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A Weighty Matter

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Today, I’d like to talk about a subject I’ve never discussed on THIH: weight. I hesitated writing this post because there’s a lot of sensitivity surrounding the subject. As I wrote in my FAQ, I feel our society has too much of a fixation on weight. For both women AND men, there exist strong external and internal pressures to look a certain way and fit within a narrow definition of “attractiveness”. These pressures may cause some to make unhealthy and/or uninformed choices that can have negative consequences on health.

In the long run, however, pretending the issue doesn’t exist in the world of THIH is perhaps not the smartest. I hope by giving my perspective as a registered dietitian, I can provide a positive example of attainable goals grounded in health.

So, why do I bring up weight now, anyway?

A few weeks ago, I stepped on a scale for the first time since early last fall. I’d been feeling a bit more tired than usual, despite getting plenty of sleep (most of the time). Knowing this, I was only half-surprised to find I weigh about five pounds above my comfortable upper limit. I checked several times over the next week to make sure, as weight can fluctuate by several pounds over the course of a few days (or even over the course of a single day) depending on what you ate and how much water you retain. Sure enough, the weight gain remained (now that is a beautiful three-word rhyme, if I say so myself).

A little background: With one exception, I’ve been within the same ten-pound weight range since I was 14 (the age I reached my full height – let’s hear it for short-to-averaged-height people!). I won’t mention what the weight range is because (a) it’s not important; rather, what’s important is I know it’s a comfortable, healthy and long-term maintainable weight range for me, and (b) I’ve mentioned my height elsewhere on this website, and I don’t want anyone to think any particular number represents an “ideal” weight for everyone of that height. I’ve received emails on this subject that make me a little sad.

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My first reaction to this unexpected weight gain was to berate myself for not checking my weight more often, but then I pressed the STOP button and took a step back (take that, EASY button). I have the benefit of being a registered dietitian who encounters situations like this every day. Sometimes all it takes is a small shift in focus to help us tackle a problem with a rational mind. I also believe in the power of example. The more positive, self-empowering examples of healthy living there are out there, the better for us as a whole.

So, instead of freaking out or beating myself up over a small weight gain (both unproductive reactions of which I’ve seen), I thought I’d use this opportunity to share a little about how I approach weight loss. In other words, if I was my own client, what would I tell myself?

First of all, this type of weight gain is very common: five pounds here, five pounds there, until one day the scale reads much higher than expected. This type of weight gain is not inevitable. Regular weight checks and small adjustments over time are enough to hold it off. Even if you’ve gained more than a few pounds here and there, don’t despair. Despite how it feels, the weight gain need not be permanent.

Trust me.
Trust me.

You may ask: why can’t I be happy at the weight I am?

My answer: I would be happy at this weight – if it was the weight I had been at when I was 18 and the weight at which I felt the most healthy. It is not. Evidence suggests weight gain after age 18 can raise your risk for diseases such as breast cancer, prostate cancer and risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. I’m not a fan of those odds. If you recall, I also said I felt more tired than usual lately.

The next point is so important, I’ll put it in bold: I’d like to return to my comfortable weight range not because of appearance, but because of my current and future health. I am happy with my appearance. I want to feel better and live healthy.

So, what’s the plan?

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My approach is simple: look for patterns in my diet that offer areas of adjustment. As with example, I also believe in the power of food journaling to help spot areas of improvement. By writing down everything I eat and drink, including amounts, time of day when eaten, where eaten, physical comfort afterward and more, I can look for anything from a too-light breakfast to a potential food intolerance.

I already eat nutritionally-balanced meals with appropriate portions (the Update Your Plate series can attest to that). What could I possibly change?

As it so happens, I already have a mini-food diary-of-sorts in Monday Munchies, the post series where I record everything I eat and drink (other than water) in pictures. A funny thing happened when I compared my Monday Munchy days to regular days: I found out I eat differently on days I record an MM. For example, I might be preparing dinner on a Monday Munchy day and want to try this and that as I’m cooking, but then I’d have to drag a camera out and that’s SUCH a pain so why don’t I skip it now because I’m a decent cook and don’t need to taste this besides I’m having dinner in fifteen minutes?

(Apparently, living inside my brain means being in the midst of a run-on sentence.)

