I DID IT!

40 pounds in 15 months! I did it! Sure, yeah, my goal was 45, but I aimed a bit high on purpose so that even if I didn’t reach it within my timeframe, I’d still have made a significant change. And I have.

Before | During | After
Before | During | After

I miss those black sandals. And as for the tres chic bandana, it was cleaning day, and I was growing out my bangs. And as soon as I brought that pink dress home, the Empress has been asking for us to have a Mommy-daughter princess dress date, so we did that yesterday. I would like to point out that not only is it a full — and pleated! — skirt, but it’s also very heavily textured, all elements I used to think of as off-limits because they just didn’t work on me.

I wasn’t, to begin with, all that fat. And I still don’t look all that skinny. I still fold and jiggle some, and need megaduty running bras. My hip bones aren’t visible; my thighs still touch. I still wear a large in a lot of things. But I feel good about my body for the first time — ever. Not perfect, but good. I think it’s rather telling that in the first two photos, which I took for profile/progress images for MyFitnessPal, I was literally in the closet with the door shut (the mirror’s on the inside of the door, but still). And for the “after” photo, I not only came outside, I even handed the camera to someone else. It’s a strange feeling asking someone to take my picture, when I’ve spent most of my adult life actively avoiding being photographed.

What worked:

  • Calorie tracking. I slacked off once I learned my normal meals’ calorie content, but when my progress stalled, I started up logging my food again, and it worked every time. How many things can you say that about?
  • Soylent. It’s not as glamorous as, say, pan-seared salmon with arugula or whatever, but it’s a tasty 400 calorie meal every time. And most important, it’s quicker, easier, and (sometimes) cheaper than drive-thru.
  • Yoga. 30 minutes, 3-4 mornings a week. Sometimes 40-45 minutes … but usually not. I YouTubed “strength yoga,” collected the ones that looked interesting into playlists organized by length, and picked one from the list each morning. I saved the ones I liked in a “Yoga — Favorites” list.
  • Timeframe, not pound/size goals. Instead of having an indefinite future of asceticism stretching out before me until I lost X pounds or could fit into X size, I gave myself a deadline. I’ll do these things for this long, I decided, and then I’ll accept the progress that results. Even if it’s not the specific pounds-lost target I’d had in mind.
  • Be hungry. Yeah, sometimes, you’re just hungry. Out of calories for the day, saving up for a big dinner, etc.; it sucks. A lot. This is why having a deadline was so important — it helped to remember hey, it’s only until mid-March; I can hang in there until then. Probably.
  • Be mindful about “free appetizers.” Sometimes I’d actually sit on my hands at restaurants until my food arrived, to keep from eating my weight in chips, salsa, and queso, or those wonderful steakhouse rolls. It’s so hard not to snack on them before your meal, and they turn a 500-600 calorie meal into an 900-1000+ one really quickly. (I invariably give up at Italian places, and go ahead and enjoy the bread and oil; it’s my favorite thing there.)
  • Re-read my favorite books. Yes, it is relevant. I’ve read that revisiting “familiar fictional worlds” can help bolster or replenish willpower, and I can use all the (free) help I can get in that regard. So the last few months, when it was harder to stay motivated, I re-read a few of my favorites and left my ‘to-read’ shelf (… shelves) alone for a while.

What didn’t work:

  • Breakfast. When I ate a full breakfast, I stayed hungry all day. When I skipped breakfast, or had just, oh, a grapefruit or an apple, it was easier to have a small lunch, minimal or no snack, and a lower-calorie dinner.
  • Adjusting calorie allowances with workouts. I’d overestimate the number of calories my workout burned, eat that much more, and still be hungry. So I’d eat even more. Then I wouldn’t lose any weight, and I’d be sad. So — learning! — I stopped. I also looked for workouts that didn’t make me quite as ravenous. Now that I’m focusing on maintenance, I hope to start stepping up the intensity of my workouts — I’ll [try to] keep you updated on how that goes.
  • Totalitarian prohibitions. “Diets” of absolutism just piss me off. The &!%# you mean, no bread? No dessert, no alcohol? Kiss my shrinking ass. I’ll have a scotch or (and) a slice of cheesecake if I want, thankyouverymuch. If I need to eat salad* with no cheese** and no croutons*** for the next two meals to rebalance, then that’s exactly what I’ll do.
  • “Motivational” images. Delete the thinspiration pinboard altogether — stop looking at fashion mags, sighing, ‘ah, once I’m thin’ — no. Put down the Pin It button and step away from your monitor for a while. Forgo magazines and Pinterest, fashion Tumblrs, etc. altogether if you need to. I did. Your body’s not shaped for clothes or cameras — it’s shaped for staying alive. (Aaaaaaand now that’s going to be stuck in my head all day.) It’s also conveniently shaped for experiencing the world! Look around; drink it in. Look, especially, at what beautiful things humans like us have made when they weren’t spending every waking moment thinking about how they looked. Stunning architecture. Exquisite gardens. Shiny Ferraris. Whatever. I think we should look out from our bodies a lot more than we look at them.

