Wednesday, May 29, 2013

DietBet final results: Third time's the charm?

I didn't make it. When I weighed in this morning I knew there was no sane way I could lose the remaining 4.2 before bedtime, so I put in my final weight.

I lost 0.8 per week during this competition, which is not bad at all, especially with a holiday weekend right at the end.

My husband didn't win either, but he lost 5 pounds. No Biggest Loser Resort trip for us.

After 2 months of these competitions, I'm looking forward to taking some of the time pressure off. I will definitely try another, after a little break.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

DietBet: Not yet

I have until tomorrow night to get a weigh-in and photos for my DietBet. As of today, it doesn't look like I'll make it. Ending after a holiday weekend wasn't great timing for me. As of this morning, my weight was up around 178. I need to be at or below 174.3 with my weigh-in outfit on to win. I don't think it's going to happen, but I'm going to give it one more day. I'm not going to do anything drastic, but I can keep my food light and drink a lot of water. The weigh-in deadline is tomorrow at 11:59 Pacific time. I expect to be in bed by then, but I'll probably try tomorrow morning and give it one more shot tomorrow night before dinner.  
My husband had a strong start -- getting to 91% of his goal early on, but he also got caught up in the party atmosphere and doesn't think he'll make it either.  There goes my best shot at the trip to the Biggest Loser Ranch.
I do think that it has been worth participating in these challenges. I had trouble for so long getting under 180, and now even after a holiday weekend, I'm still well below that milestone. So even if I don't win, I have made progress toward my real goal, losing the weight. 

Thanks to those of you who clicked through my links to join the game, I have $45 in game credits. That means that next time I want to play, I can do it for free. I might take a little break, though. That intense focus is hard to maintain. I think that's why I keep falling short.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Weigh-in, Monday, May 27: Up but down

 As usual, my weight is higher on Monday than it was midweek. I am, however, down 3.8 from last week's Monday weigh-in. It's not surprising, because I had an average calorie count for the week that was more than 250 calories less, and burned 1255 more calories in exercise. The difference: I figured out what exercises were allowed with my injury.

DietBet still believes I can win, and so do I. I just have to keep that goal in mind when I'm at my pool party this afternoon and out with friends this evening.

Enjoy your holiday weekend, and thank you to any of you reading who might have served in the military.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

DietBet: Can I make it? Plus, what I did this week, May 20-26

After yesterday's weigh-in, I have 1.9 pounds to lose, 2 on my scale. DietBet gives me a 67% chance to win.  The game technically ends Monday, but the final weigh-in is Tuesday-Wednesday. I need to keep any weekend festivities reasonable to have any hope to make it.

Last night we had friends over for a cookout. One of the guests is a vegetarian, so we made Smoky Ratatouille (#3 in the slideshow). I love this recipe, but wouldn't recommend it for when guests are over -- it's too fussy to allow for socializing while everything cooks. Next time I'd just do plain grilled vegetables. The men also had bison burgers.  It was fun to have people over. I'd like to do more of that.

I'm not going to swimming today but I will try next week. I still have a lot of puffiness in my knee and the group class tempts me to push myself too hard.  I am going to be watching my nephew today and I am sure I'll be tired and sore from carrying him around. 

Workouts for this week:

Monday: Spin class, short walk in the evening
Tuesday: Pilates Reformer -- I'm adding this in because it works on hips and core
Wednesday: Tried a Body Sculpting class but I couldn't do a lot of it. Went to physical therapy and asked the therapist to recommend strength work for the gym instead.
Thursday: No workout, did a lot of stuff around the house
Friday: Spin class, did the exercises recommended by the therapist in the gym afterward, then went to physical therapy again
Saturday: Pilates Circuit, tons of housework for the party
Sunday: Probably will be another day off, cleanup from after the party

I need to get back on my Home Routines so that my house stays company-ready. I have been doing the daily checklists but not the Zone work, so things stay generally picked-up most of the time but the deeper work doesn't get done.  

This week I also want need to finish and upload my conference paper. I have to be disciplined and get my work done during the week so I can really enjoy my weekend.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Celebrating: Ten pounds

I have now lost 10 pounds since I decided to invest in Lose It! premium on December 28. I made this decision after my husband's 5-year-old nephew, who only sees me at Christmastime, said, "You are a little fatter." I said, ssadly, "I know." He said, "It's not your fault, it's your belly." He said this very sweetly and innocently, but I decided that was enough for me. I couldn't pretend that my weight gain was only a temporary blip.

