I learned today that my favorite lunch place, Mel’s Market, is taking burgers and fries off of their menu. They’re expanding their salad counter, which makes sense, given that the line for salads is always ten people deep, while the lone burger guy yells to nobody in particular, “Burgers and fries! We got burgers and fries over here!” His charm is wasted on a lunch choice that fell out of favor after everyone learned that yes, you need to eat vegetables and no, you won’t live forever if you eat a burger everyday. After losing 85 pounds (and keeping 55 off for eight years), I’m almost always in the salad line too. I can’t fault them for their smart business decision, but damn, I’m going to miss those burgers. For more than just how they taste.
In weight loss terminology, non-scale victories, or NSVs, are the most gratifying way to find out that you’re making progress. NSVs can be anything that is related to losing weight but isn’t the number on the scale going down. Looser jeans, a workout that finally feels easier, picking the healthier option for lunch, seeing a picture of yourself and thinking you look good. After the first few pounds come off, NSVs are what keep a person motivated to keep working. Seeing a number go down on a scale over and over loses its luster after a while, but NSVs are evidence that your life is changing right in front of your eyes, due to your own hard work. NSVs are what stick with you after the weight has come off, and NSVs are what help you maintain weight loss.
The victory that sticks in my mind the most is when I realized that I was able to trust myself around food. Losing weight wasn’t terribly hard for me, but the first couple years of maintaining weight loss was very tough. The habits that helped me gain weight were well-suited to the obsessive lifestyle that calorie counting requires, but terrible for the maintenance that comes afterwards. It wasn’t until I read the book Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, PhD (I could not recommend this book more enthusiastically) that I realized I had to completely relearn how to eat. If I wanted to remain the weight I was, I had learn how to eat when I was hungry, stop when I was full, and choose foods that made me feel good after I was done eating them. I had to learn how to make choices based on my intuition, rather than an impulse. Learning these skills took years, and I experienced setback after setback. Each NSV felt hard-won, like getting to the top of a hill in the middle of a marathon. Filled with relief, but realizing there is still some distance to cover.
The exact moment I realized I could trust myself around food felt like finally crossing the finish line. I was starving, so I picked up a breakfast sandwich on my way to work. Upon unwrapping it, I found that it was too big to eat in one sitting, so I re-wrapped half of it for the next day. I didn’t have to barter with myself in order to do this, I didn’t think about the other half for hours until I just gave up and ate it, I just put it in the fridge without a second thought. I didn’t even realize what I’d accomplished until a couple hours later. Honestly, I went into the bathroom and did a little fist pump for myself. I finally felt reassured that I was actually going to maintain my weight loss. This victory meant that I’d actually learned how to trust myself around food without even thinking about it. I had autonomy over my choices. I could trust myself to choose the salad counter instead of the burger counter.
So when I found out that Mel’s was getting rid of their burgers, at first I was sad because their burgers are fantastic. Housemade sauces, ample vegetable application, melted cheese, and solid bacon, there’s a lot to love. This sadness gave way to the realization that their burger section is often pretty slow, so it was likely a good decision for the owners to make. But that realization was tempered with selfishness. I’m going to miss the tiny bit of triumph I feel every time I choose a salad. I’m going to miss the opportunity to exercise self-control each time I walk through those doors, because now that it’s easy, it’s a little bit fun. I’m going to miss being reminded that I’m actually pretty good at this eating thing now. And oddly, I’m going to miss all of those things more than the burgers themselves, which might just be the greatest NSV of all.