My Journey to Successful Weight-Loss and Keeping It off Forever
A Picture I'd Rather Forget, But Won't
The Easy Part
The easy part was gaining the weight, right? Unfortunately that's where easy stops.
It was fun, exciting, and took years to put it all on, but now that's it's time to get serious, how does one find a starting point?
If you're anything like me, making the decision to get serious about the weight loss is a freeing one, no matter how many times you keep making it. I always got motivated to think that in a few short months I'd be back in my size 10 jeans and could finally buy that cute, little top that looked more like a yurt in my current size. A few short months of torturous, painful, starvation oughta do it. But maybe not. The diet featured on T.V. sounded easy enough...two or three pills a day and I could eat whatever I wanted AND not have to exercise??? No problem!
So I took the pills for a month and lost zero pounds. Sorry Green Coffee Bean extract, but you're full of it!
Time to try something entirely different; and it worked! After six months, the dehydrated concoctions were actually causing me to lose two pounds per week and with a combination of exercise five to seven days per week, I'd lost forty pounds in six months! Yippee!
Two months later all the weight was back, plus five additional for good measure, even though I kept up my exercise routine.
It was a trend that happened over and over again and I couldn't understand why the diets that actually worked didn't keep the weight away long enough for me to even figure out what I was doing wrong. What I especially couldn't understand was how other people could eat the same sized portions I was eating with even less healthy food, and never gain a single pound! I once watched a skinny girlfriend down an entire, full-sized chocolate cake all by herself! She's still skinny to this day! I see friends at restaurants routinely eat their full sized portions of lasagna or pizza and never gain a pound. None of these people were athletes that trained eight hours a day, seven days per week; in fact most of them had more sedentary lives than I did!
I started wondering if there was some unknown pill they were taking that kept the food from finding residence on their body, or if they were running out the backdoor of the restaurant when no one was looking to purge their meal in the dumpster. Meanwhile, I'm counting calories and only eating a portion of my meal and still gaining weight. I seriously didn't know what was going on and it was frustrating. I didn't even have the luxury of losing weight while I dealt with advanced stage cancer! Didn't everyone lose weight with cancer?! No, not me. I actually gained 74 pounds during the six months of chemo.
A year after chemo I was able to lose 106 pounds by basically not eating. I had developed a fear of food because it caused horrendous pain no matter what I ate. The pounds came off within eight months. When some of those issues resolved, I quickly started gaining, and the yo-yo commenced.
After doing nearly every diet imaginable; most of which were successful to a degree, I'd still gain the weight back once the diet ended. I did the math and over the course of ten years, I had gained and lost over 400 pounds. I knew it was time for me to completely change my strategy. I only had two choices at that point, since gastric by-pass wasn't an option. If I wasn't able to change my perceptions, my only other choice was to give up and accept that I was going to be a big person for the rest of my life;
Refusing To Remain a Big Person
I was at my wits end and just about to choose the latter option, like it or not. The frustration and sadness that I would never be able to reach my goal weight and keep it off, put me in a state of desperation. I had spent half of my life starving myself and that had only made matters worse. I came to the realization that I was never going to be the type of person who could just mindlessly eat whatever they wanted, as much as they wanted, and not be a big person. I also started asking myself why I wanted to eat that way anyway. It felt satisfying to eat, but why did I always want my stomach to be so full when I did it? It not only made me feel horrible afterwards to be so full, but it would trigger some of my post-cancer issues. I was uncomfortable and sometimes downright miserable after eating, so why did I continue to do that to myself?
I knew the way I was used to eating only served two purposes and neither of them were beneficial or healthy for me. One; I was feeding an addiction more than my body. I was addicted to eating for pleasure, for sadness, for celebration, for entertainment, for any purpose that was not nutritional. Two, I was eating sporadically and in essence training my body to live in feast-or-famine mode constantly. I wouldn't eat for most of the day, then have one or two big meals (or small meals, it didn't matter), which confused my metabolism into thinking food was something it would rarely get. It figured it had to store every bit of fat, carb, and dust that came its way, just in case it was starved again.
And starved again it would be; and again, and again, and again. My body wasn't going to release anything as excess at that rate and the engine of my body that burned calories completely stalled. Before I became a certified nutritionist, every other nutritionist told me that I had to eat more regularly to fire up that engine, but I had every excuse under the sun why I couldn't do that, and some of them were good. I simply had to figure out a way to work around my excuses whether they were legitimate or not, or nothing was going to change.
