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.

“If You Were Serious, You’d Make Changes”: How Scary Does It Have to Get?

This statement is actually in the opening of each episode of My 600 lb Life.  Dr. Nowzaradan has said it to many of his patients and it really is the truth.  The problem is that most of us don’t want to hear it because most of us are not serious.  Many of his patients are a minimum of 500 lbs when they show up at his door, and when they first arrive, he always asks them “what was your highest weight?” and they always answer “this is my highest weight.”  I used to wonder why is he asking that? I was thinking, “Duh! Of course this is their highest weight!” Then it finally dawned on me that he was really asking how hard they have tried on their own to lose weight.

The truth is that most of them haven’t tried.  There are some who have tried diets only to regain the weight plus more, just like the rest of us!  But many of them are in the same boat I know I was in for a very long time: I really really want to lose weight, but……. at the same time, I don’t want to do the work. Yes, I know that is so incredibly not-shocking! I’d love to be thin and fit and strong, but I still want to eat cookies and chips and bread by the actual loaf! I want to eat graham crackers and peanut butter and chocolate and cupcakes with mounds of frosting, and I want to be skinny too! Isn’t there some magic procedure that can make me skinny without having to give up all the junk I want to eat?

The other thing that took a while to sink in for me is that almost without fail, the patient shows up and steps on the scale for the first time usually in many months (if not years) and when they see their weight, they are always ‘shocked.’  It’s always higher than they thought it would be and some of them start crying.  They’re scared because their weight is way more out of control than they thought it was, as in 500+; 600+, 700+.  That’s some pretty scary weight, especially since some of the women are about my height and their weight is over 500 lbs (I am 5’4”- almost!)  So I know how heavy they are and I know how hard it was to move and get around at my highest weight (438).  What shocks me is that after consulting with Dr. Now and going over their new eating plan with him, they go home and eat fast food, or junk food, or whatever they want. They make excuses and justifications: “I’m tired of eating healthy stuff”; “I have to have something I enjoy”; or “Not every meal has to be the best choice.”  They are justifying eating what they want to eat because for most of them- and us, too!- they want to do the bare minimum in order to meet what they think is Dr. Now’s arbitrary (and ‘magic’) weight loss number so he will give them the ‘magic surgery’ that will let them eat what they want and be skinny too!

The problem is that obviously there is no ‘magic surgery or procedure’ that lets you eat all the things you want to eat and still be skinny, fit and strong.  When they show up at his office after having ‘tried as hard as I could but I wasn’t a hundred percent,’ they get angry and frustrated because, even though most have lost some weight, they didn’t hit Dr. Now’s goal- a goal they think is arbitrary.

Except it’s not an arbitrary number.  It really isn’t some kind of formula, as in “if the patient weighs 500 lbs, he needs to lose 30 lbs, but if the patient is 600 lbs, he needs to lose 70.”  Whatever the number is, it’s enough weight to show the doctor that the patient can control his or her eating. If they can control their eating enough to lose weight for a sustained period of time, then the surgery will allow them to lose more weight faster while they can get help for whatever issues are driving them to eat.  Bariatric surgery sure isn’t magic, as Dr. Now plainly tells his patients.  While making the stomach smaller and bypassing part of the small intestine, patients are forced to limit the amount of food they eat at one time and fewer calories (and nutrients) are absorbed due to the shortened intestine; however patients can still eat all day long and can still gain weight!  Healthy weight loss is a team effort: both the doctor and the patient have to do their parts otherwise it’s not going to work, and unfortunately, most of the work falls on the patient.  The doctor functions much like the coach: he gives the patient-player the game plan and the patient has to put it into action.  If the patient follows the game plan correctly and it’s not working, then the doctor-coach needs to re-evaluate that plan.

The problem is that the patient-player expects to ‘win the game’ without implementing the game plan. These days, every kid on a team gets a ‘participation medal’ just for showing up, and while it’s a nice idea, it leads to the same kind of thinking.  These patients want their prize medal even though they didn’t win.  They didn’t do the work but they still think they deserve to win.  The problem is that weight loss doesn’t give you a participation medal- it’s an ‘all or nothing’ fight.  You want to win? Then you better fight harder than your cravings.  Think Rocky running up the steps to the Philadelphia museum- it’s freaking hard!!

I don’t mean that we have to view food and treats as the enemy, but when your health is so bad that you can hardly move, when walking to the car makes you sweat, and when you can’t stand for more than five minutes without leaning on something to support your weight, it’s an ‘all or nothing’ situation.  Even when your weight isn’t over 400 or 300 lbs, it it’s affecting your life in a negative way, how bad does it have to get before you change how you think about what you eat? Most people think of ‘life-threatening weight’ as 300+ lbs, but it doesn’t have to be.  These are what’s called ‘diseases of life style’ now and super obesity is only one symptom.  There are a lot of skinny people who have super high blood pressure or blood sugar or other metabolic problems that threaten their lives.  When how you eat or how little you move threatens your life, how scary does it have to get before you start making changes?  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) frames it like this: “Do I want $5 now or do I want $50 next week?” Rationally, most of us think it’s a no brainer, but when it’s “do I want those chips now or do I want to lose 2 lbs next week?” most of us opt for the chips, even though it’s the same bargain: I can feel good for five minutes now or I can feel better for longer next week.

When I watch Dr. Now’s patients eat the donuts or the fries or whatever junk food they decided on, I hear Dr. Now’s voice in my head: “if you were serious, you’d make changes.” If you really want to lose weight or eat healthier or get more activity, you’d make the changes.  No one promised that it would be easy; the only promise anyone or anything can give you is that if you do the work- consistently- you will see the results, and if you don’t, then- and only then- you can go back to your doctor and ask them to change the game plan.

I think this is on my mind lately because I wasn’t doing the work.  I knew I wouldn’t get the results I wanted because I hadn’t followed the game plan: I was eating junk and I wasn’t going to my work outs.  I had reasons, and they were legitimate ones (I was taking care of my mom after her surgery), but weight loss doesn’t give out participation medals.  So, once I was able to get back to my regular life, I had been away from the game long enough to want bread again, and cookies, and other junk.  Walking through the stores, I could see the stuff I wanted on the shelves and looking at it, feeling the temptation (it’s just one!), I could hear Dr. Now’s voice in my head:”if you were serious, you’d make changes.”  I realized that yeah, I’m serious! Put me in, coach! I’m ready to get back in this game!

Perspective: Seeing the Elephant in the Room

One of the best things about being an eminently employable English major is that I come across a lot of different literature from many different cultures.  One of my favorites is “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”  It’s an Indian parable about perspectives found in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts, so all we really know about its origins is that it is ancient.  The story goes that six blind men learn that an elephant was brought to their village and having not experienced one before, they go to “see” the animal with their hands.  Each man touches a different part of the elephant and comes away with a different viewpoint than the others.  One feels the tusk and determines that an elephant is like a spear; another feels its tail and concludes it looks like a rope; another feels the ear and thinks it looks like a fan; another feels its leg and says it looks like a tree trunk; one feels its side and believes an elephant is like a wall; and the last touches its trunk and believes the elephant is like a snake.  From there, the story varies with the text but the point is that each is seeing only one part and one perspective of the elephant. In order to really determine what an elephant looks like, they need to see the whole creature or at least compare their findings, because each of them is correct about the part that they touched, but none of them is correct in what an elephant truly looks like.

Perspective is massively important when it comes to weight loss, health and fitness, and it’s where so many of us get in trouble.  It’s easy to lose weight if you don’t care about being healthy, and the same is true about fitness. Most of us think in terms of “losing weight” or “getting fit,” but neither of those are important if we don’t think in terms of Being Healthy (the whole elephant.)  When I was in college, I had a roommate who was also overweight.  We really commiserated over it because we both liked a lot of the same foods and we both tried being vegetarian and both of us ended up gaining weight.  I ran into her a few years after she moved out (both of us were in the pharmacy line, FYI) and I didn’t recognize her because she had lost so much weight.  Unfortunately, it was due to Type I diabetes.  Her pancreas had stopped functioning and now she was insulin dependent. She had to check her blood sugar several times a day and inject insulin before every meal to control her blood sugar. I remember her telling me she had always dreamed of losing weight, but this was not how she thought it would happen.  She was over a hundred pounds thinner than she had been when she lived with me but she certainly was not healthy.  Even worse, she was pregnant with her second child which put both her life and her baby’s at risk!

