Reflections on 40 years of changes, personal

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. – Maya Angelou

Today, October 28, 2019, is the 40th anniversary of my reaching lifetime status with Weight Watchers. Since that day, I have weighed in every single month (except for a six-month stretch in 1987-88 when I was extremely ill), and I have never been more than 2 pounds above my goal weight these past 40 years.

Not that it has been easy. In that interval, my weight has gone up and down, sometimes for known reasons, sometimes for unknown reasons. Over the course of 2018, I gained 12 pounds. My clothes were getting tight, and by the first week of January 2019, I was one pound away from losing my free lifetime status and my unbroken record. Since then, I’ve reduced the amount of food I’ve been eating, and it has taken me 9 months to lose 10 pounds. I am at a comfortable weight again. (What turned out to be my ideal weight, in my estimation, is 8 pounds under my official goal weight.)

This brings me to a difficult reality of long-term weight loss:

Once you try to lose weight, you can never go back to eating the way you did before (if you want to keep it off).

This is due to the fact that when you lose weight, your metabolism slows down, and never returns to the point it was before you started to lose weight. This is the reason that those who have made multiple attempts to lose weight (example: “yo-yo” dieting) reach a point where they literally cannot lose weight, because their metabolism is at such a low level that in order to lose weight, they would have to take in fewer calories than the number of calories they would need to live. So they’re stuck.

This is the reason that, in 1979, I lost weight at a rate of about 2 pounds a week, and in 2019, I lost weight at a rate of about 1 pound per month. (Fortunately for me, I’ve not made numerous attempts to lose weight only to gain it back again, so that I’m not at the point where in order to lose weight, I would have to eat fewer calories than is necessary for basic survival, but this is still darn slow.) Adding to this is that the metabolism naturally slows over time. As a result, over the 40 years since I reached my goal weight, I have gradually had to eat less and less food in order to maintain my ideal weight. (When I reached menopause, I gained about 15 pounds very quickly. Fortunately for me, I was about 15 pounds below my goal weight at the time.) Again, I wish to emphasize that I’m not anywhere near the point where I would eat less than the basic amount needed for survival.

My weight has not remained stable over these 40 years. Sometimes it goes up, sometimes it goes down. Even when I haven’t changed the amount I eat daily. Sometimes I can guess as to the reasons I gained or lost, other times I have no idea.

In 1979, I had the thought that once I lost the weight, I would stay at that weight (there is some evidence for a “set point,” that is, a weight that the body resists going over or under, but I have not found this to be a significant factor for me). Within a week of reaching my lifetime status, that thought was disproved very quickly.

Some doctors are finally taking the issue of obesity seriously. There’s still a widespread belief among too many physicians that all one has to do to lose weight is to have the amount of calories eaten to be less than the amount of calories expended, but it isn’t that simple, and it never was. Doctors admit that they have very little training about weight issues in medical school. Some say that it amounted to maybe 1-2 sessions. It is absolutely the truth that the average Weight Watchers (now WW) leader knows more about weight loss than the average doctor. (WW gives hours and hours of training in the latest scientific research about weight.) Once or twice when I was a Weight Watchers leader, I was approached by a member who told me that her doctor asked her to ask me about a weight loss issue. I have witnessed other members approach other leaders with queries from their doctors.

My view is this: yes, the reason that the weight loss experience is such a horrendous one is that humans evolved for millennia in an environment of food scarcity (and the human body will strongly resist any attempt at weight loss), and the evolution of the human body has yet to catch up with an environment of food abundance. Therefore, my opinion is that if doctors want everyone at a certain BMI, they need to stop lecturing people about eating less or referring people to weight loss surgery, and concentrate on finding a way to artificially compensate if there’s ever going to be progress made. [I am not holding my breath, however, that this will be done anytime soon.]

As a result of this, some are taking charge of the issue independently of the medical profession. Some individuals are just fine with their current weight, and feel they don’t need to change that. Good for them.

I am in favor of the “body positivity” movement. People need to be comfortable with how their bodies look no matter how much they weigh. Getting rid of the social stigma of being overweight would NOT encourage people to overeat; it would, however, greatly enhance their mental and emotional health. There is a rising movement which feels that it isn’t necessary for everyone to be thin. I understand where they’re coming from.

I felt it was necessary for me to get to what I felt was a reasonable weight, and I feel that choice is also valid. That’s the reason I went to WW, and was an employee for a time.

For that reason, I feel I need to say a little more about Weight Watchers (WW). I lost weight on the Weight Watchers program in 1979. I was an employee of Weight Watchers from 2000-2009. Since then, WW has not only changed its name, but has stopped calling its sessions meetings (they are now called workshops), and calls its locations “studios,” both of which are positive developments, in my opinion. They have also changed their approach to emphasize healthy lifestyles (which were always a part of the program, but are now more prominent) as opposed to centering on weight loss.

I follow individuals who are part of the body positivity movement on social media. I don’t comment on their posts, I just read them. A couple have said that WW is part of the problem, as opposed to being part of the solution, and moreover, that WW has indulged in body shaming. I have never witnessed this in my 40 years of association with WW. I can tell you that, as an employee, I was told never to read a weight number aloud, and not to give my own weight, because there would be individuals around who would never get to that weight, and comparing their weight to mine could be a problem for them. That made sense. If I, or any other WW employee, had “fat shamed” anyone, we would have been given a reprimand at the first instance, and be fired upon repetition. (When I was an employee, I read the employee message boards daily, and on rare occasions there were reports from other employees witnessing WW receptionists giving disparaging remarks to members. So I know it happened. But I never witnessed it myself, it was never company policy, and I know those who did it were in danger of being fired.) Company policy has always been, and is now, to have WW be a welcoming place for everyone and a shelter from the outside, fat-shaming, world.

