Vindication! Yes – Bodies Fight to Regain Weight.

Did you guys see this article in the New York Times about the follow-up study on Season 8 competitors of The Biggest Loser?

After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight

I sympathize so fiercely with the feelings they’re expressing, and I fully appreciate and understand exactly how frustrating this all is. I read this whole article nodding my head and going, “Finally! I’ve known this all for years! Finally science is validating my experience! I knew it!”

I lived this, and I’m still living this: “The body puts multiple mechanisms in place to get you back to your weight. The only way to maintain weight loss is to be hungry all the time.” Yes, for several years! It’s true! I got through those years with careful food choices and always picking high-satiety and high-water-content foods. But it’s so, so hard.

And now, even knowing that all the things I’ve suspected for years are true, what does it change for me? Nothing. Until they come up with a cure for those of us with messed-up metabolisms, I’m not just going to throw it all away and give up. I can’t.

One of the things that drives me crazy about The Biggest Loser, is that they don’t seem to give the contestants long-term support and tools to build the skills they’d need to even attempt to maintain their weight. The things we do to lose weight are almost always unsustainable long-term. I feel like it’s a moral failing to put people on TV, work them to exhaustion to lose large amounts of weight for the camera, then turn them loose with a hearty handshake and a “Good luck!” What does that prove? Only that yes, if you give up everything else in your life you too can lose weight. It doesn’t show you how to transition to a life that’s worth living. Now THAT’S a show I could watch. Or star in. Whatever.

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Week 4 Numbers: More Data Acquired. Dammit.

I stayed on target all week, no slips or eating off-plan, as I expect of myself. I had 50 servings of fruits/veggies. I had 37 meal replacements. I burned 5,540 (!) calories in physical activity. I averaged a net caloric intake of ~614 calories per day. As you can see, I met my exercise goal and exceeded it (goal was to burn 5000 calories this week).

You might expect that I had a fantastic result on the scale this week. If you do you either haven’t been coming around here long, or haven’t been paying attention. I lost a half pound. The math says I should have lost 2 at the very least. So, I stand by my previous statement about a slow metabolism and my disparaging comments about the Mayo Clinic (wankers). That brings my total this push to 7.5 pounds down. Woohoo I guess.

My coach says it’s probably a case of “the check is in the mail” and it’ll show up next week. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. The thing is, when it is, I usually don’t get both weeks worth of payoff next week. And that’s some frustrating BS let me tell you.

To work SO HARD this week for so very little to show for it would normally be massively depressing were I not already battling some epic level depression this week. As it is, there really wasn’t much further for things to drop emotionally, so I was like, “Mmm hmm. Sure, why not?” when I stepped off the scale.

My plan for the coming week is to scale it back a bit. Obviously reaching new highs on the exercise portion of the equation is not helpful, so I will reel it back a bit to a level that has worked before. I think that 3500 to 4000 calories per week is really my “sweet spot” where exercise is concerned. It’s the level where my body needs to be to maintain or lose. Going much higher hasn’t produced desirable results so that’s an experiment I don’t need to repeat.

Other than that – please send cute pictures of kittens. Bunnies or puppies would also be acceptable.

Wait, stop the presses!

I just realized that if you take my loss on this push (7 lbs so far) and averaged it across the entire time period (three and a half weeks so far), I am, actually, getting a two-pounds-per-week loss on average.

This means I guess I need to take back the disparaging comments I made regarding the Mayo Clinic calling me a lazy excuse-making fatso. Perhaps they are right, and I have a normal metabolism, I just don’t like the fact that at my age I have to work THIS hard to see only THIS much loss. Which is slower than what I used to see when I was a younger person. I mean, I’m working really hard! But also over the entire period I’m getting exactly the rate of loss I should expect. Jeez now I feel dumb about my last post. I can’t math today! Or rather, it took me a while to take a longer view than just one week’s results.

Dammit. I need more data. See you next Tuesday, BMR…and every week after that.

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Week 3 Results: BMR and Me

It seems like the older I get the less satisfied I am with my results. And that’s because the older I get the slower I drop. But that’s not really what’s going on.

What’s really going on is that the closer you get to your goal weight, the slower the loss will be because your Base Metabolic Rate is lower. When I was at my highest, I could drop 9 pounds in a week the first week because the difference between how many calories my metabolism needed to burn just to keep the lights on, and how many calories I was consuming in a VLCD, was astonishing. The basic weight math is straightforward.

