Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Chronicle of Life Changes as of This Date

There are a few changes I've noticed in my life that I'd like to note for my own continued motivation and progress report:
  • Back in June of 2009, I couldn't walk out the door without fear of pain striking me down in 5 minutes. That fear was always on my mind if I had to leave the house. Now, I walk out the front door without fear of not being able to walk. I still have some pain after about 40 minutes of walking, but I am no longer afraid of the possibility of having to walk or stand for an extended period of time. This lack of fear is very liberating and makes me feel more like the person I was before I gained so much weight that I was crippled.
  • I used to dread going shopping for groceries because of the pain I'd be in by the end of a trip. I'd always get a cart and lean a little on it to help get me through the chore. Also, my back was so bad that I couldn't carry a basket without the imbalance and added weight causing more back pain. Using the cart wasn't enough support, and I'd be in near agony by the time the check-out process was over, but it helped. Now, I'm actually enjoying shopping because I don't find myself in horrible pain by the end, like the exercise of walking around the store and to and from the shops, and lose myself in the experience of checking out products.
  • I used to dread going out in public because people would stare and point or laugh at me. They'd also say cruel things. This still happens, but I'm not so overwhelmed with misery that I notice as much. Now, I'm more wrapped up in the liberation I feel in being able to move better and walk. I find that what people do matters less when I'm not struggling against pain.
  • All of my clothes are baggy. Some are insanely so. This feels very good after mainly wearing clothes that were just fitting or a bit tight for so long. The bagginess makes me feel successful.
  • The 44D bras that I bought in early December that I could just squeeze into at that time (though they weren't uncomfortable despite being tight) are just starting to run a bit on the big side. I've had to change the straps from being at their longest possible length to being about half of their length. I can also see this size bra isn't holding my breasts up as high because it's getting looser.
  • I've noticed it's getting easier to navigate my body through narrow spaces. I'm still big, but I can sense that I'm not as big as before. Based on relative approximations, I'd say I've lost 6-8 inches off the widest part of my body (my belly and behind combined), and more off of my upper body.
  • A pair of white yoga pants that I bought some time ago but were too tight to be worn for a long time now fit very comfortable and appropriately loosely. A pair of blue, non-stretch pants that I wore about a decade ago after losing 40 lbs. or so during a stint in bed with a herniated disc can be worn, but they're still too tight in the belly and calves (but not the waist or thighs) to be comfortable sitting in. These pants are the next great measure of my going a significant step down in weight. When I can wear them, I'll know I've probably lost nearly half of the weight I had to lose from the start.
  • I have fewer bouts of extremely intense hunger during the day. It still occurs from time to time, but the overwhelming desire to eat around 4:00-6:00 pm has tempered. Perhaps I'm just planning better. I prefer to think my body has adapted to a new way of living.
  • I used to wake up earlier than my husband because I would feel too much pain in my back to continue lying down. Now, I sleep until the alarm goes off.
  • My husband can hug me more fully and I can wrap my arms around him more because I'm smaller. This feeling of being more completely enveloped and physically closer is very gratifying.
Some strange things have started to happen as of late which I didn't notice before. These aren't such good things, but my hands are so thin (really, quite normal-looking now and not the least bit fat) that I notice more profoundly when they swell up. A few days ago, I was out on an atypically warm winter day, and my hands really swelled up after walking around for about an hour. I think this was a response to the warmer weather as it hadn't happened before when I was out walking.

There are still some issues that I wish would go away such as morning stiffness and pain in my back, though it's not as intense, acute or frequent as it used to be. I also occasionally still have issues with my hands going numb because I lie on my side and some nerve in my back that leads to my hands is compressed. That used to happen nearly every night. Now, it only happens after I've walked nearly every day without a break for a week or when it's going to rain. I still find this very frustrating and will be happy when my back muscles don't have to support so much weight that this happens.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cellular Memory

When I first started counting calories, I had a horrible time because my body would nag and gnaw at me for more food. At that time, I wondered whether or not my body was permanently conditioned to desire more energy and if the struggle I was having with reducing calories was going to last a lifetime. In other words, I wondered if I'd always have to fight my body so hard or if my organs would adjust eventually and I'd slowly transmute my body into one which didn't rebel so hard against reduced food consumption. Frankly, I was pessimistic at the time.

