If You Can’t Hear Anything Nice, Maybe You’re Not Really Listening: Weight Loss & Criticism??

We’ve all been told at one time or another that if we can’t say anything nice, we shouldn’t say anything at all.  I think that’s good advice if all you have to say is something mean or negative. Most of us have also heard the expression “think before you speak,” but we rarely hear any good advice about listening. Maybe that’s because we’re not listening?

In all seriousness, we not only hear what we want to hear, what we hear is usually run through a filter of what we were expecting to hear.  In other words, if we are expecting negativity, that’s what we’re going to hear.  Although it sounds complicated, it really isn’t. Example: my mom has historically been my biggest critic.  All through my childhood, it always seemed like I wasn’t smart enough, ambitious enough and I definitely  wasn’t thin enough! She would be the one to point out that my clothes or makeup or hair weren’t very flattering or that I’d gained more weight.  There was usually very little that was complimentary from her unless it was that ‘I didn’t screw up as big as she thought I would!’ As a result, my knee-jerk reaction to anything she says is to ‘hit back’ since I am expecting to get ‘hit,’ so to speak. Secondly, I’m not really listening to what she’s saying because I’m already halfway to some mean-spirited retort!

The problems with this all-too-common scenario are obvious: forget about ‘listening with an open mind’! How about starting with ‘listening while not in Attack Mode’?  It would be easy to blame my mom for always putting me on high alert: “if you weren’t always so critical of everything I did, then I wouldn’t be like this!” Maybe that worked when I was a kid, but I haven’t been a kid for a really long time now.  That means it’s all on me! (Yikes! Talk about the world going crazy!) All joking aside, as easy as it would be to lay all this at my mom’s door and just walk away from any responsibility for my responses, that’s the problem right there: they are my responses!

If we are going to hold others responsible for their words and behavior, then we need to do the same for ourselves! That means instead of jumping all over someone for what they just said, maybe we should listen to what they have to say before we attack them. This idea of Listening means we first need to listen with an open mind and then think about what they said before we respond. Remember that “think before you speak” I mentioned earlier? This saying always reminds me of another line from The Simpsons: Lisa wisely telling Homer “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt,” to which Homer makes a typically foolish response.  Key point here: don’t be Homer!

Truthfully, my mom brings out the Homer in me. It’s partly because of a childhood full of criticism, disappointment and recrimination. After thousands of verbal slings and arrows, my automatic reflex is to return fire immediately after her opening volley, but that means I’m also automatically assuming that whatever she has to say is going to be another criticism, and that’s not always the case anymore. Sometimes she has a good idea or– gasp!— something nice to say about me, which means my mean or cold-hearted retort makes me small, petty or just plain stupid.  My automatic reflex may have been born out of a painful childhood, but now as an adult, I can choose either to fix that or let it continue.  That choice is not a childish defense mechanism: it is an actual choice I am making with a clear head. That means I am responsible for my responses and my behavior! Yikes! Yeah, that’s one of those Lisa & Homer moments! Who am I going to be today?

When it comes to our weight loss and exercise, most of us are in the same camp: all we seem to hear is criticism from our family and loved ones.  The ones who were always there to point out that Boston cream pie isn’t on your diet and that the sourdough garlic bread you had with lunch isn’t Paleo are the same ones who always make you feel like a failure with their criticism.  Your diet isn’t the right one; you aren’t exercising enough and obviously you must be doing something wrong because “you haven’t lost much weight in the last month, have you?” It’s easy to run all those statements through the filter of criticism and fire off a few return volleys back at them.  It’s easy to begin to feel like “everyone criticizes” and “no one has anything good to say about my weight loss.”  After that, it’s a short ride to feeling stressed and depressed and “I’m such a failure again!” We all know the danger that carries with it: emotional eating!

