This is a long story; I’m warning you now. Last exit before the novel! 🙂
I have not always been fat. In fact, I was one of those gangly preteens, all knees and elbows, and an average-sized teenager. I was very active, always climbing trees, making obstacle courses in the yard, practicing my long jump.
My weight hovered around 117 when I graduated from high school, and it was 124 when I got married at age 20. I’m 5-foot-7, so by just about anybody’s standards (except maybe the modeling industry), I was fairly thin. I was pretty happy with my body, although I could have used some muscle tone. The funny thing is, when my weight started to approach 130, I was horrified and thought I was out of control. So my first “diet and exercise kick” (the first in a long line of unsuccessful ones) began when I was 23. What I wouldn’t give to be 130 again—or 23, for that matter! I guess your perspective can be pretty wonky when you’re that young.
The problem was that a personal tragedy had plunged me deep into what turned out to be a 7-year battle with major depression. Everything seemed upside down and backwards. That’s when I started turning to food for solace. Plus, with severe depression, you barely have the energy to keep breathing, much less to exercise. So I was sedentary and eating everything in sight. I continued to gain over the next couple of years, and as I neared the 150-pound mark for the first time in my life, I was motivated to make my first serious attempt to lose weight.
I had never thought much about dieting and weight loss before, so I didn’t know much, but I did know one thing: I didn’t believe in fad diets. I had watched some of my family members and friends struggle with their weight, trying gimmick after gimmick in a desperate attempt to get thin. Either it didn’t work at all, or they did lose the weight only to gain it back and then some because it involved too much deprivation and misery. But that doesn’t mean I was smart about it, either.
I figured the best way was to count calories, which isn’t such a bad way to go, but the thing is I tried to keep my daily intake to 1200 calories at the most. I didn’t realize that wasn’t enough for an active woman. If my stomach growled, I ignored it. One thing I did right was to walk for half an hour or so three or four days a week. We lived in a rural area so I enjoyed these walks quite a bit. Looking back, I would have made the workouts a little longer and added another day or two, but even so my efforts did result in a weight loss of 16 pounds over the course of a couple of months. I was thrilled—until I hit a plateau.
Here’s one of my big mistakes: I weighed myself every day, not realizing how much one’s weight can fluctuate on a daily basis. Plus, I wasn’t fully aware of the fact that muscle weighs more than fat. The fact that I was making positive changes to my body size and composition even though the scale didn’t budge meant nothing to me. So when the scale stubbornly kept repeating 128, 128, 128, I got discouraged and gave up.
I realize now that this was terribly shortsighted, but I know it could have been partly the effects of depression, too. The next couple of years were the most difficult years for me. I was walking around in a fog of misery and anxiety. During this time we moved to a larger town, and while I liked it there, it was a difficult adjustment to make. So between 1988 and 1990, I put on 45 more pounds.
The funny thing is, I didn’t even know how heavy I was getting. I don’t remember noticing at all. However, in January of 1990, I got some temporary relief from my depression with the help of medication, and it seemed to wake me up and make me realize how fat I had become. Not the kind of thing you want to be faced with as you emerge from a depression; it was enough to push me back over the edge. I hadn’t weighed myself, but I could see in photos that I was getting quite large.
Losing 60 pounds, part 1
My first step was to go to a weight-loss center for a consultation. I got two shocks there that day. The first was the cost of the program and the prepackaged food I would have to buy. The second was the weight their scale showed: 173. I was absolutely positive it wasn’t working properly. But sure enough, my own dusty bathroom scale confirmed it when I got home.
Around that time, I made a visit back to my hometown and ran into a classmate on the street. Of course, it was a male classmate I had once had a crush on! We chatted, but I was so uncomfortable the whole time because I knew he was probably thinking about how much I had let myself go. Not that I had been a beauty queen in high school by any stretch of the imagination, but at least I had been slim. I kicked myself for going downtown, I kicked myself for letting myself get so heavy, and I raged against the unfortunate timing that allowed me to be seen that way.
