I said I wouldn’t join the rat race, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to celebrate my accomplishments or share what has been so effective for me.
Clarifications have been added to the bottom of this post. Please see below.
For so long I thought there was something deeply flawed about my body or psyche. I felt gross and inadequate. I couldn’t understand why others could do what felt impossible for me. I wanted to believe those who told me that it was a matter of willpower, and that I just needed to conquer mine. That it would be possible to keep a freezer stocked with ice cream and a cupboard full of crackers and still lose/maintain my weight. I would fixate on the junk food in the house, and think about it all day long. It was crazy to me that my husband didn’t have the same experience, because I thought it was normal to be in the shower right after breakfast and think about when I could eat the cheesecake leftovers in the fridge.
Sounds crazy, right? Out of control? Living that way was exhausting. Now that I look back I really believe that I was addicted to sugar, and based on my love of Fat Chance you can probably guess that I believe conquering my sugar addiction has been the key to my weight loss. I do have some good news who feel bad about their exercise record – I think weight loss comes through what you eat, not exercise. Sweat it out at the gym to boost you mood and build your muscles, but the “I can just exercise it off mentality” is harmful. I can’t be the only one who used to eat donuts and figure I’d go for a run to make up for it? Weight loss (of excess adipose tissue) comes through what you eat. Although I do think that excess sweetener (of any kind) is a very bad thing, I don’t think there is one right way for everyone. I’ll tell you what’s been working for me, and you can develop your own program from there.
Only eat when hungry. I’ll skip breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all in a row, if that’s what I think my body is telling me to do. David Levitsky, professor at Cornell, recently put out a study about breakfast eating and said ““There’s a fundamental belief that if you don’t eat breakfast, you will compensate for the lost calories at lunch or later in the day. We’ve found that there is no caloric compensation in a normal group of eaters.” I pay attention to how I’m feeling, look ahead to the rest of my day to make sure I’m not going to get in a bad spot and make poor choices, and make my choice to eat or not eat accordingly.
Don’t eat to feel full. Hara hachi bu is a Confucian teaching advising people to eat until they are 80 percent full. I work hard to do this every day, at every meal. I have the means and opportunity to eat almost anything I want at any meal, there is no reason to clean my plate and feel unpleasant.
(Almost) No cheating. I’m not perfect. This weight loss experience is long, and I’m going to have tough days. But I used to cheat on an almost-daily basis, telling myself that I’d start over the next day. Now I use Health Month, which keeps me accountable and has helped me develop a set of rules that I can actually stick to. I’ll talk about that a little bit more below.
DietBet. The idea is really simple, and it’s been a great motivator for me. Put down $25 (or so), lose 4%, get the extras from everyone who didn’t meet their goal. Those who have been around me in real life the past few months have heard me say “I’ve got a DietBet, I’m going to skip on the dessert this time around.”
Health Month. A reader mentioned HealthMonth back in March, and I took to it instantly as I’m a big fan of gamification. I set rules for myself, check in on a daily basis, and try not to lose all of my “life points” by the end. I like it so much that I’ve even started using it to modify negative practices I have in non-health related areas of my life (for example, in the month of August I’m not allowed to mindlessly browse social media before I go to bed, and if I do I lose a life point. Oh, and I have to floss too. I lost a life point on the first day for that one!) If this is going to work, I think it is crucial to set up a bad outcome if you lose all of your life points. Not just a bad outcome, something so horrific that you could never allow yourself to let it happen (obviously nothing illegal or that harms anyone else!). I learned about this principle on an episode of Radio Lab, which detailed the story of a woman who was only able to quit smoking after she decided that she would have to give money to the KKK if she ever smoked again. I have a reward each month too, usually some new clothes at the thrift stores in Menlo Park. As the months go by I’ve added and eliminated rules. I want to clean up different areas of my life, and also wean myself off of my dependency on the website so I can see which things have become lasting habits.