But before we open the bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and go to town, let’s try using our Listening Mode instead of our reflex Attack Mode. Not everything everyone says to you is criticism.  Sometimes it’s just an observation or sometimes it’s a question. Sometimes there is a compliment involved, but until you listen with an open mind, you might never hear anything but criticism! Sometimes just keeping an open mind when one of your critics makes a comment is much harder than it looks. It means thinking about what they just said and staying silent until you can think of an appropriate response while your emotions are screaming at you to attack. Example: you tell a family member you want to try a three day water fast and her response is “you think you can do that?”  This is one of those phrases that is open to interpretation.  If it were a text, you’d hope there’d be an emoji attached to give you an idea of how they mean it: either a Scream face; eye-roll; mind blown; or at least an OMG! It can mean “wow! that’s extreme! do you think you can handle it?” or it can mean “yikes! is that healthy?” or it can mean “yeah, right! you won’t last three hours!” Most of us who feel we’ve been criticized to death go right for that last one! We don’t even consider there are other interpretations: “Obviously, my mom thinks I have no self-control!”

That’s where the pause, listen, interpret and thinking before we speak keep us from putting our foot in our mouth and hurting someone’s feelings when they only meant well.  When I started eating Paleo, my mom kept pushing other diets at me and encouraging me to eat differently. It was easy for me to ignore her suggestions because what I was hearing was “you don’t know what you’re doing again!” when now I realize it could have easily been “are you sure that’s healthy?” It seriously took a while for that to sink in because I was hearing it through the “criticism filter” instead of listening with an open mind. It’s ironic. I try to keep an open mind about just about everything else in my life: food, nutrition, exercise, pets, books, movies, etc! But when it comes to my mom, I just automatically assume she’s got something negative and critical to say.  That narrow-mindedness is all my own fault, since it’s a choice I made.  And it’s not a good choice, either!

We started out on our journey to improve our health and our lives, and most of us were laser focused on ourselves, but that laser focus can also lock us into seeing only what we are expecting to see and hear. Changing for the better means thinking about old things in new ways, and sometimes that means realizing that the person you always thought of as a critic might actually want to help you.  We can’t make those realizations without keeping an open mind and really listening to what they have to say.  Even Homer has a good day now and then!

It Really is All About You! Weight Loss & Doing It Yourself- or Not

I think I do a lot of posts about being independent. Like just about everything important in life, it’s a double-edged sword. Being independent means you make your own decisions but it can also mean you have to do things without a whole lot of help or even support.  There’s a price to be paid for anything of value and admittedly, there are a lot of days I wish I had more help and maybe not so much independence!

Unfortunately, we really can’t have it both ways. You can only rely on others for a limited amount of things without sacrificing a big chunk of your independence.  For example, if you are going to rely on someone else to do the majority of the grocery shopping, then you can’t complain too much when they come home with something you don’t want when the store was out of the product you chose. For me, the example that springs to mind is bagged salad greens.  I hate iceberg lettuce, and the popular mixes that come with shredded cabbages, carrot shavings and tons of iceberg are NOT on my list! The same goes for the Spring mix blend full of baby lettuces and radicchio.  My list of salad greens NOT welcome in my house includes: iceberg, radicchio, arugula and if I can avoid carrot shavings, bonus for me! Cabbage of any color is great; so are spinach, butter lettuces, endive, romaine or practically any other lettuce!

So if someone else is doing my grocery shopping and comes home with the wrong blend of salad for me, it’s my loss.  I can choose to eat the salad or not, but yelling at them for getting me the wrong kind of lettuce would be unfair. (It’s not like I have an allergy to radicchio or arugula!) If I don’t like the way they do the shopping, I can do it myself! But by relying on someone else to do something like this for you, you are tacitly agreeing not to scold them too harshly if they get the wrong items. When you rely on someone else to help you out or take over a regular chore that you normally do, you are giving up some of that independence in exchange for convenience.  It’s the price of asking for help, and there is nothing wrong with asking for help. We all need help occasionally and usually I get scolded by family and friends for making things harder on myself than they need to be because, frankly, it usually doesn’t occur to me to ask for help!

