Denial: A Little Word with a Huge Impact

The medical definition of denial:  “a psychological defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality” (Merriam Webster emphasis added). Personally, I think denial kills more people than almost anything else.  I have no stats on this and I don’t even know if anyone has ever studied it, but think about it: “I don’t have heart disease.”  “I’m not a diabetic.”  “I’m not addicted to XYZ.” Saying it isn’t true does not make it true, no matter how often you say it or how loudly you say it.  You may not want it to be true, but no matter what you want or what you believe, if it is true, sooner or later, you will have to deal with it. The only issue is going to be if you are dealing with it voluntarily or if you are forced to deal with it by being admitted to the hospital for a medical emergency. 

Most people who are obese have a variety of medical issues, especially when you get to be about my weight.  Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, joint pain & deterioration and fatty liver disease are just a few of them.  Frankly, a lot of them can be remedied or at least mitigated, by losing weight.  Of course, many of these patients only grudgingly admit that they even have a weight problem: “I’m big boned!” (A few extra pounds is “big-boned;” weighing 250 lbs is a “weight problem!”) Denial is insidious and it works against you constantly. You refuse to believe you have a weight problem so you don’t take any steps to make positive changes.  The weight problem compounds other health conditions but even if you deal with those (i.e. taking diabetes medication), by not dealing with the weight, you are hampering any help the medication is giving you.

“There are none so blind as those who will not see.”   We have all kinds of similar sayings but the meaning is all the same: “I refuse to believe this.”  Legally the term is “willful blindness” and depending on the charges, you can get into some serious trouble over it, because you should have seen or known X was occurring. (In other words, it was obvious to everyone but you!)

It takes a lot strength to come face to face with your problems.  It often means admitting something painful, embarrassing, awkward. It feels like you’ve failed and let people down. It’s one of the hardest things many people ever do in their lives. It means dealing with the weaknesses in yourself and whatever mistakes you made.  It means that other people might learn about your flaws and errors.  In all honesty, there are mistakes and weaknesses that I have admitted to myself, but not to others, because frankly, it’s just way too embarrassing.  Yep, I SCREWED UP BIG TIME!! Thanks for listening- please leave me alone in my shame now! While I may not have shared my flaws, errors and shame with everyone, I did admit to myself that I had/ have a problem and I cannot handle it on my own.  I got help for my problem or I took steps to remedy it (most of them, anyway…)

Denial, i.e. not dealing with it, often just makes it worse. In the case of disease, it takes a greater toll on your health and in some cases, can cause irreparable harm.  In my case, not dealing with my type 2 diabetes has left with me some minor neuropathy in my right calf.  Part of this problem was plain old denial (I don’t have diabetes) and part of it was not knowing how to manage it.  By learning to manage it, my blood sugar and my weight, I no longer have this problem, but the neuropathy remains.

Other issues might mean that you are making things harder for yourself and could be sabotaging yourself.  Two of the issues I see a lot on MFP and also My 600 lb Life are emotional eating and toxic relationships.  Emotional eating comes up so often, it’s a wonder if there is anyone who isn’t an emotional eater!  Most of us know it and admit it: it’s just a fact of life! I get stressed, I eat; I get angry, I eat; I get sad/ depressed/ happy/ worried- whatever, I EAT! Once you realize and admit this fact, you can take steps to resolve this problem, but until you admit there is an actual problem, you cannot and will not be able to resolve it.

A recent example of this was on My 600 lb Life this season: one of the patients refuses to admit she is an emotional eater and when she met with the therapist, she denied she had any issues with emotional eating and walked out of therapy stating it was a waste of her time.  When I watched her episode, she described a childhood and adolescence full of feelings of loneliness, rejection, inadequacy, sadness and even a suicide attempt, after which she flatly stated that her weight gain spiraled out of control, but nope, she is NOT an emotional eater! Her episode ended with her struggling with cravings, afraid of going back to old habits and feeling that she would have to go on alone because no one else knew how to help her.  The truth of the matter (in my opinion anyway) is that her therapist and Dr. Nowzaradan were trying to help her, but until she admits that her emotions affect her eating, she is making this process much harder than it has to be.  I believe she is having cravings and struggling to control her eating because her sense of isolation and the stress of daily life are triggering her old coping mechanism: eating her emotions.  Until she learns to deal with her emotions with something other than food, she will continue to struggle.  It’s something I have had to face myself.  I had long realized that I ate out of boredom, and I took steps to make sure I always had something to do in the evenings when I usually ate in front of the tv (for months I had the most elegantly manicured nails!) When I had a fight with my mom one evening and found myself staring into the fridge, I realized “oh crap! I’m eating because I’m stressed!” It was a tough transition to find a way to deal with my emotions that didn’t involve food (it’s still a bit hairy at times) but I know that when I feel anger, stress, fear, anxiety, I am most likely to eat something just to calm myself down and I can cut that off before it happens.  I can choose to do something else, but this particular patient, by denying even the existence of the problem, cannot take those steps.  She is hamstringing herself with the only option left: toughing it out the hard way.

The other issue I see a lot is toxic relationships.  There is someone in your life whose sole function seems to be to denigrate you, sabotage you or just make life as difficult as possible for you. These can be people you work with or family members and sometimes even your spouse.  One of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients had a husband who preferred his wife be super morbidly obese.  One on hand, he was concerned her weight might lead to her death, leaving their young daughter without a mother, but on the other hand, he wanted a wife who was super obese.  He was inconsiderate, unsupportive and went out of his way to make things harder for her.  On one occasion, he was going out to pick up dinner for the family and she asked for a salad, to which he retorted :”I’m not getting you a salad.  If you want to eat grass, you can go out in the yard and graze!”  Predictably, they ended up getting a divorce, but first she had to come to terms with the fact that her husband was not only unwilling to change his own habits, but was going out of his way to sabotage her own efforts to improve her health.

It would be great if everyone in your life was really helpful and supportive, but that is extremely rare.  Most of us have people in our lives who run the gamut from helpful to not helpful and/ or indifferent.  The  ones we really need to watch for are the ones who are downright toxic.  If this person (and hopefully there is only one) is a coworker or someone not related, it’s easier to deal with.  If they are someone you work with, depending on just how toxic they are, you can complain to your supervisor about their obnoxious and inappropriate behavior.  When that person is someone in your family, it’s a lot harder to deal with.  It hurts to think of someone you love or loved or who is supposed to love you going out of their way to be hurtful. We deny there is a problem: he’s having a bad day; she doesn’t mean that; she’s just scared of change; he’s doesn’t want to be inconvenienced.  Sometimes those excuses are true, but when you find yourself making excuse after excuse for the hurtful, disparaging comments and behavior, it’s time for a reality check.  Denying that this person really is toxic can be hurting you.  You may have to decide if this is a person you want to keep in your life, and that can be a hard decision for some of us to make.  It may be that you have to sever your relationship with that person or at the very least accept that they do not have your best interests at heart.  Depending on who this person might be, whether a sibling, parent, child or spouse, this can cause major upheaval in your life and coming to terms with not only severing the relationship but also having to deal with the resulting fallout can be a factor in continuing to deny that there is a problem! If your brother, for example, is the toxic individual you want to avoid, severing the relationship can lead to fallout with your parents and other siblings.  Yes, it can be complicated and hurtful, but until you admit there is a problem, you are stuck in the hurtful situation.

