How can I really change my lifestyle and overcome my weight and body image issues?
November 14, 2010 10:35 AM   Subscribe

How can I really change my lifestyle and overcome my weight and body image issues?

Basically, I've had weight issues my entire life and I really want to overcome them and finally change for good. Over the years, I have tried so many times to change my relationship with food but I have never been able to succeed. Please excuse the long story but I think it is necessary so you see where I'm coming from.

Growing up, my sister called me fat and ugly every single day of my life. When I was as young as 5, I remember her calling me a fat pig, cow, etc and I remember going into the bathroom to hide and cry at night. I was never really fat as a child, and I was very active and on two sports teams. I also had severe seasonal allergies and asthma, which kept me inside/inactive for spring and summer. In the first grade, we moved and I gained some weight. I guess I was probably "overweight" but the doctor never said anything because he knew I was active. I slowly gained weight over the years because of overeating.

When I was 15, I was 5'4" and about 160 pounds. At this point, my sister was hardly ever home because she commuted to college. I don't remember how it started but I basically restricted to under 800 calories a day and exercised for over an hour every day for about half a year. I ended up losing 32 pounds and actually kept it off for an entire year. I started gaining it back during my junior year, and by my senior year, I was around 180 pounds.

I'm now a sophomore in college and I weigh exactly 160 pounds. Since gaining the weight back in high school, I’ve tried to lose weight countless times but the changes never last for more than a month. I have used, which advocates lifestyle change rather than dieting. But I've made about 6 accounts there over the years, and just going to the website makes me feel like I've failed. Whenever I start exercising daily, counting calories etc. I become obsessed with it for a while and then just forget about it. I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to have a routine and stick with it for a long time so that it just becomes part of who I am.

On a side note, I don’t have an unhealthy diet. I became a vegetarian when I was 12 and now I’ve been vegan for almost a year. I take vitamins, don’t eat processed fake meat/cheese and get regular blood tests to make sure I’m in good health. My problem is I overindulge in “healthy” food. I tend to eat too many carbs (brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread), beans and hummus. I used to love junk food but my tastes have changed and I hate potato chips, fried food and most sweets. However, if I’m really stressed or in a bad mood, I can eat a whole bag of pita chips or pretzels, or I will eat lots of bread with margarine.

Right now, I commute to college, come straight home and sit in bed all day studying or reading. I don't exercise at all and my strange schedule has me eating often. I have the offline version of Fitday, which I got free from a friend. I like the program and would like to use it to start tracking my food and exercise.

Another side note, I plan to go into therapy in January when the health insurance from my new job kicks in. Hopefully that will help with some of my body image issues but I don't want to put off changing my lifestyle until then.

So my basic questions are:
1. How can I really make these changes for good this time? I want to be healthier, but I see almost no point in trying because I always end up “going off track” and reverting to my old habits.
2. How can I change my lifestyle (i.e. start a exercise routine, recording what I eat) without become obsessed with it and thinking about it all the time?
3. I have a stationary bike, a real bike, a treadmill, running sneakers and some free weights. How can I build a routine that I will stick to? Should I start slowly and build my way up? I don’t have the money for a personal trainer and definitely do not have enough confidence to go to a gym or exercise classes.
4. Do you know of any motivational blogs/books/websites that might help me?
5. Any additional advice you have would be very much appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (40 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
one thing that's helped me is to plan out what I am going to eat the night before. Like laying out your clothes. That way, you can plan out nutrition and calories and it takes away some of the obsessive thinking.

Actually write it down, don't just say it in your head. I keep a journal for that, and then use a program to track the actual calories.
posted by sweetkid at 10:52 AM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

All I can say is that to make something a permanent part of your lifestyle, you have to do it -- and the day after you screw up and don't, and the day after that. You can't be perfect. So if you begin to revert, it shouldn't be a shame cycle that leads to more passivity, but rather just an "Okay, tomorrow I will." "Today I will." Little steps, you know?

Also, you have to enjoy the exercise, I think. If it's a chore and you hate it, you won't do it. And though I myself have a dusty collection of exercise equipment I sometimes use but mostly don't, I think they're boring as shit and only good in a pinch.

Find an outdoor activity you like, and do it--cross-country skiing, hiking, biking. Walk around your neighborhood. I think that the best way for me is to make it utilitarian. I have a dog that needs to be walked twice a day, and he likes to run. Because stores are often a not-unreasonable distance, I will often insist on walking there with a backpack or biking rather than taking the car. I also allow myself to listen to podcasts only while doing X activity. I want to catch up, so I want to walk. At college, can you park really far away from campus, and then walk? Or could you bike there when it's nice weather?

As far as recording your food, I've always thought that sounded like a colossal pain in the ass, so you'll have to get your advice from somewhere else. If you have to walk to the grocery store, you might not buy things you don't need, like bags of pretzels and pita chips. Personally I just don't have these things in my house. If I don't buy them, I won't use them to be compulsive. Put the money you save in a jar for a weekend away.

Also--bread. I love bread. We've started baking our own now, and though the corresponding deliciousness makes me want it more, baking is not something I want to be doing every day.
posted by RedEmma at 10:56 AM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

To answer your first two questions in a not completely direct way, would it help if you try to think about every healthy action you take as being a good thing in itself? If you go for a bike ride today, then that's fantastic. You don't necessarily need to have hanging over you that you want to keep biking every day for the next year, or whatever your long-term goal is. Every specific healthy choice you make is valuable. Every day you exercise you're doing a great thing to take care of yourself. Even if you do "get off track," that doesn't negate the benefits of what you've already done. And you can just get right back on track again.

