Posts Tagged With: nutrition

How Self-Discipline Makes All the Difference

In my Muay Thai kickboxing class, the instructor talks a lot about discipline. The cornerstone of martial arts training, self-discipline is even part of the “Student Creed” we have to recite before leaving class (along with things like perseverance and honesty), and he often ends class with a speech with cutesy quotes like: “A disciplined life is a happy life.”

But there’s one saying that always seems to get me. Recently, he ended class by saying: “If you have self-discipline, you can have anything.” And now that I am officially training for a half marathon, and — I don’t want to jinx it — the scale is budging ever-so-slowly in the right direction again, I can say with absolute certainty that self-discipline is the absolute most important quality I’ve had to develop along my health and fitness journey.

As I’m sure any runner would agree, it takes a special kind of self-discipline to pull yourself out of bed before the sun rises to log miles, or to lace up your sneakers after a grueling day at the office. And anyone who has ever attempted to lose weight knows that there’s often nothing standing between you and that extra slice or pizza or a heaping bowl of ice cream except your own ability to tell yourself no.

To me, self-discipline is about saying you’re going to do something — and then actually doing it. It’s about making yourself a priority, and keeping your own promises. It’s about setting a goal and not allowing yourself to quit. It’s about developing the strength to deny yourself something that may be easier or more fun — e.g. skipping your run to lounge on the couch, opting for the cheeseburger instead of the salad — because you know it will only hinder your own success.

As someone who used to tip the scales at over 260 pounds, I can tell you exactly what it’s like to not have any self-discipline at all. While I was always an over-achiever in the classroom, when it came to my health, laziness was the name of the game. If I didn’t “feel like” doing something, I didn’t do it. If I had a sudden craving for a milkshake, off to Baskin-Robbins I went. I’d promise myself I wasn’t going to overeat at a restaurant, but then proceed to order the greasiest, most unhealthy option on the menu — fettucine alfredo was my go-to meal of choice — and polish off the entire plate. My short-lived attempts to exercise were always lackluster at best — I could stick to a walking regimen for about a week, tops, before allowing myself to quit.

In some ways, I’m sure it sounds fun to do (or, in my case, not do) whatever you want, whenever you want. There’s a certain freedom that comes with giving up on yourself and having no goals. By the time I started college, I had completely resigned myself to a life of obesity; I figured I was “meant” to be fat, so I did absolutely nothing to stop piling on the pounds. It’s just oh-so-easy easy to stuff your face with whatever happens to be in front of you, and never have to worry about the ramifications to your health.

At first, developing self-discipline meant having the strength to say “no” to the temptation to skip a workout or eat something that I knew would come back to haunt me on the scale. But these days, the ability to set my own goals and stick to them has proven more rewarding that I ever thought possible…and I’m finding that it’s getting easier.

Last week, I earned my brown-tip belt in Muay Thai, which in my school is granted after approximately 18 months of training. This week, after returning from a weekend getaway (more on that later), I went out and pushed my body through five miles. Every morning, I plop myself in front of my laptop in my home office, even though the TV is just steps away and sometimes I just don’t feel like working.

Sometimes, self-discipline means sacrifice. But to me, developing self-discipline has proven the only way to really have everything I’ve ever wanted in life.

What are some ways you’ve practiced self-discipline to reach your goals?

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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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The Right to Bare Arms (and Stomach, and Thighs…)

As the summer months officially come to an end, I decided it was finally time to step back on the scale.

And, unsurprisingly, I was greeted by an additional five pounds.

It’s what I was expecting, given my week-long jaunts in Vegas, Atlantic City, and Orlando, the endless string of barbecues and late-night fro-yo runs, my less-than-rigid workout routine. Now that I’m back into the swing of things — my long-awaited return to Weight Watchers, first and foremost — I’m fully confident that I’ll ditch those extra pounds (and then some) in no time.

