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Why does alcohol have calories?

You down a shot of vodka and then after you start to wonder how many calories it has. You pull out your smartphone and check…100? What, it’s just clear liquid? How is that possible? It doesn’t have any sugar, fat, or protein and isn’t that where calories come from?

To understand this, let’s start by making sure we understand what calories are, and why high-calorie items get turned into fat. We know that foods with lots of sugar, fat, or protein have lots of calories. Calories are a unit of energy. Molecules we eat that provide more calories give the body more ability to do work, in this case, to run its cells.

Your cells need a LOT of energy; they’re constantly making and breaking down proteins, reading their genes, and fighting off invasions. Zooming out from cells to organs, two major hotspots for energy use are your muscles and brain. Both use tons of energy! And that’s just under normal conditions; when something goes wrong in your body, your cells go into overdrive trying to get back to status quo.

So how does food give us energy? It all comes down to a molecule called ATP. (Scientists just love their acronyms, don’t they?) ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate but it could also stand for ALL THE POWER. The bonds in ATP store lots of energy. You can think of ATP like a rechargeable battery: you use up the energy by breaking bonds and recharge them by rebuilding those bonds.

The fat you eat is broken down into fatty acids and glycerol. Fatty acids are turned into water and carbon dioxide. (Yep, the same carbon dioxide that is messing with our ozone.) This happens by processes called beta-oxidation and the Krebs Cycle, both processes that make that powerful molecule ATP. The other molecule I mentioned that’s made when you break down fat—glycerol—also feeds into energy-generating processes that make ATP.

Now, how are carbohydrates used for energy? Carbohydrates (or carbs as we tend to call them) are big molecules that are made up of smaller molecules of glucose and other sugars. Carbs are broken down into glucose molecules, which are used in a pathway called glycolysis to make ATP.

So, how is the ALL THE POWER—I mean adenosine triphosphate—used? I’ll give you just a few examples. Our cells use ATP to move molecules across their membranes and to assemble and disassemble the cell’s skeleton. ATP is also used as a signal within and between cells. The last uses I’ll mention are that ATP is used to make DNA and proteins. As you can see, ATP is pretty important.

So, what happens when you have plenty of energy in the form of ATP? This high energy state promotes pathways that make the fat molecules in your fat cells.
Your fat cells get bigger, and so do you. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” Ok I couldn’t help but throw in that old Seinfeld reference. Whether there’s something wrong with being fat is a way complicated medical and societal issue that we’ll come back to on another day.

Ok so now you have a bit of a sense of how the energy from food can get stored as fat. But we talked about how you can get energy from foods with sugar or fat, but alcohol doesn’t have those things.

So what’s up? Even though alcohol doesn’t have sugar, fat, or protein, your body turns the alcohol into something that gets broken down and produces ATP in the process. These ATP molecules are why alcohol has calories. The alcohol that’s in your beer and cocktails is ethanol, which has 2 carbons, 5 hydrogens attached to those carbons, and a hydroxyl group. A hydroxyl is an oxygen and a hydrogen bonded together, and it’s this hydroxyl group that makes ethanol an alcohol.

As you sip on your vodka cocktail, your body is ingesting ethanol, which gets turned into acetic acid in a process that makes ATP. (Fun fact: acetic acid is the main ingredient in vinegar!) The acetic acid is then broken down by the Krebs Cycle, yielding even more ATP molecules.

Another way of looking at energy production is how many kilojoules a process makes. You’re familiar with kilojoules, even if you don’t know it. That’s because a kilojoule is about a ¼ of a dietary calorie. To understand how we count the calories we get from a shot of vodka, you need to know that chemists measure quantities in amounts called “moles.” It’s really similar to how we measure eggs in dozens, except that a mole of something is way way way more than a dozen. If you want to know how much bigger, if you divide a mole by a dozen, the number you get has 22 zeros!

A shot has 1.5 oz, and there’s about a 1/3 of a mole of ethanol in a shot of 40% vodka. The process of metabolizing a mol of ethanol makes 1,325kJ of energy for our bodies. So a shot of 40% vodka has about 400kJ or 100 dietary calories.

What else has 100 calories? 2 cups of strawberries, 1 medium sweet potato, 1 slice of cheese, and 1 slice of bread each has 100 calories. But today we’re talking about beverages. You can find 100 calories in 4 oz. of wine, 7 oz. of beer, 8 oz. of soda if you’re going the non-alcoholic route, or of course, 1 shot of vodka.

Now you understand why this clear colorless beverage can have so many calories—it’s because it provides the body with molecules that feed into energy-producing pathways. So, if calories are something that matter to you, maybe pass up the soda mixer and use seltzer water instead.

