Dropping the Hammer: Weight Loss, Choices and Consequences

“Dream as if you’ll live forever; live as if you’ll die today”~ James Dean

Admittedly, that sounds a little bit grim but how many of us go through our lives putting off our dreams until tomorrow? Why are we waiting? That’s not an easy question to answer. We have lots of excuses but, really, not any reasons.

Yesterday at the gym, another member asked me about our water aerobics class. She had been sitting in the therapy spa watching us and wanted to know how often we had class and what kinds of exercises we did. Then she proceeded to tell me that she had a problem with her leg and her doctor had advised her to lose about 40 lbs. From there she went on to tell me how hard it was to lose weight and how she had been trying for months. I did try to tell her she needed to eat more vegetables than starches but she right away began giving me ‘reasons’ why that was hard too!

I know it’s hard to make changes. I know it’s hard to motivate yourself and stay motivated. Being consistent is damned hard work, but seriously, what choice do we have? Every episode of My 600 lb Life begins with the same sentiment: “I hate my life. I hate my body.” So why don’t they change how they are living and eating? They will-  and do-  tell us how hard it is to change, but we already know that. We are trying to make the same changes too!

There’s a parable about a man hitting himself in the head with a hammer as he is complaining about his head hurting.  Obviously, we know the answer, but we don’t realize that in our lives, we are that man! We are hurting ourselves, we want the hurt to stop but somehow, we don’t make the connection between our ‘hammers’ and our pain. Why don’t we make the changes we need to make? Why doesn’t that guy stop whacking his head with the hammer? I don’t know why either.

Short answer? Change is hard because it’s scary. Where do I start? What if I’m wrong? How can anything I do make any difference? When we look at ourselves as a Project, we feel overwhelmed. It doesn’t matter if it’s losing 20 lbs or losing 120 lbs: it feels like we’re buried before we even begin. We can listen to the ‘experts’ telling us to give up processed foods or sugar or carbs and we can almost hear the excuses forming in our brains. There is always something getting in our way of making changes, of making progress and that something is US. More accurately, it’s our fear. What if I can’t do it?

I’ve got a better question: what if you never try? If you never change your habits and your choices, then nothing ever changes! You will be stuck living the life you don’t want FOREVER. Look at that picture of yourself that you really hate. (We all have one!)  For me, it’s one where my face is so broad and bloated I almost look like it’s been flattened. I’m a little sweaty because I had to walk in across the parking lot and when you weigh as much as I did (440 lbs), walking is never easy. Remember what I said about every single episode of My 600 lb Life? That’s pretty much what I was telling myself every day: “I hate being this fat.” I wanted to change but I didn’t make any changes because “insert every excuse in the book here!”

I finally made changes because I was pushed to the wall.  My biggest excuse was my Job From Hell: I worked late every day; there was too much stress; blah blah blah. I had friends, family and coworkers telling me to get out of that job before it killed me and one morning, I realized they were right. I asked myself why I was staying at a job I hated and the answer was because of the benefits. Then, like the guy with the hammer, I realized that the benefits weren’t really ‘benefits’ if I died. I put down the hammer and began making changes. Part of those changes were to my horrible eating habits: since I wasn’t getting home at 8:00 p.m. every night, I stopped eating the horrible fast food which was a staple in my diet. Voila! I lost 40 lbs without really trying!

That’s when I started looking at my life and I literally began seeing ‘hammers’ everywhere! Making changes was still scary and still overwhelming, but I realized that if I don’t change, I will be hating my life forever. Like those patients on My 600 lbs Life, I’d be ‘waiting for my life to start’ until my life was over. It came down to one simple question: which is scarier– living a life I hate? or making the changes that scare me? That question I asked earlier: “What if I can’t do it?” I already know the answer.  It’s that fat ugly photo of my old life. There is honestly nothing in my life that is more frightening than living that life again.

Take a good look at that photo you hate and ask yourself this question: Is that a picture of the rest of your life or is that a picture of your life as it used to be? You can make one positive change today to make your life better than yesterday, and then tomorrow, do it again. One positive change every day is all it takes. Use that photo in your hand as your hammer but this time use it to build yourself a better life!

 

 

 

Consistency Isn’t a Four Letter Word: Weight Loss & ‘The Diet’

When I tell people I’ve lost over a hundred pounds, they usually assume that I had ‘The Surgery.’ When I tell them no, they want to know how I lost the weight, how long ago I lost it (going on 4 years now) and then they want to know how I’ve kept it off. Some of them are rather unhappy with my answer: I changed the way I ate. Permanently.

I think they expected some kind of secret magic answer as to how I haven’t gained all the weight back. It’s not magic and it’s really not a secret either. I made permanent lifestyle changes. I can understand their disappointment: this answer is simple to say but it’s hard to do! It means making the healthy choice every day. It means I have to be consistent, and no one likes being consistent! It’s a whole lotta work without time off for good behavior!

I usually tell people that watching My 600 lb Life is my version of a 12 Step Meeting.  They think I am joking but I’m not. Watching that show reminds me of all the bad food decisions I used to make and all of the excuses I used to tell myself. I still catch myself trying to use those excuses! We all know what they are: “this one thing won’t hurt” (Yes it will!); “I deserve a treat!” (It’s not a treat if it’s bad for you!); “I’ve been so good lately!” (So being bad is a reward?) This show keeps me focused on what happens when I decide to take a vacation from Consistency!

I know it can be a major disappointment to people when they realize they can’t “eat healthy,” lose the weight they want, and then go back to eating all the foods they used to eat. They are looking at a lifetime of no more pasta, no more garlic bread, no more milkshakes, or ice cream or peanut butter cups– whatever their particular vice is, it is PERMANENTLY off the menu! When you start down that road, it can feel kind of bleak. It did for me!

This idea of a ‘temporary change’ comes up a lot on the show. Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients believe they can ‘be good’ for a while, get The Surgery and then eventually go back to eating like they did before.  They think The Surgery will ‘fix’ them so they don’t have to be consistently good with their diet. Truthfully, that’s a lovely fantasy and I wish it were true, but in Real Life, what you eat matters! In reality, all those foods you think you love eating? They become way less important compared to how you feel physically and after a while, you don’t miss them anymore.

Permanent changes are fundamental changes and the farther you get away from the way things used to be, the less hold they have on you.  Before I lost the weight, a big part of my regular eating routine was eating out and that menu was full of bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. Recently, I got treated to several dinners out at restaurants to celebrate my birthday and the morning after one of those dinners at an Italian restaurant, I realized I hadn’t had pasta in probably a couple of years or more. I used to love pasta, but it’s not on my menu anymore because it doesn’t make me feel good after eating it.  My dinner the night before had been fish with sauteed veggies. I felt good eating it, it was satisfying and when I went home, I didn’t feel hungry later on. So why would I eat pasta that’s not going to make me feel as great? Honestly, I don’t miss pasta anymore and I hadn’t thought about my choice not to eat it until that morning.