Sometimes we are simply too close to the problem.  Our emotions get in our way and blind us to what’s really happening.  When I was in college I had some friends who used to tell me I should have been a therapist (oh hell no!) because they would complain about whatever or whoever was causing problems in their life and usually what I would do is ‘clarify the situation’ by restating what they had just told me, and sometimes offering my advice on how to resolve the issue.  Generally, what they found most helpful was that I restated their problem and since they could analyze my statement objectively, it helped them get clarity on their situation.  Once you can look at a situation objectively- stepping back from the emotions- it’s easier to see how to help yourself.  I wasn’t offering any kind of therapy to my friends: I was just their sounding board, and we can do something similar in keeping a journal.  I don’t mean a food journal; I mean the old fashioned “dear diary” kind of journal.  If you write down what you are thinking and feeling, it’s a lot easier to see what is really going on inside you. You have to think to write out your emotions; you have to put your feelings into words, and once you do that, in my experience anyway, you can get a better handle on what you are feeling and then you can begin to take steps to help yourself.  Sometimes, you need to vent your feelings, take a couple of days to get over the feelings and then go back and get a good look at your situation.  This isn’t just about emotional eating either; this is how we see destructive patterns in ourselves.  X happens and we react by doing Y which leads to more of Z.  The boss is a jerk to me, I eat an entire bag of chips or a pie or just way too much and then I feel physically ill, feel more shame and become more depressed, which leads to more emotional eating.  Substitute ‘alcohol’ or ‘pills’ or any other destructive behavior for ‘food,’ and yes, there is a real problem there!  This is how most of these destructive patterns start, and then they continue to escalate unless steps are taken to change the behavior.

Most of us are aware if we have a problem: “I keep running out of money at the end of the month but I don’t know where my money goes!” Obviously you are overspending somewhere or need a better budget.  “I keep gaining weight no matter what I do!” Are you eating too much or eating the wrong things? Journals and budgets can help, but sometimes we need another pair of eyes.  Sometimes, we are so deeply buried in our own problems that we can’t see something is going on with us.  If anything, we are only aware that we are hurting or that things never seem to go our way.  This is where you can either seek help from a professional or a trusted friend.  Ask them to speak frankly with you and when you promise that you won’t get offended or angry, you do have to mean that! There is a saying: real friends say the hard things to your face and good things behind your back. That’s what a real friend does: you are eating way too much and I’m worried about your health! When they do speak plainly and frankly to you, you have to listen with an open mind.  You have to be ready to change and that may involve asking your friends and family to help you do that.

Living in denial is not a good place to be.  It often keeps you in pain and keeps you from improving your life.  Obviously, there is a whole lot more to denial than just emotional eating and toxic relationships.  Denial is flat out dangerous in my opinion. It’s hard, it’s ugly, and it hurts.  It’s a lot like lancing an infected wound.  Although the infection  may be slowly killing us, we are afraid of causing more hurt to an already sensitive and painful area, but it’s the only way to let the infection out and once cleaned, the wound can heal quickly.  Once you come face to face with whatever your problems or issues are, just taking action to help yourself ease the hurt and pain.  It takes strength and courage to face your demons, but once you do, they lose their power over you.

The Carrot or The Stick: Positive v Negative Reinforcement

The simple approach to reinforcement is either the carrot or the stick. You can lure the donkey forward with a carrot or you can try forcing it to move by hitting it with a stick. Maybe these approaches work on donkeys (doubt it!) but the fact is: you are not a donkey!

I am very familiar with positive reinforcement.  When I was freshman in college, my Intro to Pysch teacher covered it and what I thought interesting is the idea that even though negative reinforcement gets all the attention, studies show positive reinforcement is much more effective.  As a result, I went home and started using it on my dog (education in action!)  Over the years, pretty much all my dogs have been trained with positive reinforcement.  My basic approach: every time my dog (or cat) does something I want them to repeat, I give them praise and affection.  He asks to go out to pee, he’s a good boy.  He sits calmly on my lap, he’s a good boy.  The cat uses her scratch post instead of the sofa, good kitty!  When I was out of town last year, my mom babysat my dog and when she told me he was playing chase with her dog, I told her to tell him he’s a good boy.  She called back and said after she told him “good boy,” he was more enthusiastic about playing with her dog.  I told her that’s the point: once he knows he’s doing something that pleases me (and is also fun), he has more incentive to keep doing it!  That’s what positive reinforcement is supposed to do: the action becomes pleasurable because you are rewarded for it so you have much more incentive to keep doing it. 

Negative reinforcement is the opposite, of course: the pup wets on the rug and you scold and spank him. As far as pups go, it’s not really effective because the pup usually doesn’t make the connection between wetting on the rug at 10:30 a.m., you coming home at 6 and seeing it and scolding him.  As far as he’s concerned, he was happy to see you come home and you’re mad at him for being happy to see you.  This is why the positive reinforcement works better for potty-training: he goes out, pees on the lawn, and he’s a good boy.  He has incentive to wet all over the lawn because as long as he does, he’s a good boy.

But, again, you aren’t a puppy.  How does positive reinforcement work on people, and why isn’t negative reinforcement effective?  You would think associating donuts with bad feelings would make you avoid donuts much more than associating happy feelings with broccoli or exercise.  The difference is that while negative reinforcement is better at getting you to change behavior, it’s the positive reinforcement that keeps you exercising and eating the broccoli.

One of the best ways to get started changing and keeping a new habit is to use a combination of both positive and negative reinforcement.  With my dog, when he does something I want him to repeat, he’s the greatest puppy in the world (which he loves to hear) and when he does something I don’t want him to repeat, I tell him no firmly but without a lot of fuss and leave it alone.  He’s trained by now to look for the praise and he’s focused on doing things that earn him praise and, since the wrong behavior didn’t earn it, he’s moved on to something else.  For example, let’s look at workouts.  If you schedule an appointment with a trainer and if you get charged for missing that workout, that’s incentive to keep the workout (negative reinforcement), but if you are constantly praised and encouraged for your progress while at your workout, that’s also incentive to keep the appointment (positive reinforcement).  So that combination works pretty well: you don’t want to pay for a service you aren’t getting, but at the same time, each time you go, you see that you’re lifting more weight, doing more lunges and your trainer is praising your progress by telling you know how far you’ve come.  You have more incentive to keep going because you can see the benefit; if you didn’t see any benefit or the trainer wasn’t enthusiastic about your progress, eventually you would stop booking appointments to avoid the cancellation fees.  This is what happens when people make nasty comments to you about eating fast food: you don’t stop eating fast food, you just stop eating it with those people.  You avoid the negativity by changing your behavior but not necessarily changing the bad behavior.  Your goal becomes avoiding the negative result, not avoiding the negative behavior.

Most of us are frustrated because we are trying very hard to make positive changes in our behavior to improve our health but the problem is that most of us do it with negative reinforcement.  We can be our own worst enemies.  We eat a candy bar and we berate ourselves like we threw a kitten under a bus! We skip our workout and we’re the laziest, most unworthy person in the world.  We use the stick to beat ourselves over the head about how we aren’t eating healthy, we aren’t working out, we keep eating all the cookies, cupcakes and potato chips and we believe that if we keep beating ourselves, we’ll eventually change.  If our bodies showed the emotional abuse we heap on ourselves, we’d look like we were hit by a semi.  We look at ourselves in the mirror and abuse ourselves: “I’m so ugly it’s a wonder my spouse hasn’t left me.  I look like a monster.  I can’t believe how fat I am!  I’m too far gone to save.”  Any of this sound familiar?  It breaks my heart when friends post things like this online: “I got on the scale, saw I went up two pounds and couldn’t stop crying.”

