organic/natural food

Wow!  It is amazing how severely one’s blog readership drops off when one does not post for a few days.  I guess in the blogosphere, not posting for a week is like not writing for a year in a print-based publication.

Anyway, while my husband and I were shopping for groceries yesterday at Whole Foods Market, I decided I should write a post about organic/natural food… or what I have come to call “real” food.

Shortly after I started the Atkins diet in 2004, my husband suggested that we should start shopping at Whole Foods.  I had been in there a few times, and was always fascinated with the quality of the produce, the exotic-sounding products, and so on, but had never seriously considered doing my grocery shopping there.  After we started, however, I realized that I could never look at a conventional grocery store the same way again.

Yes, there is a reason that Whole Foods has been given the name “Whole Paycheck”… it seems expensive.  We also have a store called Central Market here in Texas, which is nothing but an embarrassment of food riches.  But after I started comparing their prices with prices of the same items at my local “regular” grocery store, I found the “regular” store to be more expensive.

You won’t find products with trans fats or high fructose corn syrup in these stores.  This is good for you!  As we’re in the process of losing weight, we need food with real nutrients.  If we eat foods with real nutrients, we will eat less, consume fewer calories, and lose more weight.  One reason we overeat is because we eat too many foods with nutrition-less calories, which makes us hungrier in the long run, causing us to eat more and more.

I’ve found a more centered sense of well-being by shopping at organic/natural food stores, too.  These markets just smell good and feel healthy when you walk into them.  It’s hard to feel centered when you walk into a grocery store and are greeted by 20-foot high Coke displays and 10-foot high Twinkies displays, even if you don’t buy them.

As I’ve tried variations on the basic low-carb way of eating throughout my weight loss journey, I’ve discovered through my research various nutritional supplements thought to be helpful with weight loss and overall health.  These stores have every supplement you could possibly need and more.

Lately, I have been reading about a general trend toward an increased demand for organic foods.  This is a good thing, in my opinion.  It encourages farmers, ranchers, etc., to not inject their animals with hormones, treat their crops with dangerous chemicals, and so on, which means an increase in the quality of our food supply for us all.  Whole Foods has been criticized as a “big box” retailer no better than Walmart, but I say, “so what?” I have no problem with shopping at a “big box” that pays its workers a decent wage and offers high-quality products.

Your thinking now might be, “Sounds great, but I can’t afford it!”  This is certainly a concern for many of us.  Actually, my husband and I have found that we really don’t spend much more money now than we did when we shopped at Walmart, possibly because we’ve cut out all the junk food.  We have decided that buying high-quality food is a top financial priority, only second to paying our monthly bills.   Our bodies, and our long-term health, deserve nothing less.

stress and irony

I’ve officially declared it: nothing sabotages my “gain-my-life-back” lifestyle like the stress of my lifestyle.

At least for me, a healthy lifestyle requires a balanced triangle:  mindful eating, meaningful exercise, and time.  (You just can’t accomplish healthy eating or exercise without time.)  Stressful events or trends in your life suck away time, leaving you unable to eat well or exercise.

When I was completing the final stages of my graduate school program in late 2005 and early 2006, I gained about 20 pounds back of the 100 or so I’d lost up to that point. I was preoccupied with finishing my degree and starting a new job.  I didn’t really eat more than I had been, but I certainly wasn’t exercising like I should have been.

After losing weight again in the summer of 2006, I gained a few pounds back in late 2006, when work got really busy.  I started eating poorly, and I was not exercising.  I got things under control again this year — I’ve lost about 20-25 pounds again since January, but the overall “net loss” has not been much, because I just keep losing the same few pounds I gained when life got stressful.

When things get stressful, that’s when we should take care of ourselves the most.  But, the “time-sucking” factor associated with stress turns our attention away from our health needs.

What do I do when I get stressed about something?  Well, either I completely throw myself into the situation to fix it, or I do nothing and avoid it.  No matter what, my chronic headaches intensify, and they just make me want to go to bed.  When I get a headache, the last things I want are 30 minutes on the treadmill and a salad… an afternoon on the couch and a plate of pasta sound much more appealing.  And I would guess I’m not alone in these desires.

