In Over Your Head: Weight Loss & Drowning in Excuses

When it comes to weight loss, excuses are the bane of any healthy routine.  They are especially insidious because they are so sneaky.  They masquerade as ‘reasons’ or they hide behind emotions or something else that looks legitimate in our lives.  Bottom line: they get in like weeds and unless we’re careful, our carefully tended healthy routine is overrun with useless excuses.

I always feel a little like Prof. Moody from Harry Potter when I talk about excuses, because he was right: “Constant vigilance!” What looks like a legitimate reason on first glance turns out to be a sneaky excuse trying to ruin your healthy routine! But it’s not just those sneaky ‘imposter’ excuses we need to watch for: it’s also the completely obvious ones that we just let slide out of laziness or self-pity.

One of my favorite movies is The Replacements with Gene Hackman and Keanu Reeves, partly because I love football (who doesn’t love John Madden??) and also because the soundtrack is pretty awesome, but I think I like it best because it’s about second chances and redemption.  There’s a great scene where Hackman is talking to the players about what they fear on the football field, and after a lot of goofy responses, Reeves says “quicksand.”  He explains, “You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.”

Sound familiar? I know that one definitely struck a chord with me! I’m trying to plan my menu and I can’t find what I need so I try to make changes and screw that up either because I forget something or my plans suddenly change and so I try to compensate and that doesn’t work out because I’m scrambling and before I know it, it feels like the diet is messed up, the workouts are messed up, the stress of screwing up is getting to me and suddenly it feels like I can’t move, I can’t breathe because– you guessed it! I’m in over my head!  The worst part about this is, for starters, I don’t know how I ended up there and secondly, how the hell do I get out of it? 

This is where it’s so tempting to wallow in self-pity.  We tell ourselves: “I’m going to take a little break right now.  It’s been pretty stressful and things haven’t been going right, so I’m going to take a few days to get my head on straight and then I’m going to figure out how to go forward.” (yeahhhhh…… riiiigggghhhtt.  HAH!) That break isn’t for ‘a few days’ and during that break, which typically turns out to be a few weeks, we bury our disappointment and confusion and hurt with all those guilt-inspiring comfort foods that led to our being overweight in the beginning! Instead of regrouping like we pretend-intended, we actually end up deeper in the quicksand, because now we aren’t even trying to get out of it.  We’re wallowing in it!

I am not saying we can’t ever stop to regroup or get our bearings or whatever metaphor you prefer to use.  But, taking my cue from Prof. Moody again, we need to make sure that ‘regrouping’ is what we are actually doing! Obviously, if things keep going wrong, we need to stop making the mistakes.  Usually what happens (for me anyway) is that the more things go wrong, the more I try to compensate by just doing more things, which I usually also get wrong.  For me to get out of the quicksand, I choose one thing, do that one thing right and keep doing it until I am out of the ‘getting it wrong’ cycle. That usually means I need to let go of some things I wanted to do, but seriously, if I’m getting those wrong anyway, what am I losing?

Example: I find I am really eating just the wrong foods.  I gave in to temptation and now I am eating too many carbs all the time, so I try to ‘be strict’ and cut out all the carbs, but then I get really hungry (carb rebound!) and end up plain overeating which means I get hungrier and crave carbs so I give in to one carb (i.e. Greek yogurt- it’s ‘healthy’!) and then it’s cherries or fruit and the cycle keeps spinning: carbs carbs carbs! Obviously, I’m drowning and every move I make is getting me in deeper, so what do I do?  One meal at a time. 

It sounds simplistic, and frankly it is, but at that point in time, that’s all I can handle! I focus on the one meal I am facing and make the best choices I can for that meal. Yes, maybe I have stacks of Greek yogurt in the fridge, but I don’t have to eat it! I don’t even have to get rid of it right then! (Haven’t we all tried to get away from the forbidden foods we bought on impulse by trashing them and then end up bingeing on something else? It’s like trashing them is a trigger: it’s gone so now I really really want it!) I focus on the healthy choices I planned on making, usually salad and chicken, and I have that and then after putting everything away and tidying the kitchen, I focus on something productive or fun or anything non-food-related.  All I have to focus on is getting through that meal without bingeing on carbs. Once I get through that one meal, there’s something ‘simplistically positive’ that happens: hey, that went right! I didn’t screw it up!

Those ‘one meals’ start to add up to success one at a time. It doesn’t have to be a meal that you get right.  It can be anything at all that you’re focusing on: working out; saying no to temptations or cravings; getting to bed on time.  Whatever it is, narrowing your focus to ‘one at a time’ is one of the best ways to build or rebuild your healthy habits and routines.  It gets you out of the quicksand one step at a time and before you know it, not only can you breathe again but you find yourself on solid footing!

It’s tempting to overlook the simple steps as being too easy to work, but they tend to be the most effective tools.  We all know we need to be aware of the sneaky excuses that look like legitimate reasons to blow off our healthy routines.  Those are the ones we usually defeat because we expect them. We learn to look for ways to get around them, like a family member scheduling something right in the middle of your work out! We learn what to look for on menus or how to plan for the unplanned dinner party or sudden evening out.  We’ve got a mini-arsenal for those kinds of excuses-that-look-like-reasons! But the self-pity and the overwhelming sense of helplessness? It feels like all our weapons are powerless and every maneuver we try just gets us in deeper. That’s part of what makes it feel okay to give up or stop trying: we’re already convinced we aren’t going to succeed anyway. That’s why they are so hard to escape even though we recognize them as excuses to give up. They sneak up on us, they overwhelm us and when we try to take a deep breath, we find ourselves drowning. Yes, let’s take a little break, catch our breath, regroup…. glub glub glub… Don’t let your weight loss drown when getting out of the quicksand is as simple as taking it one step at a time.

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss & Active Advocacy: Open Your Mouth & Say Something!

There are a lot of people who will accuse me of being a tactless loudmouth, to which I usually respond “Yeah, so what’s your point?”  It’s true.  While I do wish I was a little more subtle, I find subtlety is sometimes over-rated.  Yes, it’s good if we don’t bruise our friends’ feelings, but frankly, a lot of my friends are a lot like me: well-meaningly blunt!

It’s one thing if you’re trying to tell your future father-in-law that you don’t want him wearing his Bugs Bunny tie to your wedding without hurting his feelings but it’s another if you’re sitting in your doctor’s office and she’s giving you only five minutes to discuss your concerns over side effects of the medication she’s giving you. Your doctor is a professional who works for you: it’s her job to listen to her patient (you!) while your future father-in-law should be treated with respect, if not for his own sake, then for your future spouse’s.

