Sunday, May 06, 2012
Why it is important for me to get healthy NOW and why I don't want to put it off
This is something I have touched upon before and I have meant to blog about eventually. But I might as well do it now since it's a part of the 100 Days of Summer challenge to blog about it.
When I was 23, I went on Accutane* to treat my severe acne. This was the first acne treatment that had ever worked for me and its effects have lasted. One of the side effects of Accutane is an increase in triglyceride and cholesterol levels. My trigylycerides and cholesterol skyrocketed when I was on Accutane and by the time I finished with my 5 month treatment, I think my triglycerides were ~300 mg/dL (normal is under 200). Part of the reasons why my levels skyrocketed so high is that my baseline levels were pretty high thanks to my genetic predisposition.
I have family history of high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and, well, pretty much everything. This was my first wake-up call. I realized that when I got older, I'd be fighting all these issues since all my older relatives had high cholesterol/high blood pressure and were on medication to treat it. I realized that I was fighting an uphill battle but if I made certain changes NOW, I'd be in a better position than if I didn't change my diet and exercise habits.
When I approached my 25th birthday, I noticed something. I started to notice that I packed on fat in places I didn't before. Ever since I was young, I was fat but my fat tended to accumulate in my hips, thighs, and buttocks. Now, I noticed more fat was sitting around my middle. I knew that fat around the middle was a bad health indicator and I kind of freaked out about it. That was wake-up call #2.
That was all part of the reason why I lost weight, started to eat less meat and more fruits and vegetables, and started exercising regularly in 2005. Of course, I also wanted to be skinny and look good. But vanity was only one part of my original motivation.
After I turned 26, I started to notice something else. My metabolism was different now. I couldn't eat the same kinds of foods I used to be able to eat (ahem, fast food) without feeling awful or getting horribly sick. I also couldn't eat as much as I used to. "No, no, no!" I thought to myself, "I'm getting old." (haha, ridiculous I know but that's how I felt at the time. Oh the silliness of my twenties).
Then life got in the way and I gained, lost, gained, and then lost again. But during that entire time, I knew how bad it was for me that I was carrying around extra weight. I've just recently lost the weight and have entered maintenance mode. But even with the weight reduction and increased exercise, my cholesterol levels are still high. I had a full metabolic panel done recently and my cholesterol was at 182 mg/dL. Normal is 200 so I'm just kind of skating by there. Unfortunately, my LDL (bad cholesterol) tends to be high (113 mg/dL where 20-100 is normal) and my HDL (good cholesterol) low (40 mg/dL with 40-60 being normal). I just can't catch a break! My triglycerides appear to be well within the normal range. So finally, some good news!
As if trying to being healthy for health's sake isn't a good enough reason, I now have an additional one. I got married last year so I am now a part of a family of 2. There is someone else who needs me and I have to take care of myself because of that. And eventually, we are going to expand our family and my future children will need me to be at my healthiest. I want to be the healthiest I can be before I get pregnant to give my future kids the best health start they can get. Honestly, I'd like it if I were one of those pregnant ladies who still go jogging or to the gym when they look like they're ready to pop. I'm so impressed by those women and I want to be one of them in the future.
Life will get crazier when the kids do arrive. If exercise and good nutrition are habits now, then I will be more likely to keep up with them after I become a mom. Then I can also set a good example for my future children. Things are just going to get harder in the future so I've got to take care of myself now. Why waste the present?
*If you or someone you know is considering Accutane, it works but it has boatloads of side effects (including psychological) so you should really weigh the pros and cons before making the decision to take it. You should not make this decision lightly.
Friday, May 04, 2012
I've been meaning to write this post for a while and I can't think of a more appropriate time than today, now that I've reached my goal weight.
[I'm also a huge hockey fan and with the Stanley Cup playoffs in full swing, I am totally Cup crazy right now. I couldn't resist putting the goal chant into my title.]
