Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Before and Nearly After

I'm a big fan of "before and after."  I love the idea of starting with something, and seeing change over time, no matter what it is or how much time has passed.  I LOVED the show "Trading Spaces" and watched it religiously, not because I was decorating anything, but because I loved seeing how people re-made their lives.  The designers were fine, the paint colors pretty - but it was the big reveal - and how the homeowners responded that sucked me in.

That led to "Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition," which I still cannot watch because I can't take the crying - and by that, I mean my own.  Ty Pennington, who began with Trading Spaces, launched this show and has probably changed more people's lives than he can imagine- and that's pretty cool.

Then came the darker side of before and after - "Hoarders."  That show makes my skin crawl, and not in the interesting, celebrity-laced, "Grey Gardens" sort of way.  The "before" of Hoarders, because it is chock full of sadness and real human turmoil, is more than I can take.  Enter next the endless parade of rehab and intervention shows, often in a marathon on A&E, and soon you'll find me on the floor in the fetal position, drooling on myself out of sheer sadness for these people.

Some before and after stories are not intended.  Think about President Clinton - before he was in the Oval Office, he was young and vibrant.  After his years in the White House, like most presidents, he is aged and gray beyond what most may think is appropriate for only 8 years, but in some ways more distinguished (and to my mind, much more handsome).

Some are inspiring.  Songbird Susan Boyle's makeover transformation is just amazing - she looks younger and prettier.  The same can be said of my perennial favorite, Madonna - gone is the Material Girl look, only to be supplanted dozens of times by her many faces, each one more beautiful as she gets older.

What the hell was I thinking?
My life is now going through a big before and after.  In fact, it's practically unrecognizable to anyone who knew me 5 years ago... back then, I was married to a different man, living in Florida, working at a completely different place.  Add to this my past 12 weeks on this diet, and you see a whole different girl - new name, new hairdo, new body, new family - new life.  If you go back even further, like high school, it's an even more dramatic change.  In my defense, I say that first of all, it was 1990.  Oh, the hair and makeup - I know.  The tragedy of it all.  But hark - is that a jawline?  All I remember is thinking I was fat back then - but I see no evidence of it now.

This week, I weighed in, and here are the stats:

Weight 227.
2 lbs. lost this week.
41 lbs. lost total.

These photos document the start of Week 13.  

The fact that I've lost over 40 lbs, and I'm feeling really excited about that, makes me think about the "after" quite a lot.  What will that look like?  Will I be grayer around the temples, but more attractive like President Clinton?  Will I change my hair to blonde like the Material Girl? Will I actually find my way through the next 3-5 months of this diet and emerge a svelte 160-pound woman?  And what the heck is that woman going to wear?  

I don't know.  I just know that I've had enough "before."  I'm ready for my "after."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Timing is Everything

Someone recently said to me:  "I can't believe, with how busy you are and how much stress you must have in your life, that you're trying to lose weight.  I just can't imagine it."  

This very kind person, who knows that my life is currently a never-ending to-do-list, both at work and at home, meant it in a complimentary fashion, I know.  So, I smiled and said, "yeah, I know..." and walked on.

In truth, I had a lot more to say, but my busy life prevented me from doing so.  I also didn't want to be rude, and felt like the things I might say would be taken the wrong way.  But the incident has stayed with me for a few days now - kind of stuck in my craw, if you will - and I think I'm starting to figure out why.

In processing this short conversation, I did a little self-inventory, starting with this question:  "When, in the past 39 years, have I NOT been busy and stressed?"


I'm pretty sure, even as a toddler, I was on the run.  I know I was a busy high-schooler, involved in ninety million extra-curriculuar activities and managing (what felt like) the social life of one of the Real Housewives of Pennsauken.  In college, it was no different, and after college, while working hard to realize my career ambitions, I stayed at mach-speed.  

