Sunday, September 11, 2016

Courage is the new Cool

I started this blog in the summer of 2011. I was motivated to change my lifestyle, or so I thought. Turns out I was looking for a change, yes, but focusing my efforts and attention on weight loss and body image. At the time, I was extremely unfulfilled in my relationship, stagnant career-wise, avoidant of acknowledging deeper issues affecting my self-esteem, well-being, self-awareness, and overall satisfaction in life. I hadn't wholeheartedly admitted to myself that I was depressed... So, for the sake of getting something done, I turned my dissatisfaction into action, and I started with my physical health.

A few months later, my relationship ended, but my weight loss continued and my self-esteem improved. Before taking the time to focus on the bigger task of finding myself, I jumped into a new relationship. I was flying high for awhile. A lot of self-awareness happened in those early months. I changed careers, shattered some long-held assumptions and beliefs, and opened my eyes to a lot of things I had been trying (subconsciously) not to notice about myself. This was progress, I thought.

During that time, I used this blog to document my journey from 181 pounds down to 140 lbs. I catalogued dozens of good and bad days, trying desperately to find meaning, happiness, and balance along the way. The weight stayed off, the new job brought me more fulfillment, but the depression persisted. In 2013, I fantasized about and came closer than ever before to ending my own life. 

For more than a year, I kept my head above water, but my relationship and friendships suffered, my self-esteem dragged, and my mental health became my top priority. In January of 2014, I hired a life coach. We assessed my core values, which I found hugely helpful in itself as an exercise, but honestly, the work I needed to do could not be done because of one difficult truth: I didn't love myself. I didn't understand why, and I sure as hell didn't know how.

In October of 2014, I reached out to a psychiatrist to help asses the dynamics of my depression. I began talk therapy once a week, and began to think more critically about my reactive behavior. This is also when I began to study the concept of mindfulness. I attempted to make meditation a more consistent part of my routine. I reassessed my values. I made a commitment to doing the work of steady and consistent self-reflection. I looked at things in great detail for months, until the bigger picture started to reveal itself. The issues underlying my self-hate started to be exposed under the bright light of objective awareness. 

Then, in February 2015, another breakup. My partner moved out, and I was swallowed by self-pity and shame. I started taking anti-depressant medication to ease the immediate and unbearable pain. I needed to continue functioning at work. I had little energy or motivation to be social or enjoy any other aspect of life. The medication was a difficult adjustment. It was physically uncomfortable adapting to the chemicals, but it provided enough separation from the narrowness of hope-deprivation and apathy that I was able to begin seeing opportunities for my future and began believing that I would eventually heal.

Several months later, I made a fresh start. I practiced more openness, listened more to my intuition, and started to find my voice. I also prioritized some healthier habits, such as staying socially connected, being mindful of my physical health, expressing instead of holding back my thoughts and emotions, letting creativity happen, and making kindness a part of my routine. This became my checklist, my value system, my guide for daily living.

C - Connection
H - Health
E - Expression
C - Creativity
K - Kindness

I deemed this my grounding resource. I tracked my adherence to it somewhat religiously. I found it to be helpful in making me feel a sense of peace. I felt more confident and self-assured that I was taking the right steps, consistently and courageously, toward a more authentic me. 

A shitstorm of events have happened since making this checklist one year ago. I have struggled internally with some of the most shameful, confusing, and intense truths about myself. I have made life-altering decisions, confronted deeply-rooted beliefs, let go of hugely self-damaging habits, and taken enormous leaps of faith. My partner and I reconciled and are now living together. We're both experiencing more openness, more vulnerability, better communication, and more frequent compromise than before, and we are much better at acknowledging the awkwardness and disappointment that we were too proud to admit before. Our relationship isn't perfect, but at least now it includes two people that know themselves a little better and can stand up for themselves when necessary. I don't fear becoming lost in the relationship because I know my checklist will always be there to make sure I'm listening to my own voice and standing on my own principles.

Today, I am more accepting of my body and size even though I have put on some of the weight I initially lost. I have more patience with myself. I am more honest about my flaws, and although I haven't given up all of my unhealthy habits, I'm much better at noticing the motivations and needs behind them than I was before. I'm comfortable being alone or with others. I'm learning how to comfort myself without medication or distraction or appeasement from others. I am learning how to fully look at the present moment instead of running away, either toward the future in anticipation or back to the past with nostalgia or regret. This is still a difficult thing to do, and I am grateful for the opportunities to improve at it. I also embrace the fact that right now, I'm not great at it. I'm here. Alive. Evolving. I love being in the midst of this transformation. It is in this imperfect and messy place that I feel the most sense of belonging as well as the most free.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thank You

Gratitude, by definition:
The quality of being thankful; 
Readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

In the past 2 years, I've only updated this blog a few times. My reasons for doing so are mostly logistical... I spend less time online in general, and since most of my beginning motivation for posting was to track weight loss & physical transformation I haven't felt the need to update at every new pound lost or to talk incessantly about the fact that I've maintained the weight loss & better eating habits since achieving a healthier body image.