When we approach weight loss or fitness, we can’t just focus on the one aspect that we want to prioritize, otherwise we lose sight of the whole elephant. “Being thin” or “being muscular” is of no importance if you aren’t healthy also.  Some of you know that I lost an aunt in 2003 due to complications from anorexia.  She’d had a gastric bypass, which in my opinion she did not need as she barely weighed 200 lbs, but the end result was that she stopped eating, which is not an uncommon side effect of the bypass.  Ultimately, she ended up collapsing, catching an infection and dying. She was the same age as I am now, and while I’m not exactly young anymore, I have a lot to look forward to and so did she. But she had also always dreamed of being thin, and for months prior to her death, family members had been begging her to see a doctor, because it was so painfully obvious that she was not healthy or happy.  Unfortunately, no one could help her.

Some of us do the same thing with exercise: we lose sight of our overall health, which is what really matters.  We’ve all heard the stories of people who over-exercise, or eat and then work out super hard to burn off all the calories they ate.  Some of us try to “out exercise” a bad diet, but most nutritionists and doctors will tell you that 90% of weight loss comes through your food choices and the remaining 10% is your activity. Basically, you can exercise until your arms fall off but if you’re eating donuts and drinking Pepsi every morning for breakfast, you’re not going to be accomplishing much!

Most of us are in a hurry to reach our goals- I know I am! But over-training and starving ourselves isn’t the way to “get cut” and/ or “get thin.”  Drastically cutting calories and working out really really hard are stressors on the body, so our body goes into conservation mode if we stick with these practices for a long time.  We will probably lose some weight and maybe build some muscle at first, but the longer we stick with it, the more the body begins to conserve its fat stores.  This looks like it might be a famine or some kind of catastrophe: basically a lot of hard work and not a lot of calories coming in.  The body’s first priority is survival: nothing else matters if it (i.e. YOU) don’t survive another day, so it takes steps to make sure you last as long as possible.  This is why Biggest Loser ‘winners’ end up gaining weight eating 1000 calories a day: their bodies have slowed their metabolisms so much after a prolonged period of starvation and hard exercise (i.e. the tv show), that now any calories coming in over the subsistence level gets stored! The body is trying to protect itself against another catastrophe where it (the ‘winner’) drastically lost weight.

Obviously, that is not a healthy situation to be in.  I really want to lose a lot of weight and I’d really like to have more muscles, especially as I’m getting older.  I don’t want to be the helpless old lady (with the zillion cats!) but I also know that it’s going to take some time to lose weight and gain muscle in a healthy way.  That means growing long term healthy habits like eating for nutrition without starving myself and being more active without over-training or injuring myself.  Both of those mean that it’s going to take some time, since my body and metabolism are going to make slow healthy adaptations to my new lifestyle.  I need to keep my eye on the ultimate goal of Being Healthy rather than my chosen perspective of Being Thin.  As I’ve learned the hard way, being thin doesn’t count for much if you’re too sick to enjoy it.

Motivation: Why v How

Let’s start with the obvious: motivation is hard.  I don’t know anyone who jumps out of bed, saying “I can’t wait to get to the gym and bust my butt doing burpees and pull-ups!” (If that’s you, please introduce yourself: I’d like to know what planet you’re from!) The irony is that most of us usually feel pretty great after we’ve been to the gym or the pool or done whatever workout we prefer.  Even if we’re exhausted, our mood is usually up and we feel proud of ourselves and a lot of times, we feel really strong physically.  That’s pretty much our reward for getting our butts out of bed and working our bodies.  The problem is that before we get our butts up, we pretty much feel like slugs- at least I do anyway! I don’t want to get up; I don’t want to change into workout clothes or my swimsuit; I don’t want to get down to the gym.  Why can’t I just stay at home and do other stuff I want to do?  Whiny, I know!  Actually, the first thought that usually goes through my day when the alarm clock goes off is “I hate getting up!” It’s almost reflex: the clock goes off- “I hate getting up!” and yes, there is an emphasis on the word ‘hate.’

It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that I really like my job and my boss, I like driving the commute everyone else thinks is horrible and that once I get to work or in the car, I really like my day. It’s the getting up and getting started that’s hard, and that’s because we have to find the motivation.

Purists point out that there is a difference between Motivation and Inspiration, but as far as the dictionary is concerned, they are synonyms.  Motivation/ Inspiration is the reason for doing something.  In the Weight Loss world, they like to talk about your Why, as in “why do you want to lose weight?”  People usually say things like “I have kids and I want to see them grow up and have kids of their own”; “I want to take a trip to Wherever and I want to enjoy it”; or “I don’t want to be old and helpless.” Experts always point out that ‘revisiting your Why’ is a good way to keep yourself motivated.

But seriously, the connection between your Why and getting your butt out of bed to go to the gym or not eat the pretzels or buying the healthier whole foods is a lot like the old nursery rhyme: you remember the one that goes “For want of a nail, a kingdom is lost”?  [“For want of a nail, a horeshoe was lost; for want of a shoe, a horse was lost; for want of a horse, a rider was lost; for want of a rider, a message was lost; for want of a message, a battle was lost; for want of a battle a kingdom was lost, and all for the want of a nail.”] It’s about drawing the connections between the Big Picture and the Little Picture, but this is usually where we lose our motivation. Most of us rationalize our decision to give in to what we want now: we’ve been under a lot of stress; we’ve been working really hard; it’s just one day/ donut; the store doesn’t have the brand of whatever; does this one thing really really matter in the Big Picture? This is where we need to connect the dots and remind ourselves of our Motivation: “I really want to enjoy walking all over Disneyland/ New Orleans/ Paris”; “I really want to have fun playing with my kids/ grandkids/ dogs.”

I’ll be honest: trying to connect to my Why doesn’t work much for me.  Yes, I’d love to be really fit and strong and be able to take the steps to the top of the Tower of London or wherever else, but telling myself that this oatmeal raisin cookie and caramel macchiato are going to stop me from doing that really doesn’t work.  In the Big Picture, it’s not that 11 oatmeal cookies and a dozen macchiatos are still okay but 12 cookies and 13 macchiatos are just too much and my body is going to give out when I’m halfway up the Tower because it’s just one too many of each of them! (Drama city, here I come!) For me, it’s about creating a habit. When I moan and groan about how I really don’t want to go to the pool or my workout and I really just want to go home and play with my dog and read my book, I don’t even try connecting to my Why- I tell myself that I don’t want to get into the habit of blowing it off.

I work out in the evenings, so for me, it’s stopping at the gym before I get home and there are a lot of days that I try talking myself out of my work out on the drive home: it’s too hot; I’m really tired; I’m not feeling really good/ have a headache; I have too much to do at home; blah blah excuse excuse.  But because I am such a creature of habit, I find myself driving to the gym even as I’m telling myself why I’m not going to my work out. My ‘Motivation’ is that I’ve done it so many times, I do it almost out of reflex.  For me, my true motivation for working out and eating healthy is simply staying in the habit. If I start blowing it off, blowing it off will become my new habit.  That’s what keeps me grabbing my gym bag and finding myself at the gym even when my brain is whining about being too tired.

What really works for me is telling myself that going back to eating cookies and super sweet coffees drinks is going the wrong direction; it creates bad habits that lead me away from what I want, just like blowing off a work out.  The distinction is small, yes, but it’s enough to connect the dots for me.  When other people look at a cookie or a donut and remind themselves of Why they want to be healthier/ thinner/ fitter, I look at the Forbidden Action and tell myself ‘this will lead me to a bad habit.’  Instead of focusing on my goal, I focus on my actions: one cookie now leads to another cookie and then more cookies and then I have to learn not to eat cookies again, and that was hard the first time, so I don’t want to go there!’

For a lot of us, our Why is important, but it’s only important if it keeps you motivated. Motivation is what gets us up and off to the gym.  It’s what stops us from eating the junk food and keeps us buying the healthy stuff.  We can have the greatest intentions and inspirations in the world, but until those inspirations become actions, they are really just pipe dreams.  Why we want to lose weight or be fit isn’t as important as How we get there, because it’s the Getting There that really matters!

Baggage Claim: Love, Apathy & Forgiveness

One of the mantras we hear about a lot from therapists and other health care professionals is that “forgiveness is for you, not for the person who hurt you.” The bottom line is that as long as you are hanging onto the anger and hate, the person who hurt you has some kind of control or influence over you.  People often say that the opposite of love is hate and that’s not true: the opposite of love is apathy.  Basically, if you truly don’t care about the other person, you don’t care enough to think about them or allow them into your life at all.  Hating that person keeps him or her in your life; apathy removes all traces.

