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The Dreaded Gym Mirror

It's June of 2011, I weigh more than 300 pounds, and I've joined the gym.  What's more, I've actually started going.  I'm grateful that the cardio machines where I initially make my home face windows, not mirrors.  In fact, I don't go near the mirrors on purpose. This is how I look - I'm painfully aware that this is how I look.  I don't need the gym mirror to remind me of it.

My first week at the gym, I literally worked out in pajama pants and old ratty tshirts.  When I knew it would stick, I invested in baggy workout shirts and pants.  And I never, ever looked at myself in the mirror if I could help it. 

Then I started venturing to the free weight area, surrounded in mirrors.  I couldn't actually figure out WHY there were so many mirrors.  I often wished they would remove them all.  I might have even filled out a comment card requesting it. It seemed like needless torture.

I lifted with my back to the mirrors whenever possible.  I could not stand the sight of myself, looking like a poser, like an imposter, in my ill-fitting clothes (on my ill-fitting body...) lifting weights next to those who belonged.  The way my stomach hung, my flabby arms doing a lateral raise. I hated those mirrors.

Those mirrors kept me from taking a group exercise class for months.  When I finally did, I hid in the corner opposite the mirrors.  I felt stupid doing zumba, I can't imagine how stupid I looked.  

But regardless of those mirrors, I kept going.  I kept lifting, and I started taking more group exercise classes.  Slowly, without even realizing it, I stopped avoiding my reflection.  I was far from perfect and I still felt out of place, but the self-consciousness was evaporating.

One day in a tabata group exercise class, I watched myself instead of averting my eyes or carefully positioning myself away from the mirrors.  

I realized: I'd become an athlete.  And I looked like one.  

To understand the impact of this, you need to understand where I came from.  I've never been thought of as an athlete.  I've never been *good* at anything physical, unless bocce ball counts and I don't think it does (I have an uncanny bocce ability.  Let's play sometime).  I've never excelled at basketball, despite my height, or running. I couldn't keep up with my husband while biking or hiking.  I've always felt awkward and silly exercising.  It was easier - mentally, physically - to simply opt out.  

Now I've changed this.  I haven't set any running records, but I have run a half marathon, something no one in my family has come close to. I'm not a powerlifter, but I can pull and press more weight than most people I know, male or female.  I'm not the most athletic person in a class, but I'm not in the middle of the pack either.

And what's the most brilliant about this?  I'm so much better at all that than I was in June of 2011.  I'm better at it than I was a month ago.  Every training session is a chance to improve just a bit.

It's December of 2013. I'm down 130+ pounds.  I've been maintaining it for 15 months.  I've found strength and dedication and power I didn't know I could develop.  The gym mirror isn't my enemy anymore.  I don't dislike what I see, flaws and all.  

So excuse me if you catch me looking at myself in those mirrors.  I just sometimes literally cannot believe this is me - my body, my mind, my results.  So much about weight loss has been wonderful, but shedding self-consciousness, self-hate,'s downright liberating.  I like how I Iook, and even better, I like who I have become.  Weight loss was really just a side effect of a drastic life change that enabled me to be happier and healthier.

I'm pretty excited for 2014.


What's better than losing 134 pounds?

What's better than losing 134 pounds?

Maintaining it. 

On September 23, I hit a milestone more important than the day I lost 100 pounds, or the day I met my "goal" weight, or the second anniversary of the day I joined MFP.

In fact, to me, having maintained my weight for one full year is more important than any other day in this whole "new life" thing, with the exception of the day I started. 

Spend a few minutes on the MFP boards and you'll learn that maintenance is hard, harder than losing. 

Here's my secret, though:  it's actually been kinda easy for me (so far, at least). And that's probably because I maintain doing pretty much what I while losing, only with a little more wiggle room.

The fact is that most people who lose weight, especially as much as I have, start to gain it all back (and then some) during this first year.  Truthfully, I'd wager that most dieters enjoy their goal weight for a couple months, then they fall into old habits and the gradual weight creep begins. 

How have I not fallen into that trap?  I guess because I never went on a diet, so I never went off a diet.  Instead, I made a series of changes, big and small, and stuck with them for 15 months while I lost weight.  And I continue to stick with them now.   

My weight has certainly fluctuated during the last year.  But that's normal.  There is no magic number we hit and then stick to, and trying would be futile and frustrating.  Our bodies are pretty amazing, really - they hold onto water when they need to.  We may pop up 5 pounds after an indulgent meal, but it won't stick around if you return to good habits. I set a five pound range around my goal weight.  I've been below it once, above it once, but the rest of the time I've settled in this healthy range. 

I still pre-log my days most of the time and eat at a slight deficit on work days.  Lately, Saturdays are "fuel" day for my long runs on Sunday and I don't bother logging them; I definitely eat well above maintenance.  Sundays I log but eat to my hunger, which might mean above, below, or at maintanenace.  A slight deficit overall means that holidays, vacations, and two week jury trials fueled by Jimmy John's and Starbucks don't result in lasting weight gain. Calorie-counting is easy for me now and it works.  Though I do not log religiously, I do log regularly and I believe that for me, it's important to maintenance.

I exercise, not to earn "exercise calories" but to earn health, satisfaction, and pride.  I exercise because I love it.  You won't find me reading a magazine on an elliptical for an hour; you'll find me training.  I train because I get a lot of joy out of lifting more or running farther than I could last month. I don't exercise because I have to.  I exercise because I get to.

