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Weighing My Weight

by Sierra on March 7, 2014 · 10 comments

in Uncategorized

A few years ago, I abruptly started gaining weight. Several things seemed to collude around it: I stopped breastfeeding, I hit my mid-30s, and my work became more sedentary all at once. I didn’t worry about it.

Over the past three years though, I’ve put on over 40 pounds. That’s a substantial portion of my body weight. I haven’t really known how to be in relationship with the changes in my body. Do I celebrate my new curves or try to drop them? Is there a way I can be in love with the body I have and also work towards more fitness? What would that look like? Is there a Right Size for me to be? Etc. It’s all been pretty complicated up in my head when I look in the mirror.

Overall, I’d made my peace with these body changes. I exercise, though not as much as I’d like. I eat pretty well and could do better. I like the way I look. In the fall, I had a wonderful brief period where I was exercising all the time and eating pretty well and I felt AMAZING.

Then I started a new job and took up studying Spanish and it got cold. The time and motivation for exercise dried up and my diet slipped into more comfort and less care. I don’t feel as great in my body now as I did six months ago.

Which is all OK. I’m not suffering over my weight, and I don’t think my 25-year-old figure was the Holy Grail. I threw out all my skinny jeans a long time ago.

But my doctor is concerned about how much weight I’ve put on. I trust her, a lot. She’s a really grounded sensitive person. I know she’s not recreationally telling me to drop these pounds because she thinks I’d look cuter in a bikini if I went back to being a size 4.

She first brought this up with me at my annual physical, and I saw her again today for a follow-up visit. She wants me to make some pretty substantial changes to my diet and lifestyle, with the aim of losing the weight I’ve gained. She also wants me to revamp my whole family’s eating habits. Apparently, we are doing it wrong. Where by wrong I mean eating too much starch and cheese. Which, OK, I pretty much knew that.

I have ALL THE FEELINGS about this. I do not want to get on the weight loss roller coaster. I think I look plenty cute as is. I would like to be more fit, and have more energy, and stop eating foods that aggravate my allergies. I hate our cultural fixation on being thin. I would love to be stronger. I trust my doctor and her concerns about my health are real. More vegetables and fewer starches is just a good idea. I’m not giving up chocolate. Etc.

The changes she wants me to make mostly sound good to me. She wants me to adopt a gluten-free, low-carb, high-protein diet, to replace one meal a day with a smoothie (she recommended these) and to get more exercise. That sounds challenging but overall like an improvement to my health.

I think I like this idea more if I don’t see weight loss as a goal of these changes but just a likely side effect of making some healthy adjustments in pursuit of other goals, like supporting my mood stability and increasing my energy and not having a sniffly nose all the time.

I’d love to recapture that sense I had last fall (when I was still slowly gaining weight, fwiw) of taking really good care of myself and feeling really good in my body. I would love to continue not caring what pants size I wear.

So I have questions, and they’re for all of you, the fitness nuts and the voluptuous beauties and the people who love being fat & happy  and the people who love weighing out portions and measuring muscle mass and those who are all of the above and those who don’t care at all about this topic but maybe have interesting life hacks around forming new habits or tracking data. Help me find my way through this so I can stay healthy both in my body and in my relationship to food and weight?

What helps you feel good about how you look? What helps you feel good about your body and being a physical embodied creature? How do you make healthy food choices? What supports you in sticking with changes to your food habits? How do you fit exercise into a busy day? How do you invest emotionally in being fit and healthy without caring about the number on the scale?

Etc. etc. etc. Help me figure this out, please? For bonus points, do it in a really body positive, person positive way without any fat-shaming bullshit.

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  • Borealis

    Hi. I don’t think I’ve commented before, but I’ve got a lot of habit changing to do myself and I feel like I’m just starting to find some strategies that work for me. I feel like I came to adulthood knowing a lot about myself as a learner of information, less about how to change behavior, and I have tended to fall very very easily into guilt/shame/anxiety spirals that get nothing done. All this is pretty new to me, so while it’s more than theoretical, it hasn’t really had a lot of experience to temper it either. I have no idea if I’ve spent a lot of time the last year and a half or so learning how teach my dog in ways that are fair and kind as well as effective. I would never punish her the way I have tended to do to myself, and I’m trying to translate some of that kindness to myself as well.

    For me, that means positive reinforcement. What works best for me is to choose a reinforcer in the moment–to give myself a moment to notice that I’ve done something I want to encourage and celebrate and to ask myself if there’s something I can do that will help me feel happy about having done it. I try to give myself that happiness as soon as I can, and I try to remember that most of the behaviors I want to target in myself are complex and that some parts of them are harder for me than others (usually early parts like stopping whatever it was I was doing beforehand) and that those hard parts need the most reinforcement.

