Tunnel Vision: Weight Loss & Broadening Your Vision

We’re all prone to tunnel vision at some time or another. We get locked into one way of thinking and forget that we locked the door ourselves. When it comes to weight loss, we often don’t realize we’re locked into tunnel vision because we’ve never seen outside the tunnel. Even when presented with outside-the-tunnel options, we may not recognize them as options they are: to us, they may seem crazy or completely out of our reach!

When it comes to weight loss, so many of us think in the ‘All or Nothing’ mindset: either we’re completely on board with our diet or we’ve blown the whole thing. This is where most of us get stuck in the tunnel. We look at our Diet as difficult, restrictive, bland and miserable. We see it as something temporary and our goal is to get done with it so we can go back to our Normal Life aka Eating Like Before.  Welcome to the Diet Tunnel!

The most successful weight loss plans aren’t diets: they’re lifestyle changes— as in permanent. But permanent doesn’t mean we’re locked into that Diet Tunnel. It doesn’t mean we can’t ever eat bread or pizza or cinnamon rolls again. It means we are selective about when we eat them. It means we think about what we eat before we eat it! Not thinking before eating is how many of us gained as much weight as we did.  We see it; we want it; we eat it! At the end of the day, most of us never thought about how much we ate during the day, unless we were super stuffed. If we did happen to think about it, we either moaned about how “out of control” we are or we gloss over it and leave out some of the foods that we tell ourselves ‘don’t count.’  These would be things like the odd bites of pastry or the handful of chips at lunch or the energy bar we picked up at the gas station to ‘tide us over’ until dinner.

Five tortilla chips really don’t amount to much but five chips + one Quest bar + half a danish begin to add up over the day and the week and finally take up residence on your muffin-top belly.  They count, but how much they count depends on you and whether you thought about them before you ate them! This is where most of us are in that Diet Tunnel: we see the chip basket on the table and our first thought is “NO CHIPS!” Having a few chips is okay as long as you think about them and then before you grab that Quest bar on the way home, you pause: “I already had a handful of chips and half a danish.  Maybe I should skip the bar.”  If you really want that bar, maybe you skip the butter on the Brussels sprouts at dinner or cut the sweet potato in half.  You are in charge of your eating and you don’t get points for making yourself miserable, starving yourself or eating only lettuce.  This is why the permanent lifestyle changes win out over the Diet Mentality: once we learn to eat healthy things we enjoy in a way that keeps us healthy and losing weight, we don’t have to moan and groan about the chips or the ice cream or the bagels.  The key is balance, not deprivation!

The other place where most people get tripped up is when it comes to eating at home.  In an effort to promote healthy eating, a lot of magazines, books and websites publish recipes: healthy food, usually low calorie or low carb, and full of flavor!  It’s a great idea…IF you enjoy cooking!! Some of us aren’t fond of long ingredient lists or complicated steps or hours of prep time. That doesn’t mean I’m stuck with boring bland food unless I get take out or go out to eat.  It means I have to look outside that Tunnel and see what options are available to me that I feel comfortable making at home.  This can mean putting something in the slow cooker when I leave for work; it can mean preparing a lot of food on the weekend and putting it in the fridge or freezer.  Usually for me it means I make three or four burgers, steaks or ribs on one night and heat up the rest during the week. (I usually undercook the ones I’m saving for later so when I heat them up again, they aren’t overcooked.)  This works for me because I don’t need to eat something complicated: I like simple food.  For me, ‘make it yourself coleslaw’ and a pan-fried pork steak are just fine for me! That doesn’t mean they’re bland either: I usually dress them up with some of my favorite spice blends.

If you really don’t feel like cooking, there are healthy options at most grocery stores.  My old standby is still bagged salad/ veggies and rotisserie chicken! They also have frozen burgers ready to reheat, frozen quiche and many other healthy options you just need to reheat.

