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.


  1. Amazing to think that your heaviest weight is my current weight... which is 30 pounds less than what I DID weigh... mercy. Great tips and I agree... I have found all of theses things to be true... sugar is a toxin for me... if I eat it, I will have to eat more and more and more...
    I'm following you! *Hugs* Heather

  2. Struggling right now, this is the heaviest I have been since I had Kala almost 16 years ago...I'm at 150 and same height as you...booo :( Can't seem to find the time nor the energy to work out much though, have any tips other then getting up at 0'dark 30 and exercising?

  3. Hey Melissa... I am so excited that you started a blog. You are such an inspiration to me. I used to weigh 190 lbs and with the help of Weight Watchers, I lost 55 lbs. Can I ask you how much you weigh now. I am 5'2" and don't like to get below 133 because my face looks so skinny. I try to stay between 134-138. This weight I am at my most comfortable. Thanks for all the great tips too. I love exercising so much that I went back to school and now am a personal trainer. Keep the info coming and look forward to reading all about you!!


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To your health and happiness,