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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Slippery Slope: Weight Loss & Falling Down The Learning Curve

We are an instant society.  We’ve got instant soup, instant pots, instant messages, and even Instagram. Our unofficial motto should be “instant gratification takes too long!” The problem with this Instant Philosophy is that while technology is instant, human beings are not. We can take a long time to absorb new information and learn new habits and procedures, and even if we learn things relatively quickly (as in a few days), we are frustrated with this seeming “delay.”  We want instant results!

Learning anything new or even trying something different is difficult at first.  It gets easier…. eventually.  It’s that holding out until it gets easier that is the hardest part and until we reach that point, it just seems to take longer to do, and when we do it “wrong” we have to do it again, or it just adds to our delay and that’s when we start falling down that learning curve! We ask ourselves if this is really worth it? Is it going to do whatever we want it to do? How long do I have to wait until I know?  Why does everything take so damn long?!

Welcome to the Human Experience! This is why we get so frustrated with ourselves and others when it comes to weight loss.  We all know that– tragically– weight loss isn’t instant. There’s a long list of “isn’ts” when it comes to weight loss: in addition to not being instant, weight loss isn’t linear, it isn’t permanent, it isn’t easy! Weight loss is slow, difficult and full of ups and downs.  That’s why most of us dread weight loss and making almost any kind of change to our eating and exercise.  We go through the process of trying something new, learning a new habit or procedure, then we have to get consistent with this new process and then- only after we’ve been consistent for a reasonable period of time- we get to find out if it actually works! It’s an almost painful process of trial and error! It’s as far removed from Instant as it can get!

But the biggest stumbling block isn’t that our new eating plan is wrong or that our new exercise program is messing up our weight loss: it’s that we give up on the process out of frustration.  There’s a learning curve that comes with making changes and being consistent with those changes.  To be blunt, the Instant mentality is messing us up and until we get that mentality out of our head, we’re going to keep messing up!

This is why fad diets and food replacement programs work so well in the short term.  They seem to give us the instant results we want.  We do something drastic, as in fasting for X amount of days taking only XYZ supplement or ABC diet shakes, or we just switch out our regular meals for the diet food from the Weight Loss Company.  Wow, we lose weight fast! …… At least until we stop with the fasting, the diet shakes, supplements and processed diet food and the weight comes back!

Making long term changes yields long term results, but it also takes a long time for the changes to show up. Making long term changes, even though they aren’t usually difficult, means we have to be consistent with them once we learn them, and that means changing our habits! Enter Frustration- the arch-nemesis of Instant! Let’s say we’re switching to a low carb breakfast, something fairly simple and easy to do! It’s one meal! So instead of having the bagel and cream cheese with a latte, we’re going to have string cheese and coffee with cream (some of us don’t do black!) Seems easy enough, but….. we’ve got to do it….every day… on a long term basis! So we start doing it and before we start seeing results, we start getting frustrated.  For starters, we really really want that bagel and latte! Then, we ‘forgot’ our string cheese so we need to get something else so we get a breakfast burrito (it’s kinda low carb, isn’t it? Umm… NO!)  Then we get tired of the cheese and the coffee: “I want something warm! I want something crunchy! This cheese doesn’t fill me up so I’m still hungry!”

This is why we aren’t losing weight: we aren’t being consistent.  How often did we get tired of the bagel and cream cheese? Did that bagel fill us up? Think about it: we finished our bagel about 9:00 a.m. and then went for a snack around 11:00 a.m. Not really filling if you’re hungry in two hours! There’s a learning curve when it comes to new habits and new procedures.  We not only need to be consistent with these habits in order to get any results but we need to be consistent to learn them! This means being patient! If we keep not-doing them, we’re going to keep not-losing weight and not-learning the new healthier habits!

When we talk ourselves into not doing the new habits, we are talking ourselves into failure again.  We think that we can’t lose weight because weight loss is hard so we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  That’s what turns the Learning Curve into a Slippery Slope! We try eating the low carb breakfast but we ‘forget’ and have the bagel or we ‘cheat’ and have a breakfast burrito and after a couple of weeks of ‘kind of’ having the low carb breakfast, we still haven’t lost any weight ( Burrito/Bagel: 8; Low Carb Breakfast: 6) and so we give up. “See? I told you I can’t lose weight!” Or we convinced ourselves that the low carb breakfast (or whatever) doesn’t work for us, because we ‘really tried it’. Really?? Consistently? Every day? “Ummmm…. kinda…?” Kinda doesn’t count!

