Weight Loss & Confidence: The Confidence Has to Come First

Most of you know I am a rabid fan of My 600 lb Life on TLC, mainly because it’s my version of a 12 step program: it reminds me of where I came from and points out some of the common pitfalls.  I noticed on the most recent episodes that Dr. Nowzaradan has a large cardboard display in his waiting room.  The display shows a shapely happy young woman and the text reads: “Take weight off. Put CONFIDENCE ON!”

I know as a rule the better you feel about yourself, the more confident you feel.  I also know that being happy, being confident and liking yourself have very little to do with how much you do, or don’t, weigh.

I watch a lot of movies and one that I really like is Runaway Jury, with John Cusack, Rachel Weisz and the incomparable Gene Hackman.  He plays a jury analyst who finds the weak spots in the jurors and then pressures them to vote his way.  There’s a scene in the movie where he and his team are watching footage of potential jurors to pick out their weaknesses and one of them is an overweight woman walking down the street.  As she passes a man walking a large dog, she moves to the other side of the sidewalk and one of Hackman’s team comments “she’s definitely self-conscious about her weight!” Hackman remarks “Maybe she just doesn’t like dogs.”

There’s always a lot of talk in the weight loss and fitness arenas about being comfortable in your own skin. This doesn’t mean you have to love everything about your body but it means you have to accept who you are.  To paraphrase the Serenity Prayer, there are things about myself I can change, there are things I can’t, and I need to accept the ones I can’t.  In spite of those things I’d like to change if I could, I still need to be comfortable with who I am.

Example: even if I reach and maintain my ideal body weight, I will never be tall. I am 5’4″ and other than getting shorter as I grow older, my height isn’t going to change. I will also never have delicate wrists and ankles.  My wrists and ankles will always be as thick as a man’s.  No matter how much weight I lose, this won’t change more than a little bit because they aren’t thick because of fat- it’s the actual bones! All those lovely graceful bracelets and ankelets my classmates wore in high school were not made for wrists and ankles the size of a guy’s so all I could do was envy them.  I think I resented this fact of life even more than I resented being fat! I knew I could change my weight but bones? Not likely! Even plastic surgery wasn’t going to give me graceful little ankles like my sister has or the tiny delicate wrists that my cousins have- I am stuck with the “tree trunks” like my aunts and grandma!

Accepting who you are is where confidence starts.  Once you’ve accepted who you are, you begin to feel more secure in yourself.  You know what your capabilities are and what you need help with. Knowing your limitations and your strengths allows you to feel more confident in your job and in dealing with others, and it has nothing to do with how much you weigh.  But if you are not confident in who you are, then you are going to have a problem when you want to make any kind of positive changes in your life and this includes weight loss!

Confidence comes from inner strength and this is where change begins.  If you don’t have the strength to make the necessary changes to improve your life, your health and your eating, how do you expect to make any positive changes at all?  Most people acknowledge confidence and inner strength are necessary for a lot of life-improvements like going to school or changing jobs, but when it comes to weight loss, that gets left behind.  You need to have inner strength and confidence in yourself to make those changes too!  These start with things like saying no to old habits and temptations.  Even if you don’t quite know where to start, you do know that junk food is not going to be helpful, so you can always start by saying no to those temptations! It’s harder if you are the only one in your family who eats those things or has a weight issue.  We all know it’s hard enough saying no to the potato chip craving or Oreos & ice cream habit without being surrounded by family members who are happily indulging!

It takes a certain amount of confidence to watch other people eating the things you love and say no. Sometimes your friends and family members will try to coax you into joining in, either because they don’t want you to feel left out, they feel guilty for indulging in front of you or just feel guilty for eating it period! Remember all those lectures you heard in high school about saying no to peer pressure? This is where they come in handy! You need to have the strength and confidence to say no even if it’s your favorite pizza!

Sometimes the confidence comes in being independent. Doing something differently than you’ve done before or something different from what everyone else does can be a struggle. It makes you feel like you’re standing out in a field with a great big target on your head. In my office, most of the other workers get takeout.  They walk in with their bags and boxes and sometimes the whole office smells like nachos or Chinese.  I usually have tuna that I prepare in our kitchenette.  Hmm… burrito bowl or tuna fish?  Since we’ve moved to a new location, there are a lot of local restaurants that actually have some healthier options like a lettuce wrap ‘sandwich’ or the burrito bowl, technically, I can ‘eat healthy’ and still have takeout.  I have done it a few times before we had a fridge installed, but even though it’s still ‘healthy,’ it’s also more expensive than I like and it’s still more calories than the tuna. Do I want to blow that many calories on a burrito bowl when I can use them for something I might prefer at dinner?  Frankly, I’d rather have a bowl of strawberries than a burrito bowl or a lettuce-wich, so I stick with the tuna! It’s tempting to follow the crowd and order out or go pick it up, but I know what works for me and my budget and it isn’t takeout!

