Friday, November 4, 2011

The Role of Denial in Weight Gain (or Regain)

In my experience, there is a whole lot of "head in the sand" behavior when it comes to weight gain (or regain). I've done it myself, and I've watched others do it. But let me talk about my own denial first.

Back when I was first going up the scale from 200 to nearly 300 pounds, which happened in less than a year, I simply did not notice how big I was getting. I know that sounds crazy. How could ANYONE not notice putting on 80 pounds?? Well, I knew I was gaining "a little" weight, but I shoved it in the back of my mind and covered it with brownies and Big Macs and pizzas. So what if I was "a little" fat? Who cared? It wasn't really affecting me. That's what I told myself as I closed in on 280.

It is easy to do. You start out seeing a bit of a gain on the scale, or feeling your pants get tighter, or maybe neither. Maybe you just do not check in with yourself at all. The denial comes from avoidance. I avoided mirrors completely. I NEVER looked at myself, I averted my eyes when I was walking towards a storefront window where my "distorted" reflection might accost me, I refused to get on the scale. I almost exclusively wore black (or dark navy blue) stretch pants. When the 18's got tight, I thought they must be shrinking. I saw the holes in the thighs and went to buy more stretch pants but those 18's just were too uncomfortable so I would buy 20's. That was not really my size, of course. I just wanted them to be a little looser for comfort. Baggy, you know. Just for comfort. And then later when those got worn out in the thighs and I went for more stretch pants, the 20's were snug. They must be a different brand. They have started to cut them differently. Oh, the fabric is just not as stretchy. I will buy a 22 this time. How annoying, but the number doesn't *really* matter, it is just a different cut or brand. And on and on this went, until I was buying 26/28's and 3X and even some 4X clothes. I just kept telling myself it was something else... the fabric, the brand, the cut. Oh, okay, MAYBE I had gained a LITTLE weight. Stupid pants fabric....

This is how I became morbidly obese. I knew I was kind of fat and I figured I would start tomorrow and do something about it. But for now, the scale would just be depressing and the clothes are comfy at 26/28 and I was not really that big...

Until I could hardly walk and was no longer tucking my kids in at night.
Until I turned around in that little store and knocked a glass shelf to the floor with my hip.
Until I was in the ER with heart palpitations.
Until my friend came to visit me and saw me with that 80-pound gain and drew her breath in sharply, almost crying at seeing me like this.
Until I couldn't fit on rides or walk to the beach or catch my toddler as she was about to dart into traffic.

Then I woke up.

We all have our wake-up moments but even when they are dramatic it is easy to sweep it under the carpet with excuses. I still do it sometimes. We want to go along la-la-la, nothing is wrong, and if it is we can deal with it later. That is dangerous behavior.

Look at all the weight loss bloggers who lost a ton of weight, got to goal or near goal, and then regained part of the weight and are struggling. There are SO MANY of us. It is a common theme. Regain is easy. Habits are hard to break. Food tastes good. We need a break. Lifestyle is easier spoken than lived.

How on earth did I gain twenty pounds and still think I was okay? How could I continue to think I was "189ish" when in fact I had gone over 200 pounds again? Well, the same way I gained that 80 in a year. Easy. Stay off the scale, tell yourself it is a "little" gain, avoid mirrors, ignore the clothing becoming tighter. I kept telling myself "oh my jeans all still fit so I am sure I haven't gained more than five pounds." But in fact, I was ignoring the fact that those jeans were super loose before and super tight after. They fit! It didn't matter that 2 months ago they were so loose I had almost put them in the Fat Clothes pile, and now I was walking around with them unbuttoned half the time because they were too tight. They fit! I haven't gained. That's how it goes.

I have never known a person who has regained all their lost weight while getting on the scale every single day.

It is very hard to watch the numbers climb. It cuts into our denial with a dose of reality. So we just stay off the scale and make up imaginary number in our heads instead. Dangerous behavior.

The only reason the scale is not still climbing is that my pants got so tight I was snapped back out of denial, along with getting back on the scale and facing the truth. If you have gotten rid of your fat clothes, and refuse to wear stretch pants, there is a built-in barrier to your regain. You can only go so far before you are naked.

Please, if you are in this state of avoiding the truth, turn it around NOW. Not tomorrow, not next week. If your pants are getting tighter or sizes bigger THERE IS A REASON. Get on the scale. Face it. No one says you have to go on a diet or change everything the minute you see that number. You can keep eating anything you want. Just do it KNOWING. No more mind games.


Princess Dieter said...

This is why I committed to weighing (nearly) every day. good new or bad. I have read too many recommendations from successful maintainers to weigh and weigh consistently, daily or weekly, but consistently. If I only weighed once a month, I'd probably regain.

