One of my weekly addictions now, pun intended, is Extreme Makeover: Weight Edition.
It’s exactly what it sounds like: A person is ideally supposed to go from morbidly obese to, well, much less.
The most “extreme” episode I’ve seen spent the year with a man named James who began at 651 pounds and lost 313 pounds in 12 months. The first three months, the trainer, Chris Powell, lives with the show’s focus person. After that, the “contestant” is on their own but for the equipment they’ve been left, quarterly check-ins, and emails/phonecalls.
This week’s episode had 9 months invested in one morbidly obese man, who began at 490 pounds, lost 110 in three months, then 21, then gained 60 in the third quarter.
His food addiction came back stronger than ever.
The end of the episode had him checking into rehab 70 pounds below where he started, but 60 pounds over where he was after 4 months — and emotionally broken.
This is something I wish would shut all the cynics up who see weight-loss success on TV and go “Oh, but they had professional help, of course they lost weight.”
You know what? I don’t buy that. It works for a while, sure, but a show like this, it conveys that, left to our own devices, even with all the tools and means at our disposal, failure can find us because we’re our own worst enemies. Every person goes to bed alone in their heads.
Many people regain all their weight back, and even more, when life gets hard, because we’re usually heavy through unhealthy eating addictions that involve masking emotions or failed communications.
Enough About Them, Let’s Talk About Me
I’ve always been food-addicted, but I’m considerably less so in my old age. It’s still a problem. It probably always will be.
That I’m a pretty fucking confident cook sure as hell doesn’t help, but my ability to research and learn the science, well, that does help — a lot. I educate myself from time to time as well. Being a good cook means I take control, and I do so in an often-satisfying way with foods that are ultimately less addictive than fast food and commercial preparations.
Luckily, I somewhat like being active. If I weren’t so goddamned injured so often, I’d be unstoppable, and I’d probably get to keep eating the way I love but would continually lose weight doing it. Fortunately, I eventually battle past my distractions and usually maintain.
That’s me. And I know it’ll be a lifelong struggle. Fortunately, every year I get a little smarter about it, and have done that recently in the face of times that might’ve taken me down a more personally-destructive path in the past.
An Environment Created for Failure
The thing is, food’s an incredible struggle. It’s the hardest addiction in the world to overcome. It’s everywhere. Even skinny people drool over pictures like it’s porn. We even talk about the sexual ways we satisfy our hunger, we have “food orgasms,” we celebrate every holiday around a table, we communicate over tables, we have a national bacon dependency, and now we have sharing apps for cellphones that are all pictures of high-falutin’ drool-inducing food, and everywhere we turn is advertising showing the most sinful burgers and cookies and pastas and pizza (but read this about the dirty tricks photographers use to make that food look so yummy).
In this highly food-pornified world, losing 10 pounds is a massive achievement for some. Losing 313 in a year, no matter who’s helping you, even on a TV show, that’s absolutely mind-boggling — if done through weight and healthy eating, that is.
Add In Being Affected by Life’s Demands…
And putting a few pounds on in any given month or year, well, that’s human. Failing utterly? Also sadly human.
For me of late, I’ve not really been worrying about food, exercise, or whatever. I’m rehabilitating a back injury that scared me more than anything has in years. I had a week in April that was the darkest of my life. All I care about is NOT BEING THAT, and paying my rent. I’m rehabbing, getting my life under control, and that’s all the achievement I require right now.
In saying that, the last 10 months has included enough chaos that all I want to do is get into a routine where being active truly IS my lifestyle, and eating reasonably IS my way. That’s it. I want something I can follow for the rest of my life. I lost 70 pounds in a year doing it that way, I know I can get back to it, too, once my routine’s back.
Anyone who says weight-loss is easy during unemployment isn’t a stress-eater.
During my year of being often under-employed, I had pneumonia followed by a cancer scare that turned into a “dunno what that was, but it ain’t cancer” dealio, followed by blowing out my back. That I only gained eight pounds in two years since my drastic loss is fucking awesome, given my history of overeating for emotional reasons.
It is an addiction, and this has been the hardest year for fighting it. Have I won? No, but if this were a fairytale and the Big Bad Wolf was trying to get into grandma’s house, then I’ve been fighting that fucker back with a big-ass stick. He hasn’t gotten in, but I haven’t gotten around to doing much else with my time, either, time-consuming as fighting wolves tends to be, and all.
It Doesn’t Need to Stay That Way: Ebb & Flow
I’ve noticed in the last couple of weeks, as my stress has gone down, as my back injury has finally gotten to a livable place, that my tendency to eat excessively, and too often, has just naturally slowed down, as have my cravings. I’ve not been eating GREAT all the time, but I’ve really not had too much on the average day, either. I also find myself avoiding sweets or feeling compelled for pastries.
The effort now is to simply be more active in my food choices– making more effort in cooking it so I’m not just eating food but, if I overeat, I’m wasting my time and money. Instead of buying bread, the plan now is to make my own for a while instead of buying huge baguettes to indulge in. Every meal needs some kind of veggies with it, preferably more than half the meal being veggies. Using less fat again, I’ve cut back on cheeses, there’s no cheddar in my house (fact: “cheddar” is Canadian for “crack”). I had chocolate during my “girl time” but haven’t felt cravings outside of that.
I don’t care who might think I could’ve done more or I’ve somehow failed myself because I put a little weight back on instead of continually taking it off. I don’t think of it like that. I think of it as “success interrupted.”
What I know about myself today is, I can get through everything that’s happened in the last year (and that short “pneumonia-blah-blah” point there barely skims the surface, as we all know life’s more complicated than big talking points), and gain back only 12% of the weight I’d lost up till 2009, well, that’s not too shabby for an emotional-eating food addict when the odds are better that I should have gained it all back. I kept 88% off, yo!
I’ve been more aware, even in my failings. Now I need greater awareness. Thankfully, it seems to be rising in me, and the stressors seem to be falling.
That’s the ebb-and-flow of life. Like Rocky Balboa says, it’s about getting hit and knocked down, but keepin’ on moving forward.
When I see a man, in life or even a show like that, reduced to tears in his failures, knowing he’s let down his beautiful little girl and wife, checking into rehab and facing all those demons… well, for me, being knocked down but moving forward feels like it’s as good an accomplishment as I need.
We should all remember that. Setbacks are great, if we learn from them and treat them as practice against being defeated in the future. Welcome to life, where we don’t always get it right, but we almost always get a second shot.
Failure photo from Mindthis.ca.
Hand photo from Haley Bell Photography.