Pictorial Journey: Restarting My Journey

Various setbacks over the past several years have led to me hitting my highest weight ever, but I'm renewing my journey. I'm paying attention to my diet again, opting for more fruits and vegetables. I'm changing up my fitness activity, as well, and striving to increase my daily step count. I'm going to be posting photos here regularly as I progress along this new path.

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Phantom Weight Loss and Gaslighting

The other day, I stopped to talk to a neighbor whom I hadn't seen in person for a little while. She gave me a quizzical look as she tried to figure out what was different about me. New glasses? Well, yes, I did get new glasses a couple months ago. Different hair? I suppose it's a little longer than I used to wear it. She stopped guessing there, although she seemed dissatisfied, knowing she probably hadn't hit on the true cause of the difference.

Last weekend, talking to another individual, I mentioned that I'd lost 55 pounds since May 2020. She looked surprised, saying, "You must have hid it well. I couldn't tell you had that much to lose." I'm not sure if she was just being polite, or if she just wasn't very observant.

In another recent incident, I shared a one-year progress photo on social media, and had one friend say that she "guessed" she could see the difference.

As a reminder, here's what I looked like back in May 2020.


And here's a photo of me on March 11 (yesterday), after losing 55 pounds.

Now a caveat: I am only about halfway to my goal, which would put me in the "overweight" BMI category, rather than the "obese" category where I currently reside. According to the CDC, I'd have to lose a further 20 pounds after that goal in order to fit into the "normal" category. I figure I'll see how I feel once I reach my goal and decide whether I want to continue or whether I will stick with my original goal. Once I acheive my goal, I'll be just 10 pounds heavier than I'd been when I got pregnant with my son about 11 and a half years ago.

To be clear, I'm not doing this for cosmetic reasons. I've never been someone who cared particularly much about appearances. In fact, at my most beautiful, according to superficial standards, I was completely unaware that I possessed any modicum of attraction and was always a bit shocked when guys stumbled over their words striving to talk to me.

So it's not that I need to hear gushing praise from people over what I've achieved so far. It is, however, a little bit disheartening to have worked so hard and to hear the message, essentially, that people can't even tell the difference. It feels like I'm being gaslighted, like some force wants me to question whether I've made any progress at all.

And yet, I know I've made progress. My blood pressure has decreased considerably, and my heel pain has complely disappeared. My flexibility and mobility have increased dramatically, and so has my muscle tone. Yes, I still wear a lot of the same items of clothing, but that's primarily because most of this mommy's wardrobe consists of yoga pants and T-shirts, and those tend to have a lot of stretch in them. If I'm perfectly honest, many of those items of clothing were getting too tight back when I started this process a little less than a year ago.

In addition, I've begun "shopping in my closet," bringing out some more fitted clothes that I'd taken out of my drawers when they no longer fit properly. As the weather warms up, I'll be slipping on some jean shorts, for example, that haven't worked on me in at least several years.

Why do people fail to recognize a change? I have a few theories. One of the main theories is that I have a large bust, and that really hasn't changed. If I'm honest with myself, I'd imagine that's what a lot of people first notice about me, male and female. Much to my chagrin, I was never really able to pull off an androgynous look, though I tried for a while in high school.

Another possibility: even at my heaviest, I tended to be more fit than many other people my size. I've been active for years, attending workout classes, lifting weights, and starting in January 2020, teaching aqua fitness classes. So while I have not been at my ideal level of fitness, I've had more muscle tone than many other people who had reached the same top weight. And that has probably has made the change seem less dramatic.

All I can do is keep working, keep progressing, keep getting healthier. Because while praise from other people is nice, they're not the reason I'm doing this.

March 2020 with my son and March 2021

Thank You Letter to My Body

Today on Noom, the daily exercise included a suggestion to write a thank you letter to your body. The idea is to think about gratitude. Here goes.

Dear Body,

Thank you for enduring everything we've been through together over the years. I haven't always treated you well, but you continue to carry me forward. I never appreciate quite how much I rely on you until something goes wrong, like when I twisted my knee and injured my ACL about a year and three months ago. The difficulty of navigating through the world, such ordinary movements as walking and sitting, made clear to me how important it is to treat you well.

