January 30, 2018

RECIPE: Loaded Baked Potato Soup

I've been making this soup for years when I don't have a clue what to make for dinner, and everyone is starving. I always have a bag of diced potatoes in the freezer, and we have gotten creative with toppings for this--from the usual things like bacon and chives to things like diced ham, cheddar cheese, and broccoli. This recipe is for the potato soup base, and then you can add what you like to it.

Click here for the printer-friendly PDF

Loaded Baked Potato Soup


2 tsp. olive oil
1 (32 oz) bag frozen diced potatoes
4 cups of chicken broth
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup of milk
8 oz of sour cream
Toppings: shredded cheese, bacon, chives, green onion, etc.


Heat soup pot over medium heat and add oil. Add the onion and cook until onion is soft.

Meanwhile, put the potatoes in a colander and run under hot water to thaw a little.

When onions are soft (not brown) add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer until potatoes are soft. Add the milk and let it heat through on medium heat (don’t boil the milk, to avoid curdling it).

Sometimes I puree the soup with a stick blender at this point, but you don't have to—it just depends on the texture you’d like.

Stir in the sour cream and warm through on medium-low heat (again, don’t boil it).

Ladle into bowls and add your toppings.


After adding milk or sour cream, just make sure you don't boil the soup--boiling it will make it curdle.

You can use a stick blender to make it completely smooth, or just leave it with small chunks of potatoes.

I've used skim milk and fat free sour cream in this, but I much prefer the high fat stuff! Besides, if it's richer, you'll be satisfied with less of it anyway ;)

Wait until the end to salt it, because I find that the broth adds enough salt. And then adding bacon and cheese on top of that will make it even saltier.

January 29, 2018

How Running Helps My Mental Health

As if I haven't said it enough over the last nine months or so, I have bipolar disorder. I'm 36, but I've had it as long as I can remember (I was misdiagnosed with depression as a kid). Through the years, my moods have always been either very "up" (hypomanic) or very "down" (depressed). I didn't even know that there was a such thing as feeling anything other than those two moods.

Sometimes the moods were mild, but sometimes they were pretty severe. I noticed that as I've gotten older, the two extremes have been more and more pronounced. And until this year, when I started the correct medication, I had a very hard time dealing with the shifts, which can last for months at a time.

I've started to notice some parallels with my moods. One of them is my weight--when I'm depressed, my weight goes up; and when I'm hypomanic, my weight goes down. The most extreme was from fall 2015 to spring 2016, where I got down to my lowest weight (121 pounds) during hypomania; and then in the few months after that, I shot up to 160 pounds during a long depressive episode.

Something else that has occurred to me recently is the effect that running has on my moods. This past year has been fantastic in that I'm no longer depressed (I've had a few short, mild episodes, but nothing like before). I took ten months off of running, because I needed the break--and the break was great.

Until it wasn't. I started feeling a little lazy and as my body got softer from not running, my body image started to go south. And my mood wasn't as good as it had been in the beginning of my break. So, I decided to start running again.

With each run, I feel genuinely proud of myself. It doesn't matter what my pace is or what my distance is, I just feel proud for doing it.

My goal is to run a half-marathon in April, and I'm following my own 13-week training plan. I'm two weeks in, and it has made a huge difference in my mood.

I haven't skipped any runs, although it was tempting for the first few days. It's been an adjustment on my routine, that's for sure. And even though I love all of the benefits of running, I don't necessarily love the physical act of running.

However, when I started heart rate training while preparing for my 10K, I really did start to enjoy running more. I learned the importance of the easy run, and I started doing my easy runs REALLY easy. Running at a slow pace is actually very enjoyable! (It made my weight drop very easily, too.)

Once I let go of the mentality that I had to push myself during all of my runs, I found the joy in it. As I'm getting readjusted to running regularly, this is something I'm working on again--slow and easy!

Having run for about 8 years (minus the last year when I took a hiatus), when I go more than two days without running, my mood starts to get worse. Nothing extreme, but I suddenly start lacking the motivation to do anything. I feel lazy and disappointed that I didn't just take 30 minutes to keep my mood elevated for a couple more days. And worse, I dread the next run terribly, even if I had been looking forward to it after a great previous run.

When my eating habits aren't so good, or my weight is up, going for a run always makes me feel like I can turn things around--that it's never too late. I feel like if I'm eating badly, AND I'm skipping runs, I'm just turning back into the 253-pound Katie that didn't eat well or exercise. That thought gives me horrible anxiety.

So, in that sense, running also relieves anxiety. I know that even if I have other things going on that make me feel uneasy and anxious, at least I did something right by going for a run. It makes me feel like I accomplished something, so it's one less thing to feel bad about when I'm beating myself up.

Goal setting is always something that has helped me mentally, too. And running is perfect for setting goals! When I was a beginner, I just wanted to be able to increase my distance. I started at just under a tenth of a mile, and then worked my way up with a goal of being able to run 5K (3.1 miles).

This was my first "sweaty selfie"

Next, I wanted to run a mile under 13 minutes. Then, under 12 minutes. And so on. I increased my distance more and more until I ran a full marathon (26.2 miles). Then I worked on speed, and got faster and faster until I ran my fastest mile at 7:31.

There are so many goals that I could set. And since my brain thrives on goal setting/achieving, running has played a huge part in fulfilling that need. Those goals can change based on where my current physical fitness level is, too.

When I was at my peak shape in 2016 and had finished my goal 10K at 49:03, I could have then chosen a more difficult goal--say, a 47-minute 10K. But I was burnt out, and didn't want to set another lofty goal.

Now, I'm out of shape after having not run in so long, so my goals are tailored to my current level of fitness. My easy pace is 12:00+ per mile to keep my heart rate where it needs to be! I'd like to build up my distance again, no matter how slow, so that I can run a half-marathon.

