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?”


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