Starting Over Again

My friend Mike turns 31 today. I went to his birthday party last night and he asked if I’d been writing and why I haven’t written here. (He’s one of those rare friends who can get down to brass tacks and engage in a deep conversation, even if you can’t remember the last time you saw each other.) I didn’t have a great answer aside from the fact that I’ve put about 15 pounds back on and didn’t think I had any business writing a blog about weight loss under those conditions. He implored me to “start doing healthy things again, if for no other reason than the fact that I’ll get to read your writing.” So here I am. Starting over again. Again. 
I realize that anecdote might make it sound like I’m recommitting myself to writing and healthy living because somebody asked me to. In reality, I’ve wanted to recommit to both but need an obscene amount of encouragement to even believe I can do either. 
Writing and losing weight/getting healthy have a lot more in common than I realized. They both require commitment, discipline, a ton of hard work and are a lot easier when you have a strong support system, encouraging you along the way. For me, writing and taking control of my health are both essential to my sustained happiness but they’re both almost impossible to do. I want to work out and make wise food choices – my tight pants, restricting tops and getting winded climbing the stairs make me miserable, but actually choosing to get out of bed to hit the gym or turning down seconds at dinner seems unfathomable in the moment. Same thing goes for writing. I love the feeling I get from finishing something I’m proud of. But sitting down to put words on paper? Actually working on a creative piece or even just a blog post? It’s like asking me to hike Everest- it’s an insurmountable feat and I don’t even have climbing gear. 
I suppose the solution to both is the same- knock it off with the bellyaching, make a plan and take action. I’m not going to get a perfect figure overnight and I’m not going to write a bestselling novel the first time I sit in front of my laptop . It’s going to take a long time and a whole lotta hard work to achieve my goals and dreams. And there’s no better time to get started than the present. 
“But what if I fail?!” screams my head. Guess what, anxious, self-doubting Sara Jane? You will fail. And then, in the immortal words of Aaliyah (RIP), “if at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.” There’s not a single person in this world who hasn’t struggled with something or taken detours on the path to success. (Except maybe Mindy Kaling, her life seems pretty great.)
“But what if I’m not talented?!” my head screams again. Well, you fatalist, think of Toby. Mama and her friend Toby have been pals since 5th grade (this is impressive to me because I barely keep up with my friends who live a mile away, let alone elementary school buds.) Toby has always been encouraging of my endeavors. I get messages from her at least once a quarter, reminding me that I have talent, begging me to use it, suggesting that I submit a packet to Samantha Bee’s new show or The Skimm. Or, she’ll tell me how impressed she is by my latest race or cake-baking. It’s always so flattering but instead of being inspired, I convince myself that she’s just being kind and slink back into my shell of self-doubt. What’s the harm in giving the people what they want? 😉 Why not choose to believe her? If all else fails, I’ve got at least two fans cheering me on. 
So, I hope you’ll bear with me as I start over again. And thanks, Mike and Toby. Your encouragement is exactly what I need. I expect daily pep talks in my inbox. Thx. 
tl;dr Been a long time, shouldn’t have left you without a dope beat to step to.   



I recently started a program with Health in Habit and I’m absolutely loving it.  Each day, Jennifer assigns a mental exercise that’s supposed to help you think through all of the emotions behind weight loss and healthy living – not just the calories in and out.  I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a program that doesn’t involve shakes or supplements or any other external factor.  It’s just working on your heart while you work on your health.  Anywho, I wanted to share something I wrote for today’s assignment because it’s a helpful reminder to me when I feel like a failure and just want to give up.


In all of my failed weight loss attempts, “perfection” looked like:

  • never “cheating”
  • always being obedient to my exercise plans without faltering or complaining
  • acting like losing weight is fun and easy
  • turning down food when I’m hungry
  • abstaining from anything “bad”
  • not talking about weight loss – just acting like I woke up one day and lost lbs.

