The title of this blog post sounds like one of those sensational click-bait articles you read because its title is too hard to resist. They usually turn out to be disappointing and filled with spammy pop-ups. This won’t be that kind of post. No spam, no gimmicks, no affiliate links. I’m not selling anything or trying to convince anyone of anything. And I’m not going to tell anyone how quick and easy it was to lose 100 pounds, because honestly, it wasn’t. At times it was very difficult, especially at the beginning. It also isn’t my intention to suggest being overweight is unacceptable or something in need of correction; we – and in particular women – hear enough of those messages.
What I will do is share my honest journey to lose weight and regain my health after five years of illness and injury, which was necessary and medically indicated for me. I will outline my weight loss strategies and the lessons I learned to satisfy the curiosity of the many who have asked me how I did it. But I want to caution that although my methods worked for me, they won’t necessarily be successful or appropriate for everyone. This is simply what has worked to bring me to the place where I am today. I have learned a huge component of a weight loss journey is knowing yourself well enough to understand what your individual triggers, strengths, needs, preferences, organizational style, medical history, and discipline will require and allow. And speaking of reading, like most things I write, this post is not a quick scroll. It was a complex and personal journey and not easy to write out. I tried to organize it in a way that’s easy to read and follow, but like the journey itself, I didn’t find shortcuts in getting to the end.
However, I hope the road I took and my results will be inspiring, interesting, and motivating to others. So if you’re interested in why I decided to lose 100 pounds in 2021, how I succeeded, and 12 lessons I learned in doing so – keep reading!
[Author’s Note: I officially started my journey to lose 100 lbs on January 1, 2021 and it took me a year and three weeks – I reached my goal on January 21, 2022. But “How I lost 100 lbs in 55 Weeks” is a less-catchy blog post title, so I’m going to go with the success being in 2021; I did have to pause my weight loss a couple of times for medical reasons, so it ultimately took me three months longer than planned.]
I assume the majority of people will read this post either for weight loss inspiration or out of sheer curiosity. But to the former group: If you are struggling to lose weight, and feel like it will never happen because you have tried and failed a thousand times before, know you will figure it out when you’re ready and not before. This is key.
If you don’t actually believe you can lose the weight you need to improve your health or appearance – or whatever your motivation is – it won’t happen. Because barring medical problems, our behavior is what causes us to lose weight, or not, and our behavior is predicated on our thoughts. At least for me, I had to want to lose weight more than I wanted that one more (fill-in-the-blank with whatever I really didn’t need to be eating, followed by the whole cycle of guilt and self-sabotage). I remember trying to picture myself getting to a healthy weight and I couldn’t even imagine it. I knew I wouldn’t get there, because eating what I wanted was my higher priority despite the fact it was making me overweight and unhappy.
My mindset started to change over time when I realized the changes I would need to make wouldn’t have to be some permanent state of deprivation, but a temporary sacrifice to allow myself to achieve a healthier weight. I finally knew I would and could get to where I needed to be because I was ready. I just knew it and felt it all over. My priorities had changed.
I’m not a dietician, counselor, or a doctor, and I’m not qualified to give anyone medical or dietary advice. So please take everything I say as my own experience. But I’ve been around long enough to know if you’re an emotional eater or have an eating disorder, you have to be willing to address the underlying emotional or psychological issues going on that are causing the disordered relationship with food before you can improve things long-term. This can be done on your own or with professional assistance if needed. We can’t white-knuckle our way through the rest of our lives with shame and self-flagellation.
I hate to quote Dr. Phil because it’s kind of goofy but I always did agree with his saying, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” I think that is so true. Engaging in cognitive dissonance or anything less than total honesty with yourself about where you are, for example, by starting a diet while being too afraid to weigh yourself, for me is a huge red flag that you aren’t ready to face the music and move forward. True healing and compassion for ourselves is what we all need, and patience to replace bad habits with better ones. We have to accept and acknowledge where we are with grace and start from there.
A lot of (lucky!) people would just be glad to lose that last stubborn 15 pounds. But at the end of 2020, I found myself immunocompromised in a global pandemic, at least 100 pounds (45.4 kilograms) overweight, and with major spinal surgery less than three months away.
