I was at lunch with a friend a couple of months ago — ah, those carefree, pre-pandemic days. Remember those? Anyway, my friend commented that I looked like I had lost weight. I pondered for a bit and thought, yah, I think I may have lost a few pounds. I had noticed that my clothes were looser, and not in a stretched out way. But I hadn’t weighed myself in ages because the bathroom scale stopped working last year and I never bought a replacement. One of my steps in this recovery is to avoid continually weighing myself. Not having a readily available scale supports this step.
But then I became curious. Could I be losing weight and not realize it? And how does that happen for a person with a life-long obsession with weight? I decided to buy a new scale in early March to see what was up.
I was surprised to find that I weighed 20 lbs less than I did while on a bike tour last summer. Much to my disappointment, I had actually gained weight while training for that tour. While some of that difference could be from comparing weights from different scales, 20 lbs is more weight than what can be attributed to miscalibrations alone. I took my measurements and found that I lost inches all over, which confirmed the scale numbers.
It was slow, but it happened. How could I be losing weight without an ungodly effort? But wait….unexplained weight loss is a symptom of several diseases. Am I sick and don’t know it? Or is my body responding to 1) my working through some long-held emotional issues and to 2) an increased effort to feed myself well? I’m hopeful that the answer is the latter.
Fat as a protector: I’ve often thought that I used fat as a protector. Maybe not consciously, but having a lot of fat served a purpose. There was safety in those folds and lumps. As a child, food was comfort, and eating provided relief from torment at school and a discomfited home life. I could hide from some of that in my fat. Later, fat protected me from unwanted sexual attention and harrassment. It made me look bigger, tougher and I felt less attractive. I was perhaps less vulnerable.
At work, fat protected me from overload in a field where I received little support. You want the best on your science team — the fat lady who cannot control her expanding waistline may not be your first choice. In a sense, my fatness kept me out of the fast, stressful science lane. While I wasn’t happy about being overlooked, fat protected me from taking on too much. Fat justified my lack of success.
In the past year, since I’ve made the decision to retire early and leave my field, I’ve felt a sense of strength and calm that I’m not sure I’ve ever had as an adult. My decision allows me to say no to taking on new things. No new panels. No new assignments. No grant writing or administration. I am focused on finishing up a couple of projects that have dragged on for years — things I should have been working on all along. I’ve begun to feel less resentment toward my work group as I begin this wrap-up. And, perhaps coincidentally, my weight started going down, on its own. I might not feel the need to be protected any longer.
Slow and steady progress: My newer approaches are helping me deal with my food issues, dieting past, and various adversities along the way. No more restrictive dieting plans. No food groups are off-limits. I eat what I want, in quantities that satisfy me to the point where I’m no longer thinking about food. While this may sound as permission to overeat, I found that once I removed restrictions, the unrelenting appeal to binge left. I now hate the discomfort that comes from too much food. I can recognize foods that don’t agree with me (e.g., too much protein). Since I eat what I want, I don’t feel like I’m missing out anymore.
Most of our events planned for this summer have been canceled and the pool is off-limits, so I’m not actively training for anything. It’s certainly less stressful, and I appreciate the break. I still get some exercise daily — even just walking the dogs for a couple of miles. I go for bike rides to get out of the house and take in some scenery when the weather permits. Since I can’t swim, I’ve recently toyed with trying to run. But it’s all more of a “want-to” than a “have-to.” I’m not sure how that will change when things begin to open back up, and my gym becomes accessible. I still struggle to find a balance between training and getting stressed about “performance.” That’s probably because I felt so ill-prepared because of my on-going struggle with weight.
I’ve also changed my attitude toward rest. For so long, I believed that serious people in my profession didn’t have the luxury of sleeping late or weekends off. Now I’m embracing sleeping past 6 am and for more than 7 hours a night. I still work on the weekend occasionally, but I take time off during the week. I’ve stopped believing a lot of the bullshit thrown at me over the years about how we need to spend inordinate amounts of time dedicated to our jobs, to the detriment of everything else. Knowing that I can retire at any time has been enormously helpful in this regard.
I’m also actively working on stress reduction. This probably should have been listed first. Writing, reading, and journaling are my methods to reduce emotional stress and strain. I’m working on understanding my fears, beliefs, experiences relative to my diet history — and to how I do my work.
I still have a lot of old rules in my thinking. For instance, the other night, I thought that I’d better hurry and eat because it was almost 7 pm — and my Intermittent Fasting plan had called for not eating after 7. And then I realized that that was stupid.
No more stupid, stupid rules.
Modern-day and the pandemic: So — kind of weird — I’ve lost another 9 lbs since I bought that scale in early March. This coincides roughly with the beginning of the stay-at-home restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m wonderng if I should be concerned about this, or just embrace the result. I’m eating better and stressing less, and that clearly seems to help. The forced self-isolation has allowed me to focus on the work I need to do to get to retirement. That pathway is clear. Every week, another item drops from my plate. Projects delayed or called off, conferences and meetings canceled or transferred to on-line — all freeing up weeks of my time and focus. Each time another item drops, I feel my shoulders lift, and I breathe easier.
How does this translate to weight loss? Is the sense of feeling safer, more secure, and readiness to move on all a part of the slow, gradual release of fat?
I need to see how this plays out over the next few months. I’ve become my own test case.