I’m a Recovering Food Blogger

Hi, my name is Mara, and I’m a recovering food blogger.

“HI MARA”

This post has been a long time coming, and years in the making.

Over five years ago, I started my food blog, What’s for Dinner? with the hopes of chronicling losing “those last 20 pounds” after a successful stint in Weight Watchers. Friends were always asking me for recipes so I figured “what the hell?” and started writing them down.

The recipes gave way to pictures of the food.

Which then gave way to bringing a camera to every meal out…

…which then gave way to a more expensive camera at every meal out.

I think months went by and I didn’t eat a hot meal because I had to get the photo “just so.” There were eye rolls when the camera came out. People started passing me their plates before they started eating so that I could get a picture. I’m apparently the only one who didn’t find it ridiculous.

Being a food blogger was a huge contributor to my weight gain.

When I say huge, I mean “in the top ten reasons I piled on over 80 pounds in a few short years”.

At first, I was sharing healthy recipes, measuring my portions, and if I remembered to photograph them, great.

Then things changed. I don’t know if it was the advent of Pinterest, the insane competition that started happening between the “bigger bloggers” and the “smaller bloggers” to get as much blog traffic as possible, or whether I used these things as an excuse to make deep-fried appetizers, cheesy pasta-filled main courses, and decadent (I now shudder at this word) desserts. I got a kick out of people loving my food. I also loved my food, way too much and way too often.

When I started my Optifast weight loss journey, I abruptly said goodbye to this way of life. I think in the whole 14 weeks of the intensive program, I took one photo of one shake one morning. ONCE. They just weren’t interesting.

1380573_10100139732057945_1901405948_n.jpg
See? Boring.
I used food blogging to fuel my food addiction, which I wholeheartedly accept and acknowledge as a real thing. The difference, as they say, is that one needs food to live, unlike other addictions which can be 100% cut out of a person’s life. I couldn’t just stop eating. I could, however, take away the parts which made it anything more than a necessity. I stopped cooking. Stopped planning. Stopped shopping. Food became fuel only.
I vowed to myself to only take photos of food for my own accountability. Thai spicy broth for dinner instead of Optifast? Photo. First sashimi dinner after 14 weeks of no real solid food? Photo. I would not, however, break out the good camera and set the plates out just so and make the photos look perfect. I used my phone and some Instagram filters and shared my food with my followers there, and watched my attitude about food continue to be that of fuel and not my primary source of success or pleasure.
I realized during our trip to Barcelona that there is a huge difference between photographing a meal for the memory of it, and photographing a meal “for the blog”. I have dozens of photos of food from that trip, and I also know there was plenty of food consumed that was not photographed. I also realized that the sheer act of feeling like I “had to” photograph a meal can be likened to putting an alcoholic in a bar, or a gambling addict in a casino. I found myself overeating, over-drinking, and under-thinking
One thing that absolutely has not changed is my appreciation for the beautiful. I take a huge amount of pleasure in eating a beautifully prepared meal, and even indulge in the occasional dessert (preferably made by my über-talented sister). Yes, I still take photos of meals occasionally, but only because I feel they are too beautiful to not be recorded, or too delicious not to share.

10513263_10100312669205515_171806392790559077_n.jpg 10559862_10100311740681285_4301575545909420624_n.jpg
Pan con tomate and mussels on the Mediterranean, saved for posterity in my iPhone

10801913_10100373244886365_7947753092184165301_n.jpg
I told you my sister is talented!
While one of the most important things to come from this is my now 97.5 pound weight loss, I truly feel that THE most important thing for me is my change in attitude regarding food. Sure I eat to live. Sometimes, I live to cook. But I truly and honestly feel that I no longer live to eat… and that’s something that took me 33 years and some months to learn, and will take a lifetime to reinforce.

10562951_10100386663615125_2993671401539042672_n.jpg

One Year

A year ago (well, a year ago 2 days ago) I made the decision to flip my life upside down.

After spending the better portion of the previous 3 years doing nothing but planning for, buying, prepping, photographing, and eating (and eating, and eating, and eating) the most delicious food I could imagine, I decided to give it all up.