The Yo-Yo Loses its String
Many of us have heard the saying, "Diet's don't work." If we look at it in the context of using diets to basically starve ourselves, and/or sticking to a tight regime of specific foods that can make us sick or unhealthy, then yes, those diet's don't work. If we look at diet in terms of losing weight, all we need to do is give our current diet a few tweaks. Nothing we love to eat has to be eliminated from our diets to lose weight. That may be a not-so-health-conscious thing for a nutritionist to say, but it's true. Though I believe eating healthy is something everyone should strive for, when we're eating just to lose weight, there are a lot of factors that have to be considered. Number one is that we don't get overwhelmed by all the changes we're making at once. That can cause frustration which will lead to giving up completely. Working on food addictions and breaking bad habits can gradually happen while we're on our weight-loss journey or even at the end of it. For now, let's just stick with ditching the weight.
My 'a-ha' moment came in the form of a last-ditch effort. Gastric by-pass surgery wasn't an option because I'd already had enough abdominal surgeries to serve four people, and I was still dealing with the issues from that. Besides, everyone I knew who had gastric by-pass surgery gained most, if not all of their weight back within a year or two. A tummy tuck wasn't an option because those were only done on people who didn't have a tremendous amount of weight to lose. I had already invested a ton of money in 'diet' programs that didn't last, so I was very leery of dumping any more money into a program.
I ran into a Groupon deal that wasn't a tremendous amount of money, so I went for it in hopes it wouldn't be just another huge disappointment.
I was on my way back up after losing thirty pounds on Nutrisystem, and just about to tip the scale at 200 pounds. I paid $79 for eight weeks of treatment at a local weight-loss clinic and I had a 20% off coupon so it was even less money. It entailed weekly B-12 injections, some nutritional counseling (which I was nervous about, being as I'm a nutritionist and we all have different opinions on what healthy diets are), and appetite suppressant pills that were optional and cost a bit more. The appetite suppressants were the things I wanted the most. I knew my biggest problem starting off would be deprivation syndrome. That can easily and quickly kill any weight-loss diet no matter how well intentioned someone begins. Feeling deprived is an absolute no-no and when a person's stomach is stretched out from overeating and is used to 2500+ calories per day, cutting calories to 1200 per day spread out over the entire day can easily leave one feeling deprived. When you add not being able to eat the foods you want, that deprivation can lead to depression, and again, failure.
My first consultation with the doctor was nerve-wracking. I was very concerned that it would be the same old story. How could this be any different from anything else I've done in the past? It was even less structured than programs such as Nutrisystem, so just how was this going to work?
Well, it wasn't the program itself so much as the epiphanies it created that made it successful for me. I always knew that if I didn't change the way my metabolism utilized food, the weight would be ten times harder to lose and would come right back if I ever went a few calories above the limit. That meant I would have to retrain myself to eat regularly throughout the day. I was never a morning eater and with having a foot of intestines removed caused unpredictable bathroom issues to arise. If I at anything before leaving the house, it was a huge risk. Typically I would go to work where there are no bathroom facilities, come home around 11 am, or noon, eat a big lunch, then eat a big dinner six or seven hours later. After that I would snack on whatever I wanted, and as much as I wanted, until I went to bed. I knew this routine had to change.
I began eating something very small in the mornings; like a Morning Star not-sausage patty, then go to work, come home around 11 am or noon and eat either half a tuna fish sandwich, or a tuna snack pack. A few hours later I would eat something else, and a few hours after that I'd have dinner. Eating a small amount every few hours was keeping me from getting hungry, and as anyone who's ever done calorie restricting diets knows, getting too hungry is another huge diet killer.
The Phentermine (appetite suppressant) was detrimental to this success in the beginning. I never advocate for maintenance medications, but I don't think the temporary use of medications is bad at all; especially if we're working on fixing the problem ourselves and the medication is only used as a booster to help us. Phentermine is exactly that. It's a wonderful tool to help us get used to eating less calories. When our weight-loss ends and we can raise our calorie intake slightly, our bodies will be used to eating less and we'll have perfected the more natural tools we need to keep the weight off.
Phentermine can be prescribed by the doctor at the weight-loss clinic where they usually can give you the supply you need right there, or you can get it from any doctor who thinks it would be useful for you. Insurance may or may not pay for it, but it's not terribly expensive. I paid $40 per month through the clinic for a 28 day supply, and that included chromium supplements (fat burner).
I took the Phentermine for the legal time of 12 weeks, and nearly panicked that I couldn't take them again for two weeks after that. The reason for the break is because they supposedly lose their effectiveness after 12 consecutive weeks. I've heard that the real reason for this break is because the drug can be addictive.
The medical center warned me that it was typical for people to gain all the weight back that was lost the previous 12 weeks, during the two week break.
I was surprised that I actually lost weight during the break.