This is not productive.  This is not healthy, or helpful, and your weight has nothing to do with your worth as a person. Stop beating yourself with the stick! You aren’t a donkey and it doesn’t work! If you want to change your behavior, you need to use a combination of positive and negative reinforcement with a BIG emphasis on the positive!

It’s always best to make this process as simple as possible: 1) Write out your objective simply and specifically; 2) Associate a ‘negative’ with avoiding the behavior; and 3) Associate a ‘positive’ with completing the task.

Let’s say the most important change you want to make this year is to eat more healthy foods.  Write out a simple specific objective, such as “I want to eat at least two servings of vegetables each day.”  That’s specific and it’s a change in the right direction.  So let’s say that each time you finish a day without two servings of vegetables, you put $5 in the Veggie Jar and at the end of the month or week, you give the money to your kids, you donate the money to a charity, or you use it to buy veggies- whatever- as long as the money is not going to you!  You are charging yourself for not changing the behavior!  As a positive reinforcement, let’s say that for each day you finish with two or more servings of vegetables, you get to take $5 out of the Veggie Jar, or you, your kids/ spouse put $5 in your Healthy Habit Jar and that money goes to you for a non-food treat, like a movie, a manicure, or something else you were wanting.  Don’t overlook the power of praise and encouragement either!  Remember when you were in grade school and every time you got an A on a math quiz, the teacher put a gold star on the wall chart next to your name?  You really wanted to get the A, not so you would be good at math but so that you would have as many stars as possible (and maybe beat out some of the kids you didn’t like) You can still do the same thing.  On a calendar, give yourself a gold star for each day that you hit your goals ( 2 + servings of veggies; a workout; 8 glasses of water, whatever your goal is for that month!) Looking at a calendar filling up with stars is really very encouraging.  It’s a sign of your continuing improvement there on the wall for everyone to see. Just looking at it makes you feel good about yourself and your progress. (Looking in the mirror and seeing your body getting fitter or smaller is also very encouraging.)  The calendar also has a little bit of the negative impetus as well: a calendar with only a few stars on it shows that you are not focusing on your objectives and frankly, it stings a little.  It also has the “instant gratification” effect:  the more you hit your objectives, the sooner the calendar starts filling up with stars.  “I hit my goal- another star for me! That’s three this week already! Yay, me!”

Does it seem a little  silly?  You roll your eyes, and tell yourself that you aren’t twelve years old and a chart full of stars is childish.  It worked when you were twelve because frankly it made you feel good. It reinforced your positive attitude towards hitting your objectives, whether it’s making healthy lifestyle changes or getting an A in math.  You can choose whatever positive visual reinforcement works for you but making things too complicated tends to defeat the purpose.  Seeing the days of accomplishment stack up, whether it’s stars on a calendar or money in a jar, the goal is to encourage yourself to make positive changes. Just the acknowledgement of your achievements can be emotionally uplifting and associating the positive feelings with completing the task should not be underestimated. Back to my dog, there are times when I’m very busy and he’s sitting off to the side watching me. I’m not angry, just busy, but as soon as I look up at him and say his name, he ‘smiles’ and wags his tail.  Just acknowledging him makes him happy.  Yes, you are not a dog, but you are not too far from that proud twelve year old who just got another star on the Arithmetic Aces Chart either. Don’t be ashamed to flaunt your successes- you earned those stars!


Going to the Gym: High School Revisited

One of the most intimidating experiences for most of us is walking into the gym for the first time. Is there any other experience that can send you right back to high school faster? You walk in and right away, it feels like everyone is looking at you. Since you’re new at the gym, you’re probably not going to be feeling secure with the equipment or with your work out. In short, you’re that awkward geeky freshman again surrounded by cool confident seniors who know what’s what.

As your parents and counselors reminded you back then, even seniors were freshmen once! But telling yourself that is one thing and being confident in new surroundings is something else. It’s seems like a silly thing: “it feels awkward! I feel dorky! I don’t know what I’m doing!” But this is one of the biggest obstacles people have when it comes to going to the gym. Because we feel awkward and uncomfortable, we make excuses to avoid it, so we pay for the membership and don’t go. We mean to go, but we keep coming up with reasons to avoid the awkwardness. Not only are we wasting our money, we’re wasting opportunities to improve our health. Why? Because we don’t want to be embarrassed! The awkwardness is robbing us of our money and our chance to be healthier.

We’ve coined a new word for this awkward feeling: gymtimidation. It’s actually part of the slogan for Planet Fitness (No Gymtimidation).  I used to belong to PF and it was a very comfortable atmosphere. Most of the people I saw in my local PF were a little out of shape and wearing old sweats (much more my speed). If it weren’t for the fact that it had no pool, I would probably still be a member and I wasn’t as circumspect when I chose my new gym. The atmosphere was less important than my biggest concern: it had a pool. I was willing to put up with the gymtimidation but I started noticing a few things about the people I see at my current gym (In-Shape City), and honestly, they’re kind of amusing. Just like in high school, a lot of the people are more interested in how they look and who’s looking at them than they are in actually working out. Is fixing your hair really what you’re worried about before you exercise? Other than making sure my hair is pulled back and out of my way, I don’t care what it looks like. Ditto makeup. I definitely don’t reapply anything before getting in the pool or using the equipment.  I’m going to be wet and/ or sweaty: do I really want my eye shadow, eyeliner, makeup, etc running down my face?

There are a lot of men and women who spend a lot of time sitting around at the gym, focused on their phones and there are a lot of people who spend a lot of time making sure their workout clothes are stylish, neat and showing off their best atributes. They look more like they spent time getting ready for a date rather than getting ready to exercise and they seem to wander around the gym a lot not-exercising. (I can see a lot from the pool!)

I’m not being judgemental: they pay for their membership so they can use the gym however they want. But you can see the ones who come to work out: they may also have “cool” workout clothes, but they are the ones actually using the equipment and they are the ones who leave (or head for the locker room) looking rumpled and sweaty, usually wiping their face with a towel.  They are the ones moving from station to station in the circuit training or waiting for my water aerobics class to finish so they can swim their laps.  They are the ones who aren’t looking around to see who’s looking at them: they’re looking for the next piece of equipment they are going to use!  They are focused on their fitness, not everyone else. One of the best t-shirts I saw at the gym was on a young woman helping out a friend use a piece of equipment; it said “Gym hair don’t care.”  That phrase seemed to sum up her and her friend’s attitude: they didn’t care who was looking at them.

This is the attitude we need to work on if we do feel awkward at the gym.  We’ve paid our dues (literally) and we are just as entitled to use the facility as anyone else. Confidence, like everything else, gets better with practice.  If you aren’t confident with the equipment, ask one of the trainers to show it to you. You pay for their services and it’s to their advantage that you use the equipment safely.  Especially since the more you use it, the more you come, the longer you stay a member and the more you refer others to their gym.  (Being an unhelpful unfriendly place is not going to boost their ratings on Yelp!)  So, if you have a question, ask someone.  Most gyms have a website (or an app) so spend a little time both at the gym and online.  Classes have their pros and cons.  There’s not a lot of individual attention from the instructor, but then you also have the opportunity to blend in with the crowd.  Sometimes watching others can boost your confidence: you can get some pointers on how the exercises are done and there’s usually a little reassurance that you aren’t the only ‘newbie’ in the class.  If you are doing circuit training or another individual workout, it may be helpful to make note of the times when the gym is less crowded so there’s less competition for the equipment and fewer of those non-exercisers who might want to giggle at your rumpled sweats.