I walked in to the Alexian Brothers Weight Loss Solutions clinic with zero expectations. What I knew was this (and I’m sharing things I’ve never shared before because, what the heck):

  • I weighed in at 285.1 pounds, wearing a snug size 22 pants (which should’ve been a 24) and a 22/24 top.
  • I couldn’t walk up stairs without getting winded.
  • I had zero space between my real chin, my second chin, and my neck.
  • I wore a size 46 H bra
  • I was always tired. Always. I woke up tired, worked tired, got home tired, and never slept well.
  • Size 2X men’s t-shirts were snug
  • I wore a size 10 wide shoe, and could not stand wearing any sort of heel for longer than an hour or so.
  • I was sick a lot. If a cold or the flu was going around work, I got it and got it bad.
  • I had consistent skin rashes (in fairly bad places) almost constantly. They hurt all the time.
  • My face was always broken out in horrific painful pimples
  • I wore my fitbit band (because just wearing it would help) on the biggest notch, and it irritated my wrist.
  • I had issues keeping myself as clean as I would’ve liked, as cleaning my whole self in the shower was difficult.
  • I had to have my wedding ring set resized twice, which pained me, as it was the last handmade thing I have from my dad. I wore a size 8.5 ring.
  • My stomach almost always hurt, usually from sheer overeating.
  • Every joint in my body hurt, almost all the time. Even my fingers and toes hurt, and my neck, ankles gave out fairly often, causing embarrassing falls.
  • I had a hard time finding glasses that fit my face, causing ridiculous grooves on the side of my face when I took my glasses off. And forget contacts! They caused a weird allergic reaction.

This was me, always with a smile on my face, but always feeling not quite right.

1016194_994776962145_1091662674_n.jpg

I was actually wearing those same pants when I walked into that clinic. They were digging into my stomach as I sat in the waiting room, and I noticed that I had splatters of Frappucino from that morning on the knee. Probably from when I used the straw to scrape the last of the whipped cream out of the bottom of the cup.

After talking with the nurse, dietician, doctor, and my mom, I made a decision to jump in head-first. Meal replacements for a minimum of 12 weeks through OptiFast.

I made it 14 weeks. I slowly added food. I traveled. I learned to not loathe exercise. I lost weight successfully for the first time in years.

Today:

  • I weighed in this week at 198.6 pounds, two up from my low of 196, wearing a comfy size 14 pants and dress, and a 14/L top.
  • I can run up my stairs without a second thought.
  • I have one chin, and a definite neck. I had to buy new chains for most of my necklaces that were 2”-3” shorter.
  • I wear a size 36 J bra, which actually needs to be re-fitted soon
  • Ok, I’m still tired a lot, but a big part of that is my job. However, I can sleep now, and have energy more often than not.
  • I wear a Medium or Large men’s t-shirt
  • My walking shoes are a 9 regular, and my dressier shoes are a 9 1/2 regular. I lost weight in my feet.
  • Except for losing my gallbladder, I’ve only been sick a handful of times.
  • The only skin rash I’ve gotten is from a mean mosquito.
  • I can count on my fingers the number of bad pimples I’ve had.
  • I wear my fitbit band on the second to smallest notch.
  • I take much more pride in my appearance and am no longer “the smelly kid.”
  • I have to have my wedding ring set sized back down, and wear a size 6.5 ring.
  • I only get a stomachache on the rare occasion that I eat off-plan.
  • My joints don’t hurt like they used to. My knees hurt after a long walk (more than 5 miles). No more finger or toe pain, shoulders are good, neck is fine.
  • I can wear almost any pair of glasses I try on now, without the embarrassing side of face lines. I can wear contacts too, but I’m out at the moment!

I’ve lost and maintained an 86 pound loss, and I still have a bit to go. I’m in a plateau at the moment, and my doctor assures me it’s “normal” and he would be satisfied if I could just maintain here.

This is my new normal, minus the fancy hair and makeup!

10614194_10100319351668805_4031015653260593461_n.jpg

This was, by far, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s up there with choosing to marry my husband and choosing to work where I work. I’ve never felt better!

Thank you to all of you, my friends, family, readers, and support system for being there every step of the way! I’ll continue to update here, as I learn more about losing, as my old weight watchers leader used to say, “the hard lard.”

One last progress photo, for fun… my school pictures from last year and this year!

10653539_10100342602698555_7524651929277693898_n.jpg

OptiFast New You Prize Trip

**FYI, those on OptiFast Full Fast, this post contains photos of delicious food**

Remember back in June when I found out that I’d been selected as one of the winners of the OptiFast New You contest?

Well, this past weekend, Adam and I set off on our “Luxury New York City Weekend” courtesy of OptiFast! I hadn’t been to NYC since I was 17 and a high school senior, and I was looking forward to seeing the sights, tasting the foods, and enjoying the city as an adult.

After being greeted at LaGuardia Airport by a guy holding a sign with my name (and I totally forgot to take a picture), we were chauffeured (literally!) to Le Parker Meridien, a beautiful boutique hotel in Midtown, a stone’s throw from Times Square.

After settling in to our room and changing into more public-appropriate clothes (as opposed to the loungewear we flew in), we went for the first of many walks. We saw Times Square, Carnegie Hall, the old Paramount building, and loads of others. Our ultimate destination though? A New York standby: The Carnegie Deli.

