My Solicited Advice

Over the past few months, I’ve answered one question in various forms, many times over. It usually goes something like this:

Hi Paula! I noticed you’ve lost a lot of weight. Wow, you look great! I hear you’re doing Weight Watchers, is that true? I tried that once (twice/five/ten times), but I could only lose ten pounds before quitting (or) I lost a bunch of weight (for my sister’s wedding/high school reunion/other life event), then gained it back. What’s your secret? Do you have any advice? What do you eat every day?

 On my wedding day, thinking about how much I love Bill and pizza

On my wedding day, thinking about how much I love Bill and pizza

You have to be ready. I wish I had been ready in my twenties, before I got married. Or, in my thirties, after I had my kids. It wasn’t until I was 43 years old and had obtained a master’s degree that I believed in myself enough to even step foot inside a Weight Watcher’s meeting. A couple of months into my weight loss journey, my marriage fell apart. We hung on by our fingernails and made it through two near-divorces and our oldest child being hospitalized twice in a month. Strangely, I think those crises helped me stay focused on eating right. The food I chose to put in my mouth was the one thing I could control while everything else in my world was spinning out of control. Sitting here today, I’m certain that the strength I gained from losing weight and surviving those personal problems snowballed with my spiritual faith, making me the super hero who I am today. When will YOU be ready to believe in yourself while also letting go of everything you’ve tried in the past to be healthy? Only you can answer that question.

You have to have support from your family. Even when things were rough between us, my husband supported what I was doing. He bought the new healthy foods I wanted and we agreed that the expense of Weight Watchers was a worthwhile investment. My 12-and 14-year old kids supported me too, encouraging me to choose this-over-that. My parents were my biggest cheerleaders. Dad often bought me new clothes and Mom never failed to ooh and ahh over my changing appearance. One night, our son had friends spending the night for his birthday. We had a smorgasboard spread of 12-year-old-boy-dellicasies: bagel bites, tortilla chips and crock pot queso, barbeque meatballs, Cheetos, etc. I was trying to clean up while they feasted, but I was eating more than the boys were. Finally, I went to my husband and pleaded through tears, “Please go finish cleaning up before I eat everything in the kitchen.” He did. Without that kind of support, I might have made it to goal eventually, but it would have been a much slower process.

You have to track. Since joining Weight Watchers last July, I think there have been less than 10 days that I didn’t track everything I ate. Sometimes I track what I’m going to eat the next day, as a means of self-structuring my eating (“I’ve already tracked these healthy things, so I can’t eat this junk”). It’s a method of self-accountability, too. Even when I’m already -64 points in the hole for my daily or weekly points, I make myself track that last piece of pizza or that piece of candy. Seeing the number jump will often make me get back on the right track. Sometimes I put that last piece of pizza back in the box. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Just kidding, that never happens. Pizza is my forbidden lover.

You have to have accountability. The combined structure of tracking food in the Weight Watchers app, along with the accountability of weighing in every Wednesday at our meeting, has been critical for me. Even at my goal weight, I know that I need to step on the scale in front of Susan or Ellen once a week and answer to someone for the choices I’ve made that week. Many weeks I get a pat on the back, which encourages me to keep going. Other weeks, Susan takes me aside and asks, “What happened? What are you going to do to get back on track?” For me, that face to face check in is priceless.

You have to get moving. I will NEVER be that obnoxious person who gushes about how much they LOVE to exercise. Here’s the honest truth: exercise makes me look better and I like the attention I get when I look good. Sorry, but I’m the youngest child in my family and the only girl, so I’m an attention hog. Also, I LOVE FOOD and exercise lets me enjoy more food. That’s it. That’s the end of my exercise love story. I didn’t “exercise” at all for the first couple of months. I had to lose some of the weight before I even felt like walking,

 Before the Peachtree Road Race, praying I don't pull a hammy.

Before the Peachtree Road Race, praying I don't pull a hammy.

and THAT WAS OKAY! Once I lost 20-25 pounds, I DID feel like moving and that good feeling fed on itself. I felt good, so I moved more, and I felt even better. I bought a Fit Bit and joined a walking-steps competition through our work place. By Christmas, I was brave enough to get on the elliptical at home, to offset some of the holiday foods I had let myself enjoy. I created a YouTube playlist that reflected the playlist on my phone, so I could watch my songs as I used the elliptical. I eventually reached a point of feeling strong enough to sign up for the Peachtree Road Race 10K. I wasn’t the fastest or the slowest, but I completed the race! If the old me, pre-Weight Watchers, could have seen the new me crossing that finish line on 10th Street in Midtown Atlanta while scores of gay men cheered me on from their fashionable restaurant patios, the old me would have put down her slice of pizza and slow clapped.

You have to find foods and menus that work for YOU. Don’t be afraid to try foods that you didn’t like in the past. My tastes have changed dramatically, and I truly LIKE many more vegetables than I used to. Someone told me that spaghetti squash tasted like real spaghetti but it only tasted like LIES to me. Yellow summer squash, on the other hand, is delicious! I now like mushrooms and olives on my pizza now because they are zero point “filler” that makes my slice go farther toward making me full. Here’s an overly detailed idea of what I eat in a typical day:

Breakfast: For the first few months, I ate the same thing every morning: a boiled egg sliced up in a bowl with two sliced turkey sausage patties, smothered in medium salsa. SURPRISE! Eating this every single day will WRECK your digestive system! I had the worst gas and hemorrhoids ever known to any human last December. Merry Christmas to ME!

