7 Reasons Why I Stopped Counting Calories

Weight loss is all about figuring out what works for you. Unfortunately, it often takes a long time to figure out what that is. In the meantime, we need to try out a whole lot of what doesn’t work. ‘Count calories’ is an extremely common piece of advice said to help us lose weight, along with ‘exercise more.’ Well, I did count calories. For years. And for years I saw zero results (in fact, I gained weight) and just kept on counting anyway. Finally, I realized it just wasn’t working for me. Here are 7 reasons why I stopped counting calories.

1. I stopped looking at food as FOOD, and only as calories.

Food is fuel, but when you become obsessed with calories you lose sight of what fuels you. Instead, you often focus on what you can have for X amount of calories, regardless of whether it’s nutritious or not. I have consumed countless “diet” and “100-calorie” snacks laden with chemicals and ingredients I can’t pronounce all in the name of quantity. “But I can have seventeen of these!” Sound familiar?

Sure, you can have sugar-free “chocolate” or seventeen paper thin mini “Oreos,” but what you don’t get is any nutrition. I was left hungry and unsatisfied constantly (and often returned for more in search of satiation, which resulted in increased calorie intake.) Now I know I could have just had an apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter or heaven forbid, some actual real dark chocolate and been done with it. More calories, sometimes, but also long lasting fiber, protein, and vitamins. Best of all, the wonderful feeling of knowing I gave myself something nutritious and didn’t need to keep rummaging for sustenance.

I’ve since adopted Michael Pollan’s philosophy on food. “Eat real food. Mostly vegetables. Not too much.”

2. Calorie counting made me obsessive.

I am a stickler for accuracy, which became an obsession when counting calories. I weighed and measured all my food, adding and subtracting chips and dry pasta until I had the perfect one or two ounces allowed. When I didn’t know precise measurements I agonized over my estimates. My husband mistakenly taking my perfectly portioned lunch and leaving me his was enough to make me cry with fear and uncertainty. I became inflexible and rigid and loss of total control over my food made me nervous.

3. Calorie counting is an enormous time suck.

Food-shopping, cooking and eating all took longer. The comparing, the weighing, the measuring, the counting, the adding, dictating nutrition facts and entering them into the app I used… it had become such a chore! Many times I ate the same things or bought the same brands, even if a comparable one was on sale, for the sole reason that I didn’t feel like entering new information into the app. Which leads me to my next point…

4. Calorie counting made me hesitant to try new things.

After so many years of calorie counting I know roughly how many calories are in most anything. But when faced with something new that wasn’t accompanied by a package or had a lot of components, I was hesitant to try it because I couldn’t account accurately for the calories. I hated not knowing and didn’t trust guessing. Even if it did come with a package, sometimes I still avoided things if I wasn’t in the mood to list all the nutrition facts into the app. Better to stick with what I was certain about. For someone who loves trying new things as much as I do, this was a huge deterrent.

5. I wanted to minimize my obligations.

If something you do to HELP yourself becomes a stressful burden that you dread, then it’s time to rethink it.

6. I learned enough to get by without counting calories.

This is where I will say that I am grateful for some of the time I spent counting calories. Counting calories taught me portion sizes and how many calories are in most foods, as well as how to calculate calories of most things in my head. But if you’re reading this, then you most likely know these things by now, too. Cutting the chord isn’t easy. But if counting calories has you obsessing or stressed out, and you know the basics, then try striking it out on your own. Chances are, like me, you know what and how much you should be eating.

7. I want to live my life fully, freely and BALANCED.

I don’t have the time, energy or desire to obsess and worry over every single thing I put in my mouth. What I want is to achieve balance. My friend, Amanda, said something to me last week that makes me believe I’m getting there. I had lost my first ten pounds for the year and she said, “And you’re doing it right. Don’t forget you went out for restaurant week and had fried chicken!”

Yes, I most certainly did! I also had several drinks, two huge biscuits that accompanied the chicken, and some of my dessert (I would have eaten all of it if I wasn’t so full.) I don’t want weight loss to mean I can never go out for restaurant week again, or drink with my friends, or have dessert. It is possible to find balance. I have witnessed it, not only in my first ten pounds, but in others.

I have been inspired for years by a random woman I saw leaving the gourmet Italian deli and bakery next to my office. She was in her running clothes, all sweaty, and she had a huge hot drink and a cinnamon roll the size of her head! I thought to myself, “That! That is what I want!” Not necessarily the cinnamon roll (although it looked phenomenal) but the BALANCE. Here was a fit woman who clearly just went running and then got herself what she wanted.

I don’t believe I can achieve balance while counting every calorie. Some people can, and I say good for them! But it’s not for me.


I have felt liberated since I stopped counting calories at the start of 2016. I still remember saying to my coach, “I don’t want to do this anymore. Is that okay?” I was worried she’d say I had to keep doing it, but it was just so clear it wasn’t working for me. She agreed and gave me the permission I was looking for.

I got my time back, became more relaxed with food, and saved myself $9.00/month from canceling the subscription to the app I used. Once again, I made new recipes, tried new things, and enjoyed my renewed food freedom.

I also found that everything I learned had stuck. I didn’t all of a sudden forget how to check nutrition facts or serving sizes or how many calories are in a banana. And I still sometimes weigh out an ounce of tortilla chips with my chili or 2 ounces of pasta for my lunch, just to keep from accidentally over-eating. And I actually do write down everything I eat in my planner every day – just little notes to jog my memory and help me keep track of things. I don’t include specific details like quantity or portion sizes. Just enough information to help me figure out what works, what doesn’t, and how certain foods make me feel.

That’s what works for me. Calorie counting didn’t. Remember, it’s all about what works for YOU.

Betting on Myself With A Drastic HealthyWager

I’ve done something drastic. I bet $450 that I’ll lose 40 lbs. in six months using HealthyWage.

To put that in perspective, I’m spending actual money (that I can’t really spare) while committing to achieving a lofty goal that I have been trying and failing to achieve for years. And I’ve committed to achieving it in a mere six months. I haven’t even lost ten pounds combined over the past two years.

Am I crazy?

Or am I finally ready? I think I’m emboldened. Quitting smoking (171 days of today!) in 2016 after YEARS of trying and failing has given me confidence that I can, in fact, do hard things. My year of cognitive behavioral therapy gave me the tools I’ve been lacking, and taught me how to use them. At the start of this year it was incredibly clear that practice was over. It was game time. And I’ve been playing my heart out since.