In fact, the only time I can remember ever sitting still was when I broke my neck at the age of 19.  I was in a halo collar (scaffolding for the body, basically, that's bolted to your skull) for quite some time, and hence, did very little.  (This is also when my metabolism took a vacation, and it still has yet to return.)  During that time, I remember two things:  making a counted cross-stitch sampler for my cousin who was getting married, and buying lots of stuff I didn't need from the Home Shopping Network.  (Clearly, I don't do well with sitting still.)  But once my neck had healed, I was back in the car, going at mach-10, and hardly missing a beat.

With all this in mind, I can honestly say that right now is one of the busiest times in my life... which is probably why my friend asked me the question at hand.  I'm working a lot, and my job is busy and stressful because of our quickly-approaching opening date.  I'm learning to be a mom and a wife, having just gotten married in June.  I'm trying not to lose my painting and drawing practice.  I've got a house to take care of, now filled with people.  And, on top of it all, I'm trying to lose 100 pounds.  

When I write it all out like that, it does sound nuts.

But here's the thing:  there will always be a reason NOT to diet.  There will always be an "out" if I want it.  And oh, how I've used them in the past:

I'm too tired and stressed...  It's the holidays...  I'm trying to adjust to married/divorced  life...  I'm opening a museum... I had a fight with my parents...  They opened a Five Guys in town...  I don't think I'm that fat, really...  Nothing works...  

To all of this I call shenanigans.  

There will ALWAYS be something.  Some holiday, some fight that makes me want to eat a jar of peanut butter, some busy-thing at work that has me stressed, some parenting issue that keeps us up talking late at night.  

There will never be a time where all these things evaporate, and I land in a utopia of perfectness:  a place where people work 8-5 and sleep like babies for 8 hours each night.  Where teenagers make their beds, and take the belts out of their jeans before they do their own laundry.  Where dust bunnies disappear just because I saw them, and healthy meals appear in ovens - perfectly cooked - in 10 minutes.  Where nail polish doesn't chip, checkbooks balance themselves, savings accounts multiply on a monthly basis, and Golden Girls reruns never end.  (Okay, the Hallmark channel is pretty close on that last one.)

This "perfect storm of ideal dieting conditions" doesn't exist.  

In the same way, the idea that becoming thin will magically make all of the misguided parts of my life fall into place is also hooey.  I'll be thinner - yes.  Maybe even a hottie.  I'll surely be healthier and know what not to eat anymore. But I will still need a 401(k), Clorox Wipes, and earplugs to keep my sweet husband's snoring at bay.  I know this.  I have no delusions.  Maybe that's why I've picked this strange, busy time to tackle my fatness... because I've never known any other kind.

In truth, removing the question of "what should I eat?" from my already ridiculously-busy day has been fantastic.  What should I eat?  A shake.  Maybe pudding.  And then I'm done... and back to the grind.  It's probably, in retrospect, the most brilliant thing I could have done.  Not to mention that I'm getting all my nutrition in, which I absolutely could not say before - and might be the reason I feel good nearly all the time, despite my crazy life.

The answer I really wanted to give was this:  

There's no better time for me to do this.  I don't believe in waiting for the perfect moment to do things, like get married, have babies, buy a house, a car, or even, start a life-changing diet.  There is no such thing.  If I sit and wait for the perfect time to start living my life, I'll have wasted my actual life.  And I'm not that girl.

Maybe next time.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Weekly Weigh In #11: Running the Numbers

This week, I weighed in on the Body Composition Scale, so I have more numbers to report than usual.

Weight:  229
Pounds lost:  2 lbs.
39 lbs. lost total.

When I started this diet, my body mass index was 48.3.  My doctor said this was good because people who typically are over 50 have a much harder time losing weight, so I started at the right time.  This week, it was down to 41.  

The analysis of the 39 lbs. I've lost showed that only one pound of this weight loss is muscle mass - the rest is fat (or water).  That is a BIG deal - that means this kind of diet is the right kind for me, because I'm not losing muscle mass.  It also means that this relatively rapid weight loss I'm doing is not hurting my body in a way that might be a problem later... it's healthy for me, and it's working well.