To try to help you understand how this works, I thought I’d show you the rules I used for April – August.
April: Drink at least 88 glasses of water a week – Do weight training at least 3 days a week – Run 3 days a week – Track your spending at least 1 day a week – No wheat every day
May: Drink at least 65 glasses of water a week – Do weight training at least 2 days a week – Run 3 days a week – Track your spending at least 1 day a week – No wheat every day – No fried food – No HFCS – No corn chips – Track meals every day using Eatery – No new unnecessary clothing items
June: Do weight training at least 2 days a week – Run 3 days a week – Track your spending at least 1 day a week – No wheat every day – No fried food – No HFCS – No corn chips – Allow added sugar 1 day/week – No gluten free junk food – No new unnecessary clothing items
July: Do weight training at least 2 days a week – Run 3 days a week – Track your spending at least 1 day a week – No wheat every day – No fried food – No HFCS – No corn chips – Allow added sugar 1 day/week – Can buy unnecessary clothes/accessories for me/kids 1x/week
August: Track spending at least 1 day a week – No wheat every day – No fried food – No HFCS – No corn chips – Allow added sugar 1 day/week - Can buy unnecessary clothes/accessories for me/kids 1x/week – Floss every day – No social media while laying in bed
As you can see, some rules have stayed the same since I started, others have been introduced, and others have been eliminated. I try to pay attention to trigger situations or areas for me, and create rules to target those areas. After a month I reevaluate how I’m doing to decide if I need to continue checking in regarding that thing. First the first two months I didn’t allow myself to have anything with any added sweetener of any kind. Since June I’ve allowed myself added sweetener 1x/week and it’s been really wonderful. I don’t feel deprived, I’m in control, and I’m meeting my weight loss goals. And the beauty of the Health Month game is that I have my life points for some wiggle room. If I’m in a situation where I’ve already had my sugar once that week, but really want some more, I have to weigh whether or not I want to lose a point.
This has helped me navigate all sorts of situations where I normally emerage flaying myself for my inadequacies. I went on a weekend trip with TH to Portland and planned my meals and splurges strategically around my life points. I ate at fantastic restaurants, enjoyed myself, and didn’t for a moment feel deprived. And I won my DietBet that month! At my grandma’s house in Washington they made ice cream by hand, using a crank on an old wooden machine, and I passed it up with no problem. Yes it would have been good, but I would have lost two life points, one for the sugar and one for the high fructose corn syrup, and I didn’t think it would be that good. I laughed and joked with my cousins as they at their ice cream and marveled at how in control I felt. Normally I would sit off to the side, fighting an internal battle, likely eventually giving in and feeling guilty and angry with myself for being a big (fat) failure. Now my indulgences feel like strategic moves, and I know that sometimes I’m going to lose the battle, but I can win the war.
GymPact. Another service that pays you for meeting your goals using the money from those who didn’t reach theirs. GymPact asks you how much money you want to pledge, how many times you want to work out/week, and then takes money from you if you fail to check in and work out as long as you pledged. I like that you can change your workout goals, amount pledged, or freeze your membership altogether on a weekly basis. The app was having issues so I stopped using it for awhile, but I renewed my membership at 24 Hour Fitness this past week so I think I’ll start up again. It feels like you’re getting paid (very small amounts) to work out!
Eatery. I wrote about Eatery previously, and it freaked a lot of people out so I’m not going to get into that again. You can read my previous post to understand how it works. I haven’t used it for a few months and don’t plan to go back to it, as I think it’s served its purpose for me. Eatery acted as a food journal, helping me understand exactly what I was eating. At the end of the week I would sit down with That Husband and we would talk about what my log said, and brainstorm ways I could make positive changes. I saw that I had cut out wheat, but was using rice and potatoes to meet those “carb cravings”. After a few months of using the app I had a firm understanding of my tendencies and negative patterns, and was able to conquer/lessen those by replacing them with other positive behaviors. When I want something crunchy now, I eat a carrot dipped in hummus and goat cheese (that’s what I had for lunch today, it was very satisfying).
