In Over Your Head: Weight Loss & Drowning in Excuses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Institutionalized: Weight Loss & Breaking Down the Walls of Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Laughter, Fear & Weight Loss: Taking a Stand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!