But the truth is that I started this blog to document my journey toward a healthier self-image too. This is something I always knew would take a lot longer than weight loss, but perhaps I didn't realize the benefit of continuing that conversation in this forum. After all, posting here during my diet & fitness struggles did help quite a bit. I'm not sure why writing in a public way helped more than, say, handwriting in a paper journal, but it did, and I am reminded how grateful I am to have those older posts to look back on now.

Gratitude has always been important to me as a general concept. I appreciate and am grateful when others treat me kindly, go out of their way to help me, or are just there to listen and offer support. I make sure I always say "Thank you" when I'm presented with even the smallest gesture of kindness from strangers or loved ones. What I realized today while talking to someone on the phone about this blog, is that I very rarely make time to show myself gratitude. I have looked at old photos and made comparisons between the way my body/habits used to be and the way they are now, and although I'm pleased with the progress, I have not yet formally thanked myself for putting in the work.

I "feel" gratitude for how far I've come physically when I do little things like dance or run around with the kids at work. I "feel" gratitude for the energy I have after getting a good night of sleep or eating healthy. I "feel" gratitude when a friend or colleague compliments or congratulates me on my transformation, but I don't think I've ever expressed gratitude toward myself for making the changes (big and small) it took to make the dream of being healthier a reality.

In light of this realization, I would like to take the opportunity to thank myself here and now for the gift of a healthier body, for the gift of going after a more meaningful career (which, in some ways, the process of getting more physically healthy prepared me for), and for the gift of continuing in my quest for more self-love.

Michelle, thank you. Thank you for taking the time to notice that I wasn't on the right track and for helping me find a solution. Thank you for remembering my limits and playing to my strengths in order to accomplish success in the areas of health, purpose, and most importantly, self-awareness. Thank you for showing me I had (and still have) the strength to continue to accomplish the things my heart and soul desire. In this moment, I am grateful for you and the love you have shown me.

Having said all that, it's important to note that thanking myself is just the first step in practicing the art of showing myself more compassion. But as with any other journey, even just one step can lead to many more. So, as I put on my trusty walking shoes, I am grateful, a little nervous, and mostly curious to see where the next path with take me.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Day 670 - In with the News

Mood: Awake

Weight: 140 lbs. (12 more lbs lost)

Pant Size: 8/10

Today is Monday, April 1, 2013. I'm back! It's been over a year since my last post... Whoa. Time for a little news update...

The good news: I lost 12 more pounds!
The bad news: That's only about 1 pound per month. I also have a sneaking suspicion that some of that weight happened because of muscle loss. I believe the muscle loss is a result of my inconsistency in (or complete lack of) strength training exercise, but it could be because I am much more active during the day (due to a career change, more about this in a later post).

The good news: My clothes are still getting smaller and more flattering.
The bad news: I can't afford to buy new clothes, nor do I really have much use for cute "going out" outfits because I can't really afford to go out either! Also, my new job calls more for comfort than style, so even if I do find inexpensive and flattering clothes, I rarely have opportunities to wear them. It's not all that much of a problem in the grand scheme of things, but it just means wearing baggy/oversized clothes for a while which can sometimes be uncomfortable.

The good news: Since I started this journey 22 months ago, I have lost a total of 41.6 lbs. I'm only 10-15 lbs away from my goal weight, already at my goal size, and feeling generally more comfortable/confident with my body image. I do yoga once a week (since the beginning of the year) and walk/hike for 30-60 minutes roughly twice a week. I cook more often and with more nutritious ingredients and have made breakfast an almost-daily habit. I meditate regularly, and rarely have trouble falling asleep anymore.
The bad news: I'm still unsatisfied with the overall quality of my efforts (exercise, sleep, and nutrition). Although I've come leaps and bounds from where I started, I continue to cling to old habits (not in the excess that caused my weight gain, but definitely enough to get in the way of more progress). For example, when I'm presented with a lot of down time, I still tend to busy myself with sedentary (i.e. online) activity rather than exercise. I also find myself turning to unhealthy foods when I'm alone/lonely, anxious/nervous, and stressed/overwhelmed. Luckily this doesn't happen every day, but it happens, and it means I haven't learned to cope with some aspects of life in healthier ways.

