When I received an invitation to my cousin’s wedding last fall, my first thought was, Woohoo, I’m invited! My second was, What am I going to wear? Even though the big day was more than six months away, this was a pressing question. No doubt Linnea’s Palm Springs wedding would be incredibly glamorous and fun; the reception’s vintage cocktail party theme, a lá Mad Men, only upped the ante.
Dream Dress vs. Baby Weight
I couldn’t help but think of a certain gold cocktail dress that I’d bought in 2005. The problem was I could barely slink into that cocktail dress at that time. In fact, I’d never worn it. I’d bought it because it was so fabulous—and so fabulously on clearance—and hoped that one day I’d have an occasion to wear it. Now I did, but in the ensuing years I’d gained a pound or two.
I came about my baby weight in an unconventional manner. My husband and I tried to acquire a baby for about eight years—first through the birds-and-bees method, then through Western, Eastern, and everything-in-between fertility treatments, and finally through adoption. The Western fertility meds inflicted a particular kind of hell on my system, and overall I found the process incredibly stressful. Meanwhile, about halfway through the Baby Quest, my father was diagnosed with Stage IV (i.e., incurable) colorectal cancer.
Some people deal with turmoilby not eating. I, on the other hand, am what people call an emotional eater. I realized this after my dad was diagnosed. There’d be too many culprits to name, so I’ll place the blame where a chunk of it lies: beer and cupcakes. All told, I gained 20–25 pounds over the Baby Quest, and the bulk of that came during the latter half, during which my dad fought his cancer literally to the death.
When I received Linnea’s invitation, I’d been a parent for nearly a year. I’d managed to work off a few pounds thanks to frequent stroller walks with my son, Sam, but the wedding provided the perfect incentive to work off the rest of my “baby weight.” Or so it seemed.
The Problem With Dieting
The day after I decided to diet for the wedding, I started eating. A lot. Just the thought of having to deprive myself of beer and cupcakes (and candy, carbs, etc.) practically led me to binge. I decided I’d give myself until Thanksgiving and then I’d get serious. And, really, the whole four-day weekend from Thursday to Sunday counts as “Thanksgiving,” so I’d gorge through Sunday. But Sunday was December 1, and then treats and baked goods started showing up at work and elsewhere—even in my own cupboards. Somewhere between Snow Cap ale and Boozy Rumball cupcakes, I realized I was running out of time. Before Christmas, that is. I would seriously diet after Christmas. Or New Year’s.
In January, I read Kimberly Mishra’s Dryuary article with interest; a month with no alcohol or caffeine was admirable, but I was still having trouble giving things up. I’d try to scare myself into submission by studying the calendar and counting the weeks until the wedding. (Doing so while drinking a beer may have been self-defeating.)
Despite the fact that (a) I was almost more excited about Linnea’s wedding than I’d been about my own, (b) I’m incredibly vain and wanted to look stunning at said wedding, and (c) generally speaking, I’d love to be able to get back to my 2005 weight (hardly skinny by conventional standards but a weight I felt good at), I couldn’t seem to muster the motivation to do what really needed to be done.
Why was the idea of depriving myself so abhorrent? My only explanation is that, as a parent, I feel chronically sleep-deprived and time-deprived. Having to deprive myself of a beer or treat just seems like too much to ask when I’m operating on four-and-half hours of sleep. A girl’s gotta stay sane somehow.
Spirit Workout Buddies
February dawned. About the best thing I could say about my progress to date was that—despite the holidays and my diet-panic overeating—I’d managed to maintain my weight. Sometimes not gaining is a win. Then, in a casual conversation with a colleague—let’s call her B.—I learned that she was hoping to slim down before a spring vacation. I overlooked the fact that B. needed to slim down about as much as a toothpick, and she and I made a pact to support each other.
I wouldn’t commit to losing a certain amount of weight because that would entail actually getting on a scale. B. preferred to lose weight through exercise, not by dieting (and was quite happy to get on a scale). Fine. It didn’t matter. We didn’t need to work out together or follow the same regimen. We were there to support each other—in spirit, which why B. called us Spirit Workout Buddies.
What I did commit to was that, in addition to my regular stroller walks with Sam, I would do Pilates and Tae Bo twice a week each. Meanwhile, I would more diligently moderate my beer-and-cupcake intake. B.’s goal was to lose 15 pounds by walking one hour per day and doing kettlebell three times per week.
It had started to become clear to me I wasn’t going to fit into that gold cocktail dress for the wedding—if ever—but the Pilates and ambitious stroller walks started paying off. Soon I was able to wear a blouse I’d bought in 2009 but hadn’t been able to fit into for a few years. Some other clothes began to feel noticeably looser—or, more accurately perhaps, a bit less tight. Progress!
