Monday, January 25, 2016

How I Lost 80 Pounds and Got Back in My Skinny Jeans

New Year's Resolutions have been on everyone's mind lately. Here's why I say screw the resolutions. Each day is a new day. Fourteen steps to health, happiness and beauty as well as a tribute to a beautiful friendship that inspired me.

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Even skinnier jeans: I wasn't expecting to drop more sizes.


About ten years ago, I met my dear friend Stephanie Quilao online through the blogging community. At the time, both of us were embarking on our own self-publishing ventures. For me, it was here on Sex and the Beach and for her it was Back in Skinny Jeans, which has since evolved into other publishing ventures, including the blog Noshtopia, a book version of Back in Skinny Jeans, another book entitled Death of a Road Warrioran app called Vibrantly, stunning food photography on Instagram and more.

Stephanie and I have never met in person, but we've shared the many ups and downs in each other's lives as true BFFs.

THE SKINNY ON WEIGHT LOSS

stephanie-quilao
Stephanie Quilao
As we connected over the years, one of the most important things I learned from my friendship with Stephanie is that weight loss really isn't about numbers.

In Back in Skinny Jeans, Stephanie wrote about her weight loss journey with great candor; she focused on the emotional issues in her life that contributed to her weight gain. She was honest with her audience and continues to be so to this day, which is one of the things I love about her. We've both been through thick and thin -- pun intended.

As her blog Back in Skinny Jeans evolved, so did the idea of getting back to your core self -- weight not withstanding. As most of us know, being physically slim is no guarantee of happiness. Intangible parts of self need work, too. No matter what the scale reads, it all boils down to how we perceive the world -- a world that more often than not tells us we're broken.

During many a long conversation that went well into the wee hours -- she's on the west coast, so there's always a three-hour difference -- we didn't just chat about our weight and body image issues, but also about how to live life mindfully with a sense of purpose while helping others. How could we be who we are at heart and do this life thing with joy?

Our conversations about our personal challenges were often raw. We fearlessly looked at our "ugly" sides, disrobing, if you will, on a spiritual level to get rid of everything that no longer served us. We held a mirror up to each other and made ourselves accountable. We bolstered our self-esteem.

To have such a friend in my life who would love me unconditionally, warts and all, has been a blessing. Today, we still face many challenges, but we've shed more than just weight -- we've shed barriers to joy that keep so many women from feeling fulfilled and free in their own skin.

Ten years later, both of us are fit, fabulous and full of as much zest for life as two women in their late 40s could possibly have. We're wiser but none the worse for wear. What can I say? Millennials got nothin' on the hot, sexy babes we've become. Women in their 40s can look great and beam with confidence -- and most importantly -- feel it honestly down to their bones.

Let's not get too cocky here, though. We've also got humility, compassion and a genuine desire to share the best of ourselves with the world and to make a difference.

So, now you know what I think when I read "over 40" in any editorial. I just roll my eyes and laugh. That's bullshit. Aint nobody gonna tell me I'm broken.

THE SKINNY JEANS

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Before and after. No judgement. Just phases in life.


Over the holidays, I took advantage of sales and headed over to Banana Republic -- my favorite jeans brand -- to find a smaller version of my size 30 jeans. Earlier in the year, size 30 was my "finally! I've made it!" size.

I texted Stephanie from the store. "Dude, I'm down to size 26! It only took me 10 years, LOL."

I then began to reflect on our friendship, our blogs and the journey to get to where I am today.

I LOVE MY MOM, BUT I DON'T WANT TO LIVE LIKE SHE DID

After my mom passed away a year and a half ago, I woke up one day and decided that I would avoid eating anything with fur or feathers. There was no particular nudge. Nothing. Just like that.

A plant-based lifestyle helped me drop the 80 pounds I gained gradually during my years as a caregiver, when I broke the number one rule of caregiving: I didn't practice self-care. I could have practiced self-care, but yeah, Monday morning quarterbacking. I was overwhelmed and simply didn't have the skill sets. Nobody handed me the manual on being a full-time caregiver to the elderly. But that's another story.

happy-goofy-maria
Be concerned if you gain an undue number of pounds. Be even more concerned if you are unhappy. Taking care of the elderly reminded me more than ever that happiness is our birthright. Goofiness is OK at any age.