Clothing is also something to consider.  While it’s nice to have workout clothes that match (I’ve got a couple of outfits that do), the most important thing is that you’re comfortable.  You need to be able to move freely and hopefully, the clothes breathe so you can cool down and not get overheated.  My outfits match because I bought the tops and pants at the same time so, why not get a matching set?  They breathe and fit well- not too tight but not too loose so I trip.  When I leave my water aerobics class, I merely put on some dry clothes over my bathing suit since I live nearby and would rather shower at home. The clothes I put on are an old t shirt with a frayed collar and an old pair of sweats that have a safety pin permanently attached because they are too big for me now.  Now that it’s colder, I also put on a worn out hoodie with a hole in one sleeve.  As you can see, I don’t care that I don’t look cool (or maybe look a little homeless) because I’m there to get in my workout and go home.  I don’t hang around the gym to see who’s looking at me or who I might be ‘looking at.’ Unless I’m chatting with a friend from my class, I get in the pool, do my workout and then go home.  I would never work out in my old pool cover-ups because they don’t fit well enough for that but that is the only reason. I don’t want my worn out t shirt or sweats getting caught in the equipment which is why I invested in some work out clothes.

You remember when you were in high school and your parents told you that you need to learn to stand up for yourself? Ditto what mom and dad said! You own that gym. You are a paying member and the staff are your staff, so don’t be afraid to ask for help or ask questions. One of the issues that comes up occasionally in my water aerobics class is non participants trying to use the pool when class is in session.  Sometimes this is a problem because our class can be a bit large and sometimes we use the entire pool.  Our trainer is not shy about telling people who are getting in our way of working out that they need to exit the pool area until class is over at 6:30 p.m. But on at least one occasion, we had a less confident (code for b*tchy) trainer subbing in and the group of young people in the corner, while staying out of our way, were getting so loud we couldn’t hear the trainer’s instructions.  After she had to repeat herself louder and hearing others grumbling about the loud kids, the teacher in me took over and in my loudest ‘teacher voice,’ I told the kids to “keep it down over there!” and they did.  I wasn’t embarrassed about it (I was more embarrassed for our sub who was not much older than the kids).  It’s my time they were messing with.  I pay to use the gym and take this class so, knock it off, guys!

The same holds for the trainer.  It is not unusual to have a substitute trainer for our class and one of the most recent trainers was an enthusiastic young woman who was very fit and very strong.  (By the end of the session, most of us were dying to ask her when she left the Corps or if she was still a reservist!) Generally, most of us like having the occasional sub since it gives us an opportunity to try something a little different, but some of the exercises she wanted us to do were frankly out of our league.  One of them was a ‘pool-side plank’ in which we swim to the side and hoist ourselves out of the pool and hold ourselves there for 20-30 seconds.  It doesn’t sound like a long time or a difficult move, but as one of my classmates mumbled “if I could do that, I wouldn’t be in this class!” It was only one of the exercises our class had trouble with, and we were not shy about letting her know what we couldn’t do and what we were willing to try.  Most of us in this class are retired and have been doing these classes for a few years (I’m still considered a bit of a newbie).  Being shy about voicing our opinions is a rarity for us.

Thinking back to when we were those awkward scared to death freshmen, did we ever stop to consider just how those seniors grew to be so cool and confident? (I know I didn’t!)  It came through practice and familiarity.  By the end of their freshman year, they knew which teachers were hard-nosed, which could be snowed, where the best tables were in the cafeteria and where to sit in the auditorium if you didn’t want to be seen.  In short, they learned the ins and outs of the school because they were there everyday.  Unlike going to the gym, school is not exactly optional (if you want an education, at least) and it’s in showing up regularly that we learn how to use the equipment, when the gym is super-crowded and which trainers are the most helpful.  We have to put in the hours to become the ‘cool seniors’ and like being a freshman, there might be a little bit of growing pains.  The trick really is in the attitude. If your focus is on how you don’t fit in and you worry more about the cool kids liking you rather than just being yourself and working on getting good grades, you are going to have a tough time in high school.  It’s a little awkward at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy. Just like high school, you can make friends and develop healthy habits that will last you a lifetime (and no one will give you a wedgie in the locker room!)

Being Skinny Will Not Make You Happy 

For most of my life, I have been overweight, and while I was younger, it often felt like everything in my life would be wonderful if only I were thin.  As I grew older, I realized that skinny people have problems too and being skinny won’t solve all of our or anyone’s problems.  It seems pretty obvious, but while our head might acknowledge this fundamental truth, the rest of us might not.  We still work at being skinny like it will solve everything and make our lives perfect.

“Being thin” is right up there with “being rich” and “being with the perfect spouse/ partner.”  We think these external accoutrements will fix the problems in our lives, and if the problem is “not having enough money,” “being alone,” or “being obese,” then yes, they probably will go a long way to fixing those problems.  Too often, however, these outward problems are symptoms of something deeper that needs to be fixed in ourselves.  Emotional eating is a prime example of this.  Most of us who are emotional eaters eat because we don’t know how to handle our emotions: either they are too painful to deal with, we don’t want to face them or we don’t know what to do with them, so we eat to soothe the pain, fear or just to avoid dealing with them.  There are dozens of examples of this on My 600 lb Life: the patient is able to control their eating long enough to qualify for bariatric surgery, and then they are surprised that they still have cravings.  Dr. Nowzaradan sends most of them to meet with a therapist because he knows from experience that the compulsive eating is only a symptom of a deeper problem.  Until the patient resolves those issues and learns to deal with whatever is driving them to eat, they will regain the weight.

While many obese people struggle with ‘food addiction,’ it’s not the real problem.  Mind you, obesity is a real struggle and unless successfully managed, it will kill its victims, but food is only the mechanism the addict is using to manage the real problem.  ‘Food’ can be substituted with a variety of distractions, such as alcohol, sex, shopping, drugs or anything else that can and does keep people from thinking about their problems.  Whatever the problem really is, the outward ‘addiction’ starts as a distraction: “my spouse is cheating on me but I don’t want to think about it so I’ll eat/ spend money/ get high/ whatever.”  Eventually, the addiction becomes a problem itself as we become addicted to the drugs, alcohol and even the high from spending money.  This is usually the problem that most people see because it is the one that is most visible.  If the guy in the cubicle next to you is always drunk and smelling of mouthwash, our first thought is ‘alcoholism,’ not ’emotional problems resulting in alcoholism.’  The same thing is true for obesity: we see someone weighing 400+ lbs and we think they have a problem with portion control, not there is something deeper pushing them to eat.  But whether it’s food, drugs, gambling or whatever addiction they are struggling with, there is something deeper inside creating the problem.  The outward addiction is only the symptom: it’s the first layer of the problem, and until that deeper internal problem is dealt with, the real problem is still there.  This is why I say that being skinny will not make you happy.