The irony is that we want Instant Weight Loss Results but we talk ourselves into Instant Weight Loss Failure, because- again- we want Instant! Let’s face it: Instant is easy.  How much work can there be when it’s instant? Instant oatmeal: just add hot water and it’s five minutes to yum! Old fashioned “quick cooking” oatmeal: heat up the water on the stove, add the oatmeal and stir and stir and stir for about 20 minutes. “You mean I got to wait for the water to boil and then I gotta cook it for 20 minutes? And stir it too?! OMG!! Oh hell no!!” (Let’s not even talk about stove-top pudding vs instant! )

Learning to do something differently takes work and patience. It means dealing with things that are frustrating and making mistakes and above all it means not giving up! I know how frustrating and confusing new processes are.  One of my resolutions for 2018 is money management which means (cue ominous music) making a budget and sticking to it! After weight loss, this is probably the most frustrating, confusing and dreaded task in our lives. Not only am I counting calories now, I’m counting my pennies! After dinner, I sit down and log all my food, drinks and exercise, which is pretty much routine after a couple of years, but then I pull out my Budget Book, grab my iPhone and start going through my expenses, bank balances and any bills that have hit since yesterday **sigh**.  Makes for a thrilling evening though, because my blood pressure and frustration levels definitely go up!! There were so many nights I just wanted to chuck the whole process and go back to living paycheck to paycheck like so many other people do. “It’s not a sin, is it? If I can’t go on vacation, it’s not the end of the world, but what happens when I need to replace my car?”

However-– and this is important– after doing this for a couple of months, I’ve noticed some important things, such as I’m spending more on impulse purchases than I thought I was and by monitoring a few important categories, I’ve managed to save twice as much money as before. (This is not unlike skipping the potato chips, choosing the spinach and losing a few more pounds. Score!) The frustration headaches and evenings spent covered in pencil shavings and eraser dust have actually paid off and I’m getting some positive results. It’s not magic (although looking at my bank balance really feels like it is!): it was consistency and hard work and climbing back up that learning curve.  The end result is that if I hadn’t put in the hard work, all my frustration would have been for nothing and I’d be back to scraping up my change to get an Americano instead of watching my savings account get bigger.  Or to put it in weight loss terminology: I’d be eating the bagels every morning, getting hungry before noon and wondering why weight loss is so hard for me.

[FYI: I chose the book You Need A Budget by Jesse Mecham; they have a  free podcast, and a website, software and an app, which are not free, but they offer a free 30 day trial. I found they paid for themselves in a couple of months.]













Weighty Issues: Judgment, Obesity and Life & Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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?”


If Only Wishing Made It So: You Can’t Lie Yourself to Weight Loss

When I was a kid there was a really popular margarine commercial with the tag line “it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” usually accompanied by some melodramatic thunder and lightning.  While we try all the time to fool our bodies with fake fat, manufactured oils and other weird processed ingredients, this post is about how we lie to ourselves about our progress.  We all do it at some time or another, whether it’s as simple as “I don’t eat cookies every day,” or “it’s one candy bar and I’ll work out later tonight.” When we try fooling ourselves into believing “we’re working on our weight loss,” the person we’re hurting the most is ourselves, not to mention everyone else who loves and depends on you.

Weighing ourselves on a regular basis is one way of tracking our progress but it’s not the most comprehensive way.  It’s hard to evaluate a process when you only look at the end result. Some of tools I like to recommend to people who are just starting out (or even those who are starting again) are a food scale and a diet tracker.  This is usually where 90% of us groan about having to weigh/ measure our food and then logging it into a food tracker.  Yes, it’s a pain but it keeps us honest.  This is what I mean about lying to ourselves about our progress. It’s one thing to grab a handful of macadamia nuts and say “this is one serving,” and it’s another to put it on the food scale, note that it’s really one and three-quarters serving, enter it into your diet app and realize you just ate 350 calories.  If you didn’t weigh and log that, it’s so easy to fool yourself into thinking you had “about 180-200 calories of healthy nuts!” Yes, macadamias are good for you, but too many calories at the end of the day are still too many calories.  “Why am I not losing weight when I’ve been working so hard on my diet?” Because you aren’t working on your diet- you only think you are. That’s where most of us make what I think of as ‘honest mistakes.’ You have good intentions but you don’t have the right tools to help you along. [FYI: I usually recommend an Ozeri digital food scale. It’s an America’s Test Kitchen best buy at roughly $12.00 from Amazon. I also use the My Fitness Pal app/ website (free) and I like to keep a paper journal (DietMinder about $15.00 on Amazon).]