I knew it was bad. I was the heaviest I’d ever been. I kept trying to lose weight and failing. Everyday life had become a painful battle with inflammation, aches, swelling, and mobility challenges that made it harder for me to do normal activities. Even my doctors had told me to my face I needed to lose weight. This sounds obvious, but unfortunately in my experience doctors are reluctant to initiate honest conversations about weight. I think part of it is the fear of hurting someone’s feelings, and it speaks to the way mainstream western medicine favors a quick prescription to take the edge off what ails us instead of looking for the real root causes of illness like diet and lifestyle. But I’d gotten the memo.
On New Year’s Eve as the world had rolled into 2020 one year prior, I’d looked at myself in the mirror and thought, This year will be different. Little did I know the ways that would come true for everything but weight loss! In order to move forward better into 2021, I needed to sit down and have a serious talk with myself to analyze how I’d come to be in the position I was in, and what I was going to do about it.
I had started to put on weight in early 2016, during my first Foreign Service tour in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. So many of us, far from home and serving in hardship assignments, tend to dip into hedonistic tendencies. Ordering Ben & Jerry’s in bulk through the embassy commissary because the ice cream in-country is unfamiliar or counterfeit? Sign me up. Picking up Toblerones on your way through the duty free? Get me two. Working late in the embassy again and munching through a bag of chips and salsa instead of heading home to fix a healthy dinner? You work hard. You deserve it.
Later that year I got a bone infection in my left foot from an inability to properly manage one of my autoimmune diseases at Post, and by the end of the year I’d suffered two separate back injuries which had caused a slipped disc. The disc was pressing on the nerve root and causing sciatica and numbness down my left leg and foot. This disguised the worsening bone infection in my foot, prompted a slowdown in my activity level, and eventually, several bad falls and more back injury. I told myself I’d deal with all this when I got back to the first world. But it didn’t turn out to be so easy.
In 2017 I had foot surgery and also underwent emergency hospitalization twice – once for three days in California for the back injury while I was supposed to be on R&R visiting my family, and later that year in Australia once I’d arrived for my second tour for almost two months (mostly as an outpatient wearing liquid antibiotics through a peripherally-inserted chest catheter, or PICC line, that had to be flushed every 24 hours) for osteomyelitis (a bone infection) that almost saw one of my toes amputated. I followed all that madness up with a spinal surgery (discectomy) in early 2018 to correct the slipped disc and nerve impingement which other treatments hadn’t been able to relieve.
After my spinal surgery, I was lucky enough to get cleared to restart the immunosuppressant medication that controlled my autoimmune disease progression. At this point I’d been without it three years. But, I made the unfortunate choice not to regularly attend physical therapy due to my work schedule and pressure to be physically present in the office more. I was also about 80 pounds overweight; I continued overeating and gaining. At least I did keep seriously exercising at the gym and in our garage gym at home, where we had an elliptical and a treadmill. Fortunately I love exercise and have always been relatively active even at my most injured and/or heaviest. (Ziplining in Hawaii, overlanding for days to yurt camp at Uzbekistan’s Aral Sea, and climbing a volcano in Ecuador are just three examples.) That love for the gym probably kept my weight gain from being *even more* drastic.
But the outcome of my decisions around eating for comfort, a stressful series of jobs, and not properly taking care of myself had resulted in me steadily gaining about 20 lbs every year between 2015 and 2020. Obviously, this wasn’t good for my back; what was left of the disc my neurosurgeon had “trimmed” in 2018 to alleviate the pressure on my nerve root had disintegrated completely by 2020, and I ended up with two vertebrae bone-on-bone at the L4/L5 level. Doesn’t really make you feel like working out, does it?
I lived in four different countries while all of this was going on – Uzbekistan, the U.S. (three times), Australia, and Mexico. My family and close friends probably did not see me consistently enough to feel like they could raise a red flag. My husband is kind and permissive and as long as I seem happy is not the type of man to say, “Hey, wife: what the hell are you doing?” I’m tall, and have an athletic frame. I’ve always been dense and carried weight better than most people. In college I lifted weights, weighing in at 180 lbs and wearing a slim junior size 9; my doctor couldn’t believe it and had weighed me three times to be sure, the last time having me remove my jeans and sneakers. I’d had friends who weighed much less than I did, but wore bigger sizes and had less muscle tone. But no one could nicely carry or conceal the weight I had put on by 2020.