A good friend of mine had gotten super fast a couple of years ago; and now, she is not in the same tip-top shape as she was at her peak (even elite runners don't stay in peak shape year-round). She has been beating herself up about it every time she goes for a run, and she says she feels like she's a failure.

I used to think like that, too. When I saw my speed getting slower and slower, I was ashamed and embarrassed and I felt like I had failed. At what? Who knows. But I did learn that beating myself up about it didn't make me any faster, nor did it make me feel any better. So, I took a long break from running, and now I'm starting over (almost) from scratch.

And this time, I am not the slightest bit embarrassed of my pace. I'm showing what happens when you go almost a year without running ;)  I'm also showing just how hard it was for me to get in that 10K shape--I worked my ass off for that PR! I deserved it. And I'm super proud of that achievement.

But training like that was tough, and I didn't want to continue to train that hard forever. So, of course I'm not going to be in that kind of shape unless I'm training that way again.

It's interesting--if I went outside right now and magically ran a 49-minute 10K again, I wouldn't feel that great about it--because I didn't earn it. I haven't been training for it. The good feelings come from working hard to achieve a goal. Without the hard work, the achievement doesn't really feel like an achievement.

Overall, I'd say running gives me a sense of accomplishment that feeds my need for purpose. I want to feel like I'm constantly working at something to better myself, and nothing has done that for me quite like running has. The physical effects of running are great in that it keeps me in shape, helps maintain my weight loss, has lots of health benefits, etc.

But I'm starting to see that the mental benefits of running, along with my medication and therapy, are a great combination for treating my bipolar disorder:

Running helps with my depressive episodes because I feel like I got something done, even if it was just a short, easy run. And it gets me outside--or on the treadmill at the very least. It's a huge struggle to force myself to do it, but I have never regretted it.

Running helps with anxiety because I feel like I can turn around habits that may lead me back to obesity. It's also a distraction from the negative feelings that anxiety brings.

Running helps with my hypomania because it releases a lot of my excess energy. Most importantly, it calms my heightened senses that can be very irritating to my body--my senses all go into overdrive when I'm hypomanic, and it is so annoying that it almost makes me wish for depression again. Running makes me calmer, and soothes my nerves, at least temporarily.

Anyone else find mental benefits from exercise?

January 28, 2018

Weekly Wrap Up: Week 2 of Half Marathon Training

Well, I now have two weeks of training under my belt!

This week was much better than the first. Now that I'm getting back in the habit of running, I have this "no excuses" attitude, just like I used to have back in the good ol' running days. I enjoy running just four days a week instead of five or six, because with the exception of Tuesday, I know that I don't have to run the next day.

This week on the schedule:

Tuesday (speed work):
     10 minutes easy
     10 minutes at tempo pace (hard enough where I want to stop, but where I know I could keep going)
     10 minutes easy

Wednesday: 3 miles easy

Friday: 2.5 miles easy

Sunday (long run): 5 miles easy

Tuesday - 10 min easy, 10 minutes tempo, 10 minutes easy

Treadmill run - This was the hardest run (which it should have been, because it's the only speed work I had). I decided to reduce the pace I was doing last week in order to make my easy running truly easy (and more enjoyable). So, my easy pace this week was at 5.0 on the treadmill (a 12:00/mi pace).

I have to say, it was so much nicer! I ran for 10 minutes at that pace and felt great. I wasn't sure what pace to do for my tempo, and I thought maybe 6.0. But when I increased the speed to 6.0, I felt like it might not be enough, so I bumped it up to 6.2.

I was definitely watching the clock for the full 10 minutes, because it was tough and I wanted that segment to be over. Finally, I dropped the speed back down to 5.0, and I desperately wanted to quit the workout at that point. But I continued, relieved that I didn't have to do another interval.

When I was at around 28:30 minutes in, I started to feel really nauseous. Like, "ohmygod, I hope I don't throw up right now" kind of nauseous. I didn't want to quit with just 90 seconds to go, so I struggled through it. The second I turned off the treadmill, I made a beeline to the bathroom and stood over the toilet on the verge of throwing up for probably about four minutes.

I never did throw up, and the nausea passed. Shows how out of shape I am! I've seen people on The Biggest Loser throw up from working out, but that's never happened to me before. Strangely, I felt satisfied after that workout. I felt like I worked hard!

Something to note (basically to myself) about the Garmin vs. treadmill: The timer on the treadmill is off. I believe the speed is correct, but the timer is set to match the distance + speed. My Garmin isn't calibrated to the treadmill, so, my stats are a little wonky. The Garmin showed that my 6.2 mph tempo mile was only a 10:42/mile. There is NO WAY that I was running 10:42. So, I'm not sure what to think. Basically, I just run until I hit my distance on both the Garmin and treadmill.

Wednesday - 3 miles easy

Treadmill run - This time, I set the treadmill at 5.0 mph and didn't touch it the whole time. I was curious what the Garmin would read. A speed of 5.0 mph is a pace of 12:00/mile. My Garmin read 12:02, 12:07, and then 12:13 for my three miles. Pretty close, but you would think that they'd all be the same.

I felt great during this run, though. My heart rate was 148, which is only a couple of beats per minute faster than ideal for an easy run.

This was just a screenshot from a video--I thought it was funnier than a typical selfie ;)

Friday - 2.5 miles easy 5 miles easy

Outdoor run - Jerry was off work, and asked if I wanted to do our three mile run together outside. The weather was really nice, so I said sure. Once we got outside and started running, I said we should just do our long run--it was so nice outside and I thought it would be awesome to get it done on Friday instead of Sunday.