Right now, the difference between how many calories my body burns and what I’m consuming is not so astonishing. I’m much closer to my goal now than when I was dropping huge wodges of weight each week, and I’m not doing a VLCD, so I’m working with a much narrower margin. Also, and this is an important compounding factor, I have a slower metabolism than the average bear. There’s no online BMR calculator that accurately reflects my reality – they all greatly overestimate how many calories I have to play with because they’re basing it on an average across humans and every body is its own laboratory. Due to 13+ years of consistent attention and data collection, I have a very good grasp on just what my burn rate is. And it’s lower than the average reflected in online BMR calculators. If my BMR were truly 1727 as those sites claim, I should be losing 2 pounds a week right now based on the caloric deficit I am creating through diet and exercise. I am not.

I naturally have a more efficient system than most (ie, my burn rate is lower – I like to call it an efficient system because that sounds better than “genetic booby prize”). This is why I was 400 pounds to begin with when I started this whole journey – eating the same foods as the people around me who were only 10 or 20 pounds overweight. I don’t burn up calories as fast as I should, or might like to expect I could. And losing a lot of weight slowed my metabolism further. I mean, obviously, losing a lot of weight slows your metabolism – that’s basic physics. But I think I got more than the normal effect because my system was more efficient (metabolic booby prize!) to begin with. Discouraging, true, but that’s life.

When I put all those factors together, any loss at all is a victory. Last night I weighed in and was down 1.5 pounds, bringing me to 7 pounds total this push. I am very happy with this result! I’d be ecstatic to get this result every week until I get to my goal.

They say (who? the internet!) that weight fluctuations less than about 8 pounds aren’t noticeable on most people, so I’m almost there, I can almost see progres! I think I can see it a little right now, in the curve of my waist, it’s leaner and slightly less padded. I think. Maybe? Give it another week! My clothes already fit better, anyway.

Slight side rant: I edited and agonized over this post for a long time today because I keep reading how “rare” a thing it is to have a slow metabolism, clearly the consensus is that anybody who claims to have a slow metabolism is really just a lazy junk-food junkie (thanks Mayo Clinic – now fuck off) who needs to man up and go on a diet like for reals. I feel that considering my long experience, my years of record-keeping, and consistent mathematical calculations, I can make this claim because the numbers back me up. That’s the thing about weight math. It’s a fact whether the Mayo Clinic things I’m a lazy excuse-making fatso or not. (In their defense, they are writing for the general population. My experience is not a common one to find out in the wild). Ok. Rant off.

What Does the Math Say?

I was out running this morning and turning this one-pound-loss-in-a-week thing over and around in my head and I decided to go to the math. Math makes me happy, and figuring stuff out while I’m running helps that go by faster.

Keep in mind that this is all very, very nebulous and theoretical, because there are a LOT of factors at play in a body, so it’s never just straight arithmetic. But it can give a general idea!

I gained 10 pounds over the course of 14 months, which is 60 weeks. Theoretically, to gain 10 pounds you have to eat 35,000 extra calories that your body doesn’t need (1 pound = 3,500 calories…sort of). That’s about 583 extra calories per week, or 83 extra calories a day. That’s a pretty slim margin, btw. When you have a super-slow metabolism like mine, though, a small excess can really add up.

I was already crushing it on the exercise front – I had implemented a serious workout routine and was following it all year long. I was also mostly following my healthy eating plan 3-5 days a week. Leaving me 2-4 days to get those extra calories in. So really what was happening, I think, was that 3-5 days a week I was eating at my maintenance level or just below, and for 2-3 days I’d let loose and eat an extra 200-300 extra calories per day. Woop woop! Party in my mouth!

Seriously, as far as falling off the wagon goes, I really didn’t do a very good job at it. Even when I was indulging I was always conscious of trying to eat smaller portions of high-cal foods and choosing more fruits and veg. So the margin I’m working with here is actually pretty small to begin with. Like I mentioned in my What Went Wrong? post, I was doing a lot right, and just needed to tune up a specific defect in my routine – weekends.

When I lay it all out like that…

I don’t really have much room to maneuver, the changes I am making aren’t that awfully large. I needed to stop consuming those 583 extra calories per week just to reach equilibrium (you know, stop gaining), then deficit by another 3500 calories to drop a pound. So to get a one pound loss in a week, or a 2.3 pound loss in a week and a half…I think that’s pretty good considering that all I am doing is tweaking what I am doing a couple of days per week. And according to the math I wasn’t shooting as big a hole in those days as I’d previously thought. Slow and steady is the name of the game.