A lot of people talk about gaining weight as “letting yourself go.” I don’t think this was true in my case. I generally looked after my appearance, always had my hair and nails done, and wore nice clothes that more or less fit me properly. I didn’t like how I looked, but I think on some level I also wasn’t aware of how drastically I’d actually changed. To the extent I was aware, I felt defensive and entitled to appear as my authentic self in public spaces, which I would still hold was correct. Accepting yourself as you are is crucial for your self-worth, but I think I confused that self-love and self-acceptance for complacency, and used it as an excuse not to treat my body in the way it deserved. And that isn’t love, it’s dysfunction.
Of course, I made attempts to correct the weight gain because I knew it would be better for me medically and I didn’t want to look the way I did. Here or there I would lose 10 or even 20 pounds. But as happens to so many of us, the weight would creep back up on me. I would eat healthfully for a few days or weeks and then “fall off the wagon,” so to speak. I passed some of this off as part of my lifestyle – nice wine, nice vacations, nice meals with friends. But deep down I knew my weight was problematic because despite my attempts to get it under control, I was failing to do so long-term. I wondered how someone so accomplished and in control of all areas of her life could be so undisciplined and failing so much when it came to self-care. The truth is I was half-assing my commitment to actually changing and trying to do the minimum necessary to see results. When I didn’t see results immediately, I’d quit in frustration. It wasn’t my priority.
And as a practical matter, the impact of the extra weight on me was adverse. I had less energy to do fun things, more inflammation in my body, and more susceptibility to viruses. I had problems with my skin. I called into work sick more than I should have, because I felt terrible pretty often. I started to dread getting ready for work; I had literally two closets full of clothes I couldn’t wear. They all had fit, at some stage. There were many mornings when I would try on multiple outfits and everything I had was too small. More and more I dreaded seeing pictures of myself. “Is that really how I look?” I wondered. I knew the answer. Almost all the vacation pictures I’d put on social media were pictures of my husband doing fun things; I never wanted to be in the photos. And let’s be serious: being really overweight is painful. Your skin rubs together, it’s hard to fit into airplane seats, your clothes roll and bunch on you, you get worried whether you will fit somewhere or break a chair or embarrass yourself somehow. It’s generally uncomfortable to be in your own skin.
Things needed to change, and I was the only one who could make it happen once and for all. After all, I was the one causing things to be how they were! After trying and failing so many times, I didn’t even want to tell anyone I was going to try again. I felt like a broken record.
As New Year’s Eve approached in 2020, I decided January 1 would be the day I would overhaul my eating and habits. Now, I know everyone says New Year’s Resolutions “don’t work.” I’ve seen dismal data indicating anywhere between two-thirds and 80 percent of New Year’s Resolutions fail in the first four weeks. But that also means between 20 and 33 percent of them succeed! Data shows there is a higher chance of success when someone is very determined, has values-based reasons for making a commitment, and is willing to be accountable to goals which are both measurable and time-bound.
I had all of that. And the newness of January 1 has always been a powerful motivator for me. There is something about a fresh new page and the organization and perfection of starting from the top that appeals to my nature. If I started January 2, I would probably stop caring about it the third day. But January 1? For some arbitrary, irrational reason I am bound. Plus, I was so, so done buying bigger and bigger clothes and feeling miserable. This was it. I was going to do it, and stick to it.
I would think about it like a science experiment and remove the emotionally-coded language of “failure” and “screwing up.” In other words, play the long game. Make a plan, follow it, and not deviate. I had already done the opposite many times and knew that didn’t work. Following a plan consistently even if results didn’t happen overnight (without giving up along the way) had to be the answer. This ended up being the most key point. I knew it would be hard, because even once I lost 10, 20, 30, even 50 pounds – I would still be overweight.
Facing that reality down was brutal. But here was a worse reality: with every pound I kept gaining, I kept getting farther away from the life I wanted and deserved. There could be no turning back now, no continuing in the wrong direction. I had to make a change, and this was the only way. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. And I deserved better. It was time to start acting like it. Because if I didn’t, no one else could.
The first thing I did was create a plan by gathering what tools I needed to get started, and setting rules for how I would organize my eating. I wanted to automate – as much as possible – the first months of my self-designed program so I would always know what I would be eating each day. This would remove possibilities for snap-wrong decisions by always having the appropriate alternative available.
I also discussed my plans with my primary care physician, neurosurgeon, dermatologist, and rheumatologist. All were supportive. Getting medical approval for any diet is really important for a healthy outcome.