As I said, those are ‘honest mistakes.’ Then there’s the outright lies to yourself, where you help yourself to biscuits with butter, caramel corn and chocolate fudge cookies and pretend you didn’t eat them. Or you bail on your work out because you’re ‘too busy’ and when your friends and family ask you how you’re doing on your weight loss, you lie about how “I’ve been working at it.” And if they ask how much weight you’ve lost recently, you lie again and say “I’ve been too busy to weigh myself lately.” If you had a nose like Pinocchio, it’d be stabbing them in the face. Your loved ones will probably believe you until it’s patently obvious that you’ve not been working at your weight loss. You can even lie to yourself by convincing yourself that the cookies, biscuits, and other junk food isn’t going to ‘derail’ your weight loss, but you can’t lie to your body.  Your body knows what you’ve been eating, not eating and how much activity you’ve been getting.  Your body won’t believe the lies you’ve been telling yourself and everyone just because you want it to. Your body is a lot like that scale and that diet tracker: you enter the data and it tallies up the calories, nutrients and lack of nutrients. The bad news is that it displays that data on your thighs, your belly, your butt and everywhere else for all the world to see.

We all wish we can be thinner, fitter and healthier, but wishing doesn’t make it so.  It takes hard work and it takes a commitment to change. As I said in a recent post, we can’t farm this out to someone else to handle for us like putting in new carpet or getting the house painted. We’ve got to do the heavy lifting on our own: things like deciding what to eat, how much to eat, when to work out and keeping ourselves motivated. None of this is easy and it’s okay to wish all this were easier, but at the end of the day, you have to commit to weight loss every day.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) likes to remind her listeners “every choice is a chance” and I believe that. You don’t have to scourge yourself because you had caramel corn at your friend’s Superbowl party and if you’re at a restaurant with amazing garlic bread, you don’t have to sit on your hands to keep from eating it.  I am saying that when you eat it, log it and don’t lie to yourself about it. Why log it? Aside from keeping tally on what you’ve eaten for the day, when you flip through the last couple weeks of your food journal (this is why I like a paper one too), it’s there on the pages that in addition to that caramel corn and garlic bread, you’ve also had those fudge cookies, the peanut butter cups and the sea salt chocolate caramels.  Hmmm, maybe that’s why you didn’t lose weight this week?  Maybe it’s a sign you need to redirect your focus back to eating more healthy unprocessed foods and less nutrient-vacant sugar-filled processed stuff? It’s harder to lie to yourself when you’re looking at an objective list of what you’ve eaten and how much activity you’ve gotten. Believe me, some people can look at the trashcan full of candy wrappers and tell themselves they’ve ‘been good,’ but their bodies know the truth: they’ve been eating junk, and the junk will eventually accumulate in their trunk!

Lest you interpret this as a “holier than thou” attitude, I confess a big part of this post is unfortunately inspired by my own Pinocchio-nose.  There’s been a lot of Paleo cookie wrappers, organic (and not so organic) popcorn and sweet potato chip bags in my trashcan lately, along with some ‘fair trade’ chocolate bar wrappers. It may be a higher quality of junk food than what I ate before, but bottom line, it’s still junk food: too much sugar, too many carbs and not a whole lot of what’s good for me.  Ultimately, just too many calories! I’ve been the one telling my family that I’ve been too busy to weigh because really I don’t want to see that I’ve not lost weight or actually gained some pounds. Do I really want to lose weight? Oh hell yes! But it only happens when we work at it every day and keep our focus and motivation trained on the good healthy habits we’ve spent a lot of time and effort cultivating.  I’m definitely not making progress by eating junk food and pretending I didn’t! We all wish weight loss were quick and easy. It isn’t and all the wishing– or lying- in the world will not make it so!












Walking Out Onto the Ledge: Don’t Be Afraid of Failing

Some of you may be watching the new series on TNT The Alienist.  One of the characters in that show is Theodore Roosevelt. Before the show premiered, I read the book and there’s a bit of background about TR.  Most of us know him from his presidency and his adventures afterwards around the world as an explorer of sorts, but long before he was Mr. President or Mr. Police Commissioner, he was a rather sickly child.  One of the reasons his family and friends believe he was so outgoing and “take-charge” was that he had spent a lot of time as a child fighting to be strong and outgoing.  As a result, there are quite a few inspirational quotes about trying and failing attributed to him.  Most are familiar with the one about “if he fails, at least he fails daring greatly.”  While I like that quote (I think a car manufacturer used it in an ad not too long ago), the quote I like best of his actually appeared on my phone’s app this week: “It is hard to fail but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”  That pretty much says it all.  For some of us, this is what we are counting on: we can’t fail if we don’t try. We’d all feel safer if we had a guarantee that we’d win, or at least not fail, but the only guarantee is that if you never get in the game, you will never winThat means you are a guaranteed loser!

Does that sting a little? Good! It should sting.  Failure and losing should not be attractive or pleasant. They should be the impetus to improvement and trying harder.  One of the lyrics I like so much in Green Day’s “Still Breathing” is the phrase “As I walk out on the ledge, are you scared to death to live?” I think that this is truer for more of us than we want to admit.  Living is hard.  Living takes work.  It’s a lot of skinned knees even at the best of times. I remember watching one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients who was only 25 years old but well over 500 lbs crying about “it shouldn’t be this hard to be a person!”  Really? Who guaranteed that it was going to be easy?  How about those people who are homeless?  Did they just miss out on that guarantee? How about those with disabilities or who suffered terrible tragedies in their lives?  Where are their guarantees that life is easy?  We can all cry about how hard it is to live and to be a person too, and I am sure many of us have.  I know I’ve whined about it myself.

