I have struggled with my weight for most of my life. Even though I have lost a significant amount of weight now, I think I’ll always talk about my struggles with it in the present tense, instead of the past. It’s something I continue to think about on a daily basis.
I used to weigh over 350 pounds. I don’t know exactly how much over that it actually was, because the day I saw 350 on the scale was the last time I weighed myself. I wasn’t an overweight kid. Actually, there was a period of time where my mother was concerned about how skinny I was. Eventually, puberty struck with it’s resultant hormones and bam- I had a weight problem that lasted the next 25 years. It snuck on gradually, increasing throughout high school. Then came the “freshman 15” that for me, was probably more like 30. After college, money was so tight as a first year teacher that I frequently existed on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and more weight crept on. My mid to late 20’s were characterized by settling into a long term relationship, working hard building my career, and the chronic stress of infertility; all of which opened the door to a lot of unhealthy eating.
It’s not that I didn’t try. Of course, I did. It’s just that nothing worked very well. Or not well enough. Or I just couldn’t stick with it. I lost 30 pounds when I was about 27, by refusing to eat any kind of fat for about 6 months. I eventually couldn’t keep it going though, and the weight piled back on; this time, with a few more friends.
By the time Abby was born, I was 30, and my weight had crept up to 300 pounds. As she grew into an active toddler and preschooler, I became increasingly aware of how my weight was affecting my ability to be the kind of parent I wanted to be.
In the spring of 2012, Abby turned 4. At her birthday party, I remember watching my father. He was 64 at the time. Having been diagnosed with a rare neurological disease about 10 years prior, he now required the use of a wheelchair. We were outside, and it was a little chilly. He was covered in blankets, sleeping. The sight of him, unable to participate in the activity that day, struck some kind of a chord with me. I resolved to adopt a healthier lifestyle, so that I could fully participate in my daughter’s life. I knew the first thing I had to do was lose the weight!
I began how I usually do when there’s a new problem I need to tackle: nerdy research. I wanted to know how other people who had a significant amount of weight to lose- 100 or more pounds- had done it, and had managed to keep the weight off. I kept coming across the same few things:
- You have to think about it as a lifestyle change, not just as a diet. Diets are temporary, which is part of why people put weight back on when the diet is over.
- People with significant weight issues also tend to have blood sugar and hormone imbalances. This made sense to me and I already had evidence that this was in fact, already an issue. I had been tested for and recently been determined to be “pre-diabetic”. My fertility struggles had been due to low FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) that was blamed on something called “insulin resistance”.
- Our “Standard American Diet” was full of artificial and chemical ingredients that were contributing to many, many health issues. I read a lot about “whole food” diets.
- Exercise, much to my surprise, was maybe not the answer. Most of the people I read about had lots significant amounts of weight by changing what they ate, alone.
Last but not least, I contacted a friend. My friend Jen had been my Resident Advisor in college, and we had reconnected through Facebook, now that social media had become a “thing”. Jen had also struggled with her weight, but had recently lost over 70 pounds! I asked her what she was doing, and she introduced me to Paleo. This became life changing.
On Jen’s recommendation, I read a book called “The Paleo Solution” by Robb Wolf. I loved his witty, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is and honest writing style. In it, he explained, in a very easy to read way, the science behind things like blood sugar and hormones, and how these contribute to weight problems. He discussed why Paleo eliminates grains and dairy from the diet. He was blunt. You were either going to do it, or not. Try it for 30 days, he encouraged. If you’re not sold, then go back to eating pop tarts.
I jumped in with both feet first. Instead of my usual sugary kid’s cereal and milk in the morning (I know, I’m so ashamed now to admit it!), I started eating 3 whole eggs. I eliminated bread, pasta, white potatoes, and the 2 gallons of skim milk I had been drinking each week from my diet. I had read a lot about ketogenic diets as well, so I decided to make my diet extra “keto” by also cutting back my fruit intake to one serving every other day. I cut out all processed foods. I cut out sodas, even diet ones. I swapped out my canola and vegetable oils for olive oil, coconut oil, lard, or even sometimes butter.