The only reason Lose It! hasn't awarded me a 10-pound badge today is that I didn't put that December 28 weigh-in into the app, so it thinks I have only lost 9.6. I put all my weigh-ins into FatWatch, because it isn't linked to twitter and doesn't announce every up and down.

I usually post graphs here that are smoothed out with a rolling average -- they eliminate some of the big ups and downs.  I was able to export my data and make an uglier but more accurate graph in Excel of what losing 10 pounds looks like for me.  As you can see, I have a lot of ups and downs.

I still have just over 21 pounds to my Weight Watchers goal weight.  I carried another nephew, who weighs between 20 and 25 pounds, downstairs yesterday and I definitely noticed adding 20 pounds makes a huge difference in how my knees feel.  I am hoping that subtracting that weight will make things a lot easier on all my joints -- my feet, knees, hips.

Even though I still have more progress to make, I am happy that I have gotten this far.  The last time I weighed this weight was more than two years ago, in March 2011.

I'd definitely recommend both apps I'm using.  FatWatch is great for keeping an accurate and detailed record of your weight, and unlike most apps, it allows you to easily export all your data into Excel.  Lose It! is great for actually doing something about the weight with calorie counting and exercise tracking. The Premium version adds a lot of nice features for $39.99 per year. I wrote a detailed review earlier in the year, so I won't repeat them all here.

Of course, you don't need all these apps to lose weight. You could use a notebook and a calorie-counter book, and some graph paper to plot your losses. They definitely make it more convenient, though.

Anyway, I'm just taking a little time out to celebrate my progress.  I am down a little more than my 5%, and 10 pounds seems like a lot. Now to do it two more times...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Finding my way

I'm starting to make peace with my injury, as it's not like not accepting it will make it go away. As Vickie says, there is a lot I can still do. I have been taking it relatively easy to get the swelling in my knee down. I'm sitting here with an ice pack right now.

I am figuring out what I can do.  I did a Pilates class yesterday, which was mostly fine -- I had a few painful moments but I was able to modify.  Monday I did a Spin class and that seemed fine too, which is a relief. If I can do Spinning, I can get the intensity that I need and keep most of my cardio fitness while the injury heals. In the past, when I have had to take time off running, doing Spinning instead seemed to help make the transition back to running okay.  I still have hope that I will be able to do some running again, though I don't plan to make it such a single-minded focus ever again.  I have figured out that running does not equal great weight loss for me. I don't think I am a good enough runner to run fast enough to burn tons of calories.  I am a much better cyclist and swimmer. Speaking of swimming, it seemed to be kicking off the wall that hurt, so I may try going and doing open turns or just kicking off with my better leg. I have to be careful not to aggravate my shoulder, which is another old injury.

I am pretty sure that the real lesson of this injury is to bring back yoga and strength training.

I'm still hoping to be able to do a triathlon this summer, even a tiny one, but I am not going to push it if my knee says no. It is currently the boss of me. I do not want crippling arthritis or a knee replacement. I have my golden years to consider.

On the diet front, I had a bad food weekend, which resulted in a big weight swing up, but I have corrected for it and my weight is coming back down again.  I am eating cleaner, which for me still includes grains and legumes -- I had a quinoa salad with lunch and my favorite red lentil soup last night for dinner. I have consulted various websites and books on an anti-inflammatory diet and am taking their recommendations into account when planning meals. Many of them say too much meat can be inflammatory, which is fine with me since my environmental concerns and tastes have always meant that it's a small part of my diet. The Mediterranean diet is probably the best fit for my personal preferences and philosophy. That doesn't mean that I sit with a big loaf of bread and dip it into a vat of olive oil while guzzling wine (though that sounds heavenly, especially with the Up & Running tiramisu for dessert)!

I have 5 days (technically 7) to lose 4.9 pounds (which on my scale is 5, because it rounds to the nearest 0.2) if I am going to win my DietBet. My best hope for the Biggest Loser resort trip may be to root for my husband to win and take me, but I'm not giving up yet. I would love to be in the 160s for FitBloggin' in late June.

