Over the course of my adult life, I have been surrounded by people who have wanted to lose weight. Invariably these people start strong with a restrictive regimen–either with a variety pack of Slim-Fast or meal replacement bars; the tiny, expensive meals from a weight loss center; the latest fad diet touted in tabloid magazines or tabloid TV segments; super-small portions of their usual food; or traditional “rabbit food” choices, like a mess of carrots, celery and cottage cheese. Then follows a period of a little weight loss, a lot of complaining of hunger and diligent suffering through, and then rebellion and abandonment of the program.
I’m not just throwing stones–I’ve also started the day with the aluminum can filled with the chalky, vitamin-fortified “milkshake.” And I’ve loaded up on books on “it” diets and from weight loss gurus, lost some weight, and then gone back to my old habits. Count me in on weight loss centers, too: I joined one of the programs, but quit within a week. (My biggest disclosure: I’ve been on Weight Watchers for nearly two years. I personally wouldn’t lump it in with the other strategies, because the program is more about lifestyle changes, with lots of encouragement and support, than just losing weight.)
It’s so easy to be seduced by the lure of these fad products and programs and buy into the notion that weight loss is a product of a short-term round of super-hard work, and then you’re good to go. Nowadays, I want to scream when I see people optimistically starting out on one of these plans. Even if you can believe the commercials showing people who’ve lost 20 lbs. or more with one of these strategies–that the weight loss is real, or even that the story is real–you never get a “where are they now” follow-up, to see whether they have maintained the weight loss or not. Though I want them to win at weight loss, I would not be surprised to hear there is no happy ending to their story.
It’s true that weight loss is hard work. As people on the Weight Watchers message boards say, it took a long time to put on the sum of weight that you want to lose, so you can’t expect it to come off overnight. But, in my opinion, the hard work should be in making tough decisions while eating real food. It requires a test of perspective, rather than a test of wills.
Little cans, little microwave food boxes, and little pyramids of raw veggies on a salad plate offer what appears to be a nice, neat packaged solution for weight loss, if you can only make yourself stick to it. But true, sustainable weight loss is messy. It deals with feelings that you don’t really want to touch, feelings that spur you to make bad choices or overeat. It deals with telling your grandmother that, as much as you love her baked macaroni and cheese, you can’t eat another spoonful (or eat any at all on the day she’s serving it). It involves sometimes being the only person in your family making a conscious effort to eat whole grains or put vegetables on your plate. It involves lengthy decision-making at a restaurant, concession stand, or even when choosing between two or three similar items on a grocery store shelf. There are no neat solutions with successful weight loss, only an extended period of trial and error to discover what works best for you.
I hate that people are conditioned to opt for ineffective strategies disguised as easy solutions. I hate that people give up so easily, or don’t even try to lose weight, when in reality, they have embraced the wrong strategy and would likely be surprised at the low amount of drama and high potential for weight loss they can achieve with a realistic plan. I want people to know that the tasks of emotional introspection and cultivation of new, healthy habits seem daunting, but are so rewarding–in psychological gains as well as inches lost.