Here's the thing; most people believe that "memory" is something that you only have in your brain. The truth is that every cell in your body has a memory. It isn't the memory of sights, sounds, smells, or feelings. It's the memory of how fluid, energy, damage, healing, etc. have occurred during the life of the cell. The cell is "used to" what it has had and it will fight to maintain normality. Just as a person may have difficulty adjusting to an income which is 1/3 what they were accustomed to as a reduction in lifestyle is harder than an increase, the cells in your body are going to cry foul when you chop out their accustomed feeding of energy.

Because our cells have their own memory, and they want more than anything not to change because change results in a disruption of your body's homeostasis, losing weight is hard. It's not only psychology or a lack of the much touted "willpower" that stops people from losing weight, it's each and every cell's desire to keep things as they were. During the initial phases of a food reduction plan, it is extremely hard to fight the impulses your body is sending and your brain is translating into giving you strong urges to eat. You're being compelled by potent biological forces.

The nice thing about cellular memory is that it will eventually "forget" its old state of normalcy and adapt to a new one. After you clamber over the initial mountain of difficulty of eating less, it gets easier. I've found that, despite my fear that my body was built to overeat, it does seem to have adapted and the road, while never exactly easy, has gotten far less rough. If you can do it for a month (without retraining your body to a higher intake of energy by cheating or slipping), you can do it for a year. It's that first month that's the hardest part.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

For the Love of Food

I love food. I love the smell, texture, and taste. It lights up a pleasure center in my brain that can’t be set aflame by any other sensory experience. I’m sure that is no surprise to anyone as we all assume fat people love food.

A lot of people with food control issues love food, but most of us have been in what could be called an abusive relationship with it. It controls us and we abuse it. We don’t appreciate its finer points and take it for granted. We take comfort as much or more from its mere presence and just using it as much as possible than we do in its essential merits. We hate ourselves for using it profligately and we hate food for its iron-clad grip on our lives.

I think part of the reason I failed in the past (and many others may have as well) is that we associate losing weight and living healthily with having to abandon our love. We can do it for a while, but then the need to be fulfilled in the way only food can make us feel comes nagging at us. It’s like a controlling boyfriend who makes us crazy, but we simply can’t live without him.

What I’ve discovered this time around is that I don’t have to let go of my love of food; I simply have to clean up the bad relationship I have with it. I can eat chocolate, cheese, eggs, squash, bananas, and ice cream, but I have to respect and appreciate the process of consuming such things. I have to give each bite the attention it deserves rather than simply use and abuse it out of habit. If I really love it, it will love me back rather than abuse me in return.

Today when I was shopping at the market and I picked up some cheese and crackers that looked interesting, I was thinking about how I was looking forward to eating them. I wasn’t questioning myself for the calories or hating myself because I’m fat and I shouldn’t eat or want these things. I really love food, now more than ever, and I don’t hate myself for doing so.

Monday, February 22, 2010

I Could Scream

Sometimes, I get so tired of thinking about, worrying about, analyzing and preparing food that I just want to scream.

One of the best parts of overeating is that you don't have to think about what you eat. You want it, you just eat it. No muss, no fuss.

I'm not giving up, but I'm frankly tired of cooking, measuring, weighing, counting and recording. It takes so much energy and time.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Night Hunger

Nighttime is often a real problem for people with compulsive or binge eating disorders. I’m no exception. Before my current stretch of success, I used to have very good days up until about 6:00 pm, and then I’d lose it and just start eating everything in sight. The chips that were eminently resistible up until 4:00 pm would start to beckon to me. By the early evening, their siren song would bewitch me and I’d be chowing down.