Okay and maybe I’m a little crazy, too. Not to mention excited by the prospect of making money off my own success. That’s right, there’s more than just my $450 on the line.

Using HealthyWage

In late December I stumbled upon HealthyWage, a site & app where you bet on your own weight loss (I am in no way affiliated with them nor are they sponsoring this post). I’ve tried apps like GymPact in the past to incentivize me to work out more by placing cold hard money on the line. When I lost my Fitbit back in July I stopped. HealthyWage is similar but different. You specify the amount of weight you want to lose, how much time you want to do it in, and how much money you’re willing to put on the line. HealthyWage collects some other information (like your current weight and height) and calculates how challenging it thinks your goal is and spits out a prize amount which is funded by other members who failed to meet their goal.

Apparently, they must think my goal is a bit of a stretch. If I don’t make my goal, I’m out $450. If I do, though, I walk away with $1,308.29. That’s a gain of $858.29 on my initial investment of $450 (I will be charged $75 monthly for the duration of the 6 month challenge). Not bad!

I’m all about finding motivators, carrots and being challenged in measurable and competitive ways. I’m looking at this as an opportunity to combine two of my goals: financial independence and weight loss. That $1,308.29 would make a nice little dent in my student loan (who am I kidding, my student loan would barely even acknowledge that.) But I digress. If I can make $858.29 losing weight, then sign me up! I am quite literally making an investment in myself. I’m putting my money on ME.

So I signed up. And I’m super excited! With Mike’s help, I verified my starting weight. To do so you submit a quick video filmed in a mirror or by someone else where you weigh yourself and spin around slowly so they see you don’t have a bag of rocks on your back or anything. There’s guidelines on what you’re allowed to wear (short sleeves, nothing longer than the knee) and how to film it. It was super easy.

If this sounds like something you’d like to try for yourself, then please use this referral link when you sign up and $40 will be added to each of our prize pots. Sweeten the deal for us, would ya?

The pot is bigger the higher the stakes. I can hardly believe I committed to losing 40 lbs in 6 months! I have never achieved a goal like this EVER. But that’s roughly 7 lbs a month, which I know from experience is doable. I’ve just never been able to do it consecutively. With $1,308.29 on the line, I know I have to try my damnedest.

This is yet another carrot in a long road in which I have planted many carrots. With this one, I’m trying out the power of financial incentives. I’m energized by the prospect of making $858 while doing something I desperately want to achieve anyway.

There’s side group challenges, too! For example, I also joined a three month challenge for a $60 total investment to lose an average of 6% of my weight by the end of March. In order to be on track to meet the main challenge of 40 lbs in six months I need to be closer to 9% by the end of March anyway, so I figured… why not? (All the winners who achieve the 6% will split the prize money).

I’m loving HealthyWage. Hopefully I still am in six months. If you see a donation button appear on this site, you can safely assume I’m out $450. (I kid.)

Again, please use this referral link if you want to give it a shot. Remember, you pick all the terms. A conservative bet will still get you some extra money. It’s all up to you to determine the stakes. Good luck!

As for me, I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on my progress.

 

‘Twas The Night Before Weigh-In: My Christmas Struggle Story

I’m tired. Sure, it’s the most wonderful time of the year to be stressed and overwhelmed after all. But that’s not only why I’m tired. I’m tired because I have three events over the next three days all centered around food. The thought of navigating said events without overindulging exhausts me. The holidays are a particularly difficult time of the year for people with weight and food issues. But on top of the usual food anxiety, I have added pressure this year. You see, I’m participating in a clinical study and there is a weight requirement. A requirement I didn’t quite make…

But let me back up.

On the first of December I began enrollment for the clinical study. If you haven’t participated in one before, trust me that there is a lot involved. A twenty plus page consent form to review, physical, blood testing, other examinations… I was two hours in to my appointment when the doctor asked if I knew what my BMI (body mass index) was. “I believe it’s thirty-four,” I said. “Oh, good,” she said. “Thirty-five or higher is an automatic exclusion in the study.”

It was time for me to undress and prepare for the examination portion of this lengthy enrollment process. I sat on the edge of the examination table holding my thin pink gown closed around my naked body when the doctor returned looking forlorn. My heart sank.

“What is it?” I asked.

She placed her hands on my knees, a kind gesture. “I am so sorry, but I just calculated your BMI and you don’t qualify.”

Stunned, my mind kicked into overdrive. “I lost weight since my last visit!” I exclaimed hopefully. “Weigh me again,” I demanded, sliding off the table.

My attitude energized the doctor. “Let’s do this!” she said. “Take off your necklace, take off your earrings.” It would have been funny if it wasn’t so desperate. “I won’t ask you to take off your robe.”

“Oh God, please don’t.” Even though this women would eventually perform a breast exam and place her fingers inside of me, I have my limits. They include standing naked on a scale in front of an audience.

Just as I had known, I lost weight since my last appointment. Not too shabby for a week after Thanksgiving, if I do say so myself. The doctor punched the numbers into her BMI calculator. She looked up at me, sadly.

“Thirty-five POINT three.”

“POINT three?” I asked in disbelief.

She nodded.

Tears welled in my eyes. For the first time in my life I wouldn’t be able to do something solely because of my weight. And that is an incredibly harsh reality.

She placed a sympathetic arm around my shoulders as I apologized profusely.

“No, no, I’m sorry,” she said. “That BMI is too low. Nearly half my patients have a BMI higher than 35.”

“How much weight does the point three amount to?” I asked, wiping my eyes.

“Two pounds.”

“I can lose two pounds.”

“I know you can. But unfortunately we can’t continue with the examination at this point. But we can reschedule for a month from now.”

“Will we have to do everything over?”

“Yes, but don’t you worry about that.”

She gave me another compassionate squeeze and left me to get dressed. I was mortified. And full of self-loathing.

After a short while she returned looking much more positive than when she departed.

“Don’t kill me,” she started. “But I re-read through all the guidelines and it turns out we can continue with the examination and record your weight at your second visit next week!”

“So I just have to lose two pounds in a week and we can stay on schedule?”

“Yep!”

“I can do that!”

“Great! I have to ask you to get undressed again.”

