I started this blog about a year ago to document my current weight loss journey but I have battled with my weight for most of my life. I could write it off to genetics. If I scanned photos of my family you would see that most of the women are what we called “heavy-set”. Certainly genetics plays its part but I still believe it is not the only thing and that weight loss and maintenance are possible.
This is a really long post. I have been thinking about writing it since I answered the National Weight Control Registry questions but the NYT magazine article made me decide to go ahead and post it. I have seen success when diet, exercise and support converge. Education is also important as is accountability. If I only have one or two of those pieces, then it was difficult and I regained weight. I keep trying though and I keep going because I do believe that I can do this. I also know that I am responsible for what I eat and admit that I eat (or don’t admit) and for the exercise I do.
I grew up in a meat and potatoes family. We ate a lot of meat and a lot of potatoes. My uncle raised beef and my dad raised pigs, sheep and chickens. My mom and my aunts were really good cooks and food equaled love and comfort. There was real butter because what else would you put on Mrs. Evan’s rolls? Since there were cows on more than one farm, depending on where you were, there was probably real cream and whole milk from the cows (separated in the kitchen with the milking machine). My grandmother’s almost always had sugar cookies and molasses cookies (not from a package). Aunt Esther could always pull a brownie or some other wonderful baked thing out of the freezer if she had not just baked it. Picnics and big family dinners were the norm on weekends and sometimes even on a weeknight when we would meet half way between the city and the country at a road side park. I have good memories of my childhood and food is certainly part of those memories. As you can tell though, the diet wasn’t what we might call healthy by today’s definition.
I did not really have a problem with my weight until I hit about fifth grade. Since I was a premie, the goal was to fatten me up during most of my preschool and early elementary days. I think my grandmother who said whatever she thought called me “scrawny” when I was little and she loved to tell me that they really thought I would die because I was so tiny when I was born. It sounds awful but I really loved her because she was funny. But even while they were trying to get me to gain weight, I remember my mom’s struggle with weight. (This could get confusing. My aunt and uncle raised me so I am talking about my aunt but they were like my parents.) One of the things I remember that was said to her fairly often was “there’s one bigger than Leora”. I don’t really know how she was supposed to take that comment but I learned early that being big wasn’t good. My mom was short – barely over 5 feet tall – so it didn’t take much for her to look fat. I remember that she was concerned about her weight when I got older but I don’t really remember much when I was younger.
I really gained weight for the first time in 6th grade when my dad was in an industrial accident. There were a lot of people in and out of the house for months and they always brought food. My mom was preoccupied with my dad’s injury and hospitalization so I was left on my own a lot. In the fall of 7th grade my dad had brain surgery and my mom had cancer. More food. Finally sometime during 7th grade I was on my first diet. My mom made this horrible skim milk from a package that I have mentioned before and I remember basically cutting out after school snacks. I didn’t have a lot to lose but I lost the weight by 8th grade and my dear Uncle Joe, who owned a store, let me pick out new school clothes as a result. I still remember the outfits from Bobbie Brooks and Pandora.
High school wasn’t bad because I became a runner and I was in band. I went up and down a little and was larger than many of my friends. I was also 5-6 inches taller than many of my friends.I hated gym though because I really wasn’t good at most of the gym type activities.
At the end of my senior year I had to have a physical for one of my scholarships. The doctor who I had to see declared that I was obese. She was quite rude and nasty. At that point of my life I weighed about 140 pounds so I really was not obese but the statement haunted me for years.
I didn’t gain the Freshman 15 but I gained some weight over the summer after my freshman year and had to lose it fast to be in a wedding my sophomore year. Dumb diet number one – I fasted for a week. I fit in the dress and did not pass out at the wedding but it was a bit dicey. The weight came back, of course.
College was difficult as well because either one parent or the other was in the hospital every single semester. My mom died my senior year of college. Going back and forth between school and home was stressful and I often ate because of that. I also spent a lot of late nights with friends at the Clock and I lived with roommates who were pretty good cooks.
Enter Weight Watchers
College was the first time I joined Weight Watchers. It was the year they let you have peanut butter and, I think, popcorn but you still had to eat fish. I only had about 15-20 pounds to lose at that point but I didn’t quite make it to their goal, which is required for lifetime membership. One of my sisters was a lifetime member so I knew Weight Watchers worked.