For some of us, finding out what that deeper problem is and dealing with it ranks right up there with getting a root canal minus the anesthesia! Of course we don’t want to deal with whatever the problem is: that’s why we’re 400 freaking pounds! We can change behaviors, and we might even manage to get our eating under control, but the emotional issue that caused it usually manifests another way, and rarely is it healthy. In many cases, they have panic attacks or they become anorexic.  They go from soothing their anxiety with food to soothing their anxiety with a sense of control, and they do this by controlling what they eat.  Obviously I am not a psychologist, but my grandmother and my aunt both died from anorexia.  In my grandmother’s case, the more her health deteriorated and the less she could do for herself, the more she refused to eat.  Refusing to eat was her way of exercising control over her life.  She needed a walker to get around, she couldn’t carry most items because of the walker and almost everything else she used to do on a regular basis had to be done for her by someone else.  What she was eating was the only left under her control.

In my aunt’s case, she was chubby most of her life and had a gastric bypass that I personally think she did not need, but for the first time in her life, she was skinny and she was thrilled.  Then the problems started: not eating enough, malnutrition and eventually the anorexia that left her too weak to continue living.

Not everyone who is obese has some kind of emotional issue. Really, there are just some of us who enjoy eating or really like some of the more fattening foods.  Sometimes, people are overweight because all they have to eat are the more high carb/ high calorie foods.  In a lot of cases, the obesity itself becomes the source of the emotional issue.  Whatever the reason we gain weight, once we become overweight, we begin to face backlash over our size.  There’s a lot of disapproval and passive discrimination that goes with being obese because the idea is that “you did this to yourself.”  There is also the idea that there must be something wrong with you or you wouldn’t be overeat. When you are told explicitly and implicitly over and over again that there is something wrong with you, you begin to believe it yourself.  My aunt was one of those people who implicitly let me know that I was defective because of my weight.  She also believed that she was also defective because of her weight. Incidentally, she barely weighed 200 lbs while I weighed 400!

Over the course of my weight loss, I have seen too many people who are not happy with how they look and they somehow equate that with who they are.  What you look like is not who you are, and until you are happy with who you are, being skinny will not make you happy.  I don’t think that getting your loose skin cut off will make you happy until you are happy with the person living in that skin.  Once I started losing weight, I started getting all kinds of hints from my mom about skin removal: have I talked to the doctor about it? when can I get it done? etc. Every time I look in the mirror, I see the skin on my arms, on my legs, my belly, all over.  You can literally fit another grown adult into the loose skin on my body! I think it bothers my mom more than it bothers me, since she mentions it every time I see her. It wasn’t until this last month that it’s actually become a problem physically, and if it continues to be a problem (ie, I don’t find a way to deal with it), then I will probably call the doctor and see what my options are.  Frankly, I think I will try compression garments before I do that!

We’ve all heard the platitudes about loving yourself first and accepting who you are.  They are trite and they are also true.  It isn’t that I’m totally content within myself and I have achieved some kind of inner peace or inner strength: I have listened all my life to people tell me that there is something wrong with me, and at some point, I just stopped listening.  They became the dull roar in the background while I decided I can sit there and moan about “what’s wrong with me?” or I can get on with my life despite being ‘defective.’  Now that I’ve lost a lot of weight and my new ‘defect’ is my loose skin, I still handle it the same way and get on with my life no matter what the dull roar is roaring about now.  There is a lot that’s wrong with my life and with me, but I am happy enough with what I have and with who I am.  Until you are happy with the person living in your skin, nothing else is as important in your life.



A Letter from the Dark Side: Weighing Nearly 450 lbs.

Many of you know I’m a rabid fan of My 600lb Life on TLC but you may not know why. Yes, it’s a great ongoing reinforcement for me, but in order to be on the show, patients have to weigh a minimum of 500 lbs. In June 2014, I weighed in at 438. I think that’s the highest I ever weighed, but since I never weighed at home and avoided doctors as much as possible, I’m making an educated guess. I never looked at the scale when I got weighed at the doctor; I had to look up that number in my records. But judging by the way I felt physically, I’m pretty sure that was my highest weight.

When you watch the show, you listen to the patients talking about the pain of standing, walking, moving around; how difficult even the easiest everyday activities are; how hopeless and overwhelming everything feels. My mom (a retired RN) watches the show also and I usually get a text from her during the show saying something to the effect of “just wire her mouth shut!!” usually while the patient is talking about her physical difficulties. My mom has no empathy for these patients and I don’t think she understands why I’ll repeatedly watch the reruns. It’s because they were me and I was them. I was the chubby kid, the pudgy teen, the obese adult. My weight was a slow steady relentless gain throughout my life. I spent most of my twenties in the two hundreds, most of my thirties in the three hundreds and by my forties I was fighting to stay out of the four hundreds: a fight I lost in my late forties. When I was 48, I was the highest weight I had ever been. Most of my adult life I was between 370-385. (If any of you have seen My Big Fat Fabulous Life with Whitney Way Thore, I was her size.) I didn’t like being that big, but it had become “comfortable” and by that I mean, there weren’t a lot of things I wanted to do that I couldn’t do but I had gotten pretty good at judging my limits. I could get around pretty good, but I knew when to stop and how to take shortcuts to “maximize my mobility.” I took several trips to Disneyland (one of my favorite places) and my strategy was to hit the rides I could fit on (that was my reality) and when my friends went on rides I couldn’t get on, I’d wait someplace with all our stuff while they rode the rides. I was a convenient meeting place. They didn’t push me to do more because crossing the park was hard on my knees, back and feet. It was a big effort for me to walk any extended distance: I was carrying 375 lbs.

When Dr. Now’s patients talk about the pain of standing and walking, I know that pain. My weight ruined my knees: I have moderate to severe arthritis in both of them (my right is worse than my left). My large lower abdomen (my panniculus) put quite a strain on my back so just standing hurt my knees, my back and my feet. Maneuvering around the house or office or anywhere was usually a challenge since I was twice the size of a normal sized person. Fitting in chairs with arms or cars was always hit or miss since they’re not made for someone the size of two people. I was often afraid of breaking chairs (toilet seats included) and there were a lot of times I wasn’t able to wear the seatbelt in a friend’s car (they were nice enough to not comment).  In college, I was too big for some desks and I had to use the “disabled” desk made for students in wheelchairs.  In auditorium classrooms, I had to sit next to an empty seat, since the little foldover desktop would not lay flat enough across my stomach for me to write on it: I had to use the one next to me.  Getting up from any chair or seated position was always a strain on my knees, back, and hips, (lifting the equivalent of at least two adults) but staying seated for a long period of time was another source of pain on my low back.  My weight even affected my sleep: I had apnea because my weight was essentially beginning to smother me.

Clothing and shoes were another challenge.  It’s extremely dispiriting to realize that the blouse that fits you is big enough to double as a king size pillow case or that when your slacks are folded in half, they are the same size at those for normal sized people.  It’s even more embarrassing when you’re shopping and people think your slacks (folded on the store hanger) are a skirt. When you lay out your clothes for the day and your shirt is the size of a small throw, it’s pretty demoralizing. I know my nightgowns/ nightshirts were that size. I’m guessing a skirt would be that size but I never wore skirts or dresses because getting the slips, nylons and camisoles were next to impossible in my size. Let’s not even discuss lingerie! Shoes are a lot of fun because while there are some stores that normally carry double-wide shoes, when you need triple E, you almost always have to order them.  Getting shoes a size larger doesn’t help much because your foot just gets wider, not longer.

