I Am That Girl Now

Friday, April 22, 2005

'Til Death Do Us Part

Notes before we begin:

1) This one is pretty damn long. Sorry about that, but it's a subject dear to my heart and one that I hadn't actually seen covered anywhere else, so I had a lot to say.

2) I was inspired to write this by Ms. Ralph, who's going through a rough time of it right now. I hope this helps in some small way, sweetie.

I was really good at losing weight. I was really, really good at it. I had sixty pounds to lose, and by some stroke of luck and metabolism and by a lot of hard work and dedication, I lost ten pounds every month for the first five months. (This is, shall we say, abnormal.) The good part was that I lost fifty pounds really fast. The bad part was that I lost fifty pounds really fast, and not only assumed that the last ten would come off just as fast, but felt entitled to it. I mean, hell, I was working really really hard. I pinched those calories so hard they screamed. I worked out every morning. I turned up my nose at temptations. And virtue is always rewarded, right?


Looking back now, I think that five months' worth of having virtue automatically rewarded was the worst possible thing that could've happened to me. For one thing, it got me into a really strict, Puritanical mindset that my dour ancestors would have applauded (quietly, of course, since I suspect they didn't DO outbursts of enthusiasm) and that was pretty much the sum total of what I knew worked. When hard work is rewarded, I always start thinking that the answer for everything must be to work harder, and if that doesn't work... well, if that doesn't work, then I get lost, adrift, scared, confused, and feel utterly betrayed by the world.

Needless to say, that's what happened. The last ten pounds went slow. From what I've heard, this is normal; the more you've lost, the more worried your body gets that something is going drastically wrong. Red alerts going off everywhere. Warning! Warning! Abnormal fluctuations in weight, sir! I'm guessing that after fifty pounds of unfettered reduction in which one of my little body-workers was asleep at the switch, someone finally noticed and utter panic resulted. My body balked at changing any further, digging in and having to be dragged like a dog that's finally noticed that hey, we're not going to the park, this is the vet!

When the progress slowed down, of course, I redoubled my efforts. More work! Harder work! Stricter limits! More exercise! Control! It took three months to finally scrape my way under 125. In those three months, I worked so hard that I was in knots all the time. I was so strict with myself that my friends started worrying that I was about to become anorexic. I snapped at people a lot. I became highly judgemental of other people where weight-loss and exercise were concerned, and had to stop visiting my regular forums because I honestly didn't understand these other women anymore. Clearly, they just weren't Working Hard Enough. I had the answer. Nobody else did.

To add to the fun, I wanted to get to 120. I remembered being that weight. I idealized it, idolized it, heard it calling my name. And I was so close. SO CLOSE. I just had to work a little harder, that's all...

You squeeze something hard enough and surprising things inevitably pop out. For me, the first thing to pop out, brash and big and ugly, was my binge eating. I hadn't seen it since I'd gone on WeightWatchers; I thought I was cured. Not so much. Starting to deal with that (which is an entire post in itself, and will show up eventually) was all I could handle that summer; trying to accept it, trying to get a handle on it, work around it. I had to try to figure out what was at the root of the problem and start to deal with that, at the same time that I was trying to learn to fend off the binges.

And, well, then there was a nightmare of a national election (I so don't want to talk about it) and holiday season set in, and I fell headfirst into a candy bowl for three months and gained 10 pounds. I got out of that one, but-- well, remember how hard it had been to lose those 10 pounds in the first place? Yeah. Same story.

I was pissed. I mean both in January, when I climbed out of the candy bowl, and back in July. Hell, when I finally thought about it, it turned out that one of the biggest reasons for why I'd gone back to binging in the first place was that I was utterly out-of-my-mind furious at the universe. I had done what I was supposed to, I had worked harder than hard at things that I didn't like, and I felt that I had been promised results. I felt that I deserved better. I mean, for God's sake, I was exercising every morning, I was eating right (well, in the times before and after the Candy Bowl Era), and it was the same old story on the scale. What the hell? I just wanted this to be over with. I wanted to be normal. I didn't want to spend every day thinking about this. I wanted to be one of those thin bitches that I saw at restaurants, eating giant plates of food because their crazy pumped metabolisms burn it right off. I was doing all the work but for some reason my promised thin-bitch metabolism hadn't arrived and I still gained weight if I screwed up. And let's add on an eating disorder! Because I need more fun! I mean, this is JUST NOT FAIR!

I'd like to say that I had a lightbulb moment, complete with little ::ping!:: noise, where that enraged despair went away and I suddenly understood things. Sadly, no. It just slowly drained away, one day after another, like grief, and at the end of this I wasn't on a diet anymore. I was building a new lifestyle.

I know, I know. I was told. I even said the words myself: "This is a lifestyle." Come to find out, what my mouth said and my brain understood and accepted were two very different things. I had been looking forward to Maintenance, the Promised Land, flowing with extra calories, where I would get to eat a lot more, and worry a lot less, and life would be beautiful all the time. I would be able to live like a normal person. Using my now-surely ingrained knowledge of portion sizes and healthy foods, I would be able to stop thinking about this stuff. I would be able to eat anything, as long as I ate the bad stuff less often and in smaller portions. As an added bonus, that thin-bitch metabolism that I'd been dreaming of would finally arrive and I'd turn into one of those women who end up having to eat twice as much as they do On Plan because otherwise, wow, they just keep losing weight! Oh, it would be amazing. I was really, really looking forward to it.

