Warning: This is a very long post.
It was recently suggested that I write a post about how I maintain my weight.
At first, I thought this was ridiculous. I write a baking blog that is devoted almost exclusively to making food you really shouldn’t eat everyday. Who am I to talk about healthy eating and exercise and making good choices? I’m certainly not a nutritionist or dietician, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my story is valid.
You see, despite the vast amount of sugary treats I bake and post on here, I’m what most people consider skinny. Dare I say, I am a small person. But I haven’t always been. In fact, my last major weight loss–I say “last” because there have been many–coincided with my learning to bake. Yes, nearly three and a half years ago I weighed 65 pounds more than I do now. My dress size was twelve sizes larger than it is presently, and shopping for pants…well, it was never fun. Seven years prior, I had lost fifty pounds, but life had caught up with me. I had finished the degree that had brought me to New York, gotten a desk job, learned to cook, and become a bit of a party girl. I was walking less and eating and drinking more.
It’s not that I hadn’t noticed it happening: the gradual tightening of jeans, that my bras were too small, or that I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. No, I knew it was happening. But I figured that I’d eat “better” and it would all come off. I tried a few crazy diets. One involved some super disgusting leek soup, and I’d like to formally apologize to everyone who witnessed the two weeks where I went on a self-imposed “no wheat/no meat/no dairy” diet. Oh, and for those four days where I cut out caffeine. Oof.
I’d always lose some weight, but the second I started eating whatever I had previously banned, it all came back.
I gradually became okay with my larger body. To that point, I was the largest I’d ever been, but also the happiest. I had fallen in love with a wonderful man. I had (finally) started to get my life together. I was beaming. I really didn’t mind being a “bigger” woman. All this is to say, I never actually set out to lose the weight again. The number on the scale had no bearing on my happiness or emotional well-being, and it doesn’t to this day.
Sometime around the spring of 2013, I was living with that afore-mentioned wonderful man in a nice neighborhood in Brooklyn, when I accidentally made a major life decision and learned to bake. It was just a hobby to distract me from another major decision I had made: to take a break from drinking. Alcohol wasn’t making my life any better. In fact, it was making it worse. I was lethargic and tired, unreliable, and prone to emotional outbursts. Cutting out the booze for a while turned out to be a long-term lifestyle change, and all of those unappealing behaviors suddenly ceased to occur.
As anyone who has ever given up alcohol can tell you, one of the immediate effects is that your body craves sugar. This makes perfect sense since alcohol metabolizes as sugar–you can’t just take all of that away without your body screaming for it. Suddenly, I wanted all of the cookies. All of them. And so I ate a lot of cookies. But since I prided myself on my cooking and that I ate well at home, I was disappointed in the quality of baked goods at the local grocery stores. I decided I’d stop purchasing subpar baked goods and learn how to make vanilla wafers. That’s how the baking started.
That’s a lot of information to take in, but it’s how I got to where I am today. Replacing alcohol with baked goods doesn’t seem like a way to lose weight, but that’s kind of how it began for me. I’d go through two bottles of seltzer while making chocolate chip cookies. At first I would feel the need to eat the cookies throughout the day, stopping for a treat whenever I walked by the Tupperware they were packed into. But as time went on and I baked more and more, I stopped seeing the finished products as real food and more as a crafting project. Like “Hey, I made these! Aren’t they pretty?! Also, they’re edible and totally delicious.”
I know that sounds absolutely insane, but that’s what happened: a switch flipped in my brain, and suddenly baked goods and sugar weren’t foods I felt the need to gorge myself on, but instead, a nice way to end a meal or a day.
That mindset started making its way into all my interactions with food. I slowly learned what an appropriate serving looks like and how to read my body’s signals that I was full. I read about low-fat dairy and all the stabilizers it contains, and stopped buying it. In fact, I stopped buying anything low-fat and cut out nearly all heavily-processed foods. I learned to make granola and started eating 1/2 cup with yogurt and fruit for breakfast nearly everyday. I read about the addictive qualities of artificial sweeteners, and slowly weaned myself off a four-Splenda-per-coffee habit until I drank the stuff black. In that vein, I cut my Diet Coke consumption down to one every two weeks, and brought my general caffeine intake down from four large coffees a day to two.
That caffeine slashing really helped–I sleep more now, and it’s really hard to accidentally overeat when you’re sleeping.
