I started my weight loss plan (not going to say diet, because it isn't really, more a lifestyle change) on January 15th, with the goal of losing 100 pounds total and 50 pounds by my birthday, five months away. My birthday is Sunday, and today I hit my goal with three days to spare.
My BMI has gone from within a hair of 40, the range considered "extremely obese", which creates an extremely high risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension, passed through obesity class 2, in which the risk is classified as only very high, and into obesity class 1, unadorned high risk. A little more than 10 pounds - close enough to smell it - and I won't be obese anymore, just plain old overweight, at only increased risk. And several studies show that being only moderately overweight carries no increased risk at all.
I started trying to loss weight in hopes of improving my overall health. I suffer from what the doctors call "lupus-like syndrome," which is to say I have many of the symptoms of lupus, but my antibody profile doesn't exactly match that of classic lupus. For some reason, my body produces antibodies to attack itself. Like lupus, lupus-like syndrome is frustrating in that any symptom can appear at any time as the body launches a new attack, then fade away for months. Bouts of illness are called "flares." Typically my flares involve inflammation of my heart lining or blood vessels, which sends my cardiovascular system into a frenzy and fills my blood with waste products. It's nearly impossible for me to exercise during a flare, which is the primary reason I gained so much weight. But, unfortunately, the weight gain was adding more stress to my already overloaded cardiovascular system. I needed to do something, or die. Waiting for a time when I felt better to start exercising wasn't going to work, because I felt bad all the time.
Losing fifty pounds hasn't cured my autoimmune problems. In fact, at times, it seems to have provoked them. Any stress tends to trigger an autoimmune flare, and operating on a caloric deficit counts as stress. I've spent several weeks of this time struggling with chest pains, muscle and joint pains, headaches, muscle tremors, skin freakouts (I don't get the classic lupus 'butterfly' rash which has left Seal so scarred, but my skin has its own repertoire of terrible ways to behave), fevers, purpura (bruising of the hands and feet), and, most annoyingly, a menstrual period every 21 days as my body adjusts to less estrogen, which is produced by fat.
But! I kept going. And I made my first goal, despite all.
My resting heart rate has dropped from 72 beats a minute at the best of times and much higher than that during an autoimmune flare, to well under 60 beats a minute. I had a flare last week, and instead of shooting up into the physically uncomfortable feels-like-someone-is-chasing-me when I try to sleep 100+ range, my heart rate only went up to about 70 - a perfectly normal rate.
When I started, I had to stop and rest while walking the third of a mile around the lake. Now I can walk two miles easily; when I'm not having a flare, I can walk pretty much as long as I want to walk. I've been using my stationary bike to push myself, because it has a palm pulse sensor so I can tell from moment to moment if my heart is having a fit. It's necessary because when I'm having heart inflammation, my heart can go from a safe range to over 200 beats a minute instantly. The sort of chest band/wrist sensor you have to check periodically was never going to work - I had to be able to watch it constantly to learn how to feel what was happening with my body and how much I could push. When I started, if I wasn't having a bad day (when I could do no exercise at all) I could only do about two and a half minutes of slow pedaling before having to stop and let my heart calm down. Now I can sustain strong pedaling for thirty minutes at a time. My muscles get tired, but my heart chugs along safely in the target range.
Now that my heart is better behaved, I've been adding a little strength training, gradually. Among other things I embarked on the "100 pushups in six weeks" program and surprised myself by being able to do 10 pushups on the initial test. I kept it up until the fifth week of the program, by which point I realized that I was hating and dreading every day of that stupid program and sick of feeling like a noodle between workouts. Dread is not a good motivator, so I'm looking for another program. I notice, reading other people's comments, that no one ever finishes the program in six weeks, not even the creator of the program. Hmm. Surely there's a workout program which will enable me to get stronger without actually praying for anyone's death.
(It's tempting to insert a line drawing of myself, with DDD breasts, doing a pushup, next to the '100 pushups in 6 weeks' line drawing of a svelte breastless chick doing a pushup. I haven't done the drawing, though, so you're just going to have to imagine it. I reach the ground quite a bit sooner than she does.)
I'd say it's been tough, but you know, it really hasn't been all that tough. The toughest part is wanting to grab a bite to eat while I'm out running around and not having any place to grab a bite that isn't chock full of sodium and corn syrup. The next toughest part is having a refrigerator full of tomatoes and knowing that if I don't make that pasta I said I was going to make they are going to go bad. I want to be a celebrity and have someone else cook for me. Cooking is fun when you're in the mood, but in the middle of June on a lovely hot day full of lightning bugs and the singing of cicadas, I am more than likely not in the mood.
The easy part has been calorie control. Once I stopped drinking corn-syrup laden Coke which made me crave sodium-laden prepared foods which made me crave simple-carb and fat-laden junk, I found myself naturally tending to eat fewer than 1600 calories a day. After a while I stopped counting, since it didn't seem to be necessary.
Best of - cheap, delicious, quick, and satisfying:
Smoothies made with frozen fruit (a different kind each day) yogurt, and flaxseed or ground walnuts or almond slivers.
Quickie homemade sushi made with Japanese import brand microwave sprouted brown rice, veggies, and sardines. This rice is so much better than anything available in any American store. Two minutes to perfect rice that has the texture of real sushi rice.
Roasted kale - like potato chips but with actual food value! And not 160 calories a pop!
Grass fed steak. Yes, it's worth the extra cash. A little goes a long way, the animal has been treated decently, and the meat has a fat profile more like salmon than like typical American grain fed beef.
Homemade soup. It's a hobby. But when you're finished, you have something delicious that you can feel good about eating. The other day I was wanting soup and feeling lazy, and picked up a can of Campbell's beef soup in the grocery. Looked at the label, put it back. 39% of your daily sodium per serving. Bad enough. But much worse when you realize that one measly can of soup, which I normally eat all by myself, supposedly contains 2.5 servings. Do the math - you can get your entire day's serving of sodium from a single can of Campbell's soup. And to balance out the heinous saltiness they put corn syrup in everything.
Not worth it:
Oatmeal. Yes, it's cheap, yes, it's healthy. I loathe it. I loathed it as a child and it turns out I still loathe it.
Fat free cream cheese. I think it's made from chalk.
Free, free at last:
Coke. Don't drink corn syrup. I feel so much better now that I'm free of my Coke addiction. My cravings are better now that I'm not kicking my blood sugar around. Even my teeth are brighter.
Sodium from prepared foods. I lost twenty pounds the first month of my diet, mostly from water weight because I wasn't eating so much prepared food. Now that I'm eating normally, when I do eat something I used to eat, it tastes unbearably salty.
But, alas, I will never stop craving:
Fried chicken. There's simply not a way to eat fried chicken that doesn't involve absurd amounts of empty calories.
Pig fat: don't try to feed me lean bacon. The fat is the point. The fat is delicious. No amount of eating delicious healthy foods seems to put a dent in my craving for luxurious white crusty swine.
And now, onward to the next goal!