That’s what still continues to amaze me. For the first time in my life, if I see the number on the scale nudge up a bit, I don’t panic. I don’t say “the hell with it” and start eating everything in sight, as I’ve done so many times in the past. I simply chalk it up to a few (okay, maybe more than a few) poor eating choices and lackluster workouts, and I pledge to get back on track ASAP.

I can finally acknowledge that I’m strong enough to lose (and re-lose) weight. I believe in myself. Who knew?

The truth is, this summer marked a whole new leg of my weight loss journey…even if I didn’t actually lose any weight. Whether the scale is moving or not, it seems nearly every day I’m slapped with a new realization about my body and just how much has changed.

Yesterday, for example, on a somewhat chilly afternoon that didn’t exactly warrant capri pants, I was amazed to pick up a pair of jeans from last year and easily slip them on. No lying on the bathroom floor trying fruitlessly to yank the zipper up, no jamming my rolls of flesh into the too-tight waistband, or rubbing raw indentations in my stomach after I removed them. I stepped right in, zipped them up, and was on my way.

And all this after so many years of having to buy a larger size for school every September, or sheepishly “losing” last season’s jeans, or — I’m ashamed to admit — destroying more pairs of pants than I can count when my denial about needing a larger size led to popped buttons or seams that blew open.

For the third September in a row, I’ve been able to re-wear clothes from the previous year, and that, to me, is an ultimate victory.

But this summer, perhaps my greatest achievement is that — for the first time in my 26 years of existence — I was confident enough to sport a bikini top at the beach.

Now, before you get too excited, let me preface this by stating that I had to search far and wide for a top with the extra coverage I still craved (athletic-style suits did the trick!), and I still felt the need to camouflage my generous thighs and loose, stretch-marked paunch with a high-rise skirted bottom. But who cares? I’ve worked hard for the body I have at this very moment — even if it isn’t “perfect” — and I don’t care who sees it.

Then there’s the fact that it’s almost surreal to me to do a load of laundry and fold my size small — SIZE SMALL! — tank tops from Old Navy. My summer uniform once consisted of baggy t-shirts or short-sleeved polos hidden beneath cardigan sweaters, for fear that anyone should catch so much as a glimpse of one of my behemoth, saggy arms. I sometimes can’t believe that I’ll slip into a strapless dress or racerback running tank and walk out the door without a second thought. My Muy Thai uniform is sleeveless, and where I would once be mortified to be waving my bare arms around for all the world to see, now I can look in the mirror — even at my loose tricep skin — and accept the way my arms look. Sometimes, at just the right angle, I think they even look pretty strong and muscular.

Oh, and then there’s the small detail that I ran not one, but two races this summer. And I already have a few other 5Ks lined up for the fall. At my very first race, a four-miler on the Fourth of July, I met my goal of jogging the entire course. Granted, I wasn’t the fastest runner, but it didn’t matter — I gathered up my courage and was able to squash my self-doubt long enough to cross that finish line, and I’ll be damned if I let 10-minute miles spoil that.

Did I mention that I even had the audacity to wear shorts to that race? Me, good old “Thunder Thighs,” wearing shorts. In public! Oh, the humanity.

Bikinis, shorts, tank tops — and, certainly, running races — were things I never thought possible. I was, after all, a 22-year-old shopping in the Women’s Plus section for swimsuits, and constantly pretending I was cold to justify wearing long sleeves or ankle-length capris in August. There was a time not too long ago that I couldn’t run a single mile without gasping for air, and now I’m breezing through 5Ks as if it’s completely normal for me to be running alongside other athletes.

Believe it or not, I am slowly but surely beginning to accept my body. I know I’m by no means thin, and I never will be. Maybe I have no business baring so much of my body at the beach or flapping my batwings in kickboxing classes, but for the first time in my life, I’m not constantly obsessing over how every little inch of my body looks at every moment of the day.

My tummy flap and jiggly thighs are clearly here to stay, and I’m finally making peace with the fact that I will never have the “perfect” body, no matter how much more weight I lose.