What happened:

  • 40 pounds lost (at least, since I didn’t weigh myself until I was already down a size or so).
  • Size 16 to size 8/10 (though being between sizes still sucks, unfortunately, in a very first-world-problems sort of way).
  • Strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility have improved a whole lot (but I haven’t taken any objective measurements of them, either before or after, so I can’t say precisely how much).
  • Still parenthetically qualifying my statements (though I haven’t — obviously — tried too hard to break myself of that).

What now:

  • Look at more shiny Ferraris, obviously.
  • Focus more on performance — how many pushups/situps/lunges can I do now? How far, how fast can I run and bike? Let’s inch those upwards, a little at a time.
  • Accept that my body will keep changing from now on, responding both to my actions and also to things I cannot begin to understand, let alone control.
  • Read new books!

*I actually really like salad. But I like, you know, snobby salads. Multicolored arrangements of things like dried figs, zucchini ribbons, toasted capers, and so forth.

**Why do restaurants put gummy shredded cheese on every salad these days, by the way? I mean, don’t get me wrong, cheese is lovely — good cheese is lovely — but seriously? Shredded american to fancy up a limp iceberg salad? I don’t think so.

***All croutons are not created equal, either. Naturally. Good ones add a beautiful and delicious layer of texture to a salad; sub-par ones just make them more caloric.

 

 

(Ah-ah-ah-ah-stayin’-aliiiiiiiiii…)

Goals, Schmoals.

They say not to share your goals. I can see it, though I rather suspect that it has more to do with the advisors being sick of hearing others’ goals all the dang time, but … that’s fine. So I won’t tell you my goals for the year. Instead, I’ll share some of my current interests — and some related questions I hope to answer in the coming months.

Biking! I bought myself a bike for Christmas. Well … sort of — it was a cooperative effort and gifted money, and required not one, not two, but THREE trips to another city to actually acquire. She’s quite cantankerous that way. So that’s her name: Cantankerous. She still needs a cleanup, and … bike-smart people … to give her a once-over, but she’s mine. I love her already.

img_4398

  • Question: Can I make it to, and back from, the nearest grocery store (or the second-nearest, the one with the cashew milk the Empress drinks) for milk/diaper runs without:
    • a) getting run over, by accident or on purpose?
    • b) collapsing in a wheezing heap?
    • c) running into anything myself?
    • d) getting my beautiful Cantankerous stolen?
  • Bonus Question: Er … how do you raise the handlebars? And aren’t the brakes supposed to work?

Building and Making and Sewing, oh my!

  • Question: Can I actually build those nightstands I cooked up? Er, can I build even one? And if I can, can I then build the dining room table?And will the table’s waterfall edge really look as snazzy as I hope? And will having a counter bench (oh, right, can I build that, too?) make up for losing that end of seating?
  • More Important Question: If I can build the table, how will it perform vis-à-vis pop-tart goo?
  • Sewing Questions: How do you sew with jersey knits? Do I want to make a dress form? How much sewing would I need to be doing to make that worth the time, money, and space? WHERE THE HECK DO YOU BUY THE PRE-PLEATED KNIT FROM MY FAVORITE SKIRT?! I mean, they had to get it from somewhere.

Fitness! I’m closing in! Well … sort of. I was closing in, until the #%^&$! holidays. I can accept that my progress stalled over the past few weeks, but enough is enough.

