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.

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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.

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Pan con tomate and mussels on the Mediterranean, saved for posterity in my iPhone

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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.

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The Day I Lost an Organ

Monday, March 17 was an ordinary day.

Ok, that’s not true. It was the first day of a new term, so I had an entirely new batch of students in my class, and I’d had a headache for going on four full days. I figured that it was due to the constantly changing weather, the end of the term, the stress of doing grades and my general malaise thanks to this eternally gray and cold winter.

I’d made this delicious Mexican crock pot pork dish which I’d planned on eating atop giant salads for the course of the week. A bit of relaxation had made my head stop hurting, so I made my salad, and decided to go to bed early to hopefully avoid a fifth day of a headache.

Fast forward to 12:30 a.m.

Have you ever wondered what Iron Man feels like? (I swear I’m going somewhere with this) I’m not talking about his cool gadgets or suit or anything, but that whole “messed up heart so there’s a machine cutting through the front of his chest almost through his back” thing? I woke up feeling like that. There was this intense pain in the very center of my chest right under my sternum straight through to my back. I initially thought it was horrendous heartburn, but then next thing I knew I was sweating, exceedingly pale (according to Adam) and throwing up all over the bathroom (sorry for the visual).

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Adam convinced me that I needed to go to the ER. Pain like that wasn’t something to mess around with. Apparently, I’d picked the “perfect” time to go to the ER, as I was the only one there and seen right away. Within two hours, I’d had pain medication, anti-nausea medication, an ultrasound, CT scan, and more pain medication. They’d determined that I had gallstones which were causing gallbladder attacks, which explained the pain, vomiting, and possibly the general feeling of ick I’d had over the last few weeks.

But, because my blood pressure was super-low (I’m talking 76/54 low) they wanted to admit me for observation before I could be assessed for possible surgery. So up to the 6th floor I went, drugged up for pain and finally slept.

At 8 a.m. I was woken up by my wonderful nurse, who explained that before they would make any decisions about the next steps of my care, I would need to get a HIDA scan performed. There was a catch though: the scan couldn’t be performed until I’d been off of all pain medication for 8 hours. This meant that I had to be pain med-free (as well as food and drink free) until 1 p.m.

I don’t do well when I’m hungry. I’ve eaten every 3 hours like clockwork since I started my OptiFast plan… so seriously? 8 hours without food? It was really good that I wasn’t dealing with too many people. 1 p.m. turned into 2:45, and then the test was an hour (in which I was radioactive!) They determined that it would be in my best interest to have my gallbladder (and its stones) removed. After a major panic and lots of tears, I made the decision that I would rather deal with the surgical recovery than EVER have to deal with the pain and discomfort of another gallbladder attack.

Adam went with me into the surgical prep room, and the anesthesiologist explained what she would be giving me and how anesthesia worked since I’d never had it before. I remember being wheeled into the operating room, then next thing I knew I was waking up in recovery. I asked for Adam and my sister, and they were there in a minute.

So now, I’m sans gallbladder. I have four holes in my belly, one of which is in my belly button and is annoying the crap out of me. I’m sore in my muscles too, as if I’ve done about a million crunches. Apparently they had to shove my muscles around in there when they were removing my gallbladder through my belly button.

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The upside of all this is that I know that I won’t have another gallbladder attack, and it’s in my best interest to continue eating a low-fat, low-carb diet to avoid the side effects of not having a gallbladder.
The downside? I had to cancel my trip to Arizona for spring break. I’ll reschedule I’m sure, but I’m still beyond bummed. The surgeon and general physician both suggested that flying might not be in my best interest. At least I’d thought ahead and bought the travel insurance…
What’s interesting is that when I first signed up for my OptiFast program, I signed paperwork acknowledging that gallbladder problems are a possible side effect of rapid weight loss. I was asked if I regret doing the program and losing the weight so quickly. My answer? Absolutely not. I’m relieved that, if this had to happen, it happened now when I’m in the best physical shape I’ve been in years, and not when I was 70 pounds heavier.
I’m on the mend now, and I feel significantly better than I did even 24 hours ago. I’m lucky I have the most understanding principal on the planet who instructed me to stay home for the week (even though I was worried about it) and that spring break is this coming week, so I’ll be up to working once that’s over.
I’m off to rest and recoup… I’ll check in next week!

171 Days

It’s been 171 days of following my plans.

171 days of high-protein, low-carb, completely different eating (and “eating” in those early days).

171 days of avoiding sweets, pasta, bread, potatoes, and other starchy foods I’d come to call friends over the last few years.

171 days of re-teaching myself how to eat for fuel and necessity rather than solely for pleasure and comfort.