This is one of those situations where being a tactless loudmouth actually works in my favor.  I am not afraid to voice my opinion to my doctor or other health professional.  I am also fairly lucky since I am not a victim of White Coat Syndrome (WCS). For a long time, I really didn’t know how many people suffered from WCS until I started watching some of those reality medical shows where lots of patients came in either tongue-tied or visibly nervous because they have to see a doctor. My mom was a registered nurse (RN) while I was a kid and nearly every day, I’d hear about how this doctor or that surgeon didn’t know what he/ she was doing or how they nearly screwed up (or really screwed up).  I heard how one doctor chose to fix a dislocated shoulder by planting his foot in the patient’s armpit and yanking the arm really hard! (Cue Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon 2!) Obviously, it didn’t work: the doctor not only didn’t pop the shoulder back into place– he broke it, leaving the patient unable to raise his arm over his head.  While this incident was way out there, I heard plenty of stories of doctors doing ordinary mistakes like ordinary people. I’d also met about a hundred doctors by the time I was out of high school: these were the people my mom worked with so I’d talk to them on the phone or say hi when I went with my mom to pick up something she left at work. To me, they were like those geniuses who might be able to calculate pi to 8 digits in their head but forget where they left their car keys. “White Coat Syndrome? You mean people really are intimidated by doctors?!

As a result of seeing behind the curtain in the health care world, I grew up seeing doctors as any other skilled professional I’d hire to do things I can’t do myself.  So when I meet with my doctor or any health care professional, I make a list of questions and I’m not afraid of asking “why” or “what if.”  This is our health and our bodies they are treating but most of us grow up not questioning our doctors or the medication they are giving us.  We tend to ask more questions about the repairs to our cars or computers than we do about the prescription our doctor just called in to our pharmacy.

Most of us are used to trusting our doctors or at least not asking questions.  There’s a reason I read the little pamphlet that comes with the medication and I usually google the medication as well.  The main reasons to read the informational pamphlet has to do with side effects, drug interactions and how to take the medication correctly.  When you pick up your prescriptions, you might have noticed there are warning labels on some of them.  A lot of times, if it’s a new prescription, they will have you wait to speak to the pharmacist before they give you the medication.  This is because most people don’t read the labels or the instructions: some medications can kill you if you take them with another medication!  This is why it’s usually a good idea to have only one pharmacy! The pharmacist can see everything that has been prescribed to you and usually she/ he (or the computer) will catch a fatal interaction. It doesn’t have to be medication either: some vitamin supplements in high doses can also make you sick.  We need to remind ourselves it’s important to ask our doctors about our options for medication and for treatment!

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine fell off her porch and injured her knee badly.  She saw the orthopedist she was referred to, who promptly told her she needed a knee replacement.  It’s an invasive and painful surgery and at this point she’d hardly had more than a couple of weeks to recover from the injury.  She asked for a second opinion and another orthopedist sent her to physical therapy (“let’s try this and see where you are after a few weeks.”)  Two years later, her knee is fully healed and it’s not made of metal!  No replacement– just two months of therapy and exercise!

Of course, the second orthopedist could have suggested the same surgery or the therapy could have been ineffective and she could have ended up with a replacement anyway.  The point is that just because your doctor makes a recommendation doesn’t mean it’s the Only Option Available.  Back to the car analogy, most of us don’t buy the first car the salesman shows us or even the first car we test-drive! We look at a few and some of us look at a lot and at a lot of different places! A respectable doctor (as in one you can trust) will not fault you for seeking a second opinion, especially if surgery is involved.

Since doctors are ordinary people, they are prone to making the same mistakes ordinary people do.  They also want a quick fix and a simple solution, even if it means giving patients drugs or surgery that could have life altering effects.  There are some doctors who will also give the patients the procedure or medication they ask for, whether it’s the best option for them or not.  There are a lot of drug commercials now that tell you all the great benefits of the drugs and tend to minimize the side effects.  These commercials usually end telling you to “ask your doctor about XYZ today!”

One of the things I learned growing up around the health care profession is that if I want to learn about a medication, I am NOT going to ask my doctor: I’m going to ask the pharmacist! The biggest information source for doctors about medications are the drug companies! They get little pamphlets about the drugs with samples to give to their patients. The drug companies send representatives to promote (dare I say “push”?) the drugs and persuade doctors to prescribe their drugs to patients. The people who know the most about the drugs, how they work, side effects and interactions are the pharmacists!

I know that one reason some of us don’t like doctors is that we are afraid of bad news or getting ‘yelled at’ by our doctors. We think that if we don’t go to the doctor, we won’t be sick or we don’t have to be embarrassed by whatever they’re going to tell us.  I know I avoided doctors for a long time because they were always going to tell me to lose weight and I hated being told that (hello! 300-plus lbs! I know I need to lose weight!) But when we go, we have to be ready to ask questions and be proactive with our treatment. Not being assertive can be deadly.

One of my friends who also had a weight problem went to her doctor who put her on a pair of ‘miracle’ weight loss drugs to lose weight fast: fen-phen.  Yes, she lost weight.  Until she developed heart problems and had to have a valve in her heart replaced!  I remember being shocked because she was younger than I was and had never had heart problems despite her weight.  The heart problems came from the drugs.  She trusted her doctor who trusted the drug companies.  The two drugs fenfluramine and phentermine (both appetite suppressants) had not been approved for use in combination with each other. I’m not sure google would have helped much (1990’s) and like most of us, she was desperate to lose weight, but this is where doing a little research (her doctor’s job!) could have spared her a lot of distress, not to mention serious surgery!

When it comes to our own health, we need to be our own advocates.  Most of us do more research when we buy a new car than we do on our doctors, our medications and even any procedures or tests they do on us!  Our doctors get our test results back and we rely on what they say “it’s good!” or “you need to get your good cholesterol up!”  Do we look at the numbers? Do we look at the x-rays?  It matters and it’s okay to say “I want a second opinion!”

Most of us are so eager for simple quick fixes to difficult health issues that I can hardly fault my friend.  I probably would have made the same choice in her situation! But seeing what happened to her has made me seriously suspicious of drugs and procedures that promise simple easy results.  Maybe I’m just too stubborn to take the easy route, especially with weight loss, but what are the side effects to eating better and being more active? Better nutrition and more muscles? I can live with those side effects and my own doctor agrees with me!

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss & New Ideas: You Make The Call

Have you ever walked into a home or office where the air is stagnant and stuffy?  It’s one of the things that bothers me the most: it’s almost like I can smell the dust!  Nothing is moving; nothing is fresh and everything is stale.

The same thing happens to us when we get stuck in a rut.  We feel safe and we feel at home so we essentially stop there.  We cease forward progress and stop looking at anything that falls outside of that safe comfy rut. We begin to stagnate and stagnation is not a good thing!

It’s not that we want to be close-minded or stagnant: we’ve heard so many times“do what works for you!” That really is a good idea since so many of us bounce from one thing to another simply because it’s trending on Instagram.  If you’re constantly trying one thing or another, how do you know if something is working out for you? So we find the eating plan or work out plan that works for us and we stick to it like we’re victims of a Permanent Sticking Charm out of Harry Potter. “Sticking” to something that works is a good thing as long as it doesn’t keep us from discovering something else that might work better! 

I know people who glom onto whatever is new and trending.  They remind me of a starfish on a clam because they are just as hard to get off.  The problem with most of them is that they stay on it whether is works for them or not.  They tell themselves it “should” work for them since it’s the Idea of the Day and everyone they know on Facebook or Instagram is getting great results! That is, everyone but them.

