Content note: This post contains mentions of previous and present weight gains and losses (intentional and unintentional). It also contains considerations of how my symptoms may be affected by my current weight, and how I plan to handle that. If that’s not your thing, you might want to skip this post. I am saying these things in the most matter of fact way. I don’t mean to convey shame, as I would have in the past when speaking about weight; just transparency.
Here’s how things are moving along in injury-ville:
My mood is getting better as I am getting more used to my new routine and the new season at work is getting into a groove.
Movement-wise, I have a full plate of activity between swimming 3 times per week and physical therapy twice per week, plus physical therapy exercises to do at home. Swimming is getting easier and I am able to enjoy it now. So much, in fact, that I would consider continuing even after I am cleared to lift again! I have physical therapy exercises to do at home, and sometimes I do bodyweight exercises like assisted pull ups or incline push ups at the park. I am anxious to get back to lifting but nervous too because I don’t want to make my spine worse. I still sometimes feel some tingling in my feet or in my right quadricep. I have a follow up appointment with the doctor in a couple weeks.
I still have back aches when standing or walking for too long. That definitely makes me miss lifting.
I’m starting to feel more open to the idea of losing some weight. Well, I guess I was always open to the idea, because of the whole thin privilege thing, but it didn’t factor into my decisions on what habits to choose to work on. If only diets worked for more than a minority of people in the long term (ha!)…..
A bit of history: When I was 8, 9 and 10 months pregnant I had back aches when standing or even sitting for long periods of time. Back aches are common in pregnancy so I treated them by going for massage twice a week in the later weeks and resting my back a lot.
After my son’s birth, my body went down below my pre-pregnancy weight very quickly and without any effort on my part. It hovered about 10 to 15 pounds below pre- pregnancy weight for about a year. (Before you say “aren’t you lucky,” ask me how I felt physically during that year, with undiagnosed sleep apnea and a high needs baby who didn’t like to sleep and liked to nurse 20 times per day until he was over a year old.)
Currently, I am not pregnant, and I weigh 25 to 30 pounds more than I did when I was at my heaviest in pregnancy (so, about 80 pounds heavier than I was during my son’s first year). Some of that weight gain is undoubtedly muscle from increased activity and lifting heavy weights. But knowing how these things work, I doubt that more than 15 to 20 lbs of it is muscle. So, we are talking at least 60 to 65 pounds of water, glycogen, and fat gain. My body naturally gains a lot of fat above my waist (belly and boobs), and very little below the waist. So, according to my back muscles, I doubt this weight gain feels any different from my pregnancy weight gain (though the muscles are stronger and had a higher limit this time…since I did not gain as much weight during pregnancy).
So, knowing my experience with back aches while pregnant, and knowing that my body is now holding a similar or greater amount of weight in my upper body as it did while pregnant, I am pretty sure that my back aches can be partially explained by weight gain. (And of course, partially explained by my two herniations and older compression injury).
Now, what does that mean for me in the context of knowing that diets don’t work, and most people who lose weight in the short term regain it in the long term, and often gain more weight than they lose?
But I can’t change the past. I can only ask myself “what can I do today to care for myself and manage the aches and set myself up for less pain and better function in the future, to the degree that it is within my control?”
Knowing that diets don’t work for most people (statistics), and knowing my own personal outcomes from dieting (both physical and mental), dieting is not an option.
Looking at my current lifestyle and habits, an area where I do have some room to play is with Intuitive Eating. Specifically honing in on “distracted eating / distraction eating.” I never thought of myself as an emotional eater because I don’t tend to eat when I feel sad or angry. But recently I realized that I do tend to eat sometimes when I am not hungry. For example, needing to take a break from what I am doing, and reaching for a snack even if not hungry (distraction eating). Or, taking seconds at a meal even if I am not hungry, because the meal tasted good,or because I am watching TV and not thinking about it (distracted eating). I wouldn’t so much call it emotional eating as eating out of habit. I am realizing that these are long standing habits. I remember staying up late in college and we would eat snacks or go to “fourth meal.” My husband and I have had the habit of snacking at night too (incidentally, my husband is thin and always has been).
So for the past week or so I have been working on establishing a new habit: if I am eating, I ask myself “why do I want this?” If I am hungry, that is an easy question to answer. If I am not hungry, the answer is usually “I need a break or a distraction” or “I need to decompress at the end of the day” or “eating this is pleasurable” or “I dunno, I am just reaching for it out of habit.”
Then, once I answer the question of “why do I want this,” I have the option of choosing what I want to do with this information. For example:
- “I am hungry so I am going to eat this” or
- “I need to take a break from my desk so I am going to take a walk or go run an errand or browse at the bookstore” or
- “I need to decompress so I am going to change into my pajamas and read a book or watch a show upstairs away from the kitchen” or
- “eating this would taste really good but I am not hungry now so I am just going to have a bite and then find something else to do.”
Notice that I said “I have the option of choosing what I want to do with this information.” I did not say “I have the obligation to do a certain thing with this information.” This is very important for me because I have a history of being forced and coerced by others into dieting. When I was growing up, “are you sure you are hungry for that?” was always a loaded question, dripping with fear and concern. Now that I am an adult I don’t want to put myself through the same sense of obligation and coercion. So I’m just experimenting with it to see how it feels.
One concern I have about trying this habit that may lead to some weight loss is that I may become attached to the outcome of weight loss. The past year and half has felt wonderful for me mentally, as I shifted my focus onto other things. I fear the possibility of going back to a place where I obsess about the way my body looks and nothing is ever good enough. For now, in order to mitigate that concern, I remind myself the following:
- Intuitive Eating is not a weight loss program. Some people lose weight, some people gain weight, and some people stay the same.
- Regardless of what happens to my weight, becoming more conscious of and reducing distracting/distracted eating will likely have positive effects on my budget, my mental health, and perhaps my hemoglobin A1c.
- If this stops feeling good to me for any reason, I can stop or do something else or explore why it doesn’t feel good.
I have some concerns about what this means for me and fat positivity. But I am tired of having back aches and so I am willing to explore this rather than holding onto an ideology. Rigid thinking hasn’t worked out for me in the past. So I can absolutely advocate for fat acceptance and treating fat people with respect while also trying something that might help my back stop aching.
And for anyone who thinks this means that because I am experiencing a health problem means that HAES doesn’t “work”, have a read: Am I Healthy At Any Weight? by Dare to Not Diet.
Now, we all know that IF weight loss happens, it may be very slow and it will likely not be permanent. So I find it helpful to ask what else can I do TODAY to help me feel good and manage the back aches, besides tuning into my feelings when I want to eat (because IF that helps with back pain, it will be “eventually,” not “today!”).
Today I can go swimming. The water helps. This morning I had some back pain. I tried an aqua Zumba class, then swam laps for a few minutes. Then I sat in the hot tub for a few minutes, applying the jets to my lower back. That helped a lot. So, consistency with movement that feels good to my current body is something I can do today.
Pacing myself with activity that requires standing and walking for long periods is something I can do today.
Doing my physical therapy exercises at home is something I can do today.
Having patience is something I can do today.
Keeping my self talk constructive is something I can do today. When I find myself thinking “I wish I could hike like I did last summer,” I can acknowledge that feeling, and then be glad that I can go swimming instead at least, and that swimming feels great.
Those are some things I can do today.
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