Still Breathing: Weight Loss Takes Determination

One of the things that surprises people about me is the music I listen to.  Scrolling through the music on my iPod you’ll find Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin, Hans Zimmer, Yo-Yo Ma, The Chieftains, Skillet, Disturbed, James Newton Howard, Kitty Wells, John Fogerty, Patsy Cline, Five Finger Death Punch, John Denver and Bush among others.  Believe it or not, I am picky about what I listen to. You would think as I get older, my taste in music would start mellowing, but it’s just in the last few years that I downloaded the Skillet, Disturbed and FFDP. And, yes, I still listen to the old country (the new country I really don’t care for!)

My taste in music really surprised my sister. When it comes to music, we really are speaking different languages.  She likes jazz and some things I can’t even begin to describe (bossa nova?) When I initially starting listening to hard rock (Queen was the first), she put it down to rebelling against my parents, but it’s just kept growing and expanding.  One of my favorite bands which has also stood the test of time is Green Day. Their music speaks to me and it’s still got a lot to say. The song that’s talking to me most recently is “Still Breathing.”

Let’s be honest: music is art and even though the artist may have intended a song to about something specific, it has something different to say to each person. To me, this one was pretty straightforward: “I’m still breathing on my own.”  We might be scared, we might be hurt, we might be overwhelmed, but we’re still breathing and we’re still alive.

We need to keep breathing and we need to keep struggling for what we want in our lives and for ourselves.  I know it sounds trite and cliche but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. If we don’t believe we’re worth fighting for, why would anyone else fight for us? I often say something similar when it comes to weight loss: if you don’t want to lose weight, no one else can lose it for you! You have to want this!

You hear something similar from most people when it comes to weight loss programs or work out programs or anything else that requires your participation: you get out of it what you put into it. It takes practice to learn anything, to get good at anything or to succeed at anything.  We’ve all heard the Edison quote about light bulbs but my favorite quote of his says “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Losing weight is no different: it takes a lot of work and a whole lot of determination to make healthy changes, to lose weight and to keep it off.  If we want to improve our health and improve the quality of our lives, it takes work to make it happen.  Seriously, if weight loss were easy, we wouldn’t be a nation of obese individuals! We wouldn’t have expressions like “yo-yo dieting” and businesses like Nutrisystem and Weight Watchers wouldn’t exist. But these businesses exist precisely because weight loss is so difficult.  They are trying to make it easier and while I completely respect their intentions, I think they are doing it all wrong: it’s the work that makes it valuable.

Another favorite quote of mine is by Thomas Paine: “what we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: ’tis dearness only that gives everything its value.” Do you remember the first car you ever bought and paid for yourself? Do you remember the first time someone spilled something in it? I’m sure you do! When I was in high school, there were two kinds of kids: those who bought their cars themselves and those whose parents paid for them. The older brother of a classmate had restored a 1957 pickup truck on his own, and even though the shop screwed up the royal blue paint job he’d ordered (it looked like a giant blueberry!), he was still proud of his hard work and babied his truck. By contrast, there were a couple of twins in the same class whose parents bought them a Corvette, and when they totaled it inside six months, their parents bought them another one.  Who do you think understood the value of their vehicles?

If losing ten pounds were as simple as switching from butter to margarine, no one would give it a second thought. We’d lose ten pounds and when we went on vacation, we’d think nothing of drinking mai-tais all day and eating cheesecake and pasta every night and when we came home and discovered we’d gained back that ten pounds, it’d be no big deal: “It’ll come back off as easily as before!” We all know that’s not true! Many of us struggle to lose the ten pounds and we continue to struggle to keep it off and when we’re stuck on vacation looking at buffet tables full of ravioli, cheesecake, garlic bread and cocktails, our first thought isn’t “wow, this looks good!” Okay- maybe it is, but it’s quickly followed by “how long will it take me to lose the weight I’d gain if I ate all this?” We’ve all dreaded stepping on the scale after vacation or the holidays: “how much did I gain? And how long until I’m back where I was before?”

Too often we give up before we even join the fight.  We hide from our weight and we hide from life. When things get hard, we sigh and dread just the thought of all the work involved. It’s work planning out our shopping list; it’s work saying no to all the snacks and goodies, and let’s not even discuss the ‘work’ involved in working out! “Why is it all so hard?” We give up and we hide rather than dig in and get it done. When we do that, we forget how good it feels when we take the stairs and aren’t winded when we reach our office; we forget how good it feels when we try on a new outfit and realize you need a smaller size; we forget how good it feels to get up in the morning actually feeling good instead of tired and burnt out! These are just some of the benefits of weight loss and being healthier: we can move without pain, we can do more, we feel better and aside from just looking great, we improve our overall physical and mental health. Yes, it is work, but it’s work worth doing!

It’s not always going to be easier and there will be times when we feel like we’ve been runover by life and circumstances and that all of our efforts are pointless.  We’re going to feel like exhausted and frustrated and start thinking more about giving up than what we’re working for.   Those are normal reactions to the hard work, but when they start popping up in your head, I want to remind you: you’re still breathing on your own.

Our Not-So-Lovely Affair With Food: Weight Loss & Eating With Abandon

On a recent episode of My 600 lb Life, we watched a patient devouring a dozen donuts for breakfast.  She sat there with a box of a dozen mixed varieties, eating one after the other. I hate to admit it but I was so jealous- and I don’t even like donuts!

It wasn’t so much that I wanted donuts but rather I was jealous that she was eating with abandon.  She was eating whatever she wanted as much as she wanted and whenever she felt like it! I was so jealous because it’s a wonderful and heady experience to stuff yourself until you are full of whatever yummy food you want to eat.  It’s eating without caring about the consequences.  The donuts don’t really matter: it’s the same jealous feeling when I watch them eat pizza (especially a thick crust pizza) or when they eat pasta or bread or pretty much anything.  I remember how it felt to sit there with a huge amount of whatever I wanted and I could eat until I was absolutely stuffed full. For those few moments I was eating, it was a wonderful feeling. The food was so satisfying and tasted so good. I savored every bite and made it last as long as I could.  If there happened to be leftovers, I could look forward to savoring them too!

But once the eating was over, the feelings were almost as horrible as the eating had been satisfying. The guilt was usually liberally sprinkled with excuses: this was all I ate today; it was a special occasion (as in Friday!) or I was ‘treating’ myself.  Whatever the excuses were, they didn’t cancel out the guilt for eating so much. There is no excuse for eating an entire medium pan pizza when you weigh 300-plus lbs! I certainly wasn’t starving or undergoing some kind of ‘pizza deficiency’! So why did I eat so much? Because just the feeling of eating with abandon was enough! It felt like freedom!

Then reality smacks you hard in the face: your stomach hurts after eating so much; your knees and back hurt from being three times as big as you should be; you feel like crap because you shouldn’t be eating pizza at all, let alone the whole thing with wings and breadsticks! And forget about that pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer! (yeahhhhhh, riiiighhht!! Not happening!)

Obviously, I know how good it feels to eat without caring about the consequences and I know how bad the guilt is afterwards.  I’ve heard Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients talk about their love affair with food and how comforting food is and how food doesn’t hurt you or betray your trust! But oh, how wrong they are! There is nothing comforting in eating until your stomach feels like bursting and there is certainly nothing comforting in your legs and hips aching because you’ve got three times the weight on them that they are supposed to carry.  Food in those amounts definitely hurts your body with the voluminous calories and hurts your spirit with the shame and guilt.  As for betraying you? The food that is supposed to nourish you and keep you healthy is killing you slowly, miserably and painfully. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is!

