Thursday, October 29, 2009


Scientists have found that junkfood is as addictive as heroin. I think like any other food addict, I'm not surprised though I think it is nice to have this scientifically validated. The question is what are the effective interventions to help us addicts get clean?

Ugh, my back

I have no idea what is going on, but my body is revolting on me again. Tuesday, my hamstrings were really tight. I don't really know what caused this. Monday I did the eliptical for almost an hour and was not so stellar about stretching, but I have done this before without having my hamstrings tense up on me. I doubt if it was the hiking, since Monday I felt fine. I think my body is used to that kind of thing.

Anyway, yesterday (Wednesday) things were worse despite lots of stretching, Icy Hot usage, and taking it relatively easy Tuesday. I started to get back spasms, and finally needed to go home and take the muscle relaxers. Working out was not going to happen. Today things are even worse, but I have been working to lay flat and/or stay upright so that hopefully the muscle spasms don't pull my back out of alignment. So far, so good I think on that front but the muscle relaxers kind of zombie me out and make it hard to do much. I hate that.

I am hoping this stuff gets over soon! I have no idea what is going on with me. I am only 30 and should not be having these kinds of problems. My recent back problems also started in my hamstrings. I wonder what is the deal with that? Does anyone know about this kind of thing?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Weekend Hiking

This weekend, I went hiking twice. The first day I went to Hawksbill Crag, which is one of the most photographed places in Arkansas. It has even graced the cover of the 2005 Rand McNally atlas! It was a gorgeous fall day (about 60 and PERFECT!), and I was delighted to be getting my hike on.

The ride to Hawksbill Crag is -- how shall I describe this -- a challenge? 8 miles. Uphill. Unmarked and unpaved gravel road. Potholes. Seriously, it's out in the middle of nowhere and if you don't know where you're going, you will totally miss the road to the trail. All of a sudden you get to the top, though, and there are just a ton of cars parked! It is kind of bizarre, but it hinted to me at how this was going to be a great view. There were a ton of people there, so apparently we weren't the only people who thought it was a nice day outside.

On the trail, there is a waterfall (it's maybe about 20 feet tall). To hike to get there was a little challenging, but this really nice couple helped me and my friend slide down a tree about 5 feet to get to a place where we could hike to the bottom of the waterfall (we started up on that bluff on top, and needed to figure out a way to get to the bottom....)

...which we did!

We then continued out to the crag itself. It was pretty but a little more anticlimactic than I expected -- and also very crowded! I even ran into a couple of students from the department. Kind of strange. I wanted to stick my feet over the edge but I didn't get too crazy sitting on the edge with my knees hanging over... (editor's note: at the time I thought I was being really brave in this picture and it would look impressive, but now I realize how ridiculous I look in this photo!)

We didn't really catch a good view of the crag until our hike back. It is actually really pretty, and I managed to get a good picture. It would be a little nicer if there weren't tons of people on it, but you can get a perspective as to how big the crag actually is with them in the photo (and yes, I was out there on the VERY END. The feet picture doesn't feel so ridiculous anymore, does it?).

So that was hike #1. It was about 3.5 miles round trip. Hilly in sections, but the trail was well maintained. I'd say it's an easy to moderate hike.

The second place I went was with the NWA Hiking Club to Pedestal Rocks. I had a good time, and met some really nice people. We went on two hikes, one to the rocks, and one to King's Bluff. Not much to say about this hike right now, but I will post a couple pictures. I thoroughly recommend this hike. Moderate, I'd say -- hilly in sections and lots of rocks on the trail which mean you have to be careful and watch your footing, lest you bust up your ankle. About 4-5 miles round trip.

Note that there is a dude on the right rock in this photo below. It helps give this picture a little perspective as to the size/coolness of this place. And by the way, some of the drops were 100+ feet. Yikes.

Finally, we saw a waterfall that was about 100 feet tall on this hike. My pictures completely do not capture the beauty so I am not going to attempt to post pictures. Look at the third picture down on this link if you are curious. The total distance of both hikes we took on this day was about 4.5 miles, and it was very hilly. I had a good time, and would love to visit this place again when the leaves are green and the waterfall is really flowing.

Good weekend, great weather, good exercise, and gorgeous scenery. I consider it a success!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Not feeling it

I am so not feeling Weight Watchers lately. I have been paying for it but not using it. I have gained a couple pounds this week so I know I need to use it (this is a result of my own food choices, and despite working out). However, I just don't feel like it. The honeymoon period of this weight loss is over. I just want to maintain awhile now. I will get back on it when I feel like it. I hope that is soon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Living for today vs. Keeping up a routine

Tonight I am going to dinner with a friend that I haven't seen in awhile. I am pretty stoked about it. I can't wait to catch up with her and see how life is now that she and her husband have moved into their new house (they are such adults!!!), how she is liking her new job, and just what all is going on with her.

However, when she first messaged me and asked me if I wanted to go out to dinner, I have to be honest and say I first thought "No, not really." Why? It's not because I don't want to see her -- I absolutely do. It's because the time she proposed is during my water aerobics/aqua abs classes. A little context: this friend lives further away than she used to (about 30-45 minutes vs. 10 minutes) and things are just busier because of the school year, her new job that is further away, etc. She is going to be in town tonight so getting together at the time she proposed is probably one of the best (and most likely) times for us to actually get together....but I do have to admit that I had to think about whether I wanted to meet her for dinner or go to water aerobics when she first extended the invitation.

She won out and, after I thought about it, it is silly that I even had to think about what to do. There are other types of exercise available to me besides water aerobics (WA), available at other times than the one she proposed. Sure, WA is my favorite and yes, I do have lots of friends in the class now but honestly that happens 4-5 times a week and the opportunities I have to get together with this friend occur far less frequently. She wins, hands down :)

I relate this story not because the story is so important or insightful. It's pretty mundane, actually. However, I believe that this illustrates something broader that I am struggling with. I feel like I have (for the most part) the exercise thing down -- I have a routine, I enjoy it, and I am seeing results there. I am in much better shape and I love working out. I am pretty afraid to deviate from my exercise routine because I don't want to mess things up.

However if I cling to this routine without flinching, life will pass me by and that would be so tragic! I need to be willing to let go of the routine sometimes, even when it is scary and realize I am strong enough to get back into the routine.

