It Takes Community

It Takes Community

From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

It Takes Community

Let’s take the bouldering mistakes of the past, And the road-blocking challenges of the present, And build them into stairs that support our climb into the future.

Mattie J.T. Stepanek

Tears collected in the corners of my eyes as I crossed the threshold. They spilled down my cheeks as I unbuckled my sandals and stepped, barefoot, onto the scale. Biting my trembling lower lip, I tried to smile at the group leader’s sympathetic face. I then slumped into a plastic chair next to my friend, Ursi, who had nudged me through the door. Up until now, I had always rejected community weight-loss approaches, wanting to believe I was strong enough to do this myself.

During the next half hour, I dredged up five decades’ worth of tears from somewhere deep within. In those moments I wept for the little girl who prayed to be invisible as she tried on corduroys in J.C. Penney’s “chubby department.” I wept for the straight-A student, always chosen last for the relay team. I wept for the teenager who skipped breakfast and lunch, hoping her figure would attract a boyfriend. And I wept for the woman with expressive brown eyes who begged family photographers, “Don’t shoot below the shoulders.”

Struggling with my weight was nothing new. Topping 200 on the bathroom scale was nothing new. Dieting was nothing new. I was a veteran of the grapefruit juice diet, ice cream diet, high-protein diet, low-calorie diet, low-fat diet and low-carbohydrate diet, to name a few. By my fiftieth birthday I figured I had lost and gained somewhere between 500 and 1,000 pounds. What was new was acknowledging that I needed the help of others to reduce and successfully maintain the loss. That unconscious awareness was exposed to the brash light of day at that first group meeting.

Shaken, but with resolve, as well as remorse and shame, I went home that day, read the how-to booklet and started a food diary. By the second evening I was so hungry I would have eaten a piece of carpet if I’d had some good mustard to put on it. But I found that “lite” microwave popcorn was tastier and certainly better for my digestive system. The next week I went back to the meeting—four pounds lighter.

Portion control was a challenging new concept. Wasn’t half a grilled chicken breast a reasonable main course? My digital kitchen scale took up permanent residence on the butcher block. With it as my new cooking companion, I discovered my “reasonable” portion weighed in at about eight ounces; a recommended entrée was only half of that. It took time to change my old habits, but after a few months I was usually content to fill only one-fourth of my dinner plate with protein and cover the rest with vegetables.

I’ve always taken pride in my appearance, so I highlight my hair, use good face creams, polish my toenails and color-coordinate my outfits. Why couldn’t I add one more component to this picture—an average-sized body? I set out to eliminate all the Xs in my closet—the 1X, 2X and XLs on my clothing tags. Now, with the exception of an odd T-shirt that shrank in the dryer, I’ve done that.

My knees were also signaling me that I’d be better off thinner. At fifty-one I gave in to years of debilitating osteoarthritis pain in my left knee and had a total knee replacement. A few years later, the right knee was limping down the same path, and I was determined to avoid repeating that surgery. Carrying less weight would surely help.

When my daughter, Heather, suggested a fitness center, I balked, picturing svelte young women in fluorescent blue workout bras and shorts. But she escorted me to a gym with a sense of humor, whose slogan is “no Spandex here.” She introduced me to machines I could use to build strength without compromising my joints. Maybe, just maybe, I could do this.

The pieces were beginning to mesh. I paid for my first-ever gym membership. To get me started, a personal trainer asked me a lot of questions and devised a routine for me. I wanted him to know I was also dieting, but I was ashamed to tell him where I was going for help, so I dropped my voice and whispered the name to him. Maybe he saw a glimpse of his own mother in my embarrassed face, for he replied gently, “It’s okay to say it out loud.” His eyes and words spoke straight to my heart, and from that day on, I did say it out loud. I started telling everyone I knew of my diet and exercise plans. They really seemed to share my joy as my success grew and my body shrank.

Two of my friends have become exercise buddies. Every Monday Ursi and I walk together along a level path overlooking Monterey Bay. At first we walked thirty minutes; she kindly slowed to my pace and stopped to rest with me on a bench midway. Now we’re up to an hour nonstop, and just the other day she asked me to slow down a bit for her. On Fridays Allison and I meet at the gym, where our animated conversation makes the stationary bike wheels turn faster.

It’s been nearly a year since I initiated this new lifestyle, and I’m thrilled with the results. I’m more than halfway to my goal weight and my knee pain is gone. While getting dressed one morning, I shrieked in disbelief as I pulled on a pair of jeans, zipped and snapped them, then watched them fall down around my ankles. Stepping out of the pant legs, I danced with joy around the bedroom.

My progress hasn’t been rapid or easy, but it’s been steady. That’s probably good, because I need time to internalize all the changes. My weight has hit some plateaus— once for three months—but the inches have continued to drop, thanks to the exercise. There are days when it all seems too hard, usually when I’m overwhelmed with many other responsibilities. Then I give myself permission to “go off the wagon” for a short time. This isn’t about being perfect; rather, it’s about finding a way that will serve me for the long haul.

To fully savor each temporary step down in body size, I donate my clothes the minute they become loose and treat myself to an outlet shopping spree for replacements. This way there’s no turning back, and I have clothes that fit and flatter without stressing the budget. And every time I lose five pounds, I buy a five-pound bag of all-purpose flour and display it on my kitchen counter. Whenever I pass my expanding collection of flour sacks, I envision all that extra bulk back on my frame. Eventually I’ll give the flour to a food pantry, but for now it keeps me focused and puts a smile on my face.

I’ve learned that I can’t do this alone, and I thrive on the encouragement of family, friends and my weight-loss group. I’ve always been reluctant to talk about my weight or tell anyone when I was dieting. Now I speak proudly to everyone of my efforts and goals. As a result, they become partners with me on the journey. Even the most arduous trek is more fulfilling and ultimately more successful when shared.

Pamela Wertz Peterson

Nutty Carrot Raisin Bread

MAKES 9 SERVINGS (OR 9 MUFFINS) EACH SERVING (OR MUFFIN): 0 GRAMS SATURATED FAT

canola oil cooking spray

2 eggs, beaten

¼ cup high-oleic canola oil

¼ cup honey

¼ cup unsweetened applesauce

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 tablespoons wheat germ

¼ cup ground flaxseeds

¼ cup Splenda sugar substitute

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup shredded carrots

½ cup raisins

½ cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray an 81.2 x 41.2-inch loaf pan or a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs. Mix in the oil, honey, applesauce and vanilla extract. In a large bowl, combine the flour, wheat germ, ground flaxseeds, Splenda, ground cloves, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until well blended. Mix in the carrots, raisins and pecans.

To make bread: Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes. To make muffins: Pour batter into prepared muffin tin and bake for 20–25 minutes. When done, remove from pan or muffin tin and cool on a wire rack.

Reprinted from The Gold Coast Cure. ©2005 Andrew Larson, M.D., Ivy Ingram Larson. Health Communications, Inc.

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