I trust my body

The great irony is that I learned to trust my body at the point at which it was most broken.

Let’s step back a bit.

I started getting a little chubby around the time when my period started in middle school.  In high school I lost a lot of weight because my religion forbids me from eating poorly prepared food and our cafeteria food was worse than prison-grade, so I ended up doing this kind of feast and famine thing where I’d starve during the week and fill up on the weekends.  This was especially bad between when they stopped providing Total cereal in the cafeteria during junior year and before I was able to ask my parents if I could have a food allowance senior year (money was always really tight at home and I didn’t want to be a burden, plus the dorms only had microwaves and fridges for food preparation).

When I got to college I grew two inches.  People complained about the college cafeteria, but the lettuce was never brown or even yellow.  There was fish!  Nothing sat in tubs of melted grease.  Cold-cuts!  Cheese!  Whole wheat bread!  The milk was never sour.  They served juice made from actual fruit!  No, not as good as home cooking, but the salad bar alone was like heaven after years of starving.

In college I was surrounded by beautiful skinny women who were always complaining about how fat they were.  Everyone dieted.  I resisted, but somehow they got to me (I didn’t even *notice* they’d gotten to me until my first year of graduate school when someone asked why I talked about my weight so much… oh, man, I’d been indoctrinated).  I counted calories.  I ate a lot of sugary things that had no fat because the no-fat diet was in.  I was always hungry.   I don’t remember ever consciously thinking about doing this– if asked, I would have told you I was against diets and poor body images (and happy with my breast size!), and yet, I was doing what everybody else did.  And I continually gained weight.  I was my heaviest weight ever by the end of college (I can *totally* fit into my college clothing, though I don’t because styles change).

Scratch that, I was actually my heaviest weight my first year of graduate school.  BCP and depression and not having to walk very much caused me to gain all the weight I’d lost the summer between college and grad school and some more.  (I’ve seriously blocked this time from my memory.)  After getting the depression under control and moving where I had to walk more to get to school, I dropped some, but was still was heavier than the healthy weight for my height, and not because I had too much muscle.

Then we decided we were ready to have children.  I went off BCP.  I cycled once.  Then twice.  Then not again.  So I went to the doctor who sent me to another doctor.  And then another doctor because my insurance changed, and then another.  The second doctor suggested PCOS (and POF and thyroid).  The third doctor confirmed PCOS.

For a year and a half my body was broken.  Every three months I’d take a provera challenge to get my cycle started again.  I was poked and prodded and found out I had a blocked tube on top of not cycling.

During this time I found out a lot about PCOS.  I found out I’d been doing the diet thing all wrong for me.  No fat was ridiculous for my body and was the reason I kept gaining weight while always being hungry.  I cut out HFCS.  Then sugar.  Then refined carbs.  I upped my fruit, nuts, and full-fat ice cream intake.  I began snacking.  I stopped being hungry all the time.  Sweet things began to taste more sweet and I started being able to appreciate dark chocolate for the first time.  Weight started falling off effortlessly at a pound or two a week.  I stopped having mood swings.  My acanthosis nigricans went away.  I stopped being sad for no reason (other than the infertility-related reasons).  My rational mind had much better control.  Eventually I added Metformin to get the insulin under control and weight slipped off even faster.

The major thing that happened (before the Metformin) was I started listening to my body.  I started listening to my hunger.  I started noticing what foods made me feel crappy later, and what foods filled me up.  I ignored calorie counts (mostly– it’s still kind of ingrained, but now it’s more, is this an 80 calorie hunger=apple or a full 200 calorie=small meal/larabar hunger?), instead listening to my stomach and to my moods.  I learned to recognize when my  blood sugar was dipping and always had something on hand before it could get out of hand.

And listening to my body is so much easier and less stressful than adding up points or calories or trying to be the mental command-economy for my body’s caloric intake and outtake.  I don’t need a calculator, just some mindfulness.

Now, that’s not quite everything.  I still have a very addictive personality and very little willpower.  But I’m also very good at putting in commitment devices in pretty much all areas of my life.  If I’m aware of my triggers, I can keep out of their way.  For example, if there are chips in the house, I will eat them, even though I know I’ll feel cruddy later.  Same with chocolate frosted donuts.  So I don’t keep these things in the house.  I don’t buy them.  DH isn’t allowed to buy them, and if DC1 buys them they belong to hir and I can’t have any.

That’s not to say I never eat junk… but when I get a boxed lunch at work, I give back the chips right away, unless they’re cheetos (I allow myself cheetos of opportunity).  I have rules.  I only eat sweets if they pass a certain quality threshhold (chocolate chip cookies from the good bakery, yes!  from the grocery store, no!), same with pizza (local place, yes!  Domino’s, no!), and with donuts, if there’s a chocolate frosted, I’ll take it, but no other kind.  (When I was pregnant I avoided even the above because of borderline GD with the first and that nasty wheat allergy with the second– I have a lot of willpower when it’s someone else’s life on the line).  When DH bakes something, I’ll usually eat some (and he often cuts the sugar and substitutes wheat flour if applicable).  I keep a bar of Green and Black 70-85% dark in my desk drawer at all times and take a square whenever I have a craving.  I don’t deprive myself, but the junk food has to be really good for it to be worth it, and if it is good enough, then I generally don’t need that much to be satisfied.

We also do psychological things like use salad plates for meals instead of the big plates.  We take multiple little servings so we can better judge when we’re no longer hungry.  Sometimes we freeze a batch of cookies to dole them out in smaller amounts later.  Back before DC1 was so big, we’d take half of a cake we’d just made to daycare so we wouldn’t eat it ourselves.  These things help us to pause so we can listen to hunger and desire.

