That Inking Feeling

I’m getting a new tattoo. On my left thigh. It’s going to cover pretty much the whole front and side of that thigh. Last week I had my first session under the needle, in which the outline was completed. My next session is coming up soon, and there’ll probably be another session after that to get the whole thing finished with color and shading. I’m pretty excited about the new art, the piece makes me happy.

I thought really long about whether I was willing to post this publicly, because obviously body image issues can be difficult, and provoke strong reactions. But I stumbled onto something very powerful for me in my journey to body acceptance recently, and completely unintentionally. And I know I’m not the only person working on weight management who also struggles with body image and acceptance.

Today I want to talk about my thighs. I hate them. I’ve hated them my whole life.

It wasn’t, originally, an aesthetic thing. When I was a child, we were taken to church every Sunday. I had to wear a dress, of course, and my thighs rubbed together and chafed the whole time and I always ended up with a painful rash. Until a little later when I was maybe 9 or 10, and my mother gave me nylons to wear under my dress to be proper. This was even worse. The nylons weren’t big enough, but I squeezed into them anyway (I did a lot of trying to make things work when I was a child). When you squeeze into nylons (or pantyhose, as we called them then) that don’t fit you what happens is that the thin little threads that make up the fabric stretch apart and your fat oozes out into the tiny stretched-apart squares. And then that already-stressed and stretched skin rubs against each other and creates a massive, painful rash of epic proportions. So much hurt. So much trauma. I hated my thighs for being wrong. Because obviously if they were right this wouldn’t happen, nobody else had trouble wearing the correct items of clothing to be at a church.

I think that in this blog we’ve already touched on how unpleasant it was to grow up fat in the 80s. The fattest, biggest part of me has always been my thighs. My thighs have been why most pants don’t fit me. My mother would make me clothes when I was a small child, and I would get in trouble if they didn’t fit, and often they didn’t fit. I remember one jumpsuit in particular that she made, pulled up hard into my crotch because it didn’t fit, but I had to wear it anyway, because she had made it. Complaining about it not fitting or hurting was ungrateful. Clothes shopping was a similar fraught nightmare. I could be wrong in so many ways, usually because of how fat and hard to fit I was. My thighs were a visible, constant reminder of my wrong, hated body, the traitors that made so much of everything I tried not fit. I used to pray at night to Jesus to make me normal sized, I cried, entreating this beneficent, mysterious, omniscient presence that I learned about on Sundays to stop tormenting me and just let me be a normal sized person.

In high school I auditioned for and won the position of Drum Major of my high school marching band for my junior and senior years. At the end of my sophomore year my drum major uniform was ordered and received. I tried it on in a private changing area at the Band Room and found that while the jacket fit fine, the thighs were way too tight, they had betrayed me again, and would never fit into the uniform pants. I was so deeply embarrassed and ashamed that my fatness was a problem again, that I said nothing and told the uniform coordinator (one of the parents) that it was fine, then went home for the summer determined to lose some weight so it would be fine. Sadly, I had no idea how to do that whatsoever, other than to worry anxiously about it all summer and berate myself every time I ate. When autumn rolled around you’ll be astounded to know that the uniform still did not fit me. My mother took this opportunity to deliver a lecture dripping with disappointment, derision, and shame for my actions and my fat, disgusting body. Then she went to a uniform shop or tailor or something and had a pair of pants made for me that looked close enough to the uniform pants that I could wear them, and nobody was the wiser except me and her. She saved my bacon that time, but I despised the entire process and the whole episode overshadowed the summer and autumn of 1990 with anxiety, self-derision, and shame. For my stupid, ugly thighs in particular, and my stupid, fat body in general.

Transitioning into adulthood, my thighs have mostly just been a hassle. They rub together and chafe whenever left without some intervening material to smooth the way. Okay, there was a two week period in 2005 when they didn’t, when I was at my absolute lowest weight, and I could wear a dress or skirt without shorts underneath, but that didn’t last long as that was a flatly impossible weight for me to maintain long-term. Any time I wear a skirt or dress, I need to take action to prevent chafing. Originally it was bike shorts or similar, these days there are great products out there like slipshorts or anti-chafe gel. Also, as a grown-ass woman I can buy nylons or tights that fit and don’t hurt me now. But it’s a hassle, especially if it’s a super hot day, to wear another layer. But not wearing it isn’t an option. Hanging out in a swim-suit outside of water is a no-go, I’ll throw shorts on the minute I get out, not because of how they look but because of the irritating chafing and discomfort of my thighs rubbing together.

