A quick Google search shows there are about 3,420,000,000 pages concerning weight loss. And as you probably would guess, the first page is riddled with quick weight loss ideas like diet pills and extreme exercise routines. The problem, as many of us are well aware, is those quick fixes do not last. Combine that with the fact that most doctors think that 80-95% of the people that lose weight to diets will put it back, we end up feeling lost and hopeless on our journeys. What we aren’t told is that weight loss is more than just the physical changes to your body and that to lose and keep it off requires more than just a fad diet.
I know because that has been my struggle for a very long time.
The pain of words run deep
Husky, pudgy, and chunky are just a handful of words many of us were forced to deal with in our childhood. Being teased in school locker rooms during gym class, our parents goading us to stop eating and get outside for exercise, and thinking people are laughing at us for being bigger than the rest of the kids leaves massive indelible marks on our emotional and psychological development. Depending on when you were a kid going through this, things like psychological trauma were never discussed. Honestly, it feels like mental health didn’t realize this was an issue until more modern times.
These stressful events affect our sense of security and safety. They often leave us struggling with emotions and memories that end up causing anxiety and depression. We long for them to go away but more often than not they just leave you feeling disconnected, numb, and a distrust in others.
These are part of the issues that we have to deal with in our weight loss battle. We have to work on shedding them just like we have to work on shedding the added pounds.The good thing is that many of the same things you are working on to lose weight are the beginning stages of helping to heal your psyche.
Exercise can create changes in our thinking. In weight loss efforts, as we start to see the changes our bodies are going through, we can start to combat a lot of those negative emotions we felt about our weight. The trauma we experienced kind of freezes our minds in the time and place where we were hurt, it leaves us in a state of hyperarousal and fear. Exercise burns adrenaline and releases endorphins into our bodies and can start to heal our nervous system.
My weight loss struggle
When I was a young kid, I was really skinny. My mother was worried I wasn’t putting on weight and so were my doctors. I don’t remember the specifics of it, but they started me on vitamins and some other things and by the end of elementary school I have become the husky kid. By the time I went off to college I was weighing in around 270 or so. During college, I walked everywhere, as I didn’t have a car and I didn’t have money, so most of my meals were cheap. A diet of ramen noodles and Kool-Aid was the norm. I lost about 45 pounds over the course of a year and a half. I loved it.
I also battled depression with the struggles of alcoholism and being queer. So after college I slowly started putting weight back on. By the end of last year, I reached 293 pounds. I hated myself and how I looked. Many people never saw the dark feelings I had about myself. Karl, my boyfriend, urged me to go to the doctor and so did my sister. Finally, I relented and went. I learned I had cirrhosis and the need for weight loss became the focus. By April I started a massive shift in my lifestyle, I have talked about it in a few previous articles. I gave up drinking, removed sugary drinks from my life, became a pescatarian, and started working out.
In the beginning, I did an hour three days a week. I rode a recumbent bike because I was ashamed to be seen in public exercising. It helped a lot. Unfortunately, my doctor advised that it was probably not enough. From there I went an hour a day five to six days a week. That was when I started seeing the weight loss. Then came the calorie burn plateau. I had gone from burning about 800 calories during my workout, because I was overweight and out of shape, to about 550.
I got nervous and started looking for other ways to augment. I started walking around the neighborhood. Four miles at a time. I alternated days on the bike with walking and my calorie burn started again. Then the burn started to slow again, so I switched to hiking four miles a day, five to six days a week. Then adding small amounts of jogging. I have never ran in my life, so this was all new. I am jogging much more now.
In December, I weighed 293 pounds. As of August 27th I lost 60 pounds and weighed in at 233. The bulk of that weight loss happened since April. No one prepared me for the psychological traumas it was starting to cause.
In the beginning, as the pounds started to drop, I was ecstatic. My pants became loose, I could see my stomach decreasing and I felt so great about it. At some point I remember looking in the mirror and my face did not look like me. I did not recognize the face, I saw an alien staring back at me. I freaked out, to say the least. I began to analyze my body and pick apart my progress. I felt I was losing weight too fast and it was some sign that my condition was getting worse. I saw hollow and sunken eyes and I felt something was wrong. The loose skin that came as a result of weight loss only made me feel worse. What was I becoming?
None of this was reality. It was the trauma I had been dealing with over being a “fat kid” my entire life. The healthier body that was looking back at me was a stranger I never knew and I could only relate to the fat kid and part of me longed for him to return. I thought I was happier then.
With help from Karl and my therapist, I am starting to get through to the inner issues that are creating this fake image I see. The struggle is real and I have to face it daily.
“If you lose weight very quickly, there can be psychological consequences. If someone doesn’t have time to settle into their new body shape and weight, it can lead to things like body dysmorphia, anorexia, or bulimia.” – Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietitian nutritionist, spokesperson for the California Avocado Commission, and author of “Read It Before You Eat It — Taking You from Label to Table.”
Being held hostage
I mentioned that in the beginning I was excited for my weight loss and then it changed to show I and horror. To me, this read very similar to having Stockholm Syndrome. It sounds odd to hear someone talk about that in relation to being overweight but it feels like how my mind was rationalizing it.
I have been overweight a large portion of my life. From high school, through college, and into my adult years. It was what I knew and I convinced myself that I could not do certain things because of the weight. I was trapped in the mindset of being a large person. Every time I would try to think a positive thought, the overweight Keith would chime in that I wasn’t good enough or that I was too fat. It was exactly like being held captive by an abuser. Overtime, I accepted those thoughts as my own, they felt normal to think.
