My Quest for an Optimal and Healthy Weight

Much of the American populace, and perhaps in other developed nations as well, have become obsessed with weight. Some say it’s a waste of time to worry about it because you can’t change it. Others say you can because it’s a simple math equation of calories in versus calories out. But is it really that simple?

Observations of My Own Journey

Throughout my childhood I was always underweight and petite in frame, partly due to having been born prematurely. At least that’s my summation. It didn’t matter how much I ate or how fatty the food was, I simply could not gain weight. As I became healthier in my teenaged years, I finally began to put on weight which scared me at first. When I hit 100 pounds, I cringed a little. Then I hit 115 pounds and thought, “Okay, this isn’t too bad as long as I don’t look at a scale.” You see, my body was finally taking on some shapeliness other than, well, flat… and I liked that, even if I didn’t like the three-digit number staring back at me from the scale. By the end of high school, I was 128 pounds…. but the clothes I bought were starting to actually fit better so I didn’t mind.

Did I think I looked fat? Not once. Did I do anything to try to lose weight or maintain my weight? Not a single thing, though some accused me in high school of either being anorexic or bulimic. A thought which grossed me out as well as offended because I didn’t understand how someone could look at me and assume the worst without knowing a thing about me other than what they could see. But I ignored it along with other taunts and teases and continued to eat what I wanted when I wanted it. In effect, grazing my way through life.

After high school, my regular pattern of eating got disrupted because I no longer had a school schedule to work around. When I had that schedule to work around, I ate breakfast before school; had lunch at school; then, when I got home I had a sandwich, ramen noodles, sometimes both or something else entirely; dinner with the family at the usual time; and some sort of snack before bed. Basically, I ate five times a day! And if I failed to have that snack before bed, I tended to wake up severely nauseated the next morning. Though, we didn’t know it at the time, that was actually an indication of a blood sugar imbalance. Because of my work schedule in the years following my HS graduation, I typically only ate 3 times a day. It only took a year after high school to realize something was wrong.

The doctors I saw, however, did not agree that something was wrong. And because the second doctor couldn’t find anything, he decided that because I was a woman and he couldn’t find anything obviously wrong with me that I needed to be on antidepressants. Dutifully, I took the pills… until I realized how much worse they were making me. What did he do when I went back after I stopped taking those pills? Why, of course, he prescribed me new ones. Did I take those? No. A year later, with continuing ups and downs in my moods, behaviors, and the way I felt overall, I ended up in the floor at work. Saw a third doctor. His diagnosis? Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. This condition is characterized not by a constant state of low levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood, but by peaks and valleys in the levels. It is the sudden drops from high to low which cause the problems. But what causes those drastic drops?

The way the doctor explained it at the time was that basically after I ate, first my body would overreact to the nutrients coming in and produce too much insulin. Not only that, but if I didn’t eat the proper balance of nutrients (say too many carbs and not enough fat and/or protein), then a dramatic crash would happen taking me down with a whole host of symptoms. These symptoms include, but are not limited to: external shakes, internal tremors, mood swings, nausea, dizziness, nervousness, anxiety, and faintness. It was horrible, I felt like I was on this crazy roller-coaster and I had no way of getting off or controlling its course… that is until my doctor told me I could control it through food. Now I did have several more ups and downs for the next 2-3 years after my diagnosis because the dietician I saw made a mockery of her profession by first giving me the know-how to care for my condition then concluding our talk by telling me, “But you can eat pretty much anything you want, so don’t worry.” I remember thinking (as perhaps only a 19 or 20 year old can), “What a crock! If I can eat pretty much anything I want, what was the point in telling me all that other stuff?” So what did I do? I continued to eat pretty much anything I wanted, except I cut back on my intake of sweets.

