Back in 1989, I quit smoking. It wasn’t the first time I tried, but it turned out to be the last. What helped was a really bad cough that led to a hairline fracture in a rib. That pain was the motivation I needed to finally quit for good. While there were obvious health benefits to ending my pack-a-day habit, there was also a tradeoff. As the smoke cleared from my mouth, food started to taste really good. Slowly but steadily, I started putting on weight.
Twenty years later, I was in my mid-50s and though my weight had fluctuated a lot, the overall trend was upward. I’d gained more than 40 pounds. When my clothes wouldn’t fit and blood work showed alarming numbers, I started getting on a treadmill. I joined a gym. I got back into swimming laps. I started doing resistance training. And I watched what I ate. For the most part, I was eating healthfully and working out regularly, but I plateaued after dropping 10 or 15 pounds.
People had told me that it was harder to lose weight later in life. Was that the problem? Not really. When I took a good, hard look, I found other reasons. Yes, I had cut out fast food and lots of junk, but I still indulged in the occasional “medium” sized bag of M&Ms. Problem was, I’d scarf down the whole bag in a just one or two days. And it happened more than occasionally. I also wolfed down an entire chocolate pound cake each time my friend’s husband baked one. Plus there were the giant bags of lightly salted chips that I bought in pairs and gobbled over the weekend.
For the most part, I was eating fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. But I “rewarded” myself a little too often with sweets and other snacks. I felt I deserved a treat but actually, I was sabotaging myself. And my doctor checkups confirmed that.
Then, as I mentioned recently, several women I know were diagnosed with cancer. That motivated me to research the food-health link and adopt healthier eating habits. This was my tipping point. I was finally able to pass up the goodies I’d craved for so long. Cutting way back on sugar, flour, alcohol, and dairy products helped me restore healthier blood test results. I regained my momentum and I start dropping pounds again. And I finally got back to what I weighed 20 years ago.
But just as there was a tradeoff when I quit smoking, I paid a price for losing the weight. When I was at my heaviest, my skin was stretched and taut. I looked voluptuous and younger. Yes, I have increased energy, lower blood pressure, and better cholesterol numbers. I feel like myself again and fit into my favorite clothes. But though I’ve built up muscle mass, my skin has gotten looser. My arms look like my grandmother’s. And while I love my flatter belly, where did my breasts go?
Weighing (pardon the pun) the pluses and minuses, I know I made the right choice. I never regretted dropping cigarettes back then and I don’t regret losing the weight now. Health trumps everything. After all, without it, nothing else matters.