Saturday, April 30, 2011

I Blame Nurse Marsha

I have to admit that Grandma was right all along. She told me if I wanted to lose weight I should just put smaller amounts on my plate and not take seconds. And, she added, stay out of her candy drawer. If I had taken Grandma's advice and never started my first diet, there's a good chance I wouldn't have had a weight problem. My demise was meeting Nurse Marsha.

I didn't go on a structured diet until the summer after my first year of college. I had gained the freshman 10 and was bent on getting down to my goal weight. I was hardly overweight, but I had heard that a five-foot woman should weigh 100 pounds; add five pounds for every inch after that. I was 5 foot 7-1/4 inches. I did the math. My ideal weight was 137, and I weighed 153.

My friend, Joy, was as obsessed as I was about getting thin. I saw an ad in the paper for The Weight Loss Clinic. It offered a discount if you signed up by June 15th and promised that you'd be skinny by summer's end. I called up Joy.

She was skeptical and worried about the cost. "Joy, how much would you pay to be skinny?" She said $75 tops. The next day we drove the 25 miles to sign up to get skinny. At The Clinic, we were greeted and then taken into a room, put on a scale, and weighed. Nurse Marsha would be our diet counselor. She asked me what I wanted to weigh. I said 137. She looked at a weight chart. "Hmmm, for your height you should weigh 123." Was she serious? She was. "See here look at the chart." The bottom number was 123. I told her I didn't think that it was possible for me to weigh that. She wrote 125 down as my goal.

Joy got the same question. Joy thought she should weigh about 130. Nurse Marsha wrote down 113. Joy said, "I've never weighed that even when I was sick and about dead." Marsha changed the goal to 116.

The Clinic charged for how many pounds you had to lose. Marsha said my cost was $280--two weeks' pay working on my dad's farm. Joy's was over $300. Joy leaned over and hissed, "See, I told you!" Marsha intercepted and asked, "Joy, how much do you really want to be thin?" We asked if they took payments.

Marsha put us on the "accelerated plan." (At 500-800 calories, it should have been called The Fast Track to Emaciation.) The Plan's pamplet detailed how much we could eat under each food group. Everything was low calorie, nonfat, sugar-free, and skinless. For the bread group, we could have melba toast. For vegetables, Marsha emphasized "no peas, no corn." Bananas and grapes were crossed out from the fruit group. Too many calories. Marsh gave us each a bottle of purple vitamins. I guess those were to fill in the gaps so our hair wouldn't fall out.

Marsha instructed us to measure and weigh our food. We were to come in daily to be weighed and to pee in a cup. Marsha would stick a piece of paper in it and look at the color. It was never clear what the color meant; I guess to see how close we were to death. We asked about exercise. Marsha said there was no need; we'd lose without moving. Joy and I signed up and then left to buy melba toast and a food scale.

I followed The Plan religiously. I didn't visit The Clinic every day though. My dad was already a bit steamed that I was driving 50 miles roundtrip, let alone spending what should have gone towards my college tuition. I spent the summer feeling hollow, dizzy and thinking about what I could do with plain yogurt and melba toast. But by summer's end, I was elated to have reached 137. I weighed that for exactly five minutes (and, incidentally, never since). Marsha wanted to sign me up again so that I could get to 125. I declined.

Joy gained. Marsha accused her of eating grapes, bananas, peas and corn. After a few weeks, Joy quit going and stopped making payments. The Clinic threatened to turn her into a collection agency. Joy's dad threatened to sue. The Clinic stopped harrassing her and went out of business.

The Plan set me up. Everyone says diets don't work--but they do, for a time. I was only successful in losing weight when I returned to The Plan, or a variation of it.

Over the years I did other plans: Weight Watchers, better than The Plan, it still had me thinking about food every single waking moment. Susan Powter's Stop the Insanity, which proclaimed that calories didn’t matter. "FAT IS WHAT MAKES YOU FAT!" bald, scary Susan screamed. Eat all you want as long as there's no fat. I gained 20 pounds eating whole pizzas without cheese. Other plans that eliminated entire food groups: Atkins which said carbs were the culprit. After three days on the Atkins, the inside of my mouth felt like it was coated with butter and I would have killed for an apple. I did South Beach; The Cleansing Diet (don't ask); The Cabbage Diet, which made me very--well, you know; and a bunch more.

