I’ve been overweight for as long as I can remember. Like most traits that are with you from early childhood, it felt inherent to me and I didn’t think about it. I didn’t really think much about myself as a person at all, but that’s a story for a much longer and stranger blog post. So I was into my 20s before I even thought about trying to change.
In early 2010, after some highly unscientific and often medically inadvisable attempts at losing weight, I finally decided to try a more sensible route and signed up to the online version of Weight Watchers. I followed their plan to the letter, adding up the points information for everything I ate and refusing to go over my daily allowance. Over the course of the year I lost 6 stone, also known as 38 kg or 84 lb. I still wasn’t quite at my target weight, but I was tantalisingly close. I felt healthier than I think I’d ever felt before, and I even started to feel a bit more confident in myself.
Then Weight Watchers made the switch to the new ProPoints system. This was enough to upset the rhythm I had fallen into. Enough, at least, that I got lazy and didn’t bother counting points for a few days.
If this had been an episode of a heartwarming teen sitcom I would have been too scared to look at the scales at my next weigh-in, so I would have made one of my witty and attractive friends look at them instead, and they would have gasped “I can’t believe it” and I would have said “Oh god, how much have I gained” and they would have said “You’ve LOST 2 pounds” and we would have hugged and I would have learned that it was never Weight Watchers that was making me lose weight – it was me all along.
But if my life is any sort of sitcom it’s one of those modern, slightly depressing ones with Ricky Gervais and without a laugh track, so that didn’t happen. In real life, I (ironically) didn’t have the guts to weigh myself that week, or for several weeks after. And the only lesson I learned was that the system I had been forcing myself to live by for the better part of the year was in fact optional! The need to point everything I ate was just a lie I had been telling myself! If I felt like eating a teensy bit more than my points allowance, er, allowed, I could do so, and the world would not explode!
This dangerous knowledge sent my weight spiralling back upwards like a confused young muggle-born wizard on a helter skelter. In classic pre-2010 Alex style I persisted in eating way too much on a regular basis, each time clinging to some Zeno’s paradox-esque notion that no one mouthful of food can ever be the one that sends you over the edge into morbid obesity. I rediscovered over-eating with all its highs (yay, I get to eat this whole massive bag of sour Skittles!) and lows (aw no, I just ate that whole massive bag of sour Skittles).
Since then I’ve been trying absolutely everything I can think of to get back on the diet and stay on it, but the longest this has lasted is a couple of months. This puts me in the uniquely annoying position of envying the Alex I was in late 2010, an Alex who felt relatively happy about himself, who could go outside in summer without immediately sweating from every conceivable corner of his body, who received the occasional compliment, who actually had days of feeling slightly like a real person.
The problem now, and it’s a rather clichéd one I’m afraid, is that I feel as if I’m not the same person from one day to the next. One of me can be as determined as he likes that he’s not going to exceed his points allowance, but that does nothing to stop another, less disciplined me from coming along a few days later and ruining it. And once one day is ruined, my motivation drains away and it takes a while to find that determined side again.
Of course, this is all just a poor excuse for my lack of discipline. Here’s another one: judging from my family history I probably have a tendency towards addiction encoded into my genes. I’ve mostly dealt with this by never trying anything I might end up addicted to. But sadly that isn’t really an option with food. I’m sure dealing with a drug addiction is much more serious and harrowing than what I’m talking about, but it has one simplifying factor: in most cases there is the option, however hard, of cutting yourself off entirely from your drug of choice.
But if you have an eating problem (I won’t say disorder, as I don’t want to trivialise other people’s more life-threatening problems), guess what? No matter where you go, you’re going to be constantly surrounded by food. And – double guess what? You need to have some of it in order to survive. And generally, no one’s going to tell you when to stop eating. You have to decide on your own, based on numerous factors such as: 1) mmm, this is delicious, 2) eating it feels so great, 3) I have nothing much else to feel great about right now, 4) just a few more mouthfuls aren’t going to make any noticeable difference to my weight, and anyway, 5) I already screwed up yesterday, so I’m going to gain weight this week whatever I do, and 6) it’s not as if people are even going to like me any more if I drop this extra little bit of weight – yeah, they might be more willing to give me a chance, but when they do they’ll find I’m still horribly dysfunctional in all these other socially unacceptable ways, and they’ll be just as disgusted by me, and in some ways that’s even worse than just being rejected straight away for being fat, and finally, 7) mmm, that was delicious.
(Whew, this post has taken a turn for the self-pitying, hasn’t it? Yeah, I know being overweight isn’t the worst problem in the world. But how many problems are?)
If I have any advice to give – though perhaps my story suggests that I do not – it’s that losing weight requires you to know yourself. I, for example, know that I can never trust myself to “forget about” the points system for just one day – that day turns into a week, then a month, then three months – so now I no longer take days off from my diet. I also know that objectively insignificant milestones like the first day of a week or month are for some reason psychologically important to me, and that if I want to feel like I’m making a fresh start, they are the best times to do so. And finally there’s this:
I actually stole this idea from myself: the detective character in Project Bubble, my probably defunct webseries, uses a similar cardboard contraption to keep track of how many cases he’s solved. The idea taps into my determination to progress in some measurable way – the longer I go without messing up my diet, the more determined I am not to break the streak.
My current 100 day streak makes me pretty determined. The question is: will the version of me who wakes up tomorrow be just as determined?
I hope so.