Monday, May 17, 2010

It gets easier

When I started trying to lose weight, it was unbearably hard trying to eat less than my body required. The hunger nearly drove me mad at times. In retrospect, I wonder if, at a starting weight which was probably around 380, I made it harder on myself than necessary by picking an arbitrary number and saying that was how much I’d try to eat that day to lose weight.

I don’t think I experienced “starvation mode”, because I didn’t count calories everyday at first and didn’t greatly restrict my eating 6 out of 7 days a week at first. I do think, however, that things could have been just as effective, but smoother had I eaten 500 calories below my basal metabolic number everyday from the start. That is, if 3800 was what I needed to stay at 380, I may have been able to lose weight on 3300 calories per day. I don't’ know if that would have worked, but I think it might.

At any rate, I don’t regret the choices I made because they helped me to incorporate delayed gratification into my life quite effectively. Weight loss plans aren’t a perfect science. They’re more like alchemy in which you’re making wild guesses at what to do and on rare occasions it works and most of the time it fails.

The reason I’m thinking about how many calories one can eat and still lose weight is because lately it has gotten a lot easier to eat less. I haven’t weighed myself recently; in fact, I have scrupulously avoided it because I have a planned weighing for mid-June as that marks the one-year anniversary of my decision to try and change my life such that I’d lose weight. My sense is that I’m probably somewhere in the 260’s now, which means that I’m now aiming for 1500 calories a day with some “bonus” nibbling that might take me up to 1600. I’m easily falling in the mid to high 1400’s most days since deciding to scale back my eating a little more. Some days, I’m actually in the high 1300’s without effort.

The main thing which has changed since the early days of my efforts is the frequency and intensity of my hunger. I recall all too well how hard it was in my early one-day-a-week 1200 calorie days. Sometimes, I thought I would just go mad with hunger. I also have found even within the past 3 months that I was having problems throughout the day, but recently something seems to have changed. Either hunger isn’t hitting me as hard as it used to, or I’m much more capable of setting it aside and ignoring it (possibly both).

I can’t say for sure why this is the case, but my speculation is that my body’s energy demands have drastically gone done (as a lower weight means a lower BMI) and my cells and organs have slowly adjusted to the diminished energy levels. Whatever myriad chemical processes keep my body alive have finally gained some sort of cellular “understanding” that this is a situation which does not require klaxons going off in my brain saying, “eat, eat, eat.”

It’s also possible that I’m simply spending those calories better now and therefore I’m more easily sated than before. I consider this as a rather remote possibility because my eating style has not appreciably changed from the start. I still eat lots of chicken breast, quick breads made with fruit and Splenda for breakfast, eggs, controlled portions of rice, sweet potatoes, and whole wheat bread, fruit, occasional small portions of salted snacks, small portions of cheese, pureed vegetable soups, raw carrots and tomatoes, small amounts of chocolate, salads, and tuna and drink lots of tea and moderate amounts of Diet Coke. The diet really hasn’t changed, though I have been more consistent as I’ve gotten used to the (high) cooking and preparation demands. I can say though that I love the food I eat and rarely hunger for something that I feel I have to deny myself. It’s not that I’m such a “good girl”, but just that I have developed really good portion control and can incorporate nearly anything into my plans without losing control or overeating.

The way things have gone lately, and I realize this may be a temporary state (but I hope not), have given me a better sense of how other people manage to eat less on a regular basis without trying too hard. They do it because their bodies aren’t issuing demands and their psyche’s aren’t controlling the path from mouth to stomach. That being said, my psychology still drives me to food for comfort on occasion. Last night was stressful, and I ate about 200 calories at the end of the day as comfort. The only difference about what I did then and what I do now is that the amount I eat for comfort is very small, engaged in much less frequently, and usually within calorie allotment totals for weight loss (and never above maintenance numbers).

Besides the inevitable relief of not having to fight your impulses to eat all of the time or stave off hunger, this state of being feels more peaceful because I find that I ruminate on food much less often than I did initially. I used to go to bed every night thinking about food and imagining what I’d eat the next day. Now, I find that I rarely end up doing that. I also find that I am spending less time looking at the clock to see if enough time has passed between breakfast and lunch to allow me to eat again.

So, I’m glad to say that it gets easier after awhile. I can’t say it “gets easy”, but with practice and further reduction in body weight, it does become less difficult. It has taken nearly a year to get to this point, but I’m gratified to be at this current stage, and I hope it continues to last (or get even easier). I want to note this change because I think it's important to remember not only where I am at this point in the process, but where I used to be before. 


Anonymous said...

I think you're right, it gets easier, the body gets used to the new normal. I think I eat much more than you, maybe why I lose so slowly (or not at all, anymore). I found myself thinking about food way too much recently, trying to be "good", and I had a f%$k-it moment, which has taken the pressure off in a big way. I don't eat if I'm not hungry, even if it's breakfast time, even if it means I only eat one true meal in a day. I don't actually like to be hungry, and maybe that means I won't lose anymore, so be it. I'm amazed at the baggage that comes with weight, been working on that instead.

