3 years of maintaining 100 pounds lost means time for some honesty again

3-years-of-maintaining

The first note I ever wrote about weight loss was called “Time for some honesty”, where I was admitting that I was trying actively to lose weight and had already lost ten pounds. I remember being shocked by the fact that I was so successful with the weight loss even in just the first few weeks and that I didn’t even feel deprived or hungry. People often hide trying to lose weight and their loved ones don’t always know if they are allowed to ask about weigh loss. But I decided to do it differently–openly.

Thank god that’s how I did it. I could share my successes, people could ask me for advice about weight loss for themselves, know I was ok with compliments about my appearance change, and cheer me on as dozens of annoying exercise statuses filled their news feeds. I think sharing my journey with you all is a big part of its success.

But when people post to Facebook they are mostly focused on successes, rarely honest about struggles. But I want to be. If we don’t know how much everyone struggles, we think we’re the only one who do. So I want to be honest about the fact that while I’ve maintained my 100 pound weight loss (with fluctuations of about 10 pounds), it’s been a struggle and continues to be. I  still sometimes feel out of control around food, I still sometimes eat out of boredom, I’ve had SO many weeks well over my calorie budget, I had a week where I was definitely eating like someone with a binge eating issue, and there were a couple of months when I stopped logging and started eating poorly the way they say you shouldn’t let yourself do in maintenance. Stuff like this is something I’ll always struggle with. But the fact that I still weigh in the 160s (versus the 260s where I used to be) means I’m doing okay.

Another issue that is so important to this whole matter is body image, which is something that is so missing from the weight loss conversation as a whole. The best way I can explain this is: don’t assume that a good body image will follow automatically from making your body better (even setting aside the subjectivity of the word “better” in this case). In my case, I realized recently that the fluctuations in my body image throughout my life were uncorrelated with my weight. As a result, I’ve recently started taking an active role in improving my body image, and I’m happy to report that my progress has been incredible. I feel much more confident and happy these days than I did six months ago. I would encourage anyone who is unhappy with their body to consider seriously how to divide their efforts among body improvements versus body image improvements.

Since the goal of this weight loss isn’t the weight loss itself but life improvement, I’d also like to share something else I’m working on recently: de-stressing and relaxing. I attacked undergrad with a vengeance; I spent it wrapped up in to-do lists and endless studying and research. Matt and I were long distance at the time, which made it easier to be that way, but there were a lot of people in my city that I missed out on getting to know better because I was so wrapped up in my studies.

Now in grad school, I’ve changed my priorities. I make time for husband, family, and friends (which can be a lot to balance when you have not only new friends but also family and lifelong friends in your same town! It’s a good problem to have). I’ve also recently started taking time to myself, because although alone time was something I had never understood the merits of, I now find relaxing by myself worthy for its own sake. I’m still really new to this but it’s been really rewarding so far.

I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress happiness-wise and am more at ease than I have been in the past. Nevertheless, I’m still a hugely anxious person and I look forward to continuing further in the direction I’ve been going.

I would love to hear anyone’s thoughts, experiences, struggles, successes, etc.

As I’m a huge fan of before and after pictures, I took a new one. The best thing about is that the first time I put the “after” dress on, I wasn’t confident in it. That took some work and now I feel great in it.

Two years of maintaining my weight loss means a new note

two-years-of-maintaining

Two years ago, I stepped on the scale and it told me I had lost 100 pounds. Here’s my story.

I started losing weight when I was 21 years old, when I found a blog post from a writer named Greta Christina, describing her experience losing weight.

Link: http://www.alternet.org/story/149549/how_this_weight-loss_skeptic_lost_60_pounds_and_kept_it_off?paging=off

It spoke to me because her reasons for losing weight were based on a desire to be healthy (her weight was causing her to experience serious knee problems) rather than due to a hatred of how obese bodies look,and reading about her experience convinced me that I can lose weight without severely depriving myself. The latter part was incredibly important, because my previous attempts had never worked because I had never succeeded before at cutting out all of my favorite foods, drastically reducing my calories, or doing enormous amounts of exercise for any longer than a few days, and suddenly I had reason to believe that I could lose weight without making my life miserable. If the changes I made were easy enough to live with, I could keep it up until I had lost all of the weight, and I knew (from reading that article) that even once I reach maintenance, I would keep up the same lifestyle. The part about losing weight while not feeling that overweight people look unattractive was also incredibly helpful to me; I had managed to finally feel comfortable in my body (possibly due to being in a university with a lot of discussion about body acceptance)and I now believe that that comfort and self-acceptance went far in helping me take charge of my body by losing weight. I think it’s much more effective than trying to lose weight because you hate how your body looks.

