Posts Tagged With: healthy eating

Appreciating The Body You Have…Right Now

For as long as I can remember, I hated the body I saw when I looked into the mirror.

Everyone has their body hang-ups. I believe you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who couldn’t name at least one part of their body that they wished were different…bigger, smaller, more shapely, perkier, rounder, tighter, flatter, whatever.

For me, I always had one wish. Just one.

I wanted to be skinny.

To me, being “skinny” was the be all and end all of my time on this Earth. It was my life’s dream. It was the culmination of so many of my most innermost desires…from walking into any clothing store and zipping a pair of jeans without having to lie on the dirty dressing room floor to wearing a spaghetti-strapped dress like all the other girls to my eighth grade dance (I ended up in a size 20 gown that was surely designed for a 50+ year old woman).

To me, being skinny meant I might actually be able to make — and keep — a close circle of friends, and stop assuming they were embarrassed to be seen with “the fat girl.” All throughout my childhood, I fantasized about how being skinny might finally put a stop to the bullying and humiliation I faced on a daily basis.

I really did think that being skinny would be my key to happiness…and that it would solve every problem I could ever have in my life. Some people dream of scoring high-paying jobs, falling in love, starting a family. All I ever cared about was what it would be like to wear a size 4.

Lately I’ve been thinking about my wish, and how, even after a 90-pound weight loss, it never did come true. I am not skinny. I am confident now that I never will be. No matter how much more weight I lose, I will never be the kind of woman who can strip down at the beach wearing little more than a washcloth. I will never be able to leave the house in a short skirt. I will never be able to emanate that inner confidence of someone who hasn’t suffered from extreme body image issues for the majority of her life. It’s just not in the cards for me.

But I’ve come to a realization. I really, truly, do not care about being skinny anymore. And I think that has a lot to do with how I finally managed to lose — and maintain — my weight loss (which, as an aside, has not solved all of my life’s problems).

Truth be told, I’m ashamed and saddened that for so many years I allowed my entire sense of self-worth to be wrapped up in the number stitched into the tag on my jeans, or what my romanticized ideal of a skinny, “perfect” body looked like. I’m also ashamed for the way I abused and mistreated myself — I had such low self-esteem that I essentially poisoned my body with milkshakes and bacon cheeseburgers for years. I like to tell myself that at age 12, or 15, or 21, I didn’t know any better…but, let’s face it, I knew exactly what I was doing.

It took 26 years to realize that there is no such thing as a perfect body (for those of us who aren’t celebrities or Victoria’s Secret models, anyway), and in order for me to achieve something that even comes close to the “skinny” physique I coveted, I’d probably have to consume 800 calories a day and spend three hours in the gym every night. Oh, and that’s not to mention that pesky tummy tuck and loose skin removal surgery I’d need to rid my body of any evidence that I used to weigh 260 pounds.

Today, I can look at the mirror and see my imperfections — the stretch marks, the loose skin, the cellulite and all — and be content. I can see myself in photos — even when I’m wearing little more than a flimsy cotton dress — and feel pride. I’m pretty okay with the person I see staring back at me these days. Honestly, I would be tickled to remain a size 8/10 for the rest of my life.

I’m not saying I love every inch of my body, but what I have come to realize is that I’ve finally reached a place where I can appreciate my body…and what it’s capable of doing. I may not have the perfect body, but what I do have is my body — and I’ll be damned if I ever take it for granted again.

I see people all the time who are disabled or ill, or I read about former athletes who sustained one injury and are now relegated to the sidelines forever. It forces me to put things in perspective: how could I hate a body that is healthy? A body that is whole? A body that is strong? I can run 5Ks and go for 10-mile bike rides whenever the urge strikes. I can walk all over Walt Disney World (my happy place!) for days and experience little more than sore feet. I know now that I am one of the lucky ones — I escaped a lifetime of obesity without diabetes or heart problems or any of the long list of diseases associated with being overweight. I feel blessed and fortunate for every day that I can climb a flight of stairs or walk my dog or lift groceries or do any of the things I can do as a healthy, average-sized person.