Of the different exercise options you mentioned, is there one that you enjoy more? Do that one. I would personally choose either biking or running, to get sunlight outside and to get the endorphin boost from aerobic exercise. But I think it would probably be best for you to do whichever type of exercise you'd actually enjoy and be able to fit into your days most easily. I find that exercising with a friend helps me be consistent about it, so I'd suggest seeing if you know anyone who wants to make a standing running or biking date.

I love yoga and meditation. I know you said you don't want to go to exercise classes, but perhaps yoga classes would feel less intimidating. If you have studios in your area, they probably have classes for beginners and maybe also for people who feel out of shape. I think yoga's a great way to connect with your body and appreciate all the wonderful things it can do. Most everyone turns out to be really good at some random pose, and have a lot of trouble with other random ones, and for me it reinforces that we all have our own particular (and delightful) strengths and weaknesses.

Thinking about books that address shame and self-acceptance, my favorite is Tara Brach's "Radical Acceptance." It includes basic meditation teachings and a ton of personal stories and stories from Tara's therapy practice about people learning to, as she says, let go of anxiety about imperfection. Her website also has guided meditations you can download.
posted by zahava at 10:58 AM on November 14, 2010 [7 favorites]

You don't need to lose weight. You are, at best, barely overweight, but because you're in good health I wouldn't worry about it.

What you need is to visit a therapist to explore your sister's emotional and verbal abuse during childhood. Seriously, this is extremely disordered eating territory here--you're stressing out about eating whole grain bread with margarine.

There is nothing wrong with your eating. I promise. Please, talk to someone--and start to learn learn how to love yourself.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:58 AM on November 14, 2010 [28 favorites]

(I see in there that you're planning on therapy, but seriously, sub-800 calorie diets are not healthy and with your history I would not start a diet program without talking to a mental health professional.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:00 AM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with PhoB... You are not excessively overweight. But you are obsessing about it, which is worse and tends to make it a much bigger problem than it really is.

When I was young--I was the "fat pig" of the neighborhood--when I looked back at pictures of myself many years later--I was shocked to see that I wasn't the HUGE TITANIC FATSO that the other girls had led me to believe I was.

However, I did spend thirty or so years, like you, worrying about every morsel I put in my mouth and how many sit-ups I would have to do to eradicate the cookies I had eaten.

You know what good nutrition is and you know when you are over indulging for comfort.

Just get a grip on emotional eating and get some exercise and screw your sister's opinions.
posted by AuntieRuth at 11:15 AM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're going to college right now you should see if the university offers counseling sessions. A couple years ago I was able to get six sessions for free and I didn't even have the university health insurance.

As for changing body composition, it seems like discipline is really key. A friend of mine lost 50 pounds and is down to 190 at 5'8". He does this by not drinking beer when we go out, ordering smaller dishes at restaurants, and running every day and lifting a couple times per week.

Being somewhat obsessive is a good thing if you're using it to motivate you into being disciplined but it becomes bad when it's taken to an extreme. Check out mindfulness techniques and cognitive behavior therapy to keep negative thoughts in check.

In general, changing body composition should come slowly and in cycles. Don't expect to lose 30 pounds in 30 days. Instead, expect a couple pounds per week where some weeks you don't lose any or it seems like you gain.

Good luck with everything.
posted by just.good.enough at 11:19 AM on November 14, 2010

You will feel so much better if you get moving. Start by parking farther away from the building, walking or biking instead of driving, take the stairs instead of the elevator. You don't have to have a gym; you can go up and down the stirs a couple extra times, and start taking longer walks. Put on music and dance. Try to get outside in some sun every day; fresh air and sunshine just help. I don't think you have a bad relationship with food. Over-focused on food a bit, but that's not unusual.
posted by theora55 at 11:20 AM on November 14, 2010

I would seriously consider reevaluating your commitment to veganism. Mostly everyone I know who has lost weight, myself included, has done it by eating a low carb diet until the weight comes off, and then by striking a balance between carbs and protein to maintain. Also, it seems to me like you need to begin schooling yourself on nutrition, as evidenced by your reference to margarine. You should definitely be consuming butter, not margarine. I suggest you stop in a bookstore and check out the absolutely fabulous narrative and cookbook by Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions. It was the best addition to my kitchen I ever made, and I really learned how to properly eat by studying it.

Whatever you do, take it one step at a time. Any lifestyle change will require time and commitment, so make one change at a time, whether you decide to start with detox, exercise, diet, whatever. Just do one thing, and do it well for a period of months, then move on to incorporate the next.
posted by zagyzebra at 11:33 AM on November 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

I also agree with PhoB. Learn to love yourself. Shove your sister's opinions out of your head. Remember that opinions are like assholes and everyone gets one. So form your own more positive opinion!

I am also a very busy college student. Make exercise part of your routine. Even if you don't want to do it, just do. It will get to where you crave it. Does your school have a gym? The only way you will build confidence in going to the gym is by just going and doing it. You will see that people don't really care if you are there, doing your thing. Personally, I go to the gym, but I like to have exercise that has a 'purpose'. I ride my bike to do errands, walk to the grocery store, etc. I do engage in mindless exercise in the winter (because I HATE the cold) so I run on a treadmill.

I'm going to say this at risk of having arrows shot at me, but it's just my opinion: I know quite a few vegans, and I think that it's a diet that requires a lot of research and work to do it right. It also doesn't seem to work well with some people. I know a couple of vegans that are quite overweight, and several that are downright unhealthy. I personally gained a lot of weight on a vegetarian diet, and then lost it when I went back to being an omnivore. It might be worth your while to enter your dietary information into a nutrition calculator on a site like FitDay or something like that. You say that you eat a lot of carbs. An overdose of most things is not good (carbs, protein, fat, sugar, alcohol, etc). Everything in moderation. Balance is essential. Good luck!
posted by bolognius maximus at 11:34 AM on November 14, 2010

I wish I could give you a hug. My advice to you is give yourself a hug.

