Things I Wish I Knew 103 Pounds Ago

I have always liked those stories of what someone would tell their younger self, knowing what they know now. One hundred and three pounds ago was only early 2013, but I was a completely different person then.

So, here’s my advice to 248 lb. Karen.

Dear Karen,

You’re about to embark on a journey that scares the hell out of you, but you need to know a few things before you take that first step.

First, while you think it’s a weight loss journey (and while you cringe at the whole “journey” phrase that’s all over the boards in My Fitness Pal, you’ll come to embrace it), you’ll eventually figure out it’s a health journey. It’s more about the numbers on the scale (or as you refer to it and still do today – ” that f%$^&*g scale”), it’s about all the changes you’ll make, the pounds you’ll lose, yes, but more importantly what you’ll gain.

I know “gain” is a four-letter word, but hear me out. As all that fat falls off, you’ll also lose self-doubt, insecurities, and while it’s a harsh term – but sadly it fits – self-loathing. But what you’ll gain is priceless, self-efficacy (look it up, you’ll learn about it later when you take that Health Coach class), confidence and the ability to say you like and love yourself.

It won’t be easy. Whoever said weight loss isn’t linear was right. Lots of ups and downs on that f%$^&*g scale will drive you crazy. Stop basing your worth on what that one number says. It’s one number! What’s more important is how you feel. You’ll be able to do so much, from simple things like touching your toes, to deadlifting more than your body weight (okay, not the 248, but 175 lbs. was pretty impressive), to running a couple of 5Ks each year. And you were “overweight” while doing those, so what does it matter what the scale says? Yes, this is also for current day Karen, as I do still give the scale more importance than it’s worth, but I’m trying and getting better at it.

After your read this, you’ll start logging today’s food on My Fitness Pal. This will be one of the key moves that leads to your success. Read all the forum threads you can, there’s a lot of great information on there and it’ll show you how to make this work because it can be done. And you will do it. The education of what, how and why is the reason this is going to work for you this time, you didn’t know enough before, but you will now.

You’re going to learn to cook. Stop laughing and put down the takeout menus. Nothing wrong with eating out but you can’t keep doing it every single day. Not good for your body or for your wallet. Start backing off now, you’ll thank me later.

You’re going to exercise. Again with the laughing?? I’m serious. You’ll start walking, first around the lake, then gradually longer distances. You will enjoy it so much and you’ll notice how you feel when you miss a few days. Appreciate it now, because when you catch up to me, your new job will only give you time to do it on the weekends. It’s still great therapy, even when those pesky geese threaten your life.

And it won’t be just walking. First you’ll use the gym at the clubhouse, including a trainer, then you’ll join the UNC Wellness Center and start doing classes. You are going to love TRX, it’s something you can do, even when you’re obese. You’ll go to several TRX classes a week and start to get what you call “baby biceps.” What you’ll also notice during this time is that you’ll choose the straps that face the mirror and you can actually look at yourself without feeling disgust. Yes, really. You’ll start noticing that whole confidence thing, you’ll make friends in these classes, you’ll try new ones, Kettle Bells, Muscle Conditioning, Boot Camp and more. And guess what, you’ll start going to the 5:45AM classes!  In fact, you’ll go at that hour Monday through Friday before work and find it gets your day off to a great start, (yes, you got a new job, you survived).

Do more strength training now. I made the mistake of focusing on cardio and the need to burn calories. Many plateaus later, I went to the dietitian and learned, that while I lost fat, I also lost muscle mass and that’s why things slowed down. You’ll decide to use a trainer to learn to lift heavy. You’ll feel intimidated by the idea of lifting weights in that part of the gym, but you’ll follow your trainer around and see how comfortable she is and over time, you’ll find you can go there by yourself, and feel like you belong. And realize no one else really cares or is staring at you. That’s a major step.

Probably the biggest hurdle for you is stress eating. You’re too good at it. Food has always been a source of comfort, food doesn’t let you down like people do, food is a reward for a bad shift at work, or when life in general isn’t going well. You need to stop this. I need to stop this. It’s still an issue, but with the help of our dietitian, it’s been less of an issue lately, you don’t want to disappoint her by backsliding when things aren’t going well. It’s still hard, but less hard for me, than for you. Just hang in there. You’ll get it.

