It was the Christmas pictures that did it. There was my beautiful sister, almost seven months pregnant with her first child, looking radiant standing next to me – fifty pounds (at least, I didn’t ask. I have to maintain some sanity,) heavier than her, looking like a distorted, bloated version of myself. What struck me the most wasn’t how heavy I was; it’s not like I hadn’t realized my pants were getting too tight and I got out of breath trying to put my boots on. I knew I’d put on a considerable amount of weight. But what struck me the most was how unhappy I looked. I didn’t look like me. The me I knew was happy, she wasn’t this puffy person desperately trying to smile.
Once I had untagged myself from all of those unflattering pictures, I made a decision. I didn’t want to be that person. I did not want to be the person that did not want her picture taken. I wanted my as-yet-unborn niece to have photos of her aunt that loved her, not just a vague recollection of a fat lady. Those pictures snapped something in me and made me question what else I was missing out on. I’m self-aware enough to realize if I was hiding out from the camera, I was hiding out from other things as well. What else was I letting pass me by?
So I made some big changes. I cut out the carbs and sugar, switched my six or seven Diet Cokes a day for gallons of water. I quit drinking beer. (I switched to vodka and diet Sprite. I’m not a saint.) I ate vegetables. Instead of my previous late night dinners of loaded baked potato soup, mashed potatoes, or spaghetti with a half a loaf of garlic bread, I made mashed cauliflower with chicken. I made smoothies with spinach every morning, despite my previous disdain for anyone that would do such a horrible thing to a delicious beverage. I found out I was wrong. They were delicious.
And I started running. I had quit smoking almost a year prior but still had the smoker mentality that went something along the lines of, “If I am running, you better start, because there someone behind me with a murderous weapon.” I had never run. Ever. I always got a C in gym class because I would never run the whole mile. But I found this Couch to 5K program that boasted it would enable me to run a 5K within nine weeks. I didn’t believe it for a second after the first day, when I damn near passed out after running for sixty seconds. I signed up for one anyway.
The biggest thing I did, however, was not get on a scale. I hadn’t had one in years, and I decided that instead of weight, I was going to concentrate on this 5K. I set what I thought was a realistic goal: One, I was going to finish the program. Two, I wanted to run the whole thing and finish under 45 minutes. They weren’t lofty goals. There are people that can walk a 5K in 45 minutes. But they were my goals, and they weren’t directly related to a number on the scale.
I felt great. Each day after I completed my run, I was exhilarated. Every other day I was out there; in the bitter cold, in the snow, in the rain – I would run. I couldn’t believe it – I was doing it!!! After a couple of weeks, my clothes were fitting better. I had more energy, I was smiling a real smile again – I was happy. I was me again. Most of all, I was so damn proud of myself. I was achieving my weight loss goals like I never had before.
About eight weeks into the program, I was over at my sister’s for lunch. I went to use her bathroom and spied the scale on the floor. I couldn’t help myself. I had to see. I mean, it had been eight weeks! After all of the changes I had made, at the weight I started, I was confident I had lost at least fifteen pounds. I had done the low-carb thing before – the wrong way, with no exercise, subsisting on bacon and peanut butter – and lost eight pounds the first week. So I was, for the first time I can remember, excited about getting on the scale. I kicked off my shoes and stepped on, eagerly looking down at the number.
That can’t be right.
THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT.
It is impossible that I have only lost three pounds. After all, I’d been eating vegetables. I got off and let it reset. Clearly it was malfunctioning. I got on again.
In eight weeks, after letting nary a potato or beer cross my lips, after drinking gallons and gallons of water a day, after drinking spinach for breakfast, after increasing my endurance to being able to run a mile and a half at a stretch, after turning down Portillo’s four times, after throwing away the crust on the work-lunch Lou Malnati’s pizza, after eating all of this cauliflower – THREE POUNDS.
