Thursday, August 26, 2010

Losing It

Last weekend was my 20 year reunion. It was great to see everyone again, and it felt really good to know that while not yet at my goal weight, I'm healthier than I've been in a while.

Ever since my brain injury in 2004, my weight has fluctuated--a lot. First, I dropped about 40 pounds as my brain was burning off calories like crazy trying to heal itself. One of the crazy side effects has that my body rejected food and I couldn't keep anything down. Eight months post-TBI, I looked good, but it was far from healthy. As my recovery went into maintenance mode, I was put on some new drugs, which caused me to gain weight. Then, after I lost my job and had to switch meds again, I gained more weight. I was at my highest all time weight on my wedding day - every girl's dream, right? I went off my meds after we were married as we planned to start our family. Two miscarriages and crazy hormones = more weight gain. Ironically, very difficult pregnancy and severe morning sickness = weight loss. When our sweet Daniel was born, I wasn't happy with my body, but was thrilled with the presence of Daniel's, so I gave myself a year to heal and adjust to parenthood.

In October of last year, as Daniel started to become mobile and more interested in solids, I started to focus on my own health and fitness. I decided to stay off the head meds. Our insurance doesn't cover the only one that really works, and the others have too many negative side effects. This means I don't function as well, and have to portion my time and energy more carefully. My goal was to get down to a healthy weight by the time we returned to Holland this December. I didn't want to do anything crazy, just a lot of little changes for the health of myself, my son and my husband. It took three months of walking every day (pushing Daniel in his stroller) before I lost a single pound, and I've hit several plateaus along the way as my health has caused me to take breaks from my exercise routine. But, for the most part, the scale tends to show a smaller number each week.

At this point, I'm down 36 pounds, with less than 20 to go. Since I had some conversations about this last week, here is Jen's Top 10 Tips for Losing It.

  1. Meal Plan. This has been the biggest change by far. By planning our meals in advance, I save time and precious brain power each night because I know what to make. Plus, we've cut out our grocery budget in half! As an added bonus, we rarely throw anything out. I use websites like,, and food blogs for ideas. I usually make 4-6 serving portions and freeze the leftovers in serving-size portions. Niels takes these to work for lunch, saving us $25+/week. I've found that I really enjoy cooking and we rarely eat out at restaurants anymore, which is good for my brain and my waistline!
  2. Reduce Processed Foods. We're very blessed that Daniel is a great eater. Once "Captain Mooch" started hitting us up for our food, we became much more intentional about what we ate. I read a really interesting book about teaching your kids to eat well, and that has given us a goal of getting Daniel to eat what we eat by age 2. (He's well on his way!) As part of that, we're trying to cut out as much processed food as possible. Some of the things I've learned to make from scratch: crackers, pop tarts, granola, granola bars, soft pretzels and sauces like satay and BBQ. In addition, we buy whole wheat versions of pastas and grains, organic foods where available, and check the labels on packages for the number of ingredients and whether or not we can pronounce each one!
  3. Food Diary. I didn't really think I needed to keep a food diary until I did. It was quite eye-opening, if for no other reason than to learn how many calories are in my favorite foods. I also learned how many calories I need to consume on a daily basis--about 1600--as well as the magic number to stay above--1200. As an added bonus, I found that I snacked less if I had to write it down in the notebook I kept on the kitchen counter. I write down the time, what I ate and how many calories it contains. I learned that I wanted/needed something to eat about every 3 hours. Some people write down their moods, but I'm not really an emotional eater, so I don't do that.
  4. Measure Food Portions. Buying a kitchen scale was $30 well spent. It was quite enlightening to see how small a serving of cereal or ice cream really is! It's pretty much a must when keeping a food diary. It's been very helpful for cooking as well because it makes conversations much easier.
  5. Set Goals. The end goal was pretty daunting at first, so I broke it down into 7-8 smaller goals at 5-6 pounds each. I also made a reward for hitting each goal, things like a pedicure, new outfit and makeover. Knowing the next goal was only a few pounds away was a helpful emotional trick to keep motivated when I hit a plateau. Ironically, I found that hitting the goal was reward itself, and often didn't even follow through with my reward.
  6. Daily Weigh-In on the Wii. Investing in the Wii was a great idea! I wish Wii Fit would have been around in 2004 because the balance exercises would have been a great addition to my physical and occupational therapies. I like the ability to track my weight loss and the games are a fun way to burn extra calories. Some people don't like to weigh themselves every day. My mood isn't really based on the number, but the trend up or down helps me focus on my goals.
  7. Exercise Daily. I have Daniel to thank for this one. After nearly three months of bedrest, I was pretty much jelly. Exercise started a walk in the park pushing Daniel in the stroller. I was pretty breathless in the beginning, just doing a half mile. Then I increased to a mile, then two miles. Once winter set in, I started hitting our treadmill during Daniel's two hour naps. He gives me plenty of time to complete my routine and get showered. I'll do some combination of the treadmill (up to 4 miles), a workout DVD (usually one by Jillian Michaels) and Wii Fit. I made an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of what I do, and it's fun to watch the miles add up.
  8. Avoid Soda. As a general rule, I give myself lots of outs with these rules. I try to avoid the words "never" and "always." The goal has been lifestyle change, not temporary fixes. So, as a general rule, we don't drink soda. But we occasionally have it, most often when we're entertaining, being entertained, or out for a rare dinner. I drink mostly water or green tea, and Niels drinks mostly milk, tea (he is Dutch) or orange juice. Daniel drinks milk or water, and has only had diluted juice a handful of times.
  9. Make Snacks from Scratch. Going along with numbers two and eight above, I'm not against snacks and sweets. I love cake and cookies! But, I like to control what goes into them. So I've been having a lot of fun learning to make things from scratch. I've made a really yummy almond cake, a (sort of) healthy oatmeal cake, butter brickle cookies, snickerdoodle muffins and more. I've also found that if I make these things by hand, I'm less likely to over eat (I make them when we have others to share with!), plus I burn off calories doing the work--especially when I make pretzels! Contrary to popular belief, Daniel is allowed the occasional sweet, but follows a 3 taste rule--he gets 3 small bites, and that's it. Fortunately, I'm happy to say, he's not a big fan of sweets--yet!--and doesn't complain when we tell him he's done.
  10. Enjoy a Small Bowl of Ice Cream as a Reward for Good eating and a Solid Workout. I would not be happy or pleasant to be around if I felt deprived of the foods I loved. Niels and I LOVE ice cream, and enjoy a bowl most evenings after Daniel goes to bed. We have made the switch to Breyer's only, because it is made of ingredients we can name, and I make sure to measure out my serving.
***08.27.10. My aunt Lori wrote to ask about the place of raw veggies on my list. To answer, I compiled this post to list the things I changed in the last year. Veggies have always been part of my diet, although I am more intentional about the quantity and diversity of veggies we eat. I almost always have baby carrots to snack on, and try to eat a lot of spinach salads in the summer. Other veggies making regular appearances on our menu: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, tomatoes, onions, shallots, celery, romaine lettuce, endive, cucumbers, garlic, leeks, water chestnuts, and potatoes. Sorry, Mom, I still don't care for peas!***

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