Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Program

This March I wrote about all the things to celebrate about turning forty.

There's one thing that's not so great. Somewhere during the twilight of my thirties, in the final approach to that much maligned milestone birthday, my metabolism hit a wall.

Looking back, it was a perfect storm, but still, it snuck up on me.

First, because of a chronic health issue, whatever water weight I carry causes the scale to swing pretty wildly from week to week. I've joked with other mommy friends that I don't care so much about looking great naked, but it would be nice to look good while fully dressed. Which means it would be preferable to yoyo in a lower weight range.

Second, the Grape is a waif. He's no longer tiny to the extent that causes the pediatrician alarm, but his weight has never made it out of the tenth percentile for his age group. I spend significant time and resources trying to sneak calories into him, mostly by cooking heavier, "comfort food" dishes that rarely featured on my pre-kid menu.

Third, I love  loved to run. I blew out my knee while pushing the jogging stroller and pulling Lila the Dog along an unpaved path. After surgery and many months of PT, I still can't even jog. I've spent much of the past two years in a sulk about how lame all the accessible (i.e. easy to do at/near home or gym) modes of exercise are, compared to running. I got stuck in an exercise rut. I would spend forty minutes, three or four times a week, on the despised Elliptical trainer without breaking a sweat.

As I faced forty, there was no denying my clothes didn't fit as nicely as they had three years ago. The Grape issued a major wake up call when he declared my tummy "so nice and soft" in front of several friends. I started weighing myself at the gym, almost every day for a month, and unsurprisingly, my weight fluctuated as it has for a few years now.

But I realized the high point of my weight yoyo was an astonishing fifteen pounds heavier than the yoyo high point before I had the Grape.

I decided that couldn't possibly be healthy, and I believe that parents of young children have an obligation to try to be healthy in order to be able to stick around for their kids for as long as possible.

I had to do something, and fast, because summer clothes forgive far less than sweaters and coats.

I amped up my work outs. I took two strength training classes a week and intensified my cardio regime. I made a rule against skipping exercise: I'd only exercise on the days I eat. I'd let myself count a long, brisk walk as the day's workout, but only once or twice a week. Puttering outdoors with the Grape, while good for the mind, would not count as exercise. Yoga would, but only if the class veered more athletic than meditative. So great. More sweat, less tummy. Right?


I had to reckon with the sticky, icky part: Food. At forty, I had to face up to the fact that food and I have had a great run. Fantastic, even. I was a very lucky young person, with good metabolism. I never struggled with, or even thought much about, weight. For thirty-six or thirty-seven years, I could drink. I could eat dessert.

Clearly something had to change in order for those fifteen pounds to go. I decided to use an app to track calories for a month. It was a drag at first, but if you're one of the (probably millions of) moms who'd like to nix the mama tummy, I highly recommend the exercise. It was really eye opening.

If you ask R. what my new diet program entails, he'd say, "She doesn't eat and then she screams a lot because her stomach is eating itself." He swears he doesn't care about my figure one way or another, and I (mostly) believe him.

But it's not about him. It's about me. Which is fortunate, because I think any woman who feels the need to diet, or undergo surgery, to please anyone but herself needs therapy. Lots of therapy.

I joke that we have his and hers diets in our house.

Her diet involves cutting most alcohol, sweets, dairy and bread, while eating only fish, eggs, beans, vegetables and fresh fruit, with the occasional pasta dish thrown in so the whole family can eat the same thing together. I drink wine, but only while out with friends or entertaining. No more glass while cooking, glass with dinner, glass to unwind.

His involves switching to light beer.

If this unfair, sexually discriminatory system results in him losing more weight than I without even trying, I will probably require a prescription antidepressant.


I'm one month into this thing I call "the program."

The tally: Three epic diet dinner failures, one of which was so not my fault. Seriously. I visited a book club that selected one of my novels. They mixed Cosmos and baked delectable pastries in my honor. Diet or no diet, I am not going to behave like a weird, picky artist of the variety who only drinks bottled water and eats celery and cucumbers. That leaves twenty-seven good days. Nine pounds down, six to go.

Here's what surprised me most: it really, truly hasn't been that bad. I thought dieting for the first time ever would be awful, but late spring turns out to be a great time to diet because the produce is starting to get better, it's nice weather to grill, and lighter dishes appeal in hot weather. I probably wouldn't have started "the program" during the holidays, or during a major vacation, because I would have been setting myself up to fail.

I still might be setting myself up for disappointment. We travel a bit in the summer, and diets seem harder away from home. Something tells me the last couple of pounds might prove more stubborn than than the first few.

Here's the good news for all my fellow mamas who find themselves frowning at their bellies come swimsuit season. If I can do it (I kind of don't go in for self-denial)—and if mom to four, lifelong exercise hater and social media maven Nina Badzin can do it—you can too.

But only if you want to, for yourself.


  1. This is great and inspiring...I'm still enjoying my 30-something fun relationship with food, but I know that metabolism wall is slowing building a wall - brick by brick year after year and I soon will have to jump on the diet/excercise bandwagon which I've been able to avoid thus far...I often tell myself that i should start dieting NOW simply because the more years I put on of eating burgers and ice cream the harder it will be to STOP!...maybe I'll start tomorrow ;) Sounds like you are doing great!!

    1. You might get lucky. Some people have amazing metabolism into old age. You might be one of those.

      Not me. Too many hormone related health things, and I think some of it is just genetically programmed slow down. Why the body needs to conserve calories with age mystifies me, but there it is. I do agree that healthy eating is habit, like any other, easier to form early.

  2. Oh my goodness- you're so generous to mention me here!! While I have LOVED barre and working out more, I agree that it's still all about food. I've been kind of obsessed with Paltrow's new cookbook called It's All Good. I know everyone loves to hate her, but I just don't. It's a GREAT cookbook and very inspiring.

    1. I've always liked her as an actress. Will look up her book. Trusting you that it's not all kale and celery. :)