My mom doesn’t mean to be callous when she makes comments about wiring the patient’s jaws shut (I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt here), because she doesn’t understand how insidious the weight gain is. It’s like quicksand: you know you need to get out, but you don’t know how to extricate yourself. Fighting it just seems to make it worse and cause you to sink faster but doing nothing doesn’t get you out either; you just keep slowly sinking. You try making small improvements, but while they may seem to help, it feels like you’re bailing out the Titanic with a teaspoon: it’s working but the improvements are infinitesimal compared to the sheer magnitude of the problem.

I tried diets but dieting seemed to make the problem worse since it was the “fighting the quicksand” scenario: limiting my calories slowed my metabolism so when I gave up the diet (infinitesimal progress), I gained back more weight pretty rapidly. (In all honesty, I didn’t try a lot of diets because I knew they didn’t work, but at the same time, I was desperate to try something! Unfortunately with most of the diets, the more I limited the food, the slower my metabolism became, so I’d have to limit my food even more, á la The Biggest Loser ‘winners.’  I did try some of the “food subscription diets” where you buy the pre-packaged diet foods and eat according to their plans.  Generally those plans & foods worked for me, but even while I was losing weight on them, I kept asking myself “so what happens when I stop eating their food?” That was an easy call: I gained weight again because their “meal plans” hadn’t taught me anything.  The idea behind most of them seemed to be to eat their food until I reached my goal weight and then they’re going to teach me how to stay there.  I never got there because- again- it limited my calories and slowed my metabolism.  I simply had too much weight to lose.

One of the first questions Dr. Now asks his patients is “how did you get to this weight?”  For most of my adult life, the answer is simple: I ate as much as I wanted of whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.  Sometimes I will tease others (and my pets) with the phrase “I want! I want! I want!”  I know how that feels: gimme what I want NOW!! It’s easy to ignore the consequences, and frankly that’s what I did for most of those years when I weighed 370+.  But it wasn’t like I woke up one morning and “wow! how did I get so big?! yesterday I was only 150!” It’s that insidious weight gain I mentioned earlier.  Part of it I can blame on the explosion of cheap processed foods: they are easily metabolized, full of calories and actually designed to make you keep eating more.  The fact that most of my generation and those that followed have problems with obesity and type 2 diabetes backs this up.  But most of us who grew up eating these cheap processed foods do not get to weigh 400+ lbs, though sadly there are a lot more of us than before. A lot of the blame has to be placed at my door.  I didn’t want to be active (I was never good at running or sports) and I spent a lot of my time with sedentary pursuits (reading, writing, watching tv, etc).  It was an amazingly awful combination: the more I ate, the bigger I got, the less I wanted to move so the more I sat and hey, how about another bag of cheese puffs? I tend to give myself credit for not hitting the 400s until I was over forty years old, but I was definitely on track to hit the 500s in my fifties (I noticed the numbers were paralleling each other and it was a frightening realization!) It’s along the same lines as giving yourself credit for breaking the chair but not falling through the floor: “well, the disaster could have been a whole lot worse!” Either way there is nothing good about weighing what I weighed.

It’s a hard situation to confront when you are that large and steadily gaining weight.  The solution seems simple: just go on a diet! But when those diets are based on calories in vs calories out, they don’t work.  All it does is wreck your metabolism and leave you constantly hungry, so you are not only miserably famished all the time, eventually your metabolism settles at your current calorie intake and you stop losing weight.  So while you may have lost some weight, you are right on track to gain it all right back, unless you drop your calories further.  I read in an article last September that one of The Biggest Loser ‘winners’ has to keep his calories under 800 per day in order not to gain the weight back.  To translate that into food, 800 calories is approximately 24 ounces of plain grilled chicken breast or 1.77 Starbucks Grande Mochas with 2% milk and whipped cream.  Sounds filling, doesn’t it?  So when you weigh over 350 lbs, are still gaining weight no matter what you seem to try, it feels pretty hopeless. Somehow, you walked right into this quicksand and now you can’t get out. You try making healthy changes: eating less and exercising more (again calories in vs calories out) and for a while it works, and then when it seems to stop, you try something else, but again, bailing out the Titanic with a teaspoon. It’s easy to see why people like me, Whitney and Dr. Now’s patients just accept that “I’m the fat one in the family!” Defeat with dignity seems better than the constant failing and disappointment. A phrase from The Simpsons would often pop into my head: “Can’t win- don’t try!” I was just destined to be fat so I might as well accept it.

Except it was killing me in so many painful ways. There was the physical pain that comes with lugging around two full sized adults on a body built for one.  There was the constant ‘helpful’ comments from family and the stares and ridicule of strangers always wearing on your spirit.  You feel embarrassed, helpless, inadequate and stupid almost every day, always asking yourself “how the hell did this happen to me?!” You are angry at yourself, at everyone in your family who tries to ‘help’ (because although they mean well, all they are really doing is reminding you of what a screw up you are), and you’re angry at all the jerks in the world who make rude comments about ‘fat chicks’ and other overweight people. It’s physically and emotionally draining to fight the weight and it’s physically and emotionally draining just living with it and all the limitations that it carries. I know in my case, the only way I found to fight it is to keep living my life as best I could.  It seemed as close to defeat with dignity as I could get. I had resolved to do as much as I could as long as I could, much the way I believe Whitney Thore has come to terms with her weight: try not to let it get in the way.

It’s a hard life, and I wish I could give everyone the keys to the secret passage out of it, but there are no easy solutions. For some, bariatric surgery is the best solution.  My mom used to try bribing me to get it done but I have never had any interest in getting my insides remodeled, although if I had reached 500, I think I would have seriously reconsidered. For others, radically changing their eating habits works, or weight loss medications or other devices (they have a permanent stomach pump now). Most- if not all- of these solutions sound a little desperate, but when you weigh in that neighborhood, desperate is exactly what you are! For me, the solution was radically changing my eating habits: I went from a diet that was 80% simple carbs to a diet that is 35% protein, 35% fat and 30% complex carbs. I now eat as few simple carbs as possible (fruit is as simple as it gets most days). It’s not as drastic a change as getting your gastrointestinal tract rearranged, but it sure wasn’t an easy transition to make.  I’m just happy and relieved that it worked and that it allows to me to live a lifestyle that is still normal and satisfying, both mentally, physically and spiritually. I have finally found my way to a happy place after a very long and desperate sojourn on the dark side.


Reflections of Change:Learning Not to Be Critical of Yourself

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I hate mirrors.  I’ve never been really fond of them (too many ghost stories involving mirrors when I was a kid) and as I got more and more obese, there was never any pleasure at looking at my reflection.  Occasionally, I would look at my face and think my eyes were kind of nice or my hair wasn’t bad, but that’s about as good as it got.  As for the rest of me, full body mirrors did not exist!

