Not immune to the gloom (but stepping it up)

Stairs

It’s been raining for weeks.

WEEKS. Not being dramatic. We had a rare respite yesterday with a 70-degree day and sunshine, but aside from that? RAIN. Rain every day. Every. single. day.

Though I spend almost the entire day indoors, I’m not immune to the gloom. Our office moved to a high-rise in March with a large expanse of windows (natural light, thank goodness), but my view now? Clouds. Gray clouds. Pouring rain.

As it is for many folks, I’m sure, the weather can definitely set the tone for the day.

Especially when I am, for the first time in ages, wanting to move.

In my Christmas stocking last year was a pedometer — a gift from my parents I embraced with gusto. As a competitive person obsessed with numbers and tracking, it was so interesting to see how much — or, in my case, how little — I walked each day.

For Mother’s Day, Oliver (er, Spencer) surprised me with my humble pedometer’s sleek older sibling: the FitBit One, which links to an app that gives me graphs and charts of my activity each day. Charts! For an English major, I get stupidly excited about graphs, man. And having a tangible way to map my progress as I try to move more each day has been really gratifying. And fun.

My step-count is nothing to get excited about. While the American Heart Association recommends walking 10,000 steps a day, I’ve crossed that finish line once since January. I make a concentrated effort to take the stairs at work, take breaks in the afternoons, even force myself to make an extra lap around the building before I head in the front door.

During our short-lived reunion with the sun yesterday, I actually took a 20-minute walk along the meandering sidewalks outside our building: an extra 1,400 steps.

But on an average day, I’m still doing about 4,000-5,000 steps — well shy of the 10,000 step goal.

Purely for selfish reasons, I recently researched how to add steps to your work day for a feature in our health magazine. SparkPeople had some great tips, and this one was my favorite:

“Be Inefficient. We are all so busy that it makes sense to multitask, combining several errands in a single trip, ordering takeout from the computer we’re already sitting in front of, or carrying that armload of clothes + toys + shoes + toilet paper upstairs in a single trip.

While technology has made a lot of things easier on us, what if you deliberately tried to be inefficient — any time it involved being on your feet. On days that I know I’ve been less active, I choose to be inefficient as a way to get more activity in while getting my daily chores or work done. For example, I’ll carry the laundry downstairs in three smaller trips instead of one oversized basket, or pick up and put away one item in the house at a time instead of filling my arms in an efficient way.

Although it can be difficult to justify taking more time to do basic things when you’re busy, I justify it to myself by thinking of it as multitasking: I’m getting activity in at the same time as my chores.”

I’m the person half-collapsed under a pile of grocery bags because I hate having to make two trips from the car, so this? This spoke to me. Spoke to my essence of very being. In the morning, I often come close to wrenching my back out because I carry my purse, laptop bag, lunch bag, Oliver’s bottles and the car seat out before I come back for the baby.

And you know what that is? Crazy.

I’m getting better. Thinking more. Being conscious of how little I normally move, how much better I feel with some activity and enjoying the ripple effect of wanting to eat better when I’m doing better with my movement.

Just wearing the FitBit is a huge motivator for me: knowing I’m earning a few extra steps (and credit for the stairs!) when I have to haul my rump back up for another diaper or my misplaced cell phone makes me . . . well, less irritable, actually.

And maybe that was Spencer’s plan all along. 😉


Any favorite tricks or tips for moving more during your day?
Spill your secrets. We’re all friends here!


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Weighty issues (oh, and slow cooker thyme pork roast)

Pork

I think I set a record on Sunday.

The very first person — ever, in the history of kitchens — to call out, “Oh, don’t even TELL me we’re out of caraway seed.”

Because … who uses caraway seed? And who uses caraway seed so often that they actually fear running out of it?

(Well, my delightful grandmother, who made the Polish-inspired dishes from her own youth that I devoured in mine. But, you know.)

Never fear: our jar of caraway seed was more than halfway full, so I could stifle the panic building in my chest as I prepared this slow cooker meal for Monday. That’s right, friends: I officially got my act together and prepared a meal a day in advance, refrigerated it and pulled it out Monday morning to simmer for that evening’s dinner. (Just let the crock warm up to room temperature first, of course.)

And it was delicious.

Like, oh, much of the adult population, January finds me thinking about goals and priorities and all that adult-ish stuff. Now that I’m also a mother, a working mother and an often stressed working mother, I really want to get back to writing out a serious meal plan on weekends, sticking to it, grocery shopping on Sunday and placing an emphasis on healthy eats.