Finally, I just realized that I have been struggling with this weight thing for about 10 years now. I have been pretty hard on myself at times, especially when I have felt judged by other people. I was touched by this post by LBTEPA (most mysterious acronym ever) that reminded me that other people's nastiness doesn't reflect the truth.  In LBTEPA's case, it is definitely NOT true that she is carrying extra pounds because she is lazy, as I cringed in pain when she posted about doing a triathlon on an injured ankle. (And no, I don't expect people to go that far in defense against negativity.) For me, when other people are nasty, I could take it personally like I usually do, or I could acknowledge that it hurts, take whatever part of the criticism is valid into consideration, and disregard the rest. The quote by Plato that she ended with, "Always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle," goes for ourselves too.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Weekly weigh-in May 20: Another bad week, another bad weigh-in

I am discouraged, to say the least, that I am back up so much on the scale, even though I know that some of the gain is temporary water gain and will be gone in the next few days. I was in the high 170s all last week, and we went out with college friends on Saturday and went to a cookout yesterday.  Still, it's no fun to see the weight I worked hard to lose return on the scale. Or in my DietBet, which now has me at no weight lost.

I have been feeling very down about the injury. Scaling back on my activity always makes me feel worse, even though it might seem like a rest. I don't feel like myself when I haven't gotten a good sweat. And I'm in some pain, which is no fun.  I am taking Aleve (naproxen sodium) twice a day, and I wonder if that might have some impact on my weight as well.

But I know now, after Friday's appointment, what I'm dealing with. Even though I'm not supposed to run, there are a lot of other things I can do.  I'm going to go to a Spin class today. That will help a lot.

This week will be a busy one.  I have a conference paper to finish for my conference that I leave for in 20 days. My goal is to have it posted before I leave for another trip with my husband on May 31.  I don't want to bring this paper into June.  Sooner, rather than later.  Time for me to take the good advice I have been giving my capstone students all semester about not procrastinating and doing a little every day.

I have been wanting to plant some flowers and a few tomato plants, but I'm not buying anything until I get some serious work done on that paper.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What I did this week: May 13-19

This Tuesday I learned that my knee pain was caused by a bone spur, and this Friday, I was assessed by a physical therapist. Actually by two, an experienced therapist and a student who was shadowing. The student actually did the evaluation, watched and backed up by the therapist.

I had seen a different physical therapist in the past and though I liked him personally, he never seemed to give me enough information about why I was having problems. That left me trying a lot of different things but not having a clear direction on how to make myself better. I tried everything from minimalist shoes/barefoot running (not great for the kind of body I have -- most successful barefoot runners are skinny) to more confining, stability shoes. And finally I had given up, and used the orthotics that  the podiatrist made for me in a very basic, neutral shoe.

This therapist thinks those orthotics are too rigid but that my shoes are not stable enough. My hips are also not strong enough, allowing my knees to buckle when I walk which is contributing to all the problems I've had. My guess is that all the sitting I have done while grading papers/goofing off has not helped either. I have some exercises to strengthen my hips, and I'm going to be seeing the therapist 1-2 times a week for a while.

I'm frustrated but I want to do what it takes to get better. Feeling sorry for myself is probably not part of that plan, though I did indulge a bit on Friday afternoon.

What did I manage to do this week, with all that going on? Not as much as I would like:

Monday: 30 minutes walking
Tuesday: Nothing, saw the sports medicine doc
Wednesday: Bicycled to campus and back (20 minutes), walked (20 minutes), and did therapy exercises
Thursday: Just did therapy exercises
Friday: Therapy exercises, walked 20 minutes
Saturday: Biked for 45 minutes, walked 30 minutes
Sunday: Skipped swim because it hurt so much last week, did some therapy exercises in the pool.

I'm feeling just a little hopeful that things can get better, but I am worried that I'll lose another summer of really active training.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sports medicine doctor visit

To review, my current knee problem seemed to start for me when I started taking the Xtend Barre and Butts & Guts classes -- both strength classes with a lot of bent-knee weight bearing. Especially Xtend Barre, where the instructor kept barking, "BEND YOUR KNEES MORE!" It hurt while I was doing it, and it hurt after I did it, and I should have known better. It's hard when I'm getting yelled at like that to listen to my own body. I did stop taking the classes, but apparently not until I had gotten the knee area good and inflamed. And then I tried to do running and swimming and my knee just didn't feel right. It wasn't like my past experiences of Runner's Knee, which hurt under the kneecap. My pain was above the knee and to the side. It wasn't just the pain but also a deep feeling that something was just not right.