Money being tight, as always, I decided I would have to go it alone. I went to Kmart and bought an aerobics tape. I had never done aerobics before but it looked interesting, and we had a large living room in which I could flail around. I didn’t walk outside as I had done before because I felt self-conscious about my cellulite and flab showing. Plus I would have much rather walked in the countryside where I could enjoy nature, not breathing exhaust fumes and listening to traffic.
Anyway, I bought Kathy Smith’s “Fat Burning Workout” for the simple reason that it had the words “fat burning” in the title, and that’s what I wanted to do! I began working out 4-5 days a week. I took stairs instead of elevators, I parked in the farthest spots at the mall, and I started looking at the trips up and down the stairs with laundry as extra little workouts.
Still knowing very little about how to eat right, I simply counted calories again. This time, in spite of my distaste for anything that smacked of “fad diet,” I started using Slim-Fast, skipping breakfast and sometimes lunch entirely and having a shake instead. Again, this worked, but I don’t think it was wise. For one thing, it didn’t matter to me what the calories were made of, so I often would forgo good healthful food in favor of something fatty or greasy, as long as I didn’t exceed my 1200 calories. And depending on a milkshake for one or two of my meals didn’t really teach me how to eat properly on my own. Even so, over the course of about 3-4 months, I did go from 173 pounds to 151.
On this go-round, I had made at least one improvement in my approach: I weighed myself weekly. Nowadays I don’t do it even that often, but at least I wasn’t seeing the daily fluctuations. However, can you guess why I gave up at 151 when my goal was 124? Yes, another plateau. For three weeks in a row the scale said 151, 151, 151.
That’s it, I thought. I’m busting my butt and getting nowhere. Why bother? So I quit again. And the depression was back. As soon as I had been feeling okay for a few months, the doctor tried to wean me off the medication. But I started to slide right away, and when he put me back on it, it didn’t work the second time. We moved back home and that did help somewhat. From that point on, the depression, while still a serious problem, wasn’t quite as disabling as it had been.
Fortunately, I didn’t regain the weight right away. I think I had learned enough good habits, like walking instead of riding, that without really trying, I was able to maintain for a while. In fact, at the end of 1991, when I started feeling the itch to finish what I’d started, I was surprised to find that I had lost four more pounds and was now at 147.
Losing 60 pounds, part 2
By this time, I had wised up quite a bit. I had read everything I could find, from reputable sources, about weight loss and getting fit, including Covert Bailey’s Fit or Fat books, which were a real turning point for me. Now I knew that muscle weighs more than fat, that the scale shouldn’t be a major tool in a weight loss effort, that exercise was absolutely crucial, and that counting calorie without considering other factors like activity level and weight and height was counterproductive.
So by December of 1991, I was determined to put my new knowledge to work and go the rest of the way to my goal of 124. I vowed not to weigh myself again until I felt that I was at or very near my goal, especially since my goal was not a particular weight, but a size and shape. And I got busy.
For some reason, I was 100% convinced from the very beginning of this particular “fitness kick” that I was going to succeed in reaching my goal. And I did! I was still a little extreme in my attitude about food, but there were small improvements from my previous attempts.
For instance, my daily goal was to keep fat grams to 10 at the most. This is pretty low and quite difficult to achieve. But I managed it most days. I was no longer specifically counting calories, but since I had done so for so long before, I couldn’t help but keep a ballpark running total in my head, and I tried to keep it around 1300 to 1400.
However, if there was a special occasion where I found myself face to face with a dazzling array of delicious food, I gave myself permission to have whatever I wanted for the day. I found that I couldn’t eat as much as I would have been able to in past years, but I still would consider what I did on those days “pigging out.” The next day, I would get right back into my program as if there had been no interruption. I didn’t allow occasional lapses, whether intentional or accidental, to discourage me at all.
To this day, I don’t know why I was so incredibly dedicated to losing the weight at that time. I wasn’t losing it for any particular occasion. I had no specific goal date in mind. I just wanted to finally get my body back.