Despite my hesitancy in my last post, I went ahead and jumped back into Weight Watchers (affiliate link). It’s been three years since I nervously attended my first meeting and two since I hit my goal weight, dropping 35 pounds, but I’m now — post-Oliver — heavier than I was when I started in 2013.

I just wasn’t sure I was ready for that level of commitment. Last summer, when I was an exhausted new parent who had just returned to work, I got it into my head that I needed to get “me” back. Now. If I let myself slack off with my eating, I thought, I’ll never lose the weight again. I’ll roll right back into old habits. That will be the end of the person I used to know.

Well, I was right — and wrong.

I’m not my pre-baby self again, of course. Everything that happened in 2015 — the beautiful, the scary, the overwhelming, the miraculous — changed me forever. Becoming a parent changes you forever . . . and I’m extremely grateful for that! I mean, it should.

But I did go back to old habits. It’s tough to come out of a pregnancy — unexpectedly early, too — and go right back to tracking every single thing you put in your mouth: something I was not in the habit of doing. Like, at all. For the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I pretty much lived off Chick-Fil-A’s frozen lemonade milkshakes.

When Oliver remained in the hospital for a month, Spencer and I ate whatever was quick and convenient. This translated to many lackluster cafeteria meals a few floors down from his NICU, as well as Wendy’s and Chick-Fil-A runs at odd hours driving back from Baltimore.

When he finally came home, it was just about stuffing something in your face between feedings, and diapers, and screeching.

Prepping enough to prepare healthy, quick meals with a newborn in the house? It just didn’t happen. I had grand ambitions of getting freezer meals ready before the baby came, trying to make our lives a little easier, but . . . well. That obviously didn’t happen.

After I went back to work in mid-June, I thought: it’s time. I now have nine uninterrupted hours in which I can focus on my job and control what I’m eating at ye ol’ desk.

That didn’t happen, either.

I was tired. And sick. Our company was sold over the summer and everyone’s duties changed quickly. Many of my friends were laid off, and I was staring down an extreme amount of change in a short time. It was the final straw in a very stressful season.

Quite honestly, I was depressed.

Though I haven’t discussed it publicly, I’ve been struggling with PTSD and postpartum anxiety since last spring — and there are times it was all I could do to get through the day. I finally sought help in the fall and feel about 1,879,986 times better than I did in October. The pressing weight of worry has lifted.

Through all that? I wasn’t obsessing about eating pumpkin pie, I can assure you.

pie

But I’m out of excuses now.

Oliver has been sleeping through the night — with the occasional hiccup, of course — for months . . . which means Spencer and I have, too. That early haze of dead exhaustion, which clouded absolutely everything, is gone.

Work has settled down. I’m happy and excited with my new responsibilities, and enjoying the new challenges. I’m still writing my column, but also working on projects and articles about different, interesting things. It’s really . . . fun. I miss my friends, of course, but we’ve kept in touch through the holidays.

The holidays are over. They were beautiful, but there’s something refreshing about vacuuming up all that rogue tinsel. It was sad hauling out the Christmas tree, but let’s be honest: the holidays have their own pressures that can’t be denied. Choosing perfect gifts, paying for said gifts, trying to see family and friends in a short time, traveling. It’s . . . a lot.

But January is bare. January is clean. January is scrubbed fresh, a calendar waiting to be filled with whatever we choose, and I’m ready again.

So I’m choosing my health.

It’s been a whole four days since I got back on track with Weight Watchers, so the aroma of my enthusiasm is still quite strong, I know! But honestly, there’s comfort in getting back to a familiar program that helped me so much before. It taught me to control my eating — and gave me such confidence — for the first time in my adult life.

Weight Watchers has been revamped for 2016, and I love the changes. LOVE. (They are not paying me to say this, by the way; my subscription is paid for by yours truly, along with generous affiliate referrals.) With their new “Beyond the Scale” approach, there’s a much greater emphasis on physical activity — not just your pants size. Obviously we’re all joining Weight Watchers to learn healthier habits and drop pounds, but everything begins and ends with overall health.

They’ve revamped how points for foods and drinks are calculated, and the new method makes much more sense. Under the old system, fats were fats; it didn’t matter if they were saturated, “bad” fats or good, healthy fats, ones we need and should eat. For example, a tablespoon of olive oil and tablespoon of butter could have the same points value. So what’s the incentive to go with the healthier option?