At the start of my diet, my waist measurement was 51.5 inches.  This week, it is 45.5.  I have lost 6 inches in my waist.  My neck measurement was 16 inches, and now it's just under 15 inches.  (This explains why my snoring is practically gone.)

We did not take measurements in June of my hips and bust, but I measured them at the end of August when trying to figure out what my clothing sizes would be.  At that time, my hips were 55 inches... they are now 53 inches.  My bust measurement hasn't changed since late August - the girls are holding steady at 51 inches.  (Oh, how I wish they'd get smaller already...)

So, in total, I've lost 9 inches that I'm aware of, 39 pounds, and a ton of insecurity.

All of these numbers are a great indicator of what I'm achieving.  But I had a few other indicators this week, too.  More than a few people walked up to me and said, "you're really looking great!"  I felt great standing in front of groups of people and talking with media.  I wasn't wondering if I should suck in my belly all the time - I was just confident that I looked better - even pretty.  All of this matters.  Every bit.

This coming week, I'll learn a little more about how this diet is making me healthier - I had blood work done this past week, and will get the numbers on Wednesday.  I'm eager to see if my cholesterol is getting better, and hopeful that sometime soon I'll be able to stop taking that medicine.  

The realization of all this progress has me thinking about something else.  It's incredible what we do to ourselves, willingly.  By being overweight, my health was in jeopardy in ways that I wasn't acknowledging... my heart was working too hard, I was snoring, feeling tired and fatigued in my legs and feet, and my cholesterol was awful.  And I did that to myself - nobody else is to blame.  I ate the greasy burgers, the mountains of cheetos.  Year after year of ignoring nutrition has led directly here.  It's amazing to think that not only is the long term affect dangerous - but it's totally reversible.  And for that, I'm grateful.

This diet isn't just about how I look.  It's about making sure I'm around for a long, long time... to open museums, run errands, take vacations, and smooch my husband... to see my niece grow into a beautiful young woman, and my stepson grow into a strong young man... to do things I haven't even dreamed up yet.  And to look fantastic doing it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Weekly Weigh In #10: Lookin' for my bling.

I have always loved fall.  I love the cooler weather, the foods that happen inside the kitchen on colder days, and the free pass to wear as much pumpkin orange as I want.  I love Halloween, and Thanksgiving, and enjoy watching the leaves turn lots of different shades of red and gold.  And now, I have a new reason to love fall:  boots.  Let me explain.

This week, I weighed in, and had a fantastic week:

Weight:  231
6 pounds lost
37 pounds total.

To celebrate, rather than have a cheesesteak (which is what I really wanted), I decided to try and update my style a bit.  This was one part necessity - my pants are no longer close to fitting - and one part desire.  So, I went out and got two new pairs of pants that actually fit, and dug a little deeper into the back of my closet for those shirts that had not been worn in ages.  They now fit beautifully - they button without gaping at the stress points, and hang the way they should.  In fact, my boxy tee shirts are looking less and less appealing every day compared to the tailored shirts of my past.

The reality here is that at some point, everything that fits me now will be taken to Goodwill before I'm through.  At some point, I will have an entirely new wardrobe.  For most women, this is a great perk - new clothes!  Woo hoo!  But for me, someone who has never been good at choosing clothes or assembling outfits, this is something daunting... and so, I will approach it like I do any project:  research and planning.

I'm reading magazines, paying more attention to what stylish people wear, making an effort to take steps now that I can, like accessorizing with jewelry instead of scarves that hide my entire upper half.  But, most importantly, I'm watching the fabulous Stacey London and Clinton Kelly on What Not To Wear with a whole new attitude: research.

On this week's show, they gave us a formula that was so simple, but so brilliant, I have memorized it already:  


This was a revelation.

Pick a top you love, put a neutral bottom with it, and then a completer piece - a sweater, jacket, or the like - to tie it together and maybe interject some color.  (Any of these three pieces can be the "LOVE" item, it doesn't always have to be the top.  Then, put some amazing shoes (bling!) and another killer accessory like bangles or a sweet necklace (bling!) with a great bag (my own addition) and you have an honest-to-God outfit.