Three days ago I got on the scale and the number read 129.6. I did not believe it. 129.6 lbs would mean that I have met the goal weight I set for myself back in January of this year. On January 4, 2012, I set the goal to lose 20 lbs in order to weigh 130 by May 18th. I thought this was an extremely reasonable and attainable goal to meet as I hate setting myself up for failure. Although I have done well with weight loss, nutrition, and fitness over the last 4 months, I still wasn't ready to accept that I had actually met my goal. And a whole 2 weeks early too!. "The scale lies!" I thought to myself. "Weight fluctuates day to day" I told myself. But now, 3 days later, my weight has stayed at 129.6 lbs. This means it's real, right? I'm still kind of in shock.
I do not think that I am alone when I say that I have struggled with weight for most of my life. I was always the 'fat kid.' Nowhere was this harder than in high school when the thin and popular girls (I went to an all girls school) liked to be particularly vicious to anyone who wasn't a stick insect. Looking back, I was probably just sort of chubby, a little bit overweight yes, but not by much. Luckily I never derived my self-esteem by how pretty I was or by how skinny I was. And to this day I still do not. This is not to say that I do not feel good about myself now that I have slimmed down and met my goal weight. What I mean is that my overall sense of self worth is not and has never been tied to my physical attributes.
May 2002, "before" photo, college graduation
When I graduated college in 2002, I was finally tired of being "fat." So the summer after graduation, I started the SlimFast diet and joined Jazzercise with a friend. It was the first time in my life I had done regular exercise. I totally do not recommend the SlimFast diet; I was hungry all the time and I have no idea if I was eating enough or getting the right amounts of all the nutrients I need. But between that and Jazzercise all summer long, I did lose weight and I returned to my high school weight and became a size 6 again (which is where my body seems to be happiest). [Unfortunately, I do not seem to have an "after" photo from this time as this was still pre-digital camera era for me and I haven't had a chance to convert my physical photos into digital yet.]
July 2004, "before" photo
Then I started graduate school in the fall. Let's just say grad school is no walk in the park. It was incredibly stressful. I don't have a huge problem when it comes to stress eating but I'm not exactly immune to it either. Two years into grad school, I had regained all the weight I lost and then some. I was now a personal high of 154 lbs. 154 lbs just does not sit well on someone who is 5'2". When 2005 started, I knew I had to make a change.
Weight loss was again due to diet and exercise. I started using the school gym and I subsisted on Lean Cuisine meals and eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Again, that's something I don't recommend; those pre-packaged meals are way too high in sodium. Live and learn, Jen, live and learn. This time I started tracking (with Excel) my nutrients so I at least know I was eating enough. My friends and fellow lab-mates joined Weight Watchers. Although I did not, it was still extremely beneficial to have friends who were going through the same thing I was. As all of you Sparkers know, having a support group is so important. It was during this time I gave up soda. I realized that having a soda every day was not good for my health. I first switched to diet soda and from there to flavored carbonated water and then eventually just plain water. It took me almost 2 years to wean myself off soda.
September 2006, "after" photo, I was a bridesmaid at my best friend's wedding. This was the skinniest I had ever been in my entire life. I was ~127 lbs and a size 4/6.
I stopped "dieting" by the end of 2006. I went back to my normal eating habits (except with more fruits and vegetables) but I continued to exercise. I managed to maintain this weight (130 lbs) for the next 3 years. I gained back a little once I stopped exercising but it wasn't much. Weight-wise this was my favorite time in my life. I ate sensibly most of the time but I lived my life. I ate what I wanted. I drank what I wanted. There was no need to track. I felt like a "normal person" at a normal weight.
In 2008, I defended my thesis and finally graduated from grad school (aka the toughest 6 years of my life). The week before Thanksgiving 2008, I started my new job as a postdoc in a lab at a major medical university. [A postdoc is to a PhD what residency is to an MD]. This job was the most stressful job I ever had. Almost 4 years later and it's not any better. Yes, I hate where I work but that's a long story and I don't want to b*tch about those issues here. I know it was the most stressful job I ever had because in 3 short months I gained 15 lbs. Nothing else in my life had changed. I wasn't eating differently, I wasn't sleeping differently. I wasn't exercising less. It was the job. So when I read all those studies that say our jobs or stress can make us fat, my polite comment is "duh, I knew that already."
November 2008, "before" photo, the day after Thanksgiving, my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I attended a friend's wedding.
I went from the above photo to the photo below in just 3 months. Scary, right?
