Be True to You: Staying on Track

This is what makes weight loss so hard.  When we talk about ‘staying on track’ or ‘getting back on the wagon,’ we make it sound like it’s only ONE thing we need to do, but really it isn’t.  If it were as simple as following a path or climbing back into a car, we could all do it, but a single phrase like ‘staying on track’ involves a whole lot of interrelated actions that all work toward a single goal: weight loss.  It’s all of these actions that cause the problems and make it so hard to do.

Most of us know what these actions are pretty much by heart: it’s not only what to eat, but what not to eat; it’s what to do and what not to do; and it’s also about how to think about yourself and about your goals.  Most people usually miss the whole mindset part of this because we tell ourselves it’s not as important as the eating and acting, but the thinking drives the eating and acting.  If our heads aren’t on straight, our actions and eating won’t be either.  When we get off track, we usually tell ourselves “I need to get my head together,” but as soon as we think we are ‘back together,’ we focus on the eating and actions again, until we find ourselves back off track- again!

Most of us start with our eating and we make two lists: What to Eat and What Not to Eat.  Usually the idea of How Much to Eat is tied up in that too.  We put down things like vegetables/ salads, chicken breast and lean meats, cottage cheese, and other typical ‘diet foods on the Good List, while the Bad List is full of cookies, chips, desserts and bakery items.  Ho-hum! Here we go again! We usually have a Calorie Limit too, so we can add up all the calories in the chicken breast and cottage cheese to make sure we don’t go over that magic number!

On the What Not to Do list, it’s usually pretty simple: no lying around on the sofa or recliner, less tv/ computer/ Facebook, or whatever non-active activity we like to do.  A lot of times, we include sleeping on this list, which is really a mistake! But we opt for less sleep and more exercise thinking along the old ‘move more, eat less’ standby for weight loss.  Obviously, moving more must be better for us than sleeping! We also include the No Snacking rule: no cookies, no candy, no bagels, no pizza and we avoid those parts of the stores or the breakroom at work, and we sit as far away from the bagels or pizza at the meetings and lunches.  We’re Being Good.

So we pack our food list full of the classic ‘healthy foods’ and our schedules full of as much exercise as we can do in a day, and we tell ourselves we are ‘getting back on track,’ and this time we are going to stay there! We think our determination is the right mindset and all we need is willpower to achieve our goals.

What most of us leave out of our mindset and our What Not to Do List is “don’t beat yourself up.” We’ve all done it: “I ate a bagel at the meeting! And it had cream cheese! And it was a huge bagel, too!”; “I had three slices of pepperoni pizza with the family for dinner!”; “Joanie had chocolate kisses on her desk and every time I walked by, I grabbed one or two! All day!!” We went off track again, so there must be something wrong with us.  We really really want to lose weight and be healthier, so why can’t we do it? The doctor told us we could end up diabetic/ hypertensive/ other health problems, so do we have a death wish since we can’t stick to the diet?

No, you don’t have a death wish and there’s nothing wrong with you, unless you count the beating-yourself-up behavior.  Hating yourself and self-recrimination doesn’t motivate people towards their goals.  All it does is make them (YOU) miserable. The problem (one of them anyway) is that you think of yourself as ‘broken’ or ‘substandard’ and unless you ‘fix’ yourself, you aren’t worth loving or valuing.  This is part of the wrong mindset that usually goes along with Staying on Track.  There’s nothing wrong with you, but we’ve all grown up looking at ourselves in the mirror and seeing what we don’t like.  That’s what we focus on: getting rid of the flabby thunderthighs and the batwing biceps and the muffin top.  Next time you are out in public, take a good long look at the rest of the world out there: there’s a lot of batwings, thunderthighs and muffin tops, even at the gym! That doesn’t mean we have to love our less-than-slender areas, but they don’t make us ugly and they don’t make us unlovable.  They make us human.

We also fall into the Perfection Rules! mindset when we Get Back on Track.  It’s a part of the beating ourselves up mentality: we had a bagel, the day is ruined, why not eat the Ben & Jerry’s? We’re already Off Track! The problem is that the next morning or that night, you’re going to be beating yourself up some more for the Ben & Jerry’s plus the bagel, and the next time you weigh in (another action on the ‘Good List’), you’re going to beat yourself up again if you haven’t lost the magic number of pounds.

All of this mindset and behavior needs to be on that What Not to Do List.  Don’t beat yourself up; don’t go all or nothing with perfection; and most of all, don’t set impossible goals! Don’t misunderstand me: goals are great. They give us something to aim for, but falling short of them shouldn’t be disaster. If you have the three slices of pizza, it’s not a national tragedy.  The same goes for not making it to your workout or sleeping in.

