Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Science Lady Asks for Answers on Healthy Lifestyle

Hello Readers (the very few of you), in a first of its kind post, the Science Lady asks for answers instead of doling them out.  The Science Lady hopes she gets thoughtful responses from the Internet world rather than raging hate, perhaps a huge risk to take these days...

Like many out there, the Science Lady has struggled with her weight, experiencing intermittent success followed by longer bouts of failure. While around her, some people just seem to manage their weight naturally, effortlessly, they wear the same jeans for 20 years and look the same as their high school photos.

In the 90's and early 00's, the Science Lady bought into the low-fat craze like the rest of us. Yes, she ate those awful fat-free Snackwell's cookies a few times. She bought 1% low fat milk, lite 50% less sugar imitation maple syrup (Aunt Jemima), low fat yogurt, and low fat cheese. She cooked spaghetti with vegetables, baked chicken breasts with biscuits and salad with fat free dressing, and other "normal food."  By early 2006 she reached her peak weight ever recorded, and decided to do SOMETHING about it.
The Science Lady and her husband in summer 2005, Minnesota

In January 2006, the Science Lady signed up for Slim4Life weight loss program (now called Slimgenics) in Aurora, Colorado. Advantages: The Science Lady was unemployed for 6 months between her job at 3M and starting graduate school at the University of Colorado; she had 100% of her time and energy for dieting and meal planning. Although this diet doesn't count calories, this was a low calorie, low fat, high protein diet (roughly 1200 to 1400 calories per day) including Slim4Life's 'thermogenic' high protein snacks. Through relentless meal planning, diet journaling, measuring, and counting, the Science Lady lost 40 pounds over about 8-9 months. The Science Lady was hungry all the time, going to bed hungry, getting up hungry, she thought about nothing but food, she avoided most movement or exercise to avoid extra appetite stimulation. Sometimes her grumbling stomach woke her up and she would go to the kitchen and eat two bites of a banana at midnight. The Science Lady's husband would say, "don't worry, you can eat more tomorrow."  When going for hikes in the Rockies, or skiing, she stuck to the diet, somehow. Rather than eating chili and hot cocoa with her friends, she would heat up a special Slim4Life soup packet using the microwaves in some ski lodges. But... it worked, the Science Lady reached her goal weight and bought those skinny jeans. She kept off 30 of the 40 pounds for 3-4 years, achieving an equilibrium for a time. Aha! She thought. I have the secret, I know what to do. The Science Lady joined the National Weight Control Registry as a successful dieter. She signed up for diet and nutrition studies through the University of Colorado Center for Human Nutrition as a "normal weight" study subject, testing over- and under-eating for the sake of science.  She dabbled in jogging, yoga, spin classes, a few adventure races in relay format, and had a good time.

The Science Lady and her husband, in Kaikoura New Zealand 2009

Then, slowly, she regained 20 pounds. About 10 pounds slowly in 5 years of graduate school, but then another quick 10 pounds when she started her first desk job in 2011. Walking around the lab all day, up and down from the lab bench, back and forth to the hoods and the cold rooms, had kept off some weight. Then she started a 2 hour round trip commute and a desk job, gaining 10 pounds fast. [For those keeping track, this left her 10 pounds lighter than her peak weight in 2006]. She signed up for an after-work boot camp twice a week to get ready for a hike of Vancouver Island's West Coast Trail and strove for portion control with her food.  While she DID get more fit, she didn't lose any weight. She finished the 75 km West Coast Trail on her own two feet in 2012.

The Science Lady on the West Coast Trail 2012

It was probably inevitable, but in 2013 the Science Lady tried the low carb diet. Shying away from the extremity of Atkin's, the Science Lady ate about 50 grams of carbs each day from foods like peas, carrots, and beans, along with meat, non-starchy vegetables like spinach and peppers, and dairy. The Science Lady lost 8 pounds in 2-3 months, while her husband lost 16 pounds. Together they traveled to Turkey in 2013 and saw the sights. While on vacation, 'normal' eating returned and slowly the 8 pounds came back over a few months. 

In 2014 the Science Lady moved to Connecticut. She thought a change of scenery, a new job, new connections and experiences might shake things up and be just what she needed for health. Instead, the move (house selling, house buying, temporary apartment, eating out during the move, making friends, adjusting to new job) brought back the last 10 pounds. She was even-up with her peak weight of 2006 again. 

After about 2 years of avoiding the problem, in January 2016 the Science Lady took several steps to change things for good - she read Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, which convinced her that processed foods are bad and whole, natural foods are good. She signed up for a weekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box packed with locally grown organic fruits and vegetables. She signed up for Blue Apron and Hello Fresh boxes (choosing which was better each week) to eat more fresh, whole foods for dinner. She signed up for Precision Nutrition's Womens Coaching, now about 9 months into her year of online coaching. She did the lessons, the journaling, the mental exercises...  The Science Lady dove into eating whole foods - she made her own salad dressings, homemade pesto, homemade bread, homemade pizza using shredded eggplant crust; she spent almost every Sunday cooking for 3-5 hours. She washed and chopped vegetables and fruits; she cooked farro, sorghum, freekah, quinoa. She bought grass-fed beef and organic pastured chicken. She made roasted parsnips and carrots, sorrell soup, marinara meat sauce on top of spaghetti squash, salads made of grains and vegetables, and used those CSA-box vegetables, no matter how weird, darnit.  Her coworkers drooled over her lunches, saying "wow, that looks great, and healthy!"  For four months in 2016, she did the Precision Nutrition-prescribed work outs, consisting of at-home resistance training, at least 3 days per week, in addition to walking her dog every day.  After getting bored with those, she dabbled with cardio classes at the gym and Zumba. Nine months into her whole foods craze, the Science Lady believes that whole foods are in fact TOO delicious for dieters.

For the past month, the Science Lady tried the Paleo Lifestyle. She doubled down and stopped eating bread, grains, rice, pasta, crackers, and cookies. She cooked more meat, vegetables, and fruits. She made about 15 recipes from NomNom Paleo (which is a great cookbook BTW, worth reading just for the funny quips and the cartoons!).  So, after all these Sundays in the kitchen, cooking, exercising, and soul-searching, where does this leave the Science Lady?  The same place she started - the exact same weight as January 2016.  Does this mean that the only diet that works is a low calorie, high hunger, miserable diet?  Probably. If only she could find that equilibrium she had in 2007-2010-ish. Then, it was easy to keep a healthy weight. Somehow it wasn't hard then.  She used to be one of those effortless, thin people that made it look easy. If only it was easy again.
The Science Lady and her husband near the finish of the Coastal Trail, Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario Sep 2016

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