I'm on record as saying that I dislike the "eat less, exercise more" mantra, because it imparts no real useful information. It isn't about these acts. It's about teaching one how to go about being capable of these actions. If you can't explain how to get, and more importantly, stay there, then you really have nothing of value to offer anyone. Part of the reason I blog is that I record how I'm getting there. I'm only now coming to terms with conceptualizing how to stay there.
If a year or so ago when I first rolled up my sleeves and started to attempt to lose weight, someone had told me that I'd have to do the things I'm doing now, I'd have felt it was not only impossible in the short term, but definitely out of the question in the long term. The transition between what I did then and what I do now is quite large. For people who are very overweight (250 lbs. or heavier), I strongly believe that the slow road is the better path. I feel this because a super strict, fast route is not one which can be trodden successfully for the duration, and anyone who is very overweight likely needs to relearn how to eat and deal with their psychological issues in order to make sure they can maintain. The fast road is too dramatic and you are so mired in concentrating on the process that you don't pause to catch the scenery, which includes all of the mental crap that you're going to be chucking in the closet and ignoring until one day it is going to come out and yell "boo" at you and scare you back into your old eating habits.
Since I feel that I've got a fair amount of the mental part untangled, and the processes down fairly well, I've reached a few conclusions about the realities of living at a lower weight for the rest of my life. A year ago, these realities would be very grim for me because I think they would be things I couldn't conceptualize as being physically or emotionally possible for me. For people who are at the start of their efforts, especially those at a very high weight, offering up these realities only makes them feel more helpless and overwhelmed. I know I would have felt so had I been told that this would be the way I'd have to live the rest of my life.
I have felt for quite some time that I would have to monitor my calories for the rest of my life because my food compass is broken. What crystallized for me today was that there are certain patterns to eating that are pretty much going to be a forever thing now. These patterns are not ones that bother me in the least at this stage of the game, but conceptualizing them in this manner helps me understand why many overweight people feel they can never lose weight or, if they lose it, they can't keep it off.
If I don't want to regain weight, I realize that in terms of eating that:*
- I will always have to eat what would be considered child-size portions of things like sandwiches and carbohydrates.
- I will always eat about 2/3 to half the portions of proteins that many Americans consider appropriate depending on whether it is lean or fatty.
- I will always have to regard full-calorie treats and desserts in terms of having two or three bites or have them very infrequently.
- I will never be able to eat more than a half dozen nuts at once, and even then infrequently.
- I can never eat more than a palm full of salted snacks, and probably be limited to two or three pieces.
- All full fat dairy (cream, butter, sour cream, etc.) will have to be consumed by the tablespoon at most.
- I will never be able to eat more than a small quantity of cheese - likely no more than the size of one slice of pre-packaged cheese (which I don't eat, but I use that as a portion reference).
- The only food I will be able to eat in relative abundance will be plain vegetables.
- I will never be able to eat fruit as freely as I want.
- I will never be able to freely or regularly drink anything with calories including things like milk (even low-fat), lattes or juice.
- I will never be able to eat more than two small or one medium piece of pizza. I will never be able to eat something like a full slice of Costco pizza unless I skip a meal to accommodate it.
- I will never be able to eat a full large-size pastry and will only occasionally be able to eat a portion of one.
- I will never be able to eat until "stuffed" or "very full". At best, I'll be "full". "Pigging out" will never be a possibility.
- I will always pay a price for any "indulgence" that is used as a meal (like having a donut for breakfast) by having to deal with greater hunger for having spent the calories on something empty and not having consumed a large quantity of such foods.
I'm okay with all of these things... now. However, I would have seen these as so restrictive as to be impossible to live with before I went through this transition. Not only would I have chafed at the bit of getting so little pleasure from food, but I couldn't fathom feeling okay on so few calories everyday. I would only think about the gnawing hunger I'd believe I'd feel day-in and day-out for the rest of my life and decide that I'd rather stay fat than suffer for the duration of my existence.
One thing that I realize at this point in time is that a person who is substantially overweight and has been eating too much all of their lives (or for much of it) can't begin to understand that they can be comfortable with far, far less forever. This is not a failing on their part. It's simply impossible to relate to that possibility unless you've made substantial mental and physical changes over a long period of time. I couldn't understand that initially. I didn't know my body and mind would change enough to drop down to a different comfort level with portions and calories. I didn't know I wouldn't suffer terribly at this level of consumption. I didn't even necessarily internalize the idea fully until relatively recently.
That's not to say that everyone should make the transition that I have, nor that the method I have followed is for anyone but me. The way I see it is that you have a choice to make. You can feed your body like an 18-wheeler that needs a ton of fuel or you can feed it like a compact car. You get to drive around the type of body that you fuel, and the choice is entirely up to the individual. As long as one is happy with the choices one makes and the consequences do not trouble them, more power to you while you drive around whatever body you're pumping energy into.
*I'm adding this comment because I don't want to be misunderstood about why I believe these things. These apply to me with my lifestyle choices. I realize that people who are willing to go to the gym and work their ass off or run miles per week to burn loads of calories can eat more, but I'm too old, weak, fragile, and busy to bust my ass exercising just so I can eat more. Also, frankly, I traveled down that road from ages 19-22 and it didn't serve me well in the long run. I believe that relying on food restriction for weight control is a more reliable approach in the long run as it does not require anything other than making certain choices. Exercising requires that you be well and uninjured, states which I cannot rely on.