This post feels fitting at the moment. I was reminded of this essay that I wrote last year by a friend who is doing some research for a book she is writing. As I sifted through the content, I realized it is pretty relevant to my situation today. Once again, I'm struggling with my weight and the effect it is having on my health. And I'm still using the damned excuse I have used for years: I'll start next Monday.But as the words weigh heavy on my heart yet fly so easily off my lips, I realize this battle I am in with myself is more than just about the aesthetic or the date I assign myself to start and stop. This is a lifelong war I am engaged in and it just doesn't need to be this hard; I don't need to be on the front lines all the time.
I am forever looking for the weight-loss "fast track." Yes, 20 years ago, I could hop on that fast-track and lose the five extra pounds I put on the month before. But what happens now, 20 years later at the tender menopausal age of 51? Well, I'm finding out with every fad and crash diet I continue to put my body through. My body bucks back. So, when am I going to learn? Revisiting this essay has helped me to face reality once again while giving me a swift kick in the ass and a reminder that this journey to a healthful me is a marathon--not a sprint.
Famous last words, I'll start next Monday. I think I've started a new diet and exercise program every week for the past ten years, and each week yields the same predictable ending. The first three days, I go at it with the intensity of a soldier fighting fiercely on the front lines, the fourth day, my energy begins to wane due to muscle aches and fatigue brought on by 5:00 am workouts (and cutting my calories) by day five the excuses start, and I throw my entire commitment to health and fitness off a New York City skyscraper and watch it plummet, at record speed, to the ground. I confess, my dangerous obsession with weight loss has always been more about the aesthetic than the internal benefits; perhaps that's why I haven't been successful. Over the last decade, I've teetered in between different weights but never losing enough to really make a difference. The pattern of giving up becomes self-deprecating. What was once a personal mantra packaged in hope, I'll start next Monday, becomes a too familiar pretext to failure.
As I muddle my way into midlife, I am beginning to experience myriad changes in my body—much more than in my thirties (obviously) and my forties. In the mirror, I still expect to see the fit and trim print model I was back in the late 90s and early-2000s. I also expect to lose weight as quickly as I did in my former years—it's not happening. Again, and again, that package of hope is empty. It's been five days, I say to myself. I lost 3 pounds in the first two days, and now I'm up two pounds.
The frustration is real. I want to quit. So, I do. Again.
"Honey," I impatiently text to my husband, "I'm off my diet. I just don't understand why I'm not losing weight. I've barely eaten anything all week, I've worked out for four days straight, I'm sore, I can't move, and I'm just done. This diet is not working for me. I'm starving, and I want to go out to dinner tonight."
I'll start [again] next Monday. As one cycle ends, the same one begins. Of course, to hide the shame of quitting, I make jokes about each impending Monday. But before that fateful day arrives, I'm going to drink the wine, eat the greasy French fries, the rich foods, and order the tongue-tantalizing desserts—blanketing myself in great gluttony. This has been the pattern for nearly ten years.
Over the last year, however, as my weight has steadily increased, I've noticed subtle differences in the way my body has reacted to food and alcohol. My husband and I enjoy experimenting with wine, particularly paired with a great meal and atmosphere. We like to explore wine establishments—both local and when traveling—and enjoy planning trips to wine country when time allows. Over the years, we've spent hundreds of dollars on exquisite bottles of wine and high-end wine dinners. I've quickly learned that just because it's an expensive hobby doesn't mean that it's good for my body. Not only does this particular hobby create weight gain, but what it has done to my insides is far worse than what it has done to the outside.
Denial, I've discovered, is something I'm well-versed in; I've been in denial a while now—mostly about my weight and my weight-loss journey. It's all been a façade, and I'm paying the price with my health. About a month ago, my husband and I decided we would try the blazingly popular Keto diet. We researched the program, watched Youtube videos, followed Keto Instagram celebrities, bought the latest and greatest Keto cookbook, and filled our cupboards and refrigerator with high-fat, low carb foods. Lots of fatty cheeses, red meats, heavy creams, sugar-free sauces laden with fat, bacon, sausage, cream, real butter—no fruits allowed, no bread, no carbs—no carbs—the more fat, the better. I must get into the state of ketosis, the book said, and I must stay consistent. I prepared our first Keto meal: steak, cauliflower casserole, and keto-friendly hollandaise sauce (bubbling butter and egg yolks as the foundation); the excitement was building, my stomach growled, and mouth watered as we sat down to eat.