At the end of March 1992, we went back to the larger town we had lived in for the wedding of a friend. That was one of the most enjoyable evenings of my life, because I got so many compliments on how I looked. Some people had to look twice before they even recognized me. I didn’t realize how much I had changed, but it was obvious to them. I was thrilled. I don’t know how much I weighed at the time, but based on my estimations, I was probably in the high 120s.
I continued my efforts throughout April and May, and by the beginning of June, I couldn’t wait any longer to see what the scale had to say. I felt that I was pretty close to where I wanted to be size-wise. I was thrilled to discover that I was 121 pounds.
But I was hooked, and I continued my same eating and exercise pattern to lose just a couple more pounds. It worked better than I expected, because when I weighed myself again a couple of months later, I was down to 113. I was happy with my size, but I wanted to be a little more toned, so I was working with free weights.
At this point, my mother expressed her concern that I was becoming anorexic. I felt that she was just hypersensitive to anorexia because she had been very upset by Karen Carpenter’s death years earlier. It bothered her greatly that a person could literally starve herself to death, and she was very afraid it would happen to me. I felt that she was overreacting, but of course, that’s probably what anorexics say, so that didn’t reassure her at all. I didn’t plan on losing any more weight, and in fact, hadn’t intended to go as far as 113 in the first place, just 118 or 119, but I wasn’t unhappy with it.
A relative who had said “Been putting on a little weight, huh?” a few years previously didn’t seem to be any happier with my new appearance. So that was rather deflating. But I was comforted by one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had: I took my new body shopping. There is nothing that can quite compare to the experience of passing by the 14-16 size racks and heading for the single digits. I even fit into a pair of size-3 Levis. It was so wonderful to see something that I liked on the rack and know that it would look good on me too.
How I wish this were the happy ending! But it was only temporary.
Gaining 60 poundst and then some
During a two-week visit far from home one summer with some relatives, suddenly eating right became a real challenge, and that’s when things started to fall apart. They were fryers. They fried everything. When I turned down their first couple meal offerings, I could tell they were kind of insulted, so I started eating whatever they made.
I was still exercising, so it wasn’t such a bad thing. But somehow I began fooling myself into thinking that now that I was slim, I would never gain the weight back, because after two weeks of eating like that, I hadn’t gained a pound. So, like an idiot, I concluded that I could continue that way, and maybe I could ease off the exercise too.
Soon, I had gained back about 5 pounds. This was fine; it convinced my mom that I was not anorexic. But the problem was I couldn’t stop the trend. As surely as I had lost the weight, it came back. I felt powerless to control it. I was still depressed to a large degree, and whether I can blame it on that or not I don’t know, but for whatever reason, I was unable to lose. Month after month, the scale went from 123 to 125 to 128 to 133 to 139, etc. Occasionally, it would go back down a pound or two, but overall the direction was up.
Even now, I’m not sure why this happened. Can I blame it on my relatives? My genes? Laziness? Depression? I don’t know.
Whatever the case, I gained back every single lousy crappy miserable disgusting pound with a few extra for good measure. I have spent most of the intervening years between 170 and 190.
The endless cycle
I have made many more attempts over the 19 years since then to get back the body I had for such a tantalizingly short time. The more serious attempts lasted 2-3 months, the less serious, only a few days or weeks. I even got as low as 150 once a few years ago. But life has been so busy, so stressful at times, that something always makes me stop. No, that’s not true. I keep allowing myself to stop. I have to quit blaming external forces.
I did go through a second serious depression for about 3 years more recently (when the 20th anniversary of that tragedy came around it became evident that I hadn’t dealt with my grief properly the first time), so that certainly didn’t help matters. But even since I emerged from that—and am actually very happy now—I haven’t succeeded in my everlasting struggle.
Over recent months, I’ve become painfully aware that I need to get serious, once and for all. I can’t bear the thought of spending the rest of my 40s overweight, out of shape, and unhappy with my looks.