Getting out of the Tunnel doesn’t just mean food or cooking: it also means activity.  When your main evening activities are sitting in front of the tv and eating;or getting online and eating; or reading and eating; or [insert sedentary activity here] and eating, you need to look for something else to fill your time.  Believe me, doing what you used to do and thinking about not-eating is just rubbing salt in the wound.  It’s a lot like an alcoholic hanging out with his drinking buddies and thinking about not-drinking. When my uncle stopped drinking, he started hanging out with my dad a lot.  There were phone calls every night except for his Meeting Night and lots of activities on the weekends and it was for the same reason: my dad has never been a drinker so when he’s with my dad, it’s never an issue or an option.  While we may not all be food addicts, we still have behavior that triggers us to eat out of habit.  How many of us automatically stand in the popcorn & soda line when we enter a theater?

When we’re used to getting a bag of chips and sitting down to watch our usual show or we hit the Starbucks to grab a Frappucino and scroll through our Instagram, those are triggers.  We can still watch our show and scroll but we are usually conscious that ‘something is missing.’  Triggering the craving is making it harder than it needs to be! It’s keeping us locked in the Tunnel as well as pushing us over the edge when it comes to ‘sticking to our Diet.’  That doesn’t mean you can’t ever watch tv or hit up a Starbucks, but it does mean that you have to think outside the Tunnel.  That can be something as simple as watching tv and keeping your hands occupied with something else, such as folding laundry, writing in your journal, playing tug of war with your dog, or (in my case) doing my nails. There was a transition period, since I obviously can’t do my nails every night, but once I got in the habit of doing something other than eating while in front of the tv, the trigger went away.  The same is true for just about any behavior or activity: if it triggers the impulse to eat, either replace the eating with something else or re-evaluate that activity’s importance in your life. If sitting at Starbucks is too much temptation, find someplace else with WiFi to scroll through your phone. (My gym has free WiFi!) Or maybe you make a new ‘phone’ habit, like doing it at home or you check your social media at home on the laptop?

It takes some practice to find out what’s outside the Tunnel and what options will work for you and what won’t. I hear a lot about “batch cooking” on healthy lifestyle podcasts but while making that much food doesn’t work for me, I do a version of it that does: instead of cooking one burger or serving of veggies every night, I do enough for two or three and just warm up the rest. When I hit Starbucks, instead of a macchiato or a latte, it’s brewed coffee or an americano with cream.  Sometimes I’m really out there and just get tea! The activities don’t have to be drastically different- they just have to be different enough to change your triggers and keep you on track with your weight loss goals.

Having a solid support system is critical when it comes to seeing outside the Tunnel.  As I mentioned before, if we’re not used to looking at things differently, we probably won’t see the options available. This is where having resources come in. I have a fitness community (My Fitness Pal) but you can still use any supportive community (Facebook, Instagram) or even website with ideas or recipes (Nom Nom Paleo; Primal Potential, etc).  The idea is to surround yourself with options and try them out! There is a way out of the Diet Tunnel but until you unlock that door yourself, you may never get out.

Motivation & Weight Loss: Getting Through the Background Noise

I know a lot of people who always want to know the “why” behind your or my weight loss.  On one level, I think it’s a stupid question, especially when the person who’s losing weight is as big or bigger than I am.  I once saw a dietician ask one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients “why do you want to lose weight?” Ahem– the woman had been bedridden for at least a couple of years and weighed around 500 lbs! While I really think this patient did herself no favors by not following the doctor’s treatment plan, I also think this question was pretty stupid.  The obvious response– for me anyway– would have been “Because I don’t want to die!”

For those of you who don’t weight more than double your ideal weight, the Why behind the weight loss might seem a little vague and it’s probably a viable question even if it doesn’t feel like it to you, because it’s really about your motivation.  Keeping your Why foremost in your thoughts is one way to keep yourself motivated.

The problem is that once that Why gets buried in every day minutiae it gets harder for you to stay connected to it.  Some people post their Why in a prominent location so they can see it daily, like the wallpaper of their phone or on the mirror in their bedroom or on the dash in their car.  The idea is that if you are reminded of Why you want to lose weight, you will stay motivated!