Our love affair with food is really an illicit love affair. When you are having an affair, you hide your relationship out of shame, meeting your lover in places where you can’t be seen.  Once the passion is spent, you slink back to your spouse and try to forget how you are hurting him/ her with your betrayal. You hide your guilt and make secret promises never to do that again, and you mean it- at least until the passion overwhelms you and you sneak off to meet your lover again.  The only difference between that illicit affair and the one with food is that the person you are hurting the most is yourself.  You are betraying yourself when you gorge without care on whatever you want for that moment.  Is it worth the guilt and the shame and the pain you feel afterwards?  Hardly!  But for those few moments of delicious freedom….? For those brief minutes, we convince ourselves it’s worth it, but then afterwards we are drowning in the regret and recriminations that always come, that we know always follow our eating.

Some people refer to this as bingeing, but it doesn’t have to be an all-out session of gorging ourselves to qualify for the regret. It can be something as simple as the breakfast that we really want but isn’t the best choice for us. For me that can be pancakes or the breakfast sandwich that I love, or something as simple as finishing off the bag of licorice after dinner.  It’s not good for me and I’m certainly not hungry: I just really want it so I give in the momentary desire and then try convincing myself that “it wasn’t that much!” For some people, a binge is an entire cheesecake, a pint (or more) of ice cream and a bag of Cheetos; for others, an 8 oz bag of licorice is enough of a binge. The point is it is eating without control and without caring.  In short, it’s eating with abandon.

It’s true: having an apple instead of an apple pie is certainly better for you, but the point is giving in to the desire to eat. I wasn’t hungry- I just wanted to eat! When I give in and eat the apple or the donut or the licorice, I’m giving in to that desire to eat without caring again.  I do care, so instead of the donut, I choose an apple.  It’s like I’m only cheating “a little bit.”  If your spouse/ partner were cheating on you, would you make a distinction between a “little bit” and a “lot”?  Is there really a distinction?

Ultimately, no one else can make us stop. They can threaten or cajole or bribe, but we are the ones who must make the decision.  I have seen Dr. Nowzaradan take some fairly drastic steps to save patients from their own self-destructive actions after his dire warnings that one cold or flu is enough to kill them. Despite knowing that they are mere weeks from dying, they continue to eat and continue to gain (or regain) weight.  In most cases, drastic steps means physically limiting their ability to eat either by performing a bypass, a sleeve or by inserting a gastric balloon (this is where the patient swallows a balloon which is inflated in the stomach to take up space and prevent them from eating so much). In most of these cases, the surgery or procedure is already risky, but without it, they will keep eating and the question isn’t “if they die in surgery,” but “when they die from obesity complications.” This statement isn’t as histrionic as it sounds: it happened to my cousin.  He was over 600 lbs and was unable to control his eating.  I have also seen other TLC programs where the 600+ patient died from their obesity.  Like my cousin, their weight pushed their bodies over the limit until their bodies gave out.

For most of us, the situation isn’t as dire. There’s no life and death involved. Instead, it’s the quality of the life we want. Do we want to feel confident when we go out dancing? Do we want to be afraid of what’s on the menu at the new restaurant? Do we want to be able to go swimming without wondering what we look like in our swimsuit? Do we want to climb the tree or jungle gym with our kids?  These aren’t life or death questions, but sometimes when we’re sitting on the sidelines watching others enjoy their lives, they sure feel like it. It’s a simple decision: would I rather live with joyful abandon or eat without caring about what comes next?

The Excuse Beat-Down: Weight Loss & Fighting the Good Fight

There’s always a reason not to exercise, just like there’s always a reason to put off dieting for another week or month or until after a certain date.  If you are looking for a reason ‘not to,’ they are everywhere. As my grandpa would say, you can’t turn around without tripping over one!  What we don’t see– what’s not so obvious- are the thousands of reasons for doing the opposite.  There are just as many better reasons to lose the weight, to exercise, and to eat healthier.  We don’t see them because we aren’t looking for them: we’re too busy looking for the excuses! In some ways these reasons to be healthy are far more obvious and far more important, but we tend to sweep them to the wayside because…….. because…………….ummmm, what’s my reason for not doing this again?

Let’s see: last time it was because it was raining and you didn’t want to get wet coming out of the gym, and the time before that you’d had a long day and hadn’t eaten all day which gave you a headache and the time before that it was the office Christmas party and you love gingerbread cookies.  And that’s only a sampling of the reasons for not going to the gym or eating healthier. If you actually wrote them all down every time you bailed on your attempts to improve your health, you’d probably feel pretty foolish.  I know I do when I write them down in my food & activity journal.  They look like lame excuses because they are lame excuses!

Now compare those lame reasons for bailing with the reasons for being healthier: you got kids? Bingo! Reason No. 1! Got a spouse/ partner? Bingo! Reason No. 2! How about anyone who depends on you? Yep- Reason No. 3! Those are just the obvious ones. Then there’s the other more personal reasons, like your painful knees/ feet/ back, your imminent diabetes, your high blood pressure, the way you huff and puff like a train struggling uphill whenever you climb stairs or walk across the parking lot, the way the buttons strain on your shirt/ blouse and the jacket you can’t zip anymore. Those are pretty obvious too, but the fact is that we ignore them like we ignore the fact that we can’t play with our kids because we aren’t healthy enough and how we can’t walk the dog because we have to stop more than he does (and it’s not to mark a tree!)

We ignore the important reasons to change because change is unpleasant and difficult work.  Big non-surprise there! We like eating burgers and fries; we like laying around on the sofa bingeing This is Us; we like eating popcorn and cheesecake and not exercising because, really, who likes getting all sweaty and having sore muscles? Yes, we know that we should eat better, we know we could be more active but it falls in the Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda category of all those things we know we should do or could do or would do if circumstances ever gelled correctly. Kind of like winning the lottery: I should put more money in my 401k but if I win the lottery……

Eating better and being healthier is probably in the top ten on our list of Things To Do When I Get The Time, closely followed by things like paint the house, landscape the yard, and organize my retirement portfolio, so our odds of getting to it are sometime between “before we die” and “never.” Unfortunately, since we aren’t eating better, being more active and becoming healthier, our odds of dying sooner than we think we will are getting better and better every day.  That light you see at the end of the tunnel isn’t the rosy glow of a long retirement tooling around the Southwest in your RV with your spouse; it’s the train bearing down on you carrying a lifetime of donuts, frappuccinos and laying around on the sofa.

Am I being just a little heavy handed here? GOOD!! Take a look at those kids of yours running around the backyard. Some day they’re probably going to get married and have kids of their own and you may not be around to see that because you like potato chips and waffles more than you like spinach and taking a walk during your lunch! Imagine the love of your life cruising through the sunny Southwest with someone else because you’re too busy doing anything else to swim a few laps every week and say no to the seconds on the apple fritters! This is what it comes down to: if you aren’t investing in your own health, you are throwing away your future.  We see all the financial planning advertisements for our retirement accounts: imagine saving for a great retirement only to have your spouse spend it with someone else. Stings a bit, yes? Think it won’t happen to you? Think again! It happened to one of my mom’s longtime coworkers: she worked all the extra shifts, carried a few extra pounds and had stress levels out the roof and within a year of her retirement, she had a massive stroke which eventually killed her and that huge retirement portfolio she’d worked so hard to build? Her husband took his new girlfriend on a trip to Europe!  It also happened to the husband of our bookkeeper at my last job: within a few months of retirement, he developed a serious health problem and died a few weeks after their return from Italy.  His wife (my coworker) was grateful he’d been healthy enough to make the trip they’d always dreamed of taking, but now she’s spending her retirement alone.

