Motivation & Weight Loss: Getting Through the Background Noise

I know a lot of people who always want to know the “why” behind your or my weight loss.  On one level, I think it’s a stupid question, especially when the person who’s losing weight is as big or bigger than I am.  I once saw a dietician ask one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients “why do you want to lose weight?” Ahem– the woman had been bedridden for at least a couple of years and weighed around 500 lbs! While I really think this patient did herself no favors by not following the doctor’s treatment plan, I also think this question was pretty stupid.  The obvious response– for me anyway– would have been “Because I don’t want to die!”

For those of you who don’t weight more than double your ideal weight, the Why behind the weight loss might seem a little vague and it’s probably a viable question even if it doesn’t feel like it to you, because it’s really about your motivation.  Keeping your Why foremost in your thoughts is one way to keep yourself motivated.

The problem is that once that Why gets buried in every day minutiae it gets harder for you to stay connected to it.  Some people post their Why in a prominent location so they can see it daily, like the wallpaper of their phone or on the mirror in their bedroom or on the dash in their car.  The idea is that if you are reminded of Why you want to lose weight, you will stay motivated!

It’s a good idea and for some of us, it probably works! For a lot of us,  though, it becomes background noise. It’s like that bus bench ad that we see on the way to work each morning when we stop at the light by the Starbucks.  We see it but we don’t really look at it anymore. This is the problem with motivation: unless we keep ourselves motivated, our motivation evaporates. It’s like trying to hang onto the smoke slipping through our fingers!

We naturally look outside ourselves to keep our motivational motor revving.  We’re used to finding inspiration outside ourselves, so why not motivation? Inspiration by definition comes from outside ourselves, but motivation is something different.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines Inspiration as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”  It defines Motivation as “a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.”  It’s a subtle but important difference. When I go to PetSmart, they almost always have cats or dogs available for adoption and looking at those adorable little faces, I really want to bring one home with me.  So why don’t I?  Because I don’t have a reason to do it beyond ‘they’re so cute!’

I had a reason a couple of years ago: my old cat Belle passed away and her buddy Yzma was not getting over the loss.  Then I took an impromptu trip with my dog so Yzma was left at home for the weekend by herself, which was a little scary for her (she’d never been alone in the house).  Once I got back, I started looking for a cat to adopt! My reason for bringing home Ursula was that Yzma needed another cat for companionship.  Although I always wanted to bring home a new kitty (the inspiration), there wasn’t any reason (motivation) until the situation with Yzma arose.

This is the problem so many of us run into when we want to lose weight.  We see something or someone who inspires us and so we really want to do it, but what’s our reason for doing it?  This is our motivation or, as others call it, our Why.  What makes us get up off the sofa and do something about being 20, 40 or 50 lbs overweight? It may be that our health is being affected by our weight or that we have an upcoming event or it may be something more personal, but odds are until we have an actual reason that smacks us in the face, we are just ‘inspired’ and once that inspiration evaporates, we’re back in our same old lifestyle.

Even with a legitimate reason, such as “my knees hurt so much I can hardly walk,” unless we pay attention we can lose motivation.  Think about it: the first time we realized our weight was hurting our knees, did we make positive changes to lose weight? Or did we take some Advil instead? When they kept hurting, did we make positive changes then? Or did we take more Advil? We probably figured we’d take the Advil until we lost the weight and our knees stopped hurting, but once the pain went away, so did our motivation. The Advil took care of the reason for losing weight, or at least the reason that got our attention (painful knees).

Before too long, even though we may have great reasons to lose weight, they get buried in that background noise of every day living.  We aren’t bad people! We’re just busy people! We’re going to look up some healthy recipes just as soon as we get off this phone call. We brought a healthy weight loss friendly lunch but our client is taking us out to eat today.  We have a healthy dinner planned but suddenly you’ve got to take the kids to basketball practice so there goes that! We want to make weight loss a priority, but somehow it keeps getting pushed farther down the list until it’s ultimately forgotten.  At least until something brings it back to the forefront again, like the Advil stops working on your knees or your jeans are getting too tight to zip or– horrors!– you see a picture of yourself from your friend’s birthday party last week: OMG!! That’s what I look like?!

Most of us know our failings pretty well and try to find work arounds.  When I go over to my friend’s house and she has things for me, she puts them on the table by the door so we don’t forget.  I put my stuff for her (or for the office or wherever) in a bag by the front door. I use a reminders app on my phone for other things (like a list of errands) because I know I’ll get home and– danggit! I still didn’t pick up the stupid dry cleaning!  Staying motivated is a constant battle to keep your reason from slipping into the background noise.  That might mean changing things up every couple of weeks or months so that your reason keeps getting your attention.  Once it becomes ‘every day,’ it’s background noise. It’s like driving home every day thinking about every thing you still need to do and–WHAM– pot hole! That brought your attention back to the road!

My latest work-around for motivation sits on the end table next to my recliner.  It’s a photo of me from my ill-fated Disney trip in 2012– the one where I weighed about 440 lbs! It avoids becoming ‘background noise’ because #1) I really hate photos of myself!; and #2) my face and body are so fat and puffy, it’s scary.  Seriously. Scary. Every time I look over at the table where I keep the remotes, my drink, my pens and all the other stuff I use just about every evening, I see that awful photo. It got shoved behind a stack of books for a couple days and tempted though I was to leave it there, I moved it back out where I can see the ugly thing. It’s not that I’m trying to beat myself up mentally or emotionally, but I don’t want to forget how miserable I was at that time, even though I’m smiling in the picture. It was a painful and embarrassing trip because my weight made it that way. This photo serves as the jarringly piercing smoke alarm that breaks through the background noise of my daily life. It reminds me of my reason for losing weight. (Oh, yeah, I was totally miserable the whole trip!) Nothing is as motivating as NOT looking and feeling like that ever again!

 

Yay, Whole Foods!: Supplements, Nutrition & Weight Loss

I’m a huge fan of whole foods and I don’t mean the supermarket chain.  (I’m not knocking them; I’ve shopped there before but there isn’t one in my town.) I’m talking about the real as-close-to-right-out-of-the-ground whole foods. Apparently, they are one of the hot trends right now in the food and nutrition arena. One of the other hot trends is biohacking.  Biohacking is a loose term for finding ways to get what you want from your body (or from something else organic) by using some kind of quick trick or other means.  One of the most well known biohackers is Dave Asprey, ‘inventor’ of Bulletproof coffee.  Essentially, Bulletproof coffee is a high energy drink you make yourself that keeps you full and can keep you in ketosis if that’s your thing.  (Ketosis can also be called another biohack by some people.) While I found a lot of descriptions and examples of biohacking, I didn’t really find anything that defines it.  The best example for me is what I used to do when I couldn’t get to sleep at night: I used a placebo of sorts. I’d take a couple of plain ibuprophen.  (Not the PM version because it didn’t exist then!) Generally, within twenty minutes of taking the generic Advil, even if I wasn’t in pain, I’d start to get sleepy and be out before I knew it.  It worked every time.

One of the drawbacks to biohacking is that sometimes people try it with nutrition, which usually comes out to taking handfuls of supplements, smoothies or protein shakes.  I have heard Dave Asprey on podcasts talking about taking about 20 or more supplements and while I don’t want to malign supplements or those that use them (I take a few myself!), I do want to point out that just because you take 2000 mg of Calcium every day, that doesn’t mean you have all your Calcium needs covered.  One important issue that gets marginalized– with both supplements and whole foods– is the subject of bioavailability.   Bioavailability is pretty much just what it sounds like: the nutrients in the supplement or food either is or isn’t available to be absorbed by your body.  This is important because if you’re eating bushels of spinach thinking you’re getting your iron RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance), then you’re sadly mistaken. While the nutritional information label on that bag of spinach may say it’s loaded with iron, it’s not in a form your body can absorb!