I realized all of this as a result of an experience that I had this summer. I went kayaking one day. It had rained in the morning but had gotten nicer by about 11 AM, which is actually perfect as it raises the level of the river and then allows you to kayak in the sunshine once the rainy weather has cleared. It is also perfect because the waterfalls are way more beautiful/active after some fresh rain. I didn't realize this all when I set out to kayak but it was a happy accident :)

Anyhow, I decided to take a side trip on the kayak trip to hike to go see Hemmed in Hollow which is the tallest waterfall between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Since it had rained the trail was muddy. I made it most of the way up the trail but it got too slippery for me to feel comfortable hiking alone, so I turned back short of making it to the top. I was disappointed, but -- hey -- it happens.

When I got back to the river, I met some hikers who asked if I had made it to the falls. I explained that I had not because I thought the trail conditions were too scary. They told me about an alternate (safer, less scary) route. I was intrigued and asked how long they thought they route would take. They told me and I decided against taking it because if I did, I wouldn't make it back in time for water aerobics class that evening.

In retrospect -- WHAT THE HECK WAS I THINKING?!?!? The decision I made was absurd. I did water aerobics almost every day it was offered this summer. Hemmed in Hollow is about 2 hours from my house, the conditions were perfect to see the falls, I had stumbled into being in the right place at the right time, and the waterfall is much much much more easily accessible from the river than via other trails (something like 1 mile hike from the river vs. 8 miles on land) so it is not like I could just hike this again later from the land. Furthermore, it's not like I needed to get back to WA because I had sat on my butt all day and needed the workout: I was working hard paddling for about 4 hours and had hiked up huge hills to try to see the falls! However, I made the decision to go to water aerobics which meant I did not see Hemmed in Hollow. I did have a good time at WA and got a great workout and everything, but afterwards I realized how stupid my decision was.

I do have to say, that was a good learning experience for me though. I realized I need to really not let opportunities pass me by. If they are good opportunities, I should snag them because such opportunities are not easy to come by. WA (or whatever other routine thing I am passing up) will still be there when I get back.

It's obvious, though, by my story today that I am not able to immediately spot good opportunities right away yet. If I was, I would have said yes in a heartbeat when I got an invitation to go to dinner with a good friend. Instead, I had to think about it. I know I am making progress, though, because I ultimately made the right decision and I can't wait to see her tonight. Next time I am on the river, I am going to hike to see Hemmed in Hollow for sure. Nothing will stop me, not even water aerobics-induced time constraints :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What if my students find this blog?

I have to admit, the idea that my students (or colleagues for that matter) would find this blog kind of terrified me for a long time. I am now beginning to be ok with it. I'm not excited about the idea, mind you, but I am ok with it. Here's why.

First of all, I really don't dwell too much on the work-stuff on the blog. Yes I am working to do better at work, yes I am working to have it bother me less -- but I really do try to keep the specifics off the blog. It's not the time or the place since this blog is only about my struggle with weight and food. Plus, it's not appropriate if it has any sort of identifying info and they could find out. That would be just what I need to deal with when going up for tenure, right? ("But she called me a _____ on her food blog!")

Second of all, it is no secret that I've struggled with my weight. It is obvious that I have lost weight and students would probably guess that this journey is not easy. (Although, to be honest, I bet they have their own concerns and think about me and how fat I was rarely -- if they do at all.)

Third of all, professors are normal people with (for the most part) normal lives and lots of people don't realize that. We have feelings, emotions, struggles, and guilty pleasures like anyone else. I remember thinking when I was in undergrad that my professors must have these insanely academic, boring lives full of mystery but that is really not the case. I still read Perez Hilton, watch Survivor, and do all the inane mindless things I did before I had my PhD -- including, for a long time, living a sedentary lifestyle and overeating. Maybe if my students find this blog, it will demystify professor life and humanize me to them a little? Not the goal of this blog, but it could be a side effect perhaps.

Finally, I am doing this -- writing the blog and getting healthier -- for me. I'm not doing it for them. I get a lot out of writing this stuff down and chronicling the journey. If things get bad, I will just turn off the comments or, in the worst case, make the blog private.

I don't know if the students will find me on this blog or not. I have this linked from my Facebook (which most students cannot see since I STRONGLY limit the profile that shows to them), and I don't think I use anything that is google-traceable to my name. Other than that, it would have to be through a referral they would find out, or because they also have food issues and found me via a food-issues blog or Google search. Bottom line -- they probably won't find me but, even if they do, I think I am ok with that. I'm hoping it does not happen, but if it does I probably won't freak out like I initially thought I would. Just thought I would process this "out loud" and document it for later in case I need to remind myself not to freak out.


Today I had Pizza Hut buffet for lunch. I did not practice moderation in the least. Lunch food FAIL. I wish things around here did not bother me as much as they did. Even when they do, though, I cannot let it get me down and I should not numb myself to the pain/annoyance by eating food that is crappy for me.

Me, today.

Here are some before and now pictures. On the left is me in TX when I went to visit my brother. This had to be in March 2008 or so. I didn't even realize I was that fat at the time, and I didn't peak until around March or April 2009. It is hard to recognize how fat you are when it happens little at a time. I have to say, I was rockin' some pretty sweet hair though. On the right is a picture of me today. I'm down about 45 lbs and I think I have gained a substantial amount of muscle mass. I thought I would post a picture of my progress.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I turn to you, dear internet

I have an appointment at the chiropractor tomorrow at 8 AM. If I want to work out in the morning, it will have to be at 6 AM on the dot. I will tell you the truth as to whether I make it or not. I was thinking I would but I am growing dubious. I post this to keep me accountable and to up my odds of making it in the AM.

Getting my Hike On

This weekend I went hiking at Devil's Den. It was nice. The leaves are starting to turn and they are pretty. However, they will reach their peak in a week or two and will be even more gorgeous then. One of the things I like about being in shape is that I can go hike and do stuff without really thinking about it. It's not like I need to worry (as much) about whether I'll be physically able to. I don't need to be self-conscious about being around other people (If I go on the hike, will I get winded? Will I be the slowest one? Will they have to wait for me? Will I even be able to finish?). For the most part, these things are non-issues. Even if I were the slowest one, for example, people are generally nice about it and very understanding. I am so glad that I feel like I can belong again.

