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.