Here's my story, so you know where I'm coming from: I spent my childhood ranging from chubby to fat. And I hated myself. I thought, "If only I could get to weight X, I will be happy and people will love me!" Then I got to weight X, but suddenly weight X wasn't good enough anymore, and I thought, "If only I could get to weight X - 10, then I really WILL be happy and people will love me!" Then I got to weight X - 10. And I was proud of myself. I was damn proud of myself. I was thin.

....But, when I looked in the mirror, I was proud of myself for being thin, but I didn't really like how I looked. I was bumpy in the wrong places, where my bones were too prominent, and all the good bits about my shape weren't there. Also, I felt weak a lot and I wasn't comfortable a lot, and, geez, I did NOT have a healthy diet, and all my time was spent concentrating on foodfoodfood. On top of that, this happened at one of the most unhappy times in my life, and no one did love me. I was thin, but I was alone, and I was sad.

Now I'm at weight X + WAYTOOMUCH, seriously, and I don't feel good about my weight. I'm fat, and that means I think poorly of myself sometimes... But, know what? I am happy, in general. I am loved. I have, now, all those things that I thought correlated with my weight and, turns out, don't. I have everything in life I want, except a thin body -- and, really, what's the point of having a thin body when it isn't necessary for all that other fantastic stuff?

You don't have to be thin to be lovely and loved. You don't have to be thin to have the good life. You can focus on being healthy, happy, and fulfilled without focusing on what numbers your sister finds acceptable.

When you get to a therapist, I hope s/he will be able to help you with this. But, for now, I suggest you do some silly, little exercises:

1) Get a piece of paper, and think of its surface as the content of your entire life. Then, start drawing shapes on the paper to represent the different parts of your life and how much space you want that part of your life to take up. Is college important to you, something you think about a lot, concentrate on, care about? Then it should take up more space. Is your job unimportant, not worth that much cognitive energy? Then it should take up less space. And think, really hard, about how much space you want "food" to take up on that page. How much of your time, thoughts, and emotions do you want food to take up? Think about how much space it currently is taking up, and ask yourself if you are happy with that. This will likely not lead to any actual changes in your lifestyle, but it may help you keep in mind what you actually want for your lifestyle, in terms of diet.

2) When you eat, think about how the food makes you feel. Completely ignore the calories, or grams of anything, or any single number that could in any way be applied to the food. Instead, just ask yourself, "How do I feel now that I have eaten that?" Pay attention to whether the answer is "good" or "bad," and use those answers to help decide your future food choices.

3) Do some exercises whenever you can get around to it, but don't focus on how many calories that exercise burns. Instead, ask yourself, "how do I feel now that I have done that?" Pay attention to the answer. Again, the point is: keep track of what makes you feel good, because that's what matters. Do what makes you feel good, because the point to being healthy is to feel healthy!

4) Love yourself as you are. I'm serious. And if you find it hard to love yourself, at least pretend to do so. Fake it 'til you make it -- or, rather, fake it 'til you make it to the therapist. Stop yourself if you find yourself thinking poorly about your appearance or your weight. Make lists of things about you that are good, or that you admire. Look yourself in a mirror and, dammit, give yourself the biggest, strongest bear-hug you ever could manage. Do it, and mean it. This won't solve your body image issues -- that's what a therapist is for, as you know. But, often times, making good choices is a matter of thinking you're worth good choices.

Good luck.

(And I don't mean "good luck losing weight." I mean, "good luck discovering what, for you, makes up a good life.")
posted by meese at 11:42 AM on November 14, 2010 [10 favorites]

My problem is I overindulge in “healthy” food. I tend to eat too many carbs (brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread), beans and hummus. I used to love junk food but my tastes have changed and I hate potato chips, fried food and most sweets. However, if I’m really stressed or in a bad mood, I can eat a whole bag of pita chips or pretzels, or I will eat lots of bread with margarine.

More protein, fewer carbs. More vegetables. But please be honest with yourself and realize that your problem isn't only that you overindulge in healthy food -- yes, hummus is great, but a bag of pita chips or pretzels, or bread slathered in margarine, sounds like junk food to me.

I'm not trying to give up an eating habit, but I am trying to give up a smoking habit. RedEmma's comment that you can't be perfect strikes me as important. There's a strong temptation to think, "Oh, well, I screwed up and I'm smoking, so I guess I might as well keep smoking." On my good days tell myself it's okay, but I still have a choice about when to stop again, and I do so ASAP.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:42 AM on November 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

It stands out to me that you're only a sophomore in college now.

One thing that I'll say, and I don't know if this helps you in terms of weight loss, is that I had really intense body image issues starting around puberty which continued through college. It really wasn't until the last few years that I've been able to get a little bit of perspective about this stuff.

There are two things I could isolate as reasons it was so hard to learn to love my body when I was younger.

1. There is a focus on pop culture at those ages which is really hard to pull away from.

2. When you're in high school and college, you're spending most of your time around people your own age.

And thus there were two things I did right in the aftermath of college that really changed how I felt about myself. The first was that I got involved with politics and the arts, where nobody cared about Kim Kardashian's new diet. I hung out with a bunch of people who also didn't much care about their looks and instead tended to focus on ideas.

