The Grace of Small Victories

I started writing a blog post last week entitled, "Stuck." Because that was how I was feeling. Very, very stuck. Stuck in this weight loss journey, stuck in what I was eating, stuck in the habits I was trying to develop and cultivate. I wasn't ready to give up, but I was discouraged and tired of feeling like I was getting nowhere fast. 

And then I did my Saturday weigh-in and was utterly surprised when I was down another 2 lbs. I measured all the parts I've been measuring and had dropped between 1/4 and 1/2" of an inch on three of the four (my thighs, I am sorry to say, have decided to put up a fight, but this is a marathon, not a sprint, so we'll see who wins in the end). And suddenly I didn't feel as stuck anymore. 

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Pondering this mental switch, I began to reflect on the fact that one tiny little positive change, one little step of encouragement in the right direction, really does wonders for your perspective. Instead of feeling like denying fleshly cravings and losing sugar wasn't worth my time, I suddenly felt like what I was doing was worth it. It made it easier to say no, easier to reach for the water bottle rather than the coffee pot, and easier to enjoy the freshly ground peanut butter on one slice of the Keto bread. 

Telling myself "no" to a few little things that I had been, unwittingly, using as comforts suddenly felt worth it in order to reach a bigger goal of feeling healthier and liking what I saw in the mirror a little bit more. It was a small victory step that surprised me in its weightiness. Mentally, it was the boost I needed to keep going and not give up. 

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There are all sorts of things that we give up on in life. Challenges to read a certain number of books. Goals to walk a set number of steps. Plans to visit new places, see new things, and try new foods. Or even the intention to forgive past wrongs, break bad habits, or avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. 

We start out strong - we read the first book, we walk the first week, we download the Airbnb app, and we make a list of new restaurants to try. We have every intention of forgiving that person we've been holding a grudge against...until we see them. We make it a day or two without spending money we don't have on stuff we don't need. We stand firm in our resolve...until it's been a long day, a bad week, or a hard month. And then we allow the negatives to overwhelm the positives. 

When it's been several days of not making time to read, it's easy to just throw in the towel and say, "Oh well, I might as well not even try at all," and then pick up your phone and start scrolling through your favorite social app. 

After feeling like you've denied yourself of everything you wanted for a week and then the scale says, "Nothing's changed. Nice try. Thanks for playing," it's not surprising when we shout, "Why even try?!" and wheel into the local coffee shop for a high calorie beverage or stop for doughnuts. 

Or when you extend the hand of love and friendship to someone and get kicked in the pants for your troubles, or get burned again when you lower your guard, daring to hope that this time something will be different, it's not surprising that most of us say, "I knew it," and shut the door to ever trying something like that again. 

So what do we do? Do we give up? Do we cave and then kick ourselves a little bit more when the scale moves up, when the bank account is at $0 but our closets are full of cloths we don't wear, when nothing at all changes and this year begins to look exactly like last year? No. That's when it's time to look for the positives.

Small steps, sometimes so infinitesimal that they'd be hard to see without a magnifying glass, are the small victories that help keep us going. If I was only focused on the numbers on my scale, I would probably have given up by now. But because a friend suggested that I also measure inches (which I've never done before), I knew that even though it felt like nothing had changed, things actually were happening. You wouldn't believe how excited I got when I was down a measly quarter of an inch. But, on the small victory side, I wasn't up a quarter of an inch! 

And when that person disappoints you again, when they fail to show up or they break their own resolutions, instead of shutting down, why not do a little self-reflection? What failures would you like people to judge you by? My guess is...none. Rather than judging the parent/friend/child/sibling/co-worker by their failures to live up to their own expectations, let alone yours, why not consider extending grace to them? You might be surprised. It could be just the boost of encouragement they need to pick up their pieces and try again. Don't blow them out of the water. Give them a small victory. 


The 30-Minute Difference

Towards the end of 2023, I wrote a post about making your own time. It was an idea I was still trying to formulate in my own head, but I finally put some of those thoughts into practice this month and have been pleasantly surprised by the results. 

Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

After becoming increasingly frustrated with our homeschool schedule, I started making plans for how things could be different in the new year. A new schedule meant organizing my time a little differently. As I looked at where our time had been going, I realized I just needed a little more space in the day to get it all done. 

Since I couldn't pull any more time from the afternoons/evenings, which is my freelance work time, I had to look to the morning. On a whim, I decided to try getting us all up and moving 30 minutes earlier. The results, so far, have been overwhelmingly positive. 

Instead of always running late, I'm now the first one in the schoolroom, and usually have a few minutes to myself to get things settled - things like lighting the candle on my desk and filing away papers that were handed in the previous day - before the kids come in. Not having a frazzled teacher does wonders for the learning environment, let me tell you!

In addition to adding 30 minutes to the morning routine, I also started aiming to remove 30 minutes from the nighttime routine. I knew it was possible because I knew that my working hours weren't always the most focused of the day. And while I naturally gravitate toward being a night owl, if this was going to work, I knew I still needed to try to get a good 7-8 hours of sleep. 

