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!

Working Through The Blues: Weight Loss & Your Attitude

In a recent post I mentioned how my own bad attitude and self-pity got in the way of my making positive changes with my health and eating. The other night at my water aerobics class, I saw another example of how a bad attitude can get in our way.  Two of my classmates were discussing the effect of exercise on our health and one of them confessed that she just didn’t feel motivated or like any of it was doing her any good at all.  Her friend tried hard to motivate her and give her some encouragement but nothing was getting through her negativity. As much as I wanted to encourage her, I didn’t feel quite right about butting into their conversation.  Though, if I could have, I’d have given her some of the benefits that I have seen in my own life.

One of the statements I heard them discussing was the benefits of raising our heart rate and how our water aerobics class didn’t always do that.  I also heard one of them poo-pooing walking as not good for our hearts, unless we are walking at a fast pace.  Raising our heart rate is good but it’s not the only benefit of being active. Most of our class is made up of people who are forties and older, some of them probably in their 80’s.  There are also quite a few who are there because they want to lose weight.  When I started going to the gym regularly, weight loss was a goal, but there were other reasons as well.  Mainly, I wanted to build strength and stamina in addition to burning calories.

I have gained a lot by working out regularly.  I am not sure how it has or has not affected my weight loss, but as far as stamina, strength and balance go, it’s all been positive! Moving is much easier; balance has greatly improved and my muscle tone overall is better. Aside from just having fun, I find I can do more activity with less pain, tiredness or muscle fatigue. We are all familiar with Newton’s First Law of Physics: a body in motion stays in motion. The more you move, the easier it is to keep moving!

Some of the other effects, which may not be so noticeable, are better sleep, more energy and better mood. When I come home from the gym, I am not exhausted, and while I may be hungry, I’m not ‘starving.’  I tend to spend some time taking care of other things around the house, run an errand or two, and spend some quality time with my pets. I just plain feel better, and not just physically!

When it comes to improving our mood, attitude, and mindset, exercise is usually not on the list of possible remedies. We look at things like meditating, journaling, gratitude, or prayer.  We focus on non-physical approaches to fix what are considered ‘non-physical’ issues.  We forget that our minds, attitudes and feelings are all contained within our completely physical bodies. Have you ever tried to be happy, perky or upbeat when you are in pain? Conversely, how much energy do you have when you are sad or depressed? Both our physical and emotional halves are hardwired to each other and what happens with one, for good or bad, affects the other.

We are not surprised that we find it hard to be happy when we’ve got a toothache, or that we feel totally drained when we are emotionally upset, but when it comes to exercise or activity affecting our mood or our attitude, we tend to believe it has little to no effect on how we feel or think. We use exercise to relieve stress but to boost our mindset or attitude? Athletes know the truth: movement, exercise and activity boost your mood through endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters which can improve your mood, your sleep and make you feel better overall (Endorphins & Mood). The effect of endorphins on our brains and bodies is sometimes referred to as the Runner’s High because of how good it can make you feel. In short, regular exercise is good for the body, the mind and the spirit.

However, in order to get the long term benefits of exercise on your mood, you have to take the long term approach. No one expects to lose weight if we only eat better for a week or two, but how many of us have worked out for a few days or weeks and given it up as “not working for me?” We try it for a while and when we don’t see our waistline getting smaller, our muscles getting bigger and especially if we have muscle soreness, we are quick to bail on the exercise regimen.  We know diet, nutrition and exercise are long term investments which means that we have to give them time to yield results, but we get impatient and we quit before we begin to see any positive changes.

This giving up before we see results just confirms our false belief that “exercise doesn’t work for me or my mood.” It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like my water aerobics classmate above, we think ‘we aren’t getting anything out of it,’ so why waste our time? We have to go back to the long term investment approach. Any financial guru will tell you that investments take time to grow and if you want a ‘quick & big’ return, you are a sucker looking for a con artist because any Get Rich Quick Scheme is really a Get Robbed Quick Scam! It happens with money; it happens with weight loss and it happens with exercise? Want real returns? You need to give them time to grow!