It’s a good idea and for some of us, it probably works! For a lot of us,  though, it becomes background noise. It’s like that bus bench ad that we see on the way to work each morning when we stop at the light by the Starbucks.  We see it but we don’t really look at it anymore. This is the problem with motivation: unless we keep ourselves motivated, our motivation evaporates. It’s like trying to hang onto the smoke slipping through our fingers!

We naturally look outside ourselves to keep our motivational motor revving.  We’re used to finding inspiration outside ourselves, so why not motivation? Inspiration by definition comes from outside ourselves, but motivation is something different.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines Inspiration as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”  It defines Motivation as “a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.”  It’s a subtle but important difference. When I go to PetSmart, they almost always have cats or dogs available for adoption and looking at those adorable little faces, I really want to bring one home with me.  So why don’t I?  Because I don’t have a reason to do it beyond ‘they’re so cute!’

I had a reason a couple of years ago: my old cat Belle passed away and her buddy Yzma was not getting over the loss.  Then I took an impromptu trip with my dog so Yzma was left at home for the weekend by herself, which was a little scary for her (she’d never been alone in the house).  Once I got back, I started looking for a cat to adopt! My reason for bringing home Ursula was that Yzma needed another cat for companionship.  Although I always wanted to bring home a new kitty (the inspiration), there wasn’t any reason (motivation) until the situation with Yzma arose.

This is the problem so many of us run into when we want to lose weight.  We see something or someone who inspires us and so we really want to do it, but what’s our reason for doing it?  This is our motivation or, as others call it, our Why.  What makes us get up off the sofa and do something about being 20, 40 or 50 lbs overweight? It may be that our health is being affected by our weight or that we have an upcoming event or it may be something more personal, but odds are until we have an actual reason that smacks us in the face, we are just ‘inspired’ and once that inspiration evaporates, we’re back in our same old lifestyle.

Even with a legitimate reason, such as “my knees hurt so much I can hardly walk,” unless we pay attention we can lose motivation.  Think about it: the first time we realized our weight was hurting our knees, did we make positive changes to lose weight? Or did we take some Advil instead? When they kept hurting, did we make positive changes then? Or did we take more Advil? We probably figured we’d take the Advil until we lost the weight and our knees stopped hurting, but once the pain went away, so did our motivation. The Advil took care of the reason for losing weight, or at least the reason that got our attention (painful knees).

Before too long, even though we may have great reasons to lose weight, they get buried in that background noise of every day living.  We aren’t bad people! We’re just busy people! We’re going to look up some healthy recipes just as soon as we get off this phone call. We brought a healthy weight loss friendly lunch but our client is taking us out to eat today.  We have a healthy dinner planned but suddenly you’ve got to take the kids to basketball practice so there goes that! We want to make weight loss a priority, but somehow it keeps getting pushed farther down the list until it’s ultimately forgotten.  At least until something brings it back to the forefront again, like the Advil stops working on your knees or your jeans are getting too tight to zip or– horrors!– you see a picture of yourself from your friend’s birthday party last week: OMG!! That’s what I look like?!

Most of us know our failings pretty well and try to find work arounds.  When I go over to my friend’s house and she has things for me, she puts them on the table by the door so we don’t forget.  I put my stuff for her (or for the office or wherever) in a bag by the front door. I use a reminders app on my phone for other things (like a list of errands) because I know I’ll get home and– danggit! I still didn’t pick up the stupid dry cleaning!  Staying motivated is a constant battle to keep your reason from slipping into the background noise.  That might mean changing things up every couple of weeks or months so that your reason keeps getting your attention.  Once it becomes ‘every day,’ it’s background noise. It’s like driving home every day thinking about every thing you still need to do and–WHAM– pot hole! That brought your attention back to the road!

