Thursday, August 26, 2010

Without a trace

Awhile ago, I started following the blog of a young woman who set about losing weight. Her starting weight was very similar to mine (around 380 lbs.) and she talked about how she was making certain changes to her eating habits and planning a new way of living. I had a few brief exchanges with her as she had asked me some questions, and I offered some unsolicited advice. Of course, she had her own plan based on business principles and how she can modify those ideas to fit her weight loss goals and I stopped commenting rather quickly when it became clear that my advice was not of interest to her.

Clearly, this was an intelligent and successful young woman, and she was very gung-ho about getting her house in order when it came to her issues with her weight. She posted "before" pictures of herself, and talked about her daily routine changes. At one point, she tossed out the idea of whether or not posting weekly photos would be a good idea to track progress. This was an idea that most people were very positive about, but I cautioned that I felt that it might make the process of tracking more cumbersome if she posted them weekly (I advised no more often than monthly) as well as possibly discouraging because she may not see noticeable changes in photos from week to week.

Shortly after she talked about posting weekly photos, she talked about consultation with a bariatric surgeon, but not in a way which indicated that undergoing such surgery was imminent. In a very short span of time (June 23 - July 1), she stopped posting at all about weight loss and deleted her domain and blog. I was sad to see this, because usually people who stop posting have "given up" on their efforts. Mind you, if she has decided to simply accept her body as is and just abandon weight loss altogether, it's all good. I don't think anyone has to lose weight. They just have to be happy with who they are. However, the chances that she has embraced fat acceptance and vanished  are low. It is far more likely that she has simply decided to not try to accomplish a goal she continues to desire and has erased the "evidence" that she ever tried.

This is a pattern that I see time and again with people who write weight loss blogs, and one of the things that is of value to me as someone who wants to be involved in weight loss counseling in the future is why these people stop trying. The thing that I notice about such folks is that they often try to change everything in their lives all at once. They want to go from the equivalent of being a baby crawling on the floor to an adult marathon runner in days rather than to first learn to stand, walk with support, and totter about the room on uncertain legs until those legs are strong enough to carry them further. They are very motivated to get every change in as rapidly as possible, and ultimately, they don't have the mental or physical legs to stand on and find themselves stumbling and falling all too often and give up.

My single biggest piece of (unwanted) advice for people who want to make a lifestyle change, and this relates to everything, not just weight loss is to start with a small snowball and roll it carefully and deliberately to make it bigger. Don't try to rewrite your entire existence overnight. Don't make big goals that you are likely to fail at. Make the initial goals small with the idea of ramping up the difficulty through time. Don't decide you're going to "live right" every day and make a multitude of changes all at once, but rather simply make one small, but meaningful, change and make that change absolutely routine. Once it is natural and you're doing it with ease, increase the difficulty level and work at that level until it is routine and then push ahead again. Make it so you succeed every day, because the goal is within your grasp.

A lot of studies assert that small changes are not enough to lose weight, but that is because they are talking about small changes being made and things stop there. The small changes have to slowly grow to be bigger ones, and that will take one down a path to a long-term lifestyle change which has the ability to stick because you've made those changes part of your routine bit-by-bit. If you try to do too much too soon, you'll find that it's too much to manage and there will be so much stress on your body and your mind that you'll give up.

One thing that I am ever mindful of is that everything I have done is part of a long, slow slope. That slope for the past 15 months has been one of gradual reduction of calories and gradual increase of non-food-related activity (including thinking) and movement. Instead of trying to climb a steep mountain as fast as possible, I've been on a long and winding path with an angle that is usually moderately challenging (though sometimes with rough patches). Now, I'm pretty comfortable where I am, and am far from where I started, but I never could have scaled that distance at a sprint and succeeded.

There are two things I come away from this understanding with that are of value to me (and possibly to others). The first is that the changes stick much better when made slowly. The second is that the path up this slope was gradual, but I have to be ever mindful that slowly slipping back down is always possible. Just as I made small changes to get where I am today, making small changes in the other direction will lead back to where I was. I have to be vigilant about not allowing almost imperceptible changes toward eating more, moving less, and being inattentive to mental processes related to food to carry me back down. The slope isn't slippery, but it is still easier to travel down that hill than up.