  • Question: Is my current plan of soup/salad/soylent for one meal per day, </= 1600 cal. total per day, going to be workable for my whole timeline, which is from now until the start of Spring? Should I lower it (1500? 1400?) or if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it? Will there be anything — anything — in my closet that fits at that point?
  • Bonus question: Are those muddy 5Ks as fun as they look?

3 changes that kicked my weight loss into high gear

You know that Robert Frost poem?The one that’s an obviously perfect setup for a bloody paranormal massacre or a good serial killer chase scene — that’s really just a lengthy rumination on taking a walk?

I … didn’t actually have a point with that. I’ve just always felt that way about “The Road Not Taken,” and I wanted to tell somebody.

Wait — no — I did have a point. There are an awful lot of directions to take when you’re trying to lose weight. From others, and from our own heads. Some of those directions or strategies are better than others; most of them are right for someone. But honestly, I don’t have the time or energy (or, you know, money) for a lot of them. (Eat five — FIVE?! — eggs every morning within thirty minutes of waking up? Seriously?) So they’re not right for me.

I’ve been working to lose weight — without going too insane or upsetting the balance of my delicate family routine too much, which rather tempers the drama of my numbers — since January. Sometime around mid-June, I made a few changes to my strategy, and my progress increased dramatically. Between January and mid-June, I’d lost a measly 7.6 pounds. Sadface. From mid-June to mid-October, I lost seventeen. Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causality, and it’s, objectively, still an embarrassingly small number, but at least it’s a bigger small number. And, you know, doesn’t slow and steady win the race?

Don’t answer that.

Also … the changes I made are kind of weird. But hey, they’re working for me, for now, so I won’t knock it. I’ll just share how it’s going, and hope it helps someone.

Change #1: Black Coffee.

No, I’m not kidding. I’ve been drinking coffee-flavored sugar milk most of my life. It’s delicious. We both know it. I was eventually able to move to just milk (or cream …) and I did, indeed, grow to love it, too. (Caffeine’s a drug, did you know?) Lattes are the best. Whole milk lattes. Mmmm … But black?! No way.

Yes, way. I realized that I was drinking so much milkfat in my daily coffees I might as well be eating a whole ‘nother meal, and wondered if I cut that out, if it would make any difference. So I started by taking an undoctored sip of my morning brew, shuddering violently, and then putting in the half-n-half as usual. Then two sips. Then four. After a couple of weeks, I was drinking it black. I’ve started treating lattes as the indulgence they are — and getting them sparingly enough to truly enjoy them. (And yes, I still enjoy the heck out of them. But I don’t like sweet coffee drinks at all anymore. Go figure.)

Change #2: Less Cardio, More Yoga

Not me. Not even close. But honestly, once I knew this picture existed, there was no possible way I would not share it with you. You’re welcome.

Yep, you read that right, too. I’ve discovered that doing a four- or five-hundred calorie workout every day (or so) makes me hungry. Really hungry. Eat-every-scrap-in-the-house hungry. Yoga, on the other hand, doesn’t. So I’m doing yoga most mornings instead of riding my exercise bike, usually just picking a youtube video at random based on how long I have until it’s time to get ready. I think I’m averaging four or five mornings a week, usually a thirty-minute practice or so? Something like that. And I’ve never been, or felt, stronger in my life. I can tell a huge difference in the muscle tone — and stability — of my arms and even more in my legs. It’s most evident, to me, when I’m carrying my six year old (the Acrobat) because he’s pretending to be too sleepy for school, or when I’m getting up off the ground for the latest game of Angry Minnie with my daughter, the Empress. (In Angry Minnie — the Empress’s idea — I make her Minnie Mouse have a pretend tantrum so that she can be the mommy and help her calm down. It’s the most confusing game ever.)

I’m not saying I don’t do anything cardiovascular — just that I’m not really doing it for its own sake (or to up my daily calorie allotment) anymore. I’m sometimes going for a walk in the park or around the neighborhood at lunchtime, because October, amiright? I also want to get my bike out more often, but something’s up with the wheels, and I need to get it fixed, and … okay, that’s probably going to have to be a different Next Big Thing, most likely. Anyway, less cardio, more yoga.

I’ll be adding the higher-intensity cardio back in — I’m actually missing running, in fact, which is highly astonishing — either when I get close to my goal weight or when my loss starts slowing down; I’ll let you know how it goes.

