Do You Want It? Then Get It!: Weight Loss & Finding Your Strength

One of my favorite books is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. I remember the night I read the book.  My sister had come for a weekend visit from college and brought the book with her. She had borrowed it from someone in the dorms and was nearly done with it. After she told me about it, I was dying to read it but she finished it Saturday evening and gave it to me so I could at least start it before she left on Sunday.  I sat up all night so I could finish it before she took it back with her.

What I loved about this book is that it is about strength, specifically the strength to be the person you want to be. Ironically, one of the main characters is Evelyn Couch, a lost overweight housewife and Ninny Threadgoode, a friend she makes while visiting her mother-in-law at an assisted living facility. Ninny tells Evelyn about her family and friends she knew in Depression-era Alabama, Ruth, Idgie, their son, Sipsey, George and their family.  What quickly becomes clear is that in order to live the lives they want to live, these people had to be strong and they in turn inspire Evelyn to be strong. (FYI: The book is much much better than the movie, as usual!)

Without going too deeply into ‘English teacher mode,’ Evelyn and Idgie (Imogene) are foils of each other. Evelyn lets everyone tell her what to do; she gets flustered easily; she kind of knows what she wants but isn’t sure and is less sure about how to get it. By contrast, Idgie never lets anyone tell her what to do, knows what she wants and knows how to get it.  In an era where blacks and whites can’t eat or sit in the same restaurants, Idgie and Ruth do it anyway. At a time when women are supposed to be demure and delicate, Idgie is headstrong and independent. This story is all about finding your strength.

Believe it or not, strength really has a lot to do with weight loss. I don’t mean finding the strength to say no to the plate of brownies or the box of ice cream bars; I mean finding the strength to pursue your goals. Getting to your goal requires strength and determination.  You have to be able to work hard without getting discouraged or let others get in your way. Sometimes that means standing up for yourself when everyone else is telling you you are wrong and sometimes it really is telling yourself no when someone offers you cookies. Yes, it’s hard and yes, it’s work!

In the most recent episode of My 600 lb Life, Destinee is 27 years old and 668 lbs.  She has already been through a lot: growing up in foster care, her mother in prison for part of that time, meeting and losing her dad, coming out as gay and transgender and losing her brother at a young age. Deciding to live as woman in a rural area, it’s not hard to understand that Destinee feels overwhelmed. Other than a very supportive family, food is the other part of her support system. Already, Destinee appears to be the personification of strength: she is living the life she has chosen. But when Dr. Nowzaradan asks her about trying to lose weight before, her answer is “no, I haven’t really tried.”

Really? Why not? She’s admitted that she’s afraid of falling in the shower and being unable to get up, among other things.  She describes how much it hurts to sit, to stand and just to move, but she’s not tried to lose weight before deciding on surgery? While we all have stumbling blocks when it comes to losing weight or changing any kind of behavior, one of Destinee’s issues is simply hard work. It’s hard to make changes to something as basic as our eating habits and she doesn’t want to do the work. Throughout her journey, she makes excuses, gives in to cravings, and keeps falling back into old habits. This is a familiar situation for all of us: I know I have done it more times than I can count! She’s already proven she has the strength to make some pretty hard choices to get to her goals, but in this instance, she is looking for the quick fix. She wants to lose the weight without having to work for it.

I’m not blaming her or criticizing her: if I could lose the weight without putting out any effort, I would so be there already! That’s not reality, though. In real life, it takes strength to get up and work for it every day. When it’s something we really want, then we put out the effort to get it. She’s already decided that she wants to live as a woman and has taken some damn hard steps to make the transition, so you would think losing weight would be easier! It’s the same for all of us: we have to ask ourselves how much we really want it! Do we want the cookies more than we want to lose weight? Would we rather lose weight or have another serving of mashed potatoes? Do we want that bagel more or less than we want to put on our jeans without lying down to zip them up? What do we want more and what are we willing to do to get it?

