Friday, March 5, 2010

The Road Back

Please welcome guest blogger Nancy Northcott!

Nancy Northcott’s books combine adventure and romance in the development of true love for her characters. A two-time Golden Heart finalist, she has also finaled in the Maggies, the Orange Rose, Finally a Bride, the Daphne, the Windy City Four Seasons Awards and other chapter contests. Her manuscripts have won several chapter contests, including the 2008 Maggie Award for Excellence in Contemporary Single Title. A life-long book geek, she considers her blue belt in jeet kune do one of her greatest accomplishments. When she isn’t blogging with the Romance Bandits, she’s reading, writing, or trying to convince her husband that Prime Minister’s Question Time on C-SPAN is a really cool show.

I’m three pounds down from my top pregnancy weight. Great, right? Yes--if I were pregnant.

Since I’m not, I’m a bit depressed, a bit annoyed with myself, and a bit frustrated over my limited wardrobe choices. What I am not, however, is anxious.

You see, I know exactly how I got here, which means I know exactly what I need to do. And I’ve done it before.

Several years ago, I lost 35 pounds. I weighed less than I did when I graduated from college, was in the best shape of my life, worked out six times a week, and had developed a pretty solid right cross punch on the way to earning a blue belt in karate. I maintained that weight for two years, even working as a weight management consultant for a national company. Then injuries kept me away from the gym and family turmoil led to prolonged stress.

I’m a stress eater.

I love chocolate--not picky about the variety.

I give up on exercise first, anyway, so I never got back to the gym.

And here I am, way heavier than my favorite clothes can accommodate.

So what now? I’ve about reached the limit on my ability to ignore the inconvenience, not to mention the health risk, of this added weight. One thing I learned as a weight management consultant was that weight loss and weight maintenance are a journey. Weight doesn’t magically appear overnight, and it won’t disappear that way, either.

If only.

In the absence of magic fairy dust, I do have an effective, if slower, plan:

1. Stop eating junk except every once in a while. That means one actual portion (not a restaurant portion) of dessert no more than once a week OR a tiny, pre-measured ration, like two midget Reese’s cups or two chocolate kisses, each day if that works better for me, but it usually doesn’t) and eat healthy, unprocessed food instead. Bye-bye, Milk Duds, alas.

Instead, I’ll eat healthy food (lean proteins, fruits, veggies, brown rice, high-fiber cereal with skimmed milk, and whole grain pasta) in actual portions, not the mega-portions most Americans have come to view as normal, and without cream-laden sauces. A serving of pasta is one cup, cooked. A serving of meat is about the size and thickness of the palm of my hand. A serving of cheese is the size of a golf ball. Yes, really.

And eating out of the bag while standing at the sink or watching TV is a sure-fire way to eat far, far more than I realize, so I won’t be doing that, either. When it comes to sweets, the only safe road for me is pre-measured and separately bagged, and when the bag is empty, I’m done.

One of my favorite snacks is cut fruit from the grocery store or fresh melon with (don’t groan) fat-free cottage cheese. I put my favorite non-sugar sweetener on the cottage cheese, which has enough protein to keep me from being hungry again soon. An alternative is non-fat, unflavored yogurt similarly sweetened with fresh berries, pineapple or banana mixed in. Not as filling because it’s lower in protein, but it’s tasty and has fiber from the fruit.

2. Eat only when I’m hungry. This means really, truly, stomach-growling hungry. No “Hmm, I think that tingle in my stomach might possibly, if I work at it, be construed as hunger; I’ll have a chocolate bar.” The better philosophy is, “Wow, I’m famished; I’ll have an apple (per step #1).” Apples are loaded with good stuff, including fiber, which helps me feel full longer than foods low in it.

3. Go back to the gym. Yes, it’s embarrassing because I’ve been gone so long. Yes, it’s painful to work those slack muscles again. Yes, it’s annoying and frustrating to perform like a wimp. Yes, there are a gajillion and ten possible excuses. But no one else there cares or likely even notices my issues, so a lot of that is in my head. Which means I control it. Hah!

And I’ll feel incredibly virtuous, and I’ll lose weight, which I can no longer do without exercise, and I’ll tone up. Worth it.

