Other than "Did you really once drunkenly break your nose after drinking an entire bottle of sweet vermouth?" (yes) and "You do realize that you and David Duchovny are both happily married to other people and there is not ever going to be anything between you and also he's like the same age as your dad?" (LIES! LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU), the question I am most commonly asked is, "So how'd you lose all that freakin' weight?"
Well, I will tell you. It's not always something I'm comfortable talking about, but I'm trying to get over that and have decided to share the whole megillah here. First, some backstory. I had a very nice hourglass-style figure with a lovely flat stomach in high school. But because I was angsty and teenaged and heroin chic was supposedly the Hottest Thing Ever, I was not enamored of my figure back then. Which is such a shame, really. I hope my daughter doesn't go through that.
Here's me in eleventh grade, convinced I was about the dimensions of a missile silo. Not long after this was taken - inspired by the Victorians, I suppose - I thought about Ruby Gillis and Honoria Dedlock and there was something so terribly appealing about that sort of delicate, fragile beauty. I went through this dreadful Consumptive Heroine phase where I became a vegan and got way too thin and my hair was all limp and falling out. Sexy.
This is the summer before college. I had put some weight back on and, if I may say, looked pretty darn good. I worked at Abercrombie and Fitch and got a discount on their clothes. I looked like a prep school reject.
And this from around the time my husband and I started dating seriously. I was 19 here.
I put on a lot of weight after switching birth control and dealing with some depression. Then I quit smoking for our first anniversary and put on more weight. Which didn't so much help with the depression. Which, in turn, didn't so much help with the weight. Lather, rinse, repeat. Then I got pregnant with AlmondGirl and, one year later, with AlmondBoy. I don't really recognize myself in these pictures.
AlmondGirl was a few months old here. Yikes.
This is when she was around ten months old, at a Mother's Day picnic. (No, I did not eat the entire picnic myself.)
("After" pictures at the end, fear not!)
I lost some weight before getting pregnant with AlmondBoy (which was about two months after that Mother's Day picture was taken) but pregnancy put an end to that. I really, really wanted to lose the weight, but as you can tell, it had gotten pretty daunting. We bought a treadmill, but I felt too out of shape to use it. And I was too self-conscious for the gym. I was too self-conscious for almost everything, really. I am a total clotheshorse but hated clothes shopping because I was up to a size 28 at my heaviest. I made myself lots of promises, but never followed through. I considered a gastric bypass when AlmondBoy was about 8 months old, in November of '07. It felt like my only option, but the insurance company was giving a lot of pushback.
Note: None of what is about to follow is to be taken as expert advice. I'm not a nutritionist or a dietitian. I'm just sharing what worked for me.
Late in February of '08, I decided to order all nine seasons of The X-Files (shut up) on DVD. My mother would get on her treadmill for like an hour a day and watch TV or movie, but I knew there was no way I could even walk at a good clip for 44 minutes. I decided I'd watch an episode a day, half on the treadmill, half on the couch. So I started out by walking 22 minutes a day at 4 miles an hour. The weight loss goal ahead of me felt completely insurmountable, so I decided to ignore that number. I think of increments of ten pounds as "decades," so I just made my goal to get below the next "decade." That seemed manageable.
My issues with food have always revolved more about portion control than the actual content. I can count on my fingers the number of fast food meals I've eaten. My husband and I have always avoided processed food, and I have never been one to drink my calories. But the fact remains that even if it's homemade organic cheesecake, it's still cheesecake. So I started limiting desserts to weekends only. I forced myself to quit having seconds of anything other than veggies at dinner.
The first goal (around 8 pounds) came off in about two weeks. I bought a belt. Around that time I started noticing that I wasn't glancing hopefully at the timer on the treadmill anymore. I started watching 3/4 of an episode at a time, instead of half. Then I started adding a little speed. I still kept my weight loss goals small and manageable. I bought a few items of clothing I adored and hung them on the wall in front of the treadmill as inspiation. I overhauled my eating habits, and started running on the treadmill for short bursts. By midsummer, I could run for a whole episode at 5 miles an hour. I was down to a size 18. I wasn't compelled to shop in plus size stores/departments anymore, which was a huge milestone in itself.
In October, I ended up with Achilles tendonitis and had to quit using the treadmill as my primary source of exercise. I joined a gym (TERRIFYING that first day!) and started playing with the weight machines. I took a few classes, because they were all included in the price. I had been thin before, but never toned, and I loved how strong I started feeling.
Here's a list of some of the dietary changes and things that really helped me.