I downloaded the Lose It app, and as the days and weeks passed, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed recording my food in it (perhaps because I had just gotten a hand-me-down iPod Touch and doing anything with it was a huge novelty). A question I received often my first few months of weight loss was whether I was hungry all the time. The assumption was that since I was eating less than I used to, naturally I must be hungry. Luckily, I wasn’t. I had been eating a lot before not because I was extraordinarily hungry but because I liked to eat. The amount of calories that Lose It told me to eat (1600-1800 calories daily) was enough to satisfy my physical hunger.

When people ask someone how they lost weight, the answer is usually “I ate less and moved more,” but I’m here to say that that answer is extremely incomplete and is only helpful in answering the question of whether a weight loss pill or crash diet was used (to which the answer should always be ‘no’, if you’re talking about sustainable and healthy weight loss). A better answer would be “I figured out what would work best for me to make it possible for me to eat less and move more, and in a way that would keep me happy, not hungry,and able to maintain the lifestyle forever.” It takes longer to explain but it’s worth the extra effort.

At the time, I felt that it was best to not let myself get hungry, because I was nervous that if I let myself get too hungry, I would be ravenous at my next meal and overeat. So I ate smaller meals about every 4 hours or so, which is how often I tended to eat anyway. I did some meal prep so I would have healthy meals in the fridge to take with me to school. This was very much based in the idea that willpower is finite, and it’s unreasonable to expect to have enough willpower to make healthy choices at every meal. Instead, I used my limited willpower on the weekends during my grocery shopping trips,and then all I had to do was grab the healthy foods that I had in my fridge.

For the first six months, my only exercise was playing Just Dance games (on the Wii) and walking to and from school. With my busy class schedule, this was much more sustainable than trying to force myself to go to the school gym. I liked the dancing games, so it was easy to get myself doing it every day. It taught me to love to move, which I used later to do more intense exercises, such as running on the elliptical after I had already lost about 50 pounds. There was an added benefit to my choice of exercise: I became a morning person (after years of being the opposite) because I didn’t want to be dancing in the living room when my roommates were awake and I knew that if I didn’t exercise first thing in the morning, I would never get around to it, so I started going to bed at 9am so I could get up at 6.

I had started using Lose It in January 2011, but I realized later that in the six months previous to this, I had actually lost about 15 pounds without realizing it. I think it was because I had started cooking my meals at home more and I must have been making better choices. So technically my weight loss began in the summer of 2010. I reached the 100 pound milestone on July 27, 2012.

I’ve basically considered myself on maintenance since then. I have a few more ‘vanity pounds’ that I’d like to lose, but in terms of my frame of mind, I think the most important thing at this point is to make sure that the lifestyle I’ve transitioned to in these last 4 years is one that I’m still comfortable maintaining. There have been ups and downs (as evident in my weight chart). Part of it has to do with moving in with my husband, and falling into the habit of indulging in lots of snacks together when we hang out. Part of it is that motivation inevitably wanes, and it’s easy to go from justifying small indulgences (which I maintain is an important part of a weight loss plan) to indulging way too frequently. Over the last year, I regained about 10 pounds. Certainly,10 pounds is not much compared to the 90 pound deficit I still had, but it was an indication that I was starting to go back to my old habits. A few months ago,I realized that when I saw a treat, the question in my mind wasn’t whether to have some but how much I was going to have. Now, allowing yourself occasional treats is a great way to be able to carry on long-term weight loss sustainably,but it only works if your mindset generally defaults to the healthy option. I’m grateful that I recognized this shift in mindset, and I’m now back to feeling much more comfortable with knowing that I can pass up treats most of the time. I also feel incredibly grateful that I had never given up my habit of logging my food into Lose It. There was a year or so when I was over calories most days, many times very far over my calories. But I always logged it, which kept me more in check and made it much easier for me to get back in the weight loss mindset when I decided to lose those 10 pounds I had regained.