Despite my best personal efforts to work against the elements of my life that stress me out the most, I am not sure I will be successful unless a societal shift takes place, mainly because I do not know how to disconnect from the stressful elements long enough to recover from them.  Our “always-on” society implies that we should stay constantly connected to our jobs, our families, the news… and, as a result, we have no time for ourselves.

Even now, as I’m writing this post, I cannot seem to stop checking for new emails, looking for online friends on my IM list, or thinking about the project I’m supposed to be doing right now.  I’m working on my laptop while sitting in front of the TV, and a few minutes ago, I saw our satellite TV service flash the name and number of somebody calling me.  (The sound of the phone ringing exacerbated my headache.  ha!)

So what do we do?  As we attempt to keep up with it all, we “grab ‘n go” fatty, sugary, processed foods at the vending machine or the convenience store, and eat it in front of our computers or in our cars.  Our exercise consists of rushing to our cars between errands, as long we opt to not use the drive-thru.

For now, and for always, I will attempt to keep the following promises to myself:

1.  I will exercise at least three times per week, remembering that exercise decreases stress, both immediately and over time;

2.  I will not allow the general stress in my daily life, or particularly stressful periods, to negatively influence my food choices;

3.  As any physicist will attest, I cannot “make time” for myself, but I will control the amount of time I give to others’ demands;

4.  I will listen to (and respond to) my body’s signals that I am pushing it too hard;

5.  I will have faith that keeping these promises to myself will ensure my continued success in my weight loss efforts and in my life in general.

guilt

Guilt has manifested itself throughout my weight loss process in so many ways.

I feel guilty when…

– I cheat on my eating.  This actually does not happen often, because after I eat something I shouldn’t eat, I don’t feel well, so it’s not worth cheating.  (After you haven’t had sugar for several months, and then you eat ice cream, the sugar high is akin to feeling drunk.  And it’s a bad kind of drunk, not a good one.)

– I spend extra money because of the weight loss process.  It simply costs more to buy healthy foods than it does to buy junk food.  (Question for the corporate food makers, who make a profit off Oreos but not off apples:  is this intentional?)  I’ve had to buy progressively smaller clothes, and I have a professional job, so I need to dress well.  Gym fees cost money, too.  So do nutritional supplements.  On the other hand, as my husband has pointed out, it’s better to spend money on getting *truly* healthy than it is to spend money on hospital visits.

– people get jealous and bitter with me because I’m losing weight and they’re not.  In many cases, they’re gaining weight while I’m losing it.  But, it’s not my fault they can’t put down the brownies.

– I take time to exercise, when I believe I should be working.  Since my job is quite demanding, I feel like I should be putting that time in at the office rather than at the gym.  It doesn’t help when people make pointed remarks like, “Well, I don’t have time to exercise.  I have work to do!”It just makes me feel so incredibly selfish for taking care of myself.  However, I think more clearly when I exercise, so my time actually spent working is therefore more productive.  Also, if I continue gaining my health back through exercise, I’ll lose less work time in the long run.

– my unusual (to most people) way of eating makes social situations awkward.  For example, last weekend, we visited my parents, and my mom wanted to get take-out fast food.  I insisted that I couldn’t eat that way, and I felt like she became irritated with me.  It is a similar situation when I turn down homemade desserts, etc., at family gatherings made by relatives with the best of intentions.  But, if they truly care about me and my health, they will respect my need to eat this way.

Losing weight is already enough of an uphill struggle… the last thing we need is guilt to compound the struggle.  I still have not worked through this part of it all.  What turns some of us into “people-pleasers”, anyway?  I think people-pleasing is at the heart of the problem.  Does anybody else have any thoughts on this?

antidepressants

In case you’re wondering how I gained all the weight in the first place… I blame it on antidepressants.

I never really struggled with weight at all (although I thought I was fat at 135 pounds — what was I thinking???) until I started taking antidepressants when I was 19.  I started taking them after a traumatic event happened in my life.  A friend who knew better told me not to take them and to work through the trauma on my own, but it just seemed too hard to face the pain.