In short, I was devastated. All of my hard work, all of my good feels, all of my pride and energy; it was like it had never happened. According to that scale, all of my work was for basically nothing. And the next thought that crossed my mind was, “Why even bother? I might as well go back to macaroni and cheese for dinner!”
How. Stupid. Is. That?
I knew I’d lost inches. My clothes fit better, I’d been getting compliments, the foot pain I’d struggled with for the past year was non-existent. I was able to keep up when we went for a walk. I was able to run a mile and a half, for Christ’s sake. I was no longer sweating while trying to zip up my boots, in fact, I could fit my whole hand in between my leg and the top of them, whereas weeks before I could barely get them over my pants. My yoga pants were dragging on the floor even when I wore shoes. I didn’t resemble John Goodman anymore. I felt great.
Yet I was letting a number on a scale determine whether I had been successful. Somehow, none of those great things I’d been feeling mattered anymore, because the scale said they didn’t. Anyone who has ever struggled with their weight knows that the scale rules all. The scale has the final say. The scale tells you whether you are doing well or badly. And in the end, the scale will break you.
I can say with complete confidence that if I’d been weighing myself every day throughout those eight weeks, I would have quit about three weeks in. No way would I have continued the running that has made me stronger, eating food that doesn’t require a nap after consuming it, drinking water instead of pop, because the scale would have told me I was failing.
So I’m very glad that I don’t own a scale. Because if I did, I wouldn’t be wearing jeans two sizes lower than I was in January. If I owned a scale, my smile would still look stretched and forced. I wouldn’t be excited about the summer, looking for clothes and planning activities that I know I’ll be able to enjoy. If I owned a scale, I sure as hell wouldn’t have run three straight miles yesterday. I wouldn’t be looking forward to running a 5K next week – in fact, I’d be dreading it, because it would be another failure. All because of a number that means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Throw away the scale. Eat well, be healthy in whatever way works for you, and be happy. Get your smile back and be proud of what you can do.
This is three pounds.
Last year, I starting riding a bike to work in an effort to not murder someone on the CTA and hopefully improve my fitness at the same time. I learned a lot in those first couple of weeks; drivers in Chicago despise bike riders more than Steve Bartman and Lovie Smith combined, speeding joyfully down a hill whilst reminiscing about the freedom you experienced as a child riding a bike lasts only as long as it takes for a car to pull into the intersection at the bottom, and people should really pay more attention before whipping their car door open on a busy street with a bike lane.
I loved riding the bike to work and can’t wait to start it up again. Of course – it has to be mentioned – this is partially because this winter is by far the biggest bitch I have ever encountered and the CTA, as hard as it tries, cannot possibly keep up. There’s too many people, there’s too much snow, there’s too much slush, there’s problems with Ventra, everything is freezing to itself – it sucks. My commute, on a good day, should be about 30 minutes, door to door. This year? It runs between 45 minutes and an hour and a half, and that’s on a day it’s NOT snowing. Which isn’t often. So the thought of walking out my door, not almost killing myself on the stairs, getting on a bike, riding through the wind and sunshine, and arriving at work not swearing and covered in salt and slush is extraordinarily appealing.
I did not take off any weight after starting this regimen. In fact, I gained some. That was disappointing – I mean seriously, who gains weight after going from zero activity to riding a bike six miles a day? The answer is someone who carb loads as if they are training for a marathon instead of mildly exercising for 40 minutes a day. (Very mildly. I’m so slow on the bike that everyone passes me. Old people, young people, overweight tourists on the Divvy bikes – everyone.) Baked macaroni and cheese, loaded mashed potatoes, and my favorite creation entitled spaghetti monster – baked spaghetti with cream cheese and mozzarella in the sauce – this is what I lived on. Unsurprisingly, by the time Christmas rolled around, I was a giant, puffy version of myself and more closely resembled John Goodman than I ever would have liked to.