Even now when I look in the mirror every morning, I manage not to see the rest of me and focus only on the matter at hand, i.e. teeth, hair, makeup.  When I do look at the reflection, it’s usually a little critical: my chin is getting saggier; I’m getting wrinkles by my nose and mouth; my grey hair is more noticeable; etc.  It’s an objective observation as much as it can be; I’m not happy about the situation, but at the same time, I realize my options are fairly limited to remedy the situation.  I can probably get some kind of expensive plastic surgery to fix the chin, and maybe some collagen for the wrinkles, and the hair stylist can easily handle the grey.  But beyond maybe getting my hair colored, I’m really not interested in doing anything else.  My vanity is fairly limited by my impatience.  I don’t want to spend my time trying to look younger or thinner or ‘less wrinkled.’  It’s not a priority for me.  My boss from hell was horribly vain and I spent a great deal of my day making her ‘beauty appointments’ for waxing, botox, hair stylist, nails, etc.  I don’t have much interest in going down that road.

But at the same time, the changes that come with losing weight are beginning to register more and more.  Recently at the gym,  after changing into my swim suit, I passed by the full length mirror in the locker room.  It’s a tri-fold mirror, so you can see ALL of you.  Normally there’s some young little thing in front making sure her workout clothes aren’t rumpled and her hair/ makeup look good, but this time, there was no one, so I paused… and I looked.

Honestly…. I’m pretty wrinkly.  It looks like I’m wearing an outfit that is too big for me, because really, that’s what’s happening: I am shrinking inside my skin.  I knew it was coming.  You can’t weigh as much as I did and expect no consequences when you lose weight.  In fact, I used that as an excuse for a long time: “I don’t want loose skin and I don’t want surgery, so I’m not losing weight.”  After losing 170 lbs (the equivalent of an adult male), I’ve pretty much got loose skin everywhere.  My legs, belly and butt look the worst: droopier and wrinkly, with ‘pouches’ of wrinkled loose skin in some places.  My breasts have also gotten droopier as well as my arms and my chin. My bones are becoming more prominent: you can see my collarbone now; my hips, knees and elbows are bonier; even my head and feet have gotten smaller as my shoes and my hats seem bigger. (You know you’re fat when your head shrinks!)

Since this isn’t something I normally do, I took the time to look at my legs and my butt.  Yep, even more wrinkly and a lot droopier than before.  What’s the quip?: “that is not a good look for you!” That’s the truth! Like I said, I never thought of myself as being vain or overly concerned with my appearance (I had a guy tell me once that I didn’t know how to be a “girl” because I didn’t flirt or primp or whatever he thought “girls” are supposed to do! and yes, he was a first class jerk!) So, I spent a couple of minutes getting a good look at the state of my ongoing wrinkliness and made a mental note: yep, not a good look I’ve got going on here, and then went out to the pool.

On the one hand, it’s a little concerning because I’ve started dating again and I really don’t want to look unattractive, but I’m fairly realistic.  This is what I look like and any guy who is going to be more interested in what I look like than who I am isn’t a guy I am going to be dating very long, much like the first class jerk above.  The truth is I think the older I get, the b*tchier I get (I’m becoming Maxine from the Hallmark cards & calendars, complete with the little dog who knows better!) I no longer fuss over if I’m pretty enough or demure enough or “what happens if I never meet a guy?” but I also realize that I am in the minority when it comes to body image. It’s not because I’m super confident and secure in my appearance: it’s that I’ve already spent a big part of my life worrying about what others think of my appearance and it hasn’t gotten me very much except a lot of tears and sleepless nights (ergo I’ve turned into Maxine: get in my face and I’ll get right back in yours!) I remember being in grade school listening to a couple of boys sitting ahead of me discussing the good and not-so-good parts of my body. In fact, I remember most of my classmates throughout grade school telling me on many occasions what was wrong with my body and asking me (repeatedly) why I was so fat.  I also remember all the heartbreak that comes with the guy I like dating someone else because I’m just not attractive enough.  Then there’s the whole too-fat-for-sports issues and there’s always the family feedback.  They all meant well and were trying to help, but really, it just came across as “what’s wrong with you and why are you such a disappointment & embarrassment?”  That’s not what they said of course; they offered all kinds of ‘helpful advice’ to try and lose weight and be more active.  My all-time favorite is my mom chanting “chew! chew! chew!” at restaurants whenever I took a bite so I wouldn’t ‘bolt my food.’  Let me tell you, if there were EVER an incentive to bolt your food, THAT would be it! Is it any wonder that I’ve turned into a crabby old(ish) woman?

I see a lot of people on MFP and other sites who are very concerned about their body image.  They worry about how they look and whether their thighs are too thick or their upper arms are too flabby.  A lot of patients on My 600 lb Life and Skin Tight (TLC programs) are obsessed with ‘getting skin surgery’ so they can ‘look normal.’  I recall one woman practically in tears over the loose flabby skin because she desperately wanted to be beautiful.  One thing I’ve learned is that beauty comes from inside.  I know it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t meant it’s not true.  Everyone has a different idea of what is beautiful or handsome and even when scientists try to quantify what people are attracted to through biology, there are still exceptions: people who are considered beautiful/ handsome even though they don’t meet the ‘biological’ standards.  It comes down to confidence and personality: people who are attractive despite their physical appearance.

I realize that it’s not just a matter of vanity when it comes to your appearance; it’s a matter of self-esteem and self-care.  You want to reflect how you feel about yourself: this is me and I’m proud of me! I believe that’s a healthy self-image.  The problems come when we are not concerned with our self-care (i.e. we don’t take care of ourselves); when we are overly concerned about what others think of us; and when we are overly critical of ourselves.  None of those are healthy situations.  In the first case, not taking care of yourself is often an indication of depression/ altered mental status or sometimes an organic physical abnormality (like a brain tumor or chemical imbalance).  In the second case, being too concerned with other people’s opinions of you and your appearance is generally thought to be low self-esteem, but it can also be related to the third case, which is now usually diagnosed as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).  This is a disorder in which the patient obsesses over a perceived flaw in their body/ appearance.  This is an mental disorder that requires medical treatment.  It’s not thinking “I have ugly hair” or “my ears are too big.”  It is literally obsessing over it and having these negative persistent thoughts destroy your quality of life.

Most of us who have a weight problem or a loose skin problem fall somewhere in the middle of these: we are trying to take care of ourselves (losing weight/ getting healthier) but it gets very discouraging when no matter what we do, we cannot hide or minimize our size, our loose skin or some other aspect of our bodies that we are unhappy with.  Sometimes, we give up on trying to look our best.  Every comment on our appearance can become a perceived slight or criticism of us and we focus on our flaws.  We are always trying to live up to someone else’s standards.  It’s a very demoralizing, humiliating and unpleasant place to be.  It’s like trying to run in quicksand, because we feel like we never make any progress and keep sinking.  It’s because we are basing our self-worth on a temporary situation (our physical appearance) and we are depending on others for validation of that self-worth.  Let’s be honest: our looks are temporary.  One of my favorite lines from Shakespeare’s sonnets speaks to that: “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks/ Within his bending sickle’s compass come” (Sonnet 116). While you may not get ugly as you grow older, your appearance will change. That’s why it’s important to love and respect yourself and surround yourself with people who love and respect who you are, not what you look like. This is what most people have trouble with: loving and respecting themselves. It’s one of those cheesy clichéd platitudes that we hear over and over again, usually in a sappy ‘chick flick.’

