HOW I LOST OVER 100 LBS AND KEPT (MOST OF) IT OFF OVER 11 YEARS
During the Christmas holidays in 2002 my husband and I went to New Jersey to visit his family. For the second year in a row, his formerly heavy cousin was slim and happy, having success with WeightWatchers, and I was still about 80+ pounds overweight, and still telling myself "I'm working on it; I'm doing it on my own." I've read probably a hundred books and thousands of articles on diet, exercise, health and fitness, and for years I'd been telling myself "I know what to do; I just need to do it."
I was blessed with a "fast metabolism" and had been a skinny child and teen, very active, taking as many as 10 ballet classes per week. I'd been able to eat anything and everything without putting on weight. I developed the habit of overeating. I ate for any reason and for no reason, for hunger, anxiety, entertainment, boredom, when I was happy, sad, lonely, excited, whatever. I considered all of these states "hungry." The family joke was that I had a "hollow leg" where I put all that food.
When I started college, I stopped being so active and my eating habits didn't change, and I started gaining weight. Later, when I had my 2 children, I gained 60 - 70 lbs with each of them but was able to lose it afterwards "on my own." Then gradually over the years my weight ballooned. My highest weight I was aware of was 276 lbs.
In the late 1980's I lost 70 lbs or so on NutriSystem, but I gained it back. I lost 20 - 50 lbs several times "on my own" but gained it back. I developed disordered eating patterns, including binge eating. I had numerous short spurts of healthy eating, buttressing long periods when I felt helpless to control my eating. Where other people might eat and feel satisfied and stop, I would eat and gain momentum to eat more! I was angry with myself for my lack of self-control, and scolded myself after each binge. I exercised intermittently and was actually fairly fit, although my doctor had to put me on low-dose blood pressure medication. My eating habits had overwhelmed my metabolism, and these habits became obsessive and compulsive.
The month after our 2002 Christmas trip to New Jersey, we had a "make-up" Christmas family party at my home, and my sister-in-law excitedly announced she had just joined WeightWatchers and she was doing great, it was easy, and she didn't crave sweets. I started imagining more and more family gatherings on both coasts, where everyone was slim and I was still fat, but still "working on it." There is a lot of diabetes in my family, and I knew I was putting myself at risk. I knew that obesity aggravates virtually every other risk factor associated with disease and injury. The previous year, after a traffic accident, my doctors had been unable to get clear x-rays of my low back because of my excess fat. I work with older clients in my work as an attorney, and often visit clients in nursing homes. At 55 years old, I could picture a difficult elderhood in my future, being unable to enjoy travel and family activities, and imposing an unnecessary burden on my family members.
I finally realized that knowing what to do, and doing it are very different things, and I just wasn't making any progress. I had to admit I needed help. This was a big step for me.
I did some research and found a "Consumer Reports" article in 2002 based on 2001 data, showing that, next to a hospital or university program, WeightWatchers was the next most successful "outside help" program.
On January 15, 2003, at 250 lbs, I subscribed to WeightWatchers online. http://www.weightwatchers.com Then I read on the WeightWatchers website that, statistically, members have more success if they attend meetings.
I decided I would do EVERYTHING I could to lose the weight, instead of the half-way measures I had been trying before. I also decided that weight loss, health and fitness would be THE PRIORITY for the year for me, not just a priority. I decided that everything else would just have to be squeezed in, worked around, put off or altered so that I could keep faith with my priority. I threatened myself that I would have bariatric surgery if I didn't lose the weight, and I really didn't want that!
Although I felt some shame and disappointment that I couldn't "do this myself, and although I really didn't want to have to attend meetings, I went to my first WeightWatchers meeting January 28, 2003 weighing 242.8 lbs. I had tried WeightWatchers some years earlier, but the meetings and the program just didn't work for me. I was pleased to find the program was different and easy to follow, and the meetings were 100% better and really helpful. Of course, I was different, too.