And no, doing these kinds of things alone probably won’t put most people at the bottom of their healthy range.  (And some of my eating needs are specific to PCOS and my body. YMMV, which is why it’s important for you to listen to you.)  Depending on how much junk I’ve been adding (because with nobody’s life at stake, and DC2 not eating whole wheat, refined carbs have snuck in), how much exercise I’ve been getting, and whether or not I’m hard-core nursing, I can be anywhere within that range, usually between the middle and the top unless I’m on metformin or the baby is getting most of hir calories from me.

But I don’t need to be super thin.

I just need to listen to my body and take care of it so that it will take care of me.

And that fits in with the greater grumpy rumblings philosophy… mindful laziness with a side order of commitment device can do great things, with health, child-rearing, even career concerns.  Figure out what works for your specific situation, set up an environment where it’s easier to achieve those goals, and change things when they’re not working.  Complete flexibility within a rigid setting.  Mindfulness creating a low mental load.  Grumpy rumblings is vast: contains multitudes.

#2 would like to remind everyone that, whether or not you would like to make food and exercise changes, a great thing to have is radical self-love.

72 Responses to “I trust my body”

  1. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Very good post. I have a similar approach to sweets and snacks (although I am not a sweets craver). I allocate myself one Pinkberry per month, and my regular sweet snack is either a small piece of super duper artisan chocolate or about a dozen Guidard dark chocolate chips. As far as fried salty snacks or other fried carb-loaded foods, I don’t eat them more than once or twice a year. I also avoid refined carbs and try to eat my bigger meal at lunch, not dinner.

  2. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    I bounced between eating disorders in my late teens and early 20’s, so I had a whole different set of problems…BUT…I can relate. I have similar ideas on food quality too. It’s no longer worth splurging on a crappy mass-produced Ding Dong or Twinkie, but I will splurge for something really decadent and special.
    I weigh about ten pounds more than I did when I had my first child, and I honestly think that it will never come off. My whole goal is just to not put on any more weight and to live a life that doesn’t revolve around food. I have to talk to my husband about it from time to time because he will do ridiculous things like bake an entire pan of brownies at 9:00 p.m. Then I eat one or five and completely hate myself for a week. He also has a hobby which makes him have the munchies (YEP!), and will literally sit down and eat a whole bag of chips or half gallon of ice cream while I watch. It conjures up all of these weird feelings in me.

    I inherited a lot of “food baggage” from my mother, and I don’t want to pass it on so I am careful with what we say or do in front of the kids. We mostly just have back room and late night conversations about it.

  3. Miser Mom Says:

    I want to say thank you for this post (and others in the same vein).

    For me, I see this from the outside-in, as it were. I have one daughter who is very heavy, probably obese in the medical sense. It has always been hard (? is that the right word?) to figure out how to be a good parent when it comes to her weight and eating habits. On the one hand, I don’t want to instill self-loathing, or even the sense that I don’t love her because she’s fat. On the other hand, I want to help her stay healthy.

    I’ve had one or two big “I worry about your weight” conversations with her. One of those times, she broke down sobbing and said she worried, too, but didn’t know what to do. I offered to go with her to weight watchers, which she seemed to like, for a while. When she stopped going, I didn’t bug her.

    When she was in middle school/high school, I also nagged/forced/mothered her into going running with me regularly, two miles a few times a week. That wasn’t directly about weight, but instead about just generally being in shape. She hated it at first, but nowadays, she still does running races occasionally. And she doesn’t drive, but will happily walk miles everywhere.

    Everyone else (family, friends) see how heavy she is and they come and talk to *me* about it. They’re worried, and they sort of hope I can do something. But her weight is a topic that I can’t bring up with her — I figure, she’s an adult, she can bring it up with me, but not the other way around.

    • Contingent Cassandra Says:

      That sounds like a good approach. Also, if she can (and often does) walk long distances, then she meets at least one definition of functional fitness. If she ever does bring up the subject, you might mention the Health at Every Size/HAES movement (google it; there’s a website and a book and a number of blogs) to her (or, for that matter, to those who are bugging you, if that isn’t getting a bit too involved). The emphasis sounds more compatible than something number-focused, like WW, on what she’s already doing: mindful/healthy eating, and moving, not on achieving a particular body size/shape.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The one other thing I would recommend is that, if she hasn’t, to get a full work-up… thyroid, PCOS, etc. I’m not the only person who discovered what was wrong with her body when starting ttc because those work-ups are standard. Its amazing what medicating an undiagnosed problem can do for weight and other aspects of life. Because weight watchers can’t fix PCOS or thyroid or RA or any number of endocrine problems that cause weight gain and make it difficult to lose weight no matter how healthily you eat. And really, it’s not about the weight, the weight is just a side-effect of something being out of whack.

      It might be that there’s nothing wrong, but when there is, fixing the underlying problem changes everything.

  4. Alicia Says:

    This is something I’ve been going through lately. I have what I generally call “tummy troubles” because 75% of what I eat makes me feel horrible afterwards. I used to think it was just dairy and really greasy “food” that caused it, but now that I eat what I call “real food” (whole food, clean eating) I still have the same troubles. I need to get it checked out, because even after listening to my body I still am having troubles. I try to treat myself once and awhile, but even then I make sure they aren’t in the vein of killing my stomach (aka, I’d love to hoover a tub of Haagen Dazs, but it doesn’t match with dairy being a bad trigger for me).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, definitely get it checked out. Once you’ve figured out the problem it’s like a different world opening up.

