Product Review: Free Country Swimwear

free country racerback tankiniOne of the most exciting parts of losing weight is selecting new styles of clothes to wear that you wouldn’t dare try on before. A 2-piece swimsuit was one I dared to try this summer. I was contacted by Free Country to choose a some swimwear to review on my blog, and it was the first time I looked at a site at said “I don’t need to order from the plus size section anymore!”

Because this is my first two-piece, I feel like the review needs to be in two parts. One is for the experience with the Free Country website and ordering process. The other is about what it’s like to go from an industrial-strength shaping swimsuit to a cute little two-piece.

From the tag on my swimsuit:

“Free Country. Where fashion meets function. Free Country’s designs express individual style wherever your spirit moves you. Active fashion and performance quality reflect your lifestyle and ensure comfort under any conditions.”

free country swim skirt cloud_grey-aqua

The pieces I selected are from Free Country’s Inter-Changeables line: Interchange our swim separates for endless styling possibilities. I selected the beach bonfire racerback tankini in citrus and cloud grey in size XL. The tankini has elastic under the bust bands for extra support, and removable soft padding in the cups. The tie-front accent swim skirt in cloud gray aqua was my choice for the bottom piece. This swim skirt design has a little slit with a contrasting color tie-front accent, and built-in brief that matches tie. The combo seemed like a cute and sporty look for the beach or poolside.)

With all Free Country swimwear, the tops and bottoms are inter-changeable for fun styling possibilities. You can mix and match to find your unique style! I love the aqua, lime, and gray combination. My order was processed quickly, and I had my shipment within a week. The garments are well made, with attention to little details (like how the stitching on the bust lies flat and doesn’t add any unwanted bulk). The racerback top is very comfortable, the straps fit in place, and I think it’s a pretty flattering design. The swim skirt didn’t fit me quite right…the rise wasn’t high enough and didn’t cover all the parts I needed covered. It’s a cute design, but doesn’t work for my body.

nicole free country racerback

Now for my review of going from a one-piece to two-piece swimsuit.

I’m used to wearing swimsuits with a ridiculous amount of compression. I’m used to throwing down $80+ to get a suit that is so tight I can barely get it on. I don’t like my body to jiggle, especially when there is already so much exposed while I’m bathing. So while I was in the upper echelons of plus-size swimwear, I bought the one-piece suit that was the most flattering (without much attention to my personal style). This suit by Free Country felt like a whole new experience because IT SHOWS OFF MY BODY, whether or not I’m ready for it to show. The cups have a very thin removable padding to help hide any nipple-showthrough, and I don’t think I’ll ever remove the pads. The part that blew my mind is that the midsection of the tankini was only one layer thick. One layer of print and stretch material between modesty and baring my belly. My body is long, and and extra 2-3 inches in length would have made me more comfortable. But I would have been okay with wearing the top if the bottom worked.

With my massive weight loss, I have a pretty significant pannus (squishy belly skin overhang). I rarely go out of the home without underwear or Slimpressions or some other clothing item that gives me some tightness in my belly. Despite the “skirt” of the swim skirt, the rise just wasn’t high enough to cover all my bits and pieces comfortably. I thought of how I could find a compression garment that could probably work well under this swimsuit, but it kind of kills the whole reason of having swimwear – having something that’s easy to play around in the water with.

free country racerback topI REALLY like the pattern and colors of the tankini, so I looked all through the swimwear sections at department stores through the summer to find some swim bottoms that would work with the top. For anything with the coverage I want, I either need to invest in a fatkini (and all of the styles and colors I liked clashed) or I’d have to go with black. There’s nothing wrong with black. I’ve worn lots of black in my life. But I really wanted something fun and spunky, and I didn’t have any luck with it this summer. There are other options that Free Country offers that look cute with the tankini, but I’m fairly certain they won’t work with my body. That’s a flaw of my body and my self-consciousness, not of the swimsuit 🙂 I wore the suit out with some black bike shorts (thrilling I know) and will continue looking for the perfect bottoms for the suit.

Free Country not only offers swimwear, but a lot of options for winter outdoor wear. I’ve seen a lot of their clothing at Kohl’s and plan to try on a bunch next time I’m in store.

Have you tried Free Country swimwear?

FTC Disclosure: I was given swimwear from Free Country with the express purpose of completing a product review. Estimated retail value of product is $84.00. No additional compensation was given for my review. All opinions are my own.

The Halloween Candy Conundrum

nicole bullock weight lossSo far in 2012, I’ve lost 114 pounds. I’ve been really happy with my success, I’ve made a lot of changes in my lifestyle and eating habits.

Now it’s October. And I’m struggling. It’s Halloween candy season.

