Redesigning My Health For Good
I was a lanky kid with a pot belly that for a brief moment in time started out adorable and fast became the bane of my adolescent and adult existence. All I knew as a kid and teenager was that I wasn’t skinny like other girls. It wasn’t my fault, of course. It had nothing to do with what I ate, or didn’t eat, or that I barely increased my heart rate from cool-down digits for most of the year.
I was told, from a young age, that our family was just not athletic — so not to think anything of my struggles on the neighborhood swim team when I’d always come in last and excruisiatingly out of breath. During the annual physical fitness test in school, more than once, I had to re-do the mile run because I managed to take longer than the alloted gym class to make it around the track the appropriate number of times.
When you’re told from a young age that you’re just not designed to be athletic, and you don’t understand fundamentally how athleticism works, you’re more likely to give up than keep trying. It wasn’t until my 20s when I realized my comparable lack of stamnia for swim team each summer (with a short month-and-a-half season) was the fact that I didn’t actually move the rest of the year.
On top of being convinced that the pounding feeling in my chest when I attempted to run was a sign that I very well might die at any second, my diet was embarrasingly bad. Perhaps the most clear memory of my childhood was stuffing my face with two cheeseburgers, a super-sized fries and super-sized coke from McDonalds after Sunday Hebrew School. Being an awkward and offbeat kid, I found solace in food. My mother literally poured sugar on fruit salad for dessert because fruit on its own was too healthy to be edible without sugar. I ate more sugar and chocolate milk with my breakfast cereal than Cheerios. Once a year (thank god it was once a year)on Halloween I’d come home after a successful lot of trick-or-treating and would eat every single candy that I had collected — thousands of calories, all gone in an hour or two. And, in high school, every day at lunch, due to limited vegetarian options in our school cafeteria, I subsisted on a diet of french fries — New Jersey french fries, not the organic no trans fat fries they serve out here in Cali cafeterias these days. I didn’t exactly augment my carb-heavy diet with healthy foods. In short, I posioned my body one super-sized coke Sunday at a time.
Not surprisingly, my parents were not the type to go on hikes or skiing adventures with their children. Our vacations consisted of sitting by a pool and visiting people — and, of course, eating. Eating, and eating, and eating. Eating any carb I could get my hands on. Buying candy bars and hiding in a bathroom and stuffing my face with them because I had a rough day. Devouring a box of oreos (softened with milk, of course) because I couldn’t stop myself after one or two, or even an entire row. The lack of exercise didn’t help, but my diet wrecked lasting havoc on my entire body.
In college, due to happening upon a Northwestern University study advertised on Craigslist (not any doctor I had visited my entire life before that) I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), a multi-symptom syndrome which affects 1-in-10 women. The causes are not completely understood, though it’s mostly agreed that it has something to do with insulin resistence. It’s partially genetic, but eating a sugar-heavy diet certainly worsens the problems (and there are studies that show one who has PCOS, like a diabetic, is more likely to be addicted to carbs. What a perfect storm of body destruction.)
Women with PCOS are more likely to be overweight (many are obese) and even those of us who aren’t morbidly obese have a body that likes to carry our weight in our midsections (ala, the fruit I’m most often compared to, is an apple. Pink lady, of course.) What’s worse, PCOS also is a significant factor in partial or total infertility (most women with the syndrome don’t even find out they have it until they try to have kids.)
Even after learning I had this syndrome and researching it, I couldn’t bring myself to reducing my high risk for a host of illnesses by exercising and eating healthy. I gained quite a bit of weight during college, then during my first year out of school ended up biking up and down hills in Berkeley for three months (well, mostly walking my bike up big hills) and, in addition to no longer having cafeterias full of french fries and krispy kremes to binge on, I managed to drop weight fairly quickly. I didn’t notice it at the time as I ended up what you would call “skinny fat” at 118lbs, which was still well within what a healthy BMI range would be for someone of my height (5'3 and a half.)
Like many early 20-somethings, I struggled to find my footing, and the only way I knew how to manage the stresses of early adult life was to eat. I managed to put on a lot of weight quickly subsisting on vending machine execues for sustinence, taco bell, and other not-so-great-for-me foods. In just a few years I was back up to my college weight of 150. Then, I kept eating. I don’t know what I ate, or how I ate that much, but a few years ago I got on the scale and I saw 180 staring back at me in those god-awful red digits. My face stared back, red in horror. I had enough of my unhealthy life. I made a pact with myself that I would never let myself see 180 on the scale again. It was time for change.
But, being human, change didn’t come so easily. I did get down to 170 pounds by not binge eating every day — my body just didn’t want to be 180. Then I got stuck there for a while. My car broke down and I came up with the brilliant idea to walk six miles home five days a week. I ended up at 155 pounds. Then I bought a new car and put the weight back on, back to 170. I needed a strategy that was much more sustainable.
Last June I got engaged. We planned the wedding date to be June 2016, and I realized that if I was ever going to have a reason to get healthy in my life, this was it (who doesn’t want to look their best walking down the aisle?) But this isn’t just about my wedding — this is about my life. This is about now being a woman well into her 30s, knowing that I can either build my endurance and strength and mental stamina to not eat everything in sight, or I can just give in and next time see the scale hit 200 pounds in horror.
What happened next was maybe a horrible idea, but it seemed like a good strategy. I found a site online called HealthyWage where you can bet a certain amount of money on your weight loss goals. I figured in order for that to work I had to bet a significant amount of cash so the loss would be substaintial. And, I told myself, I had to make the goal realistic, even if I messed up a bit, so I’d have to succeed if I just stuck to the goal. I bet $1000 on going from about 167lbs to 140lbs from July to May. A 27 pound weight loss in 10 months would be very do-able, if I didn’t, you know, do what I always do when times get tough and eat everything I can find. The prize, if I win, is $900 plus my original $1000 back. Not bad. If I lose, well, goodbye $1k. I don’t intend to lose.
Now it’s March and I’m down to the wire. I’m thrilled to report that I’m now teetering around 151lbs due to both a few months of messing up entirely followed by a couple of months of really working hard towards my goals. With just 11lbs left to lose, the goal feels so close I can almost taste it, (except I can’t/shouldn’t because I’m sure it would put me over my calorie limit for the day.) At this point I’ve left myself no choice but to lose about 1.8lbs a week — which is really, really hard at my height and weight, but by no means impossible. While I haven’t approached the point where exercise is a pleasant experience, I can definitely tell my staminia has improved. You can say that even if I lose the bet, I’ve gained so much from dropping at least 15lbs from my starting weight last July. Still, I really want to prove to myself that I can make this goal. It is just so close, so actually obtainable, that I even made it to the gym on a Friday night for 25 minutes of cardio. I repeat, I went to the gym on Friday night, when every inch of me just wanted to hop on my train ride and head home.
Ultimately, weight doesn’t really matter to me. While I had this silly little picture of myself looking flawless in a bikini on my TBD honeymoon destination, the reality is that some bodies are just not meant to be so darned perfect. Maybe genetically I wasn’t designed to be an athlete, but that doesn’t mean I can’t run a mile without stopping (one day) or heck, finish a race not dead last. If I ever do have children of my own, I hope to instill a realistic sense of what is healthy, and to ensure that as a family we partake in activities that are hard for all of us, because life is the sum of all its hard parts divided by the soft ones. And, I hope, just maybe, this is really the beginning of a new life for me… hopefully a long and healthy one that doesn’t require devouring 10 snickers to feel any sense of remote satisfaction.