Obviously exercise isn’t a cure for a bad attitude any more than it is a cure for obesity, but it is an important component of health nonetheless. Like all investments, good nutrition, healthy eating and exercise build on each other.  The better you fuel your body, the better your eating practices (i.e. not overeating) and the more you move, the healthier your mind and body become. The more you move, the more you want  to move because all that movement stimulates your brain, your bones and your muscles. Our bodies were made to be used and when they languish, they begin to fall apart. Why should our attitudes be any different? People who take care of themselves tend to be happier people and happier people tend to take better care of themselves. It’s that mind-body connection again, but building the momentum to get the cycle started takes faith.If you really want to boost your mood, build some stamina and burn a few calories, then move it! (And don’t stop!)

 

 

 

 

Hard is Relative: Weight Loss & Facing The Difficult Realities

Some of you know that I am a legal secretary at a small personal injury firm.  I enjoy my job very much, although like all jobs, it can be stressful, irritating and sometimes downright crazy. What you might not know is that I got this job when the former secretary (Denise) had a stroke and was unable to return to work. According to other employees who worked with her, she was overweight with uncontrolled diabetes and was not proactive with her diet or exercise. Obviously she had significant health problems and while no one can blame her for those problems, there is a point in our health where our lifestyle plays a part, for good or ill. The few times I met her, I had thought she was in her late 60’s or early 70’s but I found out last week, she was only eight years older than me (I am 53).  I say “was” because, sadly, she passed away last week.

While I don’t know what might have prevented her from being proactive, I do know that judging her helps no one.  I also know from personal experience that my own health got progressively worse the longer I was grossly overweight, sedentary and eating all the foods I liked whether they were bad for my own diabetes or not. For a long time, I let my own bad attitude get in my way of doing anything about it. My health kept getting worse and it was my own fault! When I finally decided to do something about it, changing those few behaviors made huge improvements in my health.  Losing weight, being more active and watching what I ate have transformed my health and my life for the better.

This is another one of these No Brainer Moments: “of course, eating better and taking care of yourself improves your health! Hello!” Yeah, we all know that…..but we don’t do it, do we? Remember the last time someone offered you cookies or a glass of wine? Did you say yes? Or did you say no thank you? How about when you were out at the restaurant and there’s the bread basket or chips and guacamole? Did you pass on those or did you help yourself? This is where we usually respond with “it’s so hard to say no!” I hear you! I know it’s hard to say no to foods you love, especially if they are no longer part of your regular menu. Bread is my own personal bête noir It sneaks into my diet way more than I like to admit! But this is where we have to remind ourselves that ‘hard’ is relative: is saying no to the bread, cookies, chips, chocolate harder than huffing and puffing up the stairs because the elevator is out of order? Is making it to the gym regularly harder than limping around the grocery store because your knees and feet ache carrying all that extra weight? Which is harder: not eating a bagel with breakfast every day or constantly sticking your finger to check your blood sugar? How expensive are those test strips compared to munching on breadsticks at dinner?

Last night as walking into the store to pick up a few things, I remembered how much I used to dread going to the store for anything.  I hated having to park the car in the middle of the lot and then having to walk around the store.  I used to lean on the cart to take pressure off my back, knees and feet. I would be out of breath before I even reached the store and I dreaded having to go from one end of the store to the other to get what I came for.  After shifting from one leg to another standing in line, I would limp out to my car and practically fall in out of pain and exhaustion.  It freaking hurt doing “all that walking!” It was hard for me to do anything and I had a list of medications that was beginning to rival an elderly woman.  For the record, I took two medications for my diabetes and three for my blood pressure, plus an anti-inflammatory for my arthritis and one for pain. (I remember shocking my aunt when I let it slip that I had three medications for my blood pressure alone! I was in my mid-forties and about thirty years younger than her.) Now, I take only the anti-inflammatory regularly and the pain medication rarely.

When we think of the kind of life we want to live, we rarely think “I want to be healthy” or “I want to move without pain” until we aren’t healthy anymore and it hurts to move.  In those situations, we sometimes think “how did this happen to me?” For a lot of us, it was simply not paying attention to our health. It was eating too much of the things we like instead of foods that are good for us. It was too many days on the sofa and not enough walking and moving.  But for too many of us, our answer to “why did this happen?” is “arthritis/ heart disease/ hypertension/ diabetes run in my family.” Yes, all those things run in my family too, but I can take steps to minimize how they impact my life! That’s the whole point of giving your doctor your family history; hopefully, those conditions can be avoided with a little effort.