I have to admit I was a little nervous about going to a sports medicine doctor. I figure these docs are probably all ex-jocks, so I pictured a super-tan aging dude with a crewcut and big biceps. It, sad to say for my feminist self, did not occur to me that the doctor would be a woman. She may be an ex-jock -- she is very tall so maybe basketball or volleyball.  She was very nice.

I explained my problem and just like my family doc, she asked lots of questions and took my issue very seriously, more seriously than I had taken it myself. I was afraid I was making a big deal out of nothing. She felt around the knee joint and had me bend it different ways. I had worn loose capris to make this easier, and I was glad I did.

She did a quick knee ultrasound and looking at it, even I could tell that something was weird. There was a pointy thing that did not look like it should be there. The doctor went back and forth over it a couple of times and then sent me over to X-ray. The X-ray technician asked, "So this has been going on for about a month?" after checking the films. The doctor showed me the X-rays -- there was a triangle-shaped spur on top of my kneecap, exactly where you would not want a pointy thing. The little black triangle on the drawing is my doctor's illustration of the spur. On the plus side, she didn't see any deterioration in the cartilage in the joint.

Apparently, because of my past problems with Runner's Knee, I have some arthritis and the bone spur is a result of that. Fatiguing and stressing my knees in the new classes caused my knee to track badly, irritating everything. I'm taking anti-inflammatories (just OTC Aleve right now) and I have an appointment with a physical therapist on Friday.  I also have exercises to do at home. A couple of them hurt right now so I might wait on those until after I see the PT. 

I'm doing physical therapy because I want to be back to normal activity as soon as possible. The doctor said I can run "as tolerated" but should probably wait until the inflammation is down.  No more Xtend Barre for me. I did, however, put Pilates Reformer back into my schedule, since the goal for my PT is to increase core and hip strength and decrease pain.

I looked into the Whole30 stuff that Debbi is doing because she said it helped her with her joint pain. I just don't understand the justification for cutting legumes from the diet -- they seem like a good source of vegetable protein. I'm not a vegetarian but I don't like eating a lot of meat.  A lot of other anti-inflammatory diets include them and low-fat dairy. I'm looking into South Beach right now.  The main agreements between these competing plans seem to be:
  • Minimize or eliminate processed foods and sugar
  • Maximize vegetables (and to a lesser extent, whole fruit)
  • Emphasize healthy fats
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners

I don't want to follow a strict diet at this point but I think I can definitely incorporate some of these elements into my life.   

Monday, May 13, 2013

Weigh-in Monday, May 13: Out-of-whack week=bad weigh-in

Last week was a mess in so many ways. Getting sick on Tuesday and eating and doing nothing all day. Dealing with the knee issue. And, of course, overdoing it yesterday at our Mother's Day brunch. I wasn't surprised that I had a bad weigh-in. I'm definitely feeling out-of-sorts this morning. It is nice that I'm hitting the dreaded 180 mark only when I've had a really rocky week.

I'm hoping that with a more normal week of eating, and with some kind of helpful information from the sports medicine doctor on Tuesday, things will settle back down. I have a lot of lost ground to make up in my DietBet, where my weight is always a little higher because I have to include my weigh-in outfit. Due to rounding, that can make a difference of between 0.6 and 1 pound.

I turn in my grades for the semester tomorrow, so I have to focus on work today. After tomorrow, though, this weight-loss project becomes my #1 priority

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Fitbloggin' session description

This is the session description for the small-group discussion that Margo and I will be leading at this year's Fitbloggin' conference:

Getting Back from Gaining Back

Did you reach your goal weight only to regain as you fell back into old habits? Do you feel sad and ashamed when you remember how you swore that you would "never again" be overweight?

We believe that healthy weight loss begins from a place of self-compassion. It's great to try to develop healthier habits and work toward your goals. We just don't think self-punishment is going to get you there.

Think about it -- even if you could hate yourself skinny, would you really want to?

We’ll talk about:

  • Developing healthy habits that are sustainable and rewarding
  • Finding ways to ditch shame and find compassion for yourself
  • Asking for the support you need from friends and family
  • Using technology to help you in your "weight loss project"
  • Dealing with body image confusion after a big loss or a big gain
  • Living your life with confidence and style, no matter what you weigh

Presented by Margo and Jen

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Not a great diet plan

I have been home sick all day with a nasty bug. It's one of those ones that come on fast and make you feel awful but (hopefully) don't last long.

It hasn't been that bad because I haven't wanted to eat much -- I just don't feel up to it. I have also been headachy and tired and chilled all day.

