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My Spark Story, illustrated! (long)

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

3 months before my 41st birthday, I had a baby. And as often happened when I had a baby, I wound up thinner than before I started. Here I am in June 2011 near my "happy weight" of 190 (overweight but not obese):

But also typical was that as I nursed the baby, I gradually gained weight until I was over 200 and in the obese range (November 2011):
In the past I've eschewed New Year's Resolutions, because winter is a troublesome time to start off a lifestyle change from a hormone standpoint. But it just so happened that as 2011 drew to a close, I tipped the scale at 207.5 -- over my pre pregnancy weight. Like a lot of overweight people, I was apparently being camera shy, but here I am pre pregnancy (I was probably had more lean body mass than in January 2012, but it's more or less my "before" photo).

Thus began my effort to get back to that happy weight of 190. I started off just tracking my food, and going for a walk 3-5 days a week. I thought I knew a lot about nutrition, but most of my efforts to eat right involved adding things to my diet. Eating more protein, eating more freggies. I was allergic to placing any boundaries on my consumption.

Here I should actually rewind a bit to my history with compulsive eating. I had been in 12 step recovery, initially with an overeaters group but after an episode of undereating I reexamined my issues and eventually wound up in codependency recovery. Our motto was when you put your Higher Power first, other things fall into their proper place or drop out of your life altogether, and one of the things that dropped out of my life was chocolate. I don't even have to avoid it even though I used to be a big fan. I'll admit that I still give it a second look maybe one day a month (girls will know what I mean). But mostly I don't care about it. And that one change had kept me at a happy weight until I broke my ribs and turned 36 (when the metabolism slows down anyway).

Something else that happened in November 2011 is what I call my Aha moment. I was trying to find something, experiencing that "Why do I let myself be so disorganized?" stress, and popping white chocolate Reeses as I went along, and I caught myself thinking "I love these things! How could I ever get by without them?" And I realized it was time to do exactly that, let go of the candy and cookies. And I was doing that, except for holidays which you may recall there are quite a few of toward the end of the year. (My nutrition plan would evolve over time, but that's what I was trying as I started off). The song that went through my mind frequently during this time was "If not now, then when?" It was really the start of my transformation.

But getting back to 2012, I didn't limit what I chose while I was deciding what to eat, but I would track the food and then review it, and I was shocked at where my calories were coming from. Cheese! Mayonnaise! Butter! These were things I had never considered limiting before. I really bought into that "fats for health and satiety" concept and that insulin from carbs was the big demon, but too many calories from any source can also trigger insulin activity. My ideal was 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fat, but I was eating 3,000 calories a day quite often. And it was more than 30% fat. So I came around to the idea that I didn't need so much added fat. I get adequate fat from the protein I was eating. And my total calories started to fall into line, and the weight started moving.

Now I was (and am) still nursing a baby. Part of what motivated me to track my food was to make sure I didn't cut my calories too deep and put the baby's nutrition at risk. He was no longer exclusively breastfed but he still probably got the majority of his calories through me. But it was good because I was already used to drinking a minimum of 8 cups of water a day.

Things were going so well, I began to think about my goal of 190. My sister had gained a lot of weight the year prior, and gone on a paid program and gotten down to a BMI of 25. I had also met AWESOMECAROL55 here on SparkPeople, and the fact that she was in her 40th week of maintenance really opened my eyes to the fact that this thing works! And her transformation was remarkable. I could really see myself in her before photo. I had been one of those people who thought BMI was a NIH conspiracy to make the majority of Americans measure as substandard. But as I looked closer at it (in my effort to debunk it) I found that 30% bodyfat really is where degenerative diseases begin to pick up, and all those professional athletes who are obese are football and baseball players. Only 4 NBA players were obese and that's due to the effect of height in the BMI formula. So I decided I wanted to set my sights on a BMI of 25 (in the low 160's).