Me on Yellow Rock.

Here is a picture of the gorgeous fall leaves.

It was so pretty. I love Arkansas. It is really a gorgeous state.

Weight Watchers Wagon

Tony, aka the "Anti Jared", was probably the first weight loss blogger I followed regularly. He had a particularly harsh post to the WL blogging community and I'm still not sure what to think of it. Do I agree with him? Mostly. I'm not sure I get where he is coming from with this "no cheating, ever" philosophy. Actually, I get it in theory completely. I'm coming from a similar place, but in my experience, it is possible to have splurges in moderation. By no means am I perfect at this. Sometimes, trigger foods take me right over a cliff...but not always. I would like to be able to incorporate fun foods that are a treat on occasion. So, I am not sure if I agree with his "no cheating, ever" in practice. However, his philosophy is working great for him so you definitely can't argue with results. GET IT JARED TONY!

Anyway, part of me wondered if he wasn't right about peoples' "I'm going to turn over a new leaf today!" attitudes. As you know I haven't been eating all that well. Because of not overdoing it on the portions and because I work out a lot, I haven't paid that much for it on the scale. I need to get the food half of the equation under control, though, if I want to progress further down the road that is WL. Staying plateaued is not really enough.

I am going to get back on the WW wagon and I thought to myself this morning "I will do it tomorrow." This is the type of thing Tony is talking about. Why wait until tomorrow? Why let another second of life pass you by? The time is now, the day is here. (That was for my musical theatre peeps...get it?) I will start to count points for the rest of the day. Delaying the start of this until tomorrow is essentially just giving yourself a cheap out to sabotage your progress for the rest of the day. What a waste. I am taking back control now. Weight Watchers: game on.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The damage

I only gained 1.2 lbs this week -- I am shocked. However, I did lose muscle and gain fat. I hope to reverse this for next week.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You look 200 times better!

The end of INFORMS is always sad – saying goodbye to your friends and realizing the realities of everyday life will return. It is amazing to me what good friends I have made in this community. Honestly about half of my friends are folks who are in operations research so it is always good get together. It’s even better if we’re able to get together somewhere nice like San Diego, and all at the same time to have a major catch up session!

When saying goodbye, one of my friends told me “You look 200 times better than you did last year!” and told me how happy he was for me. I’ll be honest, at first I was slightly like “Eww, what a jerk basically telling me I looked like trash last year,” but just seconds later I was like “Wow it is amazing to me what changes have happened over the last year.” And, honestly, he is pretty much right. Shervin was never one to sugar coat the truth.

I thought about that brief exchange for a few minutes and explained to him that I was so much less depressed than last year and that is so true. I’ve dealt with tons of issues over the last year. Many are professional (don’t want to go into the details) but common themes include lack of confidence, lack of support, not feeling sure if I have picked the right career, egos and stupidity of others, etc. For awhile I essentially defined myself in terms of my career and when that started to go poorly things went really downhill. In addition to struggling with my professional life, I have really struggled to make friends in Arkansas. Many of my hobbies are not overtly social – for example, it’s tough to meet new people when you’re going to the theatre – so that did not provide a quick and direct outlet to meet new friends. I tried to find a church for two different phases (one lasting about 5 months, another lasting about 2 months). I really felt like I didn’t fit in at any of them and it was pretty depressing. I felt that my job made me somehow seem really intimidating to people once they found out what I did. Similarly, I struggled to find much in common with them. I mean obviously developing a deep and meaningful relationship with others takes time – but I did not feel the “click” with anyone in my search for a church. It was quite hard and made me question myself a lot. Eventually I kind of gave up on finding friends here – I wasn’t closed off to the possibility, but I felt like I had wasted a lot of time and effort on something that bore no fruit and decided it wasn’t worth spending energy on anymore. I felt sad and like a failure and obviously really lonely. I sunk into a pretty deep depression. It was not pretty, and I ate. A lot. And I got fatter. By a lot. And I got unhealthier. Also, unfortunately, by a lot.

Everything kind of peaked one day in the second semester of this year. The details are not actually that important but my work life felt absolutely hellacious. One afternoon (it was a Friday I believe), I just could not take it anymore and was unable to stop crying. The cumulative stress of what had been going on was just way too much and I could not bear to have one single other thing piled on me. I could not stop crying. It was absolutely terrifying to not feel in control of you body and of your ability to hold in emotion (nothing acute happened to set any of this off, making it even tougher to understand and scarier to experience).

Around the same time, a family friend had had a stroke. She is not old (I don’t think she’s older than 60), so it was a scary realization about how weight, stress, and blood pressure problems can cause so much bigger health problems so early in life if you are not careful to manage them. My mother had been concerned about my health as I re-gained the weight I lost in graduate school but had been good about not badgering me about it or expressing this concern so often that it lost its effectiveness. However, when this friend had a stroke it freaked all of us out, including me. I knew I had to have my blood pressure checked. The day I couldn’t stop crying, I finally did.

As I entered the doctor’s examination room, I felt so ashamed. How had I let my life get to this incredibly low point? My life was a mess and I had completely let myself go. I felt even more like a failure.

My primary care physician is such an asshole. I try not to swear much on this blog but he really is. I need a new PCP. Anyway, he walked in and saw me crying and the first words out of his mouth were “So do you need something to take the edge off?” Nice bedside manner, eh? I swear he would have written me a prescription for whatever I wanted. I hate to be medicated (see Vicodin post) and so I declined but realized I really needed to do something about my mental helth, fast. I simply had reached the breaking point past which I was unable to function in everyday life. Even getting up some days was a victory. On days I could not function, I cancelled class. It was a terrible feeling. This jerk PCP checked my blood pressure, and it was something like 145/100. He put me on Lisinopril. I felt, again, like a failure being less than 30 and on BP meds. However, I knew I needed to take them in order to not ruin my blood vessels.

Determined not to take a drug for depression unless I had exhausted all other options, I decided to go to a counselor. He really helped me to turn my life around (if you need a recommendation for a counselor in NW Arkansas, please let me know – I would recommend this counselor without reservation). He made me realize how I was mourning the “death” of my former life – the one where I had friends, the one where I felt successful at and fulfilled by my job, the one that was full of fun activities, and the one where I felt spiritually fulfilled. He nailed it with his insight and I knew that I could trust him. I don’t feel that way often.