Over the years I have adapted the WeightWatchers food Points program to my needs by combining it with Diana Schwarzbein MD’s "The Schwarzbein Principle" approach of "square meals" of 4 food groups at every meal or snack: P, F, V and C -
P - Protein (lean poultry, fish, meat; eggs; beans & whole grains)
F - healthy Fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, olives, olive oil & mono & poly unsaturated oils)
V - non-starchy Vegetables
C - healthy Carbohydrates (whole grains, beans, fruit, starchy vegs)
More recently I have let go of all animal food products, and am focusing on "Whole-Foods, Plant-Based," without added sugar, salt, fat, or refined foods. I’ve adopted this to help reduce my arthritis pain, but I discovered it also helps reduce my cravings for risky foods and the urge to overeat.
I found a challenge in the WeightWatchers message boards, in "Challenge Central," (now The Weight Loss Challenge). The Challenge was called "250 Miles by June 1." I joined it, and posted there daily. To complete the challenge, I needed to walk an average of about 2 miles per day. I liked that the challenge was something I could DO, not an amount of weight to lose, which is a result of what I do, but something less within my direct control. The challenge was also set up on Yahoo, and I joined that as well. When the moderator left the yahoo site, I took on the responsibility. I started walking outside, and exercised indoors using our old "NordicTrack." I eventually started jogging as well as walking. My husband and I began walking at regional and wilderness parks in Southern California on the weekends. We joined a walking club called "American Volkssport Association" http://ava.org and began doing 10K (6.2 mile) walks around Southern California, and then in other states. Because of my hip arthritis I don’t jog any longer, but I still try to get in 2 miles or 40 mins of walking each day, or as much as I can.
When weight loss was slow, I told myself Just keep doing the things you know are right. The weight will come off in your body's own good time. When my enthusiasm for the walking or the food Points program flagged, I reminded myself that I had made a commitment, and if I couldn't trust myself to keep the commitment, I wasn't a trustworthy person. It became a matter of principle. To re-charge my commitment, I would read more success stories, more articles on health and fitness, and read everything I could find on the WeightWatchers website or online. In essence, I transferred my obsession with food and compulsive eating to an obsession with diet, exercise and weight loss. It worked for a while. More about that later.
My husband, family and friends were all very supportive, and my husband has made major changes in his eating and exercise habits, as well.
I've learned a tremendous amount in this process. I've found that even though I may be tempted to eat a large amount of some high-calorie, less-than-healthy food, if I have a healthy choice that I enjoy instead, I never regret it - I never think back and wish I'd indulged. The craving will pass. On the other hand, I always regret it if I indulge and then end up overeating or binge eating. I love the saying "No one has ever starved to death between lunch and dinner." I know that I have much more success controlling my eating habits when I plan ahead for how I will eat at an event, for a day, or a meal, instead of wandering into the situation to "play it by ear." I know that unhealthy food treats won't give me the happy feeling I'm seeking when I contemplate them, and they never taste as good as in my imagination! I know I can't safely toy with thoughts of overeating. I've learned that "half is better than one," and am continually amazed at how easy it is to eat half as much as I did before, and, conversely, how very easy it would be to eat twice as much as I need! For me, the best part of the WeightWatchers Points program was the volume control. Before beginning this program I had no idea how much food was enough, too little or too much. And I hadn't realized that what seem like small changes, like 1 tsp instead of 1T of butter, or walking just 2 miles per day, over time make a big difference.
I keep raw, unsalted nuts in the freezer, to reduce rancidity & extend shelf life, and I'll eat 1 T of nuts for a healthy fat, healthy carbohydrate and protein, which I count at 1.5 Points, or 6 almonds for 1 pt. Sometimes I'll have one olive for a healthy fat, and count it as 0 Points. We use plenty of olive oil, and often make our own salad dressing with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (1:4). We always have fresh fruits and vegetables available. We have a large salad with almost every dinner. I often carry unsalted almonds, Wasa crackers, celery and an apple or two, as "emergency rations" when we'll be away from home for more than a few hours, but I find my "need" to snack is diminishing, and I am more able to wait until my next meal. And my digestion seems to do better when I let it rest between meals.