When I was 440 lbs, just living was hard. Standing for more than a few minutes was hard. Sitting was hard. Laying down on my back was difficult because it got hard to breathe at times. Everything was so much harder, from fitting in my car to leaning down to put on my socks! I would get depressed thinking about how hard everything was in my life because of my weight. However, if I was alone and something like bagels, bread or cheeseburgers came on my radar, I rarely if ever said no to them. In retrospect,  saying no to a burger and fries was a whole lot easier than bending over to pick up my pen. Passing on a venti caramel macchiato was a whole lot easier than stretching my seat belt across my big gut without cutting off my oxygen! Instead of making those ‘hard’ changes to improve my health, I bemoaned my terrible situation and felt sorry for myself!

On one level, we all know there are changes we can make to help our situation, whether it’s our health, our activity or anything else in our lives. We tell ourselves that these changes aren’t going to make a big impact or that the changes are simply too hard to make.  The reality is that we don’t want to make them, not because they are too hard or too small to help but because we don’t want to do the work.  Do I miss bagels, garlic bread and nachos? Yes I do.  Do I miss them enough to go back to limping across the parking lot and huffing and puffing up the stairs? Definitely not!

It’s still not super easy to say no to the foods I like, lying on the sofa in front of the tv or bailing on a workout because I don’t feel like it, but now I have a little perspective on what’s really hard and what only feels like it’s hard.  Being too tired, too heavy and in too much pain to enjoy my life is hard; saying no to a croissant only feels like it is!

 

 

Getting Out of Our Own Way: Weight Loss & Personal Responsibility

Humans love blame. We like pointing at someone or something and saying “it’s their fault!” This is especially true with weight and eating: it takes away our responsibility. If we aren’t in control of our circumstances, then how can we be to blame for what we did– or didn’t– do?

This is one of the most popular excuses when it comes to weight loss: “I couldn’t do it because of XYZ.”  I couldn’t eat healthy because it’s too expensive, because I didn’t have time to cook or I was too tired.  It’s the same when it comes to working out: start the litany of excuses here–  too tired, too busy, too expensive, etc.! We look at these as reasons or explanations but however you want to paint them, underneath all that whitewash they are still just excuses. We know that even if we don’t want to admit it to ourselves or anyone else.

How do I know they are excuses? Because we make the time and effort to do the things we want to do! How many of us have been “too busy” to get to the gym but we manage to make that sale at Pier 1? We are “too tired” to make a healthy dinner but we manage to stay up late enough to catch up on the Game of Thrones episodes we’ve missed?  We can’t afford the “healthy” groceries but we can still make it to TGI Fridays for beer and appetizers with our friends?

Obviously, we aren’t bad people nor are we lazy either.  Our priorities have just gotten a little skewed and rather than admit “I’d rather watch tv than go to the gym,” we come up with an excuse, as much for ourselves as for others. Most of us believe that watching tv, skipping the gym or sharing potato skins and beer with our friends means that we aren’t taking our weight and health seriously, and not putting those things first means that we’re bad people. Rather than admit to being “bad,” we create excuses and blame circumstances or other people for these supposed character flaws.

While I don’t want to give tacit permission for everyone to blow off their workouts and gobble down junk food, there is nothing wrong with taking time for yourself!  Personal responsibility doesn’t mean that you have to be “good” 24/ 7 or you are a lazy bad junk food addict: it means that you own your decisions.  If you’d rather binge some mindless tv or have a few beers with friends, then own the decision.  You are taking some time for YOU!  The problem comes when we construct an excuse rather than take responsibility for making a decision.

As Elizabeth Benton points out in her book Chasing Cupcakes [Chasing Cupcakes Book], if you have to rationalize your decision, it’s probably an excuse. No one rationalizes having Brussels sprouts instead of pizza. No one rationalizes going to the gym or passing on the beer and nachos! But switch those around and we are more than eager to explain why we had to have the pizza, beer and nachos and bail on our workout.  Owning our decisions means that we take responsibility for what we choose to do or not to do.  This means it’s an actual decision and not an excuse. You made a choice; you are not a victim of circumstance!