Eventually we started talking about food. I immediately started to cry. I knew I had issues with food, but I had absolutely no idea how deeply these issues affected me until he made a brief comment about some of his work with bariatric patients. I identified with every single thing that he said. I felt like he really understood me and could help me work through this.

However, I have to admit that at first I was incredibly reluctant to let him work with me on my food issues. Food had been such a crutch for me for so long I felt unwilling to let it go. My goodness, I had worked on navigating through so many of the personal and professional issues I outlined above with him and those were not trivial at all. He was also helping me to navigate through as set of family issues that were incredibly touchy as well; these also took a lot of emotional energy. I was not sure that I was willing to give up one of my main coping mechanisms that helped me to deal with all this stuff.

After all, food was there for me 24-7. Food helped me when I was lonely. Instead of having to deal with emotion, I could turn to food. It had an incredibly numbing effect. Was I willing to give that up? It seemed too hard. I was unwilling at first.

However, I started to exercise. It did help me to feel a little bit better but not all that much honestly. I think the truth is that it’s just pretty difficult to feel good when you’re almost 300 lbs. The body is simply not designed to bear so much of a burden; similarly at least for me it was tough to have any sort of a positive self image at my highest and clearly unhealthy weight. Exercise was one step, but I could not get to my desired physical state and a healthy self-image with exercise alone.

Eventually a conversation with a friend helped me to realize I was excellent at pumping out BS excuses about weight. I don’t remember exactly what it was that he said or how exactly he phrased his comments, but something about it really stuck and ignited my competitive spirit. I had to win at basically everything else, yet I was losing in the game of life. That was massively messed up. I joined Weight Watchers on April 21 and everything started right then. When I started feeling results, I started really realizing that in most aspects of my life, I had turned a corner and for the first time in months began to feel hopeful about the future. It was an incredible relief after feeling months of despair.

This post is pretty long winded and, honestly, very emotional to share. It hurts to remember, yet it is so helpful to realize how far I’ve come in the last 6 months with so many different aspects of my life and mental health.

Though I am sure Shervin was exaggerating when he told me I look 200 times better (he is very prone to such things, after all…), I think he is exactly right. He is not one to sugar coat where it is that he is coming from. The thing that is amazing to me is how quick, dramatic, and comprehensive the changes have been. I am much less stressed. I have lost 45 lbs. I care less about what other people think, and I am starting to have a social network in Arkansas. I am starting to make some progress at work and finally feel like I have someone who is in my corner.

I still have a long, long way to go. I need to work on my relationship with my family members. I am still obese and have 95 lbs to be at the very top of the “normal” weight range. I only have a couple friends in Arkansas and would like to have a bustling social life. I really need to step up my game if I have any hope of getting tenure and, more fundamentally, I need to figure out what my longterm career plans are. I need to get my relationship with God back on track and hopefully find a church that I like and feel like I can belong and contribute to. I could continue the list but you get the idea. I’m not there yet.

The best part, though, is that I feel like I can do these things. It won’t happen overnight but it is possible. I’m finding that the changes I’m making are spiraling upward – that is, instead of a downward death spiral, success in one area of my life makes me feel like I can be successful in other areas of my life. Having hope is such a beautiful thing and, after a very long winter, such a welcome breath of fresh air. Thank you for pointing out to me that it is visible to others, Shervin. I am glad I look 200x better; I feel infinitely better.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Irrational fear (aka Pants Part 2)

I have not been eating well while I am here. More accurately, I have been eating stellar-tasting things that are incredibly unhealthy. I was worried today that my jeans (which I haven't worn since being here) would not zip up. (Remember I just bought these jeans last week size 20, down from a size 26 at the start of this whole journey)

Fortunately, they fit fine. In fact they might even feel looser than I remember. I need to remember that weight super-gain does not happen overnight. It makes it all the more "impressive" that I managed to gain this much weight and make it almost to 300 -- it was a long, consistent effort not just a couple bad days of food choices.

My (somewhat irrational) zipper-related fear just goes to show that I still have no intuition as to when I am gaining and losing weight I guess. I need objective standards (e.g., the actual weight I am, the fit of clothes) to gauge my progress. I cannot just rely on how I feel (e.g., I feel like I am maintaining and doing fine!). It's helpful to realize that but kind of sad at the same time, as I feel like this is important to be able to "feel" my progress in the long run if that makes sense. That is, I don't want to feel tied to the scale but have a more intuitive sense as to whether I am doing well or need to step up my game in the food arena. In time, I could develop this. Who knows. The important thing is that I am making progress toward my longterm health goals (albeit slowly), and even if it takes looking at the scale everyday to realize that it is ok for now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