There’s been a major shift recently in my approach to my eating, but it’s very new so it’s hard for me to know yet how it’ll go. I mentioned above that I had very much avoided letting myself get hungry because I was afraid of the resulting overeating that might ensue. So what I had done was to eat based on the clock, basically trying to preempt my hunger with a meal. Obviously,this worked well for me, and I don’t regret it. However, there’s been a side effect, which is that my eating is disconnected from my experience of physical hunger. When I was younger, I ate so much and so frequently that I doubt I was hungry very much. While losing weight, I ate a reasonable amount but still frequently enough that I didn’t let myself get hungry. As a result, I don’t actually understand the sensation of hunger very well. If you were to ask me at a random time whether I’m hungry, I would automatically try to figure out how many hours it’s been since my last meal rather than pay attention to my stomach. I’m trying to change this. A few weeks ago, I listened to an interview by a nutrition coach with the awesome name Georgie Fear, and it helped me realize that listening to hunger is important and helpful, and I decided that I’d much rather learn to eat based on hunger rather than based on the time or the number of calories that I’m allotted in a given day. I had planned to continue logging all of my food into Lose It for the rest of my life (and I certainly still might end up doing this), but I decided I have to learn to listen to my stomach to determine whether I’m hungry or not.

I’ve recently started eating a higher fat diet (while staying within my calorie budget), which is (for many people) more satisfying to the taste buds and tends to make people feel more full longer. I also recently read Brian Wansink’s book Mindless Eating, which helped me understand that many times when I think I want to eat because I’m hungry, I’m likely actually just responding to various external cues. A great example: I work in a research lab,so I split my time between working in the lab and working at my desk. Since I always eat at my desk (a habit I’m not yet prepared to break), I’ve realized recently that I’ve formed such a strong association that I want to eat whenever I go to my desk. Realizing that is helping me remind myself that thinking of food or getting the desire to eat does not mean I need to actually eat something! If I recognize that I’m not actually hungry and distract myself, the feeling will pass. The combination of trying to listen to my stomach to determine if I’m hungry,eating more foods that promote satiety, and thinking actively about whether my desire to eat is based on internal or external factors has really led to a mindset shift recently. I’ve even started carrying around an index card in my pocket that says “What’s your hunger level right now?” and I pull it out occasionally and try to access how hungry I am without thinking about how much time has passed. I’m hoping that over time, I’ll get a really good understanding of my physical hunger and eat based on that. In the meantime, I’m continuing to log my calories because I know that my perception of my hunger isn’t trustworthy yet.

I’ve also been listening to a really excellent podcast called the Cut the Fat podcast, which has convinced me that since I’m now at the point where I’ve lost most of the pounds I’m going to lose, it’s best for me to focus now on getting stronger and more fit (rather than watching the number on the scale), so I’m working on building in high intensity workouts (such as interval training and resistance training) into my routine. I want to get stronger and combine fat loss with muscle building, and I feel that listening to that podcast has given me a great understanding of how to do it.

This post has just been about me describing my experience, but if you’re reading this and you have a goal you want to reach(weight loss or otherwise), I can apply what I’ve learned from my weight loss to tell you that it is absolutely possible. I am not a superhero; I’m a person who used to have no handle on her eating, who figured out how to change enough to get her eating in check. Losing weight has made my life better, in a number of very specific ways. If you have a goal that you want to reach that will make your life better, figure out what you can do to get there. Listen to stories of people who have been successful in reaching the same goal (search the internet,read books, listen to podcasts). Focus on the stories of people who seem the most similar to you, and who made changes that you think you can make. Divide your goal into subgoals. If it’s too overwhelming to make big changes, choose just one habit to adopt. If you don’t have much time, print out a calendar for the month and make a big check mark for every day when you spend 10 minutes on that goal. If you don’t have much money, do extra research into how to reach your goal without breaking the bank. Also, don’t expect your motivation to stay elevated indefinitely, so make a plan now for how to make sure you’ll continue taking the steps towards your goal even when life gets hectic and it all seem too hard.

