What Are You Looking For? Weight Loss & Our Expectations

One of the most annoying things about certain weight loss professionals (for me anyway) is that they always want to know “why do you want to lose weight?”  I understand why they ask that, because most dieters don’t have as much weight as I do to lose.  They are looking at losing (usually) thirty pounds or less and while their journey is just as important as mine, what is driving them to lose weight is a little different than my impetus.

One of the stupidest things I ever saw on My 600 lb Life was a therapist who showed up at the house of a bed-bound patient weighing well over 500 lbs and she asked the patient: “why do you want to lose weight?” Though the patient was a very uncooperative and uncompliant woman, I had to agree with her response: “that’s the most asinine question I’ve ever heard!”

While carrying around an extra 20 or 30 lbs isn’t healthy for you, it’s a lot different when that extra weight is 130 lbs! When you are that obese, weight loss isn’t about fitting in those skinny jeans for the family trip or looking great when you go to the High School Reunion! It’s about sleeping without a CPAP; it’s about being able to walk across the Walmart parking lot without panting; it’s about climbing a staircase without being afraid of having a heart attack or passing out!

However, as annoying as that question is, I understand the impetus behind it.  For a lot of us, whether it’s 10 lbs or 100 lbs, we believe inside that “once I lose this weight, I will be finally be happy!” When we make our weight the major problem and obstacle in our lives, it becomes the scapegoat for everything that’s wrong: “I haven’t gotten the promotion because of my weight”; “I can’t find someone who loves me because of my weight”; “I’m unhappy in my life because I’m not comfortable with myself because of my weight.”  Sorry to tell everyone: the weight is a problem but not THE problem! The real problem is YOU. Specifically, it’s your mindset: happiness doesn’t come from outside– it comes from within!

We’ve heard all the platitudes about beauty being in the eye of the beholder and similar sayings. (My personal favorite is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind; therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.”)  Just because their ancient and we’ve heard them all a million times doesn’t make them wrong but because we’ve heard them so often, we’ve stopped paying attention.  We don’t stop to think about what the expressions actually mean, and the same is true when it comes to our happiness.

We’ve all heard that if we want someone else to love us, we first have to love ourselves.  No one will love someone who hates himself and being happy starts the same way.  How can we be happy if we hate who we are? We don’t have to love everything about our lives, but we do have to accept who we are and that we are a worthwhile person who deserves to be happy, even if we weigh 450 lbs! We have to learn to love ourselves even if there are things that we wish were different or things we are working to change, and loving who we are right now is the first step to being happy!

“Yeah…great….I love me…what does that have to do with losing weight?” Actually, it has a lot to do with losing weight. Let’s be honest: weight loss is hard work, especially at the beginning.  Remember when you had to do something you really didn’t want to do (like taxes, maybe?) Remember how it was hard and you dreaded it and put it off as much as you could? When you don’t love and value yourself, how well do you take care of yourself? How much do you get down on yourself?  I know of people who routinely treat themselves so badly it would be considered abusive if someone else did it to them.  These are things like calling themselves morons or idiots or telling themselves that they don’t deserve good things because they’re trash.  They’ve been convinced that they are worthless and that’s how they treat themselves, so when it comes to weight loss, why bother buying the healthy nutritious food when they’re just going to blow this diet like they’ve blown every other diet they’ve tried?  “That program/ food/ gym is expensive and I’m just going to screw it up, so why waste the money?”

The same thing happens when they’re faced with temptation: “I might as well eat the leftover Halloween candy since I’m going to blow this sooner or later…” No one wants to love Sid or Cindy Sadsack because they’re always negative and depressing.  The truly sad thing about them is that they also tell themselves that once they’ve lost weight, they will be deserving of love and happiness but their negative attitude to themselves is what’s keeping them from being happy and loved right now as well as keeping them from losing weight!

When you are happy or at least in a good mood, you are more confident.  You are more likely to try a challenge or try your best at everything that comes your way.  You just plain take better care of yourself!  A guy might wear a brighter tie than normal or a woman might put on a little more makeup.  When faced with temptation, rather than tell themselves “I’m going to screw up anyway!,” they are more likely to pass on the indulgence because “I can do this!” They just plain feel better about who they are right now!  They don’t need the sugar, the indulgence or the food to bolster their mood, so it’s easier to say no. They are more likely not to avoid emotional eating  due to depression, loneliness, stress or boredom.  They are too busy feeling happy and good about themselves.  They are more likely to exercise and stay active because being happy usually energizes us while depression, loneliness and sadness leave us feeling drained.

The trick is to learn to love yourself and be happy with who you are right now.  When you are happy with who you are now, you don’t have to wait until you’ve hit your weight loss goals to feel happy.  The sad truth is that being thin won’t make you happy.  Things and outside influences don’t make you happy.  They might make you feel better, but real happiness comes from how you see and feel about yourself.  [Spoiler alert:  If you haven’t seen Citizen Kane and don’t want the end ruined for you, stop reading here!]

When a dying Orson Welles looks into the snowglobe and whispers “Rosebud” at the beginning of Citizen Kane, it begins the fruitless search to find out “who is Rosebud?” Like a lot of us, the characters all miss the point. Rosebud was a memory of the last time Charles Foster Kane was truly happy: as an 8 year old boy playing in the snow with a beat up wooden sled.  Alone in a giant empty castle of a house after a life of wealth and influence, he still was still searching for that lost happiness.

[Spoiler alert over!] True happiness doesn’t come from what you have or what you look like: it comes from who you are inside. All of us have to wait to be thinner and healthier but we don’t have to wait to be truly happy and when we are happier, we will probably lose weight a little faster!

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!

 

Laughter, Fear & Weight Loss: Taking a Stand

Humans are bit of a paradox: we like to think we stand out as individuals in a crowd, but at the same time, we don’t want to stand out too much. We don’t like to think we are just ordinary but then we don’t want to be “that weirdo” either.

This is especially true when it comes to our weight: being as plump or chubby as everyone else is okay, but being really big? Not okay.  This idea of being too far outside the norm becomes a real problem just at a time when we think we’d be getting over it. I’m talking about going to the gym.

