Working out, losing weight, not working out, gaining weight, gaining muscle, losing muscle that turns to fat. Since I was 17 years old, I've gone through multiple incarnations in my relationship with food, exercise, and what I see in the mirror.
Every decade of my life since my 20's, I've experienced real personal transformation where I gained control of myself again with proper balance between career, personal, diet, and exercise. And, that worked fine until I hit my early 50's. That's when it all backfired and resulted in my having a heart attack at 54! (Read the article "Patty's Bummer Summer" for that story)
I started Cardiac Rehabilitation in October of 2018 and while the primary purpose of engaging in the 36 sessions of cardio exercise was to monitor any stress on my heart, I also utilized it as a way to reignite my commitment to exercising regularly again. One thing I know about my body is that if I consistently work out (cardio and strength training), my weight will stay where it needs to be, my body will look strong, and I will feel confident.
I'd already lost about 15 pounds on the "hospital diet" over the summer, so I was a bit ahead of the weight loss game out the gate. Yet, it became fun for me during the 3-month period of cardio 3 days a week to watch my body start changing again. The last time I'd lost a lot of weight was in my early 40's and here I was nearing 55 and at it again...and succeeding.
Is it true that the older you get, the harder it is to lose weight? YES! I joke with my girlfriends that it seems that salad and soup are the only foods I can consume and not worry about weight gain. But it's not really a joke.
My diet changed drastically after the heart attack. I remember my husband taking me to Whole Foods a week after leaving the hospital. We spend TWO HOURS strolling the aisles, reading labels, primarily seeking out information about sodium and fats (and of course I had to review carbs b/c of the diabetes type 2 that I live with).
I have not had fried food since August 24, 2018. I have not had a french fry pass my lips. My cardiologist said it would be okay for me to have something fried (or french fries) once a month, but I declined. Told him the french fry is my "gateway drug" and who can eat just one? And guess what? Though I do wistfully gaze as the waitress walks by with a plate of perfectly fried french fries, I really don't miss it.
During cardiac rehab, I developed a habit of weighing myself every day! This also became a game for me (a dangerous one as I was borderline anorexic between high school/college) where I planned out my day of food and exercise based on what the "magic number" said on the scale. And it became obsessive. So I talked to the doctor and he told me to keep doing what I'm doing BUT back away from the scale. So, I did.
I finished rehab on Christmas Eve. I'd already started integrating strength training back into my workout and returned to my huge gym. This time, however, I decided I would not jump back in full throttle by lifting heavier weights. Rather, I'd use lighter weights and more repetitions to see what happens to my body.
The combination of doing 45 minutes of hard cardio (pushing myself) and then spending about an hour doing various free weight and Hammer strength machines 3-5 days a week started to change my body! And a strange thing happened when I weighed myself. The number went UP instead of down and I got scared.
Self-discipline is the most challenging aspect of taking care of myself now that I'm on my own to exercise and do meal planning for heart health. I've changed my dietary habits enough to trust that I can determine when to eat what and how much is enough without ever feeling deprived. (And I've still not had a French fry). I'm more dedicated than ever to continue the exercise and weight training sessions and challenge myself to keep pushing harder and doing more, with a goal to FEEL STRONG versus only pursuing a number on the scale.
I've learned two important things thus far, and they're important to me (and hopefully to you, too) because us women are very hard on ourselves!
1: Pictures don't lie! No matter how creatively you pose yourself in a photo, it's not going to lie. If you're eating clean, exercising 3 days a week for 30 minutes or more, and getting SLEEP (vital, ladies), you will see the difference in how you look in pictures. Your stance will be stronger, your eyes will be brighter, and your clothes will look better on you.
2: Don't let that damned scale rule your life (and your mood)! I fell into weighing myself every morning when I started cardiac rehab because I wanted to keep the 20+ pounds I'd lost so far OFF and I wanted to see if all this work I was putting into exercise and a strict(er) diet was taking more weight off of me. And it became an obsessive game for me! EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I discussed it with my cardiologist and he told me to stop doing that; to continue exactly what I'm doing but weigh myself twice a week. That's where I am now and guess what? I've gained 4 pounds.
...Which brings me to the inner fight we have with ourselves about "fat versus muscle"! And I'll cover that in my next article!