But ultimately, that’s what it is: whining, and also looking for an excuse.  People think there is no glory or greatness in being a person, but your life is what you make it.  I know it’s a cliche, but a lot of times things are cliche because they are true! One of the stories from Homer’s Odyssey has to do with Achilles making a choice to live a short but glorious life or to live a long and boring one.  (If you don’t know which one he chose, I can’t help you.)  The point is that our lives are the product of our choices and if you let fear dictate your choices, your life will probably be pretty miserable.

Some of you may read my other blog about my pets (My Four-Legged Family & Me) and one of the dogs I mention a lot is my Yorkie Henry.  Henry was pretty fearless throughout his life.  I used to say “he’s fearless so I’m always scared to death!” He’d think nothing of jumping from my shoulder to the dresser or climbing onto the table or growling at my sister’s 110 lb Husky mix.  He was almost 5 lbs and wasn’t even 12 inches tall, but he was was fearless! He wasn’t foolhardy (he knew I had his back when he growled at Marlow) but he also wasn’t going to let his size dictate who bossed him around.  It might sound a little weird to say that your almost-five-pound dog is your inspiration, but frankly I don’t care.  Henry did a lot of things and went a lot of places that other dogs might not get to do because I knew he could handle it.  I loved taking him to Disneyland and Universal Studios and he went to the mountains and the beach too.  I have to admit, he was a little intimidated by the ocean but hey, I know humans who are intimidated by the ocean.

The point is that living takes work and like most things, it takes practice to get it right, especially if you want to get the most out of your life and health.  Nothing worth doing comes without a price and for most of us that price is failing once in a while.  Success is less about luck and strategy than it is about pure perseverance.  It means not being afraid to get your hands dirty or get egg on your face. If you let the fear of looking foolish get between you and your goal or even just the life you want to have, you have much bigger issues than looking like a fool: you’re missing out on your life.

Living the life you want is a success on its own but success comes through trial and failure and trying again. Try googling “famous failures” and you’ll easily get a couple dozen lists of famous people who screwed up royally at least once in their lives. These are people like Einstein, Spielberg, Rowling, Lincoln, Jobs, Gates and of course, Edison, but the list is endless. When you think of three time Oscar winner Stephen Spielberg, is failure what you think of? Or foolishness or embarrassment? Of course not! You think of classic films like Schindler’s List, ET, or Jaws, but such groundbreaking films would never have been made if Spielberg had let failure and fear stop him.

Failure is why most of us are afraid to try anything new or different. When it comes to making healthy eating choices or working out, in some ways, it’s even more awkward.  Many of us feel like we shouldn’t need “instructions” on how to eat and how to be active, so on top of the idea that we’re already doing it ‘wrong,’ we don’t want to admit that we don’t know how to start doing it ‘right.’ We don’t want to admit that we don’t know what we’re doing and we’re afraid of looking stupid. Take it from someone who’s used to looking stupid- once you get used to it, you realize some important truths: most people don’t care; most people have been right there looking stupid themselves; and most people are willing to help you out.

Most of us won’t have millions of people watching us fail if we blow our diet or bail on our workouts. If we fail to finish our 5k or gain back a few pounds, it’s not going to be a fifty million dollar failure with the world watching us: it’ll just be those we love most in the world. So it’ll just feel like it’s the whole world. I know we all want to make our loved ones proud. We want their love and admiration but seriously if we’re afraid of looking foolish in front of the ones we love the most and who love us the most, what does that say about our relationship? Shouldn’t we feel safest with them? If someone has to bear witness to our most embarrassing screw-ups, shouldn’t it be the ones we know won’t use them to hurt us? Don’t you think they’d be proud of our trying to improve our health and quality of life?

When we’re afraid of failing, afraid of looking foolish or afraid of being wrong, we close ourselves off from the world but also the ones we love. That 25 year old 500-plus patient of Dr. Nowzaradan’s learned something important: it wasn’t fear of disappointing others that was holding her back from living her life, but it was her fear of disappointing herself.  She was the one holding herself back.  That’s what happens when we let fear and failure get in our way: we hold ourselves back from living the life we want to live- not fate, not the Universe or God, and not other people. No one else makes the choices for us- we do and when we choose to hide from the hard things in life, we ultimately choose no life at all.  One of my other favorite quotes in my cubicle is from Don Quixote: “I know who I am and who I may be if I choose.” I know who I am. Who do you choose to be?

