I just finished this book by Andie Mitchell and several people have asked me to share my thoughts.
First, it was very interesting and easy to read. I laughed and cried several times. Having been a chronic dieter and binge eater many years ago, I could relate to a lot of what she wrote.
Second, her description of what life was like as she desperately tried to not regain the weight she had lost was confirming. Many people think that weight loss is the hard part, that after they lose weight, life will be grand and they will go about their merry way. This is a complete fallacy.
Maintaining a large weight loss is hard work; much harder than the process of losing it. One has to be diligent about calorie intake for the rest of one’s life and for some people, it’s a miserable experience.
In fact, studies of people who have lost at least 30 lbs and kept it off for five years have shown that these people eat very rigid diets every single day. They record their food intake and most often, the calorie and fat content as well. Some people don’t mind doing this and feel that the effort is worth it, while others feel chained to their food logs and resigned to never enjoying food again.
“…there were times, dozens upon dozens, when I seriously wanted a whole box of glazed doughnuts. When I wanted to sit in my bed and eat and eat and eat to my favorite TV shows. When I wanted to attempt eating a whole cake, whether or not my stomach wanted to do it with me. When I didn’t want to have anything to do with willpower or her cousin, moderation. When I didn’t want one scoop of ice cream when I knew Ben & Jerry’s offered pints.”
And then there’s the exercise. Mitchell did the same amount every single day (running 4 miles on a treadmill) and hated every step of the way. She didn’t give herself a day off, like most of us do, or do something she enjoyed, like hiking or dancing. She did the same thing every day, simply for the purpose of calorie-burning, and she came to hate it with a passion:
“…after I’d been at it for six months, and was down nearly 60 pounds from my start at 268, I started to slow. In progress, in patience. The vigilance, the exercise – they wore on me. The thrill of newness evaporated, and I began to feel bored with the whole process. I shuttered when reality reminded me, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but….you’re going to have to keep at this for another ten months – give or take forever – if you want to get and keep all that weight off.”
She lived in constant fear of gaining the weight back.
“The months that followed – in fact, that whole year – were dark. I was scared all the time. I felt as though the tips of my fingers were moments from losing their grip from the cliff I clung to. Life wasn’t what I’d thought it would be. This wasn’t the light and free, casual and content life I’d expected to start”
This is what it’s like for many people who lose weight. Constant calorie-counting and rigid exercise every damn day.
Fortunately, Mitchell reached a tipping point and decided to not live like that anymore. She started walking instead of running (because she enjoyed walking) and she started enjoying food again but watched the portion sizes.
This is where things deviate from the “health at every size” (HAES) movement that I have written about many times before.
She wanted to keep the weight off but didn’t want to be miserable so she continued to eat less than the amount she really wanted. In my mind, this is pretty risky as it usually leads you down the same path of living in constant fear. But she wanted her cake and eat it too (pun intended) and ate the food she liked but just ate it in smaller amounts.
She also stopped eating secretly and for the purpose of anesthetizing herself from scary feelings. This is an important step and one that requires self-awareness and attunement, two key features of intuitive eating.
And it worked. She has kept the weight off for many years and enjoys eating all of her favorite foods. She keeps up her exercise, which she enjoys thoroughly now, and keeps an eye on portion control. It works for her. It may not work for others (and that is totally ok) but it has worked for her.
For those who don’t want to restrict their calorie intake, they can be happy and healthy too. Plenty of studies have shown that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Honestly, I think focusing on intuitive eating is a better way to go than calorie restriction; it’s a more pleasant way of living and the freedom from dieting is priceless.
In some ways, this is what Mitchell did. She enjoys food and responds to her hunger cues. But she stops eating when she thinks she should stop, not when she is full and satisfied (key component of intuitive eating). Still, it’s a far cry from how she was living before and she’s much happier now.
But everyone has to find what works best for them and that is exactly what Andie Mitchell did. I applaud her for sharing her story and being completely open and honest about all of it. We can (and should) learn from each other and remind ourselves that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to health and happiness.