About the same time I was eating out a lot, my gym decided to be a real pain in the butt. For the last four years, I’ve been going to water aerobics classes two days a week. They only offer two evening classes during the week and none on weekends so some of us in the class get together on Friday or Saturday to work out on our own.  A couple of weeks ago, my gym decided to cancel our Monday class because the instructor is on an extended medical leave. In the past, my first thought would have been “whoo hoo! I’ve got Mondays off!” but now it was “WTH?? I’m going anyway!” So that’s what I did! I showed up for my workout like I do every Monday evening, and so did a lot of my friends.  Now on Mondays, we make our own class, just without the instructor, kind of like our Friday or Saturday ‘classes.’

The gym has been another part of my permanent lifestyle change for the last four years. I like it; it makes me happy and I feel better afterwards. Of course, if I didn’t feel well or had to work late or had another appointment, I would have made a different choice, but those options aren’t the rule. The rule is Mondays and Wednesdays are workout days, not because I ‘have to’ but because I like it! I also like seeing my friends, so it’s not only a healthy exercise; it’s a healthy social activity as well.

I know for a lot of people, being consistent sounds hard or it sounds like I live a life of deprivation.  Actually, when I was 440 lbs (sadly, not a typo!), I was feeling pretty deprived. Being that big was physically and mentally painful! The physical pain was pretty obvious: back, hips, knees, feet- they all hurt all the time! Lying down was best except for the sleep apnea and even sitting hurt my back.  Mentally, I was always afraid of going anywhere new simply because I’d be wondering “what if I don’t fit?” And I don’t mean ‘fitting in!’ Do I fit in the chairs at that theater/ restaurant/ vehicle/ conference room/ wherever? Do you know how embarrassing and painful it is to sit in a chair and have your thighs bulge over the arms? How about trying to sit in an older theater where the seats are smaller and not adjustable? Let’s cram my fat butt in those! Just worrying over trying to maneuver my large body was enough anxiety to make me consider bailing on any new situation. And forget doing any walking! If I couldn’t park somewhere close by without another car next to me, I’d freak out. There’s nothing like walking in the door huffing and puffing like I ran a marathon! Or worrying someone will park too close and I wouldn’t be able to get back into my car- more fun! Let’s not discuss the particular torture that are stairs….

Deprived? Yes, I was very deprived! I didn’t go to a lot of places because of my weight. The places I did go to were those where I had no choice or I felt that I could maneuver my 440 lbs body well enough. Even in those places, it was still somewhat embarrassing that I had to go sideways through some obstacles. Like most situations in life, it was a trade-off: I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and as much as I wanted, but as for going anywhere or doing anything? Nope! That’s what I was giving up!

Now I go a lot of places. Besides the gym, I went to our local Highland Games this fall and walked all over the fairgrounds without having to stop every few minutes to rest. In 2017, I toured the Queen Mary several times in one weekend, going up and down many flights of stairs! When I go someplace new, I park wherever is convenient for me, not where it’s closest. Standing up and walking no longer requires a moment of thought and a deep breath before doing it. When I make plans to go anywhere, my first thoughts aren’t “can I fit there?” or “how much walking/ standing is involved?” Believe me, not having to wonder about that is pretty liberating! In addition to the walking, standing and fitting, there’s not having to get up to pee every two hours, even at night. There are a lot of changes to my new lifestyle and most of them don’t revolve around food.

So what did I trade to be able to do all these things? I gave up processed foods: the mac & cheese which was a staple at my house; the other pastas; fast food; sugar; cookies, cakes, brownies; chips & crackers of all kinds; breads, cereals and oatmeals; pretty much anything that came in a box! Do I miss it? Not really. I was watching one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients eat a huge bowl of cereal last week and I remembered that I used to eat cereal: “oh, yeah….” That’s how much I missed it! Chips, crackers, pasta: most of those foods I don’t even think about anymore unless they cross my path. Bread, especially garlic bread and croissants, I miss the most, mainly because they cross my path on a regular basis. Giving up these foods doesn’t mean I never ever eat them: it means when I do eat them, I make sure they are worth it and they are the exception instead of the rule.

It doesn’t take much to remind me what it was like when processed starchy foods were the staples of my diet: waking up every two hours to pee; my joints aching from the inflammation; not being able to fit into chairs. To be honest just the constant bathroom breaks are enough to remind me why I don’t eat bread every day or why cookies are an occasional treat instead of dessert each night!

Just remembering how I felt before I lost the weight is enough to keep the weight off for good. I keep some pictures of myself around to remind myself of what I looked like back then, but it’s not the pictures which are the impetus to stay consistent: it’s the aches and pains; the embarrassment; the inconvenience; the constant running off to the ladies’.  So whenever someone asks me if giving up processed foods makes me feel deprived? Not one little bit!

It’s Not Just Food We Need to Let Go: Weight Loss & Forgiveness

When we think of emotions, eating and weight loss, the first thought that comes to mind is “emotional eating.” It’s become a cliche excuse: why am I overweight? “Because I’m an emotional eater of course!” However, our emotions can get in the way of our weight loss in other ways.

Anger isn’t something we think about when we think of weight loss. Again, some of us have been known to eat out of anger, but it gets in our way especially when we choose to hang on to that anger rather than let it go. One example that comes to mind is eating out of spite or resentment. This was especially true for me when I was a kid. As an overweight child, I was constantly hounded by my parents about my size and whatever I happened to eat.  (FYI: if you have an overweight child, this is NOT the way to handle it!)  Potato chips, sandwiches, mac & cheese, even fruit: “Don’t eat too much!”; “Haven’t you had enough?” I hated the negative attention, hated being watched all the time and I was angry that ‘everyone else can eat what they want,’ so when I was alone, I ate whatever I wanted! It became reflex: there are cupcakes and no one to tell me no, so I ate them! I was out at a store and I had the money to buy junk food, so I bought it and ate it! While I knew this behavior wasn’t good for me, it was my way of demonstrating my anger at the way I was ‘persecuted’ by others.  Did I want to lose weight? Yes and no.  I wanted to be thinner but I also knew that my weight upset and embarrassed my parents, who in turn embarrassed me by constantly badgering me about my weight, so it was my way of getting back at them. Talk about dysfunctional!

Of course, I was a kid at the time and I was still very angry, hurt and humiliated by how I was treated. I remember being out at a restaurant with my family and every time I took a bite of food, my mom would chant “chew! chew! chew!” The fact that I recall this episode more than forty years later says a little bit about how much it hurt me, so yes, I think my anger was justified. Was it helpful? Oh hell no!

There are instances where anger can be motivating, but this anger was really spiteful and I held onto that anger way too long.  I used it to get back at my mom mainly and there was some pride in there which also got in my way.  I called it righteous indignation and told myself I was happy being overweight. It really didn’t bother me…. except I hated buying clothes because I had to go to the ‘fat girl’ stores. And I hated getting my hair cut because I had trouble fitting in the stylists’ chairs. And walking anywhere hurt. And standing hurt. And my shoes had to be special-ordered because my feet were so wide.

