Friday, October 1, 2010

Does the Middle Way Exist? Yet More Heresy from NM

You've spent a few years eating poorly: lots of junk food, very little in the way of unprocessed, healthy foods. Perhaps this is the way you learned to eat as a child and you never knew there was any other way to do things, so you've developed a lifelong habit of overeating "garbage".

To makes things worse, ever since you were old enough to get your license, "moving you body" has meant getting in the car to get from point A to point B. Your idea of exercise was taking out the garbage or looking for the TV remote control.

And then, one day (or over a period of time), you realized that something was wrong with the picture. Maybe it was constant acid reflux, high blood pressure or just simply not liking what you saw in the mirror.

And you resolved to make a change...a RADICAL change: no more junk food, lots more fresh food; no more driving when you could easily walk; maybe the decision to buy a bike for exercise, or join a gym.

And you really went for it, heart and soul. You made the changes; you felt better, lighter, pleased as punch with yourself.

Suddenly, life threw you a curve ball (or two or 27) and all these recent good habits seemed just too hard to keep up. And you went back to the bad old days.

Here's what I'm wondering. And here's where the heresy comes in.

Is there middle ground between the "bad old days" and perfection in all that you eat and do all the time?

If you can't take the heat (i.e. always being on plan), is the only alternative to get out of the fire (and binge to your heart's content)?

Do you have to chose between the way of the warrior or the way of the slug?

Is it all or nothing?

Is it the fast lane or the no lane?

Or can you find a "middle way"--slow, with fits and starts, but your way and your speed?

Even if you drop off the diet bandwagon for awhile, does it mean that your only alternative is to go back to the bad habits? Can't you keeping applying those new, better eating habits, even if you're not formally on a diet? Can't you keep up that evening walk, even if you let your gym membership slip?...

And in so doing, keep building the new habits until, slowly, they become second nature?


  1. Sounds to me like you are describing maintenance,and all of us who are trying to drop some weight need to learn how to do just that. I've been on a plateau for a year. Is it actually a plateau or am I taking a break from the constant pressure? I say the second, and I needed the break. I'm eating well, exercising gently and looking very nice; I can live like this for a while yet.

    Gung ho all the time is so tiring. I think there is a real value in learning how to stay where you are before you drop those last pounds.


  2. Mindful eating is what works for me. Not being on a strict or prohibitive diet and yet being very conscious of every food and activity choice that I make has brought me down over 45 lbs in less than 5 months. I had been practicing it on my own for a while before I picked up the book "Women Food and God" and read the guidelines to help keep me on track.

  3. Just as there is a certain percentage of the population with a predisposition to becoming anorexic, so too are there a certain number of people who are predisposed to obesity from overeating. Most anorexic-prone people don't become sick with the disorder, unless they first go through a period of time when their calories are severely restricted, either self restricted (aka dieting to lose lbs) or restricted because of a short term illness (say, a bad case of flu). Either way, a biochemical switch (so to speak) is *activated* in their brains and they begin to feel a sense of relief (reduced anxiety/reduced tension) in response to the caloric restriction and/or weight loss. Mostly it feels much better to them, emotionally, to restrict. (Doesn't mean they are happy.) Once they get into recovery, however, and are restored to a healthy weight, they are forever at risk of relapse if they once again restrict calories and/or lose a few lbs. Doctors and shrinks are finally starting to understand this very real physiological response and take measures to reduce risk of relapse.

    As an RN I've see this scenario too often. The anorexic patients don't intend to relapse. But they get the flu or a bad cold, lose a few pounds, and that subsequent *click* in their brains acts like an internal cheerleader to continue restricting and losing. They may be horrified to see themselves losing again, yet at the same time they can't seem to regain control over the compulsion. Restricting helps them reduce tension, even though they often feel very upset about relapsing. Many then slip into denial about their weight loss.

    Perhaps you see where I'm going with this.

    By no means do I think that all obese people respond the same way to overeating as anorexics do to restricting. But. For a certain percentage who lose the weight and are then maintaining, overeating is as problematic afterwawrds, for them, as restricting is for recovered anorexics. It is just as much a physiological (biochemical) response as a psychological one. So. Very challenging to regain balance.

    Moral of story as far as I'm concerned. Please don't encourage maintainers to overeat "just this once." Please don't assume there are no dire consequences for them if they overeat for a few meals, once in a while, or put on a couple lbs here and there. For MOST people, that is not a problem. But for folks like me?


    Encouraging me to overendulge "once in a while" is like encouraging an alcoholic to have a drink "just on special occasions." Risky. Very very risky.

    There is some research to support the above. Mostly, though, I've done the research the hard way. I lived it. Too many times. (Decades). No more research needed in my case. Thank you very much. :)

    Great blog! Fantastic topics! Love your thoughtful approach. :)


  4. Rebecca, I was by no means encouraging anyone to overeat, "just this once". Au contraire. My message was to try and eat as normally, rather than as restrictively, as possible, even if this means not losing scads of weight for a certain period of time.

    I think that Barb put her finger on it: I'm talking about developing maintenance techniques in the course of losing weight so that you don't risk going from a restrictive mentality right back into a binge mentality the minute you "loosen" the restrictions. This is, I think, what happens to many a "failed" dieter.

    And yes, Lanie, it does go back to mindful eating. You are so right.