So, we just kept going. We circled all the neighborhoods, which is my usual five-mile route. I didn't even feel tired when we were done! We were both so happy to have gotten our long run done. And we knew Sunday was going to be a busy day, so it would be easier to fit in our 2.5 miler instead of 5 miler on Sunday.

Sunday - 5 miles easy 2.5 miles easy

Outdoor run - Today was the first morning run I've done since I started running again. I've turned into an afternoon/evening runner; and today, it was really hard to get motivated to go out for a run in the morning. But, Jerry was off, and we decided to run outside together again.

It was colder than Friday, but it still felt amazing. I don't know that I'd ever done a 2.5 mile route before, so we just modified a three-miler in the hope that it was about 2.5. We did pretty good--we only had to go past our house for about a tenth of a mile at the end. And I found a penny on the ground just past our house, so it was worth it ;) (I still collect change when I run--between yesterday and today, I found five cents.)

It's so easy for me to speed up unintentionally while I'm talking during a run, and that happened a lot. I kept noticing that my breathing was getting harder, and then I would slow back down. In a couple more weeks, I'm might start utilizing my heart rate monitor alarm, so that I'm reminded to keep my heart rate low.

I can't believe I've done eight runs of my training so far. My five-miler this week was the longest run I've done since February 5th of last year! Each new long run will feel like a fresh new milestone (literally), and I'm excited about that.

I really enjoy running with Jerry, and I hope that we can at least continue to do our long runs together. Preferably outside. Sometimes it will be hard because of his work schedule, but we may be able to switch up days here and there to make it work. Training with a partner is so much more enjoyable!

I have a cute story about Eli. Eli is THE most compassionate, sweet, caring kid I've ever met. He's an anomaly, and I'm not just saying that because he's my kid.

My birthday was on Thursday, and when I woke up, Eli gave me this picture that he'd made for me. Sweet! But what made it even sweeter was the story behind it.

"Dear Mama: I hope you have a great birthday and I wanted you to know how much I love you and how much I appreciate the things you do for us!"

Whenever I tuck the boys into bed, I ask if they want their doors open or closed. Noah always says closed, Eli always says open. But on Wednesday, he said he wanted it closed. I thought it was odd, but I closed it. Then I went to my room for a while, probably 45 minutes or so. Then I went back to the boys rooms to turn off Eli's laser light thing (he likes to fall asleep with it on) and to open their doors.

So, I walked into Eli's room, turned off his light, then went back to my room and got ready for bed.

After Eli gave me the picture, he told me the story. He waited until I tucked him in and closed his door, and then he got up and turned on his desk light. He worked on making this picture for me for a long time. Then he heard me walking toward his bedroom, so he hurriedly shut off his light and dove into bed. When I walked in there, I had no idea!! Usually, I'm in tune with these things ;)

After I left his room, he snuck back out of bed and finished his drawing.

Later, I found a pile of about 15 papers where he'd drawn the heart part, but discarded it because it wasn't the way he wanted it. So he finally drew one that he liked. *sigh* He is so sweet.

Look who is getting SO so big!! I went to visit him today, because it had been a few weeks since I saw him last. Love this little man.

January 26, 2018

Flashback Friday: Old Journal Entry (May 4, 2001)

I started "blogging" in 2000, but back then, it wasn't called blogging. It was basically just online journaling. I wrote on a site called Open Diary, which no longer exists (although, I heard they were bringing it back? Not sure.).

Anyway, for years, readers of Runs for Cookies have been asking me to post my old blog/journal entries. I have always declined, because they are embarrassing! I cringe at my writing style, at the drama I imagined, at how important some things seemed back then and later seem so stupid.

However, I thought it might be fun to do a "Flashback Friday", where I post an old journal entry. I have entries from 2000 all the way to 2011 saved on a hard drive. Most are weight loss related, but there is a lot of more personal stuff in there, too. It may or may not be entertaining. If nothing else, you can poke fun at early-20's Katie ;)

Keep in mind that my thoughts and viewpoints on topics have changed quite a bit over the years--so if I wrote something offending, please don't take it personally. These entries are from up to 17 years ago! Also, I am going to keep it written as-is, including any terrible slang or grammatical errors (not editing these will kill me, but I want to stay true to the "flashback").

It's kind of funny... in reading through the posts, I can very clearly see hypomanic and depressive episodes. I had no idea what they were back then, but hindsight is 20/20, right?

I am also going to try to include a photo from that time period, even if it's irrelevant to the post. After the post, I'll write some comments to explain things. My posts were much shorter back then, so these Friday posts will be short, too, relative to what I choose to share that day.

Okay, here goes... this first post is from May 4, 2001...

May 4, 2001 
I was asking Jerry 20 questions about boot camp when he went through basic training for the Army. He was telling me about the running, push-ups, and sit-ups, etc. I told him to try one day of it yesterday with me. 
HAHAHA, thank God none of y'all were here to see me. We decided to run around the block at his house (about a mile). Well, I did about half of it and then I felt like I was going to die. I couldn't breathe. So I walked a little, then I started running again, then walked, then ran the rest of the way. At the most, I probably ran 3/4 of a mile. What a champion. 
But I did outrun Jerry. He stopped after about half of it, and walked the rest of the way. 
Today I woke up and practically FELL out of bed because my hips were so sore. MY GOD, I was not born to be a runner. I was going to try to run today, but I couldn't breathe because I hurt so bad! 
But at least I exercised yesterday. After our run, and a long rest, we went bike riding. I love bike riding! It felt so good. I think I'll use that as one of my "main" exercises this summer instead of running like I'd hoped.


  Jerry spent five months in basic training right out of high school, but was medically discharged when he broke his ankle.

  The "block" at his house was nowhere near a mile. Haha! His parents still live there, and I'm guessing it's probably a half-mile.

  "I was not born to be a runner" Love this! It would be nine more years before I would run my first mile.