Is there anything more important than investing in a long healthy life? One of the commercials I’ve been seeing lately compares your body to your car: “imagine you could have any car you wanted but it would be the only car you ever have in your entire life…” I think the ad is for a DNA service but the idea behind it is a sound one: many of us take better care of our cars than we do our own bodies! We drive past the ‘cheap gas’ because it makes your engine knock or you don’t get good mileage, but after putting in the premium gas, we’ll walk into the micro-mart to get a soda, a bag of chips and a candy bar.  Really?? Your car is too important for ‘junk food’ but your own body isn’t?  You’ll make time to get the tires rotated but you can’t make time for a walk or a swim? News flash, people: when your car needs a new fuel pump, your mechanic can get one installed in a couple of days, but if your body needs a new heart (or any other organ), you could literally die waiting for that order to come in!  And frankly, some of our parts aren’t replaceable!

I really don’t mean to be a scary, depressing b*tch about this, but eating better and taking better care of yourself really isn’t a major chore. It’s a series of simple little things that can be fun, and in the long run provide you with a longer healthier life.  It really is things as simple as saying no to potato chips most of the time or no to a second frappuccino or even just taking a walk every other day or running around the park with your kids a couple of times a week. Doing as much as you can do just to eat better, healthier, whole foods and taking some time to be more active can do wonders for your health.  Walking the dog every day doesn’t have to be a chore: it can be a relaxing walk in the fresh air and if you go with your kids or spouse, it’s family time, relaxation and exercise- all of which are good for your mind and body! Make dinner time family time too by taking the time to prepare the meal together, even if all the kids can do is set the table or toss the salad.  It can even be something as simple as turning off the tv and devices at a certain time in the evening and spending some time relaxing with your spouse/ partner or even just getting more sleep! Improving your health can truly improve the quality of your life as well as the length.  After all, when you’re strolling through Paris with the love of your life, would you rather have them holding your hand or pushing your wheelchair?






















Lowering The Bar: Focusing on Your Weight Loss Goals

One of the things that I see regularly on My 600 lb Life is patients who are practically immobile or are completely bedridden. From my vantage point and pretty much anyone else’s, it’s really easy to point out how they screwed up and complain that they are so lazy.  Whenever I feel the urge to start pointing out their errors, I remember that Bible verse about the mote in your brother’s eye and the log in your own: it’s easy to point out other’s failings and ignore your own screw-ups.

This is one of the reasons I watch the show: it reminds me of my own errors and how to avoid making them again or just making them worse.  These bedridden or almost immobile patients are a constant reminder of how easy it is to get stuck in what feels like an impossible situation. No one plans to become immobile or bedridden, and even though some patients will say “it just happened to me,” barring a serious accident, it didn’t ‘just happen’ to them. It happens when you lower the bar again and again. People get tricked into lowering the bar in what they believe is a temporary solution, but it’s a slippery slope and before they know it, there they are, stuck in a bed or in a wheelchair.

There’s a difference between lowering the bar and backtracking.  Backtracking is what happens to a lot of us after the holidays or after we’ve been on vacation.  We’ve gotten away from our healthy eating routines and when we go to get back into it, it’s tougher than we thought. I’m a good example of this: over the holidays, I ate a lot of breads, yogurt and other things that are normally not part of my healthy routine, and it’s a big adjustment going back to the way I normally eat.  Some things are harder to give up because they were hard to give up the first time (I should know better, but…….) I decided to backtrack a little: I gave up eating the yogurts and cookies but left in some of the other stuff like sweet potato chips and the cornbread because doing it all at once is making it harder than it has to be.  Even though I still have bread or chips a couple of times a week (or more to be honest), I’ve gotten rid of the other unhealthy stuff and am working on getting rid of those extra carbs that I don’t need.  The breads and chips are on my menu’s Temporary list because they are not going become permanent additions! I am in the process of removing them.  I backtracked on my healthy eating routine to build up some stamina and momentum to reach my goal of removing them from my regular grocery list.

Lowering the bar is something different: if I decided that giving up these foods was just too hard and I permanently leave them in a few times a week, that would be lowering the bar on my goals and expectations.  Backtracking means I am still working to meet my goal: I just have to work back up to it; Lowering the Bar means I’ve changed my goal to meet my current situation. This is how those immobile patients get stuck being immobile.  An example would be going to the grocery store.  Many of them have difficulty walking around the store, so rather than huff and puff and keep walking, they opt to use the motorized cart when they shop.  They probably tell themselves it’s just until they can walk around the store again, but they don’t change how they eat or how much they walk.  If anything, they walk less than before because now when they go shopping, they aren’t walking in the store at all- they are using the motorized cart.  It happens at home: they’re in bed and instead of getting up to get something to eat, they just shout for whoever’s home: “Sadie! I’m hongry!” “Hey, Mom! Can I please get something to eat?” “Bailey! Where’s breakfast?” Why? Because getting up and moving is a pain in the butt and just plain painful in general! In a lot of ways, it’s a gut response (to use a really bad but true pun): if it hurts, it’s reflex to ask someone else to do it for you, but in their situations, they really need to get up and move more, as well as stop eating so much.  For these immobile patients, unfortunately it’s become second nature to depend on others or depend on a device. They have lowered the bar on their goals and their progress.  Grocery shopping now includes using the motorized cart; moving around their house or neighborhood involves using a motorized wheelchair or scooter. They feel everyone staring at them because “I’m too fat to get around” but instead of keeping the goal to be more active and more independent, they lower the bar to avoid going out in public and become even less active.  They aren’t working at being more mobile: they have adjusted to their immobility.

I’ve been stuck in a bed due to an injury, and when these patients say it’s awful, I have an idea what they mean. I did a lot of physical therapy to recover from my injury because it was so awful.  I also know what it’s like to huff and puff and struggle to get around.  In 2012, I went to Disneyland with some friends, and even though it’s always been a lot of walking, I’d never had trouble like I did on that particular trip.  Of course, I’d never weighed as much as I did on any other trip either! In 2012, I was about 400 lbs and moving that much weight around the park was seriously painful and difficult. The thought of using one of those motorized scooters was embarrassing, so I did the next least-most embarrassing thing: I ‘watched the bags’ most of the time.  We’d take the monorail to the shopping area and I’d sit someplace while everyone else went to see a show or buy something or just do some shopping, and they’d come leave their bags with me and go somewhere else while I just sat there! Embarrassed and disappointed doesn’t come close to describing how I felt.  What I took away from that trip wasn’t “I need to figure out how to get around on a scooter” or “how do I get others to do things for me.”  If I’d wanted a scooter, I could have had one, and my friends would have been happy to bring me a burger or pretzel or anything I wanted to eat.  What I took away from that humiliating experience was “I need to lose some damned weight!”  Even though it took me a couple of years to get my act together, the memory of that humiliating trip kept me focused on working on my mobility, even if I wasn’t successful until the end of 2014!

Lowering the bar and backtracking have a lot in common, and backtracking can turn into lowering the bar if you never make progress or if you just plain give up.  I can even fool myself into thinking I’m still backtracking- and thereby making progress- if I keep pushing back my ‘goal date’ or scaling back my progress.  If I plan to start February without any bread or chips in my diet, but decide to change that to the end of February or I decide to leave in chips for a while longer and then they just never go away, that would be lowering the bar. If I really decide I like sweet potato chips and want to include them permanently, it’s still not a crime. I can eat what I want, but I really need to evaluate my Why for doing it.  Am I leaving them in because it’s too hard to give them up, or am I leaving them in because I really like the chips and I can still reach my weight loss goals with them in my diet?  If those chips are preventing me from reaching my goals, I need to ask myself “did I just lower the bar on my goals?”