The most recent example is when my car died on the freeway, and after spending the morning getting it towed, I had to arrange for a rental while it was at the shop, and circumstances conspired to make that way more difficult than normal. So since my options were limited, I called a cab, which took over an hour to arrive and the driver, despite having a Garmin, didn’t know how to get to the rental car place. (What can I say? I was having a day!) When I was talking to my friends and my family later on about the whole “car situation,” most of them who either work from home or are retired asked me the same question: “Why didn’t you call me? I could’ve given you a ride!”  My well-thought out and eloquent response? “Duhhhhhh…..”

It had honestly not occurred to me that at least three of my friends in the area would have been able to run me down to get a rental in much less than time than waiting on a cab or an unreliable Uber/Lyft driver. I’m not being stubborn about ‘being self-reliant.’  I think it’s because I am so used to handling things on my own that the idea of calling a friend doesn’t even show up on my list of options.  While not being completely reliant on others has its benefits, this Doing It Myself mentality that I have really just limits my options and makes some things much harder than they need to be, as in the “car situation.”  Yes, it’s great that I can figure stuff out on my own and not have to call family constantly to help me out, but at the same time, I am isolating myself, not to mention stressing myself.  I am sacrificing ease and convenience for independence.  This situation isn’t any better than sacrificing independence for ease and convenience!

Most of us are far more familiar with those who are always completely dependent on others, either out of laziness or learned helplessness.  We learn to avoid these people pretty fast: they are the ones who always need you to run by their pharmacy/ other errands because they’re feeling too sick or are in too much pain or just can’t do it on their own; they are the ones who can’t find the address or phone number for anyone or anything because “the website/ google is confusing”; or they can’t change the batteries in the tv remote.  We all know people like this: they are utterly helpless and it’s a learned helplessness.  They’ve learned that they don’t need to do it on their own because if they are pathetic enough, someone will do it for them!  Why do they need to worry about it?

Obviously, there are many issues that come with this kind of learned helplessness/ laziness, including and especially abdicating responsibility.  If you are completely dependent on someone else to do your grocery shopping, then it’s not your fault if you only have junk food in the house! You didn’t buy it- they did! It makes it easy for nothing to be your fault or your responsibility since you are completely dependent on other people to ‘help you out.’ This is the opposite problem that I have (Doing It Myself mentality), but it’s still easy to fall victim to the same problem of abdicating responsibility. In my case, it’s because “I have too much to do and no one to help me!”

It really doesn’t matter if you are totally on your own or if you are totally dependent on others: sooner or later, you have to be the one to take action! It really is all about you and the decisions you make regarding your health and your lifestyle. We all hear comments about how we don’t have time to exercise because we are so busy or we can’t eat healthy because the family doesn’t like healthy food or that we get stuck eating junk food during the day because that’s what’s available at work. We make it easy to escape our responsibilities regarding our choices, either by blaming being busy or someone else’s failings.  If we don’t want to go to the gym because we don’t feel like it, then we need to own that decision. If it turns out that we were at the gym only three times (or less) in the last month, whose choice was it not to go? Do we get ‘workout credits’ with our bodies if we were really too busy or the trainer canceled?  Of course not! Busy, no trainer or just blowing it off, the result is the same: we didn’t exercise!

I’ve noticed that the things that are really important to people tend to be the things that don’t get left out of the schedule. Our favorite junk food keeps showing up at our house.  We manage to watch our favorite shows even though we are too busy to go to the gym or do the grocery shopping.  We manage to make our mani/ pedi appointments even if we cancel with our trainers.  It’s called priorities, and since those things are important to us, we make time for them!  The healthy eating, the workouts, going to bed on time, drinking more water instead of soda: all those fall to the wayside because they are not our priorities.  We can tell when they are important to us, because we will reschedule our workout, go to the grocery store instead of the nail salon or blow off a Friday night out to get some sleep! Our healthy is mostly the sum of our choices and if our health is pretty cruddy, whose choice was that?

