Weight Loss and Body Image

Am I this size?Although I often discuss body image and my eating habits with you, I’ve been reluctant to share my actual weight, not because I’ve ever been ashamed of it, but because I know that it is easy to be discouraged by comparison.

Listening to someone talk about needing to lose 10 pounds is annoying when you are trying to lose 40.  Listening to someone talk about being 40 pounds overweight can be disheartening to someone trying to lose 100.

I don’t want to be a source of discouragement.

I want all of you to recognize the beauty in who you are, and to know that your appearance is merely a reflection of that beauty.

Happiness, confidence, kindness, love – these are reflected in our faces and in our body language, and these are what make a person beautiful.  Beauty and self worth cannot be measured in pounds and ounces.

Having said that, I know that most women have an idealized vision of beauty for themselves.  A body type, a weight, a form to which they aspire.  I also know that many of us do not have an accurate body image.

I know I don’t.  My perception changes with my moods and hormones.  Some days, I’d describe myself as heavier than I am; other days, I think I am considerably thinner.  My husband pointed this out to me earlier this year, when he saw this post.Some days I feel bigger than I am.

That day, I had trouble believing him, but when I’m shopping it is noticeable even to me.  Depending on the day, I’ll grab clothes that are sizes too big or too small.  I don’t recognize my own size when I see it.

My self perception has never been accurate or stable, unless you count it as stable because it does not matter what size or age I am, my body image remains skewed.

Despite that, I feel content with my appearance.  I was content before I starting losing weight, too.  I did not enjoy the feeling of being overweight, but I did not feel ugly because of it.

I began tracking calories in order to assess the healthiness of my diet.  My perception of that was delusional, too.  It turned out I grossly underestimated my sugar intake and overestimated the rest of my calorie consumption.  Healthier eating was my goal.  Weight loss was incidental.

Incidental, but significant.  I’ve now lost over twenty five pounds.  I’m within ten pounds of “ideal weight” for my height.

So has anything changed?

I am a size smaller, but I don’t feel more attractive, prettier, sexier, or any of that.  My proportions haven’t really changed, just their dimensions.  There are parts of me that look better now, and others that looked better then.

My legs are trimmSome days I feel thin.er.  They’re still dimply with cellulite, but I think they look great below the knee and fine above it.  Lumpy, but fine.

More importantly, no more chub rub.  My thighs are not sticking together with sweat this summer.  Since I wear skirts almost daily, this is significant.

On the top side, I miss my chubby girl breasts.  I knew I’d lose a cup size or two when I lost weight, but I was hoping the skin would firm up so they wouldn’t look empty.  No such luck.  My breasts now look way too National Geographic, and I have not yet found bras that fit exactly right.

My neck is still waddlesome and crepe papery, a genetic gift from which there is no escape.  The former double chin is, while not quite a single, perhaps more like a chin and a half.  My face is more slender, and I think that is what people have noticed when they say, “Have you lost weight?  You look great!”

Since dissatisfaction with my body was not the reason I began calorie tracking, I find it disconcerting when people compliment me on losing weight.  I know they mean well, but I dislike the notion that thinner is always better, always prettier, always healthier, always happier.

Model Me in purpleLast summer, I was more physically fit, riding my bike several miles daily.  This summer, I’ve been a slug and have barely taken my bicycle out of the garage.  I usually take a stroll in the evening with my husband, but I don’t sweat or raise my heart rate.  I just walk and talk.  Sometimes I don’t even talk.

I’m also not happier, which is another thing people say.  “You must be so happy with…”  No, losing weight hasn’t impacted my happiness.  In fact, I don’t think I would have lost weight if I’d started out unhappy.

I think it is hard to lose weight when you’re unhappy with your appearance.  It’s a lot easier to lose weight when there is no emotional baggage to lose along with it.  When calories are just calories, and eating is just eating, not an indication of your value as a person or an indicator of your character, it’s easier to make healthy choices and not be bothered by the occasions when you don’t.

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Do your clothes truly fit?

"A dress should be tight enough to show you're a woman, and loose enough to prove you're a lady."  Edith HeadI’ve now lost twenty pounds, and have begun to notice that some of my clothes are rather too loose.

I’ve always had a generous definition of fit.  If a skirt is not too tight to get over my hips, nor too loose to stay up, I consider that good enough.

(I do insist on bras that properly fit.  Well-made, supportive brassieres are not a splurge.  They’re called foundation garments for a reason:  if they don’t fit right, nothing you put on over them will look its best.  Neither will you.  I could write a whole post on bras.  I think they are that important.)

