Two years of maintaining my weight loss means a new note

two-years-of-maintaining

Two years ago, I stepped on the scale and it told me I had lost 100 pounds. Here’s my story.

I started losing weight when I was 21 years old, when I found a blog post from a writer named Greta Christina, describing her experience losing weight.

Link: http://www.alternet.org/story/149549/how_this_weight-loss_skeptic_lost_60_pounds_and_kept_it_off?paging=off

It spoke to me because her reasons for losing weight were based on a desire to be healthy (her weight was causing her to experience serious knee problems) rather than due to a hatred of how obese bodies look,and reading about her experience convinced me that I can lose weight without severely depriving myself. The latter part was incredibly important, because my previous attempts had never worked because I had never succeeded before at cutting out all of my favorite foods, drastically reducing my calories, or doing enormous amounts of exercise for any longer than a few days, and suddenly I had reason to believe that I could lose weight without making my life miserable. If the changes I made were easy enough to live with, I could keep it up until I had lost all of the weight, and I knew (from reading that article) that even once I reach maintenance, I would keep up the same lifestyle. The part about losing weight while not feeling that overweight people look unattractive was also incredibly helpful to me; I had managed to finally feel comfortable in my body (possibly due to being in a university with a lot of discussion about body acceptance)and I now believe that that comfort and self-acceptance went far in helping me take charge of my body by losing weight. I think it’s much more effective than trying to lose weight because you hate how your body looks.

I downloaded the Lose It app, and as the days and weeks passed, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed recording my food in it (perhaps because I had just gotten a hand-me-down iPod Touch and doing anything with it was a huge novelty). A question I received often my first few months of weight loss was whether I was hungry all the time. The assumption was that since I was eating less than I used to, naturally I must be hungry. Luckily, I wasn’t. I had been eating a lot before not because I was extraordinarily hungry but because I liked to eat. The amount of calories that Lose It told me to eat (1600-1800 calories daily) was enough to satisfy my physical hunger.

When people ask someone how they lost weight, the answer is usually “I ate less and moved more,” but I’m here to say that that answer is extremely incomplete and is only helpful in answering the question of whether a weight loss pill or crash diet was used (to which the answer should always be ‘no’, if you’re talking about sustainable and healthy weight loss). A better answer would be “I figured out what would work best for me to make it possible for me to eat less and move more, and in a way that would keep me happy, not hungry,and able to maintain the lifestyle forever.” It takes longer to explain but it’s worth the extra effort.

At the time, I felt that it was best to not let myself get hungry, because I was nervous that if I let myself get too hungry, I would be ravenous at my next meal and overeat. So I ate smaller meals about every 4 hours or so, which is how often I tended to eat anyway. I did some meal prep so I would have healthy meals in the fridge to take with me to school. This was very much based in the idea that willpower is finite, and it’s unreasonable to expect to have enough willpower to make healthy choices at every meal. Instead, I used my limited willpower on the weekends during my grocery shopping trips,and then all I had to do was grab the healthy foods that I had in my fridge.

For the first six months, my only exercise was playing Just Dance games (on the Wii) and walking to and from school. With my busy class schedule, this was much more sustainable than trying to force myself to go to the school gym. I liked the dancing games, so it was easy to get myself doing it every day. It taught me to love to move, which I used later to do more intense exercises, such as running on the elliptical after I had already lost about 50 pounds. There was an added benefit to my choice of exercise: I became a morning person (after years of being the opposite) because I didn’t want to be dancing in the living room when my roommates were awake and I knew that if I didn’t exercise first thing in the morning, I would never get around to it, so I started going to bed at 9am so I could get up at 6.

I had started using Lose It in January 2011, but I realized later that in the six months previous to this, I had actually lost about 15 pounds without realizing it. I think it was because I had started cooking my meals at home more and I must have been making better choices. So technically my weight loss began in the summer of 2010. I reached the 100 pound milestone on July 27, 2012.

I’ve basically considered myself on maintenance since then. I have a few more ‘vanity pounds’ that I’d like to lose, but in terms of my frame of mind, I think the most important thing at this point is to make sure that the lifestyle I’ve transitioned to in these last 4 years is one that I’m still comfortable maintaining. There have been ups and downs (as evident in my weight chart). Part of it has to do with moving in with my husband, and falling into the habit of indulging in lots of snacks together when we hang out. Part of it is that motivation inevitably wanes, and it’s easy to go from justifying small indulgences (which I maintain is an important part of a weight loss plan) to indulging way too frequently. Over the last year, I regained about 10 pounds. Certainly,10 pounds is not much compared to the 90 pound deficit I still had, but it was an indication that I was starting to go back to my old habits. A few months ago,I realized that when I saw a treat, the question in my mind wasn’t whether to have some but how much I was going to have. Now, allowing yourself occasional treats is a great way to be able to carry on long-term weight loss sustainably,but it only works if your mindset generally defaults to the healthy option. I’m grateful that I recognized this shift in mindset, and I’m now back to feeling much more comfortable with knowing that I can pass up treats most of the time. I also feel incredibly grateful that I had never given up my habit of logging my food into Lose It. There was a year or so when I was over calories most days, many times very far over my calories. But I always logged it, which kept me more in check and made it much easier for me to get back in the weight loss mindset when I decided to lose those 10 pounds I had regained.