And finally, Change #3: Soylent, Cake Batter of the Gods.

I told you about the MyFitnessPal recipe importer; I had this whole elaborate evil plan, doing all sorts of cooking for myself most meals, and basing my menu on recipes I’d saved. Well …

Best-laid plans, etc. And I forgot to recruit any minions. Turns out they’re pretty necessary.

I’ve done a lot of the strategizing work, but I’m finding that for myself, the time preparing and cleaning up from meals I make just for me is just enough of a hassle to make me not actually make them, no matter how delicious the recipes sound. Because it’s so much easier (and faster, and less messy) to make mac and cheese or grab a Schlotzsky’s Original. Which, done often enough, becomes rather hard on the wallet, among other things.

So, enter Soylent. Now, on the whole, I regard meal replacement shakes with roughly the same level of appreciation as, say, cockroaches. The Lone Surviving Cockroach was cute in Wall-E, but in real life the ubiquitous buggers can die in a fire. I was also deeply repulsed by the “cupcake — in a cup!” from that movie.

I evidently hadn’t tried Soylent yet.

Soylent is a(n allegedly) nutritionally-complete meal replacement shake. It’s not designed for weight loss specifically, just for sustenance. Keeping us alive. I’ve been drinking it for breakfast/lunch a few meals a week for the past few months and haven’t died yet. Which just shows you.

Food-as-fuel is not my cup of tea (or cupcake). Food is an experience, a pleasure, a thrilling, wonderful, beautiful part of our all-too-brief stint in corporeality. It’s one of the few things that we can share wholeheartedly, no matter how little else we have in common. Even if we agree on nothing else, I bet we can find something we both love to eat if we try.

So why on earth am I drinking a beige slush for lunch?

Because it’s good. (Especially with a bit of cinnamon, or cocoa powder, or PB2, but on its own, too. It really tastes like cake batter. Without the [unheeded] fear of salmonella.) Because it’s filling, fast, and easy. And most of all, because the more of my dollars and calories I save when I eat on my own, the more I can indulge on my shared meals. So the easier it is to actually enjoy the nine hundred and eighty-seventh time we go to Whataburger because it’s one of the — literally — five restaurants at which the Acrobat will eat. (Their Monterey Melt is pretty amazing, I’ve got to say. I get the junior size. Jalapeños make everything better.)

On the days when I do Soylent, I’m drinking a glass of it — a 9 oz. glass is about half a serving, roughly 250 calories — for breakfast around 10:30, then another for lunch at about 12:30 or 1:00. Then I have a small snack, 100-200 calories or so, around 2 (and another cup of coffee, naturally), and then I’m definitely ready for dinner come 5:30 or so. And since I’ve only had about 6-700 calories for the day thus far, I can indulge a bit more at dinner, when I’m hungriest. And if I don’t go too crazy with dinner, I’ll have a snack or a nightcap after the kids go to bed.

It’s working for me, for now.

I’ll let you know when I get tired of it, or try something new. (If I remember.)

Fashion, via Listmaking

It is okay not to give two hoots what you wear. It’s okay to have no emotional or intellectual connection with your clothing apart from its utility (or keeping-you-from-being-arrested-ity, or whatever). There is nothing wrong with not caring about your attire.

I do care about mine. That’s okay, too. I find a great deal of gleeful passion in [… I really am going to rhyme, aren’t I? I’m sorry about this …] fashion. I love wearing beautiful things. I love thinking about and refining my own tastes in clothing and accessories, and what looks most pleasing (in my opinion) on my own silhouette, with my own coloring.

I believe that attire is in itself a language. It is a tool for communication and influence. It’s also a medium of creative self-expression. And the more nuanced a grasp we have of this language and the ways it can be used, the more control we have over what we “say” with it. The better we understand the language, the more effective our expression.

HOWEVER.

This does not mean, in any way, that there is ever any justification for treating someone poorly based on their appearance. It’s great to like what you like, sartorially-speaking. (And otherwise.) To explore and ethically pursue, to shop for and design, what you like. But it’s never okay to hurt or belittle other people because their choices are different from yours, or because they aren’t, or don’t look like, what you like. This is something that bothers me greatly about so much fashion advice and discussion — the notion that to talk about what you like, you have to denigrate what you don’t.