You get the picture: being angry and indignant was more important to me than doing anything about my health and my weight or the quality of my life! Aside from being an emotional eater, I was stubbornly refusing to try to lose weight because of how ‘persecuted’ I had always been. My pride was part of it too. We all know how hard it is to lose weight. What if I tried and I failed? How stupid would I look then? So in order not to look stupid, I refused to try at all! (Yeah….let’s look at being ‘stupid’ again….)

Sometimes we bury our emotional hurt so deep inside us that we don’t realize how much damage it’s actually doing to us.  It’s like an infection spreading inside that we can’t see although we slap a band-aid on the cut on our hand. We think that band-aid took care of the wound and it’ll heal soon enough, but when it’s an emotional wound, the hurt festers inside us and doesn’t go away.  We might acknowledge that “yeah, I eat my emotions,” but until you lance that emotional infection, it’s going to keep festering. You might learn to distract yourself with something other than food, but that hurt won’t go away until you let it out.

As I’ve mentioned before, Dr. Nowzaradan (My 600 lb Life, TLC) routinely sends his patients to therapy to deal with the emotions which drove them to compulsive eating.  Some patients are resistant to going because they don’t see the connection between their compulsive eating and whatever happened to them in the past. In several instances, the therapist will encourage them to forgive those who’ve hurt them in the past.  One patient flat out stated she wasn’t ready or able to forgive those who hurt her since she didn’t think they deserved it.  The therapist, Lola Clay, pointed out what most of us know already: forgiving those who’ve hurt us is for our benefit, not the one who did the hurting. When we forgive, we let go of our anger and pain, so they lose their power over us. I remember being told that the flip side of Love isn’t Hate; it’s Apathy. Whether you love someone or hate them, they are the focus of your emotion. When you don’t care about someone (apathy), they obviously aren’t your focus! When you give up that emotional focus, whatever they do- or don’t do- to you is no big deal.

In my case, forgiving my parents, especially my mom, meant doing a whole lot of growing up! Once I started to let go of my anger and resentment, I realized that they were trying to help me, even if they didn’t exactly know how to do it. (Who does?) Yes, they made mistakes and God knows, I made some real whoppers too! More importantly, I was able to admit that I really needed the help! I didn’t know how to help myself but I let my anger, pride and resentment get in the way of asking for it and accepting it when it was offered.

If we truly want to heal and start making progress with weight loss, it means letting go of these old hurts and the negative behaviors that go along with them, such as refusing to keep an open mind because “I already know that!” or refusing help when someone offers out of wounded pride or doing things our way because “I know what works for me!” Do you really? Because if you knew what worked for you, it would have worked already, wouldn’t it? (That last one is a perennial pitfall for me!) We might think that we have no hurts or emotional wounds to let go of, but think about it. How about when a friend makes an offhand comment not intended to hurt, but still stings (“Are you on another diet?”) or when your spouse buys you a belt or a dress that’s way too big (“he thinks I’m a size 26?!) The embarrassment and the hurt can fester into resentment, which can come out as that emotional eating binge or get pushed down to mix with other hurts to become self-destructive hopelessness.  In this instance, we really need to be the bigger person by forgiving others, whether they meant it or not.  Even if they don’t deserve to be forgiven, we have to do. We’ve got enough to carry around without adding any more!

Food Is Only Half the Battle: Weight Loss & Why We Overeat

This is another one of those No Brainers that tends to get overlooked: when we try to lose weight, we focus on changing our behavior but not the reasons behind our behavior.  In other words, we are trying to fix the outcome without fixing the cause!

Simple example: every day you come home and find your dog left an ‘accident’ on your rug, so every day you punish your dog for making a mess in the house. It seems simple enough but why did the dog have the accident in the house? Does he have a dog door? Is there someone to let him out during the day? Does he have a potty pad where he should go instead? If the answer to all those questions is “no,” then punishing your dog isn’t going to change anything! Every day you will come home to find the same mess because you aren’t changing the cause of the behavior, i.e. the dog has nowhere else to go!

For the dog, it’s an easy fix: dog door, potty pad, dog sitter, etc., but when it comes to overeating or snacking or anything food related, it’s much murkier. We are dealing with psychology, emotions and inner conflicts. As we all know, these kinds of causes are just plain messier and way more painful than installing a doggie door! Messy, painful and confusing emotions are the real reason this important part of the weight loss gets overlooked.  Bariatric surgery is becoming more common as the obesity epidemic keeps growing, but for years, physicians and surgeons kept focusing on changing the behavior without looking for the root causes of obesity.  This is like telling an alcoholic “stop drinking!” and walking away.  We all know that doesn’t work!

This is where I remind everyone that I am not a health care professional and I am just offering my opinion here. For most of us, being overweight isn’t life-threatening: it’s more of an inconvenience and embarrassment. For those who are morbidly obese with the attendant health issues like diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, it really can be a matter of life and death. Bariatric surgery such as the lap band, gastric bypass or gastric sleeve are only short-term fixes. The patient will lose weight but without fixing the cause of the overeating through counseling, eventually the weight comes back when the patient goes back to the same bad behaviors. As I mentioned in a previous post, Dr. Nowzaradan of My 600 lb Life is seeing more patients who have regained the weight after prior surgeries because they did not get the counseling needed to resolve the issues causing them to overeat.

Even if we aren’t morbidly obese, we still need to fix the causes of our overeating. Many of us will admit that we are emotional eaters, but we use that phrase as a reason or rationalization for our overeating. It’s become an acceptable band-aid for many of us: I get stressed and I eat! End of story! Let’s substitute the eating with another behavior: I get stressed and I do drugs! End of story? Of course not, but for many drug addicts, this is how the addiction started and it’s still their response to stress. What is the difference between stress eating and stress drug usage? Other than possibly going to jail for illicit drugs, not very much! (There are many drug users who simply refill their Xanax or Vicodin prescriptions.) The responsive behavior (drugs, eating, smoking, drinking, gambling, etc) are triggered by something else and until we find out what that cause is and fix that, any kind of fix will be short term.

Obviously, we don’t have to go running off to the therapist because we want to lose weight, but there is some value in taking the time to pay attention to what triggers the impulse to eat. Likely, there will be multiple triggers, such as stress or boredom.  Sometimes it is fairly easy, as in the stress, but other times it will be more complex. For some of us, there was a scarcity of food growing up, so we learned to eat as much as we could whenever we got the chance.  Sometimes, it is a way of asserting control over our lives or an act of defiance, especially if you grew up criticized for your weight.  In other cases, our weight was a way of getting attention from others in the family, especially if there are rules like “no donuts in the house” or “don’t eat those in front of mom/ dad.” It makes you the center of attention.