All these changes had an effect on my energy, and I started walking for pleasure more than anything else. I took a nanny job in a nearby neighborhood, and would leave home at 7:20am everyday to take the forty minute stroll to work. I’d spend the entire time daydreaming about things I wanted to bake, listening to podcasts, and taking in this amazing place where I get to live. This little bit of exercise helped me so much–it helped me to be more present. Also, exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands. They just don’t. <–Kidding. Name that movie.
The walking did make me happy though, and helped me to have some gratitude for everything around me. The alone time I got while walking to work set the tone for the whole day, improving my interactions and my level of self-care.
Note: This post is getting really long. If you’ve stuck with me this far, thank you.
In the late summer of 2014, I suddenly realized that my clothes didn’t fit. I’ve never been one to go shopping all the time or keep up with fashion trends, but I suddenly realized that belts that had once clung for dear life around my ribcage were now loose around my hips. I saved up a little money and took myself shopping. Before I had gained back all the weight from my previous weight loss, the smallest sizes I had ever worn were a medium in dresses and a 6/8 in pants. I went into a store and grabbed a few dresses in a medium, assuming they’d fit. They didn’t–they were huge on me. I continued leaving the dressing room for smaller sizes in disbelief. Over the course of sixteen months, I had shrunk down to an extra-small size 2.
I walked home in a daze with seven new items in tow. I couldn’t imagine how I would ever maintain this weight. Heck, I couldn’t understand how I had gotten to this weight in the first place. I could not be this person–I had been bigger my entire adult life. I was an impostor walking home with a bag of clothes that certainly couldn’t belong to me. I couldn’t wear a size 2. But I did and I do.
I have maintained this weight loss for two years, despite all of the baked goods I make, all the chocolate malts, and all of the crazy changes I’ve had in my personal life. In the last two years, I have changed careers, started a business, amicably ended a meaningful long-term romantic relationship, and still maintained my weight. Where I used to eat my feelings, I now channel them elsewhere.I still love to eat, obviously. I mean, I have a food blog. But I don’t stress myself out about what I put into my body. Today, I eat a high protein, high fat, high fiber diet. Yes, you read that right. High fat. Together with the protein, it keeps me full all day long. Plus, fat makes things taste good.
Here is how I maintain my weight today:
- I eat a substantial breakfast everyday. As they say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If what I eat is only going to keep me full for two hours, I won’t be at my most energetic or high-functioning levels for the rest of the day. Substantial doesn’t mean unhealthy or full of sugar. For me, it means yogurt and granola, or two eggs and a salad or fruit. Lunch is usually avocado and/or tomato on whole grain toast. Dinner is whatever sounds good, whether it’s Everyday Cassoulet or a double bacon cheeseburger.
- In that same vein, I don’t deny cravings. If I want pizza, I am going to eat pizza. Just a slice or two kills the craving, and then I go on with my day. If I deny myself what I want, I will binge on it at some point. Eating a whole pizza is not good for my body or for my mind. I eat what I want and then go back to eating how I should, and I don’t feel one bit of guilt about it.
- I don’t buy processed food beyond crackers, chips, and bread. Generally speaking, if I want to eat something, I make it. If I need to buy something pre-made, I check the list of ingredients to make sure I know and can pronounce each and every one.
- I don’t eat when I’m not hungry, and I don’t eat food just because it’s there. This is simple. I do not have to eat food just because it’s available. If I am hungry, I eat. If I’m not, I don’t.
- I don’t drink my calories. I have a Diet Coke every so often, but other than that, it’s just water and seltzer.
- I walk 30-90 minutes everyday. This is made easier by living in a city that is basically built for walking. By getting out and moving for at least half an hour everyday, I have a chance to clear my head while also burning some calories. I am lucky in that I work a fifteen minute walk from my apartment–this guarantees 30 minutes of exercise everyday.
- I save room for dessert. I love baking and eating sweets. I don’t eat the whole batch of whatever I’ve made (most of it is shared or given away), but I also don’t deny myself. Eating cookies and ice cream and pie is one of life’s simplest pleasures, and I love having something sweet at the end of the day.
Now, this is just what works for me. I am not a nutritionist or a dietician, so I am in no position to tell anyone how to eat or exercise. Not everyday falls squarely into these guidelines (there are exceptions to every rule), but most do. By allowing myself to eat what I want, even if it’s just a little bit, I am free to enjoy my life without worrying about calorie counts or if that one piece of cake is going to send me into a binge.
It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, but I’m happy with who I am and the relationship I have with food today. I never thought baking would lead me to a healthier lifestyle, but it has. Thank you for letting me share it with you.