While I appreciate the “you look great!” compliments I still get every now and then, I am genuinely overwhelmed with emotion when I cross the finish line of a race, or am complimented by classmates for my “bad-ass” roundhouse in my Muay Thai kickboxing class. To me, discovering something that I love to do, and recognizing how my body — exactly the way it is — allows me to do it has forced me to realize that maybe having larger-than-average thighs isn’t really the end of the world.

I truly believe that’s the key to body acceptance: realizing how your body allows you to do the things you love, and understanding that there’s more to you than a number on a scale or an idealized dress size. If you have the ability to chase your kids around the backyard or practice yoga or lace up your sneakers and go for a walk whenever you feel like it, I’d say that’s something to celebrate.

So I’ll continue to eat as healthy as possible, and take vitamins, and exercise daily, and slather on sunscreen, and drink plenty of water, and avoid smoking (always) and drinking (most of the time)…and I’ll never take my body for granted again.

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Keeping My Own Promises

When you’re trying to adopt healthy living habits, I truly believe that success can boil down to just one factor:

The ability to make a commitment, and actually stick to it.

Now, this is not something for which I’m traditionally known. I’m shamelessly of the “I’ll finish it later” variety who starts a project only to abandon it halfway through (the disaster zone known as my bedroom is proof positive of that one).

Of course, when it comes to family, friends, and work, I always fulfill my commitments…but when it comes to doing something for myself, it’s always been a different story.

These days, I’m working hard to make myself a priority, which means setting a goal or promising myself that I will do something (yes, even if it means learning how to keep my room clean), and then doing it. No matter what.

Maybe my current vigor for keeping my own promises to myself is the result of my still very fresh New Year’s Resolution mindset, especially since I silently made just one very important promise as the ball was dropping on December 31, 2011.

I vowed that this would be the year I finish what I start. No matter what it is, I need to learn to commit to something and follow through. Whether it’s that half-finished query letter to my dream magazine that’s been taking up space on my hard drive for six months, or the fact that I once made it as far as 93 pounds lost and yet still never managed to hit that 100-pound mark, this is going to be the year that I muster enough confidence in myself and my abilities to set a goal and see it through to the very end.

That’s why on a rainy, miserable Tuesday this week, I decided it was a fine time to go for a run. As I declared in my last blog post, I’m madly in love with exercising outdoors, but the winter months certainly present some unique challenges. I can brave the cold, but the rain is usually enough to make me slip out of my running tights and vow to save my workout for another day — heaven forbid my new sneakers get wet!

But not this time. I made a promise that if Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday are my kickboxing days, that Tuesday was going to be one reserved for running. I’ve let my training regimen slack off quite a bit since completing my last 5K back in November, and I started to fear that my running career would become a thing of the past if I didn’t get back to business ASAP.

So when I woke up Tuesday morning to the sound of rain pelting against my window, I promised myself that I was going to suck it up and lace up my sneakers that afternoon — even if there was a monsoon waiting for me outside that door.

And I have to say, even though it was the smallest of goals, actually heading out into the rain that day (with my snazzy new waterproof running jacket) still felt pretty damn good…if not a tad wet.

I’ve learned that’s really all that leading a healthy lifestyle is about: making a commitment to go to the gym, or to eat more veggies, or to run through the rain like a maniac, and then actually doing it.

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The Beginning of the End

First, I want to wish everyone a happy new year, and apologize for the brief hiatus I’ve taken from my blog.

I’d like to brush off my absence with a simple “oops, I’ve been busy,” which is certainly true, but the good news is that I have been preoccupied making some much-needed overhauls to my life. With just a few major victories tossed in!

First and foremost, I finally summoned the courage to walk away from a part-time job that had become physically and mentally draining. Yes, I know this technically makes me a quitter, but the whole reason I accepted a 5:30am shift working the desk at a local gym is, quite frankly, I doubted my ability to financially succeed as a writer so much that I was willing to sacrifice my social life, my sleep, and my sanity for the sake of having a few extra bucks in my bank account each month.