    • Scooze Says:

      Read “Wheat Belly”. My sister was like that until she realized she was gluten-sensitive and now she has no more tummy troubles at all as long as she is gluten-free.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      One of my friends went through a couple of years of trying to figure out what was wrong… gluten-free helped for a while but the underlying cause turned out to be some kind of arthritis, I think. And when she started getting the appropriate treatment, her gluten sensitivity went away completely.

    • kt Says:

      Supporting the other comments below. For me, going almost gluten-free (let’s put it this way — I haven’t had a single cookie since December, but I’ve had a bite!) has opened me up to a world free of sinus pain (?), tingling fingers, and needing to know where the bathroom is at all times. But I honestly don’t think it’s gluten per se — a lot of “gluten-free” baked goods also make me bloat although they don’t have the same intestinal effects. Anyhow, FIND A SENSIBLE DOCTOR if at all possible. I have a great non-interventionist doc who understands how important food is to health. And hopefully now my spouse will be a better doc, as he slept by my side during my “gluten challenge” and is an independent observer of the possibility of audible symptoms of bread-eating coupled with a negative celiac panel. He can no longer believe that’s impossible :)

      • Alicia Says:

        Oh my gosh, you just described me kt, down to the tingling, sinus issues and mapping exit routes to restrooms. You just gave me hope, thank you!

        Time to cut out gluten as the first step.

  5. gwinne Says:

    I really like this post for SO many reasons. I’m currently the heaviest I’ve ever been (outside of pregnancy, that is) which I attribute to aging and possibly a thyroid thing (which I’ll have checked again if it continues) but I have a very small weight range (like 2 pounds on either side of an ideal) in which I actually feel good…I’m about 3 pounds up from that, despite walking a shitload this summer. And I’m just starting in earnest to figure out the food thing, mostly because I can’t stomach doing a complete elim diet again (can’t remember if you read me during my ttc days…did you read my acupuncturist rant?). I need to be 100% soy-free, can tolerate dairy in small amounts and wheat (like a slice of pizza) maybe once a week. But because I don’t have hard core allergies and I don’t like being a pain in the ass, I also have a hard time w/going to people’s houses or restaurants and asking questions. And generally that results in a migraine. So I should learn, eh? My next book deals with a lot of these sorts of things….

  6. Contingent Cassandra Says:

    This resonates with me, too, including the less-than-ideal effects of boarding-school food culture. In my case, I attended a girls’ high school where half the conversation seemed to be about diets (and, at reunions, still is; most people eat salads and gooey deserts and ignore the entree); the closest I ever came to an eating disorder was the summer before senior year, when the stress of college admissions coupled with advice from a pediatrician who believed I should weigh 108 — 4 lbs. over 100 for every inch over 5 ft. — instead of 120, combined with the availability of diet books in the house because my father was trying to lose some weight, had me counting calories to the point where I was in despair one day about “binging” on apples (I think I ate 4 or 5, because I was starving — and yes, these were also the fat-is-the-enemy days). I also purged once (cake batter) during that period, and generally developed a verging-on-something-like OCD (which runs in the family)-like obsession with the whole business. I dieted on an off during college and grad school, always rebounding to significantly higher weights, and always ending up, while dieting, almost obsessively focused on food (my body seems to notice when it’s starving, and no amount of thinking “this is good for you” can convince it otherwise, which makes a certain amount of sense. To the extent weight has a genetic basis, I also suspect I have an ancestor or two who survived a famine somewhere back in my genetic line.) The summer before grad school, when I did the Eurorail-around-Europe mini-grand-tour (financed mostly by the proceeds from an undergrad thesis prize), I did discover that a lot of walking and eating what I want (albeit with the difficulty of needing to negotiate the purchase in a foreign language/culture) seemed to work at least as well for weight loss as the food-restriction-focused approaches I’d tried before. After that, my attempts at dieting tended more in the direction of moving more, and less on food restriction (though I was still, in keeping with the times, very focused on restricting fat).

    Now, at midlife, after mostly not having dieted for a decade or two, I’m seriously overweight (obese, in fact), but also reasonably comfortable in my own skin, and, oddly, probably better in touch with my body and the different signs of hunger/things being out of whack than many people I know who’ve been on diets most of their lives (I lived with a weight watchers dieter a few years back, who kept insisting that my fish-roasted potatoes-green veg. meals were “diet meals,” when in fact they’re just what I like to eat for dinner; she seemed to have a much more divergent idea of what a good-as-in-enjoyable vs. a good-as-in-healthy dinner would look like). My joints bother me at times (usually when I’m also sleep-deprived), but, otherwise, I’m in pretty good health (I never tried to get pregnant, so I don’t know how that would have gone; all I know is that my cycle was pretty regular until I entered perimenopause). I don’t really like most refined-carbohyrate junk food, in part because I don’t feel good after I eat it, and do feel good when I’m eating lots of whole grains, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, dairy (both full- and reduced fat), a bit of red meat, and a lot of olive oil (and a bit of butter) used to prepare it. The emergency food in my desk drawer is very dark chocolate and nuts. As far as I’m concerned, full-fat Ice cream is definitely one of the world’s more satisfactory (and satisfying) foods, and, although I certainly eat too much of it at times, I don’t think ice cream consumption tracks as closely with where my weight is going at any given moment than whether I’m putting sugar in my morning tea (I go back and forth on that, since morning routines can be hard to adjust, especially at times of stress, and cutting it out is usually results in a small but noticeable weight loss).