Example: being a bit of a geek-groupie, I watch The Big Bang Theory and in one episode Penny was out shopping with Sheldon, who in typical Sheldon fashion, criticized her choices of vitamins and supplements.  He told her (paraphrasing here) that he could help her get her vitamins and minerals because what she had in her hands was “a recipe for expensive pee.” We think we’re getting enough vitamins and minerals and all that good nutritional stuff because we’re popping those supplements daily, but the fact of the matter is while we may be swallowing the pills, they may not be staying in our bodies!  Some nutrients need ‘helpers’ to be absorbed and others may just be plain unavailable! This is what Sheldon meant when he told Penny she was making ‘expensive pee.’ We can take all the supplements and protein shakes in the world and if the nutrients aren’t available, they just pass right through our bodies and do nothing for us but drain our wallets.

Supplement manufacturers usually take a big hit on this topic because while a protein powder label may say it had 25 mg of protein per scoop, what’s actually available to be absorbed is maybe half of that.  We need to check labels for the amount that’s bioavailable.  The protein is there: we just can’t use it. The same is true for supplements: just because it’s there on the label doesn’t mean we actually get the benefit.  Unfortunately people tend to think that whole foods have ‘solved’ this problem which isn’t the case, although they do have a slight advantage. Many whole foods- like spinach- have lots of nutrients, minerals and vitamins, but plants have defenses too, and a lot of their defenses rely on keeping their nutrition unavailable to those who eat them.  For example, while spinach, broccoli and other dark leafy greens have calcium, they also have oxalic acid which binds to the calcium so we can’t absorb it. So while we may eat  five cups of broccoli, we may only end up getting less than half the calcium we think we got.

The advantage to choosing to rely more on whole foods than supplements comes from tradition, in my opinion.  We tend to prepare a lot of foods in ways to make them more bioavailable.  Take creamed spinach: that oxalic acid doesn’t care if it binds to the calcium in the spinach or the calcium in the cream, so we’re getting more calcium in that creamed spinach than if we ate plain spinach.  There’s a similar benefit to eating the traditional beans & rice that come in many cultures: legumes and rice both contain incomplete proteins so if we ate them alone, we wouldn’t get any protein benefit, but by eating them together, we get the proteins.

Whole foods also have a slight advantage because of the ‘whole package’ deal.  For some foods, like white potatoes, there are a lot of vitamins in the skins but once those foods get processed (say into potato flakes), the skins are discarded and we don’t get those vitamins.  We’ve heard a lot of similar stories about other fruits and veggies: eat the whole fruit/ veg rather than just part of it (apple sauce or veggie juice). This also why people advocate eating the whole egg instead of just the whites where the protein is concentrated: the yolk has beneficial nutrition such as vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

There are a lot of diets that rely on nutrition bars and protein shakes to promote weight loss, but again bioavailability bites you in the butt! There might be 100% of all your RDA on those labels but how much remains in your body? How many times does someone you know who relies on those bars and shakes complain of being tired or not feeling great? Yes, they’re losing weight but is feeling cruddy a great trade off? Are they hungry a lot? I know I was when I was on those diets- tired and feeling really blah. Not the benefit I wanted with my weight loss!

I am not saying you should throw out your bottles of vitamins and supplements. I’ve got quite a collection of those myself but I don’t depend on those bottles to make sure I get all my vitamins and minerals. Remember the word ‘Supplement’ means to ‘add to’ something else. I try to get most of my vitamins, minerals and nutrition from whole natural foods and then use vitamins and supplements to make up any differences that might be lacking.  I’m sure my diet has some holes in it. No one’s is perfect, I’m sure! The point is that I feel better eating mostly whole foods and- not to brag- but a lot of people have been asking me what I use on my skin because it looks so much better.  Umm, nothing? No lotion, no cream- just soap and water! Unless broccoli, eggs, fish and butter lettuce count!

 

 

Monday Morning Disease: Weight Loss & Motivation

Yes, there really is a syndrome called Monday Morning Disease, although it mainly affects horses.  I came across it many many years ago reading James Herriot’s books.  For those of you who have never read him, he was a vet who practiced in the Yorkshire dales (northern England) beginning in the 1930’s. His own description of himself was “a shaggy cow doctor,” because most of his clients were farmers and his patients were livestock. If you ever want to know how to deliver a calf that’s a breech birth, he’s the go-to guy! Because my dad and I are such pet people, his books were part entertainment, part history and some super practical pet first aid.  I learned how to wrap a cat from him, how to lance an abscess and a few other practical bits that sadly included diagnosing canine distemper.

Monday Morning Disease (Equine exertional Rhabdomyolysis) was fairly common when a large portion of farmers still used horses to farm. They’d be pulling equipment Monday through Saturday and take Sunday off. On Monday morning the horse’s legs would be swollen due to the constant exertion followed by the sudden lack of movement. It’s a muscle disorder usually from poor circulation or problems with glycogen storage. While rhabdomyolysis happens to people too, this post is less about muscular disorders and more about motivational problems.

Most of us hate Mondays (at least those of us who aren’t perky or insane).  I am a devout Monday-hater and have been since I was a kid. Growing up I had a collection of Garfield comic strips taped on my bedroom door and most of them were in the I-hate-Mondays vein.  (My favorite was Garfield grousing that the world will probably end on a Monday because it’d be a real shame for God to end the world right before a weekend!)

Pretty much every Monday morning, I moan and groan and hide under the blankets for as long as I can. Even though I love my job and sincerely don’t mind the long commute, I really really hate getting up early in the morning and I know each Monday that it’s going to be another five days before I can sleep in, stay up late and do what I want all day long.  What makes it so much worse– for me, at least– is the same concept as the Monday Morning Disease in horses: we’ve been going and going all week long and then we come to a sudden stop.  It’s like everything catches up with us so it’s as if Mondays are actually de-motivational! During the week, it’s Getup-Getready-Takecareofthepets-Packlunch-Grabbreakfast-GetGas-Drivetowork-Workallday-Drivehome-Runerrands-Hitthegym-Takecareofthepetsagain-Makedinner-Dohousework-Getreadyforbed-Gotosleep-Getupanddoitalloveragain.

It’s not a horrible schedule but it’s long for me because I live alone.  Pretty much anything that needs to get done, I have to do it and if it doesn’t get done during the week, it has to get done over the weekend or it just doesn’t get done.  The flip side for families or couples is while there are more people to handle things, there are just more things to do! There is no ‘easy option’ when it comes to working, managing a home and everything else that goes along with modern life.  Pretty much all of us are in this Go-Go-Go lifestyle and then we get a chance to catch our breath…..Whew! But once we’ve gotten our second wind, it’s hard to get back up to speed.  We’ve lost momentum and suddenly everything feels so much harder than when we were bouncing off the walls to get things done.  This is what I mean by Monday Morning Disease.

And it doesn’t have to happen only on Monday mornings.  Getting back up to speed and re-building that momentum is damned hard.  When you’re going along as fast as you can from one task to another, it doesn’t feel like it’s hard because you are so focused on “get this done- move on the next one!”  When you slow down or stop, you’re having to start again from that dead stop. It’s the difference from starting your car in the morning after it’s been sitting dormant all night versus starting it up after you’ve stopped just long enough to fill it with gas. The cold engine takes a long time to get warmed up: the air coming from the vents is cold; the windshield needs to defrost and the car doesn’t respond as quickly as it normally does when it’s been running for a while.  By contrast, a car that’s warmed up starts quickly and smoother than one that’s cold.

