Mild Content Warning: This post is about weight and weight loss, and food, eating and body image as it pertains to such.
The other day i met a personal goal that’s been 15yrs coming. In the early aughts i had weight loss surgery and went from 465lbs (losing 100lbs on my own to qualify for surgery) to 155lbs. Unfortunately, i quickly spiralled into years of bipolar mania. Between practising addictive behaviours and trying to find medications that worked, i managed to regain over 100lbs.
I’ve been struggling ever since to take it off again, consistently yoyoing the same 20-40lbs. In 2015 i was back up around 250-60lbs and in another mania, when i broke my leg in 3 places. Once the surgery was over and the smoke had cleared, i was ready to pay more attention to my weight and get down to the size i wanted. I made a decision to adopt a better eating and more active lifestyle.
If you could look back at my pictures over the last 5 years, it might not appear as if much has changed. To be fair, being Amazon-sized means i can carry a lot of weight without anyone knowing how much. Plus, being pear-shaped means i don’t show the extra weight if you only see me from the waist up. I wasn’t much into showing any pics of my legs for a long time.
Weight, food, eating, exercising, body image, and all its itinerant baggage, are incredibly complicated and personal issues. I’ve been asked a number of times how i’m doing what i’m doing, and i’m going to tell you. I’m going to tell you NOT because you should do it the way i have, but to see that it’s possible to do in a healthy and sustainable way. You’ll have your own ways of eating and moving that work effectively. What follows is very general stuff; there’s no step-by-step here. There is simply no one-size-fits-all weight loss plan.
First thing i did is stop “dieting,” per se. I know how to pick up a diet and use it to quickly drop weight, but that doesn’t work for me long term. One, losing weight fast can trigger a mania, and 2, once i stop using the diet i’ve regained the weight. That might well throw me into a depression (3). Once i decided i wanted to change the way i lived, i wasn’t in so much of a rush. I’ve been struggling with food and weight most of my life, so i’ve amassed a fair bit of information over the years. I also know a great deal when it comes to who i am and how i function. And i have years of experience handling mental illness and knowing how neuroatypicality affects my life and informs my lifestyle. From all that i was able to start making significant changes, striving for better health and more happiness.
It’s proven relatively simple, but it’s taken a long-ass time. I make one small change to how i eat, and then i do it until it’s a part of my life that i don’t even think about anymore. For instance, i’ve stopped eating after 8pm. I grew up eating in front of the television, and i learned early on in my dieting history that i could consume thousands of calories without even realising it. I wasn’t paying attention to eating – i was watching my shows. I’d sit down with a full bag or bowl of something, and at some point i’d hit bottom and be surprised. I wouldn’t remember the experience of eating all that food and i’d feel cheated out of the enjoyment. All too often it caused me to head back into the kitchen for more.
I still regularly eat in front of the television or computer, as it’s part of our family’s lifestyle, but i don’t eat after supper. I try to eat at 6, 12, and 6, but because my husband often works late i can push supper to 8pm. If i really want something after that, i’ve discovered the joy of Smart Pop popcorn, and i’ll happily scarf that down while slugging back a diet soda. I don’t drink a lot of soda, but that’s only because i have a very small, surgically altered stomach pouch. I don’t ascribe to the belief that artificially sweetened sodas are bad. I’m a calories in/calories out kinda girl. Something sweet and satisfying with zero calories? Sign me up!
I also unabashedly use every single mental dieting trick that works for me. I use small dishes so it looks like i have more to eat. And if i’m not hungry enough to eat a boring old apple, i’m not that hungry and can wait. I also won’t eat when i’m hangry – you know, so hungry you’re mad about it? I’ll either wait 20mins, or have that boring old apple and wait 20mins. Some of what i do is because of the surgery. For instance, i don’t fill myself up with water so i eat less. My stoma is small, so that’s not helpful. I only take a couple of sips of liquid while eating if necessary.