As usual, the answer lies somewhere in the middle: we don’t need to be Permanently Sticking Starfish and we don’t need to be ping-ponging from one to another either.  We need to be open to new ideas and be sensible about it. I know: how much more common sense can it get?

But when it comes to weight loss especially, most of us are really not very ‘common sense’ oriented.  We want to have lost weight yesterday! It can’t come off fast enough! And it’s because our emotions are involved. Being emotional usually means we’re not being very sensible since our logic went out the window along with the bags of potato chips. So when someone suggests we only drink high protein smoothies because someone they know has a friend on Facebook who lost 40 lbs in three weeks doing that, the logical part of our brain says “hmmmm” while the emotional part of our brain shouts “go for it!” We start rationalizing how safe or effective this practice should be: it’s protein and it’s low sugar, low carb, low fat so it certainly sounds like it’s healthy. There’s lots of low carb veggies in it, so there should be plenty of vitamins. How bad can it be for me?

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum where we’re suspicious of everything that hasn’t been “proven” to our satisfaction. We examine everything like it’s evidence in a murder investigation: Clinical trials? Independent corroboration? Evidence of efficacy? Any outliers we need to know about? What’s the success/ failure rate?  And before we know it, the door of our mind has slammed shut on that idea! Granted, not every idea that comes down the highway is a good one– we all know there are some real losers out there! But until we keep an open mind long enough to gauge which camp this New Idea falls into, we can be shutting the door on something that could help us.

I see this so many times on My 600 lb Life. One of the key components to Dr. Nowzaradan’s program is psychotherapy and about half of his patients are very resistant to the idea.  They don’t see a connection between “talking about my emotions” or “talking about my past” and their eating.  There are many who refuse to go to therapy until the doctor makes it a mandatory part of the treatment: either they go to therapy or they leave the program. Even some who aren’t resistant don’t completely understand how much help it can be: “I already know I’m an emotional eater!”  It isn’t until they have started therapy that they realize its benefits. For those who are resistant or don’t see the connection, if it were up to them, that door would stay closed and in doing so, their weight loss struggle would continue to be much harder than it needed to be.

By keeping an open mind (and not being a ping-pong ball) we allow ourselves to move forward while keeping an eye on what’s worked in the past.  It’s hard, but we need to remove the emotions from the weight loss process.  I know from personal experience how difficult that is: the sense of urgency is almost overwhelming! But it’s that “hurry up” feeling that gets us into trouble by sending us from one practice to another as fast as we can bounce.  We need to turn off the emotions and turn on the logic: is it safe? is this practice something that is doable for you? Then you need to put a clock on it: how long do you plan to stick with it? and you need to set some parameters. If it’s weight loss, weigh yourself or take a photo or measurements.  If it’s a workout routine (lifting for example), how much can you lift now? You need to decide what your definition of success is. Many times people define ‘weight loss success’ as a lower number on the scale rather than just looking and feeling better and healthier. Many of my fitness friends have been confused by the fact that their clothes fit better or they’ve gotten into a smaller size but the number on the scale is only down a few digits. They’re not sure this new practice is a ‘success.’

You get to decide if it’s working for you or not. How many of us have struggled to keep our calories ‘super low’ so we can lose weight as fast as possible? Does it ‘work for us’? It depends on our definition of success: if losing weight really fast is worth being hungry all day, then yes, you can call it a success, but if your definition includes not starving all day, then it’s a big NO! Many of my fitness friends with the slimmer body or smaller jeans call their new practice a success even if it’s only ten pounds instead of the twenty they wanted. Apparently, it’s 10 lbs in all the right places! (I’m with them!)

I love a new idea as much as everyone else on Instagram but it comes down to how hard are you willing to work, how you measure success and what you deem is reasonable.  A new idea is only a good one if it meets your criteria. There are lots of weight loss gurus who tell us to remove all carbs or keep our calories under 1000 or to work out seven days a week or whatever the trending idea is in the media. Some of those practices may actually work for you as far as losing weight, but for me, if I am completely miserable or utterly exhausted, then it’s not a good idea for me. How thrilled can I be over my weight loss if I’m too worn out or too unhappy to enjoy it?

 

 

Institutionalized: Weight Loss & Breaking Down the Walls of Fear

We all know that we get in our own way when it comes to our goals, especially with weight loss. We know we need to change bad old habits at the same time we’re developing new healthy habits, and we expect that it’s going to be hard. What we sometimes forget is that change is scary and it’s normal to be scared. It’s not foolish or silly or stupid: it’s normal.

We also tend to minimize the fact that we’ve spent a lifetime developing those unhealthy habits in that comfortably safe-though-unhealthy zone. We don’t realize we’ve become, in a sense, institutionalized. Most people recognize this term in connection with inmates. Convicts who’ve spent long years in prison get used to the structured routine and there are some who cannot function outside of prison when they’re released. Institutionalization is one of the reasons for re-offending: they want to get sent back to a place they feel safe, even if it is a prison.

We do the same thing with weight loss and changing our habits. We feel so safe in our bad old routine and when we try moving away from those safe unhealthy structures, it feels like we’re moving into uncharted new territory. That’s because we are moving into uncharted new territory! We’re working without a net, with minimal structure and sometimes shaky support, so yes, feeling scared and nervous is normal! We are leaving our comfort zone so we are UNCOMFORTABLE! Unfortunately, we’ve been taught by so many institutions that ‘uncomfortable is bad’ so we need to fix it as soon as possible!

What we forget is that moving out of that Safe Comfort Zone is how we grow and learn new things. Do you remember the first time you had to speak out loud in Spanish class-  in Spanish? Do you remember the first time you had to give a speech or a presentation? How about the first time you met your spouse/ partner? Nervous, much?  I know I can hear the quaver in my own voice when I get nervous, and although I don’t like it much, I accept that there are times it’s okay to be nervous and uncomfortable!

It’s like the old maps you see in history books: when the map-makers got to the edge of the known world, they’d fill in the empty places with warnings: Here be Dragons! or Here be Monsters! Basically, if you’re venturing out past the edge of civilization, you’re taking your life in your hands! Now there’s a huge incentive to turn back and head down a well-traveled old road instead of blazing a new trail!

Except…. imagine where we’d be if no one ever took that risk. In the United States, if Jefferson hadn’t sent Lewis and Clark out west, my country would be much much smaller.  If King Philip of Portugal hadn’t been Philip the Navigator, most of South America would be a different continent and if England hadn’t sent Francis Drake out across the seas, would America even exist?  Let’s forget about the New World and look at Europe: Rome spent most of the Pax Romana exploring new territories and paving the way for commerce but even before Rome, Alexander brought together the entire known world under one throne just as Ghengis Khan did in Asia. All of them took risks and with each risk, the whole world got a little bit bigger.

History aside, when you move outside your comfort zone, you are taking a big risk in an attempt to get something better than what you already have. Risk involves loss and failure, so it’s okay to feel nervous, scared, unsure and uncomfortable.  I really think this is one reason babies are born fearless: if they knew the risks of trying to walk on two legs, they’d never stand up!  They cheerfully crawl all over the floor, exploring, climbing on sofas, coffee tables, trying out their legs and wobbling all over the room: their whole world map is one big “Here be Dragons!” and they happily explore everywhere, oblivious to the dangers. (That’s what parents are for!) Truth be told, if your baby wasn’t doing that, you’d be rushing her to the doctor frantic that something is wrong with her, because this is normal for babies: it’s how they learn!

