Girl Talk: My Secret To Weight Loss? High Cholesterol!

I knew that I had gained some weight in the past few years. While I wasn’t 100 percent happy with my extra pudge, I didn’t feel motivated enough to lose it. Ten pounds wasn’t really that much. My boyfriend accepted me no matter what, and even my mother couldn’t tell I wasn’t as skinny as I once was. Besides, maybe I could find security somewhere besides my appearance, and as long as I was healthy, who cared about my chunky arms, the extra roll on my belly, and my bulbous hips and thighs?

Then I went for a check-up. “I need to talk to you,” my doctor said, “about your cholesterol.”

My breath caught. A shadow seemed to fall over us.“Your LDL is much higher than it should be,” he said, pointing at a highlighted figure on my records. “Especially for someone your age.”

LDL, that was “bad” cholesterol. HDL was my good cholesterol, and while that was OK, it still wasn’t good enough to outweigh its evil twin. While I balked at the number, every bacon cheeseburger, slice of pizza, and ice cream cone I’d had recently flashed before my eyes.

“I guess I haven’t been eating too well lately,” I mumbled.

He nodded. “We’ll check it again in three months,” he said. “If it’s not lower, or,” he held up his hands, “if it’s higher, we’ll talk about meds.”

Meds! For me? Sure, I was closer to 40 than to 30, but I wasn’t one of those heart attacks waiting to happen, a cigarette in one hand and a Whopper in the other. I ran three or four times a week! I climbed the San Francisco hills like no one’s business! Still, obviously I was doing something wrong.

From my early teens through my mid 20s, my weight has yo-yo’d. Despite being raised on a traditional Chinese diet dominated by seafood and vegetables, I didn’t know how to eat right. I’d either pig out on junk food every day, or starve myself. Or I’d get busy and not think about what I ate. It wasn’t till my late 20s that I figured out the diet for me: lots of salmon and tofu, veggies, some fat (like peanut butter), limited carbs. Plus tons of exercise. But I was doing all that to be thin, not healthy. A cholesterol level under 140 was just an added benefit.

But while I looked good, I didn’t feel good. My 5 a.m. workouts were just a distraction from an unhappy marriage; what I ate was one of the few things I could control. Eventually everything fell apart when my husband had an affair and a child with his mistress. I left, wiser and rail-thin.

Three years and several dating disasters later, I met Alex. Tall and wiry, he can polish off a pint of Häagen-Dazs in one sitting. At the movies, he’ll finish a jumbo popcorn by himself. For late-night munchies, he’ll inhale most of a big bag of nachos.

Alex and I also eat out a lot. As a singleton, I only occasionally ate in restaurants and felt I could splurge at those times. The problem is Alex and I eat out almost every day, and I’ve stayed in that splurge mentality. Mac and cheese at our favorite barbecue joint? Why not? Nutella crepes at midnight? Yum! Cheese and vegetable risotto at that little French diner? Mais ouis! All those little splurges have finally added up, along with trying to keep up with a six-foot-two guy with the metabolism of a 16-year-old.

But Alex had another take. “Sure, I pig out sometimes,” he said. “But have you noticed what I order in restaurants?”

Come to think of it, Alex did almost always order lean seafood or chicken, not burgers, deep-fried, or rich cheesy stuff like me. He drank black coffee instead of the milkshake-like mochas I favored. He also hated mayo, which I dolloped liberally on my tuna and pasta almost every day.

Meal by meal, I made changes. I replaced my morning doughnut with lightly sweetened oatmeal. For lunch, I have my tuna and pasta without mayo, and plenty of colorful veggies. Nonfat Greek yogurt is my choice for an afternoon snack. At dinner, I order fish whenever I can, and we’ve started cooking more at home. I still drink coffee but have cut out my three-times-a-week-mochas and am guzzling more water. I’ve reduced my cheese intake and swapped ice cream for sorbet.

I’ve incorporated more HDL-friendly foods into my diet: almonds, green tea, and a little dark chocolate. I check labels not for calories but trans fat. When tempted by a snack ending in “-tos,” I remind myself that the regret I’ll feel later will far outlast the fatty, salty, orange-finger-tipped goodness I’ll enjoy now.

I’ve intensified my workouts with faster, steeper runs. I’m in love with downward dog (though my triceps hate it). I know now a 20-minute walk is better than nothing. I’ve accepted that sometimes I will be hungry.

I took inspiration from Susannah’s post about losing 10 pounds and tried not to deviate from my new habits for at least three weeks. I haven’t been perfect (like recently when I scarfed down key lime pie and my mother’s pan-fried pork dumplings), but I try not to beat myself up about it and get back on the horse again.

The result? Since embarking on this lipid-lowering mission two months ago, I’ve lost about five pounds. My arms and shoulders are more toned, my waist trimmer. That little roll on my stomach seems to be shrinking, and my lower half is slimmer. I think I even got a catcall the other day, my first in years.

Ideally, I’d like to lose another five pounds and achieve ITC (that’s “inner thigh clearance,” for those not in the know), but those are not my priority. My priority is being healthy and lowering my risk for heart disease and diabetes down the road. Shaking a more bodacious booty is just an added benefit.

Photo: iStockphoto