It is so funny to think about this conference I am at in terms of where I am and have been on this whole weight loss journey. With the exception of the first time I went to this conference (2003), I don't have a single conference that does not have a set of weight or clothes memories associated with it. I took a break from the conference in 2004 (more accurately, my advisor didn't have money to pay for me to go and I hadn't done that much research-related work at that point so I could not justify going) and so then I don't have memories from that year either. Let me detail for you each of the memories and how I feel this year.
  • 2005, San Francisco - This was when I was at my lowest weight. I had been working out and eating well since January or February and by the time November rolled around, I had lost 60 lbs and had been plateaued for awhile. I remember looking and feeling pretty stellar. It was my first trip to California and I remember walking up and down the hills of San Francisco being so proud that I could take them on without getting winded or tired. I felt like I was in control of my life and of my health and it felt great.
  • 2006, Pittsburgh - This was the year I was on the job market. I weighed around 245 (up from a low of 229.5) and had started to not work out as much. This was the year I was finishing up my dissertation and finding a job. It was so stressful. If you have never been through the academic job search, you have no idea how stressful it was. Since I had gained weight and most of my clothes were too tight to wear or look good and since I needed to look good at all times (never know who you'll run into and whether they'll be your future employers), I had to go get new clothes for the conference. I looked pretty good in them (they were size 20, up from an 18) and at this point was not self conscious about how I looked (although I was mad at myself about having gained some of the weight back...little did I know at that time that the relatively small weight gain was just the beginning...). I remember feeling for the first time like I was a colleague of these folks at the conference and that I could hold intellegent conversations, not feeling stupid like I didn't know what was going on. I felt all around like I was in a pretty good place, although I was annoyed I didn't fit into any of the (nice, relatively new) clothes I had purchased since I lost the weight.
  • 2007, Seattle - I gained a lot of weight in the year I finished up my dissertation. I had not been good about purchasing clothes as I did that and so many of them were ill-fitting. I remember having to go to Lane Bryant prior to this INFORMS meeting to get new dress up clothes that did not look terrible. They were size 24. Seattle is hilly like San Francisco is, and I struggled with the hills mightily, getting winded whenever I had to go up one. It wasn't great. I roomed with my friend Irina at this conference and she told me how worried she was about my health (we used to work out a lot together). I ignored her and made a lot of excuses. Far from stellar, but I still had a great time at the conference and loved my job at that point.
  • 2008, Washington DC - The year I was in DC, I roomed with a friend named Lori. I usually live by myself so it's really not a huge deal to walk around in a towel that doesn't go all the way around yourself or something like that. However, when you're with other people, it is a big deal. I remember being so self concious of that the year we stayed together. I was like "OMG, I am totally too big to fit into a normal person's world." It was not a great realization or reminder. I didn't have to buy new clothes or anything for this conference, but I just remember not feeling comfortable in my own skin at this conference, at all. Ugh.
  • 2009, San Diego - The reason for this post. Today I am wearing a pair of pants that I bought for the conference in 2006. I like them a lot. They look good on me and fit pretty well. Maybe they are even a little loose. They made me realize how INFORMS could be used as a lens through which to view my very real struggle with this weight over the last 5 or so years. I have gotten several complements on my weight from friends of mine at this conference. In fact, today one couple did not even recognize me because of my haircut and weight loss. However, I am not really happy with where I am. I want to press toward more ambitious health and weight related goals and have something nice to report about INFORMS 2010 in Austin.
Even more importantly, I want to not have to be so focused and obsessed with my weight. Right now it occupies a significant amount of mental effort. I want to move on to the maintenance phase and have it not be a big deal anymore. I am sick of thinking about it so much. I know, though, that I am nowhere near that point yet and it will be awhile.

This post brought to you today courtesy of these gray pants that I wore today and made me think of all this. Thanks for the inspiration, gray pants!

Monday, October 12, 2009


I feel so fat today. It is crappy. I haven't been eating well here and so I am sure that heightens my feeling fat. Ugh. I hate days like this.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Back update

I reported last week that I totally messed up my back. I ended up visiting the chiropractor 4 times last week, using lots of Bengay and IcyHot patches (which I totally recommend), and still not feeling like I was fixed. It is kind of ironic because the only other time I was in San Diego I had tons of back problems as well. Anyway....I am happy to report that my back feels much better now. I would stop short of calling it fixed because I still think that things are out of alignment, but they are much better than before. I will visit the chiropractor when I get back and will take it easy for awhile (nothing that is high impact, for example) but will make a conscious effort to exercise and strengthen my lower back muscles. I had gotten lax on doing the Supermans and will get back to them when I can so I can (hopefully) prevent such injuries from reoccurring.

San Diego Food report

I obviously eat out a lot when I travel. In the spirit of honesty, I have kind of let go on this trip. I really am not getting enough vegetables here and am not making much of an effort to eat healthily. I am bummed out not to be exercising as I normally would either. Oh well, I will get back on the exercise wagon when I get home. I will be curious what the damage is from the trip. Hopefully no worse than a couple pounds.

Ironically, I was at my lowest weight at INFORMS in San Francisco (2005) -- 229.5. I remember being so worried about my weight the whole time I was there -- feeling guilty about every poor food choice. It really occupied my mind, but I ended up not gaining (or losing) any weight at the conference. I think it is all the walking around you do that negates the fatty (but delicious) reception food. Also, it could have been that my metabolism then was higher at 26 than it is now. I am sure that didn't hurt matters....


It feels so nice to get complements when you are convinced they are genuine. A couple of my friends who haven't seen me in awhile said that I was looking really great. It is always nice when people notice you are actually losing weight. I can tell that I am in some ways -- for example, I am down 3 sizes and airplane seatbelts fit a lot better. However, I see myself in the mirror every day so changes are gradual and sometimes they pass me by entirely. It feels so nice to get complements, but I can understand they are awkward to give sometimes because they are subject to misinterpretation. (e.g., "You are looking so much better than before!") As someone who sticks her foot in her mouth way more often than I'd like, I get that.

I'd say my primary motivation for getting in shape is for health reasons, but of course I love that there are aesthetic benefits as well.


Flying from the central time zone to the western time zone is always pretty stellar. You can feel as though you sleep in and you still get end up getting up at a reasonable or early time. For example, this morning I woke up at 5:30 (felt like 7:30 to me) and felt great. When I woke up I organized my stuff (had not had a chance to unpack the night before, really) and did the right thing and tried to go to the gym in the hotel. Hold tight for the rant...

IT COST $15 TO USE THE GYM!!! ARE YOU SERIOUS?! I was already paying $209+tax for the room. It already cost an extra $15 a day for the internet (are you serious?!). Then, for the privilege to use the gym, it was an extra $15. That is so beyond absurd. Ludicrous, really.

I could not stomach paying that much to go to the gym. I would have felt ripped off if it were $5 since I think it should be free, but I probably would have complained about it and moved on. It's really not worth it to me to pay that much to use the gym. I am walking around a lot more here at the conference than I would in my everyday life, but probably not enough to technically call it a workout. Here's my backup plan: use of the pool is free, so I think I will try to walk laps in the pool for awhile tonight to get my exercise on in a low impact, safe way. It will be boring and pretty easy (unless I get ambitious and try to "run"), but it will be good for me and I should do it.