Still Breathing: Weight Loss Takes Determination

One of the things that surprises people about me is the music I listen to.  Scrolling through the music on my iPod you’ll find Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin, Hans Zimmer, Yo-Yo Ma, The Chieftains, Skillet, Disturbed, James Newton Howard, Kitty Wells, John Fogerty, Patsy Cline, Five Finger Death Punch, John Denver and Bush among others.  Believe it or not, I am picky about what I listen to. You would think as I get older, my taste in music would start mellowing, but it’s just in the last few years that I downloaded the Skillet, Disturbed and FFDP. And, yes, I still listen to the old country (the new country I really don’t care for!)

My taste in music really surprised my sister. When it comes to music, we really are speaking different languages.  She likes jazz and some things I can’t even begin to describe (bossa nova?) When I initially starting listening to hard rock (Queen was the first), she put it down to rebelling against my parents, but it’s just kept growing and expanding.  One of my favorite bands which has also stood the test of time is Green Day. Their music speaks to me and it’s still got a lot to say. The song that’s talking to me most recently is “Still Breathing.”

Let’s be honest: music is art and even though the artist may have intended a song to about something specific, it has something different to say to each person. To me, this one was pretty straightforward: “I’m still breathing on my own.”  We might be scared, we might be hurt, we might be overwhelmed, but we’re still breathing and we’re still alive.

We need to keep breathing and we need to keep struggling for what we want in our lives and for ourselves.  I know it sounds trite and cliche but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. If we don’t believe we’re worth fighting for, why would anyone else fight for us? I often say something similar when it comes to weight loss: if you don’t want to lose weight, no one else can lose it for you! You have to want this!

You hear something similar from most people when it comes to weight loss programs or work out programs or anything else that requires your participation: you get out of it what you put into it. It takes practice to learn anything, to get good at anything or to succeed at anything.  We’ve all heard the Edison quote about light bulbs but my favorite quote of his says “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Losing weight is no different: it takes a lot of work and a whole lot of determination to make healthy changes, to lose weight and to keep it off.  If we want to improve our health and improve the quality of our lives, it takes work to make it happen.  Seriously, if weight loss were easy, we wouldn’t be a nation of obese individuals! We wouldn’t have expressions like “yo-yo dieting” and businesses like Nutrisystem and Weight Watchers wouldn’t exist. But these businesses exist precisely because weight loss is so difficult.  They are trying to make it easier and while I completely respect their intentions, I think they are doing it all wrong: it’s the work that makes it valuable.

Another favorite quote of mine is by Thomas Paine: “what we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: ’tis dearness only that gives everything its value.” Do you remember the first car you ever bought and paid for yourself? Do you remember the first time someone spilled something in it? I’m sure you do! When I was in high school, there were two kinds of kids: those who bought their cars themselves and those whose parents paid for them. The older brother of a classmate had restored a 1957 pickup truck on his own, and even though the shop screwed up the royal blue paint job he’d ordered (it looked like a giant blueberry!), he was still proud of his hard work and babied his truck. By contrast, there were a couple of twins in the same class whose parents bought them a Corvette, and when they totaled it inside six months, their parents bought them another one.  Who do you think understood the value of their vehicles?

If losing ten pounds were as simple as switching from butter to margarine, no one would give it a second thought. We’d lose ten pounds and when we went on vacation, we’d think nothing of drinking mai-tais all day and eating cheesecake and pasta every night and when we came home and discovered we’d gained back that ten pounds, it’d be no big deal: “It’ll come back off as easily as before!” We all know that’s not true! Many of us struggle to lose the ten pounds and we continue to struggle to keep it off and when we’re stuck on vacation looking at buffet tables full of ravioli, cheesecake, garlic bread and cocktails, our first thought isn’t “wow, this looks good!” Okay- maybe it is, but it’s quickly followed by “how long will it take me to lose the weight I’d gain if I ate all this?” We’ve all dreaded stepping on the scale after vacation or the holidays: “how much did I gain? And how long until I’m back where I was before?”

Too often we give up before we even join the fight.  We hide from our weight and we hide from life. When things get hard, we sigh and dread just the thought of all the work involved. It’s work planning out our shopping list; it’s work saying no to all the snacks and goodies, and let’s not even discuss the ‘work’ involved in working out! “Why is it all so hard?” We give up and we hide rather than dig in and get it done. When we do that, we forget how good it feels when we take the stairs and aren’t winded when we reach our office; we forget how good it feels when we try on a new outfit and realize you need a smaller size; we forget how good it feels to get up in the morning actually feeling good instead of tired and burnt out! These are just some of the benefits of weight loss and being healthier: we can move without pain, we can do more, we feel better and aside from just looking great, we improve our overall physical and mental health. Yes, it is work, but it’s work worth doing!

