Nutrition, Mental Health
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The 19 Strategies that Help Me Maintain My 180 Pounds Weight Loss.
I reached 350 pounds in my early 30s. I was using an old-fashioned scale, and the needle only went to 350, so it could have been more. When I stepped on the scale and the needle banged all the way to the end, I knew that either my habits or my hopes had to change for me ever to be healthy. One of them had to give because they were not compatible. I chose the first one and started my lifelong quest of becoming healthy, staying healthy, and getting to the root of it all.
I set up 19 conversations. I talked to people I thought were healthy [not just thin- some thin people I know are anything but]. I chose people I respected- people who seemed to have a good dynamic with their food and bodies. That was the beginning of the end of my fat life. I looked the same for a while, but my mindset had changed. My body needed to catch up, but these conversations planted the seeds.
I asked everything I ever wanted to know about eating - the physiological element, the emotional component, the mental constructs, the actual habits around working out (or not). I dove deep and studied the darn thing - what worked, what made sense to me, what was logical, and what was maintainable for the rest of my life.
I studied diligently almost every day to enrich my knowledge about it. What would help for the first 20 pounds? Then the next 20 pounds? Then the next. Like when you paint a room. You do one wall at a time, not all at once.
I needed to lose so many pounds; I could not keep doing what I was doing. Not even a little bit. So, every day, I found one idea, shifted one habit, thought one different thought, and chipped away all that had led to where I was - on the right side of a very large number on a scale. I have been at it for 20 years. I am still at it in many ways.
Some of the strategies surprised me, as they had nothing to do with food.
When people ask me what I did to lose weight, I rarely talk about food.
Here’s what I learned:
Each bite is an act of love.
Before I eat anything (on my best days), I ask myself, “How do I want to feel after this meal?” I know that my physical and emotional state, level of energy, and ability to be present and creative are directly tied to my food choices. When I am in my right mind, I choose foods I know will keep me clear and dynamic, and I stay away from foods that will put me to sleep or aggravate my nervous system.
Slow down. Drop the fork while I chew.
This is one of the first successful strategies I put in place. It takes 20 minutes for my brain to signal to my stomach that I'm satiated. If I eat slowly, I eat less in those 20 minutes. I am the last one eating at almost every meal. Sometimes to a ridiculous degree.
No liquid while I am digesting.
A commercial when I was a kid displayed what happens after someone takes a bite. I still remember the part showing little people [representing your enzymes] hard at work for digestion. Drinking while that happens basically drowns the little guys and makes your digestion so much harder [and therefore slower] than it needs to be.
While eating, do nothing else.
That is a habit I learned when I moved from France to the US. Most Americans can eat anywhere, doing a million other things all at the same time. Being focused and present while shopping, cooking, and eating are what I credit for at least 15% of my success. No eating in my car, watching TV or getting into arguments. Eating is an actual activity. When I am eating, I am eating.
Eat more often, just fewer amounts.
Hard to believe, but one of the primary functions of eating for me is energy. Smaller amounts more often make sense to me. Eat, use energy. Eat again; use that fuel. Eat. Use. Eat. Use. It’s simple math. I don’t know what you do for a living, but chances are you are not a bear that needs to hibernate for the whole of winter.
Explore your beliefs.
The thoughts I held in my head became more critical as the pounds were melting. What does it mean to be sexy? Am I safe? Do I deserve that much happiness? Will I be alone? Will I be loved anymore? Will I become mean if I become thin? I’m not saying they are rational, but I held them pretty strong. With those thoughts, I was going to stay fat. I had to visit my thinking.
It does not matter when you were born, chances are, it was not during the Italian Renaissance when obesity was good news. In this day and age, people look at you funny when you walk around at 350 pounds. People judge. Show disgust. When I ordered anything but a celery stick, there would be this awkward silence. And then the look. “Really? So, I would feel guilty, making me go unconscious, which made me eat even more. I would empty the jar of cookies, not knowing what just happened. No more guilt. I eat. I enjoy. Deal with it.
Learn to feel my feelings.
Fifteen years ago, at 2:00 a.m., I pulled up a chair up to my refrigerator, ready to eat all in sight. Mayo and Nutella. Here we go. I’d repeated this ritual countless times. That day, I was able to stop the horse. I said to myself, “You can eat all you want, but wait for five minutes. For five minutes, you are going to feel your feelings. You are just going to sit here in front of your fridge and feel.” Oh boy. Be careful what you ask for. It came in flood - the loneliness, the sadness, the anger, the pity, more sadness, and so much more anger. It took a while. Eventually, I closed the fridge and sat on the floor. Unpacking 34 years of unexpressed feelings was a miracle. I was able to feel it all. I’ve never touched Nutella since.
Don’t eat to please people.
I don’t know about you, but I was raised with the all too familiar warning that if I didn’t finish my plate, all sorts of children would be dying somewhere. So, I ate. And I ate more. I didn’t want to disappoint. I didn’t want anyone to feel rejected if I didn’t gulp down way beyond my point of saturation. WTF? Even now, after losing 180 pounds, my family will say something like, “Come on. Try my cake. I slaved over it all day.” Really?