Skirts do need to stay up high enough so to overlap with the bottom of the t-shirt.  I’ve had to remove a bunch of skirts from my closet that were slipping too low or hanging too crookedly to be reliable.

So I’ve increased my visits to the thrift stores to once a week.  They’re my best source of summer skirts, and I have almost replaced about as many as I’ve had to retire.

I find skirts more comfortable and appealing than shorts or trousers, and I wear them year round, with tights in colder weather.  I’d rather wear dresses – I love dresses – but they rarely fit all of me at once.

Dresses that fit on top float away from the rest of my body, or they’ll fit my hips and be huge at the bust.  Empire waists don’t usually help, because the high waist line often cuts across my bust instead of underneath it.  I believe this is because I’m tall, not because my breasts have fallen.

Sometimes, I look at women wearing dresses, and wonder if they hired a seamstress to do alterations, or do they just naturally fit into dresses?

More often, I wonder if the popularity of yoga pants is due to the fact that there are millions of women out there who cannot find clothes that truly fit.  Adding lycra is so much easier than tailoring clothes to fit the nuances of the female form.

This is how shirts are supposed to fit?   On whom?It’s not only dresses.  Many of my shirts look baggy now, too.  Losing weight hasn’t affected my shoulder breadth, so the next smaller size is still too small.

My shirts weren’t much more flattering before I lost weight.  It’s not that I buy boxy t-shirts.  They all have a bit of shape to them, at least they look that way when laid flat for folding.  On me, though, they look shapeless.  If they fit at the shoulders, they’re big at the waist.  Or if they skim the waist in a pleasing way, they’re tight across the bust.

Woven fabrics are just as bad, sometimes worse, even the ones with darts to shape them.  They don’t hang right on me.  There’s too much stiff fabric around my middle.  Bust darts aren’t located at my bust.  Princess seams rarely curve along my curves.

That all sounds rather whiny, but I don’t really think about it unless I’m shopping, which is how I spent the morning.

I understand why some women give up on trying to dress nicely.  It can be disheartening to try on item after item and not have them fit properly.  It might be tempting to think that the problem is our bodies, but it is not.  Ready to wear is based on averages, and most women are not average.

As I told my daughter when she hit puberty, “All women are wearing jeans that don’t quite fit.  It’s not just you.  Jeans fit men and children, people without hips; women just wear them anyway.”

Tell me, truly, do your clothes fit straight off the rack?

P.S. – Have any of you tried custom made dresses from eShakti?  I’d like to try them when my weight stabilizes.

Is tracking calories obsessive?

Sopia Loren:  Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.My husband asked me the other day if I am “still obsessing over what I eat.”  I told him that if he meant am I still keeping the food diary, then yes I am still obsessing.

Even though I think it makes me look crazy, I bought a food scale so I could be more accurate in my record keeping.  I am not good with numbers, and my guesses at quantity are all over the place.  Sometimes I grossly underestimate; other times I think I’ve eaten way more than I have.

I think of myself as tracking calories, not counting them.  What’s the difference?  Mindset.  If I were counting calories, I’d be limiting my food intake.  To me, tracking them only means that I record what I eat.

Tracking calories is still working for me.  So is avoiding an excess of refined sugar.

As I told my husband, sugar is too delicious for it to be safe to say I’ll never go back to my high-sugar habits, but the reduced joint pain continues to motivate me.

Being pain free is much more appealing to me than either weight loss or being able to eat candy at will.

After three months of sweets as very rare treats, I can honestly say that sugar is not the temptation it was three months ago.  At Costco last week, I bit into a sample of a caramel something ice cream bar and found it sickeningly sweet.  I didn’t even want a second bite, and threw it away.

A few months ago, I’d have been debating the ethics of a second sample.

That’s not to say I have not enjoyed a cookie or three when my daughter bakes them, or that I have stopping making desserts myself.  (Although, right now, being summer, there is nothing better than bowls of berries with freshly whipped cream.  No sugar needed.)

My homemade granola and muffins aren’t sugar free, either, and I eat them almost daily.  There is a world of difference between a Pumpkin Walnut Oat Bran Muffin and a Baby Ruth, though.

Beyond the sugar, there are still days I am not inclined to eat enough, and the diary reminds me to eat a handful of cashews or drink a glass of milk before I go to bed.

I’m still losing weight, slowly but steadily.  I lost three pounds last month, bringing my total to eighteen pounds lost.

Because I am tall, weight loss has to be more dramatic than that to be noticeable on me.  I haven’t even changed clothing sizes, although I can feel the difference in the way things fit.  My husband and my sister are the only ones who have noticed the change.

