Why People Gain the Weight Back, Pt. II

There are other, more subtle relationship pitfalls awaiting the newly svelte.

When you make any big change in yourself, your relationships will change too. Many people view change as a scary and threatening thing. Maybe this harkens back to our pre-civilization days on the tundra or whatever, when change could and frequently did mean death. Any evolutionary psychologists in the house tonight? However they got the notion, many people don’t handle change well.

We’ve probably all heard at least one story of the newly thin woman whose husband or boyfriend flipped his last wing-nut because now great marauding hordes of other men were checking out his woman. This can result in all manner of distasteful and sabotaging behavior. Heretofore unsuspected depths of insecurity may make themselves known by such things as objecting to her speaking to any male between the ages of 14 and 114 unless they are blood relatives. At parties, he may show a pronounced reluctance to spend even a nanosecond without some part of his body touching hers, preferably in an overt and visible from three city blocks away way.

Or he may take extreme measures to fatten her up again so he can relax and stop parading around in full alpha male regalia and trying to reign in the urge to pee on her to claim his territory. Face it, that shit is exhausting. Instead, he will reveal himself to be a far more clever and considerate man than anyone had previously expected. He will bring you coffee and donuts in bed and try to guilt you into eating the donuts using the popular and effective, I did this just for you and you will hurt my feelings if you don’t ploy. He will suddenly devote massive amounts of time and energy to his new hobby of bringing every fattening food you ever so much as glanced at into the house in huge quantities. You couldn’t get him to go to the store for toilet paper before but now he spends so much time in the candy aisle at the market that they know him there. The Snickers bars say hi.

If these are some of they ways the man in her life will attempt to put the relationship dynamic back where it was, the women in her life also have their methods. A freshly skinny women may here variations of this repeatedly, “Oh, come on, you look great! Surely you can have this frighteningly huge piece of cake I just cut specifically for you.” Another favorite is, “Oh, come on, it’s (fill in the holiday)! Relax and enjoy yourself. You can go back to your eating things that won’t eventually kill you trip tomorrow.” Or she may find herself invited to dinner at which the hostess serves seven courses completely comprised of things that are guaranteed to clog every artery in a five mile radius.

The unspoken Significant Dude message is, “You are now so hot that you will notice what a putz I am and leave me in the dust any second now.” Trust me guys, she has known what a putz you are for a very long time. We’re talking second date here. The unspoken Terrified and Envious Female Friend message is, “Please re-fat yourself so I can go back to being comfortable ignoring my (fill in the perceived fatal flaw) in your presence.”

Why do women succumb to these blatant manipulations and revert to previous self-defeating behaviors? Because logic, reason and intellect have nothing to do with it. Humans in general have a tendency to stay in their comfort zones, even when those zones aren’t really all that comfortable. The familiar is at least, well, familiar. That familiarity makes it less scary than the unknown. This is why we stay in jobs we hate, relationships that suck, etc.

When relationships change, it can be very uncomfortable for all involved. There is new territory with no map; old patterns have to be reevaluated. Change is hard and takes persistent effort, so it can be very easy to just go back to how it was before. It’s a relief.

There is also the lizard brain aspect. Your intellect tells you that the pleasurable taste and boost in serotonin you get from eating that cookie will be gone in a flash, but the joy you take in your body will be an ongoing thing. Ergo, skip the cookie. Your lizard brain speaks loudly, bluntly and in all caps. “WANT! COOKIE! NOW!” This is also why advertising works, even on people who know better. It goes straight to the lizard brain.

The lizard brain lives at the base of the skull, at the top of the spine. I controls instincts and impulses and has only one imperative: survival. Since most of us are not in life-threatening situations on a regular basis, the lizard brain has adapted. It has taken on the roll of monitoring social survival. Fear of public speaking is an example. The lizard brain hates and strongly resists change and taking risks.

