I lost a lot of weight. And now it wants to come back. What do I do?
A Medium peep wrote me a query the other day, the answer to which I think is important enough to share. This particular person had lost more than a hundred pounds about thirty years ago, and as she heads towards fifty, she is watching a few creep back. She hasn’t changed anything. She was wondering if peri-menopause was part of the issue, and if so, what did I do about it, if I too gained weight back during this time?
As I wrote my response in a private email I realized that this might well be useful to other women. Or not, I have no idea. However, since I get asked a fair bit how I kept the 85 lbs off, this overview could be instructive. Or make you really, really mad at me. Or both.
Here’s what I wrote:
First of all, please accept my heartfelt congratulations for being in the 1-5% of those of us who have been able to maintain this journey. I am well aware of how hard this is and I hope you hear the HUZZAH in the distance. It's from me.
To your question:
The short answer is that I didn’t experience peri-menopause that I can even recall. If I did, I didn’t know it, nor did I take note of it, so I’m not sure I can be of help. I have however noticed that every so often, especially now, my body wants a few pounds back. It’s a full court press battle to either back that off or keep it off if I get those five or so gone. Under quarantine it was a bunch more, that is now gone, too. But a few stragglers stuck around.
Stress is most definitely a factor. Massive life change, which spells stress, is another factor. Chronic stress, which we’ve all been feeling lately, is most definitely a factor.
Perhaps the best thing I can tell you is that your unique body is going to add, subtract, shift and change over the course of your life. You should expect it so that you don’t panic when your body wants a bit more, or lets go of a few. Illness, disease, age, exercise plateaus, the need to change nutrition all play a part in how we show up. The two decades I have on you have taught me a combination of humor and patience. Right now I’m about four or five more than I like, which means my skinniest stuff doesn’t zip up all the way, I just gotta let that be. If I panic, I eat emotionally. If I just let my body do what it needs to do, make note of what I am eating and shift my foods and amounts of foods around a bit, I can usually get results.
Your journey will be different if you bore children. I didn't. That can and likely does make a difference, but since I didn't, I can't speak to that personally. However, the aging body after childbirth and entering menopause likely experiences a very different journey than that of those of us who didn't give birth.
Ultimately, there is no one trick, no one thing. Your body is an entire universe unto itself, fundamentally different from mine. All I can offer is to be a student of its seasons, its reasons for needing more size balanced against your desire/need to stay small. We are forever at the bargaining table, making exchanges with our physical selves. Sometimes we gives, sometimes we gets, sometimes the tide takes us with it and sometimes we swim back and dig into the sand like a determined crab.
Since I’m a determined crab anyway, that fits me perfectly.
In the last two years I’ve had some wicked awful emotional upsets having nothing to do with Covid. That cost me. Then we had Covid and I sold and moved and had a horrible car accidents and surgeries and injuries and quarantine. And kidney stones. There was that. There isn’t a goddamned thing "normal" about any of that. I’ve had to give up my beloved travel and stay home and struggle with wanting to fill the hole in my heart with food.
And, in a nod to how my body is changing, fundamentally retool my diet, now that I know what foods I can no longer have. That’s just life. Life ages us, time changes us, we shift, we evolve. The body reveals that journey.
What that has taught me, as I have passed my 68th milestone, is that even as I largely win the battle against becoming large again, a pound or five here or there is meaningless. Older bodies do better with a bit of beef on them; fat is an organ as critical to our bodies as lungs or our hearts. Our hate affair with fat speaks to how little we understand how our bodies work. We need fat, and as we age, it can move around without our permission. My once 23" waist is now 26".
Does that mean that I’m suddenly a failure because Mama Nature saw fit to move my furnishings around to suit her fancy? I haven’t stopped working out. If anything I work out harder and am more disciplined in my nutrition to deal with the radically different and changing needs of an aging body.
Perhaps the real answer here isn’t so much what to do about a few pounds, and if that is or isn’t a Terrible Trend. Perhaps more so, it’s about coming into the fullness of our souls, our beings, and recognizing finally and permanently that the circumference of a waist doesn’t determine the size of our souls.
Of course you and I don't want to see that weight come back. And chances are neither of us will. What we may see, and this is where learning kindness with an aging body becomes critical, we may need to acknowledge that a shifting inch or so (my waistline) a slightly more padded hip, or the dreaded Third Boob may well become part of our bodies. I have 9% body fat and I STILL have the Third Boob. Go effing figure.
For me, the final line in the sand that I can draw as a determined old crab scrabbling to hang onto my body, my strength and endurance is my sense of humor. Age will take my face. Age may move a few inches here and there, but it will not by god steal my ability to make fun of it. Eventually, the tides will claim my body, and what animates this skin suit will be taken away by the waters.
If all I am to this world is whether or not I was able to sustain an 85 lb weight loss for the rest of my life, I fear I might be something of a disappointment to my creator, whoever she is.
If I am wise, I will not have my final resting place whisper:
"Well, she kept the weight off."
I'd vastly prefer it read:
"She helped others take the weight off their shoulders, laugh, love and live."
I can only speak for myself. I'm going to work at being fit, being healthy, and to the very best of my ability, looking for reasons to love my life wherever an Angry Inch might land and expand.
I hope that helps.