Confidence in ourselves means that we accept the fact that we might screw it up on occasion. No one gets everything right all the time and especially not the first time! Welcome to the Human Race! Certain things happen when we fail: we learn from our mistakes! Not only do we learn what we did wrong but we also learn a little humility too. There will always be people who revel in the failure of others and those are the people who use someone’s mistake to make themselves feel better about themselves.  Don’t be intimidated by that person! They are the ones who are afraid everyone will see how small and insecure they really are. They are the ones without confidence, without strength and without independence.  They’re the ones who give up, follow the crowd and won’t try anything new without first seeing how the ‘Guinea pigs’ fared.

Being confident in yourself means when you look at yourself and your life, you are happy with what you see and the person you are is someone you like.  If this isn’t the case, it’s your choice to stay that person or change for the better.  No one can do it for you, especially with weight loss! We must all decide for ourselves: are we worth the effort to make the changes or not?  Yes, we are!

The Devil We Know & The Devil We Don’t: Fear & Weight Loss

When I worked at The Job From Hell, The Boss used to berate me for “not embracing change.” I think she believed I was afraid of it. There’s a difference between fearing change and being annoyed with it.  Frankly, I don’t like change because it interferes with my routine and as The Boss rightly noted, I love my routines!  Change means I have to learn to do things differently, which takes time and can be confusing and so very frustrating! There are some things for which I have a high tolerance (such as traffic) but others things, like learning to access voicemail on a new phone system, not so much! I’m not afraid of learning something new.  Learning is fun for me, but when it gets in my way, not fun.

When it comes to weight loss, there is usually a lot of fear involved.  There’s the obvious Fear of Failure but there’s also Fear of Success.  Most of us have faced Fear of Failure (FOF) before and we’re usually way too familiar with this one!: “What if I can’t lose weight?”; “What if I don’t know what I’m doing wrong?”; “What if it’s too hard to stick with it?”  What we don’t expect is to be afraid of success and a lot of times we don’t recognize it when we experience it.

Fear of Success (FOS) can have its roots in fear of change.  If we are successful in losing weight, that means there will be some changes in our lives, but what kind of changes?  What does that mean for us? What if we lose a lot of weight and then gain it back? Do we know how to keep it off? What happens if we have ugly saggy skin? What if the saggy skin looks worse than being overweight?  What if our spouse/ partner isn’t attracted to us anymore? What if our friends/ family don’t like our new lifestyle? That is the voice of Fear trying to undermine your success and self-confidence!

Fear is like water and once it soaks in, it’s hard to get it out again and it can be devastating. Water erodes and cracks rock; it can wash away entire cities. All we have to do is look at the Grand Canyon to see the power of water: fear can be just as overwhelming if you let it. But if you don’t let it soak in and wash you away, fear has no control over you.

One of my favorite tv shows is Buffy, The Vampire Slayer (roll your eyes- I’m used to it!)  One of the reasons I liked it so much is because the message behind the episodes actually had meaning.  In this particular Halloween episode, Buffy and her friends go to a ‘haunted house party’ in which a fear demon has been unleashed. As she and each of her friends enter the house, they become separated from each other and come face to face with their worst fears. Once they break the spell and actually face the demon, he is only about four inches tall, so Buffy squashes him like the bug he is.

That particular episode is a great metaphor for how fear works, its impact in our lives and how its true nature looks bigger than it really is. Fear makes us feel alone, as if there is no one who can help us, no one who understands and how if others ‘really knew us,’ they wouldn’t love us anymore.  When we give in to fear, we allow it to isolate us and take over our lives. Our fears dominate us and keep us feeling alone and helpless. We can’t go to others for help because ‘no one can help us’ and we feel we have to keep hiding our fears and our true selves to hang on to the lives we have. It isn’t until we bring those fears out into the light of day that we see how tiny and insignificant they really are: they just seemed monstrously huge!