I lost two pounds the first week, and only six ounces the week after that because I had eaten outside of home three times and had too much salt. The reason I hadn't gained any weight that week despite eating out so much is that I set some ground rules that were easy to stick to. I could only eat half of my meal while at the restaurant, and take the rest home to eat two or three hours later, or the next day. I asked for a 'to-go' box when I ordered my meal, and put half of it in the bag/box before starting to eat. I stuck to that rule every time I went out, then I'd document what I ate on a calorie tracking website to make sure I stayed within the 1200 calorie limit. I recommend that anyone who's trying to lose or maintain their weight use one of these sites. I've used two different ones and prefer myfitnesspal.com over sparkpeople.com because it's easier for my slow computer. Both do the same thing. You can log your exercise, calories, and recipes on the site, and they're both entirely free. My favorite part of using the site is logging out for the day. On myfitnesspal, they give you an estimate of how much you'll weigh in five weeks if you continue eating the way you did that day. Each week after you're weighed in, that number will keep decreasing. It's very motivating to see the results.
The most impressive feature of the calorie counting sites is that so many people use them, nearly every food imaginable is already in their database! Even food I'd had at a local restaurant was in there with it's entire nutritional value already listed for me. If there's something you can't find, you can guesstimate, or add it in yourself. I don't think my weight-loss would be as successful as it is without the use of that website. Keeping track of calories on our own is not only tedious and difficult, it's just another task to have to worry about. The website completely takes care of that for you.
I found that I could still have everything I loved to eat and that I didn't need to eat as much of it because I was eating small meals throughout the day. I never let myself get to the point of aching hunger. That is one of the biggest keys to success when losing weight; NEVER let yourself get too hungry. I have a little thermal lunch sack that I can throw a portable tuna snack in and carry with me if I leave the house for more than a couple of hours. I could always run into a store and buy an apple to munch on just to take the bite of hunger away if I felt it coming on while on the road, but I never let that twinge of hunger develop into real hunger. I invested in a very inexpensive microwave crock that's just big enough for one person, and this helped control my portions when making my own meals. It only takes a matter of minutes to cook anything in that little thing; even eggplant parmesan! I highly recommend it and have included an Amazon link to it lower on this page.
As far as exercise goes, I didn't do much to alter that. I still did the 30-40 minutes of moderate walking five days per week that I've been doing for years, but occasionally I'll add an extra workout if I feel like it. The less pressure I put on myself, the more I succeeded, and the more exercise that's done, the more calories allowed for that day. Though exercise afforded me those extra calories, I only used the extra fat, carb, and protein calories. I still kept everything at, or under, 1200 calories per day.
I used to believe my weight issues were all about what I was eating, but it was much more about how much I was eating and HOW I was eating it. Diet's don't work in the long-term because they do nothing to break the habits that caused the weight problem in the first place. For some reason we come out of the diet thinking it's okay to go back to eating the way we used to once the weight is gone as though it couldn't come back again. Those old ways of eating simply can't come back or the yo-yo string will keep us bobbing up and down between starvation and food abuse for the rest of our lives.
My best advice for anyone wanting to climb off the yo-yo once and for all is to go into the dietary adjustment to lose weight with the perception that it's NOT a diet. It's a life-long alteration that will improve and possibly prolong your life. There might be some tweaking of the lifestyle when all the excess weight is gone (you can increase your caloric intake to 1500 calories per day), but overall, those old ways of eating can never be allowed to slip back in. Not ever. Keeping this perception firmly in your mind will take the pressure off of feeling like you need to lose the weight quickly, or it isn't working. It was frustrating at first that I wasn't able to lose more than two pounds per week. When I reminded myself that it didn't matter how fast I was losing as long as I was losing, I was able to relax and enjoy the fact that I was succeeding. Even during Thanksgiving week when I only lost two ounces because I had exceeded my calories on Thanksgiving day, I congratulated myself that I was still losing. If I had gained, I simply would've got myself back on track like I had to do several times in the beginning. There was no rush as long as I continued to train myself. The only way to get good at something is to practice, practice, and practice some more. That concert pianist wasn't just born, she practiced every day of her life to get that good. Changing habits or breaking addictions is no different. All it takes is time, and it's going to go by no matter what.
How I'm Succeeding
The first couple of months adjusting my diet was rough. It took time to figure out what I could eat without exceeding, or falling too far below 1200 calories per day. There were weeks where my weight went up and down, but I didn't give up. Before long, I came to the point where I lost continually every week.
As I've mentioned before, during the week I have a Morning Star not-sausage patty in the morning before work. This is my go-to food if I feel a tinge of hunger coming on and don't have time to eat something complicated, or if I may be nearing or passing my allowed calories for the day. It takes less than a minute to cook in the microwave. On the weekends I'll sometimes make a little sandwich out of a single piece of toasted, sprouted bread with a poached egg and a not-sausage patty. I use Vegenaise instead of mayonnaise, but since it's fat content is high, I only use 1/2 a tablespoon to spread on the bread. Sometimes I'll add a slice of vegan cheddar cheese, lightly melted on top and a wedge of lettuce.