November 2009, "after" photo, ~145 lbs, just barely fitting into size 8s
[OK, granted, this photo is from November 2009 but I can't seem to find a photo from February 2009 when I realized that in 3 months, I could no longer fit into that red dress anymore.]
Things pretty much stayed like this and I pretty much stayed at 145 lbs until spring of last year. I was really unhappy with being overweight and there was no way I was walking down the aisle carrying so much extra weight. I had to lose the weight because I bought my dress off the rack at some random little store in NYC. The dress fit but it was slightly too tight in the waist. Yeah, big surprise, that's my problem area. The guy who sold me the dress actually grabbed my belly and asked if there was a baby in there! I was so horrified. Not that there's anything wrong with a shotgun wedding but I was not pregnant! That was one of the most humiliating moments of my life but at least I can laugh about it now. There is simply no greater motivation to lose weight than having to fit into an unforgiving white wedding dress. Or having the guy selling you your wedding dress ask if you're pregnant.
According to my SparkPage, I joined SparkPeople in August 2010. Yes, this is when I registered but I do not consider that when I actually joined. I had signed up for an account back in August 2010 and then promptly ignored SP (yeah, yeah, how could I? SP is awesome!). Last March is when I feel like I really joined and started to take SP seriously. Except back then I was really only using it for the nutrition and fitness stuff. With SP, I was able to lose the 15 lbs I needed to lose, was back down to a size 6/8, and was able to fit into my wedding dress. Woohoo!!!
July 2011, "after" photos, Yay! We got married!
After the wedding, I didn't keep up with eating so well but I did manage to exercise 4X a week for 45 min each time. I think keeping a regular exercise routine was what I needed to help me maintain my weight. But then we went on our honeymoon in October: first to Taiwan to stage wedding #2 for my relatives there (yes, I know, 1 wedding is crazy enough, we had 2 so we are doubly crazy) and then off to Hawaii. The honeymoon totally did me in. The food in Taiwan is incredible and I ate and ate and ate. Then we got to Hawaii and I ate and ate and drank and drank. I didn't exercise at all. I don't know how much weight I gained in 2 weeks but I do know that a pair of jeans I brought with me at the beginning of the trip no longer fit by the end. As in, I could no longer button them over my belly. Yeah, it was that bad.
October 2011, "before" and "after" photos, Honeymoon in Taiwan and Hawaii
I went from this at the beginning of our two week trip....
to this at the end of the two week trip...
Then we got back home and it was time for Thanksgiving. And then Christmas. Once again, my weight swelled up to 150 lbs.
December 2011, "before" photo, work holiday party
Right after Christmas, I said "screw it, I've got to start exercising again." So I bought a Groupon (or Living Social or one of those things) for a gym membership and joined the gym. That and SP's January Jumpstart challenge was what I needed to well, jumpstart my routine again. Yes, I did hit a plateau but picking up running and joining the 5% Spring Weight Loss challenge (Go Cats!) helped me to break through it. The spring challenge has really helped since it keeps me accountable. Since January 4th (which I consider my SP rejoining date), I have now lost 20 lbs and 3.5 inches off my waist. I'm way more conscientious about nutrition now. I went from thinking "I need to eat less" to "I need to eat right." I started running which I thought I could never do. I completed my first 5K in 36 min last week.
So much has changed but here I am, at my goal, feeling deja vu all over again. I've been down this road before. I've lost the weight and had it come back really fast and with a vengeance. I've also lost the weight and have kept it off. So which will it be this time? I guess that's why I'm not jumping up and down and shouting from the rooftops now that I'm at 129.6. It's because I know how precarious this can be for me. I have lost weight, regained, and lost weight again all in the span of one year. So even though I'm at my goal weight now, the battle has really only just begun. Getting to 129.6 lbs was one thing but staying there is a whole different struggle.
What am I going to do? I'm going to continue to Spark. I'm going to continue to track my food, track my exercise (cardio and strength training as I have been slacking in ST lately), and participate in the Spark community. I'm going to continue to join challenges and set new goals for myself. I'm going to be vigilant this time and not allow things to slide.
My immediate goal is to continue running and to run at least one 5K each month of the summer. So far I have registered for one at the end of May and a 4 mile race at the end of June. I have joined the Spring into Shape challenge and BOSS61's 100 days of summer challenge to continue to hold myself accountable.
