Live to eat, or eat to live? Neither, and both.
Live to eat!
Food! It’s delicious! I love it! I admit I loved it a little too much, and that’s where the problem began. I loved bad food; Arby’s roast beef sandwiches and mozzarella sticks, Burger King whoppers and onion rings, McDonalds chicken nuggets and fries, Wendy’s bacon cheeseburgers and baked potatoes, KFC biscuits, Long John Silvers fish…just to name a few. I was living to eat. You get the picture.
Damn! Now I’m hungry! You probably are too…sorry!
So, now that you’re all famished, I’ll continue; any given day of the week I would visit one of these fine establishments, sometimes more than once a day. Weekends were for restaurants; Cracker Barrel, Carrabba’s, Olive Garden, TGIF Friday’s, and so on. I didn’t only eat at chain restaurants, I would order fried foods, with fries, and extra grease on the side at local restaurants too! I couldn’t imagine eating any other way, I knew it was unhealthy, I knew I would never lose weight like this, but it was part of my life and I didn’t know how to change it.
If I move to New York City I’ll have to lose weight, right? Wrong.
Regular exercise was a challenge. Some days I would go for a walk after work in the Cleveland Metroparks (http://www.clemetparks.com/), or take lunch at Edgewater Park (http://www.clevelandlakefront.org/Parks.htm) and walk the loop. Despite my good intentions, I would easily become frustrated and a workout regimen never stuck. It seemed hopeless, until a bright possibility entered my life: a move to New York City! I imagined it would be easy to exercise in New York, I knew I would have to walk to and from the subway several times a day and I assumed my eating habits would change considering I would be preparing most meals at home. Surprisingly, I was wrong. There was a KFC, Chipotle, McDonalds, and later a Five Guys within walking distance of my apartment, and when I had the energy to cook I craved food that reminded me of home, basically I craved grease. The walks to and from the subway and up/down the stairs weren’t enough to burn the calories I was eating. Lunch in the Bronx where I work was no help either. There weren’t as many chains, but the pizza and Spanish eateries were enticing. I didn’t have a car but a new employee was hired that I became close to, she did have a car, and we drove to White Castle at least twice a week. I felt trapped, like nothing could or would ever change.
Happy New Year! Resolution: Get healthy.
It was January 2011, and my resolution like that of many others, was to get healthy. I felt bad, physically and mentally. I was usually exhausted, especially if I deviated from my regular routine. Once a week I was required to attend a meeting downtown for clients, the meeting location was difficult to reach from my apartment forcing me to walk almost a mile or wait for a bus that never seemed to come on time. I remember the first few times I attended that meeting, I would lie in my bed that evening and actually feel sore the next day from all the physical activity. It was clearly time for a change, and I was mentally preparing myself for a new lifestyle.
I live in New York City…there must be free exercise classes somewhere.
One March day I had an epiphany; I live in New York City, there are thousands of recreation centers, one of them must have a free exercise class I can attend. A short search on the internet turned up a city funded program called Shape Up NYC (http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_things_to_do/programs/shape_up_ny/shape_up_ny.html), the website description boasted “expert fitness instructors who know how to make fitness fun”. I was excited, I love aerobics classes! Something about having other people around brings out my competitive nature and I end up working significantly harder than I would if I were alone. So, being the organized freak that I am, I created a calendar of classes for myself complete with the name of the class, location, and time. I attended my first class on my way home from work at Harlem Hospital, the class was called Aerobic Kickboxing and lasted an hour. It was hard. Really hard. I was out of breath, I stopped often for water breaks, and I even left early sometimes. The instructor was tough; she looked like she just stepped out of an exercise video and into Harlem Hospital to teach us. I was nervous and spent most of my time in the back of the class, I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed, but I kept going. Some weeks it was hard, sometimes I didn’t want to go, and sometimes I didn’t go at all. I also knew it would take more than a tough aerobics class once a week to see results, I had to start eating healthier, and stop eating fast food. I was filled with dread imagining that I could never have a can of coke for lunch or an order of McDonalds French fries, but I was also filled with dread imagining that I would never fit comfortably into an airplane seat. So…I started eating vegetables.
Vegetables aren’t so bad, with the right recipe!
It started with my friend Lisa (mysophistacatedlife.wordpress.com) and her chef of a husband Saul. They introduced me to vegetables I hadn’t seen or heard of, and I actually liked them! Brussel sprouts and broccoli rabe were foreign foods to me, but with seasoning and a little olive oil they were delicious additions to a meal. Salads were foreign too, there were so many types of dressings and cheeses I never tried or even heard of. I learned what dressings to stay away from and started ordering salads when out to eat. Sometimes I didn’t like what I ordered, but I’m an adult and as my mother always sang “You can’t always get what you want” (courtesy of the Rolling Stones). It wasn’t always easy, but I knew I could do it and I knew it would make me healthier.
All work and no play makes Jessica a dull girl.
