Weight loss is down-hill skiing. It requires a certain skill set and, losing more than 60 pounds, I was on nobody’s bunny slope. In down-hill skiing people cheer you on; you get regular compliments as people see your “results.” People ask your advice. Sometimes you feel like a celebrity. It’s hard work, but rewarding. Then you get to the bottom of the slope and you coast. The compliments get spaced further apart, you swoosh past the cheering crowds and leave them behind you, but you keep coasting, for a while. Try to avoid saying, “If I can do it, anyone can.” So many people end up regretting that.
When you are completely out of momentum the ski lift attendant shows up. It’s all quiet now, and he’s got your lift ticket and a coupon for the restaurant at the ski lodge. That coupon looks really tempting, because you are hungry, or something akin to that. Your stomach is calling out for food, sending you signals to eat.
In the real world, you’re impelled toward the kitchen, the pantry. Maybe you stop yourself and turn around. You ask yourself, why am I doing this? I have no good reason to be hungry. I’ve eaten plenty, according to my food journal/diet plan/calorie allotment (circle one or create your own), but I want to eat more. Something must be wrong with me. If you try to distract yourself by picking up a women’s magazine, it may advise you to distract yourself further with a bubble bath, a pedicure, a shopping trip, a walk, or by brushing your teeth. Good Lord. That’s not going to help you for long. And then you’ll find yourself wandering into the kitchen, because nothing is wrong with you. You really are hungry, or, more accurately, you are impelled to eat. Jump to a new metaphor: ballroom dancing.
Physically, at this point, there is a chemical cotillion happening inside your body. The Endocrine Musicians and Ballroom Dance Troupe are performing the Wow, We Just Figured Out That You Lost a Bunch of Weight and You Better Eat Tango. There are many chemicals that play some part in communicating with you regarding your hunger and satiety (satisfaction, fullness). The known, resident dancers include, in alphabetical order: adiponectin, agouti-related protein, CART and CCK (if it goes by an acronym, that means even scientists recognize it’s overcomplicated), cortisol, dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (say THAT three times), ghrelin, insulin, leptin, melanocortin, nitric oxide, NPY, norepinephrine, peptide YY3-36, resistin, serotonin and visfatin, while thyroid hormone serves as the drummer in the band, setting the pace at which everyone moves. A grand troupe of gastro-intestinal micro-organisms has formed a complicated kick line of its own and weaves about the edges. In addition to the resident dancers, you may introduce guest performers who may or may not throw them off balance, such as glucose, fructose, MSG and other additives and preservatives, aspartame, livestock hormones or antibiotics, prescription drugs, fatigue, stress, pesticides, prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs and other characters that mess with your body’s self-regulation.
Even the scientists don’t know precisely how all these characters interact. I know, however, that these chemicals, and all the ones I don’t know about, are clueless that your “developed” culture has established a BMI range of 18.5 to 25 that it thinks is attractive, “normal,” “healthy,” etc. The social director at this dance, your DNA, has announced to these chemical quicksteppers that you are capable of a much higher BMI, and you aren’t living up to your potential anymore. The crowd goes wild, because everyone desperately wants to help you. So they dance and send you physical hunger cues, and they speak or sing in mental impulses, some you might be able to verbalize, but most are extraverbal. The dancers speak Endocrine, the language of your body. It is as real as English, Russian, Chinese or French, and as persuasive as a Parisian paramour. There are probably a dozen dialects of Endocrine. High-Weight Endocrine may be a very different language from Low-Weight Endocrine. And when your body, which speaks High-Weight Endocrine, finds itself in the province of Low Weight, a confusing argument ensues. It pushes you, impels you to go commune with the cracker box in the pantry, and/or the cheese brick in the fridge, and/or the ice cream tub in the freezer, and/or any other method of transport back to your home province of High Weight.
And here, my metaphors take a pause, and I caution my size acceptance friends to stop reading now or read further with caution. Using the tags that appear alphabetically over my headlines, I’ll warn you when it is unsafe to read. “Size acceptance okay” means you won’t be triggered. “Size acceptance questionable” means I don’t know. “Size acceptance triggering” means even I recognize it’s a bad idea for you to read it. This article gets the “questionable” label because of the next paragraph.
In posts to come, I will cite some scientific studies to support the idea that the endocrine profile of a reduced-weight person is different from a naturally trim person or a fat person who hasn’t dieted. I will talk more about what I think is happening in our bodies when we find ourselves (unwittingly) eating to regain weight, and what I do to counter my natural endocrine impulses. This discussion will move us further from the weight-loss ski slope and the brief, easy “coast” that followed. I’ll talk about the transition to cross-country skis and the trek that is maintenance for the few people who can do it – lonely and difficult, but not without some interesting scenery and a few rewards. People in the size acceptance community call them “thin privilege,” and they are right.