But the older we get, the more scrapes and scars we get, the more cautious we become.  We become institutionalized by those Dragons and Monsters: last time I worked out, I hurt my shoulder so that’s not a good idea; I tried calorie-counting and gained three pounds so giving that up; I tried the Whole 30 and it gave me ‘digestive issues’ so we’re not doing that again!  We think we are playing it safe but what we are really doing is limiting our opportunities for growth.  The more we shy away from Dragons and Monsters, the smaller our world gets but we don’t realize it because we’re focusing on staying safe and comfortable.  The more we stay safe, the more comfortable we become, the less inclined we are to venture out among the Monsters, because, “you know, they hurt us and scare us and make us feel really really nervous.”

There’s a difference between feeling uncomfortable because you’re doing something new and different and being uncomfortable because you feel threatened in some way.  Being uncomfortable waiting alone in a dark parking lot is obviously one of the situations you want to avoid but when you are out to eat with friends and you feel uncomfortable ordering your grilled shrimp over veggies instead of rice or saying no to the chips, brownies or beer? That’s one of the those situations where you’re really just nervous or embarrassed because you are doing something new or different.  No one is going to belittle you over your food choices, and in truth if they do, it says more about their own immaturity than it does your improvements in your diet. It might feel a little awkward the first time you do it but once you’ve done it a few times, you can erase the Dragons on that part of your map and fill in a newly explored section that’s now become a part of your Safe Comfortable Zone.

There’s also no rules saying you have to start all the new and uncomfortable habits at the same time.  Most weight loss professionals discourage this practice and I can tell you from experience that they’re right: too much change at once is a recipe for disaster! In my experience, I found it much easier to do one major change or maybe two smaller changes at a time until they feel comfortable.  Once they are part of the New Safe Comfortable Zone, then I add one more change and one more and so on until I have a new set of healthier comfortable habits in place of the old unhealthy ones. It certainly didn’t happen overnight but it also didn’t overwhelm me so much I turned back.

Sometimes this fear of leaving the Comfort Zone manifests as a feeling of “I can’t.”  You simply cross this new opportunity off your list as “something I can’t do,” as in “I can’t lift weights because I’ll hurt myself;” or “I can’t do Zumba because of my bad joints.”  Once you start telling yourself “I can’t,” you’ve really locked yourself in.  You’ve created your own prison and you are totally institutionalized; you just don’t know how locked in you are or that you are the one who’s done it. It’s easy to blame our weight, our schedule, our circumstances or our health: we really want to be able to workout/ eat better/ walk more/ insert healthy habit, but we just can’t!

There really is no cure for institutionalization except breaking out of our own prisons.  Yes, it’s scary; yes, we are unsure of ourselves: again, it’s normal to feel this way when we’re trying out new things! It would be great if we had a fabulous supportive community or a clear plan of how we are going to accomplish our goals, but sometimes we just need to be brave and forge ahead on our own.  If we wait until we find that supportive community or until we’ve figured out that clear plan, we are tricking ourselves into staying in that Safe Comfort Zone, going over the same routines that keep us locked in place.  When we feel the urge to return to those old routines, we need to remind ourselves that those are the habits that led to our being overweight and unhealthy and eating badly.  It may feel “safe” but how comforting is it when we get winded walking across the parking lot or when we have to sit down while we wait at Starbucks because standing hurts too much?  How comforting is it when our weight is putting a strain on our knees or our back or our heart and kidneys? That’s what those ‘safe & comfortable’ old routines have done for us.  It may feel more comfortable when we eat the whole burrito at lunch instead of ordering a burrito bowl and you might feel less self-conscious having the chips and beer along with everyone else on Friday nights, but when your pants feel a bit too snug and you find yourself breathing hard when you reach your car after leaving the restaurant, are you feeling safe and comfortable? Or is it more like a scary “OMG! I need to do something!”

Whatever new healthy habit you begin, it’s okay to feel a nervous and awkward. None of us like that feeling of not knowing what we’re doing or how to do it, but we have to remind ourselves that: 1) this is a temporary feeling; and 2) if it really isn’t for you, it’s okay to move on to something else! The more you get used to trying new things, the more of a trailblazer you become and the bigger your world is!

 

 

Weight Loss & The Why: Does It Really Matter Why You Gained Weight?

I am going to admit right now that I have a love-hate relationship with asking Why.  There are a lot of scientific issues where I want to know why something occurs the way it does or how something came about in history.  I’m just curious that way and I realize that knowing the Why or the How doesn’t necessarily add anything to the outcome beyond satisfying my curiosity. When it comes to obesity and losing weight, I think knowing the Why can be risky.

When you end up gaining as much weight as I did (+/- 450 lbs), does it really matter Why I gained weight?  Other than a medical-physical reason such as a problem with my thyroid or another hormone, the Why is pretty much irrelevant. I can tell you when I started putting on a lot of weight and I know it correlates to my horrible home life while I was in middle school.  If you wanted a Why in my case, that would probably be it. Does it solve anything?  Does knowing that add anything to the outcome? Nope, not really! Living at home really really sucked and my escape from it was eating bags of chips, cookies and whatever else was available and doing it repeatedly.  End result: I learned to ‘solve’ my emotional stress with food. Not a whole lot of insight there: most people who are overweight ‘medicate’ themselves with food!

Does looking back at that extremely stressful time in my childhood and drawing the conclusion that I overate to soothe negative emotions help me with my current weight loss? That one can go either way: since I know I am a stress-eater, I can take steps to use other non-food methods to relieve my stress but do I have to go back to ‘when I first started to gain weight, it was because of the stress in my childhood and I overate to relieve that stress’? Again, most of us know by the time we are adults that we are stress-eaters and knowing that doesn’t contribute anything unless we take steps to manage our stress without food!  But beyond providing interesting but not necessarily useful information about ourselves, there is a small danger associated with digging up this Why.

That danger has to do with blame.  A recent post was about shifting the blame for why you aren’t losing weight or why you might be overweight now. Blaming it on our DNA or our family’s eating habits are common: it’s just an accident of biology or a family dynamic.  If a lot of your family is chubby or obese, you are just like everyone else! If you’ll excuse the pun, it’s no big deal!

The problem comes when you can point your finger at one act or one time in your life as The Reason Why and you refuse to move forward from that point. In my case, I can blame my initial weight gain on my parents’ crappy marriage and the roller-coaster home life that ensued. As I said before, knowing that doesn’t help me say no when I’m standing in Safeway’s bakery section debating whether I really ‘need’ that piece of German chocolate cake for dessert, but it does offer me an excuse to get it! “This is how I deal with stress and it’s been a horrible week!”; “I can’t help being obese- this is how I learned to deal with life!”; “I’ve been fat since I was a kid and it’s not my fault my parents didn’t stop me from eating!” Shifting blame, anyone?

