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Weight Loss

Photo by Jarod Carruthers

I’ve lost 86 pounds and have only five pounds to go, which is only half a dress size. It’s not like I’ve never been here before, in fact I’ve been here many times. However, all of the other times, it never occurred to me that it would take the exact same amount and kind of work as it did to lose the weight. I’m not sure how that nugget of knowledge eluded me for so long. I’m 53 years old after all. But in the past every time I lost the weight and got to a goal, I slowly went back to my old habits.

The real slide back toward being overweight began when a crisis occurred and I lost interest in eating. That’s right, lost interest, not gained interest in eating more. What I’ve discovered this go-around is that when I’m under stress I want to eat less and bother to cook even less than that and will reach for the easiest possible solution. That translated into processed food that came in a bag. Junk food in neon colors covered in varying amounts of sugar and salt.

A few interesting things to note this time in the weight loss phase. I’m actually eating more in terms of volume, a lot more and less in terms of calories, a lot less and the weight, even at 53 has come off easily and without the obsessions of the past. I’m not longer eating lunch while wondering what I’ll have for dinner. Food is in its proper perspective.

But maintenance is an entirely new topic and I’m a little freaked out. If you’ve been reading my column or blog for awhile you already know that any kind of big change unnerves me at first until I settle in, so no surprise. This is where I’d often sabotage things by procrastinating, or in general trying to fix something that didn’t need fixing.

Instead, I’m allowing myself to just be uncomfortable and approaching maintenance with the same kind of plan I had to lose the weight – a sensible and balanced food plan.

I’m sure there are people out there who can eat without having to figure out how much or exactly what to eat but I’m not one of them and I probably never will be. There are worse things to come to grips with and I’m letting that part go. In fact, there’s a certain amount of comfort in having a plan and knowing that will help me, this time, to stay within the range my body needs and to fuel my ever-more-promising future. More adventures to follow.



Every year, for the past five years, I’ve tried to adopt a new attitude at the start of the calendar year, instead of making up a list of ‘ought to’ that will only haunt me long after I’ve give up on them. It dawned on me one New Year that focusing on a word, like courage or abundance leaves more room for God and offers me the opportunity to be open to His plan instead of my need to fix, manage or control the bejeebus out of a situation.

So, for this year the word that has kept coming up is ‘Believe’ with a capital B. It’s a big word and comes from the notion of believing for everything good, which in my case takes a lot of faith and a willingness to be uncomfortable.

I like control, a plan, knowing what’s coming next and none of that is possible if I’m opening my life up to big growth, positive change and a much larger Master Plan.

So why do it?

That’s when I can feel my shoulders relax just a little because I remember that my methods have never, ever gotten me very far and have often left me feeling lonely and discouraged talking way too much about me and ignoring the blessings right in front of me.

If my closed fist, squeezing as hard as I can around the events in my life has failed, I have nothing to lose by relaxing and trying it God’s way instead. That is going to require me to let up on myself just a bit and be okay with the pace that comes out, fast or slow, on any given day. Frankly, to be okay with big events actually turning out right and without my intervention or manipulation. They just go right. To even be okay with making mistakes and they still turn out well.

A short recap of everything that’s gone right lately easily shows me that sticking with God’s plan has been worth my learning to let go. In the past year, I’ve lost 86 pounds and soon, I’ll be starting out on Maintenance, which is brand-new territory. Updates to all of the photos on the site will be coming soon.

The last of my old debt is getting paid off and my entire financial life is becoming healthy. Yeah, new territory. There is interest in the new thriller, which means a new book in 2013 and traveling across the country speaking to different charities. There are even two different movie companies interested in two different books of mine. A lot of change, one day at a time.

It’s like I can feel these deep shifts from within my spirit and I have no idea what to do with all of it except to hang on and Believe. Happy New Year Everyone! More adventures to follow.


Hanging with my son, Louie, enjoying the day.

I have wondered for a very long time how anyone did anything that was good for them for longer than say six months, top. How do they keep going after all of the hurrah’s, good for you’s and the newness of a new place wear off?

Frankly, I don’t know because once the applause died down I found it too easy to slide right back to where I’d started and then some.

Regain the weight, and then some. Pile up the debt, and then some. Stop dressing up, and then some. Stop going out with friends, and then some.

It’s really easy especially when that little voice in the back of my head starts saying, what’s the point, are you really happy yet?

I was so convinced that happiness was a destination that when I got somewhere that garnered applause I was sure that this is where happiness resided. This is where all of those successful people found that little something that kept them going. When the feeling didn’t last I figured I wasn’t there yet and the idea of another long, arduous journey sunk me back into a feeling of hopelessness. I’d give up and slide backwards.

It never occurred to me that happiness can occur right where I stand and to bite off anything in life requires taking small bites, one right after the other, one day at a time. Not day after day, which sounds gargantuan and impossible, and is too much to take on in the face of that inevitable question – where will this get me? That’s an unanswerable question, by the way. Who knows?

