Last month I made a Facebook post consisting of a picture of my best friend and I attending an annual event a year ago (that started when we were 18 at my family cabin)beside it I posted a picture of us this year in the same pose. This year I weighed 110 pounds less than last year. In the black and white picture at the top of the blog is a photo of me after the first time I had ever dieted. I initially lost thirty pounds in thirty days and in this photo I weighed 105 pounds. In the past 11 months I have lost 116 pounds, meaning I have lost more than that entire eighth grade me. Before I fully explain how I have lost the weight, it’s best to start at the beginning and understand how I gained it.
I came into this world at 2:32 a.m. on July 11th of 1963. As with most babies born in hospitals, the first thing they did was record my height (20 inches) and weight (7 pounds, 8 ounces). It’s not lost on me, the irony that from that first breath on, what one weighs is the cue for how others react to you. Weight determines whether or not you are deemed healthy, if feeding quantities and frequency need to be addressed. Quite literally, that’s the story of my life.
I started out falling into a range that was considered “normal” but follow-up appointments at the pediatrician had me not gaining at the desired rate (Americans love their chubby babies) and at some point in my infancy I was given medication that was designed to help me gain weight and retain it. I’d love to read the label on whatever that potion was and know more about the potential side effects, as some days I imagine that on a cellular level I am still reaping the “benefits” of the magic elixir!
My childhood was pretty typical, when starting school I was always among the tallest in my class but otherwise pretty average in build. My mother weighed not much over two pounds when she was born (a twin) and had also been given some sort of growth-related remedy in infancy. She was thin growing up and for her era at five-foot and ten-inches tall with size 11 feet she stood out among her peers in the 1950’s. Her weight-related struggles began after having children and were owed much to her sweet-tooth; Butterfingers, Chuckles and Sara Lee cheesecake being among her favorites.
The 1970’s was a tragic decade for our family; the sudden deaths of my three remaining grandparents, compounded by a fall that resulted in the eventual loss of a beloved great-aunt (my father had grown up the floor below her and her mother in a duplex and she lived in the apartment complex adjacent to the South Minneapolis home I grew up in) and the shocking death of my uncle/Godfather at 44 during open-heart surgery made for a lot of loss for a child. My mother found comfort in alcohol and life in my childhood home grew more chaotic with my father’s first heart attack when I was in fifth grade and following a house fire a few years later.
It was during this era that food became a comfort to me. With a drugstore around the corner and a Tom Thumb Superette across from that I had easy access to candy, chips and the entire array of Hostess and Dolly Madison “baked goods”. For real baked goods I need go no further than my best friend’s house across the street where her mother baked daily; cookies, bars, cakes and caramel rolls that could be supplemented with her store-bought ice cream, pop and candy. My best friend was tiny by comparison to me, to the point where one Halloween when we were trick or treating a woman looked at her and said “aren’t you adorable?” and looked at me and said “aren’t you a little old for this?”. My best friend is four months older than I am.
By the time I began sixth grade I had hit puberty about four years earlier than my peers and had reached my adult height of five foot seven inches. There was one boy in my class who was taller than me. None of this bothered me until I started junior high at a school that spanned grades 7-12. In grade school all the neighborhood kids knew each other and other than a few boys making awkward comments, my early maturity was somewhat ignored. With a bunch of new kids, in a new setting my adult body attracted a lot of unwanted attention and the fact I weighed so much more than the others girls my age bothered me for the first time. As a twelve-year-old I had not taken into account that someone five inches shorter than me weighing 25 pounds less than me really wasn’t that big of deal. With age comes wisdom.
One night at the dinner table I chose not to eat something and suggested that it was because I needed to lose weight. My dad said “why don’t you ask the doctor about it at your next appointment?”. That’s exactly what I did and he pulled out a chart that showed me in the upper edge of the “normal” range and then he said “But, if you’re concerned about it, you could eat your hamburger without a bun.” As a twelve-year-old I somehow internalized that as him being too polite to tell me I was fat but was telling me to start cutting out foods. I cut out breakfast and lunch and began eating half of what I’d normally have eaten for dinner. I joined a spring sport and came home from practice where I jumped rope outside or hooked a contraption to the bathroom door knob and laid in the hallway with my feet and hands in straps that pulled my legs up and down. I was often light-headed, suffered from headaches but thirty days later and thirty pounds lighter I was sure I had solved any weight problem I had. Actually I had started an unhealthy relationship between me and my weight that would take over forty years to resolve.