And if you had trouble following this math, don’t feel bad. I skipped lots of steps in my simplified explanation, and this stuff is way complicated!

Thanks to Dr. Phil Kyriakakis, Ray Mak, and Alina Sokolskaya for their helpful comments in the writing process.

Still confused about something? Have more questions? Or do you want to add any info, notice any errors, or just want to give me some feedback or ideas for future podcast episodes or blog? Let me know!

Sources:
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism “Alcohol Alert”
“Overview: How Is Alcohol Metabolized by the Body?
Principles of Biochemistry, 4th Edition

Stream of Quirky Consciousness: Eye Contact

This post is in honor of National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Mental Health Month. They intend to break down the stigmas associated with mental illness and Quirks Who Care supports that mission!
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When I’m talking to you I’m never completely focused on what you’re saying. It’s not that I don’t care. I love the people in my life and want to learn about their lives, their struggles, their passions.

But my mind wanders. Where does it go?

Too many places for anyone’s comfort.

Am I making too much eye contact? How long have I been looking at their eyes? Is this creepy? Are we both thinking about this?

Ok, it’s time to look away. But where do I look? If I look at a different part of their body, they’ll think I’m noticing something about them or even….interested?! Though, how could I possibly know what they would think? I’m starting to recognize how little we can predict another person’s thought processes and emotions.

Ok I can look in the distance instead! Oh eep, they thought I noticed something there and looked where my eyes were too.

Eye contact is hard. But it’s not all I think about. Where else does my mind wander?

How am I supposed to be responding? What’s appropriate to ask? Am I supposed to ask follow up questions or will they tell me what they want me to know? How will they know I’m interested to hear whatever they’re willing to tell me if I don’t match each of their statements with a question?

Wait, am I asking too many questions? Did they just allude to a private issue and I took it upon myself to try to dig deeper? Or if I don’t ask more questions they’ll think I’m uncomfortable or unwilling to discuss!

Do my follow up questions even address the point they’re trying to make? Did they have a point they were trying to get to? Am I just saying something to fill the silence?

Oh here we go, here’s another moral failing of mine! I say something just because it’s silent. Fill the silence because eye contact is even more awkward when no one is speaking.

So I must change my behavior! Abort abort! Behave as a normal human does.

Wait, what am I doing? My policy is self acceptance, right? Why am I changing my behavior to be more normal?

But surely that’s a slippery slope! Fine, do everything that comes naturally to you. You’re going to go all the way back to middle school where you didn’t know how to communicate with people and had no friends.

Oh my Flying Spaghetti Monster how long have I been thinking and not paying attention? They’re still talking so maybe it’s ok. But wait, what’s that facial expression? Is that a reaction to something in their story? Or do they know I haven’t been paying attention?

No, no don’t think I don’t care. I care so much! I want to know what you care about, what drives you, what keeps you awake at night.

If I had to guess, it’s probably not the number of milliseconds our eyes were locked.

Exercise…for fun!

My friend recently shared the article Fit Is a Feeling, Not an Image with me and it was exactly what I needed to read. I’ve fallen out of the habit of regularly exercising. Over the last several years I’ve had times when I’ve exercised quite a bit (e.g. training for a 5k, some elliptical, got a pull up bar, and I played on a soccer team for a bit). But I’m not in the habit of exercising regularly. And that needs to change. Earlier this year, when I decided to switch my focus from weight loss to body image, I made the mistake of stopping exercising. I had somehow fallen into the mindset that the point of exercise is to lose weight/change your body shape. But exercise isn’t just to change how you look. There are cognitive, psychological, and physiological benefits to moving a lot, and I want those benefits.

So these last few months I’ve tried to put fun back into exercise. I’ve tried: -jogging with a friend -weight training with a friend -yoga with a friend -YouTube dance workouts to fun songs -trying to rack up as many days of doing squats in a row as possible
This last one might not sound like fun, but the rule I told myself was that I was going to do as many squats as I wanted on a given day, as long as I did some. That made it fun because it’s a competition and I’m never forced to do more than I want. But I find that if I do a squat or two I seem to want to keep going and often do way more! And quickly squats have become a fun thing I can actually do with relatively good form now, after just a few weeks!

All of these have definitely made me start changing my perceptions of exercise back to a healthier place. I’m having fun with it! I’ve now started thinking about how to build exercise into my regular schedule, and I believe I’ll be able to do it.

It’s curious though that it took so long for me to think of making exercise fun. After all, if you read my earliest posts, you’ll see that the way I got into exercise at the beginning of my weight loss was playing Just Dance 2 on my Wii. But I’ve been amazed by how difficult it can be to find motivation, or to remember how to make myself be able to stick to my (approximate) eating plan, or any other aspect of weight control and fitness that in theory I must be familiar with since I already used them once. But it seems that I may need reminders to stick to helpful mindsets. I think it’ll definitely benefit me to keep hanging around friends who have such healthy mindsets, so the messages continue to seep through.

