As Fearful as I Ought to Be

In Weight-Loss Maintenance on August 8, 2011 at 10:34 am

At the end of the last post’s comments, 9-year radical maintainer “mem” shared that her co-exercisers and Zumba clients at Curves sometimes say things to her to the effect, “You don’t even need to be coming here. You’re one of those people who probably couldn’t get fat if they tried.”  It is uncomfortable and disconcerting, and she knows it is important to tell them that she once weighed nearly 100 pounds more than she does now, and she appreciates remembering “the almost inhuman effort it took and takes to change that.”  She has to pop her acquaintances’ bubbles, in service to authenticity, because their words are framing one of the biggest and most disheartening cultural myths of weight loss and maintenance.  That it is easy, as easy as being naturally trim, once you get it figured out, once your brain or your metabolism has “clicked over,” or you’ve adopted the healthy lifestyle (with the secret handshake), or you’ve assembled just the right tips and tricks, or some other magic has happened.  

The idea that maintenance will be easy takes the fear out of the whole process of loss and maintenance.  That maintenance is easy, however, is the biggest, baddest weight-loss lie of all.

Most of you know, I follow Barbara Berkeley’s Refuse to Regain.  We don’t always agree to the letter, but we are sisters in spirit:  maintenance is complicated and individual.  Currently, in the comments of one of her posts, a woman is hawking a book to be released next year.  With great gall, Ms. Libby Florence tells Barbara how she used to believe as Barbara does, but now Ms. Florence has seen the light. 

Perhaps Ms. Florence is self publishing.  I would find that less tragic because the lapse in judgment would be singularly hers and not a publisher’s too. 

Or perhaps she found a publisher because she’s selling the party line:  weight loss and maintenance are effortless, once you have the “key.”  It’s all very easy, doncha know!  Her comment, before she gives the book’s website URL, ends as follows:

But there is another option. A much easier, pleasant, ENJOYABLE option. And that is to escape the addiction. To end the addiction.

People think that permanent weight loss involves constant (or at least recurrent), unpleasant deprivation…and they think that, because their own experience seems to support this theory. But I promise you, it’s not true. Escaping the obesity trap is actually ridiculously easy (almost to the point that it will make you break down and cry). I worked it out, suddenly, three years ago. I think I have discovered something that very few people know. I’m writing a book about it… 🙂

You read that right:  three years ago the magic weight fairy entered her forebrain and revealed the “truth” to her, even as she was still fat.  In 2008, she figured it all out, then she lost 37% of her weight (we don’t know how long that took) and has kept it off effortlessly (what, six months?) ever since.  Sigh.   I almost wrote a comment at Barbara’s site along the lines of “you arrogant twerp,” but then I read NewMe talking about “sour grapes,” and I knew that’s how my comment would read.  I also visited maintainer Debby, and she was gently pointing out the limitations of blogging, and somehow, together, I took those as signals:   If you don’t have anything nice to say . . . at least put it on your own blog, and don’t muck with someone else’s.

Okay, I’ll admit I’m a little jealous.  I was rejected by publishers at two conferences, and I’m too timid/lazy/fearful (circle one – depends on the day) to self-publish.  But my jealousy notwithstanding, do we really need another instant inspiration story?   

But it will sell, won’t it?  Because it contains the “secret” that came to her in a burst one night when she was sitting on a sofa.  And the “secret” removes all the fear associated with weight loss and guarantees that maintenance will be easy. 

From her shallow, one-page teasers, I understand we are trapped in a simple misunderstanding that compels us to eat wrong food, and we may escape this trap easily when we assemble the few tiny puzzle pieces that will make it easy it is to “step free,” and suddenly decide to eat the “right” food, foods that aren’t “rubbish.”   Now, don’t mistake this for willpower .  Willpower fails.   The desire to eat “right” foods becomes effortless and endless when you know the “secret,” and she is not afraid that she (or any of her followers) will regain, because this secret makes her want to eat right foods and not want to eat rubbish. 