To be fair, most people start off with backtracking, as in “I’ll stop with the sugar for now and I’ll work on the extra carbs later,” but then they never go back to working on those extra carbs, so the carbs stay in their diet and the bar gets lowered by default.  They didn’t mean to change their goals or stop working on their progress: it just seems to have ‘happened’ to them.  At the risk of sounding like a nag, it happened because they weren’t actively working on it. This is why it’s so hard to eat better and lose weight and be more active: it actually is work! And even if it’s not something you work on daily, it’s something that needs attention on a regular if not weekly basis.  It’s not that different from mowing your lawn. You can have automatic sprinklers to keep it watered but other than hiring a gardener, there isn’t an ‘automatic mower’ (at least not yet!) You need to mow your lawn on a regular basis or pay to have someone do it for you- either way, it needs your attention! If you don’t keep it mowed, your neighbors will let you know you need to do something about it.

This is what happens with most of these patients who end up immobile: they keep putting off working on losing weight and being more active until they physically can’t move around anymore, and even then, they do the equivalent of ‘automatic sprinklers’ and have family members feed them and take care of them, but as to doing the work themselves, it doesn’t happen.  Without their meaning to do it, they’ve abandoned their goals for healthy eating and being active through simple neglect, much like the lawn that keeps getting longer and shaggier week after week.

This is why we need to be mindful with our goals.  It’s one of the reasons I keep a food & activity journal; it’s why I watch reruns of My 600 lb Life; and it’s one of the reasons I maintain this blog.  I am very aware of what happens when backtracking turns into lowering the bar through neglect and procrastination. Focusing my attention on a nearly daily basis on what I am eating, how much I am eating, how active I am keeps me from dropping the bar lower or simply avoiding the bar altogether.  It’s an easy trap to fall into: one day you’re walking around Fantasyland with your friends and the next day, you’re watching their bags.  I can tell you from experience that’s a lonely and painful place to be, even in the Happiest Place on Earth.


Band-Aids, Weight Loss & Facing the Ugly Truth

The phrase “emotional eater” is something we’ve all heard.  It’s become a cliché, right up there with “I eat my emotions.”  When you talk to most dieters about why they overeat, this is usually what they say, or they use the sister phrase “I’m a stress eater.”  Same thing: you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed or stressed and so you eat something to distract you or make you feel better. Food has become your emotional band-aid.

So when we try to make healthy changes to our eating and exercise habits, we focus- obviously- on what we eat, how much we eat, and how much activity we get.  Hello!! It’s weight loss!! Duhhhhh….. What else would we focus on?

Ummmm… how about our emotions?  As in “the emotions that drive us to overeat”?  Again, My 600 lb Life is full of great examples of this. The patient struggles to lose enough weight to qualify for bariatric surgery and after the surgery still struggles with the urge to overeat.  It’s usually at this point that the patient is referred to a therapist to deal with these emotions.  Over and over again, the patient will use their emotions, their life experiences and their circumstances as an excuse for overeating.  Some will even say that food is their coping mechanism, but while they struggle to control their eating, they aren’t dealing with the root cause of their urge to eat: their emotions!  But that’s what the therapist is for.

There are a lot of people who don’t want to deal with these issues.  No one does- and that includes me! It means we have to come face to face with what we spend a great deal of time and energy avoiding.  We’ve all had similar experiences: I need to call my mom and talk to her about XYZ; dealing with her always ends up in a fight or listening to her hours-long litany of what’s wrong in her life; even texting her can be problematic, let alone talking to her; are there any bananas left in the kitchen? On the surface, this appears to be a complete non sequitor– one thing has nothing to do with the other, but in reality, the whole bananas issue comes directly from the stress I feel having to deal with my mom.  I am distracting myself by rummaging through the pantry for bananas, they’re yummy and soothing so they make me feel better, they’re full of sugar and carbs so they solve the physical stress response and I don’t have to think about or deal with my mom while I’m eating them.  Mission accomplished!

Unless your mission is to lose weight and eat better! This is what happens with most of us: two seemingly unconnected events that result in our slowly gaining weight or at the very least not losing weight, and we usually end up either beating ourselves up over not controlling our urge to eat or white-knuckling through the cravings.  None of these are healthy for us: not the stress/ emotional eating; not the beating on ourselves and not the white-knuckling.  To add insult to injury, it becomes a vicious cycle: we stress-eat, we feel angry/ frustrated/ guilty; we stress-eat, repeat repeat repeat.

What we really need to do is deal with our emotions and our stressors.  To go back to my example, that means “dealing with mom” instead of scrounging up the last of the bananas. Hopefully for most of us, we won’t need a therapist, but it still means facing some ugly uncomfortable truths. It also means finding something else to use as a coping mechanism instead of food. The best answer is to find healthy ways to deal with what we are trying to avoid, but finding interim substitutes that aren’t harmful are still a better band-aid for our emotions than donuts, chips or even bananas.

Which leads to the other big problem with emotional eating: denial.  As in “I don’t have an emotional issue; I just don’t like dealing with my mom!” This reminds me of the old joke of the smoker puffing away on a cigarette while smugly telling others “I can quit anytime I want!”  If your reaction to stress or difficult situations is to find something to eat, then you need to find another way to cope with your stress! Seriously, there’s a connection and an issue even if it’s not one that leads you to be 600 lbs or even 400 lbs like me.  You can keep slapping band-aids on your emotions to hide them but the emotions aren’t going away. All you are doing is covering them up: the wound is still there.

This is usually where Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients either deny they need a therapist or they realize how much they really needed one! It’s not until their band-aids are taken away that they realize how much hurt they were really hanging onto. This is where the issue of being happy enters into weight loss.  The majority of people who want to lose weight believe that losing the weight will make them happy.  We’ve all said it to ourselves: “when I lose those 50 lbs, I’ll be happy!”; “If only I could lose this weight, I’d be happy!”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  Whatever problems we’re hiding from with food will still be there even if we give up the food. With Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, they are forced to deal with their issues because of the bariatric surgery.  Their stomachs have been cut down to a size where even a hamburger or a sandwich is too much food at once, so they can’t eat every time they feel the stress: this means they are left face to face with whatever painful situation they were trying to escape (enter the therapist!)  For the rest of us who don’t have a stomach the size of a small orange, we usually end up cheating: “hey, these Reese’s peanut butter hearts are only 170 calories each! Yummy!!” It’s avoidance behavior (the band-aid) and it’s why most people end up losing and gaining the same ten or fifteen pounds over the course of their lives. We’re trying to avoid the negative emotions and the food band-aid as well with mixed success: lose ten lbs, gain five lbs, lose five lbs, gain ten lbs.  It all depends on how much stress and emotion we are dealing with at the moment and how much we are using food to hide from it!

For Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, their emotional reality usually hits them in the face when they’ve had the surgery, lost a couple hundred pounds and are still struggling with overeating and their unhappiness. “What’s wrong? Why aren’t I happy now that I’m finally ‘getting my life back’?” The reality is the food was just the band-aid: now they’ve got to find a way to heal the emotional wounds they were hiding from. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some kind of emotional damage, even if it’s just something like not having a good relationship with a family member. We’ve got job stress, family stress, and just life stress in general. Welcome to the human experience! There’s no getting away from stress, emotions and frustrations- it comes with living, and slapping a food band-aid over our problems is a sure guarantee you’ll gain weight.  The sooner we all learn to find healthier ways of dealing with our stress and emotions, the healthier we’ll be overall because it’s not just our weight that suffers.

