Sunday, June 10, 2012

Growing and Shrinking



The photo collage I posted illustrates my relationship with my weight quite nicely. I was a skinny kid through kindergarten. Around first grade I hit a growth spurt that made me taller and chubbier than a vast majority of my classmates. From first grade through about eleventh I was always husky, big-boned, large, whatever euphemism you’d like for my age. I see obese children now and am thankful I wasn’t that overweight as a child, but I was still larger than most of my peers and I always felt uncomfortable because of it. I played sports and danced through elementary school and continued playing sports through eleventh grade. I used to think my eating habits were fine, and they were on par with most people I knew. I didn’t binge eat or sit down and finish a carton of ice cream or bag of cookies in one sitting.

I did eat like most people in the US do. I ate a lot of fast food and processed food. I didn’t eat a ton of fruit and vegetables. Almost any time I went out to eat (except a little over a year of vegetarianism at age 15-16) I ordered chicken tenders and fries. I always ate an after school snack…usually Oreos or ice cream or bagels. I didn’t perceive anything that wrong about how I ate because it was so similar to my peers and my family. I’m just blessed with a body that doesn’t respond well to that lifestyle. As you can see from my 2002 high school graduation picture, I had slimmed down some by senior year. This was a combination of the “bad” vegetarian diet, a stint of mild anorexia (that’s been a secret until now, sorry Mom!), and a rocky relationship that I had from January of senior year through October of my first year in college that caused me to often get upset  to the point where I’d throw up.

In October of my freshmen year in college I met my current partner and we started dating. We went through quite a bit of turmoil in our lives at first, and I started to slowly put on weight. We started living together in the summer of 2003 and around that time we started experimenting with cooking more. We also ate out several times a week if not every day. After a year we moved in with a roommate and continued this pattern. I remember one of the meals we’d make the most was pasta with chicken that had been breaded and pan fried. We’d also buy bags of onion rings and chicken tenders and have those for lunch several times a week. Our local upscale Chinese/sushi restaurant servers and owner knew us by name. In summation, I was happy and eating what I wanted with no regard for its effect on my body.


Again, I wasn’t doing anything crazy like binge eating or eating really gross meals, I was just doing what my skinny partner and roommate were doing. It was at the end of our year of living with our roommate that I started to feel uncomfortable about my weight. We went through another big change then and moved out of state to finish college. We moved in the summer of 2005, and as you can see from my collage, this is when I was reaching and hitting my heaviest point. That first semester at our new school was tough because we were adjusting to a new place, new schedule, and new people. Our eating habits stayed the same, and I kept gaining weight. I knew that I was obese and that I needed to make a change, but I couldn’t find the motivation. I started having health problems around the end of 2005. My right knee would twinge with pain every time I stood from a seated position. I started losing my breath when I walked across campus and thought I might have pneumonia or asthma. I used to have to get to class at least 10 minutes early to make sure I could find a desk where I’d fit. When I went to the doctor for the pneumonia scare I saw that I weighed over 300 pounds. It was the first time I’d seen a number in the 300s, and this was the first big shock that helped me start to make a change.

Around the same time I went to a new doctor and had her give me a full blood screening to make sure I didn’t have diabetes or any other complications from being obese. My Dad has diabetes and that was my biggest fear. It turned out that my blood sugar was fine, but there was a significant problem. My liver enzyme levels were incredibly high. My doctor referred me to a GI doctor who diagnosed me with fatty liver disease at age 21. My liver was essentially going into cirrhosis from the burden of my being so overweight. I was fortunate to have free access to a nutritionist on campus and I made an appointment that really did change my life. She taught me the basics of nutrition and really opened my eyes to how bad all the processed food I’d been eating was. She gave me a meal plan and suggested I keep a food log.

In the spring of 2006, I joined Calorie Count and set my goal around 1600 calories a day. Looking back at this I wish someone had checked me because I now know that’s too low for someone my age, height, and weight. When I started tracking my calories I weighed around 320 pounts. My partner was (and still is) incredibly supportive of my new meal plan and with learning about how to eat better. Fortunately, we both love to cook so it wasn’t as hard to eat right when we prepared food for ourselves.

The biggest changes I made were that:
1.  I stopped drinking my calories. I cut out all beverages that had calories except milk. I was already abstaining from alcohol due to my liver problems, but I was a heavy soda drinker.
2. I stopped eating any fried foods.
3. Eventually I stopped eating fast food. My partner and I haven’t eaten at any fast food restaurants since early 2007.
4. I began to try new fruits and vegetables and incorporate them into my diet.
5. I measured everything I ate.

Of course I wasn’t perfect. No one really can be. I was in college and I still wanted to enjoy time out with friends on occasion and sometimes school would get in the way of nutrition. I also realized that I had a tendency to reward myself with food. This took a long time to realize, and knowing that about myself really helped me make changes. Anytime something good happened (a good grade, a job offer, etc) I would want to splurge on food. I had to learn to do other things to reward myself.

By the time we’d graduated in the late spring of 2007 I’d lost about 70 pounds in that first year of changing my food lifestyle. I’d occasionally flirt with exercise but I never kept up with it. We moved back to where my partner is from and started working at our first jobs out of college. From then until around January of 2011 I kept slowly losing weight by controlling my eating habits. I’d go for months at a time without tracking calories and then track again for awhile if I felt myself slipping or becoming stagnant with my weight. My goal when I started was 180 pounds, and I think I hit that mark around the beginning of 2009. I dropped to about 165 and kept at that weight pretty consistently in 2010. In the beginning of 2011 I made a promise to myself that I deserved to get in the best shape of my life. I’ve always enjoyed being athletic, playing sports, swimming, and hiking. I decided to make a commitment to it rather than sticking to the sporadic relationship I’d had with exercise my whole life.

I set a goal to work out 3 times a week and I was pretty successful. I would mostly do workouts at home like kettlebells or Jillian Michael’s Ripped in 30 and 30 Day Shred. A lot of my friends at the time were runners, so I decided to give that a try. I used the Couch to 5k plan and by the early summer of 2011 I was down to 155 pounds, running 3 days a week, and working out at home 2 more days a week. At this time I was also in my last quarter of graduate school and actively applying to find my first job as a librarian. I interviewed for my current position in early August, and we moved out of state for my job 3 weeks later.

When we got here I struggled to find the time to exercise. Before we moved I was working 20 hours a week and going to school, so I could run any morning I wanted and had lots of weird free times. After moving I was working 40 hours a week and driving 45 minutes each way every day. Weekends were spent unpacking, exploring our new area, and getting settled. After the first month I joined a gym and started trying to pick up my running again. I wasn’t as successful as I’d been before we moved, and I gained about 5-10 pounds back by January. I re-committed myself this January and have been able to get in at least 3 workouts a week since then and recently have been hitting 5 each week.

My fingers are essentially numb by now so I’ll save what I’m doing now for food and exercise since that will be the focus of my ongoing entries. If you made it through all of that I’ll buy you an apple!

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