By San San Lee
Several years ago, I lost 50 pounds. After being diagnosed with high blood pressure, I realized it was time to take action.
It was hard.
It took me 11 months and I went down three sizes in jeans. My blood pressure also went down, and I was off the medication. To reduce the weight, I had to give up many things: wine, desserts, ribs, cheese, French fries, and many others that I used to indulge. I exercised regularly and did yoga. I got there by complying with the “rules.” One set of rules for permitted items to eat (mostly, vegetable and lean meats), and another with off-limits foods (fries and ice cream, etc.). I abandoned the prior “no rules” of eating it all. Back then, I thought I’d stick with my new weight-loss strategy, and then, I could go back to my old ways. By the time I lost the weight, I was sick and tired of steamed broccoli and baked chicken!
After 11 months of sticking with the rules, I no longer wanted to go through it again. I had worked too hard and felt great. With less weight, things got a lot easier. The weight-loss rules no longer applied, but if I went back to my old ways, I knew the weight would be back, and I would need to lose the weight or risk going back on blood pressure medication. I didn’t want to be another victim of yo-yo dieting.
At the same time, I also wanted to reintroduce the “forbidden” items, but how much and how often? I was a bit apprehensive at first. I knew that I couldn’t go back to my old ways or stay in weight loss mode forever. I had to find a “happy medium,” which required discipline and vigilance. To do that, I struggled to reconcile between how I lived my life before the weight loss and how I had to live to maintain my health. Often, I had to say “no” to another glass of wine or a piece of chocolate. It would have been easy to default to my old way of “eat it all,” but I had to let it go. I had to accept that things were different. I needed to develop new habits and live my life accordingly. I knew my desire to “eat it all” would hold me back from making sustainable progress, so I struggled to find a balance.
That was almost nine years ago, and I’ve kept the weight off. Over time, through hard work and persistence, the self-monitoring has become mostly automatic. Yet, the struggle to find the balance to keep the weight off was more difficult than losing the weight.
As I live through the pandemic, I see a similar struggle. It was easier when the “rules” were clear, much like the weight loss rules. In March, the lockdown required us to stay at home, limit our contact with others, wash our hands, wear face coverings, and maintain social distancing. We reduced the infection rate and the curve flattened. We waited for the reopening, hoping that the lockdown would be short-lived and our lives would go back to “normal.”
While the lockdown slowed the spread of the virus, it did not disappear. We knew that. When the country began to reopen in May, most Americans were apprehensive about the possible rise in the infection rate. The uneasiness was well-founded. Infection rates in our city, county, state, and other states around the country are skyrocketing. I also was concerned about the reopening because it was unclear what it would look like or mean. Would we be able to go back to the “old normal” or would our activities be restricted? It turned out for many, reopening meant that we could abandon the “weight loss” rules and go back to our old ways of “eat it all,” or more appropriately, “do it all,” rather than seek a balance. We were not prepared to reintegrate activities slowly and modify our pre-pandemic behaviors to develop new habits to ward off the spread of the virus.
The “do it all” behaviors returned during the Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, along with the “normalcy” of summer. It was as though we gorged after a fast, without regard for the inevitable consequences. Now, shutdowns are recurring, and we are back on a “diet” to starve the virus once more – a consequence of our over-indulgence.
Much like yo-yo dieting, many parts of the country are on a yo-yo of closures, reopening, partial closures, reopening, as the infection rates go up and down. According to various infectious disease experts, the yo-yo will likely continue unless we take personal responsibility and modify our behaviors to stop the spread of the virus.
So, where do we go from here?
The virus is very much with us and will likely be with us in the near term. Unfortunately, life is not a Hollywood movie – vaccines and cures do not appear overnight. Until a viable medical option is available, we must learn and adapt our behaviors to minimize the spread as we go about our day. We need to stop the yo-yo.
We must learn to live more cautiously, with vigilance and consideration for the health of others as well as ourselves. Much like a post weight-loss plan, we need to exercise moderation – engage in some pre-pandemic activities, but perhaps not as often and not in the same way, and in many instances, with caution and safeguards. Simply put, we need to follow the rules, even if it means giving up the past and sacrificing our desires. Many already do this, but given the rising infection rates, it’s clear that we need to do better.
Yes, it’s a bummer, and it takes work – but it’s a much better alternative than being on the Corona yo-yo.