We can remember what it was like when we were kids and how awkward it felt going back to school after the summer long vacation.  Where’s my backpack? Where’s my lunch box? Where are my uniforms? Ugh…school…. It’s the same when it comes to weight loss, nutrition, and exercise: we stop or slow down long enough to lose momentum and get out of the habit and suddenly it feels like we’re pushing a boulder up the mountain.  Everything feels so hard and it seems to take such a long time so we start looking for any excuse to get out of it!

Pretty much every Monday morning, I start thinking of some reason why I ‘can’t’ go to work, just like every Monday and Wednesday evening, I start manufacturing reasons why I can’t go to the gym. I do the same thing on Sunday afternoons: “I’m too busy to go to the gym today!” I know what the real problem is and it has nothing to do with how busy I may or may not be or how tired I feel: it’s because I slowed down long enough to take a look at my schedule. I’ve got a lot going on (don’t we all??) and it can feel overwhelming at times, so I start justifying reasons why I ‘can’t do XYZ ‘when the real issue has nothing to do with what I can and cannot do: it’s what I want to do that’s my problem!

There’s a lot of examples of this mentality on My 600 lb Life. The patients sincerely want to lose weight and be healthier, but they sincerely don’t want to be inconvenienced with annoying things like eating healthier, giving up junk food, and -ugh!- exercising! We’ve all heard about things like ‘decision fatigue,’ and how willpower is a muscle, and I think that’s part of Monday Morning Disease.  Most of us have problems with healthy eating and keeping our exercise routine over the weekends simply because they are less structured and there’s more opportunities to socialize. Giving ourselves a break from choosing healthy options and making it to the gym is normal.  We’ve been busy all week so we reward ourselves with a little relaxation.  How lax we want to get is up to us, but come Monday morning our routine is staring us in the face. Again! Like those horses James Herriott wrote about, our decision and willpower muscles don’t want to work! We’ve been working them really hard all week and now that they’ve had a chance to rest, they’re rebelling!

It’d be great if we could do like those English farmers did: ring the doctor and have him take care of our problem! But our ‘muscles’ are really part of our motivational anatomy so no doctor can ‘fix’ them for us.  We need to find reasons to skip the croissants at Starbucks and opt for something healthier, and why it’s important that we keep our workout schedule. When we bargain with ourselves to give the ‘muscles’ a rest, we’re buying what we want now instead of investing for something better in the future. There’s a reason we chose to eat healthier, work out and lose weight and when we feel our willpower/ decision muscles starting to give up, we need to remind ourselves of what those reasons are.  It might be something as serious as improving a major health issue or something as benign as looking good at your brother’s wedding, but whatever the reason is, it was important enough to start you down this road in the first place, so I’m sure it’s way more important than the raspberry cheesecake cookie at Subway or the everything croissant at Starbucks!

 

The Most Important Rule: Rule 28 & Weight Loss

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post incorporating “rules” from NCIS, one of my favorite shows.  After posting “Sometimes You’re Wrong”: Rule 51 & Weight Loss, I realized I’d not mentioned probably THE most important rule: Rule #28 “If you need help, ask!”

While we really don’t need to think of this as a “rule,” the concept alone is incredibly important in our lives, whether it’s weight loss or not.  Not asking for help is what gets so many of us in trouble and usually it’s our own fault.  I don’t want to assign blame (as attorneys say) mainly because we don’t ask for help because we don’t realize it’s an option.  Obviously, if you’re moving a sofa, you ask for help because there is no way one person is going to be able to carry a sofa and unless you’re pushing it to another spot in the same room, you’re going to need help. But when it comes to things like weight loss, it’s not like your friends and family can do it for you! “I’m totally on my own here! Right?”

Not necessarily! While you can’t ask your family to not-eat those marshmallow peeps for you, you can ask them not to eat them around you.  I know my Rule #52 post was about not expecting your family to eat the same things you eat and not making “rules” about what they can bring home, so it might sound like I’m back-tracking a bit here, but it’s okay to ask for help even if that help is “please don’t eat the Oreos I love in front of me.”  It’s one thing to make rules but it’s another to ask for someone to be considerate, which means you have to be considerate too! If your family is having movie night and everyone’s eating popcorn, you may have to sit on your hands to keep from eating it yourself because making a rule that “no one eats popcorn in front of dad!” is unfair to the rest of the family.  Ordering everyone not to eat snacks after dinner is inconsiderate to everyone in your home; asking them not to do it in front of you is a little different, and sometimes it means that you have to bite the bullet and resist your cravings, as in movie night.

Of course, asking for help means you need to admit that you need help controlling your impulses with foods like those. For some people, that’s a hard thing to do.  Just asking for help for anything is hard for some people including me! It means admitting that you can’t do everything on your own.  Really, I don’t know why that should seem so hard, but as I just admitted, I have a problem doing it! “No I don’t need any help washing my pickup!” “No I can wrangle both these crazy dogs on my own!” “No I don’t mind going out to Chinese- I’ll be okay!” And I am okay with the Chinese, until I start munching on the fried won tons! So maybe asking them not to order those would have been a good idea…

For some of us (like me), being independent is pretty important.  I remember I severely sprained my back one summer moving a bookcase.  It never occurred to me to ask for help- I was just sliding it three feet down the wall! Over the years, I’ve come to realize that not asking for help is literally asking to do things the hard way. No one can be expected to know everything or do everything on their own and to expect someone to do it all on their own is frankly unreasonable. I know that and I really like helping others, but when it comes to asking for help myself, welllll I’m not so good at it. I have to remind myself that asking for help is not the same as saying “I’m incapable!”

For a lot of people, asking for help where information is involved is equal to saying “I’m not smart enough to find out on my own!” We’ve all met people like this: they’re the ones who ‘know everything’ about a topic even though it’s fairly obvious that they didn’t until you brought it up. Admitting ignorance is not the same as admitting stupidity! When I was a teacher, I’d regularly meet students who were afraid of asking a ‘stupid question.’ I would always tell them the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask, because if you thought of it, so did someone else!

When I went to work for a probate attorney, one of programs I needed to use was Excel, of which I knew nothing other than it’s the green icon on my computer screen.  I went out and bought Excel for Dummies. (I usually recommend Nutrition for Dummies when people want to eat healthier.) I’d had some experience with those books and a hallmark of their set up is that they assume you know nothing about the subject of the book.  That was pretty much my starting point!  What surprises me the most when I recommend them is how often people are offended by the title or embarrassed on my behalf when I tell them I read it. There is no shame in admitting you don’t know everything about a topic! Don’t forget that wisdom begins with a question!  Years later I am now fairly competent in Excel, though by no means an expert, but I’ve made worksheet that we use for calculating our settlement costs. It adds up our fees and costs, subtracts them from the settlement, shows the net settlement and reconciles the amounts. It does what I need it to do and it’s something I put together myself in about half an hour. When people ask me ‘what class did you take?’ I tell them it was a Dummies book and they look shocked or offended.  I’m not: I didn’t know how to do it and now I do! Why should I be embarrassed?