For some of us, digging up the Why becomes our End Goal instead of developing healthier eating habits.  There are a million different reasons we might gain weight: a medical condition, an injury, an emotional issue, or the simple fact that food was scarce for a time in our lives and we learned to overcompensate. While all of these can be the cause of our weight gain, knowing that only helps us lose the weight if we take steps to correct the cause. In my case, it took me a few years to get distance and perspective on Why I gained the weight I did.  Obviously, while I was in the middle of that horrible home life, making a connection between scarfing bags of potato chips and zoning out so I don’t have to listen to my parents screaming at each other was pretty much impossible.  Looking back, it’s become pretty clear that my weight began to get out of control the crazier things got at home, but at the time I didn’t realize it was even possible to ‘medicate’ oneself with food.

After making the connection as an adult, it’s been pretty easy to draw connections between “I’m feeling crazy-stressed right now!” and the desire to wolf down carrot cake: “let’s forget how stressed we are by eating something yummy!” or even not-yummy.  Sometimes eating until we feel sick or eating just to eat or eating ‘so it’s all gone’: all of those are options to avoid the negative emotions we don’t want to deal with! I mean, it worked when I was a kid, didn’t it?

No, it didn’t work.  I felt better for the few minutes I was eating but gaining all that weight just made so many things that much harder.  It was hard to find clothes that fit; I was ridiculed by classmates, family members and even a few teachers for being overweight.  It was a continual problem between my mom and me.  Everything in my life that wasn’t already in chaos because of the poor family dynamics was thrown into chaos because of my ballooning weight.  My weight became the focus of how awful things were at home: my parents blamed my weight on each other; it was a constant landmine at home and the more there were problems at home, the more I ate and the bigger I got.  Eating my problems only added to my problems!

This is what I need to take away from Why I Gained Weight: eating my emotions made everything worse! Going forward, I need to remind myself that eating cake or chips or bread or anything does not solve any problems at all unless that problem is “my body needs fuel.” Eating because I am hungry is the only reason I need to eat! Even then, I don’t have to eat “right now!” just because I am hungry, especially if there aren’t any healthy options around.  If I can wait until later when I can eat something healthy or something I really enjoy, then I can wait to eat.  We’ve all stared into the fridge or the pantry looking for something to eat and asking ourselves “what am I hungry for?”  We aren’t really hungry because if we were,  we’d eat what was there, whether it’s eggs, broccoli, a can of soup, etc.  The fact that we’re ‘hungry for something’ means we’re looking for comfort or distraction, not food!

We all have unhappy events in our lives, some of them much more traumatic than others.  Some of us learned to deal with these incidences by eating our emotions and some of us turned to other methods to deal with the emotional and psychological fallout.  However we’ve chosen to deal with them, if our method is unhealthy (like overeating), then it is adding to our problems, not helping us deal with them. When it comes to our weight, knowing Why we gained weight initially only helps us if we take that incident or learned habit and use it to find ways to correct the detrimental behavior.

Yes, it sucks having to find other ways of dealing with stress.  Sometimes we have to face the yucky emotions and just deal with them.  Stress is uncomfortable, but until we find a healthy way of dealing with our negative emotions and situations, eating our stress only adds to the stress in our lives.  It may be that we have to learn meditation or a breathing technique or prayer or even a counselor. All of these techniques are healthier than eating our emotions. There’s also no rule that says you have to find only one technique either! In some situations I simply tell myself “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it” because worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet is just adding more stress.  In some situations I go to the gym and spend some time in the pool.  My Go-To Stress Relievers? My pets! I go home, spend some time playing with them and they are such a healthy distraction that I feel better almost immediately (and they are calorie free!)

Laughter, Fear & Weight Loss: Taking a Stand

Humans are bit of a paradox: we like to think we stand out as individuals in a crowd, but at the same time, we don’t want to stand out too much. We don’t like to think we are just ordinary but then we don’t want to be “that weirdo” either.

This is especially true when it comes to our weight: being as plump or chubby as everyone else is okay, but being really big? Not okay.  This idea of being too far outside the norm becomes a real problem just at a time when we think we’d be getting over it. I’m talking about going to the gym.

We’ve either started losing weight or we’ve made the decision to be more active so we head to the gym, and once we’re there, we realize it’s full of athletic, toned sweaty people in tight fitting clothes who know what they are doing.  Our first thought: “holy sh**! what did I sign up for?” It’s bad enough not being familiar with the gym itself, where things are, and how to use the equipment, but we’re also aware that we look a lot different from everyone else.  Now when we fumble with the equipment or get lost trying to find the weight room, it’s obvious that we’re chubbos who’ve never been in a gym before! This is pretty much why Planet Fitness’s slogans are “No Gymtimidation” and “The Judgment Free Zone.” They’re marketing to all the chubby gym newbies who are scared of sticking out!  (Planet Fitness was the first gym I joined, although their motto had nothing to do with my reasons: they were cheap and they were close to my house.  The gym I belong to now (In-Shape) is also close, though twice as much but it’s got a pool. If Planet Fitness had had a pool, I would still be there!)

There’s really not much you can do about learning how to use the equipment and where things are in your gym except experience and asking for help when you need it. The more you are there, the more you do, the more at home it becomes.  In this respect, everyone at one time or another was new to your gym and was wandering through the locker room looking for the showers or the towel bin.  It’s that being so much bigger, so ‘out of shape,’ that makes us feel even more self-conscious. It feels like everyone is looking at us and laughing.

As I mentioned before, I had been a Planet Fitness member and had gotten relatively comfortable with the treadmill, but when my doctor and physical therapist recommended a pool for me, I moved to In-Shape (the therapist’s suggestion). So about the time I was feeling pretty comfortable with my old gym, I had to start all over with new one, and on top of that, I had to wear a swimsuit in a public area, where everyone could see me!

It’s bad enough feeling like an idiot trying to figure out where everything is in the gym and then feeling like a fat lazy blob when you walk in and now you’ve got to wear a swimsuit so all your chubby parts and muffin top are visible to anyone who walks by the big glass walls of the pool. Ugh! Talk about torture! Isn’t this one of the top five nightmares that terrify most people?

In all honesty, being unfamiliar with the equipment bothers me the most.  I’m afraid of breaking equipment or injuring myself because I am doing the move incorrectly. As for wearing a swimsuit in public or a tank top or shorts? Not a problem! I remember years ago, I went by a weight loss company (something like Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers) to check it out and the ‘counselor’ asked me if I wore shorts or tank tops in public. I remember telling her yes and being a little confused: “am I not supposed to wear them because of my weight?” She appeared equally confused because at the time I was easily about 375+ and apparently people “my weight” normally don’t wear revealing clothes in public out of fear of ridicule and embarrassment.

What this counselor didn’t know was that when I walked into her office sometime in the late 1990’s, I had already spent a lifetime being laughed at in public.  I went to a private grade school full of thin affluent white/ Anglo kids with ‘normal’ names like Jimmy, Molly, Kathy and Scott.  I, by contrast, was a poor overweight Mexican girl with a weird first name! In fact, outside of being overweight since grammar school, my name was the biggest target: Koren. (It really didn’t help that the teachers and administrators couldn’t spell or pronounce it either!)  Since childhood, I’ve been Karen, Koran, Korean, Korine and Koreen until the boys in the class finally settled on Korndog.  The teachers were completely aware of this appalling nickname bestowed upon me, but since it was the poor fat Mexican kid with the name no one could spell or pronounce– meh! whaddaya gonna do?