In Destinee’s case, after a few false starts, Destinee finds her motivation. As with most things in life, it comes down to the simple truth: if you want it, you have to work for it. Most of don’t know how strong we are until it looks like what we desire the most is about to get away from us.  That’s when we learn what we are truly capable of doing. Don’t wait that long! Find your strength now and you’ll be surprised how fast you get to your goals!

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Knocking on the Door: Weight Loss & Trying Something New

One of the things I have in common with many of my friends is that we like to try new things.  That doesn’t mean we jump on any bandwagon that comes along or that we are always running out to buy the latest and greatest of something, but it does mean when an opportunity to try something new comes along, we are more willing to give it a shot than other people.  We try to keep an open mind about things.  One of my personal ‘rules’ is that I will usually try something new at least twice, just in the case the first time was a fluke, as in the new barista at the Starbucks made your coffee incorrectly or the obnoxious instructor at the gym was a sub the first time you showed up.

Another one of my personal rules is “if you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be ‘no.'”  Shortly after I started working for my boss, we had a situation where we needed to get a trial date continued and he was reluctant to ask opposing counsel to agree to a continuance.  I commented, “it doesn’t hurt to ask because he may say yes and if he doesn’t, you’re right where you are now.” The look on his face told me he’d never thought of it that way and we ended up getting the continuance.  What I didn’t tell him is that I learned this little mantra after constantly going through “worst case scenarios” most of my life, which seems a little backward.  By constantly looking at the negative side of things, I learned to be optimistic, i.e. I am already in the ‘worst case situation’ so if they tell me no, I haven’t lost anything and I might gain something if the answer is yes!

This philosophy works pretty well with trying new things. I remember when I first started at my gym: I was afraid to try the Water Aerobics class.  I didn’t know what it was and the class description wasn’t very descriptive. I didn’t want to show up only to be told I couldn’t participate or that it was too much for me to do blah blah blah excuse excuse.  Eventually, I showed up at the pool in the middle of one of the classes by mistake and it looked like the members were having a lot of fun but I sat on the sidelines. Then the instructor asked me if I wanted to join them so I did. Now I realize that my only obstacles to joining the class were my own fear and doubt. The only thing holding me back was me!

Trying new things does require a little bravery and an open mind. You have to be willing to take a chance.  You also have to be willing to take a little criticism, both constructive and sometimes simply rude.  I got a lot of both when I started following Paleo, but I’ve not regretted it one bit. (Okay, so I do miss bread!) The truth is I tried it and it works for me and I like it a lot.  Whatever criticism I’ve gotten hasn’t been enough to change my mind, especially given all the benefits of Paleo for me.

However, we have to be a bit judicious about trying new things.  Jumping on every bandwagon that comes along isn’t a good idea.  Just because something is “new” doesn’t mean it’s great or even good, or that it will work for you.  Keto is one of the newest trends in weight loss.  I have tried it, but frankly, I like veggies too much to stay in ketosis.  A big part of my meals is usually a big salad or bowl of Brussels sprouts.  Another big trend is ‘fat bombs,’ especially for keto devotees. These are usually cream cheese or butter mixed with stevia and coco or another calorie free flavoring.  The idea is that you get a treat that won’t take you out of ketosis. They aren’t a bad idea, but they don’t work for me.  While they are keto-friendly, they are also full of calories (way more than Brussels sprouts!) and they don’t satisfy my hunger.  I can have two or three and still feel hungry but those two or three fat bombs have more calories than the big salad or bowl of coleslaw that will take me out of ketosis.

Kale is another one of these hot new ideas. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable which is being touted as a ‘superfood.’ Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts and are typically nutrient dense, high in fiber and low in starch.  They are also some of my favorite veggies, so I decided to try kale! I’d had in soup a few times but I learned that’s pretty much my limit for kale! Kale salads, creamed kale, sauteed kale are all a huge NO for me! I knocked on that door and now I’ve pad-locked it closed!

Some new ideas I don’t need to try out because I already know the answer, such as bulletproof coffee.  I like butter and I like coffee but I don’t need to try buttered coffee to know it doesn’t work for me.  An even worse suggestion is substituting coconut oil for the butter: I don’t like coconut flavored coffees. That doesn’t mean that they won’t work for someone else, and it doesn’t mean I won’t try them out later. I may find out that this is another instance where I am getting in my own way!