I plan to address these issues (and the motivations underlying them) in a later post, but I think it's important to recognize that both the good and bad circumstances will not prevent me from giving up or getting too comfortable. I could say, for example: "Ok, what I've done is good enough... I can tolerate the way I look/feel from now on." 

I could also take another approach: 
"I'm happy with what I've accomplished, but I know I can do better. If I work harder and put more care into the choices I make, I have the ability to feel great instead of just good enough. I can have the assurance of knowing that I am truly healthy, but not if I keep doing just enough to get by. I am worthy of the time, effort, and dedication required to be a healthy person. I am worthy of the sometimes painful moments of getting out of bed to work out, to refuse an unhealthy treat, or to burden my body with too little sleep. If I'm as eager to help myself as I am to help others, I can set myself up to have more energy, love, and acceptance toward myself and others."

The best news: In many ways, I'm in a MUCH better place than I was a year ago. Mentally and emotionally, I've also lost a lot of "weight"... and although, as mentioned above, I still have some work to do, I can honestly say I feel much more at peace with and inspired by the changes that have come from the difficult work of finding my true self. 

The journey is far from over, as I believe it's a lifelong one, but I'm so grateful to have seen so much progress in such a relatively small amount of time.

Ciao for now!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Day 281 - Out with the Old

Mood: Disappointed

Weight: 152 lbs

Today is Thursday, March 8, 2012. I've gained 2 pounds. I know exactly why: I haven't been exercising, I've skipped breakfast more often than not, & the things I've been eating are more for convenience & have very little nutritional value. I'm admitting to this because it's a sign that I'm falling back into old habits. This is not acceptable.

Not only have I fallen into the habit of not taking care of my body, I've fallen into the habit of not caring about my body.

The past few weeks I've been really distracted. I started looking for a new job. And just days ago, I gave my notice of resignation at my current job. Change is happening all around me. It's scary and unsettling. I think I've subconsciously found this time of great change to be an excuse to turn to what I'm comfortable with in other areas of my life. I've made food my comfort, and that disappoints me after all the hard work I put in initially. 

It's true that for the past few months I haven't been going at it as hard or as dedicated as I should. Even this blog has fallen off my priority list. When I come back to post, I'm ashamed at how misrepresented my reality has been. I'm embarrassed when I read my older posts and all my enthusiastic moments: "I'm motivated again! I'm going to get back on the wagon now! I'm committed to achieving my goals!" 

The voice of self-criticism speaks up again: "Yeah right, Michelle. You're a liar. A fraud. A failure."

I'm not going to let that voice get the best of me today. But I'm not going to proclaim that I'm determined to rise against it either. I'm just going to accept that I haven't been as healthy as I could be & ask myself why. That's what this blog is about, in large part, anyway. It's about finding the reasons for my habits. Healthy-living still isn't one of my habits, despite the fact that I've lost a bunch of weight. I still have the mind of a lazy, overweight child instead of that of a self-sufficient, confident adult. Unless I really take the time to find out why I am what I am, it will be difficult if not impossible to become something else.

Today I had a salad for lunch. It wasn't delicious, and it wasn't even low-calorie (560 cals with dressing). It tasted like obligation. I ate fast because I just wanted to get it over with. I didn't savor it. I didn't even like it. But I ate it all, and now I'm full, but I'm not satisfied. Why do I feel that food has to satisfy me emotionally instead of just nutritionally? 

Satisfaction, by definition:
The fulfillment or gratification of a desire, need, or appetite.
Pleasure or contentment derived from such gratification.
A source or means of gratification.
Compensation for injury or loss; reparation.
The opportunity to avenge a wrong; vindication.
Assurance beyond doubt or question; complete conviction.

Am I seeking pleasure from food? If so, why? Am I attempting to use food to gratify something else? Some other loss or wrong-doing? Does it provide some kind of assurance or peace of mind I'm not getting from other means? If so, what can I do to obtain those feelings or fulfill those needs without relying on food?

The only true purpose of food is to provide nutrients to keep the body functioning. It's not supposed to solve my problems or bring me joy. So, why is good-tasting food such an exciting experience? And why do I feel ripped-off if I don't get that experience from food?