I think it’s fair to say I’ve come a long way.

As of this week, I’m down 68.1 pounds.

According to a fun list I found online, and a few of my own calculations, I’ve lost:

  • 68 guinea pigs
  • a baboon plus an average human brain
  • 3.5 automobile tires
  • 4.25 sperm whale brains
  • An elephant’s penis
  • $1,459,519.20 in gold (at $1339.50 per ounce, today’s cost)
  • 3 bags of our dog’s food
  • 1 of the members of our 6th grade wrestling team
  • 272 sticks of butter

I’ve still got a ways to go…but seeing my progress this far has been SO motivating! I get to eat real food snacks starting this week, so I’m down to three meal replacements! I’m counting down the days until Spring Break, since I’m heading to Phoenix for a few days. Warmth is much-needed after this hell of a winter.

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Me and my bestie, Lizz, at her birthday party last weekend

Week 17: Weigh In

227.2

Down officially 57.9 pounds! WAHOO! I treated myself to some clothes that fit so I could stop looking like a shlub at work… and being me, I made a comparison photo:

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Speaking of, I’ve updated my “Progress” page to show a bunch of “before” and comparison pictures, which really keep me motivated.

The fun thing that’s happening lately is that I can truly shop at “normal” stores. I’m back to a 16 at New York & Co. which is almost where I was at our wedding. In the pictures above, the “before” is a 20/22 from Torrid, and the “now” is a 16 and XL from NY&Co… I’m feeling confident lately! It’s a rather odd feeling.

When hanging out with my sister on Monday, I noticed that people don’t get out of my way the way they used to. I actually got run into quite a few times. It was also quite lovely to walk WITH my sister (who walks at typical Chicago pace, a.k.a. really fast) and not be trailing after her, out of breath. And this was AFTER a run/walk workout!

We had such fun eating beautiful veggies at Eataly,

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It was really the first time I noticed how different I feel doing normal everyday things. And I loved it!

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Week 14: Then and Now

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On my first week of eating real food one meal a day, I managed to lose 4.8 pounds. I’m officially down 52.8 pounds in 14 weeks. I’m still in shock and I weighed in on Thursday.

Winter break has been the relaxing time I’ve so desperately needed, and I’ve spent each dinner time (my chosen meal) slightly indulging the cravings I’ve had since I started this program. When I say slightly, I mean slightly.

I thought I’d go through a few “then and now” comparisons.

Then: sushi dinners out would consist of 5-6 big rolls shared between Adam and me, usually full of tempura, mayo, and other delicious yet horrible for me ingredients.

Now: 3-4 ounces of sashimi and cucumbers or daikon.

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Then: Dinner at Wildfire would be half of a chopped salad with dressing, an 8 or 10-ounce filet crusted in bread crumbs and horseradish and wrapped in bacon, a huge baked sweet potato or creamed spinach, and then dessert.

Now: One small plate of chopped salad with less than a teaspoon of dressing, half of a petite filet (so about 3 ounces) and about a cup of steamed broccoli.

Then: Chinese food out would be an egg roll or crab rangoon, followed by Mongolian beef and white rice, and then probably a trip to the fro-yo place afterward.

Now: Shrimp and broccoli, steamed, with brown sauce on the side.

Then: I’d leave most meals stuffed beyond comfort, and still wanting more. My clothes would be uncomfortably tight, and I’d repeat the same behaviors over and over, wondering why I couldn’t lose weight.

Now: dinner out is remarkably freeing. I’ve spent more time talking and less time eating, and am surprised at the end of each meal as to how little I need to be satisfied. I’m used to the sort of “empty” feeling I’ve had while on OptiFast, and I’m finally familiar with the feeling of being satisfied instead of being full.

I’ve had a few milestones this week besides hitting the 50-pound mark: I purchased a sweater at Ann Taylor Loft, something I haven’t done since 2008. On a whim, I went to the sale at Dick’s Sporting Goods to look for a new winter coat, assuming I’d have to buy something from the men’s section. I ended up with my first non-plus-size women’s coat since 2007 (on sale no less!) I booked a trip to Phoenix for spring break,and I’m looking forward to hiking and being active rather than dreading every bit of physical activity.

I’ve been long-winded enough!

Here’s to a great end of the year, and a happy new year to all!

Week 13, Beginning 14 {Transition}

My very first week on this program, the dietician said something that has really and truly stuck with me.

She said “I know this part sucks. It really sucks. You’re hungry, the OptiFast can get old, but you’ll have success and just know, this part is temporary. It’s not like Weight Watchers where, when you start, that’s it. We have phases to keep you going. You’ll get there.”

I started my first step to “there” this week.