When I was in college, I took a German Short Fiction class and we spent a lot of time on Kafka, who is notoriously difficult.  One of the stories we read is called “Before The Law.”  It’s about a man who waits all his life for entry into the Law and never enters. Shortly before he dies, he asks the gatekeeper why no one else ever came to this door and he is told that “this doorway was made only for you.” This concept has stayed with me ever since.  If you don’t ask, the answer is always no and if you don’t knock, the door is always closed.  Something great may be waiting for you, but if you don’t even try, you will never know!

A Moment of Truth: Weight Loss & Right Now

I’ve heard it said that our lives are lived in moments, not hours or days.  When I look at my pets, I see that very clearly.  I know they remember what happened yesterday or this morning, but their focus is on what’s going on right now. We are taught all our lives to look to the future and make plans for tomorrow, but when it comes to staying on track with your weight loss and healthy eating, we need to be looking at right now.

Elizabeth Benton likes to refer to this as “staying in the moment” and that’s a good way of looking at it. It’s easier for me to remember as “right now.” (Too much MTV in my wasted youth!) What is the choice in front of me right now? Do I want to give up my goals for what I want right now? What is the best decision for me to make right now?  In so many ways, it flies in the face of what we have been taught since we were kids: we need to think of the future instead of right now!

It’s almost counter-intuitive: we plan for our future by acting right now.  If someone wants to split a dessert at lunch, do I want to delay reaching my goal for the cheesecake right now? Should I plan to work out tomorrow since I don’t want to work out right now? Right now, what is the best decision I can make for reaching my weight loss goals? While some of you are probably rolling your eyes, too often we get tricked into swapping out Right Now for the Future.  I want cheesecake right now so in the Future, I will work out an extra session / skip lunch, etc.  We get sucked into constructing big plans for the Future or digging up information on weight loss or fitness and instead of taking action Right Now, we are busy planning for the Future.

There is nothing wrong with planning for the Future.  It’s always a good thing to know where you are going and how you are going to get there, but when that planning gets in the way of taking action, it’s not helpful.  You can always do something real and concrete Right Now instead of waiting until sometime in the Future when you have all the information you think you need.  The problem is that there will always be new information coming out on health, fitness and weight loss so on any day, there will always be something we don’t know.  Information is not action and only action will get you to your goals!

When they say our lives are made up of moments, they are talking about all those “right nows.”  That’s what our future is built on: what happens to us in the future actually depends on what we do right now.  If we keep sacrificing our Right Now for some Future action, we will never take action and we will never reach our goals.  We build our Future out of those momentary Right Nows each of us face each day.  Right now, you can be walking during your lunch. Right now you can be shopping for healthy whole foods.  Right now you can be at your gym or joining one.  Right now you can be making a healthy meal.  Right now, you can be saying yes to Brussels sprouts and no to donuts.  This is where our Future comes from; it comes from what we do Right Now.  What are you doing Right Now?

Van Halen: Right Now

“E” is for Effort (& Excellence): Weight Loss & Missed Opportunities

Last night I got an unusual text from my sister.  She was watching the same rerun of My 600 lb Life that I was, although it was new to her.  I’ve mentioned before that I watch the show, reruns and all, because they are my version of a 12 Step meeting.  They remind me of some of my old bad habits (ugh! so reminded last weekend!) and overall they keep me motivated.  This particular episode was James K.’s story.  In so many ways, James is both motivating and incredibly frustrating.

We’ve all heard the expression that ‘water sinks to its lowest level’ and the same is true of our efforts.  If we don’t put forth any effort, we shouldn’t be surprised when we get no return, but usually we are shocked when we don’t get amazing results.  We’ve somehow gotten it into our heads that we can phone in the effort and get what we want without a lot of work. James puts forth nearly no effort at all but expects to get awesome results and is repeatedly disappointed when he fails to make any progress at all.