And, well, when I used to care about such things, they’re ugly. My thighs are wrinkly due to excess skin, plus I’ve always had cellulite (even at the youngest age I can remember), and they’ve always been big and chunky. I even had some of the skin removed after weight loss, so I have a scar seam up the inside of each thigh and one along the inner crease on each side, where they took a triangle of flesh out and stitched me back together. Age has been a balm to me regarding their appearance, but hasn’t done much for the hassle factor. Still, the cellulite is a constant – I used to (and still occasionally do) envy women with legs not sagging with wrinkly, wobbly, unwanted flesh.

Yes, they’re ugly, but I don’t feel the same way about my arms, and they also have excess skin, and they also have cellulite and are wrinkly and wobbly with it. They don’t bother me at all, because they haven’t been a giant, painful, traitorous hassle my whole life.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I’ve never loved my thighs, I’ve never even liked them. At most I’ve come to a sullen detente with them over the years. My husband, for some reason, loves them, and tells me so often. Often when he’s driving, he’ll place his hand on my left thigh and say, “I love your legs!” This is a weird feeling for me, and I’ve tried to ask him to stop saying it, not because I want to patrol his feelings, but because having my stupid, ugly, difficult thighs pointed out to me regularly is uncomfortable. I’ve tried to demonstrate for him how it makes me feel with an analogy. I say, “When you say that you’re pointing out something I don’t like and don’t have any control over, it’s akin to me patting you on the head and saying, ‘I love your bald spot!’ every day. I can’t imagine that would do anything to make you dislike it any less. In fact, you might prefer if I would just not talk about it every day, right?” But alas, this hasn’t worked.

I mention all of this to say that last week brought something I had no idea was even possible. After I got home from my first tattoo session I took the bandaging off of the new tattoo outline and checked it out. I love it. I love the theme, I love the execution. It was an idea I’m very proud of. I brought a bunch of reference images to Stevie, my kickass tattoo artist, and she drew up a custom piece based on our conversation about what I liked about each image. But here’s what stopped me in my tracks. After my shower, after that first session, when she laid down the outline on my skin in black ink, while I was waiting for the tat to air dry, I passed by a mirror and caught a glimpse and my only thought, on seeing my hated, my utterly despised, thigh in the mirror, was, “That’s badass.”

And then out loud I said, “I have to get the other one done too.”

Meds and Weight: Update

Last time I posted I was just starting out trying a new migraine preventative regimen, and my weight had climbed a bit. Well, good news is that it leveled out after about 3-4 pounds. And, weirdly, became extremely stable at that point. Normally I’m used to a 4-5 pound swing range, but since I started this new drug it’s been 1-2 pounds at the most. So that is great news!

It’s still too early to say, however, on whether the drug is working or not. What I can say is that the first week I was taking it, I had the normal amount of migraines. Since then, however…well, today is day 8 without a full-blown migraine. Eight days. More than a week. This is very promising! Especially since my weekend included several things that can usually be counted on to produce one, such as air travel and disruption to my eating schedule.

Of course I probably jinxed the whole thing just now by saying anything… I’m not going to declare it a success until I’ve been on it at least a month, maybe three, but right now I’m hopeful. *fingers crossed*

Meds and Weight Gain: Thought Experiment (Hopefully)

Hey guys! I didn’t post results last week because I’m maintaining now. In the future. Forever. Henceforth posting “Yep, staying the same!” every week is probably off.

That being said….something has come up to disrupt my flow. Sort of.

As I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, I suffer from chronic migraines, have since I was in my early 20s. I’ve tried dozens of preventative regimens, I know my triggers, I have an army of pharmaceutical soldiers for when they strike, and yet still they plague me. Recently I met with my doctor yet again about on-going skirmishes in this battle and she recommended we try a new/different preventative medication, which my neurologist could prescribe.

To say I was hesitant is an understatement. All of the other things I’ve tried I had to discontinue due to being a special snowflake side effects that made continuing either dangerous or very uncomfortable, ranging from “blacking out in the bathroom for 2-3 minutes and scaring the hell out of my husband with concomitant ambulance trip and ER visit” to “suicidal ideation” to “weird bone and joint pain.”

But. That tantalizing possibility of less pain hanging around out there makes me willing to try…just…one…more…time. So I’m crossing my fingers and hoping we only have to keep trying these drugs with off-label migraine uses until they come up with something specifically for migraines, and my hopes and fears are currently fixated on the CGRP drugs currently in human testing, making them a year or two away from being approved. But until then…

I started the new drug on Friday last week. So far I haven’t had any real problems, no depression, passing out, weird pains – so far so good. One weird thing though, that may or may not be related, is that my weight shot up about 4 pounds since I started and nothing else in my diet or exercise program has changed. That’s a thing I pay attention to. So far we’re still in “swing range” for my body, but since I weigh every day I know that to go up, up, up without any down motion over a 5 day period is not normal for my body.

