Monday, January 9, 2012

What's your secret?

If you've recently paused and looked around at the magazine covers in the checkout aisle at the grocery store, you may have noticed that almost all of them claim that they have the article which will help you shed x lbs in y days. It's a tempting promise that seemingly distills weight loss into something simple and easy. It plays strongly on a desire every person who has struggled with weight has: the desire for the secret to quick, easy and permanent weight loss. It should come as no surprise then that when people hear I've lost and kept off a significant amount of weight, the first question is, "What's your secret?"
Image: winnond /
One of the most important factors to successfully maintaining my loss so far has been avoiding radical change, both dietary and fitness. I didn't (and still don't) cut entire food groups from my eating habits. Over time, my diet has evolved from making small changes and allowing them to accumulate. My favorite example is how I take my coffee. Two years ago, I couldn't tolerate my coffee without two tablespoons of creamer and two packets of Equal. I had decided that I wanted to reduce the amount of artificial sweeteners in my diet so I started out by cutting my Equal packets down to one. I noticed one day on the back of the packet that a single packet of Equal was three teaspoons of sugar, so that day I put in those three teaspoons of sugar instead and logged it in my food log. After some time had passed, I noticed that the sugar in my coffee was a lot of empty calories that I could be using elsewhere, so I halved the amount. Eventually I simply stopped putting sugar in my coffee at all. It wasn't long after that that I realized the creamer didn't add much either, and now I drink my coffee black. It took just over a year to achieve that by making tiny little changes that didn't feel like a big deal at the time.

One of the tougher aspects that I continue to struggle with is how I handle my negative emotions. I never used believe that I was an emotional eater, but now I know that's simply not true. In tough times, when I'm feeling low, my first inclination is always to reach for the chocolate chip bag or the chocolate peanut butter container. Intellectually, I understand that this is not the solution to whatever is causing my feelings. But like an addict, I want the fix that chocolate sugary goodness provides. I've learned at those moments the best thing I can do is get up, go for a walk (or a run) and ponder over what the root of the emotion is. Food has never once been the answer to handling these problems, but it's not always easy to be that introspective and stop yourself.

Given the previous paragraph, it's obvious that situations where I find myself eating too much still occur. I used to beat myself up a lot when this happened. I still do feel guilty when it happens, but I have come to realize that one mess up once in a while isn't going to make me fat again. Truly letting go, and not caring at all about the fuel I put into my body every time I made a food choice would make me fat, and that does not seem likely to happen. Forgiveness and acceptance are the best responses to these situations. Forgive the mess-up, accept that it happened and move forward remembering to try and make a better choice next time.

Maintenance is certainly not easy, and there's no secret to make it easy. It's about learning learning how to cope with negative emotions, seeking balance by avoiding radical change, and forgiving yourself when you inevitably slip up. In truth, everything I've learned in maintenance has helped me live a happier and more balanced life.