We’ve either started losing weight or we’ve made the decision to be more active so we head to the gym, and once we’re there, we realize it’s full of athletic, toned sweaty people in tight fitting clothes who know what they are doing.  Our first thought: “holy sh**! what did I sign up for?” It’s bad enough not being familiar with the gym itself, where things are, and how to use the equipment, but we’re also aware that we look a lot different from everyone else.  Now when we fumble with the equipment or get lost trying to find the weight room, it’s obvious that we’re chubbos who’ve never been in a gym before! This is pretty much why Planet Fitness’s slogans are “No Gymtimidation” and “The Judgment Free Zone.” They’re marketing to all the chubby gym newbies who are scared of sticking out!  (Planet Fitness was the first gym I joined, although their motto had nothing to do with my reasons: they were cheap and they were close to my house.  The gym I belong to now (In-Shape) is also close, though twice as much but it’s got a pool. If Planet Fitness had had a pool, I would still be there!)

There’s really not much you can do about learning how to use the equipment and where things are in your gym except experience and asking for help when you need it. The more you are there, the more you do, the more at home it becomes.  In this respect, everyone at one time or another was new to your gym and was wandering through the locker room looking for the showers or the towel bin.  It’s that being so much bigger, so ‘out of shape,’ that makes us feel even more self-conscious. It feels like everyone is looking at us and laughing.

As I mentioned before, I had been a Planet Fitness member and had gotten relatively comfortable with the treadmill, but when my doctor and physical therapist recommended a pool for me, I moved to In-Shape (the therapist’s suggestion). So about the time I was feeling pretty comfortable with my old gym, I had to start all over with new one, and on top of that, I had to wear a swimsuit in a public area, where everyone could see me!

It’s bad enough feeling like an idiot trying to figure out where everything is in the gym and then feeling like a fat lazy blob when you walk in and now you’ve got to wear a swimsuit so all your chubby parts and muffin top are visible to anyone who walks by the big glass walls of the pool. Ugh! Talk about torture! Isn’t this one of the top five nightmares that terrify most people?

In all honesty, being unfamiliar with the equipment bothers me the most.  I’m afraid of breaking equipment or injuring myself because I am doing the move incorrectly. As for wearing a swimsuit in public or a tank top or shorts? Not a problem! I remember years ago, I went by a weight loss company (something like Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers) to check it out and the ‘counselor’ asked me if I wore shorts or tank tops in public. I remember telling her yes and being a little confused: “am I not supposed to wear them because of my weight?” She appeared equally confused because at the time I was easily about 375+ and apparently people “my weight” normally don’t wear revealing clothes in public out of fear of ridicule and embarrassment.

What this counselor didn’t know was that when I walked into her office sometime in the late 1990’s, I had already spent a lifetime being laughed at in public.  I went to a private grade school full of thin affluent white/ Anglo kids with ‘normal’ names like Jimmy, Molly, Kathy and Scott.  I, by contrast, was a poor overweight Mexican girl with a weird first name! In fact, outside of being overweight since grammar school, my name was the biggest target: Koren. (It really didn’t help that the teachers and administrators couldn’t spell or pronounce it either!)  Since childhood, I’ve been Karen, Koran, Korean, Korine and Koreen until the boys in the class finally settled on Korndog.  The teachers were completely aware of this appalling nickname bestowed upon me, but since it was the poor fat Mexican kid with the name no one could spell or pronounce– meh! whaddaya gonna do?

As I said, the teachers and administrators were completely unconcerned and neither my sister nor I mentioned this humiliation to my parents who would probably have raised a huge embarrassing stink with the principal (whose son was in my class and one of the offenders) so it went on for several years. My choices were either let the nickname bother me or go on with my life. In this day and age, this would be called bullying and harassment, neither of which would be tolerated at the school for fear of a lawsuit, but in the late 1970’s & early ’80’s, bullying and harassment were a part of every day life in grade school.  It’s just the way it was!

So when I walked into that weight loss center, I was pretty much over the whole ‘fear of being laughed at,’ at least for my weight. Being laughed at for doing something stupid was– and still is– a much bigger fear, and in these days of names like Jaeden, Brookline, Hadley and Genesis for little girls, having a different name at my age just puts me ahead of the curve!  The idea of changing what I wear so I won’t ‘look fat’ was a total non-starter.

All of us who are overweight know you can’t hide obesity.  Yes, you can wear clothes that minimize the pudgy parts and hold in that muffin top.  You can wear colors, patterns and designs that are more flattering and I think we should, because the better you feel about yourself,  the more confident you are.  Feeling bad about yourself because you are overweight is not a requirement for obesity or weight loss!

The problem is that’s what happens when you slink around the gym trying to be invisible!  When you try to hide how you look or that you’re uncomfortable in the weight room or you wear baggy t-shirts and shorts into the pool to hide your belly and thighs, you are shaming yourself.  You are telling everyone who sees you that you are not proud of yourself or that you are ashamed to be at the gym.  When I first started using the pool, the swimsuit I had was a tankini: shorts and a long tank-style top.  I had gotten it at Target in the plus size department and all they had were tankinis, so I had two of them.  Once those wore out, I went online and bought a regular two-piece with shorts and a bikini top– NOT a tankini!  Yes, they hide the muffin top and some of the pudgy thighs but overall, they get in the way of the workout! So when I walk out of the locker room headed to the pool area, going right by the weights and the sauna and the steam room and tanning beds, everyone can see me in my two piece: there’s the muffin belly, the saggy skin on my legs, thighs, bingo wings and my great big butt.  I don’t wrap my towel around myself on the way to the pool (on the way back, hell yes! It’s cold in that hallway!) I’m there to get some exercise and have some fun, just like everyone else in my class and everyone else in the gym.

Having been a regular at gyms for a while now, I’ve noticed a few things: those toned athletic young people are just about out-numbered by the older chubby less-toned members.  For every shirtless young guy in shorts is an older guy with a belly, age spots and cut off sweats.  For every tanned young woman with sculpted arms and legs is an older grey haired woman with chubby thighs and a double chin. No one points at anyone else and most members are happy to help someone new by pointing out the locker room or how to use the equipment. I admit the first time I walked into a gym, I was nervous. I didn’t know where anything was or how anything worked, and it took a little time before I got comfortable with everything.  Being nervous is okay but being afraid isn’t.  If you let your fear of being laughed at dictate what you do and where you go, you will have a very narrow and lonely life. Being overweight isn’t a crime any more than being poor, Mexican or having a different first name. Being afraid of being laughed at or being ashamed of who you are has no place in the gym or in our lives.  I learned that in grade school.

“Sometimes You’re Wrong”: Rule 51 & Weight Loss

Some of you may recall that I am a huge fan of NCIS. Anyone who’s a regular viewer is no doubt aware of Agent Gibbs’ rules. He’s got a lot of them! These are things like “Never leave suspects together” (Rule #1); “Never be unreachable” (Rule #3); and “Never go anywhere without a knife” (Rule #9).