To recap, James is approximately mid-forties, weighs about 800 lbs and has been bedbound for nearly three years when we meet him. He lives with his girlfriend Lisa and their teenage daughter Bayley, who are his caretakers.  Both Lisa and Bayley are afraid that his eating will kill him because he gains about 30-40 lbs every year, and James himself is afraid that he’s going to die in his bed soon. Besides his super morbid obesity, James also has severe cellulitis infections in his legs, but he still wishes that his days “would start with food and end with food.”  He admits that if he doesn’t get what he wants to eat as soon as he demands it, he gets angry. Giving him something healthy only starts a fight.

James sets up a phone consultation with Dr. Nowzaradan, who advises him how dangerous it is to be super morbidly obese and immobile (bedbound).  He sends him a 1200 calorie diet, tells him to begin losing weight now and come to Houston.  If he is under 600 lbs when he arrives and there are no major health issues, he will schedule him for bariatric surgery as soon as he can.

My issue with James isn’t that he’s gained about 800 lbs: my issue is that he does as little as possible to help himself or improve his situation. He was well over 500 lbs when he fell and injured his ankle, landing him in the bed three years ago.  Since then, he’s continued to gain weight and it isn’t hard to see why.  When you aren’t being active and continue to eat as much as you did before, it’s an obvious result.  However, James has made no effort to change his eating habits, nor has he made any effort to get out to the bed.  He tells everyone he wants out of that bed and he’s ready to get back to his old life, but to make change, you need to put out some effort!

He and Lisa had initially planned to load him in the back of her van and drive to Houston but because of his weight and longtime immobility, both Dr. Nowzaradan and the EMTs they later call advise against it.  The EMTs also tell him he is wider than the van is so driving that far would be extremely painful (why ultimately James vetoes the idea.) James tries to get a bariatric ambulance to transport him from Kentucky to Texas but when the plans fall through and his fund-raising efforts (an online campaign) also fail to generate enough money, he uses this to justify his continued calorie consumption. Basically, it’s a depressing situation and the insurance company has given him a ‘death sentence,’ and the only thing that brings him any happiness is eating everything he wants to eat, so that’s what he’s going to do!

In this case, James is not even putting forth minimal effort: Lisa and his daughter set up the online campaign and Dr. Nowzaradan is fighting with the insurance company over the ambulance.  The least James can do is work his hardest on losing weight.  This is what the doctor had instructed him to do and frankly, it’s the best thing he can do for himself, but he doesn’t do it. He makes no effort to help himself.

Later, when he finally arrives in Houston, he weighs in at 791 lbs and continues to gain weight, ultimately reaching 843 lbs.  At the end of the year, James has gained back any weight lost while hospitalized on a controlled diet and has been told that he has congestive heart failure and his body is barely functioning.  Throughout that year, he blames circumstance for his lack of progress and ultimately accuses Dr. Nowzaradan of not helping him.  The simple truth is that he refuses to make any effort to help himself.  This dismal lack of effort is what makes James so frustrating but also so motivating.  His story is full of missed opportunities to help himself: he announces again and again how he’s ‘fired up’ to lose weight, but when his daughter offers to bring him his dumb bells, he waves her off.  When Lisa protests that the Chinese rice he wants isn’t on his diet, he has a tantrum, demanding it anyway. “I’m tired of fish and chicken!”

Anyone who has changed their eating habits can commiserate with this tantrum.  My dad actually jokes that I’ve eaten so much chicken, he expects me to sprout feathers any day now! There’s been more than a few days that the thought of eating more salad, veggies, chicken or anything else healthy makes me want to gag. There’s also been many days I’ve wanted to blow off my exercise classes because I’m tired, I don’t feel like it or I just want to do something else! We have all been there! But watching James give in over to his whims is also what makes his case so motivating.

