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The long view

When I first started losing weight almost two and a half years ago, it was rather daunting that my estimates said it would take two years to reach my goal. I’m glad I underestimated the amount of time it would take. If I’d known how long I’d be weighing-in waiting for 160 to show up on my scale, I would have been even more bummed. While the size of the task in front of me seemed bigger than I was, I think it was also an advantage because I always knew this would require long-term dedication. I was going to spend as much time on this project as I could have getting an Associate Degree. If I’d done both I would look really cute in my nurse’s outfit right now.

When people only have a small amount of weight to lose, say 10 or 20 pounds, they aren’t typically as serious about changing their lifestyle as I had to be. They see weight-loss as a short-term project, like repainting a room, whereas I had to rebuild my house from the frame up. So, they may dedicate a lot of their energy into the task right away, lose some weight, but after a couple months they’re back to ordering pizza for lunch.

I’ve seen this happen on weight-loss blogs too. A newbie shows up and is really gung-ho and excited to lose weight, and they do. But after a couple months the posts start getting farther and farther apart, then they’ve deleted their Blogger account and someone else re-registers the name so they can start posting ads on it to trick old readers. It’s like the stages of a relationship. When you first meet someone new you’re so smitten and love everything about them and wish there were 30 hours in the day just so you could hang out with them more. You talk about them to everyone, just like you gab about your diet and exercise plans to anyone with ears.

But after a couple months the infatuation stage wears off and that’s when you see if the relationship is really going to last. I’m in the third year of this marriage with my body and I’ve settled into the comfortable part where I can fart in bed without being self-conscious. The chemical high of those first several months where I was losing 10-20 pounds a month was fantastic, but now I’m settling into a comfy familiarity with my body. I know what it can do and I’m cool with losing only half a pound a week (if it’s even that much these days).

When I read articles that say dieting doesn’t work or that people tend to gain back weight, I don’t think the problem is actually with diet and exercise. If you eat right and work-out you can lose weight and keep it off. I think the problem is that people aren’t dedicated to doing that for the rest of their lives. The problem isn’t with food or their ability to go for a run, it’s that people have a difficult time making any kind of lasting change in their lives. They stay in crappy relationships. They keep their soul-killing jobs.

I don’t think that will happen with me because I know this is forever, not just some fling, not a one night stand. For better or worse, I’m living in this body for the rest of my life, unless they develop a brain transplant. Which would probably be too expensive for me to afford anyway. So it’s me and my body for now until death and our relationship is better than it’s ever been. I hope we make it to our 100th anniversary.

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21 Comments

Anna • June 25, 2007 at 10:14 am

Well said, doll, well said. I think we forget too often that this is the body we were given. We were born with it, and we will die with it. What we do in between is completely up to us.

I know it’s hard to believe, but you ARE an inspiration. Be prepared for sainthood. Haha! ;)

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Zanitta • June 25, 2007 at 10:19 am

I’ve seen that happen so much on blogs (hell, I was one of those blogs, though I lasted about 8 months rather than 2). When I restarted this at the beginning of this year I went to my old site to see who was still around and my links list was a cyber-graveyard. Make me wonder what happened to everyone, how they’re doing now or if they just gave up.

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Amanda • June 25, 2007 at 11:03 am

Thank you for this…I am working my way through your (amazing) archives and needed to read this post today. I got up, worked out, and am eating well..but just a short time in (and 4 pounds down) I let the “what-if’s” enter my mind last night. What if this doesn’t work? What if it is a cruel joke and I do all of this and don’t lose the weight?

A friend calls this “stinkin’ thinkin”, and while the phrase gets under my skin it is pretty much an accurate description of what I am doing.

Take care, and thanks again.