That’s where the thought experiment comes in. What if weight gain is a side effect for me on this drug? So far it’s only a few pounds, but what if it continues? Obviously I can’t tell yet whether it is preventing migraines because I’ve only been on it for 5 days so far, but let’s say for the purpose of argument that it DOES work and suddenly I no longer have to get 1-3 migraines a week.

For that, yes, absolutely, 4 pounds, no problem here. Happy to trade it.

But what if this is only the beginning? How would I feel if it was 10 or 20 pounds, or, god forbid, 30 or more? What’s the cutoff to the amount I’m willing to accept for an absence of that chronic, debilitating pain? At what point do I shut it down and go back to regular migraines, and declare this yet another loser to side effect bingo?

I have to take into account how central weight management has been to me and how hard I’ve worked for it the last 13 years. Am I willing to trade all that for a reduction in agony? How much of a mental hurdle will that be for me, to know that for as long as I want to experience a pain-free existence, I’d have to maintain a weight that makes me unhappy.

I don’t have any of the answers yet, and a lot of it will depend on 1) how well this drug works vs 2) how much weight we’re talking about here. But it’s probably something I should figure out, if the results I’m seeing on my scale are going to continue in an upwards trajectory.

Yes Before No

There are so many theories and ideas out there about how to eat or not eat to manage weight. I like to go with what I call “Yes Before No.” Basically, I have a list of “yes” foods that I can eat any time I want, as much as I want, without restriction. And I have a set of characteristics that make foods “no” foods, but they’re not forbidden.

A lot of diets, or at least, a lot of the old-school diets I grew up with in the 80s and 90s, give you a big list of Nos. For example, “No cookies, no candy, no baked goods, no dessert, no potatoes, no fat, no sugar, no life, no fun.”

Jesus, who wants to sign up for a big list of forbidden things? Nobody. All that’s going to happen if you give me that list is I’m going to fixate on all those things I can’t have and then they’ll be the things I crave desperately on hard days and can’t wait to get finished with the program so I can go binge on them. That’s counter-productive.

How about a list of things I can have? In fact, how about a list of things that I can not only have, but I’m required to meet a minimum? Here’s my yes list:

  • Fruits – any kind
  • Veggies – any kind

I can have as much as I want of all the fruits and veggies in the world. In order to not get bored, I can find new recipes and experiment with as many different kinds of fruits and veggies as exist at my local market. In fact, I am required to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day (but for me a day when I only eat 5 servings is extremely rare, I usually average around 8-10 per day).

A serving is one medium-sized piece of fruit, or a cup of veggies (leafy greens like lettuce or spinach are more like 3 cups when raw though).

I can eat as much as I want though! I don’t have to restrict myself whatsoever, and most of the time I don’t measure anything if I’m eating fruits and veggies. Why bother? More is better – my only restriction is a minimum, not a maximum! That’s how I get through things like parties and barbecues – I graze all day long on fruits and veggies, so I’m never hungry and I can munch away like a normal person.

Now that I’ve shown you my yes list, here’s what’s characteristic for a no: Stuff that’s highly processed, deep fried, or wouldn’t be recognizable as food to my ancestors. But it’s not a “No Forever.” It’s a soft no. The real no for me is: No eating other stuff until I’ve had something on my yes list first. I know I have to eat a minimum off my yes list, so if I’m feeling a craving for something that’s not so great for me, first I need to find out if it’s actual hunger, or just a passing craving based on an emotional fluctuation (like with chocolate when I’m down). After I’ve eaten some fruit or veggies, I can have the thing. Most of the time I don’t want it then.

Food is fuel, so I try to eat the things that fuel my body in the most constructive way. I know the things that are going to make me feel sluggish and bad, and a good way for me to avoid them is to stick with my yes list first. Maybe this is something that will work for you – focus on eating more of the good stuff you can have, without feeling deprived right off the bat by setting up a big list of things you can’t have. Set a goal that’s a minimum, not a list of don’ts.

Also maybe bring less of the non-supportive food into the house. It should take effort to sabotage yourself.

Weekly Results and a New Thing: Crossover Drills

I went to three parties this weekend – two barbecues and a pool party, so naturally I didn’t expect to lose anything this week. I did, however, follow the plan I laid out on Friday, sticking to fruits and veggies and lean protein, eating before, avoiding alcohol, and exercising each morning.