At weigh in:

237.0

I’m down a total of 48.1 pounds, and I WILL hit -50 by this week. Shit’s gettin’ real here. I’m noticeably smaller, I can buy clothes at “normal” stores again, and the other major marker? I began transition.

In my weight management clinic, and many other OptiFast clinics, after a set amount of time, patients begin the transition phase rather than jumping headfirst into “real food”.

I had originally planned to go whole hog, balls out, full fast until the end of week 16. That would’ve brought me to the very beginning of the new year, leaving me about 4 days to plan and shop for my first week with one meal a day, or the first transition phase. But I had a week. You know, one of those everything-goes-wrong, stressed-out-all-the-time, full-moon-with-middle-schoolers, PMS-filled, week-before-winter-break kind of weeks.

I had a full-out temper tantrum while making soup on Monday. I made the decision then and there that, for my sanity and happiness, I needed to talk with the dietician about my transition phase. She was amazing (as always) and emailed me the guidelines. She said that full fast for over 13 weeks is within the regular range, and I can still continue to lose weight with one small meal a day. BOOYAH!

My first meal on transition was a no-brainer: sashimi. I’ve wanted salmon sashimi since week 1.

I spent some time looking up how much a typical piece of sashimi weighs, how to track it, etc…

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First, I ate the miso soup (broth based soup, shocking, I know.) I then had about 15 pods of edamame and only about half of the fish pictured. I was STUFFED. Like, “Oh wow, this is what full feels like” stuffed. But the biggest thing was that I STOPPED. I didn’t “power through” like I would’ve before.

The second transition meal brought a bit of a challenge: we were headed downtown to my sister’s restaurant (she’s an amazing pastry chef) and then to the symphony. I ordered off the “DeLight” menu, and received the most glorious snapper sashimi with pineapple miso, citrus caviar, and shaved radish:

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And, a 4-ounce duck breast, sous vide and grilled with wild mushrooms. I only ate about 3/4. Again, full and satisfied.

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My sister treated us to the full array of her talents, and to be honest, I can’t remember what all of these were. I tasted them all and went back for a second taste of my favorite, then sat back and enjoyed the coffee and the company.

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Then today, I conquered a full-on Jewish food brunch at my mom’s to celebrate my stepdad’s birthday. 2 ounces of smoked sable fish, 1 ounce of smoked salmon, 1 Tbsp. cream cheese, and a bite of turkey sausage, all eaten with cucumber slices. SO GOOD!

The interesting thing is that I’m not any hungrier than usual, and I’m already planning my next few days. They won’t be nearly this exciting, but it’s not nearly as scary as I thought. And, my motivation is simple. I want to be the best me that I can… and that best me is smaller, happier, and smarter than the food-obsessed me of 14 weeks ago.

Week 12

It was brought to my attention that I haven’t posted in a while…

Yeah, it’s been a while, and that’s not exactly an accident. I was having a Negative Nelly (or Polly Poopypants) kind of week. It started with that little gain last week, which was the end of one of the LONGEST weeks I’ve had in a long time. I’m talking 12-13 hours out of the house on a daily basis, which during the school year is next to unheard of.

So then I had a half-pound gain, and got into a kind of destructive self-loop. Why am I doing this again? What the heck am I doing eating these monotonous products and avoiding the delicious things that I love? Tell me again why I’m not just “watching what I eat” and taking it slow the way I’ve done (and failed at) so many times?

So I didn’t post. I probably should’ve, since you all have been so supportive…but I didn’t. And instead, it was nose to the grindstone, walking and eating my freaking products, and then my amazing hair colorist (who’s lost a boatload of weight too) told me to take a full-body photograph and compare it to an old one.

I never do that. I hate looking back at old pictures of more than just my face because it’s honestly kind of depressing…but I did it. I mean, I trust Demi with my hair, I should trust her with this. And so, with a typo (originally I put 2014 instead of 2013) I posted this on instagram:

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I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Later that evening, I found an old pair of jeans in a size 16 and tried them on for the heck of it. Not only did they zip, but they fit well and I wore them to work later in the week. I started this at a very tight size 24. My weigh in proved that this wasn’t for nothing…

238.8

Officially down 45.3 pounds.

I’ve got this.

I’m talking to the doctor/dietician about beginning to transition while on winter break, which means one “real food” meal a day. The fact that I’m so excited about 4 ounces of protein and veggies really tells me a lot about how my attitude towards food has changed.

Oh, and also, here’s a picture of what the wonderful Demi did to my hair, while she was giving me some attitude-changing advice. I went back to my brown roots, and am loving how it looks!

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Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season (even though “my” holiday is over). It’s a rough time of year for me…which I’ll get into this week, I’m sure.