I lost fifty pounds between January and June of this year. I just recently got a new doctor, who was SO EXCITED when I told her that my main weight loss strategy was counting calories. She said, “THANK you! You should be my poster child for ‘calories in, calories out!’” At first, this response made me feel good because I already felt good. I was proud of myself and my progress. The more and more I reflected on it, I realized she wasn’t congratulating me; she was putting down others. She went on a little rant about just eating fewer calories makes you lose weight, and why didn’t more people just eat less. That it was SO SIMPLE.
But it wasn’t. It was really hard. I went from eating who-knows-how-many calories a day to 1500. In hindsight, I realize that might have been overly ambitious, but my original doctor, who I had previously discussed weight loss with, had indicated that a safe, healthy way of losing weight is to eat about 500 fewer calories than you’re used to eating per day. Fat, sugar, and carbs didn’t really matter. Exercise was recommended but not required. “It’s just good for your heart and brain and everything, really,” she said.
I knew I wanted to go about this in a safe, sustainable way. It was going to be a lifestyle change, not a diet, so I had no intention of torturing myself with super restrictive dieting or an insane workout regimen. I used a free app called My Fitness Pal App to track my calorie intake. It also helpfully breaks down numbers for fat, carbs, protein, fiber, etc. And you earn calories back by exercising. Yes, you must eat more when you exercise!
I joined a gym in March, but my weight had already been falling off of me by that time. All I do at the gym, by the way, is cardio. I have bad knees and a sun allergy, so jogging is no good, and I cannot go for a walk outside. I put a treadmill on full incline and walk. I started at speed 2, but now I walk at speed 3. You might suggest the elliptical, but that’s no good either. I walk incorrectly (Haha! I really have strange physical issues); I don’t use my center of gravity correctly, so each step I take puts ALL of my body weight on one foot then ALL of it to the other foot on my next step. An elliptical just tosses me off and/or wears me out in no time. 30-45 minutes on the treadmill at full incline is enough of a workout to drench me in sweat. I worked with weights very briefly, but I had to stop after my surgery and never bothered to pick them up again.
I realize this entry is a bit all over the place, but bear with me. The gym was not my weight loss hero. My diet was. So now I’m going to shift focus to food.
One of the reasons I’m irritated by the new doctor’s oversimplification of “calories in, calories out” is because the logistics of abiding by the principle are anything but simple. I spend a substantial amount of time planning and preparing my meals. I have to know what I’m going to eat every meal of every day for 5-7 days at a time so I can effectively grocery shop. In case it slipped the doctor’s notice, food is FRIGGIN’ EXPENSIVE. Everything is expensive. To eat healthy food, I have to spend more than I might otherwise. Yogurt, fresh produce, and protein/fiber bars are daily staples, and I tell you what: pasta and jarred sauce is WAY cheaper. Honestly, I’m a vegetarian many days on accident just because meat is so expensive. Eggs WERE affordable (around $0.89 per dozen) back in March, but now a dozen is $3-5. My yogurt has gone up $1 per pack, and my bars have nearly doubled in price. Everything just keeps going up, and it’s a very real financial burden to try to eat well.
Cooking is much more affordable than buying prepared meals, but it is very time consuming. Planning meals, grocery shopping, prepping, and cooking all take time. Plugging meals into my app takes time. Obviously, I find this investment of time worthwhile, but I certainly couldn’t do this if I had a full-time job, which I did up until 2022. Because I have to prepare pretty much every meal of my day, I can’t “just grab something quick” on the way out the door or on my commute. It’s no wonder to me that obesity is so prevalent. Most people don’t have time for all this; they have to go to work! They grab what is affordable and readily available, just like I’ve done all my life. The only reason I can do this is because I’m at home, waiting for the UK Home Office to give me the all-clear to live with my husband. Connected to the idea of the commute… Because I have to prepare all my food, I can’t be away from the house for too long without packing my lunch. My quick, easy meals include yogurt or leftover cooked meals, which have to be refrigerated. Not to mention that I have reservations about how good a packed lunch AND dinner would be after hours and hours in a lunch kit, even a good one with ice packs or freezable walls is necessary. This means I am unlikely to spend an entire day away from home. That’s a big sacrifice.
