The Weight is Over – Week 56: Could 2 Weeks in Europe Destroy 1 Year’s Success?

Twenty years ago, when I accepted husband No. 2’s marriage proposal, he asked where I’d like to go on our honeymoon. I – a wanna-be Italian – said Italy was tops on my travel wish list. He said that sounded great, too. When we each shared what it was about Italy that we most anticipated, he said art. I said food.

I should have gone for the art.

We ate gelato every day, sometimes more than once. This was during my phase of  mastering the art of making the perfect tiramisu, so for dinner out, if we ordered dessert (and we always did), I chose tiramisu.

Fact: Tiramisu, which means pick me up in Italian, is one of the most high-calorie, high-carb, high-sugar desserts on most any restaurant’s dessert menu. While in Italy, I did discover that tiramisu comes in many forms: from pudding-like to cake-like, and they’re all delicious (I prefer cake-like).

And by the way, I did master tiramisu, but at what a price.

Doni in Venice, 1997.

Doni in Venice, 1997.

I gained 10 pounds on my honeymoon that I never lost. I never did get back to my pre-wedding weight.

This week I will have been on this health-and-fitness program with Matthew Lister at Align for a year. This is the most arduous, difficult and rewarding physical challenge I’ve ever undertaken. I’ve radically changed not just how I exercise and eat, but my entire relationship to food, and how I think about it. It’s fuel, yes, but because I’m still a foodie, food is also still a pleasure.

But eating is no longer my dysfunctional go-to source for comfort and pacification. I’m not on a temporary diet; something I look forward to ending so I can resume my unhealthy eating habits. I’ve found a way of life that makes me feel better than I’ve ever felt.  Of course, I wish with all my heart that I’d done this sooner, but it’s better late than you know what.

Even so, as excited as I was to visit the Czech Republic last month to see son Joe, and to join him, his wife, her mother and my twin in Florence, Italy, I was also deeply afraid. This would be my first trip to Europe since I embarked upon this program, and my 10-pound honeymoon weight-gain loomed large in my thoughts. I didn’t trust myself to be away from my workouts and routine that long without gaining weight.  Historically, I lose weight slowly, but I gain it quickly. I’ve often joked that I can gain weight just looking at food.

I confessed my fears to Matthew, who gradually increased my carbs two weeks before I left for Europe, to prepare my body for the extra calories I’d surely ingest. That alone seemed counter intuitive, but I trusted him. He’s never steered me wrong.

Matthew R. Lister of Align Private Training. Photo by Brad Garrison.

Matthew R. Lister of Align Private Training. Photo by Brad Garrison.

After that, Matthew encouraged me to not stress about the food. He suggested I be aware of what I was eating in Europe, but to relax and enjoy myself, too. He said that if I really wanted something, to go ahead and have it, and not beat myself up over it.

I tried to do exactly that, but I fretted over every bite. My travel companions can attest that most of the time I made healthy choices, and selected salad when it was an option, or protein and vegetables. But there were other times – many times – I mindfully chose to eat and drink foods that would not, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered on program.

My non-program drinks included beer, wine, Irish coffee and a delicious Cuban rum, Legendario. My non-program foods included gelato (once, a small portion), cannoli, pizza (once, in Florence … come on, how could I not?), Marie’s pumpkin goulash, half a hamburger at a place in Prague called Meat & Greet, and Marie’s mother’s Savoy cake.

Marie's mother made a very delicious Savoy cake.

Marie’s mother made a very delicious Savoy cake.

Joe and I love to cook together, which included turkey and dumplings, of which I had a small helping that contained one dumpling. And when we made bagels, I had one, as well.

doni-and-joe-bagels

We had Scotch eggs and the most incredible pastry-cream filled doughnut at a hipster restaurant that serves “happy meat” (cruelty-free) called Maso a Kobliha (Meat and Doughnuts).

doughnuts

Joe divides a doughnut at Maso a Kobliha restaurant in Prague. Photo by Shelly Shively.

And lest I forget, there was our traditional American Thanksgiving in Metylovice: turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, dressing, cranberry relish, yeast rolls, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, Shelly’s turkey-shaped iced sugar cookies, and California wine and port. I had a little of everything.