Well that’s my story, and those are my thoughts.

self-efficacy as a weight loss tool

Last year for my Learning and Motivation class, I wrote the following essay. I just reread it and thought it was pretty cool so I wanted to share in case anyone else was interested. It’s about how I used self-efficacy to lose weight.


I was fat all of my life and I never believed that I could ever lose the weight. It was a vicious circle—because I never believed I could lose it, I couldn’t. But this year, I lost all of the weight that I needed to lose, and for that, I needed to use the self-efficacy that had built up from a number of sources in my life.

Perceived self-efficacy is defined as “one’s beliefs concerning what one is capable of doing” (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009, p. 338). It is an important part of social cognitive theory, which suggests that much learning happens vicariously, as people observe others and integrate these observations into their beliefs. Self-efficacy is part of this theory because it develops largely from the observations of other people, and its end result is the formulation of self-perceptions.

To begin, I should explain the reasons that I never believed I could lose weight. First, all of the weight loss advice I had ever seen was unreasonable. On the one hand, there were people who advised taking pills or doing crash diets or taking herbal supplements; I knew those didn’t work. On the other hand, there were people who said the only way to lose weight is to avoid eating your favorite foods and to engage in an extended period of vigorous exercise every day. I knew I couldn’t do that. I had tried throughout my life to stick to a set number of calories or work out and I always failed after a day or two, because the lure of candy or the couch was too great.

Then, on January 6th, 2011, something changed. I came across a post on a blog I had never read, where Greta Christina, the author, described her experiences having been overweight her whole life but then finally losing weight. As I read through her blog, I realized she had struggled with many of the same things as I had—of course, there was the fact that she had trouble exercising and resisting delicious foods. But she also was a scientifically-minded person who understood the importance of going through the research of a particular topic in order to make her decision about a personal choice, and she was also a feminist who had had to reconcile her choice to lose weight with her support of the fat positivity movement, which encourages people to be happy with themselves at any weight. Reading through her blog post, seeing that she had such a similar mindset to me, and finally seeing that she had successfully lost a great deal of weight, I couldn’t help but be faced with the realization that my notion of the impossibility of losing weight had to be at least partially wrong. That day, I discovered several things. First, I learned about the iPod Touch application that she had used, called Lose It, in which I too would be able to record my calories and exercise. Second, as I read through her blog, I could see that a person who was relatively similar to me in mindset could be successful. Third, I learned that it was possible—and in fact optimal—to indulge relatively frequently in my favorite foods as I lose weight.

Albert Bandura described four sources of self-efficacy (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009), and I will describe how three of them related to my experience. The first is mastery experience, which means that previous success leads to the belief that one can accomplish future goals. This was very important to me. There have been several experiences in my life in which I have overcome a personal flaw. The most salient is my pulling myself out of a bad academic situation in high school. In my junior year of high school, I realized that as a C student, I was not doing well, and in that year I suddenly scurried to get organized and change my approach to learning. Over the course of a year, I raised my grades from Cs and Ds to Bs and As, and also passed all of my AP tests. This required constant effort and mindfulness, but I managed it. Another previous experience that had shown me I had the ability to make major improvements in my life that taken place several years earlier. Growing up, I was very shy and awkward. I had not had many friends in elementary school and by the time it came to middle school I was one of the most unpopular people in my class, and had nobody whom I could truly call a friend. Near the end of my 7th grade year, I had a conversation with a girl in my class and she suggested ways that I could behave differently to relate better to my peers. The following year, 8th grade, was one of the most difficult of my life. I struggled to incorporate my peer’s suggestions, and along with changing my own behavior, I had to overcome my classmates’ established opinions of me. Over that year, I learned a great deal, and when I went to high school the following year, I had grown enough to find some people with whom to hang out—a triumph! In my later years of high school, I finally made many friends with whom I connected deeply, and have had little trouble making friends since.