  I don't remember loving bike riding. I wish I loved it now. It's definitely my second exercise of choice, though (after running).

  My weight at the time was 178, if you're curious. I had recently lost about 30 pounds.

So, thoughts? Should I continue with the Flashback Fridays?

January 24, 2018

A Timeline of My Weight Loss (and Gain) (and Loss)...

As you all know by now, my weight fluctuates so much that it's nearly impossible to keep track of where I am in the moment. Even I get confused sometimes!

These pics are from 2009 (top left corner) at 253 pounds; and, moving clockwise, each 10 pound increment (finishing in the center at my goal weight of 133):

(I have a ton of weight loss comparison photos on my Photos page)

When people ask me how much weight I lost, or how long it took, or how I lost the weight, it's hard to give a concrete answer. With my weight fluctuating up to 30 pounds, I'm not sure how to answer some of those questions. (Here is a list of my Wednesday Weigh-ins. I try to update it at least once a month.)

I created the following "Weight Timeline" to at least keep track of it: my weight fluctuations and a few simple words of what was going on in my life at that time. My bipolar diagnosis really comes into play here--I have realized that I tend to lose weight when hypomanic, and gain weight when depressed. Now that my mood is more stable, I'm hoping to see those fluctuations go away or at least become minimal.

I'm going to start this timeline from the start of my weight loss in 2009. It would take forever to sort out everything before that! (Information about the app that I used to create these can be found at the bottom of this post)

So, here it is... the ever-lasting, honest, somewhat humiliating timeline of my weight...


I started my weight loss journey at 253 pounds on August 19, 2009. I counted Weight Watchers' Points, doing the program on my own (meaning I didn't go to meetings or weigh in at the centers, or anything like that). I stayed binge-free and lost weight every single week for a full year. (The little dots along the blue lines are the actual weigh-ins. The line follows an average rather than the exact number.)


Continued to lose weight. Struggled a little with binge eating in the fall. In November, I fell and severely broke my jaw. Had my jaws wired shut while they healed, and reached a low of 128.


Trained to run my first half-marathon, gained weight in the process. I gained a LOT of weight on family vacation to Tennessee in April. I made a summer challenge for myself, and got my weight back down. Had a short depressive episode, gaining the weight back. Cut back on calories to get my weight back down, knowing I would have skin removal surgery in November.


Started training to run my first marathon, and definitely ate too much. Another short depressive period, and then became hypomanic in fall. I followed the Weight Watchers Flex Plan diligently and dropped the weight rather quickly, reaching my goal weight on 12/12/12.


The most stable year I've had--about a 10 pound range throughout the year. Did Hanson's Marathon Method to train for the Chicago Marathon, and I could pretty much eat whatever I wanted because I was running so much. I didn't count calories during training, and maintained my weight pretty well. Ran a PR in the Chicago Marathon, and was in fantastic shape. Became depressed after the race.


Struggled with depression and my weight quite a bit. The anxiety I felt due to my blog and social media comments really got to me, and I developed several unhealthy habits to try to deal with it.


Had a stress fracture from late 2014 until fall 2015. In the fall, I started counting calories and I became hypomanic. I started training hard to PR my 10K in April, and I felt unstoppable--on top of the world. Got back down to goal before the end of the year.


Still hypomanic to start the year, I was training hard and counting my calories. I hit my all-time lowest (unofficial) adult weight of 121 in February. I ran a PR in the 5K, and then my goal race 10K. After the 10K, I fell into the most severe depression I've experienced. It got really bad in December 2016/January 2017. I didn't weigh in, and I didn't care about myself enough to try to lose the weight. My memory of the whole year is kind of fuzzy.


Reached a point in my depression of sheer desperation. Was finally able to get in to see a psychiatrist (there was a nine-month waiting list!) who diagnosed me with bipolar. I started on the correct medication, and I felt a million times better. I went on a quest to do what makes me happy, and to discover my happiest life.


It's only January, so there isn't much to say yet. Over the holidays, I fell out of a nice routine (routine is critical to managing my bipolar disorder) and I've been struggling for about six weeks. My weight has gone up by about 10 pounds, and I'm sure it's because I've been eating too much (and out of routine). I just started a challenge with a close friend today, so I am hoping that will help me to get back to the good habits I'd developed last year.

Here is the timeline of my entire journey--from August 19, 2009 to January 24, 2018.

2009 vs 2017

Happy Scale

The graphs in this post were created on the app called Happy Scale. It's only available on iOS right now (the developer says he is very sorry, and hopes to have it available for Android in the future). I wrote a brief review of this app a while ago, and I continue to use it to log my weigh-ins.

Several of the features that were available on the free version back then are now only available on the premium version ($4.99). Russ, the developer of the app, generously gave me some codes to give away on the blog, though! The code is good for the premium version of the Happy Scale app.

To enter a giveaway for one of four codes, please just leave a comment on this post before January 31, 2018 at 9:00 AM ET. I will randomly select four commenters as winners. I will post the winners that evening, and then the winners will have to email me and I'll send you the codes.

Man, the last eight years have been quite the journey... haha!

January 23, 2018

My Formula for a Quick Go-To Meal

Instead of posting a particular recipe today, I thought I'd change it up a little and post a method that I use for my go-to meal when I'm clueless of what to make and I'm starving.

This whole combination started when I made these amazing green beans years ago. I was fairly new to cooking, and it was then that I realized what a magical combination olive oil and garlic is. I learned that by gently sautéing garlic in olive oil, the olive oil picks up the flavor of the garlic and can coat anything you want.

This (while nothing new) opened a world of possibilities to me, hahaha. (several variations below)

So, the first recipe I created was Quinoa with Spinach and Feta Cheese. It was delicious! Then I decided to try swapping out each of the main ingredients, and developed more of a formula than a recipe. But here it is, as well as several combinations that I've made... 