But guess what? I think I might just be perfectly fine with that.

The important thing is that my weight is no longer holding me back from anything I want to do or achieve in my life, and I’m excited to see just what else I can accomplish on my journey.

With or without the cooperation of a scale.

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I am Runner, Hear Me Roar.

When it comes to our diets, there are a few hard and fast rules that will help just about everyone drop a dress size. You know, like eat more celery and less Cheetos.

But when it comes to the day-to-day decision to break a sweat — because, let’s face it, there is no lasting weight loss without physical activity — I believe that every person is a little different.

For example, I have trouble mustering the energy to exercise in the evenings, while others wouldn’t dream of rolling out of bed at 5:30am to hit the gym. Some people like to tone up with yoga or Pilates, while I prefer to pant through a run or a grueling kickboxing session. While some can push through several hours of strength training at the gym (insane Biggest Loser contenders, I’m looking at you), it may not work for all of us. I’m lucky to be able to carve out 45 minutes for a sweat session 5-6 times a week, and some people get away with far less. And that’s perfectly fine.

That being said, I think there is one workout rule that applies to every single person looking to lose the weight and keep it off. And that is this: you must make fitness a part of your identity. If you want to truly commit to a regular exercise routine, I don’t think you can just pencil in a 30-minute walk four times a week. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great start — but I think it takes more than a calendar appointment to make exercise a part of your life.

I strongly believe you need to find something that you love to do. It has to be something you can latch onto strongly enough that you won’t let bad weather or family responsibilities or work schedules or anything else stand in your way. I’ve been known to run in the rain, and have attempted to maneuver my car though six inches of snow to make my Muy Thai kickboxing class.

I recently returned from a vacation (Disney World!) where I gave myself permission to eat anything I wanted — ice cream, cookies, cheeseburgers, you name it. While traipsing through theme parks for six days is physically demanding, it was still nothing like my usual running/spinning/kickboxing regimen. So, big surprise here: I returned home to pants that suddenly fit a little more snugly. I was hungry all the time, and feeling way too lethargic to hit the track.

Because of my lack of exercise and unhealthy eating all week, I didn’t feel motivated or energetic…but most surprisingly, I didn’t feel like me.

That’s when I realized how much working out has become part of my identity. It has consumed my life in so many ways that without a daily bout of exercise — even if I miss less than a week — I suddenly start feeling like a completely different person. It’s truly humbling to realize that, before my weight loss, I used to feel this way all the time.

If I were to draft a list of all the qualities that make up who I am, “physically active” would be  right at the top. My being can no longer be summed up by my gender or what I do for a living. I’m also a runner and a purple belt.

I think my overzealousness at the gym in my earliest weeks of weight loss paid off in more ways than a scale could ever show. I quickly became a fixture on that elliptical machine, and it wasn’t long before people started calling me by name…and asking about me when I didn’t show up. That’s when I realized that others saw me as something of a gym rat, and that fueled me with the motivation to get stronger and tougher and fitter. I wanted to live up to that new perception of who I was.

When I started running, at first I considered it nothing more than a fast way to torch as many calories as possible in a short period of time. But it wasn’t long before I got bored with the monotony of pounding a treadmill. When I started looking at running as more than a weight loss technique, that’s when the habit really started to stick. I subscribed to Runner’s World.  I strapped on a Garmin sports watch.  I signed up for 5K races.  Suddenly, I was a “runner.” And now I can’t wait to lace up my Nikes.

I’m often asked to divulge the number of times I work out each week. But an active lifestyle is so much more than the hours you spend on a treadmill. It’s just way too easy to lose interest in working out and return right back to your favorite position on the couch. I should know…I work at a gym.

I tend to shy away from making all-knowing proclamations on this blog, but I truly believe that the only way to make fitness a lasting part of your life is to make it part of who you are.

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Seeing Yourself as Others Do

One of the (many) things about myself that I’ve been trying to “work on” lately is my inability to accept a compliment.

