Just Freaking Tell me What to Eat!

It’s nice that restaurants, when one orders sparkling water, bring a bottle of Perrier and lime in a wine glass. The presentation is as sensory as the splurge on a nice vintage for the table. It helps.

But man, I miss drinking.

I’m far from the first writer who likes a good bourbon. I’m far from the first housewife who enjoys chilled Chardonnay. I’m also far from the first fat girl who needed to lay off the bottle in order to lose weight. As well as the fries and chocolate and bread.

The news on that front tho, is good:

I’m down 8 pounds in the first two weeks.

I can’t wait to tell my doctor. I fantasize about walking in for my next appointment, stunningly trim. Or, maybe I should email her quick with the exciting news of what I found that FINALLY WORKED.

I always had a hunch my metabolism was the problem.

When someone with a “high metabolism” can eat what they want and not gain weight, with hyper-active energy levels for 39 years, including ten of those years spent growing and feeding human bodies– and then suddenly can’t pick their head off the desk for fatigue and gains 50 pounds over five years despite sincere efforts to the contrary, the problem just might be her metabolism.

As in, my internal fire had died into embers. As in, I could eat-one-meal-a-day-and-not-get-hungry. As in, it doesn’t matter what I eat or don’t eat, how much or how little; my body turns all food into fat and it stays there. Give it 5 more years and I’ll be 100 pounds overweight, one bite at a time.

My doctor, whom kindly listens well and I love her for it, threw her hands up last year and said, “I’ve watched you try everything I know to suggest. You are in a group with a few of my female patients over 40 who is inexplicably gaining weight and I can’t do anything but empathize and that makes me crazy.” She’s as dissatisfied with that status as I am because she knows the blood pressure medication she’s been about to put me on will probably be permanent. She knows I’m motivated to get better. She knows I view uncontrollable weight gain as a health problem, not an acceptable part of aging in America.

A softer, changing shape to may aging mother-body is normal. Weight gain at this rate is not. I don’t have a brain tumor or a rare disease. My endocrinologist grabbed a thyroid diagnosis as a suggestion– “I think it might be Hashimoto’s, even though your blood work looks pretty good. Let’s try thyroid meds just in case. It will help you lose weight.”  It did not. Now I can’t get off of them.

Most “diets” are built around telling followers what not to eat and what to eat. Most don’t focus on when and how often to eat. When I did Weight Watchers I gained 8 pounds even though I always came in under points. When and How Often and What have turned out to be much, much more important than What Not.

When and How Often and What helps one with What Not. That, and that some of the bars have chocolate and there’s Perrier with lime in a wine glass on the table.

It’s pretty neat to feel one’s internal stove ignite and build into a roaring fire. It’s how eating a low calorie diet can result in the energetic urge to go for a run. I can feel my body burning fat, nice and slow. The first part is water weight, which I was grateful for because bloat is a real problem (and none of the other diets touched it). Now I’m in Fat Burn and the loss is slow and steady. My kids are saying they can see it in my face and my husband says he can see it in my torso. I see it in my collar bone and cheek bones– the recognition of my real, true countenance.

I needed eating food-as-medicine to be simple.

My favorite part is actually the part that I thought I’d like the least: the boxed food. Turns out, when one has to eat every 2.5 hours, it’s just easiest to grab something already prepped and ready. How many moms get that without doing it themselves? I like being able to just reach for an interchangeable item, based on if I’m in a sweet or savory mood, and not have to think about anything else. Honestly, eating that often a day would just not happen without the box: I’d be skipping meals. This way, “they” tell me what to eat, relieving my mental energies for more important things and eliminating the blank stare into the fridge as I debate what’s best and then grab what’s worst.

And if you read that and immediately argued, “what happens when you go off the food?” the answer is:  there’s a transition to fewer boxed snack meals with more self-made meals. I am not planning on “being done” because my body is over 40 and maintenance as we age is simply the deal. I’d like my maintenance to involve keeping my system burning and healthy than scheduling appointments for prescription refills. So there’s that. Once in awhile I’ll have my favorites again– the fries and chocolate and bourbon and bread– but all things in moderation, including moderation, and not during Phase One.

This was Week 3 of OptaVia. If you’d like to read about what led me to the decision to try it and what that revealed about my self-care habits, try those links.

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My Enlightening Lightening First Week of Weight Loss with Optavia

One week into Optavia, I’m forced to realize this weight isn’t going to actually slide off.

I used to imagine that gelatinous cellulite could be metabolically heated into a biosilky oil that progressively liquified into sweaty salt secreted through the glands in all the sweaty crotchy spots. In other words, I’d sweat this shit off and wash it all down the shower drain. Since Florida’s humidity means we sweat just walking from the front door to the car, this should be pretty easy.