We navigated this journey over some potholes and detours, but always found the way back. It’s worth it, it really is. You’ll do great, I’m doing great and we’ll handle whatever else comes along.

“She believed she could, so she did.”

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Bod Pods and Dexas and Scales, Oh My!

There are several ways (almost tempted to misspell it as ‘weighs’) to measure your body in terms of weight loss, fat loss, and muscle gain. The scale is the most popular, because it’s easily accessible, but also the one that causes the most distress. I’m not at the point where I can forego the torture, but am currently working on trying to keep it to twice a week and not every day. I don’t feel weekly is for me, I’ve seen how quickly I can gain, thank you PCOS and stress eating. I’m trying to end my relationship with it, it’s not a healthy one, I still what it tells me dictate how I feel about my body and a stupid machine should not have that kind of hold on anyone. I’m working on that more and more now that I reached my first goal weight.

Other methods include the Dexa scan, Bod Pods, hydrostatic weighing, skin fold measurements, bioelectric impedance analysis, tape measures and even seeing how your clothes fit. The gold standard is considered the hydrostatic weighing, it involves submerging yourself underwater while measurements are done. Haven’t tried that one and I’m okay with that.

I have done both the Bod Pod and the Dexa scans. It’s been well over a year since my last Bod Pod. I did them at a local university’s fitness center. You sit in a “pod” wearing a lot of spandex – tight shorts, a sports bra and a swim cap. The idea with that cute outfit is to keep all excess air trapped in clothing pockets off, so the measurements can be done by air displacement. It’s a short test, and happily there’s a lot more room in the pod than appears when you’re looking at it. I’m a little claustrophobic, but this was fine.

I last did a Dexa about a week and a half ago. That involves laying on a table while the scanner passes over you, printing out an image of your body with the fat, muscle and bone all in different colors. It’s not enclosed so again, no issues with the claustrophobia.

Both yield the same results, your weight, fat mass, fat free mass and more. Licensed personnel will sit down and help you interpret the results. I love data, so the numbers on both appeal to me. Both are similar in cost, at least around here. I would say I prefer the Dexa, the place I go to is closer and I like getting the picture of my body so I can see the differences from one scan to the next. It helps me and my dietitian make better decisions about where this journey is going.

Other quicker and cheaper options include using a tape measure or skin fold calipers. I’m bad at getting the tape measure in the right spots and was never sure of my results. If I’m losing fat, but gaining muscle, should my arms be bigger or smaller? I’ve given up doing it myself and ask my trainer to do it periodically. She’s good with the skin fold calipers, the last time, she was almost identical to a Bod Pod I’d done right before that.

So, do you need to do any of this? No, of course not. There are plenty of people who never get on a scale, who use how their clothing fits as a guide as to whether or not their weight is stable. I don’t know if that’ll ever be me, I’m trying but it’s very hard after being obese for most of my life. I am getting better at seeing the bigger picture, of it being more than just a number on the scale. My body fat percentage dropped with this last scan, but more importantly I lost very little muscle mass. I’m shifting my focus to muscle gains, to feeling stronger and healthier. My brain prefers it that way.

(Bod Pod picture borrowed from Duke Fitness Center, where I did mine)

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Weighing and Measuring

Your food, that is.

One of the biggest steps you can take to lose weight is to weigh and measure your food. Our sense of portions can be badly distorted, as over time, they’ve gotten bigger and bigger, most notably in restaurants and fast food establishments. They’re ridiculous sizes and even so called “healthy” foods like salad, can run over 1000 calories based on the size and ingredients. But the average person is going to see a salad and think they’re eating healthy. Not quite.

I’m the first person to complain that a half-cup of ice cream is a serving size. Not in my universe. I currently don’t keep ice cream in the house because it’s a trigger food and I can’t handle not eating the whole container. But when I did have it, I was usually five servings at a time, and did manage to get it down to three, a little more realistic, but still a lot of sugar.

