I recently entered my fifth year of maintenance, a time at which experts say the odds of regain are significantly lower. Telling someone like me something like that is like telling the guys protecting a nuclear missile it’s OK to take a nap. Yup. Something’s going to blow up.
“You’ve kept your weight off for a long time!” sing the anti-maintenance Sirens. “What’s one cookie or a week or three off from exercise going to matter? You’re safe!”
It’s not enough in maintenance to rest on the laurels of time. Maintenance is constant, not a hail Mary pass. Last month, Barbara launched Refuse to Regain Season of Transformation , principals she has identified as imperative to permanent weight loss and maintenance based on her observations and experiences in the weight-management field and in her own personal maintenance life.
When I read Barbara’s transformation principals, I realized I’ve been visiting that Siren’s home of complacency far too often since September. Visits that were spurred on, no doubt, by significant life changes and a really rotten winter. But it’s time to throw open the windows on my Green House and dust off my perspective of this weight maintenance life I’ve chosen. Over the next few weeks, I will respond to Barbara’s transforming principals (and some of your comments) with a few of my awakened thoughts with the hope of keeping my head in the game and silencing the anti-maintenance Sirens.
Transformative Principle #1: Transformation is about belief. But belief can develop through habit.
“…[Y]ou must deeply believe that eating and living in a particular way are central to who you are.”
While conducting research for a chapter of my book, I found a couple of interesting, but not surprising, studies. The first was that at any given time, 45 percent of American women are on a diet, according to the Society for Women’s Health Research, and those who aren’t on a diet are often thinking about it. The other was a survey of 4,000 women found that, on average, women go on two diets a year with each diet lasting about five weeks. By the time a woman reaches age 70, she’s been on 104 diets and spent a total of 10 years counting calories. A quarter of the women admitted that despite their attempts to lose weight, they didn't lose anything at all, and 41 percent said they felt they were constantly on a diet.
I am those women. I’ve trekked up and down the scale between 128 and 300 pounds for the last 29 years, spending a total of five years dieting, 20 years gaining, and four years hanging around some goal weight that seemed like the right scale number at the time.
It’s that word – “diet” – that needs to be quashed in maintenance. At least “diet” as it pertains to losing weight, not the style of eating itself (paleo diet, vegetarian diet, etc.). “Diet” doesn’t imply permanence. “Diet” is what you do to get to where you want to be so you can go back to “normal.”
Since my surgery last June, I’ve gained 8 pounds, and that “diet” mentality has been bugging me like a gnat near hairspray. Instead of taking a deep breath and realizing that I just need to tweak a few things, at first I panicked and thought, ‘I need to go on a diet! I have to lose this weight NOW!’
Yeah, that works.
Moments of panic are common in maintenance. But the key to successful maintenance is bringing ourselves back to earth – away from that diet mentality – when there’s a change on the scale. Thoughtful introspection and a careful examination of food in and energy expended is much more productive than panic. Eight pounds? I don’t like it, but the gain has been stopped in its tracks because, as a maintainer, eating clean and exercising are as much a part of my life as breathing. Maintaining IS what I want.
Transformative Principle #2: Transformation requires re-engaging with your body.
“It’s surprisingly easy to live entirely in your head, blocking out not only visuals but the messages that your body is sending.”
When I was on Oprah in November 2007, she asked me a question that was not on the script.
“Can you even now look in the mirror and recognize yourself?” she asked.
“I feel like the person I am on the inside is the person I am on the outside. I feel like I match now,” I replied.
Boy did THAT sentiment take a long time to reach, that place of balance. And in the years since the show, with diagnosis after diagnosis of osteoarthritis in joint after joint, I’ve learned that listening to my body is the only way to maintain, both in terms of food and exercise. However, I’m not always a good listener.
In the last few months, I’ve allowed my body to acquiesce to my mind which said, “You’re busy, things are changing, life is chaotic. It’s OK to skip a workout. Or 20.” Justification is the anti-maintenance Siren’s mantra.
But you know and I know that…ummm…no it’s NOT OK to skip a workout if you can help it. Working out works out more than the body. That incredible endorphin rush can last a long time, often changing our moods, decisions, work.
So it is within the remembering of that mind-body connectivity that I challenged my body last month to get back into its pre-surgery condition, at least in terms of upper body strength. I’ve had to modify the lower body/cardio workout only because my knees demand it. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? And in maintenance, aren’t we all about the will?
Regarding our body image and how we see ourselves, both as emotional and physical creatures, I found these recent RTR comments particularly poignant.
Jan wrote: “I have had massages to try and feel my body in a different way. Not easy at first, delightful now.”
Allowing someone to place their hands on our bodies, at whatever weight we are, requires a level of trust that is difficult for many of us, including yours truly. The rolls, the squishy parts, the sagging, the not-so-attractive parts of me become all I think about when those hands are on me, be it a doctor, a chiropractor, a massage therapist or a lover. To learn to breathe through it and accept that who I am underneath my clothes is really who I am, is a lesson I think I’ll be working on for a long time.
Teresa wrote: “I used to dodge a camera but now have learned to love it and my husband takes lots of pictures of me now. I study the photos as if I'm trying to commit the image to memory. It's been a powerful tool in my transformation.”
Bravo! I used photographs to chronicle my weight loss. Whenever I’m in a funk about where I am now as opposed to where I’ve been, I go back and look at those photos. I wasn’t a fan of photographs when I was 300 pounds. Hated them. But I now wish I had more of them. After all, I was still me. Alas, weight did, but it shouldn’t have, defined me.
Vicky wrote: “I know full well I have subscribed wholly to the tyranny of our society's requirements for the female form, and I don't know how to unsubscribe. I really want out of this self-loathing.”
I like the song by Jon McLauglin called “Beautiful Disaster.”
I downloaded it to my iPod because it describes in many ways the feelings of insecurity I still have, even at age 47.
One of the lines that gets me most is:
“And every magazine tells her she's not good enough, The pictures that she's seen make her cry.”
I often get that feel – that pull – to look like what the magazines and society in general think I should look like. Even at my age. There are some really beautiful, put-together 40- and 50- and 60-somethings out there, and I feel…well…not so much in competition…but a need to fulfill the look. Vicky, as you know, this isn’t just a teenage thing.