on diet and exercise, or why I’ve given up on losing weight the normal way

All through high school, I weighed somewhere around 170 lbs. According to any height/weight chart, this is slightly overweight for someone in the 5’8 1/2″ to 5’9″ height range. The summer after high school graduation, just after I’d been told by my doctor to lose 10 lbs, I was working as a YMCA day camp counselor – on my feet chasing kids 8 hours a day (or more, if I had to come early or stay late for pickup/drop off times, which we all rotated through doing), plus my mother giving me restricted calorie lunches to try to help. No weight came off. My first year in college, I joined the crew team. Now granted, I was *not* doing the workouts I was supposed to. I was on the water every morning, but I was lazy about my land workouts in the afternoons – I didn’t have a workout buddy to keep me accountable, and my first bout of major depression was hitting. But I took my coach’s advice (she wanted us eating 10,000 calories a day – if we were actually doing the workouts), plus being away from the restrictions of my parents meant I could act out – not with alcohol, but with junk food. Still, rowing is intense, and being on the water for a couple of hours each morning still helped. I gained a bit of weight that year, maybe 10 lbs or so – not even the full “freshman 15”. Second year I played on the basketball team – I’d dropped dance by then (long story), but I was also doing yoga and water aerobics – I maxed out my PE credits within my first 2 years of college. But the depression was getting stronger, and I’m sure I gained more weight that year – I was probably 200 lbs when I left school. Took a leave of absence and came home, later went to the local junior college for my vet tech education and licensing, worked as a tech for the next several years – and gradually made my way up to 220 lbs, with plenty of help from the depression (and probably the antidepressants) – having learned from my mother to use food as a coping skill, as a reward, as self-punishment, as anything you can think of.

I distinctly recall the first time I really thought I’d be able to turn it around and start reducing my weight. I’d joined a gym with my best friend, we were to be each other’s workout buddies (D, I’m totally flashing to lunch at Togo’s there by the gym with Shea in the baby seat – was it really that long ago???). I then got laid off my job about a week later – and I had an unbreakable contract with the gym. Since I was still living at home (and dealing with all of the food craziness there), I was able to make the monthly fees still, so I started going to the gym a lot. Step aerobics twice a week, cardio kickboxing once a week, weight training usually another 2 days (alternating with the cardio), Sundays off to recover – plus sitting on my ass watching TV when I wasn’t at the gym, so plenty of recovery time. At the time, this gym membership included periodic sessions with a personal trainer, so my weight routine was customized to me and adjusted every 4-6 weeks. I was trying to be more conscious of my food, eating more salads, changing the dressing from 2 parts oil/1 part vinegar to 1 part oil/2 parts vinegar, going for chicken breasts instead of burgers, crackers instead of chips, etc. This was also the time frame when I’d committed to walk in the Breast Cancer 3-Day with my other best friend – first year it was for the Komen foundation instead of Avon, so it wasn’t until the fall. I did not meet my training goals at all, but I did do a 5-mile walk at least twice a week, sometimes 3 times, and one 10-12 mile walk on one weekend day with a training buddy. After months of this training… I’d gained another 20 lbs or so. And not of muscle, don’t even go there with me – it was in my gut, my butt, and my thighs, and it was fat getting thicker, not muscles getting bulkier.

That’s when the pattern started, too, though I didn’t notice it at the time. At first, the workouts kicked my ass and I was exhausted. Then they started getting easier. The weights started feeling light. My muscles stopped hurting. I started increasing the intensity just a bit – adding 1 level to my step bench, adding a few pounds and a few reps – and it kept getting better. For a while. Then I started having “off days”. I’d chalk them up to my period, to a poor night’s sleep, random things – but they got more and more frequent. Pretty soon I had to stop using the extra riser in my step bench, had to drop the weights and reps back to where they were. I’ve seen that same pattern many times since, though I only noticed it within the past few months.

I went off to nursing school not long after that, hovering in the 230-240 lb range. I was working in a hospital (administrative stuff, since I hadn’t been through clinicals yet), and they developed a program for their employees to encourage them to get healthy. You paid in a certain amount (something like 30 bucks, nothing huge) and you met with a nutritionist, put together an individual meal and exercise plan, and set a goal for something like 3 months out. If you met your goal, you got your money back. (the goal did NOT have to be weight-related, it could be strength or fitness related) I jumped on that with a will – official help from a nutritionist? Hell to the yes! So I went for my evaluation, got a whole book about nutrition and calories, had a long discussion, and wound up with a plan that would drop me half a pound a week if I did the calorie thing – or a pound a week if I went and did the walk/jog thing around the lake a couple of times a week. I was candid about my laziness, so that was just a bonus, and my goal was set at what the weight loss would have been if I’d just stuck to the calorie counting. And I discovered that I LOATHE calorie counting with a fiery passion. But I did it. I measured portions, checked on egg size, weighed out the cherries I was having for dessert, the whole 9 yards. I was also having a lot of stress with my family, so when I was melting down emotionally, I’d go walk/jog around the lake – so maybe once or twice a week (more would have been good, but see aforementioned laziness). At the final weigh-in? I’d gained 3 lbs.

