Sunday, May 20, 2012

There is no Substitute for the Sweat and Starve

When I was on the swim team in high school, the girls called me Annie. I wish it was because I had a sunny outlook about tomorrow but it wasn’t. They called me Annie because I was so skinny they thought I was anorexic. And oddly, aside from the lack of any boobs whatsoever for most of my life, I liked looking anorexic: super skinny but without all the annoying starving to death side effects.

Skinny was my trademark for years. Luckily for me, the adage goes; you can never be too rich or too thin. I wasn’t rich, but I was definitely thin. Plus, I ate junk food all the time. The family joke was that I was dropped off by some scientists when I was born that told my family that I was under no circumstances to eat anything healthy. Just a steady diet of  junk food and they would check on me when I grew up to see how I turned out. My family was always quick to describe them in their lab coats so I would know that the story was authentic.

I noticed around my 26th birthday that while my steady diet of junk hadn’t changed, the way my pants fit had. I told a skinny girlfriend who was younger than me that my metabolism wore out at 26, and later she blamed me when hers ran out too. If only I did have that kind of power. I have a few potential targets for the failing metabolism spell. Like Emma Watson, that plays Hermione Granger in Harry Potter. Hit her in the can with a Chubbify spell or in the tummy with an Expanderamous…but I digress.

So to get my pants to fit, I adjusted. I learned how to eat right and began to exercise regularly. And that worked until I got pregnant. The first time I was preggers, I gained 50 pounds. No worries, I thought, I was probably a little underweight anyway and breastfeeding will just melt the pounds away. Right?

The breastfeeding myth sucks. I did not lose a pound from breastfeeding. In fact, I am pretty sure that I put more weight on just so I could breastfeed. At around 6 months post partum, I surveyed the 30 pounds or so that I was still carrying around in the mirror --while munching on some chips no doubt -- not pretty. So I did what any half-starved, fat, breast-feeding lady would do. I tried Atkins.

The Atkins diet is great. You get to eat bacon and steak everyday. And pork rinds.* Add a side of spinach and you are set. I ate so much steak and spinach that my milk turned a little green, kind of like a shamrock shake at McDonalds. The sad part is, aside from bacon, I don’t really like meat. Or pork rinds. But like it or not, the high protein diet worked. I lost 25 pounds over the next 6 months.

So of course, I got pregnant again.

As a wiser mom who knew that the breastfeeding diet was bogus, I really watched what I ate that time around. I only gained 40 pounds. But since I still had 5 or 10 pounds from the last pregnancy, it was really more like 50 pounds again. And again, breastfeeding did nothing to help me get back in to my pre-pregnancy jeans.

My sister was doing Weight Watchers at the time. I had always heard of it, but didn’t really know how it worked.  She let me borrow her sign on and I went online and checked it out. There are two versions: one that was complicated based on eating certain types of foods, etc. and one that was complicated but based on points. Not anxious to get into another eat-this-not-that situation, the points option really appealed to me. It played into my bargain-hunting, budget-friendly personality.

I signed up and started tracking my points. The thing you learn quickly about Weight Watchers is that you get NO points at all. I got more points than most people because I was nursing, but even then, it wasn’t much. And everything that tastes good cost a lot of points. Even fruit. But the good news is if you had the points, you could eat it, no matter if it was half of your points for the day or not. So over the next few months with some adjusting to my food choices, I lost the weight again.

But not all the weight. I had held on to some. I also had two little kids and a travelling husband that left me alone with them for days at a time, so I didn’t have time to obsess about the last few pounds. Well, I should say I still obsessed; I just didn’t do anything about it for the next couple years.

Until one day after several days with the aforementioned kids and no husband because he was travelling again which had almost made me run away from home because I was so over it,  I joined the gym which had a babysitting service. That babysitting service was so great that I went almost every day. And I lost the last 10 pounds.

So of course, the rabbit died. Again. This means I gained 40 pounds. Again. But this time, I resigned myself to the fact that I would gain the weight, and that not a pound of it would come off with just breastfeeding. I wasn’t going to diet unless I felt like it.  I would, however, keep going to the gym so I didn’t get so fed up with my kids that I would buy a one-way ticket to China and join the circus.

