Tuesday, July 28, 2009


The folks at Washington Hospital Center are jumping all over my a#$ -- even they are telling me I need to lose weight. I received in the mail a beautiful packet of information -- the main enclosure was something titled "Weigh to Lose: The Power of Portions and the Vital Vegetable." Included in the information were a bookmark (always useful for me), a folder which, when opened, becomes a placemat that shows portion sizes of starches, vegetables, proteins, etc. on a plate, and a booklet of information about a contest a local television channel and Washington Hospital Center hosted. The contest is over, but when I checked out their website, I found that the winner, Jenny, was a SAHM of FIVE children. The dietician's description of Jenny's diet very much resembled mine, and my problems. She said:

Jenny was already consuming a very healthy diet when she started the contest. Approximately one month before the contest began she started eating more vegetables and whole grain foods. Her eating issues were related to the amount of food she was ingesting. She would often eat seconds at mealtimes and she would pick and snack throughout the day.... Her meal plan is designed to help her eat in a more structured manner.

I think that is pretty much where I am too -- I try to eat whole grains when I can, and I'm not a fiend for chips, candy, etc. But I do pick at things (even healthy things) during the day and I also tend to consume larger portions than are necessary.

I think the portion size problem may have started out as a side effect to all the restaurant eating we did when I was pregnant with Chickadee #2 -- I was exhausted all the time from running around after the small toddler Chickadee #1 was at the time and my husband was working at night in a very high-stress job. He was stressed and didn't want to deal with the process of cooking, eating, and consuming food at home, and he is a stress eater who turns to pizza for comfort. So, he would suggest going out and I would agree -- I didn't want to cook and clean up either. Everyone knows that restaurant food is cooked with lots of added fat, sugar, and salt (thanks Dr. Kessler). And some restaurants (like The Cheesecake Factory) are notorious for huge portions (I once ordered a salad there that I had for dinner at the restaurant and lunch and dinner the next day!!).

Even when portion sizes are not screaming "I am a behemoth!" to you, they are larger than what you'd make at home. Take pasta, for example. A serving size of pasta is one cup, with one half cup of sauce. At our local Italian restaurant, the penne with sausage comes on an oval plate and includes at least 2 cups of penne, a whole link of sausage, sliced, and about a cup of sauce. Looking at this portion, it doesn't seem unreasonable. It seems an appropriate portion for the $11.95 price. But, if you actually measured it, you would find that, instead of consuming 4 WW points worth of pasta, you had just consumed 8, and instead of consuming 2 points of sauce, you had eaten at least 4 -- not to mention the sausage. This doesn't even account for the salad at the beginning of the meal or the "free" bread that they bring to the table with olive oil for dipping. Your "reasonable" meal probably cost you at least 15 points, which is huge proportion of the daily points you get.

The solution to this problem seems obvious -- do not eat out. Under any circumstances. That's quite hard to do in my family, for one reason and another. My husband comes from a family culture of eating out, which I do not. I actually cannot remember ever eating out with my parents (aside from vacation or road trips) when I was small. In contrast, my husband grew up with a mother who worked night shift and a father who worked swing shift -- this crazy schedule and the exhaustion it engendered made eating out the obvious choice for his family. In times of stress (and who doesn't have stress when you have preschoolers?), we have tended to follow my husband's family pattern -- to eat out or call for takeaway. Every time we have a budget discussion, we target out restaurant budget as the one area we agree to cut. Every month, we spend money on eating out. It takes discipline and planning not to do that. That has to be our next goal.

Monday, July 27, 2009


I'm having a real struggle right now. After last week's "lost week", I still haven't really gotten back on track. And, I double-scheduled myself for this morning -- I scheduled Caroline to participate in a study at the nearby state university's Infant Studies lab at the same time as "Against the Current". All weekend, I've been wavering between going to exercise and going to the study. All right, all right -- I'm choosing to exercise, but my motivation is very low. I'm going because I have to, because I should -- not because I'm looking forward to it. I think I'm just really tired and need a break of some kind. Vacation is in two weeks, so that will be very nice. In the meantime, I have to jump back in. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lost Week

Weight loss efforts this week have flown out the window. After the Saturday "lose your child at the beach" fiasco, we jumped right into the "sofa leg broke, no where to sit" debacle, the "Daddy's going to be out of town for the week" disaster, and the "Mommy's teaching Vacation Bible School" adventure. So, Monday's "Against the Current" class was a miss (which is a shame, because I could have really used the energy). Yesterday, the babysitter arrived to let me go deep water running. On the way to the indoor pool, I actually started to nod off at a traffic light. So, I sensibly pulled into the parking lot, lowered my seat back, pulled the beach towel over me, and took an hour-long nap. Today was my weigh-in day for Weight Watchers, but I didn't go -- I was at the closing assembly for VBS, watching my second grade class practice their song for tomorrow's grand finale.