    I’d definitely like to weigh less, mostly to reduce the wear and tear on my knees, and also to make it a bit easier to buy clothes. I have some idea of how to accomplish that; as I realized that summer in Europe, what works for me is exercise — lots of walking, accompanied by some weight lifting following the “strong women stay young” program, and whatever other enjoyable forms of movement are available — e.g. swimming in the summer, when, as now, I’m living in a place with a convenient pool. When I exercise regularly, I seem to lose weight both because of the increased calorie consumption, and because my appetite is better regulated (due, I suspect, to better blood sugar regulation; when not exercising, I seem to seesaw between forgetting to eat and being very hungry). It probably also helps that I’m *not* thinking “I burned x calories; therefore I can eat y,” since I’m usually already eating y if I want it. I’m trying to make more time for fitness this summer, and into the fall, and we’ll see what happens; I realized looking back at my log (I do weigh myself once or twice a month, and keep track of exercise) that a similar push last summer had been pretty successful overall (I lost 15 pounds between June and December, then gained about 5 between January and May before starting to lose again with increased activity and — another key factor, I suspect — sleep). I do not expect to be slim, or even “normal/healthy” weight, ever. I suspect I might be able to make it from the “obese” to the “overweight” range over time. But/and I’m also aware that my grandmother and great-grandmother, whose body types I appear to have inherited (so closely, in the case of my grandmother, that, toward the end of her life, I was able to buy her a swimsuit by trying it on myself, and accounting for the differences in the padding of our more or less identical skeletons), lived into their nineties. I’m much more interested in keeping my body functional (and in doing what I can to stave off the dementia from which my grandmother increasingly suffered during her last decade) than in weighing a certain amount, or being a certain size. From a professional point of view, I do worry a bit about size, as well as age, discrimination, but the answer to that seems to be writing/publication (manuscripts don’t have BMIs, and, at least in my fairly-large field, the chances that blind peer review really is blind are pretty good).

  7. Chelsea Says:

    I spent my college years in the same boat. I’d say my “normal” adult weight is XXXlbs, but at that time I ate very little food (and what I did eat was crappy) in a quest to weight XXX-10lbs, where XXX is a normal weight for my height and XXX-10 is still technically normal but pretty light. I was also very active with running and weight lifting. And of course I was crabby and tired all the time. What a waste of my late teens/early 20’s, right? Back then I had the beginnings of hypothalamic amenorrhea (which at the time I thought was pretty awesome because I only got a period like 2x a year). Went on birth control. Went off birth control to try to become pregnant and… you guessed it… nothing happened. And more nothing. 18 months of nothing (meaning no cycle, no response to a provera challenge, no + ovulation test). I reduced my activity somewhat (and very reluctantly) and became somewhat more relaxed about food. I gained up to XXX+10lbs (still firmly in the healthy weight category but a scary # for me). Finally I went to a RI and, with the help of drugs, I got pregnant in 2 months. Did the extra weight or reduced activity help? Maybe. My totally unscientific opinion is that I’d just stressed my body so much it needed to be pharmaceutically “zapped” back to normal. I was able to get pregnant again with no help (other than, you know…) immediately after I stopped nursing #1 at 15 months.

    So what did I learn? 1. No one cared if I weighed XXXlbs or XXX+10lbs or XXX0-10lbs. And, as long as i wasn’t fixated on the number, I didn’t either. My husband impregnated me twice when I weighed XXX+10lbs so I guess I wasn’t that repulsive ;). I’d spent so much time worrying about it, but it just didn’t matter. 2. How incredibly liberating it can be to listen to your body. That’s what I love LOVE about being pregnant. It allows me to give myself permission to eat what makes me feel good (which was only peanut butter pretzels and grapes for about 3 weeks during the 1st trimester) and exercise as much as it makes me feel good.
    Too bad I can’t seem to carry that lesson over to my non-pregnant life because 3. My body will not “betray” me. I have counted no calories and eaten whatever I wanted (which is not the same as saying I ate a dozen donuts at every meal…) and skipped/reduced workouts when I was tired, and I have gained a healthy amount of weight during both pregnancies. My body did it… all by itself… with no help from my brain, which wants to say, “Shouldn’t you try for another mile?”. And after DS was born, I nursed and became more active, and lost the baby weight. My body did not want me to weigh 500lbs, and if I listened to it, I was never going to weigh 500lbs.

  8. What Now? Says:

    Such an interesting and thoughtful post. I didn’t know this language of “commitment device,” so I’ve just done some reading about it. I’m currently at my all-time high weight and am fretting about it a bit, but I don’t seem to be able to make myself do the calorie-counting thing with any reliability (I did it successfully once before and lost weight … but a few years later I’ve gained it all back plus some). But your post has definitely given me some food for thought.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Having tried it one summer, #2 believes that calorie-counting is a tool of oppression.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Calorie counting makes #1 fatter. (Because she eats the wrong foods and starts obsessing about food in a bad way, as opposed to her usual happy gourmet obsessions, and ends up eating over her allotted calories in an anger-filled haze.)

  9. Debbie M Says:

    This is awesome. So are the comments.

    I have lived long enough to see how fast and how often nutritional advice changes, and therefore it’s best to rely on your body signals whenever possible. Plus it seems clear everyone’s different, not just psychologically, but also with how they biologically process food and exercise.

    I’m getting fairly good at eating only when I’m hungry and eating reasonable amounts. Bringing take-home containers to restaurants helps me eat a reasonable amount–I can still eat everything, just not all right now.

    The main thing my body tells me is that I am always hungry four hours after I eat, no matter how much I eat, so it’s better for me to eat less. (My boyfriend is the opposite–he can fill up at an all-you-can-eat buffet for lunch and then not need dinner.)