In regards to the blogger I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I "warned" her in a soft fashion about going too fast. I cautioned her about making too many changes right at the start, especially at such a high weight when small changes and less Draconian measures would have brought results. I tried to tell her not to make the process more cumbersome than it had to be by creating a fussy tracking method, but like most people I offer my unsolicited advice to, she charged down another path. Maybe she's succeeding wildly and just stopped blogging. Maybe she is happy with who she is now. Chances are though that, like many people, she tried too hard to run before she could walk and gave up.

I hate to see people fail, which is why I bother to offer my opinion, but I'm beginning to think it probably would be best just to keep it to myself. People have to live their lives the way they choose, and they have to learn from their own mistakes. It's really not my place to direct them or tell them what to do. The part of me that lives in the mental and physical pain of being fat and doesn't want anyone else to suffer as I have (and still do, but to a lesser extent) finds it hard to keep quiet though. Perhaps my ego also directs me to believe that I have something of value to offer to others, but, perhaps, I only have something of value to me. Weight loss may just be one of those things which is too personalized for anyone to truly help you but yourself.


Baby Stepping said...

I wish I had figured out the "slow and steady" and "babysteps" years ago, but I guess we learn what we need to learn when we learn it. Your post was so on target. I know that I have a tendency to quit posting when things aren't going well. And yet when I read other people's blogs, I am inspired to read about their struggles, particularly when I know they have overcome them.

Anonymous said...

If anyone had suggested to me that my attempt at losing weight would lead to a spiritual transformation and awakening, I would have quietly discounted that view (saving my eye rolling for later when recounting the suggestion to my husband.) Yet that is what I feel is happening. I do not consider myself to be a spiritual person. And now...

Well, there is a growing experience of compassion I feel towards myself and others, an experience I did not seek or expect. There is a feeling of peace and understanding about my occasional desire to eat more food than my body needs. There is a part of myself that I have been avoiding by eating in response to anxiety and sadness. It is not a frightening part. It is, dare I say, powerful. Not controlling, but intuitive.

I do not know if others have this experience.

Also, I am happy with my body now. I am still obese by social standards, but I feel stronger in my body than I have in many years. I climbed a mountain for 2 hours yesterday. I watched blue butterflies and felt carefree. This experience was not possible for me when I weighed much more than I do now. I am so grateful.


Fat Grump said...

Not a lot to add, other than great post!

I am losing weight VERY slowly, and sometimes I'd like to see an overnight transformation - or at least a few signs of OBVIOUS change after months of my 'all things in moderation' regime. However, I am still going, and I weigh less now than when I started. It can be frustrating but strangely, I feel quite 'on track' mentally, despite my frequent whinging!

This is for life, and I am learning lots along the way, so much so that the desire to laze about (eating) has become a distant memory. Small changes DO make a difference. Learning to be patient, even when I fall by the wayside has been the hardest part of it all for me, but I am getting there, one or two small (very small!) changes at a time. There have been times when I too have wanted to quit, but it's actually been quite easy to carry on because I have realised that new, (small) patterns have been introduced to my daily routine, and they seem to stick.

emmabovary said...

Great post. When I read blogs which cry out "I did it! You can do it too!" I just want to electronically slap the blogger. That attitude is pure hubris and ego. (Although I know the blogger is merely trying to be helpful).

I do read certain weight loss blogs which motivate me by the success of the blogger. But I select those whose content is humble. When the blogger starts turning "motivational speaker" on me, they lose me.

screaming fatgirl said...

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to read and to comment. As always, I really appreciate that anyone out there listens to my voice... not that I wouldn't talk to myself if this was an empty room, but it's definitely better when I know someone is listening. ;-)

Baby Stepping: I think that this works for a lot of people, but it works especially well for people who are going to need a long time to deal with their food issues (such as the very overweight like me). People who have picked up a little weight over many years and want to just get it off quickly might be served well by more temporary and fast changes. I don't know. It's just my guess. However, I've found this much better for me doing it slowly, and I'm glad that you do as well. :-)

Rebecca: I can't say that I've had a spiritual transformation, but I can see where it may be possible. I think once you are liberated from your limitations, you might be more perceptive of the joys in life. Though I have better mobility now (and can walk for hours now), it hasn't really enhanced my appreciation of anything except, frankly, sex. My sex life is a lot better now.

For me, I have to balance the oppressive nature of going out and about with the pleasure of going out and about. Because of my nervous system (and high sensitivity), it's always an approach-avoidance conflict. I think I might feel more liberated, as you do, if I lived in a place where I had access to nature and could enjoy a physical connection with the natural world.