I have rules for weighing. If I barely slept or had something to drink, I don't weigh. I only weigh if I'm naked after the bathroom after I get up. That's it. But I do it almost daily, and I often put the daily number on my blog. Accountability.

I know I will gain if I eat very salty foods, but I know that's bloat, so that doesn't make me nuts.

I've weighed nearly daily since June of last year. I've lost almost consistentl since June of last year. I figure, I'll make it a habit for life. Weigh almost every day.

Oh, and I'm reading this book now to review, and it does address set point, the body wanting to regain fat, etc. The link is over on my blog post today to its google books preview (well, it might be the whole book there, I didn't check, but lots is there). I figure if it helps me on my journey, great. If not, I didn't waste much time, but I always try to read the research or research reviews on dieting/obesity. It's not a simple problem, and I suppose the solution for each of us will be individual, but have common components. :D

Lori said...

That is why I weigh every day. Even then a small uptick can be explained away. "It is just water." "The scales are always a little off."

Denial is a huge monster we all wrestle.

Diandra said...

Weighing in every day also gives you the knowledge of how certain foods or your normal hormonal cycle will influence your body. However, I know several people who are so obsessed with the scale that they weigh in after every bowel movement and every piece of food they eat, and that is, on the other hand, when things become dangerous.

Weigh in once a day. Or every other day. Not more. Not less.

Kelliann said...

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Mary said...

This is exactly where I am at. I lost 44 pounds and have put back on 24 of them. It feels horrible. But somehow the pants fit (super tight, can't breathe) and I have been deceiving myself. I have even been telling myself that I don't need to be thin, that I should just be able to "enjoy" life and eat what I want. Wow. Thank you for your honesty and boldness, I really needed it today.

Beth said...

Well, I've gained 56 pounds in the last 3 or so months...and I haven't weighed myself much, mostly because it breaks my heart to see the numbers climbing back up after being at goal weight for, oh, 2 weeks.

I only have 1 pair of trousers that fit and they are getting too small. I've just hit 200 pounds as well, this truly sucks!

However, I'm trying not to avoid looking at myself, trying not to deny what is happening and delude myself by thinking that I'll start "tomorrow" because tomorrow never seems to come.

Anyway, enough blabbing, a good post, thanks. Here's to our health.

Suzanne said...

I wish there had been a post like this the first time I lost a bunch of weight. I had to learn it the hard way (regaining all 114 of it!) because nobody ever told me anything like this. It should have occurred to me that just SAYING "I'll never be one of those people who gains it all back, I'm not that crazy!" wasn't good enough. You have to have a plan. And I think that stepping on the scale every day is just plain smart! It just makes sense. I will always do it! (Although I won't always be able to take my scale on vacation or whatever). You just have to. That whole thing you described, that was exactly me. I hadn't even made it to my goal weight...still 50 pounds away...before I started putting it all back on. I hate that I had to do all that hard work all over again.

I kind of wished blogging had been around (or at least that I'd known about it) the first time I lost the weight. I'm so much smarter this time, so much more aware, but at such a price!

Steve is running to lose weight said...

I am a complete yoyo'er. This time I am trying to get some exercise regime established before looking at diet. At least my weight it stable with what I am doing now, even with all the cheese.

Dawn said...

This is me....this is me all over.

I used to wear a size jeans until they cut into me and I would HAVE to buy the next size up but promising it was only until next week when the diet started, then back in denial I went until they were too tight to wear...and the next size was bought and so on.
I too weighed weighed weighed when dieting then never stood on a scale nor looked in a mirror as it all went back on.
This time I'm not weighing at all. I am forcing myself to feel what size my body is, to become tuned to what physical size and shape I am.

I NEVER had a plan for maintenance. not that I ever got there, I just gave up somewhere and put it back on.

This time I have a clear plan for maintenance when I get there and my no weigh but totally aware of myself approach is carrying on. I can't hide from myself. I'm still very scared about what will happen in the future though and have decided, when I get there to take it one week at a time, as the future frightens me

Excellent post

murgatroidgerow said...

I think the same premise applies to counting calories. It is so easy to say "I'm not really eating that much." When I write it down it is very eye opening to see all the "little" extras that have snuck into my diet.

Anna Down Under said...

That is absolutely how I got so big, and how I regained the weight after getting to 197 a few years ago. Even now my biggest fear isn't not being able to get the weight off, it's KEEPING it off, because I know most people do regain. But I can't think about that right now, right now I have to focus on continuing the journey one day at a time. Thanks for the great post.

PaulaMP said...