I know perfection isn’t sustainable so, maybe this is what success looks like:

  • taking it one meal, one bite at a time
  • trying new exercises and making plans to work out with friends so that it’s fun and on the schedule
  • talking and journaling through how hard this is – mining the emotions that I’ve buried under mountains of shame and food
  • eating foods that nourish me when my body is hungry and learning to listen to my body to learn when it is actually hungry vs. bored or lonely
  • splurging when it’s worth it – it’s totally cool to have a piece of birthday cake on my birthday or to order my favorite dish when I visit my hometown once a year
  • thinking through when splurging isn’t worth it – why am I eating right now? Am I actually hungry or am I eating just because there’s a bowl of chips sitting out?
  • seeking out a community of people who are also on this journey and really relying on that support when it gets hard

Perfection is unattainable and completely unsustainable. The very nature of being human makes perfection impossible. They say that practice makes perfect but it seems like a more relevant saying would be practice makes habit. I’d rather build a lifetime of healthy habits than 2 weeks of “perfection.”

Checking In

I feel like I’m in a constant yo-yo of good and bad. I got sick and had no appetite for about 7 solid days (a sensation I am not at all accustomed to) then I regained my appetite and have since done my very best to rid this city of all sugar, potatoes and cheese by way of consumption.

Here I am again, checking in after weeks and weeks of being AWOL. At the urging of my Mama, my Grandmama, my Uncle Glenn (by way of Mama and Grandmama) and Christian, I’m going to write and schedule posts more often. If I make showing up a priority, it won’t become such a huge undertaking.

So, what’s been going on? The last few weeks have been kind of weird.  I feel like I’m in a constant yo-yo of good and bad. I got sick and had no appetite for about 7 solid days (a sensation I am not at all accustomed to) then I regained my appetite and have since done my very best to rid this city of all sugar, potatoes and cheese by way of consumption. I also haven’t exercised in two weeks, save for one yoga class that nearly killed me. The strange thing is that my weight’s stayed the same so, I’ve convinced myself that I’m now invincible.  (Never mind that I don’t feel great most of the time and am not taking my health into account – it’s just what’s on the scale.)

I ran an 8k a few weeks ago and finished two minutes faster than my goal! That was great! The threat of an impending rainstorm does wonders for one’s motivation.


I’ve got a 10k this Saturday and haven’t run in almost 3 weeks. So that should be fun! I’ve got a 10 miler on the books for Memorial Day weekend (which coincides with Mama visiting me!) and another 8k in June to benefit PAWs.  (If you’d like to donate to PAWS and help save the lives of homeless pets, you can do so here. My goal is to raise $150 by race day.) There’s been talk of a half marathon but I have yet to work up the nerve to register.  We’ll see.

As far as my relationship with food goes, I often don’t feel like much has changed over the last 2 years of this journey.  I still eat past the point of being full, I still think about food way too often and I still lament the fact that I can’t go around shoveling everything I see down my throat, Cookie Monster-style. Every single day is a struggle but when I truly think about it, I can see improvements.

Every Friday, I head downtown early for an appointment. I usually stop in Protein Bar and order a chocolate protein smoothie for breakfast.  It feels like a special treat! This past Friday, I took a slightly different route to my appointment and walked past Chick-Fil-A. Without thinking twice, I headed inside to treat myself to a very different type of breakfast.  As I waited in line, I couldn’t help but curse the FDA or whoever decided that restaurants must include calorie counts on their menus.  I just couldn’t justify ordering the spicy chicken biscuit meal – I’d be blowing half of my calories for the day on one meal! I’d love to tell you that I turned around, walked out and ordered that smoothie.  But I didn’t.  Instead, I ordered the chicken minis, a small coffee and passed on the hash browns.  Sure, the chicken minis were tasty and they cost me fewer calories but I was hungry again after leaving my appointment an hour later.

I could chalk that experience up to failure or I could look at it as a baby step.  It’s so easy to get down on myself when I make poor decisions or see the scale creep back up. And it’s so hard to see how far I’ve come.  I ran across this picture recently.  It was taken 2 years ago on St. Patrick’s Day.  I remember being horrified when I saw it the first time and relieved when I found it again.  I have come a long way!