Packaged foods will list the serving size for that product as well as how many there in that package. They list the standard half-cup, etc, but they also list the weight, most often in grams. Weighing solid foods is the more accurate means to portion control and not overeating. You can overpack a measuring cup with a food and even though it’s a cup, you’ve just added several hundred more calories. Believe me, I can pack that ice cream in there with no leftover space! But the first time I put that same ice cream half-cup on the scale and used the grams, in this case 62, the difference was incredible. And sad 🙁 But a great learning experience for me.

The usual rule of thumb is to weigh solids and measure liquids. It’s easy enough to do. A decent food scale doesn’t cost much – my current one was $20. It weighs in pounds and ounces, grams, milliliters. I mostly use the grams.  If I’m adding several ingredients, I simply hit the “tare” button between each one, so it resets to zero and I don’t have to become a human calculator. I keep mine out on the counter and pressing a button and weighing my food adds maybe thirty extra seconds a day. I still weigh most of the time, I’ve just done it so long and it’s a habit now. You don’t have to weigh everything for the rest of your life, but it is recommended to do so at least long enough so you can get a better idea of how to eyeball portion sizes. That comes in handy if you’re eating out at a restaurant or a friend’s house. Or if you want to make a game of it. I cut off a chunk of mozzarella and find I can almost always come within two or three grams of what I was aiming for. I’m a little proud of that skill.

A food scale and measuring cups and spoons can go a long way in establishing better eating for both health and weight loss. It’s an eye-opener to do so.

My Fitness Pal has a great article on how to eyeball serving sizes when there’s no scale around. Another great site on proper sizes and eating is from the USDA with it’s Choose My Plate campaign. There are a lot of resources there to help you. 

 

 

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And the Journey Continues …

In my previous post, day 2053 saw me hitting my goal weight of 145 lbs. It was a weight Britt, my dietitian, and I set, because it was extra weight I’d put on last year, due to some stressors and my handling them by eating (that’s a whole other post somewhere in the near future). We started this extra effort (I say we, because it was a team effort) in early March. I did a repeat Dexa scan this past weekend and took the results to see Britt this morning. And to hug the “fat baby” – one of those five pound globs of fat used in dietitians’ offices to demonstrate how it looks and feels. I always like hanging onto it during appointments, so that’s how it got it’s nickname. But I digress.

So, my results made me happy. I did the first one in early April with a body fat percent of 27.8. I’m now at 24.3% and while weight loss efforts cause the loss of both fat and muscle mass, I only lost 186 grams of muscle, approximately six ounces. The person doing the scan told me that you usually lose more. Retaining lean muscle mass is vital, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns all day long, not just in the gym. Besides all the health and strength benefits of having muscle, it looks good too 🙂

My bone mineral density went up 16 grams. All the weights and strength training is paying off. So many of the “mature” population have issues with decreased bone density and osteoporosis, especially women, and it’s something that’s always scared me. I always say I don’t want to be that woman in the commercial who is laying at the bottom of the stairs with the broken hip.

Besides the antiquated and too generalized BMI, this scan also shows an FMI – Fat Mass Index. It shows how much fat you have with your own height. The problem with BMI is it takes your total weight, which can cause people with large amounts of muscle and very little body fat to be in the “overweight” and “obese” category and is very misleading. FMI gives a more accurate picture. For females, 5-9 is normal. In my first scan I was 8.15 – normal! This weekend I hit 6.77 – even more normal! For someone who has been obese most of her life, that just makes me happy.

So, with all this data, and a really honest talk with Britt – I’m going to continue down the weight loss road of this journey for a little while longer. We’ve decided on a final goal weight of 138 lbs. I want to be out of the 140s and this number would keep my body fat percent at a sustainable level, and also take into account my current strength/weight training routines and desire to put on more muscle. I know it’ll be slower to drop off than these recent few pounds were, but I’m in it for the long haul.

And on a fun note, I apparently got a certain dietitian hooked on Purely Elizabeth Chocolate Sea Salt Granola – I brought her a bag after logging it a lot lately and it was a hit. It’s really good and I just find it amusing to introduce a new product to a dietitian.

Me holding the “fat baby.” (for reference I lost 20.6 of them)

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Day 2053

That was August 12th.

