In Search of a Healthy Weight Loss Plan

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Two years ago my husband introduced me to the low-carb/high-fat diet. It goes by various names: Primal, Paleo, South Beach, Atkins. There are slight differences among these but the overall theory is (a) sugars are bad, (b) carbs are sugars, therefore (c) carbs are bad. Primal/Paleo types recognize that animal fats, and those found in such foods as avocados, coconuts, and nuts, are very healthy. I watched Husband lose over 60 lbs on this diet without even exercising, read one of the Low-Carb Bibles (Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories), and decided to give it a try.

I lost weight quite effortlessly, with no change in activity level and no calorie counting. In fact I ate far more calories than I normally do. It was an exciting time: I lost 20 lbs in about 3 months, more than my goal of 10 lbs, and I was thrilled. I swore I would never go back to my old weight. But then I started eating carbs again, certain I could control myself, but the cravings began again and I fell off the wagon, and several months later had gained back all the weight I lost.

I recently decided it was time for me to lose the extra pounds, and I set out to do exactly what I had done before. But I failed almost immediately. The first obstacle was that our financial situation has changed and we are on a tight budget. I could not afford the kinds of foods I needed to stick with low carb (lots of nuts, dried fruits, etc). I had gotten used to eating foods I really enjoyed (nothing horribly unhealthy, but things like rice and beans, risotto, guacamole with tortilla chips, homemade hamburgers on actual buns, quesadillas with roasted veggies) and many of these were now off the list. For whatever reason, I became rather depressed (I don’t meant that in the clinical sense of the word) about what I was faced with eating. I was feeling deprived and miserable; not “deprived” in a caloric sense – you never go hungry on a low carb diet – but deprived of things that “normal people” ate and which I really enjoyed. Finally, I couldn’t even get past my carb addiction – despite knowing that the cravings would go away if I just held in there for a couple of weeks, I caved in to the cravings more often than not and, consequently, my weight wasn’t budging.

Weight-loss-cartoon

I then began to ask myself why I was making myself so miserable, agonizing over everything I ate, all for the sake of 10 lbs. Surely life was too short to let a few extra pounds rob me of the joy of eating? It’s not like I eat a ton of garbage, and it’s not like live a totally sedentary lifestyle: I walk, hike, and cycle regularly with my dog. I decided to let go of all dietary considerations and just eat “normally”. On the bright side, I haven’t gained any weight. But on the down side, I honestly don’t feel great in my body right now. Where I feel great in my body is still, according to all the charts, more than I should weigh, but I don’t place much faith in those charts. Ten pounds lost would make me very happy. I began to wonder if there was some way to compromise between going full-on low-carb while still losing weight.

My little theory is that going low-carb allows one to lose weight without depending on exercise or reduced calorie intake. It certainly worked for me. On the other hand, I know people can lose weight by following the old “eat less, exercise more” thing. In my experience, that doesn’t work well for me (and Gary Taubes’ book goes into fascinating detail about why the “calories in, calories out” concept is way oversimplified) but perhaps, I thought, if I was willing to accept that the rate of weight loss would be slow, I could find a place in the middle where it would work for me: don’t overdo it on the carbs, watch the calories without going hungry, and see what happens.

I joined a free online fitness program where I can track my caloric intake and exercise. I’m not paying attention to their fat and carb requirements, which are too low and too high, respectively, in my opinion. I have found that, just as the website says, the act of simply tracking my food has already made me more mindful about what I’m eating and whether I’m truly hungry or just craving something. I’m on day three and so far I’ve learned that, at baseline, I don’t overeat to any significant extent. I can understand now why my weight has been fairly constant for the last several weeks: I’d guess, based on what I know now, that my average daily caloric intake is around that required for maintenance (about 2000 calories).

I’m not restricting myself from any type of food, but I’m also not going crazy either. Breakfast is often a bowl of Cheerios (the only commercial cereal I know of with no sugar) or poached eggs on white toast. I have been enjoying ham sandwiches for lunch. I’m happy being able to eat these foods, but I’m also cautious about overdoing it. I don’t feel deprived. I do find that I wake up hungry, which I didn’t when on a low-carb diet. And I do have to be very mindful of my carb addiction. According to the website, simply logging my calories will serve to keep me on track, and the site is well set up to make doing so easy. My hope is that I can lose weight, although I do not expect it to be as fast as with a low-carb diet, and then keep it off by being mindful of my intake. Otherwise I don’t intend to restrict myself and, at this time of year, it’s easy to get lots of exercise. I’m even considering taking up running again.

It will be interesting to see how this works.

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Food Therapy Failure

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Back in January, I started a food therapy program for my kids. My sensory-challenged kids have a very limited diet and most of what they will eat is not my idea of wholesome, healthy food. I was hoping that, by following this program, I could get them to tolerate some healthier alternatives. Two weeks into the program I felt I was having some success. But I’m afraid it didn’t last.

My kids soon got over the idea of having dessert as a reward. They began to refuse to have dessert in order to avoid having to eat the stuff on their plate. They complained vociferously about how much they hated the chicken nuggets and despite some progress with the carrots they really couldn’t deal with them. They asked for an alternative but I couldn’t come up with anything and the truth is, I gave up.