There is something about Halloween candy that’s insatiable for me. The variety, the nostalgia, the candies that you can only find seasonally. Since my gastric bypass, candy is supposed to be totally off limits. But man, those “fun-size” candy bars are tempting. Even just a tiny bite can make me soooo sick. So why am I obsessing about it?

This week at work, my coworker Joseph made this infographic about Halloween candy. He bought a huge stash of candy, took detailed photos, and made it into this awesome graphic. Click on the image for a better view.

Trick or Treat [infographic]

Ever since he started making the infographic, I’ve had candy on the brain. I can still smell the sugar in my office. I can’t stop thinking about candy. But instead of guilting myself about how much I love candy, I’m just going to own up to it (even though I’m not going to eat it). This year I will miss my KitKats, Caramellos, vanilla Tootsie Rolls, Almond Joys, and Reeses peanut butter cups. But my health is so much more important. And that’s why I’m going to be trying as hard as I can to resist temptation.

What are your favorite Halloween candies?

Review: Fresh Produce Clothes

I was recently contacted by a representative for Fresh Produce Clothes, a California fashion retailer. Having lost some weight, I’ve been excited to have new things to wear in my wardrobe. I was told to go on the website and pick anything I wanted. How cool is that?

The Fresh Produce site was full of unique womens tops that were stylish and age-appropriate. After being in the upper sizes of everything available in plus size stores, I was excited to find stuff young and fashionable. Also, can I say how refreshing it is to see a website that actually uses plus-size models? It’s frustrating to see an outfit on a “normal model” and try to imagine it on your larger frame. In many stores and in many websites, even a plain plus-size t-shirt could run me $40, and usually it wouldn’t fit well. For similar prices, Fresh Produce offers an impressive variety of stuff co cute, I could hardly decide on just one thing.

I decided on the Float Above Top in South Beach Blue. This shirt retails for $64 and features “Gathered pintuck details at the gently scooped neckline for a feminine and flattering silhouette. 92% rayon, 8% lyrca, shallow scoop neck, raglan sleeves with gathers, pintuck detailing, made in USA.”

As soon as I pulled the shirt out of the mailer, I knew I’d love it. It’s got the right amount of stretch to emphasize my curves, and the length wasn’t too long or too short. I was surprised that the sleeves have an unfinished edge, but even after a few washings, it hasn’t frayed. My only problem, which was more with my frame than with the shirt itself, was that the scoop neck goes LOW on me. I’m constantly tugging at the shirt so that it doesn’t show the top edge of my bra cup. I’ve tried wearing the shirt with a Shade and a HalfTee, and it doesn’t look quite right. I might have to alter the top seam of the shirt to avoid that hassle.

But overall, I LOVE the shirt. I always get compliments on it, and it’s a good shirt for the transition phases of my weight loss. I got it in a 2x, and the fabric is definitely baggier in the last 3 weeks than when I got it. But luckily, the fitting through the shoulders and arms is just right so I’ll still be able to wear it for some time to come.

FTC Disclosure: I received this clothing item from Fresh Produce clothing free of charge in exchange for a blog post to review the item. Opinions in the post are my own. Estimated retail value $64.

Beauty and the Bypass

beauty and the bypass

I’m excited to announce two things:

I’ve been approved for weight loss surgery, and will be undergoing laparoscopic roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery on February 7th.

I’ve decided to share my weight loss journey publicly, and have launched a dedicated blog to document the process. It is called “Beauty and the Bypass.”

If you’re curious to know why I’ve decided to have gastric bypass surgery, or what the surgery approval process is like, I’ve already blogged about those topics. The blog will include video blog posts, food diaries, and a detailed account of what my surgery and recover process is like. If you’d like to get updates about the process, you can like my Beauty and the Bypass Facebook page,  or you can subscribe to the Beauty and the Bypass feed on Feedburner.

If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time, you know that I’ve had a long time struggle with chronic health conditions, and I have a difficult time losing weight. If I have breathing problems, I go on steroids and gain more weight. It’s taken a few years to know that surgery is the right move for me, and it took over a year to get my insurance to authorize it. I’m excited for my “new life” to start, a life where I am not perpetually bound by hunger and food addiction. I know it will be a difficult process, but I’m ready for it. And I hope that you will join along with me.

I’m Going Off Soda

giving up diet cokeI’ve been threatening to do it for year.

And now is the time.

Today is my 5th day completely soda/carbonation free. It’s actually day 8 in the process, but I caved to a can of Diet Mtn Dew when I had a headache on day 2.

There are a lot of reasons why I needed to give it up. First, it was an addiction, pure and simple. I couldn’t get through the day without a McDiet #PDR, or a “Route 44 Coke Zero with vanilla” at Sonic. I would wake up thinking of how bad I wanted a Coke to get me going in the morning. I wanted a drink to get me through the lull of the afternoon. I wanted a drink to help me focus at work. It was overwhelming.