Our emotions affect the entirety of our lives: our bodies, our minds, our relationships and our spirit. How many times have you had a bad day at work or just a negative experience with someone else, come home and snapped at your spouse/ child/ pets? Usually with me, it’s something stupid that irritated me, I get home and my dogs jump on my lap and usually the puppy smacks my glasses (this happens every day with him) but since I’m p*ssed about something else, I yell at them for jumping on me or getting in my way (regular dog behavior). We all know this is unhealthy and unfair, and most of the time, we apologize to whomever we’ve wronged.  What is not so easy to realize is the way the stress and emotions prey on our sleep (bad dreams, sleepless nights), our relationships (snapping at family/ friends) or our bodies and spirits (fatigue, malaise, feeling overwhelmed or helpless or just lost).  All of this is our stress and emotions sucking the joy out of our lives.  When we hide from them with food, we feel happy for a while because of the food and then we wrongly assume our problem is the food, when it’s the emotions behind the food.

Food is only one band-aid that we use. Other band-aids are alcohol, gambling, shopping, sex, social media, gaming, or whatever we use to distract ourselves, including exercise.  When my sister was in college I could always tell when she had a major project or exam because she’d go jogging again and again and again.  That was her stress band-aid; mine was food. Obviously, dealing with stress and emotions sucks.  Therapists and other professionals are only one way of handling something ugly and uncomfortable.  Other ways include journaling, meditation or anything really that you enjoy that helps you relax.  The key isn’t avoiding the ugly emotions but finding a way to face them, accept their ugliness and take away their power over you. One therapist reminded her patient that forgiveness isn’t for the person who wronged her: it’s for the patient herself.  Forgiving her abuser takes away his power over her.  When we learn to deal with the stress and emotions we all face every day, we take away their power over us. Yes, it’s going to sting, but it always does when you rip off a band-aid.

Do One Thing, Do It Well & Move On To The Next: Weight Loss & Repetition

Like most people my age (50+), I grew up watching M*A*S*H and one of my favorite characters was Major Charles Emerson Winchester, III.  He was a pompous snob and obviously meant to be the butt of Hawkeye & BJ’s jokes, but he was also very well read and educated and when he went on about opera or authors, I usually knew who he was talking about.  I admit: I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to great literature too!

During his first episode, he made it clear that he does things his way.  He pompously announced to everyone in the operating room: “I do one thing, I do it well and then I move on to the next.”  Despite all his arrogance and ego, he was not wrong about that.  One of our biggest mistakes when it comes to making New Year’s Resolutions or any kind of ‘self-improvement’ changes is that we try to do too much at once.  Instead of doing one thing, doing it well and moving on to what’s next on our list, we decide we are going to do it all now and save some time and effort!

Big Mistake!! Biiiigggg Mistake!! Huge!! I honestly can’t say it enough.  Remember when you were a kid and you saw the jugglers at the carnival? Five or six balls or batons in the air all floating easily like it’s no trick at all?  Remember when you tried juggling tennis balls and just got hit in the face by all of them? YUP!! That’s pretty much what happens to us when we write our list of resolutions and then try doing them all at once.  The only difference is that if we were hit in the face by them, we would probably learn something (like we did when we were ten and tried juggling) instead of trying to do them all again the next year or the next time!  Sometimes bruises are good for something, and I really think if New Year’s Resolutions came with bruises when we screwed up, we might learn a little faster!

The trick isn’t that different from learning to juggle or even Maj. Winchester’s pompous pronouncement: do one thing, do it well and then move on!  When novice jugglers learn, they start with one ball or baton: toss it, watch it, catch it.  Repeat.  It’s harder than it looks, really, because it means tossing it straight and knowing where it’s coming down. So once you can catch it blindfolded, you get to add another ball/ baton. As in, one ball/ baton.  Now you get to catch two of them! Repeat until you’re about to die from boredom, and when you can catch both of those blindfolded, you get to step up to the Big Leagues and add in a third ball/ baton.  Now you’re really juggling! You’ve got three objects in the air and once you’ve got all three going, then and pretty much only then, you appreciate all that super boring practice with balls one and two!  Because you practiced until you could toss and catch without even thinking about it, now that you actually have to think about # 3, not thinking about # 1 and # 2 makes it look easy and almost effortless.  Really, even though you’ve got three balls in the air, you really only have to think about ONE.  That’s the secret with juggling and that’s the secret with weight loss and ‘self-improvement’ habits: you do one thing until you do it well, and then you add another.

I wish I could tell you it’s glamorous or exciting or even funny like on M*A*S*H, but it’s not. The behind-the-scenes truth to juggling, working out and weight loss is just more of that super boring repetition. When you watch the jugglers or any kind of performance, what you are seeing is the Finished Product. It might be five minutes or less of a trapeze artist flying through the air or two jugglers sending batons back and forth with flawless ease, but what you don’t see is the hours of dropped batons, getting smacked in the face or the trapeze artist missing her hold and falling into the safety net.  That’s the whole point: they make something extremely difficult look amazingly easy!

This is what happens when we are presented with the infomercials and diet books/ plans and exercise programs.  They make it look like it’s just so simple and all you need is fifteen minutes or less! Everyone has fifteen minutes! No counting, no meetings, no measuring! It’s just fun delicious food and fifteen minutes of walking! Anyone can do this and have rock hard muscles, a chiseled six pack and lose twenty lbs in six weeks! Really! Just sign here!

Ummm…….NO. It’s never that easy because you have to do it. Consistently.  The fact is that even if it is as easy as opening a box of diet food and eating it or using your new machine for fifteen minutes, it’s still a change to your regular routine. How easy is it to say “I’ll do it later”? Even if it’s only a few minutes, you have to find a way to stick into your day: before or after dinner/ lunch/ breakfast? After work? Before work? Does walking the dog count? The same thing goes for opening that box of microwave diet food: it’s not what you normally eat and it’s one thing if you live by yourself, but when everyone else at home is doing “make your own taco night,” you’re there with your diet pasta.  Everyone else is having ice cream for Netflix night and you’re okay with your diet chocolate brownie?

I don’t mean to make trouble with exercise and diet plans but eventually we get tired of the repetition. It’s work! That should be obvious to us but what we were sold was “simple and easy.” If you want to buy the machine because you don’t want to go to the gym, that’s great! Just remember that the machine only works when you use it and you’re going to have to use it. Again and again and again. It’s the same thing with whatever diet plan you choose: it only works when you follow it, whether it’s make it yourself Paleo or frozen diet food from wherever. If you give in and decide to have taco night with the family, and then the ice cream and then the fried zucchini and burgers on the weekend, it’s going to cancel out the diet breakfast and lunch you’ve been eating. Unless your office had pizza at the weekly meeting or bagels at the Friday conference, and you didn’t want to look different by not eating. Then, you’re consistently not-eating your diet food.

Consistency is the monkey wrench in learning anything new and the secret to being consistent is the super boring repetition that makes the jugglers, trapeze artists and everyone else look awesome.  No one wants to hear about being boringly consistent doing the same thing again and again.  Where we get overwhelmed is when we try to be consistent with too many things all at once: again, if dropping our new healthy routines ended with a bruise on our face like a missed tennis ball, we’d probably be more sensible about starting new healthy habits!

Making one change to your regular routine is easier than making two, three or more changes. Whether it’s going to the gym, eating your new healthy meals or even just going to bed earlier: choose one, and do it until you don’t need to think about it anymore. Once it’s a complete no-brainer, move on to what’s next on your list and repeat. It’s not glamorous or exciting but it works! FYI: the exciting part comes when your waist gets smaller, your arms get cut and you can fit into the same size jeans you wore in high school. It’s the equivalent of the flawless rhythm of batons flying through the air with the greatest of ease! No one has to know it was day after day of being boringly consistent: show off the amazing results! You worked hard for it so enjoy being awesome for a while!