These days, a variety of factors have lead to an ability to resist, even in the evening during the hardest times. Part of what has lead to that is controlled giving in. Another part is my awareness of the calories I’m consuming in such binges. Before, I was working on the principle of calorie bankruptcy. What were a few thousand more calories once I’d “overspent”.

One thing I want to say is that I have not conquered the urge to eat at night. In fact, I often lie in bed thinking about all of the things I’d like to eat. And, I’m not talking about wanting junk food. Last night, I was thinking about eating tuna. Often, I’ll crave eggs. Frequently, I’ll also want cheese. It’s never the case that I want chips, cakes, etc. I want real food.

I’m not sure what brings this on, because I rarely eat earlier than 4 hours before bed. Sometimes, I eat within two or three hours so there’s no reason to be hungry. I’m guessing this is a biological rhythm, a circadian problem. My body says eat before sleep. It could also be some weird blood sugar issue, or, possibly even more likely, the fact that I’m cold at night now and my body is looking to gain heat through eating.

I should note that, when I was overeating all of the time, this daydreaming of food before sleep never happened to me. Maybe this preoccupation with food at night is a response to consistently losing weight. Perhaps this is some rebellious “feed me” activity.

At any rate, I never act on those desires to eat at that point, but it’s often a nightly battle. For one thing, it’ll completely wreck a successful day and I’ll hate myself for it. Additionally, at that point, I’m too tired to get up and prepare food. I always quell the voice that insists on food late at night with a promise of “tomorrow”. When tomorrow comes, I rarely want the food even when I can have it. I usually wake up and have a very small breakfast.

One thing that doesn’t seem to be a problem is ruminating on the food and thinking of the memory of how good the foods I crave are. I’m almost (ALMOST) placated by living through the memory of how good the food is. I’m just glad that thinking about it doesn’t make the desire more ravenous.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Giving In Makes You Weaker

Today, I finished my lunch and decided to have a bite of chocolate at the end for “dessert”. One of my weaknesses is that I often crave something sweet at the end of a meal. I don’t always give in to this desire. Often, I’ll just make a cup of tea and put two packets of Splenda in it to make it sweet. I get the illusion of satisfying my craving.

Today, I finished eating lunch, I figured that I’d give in to my craving this time because I hadn’t “spent” many calories and my plan for today was going to allow for a little latitude. Normally, I’ll eat one chocolate and then I’m satisfied. Today, for the first time in a very long time, one lead to a desire to have another. I was thinking about having another, because I could “afford” it. But then I thought that this was a slippery slope. Having a small treat at the end of a meal is fine. Having one that leads to another is not and it was important to discard the idea “on principle”, and I realize now why that is so.

Most people understand that not using a muscle makes it weaker and using it makes it stronger. If you sit around long enough, your muscles atrophy and moving in certain ways gets harder. This is a concept that most adults, if not educated children, are familiar with.

The thing that people don’t teach us is that the same applies to psychology. Self-control atrophies just like an unused muscle. I have been practicing this and internalizing it since I started changing my lifestyle but hadn’t “externalized” it until now. Everything that I have done has been a graduated series of exercises to improve self-control when it comes to food.

It started by gradually reducing portions rather than eating as much as I wanted. It continued when I started to calorie count one day a week with the message that I could have a food “tomorrow” if I still craved it (a form of teaching myself delayed gratification, though that wasn’t how I conceptualized it at the time). This form of conditioning strengthened the mental muscle that deals with self-control when it comes to food.

Today, I realized that this muscle needs to be flexed regularly to keep it in shape whether or not it is imperative in terms of calories counts to do so. Once I stop resisting urges, I weaken my self-control. So, that is the principle on which I avoided a second piece of chocolate. It’s not about some vague “rule” or notion of self-discipline, but a fact of how the mind works in terms of keeping control.

