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.