For those trying to lose weight and survive the holidays

This time last year … I wrote down my starting measurements: 46/45/48 … huge! Doc D had just told me that I was prediabetic with a blood sugar level of 148 or so (healthy is 100 or below), and that I had to take serious efforts to get below 200 lbs. At 5’-6”, I was starting to be wider than I was tall. Doc D asked if I’d ever heard of the South Beach Diet (SBD), and I said that I had. A few years before, I’d lost about 30 pounds, going from 220 to 190 in about six weeks without even an extra exercise besides chasing after kids during my weekend job at the zoo, hosting birthday parties. I’d started the diet in early November 2003. I gave away all the carb items I had in my pantry—flour, sugar, pasta, bread—anything that didn’t fit the SB criteria. My Thanksgiving dinner was lovely, especially for the means I lived in at the time—baked lamb chops, stuffed mushrooms, mashed cauliflower, and asparagus. I was still pretty timid in the home kitchen and rarely cooked from scratch, and the meal took most of the day to make. Mostly, I ate spinach omelets with turkey bacon or containers of egg salad for meals and Splenda-sweetened ricotta cheese or sugar-free Jell-o for dessert. It’s all I had the time and money for. I was working seven days a week, always tired, depressed, living paycheck to paycheck—cooking healthy, interesting meals was beyond my grasp. The Thanksgiving dinner was a rare fluke. By December, as Christmas snack trays, secret santa treats, and gifted tamales started to filter in to help celebrate the holidays, I gave up the South Beach Diet. And the weight started to come back, with a vengeance.

Fast-forward three years, and I’m complaining to Doc D that there was a holiday cookie exchange coming up, hosted by my lab partner from Classical Desserts class—the culinary school class that helped me shove my weight up to 238 lbs. Plus, I was a fruit addict, and the 14-day first phase of the diet banned any carbs, even those contained in fruits’ natural sugars. Doc D tensed briefly at my whining, then turned to look at me.

“You know, most of the stuff we have at holiday parties aren’t that great—cheap cookie trays, cheesecake samplers on sampler trays that have sat out for too long, stuff you won’t miss if you don’t have it! You don’t have to lose weight rapidly, so you can start with Phase 2 (which allows healthy carbs, like fruits and whole grains), and occasional treats won’t hurt you, but if you’re going to eat them, make sure they’re worth it. You should also walk for 30 minutes every day.”

I started to whine again, “But I don’t have 30 minutes a day to walk!” I considered my freelance jobs and school.

Doc D lowered her eyes to her clipboard, scribbling in my file, “Find it,” she ordered, “and come back for your regular annual in three months. We’ll check your blood sugar again then.”

Moments later, I was lumbering out to my car, heartbroken at the direction my health was taking, terrified that the next time I saw Doc D, I’d be just as heavy, and diabetic. I drove to a nearby shopping center and strolled around, constantly checking the clock, waiting for 30 minutes to tick by. And that was the first day of my workout routine.

That night, I went to a Chinese buffet with a good friend who’d been praising about the place for years, almost as long as I’d known him. It was my first time there, and I eyed the rice, noodles, and thick sauces warily. I filled a plate with sautéed veggies and some meat items, and filled a cup with suspiciously viscous hot ‘n’ sour soup. I suppressed the knowledge that most, if not all, these dishes were seasoned and thickened with sugar and starch. My friend expressed his condolences, then his support. Then I went home and took my measurements with a cheap paper tape measure from IKEA; it wouldn’t even wrap all the way around me, but I did the math: December 13, 2006—46/4/48.

I spent Friday night baking three different kinds of biscotti for the cookie exchange the next day, taking bare nibbles of each to make sure they were all right. That weekend, the morning of the cookie exchange, I called a friend, begging her to meet me at my apartment after the cookie exchange. She did, and I woefully showed her the giant box I’d brought home, filled with my share of the exchange—about 30 types of cookies, a few boldly hosting one of my all-time favorite combinations, peanut butter and chocolate. I’d already eaten a few of the smaller cookies at the exchange, and as my friend and I sat down at the table, the box between us, we timidly began taking tastes of others as I told her about my health. I turned on the TV, and Bravo was showing The Biggest Loser marathon. As we nibbled, we promised each other and ourselves to go on diets as soon as the holidays were over, and we cried at the dramatic results of each episode of the show. Finally, I stopped nibbling. I got up and hastily packaged half the cookies into a cardboard box, taping it shut and addressing it to my boyfriend who lived in Oklahoma. I closed the box that still sat on my table and told my friend to bring it to her roommate, who had a perpetual appetite, but not much money to eat enough to catch her sprinting metabolism.

