Dieting Through the Decades

Life is a trip, a journey, an adventure. Sure there are bumps in the road, and I don’t mean cocaine. One of my main problems in the second half of my life has been weight. In my 20s I was a size 8. Then later, a 10. The much dreaded double digits, but I wasn’t too concerned. Yet.

30 Something

For me, when I quit smoking in my early 30s, after a dozen previous attempts, some lasting as long as a year or more, I started eating. As a smoker from an early age, my taste buds had been reduced to ash. I craved nicotine and food was a necessary evil.

Then my buds bloomed and suddenly I discovered sugar and fat and salt and pizza and burgers and chocolate and potato chips. In my 30s I gained 30 pounds. So for the first time in my life, I was a chunky size 14. But very happy to be done with cigarettes. I made a few weak attempts to lose weight, but I was so busy teaching every day, acquiring a graduate degree at night, taking care of my family, and writing that adding one more thing to my to-do list was next to impossible.

Fat 40

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First half of my 40s, I was the fattest I’d ever been. Somehow I had gained 20 or 30 more pounds. I was a size 16-18 and wore a lot of Plus Sized outfits. Also, I’m petite, so I looked like a little butter ball. People even asked me if I was pregnant because the extra fat on my face plumped any wrinkles and I held the bulk of my extra fat in my middle.

After a friend showed me a photo of myself all dressed up and looking really huge, I joined Weight Watchers. This is me after losing a significant amount of weight. I went from size 18 to size 14. I’m not really slim and the love handles are evident. Most of my weight was still in my middle. I was somewhat okay with this weight.

50 Revision

After surgically induced menopause, I quickly shot up to a size 16 again. I started getting reports from my doctor that said I had pre-diabetes, high blood sugar, and metabolic syndrome. I took each one of these reports seriously, read all the books and tried all the diets. Sugar Busters, Atkins, Fat Flush, South Beach. They all worked as long as stuck to them. I never got below a size 14, though. And I couldn’t quit, or even limit, carbs for very long.

In my mid-50s, I developed Barrett’s Esophagus (a pre-cancer condition brought on by acid reflux) and had another surgery, this time to remove my gall bladder. My body, I was told, could no longer process fat and I’d have to maintain a low-fat diet for the rest of my life. So much for the low carb approach.

After reading Quantum Wellness, I became a vegetarian. Initially I lost weight, but not that much. The pre-cancer condition cleared up, which seemed like a miracle as I was told it was a “forever” condition and would never get better, only worse. I attributed this miracle to becoming vegetarian. I still get checked regularly for Barrett’s, but it has not come back.

I felt okay about having a cupcake now and then and dark chocolate became a “healthy” favorite. I love potato chips and mashed potatoes and french fries. Those are all vegetarian and I ate them. I balanced these splurge foods with soy products, pasta, brown rice, and multi-grain bread. I also ate pizza at least once a week. I love my wine. Also vodka martinis with blue cheese olives. Yet I also enjoy healthy fare like seafood and salad, things I did not like at all before becoming vegetarian.

In my late 50s, a friend successfully lost a lot of weight on a mini-meal plan and I followed it, vegetarian style. I lost 10 pounds and went to a size 12. Then, at age 59, I lost 10 more and went down to a size 10. But even so, my pre-diabetes was not getting better. My doctor suggested cutting carbs and alcohol. I was already cutting calories to the bone on the mini-meal plan. I wasn’t sure how to incorporate her suggestions and remain slim and vegetarian.

60s: The First Year

IMG_1477I turned 60 last month. That’s me on my birthday. I want my 60s to be a healthy happy decade. I want to travel and be able to walk for miles and sleep well at night. I want to look at pictures and not see a muffin middle, which quickly reappears if I stop my semi-starvation diet for even a week. I want, more than anything to stop the endless round of gaining and losing and gaining again.

From Thanksgiving 2014 until March 2015, I packed on ten pounds. Two pounds a month. When I returned from a winter vacation, my carb cravings were intense. Soon, I couldn’t zip my size 10 jeans. And I had another sugar test scheduled in May. I knew I had to form some eating habits that would hold me for life. I felt out of control but also determined to make some necessary changes, and this time for good.

I of course bought yet another book, this one about forming good habits. In Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin mentions another book, Why We Get Fat. She said the science was impeccable and she’d effortless lost weight and kept it off. So did her sister, a diabetic, and her father who had an issue with belly fat. This was just a side issue in her book about making and maintaining excellent habits. But it sparked my interest so I read the book in a day and was dismayed to find that my vegetarian diet was a real problem for my particular body. This book suggests the same thing my doctor did after the last sugar report: cut carbs. I’d already mostly forsaken sugar and that had not helped my glucose levels. Carbs were the clear culprit, at least for me.

