Since I started Penelope Loves Lists in 2010, I haven’t written a lot about anything related to physical health and certainly not much related to weight gain or loss. That’s mostly because, until I had my youngest child at 38, I hadn’t had to think too much about my weight. I was blessed with a fairly fast metabolism that kept about 140 lbs on my 5’7″ frame no matter what I ate. And, while I wasn’t a fitness model, I was perfectly happy with the way I looked. I didn’t even own a scale for a decade.
But, when I had my son two years ago, things changed.
Boy, did they change. I ate the same way I always had, but packed on the pounds at an alarming rate. And with that came an unsettling truth: I didn’t love what I was seeing in the mirror anymore. I didn’t love the way I looked in photos. I didn’t love how I looked (or felt) in any of my clothes. I tried buying some new clothes, experimented with new makeup, but the reality was that I wasn’t happy in my body anymore. And it was starting to affect me on every level. I’ve never been into comparing my body with others. My rule had always been “as long as I like what I’m seeing, I’m good.” Well, I wasn’t so good anymore. Something had to change.
And that’s where this thing gets interesting. And I want to write about what worked for me because when I was searching for strategies nothing seemed to fit me exactly. But, before I dive into this multi-part post, I want to say a couple of things:
- What worked for me was just that – it was what worked for ME. I think the #1 lesson I’ve learned in the last few months was that every single person has a different set of needs when it comes to looking and feeling their best and different methods will help get each person where they want to go. This is solely what worked for me. There are a million ways to arrive at a healthy body and body image, this is just one.
- I realize that, in the scheme of things, losing 20 lbs isn’t a ton. But it was the weight I needed to lose. And losing it made a huge difference in my daily life.
- It goes without saying that I’m not a doctor and am not giving anyone medical advice, right? That we all need to see our doctors before we try to lose weight or start exercising in a different way, right? Goes without saying and yet, I said it.
This is a big subject and so I’m going to go into the details over the course of a few posts. In this first outing, I want to talk a bit about how I now know I gained those 20 lbs. Because at the time I was saying I had no idea. I actually didn’t have any idea. I thought I ate fairly well, though I knew I wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I thought maybe the fibroid I’d had for a few years might have grown, explaining why my waist was expanding so alarmingly. But, an ultrasound showed the fibroid was the same small size it had always been. I also wondered if my thyroid was just wonked out. But after a blood panel ruled that out, too, I had to face some facts.
I felt shame about not knowing how to eat right.
Here’s a sample of what was going on in my head pretty much 24-7 for almost 2 years: “I’m a person who seems to have it pretty much together. People think I know what I’m doing. I should know how to do this right. I should be getting this right already. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just eat right and lose this extra weight? Why can’t I just eat half of what I normally eat? Why do I stress eat, rewarding my discipline in other areas with foods I know I shouldn’t have? Why is this one area kicking my ass over and over again? I should be a better wife. I shouldn’t have gained all this weight. My husband deserves better. He works hard to keep himself healthy and here I am gaining weight every single week. My kids deserve a mom who serves really healthy, balanced meals. And yet, I can’t seem to do it. With all my education and with all the resources at my disposal, I keep failing. I’m a failure.” And on. The shame spiral. And it was deep. The self-loathing language was terrible and terrifying.
I finally got to a point where I knew I’d sabotage my own marriage with this self-hatred if I didn’t do something.
I was eating unconsciously.
Once I decided to do something, like the Penelope I am, I snapped into action and found my tools. I’ll go into details about those in my next post. But before I could start using those tools, I needed to get a baseline of where I was. So I got a great scale and got on it and accepted that I was at 156 lbs. That’s 21 pounds higher than my healthiest weight of 135. I had to accept that number as a starting point, not a shame trigger.
Then, I had to find out exactly how many calories I was really and truly eating. This was HUGE. This was a key, key, key factor at play. I had estimated I was at around 2,100 calories a day. Not too far above the 1,800 calories that a woman my size and age should be eating. When I used an app (which I’ll be discussing) to honestly calculate my daily calorie intake, I as nothing short of shocked to find out I was averaging over 3,200 calories every day. 3,200! I had less than zero idea. Honestly. I would have placed a huge bet that I was closer to the 2,100 calories mark.
I had gotten into such bad habits and didn’t even know they were bad. My lunch 4 days a week was a turkey sandwich. That’s what I was telling myself at least. The reality was my lunch 4 days a week was a huge, overflowing turkey sandwich accompanied by a double serving of Cheetos and a huge handful of M&Ms. That lunch was topping out at over 900 calories alone! I was eating all day long and never thought about how much it all added up. I would eat my own meals, but also eat bits here and there when I fed my 2-year-old. And then more then I was cooking my family’s meals. And then more as I passed my kitchen counter and grabbed a handful of candy corn or jelly beans. All day long I did this.
For some reason, knowing that I was taking in this many calories made me feel better. At least it answered the question about why I was gaining all the weight. Now I had information I could act upon. I could do something about this now.
I thought taking the time to work out was selfish.
Everything else in my life got priority over my own physical health. And certainly over time for me to work out. Taking 30 minutes each day to work out felt selfish to me. I had so much else to do. I could use those 30 minutes to work more. Or spend more time with my husband and kids. Or clean my house more. Or write for Penelope more. Something. Anything felt more important to me than taking that time to work out. (Never mind that not only was this lack of activity contributing to my weight gain, but it also was making my anxiety disorder flare up.) And then I realized that if President Obama can take time to work out every day, I probably could, too. Just sayin’.
In my next posts, I’m going to talk about the 3 tools I used that made all the difference in taking off the weight, but, more importantly, helping me feel like myself again.