Until Susie comes back so we can pose for the ultimate transformation Tuesday, this photo from September will have to do.


tl;dr: Changes are taking the pace I’m going through*

*borrowed from Bowie


My clothes started to get snug, my weight started to creep back up and my motivation reached an all-time low. Why is this so hard?! Why does this have to be a CONSTANT battle? When will I hit that point where I look forward to exercising or start choosing salad over fries without feeling cheated? Better yet, why can’t I have the fit body with a lightening-quick metabolism that burns thousands of calories while I lounge on the couch, watching another 10 episodes of Murder, She Wrote? IT’S NOT FAIR. WHY ME? I AM THE VICTIM HERE.

I haven’t checked in since November 11th. Whoops. I could blame it on my promotion at work, the busyness of the holidays or a million other things but, the truth is: I’ve been hiding from you, dear readers.

I spent the last few months eating poorly (or very well, depending on your perspective) and exercising very little. Sure, I’d go on an occasional run or meet a friend for TRX class but my gym membership fees were completely going to waste. I felt like a fraud, writing a blog about weight loss and life change, while secretly shoveling Christmas Oreo bark and homemade tamales down my gullet by the truckload.

Christian’s mom’s tamales being assembled.

My clothes started to get snug, my weight started to creep back up and my motivation reached an all-time low. Why is this so hard?! Why does this have to be a CONSTANT battle? When will I hit that point where I look forward to exercising or start choosing salad over fries without feeling cheated? Better yet, why can’t I have the fit body with a lightening-quick metabolism that burns thousands of calories while I lounge on the couch, watching another 10 episodes of Murder, She Wrote? IT’S NOT FAIR. WHY ME? I AM THE VICTIM HERE.

I was so proud of being able to buy a sequined dress for NYE but so horrified when I put it on and my stomach rolled over the top of my tights. I made my friend Hannah retake this photo several times to crop out my Dunlop's Disease.
I was so proud of being able to buy a sequined dress for NYE but so horrified when I put it on and my stomach rolled over the top of my tights. I made my friend Hannah retake this photo several times to crop out my Dunlop’s Disease.

For the last three months, I’ve been participating in a weight loss study through Northwestern’s Psychology Department. There’s no miracle drug, no experimental procedures and no real risk. I get weekly coaching calls, a calorie/exercise tracking app and general weight loss support. A few weeks ago, during my coaching call, I confessed how I feel like a victim. How it isn’t fair that being overweight “happened to me.” My coach didn’t scold me or call me a big, fat dummy (though she would’ve been totally right) she just let it all sink in for a second. I realized how silly that sounded. Being overweight didn’t “happen to me,” it’s a result of my choices. And if that’s something I want to change, then I’ll have to alter my choices.

Man, oh man is it hard to alter those choices. It’s a non-stop struggle to make wise food decisions, to show up to the gym, to wake up early on Saturday mornings to run in the cold, to turn down treats. And I give in, a lot. Sure, I ran 4 miles this morning in the snow and slush but, I ordered corned beef hash and eggs for brunch.

But I’m learning. I know myself well enough to know that I’m not going to just go exercise without an appointment. So I schedule group classes the week before and sign up so I can’t cancel. I joined a running club so I’ll be held accountable to someone other than myself. I added new exercises (yoga and barre – both pretty great) to keep me challenged and to add a little variety. I still meal plan and cook every day but I try to make simpler recipes that won’t take forever (the longer dinner takes to cook, the more I snack whilst it’s cooking.) It still makes me mad that this is something I have to do forever in order to be healthy but I guess it’s better than the alternative of being miserable in my own body.

Running buddy, Jane.
Running buddy, Jane.

So that’s why I stayed away. I kept waiting for something momentous and inspiring to happen so I could come back and write about it. Instead, normal, everyday life happened. But isn’t that kind of what this whole thing is all about anyway? Just living normal, everyday life?

tl;dr This s#!t ain’t easy. Take it one day at a time, man.

Over a month and 9.3 miles later…

Whoops. Didn’t mean to go this long without writing anything! Remember how last time, I said I was no longer meeting with my trainer and I’d need lots of help and encouragement getting to the gym? Yeah… it hasn’t gone great. I’ve exercised maybe 7 times in the last month. A far cry from the 3-5 times a week I was used to. And my diet has taken a huge nose dive, too. Instead of fastidiously planning my meals and exercise routines, I’ve fallen back into old habits of eating out and spending my evenings watching Netflix (sidebar: I cannot stop watching Murder, She Wrote. If only I could stream episodes at the gym!) I’ve noticed my clothes fitting a little tighter, my endurance waning and my resolve is all but gone. It’s high time for a swift kick in the butt!