One of the final keys to changing how i eat came after reading a book called Lose It Right, by James Fell. He writes at length about satiety, and how the processed and prepared foods we eat today are low satiety, yet packed with as much salt, sugar, and fat as the producer can get in there. It’s all designed to get us to eat (buy) MORE. It resonated very strongly with me, and i changed some of my habits accordingly.
First though, a brief aside:
If my mental health becomes a bigger issue at any time, my focus immediately shifts in that direction. As much energy as it requires to manage, it gets. So, if i need to let go of some of the stricter aspects of how i’m eating, i do it. It doesn’t fill me with fear, or guilt, or even trouble me much any more. I’ll eat what i’m able to eat, when i’m able to eat it. During times like this my weight will plateau, or i might even gain a pound or 2. I know it will be okay, because these are lifestyle changes, not quick fixes. I’ll eventually get where i want to go. Rushing to get there and pushing myself to my limits is not good for how my brain works or my mood. Trying to do all the things when i have limited inner resources only risks me levelling up into superhero mode, or drains me so quickly i fall flat on my keister. I can go back to a more regimented way of eating when i have the time and resolve.
Back to the issue of high and low satiety foods.
What i realised was, as someone who loves to cook, tries new recipes 2 and 3X/wk, is subscribed to 20+ food and cooking channels on YouTube, and is addicted to Pinterest, i’ve picked up a lot of tips and suggestions on how to increase the taste and enjoyment of my food. Things like, cooking my pasta in broth instead of water, more butter on everything, and a secret pinch or 5 of sugar. I learned to do these things because, as someone who partakes of fast food and highly processed foods, i began to expect that much flavour in my cooking at home.
Zhuzhing my food was racking up my daily caloric intake – substantially. But i’d caught myself in a trap because the food i was making didn’t seem as palatable anymore without the extras. Even after i cut back on most of the unnecessary additions, i still faced times when i was eating calorie dense, low satiety foods due to needing to be more focused on my mental health. So, i found a thing to do that, when i’m ready and able, i can get “back on track” with the way i want to be eating. I go on a bland diet for a while. I still eat tasty foods, but i eat basically the same thing for a week or 2. It cleanses my palate in a way, and lowers my expectations for how the food should taste when i return to eating my regular wide variety of foods. It also makes the less zhuzhed stuff taste better, just because i’m happy not to be eating the same thing every day. I pick one or 2 proteins, usually fish, and tofu or yogourt (i make my own), cauliflower, and i make a big batch of homemade vegetable soup. I pick cauliflower because, thanks to the keto craze, i can buy it readily fresh, frozen, or already “riced” for me. My soup has lots of leafy greens and a few starchy veg. Water not broth. As much sodium as i want. It’s low carb yes, but i’m not a keto person. Carbs happen in my life; there’s fruit in my homemade yogourt, and i will eat that apple when i’m hangry.
Once i feel the resolve and the focus settle in, i slowly reintroduce other foods, still eating at a caloric deficit with weight loss in mind. I lose weight very slowly. If i’ve had to cut down or cut out my exercise routine, i start back at that too – starting slow, and carefully building back up to where i was. I’ve yo-yoed those initial 20-40lbs for many years now. Until about 2yrs ago that is, when i finally arrived at 50lbs lost. At last i’d gotten past that difficult zone, and it was the knowledge that came from the Fell book, from talking with registered dietitians, and from understanding myself well enough to know what probably would and wouldn’t work for me. Armed with that, plus my far more relaxed approach to how much time it would take to reach my ultimate weight loss goals, i find myself at a place where i only have around 30lbs left to go.