I was prepared. I had accepted the inevitable. I would let the chips fall where they may…which for me is usually my lower body. Although this time, I saw a lot of chips hanging out on my double chin and backs of my arms.

I didn’t want to diet, so I didn’t for almost a year. I still weighed in at the gym though. I thought that my work out regime, which is pretty intense, would help me lose weight. That scale didn’t budge. In fact, all I lost after my third child was born was his birth weight. Every other pound stayed with me, like a bunch of really annoying souvenirs.

In spite of my new, relaxed approach to weight loss, I still complained about it to my mom. She was very helpful. She said, “It’s just a lot harder to lose weight at your age.”

Great. Now I am fat and old.

I should thank her though. Her comment awakened the stubborn, determined, vanity-driven, diet warrior in me. Okay…I can’t do anything about old, but I can do something about fat. The time had come. I was ready to diet. If I am going to be old, I am going to be a hot old lady. I want to be one of those freaky old ladies with great lats, oddly tight buns and pool-boy lovers -- minus the lover because who can be bothered with anyone else in my life that needs my attention... but I digress.

So the question is: how shall I take the weight off this time? I hated eating meat all the time. Weight Watchers worked but I didn’t want to pay $20 a month for it again.

I decided to ask my support system. I skipped my Mom, based on her advice so far. I asked my mother-in-law who is svelte and trim how she does it. She said, without a trace of irony or sarcasm, “I never eat anything.” Hmmm. Effective, but not very appealing. My neighbors are doing P90X. I knew this wasn’t for me because I don’t do well with someone else’s program. I learned that in college when I asked my boyfriend for help dieting and he became the Food Nazi. Once, he actually wrestled a Cheez its box out of my hand in the kitchen. For the record, I gave him a good fight.

So my support system didn’t have any great ideas but I wasn’t worried. This is the age of technology. There had to be an app for this. So I opened my iPad and went to the app store. I picked up a little wonder called “My Fitness Pal”.

My Fitness Pal builds on the concept of Weight Watchers. But it’s free. It’s designed to help you determine the amount of weight per week that you want to lose. And then, based on that number and your personal statistics, it tells you how many calories you can have everyday to meet that goal. If you want to lose the maximum amount per week, which is 2 pounds, you can have 1200 net calories a day. The key word here is net.

I don’t think I could do My Fitness Pal without the word net. Net means that if you do any cardiovascular activity in a day, you earn more calories to add to your total. For example, if its 3:30 and you have already had 1100 calories (like I have right now at 2:45), you can go for a walk, do step aerobics, clean vigorously, garden, or, my favorite, play a musical instrument (does kazoo count?) to get enough calories to make it through dinner. So basically, if you are willing to sweat it off, you can eat almost anything.

I call this diet the Sweat and Starve. And it works. I know because recently I reached a milestone.

Many, many moons ago, at the doctor’s office, I was weighing in for my ObGyn appointment. The doctor has the kind of scale that you stand on and move the bottom slider up 50 pounds at a time, and the top slider one pound at a time. My nurse was very business-like as she moved my slider from the 100 pound notch up to the 150 pound notch. She didn’t hear it, but as the slider made a metallic scrape up to the dreaded 150 pound perch, I swore it hissed “fatty fatty two by four, can’t get through the kitchen door.” And there my slider has stayed, above the 150 pound notch since then.

My gym has the same type of scale. Earlier this week, I was able to move that bottom slider back to the 100 pound mark. This time the metallic scrape sounded like the zipper of your pre-pregnancy jeans when you can finally put them on again. I haven’t dug them out of the closet yet to hear that sound for real, but this was almost as good.

I still have weight to lose. And as a woman of a certain maturity (!), I now know that I may always have weight to lose. One thing I have learned in the 100 pounds or so I have gained and lost over the past six years is that the losing weight formula is simple. There is no fad diet that can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. When it comes to weight loss there is simply no substitute for grueling work outs and celery stick snacks.

Skinny has not been a trademark of my thirties. But with My Fitness Pal’s help and my determination to become every cabana boy’s fantasy, I hope to revive it in my forties. When I reach my goal, I intend to celebrate it in my high school swim team suit and Jordache jeans. That is until the scientists come take me back to their lab for their study. I wonder if they have the new address?

* The first person who can show me the rind on a pig will win a prize.