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Sarah • June 25, 2007 at 11:14 am

I agree with you to a certain extent… However, once again, I’m finding myself faced with the superiority complex that some who have substantial weight to lose lord over those of us who haven’t had to lose 100 or 200 or more pounds. I started my weight loss journey at 192 pounds. I had 30 pounds to lose, and it’s taken me almost 9 months and I’m not there yet. I too, have had to reconstruct how I think about food, how I eat, how I exercise. It has been a lifestyle change for me just as much as it has been for you. Just because I didn’t have as far to go doesn’t mean it was any easier. Not everyone who has 20 pounds to lose gives up and suddenly starts ordering pizza for lunch again.

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Rah • June 25, 2007 at 11:17 am

Brilliant, PQ. The marriage analogy is great! It’s helpful to be able to see your processes. Like Amanda, I am working my way through your archives, and the various posts serve as an inspiration.

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Laura • June 25, 2007 at 11:30 am

Wow. Awesome, beautiful post.

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Erin • June 25, 2007 at 12:09 pm

Amen! Honestly, I get comments all of the time about what I eat and what I do and it boils down to just making the commitment to work and work hard. And to pick yourself back up when you slip, and forgive yourself enough for that so you get back in gear.

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PastaQueen • June 25, 2007 at 12:10 pm

Sarah – This is an instance where I was sort of referring to a couple people in my life who’ve I recently noticed doing these things, but I didn’t want to name names so no one hates me tomorrow. So, I do realize there are people who have to lose only 20-30 pounds who get serious about changing their lifestyles, I was just trying to be vague so I don’t lose my friends. Though if they read this comment they’ll probably figure it out. Sorry friends! You’re still cool.

And honestly, I probably do have a bit of a superiority complex because of all the weight I’ve lost. I’ll try to be more aware of it.

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Sparkly • June 25, 2007 at 12:24 pm

You know, regarding the first portion of your post… Whenever I am taking on a task that may take years, I remind myself that the same amount of time is going to pass, whether I do it or not. Might as well start! :-)

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Meghan • June 25, 2007 at 1:03 pm

I’m relatively new to blogging, so may your prophecy not ring true for me! : )

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spacedcowgirl • June 25, 2007 at 1:34 pm

Sparkly, that observation you make has helped me tremendously in losing weight this time. A corollary to that is that if it gets to this time next year and I’m only 10 lbs. thinner than I am now, well, at least I’m not 10 lbs. fatter than I was to start with, which could much more easily have been the way it turned out. The year is going to pass regardless.

I don’t believe that “diets don’t work” because most people can probably restrict their intake and increase their activity enough to lose weight… though I know there are exceptions and some people have a heck of a time losing weight even on the most spartan regimen. Luckily I’m not one of them so far. What I do worry about is the possibility that my attitude, which is currently very on-track and committed to the hard work necessary to lose the weight, may shift back to where it’s been in the past, where I can’t seem to stop myself from bingeing on whatever I can get my hands on. I know if I start feeling like that again, I might be toast, because it’s so hard to resist that pervasive compulsion to eat.

I think part of it comes from the amount that I eat having been more reasonable for quite a while now, and also eating quite a bit less sugar, so my internal chemistry isn’t on such a crazy roller coaster ride and consequently I get fewer cravings and feel better overall. So I’ve learned to ride out and stay OP during those few yucky days after a bad day or weekend where I’m constantly feeling falsely hungry and sort of hungover, reminding myself that it’s just the aftereffects of the sugar binge, and soon I feel calmer and more in control again. This has been hugely important to me because during past weight loss attempts, I’d sometimes give in to the urge to snack and eat sugar at a time like that, and the more I did, the more I would want and the harder the cravings were to resist, and that would be the end of that. Now I feel more aware of what’s going on so I can combat it a little more easily.

But I still worry that the day will come when I won’t be able to ride it out and the compulsion to eat will just keep tearing at me until I give in and eat all my weight back. It’s a scary thought. I hope we all do continue to navigate challenges to our resolve successfully, but I don’t think these compulsions can be discounted so easily as “if you have enough commitment and are willing to work hard enough, you’ll get through.” After all, most people do gain weight back and many are as committed as “we” (I mean anyone who has recently lost a lot of weight, is currently highly committed, and can’t imagine going back to their old lifestyle) are now. It’s not just because they’re all half-assing it or because they’re not as strong or hardworking as me; there are complicated factors coming into play there and I wish I understood all of them so I knew for sure I could handle any challenges to my weight loss that might come along.