Because I had been successful in these enormous tasks, I had reason to believe that I could be successful in this one. Nevertheless, despite the fact that I had been aware for several years of the implications of overcoming these previous difficulties, I clearly still did not believe that I could extend that ability to follow through on a goal to lose weight. Somehow, food had a power over me that I knew could not be overcome. To surmount this obstacle, I needed another push—a reason to believe that an endeavor to lose weight could be successful. For that, I needed another source of self-efficacy that Bandura described—modeling (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Modeling affects self-efficacy in that if you see someone else successfully completing a task, you will be more likely to believe that you too can achieve it. This makes sense in light of social cognitive theory, which states that learning can occur even indirectly. I had had several experiences of seeing somebody else overcome something enormous. For example, my mother had earned a medical degree in Russia, because she had always dreamed of being an ophthalmologist, but when we moved to the United States, she would have had to go through medical school again in order to practice here. She decided to find a new line of work, so in addition to having to learn English, she had to completely re-establish herself, learning how to use computers, how to program them, and how to write in complex programming languages. She did, and watching her struggle with the difficult required courses showed me that it is possible to get through a difficult situation. However, in order to really make an impression on my belief in my ability to lose weight, I had to see that someone else had accomplished the specific goal I had. This is why that blog post had such an effect on me—it was the first time I had really read about somebody who had specifically overcome the exact problem I was facing, and therefore it was incredibly moving and it was absolutely the jumpstart I needed to actually begin. I believe that the moment I read the blog post, my perspective—and my life—changed.

Bandura’s third source of self-efficacy is social persuasions (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). This also played a huge role in my self-efficacy regarding my ability to lose weight. As I was in the process of losing weight, I set up Lose It so that every time I logged exercise, or lost any weight, it would announce it on my Facebook account. My friends on Facebook routinely would comment or ‘like’ it, which was incredibly encouraging. Many of them would write supportive comments, telling me that I could persevere and that I was inspiring them to become healthier, and that always kept me going. Everybody seemed so convinced that I was not only making the right decision but that I could really succeed, and that undoubtedly helped me believe that I could.

I think a vital part of my use of self-efficacy this year (without even being aware of it) was making sure that at every step, my plan to lose weight was extremely realistic. After all, perceived self-esteem is related to actual self-esteem (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Had my plan to lose weight required a substantial amount of willpower or deprivation, I certainly could not have followed it through to completion. What was the likeliness that a person who had over-indulged her whole life could suddenly eat a restricted diet and engage in vigorous exercise every day for the entire period of weight loss, and then maintain these habits for the rest of her life in order to maintain the weight loss? The odds were close to zero—I knew it could never work.

Instead, I made a plan for myself that was more reasonable and would require only a modest amount of willpower. I made an account on Lose It, and told it I wanted to lose 1 ½ pounds per week. I had tried in the past to record all of my calories in food journals but had always quit after a day or two. But somehow I believed that this time I could do it—perhaps for the simple reason that recording food on my iPod was more fun and less of a hassle than carrying around a notebook and having to manually look up calories. And so, because I believed that this time counting calories would be more manageable, I launched in and started doing it!

Next, I had to figure out how to deal with my food choices. On Greta Christina’s blog, she had written about her decision to indulge occasionally in her favorite foods. Reading about this, I knew I had to do something similar. I love ice cream and cookies, and any meal plan that did not allow me to eat both could never be successful. With this in mind, I made the decision that if I was ever craving a certain food, I would eat it. This usually meant that if I had calories left over at the end of the day, I would walk to the corner market and buy ice cream, but on some occasions, even if I had already used up my calories for the day but really wanted something or was hungry, I would never hesitate to allow myself to indulge. It was far more important to me that my meal plan was sustainable in the long-term than it was for me to never exceed my daily calorie budget.

The final major part of my weight loss was exercise. While I did enjoy occasionally going to the gym and running on the elliptical machine, I knew that as a busy student, it was unlikely that I could make it to the school gym frequently enough to form a fitness habit. Additionally, I have some problems with my knees (ironically enough, caused by the very weight problem I was trying to fix) that prevented me from always being able to do vigorous exercise. Luckily, a few weeks after beginning my weight loss journey, I found exactly what I needed. My roommate bought a Wii game called Just Dance 2, and as my roommates and I all played it together, I realized it was the perfect tool for me! It was exercise I could do in my house (saving valuable time on transportation), and it was so much fun that it didn’t even feel like exercise. I started going to sleep earlier so that I could wake up in the morning and do this new exercise. I couldn’t force myself to get out of bed every morning to run (and in fact, when I tried, my knees wouldn’t allow it), but it took very little effort to get out of bed knowing that a dancing game awaited me. Because it was easy and enjoyable, I knew I could do it, and because I knew I could do it, I did, and have all year.

