1.11.2010

Battle of the Bulge

I am overweight. This is not a news flash, but rather the state of my being for as long as I can remember. I was a 9 pound, 6 ounce baby at birth. Technically, in medical terms, I'm near "morbid obesity." Such an ominous phrase, "morbid obesity." It conjures up pictures of Death hovering outside my door, measuring his scythe to see if it can get through the layers of fat.

I have tried, over the years, to lose weight. I had one particularly successful period the last year of my undergrad. I became obsessive about exercise and food. I did an hour of cardio most every day, although in hindsight my "cardio" wasn't very beneficial for heart health. I also was quite obsessive about the food I ate, particularly portions and calories. My mother, who is an RN with a BS in Nursing, actually confronted me, concerned that I was becoming anorexic. That is how obsessive with food I became. I went from a size 20 womens to a 16 womens/misses. (There's a difference between 16 womens and 16 misses, believe it or not.)

Then I went off to grad school and moved out of the house -- and out of the state. Slowly those pounds crept back on, thanks to a ceasing of exercise and more eating out than I had done. At the encouragement of my voice teacher, I returned to exercise, utilizing the walking/jogging path around campus. While this did help my cardio, I didn't really lose any weight, and I didn't lose weight because I wasn't doing the other half of the equation: food. I returned to a 18/20 womens.

In September 1999, I broke my leg, shredded my ankle ligaments, and blew out my knee. The recovery was obviously physical and, at times, arduous. I suspect at that time, I started losing weight again, but I'm not really sure. Using crutches and a wheelchair is an unconventional cardio workout, but it definitely gets the heart rate up. What I do know is the following fall, after a summer of working multiple jobs and trying to save money to move into my own apartment (I was living in a room in a friend's relative's house, housesitting in exchange for rent), I went shopping for new jeans and discovered I was back in a size 16. Yay for unintentional weight loss!

Like previous weight loss, it didn't last. This time, I can blame medicine. It started with me going on Sinequan, a mild anti-depressant to help me with my insomnia. Sinequan has one odd side effect: cravings for sweets, sometimes uncontrollable. Grrrreat. On top of this, I had an endocrinologist diagnose me with Acute Adrenalcortico Deficit Disorder. This meant that my adrenal glands were not producing enough cortisol (natural cortisone) to help me fight infection or injury. I had to carry a syringe of cortisone with me in case I was in a car accident or something traumatic, or if I got a severe flu or other illness. This, along with a diagnosis of PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) got me a prescription for Prednisone. And an engraved invitation for about 45 pounds.

Two months of Prednisone, and I'm looking at the lovely clothes I bought as a size 16 that no longer fit. I'm back to a 20, and pushing the upper end of that. Fortunately, my insurance changed and with that, my doctors. My new doctor reran the tests and determined I did not have the adrenalcortico deficiency -- thank God -- but he did confirm the PCOS. He wanted me to stay on the Prednisone, but we could reduce the dosage, which would stop the weight gain. Then I moved for grad school again.

In Florida, my weight was all over the place without any rhyme or reason. I wasn't exercising and I wasn't really "dieting," ever. Doing doctoral studies, especially in the psychological environment I was in, are stressful enough. I could have benefitted from exercise, but I was too busy studying, teaching, working, and being social. Upon completion of the coursework, I took a one-year appointment at another university. Long story short, I spent the fall semester commuting between Miami and Tampa weekly. That's 286 miles each way. I added to that a weekly, sometimes more frequently, commute between Tampa and Orlando, another 95 miles each way. I cleaned up on my taxes that year for mileage. All this time in a car meant a lot of eating on the road, and a lot of just bad food. But surprisingly, I lost weight. Whodathunk?

One more move, this time to the Midwest to take what I thought would be a long-term job. I fell into a pseudo-sedentary lifestyle, with the only exercise I was getting being the daily walk up the rather steep hill from the faculty parking lot to the building I worked in. My second year teaching there, I made a point of also taking the stairs from the entry floor to my office (as well as from my office to my main classroom) instead of the elevator to help add a little more physical movement. Otherwise, I was in my office/studio teaching all day, mostly sitting on my arse behind my desk or piano. Add to this a coworker I spent a lot of time with who 1) liked good food (we'd get together and cook a lot), 2) was fond of a particular local happy hour, 3) was fairly well-to-do and usually paid for me to attend this happy hour with him, and 4) made it clear he liked me just the way I was. Not a good combination, frankly. Then I lost my job, and the resulting depression equated sloth and poor eating habits. I ballooned to the largest I'd ever been, in that murky area between a 20 and a 22.

Several month later I landed a seasonal, full-time job at the IRS. About a month later, a good friend called and asked me to be his honor attendant at his Holy Union ceremony. I used that as motivation to lose weight, and began walking again and obsessively counting my calories. It lasted all of 3 weeks or so. Everything ended abruptly when I found out a good friend and coworker had passed away unexpectedly. (See blog from April 2009.) At that point, I decided life was too short to worry about vanity and counting calories, and my resolve to lose weight left the building.

I'm now in my second year of not being employed as a college professor. I'm working, but I don't have a salaried position and I don't have health insurance. I've finally come to the realization that my health is only going to be as good as I make it. My parents are both in moderately poor health, and many of their problems could have been prevented by better diet and exercise when they were my age. I realized that making better choices about food and getting regular exercise are an investment in me, which should be my real motivator. A $40/month gym membership is less expensive than doctors visits and medication, with or without health insurance, and the other benefits -- mood improvement, better sleep, etc. -- you can't put a price on.

Now the proud possessor of a YMCA membership card, my gym attendance has been pretty good. I've been tracking my workouts on www.mapmyrun.com. I make it a point to go 4-5, sometimes 6, times a week. I throw a gym bag into my car when I leave for work, and go to the gym before I go home. It has become an important part of my routine. My travel for gigs upsets the routine, especially this past December/January when I was gone for a month and had to make do with either different workouts or no workouts. But as best as I can tell, the last 4 months of 2009 saw a 30 pound drop. I'm back in pants I couldn't wear a year or two years ago. I have a looooong way to go, but I'm doing this for me and for my health. I'm not obsessing about calories. I'm making smarter choices about food (well, most of the time) and getting regular exercise.

And, I'll be honest. There are a couple of folks who I won't see until August or September at the earliest, and I'd love to make their jaws drop. Just a little extra motivation.

I'll post periodically about how the weight loss is going. I'm excited about finally returning to the gym today after I get off work; I have a whole new playlist on my iPod and new workout wear thanks to Old Navy. Ok, so there's still a little vanity involved. I'm a woman, after all!

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