The Penultimate Post: How do I Reconcile Size Acceptance and Weight-Loss Maintenance?

In Weight-Loss Maintenance on September 22, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Two people in the last month have asked me to answer this question.   Here goes.

Call it serendipity.  Call it an act of God.  But a year or two into my maintenance, when I was still the “joyful jogger” in my own mind, I found Big Fat Blog.  I don’t know what I was reading that got me linked there.  It wouldn’t surprise me to learn it was a diet related blog that belittled BFB.  But I got there and got hooked.   (By the way, if you visit my profile there, it says I’ve only been a member 42 weeks, or some such.  That’s actually the time since a computer glitch eliminated my profile for a few days.  I’ve been there many years – probably since 2005 or 2006.)

I read deep into the archives and all I could think was, these people are right:  society’s hating on fat people (with the best of intentions) isn’t creating health, or even reducing the number or size of fat people.  I searched the site for information on the awful 95% failure rate statistic for weight-loss maintenance.  Even though I was well into my maintenance and I’d thought (hoped) that I’d “clicked” into some new mental or physical state that would support life-long maintenance, I was also painfully aware that I’d been part of that statistic before.  I had regained, yo-yoed, in the past, and I knew that I had not gotten any smarter (and may have, in fact, killed a few brain cells with age and Chardonnay).  I was desperate to know more about this failure rate, the science behind it, whether it was true and whether there were special “exceptions” that I might qualify for.  Sadly, my search of BFB came up dry.  But I noticed that there was another private area for “registered” people, and I thought that maybe my answer was in there.

When I registered I only briefly contemplated lying to get in.  Ultimately, I figured, I’d feel more comfortable participating if I were there honestly.  In my essay I revealed that I was a weight-reduced person, but some things just didn’t feel right.  I promised that it would not be difficult to play by the rules and avoid diet talk.  God bless Paul McAleer, the founder and moderator of BFB at that time:  he let me in.   I guess he knew I needed to be there.

Sadly, in the BFB forums, I couldn’t find an answer to my burning question about the 95% failure rate of maintenance.  But I did find there compelling, intelligent, heart-felt, truthful discussions covering the  many facets of living fat, which I had not forgotten.  (For a time, among my real-world friends, I called myself a “fat chick in the closet.”)  When I participated in discussions at BFB I never used the word “we.”  I would say “fat people fall victim to . . .”  or “most fat people understand that . . .”  To my knowledge, no one noticed this pattern.  It didn’t stick out.  I became a member of the community.  Some people there attacked me for being “healthist” (and I think I was once disparaged for being a “good fattie”), but many fat people at BFB are subject to the healthist moniker (including DeeLeigh, who now administers the blog), and we supported each other’s views.

Within a short time of my joining BFB we discussed creating “cheat sheets” to help us with the most common challenges to size acceptance.  I volunteered to write on the 95% failure rate (which I would learn is actually 97%).  It gave me an excuse to do more research.  My early musings on that topic are still there.  Above the BFB logo are two tiny links, one to Big Fat Index and the other to Big Fat Facts.  My essay is down the page and entitled NEW:  The Truth About Long-Term Diet Success.   You’ll likely recognize my “voice” if you read it.  I also helped by doing some line editing in the other pages, so my “voice” is elsewhere too.

So my acceptance at BFB should explain my embrace of Size Acceptance. 

I can only explain my weight-loss maintenance by suggesting that it’s my reality.  I am not a figment of my imagination.  I am doing this, truthfully.  Sometimes I question why, but most days I just keep going, and I find reward in discovering the right words to describe it – words that go beyond the flippant “lifestyle” vocabulary that we read everywhere. 