Asking for help is hard. I still remind myself.  That’s how I came to be writing this blog and this post in particular. I started this blog was to pass on information I’ve learned over the last couple of years because if I had known most of this stuff when I was in my 20’s or 30’s, I would not have gained nearly 440 lbs! There was no almost no information available beyond naysayers who were too busy promoting the low-fat, high-carb diet aka the Diet That Nearly Killed Me! As for this post in particular, I have a lot of boxes and furniture in my house that need to be moved around and I finally that if I’m going to get it done without hurting myself and in a reasonable time frame, I’m going to need some help doing that.  I bit the bullet and asked my dad if he could bring his dolly and truck to help me out.  While I was ‘rationalizing’ why it was okay to ask for help, I came across Gibbs’ rules and while reading through them again, I saw #28 “If you need help, ask!” Duhhhh.   Asking for help or information is not admitting weakness or stupidity: it’s common sense! It’s how we learn to do anything and it’s how we get things done. It’s true when it comes to moving furniture, learning a program, losing weight and even building stronger bonds with your family.  Even if your family never decides to ‘eat healthy’ as a group, asking them to help you lose weight can strengthen bonds and create a sense of unity.  Many times people are surprised to learn that family members are often eager to help. Losing weight is hard enough without having to go through it alone. Why do it the hard way?

 

The WTH?!? Diet: Weight Loss & Listening to Your Body

I recently saw an ad on my local PBS station for a program about “what should I eat?” featuring a famous weight loss/ nutritionist doctor.  As much as I respect this doctor, I’m pretty sure this is a knee-jerk reaction to all the ‘healthy diet options’ spreading like wildfire all over the media.  Everywhere we turn we’re bombarded with ads for the ‘true weight loss diet’ and the ‘healthiest diet’ for athletes, people who want to lose weight and everyone else under the sun. And now, we’re getting slammed with the ‘DNA diet’ ads: “get your DNA tested and find out what diet works for you!”

I guess diets can’t get much more personalized than by testing your DNA, but at the same time, I wonder about the accuracy of those tests. I recently had mine tested (not for a diet plan but it was included in the package) and I was extremely unimpressed by the results.  According to the alleged experts, I should have lost weight (extremely slowly FYI) by eating a carb-heavy, low-fat, low-protein diet and while I apparently don’t drink as much coffee as the average person, “more coffee consumption might help [me] lose weight.”  Since the carb-heavy, low-fat, low-protein diet is what caused me to gain about 150 lbs through my 30’s & 40’s, I pretty much concluded their ‘analysis’ is garbage, especially since they concluded that based on a couple of genes, I’m supposedly not sensitive to refined carbs.  I cannot tell you how easily I am affected by a refined carb! If I have a normal sized piece of cake in the evening, I’m up all night in the bathroom, get nasty leg and foot cramps all night,  feel my blood sugar spike in the early morning, wake up with a ‘hangover headache’ and am absolutely starving within minutes of waking. These things only happen with refined carbs and/ or sugar! But according to the ‘expert analysis,’ I’m not ‘sensitive’ to refined carbs. Yeaahhhhh, riiight….

This is what’s missing with today’s diet-mania: we’re so busy listening to what the ‘experts’ are telling us to do that we aren’t listening to what our bodies are telling us about the food we’re eating! I listened to all the ‘experts’ back in the ’80’s & ’90’s who were pushing the heart-healthy whole grains and low fat diets.  I followed them as closely as I could, ate lots of whole grains, whole wheat and cut out all the fats that I could, and I slowly and steadily gained weight! I was seriously confused because I obviously wasn’t doing the diet right since I kept gaining weight! WTH?!? By the time I topped 400 lbs, I had pretty much given up.  Obviously there was something really wrong with how I was eating but I didn’t know what and all the ‘experts’ kept giving me the same information: low fat, lots of whole grains!

Most of you know that now I follow a Paleo diet and it’s not that I’m pushing my way of eating on anyone, but the fact is the basic Paleo philosophy works for me.  I eat as much whole unprocessed food as I can and more vegetables than meat.  I limit my grains, my legumes, my sugar and my dairy consumption.  While that’s part of most generic “Paleo diets,” I find I feel better and lose more weight without the grains, sugar and legumes in my diet, and while the DNA analysis didn’t mention anything about lactose intolerance, I noticed shortly before I ‘went Paleo’ that I felt really really cruddy after eating yogurt or having any dairy.  After giving it up entirely for a few months, I realized I could have a limited amount without feeling cruddy, but I still feel better keeping it to a minimum (cream in the coffee, a little cheese and yogurt on occasion).

The most important thing I learned from eating Paleo isn’t that “grains are bad for everyone!” or that “cavemen didn’t eat beans!” It’s that we need to listen to our bodies when it comes to what we’re eating! Most athletes are used to listening to their bodies when it comes to activities like running, swimming or whatever their specialty is.  If they normally run a marathon but their hamstrings start feeling it around mile 20, they stop! Their body is telling them something’s not right and to keep running is going to hurt them and they listen to it!

That’s what I didn’t do in my ’30’s when I was gaining weight on the low-fat high-carb diet.  My body was telling me “this isn’t good for us!” and I didn’t listen, until I had gained 400 lbs — major damage! Even though I knew something was wrong, I just assumed I wasn’t doing the diet correctly or that I wasn’t getting enough exercise or I was just eating too much (the last two were definitely true!) but it honestly never occurred to me that the food I was eating was also causing damage to my body.  “I’m not sensitive to gluten. I eat muffins all the time and never get sick!” Between the sugar and the carbs in the muffins I was eating, I was really screwing up my blood sugar! All the starches int those ‘healthy whole grains’ were killing me, slowly and painfully! But it was like I kept limping along in the marathon since ‘my feet don’t hurt- just my hamstrings.’ My body never got the chance to level out my blood sugar or burn fat because I was eating about every two-three hours (“it boosts your metabolism!”– not mine!) and I was eating more ‘healthy whole grains’ aka starches!

Once I stopped eating the processed foods, the starches, sugars and other ‘non-Paleo’ foods, what I found out was that my metabolism and my body really liked eating more leafy green vegetables (spinach, lettuce), more cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts) and more unprocessed foods in general. I basically went to as blank a food slate as I could and I realized I could tell the difference after eating bread and a day without eating bread. It was like I suddenly heard what my body had been trying to tell me all along: pasta ain’t good for us, honey, no matter how much whole grain it’s got in it! Once I began listening to my body, it made eating a whole lot easier. It doesn’t matter if I call it a Paleo diet, a keto diet or a Whole 30 diet: the name doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I feel good after I eat, I don’t feel like crap the next day, my body is healthier with what I’m eating and I’m also losing weight (bonus!)

The problem is that most people like having a food list or some kind of concrete food plan when it comes to dieting or eating healthier.  This is why so many of those packaged weight loss programs are so popular: you don’t have to make any decisions other than “do I want pizza or beef stew for lunch?” To be frank, for a lot of people making their own food decisions is walking the tightrope without a net. What happens if I make a mistake?  In this situation, mistakes are not a bad thing! For a long time, I couldn’t figure out why I’d have really horrible leg & foot cramps in the middle of the night so I started writing them down in my food journal when I got up in the morning, and after looking back a few weeks, I realized they always happened after I had something sugary/ starchy for dinner the night before! Hello!! No sugar/ starch with dinner= no nasty foot cramps! Problem solved!

Unfortunately the words “Food Journal” are right up there with “Root Canal” for a lot of people: “You mean I gotta write down everything I eat??” Yes, because that’s how we learn things! You are actually making your own diet as you go along. How do you know what works for you and what doesn’t if you don’t keep track of what you eat? It’s often said that you can’t evaluate what you don’t monitor, and we acknowledge that in other aspects of our lives.  When we look at our credit card bill, it comes with a summary of charges so we know who made what charge where and when and if there’s something on there that we don’t recognize, we call the company to let them know that’s not us! But we don’t look at it, if we just pay the bill and think “I must’ve really been busy with that card!” we’ll never know someone stole our account number and has been spending our money. We monitor our electrical usage (it goes up in summer!), our water bill (also up in summer!) and how much gas we’re putting in the car, but when it comes to keeping track of what we’re eating, ….. umm, fish and chips yesterday and I think it spaghetti the night before… I don’t remember breakfast… Then when we get nasty heartburn or feel like our body’s full of lead, we don’t have any frame of reference for why, so we go on eating the same foods and wondering why we sometimes feel cruddy. [FYI: isn’t this the Not Working For Me diet that made us overweight?]