My family and friends know that one of the reasons this show appeals to me (aside from the whole Navy thing) is that I’m pretty much a “rule” person too. I like structure, boundaries, rules, whatever you want to term it: it just works for me! For me, rules are little reminders and guidelines that let me know how close or how far I am from my target. Unfortunately, if we aren’t careful, we forget about Rule #14: “Bend the line- don’t break it.” We follow our rules and somehow we expect that everyone else should follow our rules too!

I see this a lot in posts from my MFP friends (My Fitness Pal) and in My 600 lb Life, and it usually goes something like “my husband/ wife/ family keep bringing home junk food!” The idea is usually that their food is tempting you and so you eat it, or they are doing something ‘wrong’ by not eating like you are. Either way, it’s not their problem- it’s yours! It would be nice if your husband and kids didn’t come home with potato chips or Girl Scout cookies so you aren’t tempted, but you don’t live in a bubble which means when you go out in the Real World, there’s all kinds of french fries, candy bars and super-sweet frapuccinos just waiting for you. So…. do you expect the rest of the world to stop making these things available just so you won’t eat them? We all know that’s an idiotic expectation, but we make the same expectations of our family and friends. We expect them to order a salad when you meet for lunch just so you won’t be tempted by their chips. Maybe we can expect them not to offer you one of their cookies but for them not to eat cookies in front of you? Maybe…if you’re a guest at their house, but if they’re your wife or kids? Are they supposed to hide whenever they eat the things they like just so you won’t see or smell their ice cream? This is where they live! And if they don’t want to eat the things you eat, it’s not a crime.

Sometimes this comes out of disagreements over what to eat at home. You want to have healthy foods like veggies and lean meats, something low fat, low sugar or full of fiber while the rest of your family wants pizza and wings. For some people, making or ordering two separate dinners is completely crazy. For others with family members with food allergies, it’s totally normal. For them, it’s a way of life but if you’ve never done it before, it’s one way of keeping everyone happy.

Of course, making this adjustment starts with admitting to Rule #51: sometimes you’re wrong, and when you dictate to your spouse and friends and other adults in your life that they either need to change how they eat or not bring ‘their bad food’ into your home, then yes, you are most definitely wrong!

We’re all familiar with the ‘reformed addict’ way of thinking, as in Jane stopped smoking so now she’s haranguing everyone else who still smokes/ vapes. Or Mike stopped drinking and now he’s preaching to everyone else who still orders a beer with dinner. For us, we’ve stopped eating bread/ sugar/ processed foods, so now we’re spouting the benefits of whole unprocessed sugar-free foods to anyone who orders a combo meal at Burger King. Do you really think any of Jane’s friends will stop smoking because she’s harassing them? Or that Mike’s friends will stop drinking because of his nagging? No? So why are you doing the same thing to your spouse, family and friends?

Your decision to eat healthier is a great thing and I’m sure all your loved ones were really supportive of your changes, especially since you started feeling and looking better. Then, you turned into Jane/ John the Nag and all those positive feelings they had for you went away. It’s not that they stopped caring about you or that they don’t want you to eat healthier- they just don’t want to get harassed for eating Cheetos! Frankly, I’m with them.

I’m super-sensitive to this whole “healthy eating harassment,” mainly because I have listened to my mom do it to me for most of my life. She meant well, just as Jane and Mike are trying to help their friends, but it meant that everything I ate was under scrutiny when I was with her. I was also subjected to all of her “helpful advice” while we were out together. These were ideas like chewing more so it takes longer to eat. Not a bad idea except her “implementation” was chanting “chew! chew! chew!” whenever I took a bite at restaurants. Helpful? Not one bit! It also included other not-helpful ideas like scraping all the breading off the fish I ordered or ripping out the inside of the dinner rolls and not eating the butter. She made judgments about everything I ate or didn’t eat and the hard part was that she didn’t do it to be mean– she was trying to help! Unfortunately, she had the opposite effect: it just made me eat when she couldn’t see me.

I know it’s hard when there’s food in the house that isn’t good for us or that we are trying to avoid. I had the same problem whenever I buy things for my dad that he can’t get where he lives.  These are usually things that we both love, like pretzel bagels or buns, licorice, cookies and other carb-rich tasty goodies. They sit in a drawer in my kitchen waiting for my dad’s next trip to town and in the meantime, they are calling my name. The temptation actually starts when I buy them, since I can buy a package for me too! I usually don’t shop in those parts of the store since there’s nothing there for me, but once I’m there- wow! they have mini-croissants! and garlic naan! Yummy! So the first hurdle is getting out of the store with only the things my dad wants but at home, I start hearing their deadly siren song.  Then the bargaining starts: I can eat these and then buy more for dad since he won’t be here for five more days… Ummm and in what universe is that a good idea?? It’s always harder when they’re right there in the kitchen and in my case, I can pretty much buy them and eat them with impunity since I live by myself. I don’t have to hide the wrappers or eat them when no one else is home. There’s no one to judge me but me.

This brings me to Rule #5: You don’t waste good.  This is what keeps me from gobbling all the licorice and cookies I want. I’ve put in a lot of work learning to eat better and be more active and I’ve lost a lot of weight specifically by not eating these kinds of foods. They just don’t work out for me and I know this.  I learned it the hard way, so why would I want to waste all the time and effort I’ve already put in?  In some ways I’ve got the best and worst of the situation: I don’t have to worry about others bringing in Forbidden Food, but on the other hand, I can buy it myself without anyone watching.  For most of us, the whole point of not having that stuff in our house is that we have a ‘Temptation-Free Zone.’ That can be really great, but the truth of the matter is that we live and work in the Real World which is full of temptations. Even if I don’t have anything for my dad at home, we still have lots of Forbidden Food at our office or at the local Starbucks or just the grocery store three blocks from my house.  Even Office Depot has a million sugary starchy snacks! In huge quantities, too! We have to learn to say no to temptation whether it’s at home or it’s in the Real World. Our nagging our friends and family to ‘be good’ and not bring home Cheetos and Wheat Thins isn’t going to make them stop doing it any more than my mom’s nagging made me stop eating mac & cheese.  I had to realize for myself that eating it wasn’t doing me any favors. When we try to make others do what is best for us and not them, we are wrong. We have to decide for ourselves what we are going to eat and what we aren’t. It doesn’t matter if the cookies are in the kitchen or at the store.  Sooner or later, we have to go out into the Real World. We have to make our own rules, and then decide to live by them. Or not.

