Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Happy Weight

I heard a podcast today that featured an interview with Kathianne Sellers Williams, a registered dietitian, life coach, and artist. She made a comment about helping clients find their "happy weight." She defines this as a weight at which you feel comfortable and at which you don't have to do anything extreme to maintain it. The distinction is more holistic than the traditional mode of thinking about weight-loss goals: the ever-ambiguous, just-out-of-reach "healthy weight," which varies based on whatever chart you're using.

I've lost about 103 pounds but am still about 25 pounds overweight. For about a year, I have been trying to lose more weight, but in reality, I have gained and lost the same four or five pounds over and over again. I perked up when I heard Sellers Williams talk about the "happy weight," because I've felt very dejected by failing to get my body to release more weight by cutting down on my calories and increasing my exercise. I've tried, and it's not budging. I've worked with my registered dietitian to change my food plan, and I already weigh all my food, so I have exact portion control. I can't exercise any more than I am due to my physical limitations from Lyme Disease, so I'm really doing all I can. The truth is that my dietitian could cut more food from my food plan, but that leaves me hungry and unsatisfied, which then makes the temptation to binge quite unmanageable. I'm just not willing to walk around hungry and cranky all the time just to lose some more weight.

During this weight plateau, it also has occurred to me that I would mostly be satisfied at this weight if I didn't lose another pound. I can buy clothes off the rack, not in the plus size section. I no longer take up 1.5 seats on the bus, and people sharing an aisle with me in an airplane can have their full (albeit, tiny), seat to themselves. My weight doesn't limit any of the physical activities that I want to participate in. There was a time when I wouldn't ride a horse, or be able to walk to the movie theater close to my home, or feel comfortable swimming because someone would see me in a bathing suit. Thank God, that's not the case anymore. Do I love my body? Hell no! I wish. My body shows the scars of my eating disorder: stretch marks, cellulite, and hanging skin. It's not gorgeous, and as much as it pains me to say this, it probably never would be -- even if I lost these last 25 pounds. But by dressing semi-well and occasional judicious use of Spanx Higher Power Panties (they're the bomb!), I manage to look ok clothed.

When Sellers Williams works with clients to help them find their "happy weight," one way they arrive at that number is by looking at the client's weight history. I have had two nutritionists I've worked with tell me that given my weight history -- how obese I was and how young I was when I became obese -- that it would be extremely unlikely that I'd ever get to be an ideal weight on a chart. One of the nutritionists said, "If you ever made it below 150 pounds, that would be incredible. Much more than that is not realistic given your background." Happily, I am below 150! I've exceeded their expectations.

Although I find the concept of a "happy weight" quite freeing, there is still a piece of me that resists it. My rational brain says, "You need to be as healthy as possible, and it's not healthy to carry extra fat." True, but we can't say I haven't tried to lose it, and again, we have to acknowledge that my health history makes it unlikely that I'll ever be thin. More critically, we need to take a more holistic view of what health means; it certainly is more than a number on the scale. It includes data like blood chemistry, lung capacity, and endurance, but also sanity, balance, serenity, and other non-quantifiable markers of a quality, healthy life. For the record, with the notable exception of my Lyme Disease, I do seem to be quite healthy. I used to have elevated insulin levels and triglycerides, but those and other health markers normalized after I lost 40 pounds.

Another thing that conspires to keep me from embracing the concept of a "happy weight" is some peer-pressure from inside OA rooms to be a good role model for the program and demonstrate three-fold recovery: emotional, spiritual, and physical. When people see me, they see an average-looking American woman, meaning someone who could stand to lose a few pounds. They don't know how much weight I've lost and how hard I've worked to facilitate that. I think I just have to let this one go: if some people in OA rooms judge me for still being somewhat overweight, oh well. I can't control what they think, and they have the right to their self-righteous judgment. Whatever. It also occurred to me that fighting this weight my body seems to have settled at (which, by the way, it is evolved to do -- if you lose enough body weight it triggers the "starvation" switch in your brain, at which point the body fights like hell to hold on to every last pound) is very antithetical to Step 3: became willing to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. Step 3 is about surrender, not fighting. Isn't what I'm doing by trying to nudge the scale down -- and failing -- fighting? It sure feels that way, and I'm tired. And I think I'm done. If God, my body, or whatever sees fit to release more fat in the future, great, but I think I've given it a good go and now I need to let go, and enjoy my new, mostly healthy body.