Diet-vendors aside, there seem to be two major health and weight camps out there. One, the "eat right and exercise" group. "Calories in, calories out" is the mantra, and it holds that if you eat healthily, and in reasonable portions, and exercise adequately, you will lose weight (if you are fat) and be healthy. Two, the "weight set point" group. They claim that everyone has a natural weight that we gravitate towards, and that any attempts to change it (say via exercise) will instead cause our metabolisms to compensate to maintain the setpoint weight. They don't diss exercise and healthy eating, and recognize disordered overeating as a problem, but are extremely weary of one's height and weight being used to diagnose the entirety of one's health.
My experience fits into neither category, which is frustrating as all hell.
I have always been fat. I remember, when I was five, my grandmother reassuring me that it was just "baby fat" and would go away. Later (I assume I was complaining about being fat) she told me you were only fat if you could "pinch an inch." When I demonstrated that I could, she tried to amend it ("on your side, not your tummy") but I wasn't having it.
I never dieted, all through high school and college. I steadily gained about 5 lbs a year (I thought at the time "getting fatter," now I tend to think "growing"), except the year I worked in an ice cream parlor. I lost 5 lbs because I wasn't sitting on my duff all afternoon.
Oh yes; I was very sedentary. I have excellent coordination from my wrists to my fingertips; the rest is a mess. Our gym teacher said she couldn't understand why anyone would pay for a gym membership when they could join a rec league; lady, it's because some of us suck at all sports and hate them. So I avoided them. My bicycle was something to ride from necessity, not for pleasure. I didn't like to go fast, I couldn't go up hills - it was an exercise in shame more than anything else, to go out on my bike with my sister and her friend.
College; more of the same. I took a weight training class and worked out for a few months; that fell apart at midterms. I tried a step dancing class; fell apart when I got so far behind the group that I was practically in tears after each stumble-footed class. I wanted to try SCA fencing; no car on campus, no nearby local practice, nothing came of it. I tried to eat as well as I could, but come on - college cafeteria food. I put on another 20 lbs in five years.
Grad school! My own place, my own kitchen. Out with the junk food: no chips, no cookies, no ice cream were kept in the house. Reasonable portions! Fresh vegetables! I'm eating healthy, right? Better than in college! So I should lose some weight, right?
Nope. On the other hand, I didn't gain much either, for 3 years. Then my mother got sick and died, and I put on ten pounds through stress eating.
Now, by set point weight theory, this ten pounds should have come off when I stopped stress eating. But it didn't. Neither did it come off when I started biking to school. Or when I joined Curves, 30 min a day, 4 days a week. Nor did it when I joined a real gym, with a personal trainer, 60 min a day, 3 days a week, plus another 30 min on a fourth day.
I was mad. I was eating well. I'd even gone to a nutritionist who confirmed this for me. I was exercising - with results. I could lift more and more weight each week, and go farther and farther on the elliptical in my 30 min run. My weight? Did not budge. Even the trainer was mystified. Of course, you can attribute some of it to "muscle is heavier than fat," but come on. I was 170 lbs, and it was not all transmuting to muscle. The "eat right and exercise" formula wasn't working.
So, for the first time in my life, I went on a diet. First, it was an 1800 calorie-a-day diet. I made a spreadsheet listing the caloric content of foods I commonly ate, down to the milk in my morning coffee and the pat of butter on my vegetables at dinner. I scheduled five small meals per day. It was actually not bad - on 1800 calories, I usually wasn't hungry at all.
But I wasn't losing weight. Even with my workout schedule. So I cut it back to 1500 calories a day.
Go and ask a naturally thin person if they make spreadsheet of what they are going to eat that day, if they know that an egg has 70 calories and a large orange around 80. One tablespoon of fat - butter or olive oil, doesn't matter - is 100. Thirteen baby carrots in a serving, 30 - or was it 35? - calories.
Normal people do not eat like this.
Check out the Minnesota Starvation Study. Hot damn, yes. Hungry all the time, fixated on food. It's no way to live. Although I think I did lose a pound or two.
Anyway, then we moved. I couldn't make it easily to the University gym and was finishing my dissertation, so I stress-ate my way to another 10 lbs. I eventually joined a new gym and started working out again. My weight started to creep up again, and for the first time, I felt physically fat - that my body was too big for my frame. I was getting in my own way. I signed up for a boxing class, was in the gym for 60-90 minutes a day, 4 days a week, and finally dropped... 2 pounds.
Then I got pregnant.
I stayed within the recommended weight gain for an overweight woman. To my astonishment, I got all kinds of mad compliments for this, commending my self-restraint and willpower. What? My first trimester, I was too queasy to eat. And after that, I never got the second-trimester appetite you hear about. I just ate normally.
And afterwards, when I shed my pregnancy weight within weeks and then lost twenty-five pounds over several months? I was doing nothing out of the ordinary, except breast-feeding. No gym. I ate more than when I was pregnant, for pity's sake. The weight just came off. Again with the compliments for something that I had nothing to do with. This, it seemed, was how the weight set point thing was supposed to work. Maybe pregnancy and nursing was the metabolic kick I needed to get it going? But why didn't all that time in the gym do jack or shit for it?
So here we are. The weight is starting to come back - I suspect this has to do with my closer proximity of and patronage at a McDonald's (mmm, steak McSkillet Burrito). I'm not working out, although I'd like to be - I actually enjoy it, you see, and the additional strength it gives me and the pride I take in that. Also because, whether or not it makes me any skinnier, there are definite health benefits to exercise, and I want them.
I am about ready to give up on controlling my weight. If I were to embark upon a Basic Training-like regime of physical fitness, surely something could be done. But I don't have the hours a day to devote to that. I can control what I eat, and make sure that it is good for me. I can get an RDA of exercise to make up for my sedentary job and hobbies. Hopefully, those things together will make me healthier and more energetic. But more slender? I doubt it. Insanity, they say, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.