 

Weighty Issues: Judgment, Obesity and Life & Death

One of the constant refrains on My 600 lb Life is Dr. Nowzaradan’s warning to patients that they don’t realize how close to death they truly are.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen a few other programs dealing with super morbidly obese patients who didn’t have the chance to make it to surgery or the surgery came too late. I know probably better than most how difficult it is to struggle with obesity all your life and the dangers that come with it.  For those who’ve never had weight problems, it probably seems like the obese are just lazy or gluttonous and while they don’t believe we are deserving of sympathy or help, they do believe we are deserving of their disgust and derision.

I can understand how some people never think of a box of donuts or a bag of chips as dangerous. Personally, I’ve never thought of a case of beer as being something dangerous to me, but to other people in my family, it might as well be a rattlesnake: if you don’t watch out, it can bite you! For those who’ve never struggled with their weight, they don’t understand how someone can eat a whole loaf of garlic bread at one meal any more than I can understand how someone can drink a whole case of beer in a couple of hours (or less). But just like people can drink themselves to death, people can eat themselves to death.  Obesity, like alcoholism, can kill you in more than a few ways.

The most obvious way obesity kills you is that your weight is just too much stress on your body.  Your heart and lungs are simply crushed by your weight: your body is too big for your heart to keep the blood flowing to all your organs and extremities, and as for your lungs, not only are they struggling to keep up with the oxygen demands for your body, but they are having to fight the weight of your chest each time you take a breath.  And that’s the situation if you have no other health problems related to your weight! There’s a host of health problems that come with obesity, including type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure, kidney (renal) failure, sleep apnea, high blood pressure (hypertension) and fatty liver disease just to name a few.  Those are the ones that can kill you, but there are a lot more than just make your life utterly miserable, such as lymphedema, skin ulcerations, cellulitis, asthma and gout. FYI: some of these can kill you too if you don’t keep them under control.

Obviously not-being-obese is a big step towards staying healthy. Of course there are plenty of skinny people who have serious health problems but when you weigh double (or triple) what you are supposed to weigh, you have a lot less wiggle room when it comes to your health.  Getting an infection that might be mild to someone with normal weight can be fatal when you weigh 500 lbs.

For most of us, we scoff at the idea that we will ever be anywhere close to 500 lbs.  Even while we may admit that we ‘might be overweight,’ we never think that we’ll be as big as ‘those people.’  I was reminded today of the frog analogy.  Most of us are familiar with it: you drop a frog in boiling water and it jumps right out, but if you put the frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, the frog will get cooked alive. (As a frog lover, I totally hate that analogy!) Whether it’s true or not, this is what happens to most of us when it comes to our weight. We start out a few pounds overweight and don’t think much of it; then we end up getting kind of plump and start thinking we should fix this; and then we’re suddenly shopping in the plus size department and start to get really concerned (maybe we even start dieting), and before we know it we are really-without-a-doubt FAT and now we start freaking out.  We don’t give much thought to the fact that food is everywhere. It’s cheap and easy to get and we often eat without even thinking about it.  How many of us have finished off a bag of chips or most if not all of a box of cookies without realizing it? It’s not that we’re gluttons– the cookies were just there and available and we weren’t paying attention!

This is what overeating is like for most people: too much pizza out with friends; scarfing a whole bag/ box of something while binge-watching a favorite show; or too many holiday treats.  But for some of us, overeating has way more in common with alcoholism: it’s become an addiction.  There are more than a few ‘experts’ that protest the idea of a ‘food addiction,’ but for the patient, it’s irrelevant.  They need to find a way to control their eating so they can lose the weight before it kills them! Does this sound over-dramatic? Believe me, it’s not.

People overeat for a variety of reasons.  For some of them, it’s a comfort mechanism: eating something they enjoy makes them feel safe and happy for a little while.  For others, it’s a way of controlling their body or their situation: it takes away feelings of helplessness. I am sure there are other reasons and for many super morbidly obese people, they may not know why they overeat.  The point is that when your weight is approaching a quarter ton, your first goal is to get control of the weight and worry about the whys and wherefores later. It’s basic damage control. Why you are overeating isn’t going to matter much if you’re dead.  Unfortunately, this is where most of us hit the brick wall: we know we need help but we don’t know how to get it.

I had a cousin who died from obesity.  He was in his early forties and weighed over 600 lbs.  Like all those patients on My 600 lb Life, he fought obesity all his life.  I remember him being about 18 years old and having high blood pressure. He was probably about 200 lbs then and his mom was screaming at him for eating potato chips and yelling at her husband for not hiding them from their son. He tried everything to lose weight, including joining the Army.  He was probably his thinnest ever once he got out of boot camp, but the weight came back and his health problems worsened: kidneys, diabetes, heart and liver issues. Although bariatric surgery at his weight was still highly risky, his doctor laid it out for him: either he takes the risks with surgery or he gives up and dies from his weight.  He risked the surgery and died on the table, leaving behind a wife and a son.

In my small high school, I was the second heaviest person in the school (that’s including the football players).  The heaviest person in high school was my friend Jennifer.  We were in the same grade and we took a lot of the same classes. She made a lot of her own clothes because it was hard finding anything that fit (this was the early 80’s). After graduating, Jennifer lost a lot of weight. In fact, I didn’t recognize her when I first saw her because she was ‘normal weight’ and looked so different. I confess I was completely jealous because I still weighed the same, around 200-250.  After college, she gained the weight back like so many of us do and this time she decided to try bariatric surgery.  She didn’t die in surgery like my cousin, but there was a complication with the anesthesia and she spent the last year of her life in a persistent vegetative state before dying of pneumonia.  She would have been 37.

My aunt was someone else who was always unhappy with her weight.  Unlike my cousin or my friend, my aunt (my dad’s sister in law) never approached 500 lbs or even 250.  My aunt’s weight hovered around the 200 lb mark but for her, it might as well have been 500 lbs. She hated being overweight and tried diet after diet. I tried a lot of them with her, mainly because I outweighed her by about 100 lbs.  She wanted to lose weight and lose it fast so she also opted for the gastric bypass. She was in and out of the hospital in no time at all and the weight seemed to melt off her.  She was over the moon! Until she started having issues with keeping food down.  Her weight went from slender to emaciated and she didn’t have the strength to walk or even stand up.  One of the complications with bariatric surgery that gets swept under the rug is anorexia. If eating a little bit of food leads to quick weight loss, eating even less food or no food leads to faster weight loss! For those patients who use food and their weight to control others or their surroundings, this is especially dangerous. For my aunt, I think it was just that she had always wanted to be thin so badly all her life and by the time her weight loss became a problem, the physical problems involved with anorexia had taken over. They were simply too much for her to overcome and sadly a few weeks after attending Jennifer’s funeral, I went to my aunt’s.  She was fifty-one.