This was turning into one hell of an emotional rollercoaster…

So let’s fast forward to yesterday, December 7, the day before my appointment. I weighed myself in the morning and I had succeeded in losing the two pounds plus a little extra for wiggle room (pun intended). I felt accomplished and relieved. The pressure would soon be off.

But then I received a phone call in the evening. All my test results hadn’t come in yet so my appointment would have to be postponed after all. Now, after all that, I have to maintain this weight twelve more days… and right in the midst of a jam packed holiday social calendar. FUN! It will be my twelve days of Christmas indeed. On the first day of Christmas, I’ll forego bread and pasta, on the second, dessert, on the third, cheese… oh God, help me.

The pressure is on. Willpower is not infinite. Like a fuel tank, it runs low. Too much use and you’ll find yourself on empty. I don’t expect everyone to understand this struggle. But there are those of you whom I know full well do understand. And also understand that one dinner out can add three pounds and the Christmas weight struggle is real. When food is a trigger, three nights of festivities and dinners (two of which are at Italian restaurants) is daunting. I am nervous and anxious.

But then again, I have the tools and I know I can do this. I am looking at these twelve days as an opportunity. An opportunity to test myself, practice tools, and shift my focus from the food to the people I will be spending time with. I am intrigued by the possibility of going through a holiday season not feeling bloated and indulgent, but instead feeling healthy and balanced. It will certainly make picking out my outfits easier… and give me added confidence especially with visiting friends and family I haven’t seen in a while.

I’m up to the challenge. Will I make my goal? Stay tuned to find out…

 

Practicing Spiritual Surrender

Like physical exercise, spiritual exercise works only if we do it. Even better is if we not wait to do it until we find ourselves in trouble. Often we work out hard after overindulging. This is not unlike our relationship with prayer. We often surrender spiritually and reach for a higher power when disaster has struck. Lesson 8 of Marianne Williamson’s A Course In Weight Loss stresses the utmost importance of practicing spiritual surrender. The goal is to get us surrendering to the divine and calling on the power that dwells within us all before disaster strikes. This is how we can begin to deconstruct and dissolve the emotions that lead to emotional overeating.

Lesson 8 calls for practicing spiritual surrender by handwriting a prayer 30 times morning and night for three days. The prayer is:

Dear God, please feed my hunger and restore my right mind. Teach me how to love.

When I first read lesson 8, I had a strong and immediate response. It was, “I’m not doing that.”

I thought the assignment was silly and unnecessarily time-consuming. But then something my friend, Kathy says came to mind and that’s more or less that it is often the things we have an adverse response to that we need most. Then I also realized this wasn’t that different than reciting “I have a choice” forty times for forty days while setting an intention for my mala. I also committed to doing every lesson in this book. So I picked a journal that I had been “saving” for a special occasion, gifted to me by another friend. It is leather bound with the impression of a magnificent tree, and has beautiful parchment pages. I knew this was the proper place to put my prayers.

And so, feeling slightly foolish, I sat and wrote my prayer thirty times, an image of Bart Simpson at the blackboard coming to mind. Then I did it the following evening, the next morning and so on until I was done.

This is not a religious blog, nor do I write about prayer here, so please bear with me if this isn’t your cup of tea.

I learned that the prayer is not unlike an intention. Throughout the act of repetition I began to really dissect the plea. I use food to feed my hunger, although my hunger is not for food. I still don’t know completely what I’m hungry for, but I know I am not in my right mind when I attempt to satiate my hunger with food. It has something to do with love, particularly the lack of love I have for myself.

Through the repetition I found some strength and ease. Then I disregarded it until I began to write about this lesson. I didn’t practice surrendering enough to make it habit. It would be amazing if I could surrender during difficult moments at the very least, but that is when I find it is hardest because I’m in some sort of blackout, autopilot state (more on that when I recap lesson 9). Surrendering when things are going well doesn’t even occur to me. This is why this lesson requires mental discipline. Through the process of writing about spiritual surrender, I have come to understand it more.

The book makes a point of reminding us that if one antibiotic doesn’t knock out an infection, it doesn’t mean it’s not working. “Prayer is spiritual medicine,” Williamson wrote.

“[Prayer] boosts your spiritual immune system by increasing the depth of your surrender. Whether or not you believe it works is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what you think about surrendering to the divine. All that matters is that you surrender.

Williamson continues to say that, “In all things, spiritual surrender marks the end of struggle and the beginning of true ease.” The point is to establish the mental discipline of calling on a higher power as a regular practice to cultivate and maintain serenity, not just in hours of need. The lesson is meant to dismantle our resistance to doing that.

“Spiritual surrender is a full-throttle willingness to let go of everything – every thought, every pattern, and every desire – that blocks love from entering into you and extending through you.”

It is a beautiful concept. I also happen to know it works. The problem is remembering to surrender. In times of struggle we often become so protective, and go so far inward, or leave our bodies completely, that surrendering or calling on something higher than ourselves does not occur to us. We become entirely narrow-minded and focused on survival.

Therefore, spiritual surrender will take a lot more discipline on my part in order for it to become a part of my daily practice.


How do you practice spiritual surrender? Any words of advice?

Diet Pills: Trying The Easy Way With Prescription Weight Loss Drugs

Two weeks ago I went for my overdue annual physical. I only went because I needed a new referral for my chiropractor and my primary said they wouldn’t process it unless I got a physical. No big deal, I thought. I never imagined I’d end up sitting through a lengthy sales pitch for what amounts to diet pills. And I definitely didn’t think I’d actually leave with weight loss drug prescriptions in hand.

Obesity Prescribed with Weight Loss Drugs

I had never met with the physician before, but I cared more about convenient scheduling than who examined me. “How’s your diet and exercise,” the Dr. asked.

“I exercise more than it looks and I eat far healthier than it looks.” I then told her briefly about all the amazing work I have been doing with my psychotherapist to curb my emotional overeating and get my eating disorders in check. “Losing weight continues to be a struggle, though.”

“Okay, well,” she started… and then began a lengthy sales pitch for prescription appetite suppressants.

“So, diet pills?” I clarified.

“No,” she said, clearly annoyed, not appreciating the generalization. “Prescription weight loss drugs.”