    If at all possible, I try to ignore any behavior other than what I’m trying to encourage (not withholding attention from myself–that’s negative punishment–just letting the behavior play out as it will), and wait for a behavior I can reinforce. I try not to think of other behaviors as bad, just as not the thing I’m trying to encourage.

    And now perhaps you see why I don’t comment much–I cannot do so briefly. I’ll try to just throw out a few more concrete things.

    For somewhat impercise data tracking, a calendar or notebook in the bathroom works for me. It feels like a good time to take a few seconds to think about and record things I’m happy to remember–and I at least start by just writing down the good things (or things that help me, in the moment, clarify how to make good things happen) so that the writing down is reinforcing both of the earlier behaviors and of itself.

    I like to make a game out of trying to remember all the species I’ve eaten in a day. Encouraging diversity usually seems to encourage healthier eating, and whoever didn’t cook the food gets to train their pallet trying to figure out what went into the dish. Sometimes we use it as a chance to thank the plants and animals we eat too.

    Oh, and I try to remember that weight is not something I can control. I can influence it, in complex, individual, and poorly understood ways, but I can’t directly control it. It is not the direct cause of many of the the problems associated with it even if it is correlated with them. I will get benefits from exercise and healthy food whether or not those benefits show up in my weight.

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    amadea Reply:

    I echo the people who have said find something you love. There are only two forms of deliberate physical exertion that have ever made a positive difference in my life: walking, and a very very specific kind of cardio exercise done at a very very specific rate to a very very specific kind of music. Once I found those things I became periodically unwilling to give them up. Clubby dancing and singing have also been a big part of enjoying my own embodiment. I’m having a really hard time prioritizing those things right now, and I think a lot of it has to do with the cold… I’m hoping to really embrace upcoming changes in the weather as a time to reconnect with practices I’ve loved and missed. Also, someone once pointed out to me that one rarely regrets a workout, and then I realized that was true for me as well. I found that to be a refreshing little island of predictability and unambiguity in my otherwise conflicted and ambiguity-filled life.

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  • Amanda Martin

    Meal plan. Try it for a month and then it will be a habit. I also like the LoseIt app, not necessarily for weight loss but because it makes it easy to keep track of food and exercise.

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  • disqus_h7Z1bZGCto

    I recently lost about 25lb over 2 years. I was happy as I was before (not bikini happy, but not consumed with body hatred either), but it’s clear in retrospect that I am so much happier now. It feels good to live in this body, it feels good to move in this body. I hope that I don’t have to go back.

    When I say 2 years, I don’t mean that I was continuously on the wagon the entire time. But you can fall off for a day or a week and then say, that happened, it’s cool, doesn’t mean things are going back to the way they were.

    The best advice I have is to think about what you eat in terms of a series of decisions, and you just have to make the best decision you can at every point. Oops, don’t have the ingredients for smoothie breakfast today — what’s the healthiest thing I can eat with the stuff I do have? I’m eating out for the third time this week — what’s the healthiest thing on the menu? And in terms of decisions, the most important decision is how much of a thing to eat. I realized that eating a few bites of something can be just as satisfying (or more, if you can believe it!) as eating the entire thing. For instance, if I’ve eaten my (healthy) lunch and someone offers me a fresh local doughnut: I can say, I’ll have a few-bites-sized piece! And I’ll enjoy the hell out of those bites!

    Exercise too, does not have to be painful. In terms of benefits to your health and weight loss, running a mile and walking a mile seem to be roughly equal: yeah, running will get your heart rate up higher, but walking will keep it high for longer. For me, it’s a lot easier to get up the motivation to go for a longer walk than it is to run for even a very short period. Also easier to find people to do it with. So I do it more. I was also more successful with exercise once I started integrating it into my everyday life, ie, biking to work, walking to the grocery store, etc. Can I walk while waiting? Not always practical, but it’s a great habit just to think about how you could exercise as part of your day. To that end, I ended up buying a fitbit and it also helped me think about how I could get more movement in the course of living rather than having to find time for it.

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  • WillO

    For what it’s worth, and with all the usual caveats about how both your mileage and your destination may vary, etc.

    Six months ago, on a whim, I downloaded MyFitnessPal and used it to start counting calories, which is something that I’ve never done, never been tempted to do, and always assumed would be a dreadful way to live.