TWLC4 Facebook group. A terrific support group full of women with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and opinions. Love you ladies.
Weight loss rewards for every 5 lbs. At the beginning of my weight loss journey I set reward for myself for each 5 lbs lost. They started out small (new mascara) and grow more elaborate and enticing as I get closer to my goal weight (a family photo session!). One of my favorites is “Buy myself fresh flowers 1x/week for 3 months”. In the summer I can get flowers for $3/week, so it’s not a huge hit to our budget, but those flower brighten up our kitchen and are a daily reminder of how far I’ve come.
Speaking of how far I’ve come, let’s talk about the results of the last 5 months. I’ve been measuring myself along the way, between March and July I lost:
Upper Arm – 1 inch
Bust- 4 inches
Waist – 3.5 inches
Belly – 4.5 inches
Hips – 4 inches
Butt – 4 inches
Thigh – 2 inches
Calves – .5 inches
It’s late as I finish typing this, but I wanted to address a few things that have already come up in an attempt to try to cut down on questions in the comments that I intend to get to but never do (ooops).
Breastfeeding. I stopped breastfeeding before I started all of this. Wasn’t working, I let it go.
Meat. I’m eating more of it, smoked salmon and sausage from the Mountain View farmer’s market multiple times/week. We just bought a grill and I think I’ll probably eat more chicken and beef as well (though I’m going to try to go all happy meat if I can make it work). I don’t eat any wheat and try to limit all potatoes or rice, which leaves me with nuts, vegetables, fruit… and meat. I should probably read Eating Animals again, but I’m avoiding it because I know it will make me feel guilty for the In-N-Out I’ve been indulging in every so often (did you know you can get your burger protein style, with no bun?)
Wheat. I don’t eat wheat because it’s a trigger food for me. I’ve found that it’s easier for me to now allow it at all, rather than struggle and try to limit myself. Just the way my brain works. I have had wheat a few times (Beast in Portland) in the past 6 months, but over all I’m fine without it. I think eventually I’d like to introduce it back into my life and see if I can manage it without bingeing and shame. Or maybe I’ll be gluten-free 95% of the time from now on, and I think I could survive with something like that.
TH. He’s doing his own thing. He supports me (often by not complaining about the way I stock the house, or the lack thereof), and I make sure that I always have bread available so he can make himself a sandwich of some kind. Most of his meals are eaten out because he’s traveling Monday-Thursday.
Sugar. I wish I had documented this in-depth as it was happening, because now I toss it off like it’s so easy. “Just stop eating sugar!” But I was addicted, and I think a lot of other people are as well. There were real physical, emotional, and psychological issues that needed to be conquered. I went cold turkey, no added sweetener of any kind (sugar, honey, fruit juice) and the first few weeks were brutal. ME WANT SUGAR GIVE ME ALL THE SWEETS. That’s where Health Month became really important, because I knew that each choice had consequences, and I was terrified that I would lose all of my life points and have to enact my penalty. It got easier at the 3 week mark, and felt normal by the 6 week mark. If you’re going to do it, get rid of all the sweetener in your house. Even the honey if you have to. At some point in June I recognized that I had started using dried fruit as a replacement for other sweets, and so I set some rules for myself to try to curb that behavior as well. In the beginning I also assigned a reward for myself at the end of the day, and I didn’t get that reward if I indulged in sweeteners in any way. I think the key is finding a reward that is accessible, won’t damage your other health endeavors, and is more appealing to you than the thing you are being tempted by.
The last two times I’ve had dessert, I’ve stopped eating before I cleaned my plate. You guys, this is monumental for me. And even more important, I didn’t look longingly at my portion until it was out of sight. I told myself I would only keep eating as long as the current bite tasted as good as the first, and then I knew I was done. The next sugar Everest for me to climb will be keeping cheesecake in the fridge without thinking about it in obsessive ways throughout the day (and night). If I can do that, I’ll know I can do anything.
