As much as I hated struggling with my weight, I can’t deny that the lessons from the struggle are priceless. I was never supposed to be overweight- or so I thought. I was not the chubby baby or the big kid in school. My weight was never something that I put conscious effort into changing or maintaining until I went to college.
When I gained weight in college, I was completely naïve regarding what it was going to take to lose the weight for good. I honestly believed that at any point, I could just get more consistent with exercise, slow down on the late night pizza and ice cream and have a miraculous, magazine worthy transformation. Clueless!
I underestimated the effort required to lose weight and keep it off. My naivety set the perfect stage for years of struggle.
My delusion regarding how easy ditching the extra weight would be began to fade. I lost weight initially but it found me more quickly than I had ever imagined it would. After one of my first successful attempts at losing some of the extra weight, I had my first memorable setback. I was controlling my weight by counting points then. I had just left a party with my sorority sisters and I was hungry and fresh out of points. When we ended up at one of our favorite after party spots, I ordered and devoured wings and fries faster than I could even blink. I was so mad at myself. I remember wondering “who does this”.
Why in the world could I not bring myself to just do what I knew I needed to do to lose the weight?
I wish I could say that I quickly found resolution to my struggle but that wasn’t the case. That was just the beginning of what turned out to be more than a decade long journey of program hopping, weight loss, weight gain, and even extreme fitness.
Many diets and workout programs later, I was STILL struggling after graduating from college. I had experienced a period of success- a time when it seemed I had figured it all out. By this time, I had met my husband. I wasn’t overweight anymore and had even become a personal trainer. The problem was that I was using a TON of mental energy and effort to keep the weight from coming back.
Even though my weight wasn’t an issue, I was far from being settled into a sustainable fitness lifestyle.
When my mom became terminally ill, my world was rocked again. I didn’t have the emotional energy to count points or resist the constant parade of dessert and comfort food that friends were bringing to my family. By the time I stood in front of my mom’s casket to say my final goodbye, the only thing that got me into the suit I had purchased for the occasion was a super tight girdle. I was emotionally rocked by my loss and I desperately wanted to feel in control.
The one thing that I knew I could control with enough effort was my weight- so my dance with extreme fitness and fitness competitions began.
When my co-worker offhandedly challenged me to do a fitness competition, I jumped at the chance. At the time, I believed that I was just taking things to another level as he suggested. In retrospect, I realize that I was really just eager to feel like I could gain control again. I was also looking forward to the wiggle room that I thought achieving an extreme level of leanness would give me. Just maybe that would help me finally maintain the look and body weight that I wanted. Obviously, it didn’t.
Sustainability is rarely born from the extreme.
My final turning point came when I got pregnant with my first child. I accepted that weight gain was going to be a part of having a healthy baby. I also made a promise to myself that no matter how much weight I gained during pregnancy, I was not going to dedicate as much mental energy and time to weight loss as I had in the past.
With no competition dieting to look forward to for help with losing the pregnancy weight, I started practicing sustainable weight management practices.
I held myself accountable to three key actions during pregnancy. Here’s what I committed to doing: eating healthy foods without restricting any of my favorites, exercising most days of the week without doing any two a days, and resting when I needed it. The only other expectation that I set for myself was that I would stay the course even if that meant that I gained more weight than I wanted to during pregnancy.
When my pregnancy was over, I maintained very basic food and exercise commitments. For the first time ever, I lost weight in a way that was sustainable.
Now seven years removed from my turning point, I have learned a lot. Some of the lessons are deeply ingrained and others still take a bit of reminding.
Here’s what I learned.
Trying harder is not a strategy- it is a trap.
When I fell short of my workout goals, ate things I hadn’t planned to eat or failed at keeping the weight off, I would resolve to try harder. I thought that I could outwork a flawed strategy. As long as I believed that my level of effort was the problem, I didn’t look for or create a sustainable approach. I was wearing myself out and getting nowhere. Now when things aren’t working as I had hoped, I look for ways to tweak my approach rather than doubling down on my efforts.
Having more information can hinder action and progress.
The more advanced weight loss strategies that I learned, the more indecisive I became. I would start a plan and wonder if a different one would be more effective. Having more information kept me from taking consistent action on the basics and getting the results that I could have achieved with a third of the information. Today, I focus on the basics even when they seem too simple to make a difference.
The process is more important than the outcome.
Being outcome focused robbed me of the opportunity to pay attention to and master the process. I judged my approach solely by the result. I didn’t give enough importance to how the process made me feel nor its sustainability. Ignoring the process was what kept me stuck because when you master the process, you don’t have to worry about the result. The result is the byproduct of a proper process. When I get down on myself about an outcome- I refer back to the process. Funny thing is that most times I discover that I am skipping steps. Fixing that fixes the outcome.
What works for someone else could be the opposite of what will work for me.
I kept trying to commit to approaches that didn’t work for my body or my life because they worked for my friends. Honoring what worked for my body and my life could have easily saved me years of struggle and frustration. Today I keep my eyes on my own paper and do the work that I know works for me.
What worked for me once isn’t guaranteed to work for me again.
Being stuck in the past is one of the easiest ways to miss the present and wreck the future. Rather than romanticizing the past, I needed to remind myself of why I abandoned my previous approaches and what is different about my life now. A mom of two with interrupted sleep has very different needs than a childless woman ten years younger. The funny thing is that even though I know this now, there are still times when I am tempted to try some of my old, extreme ways. Thankfully, that temptation never lasts long enough for me to actually try it.
Understand what it takes to get what you want as well as what you will not sacrifice to get it.
At some point, weight loss became an idol. Ah that hurts to admit but it is the truth. There isn’t much else I could call it when I protected my fitness plan above all else. It is important to understand what you want and what it takes to get there. What is even more important, is to know what line you won’t cross- even if it means not getting what you want.
Appreciate where you are even if it isn’t where you plan to stay.
I made so many decisions based on how quickly I could escape the emotional pain around my weight loss struggle. In general, I didn’t appreciate where I was in my journey. Nothing short of getting to my ideal weight seemed good enough even for a moment. Appreciating where I am removes desperation. Removing desperation reduces the likelihood that I will make short-sighted decisions. Today no matter where I am with my weight, I make the effort to appreciate my body. This includes wearing clothes that flatter my “right now” body, styling my hair, and wearing lip gloss. Those are the things that make me feel good in my skin no matter what size clothing I am wearing.
Practicing appreciation without settling into complacency can be tricky. There have been times since having my second child that I have gone months without losing a single pound because I didn’t get the balance right. However, I will take maintaining my weight and being happy with my life over being lean and miserable. I know that as long as I keep practicing, I will eventually get the balance right.