From the “you look amazing!” screeches from friends and family when I started losing weight to the occassional compliments I receive on my wardrobe, I have never been able to look someone in the eye and genuinely believe their positive words. I’ll spare you the sob stories of how I was ridiculed by everyone for my appearance as a child and teenager — including my parents — but I’m sure it has a heck of a lot to do with why I can’t accept that someone legitimately has something nice to say about me today, more than a decade later.

Why is it that I still carry around 15-year-old memories of my classmates calling me “fat” and “ugly,”  but when someone says they like my haircut or that my arms are really starting to tone up, it’s almost immediately forgotten?

While I’ve slowly been learning to appreciate my new body and graciously accept any praise with regards to my weight loss accomplishments, it still pains me to realize that when someone offers a compliment that goes beyond my physical appearance or choice of shoes and relates to who I am on a deeper level — my intellect, my talent, my strength — I find it impossible to accept their words as fact.

I’m one of the lucky few that’s found a man who is quick to offer his encouragement and praise. But any time my boyfriend is regaling me with compliments, I can’t help but argue with him. I can’t remember the last time he told me I looked nice, and I offered him a simple “thanks” in return. Instead, I usually suggest he go get his eyes checked.

And yesterday, when he went on and on about how proud he is of me for working so hard at pursuing my writing dream, I not-so-gently informed him that, in fact, I’m a total failure. Because, after all, I haven’t yet published a bestseller or landed bylines in all of my favorite newsstand magazines…at the ripe old age of 25.

If I could look in the mirror and see the woman he sees, I would never again suffer from lack of self-esteem. I’d never again ridicule the way my thighs look in shorts, I wouldn’t hold myself back from pitching my dream magazines for fear of not being good enough, and I definitely wouldn’t walk around thinking that I’m a failure just because I’ve managed to lose 90 pounds and not 100 pounds.

If we could treat ourselves with the same kindness, respect, and understanding that our loved ones do, and learn to recognize all of our positive attributes instead of constantly focusing on the bad, could you imagine how much happier we’d be? And how far we could go?

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My Inner Battle with Obesity

It’s no secret to anyone here that losing “the final 40” has proven a challenge that I have not yet been able to conquer. Granted, I now have my sights set on the “final 30,” but completing my weight loss journey is a goal that has continued to elude me…for nearly three years now.

Atlantic City, 2007

I continually experience periods of ups and downs — no pun intended — where I’m following my Weight Watchers program to the proverbial “T” and the scale is moving (ever so slowly), but then it’s immediately followed by a week, two weeks, or more, where various family celebrations, vacations, or perhaps even good old-fashioned frustration cause my efforts  to wane.

And, soon enough, I’m right back to where I started: I’ve been bobbing between an 85- and 90-pound loss since summer 2009.

So, why haven’t I thrown in the towel? Believe you me, the thought has crossed my mind. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll never, ever allow myself to go back to being a 250+ pound woman, but I could have easily quit Weight Watchers a long time ago and continued to live my life as a size 8/10, active young woman who by all intents and purposes is “normal.”

But then there’s the small matter of the fact that, oh yeah, I still weigh 175 pounds.

Now, when I was 267 pounds, I was, not surprisingly, considered obese by any standard BMI chart.

And today, thanks to my 5’4 frame, a weight of 175 pounds means that that I am still — believe it or not — obese.

Atlantic City, 2011

As much as I tell myself “it’s just a stupid chart” or “weight is just a number,” at the end of the day, I am desperate to finally be rid of the “obese” stamp that has been slapped on my forehead since the second grade.

My excessive weight has been a burden I’ve had to carry ever since then, and frankly, I’m sick and tired of looking in the mirror and knowing that deep down, I’m obese.

It’s a little secret that I carry with me as I scarf down my POINTs-friendly grilled chicken and veggie meals and hit the gym six days a week. No matter how healthy I eat now, or how intense my martial arts training has become, I’m still not the athlete that I dream of becoming.