My latest work-around for motivation sits on the end table next to my recliner.  It’s a photo of me from my ill-fated Disney trip in 2012– the one where I weighed about 440 lbs! It avoids becoming ‘background noise’ because #1) I really hate photos of myself!; and #2) my face and body are so fat and puffy, it’s scary.  Seriously. Scary. Every time I look over at the table where I keep the remotes, my drink, my pens and all the other stuff I use just about every evening, I see that awful photo. It got shoved behind a stack of books for a couple days and tempted though I was to leave it there, I moved it back out where I can see the ugly thing. It’s not that I’m trying to beat myself up mentally or emotionally, but I don’t want to forget how miserable I was at that time, even though I’m smiling in the picture. It was a painful and embarrassing trip because my weight made it that way. This photo serves as the jarringly piercing smoke alarm that breaks through the background noise of my daily life. It reminds me of my reason for losing weight. (Oh, yeah, I was totally miserable the whole trip!) Nothing is as motivating as NOT looking and feeling like that ever again!

 

If There’s a Will… : Weight Loss & Willingness

We’ve all heard about a million quotes about being ready and willing to change and success coming from willingness, blah, blah, blah- so inspire me already! Yes, they’re ‘inspirational’ quotes but they don’t really inspire us because we confuse “willingness” with “want.”  We assume that because we want to change, eat better and lose weight that we are willing to do what it takes to achieve our goals. Too often, once we get a good look at what we actually have to do to lose weight, most of us have second thoughts: it’s a whole lot more work than we thought it would be!

While I was looking for quotes about willingness, I found one that seemed to really speak to this disconnect between willingness and want: “We seldom do anything to the best of our ability. We do it to the best of our willingness” (Picturequotes.com).  I think this gets us a little closer to the mark.  We may want to lose weight but when it comes right down to not eating chips or not drinking juice or cutting our servings in half, we find ourselves standing on the edge of that disconnect.  We know what we want– weight loss; we know what we have to do to get there– smaller portions, better food choices; but……. And in that ‘but’ is our lack of willingness to do what it takes.

This disconnect has real repercussions in our lives. Everyone reading this post has different reasons for wanting to lose weight. For some of you, it may be wanting to look better but for some of you it may be something as dire as controlling a medical condition such as hypertension or diabetes.  You would think that the threat of a stroke, heart attack, diabetic coma, blindness or amputation would be enough impetus to make anyone say “hell no!” to cookies, popcorn or french fries but…… there’s that word again!

We want to be healthy and we sure don’t want a heart attack, but we also want the french fries and cookies.  It would be easy to blame some kind of ‘survival’ hard-wiring in our brains: we’re ‘programmed’ to eat when food is abundant! Yeah, that’s why I can’t stop eating Hershey’s kisses! While we know what we want (and don’t want), we reject the entire idea that we are unwilling to change.  That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day: we want to lose weight but we aren’t willing to make the necessary changes to get there. No one thinks “I’m just not willing to give up my potato chips and venti mochas to lose these fifty pounds.”  That would imply that there’s something wrong with you.  You must be nuts if you’re willing to risk losing a foot or having a heart attack just so you can have a mocha and a bag of Cheetos every day with lunch! If we thought like that, maybe we would be more willing to give those up, but obviously we don’t think that way about ourselves.  We think that way about others and usually we scoff at their foolishness, but when it comes to our own failure to lose weight, it’s that survival hard-wiring again that keeps our hand going back to the Fritos bag.

Except we know that it’s not the reason we keep stuffing ourselves with corn chips: we just aren’t willing to stop eating them! We have to be willing to make the changes and actually do the work to lose weight.  Again, our ability to make changes isn’t the issue: it’s our willingness to make the changes. We are all capable of saying “no thank you” when someone offers you a cupcake; we are all capable of not eating the mashed potatoes and gravy; and we are all capable of not buying the Fritos and Cheezits at the grocery store.  We just don’t want to do it.