She explained how different drugs work together and what the myriad of side-effects are. She stressed how rare the negative effects are and how beneficial the good ones are, FDA-approved, life-changing results, blah blah blah. I wondered if she’s on the pharmaceutical company’s payroll.

“So although one of the medications treats epilepsy, it’s side effect is loss of appetite. The other one does something similar but also increases energy. But since it’s a controlled substance it may not be covered by your healthcare provider.”

Words, red flags and confusion flooded my mind.

“And if you’re interested in these pills, which again, are truly life-changing, we would gradually increase your dosage over several weeks to morning and night—”

“Why would I take it at night?” I asked, interrupting her.

“So you’re not hungry in the morning.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be hungry in the morning? It’s called breakfast for a reason. Break. Fast. Are you suggesting I not eat breakfast?” Then an entirely new thought occurred to me. “You do want me to eat, right?”

She shifted in her chair, and sat a bit straighter, annoyed. Time was almost up, I could tell.

“Yes, of course,” she said. “But I don’t know you, or how or what you eat.”

I thought I detected a tinge of disgust in her voice. I realized I was just another obese person who she probably figured got artificial breakfast every day from whatever chain with a doughnut to go for a 10:00 am snack. As much as I wanted to shove off from the table and say, “No, thanks, I’m good,” I couldn’t help being curious. Could these pills give me the boost I needed to take my efforts to the next level like the Prozac had done?

“Fine,” I conceded. “I’ll give them a try.”

diet pills and prescription weight loss drugs - Rx image by Ata Mohammadi
Photo by Ata Mohammadi

My First 7 Days on Prescription “Diet Pills”

By the time I picked up the pills, I was downright excited. Less than twelve hours earlier, the possibility of a shortcut to weight loss never even occurred to me. I am impervious to fad diets and whatever supplement Dr. Oz happens to be pushing that week. I know that it all boils down to diet and exercise. But here I was, looking forward to trying them out. As much as I was turned off by the words “controlled substance,” I had to admit I was intrigued. This could be good…

The following morning I took the pills for the first time. The effects were practically immediate. I went into taking them with a promise to myself to stay aware, but also an understanding not to judge them by the first days. I had spoken to Mike about them and we agreed to keep an eye on things. That very first day my energy levels were similar to those after several shots of espresso, but I was also intensely focused. My heart beat a little too quickly, which I didn’t like, but I will not sit here and deny that I didn’t love my energy and focus. I have never taken Adderall before, but I imagine this wasn’t too unlike that feeling. Productivity was my middle name!

That night Mike and I met my parents for dinner at a restaurant. Already, declining a second piece of bread was easy. Making a better menu decision was easy. I only ate half my meal. I was completely satisfied. My God, I thought, Is my fuel gauge finally fixed!? There were times in the past when I planned to take home left-overs only to eat the remainder by the time the waiter returned with a container. This time, I allowed my food to sit, a gold badge on a plate, having no power over me whatsoever. It was glorious.

After one day I was elated.

That night, I had insomnia. I was wide awake from 2:00 am – 5:00 am. I figured it was a small price to pay and dealt with it.

The next several days went similarly. It took far less food to satiate me. I had no cravings, so I made all my food choices based on what the best fuel was. Food no longer spoke to me, whispering my name every waking moment. I didn’t experience the hunger pains that previously burned holes in my belly. Food had ruled my existence for so long that I often said I could set an alarm to my stomach. Suddenly, I was working straight past noon, blissfully unaware of the time.

But I still wasn’t sleeping. I read or watched TV and just dealt with it. Things were still moving quickly, and my heart beat quicker. The best way to describe it is I felt like I was on a ride that was going a little too fast.

That Friday night, four days into taking the pills, I woke up at 2:00 am. Since it was the weekend I figured I’d do some work. I worked until 5:00 am and then slept until 8:00 am. Then I cleaned. I cleaned like it was the first day of spring and I was hosting royalty. I had the energy and I had the focus. By that evening I finally felt tired and I thought perhaps I had finally succeeded in exhausting myself.

That night I slept straight through the night for the first time since I started the pills. I had less energy and motivation the following day, though. I accomplished a few small things between naps, but I figured I deserved a day off, so I also watched a lot of television. I never changed out of my pajamas. It was like I had been a speeding freight train that ran straight into a brick wall. Nevertheless, after the first five days I increased one of the dosages as instructed.

I didn’t experience insomnia again. I lost that amazing focus and energy. Things slowed down – I felt sluggish and my mind was foggy. I hit the message boards I found earlier when I wanted to compare my experiences. It was reassuring to know so many women (and men) were on the exact same prescriptions for the exact same reason and dealing with the exact same side effects. The general consensus after one week was “what happened?” The increased energy and focus was apparently not long for this world. Bummer.

But I was grateful to be sleeping again. I still didn’t experience hunger and I also still had a working fuel gauge. But I did notice that in addition to the general sluggishness, I experienced shortness of breath and my thoughts seemed to be darkening, the way they do as they start their slow march toward depression. After 7 days I was already down 5.1 lbs. I took the good with the bad…

Things Take a Turn

Eight days after starting the pills I went out for a few drinks with a girlfriend. I want to clarify that I did recall reading that I shouldn’t drink while on these pills, but felt like every medication says that and I never had a problem before, so I ignored it. We had a great time talking and catching up, as always. I had 3.5 drinks over the course of four hours. On the train home it became clear that something was horribly wrong.

I’m going to spare you all the details about what happened later that night. It wasn’t pretty. I had trouble breathing, couldn’t cool down, faded in and out of some sort of weird blacked out state. I was scared, angry and irrational. To put it in the simplest terms, it felt like I had been drugged. It was entirely my fault and I learned my lesson the hard way.

But alas, the next morning I took my pills. It was a long, tough day. I had trouble focusing and was exhausted. I felt dizzy, fuzzy and generally hungover, but also emotional. This was more than a hangover.

I started thinking about my mood even before this incident. It had shifted as I grew increasingly irritable and less patient. It was evident the pills had affected my mood. I felt as if I were backsliding. I had gone off my Prozac mid-July because I finally felt so good I wanted to give life a go on my own. Here I was, a little over a month later feeling surrounded by darkness again, losing all motivation that only one week earlier radiated from me. This wasn’t natural. This was too extreme. I had worked too hard to have stability in my life and I was once again an emotional mess. It occurred to me that this might not work after all…

Desperate to Make it Work

I thought maybe I could stay on the pills if I went back on my Prozac to help me with my mood. The idea was a glimmer of hope. So I checked to see how they would all interact together and it was no good. This was a toxic cocktail that could lead to possible serotonin overdose, among other things. When reading how the diet pills interacted with other drugs, I noticed that the two I was on in the first place didn’t exactly play nicely together, either. I read about what was happening chemically in my body, while tears streamed down my face – so many emotions colliding, exacerbated by the drugs currently in my system.

