Boy it feels good to be carrying less weight around as I am traveling. I may still have to contend with a little over packing of my backpack, but the excess pounds I was lugging around are continuing to melt off and have made daily life so much more enjoyable.
I started my journey to improve my health and lose weight before I left to travel, but I contribute the lifestyle changes traveling has forced upon me and my new perspective on life with helping me to stick to it.
Whether or not I like it, I have forced more physical activity into my life. Without a car, I have to rely on public transport, which means a lot more walking. I also just enjoy this as the best way to often see a city. I now both have time to cook and am inspired by all the new flavors and foods around me. My life with less baggage is amazing, but it hasn’t always been easy.
Combatting my unhealthy patterns
The hardest part for me was acknowledging my unhealthy eating patterns and no longer denying the fact that they, in fact, were BINGING behaviors.
It was emotionally challenging to address my relationship with food. Should I probably have returned to counseling to address this, yeah. Over the years I had seen counselors for various things and indirectly addressed it. I never led on to the extent that I used binge eating as a coping mechanism, although all it took was looking at me to know that every time I felt any emotion I was eating myself into oblivion.
There have definitely been painful moments along the way. Things that people of healthy weights don’t experience (in as much frequency), like worrying if you sit on something it will break or not meeting the entrance requirement for something, not physically fitting in a chair or through some physical barricade, the fear of someone trying to pick you up and realizing just how dense you are (haha), clothing shopping is a whole other circus, and I could name so many more. And yet for so many of us these instances only send us deeper into the shame of emotional binge eating.
I never accepted my behaviors as a form of disordered eating because I did not engage in any compensatory behaviors (purging, etc)…instead I just got fat. But the unhealthy relationship with food was there all along and worsened as my stress peaked in college, medical school and residency. There was a lot of shame involved and it took a lot of self-love and self-awareness to come to the point of confronting the issue staring me in the face.
I started journaling and meditating. These two things helped me to process my emotions, in general, not just regarding food. Then being mindful in the moment of the control my emotions played in driving my desire to binge became easier to recognize and avoid. My personal coach guided me as I was making major shifts in many areas of my life: health, career, loss of identity and confidence. (*Note that if you are dealing with an eating disorder I am not advocating for my approach. You should seek help from a qualified medical provider)
Diet: Going Whole-food plant-based
I never intended to go “vegan” or plant-based, I just kind of fell into it. I originally started by cutting out dairy. I had been cutting back on milk for a while unintentionally, from my days of drinking a gallon of milk a week in college to much less in the non-stocked fridge of my residency abode. I had noticed that I felt better with less dairy and my skin also looked better substituting that milk for water drinking so I decided to cut out all dairy and eggs to see how I fared.
After about a week of that I decided to start incorporating more vegetables and fruits into my diet. For years, I had been eating quick processed foods due to time constraints. I had always loved cooking but the time and energy it took to go to the store, prep and cook usually overwhelmed me. At the time, I was reading “How Not to Die” by Dr. Greger per the recommendation of my physician, which further inspired me to incorporate healthy spices, stick with a more plant-based diet, and I eventually started cutting out the little meat that I was still eating.
Planning and meal prepping helped me a lot to avoid the intense “snack attacks” or drive thru compulsions. Beyond that, it was easier to fill up on healthy nutrient dense foods, which cut back on the desire to eat large amounts of sugar. Once my taste buds had adjusted to less sugar, I could really taste and appreciate food more. Dates or other fruits became desserts to me. I didn’t need a sleeve, or package of Oreos to get that same fix.
I quickly dropped 20 pounds in the first month of making dietary changes, with no exercise incorporated. Within 3 months, I had lost 50 pounds working out two to three times weekly.
Exercise: Learning to like the sweat
I was a child that never liked to sweat. And I did sweat. I always have. Hell, I grew up in Houston. It’s not called the armpit of Texas for nothing. I had always had pretty good baseline strength and flexibility but terrible cardio endurance and deconditioned very quickly.
There were two things that I believe have helped me with exercise along this journey:
1. Breast Reduction: I don’t believe that I have publicly mentioned up to this point that I had a breast reduction in late 2015. I personally think that this has made it easier for me to participate in a wider variety of sports and activities without the back and neck pain that I used to experience. I actually did lose a little bit of weight post-surgically just from recovering from anesthesia etc and not having the same appetite, as well as trying to eat a little healthier for healing.
2. Weight loss progression: I also think that dropping off some of the original weight with dietary changes alone put less strain on my body when I went to work out and made implementing changes less difficult than trying to focus on new dietary AND work out changes at the same time. This actually was not particularly intentional. I just happened to start changing my diet in December and with the holiday season a lot of the workout classes didn’t start back up until January.
In terms of travel, I knew myself and my propensity to come up with excuses to not make it to the gym. So, instead I determined that I would start training and learning my body mechanics and how to use resistance bands and body weighted exercises to work out. Then I would have no excuse not to work out because I could literally work out anywhere in the world. That is exactly what I have done.
Now part of my morning routine includes yoga, exercises with resistance bands and depending on where I am local park “gym” equipment. I also have just embraced the sweat and don’t care now about running up some stairs instead of using the escalator, or walking a few more blocks. In fact, yesterday, I ran up the stairs in the metro as an older man yelled “How energetic!” at me in Spanish as he slowly made his way up.
Maintaining a Routine and Continuing to Lose
I thought that it would be difficult to continue a routine, but once you get to the point that you feel great, you don’t want to go back to the point you were at before. The motivation factor is there. I love having less migraines, clearer skin, feeling stronger, more energy, sleeping better—should I go on…
The only downside, my shitty skin quality and elasticity. I lost weight at a relatively fast clip, which means I’m not sure my skin will rebound like I want it to. But that is the least of my worries. I have never really been concerned about appearances. I scar easily and was not concerned about my previous surgery. Everything in my mind is geared toward health improvement. I still feel more confident now in this body than I ever did as the fat Jessica.
I’m not done yet. I still have weight to lose and firming up to do. To be honest, I have no idea how much I have lost to date. When I left the US 6 months ago I had lost 80 pounds, but there is no way that I have not lost more since then. Or I should say at the very least, I have lost inches. I have had my clothes taken in once, and I am about to have to scrap all of them because they no longer fit. I went from wearing XXL shirts to now a L, 3X pants to now XL. I almost cried when I was in Mexico City and went shopping in Old Navy and picked out all the wrong sizes. I NEVER have to size down…it’s always the other way.
I’m traveling light, I’m traveling free and it feels amazing. I refuse to go back to the stifled girl who was eating all of her feelings before. I know better now, I have more support now. I am no longer in denial of who I am and what I can offer the world and I don’t want any of that to be hindered by my physical capabilities.
When I see you next, you may only see half of me physically, but you’ll finally have the whole me!
All my love,