I’m finally starting to realize that I’m worthy of something more. But I’ll never reach my goals until I can identify the mental block that’s keeping me from digging in my heels, losing the rest of this weight, and saying good-bye to the “fat” girl forever.

I no longer care about squeezing into a size four, and I know that I’ll probably never weigh 130 pounds, but I want so badly to just be truly “normal.” I may prance around in teeny halter dresses and two-piece bathing suits now, but regardless of what I look like on the outside, I know that I won’t feel truly successful until I am finally and forever stripped of that “obesity” label.

So, here’s to a renewed effort to finish what I started. Wish me luck!

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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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Worthy of Weight Loss

Anyone who has ever carried around more than, say, five or 10 extra pounds knows that years of hiding behind excess weight can take a huge toll on your psyche. Tune in for just one episode of The Biggest Loser and it becomes abundantly clear that there’s a reason why these folks have ballooned to twice or even triple the size they should be…and it’s not because they simply have a larger appetite or slower metabolism than the average person.

It’s because there’s an endless list of emotional issues that go hand-in-hand with gaining and losing significant amounts of weight, and this week I think I may have just uncovered one of mine.

In my first year on Weight Watchers, I shed 80 pounds. Just like that. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy — I followed the program religiously and worked out at least five times a week — but the weight was falling off my body and I was enjoying the ride. I was basking in the compliments and delighting in smaller, cuter clothes, and it seemed like everything in my new healthy, active life was falling into place.

But then in my second year on the program, everything stopped working. The scale stopped moving, I became bored with my go-to meals, and there were days when heading to the gym was just another ho-hum chore on my To-Do. As my weight first began to plateau, all of the emotional issues that had fallen by the wayside in my first exciting, life-changing year of weight loss starting to resurface.  My old fears and insecurities came flooding back, and I knew there had to be reason I hit a wall the second my mind started playing catch-up with all the physical changes to my body.

I don’t feel worthy of success.

And, more specifically, I don’t feel worthy of weight loss.

My self-deprecating thoughts don’t end there. I don’t believe I’m good enough, talented enough, or smart enough to build a lucrative career, and I still, after nine years with my boyfriend, don’t feel worthy of his love. I know it’s ridiculous, but these nagging feelings of inadequacy are a side effect of 20 years of being the fat girl hiding in the corner, trying to remain unnoticed and genuinely believing that I wasn’t as good as everyone else.

I was fat, and they were not. They deserved happiness, and I did not.

But no more. I’m tired of brushing off compliments and assuming I’m not good enough to do anything. Being my own worst enemy has become absolutely exhausting, and frankly, I’m tired of finding new ways to make myself feel inadequate.

In the last couple of months, something has changed. I have a newfound motivation and commitment to finally achieve my personal weight loss goal (100 pounds) and start landing assignments in my favorite magazines, and the best part is that I am finally acknowledging just how hard I work, just how far I’ve come, and just how much I deserve to succeed.

Every time a negative thought creeps in — I won’t be able to finish my first 5K, I’m not talented enough to write for newsstand magazines — I’m making the conscious decision to ignore it. If I can make the effort to live a healthy lifestyle, then surely I can make the effort to tell myself when I’m being stupid.

I credit all of this with the fact that the scale is moving again. Well, that, and the fact that I am officially in love with PointsPlus!  I’m averaging a little less than a pound per week, and as of last weekend’s weigh-in, I am just shy of once again being within 10 pounds of my goal. The last time I reached this point, I ended up gaining about eight pounds back…and then gaining and losing those eight pounds over and over again for a year.  The time before that, the same thing happened.  I get thisclose to my goal, realize just how close I am to — gasp! — actually being successful, and immediately let my efforts start slipping.

Clearly I am more than capable of losing weight, and I’ve come this far already…so it’s pretty obvious that there has been something else standing in the way of losing the last 10 pounds.

