Saturday, June 6, 2009

Wrapped up in the number no more

I'm about to let you in on a little secret: I (re)joined Weight Watchers about 6 weeks ago. I haven't told many folks because although I was successful on WW years ago, it took me almost 2 years to lose 35 pounds. And toward the end of that weight loss journey I, frankly, became a tiny bit nuts -- gaining and losing the same two pounds for at least 5 months, getting frustrated and angry and depressed and obsessive. Not pretty. I was within 4 pounds of my ultimate goal when I got pregnant and put on 65 pounds. And there you have it. Two years of maniacal food counting and compulsive exercising right out the door.

My son is almost 4 now, and I still carry around the last 15 of those 65 pregnancy pounds. I want them gone. Not-So-Big Daddy is melting away since his illness in January -- he's down almost 70 pounds, people! -- but I've been struggling to shed my own spare tire. So I paid the money, stepped bravely onto the WW scale, started counting the Points and walk-jogging the miles. I've been losing weight slowly...very s-l-o-w-l-y...but I feel good.

Or at least I felt good until my last WW meeting.

This past week I went to a different meeting than I usually attend. I remembered the leader from my previous WW experience -- and I remembered disliking her then. But I stuck around, because, hell, I'm paying the money, might as well get the full experience, right? The topic of the meeting was motivation, and the intention was to get all of us to reach into our bellies, pardon the pun, and find what it was that led us to WW in the first place. The theory, I suppose, was to remind us that fat is no fun, that getting healthy should really be the focus, that in the day-to-day battle of the bulge, we need to concentrate on little things like how much easier it is to button our pants or how much less our knees ache.

However, as the meeting progressed, my motivation actually waned. Instead I got depressed. There I was sitting in a room full of beautiful, smart women -- mothers, wives, sisters, friends, professionals, caretakers -- all of whom repeated over and over how they felt unworthy of doing something important for themselves. More than one woman said she felt guilty when she took an hour to go to the gym instead of cleaning her house, that she felt inadequate if she served her husband a vegetarian dinner in order to meat her own weight loss goals, that if she enjoyed herself with friends at lunch and happened to overeat, she punished herself by not eating dinner and going hungry all night. Is this healthy behavior? I think not.

Why, you ask, do they feel unworthy? Because they are fat. Many, like me, have been overweight since childhood, so we carry scars of nasty kids and compulsive parents. Some were thin until a certain point in adulthood and can't understand how or why they became overweight; they feel out of control. Everyone in that room had serious self-esteem issues that centered on our weight. Instead of seeing the positives in our lives, we all dwell on that number on the scale, let that number rule our thoughts and our self-confidence. For some reason, in our warped brains, it doesn't matter that we have husbands who think we're sexy, children who think the sun rises because of us, friends who would rather spend their time with us than with anyone else.

Wow. Epiphany time. As I sat there listening to these women revealing their food scars, I thought I don't want to be like this!

The two things that makes Weight Watchers work is also the problem with Weight Watchers: (1) Food becomes your #1 focus. You must plan what you eat ahead of time; you must be ever-vigilant, constantly evaluating whether you're hungry enough at 2pm to eat that 2-point cheese stick and therefore not have the 2 points to use at 9pm when you might be really hungry. (2) The weekly weigh-in holds you accountable for your food choices. But it can make you completely crazy about the number each week, because really, it's the only empirical measure of your success (or failure). No matter how well your pants fit or how much you've lost to that point, if you've foregone cake, beer, and pizza at a party yet not lost weight -- or, horror, put on weight! -- you will walk away feeling bad.

They say that people who are successful on WW learn how to do it by rote; they think in points values, get used to eating the same types of things at the same times, habitually exercise, and make healthy food choices. That sounds easy enough, right?

But it seems to me that people who are successful with weight loss, no matter how they do it, learn how to shut off the self-defeating fat-person thoughts. So I suppose the un-motivating motivation meeting did in fact motivate me: I want to learn how to look in the mirror and see the smart, beautiful, successful, happy woman I am. When I can do that, no matter what the scale says, the weight will be gone.


jennifer bauman said...

Well written... I'm also debating the WW route, although I've never had success with it in the past. Good luck! How is the running going? What time do you run?

Christy said...

Wonderfully put. Excellent!