Of course, dredging up these kinds of feelings usually creates unease and feelings of stress (cue the potato chips!) Our immediate response is normally an angry “I’m not like that at all!” But sometimes we are. We just don’t realize it because as soon as we start feeling those unpleasant feelings and thinking those unwelcome thoughts, we go right to our escape hatch! In my case, stress and anxiety were clear triggers for eating, as well as boredom. Later, I realized that eating was also my ‘cure’ for loneliness and feelings of rejection. It was also both an act of control and defiance: my weight was an issue growing up and my mom was always criticizing whatever I ate! When I was eating alone in my room, there was no one to tell me not to eat and I felt free to do whatever I wanted to do! And that was some of the reasons I was about 300 lbs when I graduated high school….

Fixing these causes first begins with acknowledging that they exist. Once we can admit to ourselves that we have feelings of inadequacy or rejection or loneliness, we can begin to move past them. It might seem like these things have nothing to do with weight loss, but they do, just like they are triggers for any other addictions out there.  We are all familiar with the classic alcoholic’s excuse of ‘drinking to forget.’ How different is it that we binge on Oreos to distract ourselves from a bad day or a fight with our spouse? We feel stressed over money, we eat to distract ourselves. We feel lonely, we eat to console ourselves. We were told we aren’t attractive, we eat to forget the hurt feelings. We are constantly told not to eat, so we eat to assert our independence. We feel ignored, so we make our eating an issue for everyone: now everyone has to pay attention to me! Eating is our way of not admitting or dealing with how we feel.

Once we admit that we have these feelings, the next important step is reminding yourself that these are not negative feelings and you are not a bad person for having them! This sense of “I want attention so I must be bad/ selfish/ needy/ whatever” is why we distract or medicate ourselves with food. It’s a normal human reaction, just as any emotion is! We all feel stressed, hurt, needy or lonely at times. Admitting that you feel that way, it’s a normal feeling and it is okay to feel it is when we begin to move past the need to medicate ourselves with food. Unfortunately, it takes a little practice to learn that it’s okay if we aren’t always happy, perky and well-adjusted.  Those so-called ‘negative emotions’ are normally discouraged by most families.

Think of your dog again: how many times has your dog approached you wanting to play, sit on your lap or just want your attention? He’s not a bad dog: he just wants to be held or play with you or be comforted if he’s scared. For most of us, we give him the attention he wants! Companionship is one reason we got a dog in the first place.  We don’t scold him for not being more independent or berate him for being needy. Why do we do those things to ourselves (or others in our lives)? Getting past the causes of our overeating is the only certain method of stopping that behavior. We don’t have to run off to therapy; it can be as simple as talking with a trusted friend, or even as simple as hugging your dog the next time you feel hurt or lonely. He may not be as sweet as the Oreos but I bet he will be a lot more satisfying than a sugar binge!

 

Do You Believe?: Weight Loss & Faith in Yourself

Because I commute, I listen to a lot of podcasts.  I heard one around Christmastime that brought a smile to my face, not only because of the legacy of the episode’s inspiration, but because of the whole-hearted belief necessary to bring it about.  The podcast is The Way I Heard It by Mike Rowe, episode 120: “30 Minutes of Disappointing Television” (30 Minutes of Disappointing TV). Spoiler Alert: if you want to watch/ listen to the podcast, do it now because I’m going to talk all about it here!

There is probably no one out there reading this who hasn’t seen A Charlie Brown Christmas. Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack has become a classic Christmas favorite (it’s also the ringtone on my phone), and the story Mike tells is about Charles Schulz’s determination to bring it to life.  In 1965, Peanuts was a powerhouse comic strip and CBS has signed with its creator Sparky (as his friends knew him) to make a serious of television specials, but he had retained creative control. Nothing was going on tv without his approval.  He’d cast children to do the voices, met with Guaraldi regarding the music and once it was ready, the executives at CBS sat down to screen the special prior to its airing.  The title of Mike’s episode clearly reflects their opinion of it, and if it had been up to them, it would have been thrown out.  But since the network had already made commitments and there wasn’t time to argue with good ol’ Sparky, they had to air the special as he created it.

The reason CBS still runs his special every year (along with the others) is that Sparky had faith in himself and his creation.  If it had been up to the CBS suits, no one would have ever seen it. There are some who would simply say that Schulz knew his audience well, believing that fans of the books and comic strip would tune it to watch it and those numbers alone would ensure its success.  That’s true enough but in order to get that far, he had to believe in himself and have the determination to see it through, despite everyone telling him that he’s wrong.

Most of us give up on weight loss because we lose faith in ourselves.  We just don’t believe that we can change our bad habits.  We give up when it gets hard because we either tell ourselves “it’s too hard” or that “we can’t change.”  It’s not that we don’t want to lose weight: it’s that, deep down inside, we don’t believe we are strong enough to do it.  We don’t believe we have the resources, the stamina, the will to change.  However you want to characterize it, we just don’t believe in ourselves. Some of us may feel that’s a harsh statement, but think about it: when we have faith in something, we follow through with it to the end, even when everyone else is telling us we are wrong.

A lot of times, these doubts come from being unfamiliar with a situation or knowing that it is not your forte. Remember the last time you tried to do something you had never done before? Remember reading the instructions, looking at the diagrams, feeling confused? Am I doing this right? Why isn’t it working? I must be doing something wrong! I have a lot of experience with that feeling!

Several years ago, I had a very old television with a VCR (for you millenials who’ve no idea what that is, it’s what us old people used to record tv before DVRs!) I had just gotten a cable box because the tv was seriously ancient and in order to hook up the tv, VCR and cable box, I needed an adapter box.  It was basically a junction where all the cables came in and went back out to the various devices, and according to the instructions, it was easy to set up. Cable comes in from the wall, into the adapter, goes out to the VCR, back into the box, back out to the tv, etc.! No fuss, no muss….right? OH HELL NO! After setting it up according to the instructions, it didn’t work! tried hooking it up several different ways without success and I finally called my cable company who told me “try this, try that, try another way.” Finally, after three hours of constant reconfiguring, I realized something must be broken and it must be the adapter box, since everything had been working beforehand.  I returned the adapter box, came home with another one, and in under ten minutes, had it hooked up the way I had originally done it and everything worked just fine! In fact, I had done it right the first time, but because I didn’t trust that I had done it correctly, I spent most of the day and whole lot of frustrations.

Oddly enough, you would have thought I felt more confident afterwards since I figured it out (eventually) on my own and it hadn’t been my error that was the problem, but in fact, I was kind of embarrassed that it had taken me all day to figure it out! While there are a lot of things I am good at doing, electronics isn’t one of them, so when it comes to setting up or trouble-shooting hardware especially, I get that Deer in the Headlights feeling!