I sometimes am too critical of you. I hold you to a ridiculously high standard and fail to appreciate everything you've given to me, from my ability to walk, dance and swim, to my wonderful 10-year-old son.

For all of this and more, I'd like to sincerely thank you and promise I'll treat you better as we move on in this world together.


Accomplishment List and Goals

Health-related achivements I've accomplished since May:

  • Lost just over 40 pounds.

  • Gotten back to teaching aqua fitness classes at the local YMCA.

  • Am starting to teach a new aqua fitness class this coming Thursday.

  • Purchased a pedometer and regularly make anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day.

  • In regular habit of weightlifting and cardio exercises at home.

  • Have gotten stronger, able to lift heavier weights.

  • My plantar fascitis in my left foot has disappeared.

  • I can more easily get down and back up off the floor.

  • Pain in my right knee has almost totally disappeared.

  • Blood pressure has gone down a bit, closer to goal range.

Now, to a look ahead. Before I started this recent journey, I just wanted to get to about where I am right now by the end of the year. I still, however, have a couple months left and the possibility of losing up to 10 more pounds, possibly more. But what about after that?

Honestly, it's been so long since I've had any lasting success with weight loss that I didn't think I could actually do it any more. I thought that something about aging had completely screwed up my metabolism to the point where I would no longer be able to succeed using the same techniques. What I discovered, however, was that I was conveniently editing my memory to eliminate problem habits. In other words, yes, I was sticking to a reasonable calorie limit during the day, but then I would engage in late-night snacking that I would conveniently "forget" to log. At times of grief and stress, I also found myself drinking wine and not necessarily being honest about logging the amount I actually drank. Yes, refilling that cup twice is the same as one 6-ounce serving, right? So long story short, the old techniques of watching what I eat, making good food choices, and getting regular exercise do still work.

So now to some thinking about where I'm going. Like I said, I had much more moderate goals before, because I didn't think anything big would be possible. But now that I've seen it is, I'd officially like to declare my longterm goal: losing 120 pounds in total, from the time I started back in May. That may seem an excessive amount, but it would actually take me back to where I was before I got pregnant with my son, about 11 years ago, when I was ranging between a size 8 and a size 10. So not super-small, by an stretch of the imagination. But a much healthier size for me. In fact, according to the official weight charts, I think I'd still be considered "overweight," but they can go get stuffed.

Now for some deeper reflection. Why do I value losing 120 pounds? I would like to be able to reclaim my sense of fitness and health, to be able to be proud of what I've accomplished and to be excited again about the possibilities of how easily I can move, how many options are available to me in terms of both clothes and activities, and just general overall health.

How do I think I'll feel when I acheive this goal? About myself and about my life? I feel like I'll feel extremely proud and full of energy and hope. I'll be optimistic about everything else I may still be able to achieve in my life.

How will achieving this goal impact my day-to-day life? I will find it much easier to get around, to have the stamina to get things done, and to make a good impression on anyone I meet.

What do I hope to gain in the process? I hope to gain lifelong skills that will help me to maintain my fitness. I hope to gain health benefits that will prolong my life. I hope to gain the confidence to set and reach other goals.

How will others see me if I reach my goal? I believe they will be very impressed and inspired.

How will I see myself if I reach my goal? I'll see myself as a warrior and an achiever.

These are, of course, all benefits that I can achieve by reaching a smaller version of that goal, such as 100 pounds down, or maybe even 90. Or even right now. I'm already seeing health benefits, for example. The point is, I'm starting to feel optimistic again, and that's enough to make me feel like this Big Bad Goal is finally achievable.

What Makes Me Grateful

I've been neglecting this journal, despite my intentions. Hopefully, I can get back into a regular habit of posting.

I'll start with a simple list:

Things for Which I'm Grateful

  • Since the end of May, I've lost 38 to 40 pounds (depending on the day).

  • Because of that, I have less pain in my knees.

  • I'm moving around much easier.

  • My flexibility has improved.

  • My blood pressure has gotten lower, heading back towards the normal range.

  • My heel pain has disappeared.