When most of us Get Back on Track, we try locking ourselves into rigid structures of behavior, eating and thinking.  For some of us, the rigid structure works, but for most of us, it just makes everything harder.  Setting really high goals is a good thing, as long as you have the steps to getting there in between. A goal such as losing thirty pounds in two months is really extreme for a lot of us, but setting a goal like losing a pound a week might be more realistic.  The same is true for the Good Foods/ Bad Foods lists and the Calorie Limit: these ‘lists’ should be more about sustainability rather than “off limits” & “diet foods.”

For most of us, the Calorie Limit is tied directly to what’s on these lists: avocados are out because they have too many calories; broccoli is in because it’s got so few! Both of those are pretty healthy for you in fact.  Avocados have a lot of fiber and a lot of healthy fat; broccoli also has a lot of fiber and both of them have a lot of nutrients.  Rather than eating for calories, if we eat for nutrition, we have more success overall.  We aren’t hungry all the time and we don’t feel deprived (major causes of going Off Track) and we usually have more energy.

When we feel good mentally and physically, it’s easier to Stay on Track.  This means actions like getting enough sleep, not pushing ourselves to stick to extreme workouts or schedules (i.e., if you sleep in on the weekend, it’s a good thing!) and allowing yourself time to relax and do what you enjoy.  It means things like allowing yourself a piece of pizza or a bagel now and then, and setting realistic goals for yourself.  This is a journey to a healthier self, not a punishment. Being miserable and thin isn’t any healthier than being miserable and overweight.  Staying on track is easier when you’re enjoying the journey and you’ll get there a lot faster if you eat the nutritious food you like, do the fun activities, and get some rest and relaxation.  You’ll like the person in mirror more and you’ll like the person you become.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indulgences: The Cost- Benefit Analysis

Brace yourself- the holidays are coming! For most of us, it begins with Halloween and buckets and buckets of candies and other sweets, followed by the Thanksgiving gorging and then a month-plus of Christmas cookies, cakes, and candies and the alcohol-fest that is New Years.  It pretty much has us surrounded until 2018! For me, this Food Fest actually begins in September, when our community has a pastry filled food festival followed by another one between Halloween and Thanksgiving, so once fall gets here, I’m surrounded by food!

I hear a lot of people complaining about all the treats around them and how hard they are to resist.  I see a lot of posts about how family members keep bringing these temptations into the house and how they keep giving in; how the Halloween candy they bought at the beginning of the month has all been eaten; how they went out for coffee with friends and ended up drinking a ginormous sweet drink with a cookie or muffin or scone.  If only people stopped shoving food and treats at them! How can they resist!

I know I ate my fair share of pastries at the food festival in September, and no one put a gun to my head.  I decided to eat them, and my ‘rationale’ was that I wait all year for this festival.  Were they worth it? They were really really delicious and I enjoyed every bite, but as for being ‘worth it?’  That’s still up for debate!

Basically, this is what it comes down to with every food choice we make.  Some of them are more obvious than others: the hamburger combo or the roast turkey with veggies; the iced tea with sweetener or the regular sugar soda; the bowl of berries or the bowl of ice cream.  Which is going to be better for us?  Which will make us feel better about ourselves and will help us reach our goals? Yeah, those are the ground-ball kind of choices!

The hard part comes with the ‘special’ foods, like the pastries we wait for each year, the bags of our favorite candies just lying around the house and the plates full of holiday cookies, etc.  It’s a holiday (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, whatever!) and it’s time to celebrate! Why not indulge? It’s only once a year! For most of us, it is only once a year, but the ‘season’ lasts for about three months! There’s a ‘holiday’ a month for the rest of the year and there are countless opportunities to indulge! It’s not the ‘one cookie’ or the ‘one holiday drink/ coffee’ that is going to be the problem: it’s the pattern of behavior it can create.

I’ve been eating healthier for a couple of years now, and this will be my third ‘healthy holiday season,’ but it still takes practice.  The first year was pretty much an unmitigated disaster: all the ‘holiday indulgences that come once a year’ set me back about three months.  It was beyond disheartening.  Last year was better: I was pickier and indulged less, but the treats still did damage and set me back about a month or so.  This year, I have already noticed that the food festival pastries, while really good, were not worth the setback they always bring with them.  I indulged less (only a certain variety of pastry) and I was rewarded for my discretion: only a minor delay.

Of course, the bulk of the holidays haven’t gotten here yet, but I have noticed that the treats that were always so appealing and irresistible still look and smell appealing, but when the choice presents itself (coffee with cream or pumpkiny coffee drink; cinnamon apple cake or no cake), it’s not as hard as it used to be.  After a couple of holiday seasons of indulging, for me the ‘treat’ isn’t worth the setback and disappointment.  Just dealing with the delay from the September food festival was frustrating enough: the delay and frustration aren’t worth the few moments of eating the pastry, no matter how delicious they might be!