  • Speed bump #1: Fat loss doesn’t work that way.
  • Speed bump #2: Neither does my metabolism.
  • Speed bump #3: There are plenty of sweaty fat people in Florida. Climate doesn’t override lifestyle habits.

(Read about how my forties have become a second puberty and what led to me giving Optavia a try after every other diet failed here.)

Insights from my first week on Optavia:

Eating every 2.5 hours on a schedule is lot like being a newborn. Caring for your adult body as if it were an infant needing regular food and rest will get under your skin and into your brain and will confront every demon that’s talked you into shame and self-abuse. This isn’t “taking care of yourself” like scheduling a hair cut or a yoga class. I’m realizing it’s more like revolutionary self-awareness, a rebirthing into habits of worth and value apart from the emotional baggage I’d been medicating with food and booze. 

It’s been a rocky week of self-discovery. Turns out I’m still incredibly entrenched in the futile hope that a magic diet will change my life in quick order.

I also fell flat on my face and metaphorically skinned my knees and chin on the psychologically-heavy-laden phrase, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

And, temptation haunts. Thanks to the habits I’ve modeled and then allowed, my teenagers bring golden hot salty waffle fries into the house every single day. Or when I take them out for fresh-fast-Mex (the easiest way to get teen boys to spill their thoughts and open up a little) there sits an entire basket of thin and crispy tortilla chips with salsa and guac. A few bites don’t hurt? Well, they do in week one when all those tiny bites add up and extend the march towards, “FAT BURN.”

Here’s a little glimpse of my week one journal:

  • Day 1: It’s hard to eat this many times a day. This is way too much food. The smoothies taste like pond slime. The crunch sticks taste like sawdust. How the hell am I going to make it through dinner at Carrabba’s? Italian? On a diet? Ask Donna. Grilled fish, grilled asparagus, salad, got it. Perrier with lime makes a decent substitute to avoid happy hour. (Donna is my coach, always just a text lifeline away.)
  • Day 2: WTF? Down a pound a half OVERNIGHT? After all that food and water? Okay Optavia, you officially have my attention. The scale hasn’t moved down in years, not even for “water weight” and believe-you-me, I’m very happy to look less bloated. By the way, the chocolate brownie in a waffle iron is the friggin’ bomb dot com.
  • Day 3: Down another pound. MIGRAINE. Mild headache was expected but since I’m migraine prone, of course I’m triggered into a paralyzing doozy. On top of this: a road trip to Orlando to pick up my son, driving in the pouring rain, remembering to pack one snack but not two, and bottomless chips and salsa on the table. A few fries here, several chips there, a stolen sip of beer… a missed fueling altogether = today has been the hardest so far.
  • Day 4: Back up a pound, thanks to the cheating and the salt. The migraine has spread to my stomach. I want to puke– not eat every 2.5 and count glasses of water. Soldier on, girlfriend. I wonder if they give you chits for so many days of food sobriety? Donna says that when going through hell, keep on going. I think most of these foods are doable with enough water to get them down.
  • Day 5: Listened to my body and slept in an hour. Newborn-Me appreciates screen free breaks too. Migraine gone mid-morning. Weight down two more pounds. The green shake is good with an extra shot of lemon juice and partially frozen. The Chocolate Cherry Chia bar is something I could eat every day. Made a bolognese sauce for dinner and put mine on top of roasted eggplant (lasagne for the family).
  • Day 6: Interesting how my sleep schedule regulated itself! Conk out at 10:30, wake up naturally at 6:45. Today’s challenge was the 4th of July cookout. I made fake potato salad with cauliflower instead of potatoes and had grilled chicken. Fell prey to hubby’s insanely good ribs and hoped they counted more like protein instead of cheats. Not even tempted to sneak beer or bread.
  • Day 7: Hungry for breakfast at 6:45?! Who am I even? And I feel like I could go running! Donna said a big energy boost was coming, she said Fat Burn stage was coming. I doubted her because I was afraid to hope for that. I had my bar set a lot lower– like, let’s have a day without a taste of the forbidden and let’s just get through this damn box of little pouches that are, admittedly, tasting better and better by the day.

This is way more than a diet.

I’ve been a consummate hypocrite when it comes to self-care. A more compassionate way to say it was that I’ve been doing as well as I could with self-care but had been approaching it all wrong. Self-care is not another something to fit into a jam-packed day. In teaching my body to eat a little something every 2.5 hours I’ve had to change a few things about how I live those jam-packed days. My human animal body is going to get ravenously hungry when it’s time to eat– so no more powering through the day, ignoring or overriding biological needs. Eating 6 times a day requires forethought– so no more addressing everything and everyone first so that I run out of time, energy, and attention to think about my needs. Just like I packed the diaper bag before leaving the house with an infant, so too must I now. My human animal body gets tired– a solid night of sleep is not indulgence, it’s essential. And if breakfast is the most important meal of the day, I’m worth the time, money, and energy it takes to experience the most important meal of the day.

