Since August 20th, I’ve lost thirty-pounds and have gone from no exercise at all to walking/jogging four to five miles a day. I tried to find before and after pictures but fat people avoid cameras, so the only one I could find before my weight loss was taken last April at my son, Paul’s, book signing in Lafayette.
(Yes, he’s an author too. His wife, Gretchen says the apple doesn’t fall far. She’s probably right, but he’s always been slim and trim like his dad.)
Wow! Thirty pounds in four months? Yep. Let me tell you how this came about.
In August I had an appointment with a new doctor because an MRI showed I had more herniated discs in my thoracic area. That’s another story for another time. The significant thing about this doctor visit is that the nurse made me stand on a scale. It was the first time I’d weighed in several years because I’d always convinced my regular doctor’s nurse that I didn’t need to be weighed. Ha!
I looked at the digital numbers that appeared on the screen and couldn’t believe what they said. I’m not going to tell you that number, too embarrassing. How had I gained so much weight over the past ten years?
Once a woman enters her fifties and sixties—after menopause—her metabolism slows, and even though she continues to eat and exercise the same way she always has, she is apt to tank on somewhere between one and five pounds per year. In my case it was 2.5 pounds per year over a ten-year period.
The Mayo Clinic says that even though the hormonal changes of menopause might make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen; “hormonal changes alone don’t necessarily cause menopause weight gain. Instead, the weight gain is usually related to aging, as well as lifestyle and genetic factors.”
Yep, I’d become more sedentary. My mother, if she were alive, would have called it “secretary spread” a term used for those who spend all their time sitting—at a desk, in front of a TV, wherever. In my case it was in front of a computer all day—writing.
Experts say that another gut punch for menopausal women is that muscle mass typically diminishes with age, while fat increases. And we know that the more muscle you carry, the more calories you burn through regular metabolism.
When I saw that I had gained twenty-five pounds over the past ten years I freaked out. I’d been on a low-carb diet for years. We don’t even keep bread or sweets in our house and rarely have rice or potatoes, never pasta. How had this happened?
I’m more of an action person than a reflective one. I mean, it wasn’t so important to me how it had happened as it was what could be done to reverse it. Fortuitously, the day after my doctor’s appointment I had an appointment to have my hair cut.
Back up: We moved to Canton, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, about six months previously—which meant new doctors, new everything. My daughter lives in Canton and I had built a house there before I married Gene in 2007 and moved to Asheville. During the Asheville years, whenever I needed a haircut I waited until I visited with my daughter and went to the guy who had cut my hair back in the day.
I hadn’t seen Mark Dodson in a couple of years. My hair was very long and I’m way too old for that style—it’s just that I’d been in graduate school, writing novels, moving from one state to another—I’d ignored certain things like haircuts and doctors. I walked into Jyl Craven Hair Designs on a Tuesday afternoon. When Mark came to the reception area to greet me, I couldn’t believe he was the same guy. He’d lost part of himself—I mean lots of weight—and he looked terrific. Mark is already a handsome guy, probably six-feet-five or more, dark hair and eyes with slight Asian features. He was an MP in the army and is married with two boys. Very personable and easy to talk to.
“You look great, Mark,” I said as I followed him to his styling chair. “How much weight have you lost?”
“Oh, about thirty pounds.” He looked at me in the mirror and laughed.
“How long did that take?”
“About four months. But I’m not done yet.” He began to tell me about intermittent fasting.
I went home and Googled the diet, discovered some things I didn’t know, and reacquainted myself with some things I’ve always known but had put out of my mind.
Basically, your metabolism is at work all the time, even though it slows down as you get older. When you eat, your metabolism works to digest your food. When you don’t eat, your metabolism works to digest stored fat. The key is to go long periods without putting food in your system so your metabolism is eating away at your fat.
It looked easy—skip breakfast, have lunch after two o’clock, dinner by seven, then don’t eat again until two the next day. The longer you go without eating the more revved up your metabolism gets and the faster it mows down stored fat.
It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially if you have a husband who makes a big breakfast every morning, but I delved into the diet like I would anything else I set my mind to.
The first week of my diet I just toughed it out even when I smelled pork chops and eggs cooking in the mornings. At the end of the week I told Gene I was going for a walk. He joined me and we strolled up our street and back, about seven-tenths of a mile, round trip. We were both exhausted when we got home.
Although Gene didn’t buy into my diet, he did determine he would walk with me every day and we slowly increased our distance to one mile. The more weight I lost, the easier it was to walk further, faster, longer.