I cried because I realized I couldn’t go long term without my Prozac and that made me sad. I cried because these diet pills were hurting me; I wasn’t loving my body – I was poisoning it. And I had actually allowed myself to hope, and I cried as that hope faded away. I daydreamed, literally, when the weight started coming off and I was no longer ruled by food. I daydreamed about getting rid of all my clothes and shopping for a capsule wardrobe. I cried at the realization this would not happen sooner than expected. I also cried for myself and everyone else who is so desperate to lose weight that they resort to these measures of hurting themselves in order to try to help themselves. These were some of the many things that collided in my mind as I cried.

The choice was obvious. I had to go off the pills and get back on my Prozac. There was only one way to lose weight and it had to be the hard way. Dedication, patience, and hard work.

Those last two days on the pills coupled with the incident with the alcohol had knocked me on my ass. On Friday morning I decided to go off the pills. I called out from work to rest and do what I could to expedite flushing them from my system. My hunger returned immediately and I was once again faced with craving the wrong things and an intense desire to comfort all I was feeling with food. Despite my physical and mental state, I found the willpower to make all the right choices. It took a few days, but I feel much better… physically, emotionally, mentally. I even managed to maintain the weight I lost so far, even over the course of the weekend, which is pretty impressive for me.

All in all, I was on prescription weight loss drugs exactly ten days.

What I Learned

My body is sensitive – it always has been. I have to take great care to keep my hormones and chemicals balanced and can’t be screwing around with anything that messes with it. These pills work well for some people, and hey, good for them. But I can’t afford to subject my mental and emotional well-being, as well as my mental clarity, to give me an edge to lose weight. I tried the pills against my better judgement. They worked, but there was a cost involved that I decided was too steep for me.

I now know what it’s like to not be ruled by food and I am extremely grateful for that experience. I know it’s possible, which means I can recreate it. It won’t be easy, but I tried easy, and easy didn’t work for me. As for the energy and motivation, I have a lot of that naturally. It’s what happens when I am inspired and happy. I have the tools to do this right. I just have to use them.

 

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Ending An Abusive Relationship With My Body

Following is the continuation of last week’s post, From Hating to Appreciating: Attempting To Love Your Body.

I’ve written before about how much I love the start of a new year. I imagine it was the high energy and positivity a new year brings that contributed to my second attempt at appreciating my body. January 17 was a bitter cold, dreary Sunday more than two months after my first attempt at completing A Course in Weight Loss‘ Lesson 7. The promise of snow lingered in the air and calm permeated my home like the scent of simmering soup. The weekend had been healthy and productive, my favorite kind. I had no further obligations and the clean sanctuary of my home office beckoned. The timing was perfect for ending an abusive relationship with my body and beginning an honorable one.

Preparation

I started with a long, steamy shower and concentrated on becoming more aware of my body as I prepared for the ritual before me. I sloughed my body of the dry skin that seemed to cover every inch of me, then slowly shaved my legs. This wasn’t my usual five minute shower, but more like the kind I take when I anticipate intimacy; giving of my body to someone else to enjoy. This time I prepared my body for intimacy with myself.

I concentrated as I slowly dried my skin, paying attention to each limb and joint. The silky material of my favorite robe felt pleasant against my skin. My awareness of my body increased as I sought to repair my relationship with the container of my soul.

Inside my office, I lit candles and incense upon my altar and played meditative music. I laid a towel on the floor directly before my altar and bowed to the Buddha before slipping off my robe. Standing naked and exposed, I battled embarrassment, shame and the urge to reach for cover. I stood tall, my hands in a prayer position at my heart. Snow started its slow and sporadic fall just outside the windows directly in front of me. I strived to summon the grace, strength, power and beauty of ancient kings and queens who regularly performed similar rituals.

Acknowledgement of Abuse

I reached for the oil. As the book instructed, I started with my feet. My cracked and calloused heels felt rough in my hands and guzzled the oil like desert dirt gulps rainwater. I apologized to my heels for giving them so much weight to bear.

Next, I lovingly smoothed the oil into the skin of my ankles and legs. I examined the scars and beginnings of varicose veins bright against the paleness of my flesh. So many scars… from accidents, bug bites, a tomboyish youth, all coupled with a horrible habit of scab picking. And then the pencil thin scars on the insides of my thighs. Not the stretch marks that are plentiful I assure you, but the marks I made myself many years ago. My eyes filled as the sight of those scars brought me back to my teenage bedroom. The sadness, loneliness and anger I felt then coursed through me. I cried for that teenage girl who felt so scared, so hurt, so lonely that she dragged razor blades across her flesh in order to feel something, anything other than what she was feeling.

I rubbed my thumbs gently over those scars lovingly as a parent might rub a smudge of dirt off a toddlers pudgy cheek. “I’m so sorry,” I sobbed over and over as I allowed myself to grieve, not just for my body, but for myself and the young girl I used to be. “I’m trying. I swear to you I’m trying so hard.”

I wrapped my arms around myself and hung naked in a sort of forward fold as my body wracked with sobs. My skin absorbed oil mixed with tears. When I was ready, I once again summoned the power of those ancient queens and stood tall once more.

Coincidence is indeed God’s way of remaining anonymous. Just yesterday I read these words spoken by Chris Cleave’s character, Little Bee in the book Little Bee:

“I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”

I ask you all now to join with me in Little Bee’s pact. Let us all see scars as beauty. Okay?

Let us all see scars as beauty. Click To Tweet

Gratitude

I continued my upward journey as I thanked my skin for its ability to expand and apologized for making it have to. My belly. My belly is something I hardly ever look at in a mirror except to ensure it’s properly covered. It’s the palest part of my body, as white as the snow that fell just outside my window. I rubbed oil into it with both hands in a circular motion and apologized for hating it so much. I had rejected and detested my stomach, my core, the very center of me. In order to heal myself I now understand that I must make peace with my core and allow love to permeate the center of me.