This is a weird place to be in, honestly.  I still feel like a fat person sometimes.  I will take a size large into the dressing room with me thinking it looks like it will fit only to try it on and look like a girl in her dad's jacket. I'll forget that I simply take up less space than I used to.  I sometimes feel out of place, like an outsider, in a new gym class, so it's unsettling when I get mistaken for the instructor. Strangers are nicer to me, and I feel this odd ambivalence about my own choice to leave the painful world of obesity to others who are still there. When I get too tired or stressed, I'll revert to those old, nasty habits that supported 300 pounds on me but are incompatible with this new version; I'll eat too much and sleep too little and start slip-sliding down a path I turned away from in June of 2011.

But those moments are short-lived, and my physical and mental reactions to those times leave no doubt in my mind: I am, simply, happier where I am than where I used to be.  I choose to pack my lunch while others eat out because I feel better when I do.  I exercise instead of watching TV because I enjoy it.  When my work or family obligations require me to make different choices, I don't de-rail or let rigidity get in the way of life - I roll with it, and get everything back in order once I can.  

I am not posting this to be smug, or to brag. I'm writing this because I'm just really astounded with who I have become.  I know I'm going to have setbacks, but I also know that as long as I stick with the fundamentals of what got me to this place, I will stay here.  This is my commitment. 

Hitting my goal weight felt amazing.

Maintaining my weight loss, though, is something different altogether.  There aren't the same big successes, the constant compliments, the new sizes.  But settling into new habits that feel effortless?  It's even better.

Here's to one year of this new normal, the first of many. 

   (This is the best "before" shot I could find; I wasn't so camera-happy back then, ha.)



On Body Image (after losing 130+ pounds)

Let me tell you about the time in my life when I felt most beautiful, aside from my wedding day. 

I was pampered like a star, starting in New York where a stylist came to my hotel room with oodles of clothes for me to try on and choose from (with my best buddy @lobsterrific, who brought the cocktails).  Then I flew to LA and checked into the Beverly Hills Hotel in an enormous suite, all to myself, and I stayed up until 2am reading in the equally enormous bathtub.  The next morning I ordered room service and two more stylists came up to do my hair and makeup.  I put on my dress and jewelry, grabbed my handbag (all provided by someone else!), and headed downstairs to meet my entourage, who directed me to the red carpet I'd walk with cameras snapping.

In that ballroom, I sat next to the truly wonderful Kerry Washington.  At the next table over, Katie Holmes and Suri Cruise sat.  Amy Adams and Mark Wahlberg were nearby.  The entire room was full of celebrities.  Hollywood women were being honored that day for their philanthropic work.

Oh yeah, and I was being honored too.

After hearing speeches from Jennifer Garner and John Malkovich, the lovely Ms. Washington took the stage and said words about me so kind I teared up.  I stood to deliver my speech, cheering myself on as I walked on stage ("You can do this, Shannon.  You are not a celebrity.  This crowd is expecting you to be horrible.  Just be mediocre and they'll be impressed.")

I delivered my speech, using a teleprompter, having to stop mid-way for applause <!!!!>. I was quite grateful I couldn't see the audience because of the lights, because who can speak clearly when looking at Eva Mendes? It turns out that I wasn't mediocre; Kerry said I was great, one of the best.

After the event, I chatted with my fellow honorees - that's weird to say - Katie Holmes, Jennifer Garner, and Amy Adams.  Then I got the shock of my life when Anne Hathaway came up to ME to introduce herself - "Hi, I'm Annie!"  Later, Eva Mendes (is there anyone more stunning?) introduced herself to me too.

The day was a whirlwind, and I felt amazing and absolutely gorgeous and glamorous.

And I was probably at the heaviest weight of my life.
Here are some photos from the event. 
On the red carpet:

Delivering my speech:

With all the honorees:
With the lovely Annie Hathaway:
Someone asked me a few weeks ago if I wish I could re-do that event now that I've lost so much weight.  I actually find the question a little offensive.  I was not there because of my body, I was there to speak about the nonprofit I founded.  It was my work that mattered, not my appearance.

At the time, I did not care that I weighed 300 pounds and was twice as big as the other women who were honored.  I did not care that the clothing the stylist brought for me was size 20.  I felt beautiful. I *was* beautiful.

This is me now.
 In my happy place:

Figured my "movie star" photo is appropriate for this post:

My body is pretty sweet. I can wear almost anything I want, and I never have problems finding cute things that fit.  I can do really tremendous things.  I squatted 155 today, and bench pressed 145 last week.  I am not far from doing a real pull-up.  I have run a 10 mile race.  I can hike and bike and walk all day long.
What troubles me, and why I'm posting this, is a disturbing pattern of thoughts I've had for the past couple days.  Laying on the couch the other night I was looking at my thighs and admiring the muscle definition in them.  Leg day is paying off!  But when I stand up, it's gone - you can't see it.  The skin on my legs is not taut and those gorgeous muscles are obscured.

Shaving my legs sitting on the ledge of the bathtub this morning, I saw my calf muscle, strong and big and popping out.  But it was just how I was sitting - normally my calves just look...fat.

My shoulders and upper arms are toned and I absolutely love them.  But near my elbow, there is this little lip of fat that I don't like, that hangs a bit because of some loose skin. 

I will never see ab definition; after a baby and huge weight loss, it's just not in the cards. 
I want to be able to post, "but I don't care! I love my body and what it can do. Everything is perfect!"  And truthfully, I usually do feel that way.  I can normally focus on the awesome and accept the flaws.
But lately, that hasn't been the case.  I have never - ever - been this picky about my body.  I do not understand it, and it is not welcome.
I was never motivated to start losing weight by hatred of my body.  It came from all kinds of places (perhaps most strongly boredom, and I'm not joking) but I did not hate myself. 

So why am I now, when I'm at the healthiest I've been, when I fit in the smallest size I've ever worn, feeling this way toward my body?  Has all this hyper-focus on fitness (something I love and brings me a lot of joy and discipline and accomplishment) changed my body image and my relationship with myself?