It’s easy to let doubts creep in.  For a lot of us, while we may be strong when it comes to our jobs or other endeavors in our lives, it’s not uncommon for us to let others influence us when it comes to our weight or our fitness. If we’ve been overweight all our lives (raising my hand here!), we’ve already got it in our heads that “I’m not good at controlling my eating” or “I’ve never been good at working out.” That often stems from the idea that “I’m not doing this right!,” whether that’s eating healthy, controlling emotional eating or working out. It’s not that we’re weak or easily influenced: it’s that we aren’t sure of ourselves!

Usually, situations that make us feel very stressed and a little panicky are when we begin to doubt our abilities. Weight loss is one of those situations that looks like it’s easy, and in some ways it is, but not if we don’t have faith in ourselves! It’s a lot like that Bible parable about building your house on sand vs. building it on a solid foundation. Obviously, if your self confidence is shaky, your ‘house’ isn’t going to last very long! I admit, I am not a big fan of positive affirmations, but reminding yourself “I can do this!” on a regular basis goes a long way to turning that sandy foundation into stone. This has a lot in common with that Strategic Pause I recently mentioned in a previous post: when we feel that Deer in the Headlights panicky feeling, take a deep calming breath and remind ourselves “I got this!” I know there are people who are going to roll their eyes or say “what happens when I screw it up?” Making a wrong choice isn’t the end of the world or your weight loss! (Another important reminder!) If we make a wrong choice, we will eventually figure it out but The Most Important Step is that we don’t give up on ourselves! It takes practice and it takes faith in our own abilities. The more we keep moving forward, the more we learn and the more faith we have in ourselves and our ability to succeed! There will always be that little voice that asks “what if I can’t do it?” and when it does, your answer needs to be “giving up guarantees that I can’t do this!” So enter our little reminder: Don’t give up! You can do this!

Hold On a Moment!: Weight Loss &The Strategic Pause

This pause is something I really wish I could have taught to my old boss.  Every time something happened that wasn’t planned, she would have a complete meltdown. She would panic and run around in chaos, shouting “I’m overwhelmed! I’m overwhelmed!” both her associate and I took a calmer approach: what happened and what are our options? But the truth of the matter was that she liked being panicky and ‘overwhelmed’ because she loved the drama.

When it comes to weight loss, it’s easy for us to get caught up in the drama also: we planned on having the healthy lunch we brought with us, but now it’s a coworker’s birthday and the boss surprised everyone with pizza and cake–now what do you do? You planned on having chicken and vegetables for dinner but you got stuck working late and now there’s no time to make the chicken– takeout? help! The omelet brunch you are going to with friends actually turns out to be bagels and cream cheese instead– OMG!!

Before you panic and dive head-first into the pizza and bagels, there is the opportunity for a pause.  I like to think of that Coca-Cola slogan: ‘the pause that refreshes,’ because in a lot of ways, that’s what happens when we take a moment before jumping right into a decision! You get a chance to take a deep breath and CALM DOWN!

First off, you very rarely have to make a decision about anything right then and there! Unless you are at a drive-thru speaker and they tell you they don’t have the chocolate chip cookies you want, you don’t have to choose anything right away. (FYI: if you are on a game show, I can’t help you!)  When you are faced with choices you didn’t think you had to make, or choices that mess with your carefully laid plans, our first impulse is OMG or something similar. Inside we start acting like my old boss running around panic-stricken.  This is where we need to remind ourselves to hold on a moment and take that deep breath: what are our options? It’s perfectly okay to take a moment and consider the choices in front of you. You can still have the healthy lunch you brought while celebrating your coworker’s birthday: it’s the thought that counts (cheesy but true!) and they aren’t going to be insulted by your not having cake and pizza with them and everyone else! You can eat your healthy lunch while they eat pizza! (Your eating habits aren’t their business.)

It’s a similar process with working late or with that bagels & cream cheese brunch! Take a deep breath and go over your options calmly. There’s always the option of hitting the grocery instead of takeout. Steamable veggies or bagged salad are good fallback options as well as a rotisserie chicken or another lean protein option you can quickly reheat if necessary.  There is always “breakfast for dinner,” too! Instead of having that chicken, you can always make an omelet full of veggies, meats or cheese for dinner.  It’s a nice change from regular dinner options! As for the bagel & cream cheese brunch, depending on how much notice you have of the change in menu or the items you were bringing to the brunch, you can always make a shift and have the cream cheese with veggies (I like red bell pepper with cream cheese) or you can bring something else that is healthier for you, such as tomatoes or beet chips (another favorite of mine).

It doesn’t really matter if it’s about food, your workout or anything else going on in your life: nine times of out ten, you don’t have to make an Instant Decision. Take a deep breath and think about the choices calmly.  I know there is the panicked impulse to retort: “I don’t have any choices!” but we all know that’s not true. Unless your choice is the Drama, like my old boss, there is always a minute or two for you to think about what you want to do rather than what you feel you are being forced into doing.  You can schedule your workout for another time when you don’t have to work late; you can stop by the store and pick up a healthy salad for lunch; you can skip breakfast instead of grabbing drive-thru and eat the healthy lunch you have packed. The options may not always be the best, but they are still options! Think about it this way: suppose your boss ordered Italian for your coworker’s birthday and you really don’t like it or pasta, would you eat it just to be polite? Suppose it was bagels and you can’t have gluten: would you eat them and suffer with the flare up to be polite? It’s okay to say “no thank you” and it’s okay to make choices that are more in line with your plans!

I’ve mentioned it before, and I know it’s cheesy, but your friends will understand if you make changes to your menu and if your coworkers object, it really isn’t their business! If it makes you feel better, you can always say you are allergic or gluten/ lactose/ whatever intolerant! The next time you start to feel pushed into a situation that isn’t planned or isn’t the best for you, tell yourself and everyone else to hold on a moment and then after that deep calming breath, tell them what you have decided!

Weight Loss: Inside & Out

When we think of weight loss, we tend to focus on our outward appearance. How much thinner do we look? How has our shape changed? How many clothing sizes have we dropped? Our outside appearance is where our focus goes and we believe our emotions will follow along. We assume we will be happier, less stressed, less self-conscious and more confident as our appearance improves.

In some ways that is true: when we feel better physically, we tend to feel better emotionally and mentally.  But that isn’t always the case and this divergence usually causes confusion, anxiety and frustration when we realize that even though we seem to be losing weight or getting fitter, we aren’t any happier, calmer or confident.

For some of us, this unhappiness and lingering lack of confidence comes from our bodies still not living up to our ideal.  We lost thirty pounds but we still have those “thunder thighs,” or now our upper arms look worse because our weight loss has drawn attention to our flabby “bat wings.” We look in the mirror and instead of seeing success, we see more ‘body issues’ due to the weight loss! Instead of being glad about our success and more confident in ourselves, we feel more self-conscious and less self-confident!