It’s a hard thing to face about yourself: you know you need to lose weight; your health is being affected and you’re feeling pretty awful physically, but (again!!) it’s hard to give up the chocolate and the waffles and the snack cakes. Yes, it’s hard and it’s hard because your “want to lose weight” is colliding head on with your “not willing to give them up!” Imagine if your doctor told you that in order to lose weight, you had to stop hitting your head with a hammer every day.  Would you be willing to stop? Frankly, I don’t know anyone who would say “it’s so hard to stop hitting myself with this heavy Craftsman hammer each morning!” You are obviously being hurt by this action and there is no question you are willing to stop doing it.  Unfortunately, eating an entire bag of Chips Ahoy cookies in one evening is also hurting you but it’s hard to stop doing it because you aren’t willing to stop doing it!

This doesn’t mean you’re crazy or that you have some kind of secret death wish.  It simply means you’re human, and like the rest of us, you are trying to change habits and balance the “wants of right now” (Cheetos, cookies, pancakes, etc) with the “future wants” (being healthier, looking great on the beach, no more muffin top). We’re used to getting what we want right now or at least getting our rewards right now! We know the cookies and the pizza and the garlic bread will taste good now but as for feeling better a few days (or weeks) down the road? We tend not to connect the “wow! I feel really awesome!” with the weeks of no sugar, no late night binges and no junk food until usually farther down the road, as in when we can pick up that dime off the floor without worrying our butt’s coming through the back of our pants! If we skip the pizza and beer Saturday night and then wake up on Sunday feeling like a million bucks and weighing a couple pounds less, then we might connect the two a lot sooner, but that’s not how weight loss works.  Usually we do feel better the morning after saying no to a junk food binge but unless we track these things, we don’t make the connection.  Advocates of daily weigh-ins like to use the opposite effect to bring the point home: after a night of junk food, we usually weigh a couple pounds more than the day before (especially if it was a carb-fest!)

The Weight Loss Gurus will tell you “it’s about what you want more: instant gratification from food or long term health.”  For me, it’s about goals. What do I want and what am I prepared to do to get there?  As I was looking through my ‘inspirational quotes,’ there were a couple that kept popping to mind. The first was the Yoda quote: “Do or do not.  There is no try.” I like the black and white of that quote: I can lose weight or I can not lose weight, and if I don’t, it doesn’t matter if I’m ‘trying’ or not because it’s not happening! And if it’s not happening, I need to find out why (which is usually too many sweet potato chips and Girl Scout cookies!) That quote, while kind of harsh, keeps my head focused on what I really want (feeling fitter, not being so tired and being healthier) and reminds me that Girl Scout cookies aren’t going to get me there.

The other quote that kept popping into my head was Sean Connery as Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables: he’s lying all bloody on living room floor and he grabs hold of Eliot Ness’ coat. “What are you prepared to do?!” Maybe it’s just because it’s more of the black and white mindset, or maybe it’s because Malone makes it so clear in that movie (and that scene) that our actions– or lack thereof– have consequences and that taking action can be a hard thing.  Most of us reading this blog will never be 400+ lbs.  Just like we don’t wake up instantly lighter for skipping pizza, one pizza binge isn’t going to cause us to gain a couple hundred pounds overnight.  But not taking care of our health and our weight over time will eventually lead to an insidious and steady weight gain and eventual health problems.  It’s what happened to me over the last twenty years of my life.  I was overweight, then obese and then morbidly obese until I stepped on the scale and 438 popped up.  My lack of action had consequences that I was unprepared and unwilling to deal with until it affected the entirety of my life.  I had trouble sitting, standing, walking; my joints hurt; I had sleep apnea, asthma, hypertension and let’s not forget type 2 diabetes! Think that one’s not serious? Talk to my dad’s uncle who lost his leg and my friend DeeDee who lost her foot!