Early on, actually, weight-loss maintenance wasn’t that difficult for me (I could have called it a “lifestyle” without choking) because I became a running nut.  It happened gradually – I started with walking and sprinting, when I was still losing weight, which turned into longer sprints, which tied into miles of sprints at a time and no walking at all.  There’s truth to the notion that running is addictive.  My addiction lasted for more than four years, and I would still be a running nut if my joints and left foot had only remained as addicted as my head.  Grrrrr.  I think that regular running, for all the subtle hormonal adjustments it makes in one’s body, counters much of the hormonal pull and the impulses to eat that would return a body to its highest established weight.  I have not found another form of exercise as effective, though I sally onward.  I have experienced some regain, about 13 pounds, which is not enough to qualify me as a failure at this game yet.

I have also recovered from two emergency gut surgeries, one in 2008 and the other in 2009, involving a hernia and twisted bowels.   Almost immediately upon my return home from the hospital I was exercising (gently) to aerobic DVDs.  I was probably exercising sooner and harder than was “healthy” for a natural weight person, definitely harder than my doctor recommended, but I knew intuitively that to maintain my weight loss I would need to return to exercise as quickly as possible and accelerate the intensity faster than a natural weight person would.   A maintainer friend (by email) had warned me that all the established success stories she knew who later regained, did so following surgery. 

My struggles are typical.  Most legit maintainers, long out of the honeymoon phase, have war stories like mine.  And yet cultural mythology maintains that we’re all just livin’ the healthy lifestyle, a myth that simultaneously marginalizes maintainers as unremarkable (though oddly inspirational) and discredits fat people for choosing NOT to live the healthy lifestyle.  If legit maintainers regarded their maintenance as an issue of style, however, then there wouldn’t be 3% club, composed of success stories.  “Style” is optional.  The work one has to do for weight-loss maintenance isn’t.  Moreover, the work one does for maintenance is vulnerable.  If I permanently blew out a knee or something else that made the intensity of exercise that I need (which is different from other maintainers’ needs) impossible, my maintenance would be over.  If I were in an accident that put me in a convalescent home where my food choices were no longer my own, then my maintenance would be over.  I would regain, and it would feel like falling, falling, falling — helplessly falling. 

But, thankfully, I would have the soft bosom of Size Acceptance to land in.

So here I sit, living honestly a maintainer’s life (sans style), and yet knowing the veracity and compassion that is Size Acceptance.  There is no question about reconciling them.  They’re both truthful.  I don’t need to reconcile that grass is green and the sky is blue.

  1. “I don’t need to reconcile that grass is green and the sky is blue.”
    Yes, it’s obvious to you. And you’re right. Maybe a better question would be not “HOW do you reconcile…” but “WHY do you reconcile…”. That is, why you and so exquisitely few other people.
    I’ve been surfing the internet a long time, and I’ve seen a good deal of hostility in this matter, mostly of dieters/maintainers renouncing their fat sins and vowing to be “good” forever. Of dieters feeling that fat people (even their own former fat selves) are the most horrible disgusting people in the world.
    Some people come to BFB stealthily, to report the words of fat people to members of some other group for the purposes of tasteless humor and righteous indignation. Some come because they’ve been burned by weight-loss attempts one too many times. A few naturally thin folk are into fat acceptance, too.
    But someone who is not only one of the few percent of people who has maintained a significant weight-loss, and is also a fat acceptor – this I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before.
    So you are now privy to the part of fat hate that isn’t specifically directed at you. How do you deal with that and still have compassion for humanity?

    • Well, Mulberry, while I am privy to fat hate, and have a standing invitation to join the party, I just don’t see the point. Hatred doesn’t serve a useful purpose . . . in anything, actually. Obesity is metaphor. Hatred doesn’t serve decision-making or policy-making for anything . . . not health, not family dynamics, not personal aspirations, not national defense, even.

      But, on topic . . . I think people are under the misapprehension that fat hate is the motivating power that will create trimness, in others or themselves, and all the rewards that go with it. This just isn’t true. Sometimes they morph the fat hate into a mask of concern, but hate is the glue holding the mask together. (It’s also the glue in the mask of “tasteless humor and righteous indignation.”)