Many things haven’t changed, thankfully: fresh fruits and vegetables are still zero points, so you can — and should! — eat as much as you want. That was my saving grace the first go ’round. If I’d overindulged earlier in the day and was out of points for that after-dinner snack, I could always reach for a clementine and not feel deprived. There was always something to eat — as long as I’d made the effort to stock up on healthy food for the house. (But that’s another post.)

The first time I joined WW, I wanted to feel better: physically, mentally, emotionally. And I absolutely did. But I’ve come back to WW because I want to get my blood pressure down, return to a much healthier relationship with food and start showing my son — right now — that how we treat our bodies matters. And I know WW works.

So: there it is. My current weighty issues. It feels good to just . . . get all that out.

And I swear, this started out as a recipe post!

So, um, did you want to talk about pork tenderloin? Sure. Okay. Let’s do this.

This recipe is a WW recipe, actually: from the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook, which is ringbound and glossy and pretty. Some of the recipes I’ve made from it have been hits, others misses, but this one? Definite hit.

If you don’t like sauerkraut, you won’t like this. But if you do? You will. So much that you’ll want to make it again immediately. The apples lend a delicious sweetness to the dish, while the sauerkraut, caraway seed and onion — which mellows through slow cooking — give it punch.

It’s the perfect blend of sweet/sour. Dig in!

Pork

Slow cooker pork roast
with sauerkraut and apples

Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (1 1/2-pound) boneless pork loin roast, trimmed of fat
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 (2-pound) package of sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
1 large red or white onion, sliced
1 McIntosh or Cortland apple, peeled, cored and diced
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1/2 cup dry white wine
Chopped fresh parsley

1. Sprinkle thyme, pepper and salt over pork. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes.

2. Combine sauerkraut, onion, apple and caraway seeds in 5- or 6-quart slow cooker. Place pork on top of vegetables; pour wine over. Cover and cook until pork and vegetables are fork-tender, about 4-5 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low.

3. Transfer pork to platter and cut into 6 slices. Spoon sauerkraut mixture around pork and sprinkle with parsley. Serves 6.


From Points to pregnancy: dealing with weight gain so far

apples

This time last year, I was celebrating two milestones: my first anniversary with Weight Watchers and achieving lifetime status with the program after reaching my goal weight. Dropping those 35 pounds took me out of the “overweight” category for the first time in my adult life.

Shedding that weight was life-changing for me. Beyond being happier with my appearance, I actually had energy. Drive. Purpose. My new relationship with food made me feel empowered, not guilty. I slept better, walked taller and generally felt like Meg 2.0. And I was getting married!

Life was great before, but after WW? It was fantastic.

When I learned I was pregnant last September, I had every intention — every intention in the world! — of maintaining my healthy eating habits. Reaching for a banana instead of a high-calorie snack was just what I did — not something I thought about. I was so well-versed in the Weight Watchers way of life that I tracked Points in my head, naturally knowing when I’d overdone it or could indulge a little that day.

And I wanted — want — to have a fit pregnancy. As Spence and I began to discuss starting a family, I started researching prenatal health and nutrition. Armed with facts, data and support from doctors and other mamas, I felt fairly confident that I could continue to be me . . . just with a baby bump.

And then I got sick.


Funnel cake


The nausea started in week five, reaching a delirious fever pitch in week eight. Though I have heard so many stories that make my own morning (er, all day) sickness seem wimpy by comparison, there is no denying I was ill. Perpetually nauseous. Foods I once loved — Brussels sprouts, hummus, green beans, yogurt, chicken — became Enemy No. 1. In the weeks after we learned I was expecting, my husband and I basically had to empty out our fridge and start again.

There was no telling what would set off my gag reflex, which made it even harder. I would walk into a restaurant craving chips and queso, then panic and walk out before I’d even gotten to the counter. Something I loved one day — spicy pickles, chocolate ice cream — would sicken me the next.

What I could count on? Breads. Macaroni and cheese. Bagels. Potato chips. Rich, carb-heavy foods that seemed to settle my stomach the way my lighter fare could not.

In short? I wanted everything I stopped eating after committing to healthy eating. For the first time in more than a year, our house was packed with junk food — and I began packing on the pounds.

At this point, 20 of them.

Until I began to make my peace with it, that number terrified me. Though I limit what/how much I’m reading about pregnancy (online, especially), I know a “healthy” weight gain in the first few months is generally between one and five pounds. I probably gained that in the second week.