‘Making your own diet’ only works when you keep track of what you’re eating and how you feel afterwards, but it doesn’t have to be an in-depth intensive account.  For me, I log it in an app and when I get home, I write it in my paper journal along with any notes about how I felt: super hungry at 3:00 p.m.; really tired or stressed all day; nasty leg cramps during the night, etc. I used to weigh and measure everything mainly so I’d have an idea of what five ounces of meat or a cup of spinach looked like. Now that I’ve got a good idea, I only weigh & measure if I want to double-check. It seriously takes me about five minutes to write down everything I ate and drank during the day.  It just needs to be enough to give me a frame of reference if I start feeling good, bad, or stop losing weight or worse start gaining. Keeping track is also how I learned that a little dairy is okay, starches are seriously not okay and a few legumes won’t hurt me. Is this a Paleo diet? I don’t know and I don’t care, because it’s my diet and it works for me but it only works when I pay attention. So what did you eat today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Sometimes You’re Wrong”: Rule 51 & Weight Loss

Some of you may recall that I am a huge fan of NCIS. Anyone who’s a regular viewer is no doubt aware of Agent Gibbs’ rules. He’s got a lot of them! These are things like “Never leave suspects together” (Rule #1); “Never be unreachable” (Rule #3); and “Never go anywhere without a knife” (Rule #9).

My family and friends know that one of the reasons this show appeals to me (aside from the whole Navy thing) is that I’m pretty much a “rule” person too. I like structure, boundaries, rules, whatever you want to term it: it just works for me! For me, rules are little reminders and guidelines that let me know how close or how far I am from my target. Unfortunately, if we aren’t careful, we forget about Rule #14: “Bend the line- don’t break it.” We follow our rules and somehow we expect that everyone else should follow our rules too!

I see this a lot in posts from my MFP friends (My Fitness Pal) and in My 600 lb Life, and it usually goes something like “my husband/ wife/ family keep bringing home junk food!” The idea is usually that their food is tempting you and so you eat it, or they are doing something ‘wrong’ by not eating like you are. Either way, it’s not their problem- it’s yours! It would be nice if your husband and kids didn’t come home with potato chips or Girl Scout cookies so you aren’t tempted, but you don’t live in a bubble which means when you go out in the Real World, there’s all kinds of french fries, candy bars and super-sweet frapuccinos just waiting for you. So…. do you expect the rest of the world to stop making these things available just so you won’t eat them? We all know that’s an idiotic expectation, but we make the same expectations of our family and friends. We expect them to order a salad when you meet for lunch just so you won’t be tempted by their chips. Maybe we can expect them not to offer you one of their cookies but for them not to eat cookies in front of you? Maybe…if you’re a guest at their house, but if they’re your wife or kids? Are they supposed to hide whenever they eat the things they like just so you won’t see or smell their ice cream? This is where they live! And if they don’t want to eat the things you eat, it’s not a crime.

Sometimes this comes out of disagreements over what to eat at home. You want to have healthy foods like veggies and lean meats, something low fat, low sugar or full of fiber while the rest of your family wants pizza and wings. For some people, making or ordering two separate dinners is completely crazy. For others with family members with food allergies, it’s totally normal. For them, it’s a way of life but if you’ve never done it before, it’s one way of keeping everyone happy.

Of course, making this adjustment starts with admitting to Rule #51: sometimes you’re wrong, and when you dictate to your spouse and friends and other adults in your life that they either need to change how they eat or not bring ‘their bad food’ into your home, then yes, you are most definitely wrong!

We’re all familiar with the ‘reformed addict’ way of thinking, as in Jane stopped smoking so now she’s haranguing everyone else who still smokes/ vapes. Or Mike stopped drinking and now he’s preaching to everyone else who still orders a beer with dinner. For us, we’ve stopped eating bread/ sugar/ processed foods, so now we’re spouting the benefits of whole unprocessed sugar-free foods to anyone who orders a combo meal at Burger King. Do you really think any of Jane’s friends will stop smoking because she’s harassing them? Or that Mike’s friends will stop drinking because of his nagging? No? So why are you doing the same thing to your spouse, family and friends?

Your decision to eat healthier is a great thing and I’m sure all your loved ones were really supportive of your changes, especially since you started feeling and looking better. Then, you turned into Jane/ John the Nag and all those positive feelings they had for you went away. It’s not that they stopped caring about you or that they don’t want you to eat healthier- they just don’t want to get harassed for eating Cheetos! Frankly, I’m with them.

I’m super-sensitive to this whole “healthy eating harassment,” mainly because I have listened to my mom do it to me for most of my life. She meant well, just as Jane and Mike are trying to help their friends, but it meant that everything I ate was under scrutiny when I was with her. I was also subjected to all of her “helpful advice” while we were out together. These were ideas like chewing more so it takes longer to eat. Not a bad idea except her “implementation” was chanting “chew! chew! chew!” whenever I took a bite at restaurants. Helpful? Not one bit! It also included other not-helpful ideas like scraping all the breading off the fish I ordered or ripping out the inside of the dinner rolls and not eating the butter. She made judgments about everything I ate or didn’t eat and the hard part was that she didn’t do it to be mean– she was trying to help! Unfortunately, she had the opposite effect: it just made me eat when she couldn’t see me.

I know it’s hard when there’s food in the house that isn’t good for us or that we are trying to avoid. I had the same problem whenever I buy things for my dad that he can’t get where he lives.  These are usually things that we both love, like pretzel bagels or buns, licorice, cookies and other carb-rich tasty goodies. They sit in a drawer in my kitchen waiting for my dad’s next trip to town and in the meantime, they are calling my name. The temptation actually starts when I buy them, since I can buy a package for me too! I usually don’t shop in those parts of the store since there’s nothing there for me, but once I’m there- wow! they have mini-croissants! and garlic naan! Yummy! So the first hurdle is getting out of the store with only the things my dad wants but at home, I start hearing their deadly siren song.  Then the bargaining starts: I can eat these and then buy more for dad since he won’t be here for five more days… Ummm and in what universe is that a good idea?? It’s always harder when they’re right there in the kitchen and in my case, I can pretty much buy them and eat them with impunity since I live by myself. I don’t have to hide the wrappers or eat them when no one else is home. There’s no one to judge me but me.

This brings me to Rule #5: You don’t waste good.  This is what keeps me from gobbling all the licorice and cookies I want. I’ve put in a lot of work learning to eat better and be more active and I’ve lost a lot of weight specifically by not eating these kinds of foods. They just don’t work out for me and I know this.  I learned it the hard way, so why would I want to waste all the time and effort I’ve already put in?  In some ways I’ve got the best and worst of the situation: I don’t have to worry about others bringing in Forbidden Food, but on the other hand, I can buy it myself without anyone watching.  For most of us, the whole point of not having that stuff in our house is that we have a ‘Temptation-Free Zone.’ That can be really great, but the truth of the matter is that we live and work in the Real World which is full of temptations. Even if I don’t have anything for my dad at home, we still have lots of Forbidden Food at our office or at the local Starbucks or just the grocery store three blocks from my house.  Even Office Depot has a million sugary starchy snacks! In huge quantities, too! We have to learn to say no to temptation whether it’s at home or it’s in the Real World. Our nagging our friends and family to ‘be good’ and not bring home Cheetos and Wheat Thins isn’t going to make them stop doing it any more than my mom’s nagging made me stop eating mac & cheese.  I had to realize for myself that eating it wasn’t doing me any favors. When we try to make others do what is best for us and not them, we are wrong. We have to decide for ourselves what we are going to eat and what we aren’t. It doesn’t matter if the cookies are in the kitchen or at the store.  Sooner or later, we have to go out into the Real World. We have to make our own rules, and then decide to live by them. Or not.