IMG_2575.jpg

We split an enormous corned beef sandwich, and I had a childhood favorite: an egg cream! Seltzer, chocolate syrup, and a touch of milk… so good. So New York.

Of course, we took the obligatory Times Square selfie:

IMG_2572.jpg

After a brief stop back at the hotel, I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen since high school! Chrissy and I met when I was in 5th grade, and we played the flute in band together all through middle school and high school. She went on to be a professional flautist, and lives just outside of NYC. We met for a drink, and later a slice of pizza and dessert. I’ll spare you those photos, but this one is cute!

IMG_2608.JPG

Friday brought more exploring: East Village, Alphabet City, and an ultimate stop to meet up with Adam’s cousin at Katz’s Deli.

IMG_2611.jpg

We sat at the very table from “the famous scene” in When Harry Met Sally, and I had the best sandwich of my life, and yes, another egg cream.

IMG_2630.jpg

IMG_2632.jpg

We ventured into SoHo for a phenomenal dinner, but I’ll spare you all the photos from that.

Saturday was makeover day! After a relaxing massage at the Moonshine Spa in our hotel, I met up with Marcia (the other female winner) and Arleni, our OptiFast contact. We walked to the salon and I was greeted by my “team” for the day. I got highlights, a haircut, a manicure, and my makeup done… I felt like royalty! The results were phenomenal… I still feel so pretty!

IMG_2648.jpg

IMG_2646.jpg

We had a lovely cocktail reception with the winners and our spouses, and then Adam and I went to the famous Iron Chef Morimoto’s sushi restaurant for the sushi of our lives.

Sunday brought more exploring, a trip to FAO Schwarz, a walk down 5th Avenue, and an amazing brunch.

I went in to this trip, as I had with my others, wanting to have no regrets. I didn’t want to regret choices I’d made, nor did I want to regret those I didn’t make. So yes, I indulged, but we also walked a ton. Sure, I had a drink or two, but they were at lighter meals. It’s all about balance! My success was proven at the scale today too, I was only up POINT TWO pounds between my Spain trip and NYC. I call that a win.

Onederland!

After last week’s gain, I was not optimistic about this week’s weigh in. I figured I’d get on the scale and have lost what I’d gained last week.

Have you figured out that when I start out a post with an expectation, it’s usually because the opposite happened?

I got on the scale after shedding my maxi skirt and extra tank top as I have for the last few weeks. I stepped on the scale, and I saw something I haven’t seen since 2007.

There was a ONE at the beginning of my weight number. A FREAKING ONE!!!

I saw 199.6!!!

That puts my total weight loss at 85.5 pounds so far, which according to ILostWhat.com  is the same as 4 lemurs.

10300516_10100274273885045_2714279693174984882_n

It has been a red-letter week over here, with my “New You” contest win, a 5.8 pound loss, and hitting Onederland (get it? Because my weight starts with a 1?)

There’s three days left of the school year, and I have a lot of packing to do… but at least I know that moving my stuff OUT will be easier than moving my stuff IN. There’s 85 pounds less of me, and I’m tons stronger…in more ways than one!

Super-Exciting News!

Over a month ago, on a whim, I entered the OptiFast “New You” Contest. It’s an annual contest in which people who have had success with the OptiFast plan write an essay and submit before/after photos and throw caution to the wind. I didn’t think I had a chance.

I wrote a super-long essay (1,800 words!) and had to edit it down to 500 for the contest. I submitted pictures, and when I didn’t hear anything by May 31, as it had said on the page, I figured I hadn’t won. No biggie, right?

Then the email came in.

“Congratulations! You’ve been selected as one of three Grand Prize winners in the OPTIFAST New You Contest.  You were selected based on your overall weight loss, the creativity and originality of your essay, and the compelling nature of your story.  The OPTIFAST team is very proud of you and your accomplishment and look forward to meeting you in New York!”

Wait, what?

I freaking WON?!

I’m one of the three winners of the NATIONWIDE OptiFast contest! I get to go to New York with Adam, get a makeover, have a spa day, go on a $500 shopping spree (which I’ve joked will get me one shoe or half a nice purse!) and have a professional photo shoot! I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING!!!

Without all of your support, I don’t think I could’ve done this… thank you for everything.

In case you want to read my super-long essay, since I don’t LOVE the edited one as much as the unedited, you can do so here.

Transition to Food

Oh hey… guess I kind of forgot to update here, huh?

Living not blogging is far more fun 🙂

How about an update then?

207.3

I’m officially down 77.9 pounds which is more than my adorable golden retriever weighs!

image

More importantly, I received my bloodwork numbers back from my work health screening. A work health screening was what got me started on this whole thing to begin with, so I was very interested to see what the new numbers would be.

health numbers-page-0

I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped and I let out a little cheer when I read those results!! I had a few other numbers that were higher (LDL) and some that were a little “off” thanks to my recent surgery. Otherwise though, EVERYTHING was in the “healthy” range for the first time since middle school!