As I said, the teachers and administrators were completely unconcerned and neither my sister nor I mentioned this humiliation to my parents who would probably have raised a huge embarrassing stink with the principal (whose son was in my class and one of the offenders) so it went on for several years. My choices were either let the nickname bother me or go on with my life. In this day and age, this would be called bullying and harassment, neither of which would be tolerated at the school for fear of a lawsuit, but in the late 1970’s & early ’80’s, bullying and harassment were a part of every day life in grade school.  It’s just the way it was!

So when I walked into that weight loss center, I was pretty much over the whole ‘fear of being laughed at,’ at least for my weight. Being laughed at for doing something stupid was– and still is– a much bigger fear, and in these days of names like Jaeden, Brookline, Hadley and Genesis for little girls, having a different name at my age just puts me ahead of the curve!  The idea of changing what I wear so I won’t ‘look fat’ was a total non-starter.

All of us who are overweight know you can’t hide obesity.  Yes, you can wear clothes that minimize the pudgy parts and hold in that muffin top.  You can wear colors, patterns and designs that are more flattering and I think we should, because the better you feel about yourself,  the more confident you are.  Feeling bad about yourself because you are overweight is not a requirement for obesity or weight loss!

The problem is that’s what happens when you slink around the gym trying to be invisible!  When you try to hide how you look or that you’re uncomfortable in the weight room or you wear baggy t-shirts and shorts into the pool to hide your belly and thighs, you are shaming yourself.  You are telling everyone who sees you that you are not proud of yourself or that you are ashamed to be at the gym.  When I first started using the pool, the swimsuit I had was a tankini: shorts and a long tank-style top.  I had gotten it at Target in the plus size department and all they had were tankinis, so I had two of them.  Once those wore out, I went online and bought a regular two-piece with shorts and a bikini top– NOT a tankini!  Yes, they hide the muffin top and some of the pudgy thighs but overall, they get in the way of the workout! So when I walk out of the locker room headed to the pool area, going right by the weights and the sauna and the steam room and tanning beds, everyone can see me in my two piece: there’s the muffin belly, the saggy skin on my legs, thighs, bingo wings and my great big butt.  I don’t wrap my towel around myself on the way to the pool (on the way back, hell yes! It’s cold in that hallway!) I’m there to get some exercise and have some fun, just like everyone else in my class and everyone else in the gym.

Having been a regular at gyms for a while now, I’ve noticed a few things: those toned athletic young people are just about out-numbered by the older chubby less-toned members.  For every shirtless young guy in shorts is an older guy with a belly, age spots and cut off sweats.  For every tanned young woman with sculpted arms and legs is an older grey haired woman with chubby thighs and a double chin. No one points at anyone else and most members are happy to help someone new by pointing out the locker room or how to use the equipment. I admit the first time I walked into a gym, I was nervous. I didn’t know where anything was or how anything worked, and it took a little time before I got comfortable with everything.  Being nervous is okay but being afraid isn’t.  If you let your fear of being laughed at dictate what you do and where you go, you will have a very narrow and lonely life. Being overweight isn’t a crime any more than being poor, Mexican or having a different first name. Being afraid of being laughed at or being ashamed of who you are has no place in the gym or in our lives.  I learned that in grade school.

“I Don’t Eat That Much”: Weight Loss, Reality & Denial

We’ve all said the statement above, some of us more than others.  We order takeout, we serve ourselves at home or we buy something pre-made in a store and it doesn’t seem like it’s too much food. Do we really stop and look at the nutrition information or the number of servings per package?

The FDA recently had packaging labels changed to help combat the growing obesity epidemic.  Now they not only tell you how many servings per package/ bottle, how many calories in a serving but also how many calories in the whole package/ bottle.  Let’s be honest: when we buy something that has more than one serving per package or bottle, do we really have one and then save the rest for later? I know I don’t! That 20 ounce bottle of SoBe Green Tea doesn’t look like it has 200 calories but it does. And how many of those do we drink in a week? Or even just a hot summer day? It’s just one bottle! It’s not that much!

The problem is we say that about most of the things we eat and drink: it’s one taco or it’s one burger or it’s one piece of cake! It’s not that much! Those ‘not that muches’ add up over the course of a day, a month and a lifetime. One fast food lunch a day adds up pretty quickly, which would be bad enough but it also tends to be the start of a slippery slope leading to portion distortion and bad habits.  We get used to eating out at lunchtime during the week and then it spills over into our evenings and weekends.  The one fast food lunch becomes multiple fast food lunches and then the occasional dinner or weekend meal and the ‘not that much’ meal of a taco, burrito and soda or the burger, fries and soda start to add up fast. One of those meals once a month really isn’t that much, but it’s never just once a month, is it?

The other thing that happens is portion distortion.  How much are we really eating? When I go out with my dad to our favorite salad bar buffet, I can get one spoonful of seafood salad, one spoonful of broccoli salad and one spoonful of fruit salad, but each spoon is a different size! Looking at it on the plate, how much food is it and when does it become too much?  The same thing happens if we order entrees at a restaurant: do we have to eat the whole entree? Is that chopped steak and veggies one serving or two?  It may not look like much, especially if you are used to getting a 6 oz sirloin steak (1.5 servings).  Most restaurants put more than one serving on a plate and that healthy green salad you order has enough dressing for two. When we ask for it on the side, that little container is nearly three servings of dressing and even if we only put half the container on our salad, we’re still getting more than one serving.

There’s nothing wrong with helping yourself to the 6 oz sirloin, green salad with three tablespoons of dressing and the steamed veggies with butter as long as we’re keeping track of how much we really ate. That meal sounds pretty yummy to me!  The problem is that we tell ourselves that it’s “not that much” or that it’s only “one meal” when it’s really closer to one and a half or two meals. It gets worse when we convince ourselves that we can have a “little treat” later since our meal of steak and veggies was so healthy! The meal was healthy, yes, but it was still more food than most of us need at one sitting and what do we end up choosing for our “little treat?” A lot of grocery stores now sell single slices of cake or single cookies, which is a good thing for people who live alone like me.  However, the Safeway sells cake slices that weigh 6 or 7 ounces (2 layers with frosting) and their double pack of cookies are each the size of my palm! The local chain closer to my house sells 3 oz cake slices (single frosted layer) and their single cookies are 2″ diameter instead of nearly 6.  So “one cookie” or “one slice of cake” has a very different meaning depending on where I buy it!

Many dieters are used to keeping a food diary either online or using a notebook and a calorie counting book. I use My Fitness Pal online and I keep a paper journal with notations for easy reference.  I also use a food scale to keep me honest! That one piece of chocolate fudge cake  cake that shows up as “0.08 cake” for 350 calories is a little fuzzy: how much is 0.08th of a cake?  Sometimes the database has ounces and sometimes it doesn’t: what kind of cake? where did you get it? is it homemade? The same goes for the cookies: weighing and measuring gives you some concrete numbers but it’s really not so much about how many calories you are eating– it’s as simple as how much you are eating!