It’s not always going to be easier and there will be times when we feel like we’ve been runover by life and circumstances and that all of our efforts are pointless.  We’re going to feel like exhausted and frustrated and start thinking more about giving up than what we’re working for.   Those are normal reactions to the hard work, but when they start popping up in your head, I want to remind you: you’re still breathing on your own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Excuse Beat-Down: Weight Loss & Fighting the Good Fight

There’s always a reason not to exercise, just like there’s always a reason to put off dieting for another week or month or until after a certain date.  If you are looking for a reason ‘not to,’ they are everywhere. As my grandpa would say, you can’t turn around without tripping over one!  What we don’t see– what’s not so obvious- are the thousands of reasons for doing the opposite.  There are just as many better reasons to lose the weight, to exercise, and to eat healthier.  We don’t see them because we aren’t looking for them: we’re too busy looking for the excuses! In some ways these reasons to be healthy are far more obvious and far more important, but we tend to sweep them to the wayside because…….. because…………….ummmm, what’s my reason for not doing this again?

Let’s see: last time it was because it was raining and you didn’t want to get wet coming out of the gym, and the time before that you’d had a long day and hadn’t eaten all day which gave you a headache and the time before that it was the office Christmas party and you love gingerbread cookies.  And that’s only a sampling of the reasons for not going to the gym or eating healthier. If you actually wrote them all down every time you bailed on your attempts to improve your health, you’d probably feel pretty foolish.  I know I do when I write them down in my food & activity journal.  They look like lame excuses because they are lame excuses!

Now compare those lame reasons for bailing with the reasons for being healthier: you got kids? Bingo! Reason No. 1! Got a spouse/ partner? Bingo! Reason No. 2! How about anyone who depends on you? Yep- Reason No. 3! Those are just the obvious ones. Then there’s the other more personal reasons, like your painful knees/ feet/ back, your imminent diabetes, your high blood pressure, the way you huff and puff like a train struggling uphill whenever you climb stairs or walk across the parking lot, the way the buttons strain on your shirt/ blouse and the jacket you can’t zip anymore. Those are pretty obvious too, but the fact is that we ignore them like we ignore the fact that we can’t play with our kids because we aren’t healthy enough and how we can’t walk the dog because we have to stop more than he does (and it’s not to mark a tree!)

We ignore the important reasons to change because change is unpleasant and difficult work.  Big non-surprise there! We like eating burgers and fries; we like laying around on the sofa bingeing This is Us; we like eating popcorn and cheesecake and not exercising because, really, who likes getting all sweaty and having sore muscles? Yes, we know that we should eat better, we know we could be more active but it falls in the Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda category of all those things we know we should do or could do or would do if circumstances ever gelled correctly. Kind of like winning the lottery: I should put more money in my 401k but if I win the lottery……

Eating better and being healthier is probably in the top ten on our list of Things To Do When I Get The Time, closely followed by things like paint the house, landscape the yard, and organize my retirement portfolio, so our odds of getting to it are sometime between “before we die” and “never.” Unfortunately, since we aren’t eating better, being more active and becoming healthier, our odds of dying sooner than we think we will are getting better and better every day.  That light you see at the end of the tunnel isn’t the rosy glow of a long retirement tooling around the Southwest in your RV with your spouse; it’s the train bearing down on you carrying a lifetime of donuts, frappuccinos and laying around on the sofa.

Am I being just a little heavy handed here? GOOD!! Take a look at those kids of yours running around the backyard. Some day they’re probably going to get married and have kids of their own and you may not be around to see that because you like potato chips and waffles more than you like spinach and taking a walk during your lunch! Imagine the love of your life cruising through the sunny Southwest with someone else because you’re too busy doing anything else to swim a few laps every week and say no to the seconds on the apple fritters! This is what it comes down to: if you aren’t investing in your own health, you are throwing away your future.  We see all the financial planning advertisements for our retirement accounts: imagine saving for a great retirement only to have your spouse spend it with someone else. Stings a bit, yes? Think it won’t happen to you? Think again! It happened to one of my mom’s longtime coworkers: she worked all the extra shifts, carried a few extra pounds and had stress levels out the roof and within a year of her retirement, she had a massive stroke which eventually killed her and that huge retirement portfolio she’d worked so hard to build? Her husband took his new girlfriend on a trip to Europe!  It also happened to the husband of our bookkeeper at my last job: within a few months of retirement, he developed a serious health problem and died a few weeks after their return from Italy.  His wife (my coworker) was grateful he’d been healthy enough to make the trip they’d always dreamed of taking, but now she’s spending her retirement alone.