[I will say that the situation was different when I joined WW in 1979. The scale was in the middle of the room, we all lined up and were weighed. The weigher told us our weight aloud (in a conversational tone, not shouted across the room). This did not bother me in the least. I know it bothers many individuals, however. The point is, however, that weighers had stopped saying one’s weight aloud by the time I joined WW as an employee in 2000.]

Going further….

The word “fatphobia” has come into use. The definition I found online is “fear or dislike of obese people or obesity.” I believe that is a real thing.

For me, I have never defined a person’s worth (mine, or anyone else’s) by their weight.

I lost weight because I felt uncomfortable and wanted to do something about it, and didn’t know how to lose weight in a healthy manner. I think that WW has a place for those of us who want to lose weight in a safe, healthy way. Nothing I ever experienced at WW, either as an employee, or as a member, has shown a fear or dislike of obese individuals.

I have seen a couple of things online. First, details such as keeping a food diary, or counting calories/points, or phrases such as “nothing tastes as good as being thin feels” have bothered some. I can understand the view that such things can become obsessive, but writing down what I ate and weighing and measuring everything was important to me because I did not know what a reasonable portion size was and I had trouble keeping track. Now, I am obsessive about some things, granted. But I have not been obsessive about keeping track of food or weighing and measuring things. And, once I reached a stable weight, I stopped doing those things, because by then, I knew what a reasonable portion size was and what amount of food was appropriate. As with anything else, these actions can be taken to extremes. But I don’t believe calorie counting causes eating disorders; I think that eating disorders can cause obsessive calorie counting. As for phrases such as “nothing tastes as good as being thin feels,” I have no problem with avoiding that phrase if it bothers anyone.

Second, there’s been criticism of WW for introducing a plan for teenagers. In 1979, there was a plan for teenagers (and pregnant individuals, for that matter). By 2000, there was not, and I was told that pregnant individuals and teenagers could not join WW unless they had a doctor’s note. WW has recently re-introduced a plan for teenagers, which they call a healthy eating plan and maintain that it’s not a weight loss plan. Still, I can see that this is problematic. Certainly teenagers should be taught good nutrition (I was, in school). On the other hand, I definitely see the point that it’s better to wait until adulthood before making a choice as to whether or not to lose weight.

Another thing I’ve seen online is labeling “before” and “after” pictures as fatphobic. I’ve taken mine down because of that, even though I don’t see that display as equivalent to saying “see how pathetic I was before and see how wonderful I am now” because I don’t think in those terms. I was not pathetic when I was overweight and I am not any more or less wonderful now than I was then. But I can see how someone might interpret it that way.

I’ve learned other things in the past 40 years as well. After I left WW as an employee, I wrote a book about my weight loss experience, sure that people would want to know my weight loss story. They didn’t. The book didn’t sell many copies. After a couple of years, I realized that what I wrote might come across as pompous and rewrote the book. Still didn’t sell much. Since I rewrote it, I learned a lot more about weight loss. In particular, I’ve learned that no one weight loss program works for everyone, and that different individuals need to try different methods before finding one that works for them. Therefore, my experience may be entirely worthless to many. I don’t promote the book anymore; I can see that it may still come across as pompous. There are reasons it would be difficult to take it down (due to contracts with the suppliers) until 2021. Then I will remove it from circulation. (Fortunately, again, I rarely sell copies of it.)

After I left WW as an employee, I published a couple of food journals. Those remain in circulation because there are lots of reasons that an individual might want to track food aside from weight loss (carbs, salt, etc., which there is space for in those journals), and I feel they serve all those functions.

In this blog, I have previously published thoughts related to weight control. As I’ve stated above, I’ve learned a lot more about weight issues since then. I may delete those posts because of that. Or I may leave them to show the evolution and changing of my thought process over the years. I haven’t made a decision on that yet.

I am continuing to learn about these and other health issues, and about the impact these issues have, and continue to do my best to be sensitive to them.

Meanwhile, I do continue to share articles (such as those referenced below) on my Twitter account @joanhealthynote and my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/JMVHealthyNote/ if anyone is interested.

References:

“…the body adjusts to weight loss. It quickly decreases the number of calories it needs to maintain its new, lighter size, says Corby Martin, PhD, director of the Ingestive Behavior Laboratory at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA. That means weight loss slows down over time.”
Mysteries of Weight Loss http://wb.md/1mCgspm from @WebMD

……………

After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight http://nyti.ms/1O9EG21
“Researchers knew that just about anyone who deliberately loses weight — even if they start at a normal weight or even underweight — will have a slower metabolism when the diet ends.”
“What shocked the researchers was what happened next: As the years went by and the numbers on the scale climbed, the contestants’ metabolisms did not recover. They became even slower….”
“Their experience shows that the body will fight back for years.”
“Slower metabolisms were not the only reason the contestants regained weight, though. They constantly battled hunger, cravings and binges.”
“Dr. Proietto said. ‘The body puts multiple mechanisms in place to get you back to your weight. The only way to maintain weight loss is to be hungry all the time.'”

………………………

One Weight-Loss Approach Fits All? No, Not Even Close http://nyti.ms/2hfeix1

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