Grains and Garlic Go-To (for 1 Serving):


1 serving of cooked pasta, rice, quinoa, barley, or any other grain you'd like
2 teaspoons of olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced (or sliced paper thin)
1/2 cup vegetables (fresh or frozen, whatever you want)
1 Tablespoon of cheese (usually parmesan works best)
Optional: Meat or other protein
Salt and pepper to taste


Cook the grains according to package directions. 

Prepare the vegetables--if you're using something that cooks very quickly, like spinach, you don't really have to prep it. If you're using broccoli, which takes longer to cook, then you may want to steam it in the microwave or toss it in with your grains while they're cooking. Frozen veggies can be microwaved for a minute to thaw and heat through; or, again, just throw them in the pot with your grains toward the end of cooking. 

If you're using meat, prepare that as well. You can cook it in a small skillet, and then use the skillet to prepare the dish as written below. 

In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook very gently (be careful not to burn the garlic--turn the heat to low if necessary) until garlic is translucent, just a minute or two. Add the vegetables to the skillet, and gently toss them in the oil.

Add the cooked grains, salt and pepper to taste, and stir it all together. Top with cheese, or stir the cheese in until it melts.

Quinoa with Spinach and Feta

Quinoa with spinach and feta cheese

Whole Wheat Penne with Asparagus and Parmesan

Penne with asparagus, garlic, and cheese

Short Grain Brown Rice with Peas and Parmesan

Brown rice with peas and cheese

Rotini with Broccoli (no cheese)

rotini with broccoli in garlic infused oil

Whole Wheat Penne with Broccoli and Parmesan

Penne with broccoli and parmensan

Brown Rice Spaghetti with Brussels Sprouts and Chicken

Brown rice spaghetti with brussels sprouts and chicken

Angel Hair Pasta with Shrimp and Parsley

angel hair pasta with shrimp in a garlic sauce

Penne with Asparagus and Parmesan

Penne with asparagus and parmesan


If you use a little more oil, you can sauté your vegetables (and/or meat) in the pan with the garlic, then just add everything else.

January 22, 2018

"Unwasted" (a book review)

I'm having a hard time thinking of topics for Mental Health Monday every week, so I decided to broaden my initial idea of writing things that are directly related to mental health. Since one of my goals for the new year is to read 10+ minutes per day, and reading is good for my mental health (at least I think it is), I figured I'd write reviews of the books that I read. Bonus if the books are related to mental health.

Since I'm such a slow reader, I don't think I'll be posting many reviews, but I think it'll be a refreshing topic for my blog. (I know my blog topics have been all over the place for the past year, but I'm still trying to figure out where I'm going... who I am anymore... what I have my sights set on now... etc. So, there will probably be several changes as I figure all this stuff out.

Anyway, I just finished reading a book called "Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety" by Sacha Z. Scoblic. This book is a memoir of a woman's experience of becoming sober after years of excessive partying and drinking.

I chose this book because, as I've mentioned several times over the past few months, I'd like to quit drinking. After my bipolar diagnosis (almost a year ago already!), I really started to focus on mental health; and I realized that alcohol was definitely hindering me from being the best mentally-healthy person I can be.

While my experience with alcohol isn't severe enough for me to be considered an alcoholic, having even a few drinks with friends leaves me feeling terrible for a few days afterward. When I have a drink, I feel great; two, even better... in the moment. But fast forward a few hours, and I feel really bad about myself--lots of anxiety, sadness, and guilt. Physically, I feel bad, too--hot and cold at the same time, racing heart, irritability, restlessness, insomnia, and puffy hands and face.

And the following day, forget it. I have no energy or motivation, and I feel like I'm starving--no matter how much I eat. Alcohol didn't start having this effect on me until the last few years. As I get older, I tolerate it less and less.

Naturally, the obvious answer is to quit drinking altogether. But it's harder than I thought! As a shy introvert, having a drink in social situations is practically a necessity to get me to loosen up and be more outgoing and talkative. I've gone to several parties over the last six months or so, and not drinking at them has been an overwhelming experience--not fun. I feel anxious and out of place. Not to mention boring.

My biggest fear in giving up drinking is that my friends may stop inviting me to do things when alcohol is involved. Maybe they'll feel uncomfortable inviting me out for drinks (it sounds silly, inviting a non-drinker out for drinks--but I could just order a tonic with lime and be content). I guess I'm just afraid that I won't be included anymore, even if my friends don't have the intention of leaving me out.

Anyway, I've been interested in reading the experiences of other people who have quit drinking. The last time I wrote about this topic, I loved reading the comments from others who have similar experiences as me, and/or who gave up drinking. I want to know what it's like to be the only sober one at a party, or how people handle an intimate dinner party where a nice bottle of wine is practically mandatory.

Based on the description of "Unwasted", I thought that was exactly what I'd be getting--a tale of what it's like to quit drinking. I was a little disappointed in the way the book jumped around in the time frame. There was no order to it, and several times, I found myself confused about when in her journey things were happening.

Also, at the end of each chapter, she writes a few pages of a "fantasy relapse". I like this idea, in theory--she writes about if she were to relapse, exactly how it would go in a fantasy-like way. However, the fantasies are so "out there" and odd that I couldn't relate to them. After reading a few, I ended up skipping the others.

Other than those two things, I did enjoy reading her experiences in dealing with situations where drinking was involved--work parties, going out with friends, relationships with former drinking buddies, handling particular triggers that made her want to drink, etc.

I really liked reading about how her life has changed in positive ways since becoming sober. She doesn't have to plan for hangovers on the weekends, she doesn't lose her memory of everything that happened the night before, she can still be fun and have fun with friends (although it took a while for her to figure that out).