Is there anything more important than investing in a long healthy life? One of the commercials I’ve been seeing lately compares your body to your car: “imagine you could have any car you wanted but it would be the only car you ever have in your entire life…” I think the ad is for a DNA service but the idea behind it is a sound one: many of us take better care of our cars than we do our own bodies! We drive past the ‘cheap gas’ because it makes your engine knock or you don’t get good mileage, but after putting in the premium gas, we’ll walk into the micro-mart to get a soda, a bag of chips and a candy bar.  Really?? Your car is too important for ‘junk food’ but your own body isn’t?  You’ll make time to get the tires rotated but you can’t make time for a walk or a swim? News flash, people: when your car needs a new fuel pump, your mechanic can get one installed in a couple of days, but if your body needs a new heart (or any other organ), you could literally die waiting for that order to come in!  And frankly, some of our parts aren’t replaceable!

I really don’t mean to be a scary, depressing b*tch about this, but eating better and taking better care of yourself really isn’t a major chore. It’s a series of simple little things that can be fun, and in the long run provide you with a longer healthier life.  It really is things as simple as saying no to potato chips most of the time or no to a second frappuccino or even just taking a walk every other day or running around the park with your kids a couple of times a week. Doing as much as you can do just to eat better, healthier, whole foods and taking some time to be more active can do wonders for your health.  Walking the dog every day doesn’t have to be a chore: it can be a relaxing walk in the fresh air and if you go with your kids or spouse, it’s family time, relaxation and exercise- all of which are good for your mind and body! Make dinner time family time too by taking the time to prepare the meal together, even if all the kids can do is set the table or toss the salad.  It can even be something as simple as turning off the tv and devices at a certain time in the evening and spending some time relaxing with your spouse/ partner or even just getting more sleep! Improving your health can truly improve the quality of your life as well as the length.  After all, when you’re strolling through Paris with the love of your life, would you rather have them holding your hand or pushing your wheelchair?






















Lowering The Bar: Focusing on Your Weight Loss Goals

One of the things that I see regularly on My 600 lb Life is patients who are practically immobile or are completely bedridden. From my vantage point and pretty much anyone else’s, it’s really easy to point out how they screwed up and complain that they are so lazy.  Whenever I feel the urge to start pointing out their errors, I remember that Bible verse about the mote in your brother’s eye and the log in your own: it’s easy to point out other’s failings and ignore your own screw-ups.

This is one of the reasons I watch the show: it reminds me of my own errors and how to avoid making them again or just making them worse.  These bedridden or almost immobile patients are a constant reminder of how easy it is to get stuck in what feels like an impossible situation. No one plans to become immobile or bedridden, and even though some patients will say “it just happened to me,” barring a serious accident, it didn’t ‘just happen’ to them. It happens when you lower the bar again and again. People get tricked into lowering the bar in what they believe is a temporary solution, but it’s a slippery slope and before they know it, there they are, stuck in a bed or in a wheelchair.

There’s a difference between lowering the bar and backtracking.  Backtracking is what happens to a lot of us after the holidays or after we’ve been on vacation.  We’ve gotten away from our healthy eating routines and when we go to get back into it, it’s tougher than we thought. I’m a good example of this: over the holidays, I ate a lot of breads, yogurt and other things that are normally not part of my healthy routine, and it’s a big adjustment going back to the way I normally eat.  Some things are harder to give up because they were hard to give up the first time (I should know better, but…….) I decided to backtrack a little: I gave up eating the yogurts and cookies but left in some of the other stuff like sweet potato chips and the cornbread because doing it all at once is making it harder than it has to be.  Even though I still have bread or chips a couple of times a week (or more to be honest), I’ve gotten rid of the other unhealthy stuff and am working on getting rid of those extra carbs that I don’t need.  The breads and chips are on my menu’s Temporary list because they are not going become permanent additions! I am in the process of removing them.  I backtracked on my healthy eating routine to build up some stamina and momentum to reach my goal of removing them from my regular grocery list.

Lowering the bar is something different: if I decided that giving up these foods was just too hard and I permanently leave them in a few times a week, that would be lowering the bar on my goals and expectations.  Backtracking means I am still working to meet my goal: I just have to work back up to it; Lowering the Bar means I’ve changed my goal to meet my current situation. This is how those immobile patients get stuck being immobile.  An example would be going to the grocery store.  Many of them have difficulty walking around the store, so rather than huff and puff and keep walking, they opt to use the motorized cart when they shop.  They probably tell themselves it’s just until they can walk around the store again, but they don’t change how they eat or how much they walk.  If anything, they walk less than before because now when they go shopping, they aren’t walking in the store at all- they are using the motorized cart.  It happens at home: they’re in bed and instead of getting up to get something to eat, they just shout for whoever’s home: “Sadie! I’m hongry!” “Hey, Mom! Can I please get something to eat?” “Bailey! Where’s breakfast?” Why? Because getting up and moving is a pain in the butt and just plain painful in general! In a lot of ways, it’s a gut response (to use a really bad but true pun): if it hurts, it’s reflex to ask someone else to do it for you, but in their situations, they really need to get up and move more, as well as stop eating so much.  For these immobile patients, unfortunately it’s become second nature to depend on others or depend on a device. They have lowered the bar on their goals and their progress.  Grocery shopping now includes using the motorized cart; moving around their house or neighborhood involves using a motorized wheelchair or scooter. They feel everyone staring at them because “I’m too fat to get around” but instead of keeping the goal to be more active and more independent, they lower the bar to avoid going out in public and become even less active.  They aren’t working at being more mobile: they have adjusted to their immobility.

