Laid Back

IMG_3620Despite the fact that periodically I had to stoop to their level when my weight got out of control and my doctor started talking about diabetes, I used to think people who continuously made the care and feeding and exercising of their bodies top priority were missing something. I pitied them because I had an idea of their sad motives: vanity and fear of death.

This was not my first stupid idea, but it’s been the most persistent.

It’s not a secret: I love  to write. Writing is a reliable friend, words knit me together, there is safety in sentences. Everything else is black and white, writing is color. I used to say I’d write until I died, and I still believe that, but in the past few months I’ve gotten way more laid back about the whole writing thing. I recently stopped writing morning pages. I just didn’t want to do them anymore. Maybe the urge to take pen in hand before the first cup of tea is done brewing will come back, maybe it won’t. Either way, I’m cool with it.

Contentment, I’ve learned, comes in more ways than one. The gym rats knew a few things all along that I never guessed. Like how much mood improves with exercise. Yes, I “knew” this, just thought it didn’t particularly apply to me. I had the creative person exemption.

Turns out, sunshine helps color my world, too, way more than I ever dreamed during the frozen Michigan winters. I think I might have had S.A.D. my whole life, but it felt normal, so I didn’t know any different. The Florida sun has lit me up in new ways. Ways that have me thinking that maybe writing doesn’t fix everything wrong in a life. Maybe all of it can be in color. With palm trees and pink flamingos.

Thousands of self-help books later, the truth dawned because I did a geographic. My good life comes not just from exercising creative muscles but by balancing body and mind. By walking out there in the world with my own two legs. Working on my physical self  for my mental health might not be the ultimate vanity project. It might in fact be the next right thing to do until I die.

Easiest Diet Ever

Pounds gained since Thanksgiving: 10

Pounds lost since last week: 5

How I did it: No carbs, no sugar, no alcohol. That’s it. This eating program is easier than it sounds. Obviously, since I always do things the easy way if possible. I have spent decades calculating and recording calories and fat in little notebooks, sweating with Richard Simmons, slogging through the  January snow to the gym.

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My simple plan requires none of the above. No calorie counting. No notebooks. No exercise. The best part is it works. Fast. Many years of gaining and losing plus dozens of diet/health/cook books analyzed and tried have taught me a few things.

  1. All calories are not created equal
  2. All bodies do not react to calories the same way
  3. Personality & inclination win out over willpower

This is why my diet may not be right for you. I’m pretty sure if you do it, it will work. There’s a boatload of science that backs me up. But not everyone wants to give up bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, cereal and sugar. It sounds too hard because these are the very foods we crave.

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For me, it’s way more difficult to constantly monitor my calories, fat, and exercise levels. That’s just how I’m made. I’d rather do other things with my time and body than go through the torture of a traditional diet. Also, I have gone through the torture of traditional to trendy diets. Many times. I’ve detoxed and gone vegan, Weight Watched and South Beached.

And it was all I could do to keep the weight off. It took everything. It took, I finally realized, more willpower than I actually had left by my mid-50s. (I started dieting in my mid-30s). So a couple of years ago I did the easy thing. For me. I cut out carbs and sugar. It was also the healthy thing for me as all my important medical numbers stabilized: blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, liver function, iron levels.

Another reason it’s easy is because you really don’t have to think about it and you can eat this way on vacation, in restaurants, at other people’s dinner parties. You have the steak and broccoli and skip the bread and potatoes. You keep the oil and butter but omit the wine. After a day (or two) you won’t crave carbs or sugar anymore, you won’t obsess about what’s going in your mouth next and you won’t overeat. Snack on fruit, cheese and nuts if you’re hungry but after a few days, you won’t be.

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If you’re like me. I’m impatient by nature, also indolent. This is a tough combo but the character is carved deep. I accept who I am and after much trial and error (I’m also stubborn) I have learned how to work with my core personality to (mostly) stay a healthy weight.

