Want to Finish Strong? Just Keep Running! Weight Loss & Keeping Yourself Moving

There is a lot on social media about “finishing strong” lately.  Even my own water aerobics trainer shouted it at us yesterday as we were splashing around in the pool.  I can understand it: a lot of times we might start strong but as we get increasingly tired or keeping the pace gets hard, we start to slow down like a wind-up toy until we are barely going through the motions. Sometimes, if we are fairly tired towards the end of the workout, we start out going through the motions! If fitness is your goal, this is not the way to get there!

It’s not the way to get there with weight loss either! For a lot of us, the week looks like this: we start out on Monday eating great, making healthy choices, saying no to temptation and then over the next few days, the stress of working, family and daily life starts getting to us. We start feeling really stressed or really rushed because things happen that get in the way of our carefully laid plans and so we start “improvising.” We don’t have time to eat that healthy salad we brought with us so lunch today is a sandwich.  We get stuck having to run an unscheduled errand at the end of the day so rather than fix that healthy dinner we had planned, we opt for something processed but “healthy” and then we worked late and had an early morning so breakfast is something takeout but “on the healthier” side on the way to work.  By Friday, our weight loss plan looks nothing like what you actually planned for the week and you count it as a Win if your dinner Friday night is anywhere close to “healthy!”  As for the weekend, who’s had any chance to make plans for healthy eating? You’ve been too busy!

I know that reality can be a real monkey wrench in the middle of carefully laid plans.  We start out strong but somewhere along the line our resolution crumbles along with our plans. It’s not our fault that Real Life screwed it up!  Seriously?! This is news to you? Where have you been living and how can I move there? Because thinking that everything is always going to go according plan all the time or even just most of the time is living in a fantasy world. Most of us hardened Real World citizens make our plans and if even half of them go as we’d like, we consider ourselves lucky, but we make our plans in spite of Real Life.  There is always the chance than more will go right than not but regardless of how much goes along with the plan or not, we hold fast to our resolution to start strong and finish stronger!

I know this sounds like a lot of cheerleading motivational jargon but the truth of the matter is that our success with weight loss, fitness or anything else we want to achieve begins and ends with our resolve.  No one can make us eat healthy or choose the carrot over the candy bar, especially when we’re on our own.  I heard it said once that the definition of integrity is what one does when no one is watching.  If you pull up to that stop sign in the middle of the night and you are alone on the road, do you stop or do you just blow right through it? I know that Common Sense would say if there is no cross traffic and you are the only car on the road for miles, why stop? In response, let me refer you to a high school classmate who came to that same conclusion and blew through the stop sign only to be pulled over by the police cruiser hiding in the shadows with the lights off.

If he had stopped, there wouldn’t have been any issue, but he thought he could get away with something.  A lot of times, this tends to be our mentality too when our resolution starts to waver. We begin rationalizing excuses why it’s okay to make the choice to eat what’s tempting rather than what’s on our plan.  It’s that damned Real Life again! I don’t have time to cook after running all these unscheduled errands so I have to get takeout! I couldn’t finish my salad so this snack is okay (it makes up for lunch!) NO. It’s NOT okay. Not if you want to reach your weight loss goals.

Anyone can start strong.  All it takes is a little planning. We get on the road to eating healthy and for the first day or so, things are great because they are easy.  Once things start getting bumpy, this is where our resolution gets tested. How committed are we to these goals? Notice: I said goals,” not “plans.” Plans change (there’s that Real Life again!) and our choices aren’t ‘the carrot or the candy bar,’ it’s do we want to finish the week strong or do we want to give up and ‘start strong’ again next week? Hint: there’s a difference between Serial Starters and Finishers. Two or three days of great healthy eating are canceled out by four or five days of really crappy or even mediocre eating! If you are always starting, it means you aren’t finishing! It also means you aren’t making any progress to your goals.

When our resolve starts to waver or our plans end up going out the window again, we have to be strong enough to keep our focus on our goals.  That might mean skipping a meal if what’s best for us isn’t an option.  Just because it’s noon doesn’t mean we have to eat “lunch.” It’s okay to wait to eat something healthy later rather than eat junk food.  It’s also true that we don’t have to eat tacos just because our conference is serving them to us. We don’t have to drink sugary coffee drinks just because they are in season or our friends are all drinking them. Even if we like them, the question really is what we want more: our goals or tacos, seasonal lattes or the candy bars.

Too often we tell ourselves that we can never have these foods again, which isn’t true, but it goes back to our resolve. We know what our trigger foods are.  Some of us can have a holiday coffee and never feel the urge for another one (me, for example!) One holiday latte won’t trigger a binge for me, but a Kings Hawaiian roll? One of those turns into four before I know it!  Well, not really…. because I know bread is a trigger for me. This is where I have to ask myself: do I want the bread more than I want my goals? Because not only will the bread throw my weight loss plans out the window, it’ll also make me feel cruddy physically too.  So not only will I feel bad not finishing the week strong, I’ll plain just feel bad! So where is the Win eating the bread? The few minutes it takes to eat it?  Sound like a Lose-Lose to me!

Finishing strong takes practice because it’s hard. Starting and even starting strong is easy by comparison. It’s a lot like a marathon. Anyone can start a marathon: you stand at the starting line and run a step or two: congrats! you just started a marathon! But no one gets awards for starting because it’s the finishing that counts! When things get hard and people start dropping out of the race, the ones who keep running keep running because they’ve practiced. They’ve run this race before and they know what to do when it gets hard.  It’s a whole lot of work and practice but they keep running: they know their goal is up ahead and they just have to keep running to get there.  When our weeks get tough and everyone else starts giving up, remember our goals are also in our reach. We just have to keep running until we reach the finish line.

Right Here, Right Now: Weight Loss & The Moment

We hear a lot about ‘staying in the moment’ when it comes to weight loss and our diets.  It’s good advice but I think the message gets lost in the verbiage.  Instead of not seeing the forest for the trees, we aren’t getting the point because of the slogan.

Staying in the moment is a relatively simple instruction: what can you do right now? Too often we are focused on how we screwed up yesterday or we worry about what’s coming up.  There’s nothing we can do about either of those: the past is over and done with and the future isn’t here yet.  This is usually where people start ‘planning’ for what’s coming up.  While I am all for having a Plan, a lot of us like to get lost in the planning and strategizing phase! Planning and strategizing aren’t actually actions! We can ‘plan’ to make good choices and we can ‘strategize’ on how to avoid temptation, but when It actually happens, the only thing that matters is what we do right here, right now, in that moment of choice.  We had ‘planned’ on avoiding sugar and we had ‘strategized’ about how to say no to tempting sweets, but right now we are looking at the warm chocolate chip cookies being proffered by a friend: now what? Whatever our strategies might have been, it all comes down to what we do right here, right now.  Do we say “tempting, but no thank you!” in a firm polite tone? Do we say “no thanks…” in a diffident unsure voice? Do we hesitate and say “ummm…. maybe just one?”