We all have opportunities to improve our health and weight loss.  None of it comes easily to any of us. Change and progress require effort and if we want to make the most of our opportunities, then we have to put forth our maximum effort! Blowing off the opportunities is always easier but then we have to live the results of our lack of effort.  We can choose to blame circumstance and everyone around us for our lack of progress, but ultimately the choice to work as hard as we can is our own.  We can do what we want, like James, or we can do what’s best for us as hard or as uncomfortable as it may be.  In the end, giving in to our whims and blowing off efforts to help ourselves only seems easier.  Living with the extra weight is not only hard on our self-esteem: it’s hard on our health. For some of us, it means we have to go back to our “fat pants” or loosen the belt another notch instead of tightening it up.  In James’ case, his lack of effort landed him in the ICU with sepsis, fatty liver disease and kidney failure.  [At last report, he recovered enough to be discharged.]

We all have been disappointed with our results at times.  It’d be nice if they were always amazing and fabulous.  The least we can do is make the best of the opportunities provided to us by giving it our best effort.  When we don’t even do the least that we can do, we have no one to blame but ourselves for our failures. Watching James throw away opportunity after opportunity reminds me not to do the same.  It is a sad and scary lesson that James presents to us and hopefully we’ve all learned from it.

Making Monsters: Weight Loss, Drama & Procrastination

I am the Queen of Procrastination.  My internal mantra chants daily ‘if you can do it another day, then do it another day!’ As a result, I have gotten very good at the Last Minute Scramble for a lot of things, such as paying bills, running errands and returning phone calls.  It’s also made me very hard-nosed when I am on the receiving end of another person’s Last Minute Scramble.  We have all been in  the situation where someone is begging for a favor because they waited as long as they could before doing whatever needs to be done. The classic response is “how does your failure to plan make this my emergency?”

In all honesty, I really hate that Last Minute Scramble and one of the reasons I am so hard-nosed is because I know I put myself in that situation by putting off the task day after day.  It’s a monster of my own making and I don’t let myself slide when it comes to taking the lumps for procrastinating, so I’m usually not going to let anyone else slide either! The more I hate it and the harder it is, you would think that I would do it less often, especially when it comes to situations that can become complicated.  (Once was enough with the Last Minute Scramble on taxes, believe me!) Unfortunately, it usually takes a few times before it finally sinks in.

When it comes to weight loss and working out, procrastinating has become Standard Operating Procedure for a lot of us.  You know the drill: I’ll start Monday/ next month/ after the holidays/ after whatever event or celebration.  The problem is that unlike bills, taxes or making it to the store before it closes, there is no deadline for weight loss! However skilled we might be at the Last Minute Scramble, it needs a ‘last minute’ in order to get us into gear, and when there is no last minute deadline, our weight loss and work out goals are just hanging out there in limbo. Forever.

No one who procrastinates likes to think of themselves as lazy.  Laziness and procrastination are two separate entities.  We can be lazy and not a procrastinator, and some of us put off certain tasks because we are too busy doing other tasks.  Some of us will put off these other tasks because they will require a lot of time and/ or concentration, so we wait until we can commit to them without distraction.  In other cases, especially my own, we put off unpleasant tasks because doing them is certainly not fun, i.e. taxes or bills.

For a lot of us, weight loss and working out fits all those categories: it’s a lot of work, takes up a lot of time and isn’t any fun at all! To be honest, when you look at it with that kind of mindset, I can see how it ends up on the Never-To-Do List! It’s right up there with “Colonoscopy” and “Root Canal!” When we moan and groan about “being on a diet” and “going to the gym” and having to “give up all the food I love,” we are only adding to the reasons to put it off until the second Tuesday of Never! It’s awful for us because we make it as awful as possible!

I go to the gym usually three times a week for water aerobics.  In the summertime, the classes are usually so full we run out of room in the pool, but once the cold weather gets here, the attendance drops off dramatically.  It’s cold; it’s rainy and no one wants to get out of the pool or the shower and walk out into a cold, wet parking lot.  Ugh! I thought about it earlier this week as I was hurrying into the gym and I knew it was going to be really chilly when I left class in about an hour or so.  There was a time when I would consider bailing out on the workout but now that it has become a firmly entrenched habit, the thought never crossed my mind.  Now I actually look forward to going to the gym.  It’s not that I’m a hard-core gym-rat: even though the point of going is getting a good workout, the focus is on seeing my friends. In fact, the third ‘class’ isn’t actually a class offered by the gym at all; it’s a bunch of us who show up at a pre-arranged time to work out together.  The activity itself hasn’t changed, but my mindset has.