I have never thought about it like this.  I have a closet of pieces, most of them interchangeable because they're either black or khaki... but I have few actual outfits.  And now, it's time to change that.

So, I inventoried my closet and realized that while my clothes may need to wait to be replaced, I can begin with the bling bling now.  I surveyed the wall of shoes, and almost immediately I had a miniature heart attack when I realized they're both boring and uninformed - and not one damn shoe is a part of an outfit.  I immediately started scrolling through my memory of the show, and realized that my problem was COLOR.  Oh, Stacey and Clinton - you put saffron yellow shoes with a red dress?  GENIUS!  A great little animal print wedge with jeans and a dark blue shirt, you say?  WHY, YES!  I have a whole new interest in shoes now, and so, decided I'd go try and find a pair that the dynamic duo would approve of.

I journeyed out to find some shoes that might be bling-worthy, but also wearable across the many acres of my museum on a daily basis.  I have some reliable clogs that are black leather from Land's End that are trusty and comfortable for when I'm on my feet all day, but I wanted more than just that.  I wanted dark red suede wedges and leopard print strappy sandals and... boots.  Real, awesome boots.

My boot desire is new.  I think I never wanted them before because I couldn't zip them over my ample calves.  So, I went out in search of a low boot that could be worn under pants, but give my outfits a kick.  And to my surprise, I found some great, distressed-leather dark blue boots that are mid-height - and comfortable.  They're kinda biker kick-ass, but would look great with jeans.  And, they were on sale.  DONE.  

And then, I saw another pair:  some tough but tailored gray suede boots, that go all the way to the knee.  And I began to sweat.  Should I try them on?  Do I DARE?  My internal monologue was very negative, and I nearly walked away... and then, I did the unthinkable.  I put them on, and zipped them up.  AND THEY FIT.  Suddenly, a whole world of options opened before me:  a skirt, in winter?  WELL, SURE!  Some capri-length pants in fall?  HECK YEAH!  I now understood all those magazine images of people in fantastic boots, looking happy to be toasty warm and devastatingly cool.  And now, I might be one step closer to being just like them.

As if Mother Nature herself was proud of my weight loss achievements, this morning, the weather was dramatically cooler outside.  Gone were the 90+ degree days of earlier this week - and a cool 48 degree morning was here.  It's going to linger a bit before getting warm again, they say - sounds like pretty good boot weather to me.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Weekly Weigh In #9: What matters most?

As I mentioned in my blog posts from the road, I spent last weekend on a road trip to Minnesota.  We attended a wedding, and had a beautiful weekend with family - but it was the first time since I began this diet that I ate food I shouldn't.  The scale responded accordingly.

Weight: 237

3 pounds gained.

I knew this would happen, and I have no regrets.  There are times in life when you allow yourself to celebrate a little with food.  This was one.  I did not eat 10,000 calories last weekend - I simply had some more carbohydrates than usual, and that pushed my body out of ketosis.  Casey said there's an excellent chance it's all water weight, and when I get back in the swing this week, it will come off with ease.

At the time of my weigh-in this past Wednesday, I was discouraged, of course.  I felt defeated and a little ashamed, even if I didn't regret doing it.  At that moment, my weight loss journey was the most important thing on the planet, and I had hit a speed bump.  

Unlike most weeks, where I weigh in that morning and write my blog post the same day, this week I waited.  I wonder if it's because I was subconsciously avoiding it, or if I actually was too busy this week to get to it until now (that's the story in my head.)  So, I woke up this morning, thinking I should post my numbers from this week, and feeling a bit of acceptance in the results of my weigh in.

I got cleaned up, made a cup of coffee, and began to think about how to approach today's writing.  Feeling uninspired, I switched on the television, and that's when I realized that it was 9/11, and almost exactly the same time of morning that the towers came under attack ten years ago.  My entire perspective shifted.

