thejuliemeister

Musings from an unsuspecting navy wife


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Can I get fries in my nachos?

 

A significant number of people who lose a lot of weight end up gaining some or all of it back eventually. Science isn’t exactly sure what the percentage looks like, but it’s likely more than half, and some estimates go as high as 97%.

 

I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that many people approach weight loss as a diet. It’s a temporary state. There is an assumption that once a goal weight is attained, the diet ends. Unfortunately, if the diet ends and old eating habits come back that caused an initial weight gain, the person who successfully lost weight on a diet will regain it.

 

Sustained weight loss takes lifestyle changes. It means restructuring a relationship with food. That’s hard to do. We all need food to live, and eating should be an enjoyable process. The lack of a balance between enjoying food and eating within specific parameters is one of the reasons people don’t maintain weight loss.

 

In my opinion, there’s another reason why people regain weight, and it’s one that I’m intimately familiar with: sometimes eating everything in sight feels really effing good. Well, it feels good in the moment. The self-loathing and tummy ache take a while to set in.

 

There’s an old Rodney Dangerfield joke that sums up binge eating pretty well (try to read it in your mind’s best Dangerfield impression): “Are you fat? Do you look at a menu and think, ‘OK’?” That’s basically it. Except it’s usually kitchen pantries or the contents of the refrigerator.

 

Binge eating is one of my specialties. To be clear, I only binge. I do not purge. I have no gag reflex. I could not be bulimic if I tried. I actually did try once and gave up. This is not to make light of bulimia or cast shade on those who suffer that affliction. (#nojudgment) I’m only clarifying my own eating neuroses.

 

In most circles, binge eating is frowned upon. It’s a disorder. Definitely not good. People should have a balanced diet that is broken down to three square meals a day, right? Moderation is the key.

 

The whole reason I got chubby in the first place is that I don’t do moderation well. I constantly go to extremes and it catches up with me in unexpected and sometimes devastating ways. Still, moderation eludes me, and I really enjoy going to town on a jumbo burrito or ice cream sundae (or both). It didn’t seem congruent to be able to chow down on everything in sight AND maintain weight loss.

 

Then I was introduced to the wonderful world of carb loading.

 

When I began losing weight in 2011, I used running as my main form of exercise. I started running longer and longer distances. Running races was my new favorite pastime.

 

I trained for and actually ran a couple of half marathons in 2012. It was hard, but good. Every time I finished one race I signed up for another. The training schedule forced me to stay in shape.

 

The awesome thing about training for each half marathon was the Sunday long run. The run itself usually sucked, but man, I could eat so much. 8 miles burned nearly a thousand calories, and runners actually recommend drinking beer after a long run for recovery! It was heaven.

 

In 2013 I registered for my first marathon. Now my weekend long runs were consistently double-digit mileage. That meant that I had to carb load.

 

The idea with carb loading is that eating additional carbohydrates before a long run or race will temporarily increase glycogen (stored glucose) in muscles. That leads to added energy during the run, and pushes back hitting the wall, a term that describes the feeling in your body when all spare glycogen is used and your body starts breaking down muscle to keep going.

 

Let me tell you a little bit about what hitting the wall feels like. Try to imagine a state where you have lost all ability for conscious thought. Only your lizard brain remains. At the same time, you’re moving forward, and each step is a jolt through every nerve in your body. It feels like an unfriendly giant has squeezed all of your muscles. Literally everything hurts. Death starts to look like a promising alternative. That is what it means to “hit the wall.”

 

Trying to stave off getting to this point of utter desolation and pain is a very good reason to have a loaded baked potato (or two).

 

Here are some of the many things I’ve eaten before a long run:

  • Loaded chicken nachos with added French Fries.
  • A jumbo breakfast burrito with a side of pancakes.
  • Double-scoop ice cream sundaes with chocolate sauce, almonds whipped cream and a cherry on top.
  • Entire pizzas.
  • Lots of beer. And wine.
  • Pasta in a bread bowl.
  • A full loaf of French bread with soft cheese.
  • A box of Cheeze-Its.

 

These are just a few of many examples of pure gluttony that I’ve achieved, all done in the name of training to run ridiculous distances. Somehow I found a delicate balance by embracing extremes. Essentially, I can binge eat as long as I also binge exercise.

 

Maintaining my weight loss hasn’t been entirely thanks to weekly binges followed by excessive long runs. During the week I carefully watch what I eat and track calories with an app on my phone. I’m deliberate in my choices of food 6 days a week, so that on the 7th it doesn’t matter. Generally, it balances out.

 

Is this the best or healthiest plan of attack? Probably not. I am in great shape though. I also understand that my approach for maintaining weight loss isn’t accessible to everyone, and that some people will never want or be able to run a marathon. We all have our vices and our modes for handling them though. Marathon training happens to be the thing for me. Who knew the fat kid who couldn’t run the mile in PE class would go on to run multiple marathons, at least in part, to be able to maintain the ability to eat with abandon.

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My First Marathon

When I set out to run my first marathon I had two goals:

  1. Finish.
  2. Do not poop yourself in the process.

I would have been satisfied with only the first goal.  I assumed a slight tinkle midway through was a foregone conclusion.  At least that I could pass off as sweat.

