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).
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“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.

2012 goals, so far

Every few months seems like a good time to check in on goals, so this is that! I like Facebook notes because they keep me accountable and I like feedback. So here goes, a list of goals and how they’re coming:

Goals

1) Weight maintenance. This has been successful so far. I’m now at 98.6 pounds lost (a number that recently got bigger not because I suddenly lost a lot more, but I realized I had lost some weight even before starting Lose It). I’m continuing to write all of my food into my Lose It app and while sometimes it takes me a little longer to getting around to doing it (such as an hour after I eat), I’m still very consistent. I’m usually over calories (sometimes by a lot), but somehow I don’t seem to be gaining weight, which suggests that my metabolism has gotten higher or maybe I’m overestimating calories. Either way, I seem to be okay on that. I’m very close to having lost 100 pounds, and I can’t help but want to get to that number. Seems silly to get to 98.6 and stop there (especially because I’m such a fan of Monk) ;D So I do believe that I’m going to try to reach 100, but probably without actually switching my Lose It plan to losing weight. I’m going to probably stay on the maintenance plan, but just try to eat slightly less and move slightly more. I’m in no hurry. 🙂

2) Reading Russian. I’m reading 2 pages of my translated copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban every night, and I’m pretty good about staying on top of that. I’ve found that if I skip a day and have to make up the pages the next day, it’s too overwhelming because 2 pages is the perfect amount of “foreign” reading to do in one sitting (it takes me about 10-15 minutes). My goals with this are to get faster at reading of course, and also to be able to glance at a word and instantly see what it says. I’ve noticed that I do that with English; I just look at the whole word and recognize it, but for most Russian words I have to actually read the letters individually. So that’s one marker (albeit one that’s difficult to quantify) that I’m looking for to tell me I’ll have made progress. I’m on page 220 now, at 2 pages/day I can finish it by the end of the year. I’m not sure if that’s enough reading to make major progress by the end of the year, but it should certainly make a dent.

3) Knees. For those of you who don’t know, I have problems with my knees (likely the result of years of carrying around too much weight) that make it so that sometimes for a period of several days or several weeks, I wear a knee brace (you usually can’t see it though because it’s thin and under my jeans) and have to completely avoid stairs. My mom gave me a list of physical therapy exercises for my knees, and I’ve been trying to do them every night, but the problem is I hate them. I’m not sure if I should push myself with these exercises or find some better ones, but I do know that it’s important to do these exercises that are supposed to help my knees. I’ll need to come back to this one.

4) Cleaning my room. This one became one of my goals just about a week ago. My room was a MESS like you wouldn’t believe (but I took some “before” pictures for proof). I was pretty okay with it because I’ve never cared too much about neatness, but I’m going to be moving back to San Diego in a year and two months, and I don’t want to have the huge stressor of having to figure out what to do with all of my stuff right when I’m about to graduate. I know a year and two months seems like a long time but there is SO MUCH STUFF. Well anyway, last week I decided to apply the same principle as I did to weight loss of just making small changes, so I started cleaning 20 minutes per day and it got better very quickly. Then I got pretty into it and spent a few hours on it, and it is so much better already! Lots of floor space, and several bags of things to throw out and donate. I’m going to try to keep going, with the idea in mind of getting rid of all of the stuff I don’t need. I have to fight the tendencies I have to hoard stuff, but I think this is one I’m making good progress on.

5) Not procrastinating/having more of a balance in my life. These two go hand in hand, and I think I’ve gotten much better about this. The reason I consider them closely tied is that in the past when I’ve procrastinated, I’ve suddenly found myself with periods of intense work and that means not enough time to focus on healthy eating, exercise, sleep, and interpersonal relationships. I used to be able to stay up as late as necessary to work at the last minute, but now I’m pretty much useless after 9pm, so I know that it would be impossible for me to write a good essay or get any good studying the night before a big due date. So I’ve gotten pretty good at getting things done well before their due dates. This way, every day I’m able to get enough sleep, do a little exercise, make healthy food, skype with Matt, and work on non-academic goals (the ones listed in this note). I think sometimes I seem a little intense with how focused I am on to do lists and getting things done ahead of time, but really it’s largely because I want to have a good non-academic life as well and I’ve found that that’s the best way.