Oh, good Lord!  Everyone remember your weight-loss honeymoon?  That time before you had to juggle maintenance with another health issue, like joint failure or bowel obstructions, or a personal or work-related complication?  Yeesh.  To this day, I still prefer good food to rubbish.  That was, indeed, part of the transformation.  But how arrogant to call maintenance “ridiculously easy” when you’ve been doing it only a few months.   Her endocrine hasn’t even had time to go out of balance yet; how the Hell does she know anything?  (Oh, and we know that ALL fat people eat rubbish, lots of it. That’s the only reason they’re fat.)  And finally, how brazen to hawk a book on someone else’s blog and to discredit the blog writer’s opinions.   Whoa, Nelly.

Hoookay.  Ms. Florence is not afraid that she or her followers will regain, but she would benefit from some healthy fear.  If it were so easy to escape “the obesity trap,” then the 97 percent recidivism rate for regain after weight loss would have been reversed by now.   Her writing doesn’t indicate that she’s the Einstein of weight loss and maintenance.  If the weight-loss maintenance equivalent of the theory of relativity has escaped Arya Sharma and other bright minds, I’m willing to bet she hasn’t found it.

She would benefit from some fear, and so would anyone else who wants to join the 3% club.  Every true maintainer (longer than a few months) I know and respect harbors at least a little of it.  Fear need not be a constant companion, or a debilitating force, but it needs to rear its ugly head from time to time.  And we as maintainers need to confront our fears, question them and, as long as we wish to remain maintainers, embrace them, at least partially.

Our fear is a bit like an actor’s stage fright.  All good actors embrace their stage fright.  They weave it into their character’s passions and motivations.  It’s healthy . . . except when it’s not.  Except when it saps the brain of its ability to think or the mouth of its ability to speak, or it becomes a Black Swan delusional thing.

And that’s why I raise questions in this blog, from time to time, as to whether my behavior or thinking is disordered, or moving in that direction.  My thoughts and behaviors are radically different from most people’s.   Most people don’t use their gulp mechanisms to measure liquids, for example.  Most people aren’t compelled to chew out good-hearted wait staff who don’t want to take back the fries  before they bring the fruit.   Most people do not meticulously plan their food intake in the shower daily.  It is not a lifestyle, it’s a strategically different way to live one’s life that involves heightened sensitivity to cultural and biological influences. 

So I am right to question.  To wonder.  And then to reframe my experience so that I can live with it, honestly and stoically.  I can call it a personal experiment, a part-time job (that need not be joyless), or a serious hobby along the lines of playing the cello.  But I cannot call it easy or effortless.  And, in service to honesty, I share my thoughts with others here, because there ain’t no book, nor will there be one in the current publishing environment and Biggest-Loser cultural climate, that is as scary (or at least as truthful) as it ought to be.

  1. Chuckling at your reaction to that comment. I read it too, and the part of me still looking for the easy magic secret to keeping the weight off went to her site and searched for the easy magic secret.

    But this is the year of cynicism for me. Most of the time when someone is touting their great weight loss, I am happy for them, but if they come across as too confident, I just turn away (figuratively) and say, come back and talk to me in five years.

    I liked your thoughts on healthy fear. That’s a better way for me to look at my fears.

    And I loved the phrase ‘meticulously plan their food intake in the shower daily.’ For me its most often as I go to bed at night (bfast) and in the morning as I journal my ‘morning pages’ I usually plan the rest of the day. On Sunday the food plan for the day is ALWAYS included in my sermon notes…

    • So, while your preacher is trying to inspire you to greater heights of spiritual awareness, you’re weighing the pros and cons of salad and stir fry. Hmmm. Your secret is safe with me.

      • LOL. Yeah, as someone asked me recently, do you think over what you write on the blog–evidently, the answer is no.

  2. Ridiculously easy? Definitely not.

    I pretty much find it a bit easier than losing, but still something that requires daily focus. I can eat more than when losing, so that’s the “easier” part.

