So after I got my first job, I gained a bunch of weight. We’d moved from Seattle — where I walked a ton and ate relatively well — to DC where took a bus, didn’t walk, and ate badly. I gained weight remarkably fast, looking back on it. Within three or four months I think I had gained 20 pounds. So I started looking for ways to lose weight. This was almost (but not quite) before the World Wide Web. It was before Google was a verb, but there was a little bit of information out there.
I found what I needed in a more traditional place — I went to the library and the book store. There, after going through a variety of books to find something that made sense to me, I found Barry Sears’ books about the Zone diet. Almost everyone has heard of it now, but back then his writing was nearly Greek to most of us. But the point was that you should be eating a balanced diet — 40% of calories from carbs and 30% each from protein and fat. For me, this was a revolutionary concept. I tried it out and found it to be remarkably successful — one week a month.
For years I had been on birth control pills because I “needed the hormones” (I didn’t have periods on my own). And only the week when I was off the pills was I able to lose weight. Very consistently, though, the whole time I was doing the Zone diet and on those pills, I would lose two pounds every month and keep them off. I lost all the way from 185 down to 149 doing that.
149 was the lowest I had been in my adult life to that point, and is still the lowest I’ve been. It was wild. People who’d never noticed me before paid attention, and I learned that being overweight had been a protection from forms of attention that I did not want and had no idea how to deal with now that I couldn’t avoid them. (It was even more apparent after I highlighted my hair. I got propositioned in airports and could not sit quietly anywhere without a guy striking up a conversation.)
I pretty much ate the following diet while I was doing the Zone:
Breakfast: Cottage cheese, grapes (or raisins), some kind of cracker or bread.
Lunch: Salad if I was traveling for work (which was a lot of the time), sometimes tuna, sometimes leftovers from suppers.
Snacks: Cheese and crackers, almonds and cheese and raisins, peanuts and raisins.
Supper: We ate a lot of beans and rice (with cheese, toasted in a flour tortilla). And there was chicken of a couple of different kinds, usually with broccoli. We made sopa de lima after a friend taught us how. And of course there was tuna casserole (the kind made with Uncle Ben’s wild rice mix and Ruffles potato chips).
I also stopped eating any sugar for some of that time, which helped me tremendously.
And I exercised a lot. I started exercising when I was working at Navair on a big procurement. We were working a ton of hours, so I was going home really late every evening, but eventually I realized it was okay if I took 90 minutes to work out at lunch. So I did. And after I left that job, I found exercise videos (yes, on VHS!) and started doing those. I started out doing step workouts on FitTV (Gin Anderson was my hero). As I got into better shape, The Firm and Kari Anderson became my go-to tapes. I got a bike somewhere along the way, and during the warm days of summer, I would go on hour-long rides, re-living my childhood. I really enjoyed those.
One year, after a long, grueling project at work, I took six weeks off to write, work out, and relax. My ex was also planning our 10th anniversary party, something we were both looking forward to as something like the wedding reception we had never had. And it was, I admit, a fantastic party in November, 2000.
A couple of things changed that made that life and weight unsustainable. One was going from birth control pills to Hormone Replacement Therapy after I was diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure. (Actually re-diagnosed; I had probably been diagnosed as a teenager but didn’t understand what it was and didn’t have the information to show anyone else.) I gained 1- or 15 pounds in under a week after making the switch, which left me at 160 to 165 instead of 149. I stayed at that weight for several years, though, and felt pretty darned good; I was back to the weight I’d been in college, and I felt strong and fit.
After the anniversary party, or maybe a bit before, we also decided we would try to have a baby. By “we” I mean that my ex would try to get pregnant; the POF meant that really didn’t work for me. So we started that process, and started thinking about moving from our little townhouse in Virginia to a house somewhere in the more-friendly state of Maryland.
And then there was 9/11, which changed all our lives. In my case, it brought together my ex and the guy who later became her husband. (We were, we thought, polyamorous and could handle outside relationships. I had had several; this was her first. Frankly, I was insane to ever think this could work, and looking back on it, she was amazingly strong that she didn’t lose it when I started my first outside relationship. Then again, I never threatened to leave her for anyone…. but I digress.). As their relationship grew, my relationship with my ex grew steadily more difficult. We ended up in couples’ therapy which could have helped, had we had the courage to end all our outside relationships. In the middle of it all, she got pregnant (by our donor, not her now-husband), and we ended up moving into our new house only a week before Liana was born. Liana was born three weeks early in a cascade of incredibly stressful circumstances.
The point of all of this is that stress is really, really bad for the body and its normal operations. I had decided that if the price of staying calm was gaining 10 pounds while eating ice cream every night, then so be it.
And that probably was fine. But after Liana was born and we all stopped sleeping, and after some truly terrible times and my ex and I both had lawyers, Lordy.
First there was the point where she threatened to take Liana away from me. There are few things more disastrous to a parent than to lose a child, and when you are a woman who thought she would never have children, that is a blow that you may not recover from. The shock was, frankly, extreme. And extreme shocks cause really intense reactions in the body. I stopped eating and everything I did manage to eat just went right through me. I lost 25 pounds in a month, didn’t sleep more than a few minutes for weeks, and worst of all, went nearly a week without seeing Liana when she was only five months old.
I made it through that terrible year because of some fantastic lawyers and the absolutely ugly things they had to do. Sometimes a good surgeon amputates an arm to save a life. Sometimes a good lawyer amputates an adult relationship — and the legal tie to a child — to save the parent-child relationship even if it doesn’t have the legal trappings. That’s a story for another day. Eventually things started to settle down. I had moved out and into a shared house for a few weeks — I think I was out of the house a total of 2 1/2 months — and found that I could drink whole milk, and eventually got to the point where I could eat corn chips and ice cream. Obviously not a healthy diet. But at least it was food. And that was about as far as I could get.
I could barely think, much less eat healthy food. I lived in terror of losing Liana to a half-crazed ex (and she was, genuinely, incredibly stressed herself). I sobbed myself to sleep every night, and had a recurrent nightmare where I was searching for Liana and couldn’t find her. The only time I felt safe was when Liana and I were away from the house without a phone, because then no one could take us away from each other. I learned that I could put her in the stroller and walk to Starbucks, where I would have a latte and a scone. It’s been 15 years… Liana and I still go to Starbucks regularly. I don’t think she even knows why it’s so important to her.
By the end of that awful, awful time, I had been on Lexapro and Xanax for months, couldn’t think at all, and weighed 205 pounds. Not pretty. I went to the doctor at some point in there and told her how utterly exhausted I was, how everything ached, how my hair was falling out. I only saw that doc once because she looked at me like I was insane. Little did she know. But it didn’t have to be pretty. I just had to live through it, and that’s what I had done.