Between 2019 – 2021, I lost 70 pounds. How I did it–both the good and bad practices–is a story for another day. I have kept the weight off for 15 months, a milestone in itself since the statistics related to regaining weight are discouraging to say the least. Losing the weight was finding the resolve to follow the directions given by my coach and establishing weekly check-ins to support accountability. His recommendations for nutrition and exercise worked as he predicted, and I made steady progress. Even after I reached my goal, I kept following those guidelines fairly closely as I knew how easy it could be to slip back into old habits.
After the first year, though, I was ready for a bit more normality in my diet–spaghetti and meatballs, french fries, ice cream. And, I was finding it harder to muster motivation to get on the treadmill despite the Apple Watch with its monthly challenges and helpful reminders. Yet, part of me understood that I had established a “new normal” as they say, and while I could be a bit more liberal with my food choices, I couldn’t go back to the old ways.
What I wasn’t prepared for, perhaps, was the fear of regaining the weight. The longer I am able to keep it off, the worry eases a bit as I think I have found a balance, but there is still a bit of anxiety on weigh-in days. And, if there is a pound or two extra, the old tales of failure and recrimination begin to spin themselves.
I am not willing to live with fear and recrimination on a daily basis and am working through the negative patterns to find solutions for dealing with them. Meditation helps as I can more quickly and easily (sometimes) recognize the states of mind and the stories…notice, name and stop the narrative before it gets too far. Begin again. Accept without judging.
I know, just as during meditation I can refocus on the breath or the body when my mind wanders, I can begin my healthy practices again. But, I must do so in a spirit of tenderness towards myself. Joseph Goldstein makes a beautiful distinction between acceptance and resignation. We must purse the first in the present, but it doesn’t mean we can’t also pursue change in the world. We are not helpless.
This article from the Medical Clinics of North America describes the problems associated with maintaining weight loss long term and has tips for medical providers for supporting those who have lost large amounts of weight. They are clear enough for regular people to understand as well. Their opening case study and their descriptions of the thoughts that go through your mind (were they reading mine somehow?) certainly resonated with my experience. It was actually a bit of relief to know that I am not alone.
One of their fundamental recommendations is providing people with specific training in maintaining their new weight, something I think I stumbled upon on my own. They have practical, research-based suggestions from eating breakfast to getting regular exercise: no real surprises, honestly. They also suggest helping people create risk-management plans along with ways to deal with lapses, pretty standard behavior management strategies, briefly mentioning mindfulness practices as potential coping mechanisms, lumping them in with hobbies.
At least mindfulness got a mention and I think it deserves more exploration as meditation connects with several of their other suggestions. It has certainly helped me with what they call cognitive restructuring, learning to recognize and redirect the negative patterns of thought that I described above. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to take changes or lapses in stride. We aren’t going to be perfect and setting all/or nothing goals is the first step on the road to failure. It is, in meditation terms, the ability to begin again, strengthening our skill and commitment each time we do so.