  • My clothes are fitting better, and I can wear clothes I haven't been able to wear for more than a year.

  • I have more energy.

  • I've also gone back to teaching Aqua Fitness classes twice a week at the local YMCA.

  • It's good to see my friends again from that class, to know that they're healthy, especially since many are seniors. <3

  • My son has been flexible about the new routine with his school and very cooperative about working from home.

  • My husband now works from home but has made the master bedroom his office so I still get some space.

  • All of us are healthy.

  • We have a place to live and food to eat.

  • We live near green space that's easy to access for a quick outside break.

  • I managed to complete my poetry collection I'd been meaning to complete for more than five years!

  • I've had some extra time to work on genealogy and have connected with more of my mother's cousins.

  • While I don't always have the focus to work on everything I'd like to, I've been breaking tasks into small, achievable increments, meaning that over time I've made lots of progress on goals.


Milestone Achieved!

Me a year ago (left) and today

Today, I'm delighted to report that I'm officially down 40 pounds from when I began losing weight back in May. There have been a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of hard work, tracking calories and workouts. I'm going to try to start blogging more regularly here about my thoughts as I go through this journey. Next milestone set: hoping to lose another 20 pounds by February 2021!

Heading Back to the Pool!

Over the next two weeks, I've got to come up with a new workout plan for the Aqua Fitness class I teach at the YMCA. Yes, I'll be back for the first time since March, with new COVID-19 safety restrictions in place. 

I believe it will be fairly easy to adjust for the Water Aerobics class, although I will probably teach the class initially without any equipment. I need to look into ways to do toning exercises either body weight or water resistance, though, for the toning portion of the class. We are responsible for cleaning all the equipment that's used between classes, so I think that, at least initially, I'd like to see if we can get by without any for this particular class.

My boss tells me we will be allowed to use the special Silver Sneakers Splash boards for the Silver Sneakers Splash class, which is great. Those boards are important for balance for many of the students. The big difference for this class will be that they will have the boards for the entire class, since they won't be able to leave their spot until the end of the session. I'm going to have to look into ways to incorporate the splash board into the aerobic activities, as well as the toning activities when we would normally use it.

Wish me luck! 


Making Strides

Since I rebooted my fitness journey in May, I've had a lot of success. I've been making small but easy to maintain strides towards a better lifestyle: logging my calories again and staying within a budget, increasing my daily exercise, drinking more water, eliminating evening snacks, being more mindful while I'm eating, and more. 

I'm happy to say that as of this morning, I've lost 26 1/2 pounds! The goal is to lose 20 more by the end of 2020, and then to keep the ball rolling into the new year.

Here's a photo of me from this morning.

Me flexing an 8-pound weight in my left bicep
Me flexing an 8-pound weight in my left bicep
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Life Is Recovery

After my morning workout today

Me after my morning workout today

For those who don't know -- and how would most of you know? -- I'm recovering from a bicep tear I inflicted on myself seven weeks ago. To make a long story short, I fell, at top speed, in full face-plant position, with my arms up at my shoulders. Theoretically, this is the proper way to fall, spreading out the impact and all. However, a couple days later, with my arm still tender, I tried to shovel wet snow. Believe it or not, it wasn't the shoveling that did it so much as a sudden grab for the shovel, when I dropped it. That's when I felt a sharp rush of pain. The next day, I had a giant bruise and a diagnosis, confirmed by my osteopath father, of a torn bicep.

Each day, the pain ebbs away a little further. Each day, however, I face reminders of where I used to be. I was regularly lifting 20-pound dumbbells as part of my workout routine. While I am still, admittedly, carrying far too much body fat, I had acquired a decent amount of upper body muscle. For the first time in my life, I didn't watch my arms wobble in the mirror when doing arm movements in my aerobics classes.

Now, seven weeks in, the workouts that came easily just a couple months ago are simply impossible for the moment. I've paused my home weightlifting workouts until at least February, and when weights are called for in my aerobics classes, I go with weights I previously considered "baby weights." However, I'm making slow strides, getting better every day. A couple weeks ago, I returned to my regular classes at the YMCA -- Cardio Kickboxing, Water Aerobics and Zumba -- and while I had to modify some movements, I felt great about being back. With the holidays, scheduling exercise became more difficult, so I simply focused on the same thing I'd focused on for my first three weeks of rest and recovery: my diet. That was the one thing I could control, so I resolved to drink lots of liquid, track my intake, and avoid alcohol.