These are questions I need to start asking myself every time I eat, and even before I eat, when I'm making decisions about what to eat. Am I choosing this food because of the experience or because of the nutritional content? What's more alluring about a bowl of mac & cheese than a plate of veggies? Is it the temperature, the texture, the saltiness, the flavor? How can I recreate that experience with foods that are good for me instead of always getting it from the unhealthy ones?

I don't have all the answers yet, but hopefully by thinking about this more I can begin to identify some. 

In the meantime, here are some pictures of my weekend with my family. We had a BBQ for my Dad's birthday. Typically, we'd go out to a restaurant and order high-calorie, high-fat, tantalizingly delicious food as a "treat". Instead we grilled fresh veggies & meats on the BBQ and it was not only cheaper but also pretty good-tasting! I'm especially proud of the healthy snacks & appetizers we had instead of the usual chips & dips.

Appetizers & Finger Foods
(The garlic-stuffed olives were the best!)

Pasilla Peppers stuffed with cheese, chicken legs, & sausages.

Marinated steak & veggie kebabs.

This year, my Dad's "treat" was a healthy blood-sugar level. Both of my parents have Type 2 Diabetes, they both take insulin, and they both sleep with breathing machines. They know I want them to be around for as long as possible, and they know I love them regardless of their weight or eating habits, but I'm glad they both see for themselves the difference better food has on their health. Now I just have to remember to take my own advice! :)

Mom & Dad

Thanks for reading! If you have any suggestions or substitution ideas for how to make healthy foods resemble comfort foods, please post them in the comments or on my Facebook page! If you need some ideas to get you started, check out this article with 5 Comfort Food Swaps.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Day 251 - A New Day Has Begun

Mood: Invigorated

Weight: 150 lbs

Pant Size: 8/10

Today is Tuesday, February 7, 2012. I didn't sleep at all last night. Sleep is a key ingredient in my recipe to health success, yet it's something I'm sometimes able to go without & still function normally (sometimes even better than when I get some sleep). What's up with that?!

This is what I look like on absolutely zero sleep, at the tail end (4pm) of a very long & busy work day!

Although I'm not proud of the fact that I couldn't quiet my mind long enough to catch a few z's last night, I'm glad I at least used the time productively. For example, I got started watching another season of The Biggest Loser. I get a lot of my inspiration from watching the stories & struggles of those on similar journeys toward better health. As I mentioned in previous posts, the workouts & nutrition plans are fantastic elements to incorporate into a lifestyle change like this, but you have little chance of sticking to those healthy habits without the inner transformation & growth that comes with setting the goal & doing everything you can to reach it. My mind is the most powerful tool I have in accomplishing anything. Recipes & workout plans are awesome, but since my weight has remained steady for the past several months, I've realized that motivation can be my best friend or my worst enemy.

Even though I posted last week with 3 things I planned to do to get back to the grind, I fell short. I didn't walk 30 minutes a day. I didn't eat a healthy breakfast every morning. And I sure as hell didn't work out with anyone else, or even try to set something up with regard to exercise. The reason, again, was that I seemed to just like to hear myself talk. There was no motivation behind the words.

Today I  reclaimed my motivation.

After several hours of The Biggest Loser, I put on my workout gear & jogged 2 miles in 30 minutes. It wasn't much, but it was something. I just went around the neighborhood, while it was still dark out. Thin puddles of last night's rain lingering on sidewalks. Mostly quiet, with the occasional sound of a car traveling carefully into another day or the train swelling past in a noticeable rush. My destination: awaken the heart rate!

It felt great to get fresh air. I paid very close attention to my breathing & my pace to make sure not to wear myself out too soon. I probably looked like a snail to most people, but it felt like a reasonable speed considering I'm a bit out of practice & didn't want to overdo it. I can count the number of times I've worked out since the year began... It's less than I care to admit.

I even made breakfast (2 eggs, a glass of milk), before getting showered & ready for work. It might not seem like much to most people, but eating breakfast is something I am usually too lazy to do... and I usually pay for it later in the day! But all that matters each day IS today. And today I feel good about at least starting on a healthy note.

The day continues with a promise to get more "for-me" stuff done tonight. It's nice remembering what it feels like to put my needs before any other plans or anyone else's agenda. It's important, and having the willpower to follow through with it on a daily basis is the new challenge I'm faced with.

Forget my little lists of "things I'm going to do better"... My one & only matter of business is to FIND A REASON TO BE HEALTH-MOTIVATED EVERY SINGLE DAY. Motivated to do something, anything (even after I've reached my weight loss goals) so that I will find myself in a completely new & invigorating state of mind & body. Today is just the beginning...

