Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Pound for pound

In the five weeks since Thanksgiving, I’ve gained five pounds. It started with this:

For those of you who slept through math class, that’s a pound a week. A pound. If it doesn’t seem like much, imagine hefting a one-pound package of ground beef in your hand. Then imagine finding a spot on my mid-section in which to stick it. Do that four more times. (No, the weight is not evenly distributed throughout my body; it’s all right there around my middle.) If that still doesn’t seem like a lot to you, consider the fact that, by Thanksgiving, I had already gained five pounds in the previous five weeks after hurting/probably breaking (we’ll know when the MRI results are in) my foot, which meant my two-to-three-mile daily walks were limited to a very slow stroll around the block.

If you know me well enough to have seen me in person, and you’re thinking to yourself right now something along the lines of “Oh, you could put on five pounds and no one would notice” or “Well, you’ll easily lose the weight after the holidays,” please humor me by reading the remainder of this post. Because you’re wrong inaccurate on both counts.

I would notice. I do notice, I mean. I know I’ve gained weight by the way my clothes feel and by the way movement feels. When I say “movement,” I mean the way it feels to trudge up a steep hill in hiking boots or to attempt the “forward fold” position in yoga. There is a certain freedom of movement that comes with a lean body weight, and it’s a feeling I learned to love as a kid, when I could still swing my leg easily over a bike seat or the saddle on my horse. Now, when my body is round, I feel every step on a long hike, especially when trying to push myself up a hill. Hell, I already struggle with malformed lungs. It’s just adding pain to punishment when you put an extra ten pounds in my backpack, so to speak.

Also, I don’t own two separate wardrobes, one for when I am round and one for when I am not. Thus, I am uncomfortable in my clothing until I take off the weight.

Which leads me to the second often heard remark—that I can “easily” lose the weight. Really? “Easily”? No. Never. (Well, once, actually, a year and a half ago when I had C. Diff after I had taken antibiotics for pneumonia and I ate approximately zero calories over the course of two weeks. And with the effects of the C. Diff, that was almost like negative numbers in terms of the calorie totals. So I guess, yeah, that was “easy;” I just had to literally starve myself while experiencing please-kill-me-now pain. Pretty sure I don’t want to do that again, even if it means rapid weight loss.)

Losing weight is hard. I don’t care who you are. Chris Christie. Oprah. Adam Driver (aka Kylo Ren; Driver recently lost 40 pounds from his already skinny-ass frame in preparation for his role in the movie Silence).

My mama’s genetics have given me longevity, great skin, an analytical mind—and a predisposition to obesity (all of which I have passed on to my daughter and she has passed on to hers). Of course, I really won the DNA jackpot in this regard because my proud Irish pa also carried the same predisposition. So boom—once I crested the hill of 30, I began to pack on weight—easily—and struggle determinedly to take it off again. Just. like. Oprah. (Well, except without all the life coaches and therapists and Dr. Phils. Man, I could’ve used Dr. Phil a few times.) Like Oprah, I “love bread.” I love it so much I bake my own. And I eat it. Nearly every day. Which is fine when I’m at my target weight and I’m following my normal routine of walking/hiking/biking/yoga/weight training. It’s a caloric seductress when I’m also eating Christmas cookies and fudge and See’s chocolates and candy canes and pecan pie and (cheese) tamales and one or two or sixteen other treats I only eat at this time of year. And yes, it’s only once a year, and I’m pretty good at clearing it all out by January 1 by giving it to my grandkids. Then someone says, “Oh, I didn’t see you at Christmas so I’m giving this to you now. Happy New Year!” and hands me this:

So what do I do? How do I get back to the weight that lets me swing my leg over my bike or bend at the waist and touch the floor? What IS the secret to weight loss? It’s this: ELEM. Eat Less Exercise More. That’s it. That’s how you lose weight. Period.

