As many of you know, I have a lot of experience trying to lose weight. I’ve tried every fad diet imaginable. I’ve failed to lose weight on Slim Fast, Weight Watchers, calorie counting, low-fat, low-carb, South Beach, paleo, and the Perfect Health Diet. I’ve binged after starving myself, and I’ve failed at “intuitive eating.”
I overate when I was stressed, and I overate when I was happy. I’ve overeaten after skipping meals to make up for a binge the day before. I’ve overeaten and made numerous trips to Goodwill to buy larger clothes. I’ve looked in the mirror and hated what I’ve seen, which contributed to my not joining a gym the first 6 months we lived here. I rung in the new year weighing 6 pounds less than my full-term pregnancy weight.
So when I made a New Year’s Resolution to lose 35 pounds, I knew I had to do something different. All of my efforts at using willpower and muscling myself had failed, so I needed to move beyond the “tough self-love” mentality. And I would have to invent a program myself, because there is nothing out there that takes this approach.
What is out there? After my friend, Lois, referred to an “expert” recommending punishing yourself by eating a can of dog food, if you don’t stick to your diet, I did some research. Sadly, I found that punishment is strongly recommended by the diet gurus. Here is an example of the thinking behind the “willpower and discipline” approach.
Of course, this self-hate based mentality has had a backlash. Many people advocate loving your body as it is, and not worrying about diet and exercise. The Healthy at Any Size movement does make some excellent points.
By now, you’ve probably figured out that I disagree with both of these approaches. First off, why would willpower ever be necessary? Just using muscle ignores the reasons that I have for overeating. And self-hatred and beating up on yourself triggers the fight-or-flight response, which drowns your brain in stress hormones. And guess what those stress hormones do? Yup, they make you want to eat more. Here is an article about stress and weight gain.
But I also wasn’t ready to just eat whatever I wanted. I know there are health risks involved with being overweight. Heart disease and diabetes run in my family, and I do know that my blood sugar already runs high when I don’t stay on top of it. I know that my energy level is lower when I am overweight, and I experience a lot more muscle and joint soreness when I am carrying extra weight. Loving my body as it is means that giving it the care it needs to return to health.
So, based on that premise, I have invented my own diet plan, which I will share with you now. It’s a completely different approach, based on self-love and understanding. Of course, I am not a registered nutritionist or doctor, and this is not meant as a substitute for medical advice from one of these professionals.
My weight-loss approach is based on the following ideas:
1. Weight gain is a symptom and not the cause. Being at an unhealthy weight is not natural for my body. It is a sign that things are out of balance. In my case, it is likely the result of years of being bathed in stress hormones.
2. For that reason, my focus is healing rather than punishment. Rather than just cutting calories and watching the numbers on the scale, I am focusing on healing my body from those years of stress. And so I eat a nutrient-rich diet full of protein, fruits, and vegetables. My focus is on loving and restoring. I make sure I eat enough calories, and I determined the amount I need using numerous calorie calculators found on Google.
3. I treat exercise like physical therapy. I did a great job sticking with an exercise regimen when I went to PT for a shoulder injury. And that was because the focus of my routine was healing, not punishment. I took it easy when I experienced pain, I rested when I needed to, and I measured progress in months, not days. I am taking the same approach at the gym. I am no longer ashamed of modifying when I need to, taking short rests, and really listening to my body. With this approach, motivation has followed–I am easily able to go 6 days a week.
4. I eat for my mind. Eating a high-protein diet with some healthy carbs and lots of water helps to stabilize my mind. And when my mind is calm, I overeat less. I make sure that my protein amounts are in the double-digits everytime I eat–and that means breakfast, one or two snacks, lunch, dinner, and possibly a bedtime snack. I only drink coffee in the morning, then switch to chamomile tea if I need a warm beverage, and I consume very little alcohol. Listen to your body and mind, and feed them what they need.
5. I focus inwardly when I want to overeat. There is a reason I’m wanting that snack, so I’m curious with my mind about it. What need is unfulfilled, that I am trying to meet with that candy bar? This is a time when I am gently curious with my mind, and compassionate.
6. I use relaxation strategies. Yoga is a major part of my workout routine, as well as mini-breaks throughout the day. Keeping the body calm helps prevent stress hormones from being released.
7. I avoid all approaches based on rewards and punishments. This is difficult, because it is so ingrained in our culture. I am not using “accountability” as a strategy, for example. Having someone else tell me to keep going, is just enlisting help to muscle myself. I used to participate in the “Greatest Loser Challenge” at work, but I can see how this was just a way of muscling and punishing myself.
So this is my strategy, which I have implemented for one week so far. And the results? I will eventually stop weighing in, because weight is no longer my focus. But for now, the scale is a useful tool, because I will naturally lose weight if I am truly healing. If I gain weight, that means I am not meeting my body’s needs for healing in some fashion. And so far that is not the case, as I have already lost 3 pounds.