The same thing happened yesterday: while grocery shopping, I bought some Halloween candy, which included some caramels that my friend is fond of (and me too!) I bought them because we are having a get-together this weekend and I planned on bringing them, but I was hungry last night after a busy day and a busier weekend….. and I heard those caramels in the kitchen calling my name about 9:00 p.m. last night.  I actually got up and picked up the bag! Once I looked at it, however, I realized right away that eating even one or two of them- and face it, it wouldn’t be one or two!- they weren’t worth the few minutes of ‘yummy’ since I be disappointed in myself.  Even worse, giving in once or twice opens the door for making a new bad habit! This is where we justify our indulgences: I’ll go back to eating good after the holiday! Except there is always a reason to indulge! It’s a holiday; it’s a special occasion; it’s someone’s birthday! There is ONE reason not to indulge: our health; and there are a million reasons to indulge, but are any of them as important or as valuable as our health?

For me, this is another ground-ball question! I remember not being able to turn the wheel of my car without it rubbing against my belly or being tilted all the way up!  I remember my shoes being so tight my feet looked like they were going to break the straps.  I remember being short of breath just walking around Target- forget going to Costco! For me, there is a clear link between my eating choices and the ginormous improvement in my health already.  For a lot of people, the connection is not as clear or obvious because not a lot of people eat themselves to 400+ lbs.  When you weigh 250 and can still get around and be pretty active and pain-free, the ‘consequences of a cookie’ are less obvious: it’s a cookie! It’s not a bomb! How bad can one cookie be?

It wouldn’t be bad, if it were only one cookie! One cookie leads to another, like the bag of caramels in my cupboard! Making an excuse to indulge once makes it easier to indulge again and again. It leads to a pattern of indulging that gets in between us and our goals.  We trade the treats for our health, even if we don’t end up weighing 400 lbs; the weight of our own recrimination and disappointment are bad enough.  We’ve all been the person who ate a box/ bag/ pack of something we regretted and then beat ourselves up over it! Over time, I’ve learned the hard way to avoid the regret: the treats are not worth the delay, the frustration and the disappointment they really cost me! Even though I was tempted by the caramels last night, as soon as the bag was in my hand, the answer was clear to me: I’m not going to enjoy them, even if I eat them! Put down the candy!

No one is going to tell me not to eat the candy or the scones or the pumpkin loaf. No one except me, and that’s what makes it hard! If we were lighting up a cigarette in a bookstore, a dozen people would jump all over us and throw us out! But if we decide to drink a venti pumpkin latte, have a scone, a cookie and another treat in that same bookstore, no one would tell us “that’s enough calories and sugar! Put a stop to it now!” We have to decide if the indulgences are worth what they really cost us: slow or no progress, maybe a weigh gain, disappointment, increased cravings and all the other baggage they come with.  Only you know what baggage they bring for you and only you can decide if the payoff is worth it.  As for me, the pastries in September were good, but were they worth it? I think the price was a bit higher than I planned on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NO WHINING!! (And No Excuses, Either!)

One of my favorite professors in graduate school was Dr. Doug Taylor.  He was a poetry scholar, both American and British, specializing in John Milton and Walt Whitman.  I took both classes from him and loved every minute of them.  In fact, after his sudden death in my last year of university, our annual graduate journal that year was dedicated to him: the epigraph included the last lines of the last stanza of Whitman’s Song of Myself.  It was my suggestion, as I can still vividly recall him reading those lines to our class.

If you had met him on campus, you would have thought he was a football coach or maybe something like an engineer.  He looked like a real hands-on kind of guy and in fact, he played football at Rutgers.  He definitely didn’t look like the stereotypical poetry professor (that guy taught Chaucer, which I also took… unfortunately.)  Dr. Taylor was perennially popular, mainly for his no nonsense approach.  Anyone who has been in college knows that as the end of the semester approaches and major assignments start coming due faster and faster, everyone- including the professors- start feeling the pressure.  One of ‘signs of semester end’ for those of us in the English department was Dr. Taylor’s “NO WHINING!” sign on his office door.  As each semester drew to a close, the professors would be closeted in their offices reading and grading and reading and grading and they hated to be interrupted, hence Doug Taylor’s sign.  If you showed up at his office door with an excuse about why your term paper wasn’t done or why you tanked the final or missed so many classes, he wasn’t buying it.  You had all semester to get things done and if you waited to the last week and “something happened,” you could take the class over again, take the D or F or apply for an Incomplete.  See that sign? No Whining! It wasn’t a big sign either, less than a quarter sheet of paper, a few inches really, but it got the job done.  He said it; he meant it!

