I'd never given losing weight much thought.
Sure, I was unhappy with my body. Like many young women, I would give myself the stare-down in the change room mirror, squishing my stomach fat together with my fingers and wishing it away. I wasn't grossly overweight, but I didn't look the way I wanted to. I knew the problem lay in my eating habits: I often kept eating even when I wasn't hungry. I'd forget to eat all day, and then when dinner came around, I'd be so shaky that I'd shovel in the food.
I knew that if I wanted to be thinner, I should eat less, but the concept of not eating the foods I loved never seemed like an option.
So when I decided I wanted to lose weight, I knew I needed a plan. I'd heard about Weight Watchers from others who'd had success, and decided to sign up that September when I went back to school. The program was perfect -- I loved the accountability and routine. In the first four months, I lost 12 pounds, a gradual, healthy amount that reflected the change in my eating routine and lifestyle.
The logic behind the program is simple: track what you eat and you can eat whatever you want, as long as it falls within your Points limit (points are a modified way of measuring calories that take into account nutritional information). If you stay within your limit, you'll lose weight. The best way to achieve this is to eat smaller portion sizes and stop when you're full.
You get an extra 49 Points for the week to make room for special dinners, desserts or beer, and you earn more Points if you exercise. Fruit and most vegetables are 0 Points if they're raw or steamed, which is a good incentive to eat more produce.
Although I had some ups and downs, I eventually reached my goal weight last October and have stayed below it ever since. It took forever, as it should have: I had to change how I'd been eating my whole life.
That's why it bothers me that nonsense like juice cleanses, "clean eating" and cutting out entire food groups are still making the rounds as weight-loss solutions, because they don't work and health professionals, businesses and your best friend need to stop peddling them as if they do.
If you lose weight while on a juice cleanse or detox, it's because you're losing water and not getting enough calories -- that's about it. Few people will realistically be able to maintain this kind of diet because it means starving yourself.
Other quick fixes that are growing in popularity involve cutting out a certain food to "reduce inflammation" or "flush the fat" from your body. This kind of diet doesn't work at all, unless you're taking in fewer calories as a result. The whole concept is also nonsense. We don't need to flush out "toxins" -- the liver does that.
I like to think that we all know these things, but people still do the Master Cleanse, so maybe not. Losing weight is a simple equation of calories in versus calories out. Figuring out how to convince yourself to maintain a lower-calorie diet is another one entirely, but I feel like plans like Weight Watchers have mostly figured it out -- it's a lifestyle, not a diet, as the ads say.
But I get why extreme options are popular -- when you've been binging on so much food all holiday that you feel ill after every meal, the concept of going as far as possible the other way is an attractive idea.
It's also a dangerous one. I'm not implying that cleanses are the gateway to disordered eating, but the kind of fast reward they produce has awful parallels to the kind of satisfaction people who struggle with bulimia and anorexia derive from purging or drastically limiting their food intake.
Losing weight gradually over several months is way less exciting than losing it in two weeks. The boredom, restriction and physical weakness that results from eating only low-carb, steamed vegetables and broth-based soups for a week is offset by the joy of each trip to the scale. You feel slightly faint, dizzy and have trouble concentrating, but that means it's working, right?
If you make it to the end of the week, you can weigh in and do a big fist-pump, because you're down eight pounds! Then you're faced with a horrible question: will you have to eat like this forever? What can you eat instead? Most people, faced with the prospect of having to change their whole diet, wake up the next day and eat the same amount of cereal they did before starting the cleanse.
If you want to maintain your weight loss, you need to adopt a healthy-calorie-deficit plan BEFORE you decide to lose the weight that is appealing enough to stick with even after the excitement of shedding it fades. It's like a long-term relationship -- your partner has to be worth sticking around for after the initial thrill starts to ebb.
The lure of quick fixes won't go away anytime soon -- especially with Christmas coming up -- but I wish that companies, restaurants and 'holistic' health practitioners would stop endorsing them. Not only are they ineffective, they can be dangerous. We shouldn't be paying money to starve ourselves.