I decided to go with Nutrisystem to start because I work a lot, it’s convenient and pre-packaged, and I’d lost about 50 lbs on it back in 2014 and knew I could do it. But I also knew it wasn’t nutritionally complete, and given that I lived in Mexico I couldn’t receive delivery of the frozen portion of the offerings. So considering how much dry processed food I would be relying on, I would have to carefully pay attention to my macros and supplement with extra protein, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
– My monthly Nutrisystem food subscription box
– Healthy fruits and vegetables and extra protein in the fridge
– Vitamins and supplements to make sure my nutrition was complete
– Access to a treadmill, an elliptical, and free weights
– My Fitbit bracelet and charger
– My iPhone with the Fitbit and MyFitnessPal apps
– Digital bathroom scale
– Kitchen appliances like digital scale, backup old school scale, blender, measuring cups and spoons, plus my favorite chopping boards, knives, pizza pans, etc.
– Lots of comfortable workout clothes
– New athletic shoes
1. Between January 1 and Cinco de Mayo:
– No eating out, including the cafeteria at work and other people’s houses.
– No drinking alcohol.
– No eating food prepared by anyone other than me, no exceptions.
– No eating any food outside Nutrisystem or the Nutrisystem plan.
– Always meal prep food in advance. Never go anywhere without food you can eat. ALWAYS HAVE SAFE FOOD! In the zoo picture above, my husband bought snacks at the zoo and I ate baby carrots and a Nutrisystem lunch bar from my purse. Winning.
Rule #1 was brutal but helped avoid temptation and irregularities in decision-making at different times of the day. If you aren’t eating anything but “your food,” there is no discussion or negotiation about what you will or won’t eat. There’s a boundary. It’s easy. This was never meant to be a long-term thing. I wanted to lose weight fast and jump past the cravings and bumps I could never seem to get over the last few years. Do you have to do all this to lose weight? Of course not. But if you’re me – or someone like me – evidently it’s a lot easier to get down to a safer weight.
I’m aware this was much simpler for me than it might be for someone who has the responsibility for planning meals for a family. If that were me, depending on what my family was like, I would either prepare separate food for them or make everyone the same food and I would just eat less of it. You know your family best. Ask for their support – and don’t become the “vacuum cleaner” of their leftovers or cave because it’s easier to eat what they’re eating. You do you. Everyone else is running their own program, after all. I have noticed the times I have been on Nutrisystem I have to make a more intentional effort to eat with my husband, even when we are eating different meals.
I will also note I was frequently challenged by well-meaning others in social or work situations who would say things like, “A little bit won’t kill you,” or “I made it just for you” or “It’s from my country/hometown/etc.” I didn’t feel like I owed anyone an explanation, but I found it helpful to either ask for the person’s support or thank them politely and walk away. Newsflash: you do not have to eat what people around you are eating! It will be socially uncomfortable, especially as we get past the pandemic, to deal with this. You can be low-key but resolute about what you’re doing. It’s not up for discussion and I was always in control of my intake because that was more congruent with my priorities than appeasing other people. I think eventually people just got used to me being ‘weird’ about food or not taking my mask off indoors at all and it was a non-issue.
If you’re partnered or living with someone who actively sabotages you and may not be so well-meaning, this is a huge red flag and you should talk about it with them, and possibly also a professional.
2. I entered all food, vitamins, and water into the MyFitnessPal app. And I mean ALL. I did not leave anything out. I scanned Nutrisystem package bar codes and made sure entries were correct (not just caloric content, but all nutrition information). I weighed or measured fresh food for accuracy. Knowing how many calories you are taking in is crucial to weight loss. No estimations! I kept an eye on my macros (protein, fat, carbs) and my nutrient levels. You can order blood work if needed to identify any deficiencies.
I really took a no-excuses approach to doing this every day. I wanted to make sure I was eating enough calories for each meal and the right kind of foods. Even while I was in the hospital after spinal fusion I continued dieting and entering my food into MyFitnessPal, and skipped eating anything unhealthy or overly caloric from my hospital tray.
3. I stuck to a calorie limit with absolutely no going over. Really, not once. I didn’t go over my calories until I intentionally did so on vacation 10 months into the year when I had already lost over 80 lbs. My limit was 1,800 calories per day but yours will vary based on your own needs. I let the MyFitnessPal app be my guide. I submitted the MyFitnessPal report when I was done at the end of each day to get the “If every day were like today, in five weeks you would weigh x” motivating statement.