The family practice doctor started me on Paxil, but it made my mouth feel incredibly dry.  He switched me to a low dose of Effexor.  It wasn’t doing much good for my anxiety or depression, so he referred me to a psychiatrist.  She gave me a higher dose of Effexor as well as Trazodone for help with my insomnia problem.  For the next year and a half, she kept increasing my doses, because I never felt any better on them.  In fact, I didn’t feel anything at all.  I didn’t even care whether I got out of bed some mornings, unless it was to eat and then go back to bed.

When I was taking these antidepressants, I was a full-time college student, and I was in an aerobics class that met three times per week for my PE credit.  One day, after aerobics, I changed back into my jeans, and they wouldn’t button.  Just like that.  I had to go to my next class, but I couldn’t breathe because the jeans were too tight.  I’ll never forget it.  How could I gain weight if I was doing aerobics three times a week?

So, for the next year and a half, while feeling nothing and caring about very little, I gained over 100 pounds.  While I might have eaten a little more than usual at that time, it was certainly not enough to gain that much weight.  (You’d have to eat a lot of donuts to double your body weight in a year and a half.)  I have since learned that antidepressants can shut down liver/metabolic functions, and I’m convinced that’s what happened to me.   I also craved carbohydrates like crazy.  Many nights, I’d just eat tortillas for dinner (and, occasionally, cookies for dessert)… nothing else.  Since there is little to no nutritional value in these foods, I needed to eat more and more of them, since my body was asking for nutrition.  I would try to satisfy the need for real nutrients, but it never happened.  Since I never had a weight problem until then, I didn’t know anything about nutrition or weight loss.

The psychiatrist never permitted me to come off the antidepressants.  (She said I needed them because I was depressed… of course I was depressed!  I was getting fatter and fatter by the minute!)  So I made the decision to end them on my own.  The withdrawl was terrifying… I could not just stop them “cold turkey”… had to do it a little at a time.  My body had become addicted to these chemicals, and it didn’t know what to do without them.  And, I found out later that at the end of my Effexor run, the psychiatrist had me on a dose normally reserved for somebody in an inpatient mental health facility!

In late 2003/early 2004, right before I started losing weight, I had a personal situation that convinced the doctor I needed Lexapro, another antidepressant.  I told her about what Effexor and Trazodone did to me, but she assured me this one was different.  So I took them.  They made me so tired, I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning.  Afraid of losing my job, I threw them away.  (I would really be depressed if I got fired!)  Perhaps some people have better luck with antidepressants, but they just do me more harm than good.  I will never put them into my body again.

I do have to wonder, though… although there may be some cases where people actually need antidepressants due to an imbalance in the brain, how often do doctors prescribe antidepressants when they are not necessary?  Unfortunate events are a part of life — maybe we should not just automatically take pills when they happen.  On the other hand, my father-in-law took them for a few months as he was grieving my mother-in-law’s death, and he was able to stop them with no problems after he felt better.  So, maybe it is just a matter of individual reactions to these drugs.

The doctor that prescribed the Lexapro had drug ads plastered all over the office (Lexapro clock, Lexapro tissue box, Lexapro pen… anyone who has been to a doctor’s office in recent years has seen this.)  Once, while I was waiting for her, I saw a drug rep approach another physician in the office with a big shopping bag full of antidepressant samples.  The rep said to the doctor, “These will be very helpful to you, especially with the holidays coming up.”  (It was October or November, I think.)  I thought it was one of the most insensitive things I’d ever heard!

Do I think antidepressants made me fat?  Yes.  Do I have proof?  Not scientific proof.  Google antidepressants weight gain and you’ll see that there are many conflicting opinions about this. 

the psychology (and physics) of weight loss

“The Psychology of Weight Loss” is the title of a chapter in the Atkins book.  While he did a fairly good job at addressing some of the issues associated with psychology and weight loss, I think there are some psychological concerns associated with losing weight that are difficult to understand unless you’ve actually experienced losing a large amount of weight yourself.  And these psychological issues bleed into the physical issues.

The biggest of these issues, for me, is recognizing the “new me.”  I spend a lot of time staring at the “before” and “after” pictures I’ve posted here, trying to comprehend the “new me.”  It’s like my brain has not yet caught up with the physical realities of my changed body.