Monday, February 15, 2010


This morning, I was making the bed as I always do and I had to shove the mattress around in a particular way to deal with the fitted sheet having shifted. As I heaved it, I felt out of breath and was pondering the fact that this used to happen before I’d lost a lot of weight, but it hadn’t happened lately. The thought occurred to me that it shouldn’t be happening now as I’m certainly in good enough shape to shove a mattress around without huffing from the exertion.

The truth is that losing weight or even exercising isn’t a panacea for every situation where you had a certain level of difficulty just as gaining weight isn’t the cause of every problem you have. One of the traps that I think fat people tend to fall into is thinking that all of their problems are the result of their weight, and that losing it will end those problems.

My example with the mattress moving was just a small catalyst for considering this thinking pattern. The reality extends much further than this type of small thing. For example, a person might feel that love and a better job will come if he or she gets thin. It’s only when the weight is gone and the desired changes don’t occur that one considers that there might be other factors in play other than weight.

Sometimes I wonder if a third of the battle with losing weight is aligning yourself mentally with the onslaught of coming psychological changes. You are not only facing lifestyle choices, a difference in how others react to you, but also a radical change in your worldview and your internal personal expectations.

The most traumatizing part for some people is when the sharp reality that what you expected from losing weight doesn’t happen. Surely, this is one of the many reasons people regain the weight. When you put in a near Herculean effort to alter your life to get to a healthy weight, and the changes you expect to see around you don’t occur, it must be the easiest thing in the world to just head back to the comforting arms of the food and lifestyle you once enjoyed.

I want to keep this small experience with the mattress in mind because I think what it taught me was that you sometimes have to look past your weight issues as the cause of difficulty. Turning to that excuse first every time is not necessarily productive in working out what is going on.

In this relatively insignificant situation, I realized that the problem wasn’t my stamina or body size causing me to feel out of breath. It was the timing and how soon I made the bed after waking up. At times, I’m congested after waking up and at other times I’m not. When I unconsciously breathe through my nose, I don’t feel out of breath. When my nose is stuffed up, I unconsciously huff through my mouth. The problem had nothing to do with weight. I’m guessing there will be more and more situations like this in my future.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


In his book The Greedy Bastard Diary, Eric Idle talks about the person that his fans want to meet. He mentions that that person didn't have a paunch, ate meat, and wasn't a Buddhist. He observes that he misses that person, but he doesn't exist anymore. Idle realizes that who we were then is gone. We are who we are now.

When I think about the past 15 years or so that I've spent in a state of being semi-crippled and in sometimes agonizing pain, and know that I could have made the situation largely better (if not entirely so) by losing weight (as I have over the past 7 months), I have a fleeting thought about why I didn't do then what I'm doing now. It's possible to think, "if only I'd gotten my crap together and learned to control my eating back then, I wouldn't have suffered for all of these years."

Well, I take Mr. Idle's words of wisdom to heart. The reason I didn't do it then was that the Screaming Fat Girl who exists now had not yet been born. People often relay this notion by saying, "you weren't ready to lose weight," but this is a misleading phrase as a fat person is always "ready" to lose it. This could be replaced by, "you weren't able to lose weight," but that is also misleading as it implies a lack of absolute biological capacity to shed pounds. As is so often the case, a simple, pat phrase is incapable of conveying a complex situation.

Being able to lose weight requires a great many factors to be in place in order to achieve success. Until and unless they are there, it won't happen, and each person's situation is different so you can't clearly define when it might happen. There's simply no objective measurement for what is required for the alchemy of weight loss success.

To be successful, you not only have to be the person you are when you succeed (who wasn't who you were before that point in time), but you also had to have the circumstances in life that you have during the time you achieve success. In my case, there was a combination of a strong motivating factor (a big life change coming along in a few years) and finally reaching the point where I could fight my addiction to food with my current level of wisdom as well as behavioral changes.

