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

The Running Skirt

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My first half marathon. I wore this running skirt until it was “falling off too big.”

A few years, and many pounds, ago I couldn’t wear shorts when running. My legs were too fat and the material would bunch up between my legs. That was definitely not comfortable. I also wasn’t fond of leggings because, well, they just showed those hefty thighs rubbing against each other.

 

One day, while browsing through the running clothes section of my local REI, I discovered a running skirt. Basically a skirt over short tights. That was the solution. I wore running skirts throughout most of my weight loss journey. I also grew to dislike those running skirts, because for me they represented the reality that I was trying to cover up that which cannot really be hidden.

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These were my first running shorts.

When I lost enough weight that I could wear running shorts I was ecstatic. I vowed to myself that I would never wear a running skirt again!

 

Of course one should never say never. Right?

A couple weeks ago a friend gave me a coupon to use at our local Lululemon outlet store. I’d never worn these running clothes, so with my 25% off I checked it out. I bought some awesomely comfortable shorts. Also, much to my surprise, I saw a skirt…yes, a skirt…that I thought was cute. I tried it on, liked it, and bought it.

So much for never wearing a running skirt again!

 

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Cute and comfy…my new running skirt! I kinda like how my legs look here too.

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?

 

Re-Committing: Boston Marathon Training Week 3

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This photo was taken in November. 

Yesterday (Sunday 1/7) some members of my running club were planning to conduct a weigh-in, followed by an 8 week contest to lose weight. I’m told they do this annually as a way to get rid of those pounds gained though the holidays (but they skipped the last 2 years). While I’ve not hesitated to share my weight here on this blog (as a way to tell my weight loss story), the thought of going and weighing myself with other members of the running club brought great anxiety. For me, the anonymity of the internet is safer…except that everyone who knows me can read this as well. Hmmm. They postponed the weigh-in until next week but I probably won’t do it then either.

This morning I weighed 170.2 with 28.8% body fat. This is about 7 pounds more than I weighed a year ago and is a sign that I’ve been eating way too much! One of my great fears is that I’d regain all the weight that I’ve lost since I started running (and mostly eating differently). 7 pounds is not 80 pounds, but complacency is what allows those of us who struggle to allow those pounds to creep back on. Thankfully a party on Saturday night was the last for awhile.

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

Now I’m training for Boston, so it’s not the best time to embark on a calorie deficit weight loss attempt…but I can eat well. I can make better choices. For instance yesterday we spent the afternoon taking down and putting away all the Christmas decorations. When dinner time came, my husband suggested pizza, and this did sound good. But instead we had salads of romaine, spinach, chicken, avocado, tomatoes, onion, and feta. I had a homemade vinagrette as well. For me…this is also part of marathon training.

Right now, eating right is a huge part of marathon training. If you too struggle with food and weight…don’t give up because you are worth the effort!

So how did the week of training go? Wonderful. I’m still ramping up and that meant a bit over 28 miles run along with strength training. Here’s my log:

Nancy Switzler
Workouts: 12/31/2017 – 1/6/2018
Sunday, December 31, 2017 Rest Day
Monday, January 1, 2018
8:36 AM Run – Easy Run Planned: 5 mi
Completed: 5 mi ~ 49:44 (9:56 min/mi)
9:30 AM Strength & Mobility
Core & Strength Level 2
2 Sets of the following sequence with ~ 30-60 seconds rest between each exercise.
15 squats; 20 sec. plank; 10 push ups; 20 Crunches; 10 lunges on each leg; 20 sec. plank; 10 calf drops on each leg; 20 Sit-Ups
Completed: 30:00 minutes.
I did these with Scott with some modifications…like squats with 16 pound ball toss to each other. Fun!
Tuesday, January 2, 2018 Rest Day
8:30 PM Strength & Mobility
Hip prehab plus
Three sets each: Bridges (3 types); clamshells w/band; pushups; plank. Gentle stretch and roll. I’m supposed to do this little workout each night to prevent another hamstring pull or other injury. I usually do it when I haven’t done anything else.
Completed: 20:00
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
5:58 PM Run – 2 Mile Threshold Run
Planned: 6 mi
2 Miles Easy; 2 Miles @ Threshold Pace; 2 Miles Easy
Completed: 6.78 mi ~ 1:03:27 (9:21 min/mi)
Note: I did this at track and it was wondeful to be back at track even if I wasn’t doing the same workout as everyone else. The threshold pace was 8:40 (mile 1) and 8:36 (mile 2)
Thursday, January 4, 2018
4:00 PM Strength & Mobility
Core & Strength Level 2
2 Sets of the following sequence with ~ 30-60 seconds rest between each exercise.
15 squats; 20 sec. plank; 10 push ups; 20 Crunches; 10 lunges on each leg; 20 sec. plank; 10 calf drops on each leg; 20 Sit-Ups
Completed: 25:00
Friday, January 5, 2018
8:10 AM 5 Miles Easy
Completed: 5 mi ~ 51:00 (10:11 min/mi)
Workout Comments:

Pretty tired this morning from not getting a good night sleep…got the hours of sleep but I felt like it was more tossing and turning than anything else.
Saturday, January 6, 2018
12:30 PM 12 Mile Long Run (Nice & Easy)
Completed: 12 mi ~ 2:01:06 (10:05 min/mi)
Workout Comments:

Had to do an afternoon run because of a morning meeting. The weather was foggy and cool, thankfully. Overall it just felt nice to get a long run in…even if it was only 12 miles. 100 days until Boston
Totals
Planned Run: 28.00 mi // Completed Run: 28.78 mi ~ 4:45:18
Completed Strength & Mobility: 1:15:00

Slow & Steady – Racing Weight Week 4

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A friend gave me a bike so I’m getting used to this in between runs!

In completing 4 weeks of a more focused effort on losing those last few pounds, I’ve remembered a few things.

Weight loss is not fast, nor is it easy.
Unfortunately many of us expect both. The weight loss industry perpetuates this lie with adds that promise quick results…for a fee. Fad diets also promise quick results, but are often unhealthy or unrealistic. I’ve tried many fad diets over the years. I’ve also given Weight Watchers hundreds of $$$$ over the years. But neither approach resulted in long term, healthy weight loss.

In much reading over the years…and with much experimentation, I’ve concluded that the best approach to weight loss is to expect slow progress while focusing on a sustainable, enjoyable, healthy lifestyle.

What does this mean for me?
Regular, vigorous exercise. Eating healthy, which includes:

  • The occasional use of a food diary. It is important to check food quantities as well as quality on occasion. It’s amazing how portions can slowly grow, while unhealthy food is consumed more and more.
  • A conscious choice to eat a wide variety of healthy food. Sometimes people will say, “I can’t eat carbs.” So, they won’t eat something healthy, like fruit. I ask them, “how many people have you seen become obese by eating too many apples or too much watermelon?” A good piece of advice that I’ve seen in many places is to eat the rainbow. I love rainbows! And I love eating a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetable.
  • Cutting back on unhealthy, processed, calorie dense food. If I were to stray into fad diet territory I would do it here and say, just cut this crap out entirely. But this is not realistic. So if you have a favorite processed something my advice is to make it a very special treat and only eat it occasionally. Go back to the previous point…if you’re hungry eating an apple and natural peanut butter will be more filling and better for you than say, a bag of Doritos or a cookie. Something I discovered is that when all the processed sugar is gone, real fruit tastes wonderful. Try it!
  • Eating enough. If you are constantly hungry, you won’t succeed…and you will easily overeat when crappy food is place before you.
  • Last, think of it as a life style and enjoy yourself, which means don’t deprive yourself as social events.

Slow is ok
I discovered these tips while very slowly losing 80+ pounds. If you can focus on the journey and enjoy what you are doing each day, you’ll be able to look back at your success. I probably lost about 30 pounds a year, over a few years. Now that I’m trying to tackle those last pounds I need to remind myself of my own tips!

How Was the 4 Week Focus?
After 4 weeks of my renewed focus I lost 5.6 pounds. As I reported last week my other gauge of % body fat is off in that my scale now thinks I’m a bit dehydrated (which I’m not), so it had an increase in this number…but I don’t believe it and will write on that later. And, I had at least one day (sometimes 2) each week of social eating and drinking.

Now the intensive focus will end, but I will continue to eat healthy…because that is what I do. As my training miles increase, I will increase carbs in my diet. When I feel that maybe I’m out of control, I’ll use the food diary…because it is a helpful tool for the occasional check. I’ll report back periodically.

Last, if you are looking for some good advice I recommend a couple books by Matt Fitzgerald, Racing Weight and The Endurance Diet. I read these recently (after losing my 80 pounds) and was pleased to read that I had done mostly what he recommended. They are great resources.

You can read the previous entries on this series here:  Racing Weight – Getting ThereOOPS – Racing Weight, Week 1Ummm – Racing Weight Week 2Really?!?! Racing Weight Week 3

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A few years ago…