Time for an announcement. I've gone and reinvented myself. Again. But this time around, the new version of me doesn't have a new pen name, and I haven't changed careers or genres. What I have done is lose more than 55 pounds over the past seven months or so.
I wasn't always overweight. I was a skinny little punk of a kid with severe asthma. When I got married at the age of 22, I wore a cut-down size eight wedding gown. But then that carb-fueled slippery slide to the fat side began.
Although I married a sports-loving jock, I myself am not only not athletic, I am acutely, completely uncoordinated. For years, I swore I couldn't work out because my own sweat gave me a rash. How lame is that? Also? I'm a writer. For cryin' out loud, I'm supposed to sit on my butt all day!
And then there was my love of food, cooking and entertaining. I was raised to believe that a woman who loved her family fed her family. And if you really loved your family, you'd make and serve desserts. Lots of desserts. And I sure did love 'em -- and feed 'em. I fed them -- and me -- so well, that I became obese. Such an ugly word, obese. In the lexicon of ugly words, obese ranks right up there with squat, fetid and puce.
I made feeble attempts to diet. I joined Weight Watchers so many times, I think I was on their top five list of serial recidivists. Literally, there was no diet I did not try and discard. Jenny Craig? Did it. Nutri-System? Uh-huh. I ate bacon on Atkins, avoided it on South Beach -- or was that vice-versa? I bought the "Sugar Busters" book, hoping it would allow me to eat candy and still lose weight. Not so much. I even talked my doctor into prescribing fen-phen for me, back in the good old days before we found out it could make your aorta explode. Or something. And I have to tell you -- I loved fen-phen! It curbed my appetite and I lost about 20 pounds on it, until my buzz-killer doctor brutally refused to refill my prescription.
All that time, I kept gaining. And refusing to deal with the reality of it. At one point, I was seriously considering gastric bypass or lap-band surgery. This despite the fact that three people close to me had all had the surgery, lost vast amounts of weight -- and subsequently suffered severe, life-altering emotional side-effects. Caveat: I'm sure there are people who've had wonderful results from surgery, but in the end, I decided it was not for me.
Finally, this past October, I saw a friend who'd lost 40 pounds. How? I asked, my jolly, beer-loving, food-feasting friend.
He gave me a phone number. And I called. I met my nutritionist, Sheryl Westerman, the next week. Sheryl is a no-nonsense type who doesn't hesitate to call a fattie a fattie. Our first consultation lasted nearly two hours. I confessed my hot button foods; sugar, carbs, pasta. And I let her know what I know about myself. I'm a stress eater. I am too busy/disorganized to keep a daily food diary, count calories or food points. I told her she could weigh me on the first visit, but I forbid her to reveal my weight. Because I knew I would get so depressed about being fat that I'd just go home, give up and eat some pasta sprinkled with potato chips and chocolate sauce. In fact, I didn't let Sheryl tell me my actual weight until I was five months into the diet. Each week, she would weigh me and only tell me how much I'd lost.
The diet Sheryl designed for me wasn't rocket science. Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Lean meats, but only four-ounce portions, twice a day. Very few processed foods, very little sugar, limited salt. She demanded I skip my beloved cheap chardonnay, and instead drink 60-80 ounces of water a day, with some unsweetened, not-from-concentrate cranberry juice mixed in. She did allow me my one Diet Coke a day, since I don't drink coffee, and gawd knows I need some caffeine to get my motor running in the morning. She made my diet so simple, I didn't need a booklet or an iPhone calorie counter app to figure it out. She warned me that I might feel cranky and head-achy that first week, what with all the sugar and carbs my body was craving. And she scheduled me for a weigh-in one week later.
Something clicked for me that day in Sheryl's office. I guess I finally just decided to get real. Sheryl would say I told myself a new story, which is appropriate, because telling stories is what I do for a living. I told myself if I have enough self-discipline to write a novel a year, I could do this. I told myself to move my ass, er, butt.
I lost four pounds that first week. Since I started this journey in mid-October, I've only had one week where I gained weight, and that was over the New Year's holidays, and I gained less than two pounds. As of today, I've lost 55 pounds. I started walking, and I haven't stopped. Most days, I clock two-plus miles a day.
The change in my life has been amazing, in big and small ways. As I walk my neighborhood, old friends stop their cars or flag me down to tell me how great I look. I feel amazing. I have super-hero energy. Best of all, I am buying clothes in a size I haven't worn in nearly 30 years.
Why am I sharing this? Because I think it's important. Because if I can do this, anybody can. Yes, I have the financial resources to consult a nutritionist. Sheryl isn't cheap -- but she's way cheaper than surgery. (And I continue to see her on a regular basis.) This ain't voodoo. It really is just this simple. Anybody could follow a similar healthy diet they find on the Internet. I don't eat special packaged meals or take any bizarre supplements, shots or drugs. Some people call this diet eating clean. I just call it eating.