 

A Slippery Slope: Weight Loss & Falling Down The Learning Curve

We are an instant society.  We’ve got instant soup, instant pots, instant messages, and even Instagram. Our unofficial motto should be “instant gratification takes too long!” The problem with this Instant Philosophy is that while technology is instant, human beings are not. We can take a long time to absorb new information and learn new habits and procedures, and even if we learn things relatively quickly (as in a few days), we are frustrated with this seeming “delay.”  We want instant results!

Learning anything new or even trying something different is difficult at first.  It gets easier…. eventually.  It’s that holding out until it gets easier that is the hardest part and until we reach that point, it just seems to take longer to do, and when we do it “wrong” we have to do it again, or it just adds to our delay and that’s when we start falling down that learning curve! We ask ourselves if this is really worth it? Is it going to do whatever we want it to do? How long do I have to wait until I know?  Why does everything take so damn long?!

Welcome to the Human Experience! This is why we get so frustrated with ourselves and others when it comes to weight loss.  We all know that– tragically– weight loss isn’t instant. There’s a long list of “isn’ts” when it comes to weight loss: in addition to not being instant, weight loss isn’t linear, it isn’t permanent, it isn’t easy! Weight loss is slow, difficult and full of ups and downs.  That’s why most of us dread weight loss and making almost any kind of change to our eating and exercise.  We go through the process of trying something new, learning a new habit or procedure, then we have to get consistent with this new process and then- only after we’ve been consistent for a reasonable period of time- we get to find out if it actually works! It’s an almost painful process of trial and error! It’s as far removed from Instant as it can get!

But the biggest stumbling block isn’t that our new eating plan is wrong or that our new exercise program is messing up our weight loss: it’s that we give up on the process out of frustration.  There’s a learning curve that comes with making changes and being consistent with those changes.  To be blunt, the Instant mentality is messing us up and until we get that mentality out of our head, we’re going to keep messing up!

This is why fad diets and food replacement programs work so well in the short term.  They seem to give us the instant results we want.  We do something drastic, as in fasting for X amount of days taking only XYZ supplement or ABC diet shakes, or we just switch out our regular meals for the diet food from the Weight Loss Company.  Wow, we lose weight fast! …… At least until we stop with the fasting, the diet shakes, supplements and processed diet food and the weight comes back!

Making long term changes yields long term results, but it also takes a long time for the changes to show up. Making long term changes, even though they aren’t usually difficult, means we have to be consistent with them once we learn them, and that means changing our habits! Enter Frustration- the arch-nemesis of Instant! Let’s say we’re switching to a low carb breakfast, something fairly simple and easy to do! It’s one meal! So instead of having the bagel and cream cheese with a latte, we’re going to have string cheese and coffee with cream (some of us don’t do black!) Seems easy enough, but….. we’ve got to do it….every day… on a long term basis! So we start doing it and before we start seeing results, we start getting frustrated.  For starters, we really really want that bagel and latte! Then, we ‘forgot’ our string cheese so we need to get something else so we get a breakfast burrito (it’s kinda low carb, isn’t it? Umm… NO!)  Then we get tired of the cheese and the coffee: “I want something warm! I want something crunchy! This cheese doesn’t fill me up so I’m still hungry!”

This is why we aren’t losing weight: we aren’t being consistent.  How often did we get tired of the bagel and cream cheese? Did that bagel fill us up? Think about it: we finished our bagel about 9:00 a.m. and then went for a snack around 11:00 a.m. Not really filling if you’re hungry in two hours! There’s a learning curve when it comes to new habits and new procedures.  We not only need to be consistent with these habits in order to get any results but we need to be consistent to learn them! This means being patient! If we keep not-doing them, we’re going to keep not-losing weight and not-learning the new healthier habits!

When we talk ourselves into not doing the new habits, we are talking ourselves into failure again.  We think that we can’t lose weight because weight loss is hard so we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  That’s what turns the Learning Curve into a Slippery Slope! We try eating the low carb breakfast but we ‘forget’ and have the bagel or we ‘cheat’ and have a breakfast burrito and after a couple of weeks of ‘kind of’ having the low carb breakfast, we still haven’t lost any weight ( Burrito/Bagel: 8; Low Carb Breakfast: 6) and so we give up. “See? I told you I can’t lose weight!” Or we convinced ourselves that the low carb breakfast (or whatever) doesn’t work for us, because we ‘really tried it’. Really?? Consistently? Every day? “Ummmm…. kinda…?” Kinda doesn’t count!

The irony is that we want Instant Weight Loss Results but we talk ourselves into Instant Weight Loss Failure, because- again- we want Instant! Let’s face it: Instant is easy.  How much work can there be when it’s instant? Instant oatmeal: just add hot water and it’s five minutes to yum! Old fashioned “quick cooking” oatmeal: heat up the water on the stove, add the oatmeal and stir and stir and stir for about 20 minutes. “You mean I got to wait for the water to boil and then I gotta cook it for 20 minutes? And stir it too?! OMG!! Oh hell no!!” (Let’s not even talk about stove-top pudding vs instant! )

Learning to do something differently takes work and patience. It means dealing with things that are frustrating and making mistakes and above all it means not giving up! I know how frustrating and confusing new processes are.  One of my resolutions for 2018 is money management which means (cue ominous music) making a budget and sticking to it! After weight loss, this is probably the most frustrating, confusing and dreaded task in our lives. Not only am I counting calories now, I’m counting my pennies! After dinner, I sit down and log all my food, drinks and exercise, which is pretty much routine after a couple of years, but then I pull out my Budget Book, grab my iPhone and start going through my expenses, bank balances and any bills that have hit since yesterday **sigh**.  Makes for a thrilling evening though, because my blood pressure and frustration levels definitely go up!! There were so many nights I just wanted to chuck the whole process and go back to living paycheck to paycheck like so many other people do. “It’s not a sin, is it? If I can’t go on vacation, it’s not the end of the world, but what happens when I need to replace my car?”

However-– and this is important– after doing this for a couple of months, I’ve noticed some important things, such as I’m spending more on impulse purchases than I thought I was and by monitoring a few important categories, I’ve managed to save twice as much money as before. (This is not unlike skipping the potato chips, choosing the spinach and losing a few more pounds. Score!) The frustration headaches and evenings spent covered in pencil shavings and eraser dust have actually paid off and I’m getting some positive results. It’s not magic (although looking at my bank balance really feels like it is!): it was consistency and hard work and climbing back up that learning curve.  The end result is that if I hadn’t put in the hard work, all my frustration would have been for nothing and I’d be back to scraping up my change to get an Americano instead of watching my savings account get bigger.  Or to put it in weight loss terminology: I’d be eating the bagels every morning, getting hungry before noon and wondering why weight loss is so hard for me.