Why am I letting a desire to be strong and lean become license to criticize? 
I hope this is passing, due to mood or heat or jealously at seeing girls wearing short shorts that I wish I could wear <well, I mean, I could wear them, I just wouldn't like how I looked>.  It's not welcome.  My goal is to be whole and healthy. 

Perfection is not the end of this journey; it's strength and acceptance I'm seeking. 

I'm not trying to lose weight anymore, but I'm not done yet either. 

What dedication means (135# down, still learning)

Today was one of those days.  I didn't get enough sleep during the weekend and woke up still tired and with a headache.  When 11:30 rolled around, I thought about skipping my regular lunch-hour workout, getting back to it tomorrow instead.  I thought about getting a slice of pizza for lunch and extending the weekend by another day.  What harm could it do, really?

But I have to work out.  So instead I grabbed my bag and headed to the gym. 

I walk to the gym through the skyways (I love Minneapolis) and while I'm walking I see people getting lunch from these great little restaurants and stands.  I see friends leisurely walking and chatting. I see a coworker grabbing Mexican food and I say hi - and I'm hungry and want to join her.  I see people eating ice cream, reading their kindles or playing on their iPads.  Oh, how I'd rather do that...

But I have to work out.

I get to the gym, change, and head up to the weight room.  I'm supersetting today, my least favorite way to lift, but it's my program this week, so I have to do it.  I take care of chest and think about leaving.  Next up is shoulders and if there's anything I hate more than supersetting, it's supersetting shoulders.  I could just call it good and leave.

But I have to work out.

I forge ahead and finish my program.  I feel a little better, and I'm glad I did it, but my day isn't transformed (like it sometimes is after exercising) and I mostly went through the motions.

I had to work out, so I did.

I get cleaned up and changed, then look at myself in the mirror on my way out of the locker room.  And then it hits me.

I did not have to work out. I chose to work out.

I chose to leave my desk and walk to the gym, passing by the people who either do not work out or give up their mornings and nights to do it.  I chose to lift weights and work through my program even though my heart wasn't in it today. 

One skipped workout has a tendency to become two, then more, then eventually you're vowing to "get back on track Monday" but there is always an excuse to push it back further. It took me 15 months to lose weight and get to my goal.  I was not perfect during those months and I certainly had bad days, but I never let them become bad weeks - ever. I did not let a little slip become a full-on downhill slide. 

You don't lose 135 pounds and change your life by giving into the "I don't feel like it today" whim.  Instead you learn what dedication means: choosing to do something you don't want to do today so that you are proud of yourself tomorrow.

I worked out because:

- I love and respect the person in both photos below, but I prefer how I feel as the "after" photo
- I like how my shoulders look in tank tops now - makes those overhead presses worth it.
- Last weekend I fit into a size six skirt, the smallest size I've ever worn; I bought it, of course, and I intend to wear it if winter ever ends
- I will run a half marathon in the fall, and consider a full marathon for 2014
- I like being stronger than some of the men lifting in my gym
- I have energy to keep up and I don't want to lose that
- I like being in photos with my son instead of hiding from a camera
- I can hike now, with a 30 pound kid on my back, and we have more state parks to explore this summer
- I get to feel a little superior and smug if I spend my lunch hour working out and that's fun ;)
- It's almost time to break out the skirts and shorts
- It's liberating to be able to shop in any store and like how the clothes fit
- I don't dread going to the doctor because it will mean standing on the scale
- I have confidence I never had before
- I simply feel better when I exercise and eat well
- I am the one people come to for nutrition and fitness advice, and I've literally never been that person before
- There is nothing better than the rush after a good run, when this black-hearted girl actually feels weepy with the pure joy of feeling utterly connected and grounded
- I am proud of myself, and choose to continue to be
- I've cleared out "too-big" clothes from my closet dozens of times, and I'm not about to move them back in
- I am lucky to be healthy and happy; it's a privilege to have the ability to work out
- I have maintained my weight loss for 6 months, and I have a lifetime to go
- I choose to be a success story

I didn't want to work out, but I did.  It was worth it. 

It is always worth it.
Thanks in advance for your votes and comments - they make me irrationally happy and I read every single one and reply if I can.
A related post you might enjoy - Eat Badly Yesterday? Skip a Workout? Get Over It.

why I run (down 135 pounds, gaining immeasurably)

On Saturday, I woke up feeling under the weather but knowing a blizzard was potentially on its way I decided to run my planned run anyway, just a slightly shorter version of it.

I headed out with my dog on a 5-miler, and when I finished, I found myself in tears.

I'm not an emotional person, but there was something about the joy of this run that put me in a place of utter contentment and gratitude.

Two years ago, I weighed more than 300 pounds.  I doubt I could have run a block.

About a year ago, after losing 75 pounds, I decided I wanted to be a runner and registered for a 7k.  It wasn't just that I wanted to be a runner, but I figured that running is what fit people do. I also thought that any fit person should be able to run a 5k, and since I wanted to be a fit person, I decided to start to run.

It was awful.  Seriously.  Couch to 5k was misery.  I felt out of breath.  It's hard to adequately describe how much I hated it and how frustrated I'd get at my mental and physical limitations. I couldn't imagine ever running longer than 5 minutes at a time. 

Then, I ran a full mile and the sense of accomplishment was pretty intense.  The next time I ran twenty straight minutes.  I couldn't believe it.

Still, I didn't like running.  I ran the 7k, every step of it, but the whole time I was wondering why people do this.  It wasn't enjoyable, even if the medal at the end made it worth it.  I stopped running for awhile, then slowly got back into it with no goal in mind. 

One day I decided to do a longer run and set out to run 5 miles, my longest ever distance. I did it!   And that was the beginning.

Something shifted.