Then I moved to Oregon. I was living with my best friend from infancy and her husband, and all of us wanted to lose some weight – so we decided to go on the South Beach diet together. It seemed to make perfect sense for me, since I’m constantly craving protein, and while it’s protein-based, it doesn’t have the crazy disregard for fat that the Atkins diet has (the guy died of a coronary, what does that tell you?). So the three of us went on it – planned meals together, kept only South Beach approved food in the house, etc. I stayed on phase 1 (the most restrictive) for a full month, instead of the week or two suggested, since I had so much weight to lose (I was approaching 250 by this point). At that time, I was going back to school at the local junior college to get the courses I would need to transfer to the local nursing program, and I joined a ballet class there – 1 1/2 hours, twice a week. Ballet is intense physical work, I’d be sore and exhausted and sweaty afterwords (and it felt great). At the end of the month? They’d both lost 5 lbs; I’d gained another 5.

After 6 months I realized nursing wasn’t my calling, got a job back as a vet tech, and got my own apartment. Where I quickly learned a few things – a lot about expenses when living on your own, and the horrifying fact that I have no freaking clue how to cook or plan meals. My depression was steadily worsening as well, which meant vast amounts of comfort eating – mostly chips and ice cream. I was working on my feet, restraining animals is a quite physical job, but that’s not the same as regular cardio-vascular exercise. I found a local adult drop-in dance studio and started doing lyrical jazz again, sometimes once a week, sometimes twice – but it was very inconsistent, and my weight just kept going up. And I kept eating more and more junk food and fast food – and hating myself for it, most likely using the food as self-punishment. After 2 years in my apartment (and starting a new job), I finally inquired at the dance studio across the street – and found that they welcomed adults as well as kids, you pay monthly (instead of in several large chunks, like the studio where I danced growing up), and they had a lyrical class that fit with my work schedule. So I started dancing again, for real – the drop-in was nice, but not the same as consistent training. A bit of weight came off that first year, as my muscles began to come back, along with a little bit of my technique – though it was hard being in the class with prepbuescent girls – none of them were higher than my shoulder, and I probably weighed more than all of them combined*. (*yes, I realize this is a fallacious statement, but that’s absolutely how it felt) During the spring I stopped going to class for several weeks, because I felt so deeply out of place in that class. A friend of mine, who is about the same weight I am, had been asked to leave a dance studio (NOT the one I am at now) because she was an overweight adult in a class of skinny kids, and the parents leaned on the studio owner to ask her to leave. I was honestly afraid of that happening – I tended to arrive just in time for class and scuttle out after, so I didn’t have to face the parents, and I was glad that our class was in the studio in the very back of the building, the only one without windows on the lobby. I did all I could to avoid interacting with the parents – and I didn’t have a chance to interact with the studio owner, she was teaching a class of her own while I was in mine. After I’d been gone for nearly 6 weeks, I finally asked for the teacher’s phone number and talked to her about it, sure that she would be relieved that I wasn’t there to butcher her choreography – and was very gently and politely informed that I was insane. And that the girls (of whom I had been so shy all year) missed me and were worried about me and asking about me. I’d been feeling so shy and insecure about my weight *and* my height that I hadn’t even learned their names – yet there they were, asking the teacher why I wasn’t there and when I was coming back and wasn’t I going to dance with them in the recital? That about made me cry. So I came back. And the recital was… very interesting. I’m a Leo; I love being on stage, I love hearing applause – and I have had a passion for dance for as long as I or anyone else can remember. But it was still very difficult, being so very much taller *and* heavier than the rest of the girls – and also remembering what my technique level used to be, compared to what it was in that show. There was a lot of frustration around that. But the piece was beautiful, my teacher is a very gifted choreographer – and I have this soul-deep NEED to dance.

After the show, a couple of the parents cornered me – and said that they were glad that I was dancing again, that I’d looked beautiful, and that they were glad that there was someone in their daughters’ classes showing them that you don’t need to be a size 0 to be a dancer. They phrased it more delicately than that, but that was the gist of it. It’s funny – I’d feel the EXACT same way if I had a daughter in dance and someone like me was in her class – but it blew my mind that they felt the same way. I’d begun to get to know the owner by then, as well, and it was becoming clear that this studio, unlike most in the dance world*, does NOT put its emphasis on weight and bodylines – just on technique and love of dancing. (*okay, I have not danced at most studios, it’s true, but body image pressure is rampant and endemic in the dance world, as are eating disorders)