The point of this post isn’t “bariatric surgery will kill you.” For a most bariatric patients, the surgery is literally life-saving. The point is I remember my cousin as being compassionate and funny and a warm-hearted young man.  I remember Jennifer as being a gifted artist, great with children and so giving of herself.  My aunt was also artistic, quick-witted, with a wicked sense of humor and a wonderful grandmother.  These are the people I knew and they are missed, but for the stranger on the street they were just fat.  They were neither gluttonous or lazy.  They were in fact some of the most industrious people I knew. Obesity is a serious medical problem but it gets overlooked because of snap judgments: “She wouldn’t weigh so much if she kept her hand out of the cookies!”; “He’d be thinner if he got off his butt and worked more!”

What is tragically ironic to me is that Jennifer, my aunt and my cousin all died while trying to help themselves while so many of the obese are stymied by their situation.  They know they need help, but other than ‘a diet’ they don’t know what to do or how to help themselves.  Unfortunately, many of their family members don’t know how to help them or believe their weight is the result of their own gluttony, laziness or greed (I remember my mom’s sister screaming at her son). Because it’s seen as “something they did to themselves,” it’s not seen for the real danger that it is. The obese are lumped in with drug addicts and alcoholics: “it’s their own fault!”  These are diseases of lifestyle, which nowadays include conditions like diabetes, but no one gets judged for having type 2 diabetes. Blame is a sad excuse for lack of compassion and a sadder excuse for letting someone die.

 

 

 

 

Our Not-So-Lovely Affair With Food: Weight Loss & Eating With Abandon

On a recent episode of My 600 lb Life, we watched a patient devouring a dozen donuts for breakfast.  She sat there with a box of a dozen mixed varieties, eating one after the other. I hate to admit it but I was so jealous- and I don’t even like donuts!

It wasn’t so much that I wanted donuts but rather I was jealous that she was eating with abandon.  She was eating whatever she wanted as much as she wanted and whenever she felt like it! I was so jealous because it’s a wonderful and heady experience to stuff yourself until you are full of whatever yummy food you want to eat.  It’s eating without caring about the consequences.  The donuts don’t really matter: it’s the same jealous feeling when I watch them eat pizza (especially a thick crust pizza) or when they eat pasta or bread or pretty much anything.  I remember how it felt to sit there with a huge amount of whatever I wanted and I could eat until I was absolutely stuffed full. For those few moments I was eating, it was a wonderful feeling. The food was so satisfying and tasted so good. I savored every bite and made it last as long as I could.  If there happened to be leftovers, I could look forward to savoring them too!

But once the eating was over, the feelings were almost as horrible as the eating had been satisfying. The guilt was usually liberally sprinkled with excuses: this was all I ate today; it was a special occasion (as in Friday!) or I was ‘treating’ myself.  Whatever the excuses were, they didn’t cancel out the guilt for eating so much. There is no excuse for eating an entire medium pan pizza when you weigh 300-plus lbs! I certainly wasn’t starving or undergoing some kind of ‘pizza deficiency’! So why did I eat so much? Because just the feeling of eating with abandon was enough! It felt like freedom!

Then reality smacks you hard in the face: your stomach hurts after eating so much; your knees and back hurt from being three times as big as you should be; you feel like crap because you shouldn’t be eating pizza at all, let alone the whole thing with wings and breadsticks! And forget about that pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer! (yeahhhhhh, riiiighhht!! Not happening!)

Obviously, I know how good it feels to eat without caring about the consequences and I know how bad the guilt is afterwards.  I’ve heard Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients talk about their love affair with food and how comforting food is and how food doesn’t hurt you or betray your trust! But oh, how wrong they are! There is nothing comforting in eating until your stomach feels like bursting and there is certainly nothing comforting in your legs and hips aching because you’ve got three times the weight on them that they are supposed to carry.  Food in those amounts definitely hurts your body with the voluminous calories and hurts your spirit with the shame and guilt.  As for betraying you? The food that is supposed to nourish you and keep you healthy is killing you slowly, miserably and painfully. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is!

Our love affair with food is really an illicit love affair. When you are having an affair, you hide your relationship out of shame, meeting your lover in places where you can’t be seen.  Once the passion is spent, you slink back to your spouse and try to forget how you are hurting him/ her with your betrayal. You hide your guilt and make secret promises never to do that again, and you mean it- at least until the passion overwhelms you and you sneak off to meet your lover again.  The only difference between that illicit affair and the one with food is that the person you are hurting the most is yourself.  You are betraying yourself when you gorge without care on whatever you want for that moment.  Is it worth the guilt and the shame and the pain you feel afterwards?  Hardly!  But for those few moments of delicious freedom….? For those brief minutes, we convince ourselves it’s worth it, but then afterwards we are drowning in the regret and recriminations that always come, that we know always follow our eating.

Some people refer to this as bingeing, but it doesn’t have to be an all-out session of gorging ourselves to qualify for the regret. It can be something as simple as the breakfast that we really want but isn’t the best choice for us. For me that can be pancakes or the breakfast sandwich that I love, or something as simple as finishing off the bag of licorice after dinner.  It’s not good for me and I’m certainly not hungry: I just really want it so I give in the momentary desire and then try convincing myself that “it wasn’t that much!” For some people, a binge is an entire cheesecake, a pint (or more) of ice cream and a bag of Cheetos; for others, an 8 oz bag of licorice is enough of a binge. The point is it is eating without control and without caring.  In short, it’s eating with abandon.

It’s true: having an apple instead of an apple pie is certainly better for you, but the point is giving in to the desire to eat. I wasn’t hungry- I just wanted to eat! When I give in and eat the apple or the donut or the licorice, I’m giving in to that desire to eat without caring again.  I do care, so instead of the donut, I choose an apple.  It’s like I’m only cheating “a little bit.”  If your spouse/ partner were cheating on you, would you make a distinction between a “little bit” and a “lot”?  Is there really a distinction?

