Tag Archives: Weight Loss

I’m About To Ask You For Money

31 Mar

It’s been a crazy few weeks, friends. I’ve moved to a new living situation, which is working out quite nicely, and I’ve been continuing with my weight loss journey through Weight Watchers and keeping track of my activity through my FitBit Surge. To date, I’ve lost 26.8 pounds  and I’m still going.

I am a little disappointed in myself because my walking frenzy has slowed, partially due to moving to a new neighborhood, partially because of my work schedule, but mostly, if I’m being 100% honest with you, because I got a new TV and I’ve been enjoying that a little more than I probably should. I’m making a conscious effort to nip that habit in the bud and get back to being active, but in the meantime I’m continuing to track my food and, consequently, I’m continuing to shrink. The photo below will give you an idea of where I am and where I came from. The photo on the left is from last May and the one on the right was this morning. Same shirt, different body. It’s exciting!!

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.40.02 PM

The last couple of weeks have become a bit more challenging, though, because the more weight you lose, the less you’re able to eat in order to continue to lose weight. I mean, it makes sense – I can’t eat the same amount of food I was eating 20 pounds ago and expect to continue to lose weight – but just because it makes sense, that doesn’t mean it makes it easier. Also, because I’ve not been walking as much, I find I’m going back to old habits of eating out of boredom. Luckily I don’t keep a whole lot of food in the house, so I’ve just had to get over it, but the temptation is getting to be too much sometimes.

So…in an attempt to motivate me to walk more and, just to be a good human being and hopefully make a difference while I’m walking, I have signed up to walk with the Walt Disney World VoluntEARS team in the 2016 AIDS Walk Orlando – a charity event to benefit Hope and Help Center of Central Florida.

And here’s where I ask you for money.

I ask you to consider sponsoring me in this walk. The minimum donation is $5, but you can donate as much as you’d like above that. And! The Walt Disney Company will match your donation of $25 or more. I think that’s pretty awesome.

Why are we doing this event and where would your money go? Well…according to the website:

  • All money raised goes to Hope and Help’s client-centered services, which cover the full continuum from HIV prevention to treatment.
  • In Florida, 15% of all new HIV infections reported among females in 2012 were under the age of 25.
  • Of those persons living with HIV disease in Florida, 49% are black, 29% are white and 20% are Hispanic. Men represent 70% of the cases. Persons   over the age of 45 years represent 60%.
  • Approximately 18% of individuals living with HIV/AIDS are unaware of their diagnosis.
  • 1 in 4 new cases of HIV are among those ages 13 – 24.
  • In 2014, Hope and Help Center administered  5,477 HIV tests to our Central Florida neighbors.
  • Hope and Help Center reaches many underserved high risk areas by use of mobile testing units.
  • Hope and Help served over 5,000 clients last year. We provide many services, with many of our clients requiring more than one service.
  • Hope and Help Center is the largest AIDS Service Organization in Central Florida, with 7 locations throughout Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties.
  • There are 12,500 of our Central Florida neighbors living with HIV/AIDS.
I would venture to say that each and every one of us knows someone who has HIV or AIDS, or someone who has lost someone dear to them to the disease, whether we realize it or not. Please consider donating to this worthy cause. If you’d like to sponsor me, please visit www.AIDSWalkOrlando.org. Next to “Donation Type,” choose “Donate to an Individual” and find my name on the list. Again, if you donate $25 or more, The Walt Disney Company will match your donation!

Thank you so much!

Bad News. The Fog Is Getting Thicker. And Leon’s Getting Laaaaarger!

12 Apr

I hate summer. I hate the heat, the humidity, the indifference to the use of deodorant by a frighteningly large portion of the country’s population. But mostly I hate the way summer makes me feel about myself.

I know…that sounds weird, but when you’re built like I currently am, any kind of jacket, sweatshirt or cover-up is preferable to having to pull out t-shirts that are just a little too tight around the middle section or shorts that dig into your waist – or where you approximate your waist to be that day. I have always preferred cold weather to hot because I can cover myself up and smooth out the lumpy lines of my love handles and back fat, and to go from 30° weather to the high 80’s sends me into an emotional tailspin of worry, regret and self-shaming.

I have written about how difficult it can be to maintain one’s weight on the road, and if you’ve been following my blog at all and have looked at photos of me throughout the year, you can clearly see that I’ve gained weight. I have no delusions about that fact. I’ve basically eaten whatever I’ve wanted for the last sixteen months and I’ve gained weight. What I didn’t realize, though, was just how much weight I have gained in my time on the road. Three weeks ago, while grocery shopping at a Publix in Tampa, my world was turned upside down when I decided to step on the large scale they inexplicably had in their front entryway. (I still think it’s an odd place for people to weigh themselves). I was crushed to learn that I had gained back every single pound I’d lost several years ago plus some.

