The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step~ Lao Tzu
I would call this cliche trite except for the fact that, besides being absolutely correct, this is where so many people get stuck. They know they need to lose weight and/ or get healthier. They’ve read the blogs and the websites and the books. Their doctors, friends and family members have been harping about it. They want to do it. They just don’t know how to get started! “Do I exercise more? Do I need to do anything before I start exercising more? What exercise should I do? Does yoga count? What about walking? Do I need a treadmill? Do I have to go a certain pace? Maybe I should try to lose weight before I start exercising? What diet should I use?”
This kind of waffling and confusion frankly reminds me of when I was a kid and we were going out to dinner as a family. My parents would wait until we were all packed in the car and then begin asking each other: “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know.” “Where do you want to go?” “How about this place?” “What about that other place?” Aaaaahhhh!! JUST PICK ONE!! That’s pretty much what it comes down to: it doesn’t matter so much where you start as long as you start somewhere! None of this is carved in stone. This is very much the journey that Lao Tzu mentions above. I personally like to think of it as an adventure. I know the destination, but as to how I get there, that’s pretty flexible. If you make a wrong turn, find another way! Leaving it fairly flexible is a good thing. So maybe you try the yoga and it works out pretty good. Fabulous! You’ve started! Once you’ve got the yoga down, think about adding something else to the routine, like cardio or maybe changing your eating habits. Or maybe the yoga doesn’t work out for you; it’s still great! Now you can cross that off your list and try something else, like swimming or cardio or Zumba! You are out there making choices and making progress, learning what works for you and what doesn’t! You are on your way!
Too many people either don’t know where to start and so they never start, or they go the other direction and try everything at once, get overwhelmed and give up. So many people are afraid of making a “wrong” choice, but this isn’t a test. If you choose something that doesn’t fit for you, no one is going to dock you points and kick you out of the “getting fit” club! Like the journey old Lao Tzu speaks of above, we have to get there one step at a time, one choice at a time. If you choose wrong, you get a guaranteed do-over so don’t be afraid to try something new! Choose one thing and try it out! (I don’t mean that you can’t do two or more things at once, like cutting out dairy and hitting the gym twice a week. If you can handle multiple changes without feeling overwhelmed, then go for it!) If it works for you, keep going and start adding to your list. But for so many people, just knowing where to begin is overwhelming and I blame it on information overload.
Picking the Right Path (or Maybe Going Left?)
Yeah, it’s a feeble attempt at a joke, but I think this is genuinely a part of the problem. When we decide to look at our options for getting healthier or working out, most of do one (or more) of three things: 1) we google it!; 2) we go to a bookstore/ gym/ health food store; 3) we ask our friends! I know in my case, I was honed in on google, watched all the tv shows on weight loss that I could and yelped the heck out of the local gyms. As for friends, none of mine are into health and weight loss, and my sister goes the vegetarian route (which is not for me), so I was left out there, but this is where most people get their information. Some of us do go to our doctors, but sadly (as I’ve mentioned in other posts) doctors do not have a lot of training in nutrition and for most of them, the Calories In- Calories Out model is what they use (also known as “Eat Less-Move More”). This model has really come under fire lately. So there you are, standing in the Weight Loss section of your local Barnes & Noble, looking at about a hundred different titles on losing weight, eating healthier, going Vegan, going Paleo, going Veggie, going Mediterranean, Low Glycemic Diet, Blood Sugar Solution Diet, Always Hungry? Diet, ad infinitum! It’s hard to choose which one you want to look at, let alone which one you want to buy! And let’s face it, you don’t have time to research all of them, so if you’re like me, you do some googling, or pull some books off the shelves and start crossing some of these off your list.
This is where most of start into uncharted waters: we need to choose a healthy weight loss/ fitness lifestyle and we need to know where to start or at least which direction to go. This person says X, that one says X+1, and this other “guru” says avoid X altogether and go straight for Z! Who do we listen to, or do we scrap all of them and “listen to our bodies?” Ideally, listening to our bodies is the way to go, but as I recently posted, our bodies and our brains don’t communicate very well (my body used to tell me on a regular basis that it needs more Jack in the Box and tortilla chips!) Some of us really want a detailed road map and for some of us, all we want is a push in the right direction- we’ll figure out the rest on the way, but frankly a lot of us feel lost and defeated before we ever start. This is pretty much where I was when I just decided I’m destined to be the “fat woman” forever. I knew where I didn’t want to go and what I didn’t want to do, but as for what I really needed, I had not a clue! (Honestly, I literally stumbled onto the right path, and I don’t want you all stumbling around in the dark, hoping for a lucky break!)