I was watching the TLC program 90 Day Fiance: Happily Ever After? where one of the women had just gotten a divorce from her foreign-born husband and made a big deal of getting in his face to make sure he knew that “I’m over him!” The truth is, no matter what she’d telling herself, the fact that she is going so far out of her way to get in his face and make trouble for him with Immigration tells me that she is most definitely not over him.  While I think she has a valid point that her ex is a slug who used her to get a green card, the fact that she allows so much of her life to be influenced by him and what’s he’s doing shows that she’s not ready to cut ties with him. While she probably does not love him anymore, she still ‘cares’ enough to want to hurt him.

Apathy means letting go of the person who hurt you entirely.  It means you don’t care if he or she meets someone else, moves away, or drops off the face of the planet. It means you have gone on with your life and this person is just someone in your past who no longer has any effect or influence over you.  It’s a wonderful thought to contemplate, but much harder to accomplish than it sounds.

Therapists like to promote the idea of ‘Forgiveness,’ so you can have some kind of ‘Closure.’ The point is that this is all about you and not about them. I frankly prefer the “I-Don’t-Give-A-Damn” philosophy that comes with apathy.  Who they are and what they did is all over with and they can either go to hell or go to Texas because I don’t really care anymore. For me, the idea of Forgiveness means I have to care enough about what they did to me to warrant closure, and while I like to talk tough, sometimes letting go of the anger is much harder than I’d like it to be.

While I am definitely not a therapist or any kind of health care professional, I know my own emotional landscape and its pitfalls pretty well.  For example, I know it takes a lot to make me angry, and I mean really angry.  Irritation comes up pretty quick and usually fades about as fast. (I admit I am easily irritated which is getting worse the older I get.) Real anger takes a long time to build up and it doesn’t go away anytime soon.  If you’ve gone to the trouble to make me that angry, I’m going to stay angry for awhile and if you try talking to me, you are flat out wasting your breath because 1) I am too angry to pay any attention to what you’re saying; and 2) I am not done being angry yet. You’ve gone to a damn lot of trouble to get me that worked up and it takes me a while to expend all that energy that you’ve stirred up.  Once I’m done being angry, I’m much more amenable to listening to what you might want to say, but until then, fat chance!

The point is that holding onto negative emotions like rage/ anger, hurt, hate and fear keep the person responsible in your life.  That means if you are trying to grow into a healthier person, you aren’t going to get very far dragging all that baggage with you. These kinds of negative emotions are what keep us eating all that supposed ‘comfort food’ and it’s what keeps us reliving traumas that drive us to eat.  Plain and simple, they keep us from moving forward with our lives: we never move beyond the point where they hurt us.  When we hang onto that anger, hurt or humiliation, we keep reliving the moment and ‘refreshing’ the negative emotions. Letting go of those emotions and the person involved with them, whether through Forgiveness & Closure or plain old apathy,  allows them to fade away at last.  We all know that negative emotions can make us eat more, can undermine our confidence, cause us to doubt our judgment, make us feel insignificant or stupid, but they also make us physically ill.  Those who hang onto negative emotions have more physical health problems and illnesses (including things like cancer) than those who learn to let go of them. Some health care professionals theorize that the negative emotions fester like an infection until they actually take a physical form.  In other words, our negative emotions can be strong enough to kill us if we aren’t careful.

As I said above, we all know what we should do, but actually doing it is a whole other thing.  There is one particular family member in my life who is a completely toxic person and being around her is completely unhealthy.  I have developed a thick skin when it comes to her rudeness and narcissism, but it’s a lot like eating something to which you have an allergy, i.e. “eating gluten gives me terrible cramps, but I’m going to eat it anyway.” If only avoiding this person were as easy as avoiding gluten! Reaching a point of forgiveness with this person is nearly impossible for me, because- simply put- I’m not done being angry yet.  However, I have found that with each of her thoughtless narcissistic transgressions, I am getting closer to apathy.  I don’t want to ‘forgive’ her because, to me, that means I require some kind of closure to be shut of her in my life: frankly, I’d just rather close the door on her and move on. Right now, because she is still connected to other people in my life whom I care about deeply, that is not possible, so I am stuck in an unenviable middle ground.  Until I learn either to ignore her narcissism or not allow her to make me angry, I’m going to be carrying around a lot more baggage than I care to.

 

Unexpected Poisons: Toxic People & Relationships

Most of us who are trying to be healthier work at eliminating toxins from our lives.  These are things like chemicals in our food and environment.  Most of us know not to use Teflon or plastics with BPA and we avoid crops grown with Round Up.  We consciously choose organic and non-GMO to stay as healthy as possible.

But when it comes to the toxic people in our lives, we have a lot more trouble spotting them, and even when we do recognize them as being toxic, cutting ties with them is much harder than switching the brand of detergent we use.  For most of us, the toxic people in our lives tend to be the ones who are hard to avoid, like bosses, coworkers, or family members.  Realistically, if you have a friend who is an emotional drain on you, they usually don’t stay your friend for very long.  I had a ‘friend’ who only called me when he needed something; the rest of the time, he couldn’t be bothered with me, so one day when he called and asked me for a favor, I just flat out told him: “I haven’t heard from you in more than 6 months and the first words out of your mouth are ‘can you do me a favor?’ Call me back when you can be a real friend.”  He did call and apologize and ‘make nice,’ because he really needed the favor, but it was the last time I spoke to him. No loss there.

The toxic people we have real trouble with are the ones who are fixtures in our lives.  How can you cut ties with your boss or coworker without changing jobs?  Is avoiding someone who is a real drain worth the hassle of finding a new job? And why should you be the one to leave when the other person is the problem? Chances are they are a problem for others also.  Then there are the family members: cutting ties with them can be cutting ties with a whole section of your family, and if you happen to live with them, almost impossible.  In these cases, we usually just put up with the ‘toxicity’ rather than causing major upheaval in our lives.  It’s an unconscious cost-benefit analysis: is cutting ties going to be worth all the drama and uncertainty that’s going to come with it?

Honestly, this is where most of us sigh and ‘man-up’ and just live with the ongoing stress and negativity that comes with having these people in our lives.  To use another business analogy, it’s ‘the cost of doing business.’ There’s the sense that we are overreacting or being childish if we refuse contact with someone in our family.  We think we may cause a major family rift if we cut ties with someone or it could mean that cutting ties with one person means we lose contact with someone we really want to stay close with.

It’s not an easy decision to make either for work or for family, but sometimes the poison that is making you sick in your life isn’t what you’re eating: it is an actual person in your life.  If you were gluten-sensitive, you wouldn’t think twice about avoiding bread and telling others that you are gluten-free.  The same if you have a peanut allergy or any other kind of sensitivity: it’s a fact of life- XYZ makes you sick!

I have mentioned The Boss From Hell before in this blog and I know there are a lot of people who make similar references to ‘bad bosses’ in their own lives.  This woman literally made me ill and nearly killed me, and not just me either!  The Associate at this job also suffered from similar panic attacks, anxiety and stress related problems.  He and I both had trouble sleeping, concentrating and I actually developed a slight tremor and heart palpitations while at that job. What was worse was that it didn’t stop when I left the office: this woman would call and text me while I was at home, on my commute and on weekends, and as far as she was concerned, it was part of my job!  And she did the same to the Associate.  The last straw was when I was driving home and she called to complain about what I hadn’t done that day (namely call FedEx to see why she wasn’t getting a discount on the mirrors she’d ordered for her home that FedEx had delivered broken) and why I hadn’t finished my other duties that day (mainly because I spent much of my day on the phone with FedEx and the mirror retailer).  I practically had to pull over on the freeway because I was so upset.  The next day, I went to work and quit. And she could not understand why I was quitting or why a few months later, the Associate quit too!

Of course there was a lot of stress and uncertainty with finding a new job, but by the time I made the decision to quit, it was pretty much black and white: I either take my chances with the Unknown or I die at this job, because it was no longer a matter of ‘if this job will kill me,’ but ‘when this job kills me.’ [ Just as a point of reference, there were a lot of people who kind of giggled and said I had the boss right out of The Devil Wears Prada.  I didn’t see the movie until my job had already begun making me ill, and I could not (and still haven’t) seen the whole movie because certain scenes cause stressful flashbacks but if you have seen it, my boss was a lot like Meryl Streep’s character, only not as nice. ]

Most of the toxic people in our lives are not as black and white as The Boss From Hell, but the point is that they are just as toxic.  Sadly, most of us are familiar with the domestic violence situation where we are on the outside shaking our heads: why do they keep going back to their abusers? Because behind all the abuse, the victim remembers times when their abuser was kind and sweet and a different person.  Once they get some distance on the most recent abuse, they start missing the ‘good times,’ even if we can’t see or identify them as being ‘good.’ I think this is why we put up with toxic family members: underneath all the poison, they are ‘family’ or ‘blood’ and so we put up with being treated like trash, being taken advantage of or being verbally or physically abused.  “It’s family and that’s what we do for family.”

