African American couple preparing a meal. Photo by Cade Martin
Photo by CDC / Unsplash

One pound at a time, one day at a time. And maintenance never stops.

Saga Supporter Karen Allison commented about this stupendous achievement, and since Penny and others have dealt with/are still dealing with this journey (who isn't, right?) I asked her to share. I have very lightly edited this for clarity, but this is her story, verbatim.

The journey to the tipping point was my giving away all my power, really. Seemed fun until it wasn’t. I was in my ninth year of living alone and the kids were finally out of the house. I was enjoying my single life mostly but had sort of thought perhaps I’d be interested in another relationship sometime in the near-ish future.

Seems the universe listens. In the summer of 2009 I met the one. By the spring of 2010 I emptied my house and took what little I’d kept and moved to the East Coast from Ontario. That part was great.

What was not so great eventually was falling right into the East Coast party mentality. Sure it was great fun. Work was not an issue, as I simply went to work with my partner. Looking back, which is always so interesting (ha ha), I should have not done that part. Anyway we would work until around 2-3pm then head to the whatever local (bar) where the gang was meeting. Proceed to have drinks and usually eat out and then head home and, well, have more.

Rinse, repeat. Fast-forward a year and I was exhausted and fat. There’s a mighty (big) difference wearing stretchy clothes because you want to and because you have to. I also ached everywhere. I’d stopped working out at all during all this, too.

Once day I woke up and we were heading out to work. I went to put my shoes on and I had to go sit down. It was still hard to get bent over enough to tie them. My lungs were being squeezed and I couldn’t catch my breath. THAT was the moment. I knew it had to change. So I did. I began slowly. Bought a spin bike and began to use it. The food and drink issues were more a challenge as the social life didn’t really change much for a while.

By 2011 we moved out of the city to a small town where we are now, and funny enough no one wanted to travel 40 minutes to see us. Ha! That is a real thing that I lived with for all my adult life but that’s also another story. The house and renos distracted me a while, but by mid-year I was back to the bike and busier overall. The going out, drinking and eating stopped and I began to feel marginally better. In the fall of that year I knew I had to take myself in hand and probably look for some outside help.

I began eating less and drinking only on weekends. Some weight came off, about 2o lbs, I think. But I was just slogging along and hungry all the time. There had to be a better way.  I knew some things about me (by)then, and they were that I do well when I have a goal and actionable steps. I did better for others than myself. I like to work hard but also like not having to always think up or plan what I need to do. (I) decided that getting it done was more important than doing it all myself.

I had a friend from Powerlifting that was coaching with a company called Precision Nutrition. They were doing a program called Lean Eating. Once I got over my embarrassment about what I’d allowed to happen to myself, I made a call and signed up.

Weight loss
Photo by Total Shape / Unsplash

I started with them in January of 2012. Starting weight: 214lbs.
Method was simple but not always easy. Stay present and focus only on today. Add one new positive habit every two weeks for a while, then revisit and practise them again deeper. Exercise of some sort every day but one. Weight and measure self once a week.

Each habit was framed as an experiment. How does it feel? There was no have to. Does this work for you? Can you modify it until it does? When the new one came you focused more on that, yet kept the previous one.

Looking back, what worked was the staying in the present and being mindful and aware of how I was feeling. My language is one of feeling. How something feels to me is always my marker. The habits are the following:

1. Eat slowly. Still a massive struggle and at times I have to simply recognize that I’ve eaten enough and step away. Definitely not a naturally slow eater.

2. Stop at 80% full. Always. Then wait. If half an hour later I’m still really hungry then I will eat more or not. Depends.

3. Eat protein at every meal. Yes, I still do this.

4. Eat 5 servings of veggies a day minimum. This was easy as a target. I still manage this easily although I lean towards those that grow above ground 95% of the time.

5. Eat 4 to 5 times a day. NOPE. This one didn’t even get off the ground with me. Then I ate three times 5 hours apart. That helped me to learn what hunger actually felt like again. Nowadays I eat twice and sometimes once. I also do some extended fasting occasionally.