While this may not seem like it really matters, when it comes to weight loss, personal responsibility is extremely important.  Remember what I said at the beginning about excuses absolving us of responsibility? If we are not responsible, it means we have no power and are helpless to change our situation. It also makes it easier to confuse an excuse with a legitimate reason.

Some of you know I commute two hours for my job.  Usually, I go straight from my job to the gym on workout days, but if I am stuck in traffic and arrive late or not at all, that’s not an excuse: it’s a reason.  Had it not been for the traffic congestion, I would have made it to the workout.  If I just don’t feel like going and then blame it on the ‘bad traffic,’ that’s an excuse! There’s difference between the traffic interfering with my workout and my saying “I don’t want to go.” Do l really need a ‘reason’ not to go to my workout? Of course not! My going or not going has always been a voluntary choice but when I start giving myself excuses and believing them, I am giving away my power to control my circumstances.

There are a lot of examples of these power-stealing excuses on My 600 lb Life.  The patient hasn’t lost weight and it’s her family’s fault because they don’t want to eat healthy.  They just moved and they don’t have any way to cook healthy food so he’s had to eat takeout.  The patients complaint they are at the mercy of their family who brings them the food they eat. As Dr. Nowzaradan points out, just because the family brings them pizza, burgers & fries or chocolate cake doesn’t mean they have to eat it! “No one is shoving that food in your mouth!” We’ve all heard the expression “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” They are eating the junk food because they want to and using their families as the excuse not to change their eating habits.

Most of us are probably thinking, “well, duh! They eat it because they want it!” Hello, no brainer here! But for these patients, thinking that they don’t have to eat it is something of a paradigm shift.  They believe the excuses are really reasons. They really do have a choice when it comes to what they eat, whether they are at the mercy of their family or not. If the family wants pizza, they don’t have to eat it. If the family brings home burgers, again they can say no to eating burgers.  When one patient said he ate it because “I gotta eat something,” Dr. Nowzaradan’s response was “you’ve got 800 lbs of food on you– you don’t have to eat something!”

When we make excuses for not going to the gym, for eating potato chips or for pounding a pint of ice cream, we give away our power to control our decisions and make positive changes in our lives.  When we own our decisions, we are keeping that power. That doesn’t mean every decision we make will be a good one. I know I make quite a few that I really regret! But when that happens, that is my opportunity to look at it and tell myself “That was a dumb one! How can I avoid doing that again?” But when we hide behind an excuse, we turn ourselves into victims of circumstance. Instead of taking responsibility, we are at the mercy of others, be our families or the cruddy commuter traffic: “I can’t help it!”  Most of the time, that’s not true: we just don’t like feeling like a failure because of our choices. If we aren’t in control of the situation, we can’t be to blame, but when we give away our control, we can improve either. It really is our choice.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Weight Loss & Your Priorities: What’s Your ROI?

I know a lot of money gurus will tell you that if you want to know a person’s priorities, take a look at their bank accounts and credit card statements. In some ways, that’s true but I think looking a how a person spends their time, perhaps in addition to their money, will give you a better idea of what is important to them.

When someone makes time in their daily lives to spend it with friends or to spend it in front of a tv, you know what is important to them.  It doesn’t mean the tv watcher is a bad person or that the friend-oriented person is better: it simply means they have different values and priorities.  In short, you put your time, effort and money towards what you value most.

I have a lot of friends who are fans of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.  They spend a lot of time watching those and follow several shows.  They usually roll their eyes at me when I remind them “I have cable.” I get more eye rolls when I tell them I don’t have a smart tv or a DVR either.  I like tv and it’s usually on in the evenings and weekends, but I seriously only follow about a half dozen shows during the year, which averages out to about 4 nights a week that I’m really paying attention to what’s on tv.  Even worse, if I miss one of those episodes, oh, well! If it’s not available OnDemand, I just have to wait for a rerun! Obviously, tv is not one of my priorities.