Feeling Comfortable? That’s Bad! Weight Loss and Getting Uncomfortable

When most people think about being uncomfortable and being overweight, they obviously think about all the ways their size makes them physically uncomfortable or how they feel emotionally uncomfortable or embarrassed by their size. Pretty much anyone reading this blog has been there: squeezing into a restaurant booth and having the edge of the table jammed into your belly; sitting in a tiny little chair with your thighs pushing hard against the arms of the chair; sitting in an office chair and having it sink all the way to the floor, or going to a stylist/ barber and being too heavy for the chair to pump you up high enough.  And these are just the ones that don’t involve ‘wardrobe malfunctions!’

When you are extremely overweight, it often seems like it’s one long series of uncomfortable episodes with chairs, with cars, with seatbelts, with clothing, with elevators/ escalators, etc.  If you are looking for sympathy and commiseration over being uncomfortable with your weight, you are at the wrong location.  In my opinion, the point of being uncomfortable is that it is impetus to change!  Growth and change begin by being uncomfortable in some way.  Remember when you tried out for the basketball team or the soccer team or track or dance or whatever, and you weren’t good enough?  Didn’t that feeling of ‘not making the cut’ make you want to practice?  It doesn’t have to be something physical: the same thing happens when we learn a new song on the piano or learn a new language or even a video game.  We try, we aren’t as good as we want to be so we work to be better!

Unfortunately, when it comes to being overweight or making poor food choices, we focus on finding our comfort zone.  We choose restaurants that have booths with adjustable tables or chairs without arms. We like baggy/ loose clothes so that our butt, hips, belly, etc aren’t obviously visible.  We don’t like being reminded that we are ‘plus sized’ so we learn to avoid those things that make us feel either physically or emotionally uncomfortable.  We don’t realize that by staying comfortable, we are encouraging ourselves to stay where we are with our weight and our bad eating habits.

I am sure all of you have heard the expression ‘fat pants.’ My fat pants are the ones I wear when I’m either feeling fat or I put on a few pounds: they are a size larger than my ‘regular pants.’ Rather than put on a pair of regular pants and feel the uncomfortable reminder that I had too much fruitcake and mochas over the holidays and also feel encouraged to make some healthier choices in the new year, each January I just put on my fat pants and absently think “I should do something about that.”  And then it happens: my ‘fat pants’ turn into my ‘regular pants’! OMG!! How did I let this happen?! “I really should do something about that!”

This is why I think being uncomfortable is a good thing: the discomfort is a constant reminder that you need to make changes! I’m not talking about physical pain or any kind of humiliation: I’m talking about that little bit of discomfort that comes from you knowing that you could do better.  When we stay in our comfort zone, we never move forward.  If we don’t grow, we become complacent and eventually stagnate.  Stagnation is a synonym for ‘decomposing,’ FYI.

I admit that I really really love my comfort zone.  It’s where I feel secure and safe and I know my way around.  Being outside that zone makes me nervous; it’s confusing and it’s just plain work! It means that I have to learn something new and I’ll probably get a few things wrong and- yikes!- I’ll probably be embarrassed and look like a fool! Yay! Wow! Sign me up for that- NOT! But by staying where I feel secure and can be a bit of a Know-It-All, I’m missing out on learning something new and maybe even something I could learn to enjoy, even if I’m not good at it.

Some of you may recall that last spring, I took a belly dancing class at my local community college. I’m a 50-ish fat woman with two left feet and no coordination at all, and frankly, that class not only confirmed all of the above, it taught me that I really really suck at dancing (as if I didn’t already know that!) I also loved the class even though I was pretty much one of the worst if not the worst dancer in the class! I signed up for the class because I wanted something ‘active,’ but it also taught me balance and coordination and how to be more graceful, aside from just having a good time.  I was sorry when the class concluded and even sorrier that it’s been rescheduled for a time when I can’t take it again (although I will try!)

The same is true for our eating habits: when we eat the same way and same foods over and over again, we miss out not only on trying something we might really enjoy, but we are missing out on nutrition. How much nutrition is there in a fast food burger or even the same rotisserie chicken and broccoli? While one probably has more vitamins than the other, if all we eat is chicken and broccoli, do you think we’re going to get a diverse range of vitamins and minerals? Trying different ways of eating or even just different foods keeps us from getting too comfortable and also from just getting plain bored with what we are doing and eating.  No one wants to show up to a workout class where we’ve done it so many times we can do it in our sleep, just like no one wants to eat the same old same old bland boring meal every day.  This is when we get tempted to eat the forbidden junk food or skip the workout and go shopping.  We like variety- as long as it’s in our comfort zone!

One of the things my best friend and I like to do is try new restaurants or even just new dishes at an old favorite.  Sometimes it’s a dud, of course.  The food isn’t good or the service is bad or it’s just too expensive. But usually, it’s worth the experience even if all we learn is that it’s not for us.  There’s nothing wrong with having a safe secure comfort zone, as long as we get out once in a while!

Please Stop Whining: Time For Tough Love

I’m going to be really honest here: I have no time for whiners. One of the common situations on My 600 lbs Life is the patient crying over their “helpless” lifestyle or whining about how Dr. Nowzaradan ‘doesn’t understand [my] situation.’ Neither evokes any sympathy from me. It’s not that I’m heartless or that I don’t understand. Having been 438+ lbs with arthritis in both knees, lower back issues and some other health problems, yes, I understand feeling utterly helpless and alone in the face of problems which you created. Having also been told by an arrogant bariatric surgeon that I have plenty of time to exercise, yes, I walked out that b*stard’s office and never returned. I assure you: I know what it feels like to be alone, misunderstood, overwhelmed and helpless.

However, those feelings of helplessness and being utterly alone are the problem; they are not the solution! After I left that jerk of a bariatric surgeon’s office, even though I never went back to see him, that doesn’t mean that I stopped looking for a solution for my obesity.  It just means I found something else! Unfortunately, too many of us hit roadblocks and obstacles that might at first glance seem insurmountable (or even take a few tries to get over them) and we give up instead of trying to get over them or find a way around them.

For me, the idea of exercising at 438+ was just a stupid idea.  For starters, my schedule would have me exercising at 5:00 a.m. or earlier or 8:00 p.m. or later, and at a time in my life when falling asleep on my daily commute was a very real danger, that was an idiotic idea, even without the pain from using a treadmill, which is what I would have tried doing.  “Hmm, let’s take more time away from sleeping and cram in some painful exercise, so I can be in more pain and more exhausted when I get in the car to drive for two hours!” Can we say “not a good idea?” Don’t get me wrong: exercise is a great thing and when you are getting enough sleep and you aren’t hurting yourself, it can really add to your energy level and helps with mental clarity as well.  But the caveats are there: you need to be healthy enough to exercise otherwise you are just adding stress and damage to your body! That’s what the doofus of a bariatric surgeon wasn’t understanding: after meeting with me for fifteen minutes max, he felt he knew me and my lifestyle well enough to pronounce that I had plenty of time to exercise!

I realize that in a lot of ways, I am sounding exactly like Dr. Now’s whiny patients! “He doesn’t understand my situation!” Truthfully, maybe he did and maybe he didn’t, but the bottom line is instead of trying to help me find any kind of solution, he made a blanket proclamation and that was the end of it. Dr. Nowzaradan will send a physical therapist or offer some kind of assistance to help his patients move forward. He also does a more comprehensive physical exam than the jerk I saw, who didn’t know that I had arthritis in both knees because I didn’t know I had arthritis in both knees and he didn’t even do an x-ray to find out!