I’m fine with that.  It might make me self conscious if I felt like my efforts were on display.

Which begs the question – why am I blogging about it?

It’s been a month since I mentioned my progress, and I plan to continue to keep it at that.  I debated dropping it, but decided that would just make regular readers wonder if I’d given up.  Like my husband, you might be curious if I’m still obsessing over it.

I am.

Are we too self-deprecating?

To someone like me, who does not like meanness, self deprecating humor is the best sort.  Mocking one’s own foibles can be hysterical in a way that pointing out the faults of another never can be.

On the other hand, there is nothing amusing about walking into someone’s immaculate home and having them apologize for the mess as they straighten the one pillow that was not perfectly plumped.  Instantly, I am made aware of potential messes I might make – where should I put my purse, how much hair am I shedding right this very minute, and am I really allowed to sit on this furniture?  It doesn’t make me anxious to visit again.

If your house is a mess, apologizing for it only draws more attention to it.  Chances are, nobody would mind the dust-doggies trailing across the floor if you didn’t point them out.  (Let’s be honest.  They might notice, but noticing and minding are two different things.)

Body Image:  what do we say?Yesterday, I read that the same holds true for the things we say about ourselves.  Self disparaging comments about our bodies do not make us more likable, whether the remarks are true or not.

For some reason, I find this harder to believe.  Am I just kidding myself?  This research was done among college students.  Would the results be the same for women in different stages of life?

I also wonder if this is true only of strangers, or if it affects those with whom we are already friends?  It seems that most of the women I know speak more of discontent than delight with their appearance.

It’s not a constant topic of conversation; that would be tiresome.  It is, however, a frustration shared aloud – the difficulty of losing the post-baby weight or the mid-life bulge.

Obviously, I share those thoughts myself.  Does this make me a less likable blogger?

I don’t think ill of my friends who share that they’d like to lose a few pounds.  If I know a friend is trying to change her eating habits, I won’t serve cake or sweets when she visits, but, other than that, it doesn’t affect my behavior or opinion of her.

Honestly, sometimes it would be weird to express a positive body image.

Body Image:  Banning Fat-Talk?If I were to greet a friend with, “Anything new?” and she responded, “I joined a gym, trying to keep from outgrowing my jeans,” I’d ask if she liked it or if it was working.  If she responded, “I joined a gym.  I’m already the ideal weight, but I want to get stronger,” I’d wonder why she mentioned her weight if it wasn’t an issue and hope the topic soon changed.

How often can you work it into casual conversation that you like your looks before you sound like a boor or a braggart?  I’m thinking it is slightly less than the number of times you can mention that you are still have ten pounds to lose.  Not a whole lot less, but, really, one announcement that you’ve lost all the baby weight is sufficient.

Still, I get the point of the article.  Negativity is not appealing.  Whether we are talking about our homes, our bodies, our jobs, or our families, complaining is not the way to win friends or influence people.

Unless you are a comedian.

How Many Weight Loss Rules Are There?

How many food rules can I break?Since I began the food diary two months ago, it has been hard to resist talking – and writing – about it incessantly.  I don’t think I’ve ever had to think so much about eating, so it is often on my mind.

True confession:  Left to my own devices, I’m an under-eater.

One of my dearest friends suggested this to me years ago, but I had a hard time understanding how I could be gaining weight by not eating enough.  My Fitness Pal warns me about “starvation mode,” but we’ve all seen photos of people who are truly starving.  They are not chubby like me.  I really do not believe I gained an extra thirty pounds by eating too little.

I think I gained it the modern way:  eating too much junk and too many calorie-laden restaurant meals as my metabolism was slowing down.  Under-eating some days and way over-eating others has probably been my norm for the past decade.

The first month of tracking, I lost ten pounds, most of it in the first couple weeks.  I think a fair bit of that was water retention.  Does sugar cause water retention?  I think it does, because when I cut the added sugar, my joints no longer felt swollen and achy and I dropped several pounds in a week.

(In case it isn’t obvious, I have no scientific training or medical knowledge, and nobody should take dietary advice from me.  Except my husband and children, who should.)

Then, I stopped losing weight.  I was also struggling to consume 1200 calories, much less the 1470 recommended for me, and felt miserable.  I wasn’t bothered that the scale wasn’t budging.  I was bothered that my digestive track wasn’t budging.

This is the primary reason I stopped eating meat years ago.  Apparently forcing myself to eat both eggs and yogurt every. single. day. has the same effect.  I decided to listen to my body and stop forcing myself to eat “high quality” protein.