I was slow, mind you, 12-minute miles.  But I started feeling it.  You know what I mean.  That euphoria, joy, contentment that runners say they feel and you respond by thinking "you are an insane fool; no one enjoys running."

But I did, honestly.  After the first mile or two, I become a yogi, a monk, a runner.  I cannot think about the mundane, the needless worry of the day that seems to sneak in with no warning.  I am focused.  How is my stride? Am I striking on the forefront of my foot? My shoulder is tight, how can I improve that? How is my breathing? I can't worry about work or finances or car problems or the shopping list.  All I can do is focus on finishing my run.

And then there are the glorious days, the ones where running is almost an otherworldly experience, where my body is moving independent of my mind, where I am merely along for the ride.  I listen to my music, or the music of my feet hitting the trail, and all I feel is pure bliss.

Well, bliss and gratitude.

To be able to run is a gift.  I am so grateful that I earned it. 

Nothing has made me more at one with my body, more accepting of its intricacies.  Nothing has made me prouder of losing 135 pounds than the feeling of smooth strides on pavement - of knowing that I could run a half marathon tomorrow, that a 4 mile run is a quick short workout for fun.

I'm a little faster now, running sub-10 minute miles regularly.  But the pace doesn't matter.  The second I realized that running isn't about calorie burn or mileage accrued, but contentment and meditation and accomplishment, I was a runner.  
Sometimes I feel like this whole process, of losing weight and learning to eat properly and accepting my body, was just to learn the beauty of a run.  
I'm cool with that.
Easy, light, smooth, fast, my friends, in that order.
So make your siren's call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say

Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it's meant to be

And I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again

- The Cave, Mumford & Sons


Right before my first race:

Second race, a 5k - my son ran a kid's 1/4 miler as well:

My longest race, a 10 mile - a reminder that you can do awesome things with a goal in mind and consistent training.  And coincidentally, the morning of this race I was greeted here with "ShannonMpls has logged on for 500 consecutive days!"

The cold New Year's Day 10k

(on an aside, this is the race I am proudest of.  It was a little below 0, I hadn't trained properly, and all I wanted to do was stay in bed. But I got out there and was rewarded with an incredible moment a couple miles from the finish line.  I just caught my first glimpse of downtown Minneapolis over the river on this out-and-back course, a view I always love, when Atmosphere's secret song dedicated to Minnesota came on my shuffle.  It was one of those moments of serendipity that reminded me that I was right where I belonged)


On Planks and Progress

This is from a gchat conversation with a friend on July 2,  2011. I weighed 130 pounds more than I do today.  I hadn't been to a gym in years.  I hadn't done a plank in my life.  The week before, I'd had my first session with my trainer, and he introduced me to the exercise that threatened to break me. 

me: They seriously make me want to cry.  I can't do them so it feels fruitless.  I'm supposed to do three sets of 25 seconds  I can barely make it to 10    I also hate side lunges, but that comes from laziness not inability. so that's the difference in my mind. I HATE doing them, they kick my a--, but i CAN do them  planks...i just can't.  not YET.

I remember this so clearly, being literally in tears because I couldn't hold that plank for 25 seconds, not even close.  I'd hold it for 10, drop down, get back up for another 5, lather rinse repeat.  It was horrible and I felt inadequate. 
Well, today I held a front plank for four minutes.  And the only reason I dropped it was because I was getting really bored. 
See, the key to that whiny gchat quote above was the last line. 
not YET.
We can make this so complicated.  Macro ratios, TDEE, how heavy should I lift, HIIT vs steady-state, calorie cycling, etc.  In the end, though, I am absolutely convinced that the only vital component to reaching your fitness and weight loss goals is perseverance.  Those who are successful simply never gave up.  They didn't let a bad day become a bad week then a bad month.  They didn't skip their workouts regularly.  They had rough days but vowed to make the next one better.  Bumpy roads are nothing but a new course to conquer.  

My first personal training session was hard.  Repeating the program he gave me was harder.  I hurt.  I was weak.  I was frustrated. 

But I didn't give up.  Somehow, through all that disappointment, I fought the desire to  admit defeat.  So I couldn't do the planks.  But in the back of my mind, I knew I was only just beginning.  Somehow, I had a vision of who and what I wanted to be in the future.

I didn't know then that I'd reach my goal of losing 134.5 pounds on September 23, 2012.  I didn't know how fit I'd be and how much I'd love my body.  I didn't know that my entire outlook on life and health would change, that I'd have a confidence and joy in my step.  

I just had a hope that the hard work would be worth something, and I didn't give up. I couldn't hold that plank no matter how hard I tried, but in all that frustration, I was optimistic enough to remind myself:  not YET.

When goals seem too far away, when you're disappointed with the fact that you're not there, when you can't yet run that first mile or press the olympic bar or hold a plank for 25 seconds, you're not a failure.

You're just not quite there - not YET.   

Keep striving forward.  Goals are supposed to be hard to achieve, don't you think?  If they're easy, there's not much sense of accomplishment when you reach them. The pride you feel in yourself when you do will be worth it. I promise.


Why I lost 130 pounds...

Sometimes I miss how things used to be.  Those moments are rare and fleeting, but they're there.  I miss never saying no to dessert or beer or a dinner out.  I miss ice cream before bed and cake at a coworker's birthday.   I miss lazy lunches at work instead of hustling to the gym every day.  I get overwhelmed with the knowledge that to maintain the results earned through my hard work, I'm going to need to be thoughtful about food and exercise for the rest of my life.

Something always snaps me out of that line of thinking, and I remember that the rewards are absolutely worth it.