Ultimately, no one else can make us stop. They can threaten or cajole or bribe, but we are the ones who must make the decision.  I have seen Dr. Nowzaradan take some fairly drastic steps to save patients from their own self-destructive actions after his dire warnings that one cold or flu is enough to kill them. Despite knowing that they are mere weeks from dying, they continue to eat and continue to gain (or regain) weight.  In most cases, drastic steps means physically limiting their ability to eat either by performing a bypass, a sleeve or by inserting a gastric balloon (this is where the patient swallows a balloon which is inflated in the stomach to take up space and prevent them from eating so much). In most of these cases, the surgery or procedure is already risky, but without it, they will keep eating and the question isn’t “if they die in surgery,” but “when they die from obesity complications.” This statement isn’t as histrionic as it sounds: it happened to my cousin.  He was over 600 lbs and was unable to control his eating.  I have also seen other TLC programs where the 600+ patient died from their obesity.  Like my cousin, their weight pushed their bodies over the limit until their bodies gave out.

For most of us, the situation isn’t as dire. There’s no life and death involved. Instead, it’s the quality of the life we want. Do we want to feel confident when we go out dancing? Do we want to be afraid of what’s on the menu at the new restaurant? Do we want to be able to go swimming without wondering what we look like in our swimsuit? Do we want to climb the tree or jungle gym with our kids?  These aren’t life or death questions, but sometimes when we’re sitting on the sidelines watching others enjoy their lives, they sure feel like it. It’s a simple decision: would I rather live with joyful abandon or eat without caring about what comes next?

Holiday Cheer and Weight Loss

For those of you in the USA, next Thursday is Thanksgiving.  It’s a time to get together with family and eat until we pass out on the sofa in front of the football game and/ or Macy’s Parade.  Usually, if you are trying to lose weight, you don’t know if you should dread all the food you know you’re going to eat (or at least want to) or if you’re going to use the holiday as an excuse to eat until your belt has to come off.

I am not going to make this easy for you: it’s your decision and there is no ‘wrong’ choice.  Despite what others have to say, there is no Food Police and whatever you decide to eat or not eat, you won’t be given demerits or extra credit points.  There’s no bonus for saying no to the pumpkin pie or the stuffing.

I will give you my own best advice, having faced a few of these holidays while trying to lose weight, and my best advice is this: eat what you know you won’t regret! I know it sounds like a cop out, but really this whole ‘healthy eating thing’ we’re trying to do isn’t something we just do ‘sometimes’ or when we feel like we’re having a good day.  This really is a lifestyle, so it means eating without guilt (remember no Food Police!) It also means we eat the same way (or we should) whether others are watching or not.  We’ve all done the sneak-eating, where we hope no one notices the box of Chips Ahoy is missing and that we ate all or most of them!  What we eat is completely our business! Our bodies, our health, our food! Please understand that I am not telling you to take the deep dish apple pie off the buffet and eat the whole thing , although if you want to, you can.  I am just wondering if you will regret it on Friday, because I know I would!  I am telling you that having a piece of pie or cake or stuffing or whatever you choose is not a reason to beat yourself up, if you want it and will not regret it later!  That’s pretty much the operative phrase here: if you won’t regret it.  The caveat to this whole idea of regret is pretty much basic Cause and Effect.  Everything you eat has an effect on your body, your health, weight and your goals.  It’s that savvy shopper rule: you get what you pay for!  If you don’t mind paying for the stuffing, yams with marshmallows, pumpkin pie and carrot cake with all the aftereffects of roller coaster blood sugar, cravings and hunger and maybe a weight stall or even a gain, then that’s your business.  You are prepared to pay for what you ate, you enjoyed it and you aren’t sorry, so don’t let anyone try guilting you over your choices.

However, it you are trying to bargain your way out of the cost, such as things like “I won’t eat anything the day before/ after Thanksgiving,” you may be out of luck! It’s a lot harder to go without to make up for bingeing, and usually it doesn’t work.  Unless you’ve been fasting for a while, it’s hard to make it through the initial couple of days especially if you don’t know what pitfalls to look out for and usually by the time the holiday arrives, you’re STARVING and end up eating way more than feels good.  (FYI: if you do want to try legitimate fasting, read Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Complete Guide to Fasting or google the “Intensive Dietary Management Program”.) The trick isn’t to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other: the key is stay fairly consistent.  As in, I might eat a couple of things not normally on my menu for the holiday, but I’m not going nuts over the carrot cake!

I think Mark Sisson made a great point in his interview on the Primal Potential podcast when he said most Americans think in terms of “how much can I eat without gaining weight?”  This is pretty much how we view Thanksgiving: how much can I wolf down before it’s too much?  I know there is no Food Police, but this is the same idea we have with a lot of things (like money!) that really gets us into trouble.  I used to see the same idea on billboards for my gym all the time: “I work out because: [fill in the blank]” and it’s usually been ‘filled in’ with a phrase such as “I like four cheese pizza!”  I understand that ideation really well.  I used to eat most of a medium thick crust loaded pizza and bread stick and wings on a fairly regular basis.  And, no, I didn’t work out then.  And pretty much every time I looked at the two or three pieces of pizza left over in the fridge, I’d either feel guilty that I ate so much of it or I’d try congratulating myself on not eating ALL of it!  That is not the best mindset to view what you eat! Unfortunately, this is how most of view the holidays: “well, at least I didn’t eat all the [insert holiday treat here]!”

I am going to give you some good advice if you are feeling nervous going into the holidays.  Stay away from appetizers or snacks that are just fast carbs or sugar.  At my relative’s house, there’s always a huge bowl of chips and dip, but there’s usually a veggie tray too.  I stick with the veggies: they are more filling, fewer calories (if minimal dip) and more nutritious.  I also stick with the veggies and the meats at the meal: not a lot of yams, or potatoes, and more of the salad or roasted veggies and the turkey.  I do a spoonful of stuffing and maybe a spoonful of macaroni salad.  I also say no to the bread, because usually they’re store-bought heat and serve rolls (not worth it to me).  As for dessert, if there is something I want to try, I do a small slice or serving.  The key is to enjoy the food, not feel like it’s put me in a coma! It is also 100% okay to say no to anything on the table or anything you are offered!

