Follow by Email

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels

Originally published Dec. 31, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

As the year comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the past while looking forward to the future. For me, that means it’s also a good time to clean up the office and go through the notebooks collecting dust on my desk.This week’s column will be devoted to the questions I’m most commonly asked that I never find the space to address here. I’ll skip the champagne this year, and instead toast the new year with the following odds and ends:

How do you feel?
The short answer is: GREAT. But I find that’s usually not enough for most people. The long answer is that before I had gastric-bypass surgery, I had no clue how unhealthy I was. I know that sounds odd, because I had the surgery to improve my health. But the truth is that when you’ve been obese all of your life, you don’t understand the definition of healthy and can’t imagine what it feels like. My world was so small before that I didn’t realize what I was missing.I take pleasure in the little things that most people take for granted: having a seat belt fasten easily around me, rolling around on the floor with my niece and nephew, stooping to pick something up that’s fallen on the ground. These are simple tasks, but they are ones I spent a long time avoiding.

What do you miss?
Nothing. There was nothing so remarkable about my former life that’s worth missing. I’ve have talked to other post-ops who miss the ability to gorge on food or to eat whatever they want on a whim. I went through that stage briefly the first three months after surgery. But I barely remember what I thought I missed back then. I know I don’t miss the things I thought I would, such as ice cream and fast food. I don’t crave Jack in the Box anymore, and I’m not tempted by the smell of the Golden Arches.

Do you have extra skin?
I’ve avoided this issue in my column because I think it’s become cliché. It seems that every news story or talk show that discusses surgical weight loss brings up issues and concerns with excess skin and the cosmetic surgery that’s often needed to eliminate it. Personally, it’s not much of a concern for me at the moment. Sure, there are parts of me that aren’t that pretty uncovered, but that was true before I lost 155 pounds. I look better now in clothing than I ever have before, and that’s good enough for me.I might feel differently 20 or 40 pounds from now, but for now, I can accept the results of my weight loss.

Would you do it again?
In a heartbeat. Nothing has ever tasted as good as how I feel right now. Even when I’m in the throes of a dumping episode, I don’t regret my decision to have gastric bypass. This is the best decision I’ve ever made. As I’ve gotten healthier, I’ve become a better worker, a better wife and a better person. I’m more productive at my job because I don’t get sick as often. I’m more available to my husband because I’m not tired all the time. And I’m easier to be around because I’m in a better mood and have a more positive outlook on life.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Nursing a war wound

Originally published Dec. 24, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Life has certainly changed for me in the last 10 months. Before having gastric-bypass surgery, I was more likely to pull a hamstring from jumping to conclusions than from actually moving. When I started writing this column a year ago, I took the elevator every day to my second-story office. I was 27 years old, but I felt like I was 70. In fact, a 75-year-old woman in the office often ran circles around me.

Fast forward to now: I’m nursing a still-tender nose from a workout accident that occurred earlier in the week. My workouts are far from dangerous. I haven’t yet realized my dream of rock climbing. My exercise partner isn’t even sure my hand-eye coordination is advanced enough to attempt racquetball. But I am more adventurous than ever.

As my weight loss has slowed over the past couple of months, my motivation has moved from the numbers on the scale to what I accomplish at the gym each morning. I’ve stepped up my cardio workout by using the Cybex Arc crosstrainer. At first, the Arc felt a little awkward to me, because I was accustomed to the elliptical trainer.The Arc is more of a glider and feels deceptively easy because there is little strain felt in the knees and hips. Yet a 20-minute mile on it leaves me dripping with sweat. Going the same distance in the same time on the treadmill or elliptical trainer would have me barely glistening.

My strength-training program is still focused on using free weights, but my ab workout has gotten more interesting. My abs have never been strong, nor have I concentrated on them much in the past. It’s hard to get motivated about exercising muscles hidden under layers of flab.I started focusing on my abs before surgery, because I had heard that strong abs would lead to an easier recovery from the incisions. I adjusted my workout a few months ago to include exercises beyond the standard crunch, which gets boring day in and day out.

At first, I incorporated a big balance ball. I would do crunches from atop the ball to increase my range of motion, making the exercises more effective. Then I went to doing stabilizing exercises while balancing on it to help firm up my whole core.