In the end I met both goals, (though at least one fart seemed it might have had questionable intentions) but it was the most grueling event of my life. 

The idea of training for a marathon came on slowly.  I signed up for my first half marathon on a lark a few years back as someone who could barely jog a 5K and walked most of the way.  Doubling that distance seemed a Herculean feat that only super-humans or the clinically insane could perform.

I slowly started running for realsies about 2 years after the first half marathon as a way to facilitate weight loss.  After 6 months of running with a goal and a training plan, I was able to run a half marathon and smash my previous personal record.  I also lost 40 pounds. 

An idea started to germinate.  Maybe I could be one of those criminally insane people and double the distance.  I ran 3 more half marathons and I was sold.  My husband, Cameron, and I were set to embark on our first military move as a couple from Monterey, CA to New England a week after my November running of the Big Sur Half Marathon.  Giddy off of that race, I signed up for a marathon in Rhode Island the following May. 

There is no way to understate what a terrible mistake that was.  I am a Californian, and up until that point, had never run out of state.  Monterey is ideal for runners.  There’s a great path along the ocean and the temperature is a perennial 65 Degrees.  I assumed training for my marathon from December through May would be just as easy as training for any of my other races. 

Then winter laughed in my face.  I recall trying to go out in a long-sleeved technical shirt, my “warm gear,” and nearly freezing to death.  I had to buy all new running clothes to fortify myself against the harshness of bitter, bitter cold.  My water froze once on a long run.  It was miserable.

Between cold weather and actual colds, I missed several training runs.  Cameron and our dog supported me through the longest runs by meeting me with water, energy gels, and face-licks every three miles.  Those support stops kept me motivated, but in the end my longest run pre-race was only 18 miles.  

The day of the race I was nervous.  I had trouble pooping before the start.  I told myself to walk as much as I needed to.  Time didn’t matter.  Poops didn’t matter.  Finishing was everything.  With that in mind, I made my way to the start area. 

My cousin, Jenna, had flown in from CA to run too.  She’s much faster and more experienced, so we didn’t plan to run in tandem.  But we lined up next to each other for the national anthem pre-race with all the other runners before the gun sounded the start.  Cameron was nearby just past the runner/spectator divider.  Jenna and I hugged after the anthem then she moved forward to a faster pace group.  Cameron smiled and gave me thumbs up for encouragement.  I just kept telling myself to walk as much as needed and I’d be ok.

The gun sounded and I was off.  Cameron promised to be there to check on me at miles 7 and 19.  I was glad to know there would be a friendly face in the crowd.

The first 7 miles were fairly easy.  I kept my pace slow and walked the water stops.  When I saw Cameron I gave him a kiss and high five then shuffled on.  I was doing it.  I could do it.

I started breaking down around mile 14.  I had walked a little before 14, but by this point I was walking several minutes at the start of each mile marker, then trudging along to the finish of that mile.  By mile 17 all I could think about was Cameron and the car at mile 19. 

“Just get to 19” I thought.  “Then you can quit.  Maybe fake an asthma attack.  Nobody would blame you then.”  I wasn’t thinking clearly anymore.  I couldn’t think at all really.  All of my energy was focused on getting to Cameron so I could go home.

A little past mile 19 I saw a bright pink “GO JULIE!” sign.  Cameron. Car.  Done.  I got to my husband, wrapped my sweaty arms around him and cried in agony. 

“It hurts!” I cried. 

“What hurts?”  He asked, clearly concerned. 

“Everything!” I responded.  I had hit the wall.  My whole body throbbed.  I thought my options were quitting or death. 

Cam put an arm around me to support a bit of weight and started walking me forward.  I tried to sit a few times in the road and he peeled me off the ground. 

He walked with me for over a mile.  Each step he made me repeat: “I can do it.”  I couldn’t, but I said it over and over.  Around mile 20 a small patch of fence arose to the right with no apparent purpose.  I sat on it and sobbed.  Cameron knelt before me and said the car was farther from me than the finish.  The finish was the only way forward.  It was a lie, but I believed.  I took an energy gel.  Cam helped me to stand.  I needed to run again.  We embraced then I slowly trudged off.

For the next 6.2 miles I jogged 5 minutes then walked 5.  It was slow going, but I hit my groove.  I was one of the last people to cross the line, but I finished, and Cameron was there with tears in his eyes.  Jenna had finished an hour before me.  We all hugged.

 

 

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“You did it!” Jenna exclaimed.  I didn’t do it.  We did it.  Cameron was as much to blame for my step over the finish line as I was.

I wish I could say the marathon was just a mental barrier I had to scale.  It wasn’t.  It was just as much, if not more physical than it was mental.  It took all of my strength, and some of Cameron’s to get me to the end.  But I crossed that finish and for over a week I kept the finisher medal in my purse as a reminder of just how much my body and mind can do. 

I’m not afraid of many things anymore.  Whenever I question my abilities to face something new I remind myself: “I’m a fucking marathoner!”  If I can do that, as long as Cameron is with me, I can do anything. 