6) Keeping track of money. I’ve tried before to keep track of money and it never worked before because I hated going into those Excel spreadsheets every day, but I found an iPod Touch app that actually works really well for me (sounds just like my whole keeping track of calories thing which never worked till I got an app for that!). It’s called Home Budget and cost $5 (they also have a free version called Home Budget Lite if anyone’s interested) but I can tell I’ve already saved a bunch of money because knowing I have to write all of my receipts in at the end of the day makes me spend way less money. I think at first it was kind of a novelty having a cool new app to play with, so it was kind of fun writing my receipts in, and now it’s just become a habit, so that’s awesome. I feel very good about this goal.

7) Flossing. I’ve managed to floss every night this semester (something I rarely did before), although I neglected this over Spring Break. A couple times I flossed and then had a midnight snack and figured it still counted, so with that and the slacking over break, there’s still room for improvement, but overall not too bad.

8) Reading class notes. A few years ago, my dad said one of the best pieces of advice he could give me for school is to read class notes regularly, but I never wanted to. Last year, I decided to seriously try, so I started trying to read class notes every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday (days chosen just based on convenience for me). And it’s actually worked pretty well. Sometimes I read them just to get through them, and I’m too tired to take much in, so I could be better about that. I guess that’s a future goal: to actually spend the time to think about my notes and work with them, but for now I’m just trying to continue to read through them regularly, and three times a week is working for me.

9) Working towards getting into UCSD for grad school. Well this is a big one. It’s hard to tell whether I’m successful in this goal, since I won’t actually know until this time next year (I’m graduating HSU Spring 2013 so I would be applying to start Fall 2013). But I’m trying to do all of the things that are necessary to make this more likely. I’m studying for the GRE every Saturday morning, and plan to take it twice. I applied for an internship at UCSD for this summer, which would be excellent for my CV (academic resume) and possibly help with making connections that would make it more likely I’ll get in, and I’ll know probably within a month or so if I got in. I’m working hard in my classes and have a good GPA. And I’m also working on many different research projects. So, I think I’m doing the important things. But it depends not only on my effort but also the number of qualified applicants, so we’ll see how it all works out.

What’s been working for me

I’ve had a combination of tactics for these various goals and I’ve had to throw some out and modify some, but this is what I’ve been doing (I’m including this in case it can help anyone else).

1) iPod Touch applications: I use Lose It (free) for keeping track of food and exercise, Home Budget ($5, and theres’ a free version) for keeping track of money spent, and Wunderlist (free) for to do lists. These all have corresponding websites for anyone who doesn’t have an iPod touch/iPhone.

2) Checklists and charts. I have a daily checklist hanging over my bed where I have to check off whether I read my Russian Harry Potter, flossed, entered my receipts, and did my knee exercises. For anything I missed, I highlight the box in blue so it stands out. I have a chart where I keep track of the hours I sleep, so I have a visual representation and can see if I start to get bad about going to sleep on time. I also have three-times-a-week checklist for reading my class notes, since I do that on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Finally, I have weekly checklists, where I have a list of all of my classes and my extracurriculars (research projects, studying for GRE, etc), and every Saturday night I check off whether I dedicated some time that week to each of those things, and highlight in blue anything I missed. This one is cool because I know there are definitely weeks when I worked on a project or read for a class just because I didn’t want to have to miss that checkmark.

3) My phone. For habits that I want to form or that I’m in the process of solidifying (e.g. entering receipts, doing the weekly checklist, etc), I have notifications in my phone calendar that remind me. For example, every evening, my phone reminds me to enter my receipts, and then I do it and move that calendar event to the next day.

Overall, I feel like I’ve made really good progress. There are some things I still need to improve on (mentioned throughout), but I’m not going to stress about them too much. I think the minor tweaks will come with time. However, I’ve been slacking pretty badly on the knee exercises and that’s very important, so if anyone has ideas about how to make them more fun (I already listen to podcasts while I do them) or ways to motivate myself to do them or if you know better knee exercises (physical therapist or doctor approved), I’d love to hear any of that. Also, feel free to mention goals you’ve been working on or goals you’d like to start focusing on and your plan for how to do it! I love to know what my friends are working on. 🙂

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