Second, it was expensive. Many days I drank well over 100oz, much to the chagrin of my wallet. My husband called my daily need for soda my “pack a day” habit. Even trying to get the cheapest refills, it was easily costing me over $100 per month. I can think of a lot of things I’d rather spend $100 on a month.

Third, it was not good for my health. I’ve been taking mega-doses of Vitamin D and Calcium to make up for the mineral deficiencies that diet soda causes. Plus, it was stretching out my stomach. I can down a 32oz drink in no time, which made it that much easier to overeat. Although I got to the point that I would choose a soda over a decadent dessert…it still was a little messed up to be thinking that way. After watching this video, I knew I needed to do it:

I’m getting ready for a big change in my life that I’ve been preparing to undertake for over a year. If all goes as planned, it will happen sometime in February. It will change my life and my health for the better. I’m even working on a separate blog to document the process, which I will announce shortly. I’m even going to VIDEO BLOG on it, which I haven’t every ventured into before. I’m scared and excited at the same time.

So raise your glass (of water) and congratulate me on 5 days “sober” from soda. I’ll need support on this one. Just the sound of carbonation is a temptation.

Insomnia and Hypersomnia

The insomnia monster is visiting me regularly these days, or nights rather. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about my sleep issues, so what better time to write about it than in the middle of the night?

Since my mid-teenage years, I’ve had such irregular sleep patterns. Or “poor sleep hygiene” as a sleep specialist would label it. I vacillate between insomnia to hypersomnia, particularly excessive daytime sleepiness. Despite my desire for a useful and restful 8 hours at night, it’s extremely rare. I’m frustrated with the insomnia to the point that it keeps me up even more. Days are unpredictable and often doze into microsleeps. If I lost my access to Provigil and caffeine, I don’t know where I’d be.

I had my first overnight sleep study in 2004. I was diagnosed with upper airway resistance syndrome, which is a precursor to obstructive sleep apnea. I tried using CPAP therapy for 6 months, and it honestly hindered my ability to sleep. My doctor advised weight reduction, which has been my constant struggle since my early teen years. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to lose weight when you are getting inadequate sleep. Over the next several years, I’ve moved from state to state, never having continuous care with a single sleep specialist.

Through 2008 and 2009, my symptoms worsened and I accepted that I have sleep apnea. Despite my hatred of the CPAP mask, I have accepted it as a part of my life.

I have tried a variety of CPAP masks over the years…full face, nasal pillows, comfort gel. And honestly?  NONE OF THEM ARE TRULY COMFORTABLE. It comes down to what you can tolerate enough to actually fall asleep. I’m certain hundreds of hours of sleep have been lost, directly due to the fact that I was stressing about the ugly and awkward mask on my face. I joke that my bedside table is a “graveyard of rejected CPAP masks.” I cannot even begin to fathom the cost of all the medical equipment, polysomnography testing, and doctors visits.

I’ve been actively working towards weight loss the past 6 months. Unfortunately, I feel like I’m making negligible progress. I’ve had 6 doctors in 4 states urge me to seriously consider bariatric surgery. All of them are certain that if I drop 80+ pounds, the chest and throat obstruction that cause my sleep apnea will practically disappear. I’m wondering how many more conservative means I need to exhaust before I can go under the knife knowing that I’ve done all I can do? I started going to Curves Fitness, and hope so deeply it could be the answer I’ve sought for successful weight loss. Unfortunately, I go into every weigh loss attempt with that attitude, and usually give up after months of effort that don’t yield results.

I would love to be healthier, leaner, and could sleep without the restraint of a CPAP mask on my face (and to travel without lugging around the CPAP machine!) I just need to keep trying so I can make it happen, and it might be with the help of a surgeon at this point.

Putting the CUTE back into CuteCultureChick

nicole bullock weight loss

I may not be everyone’s ideal of beauty, but I am beautiful. At least, I believe I am most of the time.

The last 24 hours have really rocked my world. An article by Maura Kelly was posted yesterday, via the Marie Claire website, entitled “Should Fatties Get A Room (Even on TV?).” In this inflammatory piece of literary rubbish very bluntly and vocally stated her disgust with people who were overweight. She was speaking of a CNN article about a CBS sitcom called “Mike and Molly,” in which a couple meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. Maura Kelly states,

“Yes, I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.”

As I obsessively thought about this subject yesterday, I decided to watch some episodes of “Mike and Molly” on The show is a comedy about two blue-collar people falling in love, who happen to be obese. Sure, there are fat jokes poked in, but it is a COMEDY series, about people who are more real than most other TV relationships. The fact that they meet at an OA meeting shows that they aren’t content with themselves, and are making proactive steps to improve their lives. I truly believe that Melissa McCarthy is a knockout.