Finally, we ate a few dinners out that I would classify as among the best meals in my life, including my first experience at a Michelin-star restaurant, Field, in Prague, that served food so beautiful and creative and delicious that I welled up with emotion. (I’m writing a whole other column about food, so I’ll say more about that later. )

But I did worry. Plenty. I expressed my angst out loud every breakfast, lunch and dinner. I know my family was sick to death of hearing about my weight-gain anxiety.

Joe reminded me that it was probably a given that I’d gain some weight. In fact, he said I should accept and expect it, to avoid being surprised and disappointed. He assured me that because I’d already proved I could lose weight, when I returned home, I’d know exactly how to get back on track and ditch those vacation pounds. I thought Joe was probably right (because, in general, he is usually so right about so much). I predicted I’d gain five pounds, though it killed me to consider it.

However, to mitigate the damage that might come with my extra food intake, when faced with an elevator, I chose the stairs every time (except on arrival day and departure days, with luggage). There were 96 stairs to our Airbnb Florence apartment, and 70+ stairs to reach Joe and Marie’s flat in Ostrava in the Czech Republic.

I didn’t count the stairs to my and Shelly’s hotel room in Ostrava, because it was just two flights, and there was no elevator option, anyway.

There were many times, after a long, tiring day of being out and walking  for miles, when my companions tried to cajole me into taking the elevator. I never gave in. A few times I actually ran the stairs to beat their elevator to the top. The more winded I was when I reached our destination, the more satisfied I felt.

Yes, I’d turned the corner from aware to obsessed.

In Ostrava and Florence, we walked everywhere, rapidly. Every city has a pace its people walk. The pace most folks stroll across the Sundial Bridge or the Shasta District Fair or even our river trails (because where else do we walk?) is practically standing still when compared to how people book it in Prague, in particular. In Prague, you walk on the right side of the sidewalk or train-station escalators and do your best to keep up with the rapid foot traffic pace. Invariably, though, Czechs are passing at warp speed on your left, as if someone’s after them. Their faces remain impassive, but their feet are a blur. No surprise, but I didn’t see many morbidly obese people in Prague and Ostrava. And I didn’t see one electric scooter, though I saw a number of double-canes with supports that fit around forearms, especially used by the elderly.

Doni in Florence, where she and her family walked, rain or shine.

Doni in Florence, where she and her family walked, rain or shine.

Walking in Florence was more leisurely, but our vast distances covered made up for it. Most memorable were the stairs to reach San Miniota Al Monte, epic enough that in reviews, travelers said things like, “It’s well worth the climb” – always a tip-off that you’re in for a grueling trek. I’m in such good shape now that the stairs weren’t grueling in the least. I was pleased to pass that endurance test effortlessly.

From San Miniota, one of the highest points in Florence, the view - after you've climbed many, many, many stairs - is spectacular.

From San Miniota Al Monte, one of the highest points in Florence, the view – after you’ve climbed many, many, many stairs – is spectacular.

Initially my plan, while in Ostrava, was to work out a gym just for women near Joe and Marie’s place. Shelly and I went once, and worked out there for about an hour. The people there were nice, but the place was cramped, and although it had a lot of machines, none resembled what I use at Align. The whole experience just felt off. The clients were all neighborhood Czech women, and we felt out of place, clearly outsiders. So we didn’t go back.

That left walking and taking the stairs as my sole workouts. That provided lots of cardio, but virtually no upper-body work-out.

We flew home Monday, and I resumed my workouts at Align with Matthew Tuesday. I was surprised how much weaker my arms were in just two weeks away from weight-training. Matthew said not to worry, that although strength leaves fast, it returns quickly.

I was prepared to face the music and step immediately on the scale. But Matthew wanted me to wait until I’d been back at least 48 hours, to give my body time to expel water retained during long flights, compounded by excess sodium in airline food.

When Matthew finally weighed me Wednesday, his reaction was not what I expected. He actually laughed when he saw the number.

“You lost a pound!”

Doni celebrates one year at Align. Photo by Matthew R. Lister.

Doni celebrates one year at Align. Photo by Matthew R. Lister.

