The Weight-Loss Merry-Go-Round
This is the backstory: part one of two. Click here to go directly to my experiment with intermittent fasting.
I share this story not because it’s anything special, but because it’s so common. I share it because I’m now off the weight loss merry-go-round, and maybe my story can help others get off too.
When I was in my early teens, I saw myself as terribly fat. In truth, I was an average teen who had been chunky as a pre-teen. My diet was horrendous. My mom worked and went to school full time, and we were often on our own after school and for dinner. It was common for me to sit in front of the TV after school eating dozens of saltine crackers with butter and peanut butter. We heated frozen TV dinners several times a week. I could eat a package of six small frozen pizzas by myself. My grandmother fed us huge fast food meals and regularly stocked our freezer with popsicles and fudgsicles. When I was 10, my aunt said to my mom “Traci is going to be a good cook when she grows up. She loves to eat.”
And eat I did. I also started reading diet books.
One of the first diet books I read was the Doctors Quick Weight Loss Diet. This book advocated high-fat, low-carb eating, similar to (and prior to) Atkins. The book gave a simple formula for ideal weights: for women it was 100 lbs for 5 feet tall, plus 5 lbs for every inch over 5 feet. This formula became my mantra. There were no weight ranges and no adjustments for being “big boned,” just like the chart shown here. For most of my life I saw 150 lbs as my goal weight for my 5′ 10″ frame. Period. I repeated the mantra to myself even though I didn’t own a scale until I was in my 30s. It never occurred to me that I was repeating the wrong mantra.
Though I went through periods of being slender, I struggled repeatedly with excess weight. I became vegetarian at age 14, and exercise became a regular part of my life. Though I ate more vegetables than most teens, the majority of my diet was bread and dairy. I went through periods of being 10-20 lbs overweight.
I started eating meat again in my 20s. Like many people, I gained and lost the same 20-40 lbs over and over. True to my aunt’s expectations, I became a good cook.
In 1984 I discovered the Pritikin program. I switched to a diet rich in complex carbohydrates and low in fat: I quickly lost all of my excess weight. I did long distance bicycle rides, ran hills, and was fit. I weighed around 130 lbs; I was 24 years old.
I stopped thinking about my weight for several years: I had a corporate career, became a mother, and my weight inched up. I was quite active and started training in martial arts, and my fitness and height hid the excess weight pretty well. It wasn’t until my doctor commented on my weight that I decided to rethink my diet. At this point I weighed about 175 lbs.
In 2005 I started recording everything I ate and counting every calorie, and got back down to my “ideal” weight of 150 lbs. Tracking everything I ate was a chore, but it worked. Then, as had happened many times before, my weight crept back up.
In 2007, I switched to a 100% plant-based diet. Weight fell off, and within six months the arthritis in my hands was gone. I started eating 80% raw foods, and more weight fell off. I felt great and more energetic than I’d been in years. Still, the ups and downs continued and I slid into less healthful, though vegan, eating habits.
In 2014, my weight jumped up as I relied on comfort food after my mom’s unexpected death one month before my wedding. In July of 2014, I was back up to nearly 165 lbs. Time to bring out the calorie counter again.
A friend had started doing the 5:2 program, where you eat normally five days a week, then two nonconsecutive days a week you eat no more than 500 calories. I tried it, but found that I got so hungry during the 500 calorie days that it wasn’t sustainable for me. Back to calorie counting.
Up and down, up and down, round and round on the weight loss merry-go-round. Did I just get careless about what I ate? It usually happened so slowly that I often didn’t notice until I couldn’t fit into my clothes anymore.
In 2016 I read Penn Jillette’s book Presto! and stopped counting calories for good. I still had the 150 lb goal in mind. This time I was armed with an electronic scale that tracks body fat %. For the first time in years, my weight stabilized between 145-150 lbs.
This year, 2018, the cycle seemed ready to repeat itself. My weight started creeping back up. I now considered 150 lbs to be my maximum weight, and when it slid up to 153, it was time to try something new.
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