The next day, I sent an e-mail to my buddy, Ken, in Canada, who, along with his girlfriend, had lost a whole lot of weight on the Atkins diet. He immediately offered support. He was nearing the tail-end of his foodie project, A Food Year, in which he cooked a different dinner every night, without repeating a dish for an entire year. As a tribute to his diet, he did an entire week of low-carb dinners. He became my vent and support buddy for the next few months.

At home, I continued to bake up a storm, and I’d immediately ship the goods away to friends or give them to co-workers. Even though Doc D said I could jump straight into Phase 2, I tried to stay away from carbs like breads and pasta, and was light on the fruit. Luckily, my abilities in the home kitchen had improved dramatically. The previous year, with more income to go toward groceries and more time, having quit the weekend job, I spent more time experimenting in the kitchen and had found friends who nurtured my rapidly growing fondness for cooking. Over the winter, I took a class focusing just on laminated doughs, and in the spring, I took a cake decorating class. Those classes made me even more anxious and excited to learn more. That summer, I took a French Cuisine class and had done well, and it had given me more confidence and knowledge to operate in my kitchen. I was braver about experimenting with low-carb sweeteners and searching out recipes that would fit my diet. Within a week, the dread I’d carried over from my first SBD attempt was gone, and I looked forward to planning menus for myself.

I had decided to give up my 30-minute lunches and started taking walks at lunch. These walks were more energetic than my moping shopping center stroll, and after a week, I walked to the shoe store across the street and bought a pair of trail running shoes to wear during the walks. If I missed a lunch walk or wanted to do a little more, I’d use the tension pedal machine a friend had given me. Since I could set the pedals anywhere in front of any chair, it was easy to get in some exercise while working at my table at home. As a sort of New Year’s Resolution, I decided to stop using the elevator to get to and from my fourth-floor office, sticking to the stairs. In just a few weeks, I was able to climb up without feeling like my lungs and guts would explode. I considered buying a scale, but remembered the last SBD attempt; my weight would vary by five pounds between night and day depending on how hydrated and well-fed I was, and the changes seemed to taunt me. I’d be upset if it looked like I’d gained even a few pounds. This time, I stuck to measurements and taking photos of myself from the front and the side using my crappy cell phone camera. During a walk, I stopped off at Target and found The Biggest Loser Workbook on sale. It had a lot of good tips and recipes, and was encouraging and informative. It also offered good descriptions and photo illustrations of the circuit training routine that The Biggest Loser contestants started out with, and I added the circuit to my weekly routine, completing it three times a week.

I stuck to my guns.

At the beginning of March, I made my appointment with Doc D. The receptionist offered an earlier date, but I wanted it to be exactly three months to the day, just in case I needed time to get that one extra workout or healthy meal that might make the positive difference to my blood sugar level. I was scared shitless when I finally went into my appointment. Her stoic assistant let me to the scale. I emptied my pockets and stepped on … 211 lbs. 211 pounds!!! From 238! I numbed it out, thinking, or worried, that I’d misheard. Her assistant took my blood pressure, and it was a little high. She jotted some notes, then told me Doc D would be right in. A few long moments later, Doc D burst in excitedly. “You’ve lost 27 pounds!!! In three months!!!” Thank goodness—I hadn’t misheard! She took my blood pressure again, and as she did, I explained that it had been high. She looked at the meter and said it was perfect—I’d probably just been nervous and tense. She asked what changed I’d made in the past few months, and as I told her, she happily jotted notes, nodding her head enthusiastically. As much as I value my friends’ support, her approval was the validating factor I’d been waiting for. “Keep at it! You’re doing great!” she said before she sent me to the lab so they could draw blood. The next two days were tense as I waited for results. And then her lab assistant called me.

