“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.

 

 

 

 

Be True to You: Staying on Track

This is what makes weight loss so hard.  When we talk about ‘staying on track’ or ‘getting back on the wagon,’ we make it sound like it’s only ONE thing we need to do, but really it isn’t.  If it were as simple as following a path or climbing back into a car, we could all do it, but a single phrase like ‘staying on track’ involves a whole lot of interrelated actions that all work toward a single goal: weight loss.  It’s all of these actions that cause the problems and make it so hard to do.

Most of us know what these actions are pretty much by heart: it’s not only what to eat, but what not to eat; it’s what to do and what not to do; and it’s also about how to think about yourself and about your goals.  Most people usually miss the whole mindset part of this because we tell ourselves it’s not as important as the eating and acting, but the thinking drives the eating and acting.  If our heads aren’t on straight, our actions and eating won’t be either.  When we get off track, we usually tell ourselves “I need to get my head together,” but as soon as we think we are ‘back together,’ we focus on the eating and actions again, until we find ourselves back off track- again!

Most of us start with our eating and we make two lists: What to Eat and What Not to Eat.  Usually the idea of How Much to Eat is tied up in that too.  We put down things like vegetables/ salads, chicken breast and lean meats, cottage cheese, and other typical ‘diet foods on the Good List, while the Bad List is full of cookies, chips, desserts and bakery items.  Ho-hum! Here we go again! We usually have a Calorie Limit too, so we can add up all the calories in the chicken breast and cottage cheese to make sure we don’t go over that magic number!

On the What Not to Do list, it’s usually pretty simple: no lying around on the sofa or recliner, less tv/ computer/ Facebook, or whatever non-active activity we like to do.  A lot of times, we include sleeping on this list, which is really a mistake! But we opt for less sleep and more exercise thinking along the old ‘move more, eat less’ standby for weight loss.  Obviously, moving more must be better for us than sleeping! We also include the No Snacking rule: no cookies, no candy, no bagels, no pizza and we avoid those parts of the stores or the breakroom at work, and we sit as far away from the bagels or pizza at the meetings and lunches.  We’re Being Good.

So we pack our food list full of the classic ‘healthy foods’ and our schedules full of as much exercise as we can do in a day, and we tell ourselves we are ‘getting back on track,’ and this time we are going to stay there! We think our determination is the right mindset and all we need is willpower to achieve our goals.

What most of us leave out of our mindset and our What Not to Do List is “don’t beat yourself up.” We’ve all done it: “I ate a bagel at the meeting! And it had cream cheese! And it was a huge bagel, too!”; “I had three slices of pepperoni pizza with the family for dinner!”; “Joanie had chocolate kisses on her desk and every time I walked by, I grabbed one or two! All day!!” We went off track again, so there must be something wrong with us.  We really really want to lose weight and be healthier, so why can’t we do it? The doctor told us we could end up diabetic/ hypertensive/ other health problems, so do we have a death wish since we can’t stick to the diet?

No, you don’t have a death wish and there’s nothing wrong with you, unless you count the beating-yourself-up behavior.  Hating yourself and self-recrimination doesn’t motivate people towards their goals.  All it does is make them (YOU) miserable. The problem (one of them anyway) is that you think of yourself as ‘broken’ or ‘substandard’ and unless you ‘fix’ yourself, you aren’t worth loving or valuing.  This is part of the wrong mindset that usually goes along with Staying on Track.  There’s nothing wrong with you, but we’ve all grown up looking at ourselves in the mirror and seeing what we don’t like.  That’s what we focus on: getting rid of the flabby thunderthighs and the batwing biceps and the muffin top.  Next time you are out in public, take a good long look at the rest of the world out there: there’s a lot of batwings, thunderthighs and muffin tops, even at the gym! That doesn’t mean we have to love our less-than-slender areas, but they don’t make us ugly and they don’t make us unlovable.  They make us human.

We also fall into the Perfection Rules! mindset when we Get Back on Track.  It’s a part of the beating ourselves up mentality: we had a bagel, the day is ruined, why not eat the Ben & Jerry’s? We’re already Off Track! The problem is that the next morning or that night, you’re going to be beating yourself up some more for the Ben & Jerry’s plus the bagel, and the next time you weigh in (another action on the ‘Good List’), you’re going to beat yourself up again if you haven’t lost the magic number of pounds.