For dessert after dinner, I make fruit salad from fresh fruit, with lemon juice as the dressing, and add 1T of raw, unsalted nuts.
I lost weight steadily with WeightWatchers, and never had a plateau. My doctor took me off blood pressure medication after I reached my meetings weight goal of 165 lbs, which is toward the upper end of "normal" on the BMI chart for my 5'9" height, on September 30, 2003. I became a "lifetime" WeightWatchers member on November 4, 2003 at 157.4 lbs, and weighed 150 lbs and less in December, 2003. Despite intermittent problems with compulsive overeating and yo-yo-ing in my eating and my weight, I was able to stay close to that weight, or at least regain some control and return to that weight range, until the middle of 2007.
After losing the weight, I continued to have issues with binge eating, compulsive overeating and night eating syndrome. I discovered there is actual scientific research demonstrating how people successfully change unwanted behavior, and I got tremendous insight from reading Changing for Good by James O. Prochaska, Ph.D., John C. Norcross, Ph.D., and Carlo C. DiClemente, Ph.D. I learned to be much kinder to myself after a lapse. I know now that a slip or a lapse does not have to be a relapse, and that I really learn and have useful experience from each slip as well as from each success. I learned to handle my danger signals carefully - stress, anxiety, fear, frustration, anger, resentment, being tired, being alone, being around food advertising and packaging, staying up late watching TV or reading, reading during a meal, change of schedule, the periods immediately before and after travel, lack of sleep, sweet, sugary or artificially sweetened foods and drinks, salty foods, snack foods, high-carbohydrate unbalanced meals or snacks, drinking alcohol, social occasions, and high-volume eating of any type of food, even healthy food, all can trigger compulsive overeating for me. I've gotten a lot of help from a book called Binge Breaker by Peter M. Miller, Ph.D, and other books on compulsive overeating. The End of Overeating by David Kessler, M.D. has given me new insight into the psychological and biological processes of compulsive overeating, and the ways sugar, fat and salt, and combinations of those foods, hyperstimulate the appetite and cause me to want to eat more. I’ve also gotten a lot from In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. However none of this reading and understanding enabled me to stop compulsive eating. I understood it better, but I couldn't stop it.
After over three years of relative stability in my weight and eating, in mid-2007 I began to have more problems with compulsive overeating, regardless of the food plan I used, and I gained about 30 lbs. I was obsessed with food and eating, and couldn't stop overeating for more than a day or so, and that was not easy or comfortable. I tried switching to the WeightWatchers Core plan, now "Simply Filling," but couldn't stick with it any better than with the Flex Plan (counting points). This was despite all my knowledge and experience and the best efforts of my will power, despite all the changes in my lifestyle, and despite continuing a healthy exercise program and support groups.
In an effort to finally deal with that problem, in March, 2008 I joined OA - Overeaters Anonymous - and began participating in The Recovery Group (TRG), because the binge eating was not only a problem for weight maintenance, it was interfering with my life. This is a new adventure for me, and the 12-step program is not focused on diet and weight control. Among other things, the steps require you to admit you are powerless to control your eating, and to turn the matter over to God/your Higher Power.
Now with over six years in OA, food and weight has become a much smaller part of my life, I have the weight I had gained, and the cycle of binge eating and dieting, the large yo-yo swings in eating and weight, have diminished to a shadow of their former strength. I have confidence that they will continue to diminish as I keep working this program. My weight is maintaining near the middle of the "normal" BMI range for my height. It has been a gradual process, with small improvements a little at a time. I am so grateful for the relief from this compulsive overeating. I finally understand I can be relieved of compulsive overeating, but it is a one day at a time thing and I am not cured. I have to keep taking the 12 steps and using the OA Tools of Recovery, WW tools and other tools I have found that work, praying & meditating, and not overeating, all to the best of my ability, one day at a time. As long as I do this, the compulsive overeating is in remission, and that is a miracle.
