Sometimes I wonder if we would be better off in the world of weight loss if the diet companies, the magazines, the TV shows, and so on…all stopped telling us how easy dropping pounds can be if you do x, y, and z, and instead- they told us how hard it will be.
Because here is weight loss in a nutshell:
A. Eat less.
Find a calorie range for you that you can eat daily that 1.) Does not make you want to die, and 2.) Allows for a reasonable energy deficit (meaning, you will consume moderately less than you are burning just by living and exercising.) Find out how much your body burns in its normal everyday state without effort (google: BMR and punch in your stats for this number) then consider eating 250 calories less than that per day. If you also try to burn an additional 250 calories through exercise each day, you will be eating at a deficit of 500 calories daily- this kind of deficit leads to 1 pound of weight loss in a week’s time (1lb= 3500 calories, so 7 days of burning 500 calories creates 1lb of loss).
B. Move more.
Which essentially means: move more. By move I mean move, in any way your body likes. And by more, I mean more, as in- more than you currently do.
This, friends, is straightforward. Tried and true.
But when I browse magazines and bookshelves at Barnes and Noble, I naturally find myself drawn to the health sections. There, I see headings with words like easy, simple, and fast. Three words which weight loss will never be. I see meals plans that promise ‘no deprivation,’ ‘still indulge!,’ and ‘never feel hungry.’ I see promises and assurances about losing weight that only make me, someone who has lost half of herself, think:
It’s honestly none of those things. It’s never easy, simple, or fast. Deprivation, that resentful feeling of not being able to indulge, and hunger pangs- they exist. Not always, but yes, sometimes.
I’ll speak personally so that I don’t make too many assumptions about others’ weight loss journeys. When I began losing weight, I was motivated by fear- fear that I’d just continue to get bigger and bigger until I reached a place where bigger eclipsed biggest- a place I was sure I didn’t want to see. I felt I had no choice but to start losing. I also felt motivated to change my life for all of the beautiful joys of thinness that I was sure would come when the weight left me. For the good and bad, I was at least motivated.
At first, I was enthusiastic. Like anything that challenges me, I wanted badly to win. To win at weight loss as fiercely I might want to win at, say, everything.*
*Obsessive compulsive for the win.
My teeth gritted. I narrowed my eyes toward some self-determined finish line, and I just took off in a mad dash without considering whether or not I’d run out of fuel halfway or whether the finish line was even as close as it appeared. I am near-sighted, after all. And thankfully, the first leg of the journey involved weeks of losing double digits in pounds since I’d been so big to start. This time was a-word-similar-to-fun-but-not-actually-enjoyable;-More-like-meh,-ok.I felt energetic and inspired. Newness will do that to me.
But then, after I’d been at it for a while, I started to slow. In progress, in patience. The vigilance, the exercise- they wore on me. Newness evaporated like the morning fog and I began to feel bored with the whole process. I shuddered when reality reminded me , “Um, well gosh, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but… you’re going to have to keep at this for another eight months. Give or take forever.”
It felt as though I’d been bowling on bumper lanes for a month- knocking pins down, considering myself a boss at the whole game- when all of a sudden the bumpers retreated and I was left with the real deal- hard grooved gutters and all. This isn’t nearly as fun, I’d think. I’m not knocking ‘em down like I did before.
What happened next, just after I silently called myself a quitter, a loser, all manner of bad names, was a simple enough thought:
Oh, it’s just going to suck for a while.
Just that. A heady dose of reality.
It was a revelation. Because for once, I realized that weight loss wouldn’t be like taking up running as a new hobby, and it certainly wouldn’t come with a map or course directions. It would be like a marathon, where miles 10-20 just purely, uncompromisingly
Once I said this to myself, much of the journey seemed clearer. I recognized the distance, the real strength that I’d have to maintain. I recognized that I probably wouldn’t like it. But I knew, as we tend to with arduous journeys, that it would end well.
Now, it’s worth recognizing that weight loss did not (for me) and does not (for you) mean only salads and steamed vegetables and boiled chicken. My own process and the one I embrace here involves treats and moderation and mindfully eating brownies. It wasn’t hell that I walked through to get to thinness. There were joyous moments of feeling incredible physically. There was tremendous pride and confidence. Small goals met and marveled at.
