Five years ago this week, I woke up one day and decided to try being hungry for a change. Those of you who've been through my archives know that this decision eventually led to my dropping 40 pounds and 6 pants sizes, and returning myself from BMI-obese to BMI normal.
I guess it's sticking for now. I guess it's real.
I try to remain detached from the number if I can. For instance, I always keep in mind that if I have another pregnancy, or when I go through menopause, I could wind up at another weight. Mostly I think I've learned to manage that detachment, but from time to time I forget.
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Last month I forgot for a while.
From time to time I think back to the months while the number on the scale was dropping. During those months -- May to November of 2008 -- I was, frankly, obsessed and controlling and fearful (that whatever magic was working would stop working). I was developing good habits, but at the same time I felt very driven by the numbers. And yet I look back at that time with amazement at my power and self-control.
Sometimes I start worrying, "What if I gain weight and I need to lose it again? Will I ever be able to do what I did then? Maybe I'll never recapture it, if I ever need it."
And I say to myself, "I know how I can make myself feel better. I'll prove I can still do it. I'll lose 1 pound, starting right now. Even though I don't objectively need to lose any pounds, I'll just lose 1. If I still have what it takes, it won't take long, just a couple of weeks, a month at most once I get back in the groove again. I'll crack down really hard on myself and I'll lose 1 pound, and I'll prove to myself that I could still lose weight again any time I want to."
And then I can't "crack down on myself" as hard as I think I should, and the little line I still plot on a chart most days goes down a little and up a little and down a little just like it always does, and I fret some more. Maybe I'll never get that groove back, even if I need it. If I can't make it happen whenever I want to, whether I need it or not, will I be able to make it happen someday if I do need it?
And then I imagine a future where everyone makes fun of me because I blogged about overcoming gluttony but then I got fat again. Seriously? This is what I worry about? Becoming a data point on the nobody can lose weight and keep it off side? Or is it being proven wrong? Am I a thin-person impostor? Are the size 2's only a disguise?
This is not a healthy mental space to be in.
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So, last month I confessed to Mark that I was trying to lose ONE POUND and I couldn't manage to do it.
(I mean, obviously my weight fluctuates day to day, but I wasn't seeing a permanent shift downward that would stick.)
And he reminded me:
You are getting it backwards again.
If you are worried about putting the weight back on, look at your behavior, not at the numbers.
Look at your habits. Are you developing habits you don't want to develop? Are you losing good habits you wanted to keep?
Because if you are slipping back into old patterns that you associate with the time when you were heavy and when you ate constantly, then that is a problem. And it's a problem you can do something about.
But if all your habits are good, then you don't need to try to force the numbers to do ANYTHING.
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He's right. He's absolutely right. And I know this. I don't know why I keep forgetting it.
But I do forget it from time to time.
I cannot directly control the number on the scale.
I can directly control the choices that I make.
And I want to make choices every day that are compatible with living out the rest of my life in a healthy relationship to food and physical activity.
That's what I want. To make choices now that are good for the rest of my life.
I can't really go wrong doing that, no matter what the numbers do.
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Fretting about the numbers often accompanies feelings of loss of control over those good habits. And I usually find that, if I can remember to examine the habits instead of the numbers, I find that I have some places I should re-commit to.
The "diet mentality" has always been a mistake for me. The idea that I can or should deprive myself strictly for some temporary period and then return to "normal" eating once I've acheived some number. This has only been destructive.
(The only exception: On occasion, I've found it helpful to cut out sugar and cut back on carbs for a few days, just to break a spiraling descent into a carb-craving cycle. I don't think of it as dieting. I call it detox even though I know that's a stupid word for it.)
Instead, I need to look at each behavior I engage in, and ask:
Do I feel confident that repeating this behavior, regularly, for the rest of my life, would be good for me?
If I made it to the end of a long life and looked back, what habits would I be telling everyone were my secret?
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Here are some of them, I think:
- Eat just enough at meals so that I have a real appetite when I sit down at the next one. Pay attention to how much that takes, and learn.
- Have sweets and desserts at any meal time that I wish, but keep them small.
- Go to bed a little bit hungry. Have a drink in the evening instead of a snack.
- Keep alcohol portions modest at dinner--or at least put off the drinking until the food's cleared away.
- Sugarless gum after meals -- good for teeth, and good for reminding me not to nibble as I clean up.
- Prefer dressed vegetables to carbs. Use carbs judiciously to extract the maximum textural experience from each portion.
- I only typically need one snack, in midafternoon: make it small, balanced, pleasant, and on a plate.
- Share my food with people who ask.
- Half sandwiches. Most sandwiches are too damn big, at least for me.
- Graciously accept some of whatever I'm offered, but I don't have to eat all of it.
- Refuse to think of an occasional, deliberate choice to enjoy food for pure pleasure as a "failure."
These are not difficult to live by and don't represent deprivation, but they do take a little bit of attention. And when my attention slips, I make choices that aren't as good. It's as simple as that. I need to pay a little attention to make good choices regularly, but the choices I want to make are choices I can feel happy about for the rest of my life.