The Never Ending Struggle with Weight is Downright Scary

“In further studies, they found that weight loss, both in people who are lean and obese, triggers a powerful suite of biological and psychological responses that work together to restore the lost fat… In effect, substantial weight loss triggers a starvation response, whether a person is lean, overweight, or obese—and this response continues until the fat comes back.”
From “The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts that Make Us Overeat” by Stephan J. Guyenet, Ph.D., page 129

The above quote from “The Hungry Brain” isn’t very encouraging at first look. But on further reflection it’s helpful for anyone who has struggled with the up, down, then up again (sometimes higher) of weight loss and weight gain because it helps us to understand the real struggle.

Most of the people I know who’ve battle obesity don’t struggle because they don’t know what to do. I’d venture to guess that most overweight people are very well versed in the world of diet and weight loss.

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Me in Napa in July, 2009. I was not at my heaviest but probably pretty close to it.
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At the same winery this year. This is a more fit and healthier me…and I plan to stay this way!

I’ve personally tried most commercial as well as fad diets out there. I’ve read countless books. I’ve joined various programs. When I look back at the past 40 years (I’m 55 and remember dieting as a teenager), I’ve probably lost and re-gained hundreds of pounds. It’s probably not a stretch to say that maintaining a weight, any weight, is not something my body has much experience with. My actual experience has been down, then up a bit more than where I started…down again, followed by a bigger increase and so on. This led to my highest weight of at least 250 pounds in 2012. It was probably more than this, but I quit stepping on the scale.

I’ve been at my current weight for two years. Well, I’ve gone up and down within a 10 pound range in that time. It’s been a struggle! A year ago I hit my lowest weight of 163 – an 87 pound weight loss! Maybe it is no coincidence that I also had the best half marathon ever in terms of how I felt. It wasn’t my fastest because it was up lots of hills but it was awesome! (I Can Run Hills! A Recap of the The San Francisco (First) Half Marathon)

But I was unable to maintain that weight, even though my desire had been to get to at least 155 so that I would no longer be identified a “overweight” according to the medical world. Over the past year the pounds have slowly come back so that today, after a wonderful vacation that was fill with activity I weighed in at 174.4. An 11 pound gain in one year! At least I can still say I’ve lost 77 pounds.

I share this because I want to let people know that the struggle is real and I want to help myself and others to find peace with themselves, regardless of weight. Sometimes this peace is elusive, because there is a great deal of shame associated with weight gain. We tend to look at the person who struggles with their weight as someone lacking will-power, restraint, or even self worth. But it is far more complicated than that. Our bodies are far more complicated than that.

In “The Hungry Brain” Stephan Guyenet, shares years of obesity research that is both demoralizing and hopeful at the same time. Demoralizing because he clearly shows just how difficult it is to fight our own brains… in the often futile effort to maintain weight loss. But then it is hopeful for the same reason. If it’s not solely about will power then we can remove the sense of shame, while also making changes that can be helpful.

For Guyenet, the one answer lies in “Restricting Reward.”

High-reward foods tend to increase food intake and adiposity, whole lower-reward foods tend to have the opposite effect. This suggests a weight management ‘secret’ you’ll rarely find in a diet book: eat simple food. The reason you’ll rarely find it in a diet good is that, by definition, lower-reward food is not very motivating. It doesn’t get us excited about a diet, and it doesn’t make books fly off the shelves. We want to hear that we can lose weight while eating the most delicious food of our lives, and the weight-loss industry is happy to indulge us. The truth is that there are many ways to lose weight, but all else being equal, a diet that’s lower in reward value will control appetite and reduce adiposity more effectively than one that’s high in reward value.

I like the use of the word “reward” in this context. We can think of food as a reward and when we do it is usually very tasty calorie dense food. Or sometimes it is that salty-crunchy-sweet snack that we turn to in times of stress – tortilla chips are my particular weakness here.

But we can also think of other rewards. Rewards like feeling good and being able to move can impact us far more than can the immediate gratification of something we eat.

And still it is hard! Personally I will clean up my diet, eliminating those unhealthy foods that have crept back in… and I will continue to run and strength train and maybe even start bicycling once in awhile…I can easily do these things because of the rewards of fitness!

If you would like to share your own struggles, please feel free. There is strength in community and that is another reward that far surpasses any food!

To read past posts on this topic:
That Weight Struggle – Weekends
That Weight Struggle – Environment
The Never-Ending Struggle with Weight
What Happened to Healthy Eating? Boston Marathon Training – Week 1
Body Image – Gratitude 8/10Slow & Steady – Racing Weight Week 4
Really?!?! Racing Weight Week 3
Ummm – Racing Weight Week 2
OOPS – Racing Weight, Week 1
Racing Weight – Getting There

That Weight Struggle – Weekends

Pixabay - directory-466935Can you relate to this?

