Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Weight Watchers Saga

If you know me, even casually, you probably know that I am a long time member of Weight Watchers. I used to say, “its like I have been on Weight Watchers since the womb.” Ok, it isn’t that drastic, I was much younger than most when I joined. At the ripe age of 13 I got on the scale for the first time with Weight Watchers, and it has been an interesting decade then on out.

I guess before I get into this I should explain what the Weight Watchers program is like. It is a weight loss program that works off of a point system. You get so many points a day, and if you eat within the range of points you are allotted, you lose weight. I have heard recently the points system has changed, and I have no idea about this new system, as I refuse to go back. That I will get to in a moment.

Weight Watchers helped me lose around 60-70 pounds that first year I was a member. I don’t remember gaining weight the first year I was on program, except once over the summer. Every week I was losing weight, so it could be concluded that the program worked well.

Also when on Weight Watchers you attend weekly meetings. From these meetings I learned a lot about eating, exercise and general healthy living information. Obviously, health promotion is a huge part of my life. I purposed a degree in health promotion and now am a paid health educator. I no longer focus on weight loss, nutrition, or exercise as part of my volunteer/professional life, but living healthy is something I still value and pursue in my own life.

I lost weight with Weight Watchers, it even sparked my interest in the career path I now love. Then what am I complaining about?

While I lost weight on the program, I also gained many negative behaviors and perspective on food, exercise, and myself. I can’t say Weight Watchers “caused” these problems, but the parameters of the program played a part in their development.

Instead of trying to argue that Weight Watchers “caused” negative outcomes, I think it is more productive to see my time with Weight Watchers as an influential factors during my journey towards a healthy/happy life.

A friend once told me, whenever you try something new you will make mistakes. Weight Watchers gave me a lot of different tools to use to manage my health. Sometimes I used them in a healthy productive way, and other times I let these tools be a crutch and a distraction from addressing a real problem at hand.

For example, Weight Watchers taught me to use weight as a way to measure my progress in improving my diet and exercise. The obvious flaw is that I can eat poorly and be inactive and lose weight, and vice versa eat well and exercise regularly but not lose weight. Also, I had emotional baggage when it came to my weight, and I carried this baggage over into weighing myself. I had negative belifes about myself when I was heavier, and weight became a way to feel good about myself. I was losing weight, there for I was worthy of things like love, compassion and respect. There are so many flaws with that way of thinking, I don’t even know where to start! I want to move away from relying on my weight as a measure of my health and or happiness. On the other hand, I still aknowledge that keeping track of my weight is a useful tool to measure to keep myself accountable to my healthy behaviors. Here in lies the internal conflct I face with scales. I have tried many different things, and I guess that is the new tune I am singing. I am trying different ways of using a scale as a tool to improve my health, while not letting impact my self worth or body image. That is a tall order to address, but I am working on it every day.

I feel the same way about tracking my food.

Food journals allow me to be conscious in my food choices and monitor intake essential nutrients. On the other hand, when I journal my food I find myself “eating to the numbers” and focusing on hitting a certain calorie deficit instead of listening to my body. Again, food journals can be a useful tool, but are not the answer inherently.

Weight Watchers taught me many skills that I still use today to improve my health. The program does encourage health and well being over weight loss. All in all, when it comes to Weight Watchers or any other diet, this is my final statement:

If trying to lose weight to be healthy brings on ill health in the process (physical or emotional) the whole effort is a waste in a true journey toward happiness and health life.

Weight Watchers was part of my journey. I hate to say that I will never go back, but I also feel like that chapter of my life is over. I am in a new place when it comes to thinking about food and my body. I am still working out the details, but I am starting to try, which is half the battle.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Being an adult

Lately I have been trying to find comfort or acceptance during times of transition. I think that is a valid goal, and that patience is a skill worth learning.

But …

I start to wonder, will life ever feel more complete? I guess, what does that even mean?

I went to school, with the hopes of a pretty traditional future: school, work, family (I know the patriarchy, exclusive/flawed family values, but that is not the point here). In theory I could have graduated from school, found a job, did some type of 9-5 thing, had free time, and started a family.

Now, a lot of those pieces are there. I have a degree, like 1.85 as of now. I choose a career I am passionate about, and find incredibly reward. I met and fell in love with my amazing partner. The love was mutual, and we are engaged.

All the pieces were there, but I still feel like I am waiting.

I am almost done with school, but not quite. I am engaged, but am no where near a wedding, and the whole thing is still really over whelming. I have a job in the field I studied and that I love, but it is part time and temporary.

I am living in the training wheels of adulthood.

I don’t regret any of the decisions I have made about school, work, or love. While surely this post sounds on the “woe as me” side, I really am fortunate for all I have. In all that I do, I give my all and follow my heart, and that has brought me so many amazing things in life (oh, and I have massive amounts of privilege, but again, a different post).

During the journey, sometimes you just wish all the pieces would come together. When the future is fuzzy, it is hard to remain faithful and motivated.

