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My weighty story

I was teased as a child for being so skinny. I remember older relatives watching me eat copious helpings of ice cream directly from the carton, warning, "that'll catch up with you one day." They were right, but it didn't start catching up until I was in college.

I dieted before I had any reason to be concerned about my weight. In college, it was a trendy thing for girls to do. One roommate started a cabbage and rice diet and I joined in. Another friend was trying the Pritikin diet, so I bought the book and cut out the sugar and fat. I graduated college about 10 pounds heavier than when I entered.

My first jobs out of college largely consisted of sitting at a desk, talking to people on a telephone and writing news stories using something we called a "computer terminal." Occasionally I got out of the office to sit in meetings or courtrooms, or to stake out troubled pseudo-celebrities (ugh, don't ask). But work was mostly sedentary. Long hours and low pay was not conducive to a gym membership or even a reliable workout routine. In three years, I gained 20 pounds.

As my wedding date approached, I went into crash diet mode and took off at least half of those 20 pounds. I can't remember my exact wedding weight, but I think I regained most of the loss on the honeymoon.

I moved with my new husband to Washington, D.C., and another sedentary job, this one marked with even longer hours. Food mostly came from restaurants and vending machines. My weight began steadily creeping up, another 30 pounds in less than three years.

After relocating from D.C. to Traverse City, my first pregnancy brought on another big weight gain. About a year after my son was born, I was horrified to realize I weighed 60 pounds more than I did in high school. Something had to be done. I joined Weight Watchers with a couple of neighbors and got super serious about health and fitness. I became a vegetarian, walked three miles every morning and worked out for about 45 minutes to an hour every afternoon on a NordicTrak. I took yoga classes and joined the natural foods co-op. In one year, I dropped about 40 pounds. And then I got pregnant again.

After my daughter was born, I struggled with taking off the pregnancy weight. For the next 12 years, my weight stayed within 10 pounds of my delivery date weight, no matter what "diet plan" I tried or fitness class I joined. Low-carb, low-fat, running, yoga, pilates -- nothing seemed to make a significant impact. My sedentary job was gone, I was more active than I had been during any period of my life and I was cooking most of my meals at home (from scratch, using whole foods), but my weight refused to budge downwards.

At least I wasn't gaining. My weight was very stable for more than a decade. And then my daughter started middle school. For nine years, I had walked one or both of my children to and from school every day, nearly a mile each way. Middle school meant a bus ride and an end to those daily walks. I had joked with my friends that I would probably gain 20 pounds once I stopped walking the kids to and from school. It turned out to be no joke. I gained 15 in the next two years.

So in 30 years, I had packed on nearly 80 pounds, mostly in large chunks following major life changes (desk job, pregnancy, middle school). I dreaded my annual physicals because my doctor would lecture me about my weight, and I feared each check-up might result in a diagnosis of something dreadful, like diabetes. I also felt a huge sense of injustice. Why should I be overweight? I wasn't eating at fast food restaurants or drinking pop. I cooked healthy whole-food meals and drank mostly water. I walked and biked for transportation. It just wasn't fair that I should have a weight problem.

Even though I was never happy with my extra weight, for a long time I resisted taking it seriously. I was active and had a healthy diet, so what more could I do? The motivation didn't come until about a year ago, when I was complaining to my doctor about knee pain. X-rays revealed the early stages of arthritis. If I wanted to avoid knee replacement surgery within the next few years, the best thing I could do would be lose significant weight.

Over the years, I've accumulated quite the collection of diet books, even one that was authored by my college roommate. I pulled out a few and started making meal plans. I can never stick to a restrictive plan, mostly because I live with other people and I like to experiment in the kitchen. So any plan that requires me to give up an entire food category, such as grains or dairy, is destined to fail. Three days on the Fat Flush Plan and I'm done.

But just trying to be more mindful of what I was eating, and logging my food using an online counter, got me moving in the right direction. What I finally figured out was that even "good" foods need to be moderated. And to lose weight, I needed to run a calorie deficit.

I worked on my own for a few months and dropped 5 pounds. I wasn't satisfied with my rate of progress, and I decided I needed a little more accountability. On my own, it was too easy to procrastinate. If the family wanted to go out for dinner, I would order whatever appealed to me on the menu and vow to make up for it the next day. There were too many next days.

The last time I lost a significant amount of weight I did so with the help of Weight Watchers, so when two neighbors asked if I wanted to join with them, I agreed. I started tracking everything I ate and stayed within the daily limits of the plan. Having to show up for a weigh-in once a week gave me a regular deadline. I might splurge on the weekend, but I'd be focused on good habits for the 4 days leading up to the Thursday meeting. In a few months, I dropped 20 pounds.

Then my progress stalled again. I wanted to lose another 20 pounds but hit a four-month plateau. I decided to shake things up and jolt my body back into action. This time, I'm going rogue. I've started this blog and a local support/dinner group to kick it into gear. Let's see what happens.

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