Weight Loss Conundrum

Let me take a sec to apologize for the length of this post :) But it’s a “weighty” topic with no easy cut and dry answer. What I hope is for all the people out there like me who are gaining weight and have no idea why, that this might be the unbelievable answer you need to help you lose weight, too. Sounds like a commercial, doesn’t it? I promise it’s not :)

A lot of people have noticed that I’ve dropped a lot of weight and many have wanted to know what happened. Some of you were very concerned about it and yes, I did have a lot of health problems last year, but I am healthy now (knock wood). Yes, those problems are what led to the weight loss, however not in the way you may think. But I’m ahead of myself. I’m going back to the beginning. To quote Megamind, the very beginning :)

Like most females, I grew up with an extremely distorted body image. Three of the biggest reasons for this is simple genetics. Because I’m of mixed Tsalagi (Cherokee) heritage, I have physical traits that differed substantially from my friends who aren’t. One of the big ones is my rib cage is completely round and larger than most. It’s always been this way. I have very narrow shoulders, but mondo ribs and a very short waistline (my bottom rib basically sits directly on top of my hipbone).

If that wasn’t bad enough, I’m extremely chesty. By age 12, I was a B cup. By 16 an F which I remain to this day. Believe me, I’m not bragging by any means. I’m extremely self conscious about it and part of the reason I started wearing corsets was to minimize them. The one thing people never talk about is when you’re large on top, you always look three to four times heavier than other women. People assume you’re always heavier, too, and they pick on you a lot when you’re a little kid and young woman. I’ve been asked by fans why I don’t write bustier heroines and this is why. It’s been such an issue for me over the years, that I don’t want to deal with it on paper, too (I’m too busy dealing with other issues I have :). In college, my measurements were 38-23-32. Now you know why I used to wrap my torso with an Ace bandage before I ran or did any physical activity. Sports bras really don’t work for larger sizes.

My next issue that I inherited from my family is that I walk on my tiptoes and always have. This resulted in making my calves larger than most (and given me shortened Achilles tendons). Jeans and boots have never fit that part of my body well, not even when I was a size 0. The benefit is I can bench press about 300 pounds with my legs and I have muscles on them that a weightlifter would envy, but they are legs only a weightlifter would envy :)

Which gets me to the last issue, I carry a lot, and I mean a lot, of muscle weight and always have. My entire life, I have been extremely active as my very skinny yet muscled brother can attest to (I can walk/run him under the table). My mother used to say that touching my legs and arms was like touching granite. Because of all the stuff I do, even at my heaviest I have never jiggled or had an ounce of cellulite anywhere on my body. Yet all of the above is a recipe for shoot-my-lard-butt-cause-I-think-I’m-bigger-than-a-house self image that plagues me to this day.

When I wore a size 0 and no that’s not a typo, I weighed in at a staggering 135-140 pounds (I’m 5′ 2″ in height). According to all medical and BMI reports, I should weigh 108-121 (my mother was 5′ 5″ and weighed 110 yet she wore a size 10 while I was in a 0). Now you would think that my common sense would have kicked in and I’d have been okay with my weight when I wore a 0 in jeans, right? Nope.

First, they were very tight in the calves and then the big problem was while my bottom was a 0, my top and dress size was an 8 and even sometimes as large as a 12 (because of the ribs and girls). My girlfriends wore 4-6 so in my mind, I was a giant cow even though I had to always have the waist taken in on my clothes (hence why I was a seamstress in college). It also didn’t help when I’d go to the doctor and have them gasp when they took my weight or have other people argue that there’s no way I wore a size 0 jeans because I appeared a lot heavier than that (this more from the fact I wore oversized shirts and jackets to hide the girls). Couple this with some serious life changing blows and you can see how I ended up anorexic and then bulimic in college. It also didn’t help that I couldn’t really afford food at the time either. I drank nothing but tap water and lived on an apple a day and Ramen noodles. I never ate breakfast and since I was usually working during dinner, I didn’t eat then either. So basically, I had a tiny lunch (if anything) and I lived that way for years. Yes, I was frightfully skinny, but I was doing major damage to my body.

I paid for that when I became pregnant. Women/girls, please don’t starve yourself. Please. It does such horrible things to your body and you will pay for it in the end. Please don’t do that to yourself. It’s not worth it. I will never forget when I stepped on the scales and weighed 155 pounds in my 7th month of pregnancy (just days before my oldest was born). I burst into tears even though I was wearing a size 10 women’s pants while 7 months pregnant.

After my son was born, even though I was young and thin, I had to stay on blood pressure medicine (another present from my Tsalagi roots) which further lowered my metabolism. To lose weight, I did what we’ve been taught by every doctor and ad we’ve been blitzed with from the cradle.

Lose weight = more exercise + less food

That formula doesn’t work for everyone. I was one of the lucky few it didn’t work for at all. Instead of losing weight, I started gaining. No matter how much exercise I did or how little food I ate, I gained. Now this is the period in my life when I was homeless and we had no money whatsoever. I wasn’t eating Hostess snack items, peanut butter, cereal, hamburgers or cake or potato chips (they are really expensive foods). I was still eating Ramen noodles, store brand watered down soup (whatever they put on sale at .25 a can), and drinking tap water. I have never in my life eaten breakfast and again, I was lucky to get one meal a day.

Then once we got back on our feet and were again in a home, I tried the traditional means of weight loss- Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem and Weight Watchers. I was on WW for so long, I can still give you the count for any and all normal and restaurant foods. I even tried Jenny Craig AND WW at the same time. On those systems, I would lose a pound or two, maybe, but that was it. It didn’t matter that I never cheated or that I was spending 3-6 days a week working out for 1-2 hours a pop. I still gained. Especially when I worked out. I always gained right after a workout to the point, that I went a couple of months without it. Lost about five pounds and then the moment I returned to the gym, back it all came… and this time it brought friends. I was completely baffled.