Ultimately, those people who are either completely dependent on others or people like me who are way too busy doing it all myself have a few decisions to make.  We may have to learn to be more independent or to ask for help or even– gasp!— give up some other things on our schedules.  Yes, there will be times when we really are so busy it feels like we’re chasing our own tails, and yes, there will be times when the Uber driver gets lost and you miss your appointment.  There will be times when you show up at the luncheon and it’s full of the foods you’re trying to avoid.  Some things are just beyond our control no matter what we are prioritizing and we just have to accept that it really isn’t our fault. But we also need to take responsibility for the things we can control and the decisions we choose to make. Sometimes that means we have to ask for help and sometimes we have to do it ourselves since this is our life and our health and our responsibility.

Institutionalized: Weight Loss & Breaking Down the Walls of Fear

We all know that we get in our own way when it comes to our goals, especially with weight loss. We know we need to change bad old habits at the same time we’re developing new healthy habits, and we expect that it’s going to be hard. What we sometimes forget is that change is scary and it’s normal to be scared. It’s not foolish or silly or stupid: it’s normal.

We also tend to minimize the fact that we’ve spent a lifetime developing those unhealthy habits in that comfortably safe-though-unhealthy zone. We don’t realize we’ve become, in a sense, institutionalized. Most people recognize this term in connection with inmates. Convicts who’ve spent long years in prison get used to the structured routine and there are some who cannot function outside of prison when they’re released. Institutionalization is one of the reasons for re-offending: they want to get sent back to a place they feel safe, even if it is a prison.

We do the same thing with weight loss and changing our habits. We feel so safe in our bad old routine and when we try moving away from those safe unhealthy structures, it feels like we’re moving into uncharted new territory. That’s because we are moving into uncharted new territory! We’re working without a net, with minimal structure and sometimes shaky support, so yes, feeling scared and nervous is normal! We are leaving our comfort zone so we are UNCOMFORTABLE! Unfortunately, we’ve been taught by so many institutions that ‘uncomfortable is bad’ so we need to fix it as soon as possible!

What we forget is that moving out of that Safe Comfort Zone is how we grow and learn new things. Do you remember the first time you had to speak out loud in Spanish class-  in Spanish? Do you remember the first time you had to give a speech or a presentation? How about the first time you met your spouse/ partner? Nervous, much?  I know I can hear the quaver in my own voice when I get nervous, and although I don’t like it much, I accept that there are times it’s okay to be nervous and uncomfortable!

It’s like the old maps you see in history books: when the map-makers got to the edge of the known world, they’d fill in the empty places with warnings: Here be Dragons! or Here be Monsters! Basically, if you’re venturing out past the edge of civilization, you’re taking your life in your hands! Now there’s a huge incentive to turn back and head down a well-traveled old road instead of blazing a new trail!

Except…. imagine where we’d be if no one ever took that risk. In the United States, if Jefferson hadn’t sent Lewis and Clark out west, my country would be much much smaller.  If King Philip of Portugal hadn’t been Philip the Navigator, most of South America would be a different continent and if England hadn’t sent Francis Drake out across the seas, would America even exist?  Let’s forget about the New World and look at Europe: Rome spent most of the Pax Romana exploring new territories and paving the way for commerce but even before Rome, Alexander brought together the entire known world under one throne just as Ghengis Khan did in Asia. All of them took risks and with each risk, the whole world got a little bit bigger.

History aside, when you move outside your comfort zone, you are taking a big risk in an attempt to get something better than what you already have. Risk involves loss and failure, so it’s okay to feel nervous, scared, unsure and uncomfortable.  I really think this is one reason babies are born fearless: if they knew the risks of trying to walk on two legs, they’d never stand up!  They cheerfully crawl all over the floor, exploring, climbing on sofas, coffee tables, trying out their legs and wobbling all over the room: their whole world map is one big “Here be Dragons!” and they happily explore everywhere, oblivious to the dangers. (That’s what parents are for!) Truth be told, if your baby wasn’t doing that, you’d be rushing her to the doctor frantic that something is wrong with her, because this is normal for babies: it’s how they learn!