Today I read this article about one mom's struggle with not wanting to be in pictures with her kids:

"When I look at pictures of my own mother, I don't look at cellulite or hair debacles. I just see her -- her kind eyes, her open-mouthed, joyful smile, her familiar clothes. That's the mother I remember. My mother's body is the vessel that carries all the memories of my childhood. I always loved that her stomach was soft, her skin freckled, her fingers long. I didn't care that she didn't look like a model. She was my mama.

So when all is said and done, if I can't do it for myself, I want to do it for my kids. I want to be in the picture, to give them that visual memory of me. I want them to see how much I am here, how my body looks wrapped around them in a hug, how loved they are."

Well, that hit me like a ton of bricks.   I have blogged about this before, but I don't look at the former version of me as anything less than beautiful, worthy, and wonderful.  I can't.

But I need to be honest with myself.

I avoided social events.  I avoided trying new things.  I avoided activities that involved more than going out to eat and a movie.  I didn't have energy to keep up, and I didn't have the confidence or the desire to. 

Now I'm a parent, and for a year of my son's life, I avoided being in photos with him.  I did the 'newborn baby' pics and then I shifted behind the camera.  There are tons of photos of him as a toddler with his daddy, but few with me.  

I let my life with my family go undocumented because I didn't like how I looked. And along with that, I let it go not quite unlived, but not lived to its full potential either.

I deleted photos of me and my precious child with more frequency than I want to even think about.  It's hard for me to find "before" pics because I made sure they weren't taken. 

I took myself out of the picture, literally and figuratively.

And now I'm incredibly grateful that I'm back in it.   This isn't just because I like how I look now.   What I've experienced goes far beyond a physical change.  I'm confident and happy in a way I haven't been in a long time.  I want to really live my life, every moment of it.  I want to experience it and I want to document it. 

My iPhone and computer are now filled with photos of my family - me included! - having adventures or just hanging out at home.  When my son is older, he'll see his mommy in photos with him, where she's dirty while camping, sweaty from hiking, in pajamas at home.  Not looking perfect, but looking happy and present and enjoying spending time with the people who matter most. 

I hope he doesn't notice that the photos of me during the first year or so of his life are minimal.  I cannot get that time back, and for those of you reading this who feel like you look too fat to be in pictures with your kids, please reconsider and remember that it's for them, not for you.  They need to see you. Give them reminders that you were there, that you were present, that you aren't perfect and it doesn't matter.

Yesterday, if you'd asked me who I did this for I would have said "me."  Now it's so much clearer.  Though I thought taking time for myself in the gym was an exercise in self-care, and I suppose in many ways it was, it wasn't  really about me at all.

It was for my son, my sweet, sassy, clever little boy.  I refuse to waste another minute of my life with him, and when he's an adult, I want him to see what we did together.  I hope those moments matter to him as much as they do to me.

And now I shall bombard you with photos :)

And I have to share this one - My husband was trying to take a progress pic for me to share and look who photobombed :)

Follow up - 15 months, 134 pounds lost, at GOAL!

I got a lot of questions over private message in response to my success stories thread.  While I do intend to respond to everyone, it might take me some time so I thought I'd answer the most common questions here.  And I already know that this will be a treatise, so sorry in advance.  Pithy is not a word used to describe my writing style ;)

A little about me: I'm 5'10.5, 33, married momma to a 2 year old boy, I work full-time, and I've lost 134 pounds since June of 2011.  I've gone from a size 24 to a solid size 10 (a very happy, hopefully sustainable, place for me).

My success story thread is here if you want to read it:

1) What's your exercise routine? What exercise do you think helped you most? Should I do cardio first and then add weights later once I've cut more fat?

My workout routine

MWF:45-70 minutes full body weight training.  My programs range from heavy (6-8 reps) to mid-range (10-12 reps)
TTh - cardio (Tabata, running, spin, elliptical - I aim for one HIIT and one steady-state session a week)
Weekends - time with family (hiking, biking, walking); yoga occasionally

Right now I'm training for a 10-mile race so basically all my cardio is running, though I still incorporate HIIT (sprint intervals primarily).  

Strength training

I consider strength training the most important exercise I've done since I started.  I started with weights my first month at the gym.  I've given them my priority.  If I have skipped a workout, it's usually cardio.  It's an extremely rare day when I hit an elliptical for an hour.  I find it painfully boring.  That said, elliptical is what I did for cardio at the beginning! It helped me get into shape enough for more challenging and interesting exercises. 

Cardio helped me create a calorie deficit, but weights have made my body one I'm really proud of.  I don't feel like a person who lost 134 pounds.  I don't think my body looks like it carried that much weight either.  I love how my shoulders look.  I love that I have that  little curve in my upper arm showing the definition of my bicep.  I am starting to see core definition.  And, AND!! I've been around this weight before but all my clothes from then? too big.  I'm smaller than my weight would indicate. 

Should I do cardio first and weights later?

Not in my opinion.  I think you should start with both.  But I'm not the boss.  Any movement is better than none.  If you hate weights, don't do them.  Do what you enjoy, and try adding strength training later and see if it feels better.  

2) Do you eat your exercise calories?

Unfortunately I can't give a simple yes or no answer to this question.  The short answer is no, I do not "eat exercise calories" but - and this is important! - I have manually set my calorie goal for at least 10 of the 15 months I've been logging on MFP.

When I first started, with 130+ pounds to lose, I filled in my info to MFP and it spat out my calorie goal.  I believe it was in the 1800-1900 range.  I ate in the range MFP gave me, and no - I did not eat my exercise calories.  I had a lot of fat to burn and there was minimal danger of a large deficit. 

Every 10 pounds lost, MFP asked to adjust my goals and I said yes.  But as that number got lower, I started eating more on days I exercised.  I ate within the 1500-1700 range for several months.  

