Here's something I've been wanting to write about but have been having trouble putting into words.
It's three years this week since my successful weight loss began. And lately? Weight maintenance has been hard.
I feel as though I'm slipping, right on the edge. I weigh myself every day and faithfully plot each point on a chart. The paper charts stack up in a drawer in my bathroom, one for every month since I reached my weight loss goal in November 2008. The zigzag lines rise up through my pregnancy and back down again after the birth of #4, not quite as low as I was pre-pregnancy but back to where I decided to be.
And lately I don't like what I see. It's not that I'm not still at a healthy weight. I am. But after reaching my postpartum target, my weight crept back up, and I've been on the high side of it for months now.
Worse, I can't seem to bring it back down. Several times since just before the baby's first birthday, I have tried to lose just one pound. Not because I needed to but because I wanted to see if I could still do it.
I haven't done it. I haven't sustained the effort for more than a few days. After about three days of sticking to my habits, I start feeling hungry and cold all the time, and shortly thereafter I find myself helping myself to a third plate of dinner, or eating all the kids' sandwich crusts. I recognize this as classic "body defending its fat stores." Still, it's frustrating -- I managed to overcome it once, what's wrong with me now? Have I lost my hard-earned habits for good?
And that small gain since I reached my postpartum goal -- it's not bad in and of itself, but what if it is the beginning of a slow creep back up to where I was? My mind races. This is the kind of thing that, as I've said before, literally keeps me up at night.
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It's only fair I write about this. Even though I never intended this to be a "weight loss blog," weight loss is the most popular topic I write about. Probably every day, certainly every week, some person sits down at their computer and methodically clicks through every single post in the weight loss categories; I see it in the site statistics.
And this is part of it. That maintenance sometimes is frustrating and hard.
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Another reason I need to write about it is that writing helps me figure things out. I had a draft of this post up last week when I got sidetracked by the comment about acceptance, the one where I suggested a process of accepting -- not the self, but the truth about the self; and accepting the sacrifices that are necessary to change the truth. Then I thought -- why not take my own advice?
So let me look at the reality. Let me figure out what's going on, and accept it.
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First of all: The numbers on the scale are still objectively good. I may be feeling panicky about them right now, but that is not because of what they are, it is because I fear they may change. If I could look into a crystal ball and learn I would be this weight indefinitely, I'd be happy, not disappointed. I am at a healthy weight. Or, to take the metric that Mark suggests is most useful (because it involves monetary expense), I don't need to buy new clothes in a bigger size.
But what about my habits? Well. Let's take a look at the background habits that I wrote about in the series on my "failure-free habit constellation," almost exactly two years ago. Have they changed?
- I still drink mostly water, black coffee, and black tea. I have, however, been drinking more alcohol with dinner lately.
- I'm still eating lots of vegetables. More often, though, since I haven't been specifying the kind on the grocery list, Mark's been bringing home more of the "lightly sauced" kinds of frozen vegetables. The problem with this is that I lose some appreciation for real-food vegetables (plain or with real butter or olive oil).
- I'm still using small plates at home, and when I'm away I do remember to use only part of the larger plate.
- "Habitually wary of sugar and white flour?" I have definitely been enjoying more of those. I lost weight while sticking to a two-thumbs-sized dessert portion. For a while there, flush with my good fortune, I was testing the limits of maintenance -- and in the meantime it seems I've gotten used to larger and more-frequent sweets.
- Only a very limited selection of snack food? This has definitely changed. It seems the children have been clamoring for a vast variety of packaged cookies for their afternoon snacks. And yes, I have been joining in. Novelty is not my friend.
- I still keep that jar of almonds in the car, and I still reach for them instead of hitting a drive-through when snacktime hits.
- And I still step on the scale every morning.
How about that constellation of weight-loss habits? When I was trying to drop the "just one pound," was I really using them?
- Signal breakfast: Yes, I'm having the boiled-egg-and-tomato-juice for breakfast quite a bit. Not every morning, but then I never had it every morning. Today, for example, I had a boiled egg and two strawberries instead. (The kids were having strawberries and yogurt for breakfast and the strawberries looked pretty good.)
- Eating on schedule: Meals are still regularly spaced, and I've been having the snack at 3:30, but I've been skipping the 10:30 snack -- and I've definitely been nibbling in between. Especially (yeah, I know) the kids' leavings. Also, I've been having bedtime snack. I know darn well by now that I feel better in the morning if I don't have the bedtime snack. And yet it's hard not to join in when Mark and the kids are chowing down on ice cream.
- Control the size of the snacks: not happening.
- No seconds? I have been having seconds at dinner. I admit it. Including the second half of the sandwich.
- Control the plate. This has always been easy: the relative proportions of veg, starch, and protein on my plate. No problem there.
So, clearly, not all, but some of the habits of temperance are slipping and being replaced by habits that characterize my old life.
- My vegetables aren't as plain as I want.
- I'm eating larger, more frequent portions of sweets than I want.
- There is too much variety of cookies in the house. Especially Oreos. Grr.
- I'm eating at times I don't intend to eat.
- I don't know how big my snacks are. I would rather know than be ignorant.
- I am eating second servings that I don't want, and that experience taught me is in excess of what satisfies me.
But just to be fair, let's summarize the good news too:
- I haven't gone back to big plates.
- I haven't let my almond jar run empty.
- I haven't avoided the scale, no matter how much I might worry about the number.
- I haven't been having two- and three-egg breakfasts.
- My plates still look the way they ought to.
In fact, there are lots of things I used to do in the old gluttonous days that I have not even come close to doing, not even once. I have never again eaten a whole pizza by myself. I have never again gone through the drive through to get a hamburger just because I suddenly wanted one. I have never again binged on every leftover I could find in the fridge. I have not followed any impulse to buy snacks from the vending machine. I've practiced resistance on lots of occasions.
It is a little tempting to think that perhaps there is not really a problem. I am, after all, at a healthy weight. Perhaps I should not be alarmed that I am standing on a floor that is difficult to break through. Perhaps my body is merely defending its reasonably-sized fat reserves against my unreasonable desire to prove that I can force it to a slightly smaller weight.
But if I look at the habits, it's clear that there is a problem: a behavioral one. Because I don't want to have those habits of gluttony, even if they don't make me gain my weight back.
So. I have to accept -- once again -- that the number on the scale is not the problem. My daily choices are. And if I choose to change that, I have to accept that I must once again accept some daily sacrifice.