If I have time in the morning I'll immediately log what I ate in the myfitnesspal.com website. I tend to eat the same things over and over again, so it's super easy to find what I need to log from a drop-down list that pops up after I click on the 'breakfast' link.
Two to three hours later I'll have a tuna snack with crackers (they come in nice, already prepared packages), or if I'm home I'll have some raw chips and salsa that I make myself. If I'm feeling especially hungry, I'll throw a bunch of vegetables in the microwavable crock and cook them for three minutes until they're just steamed enough. You don't need to add water to the crock. I'll melt a teaspoon of real butter on them, or melt a slice of that yummy vegan cheese over them.
A few hours later I have another snack that can be a banana with peanut butter, or whatever I'm in the mood for. I just follow the serving instructions and log it. Sugar is an addiction I've spent years trying to break. I no longer get cravings for sugar, but I still eat it once in a while. If I feel like having a couple of cookies, I can, and even just having one serving (which in most cases is only two cookies), I feel satisfied enough. Remember that deprivation is a diet killer, so if you need to feed a food addiction, do it smartly and stick to the serving suggestions. I learned pretty quickly which foods triggered my food addictions, and kept them out of my house. Those mint girl-scout cookies were one of those things. If you're able to control yourself around irresistible foods, good for you. If not, a good trick is to separate the foods into individual serving sizes and freeze all but one serving. That makes it a little harder to eat the entire package all at once. If this doesn't work, simply stop buying them until you're on maintenance.
Working on food addictions is a problem that should be addressed as we go along, but trying to quit everything all at once is another sure diet killer. Just remember that the less calories any particular food item has, the more food you can eat. I don't worry as much about my fat or protein grams going over the limit a bit, but I like to stay well below the carb and sugar limit for the day. All of that is mapped out for you on the website, so be sure to utilize it.
For dinner I have a piece of fish and another large bowl of vegetables. You can use butter spray or coconut spray to flavor them if you don't want to use high-calorie cheese or butter. You can even have a potato with a small amount of sour cream and butter. Just watch how much you can have to stay within your calories.
For desert, and this is the best part about that little crock I recommend; I cut up an apple and sprinkle some xylitol and cinnamon on it with a very small amount of bread crumbs and just a touch of light butter. Within minutes I have a serving of low-calorie, sugar-free, apple pie!
There really isn't any reason to be deprived while losing weight. It's a lifestyle change that only works gradually over time. We have to break bad habits and at the same time retrain ourselves to act and think in a completely different way than we did before; particularly about food and the role it plays in our lives. Of course that isn't going to happen over night. As we break those old habits, better habits will come into place. Just be forever mindful that slipping back into old habits is easy to do if we don't remain vigilant. Eventually it simply won't be a concern any more.
Another trick to help aid in the breaking of habits and addictions is to get up from your seat while watching television when the commercials come on. I recommend getting completely out of ear-shot of them. Food commercials are designed to trigger our hunger, and believe me, however they're doing it, it works! I didn't even realize this was happening until I began noticing that I struggled more on the days I watched television. I don't watch TV everyday, and on the days I didn't watch, I had no problems with inexplicable hunger popping up out of nowhere.
I know I have to continue being a conscientious eater for the rest of my life, and that's a good thing. I'm much happier now than I was when I was a slave to my eating habits and addictions. I'm happy because I've enjoyed watching the pounds shed away, and because I'm doing something healthy for myself that I totally earned. I don't feel deprived because I can have whatever I want; I just don't have it in excess. I no longer have the need to be overly full and I'm actually enjoying the fact that I never have that uncomfortable, bloated feeling that too much food causes. I enjoy going to bed feeling just a tinge of hunger because I actually sleep better. I've chosen to make food my friend and ally, rather than an enemy I've been at odds with my entire life. It doesn't have control over me; it never did. I just needed to realize it was the habits and addictions that had control over me. Now I'm the one in control and I've got my life back. That, within itself, is a liberating feeling I'll never let go of again.
I've been off the phentermine for four weeks and I'm continuing to either lose, or stay at the same weight, depending primarily on how much salt I had that week. With only ten pounds to go before I reach my target weight, it's all down-hill from here. I only use myfitnesspal.com to log my weight-loss since I'm not really needing to count calories anymore. My eating habits are cemented in, though I still remain very aware of everything I'm eating, and if I see something 'bad' I want in the grocery store, all I have to do is read the label to see how badly I really want it. Usually that causes me to put it back on the shelf. I stick to all my diet-trick rules, and I know that if I continue that, I'll never be a big person again.