Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Myth of Confidence

You might think that I would feel a sense of accomplishment about maintaining a hundred-pound weight loss for five years. Given the grim statistics, the fact that the vast majority of people who lose a lot of weight gain it all back within a year or two, it is indeed a big deal that I’ve pulled this off for this long. Yet somehow, I’m having a hard time patting myself on the back. I think I’m too mired in the weeds of what it takes, day to day, for Outer Thin Girl to ward off Inner Fat Girl, and that makes it hard to see the larger (or should I say smaller?) picture.

What’s more interesting to me at this point is to start understanding what I’ve learned in these last five years. It’s funny, because what I thought I would learn and what I’ve actually learned have turned out to be radically different things. So I’d like to take a little time in the next few posts to talk about what I’ve discovered, to share with you some of the unexpected nuggets I’ve unearthed along the way, starting with…

Unexpected Nugget #1: Confidence has nothing to do with it.

You’ve surely seen the Jennifer Hudson ad for Weight Watchers that has been airing since the beginning of the year. Jennifer is the picture of confidence, flaunting her new, slender body with a supreme conviction that she has this weight thing handled. And, yes, you can get it handled too. It’s not just this one ad, though. You’ve seen a parade of celebrities strike this pose: Marie Osmond, Jessica Simpson, Kirstie Alley, Valerie Bertinelli, Oprah Winfrey. In the Dogma of Diet Programs, it is canon law that sure as spring follows winter, confidence follows weight loss.

Um, yeah.

This is the biggest lie. That when you finally achieve your “perfect” weight, you will gain an enormous confidence that will carry you for the rest of your (thin) life. For me, the opposite has been true. It’s my lack of confidence that I “have this weight thing handled” that has been key to keeping the pounds off. I never assume that I can eat anything with abandon. I always worry and strategize when I know I’ll be in a situation that involves cookies. I don’t trust myself to have certain foods in the house. Jennifer Hudson says that Weight Watchers works for her because it lets her eat “real food.” But I know that “real food” is just code for “food that makes me fat,” so I try to eat “real food” (i.e. bread, pasta, potatoes, even <gasp> chocolate) as infrequently as possible. All because I have no confidence whatsoever that I will ever have any of this even close to “handled.”

You don’t need one iota of confidence to maintain a large weight loss. What you do need is a strong motivation. My motivation comes from an experience I had in which my excess weight hampered my recovery from a relatively minor surgery. For about a week, I was a complete invalid and it scared the crap out of me. I just didn’t want to go there ever again and in that moment I resolved that I would lose weight. Every time my resolve starts to waver, I think of how it felt to be an invalid and that sets me straight. Your motivation might be something different and it doesn’t matter what it is – what matters is that you have it.

Here’s the real truth of the matter: the smug complacency of confidence is one of Inner Fat Girl’s best weapons in her quest to defeat Outer Thin Girl. So forget confidence. Your best defense against her sneak attacks is to outsmart her with a measured dose of fretting over food.

‘Cause a little worry goes a long way.

Monday, February 11, 2013

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

Five years ago today, February 11, 2008, I ended a year of dieting and reached my goal weight of 145 pounds; I’ve been maintaining a 100-plus-pound weight loss, give or take, ever since.

Sometimes, in the day-to-day slog that is maintenance, I forget how ecstatic I felt that day. Life seemed unreal and magical. Everything I’d always wanted was in my grasp. I remember it as a time of enormous energy and enthusiasm.

A lot has changed since then. I suppose it had to. Maintenance is hard, folks, really hard. It’s not easy to sustain that initial rush of euphoria when everything around you appears hell-bent on enticing you to eat all of the foods that made you fat. The basic message has seemed to be this: if you want to stay at this new and lower weight, YOU must make whatever accommodations are needed; asking for changes in the environment, well, that’s just downright unreasonable. After all, it’s only one little cookie, right?

But I’ve decided that five years of struggle is enough. My goal for the next five years is to find a new paradigm for weight maintenance, something more peaceful and uplifting. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but the thought is pretty intriguing. And invigorating. I’ve also come to see that the last five years have taught me something and I don’t think I could have learned it any other way:

Being healthy is a journey, not a destination.