I liken this situation to an educational one or one of a type of emotional maturity. You can't expect the average second grade child to read a college textbook. Yes, the child can read, but the level is both beyond his educational level and his intellectual capacity to digest the material. Experience is required to understand various concepts or to take certain actions. Lacking both the education and experience, you cannot perform the task. Losing weight is no different, but it's much more highly individualized than something as concrete as reading. You can know everything about food and weight loss and seemingly have a life that is perfect for tackling the problem, but you can still fail because your psychological situation isn't where it needs to be.

I rarely think about how I "wasted" all of those years when I could have been doing something about it because I believe that there was nothing I could do about it. If it were possible to deal with it before, I would have done it, but the person who existed then couldn't do it. I don't mind this as I see no point in regretting lost years. The only thing I do mind is the certain knowledge that the person who exists now and is capable of success won't exist 5 or 10 years from now. This is a source of some discomfort, but I'm hoping that that person will not be lost when it comes to food, but even better about it than the person who exists now.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Vainglorious

I once heard a saying that the only thing worse than an alcoholic was a recovering alcoholic. Once some people lick their problems, they become extremely obnoxious and can be more judgmental and sanctimonious than those who have never suffered that problem. They feel that anyone should be able to overcome since they did and lose patience and empathy for those who cannot make the transition that they have made. The area of weight loss is absolutely no different and I’m finding that there are rough categories of people out there talking about weight loss.

1. Newcomers who are desperate and looking for help.

They are like vacuums seeking every crumb of information they can find to help them break the hold food has on them. These are like the people who go to AA for the first time and express their addiction to alcohol with emotion and difficulty.

2. Middle grounders who are in the process of losing weight and have not yet forgotten how hard it was to get started or what it felt like to despair.

Within those in the middle, there is variation as some are succeeding steadily and others are relapsing occasionally but generally having some success. These are like the people in AA who have their 90-day chips or tokens. They are also prone to falling back into the first group and restarting all over again.

3. “Maintainers” who are at their target weight.

Within the last group, you occasionally see the most obnoxious types of people who love nothing more than to boast about how glorious life is as a thin person and use their success story again and again to “motivate” people. The truth is that more often than not, they’re looking less to inspire than to hold themselves out there for others to admire and praise.

You can always separate those who are doing the equivalent of being the thin girl glamorously twirling in her new dress in front of the room full of fat people from those maintainers who are honestly looking to help and motivate by the types of things they say. The vainglorious spend a lot of their time offering shallow pep talks and talking about how fabulous their life is now that they can see their bones poking under their skin. The helpful ones talk more concretely about problems and solutions and offer empathy rather than offering platitudes and talking about how super it feels to fit into tiny little panties.

Frankly, I strongly dislike the portion of maintainers who do this type of thing. I see them as self-centered, secretly judgmental, and shallow. They’re essentially trying to maintain the illusion of niceness, but are really interested in becoming that thin person who hangs out with fat friends so she can feel that much greater about herself.

Fat Myth #5 - fat people stink

Some myths about being overweight have a basis in truth and some are merely prejudice in action. One of the ones that has somewhat of a factual backing is that fat people smell bad. Of course, it's not really the fact that being fat makes you stink, but rather that there are particular hygiene issues and people don't talk about them.

One of the main issues that people need to deal with is the overlapping of folds of skin and how that causes biological interactions that thinner people don't have to deal with. Moisture-related issues and less than attentive care to cleaning and especially drying after a shower or bath are a big part of the problem. Many women with large breasts, for instance, develop yeast-related rashes and odors under their breasts, especially in the summer.

Frankly, there are also issues related to going to the bathroom and people having problems cleaning or wiping themselves properly as a result of their size. There was (is?) a device created for people with handicaps or weight issues which allows them to put a piece of toilet paper on a stick to reach their behinds after defecating. If you're overweight and don't apply extra care in the toilet, there can be odor issues as well.