Emotions continued their flash flood as I massaged my breasts with oil. Each was heavy in my hand. I have always disliked my breasts. They don’t make me feel sexy; they make me feel fat. More often than not, they are a nuisance. I have resented being told I should be grateful for them because men love large breasts. Excuse me if I don’t think that is a valid enough reason to graciously accept the many drawbacks of having large breasts.

But as I cupped my breasts in my hands I thought of my mother as she laid in her hospital bed post-mastectomy and placed her hand where her breast used to be and grieved the loss of her womanhood. And so I apologized to my breasts for disliking them. I apologized for not keeping them sacred and sharing them with far too many people who didn’t deserve access to my body so freely. I thanked them for not being cancerous.

The oil felt good against my skin and my body relaxed, responding to my touch, opening up to me, welcoming me. I began to feel more comfortable in my own skin and no longer felt the urge to cover up.

As I rubbed the oil into my back as best as I could, I apologized to my back for not being able to scratch and lotion it properly because I’m so wide. I apologized for the weakness of my core and shoulders that result in my poor posture, straining my back. I apologized that I’m so insecure at times I tend to huddle into myself, adding further stress to my back. Despite all this, my back truly has “my back,” so I thanked it for doing its job so amazingly well and praised it for its strength.

New Beginning

I covered the remainder of my body – my face, my ears, my neck. The sheen on my skin glistened in the flickering candlelight. I ran my hands slowly over my slippery surface, satisfied I hadn’t missed a spot. I sat on my towel in order to meditate on what I was feeling. Sitting cross-legged naked was so unfamiliar that I laughed out loud. “Here I am,” I thought. This was me in my purest state, nothing to hide behind. I looked down at my thighs, breast and belly and the way they all rested on one another unsupported by clothing. I sat up straight and lowered my eyes.

It’s true. I’ve fed my body excessive food, but too little love and care. It’s time to reunite my inner and outer self. I thanked my body for the way it moves despite everything I’ve done to it; for the miraculous way it heals; for the physical pain it endures and the resilience it demonstrates. I thanked it for the endless ways it supports me and for its power. Our skin is our biggest organ and I apologized for everything I exposed it to, environmentally, chemically, physically, all undeservedly. I thanked my skin for containing every single part of me.

Although I didn’t protect my body, it has protected me. I took advantage of my body and was in an abusive relationship with it. It took performing this ritual to understand all that. I am so grateful to have marked the beginning of an honorable relationship with my body. That was the goal of Lesson 7: to repair and restore the relationship between me and my physical self.

Like the oil, I think it’s safe to say it was absorbed.

 

P.S. Although I completed this ritual nearly seven months ago, I hadn’t wanted to write about it until now. It took me all these months to integrate the process and formulate my thoughts surrounding it. Now that I have, I feel the full benefits of the Lesson. If you’re working through A Course in Weight Loss, a similar book, a process of your own or simply wondering why I have been working through the same book for well over a year, please remember that change takes time, patience and space. 

From Hating to Appreciating: Attempting To Love Your Body

My legs are currently covered in scars, bug bites, scabs, and peeling skin. Aside from their size, they look like the legs of a rambunctious 8-year old boy. This sort of thing never really bothered me before. But it does now, so I purchased a high quality vitamin E oil. Every morning I lovingly rub it into my skin in order to help it heal. What changed? Not my sense of vanity. But my sense of appreciation for my body and the skin I’m in. And that’s thanks to Lesson 7 from Marianne Williamson’s A Course in Weight Loss.

It’s been over ten months since I’ve written about one of the lessons in this book. That’s not because I stopped reading it, but because I got stuck. Lesson 7 is titled “Love Your Body.” It took many months and two attempts to complete this lesson… I don’t love my body, but I’m trying to.

Hating Our Bodies

Lesson 7 attempts to get to the root of not just why we hate our bodies, but what we’re hating our bodies for. But the truth is that our bodies have done absolutely nothing to us but endure and adjust, and we’ve done everything to them. We fail to support our bodies and yet our bodies continue to do their very best to support us.

“Your body has not done anything to you; it has merely reflected the raging battlefield in your mind.” – Williamson

Is it our bodies we hate? Or their size or imperfections or scars or other ways in which they don’t live up to our expectations? Do we hate our bodies because we are afraid of something? Sexual trauma victims often gain weight or self mutilate in an attempt to be less desirable. Do we hate our bodies truly or did we learn to hate them as a result of ridicule?

In our lives there is an incredible time when we are young and innocent and know we are wonderful and perfect… and it lasts until someone tells us we aren’t.

Do you remember the first time someone made fun of your moles or freckles, said you were fat or teased you about your height? Do you remember the moment you looked at your body and made a quick decision to cover it up? I remember all of it and more. I was one of the first girls in my class to hit puberty. The boys called me daddy long legs and made jokes about my breasts. I never thought twice about the hair on my legs until my mom called me into the bathroom one day to show me how to shave. Seemingly overnight there was so much shame and confusion about my body.

When I was fourteen or so I went to second base with a boy. After we “broke up,” I found out he called me P.N. behind my back. Finally a friend told me what it stood for. Pepperoni nipple. (I swear I can’t make this shit up.) I was devastated. At home I examined my nipples looking for any resemblance whatsoever to pepperoni. For years I was self conscious about my nipples. My nipples! Like we don’t have enough to be self conscious about. Anyway, after having seen many a topless woman in my life I have deduced that my nipples are no more irregular than any one else’s. Teenage boys can be mean and stupid.

Dumb shit like this combined with how women are portrayed in media combined with rejection, ridicule, and trauma is a recipe for body issues. We don’t start out hating our bodies. We are taught to hate our bodies. Sure my weight is my biggest issue, but I’m also too hairy, have too many scars, a big nose, etc. Everyone seems to hate something about their bodies. A beautiful woman I know recently lamented her sausage fingers. I swear to you her fingers are perfectly normal and pretty.

Appreciating Our Bodies

Lesson 7 called for buying an oil to rub into my skin while examining it, expressing gratitude for it, acknowledging what I’ve done to it, and most of all, forgiving it for what it did not do. The goal of the lesson is to repair and restore the relationship between us and our physical selves.