I was done with any plan, program, or book telling me how to eat. Grandma was right. I just had to get a grip on my voracious appetite, eat real food (something that was alive at one time and not made in a lab somewhere), and work up a sweat every day. It took me awhile to get there, but I can honestly say food is no longer an issue for me. I don't count calories, keep track of fat grams or write in a food journal. I can pass up a woman's magazine claiming "Lose 24 pounds in 30 days!" And, I refuse to eat melba toast.

For those following my blog, I really am going to get around to explaining how I accomplished this. Check out my next post: Gnawing My Arm Off

P.S. Joy lost all of her weight shortly after that summer and hasn't gained it back, even after having three kids. No thanks to Nurse Marsha (who I seriously doubt was a nurse).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

How did I get here?

How had it come to this? That I was diving for pie, looking like I needed a girdle, and hunkering down behind a bathroom door? Yeesh. My life-long obsession with my weight was making me hungry. And, like the rest of overweight America, I had been trying to make the food behave instead of myself.

I tried to think of a time when I wasn't overeating or obsessing about my weight. It was all the way back to preschool. At that age, I didn't even know what fat was. I was just a regular, little kid playing outside and not wanting to come in for dinner. I would only eat until I was full and then stop. I remember the very first time I was able to finish eating an egg, or an apple, or an ice cream cone. I proudly told my mom that I had eaten the whole thing, and she praised me. I had been eating the whole thing and a whole lot more ever since.

I was in kindergarten when I first thought that I was fat. In fact, I remember the moment the idea first occurred to me. I was sitting next to a high school boy on the bus. His legs were skinny. I looked down at my bare legs (the dress code did not allow pants for girls--a dumb rule because dresses were super short in the late 60s). My legs looked bigger than the boy's. "My legs are fat," I thought. But I was far from fat. I was just sturdily built and a little tall for my age. I was jealous of the cute, little girls. They seemed like they got all the attention. The upside of being sturdy is I could beat boys at arm wrestling.

In fifth grade there was a push in our school (some sort of government mandate, I think) to put heavy kids on a weight-loss program. There weren't many overweight kids in the 70s. I was one of three girls in my grade to be chosen to go to the nurse's office each week to be weighed. Humiliating, really. I was a little confused about why I was in the fat group. I wasn't that big, I thought.

My first weigh-in I was less than 80 pounds, a normal weight for someone nearly five feet. The third week there was a substitute filling in for the nurse. She looked puzzled and asked me why I was in the program. I told her I didn't know. She looked at the weight chart and shook her head. "Jacci, you're normal weight. You shouldn't be here. Go back to class." I didn't have to go back to the program ever again. But it didn't matter, the damage had been done.

From that time on I had been obsessing about what I ate and my weight. When I was in high school I always thought I needed to lose 10 pounds. I vowed not to overeat every day. I'd make it to lunch and then overstuff until I went to bed. I worked hard, though, tossing haybales on the farm, so I burned off whatever I ate.

As an adult I was still fighting to lose weight. I'd have some success, but over the years I had been on the steady incline. Now I could no longer deny I had to lose more than just a few pounds. It was getting out of control. I was now in my late 40s. Did I really want to be dealing with this issue for the rest of my life? I wanted to get to the place where food or my weight were no longer an issue. I had to figure out a way that I could eat normally and maintain a reasonable weight. Bottom line: I needed to eat like I did when I was a little kid--just eat until I was full and then forget about it and go outside to play.

I was ready. I had to move more, eat less. It wasn't rocket science. (But then I figured those scientists who designed the rockets were probably fat, sitting behind a desk somewhere.)

Next post: I Blame Nurse Marsha

Monday, April 18, 2011

Looking like a fool with my pants on the ground

After the girdle suggestion, I made up my mind that I was going to lose weight and get in shape. But I didn't have a lot of confidence--how many times had I told myself this? Or lost a few and gained them back? Over the next year, I made another half-hearted attempt that stalled after a five-pound loss. It would take one more event that would spur me into high gear and permanent change.

I drink coffee and guzzle water throughout the day. I am lucky I don't get my pay docked for all my bathroom breaks. Down the hall is an employee's restroom, a women's one with several stalls. Stalls that easily lock, I might add. But sometimes to save time I use the single-person one which is closer but in a high-traffic area.

There had been a lot of complaints about this restroom. The toilet directly faced the door, an obvious problem when people got caught unawares. On the outside, adjacent to the door, was a silver square that said "press here." Once it was pressed, the door electronically opened. The door automatically shut on its own. There was no manual lock on the door. Once the door completely closed and latched, you locked it by pressing a big red button next to the toilet.

The whole procedure from the time the door opened and closed took 30 seconds. Pushing on the door, no matter how hard, did not make the door close any faster.