I wish I could say that I avoid alcohol in an effort to maintain my weight, because if that were the case then I could occasionally plan to indulge. No, after years of experimentation and trial, it’s become clear that one of the fastest, most pervasive migraine triggers for me is alcohol of any kind. I can perform a complicated pharmaceutical regimen occasionally if I feel an event is worth it, which allows me to drink without an immediate migraine, however I can’t use it too often, and it doesn’t always work. So it’s mostly not worth it.

I’ve been thinking, lately, about how to engage more of my leg muscles when I run. Mostly running uses the muscles on the front and back of your thighs. But there are also muscles along the inside and outside of your thighs, and those don’t get nearly as much work duringĀ  a run (they get some, I know because if I stop for a while then restart they are sore). So I started experimenting with crossover drills. Basically, I pick a block with evenly spaced trees, and I go from one tree to the next leading with my right side, then at the next tree I switch over and lead with my left side, so I’m moving facing sideways instead of facing forward.

I can do about 3 sets of those per run, because man they are hard! They really take it out of me – both the physical movement, which is new, and the mental effort required to do it without tripping myself! Also it’s fun and I think I look like a Srs Bzns Athlete when I do it. Even though I’m just doing it going down the sidewalk and the only ones who see me are oblivious cars passing on the road.

Oh, this week I was down .4, almost a half pound (missed it by a tenth). I didn’t expect to be down at all, what with all the socializing and festive eating (which I mostly didn’t partake of) over the long weekend, and my home scale hovering in the same general region all week as if I’d plateaued. Four-tenths of a pound is well within the margin of error, but I suppose if the margin keeps moving slowly downward that’s good for me. Total loss since March 25th is 13.6. I don’t want to do any of the things that might move the needle down any faster, because I’m right at the threshold now of where I might start to enjoy my life less were I to do those things, and I’m not willing to decrease my happiness for faster weight loss. This has to be sustainable.

BBQ Weekend Ahoy!

Yes! Three day weekend coming into view! Let’s do this!

Everybody, remember to:

  • Eat before you head to the parties and don’t arrive starving!
  • Bring something supportive to throw on the grill – like veggie skewers, lean protein, or even fruit – BBQed pineapple FTW!
  • Drink non-caloric beverages to stay hydrated – alcohol isn’t your friend, just an acquaintance with bad ideas!
  • Get your workout out of the way first thing in the morning before the partying begins!
  • Keep your hands busy – take pictures, or play with the dog!
  • Hang out where you can’t even see the food table!

We can do this! We’ll get through without shooting a hole in our long-term goals! Keep your eye on the prize! And…GO!

Results: I don’t even know what week now

I’ve lost track on this current push to lose 20 pounds. There were two weeks that I was on vacation that I’m not counting because I wasn’t tracking, then I think I’ve been back three or four weeks? The day after I got back I was up 3.2 pounds, the next week after that trip I was down 5, then the next week I was up 2.8, then this week I was down 3.4 pounds.

As I mentioned last week, things are kind of up in the air right now with big changes happening in my life, and last week was an absolute emotional roller coaster that still hasn’t coasted to a stop. I spent most of last week and the week before with a giant knot of stress and worry in my belly. I was not in the least surprised to be up 2.8 pounds last Monday due to the anxiety hormones my body was producing. I’ve heard anecdotally that stress makes the body hang onto water, or something. Plus my birthday was that week and I had some champagne and a cupcake.

Anyway, I think maybe I should stop tracking weeks and weekly change and just track total against my goal. So far I’m down 13.2 pounds – loss continues! My loss rate is slowing as I approach my goal, but also I’m not killing myself with calorie restriction and over-exercising, so I’m not expecting a fast loss. I now have 6.8 pounds to go to my goal. I don’t think I look any different, however my clothes fit again and that is win enough for me – that’s honestly the major thing I wanted out of this!

Looking back through my posts, I started the current push on March 25th, so it’s basically been three months or twelve weeks. That’s a pretty slow rate of loss, but who cares? For something I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life, it’s more important that I find and establish a routine that I can stick to and that is adaptable to different situations – travel, weekends, holidays, regular ol’ workdays. When I set up a system that is flexible enough to stick with despite big changes and many different types of days, then all I need to do is live and my body will do what it is supposed to do, and be where I want it to be.

Yesterday I needed a quick workout because I didn’t have much time, and I found this Cardio Bootcamp Boogie workout from my favorite YouTube trainer – 25 minutes, can be done in very little space, and intense enough that my clothes were soaked through by the end. Check it out if you need a quick travel workout (or just some inspiration at home)!

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