It's probably a good thing -- I haven't been tracking at all this week and had Trader Joe's frozen pasta 2 out of four nights, Trader Joe's pizza for lunch yesterday, and "Irish spitballs" for dinner (my dad's affectionate name for Chili-mac) last night.

I'll do better this week and get back on track.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Yesterday, I lost something precious.

I took the chickadees to the beach, in a state park on the Chesapeake Bay. I met my brother and his wife and two little beans and some friends and their mite. We had a lovely time -- had lunch (pb&j with sand, grapes with sand, potato chips with sand, you get the picture), built sand castles, splashed in the very mild waves. All was great under the very intense sun.


Chickadee #1 had gotten up enough courage to actually want to get into the water and go out into the waves. But I had to be there and had to be LOOKING as she cavorted. Chickadee #2 was content to play at the water's edge. I had my brother's oldest bean with me -- a real daredevil whom I had to watch like a hawk to prevent her from swimming out to meet the passing speedboats.

Chickadee # 2, as I said, was content to play in the sand at the water's edge. She had been running between our blanket, where my sister-in-law and friend were hanging out with their year-old-ish babies, and the pile of sand she'd been working on. I saw her running toward the blanket and let her go. A few minutes later, I couldn't see her with the adults on the blanket, so decided to go up to them to see what she was doing behind them.

She was not there.

She had not been there.

I immediately panicked, though I unsuccessfully tried to hide it. Thinking -- I DON'T KNOW WHERE MY BABY IS!!! IT'S A FRICKIN' BEACH. THERE ARE BAD PEOPLE AND CARS AND WATER AND OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD."

My brother took off running to the south, my friend's husband to the north, and I, screaming my chickadee's name as loud as I could, ran inland, towards the spot where I'd seen park rangers earlier. I ran into the concession stand when I couldn't see them, then ran out again, screaming her name all the while.

As I approached the beach again, a beautiful young woman came up to me and asked me what Chickadee #2 looked like. She said, "I'm going to help you find her. I have a two year old too." She took off running towards the playground. She had an air of confidence -- not, "I'll try to help you find her." No, "I'm going to help you find her." A few seconds later, another, older, black woman came up to me and told me, "He's got her. She's all right, she's all right," and gave me a hug. I am so grateful to these women. So grateful for the kindness of these strangers. They took the time to help me and comfort me. They were ministers of God to me. I'm sorry to say that I was too panic stricken to even pray throughout the whole ordeal. But God heard the inarticulate cry of my heart and send these women to help me. I wish I could thank them in person, but I hope they know how incredibly thankful I am.

When I saw my brother carrying a crying Chickadee #2 towards me, everything clicked back into place. The possibility of our lives tilting irrevocably out of kilter receded back to the other side of the veil.

Chickadee #2 had been about 100 yards to the south, sitting on the sand, crying. When my brother found her, she clutched at him and cried harder. When he put her in my arms, she clung to me like a monkey, wrapping her arms and legs about my body and crying into my neck. That's okay -- I would have done the same to her if I could have. My baby. Restored to me.

Shortly after this adventure, we left -- too much excitement for one day. As I was walking through the parking lot, chickadees in tow, I saw my first angel, smiling so beautifully at me as she and her husband and children drove past. It was the final surreal touch -- I wasn't sure at first that it was her, because I only saw her face for a few seconds when she approached me on the beach -- I didn't have the opportunity to really form an impression of what she looked like except to note that she was beautiful. But I am convinced that it was her. Thank you.

Later, after the chickadees were asleep and my husband and I had gone to bed, I was jolted back to wakefulness by thinking of all the horrible possibilities. I was overcome with such a sense of gratitude and joy, such thankfulness to God above. I could barely contain it -- I wanted to get up and get dressed and go and pray before Jesus in the 24 hour Eucharistic Chapel our parish has, but I didn't want to wake my husband up by getting out of bed. I thought about waiting a while, then getting up and prostrating my trembling self before the Infant (Jesus) of Prague statue I have, but thought that would too weird.

I contented myself by praying a heartfelt Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. The last joyful mystery, "They Find Jesus Preaching in the Temple" blew me away. I understood viscerally, emotionally, in a newfound way how Mary and Joseph must have felt. God had entrusted them with this marvellous child, this gift, and He was missing. I cannot even imagine the emotions they must have felt -- they didn't lose their child on the beach for three minutes. They lost him in a huge city for three days. My joy on finding Chickadee #2 mirrors that of the Blessed Mother on finding her child.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Obesity Research

I've spent a fair amount of time this weekend reading David Kessler's The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite and it's really making a lot of sense to me. I also saw an article on the BBC website, Obesity 'link to same sex parent', which asserts that obesity in children is directly connected to whether their parent of the same sex is also obese. Wonderful. I found consolation, however, in another BBC article, Obesity 'set before the age of five', which presents research that children who are obese tend to gain most of their excess weight (90% for girls, 70% for boys) before they reach school age (five). Both of my chickadees are extraordinarily tall for their age, but their weight is absolutely proportional to their height and the pediatrician has assured me that they are both at really healthy weights and have healthy BMIs. In fact, Chickadee #2 freaks me out because I can count all her ribs when she raises her arms above her head.