In the end though, I continue to let my passion, dreams, and skills lead me. I have no idea when I will even set the date for my wedding, let alone the actual date of said event. I have no idea how I will be earning money in three months.

This is one of the times I tell myself to, buck up cupcake, and get to work. I try to stay focused and on point. In the end though, it is still always a little scary.

Oh my god, I feel like I will continually write this post throughout my life. Consider this time 1.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sex Education Review: How to PROPERLY use a condom

As a sexual health educator, I feel I should bring information to the masses!

I thought a great first place to talk would be condoms. It is Condom Week this week, and with Valentine’s Day this topic seems timely.

Condoms have been around, relatively, a long time. They are the only method of contraception that can be used by men, and are incredibly effective in preventing pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases. That is, if they are used CORRECTLY!

You might say to yourself, it’s a condom Ashley, how hard could it be? It can actually be really hard, pun intended.

Many people never see a formal demonstration by a health educator on how to use a condom. Instead they learn from movies, TV, friends, or gasp, porn. Those are not reliable sources.

Instead of going through the steps, let this man with a pleasing accent do it! Thank you Planned Parenthood for posting this video!

Planned Parenthood: How to use a condom

Sunday, February 13, 2011

This is where I have been so far …

(please note, this post rambles a bit, and I don’t feel like proofing, so deal or don’t read)

This is where I have been so far on my journey to healthy.

The first moment of my life I was aware of my weight was in the 1st grade. I remember before going to school for the first day giving myself a little prep talk. I told myself, you are fat and people will make fun of you for it. If you are nice and don’t cause problems no one will have a reason to be mean to you, and you will be safe. Looking back in breaks my heart that someone at the age of six would already be aware of the social implications of their weight.

My struggle with my weight continued as I got older. Growing up my weight was just part my identity. I was the fat girl and I completely understood how that impacted my life. I had the usual teasing but I don’t look back and think of myself as unhappy because of my weight, but I did always desired to be thin.

Here and there when I was younger I tried to "diet" (i.e. eat only granola bars, terrible idea) but my weight loss journey really began when I was in the 8th grade. January 2000 I began weight watchers with my mom. The whole experience was amazing. I was losing weight and I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was physical incapable of losing weight, but now I was. I hit my goal weight of 144 pounds sometime during the summer 2001, which was the summer before my freshmen year of high school. That fall my crush all through junior high asked me out, I was more outgoing at school and I felt more confident than ever.

Then that winter I moved to Ohio. This was the first time in my life making friends came easy. People wanted to talk to me and get to know me. This was a strange comparison to the way I had been treated in the past.
I internalized the idea that it was easier for people to accept me as a thin person. I think this impacted my opinion on weight gain. As silly as it sounds, it made me wonder, if being thin made me likable, what will I be if I gain the weight back? Maybe my change in self-perception is what made it easier to make friend. Maybe the fact that I as older, and people were more accepting at 14 then 12.
This question was answered my senior year of college when I gained all the weight, plus 10, back. This experience was well worth it. I learned that when I gained weight, my boyfriend still loved my. I was still able to do everything I did as a thin person, and the people who mattered didn't care. This is an important lesson to learn. While weight has an impact on the way others view you, it doesn't have to impact the way you view yourself, or the way you live your life.
Even though this experience taught me that I could be any weight and still accomplish my goals, I still wanted to return to a healthier weight. Losing weight the second time wasn't the same as the first time. When I was younger it was easier. I really didn’t have a negative relationship with food. Weight Watchers gave me the tools to lose weight and I could use them with ease. My mom was on program with me, I had a GREAT support network, and mainly ate at home. In high school new challenges came. I started to harbor resentment and self pity. It wasn’t fair other people didn’t have to think about what they ate. I wanted to go out with my friend, and do everything everyone else did without worrying about my weight.
College added a lot of new challenges as well. I was eating in the dining halls, away from home, and really pushing myself academically. My freshmen year I did great, but as I got busier and more involved managing my weight became increasingly difficult.
Now here I am. All the experience I have had with food up to this point has led me to where I am. I think the best sentiment to explain how I feel is something I read from another blog. One commenter said, you didn’t get unhealthy overnight, and you don’t get healthy overnight either. I really I identify with that. A lot of the habits I have developed over the years are good while others are not.
Also at this point in my life I am tired. I am tired of being told I am the problem and being told If I wanted to lose weight, I could just go do it. Trust, life is not that straight forward, in this matter, or any other matter of self reflection or development.
Also I harbor resentment. I resent the diet industry, even Weight Watchers, something that gave me so much hope growing up. While I wasn’t living a balanced lifestyle when I was overweight, I also wasn’t living one at my lowest weight, yet I still received external positive feedback for my “accomplishment.” The whole Weight Watchers thing is a whole other post!
Its funny too, I think my insecurities around weight is what lead me to health promotion as a career. I wanted to figure out what was wrong with me, but I ended up completely changing my perspective. As a student of public health, I know all the facts about the relationship between weight and health outcomes, yet there is more to life than that. There is more to life than just finding every way to reduce your risk for certain health outcomes. While maybe diet culture and body shaming brought me to public health, in the end public health brought me to feminism.  My growing ideals and beliefs about feminist and size acceptable (as aspect of feminist theory) have influenced my opinion on healthy living.
I know weight loss was never just about reducing my risk for ill health. I feel shame and guilt when I gain weight. I don’t feel shame and guilt when I forget to floss or wear my seat belt. Therefore, it isn’t just reducing risk, it is about something else.
My personal experiences from this story reflect a belief that to be loved one must be thin. While my experiences have also discredited this belief, culture constantly throws the message back into my face and faces of other women. See, there is the feminist in my talking.
All in all, I am just trying to figure it out from here. I don’t want to be part of the diet culture, but being active and learning about healthy eating is something I genuinely enjoy. I love running, and to run the distances I want to there is a certain level of self care I need to engage in. Being skinny, not so important, fueling properly, a little more important.
It is dirty work trying to dig through emotions, beliefs and ideas to find what you truly care about, and what someone over and over has told you to believe or think about yourself (cough socially constructed ideas of beauty, cough). Obviously I am a nurture over nature kind of girl when it comes to the social sciences.
Therefore, all I can do is try, and that folks, is what this blog is all about. I thought if we were going to chat about all the crap I have going on in my mind about food/weight/dieting/exercise, I might as well catch you up to speed.

