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Unpacking My Baggage

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Being a yo-yo dieter takes a toll on you in so many ways. Not only can it be harmful to your physical health, but it can also cause lasting damage to your self-esteem and confidence in your ability to lose weight and keep it off. I had suffered from that self-doubt for many years and not without reason--until very recently I had always regained any weight I had lost in the past.

When I got started on my most recent effort to lose weight in early 2010, this baggage weighed heavily on my mind. Several years earlier, I had lost 115 pounds and had regained almost all of it--just about 95 pounds. Although part of me was very angry with myself for having undone all of my hard work, the more troubling emotion I experienced was the lack of faith I had in myself due to all of my past failed efforts. In order to truly be successful, I needed to shed this emotional baggage and figure out how I could not only reach goal, but stay there.

I've now maintained a healthy weight within a +/-3% range for over a year--by far my longest stretch. Looking back on what has made the difference for me, I'd have to say that this was the first time that I not only tackled the habit changes that I needed to make, but also the emotional issues that lurked below the surface and held me back from being successful in the past. That is, the reasons behind the development of my bad habits and why I returned to them after reaching goal.

Although tackling my habits was the easier part of this process, there are still several things that I did differently this time compared to my past efforts. As an ex-Weight Watcher, weighing, measuring and tracking were things that were often encouraged. I had dabbled in each of these, but never took them too seriously. And while some people manage very well with strategies like intuitive eating or eliminating certain types of food, those don't work very well for me. I've found that I'm happiest and most successful when I can eat a wide range of foods in moderate amounts. And because I still don't have a good enough sense of eating until I'm satisfied, I track what I eat even now that I'm on maintenance.

In the past, I relied on weekly weigh ins to keep my head in the game, but that only led to game playing. If I had to weigh in on a Friday, I'd sneak in all sorts of treats over the weekend thinking that I'd have the rest of the week to work it off. Then I'd overcompensate by being very restrictive the rest of the week and even by resorting to the kind of methods wrestlers use to "make weight" before a match--not particularly healthy. I now weigh myself daily and find that it does a much better job of keeping me honest as far as my diet and exercise habits are concerned and attuned to my natural fluctuations.

In the past, I didn't take full advantage of the support systems that were available to me, especially once I hit goal. On Weight Watchers, you only have to weigh in once a month once you reach goal, so that's what I did. Being on maintenance on Weight Watchers was really tough because there was rarely more than one other maintainer in any given group (if there were any at all!) and it often seemed hard for losers to relate to the struggles of maintainers and vice versa. Finding a community of maintainers here on SparkPeople has literally been a lifesaver. Where else can you find so many supportive people sharing their experiences and helping each other to maintain?

In the past, I wasn't armed with solid information about what it takes to maintain. In spite of all the planning and effort I had put into weight loss, I just kind of winged it once I got to maintenance. This time has been radically different. Once I started getting close to goal, I began searching for all the information I could find connected to successful maintenance. Shockingly, there is very little. The two places I did find that were very useful were the National Weight Control Registry, which analyzes the habits of long-term maintainers, and the At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance team here on SparkPeople, which has probably grown to have the greatest resource of information for maintainers on the internet. I still rely heavily on the support of this team to help keep me focused and on track.

So, those were the easier parts, lol!

Far more difficult has been shedding my emotional baggage because it's required me to look deep inside myself to try to understand why I've never managed to have long-term weight loss success. I'm still working on some of these issues, but I think I've come a long way. The first of these issues was a fear of failure and lack of belief in myself. I had never successfully maintained before, so why should this time have been different? Instead of dwelling on all the things I had done wrong, I focused on keeping what worked well for me in the past and what I thought I could sustain long term. No more crazy diets, constant restriction and self abuse. I wanted to live healthily and sanely and that meant I had to take things much more slowly than I had previously been accustomed to. And guess what? I still saw results and, what's more, I've been able to keep the weight off. Making that one change has been a huge boost to my self-confidence and my belief that I can really keep this up for good.

Similarly, I've also come to realize that just because I'm not "on track" 100% of the time, that doesn't mean I'm a failure and that I should use my slips as an excuse to give up. In short, I worked on developing my resiliency. I even began to plan times when I would intentionally go off track. The difference from my past experiences was that I always had a plan along with a specific time for when I'd get back on. This not only made me realize that it's okay to go off plan from time to time, but also helped prepare me for occasions where I wasn't totally in control of the food that's offered. I've learned to navigate those by planning for them, which usually means choosing to indulge and immediately getting back on track with my next meal. No more slips that turn into monthlong or yearlong backslides.

And perhaps the darkest side of this process has been trying to identify what lies beneath my tendency to be self-destructive with food. I still don't completely understand this, but I do know that I have used food as a source of comfort and often as an outlet for stress and anxiety. Dealing with these tendencies has meant finding healthier coping mechanisms so I'm not always turning to food whenever I have an uncomfortable emotion or when life gets a bit hectic. Doing yoga, blogging and staying connected to the community here have all been very helpful and have also helped me to lose a bit of the chip I had on my shoulder about my struggles.

I was previously a wallower who didn't believe that anyone could possibly understand what I was going through in not being able to lose and keep the weight off. Listening to someone who was actually successful was not something that interested me and I'd systematically dismiss the suggestions of many well-intentioned and experienced people--that's a pretty huge ego trip for an unsuccessful person and was totally counterproductive. What's more, when times got tough, I typically pulled away from my support networks completely. Only now do I realize what a huge mistake that is. What I've learned through my continued involvement here on SparkPeople is that there are A LOT of people who understand my struggles and have experienced similar ones. And there are a lot of successful people whose experiences I can learn from, even if we don't use exactly the same strategies. Dropping my ego and becoming more receptive to the wisdom and experience of others has allowed me be much more open with the process of maintaining and made me feel more comfortable experimenting with what works best for me, partially based on the recommendations of others.

I'm still far from perfect in this weight management game--I still worry about regain and don't feel like I'm completely out of the woods just yet. But I know there's been a big change in me compared to my past efforts and that I'm much more focused on the bigger picture than I've ever been in the past. I also know that I've lost a considerable amount of baggage and that I'm in no hurry to reclaim it.
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