How to Lose Weight (again)... and Keep it Off (really)
Learning How to Live Outside the “Crib”
The Short Story for How to Lose Weight
The basic formula for how to lose weight doesn’t elude us (we’ll get to important nuances about diet quality and changing relationships with food in Weight Loss Programs: Make Sure Yours Fits Like a Glove, but let’s start here with the true basics). To lose weight, you need to:
- Reduce caloric intake and/or
- Increase physical activity
There are hundreds of interpretations available for how to apply this formula. All weight loss programs and diets reduce caloric intake whether this reduction is obvious through calorie or point counting, restriction of food groups, or more subtle through natural “displacement” of calories (for example when whole foods replace calorie-dense packaged foods).
The ability to temporarily apply one of the hundreds of interpretations of this formula for how to lose weight isn’t all that elusive either. Globally, millions of pounds are lost each year. Speaking of, how many of these pounds did you personally contribute to this total last year? The year before? Over the past 10-20 years?
The Conflict Created by the Crib
It was a member of CARE that first shared the phrase “being in a crib” with me in reference to what it feels like to “be on a diet”.
Though restrictive and unsustainable, this member shared that “being in a crib” came to be comforting in its own way. Being in the crib, sheltered from making choices “out in the wild”, eliminated diet and lifestyle decisions. The latest “Do This, Not That” list quieted the confusing and all-consuming self-talk (self-yelling!) around every single food decision.
She shared that she was more fearful and overwhelmed to live “outside of the crib” because she didn’t know how to anymore.
The cycle of being “on a diet” or “off a diet” creates distrust of our own mind and bodies, ambiguity in how to achieve results others seem to have effortlessly, and gives a megaphone to the voices inside our heads demanding we figure it out – or go crazy trying.
Her “being in a crib” analogy has resonated, with piercing accuracy, to everyone I’ve shared it with that has struggled with their weight.
Let’s look at it in more detail together as we explore the more needed formula, the more needed permanent answer, to our question of how to keep the weight off (finally) by learning to finally live comfortably outside of the crib this time.
The Longer, More Needed Story, of How to Lose Weight (again) and Keep it Off (really)
The formula that is much more elusive than just how to lose weight is how to keep those lost pounds permanently lost while protecting nutritional adequacy (making sure you get all the nutrition you need to sustain your cells) and while protecting mental wellbeing (actually strengthening your relationship with food and health over time).
Without putting our full attention to defining this more important formula ‘how to keep weight off (really)’, rather than constantly trying to answer the more simple question of ‘how to lose weight (again)’, we are destined to stay on this exhausting hamster wheel of either being ‘on a diet’ or ‘off a diet’.
See if this sounds familiar…
The exhausting hamster wheel of being ‘on a diet’ or ‘off a diet’:
- Search for “how to lose weight” (again). The search for how to lose weight is an exhausting process because it feels like you are just throwing darts blindly against a wall.
- How do you pick a weight loss program? Is it the person with the most followers on social media? Your hospital? The method your neighbor swears by?
- Or is it something you’ve already tried because maybe you just weren’t “really ready” last time?
- Take the plunge (again). After several months of considering this and that (and that again) you take the plunge; a plunge no more comfortable than jumping into freezing water, but at least you have made your choice.
- Emerge safely back in your “crib” (again). You now have your newest “list of do’s and don’ts”, you start losing weight (again); you are safely in your “crib” again with daily decisions removed; you have your lists to follow and the restrictions still feel tolerable.
- Sneak out of your “crib” (again). After several months (or even weeks) of “being perfect,” you jump out of your crib one night for a special event – maybe for a birthday party – and find freedom intoxicating! Plus, people are noticing your weight loss and insist that “You look great! A couple of cookies or a piece of this cake won’t set you back!” You’re convinced! No list, not tonight (but just tonight!).
- Promise it will be “just one more day” (again). Leftover cake and brunch reservations the next day entice you to stay out of the crib “for just one more day”; you promise yourself, just one more day.
- 6-months’ worth of “one more days” later (again). All your weight is regained. Defeated, you feel like screaming “See, I HAVE tried it ALL but NOTHING works!”. You resentfully avoid trying to do anything (what’s the effort for, anyway??), but, cruelly, you cannot avoid the daily shouting inside your head. The negative self-talk consumes you until, admirably, you prepare to start the cycle all over again. Starting with the simple search “how to lose weight” (again).
First, you are far from alone if this sounds familiar to you. Second, there really can be a different way, a quieter more comfortable way, than this exhausting hamster wheel.
Where to start this time
- Rather than starting with the priority of rapid weight loss, start with the priority of learning how to live outside of the crib this time.
- Start with maintenance, learning how to keep the weight off while you’re losing it, on day one of your next plunge.
I think we are closer, than many believe, to knowing how to sustain weight loss and other healthy lifestyle changes, from day one.
Continuing to talk about sustainable weight loss as a complex unsolvable puzzle with a million lost pieces only leads individuals to give up on trying; unfortunately, the medical and research community (even if unintentionally) are largely the ones perpetuating this view.
Harold McGee says in his book On Food and Cooking that “scientists always simplify reality in order to understand it”. I think the opposite is happening with weight loss and preventative health. Research, though it has a fundamental role in medicine, has (again unintentionally) complicated reality in this case in order to try and understand it.
Each single study that isolates only one component of diet under accelerated clinic conditions then competes for national attention demanding a swift change in direction to follow its findings hinders the much more needed project which is to synthesize the already-known commonalities of a healthy lifestyle into actionable, skill-building guidance.
Skill-building guidance is focused on the application of information, of practicing it within your real life – not just passively consuming the information. Jumping from book to blog post or Facebook to Pinterest feels more comfortable than pulling away and practicing daily veggie prep in the kitchen.
But this is the opportunity. When we match individuals with the right learning tools, we can help them uncover, for themselves, how the effort and intention of a healthier lifestyle really are worth it.
Finding the Right Learning Tools
This skills-building guidance must also be affordable and accessible for an extended duration because habits as entrenched as food that has reigned for 20+ years won’t be broken in mere weeks.
To really keep weight off we need weight loss guidance that can clearly articulate which individuals it best supports and how, because the choice of weight loss program must fit an individual like a glove if they are to do it consistently and permanently for long-term (permanent) results.
We don’t need the expense or complication of “individualized nutrition plans” to reduce the risk of chronic lifestyle diseases or achieve weight loss; there are established commonalities for what works that apply to everyone with these goals:
- Improve overall diet quality
- Moderate portion sizes
- Increase physical activity
- Manage stress through self-CARE
- Stop smoking, if applicable
What we do need is appropriate support and mentoring to help individuals learn how to make these healthier choices, even when that choice isn’t easy (because much of the time it isn’t).
In short, for both our formulas to work (how to lose weight and how to keep it off), individuals need education tailored to where they are today.
They deserve to be taught how to live outside of the crib on their own; breaking the cycle of dependency on a health and weight loss industry that glamorizes perfection, encourages skipping from one fad to the next, and relies on perpetuating the hamster wheel of “how to lose weight (again)” for its very survival.
Enough, we say. Now can be different. We can focus on sustaining healthy changes. Starting today, we can shift our priority to maintenance and permanent results.
And finally, reach out to me if I can be a resource.