All "one stomach flu away from goal weight" jokes aside, this is no fun. Here's hoping I wake up all better tomorrow. I have work to do.

I have to admit, I'm curious to see what the scale says tomorrow, though.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Weigh-in Monday, May 6: Up a bit

I am up a bit, but less than a pound from last Monday. I need to get going in the right direction again today. I have 5.3 pounds to lose in 21 days to win my DietBet.

I can do it. I have workouts planned for this week and meals planned for the day. Things are still moving in the right direction, and in the last couple of months I have made good progress.

The key is to get the calorie count down. As Jillian said to a woman who was asking how to lose weight when she was busy with work and school and couldn't work out, "The body cannot manufacture calories." Sure, exercise is important for reshaping the body and creating a bigger calorie deficit, but the food is the key.

No excuses -- I will have a loss next Monday.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

What I did this week, April 29-May 5

I actually got outside to bike a couple of days this week, which was a lot of fun. I had been doing all my cycling indoors and it's nice to actually go somewhere. The weather here suddenly got nice and it seems like every blooming tree burst into blossom. It certainly makes exercise a lot more pleasant. 

Monday: 30-minute run, 10 minutes walking, plus a 40-minute outdoor bike ride on my big cruiser
Tuesday: Swam for 30 minutes
Wednesday: Day off, did some spring cleaning around the house
Thursday: Spin class, 55 minutes
Friday: 30-minute run, 10 minutes walking
Saturday: Got the road bike out for the first time this year, one hour ride. Also walked to and from the Jillian Michaels show. I booked a hotel half a mile from the theater figuring that was a nice, easy walk. It was a little dark and spooky when we left the show at 11:30 and once we got about a block from the theater, the streets were deserted. Note to self: Downtown Cleveland is nicer than it used to be but it still isn't the kind of place you want to walk half a mile in the pitch black. 
Sunday (today): Skipped my swim practice. Took a 30-minute walk instead. I didn't sleep well last night after the show. Our hotel room was either stuffy or freezing, and we opted for freezing. When we got home today we put in some of the screens (we have an old house with old-fashioned storms and screens) and our house feels nice and cool. I think I will sleep well tonight.

Plan for next week: 

Monday: Spin class in the morning, outdoor bike ride in the evening (I have to miss my usual Thursday Spin so I'm switching things up a bit) 
Tuesday: Swimming in the morning, maybe a walk in the evening
Wednesday: Body Sculpting class, might do some yard work in the afternoon. My garden needs some work.
Thursday: Run in the morning, last day of classes
Friday: Very busy work day, with a graduation party in the evening. Off.
Saturday: Pilates Circuit, outdoor bike ride in the afternoon
Sunday: Swim class

Review: Jillian Michaels's Maximize Your Life Tour

This is a completely unsolicited, uncompensated review. I bought my own tickets.  Please excuse the extremely bad iPhone photos. Last night was the only time I've ever been jealous of Droid owners, since they seemed to be able to take much better ones with zoom.

Any regular reader of this blog knows that I am a big Jillian Michaels fan. Somehow, though, I hadn't heard about the Maximize Your Life tour until I saw her tweet that she was coming to Cleveland on a Saturday night.  I didn't really know what I was buying when I bought the tickets, but when I saw how big the State Theater was, I made the rash decision to upgrade to VIP seats. I figured there wasn't much point going to see Jillian live if I would just be watching her on the Jumbotron from the balcony.

I was thrilled to see Janice when I went to check in for my VIP wristband. I heard her before I saw her, and I would know her voice anywhere after listening to the podcast for so many years. I'm as big a fan of Janice as I am of Jillian.  Jillian also brought her family with her on tour, and her daughter decided to ham it up a bit onstage before the show with another special guest, Danni.

The show was like a live version of Jillian's podcast, but I got some new insights from the show.  I knew all about interval training and "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Clean Fifteen," but I still took notes as I listened, mostly on the motivational and inspirational aspects of the show, but also on some of the food and fitness stuff. I liked Jillian's definition of a plateau as creating too small a calorie deficit to reliably see results, for example.  And though she has a favorite type of exercise -- strength circuits with cardio intervals -- she said that people should "find something you love and do it, a minimum of four half-hours per week and a maximum of six hours a week." I thought that was great, accessible advice. I also wrote down "The moment in which you think you're perfect enough to finally pursue your passions. . . never comes."