All of this mindset and behavior needs to be on that What Not to Do List.  Don’t beat yourself up; don’t go all or nothing with perfection; and most of all, don’t set impossible goals! Don’t misunderstand me: goals are great. They give us something to aim for, but falling short of them shouldn’t be disaster. If you have the three slices of pizza, it’s not a national tragedy.  The same goes for not making it to your workout or sleeping in.

When most of us Get Back on Track, we try locking ourselves into rigid structures of behavior, eating and thinking.  For some of us, the rigid structure works, but for most of us, it just makes everything harder.  Setting really high goals is a good thing, as long as you have the steps to getting there in between. A goal such as losing thirty pounds in two months is really extreme for a lot of us, but setting a goal like losing a pound a week might be more realistic.  The same is true for the Good Foods/ Bad Foods lists and the Calorie Limit: these ‘lists’ should be more about sustainability rather than “off limits” & “diet foods.”

For most of us, the Calorie Limit is tied directly to what’s on these lists: avocados are out because they have too many calories; broccoli is in because it’s got so few! Both of those are pretty healthy for you in fact.  Avocados have a lot of fiber and a lot of healthy fat; broccoli also has a lot of fiber and both of them have a lot of nutrients.  Rather than eating for calories, if we eat for nutrition, we have more success overall.  We aren’t hungry all the time and we don’t feel deprived (major causes of going Off Track) and we usually have more energy.

When we feel good mentally and physically, it’s easier to Stay on Track.  This means actions like getting enough sleep, not pushing ourselves to stick to extreme workouts or schedules (i.e., if you sleep in on the weekend, it’s a good thing!) and allowing yourself time to relax and do what you enjoy.  It means things like allowing yourself a piece of pizza or a bagel now and then, and setting realistic goals for yourself.  This is a journey to a healthier self, not a punishment. Being miserable and thin isn’t any healthier than being miserable and overweight.  Staying on track is easier when you’re enjoying the journey and you’ll get there a lot faster if you eat the nutritious food you like, do the fun activities, and get some rest and relaxation.  You’ll like the person in mirror more and you’ll like the person you become.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NO WHINING!! (And No Excuses, Either!)

One of my favorite professors in graduate school was Dr. Doug Taylor.  He was a poetry scholar, both American and British, specializing in John Milton and Walt Whitman.  I took both classes from him and loved every minute of them.  In fact, after his sudden death in my last year of university, our annual graduate journal that year was dedicated to him: the epigraph included the last lines of the last stanza of Whitman’s Song of Myself.  It was my suggestion, as I can still vividly recall him reading those lines to our class.

If you had met him on campus, you would have thought he was a football coach or maybe something like an engineer.  He looked like a real hands-on kind of guy and in fact, he played football at Rutgers.  He definitely didn’t look like the stereotypical poetry professor (that guy taught Chaucer, which I also took… unfortunately.)  Dr. Taylor was perennially popular, mainly for his no nonsense approach.  Anyone who has been in college knows that as the end of the semester approaches and major assignments start coming due faster and faster, everyone- including the professors- start feeling the pressure.  One of ‘signs of semester end’ for those of us in the English department was Dr. Taylor’s “NO WHINING!” sign on his office door.  As each semester drew to a close, the professors would be closeted in their offices reading and grading and reading and grading and they hated to be interrupted, hence Doug Taylor’s sign.  If you showed up at his office door with an excuse about why your term paper wasn’t done or why you tanked the final or missed so many classes, he wasn’t buying it.  You had all semester to get things done and if you waited to the last week and “something happened,” you could take the class over again, take the D or F or apply for an Incomplete.  See that sign? No Whining! It wasn’t a big sign either, less than a quarter sheet of paper, a few inches really, but it got the job done.  He said it; he meant it!

I think about that sign and Dr. Taylor whenever I start making excuses for why I’m not eating the way I should be or why I can’t make my workout or why I need a pass on whatever it is I’m trying to weasel out of.  See that sign? No Whining!  Am I really too tired/ sick/ sore to make it to my workout? If I had to work late and just plain didn’t make it to the gym until the class was over, then yeah, that’s a legitimate reason.  I was doing my job, but because I’m just not ‘feeling like it’? NO WHINING! The same goes for eating junk food: running around town, doing all kinds of errands and now “it’s late and I don’t want to cook so why not stop and get a burger or fried chicken?” Remember Dr. Taylor’s sign? Yeah, so stop whining! You’ve got a bag of salad and roasted chicken at home so put the salad on a plate and stick the chicken in the microwave.  Getting junk food would actually take LONGER!  Even if I didn’t have those things at home, which has happened recently, it takes no longer to get them at a grocery store than it does to go through a drive-thru. Run in, grab them, run out- healthier dinner in the bag!