Now 19 weeks along, I’ve discussed this with my doctor. I’m closely monitored. I weigh in at every appointment, give blood and urine — all the normal procedures. And so far, I’m good. We’re good. At this point, there is no reason to worry or obsess about my weight — and that knowledge calms me down.

Also? I’ve learned to cut myself some slack.


Brussels sprouts


Those early months felt like I was stumbling around with an awful stomach virus — and if I thought I was going to be munching on salad greens with a light vinaigrette, well . . . there was no way. No way. I wasn’t sitting down to five-course dinners, but I was eating what I could stomach — and snacking often to keep the queasiness at bay.

Physically, I did what I had to do to get through it.

But emotionally, it was tough.

After feeling so healthy, strong and slim, my body’s rapid transformation was crazy. I felt sick, not pregnant, so it was psychologically tough to differentiate between gaining weight for a little one and just . . . gaining weight.

Those early months were hard.

I subscribe to a few baby boards for expectant moms also due in June. Though they can be something of a dark hole sometimes, especially for nervous first-timers, I do find camaraderie there — and answers to many “Is this normal?”-type questions. (Answer: probably. Everything is weird in pregnancy.)

But when I see a post called “No weight gain!!!” or “Feeling fat,” I know to stay away.

They’re triggers for me . . . especially when I started scrolling through posts from women who had not gained a pound — or actually lost weight — in their first trimester. Even recently, at almost five months along, some ladies can still fit into non-maternity clothing. Entire threads of women showing off their svelte figures at 12, 14 or 16 weeks made me self-conscious and anxious.

I bought my first pair of maternity jeans at six weeks along — because I really needed them. My pants with their single-digit tags now look laughably small, and 75 percent of my wardrobe is completely unwearable.

But this is a season. You’re growing a baby, I gently remind myself — so of course I’m growing, too.

Though I know they’re probably innocent, remarks about suddenly seeing weight gain “in my face” take me aback. I’m so happy to be having this baby, but the comments about my changing shape are hard to take. Especially with a smile.

A friend — a mom of two herself — recently told me that, once you’re obviously expecting, everyone feels as though your body is public property. Your breasts, rump and belly are all open for conversation, scrutiny and comparison . . . along with your eating habits. And parenting style. And so on.

When I was craving Milano cookies in November, someone casually mentioned “all the sweets” at my desk.

“Remember, you’re going to have to take all that weight back off,” she warned. “And good luck with that.”


I feel I need a disclaimer here . . . a big, bold one that says, Yes, I am so unbelievably happy about this baby! We already love him or her so much, and I know all these changes will be more than worth it. With time and patience, I’m sure I’ll begin to feel like my old self again.

But it’s still hard sometimes.

Honestly, it is.


So, the title of my post: how I’m “dealing with” weight gain at five months along? Now that the dark, sick days of the first trimester are behind me, I find myself . . . thinking again. Thinking like Meg 2.0.

About what I’m eating.
Why I’m eating it.
How it’s benefiting Baby J — and if it’s benefiting me.
Am I hungry . . . or bored?
If I’m hungry, is this what I’m really hungry for?

Slowly, slowly, the fruit and vegetables have returned to my plate. Slowly, slowly, I’m reaching less for the chips and more for the almonds. String cheese is back, as is Greek yogurt. And my appetite for meat, though smaller, has also returned. (Minus chicken. Something still doesn’t sit right with me.)

I’m feeling less like the junky, tired stranger who arrived in the fall and more like the empowered, choosy woman — the mom-to-be (!) — that I’m much more comfortable with. I feel human.

I guess that’s why everyone loves the second trimester, right?


Shifting from Points to pregnancy hasn’t been seamless, and I know I’ll feel a thousand conflicted emotions between now and June. (And, you know, for the rest of my life.) But I feel like I’ve reached a place where I’m feeling well enough — and strong enough — to take control of my nutrition again.

And I really want to. Moving forward, I want to approach healthy eating during pregnancy with the same zeal that first brought me to Weight Watchers in 2013.

Though part of me does wish we could take that whole “eating for two” thing literally sometimes — especially when funnel cake is involved.

Pass me an apple instead?


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.


Cone indulgence

photo

Though we don’t travel that way often, we always stop for ice cream.

