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Intuitive Weight Loss

Hello, Internet! This week I’m entering into a very scary phase… Weight loss.

At my goal weight in 2007

Unlike most women, I didn’t give a damn about a lot of superficial things until I was about 17. My wardrobe consisted of various t-shirts and tank tops sporting horizontal stripes, quotes about cats, or logos of newly released video games that I got from working at Electronics Boutique. My favorite feature was my hair, because it was soft and shiny. I didn’t really care about being popular because I had a few really good friends, which was all that I wanted or needed. I didn’t get my first big crush on a boy until I was 17, either — which lead to some hilarious conversations from well-meaning friends that always started, “We’ll still love you if you’re lesbian, you know.”

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the aforementioned crush that got me thinking about how I looked. It was a combination of Victoria’s Secret catalogs and all the “you’re so skinny!” comments I got when I came home from my 7-week homestay in Tokyo. And maybe, just maybe, it had something to do with seven weeks of helping hang my host family’s laundry to dry and realizing that my jeans were at least two, if not three, times the size of my host sisters’. (It wasn’t all chub — I wore my pants super baggy for some reason. Even at the age of 17, looking back at my photos with my host family, I knew that I really should have brought better-fitting clothes to Japan with me.)

Using my lifestyle in Japan as a starting point, I felt like I had a vague idea of what it took to lose weight and be healthy. I figured it had something to do with home cooked food, lots of rice, walking everywhere and not drinking soda. The not drinking soda thing I could do, but I really had no idea how to achieve the other things. I thought joining a gym might help. Thus began my on-and-off flirtation with 24-Hour Fitness, which I promptly canceled after I got stood up for my complimentary personal training session. Gyms are scary, man! And a Reno 24-Hour Fitness at 10pm is even scarier than normal.

With no idea of what I should look like, I decided that my goal was to look like one of the Victoria’s Secret bikini models. (Um… yeah.) That idea haunted me on and off for years, but thankfully, I didn’t know what a calorie was, so I kept eating more or less like I was used to, except without all the soda. And sometimes protein shakes. My brothers were all about protein shakes.

Fast-forward to college. I started dating, I started running, I learned about nutrition, and… calorie counting software.

This must have been the point where it all went downhill, the point where I made the jump from healthy food vs. unhealthy food, from active lifestyle vs. inactive lifestyle, to correlating various numbers with my body.

I took one semester 2,000 miles away, and when I came back home — after cooking for myself, walking to and from class and running three to four times a week for several months — I was greeted with more “you’re so skinny!” comments. I went shopping for my first-ever pair of fitted jeans, and they were size 7. I ran my first 5K with my boyfriend. And from then on, any time I felt like I was gaining weight (which was often, as I was less active and ate out more back home), I would turn to NutriBase and start counting the hell out of my calories.

When I found out about SparkPeople, I was stoked, because as a web app, I wouldn’t have to re-enter all my custom foods every time I reformatted my computer. (I reformat often. Nothing like a brand-spankin’ new OS install!) All my data would be there, waiting for me, no matter what computer I was on or whether I had been diligent about using it for the past few months or not. It took about a year of ups and downs, but I got to my goal weight (and lowest weight ever, 130 lbs) within a year of using SparkPeople.

You know what’s funny, though? I actually reached that goal when I stopped using the site for a few months. I was simply running twice a week and eating when I was hungry.

Last week, I found myself sitting at my desk feeling really pissed off and out of control, and my first instinct was to log in and start tracking calories again. Then I started typing out this blog entry, and put two and two together.

Sometimes counting calories has helped me, because it gave me a goal and a plan to stick to. Sometimes, though, counting calories has hurt me, like on days I broke my calorie budget and was so frustrated that I devoured a whole box of eclairs. (The frozen ones from Costco are really tasty!) Yet the one thing that has always worked, whether I was aware of what I was doing or not, was removing the obsession and living healthfully. It’s when I was active — biking and walking everywhere in Japan, running and walking to class in Michigan, running a few times a week at my old job — and eating like a normal person instead of an uncontrollable, food-hating mageirocophobe. (That’s a person who fears cooking. Thanks, Google!)