It’s taken me 2yrs to get these last 20lbs off and get to this milestone. And the goal wasn’t even a number. I’ve stated this many times, but it will always bear repeating – i cannot weigh myself (my doctor knows the numbers, for the sake of my health). It’s a massive trigger for my bipolar issues, so i use clothes as a good gauge, as well as a lot of looking at myself in the mirror. Looking in mirrors is a triggery area too, as my tendency is to dissociate when i look into my own eyes, but these last couple of years have been spent working hard on NOT dissociating, so it’s excellent practise. I haven’t pushed to lose the weight. Most of the focus has been on my mental health, but i kept making little tweaks here and there when i was able. My approach shifted from trying to win, to determined to finish. I dropped the frenetic and speedy, (falsely)confident facade of the Hare, and adopted a more Tortoise like attitude, like, I’m gonna just do me and keep on truckin’ until i get there. Lo and behold! just like in the old child’s morality tale, the low key approach has gotten me to my goal. That objective was to fit into a certain pair of pants that are very cute and looked impossibly tiny to me when i’d regained around a third of what i’d initially lost on my WLS journey.
And i look very cute in them, i must say.
Another important aside here (this one’s not so brief):
This post is intended as a light response to questions about how i’ve accomplished long term weight loss and the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. The reason why i’ve struggled with food and weight for the entirety of my life is due to a childhood filled with abuse and neglect. It’s heavier in tone than i want for this piece. However, i would be remiss if i didn’t mention another reason that i make these changes slowly. As a person who has endured sexual abuse, my self-image as a person, a female, and a sexual being were all twisted from early on. Food was weaponised against me, used to control and groom and reward me. Sex, sexuality, food, eating, and body image all got jumbled up together. It mutated and fused into this lumpy mass that made me sick and small inside and oh so tired.
I became morbidly obese for many reasons: starvation, lack of education, poor modelling, unhealthy habits, and my unmet need for comfort and connection. I also packed on the pounds because i needed protection – i needed to put something between me and what was being done to me. And later, once the worst of it was over, i kept the wall up because i never wanted it to happen again. The fat on my body was a manifestation of everything wrong in my life and all my attempts to fix it. It was padding to absorb life’s blows. It made me bigger on the outside when inside i felt small and powerless. All the weight i lost after surgery pulled down my unconsciously built fat fence, and everything that i had been eating to keep inside, came flooding out. I felt incredibly vulnerable, and i was frightened every waking moment. When some of that weight came back on, it wasn’t all bad. One good thing that came from it was i felt safer and less vulnerable.
Knowing that, i knew why i’d freak out every time the pounds started coming off again. Being noticed, receiving attention, some of that of a sexual nature, all triggered fear, and the need for protection. It scared me to be getting smaller. It scared me to be the focus of the male gaze. I must be conscious and mindful of this happening, and i need to hold my own hand through the process. I need to acknowledge those feelings and allow myself to feel them, and tell myself –often right out loud– that it’s okay. I’m not being hurt anymore, it’s not happening, and i’m safe. I also tell myself that if something terrible were to happen, that i would handle it. I would do whatever i had to do to get through it. I am capable and i have tons of tools and heaps of coping skills, and i would survive.
So yeah, i lose a few pounds, get really freaked out about it, sit for a while with the new, smaller body size, calm down, and then lose a few more. It’s another very important reason i do all of this slowly. It’s being kind and gentle to me. I treat myself with respect for surviving the hell i did, and i honour my process. It gets to take as long as it takes, for me to lay down the fear and pain of long ago and embrace living fully present in the here and now.
I’m proud of how far i’ve come, and i’m not in an all-fired rush to get the rest of it off. I know that’s not good for my brain, and i believe that i will eventually get where i want to go. No mad dash for the finish line for this girl. I’m just happy to be plodding along, having faith in myself and confidence in my abilities. I will continue to push myself a little or make myself slow down, where and when i see fit. It’s not the end that i’m seeing in my sites, but there is a nice ribbon stretched across the line. There’s balloons bobbing about on a perfect afternoon, and cartoon birds and mice who will cheer and sing songs in little chipmunky voices.
There will also be cake. LOTS of cake.
* Slow and steady wins the race, amirite?!