I suppose that ebbs and flows in healthy behaviors are to be expected throughout my life, and I’ll just have to learn to “always begin again” (which is the motto for meditation too, according to the 10% Happier app I’ve been using).

“It’s amazing that I can feel as good about my body as I do right now, given how objectively bad my body is.”

The title of this post is a thought that pops into my head sometimes these days. I want you to see it so you understand the progress it’s possible to make on body image, but also see that I’m in a mental transition that is far from over, and my feelings on the issue are confusing.

Your well-intentioned inclination is likely to immediately tell me how good I look, that I’m crazy for being self conscious. My request for you is to instead think of something that you’re self-conscious about (some aspect of your appearance, progress in your career, ability as a parent) that you have shame about. You’ve probably been reassured many times, possibly to no avail. So you understand what I’m feeling. Having others respond to “I’m ashamed of ____” with “you have nothing to be ashamed of and I would be so happy to be in your place” instead of “I’m sorry you’re experiencing shame; I’m here to listen” can make it really difficult to share. But it’s a totally understandable response and when were we ever taught growing up how to help our loved ones with their insecurities?

Although I refer to the last three years as in the maintenance portion of my process, in fact, I’ve been trying the whole time to continue to lose a little more weight. Given my specific body statistics, this is safe–while I’m in the normal weight category according to body fat percentages, I’m at the highest part of that category, so I could lose more without worry that I won’t have enough body fat to be healthy. I say this to avoid another type of concerned (but also well-intentioned) response. Navigating how to respond to weight-related issues really is a mine field, huh? But I’m starting to identify and announce where the explosives are.

So, I can safely lose body fat and have continued to try to do so. Physiologically, it’s fine. But this year I’ve realized that my reasons for trying to do so are psychologically less healthy.

The assumption behind weight loss is that you’re going to feel better about your body once you’ve lost weight. What’s the point otherwise? Yes, health reasons. But… That’s not why most of us are trying to lose weight. If you want to lose weight right now, it’s probably not because you want to make it statistically less likely that you’ll develop an obesity-related disease in twenty years; you probably want to look and feel attractive. Losing the “last ten pounds” is certainly about that. (Aside: there are definitely lots of non-appearance non-health related benefits to losing weight that I’ve experienced; that will be the subject of another post).

This is where I have to tell you that it would be a mistake to assume that you’re going to feel better about your body as a result of losing weight. Or that you’re going to feel as good as you want or expected to feel.

Reflecting on my own experience, one of the times of my peak body image was when I was around 260 pounds (my heaviest). Right now I weigh about 165 pounds and I’m at another peak of body image. Doesn’t really seem to correlate with the number on the scale. I actually think that my relative comfort with my body that I developed when I was still heavy was part of what made it possible for me to lose weight. I respected my body, felt it was strong, and wasn’t desperate to change it. In fact, the article that was the tipping point of my weight loss wasn’t about how to lose weight to look better. I identified with her because she wanted to lose weight to try to reverse knee issues (which I also had) and the fact that her weight loss was not based in the assumption that being fat is wrong/unattractive. (However, I won’t pretend that appearance didn’t play into it for me. I just don’t remember how I thought about the appearance part of weight loss).

Since part of this is about me sharing my “secrets” to a better body image, I’ll pause to answer a question that might be in your mind: how did I manage to get a relatively good body image when I was obese? I believe this was a combination of factors: I was attending a lot of queer- and women-focused events at Humboldt. Some were explicitly about body image; others just exposed me to a whole variety of people who seemed comfortable and confident (and beautiful!) in their bodies). Another factor was a romantic relationship where I could tell that my body was adored exactly as it was. That is so affirming.

So why might a person who’s lost a lot of weight not feel good about their appearance? I have some ideas but many others exist:

1. Every time you share a before and after picture along the way, what you’re calling “after” is really “during.” You get used to thinking of yourself as in progress. Even healthy approaches to weight loss (the only kind I will ever endorse) require some degree of obsession, because it requires an extraordinary degree of thought and planning, both short and long term. Along the way, you see parts of your body that make you unhappy and look forward to when you’ll have lost a sufficient amount and those will no longer be a problem.

