42 Months and Counting
Sunday, October 06, 2013
Today is exactly 42 months since I changed my lifestyle. That's 1025 days of meticulous tracking my diet and exercise. Who knew what a dramatic change I’d make! There are a number of factors that have influenced, accelerated, or helped change my life. Some of these are:
* Wanting to change.
When I began, I was gaining weight at the rate of several pounds each month. I knew it was my relatively sedentary lifestyle and my less-than-perfect, fast-food laden diet. I was tired of being fat and not being able to climb stairs without being out of breath. You have to want to make a change before you can make a change.
* Finding out that it wasn’t exactly all my fault.
Despite cutting calories pretty dramatically to 1400 calories, I was still gaining weight. Turns out, this was a symptom that uncovered my hypothyroidism. Once we got the hypothyroidism treated, weight loss was possible. After years of working with a team of doctors, I know that I have a significantly lower metabolism than normal. My measured BMR is only 1010, making my calorie needs for a sedentary life style only 1212 -- my maintenance is the very bottom of the low end of weight loss! No wonder why I wasn't losing! Now, cutting calories from there...extremely difficult.
* Subscribing to a CSA.
CSA, or consumer supported agriculture, is a weekly allotment of produce from farms. I found one that is very flexible: it allows members to select from a variety of weekly boxes and allows members to swap out an item and purchase more items. Not only that, they deliver instead of me picking up the box. Getting a box of produce every week is like my own personal episode of Chopped: the creativity needed to use ALL that produce was taxing…at first. This lead to the next factor:
* My family and I really like produce!
One of my early CSA boxes had 7 eggplant. SEVEN! WTF?! Google helped me find some great recipes for eggplant and we found we really like it! I wish I’d have known that years ago! Likewise, I’ve found that my family and I like field peas, purple peppers, tatsoi, collards, and okra. We found out that the corn, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, peaches, blueberries, strawberries – heck, most everything they deliver – is so much fresher and more flavorful than what’s in the store. We’ve tried many new recipes to use either the unusual vegetable we weren’t familiar with or to use the overabundance of an old favorite (zucchini cobbler is pretty awesome!). Instead of trying to figure out how to use up one box of vegetables, we now order two and still need to purchase more before the week is up.
Fresh produce is really very, very tasty, and works well to lower calories and increase all those micronutrients that aren’t found in processed food. Make no mistake: we still eat out at our favorite places, but my family would now prefer to eat in! I’ve found LOTS of yummy, nutritious, filling, healthy, and low calorie dinners that meat-and-potato lovers adore. Many of them are able to be made in about 30 minutes, too.
Yes, it’s expensive to buy all that produce. BUT, we buy so little processed food now, and that includes expensive snacks. We eat many fewer cookies, preferring veggies dipped in hummus, yogurt, corn relish, and freshly made salsa (OK, we’ll get tortilla chips and pita chips to dip, too). Two cookies will satisfy now, instead of a whole sleeve. A fresh, juicy peach or a small apple makes a sweet treat. These farm-fresh fruits taste so much more flavorful and sweeter than their grocery store counterparts. Even the grocery store ones will do, if we run out, because we’ve retrained our taste buds now.
* My children are studying in the health care profession
One child majored in psychology and biology and is in her last year of grad school studying speech language pathology. The other child is a Health and Exercise Science major and is applying to med school. Both have studied the effects of diet and exercise on health, and both are using their education to help all of us make better life choices. The HES/pre-med child is a triathlete and applies his education to his life. He’s at home with us this year in a gap year as he trains for Ironman races, and it’s very, very difficult to sit on the sofa when he spends so much time exercising! In fact, that leads me to the next factor:
* I like exercising and I’m now an “athlete.”
A triathlete, to be exact. I have to laugh, as anyone who has known me would NEVER describe me as athletic! But I am now! I started running as a means to burn calories to lose weight. My husband ran races, and he got me to run a few 5Ks and even an 8K. My son was a runner, too, but overuse injuries caused him to want to cross-train. He got a bike, and that looked like fun, so my husband and I got a bike. MUCH more enjoyable than running, IMHO!
A few years ago, my husband began using the neighborhood pool for lap swimming. My son started swimming last year, too, and that’s when he switched from training for running races to triathlons. I swore I’d never swim, though. Last Christmas, they gave me swim lessons, and I found out that I really like it! I’ve raced one triathlon, and have another scheduled for next week. Now, I’m in absolutely no danger of winning my age group. I’m slow, but I’m making steady progress. My son and husband have encouraged me, and with my son as my live-in coach, I’m getting better. My son says it’s OK to call myself an “athlete.” “Athlete” is not about being the best, it’s about training and the level of effort put forth while training. He doesn’t want me to sell myself short. I’m an athlete! I’m burning 3000-4000 calories per week in 8-10 hours a week of exercise, all tracked with HRMs, swim watches, and other fancy gadgets. These gadgets almost always tell me that there is SOME part of my workout that is good – I need positive reinforcement! They also track and tell me that I'm making slow but steady improvement over the long haul.
It hasn’t been an easy journey. I’ve had to drop down to as few as 600 calories (medically supervised) to figure this out, and I’ve found that even when burning 3000-4000 calories per week, I can’t really eat more than 1500 calories per day to maintain my weight, 1200-1400 is much better. Weight loss (and I still have 15 pounds or so to go) requires less than 1000 net calories per day to lose MAYBE a pound each month. This is extremely limiting. I’ve gone from measuring by volume to measuring on a scale (a peanut butter sandwich: put the bread on the scale and zero it out; add peanut butter and weigh the grams of peanut butter; zero it out, weigh the jelly/honey/whatever else is topping it). Eating out for special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, or even the post-race finish line spread – has to be carefully orchestrated so I can still still have food during the rest of the day. I had to get very creative to be able to eat cake at my daughter’s wedding. Having a beer while watching the game or a glass of wine with dinner really eats into the calories. Things that most people take for granted are very, very stressful for me.
But, the important thing is that I've been diligently tracking for 1025 days and it has helped me uncover health and metabolism issues. Had I not done this, I wouldn't have the data to take to the doctor to find them! I would have dropped my calories for a while, then felt like a failure, given up, and probably be morbidly obese (there's a strong family history). Instead, I tracked and found out that I've been dealt a terrible metabolic hand, and I just have to eat a lot less and exercise a lot more than the average human.
Diligent tracking and examining the data, finding a love of produce, having some knowledgeable help (both doctors and coaching), and finding exercise I love doing with people who will do it with me are the keys to my success. I've lost 37 pounds in 42 months...not exactly "instant gratification," but it's MY pace. The best I can do is losing a pound a month, so maybe in another 2 years or so I'll loose the last 15ish that my doctors said I can/should lose. But I can get there! Slowly. :)