      I remember times when I was fat, hating on myself (at the behest of cultural pressure); I remember balling my hands into fists in the shower and pounding on my thighs, hoping they’d get a message. I remember hot tears. I remember angry prayers at God. But it wasn’t anger or fat hate that got me trim and fat hate isn’t keeping me that way. I got trim by walking, then running and eating fewer calories at a time when my hormones were quiet and cooperative (as is the case with most people who are near or only recently straying from their highest established weight). My state of mind was not one of hatred, but self-care (which I know is not an original thought). I maintained my lost weight for a while by continuing with the same behaviors that took it off, until running turned on me and was no longer an act of self-care. Simultaneously, my hormones grew annoying and uncooperative toward weight maintenance (as they do with most or all weight-reduced people). Nevertheless, and this is where I went weird, I created new, unusual (disordered?) behaviors that continue to maintain a trimmer body, and I call them a part-time job. As time-consuming and intrinsically unrewarding as these behaviors are, how can I not examine them? I force joy, in the same way one must force joy into a tedious job. And I reflect and analyze. I share my thoughts in hopes of finding affirmation.

      I have found many affirming friends on this blog, of both the maintainer and size acceptance variety. What a reward! That’s a “why,” I’d say.

  2. Debra,
    I so respect your journey, and your honesty, and bravery, and intellect, and compassion. And I will miss reading you here, but hopefully, you’ll write about other things elsewhere.

    You have chosen a compassionate path, one that says, “just because this is what I’m doing, that doesn’t mean others can/should do it too.” (Unlike, for example, the NY Times’ Jane E. Brody, although even she is allowing some compassionate ideas to penetrate her writing.)

    I’ll also miss you writing about “eat impulses” because you are so right that the complexity of hunger is not comprehended yet… as someone who isn’t actively trying to lose weight but I work at “managing” my weight at an in-between spot — currently about 35 pounds less than my highest weight, and 15 pounds higher than my most recent lowest spot — I too struggle to comprehend what seems like hunger and messages to “eat now” in a compassionate way. It’s not only for weight maintainers that better understanding how to respond to the signals our body sends us in the way that leads to a mix of immediate, short-term and long-term health — whatever we decide we prefer. Aside from weight — type 2 diabetes means that if I strictly follow my body’s hunger signals/eat impulses, I’ll be out of luck when it comes to managing blood glucose levels.

    You have been such an ally — your honesty shows what it takes for someone who has the combination of skills and daily, non-stop effort in order to do what you are doing, and points out that not everyone can do what you are doing. Your writing blasts the myths that once people lose weight, maintenance is “easy.”

    Your understanding of size acceptance makes your weight maintenance efforts ring differently than someone who is embracing thinness as a means of being acceptable to society. In a way, it’s the difference between someone who becomes wealthy either owning up to their past and staying connected, or concocting an entirely new life and abandoning the old one. I never hear you disparage your “fat self” — and you do not paint the “maintainer’s life” as a glamorous one.

  3. Ah, “eat impulses.” If there is one concept from this blog that ever makes it into the marketplace of ideas, especially among behavioral scientists (such as those at the NWCR), I hope it is that. As long as we think of hunger as a black/white thing, or, at most, a thing that can be graded on a scale of one to ten, then fat hate will continue. Because people who lose weight and regain it feel guilty because they ate when they were not “hungry” (at a level between 1 and 4). They feel guilty and they hate themselves, and they think it’s okay for others to hate as well, because they know the dirty secret. Well, it’s not a secret; it’s a lie.

    I guess another concept that I’d like to see gain traction is the idea that size acceptance and weight-loss maintenance are NOT enemies. Everyone has been betrayed by the zippy “lifestyle” myth.

    • And they often call it “emotional eating,” or otherwise try to make it into a mental health issue, when it really is hunger. We all experience it. It’s real, and responding to it doesn’t mean we’re crazy or damaged.

