Here are some of my big take-aways:
- It's not about exercise, really
- When you drop 70 pounds, a good percentage of people will say something to you. Most of those people say something like, you look more active or you look like you've been working out more. That's almost certainly just politeness, but still, I think it reveals an assumption that the way to lose weight is to burn more calories. I've never found that to be true. I remember one summer in college running every day and methodically tracking my stats: weight, heart beat, and running time. Want to guess which number didn't move a bit? Weight.
My main way to get regular exercise in my life is biking to work when I can, but that's much harder to do in the winter, which let me discover something: last Spring, after not biking all winter but losing 30 pounds or so, the weather warmed up enough to let me start biking again. I was prepared to be winded since I was out of practice, but lo and behold I started moving significantly faster than I had, and having to breathe much less hard to do it. With those pounds off, biking was more pleasurable and it was easier to get back in the groove.
In short, exercise alone didn't help me lose weight, but losing weight did help me exercise more.
I'm not saying exercise isn't part of healthy living — obviously tons of evidence says that it is. It's also clear there's a feedback loop connecting weight and activity, where getting heavier makes it harder to be active and being less active makes you heavier.
That said, change is hard, and changing lots of things is very hard. I remember at one of my first meetings my leader said to me to focus on one change at a time. For me, focusing on food was much easier than focusing on exercise — after all, I love food, and I love geeking out about the make-up of food (see my post on points-density).
Now that I'm down 70 pounds from where I started, am I more active? Absolutely. Am I ready to look for more ways to get exercise into my life regularly? Yes, that too. But if I'd started this journey by trying to make myself get out there and run, I'm positive it wouldn't have gone nearly as well.
- More is less
- If there's one thing WW effectively taught me, and taught me quickly, it was that I could eat more, a lot more. Before WW, I usually skipped lunch, tried to limit meals, and inevitably found myself gaining weight anyway. It's not rocket science how I did it — I'm sure if I could follow my past self now I could easily point at where I picked up the extra calories, but the bigger point is this: trying to skimp on food was counterproductive, and I never realized a bigger issue: in spite of eating what I thought was a balanced diet, I was eating nowhere near enough food to keep me full.
- Before my meeting today I left the farmer's market holding 3-4 times the produce of what I used to buy, and far more than nearly anyone I saw around me — three of four bunches of greens, a couple of eggplant, squash, tomatoes, lettuce, a dozen and a half peaches or so and a half a dozen apples.
- WW bribes you into eating these foods by charging "0 points" for them — they're “free” in terms of your food tracking — and that is a huge incentive to start filling up on more vegetables. That's a big part of how it is that I was able to stop skipping lunch, eat bigger breakfasts, and lose weight on the whole.
- Accountability & Community Matter
- It shouldn't shock me as an educator that just knowing that someone else is keeping track of something helps me stay accountable, but it does. I've gone to a WW meeting nearly every Tuesday night for almost 2 years.
- There is very little I can really say I've learned at that meeting, but knowing I'll be weighing in before the meeting and knowing I'll connect with the group makes a big difference. It probably also helps to talk about food and eating each week, but the topics are all things I knew, and things I imagine most everyone in the room already knows.
The substance of the meeting is really beside the point; it's the routine of going that helps you keep your goal in mind and remember that it's achievable
- Change is slow
- One of the things that makes me most hopeful about where I'm at is how slowly the weight came off. Except for my first week, there weren't any weeks where I lost more than five pounds, and there were very few months where I lost ten. A normal week was maintaining my weight or losing somewhere between a half and two pounds.
Here's the graph of my progress over nearly two years.
- It was harder than I expected to maintain over the last six weeks, perhaps because it's been summer break. I feel a bit like a loser having done a fair bit of gaming the system to keep my weight down before the meeting (skimping on food and water the day of the weigh-in, biking in without a water bottle so I'd be even more dehydrated), but I imagine that's par for the course. I suppose my next goal is to be able to have a normal day and go to meeting stress-free before final weigh-in, with enough of a cushion that I'm not at risk of getting pushed back into have-to-pay-again territory.
- It was exciting & embarrassing to get the little charm in front of the group. As an educator, I'm pretty strongly against rewards as bribes and I always bristle at stickers and reward charts in classrooms. That said, WW uses rewards as recognition all along the journey, with charms for 5% and 10% weight loss and for big milestones like 20 and 50 pounds.
It's made me think about how exactly it is that rewards motivate people. Obviously getting a little 10 cent charm is not inherently very motivating, so it's not clear why having the charms should be helpful, but the fact of the award itself matters. This kind of reward is not really a bribe since I have no inherent interest in stupid little charms, but it is effective.