Note: To learn more about my experience with weight loss, check out my memoir, Winning the Losing Battle: A True Story of Weight Loss and Transformation.
I’d like to say up front that I don’t think weight determines someone’s worth or necessarily health. But I also know from personal experience that being extremely overweight brings certain challenges, and that changing it can provide new opportunities.
I was therefore very curious to read the recent article about The Biggest Loser, since I’ve never seen it. When I learned how the contestants gain some or all of the weight back after being on the show, it made me very glad I never had this option back when I was focused on weight loss, since I might have been tempted to try it, or something similar, and I wouldn’t have been happy with the results.
Instead, I found a different way that allowed me to lose 130 pounds and maintain that loss – within 10 pounds – for thirteen years without taking any extreme measures and without the challenges the contestants now face.
Which begs the question, why have things worked out so differently for me?
(Left - Before, 1994; Right - After, 2014)
My basic approach played a huge part. I knew from earlier experiences that dieting simply didn’t work for me because, like those on The Biggest Loser, I only ended up gaining the weight back, and often with some extra pounds added on. Back in 2000, I didn’t want that anymore. I wanted a change that would be sustainable life-long, and for me, that meant taking things slow. Instead of competing with anyone, or racing to drop pounds, I took 2 ½ years to lose weight by making small, incremental changes.
My approach was specifically not meant to be extreme, nor did it have anything to do with counting or burning calories. I did change how I ate but in a different way. I focused more on understanding why I ate, and trying to eat (most of the time) when I was hungry, versus for emotional reasons, and paying enough attention to (mostly) stop when I wasn’t hungry anymore.
I did cut back on sweets and junk food, but that, too, happened slowly, and it was more organic. I simply started noticing I felt better when I ate certain foods, like more fruits and vegetables, and I liked that feeling enough to choose those foods on a more regular basis. I also discovered I liked more healthy foods than I thought. It had nothing to do with starving myself or counting anything.
I also have to say I was horrified when I read about the extreme exercise on The Biggest Loser. Seven hours a day?! Quitting your job to have time for all of that? Not for me at all. In fact, while losing weight I never went to a gym. Instead, I walked moderate amounts and did some low-level strengthening exercises at home.
In the years since, I have spent some time in gyms, and my activity level has increased, but it hasn’t been with the goal of maintaining my weight. Rather, my focus has been to get stronger and to help with some knee trouble. Also, as with eating, once I discovered things I enjoyed doing, I liked how I felt after being more active, which means I’m more inclined to choose movement for its own sake.
In short, my primary focus was to have a healthy relationship to food and my body. It helped that I had a strong motivation to lose weight in terms of wanting to scatter my mom’s ashes from the top of Mt. Katahdin, but I could certainly have tried to do that in an extreme way, rather than waiting years.
I know this concept of taking years is not what most people want to hear, but I don’t regret it in the least. Unlike those contestants on The Biggest Loser, I’m not constantly hungry. I like being hungry when it’s time to eat, but I equally like not being hungry afterward so I can focus on other things, and I’ve done pretty well with that balance. Based on that, I have to assume that my metabolism did not have the same radical shift as these contestants, I suspect because of my more gradual changes.
So while I sympathize with those struggling with this situation, I’d like others to take hope in knowing that if you choose to focus on weight loss, it can be done in a more gentle way with better long-term results and a more peaceful approach to food and exercise.