    My scale tells me that I generally gain weight the day after eating certain things, but not after eating certain other things. The weight adders are mostly eating too much food. Also, adding lots of extra cheese to my macaroni and cheese. The non-weight adders include baked goods made by me (whole grains, reasonable amounts of butter and sugar). So I listen to the scale as well–I’m lucky that no foods make me feel bad (except the icky-tasting ones make my tongue feel bad).

    But I also do lots of rationalization. I know that diabetes runs in my family (my mom, her mom, her mom’s mom). But I tell myself that there’s a spectrum between diabetes and hypoglycemia, and that although there is no sign of hypoglycemia anywhere in my family, I am probably on that side of the scale because I get hungry often and I am still thin (even though my mom’s mom was also thin). Terrible. But so far my blood sugar’s been good, so I get away with this sort of behavior.

    I do also like the food-quality method of portion control. Maybe it’s okay to go a little overboard occasionally with amazing party foods, but once I taste something and it’s not awesome, I don’t have to keep eating.

    I find your religion’s prohibition on poorly prepared foods intriguing. I’m making up my own religion as I go along, and this sort of idea is now up for consideration. The body is the temple…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      re: the religion thing

      One of the few edible things they had occasionally at the high school cafeteria was vegetarian chili. But you could only have the vegetarian chili served over a disgusting hotdog that had been sitting in a vat of mysterious yellow liquid because they didn’t make enough chili for anything other than chili-dogs. Unless you were vegetarian or had a religious exemption that precluded you from eating hot-dogs. So to get a bowl of vegetarian chili, I had a religious belief about poorly prepared foods.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Awesome! (I mean your solution, not the problem.)

      • Rented life Says:

        I like this religion. Husband and I firmly believe food should taste good. Crappy candy and cakes are never tempting because ew. (My mom needs to join the religion because if she sees chocolate, even gross stuff, she’ll eat it.)

  10. Scooze Says:

    Like the post. I also have low willpower but an ability to stick to a goal in with the power of OCD if there is a real goal. ie a 30-day workout challenge. I need to figure out how to incorporate goals more into my diet regime and not just think “low-carb, low-carb, low-carb” while I eat a Twix. Ha!

  11. Linda Says:

    The timing on this post is interesting because I just started a “healthy body” challenge on Monday. Some of the folks in my challenge group may call it a fitness + weight loss plan, but for me it is about getting back to a healthier body.

    I was always the anomaly in my family. I didn’t have to try hard to stay fairly slender. It may have been partly because I had some strange approaches to food (like, I didn’t like my food touching each other on the plate, which naturally led to smaller servings.) It certainly had nothing to do with my aversion to sports or organized exercise.

    As I got into my late twenties and early thirties, I started making time for exercising at the gym on my own. (Stuff like the recumbent cycle and the weigh machines.) I started this because I began getting heavier and wanted to lose that weight. I’ve watched my grandmother and mother become obese and diabetic and was determined that wouldn’t happen to me. I went through periods in my late twenties and early forties when I was hitting all the social marks for having a good body; I was trim and exercising regularly. Interestingly, the times when I was at my lowest weight and in the best shape were ones when I had went through a significant break up or relationship change (like my divorce in my early forties) and was 100% focused on taking care of me and listening to what my body wanted as far as food and exercise.

    I slowly started to gain weight, eat crappier food, and do less exercise starting about five years ago. My body has paid the price. I’m much too heavy and am trying to lose at least 30 pounds (which would still be about 10 pounds more than I was when I was at my “best” weight, but at 47 I’m cutting myself some slack). The “challenge” I’m in lasts 60 days, and I’m hoping to lose about 20 pounds during it. I am exercising 6 days a week for at least 20-30 minutes. I’m following a diet plan that counts food more by “type” than by calorie (such as “primary veg, lean protein, healthy fat, etc.), and am using that to formulate meal plans. I’m eating six times a day, but they are smaller meals/snacks. I am including a kind of “supplement shake” in this meal plan, but that is because it includes a whack of soluble fiber, which my perimenopausal body seems to require these days. (My prior approach — psyllium fiber mixed in fruit juice — would have been too many “empty” calories, and I can’t stomach that psyllium fiber in just plain water.)

    Here it is Day Three of the challenge and I’m doing very well. I think this is partly because I am telecommuting all week and have a lot of control over what foods I’m exposed to, and partly because my partner is out of town for the week, too. He has really bad (for me, at least) food habits and it’s hard to not join him when he pulls out a back of Chex Mix at night for an evening snack. I hope that having a really good week and starting to feel healthier will make the temptation easier to resist when he is back next week. Also, I’m not drinking a glass of wine nearly every night, either. (Alcohol = more empty calories.)

    However, I’m not doing this to meet some social norm. I’m doing this because I need to avoid the diabetes and joint issues my mother and grandmother have/had. I need to feel energy and not feel tired all the time.

  12. chacha1 Says:

    I have a commitment device. It is called “loving to dance.” :-)

    Recently I found a photograph of myself at age 17-ish which was taken for a modeling application. I was 5’4″ and 117 lbs at the time, per the notes on the back. At the time, I did next to no physical activity. I started doing yoga at age 28 and started dancing at 32.

    I haven’t owned a scale for going on 20 years, relying on my clothes, my mirror, and my tape measure to keep me honest. I suspect I am currently between 140-144 pounds, which would be the heaviest I’ve ever been. I am now (at age 48) 5’6″ tall, so going by the 4 pounds for every inch over five feet, I am nearly twenty pounds over the “ideal.”