Guys would often get impatient and would begin to start their business, not realizing the door wasn't locked. And, yeah, you guessed it. Someone would hit the square button on the outside and the guy wouldn't be done. Which wasn't too bad since his back was to the door. Maybe because guys are used to peeing in front of strangers, it was no big deal. Usually the guy would just glance back and give a little nod. Or even nonchalantly say, "Hey, how's it going?" The whole thing presented quite a different scenario for a woman who was perched on the throne in all her glory.

So, knowing all about the problem with this bathroom, I avoided using it. But on this day, I had gone to Starbucks and had been too busy to use the restroom since break. I was getting antsy, so I opted to use the public restroom. I punched the big, square button on the wall. The door slowly yawned open. I went in. I waited for the door to shut and heard it latch. I then pressed the red button, heard the click, pulled down my scrub pants, sat down, and...blessed relief. I then heard a familiar sound. Someone punched the outside button, and horror of horrors, the door began to open. Frantic, I thought "You gotta be kidding. I know I pressed the red button and heard it lock!"

They say it is amazing how many things run through your mind in an emergency. In my panic I considered my options, none of them good. Option 1: Be like a guy, nod, say wazzup, and carry on with my business. Maybe even give a little wave. One problem: the 30-second window when people would be filing by while I'm sitting on the john. Thirty seconds is a long time in a situation like this.

Option 2: Finish mid-stream and try to use the toilet paper. But imagine what that would look like. No, too horrible to imagine. I quickly dismissed Option 2.

Option 3: Cut my losses and yank up my drawers and flee. This seemed like the most reasonable bet.

The man begins to enter, sees me and freezes. He hastily backs out, apologizing profusely. He may know me, I think, but if I don't meet his eye he might not recognize me. Fat chance. I quickly yank up my pants. Or try to. Even though I've lost five pounds, they're still quite snug. Frantically, I fight to get them up but can't get them past my thighs. The door is still wide open.

I am directly in front of the door with my pants half down. Where can I go to hide? Nowhere is where. I do a kind of hop, duck waddle, skip to hide behind the door (which is still at a stand-still before taking its long journey home). There is another unfortunate fact about this bathroom. A full-length mirror is on the wall where you catch a startling view of yourself getting up off the stool and, in my present predicament, a full-on view for those walking by. I see myself in the mirror. I'm crouched behind the door with my big white bum exposed, pushing on the door to get it to move. The door isn't budging. Not one to normally say bad words, I urgently begin to cuss.

Finally, mercifully, the door closes. I take a deep breath. I again press the red button this time making sure it is locked, I go pee (which I didn't get to finish earlier). I wash my hands. But I don't leave. I take a long look at myself in the mirror. I begin to laugh. Hard. I know this is going to make a great story later. And, then I tell myself, "If I am ever, ever again caught with my pants down, I'm going to be so skinny that I can yank my pants all the way up to my chin."

And, that was the turning point. I began to eat like a normal person. And, I started exercising. I steadily lost one pound a week until I reached my goal. And, I'm happy to report, I've kept my pants on in public and haven't gone back.

Next time...I'll answer the question, "How did I get here?"

P.S. Turns out the red button had a short in it and didn't always work. I guess I took one for the team, because soon after my incident a manual door and lock were installed.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Girdle Incident

We seem to console one another in our weight gain. When our friends say they're fat and need to go on a diet, we say, "Oh, you're not fat, you just need to firm up a little bit." Or, "You're just big-boned." That's what people told me. And what I told myself. "I'm tall and carry my weight well. I could be bigger." True enough. I could have been bigger. But I had gained 50 pounds since I got married, so I was well on my way to getting a lot bigger.

Looking at pictures of older female members of my extended family, I was gaining at the same rate as they did as they aged. You know, a few pounds with each child and year until you're "pleasingly plump" as my Aunt Betty would say. But I knew that once menopause hit, I would be beyond plump to downright fluffy.
Denial works well except when it doesn't. My husband and I were asked to host our niece's wedding. I needed to get a dress. I hadn't worn one in years. So, my mom and I decided to go shopping. I quickly realized that I was going to have to shop at the same stores my mom was looking for her grandma-of-the-bride dress. The thing about these stores is they are all about coverage. One of the stores had the name "barn" in it. I think that speaks for itself.