    But I know I can gain it all back. I do not have “fear.” Fear usually does not prevent regain, nor take off pounds. Rather, fear usually paralyzes, and makes “whatever needs to be done” harder.

    I have, rather, a healthy respect for the fact that I tend to gain weight when I’m not paying attention. That’s why I pay attention. It’s not necessarily “hard” (but it can be puzzling and upon occasion, frustrating), but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Doing the job I’m paid to do is not necessarily “hard,” but that doesn’t make it easy. My job, and maintenance, require effort. At this point in my life, the effort comes relatively easily, in that I kinda no longer remember how to do things otherwise. And there is too much I would lose that gives me joy in my life, if I no longer made that effort.

    As I sometimes have to remind people, I ain’t cured. 🙂 This is a condition that I manage, that helps management of my other conditions (osteoarthritis, hypertension, high cholesterol, reflux). For me, it’s a package deal.

  3. Amen sister! How ridiculous that there is one “answer”! I can’t find one answer that works all the time just for me. My body keeps adapting and therefore so do I.

    • I have a saying for that: in maintenance, there’s no “set it and forget it.” (Like the old stove ads . . . )

      • That’s a great phrase.

        Interestingly enough (and, I guess, horrifyingly enough *sigh*), in our “I demand instant results!” culture, that’s probably one of the reasons her horrible book might do well — because nobody, but nobody wants to hear that truth.

        (In my experience, about much of anything, but certainly not about weight loss.)

      • I meant “maintenance”. Yes. I did.


        *rolls eyes @ self*

  4. I just love (sarcasm) how people seem to come up with this “I have the answer for losing weight and maintaining that loss for everyone” and forget that we aren’t all machines who can be relied upon to act the same way with the same input/output/stimulus (and even 2 identical machines don’t always have the exact same results with the exact same inputs/stimuli).
    So when someone says something like this, and hasn’t been a maintainer for more than 5 years, I pretty much ignore anything they have to say. Having dieted and WLSurgeried myself fatter, and seeing what it takes to lose and maintain a significant weight loss, I’m just not up for that much work in my life. I think it’s fine if other people want to/can do it, but I know it’s not something I’m willing to do (I’m tired of fighting of my body’s desire to be bigger than I want it to be). So I work on being as healthy as I can be at the size I am and maintaining the weight I’m currently at (not gaining any more).
    And Ms Florence, the “secret” you’ve discovered probably isn’t new. There are thousands of diet books out there already – if you searched through them, I’m betting that someone, somewhere has already published your “secret” to weight loss/maintenance success.

    • Ah, Vesta, you have colored in the lines and then some. I think you’ve earned your right to call BS, dig in your heels and do what is most healthy for you. Your various blogging contributions also support others as they make the most healthy decisions for themselves.

  5. I have a secret for easy weight loss – get really, really sick! It worked for me. You should have seen the weight drop off.

    • Yeah, but not the right kind of weight, I’m sure. 🙂 Losing muscle mass sucks.

      I did finally get to goal while I was injured (ruptured lumbar disc) – made me watch my portions more closely. Funny thing about that.

  6. Yeah, I read her curious comment, went to her site, read her summary chapters, and am convinced this is a “self publishing” move. Her writing is poor, and the content is gushing but dull. Of course, she doesn’t disclose what her “secret” is. It’s probably something like “don’t eat junk”, but maybe it’s something more exciting, like eating a tapeworm!

    In any case, it’s not showing up on my book shelves. I’m also sorry, Debra, that you haven’t found any publisher. I truly enjoy reading your blog.

    • I think her “secret” is probably the old, decide to eat healthy foods for only 21 days (anyone can endure a period that short) and you’ll “rewire” your reward circuits, set new habits and never want to eat rubbish again. Simple as that. She probably re-enforces the reader’s resolve with some healthy indignation at the food industry’s manipulation of our “addictive” tendencies using processing and chemicals to concoct “super rubbish” that we just can’t help but eat until we simply “step away,” first for 21 days, that will lead to forever, effortlessly. If I were a bettin’ type, that’s where I’d put my money.