One day, MFP wanted to adjust my goal to under 1500 and I thought to myself: I cannot be happy eating under 1500 calories.  Sure, I can eat exercise calories, but what about rest days? Am I supposed to fight hunger all day because I had the common sense to take a day off from the gym?

Not a life I was willing to live, and given my "live the healthiest life you can enjoy" motto, I began manually setting my calorie goal based on a deficit from my TDEE.  Read how I calculated this here:

So my short answer: If you have 100+ pounds to lose, a bigger deficit is fine in my opinion, but proceed with caution, re-evaluate often, and listen to your body.   If you are closer to your goal, smaller deficits will produce slower results, but results I find more sustainable and enable you to lose weight without being miserable.  

Note: "live the healthiest life you can enjoy" is a quote I got from Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, and shamelessly made my personal mantra.  You can find his blog here:

3) Do you have loose skin?  Do you need or have you had removal surgery?

Let me clear one thing up right away:  I do not look like someone who has never been overweight.   I have some loose skin on my arms, stomach, and my thighs aren't as tight as I'd like them to be.


- I just reached goal weight! I expect a lot of tightening as I continue to treat my body well, with excellent nutrition and continued exercise.  The mere passage of time will do its job too, I believe.

- I absolutely do not need surgery.  I think I'm lucky in this regard:  I am pear-shaped and perhaps blessed with good genetics.  I have no medical issues whatsoever.  Any surgery I'd get would be purely for vanity purposes, which is not a compelling reason to spend $10k on something other than a awesome vacation, in my opinion. 

- I look super awesome dressed in all kinds of clothing, including tight clothing, and I feel confident in a bathing suit.  I'm even holding out hope that I'll feel confident in a bikini next summer. 

I'm not perfect, but no one is.  I can choose to feel upset about my "faults" or I can choose to love my body for what it is and what it can do.   Why would I choose the option that makes me feel less than happy?

 4) How did you set your macros? Do you do low-carb?

 My macros are set to 30/30/40 and I usually come close to this.  I eat a lot of fat, especially in the form of nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil.  I eat 130+ grams of protein a day (with a protein powder on weight training days).  I try to keep carbs under 150/day, though now that I'm maintaining I'm adding more fruit and veggie based carbs to my diet and plan to keep the number at or around 175g/day.   I limit refined carbohydrates, but I still eat rice, pasta, bread, sugar etc. It just does't comprise the bulk of my diet.

My personal belief is that the quality of calories matters as much as the quantity.  I try to make sure my quality is high.  

For more on my food/exercise plan:

5) Did you ever plateau?

No.  My weight loss has been steadily in line with my deficit pretty much the entire time. 

But let me make another thing clear:  Two weeks with no movement on the scale does not constitute a plateau.  I've certainly had that.  I recommend that you keep a chart with your weekly losses so you can see the averages over a longer term (one or two months or more) versus a week here and there.

Also, your failure to stick to your plan, resulting in water retention from carbs/salt or erasure of your deficit also does not constitute a plateau.  

If I had a month where I lost less weight than I wanted, it was due to my habits, not a metabolism issue. 

I'm not sure why I didn't plateau.  Maybe it was because I ate at a deficit that wasn't too big for too long, and constantly changed my intake (moving it upward instead of downward).    Maybe it's due to strength training or adequate protein intake.   I know there are people who genuinely plateau, but unfortunately I don't have any advice on this because I don't have experience with it.

6) How do you have time?

Last week, a coworker expressed jealousy at my progress and said, "I just don't have time to exercise and cook."  As I left the break room, I heard her talking about the previous night's episode of Real Housewives of Whatever.

If you have time to watch TV, you have time to prepare healthy meals and exercise.

"But I'm tired after work! I deserve an hour to sit and watch TV," you may protest.

Sure you do.  We all need time to relax.  But you are making a CHOICE to sit in front of the TV.  Don't tell me you don't have time.  You are choosing to spend your time on something else. 

I was dead tired last night.  I absolutely did not feel like making the meal I had planned. I wanted to order a pizza.  

But I went home, sucked it up, and made the damn dinner. 

For 98% of the people out there, I don't have patience for the "I don't have time" excuse.  You choose to make time, or you don't.  It's up to you.   I have the same number of hours in the day that you do.  I work full time, have a toddler son, have a husband and friends, have favorite TV shows too (two of which start up again soon ahemwalkingdeadandhomeland).  I have hobbies, I volunteer with a nonprofit I founded, I like to read and sit on my butt too.  But I commit to exercise, and I commit to preparing healthy food for me and my family.  I set priorities. 

For people with limited time, I heard something great on a podcast on how you should prioritize your time when it comes to weight loss.  They recommend a heirarchy like this:

Nutrition/Food Prep
Weight Training

If you have 6 hours a week to dedicate to weight loss and food prep takes three, that leaves you with three hours for exercise.  This podcast recommended two of those go to strength, one to cardio.  If you have even less time, they advocate dropping cardio. Even less? Dedicate it all to food prep.  I liked this philosophy, but as with everything: do what works for you.

To be fair, I have a flexible enough job and a gym so close to work that I exercise over my lunch breaks.  Yes, for those who asked, I shower there too.  But if I couldn't exercise at lunch, and there were times I could not for whatever reason, I exercise in the evening or make up the session during the weekend. 

7) How do you stay motivated?

For more on staying motivated, especially after a bad day:

This is such a hard question to answer because I really don't know, I  But this is how I've stayed in the game for so long.

First, when I first started, I made a rule for myself: You will not quit until you've lost 40 pounds. 

Turns out that was a smart plan, because I wanted to quit at the beginning, especially during the first month.  But once I hit 40 pounds lost, not a chance was I quitting.  People were noticing my weight loss and complimenting me.  I was in smaller jeans and it felt great to retire the huge ones.  I could see changes in my body I was liking.  I felt better.  I had developed good habits.  Now that I had "permission" to quit, I didn't want to. 