Day 2053 of my weight loss – now health journey was the day I hit my goal weight of 145 lbs. Okay, it originally was 145.2, but you give it a few minutes, let your kidneys do their thing and 145.0 it is. (I’ve gotten good at doing this over the years of scale hell).

After waiting so long it was kind of anticlimactic. I think all 2053 days of sweat, tears, losses, gains, plateaus, rants, excitement, anger and happiness all caught up with me on the scale that morning and I was tired. It took an excited email from my dietitian to make me realize the magnitude of what I just did and then I finally got teary.

On her advice, I waited to write this post so I could process it and get used to the idea. It seemed out of reach for so long, sometimes close enough to touch, but then it would slip away. It shouldn’t have been an issue, but it was a specific goal and I just wanted to say I hit it, even though I was already experiencing a significant amount of weight loss, a body that was now capable of being active and doing all sorts of things it never could before, and a new found confidence in it. For the first time in my life, I was learning to like myself and hitting a certain number on the scale shouldn’t be a big deal, but it was. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to go back to my old eating habits and stop showing up at the gym, right? I think it was just really important to me to finish something I started. I do get obsessed with the numbers and that’s something I’m working on, rather than focus on the physical changes of how I look and feel and how clothes fit.

So now, I’m at a fork in the road of this journey. I started at 248 lbs., a BMI of 45.4 (morbidly obese). I’m now 145 lbs., BMI is 26.5, still in the overweight category. For my height, to get my BMI to 24.9 – “normal” – I’d have to hit 136 lbs. or less. I’ve lost 42% of my starting weight. I do love all this, but the part of me that focuses on the numbers wants to be better. What’s that saying? “I didn’t come this far, to only come this far.” I need to decide if I continue on, or switch to maintenance numbers, either for a short term, or declare this part of the journey a done deal.

I’m trying to be realistic. At 54, and with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, losing weight is HARD, mentally and physically. I’m still trying to figure out what’s next. Today I went and did a Dexa scan. It’s a test that measures, down to the gram, your weight, fat mass, lean mass, bone density and plots them all out on graphs – right up my alley with all the numbers. I did one in early April, shortly after my dietitian and I met and decided on some new tactics to get me to lose the recent fifteen pounds I regained and couldn’t get off, a few months earlier. I’m meeting with her in a couple of days to look at all the data, compare the two scans, and to help me decide the next steps.

And speaking of my dietitian, I need to say THANK YOU on this blog. Her name is Britt, and she helps me more than she realizes. Yes, it’s her job, but she always makes it seem like it’s more than that and she goes the extra mile (or ten) on a daily basis. When you think of a dietitian, you may visualize someone who will tell you what you can’t eat, and judge what you do eat, or how you let yourself get to a point where you need help. I am so lucky to have found someone who is none of that. I’ve used dietitians in the past and none of them could ever help me devise a way of eating that fit my lifestyle – I used to work twelve hour night shifts. They all tried to make me eat foods that were “healthy” even though I didn’t like them, it was a cookie cutter plan that they used on all their clients. Britt never did that, she helped me figure out the night shift eating, and now with a M-F day job, how to eat during the day, in a setting where you can’t eat more casually, like you can on night shifts. She helps me make an eating plan that fits me, not trying to make me fit into a generic eating plan. She puts up with my panicked emails and angry ramblings when the scale doesn’t do what I want and has talked me off the ledge many times. I get the tough love when I need it, but at the same time, so much support in every aspect of this journey. She and I strategized about my recent trip to NYC (native NYer) where I planned to eat lots of real bagels and pizza, and how to have fun, enjoy the food and take ownership of whatever the scale did when I got back (three pounds up and it fell off in three days – worth every carb). I’ve lost fifteen pounds since early March, more than I have in recent memory and it’s due to her closer monitoring and checking in. There’s no way that would have happened without it. The support is priceless and I’m very lucky to have it and to have her in my corner as I continue with whatever path this takes. Thank you, Britt.

My two recent Dexa scans. The image on the left is from April, and the right from today. Blue is bone, orange is fat, and red is muscle mass.

 

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