I can give you the whole “discipline is important” lecture that lots of guidance counselors, study skills teachers and parents like to give, but I found more students responded better to the “habit explanation.”  Most of us live according to our habits, i.e. ‘Auto Pilot.’  We follow the same patterns every day with the necessary detours and when we ‘suddenly discover’ that we are way overweight, we’re genuinely confused. It doesn’t ‘feel’ like we’re eating badly, but when we shut off the Auto Pilot and take stock of what we are eating and what we are doing during a normal week, it can be surprising.  I know that 90% of what I do every day and every week is because I’m on Auto Pilot, and while changing courses on a real airplane’s Auto Pilot is just punching in a few numbers into the computer, changing a human being’s Auto Pilot is a whole lot harder: we have to reprogram our brains by building new habits.

There’s a boatload of books, podcasts, websites and other programs out there to help you build or change your habits.  I heard one the other day discussing our “lower brain” v our “upper brain.” It was full of a lot of technical hoopla but I don’t think he was wrong (It was On Air with Ella episode 139 with Jim Fortin if you want to hear it for yourself.)  For myself, I know it’s hard to learn/ change my habits because they are so firmly ingrained.  The more we do them, the more firmly they are ingrained, so the key is to stop doing them and do something else, and again, the more we do the ‘new habit,’ the more firmly that one becomes ingrained. This is how I can argue with myself during my two hour commute about how ‘my shoulder hurts,’ ‘I’ve got too much to do,’ etc so I should bail on my workout and then find myself turning into my gym’s parking lot even though I have already ‘decided’ not to go. The habit has been entrenched in the ‘Auto Pilot settings’ in my brain, so no matter what my ‘upper brain’ decided, the Auto Pilot ‘lower brain’ did what it wanted to do anyway.

The hard part is getting the new healthier habit entrenched, which means doing it on a regular basis.  This is what makes me think of Dr. Taylor’s NO WHINING! sign. That interval between changing a habit or building a new one is the dangerous ground.  For me, this is where I can actually talk myself out of going to my workout and finding myself pulling into my driveway instead of the gym. So when I start the whining and fumbling around with flimsy excuses, an image of Dr. Taylor’s sign will pop in my head.  Because really, I AM whining.  Eating healthier isn’t a burden or any more work than eating badly, and eating badly has the added baggage of making me feel crappy emotionally and physically, whereas eating healthier is going to make me feel a whole lot better.  The same goes for working out: am I going to feel better after spending an hour working out, or am I going to feel better after spending an hour scrolling through my social media or watching tv? Which of these actions are actual burdens and drains on my time and energy?  So why am I whining? Because it’s the change that’s hard, not the actual new habits! It’s tough reminding yourself: tomorrow is Wednesday, which is a workout day, so make sure you have the gym bag packed and you take it with you and then you have to remember to drive to the gym instead of going home. It’s the same with my cardio class at another place where I need change for the parking meter, so not only do I have to remember all of the above, but I also have to remind myself to get change before I get there! It means we consciously have to pay attention to what we are doing, which actually requires energy.  It’s why some mindset coaches will tell you to stop arguing with yourself or debating your actions, because it wears out your brain and saps your energy.  Those of you who have kids know this: monitoring them is real work! And so is monitoring ourselves! This is what makes building and changing our habits difficult: we have to be watching our thoughts and actions so we don’t slip into Auto Pilot.  Whining about why we can’t build the new habit is more work than actually doing the new habit.

The recent On Air with Ella podcast with Jim Fortin didn’t really tell me anything about changing habits that I didn’t already know, since I’ve spent the last two-plus years building and changing my habits. His advice is to ‘dismiss the urge’ and change your focus to something else.  What works best for me is telling myself simply NO (in the same tone I use for my pets) and moving forward with the new habit.  When I feel the urge to start making excuses or whining, yep! NO WHINING! Getting whatever it is done is a whole lot easier than trying to get out of it, and a whole lot more rewarding.  Just doing the healthier new habit literally is its own reward because we feel better emotionally and physically and we’ve moved one step closer to programming the new setting into our Auto Pilot.