Wow! Your post really hit a chord with me today. I'm just like that, when I look in the mirror even today I think I look good, but when I see the photos after every Zumba class, I see that I am still twice the size of many of the girls there. I put on 100 lbs, it took me twenty years to do it, so somehow gaining 5 pounds a year doesn't seem that bad when it's happening but I did the same thing, reasoned why I had to buy a larger size so many times. I'm on my way down but trust me ladies, don't wait to this age to do it (57). I work out like a fiend, 2 hrs at least five days a week, but getting the weight off is so slow. Do it before menopause if you can, that's my "real talk" advice.

Kris said...

Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this post. I am here, right now, slowly feeling my pants get a little tighter, avoiding the scale until I get back on track...which is always tomorrow. I am going to weigh this weekend!

Kimberly said...

Another good and truthful post! I am right with you.. and have been pretty close in weight also about the last year, maybe sadly. I got down to 185 and am back at 209 now. I have one pair of jeans and one pair of brown 'church' slacks I can wear. That's it. And I refuse to buy anything that fits better because I have got to get this back under control.

As you mention all of the things that you could not do at 280, I remind myself how much more I could do if I could lose about 50 pounds now. How much easier would my day to day life be? How much more fun?

So why is it still such a struggle? It really is just so hard to gain control over this. So, hang in there. I can relate all too well!

Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim said...

Thank you Lyn,

You are right, you nail it. You were on point.... I too, have had my head in the sand... They say if the shoe fits wear it,and after reading your blog both shoes are on. No more excuses...

timothy said...

well thanks sweetie, not an easy post to write i'm sure and NOT an easy one to read either. strikes too close to home i'm afraid! xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

lisa~sunshine said...

Thanks for writting this lynn... I've noticed that I'm scared to hit my goal.. I'm scared to be done with weightloss because I'm scared of regaining my weight.. I was obese for my entire life.. I remember being larger than everyone from about 10 years old and on.. I'm at the smallest weight right now that I remember although I know I had to be at this weight going up at one point.. I've not been a binge eater.. I've not been a yo-yo dieter.. I simply just didn't care and wasn't educated before.. now I am.. but I've seen so much with regaining that it scares me.. SO thanks for writting this..

Anonymous said...

Great post, Lyn.

I lost 75 pounds and have been in maintenance since mid-August. It's tough. I cleaned out all the 'fat clothes' from my closet and today donated 195 items to a charity that helps the homeless and those that are in true need. That felt great on two fronts... 1) knowing my good-condition clothes will truly make a difference for other people and 2) knowing I have NO 'buffer', there are no 'fat clothes' for me to grow back into. Everything I have is now a size 4, 6 or 8... all of the 12's, 14's and 16's are a part of my past so if I gain there's no where to turn. There IS NO option. I have no safety net.

I also joined Weight Watchers. Not to lose weight but instead to keep me on the straight-&-narrow. I like the structure of knowing I have to weigh in each week. I'm determined to get Lifetime status and then be 'forced' (lol) to weigh in each month and stay within 2 pounds of my goal. That seems so incredibly restrictive but I think for me that will be a really good thing.

You're right... you just can't regain the weight if you're getting on the scale every day. I'm a daily weigher and I find it works best for me. I have to stay on top of it every day. It's tough. It's a struggle. I'm worth it.

Karen said...

Maintenance is a whole "other phase" in the healthy journey- IMO.

I love the book and the blog by Barbara Berkeley, MD called Refuse to Regain. Nice information about long term maintenance.

Also another great blog with straight talk about maintenance is Jane's Keeping pounds off.

I'm compiling a list of weight maintenance blogs I read using google reader here:

If you have others that you'd recommend, please let me know!

Good for you Lyn for facing the scale. A great healthy step! Karen P

Jennneil said...

Oh WOW! What a great post!!
Like some others, what works for me is to weigh daily. I know it fluctuates. I know that people say to only weigh weekly. But, if I do that, I easily go into a place of total la-la land.
I so easily go into a place of denial. That's how I got to 250 pounds. It's like I was asleep - or unconscious while gaining it.

Thanks for posting this, Lyn. It's a great reminder.

You rock!

Allison said...

Great post...I know just how that is. I am thin now, but was heavy in college. Like you wrote about, I kept blaming my weight gain on the clothes (must be sized weird, dhouldn't have put them in the dryer, etc.). I think many women (and some men too) can relate. I lost all the weight by not eating after 7pm. Sounds odd, but it worked. Late night eating was my issue, so this zapped it. Good luck on your journey!

Henrik from Tights and said...

Thank you for this blog, I'm sure it gives inspiration and motivation to many people!
As a ballet-dancer, watching the weight and keeping fit is a part of my job, and something I relate to every day. I wrote a post on my blog, Tights and Tiaras, where I shared some healthy, simple tips I and my colleagues use to keep fit and healthy, that everyone can follow easily. If you are interested, check out the post at the link under.