We’ve all caved in to temptation which is usually followed by recrimination and regret and then we allow those emotions to beat us up for days afterwards.  We like to think that we use our regret to fuel our resolve and our plan to ‘do better’ but in most cases, it just stresses and depresses us.  We tend to see it as more failure and lack of willpower on our part. Rather than strengthening our resolve, our dwelling on past failures only emphasizes our pattern of failure: “We screwed up last time, so what’s to stop us from screwing up again? Our willpower that caved when faced with chocolate chip cookies? Hah!”

This is the beauty of focusing on right here, right now: forget yesterday, last week, last time and don’t worry about what’s coming up tomorrow or next month. All we are looking at is the choice in front of us and our resolve only needs to be as strong as ‘make the best choice possible right here, right now.’ If the Best Choice is no thank you to the cookies, then that’s what we do! If the Best Choice is packing the gym bag so working out is an option later, then that’s what we do!

Dwelling on past mistakes has another consequence: it reinforces the failures. If we constantly focus on our ‘habit of failing,’ then that becomes our default behavior.  Our lack of willpower becomes our default, as in “I never make the right choice” or “I never pass on the sweets.” When I am faced with temptation, I usually flash back to the last time it happened: didn’t say no then, so I guess I just can’t say no! Why do I remember is so clearly? Because I spent days afterwards beating myself up over two stupid cookies, which as now become four stupid cookies because ‘I just can’t say no!’

I know: it sounds too simple and we are still tempted by cookies and bingeing on whole seasons of television shows and we fear we aren’t working hard enough or making progress fast enough. Berating ourselves emotionally is part of the problem. However, no matter what we are doing, not doing, planning or wanting to do, none of it is as powerful as making the right choice in the situation right in front of you. Focusing on the right choice right here right now has another benefit: it also become a habit.  When we are in the habit of turning down things we don’t want, don’t need, or want to avoid, then making the right choice also becomes a habit.  We let go of fretting over ‘what do I do when the hors d’oevres come to me?’ or ‘last time I ate four of those!’ and we focus instead on taking action! We don’t drown ourselves in regret for past mistakes or anxiety over what’s coming because we are devoting our energy to action! All you need to do is focus: Right Choice, Right Here, Right Now.

 

“Are We There Yet?” The Weight Loss Journey & The Garden Of Zen

Those of you with kids know how irritating that question is! In Shrek 2, there’s a hilarious scene with Donkey in the carriage asking Shrek and Fiona The Question as they travel to the Kingdom of Far Far Away.  My personal opinion is The Question is why so many cars now have backseats with ‘entertainment options,’ including headphone jacks and DVD players: no one wants to hear The Question!

No one wants to be asking it either, especially when it comes to weight loss! Whenever anyone undertakes a new weight loss or healthy living plan, the first question in their mind, whether they ask it or not, is “how long is this going to take?” Unfortunately, I believe anyone or any entity who gives you an answer is not being truthful.  We can give or get a conditional estimate that is most likely going to be extremely vague, conditional and nowhere near accurate– a ‘guesstimate’ at best, but that’s as good as you’re going to get! Forget guarantees– in my opinion, they are bald-faced lies buried under fine print. By the time you read through all that legalese, they have made it impossible for you to keep the conditions which entitle you to the money back refund! It’s bad enough that most of these weight loss companies steal your money by luring you in with their ‘guarantee’: they also steal your hope, your confidence and your faith in yourself.

It’s all because of The Question: we want to be done with this already! For most of us, the thought of spending months or years trying to lose weight or get more fit is just depressing. The only ‘good thing’ we can hope for is that ‘maybe it’ll be fun and we can make some new friends.’  It’s not entirely out of the question: we meet people at the gym or when we try new programs or classes. But usually, the entire ‘weight loss- healthy lifestyle’ is something of an embarrassing ordeal. We are embarrassed that we’re overweight, that we don’t look the way we want or the way that others think we should, or that we aren’t as fit or athletic as we want to be.  For those of us with kids, this can be especially difficult: we’re not healthy or fit enough to play with our kids or when we go to sports events and meet their friends/ teammates’ parents, we are obviously out of shape compared to them, and if we notice the differences, you can bet the kids do too!

Even if we manage to approach weight loss and being more active from a “this is going to be fun!” point of view, we are still stuck looking at the timeline that comes with any process.  How long until I’m smaller/ stronger/ fitter? Even if we’re not “There” yet, we’d still like to know that we’re making progress on our journey and with weight loss, it’s almost as if we’ve entered some kind of strange time warp, where every day is tripled and making even minimal progress takes forever! “OMG! Am I even getting close?!

At the risk of sounding like a pessimist, weight loss is not linear and there isn’t always a cause-effect relationship between what we eat, what we do, how much we weigh and how strong we are.  Other things such as stress, emotion and sleep affect our bodies and our weight.  We can eat great and work out all week but if we’re not sleeping well or if we’re anxious or seriously stressed, we may not see the result we are expecting.  We all know how frustrating that is, but it’s even more confusing: we don’t understand how we can be so “good” and still not lose the weight we want or think we should.  What did we do wrong? Why is this taking so long? How come I’m not There yet?!

This is where most of us do something we really regret out of anger, confusion, frustration and despair. We can throw ourselves into the weight loss process with a dangerous furor; we can give up and resign ourselves to be the “fat one” for the rest of our lives, or we can wallow in cookies or carbs.  Whatever it is, we usually end up regretting it because we’re either desperate to “make progress even if it kills me!” or just throwing in the towel because “I’m so done with this mess!” What none of us want to admit is that this process is never done and that once we finally get There, we have to work to stay There!

It takes a long time and it’s not linear because it’s organic. No, not talking about pesticide free, non-GMO stuff! I mean that your body is a living creature, not an artificial machine like your car.  There are dozens of things that impact your body, your lifestyle and your metabolism, which all have an impact on your weight and your health.  While we know that in our heads, it rarely filters down to where we live in our hearts, minds and souls. Here is good parallel: one of my friends grows tomatoes and pumpkins every year, although she is the first to admit she is not a gardener. She has a neighbor who is a good gardener along with a close friend who also loves gardening and is good at it.  My friend does her best every year to follow the protocols for the vegetables she’s planted and she takes care of them every day to make sure they are getting enough water without too much, enough fertilizer, bug spray, sunlight, etc.  In short, she’s being “very good” about nurturing her garden.  However, there are things she has to contend with, such as the heat wave we’ve had this year, the rampant aphid infestation, the fungus that came out of nowhere, and tomato worms which suddenly appeared.  Her tomatoes are struggling and her pumpkins are not doing as well as she’d hoped. By comparison, her next door neighbor’s tomatoes are doing great but her friend’s across town are in worse straits than hers. If it seems like there’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to why the neighbor 100 feet away has great plants and the expert gardener across town has plants that are barely alive while her own are ‘hanging in there,’ you are absolutely correct! There is no rhyme or reason, because the plants, like our bodies, are not machines. There’s a world of difference between each and every one of them, even if they are the same variety of tomato or pumpkin.  Each plant, like each of us, is an individual and while one may be doing fine where it is, its neighbor may get more or less sun, more or less water or have soil which is not as good.  One can have more bugs, more fungus or less mold or just be a stronger plant.  My friend gets just as frustrated and confused and angry with her garden as we do with our weight loss process: “I’m doing everything the way I’m supposed to so why isn’t this working?!” Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

The truth is all we can do is our best, whether it’s growing plants or losing weight to be healthier.  Just like the pumpkins and tomatoes, our bodies are living creatures and just because we live in those bodies, we think we can control them the way my friend wants to control her plants (I am in sympathy, wanting to control my orchids– but no dice!) Weight loss follows no schedule but its own, just the way her tomatoes will produce when they’re good and ready and not before, no matter how she tries to coax them along. We’re in the same boat trying to coax our bodies into losing a little more fat, building a little more muscle. Our bodies, like stubborn tomato plants, don’t always cooperate! Some years my friend has a spectacular harvest and some years she gets only a few tomatoes, but she always does her best and each year she is optimistic when she puts the plants in the ground.

