Saturday, September 11, 2010

Weight Maintenance: A Second Chance For Vigilance

As you know from my last blog (see “Mathilda”), our dog Mathilda woke up lame in her hind legs on Wednesday. After our vet treated her conservatively (because of her age…she’s 10) with large doses of steroids, we took her home from the animal hospital on Friday. She’s still a little wobbly, but she can walk short distances fairly well and can go down the front stairs with a little help from us supporting her with a beach towel around her middle.

(Mathilda enjoying her nightly treat last night.)

I feel like I've been given a second chance to appreciate Mathilda. While it’s never easy to put a pet down, I wasn’t “ready” to do it right now. Not that I’ll ever be ready, but at least I’ll have more peace with it when it comes because I was given a second chance.

Second chances don’t come around every day, and often when we’re offered one, we don’t recognize it as such. We take so much for granted, or we allow things to happen to us without fighting back – a sort of “Oh well” approach to life – which leaves us blind to those second-chance opportunities.

Since reaching my goal weight in 2007, I recognized this time (because I’d been to “goal” before) as a second (or more accurately, a tenth) chance to figure out the right way to maintain my weight and appreciate my body unlike I’d done before. But just how does one maintain? What are the emotional mechanics involved? Lori at Finding Radiance (she’s maintaining a 100-pound weight loss) got me thinking about this in her blog last week about our impulse to eat (see “Deep Thoughts On Will Power”).

Here's a portion of what she wrote (the emphasis is mine): “There are still those days where I feel driven to eat – absolutely driven, even if I am not hungry. It’s not really emotional, either. The thoughts pop up while I am working, or watching TV, or while biking. That’s just not what genetically ‘normal weight’ people are like. It takes an enormous amount of control to not chow my way through a box of cereal or use a spoon in the nut butter jar. Sometimes I give in. I wonder why is it that I have control over this impulse (at least for now) that not a lot of people have. And how long will I have it? Will it just get to be too tiring after a while, like it does for the majority of people who lose weight? The vigilance can really be tiring at times as it is 24/7/365.”

There are a LOT of great responses on her post, so I urge you to read it in its entirety. But what about those questions: Why is it some people who are losing weight or in maintenance have control over that eating impulse and some do not? Is vigilance the key (and if so, what else is involved)? Or does vigilance stand in the way and get tiring after awhile?

As I commented on Lori’s blog, what makes one person more likely to maintain than another is like pondering the beginnings of the universe. There are so many possibilities, and the combination of success-inducing factors for each individual is endless.

In my case, I didn’t keep weight off in the past because I hadn’t learned or accepted that the way I eat during and after losing weight MUST be different than before, and it must stay that way forever and ever. I credit stubbornness and my teenager-like positive response to reverse psychology for being able to maintain. If you tell me that 95 percent of people who lose weight will gain it back, therefore I probably will, too, I’ll tell you, “No way. Not me.”

It’s a quasi-obsession, and not such a bad one to have as long as I stay mindful of what is realistically possible – for instance, maintaining around 130 rather than 125, and being open to changes in my body that might take my weight a little higher due to circumstances beyond my control.

I am also convinced that at some point, the kind of vigilance to my food environment and impulses that I’ve adopted will become second nature, like knowing intuitively that in order to walk I must put one foot in front of the other.

I know this tide of change is well under way because of how I responded to food after my knee surgery in June. I was sad and frustrated many times (still am on occasion) and could have chosen to comfort myself with all my old favorites, but that didn’t occur to me. I just kept on eating the way I always had, adding a few more calories when I was hungry (healing from an injury, I’m convinced, revved up my metabolism).

Sometimes those extra calories came from adding a whole egg to my otherwise egg-white omelet or throwing a tablespoon of mini chocolate chips into a dish of fat-free strawberry ice cream. A far cry from dollops of butter on a half a loaf of French bread or a chocolate chip cookie and a not non-fat latte from Starbucks, as per the other times I’d made “goal” because I felt that somehow I was “safe” to eat whatever I wanted.