[FYI: I chose the book You Need A Budget by Jesse Mecham; they have a  free podcast, and a website, software and an app, which are not free, but they offer a free 30 day trial. I found they paid for themselves in a couple of months.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weighty Issues: Judgment, Obesity and Life & Death

One of the constant refrains on My 600 lb Life is Dr. Nowzaradan’s warning to patients that they don’t realize how close to death they truly are.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen a few other programs dealing with super morbidly obese patients who didn’t have the chance to make it to surgery or the surgery came too late. I know probably better than most how difficult it is to struggle with obesity all your life and the dangers that come with it.  For those who’ve never had weight problems, it probably seems like the obese are just lazy or gluttonous and while they don’t believe we are deserving of sympathy or help, they do believe we are deserving of their disgust and derision.

I can understand how some people never think of a box of donuts or a bag of chips as dangerous. Personally, I’ve never thought of a case of beer as being something dangerous to me, but to other people in my family, it might as well be a rattlesnake: if you don’t watch out, it can bite you! For those who’ve never struggled with their weight, they don’t understand how someone can eat a whole loaf of garlic bread at one meal any more than I can understand how someone can drink a whole case of beer in a couple of hours (or less). But just like people can drink themselves to death, people can eat themselves to death.  Obesity, like alcoholism, can kill you in more than a few ways.

The most obvious way obesity kills you is that your weight is just too much stress on your body.  Your heart and lungs are simply crushed by your weight: your body is too big for your heart to keep the blood flowing to all your organs and extremities, and as for your lungs, not only are they struggling to keep up with the oxygen demands for your body, but they are having to fight the weight of your chest each time you take a breath.  And that’s the situation if you have no other health problems related to your weight! There’s a host of health problems that come with obesity, including type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure, kidney (renal) failure, sleep apnea, high blood pressure (hypertension) and fatty liver disease just to name a few.  Those are the ones that can kill you, but there are a lot more than just make your life utterly miserable, such as lymphedema, skin ulcerations, cellulitis, asthma and gout. FYI: some of these can kill you too if you don’t keep them under control.

Obviously not-being-obese is a big step towards staying healthy. Of course there are plenty of skinny people who have serious health problems but when you weigh double (or triple) what you are supposed to weigh, you have a lot less wiggle room when it comes to your health.  Getting an infection that might be mild to someone with normal weight can be fatal when you weigh 500 lbs.

For most of us, we scoff at the idea that we will ever be anywhere close to 500 lbs.  Even while we may admit that we ‘might be overweight,’ we never think that we’ll be as big as ‘those people.’  I was reminded today of the frog analogy.  Most of us are familiar with it: you drop a frog in boiling water and it jumps right out, but if you put the frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, the frog will get cooked alive. (As a frog lover, I totally hate that analogy!) Whether it’s true or not, this is what happens to most of us when it comes to our weight. We start out a few pounds overweight and don’t think much of it; then we end up getting kind of plump and start thinking we should fix this; and then we’re suddenly shopping in the plus size department and start to get really concerned (maybe we even start dieting), and before we know it we are really-without-a-doubt FAT and now we start freaking out.  We don’t give much thought to the fact that food is everywhere. It’s cheap and easy to get and we often eat without even thinking about it.  How many of us have finished off a bag of chips or most if not all of a box of cookies without realizing it? It’s not that we’re gluttons– the cookies were just there and available and we weren’t paying attention!

This is what overeating is like for most people: too much pizza out with friends; scarfing a whole bag/ box of something while binge-watching a favorite show; or too many holiday treats.  But for some of us, overeating has way more in common with alcoholism: it’s become an addiction.  There are more than a few ‘experts’ that protest the idea of a ‘food addiction,’ but for the patient, it’s irrelevant.  They need to find a way to control their eating so they can lose the weight before it kills them! Does this sound over-dramatic? Believe me, it’s not.

People overeat for a variety of reasons.  For some of them, it’s a comfort mechanism: eating something they enjoy makes them feel safe and happy for a little while.  For others, it’s a way of controlling their body or their situation: it takes away feelings of helplessness. I am sure there are other reasons and for many super morbidly obese people, they may not know why they overeat.  The point is that when your weight is approaching a quarter ton, your first goal is to get control of the weight and worry about the whys and wherefores later. It’s basic damage control. Why you are overeating isn’t going to matter much if you’re dead.  Unfortunately, this is where most of us hit the brick wall: we know we need help but we don’t know how to get it.

I had a cousin who died from obesity.  He was in his early forties and weighed over 600 lbs.  Like all those patients on My 600 lb Life, he fought obesity all his life.  I remember him being about 18 years old and having high blood pressure. He was probably about 200 lbs then and his mom was screaming at him for eating potato chips and yelling at her husband for not hiding them from their son. He tried everything to lose weight, including joining the Army.  He was probably his thinnest ever once he got out of boot camp, but the weight came back and his health problems worsened: kidneys, diabetes, heart and liver issues. Although bariatric surgery at his weight was still highly risky, his doctor laid it out for him: either he takes the risks with surgery or he gives up and dies from his weight.  He risked the surgery and died on the table, leaving behind a wife and a son.

In my small high school, I was the second heaviest person in the school (that’s including the football players).  The heaviest person in high school was my friend Jennifer.  We were in the same grade and we took a lot of the same classes. She made a lot of her own clothes because it was hard finding anything that fit (this was the early 80’s). After graduating, Jennifer lost a lot of weight. In fact, I didn’t recognize her when I first saw her because she was ‘normal weight’ and looked so different. I confess I was completely jealous because I still weighed the same, around 200-250.  After college, she gained the weight back like so many of us do and this time she decided to try bariatric surgery.  She didn’t die in surgery like my cousin, but there was a complication with the anesthesia and she spent the last year of her life in a persistent vegetative state before dying of pneumonia.  She would have been 37.

My aunt was someone else who was always unhappy with her weight.  Unlike my cousin or my friend, my aunt (my dad’s sister in law) never approached 500 lbs or even 250.  My aunt’s weight hovered around the 200 lb mark but for her, it might as well have been 500 lbs. She hated being overweight and tried diet after diet. I tried a lot of them with her, mainly because I outweighed her by about 100 lbs.  She wanted to lose weight and lose it fast so she also opted for the gastric bypass. She was in and out of the hospital in no time at all and the weight seemed to melt off her.  She was over the moon! Until she started having issues with keeping food down.  Her weight went from slender to emaciated and she didn’t have the strength to walk or even stand up.  One of the complications with bariatric surgery that gets swept under the rug is anorexia. If eating a little bit of food leads to quick weight loss, eating even less food or no food leads to faster weight loss! For those patients who use food and their weight to control others or their surroundings, this is especially dangerous. For my aunt, I think it was just that she had always wanted to be thin so badly all her life and by the time her weight loss became a problem, the physical problems involved with anorexia had taken over. They were simply too much for her to overcome and sadly a few weeks after attending Jennifer’s funeral, I went to my aunt’s.  She was fifty-one.

The point of this post isn’t “bariatric surgery will kill you.” For a most bariatric patients, the surgery is literally life-saving. The point is I remember my cousin as being compassionate and funny and a warm-hearted young man.  I remember Jennifer as being a gifted artist, great with children and so giving of herself.  My aunt was also artistic, quick-witted, with a wicked sense of humor and a wonderful grandmother.  These are the people I knew and they are missed, but for the stranger on the street they were just fat.  They were neither gluttonous or lazy.  They were in fact some of the most industrious people I knew. Obesity is a serious medical problem but it gets overlooked because of snap judgments: “She wouldn’t weigh so much if she kept her hand out of the cookies!”; “He’d be thinner if he got off his butt and worked more!”