All we can do is our best. We each start with the bodies we are born with and to some extent our genes dictate our outcome. All I can do is work every day to eat healthy, be active, get as much sleep as I can and manage my stress as well as I can. Being thin will not make me happy any more than being fit will make me happy unless I am happy already.  Being angry and frustrated because of my slow progress is not productive: it will not make me lose weight faster but it might slow it down even more. The bottom line is that if we keep doing our best and accept that “we’ll get there when we get there,” we will probably get there a little faster, and we will be happier along the way.  We know in our heads that weight loss and a healthier lifestyle are life-long processes.  Once we reach our goal weight, we still have to maintain it and eating Oreos and Whoppers isn’t going to help with that, so even once we’re There, we’re never Done.  This is not a bad thing! We need to remember why we are losing weight and working to be healthier: doesn’t it have something to do with living longer, being happier and spending more time with those we love? Maybe it is work, but it should be a work that we love for those that we love (and that includes us!) We just have to keep growing as best as we can and we’ll get there when we get there. Hopefully, no one gets a fungus along the way.

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss & The Best Intentions: Plans Are NOT Action

We all know what they say about the road to Hell. They might as well cross out that destination and replace it with Weight Loss.  We all intend to eat better; we all intend to exercise more and we all certainly intend to stop snacking on junk food.  Those intentions and a $1.08 will get you a cup of coffee at McDonald’s! We can “intend” all we want but until we actually DO something, it’s all just talk!

I realized again how important it is to follow up our intentions with our actions while I was watching the most recent episode of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now?  This episode featured an update on Sean, the young man in his late twenties who lived with his enabler mom. Following his surgery, now in the third year of his weight loss journey, Sean has had a tremendously stressful and difficult few months.  He loses his mother to renal failure and then many of his belongings and his apartment to hurricane Harvey. During these difficult months, he begins to gain weight, eventually reaching 600 lbs again. While this kind of stress and tragedy are certainly triggers for emotional eating, Sean’s biggest stumbling block continues to be his lack of action.  Although he has a therapist, he stops treating with him and pressures Dr. Nowzaradan to get him admitted to a care facility rather than live on his own.  He is forced to move into a smaller apartment, but continues to view it as ‘temporary’ until he can move into a care facility.  His father comes from California to help him move, but Sean seems disappointed that his father is unable to take care of him himself.  Sean has to live on his own which means doing things on his own.

He gets back on his feet in a new apartment largely due to the generosity and assistance of others but once he has passed the ‘living situation’ crisis, he goes back to the emotional eating while continuing to justify his need to ‘take a break’ to ‘recover’ from everything he’s been through. That’s the first Red Flag!

I’ve fallen into that particular trap myself so I know how inviting it is! It’s the Weight Loss version of a Honey Trap: it looks warm and safe and comforting when it’s everything but! It lures us in and before we know it, we are right where Sean is: gaining weight without really paying attention! I am not going to point fingers at Sean since I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to suffer such devastating losses. Even Dr. Nowzaradan gave him a pass for the weight gain following his mother’s death; however, he also reminded him to keep treating with his therapist to find constructive ways of dealing with his emotions.  Having a resource as insightful as Dr Paradise is not to be thrown away so thoughtlessly; but that is exactly what Sean seems to do.

As Dr. Paradise had pointed out in an earlier session, Sean is intimidated by Dr. Nowzaradan as an authority figure and it is quite possible that Dr. Paradise has become a similar authority figure, which means he is also to be avoided as much as possible.  Why? Because both of them will hold him accountable for his overeating and poor eating choices. This is part of the danger involved with the Taking a Break scenario: once you have indulged until you feel safe, you have to deal with the consequences of your indulgences, which is usually weight gain! I am actually involved in the process of extricating myself from my own particular Honey Trap, so I know it’s not easy and it’s more than a little humiliating!

However, Sean continues to avoid both of his doctors because he’s ‘taking a break to get back on his feet’ but actually he is spending a lot of time sitting down.  I don’t mean to be flippant, because one of his complaints is how difficult it is to move around.  For those of us who have seen the earlier episodes, this is the second Red Flag! The last time Sean complained about how hard it was to move around, he’d gained almost 100 lbs, reaching a mind-boggling 1003 lbs.  When his mother passed away, Sean was fairly mobile in the 500’s but when he went back to see Dr. Nowzaradan, he was essentially 600 lbs again.  Anyone who has been overweight knows we don’t need to gain 100 lbs or be 600 lbs to notice unpleasant changes in our bodies.  When our knees ache a little more, when our pants or tops are a bit too tight, when we feel a little winded walking across the big parking lot– that’s our body telling us we’re carrying too much weight! When ‘squeaking by’ the file cabinets really is ‘squeaking,’ we know we’ve put on a few pounds.  This is when we need to stop talking about losing weight and start doing something about it!

For Sean, the first clue is that it’s harder to get around.  This is where Dr. Nowzaradan essentially gives him the pass on his weight gain, but rather than take action during his housing crisis– an admittedly difficult situation– Sean continues eating badly and overeating.  By the time the situation is resolved (a couple months), Sean is having a very hard time moving around.  He is content to sit on his new chair with a sheet spread over his lap so he doesn’t have to get dressed with a bucket to function as his toilet ‘when it gets too hard to get to the bathroom.’  As he opens the door to get his pizza, ‘dressed’ only in the sheet, he admits it’s not on his diet, but he really needs to take a break right now.  He laments that the Personal Care Assistant doesn’t come every day like she’s supposed to and on the days she doesn’t come “my bucket doesn’t get emptied.” He called Dr. Nowzaradan primarily to get the Personal Care Assistant assigned but also about the rashes on his skin becoming worse due to his lack of poor hygiene (which Sean denies)  because bathing has also become much more difficult. How much clearer can it be that he needs to stop talking about “going to get back on the diet” and just do it already?!

By the time he goes back to the hospital, he has obviously gained more than a few pounds and appears to be back over 700 again. The rashes have now become open infected wounds and forced his hand. Doing nothing and ignoring the infection could kill him and will kill him faster than his overeating. He tells Dr. Nowzaradan that this is a wake-up for him and he’s ‘going’ to get back on his diet, but the doctor’s reply is frank and a little harsh: “I’ve heard that before from you.”