I know this is not a “helpful” comment exactly, it’s just something that worries me a lot, and I think your entry touched on this, so I wanted to articulate it…

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GroovyBabe • June 25, 2007 at 2:33 pm

Funny you should write about this because on the way to the gym this afternoon I thought to myself it’s all good and well my going to the gym 3 times a week to get rid of the next 120lbs I have to lose, but this has to be forever. I am predisposed to putting on weight and unless I am very careful once it has gone, it will creep back up. So no turning back into a glutton or becoming too lazy to work out ever again for me. I noticed my first real change in my body in the gym today and you can’t buy food that makes me feel that good. I’ve been at this almost 3 weeks now (I know, not long) and have not once fallen off the wagon. Hopefully it is a pattern I will continue for a long time to come. I’m just taking one day at a time…

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Her Grace • June 25, 2007 at 3:34 pm

This is an excellent post and it’s so true. I was one of those weight loss bloggers you mentioned and when I went back through my archives (before I deleted my blog) I saw again and again these posts where I was going to “really do it this time.” It was sad.

I’ve been working on making changes to my lifestyle since March. It’s been a slow process, one thing at a time. I’ve lost 20 pounds and have “several” to go. It’s not a habit yet, but I have hope it will get there.

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Karen • June 25, 2007 at 4:25 pm

Pride can come before a fall and until you have maintained your weight lose for 5 years or more you are not in the position to cast judgement over other weight loss attempts. Everyone that sets out to lose weight does so hoping it will last! Losing is easy, gaining is very easy maintaining is the real challenge.

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PastaQueen • June 25, 2007 at 5:55 pm

Karen – I should have added a paragraph in this post that said something like “I know this is hard.” I guess that’s what I get for typing entries one-handed as I eat oatmeal before work. Anyway, my statement that people find it hard to make lasting changes in their lives wasn’t meant as a judgement, just a statement of fact. I’ve known several fine women who have regained weight and it’s certainly not because they are weak or lazy. Sometimes life priorities change for very good reasons and if you are going through a divorce, a move, or other life change it’s understandable that weight-loss is not going to be on the top of your to-do list.

Anyway, I still plan on being someone who keeps the weight off and I’m not ashamed to say so. If that makes me proud or arrogant, so be it. Part of the reason I think I will succeed is because I *don’t* let myself think that I will gain it back. If you listen to the top athletes talk about their sports, they are in it to win it. I have to think the same way. I know regaining is a possibility and I know there will probably be times in my life where I regain 10 or 20 pounds, but I’m not going to let myself get morbidly obese again. Why? Because I say so. And that’s the only reason I need, really, unless someone locks me in a room and only feeds me Twinkies for several months.

Also, I don’t think I *ever* get the right to cast judgement on other people, five years from now of fifty.

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Peter • June 25, 2007 at 6:22 pm

Pasta Queen: I love your sense of determination! I think what people who’ve been up and down in weight a little would want to remind you is probably only the following.

As you know already, what determines weight-loss success is not just a blossoming of inner gumption. It’s not a raw Triumph of the Will, in other words, so much as it is a whole, fairly undramatic congeries of factors, often environmental as well as internal, that collectively make it possible to first develop a new set of habits, and then to stay uninterruptedly within the groove of those new habits long enough to pay down your calorie surplus.

If you can keep from being interrupted in your good habits, you’ll keep off the weight that you’ve lost. If you are interrupted in them by illness, injury, unhappiness, the influence of another person, forgetfulness, a different job, bad weather, a child, or the like–and such changes are common in many lives, at least over the medium term–you’ll have to work at coming up with more new habits that can take account of that changed life situation.

