We have all failed at weight loss at least once. If you’re like me, you’ve been failing at it all your life! For most of us, obviously, this is unplanned but oddly enough, there are some people who plan to fail.
Most of us who go into the weight loss arena seriously want to succeed; we want to be slimmer, more fit, less tired and just generally look and feel better. We unwittingly sabotage ourselves by creating plans and menus that just make it harder than it needs to be. If you’re like me, you’re in a hurry to reach your goal weight so everyone, outta my way! It’s in our rush to “do everything! and do it now!” that we pile on too many changes, drastically re-structure our eating plans and overschedule ourselves with exercise. We’ve made it harder than it needs to be by trying to go from zero to 150 in ten seconds or less! Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) likens this to pulling onto the freeway, gunning your car’s engine with the parking brake on. It’s a good analogy: we want to go as fast as we can but with the parking brake on, all we are doing is burning out our engine and increasing our frustration. We get easily discouraged because “we’re doing everything right and not getting anywhere!” This is where most of us throw up our hands and resign ourselves either to being fat or to finding something else.
The ‘finding something else’ may not be the wrong idea, if the ‘do everything now’ method has been your strategy. You probably have a good sound plan for weight loss; it’s the execution/ implementation that’s the problem. We usually plan to give up things like sugar, ’empty carbs’ (chips, potatoes, etc) and we plan to drink more water and do more exercise or activity. Those are all great plans (especially if you include more sleep and stress management) but trying to do all of them at once? That hotel website commercial pops in my head- the one with the guy trying to put on his belt, drink his coffee, shave and read the paper all at once. No one tries to do all those things at once- duhhhh! We can’t! Our hands are full! But when it comes to weight loss, eating better and making other positive changes, we don’t realize that our metaphorical hands are full…. until we start dropping things! Such as missing our workout class/ appointment, giving in to the break room cookies and ‘forgetting’ our healthy lunch so we end up eating out the rest of the crew- again! We don’t realize it, but we are making this harder than it needs to be. We just hamstrung ourselves and didn’t even know it.
Using the analogy of the guy trying to do everything at once, the answer is obviously we do things one or two at a time. Hello! Makes sense, right? Brush your teeth then drink your coffee or vice versa but not at the same time! We reject this idea because it… takes … too… long! We don’t want to wait- really who does? But the fact is that we built our bad habits and our extra pounds over time, usually a lifetime, and those habits and pounds take time to come off. It’s not like we spent a week eating pasta three times a day and dessert seven days a week and then the following week we woke up with an extra twenty or thirty pounds on our butts and bellies! These habits changed little by little over the years and the extra pounds snuck up on us the same way. The bad news is that now they’re firmly entrenched into our lifestyle and our butts. The good news is that we can evict them, but like any eviction, it takes some time. The first good habit we need to learn is patience. If we are as consistent and steady with our new good habits as we were with our old bad ones, we will be successful at weight loss.
This means doing things one at a time: we make one change, do it consistently and when it becomes a habit (as in we do it without really thinking about it), we make another change. Here’s an example from last night: for the last two years, I’ve been going to water aerobics classes Mondays and Wednesdays. The only time I haven’t made it to the classes is when the gym is closed or I work late. The biggest changes for me involved in this were #1) remembering my gym bag; and #2) remembering to go to the gym! I set reminders on my phone to help with both of these. The danger for me was that I would find a way to talk myself out of going to class: it’s a hassle; it’s cold; I don’t feel good; blah blah blah. I made myself go anyway and it got easier after I made friends in the class. Yesterday on my way to the gym, I was tired; it’d been really stressful at work lately; it was cold and rainy; and I realized I was talking myself out of going to class. I was making excuses and justifications for not going and why it was okay to skip it. In fact, I had ‘decided’ I wasn’t going to go but because it had become a firmly entrenched habit, I found myself pulling into the gym parking lot. Even though my ‘higher brain’ was arguing with me, my ‘autopilot brain’ drove to the gym anyway: it’s Wednesday so it’s gym night! Oh, well! I’m here so I might as well work out!
By taking my time doing the same actions over and over, I made a habit of going to the gym and unless I consciously think about stopping myself, I do it anyway. This is how we learn to take our healthy lunch, not put sugar in our coffee, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. I seriously set reminders on my phone (Alarmed app by Yoctoville-it’s free at iTunes!) and they helped a lot: reminders for packing the gym bag, going to the gym, making my breakfast and lunch, etc.
As for those of us who seriously plan to fail, there’s an entirely different psychology at work there. These are the people who deliberately set themselves up for failure so they can say “I tried but I can’t do it!” and that’s their excuse for never trying again. They ‘try to exercise’ but will try something they are reasonably certain is beyond their capabilities without being too outlandish, such as me at 430 lbs trying to run a 5k- just plain crazy! But if I tried something like doing an hour on the treadmill, that’s not crazy but at the same time, I’m pretty certain I would have been in a fair amount of pain afterwards because the impact on the treadmill aggravated the arthritis in my knees. After 20 minutes, my knees were killing me. If I had been setting up an excuse as to why I can’t exercise, this would have been good enough for me. I’d already lost 40 lbs and should have been able to do this, but it hurts too much to exercise! I tried and I can’t do it! This would have been my opportunity to ‘get out of exercising’ because ‘my body can’t handle it!’ Instead, what I did was go to my doctor and ask her why my knees were hurting, which is how I ended up in the pool. I went looking for an explanation and an alternative instead of choosing the excuse. For the people who want permission to fail, looking for answers is kryptonite. They don’t want help. They don’t want to succeed. They want to fail, either because it makes them more helpless and pitiable so they either get more attention and/ or sympathy or they don’t have any responsibility for anything in their lives. They can be overweight and helpless with impunity: they’ve tried to help themselves and they can’t do it.
Obviously some of us have flirted with the edges of this: I ‘tried’ to open this jar and I can’t: “hon, can you get this for me?” I ‘tried’ to prune the rosebushes and they look awful now: “look what happens when you let me do! I can’t do it as well as you!” This isn’t the same thing as those who are looking for excuses and justifications not to change. Change is hard and uncomfortable and it’s a lot of work. Positive changes are worth the effort. We just need to remind ourselves that we are also worth the effort when our brains think of reasons to fail.