The truth is that ‘family’ isn’t any more synonymous with abuse than is ‘friendship’ or ‘work environment.’  We should not have to put up with being victimized or abused or mistreated because someone is a ‘friend,’ ‘family member,’ ‘coworker,’ or ‘boss.’  If a stranger treated you the same way, most of us wouldn’t hesitate to call the cops or walk away from them forever, but because there is this connection, we accept their bad behavior.  The result is that the situation causes you stress and quite possibly illness.  Oftentimes, once we get some distance on the most recent instance of bad behavior, like victims of domestic violence, we start remembering when times were better and that ‘they aren’t always like that.’  The truth is that when you go back to socializing or working with them, you are condoning their bad behavior of you. Many of them, like The Boss From Hell, do not even accept that their behavior was bad.  You need to decide if they are worth the abuse.  Looking back on my situation, I confess I stayed with her for much longer than I should have, because as is often the case, the relationship didn’t start out awful and I thought of her for a long time as a friend, even after people starting telling me- in earnest- that this job was going to kill me. Only you can decide if the toxic people in your life are worth the pain and stress, but frankly, the ones we love shouldn’t be the ones who hurt us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Realities of Being Thinner: When the Honeymoon is Over

For most of my adult life, I have been overweight.  My weight gain really started when I was in middle school and continued at a fairly steady pace until I seemed to plateau around the 375 mark in my early forties.  I wasn’t really happy being so big, but I was able to get around okay and the pain and inconvenience were tolerable.  If I wasn’t happy, at least I wasn’t miserable.

That changed with the Job From Hell: the more stressful the job became, the more difficulty I had handling it and as a result my weight went up by almost 65 lbs, and in that 65 lbs lay the difference between “livable” and “utter misery.”

Since then, I have lost  almost 18o lbs.  My weight is now 260.  I think the last time I weighed this much was in the late 1980’s, which would put me in college.  While the number still looks significant, given I have been told by various “authorities” that my ideal body weight is between 120-150.  By those estimates, I am still 100 lbs over what I should weigh. In fact, I would have no difficulty qualifying for almost any kind of bariatric surgery since I am still morbidly obese. Anyone who has lost a significant amount of weight knows two things: 1) weight loss fluctuates, sometimes dramatically; and 2) your body does not always change in ways that you like.

I have to admit that at first my weight loss was rapid and without almost any fluctuations.  Because I was almost 450 lbs, positive changes to my eating resulted in rapid dramatic weight loss. Just changing what I ate from processed carbohydrates to more nutrient dense high protein whole foods, my body lost weight quickly since I had been eating so many carbs, most of which my body just stored as fat since it rarely had the opportunity to burn any.  I kept eating because I was stuck on the carb roller coaster: once the body processes all the carbs into storable fat, the blood sugar drops, triggering the brain to release ghrelin (the hunger hormone) to raise the blood sugar again, so I’d eat more carbs, and ride the ride again, and again, and again.  Just getting off the ride, my body was no longer taking in the carbs aka storable fat and was burning some of what was there.  I dropped almost 100 lbs in the first year alone and it was almost one year before I hit my first significant plateau.

In the two years since then, I have hit a few slow-downs and plateaus, because as my body weight dropped, it had less stored fat to burn, and it required less calories to maintain.  This is why calorie intake drops as weight drops.  The Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body needs just to stay alive. In plain language, when you’re sitting on the couch bingeing The Walking Dead, this is what your body burns.  Your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) is what you burn when you are out running around, working out, just working or doing what you normally do when you’re not bingeing TWD.  To lose weight you need a calorie deficit: if your TDEE is 2400, you need to eat less than 2400 so your body can burn stored fat, but you should not eat less than your BMR since your body can start cannibalizing itself by breaking down muscle.  Between those two numbers is the sweet spot, and the more weight you lose, the more muscle you build, the more those numbers change. You have to hang on to that shifting sweet spot, which is one of the reasons weight loss fluctuates and is never linear nor constant.  What I was doing for the first year of my weight loss worked great, until it stopped working.  That’s because my weight had reached a point where I was no longer hitting the sweet spot: I needed to change how I was eating and what my activities were to raise my TDEE and/ or my BMR.  Building muscle raised my BMR because we all know that it takes more calories to maintain muscle than it does fat. I needed to raise my TDEE because the more energy I burned being active in the day, the fewer calories were being stored.  Also more activity can mean more muscle building, which raises the BMR. I also needed to make sure I was eating at a deficit, but not such a deficit as to cause damage to my body (starving myself).

Generally, the easiest way to make sure you’re still hitting the sweet spot is to keep moving.  The more active you are, the more calories you’re burning and hopefully, the more muscle you are building. You also need to keep your diet moving: try new things, keep eating seasonally and don’t get stuck in a rut with the same foods (this is one of my problems). Eating seasonally is one of the easier ways to keep fueling your body differently.  If you mostly eat squash and root veggies in the fall and winter, eat more leafy greens in the spring and summer.  Eating berries in the summer is a good way to fuel your body differently as well as get different nutrients.  Trying new foods is another way to find out what works for you. Your body is amazingly adaptive and it’s always searching for homeostasis: its own sweet spot where it’s taking in as many calories as it’s burning.  The fact that you keep trying to lose weight (either by lowering calorie intake and/ or output) means you are fighting your body’s natural tendency for homeostasis.  It’s an odd kind of dance where both of you keep trying to get ahead of each other.  So as you lose weight, you will hit slow downs and stalls (plateaus) and you will bounce up a few pounds or more (especially if you’re female or if you are building muscle).  The best way to handle this is to make sure your overall trend is going down. I know it’s easier said than done, since I still tend to get really frustrated and impatient with plateaus.

Your body will also change in ways you don’t like. Usually, as we start to get thinner, we get pretty excited about losing weight and our friends start telling us how good we look.  That’s the fun stuff: seeing your legs, your face, your waist get smaller and more shapely.  You also start noticing you have muscles now! Yay for me! It’s kind of like a honeymoon period in your weight loss journey- everything is going great and you’re liking what you see! Your clothes start getting bigger and you start fitting into smaller sizes, accentuating your weight loss. You start being able to do more in everyday life and when you work out.  One day you realize you are holding a plank for well over a minute without really thinking about it and remember when it was hard just to get into that position! You start feeling really fit and accomplished and proud of yourself.

Then it begins: honeymoon is over and the less than fun realities begin arriving.  For me, it started with my thighs and my belly: my skin started getting looser, and looser, and it started getting saggy.  I noticed when I was doing my pool exercises that it floats and ripples more like cloth than skin. I started noticing odd bulges (varicose veins) that I had never seen before because they were hidden by the fat.  The more weight I lost, the more wrinkly saggy areas showed up, as well as odd divots in my lower legs where the muscles are more visible under the loose skin.  The skin on my belly, hips and butt also started sagging and now I’ve been told that I have a droopy butt.  I also have ‘batwings’ on my upper arms, wrinkles on my face now that it’s smaller and a turkey neck under my chin.  There are times when I feel a lot like a melting candle (especially lying down) as my loose skin puddles around me on the bed or floor. It’s hard to feel accomplished, strong and fit when you look and feel like a deflated balloon, all stretched out of shape and wrinkled.

I never thought I would lose as much weight as I have and it wasn’t until I had lost about 70 lbs or so, and I began to notice the loose skin, that I realized skin removal surgery was something I was going to have to deal with.  Seriously not thrilled about it, and therefore I am putting it off until it becomes absolutely necessary.  I did discuss it with my doctor, who also felt that it wasn’t anything I needed to worry about until I stopped losing weight or the loose skin became an infection risk. Until then, I just had to live with it, and I am okay with that.

To be honest, one of my excuses for not losing weight was that I didn’t want to have skin removal surgery. I realized at some point around 300+ lbs that even if I lost weight, the only way to take care of the loose skin is to have it surgically removed, which is a really unpleasant experience.  It’s a long invasive surgery with a long and painful recovery period and it can leave lasting effects. Almost anyone who has had surgery knows that the incision scars never feel normal again and even the most skilled of plastic surgeons can only minimize the scars as much as your body will allow.  If you are someone whose body doesn’t heal smoothly and cleanly from cuts and wounds (like mine), your body may never look normal. Looking normal is extremely important to most people.

