Healthier in 2011: Part 1 – my story

New Year’s Day is almost assuredly a time to start losing weight, evidenced by the yearly increase in gym memberships in January. But now, during this week after Christmas, is a great time to plan your strategy. Sometimes it takes inspiration and a few helpful hints to get going so I am devoting this week’s blog posts to both formulate my own plan – yes, I need to tune up my own diet/exercise routine – and to inspire you, the reader.

At the risk of TMI, here goes:

I have a love of food that started with plain gluttony and emotional over-eating but has evolved into the development of a more refined palate and balanced approach to eating. I think most people who see me think I have always been at my current weight or that I have a different genetic make-up that keeps me at my current weight. Or perhaps they think that I somehow have lots of time to fit in exercise. None of these is true.

I came from a household that frowned upon engaging in sports (avoid injury), did not allow me to play outside of our driveway (fear of abduction), and encouraged schoolwork and piano playing (all sedentary). In addition, in this dual-income household, I could eat what I wanted when I wanted. This meant four meals a day, with frequent snacking and soda drinking. Of course, I ate in front of the TV. You know those candy bars we had to sell as part of fundraising? I ate the majority of my box, grabbing change from my father’s coin jar to pay for it. Hey, I may have been a glutton, but I was not a thief. (The family coin jar was fair game to all, a lesson we didn’t learn in saving).

By the time I went away to college, I was at least 20 pounds heavier than I am now and had poor endurance, which was a little embarrassing.  What’s more, I had the premier meal plan, unlimited cafeteria access. What teenager wouldn’t have wanted waffles with all the works every morning and ice cream or cake every evening? So, I added even more pounds to my already overweight physique.

I found that I was getting shin splints every day and felt short of breath getting to my morning class and that became my wake-up call. I truly believed it was due to my weight. I have to admit, I was also surrounded by and envious of some beautiful, thin people. So I made radical changes in my diet and took up running. The changes were so radical, that I became underweight in the course of a few months. I was not intentionally trying to be thin, per se, but my strict diet and exercise routine would have made anyone underweight.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, you might say.  You, Dr. Pourmassina, had the will to lose weight through a means that is impossible for me. Well, there is a twist to this story. I became so thin that I stopped having periods for some time. This is a common scenario when women are low in body fat or exercise too much. It is actually unhealthy because it increases the risk of stress fractures.

A doctor I saw told me that I needed to gain weight. Most women who have gotten to this point will refuse to gain weight because of all the effort put into losing it. But for me, it was an excuse to eat poorly again. I had a roommate who was as thin as a rail and always had chocolate and cookies in our dorm room. I never partook when she offered, because I was following my own rules so strictly. However, once I was given the OK to gain weight, I took it as a free pass to eat the way I used to. Well, it was actually worse. Why? After all that time restricting myself, I binged and binged and binged. I was never one for throwing up (like a bulimic), so back came my periods… and my weight.

OK, back to square one.

It took a few years – yes, years – but I finally found a balance. I started eating “good food.” I would go to fancier restaurants, order the cheapest dish (on a student’s budget), and found it much more interesting and complex than the junk I was eating. I was also exposed to better chocolate that was more satisfying. I looked at food as something to be enjoyed. I don’t mean the prior scarfing-down-and-stuffing-yourself kind of enjoyment, but one that leaves my mouth satisfied.

The basic inexpensive American diet is loaded with either sugar or sodium. I clearly remember eating tons of chips and then needing something sweet to balance it out. So I ate a bunch of cheap chocolate, which left me craving salt again. Does this sound familiar? And, to this day, I find drinking soda begets a craving for more soda, so I never purchase it.

Healthy eating takes vigilance, particularly if you have a sweet tooth and a penchant for carbohydrates. This is why I continually seek out food inspirations, whether it be discovering new vegetable recipes or reading magazines with tips on healthy eating. Because of my very conscious efforts, it is unlikely I will slip back into my prior bad habits. Not completely, anyway. I would be a fool to think I have conquered all my issues with food.