By just switching the schedule up by 30 minutes, I have found our school days to be far more productive. Giving myself dedicated evening working hours has allowed me to be more focused with my time and attention, and has even given me the margin to do things like write this blog post, or read a chapter or two in one of the books on my nightstand.

I'm still tweaking different aspects of this habit-in-the-making, but I like what I see so far. It might not seem like 30 minutes would make that much of a difference, but then again, you might be surprised. Give it a try and let me know how it turns out. 

In the meantime, if you'll excuse me, I need to get this post scheduled and knock out a couple more projects before logging off and snuggling down into bed with my latest read (in case you're curious, it's The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman - a Christmas gift from the Hubs) before the Sandman wins the battle for sleep.


The Sugar Fast: Week #1 Update

This is not an exciting, thoughtful post, but it is an update about one of my "small victory" goals for the month. So if you're not interested in cutting out sugar or hearing about what I'm substituting for it...I totally understand and hope you'll come back later when I write about something a little more interesting. In the meantime, this is for posterity's sake.

As I'm typing this, I'm one week into my sugar fast for January. Not only have I cut out all candy and sweets, but I've been pretty strict about staying away from foods that are high in sugar, and foods that turn into sugar later on (think white rice, white potatoes, and white bread). The first two days were brutal. 

I would not have considered myself a sugar fiend, but on day one, I swear...I could have eaten an entire bag of Reese's peanut butter cups in one sitting. The no-sugar headache lasted two days, before finally wearing off. And when the sugar urges slowed down, the carb urges began. Bread, pasta, potatochips...I would have killed for any or all of them, and not in moderation. 

It's entirely possible that one day this week, I looked at my family and pointed to the loaf of homemade bread that I had served up for dinner (piping hot, with butter) and said, "When this is over, I'm making a loaf and eating the whole thing. By myself." So it appears that I still need some work in the self-dicipline area.

This image is the personal property of CG Koens and may not be used without written permission

But while we were off to a rough start, here's the good news. One week into this, I'm down 5 lbs, or, as my weightloss app so kindly phrased it, I've lost the weight of a table lamp. I'm not sure how that's supposed to make me feel better, but as one friend so aptly quipped, "I guess it means you're lighter." {Insert Groan Here} 

Something else I'm tracking this time, which I haven't done before, is inches. On January 1st, I weighed and then measured my bust, waist, hips, and thighs (or rather, just one). When I checked these again after one week, I had lost 1.5" from my waist, .25" from my hips, and .5" from my bust measurements. The thighs are holding out on me, but I'm very, very cautiously optimistic. 

For the most part I have continued to cook normal meals for the family, I am just selective about what I eat from them. For example, while they chowed down on the loaf of bread with the beef stew that I made, I allowed myself one half of a smaller slice of the bread, and focused on eating the protein-rich stew. While they eat leftovers for lunch each day, I put a small amount of my freshly ground peanut butter from The Fresh Market on a slice of Keto-friendly wheat bread from Aldi, or low sodium rice cake from Kroger, and then add a few bites of cheese and a few bites of salami. 

In addition to cutting out sugar, I've also focused on cutting out the sugar substitutes. So even though Diet Coke has no sugar, it still has aspartame, and I've got some serious doubts about how good all of that is for us. So, this means that I'm drinking water like it's going out of style, and the first thing I do each morning is fill up my 40 oz. water bottle. I also allowed a little bit of our grocery budget to go to Bubly drinks, which are basically soda water with flavoring and nothing more. It allows me to have a treat drink when I get really sick of water. 

And finally, since I'm cutting out all the good stuff, it means that I've also cut out the stops at Starbucks this month. Yes, of course I could drink black coffee. But I hate black coffee. So I'm just putting that on hold until I ease back in next month - I'm thinking one treat drink a month. In the meantime, I've switched to hot tea, my favorite brand/flavor being the Tea Pigs Liquorice and Peppermint tea. It has a delightfully sweet flavor without having to add anything to it, like honey. 

Bottom Line: After the first two days, it's gotten easier. I've found some foods to eat, I'm feeling more full (probably because I'm not consuming so many empty calories), and it's encouraging to see the scale going down, rather than up. Week #1 in the books...here's to a healthy and successful Week #2!


Sugar LESS

Happy New Year! I initially thought about titling this post, "Sugar-FREE in '23" but I'm just not that corny, plus it's not entirely factual. I'm not planning to go totally off of sugar, except for the month of January (more on that in a minute), so it's more about consuming less sugar in the coming year, in all its various forms. 

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

I've seen numbers quoted by various sources in the U.S. that claim the average American eats 42.5 teaspoons of sugar every day. That's a lot of sugar! From sugary drinks to candy to donuts to the added sugars in condiments and even the fake sugar in "sugar-free" products, we consume far more than is good for us or our bodies. 

I'm far from being a health nut. But as I have been re-reading the Little House series of books to my kids, I have been struck once again by the fact that the only candy consumed by the Ingalls girls were the small bags of a few pieces (or one stick) found in a stocking on Christmas, or the occasional maple syrup candy made when it snowed. Otherwise, sugar was saved for the tea when company came, and honey was a treat when a hive was found. That's a far cry from our sugar-saturated lives of the 21st century.