I have only a vague memory of looking ‘normal.’ My mom has a picture of me when I was in 6th grade where I was goofing off as she snapped the picture. In this picture, I am not overweight and I think it’s the last photo I have of myself looking like a normal pre-teen kid.  In the forty years since then, I have grown used to looking and feeling different from everyone else.  ‘Not-normal’ is my normal and I have also come to realize that many people have problems accepting that they are different from the mainstream.  I remember when I was an overweight teen trying on swimsuits with my mom and her mother, and being told by my grandmother that I wasn’t going to find a swimsuit I liked because none of them would cover my fat. (She was a real peach, my maternal grandmother!) In the years since, I’ve grown used to people making rude remarks, laughing at me and treating me differently because of my weight. I learned to ignore most of it since it says more about their narrow-mindedness than my weight problem. At the pool, I’ve noticed some of my classmates walk out to the pool with towels wrapped around to hide their bodies. I know I look wrinkly, saggy and kind of deformed.  I also know that I feel stronger, lighter and I enjoy my life a lot more than I did before. If looking a little freakish is the cost of feeling a whole lot better, then I am happy to pay it! Our appearance is always temporary and changing anyway.  No doubt I will continue to look saggier and wrinklier as I continue to lose weight.  The day may come when it bothers me enough to do something about it, but until that day, I will view the wrinkles as signs of my ongoing success. I worked hard for them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step~ Lao Tzu

I would call this cliche trite except for the fact that, besides being absolutely correct, this is where so many people get stuck.  They know they need to lose weight and/ or get healthier.  They’ve read the blogs and the websites and the books.  Their doctors, friends and family members have been harping about it. They want to do it.  They just don’t know how to get started!  “Do I exercise more?  Do I need to do anything before I start exercising more? What exercise should I do?  Does yoga count?  What about walking? Do I need a treadmill?  Do I have to go a certain pace?  Maybe I should try to lose weight before I start exercising? What diet should I use?”

This kind of waffling and confusion frankly reminds me of when I was a kid and we were going out to dinner as a family.  My parents would wait until we were all packed in the car and then begin asking each other: “Where do you want to go?”  “I don’t know.”  “Where do you want to go?”  “How about this place?”  “What about that other place?”  Aaaaahhhh!! JUST PICK ONE!! That’s pretty much what it comes down to: it doesn’t matter so much where you start as long as you start somewhere! None of this is carved in stone.  This is very much the journey that Lao Tzu mentions above.  I personally like to think of it as an adventure.  I know the destination, but as to how I get there, that’s pretty flexible.  If you make a wrong turn, find another way! Leaving it fairly flexible is a good thing. So maybe you try the yoga and it works out pretty good.  Fabulous!  You’ve started! Once you’ve got the yoga down, think about adding something else to the routine, like cardio or maybe changing your eating habits. Or maybe the yoga doesn’t work out for you; it’s still great! Now you can cross that off your list and try something else, like swimming or cardio or Zumba!  You are out there making choices and making progress, learning what works for you and what doesn’t! You are on your way!

Too many people either don’t know where to start and so they never start, or they go the other direction and try everything at once, get overwhelmed and give up. So many people are afraid of making a “wrong” choice, but this isn’t a test.  If you choose something that doesn’t fit for you, no one is going to dock you points and kick you out of the “getting fit” club!  Like the journey old Lao Tzu speaks of above, we have to get there one step at a time, one choice at a time.  If you choose wrong, you get a guaranteed do-over so don’t be afraid to try something new!  Choose one thing and try it out! (I don’t mean that you can’t do two or more things at once, like cutting out dairy and hitting the gym twice a week.  If you can handle multiple changes without feeling overwhelmed, then go for it!)  If it works for you, keep going and start adding to your list.  But for so many people, just knowing where to begin is overwhelming and I blame it on information overload.

Picking the Right Path (or Maybe Going Left?)

Yeah, it’s a feeble attempt at a joke, but I think this is genuinely a part of the problem.  When we decide to look at our options for getting healthier or working out, most of do one (or more) of three things: 1) we google it!; 2) we go to a bookstore/ gym/ health food store; 3) we ask our friends! I know in my case, I was honed in on google, watched all the tv shows on weight loss that I could and yelped the heck out of the local gyms.  As for friends, none of mine are into health and weight loss, and my sister goes the vegetarian route (which is not for me), so I was left out there, but this is where most people get their information.  Some of us do go to our doctors, but sadly (as I’ve mentioned in other posts) doctors do not have a lot of training in nutrition and for most of them, the Calories In- Calories Out model is what they use (also known as “Eat Less-Move More”).  This model has really come under fire lately.  So there you are, standing in the Weight Loss section of your local Barnes & Noble, looking at about a hundred different titles on losing weight, eating healthier, going Vegan, going Paleo, going Veggie, going Mediterranean, Low Glycemic Diet, Blood Sugar Solution Diet, Always Hungry? Diet, ad infinitum!  It’s hard to choose which one you want to look at, let alone which one you want to buy!  And let’s face it, you don’t have time to research all of them, so if you’re like me, you do some googling, or pull some books off the shelves and start crossing some of these off your list.

This is where most of start into uncharted waters: we need to choose a healthy weight loss/ fitness lifestyle and we need to know where to start or at least which direction to go.  This person says X, that one says X+1, and this other “guru” says avoid X altogether and go straight for Z! Who do we listen to, or do we scrap all of them and “listen to our bodies?” Ideally, listening to our bodies is the way to go, but as I recently posted, our bodies and our brains don’t communicate very well (my body used to tell me on a regular basis that it needs more Jack in the Box and tortilla chips!)  Some of us really want a detailed road map and for some of us, all we want is a push in the right direction- we’ll figure out the rest on the way, but frankly a lot of us feel lost and defeated before we ever start.  This is pretty much where I was when I just decided I’m destined to be the “fat woman” forever.  I knew where I didn’t want to go and what I didn’t want to do, but as for what I really needed, I had not a clue! (Honestly, I literally stumbled onto the right path, and I don’t want you all stumbling around in the dark, hoping for a lucky break!)

To Thine Own Self Be True

Polonius was an old blowhard (it’s a Hamlet quote again-sorry!) but in this case, the old windbag was exactly right.  My mom spent a great deal of my adult life throwing the newest fad diet books at me; I was always coming home and finding them hanging on my doorknob and “s/he really knows what s/he’s talking about!”  These books were how I knew what not to do and what I didn’t want. Many of them involve eating special foods or using special “enzymes/ powders,” following some regimented exercise and eating plan, and this is where the above advice chimes in: is this something you want to do? or like to do?  and are likely to do for a prolonged period without problems?  My answer:most definitely not! I don’t like having to make anything complex, something where I’m always checking my calendar “do I start phase 2 today or tomorrow?- ah, damn it was yesterday!”, something that requires me going to a special store to get the “miracle enzyme” (eye roll). Nope, even if I started it and I really really wanted it (believe me, I did), I know me pretty good and I am ultimately a lazy bum with a lot of things, and this one will start slipping away pretty quick and then I’ll be right back where I was to start with, only without all the money I spent on the miracle enzyme and none of the benefits left!  If it’s not something simple, easy to follow and easy to shop for, forget it- because I won’t do it! I’ll eventually mess something up (like most people) and then I’m off track and I may even have to start all over again!  None of these are conducive to success!

When I considered “going Paleo,” I approached it the way I approached all of the “fad diets” I’d been given by my mom: I poked it with a stick to see if it bit me!  It’s a metaphor, but it’s one that works! I didn’t want to invest time and money in another money pit that wasn’t going to work for me.  It had the general simplicity that I liked: no regimented schedules and really no “weird/ miracle” foods.  Most of the books and websites on Paleo I looked at all had the lists of foods that are Paleo, the ones that aren’t, the gray areas (Paleo v Primal, etc ) and most offered the same advice when it came to transitioning to Paleo.  There were a couple that offered the “30 day reset” mentality, but most of them suggested just begin by eliminating one or two non-Paleo foods at a time and keep adding to the list.  It’s a slow and simple transition: stop eating one food that isn’t Paleo (like bread) and add in something that is (like cauliflower).  It wasn’t drastic and it allowed for gradual changes but with gradual progress, so even if I wasn’t “completely Paleo,” I was still going forward and still noticing positive changes that were very encouraging! The biggest and most difficult factor in this decision was taking a good long look at the list of “forbidden foods” and asking myself, in all seriousness, if these were foods I could give up for good.  These are foods like bread, cereal, grain-products, most legumes (including peanuts), sugars and some other foods. For me the biggest hurdle is the grain products. (Dairy is one of the gray areas.) I love breads and pastas and crackers/ chips probably more than sugar.  Actually, they are much yummier with sugar and dairy added to them!  (Waffles with butter and syrup- yay!!) Give me a choice between bagels and bacon & eggs for breakfast, I’ll take the bagel every time. Or oatmeal.  Or pancakes. Or just plain toast.  I was a confirmed carboholic, and the more processed and refined the carbs, the yummier they are.  I can’t tell you how many nights my dinner was a bag of chips and salsa with cheese.  So looking at a list of foods that were my undoubted favorites, not to mention basic staples of what I ate almost every day, it was a big question for me: can I really give these up on a long term basis (code for “the rest of my life”)? Of course, if I ate them once in a while, I wasn’t going to get kicked out of the tribe or banned from any website.  In fact, a lot of websites advocated the 80-20 rule (you eat Paleo 80% of the time). (Personally, I don’t think it works for me, but that’s my choice and I’m happy with that!)