FWIW, I don't think all calories are equivalent, as far as fat gain/loss. You still can't eat too many, but 100 kcals of celery vs 100 of chocolate cake will likely have different fates if they are above your daily needs. If you're below your daily needs, I suppose you could lose weight on the all cheetoh diet, though you might not feel well. I do think it's easier to gain lots of weight eating high sugar/fat low fiber food than it is on low sugar high fiber, even if calories are equivalent and enough, though of course it's a lot easier to eat a lot more. I don't think most people are fat because they're eating an extra apple or two daily, and I don't think giving up that apple will cause any weight loss. I think it takes prolonged consistent overeating to get big, and major effort to get not-big again. But then again, I've met guys who can drop 10 pounds by eating 1 less piece toast in the morning.

I'm not surprised at the hostility of the FA blog, though I haven't seen it. It's a mean nasty world out there.

Anonymous said...

It does get easier. I don't think that's true for everyone, but it has been for me.

Yet there are also some days (more rarely, 2 or 3 in a row) when for no obvious reason I feel hungrier than usual. That's one reason why I like your idea of having some flexibility, or wiggle room, with my calories. Flexibility allows me to respect my body's signals, without being afraid of reversing my weight loss process.

There are also some (quite atypical) days when I realize towards evening that I have eaten less than 1000 calories that day, simply because I didn't feel very hungry. I respect that my body's needs may vary.

Neither increased hunger nor decreased hunger becomes the norm for me. I now take both kinds of days in stride, along with my more typical days.

Thanks for another thoughtful blog post!


screaming fatgirl said...

Thanks to both of you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your sharing your perspectives and reactions.

justjuliebean: Regarding the FA blog, I don't know if it's a mean, nasty world, but I think anyone who is hurt day-in and day-out is going to become very defensive and easily provoked to hostility, even when no provocation or attack was intended. I think it's a part of fat PTSD for people to just get angry quickly or to read negative things into what people say. I figure most of the FA blog readers are seeking comfort and validation because they want to accept their bodies and are looking for kindred spirits.

I think that you have a point about calories from celery vs. calories from junk. However, I think that the body's immediate response is to store fat as fat quickly, but in the long-term a calorie is a calorie. If you eat 1000 calories of potato chips and nothing else, you aren't going to gain weight compared to someone who eats 2500 calories of healthy food. Your body may initially off-load the calories from the chips into fat cells, but it'll draw it back out by the end of the day.

Of course, there are multitudes of benefits from eating healthy food including better hair and skin, regularity, proper vitamin and mineral balance, better brain function, etc. But, in the end, there are reasons that skinny people eat junk food and don't gain weight. Sometimes, they have a gifted metabolism, but I think more often than not, they're just not consuming that many calories.

There is a book called "The Schwarbein Principle" written by a woman who was underweight as a teen and ate normal youthful fare including milkshakes, burgers, etc. and she was encouraged to start eating more "healthfully" (esp. more carbs) and put on too much weight. Her book covers a lot of the endocrinology of food and would agree with what you're saying to some extent. There are a lot of factors that go into how food is processed, and one of the biggest relates to the balance of fat, protein, and carbohydrates that you consume. She advocates low carb with higher fat than most people eat with moderate protein. In her theory, eating a croissant and an egg for breakfast would be better than an apple or fruit salad because the protein, fat, carb balance is better in terms of the endocrine response.

Rebecca: I think it gets easier for most people if they're addressing all of the issues they need to. One of the things I think sabotages most people in the long run is the strictness of what they are doing. I enjoy exercise, what little I can get of it, but I don't drag myself out of the house for a walk if I feel like crap or force myself to lift weights with aching arms, but so many women punish themselves and don't listen to their bodies. They beat themselves up for eating a little more or the "wrong" food. I think they make it harder on themselves because they haven't gained any trust in their ability to deal with food. They feel like they're going to fall off the wagon they've put themselves on unless they toe a very narrow line. Frankly, I think that the psychological aspects are as important as the physiological and behavioral elements, and most people deal only with behavioral because they focus on a lack of "discipline" or the dreaded "willpower".

I think listening to your body is extremely important, and that it'll not only make it easier, but more productive. Of course, the problem is that sometimes, our bodies are so screwed up that they "lie". ;-)

Like you, I sometimes have days where I seem to be insanely hungry for no reason, though I've had fewer of them lately. Often, I think this is a "catch-up" thing that my body does from being deprived all of the time, and I'm okay with acting on that hunger to some extent as I think it'll help in the long run.

Thanks again to both of you!

Anonymous said...

The Schwarbein Principle; fantastic book! Made so much sense. I remember getting it and thinking how it resonated with my experience! I should dig it up from wherever I must have buried it three moves ago...Thank you for reminding me of it :)