First of all, here is my maintenance cred.
This is me in 2008, near the end of my weight loss...
...and this is me a couple of weeks ago, wearing the same clothes and attempting to reproduce the pose (no belt, though):
I think I weighed about 109 pounds in the 2008 photo. I probably weighed 114 in the 2012 photo. Truth is, I like myself better at 114 than at 109. The giddiness has been replaced by a quieter and more long-lasting satisfaction.
+ + +
Let's talk first about whether maintenance is getting "easier" as time goes on.
The challenges change, that's for sure. My mental health has improved. When I first changed my way of eating (WOE as they call it on the various boards -- not my favorite acronym the Internet has produced), I had done little but exchange one kind of disordered eating and disordered movement for another: I'd gone from slothful gluttony to hyper-control-freaky rigidity.
I'm not saying I regret that, because the second set of disorders got me where I wanted to be. But they took a while to fade.
The improvement is here: When my weight is within limits, well under control, I can just... live. No counting, no stressing. Eat when I am hungry, etcetera. I do normal things like occasionally nibble on the kids' leftovers, but I don't feel compelled to clean their plates for them. I sometimes have seconds of something tasty, without guilt, but I don't eat six helpings. I might eat that extra slice of pizza now and then. Sometimes, when I'm busy, I skip going to the gym and I don't worry that it means I will never go again.
Nowadays, I only get that panicky must-count-all-my-calories, guilt-over-the-sensation-of-fullness, must-get-to-the-gym-before-all-else, lie-awake-fretting-about-whether-I-can-still-control-myself-sufficiently feeling when my weight goes up to 115 or if I wear a pair of pants that feels tight as I go about my day.
I am unsure as to whether I should consider its persistence a feature or a bug.
Probably it causes me to do the right thing, i.e., moderate my eating and maintain my healthy weight, for the wrong reason, i.e. PANIC PANIC PANIC PLEASE DON'T LET ME HAVE TO BUY BIGGER PANTS AND PLEASE DON'T LET ME SEE "TIL that smartypants bearing is fat again" ON THE FRONT PAGE OF REDDIT OR EVEN /r/catholicism PLEASE.
Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons has always been my specialty. Never could quite figure out how to make the wrong reasons go away.
+ + +
Despite how I really feel and behave, I know the attitude I aspire to have. Even if I pruned away the vanity and the fear of shame that largely keeps me in line, these thoughts --- if they remained --- might be enough:
- I want to keep my body strong and healthy as I grow older, in the context of unpredictable twists and turns of life and genetics, so that I can keep doing what needs to be done. "Living out my state of life, the best I can under the circumstances," you might say.
- I don't want to be a glutton.
The longer I keep this up, the more obvious it becomes that my "wrong" reasons for working hard to stay at a low weight actually fight against these better desires. The more I focus on the number on the scale and the fit of my clothes, the more tempted I am to slide back into bulimia -- not conducive to the long-term health I say I value -- and to a different sort of gluttony, the kind where I worry constantly about food, get all high-maintenance in restaurants, and snap at children because they ate my special yogurt that I was saving for my 3:30 p.m. snack.
Because one thing I've learned through the past four years is that there are eating disorders that keep you fat and eating disorders that keep you thin, but they're still disorders. There are gluttonies that keep you fat and gluttonies that keep you thin, but both are no good way to live.
+ + +
So it's still hard to keep mentally and spiritually healthy with respect to food. Still very hard. I think I have the right target -- I know what is right -- and maybe it will go on being hard to hit that target, but at least I can see it and I can keep aiming for it every day. I accept this cross.
+ + +
I noticed that certain old bad habits are easy to slide back into, and other old bad habits I have still never touched.
The ones that are easiest are the ones that are common to lots of people, especially the ones that aren't necessarily bad for other people who maintain their healthy weight without difficulty.
I have the misfortune of being a small person. I calculate my maintenance calorie target to be something like 1800 calories per day. This is not a lot. The average American caloric intake in 2003 was 2,757 calories, according to the USDA. And I live with a man who needs roughly 2,800 calories per day to maintain his weight, according to the roughest calculator that takes gender, height, weight, and activity level into account (here, scroll down to Method #2).
If I take my cues from people around me, I'm basically sunk. And it's really easy to take cues from people around me. The weight-gaining habits that I find easiest to slip into don't sound like bad behavior, they sound like normal-people behavior. That's because they are normal-people behavior:
- Filling up my plate
- "Hey, can I have a few of your fries?"
- Pouring a full glass of beer or wine with my dinner
- Taking a second serving at lunch or dinner
- Sharing a bedtime snack with the family
- Building meals on a foundation of whole grains
- Letting the number of vegetable/fruit servings per day slip below six
These are normal things for people to do and I cannot do them regularly without gaining weight. Because I am a small person and I can only burn 1800 calories a day. But because they are normal things for people to do, and because my kids and husband do all of them without trouble, it is really easy to slip into the habits. Heck, it barely even counts as gluttony except that I know better.
The kinds of things that I don't ever slip into, that I find easy to avoid now, are the things that I firmly think of as gluttonous for the average person.
- I still don't eat meals between meals. If I have a snack, I'm good about keeping it small.
- I still don't go through drive-throughs to get a snack. I keep almonds and granola bars in my car. I stick to those, and most days I never touch them, but if I need them they are there.
- When Mark goes out of town for four days, I still don't order an entire medium pizza and eat it sadly in front of the computer after the kids go to bed.
- I still don't eat two or three eggs for breakfast. (Unless I have just come from the gym and am in a breakfast restaurant on a Saturday morning after 8 AM and they have eggs Benedict and they won't sell me a half order. I have found that in this circumstance it is useless to resist; better just to compensate with a lighter lunch.)
- I still don't devour an entire box of cereal or sleeve of saltine crackers at one sitting.
- I still cut small servings of desserts, doughnuts, etcetera. (Taking seconds is an easy habit to fall into. Cutting big pieces is not a habit I have a problem with.)
- I can't remember the last time I have gone on a binge through the pantry. I may be cured of lonely binge eating.
There's nobody around me who regularly does any of these things (except that Mark eats big snacks, but I can mostly deal with that one). I think of a drive-through as a Bad Place To Get A Snack. I have internalized the idea that eating a whole pizza by yourself is bad. I believe that desserts are best enjoyed in small portions. These are hard to slide into without noticing.
I still eat shredded cheese out of the bag, though. There's just a lot of shredded cheese around here.
I'll write more later.