For others, we are mystified that, even though we’ve lost weight and gotten to the dress or pant size we’ve dreamed about, we are still unhappy and still feeling anxious.  “Isn’t this what I’ve always wanted? So why am I still so unhappy?” We still feel like we used to feel when we were overweight and we don’t know what’s wrong with us. We conclude that we must be broken somehow since we’ve reached our goal and “nothing has changed inside. I’m still broken!”

In a lot of ways, this frustration and confusion is because our image of ourselves is inside out.  We think that our outside appearance reflects who we are inside.  We’ve probably seen hundreds of examples of this in society and the media, from Shakespeare’s evil twisted hunchback in Richard III to the more modern movie Shallow Hal with actor Jack Black.  How many times have we seen movies where the villain looks slimy or deformed and every viewer knows instantly “he’s the bad guy!” There is a correlation between who we are inside and how we appear, but most of us believe that a beautiful outside will create a beautiful inside.  Instead, it’s the beautiful inside that radiates outward.

A lot of who we are mentally and emotionally shows up in our physical appearance.  This doesn’t mean all overweight people are insecure because there is something wrong emotionally inside but it does mean that fixing the outside isn’t always going to fix the inside. If you were an unhappy person before you lost weight, you will likely still be unhappy when once you’ve lost weight.  This doesn’t mean you are ‘unfixable’ but it does mean you can’t fix the outside without fixing the inside. It can also mean that fixing the inside first makes it easier to fix the outside!

Happy people tend to take better care of themselves, and again, people who feel better tend to feel better emotionally. Elizabeth Benton (Chasing Cupcakes) spends most of her book pointing out this correlation. If you fix what is making you unhappy, anxious and insecure, it can  make it easier to lose weight and ‘fix’ the outside. This is one of the reasons psychotherapy is a major component of Dr. Nowzaradan’s weight loss program on My 600 lb Life.  While he starts his patients with the diet and bariatric surgery in order to get them as healthy as possible as fast as possible, the second and most important step is therapy.  As he points out in nearly every episode, unless the patient deals with the emotional issues leading them to overeat, they will eventually go back to overeating despite the surgery. In fact, some of the patients who come to him have already had bariatric surgery, not dealt with the emotional inside issues and have again reached 500+ pounds. They thought that by fixing the outside (their weight), they would fix the inside (their emotions): in other words, “I’ll be happy once I’ve lost weight!”

This frustration and confusion is common in most of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients: “I thought having the surgery would take away my cravings!” We’ve gone through this ourselves when we’ve lost weight but still fight the urge to scarf down a box of donuts or bag of chips. It’s because for most of us the weight is the physical symptom of what’s really bothering us. Most of us would call ourselves emotional eaters but despite knowing our out-of-control emotions lead us to that bag of chips and box of donuts, we try to white-knuckle our way through life! While we may initially lose weight, eventually our emotions overwhelm us and we suddenly find ourselves halfway through the bag of Double-Stuf Oreos without realizing how that happened. The cycle of unhappiness and frustration begins again: “Why did I do this? Why can’t I control myself? What’s wrong with me?” followed by more emotional eating!

Not all of us need therapy in order to fix our inside self. For some of us, it’s as simple as getting away from a toxic person or situation. In my case, a lot of my emotional issues went away once I left a job I hated. While I knew it was a major source of stress in my life, it wasn’t until I got out of that job that I realized how utterly unhappy it had made me, how insecure my boss made me feel and how extremely stressed even when I wasn’t at work.  I would wake up with panic attacks in the middle of the night over that job and my boss would call me while I was driving to give me a list of ‘things to do’ once I got in the office.  It was expected that I would be at work on time (not unreasonable) and stay until my job was done, even if that meant staying until 8:00 p.m., despite her knowing it was a two hour commute for me to get home! When I did get home, no matter the time, I was usually emotionally drained and feeling like a failure. I was constantly asking myself ‘what’s wrong with me?’ about everything in my life! All I wanted to do was forget how unhappy I was and I used food to do that.

This is of course a simplified version of how I dealt with a major source of my emotional issues, but obviously not all of them.  I had been an overweight emotional eater before long before I went to work for The Boss From Hell, and I still feel the urge to distract myself with food when I get extremely stressed now that I work somewhere else. The biggest turning point was leaving the source of such unhappiness and anxiety (The Job From Hell) and the second biggest turning point was realizing that food was a distraction, not a solution. Now when I feel the urge to eat something because I am stressed or upset, I look for a solution instead. Sometimes, it’s as simple as finding a non-food distraction, since not every situation has a real solution, but knowing that eating isn’t going to help is still a step in the right direction.

Dealing with the source of my anxiety and emotional issues was a huge step in getting cravings and over-eating under control. Even if I had a craving or urge to eat, it was easier to find something else that was enjoyable to distract me or just make me feel better about myself overall.  The emotions were better controlled, the eating was better controlled, the weight loss was making progress and instead of that vicious cycle, I was in an ‘improvement cycle.’  The better I felt physically as the weight came off, the better I felt emotionally, which led to my taking better care of myself physically and the cycle continued!

Our stress and emotions will always be a part of our lives no matter and learning to deal with them is an ongoing struggle no matter how much we weigh. The key is learning to be happy in the skin that we are in now rather than pinning our hopes for happiness on some future goal or achievement. It’s not always easy to look in the mirror and love the person looking back despite the thunder thighs and flabby bat wings. None of us are broken or unfixable just as none of us are perfect. Just accepting that we are all works in progress can be enough of a starting point.

 

 

Accept No Substitutes!: Weight Loss & Doing Your Best

When I was a kid, we used to see commercials where the tag line was “accept no substitutes” for whatever product they were hawking. Listening to Elizabeth Benton’s Chasing Cupcakes, I was reminded of that phrase and how it applies to us. Obviously I don’t mean our buying cheap imitations, but how we try to fool ourselves with doing a cheap imitation of our best!

This applies to weight loss and working out (and everything else in our lives!) when we rationalize our bailing on the work out or how we didn’t have time to get something nutritious for lunch and were ‘forced’ to have that cheeseburger instead. Yeah, we’ve all heard and done that before! And we all know we had alternatives and options but rather than doing our best, we settled for the cheap imitation of our best effort.  We rationalize that we tried ‘as hard as we could’ but somehow came up short.

The truth is that most of the time, we know when we’re settling instead of doing our best. Those are those times when we’re running late and rather than ‘be rushed’ getting to the workout, we just bail on it.  We tell ourselves that we ‘forgot’ our healthy lunch as we were pulling out of the driveway so we’ll just have to settle for something else. How long would it have taken us to go back for our lunch? If it had been our phones or briefcase, there’d be no question, but it’s just that lunch we weren’t thrilled about to start with!

