November 16, 2017

Weight Loss Wednesday: Did Skin Removal Surgery Live Up to My Expectations?

Yesterday (well, Tuesday, since I'm posting this a day late!) marked the six-year anniversary of my lower body lift (excess skin removal after weight loss). If you're not familiar, and want to read more, here is a page with all the info and posts where I documented the process. In June, I posted an update with new photos and all that, so I won't get into that again now (here is the link to that post).

Instead, I thought I would share about the things that changed as well as the things that didn't change after having the surgery. Before going into something this huge, we obviously have expectations. So, did the surgery live up to mine?

Cosmetic Expectations     

I would like to say that the main reason I wanted the surgery was entirely because of the problems that come along with loose skin (rashes, inconveniently having to "tuck" your skin into your clothes, etc.). But honestly, my main motivation for the surgery was to feel better about how my skin looked.

Being overweight my whole life, I had never had a flat stomach; and even after I was in really good shape, I had a large drape of skin covering my tight-under-there-somewhere abdomen. I hated the way it looked; and even though I knew I'd have a scar, and my stretch marks were still going to be visible, I just wanted to get rid of the skin.

After the surgery, my abdomen looks pretty flat (when my weight is at goal). The skin is still slightly loose, but the only way to correct that would have been to have a vertical incision down my midline, and I knew I didn't want that.

The lower body lift doesn't do anything to fix the inner thighs, which is why I have so much loose skin there (it's worse than it looks in the photo). But I knew going into the surgery that my thighs wouldn't change, so I won't even get into that here.

One other thing that hadn't crossed my mind before surgery was that I might look asymmetrical after the surgery. I had a lower body lift, but I didn't have an upper body lift. So, I still have lots of loose skin up there--my arms, of course, but also underneath my armpits and across my back. My upper body looks a little bigger than my lower body now. And the sizes might be a little off, too. I wear size 4 jeans, but typically a size 6 on top.

Overall, though, I am thrilled with the results! I don't feel comfortable enough to bare my belly in public (I still have stretch marks and loose skin in other areas). One of the expectations that I had hoped for was to be able to wear a bikini in public. I actually did do this when we went to Punta Cana. I wasn't even at my goal weight at the time! But I adjusted and I felt proud. But my body hasn't seen a bikini since--maybe I'll do it again one day, when I'm feeling brave. Or in a whole other country where I know no one. (Here is the post about my bikini wearing experience).

Comfort Expectations     

The secondary reason I wanted the surgery was because the excess skin was very uncomfortable. I had to tuck it into my pants, and then it made my pants look weird in front. And running? Ugh. Running with excess skin on my abdomen can only be described like running without a bra--can you imagine running with boobs just flapping everywhere? (Haha! That visual...)

Because of this, I had to wear very tight spandex bottoms--either capris or running tights. The spandex held everything tight against me, so it wouldn't bounce (kind of like a sports bra, only for my abdomen). The spandex wasn't very attractive with my skin crammed in there, so a lot of times, I would wear something else over it. And that was hot in the summer!

You can see in this picture all of the skin in front that I had to squeeze in there, from hip to hip.

Speaking of summer, getting sweaty when loose skin compacted in spandex is basically a rash waiting to happen. I did get rashes both under the "apron" of skin as well as in my belly button. I actually used Destin (baby rash cream!) to make it feel better. The surgery resolved this entire problem. I can wear whatever I'd like to run in, except for shorts--see the "Clothing Expectations" below.

My expectations were high as far as comfort goes. I just wanted to stop getting rashes, stop feeling the skin bounce around when running, and stop having to tuck my skin into my clothes. The only reason I give this 4.5 out of 5 starts is the minor downside to the comfort factor: I still have areas of numbness, particularly on my hips. My abdomen feels fine, back and butt feel good. It's just the outer part of my hips that feel mildly numb. A small trade-off, though, in comparison.

Clothing Expectations     

The lower body lift is just to remove the excess skin from the abdomen and backside. Because I wasn't having the excess skin on my legs removed, my expectations were only for that of my hips, butt, and thighs.

(If you picture the surgeon cutting an incision all the way around your mid-abdomen, and another circumferential incision on your very low abdomen, you would be left with a belt of skin in the middle. The surgeon removes that belt, and then pulls the top skin down and the bottom skin up until they meet together, and that's where the incisions are glued together.)

Side Note: I knew I still wouldn't be able to wear shorts after this surgery. My expectations were solely for the abdomen. Shorts have always been a problem for me. When I was obese, my thighs rubbed together so much that I would chafe very easily. When I lost the weight, I was left with lots of loose skin on my legs, particularly on my upper inner thighs.

Even if the cosmetic part of my loose thigh skin didn't bother me, running (or even walking) in shorts is extremely uncomfortable! My thigh skin bounces all over the place (again, think of running without a bra). So, shorts are not an option for me. I can wear longer shorts (about knee length) or capris, but nothing much shorter than that. (I chose not to have the thigh surgery for a few reasons, but who knows?--possibly in the future)

After my lower body lift surgery, when getting dressed I still have to do a little adjusting in the thigh area. Usually, when jeans fit my thighs, they are too big in the waist. And when they fit my waist, they are too small in the thighs. I've found that when I wear low-rise pants, I am constantly tugging at them to stay up, even though the hips and waist are fine. So, now I prefer mid-rise pants.

These jeans were the first I wanted to wear after surgery. I LOVED them, but it was hard to tuck my skin in there, so I had a big muffin top. Same with the shirt--I couldn't wear it without my loose skin showing. I was thrilled when I could wear these!

(I actually just learned a technique for taking in the waist of jeans just slightly, so I'm going to practice on a few pairs and hopefully that will help solve it as well.)

I mention this so that others are aware that their clothes may fit differently afterward, even if it's not directly related to the part that is operated on (like my thighs). My thighs are now what give me problems picking out pants, especially low-rise jeans.

Still, though, every time I put on a pair of jeans, feel kind of amazed that I don't have to tuck my abdomen in, or have problems with it spilling out. Even when I was 253 pounds, I was always trying to move things around in my clothes to be more comfortable. My jeans button and zip nicely now! I am grateful for the surgery every time I put on a pair of jeans.

A lot of people ask me if my clothing sized changed. Interestingly (or not), my size was the same. I just didn't have to squeeze the loose skin in there ;)

Clothing expectations were met, except for the one thing that I hadn't thought of, which I explained above. I didn't realize the loose skin in my thighs would make it difficult to find jeans that fit well once I got rid of the loose abdomen skin. So, 4 out of 5 stars.

Sexy Time Expectations     

(Mom, skip this part, if you're reading--haha). This aspect of surgery was never even on my radar for expectations. Jerry has always thought I look beautiful and hot and I wasn't concerned about anything in this department. But things changed!

Before surgery, I never ever ever felt sexy in lingerie. I either had fat everywhere or loose skin everywhere, and I resented it. Even though Jerry would have loved for me to wear cute lingerie, I just didn't want to because I felt uncomfortable with all of the abdominal skin.

After surgery, I went out and bought something sexy from Victoria's Secret, and I felt amazing in it! I wasn't self conscious at all. I bought probably 6-8 more outfits over the years, and I love how they can change my mood and make me feel confident and, well, sexy.

The best I ever felt was when I did my boudoir photo shoot. I can't even describe how boosting that was for myself self-confidence! I didn't want my pictures photoshopped to make me looking thinner or remove my stretch marks, or anything like that; so the photographer just posed me in very flattering ways. And I was amazed at how good they turned out! (I wasn't even at my goal weight--I think I weighed 140 on this day). Here is one of my favorites:

Photo by the amazing Catherine Kellie in Bloomfield Hills, MI

If I hadn't had the surgery, I never would have considered getting a boudoir shoot. BUT, having had one, I still highly recommend that most women get a boudoir shoot, no matter their size, shape, age, scars, stretch marks, etc. The photographers use little tricks to pose us in ways that are most flattering for us as individuals. If you look closely, you can see the stretch marks on my abdomen, but the color of the photo keeps them from being very prominent. This pose would not have made me feel nearly as good if I had done this prior to my surgery.