Thanks, math! I’m going to be all right!

My Daily Caloric Intake Plan

Now that I’ve reached my goal weight, how has my daily routine and daily intake changed from early transition?

Not much, it turns out. Well, on most weekdays not much. I still aim to keep my calories around 1300-1400 each day. This is below what my Base Metabolic Rate (BMR) is for my age and weight (around 1625, if you’re curious) but I’ll tell you why: I know that there are times, particularly on the weekends, when my food environment gets more challenging. Instead of putting myself in a situation where I have to “work off” damage I’ve done over the weekend, I prefer to plan ahead by deficiting most of the week so that when I need to have some flexibility in my eating, I can. Also, this means that at the end of the day if I feel like having a glass of wine, I can.

The easiest way for me to accomplish this is to eat the same thing (or very similar things) every day. I have no problem with establishing a routine and sticking to it, boredom is less important to me than the certainty of knowing where I stand calorie-wise throughout the day. Most weekdays look like this:

  • Breakfast 9am: Oatmeal with a little honey, ~200 calories
  • Snack 11am: bar or shake, ~160 calories
  • Lunch 1pm: Salad with a little lean protein and lots of veggies, ~200
  • Snack 3pm: piece of fruit and 8 oz of non-fat milk, ~160
  • Dinner 6pm: 4-6 oz lean protein, lots of steamed/baked/raw veggies, ~350
  • Snack 8pm: piece of fruit, and/or some yogurt or homemade chocolate pudding with splenda, ~160

That comes in around 1250, give or take a few. I can vary things a little either direction and not do any real damage during the week. I can add in a glass of wine or even a cocktail with dinner if I want without too much trouble, either.

On the weekends I can be a little more relaxed and flexible, and since my weeks are very structured and I’m running a deficit I don’t do too much damage with the occasional indulgence.

This is working for me right now.

Head Case & First Class

I’ve struggled with a lot of shame and embarrassment around needing to do this again. I got so used to being a “success” that realizing I wasn’t anymore and needed outside help to get myself on track felt like a failure. I mean, I kept it off for almost 10 years! And now…to suddenly just fall off the wagon seems so bizarre. I hear from people (people on the internet, mostly) that to make something a habit you have to do it for (insert number of days/months). Well, I far exceeded all of those time spans and still maintaining my weight didn’t become a habit.

This is the point at which I utterly and completely embrace the phrase, “life-long struggle.” I don’t know why I thought that a few years of success meant that wouldn’t apply to me, or that I’d seamlessly integrated the struggle into my life without resenting it or risking slipping off the edge, but I fully and completely recognize now that there is no forever. There is no habit. It is going to be a fighting, kicking, ranting, screaming, hanging-on-by-the-fingernails fight until the day I die.

And then I forgave myself. For my hubris. I hope that others will do the same for me. It’s easy, when it’s working, to wonder why other people can’t do it themselves, when you’re doing it. But when it’s not working, it’s easy to hate the people who ARE doing it, just a little bit.

I forgave myself because I am doing it, now. I picked up my head trip and packed it away, found my way back to a path, swallowed my pride and I’m ready to try, try again. I lost 200 pounds, then I gained 50 back and now I need help. I’ve been beating myself up over this pretty badly. And then I remembered that the fact that I’m doing something about it means I’m not a total failure – I’m still in the ring. I’m still in this fight and I can still get back on top.

If I had a friend who’d lost 40 pounds then gained 10 back I wouldn’t call her a failure, I’d salute the work it took for her to lose the weight, and mention that sometimes you can’t keep it all off, but even keeping some of it off is a success, and that she should be praised for her hard work. Proportionally speaking, I’m in the same boat, but I’ve been acting like that makes me a miserable failure. Bah.

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Last night was my first Optifast class. We don’t actually start on the meal replacements today though. It’s an odd way to set things up, we ordered the food last night, then this week we’re supposed to clear out our kitchens and prepare to start on the MRs next week when they arrive. We are also supposed to journal what we eat this week and “try to reduce your calories so going to 960/day next week will be easier.” This makes sense, however they didn’t give us any tools for how to do this, which I think is a bit of an oversight. Either they want us to do it and give us tools, or they don’t particularly care if we do it but added that sentence in to make us feel like they were providing some sort of value in this first week while we wait for the real program to start.

And finally, they use a fancy body composition monitoring scale. It said that my Base Metabolic Rate is 1827 right now.  That’s somewhat demoralizing. When I get down to where I want to be my BMR will be around 1500. *grumpy face*