You wake up on Monday morning, ready to start a new week. You are determined to eat well, exercise well, and do whatever else is necessary to care for your body. Before doing all that you step on the scale.

Holy #@&%!!!

How did that happen? You think back to the previous week. You ate healthy. You slept relatively well. You exercised (and if you’re like me you exercised A LOT – 9 hours, 36 minutes, and 37 seconds to be exact for me last week). How in the world, then, can the scale say that you’ve only lost 1 pound…or stayed the same…or, horrors – gained weight?

So, my friend. How was your weekend? Did you let loose? Maybe eat an extra slice of pizza (or the whole thing?)? Did you have some beer or wine or a margarita or a combination of the above? Did you have snacks out on the counter that you noshed on all day, thus mindlessly consuming calories to replace all those you burned?

This all seems so frustrating…so depressing even. Especially if it becomes a regular Monday morning experience (or any other time you step on the scale). One option is to just step back from the scale. After all it is just giving you a number and that number shouldn’t define you. The challenge with this approach is that it might allow those of us who struggle with weight gain, or maintaining weight loss or just staying healthy, is that we ignore the warning and continue in our present unhelpful behavior.

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Maybe we should do this!

So what should we do? As one who struggles with this and is sometimes very afraid of gaining back my 80+ pounds lost, here are a few suggestions.

  1. Love yourself! Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t think that you are a failure. Just understand that you are human and that you make mistakes. Also understand that you are worthy of love – in fact God loves you unconditionally – no matter what you weigh and no matter how much you struggle. It’s very hard to take care of ourselves when we don’t feel worthy of such care.
  2. Remember each day is a gift. Don’t stress about yesterday, but rather look at today (whatever day it is) as a new day that you can live to the best of your ability. Yesterday’s mistakes don’t have to define what we do this day.
  3. Think about a different approach. Weekends are fun. Gathering with friends and family is fun. Having the occasional drink and treat is fun. We should be able to partake in life and in those goodies that surround us. But that doesn’t mean we need to mindlessly eat and drink. So, make a plan to pay attention. Eat that yummy food…but only if you actually slow down enough to taste and enjoy it.
  4. Don’t forget that exercise! Yes. Exercise. Do it daily. Be like me and run marathons! Or, if that sounds like too much then opt for something more manageable, like 30 minutes of something a day. We can all find 30 minutes!
  5. Sleep. Are you getting enough sleep? When we’re tired we tend to overeat. When we’re exercising and not sleeping, we’re not recovering well either. Get your sleep. Your body and mind will thank you.
  6. Hydrate. I find that I’m tempted to eat when I’m thirsty. Sometimes a strategy is to drink water, wait, and then decide whether to eat that treat that is before you.
  7. Find a mantra. I started this list with the instruction to love yourself. I end it with the encouragement to find something encouraging to say to yourself when you are facing temptation. I often forget this. I often fail to speak nicely to myself. This week my mantra is, “I’m worth the effort!”

These tips have helped me in the past and continue to help me now. I’ve shared that I’ve lost a great deal of weight and that I don’t want to re-gain it. I know the statistics that a majority of people do exactly that. In fact, I’ve done that at other times. What’s different now is that I’m an athlete…but still the struggle is real. Hopefully these tips can help you too.

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This is a beautiful photo of some very healthy food!

That Weight Struggle – Environment

249433_pSome mornings I wake up and my first thought…well, my second thought is Bel-Vita Biscuits. That first thought is always coffee. The biscuits, really cookies, are sometimes a before a long run indulgence. The problem is that I want to eat them, dipped in coffee, just about every morning. Thankfully, I can most often skip the temptation.

Some afternoons I walk in the door…from wherever I’ve been, and immediately my body says, “hungry…let’s eat!” I doesn’t matter if I’ve just eaten. Like today. I attended a lunch meeting put on by our local homelessness commission. It was a good lunch and I ate my fill. My body does not need more fuel right now! And yet, the desire to eat upon walking in the door is palpable.

These are the feelings described in the quote I shared the other day (see The Never-Ending Struggle with Weight). The feelings are not weakness in will power, or moral failings, but rather my body trying to get me to gain back my lost weight. So what can I do? What can you do if you face a similar struggle?

First. Notice it. Yes, notice those triggers towards unconscious eating. You might still choose to eat, but at least you are aware.

Second. Change the environment. According to Stephan Guyenet, “if we change our environment, we can change the cues we send to the non conscious brain, aligning its motivations with our goals of leanness and health.” (The Hungry Brain, 223). He describes changes we can make as a nation and changes we can make as individuals.