If you can stick to a routine–almost any routine, really–you can lose weight, since the helpful behaviors will become habitual. It’s just that you also need to be able to arrive at other, entirely new routines as your circumstances change. And this is where many people stumble, at least a little.

In other words, willing your own sense of urgency not to fade is necessary, but probably not sufficient.

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Kristen • June 25, 2007 at 6:55 pm

Wow! It seems like everybody’s getting defensive all of a sudden. Maybe we’re just getting jealous. PastaQueen, I love your insights and I don’t think you should start tiptoe-ing around what you want to say on the off chance that you might offend somebody. I’m sure none of us believe that PastaQueen is trying to insult any of us, right people? Discussions are one thing, but don’t take an observation so personally. Maybe it hit a nerve for you, but I’m sure that she wasn’t talking about you specifically. Chill.

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Lily • June 25, 2007 at 7:13 pm

Very insightful. You really do need to think about this as a long-term project then a short one.

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Kate • June 25, 2007 at 7:21 pm

I agree the tone of this post was a little too “I’m great, lots of other faux-dieters are not”. At least that was my first impression. Though there is no denying the PastaQueen IS great and has achieved great things. I still absolutely love this blog and respect the insights it offers all dieters.

I would just say that overall, whether you have a lot or a little to lose, many many people are seriously committed for a time and then go back to eating poorly. Sometimes not just because they feel like having pizza for lunch but because their mother died or they are under extreme stress like licensing exams or anything that triggers the change.

Not that the PQ does not know that; I am sure she does. And like she says, she was referring to actual instances not dieters in general. I don’t think she was going for a competition between those who have a lot to lose and those who have a little (and anyway everyone has an different idea of that!)

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yo • June 25, 2007 at 7:39 pm

Well, it’s a honest post. I think honest responses are allowed as long as long as we all play nice, right?

To play devil’s advocate against PQ’s post, I think the analogy that “regainers are like people who stay in unhealthy jobs and relationships” oversimplifies the matter.

I mean, let’s face it. Not regaining is really really really hard. I lost a ton of weight in college, and never intended to regain it, and a day never passed since that loss during which I didn’t worry about my weight: and yet it somehow crept back.

I think PQ the fact that you are more seeing silent dead blogs out there on the internets as your examples, instead of hearing face-to-face narratives about how regain happens in person, might affect your view. Who here has been to weight watchers meetings where someone has talked about how they’ve lost dozens of lbs only to have regained it all back? I mean, it happens, and I don’t think it’s a reflection of some major failing or psychological issue on the part of the gainer.

Also, you don’t know how nesting with a new boyfriend, or pregnancy, or a stressful life change, or an aging metabolism, or a blown knee might affect you. Ultimately, it’s an amazing achievement that you’ve come this far. But like the poster above said, “pride goeth before the fall.” Talk to us about how you never regained when you’re 41 years old with two kids. You were getting up there near 400 lbs in your early 20s. Something in your life beyond the typical American careless diet caused that immense weight and that demon is not necessarily so easily slain. Or dragon. What have you. :) Your post is a little like Lindsay Lohan coming out of rehab tomorrow and declaring that she will never be like those failures who go back on the crack rock.

I don’t mean to sound harsh. I just think it’s worth an honest response. I mean, I was just reading that Body of Work blog, with the girl who had gastric bypass, and she’s talking about how she overate rapaciously at her brother’s wedding to the point of physical illness this weekend. One would think, “Who the hell DOES that?” Again, for some people the monkey’s always ready to hop back on your back.

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PastaQueen • June 25, 2007 at 7:44 pm

Everybody has made some good points and I will keep them in mind. I’m going to turn off the comments for here on out though because I’d like to get some work done tonight without having to check the blog to make sure a fight hasn’t broken out. Thank you to everyone for your comments and keeping it polite so far. I just want to make sure it stays that way.

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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