I have to admit I am nervous about seeing colleagues there (who really wants to rock out in a bathing suit in front of people you don't know like that at 255 lbs? Not this girl...), but my health is more important than my pride so I will suck it up and do it....and hope that they are sleeping or out drinking or otherwise occupied when I walk around in my suit :)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Surfing update

If a picture is worth a thousand words, an experience must be worth a million. So I went surfing last weekend. In a word? Exhilirating. However, there is no way one word could capture the experience. Here are some of the ones that come to mind: fun, exciting, slightly terrifying, amazing, capture the power of the ocean, proud of myself, ugh-spandex, wow, love this, "I suck at this", I will figure this out, exhausting, addicting, adrenaline rush. I loved it. Totally worth donning spandex for.

I did not expect to love it as much as I did. Sure, I wanted to try it but I did not think I would get such a rush out of it. So how did I fare? OK (aside from this jacked up back -- but I think that I would even do it again knowing I'd get a jacked up back assuming this pain goes away soon); it's not like I'm a natural or anything, but I did OK.

Let me tell you about what I remember. I should really do this before I forget. First of all, they had only one wetsuit in my size. I am not sure if I wrote about that the first time, but I am glad to be at a point where at least something will fit, even though it is embarrassing that I'm such an outlier that they only carry one wetsuit in my size. I will get there though! I got there early, my friend Lisa helped me zip up the wetsuit, and then there was nothing to do but wait. That was pretty much a headgame -- waiting, with plenty of time to back out. "Do you really want to try this? You could get hurt. Do you really want to wear spandex in front of everyone? Are you sure about this?" I had basically 25 minutes with myself to sort this all out. I pressed ahead. I wanted to do this, and badly!

We then had to carry our surfboards to the ocean. The surf shop's website advertised that it was 500 steps to the ocean. Not bad, eh? Well it's not bad when you're not carrying an awkward surfboard. It's pretty unpleasant when you are. And it's even more tiring when it's uphill and you've spent 2 hours in the ocean getting battered around. Thankfully I did not realize this on the way down :)

I walked to the ocean with three of my surf classmates and our instructor, Ian. Three of the four of us had never surfed, and the other guy had taken several lessons but had never stood up on his board. This was actually pretty great, as I felt it gave me permission to lower my expectations. I realized that I did not need to feel pressure to stand up on the first time, or even by the end of the lesson. Now, while I didn't know what to expect exactly at the beach, I did not expect to get to a concrete ramp that led directly to the ocean, bordered by a concrete wall. There were also several boulders at the bottom of the ramp. I thought to myself "OMFG, are you serious?! I am so going to kill myself learning to surf" Fortunately, we just had to wade through the water and then get to the sandy part of the beach. I would not crash into a boulder and die. Also, fortunately there were a hill and 500 steps back to the surf shop, preventing me from backing out (easily) at this point.

We waded through the ocean and reached the sandy beach. We got a lesson on how to get up on the board, practiced on the sand, and then were about to go in the ocean. At this point, one of my classmates asked "Are there sharks around here?"

Ian said, "Um, yeah there are. Actually one of my buddies got bitten by one here 5 years ago."

I am sure all of us were visibly shaken. I know I was strangely a mix of shaken and like "I'm going through with this!" I figured that a sharkbites are like lightning strikes in that they are incredibly rare, but still knowing that you had been where that type of thing had occured is pretty sobering.

Ian paused and I am sure realized we were kind of terrified. He tried to reassure us, adding "But he's ok now, and he's surfing again!" I thought "Great, my instructor is friends with the crazies!" However, I now realize that surfing is so exhilarating that it would be tough to hang up the ol' surfboard...especially if you didn't suck at surfing -- but on with the story.

We paddled out to the ocean, and Ian tried to describe for us how to catch a wave. It's so so exhilirating if you are able to do it. He described for us what makes a "good wave", but actually you can start to predict it pretty easily just watching the waves for a half hour or hour. You get a good feeling for which ones will be big, where they will break, and so on. You want to catch a wave that is growing, and which as not broken yet so you can ride it in to the shore. We got to practice this for awhile. I had a goal that I wanted to learn to catch waves. That would be enough -- I didn't have to be able to stand by the end of the first lesson or anything. I did that, and I made it up to my knees once. I was really happy with my progress, and look forward to continuing to improve.

This improvement is made difficult by two factors. First, I have jacked up my back. This is extra sad because for the next week I will be in San Diego and could conceivably get a chance to surf!!! This is significant because, as you probably realize, I am from Arkansas and there are not many any surfing opportunities in our landlocked state. Nonetheless, I will persevere and will be able to surf at some point in my life. I also will be able to fit into a normal sized wetsuit too. Not committing to a timeline, but it will happen.

The next day I was sore. This was kind of strange because I don't get sore that often anymore. My muscles are used to being abused, I guess, and don't fight me on it anymore. Believe it or not, it is the shoulders and triceps that get sore mostly from pushing up on the board. My hamstrings were also tight the next day, though I'm not entirely sure why. It could be all the walking through the sand (though I would have thought that would work the calves more?).

When I got back to Arkansas, I googled "shark bolinas ca". Try it for yourself and you will realize that Bolinas, CA is on almost every top 10 list for sharks that exists. It feels that way at least -- apparently, great whites love to feed on the abundance of baby sea lions in the area. They are most plentiful in the late summer and early fall. I am so glad I didn't realize that before I went!!

There was a shark attack at Stinson Beach (where we actually stayed, a short distance from Bolinas). Here is a PSA for the day. Apparently the attackee grabbed and pulled at the shark's gills and was released. I have also read that you should go to the bottom of the ocean (they can attack you from fewer angles that way) and hit the shark on the nose. Try to use something other than your hand (e.g., a camera) as cameras are replaceable but hands are not. So, should you ever need to defend yourself from a shark attack, there are some places to start. Remember this post and use the info!!

So that was my surfing experience. I can't wait to try it again. I love it. If you catch a wave, the feeling is absolutely indescribable. It feels like you are harnessing the power of the ocean, which is SO SO strong. To be able to capture that and ride it out is so neat. Makes me wonder who figured out the idea of surfing, built the first surfboards, and tried that out. Certainly they had to struggle with it at first. Whoever it was, kudos to them. They stumbled on something absolutely amazing that I can't wait to try again and, eventually, master.

Listening to your body

I am realizing that, if I listen to it, my body has a lot to tell me. It is usually best not to fight it when it tells me I want something. My body is good about telling me when it is hungry. It tells me when I need more sleep. It tells me if I am overdoing it in exercise. I know when I am thirsty and need to drink more water. I didn't realize how much I had overridden what all my body has to tell me until I started to listen to it more when re-adopting a healthy lifestyle this spring.

