Friday, February 22, 2013
As I've mentioned in some of my previous blogs, I'm a big fan of regular weigh-ins because they keep me honest and they keep me on track. However, there is a darker side of frequent weigh-ins that I feel also needs to be addressed: when weigh-ins become obsessive and unproductive towards helping us meet our goals.
I once lurked on that dark side. I'd play tricks to see how I could get the numbers on the scale to go down, some of which were outright unhealthy, and was guilty of jumping on the scale multiple times a day to see how my eating and exercise affected my weight. Back when I did Weight Watchers, I hated the idea of weighing in fully clothed and later in the day. As a result, I'd dress in layers in the coldest months and would strip down to the minimum essentials decency would allow before hopping on the scale. And even though I often attended meetings in the evening, I'd stop in first thing in the morning to weigh-in before eating or drinking anything. One time, I guzzled at least a gallon of water the day before a weigh-in and gained two pounds. As a result, I developed a fear of drinking too much water leading up a weigh-in and would limit myself to two glasses the day before. At one point, I even started taking laxatives the day before weighing in to "flush out my system". Did these things make a difference? Maybe they affected my weight for the better by a pound or two, but the potential damage I was doing to my physical and mental health was huge. I would often feel severely dehydrated on weigh-in days because I had drunk so little the whole day before and I shouldn't be surprised that I currently have electrolyte imbalance issues--it's extremely likely that this is a result of my laxative abuse and I feel very lucky that I didn't experience more serious consequences.
Why did I do all of these things? Much of the time I was already at a reasonably healthy weight, so it wasn't like I was desperate to lose. Sure, I had never been successful at keeping weight off and that definitely contributed to many of my fears and subsequent behaviors, but I had clearly stepped over into the dark side. I had allowed my journey that was supposed to be towards better health turn into one that was incredibly unhealthy in a lot of ways. And I was so fixated on the numbers on the scale that I was oblivious to the damage I was doing to myself both physically and mentally in an effort to reach the coveted number I had in my head.
So how did I change my mentality and shift my focus from weight alone to overall good health? Although I have a specific number in my mind that I like to stay under, I came to realize that no one but me notices if I'm two or three pounds over or under that number. It just doesn't make all that much of a difference and it's really more of a mind game I play with myself. Generally, the times when I take the focus off of weight loss are the times when I do the best, like when I started transitioning to maintenance. I was focusing on keeping up my healthy habits, such as following a balanced and moderate diet, exercising regularly, keeping up with my weight training and drinking my water, with an emphasis on learning how to maintain as opposed to losing. The unexpected result was that I lost another ten pounds during this process--all while making far less effort to lose than I had during some of my more maniacal weight-loss periods.
I also realized that just because I was able to achieve a certain weight at some point in my life, that didn't mean that it was a sensible weight for me now. I weighed 135 back in high school (at the lower end of the BMI range for my height) and think I looked and felt good. But I didn't do any weight training at all and my lifestyle was dramatically different. I also wasn't able to keep the weight off. Now, a sensible range for me is 10 to 15 pounds more than that taking into account my lifestyle differences and the sustainability factor. Looking back at pictures, I think I look pretty much the same, if not better, at 145-150 as I did at 135.
As a maintainer, I often hear phrases like "stay vigilant," "maintenance is hard work" and "the effort doesn't stop once you reach goal". While all of these things are true, there comes a point when vigilance can turn into an obsession, perhaps even more once you're at a healthy weight and all the more tangible goals you had before seem to dissipate.
"I'm already at a healthy weight, but why not try for another five or ten pounds?"
"I weighed 135 in high school, so why not try for that number now just for the fun of the challenge?"
These are just a few of the thoughts that have raced through my head after reaching goal and that worry me. Keeping up a maintenance lifestyle shouldn't be incredibly stressful and I think it's important to become content with staying the same and with who we are "as is". Feeling as though we have to strive for a particular number (that may well be unattainable and unrealistic) can sometimes just be a recipe for making ourselves and those around us crazy--and that's not how I want to live the rest of my life. I want to live with the joy of knowing that I've succeeded in doing something that is really tough and that I did it in the best possible way for my physical and mental health. To me, that's more validation than any number on the scale could ever provide.