I want to stay at this weight for the next 4 months. I want to survive the summer months. I want to stay looking like this:
April 2012, Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden
And dammit! I want to fit into that red dress again!
I will not allow myself to fail this time. I WILL NOT!!!
Sunday, April 29, 2012
First of all, I would like to thank all of my SparkFriends.
It was with your encouragement and inspiration that I picked up running and decided to do this 5K. I had been waffling on my decision to start running. I kept thinking to myself "no, I can't run, I can't possibly be able to do that, it hurts too much." But reading your stories helped me to decide that yes, running was worth it. And once I started running, I thought, "there's no way I can compete in a race, I'm just not good enough." And with your encouragement, I came to the conclusion that no matter how I did, participating in a race was worth it too.
This Bronx Zoo 5K was a charity race sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society to raise money for the preservation of lions. I think it was very fitting that my first race was for the big cats as I am participating in the 5% Spring Challenge as a member of the Cats team.
I had initially decided to participate in the family walk/run portion (which is stroller friendly) since I was planning on walking/running the race. However, after having talked to a few friends who had participated in this race before, I decided that it would be OK to walk/run in the run portion. Since it's a charity race, it's a bit of a free for all. That was totally my game plan going in: to continue with my walk/run intervals from my SparkPeople 5K training program. I knew that there was no way I would be able to keep up with my friends who were participating. They're seasoned runners and I'm a newbie. But I was hoping to finish in 45 min.
Before the race started. It's cold early in the morning!
Well, once the race started, the game plan went out the window. My friends took off and although I could keep up with their pace initially, I knew that I'd tire out soon if I used their race pace. So I just started jogging slowly and I didn't stop until sometime after the first mile. Up until now, I've only been able to run for 5 min straight at a time. This was closer to 13 min. I ran, actually ran, most of the race. I had to take 5 short walking breaks the entire race but I don't think they were longer than 2 min. Whenever I took a walking break, I wanted to keep walking but I knew that if I walked for very long, it'd be that much harder to get myself to start running again. So I just kept running.
You know what helped? Seeing the other runners. There was a mom running with her six year old son, holding his hand the entire time. I thought to myself, "if the two of them can run this thing, why can't I?" There was a man who was a bit overweight and huffing and puffing the entire time and again, I thought to myself, "if he's working this hard, why can't I?" And you know what else helped? All the volunteers and other spectators who kept cheering us on. Hearing
all along the route brought a smile to my face and kept me going.
It was a charity race so there was no official time but based on my own calculations, I finished in 36 min. Wow, 36 min! I am so proud of myself. I think 36 min for my first ever 5K is pretty
My friends and I after crossing the finish line.
This 5K definitely had a party vibe to it. The local radio station was a sponsor and MC'd the event. They had a DJ spinning tunes. They had face painting (I'm kind of sorry I missed it) and there were people running with their faces painted like lions or tigers. There were people running in lion hats. I even saw one person who ran dressed in a lion jumpsuit. And it was definitely cool that I got to run past zebras, hyenas, and giraffes. They had zumba sessions too but unfortunately, I missed that. Next year, definitely next year!
Another friend came just to cheer me on (so sweet of her) so all of us decided to spend the day seeing the various animals at the zoo. As if running a 5K wasn't enough exercise for me for the day, I spent the next 4 hours walking around the zoo.
Unfortunately, we only got to see one lion.
After that we all got lunch (yes, there was celebratory beer at Growlers Beer Bistro) and headed back to our apartment, where we watched the hockey game together and played board games all day. I felt great before, during, and after my run but it was a long day for me. I kind of felt like this bison by the time our friends headed home:
They must have some wild bison parties on Friday night. This guy was out like a light!
I expected that I would be pumped after my race and I now know why running is so addictive. I definitely plan on running this race again next year. My friends and I are planning on doing the Wildlife Conservation Society's October 5K at the New York Aquarium. I'm already looking for another race to sign up for the summer.
What I did not expect was the lack of guilt and worry over what I ate yesterday. This has been something I have struggled with. I enjoy eating out and I won't ever apologize for it. It's not like I feel guilty afterwards per se but I always feel the need to balance out a calorically expensive day with more diligent monitoring and exercise the next few days.