We know when we’re not giving it our best effort because there’s usually some kind of disappointment or frustration involved when we do fall short. It’s the same feeling when we’ve worked hard on a project only to be told the boss or the client doesn’t think much of our final draft.  We all know what it feels like to work hard and fall short of our goals, and while we don’t need to live our lives full of disappointment and frustration, when we do our best and fall short, there is still the feeling that we didn’t “phone it in” or that we know inside we can do better.  There are many instances on My 600 lb Life where a patient weighs in and finds they’ve fallen short of either their goal or Dr. Nowzaradan’s because they didn’t give it their best efforts and ‘cheated a few times.’  There’s a lot of wondering about how much more they could have lost if they’d just done their best!

Yes, it’s extremely frustrating to know you’ve tried as hard as you could but still failed.  In some cases, that’s why we don’t give it our best effort. As long as we can console ourselves with “well, I wasn’t really trying, so this doesn’t really count,” we can tell ourselves that we really aren’t failures.  Except that we really are failing! We are failing ourselves every time we ‘phone it in’ and do less than our best! Yes, it soothes our pride but it’s still falling short of our goals and short-changing ourselves to boot! What’s the point of telling ourselves that “if I’d really tried, I could have done it or done better” if we never really try?

By never giving it our best, we think we are protecting ourselves from failure without considering we might actually be doing the opposite and keeping ourselves from success.  If we never try our best, how do we know we couldn’t have hit our goal or at least come close to it? How can we accurately measure our progress if we never ‘really’ try?  Growing up, many of us are taught to avoid failure at all costs, so it’s not unusual that we try to protect ourselves from it by not giving it our best effort, but the truth is that failure is how we learn.  I don’t know anyone whose first attempt to ride a bike ended with their falling off.  I also don’t know anyone who’s tried to learn a foreign language who didn’t screw up on a phrase or someone whose first chemistry midterm came out 100% right.  Failure is how we learn; it’s how we judge how close to the mark we are and how we need to improve to hit that mark, but if we’re just chucking darts at the board, we’re lucky if we even hit the board, let alone the bull’s-eye!

It would be great if the recipe for weight loss were simple or easy but we all know it’s a series of trial and error experiments. Cut out the carbs and add in more fat. Cut out the fat and add in more non-starchy veggies.  Cut the protein and add in more fiber. Cut the dairy; etc. We need to keep trying and adjusting our methods until we finally hit those goals we’ve set for ourselves! We are accustomed to sacrificing the sweets and the starches when it comes to weight loss but sometimes we have to put our pride on the line too.  We have to be able to say “I gave it my best effort and still fell short, so now I need to make an adjustment and try again!” We have to remind ourselves that there is no shame in failure when we tried our best; the only shame is when we’ve settled for less than our best!

The Devil You Know Still Bites: Weight Loss & Old Habits

We all know it is hard changing our habits.  The more ingrained they are, the harder it is.  I have heard experts say that the more we do something the same way, the deeper it becomes entrenched into our brains, which explains how we manage to drive home while we are off in La-La Land thinking about the fight we had with our coworker, the latest news about the government shut-down or the final episode of Game of Thrones waiting for us.  Somehow, we find ourselves safe in our own driveway with no memory of how we got there!

When it comes to driving home, getting ready for work or picking up the kids, that unthinking habit is a good thing, but when it comes to how we eat, how we shop and how active we are, it’s not such a good thing, especially if you are trying to improve those.  One of the reasons it’s hard to make changes to old entrenched habits is that it means we have to stop and think about those changes.  That means it requires our attention and therefore more energy devoted to a task that was formerly on autopilot.

We are all familiar with this scenario: we are out at a restaurant and looking at the menu. There are a lot of items we would normally have chosen depending on what we are ‘hungry for,’ but now we have to stop and look at the calories or the carbs involved. Now instead of looking for something that appeals to us, we are looking for something healthy which also appeals to us! Obviously the Go-To Healthy Option is a salad, “dressing on the side, please!” but having salad every time we go out not only gets old, it makes us feel like we’re wearing a sign that says “HI! I’M DIETING!”

That’s what’s so tempting about giving in ‘now and then.’ It’s easy to look at the salad options, realize we’re just burned out on anything with lettuce and order something else that’s familiar. Or, we use our companions as an excuse: they were all ready to order and I was still trying to figure it out, so I just picked something I liked! I’ll do better tonight/ tomorrow/ next time!

Then there is the “I just forgot” excuse, as in we were out getting lunch, buying groceries and we bought something out of habit because we ‘forgot’ we don’t eat that anymore. We were on autopilot. In short, we weren’t paying attention to what we were doing. I know that can feel like we’re pointing fingers but this is how most of us function in life.  Imagine if we had to think about everything we do all day: what’s that ringing sound? It’s the phone. I need to answer that.  Am I at work ” hello business name” or at home?

I’m not being trying to be facetious here. Our brains cover all that in about two seconds after we first hear the phone and we answer it automatically without jumping through all those hoops.  It might be a couple more seconds if we’re in the middle of something and we decide not to answer it, but this is where autopilot kicks in, saving us time and trouble.  But when we are trying to change our habits, we need to remind ourselves to pay attention in certain situations.  It feels like a huge hassle because what used to take a couple minutes now takes ten or fifteen. “Really?? It’s just cooking oil! It’s not that big a deal!”

We also use the “Confused” excuse: I was looking at the labels and I had no idea what any of this meant, so I bought what I normally buy instead! We have probably seen others at the supermarket with that baffled expression on their faces as they are reading and comparing labels. We have probably been that person, reading labels until our eyes glaze over and we just throw something into the cart! Again, “it’s not that big a deal!”

Except all those “little deals” add up! I recently downloaded one of those apps that lets you squirrel away the change from your purchases into a savings account.  After a week, I checked my account as usual and noticed there was a deduction for five dollars and change, then a few days later, it was nine dollars and change, and by the end of the month, it was about thirty dollars deducted from my account that month.  And it was all leftover change! Of course, it had all gone into my savings account, but it was a bigger deduction than I had thought it would be because individually they were “no big deal!”

It’s the same thing when we are trying to make improvements to how we eat and how active we are. Each time we tell ourselves, “it’s no big deal,” we are dropping a few coins into that Old Habit jar and if we kept track of how many times we did that, we wouldn’t be surprised when we realize it’s already April and we haven’t lost any weight, we are still having a bagel with breakfast and the ice cream in the freezer is still being replenished on a regular basis! Why? Because we haven’t done the work to change our habits! All those times we got confused or forgot or didn’t have the time and told ourselves “no big deal” added up to no changes being made and that is a big deal: it’s your life!

We all know the expression: caught between the devil you know and the devil you don’t.  Most of us opt for that old familiar devil just because it is familiar. Choosing between the chicken fajitas and the beef enchiladas? “I’ve had the enchiladas but I don’t know how spicy the fajitas are, so I’m sticking with the enchiladas!” Wondering if you should join that gym near your house? “I don’t know how to use those machines and Doug at the office hurt his shoulder at the gym last month, and I don’t want to get hurt. Maybe I should keep working out at home…” but how much are you really working out at home? Fifteen minutes of dumb bell curls while you’re watching tv? I know, because I’ve done that and called it ‘working out!’