I think about that sign and Dr. Taylor whenever I start making excuses for why I’m not eating the way I should be or why I can’t make my workout or why I need a pass on whatever it is I’m trying to weasel out of.  See that sign? No Whining!  Am I really too tired/ sick/ sore to make it to my workout? If I had to work late and just plain didn’t make it to the gym until the class was over, then yeah, that’s a legitimate reason.  I was doing my job, but because I’m just not ‘feeling like it’? NO WHINING! The same goes for eating junk food: running around town, doing all kinds of errands and now “it’s late and I don’t want to cook so why not stop and get a burger or fried chicken?” Remember Dr. Taylor’s sign? Yeah, so stop whining! You’ve got a bag of salad and roasted chicken at home so put the salad on a plate and stick the chicken in the microwave.  Getting junk food would actually take LONGER!  Even if I didn’t have those things at home, which has happened recently, it takes no longer to get them at a grocery store than it does to go through a drive-thru. Run in, grab them, run out- healthier dinner in the bag!

I can give you the whole “discipline is important” lecture that lots of guidance counselors, study skills teachers and parents like to give, but I found more students responded better to the “habit explanation.”  Most of us live according to our habits, i.e. ‘Auto Pilot.’  We follow the same patterns every day with the necessary detours and when we ‘suddenly discover’ that we are way overweight, we’re genuinely confused. It doesn’t ‘feel’ like we’re eating badly, but when we shut off the Auto Pilot and take stock of what we are eating and what we are doing during a normal week, it can be surprising.  I know that 90% of what I do every day and every week is because I’m on Auto Pilot, and while changing courses on a real airplane’s Auto Pilot is just punching in a few numbers into the computer, changing a human being’s Auto Pilot is a whole lot harder: we have to reprogram our brains by building new habits.

There’s a boatload of books, podcasts, websites and other programs out there to help you build or change your habits.  I heard one the other day discussing our “lower brain” v our “upper brain.” It was full of a lot of technical hoopla but I don’t think he was wrong (It was On Air with Ella episode 139 with Jim Fortin if you want to hear it for yourself.)  For myself, I know it’s hard to learn/ change my habits because they are so firmly ingrained.  The more we do them, the more firmly they are ingrained, so the key is to stop doing them and do something else, and again, the more we do the ‘new habit,’ the more firmly that one becomes ingrained. This is how I can argue with myself during my two hour commute about how ‘my shoulder hurts,’ ‘I’ve got too much to do,’ etc so I should bail on my workout and then find myself turning into my gym’s parking lot even though I have already ‘decided’ not to go. The habit has been entrenched in the ‘Auto Pilot settings’ in my brain, so no matter what my ‘upper brain’ decided, the Auto Pilot ‘lower brain’ did what it wanted to do anyway.

The hard part is getting the new healthier habit entrenched, which means doing it on a regular basis.  This is what makes me think of Dr. Taylor’s NO WHINING! sign. That interval between changing a habit or building a new one is the dangerous ground.  For me, this is where I can actually talk myself out of going to my workout and finding myself pulling into my driveway instead of the gym. So when I start the whining and fumbling around with flimsy excuses, an image of Dr. Taylor’s sign will pop in my head.  Because really, I AM whining.  Eating healthier isn’t a burden or any more work than eating badly, and eating badly has the added baggage of making me feel crappy emotionally and physically, whereas eating healthier is going to make me feel a whole lot better.  The same goes for working out: am I going to feel better after spending an hour working out, or am I going to feel better after spending an hour scrolling through my social media or watching tv? Which of these actions are actual burdens and drains on my time and energy?  So why am I whining? Because it’s the change that’s hard, not the actual new habits! It’s tough reminding yourself: tomorrow is Wednesday, which is a workout day, so make sure you have the gym bag packed and you take it with you and then you have to remember to drive to the gym instead of going home. It’s the same with my cardio class at another place where I need change for the parking meter, so not only do I have to remember all of the above, but I also have to remind myself to get change before I get there! It means we consciously have to pay attention to what we are doing, which actually requires energy.  It’s why some mindset coaches will tell you to stop arguing with yourself or debating your actions, because it wears out your brain and saps your energy.  Those of you who have kids know this: monitoring them is real work! And so is monitoring ourselves! This is what makes building and changing our habits difficult: we have to be watching our thoughts and actions so we don’t slip into Auto Pilot.  Whining about why we can’t build the new habit is more work than actually doing the new habit.

The recent On Air with Ella podcast with Jim Fortin didn’t really tell me anything about changing habits that I didn’t already know, since I’ve spent the last two-plus years building and changing my habits. His advice is to ‘dismiss the urge’ and change your focus to something else.  What works best for me is telling myself simply NO (in the same tone I use for my pets) and moving forward with the new habit.  When I feel the urge to start making excuses or whining, yep! NO WHINING! Getting whatever it is done is a whole lot easier than trying to get out of it, and a whole lot more rewarding.  Just doing the healthier new habit literally is its own reward because we feel better emotionally and physically and we’ve moved one step closer to programming the new setting into our Auto Pilot.