And a swift kick I received! A few months ago, high off the endorphins of three complete 5ks, I signed up for the Hot Chocolate 15k. I ran the 10k in September and kept thinking, “I’ll get around to training soon. Just one more week. I’ll start next Saturday.” Before I knew it, the 15k was upon me and I’d done nothing to prepare except buy a hot chocolatey running outfit.

I think this is the best costume for the day.
I think this is the best costume for the day.

It was FREEZING the morning of the race so I stayed bundled up in my long sleeved running top and race hoodie. I even borrowed Christian’s running gloves to keep the cold at bay. Waiting in the corral was miserable and I just knew I’d never get warm. How wrong I was. One mile in, I was miserably hot, shed the gloves and desperately wanted to come out of my jacket. But that would’ve required repining my bib and I decided at mile one, I’d be done in probably an hour and 40 minutes so it wouldn’t be so bad. Fool.

My faithful cheerleader, braving the cold.
My faithful cheerleader, braving the cold.

Although I felt pretty good running, I’d been sipping water all morning and the urge to use the bathroom hit me the second I crossed the start line. I made a pit stop at mile 2. An hour and 40 minutes was still within my reach! I’d mapped out the water stations ahead of time and decided I’d only stop at the one just after the 5k mark and the one just after the 10k mark. If I “treated” myself with those two water stations, maybe I could trick my body into thinking I was just running three separate 5ks with little breaks in between. My body was not fooled. I honestly felt pretty good until about mile 5.5. My socks started to rub blisters and my feet were just plain sore. And there were still almost 4 miles to go!


I slowed down considerably after that and basically trudged the rest of the course. Just after mile 9, I must’ve looked distressed and was possibly moaning. Who can say for certain? Just as I was sure death was upon me, an angel in flourescent yellow turned around, smiled at me and said, “Come on, honey! Let’s finish this up together!” This perfect stranger ran alongside me for the final .3 of the race, encouraging me. We picked up our pace and crossed the finish line, triumphant and smiling! I would come to learn that her name is Susan and her encouragement and camaraderie were exactly what I needed right then. She asked if it was my first 15 and then told me it’s amazing what our bodies can do with a little encouragement and when they see the finish line ahead. I hugged her, thanked her and then lost her in the crowd. I can’t wait to get the race photos back so I can see if she was real. Perhaps she was the Clarence to my George Bailey. It was an act of kindness I’ll never forget.

'sup, boobs?
‘sup, boobs?

In hindsight, of course I wish I’d trained, eaten well and prepared myself. My time was pretty pitiful and I got passed by a speed walker. There is little more humbling than a 60-something-year-old man swishing past you, his hips defying nature.

hc 15k time

But I finished! I ran a race that was 9.3 miles long! Holy crap!! And that’s not it – I bought a deal on TRX/Kettlebell classes and I’ve got an exciting new opportunity in accountability starting up soon. I even planned healthy meals every day this week and am ready to get back at it. With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, I can’t afford to strap on the feedbag like I usually do. This isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle change. One for the better.

A healthy treat at the end of a sweaty rainbow.
A healthy treat at the end of a sweaty rainbow.

tl;dr ran a super long way pretty slowly

Free Ballin’ or An Ode to Leah

By the time you read this, I will have completed my last training session with the hilarious, smart, beautiful and talented Leah.  I will probably be in tears most of the day, try not to stare.

I hope she doesn't mind that I borrowed this photo!
I hope she doesn’t mind that I borrowed this photo!

Working out with Leah was one of the best decisions I made in my endeavor to get healthy. When I started going to the gym, I had no idea what I was doing and I clumsily and self-consciously stumbled from machine to machine, pretending to work out.  I was terrified at the prospect of getting a trainer but knew it could do me nothing but good. Thankfully, I was paired with this wonderful angel who pushed me, encouraged me and literally shaped me over the course of our year together.  We became more than trainer and client, we became friends.