I know there are books and other programs designed to help people with procrastination.  Building new, healthy or productive habits is a big business and for some of these, the focus is on stopping the procrastination.  In a way, it’s a little ironic: people want to do something about putting off tasks they don’t want to do! What many of us don’t realize is that it’s not your activity that has to change: it’s your focus and your mindset! When the focus shifted from ‘something I should do’ to ‘something I want to do,’ the workout stopped being a task to put off.  Why would I put off something I am looking forward to enjoying? There are times when I’m irritated because I have to ‘cram in the workout’ on a day when I have a lot to do already, but it’s not the workout that is annoying– it’s everything else that’s crowding my schedule!

The same thing is true when it comes to eating healthier.  When having something nutritious and healthy for dinner is something to look forward to instead of another chore to get done, it’s no longer something that needs to be put off.  I mentioned in a recent post that most of the time, people don’t realize how bad they feel on a normal basis because this is how they always feel.  They think they are fine because they have never felt any other way.  Example: where I live, I am surrounded by noise.  I live near a hospital with a helipad, a couple blocks from a fire station, a block away from railroad tracks and between two churches which also have schools. Between the ambulances, the helicopters, the  trains, the fire trucks, the church and school bells, there is always noise in the background at my house.  A few years ago, I went on vacation with my sister and her family and our hotel was literally across the street from a fire station.  The morning after our first night, everyone but me was complaining about “that fire truck blaring all night!” I didn’t hear a thing.  I am sure my ears heard the siren but since I hear sirens all the time, my brain didn’t wake me up.  It’s just normal background noise!

The same thing happens to us when we stop eating  junk food or highly processed foods.  Once we’ve stopped eating them for a while, we suddenly realize we feel different. We don’t feel tired or sluggish anymore; our digestive tract feels lighter or better; we have more energy and our sleep is more restorative.  Once we realize what it’s really like to feel good, we suddenly realize how bad we really felt before, especially if we relapse and go back to eating the unhealthier foods we used to eat.  After even a few days of eating more high carb/ high sugar foods than normal, I can feel a difference in my joints and my mood.  Even my sleep is different and it’s because of the change in my diet.

This realization that how I feel is directly tied to how I am eating has changed my focus.  Yes, I really want to lose weight but the real focus is “I don’t want to feel cruddy again.” Feeling cruddy isn’t something I look forward to, but feeling good? Sleeping well? Having more energy? Yes, I look forward to that! That is how I want to feel all the time, so eating healthier is not something to ‘put off for another day!’ There is also the bonus that I lose weight when I eat healthier and that eating the way I used to eat means I can start gaining weight.  I don’t need to gain weight to remember how awful I felt when I weighed 438 lbs.  Everything hurt and it hurt all the time!  So while others might think “I can start my diet in the New Year so it doesn’t ruin my holidays,” for me it’s the other way around: “I don’t want to ruin my holidays so I am sticking with my weight loss plan!”

When it comes to procrastinating, the only real Cure is changing how you think about it.  When you make it something you want to do, there is no reason to put it off.  We are used to tricking our kids into doing their homework or getting good grades by rewarding them and that is what we are doing with ourselves when it comes to things we would rather put off. Once we focus on the reward, it’s not a chore but something to enjoy.  Going to the pool gives me an opportunity to hang out with my friends.  That’s my ‘reward’ even though I also have more energy, flexibility and sleep better.  I do notice those benefits from the exercise, but honestly, I just like hanging out with my friends! In contrast, there is no reward for eating fast food or junk food for me: after eating it, I feel heavy, bloated, and cruddy.  It plays havoc on my digestive tract (not fun!) and actually causes pain in my joints.  Believe me, none of those things are ‘rewarding!’  Eating healthier and cleaner means I feel better overall and I also lose weight.  Why would I put off eating healthier and being more active for another day when I can do it now and feel great today?  All it takes is changing your focus!