Coming back from Virginia on Sunday (we finally got to take our hot air balloon ride — more tomorrow!), Spencer suggested stopping by Hovermale’s — a classic walk-up hot spot in Fort Washington, and my dad’s favorite — for dessert.

We’d just eaten lunch in Berryville . . . and I’d had more than my fair share of snacks at an early-morning amateur radio event that morning.

But soft serve from Hovermale’s? I’ll find room.

Desserts just have that effect on me. Though I’ve done well keeping up healthy habits since I reached my goal weight with Weight Watchers in January, I have loosened up on my portion control . . . and how often I’m consuming chocolate.

And cookie butter. And pie.

Desserts are just . . . my thing. I love baking and often have a bear of a time turning down a cupcake. Though I can easily monitor my helpings at mealtimes and load up on fresh fruit and vegetables during the day, when it comes to passing up cake? I get a little wicked. Pretty cranky.

For so long, declining dessert was a means to an end. I was very focused on making my goal weight and religious about tracking every morsel I consumed — all with the ultimate mission to slim down and feel better. My life has certainly changed after losing 35 lbs., but I’m still me. My sugar cravings aren’t as extreme and all-consuming, but they’re there.

Though I’ll admit to being less friendly with my Weight Watchers Tracker these days, I am still very much aware of what I’m eating and make time to consciously plan my food each day. I’m accustomed to (painfully) turning down pie in favor of fruit, but the secret to long-term success?

Well, I know what it isn’t: deprivation.

Cutting out foods cold turkey would have been a quick way to torture myself — and probably quit. Obviously it matters if you’re allergic to a food or food group, but I’m certainly not allergic to truffles. I’m careful not to eat ice cream every day, but do I occasionally indulge? Absolutely.

More than anything, Weight Watchers gave me permission to stop shipping out on endless guilt trips every time I reached for a cookie. I learned to add the snack to my Tracker, adjust for the rest of the day, make different selections to stay within my Points and move on.

That power — to feel in control — changed everything. It gave me the strength to push through when I may have wanted to stop, and the occasional indulgence is what has kept me on the wagon all these months.

So I might have felt momentarily guilty for ordering a small mixed cone on a hot summer day . . . but those feelings melted with my ice cream. Life is all about balance, and food is meant to be enjoyed.

Especially if it’s in a cone.


In support of the resolutioners

Walking into my local Weight Watchers to weigh in yesterday, I felt a ripple in the Force.

Place was packed.

I’m usually the only soul there, running in on her lunch break with hair askew. The whole process clocks roughly five minutes. A few seconds to shed my shoes and coat; a minute to chat with the kind lady assisting me on the scale; another minute or two to talk about my loss or gain, including tips on tweaking my routines.

Then I’m back in my car, back to the office. Little muss. No fuss.

But now? Well, the New Year’s get-healthy resolutioners have arrived. In droves. Three ladies were signing up for WW as I entered, all bent over paperwork with curious expressions. Another woman was seated with her iPhone, trying to navigate the app, and I felt a pang remembering my own anxiety when my husband and I joined last year. She was asking about the tracker, about how points work. It took all my willpower not to start schooling her.

I can be a know-it-all. It’s one of my least pleasant traits, honestly . . . but at least I have the good sense to be one only in my mind.

And anyway, I’m not a jerk. I was in their shoes not so very long ago. Visiting Spencer’s family last January, we were freshly engaged and eying our future — and after a conversation about health, we had one of several talks about weight. I remember pulling up the Weight Watchers site in his parents’ study, reading over the general information with a knot in my stomach.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said.

I was scared. Scared of failure.

But I went. And I got serious. Something finally clicked for me, and it’s been a life-changing journey since.

My first step after enrolling in WW last year? Going to the grocery store. I remember plunking bananas on my desk right off the bat, taking advantage of the program’s allowance to eat as many fresh veggies and fruits as you like (zero points!).

They seemed foreign, those bananas. I didn’t usually have fresh anything hanging around. I couldn’t picture eating fruit every day, because . . . well, just because. Because I never had. Because I was used to my poor habits, used to feeling junky, used to the convenience of a granola bar or cookie instead of proper fuel.

But people can change.


Fruit


I’ve overheard folks complaining about all the New Year’s resolutioners clogging up their gyms come January 1, snagging the best machines and crowding out the regulars. Since I hate sweating and am actually rather fond of loafing around, I haven’t stepped foot in a gym in years. But I felt that same unease at Weight Watchers, where my usual five-minute stop turned into a long escapade.