Salad and vegetables were starting to grow on me, but I still needed sweets. I craved them night and day, it was torture, so I found another option: Skinny Cow. Skinny Cow was a delicious find for me, the ice cream cones are by far my favorite, just ask my roommate what hell I put him through when he ate my last one! I limited myself to only 1 box a week, and ate a treat only if I exercised that day. I cut out all soda’s and most other drinks, especially juice (drinks often have just as much sugar as a dessert). I would limit myself to either a can of coke OR a Skinny Cow ice cream cone, NEVER both. Eventually, I craved sugary drinks and foods less and less until I started substituting all desserts with a Starbucks drink; iced non-fat caramel macchiato. Soon I craved sweets so little that this drink was even too sweet and I began ordering non-fat latte’s which have only non-fat milk and espresso. Today I have bites of desserts, I’ll rarely order an entire dessert for myself, and if I do I decide how much of it I eat instead of eating every bite on my plate.
What’s for lunch everybody?
Workplace lunch is always a challenge, especially when your coworkers offer something that isn’t part of your eating plan. We’ve all been there at a staff meeting when it’s someone’s birthday; coworkers act like it’s a sin not to take a piece of cake (especially since no one wants to find a place to put the uneaten remains). But sin or no sin, don’t eat the cake. My coworkers have stopped offering at all, and don’t hassle me as much especially since I’ve visibly lost a significant amount of weight. I’ve also set up a strict workplace food plan that I adhere to weekly, there’s always variety but I usually order a large Greek salad that with grilled chicken (2 days), a subway club with all the veggies on wheat bread (1 day), and canned soups (check the sodium content) with fruit and cheese or nuts (2 days). I may allow myself a small portion of rotisserie chicken with rice and beans once a month, but only if I plan to exercise after work and a small dinner always follows. Changing my lunch routine not only helped improve my health, it also improved my mood. High calorie lunches drained me of energy, and were always followed with feelings of guilt. A small lunch with a light snack before going home has helped me keep my appetite satisfied while losing weight.
Running feels good, after a couple miles.
I was walking daily but I knew if I wanted to see results I would have to do a more challenging work out than walks and aerobics once a week. I started running during my walks. I couldn’t run far at first and I was out of breath in under a minute, it felt as though I would never be able to run a significant distance or amount of time, but I continued pushing and today I can run 30 minutes without stopping to walk even once. My walk/run routine began in May, I would run as much as possible and then when it felt I couldn’t run any longer I would walk to catch my breath. As soon as I felt I could run again I would. After a few weeks I started to push myself, even if I felt like I had to stop I would pick a landmark and force myself to reach it before stopping. Eventually the distance and amount of time between the landmarks grew until I was running the entire path non-stop. The routine was repeated 3-4 times a week at the park near my apartment and lasted 30-45 minutes. I hate waking up early, but I knew to see the best results I had to ensure I ran, and the only way to ensure that some days was to do it before my day even began, at 6am. It was hard, and sometimes I wanted to stay in bed but I got up anyways, and I ran. Running was difficult every time and I hated it. Friends who ran regularly told me running feels good, after a couple miles. I dreamt of experiencing the “runners high” and hoped one day it would become easy. Today I can say that every run is still a challenge, but it feels like a productive challenge, and after the first mile is behind me I usually have a burst of energy to continue in my rhythm and press on to the miles ahead.
Eat to live.
Many people have asked me with concern if I am eating properly. The answer is: absolutely! I eat to live. Some days I eat a lot, other days I don’t. Most days I eat breakfast (fiber one cereal with low fat milk and a non-fat latte), lunch (can of soup with fruit and nuts), and dinner (salad with meat). Some days I meet a friend after work for dinner, and if I’m aware of my plans I’ll prepare by eating a smaller lunch. If I eat too much one day I’ll be more aware the next day of my food intake. I never go without eating. Ever. It’s physically counterproductive in weight loss to refrain from eating, and that’s science talking not me (google it). My portions are small when I eat, and are often measured by the amount of physical activity I plan to do in a day. If I’m spending my Saturday on the couch watching Netflix I’ll have veggie snacks and fruits instead of a meaty-carb filled dinner, if I’m planning to run 4 miles I’ll have pasta with seasoned turkey meatballs. The human body needs calories to function, but lazy days need less calories than active days.
I had to start rejecting food as a source of comfort, or as a thing to do when I’m bored. I wasn’t living to eat anymore but I also didn’t want to only treat food as a tasteless necessity. I like food, there’s no denying that, and sometimes indulging can be rewarding if you monitor the portions and type of food you’re indulging in. New York City has helped me cultivate this idea, and some of the best restaurants in the country serve food right here in Manhattan. Now I indulge in rich and flavorful meals at well rated restaurants, I feel satisfied but not full when I leave and I always enjoy the flavors the chef combines to create an amazing entrée that makes you wish you lived to eat.
My conclusion for maintaining my weight loss is that you have to live to eat AND eat to live. Finding healthier (or at least less harmful) options that are still satisfying is important, and indulging in your favorites SOMETIMES is okay too (sometimes meaning once a month or less, and always followed by physical activity). I also learned my body needs certain things to feel good, vegetables being one of those things. Going forward I’ll begin to experiment with recipes to make foods I used to enjoy healthier so that I can maintain my weight loss but still enjoy traditional home cooked favorites. Overall the physical and mental improvements to my health are worth every ounce of greasy/sugary food I haven’t eaten since May. I’m missing out on taste, but I’m gaining so much in other aspects of my life that taste is no longer that important to me.