Yesterday, I worked out with my personal trainer, who, of course, is beautiful and has a perfect body.  We did “core” exercises together (the “core” includes the muscles in your abdominals, back, etc.) in front of a mirror in the gym.  I had a difficult time looking at myself in the mirror during the workout, because I felt like my body looked so awful compared to her body.

Why do I do this to myself?  I’ve lost 120 pounds, and I still see this fat blob of a body sometimes when I look at myself!  Besides, after what I’ve been through, I shouldn’t expect my body to compare with the trainer’s body; she’s never been overweight a day in her life. My trainer has told me that it’s not just fat I still have to lose to get to my goal of 150 pounds, it’s also “extra skin.”  The skin thing is definitely contributing to my “fat blob of a body” self-image.

While it may or may not fix this psychological issue, I do think I might need surgery to fix the “extra skin” problem.  Nobody ever told me about the “extra skin” problem that results when you lose this much weight.  When I started losing weight, I thought my body would just snap back to its original 130 pound shape, just like it was in high school.  WRONG!!!  I found this article, published in March 2004, after it was too late and I already had the issue.  Somebody I know had a tummy tuck operation after losing 80 pounds, and lost more weight as well as 2 more sizes.

Of course, it is not standard practice for health insurance companies to pay for these procedures, because they are considered “cosmetic” and therefore not medically necessary.  Are they really just cosmetic?  If a tummy tuck could improve my self-image, would that not be considered mental health?  And if I could lose more weight as a result of a tummy tuck, and it puts me in whatever range the powers that be consider a “normal” weight (whatever that means), could that not be considered “medically necessary”?

Sorry… didn’t mean to start a rant.  But, I do think if the medical community wants to keep lecturing Americans about how they need to lose weight (Aggie Doctor included), they need to really find ways to support us both physically and psychologically as we do it.  Just telling people to “diet and exercise” will not help.  I had to do massive amounts of my own reading and research to understand how and why bodies respond to things we do (or don’t do) to them, and I still read things almost every day.

Wow!  No wonder it’s so difficult to lose weight.

Step 2

I want to thank everyone who’s visited and/or written such lovely comments on this blog so far.  I’ve only been blogging here for 4 days, and I’ve already had up to 40 views in one day.  And, I’m still elated that southernfriedfatty has named “Gain this!” her first “blog of the week”. 

But, as David Letterman says, “That’s not why you called.”  Step 2, for me, was exercise.  The Atkins book, which was really a bible for me in those early months of my weight loss, plainly stated that if you are not exercising, you are not “doing Atkins.”  I took it seriously.

For me, adding exercise was even more difficult than changing my diet, and I told you yesterday how difficult it was to change my diet!  It wasn’t really so much the discipline as it was the physical act of exercise.  At 300 pounds, I could barely make it up the stairs to my third floor apartment, let alone go to a gym for the explicit purpose of exercising.

I started with two things.  The first was the fitness center at my apartment complex.  At first, I was pushing myself too hard to even walk 2 miles per hour on the treadmill, and using the treadmill hurt my lower back.  A friend suggested that I should try the elliptical machine, because it creates little or no impact on your joints.  It was much more comfortable for me.  In those days, I wasn’t comfortable going to work out without my husband (who has much longer legs and has never had a serious weight problem!), but I got over that soon enough.

The second thing was Leslie Sansone’s “Walk Away the Pounds”.  A friend said she was using it; she told me it was a DVD that you could use to lift weights (toning) and walk (cardio), right there in your own home.  At first, the thought seemed silly — why would marching in place do anything significant toward improving your fitness level and lose weight? — but I borrowed hers, and then I went out and bought my own copy.  I really loved it because I could do it in 20-30 minutes, I didn’t have to go to a gym where people could see how fat and out of shape I was, and I was seeing results from it!  I remember doing it at 6 AM, before my husband got out of bed.  He crawled out to the living room, still attempting to wake up, and I was already awake, energized for the day, and starting breakfast.  I don’t use Leslie’s DVDs anymore, because my fitness level has surpassed what she provides in them, but they sure were wonderful in the beginning.  (hint: in my opinion, the music on the DVDs is a bit cheesy, so I just muted the sound on the TV and listened to my Walkman/iPod/whatever.)