Terry Wilkin, the lead researcher in the study on the age at which obesity is "set" theorizes that there is evidence that diet, rather than lack of exercise, is to blame for obesity in preschool children. He blames higher caloric density and larger portion sizes. Which brings me back to David Kessler.

I'd been waiting to get this book from the library (I'm number 32 on the waiting list) but, this weekend, I decided not to wait any longer and sent my husband to Barnes and Noble. I'm still in the first part of the book, in which Kessler discusses the neurological research related to how animals react to what he calls the "salient stimuli" offered by food -- the taste, texture, smell, and emotional/cultural context of the food we eat. Kessler's presentation of this research is fascinating and very readable -- in some ways, it is even too "dumbed down" -- there are places where I am left wanting to know more (but that's what end notes are for, I suppose). It's also somewhat dispiriting to learn how like laboratory rats we are. Kessler's main point in this section is that human beings react to the presence of fat, sugar, and salt in much the same way as they do to, say, cocaine in terms of the brain's endorphin system.

Kessler describes the ways in which combinations of fat, sugar, and salt are included in different foods. His descriptions of various menu offerings, while funny, are also pretty disgusting. For example, here is his description of potato skins:

Typically, the potato is hollowed out and the skin is fried, which provides a substantial surface area for what [Kessler's industry insider] calls "fat pickup." Then some combination of bacon bits, sour cream, and cheese is added. The result is fat on fat on fat on fat, much of it loaded with salt. -- (Kessler, 19)
Yum. Think of that next time you're at a sports bar.
While this section of the book is disturbing, especially in its relentless detailing of the ways in which our brains are rewired through the things we put in our mouths, I think the next section, called "The Food Industry" is going to be even more eye-opening. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I wear black on the outside because black is how feel on the inside....

Thanks for the great title, Morrissey. I knew all those hours listening to you wail were going to have an effect on me.

After the last appallingly maudlin post, I am half-ashamed to say that I lost 2.4 pounds at this week's weigh in. You might be surprised to find, however, that most of that post was actually written AFTER my success at the scales -- immediately before I started this post, in fact

See, I really DO resent all this, even when I'm "successful". I really wish I didn't have to think about it so much. I really do worry about the messages I'm sending to the chickadees (girls, 5 and almost 3) about how women view their bodies and what is beautiful. I wish I could be happy in my skin, no matter my size, but I can't -- I have never been able to do that -- not at size 10, not at size 12, not at size 14, or 16 or upwards. What I'm looking for on this journey is the ability to inhabit my own body happily, at whatever size I end up.

In fact, the goal I have in mind for my weight loss would have appalled me at 20 or 30 -- THAT's your desired END STATE???? Are you nuts? I'm afraid, however, that once I reach that goal (and I will, no matter what I think in my discouragement) that I still won't be happy.

But here's the rub -- without unhappiness with the status quo, there is no incentive to change. Without hating the way I look, I'll continue to act in the ways that got me to this place, and I think we already know that the elevator goes up much more easily than it comes down. I don't even want to consider where I could end up if I don't assert control now.

It's all confusing to me -- I wish so much that I could approach this whole project without emotionalism, without investing so much of myself in it, but that seems to be beyond me as well. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Here we go again

At last week's WW weigh-in, I'd gained 4/10 of a pound. That's not very much, and I'm not that upset about it, because I know that there could be a host of reasons for that gain. I could have been retaining water, my clothes could have been heavier than those I'd been wearing the week before (I had been wearing the same thing every week, until I found out that the outfit's pants were literally falling apart and I had to throw them away -- I don't buy clothes much -- I think they were from the early days of my pregnancy with chickadee #1, six years ago), or I could have had just one Chocolate Mint Milano cookie too many (just kidding).

Nevertheless, this kind of 4/10ths up, 2/10ths down crapola is very discouraging. I am getting a lot more exercise than I had been -- my "Against the Current" class really kicks my a#@S every Monday, and I'm going deep water running twice a week. My problem is my discouragement and my belief, deep inside, that I actually CAN'T lose weight. I alone, of all the people in the world, have a unique metabolism that does not react to diet and exercise. I alone, of all the people in the world, am consigned to looking and feeling terrible until I die an early death.

How's that for cheery?

I know it's not true. I know that my metabolism is not unique and that fewer calories in and more calories burned equals weight loss. However, it doesn't FEEL like that. It feels like I'm stuck in this less than optimal way of living and I resent it. I resent having to monitor every frickin' thing that enters my mouth and every intentional expenditure of energy. I resent having to write it all down and I resent feeling as if I must always "be good". I hate the way I think about it and talk about it -- all this talk about being good, as if what I eat is some kind of reflection on the state of my soul. I resent it, I resent it, I resent it. And that, ladies and gents, is the kernel of the problem.

It's all mental and emotional, see?