One great environmental tricks to not make unhealthy food so readily available. Sometimes its as simple as keeping it out of sight. We have fresh fruit on the counter. The Bel-Vita Biscuits and other snacks are kept in a drawer, out of site. Keeping them out of site works, because I only want these things first thing in the morning. The rest of the day is truly “out of site, out of mind.” The truly tempting food should be kept out of the house. For instance, we no longer buy ice cream to eat at home. It’s too tempting. So a few times a year, we go out for ice cream. On Memorial Day I treated myself to a Rocky Road Ice Cream Cone. It was delicious! It’ll be a few weeks or even months before I have another one. If a half gallon of Rocky Road was in the freezer, I’d probably be eating it right now!

Third. Are you thirsty? Sometimes our bodies just want water. It’s that simple. So have a drink of some good, plain, healthy water and wait awhile. The desire to eat may go away.

Fourth. This logically falls under environment but it’s my list! Change your surroundings. If you’re like me, you might eat lots more when you’re alone at home. I work at home most afternoons and I’ve discovered this is prime time to scavenge for something to eat (which is why its good not to have unhealthy food in the house). This is why I sometimes choose to run in the afternoon. Or some afternoons, I find work to do outside of the house, interacting with people. Find your triggers…and change them if you can.

And last. Be kind to yourself. Tell yourself that you are valued. You are worth the effort. You are loved. Especially tell yourself this when that other kind of self-talk happens. You know what I’m talking about. We are often too good a verbally abusing ourselves. How often have you said something to yourself that you’d never say to another person? Today, choose kindness, love, and forgiveness. As you experience giving these things to yourself, you just might notice them more around you as well.

What environmental struggle do you need help with?

 

The Never-Ending Struggle with Weight

A year ago I did a little series on my post Mountains to Beach Marathon attempt to “lose that last 15-20 pounds. I actually lost about 5 pounds, yet didn’t keep it off. I started that little attempt weighing in at 168. This morning, almost a year later I weighed 171. (Racing Weight – Getting ThereOOPS – Racing Weight, Week 1Really?!?! Racing Weight Week 3Slow & Steady – Racing Weight Week 4)

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This is from one year ago as I ran my Boston qualifier 

The good news in this, is that weighing 3 pounds more after one year could be looked at as weight maintenance success. The challenge internally is that I continually bump up against 170 but never go lower. Maybe, this is a good weight for me, who knows!

What scares me though, is that it has been pretty hard to stay at this weight…it feels harder than losing the 80+ pounds in the first place. Some of this might be memory, as we sometimes forget how hard past struggles actually were. But the struggle is very real.

Last year I read the book, “The Hungry Brain” by Stephan J. Guyenet. This was both a hopeful and not so hopeful book.

The not so hopeful part is that our brains are designed to prevent weight loss. This quote and analogy gets to the heart of it:

“In effect, substantial weight loss triggers a starvation response, whether a person is lean, overweight, or obese – and this response continues until the fat comes back.

If you’ve never had the experience of fighting your own body’s starvation response, Jeff Friedman provides a helpful analogy:

Those who doubt the power of basic drives, however, might note that although one can hold one’s breath, this conscious act is soon overcome by the compulsion to breather. The feeling of hunger is intense and, if not as potent as the drive to breather, is probably no less powerful than the drive to drink when one is thirsty. This is the feeling the obese must resist after they have lost a significant amount of weight.” (129-130)

These are not very hopeful words at first reading. I think that anyone who struggles with weight can understand the analogy. I can think of times when the desire to eat, and eat anything is so intense that its overwhelming.

But then, on further thought, hope can be found in this knowledge.

First, with the realization that the struggle is real. It is not about will power or some moral failure. It is about a fight against our bodies. We can’t effectively engage if we aren’t aware of the struggle.

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While I was still active when heavier, I don’t want to go back to this…

Second, we have nothing to be ashamed of. But when we make is about will power, we introduce the concept of shame. In our culture, it is shameful to struggle with weight gain…especially the re-gaining of weight. This insidious shame makes it worse, because one of our best weapons is to be open and honest about our struggles. It is only in a position of openness that we are able to receive support from others. This is why I am now open about my weight.

Third, and most importantly, your weight has nothing to do with your value as a person. Yes, a healthy weight…is optimum for quality of life. But the number on the scale or size of your clothing are not indicative of your worth. You are a precious child of God, created in God’s image, and the number on the scale will not make God love you any more or any less…because God already loves you unconditionally! Maybe as we learn this, we can learn to love  and show compassion to ourselves and others.

So what do we do? We don’t give up! Really, what do we do? I’ll share some thoughts in another post. Meanwhile give yourself a hug because you deserve it!

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Me last week, with my son, showing off my “run now, wine later socks”