Healthy eating is stressful.  All the best advice out there might not actually be right for any given person.  Apparently, I can only process so much protein a day, and most of it needs to come from vegetables and grains.

Sorry if that was TMI.

So, for the past two weeks I’ve been eating less animal protein and more of everything else, and I’ve lost a couple more pounds.  I’m not trying to eat low carb or low fat.  I am trying to eat 1200-1400 calories a day.

I’ve stopped trying to eat the five small meals a day that experts recommend, because it’s too much work planning that many meals.  I eat my three regular meals and, if my calorie count was low for the day, a bedtime snack.

If I crave chocolate in the afternoon, I do eat a square of dark chocolate.  If I want orange juice, I drink it, ignoring the juice-haters.  I have no forbidden foods.  I don’t deprive myself, other than relegating sweets to special occasions.  (Although I am not craving sweets, it does still feel like deprivation when I see others enjoying them.)

The nighttime snack (often cereal and milk because I need to get my calcium) helps ward off the junk food envy.  My family likes to eat chips or candy at night, and the sound of munching makes me want to crunch something, even when I am not hungry.  So a snack before bed works for me, even though I keep hearing that I should not eat at night.

I feel like the foundations of better health will be built upon breaking the rules.

At least, it will be built upon breaking expert rules, but they change their minds so often that I’m probably better off ignoring most of what they say anyway.

Thinking Thin: Sweets as Treats

God works overtime to prevent me from becoming vain.

I have lost ten pounds in the past four weeks.  The only garments which are noticeably roomier are my bras.

I have to remind myself that:

  1. I knew this would happen.
  2. Weight will eventually come off my belly, hips, and thighs.
  3. There are other benefits to the changes I’ve made.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I’ve been eating more protein and less sugar.  Now that I’ve been tracking my eating habits for a month, it’s not as much work to get the protein.

The sugar still requires considerable restraint, but I think this is where I feel the biggest difference.

I used to think I was developing arthritis, because I often woke with the sensation of swelling in my elbows and hands.  They never looked swollen, but they felt it, and they ached.

Since scaling back the added sugars, the soreness and inflammation has stopped.  I remind myself of this when I want to eat a peanut butter cup or special dark nugget with almonds.

I have not completely eliminated sugar from my diet, nor will I.

Sweets as Treats:  Adopting a health mindset about foodI still eat at least two servings of fruit daily, and when my mother in law baked pineapple upside down cake, I happily ate one piece.  Only one.  Yesterday, I went all out and ate, according to My Fitness Pal, an estimated 600 calories of baklava for Easter.

The cake was worth every calorie, but, in all honesty, I should have cut the baklava in half.  I enjoyed the first few bites more than the last few, but I finished it anyway.

This is where I need to adjust my thinking.  I need to return to the mindset of sugar laden desserts as special occasion treats, not every evening indulgences.  I should stop eating if/when the taste isn’t as fabulous as I’d anticipated.  Those are the thoughts and habits I had years ago – when I was thin.

I plan to continue to eat home baked goodies when offered, to make them occasionally, to savor one piece or two bites, and to remember my old policy on sweets and treats:

If it’s not fantastic, don’t waste the calories.

No grocery store apple pie tastes like one made from scratch.  I’m almost always disappointed in cake.  Cool Whip is gross.  Cookies really do taste better fresh from the oven.  The first bites always taste the best.

Now I just need to convince myself that Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey is not delicious.

My Fitness Pal: friend or foe?

Raspberries, ie sugar is delicious.

Dear My Fitness Pal,

It has been two weeks since our relationship began.  I am still not sure you are the sort of Pal I want.

I believe you are well intentioned, but you are making me crazy.  When Karen Irving at After the Kids Leave told me about you, you sounded great.

I figured that even if I don’t lose weight, maybe you could help me improve my health.  Not that my health is bad.  It’s fine.  Losing fifteen would be fantastic, though.

You seemed like you wanted to help.  I don’t think you’re malicious, but….

I cannot do what you want me to do.  It is not possible.

You tell me I need to eat more calories, but you don’t want me to eat more sugar or fat.  I expected scoldings about my cookie and candy habit, so I gave them up.  Now you are being ridiculous about this.   I feel like you want to take all the pleasure out of eating.

I drew you this picture, so you can see how I feel:

Why We Abandon Diets

You’re holding too much against me.  Who knew that fruits and veggies were so sugarful?  And milk?  Plain Greek yogurt has as much sugar as protein.

I used to think everything delicious contains sugar or dairy.  Now I realize that just means that everything delicious contains sugar.

