Betty Duffy

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Brief Summary of My Diet History

Over the past two months I have lost a total of twenty pounds. Being on the svelte side of the fence makes me one of those annoying people who believe that weight loss is the answer to any of life’s problems. Toenail fungus? Have you tried losing weight? I’m no fun to be around, and all I eat is salad. But it occurred to me the other day that weight loss, like having children, is something deeply personal, for which the internal schematics and formulas are always changing. Yet the external formulas are about as straightforward as first grade math: intake < output.

With each of my five pregnancies, I have gained no less than seventy pounds. I’ve hesitated to write this post because it is so embarrassing. Seventy pounds. That’s about 3/4s of another adult person. My face gets fat, my hands, my ankles, my toenails. I don’t look like myself. I can stick my finger in my shin and it leaves an indentation of about a half inch. Edema, fortunately, which means that I lose 30 pounds instantly upon the birth. By the time I leave the hospital people say I look more like myself again. The swelling around my nose dissipates. My chin becomes visible again. It’s a relief. And I continue to lose water for another couple weeks, until I’m down to about thirty pounds of raw yellow belly jelly to lose over the next year. Surprisingly, I’ve always, more or less, lost it. And still, I go back and forth between thinking I have unlocked all the mysteries of weight loss, and that I know absolutely nothing about losing weight.

I’ve never been a waif. Even running track and cross country in high school, I was always the girl on the bottom of the pyramid, big boned, holding up my skinny friends to wave at the crowds. Bikinis and halter tops were always the dominion of “other girls,” though I bought them, and took them for an unflattering jaunt here and there during my early, breast budding teens.

My weight regulation method of choice was always, from puberty onward, a form of binge and purge with exercise. Controlling my weight was the only reason I ran. Not having the self discipline to deprive myself of food, I once tried an actual binge and purge with a girlfriend in college. We planned it out. We would go to the dining hall, eat as much frozen yogurt as we could and go to the basement of our dorm to puke. Everything proceeded as planned until it was time to purge. We’d consumed about 2000 calories of sugary frozen milk, but with much effort and gagging, neither one of us could get more than a thimbleful back up. I broke capillaries on my face. My nose was purple. We vowed never to do anything so disordered again, and went out for an eleven mile run instead, finishing at about two in the morning. And I felt a little dejected: if I could just have an eating disorder like everyone else, my weight problems would be solved.

Though not always to that extreme, I continued through young adulthood, to eat and run, eat and run. I ran a minimum of five miles a day, just to be certain I accounted for every calorie. And I maintained a steady size ten (or a twelve in the winter months), until my first pregnancy. It always starts the same way: ten pounds before my first appointment, twenty by my second, and on up from there, until I weigh more than my 6’5’’ husband.

After my first pregnancy, I was still young enough that I could start running again at about three weeks post partum and my uterus wouldn’t fall out. The weight came off, and I was pregnant again before my baby was five months old (thanks, early return of fertility, ecological breastfeeding notwithstanding). Second round of baby weight went the same way, though it took longer, a full year to lose the weight having been more or less out of the saddle for two full years.

After my third child, I felt like a lump of dry clay. My body wouldn’t do it. I’d run a few steps, and walk ten. I had to move to drastic measures: the Atkins diet, which lowered my weight enough to exercise. That was the year I lost more weight than I’d gained, working out at the YMCA for two hours a day, and sort of minding my carbs.

Then I turned thirty. I want to blame it on my age, that after my fourth child nothing seemed to work. I had foot and knee injuries from running while overweight. I was tired all the time, and grouchy. The Atkins thing didn’t work, probably because I cheated and I drank a pot of coffee a day (ten cups). I went to the doctor, thinking something must be wrong with me: I can’t eat whatever I want and not feel terrible. I was diagnosed with Adrenal Fatigue (“A Twentieth Century Stress Disorder!”), high cholesterol, leptin resistance, and pre-diabetes. I did the Leptin Resistance Diet for a couple months, and felt better, but didn’t lose weight. So I hung up my losses, and decided, as my sister-in-law says, that if I was going to be fat, I might as well be pregnant.

