When I tell people that My 600 lb Life is my version of a 12 step meeting, they usually think I’m joking. I’m not. Watching it multiple times a week (I have OnDemand) keeps me connected to my goals and it reinforces my choices. Sometimes it pretty much smacks me upside the head with my own bad behavior or gives me a heads up about where I’m headed.
Recently I was watching Erica’s story and I was reminded that not only are we the only ones who can make the decision to eat healthier, but we can make our weight loss as hard or as easy as we choose. It begins with our attitude and if our attitude sucks, it’s going to be a long hard battle and the odds are stacked against us before we ever begin.
Erica’s family (in my opinion) had a lot to do with her bad attitude. The only supportive members of her family were her mother who passed away and her niece. Her brother was fairly indifferent and her sister was a downright b*tch. Her siblings’ attitude seemed to be that “you ate your way to 661 lbs so it’s your problem. You fix it!” As far as her family was concerned, she’s an embarrassment, ‘mentally ill,’ and a failure: “She’s never succeeded before so I don’t think she’ll succeed this time.” Her dad’s response to her weight gain: “my beautiful little girl went to sleep one night and woke up Godzilla.” In one breath her sister tells her she needs to do something to get better but in the next offers her no help at all and mocks her.
When you’ve been told you’re a waste of space most of your life, it becomes ingrained in your psyche. I’ll never forget my mom telling me what a disappointment I was to her since she’d intended to retire at 50 and live off her children but that wasn’t happening! My only consolation was that my sister (the Chosen One) was also a failure in that regard. I’ve continued to be a failure by not having children, which was probably the sanest decision I’ve made in my life (I don’t dare trust her with my dog). As a result of my mom’s attitude towards me, I spent a great part of my childhood and adolescence wondering what the hell was wrong with me. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I realized she was the problem, not me. I also realized that if it weren’t for my dad & his side of my family reinforcing the idea that I was okay and she was the one who was screwed up, I might never have come to the realization that there isn’t anything ‘wrong’ with me!
Erica unfortunately never seemed to have anyone other than her mother telling her that she wasn’t a failure and an embarrassment, and this makes her attitude one of her biggest obstacles to weight loss. Basically, no one expects her to succeed and no one wants to help her so why should she even try if she’s already hopeless? I think if it weren’t for her own imminent fear of dying from her obesity, she wouldn’t have tried at all. This feeling of failure- that “I’m a waste of space and everyone would be happier if I weren’t here anymore”- is a huge stumbling block when it comes to motivation and overcoming obstacles. I know it sounds a little cheesy, but truly if you don’t believe in yourself, you aren’t going to make it!
So is it surprising that when faced her sister’s angry condescending attitude (I’m here helping you, aren’t I?!) Erica just gives up? This is her attitude when she comes up against almost any obstacle: this is too hard; I don’t know if I can do this; some days I really just want to give up! The fact that she succeeds as well as she does is frankly amazing to me.
The one thing her sister says that I do agree with is when she tells Erica “so you thought this would be easy?” Changing your eating habits is way harder than people think it’s going to be. On the surface, it looks easy: switch out the potatoes for Brussels sprouts; don’t eat ice cream; eat more healthy veggies; switch the soda for water. It really looks as easy as changing your shirt, but when it comes down to making the changes, it’s more problematic. A spoonful of mashed potatoes won’t hurt; a scoop of ice cream once in a while isn’t that bad; one piece of candy, one soda; I’m tired of vegetables… It’s part of a multi-layered pattern of behavior and when we change one part, we have to change another part whether we like it or not. Sticking to the changes long enough for them to become part of the new healthy habit is the hardest part. We like ‘end dates’ and healthy living has no end date.
This is the second biggest obstacle to changing your eating habits. Actually making those changes is the first, but sticking to them is the second. We feel like we’re looking down a lifetime of no more cake, no more french fries, no more crackers and see only a lifetime of steamed broccoli and chicken breast ahead of us. It can be pretty bleak! This is where some of us will manufacture our own obstacles to get out of sticking with the healthy eating habits. We go looking for an excuse to give up: “I couldn’t do my walking today because it’s raining outside;” “I couldn’t go to my exercise class because I got stuck in traffic;” “There weren’t any healthy options at the buffet, so I had to have the potato salad and chicken nuggets.”
I’m sure this will come as no surprise to most of us but we don’t get points or a pass for giving up. This is another place where our attitude is either our biggest ally or our biggest problem: when we truly encounter a problem, we either fight it, find a way around it or we give up. Giving up is way easier, or at least it looks like it is. Giving up means you keep living the way you are living, with painful knees and joints, with clothes that don’t fit right, being hungry all the time, having a hard time fitting in chairs, cars, or any public seating, and generally being self-conscious whenever you are out in the public. And if our attitude is “I’m already a failure so why should I even try since I’m just going to screw this up too?” we are not only fighting whatever obstacle we encounter, we are fighting ourselves as well.
We don’t have to be unrealistically positive in our attitude (“I can do this! I can do anything! Yay!”) but we don’t have to automatically assume we’re going to fall flat on our faces either. Trying our best, focusing on the solution rather than the problem, and if we can’t make our goal, getting as close as we can are not failures! We do get progress points for trying our best and those points come in the form of experience, confidence and a few lessons learned for next time.
Change is damned hard, and when you’re having to fight yourself along with everything else, you’re fighting with one hand tied behind your back. You can be your best ally or your biggest problem. Haven’t we all got more than enough problems to go around without giving ourselves one more?