I am not going to make light of facing our fears. (I’ve got a few fear demons locked in my own closet!) But eventually, there comes a point when you either have to give up and give in to fear or you have to face it down and stomp on it.  When it comes to Fear of Failure, we expect that. All we need to do is google and we’ll have a 100,000 answers in 8.4 seconds! Surely, one of those will answer your problem? Maybe and if nothing else, you have about a 100,000 starting points! It’s the Fear of Success that blindsides us and we usually don’t realize what that nagging little voice is.

I know one of my excuses for not losing weight was loose saggy skin.  If I lost weight, then I’d have all this ugly saggy skin and the only way to get rid of it is surgery and since I didn’t want surgery, I didn’t want to lose weight.  I reasoned that I was preventing a problem by ‘choosing’ not to lose weight.  What I was really doing was hiding behind my fears: I was afraid that I couldn’t lose weight.  I was afraid others would find out I was ‘on a diet’ and when I didn’t lose the weight, they’d think I was stupid or lazy or a glutton or [insert negative adjective here].

I was also afraid of what I would do if I actually did lose the weight and did have to deal with that loose saggy skin! Instead of looking like a tick about to pop, I’d be looking like a melted candle or a deflated balloon. Yay! Even more unattractive! What if I l gained it all back?  We’ve all heard the stats on the Rebound Gain: people lose forty pounds and gain back sixty and then it’s even harder to lose it again! Does that mean I can get even bigger than 440 lbs?!

Then there’s the fear of losing weight the ‘wrong way’ and ending up in a worse situation than obesity (though in my case, is there anything much worse than Super Morbid Obesity?)  I ran into a similar situation when I started following a Paleo diet: criticism from others. “It’s not healthy”; “it’s a fad diet”; “you’ll end up vitamin-deficient and malnourished.” My mom, who is a retired Registered Nurse, was one of those critics.  Initially there was so much wrong with eating Paleo according to her.  Even though I was successfully losing weight I was doing it in a way that was sure to make me sicker than before! If I had not been so resolutely obstinate, it would have frightened me away from eventual success.  It can be scary thinking that what looks like success is actually something that ends up hurting you, which is what happened with my aunt whose gastric bypass led to fatal complications.  As a medical professional, my mom is an actual authority figure and her recommendations are usually valid. All you have to do is pick a weight loss plan and google it and there’s another 10,000 horror stories about people who got sick and/ or died from eating Paleo/ keto/ fasting/ having surgery.  It worked for them until XYZ happened  and then they died or nearly died! These kind of anecdotes scare you into thinking “I’m fat but at least I’m alive and otherwise healthy!”

Really? It’s that old joke about the guy who fell off the skyscraper: as he fell past the windows, people heard him saying “so far, so good.”  That’s really what’s going on with obesity: so far, so good.  It’s the punchline from the other version of the skyscraper joke: it’s not the fall that kills you; it’s the sudden stop at the bottom.  Our weight has consequences that take their toll on our health.  Sometimes it’s Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Sometimes it’s Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), and most often it’s Type 2 Diabetes (D2).  The real problem is that these conditions have become so prevalent in our society because of the obesity epidemic that they aren’t seen as the serious conditions they truly are.  We see commercials for drugs to control or minimize the effect of COPD, CHF and D2.  We see happy people with portable oxygen machines and long acting insulin pens and other medications that make it easier to live with the effects of obesity.  The longer we are obese, the more it harms our health.  Like water it wears away at us until the cracks begin to show.  Eventually, we can’t patch them up anymore and the health problem actually becomes a life threatening situation.  Not being able to breathe is a problem. Having a heart that doesn’t pump efficiently is a problem. Having your organs shut down because of toxic blood sugar levels is a problem.

By making these problems seem manageable, we are denying they are actually problems and making it easier to hide behind our fears: “I don’t have to face my fear of being obese because it’s not causing me problems!” Except I can’t breathe sometimes and some days my fingertips are blue and I have to check my blood sugar three times a day and take some pills.  We are more afraid of looking stupid and failing at weight loss or having ugly saggy skin or losing weight the wrong way than we are of the serious long term consequences of our obesity.  We’re looking at the spectre of serious health problems and instead of seeing Freddy Kruger, we see Sully from Monsters, Inc., when our fear is the real blowhard but that D2 really is Freddy. When we break through the paralyzing spell fear has over us, like Buffy and the Scoobies, we see it for what they is: just an annoying little pest. So just step on the little bug before Freddy shows up!