Food-wise, I’ve entered the phase of things that I’ve been scared of since the beginning: all REAL FOOD, all the time. A meeting with the dietitian and a food-centered class and I felt confident enough to start with all food all day. Something my dietitian said really stuck with me: “make your choices as mindless as your Optifast choices were.” So I took a trip to the grocery store.

Breakfast: protein shake made with almond milk, coffee, and whey protein

Snack: two light string cheeses

Lunch: greek light yogurt and 1 serving of raw almonds (25 of them)

Snack: either cottage cheese with sugar-free jam OR a bar OR hummus and peppers (it depends on my schedule)

Dinner: This week, crock-pot chicken barbacoa on a giant salad with cucumber, avocado, tomato, cheese, and light sour cream

Snack: sugar-free fat-free pudding made with 1% milk

Next week will likely be the same or similar. So far, it’s gone well! I am noticing that I’m a bit hungrier, so I may need to make my lunch or snack a little bigger. It’s all a learning process!

As usual, I put together a few progress pictures to keep myself motivated:

Two visits to the Botanic Gardens, a few months and 70 pounds lighter!

Two visits to the Botanic Gardens, a few months and 70 pounds lighter!

At the Botanic Gardens

At the Botanic Gardens

Progress: -77 pounds

Progress: -77 pounds

Progress: -73 pounds

Progress: -73 pounds

OH! And I entered the official Optifast “New You” contest too! Maybe I’ll post my whole essay one day… but here’s my official before and after pictures that I submitted:

Before - Summer 2013, 285 pounds

Before – Summer 2013, 285 pounds

Now - April 2014 - 207 pounds

Now – April 2014 – 207 pounds

And with that, I’m signing off! I’ll check in again soon!

Recovery & Milestones

Ever since I lost my gallbladder, things have been a little bit different around here.

I spent the first week home from the hospital doing a lot of nothing, eating bits and pieces of high-protein foods, and trying to heal. Week two of recovery was spent at work. I noticed that I hit an energy wall at about 1:00 p.m. every day. Apparently, this can be a side effect of having anesthesia (a first for me) and recovering from surgery (another first). Who knew?! I’ve noticed, though, that I haven’t had ONE headache since the surgery, which makes me think that things have been funky for a while… I’d had near daily headaches for months.

The hardest thing has been not being as active as I had been. I never thought those words would ever be a sentiment I truly felt, but seriously, I feel so lazy. I’m still sore on the inside after I eat, and I’m not supposed to exert myself for another 2 weeks, and I can’t lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk for another 4 weeks. Apparently post-surgical hernias aren’t too pleasant…

In weight loss news, I lost 5.8 pounds in the week before and after surgery, and gained one back in the week after. It was hard to not let the gain get to me, but I was reminded time and time again that my body had been through a trauma, and the week before I’d had days where I’d eaten next to nothing. So, my grand total of weight lost so far is…

drumroll please…

74.1 pounds!!!!! I did hit 75 pounds there for a week, and hopefully I’ll be back there this week.

1454633_10100237175705095_1586828214_n.jpg

I’m a lower weight now than I’ve been since 2003. I feel better than I have in years, even with the surgical recovery.

When I hit my 70 pound mark, I knew I needed to do something for myself that I’d wanted for a while. Originally, I’d said I’d get a tattoo at 50 pounds, but since that happened a) quickly and b) in the dead of winter, I opted to hold off until 70.

697fa4c2b6c811e39df312c88b6315b6_8.jpg

I’m in love with it, and am so pleased with how it turned out. I went to Metamorph Tattoo Studio in Chicago, in the Wicker Park neighborhood, and would recommend Zac to anyone who needs ink done. He was awesome!

In other news, the sun finally showed its face here after months of clouds… so I put on my prescription sunglasses. I noticed how differently they fit my face than before, and in shameless selfie comparison tradition:

10150642_10100240261201735_765557421_n.jpg

I’m hoping to heal quickly and get back to activity soon, and I’m continuing with transition to food, and eating anywhere from one to three meals/snacks a day. I’m supplementing with Optifast products, and noticing the change in my feelings about food. Sure, it’s great to have a great meal… but I don’t need to stuff myself to the point of pain. One big sushi roll with no rice, and I’m good to go. And now I want sushi. But in all seriousness, I’m still in shock as to how different I feel about eating. I’m not going to eat things that don’t taste good, but I’m also not eating ALL THE THINGS!

201404061135.jpg

I eat some of the things. In small quantities. And only when I’m hungry. This is an important part of this whole resetting thing. Food is fuel…delicious fuel, but still fuel.