Cheers, Henrik from TIghts and Tiaras!

Anonymous said...

I wish it was as simple as weighing myself every day. I've done that through 20-30 pound bounces up; hard to tell if I would have gone up higher without weigh-ins, but there comes a point where I hit the "oreo" moment of having topped my highest weight, why not keep going? I ate whatever, whenever. I didn't go out of my way to binge, but I gave in to seconds and junk food and all the stuff that I had used willpower to deny myself before. Why? Depression, the sense that life was not worth living so I may as well eat what I want, I think I backed off from that when I started to feel differently, when I could feel the weight hinder me from running and I could feel how it was putting a burden on my back.

Ultimately, I have to tap into the intuitive, non-numeric understanding of how a healthy weight and a healthy diet feels.

LHA said...

Not to be the contrarian in the group, but I have weighed every day while gaining weight, and part of my weight gain was due to frustration and depression over the number on the scale that day. It seemed the more I weighed myself, the more I ate.

I have come to a peaceful place in my relationship with the scale. I weigh once a month or so unless I feel I really need to check in to see how I am doing. Before I step on, I remind myself that it is just one measure of how I am doing. The biggest risk I have with weighing is that it will trigger a binge because I feel like if I'm not losing (or if I have gained) when I have really been trying hard, then I feel like I might as well eat anything I want because I am failing anyway.

Now I have a little mantra at the end of each day. "I've done everything I can for this day. If I continue to eat well and exercise the weight will come off eventually." It helps me stop fixating on the number on the scale.

Moosecat said...

Great post Lyn and thanks. Can relate to the clothes upsizing...when did it become "natural" for me to buy AUS size 20's and think it's OK? How can I be in such denial? Of course it's not OK! Thanks again.

Tammy said...

A great post! Believe me, I know this one! A few years ago...put on 75 lbs in less than a year...was wearing stretch was horrible. Lost like 60 lbs, but have gained liked 25 of it back.:( So disgusted with myself, but am trying to lose it AGAIN, plus the rest. I also weigh EVERY day...better than thinking I'm fine the way I am, then seeing a pic of myself and thinking OMG!! Either that or not being able to buy "regular" jeans.

Anonymous said...

I can so relate to the article"The Role of Denial in Weight Gain (or Regain)"About 7 years ago,while living in Upstate NY,I was going to college lived at home with Mom.I was her cartaker as she was going blind from macular degeneration.I had to do all the food shopping take care of her medications plus go to school cook,and clean.I would cook every weekend Making alot of food in catering trays to take to school for the week.I would cook trays of baked ziti or stuffed shells with a big pot of sauce.I would devour a whole loaf of italian bread and butter before dinner.I would buy double amounts of bread and deserts so I could give some to Mom.I ate on the sneak.For dinners I would eat a huge plate of stuffed shells then I would go back for another plate 2 hours later hungry.Sometimes I would get up in the middle of the night only to eat another huge plate again plus more desert, pie cake, or anything sweet.I did not know I had onset diabetes.I would buy 2xl men's T-shirts cut the necks out and hide my big hips and huge belly under the shirts.I thought no one would notice me growing cause of the big shirts.I avoided mirrors.I was getting so fat that almost every month I had to get larger and larger sizes at the store.I ate myself up into oblivion in total denial.That first year 7 years ago I was a size 18.Then a month or so later 20 then 22/24.Oh well I'll just get a larger size shirt cut the neck out. I got up into a woman's size 4x then 5x stretch pant.At Christmas I baked eating raw cookie dough.I started sneak eating by driving to fast food places. My belly got so huge It was hard to clear the steering wheel.I had to sell the truck and use a mini van with more room. My Mom knew I was gaining when I hugged her.Her blindness prevented her from seeing how fat I was becommingbut she could feel me geting fatter.I didnt know why I was so hungry all the time.My Aunt said,"Susan I heard you were getting fat,but I didn't know you were this fat girl!"I was so ashamed & embarrased.
One day I had palapatations in my heart.I had to go to the nearby doctor. When he put me on the scale I was getting scared. I closed my eyes.I thought I was maybe 300 plus pounds or so.The doctor said,"Susan you are 410 pounds!" My heart sank.I could not believe I gained over 100 lbs. in almost two years.I gained almost 130 pounds of fat.The doctor had to immediately put me on bloodpressure pills metformin for diabetes.I had to follow a strick diet. I was in shock to find out I had type 2 diabetes.I educated myself stayed on my diet,got weighed in,I lost 120lbs.! I will never let Denial get me ever again,or wear t-shirts with the neck cut out of them covering me up. And I keep full length mirrors in every room.