The good news is that there are ways to lose weight and not feel hungry- hopefully we all find this to be our way; there are ways to lose weight where you have a small dessert each night; there are ways to lose weight where you’re not sweating on a treadmill like you’re in the desert sun. There absolutely exists a path to a happy weight that doesn’t feel dark and scary and cold. There are, there were, ways.
But there were times, dozens upon dozens, when I wanted a box of glazed donuts. When I wanted to sit in my bed and eat and eat and eat to my favorite TV shows. When I wanted to attempt eating a whole cake, whether or not my stomach wanted to do it with me. When I didn’t want anything to do with willpower or her cousin moderation. When I didn’t want one scoop of ice cream when I knew Ben & Jerry offered pints.
There’s just no denying the hard parts. The 4:30pms when you’re midway between lunch and dinner and no amount of fruit will ever satisfy like a cupcake. The mornings when you’re setting the pace on the treadmill and your legs feel leaden, your whole body a heavy mess. The look of your now-empty dinner plate and the wanting of another full one to replace it. The times just before bed when you can’t sleep because your mind is running the aisles of a supermarket grabbing Oreos and Lucky Charms in a fever. The times in the coffee shop that you smell a just-baked blueberry muffin and you sigh realizing, unfortunately, that you can’t eat three, hot, with butter. The times when sheet cake is splayed in front of you and you know that ‘just a sliver’won’t cut it.
These are the trying times. These are the minutes, the hours, when you need to brace yourself and just ride it out. They are the ones that make up your character. Because, really- how you act when times are just peachy is nothing compared to how you act when times are rotten. The peachy times don’t say as much, anyway, about your strength or your determination. These moments where you feel your weakest, when you’re absolutely certain that you’d rather give up than keep going- they’re going to come.
Not every day will breeze by. Not every day will your hunger and fullness remain the same. Not every day will something stress you out so much that you want fudge to fix it.
But there will be those times. And I find it helpful to know this. I find it helpful to know the risks, the challenges that might come up along the way. Because then, I’ll know to steel my resolve. I’ll know that we all fight through them. That it’s just part of the journey.
Perhaps if all who wrote about health and weight loss acknowledged that it would be hard as hell, we’d have a more realistic approach. We wouldn’t sprint out of the gate because we’d not want to run out of steam midway. We wouldn’t get used to starving ourselves on 800 calories a day because we’d know it couldn’t last. We wouldn’t swear off food groups because we’d realize that life feels less full when we take things away.
I wonder if we went into the journey knowing the side effects, the hardships and hurdles- if we wouldn’t feel a bit more prepared. More apprehensive, maybe, but prepared. I wonder if we’d be kinder to ourselves and others, knowing that it’s difficult, it’s long, and it can feel unforgiving. I wonder if we’d respect small triumphs- whatever they may be- knowing that they don’t come along every week, every month. I wonder if we’d be able to make good choices now, knowing that it could be harder or impossible to make them later and maybe we just have to do the best we can, while we can. I wonder if we’d feel less overwhelmed by the nagging desire to quit trying, knowing that motivation comes and goes like the tide.
The point of my recognizing the difficulty, is that it makes us wiser going into it and wiser coming out of it. And it makes us human. Normal, whatever that is.
Magazines, celebrities, all the outlets that tell us how easy it can be- they empower us, but they also make us feel alone, ashamed when it doesn’t end up feeling easy the whole way through. Weight loss plans that promise to be leave you feeling full and never deprived don’t account for the Saturday night dinner dates with your friends who just love to order three fried appetizers before entrees and dessert.
If it were ever easy, we’d be there by now. We wouldn’t start and stop and start again. We’d be content and living on easy street.
I’d liken it to this: If you decide to have a baby and no one tells you that yes, parenthood- while a life-altering miracle- is trying at times, then when you get to those moments where you feel drained and down, you’ll not know what to make of yourself for having those feelings. Am I a bad parent? Am I cut out for this? Am I doing this all wrong?
If there was no struggle, no strain, we wouldn’t feel so accomplished at the end. We couldn’t be so proud. It’d feel less special. So there’s merit to pointing out the hard parts. Weight loss will come with equal parts struggle and strength. And each will change along the way. You’ll know that it doesn’t stay hard forever. You’ll also know to buckle down when those hard parts come, sure that relief always follows. You’ll know that I felt it too, and that it gets better.