In the past years I have been obese, but I didn’t know what to do about it. Weird, I know. I knew I was fat, but I felt powerless to change it. In hindsight, I mixed up a lot of things in my head that didn’t have anything to do with each other, but that are connected regularly around the internet. I’ll share my insights here.
Moving makes you lose weight
One of the most persistent myths about losing weight is that the more you move, the more weight you lose. Superficially it appears to be true. If you move more, you will burn more calories, which in turn will make you lose weight, right?
However, the weight loss you can achieve by moving more is rather limited. It’s usually about 5 kilos, and then your body is used to the new level of movement, and it will stay put. Your metabolism is an interesting function: it tries to become more and more efficient.
It does matter what kind of moving you do. Cardiac training exercises hardly make you lose weight. Muscle training can do a bit more for you. But whether you lose weight with it or not, moving makes you more healthy. You will become more energetic and your head will clear up. You will reduce your risk of getting diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Do it, but don’t expect miracles for your weight loss journey. It may support you, though, because moving helps you mentally as well.
Eating less makes you lose weight
This one is true, but it’s not the whole story. Eating less brings along its own risks. If you don’t eat as much as you did, but you still eat unhealthy, you may lose weight, but you will risk developing mineral and vitamin insufficiencies and malnourishment. If you eat too little, your body will go into starvation mode. It will basically start eating itself – not the body fat that you want to lose, but your muscles. We don’t want that.
Eating healthy makes you lose weight
Kind of true, but it all depends on your definition of healthy. In my opinion, eating healthy is based on knowing how much you need to eat of each nutrient, and when to eat it. If you eat mindfully, you will be more aware of the moment when your body says that it’s full. That means that you need to pay attention to eating, not something else. Additionally, every body is a bit different (especially looking at gut bacteria), so you need to find out what kind of food is healthy for you. It takes a bit of experimenting and paying attention to how certain foods influence your body. For example, if I eat something sweet, I will have a bout of sadness within about half an hour. Nothing is wrong, the emotion is somehow triggered by the glucose. Weird, and usually not worth it.
Being on a diet is temporary
This one is based on the misconception your normal diet is healthy. Just lose the weight fast, and once you’re back at your ideal weight, you can eat “normal” again. The only problem is that your “normal” caused you to gain weight in the past, so you can never go back to that.
Actually, if you want to lose weight permanently, you need to change your diet forever. You are a recovering obese person, and you need to keep a loving eye on that weak spot of yours that caused your weight gain. The key to keeping the weight off is losing weight slowly using a diet that you can maintain indefinitely. This is your new normal.
Staying skinny is a matter of self-control
This one is very nasty, as it judges your character based on how skinny you are. If you’re fat, you’re probably lazy, you eat too much, you’re unhealthy, and you don’t have self-control. Fat-shaming is very real, and it can crush your self-esteem, which may work against you if you try to become more healthy.
Eating can be misused as a solution for emotional problems. People comfort themselves by eating. This quick fix (for example, chocolate) is often easier than confronting the real, underlying problem. You may not even be aware that there is a problem underneath. Becoming fat may be just a symptom of another problem.
When you’re fat your hormones are sometimes out of whack. You may be physically unable to make the right dietary choices for yourself, because you just don’t have the mental energy, or because your gut bacteria are influencing your food choices (yes, they can). That sucks, because your weight is keeping you overweight, in a way.
Shaming someone because they are fat doesn’t help that person to lose weight. Maybe that person cannot cope with life, or maybe their body works differently than yours (lucky you…). Fat-shaming only temporarily boosts the ego of the shamer. It’s pathetic, really, and it can do a lot of real damage.
I was obese. It’s weird to say it out loud. I guess I didn’t really accept or own the fact that I was obese until I wasn’t. With my 1m67cm I was 90 kilos last year. That’s a BMI of 32.2, which indicates obesity. And yes, I was fat, mostly on my legs and buttocks – yep, it all went pear-shaped – but I was losing my waistline and got a puffy face and a second chin. I had been obese like that for about 6 years, and my efforts to counteract it had been fruitless so far. I moved a lot. I cycled to my job, which was a 25 km round trip, because I still believed that moving more makes you lose weight. I was quite fit, but did not lose any weight, of course.
Then I started eating more vegetables. I removed most of the carbohydrates from my diet, and ate salad at my work. Didn’t help, really. My salads were too large, in hindsight. And I still ate the majority of my food at dinner. Then I found out that I had a slow thyroid and I got medication, which helped a bit, but not that much.
I felt as if I was really trying, but I was powerless against the weight gain. Until last year.
In December I stopped eating meat, and I also scrapped sugar and most carbohydrates from my diet again. We didn’t have a scale, but in May we bought one, and I found out that I had lost 5 kilos without really noticing. That felt good!
I got some new ideas of things to try. Firstly, I would start dividing my meals more evenly over the day. I usually ate the biggest meal at dinner, and I rearranged that. Secondly, I started counting my calories with the app MyFitnessPal. I ate about 300 kcal less every day.
And it worked! Over the last months I have lost 12 kilos! I’m down more than two clothing sizes, and suddenly I feel so slim, even though I’m still overweight. I’m hardly ever hungry because I’m not on a strict diet. I think that I can just keep on eating like this forever.
But it’s not just diet. I also confronted my misplaced food greed. Somehow, if there was something nice to be eaten, I had to have “my half”. If you take into account that my husband is 20 cm taller than me, you can understand that I was overeating if I took a portion that was equal size to his. So I made portioning a conscious decision, and I decided to always consider if I really wanted to eat something because I was hungry or because my husband was eating it and I wanted my part. This part was hard, and I still struggle with it. It’s a leftover from my childhood, when you had to put everything you wanted to eat at dinner on your plate immediately, because otherwise it would be gone.
I also confronted another underlying problem. It was physical as well: my hormonal cycle. During the build up towards the period I usually feel cravings for fat, salty, easy food. I decided to still follow these cravings, but to move the accent from eating carbohydrates to eating more fat and protein. For example, frying off some mushrooms and eating an extra egg helps me fight the craving for potato chips. I still eat chocolate, but I pick dark chocolate (92% cocoa). And I allow myself to be weak and give in, just not too often. That way I can persevere.
Another thing is emotions. It made a large difference when I started working on my emotional maturity. My family turned out to be more enmeshed than close. Emotions were important, but my mother’s emotions were the most important. We all walked on eggshells around her, denying our own feelings to keep the peace.
You cannot keep in your emotions without punishment. For me, the result was that I was not aware of what I was feeling most of the time. I also was very strict and judgmental towards myself. A dangerous combination, which resulted in a burn-out several years ago. I have been recovering ever since, and especially in the past year I have made progress. I acknowledged my childhood, and that it wasn’t as rosy as I thought it was. I started to really work on my inner voice/tone, and cutting myself some slack. In May I started to do mindful meditation and it helped me to become more aware of my body and feelings. I still have a long way to go, but I do feel improvement already.
And finally I decided to value myself more. I was worth it. I deserved me keeping a healthy diet. It was okay for me to choose me instead of following the “flow” and overeating. And as I successfully lost weight, I felt more in control of my life. My conscious choices made a difference.
All these things together are causing me to become more fit, more healthy, and more skinny. But these three things are not synonymous, nor is there an easy and quick fix. You have to put in the work, and be true to yourself. Honest and realistic. And let go of shame, guilt, and big expectations.