But one day at a time, be right where you are, revel in it, enjoy the day. In other words, go local. That was great advice from my friend, Jesse Garza. Be right where you are and notice everything, enjoy everything, be a part of everything and know that it’s enough. Build from there instead of some unforeseen future or some distant past. Both are not happening right now. Besides, the future will probably look really different from what I expect and the past is my interpretation so who know if that’s accurate anyway.

It’s not always easy sticking to the present. Sometimes I feel like some of the bigger things I still want are stuck, mired in time that resembles mud. But then Jesse’s advice come’s back to me and I look around wondering what I can do today to be of service, get out of my head and actually have a little fun. Before I know it, things have changed as they always do and my life has grown bigger. As a bonus, I wasn’t whining about the past or the future to anyone along the way and I managed to be there for friends and family too. So, just for today I think I’ll put that rock down and go make cookies for that baby shower. More adventures to follow.


The 'new' Me at the end of summer (that's a herd of guinea pigs in the background)

The summer is officially over as of last Saturday and with that goes my first season of triathlon training. And by the way, no, I didn’t sign up for a triathlon this year. Like I said from the beginning, this year was all about figuring out how to stay on a bike, which if you’ve been following along took me a few tries and a really nice scar on my right ankle, learning how to swim faster, run faster and get to know some new people.

I did okay, not great, against my expectations, which is a victory.

To recap, I lost about 35 more pounds, bringing the total to 75 pounds lost so far and only 15 to go till maintenance. Also known as the Promised Land. I’ve been at that weight before but the idea of working at staying that weight is the new part. I really didn’t get that maintenance would take just as much forethought, till now.

But, now it’s the Fall Season and I live in Chicago, which means soon it will get very, very cold outside and if I don’t care to go backwards and regain weight I’ll need a new plan of action.

It’s a tiny bit tempting to take a break but I’ve done that enough and I know that’s a slippery slope. Better to get started before my entire brain even catches on that sitting down was a possibility.

I already belong to a great gym that’s in my neighborhood that just put in a pool, has an erg (rowing machine) and classes at ungodly early hours and late at night. No excuses. Next week, I set out to create a new pattern and see what happens. The weight lifting class and the boxing are my first stops. I’ll let you know how it goes. More adventures to follow.


Chef Ashley Runner showing Martha how to 'shock' vegetables without killing them off.

I started cooking differently, which means at all, on October 26th of last year. That’s the day I finally decided to change a few things about myself from the inside out and it came out as more vegetables, smaller portions and nothing processed. So far, that also means 70 fewer pounds and a size 22 to a size 10.

My first attempts at cooking, like I said last week, resulted in a lot of braised pans, charred steaks, mushy vegetables and very dry chicken. For some reason I just kept going this time and pushed through all of those horrible weeks of trying to learn how to cook.

But even as the meat became more tender and the vegetables weren’t so limp, the bland factor was still pretty high. Everything kind of tasted the same.

Just last week, however, I learned that my friend, Ashley has been a professional chef and loves to teach newbies like me how to make great dishes with affordable ingredients and not a lot of time.

In just two hours we made pork chops with granny smith apples and cabbage, roasted red peppers with basil and scallions, a vegetable tartlet without the tart that has eggplant, tomato, red onion and squash, asparagus and baby bok choy shocked vegetables with an orange and ginger dressing, and acorn squash with oyster mushrooms. It was all so easy that I could do it again without wondering how we got to the ending and it was in my budget.

My refrigerator is now full and I will be the envy of everyone at the office tomorrow.

Vegetable Tartlet (without the tart)

Slice two red onions, a small eggplant, two yellow squash and three roma tomatoes. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a tart pan or baking dish. Arrange the vegetables and top with fresh thyme, oregano or marjoram. Drizzle 2 teaspoons of olive oil over the top. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes. Baste with the juices and bake for 20 more minutes. Voila!

Thank you, Ashley for being a part of this journey and helping me to continue to change. Seventy pounds lost so far, more adventures to follow.

Ashley Runner is available for private cooking lessons – leave a comment here if you live in the Chicago area and would like to learn more.


Yes, that's my pan. A lot of scorched food has led to a few good cooking lessons

Back in October of last year I finally found a way to eat that wasn’t so crazy and the pounds started to come off.

However, just two months later I was doubled over in pain wondering if I had stomach flu till I realized that the flu doesn’t tend to come and go. About an hour or two after I ate something, even the smallest bites, I was curled up, unable to do anything else, wondering what had happened. A couple of tests later and I found out I had Celiac and my body was fed up with the way I was treating it. No more gluten, which means wheat, rye or barley and in my case, and a lot of people with celiac, no more soy.

