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.