It might seem like it’s a silly meaningless question for someone who’s never tried to lose weight, but it is actually a very serious question.  This is the question most people don’t ask themselves when they start on a crash diet or when they decide they are giving up a particular food or going to hit the gym/ work out five days a week: “Is this behavior something I can do long term?” This is why most of these fad/ crash diets/ exercise programs fail: it’s hard to stick with extreme behavior on a long term basis.  (This is also why those tv show contestants gain it all back!) If it’s not something you enjoy doing, there is no impetus to keep it going.  Even if you do lose weight or get stronger, if it’s just too hard, you are tempted every day every time to skip it “just this once” which turns into more and more often until you are totally off track and back to where you started.

This is why I ignored the diet books my mother kept giving me: I knew none of the programs was sustainable for me, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake with any “program” I started, because they would be just as ineffective.  This is where you have to come face to face with yourself when you consider what course you are going to take to get you to your goals: is this something I can do for the long haul? Whatever diet/ exercise program you choose, this is the first question you need to ask yourself, because this will ultimately determine your success.  If you cannot be consistent and make long term lifestyle changes, whatever progress you make will be short-lived.  My mom, for all her “dieting expertise,” was almost always following one diet program or another and none of them involved long term lifestyle changes: they were all “eat our food, lose weight and feel great!” Until she stopped eating their food and gained the weight back.  Or they were “follow this schedule with these smoothies” until she got off schedule and the weight came back.  If you decide to go Atkins, South Beach, Zone, or whatever you decide, you need to be consistent!  If you hate it, or don’t feel good on it, then it doesn’t work for you!  If you have to force yourself to eat what’s on your plate, it probably is not the food for you.  I know one of my biggest problems with Paleo is that most of the cookbooks and websites were full of egg recipes. Ugh!! If you were to ask me the one food that I hate more than any other, it would be egg yolks, hands-down!  (I used to make egg salad sandwiches in college and my Yorkie always got the yolks- it was more eggwhite salad sandwiches!) The chefs would give advice like “leave the yolk a little creamy so it can blend with the rest of the salad/ veggies/ whatever” and I’d want to throw up- seriously! So for probably the first year I did Paleo, I made all the recipes with egg whites and egg substitutes.  Eventually, I got around to eating real eggs (still yuck) but I cook the yolks extra hard and kill the taste with hot sauce.  My dog likes them a whole lot better than the egg whites (he likes a runny yolk)! But if I could not find a work-around for the eggs, Paleo might have been something that I had to give up because I really can’t eat eggs every day.  For example, my sister is vegetarian and she really likes tofu.  I can’t stand the stuff (luckily, soy is not Paleo) so this was not a good choice for me when I tried it back in college.  Between not eating meat and not eating tofu, I actually became anemic. Not good for health or consistency!

Commitmentphobia

Most of us want to be healthier, whether it means losing weight and/ or being more active, and the health/ weight loss industry feeds on our confusion.  There are trainers and experts out there who will tell you the truth: if this isn’t something you can do consistently, DON’T DO IT!  There are also a lot who just want your money and don’t care if you are successful or not.  Part of the problem is obviously us:  too many of us pick a diet or exercise program the way we pick out a new shirt or shoes: we look at it a little bit, try it on, bring it home and it sits there in the closet because it “doesn’t fit like it did in the store.”  We need to treat it more like we are buying a car or a house: the investment is comparable because this will be something we are living with for a very long time! You can’t put your car, your house or your health in the donation box for Goodwill at the end of the year! Gym owners love the New Year when everyone signs up to make good on their resolutions, but come March and April, the crowd has really thinned out as “real life” starts getting in the way: it’s not convenient; there’s too much going on; it’s not fun anymore.  This is why you have to make the commitment to be consistent.  This is also why I was b*tching at myself last week- I was blowing off half my workouts and avoiding the gym! (The new Monday night trainer isn’t fun- waah waah…) I know what I need to do but I just wasn’t doing it, and this is where I had the ‘come-to-Jesus’ talk with myself about what really matters to me.

I matter to me.  More importantly, (since I don’t have kids) I matter to my pets! Who do you matter to?  When I was 438 lbs, I was no fun at all for me, my family and friends, and my pets.  I sat in my recliner because my knees hurt, my back hurt and I got so tired just trying to walk anywhere.  I slept a lot because it hurt to do anything and taking the pup to the park or for a walk or even to play in the yard was a major undertaking for me! My inability to move ruined my trip to Disneyland and ruined a lot of my life.  Once I started losing weight and was able to move without pain (and breathing hard from exertion), it was a big incentive to me to stay committed to my goals.  I may never be a size 10 but it’s important to me to stay active and keep working to my goals.  I just plain feel better!  I know there are people out there who think “the hell with the dog/ pets,” but as much as he likes doing things with me, I like doing things with him! It’s important to me! That’s why I stay committed to eating what’s healthy for me and being active.  Yeah, tortilla chips, Jack in the Box and peanut butter cups are good, but they are not as good as playing ball with my dog or taking a tour with my sister around Long Beach or just shopping all day all over the outlets with my friends! These are things that matter to me and my quality of life.  These are the reasons I stay committed to my weight loss, however grumpy it makes me.  Whatever the reasons you have for becoming a healthier you, you need to commit to them and to you!  You are the one living in that body and if it hurts or is awkward, you are the one who has to deal with it. Some people post their reasons for getting healthy where they can see them every day; some keep them in their pocket or their purse;  mine sit on my lap and sleep on my bed.  They might not have been the reasons I actually started but they are the reasons I do it every day.  This can be a great adventure and I intend to enjoy every moment of it (even if the Monday night trainer isn’t fun!)

 

Miscommunication: Not Understanding What Your Body is Telling You

One of the things I hear a lot of in My 600 lb Life is “I can’t exercise more because it hurts!” As easy as it would be to dismiss these patients being quitters or lazy or “insert negative comment here,” this one is actually something that makes sense.  Pain is our body’s way of telling us that whatever you’re doing is not a good thing.  It seems pretty obvious: you touch a hot pan, it hurts and you let go; you try lifting something that’s way too heavy, your back hurts, you put it down.  It seems pretty straightforward.  Even my workout instructors tell me “if it hurts, stop immediately,” but then there’s usually her little caveat: “discomfort is okay but pain is not.”  Discomfort??  Okay, so how do we tell the difference between pain and discomfort??

This is the key to the miscommunication with pain.  If you’ve been sitting on a plane (or car) for three hours straight and you finally arrive, you are going to be a little stiff getting up and walking.  (There is a pretty interesting explanation for this but it’s a whole different blog post!) Stiffness is pretty obviously discomfort, but when these patients tell Dr. Nowzaradan that it hurts to walk and they can’t walk because their knees/ legs hurt, they are honestly reporting the truth.  They are listening to their bodies but they are not understanding what their bodies are telling them.  What they are actually interpreting as pain is actually discomfort in most cases.  There are patients who do have knee damage (due to their weight usually but sometimes other reasons) and they need to have their joints replaced or repaired, but most of them are simply feeling the effects of being immobile for so long, like when you’ve been stuck in that car for 3 hours- only magnify it by several years!  Joints and muscles and tendons and other structural parts used to move the body have essentially rusted into position. Like any tool, the more you use it, the easier it is to use.  It’s used to moving and being flexible, but since these patients move as little as possible, their joints are used to disuse and any motion often feels like pain to them.  If you are normally a mobile person who has been stuck in a tiny plane seat for several hours, you know when you get up, you are going to be a little stiff.  If you play basketball for three hours straight, running and jumping up and down the court, you know your muscles are going to be sore afterwards.  This is normal and you know it’s discomfort and not pain because you are a mobile individual.  These patients are not normal mobile people.  For example, I recently had two workouts back to back which really concentrated on my upper arms and shoulders.  The muscles got really tired during the first workout and the next morning they were a little sore.  I didn’t think I’d hurt myself or that I was in pain because I knew it was from the workout; I was a little leery of working them out again that evening because I knew they would be very sore later on, but I didn’t think I was going to hurt myself. I’m definitely not a fit or athletic individual, but I move as much as I can. I knew I was feeling discomfort from having worked them hard when they are not used to it.  (If anything those two workouts convinced me that I definitely need to work on my upper arms more often!)

