Saturday, September 26, 2015

Two years later, keeping off the weight's no piece of cake

With my Weight Watchers leader, Kim, on my goal day. Why do we look so sleepy?

Two years ago next week, I reached the culmination of my decision to no longer be heavy. Sixty-five pounds gone, I stood with my Weight Watchers leader for the photo above. Aside from the days my children were born, I don't think I'd ever been so happy.

After seven months of eating fruits, vegetables and lean protein and staying far away from restaurants, I'd reached my goal. I'd transformed myself outside and inside; I knew, I just knew, that I had beaten my food demons, and that life would be different. 

Now, two years later -- I'll be traveling on the actual anniversary, so I'm observing it now -- I agree with my prediction that day in the meeting room. Life is different. Good-different, mostly; I'm healthy. I'm at home in this smaller body. I like the way I feel.

But the rest of it is the hard kind of different. Much like friends who have to work on their sobriety every moment, I have to work on this. I had given lip service, as I was losing weight, to the fact that the plan I was following constituted a lifestyle change, not a diet. That is, and was, true. But I was treating like a diet. Still am.

I'm not sure how to adjust the part of me that views food in such an adversarial way. And I know I'm not alone.

I'm in awe of people who can simply eat -- who don't have to think about calories and points and sugar and carbs. Even when I was heavy, I was conscious of those things and cared about them, but didn't know how to stop eating to excess. More accurately, I wasn't willing to stop.

And then one day, shortly after turning 50, I was willing. I knew, though, that I would need accountability and structure, so I sought some. The timing was right, and everything came together. 

And there I stood that Sunday, having lost nearly a third of myself. (I'm still not sure where that one-third went, as the "loss" of body mass is still a concept that befuddles me.) And I knew, just knew, I'd never be heavy again.

I don't know why I was so breezily confident. I had lost and gained weight before, albeit never that much; I knew how easy it was to ease oneself out of the "zone," fall back into old habits and watch the weight creep back. 

But I was just so joyful. I never wanted to stop feeling that way.

Two years later, I no longer feel that way. I realize I've defied the odds in keeping the weight off for a while, but I've also had to fight like hell to limit my regain to five pounds. Slowly, I'm chipping away at those, and they'll soon be gone. And I'm still essentially "at goal," in the parlance of the plan I follow.

But I'm not counting on magic to keep me at this weight; the work will be mine and mine alone, and it will be constant. 

The fact that this will never be easy really frustrates me. Sometimes it makes me angry.

As I've learned along this road, not everyone who's heavy is a food addict. But for those of us who exhibit addictive behaviors around food, maintaining a weight loss can be stunningly difficult.

Much like the alcohol addict who talks herself into believing she can drink occasionally, I had decided I'd keep my weight off by adopting the "cheat day" mentality. For a long while, that strategy worked at the scale, but it didn't work for my psyche.

My system worked this way: For six days, I'd adhere perfectly to my point count (like a calorie count, but different), sticking to whole foods. Eating cleanly. But on the seventh day -- Katy, bar the door. There were few limits to my appetite or to the foolish ways I chose to sate it.

So I began living for Sundays, weighing in at my meeting and then starting the carb-and-sugar frenzy on the way home. The rest of the week, I'd deprive myself to make up for the calories I'd consumed on my cheat day.

So I'd retained nothing I'd learned about the healthy way to maintain a goal weight. I was gaming the system. But, hey, I reasoned -- it's working, so don't mess with it.

Until the week it stopped working. And it stopped because of, again, my faulty reasoning. "I'll eat what I want this whole week, but then spend the next seven weeks depriving myself to make up for it," I decided. 

Right. 

I was traveling that week, and I had used travel as an excuse to eat indiscriminately. And the next week on the scale, I was horrified to see I had gained seven pounds.

Seven pounds.

No more cheat days, let alone cheat weeks, for me. 

I've since chipped that seven-pound gain to a little under five, but given the way I'm feeling about the extra weight, it may as well be 75. 

To be honest, some days I'm just so tired of it all.

I was talking with my husband about my struggle one day. He assumed he'd found my answer. "Just have a little bit of things," he suggested. "Have one cookie."

I laughed long and hard.  

I've fantasized from time to time about becoming heavy again. About allowing myself to eat what I want, to be less diligent about exercise, to simply relax. As my friend Bob wrote me a few months ago about my internal struggle, the body is simply a vessel for the mind and the soul.

True enough, but I don't want that vessel to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol again. I want to be able to exercise the way I want to, to move confidently and comfortably. For the first time in a long time, I like my body and want to continue to enjoy the way it looks and feels. Plus, I'm a small-framed person; when I'm heavy, I don't feel like myself. 

So I'll persevere. "Discipline" isn't a popular word when it comes to dealing with changing behaviors, because it implies that you're not getting to the root cause, just covering it up with authoritative behavior. But for me, weight maintenance is largely a matter of discipline. No, you can't have the donut, you can't have the pizza, I remind myself. Why? Because you don't have an "off" switch.

But staying away from pizza and donuts will certainly be worth it in the long term, I also tell myself. When my kids have kids, I want to be the nana pushing the jogging stroller, the grandma watching my grandkids wave little "congratulations" signs as I cross finish lines.

Why am I sharing something so personal, something that makes me sound as though I really don't have my act together? I'm sharing it to remind myself that I don't want to give up the fight. Some of the most important people in my life these days have never seen me heavy -- a fact that blows me away, really. I like to think those people know the real me, but the real me is also the "me" who's got some deeply rooted vulnerabilities around food. 

The other reason I'm sharing this is to ask anyone reading this not to shame heavy people, certainly, but also to try to refrain from judging them. Science doesn't fully understand what makes some people gain weight more easily than others; the conventional wisdom is it's a combination of nature and nurture. Whatever the root, just know it's a struggle. Food is everywhere. 

I'm hoping that when my three-year goal anniversary rolls around, I'll truly view it as a sobriety anniversary of sorts because I will have conquered some of the behaviors that cause me to be unable to stop at one donut.

The ability to stop "eating my feelings," as they say? A lofty goal, but I think I can get there. With awareness and acceptance come understanding and change. Things don't have to remain a certain way simply because they've always been that way. Behaviors can evolve.

Let's help each other. If you're struggling with this issue, I'd love to hear from you.