To Thine Own Self Be True
Polonius was an old blowhard (it’s a Hamlet quote again-sorry!) but in this case, the old windbag was exactly right. My mom spent a great deal of my adult life throwing the newest fad diet books at me; I was always coming home and finding them hanging on my doorknob and “s/he really knows what s/he’s talking about!” These books were how I knew what not to do and what I didn’t want. Many of them involve eating special foods or using special “enzymes/ powders,” following some regimented exercise and eating plan, and this is where the above advice chimes in: is this something you want to do? or like to do? and are likely to do for a prolonged period without problems? My answer:most definitely not! I don’t like having to make anything complex, something where I’m always checking my calendar “do I start phase 2 today or tomorrow?- ah, damn it was yesterday!”, something that requires me going to a special store to get the “miracle enzyme” (eye roll). Nope, even if I started it and I really really wanted it (believe me, I did), I know me pretty good and I am ultimately a lazy bum with a lot of things, and this one will start slipping away pretty quick and then I’ll be right back where I was to start with, only without all the money I spent on the miracle enzyme and none of the benefits left! If it’s not something simple, easy to follow and easy to shop for, forget it- because I won’t do it! I’ll eventually mess something up (like most people) and then I’m off track and I may even have to start all over again! None of these are conducive to success!
When I considered “going Paleo,” I approached it the way I approached all of the “fad diets” I’d been given by my mom: I poked it with a stick to see if it bit me! It’s a metaphor, but it’s one that works! I didn’t want to invest time and money in another money pit that wasn’t going to work for me. It had the general simplicity that I liked: no regimented schedules and really no “weird/ miracle” foods. Most of the books and websites on Paleo I looked at all had the lists of foods that are Paleo, the ones that aren’t, the gray areas (Paleo v Primal, etc ) and most offered the same advice when it came to transitioning to Paleo. There were a couple that offered the “30 day reset” mentality, but most of them suggested just begin by eliminating one or two non-Paleo foods at a time and keep adding to the list. It’s a slow and simple transition: stop eating one food that isn’t Paleo (like bread) and add in something that is (like cauliflower). It wasn’t drastic and it allowed for gradual changes but with gradual progress, so even if I wasn’t “completely Paleo,” I was still going forward and still noticing positive changes that were very encouraging! The biggest and most difficult factor in this decision was taking a good long look at the list of “forbidden foods” and asking myself, in all seriousness, if these were foods I could give up for good. These are foods like bread, cereal, grain-products, most legumes (including peanuts), sugars and some other foods. For me the biggest hurdle is the grain products. (Dairy is one of the gray areas.) I love breads and pastas and crackers/ chips probably more than sugar. Actually, they are much yummier with sugar and dairy added to them! (Waffles with butter and syrup- yay!!) Give me a choice between bagels and bacon & eggs for breakfast, I’ll take the bagel every time. Or oatmeal. Or pancakes. Or just plain toast. I was a confirmed carboholic, and the more processed and refined the carbs, the yummier they are. I can’t tell you how many nights my dinner was a bag of chips and salsa with cheese. So looking at a list of foods that were my undoubted favorites, not to mention basic staples of what I ate almost every day, it was a big question for me: can I really give these up on a long term basis (code for “the rest of my life”)? Of course, if I ate them once in a while, I wasn’t going to get kicked out of the tribe or banned from any website. In fact, a lot of websites advocated the 80-20 rule (you eat Paleo 80% of the time). (Personally, I don’t think it works for me, but that’s my choice and I’m happy with that!)
It might seem like it’s a silly meaningless question for someone who’s never tried to lose weight, but it is actually a very serious question. This is the question most people don’t ask themselves when they start on a crash diet or when they decide they are giving up a particular food or going to hit the gym/ work out five days a week: “Is this behavior something I can do long term?” This is why most of these fad/ crash diets/ exercise programs fail: it’s hard to stick with extreme behavior on a long term basis. (This is also why those tv show contestants gain it all back!) If it’s not something you enjoy doing, there is no impetus to keep it going. Even if you do lose weight or get stronger, if it’s just too hard, you are tempted every day every time to skip it “just this once” which turns into more and more often until you are totally off track and back to where you started.