Dinner for me growing up had consisted of meat, instant mashed potatoes and some mushy vegetable I detested from either a can or more often it was boiled in a bag. As a result I grew up hating vegetables. I did however like salads. Salads at our house were made of iceberg lettuce doused in dressing. My dressing of choice as a kid was Thousand Island and French, I eventually graduated to Blue Cheese and French together. An unusual part of my childhood in retrospect is that when we stayed at the family cabin during the summer we could drink all of the pop we wanted. The cabin had no running water and we would bring a 5 gallon Igloo water dispenser that was to be rationed for cooking and brushing teeth. So when we were thirsty it was pop we were told to drink. My father would come to the cabin on weekends and either bring groceries with him or go into Cumberland, WI to shop. He would ask that we write a list of what we wanted. My friend and I would stay in either a small A-frame or tent at night and watch TV late into the early morning hours. Typically our list consisted of M&M’s (plain AND peanut because who can decide?), Oreo Double Stuff cookies, Stir & Frost Cake (a cake that came with a disposable pan and a packet of squeeze on frosting) and Sour Cream & Onion potato chips. By the time we hit our teens, we were asking for Tab and other early diet sodas to supplement our diets. We swam, we walked, we rowed in the boat and played basketball, our high calorie intake had little impact on our bodies but the Teen magazines we poured over made us self-conscious anyway.
15 year-old sophomore & 11 year-old sixth grader
High School came and went with boys dropping weight for wrestling and girls dropping weight for school dances. The first time I saw a Weight Watchers plan was when a girl was passing a pilfered one of her mothers around. It was like the female equivalent of a guy with a Playboy magazine. Everyone wanted to see it but it felt necessary to be discreet about it. Then there were DexaTrim, weight-loss pills that made girls shaky and crabby and left ones stomach growling from lack of food. Weight loss was a game and most diets were fine to break if a group was walking to Dairy Queen for lunch.
I graduated from high school weighing about what I started seventh grade six years earlier at. Then it was time for college; dining hall food, late night pizza, alcohol consumption, going out to eat after the bars closed and right before bed was a natural recipe for weight gain. My sophomore roommate and I would eat lunch, walk the stairs to our 11th floor dorm room, watch soap operas, smoke cigarettes and drink diet soda before doing the Jane Fonda workout. Then we’d shower up and go to happy hour. By my last year of college I was up about thirty pounds from my freshman weight and with a spring break in Mexico in the works I went back to my tool bag and rapidly lost thirty pounds.
Shortly after graduating and prior to moving out-of-state for my first job I shattered my elbow in a freak accident, in the following year I went through two surgeries and 17 casts, combined with hours and hours of physical therapy. That first job was on a campus in a small town with a DQ, local ice cream parlor and video store, a movie theater that showed movies twice a week and a bowling alley that was open by appointment, a single bar where I learned to drink “Root Beer Barrels”, the new business arrival that year was a Pizza Hut. In the evenings the student union had items like chips and cheese available. Driving a half hour into the next big town to shop and dine was considered a recreational activity. I didn’t gain a lot of weight but I also wasn’t eating healthy. A year later I was on a campus in Winona Minnesota, my coworker knew every happy hour in town and that’s where we went every night for dinner; mini pizzas, baked potato bar, bagels and cream cheese, fried egg and cheese sandwiches and of course you had to purchase a beer to get the food. After gaining some weight I did a “computer generated diet” with a coworker that claimed to create a reaction in your body that maximized weight loss. Though I don’t recall the sequence of consumption or many of the details I think the primary foods were cauliflower, hot dogs and vanilla ice cream. We did lose weight in the three days that we could tolerate doing it but the same could be said for a combination of any three foods in limited quantity. I was learning there was no quick fix, I was twenty-four and had been manipulating my weight for over a decade.
I moved back to my folks home for the summer and started running or walking the area lakes with my friends on a regular basis. I was starting a new job in Wisconsin at the end of the summer and I was a bridesmaid in my brother’s wedding that coming fall. I was in such great shape by the wedding that fall that even in a bridesmaid’s dress I was able to snatch the bouquet when it was tossed. Turns out that I had met my husband the evening before at the rehearsal and seven months later we were married.
Two months after my wedding my father died of complications of the heart disease he’d been battling since I was in fifth grade. My husband moved to the college-town where I was working but had no luck finding a job there. My mother (who had stopped drinking while I was in college) struggled over the death of my father and came to live with us for a period of time. I made a point to come home for lunch daily to break up the monotony of the days for my husband and takeout and delivery were easily accessible in a college community. By our first anniversary I had gained about forty pounds.