If we want to be successful over the coming holidays, we need to eat without guilt or shame or excuses. If we want to eat the pie, then eat the pie- as long as you know what you are prepared to pay for it! If it’s more important to you to lose a couple more pounds before Christmas or New Year’s, then don’t eat the pie.  You know you will regret it when you put on that special outfit for the holiday and it’s too tight or doesn’t look as good as you want it to.  If you feel okay paying that price, then don’t feel guilty about what you ate or didn’t eat.  It’s also okay not to eat everything on your plate! Sometimes, especially at holidays, we serve ourselves too much or someone else is too generous with the food.  It’s okay to say it’s too much, or take some home or to leave it behind (here, kitty, kitty!) There’s no law that says we need to binge or we need to deny ourselves. Remember- no Food Police! No guilt, no excuses, no shame! Eat what you feel good about eating, either because you want to celebrate the holiday or you are okay paying the price for it! Your body, your health- your rules!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

The Weight of Self-Worth

A friend of mine on MFP (My Fitness Pal) recently posted about “Plus Size Day.” Apparently it’s a day to celebrate being “plus-sized.”  In his post, he mentioned a parade full of larger people and how the news snippets were full of larger women making nasty comments about skinny people.  He concluded his post about how this day is to promote being the best You you can be, whatever your size, and he voiced his own concerns that maybe the best You doesn’t carry an extra 100 lbs.

While I realize he was just putting his opinion out there, this is the attitude I have lived with all my life. I’ve been overweight all my life and I’ve heard all the comments, from sad & pitying, to nasty & snide, to the passive aggressive- all of them.  Most of them now I just ignore: ignorant people will continue to be ignorant no matter what I tell them, but occasionally, they still make me mad. I understand why some of those larger women are angry: like me, they’ve spent their entire lives being told there is something wrong with them; they are somehow broken/ substandard/ a failure; or they are just flat out ugly. They don’t meet some arbitrary social standard of what is ‘pretty’ or ‘acceptable.’

People might think that thin has always been pretty but there was a time when plump and curvy was the standard for pretty.  Having curves, wide hips and an ample bosom meant you were prime for bearing children and survival.  Thin meant poverty, possible miscarriage and malnutrition.  When the most important thing a woman could bring to a marriage was her ability to produce offspring, choosing thin meant betting long odds, whereas plump was almost a sure thing. (For men, plump meant being a successful  provider.)

Obviously those days are long past, but the idea of beauty being relative hasn’t changed.  Every February, the media is full of biologists’ reports about the ‘biological recipe for attraction,’ and how some physical attributes or gestures cue us on a biological or subconscious level that someone is a potential mate or is attracted to us.  Whatever science and biology may dictate, attractiveness is still defined by the individual.  We still bring our own personal values to the table, and these include our values about ourselves.

In one respect those old platitudes are correct: if we don’t value and respect ourselves, no one else will either.  When we look at ourselves and see someone who is disgusting, unworthy, ugly, stupid or hopeless, it shows.  We communicate those ideas and attitudes to others, and worse yet, they are reflected back to us by them and over time, those beliefs become firmly entrenched in our psyche.  We are unworthy and unlovable and we have nothing of value to offer anyone else.  Whether those ideas start in ourselves and come back to us or come from outside and become part of us is irrelevant.  If we believe it, it becomes our truth. 

This is what I and almost every overweight person has been told for as long as they have been overweight.  Most of you reading this have been on the receiving end of a lot of free advice about how to lose weight; unsolicited attempts at ‘motivating’ you to lose weight; plenty of incentives to be thinner; and more than a few nasty comments about being a glutton, including the not-so-subtle implications that gluttony is a mortal sin and my being fat is sending me to Hell (thank you, Catholic school!) As a kid, I got them all the free and supposedly helpful advice about how to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with me; what I didn’t get was the idea that I’m fine just the way I am. When I was a kid, I probably carried an extra 20 lbs through middle school but the more people tried to ‘fix’ me, the more weight I gained, so by the time I hit high school, I was probably close to 200 lbs if not there already, and I kept slowly gaining weight. By the time I hit college, I was definitely over 250 and heading towards 300.

And the bigger I got, the more I heard about how flawed and unacceptable I was. My mom (the chief proponent of this attitude) pretty much gave up on me at that point.  Whatever was wrong with me, she wasn’t going to waste her time trying to fix me.  But I still got lots of criticism from the rest of society, because by then, I wasn’t just ‘plump and curvy’; I was certifiably FAT! I was the definition of ugly; of lazy; of gluttony. I had no redeeming values at all, because I was defined by my weight.  Whatever my mind or spirit might have to offer is completely negated by my fat body.

This idea that who I am is defined by how much weight I carry and what I look like eventually completely p*ssed me off.  Someone else was determining my value based entirely on what he or she saw, rather than who I actually was.  I was repeatedly being told by my professors and administrators and -yes, the same society that was condemning me- that it is flat out wrong to judge someone by their ethnicity, sexuality, religion, or physical capabilities, but it’s totally okay to call me a loser because of my weight! How stupid is that? Everyone is to be judged on the content of their character, except for that fat chick over there- she’s worthless because she weighs 300 lbs.

This is why I stopped listening to other people’s opinions of me and my weight.  It’s why when my mom decided to try and ‘fix’ me again (after my sister stopped talking to her), I pretty much ignored her attempts.  I would come home and find diet books left on my doorstep followed by a voicemail asking if I got the book she left: I just stacked them in a corner, and over the years, the stack got taller and taller, and dustier and dustier.  While I realize that part of her motivation was my slowly declining health, her attempts at ‘fixing’ me were accompanied by more of the same dangling incentives: I’d have all the guys I wanted; she’d buy me a brand new wardrobe; I’d be ‘gorgeous.’  Because obviously, I wasn’t attractive to anyone at my weight! (FYI: I didn’t tell her about my boyfriends because they sure didn’t share her attitude!)

I can’t lie and say I didn’t want to lose weight despite ignoring my mom’s and everyone else’s criticisms.  My desire to lose weight came not from thinking of myself as worthless, but instead came from my growing inability to do the things I wanted to do.  It’s hard to walk around and be active when you’re carrying 400 lbs.  The pain in my knees had more to do with my desire to be thinner than anything my mom had to tell me. I didn’t want to walk with a cane or end up diabetic or have to sleep with an oxygen mask because my independence was far more important to me than the opinions of strangers. While I wasn’t happy being 400 lbs, I did my best not to allow it to dictate my life any more than I allowed other’s opinions of me to do so either.  I lived my life the way I wanted to live my life.  I became the best Me I could be, whatever my size.  For the most part, I am still that same person: I do what I want, say what I want and think what I want. The only difference is that now I weigh 185 lbs less. I am the best Me I can be, despite carrying that “extra 100 lbs” my friend mentioned in his post.  Although I am still losing weight, it’s not so that I can hit my “ideal weight” or some arbitrary “goal weight” set by some doctor or BMI chart; it’s because I value my independence.  I like being able to do all the things I want to do, and I like trying new things.  Being thinner and healthier has added more valuable activities and abilities to my life, but at the same time, I also know that I am still obese. That “extra 100 lbs” is still there and strangers still judge me by my weight.  And you know what? I still don’t care. Who I am is not what I weigh, nor am I defined by what other people think of me.