That statement, more than the painful open wounds, is the real wake-up here.  How many times have we said that to ourselves? “It’s time to get serious about the weight loss/ poor eating choices/ blowing off workouts?” I know I’ve said it to myself through much of the last two months:” Okay, no more banana bread!” “I need to stop eating candy!” “I’ve got to get back to my regular eating plan!” And…. we all know how that turns out….

While Sean is obviously an extreme example of The Best Intentions, ‘going to do something’ is NOT the same as doing something! ‘Planning to make healthy changes’ does NOT mean you are implementing those changes! I’ve been ‘planning’ on eating right for the last 8 weeks or more and it wasn’t until the past three days that those ‘plans’ actually became actions!  Of course, my metabolism didn’t give me credit for those 8 weeks’ worth of plans: it didn’t tell me “your plans were pretty good so I’m deducting 10 lbs off this weight gain due to those good plans!” Like Sean, I have to deal with the consequences of my poor eating choices and my ‘taking a break’ mentality.  That means I have to deal with cravings and weight gain and admit to the doctor that I screwed up! It’s not fun and it’s more than a little humiliating.  However, once we begin actively doing something, we begin to feel better almost immediately, mentally, emotionally and physically. I’m not stressing over my ‘plans to eat better’ because now I am actually doing it! I’m not feeling guilty about eating bread and popcorn because I’m not eating them anymore and physically, my joints don’t ache because of the grains and my knees pop a little less and if my clothes are a little snug right now, I know that I am already doing something to fix that!

We all make plans to eat better and eat less and be more active, and plans aren’t all bad unless they stay plans.  Planning fools us into believing we are doing something but planning is NOT doing! We all intend to be the best versions of ourselves and we make plans to implement those changes.  No one plans to end up alone eating pizza in an arm chair and peeing in a bucket. But if we don’t turn those plans into actions, sitting alone with peanut butter cups in a recliner is a very real possibility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Don’t Text Your Ex!”: Weight Loss & Avoiding the Bad Habits That Lead to Gaining!

Most of us are really really familiar with “drunk dialing,” hopefully not from personal experience! This is when you’ve had a few drinks and your alcohol-infused brain thinks it’s a good idea to contact that guy/ girl who dumped you or whom you dumped months or years ago.  We all know how that ends: BADLY!  How many ways can we say humiliated?! Ugh! That’s one of the duties of a ‘wingman’ these days: make sure there is no drunk-dialing, no matter how wasted you get!

What we don’t realize is that we do the same thing with food.  Monday’s episode of the Primal Potential podcast (7/9/2018 # 498 Baby Steps to Massive Change) brought home this idea in a way I hadn’t thought of before.  I was familiar with the idea that when we’re tired, hungry, grumpy, etc., we don’t make good decisions no matter what it’s about, and we’ve all heard the cautionary tales about grocery shopping when we’re hungry, but Elizabeth Benton’s analogy puts it in a succinct and easy-to-remember phrase: “don’t text your ex!”  Eating when we’re tired or because we’re bored or lonely is the food equivalent of drunk dialing or texting your ex when you’re wasted: nothing good comes from that!  Are you going to have a serious conversation with him/ her about why you two broke up or why he/she/you cheated?  Is anything going to be resolved in a calm and adult manner, or are you going to leave a slurred/ typo-filled unintelligible message that will end up being the butt of future jokes and humiliation?  I’m guessing the embarrassing answer is the correct one in 99.99% of the situations!

When we’re tired or bored or looking for something to fill time, we’re doing the same thing: we’re falling back into behavior we know isn’t good for us!  There’s a reason we ‘broke up’ with Cheez-its or Doritos or the leftovers from last night! Unless our body is telling us that it needs fuel, there is no reason to go prowling through the kitchen.  We know better, just like when we’re sober, we know that contacting our ex is a really bad idea, but when our judgment is impaired by alcohol (or boredom or loneliness), we start considering things our rational brain would never entertain.

We’ve all been in that situation: dinner is over and we aren’t really hungry but we’re a little bored.  Maybe we’re flipping through the channels or scrolling through the phone and we want something to entertain us, so we wander into the kitchen and without really thinking about it, there we are looking in the fridge or the pantry: “anything good?”  We know we aren’t hungry, because if we were, we’d be considering things like scrambled eggs, making a salad or even sauteing some Brussels sprouts.  Even if we have those things in the fridge, we aren’t looking at them, because what we’re hungry for has nothing to do with food! We’re looking to fill a void: either boredom, loneliness, comfort, or some other kind of distraction.  Maybe we’re stressed because our hours at work have been cut or we’ve had a fight with someone we care about and we’re looking for something to distract us from the stress or just make us feel better emotionally.  The need we are trying to fill has nothing to do with hunger, but eating is how we have traditionally filled that void so that’s the habit we find ourselves going back to.

It really is like texting your ex. Think about the last time you chose to end a relationship: there was a reason.  Maybe she was always on Instagram or Facebook or texting when you were together, or maybe he only responded to your calls and texts when he felt like it.  Maybe he/ she was just emotionally distant or-  worse- too needy!  Whatever the reason, there was a reason you chose to end the relationship! But when you’re drunk or otherwise impaired, your rational judgment is literally Out of Order. Alcohol (and other intoxicants) lower your inhibitions and things that normally seem really really stupid suddenly seem like a great idea! Those bad ideas haven’t suddenly become great ideas: the only thing that’s changed is your perception of them!

The same thing happens with food.  How many times have you told someone “I don’t buy Doritos (or whatever) because once I start eating them, I finish the whole bag!” or “I only buy single cookies at the bakery because if I bought a box of them, I’d eat them all at once!” (Raising my hand here!) This is why we’ve heard so many cautionary tales about grocery shopping when we’re hungry: our judgment is out of whack as we cruise through the chip/ cookie/ cracker aisle and this is how we end up with the Doritos/ Oreos/ Cheez-its in our pantries at home.  When we’re thinking clearly, we don’t put them in our basket because we know what will happen when we get bored, feel lonely or ‘want something salty/ crunchy/ sweet.  Without thinking about it, we will wander into the kitchen and before we realize what’s happening, we’re bingeing Season 2 of Goliath and cramming down Oreos! We weren’t hungry but we were feeling really anxious about the project you’re working on and all the delays so you wanted something to distract you (Goliath) but you also went looking for something to comfort and reassure you (Oreos). The obvious- and rational-  solution is not bringing them into the house so we take the precaution of not shopping when hungry.