Some of my students at work in the classroom.
How has ten years passed since that day?  It seems only a minute ago that this happened, and yet, a lifetime ago.  I was 29, teaching at Manatee School For the Arts in Palmetto, Florida.  My classroom was a room at the back of the theater - a storage space converted into a classroom - and I was teaching drawing, animation, and stage makeup from that room.  It was one of the only places in the building that did not have a television.  I remember being in class with my Animation II kids, and someone coming in to tell us what happened.  We went into another class to watch what was happening, and felt like we were in a daze.  I spent the entire day worrying about all my friends in New York City, and secretly praying they were alright.  At the time, I was living with my sweet friend, Nathan, who also taught at the same school.  We sat in the living room watching the television all night, comforted by Brando the dalmatian.  

In the days that followed, we had no idea what to do with ourselves - besides watch television.  It seemed everything we thought of doing was somehow disrespectful or inappropriate - we should only be thinking of those who were lost and suffering.  If we watched a movie - or laughed - or even felt happy - it seemed wrong.  I think the whole world felt this way.  

A few of my students.
The one thing I knew I should definitely do, that felt completely right, was guide my students in how to process this event.  So, in the days after the attacks, we shelved all the projects we were working on, and began a series of more personal artworks that allowed them to process their feelings about the attacks through their artwork.  It helped me, too:  Those kids were (and still are) the embodiment of hope and the future for me.  I still can see the incredible promise in their eyes, and I still believe they are capable of anything.  

It's been ten years.  They are no longer kids, and neither am I.  

Nathan and Lucas.
So much has happened in ten years, both because of the 9/11 attacks, and independent of them.  Our country fought (and still fights) overseas against terrorism.  I shifted careers from teaching to museum education.  Soldiers went into Iraq and Afghanistan, I went from Florida to Arkansas. Babies who were orphaned in those attacks are now tweens.  Nathan and I both fell in love, and are now married to our soul mates.  People were lost.  Lives were stalled, ruined.  And some lives, now ten years later, are better than ever. 

I'm again reminded that life is about perspective.  Every day, you have to decide what matters most - today.  It will change from day to day, as it should.  But some things linger, and are always important, like remembering the past, and planning for the future.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Updates from the road: shimmy and my shakes

Day two was pretty successful. Shake for breakfast, shake and tomato salad for lunch, and big salad for dinner. I was successful in making good choices, but less successful in drinking lots of water. It's quite chilly here, so I've had more coffee than usual.

I used to equate family trips with food. But yesterday, we spent the day enjoying each other's company and laughing, not eating. We went shopping at the three favorite stores of the three of us: Half Price Books (for Paul), a Blick Art Store (for me) and Guitar Center (for Max). We also had a wonderful time at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

The biggest moment of the day was directly related to my pants. See, the pants I brought were falling off me, so we went shopping and for the first time in years, I found a pair of jeans that were flattering and comfortable and made me feel sexy and sassy. I wore them yesterday, and found there was a bit of a shimmy in my walk- a swagger in my step- a swing in my hips. I felt FABULOUS. Everyone commented on my smaller form- it felt great.

Today is the wedding of Mikhal and Scott. I can't wait to see them. And I'm not even thinking about the food.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Updates from the road: fast food frenzy

I'm doing two things for the first time today: taking a road trip while on my diet, and blogging from my phone. This is going to be hard... On both counts.

We left at 5am for Minneapolis. By 7am, it was light out and everyone was thinking about breakfast. There was a croissanwich within arm's reach, and I had NONE of it. I drank my shake while the smell of the boys' hash browns filled the car with their sweet perfume. I did not waver.

Through Missouri and into Iowa, I was steady. For the first time, I was not snacking away the hours in the car.

It's now lunch, in Ames, Iowa. I rinsed my New Directions shake cup in the restroom sink at the Burger King, ordered a cold bottle of water, and sat with my boys, drinking my shake, while they had their burger and salad.

Can't believe it. So far, so good.