  4. […] Debra Sapp-Yarwood reconciles maintaining a weight loss with Health at Every Size. […]

  5. I’m very sad that I discovered this blog at the penultimate post! I will enjoy reading the archives, and I can SO identify! I am 50-odd pounds lower than my highest weight, and still obese, with 70-odd pounds to go, even to be at the top of my “healthy weight range.” I have been at this level for about six months, so I’m maintaining, but it’s a struggle, and what I face to continue to lose weight is not encouraging. Thanks for being here, and I look forward to reading the archives!

    • Cindy, you might consider trying size acceptance and HAES at this point, if you feel that any further changes to your habits would be unsustainable. If you have healthy habits, then you are probably at a healthy weight for you already. Maybe you don’t have any “pounds left to go.”

      • Cindy, I second DeeLeigh on that. Fifty pounds is a lot of loss. As I calculate it, it has to be more than 10% of your highest established weight (if an additional 70 lbs puts you in a “normal” BMI). Therefore, you are likely enjoying most of the health benefits that scientists associate with a 10 percent loss. (And those benefits are likely the result of your healthy behaviors, not the loss itself. Association is not causation.)

        If you’ve created a beautiful blood profile — got your cholesterol and triglicerides under control, etc., — then additional weight loss may not do much more medically for you than help your joints a little, and the amount of work you’ll have to do to maintain additional loss may not be worth it to you. What you don’t want to do is lose so much weight that maintenance becomes so onerous that you increase your odds of a yo-yo weight cycle. That has medical consequences. I’d recommend that you consider, if you can do it joyfully, digging in your heels at the weight you are and treasuring your body. Maintaining 50 pounds of loss is going to be challenging enough. You’re in the radical maintenance club (make yourself a card and call yourself card-carrying). To join the 3% society at five years (and beyond) you’ll need to exercise and eat prudently every day, from here on out, for the rest of your life. It’s not a lifestyle; it’s your new avocation. Welcome, comrade! Force joy into it when you have to.

        Now, I feel it’s only right to reiterate that I am not a doctor. (And to back-pedal the other way and say that doctors don’t seem to have this weight game figured out any better than the lay public.)

  6. I am going to miss your words terribly when you stop blogging.

  7. I’m really going to miss this blog and your voice. I have always been of average weight, so not exactly your target audience, but I have a thyroid condition that influences my appetite and weight (not within a huge range but enough that I have wardrobes in several different sizes).

    I have the same “eat impulses” you do – I get so sleepy and unfocused until I get my carb boost that I’m a danger to my own career. You are the only person I’ve ever heard talk about this.

    Best of luck. I hope you’ll come back and post now and then, if you ever have more thoughts about this or see some relevant research.

    • I’ve got some thoughts on how I’ll communicate with people if anything should happen, if I should rekindle my writing. I’ve started my coursework, and it looks like it (along with parenting, deaconing and other obligations) will be enough of a challenge for a time.

  8. You really need to keep writing this blog. Where you are going now on your life-path journey is wonderful, imho. But, even as your life broadens and changes and your new role develops, you will still, forevermore, like the rest of us radical maintainers, be maintaining.

    I have not commented here since my first comment and I regret that. But, I have been deep, deep in thought. There is no blog like yours, and its existence and the heart of YOU that you have very much put into this blog, makes it very compelling.

    Ever since discovering your blog, I’ve had some book titles going round and round in my head…one is: Radical Maintainers – Voices From an Unknown Country…and sometimes the second sentence or byline changes to: Aliens From an Unknown Country.

    For me, stumbling, at long last into this blog was like finding one of those voices from an unknown country…a kindred spirit…and one who incorporates science and her observations and her experiece, much deeply personal, so deftly and beautifully.

    In my book, there is NO other blog like this. There just isn’t.

    So, on my figurative knees, I implore you…don’t stop! Take a break…get firmly grounded and settled in your new path…then even blog less often if it suits you, but please, please soulfully consider carrying forward.

    You voice is more needed than you know.

