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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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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:

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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!

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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…

Summer Vacation: Photo Dump

Back in the food blogging days, every once in a while, I would dump a bunch of photos onto the blog for fun. I’ve got a bunch since, to be honest, summer vacation has not been terribly exciting! I’ve done lots of long walks, lots of time outside, time with friends and family, and my fair share of lazy days too. So, below are just a bunch of photos that sorta kinda show what I’ve been up to!

Me and my sister, August 2013 to June 2014.

Me and my sister, August 2013 to June 2014.

Down 82 pounds here

Down 82 pounds here

Last day of camp to last day of school: down 84 pounds

Last day of camp to last day of school: down 84 pounds

One year apart, 86 pounds down

One year apart, 86 pounds down

Meeting my nephew Logan!

Meeting my nephew Logan, born 6/29/2014

Me and Adam at a Cubs game

Me and Adam at a Cubs game

Me and my friend Ericka, who was visiting from Oregon

Me and my friend Ericka, who was visiting from Oregon

Dinner at Cafe des Architectes with Mary and Lara

Dinner at Cafe des Architectes with Mary and Lara

Strawberry Selfie

Strawberry Selfie

365 days: camp 2013 to visiting camp 2014

365 days: camp 2013 to visiting camp 2014

4 quarts of fresh-picked strawberries

4 quarts of fresh-picked strawberries

My progress page is updated with new side-by-side photos, and my non-food rewards page is updated as well! I was able to achieve one of my small goals of wearing lululemon workout clothes, so my “Onederland” reward to myself was a cute workout outfit!

That’s about all over here… more soon!

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

Six Months

Six months ago, Adam and I went to the gun range after my very stressful doctor’s appointment and followed that with a “last meal” at Red Robin. A Banzai burger, regular soda, and french fries laid heavy in my gut when I went to bed that night, anxious about what the next days would bring. One day at a time… that’s what I’d committed to do.

Day 1 was not easy. Believe it or not, Days 2 and three were harder. On those days, I was so out of it (more than I would’ve admitted at the time) that I taught my sixth graders the same lesson twice… and no one said anything. It was 90 degrees outside, I had all sorts of lovely skin issue from the heat/sweat/friction…I won’t get too into it.

By the end of the first month, I was in shock at my own success. Yet I was still apprehensive. I still had SO FAR to go. Sure I’d lost 20 pounds, and my clothes were fitting better, but I was still solidly in the same clothes I’d been wearing. Nothing really new, no size changes, and I was still in the state of disbelief in myself. 20 pounds could be an accident. Or water weight. Surely it couldn’t have been what I was doing.

It’s been interesting to look back and read my old posts, for a multitude of reasons. Some days, when I feel like saying “screw it” and eating a giant cheeseburger like I would’ve 6 months ago, I read those first few days and remind myself how horrendous that detox was. I never want to do that again. Some days, when I want to see how far I’ve come, I read the posts from a month in.

At first, I didn’t want to take pictures of myself. I thought it was weird, I thought it was vain…but in reality, they’ve been the biggest help to my own intrinsic motivation. I bit the bullet and started posting progress photos on Instagram and Facebook, and every “like”, comment, and “thumbs up” boosts me up a little bit, especially on days when I really need it.

I’ve had an amazing external support system: Adam has been beyond supportive, my mom and sister have been my biggest cheerleaders, and my friends at work are more motivating than they will ever know. But in the end, it’s in my own head. And I’m really glad I have photos to look at.

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August ——————————————————————————————————October

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November ————————————————————————————— February
Six months in, and I know I have a long way to go. But, instead of it being this incredibly daunting task that I had no idea how to conquer, I’m learning how to make it manageable. One day at a time, one meal at a time, one minute at a time. Choosing to eat my OptiFast bar instead of the brownies in the lounge. Choosing to have four ounces of grilled salmon and roasted veggies instead of a giant burger and fries. I’m the same person that I’ve always been… yet I still feel like I’m completely different.