The truth is that a few months ago I became tired of just peering over the edge of my dreams — I needed to take a leap of faith. And committing myself to my writing career wholly and completely seemed to be the solution. I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

In fact, several weeks ago I found the courage to pitch a story idea to one of my dream magazines — a national health/fitness publication — and after lots of follow-up e-mails, I actually landed the assignment! I intend to let this victory become a turning point in my career — it’s time to have faith in my abilities as a writer.

The same goes for finding the courage to participate in the handful of 5Ks and four-miler races I competed in last year. The most meaningful one took place in November, when I ran a 5K and raised over $500 to support the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

My grandpa succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2004, and losing him remains the most painful experience of my life. Over the past several years, I’ve promised myself that I was going to do something — namely, a 5K — to take action against this disease and honor his memory, but I kept telling myself I’d never be able to actually complete a race or solicit enough donations to make a difference.

In 2011, I finally ran that race. It felt incredible to be surrounded by so many people who had been touched by pancreatic cancer and were coming together to fight back. Best of all, I know for a fact that Pop was with me that day; I will never, ever forget the moment when I crossed the finish line and suddenly his absolute favorite musician, Johnny Cash, started blaring over the loudspeaker. I had just finished listening to my race day playlist of Johnny Cash songs on my iPod, and when I pulled out my earbuds and realized that “I Walk the Line” had come on just in time for me to finish my 5K, it was the first time in the seven years since his death that I knew undeniably that he was with me. And that I had made him proud.

In another significant running achievement, I was also awarded my very first medal for placing third in my age group after competing in a four-mile race sponsored by the Central Jersey Road Runners Club — I’m now officially a member!

Granted, I know I probably placed because there weren’t a whole lot of people racing that day — and there definitely weren’t many runners my age — but I did improve my time significantly (35:29) from my very first four-mile race on the 4th of July (40:31), and it’s an indescribable feeling when I can genuinely experience pride in an accomplishment I’ve made.

I’ve gone through life feeling unworthy of praise from others, and I’ve never fully been able to give myself credit. But I’ve worked hard to be a better runner in the last six months, and I’d say I earned that medal!

This month also marks a full year that I’ve been studying Muay Thai kickboxing. I remember being so terrified of breaking a measly little wooden board to earn my first belt (in fact, I blogged about it), and today I’m a red belt, which officially makes me an advanced martial arts student. I do very much want to be a black belt someday, and even I can admit improvement in my techniques — and my overall confidence — since January 2011. I absolutely love my kickboxing classes, and they have transformed me both physically and mentally in more ways than I thought possible. I’m so glad I’ve stuck with it.

In fact, I hope to make 2012 the year of following through on all of my goals — and above all, finishing what I’ve started. An anniversary weekend with my boyfriend, another Disney World vacation, and lots of holiday hooplah have led me to slip a bit (okay, a lot) in my healthy eating and workout routine, but I’m back on track and ready to continue making progress this year!

November marked my four-year anniversary as a Weight Watchers member, and while I am thrilled and proud to still be living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining my weight loss, I want nothing more than to become a Lifetime member — which means reaching my goal weight. Whatever that is!

In the last year or two I’ve become so focused on my fitness-related goals and, honestly, enjoying my new size 8/10 body so much, that I think I may have lost sight of the prize. I know that I will weigh never 125 pounds, and I also know that my loose skin and stretch marks will always serve as battle scars from years of yo-yo dieting. But this year I vow to reach a healthy weight and finally begin the process of becoming a Lifetime member…and, maybe, even starting to work towards becoming a Weight Watchers leader.

For possibly the first time ever, I’m not afraid to set a goal…and believe that I will see it through to the end.

What are some of your goals for 2012? Please share!

*Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter @jenniferlnelson, or e-mail me at jennifer@jenniferlnelson.com. Thank you, as always, for reading!

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When Life Gets in the Way

Contrary to popular belief, my life doesn’t revolve around weight loss.