Something had to give, and that something was carbs. I won’t bore you with all of the details of my newfound love affair with cauliflower as a substitute for every single thing I used to make – take a look at my Facebook and you can see plenty of that as I am, unfortunately, that person who now posts pictures of their dinner with alarming frequency. (But seriously – cauliflower pizza? Genius.) So I’d been feeling good, had taken some weight off, had more energy – all the good feels you get with eating better. And somehow, somewhere in my brain along the way, I got it in my head that I wanted to run one of the 5K’s that Chicago always hosts throughout the year.
Let’s get something straight right here. My family? We’re not runners. Even my little sister, who does run, who has run a half-marathon, who attends those terrifying-looking fitness classes that make me want to vomit just watching them – even she admits we are not runners. It’s not that we’re lazy or have never been athletic; in fact, some of my favorite memories are bike riding in the forest preserve as a family when we were younger. My sister and I always played softball or soccer, and she was a cheerleader and – believe it or not – I was in my high school dance troupe for two years.*
*People are always surprised by this. For some reason, they are never as surprised when I tell them I played the tuba. Go figure.
At any rate, the most I had run since high school was at a haunted house about 15 years ago when one of the actors chased me out the exit with a chainsaw. I ran about fifty yards out of sheer terror before my body realized what it was doing and I collided into a tree. So when the thought of running a 5K first crossed my mind, I dismissed it as pure madness. Like, Okay, Courtney, we’re not drowning in a vat of mac and cheese every night – let’s just go with that win instead of getting all crazy here, okay?
But I couldn’t get it out of my head, and soon I found myself researching 5K’s and how to get started running. I found a program called Couch to 5K promising to turn me from a couch potato into someone able to run three miles in nine weeks. I found myself looking up success stories and starting to think that I might be able to do it. There were other people, both smaller and bigger than myself, with pictures of themselves smiling with medals and thought, well, it’s worth a try. And I decided I would start the next day. And I did, which is possibly the first thing I’ve followed through on in three years.
Week One. Longest run time – 1 minute. I learned that when one is 35, out of shape, and an ex-heavy smoker, running for even such a short amount of time should be approached with more caution than exuberance. By the third repetition of the “run” portion of the workout, I was running slower than I was walking and being outpaced by toddlers in snowsuits.
Week Two. Longest run time – 1 1/2 minutes. An increase of a measly thirty seconds. Pssht. That’s nothing, right? I learned that thirty seconds is a really fucking long time when you’re trying to run.
Week Three. Longest run time – 3 minutes. This time, I knew. I knew it was going to be harder. So I downloaded some inspiring music to keep me going. I was feeling good and enjoying the challenge, so I really wanted to keep it up. I learned that just because you like a song does not mean that it is good to try and run to. (Eminem’s Lose Yourself? Good. Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe? Not as much.)
Week Four. Longest run time – 5 minutes. This is the week that I got hit in the ear with a piece of rock salt by a passing car so hard I almost went blind and Mother Nature dumped a whole shitload of snow and horribleness on Chicago – again – and I had to repeat it over the course of about three weeks. I learned that I should pay more attention to cars in my path and that Mother Nature is fucking pissed beyond belief at us for spraying all that Aquanet in the 80’s.
Week Five. Longest run time – 20 minutes. I know. Hell of a jump, right? It was eight minutes the first day, then the last day of the week – WHAM. Twenty minutes. Like you weren’t huffing and puffing through 90 seconds just a few weeks ago. I learned that this stupid app on my phone has been right since January, which is a longer track record than I’ve had in quite awhile.
I’m signed up for three 5K’s this year. The first one is the Race to Wrigley in April. I don’t know if I’ll be able to run to the whole thing. My app says I can, so I’m hopeful. But I do know that I will finish, whether it takes me 35 or 60 minutes. And if the Cubs’ past few seasons are any indication, it is the happiest Cubs fans will be all year at Wrigley unless they’re going to a concert there.
So there’s that.