Hands to help on a Monday night

Bread

As a writer, I’m used to asking the questions.

I inquire. Follow up. Probe, maybe — just a little! — to get to the core of a story in a way I hope will do the subject justice.

After seven years of writing a column, I’m still getting used to being “in the field” writing features — but am enjoying the heck out of it. I rarely get nervous these days because stories are stories, and that’s my job: to tell stories. Mine. Yours. His. Hers. Theirs.

I’ve started spending Monday evenings at a local soup kitchen. I couldn’t tell you why, exactly, other than I felt an extreme pull — a need, really — to go. I heard about the need for volunteers at work and, before I knew it, I’d signed up for the next shift. The spiritual part of me thinks that was God, and maybe it was. After sitting behind a desk most of the day, I guess I wanted to get my hands a little dirty.

I’m not saying this to pat myself on the back. In fact, it feels strange to write about it at all — but in a short time, these Monday dinners have become an important part of my life. They matter to me. These people, my neighbors, matter to me.

When I interviewed Angela Mitchell last month, she inspired me so much with her dedication to the Chesapeake Bay and its inhabitants. We talked about how some folks would love to get involved in volunteer work, but it seems daunting.

“Many people say, ‘I don’t know where to start, but I have these two hands and a Saturday morning,’” Mitchell said.

Two hands and a Saturday morning.

Two hands . . . and a Monday night.

And so I’ve started signing up to help at dinners, using an office restroom to change into faded jeans after work. The first time I came to serve anyone who needed a hot meal, at least 20 volunteers crowded the church hall. Everyone was bubbly, eager to help; so many people were there to cook and clean that I wasn’t really needed.

But I stayed. Tried to make myself useful. And at a dinner designed to unite the community and feed the hungry — older people; younger people; homeless people; people coming straight from work in faded uniforms — I looked into faces and listened to stories.

A young girl took a shine to me, lingering around the table of donated goods I was periodically manning. It was her sixth birthday, and she looked eagerly through stacks of school supplies. In her hands was a birthday card, and she asked me to read it aloud several times. “It had $10 in it,” she said.

“Are you going to save your money or spend it?” I asked.

“Spend it!” she said eagerly, as any child would.

I asked her if she had something in mind, and the look she gave me nearly burned.

“Food,” she said. “Duh.”


Eating in America


I have never wanted for food. Never had to fall asleep hungry or go to school hungry or watch others eat with nothing for lunch. My biggest food-related challenge has been to eat less of it — and the idea of a 6-year-old wanting (needing?) to spend birthday money not on toys or clothes, but lunch? Well.

I was not there to pity anyone, and they don’t want our pity. I wasn’t looking for a “thank you.” This was not for a story.

At least . . . not that kind of story.

In sharp contrast to my first time volunteering, when the hall was bursting with eager assistants, I walked in Monday to find two women struggling to pull down chairs and set up tables with just 30 minutes before guests would start arriving. Nothing was cooked, and the room was quiet. There were five of us to feed 40-plus people: serving, assisting, seating, helping, cleaning.

I panicked.

I assumed every night at the soup kitchen would be like my first: all hustle-and-bustle, laughter and ease, many people gathered to help many other people. Someone else in charge. Someone else with authority.

But this wasn’t the other volunteers’ first rodeo. As guests filtered in, I was amazed at the speed with which meatloaf, mashed potatoes, vegetables and rolls sprang from the kitchen. The women in charge were quick, kind and completely in control. After the room was set up for diners, I helped greet everyone and got them situated before we began serving. Many were lined up outside in the sun.

As we rushed to fill drink orders, bring out full plates and track down pats of butter, a young man reached out a hand. “Hi,” he said. “What’s your name?”

If I’m being honest, honest to the bone, well . . . I expected a leer. A come-on. A flirtation. Being asked my name has almost always preceded an unwelcome remark — though at 30, I rarely deal with that sort of thing anymore.

But I told him.

“Nice to meet you, Megan,” he said, and the two men with him also looked up with tired eyes. I smiled before grabbing plates and moving on.