I’d say I didn’t believe it, except I knew my clothes didn’t feel any tighter. Matthew said that the fact that I could eat and drink as I had for two weeks in Europe and still lose a pound was proof that my metabolism had changed for the better.

“You’ve got this,” he said. “You’re never going to be fat again.”

I cried, of course.

Then I went home and made a salad for lunch. I’m grateful, but hey, there’s no sense pushing it.

I’ve got this.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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33 Responses

  1. Randall R Smith says:

    Congratulations and thanks for sharing your success and adventure.  Our biggest mistake in urban planning was taking away the neighborhood and central city idea which Europe evolved over centuries and had no choice when the automobile came into being.  Our worse example is Los Angeles mostly built with the car in mind.  It’s worse than you might imagine as powerful forces even there dismantled the Little Red Car and mandated freeways where quaint pueblo existence was established.

    Now we as a society are harvesting the fruit of  our automobile obsession: busing children, aged folks who can not bear their own weight, lost connectivity and convenience, knowing neighbors isolated by sprawl and debauched natural space.  The twice daily jam on Eureka Way means no one is walking to school anymore.  Anyway, we can do better with what we have and you have showed us the way.  A famed physiologist once said “the body is a support system for the legs”.  Think about health in that manner and your weight loss is easy to explain and very simple to understand why obesity is such a problem in our society. Heart, lungs, brain, liver, kidneys mean little without legs to use them.

  2. Oh, Randy, I saw what you’re talking about firsthand in Europe, where walking to daily errands is a way of life.

    Here in Redding, we have designated walking places – trails – other than that, I’ve often said that if you see someone walking, our first assumption is their car has broken down. Fingers crossed that the city’s new transportaion plan will literally be a step in the right direction to make our city more walking-friendly.

    I appreciate your wisdom and perspective, as always. “The body is a support system for the legs.” Absolutely.

    Thank you, Randy.

    xo

  3. Beverly Stafford says:

    What a great ending to a wonderful vacation!  In an article by nutrition and exercise guru, Covert Bailey, he wrote about being in Italy and seeing women who, although seemingly overweight, had sturdy, muscular legs due to their walking nearly everywhere.  Maybe on your next trip, you could tuck in some elastic tubes to keep up with your upper body work-outs.  They wouldn’t take up much room in your suitcase (leave one extra blouse home!), and you could “pump rubber” instead of being uncomfortable in a strange gym.

    Happy to have you back in your own zip code.  Looking forward to your food article.

    • You’re right about people’s fit legs in walking places. Shelly’s artistic figure-drawing eye noticed how well-toned people’s lower bodies were in Florence, Prague and Ostrava.

      And good idea about the rubber tubes. Next time! 🙂

  4. Karen Calanchini says:

    Way to go Doni…you got this. I know you were overjoyed!

  5. Oh – that’s a wonderful story — a testament to the wisdom on Matthew’s plan.  How nice to know that travel and fitness are not mutually exclusive. Of course, I want to hear all about Field…. 🙂

  6. Debbie says:

    So enjoy your travel descriptions around the food experience…especially the outcome!  Changing lifestyles in your own neighborhood must have felt validated when you visited other countries and saw how their normal looks on them.  Congratulations!

    • Thank you, Debbie. I’m still pleasantly surprised at the outcome. But as Matthew pointed out, this was a 2-week vacation in which my body didn’t fail me (and lost a pound), but that kind of outcome wouldn’t be sustainable if I continued to eat that way. So it’s back to a strict eating plan, which, actually feels good.

  7. Deb says:

    Determination wins!  AND you had tastes of wonderful things, too.

    Know what I loved most about this article, though?  Hard to choose as it was, with the happiness-filled photos throughout and the triumph at the end, was this passing sentence, “I thought Joe was probably right (because, in general, he is usually so right about so much).”

    Your weight loss and transformation have been truly remarkable and inspirational, but the fact that you are a mom who values her grown children as adults in their own right, with wisdom that merits heeding and the appreciation that they have grown into capable, intelligtent people, says even more about you than you might realize.  I’m sure your children are still, in many ways, your “babies”… but the fact that they are adults who you respect and admire says good things about them AND good things about you. xoxo

    • Oh, gosh, thanks for the words about my being a mom, and the relationship with my kids. They are all awesome and bright and wise in their own ways, and I am now in the delightful position of learning from them from time to time. I go to each of them for advice on different things, depending upon their area of expertise, and I’m never sorry.

