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Weighty Matter has Simple Solution

by on August 11, 2014 6:15 AM

This week is my anniversary.

It started last year with a trip to South Carolina with my family and a few friends who came along with our kids.

At the pool and at the beach, I was the mom with shorts over my bathing suit. As we hung out on the deck, on the boat and in the gazebo of our friend's gorgeous house in Debardieu, I managed to avoid mirrors as well as cell phone pictures and other unwelcome reminders that my weight and my health had also gone south. I didn't need to reinforce what I already knew.

That trip and the rumor that Penn State's health insurance was going to ask us to identify our height and weight on a health screening survey finally served as motivation to get my rather expansive butt into gear.

Thirty pounds and three pants sizes later, I am celebrating the one year anniversary of the new me.

Today's column isn't about looking for compliments. It's also not about dieting. It's intended to send the message that if I can do it, so can anyone.

Repeat. If I can do it, so can you. I had those same self-defeating, rationalizing, negative messages looping in my brain that stops so many people from taking that first step. That mountain seems so high.

When I bump into people who I haven't seen for a while or I mention to someone that I've lost 30+ pounds, the inevitable question is "How did you do it?" The answer is plain and simple.

Healthy eating and exercise. Go figure.

My height has always been an advantage in managing my weight (although not always in finding pants that are long enough). Over the years, I've been able to pick up or drop a few pounds without much notice and with minor adjustments of the belt. I started running late in my 30s and was able to keep most of the ups and downs -- as well as the genetics from my Dad's side of the family -- in check with a regular exercise regimen.

And then, I didn't.

Stress. Work. Schedules. Travel. The realities and biology of a woman my age. Pretty soon 10 pounds became twenty and twenty turned into numbers on the scale that I hadn't seen since I was pregnant with my last child (who weighed 9-13 at birth). I had the standard self-deprecating joke. "I just had a baby and I'm still carrying baby weight." That baby just turned 18. It wasn't long before even my larger size clothes were starting to get snug.

A tee-shirt and shorts over my bathing suit represented how I felt about myself. The cycle -- feeling bad, making bad food choices (AKA comfort eating), avoiding exercise because I was out of shape and then feeling bad -- continued.

The day after I got home from the beach, I used my Penn State discount and joined the on-line weight management plan that involves tracking points and weekly weigh-ins. I started walking. I signed up for a yoga class at PYP Studio.

It started to work.

Life, as they say, is a marathon, not a sprint. The same is true of healthy weight loss. It doesn't happen overnight and ups and downs are part of the process. Some weeks were better than others. Neither exercise or healthy eating works as well without the other.

In the past year, I have been reminded of obvious lessons on maintaining one's health and weight. If my colleagues in kinesiology or nutrition or bio-behavioral health are reading this, feel free to commence with rolling your eyes. It's not rocket science and it's all been said before.

First, there is no food that is bad. Anything can be eaten in moderation and in conjunction with an exercise plan. I even enjoyed the occasional shrimp and grits at Gigi's with the understanding that it wasn't an everyday choice.

Motivation begets motivation. Seeing the numbers drop on the scale, even if only a pound at a time, served to keep me going. It also helps to take the journey with someone. Several of my co-workers were also on the plan and we shared recipes and ideas for staying on track. Going to yoga at PYP with my daughter made it fun as well as healthy.

Counting points and measuring portions isn't for everyone but it worked for my personality. I opted to do it on-line but some people like the meetings. I liked recording what I ate, and deducting points from my day's total when I exercised. On the current plan, most fruits and vegetables are "free." That has helped to remind me to reach for the orange when I am hungry instead of the potato chips from the vending machine.

I learned to prepare. Taking lunch and snacks to work so that I had good stuff on hand instead of taking my chances at restaurants prevents the sabotage. (The weight plan website lists many specific restaurant menu options just in case.)

Penn State paid half of the monthly membership fee for the first six months which, despite the fact that it was only $7.50, somehow helped me feel accountable.

I ate real food. No neon colored diet drinks, meal replacement shakes, or fruits and veggies in a bottle. It wasn't food ordered from a company delivered to my house in a box. I did it by managing portions of regular food and being honest with myself. Those sample bites when making dinner or eating a spoonful of dough when baking cookies for the kids adds up -- as does a beer or two on a Friday night.

It sounds so obvious but exercise gets easier with weight loss and improved fitness. Prior to the weight loss, I used to say "my knees are so bad I can't run anymore." It's funny that dropping the equivalent of six five pound bags of sugar makes it easier to do everything – including running. I am once again back to a couple of miles a day and relying on exercise (rather than food) for stress management.

It's surprising how many people ask how I will manage when I "go off" the plan. Because this isn't a diet, I don't intend to stop although I stopped paying the monthly membership fees several months ago. I track it in my head now. If we think of anything as a fix and a cure just until we can resume prior bad habits and decisions, we are destined to fail. I use the scale to remind me if I start to slide.

So far, I've only been able to find two downsides of being thinner. I had to have a repeat mammogram because the weight loss changed my "profile" pretty drastically from last year's images. All clear. I am also going to need to spend some time and money rebuilding my wardrobe although even that has a positive. I made some nice bank by selling the larger size stuff at the Clothes Mentor.

We are heading down south again soon to visit our daughter. I'm packing the new bathing suit and leaving the cover-up shorts at home. Happy Anniversary to me. Next year, it could be you.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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