That summer, I increased my classes. I did a jazz technique course (had to try to get some of my technique back), and pushed up a level – the lyrical class was level 2/3, but mostly 2, this technique class was a solid level 3. And it met for an hour and a half, not just an hour. The owner was also adding an adult ballet class that she was having a hard time filling, and she asked me to come join that – so that was another hour a week. So I went from one hour a week to two and a half, on different days. Somewhere around this time I was also getting a strong desire to begin running – which is crazy and unusual for me, I’ve never been a runner nor enjoyed running. But I began looking into it and discovered the Couch to 5K program, which swears that anybody can become a runner and is full of affidavits of people fatter than I, and with less active backgrounds, so I downloaded the first podcast and got myself some running shoes and started doing that. It’s a walk/jog program, designed to slowly increase the jogging times and decrease the walking times until you can run a full 5K. Between that and the increased dancing, I was sure that the weight would start coming off. After a few weeks at the new dance schedule, I was getting less exhausted after my long class and less sore overall. And the running felt good. I planned to spend more than a week at the first workout level, because I figured I wasn’t starting at “couch”, exactly, but “couch plus 120 lbs”, and I was okay with that – but the running was starting to get easier too. I went from feeling like the 60 second jogging periods were going to kill me to feeling pretty okay about them – and recovering my wind much better in the walk periods.

Summer dance is only 6 weeks, with 3 weeks or so off before fall, so I did more running in that period. Fall came and I was back to an hour of lyrical once a week, and still doing an hour of ballet also – jazz on Monday, ballet on Friday. Going back to a 1 hour jazz class was weird – there just isn’t time to do good warm-ups, solid conditioning, technique work across the floor, and still have time for choreography. After a couple of weeks, the teacher decided she was tired of it too, and since there were only about 3 of us who were in lyrical but not in the jazz 4 class that followed, she asked if we could just combine the classes. So now I was doing 2 hours of jazz on Mondays and an hour of ballet on Fridays. And wow, those 2 hour classes just about killed me for a while! There were a few weeks at the very start when I would get back to my apartment building, look up at the stairs I had to climb to get to my second floor unit – and start to cry. I actually crawled up them the first week, I think. Had to do long soaks in HOT water with lots of epsom salts if I wanted to move at all for the next couple of days – I was working hard. Still walking or running another day a week, for 3 days of exercise a week. I was finally seeing noticeable increases in strength and stamina through the rest of September and all of October – until I broke a toe (stress fracture) and couldn’t dance at all (or barely even walk) for 4 weeks. Probably should have stayed off of it for 6, but we only had one or two weeks back before christmas break, and I wanted to get *some* dance in before the break. Come January, I had several make-up lessons to do – I decided to “spend” them doing yoga, I figured it would be good for the strength and flexibility that I’d lost while I was growing bone cells. And probably also good for my anxiety. So that brought me up to 4 hours a week over 3 days. And yoga – the way Jessica teaches it – is intense, lots of strength work. I also went on the Master Cleanse again that spring, and the weight finally started coming off. Over the next several months, I dropped 40 lbs. Managed to injure my hip before the recital, but never took time off for it – the recital was too close, there wasn’t time – just worked around it as best I could.

That summer, I pushed up again, to 5 hours a week – 6 hours when I could, but that class was on a day I was on call and I think I was only able to go twice. Which sucked, it was a fun class – and my last chance to work with Jordan before she moved. 😦 And that’s when the pattern started again. I was working harder than ever – but the weight started creeping back on. I had to stop running, as I developed shin splints, but with all of the dancing, I figured it wouldn’t be an issue. It got even worse in the fall (we’re up to this current year in dance) – I was finding myself having to drop out of pieces of my jazz class more and more often, able to do fewer sit ups, losing strength in yoga, it was getting clear that, once again, exercising wasn’t helping. After the holidays, it was really clear that I’d regained quite a bit of weight, and I suspected that I’d lost quite a bit of condition. I found myself unable to face going back to my jazz class – much as I love the girls, they’re so strong and so slender and I just feel grossly out of place – and being unable to even get through the warm ups without dropping out was becoming humiliating. I began debating dropping out of both that class and out of yoga – not only was I having strength issues there, but the simple presence of the fat makes some poses extremely difficult, and makes it impossible for me to get far enough into others to even feel a stretch. Broke my heart to even be considering it, but I was starting to fall apart. I did start going back to jazz within a few weeks – helped that Gillian came back, she’s also an adult and had been in that class with me last year but hadn’t come back in the fall. She also brought a gal she works with who is closer to my age, so now there are three of us – and while I’m still considerably heavier, at least I’m not quite so much older than everyone. It does help. But it all came to a head a week or two later – that’s when I got on the scale and discovered that I was up to 286. The rest is history – or at least covered in the first post.

It’s troubling to me, this pattern I have. I don’t know if I’m sabotaging myself when things start to go well or if something is physically wrong – at this point, I’d believe either one. I have had my thyroid checked more times than I can count – they did it regularly as I was growing up and even into my 20s (until I lost my insurance) because I was always heavy and always struggling with depression – and it was always smack in the middle of normal. I would have actually preferred that it be low, at least then there would have been a *reason* for this battle, and a specific way to fight it. At this point, I’m out of ideas, out of energy, and part of me just wants to say “screw it” and eat myself to death. And part of me just wants to say “screw it” and starve myself down to a skeleton. And the rest of me is throwing up it’s hands in despair. *sigh*

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