I can’t take karate anymore. My knees won’t hold up to the conditioning part of the class. Instead, I take the class that started me toward karate, cardio kick-boxing. We punch and kick heavy bags, not the air. The impact helps bone density and can provided great catharsis when the writing isn’t going well.

I think the most important part of an exercise plan is liking it. I like kickboxing, as my buddy Anna Sugden likes boxing and other people like walking or Jazzercise or whatever. Of course, anyone with any medical concerns should consult a doctor before starting. Me, I’ve consulted my knees and will pamper them accordingly. Lucky for me, roundhouse and snap kicks don’t bother them.

4. Be patient. This means recognizing that the process will be slower than I’d like, uneven at times, and will probably involve some lapses on my part. Being patient means cutting myself some slack when I trip. Yeah, I might blow it one day. That’s no excuse to blow it the next day, and the next, and the next as well. It’s a pothole, not an abyss, on the road to success.

And oh, yeah, that dessert ration in step 1--I get that only if I comply with all other steps along the way. Otherwise the dessert is forfeit.

So that’s my plan. What’s yours? What do find hardest or easiest about losing weight? What do you most like or dislike about exercise?


Tawny on March 5, 2010 at 1:40 AM said...

Hi Nancy and welcome :-) I hear you on being back to a weight-we-never-wanted-to-see-again. I was just there and am slowly climbing back down.

My plan is to keep my calories steady between 1350-1400 a day, keeping an eye on my fat and protein balances. And, more importantly, to stick with the exercise. Right now that consists of a 15 min Bosu workout and a 45 min run 6 days a week.

I have to admit, I love the feeling I have after exercising. I love seeing the changes in my body. The numbers on the scale sliding down and the fact that I have so much more energy now than I do when I don't exercise. And hardest? Staying with it when I don't see progress. That's my major challenge.

Anna Sugden on March 5, 2010 at 5:45 AM said...

Great post, Nancy. I know how you feel being at that same point with weight. I know a lot of mine is hormone-related, which makes shifting the weight very hard indeed, and very frustrating.

I was doing well last year with my running program, as folks here might remember. I wasn't losing the weight, but I was becoming trimmer, fitter and healthier. Then, I got injured. *sigh*.

I stopped running and working out on the elliptical and now I feel like a slug. As it's my hamstring, I think, it makes exercising difficult. But, I have some more runs planned, and a half-marathon walk for charity, so I needed to get back to doing something.

That something is power walking. I'm doing that 3x a week and am already feeling better. I cna't fit in more exercise than that, but if I stick to that program I know its better than nothing.

As for eating, I'm a savoury snacker rather than sweet snacker. And, I'm rubbish at portion control, which I need to get better at. I'm with you on the little treats - snack-size bars are great for this. Also 100 calorie packs (which we don't have over here). They cut the craving from total abstention.

The hardest thing is what Taawny said - patience. Especially, as I said earlier, when shifting weight is so hard. But, I have a new focus on fitting into my clothes and losing inches rather than weight to help with that.

Elise Hayes on March 5, 2010 at 8:00 AM said...

I enjoyed your post, Nancy!

Exercise is my dominant form of both stress release and weight control, so I do live in terror of injuries. So far, I've been lucky--some post-pregnancy problems with my hips kept me from running for about 4 or 5 months, but I was breast-feeding then and thus inhaling calories without having to worry about exercise.

It's tough to give up a sport that you love--I'm sorry you had to let the karate go. Good for you for finding an alternative that provides at least part of the satisfaction you found in the karate!

Elise Hayes on March 5, 2010 at 8:01 AM said...

Tawyn--a 45 minute run 6 days a week is AWESOME!!! Whoo-hoo!!

What's Bosu?

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 8:11 AM said...

Elise, a Bosu is an inflated hemisphere on a hard base. You can stand or squat on it for core strengthening, bounce off it, turn it over and do pushups, which really works the core--lots of different uses.

I've been having trouble posting and have been forwarding comments to Tawny. I managed it last week, and now my comments are just disappearing, which is very frustrating. So I'm trying again . . .

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 8:14 AM said...

Yay! Maybe this browser is compatible. I'm grateful to Tawny for hosting me.