The second thing I did, a little bit later - which is probably more feasible for you where you're at now - was to take a yoga class at a studio that was less fitness focused and more about relaxation and spirituality. Not only was the philosophy at the studio really great for getting the focus off the external, but many of my fellow yoginis were older. I was exposed to a lot of different kinds of bodies, at all ages and ability levels. And all of our bodies could do the important stuff that bodies are supposed to do. And when I got to know the women inside the bodies, I realized the things I was worried about just didn't matter. All of these women were impressive in their own ways, and their fulfillment had nothing to do with the way they looked. I realized that someday I would be an older woman, and my "looks" would fade. And I wanted to have lives as full as these women, not waste my life obsessing about my appearance.

It's still been an uphill battle since those two breakthroughs, of course. But those were the most important tools to letting go of the body image crap. Especially the realization that I have a whole life to live in this body, and I should be out enjoying that rather than punishing myself with the stress of self-hate.
posted by Sara C. at 11:44 AM on November 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

I too am 5'4" and in high school I weighed 155-160. I thought I was the "fat pig" too, because all the girls in hs were super athletic and/or anorexic. In college I topped out at about 172; all you can eat dining halls certainly didn't help things. Now, 5 years later, I'm 140-145 ish, which is within range for my height.

Things that helped:
Food scale-- weighing out portions according to the nutritional info on the package.
Couch to 5k-- I hated exercise all through childhood, through college, and up until a few years ago when I did c25k and strength training with dumbbells and a exercise ball. It helped for me to use Bob Ullrey's podcasts (free); he narrates the routine over music so you don't have to think about it. Getting through c25k allowed me to enjoy exercise. Also, this never stuck, but running with someone was more fun.
Diet-- I notice that I lose weight when I really restrict carbs--beans, lean protein (for me chicken or beef), veggies, cheese, in various combinations. (My body type, maybe not yours).
Walking-- I lived about 2 miles from my school for four months, and walked back and forth. I also didn't have a car in that city, so naturally my activity level went way up.
Food-- I have become much better at not buying food that is a trigger. And I've gotten a lot better at saying no to stress-eating. Frankly, this is mostly willpower.
Therapy-- I have had body image issues for years. (I blame high school, mostly.) My therapist and I are just now getting into it, but I know that my negative narrative is not something that I can kick on my own. Becoming more compassionate towards myself has also allowed me to not be so hard on myself when I do end up stress-eating.
Exercise buddy-- I email a friend when I go for a run, and send her a picture of the route plotted on gmaps pedometer. A similar accountability strategy: I was also keeping a twitter account for a while dedicated to a food/exercise log, which made it easier because I could text it from any location.
Age--as I've gotten older, I've become less obsessed with this stuff. I know that's not particularly helpful right now, but in time, I bet it will preoccupy your mind less and less.
*Weight Watchers--this was very successful for a former roommate of mine. She lost and has kept off about 30 lbs.
posted by emkelley at 11:51 AM on November 14, 2010

Seriously, this is extremely disordered eating territory here--you're stressing out about eating whole grain bread with margarine.

I would be - in my opinion it is one of the worst things you can eat. Whole wheat damages the intestines, contains lots of antinutrients, and is a likely cause of disorders ranging from obesity to heart disease. Margarine, even if non-hydrogenated, generally contains a toxic omega-6-to-omega-3 ratio and may even contain added sterols or stanols which are bad news.

It is hard to construct a good vegan diet. IMO you really need some animal products, both for protein and healthy n-6 to n-3 balance. No successful, healthy hunter-gatherer societies consume less than 16% animal products, for example. I eat a fair amount of animal products, but I choose those that are humanely cared for and given their natural diet whenever possible. Failing that, try eating lots of healthy plant fats (coconut, red palm, avocado, olive, algal DHA, and possibly flax oils) and making sure you're getting some complete proteins. Still, certain essential vitamins like K2 are nowhere to be found in plant products.

Weight control is not something most people should have to give a thought to, but something that just happens because you are eating right. I have found this to be the case when eating a diet based on Paleolithic principles that also includes some dairy. I have been
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:01 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

OP, you should really really consult your doctor or a professional dietician before making hard and fast decisions about specific foods. And if you're going to go down the "eat this, don't eat that" diet road, with your track record of disordered eating you should definitely involve a therapist as well.

It really strikes me that your problems do not stem from eating the wrong things, or that any particular food you're eating is causing weight problems. Which isn't to say that diet modification isn't something you should be doing, but, well, I'd trust a professional about this stuff before I'd trust random people on the internet.
posted by Sara C. at 12:07 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, steady-state cardio is very limited in effect as far as weight. You burn off calories and your body gets hungrier! Our bodies are not easily tricked.

The forms of exercise that have shown to have positive effects on body composition are those that are brief and intense, such as weight training and intervals. This is likely because they have hormonal and metabolic effects that go beyond simply burning calories. Just half an hour once a week of intense weight training may have wonderful effects. If you're willing to put in a little more time, you could try something like Practical Programming or Stronglifts (but do the bodyweight exercises).
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:23 PM on November 14, 2010

Weight control is not something most people should have to give a thought to, but something that just happens because you are eating right.

This is not an absolute, and some people--particularly people who had extremely restrictive starvation level diets, which is what the OP was once on in high school, and whose metabolism is very likely out-of-whack because of it--will always be prone to heavier weights. Nothing about the OP's diet indicates that she is not eating right, and within a normal, healthy, varied diet an occasional indulgence is really no big deal. As, I would imagine, occasional consumption of margarine if all other health-indicators are fine--and since OP has had her blood tested regularly, hand wringing about the consumption of margarine and whole grain bread is unlikely helpful.

