Allison popped this question into the suggestion box:
I would love to see something on maintaining a weight you feel happy with without stressing/keeping your emotional well-being in check while eating what you want and not gaining weight.
Eating and weight are incredibly personal, and there’s no single way to deal with either that will work for everyone. Maintaining a certain weight will mean different actions for different people. “Eating what you want and not gaining weight” is especially tricky for many people, myself included. (What I want is generally deep-fried, and a steady diet of fried items probably won’t help me out in the longevity department. Or the self-love department either.) I wish I had an easy answer to this one, but I’m afraid I don’t. I’m not a psychologist or a nutritionist or a fitness expert. All I can do is share what’s worked for me and hope that will spark a larger conversation. So let’s take this a chunk at a time:
Maintaining a weight you feel happy with
Gosh, even this is challenging. Many women are unhappy with their weight, no matter how much or little they weigh. Most people also have a set point – a bit of a misnomer as it’s really a range of weights that bodies return to again and again – and although this can change, it is typically identifiable. Over your adult life, what is the weight range that you’ve stuck to for the longest? Or come back to the most times? Mine is right in the 140 -150 pound range, and has been since I was about 18.
But set point is wiggly and won’t work for everyone. If you have gained or lost weight gradually over many years, your body may cling to a new set point. Or you may feel like your natural set point has always been higher or lower than you’d like it to be. I bring it up because – as someone who has battled weight and self-image issues my whole life – my own weight has fluctuated almost constantly, and I have seldom felt truly content and happy with my weight.* No matter what I weighed, it generally felt “wrong.” Set point seems relatively concrete, but also personal and flexible. It’s YOUR set point, the place where your body seems to want to rest. (As opposed to BMI or other measures that leave no room for individuality.)
Maintenance itself is totally personal. What you eat and do to keep your weight at a certain point will be very specific to you. If you are currently at a weight that you’d like to maintain, consider talking with a nutritionist, fitness expert, or doctor about what might help keep you there.
Keeping your emotional well-being
Staying positive and happy when it comes to weight and self-image can be tough, too, especially if you’re someone who has struggled with eating and weight for a long time. We live in a world full of judgmental messages about food, eating, exercise, fitness, and weight so it can feel nearly impossible to find serenity. One thing that I’ve found helpful is to think about food as fuel. I love food and eating, and associate both with social situations and emotional states. I can’t change that. But using some of what I learned at Green Mountain, I’ve started to think about what my body is really asking for. When I feel a craving hit, I try to distance myself and examine what’s going on. And much of the time when chocolate and French fries eclipse everything else in my brain, it’s water, rest, or emotional reassurance that I really want. And if I really do need food, I’ve found that the craving for fries often vanishes if I eat a pear instead. (Not always!) It’s completely unscientific, but it works for me. And just thinking about food as fuel – something my body needs to function – strips away some of the stress and emotion that typically surrounds eating. For me.
I think a key concept to ponder as you look at maintaining your emotional well-being as it relates to weight is this: Be kind to yourself. If you eat more than you “should,” forgive. If you feel like every decision you make about food is stressful, consider ways to make it less loaded. Ask for help. Talk about how you feel with people you trust. Our culture encourages restrictive eating, categorizes foods and activities as “good” and “bad,” and does loads of other things that make it tough to stay positive. As you navigate all of that, try to remember that you deserve kindness from yourself. Always.
Eating what you want and not gaining weight
Honestly, I’ve got nothing. I know there are people out there who want to eat raw greens and quinoa every day, but I am not one of them. The only thing I can offer here from my personal experience comes down to re-thinking how you categorize food. When I think of French fries – my favorite food – I think reward, happy, and delicious but also fatty, naughty, and bad. When I think of kale I think of healthy, nutritious, and good but also nasty, punishment, and chores. Nowadays, I try to remember that “healthy” foods like fresh fruits and veggies are not punishment foods. They’re not inherently “good” either, as too many cherries will make me just as sick (or sicker) as too many fries. If you can merge “eating what you want” with “eating nutritious, healthy foods” it might help stave off additional weight gain.
But it might not. The reason that I gained weight over the holidays last year was that I was eating what I wanted and not worrying about it. And I think that’s pretty common. I wasn’t eating fast food at every meal, and most of my eating choices were sound. I still gained weight. I’ve never been able to kick my eating, exercise, and body care routines into auto pilot and maintain a set weight. Ever.
Again, I wish so hard that I had some less negative and more concrete answers for you and for Allison, but since I’m not a health expert myself and since my own experiences have been somewhat challenging and frustrating, this is the best I can offer. I try to steer clear of topics that are directly related to food since they are so volatile and personal, but since this question tied into weight and self-image I wanted to share my own experiences.
*As a sidenote, writing here and doing lots of personal work and reflection have brought me to the point where I love and accept myself. But although I’m overjoyed to have made this peace with my physical self, feeling actively happy about my body is still a daily battle for me.
Image courtesy Mason Masteka.
Originally posted 2013-04-11 06:32:22.