We all want to change and be healthier.  That’s a complete no-brainer, but making those changes is hard work and we have to be willing to do the work to get what we want! We all know that weight loss isn’t easy but we make it harder when we come to the task unwilling and resentful of the work to achieve our goals. It’s pretty much another no-brainer: when we hate doing something, we rarely do it and when we do, we don’t do it well. As a result we rarely get the outcome that we want, and that is sadly true of weight loss.  Until we are willing to make the changes we have to make, we aren’t going to get the results we really want.  Or as Jimmy Malone put it: “what are you prepared to do?”

 

Feeling Comfortable? That’s Bad! Weight Loss and Getting Uncomfortable

When most people think about being uncomfortable and being overweight, they obviously think about all the ways their size makes them physically uncomfortable or how they feel emotionally uncomfortable or embarrassed by their size. Pretty much anyone reading this blog has been there: squeezing into a restaurant booth and having the edge of the table jammed into your belly; sitting in a tiny little chair with your thighs pushing hard against the arms of the chair; sitting in an office chair and having it sink all the way to the floor, or going to a stylist/ barber and being too heavy for the chair to pump you up high enough.  And these are just the ones that don’t involve ‘wardrobe malfunctions!’

When you are extremely overweight, it often seems like it’s one long series of uncomfortable episodes with chairs, with cars, with seatbelts, with clothing, with elevators/ escalators, etc.  If you are looking for sympathy and commiseration over being uncomfortable with your weight, you are at the wrong location.  In my opinion, the point of being uncomfortable is that it is impetus to change!  Growth and change begin by being uncomfortable in some way.  Remember when you tried out for the basketball team or the soccer team or track or dance or whatever, and you weren’t good enough?  Didn’t that feeling of ‘not making the cut’ make you want to practice?  It doesn’t have to be something physical: the same thing happens when we learn a new song on the piano or learn a new language or even a video game.  We try, we aren’t as good as we want to be so we work to be better!

Unfortunately, when it comes to being overweight or making poor food choices, we focus on finding our comfort zone.  We choose restaurants that have booths with adjustable tables or chairs without arms. We like baggy/ loose clothes so that our butt, hips, belly, etc aren’t obviously visible.  We don’t like being reminded that we are ‘plus sized’ so we learn to avoid those things that make us feel either physically or emotionally uncomfortable.  We don’t realize that by staying comfortable, we are encouraging ourselves to stay where we are with our weight and our bad eating habits.

I am sure all of you have heard the expression ‘fat pants.’ My fat pants are the ones I wear when I’m either feeling fat or I put on a few pounds: they are a size larger than my ‘regular pants.’ Rather than put on a pair of regular pants and feel the uncomfortable reminder that I had too much fruitcake and mochas over the holidays and also feel encouraged to make some healthier choices in the new year, each January I just put on my fat pants and absently think “I should do something about that.”  And then it happens: my ‘fat pants’ turn into my ‘regular pants’! OMG!! How did I let this happen?! “I really should do something about that!”

This is why I think being uncomfortable is a good thing: the discomfort is a constant reminder that you need to make changes! I’m not talking about physical pain or any kind of humiliation: I’m talking about that little bit of discomfort that comes from you knowing that you could do better.  When we stay in our comfort zone, we never move forward.  If we don’t grow, we become complacent and eventually stagnate.  Stagnation is a synonym for ‘decomposing,’ FYI.

I admit that I really really love my comfort zone.  It’s where I feel secure and safe and I know my way around.  Being outside that zone makes me nervous; it’s confusing and it’s just plain work! It means that I have to learn something new and I’ll probably get a few things wrong and- yikes!- I’ll probably be embarrassed and look like a fool! Yay! Wow! Sign me up for that- NOT! But by staying where I feel secure and can be a bit of a Know-It-All, I’m missing out on learning something new and maybe even something I could learn to enjoy, even if I’m not good at it.

Some of you may recall that last spring, I took a belly dancing class at my local community college. I’m a 50-ish fat woman with two left feet and no coordination at all, and frankly, that class not only confirmed all of the above, it taught me that I really really suck at dancing (as if I didn’t already know that!) I also loved the class even though I was pretty much one of the worst if not the worst dancer in the class! I signed up for the class because I wanted something ‘active,’ but it also taught me balance and coordination and how to be more graceful, aside from just having a good time.  I was sorry when the class concluded and even sorrier that it’s been rescheduled for a time when I can’t take it again (although I will try!)