But it’s okay.

We all start somewhere. Maybe World Fitness and Weight Watchers will empty out by March, haunted again by only the diehards, but maybe some of those new guys will become regulars themselves. Though we’re all on personal paths, I’m rather fond of mankind as a whole . . . and I’d like to help, not hinder. Be friendly. Be kind.

Getting anywhere starts with that single step, you know?

So I’m trying to be patient. I’ll allot more time. I’m notoriously aggravated when it comes to waiting, honestly, but I focused on chatting with the ladies in line ahead of me. I shared favorite snack tips, asked about their goals. I tried to project encouragement — something we all could use a bigger serving of each day.

That and fresh fruit, of course.


When I got gutsy — and finally lost that weight

I wasn’t sure I could do it.

And I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

I’d grown used to being the curvy girl — the one with the “pretty face.” Even as my dress size climbed through my teens and twenties, I refused to give in to self-doubt. I didn’t want to focus on my weight — even though, in reality, I already was.

When I needed larger jeans, I bought them.

When I wanted to have a second cupcake, I did.


Christmas cupcake


I’d gotten listless, cranky, easily tired or sick. But I wasn’t a woman accustomed to depriving herself or scaling back. I was afraid to address the issue of my climbing weight because I “didn’t want to obsess about it,” as I told my fiancé. The idea of a weight loss program where I’d have to track points — and be held accountable for everything that passed through my lips — intimidated the heck out of me. I played it off as an annoyance, but the truth?

The truth was that I was scared.

The idea of joining Weight Watchers* had entered my mind years before, mostly as a method of control, but I shunned it because I was afraid my “last-ditch effort” to get healthy with the program wouldn’t work . . . and where would I be then?

I’d tried the gym, sweating miserably on a treadmill and bored out of my skull. I’d briefly embraced Zumba classes, trekking out on weeknights to dance with coworkers until an injury sidelined a friend . . . and I used her absence as an excuse to bail.

I went through a phase where I upped my veggie intake, tried to scale back on eating out, stepped away from my favorite hobby — baking — so we wouldn’t have so many goodies hanging around.

Nothing worked. After a while, I always slipped back into my old routines.

I just didn’t have the right tools.

Though I’m probably going to come across as a Weight Watchers disciple, I really feel passionate about the program — because it changed my life. WW became my new home-away-from-home in mid-January 2013, the day after a minor car crash rocked my world. No one was hurt, thankfully, but it was my first real accident — and it shook me to my core. Plagued by sudden “what ifs?” and anxiety, I suddenly knew it was time to get serious . . . about my life.

I’d been engaged for less than a month, heavier than I’d ever been, and suddenly dealing with two weddings to plan — mine and my sister’s. As I talked with insurance companies about my car accident and tried not to imagine what would have happened if the truck that hit me had been going just a little faster on a dark night, I began to process my impending move from my parents’ house while my fiancé and I simultaneously discussed guest lists and wedding venues.

I was overwhelmed. When Spencer started talking about weight loss, I felt emotionally exhausted — and not ready to even try. I almost let those little fires, those anxieties, keep me from ever stepping foot into Weight Watchers. But when my fiancé suggested going to a meeting “just to try it out,” something told me to go.

It took guts for me to walk into that first meeting — to finally admit I wanted to change. I was so afraid of losing confidence, of “admitting defeat” about my physical self, that I resisted the idea of needing to get healthy.

But I’d seen family members and friends felled by illness. I had my own health scare a month earlier — at a time when I should have been celebrating my engagement. At 28, I knew my body wasn’t going to simply “bounce back” from poor decisions.

It was time.

To everyone’s shock — especially my own — I embraced Weight Watchers with a vigor typically reserved for religion. From the moment I was handed the tools to make better decisions about my food and my life, I gained a sense of confidence. Instead of deprived, I felt empowered.

Tracking my food came naturally, lending a sense of control to an area of my life that had felt haphazard for so long. I rediscovered my love for fruit and vegetables, especially apples, and learned new ways to prepare them. I started (healthy) snacking.


Apple


I’d been worried I’d become “obsessed” with what I was eating, tracking everything to a T . . . and I did.

But it’s been awesome.

Where once I’d eat a sleeve of cookies and feel guilty all night, I learned to have two, track them and move on with my day. I hadn’t realized all the negative self-talk I’d been foisting upon myself, making less-healthy decisions and then berating myself for them.