It really is true that exercise gives you energy and makes you feel better… and you don’t have to be in shape already to feel better from it.  Just take it slowly in the beginning, and it will get easier every day.  After you do it for a certain amount of time, you will actually feel worse if you don’t exercise.  Today, I actually get irritated about it if I can’t exercise, such as when my job gets really busy or when I have to travel. 

People have told me, “I don’t have time to exercise”, “I’m too tired to exercise”, and so on,  when I talk to them about the weight I’ve lost.  Believe me, I’ve “been there”, more than you can imagine, and there have been times in the last three years when I really was not able to exercise because of issues in my life.  During these times, however, I felt worse, and my weight loss stopped.  Losing weight simply will not happen if I don’t exercise. 

More on how to exercise in future posts…  just like I didn’t know how to eat a healthy diet, I also didn’t know how to exercise. 

Step 1

Just a day or two after I talked with the woman at the grocery store who I mentioned yesterday, I stopped at a drug store.  I think I needed makeup remover or something else completely unrelated to drugs.

Right there, at the entrance to the store, there was a display containing copies of Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution.  My first reaction was to roll my eyes at it.  The Atkins diet had been receiving a lot of press at that time, and I’d already completely dismissed the idea of the diet.  (This dismissal was based on misinformation; I really thought Atkins consisted of eating pounds of bacon to lose weight.)  I stood there and flipped through the book for a minute, and decided it was worth a shot… I was so lost and desperate and sick at that time, I figured it couldn’t hurt to at least read the book.  So I paid for the book and the makeup remover and left.

My husband worked late that night, so I went to dinner by myself at this Long John Silver’s/Pizza Hut restaurant nearby.  While eating my fried fish, french fries, and drinking a huge Coke, I started to read Chapter 1 of Atkins’ book.  “Give me two weeks”, he promised.  Two weeks?  OK.  I can do anything for two weeks.

So, after some more careful studying of the book, and having just bought a weeks’ worth of groceries that did not follow the Atkins Rules of Induction, I returned to the grocery store.  When the staples of your diet include sandwiches made with white bread, Mountain Dew Code Red, yogurt with gobs of added sugars, waffles, and frozen Lean Cuisine meals, it is difficult to figure out how to shop for Atkins’ Induction.  I was visiting areas of the grocery store I never really considered visiting.  (You mean I have to cut up vegetables and cook meats and buy blocks of cheese that require slicing?)  As a part-time student and a full-time employee, food preparation was not in my frame of reference.

Those first few days were so incredibly hard.  My husband and I went to eat at a local restaurant that serves wonderful rolls, and I had to push the roll basket to his side of the table, so I would smell them less and feel less tempted.  At the restaurant, I had to ask for a lot of modifications to be made to my order… I was actually embarrassed to ask for no croutons on the salad and for no rice with the entree.  I hadn’t really drank a bottle of water in years — always drank Coke, Mountain Dew Code Red, or maybe milk if I was feeling health-minded.

But you know what?  Two days after starting Induction, I weighed five pounds less, down from 300 to 295.  I was thrilled and optimistic and hopeful.  Maybe this was actually going to work!  I told one of my co-workers, who had lost about 40 pounds on the South Beach Diet already, about my 5-pound loss.  She said, “Well, it’s probably just water, but it’s still weight.”  I wasn’t even sure what she meant by that… I still had SO much to learn about weight loss!

Prehistory

Not long before the ER visit I described yesterday, I visited a doctor who made me feel very angry and hurt.  My husband and I call him Aggie Doctor, because he had Texas A&M paraphernalia tacked all over his examination room.  He was not my usual doctor, but worked in the same office as my primary care doctor at the time.

I had to see him that day because I felt very ill.  My feet were swollen and tingly, my head was rushing, and I felt like fainting (I may have; I don’t remember for sure.)  My husband had to miss work to drive me there because I was not feeling well enough to drive. 

I didn’t like Aggie Doctor.  He was just rude.  He said my problems were likely related to my high blood pressure.  He increased the dosage on my blood pressure medicine, and lectured me about my weight.  He told me to lose weight and said, “This blood pressure incident should be a wake-up call for you.  You really need to lose some weight.”