      Thanks for the kind words, Ivana. Most days the blog is enough. It has turned out to be really satisfying (if not financially lucrative). It allows me to blow off steam and speak my mind (without some editor, publisher or agent telling me I need to be or say something other than what my heart dictates). I’ve also found so many lovely, like-minded, similarly minded (or at least respectfully different-minded) people who talk back. What a treat!

  7. Just riffing on Ivana’s comment — Debra, have you considered an academic press?

    • It could work if you could find an academic or professional co-author.

    • @ littlem, I have, but I’m not qualified. I’m like the silly radio character Dr. Science — “He has a MASTER’s DEGREE . . . in science.” Except that my master’s is in journalism. And my undergrad is in theatre.

      @DeeLeigh. Yeah. That would be the route to go. I could be the “color” commentator for a more qualified scholarly type. My friend Teri who works amongst academics on the other side of town has a couple she thinks I should talk to. And perhaps . . . perhaps.

      But most days, the blog is enough. It’s just when I see characters like this Ms. Florence that my literary indignation rears its ugly head.

      • “My friend Teri who works amongst academics on the other side of town has a couple she thinks I should talk to. And perhaps . . . perhaps. “

        This. I’m thinking this.
        *gives little geeky nudges*

        *backs off*

  8. Just got home from vacation. Plane 6 hours late, got to sleep at 4 a.m., woke at 8 a.m., now at work. Mind not working very well. Mostly, I think i’m in the same place as Vesta. Will think a bit more about this when the fog has lifted from my brain….In the meantime, I’m talking turkey in French, seriously.

  9. *rolls eyes*

    There’s a reason I’ve started pushing my friends who diet to this site. Something about “full disclosure”. 😉

    • Thanks, Living. Always appreciate a plug, even if my job is to terrify.

      • “…even if my job is to terrify.” or “depress”, I might add. But still, I love you and your blog!

        BTW, vacation was great, but it was NOT cool. Read my blog. Find out more!!

  10. Three things:
    1. Have you approached as a guest blogger? There’s an enormous readership there and many of your interests are discussed in their comments. For example, see this recent post from Kate Harding:

    2. Are you going to post about the mind over milkshakes study? I am FASCINATED by it for a couple of reasons.

    3. BUT as Lyle McDonald points out in this article it’s key to note that both groups reported similar levels of satiety regardless of their ghrelin measurement.

    (and I am officially changing my commenter name from Viola to ViolaLee so as not to be confused with another Viola who comments excellently on Big Fat Blog but is not me. I don’t really comment anywhere but here lately – and not that often here. I am 20 months into weight loss of around 100 lbs. But for me it has not been a relatively easy loss and then a honeymoon period and then a struggle. For me it was work to lose every ounce but not horrible grueling work. Just work. And now it’s work to keep it off and interesting work to develop strength and stamina in ways I did not expect to find in middle age.)

    • ViolaLee, thanks for the links. I am only now getting to a place where I will have a little time to click through. So far, I have clicked through to Jezebel. Interesting. No, I’ve never approached that site. I did send off an inquiry last winter to We are the Real Deal and never heard back. I think they are too overwrought keeping up with their own posts to deal with potential newcomers. I may look into Jezebel further, get more acqainted with the style and mission, and give it some thought. Of course, I adore Kate Harding. (Noticed the familiar trademark f-bomb in this post. Made me nostalgic for Shapely Prose.)

      Thanks also for changing your name. That’s no small decision. But I agree that Viola over at BFB is an excellent thinker/contributor, and yes, I had wondered whether you were the same person.

    • Oh, and, yes, the Mind Over Milkshakes is definitely worth a look. Kelly Brownell, et. al. I always approach those with defenses up but eyes open.

  11. You could perhaps team up with Refuse to Regain to write a book together…. Different perspectives but some commonalities (focusing on the commonalities would probably make for a better book).