It's possible that OP genuinely is binge eating when she says she eats lots of whole wheat bread and margarine and bags of (gasp) pita chips. If so, that's all the more reason to consult professionals, and not the internet.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:27 PM on November 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Weight loss is 70% diet, 30% exercise.

If your diet is not spot on you are wasting your time.

You know what you're doing wrong, it's up to you to rectify it. You can change and build a routine by not exercising for the sake of it. Get on your (real) bike and cycle it places you need to go, with purpose. Before you know it, you will be enjoying the benefits of exercise and will soon be doing it off your own back. It's hard at first and you need to build momentum. Do that by making exercise an essential part of your day, not that dreaded hour where you force yourself into the basement to pick up your dusty weights.
posted by fire&wings at 1:01 PM on November 14, 2010

I strongly agree with everyone recommending that you consult a therapist before you make any further diet plans. If you don't address that obsessive voice in your head, you're just going to bounce from obsession to obsession.

You have all the time in the world to lose weight, especially at your age, but the sooner you get mentally healthy, the better that time will be for you.

I say this from experience: if you improve on your mental issues surrounding food and body image, not only will you be able to relax about your weight, but making healthy decisions will become a lot easier.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:05 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I still remember a day I looked around in high school and thought, "every single person here is beautiful". It was our youth. It was even more true in college. The thin ones were willowy-pretty, the fuller ones were round-healthy-sweet pretty, the sickly ones were cheekbone-sculpture pretty. I don't understand why some people close themselves off from different kinds of beauty, but there's no reason you have to do it.

If you want to change your fitness profile with an eye to avoiding long-term problems, then that's fine, do it. But don't try to please mean people.
posted by amtho at 1:09 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm so sympathetic to you, having spent a good deal of my teens and twenties loathing my body and feeling scarily out of control about my weight and my relationship to food. I'd been overweight since my early teens by about 30 to 35 pounds although, by all appearances and the FDA food pyramid, I ate an ideal balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fats.

At 27 I turned my eating upside down. I actually upped my calories to about 2500 a day. I lost about 35 pounds in the process, which I've kept off now for four years with minimal effort.

For me, the key to transforming my body lay in two separate but related changes:

First, I stopped loathing the way I looked. I focused instead on finding a way of eating that gave me more energy and told myself my primary goal was NOT to lose weight: rather, it was to be good to my body.

Diets had always filled me with self-loathing, you see -- not only because calorie limitation just sucks, but also because it seemed to contradict my most deeply-held beliefs to deprive myself in order to meet some culturally-imposed beauty standard.

So, with this new way of eating, I started from a different viewpoint: that this non-diet was good for me, and that every time I decided to stick to it, I'd be making a decision that reflected love and appreciation for my body, overweight or no. In short, it was different than any other diet I'd ever done because the point was not to trammel my body into skinniness but to feed it things that made it work better. "Dieting" as a form of self-love and self-care!

Giving myself permission to love my body despite the fact that it/I was overweight was a *huge* breakthrough. In the past, dieting had been an exercise in anxiety as I forced myself to be "good" and waited desperately for the scale to show the desired results. Meanwhile, the misery and self-criticism of the numbers I saw each morning just led me to want to comfort myself through food. But by giving myself permission to stop worrying and accept myself no matter how I looked -- to focus instead on feeling healthy, and to trust that I was doing the right thing for myself with every bite I put into my mouth -- the weight loss became incidental and therefore pleasant, a time of jubilation and self-discovery rather than earnest, pained, agonized efforts at restraint and denial.

In short: a permanent change in weight was not possible for me until I attempted it from a place of loving my body, rather than a place of self-loathing and desperation.


Here's the second part of how I did it. I say this very tentatively because you're vegan and I don't know how strongly your personal ethics play a role in this choice. But for me, I had to let go of some long-enshrined beliefs about health.

I'd spent most of my life going between vegetarian and very low-animal-protein intake, adoring my bread, feeling constantly puzzled that I ate so healthily (whole grain, lots of veggies and fruit) but consistently was famished and hovered at 35 pounds over my ideal weight despite a regular workout routine.

And then I read some books about low carb, including -- well into my weight loss -- the fabulous and very meticulously researched Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.

My aim had been to find a diet that worked for my body: that didn't leave me hungry between meals: that ended the energy slumps I felt throughout the day: and that the science convincingly showed was healthy.

Here's where you might snort: I settled on Atkins. It corrected my heretofore-raging appetite, kept me satiated between meals, reduced my need for sleep, upped my energy level, and slimmed me at about 2500 calories a day. (Keep in mind that I'm female, 5'8", and was in my late twenties during weight loss: I was amazed that I lost on so much food, but I was never hungry, and i had a great time learning to cook. Roasted brussel sprouts in olive oil and garlic, mmm.) Now, to maintain, I simply avoid grain, starchy vegetables like potatoes, and any sugar save that in dark chocolate and fruit.

I'm not advocating that you try Atkins. It's hard as a vegetarian and impossible as a vegan. I would never suggest that go against deeply-ingrained ethical principles simply to try a new diet. That would contradict my earlier advice: that you find a way of eating that makes you feel good about what you're doing long before it turns your body into the shape you desire.

However, I do want to suggest to you that there's nothing wrong with your metabolism or even your health; 160 pounds, at your height, is a fine weight. There is nothing wrong with your body. It simply reflects the diet you choose to eat. Some people grow thin as rails on a vegan diet; my body doesn't work that way (I did try it for six months in college) and nor, apparently, does yours.

This doesn't mean your current way of eating is wrong for you. It just means that veganism probably won't give you the body you ideally would like to have.

