In my last post (“Getting Out of Our Own Way”), I made the comment that we will never succeed at anything if we don’t try. Most of you who read my blog know that I am a hard-core TLC addict, mainly My 600 lb Life. A lot of my family and friends don’t understand my addiction to the show and I usually quip that it’s my version of a 12 step meeting. They think I’m joking but I’m not. I came way too close for qualifying as a patient on that show, but more importantly, I keep learning things from it and it reinforces the positive changes that I’ve made in my life.
Sometimes, though, the patients are as irritating as all hell and one of the things that irritates me the most is when they whine and cry about how they “can’t,” as in they can’t walk, they can’t stand up, they can’t exercise, they can’t ‘insert basic human function here.’ (Yes. They cry.) They can manage to get to the kitchen for the ice cream, even though they are too big to fit in the front seat of an SUV. They can’t eat healthy but they can sit on the sofa and make the meatloaf and mashed potatoes for someone else to finish on the stove. They can’t bathe themselves but they can have someone set up the deep-fryer next to their bed so they can fry up some crab cakes for their po’boy. I think it’s a matter of motivation and determination: if you want it bad enough, you will put in the effort! As Dr. Nowzaradan says in the intro to the show: “if you were serious, you’d make changes.”
There will always be a reason not to try something: fear of failure; fear of looking stupid; fear of not doing it right. I mentioned some of these in my most recent post. They are all legitimate fears. As my mom rightly pointed out, no one likes to be laughed at or made fun of. (I personally subscribe to the Dr. Seuss philosophy: “be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter won’t mind.” Not everyone is as thick-skinned and b*tchy as I am, however!) At the same time, if you let your fear dictate your boundaries in life, what are you left with? Usually, not a lot!
For a long time after I started losing weight, I didn’t want to exercise. I was afraid it would hurt; I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it; I was afraid I would injure myself. Eventually, I realized that I didn’t know if any of those were true because I didn’t try. So I went down to the gym and used the treadmill, which did hurt my knees (thank you, arthritis!), and my doctor told me to use a pool instead. So I switched gyms, and one day when I went to the pool, I discovered there was a water aerobics class going on and the instructor invited me to join in! And it didn’t hurt and it was fun and I’ve been going twice a week since. In fact, taking the water aerobics class gave me the confidence to try a regular aerobics class. (Building confidence is another benefit of trying new things.) I signed up for an aerobics class at the local junior college. FYI: both instructors are in their early 70’s, so no excuses about being old!
This class is little more challenging than the water aerobics and there are some days I come home from the class sore and exhausted. There are a lot of exercises that I’m not good at and are frankly just too hard for me. Correction: they are too hard for me right now, but I keep trying. I keep showing up and I keep working at it and I am getting better. There are exercises that I couldn’t do when I started the class that are easy now by comparison, and at the last class, I did something I haven’t been able to do since I started the class nearly a year ago: I could balance on one leg. That may not sound like much, until you try and fail. I try every time and until last night, I was never able to do it. Frankly, it is a little scary thinking you might fall and hurt yourself. That’s how I shattered my wrist fifteen years ago (I had to get hardware installed- ugh!) There are some students in the class who move off the wrestling mats to balance, but I stay on the mats because if I should fall, I’d like some padding! The instructors are really good about telling us not do something if it causes pain and if we need to take a break or modify the exercise to do so; do what we can to the best of our abilities, and I think they are right to do so, but I also think they are right in encouraging us to keep trying. I could have told myself that I can’t balance on one leg and I shouldn’t try because what if I fall and break another bone? I could have just said: can’t do it-don’t try! But I keep trying it every class.
I’m not trying to pat myself on the back and say: “whoo hoo! look at me!” Because really, balancing on one leg is something most three year olds can do, and pretty much anyone else who’s not as out of shape as I am. We do push-ups every class and I’ll probably never manage those on my toes- or my knees for that matter, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll surprise myself and manage to do those too!
The point is that so many of Dr. Now’s patients keep claiming they “can’t!” It hurts to walk; it hurts to stand up; it hurts to exercise- blah blah blah! Stop complaining about what you can’t do and do what you can! (Oops!… did I really just type that??) There are a lot of people who just learn to live with limitations because they have actual incurable physical handicaps, such as spinal cord injuries, MS or other conditions that limit what they can do. When I listen to patients on the show talk about being ‘trapped in a bed or a room’ because of their weight, I get impatient with them. When they show up at Dr. Nowzaradan’s office, he usually asks them “what is your highest weight?” and they usually say “this is my highest weight.” It took me a while to figure out why he asks that question: he wants to know what improvements they have tried, and a lot of them haven’t tried anything. It’s not that I am unsympathetic, but no one forces you to eat 10,000 calories a day. To gain weight at 500 lbs, you have to eat about that much. In actual food, that’s three sourdough jack burgers, three large fries, six regular Jack in the Box tacos, three McDonald’s hot cakes and sausage breakfasts, and three servings of Olive Garden lasagna. Every day. That’s approximately 10,065 calories, and if you weigh about 500 lbs, eating anything less than that means you lose weight. I also understand that for many people, the biological urge to eat is usually triggered by a psychological stressor. I know that one all too well! Eating is a comforting distraction and the more stress you feel, the more you want to eat, and there is also the physical addiction to the fast starchy carbs aka bread and sugar. I have struggled with all of those!
I also know if you don’t try, you won’t make progress! Weight loss is like any other new skill: it takes time and practice to learn it and get better at it. That means you have to keep trying even when you screw it up. There aren’t “Calorie Gremlins” that appear while you’re sleeping and stuff cookies, burgers and milkshakes down your throat. They don’t tie you to the bed or the chair and force you to stay immobile. The pain that comes with being super morbidly obese is mental, physical and spiritual, but even though this is where you are, the only thing keeping you there is you. I’m not accusing people of quitting or being lazy or even being afraid of failure. I’ve done all those things and I’ve been the one saying “it’s too hard” or “it hurts too much.” Those were the choices I made and I had to live with the consequences for most of my life.
I remember how much it hurt to walk when I weighed 438 lbs. It hurt to walk, it hurt to stand, it hurt to sit for long periods. Laying flat on my back was a little scary: am I going to stop breathing if I fall asleep? I remember how embarrassing it was buying clothes and being afraid of ripping out the seams in the clothes I still had. I hated how the hems of blouses and t-shirts would roll up my hips and butt because they didn’t stretch that far. I listen to these patients and I know their pain and embarrassment. I’ve also been the subject of snickers and rude comments from strangers and co-workers.
Changing is really really hard, even after you’ve had some practice at it. It gets so frustrating, you want to give up and cry. But if you give up, if you don’t even try, you’ll never know what success you can achieve. As sad as it is to fail, it’s sadder still to never try.