We hear so much about denial and self help groups, it’s become cliche, which is really not a good thing. It’s important to point it out when we see it, but at the same time, people have gotten good at denying their denial. We get the “That’s denial!” phrase thrown at us so often, we don’t even hear it anymore or we come up with excuses for why we aren’t in denial, but there we are, still denying we have a problem, whatever that problem might be: “I’m okay, really!”
That’s what makes denial so important and so insidious. One of the problems we regularly have at the office is our internet goes down. It’s pretty obvious: we can’t get online so we call someone out to fix it, and it gets fixed. That’s the easy part: the less obvious problem (at least to the boss) is that our ISP stinks! The boss doesn’t want to deal with changing providers because it’s a headache, so he puts up with spotty service. That’s where the denial comes in: by not admitting that our ISP is truly crummy, we are dealing with the recurring problem of no service at all. Instead of fixing the real problem (crummy ISP), we are left dealing with the symptoms (no service).
One of the people I work with has serious knee problems. She’s actually had both knees replaced and she’s having problems with recovering from the last surgery. She’s remarked to me and her employer that she’s probably put on about “fifteen or twenty pounds” because she’s been so immobile due to the complications from her last surgery, which was last December, FYI. I really had to bite my tongue. She estimated her weight to be “about 265. I just took a guess!” I don’t know if my shock showed on my face. In a way, I hope it did because then she might actually get on a scale to see how much she really does weigh. I know how much I weigh; at last weigh-in a few weeks ago, I was about 255-260, and she looks like she outweighs me by about 70 lbs. She actually looks like what I used to weigh most of my adult life: 375.
This is where most of us are when “we know we need to lose weight, but we aren’t that overweight. It’s not that bad!” One of the phrases I hear in pretty much every episode of My 600 lb Life comes right after the patient steps on the scale for their first meeting with Dr. Nowzaradan: “I’m shocked”; “I can’t believe I weigh this much”; “I didn’t think it had gotten so bad”; or some variation of this. They knew they were obviously overweight but they were in denial over how out of control the situation really was. There was one patient who refused to look at the number on the scale. It sounds silly, but I understand it: I used to do the same thing. Every time I’d get on the scale for a check-up with my doctor, I would close my eyes so I wouldn’t see the digital readout right in front of my face. Why? Easy! If I don’t see how much I weigh, I don’t have to admit it’s killing me and I don’t have to deal with the consequences of my eating! Yay for me! Except… it was agony living in denial.
I’m not exaggerating: it hurt to walk, to stand, to sit. I was moving 375 lbs for most of my adult life every time I stood up, went to the grocery store, whenever I had to do anything! For most of my life, even though I weighed so much, I was pretty mobile and there weren’t too many ‘inconveniences’ that went with my weight. It wasn’t until I got over the 400 lb mark that it really began to take a toll, and when you gain weight at that size, you feel every pound you gain! But, if you don’t look at the number, if you don’t admit you ‘have a problem,’ you don’t have to deal with it. It’s nothing you have to address right away. You can ‘get by’ and deal with the symptoms rather than the real issue: your weight.
For me, these symptoms included things like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, arthritic knees and degenerative disc disease. Dealing with the symptoms meant taking 6 prescriptions, two for each of these! It meant sticking my finger at least once a day to check my blood sugar; it meant it hurt still hurt to walk, sit or stand, despite the pain medication and the anti-inflammatory. Rather than deal with the issue of my weight and my eating choices, it was easier to pop a bunch of meds and live with the pain. Except… it really wasn’t easier.
This is why denial is killing so many of the obese and super obese and those with eating-related health problems, like diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney and heart disease. If you don’t admit you have a problem, then you can’t take steps to fix it. You have to look at the problem in order to address it and move forward. Closing your eyes so you don’t see the number keeps you right where you are: doing nothing and going nowhere. The irony was that even as I closed my eyes, I knew why I was closing them, and I still did it! I knew I was in denial over my eating choices and my ever-increasing weight, but I still thought it was easier than having to face some hard realities.
For most of us, losing weight is really really hard. It’s hard to make changes; it’s hard to know what’s the ‘right way’ or the ‘best way.’ We feel overwhelmed and hopeless because ‘nothing works’ and sooner or later, even if we have some success, we end up pretty close to where we started. That’s the Reality we are trying to avoid facing and we opt for denial instead. But the truth is that is not Reality. Yes, losing weight involves making changes and not all of those changes are easy, but taking action is normally not as hard as we think it will be. Making small improvements can yield some significant benefits. Feeling better physically and emotionally are huge rewards to start with, and any improvement is still improvement! For me, that one simple change was I just stopped eating fast food and I lost about 40 lbs! That was my reality and it was an easy fix. For someone else it can be as simple as not drinking soda or not eating bagels for breakfast.
But we can’t make improvements, large or small, until we come face to face with the number on the scale. We have to open our eyes first and admit that we have a problem and that dealing only with the symptoms isn’t going to fix it. Until we admit that there’s a problem- that something is out of control- we can’t even begin to fix anything. As an added benefit, just taking action, no matter how small, is a morale booster. It gives us hope and a sense of control- we are doing something and we are open to suggestions! Now if only I can get my boss to admit our ISP is a problem……