November 11, 2015
Losing Weight Peacefully
No matter what method they use, the overwhelming majority of dieters regain the weight within two or three years, and many become even heavier than they were before.
Why does this happen? The main reason is that most diets aren't sustainable. They often require us to give up foods we like, and to eat small portions that leave us feeling hungry. They ask us to drink a lot of water. They tell us to add significantly more exercise to our daily routine. We can do extraordinary things for a while, especially if we are being rewarded with results. But when the goal is reached and it is time to give up the extreme measures, most people will naturally return to the habits that caused them to become overweight in the first place.
We want food that tastes good and leaves us feeling satisfied. We don't want to go to the bathroom every 15 minutes. We have jobs and other responsibilities that require our time and energy, as well as relationships we would like to maintain, making it highly unlikely we will spend two hours a day at the gym.
Keeping the weight off requires life changes that most people simply cannot make.
Knowing this, I thought a lot about whether I could or should try to lose weight. Several years ago, I had joined a weight loss program, the kind that provides carefully measured food. Of course, it worked. I gradually lost 25 pounds. I was very happy with the way I looked and felt. But, like everyone else, I gradually regained the weight and more. According to my BMI, I wasn't obese, but I was getting closer. At the same time, I was well aware that, in the long run, diets are unrealistic.
Even so, I wanted to be slimmer. I was concerned about the correlation between excess weight and various health problems. Stair climbing was exhausting, and I could feel the strain in my knees. My feet hurt. It was very difficult to find attractive clothing. I just didn't like what I saw in the mirror.
So I decided to lose weight without dieting.
My plan was simple: Apply mindfulness to eating. My first step was to focus on my food as I ate it. I had noticed myself and other people shoveling food into their mouths. By that I mean that one bite of food hadn't yet been completely swallowed before the next bite was introduced. I began to eat one bite at a time, paying attention to how the food tasted and felt in my mouth. This process made an immediate difference. Eating one bite at a time caused me to eat more slowly. The food tasted better because I had time to notice the taste.
I also made myself aware of the quantity of food I was eating, and how my stomach felt as I ate. Very quickly, I realized that most portions were too big. Eating more slowly and noticing my sensations as I ate, I discovered that I usually felt full and satisfied with one-third to one-half of the food on my plate. Eating the whole thing was just a habit. If I were preparing the meal myself, I could simply make less food, knowing it would be enough. Otherwise, I could wrap up the excess food and eat it the next day.
At a restaurant, knowing that I will probably be happy with a small portion, I can order less food, or share a plate with my husband. I can always order more food if I need it. I almost never need it.
My third step was to stop eating food I didn't want. At work, generous people bring in salads, baked goods, and snacks of all kinds to share. Sometimes we have a "pot luck" event. Most of the time, I'm not really hungry and I don't want these things. But they look good, or I want to be polite to the person making the offer, or I feel the pull of the snacking habit. My new way of thinking about it is to ask myself if I'm really hungry, or if this food is so interesting and unusual that I must taste it. The answer is usually no, and I leave the food where it is.
I didn't restrict the kind of food I could or couldn't eat. I continued to eat the foods I liked, and to avoid the foods I didn't like.
Without any rules, just applying mindfulness, I was naturally eating less food. Gradually, I lost 10 pounds. I plateaued for a while, sustaining that loss and not losing any more. Realizing that I had lost some of my focus, I reminded myself to relax and pay attention while eating. I've started to lose pounds again.
My goal is realistic. I know that I'm not going to weigh what I did when I was in high school. Anyway, according to my doctor, that wouldn't be healthy at this stage of my life. I'm not competing with my younger self, with supermodels, with my skinny friends, or with anyone. I want to feel good about the way clothes fit me. I want to climb a couple of flights of stairs without getting out of breath. I want my knees to feel good. I want to feel like smiling at myself in the mirror.
Instead of trying to make unpleasant and unsustainable changes in my life, I've made a few very small changes in my thinking. It costs me nothing, requires no extra time or effort, and it gives me a feeling of peace.