I’ve made the joke more than once that God was doing for me what I had refused to do for myself. Nothing like pain as a motivator to get my hand to stop reaching for that cupcake or cereal or cheese-filled pretzels. Instead, I was reading labels down to the last ingredient and ranting about soy being in chewing gum. Trader Joe’s has become my favorite place to shop because unlike Whole Foods they have gluten-free options that don’t include soy. I’ve discovered the web site and read up on the topic while finding some recipes. I’ve gone out for tea with a gluten-free friend, Jess who smiles at my frustration and then calmly makes suggestions about how I can do things differently. She has an ingenious way of ignoring my sighs and getting me to believe this too will be okay.

At first, I burned a lot of food or at the least dried it out till it was pretty inedible. I’ve also rolled the dice on some salad dressings that said ‘canola or soy’ hoping for the best and realized that occasionally it’s going to be soy and bad things will follow. But over time I’ve turned down the flame on the stove and found the store, ‘Oh Olive’ that has unbelievably good oils and balsamic vinegars that make cooking so much easier. And, I’ve discovered that another friend, Ashley can cook and is willing to come over and teach.

One of my hope-to-do items was to learn how to cook better but I never had much real ambition until I had a good enough reason. Boring green beans and plain chicken is apparently my breaking point.

The good news is, Jess is rubbing off on me and I seem to be more excited about learning to cook with natural ingredients and expanding my repertoire than focused on being unable to pick something up quickly and just eat it. Makes me wonder how that new way of looking at life – some things are worth doing right – will pay off in other areas. I’ll let you know. More adventures to follow.


Photo by Nick Bianco

I’ve been battling my weight in some fashion since I was twelve years old and was already 5’9, which made me stand out and get attention. I was too young to understand exactly why I was getting noticed or what to do with it. I wasn’t even sure it was something I should want.

The desire to figure it out while not losing the attention led to stretches of barely eating anything day after day to maintain a rail-thin like quality with equal amounts of years of eating till I was sick and throwing myself into the obese category. The outside package may have looked different to an observer but the brain or maybe the spirit inside was the same. I was obsessed with body image and was mistakenly thinking that in order to achieve my goals everything started from the outside, in.

Intellectually, we all know that’s not true. There have been enough talk shows with weepy people talking about how they finally learned that change has to start from within but if I have decades of practice with one way of doing things till I don’t even notice anymore, how do I translate any of that into actually changing?

I’ve thrown a lot of money, effort and obsessive thinking at getting the right body, whatever that meant at the time and it worked a lot of the time but never for longer than a handful of years.

This time I’ve added in a spiritual element, friends and accountability and the biggest change is the lack of obsession. I still have days that are way too long where I notice desserts way too much. But this time I call someone who reminds me of a few truths till my brain and my spirit come back together. I’m 9 months in so far and 70 pounds lighter. Frankly, I feel even lighter than that while at the same time I’m startled every time I pass a mirror. More adventures to follow.



Picture by Dru Bloomfield

Tonight was another run with the Triathlon Group and Mo Wills, and it was as if that first run last week never took place. I was still the last one by at least half a lap and everyone else was on one regimen and I was on another running routine but my attitude had adjusted itself.

Fortunately, I was smart enough to call only one running friend of mine last week to rant about how unfair life can be. I didn’t use those words exactly but it’s what I meant. She listened patiently, found a break in one of my sentences and made some suggestions about how to address the issues. It short-circuited my rant and got me back on track, which is why I called her in the first place.

And, on the last lap when they time everyone – lo and behold, I had moved up from a 14 minute mile to a 12 minute mile. Imagine that, if I stick to something I might get better. Going to call it an early evening tonight.

Tomorrow, the bike awaits and a six mile ride with the group. Talk to you later.


A Work in Progress

I’m going to just rip this band-aid off and tell you – when I started this weight-loss journey in October of last year I was a size 22. Today, I was walking around my office in a size 12 skirt. That picture is from today and I have to say, not half bad.

I’m not thrilled to tell you I recently used to be that big. Sometimes it can be so hard to tell the truth. I want to tell some of the cold, hard facts and keep some of the others to myself because I’d rather not leave an image of myself with you that’s too far off the scale of what’s acceptable, at least in my mind. However, a very wise woman once told me a really good factoid that has served me well over the years. ‘Set the truth free and it does its own work.’

In other words, the more transparent I can be all of the time, just be myself in all its glory, the more I can get out of the way and maybe even be of service to someone else. What a concept. Besides, who do you think I was fooling about my actual size back then, anyway?

I’m also more than a little surprised about how long I thought it was okay to be so much larger and feel so uncomfortable, out of place and physically miserable, all of the time. But I had thrown everything I had at weight loss and gained instead and was officially giving up. Then, last September I saw a friend of mine who was beaming with joy over the weight she’d lost. The difference in our efforts was that she had added a spiritual component. I can’t explain it any better than that (although if you want details, email me or leave a comment, and we’ll chat) but somehow I ended up talking to her and here we are almost 8 months later and 60 pounds lighter in that cute, size 12 skirt.

This time I did it without obsessing over food or exercise, without thinking about when I could eat next, or even about what the scale said on any given day. That’s not my previous behavior at all. I’m just taking it one day at a time and just for today, I’m doing okay. Talk to you later.