It can be a real hassle to make a new habit, which is why there is an entire cottage built around it, and honestly, I wish I were better at some of my other bad habits… like leaving the dishes in the sink until they smell funny.  (For some reason, Dr Taylor’s sign doesn’t work so good on that one!) We are all Works in Progress, no matter how old we are.  We all have something we wish we did better or didn’t do at all. Maybe putting a sign up over my sink is an idea: NO WHINING!! And No Excuses Either!!

You Decide: No One Can Make the Decision For You

When you are overweight, there is always someone who is ready and willing to tell you how to lose weight.  It’s easy, didn’t you know? All you have to do is “blah blah blah!” And the person giving the advice can be super stick thin or even a little chunky him or herself, but the point is YOU are overweight, and they’re going to “fix” you!

We all know there’s as many ways to lose weight as there are leaves on a tree.  None of them are easy and all of them take time and some of them may even work for you.  Nothing works for everyone and some things work better than others, but we all know that.  The one thing that successful weight loss has in common with all these plans, easy or not, is that YOU have to decide to do the work.  This is a pretty basic idea, but it’s one that gets missed more than you know, and it’s usually ‘helpful’ family and friends that miss it!

In 2003, I weighed about 375 lbs.  I’ve weighed in the high 300’s most of my adult life, give or take about 30 lbs.  For the record, in 2003, I had not seen a doctor in a long time, so I have no idea what my actual weight was.  In May of that year, I managed to break my right tibia (shinbone) and shatter my left wrist, both of which needed hardware surgically installed, and as a result I was pretty much an invalid for about three months.  It also meant that I had to stay with my mom, which is the point of this little anecdote, because my mom is a first class ‘fixer’! Believe me, whatever ails you, she has the answer! (This is sarcasm, FYI!)

Since I was stuck bedridden at my mom’s, she decided she was going to ‘make’ me lose weight.  I could only eat what she brought me, and at the time, what she brought me was mainly ‘diet food’ in the form of cottage cheese and fruit cocktail (lunch) and boneless skinless chicken breast with broccoli (dinner). My ‘treat’ for the day was usually breakfast, consisting of a sugary flavored mix-it-yourself coffee drink.  In hindsight, this ‘diet’ was a recipe for hunger and future weight gain, which was pretty much what happened.  At the time, I lost about 40 lbs and it was due to one thing: I could only eat what she fed me, and that wasn’t much.  I spent the day hungry because in hindsight, what she was feeding me was pretty much carb-heavy crap! The coffee drink was full of calories and short-acting sugar, which spiked my blood sugar, leading to a crash and hunger! The cottage cheese & canned fruit lunch did the same thing and dinner, which was by far the healthiest meal, was the only thing that didn’t spike my blood sugar, but it was also really low fat, which still left me hungry.  (FYI: I HATE chicken breast and always have!) So when I left my mom’s house, I was about 40 lbs lighter, but it taught me nothing about eating healthy other than my mom’s version of it left me hungry, headachy and cranky all day long.  I learned to hate dieting and once I was back home, I went right back to my old eating habits and gained back all the weight that had been starved off.

In retrospect, I only lost weight because I was a ‘captive dieter’; this diet was not my decision.  Not only did I not choose this ‘diet;’ I had not chosen to lose weight at all! My mom made this decision for me!! I know she meant well, but she could not and should not have made this decision for me.

Most of us, as chronic dieters, see this kind of ‘help’ a lot. We come home from work or a trip and discover that some ‘helpful’ family member has cleaned out all the ‘bad’ food. A ‘helpful’ family member comes home from the grocery store or the takeout place with bags of ‘healthy diet food.’ They do it because they really think they are helping us out: if we don’t have the tempting ‘bad food’ around, we won’t eat it!

The problem is that it takes away our choice to say no to the temptations.  It takes away our decision to choose for ourselves.  Someone else has decided for us, which is the same as no decision at all. This means that our resolve to be healthier and our faith in ourselves to do the work is untested.  This is the same as no resolve or faith at all.  My last post was about believing in yourself and building your self confidence.  Your self-confidence only grows through your repeated success.  Think about it: if you don’t practice your free throws before the game, when it comes time to make them when it counts, how well do you think you are going to do? A big part of believing in yourself with weight loss comes from actually deciding to do it and then doing it!