A few minutes later, I passed by again — and the man put out a hand to catch my attention. “I’m sorry — what’s your name again?”

I told him, stifling a snap of impatience. A family was waiting on sweet tea.

“Megan,” he said, “can I ask you something?”

Here it comes, I thought. But I said, “Sure.”

“Megan . . . why do you . . .” He paused to take a slug of his water. Then he glanced at his friends, seemingly for help to pull the words he wanted from the meaty-scented air between us. Finally he asked, “Why do you do what you do?”

And I stood there, rooted to the sticky floor, used cups in my hands and sweaty hair in my face.

What I do?


Veggies


I was not the one who built this nonprofit from the ground up. I hadn’t cooked or organized this dinner. I had not donated meals, goodies or much-needed funds. I was just a worker bee: running plates, scrubbing gravy bowls, crafting Arnold Palmers from the iced tea and lemonade dispensers for delighted children.

I’m not doing much of anything, I thought. I’m just here. I showed up.

“I . . . don’t know,” I said. “I just heard about it and . . . felt like I needed to come.”

And that was the truth. The plain truth.

I don’t like to think about others being hungry — especially children. There are so many causes to care about, so much that can leave us inspired and heartbroken and eager to help. The more I volunteer to serve dinners, the more I feel the need to serve dinners.

I don’t want to talk about helping or plan to help. I just want to do it.

Maybe your cause, like Angela, is to work to preserve your home for future generations. Maybe it’s to encourage others to vote or help rebuild communities or encourage sustainable living or raise funds for cancer research.

Whatever it is, you can start small. Wade in. Commit to a few hours, then a few hours more. Get others involved. Give the gift of your attention.

Sometimes the simplest questions have the hardest answers. And even if we can’t do much, we can do something.

We can show up.


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Learning to share the funnel cake

Funnel cake

I see you over there, eyeballin’ my funnel cake.

It looks fantastic, right? The ultimate in fried pleasure. Perfectly golden on the outside, crispy on the edges, but still doughy in the center.

Warm from the fryer, the grease soaking through my paper plate.

Covered in powdered sugar, which is just beginning to form the most finger-licking crust.

Few things in life provide as much joy as a really good funnel cake — and they’re not all created equal, friends. The ones at our local baseball stadium? Lackluster. The creations at our county fair? AMAZING.

I know I should share one with my sister, a fellow funnel cake lover, or my husband — but, you know, I’m greedy. I can’t help myself. Though I have no problem stealing food off others’ plates (rude, I know), I don’t like to share dessert.

Ever.

As I continue seeking healthy eating and try to keep the weight off, though, I’m in the habit of avoiding sugar . . . until I get to an event. It’s harder to say no when deep-fried goodness is all around you, perfuming the air, and everyone has a corn dog or fried Oreo or funnel cake in their messy hands. I’m pretty strong, but I’m not that strong.

Where once I would have hogged a funnel cake all to myself, though, I keep working on balance — and know devouring an entire one alone is probably not wise.

So I shared. I shared on Sunday.

Spencer and I split one while my sister and brother-in-law had another, and the results? Pretty great. Successful. I ate my fill of fried goodness while feeling (somewhat) less guilty, and we all left feeling coated in powdered sugar in the best possible way.

The key to staying on track — with Weight Watchers, yes, but in general — is not to restrict yourself completely from foods you love. As our mothers always told us, All things in moderation. This has been the lasting strategy that keeps me from returning to old, unhealthy habits, and is one I plan to continue indefinitely.

Some goodies are “trigger foods,” though — and a year ago? I would not have had the funnel cake. At all. It’s a gateway food, and it would have been too easy for me to return to bad habits and eating whatever struck my fancy as often as I liked — a routine that brought me to my heaviest weight ever with health troubles that kicked off my mission to drop the pounds.

But I’m no dieting saint. I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that, for me, the occasional half of a funnel cake has to be okay — and as along as I wake up tomorrow still staying the course and choosing health, I’m doing all right.