And I think her name is Jennifer Nelson.

Whatever your goal is — lose 20 pounds, fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans, run a 5K, or finally try that Zumba or Spinning class — you have to realize that it’s going to be hard work. I know everyone’s looking for shortcuts and instant gratification these days, but unfortunately, when it comes to your health and physical fitness (or anything else for that matter), there is just no such thing as a quick fix.

But guess what? You are worth the effort.

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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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Taking the First Step

When talking to friends, family, and other acquaintances, as soon as the subject of weight loss comes up — which, I must say, happens almost daily in my life — I’m usually faced with the following confessions:

“My jeans are tight.”

“I haven’t been to the gym in weeks.”

“I eat too much take-out.”

“I work late and don’t have time to cook.”

“I finish the food off my kids’ plates.”

“I’m too tired to exercise.”

“I’m wearing my old maternity clothes.”

“I feel sluggish all the time.”

The conversation almost always ends the exact same way. After outlining the many causes of the extra pounds they’re carrying, the person will eventually mutter the phrase:

“I really have to do something about my weight.”

And that’s when I’m gripped with the overwhelming urge to reach out, shake their shoulders, and say:

“Then do it, already!”

But, instead, I offer them an understanding nod and change the subject. Because I know that beyond offering a few general tips and pointers about how to lose weight — you know, like eat less and move more — there’s absolutely nothing I can do to help them.

See, the thing is that I was that person once. In fact, I was that person for many years. And throughout all of the “my pants don’t fit” whining I did, nobody ever just looked me in the eye and said:

“Then just lose some weight.”

You know why? Well, for starters, that’s a surefire way to lose friends. But it’s also because I know from firsthand experience that nothing I can say or do can force someone else to take that first step on the path to a healthier lifestyle. None of the dozens of doctors, nutritionists, or physiologists I visited throughout my childhood and adolescence could make me lose weight, and even my parents’ and grandparents’ desperate pleas to stop eating everything in sight had no effect on me.

I gained over 100 pounds in five years, and it wasn’t until I woke up one morning and decided that I had to do something RIGHT NOW that I managed to take my first step: joining Weight Watchers.

You have to make the decision to change your life, and then you just have to take that first step. It’s that simple.

I know there are so many people who are desperate to reap the rewards of a healthier lifestyle, but they just can’t seem to figure out how to get started. For me, my “a-ha” moment occurred when I stepped on a scale and was slapped in the face by the cold, hard fact that I was well on my way to being 300 pounds. Other people begin their weight loss journey because they’re trying to get pregnant, or because they already have children who are starting to adopt poor eating habits. Some women do it to fit into their high school jeans or look svelte for an upcoming vacation or reunion, while others are motivated by a desire for more energy and fewer doctor’s appointments.

Whatever their motivation, when someone confides how miserable they’re feeling about their current weight, and talks about needing to do “something,” what I’d like to suggest is doing just ONE something. The first step will be enough to get you started, and it’ll make that next “something” so much easier.

Maybe that means trying to drink less soda and more water one week, then swapping one not-so-healthy snack per day with a banana or an apple the following week, and then gradually cutting back on microwave dinners and Chinese take-out. I recently advised a self-proclaimed “chocoholic” to limit her consumption to once or twice a week, and to swap Snickers bars for small portions of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate. I urged someone else to stop thinking she had to eat nothing but salads and grilled chicken to lose weight — instead, I told her to make healthier choices most of the time, and enjoy her favorite indulgences in moderation.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but the truth is that when it comes to beginning your weight loss journey, it really doesn’t have to be complicated. You make the decision to lose weight, you possibly set a goal (lose 40 pounds, wear a size 8), and from that point on, it’s all about baby steps. Take it one day at a time, and make the small changes that will help you uphold that commitment to yourself and ultimately reach your goal.

Even if you have 100+ pounds to lose like I did, it can be done. One step at a time.

Now, tell me — what was the “first step” on your personal weight loss journey?

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