We all know that change takes time and effort and while we all want the benefits of the change, we are less enthusiastic about doing the work to get us there.  We try to make changes, realize it’s confusing, it’s a little scary and just plain uncomfortable.  So we end up keeping company with that devil we know. The most important thing we don’t realize about that devil? He’s still a devil and he still bites! It may feel safe and comfortable to have the chicken enchiladas and work out in front of the tv but remember why you wanted to change back when you started this? You wanted to be able to keep up with your kids/ grandkids at the park. The dress you wanted to wear at your anniversary party was a little snug. You picked up your tool box and could barely lift it.  Whatever your reason, health or vanity, you wanted to feel better, look better and be stronger, but that devil you don’t know scared you off with confusing labels, intimidating work out equipment and just plain uncomfortable situations. This is the Unknown, after all!  Who knows what can happen to us? But that’s the point: who knows what improvements we can make if we try? We might enjoy the gym and even make some friends! We can discover that stir fried veggies are not only healthy but taste delicious! We might learn we love cooking and making our own recipes! We might even learn that we feel so much better when we eat better, which can lead to a whole host of other side effects, like sleeping better, having more energy and being happier in general! This is the Unknown, after all!

What You Want or What You Need?: Weight Loss & The Emotions Involved with Eating

Some of the phrases we hear a lot on My 600 lb Life are “I need to eat something that tastes good;” “food is the only thing that calms me down;” and “food never lets me down.” While it’s easy to judge these patients and their obsession with food, we do the same things in our own lives.  These patients are confusing what they want with what they need.  What they need is comfort or relief from stress and anxiety and instead of truly fulfilling that need, they distract themselves with food.

We do the same thing, just on a lesser scale.  For a lot of women, there’s the Chocolate Cliche: we fight or break up with our significant other and immediately head for the chocolate.  We sometimes substitute ‘chocolate’ for ‘ice cream.’  For guys, it’s usually beer: they drink away the emotional upset.  Whether, beer, chocolate or ice cream, we are medicating the unpleasant emotions with calories!

While most of us are familiar with the “emotional eating” concept, being aware of it is only beneficial if we change our behavior.  On a recent episode, one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients was still making excuses for her lack of weight loss, and upon finding out she had gained about 40 lbs instead of losing the 50 the doctor had wanted, she immediately began using stress as an excuse: “I’m an emotional eater and I’ve been under so much stress lately!” She is using emotional eating as an explanation for why she gained weight when it is really just an excuse.  Like most of us, she’s using her emotions as permission to overeat.

When we get stressed, upset or anxious, we tend to distract ourselves with food by telling ourselves that the food comforts us.  It makes us feel good and it distracts us from the fact that we are upset or we are worried.  Distraction is not comfort: when the distraction is gone, i.e. we’ve eaten all the food, the stressor returns along with the realization that we just finished an entire pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk (chocolate and ice cream!) Now we feel the original stress and usually some guilt for eating all the ice cream: where are the potato chips??

The food is what we think we want, i.e., solace and comfort, but what we really need is a way to deal with our negative emotions. We need true comfort, not a yummy calorie-rich distraction! Real comfort makes you feel better after the ‘comfort’ is over. (Little hint: if you feel guilty about the ‘comfort’ afterward, it’s not true comfort!) True comfort can be as simple as talking to a friend or family member about whatever is upsetting you.  It can be prayer or meditation or a controlled breathing technique.  It can also be as simple as putting on a playlist and singing along or just spending time with your pets! Those last two examples are staples in my life: when I get stressed, I will put on one of my favorite playlists and concentrate on how much I enjoy the music.  If I’m at home, I focus on my pets, how much I love them, how much enjoyment and love they bring into my life.  Calling a friend is also a staple for me, whether it’s asking for some advice or just venting about my problem.  Once I have relaxed a little and the stress or anxiety has stopped freaking me out, I can usually think about the situation a little more clearly. None of those have any guilt associated with them and they definitely don’t have calories! But, they all relieve my stress, anxiety and negative emotions.

There is also the misconception that feeling negative emotions is bad. Many of us are raised with the idea that we should never feel bad or have negative emotions. I don’t believe negative emotions are a bad thing.  It’s normal to be upset when you’ve had a fight with someone you love.  It’s normal to be frightened or scared or anxious.  Feeling sad is also a normal human emotion.  The emotions aren’t what’s bad: yes, they are uncomfortable, but the problems really arise when we handle these emotions badly. We normally handle them badly because we are anxious to get away from them as fast as we can. This is why nearly all of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients are referred to a therapist: to learn to deal with the negative emotions driving them to overeat.

I recall one of the therapists meeting with a patient (Erica Wall) and discussing a traumatic event in her past. Erica admitted to feeling very uncomfortable while discussing the event and the therapist responded by telling her that even though she felt uncomfortable, she was still safe and nothing bad was happening. Learning to sit with that uncomfortable feeling is a big step towards her healing. She made the same point I did above: it’s okay to feel uncomfortable, sad or upset at times.

The problem is that no one wants or likes feeling negative emotions.  Why feel bad or anxious when you can feel good or happy? Bring on those cupcakes! Obviously, learning how to deal with negative emotions in a positive manner takes a little practice. Some of us– okay, most of us!– can feel a bit panicky when the negative emotions start flooding through our nervous system.  We start looking for the quickest escape route: chocolate? sugar? chips? This is normal procedure for us.  I remember after one argument with my mother, I ‘came to’ staring into the fridge and I didn’t even remember opening the door!

The reason I remember this little episode is that once I realized I was looking for something to eat because I was upset at my mother, I made a conscious choice not to eat anything.  Rather than soothing my anxiety and negative emotions, I chose to handle them differently. (In this instance, I think I went on MFP and vented about my mother.) Allowing myself to feel angry and upset without eating my emotions helped me learn to deal with them.  It didn’t feel great, but it wasn’t the end of the world either! Yes, I was upset for awhile, but after venting my frustration and not eating as a result, I actually felt rather proud of myself for handling it differently, instead of dealing with it like I used to and then feeling guilty for eating all the leftovers in my fridge!

One of the therapist Go-Tos for dealing with negative emotions is journaling.  Writing down how you feel is one way of safely venting the negativity. No one ever has to see it but you, and if you want to shred it afterwards, that’s your choice! For a lot of people, it’s a good place to start learning to deal with the uncomfortable emotions we all have in our lives. Too often we feel foolish or awkward discussing our emotions, especially the ones we don’t want to deal with, but it’s this awkwardness and reluctance that gives them power over us.  It is also why therapists are in such demand: we aren’t taught to deal with these emotions growing up so as adults we have to look to professionals for the help we need.  There is no shame in getting help or looking for solutions outside ourselves. The real shame is when  we remain locked in the emotional prison we made for ourselves.