My motivation for the week: Learn how to take what is rightfully mine. In this case, my health, ENERGY, & confidence! An idea I saw Bob Harper emphasize on a recent episode of The Biggest Loser. I wish he was my trainer/friend!!!

Milestone alert: I have gone from a size 16 to a size 8 pants size. I wish I would have kept a pair of my old pants to show the difference! It feels good to be in the single digits, but I'm still holding on to a couple of size 12 & 14 pants because I can't afford to buy a whole new wardrobe for work (the pants I did toss/donate were jeans & are cheaper & more fun to replace). I'm happy about the progress, & am trying to remind myself that numbers are meaningless if the attitude doesn't change with it! Time for confidence & dedication! I've done a lot, but I can always do more! 

Here's to never running out of ways to do more. Thanks for reading! <3

Monday, January 30, 2012

Day 243 - Picking Up The Pace

"When we die, no one remembers us for what we weighed. 
Our weight isn't etched into our headstones."
-- Stephanie Klein

Mood: Thankful

Weight: 150 lbs

Today is Monday, January 30, 2012. In the 7 weeks since my last post, not much has changed. Working out hasn't been a priority for me. I shouldn't make excuses, but I think the weather had something to do with it. I tend to be a homebody during cold months, and this winter was no exception. When I get home from work I would rather curl up in bed & watch a few episodes of Mad Men than put on my workout gear & go outside in the chilly temperatures (even though CA temps aren't terrible... it's difficult to tell myself that after a long, stressful day at the office).

Instead of blaming the weather or social obligations for my lack of motivation, I'm going to buck up & take responsibility for plainly forgetting to care about & for myself again. I haven't made myself a priority lately, and even though the consequences haven't been negative, they have been steadily weighing on my  mind.

I recognize my tendency to put time with others ahead of taking care of myself. My needs & goals have taken a back seat to these various distractions again, but today I'm re-committing myself to once again take better care of myself & reach the goals I set almost 8 months ago when I started on this journey.

One way I'm going to re-commit myself is to get back on a regular exercise routine. I will start by walking at least 30 minutes every day this week. If I can't drag myself out of bed in the morning, I'm going to set an alarm to remind me to get it done in the evening. I'll set a higher goal next week (maybe increase the duration of my walks, or combine jogging with walking for the same amount of time).

I'm also going to commit to one workout each week with at least one other person. Last week, I went for a run/workout with my neighbors. It was good to have the company. It pushes me to work harder & keep up the intensity level. It's also good for a little bit of distraction. Sometimes when I walk/run/workout by myself, I get bored/distracted/tired too quickly. But when I find myself in the position to keep up with others, I get a slight boost that entices me to go beyond my usual mental limitations. Maybe it's my need to impress others. Maybe I just don't want to be "the slow, out of shape one". Wherever the motivation comes from, it seems to have a good effect on my workouts. I was sore for 3 days after that one workout. 

Another healthy habit I'm going to reinstate is to eat a healthy breakfast every day. 

Even though I'm disappointed that I haven't been maintaining 100% of the healthy habits I learned early on in this project, I'm still maintaining my weight by remembering & practicing everything I learned about portion-control, listening to my body when it wants or doesn't want food, and taking time to enjoy the outdoors whenever possible. These 3 things have saved me from gaining any of the unwanted pounds back when my workouts stopped, but they won't be enough to help me reach my goal of losing another 25 lbs. 

So, onward I go. I need words of encouragement right now. I need to believe that I can & will accomplish my goals. I need reminders of why I wanted this for myself in the first place -- not just to lose weight, but to be a healthier, happier person inside & out. If you have a minute or two, please comment here or on my Facebook page. 

And thank you, as always, for being a part of this with me. <3

Monday, December 12, 2011

Day 194 - Top Ten Lists

Mood: Delighted

Weight: 150 lbs

Pant Size: 10/12

Today is Monday, December 12, 2011. Although my weight-loss progress is at a stand still, I'm overjoyed to announce that my brother & his wife have finally been matched with a child, a 6-month-old boy! It will still be another couple of weeks until I can meet him, but you better believe I'll be posting tons of pictures of him here.

In the meantime, here are some articles to keep you busy. I hope you like lists!

10 Worst Fast Food Meals

10 Worst Side Dishes

10 Guilty Restaurant Pleasures

10 Best Foods For Your Skin

10 Best Supermarket Lunches

10 Best Organic Cereals

10 Worst Healthy Foods

10 Cheat Foods Made Healthy

10 Food Label Lies

10 Dirtiest Foods