But eating to fill a void/ mindless eating can still happen even if it’s something ‘healthy.’ It doesn’t have to be junk food to the equivalent of texting your ex: if you aren’t hungry, you just sent that text! There are no Cheez-its, Doritos, Oreos or other junk food in my house, but I have been known to devour Greek yogurt, peaches, macadamia nuts, beef jerky, etc.  Things that I would normally consider ‘healthy’ (and things I had planned to take for lunch!) suddenly become a ‘text to my ex’ when I get stressed or feel anxious or whatever other feeling or void I am trying to expunge! I fall back into that bad habit and go back to the Mindless Eating Ex because I stop paying attention! My normal rational brain is Out of Order either because of the emotions I’m dealing with or because I just decided to check out mentally and not deal with whatever.  I know there is no legitimate reason I need to eat the entire bag of beef jerky or four containers of Greek yogurt, but ‘I’m not feeling well’ (that will not make me feel better!), or ‘I’m worried about someone’ (overeating won’t help them or me!)  I turn off the rational brain to avoid dealing with reality.  This is not unlike why we get drunk: we want to feel good or forget to feel bad. Food accomplishes the same thing for us: while we’re eating we’re enjoying the food or at least are distracted enough to forget what we’re trying to forget.

But there’s a reason we don’t normally eat a whole bag of beef jerky or Doritos or finish off all the Greek  yogurt in the fridge. When we’re done, we have that same awful feeling we do when we look at our phones the next day and find the text or the phone call to our ex: “Please tell me I didn’t hit Send on this text to that jerk/ witch!” Oh, yes you did! Looking at the empty containers, bags and wrappers, we suddenly feel like the stupidest person on the planet: “What the hell was I thinking?!” You weren’t thinking! That’s the problem! Your brain was in the Off position, either due to the emotion/ situation (or in the case of the drunken text, alcohol.) Overeating, even if it’s not junk food, is never a reasonable rational thing to do.

When it comes to drunk dialing or drunken texts to our ex, this is why we bring a wingman with us to parties and clubs: the good ones won’t let you hit Send.  But when it comes to prowling through the kitchen, LG and Samsung haven’t yet developed the fridge that will automatically ask you “are you really hungry?” when you open it up after 8:00 p.m.  We have to learn to do it for ourselves.  We have to find a way to ‘sober up’ enough to ask ourselves why we are eating when we’re not hungry.  It can be something as simple as not eating in front of the tv, or not eating after dinner.  It can be something like only eating on plate or a bowl or at the kitchen table.  When you are pouring out bowl after bowl of Doritos, believe me, you will ‘sober up’ enough to realize “Yikes! This is bowl #3!”  In my case, I keep an old photo of myself on the fridge door: there I am in all my 440 lb ‘glory’! The feeling’s not quite the same as finding the text to my ex on phone, but it’s close enough for me!

 

 

 

Minus the Negatives: Weight Loss & Positive Reinforcement

Most of us who are trying to lose weight tend to focus on the negatives and what we’re doing wrong.  I believe it comes from too much outside influence.  We all have that family member or ‘friend’ who is only too eager to point out where and how you messed up again.  So naturally, that’s what we look for since our errors have been pointed out repeatedly (and gleefully) by everyone in our lives to whom we turn for guidance.

At the risk of doing it again, that’s wrong!  Seriously, though, while it can be helpful, focusing only on the negatives and the errors is negative reinforcement.  Some of you may remember that I have dogs (I also have a pet blog where I blab about them endlessly!) But I’ve learned a lot from having dogs in my life since forever and one of the most important things I’ve learned is the value of positive reinforcement.

When I started college (back in the ’80’s– aack!), one of my first classes was Intro to Psychology where the professor explained the difference between negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement, and since I had recently gotten my first Yorkie, I decided I would use positive reinforcement to teach him and he learned so fast that I’ve used it with all my dogs.  It’s the only way I teach my pets what I want them to do and not do.  What’s more important is that it’s fostered a sense of trust among us and a natural inclination to listen to each other.

We all know what negative reinforcement is even if we don’t know what it’s called.  It’s where your dog pees on the rug and you shout and spank him and rub his nose in it so he “knows not to do it again!”  I’m pretty sure that’s never worked for anyone I know who has dogs.  It teaches them to hide from you and to be afraid of you.  With positive reinforcement, if I find that one of them peed on the rug, I point at it, tell them “no” in a firm voice and then clean it up.  No shouting or spanking or nose-rubbing.  When we go outside and they do their business where they’re supposed to, I make a big deal about how they’re the best doggies in the whole world ( because they are!) and it encourages them to do it again.  They make the connections: “outside= yay! great doggies! and inside = blah.” Why pee inside and get blah when I can pee on the lawn and be the best puppy in the whole world?  I gotta pee anyway so why not get praised for it?

Some people think that adding negative reinforcement to that increases the connection: “inside = bad spanking but outside = good doggie!”  The problem is that whole ‘teaching them to be afraid of you’ plus dogs (and people) develop a tolerance to scolding and negative treatment.  We learn to deal with it.  Anyone with teenagers know this: no matter how much you yell at your kids for not taking out the trash, they just block it out.  They stop listening, and so do the dogs.

Praise however is a different matter.  When I tell my dogs how great they are, they are always paying attention to that.  They love getting petted and get excited when I tell them how good they are, so they are getting the point: “I did something good and I want to repeat it as often as I can so I can get more hugs and pats and toys.” You would think they would get bored with it, but over the years of using positive reinforcement with my dogs, I have found they respond better to it, learn faster once they make the connections and they seem to pay better attention to me when I talk to them.  They listen and respond to me and I think I pay more attention to what they tell me too.

When it comes to eating better and weight loss, we tend to use the same tools we do for the dogs peeing on the rug: we shout at ourselves, belittle ourselves and do the emotional equivalent to rubbing our nose in the spot.  We had dessert when we went out last night: “I’m sabotaging myself! Why do I keep making the same bad choices? I can’t say no to temptation! I’m never going to lose this weight! What’s wrong with me?” We look at ourselves in the mirror and point out our muffin top, our chubby thighs, our great big butt, and that bra spillover that just makes our arms and chest look awful.  We’re trying to reinforce to ourselves how much weight we need to lose so stop with the desserts, stupid!

Does it really work for anyone? Or does it just make us feel like crappy failures because we ate dessert when we obviously look like an escapee from a Fat Farm? The same thing happens to us that happens when we go bonkers at the dog because he piddled on the rug: we ‘hide’ until we eventually stop listening to it.  When someone asks how we’re doing on our weight loss, we gloss over or omit our recent transgressions and tell them we’re doing “fine” or “okay.”  When someone points out that “maybe you’d do better if you didn’t have dessert or bread or cookies or frappuccinos,” our emotions are all over the place (anger; embarrassment; shame; frustration; hurt) or we’ve been chastised slash reprimanded so often that we don’t hear it anymore, a la teenagers: “yeah yeah yeah, I screwed up again! Whatever!” It doesn’t matter if we are the ones doing it to ourselves or if it’s that alleged friend or even someone who truly cares about us: after awhile, getting our nose rubbed in our screw-ups stops being effective.

What’s worse is that we stop trying!  It’s not that we want to give up; it’s that the constant accrual of screw-ups keeps growing and in the face of the overwhelming ‘failures,’ we simply feel defeated. “I’ve blown my diet four times this week and it’s only Wednesday- like one more screw up is going to matter now!”  This kind of thinking really doesn’t lend itself to success, does it?  Even if we are motivated to ‘win today!’, once that negative thinking creeps in, there goes our motivation! We all know that it’s hard staying motivated because it requires constant stoking like a camp fire: if we aren’t adding fuel to the motivational fire, it goes out, and remembering to keep it hot is work.  We all need motivation from time to time but staying motivated when you and others are always pointing out your failures is even harder, and we have all become experts at de-motivating ourselves that way.