It can be a real hassle to make a new habit, which is why there is an entire cottage built around it, and honestly, I wish I were better at some of my other bad habits… like leaving the dishes in the sink until they smell funny.  (For some reason, Dr Taylor’s sign doesn’t work so good on that one!) We are all Works in Progress, no matter how old we are.  We all have something we wish we did better or didn’t do at all. Maybe putting a sign up over my sink is an idea: NO WHINING!! And No Excuses Either!!

The Weight of Self-Worth

A friend of mine on MFP (My Fitness Pal) recently posted about “Plus Size Day.” Apparently it’s a day to celebrate being “plus-sized.”  In his post, he mentioned a parade full of larger people and how the news snippets were full of larger women making nasty comments about skinny people.  He concluded his post about how this day is to promote being the best You you can be, whatever your size, and he voiced his own concerns that maybe the best You doesn’t carry an extra 100 lbs.

While I realize he was just putting his opinion out there, this is the attitude I have lived with all my life. I’ve been overweight all my life and I’ve heard all the comments, from sad & pitying, to nasty & snide, to the passive aggressive- all of them.  Most of them now I just ignore: ignorant people will continue to be ignorant no matter what I tell them, but occasionally, they still make me mad. I understand why some of those larger women are angry: like me, they’ve spent their entire lives being told there is something wrong with them; they are somehow broken/ substandard/ a failure; or they are just flat out ugly. They don’t meet some arbitrary social standard of what is ‘pretty’ or ‘acceptable.’

People might think that thin has always been pretty but there was a time when plump and curvy was the standard for pretty.  Having curves, wide hips and an ample bosom meant you were prime for bearing children and survival.  Thin meant poverty, possible miscarriage and malnutrition.  When the most important thing a woman could bring to a marriage was her ability to produce offspring, choosing thin meant betting long odds, whereas plump was almost a sure thing. (For men, plump meant being a successful  provider.)

Obviously those days are long past, but the idea of beauty being relative hasn’t changed.  Every February, the media is full of biologists’ reports about the ‘biological recipe for attraction,’ and how some physical attributes or gestures cue us on a biological or subconscious level that someone is a potential mate or is attracted to us.  Whatever science and biology may dictate, attractiveness is still defined by the individual.  We still bring our own personal values to the table, and these include our values about ourselves.

In one respect those old platitudes are correct: if we don’t value and respect ourselves, no one else will either.  When we look at ourselves and see someone who is disgusting, unworthy, ugly, stupid or hopeless, it shows.  We communicate those ideas and attitudes to others, and worse yet, they are reflected back to us by them and over time, those beliefs become firmly entrenched in our psyche.  We are unworthy and unlovable and we have nothing of value to offer anyone else.  Whether those ideas start in ourselves and come back to us or come from outside and become part of us is irrelevant.  If we believe it, it becomes our truth. 

This is what I and almost every overweight person has been told for as long as they have been overweight.  Most of you reading this have been on the receiving end of a lot of free advice about how to lose weight; unsolicited attempts at ‘motivating’ you to lose weight; plenty of incentives to be thinner; and more than a few nasty comments about being a glutton, including the not-so-subtle implications that gluttony is a mortal sin and my being fat is sending me to Hell (thank you, Catholic school!) As a kid, I got them all the free and supposedly helpful advice about how to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with me; what I didn’t get was the idea that I’m fine just the way I am. When I was a kid, I probably carried an extra 20 lbs through middle school but the more people tried to ‘fix’ me, the more weight I gained, so by the time I hit high school, I was probably close to 200 lbs if not there already, and I kept slowly gaining weight. By the time I hit college, I was definitely over 250 and heading towards 300.

And the bigger I got, the more I heard about how flawed and unacceptable I was. My mom (the chief proponent of this attitude) pretty much gave up on me at that point.  Whatever was wrong with me, she wasn’t going to waste her time trying to fix me.  But I still got lots of criticism from the rest of society, because by then, I wasn’t just ‘plump and curvy’; I was certifiably FAT! I was the definition of ugly; of lazy; of gluttony. I had no redeeming values at all, because I was defined by my weight.  Whatever my mind or spirit might have to offer is completely negated by my fat body.

This idea that who I am is defined by how much weight I carry and what I look like eventually completely p*ssed me off.  Someone else was determining my value based entirely on what he or she saw, rather than who I actually was.  I was repeatedly being told by my professors and administrators and -yes, the same society that was condemning me- that it is flat out wrong to judge someone by their ethnicity, sexuality, religion, or physical capabilities, but it’s totally okay to call me a loser because of my weight! How stupid is that? Everyone is to be judged on the content of their character, except for that fat chick over there- she’s worthless because she weighs 300 lbs.