It’s really easy to fall into the trap of being helpless and misunderstood, and then we compound the problem by continuing to justify how helpless we are and how no one understands us. It makes us feel vindicated in someway.  What we don’t realize is that when we do that, we are essentially walling ourselves up in our excuses and reasons why we can’t get over whatever obstacle is in our way.  It reminds me of a scene from an old little-known movie that I loved when I was kid: Support Your Local Sheriff with James Garner, Walter Brennan and Bruce Dern. It was a comedy-western in which James Garner falls into the job of sheriff at a boomtown which is so new that the jail has no bars on the cells.  Bruce Dern, the son of local bully Walter Brennan who runs the town, is arrested and thrown in the barless jail and tricked into staying there until the bars are installed on the walls and windows.  When his dad and brothers try pulling out the bars on the window, Dern tells him that it won’t work- the bars are too well set into the cement, and when they comically fall off their horses, Dern tells them “I told you so!” Brennan snaps that how would a nitwit like him know the bars are set in so good, and Dern smugly tells him “Because I helped put them in!” The joke is that Bruce Dern’s character literally imprisoned himself in that jail, but all he sees is that he was right and his dad was wrong.

We do this when we justify why we can’t exercise or why we can’t lose weight or why no one can help us. When we give up and cry, we are keeping ourselves locked in a jail of our own making. We don’t look for a way out or a way around the obstacle because we are so busy finding reasons why we can’t!  We have tunnel vision so all we see is what is in our way rather than looking for any kind of solution. It’s easy to sit here and spout platitudes like “don’t be part of the problem- be part of the solution!” Seriously, platitudes bug me because we hear them all the time and they’ve become part of the background noise that we filter out.  For instance, the idiot surgeon I met with told me “nothing tastes as good as thin feels!” Yeah, except I don’t know how ‘thin feels’ so that little gem means nothing to me! I can sit here and tell you all to ‘be part of the solution!’ but unless you know how to look for that solution or even what a possible solution might be, I might as well tell you to pick up a few snipes while you’re out looking for that solution!

The point is that when we feel the urge to sit and cry or justify why we can’t do whatever, this is where we need to remind ourselves to change our focus.  Instead of telling people “I’ve got arthritis in both knees, a pin in one, screws in one wrist and bone spurs and degenerative disc disease in my back so I can’t exercise!,” find an exercise or some kind of activity that you can do!  In my case, using a treadmill will only aggravate those problems for me, but using a pool doesn’t, so I use the pool. I’ve got a rotator cuff that bothers me when I do certain exercises in the pool, so I modify those exercises when we do them in class.  I don’t not do them: I find a way around the obstacle!  It takes a little practice to remind yourself to stop the whining and justifications and find the way over or around the problem. Honestly, it’s even okay if you want to have a little tantrum/ pity party for a few moments before you go looking for your solution (I’ve been known to have some real beauts!)  Ultimately, it’s all your own choice: you can find a way out of that jail you made for yourself, or you can help put the bars in!

Planning to Fail: Making It Harder Than It Has to Be

We have all failed at weight loss at least once.  If you’re like me, you’ve been failing at it all your life! For most of us, obviously, this is unplanned but oddly enough, there are some people who plan to fail.

Most of us who go into the weight loss arena seriously want to succeed; we want to be slimmer, more fit, less tired and just generally look and feel better.  We unwittingly sabotage ourselves by creating plans and menus that just make it harder than it needs to be.  If you’re like me, you’re in a hurry to reach your goal weight so everyone, outta my way! It’s in our rush to “do everything! and do it now!” that we pile on too many changes, drastically re-structure our eating plans and overschedule ourselves with exercise.  We’ve made it harder than it needs to be by trying to go from zero to 150 in ten seconds or less!  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) likens this to pulling onto the freeway, gunning your car’s engine with the parking brake on.  It’s a good analogy: we want to go as fast as we can but with the parking brake on, all we are doing is burning out our engine and increasing our frustration.  We get easily discouraged because “we’re doing everything right and not getting anywhere!” This is where most of us throw up our hands and resign ourselves either to being fat or to finding something else.

The ‘finding something else’ may not be the wrong idea, if the ‘do everything now’ method has been your strategy.  You probably have a good sound plan for weight loss; it’s the execution/ implementation that’s the problem.  We usually plan to give up things like sugar, ’empty carbs’ (chips, potatoes, etc) and we plan to drink more water and do more exercise or activity.  Those are all great plans (especially if you include more sleep and stress management) but trying to do all of them at once? That hotel website commercial pops in my head- the one with the guy trying to put on his belt, drink his coffee, shave and read the paper all at once. No one tries to do all those things at once- duhhhh! We can’t! Our hands are full! But when it comes to weight loss, eating better and making other positive changes, we don’t realize that our metaphorical hands are full…. until we start dropping things! Such as missing our workout class/ appointment, giving in to the break room cookies and ‘forgetting’ our healthy lunch so we end up eating out the rest of the crew- again!  We don’t realize it, but we are making this harder than it needs to be. We just hamstrung ourselves and didn’t even know it.

Using the analogy of the guy trying to do everything at once, the answer is obviously we do things one or two at a time.  Hello! Makes sense, right? Brush your teeth then drink your coffee or vice versa but not at the same time! We reject this idea because it… takes … too… long! We don’t want to wait- really who does? But the fact is that we built our bad habits and our extra pounds over time, usually a lifetime, and those habits and pounds take time to come off.  It’s not like we spent a week eating pasta three times a day and dessert seven days a week and then the following week we woke up with an extra twenty or thirty pounds on our butts and bellies! These habits changed little by little over the years and the extra pounds snuck up on us the same way.  The bad news is that now they’re firmly entrenched into our lifestyle and our butts.  The good news is that we can evict them, but like any eviction, it takes some time.  The first good habit we need to learn is patience. If we are as consistent and steady with our new good habits as we were with our old bad ones, we will be successful at weight loss.

This means doing things one at a time: we make one change, do it consistently and when it becomes a habit (as in we do it without really thinking about it), we make another change.  Here’s an example from last night: for the last two years, I’ve been going to water aerobics classes Mondays and Wednesdays.  The only time I haven’t made it to the classes is when the gym is closed or I work late. The biggest changes for me involved in this were #1) remembering my gym bag; and #2) remembering to go to the gym!  I set reminders on my phone to help with both of these.  The danger for me was that I would find a way to talk myself out of going to class: it’s a hassle; it’s cold; I don’t feel good; blah blah blah.  I made myself go anyway and it got easier after I made friends in the class.  Yesterday on my way to the gym, I was tired; it’d been really stressful at work lately; it was cold and rainy; and I realized I was talking myself out of going to class.  I was making excuses and justifications for not going and why it was okay to skip it. In fact, I had ‘decided’ I wasn’t going to go but because it had become a firmly entrenched habit, I found myself pulling into the gym parking lot.  Even though my ‘higher brain’ was arguing with me, my ‘autopilot brain’ drove to the gym anyway: it’s Wednesday so it’s gym night!  Oh, well! I’m here so I might as well work out!

By taking my time doing the same actions over and over, I made a habit of going to the gym and unless I consciously think about stopping myself, I do it anyway. This is how we learn to take our healthy lunch, not put sugar in our coffee, and go to bed at a reasonable hour.  I seriously set reminders on my phone (Alarmed app by Yoctoville-it’s free at iTunes!) and they helped a lot: reminders for packing the gym bag, going to the gym, making my breakfast and lunch, etc.

