Losing and refinding weight
another krappy newsletter #36
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Hello from Northern California!
I am optimistic about the end of the pandemic being near. It feels like we are through the worst of it and vaccination is accelerating. People I know that are not healthcare workers are starting to get vaccinated (myself included!).
Things are starting to return to some semblance of normal for me as I have been going back to work in person three days a week.
At this point, it appears inevitable that we will need to find new things to complain about shortly. I cannot wait.
I will even lead the charge.
Can we talk about how annoying it is when you go to a gas station and the pump says “please go inside to see the attendant.” Oh right. Cause that is what my gas station experience needed. An in person conversation. Now you are walking in there FURIOUS about how you have to go a little bit out of your way.
You are ready to slap a Jackson on the counter and tell the guy your pump number when bam! You are now distracted by the extensive beef jerky selection.
Before I know it, I am walking back to my car with a dumb smile on my face eating a bag of turkey jerky. I sit down in my car and realize I have been had. The “see attendant” note on the gas pump was all part of an elaborate scheme to get me in there to buy the beef jerky.
And God dammit it worked.
Speaking of an inability to say no to food, that is what we are going to talk about today.
On to the newsletter!
Losing and refinding weight
My desire to continue eating well and maintain my new weight decreased dramatically in the last two weeks.
You see. Something terrible happened: I achieved my goal.
I set a goal to lose 25 pounds. I lost 25 pounds.
Now what do I do? What motivates me? I just do this forever?
This transition from “Type A seek and destroy my goal” mode to “its a lifestyle!” maintenance mode is the hardest part about weight loss. However, no one talks about it because sustainable routines are not sexy.
Eye popping before and after photos get clicks, attention, and admiration. Some skinny guy drinking a fruit smoothie gets an understandable eye roll.
But here is the dirty truth: Most people who lose weight gain a lot of it back.
It is the reason you don’t see many after the after photos. That shit is not inspirational. It is depressing.
I saw this first hand when I lost 100 pounds and then found 40 of it (I conveniently did not write an inspirational article about the latter part).
I continue to see it with friends who lose weight.
It is pretty much universal in everyone who loses weight.
If you don’t believe me, you can check for yourself.
Think of any friend of yours who lost a ton of weight. Check back in on their Facebook page. Did they gain any of that weight back? (If not, did you confirm that they have a recent photo of themselves up?)
I likely blew your mind just now. A real glass shattering moment.
If you are that friend who regained weight, I don’t say this to shame you. Quite the opposite. I hope this gives you relief that you are not alone. You are experiencing a common problem that no one talks about.
You are now free to talk about it without feeling shame or embarrassment.
You probably also want to know how to fix it.
I cannot claim to know exactly how to fix this for every person. I am not even sure I have fixed it for myself.
But I have some thoughts on the subject which are colored by my own journey as well as the roughly 50 people that I have helped go through their own weight loss journey (Feel free to reach out if you want help getting started, but my basic thoughts on the subject are listed here, here, and here).
Unsustainable motivation sources
When you start a weight loss journey, you hone in on a number.
Something like “I am going to weigh 220 pounds.”
You construct your life and image around achieving this goal.
Sure it is hard at first, but then you start to get baited with compliments along the way.
“Have you lost weight?” says some coworker.
“You look amazing!” says a cheery good friend who isn’t afraid of giving you compliments.
“…see the game on Saturday?” says your masculine friend who feels weird giving other men compliments. But you see that twinkle in his eye. You can tell he thinks you look good. But he is a God fearing man and he thinks compliments are a gateway drug to a leading role on Brokeback Mountain. Or at least that’s the story you tell yourself.
You are in a positive feedback loop. You are doing your healthy habits which directly leads to you getting rewarded with praise so you do more of those habits. Yay!
But then you look down at the scale one day and it says “220.” You are elated, but also a small part of you feels kind of sad. I just hit my goal. Now what do I do?
The last 3 to 12 months of your life was about accomplishing this goal. It became part of you. Now you achieved it.
Those comments about how good you look slow in frequency as people settle in to the fact that you just look like that now.
It was easy to maintain motivation when an acquaintance commented to a friend "Kevin is proof that there is a hot guy under every fat guy." (Low key, that is going on my gravestone.) When I was hearing that all the time, it was easy to get myself back in the gym, eat more salad, and take the stairs instead of the elevator.
But then those things stop being said and you have to live with the fact that you are just a hot guy.
Woe is me! How am I to sustain the mental discomfort of being attractive and not having someone tell me all the time?
Your motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle wanes.