Now, I know there’s other stuff to know. Like how BAD it is for you to binge diet or eat only watermelon for a week or drink only green smoothies for ten days (which, in real life, almost killed my brother, like, for real and actually dead—almost). And that your body has a “set point” at which it would love to stay (mine is 135), so you have to be patient when it seems like you’ve been going without fresh, homemade bread for two weeks AND HAVEN’T LOST A SINGLE POUND. And yeah, sugar is addictive. So are salty-crunchy snacks. (No kidding—look it up.)

All of that is great to keep in the back of your mind (and I know Oprah’s trainers and counselors are reminding her of those things on a daily basis). But on Weight Watchers (bless them; it’s really a good program), here’s what she’s practicing: ELEM. Yep. One of the most powerful women in America is doing exactly what I’ll be doing to lose the weight. She’s eating less (smaller portions of what she loves to eat, and probably better choices, so yes, bread, but maybe not the tiramisu) and she’s exercising a bit more. Or a lot more. I don’t know, Oprah and I haven’t chatted lately.

So after I clear the house of all the incredible stuff I get to eat from November through December (including the chocolates packed in ice and sent to me from France, so fancy they have their own drawstring bag—yes, I do have nice friends), I will study my portions for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I’ll cut back for a while. And, I’m happy to say, I’ve already started back into my walking/hiking regimen. Three days ago, Thomas and I walked a mile and a half. Yesterday we walked a mile down a country road and a mile back in bright sun with a view of snow on three separate mountain ranges surrounding us. (Getting outside to exercise is the best way for me. It’s just depressing to walk, walk, walk on a treadmill indoors, though I’ll do it if I have to.) The weight will come off—slowly, as it should. By spring I should be much closer to my ideal weight.

By the way, if you’re thinking it might be easier or better to simply forego all the sweet stuff during the holidays, let me just add this tiny bit of full disclosure… and I’m only telling you this because we’re friends, dear reader, and I feel safe with you. I wouldn’t share it with just anyone:

The Dark Days are really difficult for me both emotionally and psychologically. As we move toward the winter solstice, I often find myself becoming deeply sad, in some years, clinically depressed. It’s not important why. It just… is. Treating myself makes me feel better. Am I ‘eating my emotions’? You betcha. And that’s ok. Certain types of cookies and candies are reminiscent of holiday times with my family, with my grandma who was a round jolly woman (except on those times when she did some binge diet and got skinny and snapped a photo and then started eating again--see photo below). I may get sad because it’s too dark or too cold to sit on the patio in the swing and read books or write stuff, but then I remind myself that there’s a chunk of homemade fudge with my name on it sent all the way from Ohio from friends who love me, and I rally. I eat the fudge, and I think fondly and lovingly of Bill and Stephanie (or Bob, if I’m eating the Z chocolats), and I chuckle. Because I know that I’m setting myself up for some really long walks in the country with my dog. But really, is that such a bad thing?

This is how I remember my Grandma Lila--round and sassy and always with a pet parakeet.

Same Grandma, now rockin' the weight loss.

Good job, Grandma! You're beautiful (round or lean)! Love you!


  1. I'm thinking of heading back to WW myself; Keith has lost almost 40 lbs doing that and using a new diabetes drug. Steroids (for multiple medical issues) and inertia are my enemies! I also empathize with the seasonal thing--ironically summer depresses me. I hate heat and sunburn in seconds. I love a dark cave, preferably a bar in NYC. Thanks for another beautiful piece of writing.

    1. Jimi, I'll never forget the interview I heard on NPR with a person like yourself who became depressed during months of more sunshine. He moved to a tropical climate--so that it would at least cloud up even in the summer months. Grandma Lila was diabetic as well, which fueled the weight loss and really helped her stay on an even keel. It's harder as we age....

  2. Kay,
    Yes - eat less (and more of the right stuff), and exercise more is the only true, lasting formula. Oh, by the way, if you do want to chat with Oprah, when you become a Weight Watchers member, you can chat with her on one of her "connect with Oprah" platforms. Just sayin' . . .
    Happy New year!

    1. Of course, who wouldn't want to chat with Oprah? But I'm hoping that when we do chat, it's not about our weight but about The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford. Pretty sure Oprah would love that book.