Then I did my semester abroad in Brazil and it all fell apart. I gained so much weight there that my bathing suit was basically see-through from being stretched so far. There were nine of us in my program and we lived with families, but traveled together into the rainforest for our studies. I ate biscoitos (cookies) like they would be denied to me forever and dumped farofa (a manioc flour mixture) on everything I ate. To make matters worse, often times the only vegetables we had access to were smothered in mayo. Gross. And I couldn't resist the pao de quejo (grilled cheese) my family's cook made. So, you want to see pictures of me from the trip?
Here I am near the beginning of the trip with my Brazilian sister, Solange. Certainly fuller than I am now, especially with my baby fat face, but not overweight by any means.
And here is the last photo I took with my amazing Brazilian parents just before I flew home, about four months later.
Now I'm being very brave and showing you a photo of me in a bikini near the end of the trip. I actually find it easier to post this picture of myself in a bikini than a recent one because I almost feel like it's a different person in this shot. After the program ended, four of us took some time to visit Natal and Fortaleza on the coast. I believe this is Fortaleza, but don't quote me on that.
When I returned from Brazil, I had gained about 30lb-in four months. You would think that that number would have encouraged me to eat better and exercise, but it didn't. The summer before senior year, I lived in a house with three friends and drank a lot, ate crap food, and sat around on my ass. Then senior year I lived with my good friend at the time who was also overweight and unhealthy, which just led to move pizzas and chips devoured and more inactivity.
By the time I graduated from college in 2000, I had gained about 10 more pounds. I was so embarrassed by my appearance and lived in sweats. My boyfriend at the time thought I was beautiful, so at least he was supportive, but I hated myself. So many girls around me were seemingly effortlessly thin and I was just this fat blob. My sister got married that summer and I had to buy a size I'd never bought before for my bridesmaid skirt. I wish I had some of those photos on my computer to show you, but I don't. Literally, my face is so fat, you can hardly see my eyes and my arms are so fat, they looked like sausages poking out from my sleeveless top. That was definitely my lowest point and my highest weight. I look thin in the Brazil photos in comparison.
In the fall of 2000, I started my job as a research assistant in a molecular microbiology lab at the Naval Medical Research Center just outside D.C. I started taking 1.5L bottles of water to work and avoided soda. Then I got sick. Really sick. I had the flu (not stomach, just regular) so badly, I would come home from work and go to sleep at 6:00. Having no vacation saved up, I would go to work with a fever and feeling miserable. They took pity on me some days and I would leave early, blasting the heat in my car to stave off the horrible chills. I went to the ER in the hopes that someone could do something, anything, to help me. After about a month in which I was too sick to grocery shop and sometimes subsisted on cereal mixed with yogurt, I realized I had lost weight. The scale revealed a loss of about 15lb. Now, I realize this is not the healthiest way to go about losing weight, but it was the jump start I needed to take more interest in my health.
I became somewhat active, taking advantage of nearby Rock Creek Park and walking some days after work. By the time I moved back to St. Louis in late May of 2001, I had lost about 35lb. So, how did I do it? I changed my lifestyle. I can honestly say that this cookbook changed my life.
Every Sunday, I would make enough soup for the week and that is what I would take to lunch every day. This cookbook is filled with delicious, low-fat soup recipes, and many are vegetarian (I gave up meat upon my return from Brazil). Eating a healthy lunch helped me shed the pounds.
When I moved back to St. Louis, I joined a gym. My sister was kind enough to give me a set of personal training sessions as a thank you for helping her so much with her newborn baby. I learned the importance of weight training and that, combined with cardio, I lost over 15 more pounds. I have maintained my weight at a 45-50 lb (I fluctuate about 5lb) loss for eight years now. No fad diets, just plain old diet and exercise. I admit I have done short-term fad diets for a short-term fix, but in the long run, you have to eat healthier and exercise more. I started running seriously in 2006 and as you know, I've completed several half-marathons, one at a sub-1:50 time. I have also done pilates every week for the last seven years with the same personal trainer I worked out with initially. I love her.
If my story isn't a testament that anyone can get fit and healthy, I don't know what is. I went from being an overweight (possibly obese), completely inactive person to someone who feels gross if she goes more than two days without exercise and who loves fruit, vegetables, and grains. Am I perfect? Hell no. I am still completely insecure and it can be frustrating when I think that I will have to work at it the rest of my life to be healthy. There will always be a fat person inside of me, no matter what size I wear. Plus, my body shape completely changed after losing all the weight and I constantly struggle with my proportions. But, I try to put everything in perspective and realize how far I've come. I'm never going to be model-thin or have defined abs, but I can run fast and lift heavy weights. I want to be able to enjoy an unfiltered wheat beer and chips and salsa without feeling guilty.
So, why is the title of this post Lifestyle Changes, Part I? Well for one thing, I decided to divide it into two because this one got to be sooooooo long. Is anyone still with me anyway? I have realized recently that in spite of the way I live now, I have a lot of room for improvement. And I'm not talking about my weight or my size. More so the choices I make when I put things into my body. Talking about my goals publicly will hold me accountable and like always, remind me of where I've been. Like many of you, I think of this blog as a journal and now that I am over two years into it, I enjoy going back and seeing my life unfold before me. So, stay tuned for Part II.