4. I kept my Fitbit on and synced with MyFitnessPal to deduct calories for activity. I only charged my Fitbit while I was in the shower so I wouldn’t miss any chance to count activity! It was fun to move around during the day or work out, and eventually watch my activity “roll back” some of the calories I had eaten.
5. I moved 10,000 steps a day, at least five days per week. I woke up every non-work day without fail and went to the consulate or our garage gym for at least an hour. This wasn’t hard for me because I love to exercise and it’s a real high. I had to modify it from time to time, though. For example, before my spinal surgery in March I had a lot of pain and limitations so I mostly walked and did the elliptical. For a few weeks after surgery all I could do was walk slowly with my walker, and then slowly on a treadmill, and then four months of physical therapy combined with a cautious return to more normal activities. Some people joked with me that they would milk a spinal fusion to do nothing for six months. I was laughing and shaking my head thinking how lucky they were to actually have no idea how very critical a situation I was in, and how crucial a good recovery was to the quality and literal rest of my life. The key was to keep moving! I did what I could do without injuries or making cop-outs.
On May 5, I was down just over 46 pounds and I decided to go out for fish tacos at our favorite neighborhood taco place in Juárez with V. I had two tacos and a beer, and the next day I was right back into my usual healthy rhythm. I had a fleeting fear that eating that food would suddenly trigger a daily craving for it, or send me off the rails, but it wasn’t so. I hadn’t been comfortable loosening the rules during the first five months because in the beginning of trying to set new habits, you are fragile and more susceptible to temptation. It’s so much easier to eat the takeout with your family or have dessert on a bad day until you’re much farther down the road to success. But five months in, I found I was practically bulletproof.
This is because I had seen real results week after week, month after month, and I knew what to do. If I had a week where I only lost one pound, I wasn’t going to freak out and suddenly eat four quesadillas because nothing I do matters anyway and it’s always going to be like this. No. I would continue moving forward with behavior that leads to success: healthy eating and exercise. If ever progress slowed down, I would show kindness to my body which sometimes struggled to adjust to its new reality. I knew it would catch up, and it did. The only way to fail is to engage in failing behavior that leads to where you were before, and I never did.
I did miss large amounts of melted cheese something fierce sometimes! Delayed gratification is always worth it. Does it suck? Yes. Especially at the beginning. But watching your body change, feeling stronger and more powerful, more functional – there’s nothing like it. Move through the initial headaches and cravings, and get some months of different habits under your belt, and it will be surprisingly easier.
As I saw even more results, I became increasingly comfortable that I was on the right track. So in the spring and summer, I re-evaluated the strictness of some of my measures and decided to start transitioning to some slightly more mainstream eating as follows:
* From time to time over the summer I would eat take-out, estimating the calories, or eat food V or others had prepared. It wasn’t the norm and I still worked hard to put everything I consumed into MyFitnessPal. If I ate past the 1,800 calorie limit, I would exercise until my Fitbit synced and subtracted sufficient calories to get me under the limit. Sometimes I would exercise so much that even though I had consumed sufficient calories and nutrition for the day, I had entered a calorie deficit. I still was never “over.”
* Maybe twice a month I would enjoy a beer or glass of wine. I think Nutrisystem technically allows for two alcoholic drinks per week, but as I said, I was completely alcohol-free from January 1 to May 5, and for the majority of 2021 anyway (except a family trip in October) in the interest of meeting my goals. The weight continued to come off so I didn’t see this as a problem.
* In September and October I began transitioning away from Nutrisystem after dealing with autoimmune disease challenges that necessitated I improve my thyroid function and cease reliance on processed food. I talked about my journey to eating according to the Autoimmune Protocol elimination diet for 90 days in this recent post, which I will continue doing through the end of January 2022. (Lest AIP get conflated with weight loss – which I don’t want because AIP is very much about supporting healing the gut microbiome through nutrient-dense foods and not weight loss – I won’t get into a discussion of AIP here. But if you have thyroid disease [Hashimoto’s/hypothyroidism or Graves/hyperthyroidism] and would like to hear more about my AIP journey, you can read my other post and follow the AIP tag on this blog.)