    • I know that Debra respects Dr. Berkeley, though she doesn’t always agree with her. Personally, I would not like them to collaborate on a book. I’m can’t help it, but I find Dr.B. insufferable. Just how I feel…

    • I consider your suggestion a compliment, Amy. I respect Barbara a lot. However, she has a mascot maintainer already. She is Lynn Heraldson. In the grand scheme of maintainers, Lynn is top notch. I would like to think that, if you view maintainers as circus performers, Lynn and I are spinning roughly the same number of plates. I’ve been in maintenance mode for eight years, and I think she’s at four, so I have a few more “time” plates, but she has a few more “pound” plates than me, since she’s maintaining a larger loss. In terms of our obstacle course, I have navigated two bowel obstruction surgeries, foot surgery, a trip to the emergency room that ended my running obsession, and my mom’s and my best friend’s death. In the time I’ve been reading her, Lynn has navigated knee surgery, a divorce and a major family medical crisis. AND we’re both in perimenopause, I believe. (I know I am.) Breathing on the big M. BUT, hey, what do we know? Ms. Florence has the secret that would make this whole process ridiculously easy! (Har-de-har.) Lynn is a good match for Barbara. Lynn is maintaining on a modified Weight Watchers regimen, I believe, which is not Barbara’s primarian/paleo preference. She provides balance and proves that maintenance is, indeed, individual. I think they’re working on a book now, and I look forward to its release. I hope their publisher gives them the freedom to “keep it real” (Lynn’s lingo) and tell it as it is. And I hope that paves the way for me to write a feisty book of my own (as someone’s maintainer mascot). It’s not like this is a limited topic. We see maintenance through common eyes, but we all have different contributions to make to the marketplace of ideas.

  12. Debra,

    Just go ahead and write your book. And self-publish if necessary. You’ve got an extraordinary voice and I’m sure there are lots of people out there who want to hear it. (At very least, your faithful readers! lol). If Flo can do it (yes, I read through the one-pagers and was as bemused, nay disgusted as everyone else here), you can too. And much better, to say the least!

    • NewMe, you are too kind. Truthfully.

      • I’m with NewMe on this one.

        Take a good look at what Leo Babauta has done with his blog by reading his main page here: and his “reader-supported” page here:

        He has 220,000 readers because what he is saying and how he says it both resonate so strongly. His blog’s another place where I could see a guest blog from you making a wonderful impact – and bringing 50K or so people over here to read more of what you say.

        What you’re saying and how you’re saying it – especially the second job analogy, which is genius and which I quote daily (with proper attribution) – will have a lot of resonance with many hundreds of thousands of people. I am not kidding.

        For example, I have thought so often of the way that you look back on your immediate post-weight-loss evangelism – your “church lady phase” – and thought about how many people who lose weight go through that. And how it feels to be on the receiving end of it. And how many, many mechanisms support just that kind of thinking and behavior, and how very few mechanisms support your willingness to self-critique over that. (Kate Harding is one writer who does.)

        At the risk of getting all Ahmo-tell-you-how-to-run-yr-bloggy-career-whether-you-want-me-to-or-not, I will mention several places that I think your voice would be a fantastic grace note if not a whole solo:

        – NPR is doing a series on obesity and I almost posted you as a source for them but then I thought um, no, best check with her first cos that would be rude. Here’s the website: and here’s where you can share your thoughts/story/etc:

        – PRI seeks sources in general:

        Now let’s talk about me.

        In my own weight loss/weight management adventure, I came across your blog right around the time that I received my basal metabolic rate results (from a test done by a friend’s triathlon coach) and found out that although the trusty calculators of the internets put my calories-per-day needs between 1,500 and 2,000 in fact MY needs are 1,300 calories/day.

        So your willingness to look more deeply at the science and to talk about the specificity of the experience of weight management was a nice thing for me. I’m not writing “ViolaLee Sapp-Yarrwood” on my math notebook or anything – sometimes I find myself responding more peevishly to your posts than others – but I like what you’re doing and I think it would be helpful to many other people, too.

        And also let me reiterate: I am in loud and verbose agreement with what NewMe said!

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