As I tried on a dozen dresses and faced the mirror, I was mortified. What the heck happened here? I looked like a fat, old lady. Finally, I found one that I thought didn't look too bad. When I came out of the dressing room, my mom took a long look, cocked her head and said, "Well...they do make body girdles." If my own mother thought I needed a body girdle, then I had really let myself go. I wasn't going to wear a girdle, for crying out loud. Where would all the fat go once I got one on? Up to my neck or down to my knees? I knew my wearing dress days were over. I bought pants (the same ones I'm wearing in my profile picture and which I'm happily swimming in).
It took a couple more humiliating experiences before I finally got serious and made real lifestyle changes to becoming healthy. But it wasn't until I got much thinner that I started wearing dresses again. I realize now, though, that no matter what weight you are, in your 40s you'll never look like you did in your 20s and 30s.

Recently, I bought my mother-of-the-bride dress and decided I needed a little "help." I went to Penneys and tried on the body girdles. Extreme torture. My shoulders got stuck in one, and I couldn't get it off. I had to have the lady helping me pull me free. I hadn't realized that I had gotten stuck in the leg when I slipped it over my head. She helped me try on some more. Perspiring and with hair standing on end, I squeezed into another one. She said that I looked "just lovely" when I put my dress on over it. But I couldn't breath, and I certainly couldn't bend to sit down. I'd have to stand or lie down through the entire wedding and reception.

I gave up on the girdle idea. My daughter has since told me that they are not called girdles. They are called body shapers and all of her friends wear them. So, as it turns out girdles or body shapers are actually for the very young and thin. I've decided to get another mother-of-the-bride dress. One with more coverage.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Diving for pie

I had to get honest with myself. I could no longer deny how much weight I had gained. And, how much I actually loved eating. It was one of the last of the last straws before I lost the weight and kept it off for good.

Paige and I had gone up for the weekend to visit Amber at college. We had picked out a restaurant in Dinky Town to have dinner. It had great reviews and was supposed to be this cool, trendy place, but it turned out to be a dismal dining experience--one for which I had spent way too much money. We left the restaurant disappointed and hungry.
As consolation, Paul (Amber's then boyfriend, now fiance) offered to take us to Perkins for dessert. Getting wired on endless cups of coffee, we girls gabbed while poor Paul had to endure our manic stories. When we finally decided to leave, I realized I had been talking so much that I hadn't touched my coconut cream pie (topped with a generous amount of whipped cream--my favorite). No way was I going to leave that baby behind especially since I had been so disappointed by the meal I had earlier. I asked for a to-go container.

It was a cold January night, and Paul went to warm up the car. After a few minutes we braved the cold and took off running towards the car. Bad idea. I hit a patch of ice in my Dansko clogs and went down hard. My only thought was to save the pie. I landed squarely on the styrofoam container, flattening it and the pie onto the parking lot. While I limped to the car, Amber and Paige laughed hysterically. As they related the story to Paul, his only question was, "Is the pie okay?"

Dropping Paul off at his house, I began driving away when I felt something warm on my knee. I reached down and realized I was bleeding. And that I had blown out the knee of my jeans. I started to laugh, then cry. I sobbed, "These are the only pair of jeans that fit! And I just ruined them by diving for a piece of pie!"

I vowed to lose the weight. Stubbornly I hung onto that pair of jeans, ripped knee and all. I wasn't going to buy any new ones until I dropped a size. I bribed Paige into taking a before picture of me in a two piece. The fading skid mark still shows on my knee in the picture. That was three years ago. It took a few more painful experiences (which I'll share in future posts) before I finally figured out how to lose the weight and keep it off. I've gotten in shape, dropped 40 pounds and gone from a size 16 to a size 6. Okay, one pair of jeans is a 6, but still. I've lost inches everywhere, including seven from my belly. I look a whole lot better, feel better and don't have the aches and pains that I had attributed to arthritis. The best, best part though has been that I've learned how not to be obsessed with food. I eat like a normal person. (Normal as in someone not overweight and who doesn't struggle with food issues.)

How did you lose the weight, I am often asked. The simple answer is I move more, eat less. I got brutally honest with myself before I could successfuly lose the weight. I had been eating like it was Thanksgiving every day. And, I realized at my age I would have to break a sweat daily if I was ever going to get in shape. I've maintained the weight loss for a year. I eat whatever I want. I don't follow a particular diet or do nonfat, sugar-free, low-carb, shakes, or pills. I don't write down calories or fat grams. And, no, I'm not anorexic or bulimic.

If you are in the same place that I was, despairing over your weight gain and your inability to stop it, follow my journey of how I got my body and life back. Don't give up! If I, a middle-aged mom whose mantra was "it's never too late for dessert," can do it, so can you!

P.S. Sorry, I'm not posting that before picture, just trust me when I say it's not attractive.