The most brilliant analogy in Why We Get Fat is that not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer. And not everyone who eats carbs gets metabolic syndrome/glucose intolerance/insulin resistance/pre-diabetes. Those medical health terms all mean the same thing. And along with pre-diabetes comes a cascade of almost every serious disease you can think of, diseases that kill you, diseases that cut life short, diseases I’d been flirting with for decades.

When I quit smoking in my 30s, I saved myself from possible lung cancer. People with pre-diabetes are prone to various cancers, including cancer of the esophagus. I’d already done that. Got a reprieve. Didn’t want to go there again. Then with Type 2 diabetes, there’s a good chance of heart disease and dementia, especially Alzheimer’s. I have seen people I love, in their 60s, 70s and 80s suffer and die with these diseases. All of them were overweight. All of them had metabolic syndrome. Science has proven that these life-ending diseases are preventable, but only if you catch the culprit that creates every one of them: pre-diabetes.

Today

A little over two weeks ago, I decided to go very low carb until I could zip my size 10 jeans again. That happened within a week. In 17 days I lost 7 pounds. My first goal was to drop the 10 pounds I gained since last Thanksgiving and I am well on my way. There’s also my glucose testing next month. I don’t want yet another bad sugar report. I noticed another benefit of giving up “bad” carbs: I no longer crave sugar OR carbs. I no longer lose control and binge on anything in my pantry that contains mostly carbs. For the first time in forever, I can have cookies, bread, rice, potatoes, crackers, muffins, donuts and every other bad-for-me foods in the house for my husband, who has been the same healthy size since we married.

He’s one of the lucky people who does not have the propensity to gain weight when eating carbs. I’m not so it is good-bye to bad carbs forever. I’m pretty sure this time I will stick to the diet, because if I don’t, the rest of my life, as I envision it, with good health and great energy, will be over. I strongly believe (it only took a couple of decades to sink in) that if I correct my body’s insulin resistance, the best is yet to come.

Rosemary for Remembrance

Thinking about alternative therapies lately for health issues. It’s not like I haven’t tried herbal remedies before. Ginkgo and zinc and I still use, um, what’s it called? Starts with an E? Echinacea! I swear by that stuff for colds. Ginkgo did not help my memory, alas. But now comes a new option: rosemary.

Actually, it’s pretty old. Shakespeare wrote it into Ophelia’s speech as she goes mad with love of Hamlet, strewing flowers and herbs hither and yon. “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance…” she says, tossing the flowers like scattering tears. Sometimes not remembering can be a blessing. Remembering better times with Hamlet, after all, is what brought about Ophelia’s suicide. Memories can be precious or poison.

But forgetting an easy word, or someone’s name, is simply annoying. When I get together with my friends, we say this forgetfulness is because we have so much more to remember now. Passwords, for example. I have a million of them. You, too, right? So maybe that somewhat wonky memory of mine is a product of life today. And maybe putting a drop of rosemary oil into my shampoo will make my hair healthier and improve my memory.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to pop fewer pills. Not because taking tons of pills is an old person cliché. I don’t mind being old; I quite enjoy it. For one thing, I have lots of time to peruse the dictionary or just putter patiently until the right word comes. It almost always does. Personally, I like pills just fine, it’s the side effects I despise. I’ve heard certain essential oils (herbs in concentrated liquid form) are cures for sleeplessness, migraine, acid reflux, even stress, which, come to think of it, probably caused all the other things.

I put a little drop of lavender into my palm last night, rubbed my hands together, and swiped the bottoms of my feet. My little instruction book said I could have put the lavender on my pillow, too. Slept like a baby. Another perk of being older, as in old enough to retire from the day job: I can stay in bed as long as I like. After slumbering a soothing eight hours (almost never happens) I lolled around in my warm cocoon for another hour, meditating. Not only had the lavender given me good rest, it had calmed me to the point of an early meditation, something I used to do regularly until anxiety to get my day started robbed me of that meditation time.

Meditation is the best way I know to cure ills, particularly mental ones like fear and panic. I regularly meditate in the afternoons (I’m happy to add a morning meditation in as well if the lavender keeps working!) and recently I added an element to a twenty year practice. I’m phobic and have been for most of my life. I’ve written about my struggles before. Until recently I thought that phobias were a permanent part of what it meant to be me. I accepted them and made peace with my less than easeful mind. Then I decided I’d try a few things, like facing my fears and learning to be braver with age.