You see, in the past, I've often resulting to self-sabotage when I got hurt: over-indulgence, whether alcohol or food, intended to mute the pain. Eventually, I would come back to my senses, usually about 15 pounds heavier, and regret it. That's how I've managed to pack on 45 pounds since my mother died three years ago. First one thing and then another, and I'd fall off the wagon of healthy eating and plunge into despair, trying to fill the void with comfort food that ultimately provided no comfort.

This time, I'm happy to say that I've stayed at about the same weight as I'd been when I first got hurt. It's a little difficult to tell, because my previous scale was very inconsistent. Step on it 30 seconds later and you could get a different reading altogether. I recently bought a more precise digital scale, so regardless of where I was before my injury, I am starting anew now. This scale also tracks body composition, such as muscle mass, fat and water, so I'll be focusing on body composition, not so much on my actual weight. My muscle mass is currently good, but my goal for this year will be to get my fat ratio down into the normal range.

I'm trying to remember to make note of the small milestones. Like today, for example, when I was able to do burpees, the first time since my injury I felt good enough to even attempt them. Slow and steady, with no jumps, but I was able to do it. Right now, when one of my most difficult challenges is to get up and down again, that was a true victory.

The thing is, I'm pretty good at hiding pain, so I usually don't reveal it unless it's impossible to fake it. The arm? There was no hiding that: first of all, the giant bruise and extremely limited strength. Now, when I look normal, I still have to draw attention to it by bowing out of activities that might put too much strain on my arm, like helping to put up tables at the weekly Cub Scout meeting. Before, I was one of the people leading that effort.

With that in mind, I'm going to woman up and admit something that very few people know, except perhaps my sister and my husband. I didn't just hurt my arm in that fall; I also did something to my right shin, on the same side of my body as the bicep tear. That pain, however, has not been as debilitating, so it's easy to hide. Primarily, I notice it when I'm getting down on the floor and getting back up again, or when I start walking after being seated for a while. It's never risen to the level of concern I had about my bicep, and therefore, I simply haven't mentioned it. I can walk and move almost as well as I could before; and unless you knew exactly what I was doing before the injury, you probably wouldn't notice. The ibuprofen I take for my arm helps that, too, but reading up on it, I probably should have been icing it this entire time, as well. I'm going to start doing that now.

When I think about it, my life for the past 20-some years can be seen as a series of injuries. If I start back in grad school, I've experienced the following (in roughly chronological order), almost none of them from organized physical activity:
  • An injury to my left shin that resulted in a huge, hard nodule that took ages to reabsorb, from tripping over a bicycle chained to a bike rack in downtown State College.
  • An injury to my left trapezius, which took years to heal and still bothers me sometimes, from a bad side roll in Jung Sim Do class, when I heard something go "pop." The campus health center gave me muscle relaxants for that one.
  • Sprained my right wrist when I fell while kicking a giant piece of ice that turned out to be frozen to the pavement. This happened while I was waiting with other English grad students for a van to take us to a writing conference. I wore a brace for weeks and wrote -- badly -- with my left hand. I had to do exercises to regain my wrist strength.
  • Hurt my tail bone by falling in an upright position on the stairs while carrying a fouton. Had to sit on a donut for months and had to stop doing Pilates for longer than that.
  • Broke my toe getting changed before Water Aerobics class about five years ago, because I accidentally kicked a surprisingly sturdy bench. I broke my toe again last year by accidentally kicking a box of books in the dark.
  • My back seized up on me while I was trying to sit down about three years ago. With care, eventually, I got back to normal.
  • Hurt my right knee after twisting it, shortly before Otakon 2018. I had to wear a brace for several days and avoid stairs.
Looking at this list, you might conclude I'm accident-prone. I'll admit that I am. But I remind myself of the most important thing: I'm resilient. I heal. I did it before, and I can do it again.