“It’s foolproof”

This past year, I’ve attempted to spare my virtual friends from updates on my choice to lose weight and gain better health. But now that I’m close to “goal” weight (which is 50 lbs. lost, I’m at 45 lost today) I’m going to dump all my thoughts into one essay.

The Why

It was time. The photos told the tale. The mirror. The closet full of lovely clothes, only a 1/3 of which I was able to wear. So what was the tipping point? A cluster of events, really.

  • I stepped down as artistic director of Clockwise. My in-box quieted and I could breathe deeply, no more daily fires to put out distracting me from me.
  • A couple of close relatives had health crises (everyone’s fine now, thank god). Time spent in hospital rooms and hallways got me thinking about what I could do right now to avoid medications, stroke, heart attack and more, down the line.
  • I had my yearly check-up and it came down to this: I was healthy but fat.

That last part was the final kicker. If all I had to do to become a healthy Madelyn specimen was to lose weight, well, damn it, I could do that. I had to do it. So I marched home and brainstormed with the smartest person I’ve ever met, my hubby David, and he said that THING, that one thing that lodged in my brain as truth. Something I would hang on to throughout the coming year-long process.

“It’s foolproof”

More specifically: “If you consume 1,200 calories a day and work out, you will lose weight. It’s foolproof”

I’ve been a yo-yo dieter all my life. As the metabolism slowed, weight crept on and then stayed put. I felt others knew the secret, that I had somehow missed the How To Do It meeting. I’d diet, exercise, but in a slapdash manner. But David’s observation sounded like a guarantee. And that’s what I needed. It answered that question of “What did I really need to do exactly to achieve success at this one aspect of my life which I’ve wrestled with for over thirty years”?

So I dove in. Wanting to model healthy choices versus shallow choices, feminist Madelyn emphasized to teenage daughter Izzy that I was doing it “For health, NOT weight.” This mantra also proved to be a powerful reminder for me. But with all that actualized self-acceptance going on, I also decided to allow myself shallow-joy for looking better. So sue me.

I downloaded a David-recommended calorie-counter app onto my iPhone (My Fitness Pal) and started counting everything I consumed. Boy, is that an ugly wake up call. Can I tell you, 4 ounces or a ½ cup is not much.

And while exercising was always part of the picture, the ante was upped.

It’s been a year. A year to lose 45 lbs. And many emotions. Determination. Frustration. Impatience. Pride. Hope. Enthusiasm. And shame. When I look at pictures of myself in happy times but fat, there is a twinge of regret and frustration with that Madelyn. But she is me. I think I need to make peace with the fact that most memories are bittersweet.

Everyone’s weight loss/healthy life process is different and we all believe that our method is THE best. Go to a party and start the conversation and of the 20 people you ask, you will get 20 different answers. So understand I realize the following are just Madelyn’s Answers. But I’m a sharer. It’s just what I do…

The Food

  • I was hungry the first ten days. YES. Hungry. The only way through this part was to stick it out. It did get better. I knew it would. Like I said, a life-long yo-yo dieter.
  • No one notices when you lose the first 10 pounds.
  • You only will begin to get praise and positive feedback at -15 lbs. And those will be “Did you change your hair?”
  • I got an accurate scale and weighed myself every day or every other day. I decided that even losing ounces WAS progress!
  • I got a food scale and used it. Eventually, I was able to estimate portions but not at first.
  • Cheat meals had to happen for sanity. I will admit to anticipating for DAYS about a planned cheat meal.
  • I became a plate-guarder. When you are only consuming 1,200 a day, not even the love of your life gets a bite off your plate. “Get your own damn grapes! These are MINE!”
  • Everyone working on losing weight has to make peace with the broiled chicken breast. So did I. It does fill you up and fuel you. I now purchase a large package of chicken breasts, cut them into 4 ounce portions, and put them all on a large container (from Pampered Chef, consultant Sara Hoffman) in the fridge to use all week.
  • Lean protein and fruits & veggies. These are the food ballgame for me.
  • I discovered you can scramble eggs with no milk and they are still good and satisfying. Who knew?
  • Alcohol and carbs could only be involved in my life if they became strategic choices. So they did.
  • 80% of weight loss is the food, 20% exercise. Yes, those stats blow but they are true. A furious workout does not make up for a bacon cheese burger and sweet potato fries. The odd thing is that what drives a person (me) to comfort food is also the same thing which leads a person (me) to blowing off the workout. So not fair, right?
  • I had to throttle back on socializing for a while. Eating out as well.
  • If invited to someone’s home and I was to bring something, I’d bring a dessert I could resist! Baker’s Square French Silk pie being the best option for me. I just don’t like it…
  • The money ended up being a wash. Eating fresh & better but less volume & less processed kept the grocery bill about the same. So I now do not hesitate to spring for the fresh blueberries.
  • Some evenings, when I had consumed all allowed 1,200 calories, I would actually just go to bed to avoid eating.

I know my triggers and my saviors

Triggers: Pizza, especially Lou Malnatti’s deep dish sausage, fruit pie, specifically my sister’s blueberry crumb pie, generally any fruit & dough & sugar combination. Jam. Jelly. Salt & vinegar anything. Wine. Bread. Socializing. Weekends

Saviors: Yoplait Greek lemon yogurt (100 calories), broiled salmon & chicken, Wasa flaxseed crackers (60 calories for 2), reduced fat Craisins (on salad & cereal), eggs, tomato & onion & balsamic vinegar salad. Berries, raspberry, blueberries, strawberries. Tomatoes, onions. A broiled chicken & fruit & lettuce salad I make with Kraft lite raspberry vinaigrette dressing,

The Exercise

I start the exercise part of this plan with treadmill power walking and free weights at home. I hammered away for a couple of months. I thought, “Hey, I’m getting into good shape.” Then a friend loaned me P90X, the 30 minute Tony Horton workout DVDs. I was certain I could blast through one. I mean, they were only 30 minutes. I can power through anything for a measly 30 minutes. And I was strong now, right? Not right.

They kicked my ass. In a totally good way.

I became obsessed. After about 2 months of P90X, I purchased Insanity with Shaun T. It also kicked my ass. After months and months of these two programs, treadmill, and free weights, I started to get leaner. I did decide though, that as a 54 year old woman, I could and should make some modifications. I still can’t do those damn “sprawls.”

The Outcome

Finally, I feel like I look like ME again. That my insides and outsides match (yes, I stole that line from a Sandra Bullock movie). I believe my health is in a very good place. I’m hoping the string on the yo-yo dieting has been permanent severed. But I know a thirty year history of habitual behavior is hard to shed. I am taking comfort that I am closing in on a year of positive progress. But the fear sits in my gut that I will slip back, pound by pound. That a year from now, I’ll be avoiding the camera, ducking mirrors, living in only a portion of my wardrobe. So this is to remind myself of my hard-won insights. Admit my weaknesses. Acknowledge to this personal minefield. I know my physical state has no impact on my innate worth as a person. I understand and accept my frailties, strengths and shortcomings are hardwired for this lifetime; my baggage will always be my baggage.

Just these days, that baggage feels just a teeny-tiny bit lighter.