This is why I stopped listening to other people’s opinions of me and my weight.  It’s why when my mom decided to try and ‘fix’ me again (after my sister stopped talking to her), I pretty much ignored her attempts.  I would come home and find diet books left on my doorstep followed by a voicemail asking if I got the book she left: I just stacked them in a corner, and over the years, the stack got taller and taller, and dustier and dustier.  While I realize that part of her motivation was my slowly declining health, her attempts at ‘fixing’ me were accompanied by more of the same dangling incentives: I’d have all the guys I wanted; she’d buy me a brand new wardrobe; I’d be ‘gorgeous.’  Because obviously, I wasn’t attractive to anyone at my weight! (FYI: I didn’t tell her about my boyfriends because they sure didn’t share her attitude!)

I can’t lie and say I didn’t want to lose weight despite ignoring my mom’s and everyone else’s criticisms.  My desire to lose weight came not from thinking of myself as worthless, but instead came from my growing inability to do the things I wanted to do.  It’s hard to walk around and be active when you’re carrying 400 lbs.  The pain in my knees had more to do with my desire to be thinner than anything my mom had to tell me. I didn’t want to walk with a cane or end up diabetic or have to sleep with an oxygen mask because my independence was far more important to me than the opinions of strangers. While I wasn’t happy being 400 lbs, I did my best not to allow it to dictate my life any more than I allowed other’s opinions of me to do so either.  I lived my life the way I wanted to live my life.  I became the best Me I could be, whatever my size.  For the most part, I am still that same person: I do what I want, say what I want and think what I want. The only difference is that now I weigh 185 lbs less. I am the best Me I can be, despite carrying that “extra 100 lbs” my friend mentioned in his post.  Although I am still losing weight, it’s not so that I can hit my “ideal weight” or some arbitrary “goal weight” set by some doctor or BMI chart; it’s because I value my independence.  I like being able to do all the things I want to do, and I like trying new things.  Being thinner and healthier has added more valuable activities and abilities to my life, but at the same time, I also know that I am still obese. That “extra 100 lbs” is still there and strangers still judge me by my weight.  And you know what? I still don’t care. Who I am is not what I weigh, nor am I defined by what other people think of me.

You Decide: No One Can Make the Decision For You

When you are overweight, there is always someone who is ready and willing to tell you how to lose weight.  It’s easy, didn’t you know? All you have to do is “blah blah blah!” And the person giving the advice can be super stick thin or even a little chunky him or herself, but the point is YOU are overweight, and they’re going to “fix” you!

We all know there’s as many ways to lose weight as there are leaves on a tree.  None of them are easy and all of them take time and some of them may even work for you.  Nothing works for everyone and some things work better than others, but we all know that.  The one thing that successful weight loss has in common with all these plans, easy or not, is that YOU have to decide to do the work.  This is a pretty basic idea, but it’s one that gets missed more than you know, and it’s usually ‘helpful’ family and friends that miss it!

In 2003, I weighed about 375 lbs.  I’ve weighed in the high 300’s most of my adult life, give or take about 30 lbs.  For the record, in 2003, I had not seen a doctor in a long time, so I have no idea what my actual weight was.  In May of that year, I managed to break my right tibia (shinbone) and shatter my left wrist, both of which needed hardware surgically installed, and as a result I was pretty much an invalid for about three months.  It also meant that I had to stay with my mom, which is the point of this little anecdote, because my mom is a first class ‘fixer’! Believe me, whatever ails you, she has the answer! (This is sarcasm, FYI!)

Since I was stuck bedridden at my mom’s, she decided she was going to ‘make’ me lose weight.  I could only eat what she brought me, and at the time, what she brought me was mainly ‘diet food’ in the form of cottage cheese and fruit cocktail (lunch) and boneless skinless chicken breast with broccoli (dinner). My ‘treat’ for the day was usually breakfast, consisting of a sugary flavored mix-it-yourself coffee drink.  In hindsight, this ‘diet’ was a recipe for hunger and future weight gain, which was pretty much what happened.  At the time, I lost about 40 lbs and it was due to one thing: I could only eat what she fed me, and that wasn’t much.  I spent the day hungry because in hindsight, what she was feeding me was pretty much carb-heavy crap! The coffee drink was full of calories and short-acting sugar, which spiked my blood sugar, leading to a crash and hunger! The cottage cheese & canned fruit lunch did the same thing and dinner, which was by far the healthiest meal, was the only thing that didn’t spike my blood sugar, but it was also really low fat, which still left me hungry.  (FYI: I HATE chicken breast and always have!) So when I left my mom’s house, I was about 40 lbs lighter, but it taught me nothing about eating healthy other than my mom’s version of it left me hungry, headachy and cranky all day long.  I learned to hate dieting and once I was back home, I went right back to my old eating habits and gained back all the weight that had been starved off.

