Marie Osmond flashes her famous pearly whites as an announcer declares, “Lose five pounds and one inch off your waist in the first week, or your money back.” This TV commercial is for a weight-loss program featuring prepackaged meals that make weight-loss “easy.” The before photos depict average Joes and shlumpadinkas who look miserable. In their after photos, they are slim and polished. If you squint, you may be able to read the fine print: “Results not typical.”
Is weight loss easy? What about long-term maintenance after you’ve achieved your weight-loss goal? After a 10-day vacation in Florida that included dining out every night, I was determined to get back into peak shape. I could see and feel extra fat around my mid-section. I decided to work on losing five pounds to feel and look better. The five pounds itself wasn’t a big deal, but I didn’t want the weight-creep trend to continue.
I scaled back on my consumption of processed and sugar-laden foods, reduced my evening snacking and stopped eating in restaurants. Sure enough, I lost five pounds and an inch off my waist in one week, just like Osmond. Only I didn’t buy meals from a program like the one she endorses. Instead, I employed some self-discipline and ate real food in appropriate amounts to achieve my goal in a healthy manner.
I felt encouraged and motivated to continue. Then I plateaued. Several days went by and I didn’t lose an ounce. I kicked my scale. Maybe it was broken. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but weight loss doesn’t always work that way. After the first week, it’s more realistic to lose one to two pounds per week, but our metabolism can slow when we consume fewer calories. It can be discouraging when you’re trying hard and the pounds aren’t coming off. Weight loss has its ups and downs. The trend over time is what matters.
When Bugs Bunny screws up, he famously quips, “I must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque.” The Snowdon Deli is where I took a proverbial wrong turn. On a day trip to Montreal, I ordered a variety of favourites to go. It started with a smoked meat sandwich. Later, I noshed on party sandwiches and mandelbrodt cookies in the car. All that would have been OK – I don’t consider it the end of the world to have a “cheat day” as long as you eat well most of the time. The problem was I’d bought enough of everything to last a few days. So, I ate those treats three days in a row. I slowly started gaining. Have you ever noticed that, for most of us, it doesn’t take as much effort to gain weight as it does to lose weight? In less than a week, I gained back three pounds.
We’re all human. As soon as we slip up, we’re tempted to give up. There’s a fork in the road that separates those who succeed from those who fail. I picked myself up from my face-plant in the potato salad and got back on track. Back to moderation, back to better nutrition and back to eating out of respect for my body.
During this time, I watched a TV show called Fat and Back. The documentary featured a very slim, athletic woman who intentionally gained 45 pounds in three months by changing her eating habits and activity level. She gave up exercise and gorged on 6,000 calories of junk food every day to prove her point that people are “fat” as a result of eating too much and moving too little. She lost the excess weight in three months by returning to her previous lifestyle. However, along the way she managed to offend viewers with her holier-than-thou attitude, oversimplifications and intolerance of overweight people.
Weight loss involves caloric input and output, but there are other factors as well, especially for those who’ve struggled for years. There’s a huge psychological component. When I reminded myself what really matters – health, first and foremost – recommitting to better habits wasn’t so hard. In conjunction with my exercise routine, the pounds came off slowly and safely.
When negative behaviours become habits, we suffer the consequences, from weight gain to health issues. Whether we have to lose five or 50 pounds, identifying our unhealthy patterns and holding ourselves accountable can help us realign our behaviour with our goals.