As I see it, you'll need to make a decision about whether to keep your current diet or change it. I strongly suggest you attend to how you physically *feel* (NOT LOOK) when making that decision. Either way, though, I urge you to treat your body affectionately and kindly, and give yourself permission to love it even if it doesn't look the way you'd like. As I said, this advice is strategic as well as idealistic: I don't think *any* diet works healthily in the long run unless you first decide to act from a place of love and acceptance for yourself.
posted by artemisia at 1:10 PM on November 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Please don't pay attention to random people on the internet telling you not to eat vegan. Talk to an actual nutritionist - one who understands vegan nutrition. Or, at the very least, read about nutrition from vegan RDs like Jack Norris and Ginny Messina.

Inspiring blog suggestion: Bitch Cakes.

Good luck. Behavior change is tough, but you can do it - lots of people do!
posted by acridrabbit at 1:22 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

You know what is the single most worrying fact about your life I got from your post?

"Right now, I commute to college, come straight home and sit in bed all day studying or reading."

I find myself slipping into unhealthy ways of thinking about my body, my weight, my appearance, and food most often when I'm unfulfilled in other areas of my life. My body and diet seem like something I can control when my social life is something I can't seem to make better, or when I'm stressed out about school. I also tend to fall into the "if I was thinner, people would like me better/I would be better" trap.

When I'm happy with my life as a whole, I find myself spending less time worrying about food and have a much easier time "forgiving" myself for indulging. And even though I don't obsessively monitor my intake, my weight doesn't go up because I'm not binging on comfort foods.

So maybe this doesn't apply to you at all- maybe you do have a satisfying social life, are happy with your living situation, and aren't overly stressed about school or your future or whatever. But maybe just consider that your relationship with food and body image might be more of a symptom of other problems in your life, rather than a cause of them.
posted by MadamM at 1:29 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I asked this question two years ago. I got great advice, and am in a much better place.

I have found that what works for me is simplicity. No more lists, or charts, or counting.

I have also found that I eat most when I am bored, when I have nothing better to do, and it seems that your schedule, as you said, plays a part in how often you eat. So change your schedule or, if it's just that you're just wanting to munch, eat fiber. Carrot sticks, celery. But don't starve yourself. It's great you eat healthily; you're ahead of most, so I think the key here is exercise. Yes, start slowly.

Most importantly, make it less important that you lose weight. You're focused on food and weight. When I was obsessed, all I could think about was food. It was when I started thinking about other things that my relationship with food normalized.
posted by DeltaForce at 1:38 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, feel free to memail me anytime!
posted by DeltaForce at 1:38 PM on November 14, 2010

I learned to love my body when I learned to say "fuck you" to anyone who felt that it was their place to comment on my body.

Ok, I don't really tell them "fuck you," but I will happily and confidently speak up, instead of take the criticism and negativity. I grew up in a household where my parents were extremely strict about food. My oldest sister was always skinny and petite. Part of this is that she was born a bit premature, and just naturally has a tiny frame. (I have totally inherited the hearty peasant Italian build in my family). Though she never chimed in about my weight and body growing up (that was my dad and brother's duty, and now my other sister's duty), I always felt ugly and fat compared to her. I hated my body. I remember being 125 at 5'3" in high school, and thinking I was fat because of family comments. And starved myself one summer so I could hit a nice even 100.

The compliments. Oh the compliments! I got so many compliments all of a sudden! But I felt like shit on the inside. I felt sick. I vowed never to do that again. It took a few years, but around then is when I learned to just accept that my body just isn't built to be that tiny.

In my mid 20's or so (am 30 now), I finally got fed up with other people having an opinion about me. It had to do with a whole lot of things - clothing, religion, personality, and weight/body issues. I learned to stop giving a crap about what people think, and vying for their validation. I don't take shit anymore. My dad and my brother have pretty much cut it out about my body/weight, but my other sister sometimes likes to project her own bodily insecurities on me. She's claimed that she's worried about my health/weight (I'm roughly the same height/weight as you, have badass blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar), she's called me fat, she LOVES to complain about her own body to me - presumably because I'm slightly larger than her, she knows it, and it makes her feel good about herself (she never does this in front of our petite sister). I either ignore it and do not feed into it, or I call her out on it. I refuse to be complicit in such shaming. Shaming about a lot of things, but in this case, body shaming.

On food? Food is always an ongoing battle. But I remember when I was in 5th grade, and my mom was dying of cancer. I remember that we were having "taco night" one night (tacos were very rare treats in my family). I took my dinner, and went to sit on the bed with my mom. She couldn't walk well, so by then we had put mattresses in a small room on the main floor so she didn't have to worry about stairs. "That smells good," my mom said. Then she started crying. "I miss food," she said to me. She pretty much subsisted on a diet of ensure, steamed vegetables and brown rice at that point. I offered her some of my dinner. "No, your dad will get upset." Oh I knew that, my dad at the time was a pretty angry and an often abusive parent to us, but fuck it. My mom was crying because she missed normal food with flavor. I closed the door for a minute and fed my mom a small itsy bite. She stopped crying, and cracked a half smile. She passed away about 2 months after that. But it was our little secret. And I'm glad I did it. I remember that moment every time I shame myself for indulging a bit. Or when people comment on my body, or food. My mom was 45 when she died. I'm pretty sure that the constant stress of worrying about an occasional taco or slice of white bread or potato chip is far worse for you than eating those things, in an otherwise pretty varied and healthy diet.