    And here is a mention of the blog today:

    Thank you, from the heart –

    • Oh, Mem, what lovely, lovely words. I’m speechless.

      But I’ll talk anyway.

      You’re so right about feeling alien. Unknown. It’s not that we’re even respectfully misunderstood — we’re assumed. Of course, we’ll maintain, our culture thinks. And yet, most people don’t. Or can’t.

      I will keep my writer flames fanned. Someday, I may reappear. But in the meantime, I have all kinds of written assignments that I’ll be doing for my coursework, pastoral reflections and such that cannot be shared because of confidentiality issues. But a writer’s heart still burns here.

  9. Mem, I realize that post on Weighty Matters was the one that led me here yesterday!

  10. Yoni’s a hoot. Somewhere in here (as you plow through the archives) you’ll find he’s visited and left comments in the past.

    I so appreciate his sharing my blog. Last I looked at the stats, I got 138 links from him.

  11. Thanks for your encouragement, Debra and DeeLeigh. I realize how much I crave validation! For several reasons I’d really like to lose more, but I’m currently at a point where I’ve lost almost 20% of my highest weight. Even at the top range I had decent blood profiles and bp, and after I’d lost about 10% I haven’t improved those much, so you’re right about that. In fact, I think a doc would be surprised to see me at my current BMI with all the good numbers that I have.

    I am 50 years old today, and met with a friend this morning who has been an accountability partner for me for about a year to kind of emote and think about where I am right now. I want to tweak what I’m doing to see if I can lose some more and see how that feels. I am learning a LOT from the posts in this blog (I’m up to late October of last year, I think) and all the comments, and from following the links to other sites. I’m thankful to have this additional information and common feeling/thought.

    Thank you all, Debra and all the commenters!!

  12. Yesterday, I flew home from a conference in Hawaii. No need to say lucky you. For a number of reasons, it was horrible, but I digress.

    Anyway, I checked the electronic map on my personal TV screen (take that, crappy old US planes–I was on Air Canada) and noticed that I was flying over your home, Debra. I said a little silent hello to you.

    Words cannot express how much I’ll miss your blog.

    • Hello back atcha. Once I’m not writing the blog, perhaps I’ll be more timely in keeping up with the blogs I read.

      Look forward to hearing your Hawaiian tales.

  13. I just wanted to add my own thanks for your blog. Nobody else that I know tells the truth like you do. It’s hard. I think we all have our own plan that works for us — for me, it’s eating a lot of protein and hardly anything else until late in the day, definitely only sugary things late at night since they make me hungry but if I’m asleep that resets by the morning. But even with a plan that “works”, it takes work to make it work! And people don’t talk about that truth much. So thanks for your honesty.

    Also, I apologize if I’ve ever worded things poorly in disagreeing from time to time. You know, re: exercise, I said I don’t exercise and I feel like I don’t, but I probably get more “passive” exercise in than most (probably about one and a half hours on average of walking and biking, and I live on the 4th floor of a building with no elevator), I just don’t consider it exercise but daily life. And I’m still young, so who knows how things will change as I get older. I could just have lucky genes, too, never “having much to lose” (I would just barely squeak into the NWCR… though judging from the difference in people’s reactions at my age you’d think it was a huge loss!).

    Now, that is far too much about me when this should be about you. I’m just trying to say, your blog has touched my life and made me think a lot, heck, not even just about weight. So thank you very much. You’ll be missed and I hope you go back to blogging at some point. But in the interim I wish you all the best with your new line of work. It is so important to find meaning and I’m very glad you have.

    • There is one good thing about maintaining without exercising, though. Since losing the weight I had a serious back injury which left me bedridden for a month. I still have physical constraints, but I know that even if I end up permanently disabled in the future (which is a distinct possibility), I will still be able to keep the weight off.

  14. Amy, no apologies necessary! I don’t recall an offensive thing you’ve said. You speak your truth and that’s okay in my book any day. Thank you for your kind words. Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I’ve started my new thing, and it’s a lot of work!

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