Recovering from this surgery, I didn’t stray from my normal food plan, partly because my stomach simply can’t handle the calorie load anymore, but mostly because I never want to feel that kind of fullness that I experienced after third helpings of dinner when I was 300 pounds. This time, there was no reaching for Tums or regrets the next morning over any of my choices the day before. Thanks to this vigilance-turned-second-nature, the scale has held steady and my clothes still fit.

Now I find comfort not so much in the food but in my food plan. It’s like the towel we wrap around Mathilda’s hind quarters to support her when she goes down stairs.

Can everyone who loses weight adopt this kind of vigilance? I really don’t know. Everyone’s physical and psychological makeup is different. Stubbornness isn’t something you learn and obsession isn’t something everyone sees as a positive attribute. Succeeding in maintenance requires each of us to find our own way to that second nature. But we won’t get there without first seeing it as the second chance that it is.

11 comments:

  1. It is vigilance. I think that is why most people fail to keep it off. If vigilance came in a pill form, then there would be more success, but when it falls completely on the shoulders of the individual for the rest of their lives, sometimes that can feel like Sysiphus, you know?

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  2. I agree with Lori it is vigilance. I have write down everything I eat, count every point. This I do every day. No one can do this for me or hold my hand. This is completely on my shoulders and it is a heavy load to carry some times..

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  3. Great post. For me, keeping the weight off is vigilance, forgiveness, letting go of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, acceptance, and embracing change. The difference for me now is that I welcome change and learning lessons, whereas before I always did the "be perfect-fail-get depressed-eat" cycle...over and over and over again. I love my new life too much to ever go back, although I'm not "perfect."

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  4. And, I hope that reading and learning and trying to understand these things will help me succeed. Thank you for writing these thoughts out.

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  5. Oh I love this! Vigilance IS what it takes, and it's all up to us...no one else will be as determined as we are to make the good choices, day after day.

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  6. I have lost and gained so many times that I think I have developed a defense mechanism that keeps me from losing again, and thus protects me from the devastation of a regain--again. I'm not sure that what I just wrote will make sense to everyone. I am trying to work through this mental block, so I have quit blogging--at least for a while. I appreciate reading your blog (and the blogs of other maintainers), because it shows me the way to long-lasting maintenance. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. I so agree with your approach. That what you did to LOSE it, is what you do to MAINTAIN it. Simple... not easy, but simple. Now what it takes to DO that?? Yikes, I'm not there yet, so I'm not qualified to answer that.

    But being a rather opinionated, hard head and stubborn sort myself, your post gave me hope that I'll be a good maintainer! :-)

    And I'm so glad you have been given more time with your dear Matilda!

    Loretta
    =^..^=

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  8. So glad Matilda's doing better. She's in your life for a reason. How wonderful.

    Good sentiment, about second chances. Read my post from today. I feel like I have another chance too.

    I'm hoping!

    Vee at http://veegettinghealthy.blogspot.com

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  9. I'm SO glad to hear about Matilda! And such a good post too, Lynn. Vigilance, yes, but also the developing of new habits to replace the old ones. I do think the new ways of being and eating etc. will become habits after a long time of practicing them. Or second nature, as you called it.

    Also wanted to respond to Jane's comment "I have developed a defense mechanism that keeps me from losing again, and thus protects me from the devastation of a regain--again."--just wanted to say that yes, Jane, I can relate to that. I had that going for a good 20 years. Keep working at it, and find a support system, and it will happen.

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  10. I like the idea of vigilance.

    I find myself up on the scale right now, and there was a moment or two that I thought, what the hell here it comes. However I don't want to go back there. So, I'm nipping it in the bud and giving myself a second chance. thanks for reminding me that it's worth it.

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  11. Thank you for this post.Your point totally piggy-backs the thoughts floating around my head this morning. It's giving me food for thought....

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