I realize my anecdotes are probably not answering your question. But I can tell you this. Older siblings? They can be mean and horrible and scar you for a long, long time. They can make you carry guilt and shame, feel really really horrible about yourself. The can make you feel like no matter what you eat, how much you exercise, that you will always be something less than them because you weigh a little more. I can pretty much guarantee you that your sister's mean comments - when you were kids and as adults - are more about her own insecurities than about you. But it's not easy to see that, when you're ridden with shame and guilt. And this is not your fault.

I love my siblings. I don't really consider myself "friends" with them, because we're all just very different in a lot of ways. But I do love them and support them unconditionally. We're adults now. My older siblings are no longer the older siblings who I want to please and get the approval of. We're equals now. And sometimes (often times), despite being younger than them, I'm actually right about things. And I'm not afraid to assert that. I hope that you can do that too.

Here's wishing you health, strength, and happiness. Eat a little of this and a little of that, go for a walk, and kick ass in all that you do in life.
posted by raztaj at 1:43 PM on November 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Carbs are the key. The one time I ever actually dieted, I just cut out carbs and ate more protein instead, and there was a marked change within a few weeks. I doubt I could have done it without meat or eggs though.
posted by moorooka at 1:49 PM on November 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

my other sister sometimes likes to project her own bodily insecurities on me. She's claimed that she's worried about my health/weight (I'm roughly the same height/weight as you, have badass blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar), she's called me fat, she LOVES to complain about her own body to me - presumably because I'm slightly larger than her, she knows it, and it makes her feel good about herself

My mother has done this to me since I hit puberty (huh, what a coincidence my own body issues started around that time...), and one thing that has helped me immensely was to gain a little perspective about it. Once I became aware of what you spell out here, I was able to divorce myself from a lot of it and realize how totally fucking absurd it all is. Which led directly to a lot of the beliefs I have now about what constant worry about appearances does to women as a group. I can't go into more detail because I'm not terribly anonymous here, but yes, THIS.
posted by Sara C. at 1:51 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I read your story I immediately thought of Oh She Glows. It's a blog written by a woman who has a history of disordered eating and body image issues, but ended up running her own vegan bakery. Most of the posts are about running or vegan recipes, but there are a lot of great entries about getting over a bad relationship with food and oneself. I'm about as far from vegan as one can get, but I follow OSG because her posts are so thoughtful and resonant for people with any kind of past or present body issue.

Her Road to Health series of posts might be a good place to start.
posted by telegraph at 3:30 PM on November 14, 2010

You say you want to get over your weight and body image issues but the question really seems to span both "get over childhood trauma" and "lose weight." The first one is easy: possibly therapy, possibly self-acceptance, possibly fixing what's broken.

I have a friend from highschool (so 20+ years of good times) who grew up poor and had a very poor grasp on the nuances of language and self-expression. Basically, he came across as a bumpkin, unschooled, or unthinking, and he felt a great deal of embarrassment about this. The solution was not to "get over it" or "self acceptance" but to fix the issue.

IMHO, the "you aren't that overweight" &c class of answers is rather patronizing. You want to fix the issue, so fix it and ignore the people who want you to pretend otherwise.

1. seconding "Good Calories, Bad Calories." And it is not necessarily prescribing an anti-vegan diet. Or wait for his new book in December that is less dense. The most important parts of this book to pay attention to are the sections on feeding behavior and the discussion of the psychologization of disease (as with weight, for example) and will power (or rather, the discussion about why will power is likely as bogus an issue for weight loss as repressed rage was for ulcers until the late 70s, or hatred of women or repressed homosexuality was the explanation for erectile dysfunction until the mid to late 80s).

2. your food choices are not healthy

"overindulge in “healthy” food. I tend to eat too many carbs (brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread), beans and hummus."

You do not recognize that these are not healthy foods. They're pretty terrible.

"a whole bag of pita chips or pretzels, or I will eat lots of bread with margarine."

... these are terrible

3. build up some muscle -- not because it increases your metabolism (it does not) but because your musculature plays a very large role in mitigating insulin resistance and satiation signaling

4. c25k is awesome but cardio often defeats diets since it increases hunger. You could stand do do some weights.

If one looks at the science, it's really unclear why we seem to feel grains are particularly healthy.

Ignore the "wheat causes intestinal damage" stuff and tread carefully around the paleo types quoting Rob Wolfe (though you may find this interesting). Perhaps watch this. Take it all with a grain of salt.

If you are a nerd, maybe go look at animal husbandry studies, especially on approaches used to make animals gain weight at the lowest investment of time or money. It may suggest to you some of what is going on.

(disclaimer: I am a believer in the insulin explanation for metabolic syndrome/syndrome X.)
posted by rr at 4:16 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd never advise someone to ignore people who say any particular thing. Just to make sure that what they say holds water and investigate for yourself.

rr, interesting post, but look into leptin. Leptin resistance predicts Met. Syndrome even better than insulin resistance.

For another great video, I'd recommend Tom Naughton's Big Fat Fiasco.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 5:12 PM on November 14, 2010

I agree more with PhoBWanKenobi's post than I do with a suggestion for a book.

If you are looking for change in general, I can recommend the book: Changing for good and switch but I haven't read the latter and am working through the former.

General weight loss advice: Wanna lose it for quite a while, gonna have to work at it for quite a while
the last place you gained weight is the first place you lose it.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 5:33 PM on November 14, 2010

Leptin resistance predicts Met. Syndrome even better than insulin resistance

Correlation is not causation. Syndrom X is also well predicted by obesity (though I suspect both of us agree that it is likely the other way around).

Anyway, I'd moderate the wheat dismissal a bit on re-read, I'm mostly talking about the sort of extreme paleo bloggers who have re-targeted some other obsessive behavior to wheat as the new enemy.
posted by rr at 6:37 PM on November 14, 2010

Whenever I start exercising daily, counting calories etc. I become obsessed with it for a while and then just forget about it. I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to have a routine and stick with it for a long time so that it just becomes part of who I am.