Dr. Now usually tells his patients that the more they move, the less they will hurt and many of them are surprised to find out this is the truth.  I know this is true for my arthritic knees; for me there is a sweet spot between moving them the way they need to be moved, moving them too much and causing actual pain and not moving them enough so they end up frozen.  This is an actual danger with my knees: immobility breeds immobility.  If I don’t use it, I’ll lose it- truly!  I had been using a treadmill, but while walking is good, the impact on my knees was causing pain and more damage, hence the water aerobics I do now.  Still lots of motion and use but much less impact.  In fact, many of Dr. Now’s patients end up in the pool in water aerobics.

This is one of the ways we misunderstand what our bodies are telling us.  For many of us who are getting back to being mobile, or starting different kinds of workouts for different muscle groups, it really is a tough call distinguishing between discomfort and pain.  I know in my case, I was mistaking the painful knees from the treadmill as just discomfort and one of the reasons I saw my doctor is “why isn’t it going away?  Am I doing something wrong?” (Yeah!! Hello!!) But sometimes this is what we have to do: if the “discomfort” isn’t going away or is getting worse, maybe it really is pain and you should see your doctor.  You need to find your dividing line between the two.

One of the most common miscommunications between our bodies and our brains is when we are “hungry.”  You would think this would be another easy lob, but it’s not.  (When you get right down to it, it’s a wonder we understand anything our bodies are telling us!) Most of us feel “hungry” for a variety of reasons:1) we really are hungry because our bodies need fuel;2) we smell food and our digestive tract starts preparing to digest it by secreting saliva and stomach acid, resulting in the feeling of hunger; 3) we’re actually thirsty but our brain is interpreting it as hunger; 4) our stomach/ body is used to being fed at a particular time and so it’s “preparing to be fed,” like when you end up eating a meal hours later than usual; 5) if you ate something with a lot of refined/ simple carbs and/ or sugar, once your blood sugar drops, sometimes lower than before you ate, so your body will usually signal that it wants to raise your blood sugar again, usually about 2 hours after you ate the carb-heavy food. This is where we need to decode the message our body is sending us.  For me, once I feel hungry or my stomach starts growling, I start asking myself questions: a) (if I’m at the office) did my cubicle neighbor just sit down with his lunch/ snack and am I reacting the aroma of his food? (usually YES!!); b) is it 10:30-11:00? This is when I tend to get coffee and I add a little cream, so my stomach is probably letting me know it’s expecting coffee (the same thing happens between 3:30-4:00 when I get something to drink on my way home); c) is it “lunchtime”?  I usually have breakfast around 7:00 a.m. , so by noon, it’s been about 5 hours since I ate & it could be a real request for fuel; d) did I eat a lot of carbs and not a lot of protein/ fat, so my body is reacting to the low blood sugar?  If that’s the case, I definitely ignore the hunger or I eat something high protein; e) have I had anything to drink other than the coffee at breakfast? If not, I have some water and wait a while to see if I’m still hungry.

This might sound like too much work for a simple growling stomach, but for me, one of my problems when I was living my fat default lifestyle was that I always felt hungry and I was always confused about should I eat or should I not.  I found out later it was because I was doing a lot of the “low fat- high carb” FDA approved (FEDERAL DISASTER ADVICE in my humble opinion!) dietary suggestions.  I was not getting any kind of fat (good or bad) as a fuel source in my diet and was eating a lot of the refined grain products (those simple carbs mentioned above) so my blood sugar kept spiking and tanking and my body was trying to keep it even, so eat carbs-get hungry-eat more carbs-get hungry again and the result was I gained weight and had constant blood sugar issues and fatigue. (Thanks, FDA!!)  Now when I feel hungry, I run through my little list, determine what the “hunger” message actually is as best I can and try to react appropriately.

One of the other ways our bodies talk to us is with food sensitivities and inflammation.  This is linked to a whole plethora of possible problems depending on how long the inflammation and sensitivities have been going on.  This is the biggest and most difficult problem of all to solve.  Doctors are discovering that inflammation is usually linked to a lot of autoimmune disorders, including things like rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fibromyalgia and thyroid dysfunction, among others.  Usually it begins with leaky gut/ intestinal permeability.  The foods we ingest are absorbed in our small intestine.  If the lining of the small intestine becomes inflamed, undigested foods and other irritants can slip through the lining and end up in our blood stream, but since they haven’t been properly “absorbed,” our immune system treats them like invaders and over time, our immune system becomes hyper-reactive and starts attacking things it shouldn’t be attacking.  What’s worse is that some of the invaders it might be attacking look very similar to hormones or tissue that belong in our body and it starts attacking them.  This is very common in people who are sensitive to gluten: the protein that causes problems in gluten (gliaden) looks very similar in molecular structure to our thyroid hormones and eventually, the immune system can end up attacking your thyroid, ultimately causing problems there.

The problem with food sensitivities and inflammation of your small intestine is that you don’t usually feel that inflammation.  It doesn’t give you a stomachache or cramps or abdominal pain (usually). It manifests in other ways: usually something not related to your bowels becomes inflamed.  I know in my case, my knees were causing me pain and I wasn’t doing anything different activity-wise.  I was doing my regular water aerobics, walking the same amount of steps, not taking stairs, so I was a little confused.  Then, I remembered that I had started taking fish oil supplements again.  There have been recent reports that since fish oil supplements (Omega-3 fatty acids) aren’t well regulated, some of the supplements on the market are actually rancid, which creates the inflammation they are supposed to suppress.  I stopped taking them for two weeks, my knees got better; I started them up again, and within a week, my knees were hurting again.  I stopped and threw them out and no more knee pain.  If I hadn’t heard those reports, I would probably still be taking the fish oil, still having painful knees and probably just be thinking it’s my arthritis.

This is where a lot of people are: they have something that hurts and they don’t know it’s something they ate.  In some cases, it’s pretty easy to notice: every time you eat dairy and you have gas and cramping and diarrhea.  My sister is sensitive to cherries: she eats them and she starts coughing usually within a few minutes. But most things are like my fish oil.  There’s no direct link between me taking my fish oil every morning or evening and my knees hurting all day.  Even worse, unless the reaction is something serious or extremely disruptive, we don’t go see the doctor to see if we do have a food sensitivity.  This situation is compounded by the regular and continued irritation of the small bowel.  We all know what happens if you have a cut that goes not only untreated, but is continually aggravated.  You cut your hand and don’t clean it or put a bandage on it and every day, you use your hand, re-opening the wound and getting it dirty and still don’t treat it.  It becomes infected and only once it’s a real problem do you seek treatment for it.  The problem with that scenario is by then it is a major health issue, which in the case of leaky gut can be a thyroid condition or an autoimmune disorder

I’m not telling you to run to the doctor to take a food sensitivity test.  You have to be the judge of your own health situation.  If you aren’t having any problems or something that you think might be a problem, then there’s no need to worry.  You can do your own little experiment if you want by simply eliminating some of the common food allergens out of your diet for two to four weeks (unfortunately it has to be a complete elimination- code for “no cheating!”) and see if you notice any changes.  If you feel better or something does change, add one thing back for a couple weeks and see if you feel any different.  If your headaches or whatever symptom comes back, you are probably sensitive to whatever you added back.  Make a note, eliminate it again (like my fish oil experiment) and move forward with another one.  Some of the most common allergens are gluten (wheat), dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes (including peanuts), caffeine, corn, and  GMOs (genetically modified foods/ organisms).  This is not comprehensive list, so if you want to try this, try googling common food allergens.  A lot of times people who are sensitive to gluten are sensitive to other foods that have similar-looking proteins, like in corn and dairy, so if you are sensitive to gluten, you may have to give up those as well.  Sometimes, after you have stopped the constant irritation of your intestinal lining and your immune system calms down, you can go back to eating these foods (maybe the dairy and corn but not the gluten), and other times you can’t.  You need to decide what is best for you.  In my case, I’m a little lactose intolerant,(yeah, totally not fudging there -eye roll!) and when I went Paleo I stopped eating any dairy months (even the cream in my coffee- which nearly killed me!) and eventually, months later, I found I could have small amounts of it, but when I had more than a few ounces every day, I started feeling the effects again.  I know that I really should eliminate it entirely, but what can I say? I like living dangerously! (And it may come back to bite me in the end!)