We build our confidence by reaffirming our decision to lose weight (or eat healthier or exercise more or whatever) by making the right choice over and over.  Every time we resist the temptation to eat the junk food or keep the workout appointment or choose the healthier option, we are telling ourselves that we have the strength and resolve to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves.  BUT, if someone else is always making this decision for us, then we build no confidence at all!

Remember being in school? It’s the same as having someone else do your homework.  You practice the German phrases at home, then show up to take the test, but if you just copy someone else’s homework each night, when the test comes and you’re supposed to translate the phrase: “wo sind meine Schuhe?”, what are you going to write down? How about “ich habe kein Idee,” which means “I have no idea!”

The weight loss homework is when you’re at home watching tv or scrolling through Facebook and you start craving chips. If your Helpful Family Member has thrown them all out, then it’s easier to say no, unless you decide to run to the store to get them.  It’s the same with all the temptations: there’s a Coldstone commercial and suddenly, you want ice cream but if your Helpful Family Member has cleaned out the freezer, your opportunity to say no is lost. He or she made the decision for you.

The test for weight loss or eating healthier comes for us when we are on our own.  We’re doing the shopping and you pass the bakery in the grocery store.  The donuts smell wonderful and they have giant slices of your favorite cake and those yummy sugar cookies are there.  This is where the rubber meets the road: no one in the store is going to tell you no and the store sure isn’t going to throw away all the temptations just so you won’t buy and eat them! We have to decide to say no to them.

I see a lot of this kind of thinking on My 600 lb Life: “I don’t want to go to the store and see all the food I can’t eat!”; “I wish they’d close down all the bakeries so I don’t have to go hit them up!” No one is going to follow you around being the Food Police and stopping you from eating the pizza or chips or cupcakes.  You have to make that decision for yourself.  When my mom decided what I was going to eat during those three months I was bedridden, I had no choice in the matter so I didn’t learn how to say no, and when I went home, I decided what I was going to eat (and believe me, it wasn’t chicken breast!!)

The irony is that many people think it’s easier to let someone else decide, and in one sense it is: we can’t eat what we don’t have.  If I start craving chips on a Saturday afternoon and there are none in the house, then it’s a done deal: I’m not eating chips!  The difference is that there are no chips in my house because I decided not to buy them.  I made the decision that I am not eating them anymore.  Saying no to chips is easy now, but it sure as hell was not when I started! I’d avoid the chips and crackers aisle at the stores, and that was pretty easy because of how most stores are organized.  The bakery was a whole different story! At my store, the bakery is right next to the dairy and the eggs, so to get anything healthy- like the eggs or yogurt or cheese or even the cream for my coffee- I’d have to walk right by the bagels, the cookies, the carrot cake that I love! And there were too many times those other things ended up in my cart! But every time I looked at them and said “NO,” it got easier to say “NO” again.  I was deciding not to eat them! And I have decided over and over again, so now I not only have the strength and resolve to look at things like chips and garlic bread and carrot cake and know that I can resist them but i know that I don’t need to eat them; I don’t want to eat them; and even more importantly, these healthier choices have become a habit!

When someone else makes all the hard choices for you, then you don’t build the strength and confidence you need to make the hard choices when it counts.  You get good at doing hard things by practicing, and if you get no practice, what do you learn? Not much! I didn’t learn a whole lot about ‘healthy eating’ or ‘healthy choices’ those three months I lived with my mom because the choice was never up to me! When you’re facing the hard choice at the restaurant or the grocery store, it’s all up to you, and you have to decide for yourself.  In the end, no one else can live your life for you.

Seeds of Confidence: Growing Slowly

We’ve all heard the saying “nothing succeeds like success.”  It’s one of those sayings we can all parrot but don’t really think about what they mean, if they mean anything at all. But, in my opinion, the idea is that success builds upon itself.  Think about it: we invest with companies and people who have a proven track record.  We know they can do what they said, so we feel confident in giving them our trust and our money.