If you’ve been obese, if your doctor has said you are pre-diabetic, if you notice that you have to work way harder than some of your friends to lose pounds and maintain weight loss, if your activity is more cerebral than physical (I’m a writer and a reader and I love yoga more than zumba), you might be like me.

Not everybody is. My husband loves potatoes and rice and bread and cereal. Also cookies and cake. He works out like a fiend three times a week at his health club. He’s been the same size since we married 30 years ago. This is not a problem for us. In the past I would have to ban certain foods from the house.

But the beauty of the low carb lifestyle is that I can have all these foods in the house, I can even prepare them for him, and not be tempted to indulge. Because I know if I don’t eat carbs the number on the scale will drop approximately a pound a day. And it’s easy to ignore the mashed potatoes because metabolic magic takes away those insatiable cravings that make me feel like a weak loser with no willpower.

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I love the feeling of being in control. I love zipping my jeans with ease. I love not having to think so hard about my body. But like I said, that’s just me. It might not be you.

Here’s the sugar lining: after I lose this holiday ten pounds, I will slowly add a few carbs to my diet. So I can have a glass of wine once in a while. I can have a little pasta or  garlic bread or pancakes. And I will not gain weight. If I do…I simply cut the carbs again until I’m back in my skinny jeans. Well, skinny for me.

 

 

Life Without Wine

IMG_1874Recently I’ve given up wine. It’s been two months since I’ve had any alcohol at all, which for some people might not be a big deal but for a frequent wine drinker who loves the occasional martini…well, it’s been interesting. And not as difficult as I thought. The reason I was forced into a life without wine is simple: a new medication that absolutely cannot be mixed with any form of alcohol. The meds are short-term, so I sincerely hope to have a glass of wine again soon. But for now, no.

I wondered when I first realized I’d have to give up wine for a bit if I’d have some sort of withdrawal symptoms. I didn’t, which was a relief. I thought I’d at least suffer minor psychological withdrawal, like when I quit chocolate, or bread. Wine has been my relaxation method of choice for most of my adult life. Wine makes a party or social occasion much more fun. It creates a festive feeling when out on a dinner date with my husband. I was sure I’d miss those couple of glasses in the evening, winding down with a favorite television program or a movie.

But in the last sixty or so days, there might have been maybe one or two times that I really got all wistful and wished I could just stop with the medication already. It’s necessary for now. When I mentioned to my doctor’s assistant that I’d like to be done with the medication as soon as possible because I missed my wine, she said “oh nobody pays attention to those warnings!” It’s true. Almost everyone I know who takes similar meds also drinks alcohol. Still, I’m not going to combine them.

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The medication I’m taking short-term is for insomnia; the irony is alcohol has been known to cause sleep disruption, so it’s probably not something I should be indulging in quite so often anyway. For me, now that I’m getting proper rest, sleep is not the biggest surprise of this alcohol-free existence. The biggest surprise is that my weight has stabilized in a most dramatic fashion. All my jeans fit, every single day. There are no more five pound weight gains during a hectic week. Every day, even if I eat a little sugar or splurge on carbs, my weight is the same, or within a pound of what it has been since I quit wine.

I shouldn’t be too surprised. I remember when I was in Weight Watchers one of the leaders said she always had a problem reaching her goal weight until she quit wine. “I didn’t drink that much,” she told us during a meeting. “A glass or two every other night, maybe. But the minute I stopped indulging in wine, the rest of my weight came off.” This was her secret weight loss trick. I needed a trick of my own, as I never did reach my goal weight on Weight Watchers. At the time, I didn’t want to hear about quitting wine. I liked my wine more than I liked being at goal weight.

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I’ve kind of hit the pause button on achieving the goal weight of my earlier days. I’m a size ten or twelve and while that is not svelte, it is okay. I never like to say never–as far as never hoping to lose that last ten pounds or never having a glass of wine ever again. I might lose the weight some day, if I want it enough. And I am sure there’s at least one more glass of wine in my future. But I also know that if I find my weight starting to creep up and the pounds are harder to lose, I will look first toward the Chardonnay consumption.

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.