Lizard brain has to do with all addictions. If you’ve tried to kick before, you’ve undoubtedly experienced both mental and physical withdrawal symptoms. Well, L.B. can’t have that! That feels like a threat to survival, so L.B. will go all out to fix what it perceives as the problem by getting you to take the drink, snort the line or eat the ice cream.

Overriding L.B. is not a matter of willpower. It’s a matter of knowing and using techniques to shut it up. I am not a psychologist, counselor, therapist or medical doctor, so please don’t take my advice without consulting someone trained in the ways of the mind. What I can tell you is that I’ve studied psychology, I’ve had years of therapy and I’ve experimented extensively with various methods to overcome my own issues, including what some are calling the “amygdala hijack.”

An amygdala hijack occurs when your lizard brain, the amygdala, freaks out, overrides your reasoning brain and convinces you to do something you’d probably rather not. Possible ways to derail Lizzie before he gets you into trouble include EMDR, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, EFT, emotional freedom technique or tapping, pausing to breathe deeply for six seconds before acting, and/or hypnosis.

Of course, the same people trying to get things back to the status quo are going to attempt to interfere with your efforts to derail L.B. That is their own lizard brains in action. Regrettably, you can’t hold them down and practice the techniques mentioned above on them forcibly.

The lizard brains of others aside, by far the biggest reason people who lose weight gain it back is that the underlying reason(s) they’ve been using food to self-medicate have not been addressed. Some find other ways to deal with those issues, sometimes even healthy alternatives such as exercise or meditation. Many return to the previous maladaptive behaviors, likely because they don’t realize what they’ve been doing and/or they don’t know how to do anything else. A good therapist can be of great help in uncovering those underlying reasons, helping you deal with them and helping you learn more adaptive ways of coping.

Failing that, you can always change your name, move to another state and cut off all contact with anyone who would recognize your “before” picture. Then, at least you’d only have your own L.B. to deal with.


Why People Gain the Weight Back, Pt. I

It’s a familiar story. A large person, through dint of visiting the gym three times a day and subsisting on lettuce alone for weeks at a time, loses a substantial amount of weight. Or they do it through surgically alerting their innards to make it physically impossible to enjoy the three large burgers, three supersized fries followed by a dozen donuts that once consumed, pun intended, hours of each day. The how of it doesn’t matter when the results are so stunning. They look fantabulous. They feel better than ever. They are the recipients of more compliments, inquiries and envious stares than they ever dreamed possible. Happily ever after, right? Not so much.

Eventually he gains back every pound he lost, plus more. It happens to the best of us. Even Oprah.
How on earth could this happen? You’d think this person would take action immediately on gaining so much as a freakin’ ounce, just to be sure the fat clothes were permanently retired. It happens for several reasons, one of the most prevalent being the failure of the weight loss cabal to address the reasons the person got that way in the first place.

Google “are you an emotional eater.” Go ahead; I’ll wait. Well over 9 million hits. and many quizzes you can take to find out. Don’t bother. I can tell you right now. Are you more than 20 pounds overweight? If yes, you are an emotional eater. All the hunger control tactics in the world will not help in any lasting way because the reason you eat is not because you’re hungry. At least, you are not hungry for food.

Our imaginary large person, having taken heroic measures to become a now small or average person has it all. Cool clothes, joy, great self-image, more social life than they can handle and so on. How do we celebrate in our culture? With food, of course! You celebrate not eating cheesecake for a year by eating cheesecake. It’s almost funny.

Then there are those other emotions, the uncomfortable ones. Stress, boredom, anger, loneliness, sadness, anxiety and so on. Yes, ever superbly reinvented people get bored and lonely at times. These feelings are uncomfortable, so a quick fix to get rid of them is in order. Broccoli is not going to do it. Those familiar and comforting old friends, Sugar, Salt, Fats and Carbs are never too busy elsewhere to provide relief. Whew. Almost had an uncomfortable feeling for a minute there but I caught it in time thanks to Cherry Garcia.