But the older we get, the more scrapes and scars we get, the more cautious we become.  We become institutionalized by those Dragons and Monsters: last time I worked out, I hurt my shoulder so that’s not a good idea; I tried calorie-counting and gained three pounds so giving that up; I tried the Whole 30 and it gave me ‘digestive issues’ so we’re not doing that again!  We think we are playing it safe but what we are really doing is limiting our opportunities for growth.  The more we shy away from Dragons and Monsters, the smaller our world gets but we don’t realize it because we’re focusing on staying safe and comfortable.  The more we stay safe, the more comfortable we become, the less inclined we are to venture out among the Monsters, because, “you know, they hurt us and scare us and make us feel really really nervous.”

There’s a difference between feeling uncomfortable because you’re doing something new and different and being uncomfortable because you feel threatened in some way.  Being uncomfortable waiting alone in a dark parking lot is obviously one of the situations you want to avoid but when you are out to eat with friends and you feel uncomfortable ordering your grilled shrimp over veggies instead of rice or saying no to the chips, brownies or beer? That’s one of the those situations where you’re really just nervous or embarrassed because you are doing something new or different.  No one is going to belittle you over your food choices, and in truth if they do, it says more about their own immaturity than it does your improvements in your diet. It might feel a little awkward the first time you do it but once you’ve done it a few times, you can erase the Dragons on that part of your map and fill in a newly explored section that’s now become a part of your Safe Comfortable Zone.

There’s also no rules saying you have to start all the new and uncomfortable habits at the same time.  Most weight loss professionals discourage this practice and I can tell you from experience that they’re right: too much change at once is a recipe for disaster! In my experience, I found it much easier to do one major change or maybe two smaller changes at a time until they feel comfortable.  Once they are part of the New Safe Comfortable Zone, then I add one more change and one more and so on until I have a new set of healthier comfortable habits in place of the old unhealthy ones. It certainly didn’t happen overnight but it also didn’t overwhelm me so much I turned back.

Sometimes this fear of leaving the Comfort Zone manifests as a feeling of “I can’t.”  You simply cross this new opportunity off your list as “something I can’t do,” as in “I can’t lift weights because I’ll hurt myself;” or “I can’t do Zumba because of my bad joints.”  Once you start telling yourself “I can’t,” you’ve really locked yourself in.  You’ve created your own prison and you are totally institutionalized; you just don’t know how locked in you are or that you are the one who’s done it. It’s easy to blame our weight, our schedule, our circumstances or our health: we really want to be able to workout/ eat better/ walk more/ insert healthy habit, but we just can’t!

There really is no cure for institutionalization except breaking out of our own prisons.  Yes, it’s scary; yes, we are unsure of ourselves: again, it’s normal to feel this way when we’re trying out new things! It would be great if we had a fabulous supportive community or a clear plan of how we are going to accomplish our goals, but sometimes we just need to be brave and forge ahead on our own.  If we wait until we find that supportive community or until we’ve figured out that clear plan, we are tricking ourselves into staying in that Safe Comfort Zone, going over the same routines that keep us locked in place.  When we feel the urge to return to those old routines, we need to remind ourselves that those are the habits that led to our being overweight and unhealthy and eating badly.  It may feel “safe” but how comforting is it when we get winded walking across the parking lot or when we have to sit down while we wait at Starbucks because standing hurts too much?  How comforting is it when our weight is putting a strain on our knees or our back or our heart and kidneys? That’s what those ‘safe & comfortable’ old routines have done for us.  It may feel more comfortable when we eat the whole burrito at lunch instead of ordering a burrito bowl and you might feel less self-conscious having the chips and beer along with everyone else on Friday nights, but when your pants feel a bit too snug and you find yourself breathing hard when you reach your car after leaving the restaurant, are you feeling safe and comfortable? Or is it more like a scary “OMG! I need to do something!”

Whatever new healthy habit you begin, it’s okay to feel a nervous and awkward. None of us like that feeling of not knowing what we’re doing or how to do it, but we have to remind ourselves that: 1) this is a temporary feeling; and 2) if it really isn’t for you, it’s okay to move on to something else! The more you get used to trying new things, the more of a trailblazer you become and the bigger your world is!

 

 

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!