I also want to mention in the interest of full disclosure that my primary care doctor recommended a weight loss pill called Qsymia because many patients with hypothyroidism struggle to lose weight. At first I was against it, even at its lowest strength, because I had already demonstrated I didn’t need medication to lose weight. I was succeeding dramatically. However, as many other new thyroid patients discover when confronting massive malfunctions of their endocrine systems, physiology takes over and your own behavior matters very little. The weight gain, coupled with hair loss and effects to mood and memory can be devastating. I did not want to go down that road while evening out my thyroid levels, so chose to take my doctor’s advice on the Qsymia. I am not recommending for or against weight loss pills, but I also think it does people battling with autoimmune disease a disservice to write this post and leave out the fact that, along the way, I needed this medication to avoid gaining weight due to an unexpected diagnosis of hypothyroidism last September. Many people who are doing all the right things on their journey can stop losing weight or even gain weight due to medical issues and it is not their fault, and my vote is we get to use all the tools in our toolbox to defeat the things that stand in our way. It is not a weakness to stand in our strength and say, something in my body is not working and I will not ignore it. I need to fix it so I can live better and not suffer, and involve your medical team in that.
The way I went about my weight loss journey certainly wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Earlier I mentioned I think you have to know yourself pretty well to do something like this. And I was definitely on an individual mission. I made across-the-board sacrifices to get down to a healthier weight more quickly, considering how much I had to lose. Not everyone wants or needs to do this, and for some people the all-or-nothing approach is such a deterrent it might stop them from even trying.
I’d like to give some deeper insight into some of the reasons I think it worked for me, while also recognizing that my way might need modifying for others. This is something that frustrates me about a lot of so-called weight loss plans that don’t take into consideration the way people think, feel, and actually live.
For example, if I had decided to lose weight and the whole plan for early 2021 had revolved around group fitness classes, lifestyle coaching and in-person weigh-ins, or some sort of intensive weekend cooking and meal prep regimen, I would have totally failed. I tend to be stubborn about doing what I want to do, up until the point I decide something is untenable. Then I become very focused and disciplined in doing what I need to do, and I really don’t want or need anyone else’s involvement to ensure that happens. Support and encouragement is great, but my own intrinsic motivation is so strong that too much involvement from or required interaction with other people feels like interference. It is more likely to dissuade me and push me away than anything else. I don’t need anyone to force me, because I will force me, and I am the only and most effective enforcer for myself. Some people are the exact opposite, and I get it.
If you read the below thoughts and think that you and I sound a lot alike, it’s probably more likely that using my roadmap (or something close to it) will work for you.
* Restrictions make some people want to eat more. Many colleagues and friends told me that being restricted from eating something just makes them want it eat it even more. I understand this on an intellectual level, but (a) I don’t really think this way and (b) I was the one making the rules. No one was denying me anything. It was my decision to do this, so there wasn’t anything or anyone to rebel against.
Some people asked me if I had “cheat days.” The truth is I didn’t. For the first few weeks, weaning myself away from cravings and overeating was very hard. I was hungry, nauseous, and had constant lightheadedness and headaches. But once I got past that, I didn’t want to start over (if that makes sense). Does that mean that to lose weight you can’t eat anything you like and have to be in complete deprivation? Absolutely not. I think more moderation could have been just fine. But I wanted to go faster, and I’d already “cheat dayed” myself to being massively overweight and needed a treat like I needed a hole in my head. What I needed was to lose weight as efficiently as possible before my spinal fusion in late March. As it turned out, I took off 33.2 pounds between New Year’s Day and my surgery. My neurosurgeon was astonished and said that weight loss contributed to a better surgical recovery outcome, so I was very proud. He also mentioned most of his patients claim they will lose weight before their surgery, but very few follow through.
* If you’re not detail-oriented, it can be a pain. I know not everyone wants to weigh and measure all their food and enter it into an app. My husband V used to use MyFitnessPal, but let’s just say he does not get the same kick out of attention to fine detail that I do. I admit it took some getting used to, but quickly became second nature. It also became kind of a game that hooked me in. Knowing where I was calorie and nutrient-wise with my eating throughout the day was important to me as I sought to stay on track and not go over my calorie limit.