It took a while and some trial & error for me to realize that the talk with the dietician hadn’t been a “crock” after all. Because most all of my symptoms were back in full force nearly three years after my diagnosis, I decided something needed to change because I did not want to continue living like that…. especially since my doctor had told me that if my symptoms were not controlled it could lead to diabetes! So what did I do? I did some research and found this book titled, The Hypoglycemia Healthcare Handbook by Jeraldine Saunders and Dr. Harvey Ross. That book revolutionized not only my cupboards and eating habits, but my life. I was able to bring my body back into balance and once I detoxed from sugar it became easy-peasy to turn down sweet treats. Do I still have sweets? Certainly, just not everyday or every meal for that matter. It makes them all the more enjoyable to have them infrequently, in my opinion.

Couldn’t resist sharing this cartoon that’s been making the rounds for years on Facebook:

Funny Scale Cartoon

Beyond Hypoglycemia to Weight Gain… And Loss

In those younger years, I could have cared less about calories. Now that I’m in my 30s, they mean much more. Not only because I studied them as part of my education toward earning my Associate in Health and Wellness, but because I began to have trouble maintaining a steady weight in my mid-20s and again when I hit 30. But isn’t that normal, you may ask? According to some, “Yes, it is quite normal and to be expected and therefore there’s nothing you can do about it.” Others will tell you, “Yes, it’s normal, but you can do things to keep it in line.” What are those things?

First, be mindful of the calories you are ingesting versus the ones you are expending through your energy output. Second, don’t let a sedentary life drag you down until you are completely inactive! Thirdly, combine the 1st two into your daily life. When you go to the grocery store stick to the outer aisles where more of the whole foods hang out. Also, park farther away from the doors so you have to use more energy to get your shopping done. Compare food labels. While you may be a creature of habit always buying the same brand, you might be surprised to find another brand (including the knock-offs) may have fewer calories, sodium, and/or fat or carbs. Might be easier on your checkbook too. 🙂

What did I do when I put on unwanted pounds? All of the above. Plus, I went for a 30-45mins walks around my neighborhood at least three times a week. The weight I gained in my early-20s and again in my mid-20s took me up to 150 pounds each time and I felt so blah every day while I carried the extra weight. I had no energy, I was depressed, and I snacked constantly. But within five months of starting to watch what and how much I ate, and walking, I was feeling more balanced and not so sluggish… and my body leveled out at 132 pounds each time I lost the weight. (Perhaps, that number doesn’t mean anything without also knowing that I am 5’8” and have a small bone structure.) It happened again though. I put on a LOT of weight while in college these last four years, starting when I was 29. My weight just kept creeping up and I couldn’t seem to make it stop!

By the end of 2012, I weighed 170 pounds! Nearly 40 extra pounds! You want to talk about sluggish and blah feeling! It was way worse for me this time around. But I felt like there wasn’t anything I could do until after graduation because every time I tried I would lose a few pounds then put them right back on and I didn’t like feeling like a failure. So while working in Colorado this summer I worked hard and walked around camp. Before I knew it, I had lost an inch in my waist. Then, two inches. And I thought I must have lost a lot of weight (forgetting that muscle weighs more than fat) and weighed myself only to discover I weighed 165 (I weighed that before I made it to camp!). Once I reminded myself of the fact about muscle weighing more, I was able to placate my self with the fact I had lost two inches of fat. 🙂

As of this morning, I weigh 155 pounds! I continue to watch my calories in versus my calories out, the types of food I’m eating, and making sure to get some exercise. Before too long, I suspect I’ll be balanced out again. 😀 Of course, this much progress has taken almost four months, so I still have a ways to go. But I am determined!

Sound Teachings from Informed Authors

So determined in fact, I’ve been scouring the local library near my uncle’s house to find wellness and weight-loss books to help me out further. Two of the eight books I have checked out thus far have proved most helpful and full of sound facts.

Book #1

The American Dietetics Association (ADA) has a book out in its 3rd edition called The ADA’s Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. The author Roberta Larson Duyff, who holds a range of degrees and credentials, explains how to measure your weight, not just in terms of pounds but also in BMI. The BMI (or body mass index) is a chart used to determine if you are underweight, average, overweight, or obese. It only uses your height and weight to make that determination so it is not entirely an exact tool when you consider a body builder’s measurements. For the normal person though, it can prove a useful tool. It may be more useful to know your body’s fat percentage though, especially where the major fat stores are located. Fat around your midsection is extremely hazardous to your health. The more you have the higher your risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.

