On a chilly December day in 2013, I stood in a department store dressing room taking selfies of potential outfits for an upcoming television appearance. I sent them to my sister and then to my friend, before examining them myself. In the mirror, I could ignore the folds, lines and shadows from my inflated body. But in the photos, they were unmistakeable.
In my teens and early 20s, I was thin. But, like many young women, I didn’t appreciate it at the time. All I saw was imperfection. Then I got married, had a baby and gained a lot of weight. Over the next year, I lost almost all of that weight through diet and exercise. But after having a second baby, and despite gaining less weight, I struggled to lose it. A stubborn 15 pounds wouldn’t budge even with exercise, healthy eating and trying anything I could think of. After awhile, I accepted that as my new normal, and embraced it. I invested in clothes that worked for that shape and was happy enough.
But when my weight started to creep up, reaching my highest non-pregnancy point ever, it was different. The woman in the mirror was unfamiliar. Not only did I not recognize myself, but I was miserable in my body. The extra weight made me feel more lethargic. I didn’t have the drive to do as much. Life just wasn’t as fun. While you can be beautiful at any weight, you also have to be comfortable in your own skin — and I wasn’t.
Eventually, I did choose an outfit — and a backup one — for that television appearance. Jewel-toned shirts — jewel-tones work best on camera — with black pants with sensible flats since I’d be cooking on television. The appearance went fine. But in photos, I could see what I had been ignoring for too long: Something had to change.
In retrospect, it’s easy to see how it happened. When stress had piled on, I’d let food be my comfort. I’d mindlessly eat while outlining articles or preparing for interviews. When I cooked for work, I didn’t stop at a few tasting bites. Meanwhile, I wasn’t exercising anymore or doing much to counteract the impact of the food. It was the perfect storm of bad body choices.
Changes to a healthier me
With two young kids who need a healthy, active mom, it was time for action. I couldn’t continue to live inside an unhealthy body, and moreover I wanted more. Life should be fun, active and enjoyable — so I set out to refind myself.
Once I committed to change, things happened rapidly.
I purchased a FitBit One — it’s a tiny device that tracks steps, trips up staircases, activity and calories burned. That let me see how little I walked everyday — and I started to walk more. Then, I began tracking every morsel I put into my mouth using SparkPeople.com, which I could sync with my FitBit. The FitBit app let me see the balance of how many calories I was burning versus how much I ate — and then the weight began to melt away.
By the time I headed to Boston for a work trip in March, I’d lost about 15 pounds and was feeling more like myself again.
The biggest difference though wasn’t in tracking how much I moved or ate; it was in moving more. I made a commitment to find ways to increase my activity level every day. From exercise videos to long Friday walks with a good friend, I went from relatively inactive to a fitter, happier me. On freezing days when my movement lagged, I would dance through dinner preparations and jog in place waiting for my online writing class to start. Sometimes, in the middle of the day, I would run up and down our staircase, pausing to do squats and jumping jacks at each landing. Every little bit added up.
Nourishing a body
Overall, I lost about 25 pounds in 2014. My weight melted away in the first six months of the year, and then I maintained it for the following six months — which was pretty amazing given the changes that happened in the second part of the year including my new job, our move to Maine and settling into life in a new state. That 25 pounds of fat — which a health expert told me is the equivalent of the size of five footballs — left me in a body I recognize, feeling more energized and ready to do more. When I started my new job, it was like a gift because I had a closet full of clothes that fit again. And even now, after losing another 5 pounds this year, my closet continues to open up to me again.
Changing how and what I eat was probably the hardest part of this journey. I’d fallen into a food rut where I ate too much, too often and all the wrong things. There were too many desserts, too many chips, too many overloaded deli sandwiches … it was just too much. In order to be healthier, my diet needed an overhaul. Fruits, vegetables, healthy grains and lean proteins are now the cornerstones of my diet, as they should be. Though I am seldom hungry in the morning, I have a mid-morning late breakfast of oatmeal and fruit most days. Leftovers from dishes like Brussels Sprouts Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette and Zesty Mango Chili Shrimp and Rice make delicious lunches. I snack on fruit and nuts in the afternoon.
But that’s not to say I don’t indulge. I do. Anyone who works with me will tell you that my diet really goes something like “Oatmeal, berries and … ooh! A donut!” To make this a lasting, permanent change, it was necessary for me to be realistic. And realistically, I don’t believe in depriving myself of foods I enjoy. Instead — I indulge in moderation. So when we celebrate a birthday at work, I have a slice of cake. If I feel like chips, I portion out a bowl and enjoy them. And when I feel like chocolate? Yup, I have that too.
Moreover, I don’t stress being perfect — I’m not. I eat healthy lunches as often as possible. But somedays needing to eat — or wanting the social experience of grabbing lunch — takes priority over all else. That means that lunch is sometimes takeout from one of the local downtown establishments. Other days, when I am pressed for time, I might pick up a sandwich and chips or even a fast food burger and fries. Those are the days when I make sure to move more, eat a better dinner and avoid most snacking.
And I drink lots of water too.
Continuing the journey
Ultimately, that 25 pounds is only half-way to my weight loss goal. And while I didn’t lose any additional weight in 2014, I did something that almost means more to me: I kept it off. In the past, that’s been the hardest part for me. When I lost most of my pregnancy weight after having my son Will, I maintained it for awhile, but found that returning to work in an office made maintenance difficult. I regained about 10 of the pounds I’d lost. This time was different, and I seem to have segued into an office without the same issues I had last time.
And really, perhaps that’s because of how I went about losing this time. Instead of intense working out and calorie counting that worked but was hard to maintain, this time I lost weight within the context of what’s possible for a busy working mother like me. Instead of intense workouts, I fit it into the context of my life in more organic ways.
While I don’t hit the gym often, I still dance through dinner preparations. In my office, I often will walk across the office to tell someone something instead of using technology. I have to take the stairs to our third floor office at least once a day — often more. And I park farther away from the door whenever we go anywhere. But even that isn’t enough. This year, as I work toward losing the rest of this weight, I need to find more ways to be active every day in ways I can maintain for the long term.
Maybe I will hit the gym more often. Perhaps more swimming is in order (my gym has an indoor pool that the kids and I love to use). And we’ve found a great love of hitting the roller rink for rollerblading, so that’s definitely in the future. When spring arrives, the kids and I will start doing easy hikes again, spend as much time outside as we can and just enjoy all that Maine has to offer. Perhaps I will even move my kayak north from its Connecticut home — though I love using it on the Long Island Sound.
What about you? Have you made changes to get healthier? What were they? Share in the comments below!