I have gradually developed my Plan of Eating based on WeightWatchers Points. I have four WeightWatchers Points zones - green, yellow, orange and red. This is a generous points range which is the same each day. I feel best and am least at risk to have an urge to overeat if I stay in the lower one-fourth of the daily points range - the green zone, and up to the middle of the yellow zone. If I consistently eat in the green and yellow zones, I will maintain my weight or lose weight gradually. If I consistently eat above that point I will gain weight. My daily goal is to abstain from compulsive eating, which I define as staying within the points range of the green, yellow, orange and red zones. Compulsive eating for me is eating above the top of the red zone for the day. I do not add points for my exercise, and I do not use weekly points, as I have already averaged those into my zones. I focus on whole foods rather than processed foods, and I count points for all foods. I journal my food at every meal and snack, count up to an acceptable range of points as I go through the day and note my comfort zone/satisfaction level before and after each meal: 0 (starving) - 5 (stuffed). I try to stay in the comfort/satisfaction range of 2 (slightly hungry) - 3 (satisfied). Learning to focus on the sensations in my stomach is a helpful tool and reality check. I eat mainly whole foods - WW’s "Power Foods." I am still mindful of my danger signals. I weigh and measure, and limit/avoid sugar, salt, fat, flour, dairy, processed foods, foods in packages, large meals of any kind, alcohol, dried fruit, cheese, peanut butter, nuts. I am extra vigilant if I find I am too H.A.L.T.T.S.S. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Thirsty, Sick, Stressed). I limit/avoid eating shortly before or after a meal, eating while reading, eating while watching TV, eating after my husband goes to bed, staying up after 11 p.m., getting too little sleep, grocery shopping or going out when I'm feeling the antsy, food-obsessed feeling I know only too well. I have 3 meals and snacks if needed - the snacks are available if I'm hungry, and if a meal is over an hour away. I don't weigh myself often, as I found it shifts my focus away from the 12 steps and recovery from compulsive overeating, and towards the diet/weight control obsession which failed me after the initial weight loss. In OA there is a saying "Focus on recovery, lose weight. Focus on weight, lose recovery." I continue to exercise almost every day and participate in my online support groups, a local support group, and go to WeightWatchers at least once a month. But at least for me, for now, the solution is not in the food or in behavior modification, or support groups. Those things help. They are tools, but are not enough for me. The prayer & meditation and the 12 steps are the center of my program. The tools help me work the program.
OA is at http://www.oa.org Twelve-Step meetings and other programs for compulsive overeaters are available from The Recovery Group (TRG) at http://www.therecoverygroup.org I did not understand until beginning with OA that my compulsive overeating is a progressive condition that in the long run I can't control or manage or will away just with "will power" and knowledge, but that I can have remission from the compulsive eating, "abstinence" from compulsiveovereating, by daily 12 step practice and by using the tools OA recommends: a plan of eating, sponsorship, meetings, telephone, writing, reading, anonymity, service to other compulsive overeaters, action plan. It's working for me and I am very grateful. Most days I do not have to struggle with the urge to overeat, and I am more at peace.
March 7, 2014
The opinions expressed here are not medical advice. My weight loss experience is not necessarily the experience you would have. You should follow your own physician's recommendation regarding beginning a diet or exercise program. The opinions expressed are mine alone and do not represent the views of WeightWatchers, Overeaters Anonymous, The Recovery Group, or any other person or entity. My interpretation of programs offered or recommended by any individual or organization are solely my opinion and do not accurately reflect the program itself.
For a complete description of the WeightWatchers program, contact WeightWatchers via their website http://www.weightwatchers.com or attend their meetings.