Anna, I congratulate you on keeping up with your exercise despite your hamstring. I'm sure Tawny will post my other comments, and she may do it before she realizes I can now post, but I agree that portion size is key.

Elise, sorry about your injury! Pregnancy is tricky. I had hip issues, too, but nothing that lasted post-partum, luckily.

Michelle Butler on March 5, 2010 at 9:10 AM said...

I love your plan, Nancy. I personally struggle with step 4 (patience) the most, but it's all important.

I like your healthy snack ideas and do similar stuff. One suggestion I have for your yoghurt and fruit one is to consider adding some all-bran or similar cereal. I do that a lot. It's so much more filling with the high-fiber cereal, I like the crunch, and I even notice and appreciate the slight sweetness the bran adds.

Love that bit about it all being in your head, so I can control it - a great reminder. :)

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 9:23 AM said...

Hi, Michelle--Patience is the hardest, by far. Most people can last a week, two, even three, but then they run into a problem and throw up their hands.

I like the bran idea, and you're right, the added fiber makes it more filling. That would be unsweetened bran flakes, right? No sugar added?

Yeah, I know I can theoretically control what's in my head, but sometimes that's hard, too. I just have to keep reminding myself. And I'm a control freak, so you'd think that would work for me!

Michelle Butler on March 5, 2010 at 10:01 AM said...

I don't actually use bran flakes. I go straight to all-bran (and there are other versions out there) that I always think of as the "twig" cereal. Extremely high fiber so very filling. It retains its crunch for a long time.

I've worked a lot on my patience and getting a better handle on my thoughts and emotions. It keeps me from self-sabotaging and actually is the most important part of my success on this journey. My Monday post was all about my tips/guidelines for doing that.

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 10:14 AM said...

I'll have to go back and check out that post. I really do think that's the hardest part for most people, being patient.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on March 5, 2010 at 10:14 AM said...

Nancy, I really like the "pothole, not an abyss, on the road to success." Very good image to keep in mind.

I've been a slug lately. Between the dismal weather (which affects my mood and willingness to move), a crazy to-do list of things with deadlines, etc., I've not been doing the exercise I should. But I can feel my mood lifting as it's becoming sunnier and a bit warmer. I'm SO looking forward to being able to go for a nice long walk outside every day.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on March 5, 2010 at 10:15 AM said...

Anna, I like the idea of the 100-calorie snack packs, but I've decided I can't have them on hand at the house. They do me no good when I end up eating 3 or 4 of them. I can't have sweets here or I eat them. No willpower. So I've been trying to satisfy my sweet cravings with fresh fruit. This week I've been eating oranges, grapes and strawberries.

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 10:18 AM said...

Trish, thanks. I think a lot of people, particularly those who've struggled for a long time with weight issues, doubt their ability to persist or perhaps to maintain if they succeed, and so the pothole becomes an abyss, one filled with self-doubt and anxiety.

I've been a slug, too, for far too long. That and the chocolate habit have done me in. There were days I could've been at the gym, really could've, but I wasn't. *sigh*

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 10:19 AM said...

Trish, I splurge on cut fruit from the store because I'm more likely to reach for that if it's easy. They sometimes have cut pineapple, which I absolutely love!

Tawny on March 5, 2010 at 11:35 AM said...

Hurrying in a little late with Nancy's missing responses *g*

Anna, I sympathize with your injury. That's what broke my previously excellent gym habit. Glad you're recovering and getting back to it.

My problem with 100-calorie packs is stopping at one. I do better to avoid processed sugar altogether except for my once-weekly treat. When possible, I have that at a restaurant, which means one serving. If it's big, I get the dh to split with me. *sigh*

And yeah, the patience bit is key. Good luck with your running!


Elise, thanks! I started with kickboxing, so I'm happy to go back to it. Now I just have to get myself back in there. The first time is the hardest, and then the second and third days are the stiffest, and then it gets better.

Sorry about your hip problems, but at least you had other weight control methods. :-)

Tawny, thanks for hosting me! I do think exercise is important. I can't lose weight without it anymore. And I've noticed that I tend to be better about my eating when I exercise. I don't want to blow all that work by coming home and eating something I shouldn't.