I can’t give up every food I like to eat.  I know sugar is bad, bad, bad, but it is so good, good, good.  I’m not going to stop eating blackberries.  I don’t care how often you highlight my sugar overages in red.

Should we break it off now, or should we give it more time?  I want to think you’re on my side, even if we don’t see eye to eye on the fruit and veggies issue, but I’m not sure.  I’m confused.

I spent the first week forcing myself to eat when I wasn’t hungry, and the second week feeling hungry all the time.  I lost a couple pounds the first week, but as soon as I got my calories near your goal, I gained them back.

You’ve encouraged me to eat more protein.  It was hard the first week, but it’s getting easier.  I thank you for that, but I also wonder if the protein consumption is what is making me feel so much hungrier.  Or am I hungrier because you make me spend so much time thinking about food?

I’m trying to be faithful, but Sugar has been my friend for so long.  Choosing between the two of you is not easy.  So far, I’ve chosen you over candy, but I need to see results to make our relationship worth sustaining.

I’ll let you know at the end of the month.

Your reluctant friend,
Ginger Kay

P.S.  I’m visiting my mom next week, and that is usually one long junk food binge.  If I give that up for you, I expect pounds dropped.  If I don’t, please don’t hate me.

Motivation for weight loss? No, but…

I ran across this site on Pinterest yesterday.  Model My Diet allows you to make an image of yourself based on your current height and weight, and one based on your goal weight.

Although I’m not on a diet, I couldn’t resist comparing my current and (self determined) ideal weights.  Maybe it would even motivate me to eat fewer sweets.

At left is the virtual me.  Or, it is me if my skin were still as firm as it was at thirty.  My skin is rapidly losing elasticity, and no amount of exercise or dieting is going to change that genetic heritage.

So, what would I look like if I lost twenty pounds?

That’s the thinner me on the right.

Twenty pounds lighter and I did not even lose the double chin!

Not motivational.

I played around with it, to see how much I would need to lose to have a single chin.  Forty pounds.  That’s how much I weighed at my first prenatal visit, over twenty-one years ago.  I have not seen it since.

Funnier, though, was that no matter how much weight the virtual me lost, her breasts stayed the same size.  I wish.

Still, the Model My Diet simulator did inspire me.

While I was trying to get rid of my virtual double chin, I set the weight at known points in my history: my weight in college; my weight at my first prenatal visit; my weight after that second baby, when I could not get rid of those last ten pounds and felt FAT.

That’s virtual me, post-baby, feeling fat.  Granted, my stomach was a bit poochier than that, and it was covered with stretch marks (still is), but over all, it’s pretty accurate.

I look at her and wish I’d not cared whether I’d ever lose those last ten pounds and just enjoyed the body I had.

Which is good advice for me today, too, and, maybe, for you.

Does this state make me look fat?

I live in the thinnest state in America, or rather, the least obese state, according the CDC.  Curious?  Go ahead and look up your state.  I’ll wait.

Back?

Don’t feel bad.  Your state might be fatter because all the thin people moved here.  Not the ones who look like supermodels, the ones you suspect are anorexic.  They probably moved to NY or LA.  The ones who moved here are muscular and fit and burn so many calories that they feel no shame in downing super sized meals that I have never once eaten.  Competitive athleticism is a major draw for the area.  There are triathlons for preschoolers, and 5ks are the most popular fundraisers.

I’m not thin.  I’m not obese, either.  I’m overweight:  above my ideal, but not considered a medical problem.   However, living where I do, I feel huge.  Most places I go, I am the largest woman present.

In contrast, in my home state, with a 27% obesity rate, I look about like most of the other women my age:  flappy arms, a bit of a belly, and a sagging neck.  There, I don’t stand out.  Here, I feel like an eyesore.

Ironically, I gained a good part of my chub since moving here, because, thin state or not, I hit middle age.  Or it hit me.  Hard.  When I was young, I could skip lunch for a few days and drop five pounds.  Now, my metabolism shuts down if I even think of skipping a meal.  Or if I don’t.  Doesn’t matter.  It’s not what it used to be.

Not gaining feels like a win at this stage.  Eating less, exercising more, and neither losing nor gaining is about as good as it gets these days.

I see articles and books which promise I can dress to look thin, but when you are surrounded by people whose idea of fun is eight hours biking up a mountain or training for a marathon, vertical lines and dark colours are not enough.   I’ll still look (and be) bigger than the 30something who spends two hours a day in the gym and wears yoga pants everywhere to make sure everyone sees the results.

Next time, I’m moving to a fat state.