Two people in the last month have asked me to answer this question. Here goes.
Call it serendipity. Call it an act of God. But a year or two into my maintenance, when I was still the “joyful jogger” in my own mind, I found Big Fat Blog. I don’t know what I was reading that got me linked there. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn it was a diet related blog that belittled BFB. But I got there and got hooked. (By the way, if you visit my profile there, it says I’ve only been a member 42 weeks, or some such. That’s actually the time since a computer glitch eliminated my profile for a few days. I’ve been there many years – probably since 2005 or 2006.)
I read deep into the archives and all I could think was, these people are right: society’s hating on fat people (with the best of intentions) isn’t creating health, or even reducing the number or size of fat people. I searched the site for information on the awful 95% failure rate statistic for weight-loss maintenance. Even though I was well into my maintenance and I’d thought (hoped) that I’d “clicked” into some new mental or physical state that would support life-long maintenance, I was also painfully aware that I’d been part of that statistic before. I had regained, yo-yoed, in the past, and I knew that I had not gotten any smarter (and may have, in fact, killed a few brain cells with age and Chardonnay). I was desperate to know more about this failure rate, the science behind it, whether it was true and whether there were special “exceptions” that I might qualify for. Sadly, my search of BFB came up dry. But I noticed that there was another private area for “registered” people, and I thought that maybe my answer was in there.
When I registered I only briefly contemplated lying to get in. Ultimately, I figured, I’d feel more comfortable participating if I were there honestly. In my essay I revealed that I was a weight-reduced person, but some things just didn’t feel right. I promised that it would not be difficult to play by the rules and avoid diet talk. God bless Paul McAleer, the founder and moderator of BFB at that time: he let me in. I guess he knew I needed to be there.
Sadly, in the BFB forums, I couldn’t find an answer to my burning question about the 95% failure rate of maintenance. But I did find there compelling, intelligent, heart-felt, truthful discussions covering the many facets of living fat, which I had not forgotten. (For a time, among my real-world friends, I called myself a “fat chick in the closet.”) When I participated in discussions at BFB I never used the word “we.” I would say “fat people fall victim to . . .” or “most fat people understand that . . .” To my knowledge, no one noticed this pattern. It didn’t stick out. I became a member of the community. Some people there attacked me for being “healthist” (and I think I was once disparaged for being a “good fattie”), but many fat people at BFB are subject to the healthist moniker (including DeeLeigh, who now administers the blog), and we supported each other’s views.
Within a short time of my joining BFB we discussed creating “cheat sheets” to help us with the most common challenges to size acceptance. I volunteered to write on the 95% failure rate (which I would learn is actually 97%). It gave me an excuse to do more research. My early musings on that topic are still there. Above the BFB logo are two tiny links, one to Big Fat Index and the other to Big Fat Facts. My essay is down the page and entitled NEW: The Truth About Long-Term Diet Success. You’ll likely recognize my “voice” if you read it. I also helped by doing some line editing in the other pages, so my “voice” is elsewhere too.
So my acceptance at BFB should explain my embrace of Size Acceptance.
I can only explain my weight-loss maintenance by suggesting that it’s my reality. I am not a figment of my imagination. I am doing this, truthfully. Sometimes I question why, but most days I just keep going, and I find reward in discovering the right words to describe it – words that go beyond the flippant “lifestyle” vocabulary that we read everywhere.
Early on, actually, weight-loss maintenance wasn’t that difficult for me (I could have called it a “lifestyle” without choking) because I became a running nut. It happened gradually – I started with walking and sprinting, when I was still losing weight, which turned into longer sprints, which tied into miles of sprints at a time and no walking at all. There’s truth to the notion that running is addictive. My addiction lasted for more than four years, and I would still be a running nut if my joints and left foot had only remained as addicted as my head. Grrrrr. I think that regular running, for all the subtle hormonal adjustments it makes in one’s body, counters much of the hormonal pull and the impulses to eat that would return a body to its highest established weight. I have not found another form of exercise as effective, though I sally onward. I have experienced some regain, about 13 pounds, which is not enough to qualify me as a failure at this game yet.
I have also recovered from two emergency gut surgeries, one in 2008 and the other in 2009, involving a hernia and twisted bowels. Almost immediately upon my return home from the hospital I was exercising (gently) to aerobic DVDs. I was probably exercising sooner and harder than was “healthy” for a natural weight person, definitely harder than my doctor recommended, but I knew intuitively that to maintain my weight loss I would need to return to exercise as quickly as possible and accelerate the intensity faster than a natural weight person would. A maintainer friend (by email) had warned me that all the established success stories she knew who later regained, did so following surgery.
My struggles are typical. Most legit maintainers, long out of the honeymoon phase, have war stories like mine. And yet cultural mythology maintains that we’re all just livin’ the healthy lifestyle, a myth that simultaneously marginalizes maintainers as unremarkable (though oddly inspirational) and discredits fat people for choosing NOT to live the healthy lifestyle. If legit maintainers regarded their maintenance as an issue of style, however, then there wouldn’t be 3% club, composed of success stories. “Style” is optional. The work one has to do for weight-loss maintenance isn’t. Moreover, the work one does for maintenance is vulnerable. If I permanently blew out a knee or something else that made the intensity of exercise that I need (which is different from other maintainers’ needs) impossible, my maintenance would be over. If I were in an accident that put me in a convalescent home where my food choices were no longer my own, then my maintenance would be over. I would regain, and it would feel like falling, falling, falling — helplessly falling.
But, thankfully, I would have the soft bosom of Size Acceptance to land in.
So here I sit, living honestly a maintainer’s life (sans style), and yet knowing the veracity and compassion that is Size Acceptance. There is no question about reconciling them. They’re both truthful. I don’t need to reconcile that grass is green and the sky is blue.