Now I'm straying from the point, like I tend to do!

I think the biggest thing that the surgery helped out as far as a sexual way is that I just feel a million times more confident. I know there are women who rock sexy outfits when they are overweight, but I just didn't have the confidence for that.

And Jerry's "sexy time" rating?     Hahaha! Of course.

And the big question.... would I have had the surgery again if I could go back in time. YES. A thousand times, YES.

So there you have it! I am overall a very, very happy girl with the results of my surgery. I think I had pretty realistic expectations going into it. I had maintained my 100+ pound weight loss for a year, and my surgeon knew I'd have fantastic results.

She said a lot of women go in when they are still overweight, hoping that the surgery will make them thin. It doesn't work that way. Being at a goal/target weight for a year is ideal for the best results. (I have several posts dedicated to discussing the whole lower body lift surgery process, start to finish, so you can check it out if you are thinking about having the surgery.)

Anyone else have the surgery, and want to share how it went? Or other skin removal procedures? Did everything go according to your expectations?

ETA: Oops, I forgot to post my Wednesday Weigh-in!

Still maintaining :)

November 14, 2017

RECIPE: One Pot Italian Sausage Lentils and Rice

I was inspired to make this dish after eating the Mexican Lentils and Rice for several years. (I was going to link to that recipe, and I realized that I never posted it! So I will post that another time.) I had some Italian turkey sausage to use up, so I made this and it was delicious! It's very hearty and filling, super easy to cook, and it doesn't take a ton of ingredients or time. (See notes after recipe)

Click here for a printer-friendly PDF

Italian Sausage Lentils and Rice


2 tsp. olive oil
5 Italian sausage links (hot or sweet), uncooked
3/4 cup white rice
3/4 cup brown lentils
4 cups beef broth
1/2-1 tsp Italian seasoning (to taste)
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
salt and pepper to taste


Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large pot. Remove the casing from the sausage links, and add the sausage to the skillet. Break up the meat as it cooks.

When the meat is browned, add the rice, lentils, broth, and seasoning. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Leave at low heat for 20 minutes (don’t remove the lid!).

Gently stir in the tomatoes, and heat through until broth is absorbed.


I like to use turkey sausage for this (just a taste/texture preference). You can find it with the ground turkey at the grocery store, in packages with five links. I like the hot sausage as opposed to the sweet, but either one works good.

You can make this with brown rice, but I would suggest cooking the rice in beef broth separately and then folding it into the lentils at the end. White rice cooks in the same amount of time as lentils, so it works well for this recipe. The lentils will be mushy if you cook them too long.

Don't stir or open the lid while it's cooking, otherwise the rice will get mushy and gummy.

You can skip the tomatoes, if you like. I used to make it without tomatoes, and then added them on a whim one time, and it was good!

November 13, 2017

Mental Health Monday: A Runner's High!

I spent so much time today writing a post, but once I was done with it, I just wasn't very happy with it. So, I scrapped it for something light-hearted and fitting for today.

As I mentioned last week, I committed myself to running Thursday, Saturday, and Monday. I wanted to try it a few times and see if I was ready to get back into running regularly.

Even though I made the three-run commitment, I wasn't magically in love with running all of a sudden! But I didn't dread the thought of it, either. I had physical therapy this morning, and I almost used that as a reason to put off the run until tomorrow. Besides, after the ab muscle spasms on Saturday, I was really worried about running again. That was miserable.

However, last week I said I was determined to do these three runs, and because I made that commitment, I knew I had to do it. The weather was perfect running weather, too!

So, as soon as I got home from physical therapy, I got dressed to run and quickly created a short playlist on my phone of my very favorite songs to hopefully keep me motivated. Once I was dressed to run, I was actually looking forward to it.

After my pace on Saturday, I honestly didn't care how slow I ran today, as long as those muscle spasms stayed away. I was super nervous about it, and I didn't feel anything until about a third of a mile in. It didn't hit me hard like Saturday, but I started feeling little twinges just under my ribs.

(If you picture 8-pack abs--the rectus abdominis muscles--the pain was at the very top of the 8-pack. I also felt it in the transverse abdominis on the right side only. It's definitely the muscle, and not my internal organs. I'm thinking it has something to do with reconditioning my abs to be flexed for so long, like they are when I run.)

I was just praying that it wouldn't move to the other abdominis muscles. Luckily, I didn't feel it spreading, so as long as it just stayed in those spots, I figured I could handle it. My legs felt a little tired, which had to have been from Saturday's run (my physical therapy is all upper body stuff). But they were tired in a good way.

When my Garmin beeped after the first mile, I looked down and was shocked to see my pace--10:55. On my first run (Thursday), I had to push really hard that last mile in order to get it under 11:00. That mile made me feel like I was running a sub-8:00 pace again--it was hard! And then considering my pace on Saturday was in the high 11:00's, I was just really surprised to see a sub-11 first mile today.

It made me a little excited, though. I never thought I'd be so excited to run a 10:55 mile, but it felt just as good running that mile as I did running a sub-8:00 mile when I was training for my 10K.

After seeing that, I decided to see if I could hold roughly that pace, but without looking at my watch. I just tried to keep the same rhythm with my legs, feet, and breathing. (Speaking of breathing, I'm so glad I was listening to music, because I'm sure my breathing was loud enough to wake the neighborhood, hahaha).

Mile two, my Garmin beeped, and I saw 10:55 again! I happened to maintain not only the same exact pace as the first mile, but also the sub-11 for a second mile. Actually seeing the improvement was enough to give me some motivation for the last mile to be sub-11 as well. I pushed the pace a little, to where it was uncomfortable, but I wasn't completely dying. I even put on a good motivating song to listen to for the last few minutes. The ab muscle pain hadn't gotten any worse, so I was pretty sure I could do it.

As soon as I hit the third mile, I stopped my Garmin and saw that I did that third mile in 10:21. I was thrilled!

I sat on the porch, out of breath and sweaty, and felt amazing. It was the perfect third run--exactly what I needed to keep me wanting more. (But not today. Ha!)

...Which brings me to the topic of a "runner's high". I can remember the exact date of the last time I felt a runner's high; it was on March 22, 2016. I ran "the best 10K workout"--3 x 2 miles at goal race pace with a 5-minute jog in between. My goal race pace was 7:55/mile, and I was super intimidated by this final, very tough workout.

I knew if I could do it, that I would probably hit my goal on race day (April 8). My two-mile split paces were 7:49, 7:51, and 7:48. I was so so so excited that I did it! I was walking on clouds for DAYS after that run. I can't even describe the feeling of a true runner's high--even hitting my goal on race day didn't feel that good. (But the Cajun Tots at McMenamins later more than made up for it)

There is something so gratifying about a tough run. In the beginning, back when I started running in 2010, I got a runner's high almost every time I went running. Each and every run felt challenging, and my pace was constantly improving, so it's no wonder I felt amazing. I loved the feeling of doing something that I had thought was impossible for me.

Feeling tired, used, sweaty, and achy after a run is the best feeling, despite sounding kind of miserable. A runner's high feels amazing--like I can do anything--and I feel like I'm floating on clouds all day afterward.

When I first heard of a "runner's high", I thought it was just a silly way of saying that we feel good after a run. I didn't think it would feel like an actual HIGH. But it does! (I mean, not that I would know anything about that, of course)

Sadly, the longer I was running, the less frequently I would feel a runner's high. I was training to get faster, and once in a great while, I'd nail a really tough run and feel the high; but most of the time, a run was a run and whether it was good or great, I just didn't feel the high from it.

After March 22 last year, I didn't feel it again. I may have gotten excited or felt happy after a run, but not the runner's high. I actually forgot what it felt like.

Until today.