For me, food once brought guilt: guilt of eating too much; eating “bad things”; snacking too much or too little; making the “wrong choices” and not doing anything about it.

I feel farther removed from the woman I once was 35 pounds ago, but I’m concentrating on not falling into habits that brought me there in the first place. Weight loss is great, sure, but how I live now is really about living. Reaching a sustainable level. Getting into habits that will serve me well for the rest of my life.

Even if I haven’t been tracking as religiously as I used to, I can see the fruits of that discipline in everything I do. Fresh produce, smaller portions, lean protein — and far less sweets.

Aside from the occasional funnel cake, of course.

It’s really not optional.


Stress management (sans pie)

It’s all too much sometimes.

It is. We all know it is. Those days when the phone won’t stop ringing, emails flood in, a hundred and one people are competing for something they needed from you yesterday . . . we’ve all had them — and will again. (And again.)

Though I try to keep myself on a pretty even keel, harried days are unavoidable. We all get stressed. As we’ve dealt with endless paperwork, financial decisions and the logistics of planning our move the last few months, I’ve been struggling to not panic and, you know, move forward with all of my hair.

Coupled with work, family, a traumatic accident in the extended family, trying to maintain friendships but realizing some friendships will naturally ebb and flow . . . along with, you know, day-to-day stuff like paying bills, feeding ourselves and making sure the car has gas? Well, it’s a process.

I’m still figuring things out. So many things. But what I have learned about stress management, thanks in no small part to my weight loss journey?

I can figure it out without pie.

I’ve always been an emotional eater, and it’s natural to want to reward myself with food. Celebrating? Have cake! Had a rough day? More cake! Need a little pick-me-up to get through a big work project? Candy! Bored with TV re-runs? Chips!

These are all behaviors I didn’t realize I had until . . . well, until I started paying attention. And I only started paying attention when I was more than 30 pounds overweight — and I decided to stop living in the neighboring lands of denial and “someday” (“Someday I’ll eat healthier, someday I’ll lose weight . . .”).

So much of my eating was done absentmindedly, and that’s what worried me most. My portions were out of control. I wasn’t even thinking about what I was eating; I was just popping crackers while cooking dinner, or helping myself to a third muffin because it was there.

That was the simplest explanation for so many of my eating habits: because it was there.

Now that I’m sharing digs — and a kitchen — with my husband, also conscious of his eating, it’s easier to control what comes in and out of our home. I’ve mentioned my mantra before — You can’t eat what you don’t have — and find myself going back to basics a bit lately. You can’t eat the good stuff, like fresh fruit and vegetables, if you don’t have the good stuff. Conversely, you can’t while the evening away with a bag of Oreos if you don’t have Oreos to tempt you.

You dig?


Weight loss - May 2014

It’s been almost six months since I hit my goal weight and became a lifetime Weight Watchers member, and I’m proud to have maintained my weight within a pound since January. But what you don’t always consider at the beginning of the journey? The “journey” has no end. It’s cliche because it’s true: good health is not a destination; it’s a way of life. It requires diligence and dedication. I’m not “dieting,” friends — I have a new diet. This is what I eat now. I can’t slip back into old habits after hitting some “magic” number.

And as life has gotten interesting, I’ve had to develop new coping mechanisms.

Before I share my own tips for dealing with stress without sinking into a pile of banana pudding, my previous go-to, I want to stress that I love y’all and would never want to make anyone feel badly about their lives or choices. As my favorite WW Leader would say? You do you, boo.

But if you see some of yourself in my words and are making changes, here are a few of my ways to deal with challenges in a healthier way:


Stress without pie


Talking it out. Despite being an active blogger, columnist and all-around oversharer, I often find myself feeling rather . . . guarded. Private. I’m not one to offload my issues, even to those I love and trust, so when I finally break down and talk about something? It’s big. And usually a relief. If I call my sister instead of helping myself to a crescent roll, I’ve made a step forward.

