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A Second Chance at Vigilance

Posted Sep 11 2010 9:01am

By Lynn Haraldson-Bering

Til Our dog Mathilda woke up lame in her hind legs on Wednesday. Because she’s a large breed and 10 years old, we didn’t want to put her through a lot of tests other than x-rays and blood work. Our vet agreed and began treating her conservatively with heavy doses of steroids to see if inflammation was the problem. On Friday we took her home, and while she’s still a little wobbly on her legs, she can walk fairly well and can go down the front stairs with a little help from us supporting her with a beach towel around her middle.

I feel like I've been given a second chance to appreciate Mathilda. While it’s never easy to put a pet down, I wasn’t “ready” to do it right now. Not that I’ll ever be ready, but at least I’ll have more peace with it when it comes because I was given a second chance. This was a wake-up call to stay mindful of the fragility of life and to appreciate what I have in the moment.

Second chances don’t come around every day, and often when we’re offered one, we don’t recognize it as such. We take so much for granted, or we allow things to happen to us without fighting back or inquiring about our role in changing what is harming us – a sort of “Oh well” approach to life – which leaves us blind to those second-chance opportunities.

Since reaching my goal weight in 2007, I recognized this time (because I’d been to “goal” before) as a second (or more accurately, a tenth) chance to figure out the right way to maintain my weight and appreciate my body unlike I’d done before. But just how does one maintain? What are the emotional mechanics involved? Lori at Finding Radiance (she’s maintaining a 100-pound weight loss) got me thinking about this in her blog last week about our impulse to eat (see “ Deep Thoughts On Will Power ”).

Here's a portion of what she wrote (the emphasis is mine): “There are still those days where I feel driven to eat – absolutely driven, even if I am not hungry. It’s not really emotional, either. The thoughts pop up while I am working, or watching TV, or while biking. That’s just not what genetically ‘normal weight’ people are like. It takes an enormous amount of control to not chow my way through a box of cereal or use a spoon in the nut butter jar. Sometimes I give in. I wonder why is it that I have control over this impulse (at least for now) that not a lot of people have. And how long will I have it?  Will it just get to be too tiring after a while, like it does for the majority of people who lose weight? The vigilance can really be tiring at times as it is 24/7/365.”

There are a LOT of great responses on her post, so I urge you to read it in its entirety. But what about those questions: Why is it some people who are losing weight or in maintenance have control over that eating impulse and some do not? Is vigilance the key (and if so, what else is involved)? Or does vigilance stand in the way and get tiring after awhile?

As I commented on Lori’s blog, what makes one person more likely to maintain than another is like pondering the beginnings of the universe. There are so many possibilities, and the combination of success-inducing factors for each individual is endless.

Personally, I didn’t keep weight off in the past because I hadn’t learned or accepted that the way I eat during and after losing weight MUST be different than before, and it must stay that way forever and ever. I credit (and I’m not being funny) stubbornness and my teenager-like positive response to reverse psychology for being able to maintain. If you tell me that 95 percent of people who lose weight will gain it back, therefore I probably will, too, I’ll tell you, “No way. Not me.”

It’s a quasi-obsession, and not such a bad one to have as long as I stay mindful of what is realistically possible, for instance, maintaining around 130 rather than 125 and being open to changes in my body that might take my weight a little higher due to circumstances beyond my control. I am also convinced that at some point, the kind of vigilance to my food environment and impulses that I’ve adopted will become second nature, like knowing intuitively that in order to walk I must put one foot in front of the other.

I know this tide of change is well under way because of how I responded to food after my knee surgery in June. I was sad and frustrated many times (still am on occasion) and could have chosen to comfort myself with all my old favorites, but that didn’t occur to me. I just kept on eating the way I always had, adding a few more calories when I was hungry (healing from an injury, I’m convinced, revved up my metabolism). Sometimes those extra calories was adding a whole egg to my otherwise egg-white omelet or throwing a tablespoon of mini chocolate chips into a dish of fat-free strawberry ice cream. But not once did I eat too much and feel the kind of fullness that came after third helpings of dinner when I was 300 pounds. There was no reaching for Tums or regrets the next morning over any of my choices the day before. Thanks to this vigilance-turned-second-nature, the scale has held steady and my clothes still fit.

I find comfort in my food plan. It’s like the towel we wrap around Mathilda’s hind quarters to support her when she goes down stairs.

Can everyone who loses weight adopt this kind of vigilance? I really don’t know. Everyone’s physical and psychological makeup is different. Stubbornness isn’t something you learn and obsession isn’t something everyone sees as a positive attribute. Succeeding in maintenance requires each of us to find our own way to that second nature. But we won’t get there without first seeing it as the second chance that it is.

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