Losing weight removed that “abuser” and I was left seeing something that was completely different than what I had known. I longed for that dark voice telling me I was fat and couldn’t be like everyone else. Even though it is my body that is more healthy and realizing that it was just a lack of self worth kept me from trying to make changes. I wanted that voice back, it was, in its own weird way, comforting and familiar. I felt safe believing I didn’t have worth due to my weight.
In the same way that Stockholm syndrome can create a distrust or fear in those trying to help, if someone tried to show me or talk to me about how I could improve my health I did not trust them. I had excuses for them. “Oh, you don’t understand. I need to eat this much just to have the energy to get through the day,” or “My knees won’t let me do that kind of exercise.”
This is part of what I am working on to change.
Shift in thinking
Whether it’s powders, piles, or whatever, diets simply do not work, especially for me. What makes a diet is limiting the types of food you can eat or the types of calories. It’s about restrictions. Restriction can make us feel trapped and that we only have certain options of food to eat. This leaves us frustrated and not seeing results. You start a diet and you lose some weight.
You get excited about the change but then the weight loss slows or stops. Or you decide you cannot take the fact that you feel hungry from drastically restricting the amount you eat or calories. That leaves you feeling frustrated and you stop. Then the weight comes right back on. That can be the same for exercise and add to it not doing them correctly can lead to injury that will sideline you and stop your progress.
It takes work to lose weight, get healthy , and stay healthy.
Diets are fads and new ones creep up every year. Many don’t have scientific fact to back them on how well they will work. It really takes a shift in lifestyle to change weight and health. After all, it was a lifestyle choice that got you where you are now.
You have to look at what you eat, how you cook, and what activities you do to help regulate your weight and health. Diets alone will allow you to lose a certain amount of weight. Then your body plateaus. Even worse, if you aren’t getting enough calories, proteins, carbs, and fats, your body gets nervous. It can start using your muscle as fuel, instead of burning fat that you want to lose.
You need energy to burn calories which requires you to eat enough of them in a given day. Also, those calories and other macronutrients provide fuels for your body to make muscle and process the foods you eat.
It also requires you to look at your diet and make the needed changes for your body to work to burn fat.
Changing my diet
When I met people who were vegetarians or vegans, I could not imagine how they were getting the nutrients they needed. I thought to myself, there is no way I can stop eating meat. I wouldn’t get the protein I need to enjoy how a meal tastes without it. This is a similar mentality to what many think. Or the “I can’t do vegetarian, I love good tasting food.” Or “vegetables take so long to cook and so little that can be done with them, without the addition of some kind of meat.”
I was completely wrong.
I will admit here that having a boyfriend who is vegetarian has made this switch more easy than you can imagine. If I had been left to try to figure it out on my own, I probably would have gotten very frustrated. I wasn’t a tofu fan before him. I had only ever had it a couple times and the dishes it was used in, it was more of an afterthought than treated as a star. I had seen it in containers in its brine and assumed it was some slimy kind of mess. I think the first shift to looking at it as something I could eat was him making a buffalo tofu wings dish. I was able to see that tofu could be firm and have a consistency that felt similar to meat. Not the same, but similar.
My fear of not getting protein was put to rest when we started cooking. I think this fear came from the fact that when I thought of protein, I thought of it as only something from animals. A little research showed that there are plenty of vegetables that can provide great sources of protein and fiber at the same time. Edamame, for example, has about 18.5 grams of protein and lentils carry almost 18grams of protein, per cup. When you realize that an average sedentary adult should eat around 56grams of protein a day, you see how easily you can get that from vegetables.
Untrue myths about being vegetarian
- You don’t get enough protein. This was addressed above by showing high protein contents in legumes. In many cases, plant proteins are easier on and better for your body. Remember that all of the meat you eat comes from animals who eat those veggies to get their protein. If you still feel you are lacking, you can visit any health food shop to buy protein powder or protein bars. This will help augment where you may have a deficit.
- Soy milk is the only alternative to cow milk. In the age we are in now, there is milk from just about every place imaginable. Oat, almond, cashew, hemp, and rice milk. All of these alternatives have the nutrients you need to keep you healthy.
- Vegetarians and vegans are malnourished. There are too many studies to note that living a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle can boost your immune system, enable better heart function, provide more endurance, and even give you healthier looking skin.
- Lack of vitamins and minerals. I was part of this school of thought. The sad part is that the meat, dairy, and egg industries have created this myth to keep sales up. They try to convince you that you cannot get calcium, iron, proteins, and omega-3 fatty acids from anywhere but meat sources. Legumes, tofu, green leafy vegetables, chia seeds, and avocados all provide those nutrients we need.
- Vegetarianism/veganism is too expensive. Sure, you can argue that organic produce is slightly higher than non-organic. But in comparison is it more expensive than meat? You can lower your costs of produce by going to farmers markets or buying directly from local farmers. This is also good for sustaining small businesses and shopping locally.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Sounds off in relation to this article, but think about it and it makes sense. It’s a combination of things that will allow you to effectively lose weight, keep it off, and live a better life. No single one will give you the results you seek, it’s a combination. Living healthy takes a shift in thought and a dedication to being better. It’s not a quick fix. This was the lesson I had to learn with my health. Fad diets promising quick results don’t work and can leave you worse off with your health than when you started.
You don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to your doctor for advice and then seek out a nutritionist to help you start planning your changes. Add in exercise slowly at first to prevent hurting yourself. Keep at it, you will start to see the results. Don’t get bogged down in the numbers. You will have days where you seem to slow down and others where it seems the weight drips off of you. Change up your exercise routines and look at the amounts of calories, proteins, and carbs you are taking in. These will help you regulate and be more consistent in your new lifestyle.
It’s tough, but it is doable. You will be better for the commitment to hard work to make those changes. Trust me. I am