I’ve been stuck in a bed due to an injury, and when these patients say it’s awful, I have an idea what they mean. I did a lot of physical therapy to recover from my injury because it was so awful.  I also know what it’s like to huff and puff and struggle to get around.  In 2012, I went to Disneyland with some friends, and even though it’s always been a lot of walking, I’d never had trouble like I did on that particular trip.  Of course, I’d never weighed as much as I did on any other trip either! In 2012, I was about 400 lbs and moving that much weight around the park was seriously painful and difficult. The thought of using one of those motorized scooters was embarrassing, so I did the next least-most embarrassing thing: I ‘watched the bags’ most of the time.  We’d take the monorail to the shopping area and I’d sit someplace while everyone else went to see a show or buy something or just do some shopping, and they’d come leave their bags with me and go somewhere else while I just sat there! Embarrassed and disappointed doesn’t come close to describing how I felt.  What I took away from that trip wasn’t “I need to figure out how to get around on a scooter” or “how do I get others to do things for me.”  If I’d wanted a scooter, I could have had one, and my friends would have been happy to bring me a burger or pretzel or anything I wanted to eat.  What I took away from that humiliating experience was “I need to lose some damned weight!”  Even though it took me a couple of years to get my act together, the memory of that humiliating trip kept me focused on working on my mobility, even if I wasn’t successful until the end of 2014!

Lowering the bar and backtracking have a lot in common, and backtracking can turn into lowering the bar if you never make progress or if you just plain give up.  I can even fool myself into thinking I’m still backtracking- and thereby making progress- if I keep pushing back my ‘goal date’ or scaling back my progress.  If I plan to start February without any bread or chips in my diet, but decide to change that to the end of February or I decide to leave in chips for a while longer and then they just never go away, that would be lowering the bar. If I really decide I like sweet potato chips and want to include them permanently, it’s still not a crime. I can eat what I want, but I really need to evaluate my Why for doing it.  Am I leaving them in because it’s too hard to give them up, or am I leaving them in because I really like the chips and I can still reach my weight loss goals with them in my diet?  If those chips are preventing me from reaching my goals, I need to ask myself “did I just lower the bar on my goals?”

To be fair, most people start off with backtracking, as in “I’ll stop with the sugar for now and I’ll work on the extra carbs later,” but then they never go back to working on those extra carbs, so the carbs stay in their diet and the bar gets lowered by default.  They didn’t mean to change their goals or stop working on their progress: it just seems to have ‘happened’ to them.  At the risk of sounding like a nag, it happened because they weren’t actively working on it. This is why it’s so hard to eat better and lose weight and be more active: it actually is work! And even if it’s not something you work on daily, it’s something that needs attention on a regular if not weekly basis.  It’s not that different from mowing your lawn. You can have automatic sprinklers to keep it watered but other than hiring a gardener, there isn’t an ‘automatic mower’ (at least not yet!) You need to mow your lawn on a regular basis or pay to have someone do it for you- either way, it needs your attention! If you don’t keep it mowed, your neighbors will let you know you need to do something about it.

This is what happens with most of these patients who end up immobile: they keep putting off working on losing weight and being more active until they physically can’t move around anymore, and even then, they do the equivalent of ‘automatic sprinklers’ and have family members feed them and take care of them, but as to doing the work themselves, it doesn’t happen.  Without their meaning to do it, they’ve abandoned their goals for healthy eating and being active through simple neglect, much like the lawn that keeps getting longer and shaggier week after week.

This is why we need to be mindful with our goals.  It’s one of the reasons I keep a food & activity journal; it’s why I watch reruns of My 600 lb Life; and it’s one of the reasons I maintain this blog.  I am very aware of what happens when backtracking turns into lowering the bar through neglect and procrastination. Focusing my attention on a nearly daily basis on what I am eating, how much I am eating, how active I am keeps me from dropping the bar lower or simply avoiding the bar altogether.  It’s an easy trap to fall into: one day you’re walking around Fantasyland with your friends and the next day, you’re watching their bags.  I can tell you from experience that’s a lonely and painful place to be, even in the Happiest Place on Earth.