Confessions of a Former Skinny Girl: AKA Lessons in What Not To Do
Thursday, March 11, 2010
When I was younger, I was one of those girls/women that I know many of you hate--the kind who could eat just about anything and never seem to put on any weight. I didn't watch what I ate. I didn't consider myself especially active, though in retrospect I was more active than I had realized--I enjoyed biking and rollerblading and swimming and canoeing in the summer and ice skating and sledding in the winter and long walks year round. But my favorite pastime were reading and writing, and I'd spend hours on end with a book or in front of the computer. I did have the advantage of enjoying vegetables and having a mother who cooked pretty healthy meals as a general rule, and we didn't eat as much fast food as many families do, especially these days. But mostly I was just blessed--or cursed, in a way--with a really high metabolism. When I was 6, I remember eating two Whoppers, fries, and a brownie because I was still hungry. And I was underweight for my height, causing my doctor to ask my parents if I ate. My poor parents! It's a wonder they could afford to feed my brother and me---he had an even bigger appetite than I did (and even today he's as skinny as a bean pole.)
Unfortunately, I screwed up my metabolism badly when I was in graduate school, not because I was dieting to lose weight but because I couldn't afford both food and my medications and my medical bills for the carpal tunnel. I ate very cheaply, and that meant that I ate a lot of grains and processed foods that were high in salt, but limited amounts of meat and few vegetables and fruit. Even with my soft drink consumption, I was probably only eating about 1200 calories a day--and yet very active, because living on or near campus meant a lot of walking every day. I also have a tendency to forget to eat when I'm working, and in grad school I was working all the time, so it wasn't uncommon for me to completely forget to eat until it was 4 pm or even later. The combination was not only very unhealthy and led to unstable blood sugar issues, but it taught my body that food was scarce and unpredictable.
When we got married, with my husband's income I could afford to eat more normally, but with his food allergies are joint meals tend to be heavy in starches (rice or pasta, usually) and meat. My calorie consumption bumped up to about 1400 calories a day, but I actually assumed that I was eating like a "typical" American, so closer to 2000 calories. I also assumed I was eating too much salt, fat and protein. In retrospect, I was eating too much salt, about the right amount of fat, and no where near enough protein. Because of my hip injury, my physical activity plummeted. So even though I wasn't actually eating that much food, I put on weight very rapidly--almost 60 lbs in 4 years.
And I knew that was incredibly unhealthy, but I didn't know what to do about it. I tried making more healthy food choices, but my weight continued to sky rocket up. Because of my bad hip, my physical activity was limited. I was doing my physical therapy, but the process was slow and in the meantime, it wasn't helping me stop the weight gain, let alone lose the weight.
It wasn't until I joined Sparks that I realized how skewed my perceptions of food were. Most people are shocked by how many calories they are really eating when they start tracking them; I was shocked by how few calories I was actually getting, and especially that I wasn't getting anywhere near enough protein. By then, though, the damage was done. Even though I'm watching what I eat most of the time and working out a lot, I've lost weight with glacial slowness. It's tempting sometimes to really bump up the exercise or further restrict calories, just to see more progress, but I'm afraid that will only making it worse in the long run. The only thing I can do now is to watch what I eat and exercise regularly and hope that by doing so that I can jump start my metabolism again. I don't expect a return to my youthful metabolism--I'm not sure I'd want it even if I could--but I would like to be able to lose this extra weight and keep it off without starving myself.
I worry now when I see friends--both on sparks and off it--who fast or radically restrict their calories in order to lose weight quickly. I have a friend (off sparks) who was drinking green tea to suppress her appetite and only eating about 900 calories a day--far, far too low for a healthy woman, and she's incredibly active. She should be eating, at a guess, more like 1500-1600 calories a day to maintain her lifestyle. Eating only 900 calories isn't healthy at all and I don't want to see anyone screw up their metabolism the way I screwed up mine.