Lessons from another culture

I’ve spent the last 9 days in the UK, visiting my family. I have a few observations about the differences in the culture surrounding food and exercise in the two countries.

  1. People in the UK get more exercise as part of their daily life.
    Every day my sister walks her twin girls to school and back twice.  She probably gets 5,000 step a day just from that.  It is less than 10 minutes’ walk away, so it is easier and quicker to walk than to strap the kids into their car seats, drive, park, and get them out again. There are plentiful sidewalks.
    My mum lives within walking distance of the train & bus station and most of the shops in downtown Shrewsbury, and doesn’t own a car.  As a result, she gets plenty of exercise just from the activities of everyday life.
    In America I frequently spend all day in the car or the office and I am lucky to hit 3,000 steps unless I intentionally exercise  It seems much harder to have a completely sedentary day in the UK.
  2. Bigger meals, fewer snacks.
    I was stuffed after every meal in the UK, but noticed that I was rarely offered a snack between meals. In America I tend to eat smaller meals and graze more throughout the day. This may actually be leading me to consume more calories overall.
  3. Eating out is expensive.
    There are no free refills on drinks, and eating out is still a treat. We went to a pub for dinner and ordered 3 entrees, 1 kids meal, a glass of wine, a pint of beer and 3 soft drinks – no appetizers or desserts. The bill was the equivalent of $100. A small latte is ~$4.50. The cost of gas is also much higher, so people are less apt to drive long distances.  As a result, people tend to eat out far less in the UK. On several occasions we packed a picnic lunch at home and brought that with us, instead of eating out.

There are some lessons to be learned here. When I move to New York state next year, I am very keen to find a neighborhood with sidewalks.  Even better if it is within walking distance of downtown shops, services and the station.  This will make it easier to do errands on foot, and to walk around the block to meet my new neighbors. Maybe I will also make a effort to snack less, and to regard eating out as a treat, not an everyday occurrence.

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A lot can change in a month

Q: How do you make God laugh?
A: Tell him your plans for the future.

I’ve always loved that joke, but rarely has it seemed more applicable than in the last few weeks. Ever since we emigrated to the US 15 years ago, we have loved living in Massachusetts and really had no intention of ever moving. We spent two days being tourists in New York City last Christmas, and if you had told me then that within a year, we would be back there looking at homes, I would have laughed in your face!

However, my husband was recently offered the job opportunity of a lifetime… in NYC. With that, my whole world has been upended. Weight loss has been about the furthest thing from my mind. I have been preoccupied with figuring out living arrangements, researching school systems, and preparing to be a single mother during the week for the next 9 months while my husband commutes up and down to New York.

This level of uncertainty and upheaval will be my new normal for the foreseeable future.  If I don’t want to end up being the size of a house, I have to figure out how to control my stress levels, make exercise a priority, and not eat my feelings.  The year ahead is going to be a challenge, in ways I can only imagine.

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Food Sanity at Canobie


We enjoyed a family day out at Canobie Lake Park yesterday, a local theme park in Salem, NH.  As my husband and I were on the aerial skyride, we passed over the picnic tables in the corporate catering area.  I was reminded of our first visit to Canobie, back in about 2001 – I know it was certainly before we had kids.  It was on a catered company outing with my husband’s colleagues.

This was back in the days when I was pretty fanatical about following Weight Watchers, and subsequently petrified of any “eating out” when I wouldn’t be in control and wouldn’t have an accurate idea of the Points I was consuming.  I remember scouring the menus online in advance, trying to gather any snippets of published nutritional information. I was very stressed out about “having to eat a burger” and there being no healthy options.  I don’t think I was very fun to hang out with back then. My husband would agree. 🙂

Flash-forward to today, when I ate like a “normal person”.  No huge pig-outs, but no stress either.  For lunch I had some chicken tenders and garlic bread.  I guesstimated the points, wrote it down, and moved on. I drank water, because I still prefer to eat my calories rather than drink them.

For an afternoon treat, faced with an array of tempting options including ice cream, cheesy fries, cotton candy and popcorn, I decided what I really wanted was a latte and some Oreos. I wasn’t deliberately practicing restraint, I was just listening to my body – which needed a jolt of caffeine to make it through the drive home!

