I started gaining weight when I entered the seventh grade. I went from an average, healthy, fit kid to an obese teen in just a few months, packing on nearly 30 pounds in my first semester of middle school. Despite a few successful attempts to lose weight, the results were always temporary and by the time I was nineteen I weighed over 200 pounds. Throughout high school and college I was active – I was even the captain of the tennis team and cross-country ski team. I was also the president of National Honors Society, worked at my church, volunteered, consistently gained top grades, and studied abroad in two countries. But hidden behind all this activity and achievement was an unhealthy relationship with food. I have memories of eating ice cream sundaes topped with crushed Oreos and melted peanut butter as a reward for studying late. I made cookies with the excuse of sharing them with friends, but the real reason was to eat the dough. I would eat until I was nauseous and then nibble on baby carrots to try to balance the sugar, butter, and raw eggs in my system and make myself feel better.
By the time I graduated from college I knew something had to change. I needed to gain more control over my eating and health. It started very small – in the few months after graduation I increased the intensity of my workouts and baked fewer sweet treats. Over the next six months I lost 10 pounds and then sustained the loss. Not much, but it was a start. In January 2003 my Mom joined Weight Watchers and encouraged me to join as well. I attended somewhat reluctantly, wanting to lose weight, but not really believing it was possible. I didn’t even set a goal weight. I hoped to be able to lost 10-15 pounds and keep it off. Two and a half months later, when I left Minnesota for the spring season of my job, I had lost 15 pounds and looked and felt immeasurably better. In my early twenties I worked in seasonal jobs mostly in rural areas where I knew that I wouldn’t be able to attend meetings or have the accountability of weekly weigh-ins. I was worried that I would gain the weight back, but vigilance and an extremely active lifestyle kept the weight off. And so this continued for the next two years – whenever I was at home in Minnesota I would rejoin Weight Watchers, lose whatever weight I was able, and then worked to keep in off in the interim periods. I eventually set my goal weight – 155 pounds. This was the highest weight in the healthy range for my height and going any lower than that seemed unattainable. The week of my 25th birthday I reached my goal weight.
I am now 33. There have been a few temporary setbacks, but I have kept the weight off. Although I am proud of my accomplishments, I have always wanted more. I constantly teeter on the verge of an unhealthy weight. Despite working out 6 days a week, my body fat percentage is still too high. And gosh darn it, one day in my life I would like to wear a bikini! Over the past eight years I have read every Oprah article on losing weight, watched Dr. Oz explain different weight loss approaches, and read multiple books on the subject, including Eat to Live, The 15-Day Diet, and In Defense of Food. I have friends and co-workers following a plethora of diets – Dukan, Paleo, the 2-day Diet, gluten-free, vegetarian, low-inflammatory, Mediterranean, South Beach, and Sonoma. The possibilities are endless and confusing – often the diet guidelines are in direct contradiction with each other. Each protein! Go veggie! Eat carbs – as long as they are low-GI! Eat a cup of beans a day! Eat only what you could find in your Grandma’s kitchen!
I have attempted many of these approaches to weight loss. I once tried a diet that consisted of unlimited lean protein, green vegetables, and half an orange a day. I was so nauseous after 3 days that I had to quit. I went nearly vegan for a short time, eating huge amounts of vegetable, fruits, and legumes and foregoing salt, alcohol, soft drinks, and virtually all processed foods. I felt good, but it wasn’t sustainable for my lifestyle.
Although none of these diets has led to sustainable weight loss, I have learned more about myself and my body with each failed attempt. I know what foods satisfy me, what upsets my stomach, what indulgences I can eat, enjoy and then stop and which ones lead to a binge. I know that although I love to cook and experiment with recipes when I have the time, if I don’t plan ahead and have easy dinners on hand, there are nights when I will have take-out noodles or a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of wine for dinner. Keeping all of this in mind, I have decided to create my own rules. Guidelines that work for me – the foods I enjoy that leave me feeling good and with enough time and space to live a full life. Here I will detail my journey applying the rules to my life, including recipes, weekly weigh-in reflections, and questions to ponder and create your own set of food rules.