Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fitness & Weight Loss: A Year in Review

It has now officially been a year since I first started my weight loss efforts in earnest. At the time, I was at an all-time heavy weight of 220 lbs, and climbing. None of my clothes fit well, and I was ashamed of the way I looked. I had lost weight in the past, but it hadn't stuck.

The realization that I needed to lose weight came to me from several different angles. There was the gentle prodding from my immediate family, although by itself that would have simply been a reminder that I was overweight. There was also the fact that my weight had never, ever been so high. When I hit 220 lbs, it was really an eye-opening. Then there was my health.

There were a few different factors that contributed to the health problem. The most visible factor was that I have arthritis in my knees. Being that it was November, the weather was getting colder and maneuverability was becoming harder and harder. At one point that winter, I couldn't get in and out of my own car without pulling myself up on the top of the door frame to reduce the load on my legs. A couple of health reasons that weren't as obvious were that I was starting to have a real problem with acid reflux, and that my blood pressure was increasing. I went to the doctor because I was certain that I had an ulcer - perhaps even a bleeding one. He told me that all of my symptoms were directly related to my weight. Ouch.

I started by reducing my calories to 1400/day, and tracking what I ate. Shortly thereafter, I began the hunt for a low-cost gym. First I obtained a free 30-day pass to Curves. I had heard a lot of people talk about how much they enjoyed it and figured it was something I could try. I found that I was disappointed though, as their workouts consisted of only a circuit, including very little cardio. The machines were "resistance adjustable" based on how quickly you pushed them. It was probably what I needed to start, but I quickly found that the machines weren't giving me the level of workout I wanted. While I was a little bit stronger, I didn't feel that I had improved my overall fitness level after that month.

I then managed to snag a 4-week free pass to the YWCA, so I tried out that option. It was a better gym with a wider variety of equipment, but the focus was on weights with a small area for cardio equipment upstairs, that was always near full. I seriously considered buying a pass here afterward, but wasn't satisfied overall.

During this time, my husband left town to go to school for a couple of months, so I tried following pre-planned meals using Sparkpeople.com. I chose for it to be completely nutritionally balanced, at 1300 calories/day. It was definitely effective - I lost the most weight during this time that I had so far. However, by the end of the two months I was very, very tired of hummus, as it seemed to be a staple in almost every meal (in order to maintain the amount of fibre and other nutrients necessary without increasing the number of calories).  It was very difficult not to cheat during this time and eat items that weren't on the meal plan, however as I was only cooking for myself and didn't have my husband's food around during this time, I managed not to.

At this point, a friend of mine suggested that we start going to the gym and running together. I agreed, and ended up purchasing a City Leisure pass. This granted me access to six gyms, skating, and swimming. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though I was quite embarrassed by how out of shape I was and how little I could do. At this point, I could run on the treadmill at 4km/h for about 5 minutes before I had to stop and walk.

My husband came home from school, and I switched back to calorie counting, as I again had to cook his meals. I used the website CalorieCount.about.com, the same website I continue to use for calorie counting today. After having been on the meal plan and not eating much carbs or treats for two months, I can definitely say that my diet suffered during the first couple weeks. My meals were all carb/grease heavy, and I was over my calorie limit most days.

I didn't allow this to stop me though. It was time to change it up a bit - all this meant was going from online to written calorie counting for awhile. Having that book beside me at all times made all the difference - it was a constant reminder of my goal. It's funny how small of a change you need to make to change your mindset sometime.

At this point, the same friend that I went to the gym with asked if we could try a Zumba class. I was skeptical (did I really want to shape my groove thang in front of a bunch of people I had never met?) but decided to go. Best decision we could have made. I loved it.

After that, we attended the Zumba class at the gym weekly for about 10 months. When I first started I was breathing hard any time the tempo increased, but by the end I wasn`t breathing hard through the entire thing!

We also starting running. At first we ran indoors on the track - it took me about 45 minutes to walk/run about 2 km. As spring came we started running outside as well - it was a difficult transition (it took about 1.5x the amount of time to run the same distance, and I felt much more tired afterward).

I ran a 10K in May, and finished in 1h18min.

The summer was difficult. I didn`t exercise as much as I should have. My mindset almost went into `vacation mode`. I didn`t eat as well either - while I attempted to eat as healthy as I could and calorie count, we spent a lot of time camping and I found myself wanting to eat smokies and marshmallows - and sometimes giving in. I managed to stay at the same weight over the summer, but didn`t lose any weight.

That brought me to my second 10K in September. I was worried about it when I went in, having really not done any training over the course of the summer. I needn`t have been so worried though - I finished in 1h17min.

For the months of October - December, I did a cleanse, followed by a meal plan. The cleanse was called the GM Cleanse - it focused on a different food each day, and a soup that consisted of mostly cabbage, tomato and onion. The cleanse was a mistake. While I did lose three pounds that week, I was extremely irritable by the end of the week.

From there, I started another meal plan. This time, I had set up the meal plan on my own by combining about 10 different meal plans found online. I made it 62 days long, but my goal with this one wasn`t a date goal, it was a weight goal. I would continue to follow the meal plan until I lost 15 pounds.

I anticipated that it would take approximately the 62 days that I allotted. Unfortunately by the end of about 90 days, I still had a pound to go and we were going into the first family Christmas. I had become obsessed with my weight loss by this point, collecting fitspiration posts on pinterest and exercising at least once a day. It was a very difficult and emotional decision to go off of my meal plan for the Christmas season - much more so than it should have been.

In the end though, I had so many people telling me that a break would be good for me - that my body needed to see change in order for my weight loss to continue - that I made the leap. Even though I still had one pound to go to reach my goal, I stopped.

Three weeks later, I have only exercised a handful of times and have been eating as I wish (within reason). I haven`t weighed myself. Admittedly, I am nervous to see what I will return to on Monday. I know that I have gained at least 3 pounds - hopefully not too much more.

My intention is that I will continue to exercise on a daily basis (although most of my exercise in the next month will take place in the shape of packing, moving and cleaning). I will return to calorie counting with an acceptable range or 1200-1300 calories per day. I will also create a written rulebook of what I am and am not allowed to facilitate my weight loss (number of pop allowed per month, frequency of eating out, etc.) My ultimate goal is to reach 150lbs by the end of August, and I truly hope that I can reach that goal. I also wish to run a half marathon in the end of May, although if this is not possible I am willing to consider doing this in the fall instead.

In the last year I have gone from 220lbs to 176 lbs. It hasn't been without physical and emotional difficulty. It definitely hasn't been without a ton of extra effort. But my blood pressure is back to normal, I rarely have pain in my knees, the acid reflux is gone, and my self-confidence has improved ten-fold. I am very happy to say that this is what I have been able to accomplish in a year. I am excited to see what the next year will bring.