I can totally relate to what she writes when she was newly sober, upon meeting new people and turning down a drink. She immediately wants to tell them, "But don't worry, I'm still fun!" She said that for the first year of sobriety, she would have liked to carry around a sign to that effect.

Since I'm worried about being excluded from things, I want to tell people the same thing--"I promise I can still be fun and I'm not judging you for drinking, so please still include me! Things don't have to be any different!"

I enjoyed reading about some of her worst experiences of drunk nights out, too. Since I was married and had kids so young (I was married at 21 and pregnant just a couple of months later), my experiences with drinking have been limited to getting together with girlfriends for wine, drinks at weddings, going out for Mexican food and margaritas, having drinks while playing Keno at a dive bar, etc. I never went through the big partying phase that the author describes, so it's interesting to me to read about that.

My favorite part of the book was the ending (this isn't really a spoiler). The last chapter is about her training for and running a marathon. She writes about how when she was little, her uncle ran the NYC marathon and she was in awe of the "space blanket" that he got at the end (those silvery mylar blankets for runners to keep warm after the race).

She thought about that blanket for years and years; and when she was sober, she saw an ad for a marathon and decided to do it and earn her own space blanket. She said she never could have done the training or the race if she was still drinking. (I can totally understand that! I went for a 10-miler one time the morning after having lots of wine with Renee. I never felt so awful on a run! Learned a tough lesson that day, haha.)

Overall, I would give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. Here is the (affiliate) link to it on Amazon, if anyone is interested in it: "Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety" by Sacha Z. Scoblic

I would have enjoyed the book more if it weren't for the odd relapse fantasies after each chapter, and if the book was in some sort of order to make it less confusing.

On the positive side, I loved reading about her experience (and relating to some of it) in becoming sober. It helped me to foresee some challenges I might deal with and what to expect from those. It also reassured me that quitting drinking is the best decision (for me), considering that my body and mind just don't do well with alcohol--even a modest amount.

I am always very impressed by sober alcoholics (I think that's the correct phrase? I mean people who had a problem with alcohol and are now sober). Alcohol plays such a huge role in our society and it's everywhere. Avoiding being around it is impossible, so for people who are addicted and are able to stay sober, I am just in awe. (My dad is actually one of them--he's been sober for over 25 years!)

I'm sure sobriety is probably one of the biggest challenges they are faced with on a daily basis. (Kind of like my challenge of keeping the weight off--it's incredibly difficult, and something I have to put thought into every single day.)

January 21, 2018

Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 1 of Half-Marathon Training (recap)

Well, I made it through my first week of half-marathon training!

I haven't run four times in one week since... well, probably a year ago? I'm following my own half-marathon training plan, called "A First Timer's Half-Marathon Training Plan". Even though I'm not technically a first timer, it's been a long time since I've run a half. And let's not forget just how out of shape I am! Haha.

I can't say that this week was a great start to my training. I wish that wasn't the case. But it was much harder than I expected it to be.

Here's the rundown of this week's schedule:

Tuesday - 10 minutes easy
                 5 x (1 min hard, 2 min walk)
                 5 minutes easy

Wednesday - 3 miles easy

Friday - 2 miles easy

Sunday - 4 miles easy ("long" run)

Tuesday - Intervals

(Tuesday's run translates to a 10 minute warm-up at a very easy pace. Then run hard for 1 minute, followed by 2 minutes of walking. Repeat the 1 hard, 2 walk four more times. Then run 5 minutes easy for a cool down. A grand total of 30 minutes.)

The problem with this run just stemmed from preparation frustration. I was completely out of the habit of running, so it took longer to get ready than it took to do the damn run. Once I was dressed to run (on the treadmill), I realized that I had no idea what show to watch on my iPad while I was running (I know, first world problems).

I needed something very fast-paced and that would leave me wanting more. I was already in a bad mood, and scrolling through Hulu when all I wanted to do was get the run over with made me even more irritated.

Finally, I decided to settle on an old favorite: The Shield. I LOVED that show when it aired, and the action never really stops. It's been long enough that I don't remember many of the storylines, so I think it'll work for me to watch during training season.

Anyway, once I started the run, I realized how out of shape I've gotten. Running "easy" at 5.5 mph was hard. I'm not doing heart rate training right now, so I just picked a speed to run, based on my best guess for my current ability.

I thought the intervals would be easy, too--just 60 seconds of hard running! Followed by two full minutes of walking. I did the hard intervals at 7.5 (bumping it up to 7.8 a few times), and the walk at 3.0 mph.

I do love that intervals make the time go by so quickly. I constantly focus on the duration of the segment I'm doing, instead of thinking about how much time left in the run itself.

I was very tired after that workout, the one that I expected to be fairly easy.

Wednesday - 3 miles easy run

This time, I was more prepared. I got dressed quickly. Just before getting on the treadmill, I was hit with a horrible pain in my rib cage. Each inhale and exhale felt excruciating. It was so weird. I literally cried on the treadmill because it was so painful. Finally, I burped (something I rarely do), and the pain started going away. I burped again, twice, and the pain was gone. What the heck?!

I'd always been a morning runner, but this week I've been running in the afternoon or evenings. That day, I ran after dinner, so I'm thinking maybe running just after eating a meal did something. Whatever the reason, that pain completely ruined my run.

Friday - 2 miles easy run

I wasn't hopeful going into this run, after the first two were so bad. Thankfully, things turned around for me! I just set the speed to 5.5 mph and left it there until I hit two miles. The 5.5 speed still felt a little tough.

Sunday - 4 miles long run

Today's weather was really nice (40 degrees, and the snow finally melted!); so, I decided to see if Jerry would want to do our long run together outside when he woke up at around 2:30. He was all for that idea, so we headed out for a four miler.