Not so yesterday. I knew I had to eat something to fuel me ahead of the race so I had a banana and half a bagel. Although I was not starving after the race, I knew I should eat or expect a major crash later. So I had a mini muffin and another half a bagel that the race provided. Despite that, I still got hungry while we were at the zoo so I had an Odwalla energy bar that the race had provided. I pigged out at lunch with the burger, "baked potato inspired" fries, and the beer and I finished all of it (which I normally could never do). And not once did I feel guilty. You would think I wouldn't be hungry after that lunch but I got ravenous again before dinner. So I had another Odwalla energy bar. Then I had a sensible dinner. And after that I was still hungry so I had an apple.
Even with the run, I knew that it was not enough exercise to balance out the amount of calories I was eating. But you know what? I just didn't care. My body was starving and I fed it. And it's not like I ate junk (well, burger, fries, and beer aside). Why should I feel guilty? I didn't make poor decisions. I was active all day. I felt like a "normal person", who is not on a diet. I haven't felt that way since I (re-)started my Spark journey. The race felt good. But feeling like a "normal person" felt even better.
And just one more parting thought. If we all loved vegetables as much this guy, we'd all be better off:
You would think tortoises move slow. Not so! If you give them lettuce, they move pretty fast!
Saturday, April 28, 2012
It may only be 8 pm here on the East coast but I am so ready for bed. Between getting up early for the Wildlife Conservation Society Run for the Wild 5K at the Bronx Zoo today, running the actual 5K, and then spending the rest of the morning/afternoon walking around the zoo and visiting the animals, yeah, I am EXHAUSTED.
But man do I feel pumped! I feel so awesome that I completed my first ever 5K. I proved to myself I can do it. Totally tooting my own horn here but I feel like I deserve it. Go me!
When I've recovered tomorrow, hopefully I'll be able to describe the experience more and post pictures.
Friday, April 27, 2012
I think an issue that almost all of us face is how to find the time to exercise when there are so many other life obligations that have to be met first. We all have families to look after, errands to run, and, of course, we spend a good portion of our day at work.
I donít have a typical desk job, which can be both a good and a bad thing. I work in lab and by work I mean performing experiments. This means that most of the day Iím on my feet so Iím constantly keeping active. But this also means that I canít go home until an experiment is completed so sometimes I have some very loooong days. What to do on those days when Iíve got experiments to run all night and leave work very late? I donít wait until I get home because by then, Iím just exhausted and want to go to bed. So what do I do? I sneak in exercise while Iím at work.
I find that I can usually spare at least 10 min. Yes, if I have a large break, I do go outside and walk along the East River bike/walk path but sometimes thatís not feasible. Sometimes the weather is bad or sometimes, I donít even have the 20 min it takes for me to walk out there and back. So what do I do? I walk indoors.
Now, I know this may not apply to everyone as I work in a unique environment: a very large medical center with multiple interconnected buildings. If I walked the length of the building I work in, itís already the equivalent of 2 blocks. But if I walk through all the interconnected buildings, I can walk a much greater distance. (Donít worry I donít walk through the patient care areas and disturb the healthcare staff hard at work at helping sick people). Furthermore, I work on the 6th floor so I can do quite a bit of walking if I include the length of multiple floors. In fact, if I grab a cup of coffee late in the afternoon , Iíll take the long way back by walking back and forth between the buildings as I make my way up from the 1st to the 6th floor. I can cover 0.75 mile in just 15 minutes and all of this walking takes place indoors.
For a larger cardio boost, Iíll use the stairs as my own personal stairmaster machine. We have multiple stairwells in our building and one of them is hardly ever used. 1. I donít want to disturb anyone and 2. I donít want to get strange looks from people about my decision to exercise at work. If I walk from the ground floor to the roof, I can walk up 17 flights! Iíll walk up and down several times to get in a really intense cardio workout. When Iím walking back down the stairs, I usually stop every 2 flights to jog in place for about 20 seconds to keep my heart rate elevated.
I know that not everyone can use my tricks to help them stay more active at work but hopefully it can jumpstart you into finding your own way to stay active. Iím curious: if/what do all of you do to keep yourselves more active while at work?
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