I didn't run my best pace (not even close!) or hit a new distance (again, not even close!). I wasn't "training" for anything. I wasn't even trying to aim for a particular pace.

But when I finished running, and I sat down on the porch with a good song playing in my ears, I felt alive in a way that I haven't felt in a year and a half.

This run was different in some way. I am starting over with my running goals, and it feels really refreshing. I don't feel pressure to run fast, because I know that I'm not going to come anywhere near my best pace; instead, I am just hoping to see improvement over time. If the run feels easier than last time, I think that's huge progress.

So, needless to say, I am definitely excited to keep going. I am not going to make a full commitment to a running schedule or anything, but just like last week, I'm going to commit to three upcoming runs--Thursday, Saturday, and Monday. For now, I'm just sticking with three-milers until it gets easier. My main "goal" is to not have any real goals right now--just pressure-free jogging for fitness, rather than training for races.

And hopefully I'll feel the runner's high often as I improve! :)

November 11, 2017

Family Friday (belated): Numbers

Ha! Just now, I opened a Dove chocolate to eat while I work on my post, and this was the little "fortune" on the wrapper:

I was curious, and immediately looked up the word "loquacious". It made me laugh, because it means, "tending to talk a great deal; excessive talk." That is a classic hypomanic behavior, and it's something that drives me crazy about myself. I will talk and talk about the stupidest things when I'm hypomanic. I definitely don't need to be more loquacious. ;)

Anyway, today is my favorite date of the year: 11/11.

I'm not sure when or why 11 became my favorite number, but I am kind of obsessed with it. And multiples of 11, especially 33. I have read that people with bipolar may fixate on a particular number and believe it has some sort of meaning in situations. I'm sure I think about it way more than the average person does.

Today, for example, I wanted to play Keno--$11 worth. Jerry and I went to the bar near our house at 4:00, right when they opened, because Jerry had to leave for work at 4:30. We filled out our slips, and then the woman working there told us that the bartender wasn't there yet, and she was the one who had to do the Keno slips.

The bartender was supposed to be there at 4:00, but she didn't get there until 4:20-ish. Not nearly enough time to play 11 draws of Keno. We probably could have changed our plan, or I could have stayed alone, or invited a friend to come with me later... but I was just irritated that my plans were interrupted, so I went home without having played a single draw.

It's funny, I was supposed to be in Vegas this weekend for a From Fat to Finish Line event--seemingly a great place to be on 11/11 (in my odd mind, anyway). I had been planning to go for a long time, but changed my mind about a month ago for several reasons. Mainly because I shouldn't drink, I shouldn't gamble, and I wasn't doing the race with everyone.

I would have been really tempted to do those things (well, at least the drinking and gambling!), and I knew it wasn't a good idea for my mental health for me to go right now. But if I had gone, I would have placed a bet on 11 for roulette. I'll never know if I would have won ;)

Earlier today, I went for a run at 11:11. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. But honestly, I didn't think of it until I was getting my shoes on to head outside. I realized the time was 11:09, and I thought it would be fun to start my run at 11:11; so, I rushed to get my shoes on and head out the door.

I stood in the driveway, waiting for my Garmin to find satellites, and when I only had about two seconds left before it turned over to 11:12, I just started the run without the satellites (shocker, I know).

I decided to run 3.33 miles in a lollipop route. Not even a quarter mile in, I got that horrible abdominal muscle spasm that caused me so many problems in late 2015.

To back up: I had a stress fracture for about 10 months that wouldn't heal (because I kept running on it!). I finally decided to quit running for 6 weeks and let it heal properly. And it did!

During that time, I worked on losing weight. When it came time to run again, I was surprised at how good it felt. I was easily running a pace in the 9:00's, even after taking 6 weeks off. But shortly after, I started getting abdominal muscle spasms/cramps that were practically crippling (my ab muscles would get REALLY tight and cause very sharp pains, like someone was stabbing me all over my abs). There were several runs I had to quit because the pain was so bad.

I saw my doctor about it, and even emailed my plastic surgeon to see if it was something that could have been caused from my skin removal. They were both stumped. Eventually, the spasms/cramps stopped, and I hadn't noticed them since... until a few weeks ago when I went for a run. They weren't terrible, but they were there. I started to wonder if they just show up when I start running after a long break.

Today's run was probably the most painful I've ever experienced. I was determined to do it, so I did, but the pain was all I could focus on the whole time. I was trying to figure out different ways of breathing, of "sucking in" or "blowing out" my stomach, breathing to a certain count, etc. Nothing helped. I desperately wanted to walk, but I KNEW once I did, I wouldn't start running again. Besides, the pain stays when I walk; and walk or run, I needed to get home.

When I got home, I collapsed on my porch and sat there for about 10 minutes. I keep hoping that my bird will return again, but so far, no luck.

It was such a relief to stop running! My muscles released the spasm, and I was fine again. So weird. My splits were even slower than my last run, but I kind of expected that with the shuffle I was doing: 11:51, 11:48, 11:41, and 11:33. The 11:33 for the last .33 miles wasn't intentional ;)

I am hoping that the cramps don't happen every time, but even if they do, I know they'll go away sooner or later. I can't remember how long it took last time, but I think it was probably a couple of months. Although, the cramps would only show up during some of the runs; not all of them.

Despite the muscle cramps, I actually felt really good about running today. If it wasn't for the cramps, I would say I actually enjoyed it. I'm going to run again on Monday, because I agreed to give it three runs before deciding if I would start running regularly again, but so far I like being back out there!

November 9, 2017

Thrifty Thursday: Zero Sum Budgeting

I realize I will probably get criticized for this post, because it's about money, and everyone has his or her own thoughts about different ways of budgeting and/or spending. But several people have asked about how my family is budgeting, so I decided to post the numbers. I chose a month (August) that was fairly average.

I am not sharing this information to ask for advice. I am very happy with how we are doing this right now, and we've managed to pay off a significant amount of debt this way. Right now, we still have about 15 months to pay off our final credit card with 0% interest, so we don't have to rush things. I'm guessing it'll be paid off in 3-4 months (maybe 5, with Christmas coming up).

A few things have changed since August, so that's why the budget looks a little off (we paid off the Barclaycard, and our last furnace loan payment was in August as well. So, we used some of that money to add a "family fun" category to the budget (we didn't have this in August).

Each month, I just change the budget column to reflect our CURRENT month's bills/budget. Also, the income is net income, not gross.

Our budgeted income is $4500--if we make that much, then we could theoretically pay $1240 onto the credit debt. However, our "extras" category ends up being much more than we accounted for. It's not due to unnecessary spending habits, but things like items for the house (we had to repair a shower leak and had to buy some stuff from Lowe's), renewing our plates at the Secretary of State, the accidental extra car payment I made (haha! I accidentally paid that twice in August when I set up the auto pay), etc. It's for things that we can't really plan on.

In a perfect budget, the "extras" would be $0; but lots of unplanned for things have come up, so we just stay as careful as we can for that. We don't buy anything extra that isn't necessary.

So, this is our budget, with August as an example (explanation below):

In the first column, I wrote whether the payment is automatic or if I have to pay it manually. I also wrote how each item is paid--American Express card; our secondary checking account (we have two checking accounts); or our savings account. Each account has a different use.

Checking account 1: All of our deposits during the month--we leave this in here until the end of the month. Each month, we start with a balance of $25.

Checking account 2 (the yellow cells): The money used for our entire "bare bones" budget--we start with $3300, and at the end, the amount left should be close to $0.

Savings account 1 (the purple cell): An escrow account for our taxes. I pay $175 into this account on the first of each month, so that we have the money to pay our taxes twice a year.

Savings account 2: A "just in case" account. If we should need extra money for some reason, we have a small cushion of $1000. I realize that it's not the recommended 3-6 months worth of savings, but we will work on that once we pay off this final credit card.

