Monday, August 31, 2009

Healthy Eating: A First Lady's Cause

I must admit I'm fairly cynical about politics. Among the things I usually scoff at are the ubiquitous "First Lady causes." Lady Bird Johnson beautified the highways, Laura Bush read to children. Worthy causes, but how much impact do these initiatives really have?

Well, when I read an AOL article today on the White House Garden, Sowing the Future from Seeds of the Past, I must say I wished Michelle Obama well.

Not only is the First Lady using heirloom seeds from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello garden, but she also says that by planting a garden, she wanted to encourage her family -- as well as the nation -- to eat healthy meals and to eat meals together. It's about time someone in the limelight took the cause of healthy eating, and by extension overeating and obesity, seriously. Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee lost weight and wrote a book about it, Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork: A 12-Stop Program to End Bad Habits and Begin a Healthy Lifestyle, but there's nothing like a politician clad in jeans and wellies, digging in the dirt, to bring the message home!

The White House garden has already produced 400 pounds of vegetables! In the future, Mrs. Obama says she might sell produce from the garden at a farm stand outside the White House. While I think that would be a hoot -- how much would a Presidential Pepper go for? -- I think they ought to donate the produce to a local shelter or food bank. Two causes at once!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Atiya M: A winner, bar none

When Atiya M. started practicing law, she spent big bucks on new clothes for court appearances. Although she weighed 240 pounds, she thought that she had finally made peace with herself and accepted her weight.

As a child, Atiya remembers that her busy parents routinely used food to engender momentary good feelings. She binged for the first time at age 7, after her parents separated. At age 10, she and her sister lived with an aunt in Nigeria for a year, a wonderful experience, but one that increased her feelings of anxiety and insecurity.

Atiya's father died when she was 13. She quickly gained 70 pounds. At 5-foot, 10 inches, she weighed 220 pounds. In her late teens, a friend introduced Atiya to purging. “A friend and I went out to lunch. Afterward, she said she knew how she to get rid of the food,” Atiya says. “It was like manna from heaven! I thought, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’”

Atiya tried undereating, too. For her senior prom, she cut back to 500 calories a day, exercised and smoked. Within a month, she lost 30 pounds. Over the years, Atiya went through periods of intense exercise, what she calls “exercise bulimia.” Her bulimia waxed and waned, but she resisted seeking help. “I didn’t want people to think I was crazy,” she says.

In her late 20s, Atiya stopped exercising for six weeks while she studied for the bar exam. Her weight shot up from about 230 to 260 pounds. She joined Weight Watchers and lost 63 pounds, but later regained the weight and then some. She no longer suffered from bulimia, but she continued binge eating.

Searching the internet one day, Atiya happened on Overeaters Anonymous. “Something just clicked,” she says. “It was the start of God doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself.”

“At my first meeting, I heard one woman share her story. She talked about things I had done in secret that I had never shared with anyone,” she says. “That night I knew that I was home.”

By her third meeting, though, Atiya was in agony. “I cried through the whole meeting,” she says. “I realized that food had always been my best friend and I knew I’d have to surrender it to God.”

The next morning, December 7, 2006, Atiya called a local OA contact. From that day, Atiya has followed her own plan of eating, abstaining from her addictive foods. Adhering to an OA tradition, she prefers not to talk about specific foods or habits. She does say that she's found it surprisingly easy to adopt new patterns.

Over 2 ½ years, Atiya lost 92 pounds. "I now wear a size 6," she says, "but the biggest joy is the freedom I have from food obsession."

Atiya is in daily contact with her sponsor, does her 12-step work, uses OA tools, such as writing, sponsoring, and service to others, and starts each morning with prayer and meditation. Combined with her involvement in a supportive church community, Atiya feels happy and free for the first time in her life.

“I no longer pick up food in response to emotions or life circumstances,” she says. “Every morning I wake up with the beautiful gift of abstinence and for that I am grateful.”

NOTE TO MY READERS: I would dearly love to show you a photo of Atiya, but OA's tradition of anonymity prevents me from doing so. I will just say that she is a beautiful woman and, as I've gotten to know her, a beautiful person!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Six years later...

A while back, I posted my "before" photo. It's the one that made me realize I needed to do something about my weight. In it, I'm heading down the sidewalk with my son on his first day of kindergarten six years ago.

I never took a real before photo. I started my weight loss journey with the decision not to do what I'd done on other "diets." No setting timed goals, no tracking my progress. I just decided to start exercising moderately and eating moderately and see what happened. What happened was that over five years I lost 30 pounds.

I still haven't taken a real after photo. But I was delighted to see this photo taken in the same spot, on the way to my son's fifth-grade graduation. Look at the smiling mom! Although she's not showing any skin, and pretty much hiding her waistline with a sweater, she's clearly a shadow of her former self. (And to prove that, I guess I've got to post the before photo, too. Ah well.)

I must say, though, that I don't obsess about how I look. It's how I feel. Those 30 extra pounds weighed more heavily on my mind than on my body. I'm still astounded at how free I feel, how comfortable in my own skin (well, at least when I have clothes on). I don't have to think about how to stand to look less heavy, or dress to "hide" those extra pounds. Such a relief. I still could use a personal shopper, though ... clearly, I haven't got the least idea how to dress at a normal weight!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Why did I wait so long?

When I think about why I waited so long to do something about my weight, I can come up with a lot of reasons. I had my own business. I was caring for our son, volunteering at his school, all while trying to remain viable in my profession. To keep up, I reasoned, I needed to read widely and write every day, not be checking in at the front desk for a spin class.

But, to be honest, my biggest hindrance was myself. I denied the truth; I didn’t want to admit I looked and felt as bad as I did. For the longest time, the mirror lied to me. It lies to most of us, in fact. Very few people see themselves as others do. One Pew Research Center study found that while nine in 10 people believe that most of their fellow Americans are overweight, only four in 10 see themselves as overweight.

Even when faced with the truth, I firmly believed that I could take care of the situation, if and when I wanted to. After all, I was my own boss. Nobody was going to tell me what to do. Ultimately, though, I was humbled to realize that I was guilty of one of those old-fashioned, outdated Seven Deadly Sins. No, not Gluttony, but Pride.

I didn’t want anyone’s help, even though it was obvious I wasn’t helping myself. I was doing just fine by myself, thank you very much. It’s nonsensical that just when I was feeling the worst about myself, I was the most prideful, but there it is. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” the Lord observes in the book of Jeremiah.

I thought people who paid money for gyms were frivolous, that people who bought prepared meals from weight loss programs were lazy. That these morally defective people were just going to give up anyway, so why were they even bothering? Inwardly, I scoffed at those hyper people who ran, biked, walked, or worked out at home. Surely, I make better use of my time, I crowed to myself.

When my day of reckoning came, it was a huge hurdle to admit that I needed help. For me, the solution was to join a gym. Still, I’m pretty much anonymous there. I go in, swim my laps and leave. I like to go during the day with all the seniors, when all is calm and they haven’t cranked up the music yet for the after-work muscle crowd.

Anyone who decides to act will face the same question: How much personal attention do I want—-or need—-from others to succeed? It helps to know yourself: Are you a person who will exercise only in a class setting? Or are you a private person who would rather die than show up in spandex at a jock gym? Could meeting one-on-one with a personal trainer keep you motivated? Or would you thrive with the encouragement of a support group? You're in this for the long term, so it pays to make a good decision upfront. Or, to change direction quickly when you find something isn't working for you. So, what's holding you back, and how do you think can you overcome it and get going?