Cheesy Pinterest Inspirational Quote #1

I’d put training sessions right up there with comfy shoes and a good, sturdy bra in the competition for best investments.  I learned how to workout effectively, how to burn fat and calories, how to eat in a way that refuels my body, how to treat my body well so that it’s strong and effective – not just attractive and I gained confidence when exercising that I didn’t know was possible.  If not for Leah, I never would’ve signed up for a 5K, 10K or 15K. We’ve even discussed a triathlon in the Spring! The gym is no longer a place of shame, embarrassment and inadequacy – it’s a place of empowerment.  I cannot thank Leah enough for giving me the tools I need to keep pushing forward on this journey.

Cheesy Pinterest Inspirational Quote #2


So why is this our last session? Training is a valuable investment but it is an investment.  One that I unfortunately cannot afford on my current salary. (Mark my words- the second that salary changes for the better, I’ll be back.) Choosing not to purchase more sessions was even more terrifying than signing up in the first place. Having a partner, teacher, mentor to push me along is so helpful.  When I’m left to my own devices, it’s much more difficult to get to the gym at 6 AM… or at all.  But I must! This journey is not through and I have miles of progress left to make. Now, more than ever, it’s imperative that I build workouts into my schedule, not just when I have a few spare minutes.  Exercise can’t be a priority if it’s an afterthought.

It’s up to me now.  Yikes.  I let myself get away with murder.

Cheesy Pinterest Inspirational Quote #3

With that being said, I’m totally up for gym dates, running dates, hilarious experimental exercise classes (I’m looking at you, Gwen) or just the occasional word of encouragement.


tl;dr $hit just got real

10k Report: A Moderate Success!

Good news! I finished the 10k and didn’t poop my pants! Bad news: I didn’t finish in 1:05 like I’d hoped.  I stopped once to readjust a blister-inducing sock and I stopped at all 4 water stations. Those stops coupled with decreased speed in the last two miles tacked almost 5 unwanted minutes onto my final time.  I finished at 1:09:43.  The half-marathon winner finished at 1:09:46.  Ha! I beat him. (Never mind that he ran more than double my mileage.)


The weather forecast predicted an 80% chance of rain and warm temperatures. I was not looking forward to repeating the Chinatown 5k conditions.  Thankfully, it only sprinkled on our way in and was beautiful for the entire race.  With the weather mercifully overcast and breezy, I didn’t overheat.

According to Map My Run, I had a decent pace at first but steadily got slower as the miles wore on.  I kind of psyched myself out before this race.  I was afraid of dehydrating so I stopped at every water station. I was afraid of pooping in my pants so I woke up every hour the night before to try to go to the bathroom. I was afraid there would be hills (and there were) so I got some helpful tips from my trainer on how to handle them. In hindsight, I really felt good the entire time and could’ve pushed myself harder but let fear stop me.



Once I crossed the finish line, I realized I wasn’t dying, I wasn’t hurt (other than sore knees and a couple blisters) and I actually did it! I ran a 10k!! Even though I didn’t meet my time goal, I still accomplished a HUGE goal! I NEVER would’ve dreamed I could run 6.2 miles.  I never would’ve dreamed I could run for more than an hour.  I’m still incredibly proud of myself!

Pardon the ID card in the bra. It’s the safest pocket I had.

A carton of chocolate milk, a string cheese and a couple cups of water later, I was on the rail at the finish line to wait for Christian and Nick to finish the half marathon.  They both ran a half in Indianapolis in May and were talking the night before this race about how they didn’t train as hard for this half.  That didn’t seem to matter when they sailed across the finish line, shaving a couple minutes off each of their times.

These champs ran the half marathon and beat their previous times. Hills and all.

A post shared by Sara Jane Castro (@saryjanecastro) on

After their race, we enjoyed our complimentary beers and rested a little while enjoying beautiful Miller Park. (Bonus: we get to go back because each registration came with a ticket to see a Brewers game!)

Pardon the bare feet, I took my shoes off for a bit on account of the blisters.
Too hard to smile, brah.


Now, time to get back out there and continue training for the 15k in November.

tl;dr 10k:done. Pants: accident-free