Somehow just deciding helped. My plan was that I would, instead of immediately reaching for a pill or (worst case scenario) emergency vodka, I’d breathe and I let myself feel fear.  I’d face it with the in breath and do my best to let it go with the out breath. I practiced this letting go during afternoon meditation and on sleepless dark nights. And breathed it in, tried to let it go with the out breath. I worked at it. I didn’t just auto-pop a pill or six.

Photo on 10-20-14 at 5.39 AM

When you meditate, everything slows down, so it’s very easy to watch fear unfold, to feel the heartbeat slowly accelerate. I have even meditated my way through mild panic attacks. It’s interesting. Not pleasant, but the side effects of doing this inner work are remarkable. Some months back fear of public speaking abruptly departed, and a few months later I started flying without meds. That’s actual flying in a plane, not a metaphor for euphoria. But I do feel euphoric!

Because, amazingly, without warning, in real life, phobia number three vanished a month ago. It happened in Florida while Al was driving. I knew about the bridge. I knew we’d be driving across it. I knew soon it would come into view and that would start the panicky feeling in my head, in my heart. I had already decided to let the fear come and to white-knuckle it. After all, I’d done that for years before things got too unmanageable and I went on medication.

Then, as the bridge came into my line of sight (I believe it’s the tallest suspension bridge in the world. Or maybe just the country. Or perhaps only Florida.) I didn’t feel the fear. I expected it and had my little bottles of emergency vodka in the glove box, just in case. But emergency vodka can be very inconvenient at nine o’clock in the morning, and I was hoping not to have to resort to it. So no fear. No anxiety. No panic.

To say I was amazed is making light of the liberation I felt. I was so happy and uninhibited, I opened the sunroof and popped out of the top, snapping photos as we approached the bridge. Absolutely zero fear. Also, I arrived sober at our destination, which is always nice. I gradually realized that I didn’t have to face that fear in the moment because I’d already done the work, months before. Meditating. It works.

So those are some mental miracles, but the physical ones still stubbornly cling. I’m making progress, though. My neurologist of close to two decades told me on our last visit that my migraine symptoms had decreased so dramatically that he felt I was fine to just let my GP handle the occasional medication refills. That is huge. No more “my” neurologist. No more “my” migraines.

Yeah, sure, I still stress. I still have fears. Phobias. Probably I have not experienced my last panicky moment. But full blown out of control panic attacks? I can’t remember the last time one came upon me. I had a dream last night about one of my remaining phobias. I have two left to conquer before I shuffle off this mortal coil, claustrophobia and fear of heights. I know the bridge is high, so maybe that’s all gone, but I need to tackle a mountain before I’m sure. So I had the “buried alive” dream under lavender’s spell. And I didn’t wake up in a panic. I woke up calm and ready to face anything. And that is something worth remembering.

Emotional Encryption

reunion4Emotions are funny things. The way we move our bodies, the way we think our thoughts, the way we see the world, all of that goes into the emotion of the moment. Dancing, for example, makes me feel good. Like a secret code, moving my body to music changes my emotions in a positive, healthy way.

Dance is the answer to my search for some kind of aerobic exercise besides boring walking. I love yoga but in order to “live long and die short” six days of exercise is a must. And some of those need to be vigorous. I’m a writer. My fingers get more exercise than any other part of my body. I also love to read, so my eyes get a work out every day, too. 

For me, enjoying what I do is key. I needed to find something I loved as much as all my sedentary pursuits like meditation and yoga and reading and writing. I loved walking the hills of Seattle but I don’t live there and I need the endorphins of aerobic exercise now. I’ve considered joining many groups and classes, like a hiking group or a Zumba class. But my schedule is very full of group things just now and I need to guard my alone time.

Something solitary, then, was needed. After my Gypsy post, I got a clue. Dance. Alone. I don’t do well to choreographed moves, and I don’t go out dancing much anymore. I miss it. So I made up a playlist and it will be my pleasure to dance alone in my living room for 20 minutes three times a week. Maybe more! 

Gonna ease in with my yoga sun salutation to “Here Comes the Sun” (The Beatles)

Then will make myself laugh and shake my behind to “Get Up Off of That Thing” (James Brown)

3. “Call Me” — St Paul & the Broken Bones

4. “Hundreds of Ways” — Conor Oberst

5. “Rimbaud Eyes” — Dum Dum Girls

6. “Stranger to my Happiness” — Sharon Jones

7. “Under the Pressure” — The War on Drugs. “Under the Pressure” is an 8 minute song that has so many great dance moments but also kind of cools down near the end like a scarf trailing off in the wind.