I also made a few snarky notes to myself. Jillian kept using starting a bakery as an example of something someone who was living her passions might do. "If we're not supposed to eat cake, why are we all starting bakeries?" And also, "Is there anyone who hasn't internalized a feeling of worthlessness?" (Not me or anyone I have ever met!)

Mostly, though, the show was great. We got to see a nice video showing Jillian's history and her family. It's interesting to me that the way she describes her father could describe most of the older male contestants on The Biggest Loser: Overweight, emotionally shut down, and defensive.  Because her mother is a psychotherapist and Jillian is such a big believer in the idea that we reenact our original family dramas, I wonder if she has ever realized that her work on the show is allowing her to rewrite that history and find a new ending. When she helped Ken, for example, maybe she was creating the new dad for Austin that she wished she had for herself.

Most of the show would have been great from any seat.  The VIP ticket meant, mostly, that I was closer to the stage, and also gave me access to a half-hour question-and-answer session after the show.. Some people in the front row actually interacted with Jillian during the show and got high-fives and hugs, but there were about 200 people in the VIP section. It wasn't an up-close-and-personal experience, but it was worth the upgrade to me to be able to see Jillian and hear her answer people's questions in person. Danni and Janice also participated in the Q & A.  To be honest, I think this was the best part of the show, because Jillian was her most natural and relaxed self. Just like the podcast, she got questions both from overweight people trying to make a change, and fit people who wanted to know how to help other people. The hardest one for me to hear was a very overweight woman who had been sitting in the row behind me who said she had no fire or drive to improve her life and wanted to know how to keep her eight-year-old daughter from following her path. She seemed so defeated and unhappy. I hope she found some inspiration from the show.

I didn't get a chance to ask a question. When I checked in, I was told I could bring the question sheet back at the intermission, but in a huge theater packed with mostly women (I counted about ten guys, max, in the VIP section) there wasn't time to do much but run to the ladies' room and get back to my seat. It was a long show but it didn't feel long. Jillian was a tiny little dynamo, using all the space on the stage and laughing with the crowd when something went wrong with the projection system.

If you're a fan and the tour hasn't hit your city yet, consider buying a ticket. They have some reduced-priced seats available now, some as low as $25. The VIP tickets are much more expensive. Mine was $150. There was the option to upgrade on the spot at my show, and I'm not sure if it was the same price or discounted to fill up empty seats.  That might be an option worth checking out.

The VIP gift in my packet was an audio CD. I haven't had the chance to listen to it yet. Once I have, I'll post my thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Review: Stranger Here by Jen Larsen

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book myself, with my own funds, and am providing my unsolicited review here. Though I am familiar with Jen Larsen's work, I don't actually know her, however much I might feel like I do after reading her memoir. Links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. If you decide to click through, thank you. 

As soon as I heard about , I wanted to read it. I have never had or even considered having weight-loss surgery (WLS), but I am familiar with the disorientation that weight gains and losses can cause, and the title suggested the kind of identity struggle I have had during this whole funhouse-mirror experience. Of course, it was much more extreme in Jen's case, as the span from her top weight to her lightest was 180 pounds, and she lost it all so quickly. That seemed to have left her lost and confused.

This book may not be what people interested in a weight-loss surgery memoir are looking for. There aren't a lot of gory details about the surgery itself, or tips on how to follow the recommendations for living after the surgery. Jen seems to have closed her eyes to all that and gone with a trial-and-error approach, and though she still has her piles of documents about the surgery, she doesn't seem interested in finding out more.

