Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Wausau, WI
I started my current weight loss journey with "unintentional weight loss."
I spent most of my life trying to lose weight and only ultimately gaining (because I would "give up" when the weight loss stopped). I eventually gave up on dieting and was relieved to at least stop gaining.
When I was treated for sleep apnea with meds and a cpap machine, my pulmonologist told me I'd likely lose some weight without trying (and I thought he was nuts, I'd never lost so much as a single pound without intense effort).
As it turned out, I lost 20 lbs without any effort over the course of about six months. I was shocked, and terrified. The 20 lbs gave me hope that I could lose more, but I was afraid to "diet" in order to do it, because dieting had always failed in the past.
I decided that I might not be able to lose more, but I should be able to keep off the 20 lbs, and that became my mission to "not gain." I started adding healthy habits that I was willing to commit to without the expectation of weight loss (so if the weight didn't come off, I wouldn't be tempted to give up the healthy habit).
In the past, when the weight loss slowed or stalled, so did my motivation to keep up the healthy habits. "This time," I told myself that I wasn't doing this for weight loss, I was doing this to improve my health, strength, stamina, and well-being, and I KNEW that the healthy habits were doing that whether or not weight loss resulted. Taking weight loss off the table, actually allowed me to (eventually) lose more weight.
Even now, I celebrate "not gaining" far more than I do even weight loss. I've made my first priority my commitment to health and fitness (function-based, not weight-based) and "not gaining" is a close second (I'd even say they're tied). Weight loss is actually a distant third (lately not so distant as the healthier I get, the more impatient I get with my progress. I want to do more, faster - but I always have to remind myself not to fall into the trap of getting discouraged by progress's pace).
You succeed by making success a priority, however you define it, though I think when it comes to weight loss we often set ourselves up for failure, by defining success in a way that makes the goal unobtainable. And when we define success in such a way that it cannot be acheived, the common sense strategy is to give up.
If we can't succeed at something, often the best strategy is to find something else to succeed at. If we defined weight loss success less stringently, I think fewer people would give up.
We tend to expect perfection and rapid progress, and anything less is seen as the person being "not ready" for weight loss. It's as if we decided that a child wasn't "ready" to play the piano if he or she couldn't play a Mozart concerto the first time he or she sat at the keyboard.
If you believe in an "addiction" model, you can argue that this analogy is invalid, and that you wouldn't expect a heroine addict to succeed by gradually weaning off heroine (but many addiction experts would argue even this. Some people have more success with gradual weaning from an addictive substance and others do best going cold-turkey).
With weight loss, only "cold-turkey" is often seen as the only legitimate alternative. Gradual weight loss isn't given much attention, legitimacy, or reward. If you can't do it rapidly, you're weak and unmotivated (lazy, crazy, and stupid).
For me, gradual change has been amazing - in many ways feeling nearly effortless to the point I can truly say I've never been tempted to "quit" because there's nothing to quit. I just keep making positive changes in my life, and keep getting rewarded for it, so I keep making more. The rewards aren't always weight loss, but they're always something tangible in terms of health and fitness measures... being able to do more, seeing lab results improve, having less pain.... when I only focused on weight loss, I was discouraged when weight loss slowed. Now that I focus on more benefits, I have more rewards to keep be going, even when the weight loss slows - as it always does.
I truly believe that weight loss statistics are so dismal, because we've been taught to use strategies that are demotivating, rather than motivating. It's not surprising to me that so many weight loss attempts fail, it's surprising to me how many succeed, and I think if we changed the WAY we lost weight (especially the messages we tell ourselves as we do), success would be much easier and much more common.