I have discussed the financial and time burden of my weight loss journey. Now I want to move on to the social, mental, and emotional aspects. It’s hard. IT’S HARD. It is really hard, especially at the beginning, to establish a habit, especially when you are constantly surrounded by temptation. There are restaurants, fast food chains, and delicious foods in the grocery store that all promise yummy tastes and happy brain chemicals. I know from experience. Food is a delight! Turning away from most food, in that case, is difficult. Something that really helps is having supportive loved ones who back up your dietary decisions. In January and February, my husband and father-in-law understood and supported my dietary shift. We always ate dinner together, which meant our family meals had to change because of me. That was a BIG thing that I had not even considered when I first decided to count calories. We had to reduce the grains portion of the meal (pasta, potatoes, rice, bread) and increase the vegetables to allow me to partake in the family meal without blowing my calorie count for the day. It feels really awful when everyone around you is enjoying takeout night or pizza delivery and you have to say, “None for me, guys. I’ll just eat this banana and cry.” We instead found ways to me to enjoy as well. This takes me to The Measuring Cups ™. In order to log my meals in my app, I have to know how much I’m eating of all my food. Since I’m not eating pre-packaged meals with the nutritional values printed on the box, I have to measure my food. I have a collection of measuring cups and spoons in London and in New Orleans. These have been my best friends. To some extent, I can eyeball the measurements after using them for several months, but it’s been an ongoing learning experience. I might eat a cup of sautéed vegetables, half a cup of chicken, and half a cup of lo mein on takeout night. Get it? I need the measuring cups because the portion sizes of the local takeout places are HUGE – for someone counting calories. Silent peer pressure is very real, and if someone had given me the side eye every time I took out a measuring cup to serve myself, I think I would have been too embarrassed to stick to my guns. My husband and FIL never did, and they even changed the way they eat in order to continue having family dinners. We don’t have wine with meals or dessert afterwards as often so that I don’t have to always make the tough decision to watch them indulge while I get nothing. I am deeply grateful for that. To be clear, that does still happen sometimes, but more often than not, I alter my breakfast and lunch to make room for extras with dinner if I know the extras will be there. See what I mean about time and planning? Spontaneity has consistently been my enemy on this journey. I can’t even imagine how much harder this would be if I had had children. Because I had such a strong start in London, it was easier to stick to my good habits in New Orleans when I am constantly surrounded by junk food at home. I did, however, have to explicitly ask my family to not offer me decadent food, alcohol, and snacks because I am forever battling temptation.
I threw caution to the wind the week of my wedding, ate leftover wedding cake every day for breakfast, and took my husband and father-in-law of a gastronomic tour of New Orleans in June. I gained ten pounds. I knew I would. I also knew I would lose it all again in less than a month once I went back to my new lower calorie lifestyle. And I did. Bruce Lee said, “Long-term consistency beats short-term intensity,” and that really shows in my habits and weight. I can splurge periodically – and intensely – as long as I’m back on track the next day. I lost another ten pounds between June and the end of September.
I’m finished now. I am at a weight that makes me feel emotionally and physically good. My doctors say I am healthy and that I did a great job. It’s time to just maintain what I have. That being the case, I’ve bumped up my calorie intake to 1700, and I am hovering around 165lbs. At 5’9”, I feel good about this. As long as I stay below 175, I will be satisfied. That was when I finally FELT healthy and enjoyed the feel of my own body. I am no longer always in pain, nor am I nearly as fatigued as I was for years. I owe it to discipline, consistency, massive investments of time and money, and a strong support system to back me up. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t simple. And all this work and effort only paid off because I don’t have any other health issues to complicate the situation. What worked for me certainly won’t work for everyone. IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE. And I think that doctor owed me a high five, not a potshot at people struggling with their weight.
Here are this week’s suggestions for fun and enriching activities:
- Relaxing Music: “Now We Are Free” from the Gladiator soundtrack. You can listen to it here or find the album on Amazon* or streaming.
- Soothing Sounds: Medieval Sketching by Moonlight Cottage ASMR
- Puzzle: Countdown. You can find the game here along with everything you need to know about how to play.
- Movie: Muppet Treasure Island (1996). You can find it on Amazon* or on a streaming service.
- Creative Prompt (write, draw, paint, sculpt, photograph, or collage something based on this subject): strange house
- Mythology Lesson: Erebus. Read about him here, and do a little further research if the mood takes you!
- Short Reading: “Vasilisa the Beautiful.” You can read it here, or you can listen to it here.
Try one per day or everything every day, and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying a more vibrant daily round.
*These are Amazon Affiliate links.