Then my gym installed a computer key that charted what I was burning. I learned that during my workouts, I was burning 1200-1700 calories a session. Again, not a typo. Even on the days when I slacked, I was burning 800-900 a pop. Now that truly made no sense to me. How could I be fat? And at this time I, due to my weight, was considered morbidly obese (I wore a size 12-14 on bottom). On a typical day, I ate no breakfast. I had a modest salad (usually spinach) with less than a teaspoon of 30-60 calorie dressing and a tiny can of tuna or chicken and a piece of 70 calorie Baby Bel cheese. Dinner was basically the same as lunch though I might have beef and sometimes I didn’t eat dinner at all. I rarely eat breads and even rarer do I eat sweets. I drink 3-4 liters of water a day and a couple of cups of unsweetened herbal tea (flavored water). How on earth could I gain weight?

But I did. I kept telling my doctors what was going on and asking for their help, and you could see it on their faces. “Yeah, right. I’m sure you do all of that and don’t cheat.” (insert eye roll). Their answer was always the standard, “you need to get more exercise and eat less.” It was so frustrating. I wouldn’t have minded the weight gain had it been due to eating Ho-Hos and cream horns, potato chips, etc. But I was getting fat on lettuce and water with the occasional calorie splurge on chili! Where’s the justice in that?

Then last year slammed me hard. I had multiple jaw surgeries which resulted in my not being able to eat at all for days at a time. I only drank soup and took a lot of vitamins. Now, you would think the weight would melt away, right? Wrong. I didn’t gain, but I didn’t lose. When I went four days with no food whatsoever and gained a pound, I knew something was seriously wrong with me.

Still no one listened. I won’t say no one. Kim and a few other of my friends kept telling me that I wasn’t eating enough. “You need to eat more to lose.” Yeah, you people are on crack. Eat more? I’m huge and I’m not eating now. How in the world could that help?

Then Kim sent over a picture of her mother who’d had a dramatic weight loss. Her mother, always a beautiful woman, was now tiny. “What is she doing?” I asked.

Kim laughed. “She started going to a nutritionist and he makes her eat three meals a day, plus two snacks. She starts each day with a cup of cereal, cup of low fat milk, 2 pieces of bacon, an egg and a cup of juice.”

Huh? That was more food than I ate in a day. Seriously. It defied everything I knew. “And she’s losing weight?”

“You’re looking at the picture.”

Still, I didn’t believe it. How could that be? A few more weeks went by. I had more surgery and couldn’t eat anything. I gained another pound and was stunned and heartbroken. My weight was at an all time high and I hadn’t been eating for months. I was desperate.   “All right, give me his number!”

Kim did and it changed my life. What I learned was that my starvation and “good” eating habits, coupled with my blood pressure medicine, had absolutely destroyed my metabolism. My body was so used to starving, that it wasn’t burning food properly. I was in constant starvation mode and my body was fighting to stay alive. It hoarded every single calorie I gave it.

I was burning 1200-1700 calories in an hour and a half to two hours (not counting other activities I do such as walking, bicycling, basketball, roller skating, skateboarding, etc with my kids) and only taking in a staggering 600-800 calories a day, maybe 1000 at most. For years I’d been counting only fat grams. When I did the calorie count in a journal, I was floored. I thought I was taking in at least 1100, but I wasn’t. Mostly because I never ate breakfast or snacked.

And come to find out from my nutritionist on the days I was at the gym, I was supposed to be eating that much in calories, too. I thought the point of working out was to create a deficit. That’s what I’d always been told. I had no idea I was supposed to eat that much in calories afterward. On a bad day when I had a migraine, I’d burn 600 calories at the gym which left my body with only 200 calories to live on for the rest of the day.

Another problem I realized while seeing my nutritionist is that I never get hungry. Because we were so poor growing up, we didn’t have food in the house. Many times in my life, the only meal I had as a kid was the school lunch (when we could afford it). I would get so hungry in class, I’d swallow air just to make my stomach feel full. As an adult, I had the same thing. I was so used to starving that I’d trained myself to ignore all hunger signs. Until I’m shaking and faint, I don’t realize my body needs food so I can’t rely on that to tell me when the furnace needs fuel.

Now I eat my meals at an assigned time each day. I start out just like Kim’s mom with a regular egg, 2 pieces of regular bacon, cup of cereal (chocolate Cheerios) and 1% milk, and a bottle of Apple juice. I eat 1500 calories each day and on days I work out, I eat a lot more (I’m also not working out as much- my doc wants me to burn no more than 800 each session and I have to drink a protein shake afterward). Once my body got used to the fact that it wasn’t starving and that I would actually feed it, it began letting go and the weight has finally started to drop.

So when people ask how I lost the weight, the simple answer is I started eating and stopped working out so much. I know. It sounds ridiculous. But it’s the truth. Who would have ever thought?

Breakfast is the key. If you get a balanced breakfast it really does help with the rest of the day and it jump starts your metabolism. I still don’t snack though. I’m just not hungry. So for all of you out there who are like me, who are doing all the right things you’ve been told to do and you’re still not losing, maybe, just maybe, this will help you, too. The one thing I’ve learned over the last few months is that every body is vastly different. There is no one cure for everyone. The key is to learn your body and to work with it, not against it. I’m still battling with mine, but we’re slowly working it out and are becoming friends again :)