Lately my body has really needed a lot of sleep. Now often when I get higher than about 7.5 hours of sleep a night (assuming I'm not working on a sleep deficit) and into the 9-10 hrs/night, I feel groggy and not that well rested. My body is saying "I need less sleep" and "you overdid the whole sleep thing". This week I have slept quite a bit during the days and am still getting 8-10 hrs of sleep per night. I am not at all sleep-groggy; I think my body is trying to heal itself from the back injury as I sleep. I would have in the past felt guilty for napping during the day, not getting as much work done, etc. but I am not feeling that way now. Similarly, I am not beating myself up for not exercising. I really don't think I safely can so there is no need to feel guilty about it. My body is saying "yeah right" at this point. It is so much easier on the psyche to just listen to your body, and not fight it than to fight guilt.

Similarly, there are some days when I just feel hungry all day and will consume up to 50 points (for non-WW people to get a benchmark, I am normally given 31 daily points on WW). If my body is hungry like that, I listen and feed it. I figure I must need the fuel. Now it doesn't mean I regularly give it pizza and funnel cake to get me up to 50 points, but if I am eating clean, whole foods and am still hungry I don't fight this feeling.

Listening to my body has been so liberating. I think I had muted my body from years of overeating. After all, I was rarely really hungry when I weighed almost 300 lbs (though I often said I was "hungry" it was more of an "I want to eat" than true hunger-pangs). Listening to your body takes much of the guesswork out of living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I need to be careful to continue listening to my body since it is usually pretty good at telling me what it wants or needs.

Victory and Defeat

First of all, my new fancy scale tells me I am continuing to gain muscle and lose fat, even though I have not exercised since Saturday (more on that in a second). Also I got 2 pairs of new pants, both at a size 20. They fit nicely, loose through the waist (but not too loose), and it's great -- especially considering I started this off at size 26, three sizes bigger. I look really skinny in them actually. So those are the victories I'm dealing with around here. Nice to experience victories, that's for sure.

These haven't been without defeat. The root of all of this is that I really messed up my back somehow. I'm not sure how -- I can't point to a moment where I was like "I bent down to pick something up and then I heard this awful crack and fell to the ground in pain." Over the course of Monday it started to hurt more and more and then by Tuesday I could barely sit up. They were so bad I almost cancelled my class, but in the end I toughed it out and made it through class. If I had to guess, my injury is the result of not stretching after surfing. My hamstrings got really tight and maybe they eventually caused lower back spasms.

I noticed yesterday morning while getting ready that I was tilted about 10 degrees to the left -- my right shoulder was 1-2" higher than my left shoulder. It was the weirdest thing. I ended up going to the chiropractor twice yesterday to have this looked at and cracked into place. She helped me quite a bit but I am still not fixed (slight tilt remains) or out of pain, although I am in much less pain than before (and less crooked as well).

Suffice it to say, I've been laying down on my back or side a lot this week. I've been taking muscle relaxers when the pain is really bad and at one point even considered taking some Vicodin. This is significant because I have had this prescription for over 2 years and have never taken it even when in intense pain because I am afraid I will like it a little too much. This time I hurt so bad I didn't even care. I toughed it out, though, so no Vicodin for me.

I haven't been eating that stellar-ly. I ordered pizza and had that, for example. I just don't have many good groceries around (I've been out of town so much!), and I hurt too much to do a major shopping trip and to cook. I also haven't been exercising. I miss it. I just wish I felt better. I hope to be back to at least 95% by the time I leave for my next trip Saturday morning at 6 AM. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


This week I lost 1.4 lbs, and I was out of town for 3 days on vacation. I cannot believe it. Yay!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Food's supporting role

Today I realized something that for me was big. As I was walking home this evening on the beach, I thought about what a nice, full, and rewarding day I had. I spent the day seeing the sights of San Francisco with a friend. We did a lot of walking and had a good time. In the afternoon we went to Muir Woods, a National Monument and home to hundreds if not thousands of majestic redwood trees. In the evening, we went to a barbeque at a friend’s house. So what was this realization? Food really is not a big deal in a full, meaningful, well-lived life. Let me try to explain.

First of all, let me tell you that we had some great food today. In the morning, we had clam chowder from a breadbowl and some fried shrimp and calamari. We stopped for a snack and I got nice tomatoes, Melba crackers, and goat cheese as well as some groceries for the weekend. For dinner the friends had quite a spread of BBQ stuff, but I had fried chicken and lots of roasted vegetables. I do admit that I had the first non-milk calorie drinks I have had in a long time – an Orange Crush and a glass of ruby red grapefruit juice. This food is not the healthiest but I made a conscious effort to get fiber (had a Fiber One bar somewhere in there) and worked to incorporate veggies where possible. As you probably would guess, we did a ton of walking on the hilly streets of San Francisco so I would guess that I was either breaking even on calories or perhaps even operating at a calorie deficit. All in all, not the best day food-wise but far from the worst. The point of including this is to say that I don’t think one should avoid good/tasty/contextually enriching food. Far from it. I really enjoyed what I had and worked to add a local flavor to what I had to eat today.

Here’s the realization I had though: food really doesn’t matter that much, or at least it shouldn’t. I’m all for trying new things and experiencing local cuisines and so on, but I don’t need to think about food all the time. Doing so is complete unhealthy and irrational. Other than times when I got hungry, I really would say I didn’t think about food all that much today and when I realized this I felt incredibly liberated. Food does not need to and should not under normal circumstances occupy so much of my mental energy. I need to figure out how to translate my experiences today into my everyday life as, under normal circumstances, food and especially thoughts about weigh loss, healthy living, what I am going to eat, and so on can consume me and divert me from thinking about other aspects of my life. Today was totally different with respect to my thoughts about food and it was so nice. It makes me wonder what people with “normal” relationships with food spend their time thinking about? (Normal in quotes because who is to define what normal actually means…this girl has no idea) They must have either a lot of mental capacity to spare, or obsessions with problems that are different than mine.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I arrived tonight at about 10 PM Pacific time, which is about midnight in my time zone. Instead of going to bed or watching TV or reading like I wanted to, I went and worked out for a bit over an hour. I did 30 minutes of cardio and spent the rest on my abs, butt, and arms. I would have never done this in the past, so I feel proud.