Jerry and I have been having some really great conversations lately--I'm not sure what prompted the deeper discussions we've had, but it's nice. While running today, the time passed SO quickly. I didn't even glance at my Garmin, because I didn't care about my pace at all.

The run felt really easy (as it's supposed to, because it's an "easy" run), and when we finished, I saw why--our pace was 11:37. Running at that pace, and with a partner, made the run so much more enjoyable.

We both agreed that we should try to do all of our long runs together. Once we add on some more mileage, we'll probably go to the Metropark and the State Park for our runs. A change of scenery is always welcome.

So, our first week of training was a success! I've really liked that I'm thinking of this training season from the eyes of a brand new runner. It reminds me of when I trained for Indy in 2011, and everything felt so new. It's fun to look at it that way.

(The calories listed on there are calories burned, not consumed. It took me a few minutes to figure that out! I knew I hadn't logged calories anywhere, because I don't count calories anymore. But 1200 is a common number when talking about calories consumed, so it confused me. But anyway, that number is calories burned for the week.)

One week down. Now, we just have 12 more weeks to go!

January 18, 2018

A Candid Discussion of Excess Skin (post weight loss)

When I had my lower body lift in 2011, I was thrilled with the results of my surgery.

The excess skin was very uncomfortable and I felt so discouraged that I would have to live that way for the rest of my life. I hated the fact that I "ruined" my body with so many years of overeating.

When Caitlin was here recently, we had a conversation about our excess skin (something that many people who have lost a lot of weight tend to have in common). We both said we wished more than anything that we could go back in time and take care of ourselves.

When we were overeating, we never thought about the long term consequences. One you've been overweight as long as we were, some of the damage is permanent. (Of course, there are people whose skin snaps back with no problems, but from my experience, that is not the norm.)

A lot of it depends on factors like how long one was overweight, just how much excess weight that person carried, how quickly the weight was gained, how quickly the weight was lost, etc.

I remember being very young (probably junior high school?) when I first noticed stretch marks. They were light red streaks on my upper arms, and I had no idea what they were. I was hanging out with a friend, and she noticed them. I told her I had no clue what it was, and she said that it was no big deal--she had them on her inner thighs.

I came to the conclusion that everybody had those "things', and I didn't think much of it. Within the next couple of years, I learned that they were stretch marks, and that they were undesirable. I immediately became embarrassed that my body betrayed me like that. Why did I get stretch marks, when none of my other friends had them (well, other than the one who showed me the ones on her thighs)?

When I was 16, I went on a trip to Washington D.C. with several people from my junior class. I met a boy there who I really liked, and after a fun day exploring the city, he kissed me when we got back to the hotel. We were sitting on some steps, talking, when he noticed my arm.

He asked what had happened, and I quickly thought up a lie--I told him that I had gotten boiling water spilled on me years ago. He accepted that answer, and I felt embarrassed. I knew that one day, he'd figure out what stretch marks are, and he'd know that the girl he kissed in Washington D.C. had them on her upper arms.

I became self-conscious of my arms after that, and I covered my them whenever possible. I started getting them on my inner thighs, too. At the time, I still didn't know that they were being caused from weight gain. I was so worried that they'd just keep "growing" everywhere.

They became really bad in college. I started getting them on my hips, sides, and abdomen. These ones were bright red, and thicker than the ones on my arms and thighs. I had gained quite a bit of weight my freshman year of college--from what I recall, I think I went from about 180 to 205 pounds.

When I got pregnant, I gained weight very quickly, and my stretch marks became even worse. With Eli, I gained 90 pounds! The stretch marks on my abdomen went all the way up to my rib cage.

A few years later, when I finally got my act together and started losing the weight, the stretch marks got smaller and more faded, but they were still very noticeable. When gaining weight like I did, the skin literally stretches until it can't anymore, and it pulls too far--causing the skin to thin out in just that stretch mark line.

The best analogy I can think of is one of those nylon hair ties. They have elastic in them, and they are covered with a stretchy fabric. For those of you that wear them, you know that when they get stretched too far, the elastic inside can break, leaving a small spot that is thinner than the rest of it and has lost it's elasticity.

That's what stretch marks are like--the skin gets to the point of stretching until there is no elasticity left. That's what I meant when I said I'd "ruined" my body--no amount of weight loss, exercising, expensive creams, etc, will remove the marks, because that skin has been damaged.

Anyway, on to my point of excess skin. Skin is very elastic, when you think about it. It can accommodate people up to 1,000 pounds or more. But, not without causing permanent damage.

When you blow up a balloon really big, and then let it deflate, it doesn't return to its original size or tight shape. If you blow up a balloon and leave it like that for several days, and then deflate it, it looks even worse. That's the best way I can describe excess skin. It used to be full, and then when it "deflates", the skin is still the same size it was when it was stretched--but since the inside of your body is much smaller, the skin hangs there, looking kind of "baggy".

This can cause all sorts of problems, and not just cosmetic ones. The "apron" of skin over someone's abdomen, for example, can cause rashes and yeast infections in that fold. Running was difficult before my skin removal surgery on my abdomen--my skin would bounce up and down, which was painful. (Think about running without a bra--that's what it felt like on my abdomen.)

My solution was to wear very tight spandex bottoms to hold my skin in place. That certainly helped with the bouncing; but then, by having my skin pressed together in a fold, and sweating from the run, I got chafing and rashes. By running, I was trying to do something good for my body, but I just couldn't win. (Again, I felt terrible that I "ruined" my body, and there was no going back.)

This photo was before I had the skin removal on my abdomen. You can see how I had to tuck in the skin to fit into very tight spandex to hold it in place.

I've gotten several comments and emails about how I don't look like I have loose skin. Well, flattering camera angles and clothing can hide that. But catch me from the right angle, or God forbid, naked, you will avert your eyes and not mention it again. Hahaha!