For me, it’s this simple: if you want to lose weight, it’s a matter of math. If you can’t be bothered to keep track of the math, it’s probably going to be a mystery to you why you aren’t losing weight, or losing as fast as you want to be. We all tend to underestimate our portions and consume way more than we think unless we monitor it, including me. You can make this monitoring as fun or as tedious as you want. Plus, it’s temporary. Commit to doing it for a certain period of time and prepared to be amazed by the results. MyFitnessPal also has a feature where you can take a picture of your food and the app will estimate the calories for you, but I haven’t played with this yet because I’m too fussy about it being exact (LOL!).
* Accountability is lacking. One person asked me to whom I was accountable during my weight loss journey. I thought about this for a while and realized it didn’t make a lot of sense that being accountable only to myself – after failing to hold myself accountable a million times before – was a solid success strategy. She didn’t get – and I found it hard to explain – what was forcing me to submit my MyFitnessPal reports at the end of each day. It made me smile a little because it had honestly never occurred to me not to do it. This made me realize how seriously I took this whole thing. I felt obligated. It wouldn’t have worked if I messed up my perfect record of never missing a submission and never going over my calorie limit. It didn’t matter that no one else would have known. I would have known. I never missed a day in 2021, even when I was hospitalized, even when we were staying at an all-inclusive in the Caribbean. Never. And I didn’t want to break the streak.
But the app does let you adjust privacy settings to share your diary with friends, so you could totally have your nutritionist, partner, best friend, or whomever act as an accountability partner and check on you. But you still have to tell the truth about what you’re eating and put everything in. I guess if you don’t trust yourself to do that, then maybe a different type of program would work better at the beginning.
One thing is for sure: you cannot change something you aren’t being honest about. No matter if you want to lose 3 lbs or 300 lbs, the only way it can happen is one pound at a time, patiently, with kindness and compassion towards your body. Dishonesty, shame, and obfuscation have no role in a journey like this. If you aren’t ready to be honest about what you’re doing, especially with yourself, going back to my earlier point, you may need to go through a few more steps to be ready, at least in my experience. And you can be ready but still make an error, and in that case just forgive yourself and move forward. We are all just people trying to figure it out. We can be formidable opponents to ourselves and it’s better to be our own greatest allies – the first, truest, and longest-standing ones we will ever have.
For most of 2021, I was pretty limited in what physical exercise I could do because I either had a spinal cord injury (January-March) or was healing from spinal fusion (March-August). A lot of people assume I was a CrossFit fiend or something. But mostly all I have been doing is going for walks, stretching and light upper-body lifting, and sometimes using the elliptical.
What you do or don’t eat probably plays the biggest role in your weight loss, but in my experience I lost weight faster when I combined exercise with healthy eating. Four months of hospital physical therapy also really helped me improve mobility, range of motion, and body function, decrease pain, and get back into more strenuous walks and hiking by the late summer. I look forward to getting into yoga, pilates, more cardio, and 15+ mile walks in 2022.
At the moment, I pretty much have no clothes that fit me well unless they are from 2000-2006. I currently weigh less than I have during my entire relationship with V, including the period when I was studying Russian and became very thin in late 2014. I will need to replace the majority of my clothes and have already given away the things that were *way* too big. (The things that would have typically fit me over the years I will probably keep for at least another year or two, just in case! Quality clothes are hard to find and things just aren’t made the way they used to be.)
If you go on a similar journey, I recommend you go through your closets and dressers and “audit” your clothes on a regular basis. I have a pretty good idea of what clothes I have, in what sizes, and at what weight ranges they fit me. However, I did miss an opportunity to wear several things because I dropped through them so quickly while incorrectly assuming they were still too small.
The first time that happened, I spent an entire weekend trying on everything in my closet. I grabbed maroon hangers for all the clothes that were too small and black hangers for all the clothes that fit. It took me seemingly forever to get through two closets and three dressers, reorganize everything, and bag up and donate all the way-too-large items. It was more physically exhausting than I expected and I had to repeat it every several weeks as the maroon-hangers items dwindled and I kept getting startled putting on pants that would fall right back down. It all did help me see at-a-glance what clothes in my closet were an option when trying to fly out the door for work in the morning, plus keep an eye on clothes I might be close to fitting into.
Over the months, I got rid of the equivalent of six large boxes of clothes through a combination of donations and clothing swaps. It was 100% worth going through everything, and helped me make the most of what I could wear until I could trade for new-to-me things that fit better, plus be generous to others. It also made our last packout way easier! I am really excited about buying a new wardrobe that fits me, maybe this spring after our household effects arrive, I finish losing weight, and prepare to begin a new job.