Pinterest. Really. It chews up time, gives me inspiration (healthy recipes! home decor! pretty places!) and generally keeps my mind busy. If I’m really stressed at work, I use my break to mindlessly scroll through pretty pictures at Panera while sipping coffee until I feel better. And usually? I do.

Baking. This may sound counter-intuitive, but I’m a stress baker. The careful blending of flour and butter and vanilla is nothing short of therapy. I love channeling my nervous or sad energy into the creating rather than dwelling. Baked goods are my love language, but I don’t let them linger too long; Spence and I may enjoy a cupcake or two, but the rest get carted off to our respective offices. Here’s a life maxim you probably know, but just in case: coworkers like free food. So now you’re suddenly popular, friends. Try it: it’s fun.

Reading. No surprise to bookworms, right? Distraction can be key during times of stress. And what’s better at helping one decompress than losing yourself in a good novel? When I keep my hands busy with a book, they’re not rifling through a bag of potato chips.

Cleaning. Since crazy times often equal messy houses, I try to stay on top of clutter by choosing one “project” to work on after dinner when I’ve had a long day. Spencer and I will occasionally email about this ahead of time — “Tonight, let’s go through the mail” — and it gives a focus to our evenings. Though I love unwinding with “The Mindy Project” as much as the next gal (and still do), having a cleaning project helps keep me from snacking at night. And then the apartment looks way better, so.

Snacking healthier. If my gut reaction is still to snack when feeling harried (which it is — hard to unlearn), I try to have choices on hand I can feel good about eating. I like the crunch and time-intensive enjoyment of celery with hummus or a ripe apple, but I’m also a huge fan of unsalted almonds, individual cottage cheese cups, grapes, low-fat pudding snacks, Triscuits and string cheese.

Getting your significant other on board. Piggybacking on my previous point, getting your loved ones to understand your stress tactics — like not have a chocolate cake in the house — can help. We have an agreement to divide up sweets and other goodies to take to work before they linger too long on our counters. (See also: stress baking.)

But sometimes cookies do help. And you know what? That’s totally fine. Am I a patron saint of healthy eaters who refrains from dessert like a sour-faced martyr? Absolutely not. I eat what I enjoy, and I enjoy what I eat — while being mindful of my overall goals. Foregoing cake today does not mean foregoing cake forever; it means I’ll choose to enjoy dessert when I’m in a clear frame of mind, not when I’m emotional and wanting to devour something just for the sake of devouring it. I drink something — water, hot tea, diet green tea, coffee — instead.

That sounds super boring, I know. Trust me. And if you told me I’d be “sipping water” instead of slicing pie a few years back, my eyeroll would have knocked you into a previous century. But I have changed, and I’m proud of how I’ve taken control of my eating — and my life.

I can’t tell you the difference it’s made.

I really feel like me. A calmer, happier me.


The new dessert challenge

photo


Desserts are really making a comeback around here.

I’m a little scared to admit that — mostly because I fear putting it out into the universe. Since losing 35 pounds last year, I had to get serious about cutting down on my sugar intake . . . which was tough. Not as hard as I expected, honestly, but still no cake walk (pun intended). I mean, y’all know I love to bake — and we got so many cool kitchen items as wedding gifts. Pie plates and cookbooks and the Kitchen Aid and . . .

It’s so tempting.

But I knew — I know — I can’t be trusted around chocolate. I just can’t. I have my limits, friends, and know when I’m reaching them. Having cookies and cake and other tasty treats loitering in the kitchen is a recipe (! okay, I’ll stop) for disaster. Even though I’m still going hard with Weight Watchers, I’m in maintenance mode now. Having hit my goal weight in January, the idea now is to keep on keepin’ on.

And I don’t want to slip back into my little bad habits.

Long term, I know I won’t go back to the way things were before. I’ve come too far and fought way too hard to change my entire lifestyle to start sabotaging myself with snack-size Snickers bars, but . . . well, the reality is that having avoided temptation for so long, sweets are getting extra tempting. I miss them. My stomach misses them. We remember the cool crunch, the chocolate tang, the caramel goodness . . .

Sigh.

