It's been a while since I posted an update on the topic of weight loss and weight maintenance, which continues to be the number-one reason people find their way to my blog. So.... how is it going?
Well, let's recap with a little data. I gave birth almost a year ago, in January. Here's some data that begins May first. My postpartum goal was to take the weight down to 112. Right about the time I got down to 112, the baby started solids.
Here's a closeup of data from this month.
I think I can safely say I'm holding pretty steady at 113, without much effort. I want to bring it down to 110 eventually, but not on any particular time frame; and not because 113 is "too heavy," more because I want to give myself a little extra margin of error.
So, one thing that I have noticed, about 3 years since I began the lifestyle changes that took me down to a healthy weight: I think my body is doing a pretty good job at driving me to eat to maintain my current weight.
About a month ago I thought I might try to control my eating a little bit more strictly to try to slowly take off just one pound. Interestingly enough, it didn't work. Granted, I wasn't working very hard at it (and I'm still confident that if I decide to work hard at it, I will do it). But this is what happened several times.
(1) Day 1: Wake up in the morning, decide "Today I will carefully watch what I eat, avoid taking seconds or nibbling leftovers, and I'll skip bedtime snack."
(2) Follow through well on this plan all day long.
(3) Day 2: the scale will look about the same, which is fine and to be expected. I'll continue my plan.
(4) All goes well until dinner.
(5) At dinner I'll be freezing cold and RAVENOUSLY HUNGRY. Real, pit of the stomach hunger. Since it's not terribly important that I lose weight at this time, I go "Screw this, I'm starving" and I have more than one helping.
(6) Continue craving, freezing, and nibbling all evening.
(7) Day 3: Get on the scale expecting to see that it is spiking high because I put so much food into my body the night before. Scale actually shows that I am a pound or so low.
(8) Remain hungry, cold, and nibbly for the next couple of days. Scale eventually returns to where I was on Day 1.
(9) Once scale goes back to where I was, I miraculously regain the will to control my food intake.
My guess as to what's going on: my body is driving me to eat every time I start to burn some fat, and I am mostly responding to it. This is not a bad development, considering that where I am is a good place to be (BMI 22.8, and looking pretty good in my own opinion, and my clothes all fit.)
I think I always have had this weight-stabilizing mechanism in place though. I suspect most people have it, and it works pretty well even in the obese: a feedback loop, a system of urges which responds to fat burning by driving people to eat, and which go away when we stop burning fat. Weight stability seems to be something the body naturally seeks.
When people say that their "hunger signals are broken" I think that this may really just mean that they have difficulty identifying the sensation of hunger as hunger -- a cognitive difficulty. Ultimately it doesn't matter how the body convinces your will to put stuff in your mouth. I think, sometimes, in its drive to keep you from burning more than a little fat, it will use all the tools at its disposal to get you to eat and STOP THE SCARY DANGEROUS FAT BURNING, from pure animal hunger to emotional mood swings to higher-brain rationalization.
If you have ever tried to lose weight on purpose, think back. After dropping a couple of pounds, and still wanting to lose more, did you ever find yourself thinking, "I'm down a couple of pounds. I can afford to splurge at this meal/have this extra snack/eat the whole thing." I am sure it is really common; I have done this myself, lots of times.
Step back and look at how loony it is from a loss standpoint. "I'm down a couple of pounds; I can eat more" is correct if your goal is to remain the same. Because eating more will fix the problem of having lost weight. This is what your body has tricked you into thinking with that supposedly smart brain of yours!
It is as if you have started driving from New York to L. A., and after a while you realize you've gotten all the way to Akron, so you decide you can afford to turn around and go east for a while, which feels better because now the sun isn't in your eyes so much, and then after a while you're like: What the hell? Why am I seeing these signs for Scranton? This isn't working!
No, the proper response is: I want to go past Akron. I got to Akron by traveling west. Therefore, I can keep going west and that will get me past Akron.
Not "I have made progress, so I can reverse my progress;" but "I have made progress, so I can continue my progress."
Successful weight losers have to exert their will to override all the messages the body sends them to try to put the brakes on their progress. They have to get hungry and stay hungry for at least a little while every day. They have to resist the impulse to respond to a milestone by turning around and going back to the last one.
It isn't terribly important to me to drop one pound right now, so I haven't resisted the corrections my body keeps applying every time I start. But having made a few attempts and watching what happens, I think I understand those corrections a little bit more. If I decide I am going to drop that one pound, it will require me to spend a couple of weeks feeling an urge to eat and resisting that urge. I know I could do it if I really wanted to because I've done it before; the evidence is that I don't want to enough right now to push back (which is fine; as I said, I am in a healthy weight range).
And there's the hard truth about weight loss in general -- if you have many pounds that you want to lose, it requires you to spend quite a long time feeling the urge to eat and resisting the urge. It is do-able, but it is difficult, and because (I believe) the body enlists the help of the brain's rationalization capacity to trick your will into submission, it requires mustering your intellect as well.
Because really, don't you want to get out of Akron?