There's also the point of perspiration and related odors. Overweight people supposedly sweat more than people of average weight because they have to make more effort and heat up more rapidly due to excess insulation. Personally, that has not been my experience as I sweat very little. I've read that obesity can actually make sweating less likely because the extra padding impedes the sweat glands ability to bring moisture to the surface of your skin.

All of that being said, anyone who is not attentive to the peculiarities of their own body chemistry or problems can smell bad. It's not really about being fat as it is about being less than careful about hygiene. I think overweight people may give up sometimes or not fully understand that their problems do not have to be inevitable. For instance, baby powder between any skin folds helps a lot with moisture and yeast problems. Also, being very careful to dry your body thoroughly and to clean every crevice eliminates many problems.

Also, frankly, overweight people sometimes believe that they smell in ways that thin people do not, when the truth is that everyone can have the same issue. There was a discussion on a popular weight loss forum about belly button odors and many women seemed to believe it only happened to overweight people. The truth is that it happens to everyone.

When I was around 12 years old, a good friend of mine and her sister had an exchange about this fact. My friend told her sister (both she and her sister were of normal weight) to put her finger in her belly button and then to smell it. She told her that it would smell like her (foul word for vagina). So, not only does it happen to people of normal weight, but also to relatively young people as well.

People don't talk about these things much though because it's considered too gross. There are web sites and products designed to help people of average weight handle particular hygiene problems like foot odors, bad breath, etc. (problems I have never had), but very little in the way of instruction or targeted products for handling issues related to having excess weight. The bottom line though is that being fat does make you smell bad; poor hygiene makes you smell bad and that can happen to anyone of any weight.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Number

I'm not sure precisely why, but I dug out the scale today and decided to weigh myself. It has been under the bed for a very long time, unused by both my husband and me. It was so dusty that a felt-like layer of dust obscured the entire surface of it. I couldn't tell if it was face-up or face-down under the bed or distinguish which side was totally dusted over until I cleaned it up.

Before I did it, I carefully considered the implications of whatever numbers came up and what sort of behavior or feelings this might set off. First of all, I had no expectations in regards to the numbers coming up low. In fact, since I don't know where I started (but am guessing I started somewhere between 350 and 400 lbs., with a likely number of around 380), I can't view it as an indication of how much I've lost. It's more about bookmarking where I am now and pondering how much further I have to go.

I explored the potential emotional impact of various outcomes. The scale tops out at 330 lbs. If I was heavier than the scale could measure, would I be sanguine about it? If I was lighter, would I be elated? Honestly, the only tiny hope I had was that I would be able to get a reading on the scale, but if I was heavier, so be it. I could live with the truth. And I didn't expect to be excited by whatever the number was going to be even if it was lower than hoped for.

I decided that I was going to put it right back under the bed after I was done, and that I was not going to weigh myself again for a very long time no matter what the numbers said. I still staunchly feel that it is a demotivating factor to track those numbers. I don't need the emotional roller coaster of feeling that I'm failing or succeeding based on something so arbitrary.

The number was 295. My response was very, very mild satisfaction. I had a small hope (as in not much emotion riding on it, not a low expectation) to be under 300 lbs., but I hadn't necessarily expected to be so. I also hadn't expected to be much lighter than that. I can see myself and I know I'm still very heavy. That being said, this confirms my speculation about various numbers based on observations. I'm right about where I thought I'd be. It also confirms that I was a lot closer to 400 lbs. when I started than I realized initially. I'm certain I've lost 80 lbs. by now, possibly a bit more.

Mainly, this provides me with a benchmark for the future. It also improves my sense that I will make my goal (150 lbs.) by my deadline of 2012. I have nearly two years to lose the next 145 lbs. Considering my progress thus far, and inevitable slow-down as I draw closer to the goal, I think things are going according to plan.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Good Days, Bad Days

Most people who maintain blogs about their weight loss tend to write a lot when things are going great and to disappear for a period of time when things are going poorly. That’s because many of them are chronicling success and embarrassed to reveal perceived failure. I find that I’m rather the opposite. The more I succeed, the less I need to write.

