I have a confession to make. Raw milk and cream make me fat.
Now, to be fair, this past spring was an extremely stressful time for me. I was on the job market, flying all over (and beyond) the country for interviews and conferences, plus trying to fit in teaching into my hectic schedule. My weight ballooned, up well past my previous heaviest weight — by about 7 lbs, which for my small body is not insubstantial by any means; that kind of gain = lots and lots of *professional* clothes that don’t fit any more. Not good, considering that I was in dire need of my professional clothes looking like they fit me well while going on job interviews!!
But the raw cream and milk thing finally became clear after spending about five days out in LA, when I put on about 4 of those extra 7 pounds. 4 pounds in 5 days. Yes, I was definitely stressed during those days. But the biggest difference between those five days and most of the rest of my “normal” life at that time was that I really hit the raw milk and cream hard (and oh man was it delicious!), consuming half a gallon of milk and a pint of cream in that time, well more than I had been drinking in my daily life prior to that trip.
I had been focusing on drinking more milk (with added cream) over the previous couple of months particularly before bedtime, instead of water. I always end up drinking something to take supplements with before bedtime, and I am often thirsty around bedtime, so I was often drinking a fair amount of water, which I’d heard can result in blood sugar crashes later in the night, causing one to wake up around 3 – 5 am with a pounding heart and racing mind (definitely what I was having happen, although I now suspect that had a lot more to do with stress than with what I was drinking before bed). I decided to replace this water with milk (or coconut water, when I was out of milk) and see if that helped. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t.
“But wait,” you say, “women are supposed to have lots of fat on their bodies. It’s healthy.” Yes, I agree, women should in general have ample amounts of fat reserves stored on their bodies. That’s why women are more shapely than men — the fat reserves that we have in our hips, thighs, and breasts are biologically crucial for proper hormone functioning. Without ample fat reserves, our bodies can fall into the trap of thinking we are in starvation mode. That is very much not a good thing.
However, most of the weight that I gained was abdominal fat. Yes, I definitely had some accumulation on my top and lower halves, but my belly was out of control. It was kind of a good thing that’s where the fat accumulated, because luckily, both of the suits I bought for job interviews had fairly low rise pants, so they still fit well enough despite the weight gain. My belly just protruded out over the top, so it required some creative thinking about shirts.
But abdominal fat is not a good thing to have. Not at all. It seems that the consensus is pretty clear that abdominal fat is a marker of inflammation and major problems in the body. If my boobs and hips had just been getting bigger, I would have been ok with the weight gain (well, maybe not ok, but I would have been more accepting of it as perhaps something my body needed). But abdominal fat, I am not ok with.
So I have been trying for several months now to lose those extra pounds that I gained, particularly those related to abdominal weight. Here have been some of my strategies:
1. Cut out the raw cream and milk. Drinking my calories is a very dangerous thing for me. I have always been a heavy milk drinker, I love the stuff and can’t get enough of it. And raw milk with full cream tastes even that much better than the skim stuff I used to drink as a kid by the glassful. Drinking my food does not give my body a chance to give me signals about when I’ve had enough, when I’m full. I eat almost just as much food with a glass of milk as I would without. Lately, I’ve found myself craving milk now and then again, so I’ve been drinking a pint every week or two. Part of my problem with milk is that I feel guilty about having it go bad in the fridge, so I try to make sure to drink it before it spoils. So what I’ve done recently is pour the milk, when I buy it, out into pint jars and freeze them. Then when I have a milk craving, I pull one out and let it thaw in the fridge overnight. That gives me two nicely-sized portions of milk, one to satisfy my craving and another as a nice little indulgence. Usually after drinking that pint over a day or two, I’m milk-satisfied for at least a week, usually longer. Now let me qualify this point by saying that I have not cut out dairy aside from this — I usually have some (grass-fed, raw) dairy every day: almost always some butter (gosh I do love butter!), and usually some cottage cheese, sour cream, yogurt, or regular cheese. Because I’m not drinking this but eating instead, it fills me up like food and I don’t seem to have the same problems with consuming too much of it.