You set a new goal to artificially stoke motivation. But you are not as attached to that goal. The first goal was pure. This new goal is hollow. Your mind sees right through that game.
You’re starting to see that you were relying on unsustainable sources of motivation.
You hacked the habit loop to make amazing progress, but you put a bandaid over the real reason you were fat in the first place. You never addressed the root cause.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Root Cause
As a hardware engineer, I do a lot of “root cause analysis” to determine why some issue occurred. The idea is that you want to figure out the fundamental reason why something happened. At its core: why did a problem occur?
In order to accomplish this task, we use tools like “5 whys analysis” to find the true reason a problem existed.
We can use this technique to dive into my recent predicament.
1st why: Why did you need to lose weight at the start of this year?
I ate terribly over the holidays. Specifically I was getting fat because I ate too many calories. Especially carbs.
Most people stop here and chalk it up to a “nutritional education” or “willpower” problem, but that’s not enough.
2nd why: Why were you eating too many calories?
Because it makes me feel good.
3rd why: Why were you trying to feel good?
Because I felt discomfort from something going on in my life.
I wrote about this subject at length last week, but what I have come to find about myself is that excessive eating is a manifestation of my inability to handle discomfort.
4th why: Why were you feeling discomfort?
At the start of this year, it had to do with the pandemic seemingly never ending. I was losing the battle with nihilism and finding myself in a dark place mentally as I thought about the future.
This is stressful so I leaned into my old ways of coping with stress (ie: eating).
5th why: Why are you using eating to cope with stress?
Because it became my coping mechanism from a young age to extinguish stress and anxiety.
Now we have something to work with!
To stop myself from delving into the world of overeating, I need to come up with different strategies for coping with stress. If I do not have new strategies for coping with the anxiety and stress. I will eventually revert to my old ways of coping and regain all the weight. That is just how this works.
So we find me today with a sudden loss of motivation.
Why is this happening?
I lost my unsustainable motivation source by achieving my goal.
I have a new source of discomfort in my life because I started a new job (which I don’t hate so far!) and with that comes a lot of stress and anxiety. Am I good at this? Does everyone like me? Am I doing a good job?
My guard is down and my body needs some way to reduce stress. So of course it is going to default into overeating. That is my thing!
So I need an intervention.
I am approaching this problem by developing two systems: a tactical system and a psychological system.
Tactical system: Making it simple to eat healthy
If it is easy, I will do it. If it is complicated, I will eventually not do it.
For the last few months, I have worked on a system that reduces the cognitive overhead of eating healthy on a day to day basis. It looks like the following:
I write out exactly what I am going to eat each day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
Ordering groceries on Amazon
I take the inputs from the meal planning phase and order them for delivery so they are in my house. No temptation to make stupid nutritional mistakes.
This system has been surprisingly effective at getting me to eat healthy at home. But I worry about it long term as I go back to work and the world starts to open up again. I will have less control over what I can eat. Which is why I also need the second system.
Psychological system: Coping with stress in healthier ways
To address the actual root cause of why I overeat, I need to develop ways to deal with stress more effectively.
I find three practices useful for coping with stress:
For 39 of the last 41 mornings, I have done Morning Pages. This exercise allows me to get all my feelings out and understand why I do/think what I do/think. I find the process enlightening. It allows me to more effectively understand why I am stressed out and develop strategies for how to address those concerns.
For example, I wrote about how the practice helped me come to understand my issues with discomfort.
Exercise is not just a weight loss technique. It is also a stress reduction mechanism. If I don’t exercise regularly, I find myself more prone towards retreating into eating or drinking as my mechanism to dissipate stress.
I have been trying to carve out 20 minutes every day where I exercise. When I succeed, I find that I am much better at controlling my urge to stuff my face.
If it has not become clear to you, some of these articles help me actually process what is happening in my life. It is where I learn how I feel about something. It is here where I find out what I truly think.
For example, I wrote this article to help me process what is going on in my head and get to the bottom of how I can actually fix this urge before I lose three months of weight loss progress. If I did not do this article, I would quickly become a self sustaining meme where I find myself here next year talking about how I lost 25 pounds again. It is hard to explain the benefits of writing, but I would recommend it to everyone as a way to really deepen your understanding of any subject (such as yourself).
With these two systems in place, I am hoping that I can catch myself before I head off the rails again. I will have to keep you updated on how it goes!
Hopefully this article catches you before you find yourself tailspinning into a set of habits that don’t align with your goals. You always have the ability to stop that tailspin as long as you are honest with yourself.
Feel free to comment or email me and let me know if you have had similar experiences with weight loss. I read every email. Just takes me a second to craft an artisanal response.
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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are strictly my own.