There’s been some interesting discussion about weight loss/maintenance over on the LiveJournal crosspost, and the discussion’s led me to think some more about the world of weight loss/maintenance/management. So here’s my further thoughts, coming not just from the LJ discussion but from a moms’ e-list I’m on (we’ve been talking about how to help overweight kids regulate their weight).
For some people, weight management can be just an issue of how active they are. Those folks really don’t get it when folks not in that classification talk about the need to restrict access to food/types of food eaten. They naturally have good appetite regulation, often they are naturally inclined to be athletic, and for them weight loss/maintenance is just an issue of eating in a healthy manner and remaining active. It’s not hard for them and in the event that circumstances happen (a health setback, usually) that they’ve gained weight, they are comfortable and confident that they will lose the weight again.
For other people, weight management needs to be an issue of both activity level AND controlling food consumption. These folks may or may not be naturally athletic, and if they are active and athletic, that’s often not enough to keep the weight to a healthy place. Usually in this circumstance there are issues with internal appetite regulation, and they actively have to think about controlling what they eat and how much they eat. This is the category where you’ll find the “fit and fat” group (hello, that’s me!) who get really, really annoyed by the correlation that fat=unfit. It is completely and totally possible to be fat and fit. Been there, done that, have the pictures. Growled at the nurses who crank up the blood pressure cuff to painful levels because of the assumption that what they see means sky-high blood pressure. Been gratified to see the shocked look on their faces when the final BP and blood work results come in.
So if you’re fit and fat, what’s the problem? Often your stats are good, much to the puzzlement of your doctors. Low blood pressure, good cholesterol levels, good aerobic fitness. However, as someone who’s been there…what happens are problems in other areas. Namely, joints. Ligaments. Tendons. Flexibility. Losing sixty pounds didn’t eliminate my joint and ligament pain issues entirely, but it sure made a difference. Plus it is easier to recover fitness after a period of being sick. And, for someone who’s active, carrying extra weight around your middle does limit your flexibility.
Additionally, even when you lose the weight and remain active, it takes vigilance to keep that weight off. A minor indulgence can lead to a sudden gain of five to ten pounds, which piles up pretty fast if you aren’t watching. That’s what led to my last yo-yo weight gain. I started coasting, stopped watching the scale, stopped monitoring the food intake. Even though I was still very active, the pounds started crawling back on. Add in a spell of being sick with the Evil Respiratory Bug, which led to getting sidelined long enough for the slippery slope of weight gain to start (comfort eating while sick was one culprit, plus sucking on hard candies to help ease throat irritation), including my appetite readjusting itself to a higher caloric intake. Medication changes didn’t help, either (Prednisone really plays havoc with weight maintenance). It didn’t take long before I was back up the scale, and the last twenty pounds piled on within weeks. Seriously. One season I was buying new clothes in a larger size, and the next season those clothes were too small and I had to go up still another size. Weeks. A matter of two months from size 12 to size 14. OMG.
What this last round of weight gain and loss taught me is that I really can’t depend on my appetite to regulate itself without my paying conscious attention to it. I have to think about everything I eat, including calorie-laden drinks. A year ago I could sip a soy chai without being concerned. Now I can’t. That’s the tricky thing about my metabolism…it adapts quickly and I have to keep fooling it by switching foods around. And when I’m sick, I have to adjust my food intake and the types of food I eat to keep the weight away.
Not everyone is like this. I suspect, in my case, one major factor was that I grew up with food being used as a comfort and a reward. It didn’t help that I grew up with farm cookery, and was eating a lot of stuff that was designed to meet the needs of hard non-mechanized physical labor that I (and most of us, really) wasn’t doing any more. I have had to consciously look for other rewards while still allowing myself the very limited treats to reward or comfort myself.
Food intolerances and allergies have a role as well. A friend who is gluten-intolerant told me that she could literally gain ten pounds in one day from eating gluten accidentally, due to bloating and water retention. While I’m not gluten-intolerant, I have wheat, dairy and egg allergies (respiratory allergy triggers). That probably contributed to much of my youthful weight gain. Additionally, I’m discovering further intolerances (crucial is an inability to fully digest the complex carbohydrates in healthy foods like veggies, soy, beans and nuts. Beano is my new best friend) which may be contributing further to my weight management issues.
It’s a complex issue. But for now, let’s just say that even though I currently don’t look fat, I have to manage my activity and diet levels aggressively. I may be skinny girl now, but boy, do I ever remember fat girl (I was one who was horribly teased about her weight as a child).
I may look skinny, but inside is Fit But Fat Girl. And that is a reality that shapes my life, long-term. Exercise alone will not keep me at my current weight. Exercise plus watching everything I eat and drink will.
And that’s just the way it is, for the type of body I have.