    However, I don’t much care about “ideals.” (Because patriarchy, and also unreliable scientific basis for weight/height recommendations.) What I care about is: do I look and feel sexy *to myself*; do I look and feel strong; am I flexible and well-balanced and speedy and agile.

    Eating right for my body is a big part of achieving all that. Being strong, agile, and speedy means feeding muscle, which means lots of protein. My breakfast is usually either old-fashioned oatmeal with walnuts, spices, and milk; or an English muffin with egg & cheese from the lunch counter downstairs. I happen to like animal protein, and I eat it daily – always in the form of dairy, and nearly every day either eggs or meat of some kind. I don’t, as a rule, snack. I have a piece of fruit mid-morning almost daily, and a cup of decaf with cream in the afternoon; those are my snacks. If I’m hungry because I’ve been very active, or dinner was vegetable soup, or I didn’t sleep well and need an energy boost, I head for plain Greek yogurt. Chips and cookies don’t generally enter my house. We have a lavish stash of gourmet dark chocolate though. :-)

    Recent enchubment can be directly attributed to a high-stress family event that has resulted in a joint decision not to perform, or train for competition, this year. Our activity level has plummeted, but we haven’t adjusted our eating. And excess eating in our household has ALWAYS meant sugar in its various forms. Currently, because it’s hot, it’s ice cream. We can also be relied on to have an alcoholic drink pretty much every day, which is basically pure sugar too. And then there are the crackers to go with cheese and sausage.

    Due to a strong desire not to get so deconditioned that a return to training will be actively unpleasant, I have begun slowly ratcheting up my yoga and strength-training practices. I will never be a Ninja Warrior like Kacy Catanzaro, but I *can* be a national champion in my sport.

    Only if I am mindful.

    • Contingent Cassandra Says:

      Keep in mind that the 4 lbs.-per-inch rule is extremely dubious, even by the standards of modern BMI charts (108 would place me toward the bottom of the healthy weight range on those, while 120 would be smack in the middle of that range; according to the charts, my weight could still be in the healthy range at 130, or about 15-lbs-per-inch). Basically, I had a pediatrician with a naturally lean build, who believed that he maintained that build thanks to sensible eating and regular exercise (which was true, in his case), but didn’t realize that others might work differently. I suspect my (by then late) mother may at some point have expressed concern to him about the family history of overweight/obesity on my father’s side (my mother and her mother were both naturally very slim; one of the more instructive experiences of my life was recognizing that my slim grandmother actually ate considerably more, during the average day, than my heavier grandmother). I suspect he felt he was being vigilant given knowledge of that history, but the idea that I was overweight at 120 was ridiculous (and the degree of calorie restriction it took to lose 10 pounds was drastic). I still wonder whether dieting in late adolescence slowed my metabolism (more than it would naturally have slowed; it’s pretty clear that I was not going to take after the slim side of the family whatever I did).

    • chacha1 Says:

      Yes, I think the 4-per-inch thing completely random and not to be relied on. Even at 140-144 I am still a size 8 (if a solid one) thanks to my genetically-blessed conformation.

      Being healthy and happy at 140-144 however does not preclude making an effort to get rid of ten pounds or so of pure fat that interferes with my self-rated sexiness quotient. :-) Not to mention the fit of the Latin costume.

  13. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Thank you everybody for your great comments and for sharing your stories. This comment thread is a great read, each and every entry.

  14. Rented life Says:

    Timely as I feel pretty cruddy about my body right now. Never been heavier and I feel like I’m breastfeeding all.the.time. I hope once that stops I can figure out how to lose the weight because it’s just not coming off now. I don’t count calories because it’s so much work! But finding chances to exercise has been super hard.

  15. kt Says:

    Oh yeah, I’ll add one last contribution: switching from oatmeal to eggs for breakfast was another revelation. Who knows about gluten/grain/blah blah; the *protein* made my morning much better! I was no longer a raging hangry (*&%*& by 10 am every day. Apparently regulating my blood sugar by eating more fat & protein makes me a nicer, more Zen person. And less hungry.

    • Contingent Cassandra Says:

      Adding nuts to the oatmeal helps, too. In the winter, I do various oatmeal plus fruit plus nut (or nut butter combinations); in the summer, I often make a smoothie that includes both oatmeal and almonds. Like Linda, I’m finding that fiber is increasingly crucial as I age, and for me, oatmeal works best (but eggs are good, too; one can always have both, at least some days).

      • chacha1 Says:

        I <3 oatmeal. It's gotta be the real deal, though. Instant oatmeal is no better (nutritionally) than a bowl of chocolate Rice Krispies.

      • Linda Says:

        I’ve got to master some “savory” oatmeal recipes. Although I like fruit, I’m not big on having a lot of sweet stuff in the morning, plus I find that I really need to get some veggies in my morning meal or I end up not eating enough of them throughout the day.

        I had my doubts about this healthy eating plan I’m following because the idea of measuring portions really rubbed me the wrong way. However, I am “resetting” my idea of what a portion size should be by doing this and it’s helping in that way. Plus I’m finding that I’m mostly satiated on this eating plan. I felt hungry the second day, but the third day I noticed that I only felt hungry when I was working (sitting in front of the computer). I spent 2.5 hours at the stable grooming the horse, riding, and talking with other horsey people and didn’t feel hungry once during that time. So I think part of my “hunger” comes from boredom/lack of stimulation or whatever you want to call it.