Lately, my ab workouts have incorporated a Bosu balance trainer and medicine balls. A Bosu looks like someone hacked off the upper quarter of a balance ball and attached it to a platform — the end product being an inflated mound that can be used to activate the core muscles during all sorts of exercises.

One that my partner and I enjoy is playing catch with a 6-pound medicine ball while each of us stands on a Bosu. It looks likes we’re just playing a schoolyard game, but our abs, obliques and back muscles are working overtime to keep us from falling off the Bosu while we catch and throw the weighted ball.

Medicine balls also come in handy to intensify the standard crunch. But be forewarned — using medicine balls also requires paying more attention while exercising, as I learned this week.My partner and I favor a particular exercise where I lie on the ground while she stands across from me. I try to keep my shoulders raised as she throws a medicine ball at my face. The goal is for me to catch the ball and crunch upward while throwing it back at her. The hope is that my shoulders never touch the ground. The body’s instinctive tensing as the ball rushes toward my face keeps my muscles engaged the whole time. I was feeling so good at my ability to complete this exercise that I suggested we go from using a 4-pound ball to using an 8-pound ball.
However, I misjudged the amount of effort it would take to actually catch an 8-pound ball flying at me. On the first try, the ball went through my hands and crashed into my nose, leaving me to see nothing but stars for a solid minute.

My partner and I were reduced to hysterical laughing once I realized there was no blood and my nose was still as unbroken and adorable as always. I did have to explain the mysterious red line across my nose to numerous people throughout the day, but it was a great workout and one I can’t wait to do again.

I wouldn’t have laughed off such an incident before. A handful of people saw my display of klutziness and ribbed my partner for abusing me. It was all in good humor, and I consider the fact that so many of us got a good laugh out of the incident to make it worthwhile. It’s a fun story to tell.

The old Tonya would have had trouble seeing the humor in the situation. I would have been too embarrassed to think it was funny, and I might have not returned to the gym because of it.I’m glad I’m a different person now. I enjoy life more — both the good and the bad — than ever before, and I think I’m a better person because of it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The honeymoon is over

Originally published Dec. 10, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Nobody ever said this trip was going to be easy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t whine about it.

Complications? Nope, not a one. Regrets? Not at all.

So what is my problem? In a nutshell, it’s that I’ve started to face the same challenges I’ve had every time I’ve tried to lose weight. The issues I’ve had with dieting before have reared their ugly heads, and I’m not happy about it.

I’ve mentioned in recent columns the phenomenon of old habits creeping up. I am as honest in this column as I can be in a family newspaper. I stay honest because I want people to understand that losing weight isn’t easy regardless of the method used. I never thought this would be a quick fix, and I want to make sure readers understand that.I

compare what I’m going through to running into an old flame. You know where the person lives and where the person works and have done a decent job of avoiding him. But one day, you’re strolling down the produce aisle, and your carts collide. Face-to-face, the past hits you like a ton of bricks.The meeting is awkward, and later at home, you find yourself analyzing the relationship all over again. What went wrong? Are you really over him? The questions grow more frustrating, the answers more confusing.

Realizing food issues have re-emerged is no different. Over the last few weeks, I’ve done a variety of things. I’ve had nightmares about gaining all my weight back overnight. I’ve berated myself for dropping my guard. I’ve tallied up every “bad” choice I’ve made. And last but not least, I’ve hit the gym with a vengeance to counteract the effects of those choices.

I’ve haven’t fallen as far off the wagon as it may sound. It’s not like you’ll find me at Cold Stone Creamery ordering a large-size Creation. I haven’t had ice cream since I dumped on sugar-free Breyers three weeks after surgery. I’m not frequenting fast-food chains. In fact, I passed up the chance for Jack in the Box while writing this column (though the deep-fried tacos did sound good). My slip-ups are subtle. I might absentmindedly grab a caramel-filled Hershey’s Kiss from the candy dish on my way to the women’s restroom at work. While baking up a small batch of cookies for my husband, I’ll toss one into my mouth without thinking. Once I’ve swallowed, I’ll realize what I’ve done, but it’s too late.