I started to outpace Gene, who wasn’t losing weight, and I took routes with steep uphill climbs that he wasn’t interested in scaling. So after a couple of weeks we determined to walk separately.
We left for Europe about six weeks after I started intermittent fasting. Two days before our departure I had a follow-up visit with the same doctor on whose scale I’d freaked out. I had lost twelve pounds.
Our first stop in France was at a one-week writers conference in the Loire Valley. I knew several of the people there and they all commented on how good I looked. Down from blimp to baby blimp!
In one of the pieces I wrote I mentioned that I’d had my entire cervical and lumbar spines rebuilt, with rods, plates, screws, cages, artificial discs and discs made with bone from my hip. One of the other writers said that she’d seen me walking and jogging in the mornings and that she’d had cervical disc surgery too.
“My doctor told me I couldn’t jog or do any strenuous walking,” she said. “I can’t believe your doctor lets you do that.”
“I didn’t ask my doctor.” I laughed. “I figure he’d be glad if I took some of the weight off these appliances in my back.”
Then we went to Italy for another week of writing, then to Rome for vacation and so my architect husband could witness the amazing centuries-old structures.
During our three weeks across the pond I kept up my resolve. I walked three miles every day, jogging on the downhill slopes, and I held off eating anything until three o’clock in the afternoon. I also avoided carbs—and that meant no French bread or fresh croissants.
When we got back from Europe the end of October, I’d lost six more pounds—Gene had gained two—but he’d finally noticed how my body was changing, so he decided he’d embark on intermittent fasting, too.
I have built my leg muscles and cardio strength and now average about four mph when I walk/jog. We live in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains, so our neighborhood is treacherous. When I walk uphill, I’m huffing and puffing when I get to the top. Sometimes I stop to lean on a mailbox or street sign, but then I continue. I run downhill and on most of the straightaways. On gentle hills I pace walk. It’s not a pretty sight—me looking like a mountain goat scaling those hills, then bouncing downhill.
During the first couple of months, people who passed me on the street probably said, “Look at that fat woman trying to walk.” I didn’t care. I knew that there would be a point where those same people would call me, “That amazing shrinking woman.”
I need to lose another twenty pounds to get to where I was in my thirties. Gene says he won’t be able to find me in the sheets if I get much smaller, but I know that I still have pockets of fat—although not as huge as they were, especially in places on my back—above my waist and the part that rolls over my bra. But my thighs are much smaller—I can cross my legs comfortably for the first time in years, bend down to tie my shoes and cut my toenails, wash my back. And I have more energy than ever. We bought a treadmill this week so I don’t have to forego my walks if it's cold or raining out. When I don't walk, I feel sluggish all day—mentally and physically.
I’ll keep you updated on my progress and hope to post pictures once I’ve dropped those last twenty pounds. Now, I’m off for my walk in the basement on the treadmill, because it’s 30-degrees outside and I’m a wuss in cold or rainy weather.
I’d love to hear from you, so email me about this topic or any other.
This is my diet:
(It’s cheap and easy. Not many choices to consider, or groceries to buy)
3:00 PM: Salad with boiled egg, deli turkey, cucumber, tomato, etc—oil and vinegar. Or soup. Or deli turkey with Swiss cheese wrapped up and heated and sliced tomatoes.
7:00 PM: Meat or fish with two veggies. (We get Home Chef three nights a week and choose the low-carb option) Often there’s only one veggie so we add another: asparagus, green beans, okra, spaghetti squash.
On Saturday nights we have steak and sweet potato, plus a veggie (Our treat and reward)
Hint: Almost every week I make a huge pot of chicken soup for our afternoon lunch.
Recipe: Boil a chicken with onions, peppers, celery, garlic, until done. Take it out , cool, and de-bone. Add veggies: frozen okra, baby carrots, canned green beans or corn, whatever. Cook about fifteen minutes, add chicken back and let sit for a couple hours. Skim fat off top. Heat and serve—hearty, filling, delicious.
Hint: We keep NO carbs in our house. Our treats are unsalted nuts: cashews, pecans, walnuts. We sometimes add raisins to salads.
Afterward: Gene has lost ten pounds in five weeks. That’s about what you can expect: two pounds per week.
Caution: Only weigh once a week, same time of day, wear same clothes or none. You might drop three pounds one week and not lose anything for two weeks. Don’t get discouraged. It’s coming off!