Your Incredible Shrinking Wren

I'm a slightly smaller wee bird these days.

In January, I challenged myself to get serious about dropping some excess weight. The reasons are righteous (and, let’s face it, unavoidable). First, less weight means less strain on my rheumatoid disease-weakened joints. Losing it will help me move better. Less weight will lower the very real threat of cardiac disease. Maybe I won't need my blood pressure medication after awhile--I’d love to put one less pill in my daily pillbox! Being lighter on my feet will lower my chances of developing Type 2 diabetes, too, and it’ll make it easier for me to exercise, help to get me a better night’s sleep, and because I’ll look nicer, it will boost my self-confidence.

Really, there’s no downside to slimming except that it’s hard and takes guts, time, persistence, and willpower. I have all of those ... well, most of the time!

Now, I have no real idea how much I’ve lost so far (I’ll find out next week when I see my rheumatologist). That’s because I refuse to step on a scale here at home. In my vast experience (spanning roughly 40 years of dieting), using the scale only discourages and demoralizes me. When I try hard to stay on a healthy slimming diet, it just takes the wind out of my sails to step on the scale and see the needle has only moved a tiny bit, or not at all, or even—the worst—moved up instead of down. Even disciplining myself to weigh myself only once a week doesn't help. If anything, for me that's even worse once the inevitable weight-loss plateau (you know, that seemingly interminable stretch of time in every dieter’s journey when the body simply refuses to let go of any more weight) sets in.

Those miserable plateaus have been my downfall over and over again. So this time, I’m only weighing once every two months at the doctor’s office where the scale is accurate and where it will be recorded for posterity.

Like everyone who tries hard to slim down, I want it to happen fast. Like, right now. I’m sacrificing delicious but horribly unhealthy foods like chili-burgers and French fries, quick meals out of boxes and cans, salted caramel ice cream, and cookies of all shapes, sizes, and flavors. And hey, I don’t care if I don’t ever fit into a bikini again. I just want to look decent and feel comfortable in shorts and sleeveless shirts when it gets hot this summer. When I get serious about dropping pounds, I want to see results.

But I also know that when I lose weight fast by not eating much of anything or following some severely restrictive diet, the pounds I drop always come back just as fast—plus a few more. They start sticking to my belly, thighs, and behind again the first day I stop following the diet and start eating “normally.” So slow weight loss—a pound a week, at most—is best for me, even if I get impatient with it. And according to the experts, it’s the best way, too.

Here's why: slow weight loss means that you’re dieting long enough to get used to eating in a healthy way. It’s long enough to break the sugar addiction caused by all those carbohydrates that make up most of the average American’s diet. Slow loss means you slowly learn to cook fresh food, simply, and develop a taste for it. You break old, unhealthy eating habits and form new, healthy ones. It’s worth the wait.

So how do I know I’ve lost weight without stepping on a scale? Because when I look into the mirror, I can see my cheekbones. They’re not as sculpted as they once were—my face is still chubby—but I haven’t seen them at all for about two years. My double chin is smaller, too. This, gang, is progress! My jeans are a teensy bit looser, too, and my baggy T-shirts are a smidge baggier.

But the real test is my chest. I’m a side-sleeper. Since regaining all my lost weight, gravity and my slowly growing, round belly have forced my bosom up toward my neck when I’m in bed, a situation I find both annoying and humiliating. But last night I noticed that there was more space between my chin and my chest than there’d been in a long time. And when I got dressed this morning, I was able to fasten my bra on the middle hooks without causing myself pain or cutting off my own breath.


I’m telling you all this because one of the biggest problems many of us with rheumatoid disease face is becoming—or being—overweight or obese. Cooking can be a real problem for RD hands. Chopping veggies and lifting hot, heavy pots and pans is painful and sometimes nearly impossible. Fatigue interferes. It’s much easier to buy fast food, frozen meals, or cook quickly and easily with boxed and canned foods. Salty chips, crackers, and sweets are comforting. I know because I’ve been there far more often than I like to admit.

But in the last decade I’ve also gone out of my way to learn how to cook quick, simple, tasty, healthy meals with fresh ingredients. It took some effort, but I’m glad I did. Generally, I follow the Mediterranean diet: fresh fish, chicken, and eggs, whole grain breads and pastas, brown rice (I love basmati—it’s more delicate and less chewy than regular brown rice, and it smells like popcorn as it cooks), olive or canola oil, nuts and legumes, and lots of vegetables, including plenty of leafy greens like spinach. I love yogurt flavored with fresh fruit, and I’ve become a pineapple fiend. (Did you know pineapple has powerful anti-inflammatory properties?) I do eat cheese, but I keep it to a bare minimum. And I’m slowly reducing the number of times I eat meat each week. Maybe one day I’ll be able to forego it completely!

Not yet, though.

I keep frozen, pre-chopped veggies on hand for the times when my hands are too sore and tender to chop them myself. I simplified my spice shelf so I can easily reach and use my favorite flavors, and have come to greatly prefer sea salt over table salt because the flavor is more intense, so I use less. I usually buy a roasted chicken when I shop each week; it can form the base of one meal (plus leftovers) or I can add it to different meals in small portions over several days. When I’m feeling inspired, the carcass makes a rich, flavorful chicken soup stock, too. Fish like salmon and tilapia filets cook quickly and easily on my handy little indoor grill (which I love and use several times a week). Lean pork loin does too. I rarely eat beef, but if I do, I buy lean hamburger and add it to spaghetti sauce.

Eating this way takes a little more planning, sure. I have to remember to get the meat or fish out of the freezer in the morning so it thaws in time to prepare the evening meal. I eat leftovers a lot—and I appreciate them because they require almost no prep. But it’s all good, healthy food, it’s bursting with flavor, and I know exactly what I’m eating.

I like that.

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