Loved your story! The headline jumped out at me because I had a similar experience; in my early-20s, my weight climbed inexplicably, and I went from about 120lb to, eventually, 155lb or so. My doctors couldn’t understand why, I couldn’t understand why, and I felt despondent about it, like I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror, didn’t feel physically comfortable, but also had no idea or guidance regarding how to change it (since nobody knew what could have caused it). On top of that, no amount of exercise seemed to be helping; at one point, for a few months, in utter desperation, I worked up to 2.5 hours of cardio a day, to NO effect. (I eventually gave up on that.) Other healthy staples in my lifestyle at the time: I had always been mindful of my eating habits (having experienced hypoglycemic episodes as a teenager), drank pretty much nothing but water, and walked lots, all day long, because I lived in a university town with a massive campus and never owned a car. In fact, at one point, I was walking to three different part-time jobs.
Still, the weight packed on and would not melt off.
However. When I was 28, I moved to Shanghai. I didn’t really do anything differently. If anything, I ate more greasy food than before (the Shanghainese use a lot of oil and even lard in their cooking), was now suddenly consuming white rice on a daily basis (something I hadn’t done ever before), was snacking on small amounts of rich chocolate regularly (also a new thing for me), and was also eating more meat (I had a homestay for a few months who ate lots of meat, whereas I’d been pretty much a vegetarian beforehand.). I was walking a lot, but I was also walking a lot in the years before I moved there — so that wasn’t a big change.
At some point in Shanghai, I noticed that my jeans looked sloppy, so I replaced them — not really noticing any difference in my body size because the sizing on the tags was different, and the jeans had some stretch to them anyway. However, when I went home for Christmas 5 months after I arrived, I discovered I had lost 35lbs — which amounted to roughly 20% of my weight and represented pretty much all the weight I had inexplicably piled on years earlier. It has been 6 years since that weight loss, and the weight has pretty much stayed off, with small fluctuations, usually of 5lb or so.
I never knew exactly what did it. I still don’t. Part of me feels like I simply shed the “weight” of unhappiness; that is, once I moved to Shanghai, now I was living in a place that brought me joy, having left behind professional paths (and, therewith, the prospects of particular futures) that weren’t fulfilling to me. I considered whether perhaps the removal of my former, existential stress reflected in my weight. On the other hand, I spent all my time in Shanghai pretty darn poor and stressing over stuff like how to find housing, stable employment, or the kind of visa I needed, so my life was far from stress-free. I’m not convinced that stress is the entire answer, but I definitely think it plays a role.
I also know that I pretty much stopped consuming any and all dairy when I moved there (simply for lack of access), and I wonder whether that played a role too; not only did I lose 35lbs, but my adult-onset acne entirely disappeared (also lastingly). Dairy is loaded with hormones, and I wonder if perhaps my body had been reacting poorly to them all those years and I simply hadn’t known that it didn’t agree with me, endocrinologically (?). On the other hand, there’s also the fact that I got regular Chinese foot massages for my first few months in the country, and Chinese foot massage operates on similar principles as acupuncture — which has helped many a person with endocrine issues. Could it be that the massages were helping my system to re-balance itself?
Finally — and very importantly — there is also this: outside of the United States, the food supply is (often) more natural and somewhat less “sanitized.” Hence, local diets in different places have a very different impact on gut flora… and gut flora influence our health in many ways. Including our metabolism. I often wonder if perhaps my move to China simply helped me “re-set” my gut after a lifetime of North American food, and whether the new microbiome that inhabits me has been key.
In the end, I think my dramatic, totally-didn’t-notice-while-it-was-happening weight loss came down to a lot of things combined: less stress, more enjoyment in life, no more dairy, the benefits of Chinese medicine (i.e., the acupressure foot massages), and a healthier microbiome. I can’t prove any of this, and I never would have even thought to attempt it as a deliberate “weight loss solution,” so I’m thankful that it just sort of spontaneously happened.
Having inhabited very different body types and experiencing the frustration of being utterly unable to lose weight over the years, I feel very sympathetic to people who struggle with their weight themselves. I wish I could say, definitively, “This is what turned everything around for me.” But there was no single thing. On top of that, having no idea why I had suddenly experienced a 25% increase in my body weight in my early-20s and then just as suddenly and inexplicably losing all that weight several years later (in just 5 months and without trying or even noticing!) means that I don’t feel I can “take for granted” what my weight is now; it’s hard to feel like I “control” it. I do still eat reasonably healthy (nutritious, high-protein breakfasts; lots of fiber; a fairly large amount of veggies; a very low dairy intake; but also splurges on foods that are more sugary and fatty on a regular basis). I do still walk a lot. I imagine that this helps. But given that I hadn’t adopted unhealthy habits when my weight gain originally appeared, I don’t assume it’s always as simple as personal food and exercise habits; I think that lifestyle (i.e., things like happiness and stress and fulfillment) and environment (e.g., what kind of bacteria and hormones are in your local food supply?) play a big role. Hence, I feel like my weight “just sort of” dropped and “just sort of” happens to stay where it dropped to. Therefore, I don’t know what to advise anyone else. I wish I could, so I could pay it forward.
Still, I think that having a healthy microbiome, incorporating a tried-and-true ancient wellness method (TCM), and simply making life changes in the direction of genuine happiness can help anyone immensely.
Thank you for providing food for thought with your essay! Wishing you (and all your readers) continued great wellbeing!