2. As a corollary to #1 above, although I’m not a calorie counter, I need to recognize that calories do count for something. I am not explicitly restricting calories, but rather recognizing that I don’t necessarily need to eat everything that I think I need to eat in a given day because they are necessary for optimal nutrition. (i.e. raw milk and cream! or more than a few egg yolks.) It’s ok to recognize that the amount of food I eat in a day matters, almost as much as the quality of it.
3. Listen to when my body truly needs food and when it has had enough. I’ve been much more conscientious about learning to sense when I’m truly hungry (and not just bored or antsy or thinking it’s time to eat, so let’s eat!). This meant that for several weeks early in the summer, I wouldn’t eat lunch until 1:30 or 2:30 or even 3:00 in the afternoon, because that’s when my stomach would tell me it was time for lunch. And I would eat dinner between 4:30 and 5:30 because that would be when it said, time for dinner! And then I wouldn’t be hungry after that. This routine has changed up quite a bit; I’m constantly trying to listen to my body’s cues and give it exactly what it needs and wants (and no more than that!) when it needs and wants it. It’s a tricky balancing act, but it seems to be working. There are periods where I’m amazed at how little I ate in a day while feeling satisfied, yet I don’t lose a pound; and then there are periods of time where I’m starting to feel anxious about how much food my body is prompting me to give it, because it feels like I’m eating A LOT, and then two days later I’ll have dropped another pound despite how much I’ve been eating. I’ve always been a cyclical eater, with a heavy appetite during some parts of my cycle and less of one during others. I’m just remembering now how to honor that.
4. Start out with less. When I’m serving myself dinner, I’ve been making a conscientious effort to dish out about half of what I expect I will eat. My eyes tend to be a lot bigger than my stomach around dinner time, especially because dinner time is usually not until 7 or 8 pm with J’s work/commuting schedule. This is really well past when my body normally would like to have dinner (and I often still have a snack around 4 or 5, although for that set of a few weeks that I mentioned in the last point I did just eat dinner at that time and he would have dinner when he got home), but it’s important to us to have dinner together as a family, and moreover, I don’t like to interrupt my own (at-home) work day with food prep if I can avoid it. (Some days I do, but I’m trying to be better about designating work time as work time, and doing work and not cooking during that time!) So if J gets home at 6:30, then 6:30 is when dinner gets started. And by 7 or 8 at night, I’m feeling REALLY hungry, but in fact my appetite is not actually all that large. If I start off with a plate that is half of what my eyes and belly tell me I’m going to eat, I can always go back for seconds, but I rarely do. If I’d started out with the full amount I thought I’d eat, I would have eaten all of it. But half of that is almost always enough to satisfy my hunger for the rest of the night, if I’ve eaten when I’ve been hungry for the rest of the day before.
5. Eat a very high-protein, high-fat breakfast. But not too much of it. I’ve been having bacon and eggs for breakfast pretty consistently every morning for at least a year now. I have the routine down; I cut up the bacon in a skillet and while it’s frying, I crack open some eggs, usually just one whole egg and the rest yolks, and scramble them in a bowl with salt and pepper, and occasionally a pinch of shredded cheese. Once the bacon is cooked enough, I turn off the heat, add the scrambled eggs and let the residual heat cook them until just barely solid. Then onto a plate, and sprinkled with a teaspoon or so of gelatin powder. This keeps me going until at least noon, usually. Very little carbs, just protein and fat. Since I’ve been attempting to lose this belly fat, I’ve cut myself down from 4 strips of bacon and 3 yolks (plus a full egg) to 3 strips and 2 yolks plus 1 egg (or sometimes 2 eggs plus 1 yolk) every morning. This still keeps me full until noon without feeling tired or lethargic, even though it’s a slightly smaller breakfast. If I’m consistently not making it until noon with this, I go back up to the 4 strips / 4 eggs ratio until I’m back to normal.