If you are trying to stick with a calorie goal, that’s great! That works for some people and myself, I like to have a ballpark figure of how many calories I am consuming just so I don’t fall victim to this problem. Just knowing that you had two eggs, two ounces of bacon, three ounces of hamburger, a couple of cups of baby spinach with a hard boiled egg and two tablespoons of vinaigrette gives you an overall idea of what you have already consumed and what you should be thinking about for dinner.  Writing it all down and keeping notes about how active you were during the day and how hungry you were or weren’t after eating each meal also lets you know your overall energy baseline.  Is that enough food for you? Is it too much?  How hungry are you the next day? Does it leave you feeling tired, like not enough energy?

Most of us (like me) gain weight because we convince ourselves that we aren’t eating “that much food” when in truth, our plate can be a serving platter for others. We get used to eating foods that aren’t the healthiest, that have more calories than we think and we get used to eating a lot of food at one time.  When that happens, we literally stretch out our stomachs to the size of a watermelon or a football. We don’t do this on purpose and we aren’t being gluttons, but the portions and opportunities for eating creep up on us and that quarterpound burger that was so huge when we were in college isn’t enough for us in our forties, because our stomach has gotten bigger over the years.

Our eyes are used to seeing big portions and our stomachs are used to getting full and even our brains are telling us “it’s not that much food!” When we stop and look at the actual numbers: 3 oz, 6 oz, 20 oz and if we add in the calories, we get to 2000 calories pretty quickly.  Just a little bit of a reality check! “I’m eating how many calories in a day?!” “How many pounds of food did I eat today?!” So when we want to know why we’re not losing weight when we’re not eating ‘that much food,’ maybe we need to remind ourselves just how much food we’re really putting in our mouths.

“It’s Genetic!”: Weight Loss & Shifting Blame

One of the most common excuses for being overweight is genes. Lots of people who are overweight have grown up with overweight family members. A lot of it has to do with the family’s eating habits: either too much food, too much low quality/ processed food or too much of both. In that kind of situation, it’s easy to blame it on genetics or the family. “I’m big because my whole family is big! I can help it! You can’t fight your DNA!”

It’s true you’re stuck with your genes. I can color my hair and buy blue contacts but I’ll always be short with thick ankles! (If I could change one thing about my body, those ankles would be it!) But one of the things researchers are learning is that what we eat and how much of it can affect gene expression, which is the fancy term for what genes are turned on and which are turned off.  Whether we subscribe to gene expression or not, when it comes to what you put in your mouth, that’s all up to you!

We all know families with picky eaters: the kids who won’t touch vegetables or who only eat white bread. Sometimes it’s the adults who are picky:I have one adult cousin who won’t eat meat with skin and/ or bones!  (Really?!) Either way, it’s a personal choice that person has made and instead of pressuring them to eat like everyone else eats, we should applaud them for taking a stand for individuality.  For whatever reason, they’re not going to eat what they don’t want to eat!

Most of grew up eating what was put in front of us with the horror stories of starving kids elsewhere in the world who’d just love what you are snubbing on your plate! But too often, what was on our plate wasn’t the best food for us. I ate a lot of rice and noodles as a kid because that’s what was cheap and easy to cook. Pretty much every dinner was heavy on the carbs; breakfast was usually carb-heavy cereal and lunch was usually a sandwich with chips and a ‘juice drink.’  In short, my childhood meals went from one carbfest to another! Ironically, the things I complained about the most were the healthiest things in my meals: the lunchmeat in my sandwiches (still not a fan of Genoa salami or olive loaf!)

It would be easy to blame my size on my genes: a lot of my dad’s family is on the plumper side and the same for my mom’s (her nephew was 600+ lbs before dying at a young age).  Between the ‘bad genes’ and the poor family-taught eating habits, I’ve got this excuse nailed! “I’m fat because I’ve got fat genes and no one taught me how to eat healthy!” Boom! That’s done!

Except…… my family isn’t the one putting the food in my mouth.  Remember those picky kids? Family members! They stood up for not eating what everyone else wanted them to eat! True, they were pooh-poohed as being difficult, but at the end of the day, that food they didn’t want to eat was still on their plates uneaten! They chose what to eat and what not to eat, and there were a few who were literal picky eaters, as in they picked at their food a couple of times and left most of it on the plate. “He doesn’t eat enough to keep a mouse alive!”  Really? ‘Cause he looks pretty healthy to me!

While the Go Ahead & Eat It people definitely outnumbered the Picky Eaters in my family, as we all grew up, we all learned to eat differently and eating differently became the norm in our family: this one hates onions, that one won’t eat olives or mushrooms, that one is vegetarian, that one won’t eat fish, etc. So at most family gatherings, there were the foods without olives, onions or mushrooms, the veggie foods and only a couple fish dishes.  I leaned to make my chocolate chip cookies in two batches: those with extra nuts and those without any at all. This was simply how it was done once we became adults because we learned to choose what we wanted to eat.

And that’s what it comes down to: we choose what we put in our mouths.  Genes can’t be changed but our habits can be, and if gene expression has any validity, choosing to eat better can mean choosing to turn off those unhealthy genes.  We aren’t destined to be fat; we are choosing to be fat when we eat food we know aren’t good for us.  Yes, this is not what we want to hear since those of us who’ve been overweight from childhood grew up being ridiculed for being fat. As a kid, I heard a lot from family and other kids about my ‘choosing to be a glutton.’  As a kid, it was certainly not my choice: I didn’t know any better! Everyone ate chips, so why not me? Everyone had cookies, so what’s wrong with my having cookies? My parents fed me the rice, the bread, the pasta and the biscuits and the pancakes! Saying no to what they gave me got me in trouble but apparently eating them also got me in trouble because they made me fat! It was pretty much the same rock-and-hard-place situation for most overweight kids: eat what mom and dad gave you and continue to put on pounds, or say no to what they fed you and face recrimination and punishment. For me, it never occurred to me to say no to the rice or the pasta or anything else because it never occurred to me that my parents would feed me something unhealthy!  I don’t think it ever occurred to them that there was anything wrong with what they were feeding me, either!

Even though we are now adults,  there is still a lot of blame-shifting going on, only this time it isn’t our parents we are blaming, it’s our own family.  “My kids hate vegetables!” “My spouse loves potatoes!” “I’m the only one trying to eat healthy!” Remember those picky eaters I mentioned above?  Just because there are potatoes, rice or cookies on the table or in the house, that doesn’t mean you have to eat them!  Face it, as one of the parents in the family, you don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to eat.  It’s not like making your kid eat his broccoli (though if he really hates it, maybe try another veg for him?) Even when it comes to eating out, you can either be That Person who orders the chicken alfredo but get it over broccoli instead of pasta, or you can be a little more casual and simply leave the stuff you don’t want to eat on the plate.  I’ve ordered lots of stuff that came ‘on a bed of rice’ and left the rice behind. Just because something is offered or available to you does not make you obligated to eat it!  If someone offered you something you really detested, would you have any trouble saying no? (In my case, if kale were the only thing to eat in the house, I would be extremely thin!)