But I’m learning to cope and am still adapting. In terms of Weight Watchers, I’m allowing myself some extra points each day for a Lindt Lindor truffle (2 points!) or two Hershey’s Kisses (1 point!). From the beginning, my motto was not to “deprive” myself of anything; going on a true “diet” — where you eliminate a certain food or food group — can create hunger pangs that go beyond simply eating fewer calories, I think. For me, anyway.

The second you tell me I can’t have it, I want it desperately. It’s a universal law or something.

Without getting on my sparkly spokesperson soapbox, Weight Watchers worked for me because I learned to make smarter choices, control my portions and treat myself to indulgences — not enjoy them nightly. Then they’re not indulgences. To say I can never have X, Y or Z again? Nope. Not my bag.

In that vein, I’m trying to be gentler with myself about the sweets. For Valentine’s Day, I requested molten chocolate lava cakes for dessert — and my sweet husband obliged. He even improvised by making dulce de leche as a topping, and . . . well, it was amazing.

I didn’t feel guilty after, exactly, because I planned ahead and gave myself the wiggle room to accommodate that sugary deliciousness that night. But that experience did get me thinking about trigger foods, and how the key is to indulge occasionally without going overboard.

It’s a work in progress — like me.

But we’ll get there . . . one alluring spoonful at a time.


End goal

photo

Post Weight Watchers treat (frozen yogurt!)


My weight loss goal is in sight.

And that scares me a little.

I’ve started talking with the Weight Watchers crew about my end goal: where I really see myself. How much more do I want to lose? How am I going to know when to stop?

With 23.2 pounds lost and just 1.2 until I hit my personal goal, I have so many conflicting emotions about the next step. At this point, I really believe I’ve changed my eating habits — smaller portions; lots of fresh fruit and vegetables; way fewer sweets — and know I can’t go back to the way things used to be. Weight Watchers has retrained my brain, y’all; I can’t un-know what I’ve learned about eating better.

And, more importantly, feeling better. I didn’t realize how low I’d gotten — physically and emotionally — until I started really examining what I was doing. Since joining the program, my energy levels and confidence have soared. Instead of dreading photos, clothes shopping and running into acquaintances, I feel happy and buoyant and light. By modifying my habits and getting serious about what (and how much) I’m consuming, I’ve changed.

But how do I stop?

After losing 10 percent of my weight, I chose a new personal goal: I wanted to slim down to 150 lbs. At only 5’2″, that number was still 9 pounds more than the “high” end of the healthy BMI weight range for my height — so I’m still considered overweight. (Boo.)

All along, though, I’ve thought the “magic” number for my height — 141 pounds, depending on whom you consult — seemed unrealistic. I haven’t been that slim since high school, and I couldn’t picture myself more than 30 pounds lighter. Afraid of setting myself up for failure, I ignored that number. I couldn’t do 141, I reasoned, but maybe I could do 150. No problem.

Now at 151.2, I’m within sight of that goal. I can feel it. But now I’m wondering if I shouldn’t, for the first time in my post-college life, try to get back within that “healthy” range. It would feel great to be there, emotionally and physically, but I worry 141 is not a number I can sustain — not in the long term. Maybe I could drop another 10 pounds, but should I?

I don’t know.

I already have my lovely wedding dress that is currently two sizes too big. At least half of my work wardrobe is unwearable, and I’m not exactly in a financial position to buy all new clothes. Cry me a river, I know, but it is frustrating in its own way. I’m back to not having anything to wear not because my clothes are too tight, but because they’re too loose.

A better problem to have, yes — especially for health reasons. But frustrating.

Losing another 10 pounds would mean I’ve officially dropped three dress sizes, and absolutely nothing I own — or like — will fit. I feel like I woke up one day to discover all my favorite clothes had become unwearable . . . including my favorite jeans. Because I’m in such a flux right now, I have no idea what size pants to even buy. I’m left wearing and washing the same few pairs I bought on clearance at Kohl’s for the summer, though I know I’ll have to break down and invest in new duds soon.

It’s weird.