This blog is a more a chronicle of my pain, frustration, struggles, and anger than my achievements, and frankly that’s the way I want it to be. If I start blogging about success, then I worry that the process of weight loss will start to define my life to the extent that it feels like a “hobby” or an end unto itself rather than a means to an end. When I reach a healthy weight, I expect to have little more to say.

These days, I find that I have “good days” and “bad days”, like I always did, but the severity of the “bad” is far less than it once was. A “bad day” is usually around 2000 calories and a “good day” is usually around 1300-1400. I find that I still “binge” for comfort, but there’s a cap on the amount of it, and I’m fully aware of what I’m doing rather than doing it mindlessly.

There’s still a mental process that needs to be dealt with in terms of using food to cope and comfort, but I am keeping in mind that it is a “process”. That is, it’s a gradual shift of behavior from extremely destructive gobbling of 3000-4000 calories in a day to consuming 500 calories in a short time such that I sabotage some of my success rather than absolutely fail. Progress is being made, and failing to succeed 100% is not true failure. I must be patient with myself. I’ve only been working at this for 7 months and the mental patterns have been in place for nearly a life time.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Monitoring is Bad

Awhile back, I mentioned that I was going to take progress pictures every 4 months to give me some feedback on my weight loss aside from my ever-loosening clothing. I figured this was a "safer" method than the scale, which I fear will be a very bad influence on my motivation. That sense about the scale has only been intensified as I've started to read more blogs by people losing weight. The obsession they have with weighing themselves and the emotional roller coasters they ride with its numbers prove to me that the scale is "bad".

I've discovered that, for me, the pictures weren't a lot better. I had my husband take a second set of pictures to compare and I wouldn't even look at them until he gave me feedback. Unfortunately, we weren't careful about noting positioning when the first pictures were taken and I stood closer to the camera the second time which made it hard to do size comparison. The best my husband could offer because he said that the picture didn't really do a good job of revealing what he could see with his own eyes was that "things don't hang down as low." Sigh.

One can imagine how disheartening it is to earmark their journey with progress that can be measured in flab that is receding a bit. While this is not surprising since at my size the distribution of a weight loss of as high as 40-60 pounds over my entire body wouldn't mean a serious loss in any particular area, it was still depressing. Watching for signs of any sort, whether it be numbers on the scale or figure alterations in photos just depresses me. Even when I succeed (and I am so very much succeeding), I feel like I'm failing because I don't look "better" so much as less bad.

So, I've decided to scrap the photo progress idea and stop watching in any concrete way. I'll stick with watching my clothes and my disposition relative to my environment. I noticed lately that, when I sit in the only chair we have with handles, I don't fit tightly (though there aren't gaps, it's no longer a difficult and uncomfortable squeeze) and I can actually put my elbows on the arm rest. In the past, my upper flab tire was between me and that part of the chair as it squished out over the top of the handles. I've also noticed that my overall width has noticeably decreased and my stretchy pants that used to fit snugly are getting baggy in the thigh area. When stretch pants start to bag a bit, it's a good sign.

My mantra now is "focus on behavior and the weight loss will come." I don't want to focus on the weight loss because it's like the old adage about a watched pot never boiling. Looking and looking is just going to exhaust and frustrate me. I have to view controlling my food intake as a behavior with an inevitable result rather than one in which the desired result might not happen. If you eat less than your body burns in a day, you will lose weight. It is inevitable. Therefore, checking to see that the inevitable is actually occurring is as pointless as watching the kettle as it heats up.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Virtuous

Lately, I've been reading other people's weight loss blogs and various forums about weight loss and one thing I've noticed is that two types of people tend to dominate. There are those who are struggling and failing and those who are virtuous and succeeding. Occasionally, there will be someone who, like me, is hardly a paragon of virtue, but loses weight successfully.

