Monday, April 12, 2010

Why Can I Still Get So Upset When I Gain Weight?

This past Tuesday night, I had a bad weigh in at Weight Watchers as I gained 2.4 pounds. While I try to approach the scale with zero expectations to prevent some kind of emotional boomerang, I do not always succeed. As I wait in line for my turn to get weighed, I can always come up with arguments as to why I might lose weight that week and why I might gain. I honestly could tell the Weight Watchers group leader that my gaining weight wasn't entirely a surprise, but I could not stop the total funk it sent me into that night.

Sitting through the meeting did not turn around my emotional downward spiral. All the way home, I tried to figure out why I had eaten so much the past week that I gained nearly two and a half pounds. My sister and parents had visited about a week for Easter. Did I just fall back into old, bad habits around them? Did I treat the holiday and visit as an excuse to eat more than I should and a break from my healthy eating lifestyle? I know my portion control was not as good as it could be, and I definitely ate a decent amount of "treat" foods several days in a row. Heck, one day I had the Baskin-Robbins equivalent of a Dairy Queen Heath Bar Blizzard for lunch. That was really going to help me lose weight.

My original plan for the week had been to not keep a food diary on Easter Sunday but to do so all the other days. Ha! I stopped writing down what I was eating the second my parents and sister arrived and did not restart until they left. I was not on my best "healthy writer" behavior.

I asked even tougher questions. Was I stressed out by sharing my one-bedroom apartment with 3 other adults for 6 days and that made me do some stress eating? Was the visit making me feel emotions I was unwilling to face? I know that unacknowledged emotions can make me overeat to try to avoid them. I also know people joke about how they revert back to old roles when they visit their family, and I do sometimes feel like I'm a different person around my parents and sister than I am in other environments. Did I not like the role I played in my family at times? Was I upset by other family dynamics?

Honestly, all of the above questions were possible, and I never really could come up with a definitive answer as to why I overate during their visit. I tried to throw off my gloom enough to enjoy the last night with my parents in town, but I was back in funk mode when I went to bed. Now, I could add feeling bad about not being in the best mood that night. It got to the point that my bad feelings from one area - the weight gain - seemed to bleed into other areas of my life until I was not happy about anything.

Luckily, Wednesday was such a busy day at work I could not waste time nurturing a funk about gaining weight. I made it a priority to go to a Zumba class that night, and it was the best hour of my day. I danced my bad mood away. I also realized that I had not tried to comfort or soothe my funk away with emotional eating and was very proud of that. In previous Weight Watchers attempts, a 2.4 pound gain would have sent me straight to a restaurant to get a burger, fries and soda or some other equally beloved but unhealthy meal and to start thinking about how impossible it was for me to lose weight. Why should I even bother? Soon, I could talk myself into quitting, but that old, bad road to self-sabotage has been pretty much destroyed by the power of promising myself I'd give it my all for a year to lose weight no matter what.

When I returned home from another Zumba class Thursday night, I started to wonder why I could still get so upset when I gain weight. I know better. (Yes, I have been accused of thinking too much several times, and I think analysis paralysis is a brilliant description of a state I know well.) In fact if I eliminated the weigh-in results, I could construct a triumphant narrative of the past week. My original intention for my April 12 blog post was to talk a bit about another bonus of spring - the change over of fall/winter clothes to spring/summer clothes and how that can be another wonderful way to show how much smaller you are getting.

We've had stretches of warm to very warm weather in the DC area in the past month, so I'd already started the clothing changeover. I had a lot of gaps in my wardrobe as most of the new clothes I bought last summer were too big and given away. My sister had informed me in late February when she had to make an unscheduled, last-minute business trip to DC that I had no cute tops. We were going through my clothes trying to find something she could wear to a business appointment the next day. She had not had the time to go back to her apartment to get some clean clothes before she had to hop on the train for DC. I'm finally reaching the size that I can lend her some of my clothes to wear, and that's another tangible sign of progress.

When my sister and I hit the outlet mall the Saturday before Easter, she reminded me I needed cute tops, and I knew I had other clothing items I needed to look for. I spent a couple of hours at the Ann Taylor outlet (yes, I realize I'm almost obsessed with all things Ann Taylor and can even explain why) and was absolutely thrilled to fit into a bunch of very cute medium or size 10 tops, jackets, pants, skirts and dresses. I even got into a couple of size 8 a-line skirts. This was more, very tangible proof that I'm continuing to get smaller, and I happily walked out of that store with several bags. I pretty much have a kick-butt spring/summer wardrobe now.

So, I had a lot of reasons to feel good about myself at Weight Watchers Tuesday night. I always dress up for the meeting, so I know I look good (even if I gain weight), and last week was no exception. I was wearing a wonderful Ann Taylor wrap-around dress that had been too small when I ordered it online last summer but fits beautifully now and a pair of sexy, hot, blue sandals. (I chose "sexy" and "hot" on purpose as those are two words people have started to use in reference to me to my surprise.) I'd gotten several compliments at work that day, and I was feeling darn good about myself until I read in my book how much I had gained. My group leader who had weighed me in had (wisely) not told me exactly how big of a gain it was. I shouldn't have looked to see how much it was until later that week when I was back practicing my healthy eating and exercise habits and more removed from the moment. But, I looked, I knew I had gained 2.4 pounds, and I wallowed.