I’m not an idiot. I see the trend in my behavior. I’ve been on autopilot for the last few weeks, and that’s always been my weakness. Sure, my eating isn’t anywhere close to what it was before surgery. It’s not like I’m eating half a pizza without realizing it. But even if I eat only a slice now, isn’t that just as bad? I’m still sabotaging myself.

Before I had surgery, I told my doctor I often overate on autopilot. She explained to me that it was a survival mechanism. At the time, she told me not to worry about what I ate or why I ate but to focus on how I felt when I caught myself zoning out. She said figuring out what prompted my survival instinct to kick in was the key to snapping myself out of it. She also said that it was something I would struggle with for the rest of my life because my brain was hardwired to react that way.

I hate that she was right.The honeymoon is over. I have lost 150 pounds, and I feel great but life is not perfect. I never thought it would be. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t enjoyed the half a year I spent not battling compulsive eating. I

t took me almost four months to experience hunger pangs and four more to even consider eating between meals. But I knew that was all temporary. Every class I’ve sat in and every post-op I’ve talked to has warned me about that.I credit that education and knowledge for arming me with the self-awareness that I share now. That information has also given me the keys to getting myself back in check. I need to take advantage of the awesome support system that surrounds me. I need to start eating on a schedule again, writing down everything that I put in my mouth and cleaning out all the junk food in the house that I thought I could avoid.In a sense, I’m lucky. For the first time ever, I’ve recognized my self-sabotaging instincts before regaining mass amounts of weight. I see what I’m doing while I still have the power to stop it. I chose this surgery because I knew it was the only way I could force myself to confront my eating demons. Now that it’s time to do that, I’m going to make good on my promise to myself.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ready for a marathon — in stages

Originally published Dec. 3, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

I’ve never been much of a runner. In fact, when somebody talks to me about jogging, my stock answer is always that I only run when being chased — and even then, I’d rather find a hiding place.But my aversion to running doesn’t stop me from feeling inspired when I read stories of marathon runners. I dream of having the level of commitment necessary to train for such a long-distance endeavor. Sometimes I even research races to enter. Eventually, reality sets in, and I remind myself of my running policy. But the idea is always in the back of my mind.

I never would have guessed that I would find the answer to my conundrum in my own backyard. But the city of Tracy has come up with an activity that will help me fulfill my interest in marathons without having to undergo intensive training or even actually run. The city’s Winter Activity Guide, which was mailed to local homes over the weekend, advertises the first-ever communitywide progressive marathon. Billing it as the answer for those who would love to participate in marathons but don’t have the time — or energy — to run the race all at once, My Own Marathon allows participants to cover the distance gradually.

How it works is that participants have from Jan. 1 to April 28 to log 26.2 miles of walking, running or a combination of the two. Participants are encouraged to attend the city’s annual Summer Activity Showcase on April 29, when everyone will gather to complete the last quarter-mile to mile of the marathon together.

The marathon fits right in with the city’s new Healthy Habits campaign, and recreation coordinator Laura Johnston said locals can expect to see more programs and classes that fit the theme.To make logging the required miles even easier, the Winter Activity Guide offers marathon mileage breakdowns for many of the classes offered. Tennis lessons and tap and ballet classes are all good for one mile each, while children who participate in the 8-week soccer program will log six miles.

“We hope that this progressive marathon can motivate Tracy residents to instill their own healthy habits,” Johnston said.

Johnston added that city staffers plan to promote My Own Marathon at the local hospital and schools as a great way for families to become active together. The marathon’s timeline of almost four months ensures that even the busiest family will be able to make time to participate.

My husband and I are looking forward to signing up Dec. 7, the first day the city accepts registration for winter programs. Entry fee is $5 per person or $10 for groups of two or more. That’s cheap, considering entrants receive a goody bag filled with a water bottle, T-shirt, sunscreen, pedometer, mileage log book and tip sheets.Besides signing up for a fun way to be active together, my husband said the pedometer is what sold him. He’s interested to find out how many miles he logs in at his construction job each day. I’m pretty excited about the pedometer myself, if only to use it as further confirmation of my newly active lifestyle.