Poem alert: New Beginning

I like to write, what I call, poems. Others might call it rambling or randomly collected phrases. Nonetheless, I plan to start posting them on the blog. Might even go old school and post some cute ones I wrote in the prepubescent phase.

one day at a time

one set

one second

one breath

one bite

it all starts with a moment you decide to change

you decide to live

to not give up on yourself

my weight is a challenge

its physical

its emotional

its mental

its everything

it is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life

yet I keep on going

Today I am choosing to start new

I know this will not be my last do over, my last relapse

this is my first moment to learn who I am

to grow up

to be the woman I want to be

for myself

for ME

this is one of the moments I am changing

the physical weight is just one part of my journey

what else will change along the way


I have this new goal that is all about being happy. While this goal sounds nice, it is hard to understand what it means. Essentially I decided the way I was living life was not making happy, and therefore, I should do something else. But I had no idea what to do instead. I felt (and still feel) lost, but am starting to find footing again.

As I get older, I try to find comfort and less anxiety in moments where my life is less certain. Before, when I didn’t have a clear goal and method to that goal I would freak out. Being that way actually helped me a lot in life, but still brought on more emotional baggage than I care to bare over the long haul.

On the other hand, in my pursuit for comfort in the unknown, I find myself without any guidance at all. This is how I feel at the current moment. I set myself the ambiguous goal of letting go of my preoccupation with dieting and weight loss, but didn’t really tell myself what to do instead.

It has been interesting the last couple weeks, and I have learned from my experiences.

On things I learned is that at this point in my journey, I still need boundaries or guidance. The two areas where this impacts my eating/weight habits is journaling and weighing. Really that was all weight watchers was, keeping track of how much you eat, and monitoring your weight.

For me, journaling isn’t about keeping track of food to ensure I was eating the right amount to lose weight, but instead a way to be conscious of my choices. Therefore, I still journal when I eat, but do not keep a running tally of my calorie deficit. I find that in general I know how much I can eat and maintain my weight, and some day might stop journaling. For now though, I find it still helpful. It is helping me find a normal with my eating and less eating in the extremes. In the past I would “be on plan” Monday – Thursday eating very low amounts of calories, and then “off plan” Friday – Sunday eating to the point of pain. While the amount I eat changes day to day, it has started to level out, which makes me think I am finding my natural, healthy middle point.

The other piece of guidance I still use is weighing. I still weigh myself, and am slowly trying to make it more irregular. As of now, my goal is to stick to only once a week, and then hopefully even biweekly. Because I have been dieting for so long, I gain a lot of anxiety from not knowing my weight. I hope as I start to find my more regular eating habits, I will worry less about weighing as well. I hope to someday only weigh in once a month, just to ensure everything is in check.

With journaling and weighing, I am not sure what role they will play in my life in the future, but for now this routine seems pretty good. I really take it each day at a time. I look at my behaviors, reflect, and then take a next step forward.

A big accomplishment for me lately has been my cooking! I have made quite a few good meals that were mainly whole foods and vegan. It make me happy to not only increase my skills in the kitchen, but also learn to enjoy more whole and healthy foods. They taste wonderful too!

None of this is perfect. None of this I suggest to anyone else. The point of these blogs are to show my journey to a healthier lifestyle. In my life I seem to have gone from one extreme to the other. I went form inactive and mindless eating to over active, and obsessive eating. Maybe these challenges seem silly, but for me they are real.

I made a choice, I could keep living in diet culture, or I could do something else. With that choice I also accept that the damage that diet culture has brought to me will not go away over night. I hope to each day with each choice get closer to a more balanced lifestyle.