    I told MyFItnessPal I wanted to lose a half a pound a week and it told me I could have 1920 calories per day. My regimen has been to eat whatever I want, record it all, and stop for the day when I hit 1920. I thought this would be difficult, and doubted I would last a week. In fact it’s been totally painless. I often stop short of my 1920, and have lost something closer to a pound a week (22 pounds in six months). On two or three occasions, I’ve had a day when I made a conscious choice to go over 1920, and that’s fine too.

    Here’s why I think this has worked so well and so easily for me: First, I was previously making bad choices because I was poorly informed about calorie counts. For example, i had a salad I was making almost every day, and that I believed was a good low-calorie meal. When I added up the ingredients so I could record the salad in MyFitnessPal, I discovered it was almost 1300 calories.

    Now I really really liked that salad, but for 1300 calories there are a lot of other meals I like a whole lot more. In fact, for half that many calories there a lot of other meals I like a whole lot more, ,and I’d have been choosing them all along if only I’d been aware of the calorie counts. MyFitnessPal forced me to be aware.

    The other big effect of this regimen is that I no longer take seconds of things I don’t really want anyway. I used to mindlessly grab seconds at almost every meal. Now I pause for just an instant to think about the calories. If I really want the seconds, I go ahead and take them. But if I don’t really want them, the five-second pause to think about the calories is enough to stop me from taking them.

    Over time (and for me it was a surprisingly short time) I discovered the truth of a lot of things I’d often heard but never believed, e.g. once you get used to eating less, you have a lot fewer cravings.

    This also means that I get to eat delicious snacks all the time, which would have been disastrous six months ago because I wouldn’t have controlled the portions, but works great now because the calorie-counting requires me to measure them out. I eat a LOT of pre-shelled pistachios at 80 calories per 1/8 cup, and of shelled pistachios at 80 calories per 1/4 cup. A few times a day, I’ll eat 80 or 160 calories worth of pistachios. That’s a noticeable fraction of my 1920, but well worth it.

    My other great diet food is Brookstone chocolates (especially the acai and pomegranate flavors), which I discovered around the same time I started the diet, and which are incredibly delicious. The package used to say 80 calories per 1/8 cup. They haven’t (in any way that I can see) changed the candies, but they’ve recently upped the calorie count to something closer to 100 per 1/8 cup. I have, usually, two or three servings a day. They are chewy, so they last long, and they’re very satisfying, and they definitely make me feel like I’m not on a diet.

    So the pistachios and the chocolates account for maybe 400 to 500 of my daily 1920. A few days a week I treat myself to an enormous lunch that can go over 1000 calories, and have a light 400 calorie dinner. Some days I use only half my allotted calories and notice I don’t really need any more.

    Thankfully, I’m a bit of a hoarder and had saved a whole lot of clothes that hadn’t fit me for a decade. They all fit now.

    I’m not sure whether any of this will work for you, and even if it would, I’m not sure how well it matches your goals (which seem to include all sorts of healthy-eating things that are lower priority for me — I pretty much just wanted the weight gone). But it sure has worked for me.

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  • gosling

    So I wrote a long comment that somehow disappeared, but the very brief summary is that I wonder if your doctor has checked your thyroid (or ideally sent you to an endocrinologist). It is pretty common for women to develop hypothyroidism in their thirties, and it is easy to check and easy to treat. Untreated it tends to lead to weight gain (often a lot of weight gain even while exercising and eating well) and general lowering of energy levels.

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  • Megan

    For the last few months I’ve been trying to make sure that we always have a few staple meal-bases in the fridge all the time. I choose one day a week to make a big pan of polenta. It is super easy to take one of the squares and pop it in the microwave as the base for any number of foods. I’ve also started doing a big slow cooker of beans so we always have beans in the fridge. (I do a hot soak of the beans in the morning. Just add boiling water and let them sit for a few hours. Then thrown them in the slow cooker for 4-6 hours. I brown an onion on the stove to add in, but any other flavors I just throw in with the beans.) We’ve also found that pre-chopping a whole bunch of brocolli means that we can easily add it to any meal and it only takes a couple extra minutes. Also making sure that there are always hard boiled eggs in the fridge for times when you need to grab something and run.

    Excercise is a lot harder for me. I ride my bike for transportation but that is pretty much the only consistent excercise in my life. I try to make it to ballet once a week, but there are only so many childcare hours available to me and I frequently find myself trading ballet for more homework time.

    This is an interesting conversation and I look forward to seeing what other ideas you come up with.