So here's something totally cheesy but true: I started taking karate recently, and it's changed my whole perspective on exercise. I want to become fit so that I can get better at karate, not so that I can be slimmer. I mean, yes, I still have moments of insecurity about my weight, but now my focus with regard to exercise is, "This is fun and awesome and I want to do more of it!" because I've finally found something that makes me happy.

I agree with the suggestions above that, more than finding the right diet and exercise regimen, you need to find a way to accept yourself--that to achieve your goal #2 (change your lifestyle without become obsessed with it and thinking about it all the time), it isn't simply a matter of eating the right things. You're not obsessing simply because you've been eating the wrong kind of hummus, and finding the "right" kind of hummus or whatever won't prevent you from obsessing once again. However, I find it so freeing to be doing something athletic without the goal of losing weight, that I thought I'd recommend that you find something--a beginner class in rock climbing or martial arts or kickboxing or something--that gives you joy in using your body. Recruit a friend to do the class with you, if that makes you feel better, but go knowing that everyone is a beginner and no one is judging you.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:41 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have two suggestions.

The first is to invest in some clothes that look really good on you right now, before you start losing weight.

The second is to start out just working on your posture...stand up straight! You'll look and feel more confident and sexy. And you'll be getting stronger.

Some people are able to carry their weight and some people look burdened by it. If the source of the burden is shame, it's paradoxically hard to let go of. And you may feel that all the good things in life are on hold until you lose weight. But if you can carry your weight, people will be drawn to you and the Good Life can be yours before and during the losing of the weight. Don't weight!

By the way--it's important to enjoy whatever exercise you choose--but be prepared to keep re-choosing. You might lose steam because what you initially enjoyed just got boring--but your shame may convince you that it's because you're a "quitter".----could just be that doing the same thing all the time is boring!
posted by vitabellosi at 8:37 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

The only two things that ever permanently lost me weight were:

1) moving and basically a forced (and welcome) lifestyle change to something car-free. I can't drive and here in NYC it's pricey and difficult to drive anyway. Hello walking and stairs!

2) having a highly physical job.

I eat whatever I want, not trying to eat obvious crap junk food (you already have this down), but otherwise letting it be. My body adjusts itself and I've never fluctuated more than 5 pounds without a major life stressor (horrible breakup, medication). Even then my weight bounces right back to the same exact place it started.

To be fair, I never tried to diet at all and I have found that friends who dieted a lot (as well as my sister and mother) have much more difficulty maintaining their weight at something stable.

To some extent you have to let your body tell you what it needs and if you're not gaining weight crazily, just let yourself be. Throw your effing scale away, it's pointless. I just go by whether my clothes fit and my 6-month checkups.

If you want to lose weight (and I question the wisdom of this given your history) you 're setting yourself up to fail by stressing yourself out and not changing anything big and structural. You can't make yourself have more willpower because you're fighting against something that has evolved for millions of years (your body's desire to retain weight).
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:53 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love Fitday. I pretty much use it everyday (except weekends) and I'm seeing results. The key is that I'm organised I have healthy snacks and healthy meals planned throughout the week. But this time around I'm far less obsessive about it - in that it doesn't occupy my every waking thought. My only rule - calorie deficit. Whether it's by one calorie or 200, I rarely go over. This way I know that I'm on the right track, even if it's a long track, I don't mind.

At the start I eased into it so as not to put pressure on myself, I didn't care what I ate, I just got used to tracking. I found that even though I was eating relatively healthy - I was eating too much. So after a couple of weeks I started to tweak what I ate. I realised one of my 'danger' times is right after work, I'm usually so hungry I used to eat everything in sight now I opt for a banana smoothie that fills me up. The other time I have to be mindful is breakfast YMMV.

And I move. But then I love to be outdoors and I do love exercise. I mix it up though, because I can get bored easily. Why not sign up for a 5km? Or commit to 15min on your exercise bike/treadmill every day just before you sit down to study/read. 15min isn't much but its something and a start.

I wish you well, there's nothing wrong with pursuing a healthy lifestyle and a healthy attitude to go with it!
posted by WayOutWest at 9:32 PM on November 14, 2010

I just counted calories, got my heart rate up and read up on how to eat healthy. The rest has worked itself out from there.
posted by tarvuz at 8:51 AM on November 15, 2010

Hey OP, if you're still reading this thread--I was at my karate class last night and the instructor said something that made me think of your question. As we were warming up, she told us to focus on positive thoughts--not "I wish I were more flexible, I can barely do this stretch" but "I am so grateful that my body can do what it can do"--and she said that this would not only feel better psychologically, but it would actually help us to do more and push ourselves further than if we were frustrated with our bodies' limitations. And it made me think of how often my previous gym-going routine was essentially me vs. my body. So many times, I'd go to the gym, get on a machine, and just feel like I was punishing my body for being weak or flabby. Even though I said, "I want to get healthy" my actual motivation was more like, "I want to fix this stupid fat body!" It was unsustainable. I'd stop consistently going to the gym because working out felt like hating myself.

Maybe your experience is different. However, since you don't seem to have enjoyed the exercise habits you tried to develop in the past, I wonder if they had some of that, "My body deserves to be punished" motivation. Personally, when I exercise specifically for weight loss, I get into that mode of thinking. Maybe you do, too. For me, the solution has been to find activities that I truly think are fun, like karate, and to focus on learning and getting better at my new hobby rather than making the goal of my exercising to lose weight.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:00 AM on November 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

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