We struggle when an element of our lives doesn’t go the way we have wanted or planned for it to go. Often, when the way seems too tough, we give up. We quit trying to swim against what seems a permanent current or undertow; we take the path of least resistance and let life float us in a different direction—or even let ourselves drown, as morbid as the analogy is.
There are certainly times when giving up, at least in some sense, is appropriate. Sometimes life hands us so much, so quickly, that we can’t begin to fathom what is going on—and that may be a time to give up the fight for a while and just try to process what’s going on.
When we have discovered that something we thought we wanted doesn’t work anymore, depending on the circumstances, that can be an excellent time to give up. When we have discovered we were doing something for all the wrong reasons, and we can think of no or few good reasons to continue on a path, that can be a good time to give up. These cases aren’t really giving up though, actually; they’re finding a new direction, which can require as much or more energy as maintaining the current momentum.
When it comes to weight loss, I used to give up. I would try a diet for a while, and it would be great! The final answer! The path! Why didn’t I know about this diet before? Then what seemed pretty easy in the gung-ho early days would get difficult. And something would happen to throw me off: I’d have an inexplicable gain when I expected a loss, or I’d go to a birthday party or just have a bad week and eat too much food and break my perfect record. Or I’d start slipping up on my diet until my slip-ups became the greater percentage of my diet than my weight-loss diet was. I know that there are a lot of people reaching this point right now because a) I read lots of blogs, many about health and weight loss work; b) it’s the time of year when the New Year’s resolutions come crashing into day-to-day reality; and c) it’s the time of year when readership on health/weight loss blogs drops due to people’s gung-ho efforts petering out.
I don’t know exactly what flipped my perspective around at the beginning of last year to make this time different for me. I wish I did know, because I would bottle it and give it away for free to anyone else who has struggled with weight like I have. I began focusing in January 2007 on taking care of myself. Unlike dieting, with taking care of myself, there’s nothing to rebel against. I’m not being controlled by anyone or anything; I’m just taking care of me. Why would I fight that? In the process, I’ve been able to adopt what I know can be a life-long lifestyle for me. (It’s not just rhetoric for me this time; sometimes it feels—dare I say it?—easy. Or at least natural now.) I’ve never felt so good about myself as I have in the last two years. And that’s not because of the weight loss (though, hey, of course I like looking in the mirror and trying on clothes a lot more than before). It’s because the way I have set up my weight loss is the way that leads me to be more loving to myself.
For me, that has meant dropping the concern for counting points or calories or carbs or anything else. When I try to count things, I consider that counting a form of external control that I can rebel against and cheat. Knowing how much I hate counting those things and tracking them, I made a deal with myself at the beginning of 2007 that if I could keep a focus on being healthy without tracking anything, I would not require myself to track anything. Fair enough, right? So instead of counting, I focus on eating balanced meals that are high in vegetables. I learn about nutrition and food habits and keep on developing new knowledge in those areas. I limit how often I eat dessert and only eat a couple of bites when I do. (And I enjoy those couple of bites of full-fat, high-calorie goodness way more than I would enjoy a 100-calorie, larger diet version.) I exercise regularly. I check my emotions against my life to see where I should ease up on how I’m thinking about myself. But I don’t do those and many other things because they’re rules I’ve given myself; if they were rules, I’d end up breaking them and feel both righteous and guilty after doing so. That wouldn’t work at all. I do them because by doing them, I am taking care of my physical health, which is one aspect, one really damn important aspect, of who I am as a person. If I don’t do one of those things for a while, I feel worse (grotesquely stuffed at dinner after overeating, overflowing with emotions after not exercising), and it gives me a nudge that puts me back on track. Weighing myself also keeps me on track; it gives me one of several concrete measures to indicate whether I’m on track.
How you learn to take care of yourself may be different than how I do it for myself. You may find that using a points system or calorie-counting or whatever gives you a shorthand for how well you are taking care of yourself the same way that weighing helps me do. Whatever you find that works for you is great; just do find something that works for you. Find something that makes you feel like a person who is more full of life, confidence, and self-love. (If it leads to bouts of self-loathing and guilt, even if you’re losing weight, I consider that the wrong path long-term. You’ve gotta inhabit that head and heart as well as that body for the rest of your life.)
One of my metrics for success, my weight loss, was off this week for most of the week. The scale made a sudden jump and said I had gained 1.5 to 2.2 pounds, depending on when I weighed. On a previous diet, I would have freaked out. I would have wanted to give up. I would have wanted to know why I was doing all that hard work and restricting myself for no benefit. But not this time, because I know what I’m doing is taking care of myself. I know that if my weight goes up for a bit, it’s probably just adjusting itself to things beyond my control. This week, I knew part of that issue was hormonal, and I knew part of it could be that I can’t exercise much until my anemia fades.
The chart is my weight loss since the beginning of 2007. Since I started this growth pattern towards being a healthier person emotionally and physically—a person who holds herself accountable but also tries to care for herself gently—I have had more than one time that my weight loss has stagnated or my weight has gone up for a while. At one point I stagnated for about 6 weeks. But I’ve kept on going because this is about so much more than losing weight—and, in turn, I’m sure you can see that the downward trend continued (and continues).
My evidence is purely anecdotal, but what I’ve come to believe is this: if you’re not just dieting but are taking care of yourself and your metrics are off for a while, you won’t feel like a failure and you won’t give up. If you stop doing your healthy activities, you’ll pick them up again with focus and determination but not guilt. There’s little room for guilt in good self-care, as the focus is on understanding what’s going on, working toward the positive, and refraining from self-judgment or condemnation.
So if what you’re doing is working for you, keep doing it! If what you’re doing isn’t helping you feel like a happier, healthier, more capable you, then find a new path. (Maybe consider trying a kinder, gentler path that is more gradual than the steep decline you might have been working towards, but that’s just my experience talking.) If you find life is overwhelming you for a while—if you’re a new mom, if your husband has cancer, or whatever—it’s okay to back off of weight loss for a while, because you only have so much energy to go around. But do keep taking care of yourself in mind even if it can’t have all your energy and even if it doesn’t mean focusing on weight-loss at the moment. You are worth all of the care that you would offer someone else, so make sure you include yourself in the love and tenderness you release into the world.