Portion control became my best friend. I educated myself on smarter choices, on the importance of fresh fruit and vegetables, on all the little choices I thought were good for me that were actually a form of self-sabotage. In short, I’d been eating way too much — and out of emotion. Food was love, and food was comfort. I ate until I felt full to bursting because . . . that was just what I did.

I had to retrain myself. Retrain my body, retrain my brain.

It hasn’t been easy. It took patience, dedication, discipline. Food had been my drug—my crutch—for so long, and there were times it took a Herculean effort (and literally sitting on my hands) to resist reaching for the bread basket.

But I kept with it, never missing a Wednesday weigh-in, because I knew I was working toward the best possible goal: getting healthy for myself, my family and my soon-to-be husband.

When I took a step back (and I did), I learned to be gentle with myself. To be patient.

When I gained some weeks, I chose to remember I was in this for a lifetime — and that rises and falls were inevitable.

That’s the beauty of Weight Watchers — and why it worked for me: I’m not on a diet. I didn’t start the program with a stopping point in mind, figuring at some mystical point I’d be “done.” Being healthy means you’re never “done” . . . but I didn’t realize that the tiny changes I was making were adding up to a complete reboot of my relationship with food.

Some folks assumed I was losing weight for the wedding, a natural thought in our “Say Yes to the Dress” culture. It was easier to let them think I was another image-conscious bride than to explain the truth: that my engagement was merely the wake-up call I needed to realize the rest of my life was waiting, and I didn’t need to bring all those extra pounds into it. It was about so much more than a white gown.


Hands and dress


I dropped 4 lbs. in the first month, amazed to see the number on the scale sliding down. I’d grown so used to cringing at the doctor’s office, the only time I ever weighed myself, that wanting to peer at those digits was a new feeling.

I tried on and bought a wedding dress in March, already 10 pounds lighter than when I’d started — but I’d have to leave it for alterations in August after losing three dress sizes.

On Dec. 11, almost exactly 11 months since I started the program, I officially hit my goal weight: a number that placed me below the overweight zone for the first time in my adult life. I’ve lost 34 lbs. since Jan. 16, which makes my fingers tingle as I type.

But that’s really just a number.


Weight loss grid

View More: http://birdsofafeatherphotos.pass.us/megan-and-spencer-wedding


What have I really lost? My guilt. My awkwardness. My fear of having my photo taken and pasted on Facebook for all the world to see, wondering how much old friends and acquaintances are judging my appearance. Never one obsessed with looks, it pains me to admit how much I worried about what others thought of my body . . . but I did.

And what did I gain? Confidence. Swagger. Comfort. Peace. A sense of control that was so lacking in my everyday life—the idea that I’m not ruled by food, though I can still enjoy it (and do). If anything, I enjoy food more now — because I’m making better choices, ones that make me happy. Because I don’t eat pumpkin pie twice a week, my rare indulgence tastes sweeter than the sweetest thing in the world.

I feared weight loss would be all about deprivation. That I’d have to starve myself, get angry with myself, berate myself. That I’d feel so much worse before I’d feel better.

But I feel awesome. I’ve felt motivated and empowered from the beginning. For finally doing something instead of just talking, talking, and for committing to my health.

For committing to myself.

Standing here at the “finish line,” I know my journey is really just beginning — and I feel far more than 34 lbs. lighter. A weight has been lifted from my shoulders, literally and metaphorically, and if I’d known I could feel this good? Well, I would have done this years ago.

It started with a single step: acknowledging that I wanted to change. And with the encouragement and support of my husband, family and friends, I just kept taking tiny steps toward one happy Megan.

But it was a solitary journey, too: one I began for myself.

And I am proud. Very proud.

If you’re thinking about tackling a challenge and getting gutsy in 2014, remember that the time is now. Every cliché you’ve ever heard about committing to yourself and being worth it is absolutely true. You are worth it, and you can do it. It’s just a matter of finding what works for you.

Be your own biggest fan . . .

. . . and if you’re looking for a sign, as they say?


This is it


Getting gutsy is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals. This is my entry in Jessica Lawlor’s #GetGutsy Essay Contest.
To get involved and share your own gutsy story,
check out this post for contest details.


*This post was not sponsored by Weight Watchers — I’m just very passionate about the program. All opinions are my own. Though I was not asked to nor compensated for sharing my thoughts, clicking on a Weight Watchers link and signing up for the program may grant me a referral credit.