While I have renewed hope in my ability to become one of those people (you know, the inspiring person who turned their life around, lost 30lbs, and actually enjoys exercise now), I’m a little scared of how to get there. My track record with calorie counting has been intermittently successful and, I’ve come to realize recently, almost gave me an eating disorder. But the analytical, science-loving nerd in me, who prefers Alton Brown over Rachel Ray and does soil tests when her grass is dying, is incredibly afraid of doing something intuitive. Where are the stats? The graphs? The rules? The numbers?! The certainty that you’re doing it correctly?

Well, Inner Geek, we’re going to try a whole new experiment. We’re going to try not counting.

I’m going to eat smaller portions, and eat more home-cooked food. I’m going to run at least twice a week, and I think I’ll try the free classes at my gym. I’m also going to start biking to work again. (Yeah, I know fall just started, but aside from the wind, Reno winters are pretty mild.)

I won’t be posting about this every day, but you can track my progress with me by watching my Hacker’s Diet badge on the sidebar of my blog.* While I know keeping track of a number — my weight — is somewhat counterproductive towards a goal based on intuition over numbers, I’m genuinely curious about whether weight loss results can be obtained intuitively. My main goal is to get healthy, active, and fit in my favorite clothes again. If I get there and weigh more than I expected, then it will be time to psychoanalyze my attachment to that number and reevaluate.

*Daily weighing is normally a trigger for eating disorders, but when you adjust for water retention and dehydration using linear regression through a tool like Hacker’s Diet, it suddenly becomes a useful technique again. 🙂 Who knew that math could help you psychologically?

Have you ever intentionally lost weight? Have you kept it off?
Do you feel like you approached weight loss in a physically and emotionally healthy way?

3 thoughts on “Intuitive Weight Loss

  1. I have lost and regained the same 20 lbs several times over the past 10 (since we moved to SD.) Ironically, I think I looked my best when we lived in Austin, TX — and even though we were surrounded by incredibly tasty and cheap BBQ and Tex-Mex, I wasn’t fat. But I was very active, surrounded by friends, bellydancing, playing with a Celtic band and singing in a early music choir, doing a job that was meaningful. It was a good life.

    Then we moved to San Diego b/c the spouse got a tenure-track job. San Diego is not Austin. It’s very spread out. The culture is different, more conservative, less playful, more serious about recreation — surfing is a whole lifestyle! In Austin, everybody hiked and biked and just enjoyed it. In San Diego, if you don’t do an activity, then you’re not really welcome… it’s difficult to get jobs. It’s difficult to find friends. The food is not as fresh or delicious (but still better than really urban areas like NYC).

    I gained weight unconsciously, then noticed it, then actively watched my diet and upped the exercise for awhile, was still depressed and lonely and minimally employed, slipped up and ate more and exercised less, gained weight, noticed it again, joined Sparkpeople, started running, lost weight, lost the cartilage in my hips, got depressed (very depressed due to unemployment and chronic pain), had an affair with Ben&Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, had a hip replacement and am now noticing my food intake and exercise levels again….

    Going in for my 2nd hip replacement in 2 days. And then I hope that the lack of chronic pain will make it easier for me to be active and also to work. I really need to find meaningful work that preferably pays what my time is worth….but at this point, any income would be nice. I have until November 1 to focus totally on health, art and resume. And we;ll see what happens.

    1. You know, I think you’re right that there is a social and fun aspect to an active lifestyle. Can you still bellydance as the Bionic Woman? 🙂

      I’ve been thinking I need to start going to some sort of class again. It’s just so expensive. 🙁 CrossFit, martial arts… something where I could make active friends in Reno. (All my friends are in Tahoe, which isn’t that far, but isn’t that convenient, either.)

  2. The doc says I can start bellydancing after 3 months. Of course, no more high-impact activities, but that still leaves dance, swimming, and walking — which I love. Classes are definitely fun — and where I made some lasting friends in Austin. There’s a bellydance class not far from me (in El Cajon, the next town over) — and when I can afford, I’m going to see if I can join. When you’re in the right class, it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like a fun group effort!

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