What I wish I’d known about weight loss and dieting when I was younger

I’ve written about my dieting history, weight gains and losses, and former athletic endeavors previously and keep them linked on their own page. In short, I was pretty heavy as a youngster and ruthlessly bullied because I was fat. I lost weight in my late teens and then spent much of my young adulthood in the throes of a raging eating disorder, along with an obsession for over-exercising. My weight has ranged by roughly 150 lbs. over the years.

I’ve learned a lot about body weight and dieting over those years and how extremes aren’t sustainable. They were hard lessons to learn and it didn’t have to be that way. I wanted fast results, not understanding that patience with the process and consistency in actions would be vital to achieving my goals. Patience and consistency really are key to any purpose, but particularly important in weight loss and maintenance.

So I’m writing some notes to my younger self that may have helped her move beyond her hyper-focus on weight and dieting and to start enjoying her life a whole lot sooner. I speak from personal experience, so these observations may be pretty specific to my situation. But I can’t help but think that they could pertain to someone else, should they stumble upon this post. 

Warning: these are not common recommendations for weight maintenance. They are simply my lessons learned following years of dieting and an eating disorder. These are things I wish I knew when I started those first diets forty years ago.

The calories-in, calories-out (CICO) approach to weight loss is evil and pretty much nonsense. Your body is much more complicated than this and the amount of energy you need changes daily. Moreover, the calculation of calories is highly imprecise. Food labels can be off as much as 20% and still considered an acceptable estimate. Estimates of calorie expenditures are even further off, even with all the gadgets we have today (and that you didn’t have back then). Put away your notebooks of numbers. They are of no use to you in solving anything pertaining to your weight.

Dieting as an intervention for weight loss is an abysmal failure. The amount of food permitted on most diets is not sustainable long-term. Your body will ultimately rebel against eating too little food, especially when trying to compete in a collegiate sport. For gods-sake, you need more than a salad to fuel two workouts a day. Eating too little will cause you to binge in response to feeling starved. Bingeing (and ultimately purging) will do more damage than just about anything else you will do to your body.

Don’t aim for an unreasonably low weight. Your weight will vary by roughly 150 lbs. over the next 40 years because of diets. You can avoid this (in part) by realizing that the weight recommendations for your height are way too low. There’s not a lot of body fat on you at recommended weights of 135-140 lbs. It will be tough for you to stay at this weight. I don’t know why but you just weigh more than most for your height. Don’t try to use someone else’s body to predict your own. A lower weight isn’t your success story.

Don’t use excessive exercise as punishment for perceived over-eating. This goes back to the CICO thinking — avoid the trap of thinking that you can eat something off-plan and burn it off later. It doesn’t work that way. If you want something, eat it and enjoy it. There is no need to punish yourself because you did nothing wrong by eating.

Do not fast for purposes of weight control. Just don’t. Yes, there is intermittent this and that, low-calorie protein shake fasts, juice fasts, and on and on. But unless you are training for a wilderness adventure that can put you into a situation where you run out of food and have to rely upon the land for sustenance, don’t practice fasting. Fasting will put you into a stressful mode that leads to intense food cravings. It also increases stress hormones and interferes with the proper functioning of your metabolism. Binge eating is often a common side effect of fasting.  

There is a whole industry devoted to diets that isn’t one bit concerned about your long-term success. The dieting market exploits the vulnerable. This industry claims success when you lose weight on their plan but then turns around and blames you when you fail on that same plan. If their diet was that good, shouldn’t you be able to follow it, lose weight, feel good, and not regain? But where is the profit in that? The diet industry relies on repeat customers. Cut them off.

Be patient with yourself. Forget quick fixes. Yes, your first major weight loss was rapid, but it wasn’t sustainable. Extreme, starvation-level diets aren’t necessary and certainly not a long-term ideal. Please try to spend less time thinking about your weight, clothing size, food, and workouts. There really are more critical things to think about. 

Dieting affects your mood in very negative ways. It’s hard to focus on anything when your stomach is gnawing at you. Being a bitch-on-wheels because you are hungry with low blood sugar is just not a good look. Nor is it effective in the long-run.

Excessive dieting and ungodly workouts will affect your relationships. You had great friends who stood with you when starting those initial efforts to lose weight. You lost those friends when weight loss became your sole focus and things got crazy. It’s hard to maintain friendships when you are extremely irritable.

Your weight will stabilize once you feel better and take care of yourself. Please don’t wait almost 40 years to realize this. Start working on accepting yourself earlier. You will find that your weight will drop when you are in a good place mentally and emotionally. Weight management becomes a non-issue when you feel better about yourself.

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I don’t know if these observations are universal, but I’m certain that they would have been vital for me to learn much sooner.

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

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