The same is true for our eating habits: when we eat the same way and same foods over and over again, we miss out not only on trying something we might really enjoy, but we are missing out on nutrition. How much nutrition is there in a fast food burger or even the same rotisserie chicken and broccoli? While one probably has more vitamins than the other, if all we eat is chicken and broccoli, do you think we’re going to get a diverse range of vitamins and minerals? Trying different ways of eating or even just different foods keeps us from getting too comfortable and also from just getting plain bored with what we are doing and eating.  No one wants to show up to a workout class where we’ve done it so many times we can do it in our sleep, just like no one wants to eat the same old same old bland boring meal every day.  This is when we get tempted to eat the forbidden junk food or skip the workout and go shopping.  We like variety- as long as it’s in our comfort zone!

One of the things my best friend and I like to do is try new restaurants or even just new dishes at an old favorite.  Sometimes it’s a dud, of course.  The food isn’t good or the service is bad or it’s just too expensive. But usually, it’s worth the experience even if all we learn is that it’s not for us.  There’s nothing wrong with having a safe secure comfort zone, as long as we get out once in a while!

“YOU Have to Want This”: Weight Loss, Mindset & Motivation

I know this sounds like a stupidly obvious statement, but remember the last time you did something because someone (most likely someone important to you) told you that you should do it? So you did it, but maybe you didn’t do it very well or you didn’t like doing it? We all know what it’s like doing something when our heart just isn’t in it, and sometimes that makes it ten times harder than it has to be.  I remember not too long ago, I went over to a friend’s party and I had been looking forward to it when I agreed to go, but then everything in between got really busy and I was pretty fried by the date of the party and really, all I wanted to do was stay home and catch up on some other things.  But… my friends were really looking forward to my being there and I didn’t want to disappoint them, and I told myself it’d be fun once I got there, so I went.  It wasn’t a disaster but it seemed to last forever and when I got home, I was even more tired than before.  It was pretty much my one ‘free day’ out of my weekend, since Sunday is usually ‘prep for the week’ day.  I went to please my friends but if it had been up to me, I’d’ve just stayed home.

And that’s the thing: it was up to me.  I’m sure my friends would have understood even though they’d have been disappointed, but I didn’t want to disappoint them.  It was fun, though probably not as relaxing as lying on the sofa reading a book or working a puzzle or just playing with the dog.  It made for a long day and a short weekend, which made the following week a little longer than it should have been.  The point is that since my heart wasn’t in it, it was harder than it had to be, and that was a party!  Imagine doing something that’s pretty hard to start with, like losing weight and being healthier.  Now imagine that your heart isn’t in it.  So what do you think your success rate is going to be?

The problem is that when it comes to losing weight, we all think it’s what we want to do.  Surely no one in their right mind wants to be fat and unhealthy! Right?? But when it comes to weight loss, it’s not as simple as that.  “Of course I want to lose weight! Why would I want to be fat?!?” If weight loss were as simple as changing your shirt or cutting your hair or even just having the bariatric surgery, we would probably all do it without a second thought (well, maybe a second thought about the surgery), but the truth of the matter is that it is damn hard because it’s not just one thing we have to change.  It’s not just “don’t eat donuts” and we lose weight, or “get a gym membership” and we lose weight.  Even when it comes to the surgery, anyone who has seen My 600 lb Life has heard Dr. Nowzaradan tell his patients that without controlling their eating habits, the surgery will be wasted.  Weight loss isn’t just changing one thing: it’s changing nearly our entire lifestyle.  It’s a complex network of changes that need to be made and many of them depend on each other.

