As a kid, I ate whatever in the world I wanted. Pizza, chips, coke–I never had to think about it, and never experienced weight problems because of it. I loved to dance, but other than that, exercise was not a part of my life. Oh, I walked to and from school and did whatever worked into my day, but it wasn’t a focus. I didn’t understand what calories were and I didn’t care.
I married young and had four kids in my twenties. The weight fell off after each child, though it took some time, which gave me some anxiety, considering my unfamiliarity with being overweight. Further, my eating habits were so haphazard and uneducated, a fact I credit to my natural metabolism.
Then came my thirties. Three more kids came along (thank God!), and for the first time in my life I was overweight. It ate me up more than I cared to admit. In fact, I didn’t admit it at all. I “embraced my body,” wanted to “set a good example for my daughters,” exercised “because it felt good,” and otherwise was in denial about the fact that I really needed to change my eating habits. The problem? I didn’t have the foggiest notion how.
I remember sitting in my hospital bed after giving birth, deciding that once and for all I was going to eat well. That was in the throes of the “low carb” craze, and my bread arrived on the breakfast tray with the option of jelly or butter. I dazedly looked back and forth at the jelly and butter, trying frantically (and hungrily) to decide who was the worse bad guy. Fat? Or sugar? I decided fat must be the eviler choice of the two since it sounded just like fat, as in being fat.
One lovely evening this past winter, I was getting dressed for a wedding, and my favorite go-to dress just didn’t fit. I was horrified, dismayed. Visions of myself as a middle-aged fat person swam before my eyes. I gave myself a hard look in the mirror and said: “Girlfriend, you are going to nail this one. Now.”
The next day I downloaded My Fitness Pal onto my phone. I entered my height and weight, my desired weight (10 pounds more than at my wedding–a little wiggle room, please!), and by when I wished to achieve it (I gave myself a few months). I educated myself about calorie intake, what exercise does for you aside from burning calories, and set a calorie goal for myself. Although my goal was calorie counting, I found that I strove to fill my calorie allotment with real food that had protein and fiber since that’s what would make me feel full.
I’ve been at it for three months now and have lost 11 pounds, which is more than halfway to my goal (go me!). Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:
1. Taking care of your body is one of the most empowering gifts you can give yourself.
So much of my life is dependent on others. Will my organization succeed? Will my kids be polite in public? Will my cleaning lady show up? But taking care of my body is a gift that I, and only I, can give to myself. Whether I succeed or fail is entirely in my hands. (This applies to those with a healthy sense of their bodies. Those with eating disorders will need professional help to navigate this aspect.)
2. Slow and steady wins the race.
I will never try those “17-day diets” or any of those quickie fad diets. I want a lifestyle that I can maintain. When I reach my goal, I’ll be able to raise my calorie intake somewhat, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back to mindless eating. I’ve become too educated. I know what I’m putting in my body. This is true of any growth we achieve in life. Dramatic, exciting change is usually not sustainable. Boring, modest change can last.
3. Occasional treats make it more likely to succeed.
I love that this idea is so Jewish. In Judaism, we learn that there’s really no pleasure in life that’s entirely off limits. It just has to be in moderation, with a positive attitude, and in its time and place. What I love about calorie awareness, as opposed to plans like “no white sugar” and the like is that if I choose to blow 200 calories on a pastry, that’s absolutely kosher. I may be a bit hungry later, since there’s not a speck of nutrition in that treat, but it’s not off-limits. And if I overeat one day, I can make it up the next day. Nothing is completely bad and nothing is undoable.
4. It’s never too late to learn good habits.
It would have been so easy for me to just give up and say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Losing weight wasn’t something I’d ever tried in any organized way, and learning brand-new habits by acknowledging that my identity had changed from “naturally thin person” to “person who needs to lose weight” wasn’t very fun. But I’m so glad I did. I want to be learning new things and open and flexible to change when I’m 50, 60 and 70. I’m hopefully starting that now.
I made up my mind that each Friday I would text my three sisters and mother and tell them my weight and whether I had gained or lost. This has been one of the most exciting parts of my campaign. I know there’s no lying to them, and they send me the best texts back, encouraging me when I’ve slipped and applauding me when I succeed. Again, in any growth system, make yourself vulnerable by sharing your progress with people who love you. Initially, it’s embarrassing (I’d never told anyone my weight, ever), but ultimately liberating and so validating and supportive.
6. No excuses.
A lot of times we say “oh, it’s Shabbat/holiday/wedding season…” and don’t eat as we should. My eating plan–I won’t call it a diet–stands through all these occasions. Why shouldn’t it? I need to learn how to eat for every day of my life, and Shabbat and holiday meals, family simchas and community events are all a regular part of my life. I’ve learned how to enjoy just one piece of challah, a small piece of dessert or just fruit instead of two large ones, and fill up my plate with delicious salads at a buffet. I’ve learned to fill these occasions with the focus on good conversation instead of lots of food. This is my life, so I have to learn to live it as is. Anything else would be self-deception.
Through this process, I’ve had my eyes opened to so much I need to be grateful for. For a healthy body that works as it should. For the ability to exercise and keep my body-machine in good shape. For a supportive family in the process. For the bounty of food that created the problem in the first place. For my mind to learn and educate myself about nutrition.
Also? I’ve learned to forgive myself for the years of mindless eating. No need to beat myself up–just to look forward at a healthy future, with positive choices. It’s been a great ride.