In September 2009, I posted on Facebook that "I have decided that I want to become a MILF and shall henceforth commit myself fully to that end." Or something to that effect.
I was being flip, but there was sincere sentiment behind my words. I was very unhappy with how I looked and felt. The following week I found out that some weird symptoms I had been experiencing were due to three small strokes and the resultant damage to my brain. I also learned that my blood pressure was 170/120. And then I realized it was time to put those flippant words into action. And I did. I lost 75 pounds. I became a Zumba instructor and later, a Weight Watchers leader. To say that the journey (hackneyed word, but it cannot be described as anything but) changed my life is a gargantuan understatement.
And I resolved never to go back. I would NOT be one of those people who finds themselves back at Weight Watchers five years later, shamefaced and chagrined. Would. Not.
Five years after I started, I have gained 17lbs. They won't come off. And more is creeping slowly back on, despite my best efforts. Something is wrong, but I don't know what, and I don't know how to fix it. Despite severing ties with WW in December of 2013, I have maintained my active, healthy lifestyle. A looser version of it to be sure, but nothing like the sloth and excess of my pre-Weight Watchers life. I might allow myself a Skinny Caramel latte from Starbuck's two or three times a week instead of just one. I might allow myself one teaspoon of real butter on my fat free air popped popcorn. I might allow myself that second glass of wine with my baked salmon and grilled veggies while out to dinner with friends. I might even split a decadent dessert with my husband now and then.
Before leaving Weight Watchers, I would never have considered doing any of those things. And it had a profound impact on my life, one that was not wholly positive as you might think.
For our 20th anniversary, husband planned a beautiful, romantic getaway to a local winery. There was a tour, wine tasting, champagne and chocolates waiting for me in the suite, an amazing breakfast buffet with fresh crepes, waffles, beignets and pancakes...
All I could think about was calories.
When we arrived on Friday evening, we sat down to a lovely dinner in a restaurant so fraught with ambiance I almost believed we were in real French bistro. Husband suggested ordering a cheese tray. I declined. He suggested the stuffed mushrooms. I declined. He grew frustrated but held his tongue until I began to agonize over the entree. Then he said, "Baby, do you just want to go home?" I got his meaning. He had a whole weekend planned out for us and if I was going to obsess over everything that went into my mouth, the enjoyment would be lost - for both of us.
I realized that I was letting my fear of gaining weight control me. I began to worry that I might be on my way to a full fledged eating disorder. So I quit Weight Watchers and I resolved that I would be healthy, but not obsessive. I would allow myself those indulgences and not let the guilt overwhelm me. And I think I've done a good job. I exercise every day. I eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. I avoid processed foods and hidden sugars (It's everywhere you know). I gave up soda; regular and diet. I try to get as many healthy fats into my diet as possible.
I should be maintaining quite easily. Even on the days that I enjoy a little treat, I burn more calories than I consume, no doubt. I have a retail job and I am on my feet most of the day. In addition, I power walk around 20 miles each week, or do other forms of cardio such as Kickboxing or Step Aerobics. I do strength training 3-4 times a week. When I am at home, I make a conscious effort to be moving. I do get my butt time in of course. But I try not to let it make up the bulk of my leisure time.
And yet, the pounds are creeping back on. Slowly but surely, 17 pounds has found it's way back and believe me when I say that on a short girl, it looks and feels easily double that. I don't like how I look, I don't like how I feel. It takes noticeably more effort to get through each workout. I am more tired. My knees hurt more. Worst of all, my skinny jeans are telling me that my backside has expanded.
But I'm a determined person and I can fix this if I just give it a good effort!! Right? If the old strategies don't work, try new. Try paleo, low carb, no carb, clean eating, virgin eating, raw, juiced and extruded. Surely something will ignite that process of loss once again! Right?
Nothing I do is working. Nothing I have learned is true anymore. My body, which once responded so well to the manipulation I was putting it through, is rebelling. It's as though it has decided to regain what it has lost, all my efforts be damned. It's amazingly disheartening, because nobody believes that there isn't SOME reason for your lack of results; for the slow, inexorable gains. They believe you must be secretly scarfing ice cream after everyone has gone to bed, or pilfering the french fries and pizza crusts off your kids' plates, or secreting away to the drive through for a bacon burger after Jazzercise class.
The only people who believe me are those who have been there. And they are legion. The weight loss forums, Facebook pages, support groups and message boards are rife with them. People as baffled and disheartened as I am, people equally determined not to be that person who lost it and then gained it all back. People just as disciplined and focused and committed as I am. People who, like me, are getting fat again.
There is a well known makeup guru on YouTube who has lost 125 lbs. She is fully committed to a healthy, active lifestyle. And yet, she too has experienced the puzzling reversal. She is gaining weight and can't get it off. Look at poor Oprah. Winona Judd. Kirsty Alley. Delta Burke. Marie Osmond. Jonah Hill. Seth Rogen. Look at all the Biggest Loser contestants who ended up just as big or bigger than they were to begin with. Even people who have undergone gastric bypass and are physically unable to overeat, gain weight back. Is every single one of those people just making excuses? Did they simply give up and get lazy, complacent, apathetic? No. They got frustrated and disheartened and confused when the effort they were putting in was all for nothing.
I think like me, if they knew what to fix, they would fix it. They certainly have the financial means to do anything necessary. And yet, they are still fat. So what is it? Is it some biological needle in a haystack? Something we just haven't learned about the way the body reacts to deprivation, famine, stress? Some genetic switch we haven't learned to flip? Some evolutionary failsafe we have yet to discover? Or is it our food; laden with chemicals, preservatives and derivatives that is somehow short circuiting our bodies' ability to regulate and respond in a logical way to the much touted "calories in calories out" formula?
I have my suspicions, but I don't really know. I don't think even the experts know. If they did, we would not be facing the pervasive and overwhelming obesity epidemic that we are today. And it's spreading to other countries in which obesity was practically unheard of until recently.
What I know is this: I will keep trying. I will exercise and I will eat healthy and I will try not to let the skinny in my jeans be the barometer of my well being or self-esteem. I will try to appreciate being healthy and strong for the sake of being healthy and strong.
Goddamn it's hard. But it's hard to be sick and unhealthy too.
I also know that clean wholesome food and physical activity are medicine. I can count on one hand the number of colds I've had in the last five years. My migraines, once debilitating, are much diminished, both in frequency and severity. My body is strong and fit, even if my butt is too big. I can rise out of my chair without scooting my ass to the edge and pushing up with my arms. I can carry in all the groceries without huffing and puffing. I can climb a flight of stairs without stopping to catch my breath. I can arm wrestle my 15 year old son and while I can't win, I can actually make him work to beat me. Small things, yes, but a powerful reminder that I'd rather be strong and fat than weak and skinny.
So...healthy for healthy's sake. I guess that's the way it has to be. Now, I'm going to go pitch my scale in the garbage.