        Here’s what I ate yesterday.
        Breakfast: thin sandwich bun (toasted); 2 eggs; 1 cup spinach & mushrooms; 1 tbsp shredded parmesan + 1 tsp oil
        Midmorning: 3/4 cup plain yogurt; apple + applesauce + cinnamon + nutmeg
        Lunch: 4 slices ham; 2 tbsp chevre; 10 asparagus; multi-grain wrap; 1 cup carrot sticks
        Midafternoon: Shakeology w/water; 1/2 banana
        Dinner: 1/2 can tuna; 1 tsp olive oil + vinegar; romaine lettuce; red onion + cucumbers mixed + radishes
        Evening: 1 slice ham; 2 figs

        I also did the exercise/workout for the day (18 minutes), and rode for an hour. AND I’ve been sleeping 8 – 8.5 hours a night. :-) Yay me!!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        If you read Willpower, it says that hunger at work comes from using your brain. It’s a good reason to keep trail mix in the office (so you can eat small amounts of protein and fiber-laced sugar to fuel your brain). Though it might be boredom if your work is boring instead of thinky!

      • chacha1 Says:

        We have had (leftover) paella for breakfast on numerous occasions. :-) I see no reason why oatmeal couldn’t be seasoned the same way … add a prefab mix of chorizo, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and peas, plus a fried egg, and you have one fantastically nutritious morning dish.

      • Linda Says:

        Well, then. Maybe my hunger does come from using my brain at work, then. Although, at work it feels like my brain is mostly in overload mode. Too much coming at me at once. Too much to do. Not enough time to process what has been revealed during a meeting or think about it at all. OK, now I’m turning this into a rant about work, so I’m stopping!

  16. Cloud Says:

    I feel like I’ve had the reverse trajectory (minus the medical stuff). When I was younger, I trusted my body and mostly maintained a healthy weight without dieting. Now, at 42, I’ve realized that I’ve lost touch with my body, in a sense. I foolishly did not pay attention when I weaned my last kid, and am 10-15 lbs heavier than I “should” be. The things that worked when I was younger don’t work now. I know that if I am going to lose that weight, I’m going to have to make hard changes but I am struggling with how many of those changes I’m willing to make and how much I can just learn to accept my 42 year old body. I am strong and reasonably fit and just barely out of the recommended BMI range, so my doctor doesn’t see an urgent problem. I can’t decide if I see a problem or not, other than when my pants get tight. Then I make enough changes to make my pants not tight again, because damn, I hate shopping for pants.

    I have a post on this brewing, actually. Thanks for the interesting discussion here. I will no doubt refer back to it when I get around to my post.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You can ignore the hell out of what weight you “should” be even if you wish to make changes for overall health. I would! You can also make changes while accepting and loving what you have now. Or, don’t change.

      • Rosa Says:

        That’s important to say, because too many people do things that are good for their health, whether it’s exercising or eating good food or sleeping more, and if it doesn’t make them lose weight, they quit. But they are things that are good for you regardless of weight.

  17. CG Says:

    I weigh exactly the same, down to the pound, or maybe a pound or two less, as when I got pregnant with my first. This despite three children and that accompanying weight gain, taking up running (not long distances but I have stuck with it) and switching almost exclusively to whole grains. So, maybe this is my body saying, guess what, this is the weight I was meant to have. I have no food allergies or intolerances, and neither does anyone in my family. Reading what I just wrote, I sound like I ought to be in a pretty good position. The problem, though, is that things have shifted around, as they do when you have children, and so to regain something closer to the shape I had pre-pregnancy I would need to lose some weight. Not a lot, I think. I’ve always had a medium build, not skinny, not fat, so I’m not going for some radical change in body arrangement. I’m trying to decide whether this is realistic/worth it. I love cooking/eating, and I have a very hard time resisting desserts. I also really don’t like being hungry, and I think that is what it would take. Like another poster above, I’m starting to realize that I get hungry a certain amount of time after I’ve eaten, and, unless it’s been some unusually enormous meal, it doesn’t matter all that much what I ate. Maybe I will try eggs, as someone else suggested. The other thing I think would help a lot is a non-sedentary job…

  18. Sandyl FirstgenAmerican Says:

    I hate myself when I eat junk-food that is full of crappity crap. Like you say, I don’t usually feel bad eating a home-made choc chip cookie, but I do feel crappy when I eat anything that’s a low quality not very tasty junk food. It just makes me feel like a big loser abusing myself in that way.

    I can’t say I ever counted calories, but generally being active makes me want to eat more nourishing foods, so exercise is like a double whammy for me. You go for the sweets less often if you have energy from being fit.

    My whole family is obese with lots of food issues, so it’s hard to be the one to break the pattern. Food = love, food = not starving, food = not being poor, healthy appetite = healthy child..regardless of what that child wants to eat.

  19. Perpetua Says:

    I’m always frustrated by the fact that egg on toast does nothing for me in the morning. I used to eat steel cut oats sometimes too (with cacao nibs and toasted pecans), but had the same problem – starving a couple of hours later. I have tetchy blood sugar, but higher protein doesn’t seem to help. But maybe I need to “reset” my system somehow, like a 30 day high protein/high fiber blitz.

    • chacha1 Says:

      Maybe experiment till you find out just what combination works to cure the hunger. For me, breakfast needs to be 400-500 calories to keep me going from 9-1:30. A lot of women try to do a 200-cal breakfast and it’s just not enough for most people.