I’ll say it again (because it almost feels silly to realize I ever doubted this): I’m worth it. I’m worth the effort of this. I’m worth the cost of this. It matters that I’m healthy and I’m worth whatever it takes to pursue that health.

At the end of week one, I feel like I’ve found the groove. I eat around 6:45, 10, 12:30, 3, 5:45 and 8:30. Five of those snack-meals come from the box and one I cook in my kitchen or eat out– the “lean and green” meal. In the first phase for weight loss, there’s a list of things to avoid, mostly everything that’s obvious– sugar, white carbs, alcohol, fried stuff. The composition of the packaged food helps with any feelings of deprivation (a key thing that has been missing from every other diet I’ve ever been on.) The focus is on what is going to help the metabolism reset and burn fat but there’s a lot that comes along for the ride.

  • regulated sleep cycle
  • hydration
  • energy
  • proper vitamin nutrition
  • psychological insights
  • a deep feeling of wellness

Last night while the fireworks were going on for the 4th of July, I noticed I was sweating in the humidity more than usual. I wondered if my fired up metabolism was actually liquifying and melting off fat. But then, I looked beyond the surface. I felt calm and was headed to bed on time. Newborn-Me wasn’t cranky or colicky, hungry, insecure or overwhelmed. Newborn-Me felt content. I showered her off and tucked her into bed and if she had sweet dreams, she slept too soundly to know.

If you’d like to follow my Optavia journey, click “Follow” at the bottom of this post. You’ll get an email with my weekly post. If you’d like to connect with my supercalifragilisticexpialidocious coach Donna, use my contact form to let me know and I’ll send you her email.

Putting My Inability to Lose Weight to the Optavia Test

At the moment, I’m noticing how the melted vegan butter spread swirls with warm strawberry jam in the crusty holes of my toasted baguette breakfast. I don’t usually eat in the morning other than coffee with almond milk but later today my first box of Optavia food comes in and there’s a call scheduled with my coach for tonight. I’m officially beginning an engineered diet with purchased, prescribed food tomorrow morning and enjoying a last supper of bread and jam today.

“I saw so-and-so today and I didn’t even recognize her!”

A controlled diet is both a surrender and a relief. Peri- and pre-menopause is a hellacious second puberty, complete with an unpredictable roller coaster of hormones, a yoyo of skin conditions, mood swings, food cravings, brain fog, fatigue, and a growing layer of post-baby phat chub. I always did wonder how some women go through early adulthood looking mostly like themselves but then somehow change into a life form nearly unrecognizable to who they used to look like. When my silhouette began to drape at the neck and my underbelly bulge joined the generous muffin top to round out my midsection, I realized I was no longer a pear, an apple, or an hourglass: I was a potato. You dress a potato in the only thing that fits: boxy t-shirts and house dresses. You store a potato in a cool dark place. A potato offers comfort and is a reliable side dish to almost any dynamic entree but she is no longer the marquee event. This versatile starch isn’t juicy, fruity, or sexy: she’s the thick skinned staple that’s best when enhanced with salt, grease, or zesty condiments.

Juicy red tomatoes don’t transform into pale amorphous tubers overnight. Nope, it took me 5 years to gain 50 pounds while actively trying to lose it. The weight came along with goodies like Hashimoto’s Disease, week long migraines, PTSD cortisol surges, anxiety attacks, vitamin B and D deficiencies, 5 uterine procedures to treat periods that would last a year at a time, asthma… and it came on during the most intense years of my life thus far, while I had four kids in four schools, then launching my older teens out into the big, bright world, working full time, writing seven whole drafts of a dysfunctional novel that won’t ever see the light of day, therapeutically addressing the causes of my PTSD, anxiety and depression, as well as dealing with the ongoing stress from an abusive ex-husband who thrives on drama and trauma.

My hairdresser recently said, “Your hair is nearly 100% white on top and it’s in the pattern that comes from stress.”

My doctor recently said, “I think the reason you can’t lose is weight is because cortisol dumps on pounds.”

I gained when I ate, gained when I didn’t eat. Gained on every elimination diet. I gained when running for 100 days straight. Gained while lifting weights and drinking protein shakes. Gained 25 pounds of it while on keto, trying to eat high fat, low carb. I gained while intermittently fasting. Gained during lent. I gained 8 pounds on Weight Watchers, even always coming in under points. I gained on My Fitness Pal. I gained on the Mayo Clinic Diet. I endured the perky cheer of Trim Healthy Mama and finished it as a Big Grouchy Mama. I gained when I stopped dieting and tried just calming the fuck down. I watched food documentaries and switched to a plant based diet and quit drinking and guess what? I gained again.