American Express (Delta) (the red cells): I will explain more of this in a minute, but we use this to pay for everything that we can in order to earn the rewards (SkyMiles, in this case). This balance starts at $0 each month, because we pay it off in full with the budgeted money in our secondary checking account.

So, here's how the budget works:

On the first of the month we start with $3300 in our secondary checking account, which is used for our entire "bare bones" budget. I withdraw the money from this account for our allowances and "family fun" (used to do things as a family--the movies, dinner out, etc). I also transfer the $175 to our savings account for escrow (again, it comes from the secondary account). I also pay our bills that have to be paid manually.

Throughout the month, we use the Delta AmEx card for our groceries, gas, medical expenses, extras, and as many bills as we can (some companies don't allow credit card payments, or don't accept AmEx). This total on the AmEx, if all goes according to budget, is $1570. This will be paid from the secondary checking at the end of the month, bringing the credit card balance to $0.

The remaining amount of the $3300 in our secondary checking account is used to pay for the bills that aren't able to be paid with the AmEx. At the end of the month, having used our budget to pay off the AmEx as well as the other bills, we should have close to $0 in this account (I added a small cushion, in case a bill is slightly more than expected).

It may seem unconventional to use a credit card to pay off credit card debt; but because we pay it off every month with our budgeted money, we are able to earn the SkyMiles. Thankfully, I have always had a great credit score (even with our debt, I've never made a late payment in my life), so that has been helpful. We were able to open a 0% interest Barclaycard and transfer our debt to that card with NO fee.

I have to say, I love love love the Delta AmEx! I have literally never paid for one of my trips to Portland (and I've been there five times since 2015). That's a $400+ ticket, and it only costs me $11 (I'm not sure why the $11, but I think it's some sort of tax or something). Jerry's gone to San Diego, New York, and Portland, all of which were paid for with SkyMiles. We also get to check a bag for free, which is nice, considering it's usually $25 each way.

I certainly don't think this method is right for everyone--if the card isn't paid in full each month, it will only rack up more and more debt. For us, as long as we stay within budget, it's working great. We haven't had any problems with this method so far.

(I hate that this will sound sales-pitchy, but if you happen to apply for a Delta AmEx, I would be so grateful if you would use this link. It'll give me 10,000 SkyMiles for the referral, and you can earn 50,000-60,000 miles if you spend $2000 in the first three months. But honest to God, I love my card--I wouldn't recommend it otherwise.)

And if SkyMiles aren't your thing, there are tons of other cards out there with various rewards. Some even do cash rewards. I would just make sure that you can be disciplined enough to pay it in full every month. Otherwise, I would just stick to paying for everything with a debit card or cash.

All of this said, things may not go according to the budget. As you can see for August, our "extras" were a lot more than we budgeted for.

Ideally, we wouldn't have to use anything over the $3300 that we budget for each month. However, when we do, we can use the extra money in our primary checking to pay for it. We start the primary checking with $25; then all of our income is automatically deposited in that account.

Once that account reaches $3300, we know that we have enough for our "bare bones" budget the following month, and anything we earn on top of that is extra money. On the last day of the month, we then use that extra money to pay onto our credit card debt (after paying off any extra stuff that was above our budget).

So, ideally, we would have $1240 extra income on top of our "bare bones" amount budgeted for. In this particular example, we had a lot of extra things to pay for, so we had $986.73 (+ the original $25 that we started with) in the primary checking after everything was paid for.

So, we took $977.50 of that money, and paid it onto our credit debt (I think it was such an odd amount because I wanted to get the credit debt to a nice even dollar amount).

After we pay that to our debt, we start the month all over again. I transfer the $3300 to our secondary checking bare bones budget. The credit card starts at $0 for the month. And there we go!

My favorite part about this budget is that we are one month AHEAD of our bills. All of the money we earn this month gets set aside for next month; that way, we start each month with the amount we need to pay all of our bills. It's so nice not to have to worry about whether we'll have the money.

Like I said, this way of budgeting is not for everyone. It works really well for us, because we have such a varied income from week to week (and even month to month). I just wanted to explain it in detail for those that are curious how the "bare bones" (or zero-sum) budgeting works.  I hope this wasn't too confusing! ;)

Note: Several people have asked me how to START this kind of budget when you don't have the money to be a month ahead. Jerry and I were lucky in that we started our budget after a very large income month, and we just barely had enough to start this budget. But if that's not an option, here is what The Simple Dollar advises (that blog is how I learned about zero sum budgeting--it's a great post):
"Getting a Month Ahead
Since zero-sum budgeting uses last month’s income to pay this month’s bills, you’ll need to get one month ahead on your finances to make this work. Getting one month ahead can be accomplished by saving one month’s expenses in your regular savings account and using those funds for the following month’s budget.
If you already have at least one month’s expenses saved, you are already a step ahead of the rest. Simply use those funds to pay the expenses you’ve outlined during the next month’s budget, and sock this month’s income away into savings for use during the following month."

November 8, 2017

Weight Loss Wednesday: Feeling Fat at Goal Weight

I think I am ready to start running again. But I will write about that in a minute.

Lately, I've been feeling fat. And before you slaughter me, hear me out; I know how ridiculous that sounds, especially for people who would be thrilled to be at the weight or size I'm at now. I used to hate the thin girls who complained about their extra five pounds while I was sitting there with over a hundred.

My attitude changed when I got down to my goal weight, and realized that I had to work just as hard to maintain my weight loss as I did to lose the weight. The girls who complained about five extra pounds? They had to work just as hard as I did to lose weight, if not harder. And it was not up to me to judge their reasons for wanting to drop five pounds.

I've learned that five extra pounds on top of my goal weight makes my clothes tight and uncomfortable, and I avoid wearing certain items of clothing because they aren't flattering anymore. I understand all of that now.

However, I have also learned something new during maintenance over these last several months: It's possible to feel fat even at my goal weight. I am still in a tight goal weight range, and it seems ridiculous that I could feel fat when I should be thrilled I'm maintaining, but I am sure I only feel this way because I'm not running.

I don't regret making that decision one bit--I am very glad that I've taken all of this time off of running. I needed the break, and badly. I was dreading my runs every single day, and I didn't see the point of it anymore. I had met all of my personal running goals, so I just wasn't excited about it. Or any kind of "formal" exercise, for that matter.

This is one of the last runs I remember really enjoying. It was around this time
that my depressive episode started. (This was in May 2016)

The odd thing is, I don't know if it's all in my head or if I actually do look 10-15 pounds heavier than I did last year at this same weight. And honestly, I don't want to do a photo comparison, because it doesn't matter. Whether I feel bigger or I am bigger, the outcome is the same.

I learned that "feeling fat" can happen to anyone of any size, for all sorts of reasons. The reason I have been feeling fat lately is because I stopped running about eight months ago, and I've gotten "softer". I'm wearing the same size jeans, but they don't feel quite like they used to. I feel kind of uncomfortable in this body, and I'd like to feel as confident as I did when I was running--even when I was overweight and running.

There have been several times in the last few weeks that the thought of running again has popped into my head; and over the last week, I've really been thinking about it a lot. And the more I think about it, the more open I am to the idea of starting to run again.

I don't necessarily want to do it for cosmetic reasons. Perhaps I don't look at all bigger than I was last year at this weight--I don't know. But I do like that the negative thoughts I had about my body were so much quieter then. I felt proud of myself each time I reached a running goal, or just at the fact that I was "a runner".

I am aware that there are other exercises I could do--and I've tried--but nothing has ever given me the deep-in-your-gut-thrill that running does. There is something almost magical about it. Before I lost the weight, any thought at all that I may have had of being a runner was that it was literally impossible. I can't stress enough how the thought of being a runner wasn't even a thought at all, because it never occurred to me that it was an option for me.

I forced myself to try exercise videos, bike riding, swimming, and walking for fitness (among several other things), but I never dreamed I'd be able to run. And I think that is the biggest appeal to me--doing something I once thought was impossible.