While my newfound commitment to healthy eating and exercise has radically transformed the way I live my life, there are times when work, family, friends, vacations, sleep, special occasions, and a long list of other responsibilities and daily demands can throw even the best-intentioned person slightly off course.

Yes, that includes someone who has already lost a significant amount of weight, and purports to have it all figured out (ahem, yours truly).

In the past three weeks alone, I have traipsed up and down Las Vegas Boulevard on a week-long vacation trip in celebration of my boyfriend’s 25th birthday, spent Easter Sunday with his (very Italian) food-pushing family, sipped martinis with my sister on her 22nd birthday, and accompanied my mom to a delectable buffet brunch on Mother’s Day.

Up next: a weekend getaway to Atlantic City in celebration of my sister’s college graduation. Yikes.

There are times when I’m on my best behavior, and I truly embody the monikers of “health nut” or “gym rat” that friends have so kindly bestowed upon me. The scale is moving because I’m monitoring every morsel that passes my lips, and I’m on a first-name basis with everyone at the gym. I have a specific objective in mind (e.g. lose the last 10 pounds by the end of the year), and everything I do seems to be motivated by that goal.

But then there are other times when once-in-a-lifetime special occasions like a loved one’s graduation or wedding, or a long-anticipated (and much-deserved) vacation, temporarily seem more important than weighing X number of pounds or slipping into a certain dress size.

Meanwhile, there’s no avoiding the daily responsibilities that can interfere with anyone’s best efforts to eat well and hit the gym regularly, from long hours at the office to mountains of dirty laundry. Sometimes the need to meet a work deadline or squeeze in a few extra minutes with your kids before bed can prevent you from preparing a nutritious dinner or making it to the gym.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned in the past three years, it’s that there is nothing that’s more important than my health. However, when you’re committed to living as healthfully as possible 99.9 percent of the time (okay, okay, more like 75 percent) I see no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy a slice of cake on your significant other’s birthday.

My little sister is only going to graduate from college once, and while there are certainly more important aspects of this special milestone than a post-ceremony lunch (and cocktails!) together as a family, we live in a society where food is an integral element of just about every occasion — whether it’s a wedding or a funeral.

While it’s unfortunate that special occasions and the many demands of daily life have a way of piling up all at once, and it seems I’m currently “off” my Weight Watchers program as much as I’m “on,” I still think giving into the occasional indulgence or skipping a workout is better than being the person who nibbles on salad while everyone else enjoys a holiday feast, or who forgoes the entree you really want at an incredible restaurant on vacation for fear that you might tote an extra pound or two back home.

Sometimes it’s okay to let life push you ever-so-slightly off the wagon…just as long as you eventually hop back on.

How do you deal with special occasions or daily responsibilities getting in the way of your weight loss efforts?

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What it Means to Eat “Healthy”

In the last couple of months, I’ve had to completely re-learn what it means to eat “healthy” foods. I’ve realized that for the past three years I’ve been in the dark — like many Americans — when it comes to the true meaning of labels like “organic” and “natural,” and how to determine whether or not a snack that claims it’s nutritious is, in fact, merely a glorified candy bar masquerading as health food.

I’ll be the first to admit that when Weight Watchers announced it was rolling out a brand new program, PointsPlus, I was less than thrilled. I had lost 90 pounds on the “old” program, and my first response was: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Plus, I thought I knew it all: I had devised a variety of schemes for getting the most bang out of my POINTS buck — like seeking out snack foods fortified with fiber, which lowers their value on the program — and I wasn’t ready to accept that fact that my beloved Kashi GoLean crunch was now 5 POINTS per cup, or that even good-for-you dinnertime staples like brown rice and whole wheat pasta were also increasing.