I’m doing the best I can to decode my body’s messages to me.  Some of them are still pretty mysterious and I have no idea what it’s trying to tell me, but I’m still trying! The only way we really know if we’re doing what’s right for us and our health is to listen to our body.  It’d be a whole lot easier if it spoke in a language we can easily understand, but it’s doing the best it can.  The least we can do it is listen and not ignore the signals it’s sending us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to Live in a Different Body

Recently, I listened to a podcast about learning to accept your body after losing a significant amount of weight.  Since this is pretty much my situation, I was eager to hear the advice this podcaster had to give, and… I was rather disappointed.  It wasn’t that his advice was not good; it was just really nothing I hadn’t heard before. It seemed to me to be mostly a lot of “feel good” mantras that I don’t think address my issues.  I also wanted to ask what does he consider a “significant” amount of weight?  20 lbs? 40? That’s a lot of weight to lose and it does cause some changes in your physique, not to mention your head, but my issue is a little bit bigger than that.

I’ve lost approximately 160 lbs over the last two years and there have been some really BIG changes in my life, my body and (loathe though I am to admit it) my head. I admit that when I first started losing weight in early 2015, I was pretty jazzed.  It was nice that my clothes were feeling looser, my shoes fit better and my knees weren’t aching as much as usual.  I liked feeling lighter, but eventually, I noticed that as my body got smaller, other changes became more noticeable and some of these changes were not so much fun.

Probably the most noticeable and most not-fun change was loose skin that continues to accumulate.  I noticed it first on my thighs when I lie flat: my legs look like they’re melting, and the more weight I lose, the looser the skin gets. It now sags in pockety pouches on my thighs, over my knees and now, over my ankles.  When I work out in the pool, it floats weirdly, almost like it’s attached to my bathing suit, and my saggy butt is saggier.  There is now a little pouch on my stomach above my waistline and a lovely turkey wattle under my chin.  I have bat wings on my upper arms and “fringe” on my forearms.  As I said, it’s not fun but neither is it the end of the world.  I knew it was coming: you can’t be as big as I was and not expect this when you lose weight.  It’s a little gross, and sometimes inconvenient, but it was entirely expected and I hope once I have reached my goal weight, I can get it removed.  That will be a whole ‘nother experience in itself!

There are some other things that come along with dramatically changing your size that I did not expect.  One of the changes that I was actually looking forward to was the steering wheel in my truck.  Obviously, I had to tilt the wheel up so I could turn without it rubbing against my belly, and now there is so much distance, I was thinking it’s time to tilt it back down, especially since one of the unexpected changes is that now I sit a lot lower on the seat. The bench seat in the truck does not adjust up and down, but apparently, my butt does.  Losing all that butt padding has “lowered” me a couple of inches at least and now I have to lean forward to see the end of the truck’s hood.  I was really not expecting that!

I think one of the other things in conjunction with losing some butt padding is that while my knees feel a whole lot better, the bone spur in my lumbar spine (low back) has not improved.  It hurts a lot when I have to sit for more than an hour or so.  That would normally not be a problem, except that I commute for almost two hours each way, five days a week.  So twice a day, each week day, my low back protests rather loudly.  In addition, I’ve noticed how much bonier I am.  My dog in particular has noticed, since he used to be able to lay on one of my thighs and now he slides off.  My knee, which used to make a nice platform for him to jump from, is now much narrower.  My joints are more prominent which makes for some painful whacks as I’m not used to them having way less padding.

My rings have gotten a lot bigger.  I sort of knew that was coming, but now they are so loose I have to put them on my thumbs or my middle finger to keep them from falling off. I also knew my clothes would continue to get bigger, but I have a binder clip keeping my pants on right now and I need a new swim suit because the old one starts to slide off in the pool. I keep adjusting my sandals tighter and tighter because they keep getting looser and looser.  My mom used to try to tempt me to lose weight with promises of a new wardrobe but I’ve never liked buying new clothes, even in smaller sizes now.  Of course, do I buy new clothes so I can shrink out of them too before they wear out?

I’ve also started noticing the changes in temperature a lot more: I was never one of those people who’s cold all the time, but I’ve noticed that I feel it a whole lot more than I used to and I know that’s because I’ve lost 100+ lbs of “insulation.”  I’ve had to adjust the thermostat at my house and in the car because I just get too cold sometimes, but this was another change that I could not have anticipated.

These are the physical changes;my lifestyle has changed in healthier ways: I eat better, eat less and am more active.  I sleep more and sleep better and those are good things.  If I’m watching tv in the evening, I’m not automatically scarfing something down something sugar- and carb-laden.  But the changes in my head are a little harder to explain and deal with.  I keep looking at the number on the scale getting smaller and smaller and it’s a little scary.  Sometimes when I’m writing it down, I think I must have written it wrong: it can’t be 277; I must have meant to write 377, but no, it’s a 2 not a 3 on the scale.  I catch my reflection as I go by a mirror and I think “who is that person?” because I really don’t recognize me sometimes.  In fact, the facial recognition software in my mom’s computer also doesn’t recognize me!  She was going over it with the tech who said “that’s a different person” and my mom told him, no, it’s my daughter.  He did the mother of all doubletakes! I’ve had other people not recognize, including my mom (she walked right by me at a restaurant recently). It’s odd to think that losing weight can be frightening but it is.  I heard once that one of the reasons we find it so hard to lose weight is that we are conditioned to recover what we lose, so when we lose 5 lbs, we try to gain it back.  I don’ t know if that’s true or not, but when I think that I’m slowly turning into a different person, physically and mentally, I start wondering a little about who this “new person” is. I wonder how else my life will change.

Last week I was at a festival at our local Greek Orthodox church; for $15, you get to see the Greek youth dancers, a chicken dinner and the opportunity to spend money on pastries and other things.  Usually my friends and I have pastries, coffee, watch the dancing, do some shopping and have our dinner in the park next door.  It’s a fun and busy day, but when I did this before, I was eating Paleo but I was still relatively new to it.  This last time, I noticed how much of the dinner were things I don’t normally eat, like rice, peas, bread and of course the pastries.  I still enjoyed the day, but later that evening I started craving protein.  Pretty much all I’d had that day was the feta cheese in the salad and the chicken.  It was so weird remembering that I used to eat like that all the time, meaning most of what I ate was refined carbs, breads, and pastas.

I’ve also noticed that more guys are talking to me.  I’m not the kind of woman guys normally talk to and smile at, but I’ve noticed more of them are. I’ve had guys ask me out, which is really awkward.  The person I used to be didn’t date.  I think part of it was there aren’t a lot of guys attracted to women my size, but I was always someone who liked living alone (if living with a pack of pets counts as alone!).  All of a sudden (it seemed to me anyway) guys are interested, and frankly, I don’t really handle this well.  Do I even want to date?  Is this one of those things where I don’t know what I’m missing? Talk about FOMO! If I don’t know what I’m missing, am I really missing out?? Honestly, this was the last problem I’d ever thought would come up! I’m fifty years old and worried about dating?! (Not going into the weightloss- menopause issue, but yeah, there’s an issue!)

This is kind of where I am right now: getting thinner and getting a little scared of getting thinner (Stephen King nightmares here). Not sure of who I’m turning into and trying to handle some of the more unexpected changes. This is why I was so eager to hear what this lifestyle guru had to say about accepting your body after significant weight loss.  A lot of his talk was about how to handle those old pics of the fatter you and that “little bit of loose skin.”  It was perfectly appropriate for his audience, which I’m assuming are people who’ve lost 20-40 lbs or so.  I am not in his target audience; I’ve lost the equivalent of an adult human. Believe me, I’m not whining about getting thinner and I certainly do not want to go back to the person I was, but a little guidance down the new road would be nice! I remember as I was gaining the weight, there was a slow and sometimes difficult transition into an obese person: things like buying bigger clothes, not fitting into chairs and cars, painful body parts and embarrassing close up situations in tight quarters where everyone was squished to let the “fat girl” in the room.  I don’t know why I would be surprised that there’s a transition back to being skinny.  I just didn’t know there would be so many bumps and odd detours.