Now, I have gained 24 times at my 61 Weight Watchers weigh ins since the beginning of 2009. My worst gain on this journey was 3.4 pounds on August 20, 2009, (business trip) followed by a gain of 3.2 pounds on Oct. 15, 2009, (also known as the night all hope was lost) after a visit to my parents. Five times my gain was in the two pound range (2 - 2.6). On six separate occasions, I gained for two weeks in a row. Gaining weight is no stranger to me on my journey to become and stay a healthy writer, and I've worked hard to learn how to take these temporary set backs in stride.

I know that these gains are eventually followed by losses if I just keep at it. The Aug. 20th gain was followed by weekly losses of 1.6, 1.4, 1.4 and 4.6. My Oct. 15th gain of 3.2 pounds was wiped out by a 3.2 pound loss on Oct. 21. I remember staring at the Weight Watchers receptionist as she gushed over the loss and I said that's exactly what I gained last week. The slate was wiped clean, and all that drama and emotional turmoil I went through on the 15th was a tempest in a teapot. It was a waste of energy.

The most important thing is that I've not allowed any of these gains to convince me to quit. Yes, some of them have been very tough to take emotionally (and hormones may have played a role in that at least twice), but I have tried to be patient and persevere. No matter what, I will keep working at it and not give up. I have lost more than 30 pounds that way and know that if I continue to do that, I will eventually reach a healthy weight and stay there.

How do you handle it when you gain weight? Do you have any advice for me for my next (inevitable) weight gain? How do you keep going? What's the secret to being patient and persevering?


Sally Kilpatrick on April 12, 2010 at 6:48 AM said...


Wow, you would like advice from me? Oh she who lost over 30 pounds then promptly put back on 10 when her schedule got a little hectic? My only advice is that you keep on keeping on. You're obviously on to something that all of us can clearly see. (or read about)

Of course, I think "keep on keeping on" is the best advice for both writing and weight loss--not that I always follow such advice. This past week I gained 4 pounds while on vacation. Ridiculous. That said, it's time for a cleanse and to rededicate my life. (Wow, religion falls under that keep on... category, too) Anyhoo, I was none too happy when I looked at the scale this morning, but I knew I had eaten just about everything in sight while at Disney World. The only bonus is that I'm actually craving healthy foods after so much junk--apparently Mickey is allergic to honest to goodness vegetables cooked properly.

I think you're doing everything you need to do. I will say that the last few pounds are the ones that are the hardest to lose because you're so close that you'll sabotage yourself my saying, "Nah, this is close enough."

Rachel Kleinsorge on April 12, 2010 at 8:12 AM said...

I think the trick here is to examine your goals. The title of the blog is Healthy Writer, not Skinny Writer. Is weight loss really your number one goal?

It sounds like you've already spent enough time fixing the blame, now fix the problem. Take a deep breath and get on with doing better. Sure we all feel a bit like this but it's not about what happens sometimes, or even what happened last week, it's about what you're doing overall. You know you're doing better. You can tell from your clothes that you're reaching your goals. Celebrate your success, learn from your failures, and keep moving forward!

And Sally! There are healthy veggies at Disney! I know, I've eaten them. I'll have to blog about where you can find them. Until then, I'll bet you did a ton of walking in 'the World' so don't beat yourself up too much.

Michelle Butler on April 12, 2010 at 9:42 AM said...


Thanks for the advice! One of the things our WW group leader tends to ask when we gain weight is did you enjoy yourself? I pretty much did enjoy myself the week around Easter. Did you enjoy your vacation? I hope so! I do know that these "shared experiences" make me happier than going through my day-to-day life and routine able to maintain my healthy habits without challenge even if the shared experiences can cause blips in my downward weight projectory.

Having looked at my WW book recently and thought about the times I have gained weight since 1/09, they have tended to be when things were hectic or heavy on the social side with lots of events revolving around eating. The latter is definitely the "fun times" when I gained weight and the former are the times when I lost sight of taking care of myself/stress eating. It's good insight.

And, thanks for the encouragement. It is incredibly powerful coming from someone who has lost 30 pounds and is trying to figure out how to keep it off. Congrats again on your accomplishment! I do believe in the need for "keep on keeping on" but I can lose sight of that for a day or two (particularly when I'm hormonal). I'm usually aware of the effect of that, but it just took me longer to shake it off this past week. Best wishes on the rededication!

Michelle Butler on April 12, 2010 at 9:49 AM said...

Thank you for helping me see the big picture. I don't want to make weight loss the most important thing in my life - I do want to enjoy the "healthy writer" journey and life and I don't want obsession with what I weigh to get in the way of feeling good about myself and enjoying life. Weight loss is not my number 1 goal, but it is important. Actually, I'm not sure I could identify my number 1 goal. I have many that I try to chip away at - each in its own time.