Then, one afternoon in March, I picked Sam up from daycare and was getting back into the driver’s seat when I heard the oddest sound. My pants ripped. A good three or four inches. In a seamless region between my rear and inner thigh. Granted, the pants were a few years old and whenever I’m at daycare I spend ten or fifteen minutes crouched on the floor in awkward positions. Clearly that crouching had taxed a heretofore-untaxed region of my pants. That was my explanation as I sat in the front seat, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. My pants knew better, though. With the rip itching at my leg as I drove home, my pants were reminding me that I hadn’t been doing Tae Bo twice a week and that I hadn’t been saying no enough.
No, Later, Less
If I had to grade myself on meeting my goal to trim down and tone up, I’d probably give myself a C. Despite my mediocre score, I did learn a few things. Not surprisingly, I was most successful when I didn’t feel deprived and with activities that fit into my usual schedule and routine.
Tae Bo didn’t work because—as much as I enjoy kicking along to my Billy Blanks DVD—the one TV in our small rambler is in our living room, which also serves as Sam’s playroom and a gazillion other things. I could do Tae Bo out of Sam’s way on a strip of floor between the couch and the piano, but trying to keep him entertained while doing it was another matter. As long as it wasn’t hailing outside, it was much more pleasant to pop Sam into the stroller and take a walk.
Pushing a thirty-pound baby in a twenty-seven-pound stroller around a hilly neighborhood (often with a six-pack, half-gallon of milk, and other groceries in the stroller’s basket) is not a bad workout. I strove to take longer walks than usual, mapped them after the fact, and noted the length on my calendar. One evening I added a 20-minute yoga practice before my usual Pilates workout; I felt so simultaneously relaxed and invigorated afterwards, I made it part of my routine. In April, when my arms stopped feeling sore, a friend (and self-proclaimed gym rat) suggested upping my free weights; I decided that would tax my shoulders too much, so I took my friend’s second suggestion to increase reps. From then on, I doubled up on the arm segment of the Pilates workout. I also kept track of my yoga and Pilates workouts (with “arms X 2”) on my calendar. Seeing those notes on my calendar (along with the blank days when I hadn’t exercised) helped motivate me.
Overall, my progress on the food front was mixed. For instance, I successfully traded half-and-half for 1% milk for my coffee at home, but the light beer I bought ended up getting pushed to the back of the fridge. Still, I started to cultivate a new approach to my eating and drinking. It’s become my mantra: No, Later, Less.
When I have a craving or am about to reach for a beer/cupcake, I try to stop and ask myself, Do I really need this? Now? Sometimes I find I can actually answer no. If I can’t quite answer no, I can often defer it, as in “Maybe you can skip the beer tonight and have an ice-cold IPA after work tomorrow.” If I’m unsuccessful with no or later, I consider how I might be able to have less. Admittedly, in my mind there’s no drinking half a beer, but having a babycake instead of a regular cupcake or a bite-sized treat instead of a bar-sized treat isn’t as hard. Sometimes I can even settle for a less damaging way to satisfy a craving, such as choosing pomegranate Greek yogurt over a sweet with far more sugar. The truth is, I’m still not fantastic at giving things up, but I’ve learned that when I’m successful in saying “no” or having less, I rarely, if ever, feel deprived.
In case you’re wondering, the wedding itself was magical (even without a certain gold cocktail dress). When I look at pictures from the event, I try to focus on my great memories, not on the weight I wish I’d lost. I did make some progress, but perhaps more importantly, I proved to myself that I can make time in my schedule for exercise—which, other than stroller walks, I hadn’t been doing during my first year as a parent. I also proved that (sometimes, anyway) I can delay gratification.
Further, I discovered that, despite considering myself more of a loner than a “joiner,” I liked having a Spirit Workout Buddy. B. and I sent each other funny emails, praised each other for working out, and commiserated about how hard it is, as working moms, to find time for it all. Sure, I wanted to kick B. in the shins a few times, like when she immediately lost four pounds “without even trying” or contracted a particularly slimming stomach flu. Ultimately, though, I felt like she was on my team (in spirit!)—and I felt accountable to someone other than myself. Some days that made all the difference in my deciding to exercise or saying no to a treat.
Now that the wedding is behind me, I’ve been looking for new ways to keep the momentum going, and I’ve discovered some great tools that The Whole U offers to help UW staff be active, keep motivated, and stay on track. I’m considering signing up for either the 10-week walking plan or the Step On Up stair-climbing plan. And if you’re doing the Summer of FUNction Fitness Challenge there’s a Facebook page where people share motivational quotes and photos. It’s like having a whole team of virtual spirit workout buddies (just remember, no shin-kicking allowed!).
Thanks for letting me share my story with you. I hope that some of you may be newly inspired to say no, or to have less of, your vice of choice. And if you sometimes say yes when you should say no, just remember to listen to your pants.
Jamie Wilson is a senior communications specialist with UW Professional & Organizational Development and will be teaching “Proofreading and Editing” for POD this fall. She’s pictured at the wedding with her son.