The vast majority of people will be genuinely happy for you on your weight loss journey and will cheer you on. Many will ask you to “share your secret,” and you will be at a loss to tell them there isn’t any magic and you can’t distill this profound journey down into a chat message or a top 10 tips post for people to scroll through. A few may even speculate about you behind your back, sparking rumors you’re sick or having emotional problems. Depending on who those people are and how much you value their opinions, it can hurt. The bottom line is you don’t owe anyone an explanation about what you do for your health and well-being. You get to decide to what extent you will correct any misunderstandings, address the drastic changes in your appearance, or simply focus your energy and attention on yourself.
I will always try to take the time to be a source of encouragement and information to others, but I can only do it in the format and manner that’s true to my own experience. I found an awesome weight loss support and accountability group on Facebook that was unfailingly the most positive place. I have never been the kind of person to seek out validation from others in social media groups, but for some reason I would find myself there every couple months posting an update. Not once did I ever see any members trolling each other or doing anything but lifting each other up in their efforts. The encouragement I got from complete strangers and how heartfelt it seemed took me by surprise, and I give small corners of the internet like that a lot of credit. I have made it a point to stop by there once in a while and cheer on people who say they are struggling and need accountability or support. I let them know they already have everything they need within themselves to change their lives for the better.
Find people to support you, teach you, and help you be accountable if you need that. But remember, ultimately no one can do this for you. You are the only one who can resolve to change your habits and change your lifestyle. For me, it all came down to this: I either wanted to eat what I wanted, when I wanted, in whatever quantities, OR, I wanted a full and healthy life. I couldn’t have both.
And to be honest, something about the way society’s Darwinian games with the immunocompromised during the pandemic has made “survival of the fittest” a phrase with more daily relevance to me. If living in a world where an endemic deadly virus poses an outsized risk to those with compromised immune systems, and society largely decided vaccinated was safe enough for masks to come off as the Delta variant surged, I was going to be acceptable loss. The only way to get my life back and join what society thinks of as “normal” life was to be the best version of strong and healthy I can be. And being very overweight and battling chronic inflammation and autoimmune illness that makes me sicker, longer and more seriously from viruses did not fit that bill. I think my anger about being immunocompromised, and especially the way society has prioritized the comfort of the able-bodied over the safety of the immunocompromised and persons with disabilities with non-inclusive policies during the pandemic also fueled my resolve to lose weight.
Now that I’m close to my ideal weight I can certainly have more freedom to eat what I want, except…
I thought when I lost weight I would be happy with how I looked. Many people use weight loss as a panacea. “If I were just thin, I would have everything I wanted and be happy.” It isn’t that easy. Whatever issues you had before, you will still have unless and until you work through them. And life may throw you a new curveball, too.
I didn’t expect to lose almost three-quarters of my hair, have to struggle with a new autoimmune disease, and completely change my lifestyle by giving up dairy, gluten, and more to lower inflammation and thyroid antibodies. This isn’t the fault of my weight loss, it’s just something that happened concurrently. It’s too bad, but it is what it is, and will require some level of management for the rest of my life. But it will be OK, and I’m here for it. It is kind of a guarantee, along with my titanium spine, that I’m never going back to how I was. My health is more fragile now, and I need to protect it. That is part of the reason I don’t have a glamorous “after” picture at the moment. Also, most of my clothes are packed up somewhere or in transit. I haven’t been able to highlight my hair for months because of the hair fall. And putting on makeup despite having to double-mask outside my hotel room has become a stubborn exercise in refusing to give up, rather than really enhancing my appearance. As of today, I’m 102 lbs down and will probably post an update when I reach my ideal weight in about 18 more lbs.
For the time being, I feel happy that I have lost the weight and moreover, I feel so much healthier despite everything. I feel like I can accomplish anything and remove any barriers to living my best life. Ultimately, that’s all I can ask for, and what we all deserve and should expect from ourselves.
~~ I wish you luck on your journeys, wherever they take you. ~~
“The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.”Tony Robbins
“He who is outside his door has the hardest part of his journey behind him.”Proverb
“A journey of a thousand miles must start with a single step.”Lao Tzu
“It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”Ursula K. Le Guin
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”Martin Buber