I stay fairly active in my day-to-day life, but I don't push myself enough to get my heart rate up and drip sweat, or feel a post-run high. I used to love that feeling, until it just didn't feel that way anymore.

The thought of starting over now actually makes me excited. I like the idea of a sub-30 5K being challenging--last year, that was a cakewalk. Now, it is a challenge. I even like the idea of possibly running a half-marathon again someday. (No desire for a marathon--there aren't enough anti-crazy pills in the world for that to interest me!)

Yesterday, I made up my mind to run today, Saturday, and Tuesday. I am not going to think any further ahead than that. I want to see how it goes, how I feel, and if I want to continue. But I am not going to make a decision until I do those three runs.

Today, I actually felt really nervous about running! And I've become such a baby in the cold. I used to love the cold, but running when it's 30 degrees outside makes me not want to go out there. After I get started, I'm okay, but the thought of going outside in the cold turns me off.

I dressed in running clothes right away when I woke up, so I wouldn't change my mind. When I first started running back in 2010, I loved how my running clothes made me look like a ninja (or maybe a burglar). So, this morning, I wore my most ninja-like clothes, and prepared myself for the 30 degree temperature outside.

Totally fake half-smile

I dropped the kids off at school, and drove to the State Park. There is a 5K loop with zero shortcuts back to the car, which has two advantages: 1) I couldn't quit early because there was a lake between myself and the car; and 2) I couldn't slow to a walk, because I'd freeze to death.

Getting out there was the hard part, but once I started running, I felt like I was accomplishing something. I even thought that my pace must be in the low-9:00's, because I was working really hard. Then my first mile split beeped on my watch. I mean, 11:21 is almost the same as 9:00, right?

Second mile split: 11:42. Was there something wrong with my GPS?!

Halfway into my third mile, I saw my pace was around 11:30. I decided to play the game I used to play with myself all the time, and see if I could get my last mile under 11:00 (I used to make up little challenges for myself when a run felt hard for whatever reason--it helped bring out my competitive side). I was already halfway through the third mile, so I'd have to pick up the pace quite a bit; and I already felt like I was working hard.

With that mini-goal in my mind, I was determined to do it.

So, I did. Mile 3 was 10:52.

That heart rate! Such a huge change from my 10K training last year.

Today, when I was totally spent from a 5K, I felt that deep-down excitement about running again. Not on the surface, though--running is hard and my lungs were hurting and my legs felt weak and my nose was running and nobody else was out there, so why should I be? I'm talking about that deep-down determination that says, "I'm going to get better at this. Whatever it takes--one day, this run will be a cakewalk for me."

Today, my 5K time was 35:20. And I worked hard for that. Next time, maybe it'll be a little less! 

The best part is, when I was done running today, I no longer felt fat--I felt strong (and also like I might die). My body size obviously hadn't changed in the 30  35+ minutes I was running those three miles, but it definitely made me feel better mentally. I'm actually looking forward to running again on Saturday.

Let's just hope I can even move tomorrow--I will probably be super sore! ;)
My weigh-in today:

At goal and feeling good about it :)

November 7, 2017

RECIPE: Sweet Potato Casserole

Hands-down, my very favorite dish at Thanksgiving dinner is my mom's sweet potato casserole. I can leave the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing--all of it--but give me the sweet potato casserole, and I am a very happy girl. It is no-doubt terribly unhealthy, but considering I only have it a couple of times a year, I don't even give that a second thought. Even when counting points or calories, I always saved enough for sweet potato casserole. 

Anyway, there are a trillion recipes out there, most certainly with more appealing photos, but this photo was the only one I could find (it's from a past Thanksgiving dinner). Probably because I never think to take photos before inhaling the sweet potato casserole. Anyway, since Thanksgiving is coming up, I thought I'd share the recipe for my very favorite Thanksgiving dish!

Sweet Potato Casserole

For the Potatoes:

3 cups of mashed sweet potatoes (with nothing added to them--just cooked and mashed)
1 cup of sugar
1 stick of butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla

For the Topping:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup of flour
2-1/2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Mix all of the ingredients for the potatoes and spread in a 9x9 casserole dish. Combine the topping ingredients together (cutting in the butter with a fork) until crumbly, and sprinkle evenly over the potatoes. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes.

November 6, 2017

Mental Health Monday: Having "a person" on your side

Before I get into the point of my post, I just wanted to share that I did end up increasing my mood stabilizer dose (and yes, when I talk about changing meds, it's been discussed with my psychiatrist first). Last time I increased the dose, I got acne; so, the acne side effect may happen again, but the hypomania was making me crazy(-ier), and I needed to get back to the stable place that was making me feel "normal".

It's been six days, and already, I am feeling back to stable. The hypomanic phase was minimal this time, and didn't even last very long--a month or so? I'm not sure how I'll feel if the medication causes me to get acne again, but I will talk to my psychiatrist about it if it does. Side effects of medication suck! If it's not one thing, it's another.

Anyway, it's nice to know that this medication is working well for me in keeping me stable!

I came across the most powerful video today regarding mental illness, and I just have to share it. It's been viewed over 60 MILLION times, so maybe all of you have already seen it or heard of it. But I hadn't seen or heard of it until today, and it made me feel all the feelings.

The first time I watched it, I had choking sobs at about four different moments during the poem. Then I watched it again to see if there was anything I missed. Then I made Jerry watch it, and I explained to him why it was such a powerful video to someone (me) who has mental illness.

While I don't have obsessive compulsive disorder, this poem is the perfect explanation of why it is so powerful to those of us with mental illness to have "a person". I hate that phrase: "You're my person" (mainly because it reminds me of Grey's Anatomy!) but I'm not sure how else to explain it. Watching this made me feel so grateful to have a person on my side that I can count on.

Jerry is my person. I do have some really amazing friends--Thomas, when I want someone to tell me the truth with no sugar-coating, or to banter with in a very light-hearted way; Andrea, when I need to tell someone a deep secret without it turning into gossip; Caitlin, when I need to share news with someone, good or bad; Emily, when I need to talk to someone who understands bipolar; Renee, when I want to talk about running, wine, Shameless, or any of the other common interests we have; and several other people for several other reasons (I hope you know who you are).

But Jerry is my person. I am not an easy person to live with, let alone be married to for 14 years and counting.

I was misdiagnosed with major depression early in my life, and accepted that diagnosis until early this year, when I was diagnosed with bipolar. I took antidepressants for 16 years that were working basically as placebos, because they didn't do a damn thing for me. Each time I thought they were working, it was actually just a hypomanic phase that I was in. Depression, hypomania, depression, hypomania... since I was a kid. (*See the comment section for a better/more thorough timeline)

I have a lot of "quirks" due to the bipolar disorder that Jerry has either found endearing or just put up with all these years. He loves me unconditionally (and when you think of the meaning of that word--"unconditionally"--it really is powerful). No matter what I say, how I act, and how annoying some of my quirks are, he still loves me.

I've always been able to tell him if I'm feeling sad or irritated or crazy excited or depressed. He doesn't have the issues with mental illness that I do, but he has learned so much about it because he's helped me through it. And I'll never be able to put into words how much I notice and appreciate it.

Jerry is always the jokester and has a very carefree personality; but when someone around him says something offensive about mental illness, he is right there to tell them the facts in a very "fired-up" way, haha. He stands up for all people with mental illness on my behalf, and I love that about him.

There are a lot of people who have no idea what to do when someone they care about has a mental illness and needs help. So, they do what they can. And to me, it's so reassuring to know that they are trying.

And a lot of the time, I don't think these people realize how much they are appreciated. I don't think that someone's "person" always knows just how helpful they are in the everyday ways that they act around us. Those of us with mental illness appreciate (or at least I do, anyway!) the small gestures that make us feel "normal".