This year has been dramatically life-changing. Beginning on January 6th, I have slowly changed my views on food, exercise, fitness, and my beliefs about what I can achieve. As I lost more and more weight, I felt not only better physically but also more confident in my ability to follow through on my goal. I also felt so much respect from my family and friends, which has been incredibly rewarding.

In July of this summer, when I was nearing my 50 pound goal, I had a pleasant surprise. While attending a conference about science and skepticism called The Amazing Meeting 9, I came across Greta Christina in the list of panelists. I was excited but nervous—in these hallways walked the person who had completely changed my life without even knowing it! On one of the last days of the conference, I found her in the hall and nervously approached her. I briefly explained my story and the role she had had in helping me turn my life around. She thanked me for sharing my story and we took a picture together. That weekend, I had met many famous and important scientists and scholars, but the meeting that most stuck with me was this one.

Throughout the year, as time passed, it became somewhat more difficult to stick with my goal. As I got closer, the weight fell off less quickly, and I found myself losing some motivation. Determined to continue, I changed my plan so that I could eat a bit more and lose the weight more slowly. This way, I could continue my mission to stay as realistic and reasonable as possible in order to keep my plan one that I knew I could stick to.

On November 16th, 2011, 10 months and 10 days after I began this journey, an incredible thing happened. I stood on my scale, as I do every morning, and read 169.2. For so long, I had awaited such a number, just below my goal of 169.6. Seeing this number on the scale, I was faced with the fact that I had achieved my weight loss goal. I started crying, thinking of how growing up I had just known this was the one problem I could never overcome, thinking of all of the times I had tried before and failed. I thought of the beginning of this year, when I finally began to believe that I could actually succeed, and had made a plan to make sure I did. Finally, I thought about the fact that I had followed through on my plan and achieved it. Still crying, I stepped off the scale, and I called my parents, so excited to inform them of my news.

continuing my crusade

Dear Ron Rudebock [director of Dining at HSU],

I’m a fourth year student at HSU and I’d like to know whether it’s possible to have nutritional information posted in the eateries on campus. This past year I’ve lost a lot of weight (eighty pounds) and one of my biggest challenges was having to estimate the number of calories in the non-packaged food on campus. I’ve noticed in some places there is nutritional information (e.g. the soup in College Creek Marketplace) and it would be very helpful if this were available all around campus. I realize in some places this would be difficult because the menu changes constantly (e.g. the J) but in many places, like the Depot, there is a limited menu so it seems manageable to calculate that information once and post it.

This would be very helpful not only to students who are trying to lose weight, but also those who just want to maintain their weight so as not to gain weight in college. It’s similar to posting the price of food–not everybody needs this information, but for those people who need to stay within a budget (caloric budget or financial budget), it’s incredibly helpful to have that information right there. Even people who aren’t thinking about managing their weight make better decisions if they have the information available to them.

Please let me know if there is a possibility of this becoming available, and thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Masha Melnik

If/when he responds to my email, I’ll post it here. 🙂

Edit: He responded super quickly and with a great answer.

Masha,

Thank you for your note and congratulations on your weight loss.

We have been slowly working on a nutritional information web site and being able to post he information. A link to our prototype is below for you to look at what we have been doing. We have a person assigned to work on it each week and she has been making progress so that we are close to adding the page and link to our web site and creating signage to be posted with the info.

http://www.humboldt.edu/gamma/dine/

Again, Thank you for your comments for it helps us to stay motivated to complete this project.

Ron

regarding reaching my goal, and plans for the future

regarding-reaching1

Today is January 6th, which means it’s been exactly one year since the day that I decided to start losing weight. Not the first time I’ve decided to try to lose weight, but the first time I’ve successfully followed through. On November 16th, 10 months and 10 days later, I reached my weight loss goal of losing 75 pounds. That was right around the end of the semester, so I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write a note since reaching my goal, but I figured now is a good time.