In retrospect, I only lost weight because I was a ‘captive dieter’; this diet was not my decision.  Not only did I not choose this ‘diet;’ I had not chosen to lose weight at all! My mom made this decision for me!! I know she meant well, but she could not and should not have made this decision for me.

Most of us, as chronic dieters, see this kind of ‘help’ a lot. We come home from work or a trip and discover that some ‘helpful’ family member has cleaned out all the ‘bad’ food. A ‘helpful’ family member comes home from the grocery store or the takeout place with bags of ‘healthy diet food.’ They do it because they really think they are helping us out: if we don’t have the tempting ‘bad food’ around, we won’t eat it!

The problem is that it takes away our choice to say no to the temptations.  It takes away our decision to choose for ourselves.  Someone else has decided for us, which is the same as no decision at all. This means that our resolve to be healthier and our faith in ourselves to do the work is untested.  This is the same as no resolve or faith at all.  My last post was about believing in yourself and building your self confidence.  Your self-confidence only grows through your repeated success.  Think about it: if you don’t practice your free throws before the game, when it comes time to make them when it counts, how well do you think you are going to do? A big part of believing in yourself with weight loss comes from actually deciding to do it and then doing it!

We build our confidence by reaffirming our decision to lose weight (or eat healthier or exercise more or whatever) by making the right choice over and over.  Every time we resist the temptation to eat the junk food or keep the workout appointment or choose the healthier option, we are telling ourselves that we have the strength and resolve to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves.  BUT, if someone else is always making this decision for us, then we build no confidence at all!

Remember being in school? It’s the same as having someone else do your homework.  You practice the German phrases at home, then show up to take the test, but if you just copy someone else’s homework each night, when the test comes and you’re supposed to translate the phrase: “wo sind meine Schuhe?”, what are you going to write down? How about “ich habe kein Idee,” which means “I have no idea!”

The weight loss homework is when you’re at home watching tv or scrolling through Facebook and you start craving chips. If your Helpful Family Member has thrown them all out, then it’s easier to say no, unless you decide to run to the store to get them.  It’s the same with all the temptations: there’s a Coldstone commercial and suddenly, you want ice cream but if your Helpful Family Member has cleaned out the freezer, your opportunity to say no is lost. He or she made the decision for you.

The test for weight loss or eating healthier comes for us when we are on our own.  We’re doing the shopping and you pass the bakery in the grocery store.  The donuts smell wonderful and they have giant slices of your favorite cake and those yummy sugar cookies are there.  This is where the rubber meets the road: no one in the store is going to tell you no and the store sure isn’t going to throw away all the temptations just so you won’t buy and eat them! We have to decide to say no to them.

I see a lot of this kind of thinking on My 600 lb Life: “I don’t want to go to the store and see all the food I can’t eat!”; “I wish they’d close down all the bakeries so I don’t have to go hit them up!” No one is going to follow you around being the Food Police and stopping you from eating the pizza or chips or cupcakes.  You have to make that decision for yourself.  When my mom decided what I was going to eat during those three months I was bedridden, I had no choice in the matter so I didn’t learn how to say no, and when I went home, I decided what I was going to eat (and believe me, it wasn’t chicken breast!!)

The irony is that many people think it’s easier to let someone else decide, and in one sense it is: we can’t eat what we don’t have.  If I start craving chips on a Saturday afternoon and there are none in the house, then it’s a done deal: I’m not eating chips!  The difference is that there are no chips in my house because I decided not to buy them.  I made the decision that I am not eating them anymore.  Saying no to chips is easy now, but it sure as hell was not when I started! I’d avoid the chips and crackers aisle at the stores, and that was pretty easy because of how most stores are organized.  The bakery was a whole different story! At my store, the bakery is right next to the dairy and the eggs, so to get anything healthy- like the eggs or yogurt or cheese or even the cream for my coffee- I’d have to walk right by the bagels, the cookies, the carrot cake that I love! And there were too many times those other things ended up in my cart! But every time I looked at them and said “NO,” it got easier to say “NO” again.  I was deciding not to eat them! And I have decided over and over again, so now I not only have the strength and resolve to look at things like chips and garlic bread and carrot cake and know that I can resist them but i know that I don’t need to eat them; I don’t want to eat them; and even more importantly, these healthier choices have become a habit!

When someone else makes all the hard choices for you, then you don’t build the strength and confidence you need to make the hard choices when it counts.  You get good at doing hard things by practicing, and if you get no practice, what do you learn? Not much! I didn’t learn a whole lot about ‘healthy eating’ or ‘healthy choices’ those three months I lived with my mom because the choice was never up to me! When you’re facing the hard choice at the restaurant or the grocery store, it’s all up to you, and you have to decide for yourself.  In the end, no one else can live your life for you.