This Christmas I was noticing the number of times I popped a candy in my mouth, sipped on a Diet Coke, or made an excuse to stop by our local Mennonite doughnut truck. Stockings were filled with sugary delights, and the month was doubly saturated as I drove around town collecting my free birthday cake slice, personal pie, and Venti coffee drink of my choice. On Christmas day, as I sat at my parent's house feeling absolutely stuffed, I uttered a sigh of frustration and shot off a text to a couple of friends, asking why I had so little (essentially none at all) self-control when it came to what I stuffed in my mouth. 

A day or two later, I jokingly said to a friend, "I'm thinking about doing a sugar fast for the month of January...I will if you will!" And when she wrote back and said, "How serious are you?" I immediately knew it was time. Time to break some sugary holds, cleanse the palate, and practice what I preach to my kids - namely, "have some self-control why don't you??" 

So, here's my public announcement, and my declaration of intent: For the month of January - 31 days - I will be avoiding (as much as possible) obvious sources of sugar. This includes candy, sugary coffee and coffee ingredients (which means I'm drinking tea all month because I hate black coffee!), desserts, sugar-laden sauces, etc. I'll also be steering clear of white bread (which will be a real challenge as I have been making homemade bread in our bread machine several times a week for the family), white rice, and pasta. I'll be checking labels, and plan to substitute my water "add-ins" (which contain sugar substitutes) with plain ol' fizzy water, just to give it a little kick. 

This should be in addition to some of my other "small victory" goals for the year, including walking (or moving) more, and while continuing the intermittent fasting that I've been doing for the last month. I'm both nervous and excited to see how this goes, and hopeful that I can report back in a month with a positive outcome. Here goes nothing...


Two Pound Goals

This might sound a little weird to some, but while running errands recently, it suddenly hit me that it felt like I was walking around in someone else's body. For the first 30 years of my life, I was on the slim side of the scale, but the last decade has been a rollercoaster of weight loss and weight gain, each time creeping a bit higher. 

Photo by Samuel Ramos on Unsplash

COVID was unkind to all of us, but it also led to some undesirable side effects, such as a more sedentary lifestyle, emotional snacking, and subsequent weight gain. Hitting 40 during that time period didn't help either. I've tried intermittent fasting, nightly walking, and calorie counting, but not consistently, and as a result the pounds continued to pack on. 

Winter means bundling up in layers and digging out coats and gloves. The clothes that I've always had and felt comfortable in because they hid more...no longer hide it. Trousers are tight, coat sleeves feel constricting, and you can forget all about zipping up any of my old wool skirts. Not happening. Even my boots no longer fit, thanks to weight gain in my calves. I mean, really? REALLY?? Let's just add insult to injury. 

And yet I can't seem to stop myself when it comes to sugary sweets. Buttered popcorn-flavored jellybeans from my kids for my birthday? GONE in a week. Late night cheese and cracker snacks, grabbing one or two of the fudge squares on the kitchen counter, and did I mention I broke out the ol' bread machine again? Danger, Will Robinson! I am aware that the biggest roadblock to my weight loss is me. I love food. I love the foods that for 30 years I could eat with relatively few consequences. I mean, bringing home a yummy snack for the Hubs and me to enjoy after the kids are in bed seems like a fair exchange for being grounded as parents. But I don't like the tradeoff. 

While driving around in my car, I could feel the roll over my seatbelt. I could feel the way my gorgeous green wool coat was tight across my arms and chest. I was aware of the fact that just before getting in the car I had consumed a rather large handful of the Tootsie Rolls that the kids had included with my birthday jellybeans. And I knew that making choices like that was what led to me feeling like a stranger in my own body. 

I've passed the magic 40 mark...I know it doesn't get easier from here. And I also know that if I don't start making some changes in my eating and exercise habits, next year at this time I'm going to be sitting here...weighing 20 lbs. more than I do now. And I'm not okay with that. 

So when thinking about my "small victories" for 2023, I decided to aim low. Rather than saying, "I want to do what it takes to lose 40 lbs. in 2023," I'm focusing on just 2 pounds a month. That's 1/2 a pound a week. A tiny little 0.5 on the scale that I so carefully avoid in our closet. It's the difference between eating one Tootsie Roll and eating 20 of them. It's focusing on moderation rather than deprivation. It means asking the Hubs to put in an electrical outlet for the treadmill that was recently relocated...and then actually using it again. Learning to apply self-discipline and not just preach it. Ouch. 

January is coming. Goals are being set. But February is also coming. Goals are being excused and abandoned. And March is right around the corner, along with all those regrets over failed resolutions. Which is why I want to focus on the small victories this year. At this point in my life, I would be absolutely thrilled if I lost 2 lbs. in January and kept them off. I'd be over the moon if, by the end of February, I was consistently down 4 lbs. And 6 lbs. by March? Yes, please! So small goals and small victories in 2023. Who's with me?


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