About three weeks ago, I walked passed a mirror and made a discovery.
For the past several months, a strange phenomenon had taken place that I was oblivious to for some time: I was gaining weight. This notion was confirmed by my clothing that had begun to become too tight in certain places.
Most Portland residents I have had this conversation with look at me and act as if I’ve gone crazy. A dispatcher on one of the morning runs laughed at exaggerated “fat pockets” around my midsection only to wrap his hands around his waist and proclaim, “These are fat pockets!”
But a conscious decision was made to stop eating certain foods, increase vegetable and fiber intake and exercise for at least 20 minutes every morning. I alternate each day between a morning run and abdomen workouts at home. I try to drink a frozen fruit smoothie with almond milk and eat something small afterward during the day.
It baffled me how much I was out of shape.
There was a time when 10 push-ups wasn’t an issue, when I could run faster and longer and when I had more energy. Waking out of bed wasn’t as difficult and scheduling meals were a duty rather than a chore. Mixing various greens with fruit wasn’t something I found disgusting, but a meal I anticipated. Somehow, I lost sight of that.
Around my last three semesters of college, I began stress eating. I ate candy, pastries and fatty foods while I was trying to stay up to write term papers.
My mood became a factor in my diet.
When I was happy, gummiworms were the treat of choice. The bulk food store in Garden City, Michigan, mistakenly purchased five-pound bags of the candy and sold it for $5. I have a Facebook post from two years ago in which I place the worms in a giant Ziploc bag and called them “heavenly.”
When the stress of school or life’s challenges kicked me around, sloppy food was the choice. I ate fast food sandwiches for quick fixes, while meaty and saucy dishes for internal gratification grew from needed relief into habit. It also wasn’t helpful living in a home with three men and my kind-hearted mom, who made pounds of juicy fried chicken and pancakes for dinner.
Now I’m constantly concerned with what I eat, wondering if I got the right amount of vitamins and nutrients from food instead of supplements. I’ve become wary of Subway sandwiches and wonder if eating too much of them could create a routine, despite them being endorsed by The Biggest Loser. And though I am three weeks in, I have found myself craving the foods I used to hunger after, especially pastries I enjoy making.
It’s easy to be unhealthy. Our bodies crave unhealthy foods because they provide energy, but can change the brain chemistry. In a 2010 study published in Nature Neuroscience, rats were regularly fed fast food — they later became obese and lost the ability to determine when they were hungry even when given electric shocks. Eating poorly becomes an addiction.
Not everyone gains weight the same, but bad habits can manifest themselves into the norm, creating unwanted outcomes. Sometimes stress can create better work performance, sometimes it can lead to complacency.
For me, the short-term goal is to become comfortable and healthy, and long term I want to gain muscle.
Sometimes I walk past the mirror and don’t like how long the process is taking. But one day, I’ll get there.