How accepting you have a weight problem allows you to eliminate it!
We’ve discussed how to create barriers of pain and how to encourage yourself with carrots of pleasure as you embark on this new maintenance journey, but what else might be important for maintaining your newfound body? To keep the weight off it’s crucial that you reconcile yourself as having a chronic condition. In other words, you’ve got to accept that you’ve got a weight problem that won’t just go away now that you are thin and trim. It’s comparable to finding out that you have a chronic illness. It’s difficult to accept at first, but when you finally reconcile yourself to this fact and begin taking the medication you need, you begin to notice that many of the symptoms that you experienced for some time have now mostly gone away. Wouldn’t it be foolish for someone in this set of circumstances to suddenly say, “OK, I’ve got this thing under control now, I don’t need to take my medicine anymore”? That would be ludicrous, wouldn’t it? Your symptoms are only being contained because of your medication.
Yet how is it any different for those who have the chronic condition of slow metabolism, genes, an addiction to eating or whatever it is that made you overweight, to suddenly say, “OK, I’m thin now, I can go back to my normal lifestyle.” That’s why I think we need to deal with our weight challenge as we would a chronic illness, because it’s not going to just go away. You simply need to reconcile yourself to the cold, hard fact that you’ll never be able to be completely carefree and cavalier about your lifestyle when it comes to your weight.
Upon discovering that one has a chronic condition, there are several different ways that people may react. Some ways are healthy and productive and others are very harmful and counterproductive.
Denial. Upon finding out about an unwanted chronic disease, many people live in denial, some even to the point that they refuse to get treated for their condition. For instance, someone close to me was diagnosed with Schizophrenia over 15 years ago, but has lived in denial about her condition and has refused to ever see a doctor. Thus, she has remained untreated for all these years rather than getting help and having her condition made more tolerable. This has not only hurt her, but has been a challenge for those around her. Perhaps you have been in denial about having a chronic weight problem, which might explain why you find yourself constantly regaining weight that you have lost in the past. You wanted to return to “normal” life again, however, that’s comparable to refusing to take medicine for a chronic illness.
‘Life isn’t fair’ mentality. Another natural reaction to have when coming to terms with being diagnosed with a chronic condition is to compare yourself to others and feel that life just isn’t fair. I sometimes found myself envying those people that seem to be able to eat whatever they want, whenever they want, in as high of quantities as they want, and never get fat. It does seem downright unfair, doesn’t it? Well, it’s important to realize, as my dad always said, ‘Life isn’t fair.’ You were given the body that you were given, and that’s what you have, and there’s nothing that you can do to change your genes or your inclination to gain weight. Some people simply have genes that make them less inclined to gain weight or perhaps they were blessed with a faster metabolism. It doesn’t really matter because that’s not the body you were given, and dwelling too much on this or comparing yourself to others who don’t struggle with your same weight issues is counterproductive and even emotionally harmful.
You have the choice to live in denial (which only worsens your condition), to compare yourself to others and feel that you’ve been dealt a poor hand (which does nothing to motivate you), or you can accept your chronic condition and look for the positive aspects about having to struggle with your weight for the rest of your life. “Are you crazy?” you might ask, “How can I feel good about always having to deal with weight issues?”
As a psychologist, I have published research on some of the benefits of positive reframing. Essentially, positive reframing is the tendency to perceive the positive aspects of a situation, event, or trait that is traditionally viewed negatively. You can actually reconstruct a situation or condition to see it in a different light. Positive reframing is being able to see the silver lining on the cloud or make lemonade out of lemons. It has been found to be a very effective coping technique for people who are dealing with chronic diseases. It has been related to reduced distress, depression, reduced well-being, fewer reports of symptoms, and fewer medical appointments. Let’s give this technique a try with the condition of a chronic weight problem, which is typically viewed in a very negative light.
