Check out the new number – I’ve lost 3.5lbs this week! In the end I couldn’t bring myself to raise my calories significantly so I compromised by having a couple of higher calorie days followed by a couple of lower calorie days, and it appears to have jolted me off my plateau. Now I just hope I’m not stuck on 12 stones 5.5lbs for the next 9 weeks…
I’m trying to see this set-back as a positive learning experience, because it’s taught me a lot about patience and taking a long term view. In previous weight loss attempts, a 9 week plateau would have derailed me completely and sent me diving into the Haagen Dazs. Now I’m taking a much more chilled approach, and trying to just stay calm and focused even when nothing’s going to plan. I’m damn proud of myself for not having been discouraged by seeing the same numbers week in and week out. I can tell that my clothes are getting looser, and I know I’m doing everything I need to do to get to my goal, so I just need to have some faith in myself and the process, and not get spooked into doing anything rash and stupid.
A couple of the guys in my office are around 100lbs overweight, and they’ve been talking the talk about getting in shape for the whole year that I’ve worked here. Lately, though, they’ve been talking more and more about fast, drastic weight loss, the sort brought about by liquid diets or gastric bypass surgery. They want to be achieving the 12lb+ a week losses that the contestants post on shows such as The Biggest Loser, and they’re simply not interested in losing the 1-2lbs a week that sensible medical professionals say is they optimal rate of weight loss.
One guy in my team is in his mid-thirties, and is both diabetic and hypertensive. He weighs around 22 stones (308lbs). A couple of weeks ago he was all hyped up about doing a very-low-calorie-liquid-meal-replacement-diet, because another colleague had told him he could lose 10 stones in 4 months. Then he watched a TV show which featured a woman who lost 15 stones in a year after having a gastric band fitted, and now he’s decided to save up his cash for that operation instead of going down the meal replacement route.
This is a guy who by his own admittance has avoided any form of exercise since he left school. He drives to work, though he lives less than a 15 minute stroll away from the office. He sends colleagues out at lunchtime to buy his newspaper for him, so that he can avoid the five minute stroll to the on-site newsagent. He laughingly admits that he never lifts a finger at home to help his wife with chores or looking after the kids, and that every night his armchair is surrounded by mugs and plates that accumulate through the evening until his wife finally walks them into the kitchen at bedtime.
His wife makes him healthy lunches which he leaves untouched, and he eats crap from the vending machines instead. He seems to be almost wilfully blind to good nutritional principles. He’s never kept up a ‘diet’ for more than two consecutive days, and he has no interest in healthy living or good nutrition. He’s adamant that he doesn’t want to change any aspect of his lifestyle, but he wants the body of a fitter, healthier person. He has no will-power or motivation whatsoever, yet he sees surgery as an easy option (!) and thinks that the weight will drop effortlessly off him with no appreciable change in his behaviour, and stay off, transforming him into a fit and healthy person in the twinkling of an eye.
His reasoning is that a gastric band will miraculously suppress his appetite, so that he simply won’t feel like eating, and that this will negate the need for willpower or effort on his part. And he argues that through eating less he’ll lose weight, with no need for exercise or modified behaviour.
Call me sceptical, but I’m fundamentally suspicious of quick fixes, and I don’t think they deliver much by the way of long term results. Sustained weight loss depends on fixing the mind as much as it does fixing the body, and the mind-fix comes about through navigating through the whole process, not by taking a shortcut to the finish line.
Don’t misunderstand me - I’m not saying that weight loss surgery is an easy or ‘cheating’ option at all. On the contrary, I’m sure it’s much, much harder than regular dieting, and I’m always amazed when people see it as an easy option.
But I do think that any methodology that delivers astonishingly rapid weight loss in some way robs the recipient of something precious and vital, which I think of as the wisdom of the long distance dieter.
Long distance dieters have a world of experience under their (much tighter) belts by the time they even begins to approach goal, and that experience will be invaluable when it comes to negotiating successfully through the tricky terrain of maintenance.
They’ve learned how to cope with setbacks and disappointments, how to retrench after small gains, how to avoid being discouraged by the slow rate of the losses. They’ve learned through weeks, months and years of practise how to make the wisest food choices that they can make on that particular day and at that particular meal – which may be wiser choices on good days and less wise (or downright foolish) choices on bad days.
Long distance dieters have learned what combination of exercise regimens they can live with for the rest of their lives, and which activities they wouldn’t do unless their lives depended on it. They’ve given up pretending even to themselves that they’ll ever be Olympic athletes, but they’ve learned what works and what doesn’t and they’ve arranged their lives to accommodate that level of activity.
They’ve learned to curb their unreasonable expectations of attaining perfection, or of achieving a 5lbs a week losing average. They’ve learned to be tough on themselves when they need to be, and to cut themselves some slack when life is shitty. They’ve learned to take the rough with the smooth.
This experience – earned over months and years - is the foundation and cornerstone of keeping the weight off in the long run, and I suspect that if you lose your 100lbs or 150lbs or whatever in three months of lightning-speed losses, you don’t develop this foundation. For fast losers the wisdom isn’t as deep rooted as it is for those people who have chipped away at their losses for months and years, and who have a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw on in the years ahead.
These are just my thoughts on the whole fast-vs-slow debate, and maybe I’m just trying to denigrate the experience of the fast losers to justify my own snail-like progress. After all, on some level I’m decidedly envious of those people whose weight drops like a stone.
But I’m confident that for me the slow-and-steady approach is the right choice. I’ve undergone fundamental changes in the past 11 months, and I’m beginning to really believe that I’ve turned a corner and will never revert back to the worst of my old bad habits. I’m not saying I’m ‘cured’, or that I won’t ever make poor choices or have setbacks, but there are some things I simply can’t conceive of ever eating ever again, simply because they’ve lost all appeal and temptation for me.
I suspect that if I’d reached my goal in just 3 months, I wouldn’t have changed so deeply and so permanently, and so I’d be less confident of my ability to maintain my weight loss over the long haul.
Will some kind soul please remind me of this when I’m stuck on the next plateau and screaming with frustration…