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Skinny Minnie Me

A few years back my doctor suggested that I should lose a few pounds.  At 24 with a BMI above the recommended 25, I couldn’t precisely fault his logic.

“Just think,” he said.  “If you lose 2 pounds a week you’ll have lost the weight in 2 months!”

By “a few pounds” he actually meant about 20- just to get healthy, and 2 months seemed far too long.  I was certain a stint on the South Beach Diet or by eating only fruit grown on a mountain in the Himalayas, I would drop 20 pounds in no time.

I was mistaken.  Instead of the turtle’s path with weight loss, I tried the hare’s, and yo-yoed down 5 and up 10.  But I tried.  At least I told myself that I tried, and that warranted an order of deep-fried mozzarella sticks slathered in ranch to compensate my suffering.

It was around this time that I met my husband, Cameron.  After a few weeks of dating he invited me on a trip with his friends to Vegas.  Here I am on that trip, testing the tensile strength of my bikini poolside:

chubstep

I knew I felt fat and that I’d never been this big before.  In college I wore a size 6, now I was testing the boundaries of a size 12.  Transitioning from an active college lifestyle to sitting at a desk all day was not kind to my thighs (or stomach, or arms, or general health).  None of my work clothes fit me and I resorted to spandex-waist concoctions that vaguely resembled maternity couture.  I told myself I’d do something different, but promising to start a diet the next day invariably led to eating excessively in the present.

Not long after the trip to Vegas Cameron needed to prep for his Navy Physical Readiness Test (PRT).  He was a little overweight and needed to speed up his run time.  He started going to the gym.  Physical changes were apparent in short order.  I felt self-conscious and kept making comments about how skinny he was getting, and how I was vaguely trying to lose weight too (I wasn’t).

Cameron picked up on my insecurities, and decided to put my mind at ease. He sat me down one night.

“You know,” he began, “I’m a man.”  This was a fact that I was generally aware of already.

“I produce more testosterone, and it’s going to be easier for me to lose weight than for you.  I just don’t want you to feel bad if I lose weight faster than you do.  I like your body the way it is now anyway.”

I flipped a switch.  I knew he meant well, but I was enraged.  Now, instead of weight loss just being something that I knew I should do, it was something that I was determined to do.  I’m a very competitive person, and this comment made me want to be the biggest loser so I could rub it in Cameron’s testosterone-infused face.

That week I joined Weight Watchers Online.  I set up the app on my phone and subscribed to support groups.  I also joined the r/loseit community on Reddit and found additional support there. At work I began drinking at least a gallon of water a day so that I would have an excuse to climb a flight of stairs every hour or so to use the nice bathroom.  I took up running.  When I started, I couldn’t run for more than a few minutes.  It took time, but eventually I started to love it.

Slowly, at about 2 pounds a week to be precise, I started shedding weight.  Had I just started when my doctor asked me to I’d have lost most of the pounds before I even met Cameron.  But I wasn’t ready then, and I have to say that I’m glad we did it together.  Cam and I both lost weight together.  Admittedly, I lost more- but who’s counting? (I am.)  We started making healthy changes to our lifestyles together, and that was what made it work.  I’m also glad to know that Cameron loved me as much when I was bigger as he loves me now.  If I’d met him, or anyone, after losing weight I might not trust that they would still find me attractive if I went back to my old ways.  Cameron’s unending support and love gives me the strength to keep it up.

Here I am poolside last summer, after losing 40+ pounds:

IMG_0746

Check out that flat tummy.

Since I started getting healthy I’ve run 8 half marathons and 2 full.  Cameron was a major part of my training, and we’ll run my third marathon together in April.  A few years ago I couldn’t imagine running a mile.

I still struggle.  Today I’m 8 pounds heavier than I prefer, and I’m trying to work it off.  It’s not the end of the world, and I’m still perfectly healthy, but I worry about the slippery slope of weight gain and I never want to be the old me again.  So I keep running, drinking lots of water, and tracking calories or points depending on my mood.

It’s weird to move to a new place and meet people who never knew big me.  There’s an assumption that I’ve always been thin, and will always be thin.  How should I convey who I used to be?  Shoving my camera with a fat pic in someone’s face sounds awkward.  I’ve done that more times than I can count, but it is a bit strange.

Back in California everyone knew the old me.  My friends and family watched as I made changes to my lifestyle and lost weight over several months, and have maintained it for over a year.  Now I move around and it’s hard to convey why I chose a salad at lunch instead of a burger.  I’m skinny, I can afford the fat- right?

Nope.  Even training for a marathon I watch what I eat.  There is no going off the diet and back to the old ways, because really, I didn’t go on a diet.  I fundamentally changed the way that I eat and how I view food.  I learned to eat fruit instead of cheese-its and to get salad on the side instead of fries.  Sure, I’ll indulge with an ice cream sundae when the mood strikes, but I only do that occasionally.

It’s interesting how much something seemingly benign has had such an impact on my life.  All I wanted was to look and feel better, while also crushing Cameron’s weight loss numbers.  (I did.) In the process I transformed into a different me who can do more than I ever thought possible.