There’s been a major shift recently in my approach to my eating, but it’s very new so it’s hard for me to know yet how it’ll go. I mentioned above that I had very much avoided letting myself get hungry because I was afraid of the resulting overeating that might ensue. So what I had done was to eat based on the clock, basically trying to preempt my hunger with a meal. Obviously,this worked well for me, and I don’t regret it. However, there’s been a side effect, which is that my eating is disconnected from my experience of physical hunger. When I was younger, I ate so much and so frequently that I doubt I was hungry very much. While losing weight, I ate a reasonable amount but still frequently enough that I didn’t let myself get hungry. As a result, I don’t actually understand the sensation of hunger very well. If you were to ask me at a random time whether I’m hungry, I would automatically try to figure out how many hours it’s been since my last meal rather than pay attention to my stomach. I’m trying to change this. A few weeks ago, I listened to an interview by a nutrition coach with the awesome name Georgie Fear, and it helped me realize that listening to hunger is important and helpful, and I decided that I’d much rather learn to eat based on hunger rather than based on the time or the number of calories that I’m allotted in a given day. I had planned to continue logging all of my food into Lose It for the rest of my life (and I certainly still might end up doing this), but I decided I have to learn to listen to my stomach to determine whether I’m hungry or not.

I’ve recently started eating a higher fat diet (while staying within my calorie budget), which is (for many people) more satisfying to the taste buds and tends to make people feel more full longer. I also recently read Brian Wansink’s book Mindless Eating, which helped me understand that many times when I think I want to eat because I’m hungry, I’m likely actually just responding to various external cues. A great example: I work in a research lab,so I split my time between working in the lab and working at my desk. Since I always eat at my desk (a habit I’m not yet prepared to break), I’ve realized recently that I’ve formed such a strong association that I want to eat whenever I go to my desk. Realizing that is helping me remind myself that thinking of food or getting the desire to eat does not mean I need to actually eat something! If I recognize that I’m not actually hungry and distract myself, the feeling will pass. The combination of trying to listen to my stomach to determine if I’m hungry,eating more foods that promote satiety, and thinking actively about whether my desire to eat is based on internal or external factors has really led to a mindset shift recently. I’ve even started carrying around an index card in my pocket that says “What’s your hunger level right now?” and I pull it out occasionally and try to access how hungry I am without thinking about how much time has passed. I’m hoping that over time, I’ll get a really good understanding of my physical hunger and eat based on that. In the meantime, I’m continuing to log my calories because I know that my perception of my hunger isn’t trustworthy yet.

I’ve also been listening to a really excellent podcast called the Cut the Fat podcast, which has convinced me that since I’m now at the point where I’ve lost most of the pounds I’m going to lose, it’s best for me to focus now on getting stronger and more fit (rather than watching the number on the scale), so I’m working on building in high intensity workouts (such as interval training and resistance training) into my routine. I want to get stronger and combine fat loss with muscle building, and I feel that listening to that podcast has given me a great understanding of how to do it.

This post has just been about me describing my experience, but if you’re reading this and you have a goal you want to reach(weight loss or otherwise), I can apply what I’ve learned from my weight loss to tell you that it is absolutely possible. I am not a superhero; I’m a person who used to have no handle on her eating, who figured out how to change enough to get her eating in check. Losing weight has made my life better, in a number of very specific ways. If you have a goal that you want to reach that will make your life better, figure out what you can do to get there. Listen to stories of people who have been successful in reaching the same goal (search the internet,read books, listen to podcasts). Focus on the stories of people who seem the most similar to you, and who made changes that you think you can make. Divide your goal into subgoals. If it’s too overwhelming to make big changes, choose just one habit to adopt. If you don’t have much time, print out a calendar for the month and make a big check mark for every day when you spend 10 minutes on that goal. If you don’t have much money, do extra research into how to reach your goal without breaking the bank. Also, don’t expect your motivation to stay elevated indefinitely, so make a plan now for how to make sure you’ll continue taking the steps towards your goal even when life gets hectic and it all seem too hard.

Well that’s my story, and those are my thoughts.