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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Settling into maintenance mode

Originally published Nov. 26, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

It’s been nine months since I had gastric-bypass surgery, and this is the first month I’ve logged less than a 10-pound loss. Though it was a jarring realization when I first stepped on the scale, I’ve been expecting this.

The rate of loss typically begins to slow sometime between six and 12 months post-op. The slowdown occurs for a couple of reasons. One is that, as a person gets closer to his or her goal, the body naturally slows down in preparation for maintenance. The other is that, after six months, a surgical weight-loss patient’s dietary restrictions are reduced and “normal” eating resumes.

“Normal” does not mean “same as pre-op.” Resuming the bad habits that led to obesity is a bad choice at best. Normal is merely a label describing how the patient should eat for the rest of his or her life. And as somebody who is going through the process, I can tell you that normal is scary.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve made some discoveries that disturb me. Not only can I eat more in a single sitting than before, but cravings and “head hunger” have returned. For the uninitiated, head hunger is when you think you’re hungry even though there is no possible way your belly could be empty. I find head hunger most often occurs for me within a couple hours of eating a low-protein meal or during times of stress. The head hunger attacks are different, depending upon their cause. When I’m stressed, I feel that I’m famished, even if I have just eaten. But when I haven’t had enough protein, I just feel peckish. It’s as if I go all day long without ever being satisfied by what I eat. I’m not necessarily hungry, just not full.I imagine these phenomena didn’t develop overnight. They’ve probably been quietly lurking beneath the surface for the past couple of months. But now that I’ve recognized them, I have to work hard against them.

This is proof to me that there is no magic pill when it comes to weight loss. Even having my digestive tract rearranged didn’t stop me from having to come to terms with my brain’s ability to sabotage my efforts. The only difference between my current struggle and my weight loss attempts in the past is that surgery enabled me to lose a substantial amount of weight before my mind could interfere. In my old life, I would have lost 20 pounds at this point and felt so far from my goal. But now, I am closer than I have ever been to a normal weight. I’ve lost 150 pounds, and my goal is 35 pounds away — so close I can almost taste it. My goal will come within the next six months, provided I don’t let myself get sidetracked.

Though I still struggle with my eating habits — primarily not going back to my old ways — I am more focused than ever. I work out harder at the gym than I have in the past. Every day that I’m on the treadmill, I’m pushing myself. Last week, I went from walking 30 minutes at a pace of 3.5 miles an hour Tuesday to 30 minutes at 3.7 on Friday. It may not seem like much of an improvement, but it’s made the difference for me from glistening after 30 minutes to being drenched in sweat. I also push myself more on the weight machines. I’m more apt to increase the weight now and then, if only for my last couple of reps.

For some reason, pushing myself so hard at the gym makes me more attuned to my eating habits as well. I’m not perfect, but I find myself paying more attention to my portion size and making better choices on days when I’ve had a tough workout. In my old life, I would have considered a hard workout reason to reward myself with a Carmelo Sensation from Barista’s. Now, I reward myself with a shot of wheatgrass juice from Jamba Juice. I figure if I just finished burning 400 calories, I’d like to keep them off — not invite them back for a visit.

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