Also, if losing a pound means burning 3500 calories, going to the gym, burning 600 or so, and then coming home and eating, oh, chocolate is like taking two steps forward and one back.

Tawny on March 5, 2010 at 11:49 AM said...

Nancy, I'm with you on the exercise being a great control over eating. On my off-exercise days, I'm more inclined to 'forget' (hah) the program, the calories, the portions, etc. Its almost like all of my willpower is tied to an exercise bra LOLOL

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 11:55 AM said...

Thanks for posting those for me, Tawny!

I never thought of willpower as being tied to an exercise bra. *g* For me, it seems like the harder I know I'm trying (as sweat, aches, and scraped knuckles remind me), the less I feel like I can slide.

Michelle Butler on March 5, 2010 at 11:56 AM said...

Nancy, I'm SO MUCH better with my eating when I'm exercising regularly. After the initial shock of activity (aka the first couple of weeks back at the gym after a break), the exercise really surpresses my appetite. Not sure why, but it's very helpful.

Anonymous said...

I started losing weight when diabetes was being threatened. Threats work well! So I stopped eating candy and like you, Nancy, decided only to eat when I was hungry. What a novel experience! And I'm lucky in that our weather was wet but never more than that (so far), so I walked every day to get away from the office.

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 12:26 PM said...

Michelle, there's something about exercise that does suppress appetite, at least for a while. I tend to be a lot hungrier later, though, so I have to watch out for that!

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 12:29 PM said...

Hi, Eilis. I'm glad you were able to take action in time. I love candy, of course, but I really need to eat much, much less of it.

The dh keeps his in the kitchen, and because we've added onto the house piecemeal, we have to go through the kitchen to get to the back rooms. And chocolate has a voice. It goes, "Psst! You! Over here" every time I walk through. Now I have to fill my head with "lalalalala" to ignore it. Or else go grab fruit.

Lunch today is a frozen black bean burger with carrots and corn. In actual serving sizes.

NO chocolate! *sigh*

Michelle Butler on March 5, 2010 at 12:57 PM said...

Lunch today was sushi and fruit kebobs. For about the first time in my life, I've craved sushi lately - instead of the typical crave for pizza, burger & fries, or Mexican.

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 1:16 PM said...

Michelle, what do you put on a fruit kebob? It sounds yummy.

Michelle Butler on March 5, 2010 at 1:17 PM said...

The fruit kebobs were leftover from a catered lunch in my building today. It was a big strawberry, piece of melon (orange one - blanking - canteloupe?), and pineapple on a wooden stick - basically a fun way to serve fruit.

Tawny on March 5, 2010 at 1:18 PM said...

LOL I haven't gotten to lunchtime today, but it'll likely be an apple, cottage cheese and some walnuts. I'm eating light because we have a big dinner this evening.

Eilis, I hear you on the diabetes scare as motivation. I had gestational diabetes with my youngest daughter and the dr warned me that if my weight reached a certain weight after I'd had her, it'd likely become a permanent lifestyle. That number was creeping pretty darned close, which --along with my jeans and seeing holiday pictures--was an intense motivation to get my tushie moving!!

Anna Campbell on March 5, 2010 at 1:27 PM said...

Hey, it's a Bandita mini convention! G'day, my sisters in crime! Nancy, what an interesting post. Actually a golfball size bit of cheese seems like a lot! Good luck with your plan. Actually the other great thing about kickboxing is that it's a great tension relief, I imagine. Pruning is for me - there's something about devastating an overly ambitious plant that really leaves me feeling like superwoman.

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 2:18 PM said...

Tawny, I had gestational diabetes, too. I had to follow a very strict diet, but I walked out of the hospital almost at my pre-baby weight.

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 2:20 PM said...

Hi, Anna--Kickboxing is great tension relief, smacking my fist into the bag, hearing the thwack sound, feeling the tension up my arm.

LOL on the pruning! I tend to devastate all plants, not just the "overly ambitious" ones, so I steer clear.

Beth on March 5, 2010 at 2:33 PM said...

Love your plan, Nancy! I've cut back on my sugar and only allow myself dessert on Sundays (that's when I make a big Sunday family dinner *g*) And while I've always kept up with my walking/running, I've recently gone back to my step aerobics class which I love because she incorporates resistance training with the cardio :-)

The hardest part about exercising for me is pushing myself. For a long time I did just what I had to but now I realize I need to workout longer and harder if I want to see results.