Witnessing my mother's demise from Alzheimer's influenced my choice to avoid the typical Cuban-American diet, which is full of animal protein, starches and sugar. My mother's health history, which is similar to that of so many baby boomers now experiencing the wasting that came from decades of post World War II ideas on nutrition in the industrialized West, made me realize that something had to give. There's rampant proof of this in geriatric pathology today. But that, too, is another story.

I've maintained my weight loss for over a year and a half. I've never felt better. Each day is a new day. Screw the resolutions. As sure as the sun will rise, so will an opportunity to start fresh.

2015 was a particularly difficult year for me. I lost weight, to be sure, but I also lost my livelihood and home. What I didn't realize then was that I was gaining far more than I ever imagined I could have ... being skinny again was really about shedding all that which no longer served me; slimming down was an opportunity to peel that proverbial onion and get back to my core self. No one would ever be the boss of me except me. I followed my heart to those size 26 jeans, no doubt. What I put in my mouth was secondary.

Below are 14 steps I took and still take as I start each day like a new year. Do note that only four of them have to do with food and exercise and that all the steps lead back to number one.

Where ever you are in life, I hope my story inspires you to get back to your unbroken, beautiful self -- no matter what your size.

FOURTEEN DAILY PRACTICES FOR HEALTH, HAPPINESS AND BEAUTY

bikini-miami-beach
Sex and the Beach is more like Freedom and the Beach now.


1. FROM DYSFUNCTION TO FUNCTON
The single most important thing I did to lose weight was to detox my life from ALL toxic relationships, including the one I had with myself. Toxic relationships are based on lack and fear. Healthy relationships are based on abundance and love. That's it.

2. DNA IS FAMILY ONLY IF YOUR LAST NAME IS DEOXYRYBONUCLEIC ACID
I had to reevaluate unconditional love in my life -- how much was I receiving and how much was I giving? Love has nothing to do with bloodlines. When I was down and out, the amount of unconditional love I received from friends was boundless. I continue to receive. I give. No tiny gesture of kindness and love is ever wasted.

3. THERE SHOULD BE A WAR ON DRAMA, TOO
Drama is powerfully addictive. I decided that unless I was standing behind a proscenium, there'd be no room for drama in my life. Healthy relationships let go of resentments. Toxic relationships thrive on drama. Remember what I wrote about perception and the illusion of being broken? Food for thought.

4. A SHOPPING LIST IS FOR GROCERIES, NOT LOVERS
I threw out my list of expectations for the perfect man and stopped looking for love. Guess what? It found me and I'm happy.

5. SHARING REALLY IS CARING
I joined a bereavement group for support as a caregiver and to cope with the loss of my mother. I became more acquainted with folks who've started mindful, intentional communities in Miami.

6. SPIRITUAL FOOD
I continued to take in spiritual nourishment with my life coach Gloria Ramirez', whose free Thank God It's Monday teleconference is just as important to me as a yoga class or a trip to the gym. I practice some of the tenets of Course In Miracles and nourish my heart daily.

7. THE GLASS IS ALWAYS HALF FULL AND I WON'T GET PISSED AT YOU IF YOU ONLY POUR HALF
I practiced gratitude and forgiveness every waking moment. The spiritual detox encouraged me to live in a space of radical gratitude, which opened my heart to receiving unconditionally. How can I explain this? Unconditional love is a "thing" you must have in your life in order to be happy, just like air to breathe. Unconditional love doesn't flow from toxic relationships. In healthy relationships, it's a birthright. It's just second nature. Simple as that.

8. TOSS SHIT AND TRAVEL LIGHT
I lightened the load by donating many material possessions, including things I didn't even remember I had in storage. Yes, it's possible to have toxic attachments to material things that can't even love you back.

9. SCHLEPPING IS A MIZTVAH
I sold my car and continue to schlep everywhere on foot or public transportation, which has become a fun storyline on my Twitter account as #miamischlep. Most people think you can't live in Miami without a car, but thousands of people get by without one. It's funny to me that many car owners count their steps with Fitbit because they own a car. Of course, not being an automobile-based human is inconvenient sometimes for me, my beau and friends who helps me schlep, but it's great for my body and has shown me a side of my city that car owners don't often see.