However, if you want to talk about my dogs and cat, then you’ll see that both of them have treats and toys on monthly subscription with Amazon. They have standing appointments at their groomer (the dogs anyway) and the house is deluged in toys.  Also, my schedule tends to get worked around them: mornings and evenings are devoted to spending time with them, play dates are regularly scheduled and they made a special trip to Santa this year.  In short, my pets take up a lot of my time and money.  That’s because they are a priority with me! Sometimes, taking care of them is a really big headache but even if I do grumble about it, there is no way I’m giving them up.  They are too important to me!

When it comes to our health and weight loss goals, the time, effort and money we put into them are the real indicators of how important they are to us.  They don’t have to be THE most important things in our lives, but when they end up at the bottom of our list of Things to Do on a regular basis, they are obviously NOT important to us.  So, if they keep ending up being the last things we spend time on, why are we surprised to find out we aren’t losing weight and our health isn’t improving?

We all know someone (maybe it’s us) who keeps complaining that they aren’t losing weight when they’re “working so hard!” Before we begin looking for explanations or excuses, we need to take a good look at how much time we are investing in our weight loss. While exercise and activity are important to our health, weight loss is primarily driven by our diet, so let’s start with the obvious: how often are we eating? What are we eating and how much of it? Grazing or snacking all day is a big indicator that we are spending time on our diet, but it’s the wrong kind of time with the wrong kind of activity!

How much time do we spend on meal planning, preparation and buying food? If the answer is “not a lot,” then there’s another clue. Preparing a meal doesn’t have to take hours in order to be healthy but it shouldn’t consist of throwing a frozen meal in the microwave or ordering takeout.  Most of my meals at home take about a half hour or less but grocery shopping just for me normally takes an hour or so, maybe longer if something I want is at another store.  The staples are generally salad greens and fresh fruits and veggies, fresh meat and chicken, milk, eggs, coffee, water, stevia, cheese and uncured bacon.  Preparing them doesn’t take long, since most of the veggies are steamed and the salad greens just come out of the box and onto a plate.  The time I invest in healthy food comes mainly from getting it at the store and planning out what I’m going to have that week.  My Sunday afternoons are always set aside for grocery shopping: it’s just become part of my routine.

Another priority in my life is going to the gym.  I do water aerobics normally three times a week, so there is time invested in packing the gym bag, rinsing out my swim suit and rearranging my schedule to make sure I can make it to the gym at the appointed time.  Two of the workouts have regular classes, so my day is scheduled around what time do I have to be there, when do I need to leave and do I need to move an errand to another day that doesn’t conflict with my workout? The third workout day floats, so again, I need to clear my schedule to make sure the gym bag is packed and I get there on time.  In fact, my friends tease me because if it’s Monday or Wednesday, “she’s on her way to the gym!” Incidentally, my dogs also know my schedule because if the class is cancelled due to a holiday and I come home early, I catch them napping instead of waiting at the door!

Financial gurus talk a lot about ROI: Return On Investment.  We forget that our Return depends on what we invest.  If weight loss and better health are what we are after and we aren’t getting the Return we want, then we need to look at how much we are actually investing and that doesn’t mean money. Most of us are familiar with buying the fresh veggies and letting them moulder in the fridge.  We may have spent the money on them, but they aren’t actually “invested” unless we eat them! The same is true of that gym membership that costs you $25 a month: unless you are using it, you aren’t really investing in your health. For money experts, ROI is measured in dollars but when we’re investing in ourselves, the ROI is pounds lost, strength gained and other intangibles.  When we are talking about the ROI for our health and weight loss, it’s not about the money: it’s about the time and the effort we invest in ourselves. If we aren’t at the top of our list of priorities, that might explain that low Return we’re getting!

 

No Offense, But Serenity Sucks! Weight Loss & Not Giving In to the “Inevitable”

We’ve all heard of the Serenity Prayer, and while I try hard not to roll my eyes whenever anyone mentions it, I admit that in some instances, you really do have to accept the things you cannot change and hope you can recognize what those things are.