6. Step on the scale every morning. I know, some folks reading this are not going to like this, but it’s what keeps me accountable. When I’m away from my scale for a week or more, I forget about listening to my body, about only eating when I’m hungry, about the fact that this abdominal fat isn’t going to go away on its own. I probably should be measuring my belly as well, for a second objective measurement (although that can get tricky, given that bloating has a major effect upon the circumference of my belly at times). But weighing myself every day keeps me honest, and I feel a good sense of accomplishment as the numbers keep falling. Some days they go up, but most of the time they stay the same or fall a half pound or a pound. And then every once in a while they keep falling a half pound or more every day for several days in a row. Those are fun times! (I lost about 4 pounds in a week after we got back from vacation. Granted, I had put on significant weight over the course of that vacation — all the yummy food + the lack of scale. But I didn’t have to starve myself to make that happen — it happened just by listening carefully to my body and making food choice a conscious thing. And this made the weight that I had gained over the vacation not a setback in my overall progress.)
7. Monitor my body temperature. I already had been taking my basal temperature every morning, because I chart my cycles, but I hadn’t been paying that much attention to it in terms of thinking about my metabolism. I started to think about these temp readings more, though, in terms of what they meant my body was doing. If I had unusually low temps (which for me = 97.6 or lower pre-ovulation, 98.4 or lower post-ovulation) for more than a day or two, I knew that meant I needed to pay a little more attention to feeding my body more, to getting better sleep, and to trying to destress a little more effectively. I have developed pretty consistently good basal temps over the past year or so (I suspect in part due to regular acupuncture), so this is just one extra little objective monitoring device to keep me on my toes and listening to what my body is doing. This also ensures that I’m keeping my body out of starvation mode (when the metabolism slows down), that I’m not ever “dieting” but rather always eating to satisfy my needs.
8. Pay attention to blood sugar. I do this just by checking in with my body now and then, especially if I’ve been checked out for a good long while, focusing on intense tasks and compelling projects. I could get wrapped up in writing a syllabus or lesson plans for three hours and totally forget to eat until I got to a stopping point. But when I do disengage from those intensely focused moments, if I feel kind of crappy, it’s usually because my blood sugar is too low. A really quick fix to this, if I’m seriously light-headed and/or intensely crabby, is a spoonful of coconut oil. That gives my body instant fuel really quickly (because coconut oil has lots of lauric acids, which the body does not need to digest before using for energy). Otherwise, if I’m just feeling a bit wonky and hungry, I’ll find something to eat for a meal, making sure there are plenty of proteins and healthy fats in it; generally in these moments I also try to avoid sugars and fruits. I eat plenty of fruit, still, but not when my blood sugar is crashing.
9. Splurge on a regular basis. At least once a week, I don’t worry or think about how much I’m eating for dinner. I just enjoy it, more than I need or sometimes even want. I always pay attention to what it is that I’m eating, that it’s high quality food, and that it’s not going to aggravate one of my sensitivities. Sometimes this means eating a lobster and a bunch of clams, sometimes it means eating half of a (relatively healthily-made) pizza, sometimes it means ice cream on top of a big dinner already! (Recently I have joyfully discovered that I can eat the gelato at a local world-renowned gelateria without negative consequences/unpleasant soy-fed-dairy reactions! Yay!!!) A lot of times the splurge happens when we go out to eat (because if I’m going to eat at an amazing restaurant, I’m not going to hold back!), but sometimes it happens at home as well. I think this is beneficial psychologically, because it reminds me that I’m not forcing myself to eat or not eat, just generally enjoying food and my own bodily existence. I suspect it is also beneficial metabolically, because it gives a boost to the body, a periodic feast, that indicates that yes, we are in a period of feasting not famine. No need to freak out, no need to slow things down, there’s plenty of food to be had.
So far, as of writing this, I’ve made it back down to my previous highest weight, so I’ve lost about seven pounds total, although I was lower than that previous highest weight when last spring started. This has taken several months. I’d really like to get down another five pounds, so that I can fit back into my clothes better. I’m hoping that these techniques will continue to work (and that by writing them down, I can remind myself of them as my life gets more stressful again with teaching and going on the job market again). I’m also confident that now that I seem to have the whole process under control, I can keep a handle on the progress of my weight loss so that I don’t lose too much and my suits that I purchased this past year will hopefully still fit me for the next round of interviews!!
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