If I were to boil down my tips for conquering a sugar addiction they would be:
1. Eliminate all added sweeteners of any kind. This includes everything “natural”. Sugar, fruit juice, honey, etc. Teach yourself to eat fruit (in season), and enjoy the natural sweetness of foods that you might not have noticed before.
2. Create an environment free of temptation. If you can’t resist it, throw it out.
3. Have a system that keeps you accountable. For me this was Health Month.
4. Make it to the 6-week mark. It’s a lot easier after that.
5. Craft a plan for your long-term approach. I think I’d like to stick with my 1x/week system, it feels like a good long-term fit for me.
Today, August 6th 2013, I stepped on the scale and weighed 150 lbs. By the end of the month I’ll be at my wedding weight! I plan to keep going until I’ve eliminated my excess visceral (stomach) fat. After that I’ll move into maintenance mode and buy myself that perfect pair of jeans that I’ve been lusting after for so long.
Clarification #1: As is sometimes (often?) the case, one of my previous posts was not well received and didn’t communicate the message I intended. For me, the post-baby weight-loss “rat race” is embodied by the magazine covers we are bombarded with in the grocery checkout line that talk about how every starlet has her pre-baby body back weeks or days after having a baby. It is not losing the weight that it is the problem, it is communicating to women that it is their responsibility to get a form of their body back as soon as possible after having a baby. Women recovering from the experience of childbirth do not need that kind of pressure on top of everything else. With my first baby, I didn’t start working hard to lose weight until about 8 months post-partum. That’s when I got serious about exercise, and took a good hard look at what I was eating. And our lifestyle/habits changed for the better because of it! This time around, I had a much harder time with the ways my body was altered due to pregnancy. I was ready to get to it very shortly after my daughter was born. What I want to communicate is that no way is better. Don’t lose the weight at all, take your time in doing it, have it off within weeks of having a baby (for some women like my friend Molly it’s a very different experience from my own). What we should stop doing is saying to each other “You look like you didn’t even have a baby!*” With that, we reinforce the idea that the way a woman changes with pregnancy is a negative thing, and that the goal is to have a pre-baby body at all times. I think talking about weight loss success is great, and I will continue to do so (both because it’s a nice way to pay myself on the back, and because I think it’s helpful to read what other people have found success in). Talking about weight loss in a manner that reinforces the idea that women should look like they never had a baby in the first place is what should be eliminated from our discourse.
Clarification #2: This post does not describe what or how I eat on a daily basis. In regard to the statements about what meals I do or do not eat, I will reiterate that in the paragraphs above I was attempting to illustrate the principle of only eating when hungry, not describe a typical day in my life. I am not advocating intermittent fasting (though I don’t have any issues with that approach to nutrition either), and haven’t actually gone any days without eating anything at all within the last 6 months. I do believe that you should not let outside cues dictate when you eat, and that eating intuitively means listening to your body. No exceptions. I have found that my hunger patterns are cyclical, ebbing and flowing with my menstrual cycle. In the 10 days before my period begins, I am ravenous and feel like I can eat everything in sight. After my period ends there is a week where I eat really small amounts of food and feel satisfied. I understand that there are some nutritionists that advocate eating on a schedule. If there is firm science advocating that one should not listen to their body to determine when to eat, I would be interested in reading more and welcome links to that information. What has worked for me is eating when I’m hungry, which means I eat a lot one day and little another day. My body feels good when I do this (aside from any resulting weight loss). This is something I’ve already begun trying to teach T1, to eat nutritious foods when he is hungry, and stop when his tummy tells him that he has satisfied those signals. If there is research proving that this parenting approach will have negative repercussions I would be interested in reading that as well.
*I am guilty of this as well.