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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Traveling: Then & Now

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a good portion of my Summer break traveling which, after years of a weekend trip here or there, has been truly amazing.

Last summer, my sister and I went to Key West, Florida for a few days at the very end of the summer. I ended up getting strep on the trip, and apart from that, I was generally sick and tired all the time. We walked around in the heat, and I ended up being 2-3 strides behind my sister the whole time. She told me that she was so worried about me. This was my favorite photo from that trip:

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This year, I spent a week in and around Portland, Oregon with one of my closest college friends. I told her when I booked the trip that I wanted to do “all the outdoorsy stuff I physically couldn’t do last visit”. That last visit was two years ago. This was me and Ericka on that last visit:

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So, Ericka planned all sorts of fun things for when I was in Oregon. We hiked miles upon miles in beautiful places, but there were two moments where I just stopped and appreciated how far I’d come. We were on a trail at Silver Falls State Park and we just kept going and going, up and down hills, taking photo after photo of gorgeous waterfalls. At one point, we took a short little dirt trail to a rather hidden waterfall, and I took off my shoes, waded in the water, and climbed up onto a rock to take a little breather. Considering I was breathless in that photo above after walking up a short flight of stairs, this was quite an accomplishment. We ended up hiking almost 9 miles that day!

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A couple days later, we took a short road trip up to Crater Lake, quite possibly one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever been. We hiked about 3 miles that day, and there was only one point where it was just “too much”. I mean, really, a 45 degree angle for miles at a time is hard for everyone!

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Just this past week, my mom, her best friend, my sister, and I all went to Barcelona, Spain and the Mediterranean coast. We’d spent months planning, and surprised my mom with the trip for her birthday back in May, and it was every bit as amazing as I’d imagined it would be. We walked a minimum of 12,000 steps each day (thank you FitBit!) and I was able to keep up with my sister this time! We even talked about how I wasn’t “scurrying behind her” on this year’s vacation. These are a few favorites from this year’s trip:

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And just so you don’t have to scroll up to see, here’s a comparison of last year to this year:

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Now, let’s talk food a minute. I’m a huge fan of food, obviously. On both my trips, I generally ate what I wanted, but the quantities were significantly different than in the past. In Oregon, keeping low-carb was really easy, as Ericka is gluten-free. We enjoyed amazing meals, I think I may have overeaten once, and I rediscovered my love for peanut butter.

In Spain, I was bound and determined to eat as much authentic food as I could, and yes, this included carbs. I had fruits, bread, desserts, wine at lunch and dinner, and enjoyed thoroughly every last bite. I ate a ton of seafood, sucked the stuff out of shrimp heads, drank Fanta Limón, and don’t regret a thing. The minute I touched down on US soil, it was back to plan: a salad at the airport during our layover, followed by a lettuce wrap for dinner before I went to bed at 8:45 p.m. I can say today that I’m proud of myself for indulging the way I wanted to without overdoing it, and I have no regrets about what I didn’t indulge in.

I do, however, regret that I didn’t bring back any jamón iberico… sigh…

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

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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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Weeks 15 & 16

You know what’s really amazing to me?

I had so many thoughts those first few weeks on Optifast… things were changing quickly, I felt so different, and then I got into a pattern and out of my old habits. Instead of cooking a cheese and carb laden dinner every night, I came home, ate some soup, and that was that.

Relearning how to eat and cook has been an adventure in and of itself. Dinners are simple, even when we go out. I’ve been snapping photos of most of my meals, mostly so I remember what they are when I go to input them in MyFitnessPal. (follow me there! I’m marafaye)

The really odd thing? I’m still in shock as to how little food I need. I’m not talking want. Do I want to sit and eat every tempura-laden sushi roll I can think of? Sure. But I know that I’ll feel like garbage afterward.

Instead, I ordered a cucumber-wrapped spicy roll, with about an ounce of 3 different fishes. It was phenomenal and hit the sushi spot.

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Over the weekend, I roasted a whole chicken and we’ve been eating it over the past few days. On salad:

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and mixed with roasted veggies:

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I’ve rediscovered grated parmesan cheese as a condiment, and find myself craving protein and vegetables more than I ever have. I’m still having shakes and bars during the day, and am loving the sugar free caramel syrup I found at HomeGoods!

My latest progress photos, at 16 weeks in and 54.6 pounds down. I’m wearing a sweater from Anthropologie, something I never thought I’d be able to do again!

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Oh, and we had to take one of our cats to the vet, and he finagled his way out of his carrier on the way home…

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I still kind of can’t get over the difference in myself. I’m down 4-5 dress sizes, 5 pants sizes, and can wear clothes from just about everywhere now. I still have so far to go, but the progress is SO encouraging!!!

In the coming week, I’ll likely be making another pot of my favorite chili. It’s comforting and delicious without being awful for me. A small serving plus some roasted veggies is a beyond great meal, and a little work once (for the chili) pays off all week.

I’ll try to post a bit more… darn things keep getting in the way 🙂

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:

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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.