This where positive reinforcement makes everything so much easier: instead of rubbing your nose in your mistake (and it’s only a mistake- not a failure!), how about you praise yourself every time you do something right?: “I had salad today instead of a burger! Yay, me!”; “I made my workout even though I didn’t want to go! Whoo hoo!”; “I said no to Barbara’s cookies at the office! Killing it here!”  It might feel a little weird or downright silly at first if you aren’t used to it, but it starts a trend. Instead of cataloguing what you’ve done wrong, you are keeping tabs on your good decisions and– most importantly– you are making yourself feel good about that list! This has the opposite effect of that negative list: if I’ve done so great on all of these situations, I can easily do it on this one! It builds confidence instead of tearing it down.  When someone asks “how are you doing on your diet?” you can give specific examples of how well you are doing: “I’m eating tons of healthy veggies and haven’t had a cookie in three weeks!” It makes it easier to say no to temptation because, heck, you’ve been saying no for over a month! Even if there is a mistake, not pointing out your muffin top and rubbing your nose in the one mistake lets you get over it and move on to the next success: “I can say no next time since I’m in the habit of saying no.” And should you make a serious decision to have dessert to celebrate a special occasion, it’s easier to remind yourself “I didn’t give in to temptation because I chose to have the cake.”

Positive reinforcement gives you another reason to make the right choice: not only are you doing something healthy for your body and your weight loss, your celebrating your wins gives you a reason to feel good about yourself– period!  Remember my dogs? Praising them for listening when I tell them no or for sitting still in the car encourages them to do it over and over again.  They get to go more places because they behave themselves plus they get the big bonus of being the best doggies in the world!  When you make the right choices for your health and weight loss, not only do you feel and look better physically, but your confidence gets a big bonus as well: “Score! I killed it today on my diet! Yay, me!” The bonuses add up and are more powerful motivators than rubbing your nose in the screw-ups: who wants constant reminders of our mistakes when we can focus on our growing list of wins? If winning yesterday makes you feel awesome, how hard is it to stay motivated to win again today? Not hard! “I’m on a roll!” vs. “How can I not screw up today?”

Most of us aren’t used to positive reinforcement.  All those Negative Nancys and Neds like to poo-poo it as “feel-good fluff.” They give you the unimpressed eye-roll when you congratulate yourself on having the veggies instead of the fries: “like those veggies make a real difference!”  However these are the same people who will nag you forever about that candy bar you had on the way home, as if that candy bar is going to add thirty pounds on you! (Knowing you feel good about your choices and your progress also allows you to poo-poo their negative comments.)  When you feel good about yourself, it’s easier to make good choices and stay motivated, because you are literally your own cheering section.  Instead of working to overcome the obstacles you are creating for yourself, you are giving yourself a leg up on the ladder to success. Whoo hoo! Yay, you!

 

Coming Up For Air: Weight Loss & Getting Perspective

When it comes to losing weight, most of us know what are problems are.  We get lazy about food choices; we give in to cravings; we bail on our workouts because we just don’t feel like it– whatever the excuse is, we know it’s an excuse no matter how we try to justify it!

For some of us, though, we don’t know what the problem is until we are away from the problem.  I remember last year when my weight loss started to hit a few bumps and I was feeling really tired, really stressed and there were quite a few days when I made the ‘best fast food choice’ I could because I didn’t have time to cook.  I was very depressed about the whole situation, mainly blaming myself for making excuses. I was emailing a friend about what was going on in my life: I was working & commuting as usual (2 hrs each way x 5 days a week); I was taking care of my mom’s dogs (going by her place 3-5 times a week) and taking them to the groomers/ vet; I was taking care of my own errands (my dog, groceries & truck maintenance); I was trying to make my workouts (2-3 x week) and I had been doing this since August.  At the time of my email, it was November and of course, now I had to add holiday shopping into that list.  After spending most of one day each weekend with my mom’s dogs while she was in the hospital and going by her home evenings 3-4 times a week after I got off work/ gym/ grocery store, I was too tired to cook when I got home at 8 or 8:30 p.m.  If I didn’t have something healthy I could quickly heat up, then here comes the ‘healthy fast food!’  After taking care of my own pets, housework and dinner, I’d be lucky if I got to bed around 10:00 and then I’m getting up again at 5:30 a.m.  While it still feels like a lot of excuses to me, there were a few of my gym friends whose mouths dropped when I told them what I was doing on a regular basis, and had been doing for nearly four months straight.  No wonder I was tired and cranky!

When I actually stopped to re-read what I had written, I realized that’s a lot to cram into 168 hours a week, and that includes sleeping! Once I wrote it down as an objective list of what I was doing on a daily and weekly basis, I got perspective on my situation. There were legitimate reasons I was feeling so tired and cranky and my eating choices were seriously skewed. The point isn’t “great! I have reasons, not excuses!”; the point is that now I have some perspective on the situation, I can begin to formulate a planned response instead of just jumping from crisis to crisis!  In a lot of ways, this situation was nearly a mirror image of the last two years I worked The Job From Hell: late hours, poor eating choices, no activity, no sleep and triple stress!  I was too busy bouncing from crisis to crisis to stop and get perspective on my situation or figure out how to improve it.  This is the same situation that propelled my weight to nearly 440 lbs and caused my general health to head into the toilet.  In short, it nearly killed me and, while my health and weight were greatly improved by August 2017, I was heading back down the road to where I was in September 2014. Definitely not a good place to be!

Perspective is important, and not just when it comes to weight loss.  What I had been doing at The Job From Hell and those four months last year was slapping band-aids on problems that needed serious attention, and unfortunately, that’s what a lot of us do. When we aren’t being deluged with crises, we all know what kinds of problems can get by with a band-aid and what needs a real solution but when we are drowning in emergencies and ‘gotta do it now!’ situations, we can’t see that. We are too busy trying to keep from drowning to realize that we are bailing out an ocean liner with a teacup.  Maybe you’ve seen the commercial for car insurance where the driver spills his coffee and since he’s reacting to the spilled coffee, he doesn’t see the car in front of him.  It’s because our focus has shifted to what looks like an emergency.  Maybe it is a genuine emergency but unless we keep our focus where it needs to be, our overall situation will never improve.  This is why we need to step back and get a good objective view of what is really going on.

On a recent episode of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now?, we got an update on Erica’s weight loss journey. Her first episode was heart-breaking for me because while she lived alone, she was completely dependent on her brother, sister and niece for any assistance such as shopping and some personal care. Only her niece seemed to have any sympathy  or real concern for her situation.  Her brother was apathetic at best and her sister was downright cruel at times.  Although her sister and brother-in-law eventually helped her, it was blatantly obvious that it was not from the goodness of their hearts!  Their nasty snide remarks and threats to stop helping her made it clear that Erica had two choices: meekly accept the abuse or go it on her own.  As it was, their assistance was minimal at best and at worst, it literally put her life at risk. Rather than take the few days to drive her from Central California to Houston, they would only take her if she went on a plane, despite the risk of fatal complications involved with flying. With a flight of about five hours and weighing 661 lbs, Erica was in real danger of developing a fatal blood clot (deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism). As it was, upon her arrival in Houston, she ended up being hospitalized due to severe dehydration. (She was so dehydrated she had blood in her urine.)