 My everything.

My everything.

Then I found an item at Sam’s Club called Sandwich Brother’s Flat Bread Egg White and Turkey Sausage Breakfast Thingy. That may not be the real name, but here’s a picture.

If you know someone who works for Sam’s Club corporate office, please pass a long a message from me:

Hello. If you ever decide to stop carrying Sandwich Brother’s Flat Bread Egg White and Turkey Sausage Breakfast Thingies, I will hunt you down. I’m pretty sure you’re somewhere in Arkansas. You already took away that frozen Archer Farms Chicken Con Queso casserole, which we had to buy 800 ingredients for and try to make from scratch at home. Yes, I’m kind of glad it’s gone now because I probably wouldn’t have lost weight if Chicken Con Queso and Chik Fil A Spicy Chicken Biscuits were still in my life, but DO NOT use that as an excuse. You don’t know me and what I deal with every day. I need my Sandwich Brothers Thingy. Thank you.

Morning snack: About 9 or 10 am, I eat a banana. If I’m starving or bored at 11 am, I’ll eat an apple or some other fruit. If it’s Tuesday or Thursday and Amanda is in the office, I’ll eat her grapes, raspberries, or whatever she brings because she’s the sweetest person alive and cannot say no to me when I ask for some.

Lunch: This varies a lot depending on how busy my day is. If I’m in the car, I’ll grab Chik Fil A grilled nuggets and a side salad with light Italian dressing. My other fast food favorites include Wendy’s 4 piece chicken nuggets, a cup of chili, and a side salad, or Jimmy John’s Turkey Tom Lettuce Wrap with no mayo or cheese, extra turkey, and all of the other “freebies.” If I bring my lunch, it’s often a Weight Watcher’s “Smart Ones” frozen meal with a salad and some kind of fruit. My lean-and-mean lunch when I’m compensating for an indulgence in another meal is a sandwich (6 slices of Oscar Mayer Deli Fresh turkey or chicken, brown spicy mustard, and 2 toasted slices of Nature’s Own Life 100% Whole Grain/Whole Wheat), sliced apple, and my “weird salad” (angel hair shredded cabbage, diced or cherry tomatoes, diced cucumbers, and Ken’s Lite Balsamic Vinaigrette salad dressing). If you see me eating the sandwich-weird salad combo, then you know that it has been preceded or will be followed by some “good eating.” (“good eating” usually = pizza)

Afternoon snack: My favorite snack is fresh-diced pineapple with low fat cottage cheese. I also like no sugar added mandarin orange fruit cups and a piece of skim/low fat mozzarella string cheese. Or, 6 slices of Oscar Mayer Deli Fresh turkey or chicken rolled up around a piece of string cheese. My co-worker Casey asked me one day, “Are you just eating a big wad of meat?” and I told him to mind his own business. He thinks he’s funny so I no longer let him come in our office. He has to stand in the hall to talk to us.

Dinner: My husband cooks dinner most nights, so I eat whatever he cooks in a sensible portion size, using a smaller white bowl. Spaghetti and meat sauce. Meatloaf. Hamburger Helper. Enchilada Casserole. If the kids are at a friend’s house or eating something I don’t want, I’ll steam some broccoli and eat that with a Gorton’s salmon filet. I love hamburger steak with sautéed onions and mushrooms! And some nights, you just have to eat pizza and enjoy life, then make really good choices the next day to compensate. If I have learned one thing over the past year it’s this: one unhealthy meal is not the end of the world, but a string of unhealthy meals means your pants may no longer fit.

Water: I drink at least three large Tervis cups of water over the course of each day. Yes, I always have to pee. No, I never pass up a bathroom, but I blame that on my freakishly large babies, who weighed 8 pounds 15 ounces and 9 pounds 10 ounces. If my husband’s match.com profile had mentioned he was a 10 pound baby, it would have been a hard pass. Swipe left, on the ten-pounders, my child. Usually, I fill my water cup halfway, drink that, then fill it all the way and walk back to my desk. I’m lucky that my office is at the far end of a long hallway, opposite from the bathroom and break room. Casey is lucky if I acknowledge his existence when I pass his office on my pee/water walks.

 Me and my favorite 10-pounder. We're still leaning how to selfie.

Me and my favorite 10-pounder. We're still leaning how to selfie.

The last bit of advice I can offer anyone is this: you have to believe that the impossible is possible. You have to close your eyes and visualize yourself living a new life full of things that inspire and excite you. You have to enjoy the benefits of losing weight as much as, or more than, you enjoy the taste of unhealthy foods. You have to be able to let go of the uncomfortable, sometimes painful, inner hug that you get from stuffing yourself with food. External things like people’s positive words and looser clothes have to overcome the internal things that are keeping you trapped in fear and loneliness.

I believe in you.