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How I finally learned that diets don’t work

Posted in health, and personal

Overweight and obese since my early teens, I had “dieted my way up” to my highest weight of 335 pounds in my 30s. After yet another failed attempt to lose my excess weight, I was referred to a medically-supervised very-low-calorie liquid diet program and lost 125 pounds over an 18-month period. In less than two years, I had completed a wholesale exchange of my physical body from that of a morbidly obese fat guy to a strong, fit thin guy. However, after returning to my normal life with its regular stressors, I realized (much too late) that I had not developed any effective stress management skills other than overeating. I rapidly gained back all the weight that I had lost, and found myself back at the starting line for another 100 lb+ weight loss again. This article describes how I finally started to develop the self-acceptance and compassion needed in order to stop self-medicating with food, and to begin recovering from what I came to understand as a full-blown eating disorder.

The joy of finally finding an effective method to lose ALL the weight

I’ve written at some length here, here and here about the medically-supervised weight-loss program I completed from 2012-14. For me, the program was a last-ditch attempt to resolve three decades of gradually-increasing obesity that had resulted from several unsuccessful attempts at permanent weight loss. Just like most of the fat people I know, I had dieted my way up to my highest adult weight by riding a roller-coaster of big losses followed by even bigger gains after we crashed out of each diet that we would gamely attempt to follow.

With this new program I’d found, I felt like I was finally ready to battle this thing to the death. It was a drastic affair that mimicked gastric bypass surgery, but without the scalpel. For two 3-month periods over 1½ years, I consumed nothing each day but water and 900 calories of meal replacement shakes. As far as pure weight loss was concerned, the program was top-shelf: I had dropped 125 pounds by the time I finished, and I looked like a completely regular guy without any significant weight problems at all.

There’s a pretty long-lasting high that sets in after losing that much weight, especially if you’ve been fat for a long time. I got drunk from the kudos I received from my friends and family. I often said that I felt like Superman, especially after having spent 25 years looking like John Goodman from the Roseanne years (that’s a required caveat, now that he’s down to a normal weight himself). All of the attention made me feel like I had accomplished something truly spectacular; it gave me an immediate boost of self-confidence around everyone.

It’s also hard to overstate how different I looked and felt after losing that much weight. It felt like I had been wearing a blow-up fat suit under my clothes that I’d finally found a way to deflate. Getting up out of low chairs was suddenly a breeze. My chronic joint pain and muscle soreness went away. I discovered that I was capable of doing strenuous physical activity, and I was surprised to learn that I loved doing it! For my 40th birthday, I treated myself to a new road bike and started cycling upwards of 40-60 km at a stretch. After spending most of my adult life as overweight and eventually obese, it felt like I had exchanged my physical body for someone else’s.

Despite the apparent body switch, my regular life did indeed resume after that weight-loss program ended. There continued to be high points related to my newfound state of thin, but those became fewer, less frequent, and less dramatic. The summer arrived, and with it came three months of eating large communal meals outside with our family and neighbours along with plenty of cold beers on those hot afternoons by the lake. That autumn, everything returned to business as usual for me as a stay-at-home dad to three young kids in a family with an insane activity schedule. Our youngest two are boys only 15 months apart in age, and their regular wrangling and noise created a kind of stress response in me that I had never learned to deal with very well without food or other substantive distractions.

In other words, all of my regular daily life stressors were back, and in force.

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