A significant number of people who lose a lot of weight end up gaining some or all of it back eventually. Science isn’t exactly sure what the percentage looks like, but it’s likely more than half, and some estimates go as high as 97%.
I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that many people approach weight loss as a diet. It’s a temporary state. There is an assumption that once a goal weight is attained, the diet ends. Unfortunately, if the diet ends and old eating habits come back that caused an initial weight gain, the person who successfully lost weight on a diet will regain it.
Sustained weight loss takes lifestyle changes. It means restructuring a relationship with food. That’s hard to do. We all need food to live, and eating should be an enjoyable process. The lack of a balance between enjoying food and eating within specific parameters is one of the reasons people don’t maintain weight loss.
In my opinion, there’s another reason why people regain weight, and it’s one that I’m intimately familiar with: sometimes eating everything in sight feels really effing good. Well, it feels good in the moment. The self-loathing and tummy ache take a while to set in.
There’s an old Rodney Dangerfield joke that sums up binge eating pretty well (try to read it in your mind’s best Dangerfield impression): “Are you fat? Do you look at a menu and think, ‘OK’?” That’s basically it. Except it’s usually kitchen pantries or the contents of the refrigerator.
Binge eating is one of my specialties. To be clear, I only binge. I do not purge. I have no gag reflex. I could not be bulimic if I tried. I actually did try once and gave up. This is not to make light of bulimia or cast shade on those who suffer that affliction. (#nojudgment) I’m only clarifying my own eating neuroses.
In most circles, binge eating is frowned upon. It’s a disorder. Definitely not good. People should have a balanced diet that is broken down to three square meals a day, right? Moderation is the key.
The whole reason I got chubby in the first place is that I don’t do moderation well. I constantly go to extremes and it catches up with me in unexpected and sometimes devastating ways. Still, moderation eludes me, and I really enjoy going to town on a jumbo burrito or ice cream sundae (or both). It didn’t seem congruent to be able to chow down on everything in sight AND maintain weight loss.
Then I was introduced to the wonderful world of carb loading.
When I began losing weight in 2011, I used running as my main form of exercise. I started running longer and longer distances. Running races was my new favorite pastime.
I trained for and actually ran a couple of half marathons in 2012. It was hard, but good. Every time I finished one race I signed up for another. The training schedule forced me to stay in shape.
The awesome thing about training for each half marathon was the Sunday long run. The run itself usually sucked, but man, I could eat so much. 8 miles burned nearly a thousand calories, and runners actually recommend drinking beer after a long run for recovery! It was heaven.
In 2013 I registered for my first marathon. Now my weekend long runs were consistently double-digit mileage. That meant that I had to carb load.
The idea with carb loading is that eating additional carbohydrates before a long run or race will temporarily increase glycogen (stored glucose) in muscles. That leads to added energy during the run, and pushes back hitting the wall, a term that describes the feeling in your body when all spare glycogen is used and your body starts breaking down muscle to keep going.
Let me tell you a little bit about what hitting the wall feels like. Try to imagine a state where you have lost all ability for conscious thought. Only your lizard brain remains. At the same time, you’re moving forward, and each step is a jolt through every nerve in your body. It feels like an unfriendly giant has squeezed all of your muscles. Literally everything hurts. Death starts to look like a promising alternative. That is what it means to “hit the wall.”
Trying to stave off getting to this point of utter desolation and pain is a very good reason to have a loaded baked potato (or two).
Here are some of the many things I’ve eaten before a long run:
- Loaded chicken nachos with added French Fries.
- A jumbo breakfast burrito with a side of pancakes.
- Double-scoop ice cream sundaes with chocolate sauce, almonds whipped cream and a cherry on top.
- Entire pizzas.
- Lots of beer. And wine.
- Pasta in a bread bowl.
- A full loaf of French bread with soft cheese.
- A box of Cheeze-Its.
These are just a few of many examples of pure gluttony that I’ve achieved, all done in the name of training to run ridiculous distances. Somehow I found a delicate balance by embracing extremes. Essentially, I can binge eat as long as I also binge exercise.
Maintaining my weight loss hasn’t been entirely thanks to weekly binges followed by excessive long runs. During the week I carefully watch what I eat and track calories with an app on my phone. I’m deliberate in my choices of food 6 days a week, so that on the 7th it doesn’t matter. Generally, it balances out.
Is this the best or healthiest plan of attack? Probably not. I am in great shape though. I also understand that my approach for maintaining weight loss isn’t accessible to everyone, and that some people will never want or be able to run a marathon. We all have our vices and our modes for handling them though. Marathon training happens to be the thing for me. Who knew the fat kid who couldn’t run the mile in PE class would go on to run multiple marathons, at least in part, to be able to maintain the ability to eat with abandon.