As for those of us who seriously plan to fail, there’s an entirely different psychology at work there.  These are the people who deliberately set themselves up for failure so they can say “I tried but I can’t do it!” and that’s their excuse for never trying again.  They ‘try to exercise’ but will try something they are reasonably certain is beyond their capabilities without being too outlandish, such as me at 430 lbs trying to run a 5k- just plain crazy! But if I tried something like doing an hour on the treadmill, that’s not crazy but at the same time, I’m pretty certain I would have been in a fair amount of pain afterwards because the impact on the treadmill aggravated the arthritis in my knees.  After 20 minutes, my knees were killing me.  If I had been setting up an excuse as to why I can’t exercise, this would have been good enough for me.  I’d already lost 40 lbs and should have been able to do this, but it hurts too much to exercise! I tried and I can’t do it! This would have been my opportunity to ‘get out of exercising’ because ‘my body can’t handle it!’ Instead, what I did was go to my doctor and ask her why my knees were hurting, which is how I ended up in the pool.  I went looking for an explanation and an alternative instead of choosing the excuse.  For the people who want permission to fail, looking for answers is kryptonite.  They don’t want help. They don’t want to succeed. They want to fail, either because it makes them more helpless and pitiable so they either get more attention and/ or sympathy or they don’t have any responsibility for anything in their lives. They can be overweight and helpless with impunity: they’ve tried to help themselves and they can’t do it.

Obviously some of us have flirted with the edges of this: I ‘tried’ to open this jar and I can’t: “hon, can you get this for me?” I ‘tried’ to prune the rosebushes and they look awful now: “look what happens when you let me do! I can’t do it as well as you!” This isn’t the same thing as those who are looking for excuses and justifications not to change.  Change is hard and uncomfortable and it’s a lot of work.  Positive changes are worth the effort.  We just need to remind ourselves that we are also worth the effort when our brains think of reasons to fail.








Portion Distortion: The Weight Loss Landmine

We’ve all heard about portion distortion when it comes to weight loss.  We go out to eat and look at the food on our plate and even though we know “this is more than one serving,” we usually don’t know how many servings are really there in front of us.  But it’s not just restaurants that do it to us: almost everything we buy has bigger than normal servings now.

At the risk of sounding like my grandma, when I was a kid, we’d buy frozen bagels at the grocery store (fresh bagels weren’t in stores or even bakeries).  The bagel was about the size of an English muffin, maybe a little thicker. Now, a bagel is literally twice the size of those frozen 1970’s bagels! One half of today’s bagel is the size of one of those frozen Lender’s bagels I got as a kid.  When you read the nutrition label on most of these, one serving is half a bagel!

The problem is that most of us don’t really pay attention to the serving size: one bagel = one serving, right? That makes sense, doesn’t it? It does, but that’s not what we’re getting.  Recently, standing in line at the grocery store, I looked at the wrapper on a King Size Payday bar: 150 calories a serving.  Logically, since it was a King Size bar, I thought there were two servings in this bar, but nope! It’s three!  It’s not 300 calories I was holding in my hand; it was 450!

Most of us really hate having to weigh and measure what we eat.  It’s one of the reasons so many of us give up on weight loss (it’s a major hassle) or we’re frustrated because our diet ‘isn’t working’ (because we aren’t weighing/ measuring). We also get lazy when it comes to reading the labels on packaging (another hassle!)  It’s bad enough to read them for calories or fat/ carb content, but then we buy the small package of cottage cheese and assume it’s one serving because it’s so small! But once we look at the amount per serving and number of servings per package, we realize that we just ate two servings of cottage cheese: really?! a half cup is a single serving?! it’s such a small amount!!

It is small to us now, but that’s part of the Portion Distortion landmine.  We know that what we are getting served either in a package or a restaurant is more than one serving: it’s pretty much common knowledge now.  What most of us don’t realize is how many servings there actually are in that package! (Think back to my Payday bar!) So while we acknowledge we’re walking in a mine field, we don’t know how many landmines are actually surrounding us! We think we know how much is a serving (it’s one cup of yogurt, right?) but our inner food scale has been miscalibrated by years of eating more than one serving at each sitting.  We eat the small container of cottage cheese or the whole bagel (or the whole package of M&Ms) and we think it’s one serving, because that’s what we’ve always eaten.  When we go out to restaurant and order a steak with fries and a salad with the salad dressing already on it, we think “okay, that’s more than a serving of steak and probably the fries too, but the salad is probably okay.” Depending on the size of the steak, it might be three servings (it’s 4 oz for steak) so it’s an 8 oz steak, it’s two, but if it’s a 12 oz steak (it’s a better bargain), that’s three.  As for the fries, it can easily be three servings depending on how generous the restaurant is (or if they have ‘bottomless’ fries!) As for the salad, again the serving size might be okay but what’s on it? Cheese? Croutons? Egg? and a serving of salad dressing is 2 tbs and most restaurants put closer to three or four.  FYI: that little cup of dressing for those of us who order it ‘on the side?’ Four!  The only advantage is that we can choose to use only half of it!

Somehow over the last forty-some years, the packages and portions have slowly increased and most of us have lazily gotten used to eating a whole package or close to it. I noticed it first with potato chips.  The ‘small’ bag kept getting bigger, and either we didn’t notice or we didn’t care.  The size of soft drink cups also increased and we kept right on ordering the ‘small’ even though it went from 8 oz to 12 to 16.  About ten years ago I went to the movies with my sister and a friend and we split an extra large soda between the three of us.  No problem because it was- no kidding- a bucket of soda! As in two quarts!!

Because we’re used to eating an entire package or restaurant ‘serving’ at one time, we are conditioned to think it’s okay.  There’s something a little off about saving half a package for later (it doesn’t stay fresh!) and bringing home leftovers from the restaurant is a hassle (the boxes leak!) and as for splitting a plate with a friend at the restaurant? (Please! That’s being cheap!) So rather than ‘be wasteful’ and leave food on the plate or throw it in the trash, we eat it all and feel stuffed…. until we get used to eating it all and then that oversized portion becomes the ‘normal amount.’  This is how one cup of cottage cheese has become a ‘serving’ and an 8 oz steak has become a ‘serving’ and the bagel the size of our face has become a ‘serving!’ Our bellies, our appetites, and- even worse- our perception have all become as distorted as the portions in front of us.

Going back to eating one normal-sized serving feels like we’re cheating ourselves since that ‘normal’ amount feels more like half of what is normally on our plate. It takes some time to adjust our perceptions, bellies and appetites again, but eventually, we get there.  We also don’t have to go from the 12 oz steak straight to the 4 oz either.  There’s no harm in going from 12 to 8 or 6- since it’s still progress! We also need to get used to the idea of either sharing what we’re eating (as in splitting a plate or a sandwich or wrap) or bringing something home. The same goes for only eating a serving and putting the rest in the fridge or pantry (that’s why they make baggies!) FYI: in a lot of places, the ‘child sized’ portion is still pretty close to normal! After years of ordering the ‘medium’ frozen yogurt (a pint!), the child size (4 oz) seemed paltry… until I was with a friend who ordered the medium and OMG! it’s huge! I’m fairly lucky in that I have pets, and I have no qualms with sharing my food with them, provided it’s safe for them.  I’ve also noticed that my pets have better food sense than I do: they don’t eat when they’re not hungry and one of my dogs will fight me for my salad and leave my frozen yogurt alone!

It’s a lot like getting new glasses: the first few days, it feels you’re walking on the rolling deck of a ship, and then one day, you wake up and it’s all normal again. Once we realize that we’ve been seeing isn’t what we think it is, it’s easier to recognize not only that we’re standing on a portion distortion landmine, but how big a bomb it really is!