 There have been many times I haven't felt like logging my food.  So I tell myself "fine - you can have a day this weekend off and eat whatever you like."  That would get me through the week, and sometimes I'd take the off day, and sometimes I wouldn't.  I definitely had numerous "off" days during this whole time, usually 3-4 a month and almost always on some occasion (like a birthday, holiday, etc) but sometimes just because it was Saturday and I wanted to go out to eat without having to figure out how to log a meal without nutrition info.  These weren't "cheats" - they were living my life, keeping me sane, and maybe keeping my metabolism happy too.  

As for exercise, yep. I've wanted to skip it.   Sometimes going to the gym seemed like The Worst Thing in the World.  But I put on my big girl panties and got my butt in the door.  Occasionally I'd cut a workout short, but usually once I was there and changed and going I got it done.  

Fake it till you make it, my friends.  Your head will not be fully in the game every single day, and I don't care.  Stop your excuses.  Follow your program.  I don't care if you don't feel like it.  Just do it.  Take the choice out of it, plan ahead, and perform your plan.  Even if it's lackluster.  Even if you'd rather cry.  Acheiving big goals means big sacrifices.  I missed eating the cake coworkers would bring.  I missed joining friends for lunch sometimes.  I remember going to the gym while coworkers were having a pizza party, and I literally went to the gym bathroom and cried for a minute before I stopped being a baby and went and lifted my weights like the champion I am. #winning

"Shannon, doesn't this go against your 'Live the healthiest life you can enjoy?' motto," you might ask.

No, it doesn't.  Eating crappy pizza with people I already see 8 hours a day is not a priority for me.  Sometimes living the healthiest life you can enjoy means that you don't feel guilty for eating the 6-layer chocolate cake filled with salted caramel and chocolate buttercream and frosted with dark chocolate ganache you made from scratch for your husband's birthday Tuesday, the best cake you've ever made (I'm speaking from experience here, in case you can't tell).  It means indulging in a donut a coworker brings from the best bakery in town.  But it also means saying "no thank you" to the Costco sheetcake or dry supermarket donuts that are always in the breakroom because people at work are constantly having birthdays.

It's about priorities.  And I make exercising and eating well a priority.  As for treats? If they're worth it, they're mine.  If they're not, I politely decline.  I'm not a dog but I do reward myself with treats because they're good, people, not a sin. Some things truly do taste as good as being thin feels, trust me.  Luckily, thin people eat treats too; they just eat them in moderation as part of an overall healthy plan. 

I stay motivated because:

- My brain doesn't say, "you're not worth it, you don't deserve it." It tells me: "you are an athlete. you are a champion. you are in control. you are strong"  You can change what your brain tells you, too.  

- I love being told I look great.

- Shopping for new clothes is a treat; if only my bank account agreed.

- I don't put off going to the doctor anymore, scared of what the scale might say, or dreading the inevitable day that my weight caused lifestyle-related diseases like high blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes. 

- It's incredible to see what you are capable of when you set a goal and follow-through. 

Now, I stay motivated because this is my way of life.  I've successfully accomplished a weight loss of 134 pounds while living a lifestyle I can continue, because it's been just restrictive enough to be effective and just lenient enough to be enjoyable. 

Set a goal. Formulate a plan to get there.  Find your medium.  It's worth it, I promise. 

You are in control.


Eat badly yesterday? Skip a workout? Get over it.

I shared this on my profile but I really hope more people read it so I'm sharing it here also.

Read this article.  Bookmark it and read it again when you need to:

 I've been at this since June of 2011.  In that time, I've lost 129.5 pounds, going from morbidly obese to just shy of normal, reaching a weight I seriously didn't even consider a viable goal.  It makes me giggle sometimes when people comment on my food for the day or a workout log with, "you never miss a day!"  

I HAVE missed a day.  In fact, I've missed lots of days.  I've gone on vacation and eaten mac and cheese covered hot dogs.  I've been to birthday parties and eaten cake and Doritos.  I've taken a day off of logging for no reason other than that I want to remember what it felt like to eat without thinking about it.   Food is good.  Unhealthy food is absolutely wonderful.  But you all know that. 

I don't really skip workouts unless I'm out of town, but I've had some incredibly bad workouts.  Lackluster, "I'd rather watch paint dry than lift these weights" kinds of days. But I go through the motions - "fake it till you make it" is my motto.  

Bottom line: I haven't been perfect.  But whether I've consciously indulged in a homemade dessert or let my emotions lead to a bag of chips, you won't see me complain about it to my MFP friends.  You won't see me whine about how the scale has gone up 6 pounds after a camping trip where I drank way too much beer.  You won't see me talk about giving up, say it's just too hard, refuse to accept responsibility for the consequences of my choices.  

Allow me to let you in on a little secret:  Perfection is not required for results.  What is required is consistency and dedication on the LONG-TERM.   

So often I see people here post that they skipped their workout so they just give up on the day.  Or I've watched MFP friends go on vacation and then just never log on again.  Or I've seen people go on a weekend excursion then lament the eight pounds they "gained" and cry that they've undone the hard work of weeks (an impossibility, as we all know).  

Stop looking to next week and start focusing on who you want to be one year from now.  There are 365 days in a year.  If you fill at least 300 of them with pure awesomeness, you're going to see amazing results.  

Too often people let a bad day turn into a bad week.  They skip one workout, then the next, and then since the week is already bad, "I'll just start again Monday."  Sound familiar?  Or, and this is especially prominent with women, you make some unhealthy food choices and then beat yourself up emotionally so badly that you are convinced you don't deserve to be healthy and happy.   You let that arbitrary  number on the scale - the one so variable, so susceptible to fluctuation based on nutrition or exercise - decide whether you are worthy or you are not.  Instead of focusing on the long-term, all you can see is the lack of results right now.  