It wasn’t just the fact that I was feeling discouraged, it was that implementing the plan was So. Much. WORK. Really, it was exhausting. I would not only have to make each one of them their regular dinner, and the desserts, but then also my own and Husband’s dinner, then I would have to make the therapy ingredients. I just couldn’t keep it up on a regular basis and the lack of regularity was working against me. To top it all off, I got a part time job as an academic editor and since Husband was recently laid off I couldn’t say no to any assignments. That left little time for all that cooking and cleanup.

As much as it pains me to admit it, I’ve had to completely let go of the food issue. My kids are now too old for me to really have much control over what they eat. Had I known what I do now perhaps I could have prevented things from getting to this point, but until somebody invents a time machine there is no point in wandering down that line of thinking any further. Yes, Miss Em could stand to lose a few pounds, but she has continued to shoot up in height and isn’t nearly as overweight as she was. Mr. Boo is still pretty overweight, IMO, but at his recent pediatrician’s checkup the doctor told me not to worry about it. He is at the same percentile for both height and weight (97th) and the doctor said he was happy as long as those two numbers are consistent with each other.

These days I find myself being thankful for convenience food while at the same time wondering how I ever got so far away from the goals I had when I first became a parent. Miss Em eats pretty much the same dish for dinner every night, instant mac and cheese  (white cheddar flavour, and only one brand will do). On my busiest or most tired days it is nice to have something so simple to make and easy to clean (one pan). For Mr. Boo, throwing some gluten-free fish sticks in the oven makes for another easy dish with little cleanup. I hate that my kids eat like that – I don’t eat like that and neither does their father – but I feel like I have to choice but to accept the situation. I don’t feel good about it, but I also see no other realistic option. My only hope is that, like me, they will grow to like new foods as they get older. I started adding foods to my picky diet (which was nothing compared to my own kids’) when I was around 10 or 12 and perhaps my children will follow in those footsteps. Meanwhile I’m just grateful that they are as healthy as they are, knock on wood!

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“Star of David” Quilt

It has been one year since I started quilting. I have made two bed-sized quilts. The first was from a pattern, the second I based on a certain design (stacked coin) but modified it to suit my desires. After that I felt that I was ready to design a quilt from “the ground up” and I wanted it to be an art quilt. I also knew right away that I wanted it to be a memorial quilt for a dear friend who passed away last year from cancer.

His name was David and he started out as my mentor and ended up as my colleague and friend. He and his wife became dear friends and his passing was hard for me. I saw making this quilt as a way to work through my grief, and a way to do something for his widow (they live very far away, in another country, so it was hard to be of help during that rough time). I made it as a gift for her and planned to send it on the one-year anniversary of his passing. It ended up taking me a bit longer but she received the quilt last week and seemed very, very happy with it. We shed a few laughs and a few tears on the phone when she called to thank me.

The design didn’t take long to put on paper, although I made a few modifications along the way. I started out with a Star of David because a) his name was David, b) he was Jewish, and c) it’s a traditional quilt square design and easy to find a pattern for it. I chose the fabrics, put them together the way I liked, and then appliqued his name in the centre in Hebrew. I had to look up the Hebrew spelling and I also had to learn applique. I took a great online course at Craftsy.com to do so. If you ever want to learn machine appliqué, this course is fantastic.

Initially I was going to piece the star into the quilt background, but I ran into some problems and, in the end, simply machine appliqued it to the background after piecing the star itself.

 

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The rays were done using free motion quilting, and it was finally a chance to experiment with some patterns that aren’t well suited to bed quilts because they are so dense. I spent so long auditioning different designs and colours of thread for this quilt. Finally I settled on using Leah Day’s “Boomerang” and “Concentric Circles” designs. I used a dark grey thread for the boomerangs and a yellow-ish grey thread for the circles.

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Initally the star was going to be in the centre of the quilt, but it didn’t leave me much room for the appliqued pieces, so I moved it and was pleased with the result. This photo of the whole quilt allows you to see how the threads and quilting patterns produced different “looks” on the quilt. Here you can see the difference in tone with the two threads used for the rays.

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I chose the symbols and created them myself (after I had taken the Craftsy course). I used some line art from Google Images as a baseline and then modified the designs for what I had in mind. My friend was a scholar and mentor and so the Torah scroll symbolizes that. The tree is supposed to represent the Tree of Life, and the candle is to represent the anniversary of his passing (in the Jewish tradition, so I learned, one lights a candle on the anniversary of a loved one’s passing). David was also a real light in the world, bright and funny. I chose the fabrics for all these pieces and machine appliqued them (except the leaves, some of which I ended up doing by hand because they were small and finicky). For the background I used Leah’s Flame Stippling design with a low thread density. I didn’t want it to compete with the rays.

Here are some closeups of the designs:

Candle

Candle

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

Torah Scroll

Torah Scroll

And here is a photo showing the backing material. I also made a label but since it has personal information on it I’m not going to post it.

Blue fabric background, light grey binding.

Blue fabric background, light grey binding.

I had a lot of fun creating this quilt. At times it was hard work, but always worth it. I also think it really helped me with my grieving process, giving me time to focus on David, what he meant to me, and celebrating his life. In the end I worried that it was not attractive, etc. which I think is normal for any artist when you have stared at your work for so long. I think, based on her reaction, that his wife truly liked it and that it will find a place on her wall somewhere. I’m so very glad that I could send her this message of love and support. It has made me realize that quilting is so much more than a hobby, it is a way to send gifts that are from the heart as well as the hands.