I don’t drink soda and don’t smoke, I take my vitamins, practice self-care, get enough rest, drink plenty of water, practice yoga and meditation, watch my sugar intake, love salads and green things, and I like to play outside. The REAL me is still inside, even though I totally just walked past a mirror the other day and saw a person I don’t recognize.

“Welcome to the club, sweetie.”

From what I understand, these growth spurts aren’t unusual among women my age. We all cry-bag about the same thing with very little variance in our stories. That’s what happened one day last summer as I sat on my friend Donna’s deck and we bitched about aging. Donna is a high school teacher and former Marine helicopter pilot who takes zero bullshit from anyone. I’m fortunate to call her one of my dearest friends. I decided to focus on “moving past trying to lose weight” and “embrace my new rubenesque form.” After all, I’m all about progress and sucking the marrow out of life. If I’m meant to live the second half of my life fat, so be it. It’s not as though my best efforts to change it were working anyway.

Donna teaches science. While I tried to live my best life sampling buttery Chardonnays and nut-stuffed olives, Donna kept looking for a way to solve the real problem. In January 2018 I got sick with the flu, which led to an upper respiratory infection, and then uncontrollable asthma attacks. I didn’t leave my house for two months, which was the entire duration of lent this year. I didn’t see Donna for a several weeks. And then when I did make it back to church, I totally just walked past this lady who seemed familiar but that I didn’t recognize.

Donna had lost 25 pounds using a program called Optavia. She was slender, glowing, athletic, strong, and vibrant. Her hair shone and her eyes sparkled. Understand, this is not only unusual because she’d lost weight; this was also the third quarter of the school year, when NO TEACHER is energetic and glowing. Whatever she’d done on the diet, she’d done it while living amid her own life stressors, while also navigating her own list of physical and hormonal challenges, and without saying no forever to all her favorite foods and drinks.

“It’s not a secret, it’s just science,” she said. “Well, it’s also finances,” I replied, and she agreed. Optavia has a cost involved and a commitment needed if it’s going to work. “And it never doesn’t work,” she added.

I resisted. I was just starting the plant based diet and no longer drinking. I was grouchy about it. I don’t like processed food and food that comes in a box, even if it’s short term. I felt burnt out on “diets”. Then my always-low blood pressure started spiking and the scale tipped a number that horrified me. Weeks passed. I went on vacation. My newly purchased clothes for the trip that were also larger than I’d ever bought before, felt tight. My wedding ring got stuck on my little fat finger. Going it on my own isn’t working. At my sunrise birthday party on the beach I told Donna I thought my ability to diet without shedding weight was actually a secret super power. She said she honestly just thought I needed to try Optavia. The pursuit of weight loss on my own had been a long road and this feels like the end of it.

I guess the timing is perfect. I’m at the dawn of a new year, we’re starting at the first of a new month, I’ve got no more ideas or excuses or reasons not to try. The money is going to even out with what I ordinarily spend on groceries + alcohol. There are ways to do it and stay plant based. She’s going to coach me every step of the way. She offered to help me pick out the contents of my first box. I gave her my credit card and read through the materials over the weekend. The box comes later today.

I promised to journal and write my story, which I’ll post here every Thursday. I’m nervous, mostly because I’m afraid this isn’t going to work. Even a metabolic jump start would be a win– any downward movement of the scale would be remarkable after 5 years of only going up. I’ve taken measurements as an added metric but I’d really love to fit comfortably in my clothes. I don’t know what’s on the other side but I keep thinking about puberty.

Little girls go through dramatic changes in that process, which lasts approximately four years and turns them into young women. This second puberty shifts fertile women into another stage of life but one that still has several decades of living ahead! I’m not expecting to come through this second wave looking like my 34 year old self. That would be as impossible as a poppin’ 19 year old looking like a child again. I’m hoping to come out looking like a vibrant, slightly older version of the same person I’ve always been, someone with wisdom and valued experience but also energy and strength and health. In my heart of hearts, I believe there’s a way to age gracefully and healthfully, with my inner badass and verve intact.  I honestly don’t know if Optavia can help get me back to her but I do know I can at least try. The me-inside is game to try.


If you’d like to follow my Optavia journey, click “Follow” at the bottom of this post. You’ll get an email with my weekly post. If you’d like to connect with my supercalifragilisticexpialidocious coach Donna, use my contact form to let me know and I’ll send you her email.

Read my Week One insights on weight loss and self-care here.