Aerobic exercise is the final piece of my part of the Lisa Plan puzzle. I’m so pleased with myself for finally figuring it out. For this diet to work, it has to fit my life. I had to finesse it for me. So, Lisa and I plan to incorporate my alternatives into her awesome (and easy! and it works!) plan. 

This is the final Lisa Plan post. As we write the proposal and talk with agents, we will keep the permalink public for a few more weeks. For all the Lisa Plan posts, check top menu or click here.

What’s Your Number?

scale.toes.photo Holidays have always been tough for me, and I dreaded getting on the scale this morning. But I did it, because I am no longer in denial about this little problem I have with pounds. Just like most of America, I had more calories than usual over the weekend, as my FB posts clearly show. I did manage to stay away from all desserts except a chocolate vodka. But you know, it’s vodka. Does it really count?

I wasn’t sure.

Reason it was such a big deal to me is because I had not been going down number-wise for a few weeks and I was at one of those thresholds, you know, like you were in the 120s and now you’re in the 110s. Those are not my numbers and I’m not ever telling. I have not weighed 110 since I was twelve years old. But anyway, I made a couple of adjustments and finally lowered the middle number and just would have been so sad to go up again. But I didn’t! I stayed the same:)

As they say in WW, staying the same over any holiday weekend is something to celebrate.

How I did it:

First, I knew we were going out to dinner Saturday night and that we would likely being having fried fish. So for lunch I had a huge salad. And then after dinner, I danced. A lot. When I dance, I really move. Waist, hips, legs, hands, tush. All of it is in on the action. None of this foot shuffle, wave the arms once or twice stuff. The band was playing oldies and I knew all the dances, the twist (of course), the jerk, the swim, even did some mashed potatoes just to mix it up.

Also, I didn’t eat dessert at a friends’ house party on the 4th. Someone sweetly provided me with a bowl of berries, but I would not have had the cake anyway. Also, I brought a big green salad to the house party for my plate. Heaped it high. I eat a big salad with lots of greens every single day. So whenever the “bring a dish to pass” memo goes around, everyone knows Cindy’s bringing salad. So those were the things I did right. I won’t talk about what I did that might not have been perfect. Just two tiny changes.

The other change was something I don’t even think about anymore. Instead of the usual barbecue fare, I had a yummy vegetarian burger: Portobello and blue cheese. I’ve been vegetarian for a long time, and my friends are so kind, they always do something special for me. This helps at barbecues. They had thick burgers, used to be my favorite, and also Coney dogs! I would not have had any, but the fact that they took the time to grill me that great burger made me feel special instead of maybe just a tiny bit deprived.

Yesterday, I said no to alcohol and no to all the sweets in the house and no to any carb that wasn’t 100% whole wheat. I really had a lazy day but I just didn’t eat the way I used to. Because I had two bigger mini-meals earlier in the day, I had fruit (fresh cherries, yum!) and yogurt (plain Chobani) for dinner. It was plenty. My tummy gets a little messed up from too much party food and drink and the yogurt was soothing, the cherries sweet.

Maybe not quite as sweet as when I stepped on the scale this morning.

My usual day after two days of partying would include pasta, crackers, chips, (any crunchy snack food!) chocolate, ice cream, and most likely pizza for dinner. So I made a few small changes and like the results. I always used to believe that these changes were too difficult, but they aren’t. What’s different?

I am. I was ready to make the changes I needed to, and this weekend is proof. Usually I would have gained a couple of pounds from the extra wine and the nibble of this and bite of that. But, not today. Today I stayed the same sweet number.

When I used to gain during holidays, and complain to Lisa how hard it was to stick with a plan during festive occasions, she said “It is hard. It’s really hard. You’re right about that.” I think just having her acknowledge that this weight loss business can be a struggle helped. I keep saying it’s easy but it takes awhile to get to easy. I’ve been doing this for more than a year.

Knowing before you start that there will be times when it’s really really hard, but also knowing that you can just make minor adjustments and achieve great results over time, those things are what helped me keep with it. I knew Lisa’s struggles and I see how well she’s done after her weight loss. She inspires me every day. I hope she inspires you, too. Miss any of my Lisa posts? They’re all here.