Naked, I was to begin by making an apology to myself for having mistreated such a magnificent gift as my physical body. From the bottoms of my feet to the tips of my fingers, I was to emotionally lean into my body, not recoil from it. I was to rub the oil into my body with acceptance, with love if I could, with grief if necessary. I was to take my time, paying attention to each limb, each curve, each scar, each joint. “Do not rush,” the book instructed. “Accept, affirm, apologize, and forgive.”

I bought the oil, an organic apricot kernel oil, soon after reading the lesson. But then it sat unopened as I waited for the appropriate time.

Last autumn I slipped off the plush robe provided to me in the spa-like bathroom of the gorgeous four star hotel where I was staying. I had packed the oil, thinking my surroundings would be ideal for such a ritual. Hands wet with oil, I began to massage it into my skin.

I felt nothing – no appreciation, no forgiveness, no love, no patience. My legs were pasty and purply and my skin was puckered and scarred. I poured more and more oil into my hands impatiently as my dry skin quickly absorbed it. “For fucks sake, you’re so fat you should have gotten two bottles,” I thought.  The lighting was wrong and it was too quiet. I didn’t want to do this. I wanted to hide inside my luxurious and bulky robe, eat cheese, drink wine and watch movies.

“Fuck this,” I said aloud as I wiped my hands on a dry washcloth. I slipped my robe back on, cinched it tight and turned my back on appreciating my body.

I wouldn’t try to do so again until a snowy day a few months later.

Please click here to read Part 2, Ending An Abusive Relationship With My Body

The Perception vs. Reality of Overeating

Earlier this week I wrote about overeating, forgiving myself and moving on after an indulgent weekend. I accepted the fact that I once again set myself back, but I used my cognitive therapy skills to put a stop to the destructive behavior and guilt and reset. I thought I’d need a week of perfect eating to get back to where I was before the holiday weekend. Well, it appears my next step in this weight loss process needs to be changing my perception. That’s because the day after I forgave myself and gave my body a break, my weight was right back to where I was before the weekend. I was stunned.

Perception

It’s funny. My perception of a “fuck up” is still the same despite my eating habits and activity levels being so vastly improved over the past two years. For example, two weeks ago I worked out hard at the gym in the morning, ate a well-balanced breakfast and then a light lunch. But then I ate one and a half soft pretzels (this Philly delicacy tests me to my absolute limits). I justified eating them because I had such a great workout that morning.

But those damn pretzels sat heavy in my belly anyway and even heavier in my mind. I couldn’t see the pretzels for what they were: a snack of roughly 250 calories of carbs, water and salt. I saw them as another failure; the reason I can’t succeed; a stain on what was a decent day. I struggled to concentrate since I was full with regret. I had happy hour plans that night, which made things worse. I was supposed to eat “perfectly” so I could have some wine. I drank and had some bar snacks anyway. Although I wanted to eat when I got home, I’ve learned that desire and slight hunger does not demand eating. It was bed time. So I drank some water and went to sleep. I woke up expecting to weigh three hundred pounds heavier at least.

The scale was exactly the same as the day before.

See my point?

This is why I weigh myself nearly every day. Not because I’m obsessive, but because I find the reality of a situation is often not nearly as bad as my perception of one.

This past weekend I berated myself for overdoing it, and I did overdo it, just to be clear. I smoked, which is unacceptable. I drank three days in a row, had a giant bag of kettle corn, and ate until I was uncomfortable on Sunday. My perception of this was that I was an out of control screw up. I was so afraid to get on the scale so I gave myself a one day reprieve. When I did face the scale after that one reset day, I saw the exact same weight as before my indulgent weekend. The fog cleared and more specific details came to light…

Reality

I recalled that on Friday I ate a kale and beet salad before I went to the brewery, and that I only drank two beers there. I remembered how good I felt when I went to the ice cream shop and walked away with ice cream only for my dog, Cooper. I remembered how I declined Mike’s offer to grab me a slice of pizza after he caught me staring at someone’s.

Saturday I went to Philly. I drank many beers and went out for a late lunch. I recalled that although I splurged on nachos, I took half my quesadilla home because I could tell I was getting full, something I’ve only recently learned how to be cognizant of. Later, I went to town on kettle corn as I watched movies. But I didn’t have dinner and I walked 13,000 steps that day… not bad.

Sunday I filled up on the rest of my kettle corn too close to eating dinner, which is why I felt so uncomfortably full. The meal was perfectly reasonable in and of itself. And yeah, I drank, but I drank 4 oz. pours, not pints.

My point in sharing all these details is that my perception was way off. I wasn’t a gluttonous eating machine who should be chained up and kept away from children. The reality is I’ve come a really long way, can’t eat nearly as much as I used to, am far more active, and make exponentially better choices. This is the reality. 

I don’t give myself enough credit for all I’ve learned and all the destructive habits I’ve broken. It’s time I start. There is room for improvement, yes. But I see now just how much improvement there has been.

Overeating & Forgiving: Using My Cognitive Therapy Skills

I haven’t mentioned my weight loss efforts in a while. Not because I haven’t been trying to lose weight — I don’t think there was a time in the past twenty years when I wasn’t trying to lose weight, at least in spirit — but because I haven’t had much to say. I’d be thin by now you’d think, but nope. I’m only ten or so pounds shy of the heaviest I’ve ever been. It’s so frustrating, too because I’m the most active I’ve been since I was tween, and I definitely eat the healthiest I ever have. But the weight is still reluctant to go away because I continue to struggle with emotional overeating and destructive behaviors.

Overeating

I overdid it this holiday weekend. I ate too much, drank too much and smoked cigarettes AGAIN. I congratulated myself just last week for going out for happy hour and not overdoing it; not smoking, not overeating when I got home. I worked my resistance muscle HARD and woke up the next morning feeling proud and accomplished. But I guess I pushed the muscle too hard and it was sore, so my giving in muscle picked up the slack.

Instead of feeling proud this morning, I felt disappointed, shameful, guilty, and frustrated.

One area where I now excel thanks to my cognitive therapy work is putting a stop to destructive behavior at the first possible opportunity, rather than riding things out until their logical and convenient end like I used to. Today is the last day of the three-day weekend. There’s still plenty of left-overs. I could easily rationalize overeating one more day and resetting tomorrow. But that’s the same destructive thinking that got me to where I am now.