I choose to think about my bipolar with humor (hence all the memes). Jerry knows this, and he jokes about it all the time with me--which makes me happy! I love to laugh about it. I don't like for people to avoid the topic completely, or to feel uncomfortable mentioning it, and I especially don't want people to feel like they have to tiptoe around my feelings, just because I'm labeled with "bipolar". It's totally okay to joke about it with me!

Not all people with mental illness feel this way, of course. Some of us may want to avoid the topic, some may want to treat it very seriously, some may feel uncomfortable or offended by certain comments about it--and all of those are valid feelings to have--but the people closest to us as individuals will know exactly how we like to handle it, and I think that brings us comfort.

I don't know if I've made my point of all of this very clear, so I'll try to sum it up with this: As someone with mental illness, I very much appreciate the people close to me for doing little things they may not even know they are doing--continuing to invite me to go out, even when I've said "no" for the last 15 times they've asked; texting me randomly every so often, which lets me know they are thinking of me, even if it wasn't a conscious effort; validating my feelings, even when I don't feel like they are valid; and all sorts of other things.

I can't speak for anyone but myself, but these gestures make me feel loved and cared about, and that helps me in so many ways. If you are someone's "person", please know that the things you do to try to help probably don't go unnoticed. Maybe it's the right thing to try, maybe it's not, but I (and I think many others) very much appreciate the effort!

November 4, 2017

1 Second Everyday (1SE) Video App Tutorial

As you may know, on January 1st of this year, I started using an app called 1 Second Everyday. Basically, the app is used for selecting and saving just one second of video that you take each day, and the app stitches them all together. It's kind of like a slideshow of photos, only they are short videos instead. (You can see an example on the bottom of yesterday's post--my video for October.)

Watching the videos is so much more fun than watching a photo slideshow! You would be amazed at how many memories just one second of a video can bring. I have been posting mine each month; at the end of the year, though, I'll have a video of the entire year showing just one second of every day.

Since I've posted about it, I've gotten a lot of interest and a lot of questions regarding the app. Firstly, I am not associated with the app developers in any way. I paid $5 for the app at the beginning of the year, and I love it so much that I tell people about it all the time. I also share my videos on social media, and people always ask about it.

When I downloaded the app, there were no instructions. I was very confused how it worked, and it took some playing around with it to get it all figured out. Now, it literally takes me less than 30 seconds or so of each day to select my video clip and save it in the app.

Several other people have told me their frustration with it as well, so I decided to make a tutorial. I don't typically like to do "vlogs" (video blogs), but after taking some screen shots of the app for a written tutorial, I realized it would be a thousand times faster to do it in a video.

So, I apologize that this video is so long (I think it's 14 minutes or so), but I don't think that I drone on and on (who knows, maybe I do!). But I do hope that it will be helpful!

Here is a link to download the app (they have it for iOS and Android!), if you are interested (again, I get no commission or anything for this--although I should! Haha, I've recommended it to so many people.)

November 3, 2017

Family Friday: Halloween Fun

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. Obviously, as a fat kid, I loved the candy (ha!) but even as a teen, I loved passing out candy. My grandma would come over, and my mom would make dinner. And my dad would take my little brother and me trick-or-treating each year until we were teens; then I stayed home to pass out candy.

Once my family moved, the summer before I started 10th grade, we started the tradition of celebrating Mark's birthday. I looked forward to that every year! My dad would pick Mark up from the group home in the afternoon, and then we'd go to my parents' house for dinner and birthday cake. My dad would make a campfire in the driveway, and we would pass out candy to the trick-or-treaters. When my kids were born, they started going trick-or-treating from there, too.

When Mark died in 2014, the first Halloween was hard. My parents weren't sure what to do without our usual tradition, and we didn't go over there for dinner. I bought ice cream and lots of toppings and delivered it to Mark's group home for the residents to have sundaes. I think Mark would have liked that ;) Then we all did our own thing. Jerry took the kids trick-or-treating at his mom's, and I passed out candy at home (to all of the eight trick-or-treaters that we got).

Anyway, we haven't really developed a tradition as far as Halloween goes. But now that Luke is here, we did something fun that I hope we start doing every year--we went to Brian and Becky's house to have a fire in the driveway and pass out candy. They get a ton of trick-or-treaters! Brian bought about 180 full-size candy bars, and they only had about 20 left at the end of the evening.

Luke was SO adorable dressed as a mouse! Becky looked super cute, too, and even Brian wore mouse ears.

Brian made the "mouse trap" to sit over Luke's wagon

Noah was invited to a Halloween party, so he spent the evening with friends. Eli came to Brian and Becky's with us, and my parents met us there as well. We had "walking tacos" for dinner, and my mom made festive guacamole:

Then, I basically hogged Luke the whole evening. He was tired and pretty stone-faced, so I was determined to make him laugh. Or just smile a little bit.

I loved seeing all the kids in their costumes--there were some very creative ones. My favorite was a girl who was dressed as Abraham Lincoln. I didn't even know she was a girl until we said how much we liked the costume and she turned to us as she was leaving and said, "I'm a girl, too!" for the shock factor. Haha!

Jerry took Eli trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. Eli wanted to dress as the killer from "Happy Death Day", a movie we saw on Friday the 13th. It was his first time going to a scary movie, and he was very excited about it. I told him that people probably wouldn't recognize his costume, but he didn't care.

Noah dressed in the Indiana Jones costume I put together at the thrift store. I thought it looked awesome! He went trick-or-treating with his group of friends, and he said all the adults recognized his costume right away.

Earlier in the day, I wanted to get a photo of our family with the jack-o-lanterns we had carved. Jerry and I had a contest who could carve the better pumpkin (the kids judged), and I wanted mine to be unique. So, I made a bipolar pumpkin ;) I won. Obviously.

Jerry's, mine, Eli's, and Noah's

Anyway, I tried getting a family picture with my phone using an elaborate setup of a step stool, a book to prop up the stool at an angle, a broken iPhone tripod, and a couple of other things. We had it all in the street to get the picture, and then a car came down our street (we only have cars pass by about five times a day!). I moved everything, and as the car passed, a girl rolled down the window and asked if we wanted her to get the picture. So much easier!

Here is my 1 Second Everyday video for October. I can't believe I've been doing it for 10 months now! I'm super excited to watch the whole thing at the end of December.

Hope everyone had a fun Halloween!

November 2, 2017

Thrifty Thursday: Getting the Family on Board with a Budget

The idea for this post was suggested to me by Bridgette, a reader of my blog. She asked how I got my family (especially the kids) on board with budgeting to pay down our debt; how we explained to them what it was all about; and how we decided how much allowance we should get.

First of all, the budget is still going really well! October was the worst our least productive month so far in how much we've been able to pay toward our debt, but that's because we incurred a lot of expenses we don't normally have: a down payment on Eli's orthodontics; Jerry's hospital bills from the ER visit; my physical therapy co-pays; and several other things. I wasn't even sure if we'd have any money left over at all!

(I have no photos for this post, so I'm just using what I can find--this is a picture of Eli with braces when he was three years old! He had a cross bite that caused him to choke on his food because he couldn't chew well, and the braces corrected it. He only had them for three months.)

We didn't overspend on anything this month except for those necessary extra expenses we incurred; so while our debt payment wasn't nearly as much as last month, we did manage to pay just over $600 onto the credit card.

So, our new debt balance is $4871.03.

I am pretty amazed that we managed that for October. Prior to our budget, we would have accumulated MORE debt last month. Jerry and I went on vacation, so not only was he not working (and not earning money), we were also spending money in Portland/Seattle.

Because we had each saved up our allowances to spend on vacation, we didn't have to charge things to the credit card. And we were very conscious of how much we spent, rather than "spending now and worrying about it later".

We don't have extra things written into our budget. Instead, we just use the extra money that we earn that we would normally pay toward our credit card debt. (Extra money is anything over $3300 for the month--see below for a quick explanation).

Our "zero sum" budget in a nutshell:

  We start each month with the "bare bones" amount that we will need to cover all expenses for the month (all of our bills, food, gas, regular medical co-pays, and allowances). Our "bare bones" total is $3300--maybe next week I'll break it all down into specifics. So, we start each month with $3300, knowing that we have all we need for the month.