There are several upsides to having to deal with the weight struggles that you have day in and day out. Overall, you are probably a better person for having to deal with this challenge. For one, you’ve had to learn to have and exercise a great deal of self-control. Psychologist Roy Baumeister’s research has demonstrated that self-control is very similar to a muscle that can grow and become strengthened. The self-control that you have gained by constantly dealing with your weight issues probably extends to other areas of your life. I remember just how empowered I felt when I was able to reach and exceed my weight goals. Doing so showed me that I could exercise this same self-control to drastically improve other areas of my life as well.
Another upside is that you have probably learned a lot about exercise, nutrition, and healthy living along the way. This knowledge is invaluable and will produce future benefits. Those who do not struggle with weight issues often do not have much motivation to learn more about this important knowledge that could benefit their overall health. From casual observation I have noticed that when these seemingly “lucky” individuals get older, the fat usually begins to accumulate due to a life of unhealthy habits. As a result, they may be prone to diseases and health problems later in their life that you will be able to avoid due to the increased attention you have paid to the topic of health. So realize that there are some significant pluses to struggling with weight. Don’t let yourself be dragged down by “denials” or the “it isn’t fair” comparison mentality, both of which will get you nowhere. So, once you’ve accepted your chronic condition, what next?
Just as someone who accepts having a chronic illness must commit to consistently taking medicine or getting treatment, you must resign yourself to the fact that you’ll have to always be on your guard, and perhaps you’ll always have to be on a diet to some degree or other. I’m not suggesting that you can’t have an occasional free day or enjoy a short break from time to time, but the key is to keep those breaks short and make sure you get right back on track and are especially strict afterwards when you do gain. My brothers and I have observed that it’s quite easy to lose weight that you’ve recently gained, but if you allow it to stay for a while, it can be extremely challenging to shed those pounds.
Most diet plans suggest that you can make their particular diet a lifestyle. Don’t believe it. That’s just their way of trying to encourage you to continue buying their products and services. I realize that there are certain people who really can stick to one particular eating plan all their lives, but I think that the percentage is so small that it’s not even worth discussing; it is not realistic or sustainable. That is why I focus on a using a variety of dieting approaches to both losing weight and maintaining weight.
Many diet plans often have less strenuous versions called phases. These allow for a bit more variety in eating and often allow free days to keep things fresh. However, abstaining from certain types of food all one’s life doesn’t seem sustainable to me. Rather, you may consider following some of the maintenance recommendations for one particular diet plan and then when that begins to get stale jump ship to another maintenance plan just as you did while losing the weight. You can determine your level of strictness to any particular plan based on what the scale is telling you every morning. If you find that you’re getting awfully close to that threshold weight, it’s time to increase your strictness.
Conversely, if you are still losing (and don’t necessarily want to continue losing) or are pretty stable, you can ease up a bit and enjoy more of what the “lucky ones” enjoy. The key is to weigh yourself every day so that things never get out of hand and so that you don’t have to go on notice with your weight loss team. Let your scale be your guide as to what is working and what isn’t.
The variety of jumping ship between eating plans will make the life-long diet more bearable. Accepting the fact that you’re always going to have to be on your toes to keep the beast at bay will help you maintain your losses. As you reconcile yourself to this fact, don’t abandon your plan for making regaining weight very painful and keeping it off very pleasurable. You will enter an entirely new cool crowd of the very select few who actually maintain their new, beautiful bodies. Now that is true success!
Successfully maintaining your weight losses is perhaps the most difficult part of the journey, and those who do succeed deserve all kinds of credit. Many fall into the trap of the cooked frog who doesn’t notice the increasing temperature until she is “cooked.” To avoid this fate, we need to sound the alarm early to go above a set weight threshold. We need to burn bridges by getting rid of “backup clothes” that we can return to and psychologically free ourselves from our former, fatter selves. It’s also important to reward yourself for maintaining, preferably with a non-food reward.
I have provided several suggestions that have worked well for me and my team. Now it’s time for you to process these suggestions and tailor them to best fit your own life and your team. Don’t feel like you have to design your strategy to look exactly like ours. Do what feels best for your circumstances and will be the most motivating for you.
Stop Denying, Start Overcoming!