I was never aware of my weight until I went to graduate school. Our director of the musical theatre and opera program planted the seed of self-doubt and loathing just three days into my two year sentence at OCU and he made sure to use it against me at every opportunity. Until he brought it up, I’d never thought about my build or what I ate and looking back at photos of myself, I would be thrilled to go back to that size again. I was taking dance classes three days a week, rehearsing for shows five nights a week and trying to have a social life in addition to all my school studies – I was in great shape and yet I thought myself fat because he told me I was, and as the person who made all the major casting decisions, his was the ultimate word. If he said you were too fat to play a role, you were too fat. No one else was going to stand up for you or argue in your defense.

When I got to New York, things just got harder. I didn’t have a kitchen in my first apartment, so I ate out every meal. I quickly learned that this was typical for New Yorkers, but having just moved there and not having the money to eat at good restaurants, I ate at the Burger King and McDonald’s on the corner. I started working a desk job, which meant less exercise and constant snacking on office birthdays or on the pretzels and cookies they kept in the kitchen. Soda flowed through my veins instead of blood. The longer I worked that job, the fatter I got and I started developing health problems because of it.

At 32 I had a sleep study done to confirm that I had sleep apnea – a sleep disorder that means you stop breathing in the night, sometimes waking up gasping for air, but often characterized by very loud snoring and frequent bathroom breaks in the middle of the night. It is often a result of excess weight pushing down on the air passage during sleep, thus cutting off your air supply. The sleep study confirmed that I had moderate sleep apnea – I was waking up an average of 27 times an hour! – which meant that there was no quality of sleep whatsoever. Sleep deprivation can lead to high blood pressure (check!), weight gain (check!), irritability (check!), memory lapses (check!) and a whole host of other undesirable and potentially deadly issues. I was prescribed a CPAP machine with which to sleep – a ghastly looking contraption involving tubes and a Darth Vader-esque mask attached to a machine that basically pumps a steady stream of pressurized air down your air passage as you sleep, making it impossible for the air passage to collapse, thus eliminating the snoring and the apnea episodes. It worked beautifully, though it was uncomfortable to wear sometimes and looked ridiculous. After 10 years, I was finally sleeping through the night. I started dreaming again. I had more energy. Life was peachy. But I was still overweight.

An artist's rendering of a CPAP in use.

An artist’s rendering of a CPAP in use.

In 2006 or 2007, my friend Toni invited me to join her in going to Weight Watchers. I was a little offended when she first suggested that I was fat, but I knew that I needed to make a change and so I decided to try it. I had no idea what it would do for me. I want to say it was hard, but the truth is – the program was easy. I’ve always responded well to having parameters, so when I was told that I had a certain number of points to eat per day, I stuck to it. Within 9 months I had lost 55 pounds basically by eating whatever I wanted…just in smaller portions. I went from a 38 waist to a 28 at one point (that lasted for about a week before I had to go back up to the 30s) and I had never been so proud of myself. At 183 lbs., I was the thinnest I’d ever been in my adult life and I felt great about myself. So good, in fact, that I went back to auditioning and actually booked a tour which got me my Equity card. I had learned about portion control and had even gotten to a point where I could eyeball portion sizes without having to measure anything out. I was confident that I could continue with the program while I was on the road for the 6 weeks of the tour. By the end of the first month on tour, I’d gained 7 lbs.

I tried to stick with the program when I got back from the tour. Toni had lost close to 100 lbs. and I was back to hovering around 190-195 lbs. No matter how I stuck to the program, though, I couldn’t seem to dip back down below 190 lbs., even though I’d reached 183 just a few months before. I was starting to feel hungry and deprived of the things I wanted, which I’d never felt before, and before I knew it I had settled with myself, being ok with hanging around that 195 lb. mark. Within a few months I re-negociated with myself and settled on 200 lbs. And then 205. I still looked good. My clothes were a little tighter, but I could lose 5 lbs. quickly if I needed to. I had the tools. And then the FBI showed up at my front door.

After The Incident, pretty much everything in my life spun out of control: my housing, my finances and, most especially, my eating habits. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I never have. Those things don’t appeal to me. But chocolates, candies and cakes do appeal to me. Greatly. And they’re my go-to drug of choice when I need to feel comforted. Had a bad day? Have a Twinkie…or two. Frustrated with your roommate? Bake some cookies and then eat a dozen of them as they come out of the oven before anyone sees. Bored? Eat a half a bag of Frito’s while you lay in bed watching Netflix. Freezing in Milwaukee? Eat a sleeve of Thin Mint cookies. You get the idea…

Food hasn’t just been an emotional crutch for me when I feel down or need to be comforted. Growing up in Kentucky, our culture practically revolves around food. We are the home of the largest fried chicken restaurant chain in the world – my Dad even worked for the Colonel, so I literally grew up eating fried chicken – and almost any cause for celebration – a birth, a graduation, a marriage and, of course, any holiday – meant that a feast was not far off. The cooking of food is an extension of one’s self – it’s a demonstration of love, taking the time to create something that will bring happiness and comfort to the recipient. That you made it makes it even more special. And let me tell ya, we can cook in the South, y’all. The food is delicious and good for the soul, but unfortunately, it’s not very good for the rest of you.