As it turns out, reality is much different. As it turns out, not only is maintenance different for everybody, but much of the time it's just exactly like dieting: eat healthy, exercise, drink water, weigh yourself once a week. This is not the land of milk and honey I was told of. That thin-bitch metabolism I was expecting? What nobody mentioned is that it's a lot harder to come by if you've lost a lot of weight; it may be impossible. What I got instead was a slooooow creep upward. (A year and a half into this thing, and I think I may have gained the ability to burn an extra 100 calories every day. Joy.) The ingrained ability to gauge portion size never materialized, either.

Worst of all was that in dealing with oh my God, I have to live like this forever, I was suddenly having to deal with a lot of other things that I'd put off. Like how I was using food on social occasions. Like the problems with our eating arrangements at home. Like the fact that I'm so passive-aggressive that I will eat far, far too much on social occasions where I'm feeling trapped and stepped on, rather than, you know, speaking up; this is the classic "punching myself in the face because I'm really mad at you" response. Like the fact that a lot of what I thought was who I am, and couldn't be removed without doing damage to my personality-- well, a lot of that is interchangable with healthier likes, dislikes, habits, and so forth. (Although once I figured that out, the process of doing it... well, hell, that's the story of this whole blog, isn't it?)

Nobody told me that stuff was coming, you know? Not one person. They had sold me on a future that didn't exist, where I could continue on as a sort of Pre-Weight-Loss Meg (Now With Exercise And Mostly Healthy Diet!), and instead I was going to have to become a whole new Meg, Meg v2.0-- and I would have to keep working on the upkeep for v2.0 for life.

Wow, but coming to terms with that hurt. It was this overwhelming, bewildered, betrayed sense of What, you're kidding, you mean there's more to learn? But I just got done learning how to feed myself and I just got used to exercising! I worked really, really, really hard on that! For a long time! Don't I get any credit? I thought there'd be a reward at the end of this thing, not more of the same! Son of a bitch!

It's like the stages of mourning-- there's denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. I mourned the hell out of that mythical Maintenance. From July to March, about. All in all, that was about nine months. Unbelievable: it took me eight months to lose the weight in the first place, and nine months to get used to the idea that I was going to have to keep living like this forever to keep the weight off. 'Til death do us part.

This, folks, is what I believe to be the answer to the eternal question of why most of the people who lose weight either a) get hung up close to goal and give up completely, b) scrape their way to goal and then implode, gaining back all the weight and then some, or c) get to goal, hang on for a while, and then implode. It's that Diet-To-Lifestyle Adjustment Phase. Nobody warns you about it, nobody talks about it; it hits like a tidal wave and you either power through it, or hang on for dear life until it subsides, or you get swept away. And while it's happening, it feels like there's not going to be an end to it and that this is how it's gonna be forever, this grim, thankless daily task, and all you want to do is quit completely so you can get some relief.

The good news is, like any kind of period of grieving and/or adjustment, it does end. It took a long time for me, but, like everything else, it depends on your personality and circumstances. It took me nine months, but I got used to it, got the hang of it, and got over it, mostly out of sheer dogged determination that I wasn't going to be a statistic after all this damn work. I learned to count the days since I started living healthy, and hold that number as more important than what was on the scale or how much weight I can lift or how many reps I can do or how fast or far I can run. I learned how to change and then... I learned how to keep on changing.

And that, folks, is the way my diet became the first phase of a total personal overhaul, instead of just being this one thing I had to fix.

I think the problem is that when people say the word "lifestyle" in reference to a specific diet of any kind, that's inherently limiting. It makes it sound like you will be trapped in WeightWatchers, or the South Beach Diet, or Atkins, or whatever plan you are following, for the rest of your life. I don't know about you, but that idea gives me hives.

What people should mean when they say "lifestyle" is the general concept of living healthy. The only commandment on the Maintenance stone tablet is this: Thou Shalt Intake Around The Same Number Of Calories As Thou Dost Burn, Or Else Thine Ass Shall Expand Again. Everything else is flexible. The more stuff you try out, the more you'll entertain yourself and the more options you'll have. Humankind these days has a short attention span, so if you accept that and go with it, you'll be okay.

I'm signed up for a swimming class this summer, and I'm going to start (next week! I swear!) running regularly with a group. I'm talking my Hub into taking martial arts classes together. I plan to change my morning yoga DVD to another one in a few weeks, and eventually to (gasp!) see if there are actual classes around that I could take. I have belly-dancing exercise DVDs on my Amazon wish list.

I play with my calorie intake-- right now I've given myself a "free day" every week, the way they do on the Body For Life plan, and we'll see how that goes. (Not bad so far; as of this morning, I've weighed the same for three weeks, with some obvious fluctuation from the one big-ass meal.) I'm subscribing to Cooking Light and I've got three different healthy-cooking/weight-loss shows on my TiVo Wish List. I go through phases of cooking healthy food from different cultures. I collect cookbooks. I collect kitchen toys that make food prep more entertaining. I collect new tastes in vegetables and fruits and spices and herbs. (Yes, picky eaters, it is possible.) I revamp recipes. I play around and often end up with Just So Damn Wrong food that I can't tell my friends about.

I want to keep this interesting. Keep learning. Keep changing. Keep my interest up. For life. One damn day at a time.


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