I think I’ve been handling maintenance pretty well. Because I’m on winter break right now, I’ve only had sporadic opportunities to weigh myself but each time I do, it seems that my weight is staying the same. I do seem to have a harder time staying within my caloric budget than I did throughout the weight loss segment of the year, which is ironic because I’m allocated more calories now than I was before (so as to not continue losing weight), but it also makes sense because it’s harder to stay motivated because there isn’t that glory of weight loss to keep you going. Sometimes I stress that I’ve been going over my calorie budget too often, but then I remind myself that all year as I was losing weight, there were plenty of times when I would go over calories and it didn’t negatively impact me. Either way, now that I know  it’s possible to lose weight without discomfort or hunger, I’m not scared by the idea of regaining weight because I know that I can lose it again. Either way, as soon as I’m back at school in a couple weeks and will have my scale again, it shouldn’t be a problem because I’ll have instant feedback so as soon as I see myself gaining weight, I’ll be able to respond and make sure I’m making good decisions.

Often, I stop and reflect on this whole thing and sometimes I can’t believe it. On the one hand, I can’t believe I used to weigh as much as I did. I feel so different now, and as a person who has spent a year constantly making sure to be aware of the healthiness of whatever I’m eating, it’s hard to imagine myself not caring. It’s hard to look at old pictures of myself, because that just doesn’t feel like it’s me, but maybe it’s not too bad to have a reminder of why it’s so important that I maintain this lifestyle.

More than that, the thing I have even more trouble believing is how much my life has changed this year. I always believed I was a capable person, but the one thing I knew I would never get control of was my weight. A healthy weight was unattainable. And now, I’ve had that assumption challenged, and it’s incredible. There’s so much that goes along with losing weight. First, I know that my risk for pretty much all of the diseases is now substantially lower, especially ones that are related specifically to lifestyle (e.g. heart disease). Second, I have so much more energy because it’s so much easier to move around. Third, I feel like I have a great deal more excitement for life in general and I’m much more confident about my ability to achieve my goals in life, because now that I’ve done this, all of it seems so much more attainable. Fourth, losing weight has given me a great deal of confidence, which I used this summer to venture into the world of dating and led me to an incredibly fulfilling relationship with the sweetest man I’ve ever met. Finally, I feel like this has helped me build a community for myself, as so many people have shown so much support, and others have joined me in a healthy lifestyle, including some who have started using the same program I’m using (Lose It).

It’s a new year now, and it’s making me think about what I want to accomplish next. I’ve never been much into new year’s resolutions, but because my weight loss was accomplished in just under a year (Jan 6-Nov 16, 2011), it’s made me think that perhaps a year is a nice chunk of time in which to make important changes and achieve goals. And as cliché as it is, perhaps a new year is the perfect time to consider how you want to change your life.

So, here’s what I’ve decided to focus on this year:

One) Maintain my weight, and perhaps lose a small amount more. I’ve continued logging all of my food and exercise into Lose It, and plan to keep at it, perhaps for the rest of my life. It’s become such an integral part of my daily life that I can’t imagine not doing it, and it’s comforting knowing that if I continue keeping track of all of my calories for the rest of my life, I’ll always know whether I’m staying on track. I’m probably also going to lose about five more pounds, to make the bridesmaid dress I bought for my cousin’s wedding this summer fit a bit more comfortably.

Two) I want to finish my copy of Harry Potter translated into Russian. I’ve been moving through it slowly for about a year now, but I want to make it a regular part of my schedule so that I finish it. It’s helping me learn to read faster and teaching me new words, and I feel like finishing it will be very helpful in helping me advance in my fluency in Russian. As soon as I get back to my house up in Arcata, I can look at the book and see how many pages are left so I can decide how much I need to read every week.

Three) Maintain a constant balance between academics and personal fulfillment. This is less quantifiable, but the main thing I’m going for here is that I don’t want to have periods of too much stress, because then for that time I can’t focus on myself (both in terms of health and personal relationships). So, I’m aiming to not procrastinate so that every day I’m studying and doing homework, so that it doesn’t build up right before tests. I’ve gotten pretty good at this over the last several years, but I feel like I can do even better. This winter break, I’ve been reading ahead for the second semester of my organic chemistry class, so that I can take care of some of the inevitable stress now, and I think it’s a good start.

Four) Keep track of my expenses. I’ve found a cool app called Lemon where you take pictures of all of your receipts and it reads them and keeps track of them, so I’ve been using that and I plan to continue.