Although my body was eager for a break and craved light foods, my emotions craved comfort and reprieve from the guilt and shame of what I had done to my body the past two days. I noticed my mood shift. I felt the urge to be healthy and productive today slip away as thoughts of TV-watching, napping, and eating danced across my mind enticingly.

Forgiving

I couldn’t let my intentions slip away. I recognized the destructive triangle I was caught in (thought leading to feeling, feeling leading to action, and action leading to thought and around and around I go) and knew I had to fight my way out. In a burst of energy and determination, I jumped up, silenced the internal pleas to stay on the couch, and took a shower. I created a new triangle because that positive action lead to the thought that perhaps I could forgive myself. So after my shower I meditated on forgiveness and moving on.

I quieted my mind enough that I heard the voice of my higher self. “It’s okay,” she said. The incense smelled sweeter and more inviting than the left-over homemade peach cobbler and I surrendered myself to the calm. I felt gratitude for my body, something I experienced for the first time when completing Lesson 7 from A Course in Weight Loss, which I will write about in another post. I also felt sorrow for what I had done to my body, but again the voice said, “It’s okay.”

I breathed in and out, letting go of this weekend’s weakness and allowing my mind to still. “You are determined,” came the voice of my higher self. “And you are forgiven.”

I haven’t been back on the couch since before my shower. I’m listening to my body instead of my mind, and only giving it what it wants, which is water and fruit. I’m grateful to be forgiven, especially because I’m only still learning that I have the right to ask for forgiveness. I no longer need to carry my guilt around like a bloated belly.

I feel lighter already.

 

Quote about forgiving yourself after overeating

 

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Breakthrough: How I got my weight loss efforts to run on auto pilot

When losing weight is your number one goal, there isn’t much room for other priorities. The only time in recent years when this wasn’t my number one priority was when I was in school, and guess what, I gained a lot of weight during that time. Other than that, it’s been my focus. That’s a whole lot of energy, time and work that has gone into one thing with far too few results, other than preventing me from gaining even more weight.

Imagine if I had devoted all that space and energy to something else, something I was good at.  Who knows what I could have achieved by now!

When I finally figured out I couldn’t lose weight because I was focusing on the wrong things (diet and exercise instead of cognitive thinking), I redoubled my commitment to losing weight with a new approach. My counselor recommended The Beck Diet Solution: Train Your Brain to THINK Like a Thin Person, by Dr. Judith Beck. Her father, Aaron Beck is regarded as the Father of Cognitive Therapy, so I figured she knew a thing or two on the subject.

The book claimed it would help me change the way I think about diet, eating and weight loss “FOREVER.” I’d learn how to abolish my cravings, resist temptations, deal with emotional triggers, end emotional eating, and conquer excuses to overeat, according to the book’s description. I believe that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, so I was skeptical. I’ve been trying to do these things for twenty years; no way was one book going to get the job done. But with an open mind and trust in my counselor, I loaded it onto my Kindle.

The book is broken into 42 lessons. My first task was to write an Automatic Response Card (ARC) listing all the reasons I want to be thin. The idea is that when you’re staring down chocolate cake or want nothing but to eat your weight in french fries after a hard day, you have something to whip out and read to remind yourself what’s more important and why the food isn’t really what you want.

I had never really thought before about why I want to be thin. We all want to be rich, right, but seldom think of the specific reasons why. We usually just have some broad sense of increased happiness and quality of life. That’s what I thought when it came to being thin. So I had been dedicating the bulk of my time and energy to a goal that I didn’t even know specifically why I wanted! How ridiculous is that!?

So I thought about why I want to be thin and twenty specific, damn good reasons tumbled out of my brain and onto a piece of paper as fast as my hand could write them.

#1 on my list; the very FIRST thing I thought:

Being thin will free up space in my life for other goals.

I didn’t think much of that being the first thing I thought until this month, when the space showed up.

Let me back up.

I dedicated the entire month of January to cooking and eating right, exercising daily, and practicing my newly learned cognitive thinking skills. I read The Beck Diet Solution and beyond these things and work, I had little time for anything else. I was excited and enthusiastic; happy to devote so much time and energy to my goal. But January turned into February and I began to lose steam. I got sick, too. On February 10, I wrote “The Part When We Quit” to process all that I was feeling, and ultimately acknowledged it was normal and to keep my eye on the prize.

But then everything got even harder… and darker.

Here’s the thing – there is no instant gratification in weight loss. It is a slow, grueling process. I am a spinning wheel, something my friend, Kathy affectionately called me recently, and detest being stagnant. My husband has accused me of having shark syndrome. “When you stop swimming, you die,” he’s said. For me to work so hard on something, and make such slow progress, is downright depressing.

By the second half of February I was in a dark place. There was something else at work, too. When you eat to process and/or mask your emotions and then you stop, you need to replace it with something. We as people love to tell people to stop doing things; stop drinking, stop smoking, but we don’t tell people what to do instead. We drink, smoke, and eat for a reason! Take those things away and we have no choice but to feel really uncomfortable emotions we’ve tried so hard to hide from.

That’s what happened to me. I didn’t replace my eating with a healthy alternative and I was left feeling rundown, raw, and really fucking sad. I desperately needed something else to work on, but was too depressed and tired from working so hard. I was also afraid that if I shifted my focus, I’d lose any progress I made.

“What you’re doing is really, really hard,” my counselor said sympathetically as I sat across from her quiet and crying.

We agreed I could use some help from my Prozac, so I decided to take it every day, at least for a little while, instead of only the two weeks before my period to ease my PMDD.

Within a week, I felt better. And then March was upon us and the urge to create this new website overcame me like a virus. I was sick with excitement and desire and motivation. And so for two solid weeks I spent every spare moment working on this site. I was overjoyed. My need to NOT be stagnant was being met. I was moving forward, making progress, and it was happening quickly.

Once I finished the site, I realized that after two solid months, weight loss was no longer my primary focus. I had shifted my priority to the website and the most incredible thing happened. I didn’t gain weight. The weight loss efforts went on auto pilot and ran in the background. I had created space for something else.

I was able to do this because I spent two months creating habits and for once, they took! I cooked, I meal planned, I exercised. But since those things were habit, they didn’t require so much thought and energy anymore! I almost gave up that second month, but I stuck with it. Now, I am beginning to reap the benefits, and it’s glorious.