Now that I am an adult, what I eat is up to me. I can choose the junk food or I can choose something healthy- whatever I eat and how much of it is entirely up to me. While I may be at the mercy of my DNA with some things, like these icky ankles, myopia, and predispositions to diabetes and hypertension, that doesn’t mean I am “doomed to be fat and sickly” the rest of my life.  How and what I eat, how active I am, how I manage stress and how much sleep I get– among other things– are all up to me and each of those affects my health and my metabolism.  As easy at it would be to blame our genes or our family, your DNA is just the framework of your body: what you choose to build on that framework is all up to you!

Coming Up For Air: Weight Loss & Getting Perspective

When it comes to losing weight, most of us know what are problems are.  We get lazy about food choices; we give in to cravings; we bail on our workouts because we just don’t feel like it– whatever the excuse is, we know it’s an excuse no matter how we try to justify it!

For some of us, though, we don’t know what the problem is until we are away from the problem.  I remember last year when my weight loss started to hit a few bumps and I was feeling really tired, really stressed and there were quite a few days when I made the ‘best fast food choice’ I could because I didn’t have time to cook.  I was very depressed about the whole situation, mainly blaming myself for making excuses. I was emailing a friend about what was going on in my life: I was working & commuting as usual (2 hrs each way x 5 days a week); I was taking care of my mom’s dogs (going by her place 3-5 times a week) and taking them to the groomers/ vet; I was taking care of my own errands (my dog, groceries & truck maintenance); I was trying to make my workouts (2-3 x week) and I had been doing this since August.  At the time of my email, it was November and of course, now I had to add holiday shopping into that list.  After spending most of one day each weekend with my mom’s dogs while she was in the hospital and going by her home evenings 3-4 times a week after I got off work/ gym/ grocery store, I was too tired to cook when I got home at 8 or 8:30 p.m.  If I didn’t have something healthy I could quickly heat up, then here comes the ‘healthy fast food!’  After taking care of my own pets, housework and dinner, I’d be lucky if I got to bed around 10:00 and then I’m getting up again at 5:30 a.m.  While it still feels like a lot of excuses to me, there were a few of my gym friends whose mouths dropped when I told them what I was doing on a regular basis, and had been doing for nearly four months straight.  No wonder I was tired and cranky!

When I actually stopped to re-read what I had written, I realized that’s a lot to cram into 168 hours a week, and that includes sleeping! Once I wrote it down as an objective list of what I was doing on a daily and weekly basis, I got perspective on my situation. There were legitimate reasons I was feeling so tired and cranky and my eating choices were seriously skewed. The point isn’t “great! I have reasons, not excuses!”; the point is that now I have some perspective on the situation, I can begin to formulate a planned response instead of just jumping from crisis to crisis!  In a lot of ways, this situation was nearly a mirror image of the last two years I worked The Job From Hell: late hours, poor eating choices, no activity, no sleep and triple stress!  I was too busy bouncing from crisis to crisis to stop and get perspective on my situation or figure out how to improve it.  This is the same situation that propelled my weight to nearly 440 lbs and caused my general health to head into the toilet.  In short, it nearly killed me and, while my health and weight were greatly improved by August 2017, I was heading back down the road to where I was in September 2014. Definitely not a good place to be!

Perspective is important, and not just when it comes to weight loss.  What I had been doing at The Job From Hell and those four months last year was slapping band-aids on problems that needed serious attention, and unfortunately, that’s what a lot of us do. When we aren’t being deluged with crises, we all know what kinds of problems can get by with a band-aid and what needs a real solution but when we are drowning in emergencies and ‘gotta do it now!’ situations, we can’t see that. We are too busy trying to keep from drowning to realize that we are bailing out an ocean liner with a teacup.  Maybe you’ve seen the commercial for car insurance where the driver spills his coffee and since he’s reacting to the spilled coffee, he doesn’t see the car in front of him.  It’s because our focus has shifted to what looks like an emergency.  Maybe it is a genuine emergency but unless we keep our focus where it needs to be, our overall situation will never improve.  This is why we need to step back and get a good objective view of what is really going on.

On a recent episode of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now?, we got an update on Erica’s weight loss journey. Her first episode was heart-breaking for me because while she lived alone, she was completely dependent on her brother, sister and niece for any assistance such as shopping and some personal care. Only her niece seemed to have any sympathy  or real concern for her situation.  Her brother was apathetic at best and her sister was downright cruel at times.  Although her sister and brother-in-law eventually helped her, it was blatantly obvious that it was not from the goodness of their hearts!  Their nasty snide remarks and threats to stop helping her made it clear that Erica had two choices: meekly accept the abuse or go it on her own.  As it was, their assistance was minimal at best and at worst, it literally put her life at risk. Rather than take the few days to drive her from Central California to Houston, they would only take her if she went on a plane, despite the risk of fatal complications involved with flying. With a flight of about five hours and weighing 661 lbs, Erica was in real danger of developing a fatal blood clot (deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism). As it was, upon her arrival in Houston, she ended up being hospitalized due to severe dehydration. (She was so dehydrated she had blood in her urine.)

Erica’s overall attitude was more negative than most patients. It was apparent she had made a difficult last-ditch effort to save her life and she had almost no support from her family. She was not only struggling against her own issues: she had to fight her family’s negativity as well.

It wasn’t until after she had moved to Houston and been living there for a while that she realized her separation from her family and the situation in California allowed her to get perspective on her struggles. When she had to return to California due to finances, she was able to put together a planned response to the issues she knew she was going to have to face. As a result of getting perspective and formulating a plan, Erica was able to make significant progress on her weight loss and at the end of this update, she was within 60-70 lbs of her goal weight.

Getting perspective is hard, mainly because we’re too close to the problem to realize we’re drowning. This is one reason some kind of support community is so important to success: you get the benefit of perspective. You don’t have to get a therapist like Erica did; in my case, I was just emailing a friend. I also share my frustrations and experiences in an online community (My Fitness Pal). A supportive community of any kind not only provides encouragement, ideas and suggestions but it also lets someone who is not drowning in your situation to offer an objective opinion, even if it’s something as simple as “don’t you think that’s a lot of changes all at once?” (They were right!) Perspective allows you to make well considered decisions instead of just reacting to what’s going on around you. It allows you to exercise some control over a situation that may not be entirely within your control. It allows you to develop contingency plans, which in my case meant keeping quick-cooking healthy food on hand (eggs, steam-ready veggies) so I didn’t have to resort to ‘so-called healthy fast food.’

It’s not easy for some of us to find a supportive community and a lot of us think we don’t need one. We do. All the other times I tried to lose weight failed and a big part of that failure was because I was toughing it out on my own. Ironically, having no perspective on my situation kept me from seeing I was drowning all alone and it didn’t have to be that way. Your support community doesn’t have to be others involved in weight loss: some of my biggest supporters are my friends who don’t need to lose weight! They offer motivation, ideas, encouragement and that so necessary objective perspective. Being my friends is all they need to do: giving me their honest opinions, listening when I need a sympathetic sounding board and occasionally helping me come up for air.