Here's a typical day for me. I try to start drinking water as soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning. Breakfast might be a hard-boiled egg, a cup of low-fat Greek yogurt and a piece of fruit, maybe half a banana. Or I'll make myself a smoothie with sliced strawberries, blueberries, a handful of baby spinach, a dollop of yogurt, two tablespoons of ground flax seed and some low-cal almond milk. Mid-morning I might have a hard-boiled egg, if I'm feeling hungry. Lunch is something like a big green salad dressed with a spritz of olive oil and red wine vinegar and maybe four ounces of grilled chicken, or a grilled turkey burger on whole-grain flat bread, and some steamed veggies. I'll have an apple or a peach in mid-afternoon, and all day long, I'm swilling that water. Dinner is just like lunch -- four ounces of lean protein, like a small steak or pork tenderloin, or chicken. I don't like fish, so I eat a lot of chicken. Alongside, I'll have more veggies, like a salad or steamed broccoli. or some cherry tomatoes. If I'm craving sweets in the evening, I'll have a cup of low-fat yogurt.
On crazy travel days, I make sure I have snacks in my purse -- crisp apples and protein bars, that I can grab when I've had to miss a meal. When I'm on book tour, I frequently miss dinner because book signing events are usually in the evening. In the bad old days, I'd get back to my hotel, collapse in bed and order a big, greasy burger and a glass of chardonnay from room service.
Now, I try to have a late lunch so I'm not famished when I get back to my room at night. Then I order some kind of chicken (trust me, hotels always have chicken) and a salad, with dressing on the side, or I just ask them to give me some red wine or balsamic vinegar. Sparkling water or club soda with a slice of lime fill in for the chardonnay. Travel breakfasts might be fruit and yogurt, with a hard-boiled egg, with the occasional half a toasted English muffin -- unbuttered.
Here are some tricks that have worked for me over the long haul:
1. Accountability. Weigh yourself regularly. Write it down. And if you need an enforcer, make a date with a trusted friend to weigh in once a week and face the music. And write it down.
2. Pay attention to portion sizes, especially with protein. A serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. This means you won't always get to eat a whole, large chicken breast, or a huge steak or pork chop. Only serve yourself that size. Leave the rest for somebody else, or bag it up for another meal, but do not put it on your plate, because if you do, chances are you'll end up eating it. Use a smaller size plate if it helps convince you you're getting enough food.
3. Forget the clean plate club. If you're reading this, chances are you are no longer four-years-old, and your mama won't send you to bed if you leave some food on your plate. Go ahead, give yourself permission to be a picky eater.
4. Give yourself goals with non-food rewards. After losing 20 pounds, I banished my baggy, saggy faded yoga pants and oversize T-shirts and bought cute, trim-fitting workout tops and pants at T.J. Maxx and Target. At the 30-pound mark, I donated my fat clothes to a charity for women trying to get back into the job market. When I've had a good week, I reward myself with something like a new mascara, or a new shelter magazine, or even a mani-pedi. At 50 pounds, I got a massage and started re-building my wardrobe. And when I hit my next goal? I'm going to have a new author photo done for my book jackets, showing the version 2.0 of me. Hell, I might even brave the Department of Motor Vehicles and have a new driver's license made -- with my new photo and my new, true weight!
5. Know thyself. Figure out your own gateway drugs -- those foods that can trigger binges -- and avoid them like the plague. Find a form of exercise you don't dread, and can actually do in any circumstances. I'm so uncoordinated, I don't really enjoy aerobics classes. So I walk. Be realistic. I knew I would never quit drinking, but at the same time I know alcohol slows my metabolism. So if I'm having a strict week, I don't drink at all, otherwise I allow myself a drink or two on weekends. And if I break the rules -- I forgive myself and get right back on the dreadmill.
6. Use every weight-loss tool and trick you can find. My daughter gave me a good pair of earbuds for my iPhone, then downloaded a Pandora app on my phone so I can listen to oldies while I walk. I also joined Audible.com, so I can download audio books to the phone and listen as I walk. I'll walk another block if I've reached a tense point in the plot just as I return home. I also found a free pedometer app too, and I religiously click it every time I set out for a stroll. If you're a calorie counter, you can find apps that will tell you the counts for every food imaginable, and you can even track your food and exercise on lots of other apps. Because I eat so many fresh fruits and veggies, I bought myself the coolest little gadget -- the Magic Bullet -- "As seen on TV". Laugh if you will, but it's pint-sized and light-weight and does the trick. I start most mornings with a smoothie.
7. Water, water, everywhere. When I'm bored with tap water, I drink sparkling water, like Lacroix, with a slice of lime. I don't get in my car unless I have my Tervis tumbler of iced Lacroix. Every time I go into a store, I buy a bottle of water and make a point of drinking it down by the time I get to the cash register. I subsequently know the location of every clean bathroom in metro Atlanta, and if I'm out of town, I look for a Starbucks. Starbucks has clean bathrooms.
8. Get motivation every day. I am now a religious reader of those Huffington Post weight loss stories that pop up every time I log onto the Internet. I watch "The Biggest Loser" on TV, and read any magazine story, Facebook post or blog that has to do with weight loss or nutrition.
I think I've finally got this weight-loss thing figured out. As Sheryl advised the first time I met her, seven months ago, I am telling myself a new story. And I can already predict the outcome, because I tell stories for a living. And my stories always have a happy ending.
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