Weight is . . . well, a sensitive subject. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. And I’m not sure there’s an easy solution to this — just my general mental wandering over whether or not it’s time to quit. I’ll admit that it’s addictive, seeing that scale move . . . and I just hope I won’t lose momentum once I’m not actively dropping the pounds anymore.

I’ll just have to recommit, this time with renewed purpose: staying healthy. Maintaining.

Both leading up to the wedding and far, far beyond.


Party food: navigating the table without guilt


You know, I love a good party. Like most folks, an opportunity to socialize and eat and give presents and generally enjoying the camaraderie of hey, we’re all here and enjoying the sunshine! is enough to get me out of the house. Though I have my socially-awkward moments, I really do enjoy a good get-together. So pass the spinach dip!

(Is it low-fat?)

Since going on my healthy-eating crusade, I’ve worked hard to identify the “danger zones” that propel me into overeating, snacking . . . or generally wolfing down food that simply ain’t so good for me.

Unsurprisingly, I kept coming back to parties — those hotbeds of deliciousness.

When we’re out with friends, we are often focus on chatting. Meals play a large part in the get-togethers we enjoy with others, yes, but food isn’t always the main focus. I usually find myself mindlessly biting into cream-cheese-stuffed celery, or downing pita chips and hummus like we’re approaching some kind of a hummus drought. I’m talking and laughing, probably taking photos.

What I’m not doing? Paying attention to what I’m consuming.

Personally, I’ve started following a few “rules” to get through these functions without overindulging. (Minus the cake, because: cake.) Now more than 16 lbs. down, I’m working to not slip back into old habits. With wedding showers, weddings, birthdays and more on the horizon, it’s important I keep it together.

So what I’m sharing is absolutely nothing new and, of course, I am no expert. But here are my party tips:


How to eat and have fun at a party
without that savory side of guilt


Be last in line. Whether it’s a work potluck or bridal shower, I make sure I’m one of the last people to get food. Because I’m always worried about holding people up, getting in line first means I’m more likely to make quick decisions and pile my plate with whatever is in reach. I just want to keep things moving. If I wait until the end, I don’t feel pressured to make a plate quickly — and I can focus on loading up on healthier items and tracking my portions. Plus, if other guests have already taken all of a particular dish? Well, less to tempt me. (And there are always vegetables left.)

Don’t hover. Everyone knows the best way to keep from eating a whole bag of potato chips is not to have the whole bag handy. It’s easy for me to hover around the snack table — c’mon, it’s the best place to be! — but I’m usually talking there, mindlessly dipping carrots into ranch dressing . . . and I’m not paying attention to how much I’m eating. Make a small plate with your favorites and walk away.


Fruit


If you want it, bring it. If you’re worried about a lack of healthy options at a get-together, offer to bring a fruit and vegetable tray and/or low-fat dip. You could even go a step further by stowing a small piece of candy in your bag for when you want something sweet, but don’t want to nosh on a cupcake. If you can’t eat what you don’t have, then make sure you have it.

Don’t go hungry. Just as we’re told to never grocery shop hungry, don’t go to a party with a screamin’-empty stomach. Have a small meal or healthy snack to tide you over. Eat a banana or apple. You’ll be less likely to go crazy at the party table, and maybe you’ll even save room for dessert. And speaking of which . . .

Eat that cake, but watch your portions. Y’all know I’m going to eat cake, and it’s not realistic to swear off all sweets. So though I do have dessert, I make sure I’m not being served the thickest slice in the lot. I used to be really timid with others, afraid of offending someone by not taking what they’d offered, but now I just politely explain that I’m eating healthy and I’d like something smaller, or I’m just going to skip it altogether. Everyone understand and has been awesome.

Though I may eventually reach for the taco dip, I feel more in control — and empowered — when I think about my long-term goals and actual hunger cues. Do I really want those chips, or am I just feeling left out? Am I hungry or just looking for something to do? Answering these questions isn’t always easy, but I force myself. I force myself to be honest.

But eh, yes — I totally want some taco dip.