What is tragically ironic to me is that Jennifer, my aunt and my cousin all died while trying to help themselves while so many of the obese are stymied by their situation.  They know they need help, but other than ‘a diet’ they don’t know what to do or how to help themselves.  Unfortunately, many of their family members don’t know how to help them or believe their weight is the result of their own gluttony, laziness or greed (I remember my mom’s sister screaming at her son). Because it’s seen as “something they did to themselves,” it’s not seen for the real danger that it is. The obese are lumped in with drug addicts and alcoholics: “it’s their own fault!”  These are diseases of lifestyle, which nowadays include conditions like diabetes, but no one gets judged for having type 2 diabetes. Blame is a sad excuse for lack of compassion and a sadder excuse for letting someone die.

 

 

 

 

If There’s a Will… : Weight Loss & Willingness

We’ve all heard about a million quotes about being ready and willing to change and success coming from willingness, blah, blah, blah- so inspire me already! Yes, they’re ‘inspirational’ quotes but they don’t really inspire us because we confuse “willingness” with “want.”  We assume that because we want to change, eat better and lose weight that we are willing to do what it takes to achieve our goals. Too often, once we get a good look at what we actually have to do to lose weight, most of us have second thoughts: it’s a whole lot more work than we thought it would be!

While I was looking for quotes about willingness, I found one that seemed to really speak to this disconnect between willingness and want: “We seldom do anything to the best of our ability. We do it to the best of our willingness” (Picturequotes.com).  I think this gets us a little closer to the mark.  We may want to lose weight but when it comes right down to not eating chips or not drinking juice or cutting our servings in half, we find ourselves standing on the edge of that disconnect.  We know what we want– weight loss; we know what we have to do to get there– smaller portions, better food choices; but……. And in that ‘but’ is our lack of willingness to do what it takes.

This disconnect has real repercussions in our lives. Everyone reading this post has different reasons for wanting to lose weight. For some of you, it may be wanting to look better but for some of you it may be something as dire as controlling a medical condition such as hypertension or diabetes.  You would think that the threat of a stroke, heart attack, diabetic coma, blindness or amputation would be enough impetus to make anyone say “hell no!” to cookies, popcorn or french fries but…… there’s that word again!

We want to be healthy and we sure don’t want a heart attack, but we also want the french fries and cookies.  It would be easy to blame some kind of ‘survival’ hard-wiring in our brains: we’re ‘programmed’ to eat when food is abundant! Yeah, that’s why I can’t stop eating Hershey’s kisses! While we know what we want (and don’t want), we reject the entire idea that we are unwilling to change.  That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day: we want to lose weight but we aren’t willing to make the necessary changes to get there. No one thinks “I’m just not willing to give up my potato chips and venti mochas to lose these fifty pounds.”  That would imply that there’s something wrong with you.  You must be nuts if you’re willing to risk losing a foot or having a heart attack just so you can have a mocha and a bag of Cheetos every day with lunch! If we thought like that, maybe we would be more willing to give those up, but obviously we don’t think that way about ourselves.  We think that way about others and usually we scoff at their foolishness, but when it comes to our own failure to lose weight, it’s that survival hard-wiring again that keeps our hand going back to the Fritos bag.

Except we know that it’s not the reason we keep stuffing ourselves with corn chips: we just aren’t willing to stop eating them! We have to be willing to make the changes and actually do the work to lose weight.  Again, our ability to make changes isn’t the issue: it’s our willingness to make the changes. We are all capable of saying “no thank you” when someone offers you a cupcake; we are all capable of not eating the mashed potatoes and gravy; and we are all capable of not buying the Fritos and Cheezits at the grocery store.  We just don’t want to do it.

It’s a hard thing to face about yourself: you know you need to lose weight; your health is being affected and you’re feeling pretty awful physically, but (again!!) it’s hard to give up the chocolate and the waffles and the snack cakes. Yes, it’s hard and it’s hard because your “want to lose weight” is colliding head on with your “not willing to give them up!” Imagine if your doctor told you that in order to lose weight, you had to stop hitting your head with a hammer every day.  Would you be willing to stop? Frankly, I don’t know anyone who would say “it’s so hard to stop hitting myself with this heavy Craftsman hammer each morning!” You are obviously being hurt by this action and there is no question you are willing to stop doing it.  Unfortunately, eating an entire bag of Chips Ahoy cookies in one evening is also hurting you but it’s hard to stop doing it because you aren’t willing to stop doing it!

This doesn’t mean you’re crazy or that you have some kind of secret death wish.  It simply means you’re human, and like the rest of us, you are trying to change habits and balance the “wants of right now” (Cheetos, cookies, pancakes, etc) with the “future wants” (being healthier, looking great on the beach, no more muffin top). We’re used to getting what we want right now or at least getting our rewards right now! We know the cookies and the pizza and the garlic bread will taste good now but as for feeling better a few days (or weeks) down the road? We tend not to connect the “wow! I feel really awesome!” with the weeks of no sugar, no late night binges and no junk food until usually farther down the road, as in when we can pick up that dime off the floor without worrying our butt’s coming through the back of our pants! If we skip the pizza and beer Saturday night and then wake up on Sunday feeling like a million bucks and weighing a couple pounds less, then we might connect the two a lot sooner, but that’s not how weight loss works.  Usually we do feel better the morning after saying no to a junk food binge but unless we track these things, we don’t make the connection.  Advocates of daily weigh-ins like to use the opposite effect to bring the point home: after a night of junk food, we usually weigh a couple pounds more than the day before (especially if it was a carb-fest!)

The Weight Loss Gurus will tell you “it’s about what you want more: instant gratification from food or long term health.”  For me, it’s about goals. What do I want and what am I prepared to do to get there?  As I was looking through my ‘inspirational quotes,’ there were a couple that kept popping to mind. The first was the Yoda quote: “Do or do not.  There is no try.” I like the black and white of that quote: I can lose weight or I can not lose weight, and if I don’t, it doesn’t matter if I’m ‘trying’ or not because it’s not happening! And if it’s not happening, I need to find out why (which is usually too many sweet potato chips and Girl Scout cookies!) That quote, while kind of harsh, keeps my head focused on what I really want (feeling fitter, not being so tired and being healthier) and reminds me that Girl Scout cookies aren’t going to get me there.

The other quote that kept popping into my head was Sean Connery as Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables: he’s lying all bloody on living room floor and he grabs hold of Eliot Ness’ coat. “What are you prepared to do?!” Maybe it’s just because it’s more of the black and white mindset, or maybe it’s because Malone makes it so clear in that movie (and that scene) that our actions– or lack thereof– have consequences and that taking action can be a hard thing.  Most of us reading this blog will never be 400+ lbs.  Just like we don’t wake up instantly lighter for skipping pizza, one pizza binge isn’t going to cause us to gain a couple hundred pounds overnight.  But not taking care of our health and our weight over time will eventually lead to an insidious and steady weight gain and eventual health problems.  It’s what happened to me over the last twenty years of my life.  I was overweight, then obese and then morbidly obese until I stepped on the scale and 438 popped up.  My lack of action had consequences that I was unprepared and unwilling to deal with until it affected the entirety of my life.  I had trouble sitting, standing, walking; my joints hurt; I had sleep apnea, asthma, hypertension and let’s not forget type 2 diabetes! Think that one’s not serious? Talk to my dad’s uncle who lost his leg and my friend DeeDee who lost her foot!

We all want to change and be healthier.  That’s a complete no-brainer, but making those changes is hard work and we have to be willing to do the work to get what we want! We all know that weight loss isn’t easy but we make it harder when we come to the task unwilling and resentful of the work to achieve our goals. It’s pretty much another no-brainer: when we hate doing something, we rarely do it and when we do, we don’t do it well. As a result we rarely get the outcome that we want, and that is sadly true of weight loss.  Until we are willing to make the changes we have to make, we aren’t going to get the results we really want.  Or as Jimmy Malone put it: “what are you prepared to do?”