Moderation in all things is such a key mantra for me now.  It even applied to the kids’ choices.  They wanted Gatorade, but we didn’t have enough cash to buy two big bottles, so we persuaded them to share one. They still got a treat, but the amount was sane.

This morning the scale was up 0.6lbs, but I am totally fine with that. We walked a lot and indulged a bit. It was one of the more enjoyable family days out we have had in a while, and upon reflection, my lack of anxiety around food was at least a small factor in that.

Sure, I would still like to weigh less than I do – but the increased mental peace I feel about food these days is also very valuable to me.  I’m starting to think that skinny isn’t always worth it, if it comes at the expense of mental calm, relaxation, and shared family enjoyment. I’m seeking balance.

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A holding pattern

Well, so much for that goal of getting down to 205 lbs by July 4th.  We’re now just a few days away, and I am still holding steady around 215. I’ve been in a pattern of doing well during the week, getting down to 212 or 213, and then a restaurant meal, takeout or ice cream indulgence on the weekend will push me back up into the 215-216 range. Lather, rinse, repeat. I’m exercising, but not enough to offset the food.

Looking on the bright side, we are half way through the year and I have maintained a 15 lb weight loss since January 1st.  So it’s not like I haven’t accomplished anything in 2015.  But I seem to be lacking the impetus to really press hard into more of a loss mode. I am just a little too comfortable at this set point. Mojo, where are you?

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There’s a treadmill in the house!

We’ve been contemplating the purchase of a treadmill for some time now. We used to own one a long time ago, but we got rid of it when we moved from Marlborough to Berlin 8 years ago.  Over this long winter when it was hard to get to the gym and we spent many days housebound, I began to seriously pine for one.

Then I became aware of two local children I know who made great progress towards their health goals by walking on a treadmill at a slow pace while watching the iPad.  The theory is that moving at any pace is better than sitting. I figured that it couldn’t hurt to try it with my kids too, since they prefer a sedentary existence and avoid organized sports. When Jonathan’s pediatrician endorsed the idea last week, it really gave me the impetus to move ahead with the purchase.

We were lucky to find one in good shape on Craigslist locally, and despite some frustrations with getting it moved (pieces that wouldn’t fit through doors, pouring rain etc.), it is finally installed at the end of our family room and working great. I think the fact that it is not hidden away in the basement but visible in plain sight really helps.

Both kids have been keen to try it out, albeit not for long periods so far.  But I have also used it twice already.  Yesterday I caught up on Facebook on the iPad while walking at 3.7 mph for 40 minutes.  Tonight my back was sore, since I had been sitting for 8 hours straight at work, but even walking for 15 minutes eased the pain considerably.

Let’s hope the novelty doesn’t wear off and this piece of exercise equipment continues to get daily use!

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Priorities and balance

Deep thoughts from a comment I left on a friend’s Facebook post,  copied & pasted here for posterity.

“As with most things in life, it is about balance. I want to be healthy, but I also have to work, and raise 2 kids, and keep a house, and volunteer, and be a wife, and a friend….. the list goes on. When I lost 90 lbs in a year, it was pretty much my sole focus, and I wasn’t very fun to live with. That kind of intensity isn’t possible for me right now, so it’s a trade off.

Nobody at my funeral is going to talk about whether I weighed 140 lbs or 200 lbs. But they will remember if I was compassionate, and intelligent, and funny, and loyal, and a giver, and someone who lifted others up.”

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Where’s my wagon?

Since returning from our wonderful vacation in Mexico, I have been struggling to get back on the wagon. I was up 5 lbs upon our return, but I figured that a lot of that was Motrin bloat & water weight from flying, and I thought it would fall off.  However, not much of it has shifted, and I have nobody to blame but myself!

First there was the justification of it being my 40th birthday and that I “deserved” to indulge; then a stressful week of household and work issues; a couple of cream teas with friends; dinner out with my husband; and tonight will be my belated birthday party with friends.  My points have been way over my target every day since I got back.

I typically do well for the first half of the day, then it all goes to heck by the evening.  I’m still tracking, and getting a decent number of steps, but the points need to be reined in and I know I should be actually running/sweating for exercise, not just walking.