  20. Ana Says:

    Great post and comments! I really wish my body were better at differentiating true hunger/need to eat from wanting to eat for whatever various reason (generally boredom or just sheer habit, I’m not really an “emotional eater”). I’m working on that (I suppose its called “mindful eating”) because I agree, calorie counting is oppressive and started bringing up weird OCD impulses in me harkening back to dark dark days where I pinned my self-worth on how flat my abs were.
    I know that while fat & protein keep me full longer (which explains why I was ALWAYS hungry as a vegetarian in the fat-is-evil days), lack of carbs gives me wicked migraines, so I need a good balance. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, and I do NOT eat desserts or candy unless its very high quality (and really dark chocolate, I also keep a bar at work, I need to re-stock). My weakness is savory snacks—chips, crackers, cheese puffs (I can down an entire bag of pirate’s booty in one sitting, not the single serve bags, the big ones). We try to keep it out of the house but my husband sometimes likes a little treat, so it sneaks back in and tempts me until I give in. I like the idea of commitment devices and need to think about strategies that would work for us. the best way for me to eat less is to 1) bring my lunch and healthy snacks to work and refuse to buy anything extra 2) eat dinner early in the evenings, and start with small portions 3) keep busy/out of the house on weekends, and 4) go to bed early so I don’t snack at night. I know exercise often does not lead to weight loss (because people then eat the calories they burned and then some, but I try really hard to eat the same whether I exercise or not, so exercise does help keep my weight down. Like Cloud, I just don’t want my damn pants to get tight. I’ve already done two rounds of pant shopping for larger sizes and I’d like to be done with that permanently if possible.

  21. J Liedl Says:

    Listening to your body is a good thing. Banishing from the house foods that are too alluring is another that works for me. I could eat pretzels all day long. Love, love, love them. So no pretzels in the house for me works best. I’m also an a whole foods kick (no caps – this isn’t about the store, it’s about the food philosophy). If I have to make everything from scratch, I can ensure there’s none of that HFCS sneaking its way in and that everything that’s in the meal is what I want to be there. Between the change in eating plans, supplements to counter my catastrophic anemia (thanks, perimenopause!) and, since being diagnosed and medicated for those perimenopausal problems, a decent exercise plan, I’m feeling healthier than I have in several years.

    Still, I don’t diet. Don’t have a clue what my weight is since we don’t have a scale. I know I’ve lost weight since going on the whole foods program in the winter because what clothing fits me has changed dramatically. However, I don’t really want to know what the number is because it will trigger a compulsive part of my personality where I try to “beat” previous personal lows. I want to focus on being healthy, not on being a certain weight and, boy, is that a challenge in this culture!

  22. becky Says:

    Thank you for this post. It resonated with me and my recent attempts to eliminate sugar and sweetners from my diet. I quit smoking 10 years ago and since after succeeding at that was too complacent about making other major diet changes. Now post-baby x2 and post-40 I am slowly making more changes for me – not just while gestating or lactating. My eating issues were sparked by training in classical ballet where anyone over 100 pounds is “fat” and where “weigh-ins” were not uncommon. Also, ironically, by super-healthy parents who forbid junk food, fast food, or sugar, and as a result these became somewhat fetishized for me (in that when they were available I would eat them ALL, but as a rule they are not things I will keep at home). I AM at the Mom who eats all the Halloween candy and other crap my kids bring home. My other main problem is that although eat a variety of foods and lots of flavours, I like to say that I have “the palette of a toddler”, in that I prefer bland foods like toast, plain pasta and cereal – all the refined carbs are my favourites. Although I have always been “skinny” I haven’t always been healthy and have engaged in lots of disordered eating, I believe. It is amazing to me how many people will make sexist, oppressive comments to me about being “small” or “thin,” including one stranger asking me if my baby was adopted because I was “too thin to have given birth.” Yet no matter what I weigh, I have a tummy that makes me look about 3 months pregnant by noon, as I have bulging ab muscles as the the result of clenching my abs inwards when anxious and forgetting to breath. This is something I only learned about myself post-babe #2 when I went to pelvic floor physio. It is through student papers on fat phobia and fat activism that I have recently started to think more about radical body acceptance. I have a long way to go still.

    One note that I wanted to add is that as a health scientist I am skeptical about some of the hype around the wheat belly book. I am not denying or dismissing people’s gluten issues – but whenever these topics “trend” my pseudoscience radar is tweaked. Same goes for the “paleo” diet which I DO believe to be nonsense. You can read some of the critiques here:


    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Michael Pollan notes that the benefit of both the gluten free and paleo trends is that they (used to) result in eating a lot less sugar and refined carbohydrates. Of course, with the trend come lots of sugary processed substitutes (particularly with gluten-free bread replacements– the good ones usually have a first ingredient of sugar!), meaning those benefits start to diminish.

      Also, it may not be the gluten in wheat that’s bothering people… #2 and I recently had a back and forth article off (some of which ended up in a link love, but I think only my side since I did most of the links that weekend) and it seems that there really is *something* in modern varieties of wheat that’s causing increased irritation even if it isn’t gluten.

      Me, I’ll be glad when DC2 stops getting massive diaper rash every time we try to introduce wheat.

      • becky Says:

        Ah, poor DC2. Diaper rash is the worst. My own DC2 has severe egg allergy do we will be doing the (clinically supervised) food challenge starting at 2 years.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        DC2’s has gotten a lot better, but wheat still seems to aggravate eczema. We also suspect there may be a problem with coconut, but we’re not completely sure. The pediatrician hasn’t been too worried other than saying to loosely try to keep it away from hir and not to get worried if ze gets some anyway (and we can think about testing if it doesn’t go away after age 2). So it could be worse!

  23. Leah Says:

    The only thing I cam add to this great convo:

  24. Just a little (link) love: GenCon Wednesday | A Gai Shan Life Says:

    […] struggled with health issues for more than half my life, Nicole & Maggie’s I trust my body was a sensible perspective on finding your way through the woods of healthcare, being comfortable, […]

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