You may notice that I never run in shorts. The photo below was the only time I tried, and I asked Jerry to take a video, because I was curious if the skin on my thighs looked as bad as it felt. This is to show that there are certain angles that are more flattering than others, which is why people who read my blog may think I don't have loose skin. Of course I'm going to show the more flattering pictures on my blog!

So, to keep the blog honest and real, I'm showing you a comparison of an unflattering pic versus a more flattering one. (These are poor quality because they are screen shots of a video.)

(By the way, I never photoshop pictures of myself to make myself look better. I do use it sometimes to make goofy photos like the header of this post, though! But I want to be "real", so what you see is what you get.)

After I lost 125 pounds, people were naturally very curious about my weight loss. I was asked questions all the time--by friends, family, acquaintances, and even total strangers. When I was losing weight, I never imagined that talking about loose skin would be as painful as it was.

The first question I was asked was, "How did you lose the weight?" and the second was, "Do you have lots of loose (saggy/baggy/deflated/you name it) skin now?" I hate this question with a passion. Unfortunately, people asked me this ALL the time.

I spent the majority of my life (about 25 years) feeling incredibly self-conscious about my body. I was teased in school for being fat. I hated having people look at me, and I always assumed people were thinking about how fat I was. I hated myself; I hated my looks.

Fast forward to age 28, when I had lost 125 pounds. I felt amazing and I loved the way I looked--until I started getting e-mail after e-mail asking me if I have loose skin.

YES, I have loose skin. NO, it's not pretty. Do I need reminding of how grotesque it is day after day? No. (I've had people tell me that they don't want to lose weight because excess skin is gross. Gee, thanks!)

I know that when people ask me this question, they aren't calling me ugly, or saying I look gross--they are just asking out of curiosity. I get it. I was curious before I lost the weight, too.

But please keep in mind that it's a very sensitive question for someone like me who spent the majority of my life being self-conscious. That's why it irritates me so much when a complete stranger asks me about saggy skin when we've never even had a conversation before. If a friend asks, I have no problem talking about my loose skin--because that person cares more about me than about my weight loss and all the flaws on my body.

When the first thing someone asks me after learning of my weight loss is if I have loose skin, it's like saying that all the hard work I did doesn't matter; that losing 125 pounds means nothing if I have loose skin; that I might as well not have lost the weight since my skin is saggy now.

I so badly want to put to rest all of the bad thoughts I have about my body and learn to truly love my body--but it's hard to do so when people remind me that I have "gross saggy skin".

This photo is after I'd lost 118 pounds. You can see how loose the skin is on my upper arms--"bat wings", as people like to refer to this problem area. (Stephanie was setting up her camera to get a photo of the two of us together, and she told me to "look like you're putting your arm around me". Hahaha! I like to tell people it's my imaginary friend ;) )

I hate that when I wave to someone, my loose skin is about half a second behind my arm, hahaha.

All of that said, YES--I have saggy upper arms, saggy inner thighs, deflated boobs (which were never big to begin with), a saggy butt, and a stomach that looked like a deflated balloon (I had the abdominal skin removed in 2011, which I'll share about below).

This is a picture of the skin on my inner thigh. I was lying on my right side (hip on left, knee to the right, so the skin was sagging down). I took this picture to "prove it" (that I had loose skin) a few years ago, but now I realize how stupid that is--I have nothing to prove to anyone! Still, here it is. The picture is a little disorienting, because I was lying on my side in bed, with my other leg tucked underneath, so that you could see the saggy skin.

I was terrified at the thought of having surgery. However, when I broke my jaw in 2010, and surgery was inevitable to fix my jaw, I wasn't afraid of it anymore. (I'm sure the IV of dilaudid helped! hahaha.) I decided to schedule a consult with a plastic surgeon. I'd had no idea at the time, but she told me that my insurance would likely cover a large portion of the surgery. I was shocked.

After some stuff to work out with the insurance company, I scheduled my appointment for pre-op; and then for surgery on November 14, 2011. My surgeon said I would have fantastic results--1) Because I was at a "normal" weight and I wasn't doing the surgery to try to be smaller or lose weight; 2) Because I'd kept the weight off for over a year; and 3) I was running a lot, and in good shape underneath the skin.

Needless to say, I am THRILLED with the results of the surgery, even five years later (I wrote an update of the surgery with current pictures here).

Believe it or not, I could button and zip those jeans before surgery. It just took a lot of stuffing my skin into them. It felt different than trying to wear jeans that were too small.

Over the last several years, I've noticed more and more the toll that the excess skin has taken on my upper arms and my inner thighs. I really don't want surgery for these. But they are hindering things that I'm afraid will only get worse over time.

I will write more about this later, because this post is already long enough. Recently, though, I contacted my plastic surgeon to ask about having a consult. I have in no way made a decision to have more surgery (and I'm thinking that I probably will decide not to--the recovery for legs is terrible, from what a few of my friends who have had the surgery told me).

The consult will only be to see my doctor thinks it's a good option for me, based on the issues I'm having.

If I do choose to go through with surgery, I would likely plan for next winter (maybe November or December) so that my healing time won't be so miserable. We don't tend to do much in the winter months.

I want to make sure my weight stays pretty stable this year, too. I'd like to stay under 144, which is at the top of a normal BMI range for me. (Also, our debt will be paid off and we will be able to save up for the surgery.) Jerry is super supportive of me getting it--he's been mentioning it for a few years now, when he hears me complain about the skin for various reasons.)

Anyway, this turned into a very long-winded post! If anyone has questions about loose skin, I'd be happy to open up and answer them here. (If they are too personal, I will say so, but for the most part, I'm pretty candid about it now. So, ask away!)

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