Next came reading The Spark, which I would highly recommend to anyone who may not have done so yet. Honestly, I checked mine out from the library. And I renewed it 3 times. I went through the fast break program, which was refreshingly simple and non stress-inducing. It lined up with some reading I had done on Kaizen process, how small, seemingly easy things can add up to big changes. I was having difficulties in other areas of my life. My baby had been on oxygen therapy from birth, and my second youngest was being evaluated for learning disabilities. I began to enjoy big breakfasts and eat more freggies, and found I was hungry a lot less.

As I continued my program into the spring, my next small change was to start tracking sodium. I had experienced those weigh ins where the scale is being stubborn. My husband was trying to reduce his sodium due to his headaches, and I was already reading nutrition facts and was shocked, once again, at the "healthy" foods that had way too much sodium, such as cottage cheese, salad dressing, and lean ham. Restaurant meals are just ludicrous. Fortunately, I'm a pretty good cook and could fix a lot of meals without any added salt. I'm now one of those annoying people who loves the native tones of food and find a lot of commercially prepared foods distastefully salty. It also changed the way I shop. I used to go through the ad and look or sales. Now I have a master shopping list from foods I enjoyed on days I had a good sodium count.

May 2012, showing off my size 14 skirt and 3 pounds below the old happy weight

As I moved into summer, I started to get a little lax with tracking my food. I ate a 400 calorie breakfast, a 500 calorie lunch, a 400 calorie snack, and a 500 calorie dinner. I felt like I knew my calories, fat and sodium well enough, what was to track? Then I took a free day for my birthday and then I had a couple of root canals and had to take a lot of antibiotics so I was both undereating and eating too frequently. I decided to stop doing no holds barred free days, but instead made each Sunday a maintenance day, where I could have a dessert after dinner. My weightloss still trended down, but wasn't what it had been. I did pass the middle point to my BMI goal and celebrated by buying the SparkPeople cookbook! As we approached our vacation in August, I was really close to 180.

After two weeks of vacation, my food was decidedly not great, but I was way more active than I had been and I resolved that when I got back home, I would keep up the workouts as well as get back to tracking my food. The day I got back, SparkCoach came online. What serendipity! My weight was back to 183 (and a bodyfat of 34%), but I got on the ball and marked a solid 180 two weeks later.

You'd think I had the food down at this point, but one of the great tools I got through SparkCoach was a portion guide. I had been meddling around with eating whatever meat I thought was reasonable and entering that in the tracker. But I started eating 3 oz. portions of meat. I also became aware that my prior concept of moderate activity was as loosey goosey as my old notions of nutrition. I dusted off my old dream of being able to do a pullup, and put together a strength training and cardio rotation. Here I am after my first month on Spark Coach. This is actually a before photo for my pullup goal:

Something that always worried me was whether this really is a lifestyle change, or whether I have really shed the dieting mindset. Was I going to be in that majority that loses the weight and gains it back? Through SparkCoach I connected with the Mind over Body series (which is available free to anyone through the wellness center). And I'll just say pretty much everything on SparkCoach was already here for free, but the value is in organizing, prioritizing, and highlighting the variety of content. Equally important has been my involvement with SparkTeams, and stepping up to be a coleader, which felt like a big step for me but has given me much more than it takes. It took me several weeks to get through the Mind over Body series, and there were parts I went over more than once, but by the end I knew this was a lifestyle change. Highlighting that was the day I really knew that weight is not the destination, but simply an important tool in understanding my body composition. My new goal became a healthy body composition, about 76% lean body mass. At my current lean mass, that would be around 160 but the larger goal is health for a longer and fuller life.

As October wound down, I was getting some weird recommendations from my food tracker as far as calories went. This had actually gone on all fall. I asked SparkCoach about it and it turns out back in 2008 I had set up my account for lifestyle and not weight loss. As I searched the tech support FAQs, I learned that if I wanted to change my goal weight, it would require deleting all my tracking. After the initial shock, I turned this crisis into an opportunity to download many of my daily nutrition reports and have a look at the past 10 months. The role of fiber in a good day's food really stood out to me, and it usually happens if I have my 5 freggies and whole grain.

I hit the reset button the start of this week. It happens I am now at 170, and ready to see where this journey takes me next!

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