The hardest question I have to answer, and it gets asked a lot, is “Why do you do this?”
Good question. Why do I maintain a radical amount of weight loss? It’s hard. It’s lonely. I haven’t confused “health” and “weight loss,” so that doesn’t motivate me. Why, indeed?
The easiest answer (at least the one that falls out of my mouth most often) is, “Because I can.” That is incomplete and prideful, of course. And it redirects to a question that is easier to answer, “Why CAN you do this?” So many people want to do this, and yet they can’t.
I don’t know the answer to that question either. It’s all speculation. Perhaps, I can do this because I enjoy blessings:
- I have the financial resources to buy mostly unprocessed, organic foods, and the time and flexibility to prepare them.
- I have the time and flexibility to exercise as much as I need to and when I want to.
- Certain physical attributes probably help. As a fat person, I was “cello” shaped, evenly fatted. My waist was ten inches smaller than my bust and 14 inches smaller than my rump at my biggest (not including pregnancy). Maintenance is probably easier for me than someone who starts with an “apple” shape, or another shape that tenaciously holds fat in a designated place.
- Personal history may help. For example, I’ve only had three legitimate yoyo weight-cycling episodes prior to this last run at loss, and by that I mean losses and rebounds of more than 10% of my highest weight at the time. I understand many people rack up dozens of yoyo attempts representing hundreds of pounds.
- For all the grief I express about endocrine, I may get some help from it. I’ve never, for example, been a big fan of fatty meats. Just not my thing.
This does not explain it entirely. Other people who have these blessings or others have been unable to maintain losses.
I guess I maintain weight loss, I can maintain weight loss, because I find it endlessly interesting (if sometimes exasperating).
It’s interesting because everything we know about weight-loss maintenance is either incomplete or wrong. Actually, we don’t even fully recognize it as a separate issue from weight loss. Correction: we deny that it’s an issue at all. We cheer for the Biggest Loser contestants, we turn off the TV set, and we tell ourselves, “. . .and they all lived happily ever after. The end.” Weight-loss maintenance is interesting because of this weird cultural mythology.
It’s interesting because no one has been able to communicate how to do it in such a way that more than a small percentage can succeed by any respectable measurement. While I’m not all that interested in winning converts, I want to take a stab at explaining it. So far, about the best I can do is label things as helpful or unhelpful. Following is a short list of some common things that are thought to be helpful, but aren’t.
- Hate is unhelpful. We’re culturally guided to hate fat, fat people and our old fat selves. (“I’ll never look like that again!” the diet spokesmodel squeals.) Hate is presumably just part of “wanting it bad enough.” It is not. The privilege of hating is supposed to be a reward for doing the hard work of weight loss. It is not that either. The myth goes that if you hate fat enough, you will have sufficient motivation to stay trim. Not so. Hating does nothing but advance hate, not weight-loss maintenance.
- War language is unhelpful. “War on obesity.” “Battle of the bulge.” “Fight your fat.” “Fight your cravings.” This does nothing but put us at war with our bodies. We must work with our bodies.
- Intuition alone is unhelpful. Even though we must work with our bodies, our intuition (which expresses itself through our endocrine system) would naturally lead us home to our fat bodies, so our relationship with that intuition is complex. (This suggests a blog post of its own. No?)
- Tying weight-loss maintenance to emotions is unhelpful. Sure, people may gain weight, in part, because of emotional trauma or for other emotional reasons, but solving emotional problems will not automatically lead to weight-loss maintenance, nor is it even necessary to make weight-loss maintenance possible. This is because weight-loss maintenance is mostly a scientific puzzle and emotions are another kind of conundrum. I do not pretend to be the model of emotional serenity, and yet I’m weight-loss maintenance success story.
- Tying weight-loss maintenance to a positive attitude is also unhelpful. (Horrors! Did she just say that?!) It’s not that I’m advocating a bad attitude, just that we should unlink our attitude from our weight-loss maintenance. A great attitude was useful to begin the process of weight loss, I’ll grant you, and a great attitude may continue for quite a time, as it is bolstered with each lost pound and every admiring compliment. However, when the compliments are done and the weight bottoms out, it is natural (maybe inevitable) for optimism to wax and wane over time, and it’s not helpful to allow a tired or bruised sense of optimism to pull on our weight numbers. While depression and pessimism can lead to weight gain, for those of us with weight issues it goes the other way more often. We gain a pound and that makes us depressed and pessimistic, which makes us gain more weight, which makes us more depressed and pessimistic, which makes us . . . on and on. I think we are smart NOT to depend on a zippy, positive attitude to reverse this cycle. There are days when my attitude is pure Dale Carnegie, and maintenance is easier on those days, I admit. But I also maintain my weight loss on those days when I’m feeling like Rodney Dangerfield.
My maintainer friends, help me expand my list. What other unhelpful assumptions undergird weight-loss maintenance? Later this week, we may start to discuss the flip side: what is helpful? And by that I’m not talking about tired old “tips and tricks,” but what we may use instead of hate, how, exactly, we may work with our intuition (since we cannot trust it entirely), how may we go about separating attitude and emotions from weight-loss maintenance? Most importantly, we’ll discuss how we shall deal with the false assumptions that you will add to the comments here. For my size acceptance friends, you’ll want to avoid these upcoming posts. I will label them clearly.
Maintainers, you are also welcome to take a shot at the initial question: Why? Why do you do this? It’s damned hard. Why do you persist?