I'm very happy for you that you've made a transition that makes you happy. That really is better than any amount of weight loss in my opinion.

Grump: Losing slowly is still losing. :-) And as long as you can say, "this is for life, and I can live with it," I think you're in good stead. Keep up those small changes. Your rate of loss may not be fast, but as long as it is relatively steady, that's as much as you can hope for.

emmabovary: I think people who say, "I did it, and you can, too" have a bit of a sense of wanting everyone to join their "religion". They mean well, but I think they're fairly caught up in the heady nature of what they're doing and the elation of their success. I actually have a post about this aspect of the weight loss world, but I've held back on posting it because I think it might be very offensive to some people.

I think some people need to be caught up and "preach" the religion of their lifestyle, and they really aren't aware of how it might come across. Mainly, I have trouble following people who invest everything in their body image, and do not appear to have any other existence outside of their weight loss efforts or their bodies. One of the frequent commenters on the 3 Fat Chicks forums has listed as her one and only interest, 'anything related to my weight'. I find that as unhealthy as being fat, possibly more so. But, that's just my perspective.

Thanks again to everyone for the lovely comments!

RedPanda said...

I can relate very strongly to this post.

I lost weight slowly but sustainably. During that period, I had more pressing issues to deal with, so I didn't have the time, energy or inclination to make weight loss my major preoccupation in life. In retrospect, that worked well; rather than attempting to overhaul my lifestyle overnight, I slowly learned to enjoy more healthy foods and gradually cut back on calories. Later, when I stopped losing weight, I added in exercise. So in that way, my weight loss was a genuine "lifestyle change".

I always wonder why people ask how long it took me to lose weight, because I don't think that's the point.

And like SFG, I've learned to zip it when reading diet blogs. Weight loss is a very personal issue, and unsolicited advice is rarely appreciated.

Inner said...

I hope that the girl who disappeared is still reading your blog. I hope she is aware how much we all wish her good health and a good journey along her path to a more mindful approach to living. I hope she keeps reading even if she isn't ready to "begin" again, because just surrounding myself with these folks I've met in the blog world has done me a world of good.

Anonymous said...

SFG, I think you are right about my inner transformation being related, in a significant part, to my experiences in nature. I live in the country and walk 3 to 4 miles every morning at sunrise. When I started walking last December, one mile seemed like an enormous journey.

Owls, hawks, and other beautiful creatures often make their presence known as I walk along during the predawn hour into the dawn. This week I was lucky to stay at a cabin in the mountains, and my newfound ability to explore wooded paths felt glorious.

I hope you will have the opportunity to enjoy nature more after you return to the states. There really is, for me, a different kind of energy to be found in natural surroundings.


NewMe said...

Your post, as well as all the comments, have rung a lot of bells with me.

I too have seen gung-ho weight loss warriors come and go. Many of them use the two words in the English language that I detest most when paired together: "on plan". It's as if eating a piece of chocolate--and thus going "off plan"--is a greater sin than killing someone. Really.

I once wrote a post entitled MIA (missing in action) about one such blogger. This blogger posted her weight every day, and recorded with pinpoint accuracy everything she ate during the day (and provided pictures) and every minute of exercise she did. She eventually returned to blogging, but a few months later announced that she was closing down her blog and that her fight against the scale was over.

There seem to be a lot of religious undertones to weight loss too, especially in the States. There's a messianic, "born again" fervour that I have a hard time swallowing (pardon the pun). There may be a few people out there who can just wake up one day and change everything (hallelujah!) and the weight will magically come off. For most human beings, though, it's a long, slow and arduous process and that's just for the small percentage of people who do lose and keep the weight off.

Much as I often find the words trite and superficial, it really is a "lifestyle change". For instance, if you can really do x hours of exercise every day for the rest of you life, great. But most people can't, so they can't really change their lifestyle. Same applies to food.

I say, slow and steady, make profound changes that perhaps only you can really see. Accept yourself, and if you only lose 10% of your weight but keep it off, see it as success. If you lose more, wow. More power to you.

sinn said...

Hey, just gave you the Happy 101 award! The picture is on my blog. Click on it and copy the link to place it on your journal! ^___^

screaming fatgirl said...