However, how many times have we looked at a situation and just decided “I guess that’s just something I can’t change so I’m just have to accept it.” Is this really something we can’t change or are we just giving up? That’s what I mean when I say serenity sucks! How many times do we lump a situation in with other “I can’t change these” situations just because they are really hard? I”m not going to give you the old Edison ‘50,000 ways not to make a light bulb’ story but I am going to toss out of his best quotes: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Yes, change is hard. Yes, you may fail many times before you finally succeed. Does that mean you should just give up because it’s hard? No! It means we need to keep trying. I know we’ve all heard horror stories about someone who “just kept trying” and ended up spending their entire life struggling with something they could never achieve.  [The 19th Century Computer Genius] Sometimes we end up doing the best we can and still not hit the goal, but, at the risk of becoming existential, is the ‘goal’ really the point, or is it really the journey itself?

I have struggled with my weight since I was in 5th grade. Throughout my teenage and adult life, I’ve lived with the “Fat” label attached to everything I’ve done. In college, one of my managers told me I’d never rise any farther in the company because I was fat, and later as an adult, I had another boss send me to a bariatric surgeon. I’ve come home to find the latest diet books on my doorstep courtesy of my mother, who’s also offered all kinds of bribes from new wardrobes to European vacations as incentives to lose weight.  “Weight Loss” has always been the shining sparkly magical goal always out of reach during my life.  I’ve been told that everything in my life will be better “once you lose weight!”

I’m not going to lie: after losing 130-plus pounds, there are a whole lot of things in my life that really are better! Walking, moving, sleeping, being active: all of these are much better having lost that much weight. Physically, I feel better overall.  Emotionally? I still feel like the Fat Woman, mainly because I still need to lose probably another 100 lbs.  Does that mean I still haven’t hit my Weight Loss Goal? Does that mean I will never hit my Goal? Should I just accept that I can’t change this and accept that I will always be fat? I’ve been trying to do this since I was 11 years old and I’ve still only achieved partial success.

Struggling with my weight, trying not to gain, trying to lose pounds and failing over and over has taught me a lot over my lifetime, because at one time, I did just give up. In my forties, I just accepted  “I will always be fat and I should just learn to live with it.” What happened? I wasn’t any happier having “accepted being fat.” Telling myself that I didn’t have to try to lose weight or look at new diets or say no to chips because “hey, I can’t change being fat!” did not stop my wanting to be thinner and healthier or hating the fact that everything hurt and was harder for me at my weight.

Having achieved a measure of success, I have learned that it really isn’t the Goal that matters: it’s the Getting-There that is the point. The struggle to lose weight has truly been overwhelming at some points but having struggled, having failed, having given up and having returned to the fight, I have learned that it is the struggle that gives you strength.  I don’t have to hit a certain magical Weight Loss Goal to be happy.  I don’t have to look the way everyone else thinks I should look.  I can be smart, attractive, and professional at any weight. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself.  Even if there are things about myself that I want to change but never can, am I going to feel proud of myself for giving up and accepting that I can’t change this, or am I going to feel proud of myself for continuing to try?

I am sure there are people who think I should just accept that I will always be obese, especially at this point in my life.  I am also sure there are people who think I am trying to lose weight “the wrong way.” There are always people who are happy to tell you what you should do and how you should do it and what you are doing wrong.  A lifetime of fighting my weight has definitely taught me that! But giving up? Never again!

Gaming the System? Weight Loss & Eating Like an Adult

When most people think of “gaming the system,” weight loss and dieting are usually not the first things that spring to mind– unless of course you are one of those ‘perennial dieters.’  Unfortunately, most of us (me included!) fall into this category: we are always trying to lose weight! And since we are always in a hurry to lose as much weight as we can as fast as possible, we’ve gotten pretty good at “gaming the weight loss system.”

Gaming the system means that we jump at the quick fix option instead of trying to make lasting changes.  Obviously we tend to see quick results with the quick fix, but we forget that ‘quick’ usually isn’t lasting, and let’s face it, while we want quick, lasting is what we are really after! No one likes losing those stubborn twenty pounds only to gain it back (and usually a couple more) and have to lose it all over again.

