Monday, February 18, 2013

My journey to a healthier lifestyle

I've mentioned before that I lost weight last year and now pursue a healthier and more active lifestyle.  It wasn't always an easy journey, but I want to share my story in the hope that maybe it will motivate or inspire others who enjoy food as much as I do.

As a teenager, I was lucky - I could eat whatever I wanted, I never exercised, and I didn't gain weight.  (I know, I hate the teenage version of me too).  With my hobbies being reading books and singing in my high school choir, I was prone to a sedentary lifestyle.

In college, when more and more girls were worrying about the Freshman 15, I had friends who counted calories, something I refused to do.  I was someone who loved cooking and baking cookies and brownies.  How could you possibly enjoy your food, when you are worrying about how fat it is going to make you?  In my mind, I analogized it to keeping a record of every penny you spend (something I did do for about a year); it was harder to enjoy fun activities like going to the movies, when you were preoccupied about how much it was costing you.  So I steadfastly refused to count calories, and at that my point of my life, I really had no need to.

How can you enjoy this ice cream if you know how many calories are in it!?

Finally, during my first year of law school, the over two decades of never watching what I eat and rarely exercising finally caught up with me.  I weighed the most I had ever weighed in my life and I was not happy about it.  So in January 2007, I went to Barnes and Noble, and perused the diet and healthy living display (always prominently displayed at the front of the store in January) and I chose Good Housekeeping's The Supermarket Diet Cookbook.  I chose this book because its premise, as the title suggests, was that you could lose weight and still eat normal food that you buy at the supermarket, rather than some fad diet, or other weight-loss programs that require you to buy their special meals.  Inside it had tasty, healthy recipes and helpful tips on how to read nutrition labels and exercise.  That same day, I also bought my first exercise DVD.

 New Year's Resolution 2007!

I'd like to say that this was when my life turned around, that I lost tons of weight and kept it up since then.  I did lose some weight. But the book did advocate calorie counting, which I still refused to do.  So I lost weight in little ways, switching to skim milk, eating low-fat cheese, and cutting out orange juice.  (That last one was hard for me, I loved orange juice and drank it like it was water - 3 to 4 glasses a day, but it has about 110 calories per glass!)

Unfortunately, I wasn't very disciplined, and after graduating from law school, my little shortcuts no longer worked. J. and I had started dating, and while relationships are wonderful, it also meant eating out frequently and drinking copious amounts of alcohol.  And even on the nights when we stayed in and cooked, I found that I was eating the same size portion as J, who weighs nearly twice as much I did.  Not to blame J. for all of it, of course. I was also having fun doing things like going to the Chocolate Show, or baking cheesecake brownies.  The unfortunate result of all this was by the end of 2011, I weighed more than I ever had before, even more than I had in law school before I began my "shortcuts."  I was unhappy with the way I looked. My clothes didn't fit me, and it was hard to buy new clothes that fit me properly. My body unfortunately gained weight mostly around my belly and not much anywhere else.  It got to the point that well-meaning strangers and distant acquaintances were asking me when I was expecting.

I finally came to the realization that if I wanted to fit in my clothes again and not have strangers asking me if I was pregnant, I had to lose weight. I will be the first to admit my primary motivation for weight loss was vanity.  So in the beginning of 2012, I made a resolution to lose thirty pounds by Labor Day.  I pulled out the Supermarket Diet Cookbook again, and this time, actually took the advice to heart. I started exercising at the gym 4-5 days per week for about 40 minutes each time.  I took up running when the weather warmed up and started training for 5K races, and eventually my first 10K race.  But the biggest challenge for me was to mentally accept the idea of calorie counting.  I downloaded the Fat Secret calorie counter app for my phone, which made it easy for me to keep track of my calories no matter where I was.  With the help of the Fat Secret app, I calculated that I had to eat no more than 1500 calories per day to gradually lose weight, but not feel hungry all the time.

Enter lots of veggies and whole grains into my diet, like this veggie and hummus on whole wheat pita

Surprisingly, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.  Calorie counting helped me learn portion control and to think about what I ate before I ate it.  I also bought a kitchen scale so I that I have an idea of what a portion of meat, fish, or fruit should look like and more accurately calculate my calorie intake.  I learned that I really shouldn't be eating the same amount of food as J.  So I still enjoyed food, I was simply eating less of it.

All things in moderation, like these tasty sweet and sour pork ribs!

I wish I could tell you that I reached my 30 pound weight loss goal by Labor Day of last year, because it would make my story all the more inspirational.  I came pretty close, about twenty seven pounds.  But I feel much healthier and more energetic than I ever did before.  My enjoyment of food has actually increased because I learned to savor it in smaller quantities.  On top of that, I am in the best shape of my life.  Before, I could never imagine running a mile, never mind a 5K race. But in October 2012, I completed my first 10K race. My new active lifestyle has also given me confidence and a new-found appreciation for my body. When I was younger, I took my physical appearance for granted.  But now that I had to work hard to get in the shape I am now, I finally feel happy about the way I look.

Disclaimer (I am a lawyer, after all...): I was not compensated to discuss any of the products mentioned here.  They are simply products that I chose that worked for me.  I am NOT a registered dietitian or health professional, and none of the above should be construed as medical advice. If you want expert advice, you should talk to a doctor before beginning any weight loss program.


mollyjade said...

Good for you for creating better habits!

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Molly!

Audie Tiller said...

Oh, these dishes don’t just look yummy, but definitely healthy too! Anyway, I just can’t stop reading your blog post. It’s very inspiring! I went through a lot of hardships to lose some weight. And well, I succeed on achieving it by having a healthy lifestyle—good eating habits and proper exercise.

Audie Tiller

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Audie! I'm glad to hear about your success with a healthy lifestyle!