Ten pounds — meeting my first weight loss goal

Bananas


The week I joined Weight Watchers, I was feeling pretty low. Despite getting engaged less than a month earlier and still feeling the jolt of excitement about that, I was overwhelmed — emotionally, physically, financially. Combined with getting in a minor car accident the night before, signing up for a weight loss program just felt like another source of guilt and frustration. Especially since I wasn’t sure I could succeed.

It was mid-January: gray and listless, cold and drab. I was out of sorts and anxious. After talking about wanting to lose weight for more than a year (and dealing with a health scare in December), my fiance suggested we join Weight Watchers together. Feeling as bad as I did, I agreed. Spencer met me at our local spot on a Wednesday night, arranging for us to sign up and do this together, and his presence calmed me . . . but I wasn’t convinced.

Because food is awesome.

Snacks and meals are more than sustenance: for so long, they were also comfort. Nothing makes me crankier than walking around feeling hungry, and nothing sets me up for a meltdown like being denied a good meal. “Good meals” for me were filled with my favorites: pastas and breads; cakes and candies; vegetables simmered in balsamic vinegar. Spencer loves to cook, and I love to chow down. A match made in heaven!

Here’s the thing: my story isn’t unique. Like many of us, I was physically active in college out of sheer necessity; going to school on a huge campus, I could easily walk five miles a day just getting from classes back to my car. Despite never being “skinny,” I could eat what I wanted because I was out and about so much. My weight wasn’t a huge issue.

Then came graduation. Leaving College Park for a desk job meant I was now sitting eight hours a day, and exercise and I have never been buddies. The constant advice to “find an activity you love!” has just never worked for me . . . because seriously? Don’t like running, don’t like dancing, don’t like the elliptical. My stint at the gym was a failure — and the fees piling on my credit card for unused passes another source of guilt. Though I initially liked Zumba and attended regularly for months, making the meetings became a strain on my schedule. But honestly, I just didn’t want it enough. Because I didn’t change my thinking or my eating, I saw no results.

As they always say: If you want it, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.

Well, I ran out of excuses. Less than a year from my wedding day, I was by far the heaviest I’d ever been. Despite being overjoyed at the idea of our marriage, I had triggers igniting stress in so many facets of my life . . . and I still do, of course. I just feel better equipped to handle them.

Because I took control.

I’m far from a health guru, and I can only speak to my own experience. I don’t work for Weight Watchers and am not an expert on the program, either, but here’s the thing: in less than two months, I’ve already lost 10 pounds. I’m back in pants I haven’t been able to wear in years. I no longer dread clothes shopping, and I loved seeing myself in my future wedding dress (that’s another post!). In celebration of meeting the first of my goals, losing 5 percent of my weight, I bought my first pair of “skinny jeans” — and am actually okay with wearing them in public. To work, even. And it isn’t the scariest thing I’ve ever done.


Skinny pants


The path still stretches out before me. At 5’2″, I’m still 25 pounds from the “high” end of my suggested weight — and am still considered obese. But 10 pounds? That would have been crazy to pre-January me. But seeing myself in photos from Christmas and getting a glimpse of myself now, I can already see a tremendous change . . . and I just feel better.

Happier.

More confident.

More in control.

And proud.

Does Weight Watchers mean giving up your favorite foods? Well, yes and no. Not giving them up, but changing your portion sizes. And the frequency with which you eat them. I won’t go into the ins and outs of the program, but the jist of it? Keep track of everything you consume and keep it under a certain limit each day. Do this — really, honestly do it — and you will lose weight.

I’m not forgoing cupcakes forever and ever. I am definitely still eating out. Heck, I’m not even exercising . . . at all. (Though I do plan on changing that soon, and I know it’s nothing to brag about!) What I’ve done? Realigned my thinking and kept serious track of everything I eat.