I think I just sometimes get impatient with it all, but overall, I'm in a very good place and just need to remind myself that at times.

Michelle Butler on April 12, 2010 at 9:59 AM said...

Re: I will say that the last few pounds are the ones that are the hardest to lose because you're so close that you'll sabotage yourself my saying, "Nah, this is close enough."

Back to me: I do think about this a lot. I have realized I can self-sabotage myself on stuff I supposedly really want, and I'm trying to break that pattern. That's why I am focusing so hard on getting back to the healthy weight zone as defined by BMI/Weight Watchers as 124 to 155 for a 5'6" person.

Size-wise, I'm getting beyond what I thought was ever possible. I think the overall number on the scale just plays with my mind still. I weigh in the low 180s and have nearly 30 pounds to go to get back in that healthy weight zone. I do think I tend to look like I weigh less than I do based on what people say and my clothes size(perhaps because of how much I exercise and other stuff about the body I have - Trish says my bones must be heavy), but I do want to get to the point doctors would say I'm in a healthy weight as opposed to overweight.

Ah well. I just had a bad week in my thinking and feelings about this, but I'm back on track. I didn't let those bad feelings/thoughts convince me to overeat (which is a huge accomplishment). In fact, I've practically had a perfect week in terms of my eating, and I increased my exercise. I didn't eat out once. I bet tomorrow's weigh in will go well. If it doesn't, I'll just remind myself it will eventually and keep on keeping on.

Elise Hayes on April 12, 2010 at 11:29 AM said...

Hey Michelle!

Good for you for turning that downward spiral back upwards. Your ability and willingness to engage in self-reflection is your biggest ally in this life change, I think. You looked at the past week, examined what happened and how you were feeling, and then you found ways to move forward. That's great!

I've gained two pounds in the past week as well, due to all the Easter candy around my house. It's been a fun detour into the world of sweets (and is pretty much inevitable with a small child in the house) but I've hit my personal upper limit in terms of weight, so no more candy for me until I'm back down to my mid-range for weight.

On the plus side, I've been eating raw veggies as a late-afternoon snack over the past week or so and it's really upped my veggie intake daily (and been surprisingly filling). Yay Healthy Writer!

Michelle Butler on April 12, 2010 at 11:43 AM said...

Thanks, Elise! I need to do this self-reflection in order to continue to make forward progress. In some ways, I have no other choice.

I hope the candy was good. :) I did eat a decent amount of jelly beans the week around Easter too.

One of the things that always surprises me when I'm once again trying to increase how many vegetables I eat is just how flavorful and even sweet fresh veggies can be - and how diverse their flavors are. A carrot can be so sweet. Who knew fennel tastes so much like licorice? Experimenting with veggies can be fun. My mom is very good at this, and I try to take a page from her.

Another thing my mom and I did this past week that was very successful was to find a greek yogurt and cucumber sauce recipe (tzatziki)online. We first made it to put on our lamb sandwiches, but it was also great w/ raw veggies. It was also super healthy. You may want to try it.

Best wishes getting back to your mid-range for weight. :)

Elise Hayes on April 12, 2010 at 2:36 PM said...

Oh, yes, I LOVE tztziki and would love to have the recipe. Maybe you can post it? I was thinking a dip would be perfect for the veggies, but I didn't want the unhealthiness of a dressing or the extra fat of sour cream, but I could go with nonfat or lowfat yoghurt...

Michelle Butler on April 12, 2010 at 5:48 PM said...

There are lots of recipes online. We ended up using the following bc it was by far the easiest, and we had everything on hand. We used regular, nonfat yoghurt (lucerne brand) instead of greek yoghurt.

Tazaki Sauce


1 cup greek yogurt

Juice of half a lemon

Half of a cucumber, seeded and minced

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp oregano


Combine all ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit at least an hour in the fridge. Use as a dipping sauce for pita or add to my Chicken Spanikopita burgers as a condiment.


Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on April 12, 2010 at 11:03 PM said...

Michelle, another wonderful post that I suspect will help not only you but the rest of us here. You always have such good insight.

Holidays and vacations and traveling are so bad at derailing our efforts.

Michelle Butler on April 13, 2010 at 9:20 AM said...

Thanks, Trish! :) Since I can be such an emotional eater, I need to examine stuff like this so I can continue my forward progress.

Michelle Butler on April 13, 2010 at 9:05 PM said...

Update: I lost .6 of a pound this week. Truthfully, I felt like I had done enough work to lose more, but I just need to keep relearning the lesson of how important patience and perseverance are. :)

Diane Gaston on April 14, 2010 at 8:02 AM said...

Michelle, when you gain again, re-read this blog! Truly, you are my inspiration. In my short journey (so far) when I show a gain, I think of you and how you haven't given up even with a slow weight loss (not big losses like on The Biggest Loser!)
And you look terrific.

Michelle Butler on April 14, 2010 at 9:15 AM said...

Thanks, Diane! I really appreciate your encouragement.

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