8. I don't drink (as most of you know) and try to avoid other chemicals (over the counter meds, cough syrup, artificial anything).  Alcohol slows down your metabolism, taxes your liver and is a zero-elimiation substance - meaning your body must get rid of it before it will use any other calories for energy.

Yeah, it sucks to think about food all the time, and believe me, I do. I guess that comes from being a former fat person, I constantly think I am going to LOSE IT (my fitness, that is) although I know that is not possible as long as I continue eating right and exercising.

I found an old diet log from 3 years ago - and I actually weigh 10 pounds less right now than I did at the time of writing that log - and I've had TWO kids since then! I was pretty amazed by that!  Oh yeah, I also keep diet logs from time to time... which I despise. hahaha. I know all the "experts" suggest it's a great tool for keeping weight off - but since I basically eat the same things day after day, I don't see much point in it - however I do it from time to time just to get a sense of what I am eating.  In fact, I did it last week, and found my average calorie intake per day is 1952 kcals. Whoopie.

Soooo.... I can say I have kept my weight off successfully for 8 years by doing the above things...and a few more.  I'm never there, though... I'm always reaching for something else.

The more I think of it though... the more I think I want to help people develop a plan that will work for them... so they don't have to carry around extra baggage and be miserable.