After our first year of marriage we moved back to Minnesota where we both could work. I worked multiple jobs in retail and temped for different businesses, it was during this time that I first attended a Weight Watchers meeting. At that time the program relied heavily on the government food pyramid and the plan basically required that you eat more of what was at the bottom of the pyramid and restricted the choices from the top. It was the early ’90s and there was a ton of no-fat and sugar-free foods lining the grocery store shelves. The concept involved eating a lot of “fake foods” with little nutritional value in lieu of their higher calorie counterparts. You could lose weight doing this but it was not terribly sustainable as a long-term solution. The meetings took place in a dreary basement storefront in the mall one of my jobs was at. A friend from college came with me sometimes. I remember that my leader loved Hershey’s Kisses and often talked about savoring one alone each night after putting her kids to bed. She also brought in a horrible looking yellow negligee that she related in someway to being about her goal. I found her unrelatable and didn’t feel much connection with the other attendees, the meetings somehow felt like being sent to the principals office. I lost my weight quickly as a means of getting it over and done with. Shortly after I was done I was planning a happy hour for college friends while an out-of-state friend was in town. I was working three jobs, had been focused on losing weight and was feeling tired as I prepared for this social gathering. I took a pregnancy test the morning of the party and found out I was in fact pregnant.
I was sick my first trimester of pregnancy but from my reading knew the importance of folic acid. I discovered that Cap ‘n Crunch and Pop Tarts both contained folic acid and I made a point to eat them regularly throughout my pregnancy. I gained a lot of weight during my pregnancy! I began a nanny job when my daughter was three weeks old and accepted a live-in position with an apartment complex for college students when she was nine months old. The following year I got pregnant again and gave birth to my son. I weighed exactly the same on my delivery day with both babies. When my son was ten days old we got a babysitter for two hours so we could stop by a surprise 30th birthday party for my brother in-law. On our way back we stopped by a bar where my husband knew his coworkers would be and we bought some pull tabs. I won a few hundred dollars and decided I would put it toward Weight Watchers. I used a nursing plan and I successfully lost all that I had wanted within six months.
I took care of the kids by day, worked my job at night, invested time volunteering and was the primary driver for my mother to get to medical appointments and do errands such as birthday shopping and Christmas shopping. Our mother/daughter outings typically included a meal and the meal always included dessert. My weight fluctuated but I was a happily married wife and mother and it simply was not a priority.
After a couple of years we bought our first house. Our neighborhood was very social with every weekend being a party. My weight continued to creep up and I eventually returned to Weight Watchers. When my kids were in first and third grade we moved to our current home. I had an ankle situation that was diagnosed as requiring surgery, the procedure meant that I would be laid-up for six weeks. Being sedentary, I lost muscle tone and gained weight, I weighed more than I ever had when I was not pregnant. As I approached 40 I decided I needed to take the weight off. Again. The program had changed and was an early version of the “Point” system, I liked it better than the previous plans and stuck with it, losing 76 pounds and achieving “lifetime” status.
As happens with most people, life continued to throw curve balls. My brother in-law was battling cancer and planned a cruise he wanted the entire family to go on that Fall after his treatment was complete. While everyone suggested trip insurance I told my husband that I thought it would be unfair to our kids to tell them they were going to see a rainforest and then take that away. The school year began before Labor Day that year and my daughter began middle school. I did not work on Fridays, so that Friday I took my mother to the mall to get outfits for her 50th class reunion the following weekend. She bought the first dress she had purchased in the fifteen years since my father had died. She selected another outfit for the all-classmate social to take place the evening before the reunion. She had arthritis which combined with her weight made getting around the mall a slow process and we stopped for lunch before I took her home. As I dropped her off after lunch I told her that I would pick up several pairs of shoes for her that next week and bring them to her to select from. She turned and said “I like something with a little patent leather”. At the time I had no idea that those would be the last words she said to me. My mother died on Labor Day, she was 68. Following the funeral we learned that my brother in-laws prognosis would not allow for him to take the planned cruise. That cruise kicked off a twelve year period of unrestrained consumption. That spring, the week he turned 40 my brother in-law succumbed to his cancer, leaving a wife and three kids. We spent that final week (our kids spring break) in hotels near the Mayo Clinic. When we returned home it was obvious that our 5-year-old lab had struggled with our absence. Despite our neighbors always caring for our dogs while we were away it seemed he had lost weight. After a few trips to the vet we realized that our beloved dog had brain cancer and had to be put down. It was oddly the harshest blow of all, perhaps because it felt personal. It brought back a lot of memories of what felt like the never-ending cycle of death from my own childhood and was a trauma I could not protect my kids from. Weight seemed like a trivial and shallow issue, which allowed me to slip back into poor eating habits I previously had and likely even to develop new ones.
Fast-forward to where I am today. This is the part that made you want to read this blog in the first place. My kids graduated from high school, went on to college, somewhere in the midst of that the job that I had loved and was devoted to for 20 years was eliminated without warning and a year ago last weekend my son was preparing to begin his senior year of college. As student body president he gave the convocation speech to the incoming freshmen and their parents and we were provided with front row VIP seats next to the University President’s wife. While there are great pictures of my son giving his speech that day, there are no pictures of the family. On the drive home I thought about wanting to get a picture with him during his commencement in the spring. Then I thought about what I wanted that picture to look like. I began Weight Watchers for the last time on September 30th, 2016 and by his commencement I had lost 80 pounds.