  Each paycheck that we earn during the month gets set aside for the following month--so we aren't spending this month's earnings on this month's bills. We are using last month's earnings to pay for this month's bills. We are always one month ahead.

  Once we earn the $3300 that we'll need for the following month, anything we earn on top of that goes toward the credit card debt. For example, if we were to earn $5000 this month, then we would set aside $3300 for next month; and we would take that extra $1700 and pay it onto our credit card debt.

So, what I was saying before is that when we have extra expenses (like Eli's down payment for orthodontics), we pay for it with the extra money that would normally get paid onto our debt. It just means that we'll have less left over at the end of the month.

I'm actually really happy with that--in the past, months like last month would have accumulated quite a bit more debt (especially considering our vacation). It's kind of unbelievable to me that we actually had money left over!

Finally, I will get on with the topic that Bridgette asked about--how I got the family on board with living on a budget.

This part was actually really easy. I've come up with budget plans before--actually, pretty much every time I've had a hypomanic episode, I get a little crazy with the budget planning. I get very excited and calculate all the numbers, then plan it all out really well. I get the family on board with it, but then I've never followed through. (Again, how did I never recognize these symptoms of bipolar? Haha!)


So, coming up with the plan itself was nothing new to my family (especially Jerry). He is used to seeing me getting crazy-excited about budgeting and paying off our debt; and then just days later, coming home from work to see me starting a project that we don't have the money for. He always laughed and found it endearing. Poor guy.

bipolar meme

There was a rather big difference this time, though (aside from the fact that I am on medication to hopefully prevent me from getting hypomanic): we used a different type of budgeting plan. It's called "zero-sum" budgeting, which is what I explained briefly above. (Next week, if it interests anyone, I will write a very detailed example of one of our months to explain better.)

Anyway, the zero-sum budget was perfect for what we needed. Jerry's paychecks vary greatly from week to week, and I only get paid once a month (my checks can vary quite a bit as well). So, working with a set amount of money for an entire month was just what we needed; and since we didn't know how much we'd earn that month, using the previous month's earnings made perfect sense!

Once I figured out how that would work out, I was super excited--crazy excited, really, but in a non-crazy way (hahaha). Thankfully, my mood was stable and I was thinking with a level head. I explained to Jerry exactly how the budget worked, and he was impressed with how much sense it made.

I had already calculated the numbers--our "bare bones" amount per month, our average income per month, our debt total, and how long it would take us to pay off our debt if we earned X amount of money each month. He couldn't believe how quickly we could be debt free if we stuck to the plan.

I also went a step further and calculated how long it would take to pay off not only our credit card debt, but also our car and house. As of this month, if we stick to our budget, we will have all of it paid off in 35 months. Less than three years!

When I told Jerry, he instantly wanted to pick up as much overtime at work as possible. He was super excited about getting our house paid off. It took no convincing for him to get on board with the budget, because the thought of paying off our credit cards, car, and house while our kids are in high school was mind-blowing to us.

When we told the kids about it, they were actually really excited about the budget, too. We were honest with them about the debt--I want them to know about debt so they can avoid it when they are older!

About the budget, we told them that instead of us paying for things they want, we were going to give them an allowance, and they would have to use their allowances to buy the things they want. We said we would still buy the necessities, but they would not be allowed to ask us for things that they don't need--instead, they would have to save their allowances for it. They loved the idea of having their own money to spend however they want!

There were a few key factors that I think have makes this budget pretty painless for all of us:

1) We kept Netflix and Hulu in the budget. They aren't necessary by any means, but we don't have cable and there are a few shows we like to watch together as a family. If we eliminated all of the fun from our budget, we wouldn't last long. So, it's worth the $18 per month for the two apps.

2) We budget money for "allowance" (cash for each family member to use on anything we want that isn't in our budget). Without this, there is NO way that we would have stuck to our budget this long!

Jerry usually buys his "fancy" beer with his, and I saved almost all of mine for the first few months to use as spending money in Portland. However, since I'm having a hypomanic episode right now--hopefully not for long, because I increased the dose of my meds today--I've spent almost all of the money I had saved up (I mostly bought clothes at Salvation Army). Next time I start to get hypomanic symptoms, I'm going to give Jerry my money to hold on to.)

Jerry and his fancy beer

Anyway, I think the allowance is the most crucial part of sticking to our budget. None of us would be on board without it.

3) I also budgeted a "family fun" amount ($100) to do something as a family each month--going out to eat, to the movies, bowling, getting ice cream, etc. This gives us something to look forward to doing together; and, because it's in the budget, we actually set aside the quality time together each month.

Bridgette also asked how we decided how much to budget for allowance. At first, we planned on a weekly allowance, and we thought $10 per week was good for the kids. However, since everything else was monthly in our budget plan, we switched it over to a monthly allowance as well. Jerry and I each get $100 on the first of the month, and the kids each get $40.

The kids aren't old enough to drive yet, so they aren't going out with friends all the time (which keeps them from needing more money). Noah does go to the mall or movies with friends once in a while, but his allowance is enough to cover that. (Now he is more careful about how he spends his money--he's learned just how expensive the popcorn is at the movies!)

Those amounts seem to work well for us. It has certainly made us think before we buy things! I was so used to just throwing things in the cart or grabbing last-minute stuff I didn't need. Or when the kids were with me at the store, they would ask for things and I didn't give much thought to it before buying it. Now that we are using our own money for the things we want, we give a lot of thought to whether we REALLY want it. It's turned into a nice habit!

November 1, 2017

Weight Loss Wednesday: How I'm (Finally) Maintaining My Goal Weight

A question I've been getting a lot this year has been what I've been doing to 1) Get back down to my goal weight; and 2) Maintain my goal weight for the last five months.

I've been reluctant to write about this, because you all know my history with weight loss/gain/maintenance. Remember that Oprah show where she walked onto stage pulling a wagon that held the amount of fat she'd lost? She was at her thinnest, and she did a big "reveal" that day at her goal weight. And then she gained it all back in the critical public eye.

It's been seven years since reaching my goal weight, and while I haven't gained back all (or even half) of the weight I lost, I still struggle with large weight fluctuations (nearly 30 pounds). So I guess I've been concerned that as soon as I write about what I've been doing to maintain my goal weight, all will be undone and you'll watch me gain it all back. Let's hope that's not the case!

And I honestly don't have anything magical to share, anyway. Nothing I'm going to write is something you haven't read at least a dozen times somewhere. But it's working for me--at least for now--so I might as well write about it. Maybe something will strike a chord and be helpful to someone else.

For a quick refresher timeline:

I was in my deepest depression in late 2016/early 2017, and my weight showed it--I can't remember exactly what my weight got up to, but I think it was around 160. I had spent nearly 10 months in a very long and dark depressive episode. That episode was the worst I've ever had.

This bird became my buddy at a very crucial time in my depression;
I cannot stress enough how perfect the timing was for that bird to find me!

I was trying different antidepressants while I waited for an appointment with a psychiatrist. Nothing was working. In early April, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and started new medication. It made a world of difference for me. I came out of my depression.

I finally had the courage to be myself. I "came out" to my friends and family about the bipolar disorder, and began making decisions that made ME happy--regardless of what anyone else thought.

It was around March that I realized that I was dreading running, so I went on an indefinite hiatus.

I also lost the urge to binge eat. I had been using food to self-medicate; and with a stable mood, I didn't need to do that anymore. I continued the habits I had used to lose the weight during my previous hypomanic episode, but I stopped counting calories.

So, there is a rough timeline of the events that have had an impact on my weight this year. That said, I'll try to explain exactly what I've been doing and the habits I've developed to reach and maintain my goal weight.