This is why I ignored the diet books my mother kept giving me: I knew none of the programs was sustainable for me, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake with any “program” I started, because they would be just as ineffective. This is where you have to come face to face with yourself when you consider what course you are going to take to get you to your goals: is this something I can do for the long haul? Whatever diet/ exercise program you choose, this is the first question you need to ask yourself, because this will ultimately determine your success. If you cannot be consistent and make long term lifestyle changes, whatever progress you make will be short-lived. My mom, for all her “dieting expertise,” was almost always following one diet program or another and none of them involved long term lifestyle changes: they were all “eat our food, lose weight and feel great!” Until she stopped eating their food and gained the weight back. Or they were “follow this schedule with these smoothies” until she got off schedule and the weight came back. If you decide to go Atkins, South Beach, Zone, or whatever you decide, you need to be consistent! If you hate it, or don’t feel good on it, then it doesn’t work for you! If you have to force yourself to eat what’s on your plate, it probably is not the food for you. I know one of my biggest problems with Paleo is that most of the cookbooks and websites were full of egg recipes. Ugh!! If you were to ask me the one food that I hate more than any other, it would be egg yolks, hands-down! (I used to make egg salad sandwiches in college and my Yorkie always got the yolks- it was more eggwhite salad sandwiches!) The chefs would give advice like “leave the yolk a little creamy so it can blend with the rest of the salad/ veggies/ whatever” and I’d want to throw up- seriously! So for probably the first year I did Paleo, I made all the recipes with egg whites and egg substitutes. Eventually, I got around to eating real eggs (still yuck) but I cook the yolks extra hard and kill the taste with hot sauce. My dog likes them a whole lot better than the egg whites (he likes a runny yolk)! But if I could not find a work-around for the eggs, Paleo might have been something that I had to give up because I really can’t eat eggs every day. For example, my sister is vegetarian and she really likes tofu. I can’t stand the stuff (luckily, soy is not Paleo) so this was not a good choice for me when I tried it back in college. Between not eating meat and not eating tofu, I actually became anemic. Not good for health or consistency!
Most of us want to be healthier, whether it means losing weight and/ or being more active, and the health/ weight loss industry feeds on our confusion. There are trainers and experts out there who will tell you the truth: if this isn’t something you can do consistently, DON’T DO IT! There are also a lot who just want your money and don’t care if you are successful or not. Part of the problem is obviously us: too many of us pick a diet or exercise program the way we pick out a new shirt or shoes: we look at it a little bit, try it on, bring it home and it sits there in the closet because it “doesn’t fit like it did in the store.” We need to treat it more like we are buying a car or a house: the investment is comparable because this will be something we are living with for a very long time! You can’t put your car, your house or your health in the donation box for Goodwill at the end of the year! Gym owners love the New Year when everyone signs up to make good on their resolutions, but come March and April, the crowd has really thinned out as “real life” starts getting in the way: it’s not convenient; there’s too much going on; it’s not fun anymore. This is why you have to make the commitment to be consistent. This is also why I was b*tching at myself last week- I was blowing off half my workouts and avoiding the gym! (The new Monday night trainer isn’t fun- waah waah…) I know what I need to do but I just wasn’t doing it, and this is where I had the ‘come-to-Jesus’ talk with myself about what really matters to me.
I matter to me. More importantly, (since I don’t have kids) I matter to my pets! Who do you matter to? When I was 438 lbs, I was no fun at all for me, my family and friends, and my pets. I sat in my recliner because my knees hurt, my back hurt and I got so tired just trying to walk anywhere. I slept a lot because it hurt to do anything and taking the pup to the park or for a walk or even to play in the yard was a major undertaking for me! My inability to move ruined my trip to Disneyland and ruined a lot of my life. Once I started losing weight and was able to move without pain (and breathing hard from exertion), it was a big incentive to me to stay committed to my goals. I may never be a size 10 but it’s important to me to stay active and keep working to my goals. I just plain feel better! I know there are people out there who think “the hell with the dog/ pets,” but as much as he likes doing things with me, I like doing things with him! It’s important to me! That’s why I stay committed to eating what’s healthy for me and being active. Yeah, tortilla chips, Jack in the Box and peanut butter cups are good, but they are not as good as playing ball with my dog or taking a tour with my sister around Long Beach or just shopping all day all over the outlets with my friends! These are things that matter to me and my quality of life. These are the reasons I stay committed to my weight loss, however grumpy it makes me. Whatever the reasons you have for becoming a healthier you, you need to commit to them and to you! You are the one living in that body and if it hurts or is awkward, you are the one who has to deal with it. Some people post their reasons for getting healthy where they can see them every day; some keep them in their pocket or their purse; mine sit on my lap and sleep on my bed. They might not have been the reasons I actually started but they are the reasons I do it every day. This can be a great adventure and I intend to enjoy every moment of it (even if the Monday night trainer isn’t fun!)