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  • http://hadesarrow.com/blog Meagan

    The mantra I kept telling myself when I was at my most overweight was “I deserve a body I love.” I don’t want to be skinny, but I like looking in the mirror and feeling cute. I like not getting out of breath when I carry my toddler upstairs. I like being QUICK when I actually bother to show up and participate in my sport (I’m a fencer).

    The mantra helped some. “Sensible” diets really didn’t, though they made me feel healthier. I ended up losing the bulk of my weight through nutrisystem and South Beach. And eventually realized I actually can’t do South Beach because even though it takes the weight off reliably, it also apparently screws with my body too much and I end up getting depressed and borderline suicidal. So no more South Beach no matter how much fun that first week of losing a pound a day might be.

    Nutrisystem is honestly kind of gross, but it’s easy, and with a young toddler that’s what I needed. I lasted 3 months before I couldn’t handle the food anymore. BUT that gave me some help with portion control, so I was able to keep a handle on it when I switched to my own recipes… I kept losing weight though more slowly.

    I stall out, pretty much any time I try to lose weight, at 10-15 lbs overweight. I’m pretty comfortable and happy with my appearance at 150 lbs (10 lbs over). Anything under and I feel just smoking hot. At 155 I’m not as thrilled, but I’m ok. Anything over that is pushing it for both my body image and my physical well being.

    I look, if I can say so, freaking amazing at 135. Still lots of curves and even a rounded belly, but I am hot. I haven’t actually hit that number in about 5 years, and I probably won’t again. I’m ok with that. I fortunately have an amazing husband who thinks I look incredible when I’m 135 lbs, but still thinks I look incredible at 180 (I am 5’2, so my weight threshold is pretty narrow and 180 for me is very bad). I think it’s been much easier for me to lose the weight the two times I hit high numbers because I knew I had someone who loved me and thought I was sexy no matter what. It was easier to lose the weight when I didn’t feel like I needed to do it for anyone but myself.

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  • clara

    I think the single thing I can say is to find a physical activity that you love, and everything you dof or your body will help that activity, ~as well as~ everything else health-wise.

    My main one is aerials. If I eat well, sleep enough, drink tons of water and 1 alcoholic drink a week, I wind up happier, stronger, and my work improves. If I stop doing aerial for any reason, I start eating badly and feeling less strong so I don’t want to train.

    If you don’t want to do the exercise, you’ll find reasons not to, not reasons to go out of your way to make extra time for it. :)

    My 33 year old body is in way better shape than my 25 year old body because I work really hard. . . at something I really enjoy. No way would I keep up running every day if I didn’t love it, and no way would I train trapeze almost every day if I didn’t love it.

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  • a_phoenix

    I, too, have basically ALL THE FEELINGS about these issues, all the feelings and very very few answers. The main thing that helps me is focusing on “I want to feel Amazing!” and recognizing that there are several things which affect that, including how great I feel about moving my body and how great my brain feels and how great my (emotional, ethical) heart feels. It’s complicated! But if I return to the goal of feeling amazing, in as many ways as possible, it generally helps. (Embracing imperfection also helps.)

    For myself I need a balance of:

    - exercise, but not to the point that making time for it makes me stressed out or over-tired

    - rest, one of the hardest pieces of the puzzle and one that gets in the way of exercise

    - good for my body foods, which tend towards vegetables, fruits, protein, animal fats

    - good for my ethics foods, which tend as local, small farm, organic, sustainable, and respectful of animals and the environment as I can get

    - ability to eat socially, which means relaxing the rules at times to join in eating with others

    - ability to eat as celebration, which often means more sugar than everyday fare

    Refined carbs generally make me feel icky, physically, but not so much that it’s worth avoiding them altogether (especially because avoiding them altogether feeds my crazy obsessions about the “right diet” and weight loss). Reducing refined carbs has been great for me, however. If I had the clear body response to gluten that I recall you do, I think I’d go with avoiding it altogether, at least for awhile.

    Lucky for me, I cook and know a bit about food, so I can usually get food that falls within what feels good to me fairly easily. I’m happy, as always, to help you out with this in whatever way works – recipes, having you over to dinner, etc.

    I also recently took the batteries out of my scale and put it in the basement because, for me, focusing on the numbers doesn’t work, and certainly doesn’t make me feel amazing. Many folks mileage on this varies, of course. Yours may too.

    Apropos of much of this, I kinda love this ebook: http://www.stumptuous.com/fuck-calories

    Good luck! Keep posting about this if you’re up for it. It’s a conversation I greatly value.

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