Nope. No more. Now I say it nicely. Thank you, aunt Gina, I am good, really, thank you.
Eat according to my hunger.
A teacher of mine used to say, “You can’t remove obscurity from a dark room. You turn on the light. That is what removes the dark.” So, I worked to develop a new good habit, not to remove an old bad one. To counteract the point above, I have developed an actual trick. I know when I am eating for true hunger, and I stop there. I don’t stuff beyond “just to finish my plate.” Yep. I waste. I order what I love in restaurants, and I stop mid-way when I am no longer hungry. I have news for those who don’t want to “waste” and eat out of guilt that someone in China or Africa will die if you don’t. It won’t make any difference to them - not one bit. And not finishing your plate is not a waste. Eating what you don’t need is.
Say what I need to say.
The first clue here was studying my different foods. I noticed that eating chips (crunchy) were closely related to being angry. Eating Nutella (gooey, sweet) was closely related to feeling lonely and needing a hug I was not getting. I make this sound easy. It wasn't. It was super rough to realize the depth of my pain. My sadness. My anger. My loneliness. 160 pounds of it. So I learned to speak and ask for what I needed. I changed the people in my life that could not, did not, or would not give me what I needed. Major spring cleaning.
Understand my physiology.
I am not a doctor, and plenty of people know a lot more than I do about this. But I know that if my cortisol is pumping, my sleep is deprived, my thyroid is exhausted, and my candida is overgrown, there is no losing weight. PERIOD. Understanding my chemicals was key in the journey. Do yourself a favor and invest in a good blood panel. It will save so much on other bills. Know thyself. Help thyself.
Ask my body what it needs.
I mean that literally. At meals, I will whisper to myself, “What do you need, my love?” I gently ask like I would ask my toddler. The more love brought to the process of eating, the better off we are. I have found myself eating weird things at weird times. I trust, I follow. Never has my body suggested Nutella. Never. That kind of direct communication takes time. Some people are wired funny. What comes from inside them is not very kind. It is inverted from what they actually need. Be smart. If your body whispers, “Eat chocolate all day, drink booze, and smoke like a chimney,” chances are, you need to do a little work to clean up the lines of communication with your inner rebel.
Stop the fake people-pleasing.
Every time I am not genuine, I gain a pound. I know our culture asks us to be nice and not make waves. OK. Learn to tell the truth nicely, but for Pete's sake, tell the truth. There are plenty of resources out there. Learn to say what you need to say in loving and efficient ways. It is difficult, I know. But it is so much more difficult to live a life where you know what you just said is in no shape or form what you think or feel. You are paying a huge price for that, and a lot of its currency is in pounds.
Watch who you spend time with.
Time is the most precious commodity we have, so I very carefully watch where I put mine. The five people you spend the most time with represent precisely where you are at with yourself. So, if friends don't treat you well, if they don't keep their word, if they don't support you with all their might, if they make you feel "less than," if you feel exhausted when you spend time with them, if you end up drinking or hurting yourself when you are with them, it's time to check yourself out.
Talk nice to yourself.
In France, criticism is a national sport. It took me a while to evacuate inner attacks and self-destructive speeches. You know the expression, “If you treated your friends like you treat yourself, you would have no friends.” No joke. Again, payment for balancing this out gets collected in pounds. Watch what you say in there. Catch it if you say something unkind, attacking, humiliating, or demeaning. And rephrase. OK, so you spent the day in bed. You are not a lazy a#@hole. Instead, say, “Wow, it looks like I needed a solid rest.”
That brings me to one of my favorite strategies. Sweating. I like it because it is smart. Full of common sense. Full of wisdom. There is stuff in your body that gets in the way of you feeling your best. Get it out. I know. I hate it when it is so obvious. But it is that obvious. You do not pile up trash in the house and never take it out, do you? Please don’t do it with your body, either. Simple. Commonsensical.
Keep your commitments.
My friend Sylvie is late all the time. She never does what she says she was going to do. She lies to others, but more importantly to herself. People know she can’t be counted on- worst, she knows she can't be counted on, and that zaps her self-confidence. How she behaves affects her self-esteem, but she does not see the connection. Every time she breaks a commitment, she feels bad, and she eats food to make her feel better. Which sucks her self-esteem, which contributes to her being late all the time... It reminds me of the French tale. Why does he drink so much? To forget. To forget what? That he drinks too much...
Track my appreciation.
Appreciation makes me look at the world from a sense of “there is plenty.” The more I appreciate, the fuller I am, and the less I eat. When I feel like the world is missing anything, I am tempted to eat, compensate, and make me believe there is enough.
My friend Gay Hendricks won’t get out of bed until he gets in touch with a deep sense of appreciation. Between the two of us, we have lost 350 pounds. I like starting my day knowing that my life is enough. That I am enough. I make better food choices when I love myself. Simple as that.