Monday, September 26, 2011

Winning the Weight-Loss Battle While Losing the War

In the last couple of weeks I’ve had a number of conversations with people both in person and over the internet, and the question I often hear is: why should I even lose weight?

As an overweight teenager, the motivation I needed to get serious about weight loss was my desire for romantic love.

Throughout my adolescent years, I tried a variety of diets. My mom battled weight issues from as far back as I could remember, so when my own weight started to trouble me, I’d simply join in whatever diet fad she latched onto. I ate lowfat everything. While I despised the taste of lowfat fig newtons and fat free frozen yogurt, I was told by all the diet gurus that such was the road to thinness. Eat less fat and you’ll be less fat. I guess neither them nor I was taking into account that eating an entire package of lowfat fig newtons can cause one to be fat as well. So while my fat intake probably wasn’t all that high, my calorie intake was through the roof because of the amount of food I was eating.

When the lowfat method didn’t seem to work, I tried exercise. I would walk around the block for 30 minutes everyday, running short stretches when I could muster up the motivation. I quickly tired of the monotony of that so I devised a little workout plan for myself: jumping jacks, sprints up and down the driveway, situps… But I stuck to the plan for 3 or 4 days before I fizzled out and decided an afternoon of Growing Pains reruns was a better use of my time.

Then came a fateful day in the winter of my junior year of high school. My mom came home with a new weight-loss plan someone had told her about and asked if I wanted to do it with her. She would pay to go to the group meetings while I could just do the program with her at home. At this point, I was 16 years old, 165 lbs., and hopeless. But I figured, “Hell, what do I have to lose?”

Actually, I did end up losing something: 35 pounds. Over the course of about 7 months I lost the weight I had battled ever since the age of 10. Finally at the age of 17 I weighed a respectable 130 pounds. And guess what- as soon as I lost the weight, I got exactly what I had wanted: my first boyfriend.

But you know what? In my heart I felt so much bitterness and fear. I was resentful that suddenly the boys who hadn’t taken a second glance my way were now fumbling over themselves to ask me out. I was still the same girl, just minus about 4 pant-sizes. However, at the same time, I liked the new attention and I knew that it would only stay as long as I kept the weight off. I was only as acceptable as the number on the scale made me. So what would happen if I couldn’t keep that number in line? That one, single fear gripped the very soul of me.

As I think back, I see how wrong my motivations were from the beginning. There is nothing inherently bad with wanting to lose weight so that you look better, but that sort of thinking leads to a “winning the battle while losing the war” scenario: so I’m a size 6, what now?

And that’s why I think diets don’t work. They put a cheap band-aid on the massive gaping wounds of your heart so that when the weight is gone, surprisingly your problems aren’t. You tire of sticking to the “rules” of your diet and go back to snuggling with Ben and Jerry every night in front of the boob tube, because, “Hey, I did the weight loss thing and it didn’t quite pan out like I had hoped,” until you catch your once-again-overweight-self staring back at you from your full-length mirror so you, yet again, vow to find the diet you can really stick with this time and the cycle starts all over again.

Or maybe I’m crazy. What do you think? Is it just about finding the right diet for you? Is it simply a rollercoaster that you will have to ride for the rest of your life? Or is there a way to tackle this nasty little beast for good?


  1. Oh, Maille. I'm so happy to meet you through your husband Shawn. I believe besides having similar hair cuts and smart husbands, we share a disdain for the diet obsession. I struggled for years with becoming ideal. Then, I finally realized my ideal isn't weight related at all. It's confidence, security and knowing from where my value comes. Great thoughts here. So glad to meet you.

  2. Jennifer, let me first of all tell you that I am SO enjoying your book right now. Shawn has so graciously allowed me to commandeer his kindle to read it (I actually gave him the stink eye when he tried to take it from me). So glad to meet you as well! And I can't agree enough with your comment "my ideal isn't weight related at all". That's a powerful, and courageous, discovery to make. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I appreciate so much of what you said here, Maile. I don't know what the answer is. Some of us, I suspect, need to be motivated to be healthy (not worthy - we are all equally worthy and unworthy no matter any one thing about ourselves) from something outside of ourselves and some from internal places. I think the internal motivations are more successful over time, but sometimes it takes a lot of healing for us to get to a place where we see those motivations as being valid.

  4. I completely know what you are saying, Andi. I certainly don't want to discourage people from losing weight/getting healthy because there is a lot of good in that. It was so good for me to lose that weight, even though losing it added other problems to my list. What you said is so true: "sometimes it takes a lot of healing for us to get to a place where we see those motivations as being valid". It's taken me over 15 years after my weight loss to figure that out. I'd like to shorten that time for other people if at all possible.