      (But you’re right when you say they’ll always be my babies. 😉

  8. Grammy says:

    Almost felt like I was eating the food and gelato with you but also not gaining weight over it.  Sounds like a great vacation without having to get married again.

  9. Tom O'Mara says:

    Congratulations, Doni! We’ve been to Italy several times, and I typically lose 5 lbs. over two weeks, which I attribute to the walking. But what a great satisfaction for you to know you have this now.

    Best,

    Tom

  10. Barbara Stone says:

    What a great story! Next time I see you, I’m giving you a big congratulatory hug, sweat be damned!

  11. A. Jacoby says:

    WOO – HOO . . . . AND WOO – HOO AGAIN!!!

    Our minds are such powerful entities. . . . either for the positive or the negative. Part of what we are learning in this journey, is to listen more carefully to the positive things (Matthew saying, “don’t beat yourself up!”) our mind has to tell us and to recognize that the negative stuff, which is usually based on fear (I’m afraid this will be a repeat of my honeymoon!), doesn’t HAVE a right to take root in our psych.

    You go girl .. . and keep sharing those lessons with the rest of us. We all need them!

  12. cody says:

    It is amazing how many people are obese here in the USA.  I really notice it when, after spending a few weeks in Europe, or especially Asia, then return to the airport here in the States – I look around and a large % of our population are cows!  (I am casting stones from a glass house, as I could stand to lose maybe 10-15 myself)

    Thank you for sharing your experiences…

    • Well, not to remove all personal responsibility, but many European cities (and Randy pointed out) are geared for walking. For example, in Ostrava, where Joe and Marie live, there’s a city square, all open, where no cars go. It’s surrounded by shops. People walk there, and often they shop daily.

      Many US cities are so sprawled that walking isn’t an option, so we drive.

       

       

  13. Darbie says:

    See. I told you that “You’ve got this”!

  14. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    After all of that foodie talk, that was not the denouement I was expecting.  That really does suggest a long-term change in metabolism.  (I took Matthew’s online screening, and his reply mentioned something about giving up beer and wine.  I can deal with cutting out bread and pasta, but no beer or wine is a deal-killer for me.  But now I’m having second thoughts, having already gained my fall/winter 10 pounds).

    The only time I ever lost weight involving a trip was when I went to Japan and Korea. I was there on a wrestling team and had to maintain my weight class for four weeks.  Japanese food is lean cuisine if you take it easy on the white rice, and I got amoebic dysentery bad. Luckily, the bug only bloomed after my return, so it didn’t spoil the trip to Asia.  Upon my return, though, I immediately drove straight from California to Colorado, and it hit me about half-way across the Great Basin.  That was one miserable road trip.

  15. I wasn’t expecting to lose weight, either.

    (And your way of losing weight on a trip is pretty awful. )

  16. Russell K. Hunt says:

    Don’t forget the factory outlet stores in San Marino. And yes it is duty free as a separate country and stickers are available for your steamer trunks.

  17. Jorgi says:

    Doni, your trip and  food just could not keep up with your walking and stair climbing! What a wonderful story for you. Your determination in improving your health is mind boggling. And, what wonderful results. I’ve always thought you were a beautiful person – yes, even with the extra weight. And now, you can think of yourself as the beautiful person you are.

  18. Canda Williams says:

    Oh Doni, I want to cry too.  What a joy to find out even with the homemade donuts etc, that you lost a pound.  You really have reset your metabolism!  I’m so happy for you, my friend.  Now if you had only known this, you wouldn’t have worried so much on the trip. See, now your next trip you can just have fun, eat, walk, and know you’ll be fine.  Love you so much!

  19. Ginny says:

    Sometimes blessings come in strange ways.  It is wonderful!!!

    What a good job Mathew has done teaching you all that you have leaned about weight, and life, also!  Congrats on the 1 lb weight loss, and you still had a great trip, too!

    Very proud of you and for you!