Erica’s overall attitude was more negative than most patients. It was apparent she had made a difficult last-ditch effort to save her life and she had almost no support from her family. She was not only struggling against her own issues: she had to fight her family’s negativity as well.

It wasn’t until after she had moved to Houston and been living there for a while that she realized her separation from her family and the situation in California allowed her to get perspective on her struggles. When she had to return to California due to finances, she was able to put together a planned response to the issues she knew she was going to have to face. As a result of getting perspective and formulating a plan, Erica was able to make significant progress on her weight loss and at the end of this update, she was within 60-70 lbs of her goal weight.

Getting perspective is hard, mainly because we’re too close to the problem to realize we’re drowning. This is one reason some kind of support community is so important to success: you get the benefit of perspective. You don’t have to get a therapist like Erica did; in my case, I was just emailing a friend. I also share my frustrations and experiences in an online community (My Fitness Pal). A supportive community of any kind not only provides encouragement, ideas and suggestions but it also lets someone who is not drowning in your situation to offer an objective opinion, even if it’s something as simple as “don’t you think that’s a lot of changes all at once?” (They were right!) Perspective allows you to make well considered decisions instead of just reacting to what’s going on around you. It allows you to exercise some control over a situation that may not be entirely within your control. It allows you to develop contingency plans, which in my case meant keeping quick-cooking healthy food on hand (eggs, steam-ready veggies) so I didn’t have to resort to ‘so-called healthy fast food.’

It’s not easy for some of us to find a supportive community and a lot of us think we don’t need one. We do. All the other times I tried to lose weight failed and a big part of that failure was because I was toughing it out on my own. Ironically, having no perspective on my situation kept me from seeing I was drowning all alone and it didn’t have to be that way. Your support community doesn’t have to be others involved in weight loss: some of my biggest supporters are my friends who don’t need to lose weight! They offer motivation, ideas, encouragement and that so necessary objective perspective. Being my friends is all they need to do: giving me their honest opinions, listening when I need a sympathetic sounding board and occasionally helping me come up for air.

Weight Loss & Confidence: The Confidence Has to Come First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fearlessly Being You: Weight Loss & Liking Who You Are

I am sure we are all familiar with the self-help mantras “you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you,” and the ever-popular Serenity Prayer. I accept that these mantras have merit, but they’re a little too mainstream for me.  I much prefer the somewhat quirky “wherever you go, there you are!”  I feel it not only speaks to where you are in life, but who you are as well.

One of the newer podcasts I’ve been listening to is The Wellness Force podcast with Josh Trent and while I’m still not sure he’s going to fit with my lifestyle, one of the recent podcasts he had was with professional volleyball player Kelly Claes who used an expression that really resonated with me: “fearlessly authentic.”  The inspirational quote app that I use updated earlier this year and now allows me to create tags for my favorite quotes and the first tag I created is “#fearless.”  Simply put: sometimes you need to be fearless to get where you want to go!

Most of us start out life with our parents setting our goals and aspirations.  This is pretty normal: as a kid, you really don’t know what’s what so you look to your parents for guidance and somewhere along the line, you realize you don’t want to be a doctor or a teacher but an artist or a baseball player or an engineer.  You start finding yourself and finding your own way.  Again, this is pretty normal.

But when you’re a kid and you’re overweight, you face some different obstacles. Most parents either believe ‘it’s a phase’ and you’ll ‘grow out of it’ or they start trying to guide you out of it. Sometimes their guidance is encouraging you to be more active, play sports or eat healthier foods.  Sometimes, it’s humiliation and recrimination. Even if they don’t mean to do it, sometimes it feels like their love and acceptance hinges on how much you do or don’t weigh. They may not ever say it, but we feel their disappointment and disapproval of our weight and from those unspoken feelings, we begin to feel that we are simply inadequate, lacking and a failure.

Growing up is hard enough without feeling like you are a failure as a person. While this post is about weight loss and obesity, it happens to kids for all kinds of things: not being pretty enough; not being a good enough athlete; not being smart enough.  Parents don’t mean to do it, but they place their own expectations on their children and when they fall short of those expectations, the child internalizes the disappointment as being their own personal failure. When it comes to weight loss, it can lead to a lifetime eating disorder, among other things. Generally children who feel inadequate either begin to crave their parents’ approval or they go the opposite direction. (Guess which way I went!)

For me as an overweight child, I was constantly being told “if only you lost weight, [insert good thing here].”  If I lost weight, I’d have boys lining up at my door.  If I lost weight, I could wear all the pretty clothes.  If I lost weight, I could have a whole new wardrobe.  Basically, if I lost weight, I’d be perfect.

Except I didn’t lose weight.  I stayed obese and after years of failing to win my mom’s approval (she was the most critical), I eventually gave up trying to get something I was so obviously never going to get.  (While my dad wasn’t exactly happy with my weight either, he was more focused on other goals such as college and a career.) This is where I learned to be fearless when it came to being me.

What I mean by “fearless” is that I simply stopped apologizing for being obese and not being perfect. It also means that I accepted myself for the person I was at that time and not who I was going to be at some time in the future.  This is paramount because until we accept who we are right now, we’ll always be stuck putting off our lives until some future time ‘when we’re thinner.’ While you’re probably thinking that’s a no-brainer, this idea sometimes gets internalized with the “I’m not good enough” mentality and before you realize it, it’s part of who we are.  Unfortunately, it’s usually the part that holds us back from living the life we want.

One of the constants on My 600 lb Life is patients saying how they need to have surgery so “I can get my life back” or “start living my life.”  Many of them probably never considered that their lives don’t have to be on hold because of their weight.

Obviously there are a lot of issues behind their compulsive overeating but I think a portion of it comes from that ‘waiting to be perfect’ mentality. They can’t move forward because they believe there is something wrong with the person they are right now. Being morbidly obese- and especially super morbidly obese- is a fact of life that has to be dealt with but when you put your life on hold until you are ‘fixed,’ it can mean waiting forever. Most of are familiar with the ‘perfect outfit’ in our closet that we can’t wear until we lose 20 lbs or so, and we hang onto it until it’s no longer in style and we have to give it away without ever wearing it… and we replace it with another perfect outfit we’ll never wear. Imagine that’s your life: always waiting for it to ‘start’ until you’ve got no time left.

Wherever- and whoever- you are is all you’ve got. There were a lot of times I was rejected because of my weight. I was told I wouldn’t advance or be successful in some jobs because of my weight, that guys wouldn’t find me attractive because of my weight, that my weight was always going to hold me back from doing things I wanted to do. Some of these statements were and still are true.