For an OCD list-maker like me, tracking my food and drink has been much simpler than expected. I actually love the science of adding points and tracking, and religiously update my personal tracker after each and every meal or snack. And here’s what else I’ve learned:

You can’t eat what you don’t have. This works both ways, y’all: I can’t eat the bad stuff if I don’t have the bad stuff, and I can’t eat the good stuff if I haven’t stocked up on it. I need healthy snacks on hand 24/7, and my favorites include the 100-calorie packs of almonds as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. And in that vein . . .

Keep it accessible. Look, I’m kind of lazy (see: hates to exercise). If a snack requires me to cut, peel or dice at work, where I spend most of my time, I won’t bother. Sitting at my desk means I have limited resources as far as cutlery is concerned, so I make sure to prepare my fruit in individual portions before I leave for the day. I wash and rinse grapes, for example, putting them in cute little bags, and then I grab them from our mini-fridge at work and get to snacking. Much better than rooting around in my coworkers’ candy bowl when the 3 p.m. munchies hit.

Watch your portions. Pre-Weight Watchers me didn’t necessarily eat terribly, but she ate too much of everything. Honestly track your portions and remember that eating several small meals rather than two or three giant ones can do wonders for boosting your metabolism — and keep you from crashing. I’ve shifted from eating a big lunch and bigger dinner to a small lunch (low-calorie soup and a low-fat cheese stick) with several healthy snacks before dinner. I rarely go more than an hour or two without eating something, and I make sure to eat a small snack after dinner, too.

Don’t walk around hungry. As soon as a twinge of hunger hits, I reach for an apple or the like. Allowing myself to get too hungry means I’m in danger of crash-eating later in the evening, overindulging in dinner or snacking like a maniac. This ties in with my first point, too: you can’t eat it if you don’t have it. So keep it around.

Breakfast really does matter. Old me would either skip breakfast completely or eat a measly granola bar, then walk around hungry for hours before going for a huge lunch (which would just sit in my stomach until dinner). New me doesn’t let herself get to the point of “starving,” and makes sure to eat something healthy and protein-rich — like low-fat Greek yogurt and bananas — each morning. Though I’m far from a breakfast person and don’t like to eat big meals in the morning, this has made a huge difference. It really does matter.

The buddy system works. Let others know about your journey. Starting on this get-healthy journey with my fiance has made a huge difference — and just having the support of another person is so crucial. I’m also very lucky that my friend and officemate is also on Weight Watchers, so we swap tips all week long! Another friend has just joined the program, too, and we met for a “Weight Watchers-friendly” lunch earlier this week. Letting others know about your goals really will make a difference.

Have a plan. When I know I’m going out for a meal, I pull up their menu ahead of time to figure out the best options for me. This eliminates awkwardness when out with others (I hate having to be on my phone at the table, perusing the Weight Watchers app), and keeps me from making impulsive decisions. When I know I’m cooking, I calculate various ingredients and actively work on “lightening” the recipe.

It’s okay to be tempted. Before embarking on this change, I would still eat dessert — but feel terribly guilty about it. Here’s where I go all Weight Watchers very-unofficial spokeswoman on y’all, but that’s the great thing about this particular program: it doesn’t require you to follow a diet. No food is “banned.” I simply keep track of what I’ve eaten that day, budget in the cupcake or candy, and go about my business. Guilt: eliminated. As long as I’ve stayed within my daily points allowance (or even if I haven’t), it ain’t a big deal.

And that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned so far . . . I can do it. I am strong enough. Just because I can’t have a cupcake today doesn’t mean I can’t — or won’t — tomorrow. I’m not eating weird things; I’m not unfulfilled and chowing down on diet food. I’m still sharing meals with my loved ones, still enjoying cool meals out with friends, still doing all the normal things I’ve always done . . . I’m just making smarter choices while doing it.

And physical success aside, it feels good to have found an aspect of my life where I can make positive changes and see real results. Not having “need to start losing weight!” in my headspace has opened me up to new opportunities, and I haven’t dreaded seeing doctors for routine appointments. I’ve proven to myself that I can lose weight, and that feels amazing. Regardless of whether I drop another 2 lbs. or 20, I’m just seriously proud of myself for altering something I once considered set in stone.

And that’s what I’ve been up to.