Time to recommit and set a new goal if I don’t want to undo all my hard work. Here’s to being at or under 205 by July 4th.

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Greetings from Mexico!

We are coming to the end of our wonderful 5-day trip to Cancun to celebrate my 40th birthday a few days early. Staying at a resort with unlimited food and drink, it can be hard to control yourself! But I’ve never had more than one drink a day here, because my tolerance for alcohol is so low.  I’ve definitely eaten more than I would at home, with fewer fruits and veggies and more desserts. But I’ve walked at least 10,000 steps every day as well, so hopefully that has offset some of the food. And maybe I’ve lost some water weight due to sweating so much in the heat!  Unfortunately I have had daily headaches necessitating the consumption of ibuprofen, possibly due to dehydration or the alcohol.

It will be interesting to see what my weight is when I get back. But I will give it a few days of flushing with lots of water before I consider it “hard lard” i.e. weight gain that is sticking around.

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That was the week that wasn’t

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So by the beginning of last weekend, I had hit and maintained under my pre-Mexico goal (209.6, 20 lbs down) for a few days. I was feeling good, strong and in control.

But the past week has felt like a spiraling vortex of bad decisions.  So what happened? I’m not interested in excuses, but I think there is benefit in analyzing it so that I can attempt to minimize certain triggers or situations in the future.

First of all, I somehow ended up with a muscle spasm in my left arm, requiring a trip to urgent care and resulting in high doses of ibuprofen and a prescription for valium to relax it enough that I could sleep.  Meds always make my weight shoot up.

Next, my in-laws were staying with us for 12 days.  I love them dearly, but having anyone in your house for that long is stressful. By Sunday I was sick of cooking every night, and we ordered Chinese takeout. This would not be bad if it was confined to one day, but there was enough food for 3 days of leftovers!  So the excess sodium and lack of veggies dragged into the middle of this week. Note to self: satisfy your future Chinese cravings with a one-shot meal in a restaurant, where you eat it and then you’re done!

The week continued with more than the usual number of special treats.  Chocolate babka at community group, salted caramel cupcakes at a book swap, leftover Easter eggs, and a BBQ dinner out at Fireflys with girlfriends. One indulgence seems to lead to others, which leads to an overall attitude of not caring.

Then my grandpa died.  It’s a blessing really, because he was 88, had Alzheimer’s and lived in a nursing home.  But he was my last remaining grandparent, and he lived 3000 miles away in the UK, and I can’t go to the funeral because we already have immoveable plans for next week. I proceeded to eat my feelings by consuming most of a sleeve of cookies in one sitting, which made me feel 10x worse. When will I lean that this kind of behavior results in nothing except a stomach ache and a large dose of self-loathing?

So here I sit, up ~2lbs (which could be worse, I know) but also knowing that I have to rein things in or I am in danger of undoing all my hard work.

Plan for the day:

  • gym or walk/run outside in this beautiful weather
  • healthy dinner already made (Mexican chicken casserole)
  • pedicure and shopping for some self-care that doesn’t involve food

How will you plan to have a successful weekend?

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Supportive friends

I’ve been a member of an online weight loss support group for almost 15 years.  First it was a message board, then many of us migrated to LiveJournal, and now it’s mainly on Facebook in private groups.

The medium may have changed, but it’s the same people and the same basic premise.  We share recipes and helpful tips, ask for help with tough situations, cheer each other on, post motivational quotes, brag about our accomplishments and celebrate successes. There are many of them I have never met in person, but when you interact with the same people daily for that long, you get to know each other pretty well!

A lot of us met on a message board for people in their 20’s.  Many were unmarried and most of us didn’t have kids at that time.  When we lost weight the first time around, we didn’t have the responsibilities we do now. It was a lot easier when we could put our blinders on and make it our primary focus.

But 15 years on, many of us are now in the position that healthy eating has to be one of our many competing priorities. We were just discussing tonight that it feels much harder now. Still worth it, but it takes more work and juggling.

I am so grateful to this group of friends for being a sounding board, a comfort, an encouragement, a cheering section and my “soft place to fall” for so long. Love you ladies!

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