Back in September 2015 when E.J. and I started to change our eating habits, we did a lot of soul searching. What makes us eat what we eat? What do we crave and why? Can we really change, or are we just wired to do what we do?
Though E.J. and I were both very overweight, we took very different paths to get there. E.J. had grown up thin and healthy – an avid bike rider and swimmer, and eventually a super-fit Marine. His weight gain started once the kids were born, and I honestly think the sleep deprivation, the stress of his difficult marriage (pre-Sherry), the financial burdens of a young family, and the sudden switch from an active Military life to a Corporate desk job were the biggest contributers to his weight gain. When you have a family, your personal needs often take a back seat to everything else, and it’s so much easier to solve hunger with McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts than it is to plan and cook regular meals. E.J. had great health for so long previously that the weight gain was fairly gradual, and didn’t honestly impact him that much… as his doctor’s said, he bought himself credit with all of the good fitness which had finally caught up with him years later.
I, on the other hand, have always been overweight (well, as far back as I can remember anyway. My mom says I wore slim pants when I was a toddler). Both of my parents are overweight, though neither of them appear to have been so before I was born… (Noticing a pattern here?) And according to my mother, while she tried to get me to eat healthy home cooked meals, I was extremely picky and refused to eat anything that I didn’t like, even to the point of vomiting it up at the table if I were forced to try. I’m personally appalled by that now, of course, but truth be told, it’s somewhat consistent with the way I’ve approached food as long as I can remember. I’m simply not going to eat what I don’t want to eat, and I no one can tell me otherwise. It’s as much a control thing as a pleasure thing – there are a lot of things in my life that are out of my control, but food isn’t one of them. And there’s the root of my problem. Even when my parents tried to scold me, or punish me for not complying, I’d find ways to stash, sneak, or otherwise circumvent the issue. Once I was old enough to drive and have my own money, a huge percentage of it was used to avoid eating school-made or home-made lunches and get food I really liked. People could be mean to me, make fun of me, or otherwise cause me to have a bad day, but I could always drown my sorrows in a Wendy’s classic Frosty. My only saving grace was my activity – I played all kinds of sports (gymnastics, diving, softball, volleyball, basketball, soccer, badminton, racquetball, cheer leading) and so I remained a “stocky” athlete who was never the fastest, but was strong and coordinated.
Once I hit College, the athletics dropped off, save for the intramural volleyball, badminton and racquetball that I enjoyed, and once I graduated, the exercise was gone. I ballooned at that point, and drowned my stresses with work, loneliness, and trouble at home (my parents’ divorce and related family issues) with food. When I met E.J. I was already pretty big, and we both got bigger those over the next 7 years, eating cheap, comfort foods that kept us moving in between full-time jobs, E.J.’s school, and the kids’ activities. Any time I had a bad day, I would tell E.J. I needed “queso therapy” – my term inexpensive binge-eating on chips and melted cheese.
I tried several times over the years to break the habits – I can’t tell you how many short-lived calorie-counting exercises I went through. I had some measure of success only twice before this one – one when I was in 8th grade and wanted to be a cheer leader (I lived on fat-free hot dogs and salads for half a year so I could fit in the uniform and still fit in it through the end of the season) and once in 2009 when I had a small health scare and I removed regular sodas and breakfast burritos from my diet and replaced lunch with a half a turkey sandwich from a convenient sandwich shop. Both times, my stress levels were fairly low, I was in a good place in my life, and the weight came back when circumstances changed and stresses returned.
Then when we started the Whole 30 in September of 2015, while I was naturally skeptical of the whole Paleo concept, I was determined to help E.J. and maybe finally myself get rid of the life-threatening weight. I learned to cook and bake all over again, made exercise a regular part of my life, taught myself how to say “no” to office cake and donuts, learned to drink unsweetened coffee and tea, and found stress relief in a walk outside, stretching, and mindful breathing. Now here I am, 20 months into a journey where I’ve lost over 65 lbs, and I’m struggling with 5 of them which have returned and don’t appear to be interested in going away again. I think E.J. will agree that the beauty of Paleo and why it works, is that you eat good foods that you enjoy, you can eat out occasionally and still lose weight, but that last 5-10 lbs is a b*$@#. Worse yet, when I hurt my knee, I couldn’t run anymore. I didn’t realize how much I relied on that regular exercise both for stress relief and calorie offset. You see for me, the journey has been a lesson in control – learning how to control my emotions and cravings and not reaching out for a cookie or a bowl of queso to fix it for me. That struggle for control hasn’t gone away and I don’t think it ever will. For me, it will be a day-by-day commitment to myself to make better choices wherever possible, be willing to put in the effort to make those choices available as much as possible, and courageous enough to recognize and manage my stresses in healthier ways.
Don’t think for a second that once the weight comes off, the hard work is over. If anything, it is just beginning. But I will tell you this, though – it’s all worth it. Every little good decision, every day.