I was thinking more about how mistaken I was about achieving and maintaining a lean body. Instead of special ultra-challenging x-week workout programs and expensive trainers, it took moving in ways I enjoy every day and doing it very consistently. Instead of always pushing my limits, recovery and sleep needed to be the priorities. Instead of being a rigid, highly-organized, unstoppable machine, willing to sacrifice everything for my goals, I needed relaxation, stress management, flexibility, curiosity, and kindness. Instead of a weird, restrictive diet, it took no diet, no rules, and nothing off limits. Instead of my food days being all divided up between workout and non-workout, low-carb and high carb, weekday and weekend, diet days and cheat days, my approach is the same no matter where I am, what day it is, or what's being served. So consistency again, moderation.
I think I'm most surprised by the food. I was one hundred percent convinced that abs were the result of broccoli, oatmeal, protein powder, and skinless chicken breasts. Not much else! But the reality has been more like cheese, mayonnaise, candy bars, and Honey Bunches of Oats. I ate all of those today, plus carrots, blueberries, avocado, flaxseeds, red bell pepper, tomatoes, cherries, almonds, strawberries, and many other foods. So, everything. Moderation.
Why did that work? Specifically, why did it work this time when non-dieting, intuitive eating, and skipping the gym had resulted in substantial weight gain for me in the past, not abs.
I'm pretty sure that previous brushes with moderation and intuitive eating always happened as a pressure valve response to restriction. I'd try them when I couldn't diet anymore, when I was exhausted from overtraining. I'd think, well maybe there's an alternative, but because of my restrictive mindset and recent undereating, my body would gasp for food. I would ignore fullness. In the IE book they call it eating without attunment. I was allowing myself to eat anything but there was a rebellious streak, and plenty of fear, and the assumption that it probably wouldn't work for me and I'd have to go back to dieting. I was eating all this stuff because I could, and because I hadn't allowed it in years, not because I was physically hungry. Fullness was a mystery as well.
So, I'd gain weight, get scared, decide I was broken, and go back to restricting my food intake. This time I gained weight, got scared, questioned the thought that I was broken, and kept practicing moderation anyway, even though it was scary and messy. I realized that moderation and eating to appetite are skills to be learned, not a matter of luck. There was the underlying thought that some lucky naturally thin people could eat that way but I couldn't. I'd gain. I'd fail. I had to find the willingness to keep practicing, which honestly wasn't that hard because the practice was delicious and fun.
Those of you who have been on Happy Eaters a long time may remember that I had achieved this weight years ago using more of a deliberate weight loss, control and willpower approach. It was "happy" control and willpower, the Bethenny Frankel "go anywhere and eat anything but not too much" mindset. It felt like freedom at the time but I was unsustainably hungry. I was eating what I wanted but clearly not as much as I needed. I didn't trust my appetite or use that as a guide so my body was not happy with the situation. I chose to eat more and gain (about 7 pounds) and felt much better.
What I think was different this time, sitting at that same weight but not fighting hunger, not feeling restrained, is that I did it more slowly while truly eating to appetite. My brain and metabolism are both very happy. I think my appetite is more polite because I'm eating regular meals to satisfaction and not overtraining. My brain is happy thanks to sticking much more with reality and the present moment instead of emotional past/future stories about what it all means. My brain can kick off an awful lot of food and weight drama if it's allowed to run amok. That tends to undermine everything.
I also have a hunch that my metabolism is faster and my energy needs are higher this time from being well-fed and well-rested. I have a lot more energy which results in more spontaneous movement and a higher burn. Back when I found this weight unsustainable, the "less food" approach was draining. Draining never becomes a pleasant lifestyle.