There's also not a lot of before-and-after porn, the staple of transformation stories. There is one set of pictures in the very back of my Kindle edition, and it reflects the same ambivalence hinted at by the title: In the "Before" picture, Jen is very big, yes, but she is wearing a sexy top, smiling, and seems totally engaged in a conversation with an off-camera friend. In the "After," a much smaller Jen is unsmiling, stiff, and totally focused on the camera. She looks, from her posture, like she is trying to make herself disappear.  In an interview, when asked about a similar set of pictures, Jen said the after photo was just a result of feeling self-conscious about having her picture taken:
I was so tired of people assuming Before is bad and After is awesome. I wanted to use a Before photo that wasn't a cliche, that didn't pander to the idea that all the smiling has to start happening in the After photo. The fact that I look kind of terrified in the After photo is actually kind of an accident. I am really not good at taking posed pictures without looking stiff and awkward.
Given the tone of the book, though, I'm not sure that is totally true. I am guessing that the after photo was taken when Jen was at her lightest weight, around 130. During this same time, the book documents her desperate struggle for approval and acceptance. The look she's giving to the camera seems to say, "Am I okay yet?" and it's a feeling I can identify with. It's the same way I felt when I got to my own goal weight, and then didn't know where to pin all my remaining feelings of discomfort and inadequacy, now that the weight was gone.
This is the real heart of the book, Jen's message that losing 180 pounds didn't bring her the feeling she thought it would. It didn't solve her problems or make her relationships better. I think anyone who has lost weight, especially those who lost and regained a little, would relate to that feeling and her experiences of looking around with confusion at the world that told her that losing weight would make all her dreams come true. Jen says, of her current weight (in the 160s), "Generally, I am happy. I don't stand out, and I can fit just about anywhere, in this world that's built for a specific size of person." It seems like fitting in, not standing out, are the important words here. That's another thing I can relate to. There is a certain amount of attention that dramatic thinness brings that can be very uncomfortable. Fitting in to the mainstream is easier in many ways.

Another important theme is how weight loss tested all of her relationships. There is an implied lie in the commercial weight-loss industry that you can change yourself without changing the people and environment around you.  In Jen's case, it was obvious that her new diet and her changing self-image caused a disruption for those around her. The relationship that suffered most seemed to be one built on an unspoken contract to avoid looking at the truth at all costs. Her stronger, more honest relationships survived, but not without some struggles.

Perhaps the most striking thing to me, as a WLS outsider, was the conveyor belt from her first contact with the surgical center to the actual surgery. Everything from that first moment pushed her toward getting the procedure -- the surgeons even helpfully found her a psychiatrist and a general practitioner who would check off her insurance company's requirements without asking too many questions. There was the assumption that this surgery would take her from sickness to health, and the surgeons helpfully expedited the process. In fact, when the GP her surgeons set her up with was out of the office, she encountered a doctor who told her the truth. At more than 300 pounds, he said she was generally healthy. He obviously was upset that she was taking such a drastic step without really understanding the consequences.  He urged her to wait, think about it, try other options. But at that point, she was already committed to the idea that this was her only hope.

Reading this book is a bit like watching a train wreck in slow-motion: Though a successful outcome of the surgery was dependent on her compliance to a very strict diet, Jen was not able to lose the recommended weight before the surgery to reduce the fat in her liver and make the surgery less complicated. In fact, she gained more weight. I'm not sure that it's responsible practice to perform a procedure like this when all indications were that she would not, or could not, comply with the post-surgical diet.  And she didn't. It was obvious that she got no help, other than the surgery, to deal with the issues that caused her problems with food in the first place, and she seemed to shift to other distractions, like alcohol (well-detailed) and sex (hinted at) to fill the void.

This was not an easy book to read, but I read it in one frantic sitting. There aren't a lot of answers here -- the closest is a moment when Jen looks at a picture of herself in a bridesmaid's dress and thinks:
I could just be that girl. It didn't have to be a transitional state. I didn't have to be someone who used to be too fat, or someone who worried too much about being skinny. The steady stream of awareness of my body and my size and my shape could slow down to a trickle, a murmur I could tune out easily.
That is, live in the moment. Accept her body as it was. It would feel glib if there weren't all those pages before it, showing how far she had to travel to get to that insight.  She urges readers to skip that middle part, of course, and provides a lot of links and resources. That part of the book feels a bit beside the point.

The point, to me, is that through Jen's experiences we can see that looking at a life through the filter of weight and body image doesn't work. Other people don't enjoy being used as measuring sticks, so the comparison game has no winners, no matter where you fall in the rankings. Relationships that are broken don't get fixed just because your dress size is smaller. Confidence doesn't come free with the purchase of a pair of size-4 jeans.  For me, the biggest moment in the book was when Jen tossed out her fears about how she would look on a bike and just bought one and rode it.

I definitely recommend this book for anyone at any point in the weight loss process, and especially for people considering WLS. Jen's voice is fresh and honest. She is willing to put her experiences out on the table for readers to look through (though I'm guessing with some pseudonyms to protect people who didn't sign up for that).  I have missed Jen's posts on the now-defunct Elastic Waist blog, where she wrote post-surgery diary entries as Anne.  It was nice to get this dispatch from the other side and see that she is (mostly) okay.
Newer Posts Older Posts Home
"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07