Tag Archives: weight loss

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

Why does the opinion of my clothes matter to me?

So I have a ritual that I engage in periodically. I should rephrase that: I usually do this only when I’m feeling good in my skin after weight loss. I’ve written previously about my diet and exercise history and how I’m now attaining slow and steady weight loss while not actively dieting (but consistently working out). With weight loss comes the inevitable need for smaller sized clothing. Only I don’t need to go shopping in a store. I go “shopping in my closet” because I have full wardrobes in storage, with sizes ranging from 10 to 24. They are carefully labeled by size classes: M-L-XL-XXL-XXXL. There is no box labeled “S.” I don’t think I’ve ever been a size small. Perhaps when I was in fourth grade? Maybe not even then.

My ritual goes something like this: everyone is out of the house, and I’m feeling puckish with new weigh loss. I likely have noticed that some of my current clothes are a little loose. That’s the signal that it is time to try on garments in the next size box. My heart literally races with excitement to see what may now fit. This is such fun, but it also strikes me somewhat sad that I enjoy this so much. 

Why do I take such delight in becoming smaller? 

I pull out the box and revisit my old friends neatly folded within. Pants, blouses, sweaters, jackets are all there. I unfold each item to assess whether I want to try it on. I don’t waste time on something that is clearly not ready to be brought back into circulation. It’s only a “score” if it fits and then it gets placed into the active closet. Items in the current closet that have become too loose get folded and placed back in their respective size box, hopefully to never be seen again.

My ritual can take an hour or so to perform. I hate being interrupted in the middle of it.

Does this sound familiar? Does anyone perform such a ritual? Or is it just me that does this because I own so many clothes in such a wide range of sizes? Clothes that reflect my history of years of disordered eating and failed diets. My sense of worth gets tied up in the “box” that I currently fit in. Why should the opinion of my clothes matter so much to me?

Of course, there are the times that I need to revisit the boxes in the next larger sizes. There is less joy in this process, but I’m grateful that I have something to wear, even if I feel shame in returning to those larger sizes. At that point, I’m unable to deal with the mental fallout of purchasing anything new. It’s best for me to hang onto those boxes with the bigger sizes for those upward cycles.

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My use of this ritual doesn’t mean that I never buy new. Things wear out or are so grossly out of style that it’s not sensible to keep them. I only return garments to boxes if I would ever wear them again. I guess this is where the “sparks joy” rule comes into play. If I no longer love a piece, it goes to Good Will. If it’s too worn out, it goes to trash.

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Sadly, so many of my clothes are intended for work, and I won’t really need them in the next year, outside of a few dressier items. I may need a new suite of rules to determine what stays and goes in the boxes. I suspect that my size will stabilize once the stress and anxiety of my job are gone. Hopefully, there won’t be so many boxes in the closet in the future.

Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

Watching a pandemic crush my goals under its foot

I opened my planner the other day and found a note on a sticky tab that I had written in January. It was a list of goal times that I was aiming for by August to qualify for the National Senior Games. Sad to say, our state qualifying games were canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Even sadder to say that I’m nowhere near those ideal times. Perhaps I set my sights a bit high in January, particularly with the virus on the horizon.

While I’ve been knocked off track for achieving my swimming glory this year, I need to recognize that I made progress, even in these weird times. Our pool was closed for nearly two months and, short of building something in my backyard in the dead of winter, there was nowhere to swim. Since the pool re-opened, I swim 3-4 times a week for an hour each time (assigned lanes and times, of course*). Depending on my plan for the day, I can do between 2000 and 2500 yards. I’ve not done this much swimming in years and plan to push further if the pool continues to stay open.

I worry a bit about what will happen in the next few months with coronavirus, especially as it gets colder and people head back indoors. Epidemiologists predict a second major wave at that point. It would pain me to stop swimming come fall, just as I’m starting to make progress. But I also need to be realistic about the changing virus situation and plan ahead for the next corona-wave. Will I ever hit those times on the sticky note though?

My cycling distances have been less than what I planned, primarily because we’ve had some pretty crappy wind lately. If I have the choice between swimming or cycling in a 20 mph headwind, swimming will win every time. This next week should be better, weather -wise, and I can up the miles then (hopefully).

I’m also considering trying to run again. Other than dog walks, I haven’t been rambling on two feet for any appreciable distance in some time. Running is more convenient than either swimming or cycling, which can chew up 2-4 hours a day. It also meets social distancing requirements, for when the pool shuts down. It may be painful to start, but it seems a necessary next step.

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I have to say that I’m starting to feel a second wind in my work with the renewed exercise intensity. I’m feeling more successful physically, and that seems to translate into feeling less burned out. This is a good thing. I’ve been struggling with writing lately, but the writer’s block is loosening. And I’m less likely to spill my guts about frustrations with my job. The disappointments, microaggressions, and push-backs are still there, but I can now shut-out those aspects of the work because I’m having success elsewhere in life. I have a singular work goal at this point: finish these project analyses and reports. Nothing else really matters for this short-timer.

I also continue to see slow, but continued weight loss — a total of 15 lbs since March and 35 lbs since I was training for a bike tour last summer. Not rapid, but steady. While I’d love to see the needle move faster, what I’m doing now is sustainable over the long term. Plus, I’m happier and feel fitter. I might not be able to turn back time and undo the damages, but I’m putting things in place for a productive future after finishing this phase of my career.

At this point, my clothing is looser and I’m starting to fit into smaller sizes. I have a whole wardrobe of fitness clothes that I’ve bought over the years but couldn’t wear them. Cycling shorts and jerseys that didn’t fit last year are perfect this year. I actually look like I might know what I’m doing on a road bike with the proper outfitting.

So while the coronavirus has crushed many of our plans for this summer, it has also created new opportunities to improve my fitness and endurance. I have to believe that this pandemic will end someday and I plan to be ready for when it does end. The best I can do is to continue to put things in place for when that happens.

*Side question: why do old guys disregard assigned lanes and times in the pool? More than once, I’ve had to ask one to leave the lane when it was my assigned time. And they act like I’m putting them out when they are cutting into my swim time. How do they come to expect this level of entitlement? I can only imagine them shitting a brick on the deck should some one cut into their pool time. Rant finished.

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

On being fat: the present (part 4)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash