I was born in a small Jewish family in Saratov, Russia. Since I am not expecting many of my readers to be familiar with Russian geography (unless you have a deep interest in the former USSR), Saratov is one of the large cities on Volga river, south-east of Moscow.
I was the first grandchild to be born in my family. With both my parents being only children, you can imagine I was the center of everyone’s world. My family, as any other European household, conducted most of our meaningful conversations and life-changing decisions in the kitchen. Our lives were constantly revolving over food. Food did not only carry heavy presence in our everyday business but was always an endless source of tension, arguments and guilt trips. “How could you forget to pick up milk?” “Look at those tomatoes, they are completely crushed!” “I slaved for hours over the stove and now you don’t want to eat it”.
My mother was also of a sort to never throw food out and to make me clean my plate at every meal. I would sit for hours staring at the plate on which she would cut up everything into bite-sized pieces and line them all up like they are waiting at an airport security checkpoint.
Despite all the over-feeding, I was not a fat kid growing up. I was average size until about 12. It must have been all the running around and playing outside that we did as kids, unlike using Avatars and LCD displays to live out childhood fantasies. The problem started when I hit puberty, and while my diet stayed the same, my body was reacting differently by uncontrollably expanding out. It’s like I developed a food allergy (to my grandma’s cooking) overnight and now was walking in a constant semi-swollen state. While the rest of my friends were still flat as ironing boards and skinny as twigs, I was becoming rounder like the bread rising in the oven, but nothing could prepare me for what was next when we moved to Canada. Yes, I’ve become pudgier due to certain hormonal changes in my body, but when I added all the forbidden and previously untried North American delights like Twinkies, Pizza Pockets, Fruit Loops, donuts, burgers and Oreos, my body ballooned. I have a fairly petite frame (I am 5’4 and size 4 now) so I got away not looking too big, but when I went for my annual doctor visit I was tipping the scale close to 150 and on the way to the obese threshold for my BMI. Yeek! My mom was so busy focused on building a new life for herself and her kid, she did not know how to help my situation. One of my new Canadian friends recommended that I incorporate sports into my daily routine by joining a volleyball or badminton team at our school. Unfortunately, I was not born with an athletic gene. In Russia, you were either fully committed to sports and grow to be a professional athlete by attending daily practices with a certified trainer, which is not the future my family envisioned for me, or you just don’t do sports at all. There was no concept of high school teams or Friday night football games in Russia.
I figured things were obviously different in Canada, and to better assimilate I took my friend’s advice and tried out for every single team my school offered. Sadly, I did not make a single one. After my 3rd track and field tryout, the coach felt so bad that he offered me a job of a team’s manager. I would come to all the practices and take attendance, and be his right hand at the meets to ensure all the students were doing fine. I accepted his offer. This was the closest I came to being a high school athlete.
I continued to struggle with my weight all through high school feeling isolated and depressed, but I put all those negative feelings into my studies and got accepted to one of the best university/programs in Canada. Let’s fast forward a couple of years. My college boyfriend had just broken up with me, and I found myself anxiously trying to fill up the gaps in my life and schedule. As an intern at a software company, I was eligible for a discounted membership in a nearby gym, so I decided to try it out – better that after work than staying in my dorm with chocolate and Celine Dion. Something awakened inside of me when I attended my first step class. It was very hard at first to follow the instructor through the routines even without a step, but I kept coming back and picking up moves one by one and soon enough I was at the front of the class with all other “advanced students”. I lost 30lbs in 4 months. I was so hooked on the adrenaline rush and the release of all those suppressed emotions that I would spend every spare moment at that gym. I also researched and tried out various diets and lost another 10lbs in the process: all fruit and veggie diet, cabbage soup, Atkins, low fat/low calorie diet– I don’t think there was a diet left that I did not try. My body got toned and skinny, and I was no longer the bigger girl my roommates could not borrow clothes from. I was at 108lbs and size 0 was getting too big. Needless to say that I did not stay at that weight for long since I did not lose it in a sustainable manner, nor did I acquire any healthy nutritional life habits, so most of the pounds came back on. When I moved to Seattle a few years later I found myself at 145lbs once again (I am sure quitting smoking right before my cross continental move did not help) but that’s when I met my husband to be so my weight no longer bothered me.
(Good choice on the dress, it disguises my spare “tire” that’s right below the belt)
A few years ago, I was able to lose 20lbs after joining Weight Watchers (the old program not points plus) with a couple of folks from work.
My Weight Watchers success was purely dependent on the number on the scale so it was easier for me to get to my weight goal by simply restricting my calories. Exercise would cause unpredictable weight fluctuations, so I omitted it completely while on the program. I got lighter, but not stronger or more toned. I finally added exercise back in a couple of years ago trying to get in shape before our beach wedding. Like any old addict, the exercise rush came right back to me and it was not long until I was working out 6-7 days a week. This time I was focused on inches and body fat % so even though I only lost 7lbs, I dropped to 16% body fat.
(The first picture was taken prior to my Weight Watchers progress, but Define Fitness gets the credit for the sleek bod on the right)
My weight still fluctuates a bit but I’m much more aware how certain foods affect my body and what I need to do to stay healthy and fit. I also learned to think of my weight as a range rather than a number as it’s normal for your body to gain/lose a couple of pounds during the day. Today my range is 125-130, and my goal is 120-125 (what I was on my wedding day). My biggest struggle these days is making sure I actually follow what I know is good for me. That’s the sole purpose of this blog – track my nutritional and exercise journey with all its ups and down, share my lessons in hopes of preventing the same mistakes, and build accountability through you, my dearest readers. I am also secretly hoping for a domino effect where my stories help create positive changes in your life and you do the same for others and so one day we live in a healthy and happy world.