I’ve been told stories of my Grandpa’s childhood in Illinois during the depression. He had to quit school at a very young age to work the farms. He used to talk about how they cured their food in salt and had to scoop hunks of meat and chicken out of buckets of lard to fry up their breakfast, lunch and dinners. Because nothing went to waste (and because it just tastes so darn good), anything that could be used for seasoning was used – including ham hocks and bacon grease. All of my grandparents grew up with variations of these cooking techniques and have passed their recipes down to my parents and now to me. Unfortunately, they also passed down bad eating habits and a lack of knowledge of good nutrition. Don’t get it twisted – I am so grateful and fortunate for the abundance of food we had growing up, and no one will ever top my family’s cooking (my Dad’s fried chicken is better than anything the Colonel could ever have come up with) – I just wish I’d learned healthier eating habits earlier in my life.

For years, my Popaw kept a drawer full of Hostess snack cakes, which was usually the first place my brother and I would go when we got to their house. I never met Popaw’s parents, but my Mom tells me that my great-grandmother was over 400 lbs. My Granny, who is 92 years old and has a whole myriad of health problems, sits and eats boxes of dry Cap’n Crunch cereal because it tastes good. (I agree with you, Granny!) Ever since I can remember, my Mom has had herself on diet after diet, “failing” time after time, which eventually leads to her gaining more weight than she’d lost. My Dad has a sweet tooth like Granny’s, and I see that in myself, too. And my brother seems to have absolutely no regard for his weight and eats whatever he wants whenever he wants it and doesn’t care how much weight he gains.

The bottom line is, in my family’s culture, we didn’t learn to eat to live…we learned to live to eat. The health value of food was never discussed – just how it tasted and, subconsciously, how it made us feel. We didn’t eat fruit instead of Twinkies – we just ate the Twinkies because that’s what we wanted. If there was a salad, it was iceberg lettuce covered in salad dressing and cheese and crutons, which makes me salivate just to write about, but there’s no real nutritional value to it. It’s no one’s fault, really, that we didn’t know any better, but at some point someone’s got to learn better and make a change.

So I’ve started doing the Weight Watchers Online program again. They’ve changed the program since I did it last – fresh fruits and vegetables used to carry point values and now they don’t – but it’s harder this time around, mostly because in some cities I am completely reliant on eating out for meals. If I’m lucky enough to have a refrigerator and/or microwave in my room, it’s a huge help, but there’s still no substitute for being able to cook your own food and to be able to refrigerate any leftovers. I wasn’t raised to clear my plate – that is rarely ever an issue with the Bratton boys – but as I’ve struggled with money, it has become harder for me to justify throwing food out once I’ve paid for it. What’s worse…wasting food or overeating for the sake of not wasting food? Neither of them are a very great choice. I’m relearning about portion sizes and soon, as I did the first time around, I will be an expert in counting my points and knowing what food has what point value without even having to look it up on the Weight Watchers website or app. It’s the first few weeks that are the toughest, though.

This week I have focused on replacing snacks (read: cakes, cookies, ice cream, etc.) with fruit. I love bananas more than you could possibly understand, so I’ve been relying heavily on them as well as apples, grapes and oranges to satisfy my need for something sweet or just to have something to snack on when I find myself wanting to eat out of boredom. I haven’t weighed in yet, but I do feel a very slight difference in the way my t-shirts and underwear fit me. I still look in the mirror with dismay at my belly and love handles, but I know that if I keep on track, those will diminish with time. I’ll even get my jawline and cheekbones back again. I’ll start to sleep better, which means the bags under my eyes will start to go away, too. And, according to an episode of Oprah that I saw once, for every 35 pounds a man loses, he gains an inch of…well…”manliness.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’m game for finding out.

This week I’ve also tried to cut myself a little slack and be nicer to myself – to forgive myself for allowing myself to get to this point again and to be proud of myself for making a change. My friend Colleen and I were chatting the other day and I told her I felt like a fat heifer. She promptly reminded me to be careful with my self-talk. It occurred to me that if someone else had called me a fat heifer I’d have been terribly hurt and it made me realize that it is not OK to bully myself, or as Colleen put it, “No need to beat anyone to punches by punching yourself.” She’s a good one and I love her for it. So I’m putting it out here for the world to read – I’m taking control of my weight and I’m going to be kinder to myself about it. By all means, hold me accountable to that, please.