“Your blood sugar level’s perfect—94! And your cholesterol is perfect, too!” Woot! Woooot! Woot woot woohooot!

“Thanks!” I said aloud before hanging up.

Sweet bejeebus!

The nine months since have been a roller coaster. I’ve bought my first place—my little condo, moved, celebrated yet another birthday, been sick, gotten better … My weight has gone up a little at times, but mostly down. I’ve had lapses in both my eating habits and workouts, but I’ve always gone right back to them afterward. I’ve promoted my “diet” to “eating habits,” because I plan to eat healthy for the rest of my life—not just until I reach my goal weight. I decided that it was okay to have a cookie or piece of cake once in awhile, even if it wasn’t made with whole grain pastry flour and Splenda, and even if it did slow down my weight loss. I still don’t obsess over my weight and size, and I still don’t own a scale. I went to Urgent Care with stomach problems toward the end of August, and my weight as a sick person was 190, which means I’d lost 48 pounds since December. The BMI for a healthy woman my height is 150, and that’s my final goal weight. The BMI for a simply overweight person is 180, and that’s next goal weight. The next time I see Doc D, this March, I refuse to be obese. I refuse to miss out on every holiday goodie that comes my way, but following Doc D’s advice, I’m going to make sure it’s worth it—homemade, special, worth it. There are so many healthy treats I can make, and I’m going to stick with those. It's not about trying to live up (or down) to Hollywood standards or to be a size 6, but because my health is worth it! Since I've started this journal, I've been able to put my costly asthma medicines aside, have kicked my insomnia (where I slept 2-4 hours a night), and has made me stronger. I don't care if I ever fit into a single-digit-size dress; I feel better than I have since I was a single-digit age.

To all of you out there also trying to get healthy, best of luck--you can do it, and it's worth the effort! Happy holidays, and happy eating!

December 12, 2007—41/36/44.

Comments

wutsua said…
Nice blog. I will keep reading. Please take the time to visit my blog about Wickes Furniture
Kribha said…
A pat on your shoulder for keeping up the good work. I've not yet started on my diet plan. Probably it is going to be my new year resolution. You are such an inspiration to me.
Julie said…
Wutsua, thanks! Good luck with the furniture gig!

Kribha, once you decide to do it, charge ahead and don't look back. If you have a slip, just get right back on track. Best of luck. =)
chou said…
Julie, your entry about weight loss is truly inspiring. I especially appreciate the fact that you're showing how changes in lifestyle, even little ones, can make a big difference over time.

I've been baking a lot with sugar alcohols to replace about 50% of the sugar in recipes with a lot of success. To date I've just used xylitol, but it's kind of pricey, so I imagine maltitol would work as well.

Cheers and happy holidays!
Julie said…
Chou, thank you! Little changes really do make a big difference! Thanks for the tips on alcohol sweeteners. I've yet to experiment with them, but I'm definitely willing and wanting to! I'll look to your blog for tips. Happy holidays to you, too!
Prettybaker said…
Wow! I am so excited for you! I too am on the SB and have lost 10 kilos in 3 months and I still would like to loose at least 5 more in order to reach my resolution. Reading your post kust gave me the biggest smile! I ams o happy for you!! Isn't shopping more fun now?!
Julie said…
Thanks, Prettybaker! And congratulations on your 10-kilo loss (that's just over 22 pounds, for those of you who can't do conversions! ;) ) I'm actually intimidated by shopping, though after years in the same old dumpy clothes, I went out and bought a couple of nice blouses that actually fit ... yes, it was fun and exciting. =) I'll do more once I hit my next goal weight on my way to a healthy weight! Good luck with you last 5 kilos!
Dolores said…
Thanks for sharing this Julie. I'm a little less than a year behind you in my personal journey and as I enter a week of sweet but unhealthy temptations stories like yours are a real inspiration.
Julie said…
Dolores, thanks! Just remember--whatever happens, keep at it!!! You can do it! Best of luck!
Megan said…
Encouraging words of wisdom! Thanks.
Julie said…
Thank you, too, Mega! =D

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