Enter pregnancy #5. I tested positive for gestational diabetes. I had to go on insulin, and eat a very restricted diet. I asked my doctor, “Is there anything that I can just eat until I get sick?” “Not really,” she said, “Maybe lettuce without dressing.” It was probably the first time I ate like a normal person, which I guess means portion control. It didn’t kill me. In fact my life and my baby’s life depended on it. Funny how that works. Eat right, or you’ll die. That’s what it took.

I still gained all the water, but not so much of the weight. I continued on the diabetic diet after delivery, and got into a sort of acceptable size without much effort or exercise. Back at the doctor, my diabetes slipped back into a pre-diabetic status. My cholesterol went back to normal. I had energy. And I asked my doctor what I could do to lose the rest of the weight without exercising like a maniac.

It’s very simple: no sugar and intake has to be less than output. He prescribed about a month of consuming 1500 calories a day with no exercise because exercise makes you hungry. From there, you can increase activity and increase calories accordingly (about 100 calories, the equivalent of one apple, per mile of walking or running). The weight has melted off quickly, and continues to do so, even as I increase calories and activity.

I guess the moral of this long tale, is that I’m 33 years old, and have finally learned how to eat like a grown-up. I never thought I had a bad relationship with food, but I would feel stressed out and depressed just at the thought of limitations on my eating. Like so many other things in life, I can’t have as much of it as I want.

Disclaimer: Talk to your doctor about the calorie intake that may be right for you!


jenX said...

Great information, Betty. You're such a great writer. Wise, interesting and personal all at the same time. I'm going to try this. I went from 189 to 143 last summer. The diet almost killed me. It was so hard. I've gained 15pounds back, but am trying to take that off again, now. The endless cycle of gain and loss. I think I'll give your plan a whirl.

megan said...

You look fabulous by the way and of course I'm not jealous. :) i have so much to loose (50 lbs) and every day seems sooooo long. i cant seem to muster up enough self-discpline to get through the whole day and night. by the time the kids are in bed, we feel like we need a reward for our hard day of work so even if i've been good all day, we end up going to the store (sometimes at 9 pm) to get our stash. How did you get through the first few weeks eithout giving in ?

Betty Duffy said...

Those first few weeks were spent on the road eating fast food. That's sort of how I learned what a typical meal should look like, portion wise. If you eat 375 calories four times a day, I could eat one Egg Mc Muffin for breakfast. Most fast food places have calorie counts on menu items. A salad with half the dressing and no nuts fits the bill. Then when I came home I knew what a 375 calorie meal looked like. If I wanted to eat more, I ate a salad or popcorn. If I'm still hungry, some sort of protein. I keep chicken breasts cooked at all times to put on salads. etc. When the boys wanted pizza, I made an egg white omelet with salsa on it. You could make it pretty big if it was filled with vegetables, maybe sprinkled with parmesan. Oatmeal for breakfast is filling. You can eat two full servings of it for 375 calories, with some non-calorie sweetener. Honestly, I know it sounds like what I "should" say, but I don't feel hungry. If one meal feels small, I know the next one is in a couple hours. And if I have to cheat, I keep sugar free pudding snacks around. Yogurt with blueberries is a good filling meal. I like to eat it with frozen blueberries because then I eat it slowly. But this is so boring. Diet posts are boring, aren't they? Yet I could talk about it all day.

Betty Duffy said...

Megan, the other annoying thing I did that has helped, is tell everyone I'm on a ridiculous diet. It's sort of like telling everyone you're an alcoholic. They quit eating in front of you. They ask if foods are "ok" before they get them out of the fridge. Mom even tells people for me, "Betty will only eat half a steak." And I say, "Steak? I didn't know dinner was steak. That's cause for a celebration! I should eat a whole steak, because there's steak for dinner." But then there aren't enough steaks prepared for you to eat a whole one, so the dirty work is done.

Betty Duffy said...

Jen, thanks for your sweet comments. Congrats on your weight loss. I'd love to know how you did it, and maintained it. Do you have a post on it?