And finally, the food part!

vicequeenkitchen
A plant-based diet spurred my creativity as a lifelong, avid home cook.


10. I DON'T EAT PIG BUT I EAT LIKE A PIG
#Vicequeenkitchen as it is today was born in the last year or so. I don't eating anything with fur or feathers. (This makes me an ovo-lacto pescetarian, for now. Many of my meals are vegan or raw vegan.) A plant-based lifestyle is so tasty and filling, I never have to use that nasty four letter word D-I-E-T. As a food writer who covers omnivore establishments, I have to make some exceptions, but that's all they are -- occasional, small samplings of food that isn't usually on my plate.

11. MODERATE IF NOT MODEST
I've never been a shy wallflower at parties, but I did cut back on libations.

12. THE JURASSIC PARK DIET IS FOR VELOCIRAPTORS
I don't eat like a predator whose food is going to run away. I eat slowly and mindfully.

13. PALEO FOR YOUR COMPLEXION
I got rid of dozens of beauty products I never really even used. Coconut oil is all I need. Think about what our ancestors used for beauty.

14. SHAKE WHAT YOUR MAMA GAVE YA
I've saved a key physical practice for last: Daily Burn. These, thirty-minute full-body workouts from home, in addition to long walks and some yoga from my own practice, have made all the difference. What's best is that the gym is one place that isn't on my list of schlepping destinations. This fun, online community workout is inexpensive and is part of what helped tone my body for those skinny jeans.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

'The Golem of Havana' Sings the Song of Diaspora with Miami New Drama Premiere

Critically acclaimed musical The Golem of Havana made its South Florida premiere this weekend at The Colony Theater in Miami Beach.

golem-of-havana-rebecca

This elegant chamber musical captures a complex story that's not easy to tell about the Jewish and Cuban diaspora during the cusp of the revolution when Castro overthrew the Batista dictatorship.

The coming of age story reflects on love, loyalty, betrayal and politics through Latin, Afro-Cuban and Jewish inspired music. Think klezmer, son Cubano and odes to Yemay√° in one beautiful score, beautifully interpreted by the cast.

The golem is the name of figure from Jewish folklore that is made from clay and brought to life. In one legend, the golem acts as a savior but is destroyed when it turns against its creator. The idea of a golem surfaces in many ways during the musical as characters shift their loyalties struggling to survive during a dangerous, tumultuous time in Cuba's history.

The main character is a storyteller, the daughter of a Hungarian-Jewish tailors who's haunted yet inspired by dreams of her mother's escape from the holocaust, which parallels the plot of the musical. The mother is forced to make a Sophie's choice between people she wishes to protect and compassion can only go so far. Difficult decisions abound in this play, including the final one, which involves exile to Miami.

It's a theme that echoes in all diasporas: We sacrificed. We survived. We start over.

The weaving of Jewish, Afro-Cuban and Cuban musical motifs in the score echoes the multi-cultural nature of Cuba's syncretic culture, powerfully expressed in a song to Yemay√°, the Afro-Cuban goddess of the ocean, which the young Jewish storyteller adopts in a desperate attempt to find answers as her family life succumbs to the heartless decisions of powerful politicians and revolutionaries.

1958 Havana is the perfect setting for a story that brings together opposing personal religious and political beliefs. The ending is bittersweet: we see glimpses of shared human connection amid bloody struggles that erode faith.

golem-of-havana


ABOUT THE PRODUCTION


The Miami premiere of the Golem of Havana is a production of Miami New Drama, a fledgling company co-founded by the musical's author, Venezuelan Michel Hausmann. The world premiere took place in New York City at the New York Theater Workshop in 2013. The Miami cast features some of the original actors as well as Miami-based actors.

The Golem of Havana plays at The Colony Theater through February 7. For more information, visit Miami New Drama.

Of interest:

Jordan Levin of The Miami Herald offers an in-depth background about the work: New Miami musical 'The Golem of Havana' evoked struggle against oppression.

Some of my random notes on Facebook.

Photo credit: Carol Rosegg for Miami New Drama