Wake-up call?  Like I didn’t know I was fat until he pointed it out?  I was a size 28 and was on the verge of being too fat for Lane Bryant clothes!  I had tried losing weight in the past, but nothing was ever terribly successful.  I tried low-fat, but I was hungry all the time.  I tried the Jared Subway thing, but I got bored with it.  Honestly, I didn’t know how to lose weight.  Aggie Doctor didn’t give me any clues, either; he just gave me a lecture, a prescription, and the bill.

I really can’t say whether Aggie Doctor helped me get on the right track.  What I decided shortly after I started losing weight was this:  when I reached my goal weight, I was going to get dressed up in a short, tight, leather mini-skirt, go into his office, lean over his desk, and coo sultrily, “Wake-up call…”  My husband is in completely in favor of the idea, because he knows it would end there, and because he thought Aggie Doctor was a jerk.

I didn’t go back to that office after that, not even to see my usual doctor.  A few days later, my husband and I were at the grocery store, and I was staring blankly at frozen dinners, trying to decide which ones would help me lose weight.  A woman in the aisle struck up a conversation with me, and it turned out she had just lost about 60 pounds.  She gave me the name of her doctor — “this doctor actually listens“, the woman told me, so I switched doctors immediately.  The idea of a doctor actually listening sounded incredibly intriguing.  And she was right — the new doctor did listen, and I never looked back.  (I don’t go to her anymore, because she decided to become a fibromyalgia specialist rather than a general practitioner.  I love my new doctor even more, but she’s a post for another day.)

Prelude

Flashback to the spring of 2004. I was a 29-year-old, 5’4″ woman who weighed 300 pounds. My blood pressure was 145/95, even with medication.

It happened at the hospital. The Moment. I had decided to try traditional Chinese medicine to lower my blood pressure and lose weight. But, an unintended adverse reaction caused by a prescribed herbal tea led me to the emergency room. The emergency room nurse could not get the IV needle in my vein using normal procedures because my arm was too fat for him to find the vein. He led my husband and me to some scary-looking back room, where he used an enormous needle to reach my vein, and I almost fainted when the needle punctured it. I cried from the pain and from the embarrassment.

My husband and I were in the emergency room for over five hours that night. We never saw a doctor; our hopelessly brilliant lack of a civilized health care system causes many people with no health insurance and little money to use the ER as their primary care physician, and hospitals are woefully ill-equipped for this demand. Around 2 am, I started feeling much better, so we just went home.

Sometime in hour 2, I think, the aforementioned Moment hit me. I thought (and said to my husband), “That’s IT. I’m tired of being fat. I’m tired of being sick. I need to do something about this.”

So I did. At the time, I had no idea what the “something” would be. Little did I know there would be many “somethings”, and that none of them would be easy. But, nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

Fast forward to April 2007. I am a 32-year-old, 5’4″ woman who weighs 180 pounds. My blood pressure is 112/70, without medication. I look and feel years younger than I did when I was 29. I am a stronger person, both physically and emotionally. I never imagined I would have a waist again, or that I would ever be told by a clothing salesperson that I should go shop in the juniors’ department.  I stil want to lose about 30 more pounds, so I can reach my goal of 150, but needing to lose 30 pounds sounds much more manageable than needing to lose 150 pounds (half my size, effectively.)

So many people ask me, “That is amazing! How did you lose all that weight?” that I’ve decided to start a blog about it. Now, usually when I start to tell people how I did it, they say things like, “Oh, I could never give up sugar” or “Forget it — I don’t have time to exercise.” I don’t mean to sound like Dr. Phil, but the decision to make yourself healthy is a choice you have to make on your own. I can’t make you do the things I have done to bring myself back to health, nor can I give you the inner emotional strength you need to do this. But what I can offer you is this: “weigh” the choices. If you are overweight and unhealthy, you can continue on your current path (not a desirable option, for sure!) or you can follow a new one and become less overweight and more healthy. Once you see how much better you will feel after you make the changes, you may not want to go back to your old habits. (I know I don’t.)

I plan to share not only my weight loss tips, but also my personal story… you don’t get to be 300 pounds without a story, believe me. Also, I’ll share anything I think might be related to the general topic here. After all, it’s my blog, and my story, but it’s not my weight anymore!

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