Seeds of Confidence: Growing Slowly

We’ve all heard the saying “nothing succeeds like success.”  It’s one of those sayings we can all parrot but don’t really think about what they mean, if they mean anything at all. But, in my opinion, the idea is that success builds upon itself.  Think about it: we invest with companies and people who have a proven track record.  We know they can do what they said, so we feel confident in giving them our trust and our money.

The same is true with confidence: it also builds upon itself. I remember watching yet one more episode of My 600 lb Life in which the patient Erica was having difficulty getting help from her family with her weight loss.  She needed someone to help her set up a new living situation, and one of her biggest problems was her lack of self-confidence.  Basically, she didn’t believe in herself and when you saw her family dynamic, it was easy to understand why.  Her brother had essentially written her off as a lost cause and her sister and brother in law pretty much treated her like something they stepped in and had to scrape off their shoe.  Her father (who did not appear in the episode) had called her Godzilla when she was growing up and her brother admitted that their father was probably embarrassed by Erica’s size.  The only one who had believed in Erica and tried to help her was her mother, who had passed away a few years earlier.  Essentially, with the exception of her niece, Erica was ignored by her family, the overall message being she’s a failure at life and isn’t worth their time or effort to try to save.

Paradoxically, once Erica starts on the diet, her sister makes it clear to her that she completely expects her to fail and at the same time taunts her for not staying on the diet.  This is the atmosphere that Erica grew up in and this is probably the biggest and truest reason that she weighs 600+ lbs.  When you are told repeatedly by the people who are supposed to love and support you that you are worthless and a failure, you begin to believe it.  It’s a living example of my favorite line from The Simpsons: “Can’t win- don’t try! Got it!”

Erica is just an example of what so many of us internalize: “I can’t do this.”  Whatever ‘this’ is doesn’t matter, because we go into the project believing we have already failed.  It can be running a marathon, doing your taxes, painting a room- it does not matter if we approach it as if it’s an impossible task.  We make a token attempt and when we fall flat, we aren’t surprised and shrug it off as “I was right!”  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: I know I can’t do this; I try to do this; and I fail. “Told you so!”

Most of us approach weight loss with the same kind of baggage- we bring all our past failures with us along with an attitude of “why should this time be any different?” It’s our internal dialog more than anything that kills our success. We tell ourselves that we aren’t good at diets; that we can’t make the kinds of changes to lose weight; and sometimes we tell ourselves that we are just destined to be the “fat one.”  It’s a bizarre attempt at protecting ourselves from the failure “we know is coming” because if we don’t get our hopes up, we don’t get hurt as bad in the fall.  We feel comfortable with failure- it’s a known quantity.

We have no confidence in ourselves and it is this lack of self-confidence that keeps us eating gigantic Costco muffins all day.  It keeps us from getting up out of our chair and making the changes we need to make.  The changes themselves are not difficult to make: walking around the block; eating more veggies and less starches; not grazing through a bag of chips or crackers all day.  Obviously, there’s a lot more than these simple changes to losing weight, but don’t forget: nothing succeeds like success.

This is where confidence, success and motivation converge. When we start getting things right, we start building confidence, and the more we get right, the more we want to try getting other things right too! The more we accomplish, the more we realize what we can do, and this is motivation.  We want to try more things and the more we succeed, the stronger our confidence becomes.

But confidence doesn’t happen by accident.  One of the pitfalls is that it takes a long time to build confidence.  It’s one of the reasons this blog is titled “Taking the Long Weigh to Skinny.”  It doesn’t happen overnight, but we have to believe in ourselves just to make the attempt- and I don’t mean that token try just to show that we ‘tried.’  Confidence is hard for most of us.  Some people are born either with a great deal of self-confidence or the pigheadedness to keep getting back up after falling flat.  No one succeeds all the time, no matter how confident they are, and when we find ourselves face down on the floor, we can either stay there or get back up to try again. It’s our choice.

For me, that’s what it comes down to: whatever I want to do or not do is ultimately my choice.  (For the record, I’m one of the pigheaded ones.) For most of my life, my choice was “I’m just destined to be the fat one” as I kept getting bigger and bigger.  I was going through the photos on my phone a couple of nights ago, and I found photos of me I didn’t know or had forgotten I had and I was seriously shocked at my size.  Even in a selfie from just two years ago, I could not believe how big I was- and I had already lost about 50 lbs by then! It was a series of choices to just keep making more positive changes until it was no longer “I think I can do this” but rather “I am getting this done!” It wasn’t an easy process learning to believe in myself when I’d spent a lifetime telling myself that I was the ‘fat one.’ I chose to believe that was true, until I chose to believe that I could be someone else, but getting there meant I had to believe in myself.  It meant trying again and again until I got it right, but it also meant giving up that comfortable feeling of failure.