For me, and I’m sure for most people that struggle with their weight, it’s more than just fast food. It’s metabolic and chemical deficiencies. It’s long-term, deep seated fears and habits. It’s difficult to feel judged and misunderstood. It’s hard to be persistent when months of strict dietary observance result in plateaus. And despite the notions portrayed in the media, and the hurtful/helpful comments from loved ones,  I have to remind myself that I AM NOT WHAT THEY PERCEIVE ME TO BE.

Obesity does not equal Ugly

Obesity does not equal Lazy

Obesity may mean flawed and weak, but aren’t we all?

My weight has exacerbated my respiratory problems (asthma and sleep apnea), and I have PCOS. I know my emotional scars and depression are intricately linked to my body issues. Back in May, I started Weight Watchers for the 8th time. It’s embarrassing to say that out loud, but it’s true. Weight Watchers has worked better than any other weight loss method I’ve attempted. And believe me, there have been some crazy ways I’ve tried. Wackjob doctors, diet pills, starvation, injections, days of eating nothing but oranges and pickles. I have kept all my Weight Watchers materials (five different printing editions). I have a thick file folder full of my written food trackers. Month after month after month of negligible progress.

Fortunately this spring, I got up the guts to give it another try. Since May, I’m down 25ish pounds. Unfortunately that means another 160 to go. No weight loss effort has very netted a loss of over 30 pounds. It’s hard to not get frustrated and give up. Or I’ll be having some good Momentum and financial difficulties require dropping the $40/month membership fee. When I’m motivated, I exercise like a maniac…and usually hurt myself. I’ve been through numerous counseling sessions and support meetings, partnered up with workout buddies, and nothing seems to have a lasting effect. I’ve learned the coping mechanisms to avoid binge eating…but I still occasionally relapse. I’m seriously considering bariatric surgery, but I don’t feel like I’ve reached the “last resort” point yet.

So for people who look at my body, thinking I’m lazy, disgusting, slothful, unattractive, I wish they could know the real me. The desire I have to be healthy and shapely. But it’s been a long time since CuteCultureChick has FELT cute. I’m committed again to working towards a better life. I just wish those with narrow minds and cold hearts could recognize that.


Three weeks ago, Taylor and I signed up for a gym membership. My health’s been better recently and I’m feeling motivated to lose weight again (especially looking at myself in all those London pictures). In the past 11 days, I’ve had 7 cardio workouts. I started out barely being able to hang on for 25 minutes, now I can make it through 40 minutes. I haven’t done much weight training yet, but I’ll incorporate it fairly soon. I got a freebie session with a personal trainer and went over some suggested exercises, and did a health profile. I’ve been feeling more energetic, my clothes fit a little better and am motivated to stick with this.

Despite the newfound motivation, I’m frustrated. I stepped on the scale and I’ve gained 7 pounds in two weeks. Everyone gives me the “gaining muscle mass” excuse (which I think is partially true) but it’s still disappointing. On the whole, my eating has been really healthy; lean meats, fruits and veggies, whole grains, etc. I’ve splurged a few times, like cupcakes and sweet potato fries, but my portions have been MUCH smaller than the last few months. I hope I’ll be able to take off weight (or at least not gain anymore) as the holidays (and holiday food) will be present for the rest of the year.

Weight Loss Blog

I decided to pick up the posting again on my private weight loss blog that I started almost a year ago. The funny thing is that I weigh about the same as I did when I started the blog in February, even though I’ve been up at least 12 pounds higher, and down 9 pounds lower than my current weight. I’m a total yo-yo-er. If you are really my friend, or really want to be part of my support system, email me or leave a comment with your email to become part of my support network.

This means you must comment and show me the love. My husband is gone all the time, and day-to-day encouragement is needed.

Work and Weight Loss Update

Update at work…my alpha changed again from Q-S. Much easier I must say, about oh….1000 less accounts. Big relief. I complained to my team coordinator that I felt overwhelmed, and she split the alpha again. Stats may not suck so much this month after all.

So many movies and shows I want to see. I’m going to see Annie Get Your Gun at Copper Hills High on Monday…Katie from Hello Dolly is in it. Then I’m seeing Scott from HD in Pirated Penzance at the Grand sometime soon. And possibly Footloose at Cyprus on Tuesday, but I’m still not sure on that one. The new Harry Potter flick came out yesterday…I’ll probably see that soon. Still need to rent Star Wars Ep. 2 and Spiderman.

And now for the best news…I got my 10% at WW today! I’ve lost 23 lbs on WW, and I’m feeling good. Time to buy more clothes. *hehehe*
Nicole 3:58 PM