You really don’t.

***

I’m a list maker. Of course I am.

And I’m losing weight rather steadily at the moment, which is a new, surprising, and mostly lovely experience. However, less lovely-ly, that means that fewer and fewer of my clothes actually fit. So I’m slowly losing the wardrobe I’ve spent my entire adult life assembling. This is not a problem — it’s just happening, I’m dealing with it, so I’m sharing it with you. Some of my things can be taken in, if I get around to it (odds are … less-than-favorable on that) but most of them can’t.

What does this mean for me? More lists, of course! And eventual shopping, hopefully. But first, lists!

I’m wanting to rebuild my wardrobe, little by little. I’m not a minimalist, but I do like the idea of keeping my closet relatively streamlined; for me that means having a (flexible) strategy lined out before leaping in, wallet blazing.

Have you ever read Nina Garcia’s lovely little book The One Hundred? It’s a list of the pieces she sees as essential for a stylish wardrobe. And I wondered, of course, what would be my 100 pieces? Or, in some cases, categories — because there is no chance I’d limit myself to a single hat, for instance. Come on.

I also wondered, returning to the real (well, real-ish) world for a teeny moment, what would be the best allocation of funds for those pieces? Where might it make the most impact to spend a bit (a little bit — Nine West, say, not Louboutin) more, and what pieces could be clearance, second-hand, discount store, etc.? I believe that the most visible, durable, and/or outfit-defining pieces should be the ones on which to splurge. Getting my money’s worth, to me, means personal emotional impact each time I wear a piece, being able to wear it often, and being able to wear it for many years.

So I’ve put together a checklist of the essentials for my wardrobe. I’ve broken it into two sections, SPEND and SAVE, because I’m helpful like that and this seemed like a surprisingly logical place to use the poor, overused 80/20 rule.

So, without further ado, here you are! My list:

80-20-pieces

Why — and How — I’m Using MyFitnessPal

It’s all about calories.

There. I said it. I didn’t want it to be. I spent years of my life believing weight loss was all about activity — that if you just keep moving, you’ll be thin no matter what you eat. But that, apparently, is not the case. At least, it hasn’t been for me*.

I’m finding, for myself, that recording my calories — even imprecisely — is the ticket when it comes to losing weight. I’m shooting for, and mostly hitting, about 1600 calories a day or fewer. And I’m finding that on the weeks when I log what I eat, the number on my scale drops. Weeks when I don’t, it rises or holds steady.

Hardly a clinical study, I admit, but compelling enough for me.

I’m using MyFitnessPal on my phone as my meal tracker, and like it a lot. You can use it to record your meals (I do), how much water you drink (pffft — nah), your weight (I … grudgingly do), and I’m sure many other valuable things that I don’t have or make time for. Oh, and if you work out, you can add the workout and it will adjust the number of calories you “can” have that day. It also has a pedometer, and you can have it adjust your target calories as you take more steps during the day.

MyFitnessPal also has a very useful tool on their website (MyFitnessPal.com > Food > Recipes) where you can upload your recipes or import ones from other sites and it’ll calculate the calories per serving. If you’re just linking to a recipe on someone else’s site, though, you want to take a quick look at the ingredients before saving it. It sometimes likes to decide that, instead of a teaspoon of sea salt, you’re adding a cupful of sweet potato fries with sea salt. Which, as you might imagine, does affect the outcome a tad. But it’s still a much easier process than I’d expected, even having to change a few ingredients back to their intended form now and then.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries (Courtesy of Sally’s Baking Addiction and included merely because I like food porn; I haven’t tried this actual recipe yet, but it’s a good bet I will.)

What’s interesting is that I often eat more food when I’m logging what I eat. Fewer calories, but more food. I snack more, my meals are more interesting and colorful, and I generally feel better about the food itself.

The trouble, of course, is when eating out. It’s quite easy to plan a <500 calorie meal for yourself (notice I didn’t say shop for, prepare, package, store, serve, or clean up from that meal — those things I’ll discuss a bit, hopefully, in a later post). It’s less easy to eat a <500 calorie meal at, say, Buffalo Wild Wings. Especially if you’ve come to regard the salads at such deep-frier-topias with a hefty amount of suspicion. I do eat out a fair amount, though, and often at national chains, so I thought I’d occasionally do posts on what options I have when eating at some of them. No promises, though.