My weight was up and down in college. After I graduated I joined Weight Watchers again and was very successful. I also exercised and I planned meals every week. During that time I was living in Virginia and teaching high school. I became a competitive ballroom dancer, walked on the beach and boardwalk almost every day and swam some.
When I moved back to Michigan for my doctoral work I was 10 pounds or less from my goal. I moved into the dorms at MSU where the cafeteria was open until late at night and there was ice cream from the MSU dairy. I was driving back and forth from East Lansing to Hillsdale to teach three days a week and up north many weekends to care for my dad who was in a nursing home at that point. In between I took classes, studied, and wrote papers. Needless to say, I gained weight again.
I was successful again with Weight Watchers though after my second year in graduate school. My activity level wasn’t great because of school and work, however. Then I went to library school where my schedule was crazy so I didn’t pay attention, as mentioned in a post a few weeks ago.
By the time I finished my graduate school, had moved to and from Oklahoma, and settled back in Michigan, my weight was up again. So I was back at Weight Watchers. I only stuck with it for a few weeks at a time though for a lot of reasons. I did start to work with personal trainers during this time and I worked out on my own but not consistently. That was when I turned to Optifast.
My Optifast experience
I did not have a good overall experience with Optifast and am not a fan. I was at the end of my rope at that point, had gained much more weight, had been through a lot of change in my life, and really needed to do something. I was at one of those women’s fairs when I met the Optifast leader from the local hospital. There was some other name for the program though. This was around the time that Oprah lost all of her weight on Optifast so it was fairly popular. I talked to the leader and thought it sounded like a possible solution for me but I wasn’t sure because it was expensive and drastic. My doctor at the time worked with and convinced the insurance company to pay for a good portion of the program because she knew I really needed to lose weight. I was starting to have some of the health problems that continued until recently.
For six weeks I had their undivided attention. I went to very small group sessions, had all kinds of medical tests every week, and I lost at least 40 pounds. I won’t tell you the details about what Optifast does to your body during the process. It isn’t pretty – at all. Once my 6 weeks ended I went into a large group session of around 100 people and the meetings were optional. With that many people there was no individual attention. The meetings were lectures but the people leading them did not seem terribly interested unlike the small groups. Basically the program did not provide enough support and, this is key, education to transition back to a normal diet and be able to maintain any loss. My metabolism was wrecked by 6 weeks of nothing but liquid. The goal seemed to be to get us to do another round of 6 or 12 weeks on the expensive part of the program. I remember being told that 6 weeks wasn’t really going to help but that was all the insurance would cover. If I recall correctly the only exercise that was encouraged was walking. With the low calories you really didn’t have energy for much exercise. It really took me several years to recover from this experience.
I gave up at that point. I think it was after that when I became so discouraged that I just threw out all my Weight Watchers materials, including food diaries and books that showed how I had succeeded with a slow and steady weight loss.
I had started practicing yoga when I moved to Grand Rapids and I did continue to practice until I really couldn’t do it because I was just too large. I joined Weight Watchers on and off a number of times between the time I did Optifast and started my current weight loss.
I always went back to Weight Watchers because it was a program that allowed me to eat real food and a variety of food. Even on the more restrictive plans during the earlier years, I was able to eat a lot of different foods and eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Bread is a trigger food for me and I have a problem if I eat too much bread. I also can’t eat sugar is large quantities. Those childhood foods are the ones I have to avoid these days. I can eat things now and again, but not everyday. I also believe, and I think this is kind of buried in the NY Times article, that processed foods are not good for me. I went through periods where I ate a lot of fast food as well and I know that is not good. I rarely eat fast food now and I try to avoid processed foods as much as I can.
Maintaining a weight loss does take work. I don’t think it is easy, but it isn’t impossible. I have to stop and think and be diligent. I do have to plan and I have to exercise and drink water. My family history includes diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease. I may not escape some of those but I feel like I need to fight back and try. I’ve seen the difference and the improvement in my health so I feel it is possible. I have also seen differences and improvements in the health of other family members who decided they were not just going to give into the family history. I know I will probably never be as thin as I might want to be but I will be much healthier and I am not going to let myself go back to what I was a few years ago.