Accounting 101: Keeping the Books!

In some ways, I am very lucky when it comes to eating healthy.  I live alone, aside from some really picky pets who most days don’t care what I am eating.  For most people, they would think that is completely awesome- no one else is complaining about “mom’s healthy food kick” or “dad’s eating organic again!”  Plus, the chances of my dog or cats dragging bags of potato chips or blueberry muffins into the house are practically nil (although the dog might try with the muffins!) Living alone means I don’t have to tailor what I want to eat around what everyone else wants to eat, so no “making two dinners” or dealing with a junk food junkie.  When it comes to deciding what to eat, my decision is the only one that counts: I can eat whatever I want, because I am accountable only to myself.

It also means that if I want to scarf a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in front of NCIS, there’s no one to see me do it.  There’s no hiding the empty carton in the trash can or even stuffing the new pint in the back of the freezer. The same goes for Pop Tarts, chips, or cupcakes. No one else is going to go through the groceries, the fridge, freezer or the cabinets: I can eat whatever I want, because I am accountable only to myself.

And therein lies the problem! I can fill my cart with fresh veggies, grass fed meats and free range eggs, or I can fill it with ice cream, crackers and boxes of processed foods. It’s all up to me: no one is going to look in the cabinet and say: “I didn’t know Cheez Its were on your diet!” No one is going to shame me into behaving myself and no one is going give me disapproving look if I decide to eat a whole box of fried chicken.  It’s all my call what I eat or don’t eat, or if I work out or don’t work out.  I am the one who’s keeping track.

This is why so many people like to have a diet buddy or as they call it now, an ‘accountabili-buddy.’  This is usually someone who meets you to go work out, but even then, if you live alone, you can still go home and eat your way through a box of donuts.  Many diet and fitness apps (like My Fitness Pal) do their best to hold you accountable, but again, it requires your being honest about what you are actually putting in your mouth and how much you move your body. Being accountable only to yourself means that no one else is going to push you to get up on Saturdays to take your run through the park or check that you made your work out class on your way home from the office.  No one is keeping count but you.

I once heard integrity defined as “how one behaves when no one else is watching,” and that’s what it comes down to in this case especially.  I was having a really stressful day recently (there’s been a lot of those lately!) and I had stopped at the pharmacy to pick up some cough medicine.  I was tired, stressed, feeling sick and while I was waiting in line with my bottle of cough syrup and my bag of sugar free cough drops, the woman ahead of me was arguing over her coupons the cashier couldn’t take. Right below the counter in front of me were racks and racks of candy, including many of my favorites (pretty much anything with peanut butter!) and the more I looked at them, the more I thought “I can pick one. Or two. Two wouldn’t be bad.” There was no one to know that I ate them or even how many I had.  No one was going to check my trash for candy wrappers and when I logged my food in my journal and in my MFP app, I could just leave them out so it would look like I ate really good that day.  No one would know…. but me.  When I finally left the pharmacy, I had my cough syrup and my cough drops and the candy stayed at the store.

It wasn’t really a case of white-knuckling it past the candy or having an iron will: it was a combination of things actually.  1) I would know I ate the candy, no matter what I put in my journal or app. 2) Eating the candy would not help my weight loss and could lead to sugar cravings later on.  The biggest factor was- honestly- number 3: the last time I had candy, it didn’t taste very good!  After running through all those in my head, the candy wasn’t worth it.  It’d be a lot of calories, a lot of sugar but not a lot of enjoyment. This is where people like me, living alone, need to develop our own accountability system, and it comes not from white-knuckling it or having an iron will, but from habits and learning from mistakes.  I’ve had candy not so long ago: it was a similar situation and the candy was a complete impulse buy.  It was on the counter and rung up before I really thought about it, so once I got home, you bet I ate it!  And yep! wasn’t very good and yep! I regretted eating it! This is where the Learning From Mistakes part comes in.  When faced with a similar choice, I remembered that it wasn’t yummy or worth the calories and so it was easier to leave it behind.

The Habit part takes more work, because it means that you have to build a new or different habit over time, and we only do that by making the same decisions over and over again.  For me, this was things like keeping my hand out of the bread basket at restaurants, and not going by the bakery in the grocery store, and staying away from the chips aisle too! This is where a lot of us give in, mainly because we approach it the wrong way.  I know it’s been the downfall of a lot of my diets: I go cold-turkey and give up everything I love to eat all at once. I go from eating my “regular diet” to “steamed broccoli and skinless chicken breast” overnight and usually after a couple of weeks (if that long!), I give in and devour a whole box of Stove Top Stuffing.  This time I took the time to build my habits: I gave up one or two things at a time (like bread and pasta) until I didn’t have to sit on my hands to keep from putting them on my plate.  Then I moved on to another food and another food until I had built a healthy habit around eating whole foods that are low in carbs and high in nutrition (this is just my own healthy eating plan). By the time I had reached that point, things like automatically eating bread or putting a couple bags of Peanut Butter M&Ms in my cart were no longer ‘automatic.’  I didn’t crave them anymore, and I also discovered the reason that Snickers bar didn’t taste great: I had lost my taste for those kinds of foods.

This is the heart of holding yourself accountable: you know the return on your investment is there, but you have to put in the work to get it.  Staying the course to build your new habit is the hardest and most important part because it requires integrity.  You have to hold true to your goals even though no one else is watching.

You have to be your own accountabili-buddy and figure out what motivates you to stay on track to your goals.  There are a lot of people who use their Why to keep focused: Why do I want to be healthier? I have a spouse and kids;” or “I want to be healthy enough to have a long and active retirement!”  Other people focus on the goals themselves: “If I eat that or skip my workouts, I’ll fail to achieve my goal!” (This is the one that works for me!)

Whether you have a family or live alone like me, finding ways to hold ourselves accountable can be a bit tricky.  I know I am as good as talking myself into eating a cupcake as I am at talking myself out of it! We have to work to build the habits that will get us where we want to go and remember the mistakes that took us off track. We need to keep our own account and keep the books honest!