I feel matronly rather than sexy. I see my arms or my jawline in a mirror and I think I’m looking at someone much older, someone who has no style, someone who doesn’t care how she looks. I don’t want to be that way. I hate how tight my watch is on my wrist, and how the fat is starting to bulge around the band.
My sister and I love shopping—it’s our most fun “sister time”—so my closet is stuffed full of cute clothes I desperately want to wear, and I can only fit into 10% of them. I keep buying things just a tad too small for me, thinking, “All I need to lose is 5 pounds and I’ll be able to wear this.” And then I gain 5 instead.
So once again, I am beginning what I hope will be a lifelong commitment to exercise and eating right. I’ve failed so many times that I can’t help but roll my eyes at my own ambition because the negative voice in my head keeps saying, “You’ll never do it; you can’t do it.” But I’m definitely not ready to stop trying. I have to try again for my health—and for my ego, let’s be honest.
I reached an unwelcome milestone earlier this year when I discovered I was heavier than my husband. (He lost 25 pounds just by cutting out sugar, but no worries! I found them!) It’s disgusting. He doesn’t exercise a lick, although he is usually on his feet all day at his job. And he still eats pizza and peanut butter and heaps of pasta and bacon and…I could go on.
I’ll have to do much more than that to lose half as much, but that’s okay. I’ll do what I have to do.
Later this summer, I will turn 47 and celebrate my 27th anniversary of wedded bliss to the amazing thin man. I know I’m not going to reach my goals that soon, but I can be well on my way, and I think I can reach them by the end of the year. No question it won’t be easy. So here’s my plan.
I intend to lose 56 pounds to reach a goal of 135. I no longer feel the need to weigh 124, although it certainly wouldn’t upset me. Since I intend to build a little more muscle, I think I’ll look similar at 135 to how I looked at 124 anyway.
Exercise will be an essential part of my regimen. Actually, that’s not the hard part for me. I’ve found that once I’ve been exercising for a couple of weeks, I start really enjoying my workouts and miss them when I miss them.
My saying that might upset some people. Not everyone can say they enjoy exercising. But I do believe that many who say they hate exercise may not have actually done it long enough to experience that endorphin high. Or they’re exercising too intensely or not intensely enough. The high won’t happen for everyone, I suppose, but we are made to move, and it does feel good. Usually. Sometimes.
Here’s the hard part: I will stop putting bad things into my body. I’m not ready to say that I will never eat another Twinkie or Pop-Tart. I think making blanket statements like that is pretty much an assurance that I will indeed begin craving those very things to such a degree that I would gnaw off my arm at the elbow in order to have one. But in general, I am going to start seriously caring about what goes down the pie-hole.
The question I keep pondering is, Should I go all-out, or should I just go with moderation? Both approaches have worked for me to varying degrees. But thinking back to when I lost the 60 pounds, I was in one of my all-or-nothing moods. Then again, that was almost 20 years ago—what I did then may not be totally reasonable or achievable now. But faster progress does help me stay motivated. I’m only talking about 2 pounds a week; not planning on going to extremes. So I think if I’m going to do this, I’m going to be all business about it and not mess around.
Rather than following any specific diet plan, I’ll simply be focusing mostly on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. I have done Atkins in the past, including when I first started this blog, but it wasn’t working for me. I mean, it works, but I couldn’t do it long-term, having failed at it three times. Now I’ll kind of be going in the opposite direction, eating meat only on occasion and building most meals around veggies. I’ll keep loose track of my calories and try to have between 1,500 and 1,700 per day, not dropping below 1,200.
I have a treadmill, an elliptical, and a Wave, and I still have lots of exercise tapes and DVDs for a change of pace. Five to six times a week, I’ll do at least 30 minutes of cardio using one of those methods and 30 minutes of weight training with free weights.
A happy ending?
Man, I hope so. Watch and see! Kick me in the butt if I fall off the wagon, will ya?