One of the things about the virtuous that I'd like to say before I dive any deeper into my well of thoughts is that I know where they are coming from since I used to be one of them back when I first lost weight in college. I exercised for an hour and half 4-5 days a week. I never ate sugar, fat, red meat, fast food, or drank milk, juice, etc. My only vice at that time was Diet Coke. Mind you, back when I first lost a ton of weight, low fat was in vogue and low carb was a remnant of the 50's. People also didn't fret as much about salt intake when considering weight loss back then so I merrily consumed whatever I wanted barring the aforementioned evils.

While I do understand where the virtuous are coming from and I applaud their success, sometimes I feel that their attitude is utterly unhelpful when it comes to dealing with the desperate and hopeless out there who simply cannot live the life of the virtuous. If you are struggling to get through the day without binging, have health issues that prevent you from regular exercise, or simply can't cram all the food planning and gym visits into your life, hearing that people succeed by eschewing all of the food you enjoy and exercising more than you can imagine doesn't help you. In fact, all it does is feed your sense of despair that you will never lose weight.

To be fair, many people do adopt the "my body, my science experiment" approach and are open-minded about different approaches, but a lot simply start shouting slogans at those who are struggling like a demented lifestyle drill sergeant. "You just have to make up your mind and DO IT!" "You have to take care of YOU first!" And there's always a variation on Yoda's well-known referain, 'there is no try, just do!' If you're one of those who has managed to become one of the virtuous, you probably managed to bully yourself into abandoning all of your vices and whipping yourself into a routine that works for you. Good for you. But, and that's a big, fat "but", be warned that the train smoothly gliding you down the path of virtue can quickly be derailed back to vice with one critical health problem (knee problems, back problems, chronic fatigue from various illnesses) or a change in life circumstances. Trust me, I know this as this was how I regained all of my lost weight and more after treading the path of virtuous exercise and eating for about 4 years.

I think it's important to understand and realize that most ordinary people of normal weight are not living spectacularly virtuous lives on the food and exercise front. I personally know a boatload of thin people who do no formal exercise whatsoever and drink beer almost everyday as well as snack on chips and chocolate. They aren't metabolically lucky. They simply have good portion control and consume in moderation as well as walk around every day for between 30 minutes and several hours. They also adjust their diet when they gain weight if they overdo it. Note that none of them have cars. Living like a thin person doesn't mean you never eat stuff that is bad for you or that you exercise like a well-regimented demon.

The reason I'm writing about this is not that I want to criticize the virtuous, as I think that it is great if you can manage it. My purpose is to give hope to those, like me, who can't live the sort of life that those folks have lived for one reason or another. There are other ways to lose weight, but it is essentially a zero sum game. What I mean by that is that you can't have large quantities of bad food if you go the route that I am currently going (portion control, calorie counting, small amounts of daily treats, and only walking 30 min. to an hour 5 times a week for exercise). The virtuous probably eat much greater amounts of food by volume than I do (though fewer or the same calories). They are also likely fitter and in better overall health. They also probably lose weight faster than me on average, though I have to say that I know you can only lose so much fat per week (two pounds is what I've read). After that, you're losing water and muscle. (Do you really want to be pushing so hard that your body is consuming it's muscle tissue?)

You can lose weight with a balance, and that balance doesn't have to be achieved through "perfect" behavior. In fact, my behavior is painfully imperfect, yet I manage anyway. I am curious about whether or not I can continue to lose weight successfully once I reach the 150 lb. range (so far away now). Perhaps my plan will have to become more virtuous once I am further away from morbidly obese. Frankly though, I'm not too worried about it. When my weight gets down that low, I think I'll be in a better position to worry about different choices.

At any rate, I don't want others to read about the virtuous habits and think that that is the only road to success. You don't have to be a paragon of control or lifestyle choices to succeed, but you do have to make some changes. The nice thing is that you can make those changes slowly and the hard part passes after the first month or so. The effects also start to snowball as you become accustomed to the changes and practicing delayed gratification. It's not easy, but it doesn't have to be that hard either.