But in the spirit of fully embracing the new program — and taking the initiative to educate myself on nutrition — these last couple of months have been truly eye-opening.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far about some things you really need to do to eat “healthy”:

1.) Stop reading nutrition labels. Yes, you read that correctly. My first instinct used to be to check the calorie, fat, and fiber content on a food, and then immediately start estimating its POINTS value. Here’s why that doesn’t always work: a food can be low-fat and low-carb, which now ultimately makes it a POINTS bargain, but if you look at the actual ingredients list — a detailed outline of exactly what you’re putting into your body if you consume that food — more often than not you’ll find a long list of barely pronounceable chemicals, preservatives, and fancy words for “sugar” (e.g. sucrose, corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, etc.). Meanwhile, snacks like nuts have a high fat content that scares most dieters away, but they’re a nutritional powerhouse of protein and fiber that keep you full and are great for your heart. These days I’m looking for products that, ideally, contain five or fewer ingredients, and I won’t touch it if that list includes anything I can’t even pronounce!

2.) Don’t believe everything you see. These days, many of the boxed, canned, and bagged items available at the grocery store have been stamped with claims like “all-natural,” “healthy,” or “organic.” But do a little sleuthing, and you’ll realize that these claims are, in many cases, a load of you-know-what. This includes the items at Whole Foods Market, which is just as guilty of selling junk food as your local grocery store. Other than “organic,” these food labels are not regulated by the FDA, and so manufacturers are taking full advantage of this to trick you into buying their product and thinking its actually good for you. If I see one more commercial from the Corn Refiners Association about how “your body don’t know corn syrup isn’t sugar,” or the ones from Frito-Lays about how only natural ingredients are used in their fatty, greasy potato chips, I’ll scream. Again, it comes back to scanning that ingredients list: lots of seemingly healthy boxed foods scream “good-for-you” — like the Fiber One bars I’ve touted on this blog more than once — but if you take a gander at all the added sugars, chemicals, and sodium, I might as well have been grabbing a Snickers bar.

3.) Remember what food looks like in nature. In a society where many of us spend 8 hours a day chained to a desk, and grabbing a bite on-the-go has become the norm for busy weeknights, it can be hard to recall what potatoes that aren’t deep fried actually look like. For example, I had been snacking on these “natural” pomegranate fruit bars. They almost taste like a pomegranate, they kind of smell like a pomegranate, but do they even remotely look like a pomegranate? I don’t think so. One quick glance at the ingredients list and it became abundantly clear that what I was actually consuming were 18 grams of sugar and 20 grams of sodium in a tiny, completely dissatisfying little snack. Why bother when I could just as easily eat a real pomegranate? Before I go to eat anything now, I ask myself just how far removed that food is from its natural state. You’re better off eating an orange than reaching for a glass of OJ, and throwing together your own mini pizza with whole wheat dough, cheese, and tomatoes than cracking open a box of DiGiorno.

Now, is this to say that I’m eating 100% “clean” all day, every day? Not exactly. While I eat fruits and veggies like it’s my job, have completely replaced most of my old go-to snacks with nuts and cheese, and won’t touch many of the frozen and processed foods I once relied on to lose my first 90 pounds, I’m still not willing to give up my Kashi cereal — a food that contains a long list of ingredients that I do actually recognize, but is still, nonetheless, a processed food. And, of course, it’s unrealistic to think that every restaurant or social gathering will be able to accommodate a completely processed-free diet.

But the bottom line is that I just can’t stop thinking about how, just three short years ago, I was literally poisoning my body every single day with nothing but highly-refined, overly-processed snacks and meals that were not only full of chemicals and potential toxins like MSG, but were also loaded with fat, sugar, salt, and oil. That’s why it so important to me to make up for lost time by educating myself on what’s best for my body, and to stop taking my health for granted. (Oh, and as a bonus: the scale is moving again, and I’m feeling better than ever!)

In fact, I just interviewed the woman behind the 100 Days of Real Food experiment for a magazine article, and I’ve signed on to participate in her blog’s “mini-pledges” to help further my commitment to ditching processed foods once and for all.

Kicking my addiction to Splenda and artificial sweeteners is next on my personal To-Do.

What are some of the ways you’re eating “cleaner?”

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