When someone wants to lose weight they almost automatically focus on their diet and exercise. Some are able to reduce their calorie intake and/or increase their calorie burn through exercise with ease. Others fight to find a weight loss program and/or fitness program to help them with weight loss. These are two ends of the spectrum, but I think most who want to lose weight fall somewhere in-between.
Scientifically, weight loss is simple. Calories in verses calories out. For those who reduce their calorie intake and/or increase their calorie burn through exercise with ease, the science behind weight loss happens through precise changes. For those who fight to find a program, the science behind weight loss becomes overcomplicated, discouraging, and often paralyzing.
I can’t speak for others, but I know from my own experience that I’ve made weight loss harder than it has to be… but for me, it is difficult. I’m learning how much my mindset and emotions play into my weight and weight loss. I think for those who reduce calories or increase workouts with ease, it’s less of an emotional decision. To them, it’s just food and I’m jealous of them. Reducing calorie intake is simply a decision. A decision to make healthier choices, to only eat when they are hungry, and in the end, to eat less. Simple as that.
For me, the chronic dieter, weight loss is an emotional battle. It isn’t simply a decision to reduce calories, it’s a decision to stop making food my central focus. To create a life that doesn’t revolve around food. Weight loss, though scientifically simple, becomes a complicated battle between what I know I should do and what I want to do. The weight loss plan becomes the enforcer I grow to hate and am destined to defy. I enter the vicious cycle of either being on a diet or breaking my diet, leaving me to wonder why I can’t lose weight easily like some?
Looking back on when I lost a lot of weight back in 2006, I didn’t just simply eat less and exercise more. Yes, those were two extremely important pieces, and were big changes I made, but there was more to it. I changed my entire lifestyle. Prior to 2006 I used food for comfort. I would binge on food, eat out of emotions, and would use my athleticism as a justification for why I was overweight. I didn’t realize it then, but I truly believe that I was successful back in 2006 because not only did I change my diet, but I also changed my environment (moved to Vermont for work), changed my network (left a legalistic church), met some of the most supportive and loving people I have ever met (you know who you are), and made my life about more than food (playing squash, running, traveling, and starting my career). I changed so much more than my diet that year. I changed my life.
After moving back to DC in 2007, I continued to lose weight, without any diet changes, because I was simply living. Food was not my focus, whatsoever. I ate whatever I wanted, when I was hungry, stopped eating when I was satisfied, and was an extremely active person. For 2 years, I maintained a healthy weight and I was happy. It was more than being happy with my weight and body, I was happy with my lifestyle and who I had become.
A lot has happened since 2009 and I’m not making excuses, but I am far from the lifestyle I lived between 2006 and 2009. Somewhere between a traumatic experience, dating/getting engaged/getting married, moving along in my career, and having a baby, I turned back to food as an emotional comfort. Food became a focus for me again. A focus that makes it much harder for me to lose weight because food is no longer just food, it’s a comfort and support for me.
Between meeting with a behavioral nutritionist, seeing photos of people who have regained all of the weight they had lost in the past, and looking back on my own weight loss journey, I can’t help but wonder, are we focused on the wrong thing? Maybe there’s more to those who lose weight with ease than just reducing what they’re eating and exercising more. What if it’s because of their overall lifestyle?
I’ve spent the past year, trying to move away from chronic dieting, but I think I’ve had the wrong focus. While what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, and how much I’m moving matter to the “science”, I truly believe it’s the lifestyle of a person that leads to permanent weight loss.
Last time I met with my behavioral nutritionist, just before I walked out the door, she said “OH, and one last thing. Remember that stress has a extremely negative impact on weight loss. Make sure you are working to improve the stress in your life”. What she said really stuck with me and I’ve been thinking a lot about the stress in my life. It’s not like I wasn’t stressed when I worked at Dartmouth, but boy was I happy! That year was full of some of my fondest memories. I really found myself there and through that process, I lost a lot of weight.
I don’t have all the answers yet… or a picture of the ways I’d like to see my lifestyle change, but I do think there’s a lot to be said about how lifestyle impacts weight loss, beyond calories in and calories out. I truly believe that when someone is happy, food becomes less of a focus. Naturally the person eats less, they enjoy the food they’re eating more, and they become more active. Life becomes more than their weight. They learn to live and they learn to love.
I can only speak for myself, but I can’t help but wonder if others agree. Beyond your weight, what are you really unhappy with? What parts of your lifestyle would you change? What should you change? How do you want to change? Beyond your diet, what lifestyle will lead you to a happy and healthy life?
I am asking myself these very questions and deep down I know, my life isn’t where I want it to be, but it can be. What would happen if I focus on those changes and how might my weight be impacted over time? Lots to think about, but I truly wonder if we’re all focused on the wrong thing.