It’s been a bad month for some of the weight loss bloggers I read. I won’t link to them or mention them by name as I’d never intentionally embarrass a fellow recovering super-obese person, but I’ve read accounts of binges, self-deprecation, fear and shame and deceit…. the works, in other words. And and what is the cause of this range of behaviors?
Its a horrible experience. I know. I’ve been through it. And I’m living it now.
For the benefit of people going through this weighty struggle, and for those readers who don’t have a weight problem, I can explain briefly how the regain cycle works. Details of course vary from individual to individual, but the basic outline seems consistent. So here is my hypothetical:
First, the super-obese person – let’s call him Gilbert, for no particular reason – begins his weight loss. His energy level soars, and so does his enthusiasm. His learned helplessness, a trait in many of the bigger folk, melts with the fat. He takes up new hobbies, practices, exercises. Gilbert eats better foods and wears smaller clothes. Compliments pour in from everyone, and although Gilbert is more used to kicks than kindness, he gets used to receiving praise. Other people ask how he did it. Everything seems great as he approaches goal. Or even surpasses his goal.
But then comes the hard part. Its not that difficult for a super-obese person to lose weight. When you are nearly 500 pounds, what’s a dozen or so? The problem arises when you get close to goal, or reach goal and start maintaining. Popular thinking is that the lifestyle change the super-obese person imdergoes is a “diet” and a short-term means to an end. Once you reach goal, you’ve reached the finish line according to too many people.
And so this is what our hypothetical fat guy thought, even as he denied he did. After all, he struggled and worked to reach this end, and its a lot harder to lose the last dozen pounds than it is to lose the first dozen. And once he reached goal, Gilbert discovered that he still had work to do. Meanwhile the cheering stopped as his section packed up and left.
About now Gilbert discovers that, despite the weight loss and his newfound activities and appearance, the world hasn’t changed as much as he has. He will still have car trouble, problems at work, bills to pay and people who are difficult. Relationships aren’t always easier, but there may be more of them. Weight loss doesn’t solve all your problems, it merely brings you face to face with them while depriving you of the drug you’ve known.
And then, something happens. It can be as dramatic as a binge or as simple as a couple of days of bad eating because of work travel. In this case, Gilbert felt heavy one morning and as he put on a shirt noticed it didn’t fit him right. He ran to the scale and noticed the number was a little higher than it should have been.
Perhaps the first time Gilbert notices he’s put a couple of pounds back on he takes action. Perhaps the first ten times. Perhaps for the rest of his life. Many people do maintain goal weight. But this post isn’t about them, its about those of us who don’t.
Gilbert gets upset about his recovered heaviness, and begins to ignore it. A man of 500 pounds overlooks a lot about the super obese lifestyle, and so going up a clothing size or cutting down on activities is second nature to him. And so he quietly does just that. His energy level drops, and he finds less joy in life. And as his enthusiasm flags, there’s no cheering section.
Inside, he feels like a failure and a fraud. And especially a fraud if he’s publicized his weight loss in some way. Such as, ahem, a blog. Having once had the habit of medicating emotional pain through food, its not hard to guess what Gilbert turns to….and what the predictable result is.
Like our hypothetical friend Gilbert I too fell into this trap. I had been warned long ago that maintaining feels like failure when its really success. But I didn’t fully address the challenges I had when I reached my goal weight. Admittedly I had help regaining weight from my failing knees. Still, I can’t pin all the blame on my defective joints, and they were bad when I lost the weight too. And while my recovery from knee replacement took a lot longer than I anticipated, I’m back to myself now.
Fortunately there are ways to break this cycle of regain. Self esteem and self confidence are important. Escaping from super obesity is about loving yourself, and seeing yourself as a person who has value. Working through whatever triggered you to drug yourself with food has to be addressed. Taking care of these struggles can be painful, but once you’ve got a handle on them, you have a handle on your weight too. Which is just what I’m working on. I hope my friends likewise struggling have equal success.