Like I said, I have no idea if this will be a "permanent" loss--we all know I've reached goal before only to gain back 30 pounds, so this may just be another of those episodes. But somehow, I feel like this is different. Just the diagnosis of bipolar disorder has helped me to understand my use of food to change my mood, and I've gotten good at recognizing it (and preventing emotional eating).

1) I eat only foods that I love. I don't follow a specific diet plan, or cut back on particular food groups. I literally eat anything at all that sounds good to me at the moment. I want to enjoy my food, and by enjoying everything I'm eating, I don't feel the need to overeat--I am satisfied with much less food overall.

2) I keep my portions minimal. I never really realized just how little food it takes to satisfy me until I started eating this way. I don't measure out my portions, but I try to imagine the size of my stomach and keep my meals to that size. Typically, I think this translates to about one cup of condensed food (the space the food would take up after eating it).

Much smaller (and cheaper!) frozen yogurt than I ever used to get

When doing Weight Watchers or counting calories, I always wanted to get the "most bang for my buck", so to speak--eating a lot of lower-calorie foods so that I could eat as much as I could while staying within my calorie range. Now, I just focus on the size of my meals and I don't worry about the calories at all. Richer foods make me feel full pretty quickly, and they are much more mentally satisfying.

A small portion of sweet and sour chicken with an egg roll

I have tried this sort of portion control ("intuitive eating") many times in the past, but wasn't successful with it. I never seemed to know when to stop eating. This time around, I have learned little ways to be more successful at it, so I'll try and explain those the best that I can:

I learned (through trial and error) approximately how much food it will take to satisfy me (where I feel just barely full--where I know if I eat more, I'm going to be uncomfortable).

I started by eating the recommended serving size of foods, and then adjusting that over a period of a few weeks, based on whether I was hungry shortly after eating, had enough energy, etc.

Now, I can look at my food and pretty accurately guess how much I will need to eat in order to feel satisfied. Like I wrote above, I learned that it takes approximately one cup of condensed food to make me feel just barely full. This amount obviously will vary greatly from person to person, though.

Yesterday, for example, Noah made hamburgers for dinner. They weren't enormous burgers, but I could tell that by looking at the density and size of the burger, there was no way I was going to need to eat all of it--my guess was about 3/4 of it, maybe a few bites more. I ended up eating about 3/4 of it, stopping when my stomach was feeling just barely full.

I don't have a set of "rules" that specify the amount I'm "allowed" to eat; I just listen to the little voice inside of me that says I've had enough. Usually, I know I've had enough when the food just doesn't "excite" me anymore (when I first start eating a cookie, for example, it's SO amazing--but with each bite, it gets a little less amazing. I don't want to waste the calories or stomach space on something that just doesn't taste as great as it did when I was hungry).

Continuing to eat beyond satisfaction is very uncomfortable for me, and I obviously would like to avoid that feeling. I would rather stop eating a little short of full than to feel bloated and stuffed. So I err on the side of caution.

By serving myself what looks like the correct portion for my stomach, and/or making a mental note about how much I think I'll need to feel satisfied, I don't have to constantly think about my level of fullness. I always hated this about trying to eat intuitively. The books all tell you to keep in check with your stomach and ask yourself with each bite whether you're still hungry. That's too much thinking to enjoy my food! Making a mental note and/or serving the correct portion takes the thinking out of it.

I also know (from trial and error/experience) that rich foods satisfy me more quickly than blander foods, so I need to eat less of them. For example, I make the most amazing fettuccine Alfredo, which is loaded with fat from butter, heavy cream, and parmesan cheese. One cup of it does not look like much in a bowl, but usually it only takes about 3/4 of a cup to make me feel comfortably full. Eating more than that feels like it's too rich; and like I said above, eating beyond that point makes the food taste not nearly as good as the first few bites did.

Moving on...

3) I eat only four times per day: breakfast between 6:30 and 8:00 (depending on how my morning goes); lunch between 11:30 and 1:30 (again, depending on my schedule for the day); dinner between 4:00 and 7:00; and a treat/snack between 8:00 and 9:00.

4) People have asked me how I deal with hunger between meals. By eating the correct portion size, I do get hungry before my next meal--but I prefer it that way. My food tastes so much better when I'm hungry! That said, I don't want to be starving an hour after a meal, either. I like to start feeling hungry about an hour before my next meal. I've learned that with the portion sizes I eat, it's pretty much right on target as far as how long I can go before being hungry again.

5) I pretty much stopped drinking alcohol. This was not due to trying to lose weight, but rather due to my bipolar disorder. When reading about bipolar, I recognized some of the symptoms in myself regarding alcohol--when I am hypomanic, I tend to drink more because I typically go out more frequently, socialize more, and use food and alcohol for "fun" reasons (which isn't really a good thing). On the other hand, when I'm in a depressed state, alcohol makes me feel more social, less anxious, and loosened up. It sounds good, but can lead to a big alcohol problem.

Alcohol can trigger hypomania and/or depression, and I certainly don't want that; so, I typically avoid alcohol altogether. The first couple of months were difficult, because I was so used to drinking in social situations. I felt out of place at parties or out with friends, but I got used to it and I don't feel uncomfortable with it anymore. If anything, I miss the idea of having a glass of wine with a girlfriend, or margaritas with Mexican food, or things like that, rather than the actual alcohol itself.

(I'm not sure if giving up drinking has played a role in my weight loss/maintenance directly, but it has certainly helped me to eat less calories. Drinking would loosen me up enough to make me not care so much about eating more snacks, which obviously meant more calories.)

I have had alcohol on a handful of occasions over the last eight months or so, and each time, it has made me feel bloated and uncomfortable. It has also triggered hypomania, which has made me conclude that I would be best just avoiding it altogether. My psychiatrist has said that a little is okay here and there, but that people react differently to it, so I just need to be aware of that. I think avoidance is best for me.

6) I don't force myself to exercise, but I do try to stay active. When I stopped running, I just wanted a break from always "training" for stuff. Exercise had become a chore that I was dreading all the time, so I stopped the formal exercise.

Instead, I look for ways to stay active in everyday life. I do a lot of deep cleaning at home (cleaning and organizing a closet takes a surprising amount of work! And I'm always sore the next day.) I still park as far from the entrance to buildings as possible. I take the stairs, even if it's six flights. I go for walks (easy strolls) with Joey and/or friends. I coach(ed) cross country.

Hiking is one of my favorite things to do when I go to Portland!

Basically, I avoid sitting (other than when I work on my blog or relax with the family in the evenings). This is probably not enough to get in good shape, but it's enough for my mental health right now. I would love to start running again when I'm ready, or find another form of exercise that I really enjoy enough to do regularly.

7) Finally, I have been doing what makes me happy and avoiding things that don't make me happy. By being a happier person in general, I am more satisfied with my food, my body, my weight, and my health. I believe that feeling good mentally plays a big role in my weight--it always has in the past (this could just be due to my bipolar, but Jerry has noticed that when he is happier, the weight comes off more easily as well).

Clearly, I was very excited about this doughnut and cider, haha

So, hopefully this answers the questions I've gotten about how I've lost and maintained my weight this year. Like I said, it's nothing new or mind-blowing; just some common sense and intuition that I never realized I had.

As always, I fully believe that everybody should find habits, food plans, and exercise plans that work for them as individuals; just because something works for me doesn't mean it will work for others. And vice versa. It's taken 35 years for me to learn that my body actually does have intuition when it comes to eating!

I certainly hope that this way of eating will continue to work well for me. I am very happy with my diet (I use the term "diet" to mean "a way of eating"; not "a weight loss plan"). I still don't miss running, although on a few occasions, I have found myself thinking that it might be nice to get back into it and train for a 5K or something. It's very nice not to feel the pressure to do so, however.

In fact, it's been fantastic not to feel pressure about anything right now! I have finally realized and accepted that life is too short to worry about the number on the scale or on the tag of my jeans. If I maintain a reasonable weight, stay moderately active, and enjoy my diet, then I am one happy camper! ;)