It's not easy to get beyond those setbacks, to look beyond the temporary feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction.  

But please believe me when I say that  the determination it takes to overcome all this IS ABSOLUTELY WORTH THE RESULT.   Shopping wherever you want, because the clothes everywhere will fit.  Wearing a skirt without your thighs chafing.  Going on a five mile run and knowing just as you stop that you are breathing normally, that you were breathing normally the entire time because your cardiovascular system is performing better than ever.  Catching a glimpse of yourself in a window and looking to see who is behind you, not realizing that reflection is YOU. Putting your actual weight on your driver's license.  Having ideal blood pressure and cholesterol.  Fitting comfortably into an airplane seat. Feeling proud of your accomplishments.  Feeling comfortable in your own skin again. Realizing that you've always been a superhero inside and out, it just took some work to uncover it.  Accepting that your worth is not in your appearance, but comes from something much more intrinsic.

You don't have to be perfect.  You just can't give up. 

So seriously, get the **** over it. 

Stop making excuses.  

Do the work. 

To quote the article linked above:

"Quietly and consistently work towards building a better you.

Stop worrying about where you’ve been and put your focus on where you're going.

Go. Start. Now."

 The only thing stopping you is yourself.

My jeans, 125 pounds later - photos and thoughts

This will be a jumbled collection of photos and some thoughts I'd like to process.  Sorry in advance for potential wordiness. 

 A few weeks ago, I decided to sort through the piles of my old clothes to toss or donate.  I've hesitated to do this before because there was that nagging thought in the back of my head - what if I might need these clothes again?  But logic and a desire to reclaim space in the storage closet won out, and anything more than two sizes too big went in the discard pile.

And there I saw it - the jeans I was wearing a bit more than a year ago.  I had to try them on.  My husband jumped into them with me.  He thought it was hilarious.

I wanted to be happy, gleeful even, and I feel like that should have been the appropriate response.  Instead I felt an odd combination of sadness, disgust, pride, and a bit of happiness.   The negative emotions won the competition though.  I didn't feel good after this.  Not at all.

Like I said, that was a few weeks ago.  I've had some time to process my emotions a bit. I think the biggest overriding emotion here is terror - at gaining it all back.   I'm not at maintenance yet, but I know that my plan for it will have to be ironclad.  I've said this in my blog before, but I am not a mindful eater.  I need a plan, I need charts, and I need a scale.

There are other emotions lurking inside too:

If I feel glee at how small I am now compared to last June, what does that say about who I was then?  Was I less valuable, less beautiful, less important, less awesome?  We can definitely all agree that I was less fit and healthy, but is a rejection of my obese self a rejection of something more fundamental to who I am? 

This is tied up in so much.  As a feminist, I refuse to conform to society's ever-changing view of how a woman should look.  I do not believe that beauty is found only in physical appearance.  Fitness and health I can get behind, but screw a society that leads to our little girls hating their curves the moment they develop them. 

As a survivor of sexual violence, there is something there too.  Many survivors I know struggle with weight.  While no body or person is protected from rape, is this mixed bag of feelings an acknowledgement that my protective armor is gone, and I'm reluctant/scared/anxious about my potential vulnerability? 

Then there's this: I'm utterly repulsed by the size of these jeans.  But I am *not* repulsed by anyone who wears a size 24.  What's going on in that contradiction? and the contradiction of this throught with the above two? 

Usually when people say "you look great!" I thank them and welcome the compliment.  But every once in awhile my mind gets the best of me.  The unspoken thought there is that I was not worthy before.   I was not great before. 

So, over the past few weeks, I've consciously worked on changing my mindset and resolving these thoughts.  I cannot look at things as a Before Shannon and Now Shannon.  I am not a different person.  I refuse to accept that my body before made me any more or less valuable/lovely/wonderful than I am now.  

This is what I can accept:

- My body defines me now no less than it did before.  I love the compliments, being told I look great, but what defines me is what is inside.  That is ALWAYS what has defined me and always will.

- But. BUT! My work over the last year has changed me inside.  I am driven.  I delight in being strong, in being able to do things today that I could not do two weeks ago.  It brings me incredible satisfaction to see the results of hard work.  It makes me downright gleeful when MFP friends say that I inspire them to keep going in reaching their own goals.  I am proud of myself and what I've accomplished through dedication, research, and hard work. Being changed inside does not mean a rejection of my previous self. We are always transforming.  

- I am stronger and fitter than before.  I am healthier than I was.  I am teaching my son habits that will prevent him from ever going down this road in the first place. 

- Though I am not at maintenance, I am close.  And my work doesn't stop when I reach an arbitrary scale goal.  I know who I am and I know how my mind works.  I will work toward being more mindful, but until I can,  I will use the tools at my disposal to make sure this driven, fit, happy person sticks around. 

So that's why I'm smiling in these pictures.

In my largest jeans, size 22 or 24.

In jeans that fit, size 12 (I'm tall - 5'10.5" - and don't expect to get below 10/12)

Current stacked on former - crazy to see them like this.

And last, a photo of me wearing these or similarly-sized jeans. Full disclosure, I was like 16 weeks pregnant in this photo and I think it's particularly unflattering.   I can't believe I share it!

 Thanks for reading my rambling thought processes - sorry that they're all over the place!  Special thanks to my MFP friends, without whom I'd be bored ;)


And finally:  in case anyone who isn't on my friend's list reads this and wants to learn more about me and how I've accomplished this, check out:

 1)  Success Stories thread:

2) Blog entry answering the "How did you do it?" question that details my nutrition and exercise goals:

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