Seeing yourself in others: a lesson in humility and sin

This entry might be a little religious – certainly more religious than the other posts I’ve written and probably more religious than I feel these days. However, growing up in a strongly Christian tradition and having been an active and growing Christian in the past (and perhaps in the future, though I feel a bit disgusted with the whole thing now) it forms a large part of who I have been and am. Without further ado here it goes.

Today I flew out of an airport that’s not the one I usually fly out of, and is two hours away from me. I left work early and needed to get something to eat on the way. Now, there are several options between here and said airport, but the one I settled on was to stop at a casino on the way and eat at their buffet. You know that’s a topic ripe for a weight-loss blog entry, right?! Well, you’re correct. Though the issues you’re probably expecting were there and will be discussed, the whole experience left me with some very deep and sad yet enlightening insights about myself and my relationship with food in general that you might not be expecting out of that experience.

First of all, let’s start with the obvious things you’d expect about a recovering food-a-holic’s trip to the buffet. Just like it’s probably not a good idea for an alcoholic to swing by the bar, it’s probably not so great for a food-a-holic to visit a buffet – at least not for me at this stage of my food journey. However, at $5.99 (including drink!) I decided I’d rather do that than a stop at another restaurant. Additionally, the casino is basically halfway and is one of the better options in the town (i.e., not fast food). So there’s my justification…just for the record. What I’m learning is that I’m really only justifying this to myself and the justification really doesn’t matter: I’m ultimately responsible only to me for my food actions and indirectly, to others who care about my health and success in living a healthy life. I think I made 4 trips to the buffet. The first was a huge, healthy salad – the kind I would eat on a day to day basis and not feel badly about at all. All in all, the other trips I made were but a mere fraction of the damage I could have/would have inflicted in the past. I had potstickers, a slice of ham, mashed potatoes, a piece of cake, and some strawberries. Way more food than I needed, but not enough to make me feel disgusting afterward. Perhaps that’s progress? I don’t know but it is totally going beyond the using food for the sole purpose for fuel. If I were eating food only for fuel, I would have stopped at the salad. Actually for $5.99 for a pop, a large, delicious, healthy salad is a good deal. Throw on top of it the other food, and it’s a “great” deal. The quotes are because, yeah the price per unit food is quite low, but I am sure that this food was absolutely chocked-full of transfats, margarine, etc. which to me negates the value if the food is going to scrape your arteries to pieces. So that is the piece you were probably expecting. It’s almost too trite to blog about: fattie goes to the buffet. However, in the spirit of being accountable, there it is.

Here’s the piece you probably weren’t expecting: how I completely saw myself in the people I observed at the casino. If you ever need a visual illustration of “slave to sin”, visit a casino. I don’t know how to fully explain how I feel in words, but I will give it a huge try here. I have only been to a casino twice, and honestly I don’t remember much about the first trip. I played a couple slots, bought some cards, and that was about it. I was probably at the casino for about 30 minutes total. This trip is kind of burned into my mind though. I arrived at the casino around lunchtime (maybe 12:15?) on a Thursday. The place was hoppin’ like you would not believe! On a weekday at lunchtime!!! WHAT?! The smell of smoke is overwhelming when you walk through the door. The folks in the casino aren’t the type of people I normally run into in my day to day life. They look weathered by a combination of excessive exposure to the sun, years of smoking, and I’m inferring a life full of hard knocks. They really don’t look stellar to be honest. I struggled not to be judgmental. The saddest part for me was watching them with cigarettes or pipes hanging out of their mouths and lifeless expressions, continually punching the screens at the penny slots. They looked completely devoid of emotion or feeling, as though they had been zombied out. They absolutely formed a vivid mental image of being slaves to sin. I don’t mean to focus on the “sin” part, though it is no doubt important. Let’s be frank for a moment here: sin is sin, and gluttony is as much a sin as gambling is. It’s not the sin part that made such a strong impression on me; it was the image of being a slave to a sin. Letting sin control you so much that you can’t even escape out from under the weight of it. Letting something else have a stranglehold on your life. Feeling completely powerless to change something that you know could ruin your life if it goes too far.

I walked through the smoky room to the buffet, was (mercifully) seated in the non-smoking section, and grabbed my plate and went to it. I saw a bunch of morbidly obese folks with plates piled high with mac and cheese, General Tso’s chicken, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and the rest and had a strong flashback to how I used to eat. I was momentarily very proud of the progress I’ve made and how my eating habits have improved. Simultaneously, I felt very out of place. I looked very little like most of the other restaurant patrons (at least in my head I do). I dressed like very few of them and if I had to guess, I have probably been to school significantly longer than most of them. At first, I admit I was like “OMG, what a bunch of white trash” in my head. On paper I felt I had a pretty strong case for being better than them.

However when walking out of the casino, I felt a very strong conviction in my heart that was whispering “You are the same with food, and it is that despicable to look at.” Simultaneously, the phrase “slave to sin” kept running through my head. I realized that in the past I have been acting like a slave, and acting as though food controlled me. That is absolutely ridiculous and should not be the case! I should take back my power, and be enslaved to food no longer.

I also thought about the verses that say “All your righteousness is as filthy rags.” Sure, I in my head I am better than these people but actually that is so incorrect! God is as repulsed by my sin as I was initially repulsed by the folks I saw at the casino – yet he loves me and has forgiven me. My pride and disgust was immediately convicting upon this realization. So much for my filthy rags: my sins (pride, being judgmental, etc) is as bad or worse than gambling, even if it is not as obvious. I really ended up seeing a lot of myself in the people at the casino, and to be honest I really don’t like it.

I am glad I am documenting this trip so that I won’t forget it. It was really a powerful experience for me and gave me several things I really need to think about and chew on. It also was such a great reminder about how some sins are so easy for all to see (e.g., the results of gluttony are obvious and impossible to hide in many cases), but others are not as obvious but just as bad (e.g., being judgmental of others who are sinners just like I AM!). Clearly I’ve got a lot to work on: it goes much deeper than just having control by avoiding a buffet or not overdoing it on the potstickers even though they are delicious!

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