  5. I think that's why most people shoot for 90%. Works for me, though I'm probably more like 80% of the time, I eat well, but I do love pizza, chocolate cake, etc. Occasionally, not every day like I used to.


  6. I think there is a middle ground. Oprah is living proof of that. But the middle ground is moderation, still being mindful (like Lanie states above) of what we eat, but have a few treats now and then.

  7. As you know, this is the way I have done it and continue to do it. I think that there are many reasons that people choose not to follow this path, and I think a big part of it is related to the fact that people who want to lose weight want results fast and more extreme behavior yields such results more quickly. They aren't looking at changing the cause of the problem, but focusing on ridding themselves of the effect.

    Rebecca is right about biological issues. However, my experience has taught me that the biology will follow the psychology and life habit changes. This isn't something which only I can experience and I think the fact that Type 2 Diabetes can be controlled with diet and exercise shows that we can change our chemistry if we change our choices.

    If you get the psychology taken care of, you body has a good chance of changing its chemistry such that your are less likely to fall back into the patterns which caused you to be overweight in the first place as the biological push becomes less strong. I don't have cravings, nor do I overeat. Even when I eat something indulgent, I don't eat a lot of it, and I don't want to. I certainly never want to strongly enough to fail to overcome whatever weak impulses that I have on those occasions when I do think I'd like to eat more.

    Most people focus on behavior divorced from the factors that motivate that behavior, or they only look at superficial causes which can't be altered rather than approaching them from an oblique perspective that allows them to change. There's also too much interest in looking for "blame" inside or outside of themselves by either saying it's biological and can't be changed (and sometimes it can't, sometimes it can - even without medicine) or using self-degradation (weak, now self-control, etc.) instead of looking to deeply understand the issue and to do what it takes to change to a healthier way of living.

    In Western cultures, I think that there is also very little role-modeling of moderation. People honestly believe only all or nothing works because all around them they only see such approaches. They construct fake realities of what it takes to be thin because they can't internalize the idea that there are thin and healthy people who eat a cookie or a chocolate once a day and eat other healthy foods in moderation and maintain a normal weight. In the country I live in in Asia, people eat sweets, drink beer, and eat salted snack treats nearly every day, but people think they have a much more extreme view of food than they do. I've heard people say that the natives of this culture only eat seafood and rice and think food is fuel. That is so absurdly far from the truth. This culture is obsessed with food and the taste of it and are as likely to eat ice cream as tofu on a given day. They just don't overdo anything for the most part. The big thing though that most people don't know is that most people never exercise beyond walking everyday. It's so different from back home.

    It probably has helped me a lot to see this sort of approach to food and to understand that thinness and health are not the result of extremes either in terms of food choices or exercise.

  8. Hmmm...I eat two snacks every day: One salty treat (usually popcorn or nuts, sometimes a little of both) and the other is chocolate. Sometimes I have a bite or two of ice cream, too, just for enjoyment of the taste.

    I don't know if this is considered taking a middle ground. I don't binge. I wouldn't dream of eating cocoa puffs or pop tarts, just because those kinds of foods have never appealed to me. I didn't *binge* per se when I weighed almost 100 lbs more than I do now. I simply ate much larger portions of so-called healthy foods. (Whole grains, lots of fat free and low fat crap.) Hardly ever allowed myself chocolate. Now I only eat full fat foods.(Cheese, for instance, almost daily.) I also eat bacon almost daily. Never will I eat low fat or fat free stuff again because it does not satisfy the pleasure centers of my brain. LOL. Sounds silly writing it out that way, but for me it's true. :)


  9. You ask "Even if you drop off the diet bandwagon for awhile, does it mean that your only alternative is to go back to the bad habits?" ... looking at the weights that I finally was brave enough to post on my blog ( there is always hope and some good stuff does stay in your brain. It is NEVER all or nothing thinking. That has gotten me in trouble more than one (100) times.


  10. This is why I call my blog "low stress weight loss". After years at the extremes several years ago I started looking for that middle ground. Slowly but surely I'm finding it.

    It's not easy - in fact it might be harder than the "willpower" to get yourself to "follow a plan" but long term I think it's saner & will allow me to live my life at a healthy (if not terribly skinny) weight without driving myself bananas...

  11. Screaming Fat Girl is spot-on - as usual.

    I have been maintaining a 90-pound loss for 7 years now, and my "maintenance lifestyle" isn't very different from my "weight-loss lifestyle". I lost weight over 18 months, gradually decreasing calories until I got down to my current weight. Along the way, I gradually changed my tastes, so my "maintenance diet" is based on foods I actually enjoy. There's no way I could go back to eating the kinds of foods, in the same quantities, that made me fat in the first place.

    This gradual, moderate approach, rather than "diet on/diet off" really worked for me. It may have taken me longer to lose weight than someone who did an overnight, 180 degree turnaround, but isn't it more important that I have been able to maintain steadily without yo-yoing, or otherwise driving myself crazy?

    And I agree that diet and exercise can change our body chemistry. I have "normalised" my metabolism, in that I can maintain my weight on exactly the same amount of calories that a person who had never been overweight would need. The only difference is that I need to exercise far more than a never-been-fat person. I will occasionally eat a cookie or chocolate if I *really* want one, but I no longer feel the urge to overeat, let alone binge.

    Also, I have built a respectable muscle mass through strength training, and this is definitely helping me to maintain my weight loss.