Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy weight vs. Ideal Weight

You know those people (usually women) who drive you crazy because they bitch and moan about being "so fat" when you couldn't really see any fat on them at all or maybe just a little? Don't you hat them? I used to hate them. "Why can't they be happy with what they've got?" I'd think. Why can't they accept themselves and stop holding themselves up to some idea of "perfection" that really isn't enough different from what they've got to make it worth the effort?

That was until I turned into one of them.

When I was losing, I thought a lot about what my goal weight should be. I started out with a pretty high goal weight and, while I knew I wouldn't be ecsatic if that's all I lost, I figured I could live with it. I wanted to be "realistic" and not set myself up for failure by aiming too high.

But, as I learned more about weight loss surgery and watched what the successful people did, I realized I could go lower and it would still be realistic. I changed my goal to 132 as that was a "normal" BMI. I figured I'd still be overweight at that weight (and I was) but I had no idea how much lower to go.

I told myself that I'd be happy as long as I was at a normal BMI. I.E., anything under 25. Except I wasn't and I'm not.

As part of trying to set a realistic goal weight, I used a lot of online calculators. On the Self website, I found two, the Ideal Weight calculator and the Happy Weight calculator. The Happy Weight calculator claims to give you a weight you can live with and be happy with even if it's higher than your Ideal Weight based on some parameters you give it.

In her book, The Rules of "Normal" Eating, Dr. Koenig also talks about a Happy Weight (though she doesn't refer to it like that exactly). She talks about how it's more healthy to listen to your body, eat intuitively and see where that lands you than to constantly be in diet mode trying to maintain a weight lower than what your body wants.

Of course, her assumption is that the difference between your "ideal" weight and your "happy" weight is only a few pounds. And, when you look at it like that, it makes perfect sense. I see way too many people beating themselves up about a small weight regain after surgery when they look terrific. But they are up from their lowest weight and that feels like failure. Any regain, even one from putting on muscles or even if you got down too low to start with feels like failure, the beginning of the end.

So why, when the concept seems reasonable to me in the abstract, is my immediate reaction to aiming for a happy weight one of rejection? One of "you may have to settle for a Happy Weight, but I'm more disciplined than that; I can get to my ideal weight and stay there!"

I think it gets back to why I've always been a good dieter and yet couldn't keep the weight off. First, I have high standards. Second, I can be very disciplined. Third, there is a limit to my willpower.

The fact that I have high standards that makes me want to be at my "ideal" weight and not "settle" for a "happy" weight and my discipline let me get pretty damn close for a while. However, the fact that there is a limit to my willpower means I will not be able to keep to deprivation and discipline forever and that means the bounce back of a few pound is probably inevitable.

In the meantime, as happens every Winter, I have gained some body fat. My scale is now consistently over 120 as well. When I was going down and I hit 125, I told myself I could be happy at this weight. But then I got down to 120 and that became my new "never go over" weight. Then I went down even farther and, at that point, I considered 120 to be somewhere I'd never even get close to. Until I did, of course.

This is all complicated by the fact that when you lose a lot of weight, you have a lot of loose skin. So even at my "ideal" weight, I was far from model perfect in my body and sometimes that bugged. Throw in a bunch of people that you know are secretly hoping you experience some regain, and you have a prescription for being unhappy with a weight that lots of people would kill for. But, when it's your body, and you want it took a certain way and it doesn't, you aren't happy and the fact that others would be (or think they would be, anyway) doesn't change that.

Part of me thinks all I have to do is start training again and this extra 3-5 pounds will fall off. It did last year. Part of me is convinced that this is the beginning of the end and I'm going to regain every last drop of weight I lost. I also have this fear that my body has decided to react to me doing an Ironman by raising my set point five or so pounds. You know, just in case I ever do that to it again. After all, that's how my body reacts to dieting. It's probably not realistic to think one single day could have that much of an impact -- human bodies are very adaptable after all. But that fear is there in the back of my mind.

However, all of me has decided that I don't care if it's the off-season and I don't care that I look pretty damn good for a 50-something women who has given birth. I feel icky at this weight (122-123) and I'm going to work on getting rid of the extra fat more actively than just hoping it will go away in a month or two as I start hard-core training again.

So I'm back to logging my food and I'm back to eating by the numbers. I do have a long-term goal of being able to eat intuitively and not gain but I don't think this is the time of year or the situation to be trying that out. Plus, I don't think I'm there just yet. But more on that later.
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