So what DID I eat?? Where the pasta, rice, or potatoes used to be on my plate, I put an extra serving of veggies or salad. Next came animal protein. And then, there was fat. I learned that I shouldn’t be so afraid of fat, which was, honestly, kind of frightening at first. I was sure that I was clogging my arteries with every bite of egg yolk and rib eye.
I ate like this faithfully for 1 month. At the end of that month, I got on that scale. I had lost 25 pounds. SOLD!!
I continued to eat this way throughout that summer. I had to dig clothes out of storage that I hadn’t been able to wear in years. Eventually, even those started falling off of me, and I had to buy new clothes. By September, I had lost about 50 pounds. The teachers and students came back to school in the fall and noticed. I kept going. Around Christmas, I was down 75 pounds. A co-worker who I’d worked with for over 10 years but hadn’t seen in a few months did not recognize me at a Christmas party. I kept going. After one year, I made it to the 100 pound mark. I decided at this point to begin working exercise into my new lifestyle. After 125 pounds I stopped needing to buy plus sized clothing, and for the first time in my adult life I could shop for clothes at any store I wanted to. I was also wearing a size I had not worn since Jr. High School. Our health insurance required yearly metabolic screenings in order to receive reduced rates. My check that year revealed fantastic numbers. My blood glucose was well below the cut off of 100. My total triglycerides were so low the guy had to check and make sure the machine was working right. My total cholesterol was some of the lowest he said he’d ever seen.
So why did it work that time, when I had tried and failed so many other times? Here’s my thoughts on why:
- I was extremely determined this time, and had a very important motivator: my health and longevity as it related to my relationship with my daughter.
- I tried something “radical”. Cut out two food groups? Turn my nose up at “healthy whole grains” and “bone building” low fat dairy?? Weren’t these foods healthy??? Not to me! No, those two food groups contained entirely too much carbohydrate and empty calories, so out they went! And it worked. Which leads me into…
- I did something that made a big impact on my weight, and FAST. I lost 25 pounds in the first month, and that right there gave me all the oomph I needed to keep going. It worked. When you have a lot of weight to lose, forget about making small changes! You don’t have the time to lose a couple pounds a month. Besides, at that rate, you’ll get discouraged way before you ever get very far. No, very overweight people need to see a significant amount of success and fast for it to work.
- I ate a VERY strict ketogenic Paleo diet for about 2 years. I have since been able to relax my diet a bit, but while I was losing I was extremely strict with myself. I think “all things in moderation” to be some of the WORST weight loss advice I’ve ever heard, because it gives you an “excuse” to sneak things into your eating that you know are going to stall, or even reverse, your hard work. Moderation is fine once you’re in the maintenance phase, but not while you’re doing the hard work of losing a large portion of your body weight.
- I didn’t worry about exercise! At 350 lbs, I had a pretty good chance of really hurting myself anyway. I was not only really, really out of shape, but my equilibrium and balance were all off and I used to fall all the time. Losing weight is 80% diet, 20% exercise/moving. I did not do a single bit of exercise until I had lost around 100 pounds. When I did, I gained a good amount of muscle, and the weight on the scale did go up, but my clothes size continued to go down.
- I did NOT keep my old clothes! I bought new clothes as I needed them, and eventually had to replace my entire (and I mean ENTIRE) wardrobe, including all bras, underwear, coats and other outerwear, AND all of my shoes! Yes! My feet shrunk a half size! The only thing I kept was one pair of jeans in the largest size I ever wore. I still have those, and pull them out from time to time when I feel I need a reminder of how far I’ve come.
It’s now been six years. Although my weight, like most everyone’s, fluctuates a bit, it stays within a range that I’m comfortable in. If I ever get to a place where I’m beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable, I know how to address it.
I love that I have this outlet to share things like this with all of you. If you have any questions you’d like to ask, anything more specific about my weight loss, I’d be happy to answer any questions.