Five) Floss nightly. I’m very prone to cavities and I’ve never been good about flossing, so I’m working on a nightly habit of it. I’ve made a checklist so that I can keep track of when I do it, and so far I have every night.

These are the main goals I’ve thought of, and I might think of some others later, but it makes sense to have a few main ones to focus on. Feel free to comment with any thoughts or to tell me what goals you plan to take care of this year. I’d love to hear it.

As always, a before and after picture. And a bonus one!

regarding-reaching2

Dear Redbook,

The following is an email I sent to Redbook magazine after reading the last page of their November issue. It was a flowchart of various aspects of the decision making process about whether to indulge in what you want on Thanksgiving.

Reading the November 2011 issue of your magazine, I was concerned when I got to the last page and saw your “Be good or indulge?” chart. As a person who has lost 70 pounds by eating healthy but never restricting myself from eating my favorite foods, I’m troubled by some of the messages in this chart. I realize that this is just supposed to be for fun, but you have included many misconceptions that can have troubling effects on women. First, I want to say I appreciate parts of it. Considering whether a treat has nutritional value, and whether it is a “gateway food” [note: the article meant this as whether it is likely to lead to eating more and more foods, like how getting an extra piece of turkey leads to more gravy which leads to a buttered roll] is a great idea. However, the question about whether you are okay with looking like Mrs. Claus is problematic. First, it suggests that the reason people should eat healthy is primarily based on the results it has on appearance, as opposed to general health. Second, while it is obviously an exaggeration, the idea that one meal will make one gain a lot of weight may be an idea that really is something people are concerned about (otherwise why would multiple articles talk about making good decisions at this one meal), so this just is perpetrating that idea. Instead, it’s better to consider the value of everyday decisions about eating, as opposed to just worrying about holidays. Next, I was concerned about the question about whether you could compensate by just eating celery the next day. This is a terrible idea, but unfortunately it is one that I see people engaging in after they eat too much one day. Just eating celery the next day will do nothing except make the person miserable and crave more food, and the resulting cycle of overindulging and then not eating is not healthy. Finally, the premise of the whole page is that there is a dichotomy between being good and indulging, and this is simply not the case. By “be good” you must be referring to doing that which is best for your health (and appearance), but the way to be able to maintain a lifelong lifestyle of eating healthy is to frequently indulge in small amounts of one’s favorite foods. Very few people could go most of their life without indulging in their favorite foods, but luckily a healthy lifestyle does not require this restriction.

Many women get advice from your magazine, and features like this could have implications for their thinking about food, so I urge you to consider this before you print ideas like this in the future. I’d like to end by saying that the Ask Hungry Girl short article just a few pages before was an excellent one which had good messages and excellent ideas for how to enjoy yourself without overindulging.

Masha Melnik

Dear Nintendo,

To whom it may concern:

My name is Masha Melnik, and I’m a 21-year-old student in California. I wanted to thank you for your game, Just Dance 2. I found out about it in January of this year (2011), just a few weeks after I decided to actively try to lose weight. I realized that it was a way for me to exercise in an incredibly fun way, and started waking up earlier to play for about half an hour each day (I would have been unable to convince myself to wake up early for anything other than your game). It was my primary form of exercise till May, and during that time, I lost 35 pounds. Afterwards, I started going to the gym, which I probably would not have done had your game not shown me that exercising can be incredibly enjoyable and rewarding. It’s now September, and I’ve lost a total of 60 pounds, and have begun playing your game again for morning exercise (I now play Just Dance 2 and the Just Dance Summer Dance Party, and can’t wait until Just Dance 3 comes out). Thank you for making a game that incorporates exercise into the gameplay. You’ve been an integral part of my transition into leading a healthy life, and I will always be grateful for how you have helped me improve my life.

Thank you,

Masha E. Melnik

Here is the response I received:

Hi Masha,

On behalf of Nintendo, I wanted to tell you how much we appreciate your taking the time to share your comments and the results that you achieved from playing the Just Dance games. It’s great to hear how much you are enjoying the game, and how they have impacted your health.  You are to be congratulated for all your efforts.  Fantastic!

Your opinions are very important to us; as such, I have forwarded your comments to our other departments so that they can get a chance to hear what our fans are saying!

Sincerely,

Bruce Mann

Nintendo of America Inc.