It’s not like dominos, where if one falls the whole network falls apart, but rather it’s like navigation. If you verge off course by one degree, the longer you travel, the farther off course you are going to be, and eventually you will be totally lost.  That ‘one degree’ will become 10 or 20 degrees in a very short amount of time.  You can still get back on course once you realize where you went off track, but it will take some time to get back to where you were before you ‘went one degree off.’ We’ve all done this: we’re ‘eating healthy’ but then it’s someone’s birthday (or something else that’s ‘special’) so we treat ourselves to a Forbidden Food and we tell ourselves, it’s just one time, but then a couple days later, we have something else that’s special and then we maybe have a little more of something ‘healthy’ than we should or we feel like munching in the evening even though we aren’t hungry after dinner and then a couple weeks later we look at the dinner on our plate or the scale or our ‘fat pants’ are tight again, and we ask ourselves ‘what happened to my diet?’ The bad decisions- the being off course one degree- builds on itself the same way the good decisions do.  It’s because weight loss- and weight gain- are all interwoven into our lifestyle, and that’s what makes them so hard to change.  If it were as easy as “don’t eat donuts,” we could all lose weight without thinking about it!

This is why we really have to want to lose weight.  It’s a helluva lot of work to change one habit- there’s an entire industry geared to help us do that, and when it comes to losing weight, eating healthier and being more active, we have to incorporate healthy new habits while getting rid of the bad unhealthy habits. We are changing our behaviors left and right, and to do both those things successfully (because we all know how to do them badly!), we have to change the way we think about food, eating and activity, and that means it’s a whole lotta work! Therefore, if your heart isn’t in it, if you’re only doing it because someone you love said you ‘should’ do, if you do not really want this for yourself, YOU WILL FAIL.  Please understand that just because you fail at this doesn’t mean that you don’t really want it- it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you or you have some kind of subconscious self-destructive streak.  It just means you probably took the wrong approach or you took on too much at once, but if you do not want to make these changes for yourself, then you don’t have the motivation you need to get started on a pretty big and difficult project, and you won’t have the drive to stick with this project, because it is a Project.  It’s not a ‘diet,’ and it’s not temporary.  Being overweight and unhealthy is the result of that being one degree off course: it’s the result of a long series of food and lifestyle choices.  One degree + one degree + one degree + one degree over 40+ years = 438 lbs + bad knees + type 2 diabetes.  Correcting that course is done pretty much the same way: one good choice + more good choices + years of making those same good choices.  It’s not “don’t eat donuts” only on Tuesdays or only until the end of the year: it’s “don’t eat donuts” every day for the foreseeable future.  It means you have to keep making the course corrections every day all the time wherever you are, and that is work.  We’ve all agreed to ‘be good’ because Someone Important wants you to be healthier, but how many of us have been out with friends and mumbled ‘don’t tell my Someone Important’ as we stuff pizza or chips in our mouth?  Just because they don’t see you eat the Forbidden Food doesn’t mean that your body ignores it; it just means the Someone Important won’t scold you for eating it.  ‘Not getting caught’ does not equal success at weight loss and nutrition.  Success comes from not-eating the chips and pizza and choosing the vegetables and healthy options instead. If we really want it and we are committed to making those changes, we will get the success we want. It means we have to become the Someone Important when it comes to making these changes.  We are the ones who are telling ourselves not to eat the Junior Mints or the chips and we have to remember to bring our gym bag because we are going to the spin class tonight and we have to go for a walk at lunch time rather than sitting at our desk and shopping online.

The things that are important to us- the things we really want- are what drive our behavior and our decisions.  They keep us focused on our goals; they keep us on course to where we want to go. It means we have to do the hard work making changes all the time, not just when it suits us or someone else is watching.  If we really want it and we are really committed to it, then we put in the hard work because the goal is worth it to us.  There is a nice little bonus to putting in all the heavy lifting that goes with making all the lifestyle changes, and it’s not just that we reach our goals: it’s that the more we make the everyday changes, the easier they become! And sometime, long before we reach our goals, we realize that all that hard work isn’t really work anymore!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.