*Okay, okay, there are many paths to weight loss, and different strategies work better for some people, others for others. And there is definitely much more to nutrition than mere caloric content. And I am also exercising, yes, most days of the week, doing yoga most mornings before anyone else is up. But doing so has more to do with strength and stamina (not to mention shape) than weight itself, I’m reading lately. The thing is, calorie counting is working for me whether I work out or not. 

Food + Beauty + Pleasure + Health

My grandfather infested our house while I was at school one day. I was in, what, seventh grade? Eighth? Many years before “meme” was in widespread non-academic use.

I came home, the dented blue Bronco was parked outside, and Grandpa sat enthroned in the front room. Over the sound of Western No. 1 (of the 5,987,345 that would echo, deafeningly, through our house while he lived there) he rasped, “Well, Melissa, you’re getting fat.” Before saying hello or anything.

I’ve thought I was fat most of my life. Not because of him, just in general. It’s a sort of guiding obsession among the women in my family … and at the schools I attended … and everywhere I’ve worked.

Or talked with anyone.

Or been.

A bearded stranger at a coffeeshop today, an older man, garrulous (to the point of obnoxiousness), told me without provocation that coffee would stunt my growth and ruin my basketball career. He then — because I apparently hadn’t yet been sufficiently reminded that my body is available for comment and censure by virtue of its recognizable femaleness —  assured me that there were absolutely no calories in the pastries on display. Because all women are on diets. Or perhaps all who look like me ought to be.

You know — well, you probably don’t, so I’ll tell you — I’ve actually been fat a couple of times. After each of my two children were born. Not health-threateningly obese, but, you know, quite fat enough to be invisible. If you’ve been there, you know; there’s a fat invisibility threshold, and once you pass it you become The Invisible Woman. No one makes small talk with you while you check out at the grocery store. People avert their eyes, hoping if they ignore you, you’ll go away. I can say from personal experience that this is a very unwelcoming world to be fat in. But I am not, in fact, fat at the moment.

Talking about dieting, or counting calories, or working out is almost always … fraught. And doubly so if someone in the conversation blithely assumes (protip: NEVER ASSUME) that the other(s) are dissatisfied with their own health or appearance, or are primarily concerned about their food from a health or weight-management stance.

But even if you’re not assuming that — even if, in fact, you’re just talking about your own weight, your own food, your own metabolism or exercise regimen, the discussion’s almost always antagonistic anyway. Like you’re always outside of your body, hollering at it, drill-sergeant-style, to be better already. And if you don’t have that tone, others will helpfully provide it.

So the fact that one of my Next Big Things — my endeavors, my projects, call them what you will — is, in fact, losing weight, seems kind of disingenuous. Because I’m so stridently opposed to the body policing, particularly of female bodies, that pervades our culture. And it’s so pervasive that even talking solely about my own body and choices somehow gets added to that pile.

See, I’m working to go from the higher side of pleasantly average, weight- and size-wise, to the lower side. And I have found that any time I talk about that pursuit outside my inner circle, the response is almost always, “You don’t want to …” or “But you’re not fat” or the ubiquitous, defensive “I just love food too much.”

So I don’t talk about it, because who has time for that? and I’ve decided … that’s not really okay. That’s not helpful, not for me or anyone else. Sure, not talking about it with particular people, yeah. But in general? As a rule? No.

I hate that our culture makes us into the custodians of our insecurities and dissatisfactions, and then demonizes us not only for addressing them, and also for talking about them. Even for having them. It’s ridiculous. But I don’t feel that, for myself, the appropriate or healthy response to my society’s machinations is not to care. Because I do care — I care about how I look, I care about how I feel, I care about how people treat and see me. (I care, indeed, about a truly staggering number of things, both internal and external. This will likely become a theme.)

I suggest a new strategy.* I suggest that we all have the right to our own relationship with our bodies, and the right to choose how we care for and adorn them. We do not have the right to define that relationship, or make those choices, for anyone else. We also have the right to discuss our physical choices, and ideas, and desires — but not the right to use those discussions to hurt or use others.

So I’m going to talk about it. Here, with you.

*Let the Wookie win. What? Someone had to say it.