If a weight loss program is not accompanied by learning new, less self-destructive, ways of dealing with emotions, the old habits will boomerang right back on to your hips and thighs. For our emotional eater friend, food is an addiction in that it’s used in the same way an alcoholic uses booze or a junkie uses heroin – to kill the pain. It’s hard for some people to understand, but it is exactly the same. It’s also chemical, eating carbs raises serotonin levels. The worst part is, you can’t cold turkey, so to speak, a food addiction. One must eat to survive.

Another common reason people gain the weight back is the mindset that a temporary change in eating habits, a diet, is something to be suffered through until the goal is reached. Then you can relax and “eat like a normal person.” By which is meant eat like a person who has a speedy metabolism that enables her to eat anything and/or everything with no weight gain repercussions. People who can do that, all twelve of them, are not the norm. People who are not overweight typically take care with what they eat and are physically active. Sorry, everyone, but that is the norm.

To maintain weight loss, permanent lifestyle changes have to be made. Yes, you heard that right and I apologize again, but said lifestyle changes need to be permanent, otherwise known as forever. If, after achieving the pinnacle of success, you believe you can now return to your previously scheduled program of video gaming, channel surfing and plowing through three romance , Sci Fi or whatever novels a week with one hand whilst using the other to lift your nibble of choice to your mouth, I am here to tell you that it ain’t so. If you wish to keep that cute butt, you have to get off of it.

Now we come to another reason that people gain the weight back, the potential minefield of human relationships. There you were, in your plus size stretch jeans, surrounded by a bevy of buds. It’s not as if you didn’t have friends; you certainly did. Friendships can be tricky and complicated for anyone, but for the Lane Bryant fashionista, there are special perils.

There are people who like to hang with you because you are a fascinating, intelligent, creative, fun and just general all around stellar person. If you are confident that all of your friends are your friends for just those reasons, feel free to skip ahead. If not, read on. As icky as this is to even contemplate, there are other, less benevolent reasons someone may befriend a big woman. I’m going to specifically address women here, because male friendships are different and because I’m not able to experience one of those from the inside.

There are, and this breaks my heart, women who are gorgeous even by our culture’s goofy standards, yet either do not see it or cannot believe it. I see this a lot in women in their teens and 20s, those charming years of monumental self-doubt. I want to tell them that the choices are not either perfect or hideous. There is a wide, wide range of amazing beauty between those two pretty much nonexistent states.

Astonishingly, some of these women, consciously or not, surround themselves with female friends they perceive to be unattractive so as to make themselves look good in comparison. Yeah, I don’t get it either. I believe that is the seventh level of low self-esteem hell. Fortunately, there don’t seem to be many women who do this.

Another variation on this theme is women who think they are failures is some significant way. They can tell themselves that even though they are unemployed, single, childless, whatever their inadequacy of choice, at least they are not FAT. At least they are doing better than so-and-so, who has committed the deadliest of deadly sins, weighing more than any woman anywhere should ever weigh, no matter what, so help me God, amen. Yeah, I don’t get the whole comforting yourself with the real or imagined misfortunes of others, either.

I remember Courtney Love announcing, with horror, that she weighed 160 pounds and therefore was, holy crap, fat. I heard a radio DJ expressing his confusion, saying that without knowing how tall she is or how big her frame was, the statement that she weighed 160 pounds didn’t mean anything at all. I’m certain that women got it immediately. 160 pounds, dude. No woman should ever weigh 160 pounds, even if she’s over seven feet tall and has bones the size of soda cans! Men. They’re so cute in their ignorance.

The aforementioned devilish divas are rare and I firmly believe that woman are friends with other women they like, respect and admire with a total disregard for any aspect of physical appearance. That said, if there are any of these devilish divas in your life, after you lose weight they will do one of two things. Either they will try anything to fatten you back up, stopping just short of force feeding you, or they will disappear faster than a chicken in a fox house.

There are other, more subtle relationship pitfalls awaiting the newly svelte. (to be continued)