Another useful tool in the ADA’s book is how to figure your BMR, that is your basal metabolic rate which is the energy needed to keep your body functioning (the involuntary processes like breathing, digestion, etc.). “For most people, basal metabolism represents about 60% of their energy needs!” (25) To figure your BMR, take your weight in pounds and multiply that by 10 calories in women (11 in men). So a woman weighing 165 pounds would require 1650 calories to take care of her body’s involuntary needs. A body’s total energy use is 60% BMR, 30% physical activity, and 10% digestion & nutrient absorption. Although, the percentage for physical activity can vary depending upon a person’s activity level. An inactive person might only use 10-20%, someone who is moderately active could use 30-40%, and someone heavily active might need up to 60%.

So, using the woman example from above, let’s say that she’s moderately active. To figure energy needs, we would take the 1650 calories x 40%= 660 calories. Then we would take the 1650 + 660 x 10%= 231 calories. Then add that to the previous two numbers, 1650 + 660 + 231= 2541 calories for her total energy needs… and that’s just to maintain her current weight! To lose weight, she would need to reduce her caloric intake and/ or increase her activity level. To gain, the opposite would be true.

Book #2

To build on this further, the second book further expounds on the ADA’s information. In Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard’s School of Nutrition writes, “Three related aspects of weight- how much you weigh in relation to your height, your waist size, and how much weight you gain after your early twenties- strongly influence your chances of having or dying from a heart attack, stroke, or other type of cardiovascular disease… With increasing body mass index-…- the risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, gallstones, and type 2 diabetes all steadily increase, even among those in the healthy weight category” (35). And a BMI over 30 further increases all of those risks, though health difficulties begin to arise around a BMI of 20 or so.

Look around. Our nation’s populace (even children) have been steadily getting fatter and sicker in the last several decades. Sure it’s good for the healthcare industry’s business, but it is detrimental for the people suffering under the multitude of effects excess weight has the tendency to bring as gifts to the party. In Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, Dr. Willett examines the many possible causal factors to our nation’s epidemic. He zeros in on fat intake fairly early on in the book and says,

In the United States, the gradual reduction in the fat content of the average diet, from 40 percent of calories to about 33 percent, has been accompanied by a gradual increase in the average weight and a dramatic increase in obesity (67).

Another factor is the fact that as a nation, we aren’t nearly as active as our grandparents and previous generations were, but have continued to consume tons of calories in a day which our bodies have no use for and simply store away as fat for possible future use.

This book (so far) is the best book on diet and nutrition that I have ever read! I’m only on page 90 at the moment, so I look forward to reading the rest. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this subject as I continue to work on my weight and finish reading the book.

One thing to remember: Just as it took months and years to put on the weight, it will take months of hard work to make it come back off again. So don’t lose heart or hope on your journey. You can do it, no matter your age or where you are on the scale. Just take things one step at a time, don’t try to do it all at once. Pick an activity you like whether it be walking or swimming or some other thing, make sure to protect yourself from injury by not pushing yourself too hard, too far, or too fast too soon into your journey. “Slow and steady wins the race” is good to keep in mind.

Quick fixes and “miracle” drugs are not the answer to your weight woes, your diet and activity levels are. Here are a couple of videos from youtube of people reclaiming their health and vitality through diet and exercise:

First, Amanda lost 88 pounds and her story was covered by yahoo.com: both the video and story can be found HERE.

Then, today I saw a story (also through yahoo.com) on Tory Johnson who lost 60 pounds in a year: Her story can be found HERE.

Here’s my favorite story of all. It’s about Arthur Boorman, who lost 140 pounds with the help of Diamond Dallas Page (the wrestler) and yoga, and I would suspect a change in diet as well.

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