2. When we hear about other’s experiences, it’s through a filter. If you think you know your acquaintances’ lives from what they write on Facebook, you are incorrect. There’s a self-perpetrating cycle where we’re all presenting ourselves as attractive (quick, untag any photo where I have a double chin!), put together (only post about your career when you get a promotion), a great parent of perfect kids, and in a perfect relationship (posting about an amazing anniversary date but never sharing about the painful and confusing conversations that a long term happy relationship actually demands). Weight loss is no different, especially in what you tell your Facebook friends (I do see a lot of honesty and vulnerability in online forums where there’s more anonymity and you’re speaking to people in the same situation rather to your entire social circle). So we see the one after pictures that are the very best out of the 30 pictures the person took–the one where they’re clothed, sucking in their stomach, have the perfect angle, are in their most attractive outfit. Compare that to what we see of ourselves, which is every random time we look in the mirror, with no makeup, in even our unattractive outfits, and of course fully nude.

3. Some aspects of body dissatisfaction are unrelated to weight loss. For example, how people feel about their nose, skin, hair.

4. Some parts of weight loss cause additional body concerns. Depending on various factors, this can include loose skin, stretch marks, and probably many other things I’m not thinking of.

5. Despite the fact that fitness magazines are supposedly catering to women at all stages of weight loss, the models featured in them are always in amazing shape. I’ve decided not to renew my subscriptions to Self and Women’s Health magazines, because while I appreciate that they take a reasonable and evidence-based approach to weight loss, it is hurting me mentally to continue to see so many unattainable bodies presented as the ideal. Writing a letter to their editors about this issue is on my agenda.
Of all the reasons, the one I’ve been thinking about the most is the extent to which we are all walking around with an inaccurate understanding of our body, others’ bodies, and how people feel about all of these bodies. We have an extremely inaccurate picture of what other’s bodies look like. The vast majority of the bodies I’ve seen in my life were those on TV, movies, in magazines, and in ads. These people are selected for their extraordinary appearance, their career depends on their appearance so they can spend a disproportionate amount of time on it, they have their hair, makeup, and clothes professionally styled, and then their images are edited to make them even more awe-inspiring! Because in our day-to-day life people tend not to be particularly provocatively dressed or oozing sex appeal, when we imagine what’s sexy and appealing to our preferred gender, it’s easy to assume that there is only a tiny proportion of body types that are sexy.

I’ll share two personal anecdotes here: A couple of months ago, my therapist suggested I go looking for images of women with my body type. I did, and I came across a picture of a model that had a body type with very similar proportions to how my body looked when I was obese. She looked so damn cute, and I had never ever before seen someone who looked like me posed and looking so appealing. I immediately started crying, a few tears escaping my eyes. It felt wonderful in the moment to see but made me so sad for my younger self, who walked around assuming that looking cute was not an option for someone with my body. I’m so glad that that model is out there somewhere, but I had to go searching on the internet to find that picture! And it’s still only a fraction of a percentage of the pictures of cute-looking women that I’ll ever see, because it’s one picture. It makes me feel a little nauseated when I think of the millions of teenage girls (and younger girls, and adult women!) out there who are going through life thinking the way I always have.

The second anecdote is from a few months ago, when I went dress shopping to go clubbing with friends. I’ve bought a lot of cute dresses since losing weight. There are way more size ~6 dresses than size 18, they tend to be cuter (which is a problem too), and the proportion of them that still look good when I put them on has dramatically increased (don’t get me started on how even the plus size mannequins are a terrible representation of what a fat woman’s body looks like, so it’s an incredibly demoralizing experience comparing how you expect a dress to look vs how it looks when you put it on…). However, since as I mentioned I’ve continued to be extremely self-conscious about my body despite being slim, I had only chosen dresses that weren’t form-fitting, because I thought looking cute meant hiding what my body actually looked like. I let myself be convinced this time to buy a dress that was very form-fitting, and I nervously wore it to the club. It was a scary experience, but I am so glad I did it. I could tell by people’s reactions at the club that they liked how I looked, and it started me down the path of understanding that I can be attractive even without hiding what I actually look like.

This is a long post (and I haven’t even exhausted all of my thoughts on the matter), but I want to end on one final piece of evidence I’ve found that “objective” attractiveness and body image are extremely uncorrelated. During my hunt for pictures of what lots of different unedited non-posed non-model women’s bodies actually look like, I found so many pictures of women whose bodies look just like the gorgeous models in my fitness magazines (slim, hourglass shape, large breasts, smooth skin) who describe their body the same way I would have described my own only a few months ago (or even a few years ago). They focus on minor issues, see flaws that no one else does, and don’t recognize that their body would be considered classically attractive. They describe how they cry looking at their body, hate it, want surgery, and other thoughts that make absolutely no sense to anyone else. Seeing these women’s stories was another huge turning point in my understanding of my own body. It made me see that being attractive is no guarantee that you’ll feel attractive. It made me realize that if those women could be so wrong about their bodies, maybe I was wrong too.

And that realization has led me to where I am now, which is well on my way to feeling pretty dang good in my own skin.

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.