Michelle Butler on March 5, 2010 at 2:43 PM said...

One of the reasons I love to attend classes at the gym is that the instructors ALWAYS push me harder than I'll ever push myself. I have 3 gyms about 10-15 minutes from my home, and I even go so far as to make sure I'm attending the toughest available class with the toughest instructor for any given hour. :)

Gerri Russell on March 5, 2010 at 3:01 PM said...

Nancy great reminders that "we" are in charge of ourselves, not the chocolate. Life is stressful. It's how we deal with that stress that's the important part.

Here's to more fruit-eating in both of our futures!

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on March 5, 2010 at 3:03 PM said...

Nancy, you are rocking the blog today. Such a good discussion we're having.

jo robertson on March 5, 2010 at 3:22 PM said...

Great post, Nancy! You've inspired me to renew my commitment to lose weight. I have 25 pounds which feels as much as a hundred. And the weight that the charts say is healthy for a woman my age is exactly the same weight I had when I delivered my first child! Life is not fair! LOL.

I don't have trouble maintaining the excercize, but stress eating is really a problem for me. Any suggestions?

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 4:27 PM said...

Beth, I liked resistance training--built muscle, which burns calories faster. I know what you mean about pushing yourself. That's an advantage to taking classes, that the person at the front pushes everyone.

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 4:28 PM said...

Michelle, for me the toughest instructor is someone to avoid until I get back in shape. Feeling like I can't keep up is one thing that deters my attendance, so I need to be able to step back and not have someone tell me, ANYBODY can do a from-the-toes pushup. No, really not everyone can automatically. Takes core and upper body strength. I admire you for seeking out the toughies.

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 4:29 PM said...

Hi, Gerri--it's a good thing fresh fruit is coming back in season around here. Makes good intentions easier to implement.

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 4:30 PM said...

Thanks, Trish! Thanks to you and Tawny and Michelle for having me.

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 4:34 PM said...

Jo, I'm glad you liked the post.

I'm actually within the acceptable body mass index (BMI) for my height. But I'm not within acceptable parameters for my clothing, and I feel sluggish. Ugh.

The best way to manage stress eating is to create another outlet for the stress. Vigorous walking can work. I really do find hitting a heavy bag cathartic, and I wish we had room here for one. If we did, I'd have kept up the punching and kicking practice when my injuries healed but I wasn't going back to the gym because of family-related mess.

Or eat something different--fruit instead of chocolate. Those 100-calorie popcorn bags are pretty good.

For me, stress eating grows out of restlessness, pent-up negative energy. So anything that works off that energy helps.

Michelle Butler on March 5, 2010 at 4:40 PM said...

I've struggled a lot with stress eating/eating for reward/emotional eating a lot and feel like I've done a pretty good job learning to stop - or at least contain it during the worst moments. A lot of my pieces here, at the heart of them, are about this struggle, and you may want to read my last Michelle Monday blog post: Michelle's Top Ten Guidelines for Healthy Eating and Losing Weight.

Best wishes with your stress eating!

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 4:50 PM said...

Jo, hand pads to punch, about a foot square and a couple of inches thick, or mitt-type things, can also be cathartic if you have someone to hold them and boxing gloves to protect your hand. We can't use them because the dog freaks. Seriously.

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 4:51 PM said...

Michelle, a lot of people run into trouble with reward eating, too. I've switched to CDs, DVDs or books as my rewards.

Nancy on March 5, 2010 at 8:35 PM said...

Thanks, Trish, Michelle, and Tawny, for having me. Thanks also to everyone who stopped by.

I've had a fun day, but I need to pack it in now. Best of luck with our weight management plans to all of us!

Good night.

Tawny on March 6, 2010 at 12:55 AM said...

Nancy, you rock :-) What a fab visit, thank you!!! I meant to be here more often this afternoon/evening, but had to pick my agent up at the airport and her flight was early, then the evening went late.

There is so much amazing info floating through here today, I'm beyond inspired. Thanks to you -and to all the commenters!!!

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