Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Five Years Later

Five years ago today I undertook my last weight loss attempt. I had failed so many ways so many times: I promised myself this is the last time. No more.

That was the deal I made with myself: if this didn't work, I was going to stop, and just accept being fat, and get on with my life. I had already sunk an extraordinary amount of time and effort and anguish into the project. I needed to either succeed or fail. Whatever life was for, it couldn't be for struggling endlessly with this ultimately trivial issue. Who cares if I'm fat? What difference does it make?

The date I picked for the decisive day, the day I'd decide if I succeeded, was five years in the future: May 17th, 2022. I didn't just have to lose the weight -- I'd pulled off significant weight losses before, that wasn't the problem -- I had to get it off and keep it off. My target was 180 lbs. After five years, I reckoned, you could reasonably claim victory.

Today I weighed in at 170.2 lbs. So I succeeded! Kind of. But that's twelve pounds more than it was three months ago. As I succeeded in losing weight, and dropped all the way down past 180, down into the 150s, I revised my target, as one does: my target now was to have my waist measurement be 90% of my hip measurement. I'm at 94% now. Which isn't bad: but it's not the target. And the larger fact, it seems to me, is that after all this time and work, my weight is still not stable. The whole idea of the win-or-lose showdown was to be done with the damn issue, one way or the other. The real outcome, it becomes clear, is this: I will never be done with it.

It was realizing this, perhaps, along with other stressors, that sent my on my latest series of binges. When I was really faced with doing this forever -- eating the same thing every day, tracking meticulously, weighing and measuring -- a large part of me rebelled. Screw that. What is it for? said the rebels, and for a few weeks they had the upper hand, and binge-eating was the order of the day. (Or the order of the evening, actually: the evenings are generally when these collapses occur.)

What drove all this was the idea that my daily life might look different, at my goal weight: that I might be able to indulge occasionally, as normal people do, without getting fat. This is clearly untrue (For myself as I am now. There may be future selves that have wider options, who knows?) As I am now, I have only two paths open to me.

So this is clarifying. And which path I take is obvious. Onerous and discouraging as the path of restriction is, it is less onerous and discouraging than the path of bingeing. The thing about the bingeing is that it's intrinsically deluded. My mind is inflamed with the idea that there's satisfaction somewhere, on the far side of that bowl of ice cream. But on the far side of that bowl of ice cream is... the craving for another bowl of ice cream. And beyond that again, another. What stops the binge is not being satisfied: what stops it is the sheer discomfort of having eaten a week's worth of calories in a couple of hours, and the glut of a certain crooked longing for... humiliation? Breaking the lares? Dunno. I get gleams of pleasure -- especially early on -- but they're extinguished by the anxiety of the craving really rapidly. Very soon, only the anxiety is left. The whole thing is a chump's game. The reward never really comes. I catch certain of the rebel forces trying to convince the populace that we have in fact experienced satisfaction. My populace is not quite that dim. We have not experienced satisfaction, and they know it.

So -- there is no far side. There is no resolution. There is no being done with it.

And that actually is the resolution. What I'm faced with here is not a trivial issue, after all. What I'm faced with is life: my relationship with food is just the part that's been under the bright lights lately. If I want to be my own master -- to have agency in the world -- this is the price: exercising control. Setting limits. Planning ahead. Being an ordinary creature subject to the ordinary rules of life.

So does this mean I never get treats? Well, it does and it doesn't. Of course I will get treats. Of course my self-regulation will collapse from time to time, and I will binge: that has remained true all through this process, and presumably it remains true all my life. There will be birthday dinners and Thanksgivings. What there will not be is a magical exit from the rules of causation. Which I think is what the eagerness for treats actually amounts to: to stubbornly clinging to the hope that the structure of the universe will change. That the adults will let us stay up late and we won't get tired and we'll be able to have fun forever.

That's not the way this works. And it's not even -- to drop to the most prosaic level -- it's not even the way that maximizing pleasure works. Epicurus, who believed that the point of life was maximizing pleasure, ate simply and sparingly: not from a suspicion of pleasure, but from a wholehearted commitment to it.

Much more important than how I manage my eating is this: I am gradually learning -- this is remedial learning, something I should have learned in childhood -- to get ahead of myself a little, to plan and execute in my own person for my own ends. And that is not trivial. That's the project of inhabiting my own life, as I've written many times. I want to live in my life, not camp out in it. I don't want to be a tourist here. I want to be a local. And there is no time I feel more like a local than when I am following my own regimen: when I get up in the morning to the ritual of making the breakfast I prepped last night, or when I wash the week's apples as the finishing touch of putting away the week's shopping. Every time I follow through on a commitment to myself, there's a moment of relief, of rightness.

So call it a success, or call it a failure. It's both: but it ain't over.


Bathwater said...

I don't see anything here as a failure. I have undergone a similar weight loss. I now weigh 152 pounds Low than I have been since high school. Some say I am too skinny, but I don't think you can ever be too skinny. I no longer eliminate any foods from my diet. In fact, I haven't done it in several years. I have changed my lifestyle. I exercise constantly. I've added fruits and vegetables to my daily diet. I think what made the difference is the lifestyle change.

I hope you find a balance.

am said...

Wow! Five years! It ain't over for me either. To be able lose excess weight, maintain one's weight in a healthy range, and be free of food cravings the majority of the time for five years is beyond most people's wildest dreams.

My perception is that it's not about perfection, it's about a freedom that people who don't experience food craving cannot understand. What you began doing five years ago, I began doing 35 years ago. There have been periods of binging during that time but I've always felt moved to return to the sanity I feel when my life is not eclipsed by being overwhelmed with food cravings on a daily basis.

As you know, I lived the first 37 years of my life with insatiable food cravings and struggles with my weight. No way would I go back to that life. Over these years, I've found that at the low end of my healthy weight range, I tended to feel hungry and susceptible to binging. The optimal amount of food for me is that where I don't feel hungry after meals, between meals, or in the evening. That I can experience that at a healthy weight amazes me.

I love the foods I eat not only because they are extraordinarily delicious and completely satisfying but because they don't trigger that terrible craving that used to rule my life. I never dreamed I would find any peace with food and myself. This level of inner peace is a gift I don't take for granted.

lekshe said...

I want to live in my life, not camp out in it. I don't want to be a tourist here. I want to be a local.

I love that.