But I’ve lived all my adult life obese, mostly around 375 lbs. Once I learned to stop apologizing for being fat and imperfect and fearlessly live my life on my terms, my weight took a backseat to the rest of my life. Yes, there were times it got in the way and there were a lot of times I wished I were thinner. FYI: I also wished I were taller, too! But for most of my life I refused to let my weight make me miserable.

When my weight did finally become a problem I had to deal with, it still took a backseat to an even bigger problem, mainly my depression over The Job From Hell. That job seriously made me hate my life and who I’d become and it wasn’t until I dealt with that as well as the mental and emotional fallout from that job that I was able to deal with my weight. When I learned to like myself again, it gave me the strength to take advantage of new and unexpected opportunities which led to some serious weight loss.

Even though I’ve lost nearly 170 lbs, most of the world still considers me obese. There are a lot of family members who would be happier if I lost another 100 lbs. I’m still eating healthy and I’m still being as active as I can be, but my weight doesn’t define me anymore now than it did when I was 375. I am still more than just the number on the scale. For most of my life, I liked and accepted myself for the person I was, and I like who I am now. The difference is that now I’m 170 lbs lighter. It was my acceptance of myself that gave me the strength to grow and succeed and make the necessary changes. My acceptance of who I am gives me the courage to live fearlessly and do what’s right for me instead of following advice that doesn’t work for me, whether it’s for weight loss or anything else. If I hadn’t had the strength and courage to live fearlessly, I’d never have tried the Paleo diet; I’d never have gone to a gym or tried water aerobics; I’d never have joined My Fitness Pal, or started blogging, and I’d likely never have lost the weight I’ve lost. Liking myself, accepting myself and trusting myself has allowed me to continue growing into someone I like better who is happier and healthier than she used to be. But weight loss isn’t what’s made me happier and healthier: it’s the byproduct of learning to like myself again.

Sometimes we think we know where we’re going. We all have an idea of where we want to be but a lot of times, that’s not where we end up. That’s why I like that quirky mantra so much: “wherever you go, there you are!” And if you don’t like where you are, have the courage to go somewhere else!

Victimology, Circumstance & Weight Loss

I’m an old ‘true crime’ junkie and I’m pretty sure it shows in a lot of ways.  One of the things I’ve learned through years of books, documentaries and a variety of police procedural shows is that the study of the victim (victimology) usually has its merits.  “What made this victim attractive to the perpetrator?”

But when it comes to weight loss, obesity is no more a ‘perpetrator’ than life itself.  Unfortunately, too many of us who are obese feel like victims.  That’s bad enough, especially when we are the real victims of verbal abuse and ridicule, but there are those who embrace the role of the victim.  They love playing the part.  When we are the victim of a crime, we are innocent victims– someone did something to us and we were helpless to stop them.   In most of life’s circumstances, like a mugging or a car accident, this is totally true.  We were on our way to Target and some guy runs the red light and now we have broken leg and a smashed up car: not our fault!

However, obesity is not something that ‘happens’ to you like a car accident or a bad case of the measles.  It’s not something you ‘catch’ and it’s not an ‘event.’ Obesity and all its evil gang of cohorts doesn’t jump you in the parking lot and suddenly, now you are fat with type 2 diabetes, arthritis and hypertension.  I’m sorry to tell you, but obesity is the result of a longtime eating pattern full of unhealthy choices and it’s usually accompanied by a long standing lifestyle of sitting down. Obesity didn’t ‘happen’ to us; we did it to ourselves. We are not its victims.

No one likes hearing that, including me.  It seems to validate every rotten thing the media and insensitive idiots have told us: we’re fat because we’re pigs who eat too much.  But that is so not true!  It’s way more complicated than just ‘eating too much.’ It’s the result of a lot of bad science and bad advice along with the poor lifestyle choices and just plain bad habits we’ve developed over the years.  The Obesity Epidemic has made it pretty clear that there were a lot of other people who also followed this bad advice, again, me included!

The good news is that since our choices led us to be obese, our choices can lead us to be healthier too.  It’s not going to be a quick transformation, since it took years for us to become obese and unhealthy, but we will get there as long as we are consistent with our healthy choices.  We consistently chose the processed foods that led us to be obese so we have to be just as consistent in picking the better options. Most of us understand this and even if we aren’t exactly thrilled about taking the long hard road to healthy, we aren’t giving up.  We continue to fight for our health.

But there are those of us who love being the victim.  Being a victim means we are the ‘innocent’ victim and that obesity ‘happened’ to us because of someone else and ‘it’s not our fault.’  I really really wish that were true!  Yes, I listened to the bad science and the bad advice and that is part of the reason that I got to be ~440 lbs.  The other part is all the mochas and Payday bars and the constant Jack-in-the-Box drive-thru nights.  And then there were all the Panera bagels and the pasta and breadsticks along with everything else! I knew none of that was good for me, even if it was on the ‘good food’ list of whole grain carbs! One bagel was okay but a bagel every day? Probably not! And being sedentary certainly didn’t help matters either! So, yes, the FDA gave me some really crappy advice but eating everything I wanted as much as I wanted was definitely much worse than the 11 servings of ‘healthy whole grains’ the FDA advised. So, yes, the bad advice happened to me, but I made some really crappy decisions that were my choice.  If I were a victim, it was of my own idiocy.

But it’s a whole lot easier to blame someone or something else for our obesity: it’s my mom’s fault for hiding the cookies when I was a kid; it’s my parents’ fault for not teaching me good eating habits when I was a kid; it’s the school’s fault for feeding me terrible lunches; it’s my babysitter’s fault for buying me fast food all the time.  Blah blah blah! All of those things may have actually happened, but they are not to blame. It would be so much easier to lie around eating granola bars and whatever else I wanted and blaming life, fate or my family for why I’m so miserable. I could be blamelessly fat and since it’s not my fault, I wouldn’t have to do anything about it. It ‘happened’ to me, like the broken wrist I’ve got and the scar over my left eye.  I have no responsibility at all for how I eat or how I was taught to eat. I have many fond memories of going out for burgers as kid and making instant oatmeal in the mornings before school and making boxed pasta dinners in the evenings.  Yes, I grew up on frozen waffles and sandwiches with processed lunchmeat and instant hot cocoa.  I can also blame my parents’ divorce(s) and my crappy home life as a child for why I hid bags of potato chips in my room, but even if I were to stretch the blame as far as it will go to include every bad thing that happened to me as the reason for why I was 47 years old and well on my way to 500 lbs, it doesn’t solve anything!   Why I was obese isn’t the problem.  The problem is that I was obese, and blaming everything and everyone else isn’t going to make me un-obese.  Thinking of yourself as a victim takes away your power and your responsibility.  It leaves you with your problem and offers you no solutions.  Finding a solution means I have to let go of blame and being the victim. How I ended up being obese only matters if I’m looking for the mistakes I made so I don’t make them again. I prefer to see myself as a problem solver instead of the victim of a problem. Like everything else in our lives, we are the product of our choices and the product of circumstances.  Whether something happens to us or we choose it, we have to deal with those consequences.  We can let them define us as a victim or we can use them to make us stronger.