Thursday, April 14, 2016

Finding and Maintaining My Happy Weight

Greetings faithful readers!

Last Friday, I mentioned that I was in a new place with my views on fitness and health, and I talked about how I was finally having more success than ever before because I started approaching working out regularly as a lifestyle, not a means to an end. Today, I'm sharing more about what I call my happy weight: specifically, how I found it, how I maintain it, and why I currently do not make losing weight part of my fitness goals.

Before diving in, let me remind everyone here that I'm not a nutritionist nor do I have any certification in personal training. I believe people should work with their doctors to find the approach to health that works best for them; here on my blog, I'm happy to share what's working for me.

I am 5'2," and over the last half of my life, my weight has been at different ranges within a 25 pound range. My heaviest weight was when I was a sophomore in high school and sustained many injuries in a snowmobile accident that left me unable to be active for a time. This incident quickly motivated me to turn to Weight Watchers and working out. I lost 25 pounds over the course of a year or so, but at my lowest weight, my attitudes about eating and exercising were rigid, and, I think, unhealthy. I regained some of the weight in senior year of high school and college and moved to a less obsessive approach to eating and fitness. I have always been in the healthy BMI range (BMI of 19.8 at my lowest and 24.3 at my highest weight); however, I haven't always felt healthy (for example, at both extremes of my weight range). I would often set goals of losing X number of pounds and turn to logging calories before special events. For instance, after 9 months of strength training, I went on Weight Watchers and also lost 7 pounds or so before my wedding, only to gain it back a few months later. While my methods to lose weight have always been gradual, I've recently had a revelation that there is no need to approach life as a series of events to "get in shape for." Instead, I've found a lifestyle approach that is (for me) maintainable.

Discovery of My Happy Weight 
The truth is, my happy weight found me, not vice versa. In August, I began working out 5X a week, and I have kept up that routine for 8.5 months now (yes, including over the holidays). Slowly, a few pounds (we're talking like 4 pounds) dropped despite no changes to my diet, but my body changed more than the scale was showing. I lost inches, my stomach flattened, I lost my "muffin top," my back become smoother, and yes, even my breasts became smaller. This was the second time I've had the revelation that what the scale says really only shows one part of a person's health. Increasing muscle mass changes your body in big ways, and of course, muscle replacing fat adds weight, but still gives a leaner look. Before my wedding, when I completed The New Rules of Weightlifting for Women, I had a similar experience. Even though I looked much thinner, I had lost only 7 pounds. The increase in my muscle mass and decrease in fat was what made a visual difference.

I record my weight each week (and make it a point to only step on the scale once a week), and in the last 2.5 months, my weight has stayed consistently the same. In my Weight Watcher days, I would have spent half an hour googling "ways to overcome plateau." Plateaus are a real thing for those trying to lose weight, but I've realized that with my BMI currently at 22.6 (normal is between 18.5 and 24.9), I'm not experiencing a plateau: my body is just happy where it is.

So, what is a happy weight? In my opinion, it's a weight that results in a healthy BMI and is achieved by eating well and exercising (in some way) on a daily basis. Due to my personality, I really don't struggle with moderation when it comes to my diet (for example, a chocolate bar shared can last a week in our house), but I have recently read more about the concept of moderators vs. abstainers, and I think finding your own style may be key.

In other words, the happy weight doesn't feel hard to maintain. You don't find yourself stressed out about what to eat when going out to a restaurant. You don't find yourself gaining weight after a week's vacation away from your routine and regular diet. You generally feel good about your body and don't frequently engage in thoughts about how it should change or compare yourself to other people. These are all signs that you've found your happy weight.

Maintaining the Happy Weight 
I'm a person that loves habits. For me, the key to maintaining has been finding an exercise that I enjoy and sticking with it. In my life, that means barre and yoga, and you can find me practicing one of those things, in some capacity, most everyday of the week. If I'm not in an actual class, I'm moving to a video in the living room. On vacation, I enjoyed hikes and walks with Brendan. Recently, I tried a spin class and loved it. I think moving everyday is key. Whether you walk, bike, run, take a class, lift weights, what matters is that you make moving a daily part of your life.

When it comes to diet, I am a moderator and cannot stand the idea of NEVER having something again. It's the reason why my diet is mostly vegetarian, but I won't stick to that 100% because, for me, I'd rather have a little meat if it's going to be really exceptional or allow me to experience a culture in a new way (like when we're traveling). I'm not going to eat a hot dog ever again because I don't care about hot dogs, but the thought of giving up sushi forever is an absolute no. Following this same principle, I don't cut anything out of my diet, but my diet is generally healthy. I generally eat throughout the day. For instance, yesterday, I had yogurt for breakfast, a cheese stick 3 hours later, a hard boiled egg 1 hour later, a lean cuisine 2 hours later, another hard boiled egg 2 hours later, a fruit smoothie an 1.5 hours later, and dinner 3 hours later. My family has a joke that I'm ALWAYS eating, and it's true, but this is what is normal for me, and I think it's good to listen to your body rather than try and condition it to function in a way that's more convenient.

So I don't say anything is "off limits," but I do try to make smart choices. When two friends had birthday parties at the same Mexican restaurant a day apart for instance, I had a salad and a frozen margarita one night, and I shared a spinach mushroom quesadilla with Brendan and had a skinny margarita the next night. Both nights, I ate chips because I love them. I left both times feeling satisfied but not stuffed.

The New Fitness Goals 
I'm a very goal oriented person, so I suspect setting small weight loss goals in the past was a way to indulge that side of my personality and give me something to work towards. But now? My goals are about fitness. My goals are to do X number of push-ups on my toes or make it to class X number of times per week. My goal is to wake up at 5AM Friday morning, so I can squeeze in a morning workout. My goal is to get stronger, so I can enjoy white water rafting, hiking, and kayaking this summer. My goal is to plank longer than I did yesterday. These goals are more satisfying to me than any goal to lose five pounds ever was. And maybe it's unsurprising, but I am also a lot more likely to reach these goals. Unlike the number on the scale, which is apt to fluctuate, strength is pretty linear, so the more I workout, the stronger I get. It's strength that allows me to do cool stuff, like hike to the top of a canyon at Big Bend, not a number on a scale.

Ultimately, you do you. If losing five pounds for that special event is what makes your heart sing, go for it. For me, planking for two minutes is the new joy, and I'm happy my new strength leads me to look and feel better as well. Finding what makes you happy is key, so I recommend accessing your goals and finding out if meeting them is bringing you joy. If not, change the goals. 

Here's to your goals, whatever they look like; may they bring you happiness!

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