1 ) No carbs before noon or after 7 PM. This was just in the beginning, to really help me get used to a different way of eating. It, along with the dessert thing, was only for the first three months. Now, I don't buy into the Atkins thing so yeah, I was technically eating carbs because I'd have an apple or low-cal yogurt something for breakfast. But no "floury" carbs like bread, Goldfish, crackers, etc. The times I set were arbitrary, but for me, it made me really, really aware of what I was eating. No grabbing a granola bar on the way out, or eating Cheez-Its while I read before bed. It also made sure that I started my day by eating fruit and protein instead of crap. My metabolism really took off. Also, I try and have protein after every workout. You don't need to waste money on fancy protein bars. I have them on occasion, but they're high in calories and expensive. String cheese, beef jerky, a hard boiled egg, a yogurt. All good. I also use The Daily Plate when I start going off track, because it curbs impulse eating.
2 ) No desserts at first. Yeah, it really sucked for a while. But after 12 weeks of virtually eliminating sweets, I found they didn't taste so great anymore. Sugar gives me a headache now. I used to have a raging sweet tooth but it's gone now and I find it much easier to self-regulate. I can have a handful of M&Ms instead of a bag.
3 ) Avoid the temptation for all "diet" stuff. While I do like low-cal yogurts, that's one of the few things where I eat the "fake" kind. Not only is it less satisfying and makes you want more, artificial sweeteners can seriously fuck up your metabolism. So the diet soda, SnackWells, etc. really are best avoided. Stevia is pretty good for everyday use in coffee or tea.
4 ) Try to eat "volumetrically." Now, there is something called The Volumetric Diet, but I wouldn't even bother giving it a glance if I were you. I have found that "diets" don't work. Lifestyle changes work. So when I say "eat volumetrically," I mean to think about getting the most caloric bang for your buck. I love the 100 calorie packs of microwave popcorn. I mean, it's all that popcorn for 100 calories, or I can have 4 Old Tyme pretzels. Bulk up a turkey wrap with dried cranberries, bean sprouts, roasted corn, etc. They won't add many calories but they do add flavor and make you feel fuller. I'm also a big advocate of salads because they really stretch high calorie things things like cheese or crispy-skinned chicken.
5 ) Weigh yourself if you feel like it. Gym people will tell you not to weigh yourself more than once a week. Well, here's the thing. Gym people are not typically trying to lose large amounts of weight. When you've struggled with your weight for a long time, every single .5 pounds down can feel like a victory. I weigh myself far too often (I won't even tell you - it's pathological) but I'm not obsessed with it. It just really helps me stay focused and reminds me of how far I've come.
6 ) Don't get too wedded to calorie counting. Also, all calories are not created equal. 200 calories of lean protein and fresh vegetables is better for you than 75 calories of carbs. I lost most of my weight without calorie counting.
7 ) Buy some milestone pieces for your wardrobe. If you see some awesome jeans on sale that are 2 sizes too small, buy them if you can afford it. Try them on every so often. I have found that it really gives me a tangible connection and makes this really feel like a journey. On a related note, hang on to a few things that are too big. You lose perspective of how much weight you've lost after a while and it helps ground you.
8 ) Set manageable goals. You will psych yourself out if you try to lose 40 pounds or whatever. Pick a small goal. My first goal was to get down to the next set of numbers. Doing it in pieces made it easier. I also tied that in with the milestone clothes I got. Sometimes, instead of a pound goal, I'd decide that I wanted to be in the blue skirt by June.
9 ) Drink lots of water. Lots and lots. I try to drink enough that my sweat barely tastes salty. Staying hydrated reduces hunger, builds stamina, flushes out fat, keeps your skin looking young, and can increase your metabolism by up to 3%. Also, what many people don't know is that in humans, the thirst sensation is often hugely overshadowed by the hunger sensation. Many times we eat when we're actually thirsty. I used to have signs on my pantry and fridge that said, "are you sure you aren't thirsty?" After two months it became reflexive to drink first when I was going for a snack.
I've lost 117 pounds. It took me about 18 months, and I've kept it off since. I'm planning to have some plastic surgery to tighten up the areas where the skin is too stretched to snap back, but I feel like a different person. It's amazing.
Every year, in early March, my husband and I go to a particular charity event. Here's a picture of us on our way there in March of '08, just after I started losing weight. I am wearing a corset and support hose under that dress.
Here's us a year later, about to head out. Beneath this dress? Plain old cotton underwear.
Here are a few more after shots that I really like.
Anyway. That's my story.