The same is true with confidence: it also builds upon itself. I remember watching yet one more episode of My 600 lb Life in which the patient Erica was having difficulty getting help from her family with her weight loss.  She needed someone to help her set up a new living situation, and one of her biggest problems was her lack of self-confidence.  Basically, she didn’t believe in herself and when you saw her family dynamic, it was easy to understand why.  Her brother had essentially written her off as a lost cause and her sister and brother in law pretty much treated her like something they stepped in and had to scrape off their shoe.  Her father (who did not appear in the episode) had called her Godzilla when she was growing up and her brother admitted that their father was probably embarrassed by Erica’s size.  The only one who had believed in Erica and tried to help her was her mother, who had passed away a few years earlier.  Essentially, with the exception of her niece, Erica was ignored by her family, the overall message being she’s a failure at life and isn’t worth their time or effort to try to save.

Paradoxically, once Erica starts on the diet, her sister makes it clear to her that she completely expects her to fail and at the same time taunts her for not staying on the diet.  This is the atmosphere that Erica grew up in and this is probably the biggest and truest reason that she weighs 600+ lbs.  When you are told repeatedly by the people who are supposed to love and support you that you are worthless and a failure, you begin to believe it.  It’s a living example of my favorite line from The Simpsons: “Can’t win- don’t try! Got it!”

Erica is just an example of what so many of us internalize: “I can’t do this.”  Whatever ‘this’ is doesn’t matter, because we go into the project believing we have already failed.  It can be running a marathon, doing your taxes, painting a room- it does not matter if we approach it as if it’s an impossible task.  We make a token attempt and when we fall flat, we aren’t surprised and shrug it off as “I was right!”  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: I know I can’t do this; I try to do this; and I fail. “Told you so!”

Most of us approach weight loss with the same kind of baggage- we bring all our past failures with us along with an attitude of “why should this time be any different?” It’s our internal dialog more than anything that kills our success. We tell ourselves that we aren’t good at diets; that we can’t make the kinds of changes to lose weight; and sometimes we tell ourselves that we are just destined to be the “fat one.”  It’s a bizarre attempt at protecting ourselves from the failure “we know is coming” because if we don’t get our hopes up, we don’t get hurt as bad in the fall.  We feel comfortable with failure- it’s a known quantity.

We have no confidence in ourselves and it is this lack of self-confidence that keeps us eating gigantic Costco muffins all day.  It keeps us from getting up out of our chair and making the changes we need to make.  The changes themselves are not difficult to make: walking around the block; eating more veggies and less starches; not grazing through a bag of chips or crackers all day.  Obviously, there’s a lot more than these simple changes to losing weight, but don’t forget: nothing succeeds like success.

This is where confidence, success and motivation converge. When we start getting things right, we start building confidence, and the more we get right, the more we want to try getting other things right too! The more we accomplish, the more we realize what we can do, and this is motivation.  We want to try more things and the more we succeed, the stronger our confidence becomes.

But confidence doesn’t happen by accident.  One of the pitfalls is that it takes a long time to build confidence.  It’s one of the reasons this blog is titled “Taking the Long Weigh to Skinny.”  It doesn’t happen overnight, but we have to believe in ourselves just to make the attempt- and I don’t mean that token try just to show that we ‘tried.’  Confidence is hard for most of us.  Some people are born either with a great deal of self-confidence or the pigheadedness to keep getting back up after falling flat.  No one succeeds all the time, no matter how confident they are, and when we find ourselves face down on the floor, we can either stay there or get back up to try again. It’s our choice.

For me, that’s what it comes down to: whatever I want to do or not do is ultimately my choice.  (For the record, I’m one of the pigheaded ones.) For most of my life, my choice was “I’m just destined to be the fat one” as I kept getting bigger and bigger.  I was going through the photos on my phone a couple of nights ago, and I found photos of me I didn’t know or had forgotten I had and I was seriously shocked at my size.  Even in a selfie from just two years ago, I could not believe how big I was- and I had already lost about 50 lbs by then! It was a series of choices to just keep making more positive changes until it was no longer “I think I can do this” but rather “I am getting this done!” It wasn’t an easy process learning to believe in myself when I’d spent a lifetime telling myself that I was the ‘fat one.’ I chose to believe that was true, until I chose to believe that I could be someone else, but getting there meant I had to believe in myself.  It meant trying again and again until I got it right, but it also meant giving up that comfortable feeling of failure.