The problem is that ‘lasting’ takes too long and we get tired of waiting and frankly, tired of doing the work without seeing real results.  It doesn’t make us irresponsible or lazy or mean that we have no will power– it simply means that we’re human. Enter the quick fix with those quick results! But those quick fixes are usually something more drastic than the lasting change option, which is why we see those results so fast.

One of my mom’s famous quick fixes was meal replacement bars and shakes.  Instead of having breakfast and lunch, you have the shake/ bar and then a ‘healthy dinner.’  (Sound familiar, anyone?) We end up cutting out a lot of calories, so we lose weight fast, which makes us really happy for a while. Have you ever lasted on that program for more than a few weeks? I know I can barely manage one week because the shakes and bars taste so awful to me! We all know what happens as soon as you stop with the bars and shakes: Hello, weight gain!

The same thing happens with ‘diet food’ programs: once we stop eating the packaged low-cal meals, we begin to gain back whatever we lost while eating them. If all you want is to lose a few pounds so you look fabulous at the wedding or special event, that’s fine.  There’s an end date to the quick fix and if you gain it back, you are okay with that.  Seriously, though, there aren’t very many of us who are eating the bars, shakes and diet food just because we want a temporary weight loss! We’d rather lose weight permanently so we can look and feel great all the time.

When we opt for the long term lasting change method, the weight comes off slowly and steadily because we are learning as we go. We learn what healthy foods we enjoy and help us lose weight.  We learn how to eat when we’re hungry and how to stop when we’re no longer hungry. That may sound pretty simplistic, but think about it: ‘feeling full’ is not the same as ‘not being hungry!’ Most of us eat until we feel full, which usually means we’ve over-eaten, and many of us also sit down to eat without asking ourselves “am I even hungry?”

Making lasting changes means a lot of us have to change how we think about food and hunger, and that can feel pretty embarrassing to some of us.  Do we really need to learn how to monitor our hunger?  Do we really need to be told to stop eating when we’re not hungry anymore? For a lot of people, yes! Growing up, many of us were made to eat whatever our parents served us and if we didn’t eat “enough,” we were punished for it! I saw plenty of my cousins who had to force down food they didn’t want, either because they didn’t like it or weren’t hungry, just to make their parents happy.  This is what many of us were taught to do as children and many of us (like my cousins’ parents) grew up to force our own children to eat as well.  It was “meal time,” so we “have to eat!” The whole idea of not being hungry isn’t part of that equation, so is it any surprise that many of us sit down to eat at the appointed times and that we eat all or most of what is served to us?  This is what we were taught to do!

For me, this is a big part of what makes those quick fix meal and/ or meal replacement programs such a quagmire: we aren’t learning how to change our thinking about food, meals or hunger.  We are simply substituting one prescribed ‘meal’ for another! Instead of having a real food breakfast, we’re having a shake.  Instead of eating a real food lunch, we’re eating a bar.  Instead of eating a real food dinner, we’re microwaving a packaged meal.  No wonder many of us do so well on the meal replacement systems only to stumble when we try eating real food again: instead of learning what’s good for us and how much of it satisfies our hunger, we are eating what someone else decided was good for us, just like we did when we were kids! When we start eating real food again, we really are like little kids not knowing what to eat or how much of it. As parents, we know we don’t let the kids choose they want to eat all the time because we know it’ll be something like cereal three times a day or fast food for dinner each night.  We accept that children don’t know how to eat well-balanced meals but how many of those ‘kid meals’ sound like something we eat on a semi-regular basis? How many of us come home from work and rather than fix something nutritious, we settle for cereal eaten at the kitchen sink? Or we hit the drive thru for the third time because we’re late getting home again?

We know it’s not healthy for us and we tell ourselves that it’s not our “normal” way of eating, but at the same time, it’s our fall-back meal.  No time to heat something up? Cereal time! Or toaster pastries or granola bars etc.  The same thing happens when we come home late, or are too tired to cook or just don’t want what we’ve got at home: we get drive thru or take out or microwave a packaged meal. Is it any wonder that we have problems with our weight and our health when we eat like kids?

Changing how we think about eating isn’t fast and it takes a fair bit of practice but when we stop opting for the quick fix we end up making some real lasting progress with out health and our weight loss.  We only really win the game when we stop playing with our food!