RedPanda: Fortunately, I have not been asked this question... yet. I haven't had contact with those types of people for awhile, but probably will soon. As you say, it really doesn't matter how long it takes, but I think they want to know so that they can consider following the same method. They don't want to do the same thing if it takes too long. :-p

Inner: I doubt she's still reading. I'm not sure if she ever followed my blog (though I followed hers, a lot of people don't have time to read every blog). I think when people stop, they wipe everything off of that table because it just reminds them of their unsuccessful attempt. I hope not. I hope she knows people care and want her to be happy and successful, but human nature makes me think otherwise.

Rebecca: Eventually, I'm sure I will be in a better place, but I'm not counting on it.

NewMe: The post I'm holding back (because I think the tone and posture may be too offensive) talks a lot about exactly that religious fervor. So, I'm right there with you about the way it all comes across!

Thanks so much to everyone for the comments and for reading!

Sarah said...

Catching up as always... My first thought is she's going to have surgery. Maybe not imminently, but that is surely a different blog.

But what I really wanted to comment on was your penchant for giving out unsolicited advice. It's what brought me to your blog. Way back in January I think I was posting about feeling friendless or maybe vanity, I really can't recall and I'm too exhausted to go look currently but you replied with something that clearly told me you hadn't read much of my blog. Granted there isn't much there and I go missing for long stretches when life gets in the way but there was enough there not so deep to indicate that I was married. You assumed I was single and looking for a man and that why I was so vain. (again, can't exactly recall, it's probably not that harsh) Your boldness yet obliviousness is what brought me here and I was genuinely surprised by what I found. You have one of the most sane voices out there in this community I think. Imho continue on with that unsolicited advice, even if it's not always on the money or listened too, if we put ourselves out there you are more than welcome to have an opinion.

Anonymous said...

Insightful post. Let's hope the young lady wanted to remain anonymous (and her identity was discovered by friends/family) so she continued her efforts in another manner.
What do you make of blogs 3 and 5 years old, where the blogger has yet to lose any weight? Every New Year, birthday, spring they are "Ready to make a change for real!" Six months later they're 10 pounds heavier, or 20 pounds lighter than where they began. They're always losing the same 40 pounds with different methods (weight watchers, organic only, everything in moderation, low carb, counseling for their emotional eating...).
It's unfortunate but I think the serial bloggers adopt weightloss as a lifestyle. I wonder whether these bloggers represent society? Most people don't just "give up". If they did, twice as many of us would be obese. Most people struggle, with little or no success (no tangible change) over several years. There's a multi-billion dollar diet industry alive and well to support that hypothesis.

screaming fatgirl said...

Hi, anonymous, and thank you for commenting and reading.

It's possible that she didn't want those who knew her to "find" her, but she used her full name in the blog and put up pictures, so chances are that that was not her concern. However, it is possible that she felt now one would stumble across her tiny nook regardless of what personal information she put out there. From all appearances though, she wasn't trying to protect her identity (unlike folks like me).

I've read some people that have either taken part in forums or blogged for a long time and continually gain back what they lose only to start again and lose a bit and repeat the cycle. I think that most of them are taking part in unsustainable practices. They buy into the diet culture to an extreme extent and find that they can't carry on for logistical, physical, or emotional reasons.

I think a huge part of the problem is the "all or nothing" approach that so many people take. As you say, the diet industry encourages this because more extreme options require a greater investment in gyms, special diet foods, or supplements. The approach which people like me and some of my commenters take which is slow loss through eating real food in smaller portions with relatively modest exercise done without special equipment or gyms makes no money for anyone. In fact, it makes us worse consumers as we spend less money on food. So, the extremes are valued both because marketers push them *and* you lose weight faster which people find more gratifying.

The dieting culture (as apart from the marketing and industry) also does not help in this regard. It's like a club people join in order to become a part of the "thin" set. When they join, they feel support, but also start to emulate extremes. I've written about this before, but there is a lot of tossing out of the baby with the bath water thinking which makes the process too radical a change and unsustainable. I can't tell you how many people give up diet sodas and zero calorie drinks and guzzle gallons of water as part of their alteration even though those little things did not contribute to their weight problem.

I think serial losers-gainers buy wholesale into the notion that they are "responsible" and character weakness is the issue and if they just apply themselves with enough due diligence "this time", it'll work. They don't see that the problem is likely that their approaches are too radical and unsustainable for *them* (though similar approaches may work for others). They're looking at the wrong cause for their "failure", because society encourages us to blame ourselves at a deep level rather than look at how to modify our behavior in a gradual, reasonable, and sustainable manner.