"I can eat all the fat I want," I exclaimed to my husband with a broad smile feeling like I've finally found the solution to all my problems. "Oh, yeah, this diet was invented for me! I'm finally going to succeed at something." As I'm eating the rich food and watching the grease oozing out of the cheesy, butter-laden cauliflower casserole, my stomach begins to ache, and I don't mean a little stomach ache—this is painful, and it is only getting worse. For days to follow, the bathroom became my most visited room in the house. After about a week of pain coupled with trying to work my day job as a teacher, my night job as an online writing instructor, and a grad school student, something had to be done. I couldn't eat anything, and I was losing weight at the rate of two pounds per day. Although this was the first time I'd seen the scale move in months, I knew this was not the way to get it done. I wasn't healthy.
As I lay on our king-sized bed, in our cozy beach bungalow, crying, and in the fetal position, my husband insisted that we go to the emergency room or urgent care. I chose urgent care. Once checked in and back in a room—after explaining to the doctor what my symptoms were, they ordered tests to be done at once—or in their terms, "stat." They were almost positive that it was my gallbladder. They told me to prepare to have my gallbladder removed; this would be confirmed, they were reasonably confident, with the ultrasound I would have first thing in the morning. I was on a special diet of bananas, rice, apple sauce, and dry toast. I couldn't drink anything but water. At that point, I wanted nothing.
That evening, I prepared. I ran through the laundry list of things that had to be organized to cover all of my classes both face to face and online: a sub, sub plans, cancellation of my online writing classes, etc. I felt better, though; I had been informed that once my gallbladder was removed, I would feel like a new person—this is an easy fix. I was relieved. The doctors told me that since the start of the Keto rave, they have removed more gallbladders then in previous years because of the heavy fat content of this particular diet. Again, easy fix—no more Keto diet—I got this. What I wasn't prepared for was the actual diagnosis that came the next day. The doctors were wrong. It wasn't my gallbladder—it was, it is, my liver. My blood work returned nearly perfect--my liver enzymes weren't elevated, but there had to be a reason for the fatty liver—the ultrasound showed I have a fatty liver. The doctors then wanted to ensure that I didn't have hepatitis. I was told I needed to get back to the hospital at once for a complete hepatitis panel and that I was not to return to work until I had been cleared. This was devastating news. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Could this really be true? How could a stomach ache turn into liver disease and the possibility of hepatitis? After 24 hours of waiting, I learned I did not have hepatitis, but my liver is fatty, and it's not metabolizing fat or alcohol the way it should. Without a significant change in lifestyle, without giving my liver a chance to regenerate itself, I would suffer from liver disease for the rest of my life, and liver disease kills.
It turns out the Keto diet saved my life. Not so much the diet itself, but the adverse reaction to the high-fat content. Without the fatty grease attack on my liver masked as an attack on my gallbladder, I would have never known I was walking around with NAFLD (the acronym for Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease). The good news is that I'm going to be okay. My life is changing, but that's okay. Through this experience, I've learned that my weight loss journey isn't about the aesthetic it's about being alive, being healthy, and spending the second half of my life functioning at full throttle because I am fueling my body with goodness. The aesthetic is a bonus. This experience gave new meaning to I'll start next Monday. After this scare, I didn't wait until Monday to start—what if Monday never comes because I'm too busy worrying about the things I can't have instead of the goodness that's waiting for me and my temple.
It's been staggering to realize how poorly I have treated my body and how my gluttonous indulgences could have killed me. Monday will never look the same again, and I'm okay with that because I'm looking forward to living the rest of my life healthy and happy in my own skin.
To hell with next Monday...