In the past few years, a number of life-style changes seemed to conspire to aid in a significant weight gain. I had two children; I moved from a walking city to a driving city and then to a suburb; and then I took a job with a 45-minute commute in each direction, where I spent my entire day sitting at a desk or conference table. And this warm lovely office I went to was always full of treats, which I always thought I could just take one… okay one more… okay seven more.
By the time I realized how much weight I had gained, I felt at a complete loss. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I avoided mirrors. I stopped wearing pants because I found them too constricting, not to mention unattractive. I began to only wear dresses and sometimes skirts, which everyone around me thought was a fashion statement. I didn’t bother to correct them. Mostly, I felt completely helpless.
And then, I came to two realizations that changed my world. It reminded me of the end of one of my favorite movies, City Slickers, when Billy Crystal explains that the meaning of life is about just one thing. When they ask him what that one thing is, he explains that’s the true purpose. We all have to find what that one thing is for ourselves.
My weight-loss journey was much like that “one thing,” but it came in two parts. These two ideas, simple in their concept, turned everything around. In less than a year, I lost 30 pounds and have kept it off for more than a year so far.
1. I’m an “Obliger.”
I happened to pick up a copy of Gretchen Rubin’s book, Better Than Before, in which she explores how people create habits. In it, she reveals her personality framework called the Four Tendencies. I encourage you to check this out, take the quiz, and learn something new about yourself. But, I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that my personality type is called “Obliger.” This means that I feel accountable to external expectations, but almost never to internal expectations.
In her book, she recommends a number of tips to creating good habits. But the one that stuck with me were to create the kind of expectations your personality-type responds to. For me, that meant I needed to make sure I was accountable to someone else for my own eating habits. That was my first inkling that I should re-join WeightWatchers.
The program offered me two points of accountability: 1) I would pay for access to the app to track my eating. If I didn’t follow through, it would be an expensive waste of money for my family. 2) I signed up for a weekly one-on-one coaching session by phone. Scheduling those calls made me feel completely accountable; I couldn’t stand the thought of calling her and having to tell her that I wasn’t sticking to my goals.
By the way, if these kinds of obligations aren’t resonating with you, that means you’re not an Obliger and I strongly encourage you to go take her quiz and learn more about what works for you.
2. I had to pick something for the rest of my life.
Yes, you read that right. I picked WeightWatchers because I had done it before and found it to work well for me. I knew that this was a program I could stick to for next 50+ years. Here’s how I came to that conclusion:
I read another book (I do love my self help!) called The Secret Life of Fat. Besides having a horrible title, this book changed my whole understanding of how I gained weight, why I struggled to take it off, and what was possible. I was mostly intrigued by the book in the first place because it was written by a chemist who decided to study as much science as she could about fat in order to tackle her own weight issues.
I was comforted to learn that a woman of her stature, very successful in her career and incredibly well educated, struggled with same weight issues and self esteem issues as the rest of us. So, I picked it up and started reading. The book was a treasure trove of scientific studies and current understandings about fat in our bodies, including the fascinating new understanding that fat is actually an organ.
If I could sum up the most important learning from the whole book, it would be this: whatever plan you choose to lose weight, be prepared to do it for the rest of your life. She is very clear about this point. Studies have shown that fat will return to its largest size, no matter how long it’s been off.
I was surprised to find that I felt completely comforted by this thought, “the rest of your life.” Where I would have expected to feel trapped by that thought, I actually felt totally free. If it’s truly forever, then there’s nothing else to look forward to afterward. It’s not like after a few months I will suddenly go eat all the treats for seven servings. No, because it’s forever. It felt comforting to know it was forever, a lot like my marriage.
Of course there are so many other factors in weight loss and maintenance. It matters how many calories, which kinds of calories, how much exercise, and on and on and on. And while I find some of that interesting on an intellectual level, it was just too much for me to absorb all of it. When I got focused on these two psychological aspects, success came very quickly: pick a system that will hold me accountable and that I’m prepared to do for the rest of my life.
And one final note:
For me, my weight loss was always about taking care of myself and feeling good. I have never been what I consider “skinny.” I switched from weight loss to maintenance when I hit the maximum weight for “healthy” on the BMI chart. I could lose another 20 pounds and still be within the “healthy” range. But, I have no need to be skinny. I knew exactly when I was the right size. It was the day that I put on a pair of old jeans, looked in the mirror, and said, “Oh, there I am!”
Ordinary Days, Meaningful Life is a labor of love geared toward working moms ready to embrace the chaos and find meaning in it. If you found this post meaningful, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it too! I’d love to stay in touch with you! Leave a comment below, contact me, or sign up for the mailing list. I can’t wait to hear from you!