The current points system has been modified from the original in a way that encourages you to eat more protein and fiber. I have to say that the biggest struggle I have had is going from eating once or twice a day to making sure I eat something when I get up in the morning and three to five more times during the day. Quantity-wise I consume a lot more food today than I ate a year ago. My metabolism is back to working the way it was designed too after years of abuse.
I am often asked “What can you eat?” and my response is honestly “Anything you like.” and that is why this is the last time I needed to join, I figured it out. In the past it seemed I was hardwired to set a weight or an event as the goal I wanted to get to and then because the plan was too rigid or restrictive I needed to step away from it. I refuse to eat anything I do not like. “I’m too old for that.” I often find myself saying. I have eliminated most fat-free and sugar-free items, even changing my sugar-free coffee creamer to actual cream. I still drink diet soda but know many who opt not to. I drink a lot more water than I used to. Despite being raised on margarine after my father’s heart attack, our home only has butter in it. I do use Pam cooking spray but also use olive oil and other unsaturated oils when cooking.
I had looked at gastric bypass a number of years ago after my doctor suggested it but my insurance had recently stopped coverage of it. My current WW leader had done that and upon gaining a large portion of her weight back returned to WW. While I know people who have had great success with it, I also know of others who have lost and then gained back all or more of what they lost. I had tried a plan with bars and powdered mixes which I found unpalatable and not compatible with attending functions and socializing. That’s why a meal delivery system would not work well for me either. I simply needed to learn how to eat what I wanted, wherever I was. During my initial stages of unemployment I was miserable staying home all day conducting a job search, as an extrovert it was draining not having the interaction with people. My introvert husband understood this and we would often go for half prices appetizers as dinner, simply to get me out of the house. As I am currently over four and a half years of being un(der)employed (working multiple seasonal positions to generate income while looking for the next position I love) I really enjoy the consistency of attending a weekly meeting. After my initial sign-up and first weigh-in I consciously selected a 6:30 a.m. Saturday meeting to prevent any excuses for not going. To date, I’ve only missed three meetings, while either traveling, being parked-in by overnight guests or prepping on the eve of a holiday. I have had four different leaders and each one has brought something new to the table. I find encouragement from the “regulars” who attend and each new member who chooses to share their story. My meeting consists of several lifetime members who stay on track via their weekly accountability and a desire to stay the course. When my brother connected with a high school classmate who complained that her year of daily treadmill walking had not achieved the results she was aiming for he connected her with me and she is now down twenty pounds. College friends have reached out asking what I have done, as have high school classmates.
My blood pressure is normal, my cholesterol is down, my joints no longer ache, my bad ankle seldom swells, my skin is clearer, I haven’t had a Rolaid in ten months and I sleep great. I gave up my gym membership (that was going unused) to cover the nominal cost.
People often frame weight-loss as something to do down the road at a time that will be easier. Over the last year I have hosted Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas breakfast, our 24th-annual New Year’s Eve party, a graduation reception and family reunion. I have gone to Las Vegas with a girlfriend, attended an All-Class reunion, gone to wedding receptions, funeral luncheons and open houses and consumed numerous beers and cocktails during three cabin getaways and continued to lose weight.
I dine out regularly and have eaten Mexican, Italian, Greek and seafood. I have lost 116 pounds eating at Subway, McDonalds, LeeAnn Chin’s, Perkins, Chili’s, Applebee’s, Red Lobster, Cracker Barrel, Baker’s Square and numerous other places. I am going to eat every day for the rest of my life, so it only made sense to me to continue to eat presently in places I desired to eat in the future. I have done this eating a Chorizo bowl weekly from Chipotle.
Those who have not seen me in a long time congratulate me and sympathetically comment “I know what hard work that is.” but honestly it hasn’t been. Sure it doesn’t come off in a day but it didn’t go on in a day either.
For anyone looking to get started, I have posted a link for a current promotion in bold below. I will help anyone who wants to get started (whether I know you already or not). Feel free to follow my blog and share the link with others you think might find a spark of inspiration in my story. While writing this I have come up with 20 other topics to cover in future blogs. In my next one I intend to share what is consistently in my refrigerator, freezer, cupboards and what specific products I have found over the last year that have helped make this process so easy.
If you sign up by 10/31/17, we’ll both get a $20 credit to spend in the Weight Watchers online shop. Use my unique referral link http://zenreferrals.com/5171093 to sign up for a subscription plan. Check out the offer terms for more details!