Before I start talking about my current attempt to return to a healthier lifestyle, I thought I'd share my backstory. Everyone's motivations and circumstances are different, and I want to make it abundantly clear that my thoughts are my own, and are certainly not meant to hurt or discourage anyone dealing with a similar struggle.
I bring this up because for some reason, the second some people discover you're following any kind of diet plan, they feel entitled to comment on your food choices and/or your body. It's really difficult for me to take you seriously when you express concern over the amount of cholesterol in the ten olives I've placed atop my salad while you sit down next to me with a couple of slices of pepperoni pizza (yes, this really happened). Hey, I'm not judging the pizza eater here – good pizza fucking rules! I'm just saying, maybe we can all agree that offering unsolicited opinions or advice about other people's dietary preferences or bodies should be off limits.
Growing up, I was a fairly thin child, and aside from gaining and losing the normal "freshman fifteen" in college, I never really struggled with weight gain. During my junior year in college, I lived off campus and had a job at a liquor store. Devoid of the copious amounts of healthy options available at my school's dining hall, I found myself eating mostly cheap processed foods. Also, being that I was in my early twenties and worked at a liquor store with other people in their early twenties, I managed to drink my fair share of alcohol, which often resulted in late night takeout or delivery. When I began working a regular 9-5 job at a financial firm, I didn't do much to change this – there were always leftovers from lunch meetings (which usually consisted of greasy sandwiches, chips, and cookies), and since I was making more money, I dined out more frequently.
I was always pretty active as a kid, but usually by way of group activities. I had never really been in situations where I needed to self-motivate to be active, so when the time came for me to do this, I just didn't.
It wasn't a healthy way to live by any stretch of the imagination, and I'm not sure whether it was getting fitted for a bridesmaid's dress for my best good friend's wedding, or when I noticed my walk had become more of a waddle, but at some point I realized this wasn't the person I wanted to be. I bought the South Beach cookbook and joined the gym, but after a couple of false starts, nothing stuck, and the bad habits continued.
I guess this is where I show you what I call my before picture:
Around the time this photo was taken, some coworkers had started talking about putting together a Weight Watchers at work program. A meeting leader would come to the office once a week at lunch time, we'd weigh in, and talk about our achievements and struggles over the previous week, offering each other suggestions and support. Between meetings, we'd track our food using Weight Watchers' proprietary Points algorithm and follow the recommended good health guidelines. At the end of the program, which I think was seven weeks, I'd lost close to twenty pounds. A couple of months later, I decided to start attending Weight Watchers meetings at one of their locations, eventually losing another twenty pounds. In addition to feeling and looking the best I had in a very long time, I also felt confident I'd be able to use the skills I had learned while working the program to maintain a healthy lifestyle going forward. Here's what I'll call my goal weight picture:
I even hired a mariachi band to celebrate! Just kidding, this was at a friend's wedding eight or so months after I'd achieved my goal weight.
I managed to stay at or around my goal weight over the next three years. I even developed a running hobby, and completed my first marathon in 2011. Not being used to sustained activity for such long periods of time, I often found myself super hungry after long runs, and rewarded myself with unhealthy food in large quantities. Gaining weight during marathon training is actually fairly common, and while I didn't put on too many pounds, it was something I wanted to avoid repeating when I decided to train for my second marathon in 2012. I joined Weight Watchers online this time around, intent on maintaining realistic expectations of what was a reasonable amount to eat during weeks of high mileage running.
This also happens to be around the time my marriage imploded, so it's hard to say whether Weight Watchers or stress caused me to drop twenty pounds (likely a combination of the two), but I was the smallest I'd been since elementary school and I ran my fastest marathon to date! I loved shopping – the clothes I was trying on not only fit, they looked awesome, and one time a lady stopped me on the street to tell me I looked "chic". It was a really weird time, because even though I thought I looked great, I felt like complete shit. I wasn't consuming enough calories, and most of the calories I was consuming came from alcohol. I didn't really sleep, and when I did, I'd sweat through my sheets and wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety. Granted, I was running a lot, but that was mostly because it was too early to start drinking and I didn't know what else to do with myself.
At some point, I started keeping track of how much I was drinking, but even before I started doing that, I knew that wasn't the person I wanted to be.
This was at the Myrtle Beach Half Marathon in 2013. This picture doesn't do a great job of showing how thin I'd actually gotten, but trust me when I say I was anything but healthy.
Slowly but surely, I started getting back on track and feeling more like myself again. I eventually met Casey about a month before he moved to Austin. We were almost inseparable during his last month in Boston, enjoying frequent meals out, because his time in Boston, and our time together, was nearing an end. We did the long distance thing for a year, taking turns visiting each other, once again eating the majority of our meals at restaurants. When I finally followed Casey to Austin, my eating habits changed – have you been to Austin? The food there is incredible, and I'm pretty sure I ate most of it. During all this time, a little bit of weight had crept on, but I attributed it to coming out of what was most likely depression combined with being in a new relationship. I was also running somewhat regularly and working out with Project Austin: a grassroots free fitness group that meets early in the morning twice a week. All the exercise was definitely helping to keep things in check.
Living in Austin, I had moments when I was happy and enjoying myself, but despite the amazing food and meeting some great people, I really struggled there. Austin never felt like home, and the more homesick I felt, the less motivated I felt to get out of bed, let alone get up early to get out for a run or a Project Austin workout. Also, if you've never been to Texas in the summer, it's hot, like really hot. For real, I'd look at my weather app at 7am and think, "oh cool, it's only 80º right now...with 86% humidity". Not exactly optimal running conditions for this northerner who has no qualms running in single digit temps. I was sad and sedentary, and I was bartending, consuming above average quantities of beer.
During our road trip, there was some hiking and the occasional jaunt on a hotel gym treadmill. Unfortunately, those activities did very little to counter the damage we did eating and drinking our way all over the country.
Over the course of the last year, I'd estimate that I've gained somewhere around twenty-five pounds. Weight is funny like that, it doesn't all just pile on at once, but then, somehow, it's there. You rack your brain trying to figure out how it happened (despite knowing exactly how it happened), wondering, hoping even, if by some chance you're pregnant or you've developed a thyroid condition. That sounds messed up when I say it out loud, but pregnancy or a medical condition would almost be easier to accept than the fact that I've allowed myself to make enough unhealthy decisions that I've returned to a place I swore I'd never go back to.
I beat myself up repeatedly for a little while, maybe tearing up once or twice in a dressing room or when I try to put on my jeans after they've come out of the dryer. But I've realized that's not the person I want to be. I don't want to dwell on why I wasn't better, I want to focus on how to be better going forward.
I guess this is what I'll call my new before picture:
These were really hard to see, and even more difficult to post. On the plus side, this has me very motivated to post some badass after pictures in the not so distant future.