6. Eat fewer carbs. This one was really about starchy foods. I found out a lot of things here. Once I didn’t need nearly the amount of them I was enjoying. In fact I needed almost none. The hardest struggle belonged to my taste buds with this one. I simply liked eating them! I learned something else too, here, but I’ll finish with the habits first.

7. Get your sleep. Also a game changer. As I began to actually get 7 to 8 hours a night I functioned so much better in the day and a lot of my desire to eat carbo garbage went way down. Now except on occasion I’m in bed by 10 at the latest.

8. Stay conscious of what your eating and when. Mindless eating or eating because others are was a problem for me also. I still struggle with social eating.
A life changer for me after the "eat less carb" experiment came when I added some grains back in and found that I became phlegmy and my joints began to ache again. So I tried gluten-free and found that made no difference. So I took the grains back out and within a few days it all went away. To this day if I eat grains over the course of a couple of days all that inflammation comes back. So, grains are no a no go for me and although my taste buds are sad the rest of me is better off. (author: this VERY thing just happened to me when my friend was just here for four days and I ate bread and desserts. I fasted most of the day, bled off a tonne of water and feel much better. Yeppirs. I get it)

The other part of that year was spent really digging in to the mental and emotional aspects of me. A lot of self-reflection and visiting with old pains and traumas was done. The icky things no one wants to do but which are so necessary to growing and getting past the same old patterns repeating themselves over and over. No change in body weight would fix that. And they were definitely connected for me. Staying aware and being able to step outside myself and observe what I’m doing is a daily practise for me now. When it fails then things go awry. LOL.

I had one major slip and one small one since and I caught both quick enough.
My partner got very sick with liver failure. Then his kidneys went. Long story short  I was there every single day, we spent 8+ months in hospital and he almost went to palliative care. We were days away from having that be the only outcome when a donor arrived. His recovery from that surgery was atypical and a bit of a nightmare. Anyway I maintained my health and ate well all through that journey but fell apart with it in the aftermath. Another lesson well learned there for me. It’s not the stress that gets me, it’s the lessening of it that does.

The second was last year for a few months when we both got a bit stir crazy with the pandemic restrictions and I slid. Ate more of what I shouldn’t and slacked off on my workout/physical activity habits.

So going forward, I know a few things better. The struggles will remain the same but I’ll get better at navigating them as long as I stay aware in all aspects of my being. Physical, mental, spiritual, etc. I also must remember my brain is a liar! Ha ha. Listening to my body is equally or more important that what I’m thinking.

Hunger is not an emergency! As my late friend told me “I have meals on my ass”Being in a social situation does not mean I have to eat and drink all the things.

Keep alcohol to once a week as a basic everyday rule.

Mostly, I remember I cannot control outcomes; I can just work on what I’m doing now. Today. The habits will bring to where I want to be or as close as possible if I just do that.

So those are the basics. Sorry it took so long! Who knew being retired could make one so freakin' busy. (I get it!)

(Author bolded those parts which stood out for me)

Here are some powerful takeaways from Karen's story, and I would invite you to add yours:

1. Slowly building habits. I love Charles Duhigg's Power of Habit, and strongly recommend it.

2. Learning what foods your body doesn't like. Karen's and my bodies do NOT like grains, and they make us achey and ill. I LOVE them. They don't love me back. It might be worth exploring Dr. David Perlmutter's books on grains and the brain.

3. Patience. Above all, patience. We slide sideways and back, we move forward, stuff happens. We claw our way back. The body changes, we ask new questions.

4. The absolute basics: good food, movement, and watching what we do, when we do it and why we do it, and stopping at 80%. Fasting to give the body a break, good sleep, and just being so very aware of ourselves and brain as a liar. I loved that.

Dear Saga Readers: You can see the value of why I am interested in your stories. No matter how hard I work on myself there is always, ALWAYS something to be learned from others.

Recent Saga Supporter Steve Shaper, a long-time friend from a previous job, both told me that and modeled it himself. A CEO, he would sit in on a beginner sales class that I was conducting, for there was always the possibility that he might pick up a nugget.

We are always learning from one another. My sincere thanks to Karen. More stories to come.

Photo by Drew Beamer / Unsplash

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