Emotional Rescue

Cin.photoThe first time I gained a significant amount of weight, I taught night school, my first teaching job. I had been stressed as a student teacher, but it was nothing compared to how ill-equipped I was to handle night school. Many young people are made to go to night school as part of their punishment for a crime they’ve committed. Then there are the people who fell through the cracks long ago, maybe undiagnosed reading problems, maybe a trauma, maybe a baby. So an array of emotional and mental problems awaited me every night. An older African-American man called me a racist because I was told not to let anyone stay in classroom during break and had no idea that he had been an exception to this rule.

Every day at 6 p.m. someone new hated me. Every night at 10 p.m. I came home, turned on MTV and crunched my way through a bag of chips (or two.) That was stress eating. Every bite down on the crunchy salty substance felt like a minor victory over my crappy job. Where was my classroom? Crunch. Where were my honor students? Crunch. When would I ever get past discipline and into actually talking about literature? Crunch.

Before I knew it, I’d gained 20 pounds. And then over the Christmas holidays I gained 10 more. Because another kind of emotional eating is celebrating good times. And ask anybody, I really like to celebrate and I was too unaware to realize that celebrating with food might feel good, but it was harming my body in ways very clear in the mirror but that I refused to see.

People didn’t recognize me after that 30 pound gain (which became 40 as the school year dragged on). I didn’t recognize myself, either. Thus the cycle of the lose and gain began. I’ve lost hundreds of pounds. Ten, twenty, thirty, but always, almost as soon as I threw away my fat clothes and bought new sizes, gained the weight back. It was that fast. For a few weeks I’d wear my new cute outfits and guys would flirt with me and I felt pretty again and then bam, back to fatland. Because I really didn’t want to flirt or have an affair to get my sweetness fix and being fat made sure that was not going to happen.

Guys. I hate to admit that I like attention, but I’m going to be honest, my marriage is comfortable but not all that sweet. I have a great husband, he took on a single mom with two kids, he supports my writing, helped me through college, shares my personal goals. But he also is just not a naturally affectionate person. When I think of my husbands, none of them were. Yet, I craved touch. Hugs, kisses, sweetness. Meanwhile, hubby was at the NASCAR race or the hockey game or the football tailgate party. Or he was working. Saving for our future.

I read once that when a person craves sweets, they lack sweetness in their lives. I’ve never forgotten it and I think it has some truth. A friend told me once that she had a lonely weekend coming up, and she was not looking forward to it. I patted her knee and said “here’s what you do” then proceeded to tell her my routine whenever the boys were at their dad’s and Al was away on a golf weekend or some other guy thing. First, I laid in supplies. Only food I wanted to eat. Strawberries, chocolate, Ruffles, rich gooey Brie cheese, good wines, baguettes, bagels, filet mignon. Then I’d go to the video store (remember those?) and choose several films, none of them involving action/adventure. Finally I’d hit the bookstore, stack a tower of new hardcovers by my favorite authors in my arms, and ring up a tab that more than equaled the food and the movie bills combined.

“See? You just have a “me” weekend. And you can shop for a pretty new outfit too.”

How deluded was I? Very. I know. But I was giving myself sweetness in the only way I knew how.

Lisa, after I related this coping mechanism, asked about my anxiety. She said “The anxiety you take pills for and what you are trying to do instead with the sweetness, that’s all part of the problem. Because I think this kind thing is often why people overeat. That and just having a fun time, too. But all those things play into it.”

So what was her solution to my sweetness dilemma?

Have a clear, set intention, and a positive mental outlook to make things happen.

My intention is to stop hurting myself with comfort foods (the shortcut to happy) and to start loving my body with regular check-ins with an amazing doctor, yoga, meditation, and walks in nature. I’m not perfect yet, but I’ve come a long way from the woman who had a battle plan that looked more like a sugar coma. When Al goes away now, I plan more positive activities, like outings to local art fairs or attending writing retreats. I take myself out to the movies these days, and thanks to a cracked tooth acquired eating popcorn, I don’t even want the stuff.

When I joined a yoga studio, I found that if I drank too much wine the night before, I’d feel sick in some of the poses. Ditto with meat. So through yoga, gradually I became vegetarian. But vegetarians can eat ice cream and cake, and I was still, even on Lisa’s Plan, indulging my need for sweet. Sabotaging myself. Then I got back-to-back bad sugar reports from my doctor, which scared me into finally giving up everything with sugar in it: meaning everything I loved.

Yes, I had to let my health get out of hand before I could really take the final positive step I needed, but every step in the process came from setting that first positive intention to love my body and take care of it.