Bonnie is totally not judging me.
Bonnie is totally not judging me.

Something similar happens after dinner. I’ll look for something sweet because I’m in the habit of it, when I really don’t need it. On MM days, I’ll sometimes record a dessert, but more often I won’t because again, that camera is heavy. And I’m always leaving the camera in places where I have to spend fifteen minutes looking for it (Peter can attest to this). The act of taking pictures of everything I eat was enough to make me hesitate before reaching for something. It also helped me realize I used to eat more like I do on MM days than recent regular days.

Now, I’m not going to start taking pictures of everything I eat. Recording everything you eat forever is not the point of food journaling. Rather, I’ve spotted a pattern about which I can do something. The next step is to make diet and/or exercise adjustments I can live with long-term. By the way, identifying patterns and brainstorming ways to adjust them is the perfect task to work on as a team with a registered dietitian. JUST SAYING.

My SMART Plan, to begin immediately:
(1) On weekdays, I will check myself before and after dinner to think about whether I really need what I’m reaching for. I can even think about my camera, if that helps. Sometimes the act of checking yourself is enough to help develop a sense of mindfulness about eating. This goal doesn’t mean I’ll never have a weekday dessert or after-dinner snack; it means I’ll make sure I need one rather than want one.
(2) Three times per week, I will run for at least 30 minutes (I don’t identify particular days, as my schedule fluctuates so much). Exercise is an important part of any weight-loss plan, and I include it when the client is receptive, able and doesn’t have too many goals already. I tend to exercise less in the winter (something I can work on for next year), so just the act of getting out there and running will help me achieve my goal.
(3) I will weigh myself once per week, at the same time each day. I choose Monday morning before breakfast.

There are strategies I can use to make each of these tasks easier, such as leaving out running gear the day before so that I see it immediately when I wake up, or setting an alarm for weighing. These changes are relatively small. Sometimes a client wishes to lose a larger amount of weight, or has a much larger goal health-wise; I would still set small goals like this because smaller steps are easier to follow than large, unattainable steps. Bite-sized goals, dear reader.

One final note: Like weight gain, weight loss is slow. I anticipate it will take at least 2.5 to 3 months to reenter my comfortable weight range – and I’m 100% fine with that. Slow weight loss = lasting results!

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Whew!  That was not easy, so thanks for reading! I’ll report back. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your week!

11 Comments

  1. It’s interesting that 5 lbs may have affected your energy level. But I definitely know that I feel best when I am close to my ideal weight.

    Recording everything I eat really works and helps me see patterns. In fact, just thinking about what I eat makes me realize I like dates a bit too much at the moment…

    Good luck with your smart plan!

    1. I’m not sure the tiredness is related to the weight gain, but I do know that for me, unusual tiredness is often an indicator something is not quite right. Thanks for the kind wishes, Andrea!

  2. Great post, Jessie. I, too am about 5-7lbs above my comfortable weight. Thank you winter! My game plan is similar to yours and I know that being outside in the warm weather will speed things up. 🙂

  3. Great post Jessie, and wonderful advice! Do have your thyroid checked though. My story is exactly the same as yours, sudden 5lb gain that I couldn’t shake despite all of the journalling, counting and increasing my exercise. Thought it was the over 40 thing, but turned out I am hypothroid.

    1. Thanks, Anne! 🙂 I happen to know my thyroid checks out, but that’s a really good point! It’s important to make sure everything is functioning correctly, including your thyroid.

  4. Thank you for this post, Jessie! It came at just the right time for me 😉

  5. I LOVE this post! I think it’s so easy to get caught up in panic and berating yourself when you realize a few pounds have crept on, but it’s so great how you handled it in a calm and rational way! And I love that you’re making small realistic changes instead of deciding to go on a cabbage diet (lol)..not that I’d expect anything less!

  6. I just saw this and I’d like to thank you for putting up this post Jessie, especially since I understand it must have been difficult to write. I have had the opposite (though no less daunting) problem of needing to gain weight to be more energetic and do the things I’d like to do. I can’t agree enough with the statement about setting realistic, small goals that you can maintain. I found that some things my RD suggested I could never do, but also found that I could do some others, so I picked and chose the things I could easily include in my daily routine. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Christa! I’m so glad you’ve found some things you could easily include 🙂 I hope everything is going well!

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