As much as I hate to say it, it’s true: if you don’t love and respect yourself enough to stand up for yourself and/ or what you believe in, how can you expect anyone else to value you and your beliefs? It starts with you.  You are more than your appearance and more than your weight.  Those are temporary conditions that will change over time, whether you or anyone else likes it or not.  Until you look in the mirror and see yourself for the person you are inside and value that person, you will always find flaws in yourself.  What you look like is of minor importance. What you weigh matters only as far as your health. The true value is the whole person inside.  It’s okay to look at yourself and be a little critical, as in ‘I really need to get a hair cut’ or ‘I really need to cut back on the sweet desserts!’ But to look at yourself and see yourself as ‘ugly’ or ‘deformed’ is to demean and belittle your true value.  When I paused at the gym mirror and got a good look at myself, yeah, I was not happy with the saggy wrinkly skin.  I’ve always wished that I had delicate ankles and wrists, and I’d like to have nice legs too, but then I’ve always wanted blue eyes too!  Now that I can get contacts to color my eyes blue, did I go get them? Nope! They aren’t worth my effort, and everyone who knows me knows my eyes are brown.  So, I made note that I am definitely getting droopier everywhere I don’t want to be droopy, and then I went on my way.  It’s not a big deal to me, because I know what I look like isn’t who I am.  It’s taken me a long time to get here and I realize that I am lucky: not everyone reaches this place in life and  I hope you are here with me.

Motivation: Surprising Yourself & Pushing the Envelope

How many times have you watched someone doing something and said to yourself: “I could never do that in a million years!” This is one of those instances where ignorance is truly bliss, because if you don’t know that you can’t do it, you’ll probably try, and who knows- maybe you really can do it!  I used to think about this a lot with my cat Belle.  She was a tall big boned green eyed calico who was a rescue from a local vet. Some high school kids brought her in as a kitten when they heard her crying in a dumpster.  She’d been hit by a car and just tossed in like trash, and as a result she lost a back leg.  When I brought her home the week after Thanksgiving, she still had the stitches from the amputation, and after taking a couple of days to get used to me, my house and my dogs, she promptly scaled the pet-gate and the Christmas tree.  She got into everything she could, because no one told her she couldn’t. (She was also the vicious “attack cat” whenever anyone came to the house- my four-legged cat hides under the bed!)

She was not the first “disabled” cat our family has had.  When we were in college, we had Mowgli who was blind.  One eye was opaque due to scarring from an infection and the other had to be removed (same infection).  She also climbed everywhere (including the NordicTrac) and got into every bag we had, every closet and under everywhere she would fit: “Be careful with that! Mowgli’s probably in it!” and she was!  She didn’t know she was blind and couldn’t do everything “normal” cats could.  Like Belle, no one had ever told her she couldn’t, so she did whatever she wanted.

You’d think people would have more sense than our pets, but I think we are in danger of convincing ourselves there are things we can’t do, either from fear of failure or embarrassment.  We think we can’t so we don’t even try and as a result, we end up being right: we cannot do it (whatever “it” is).  The task does not defeat us: we defeat ourselves!  “We have met the enemy and they are us!”

I have a bit of a reputation for trying almost anything. It’s not because I’m some kind of super confident and self assured person (oh so not me!); it’s because of a couple of things that happened my senior year in high school.  One of them I’ve mentioned on this blog before: at our final exam, one of my teachers, Sister Patrice (yes, I went to Catholic high school) gave every senior a paper butterfly with a positive trait she had noticed about them and mine said “open minded.”  Part of my “I’ll try anything” mindset comes from that.  I’ve tried hard not to lose it over the years and I think it’s done me good.

The second thing that taught me to try even though failure looked imminent was my senior PE final: we had to run two miles (8 times around the track).  We didn’t have to beat a time; we just had to finish.  I was the second fattest girl in my class (in the whole school FYI) and after she announced what the final was (we got a week or so to train for it), the teacher, Coach Betty, told me that I and the other girl, Jennifer, were exempt from running, obviously because of our weight.  I don’t think Jennifer ran the track (she was exempt from PE altogether), but the thought of being “the only one who didn’t run” in my period was far more mortifying than failure, so I changed into my shorts and sneakers and ran with the rest of them.  On the day of the final, I was the last lone runner on the track, but I finished all 8 laps.  I was panting, could hardly breathe and could hardly walk back to the locker room, but I’ll never forget the smile on Coach Betty’s face.  She was so proud of me.  She said “you knew you could do it!”  Actually I didn’t, but to give up without trying was way more embarrassing than falling flat on my face.  If I failed, at least I made a good attempt and all I had to do was keep running.  I figured it’d be less embarrassing to pass out on the track trying to do it than not to run at all.

In much the same way that we can overestimate ourselves, we also underestimate our abilities.  Before we even try, we think we’ll fail and that fear of failure and the accompanying embarrassment is overwhelming.  We’re afraid of being laughed at, being humiliated, having everyone staring and making comments. We love being the center of attention when we do something right and we hate being the butt of the jokes when we screw up.  But in most cases it’s only the fear itself that is the only boogeyman we’ve got to watch out for. Many times, the failure itself, if it actually happens, is seen as mostly a bump in the road by everyone else.  You tried, you failed, you move on and so does everyone else.  You are the only one who makes a big deal out of it. You are afraid of the fear of looking foolish, and once you accept that everyone looks foolish at one time or another, it’s no big deal.

Sometimes not knowing that you can’t do something leaves you open to the possibilities; it’s almost like knowing that you can’t keeps you from doing it. Case in point: in 2003, I shattered my left wrist.  My hand was actually pushed into my arm about an inch- it was like my wrist was gone.  The break was so bad the doctor told me he’d never seen a wrist look like that. The word he used to describe my metacarpals (the bones in my wrist) was “gravel.”  I ended up having a plate put in with five screws to secure it to whatever wasn’t broken.  I was in a cast for six weeks and ended up spending about 10 weeks in physical therapy.  If any of you have ever had PT, you know they evaluate you when you first show up and then they do it again when you finish to measure your improvement.  When I started, I could not touch my fingers to my palm, let alone bend my wrist.  It was frozen solid and frankly it scared me more than a little.  So, let’s just say I was motivated.

When I left PT, they did their final evaluation and I had approximately 90% of my hand/ wrist function back.  I could pick up fine objects like pins and ball bearings, and I could move my wrist forward, backward and twist it around.  Pretty much the only thing I could not do was press my palm against a flat surface like a table or a wall because it hurt and I could feel the screws in my bones.  The other thing I could not do is carry a bag with a strap across the incision/ scar (like women do with a purse), because again I feel the screws biting into my bones.  So, overall, I was pretty happy, and so was the therapist.  She told me that they had estimated I would only regain about 70% of my wrist function because of the break and the surgery.  I was shocked: no one had told me the prognosis was so grim (they didn’t think it was grim but I sure as h*ll did)!  I often wonder if my knowing would have made a difference.

I’ve always been one of those people who tries things even though failure looks imminent, and those two events in my life (three actually) really reassured me that I wasn’t wrong to try. (This is code for “I’m no longer afraid of looking like a doofus!”) By contrast, my friend G. was the exact opposite.  She was my sister’s roommate when my sis moved back to the valley, and she was working as an administrative assistant in an office but what she really wanted to do was be a nurse.  When my sister asked her why she didn’t apply to nursing school, she immediately came up with “reasons”: she wasn’t smart enough; it was too hard; her family told her she couldn’t do it; all kinds of reasons why she would fail.  It reminds me of an episode on the The Simpsons where Homer gives Bart some “fatherly” advice and Bart replies:”Can’t win, don’t try! Got it!” This was G.’s thinking completely: don’t even try it because you won’t make it.  My sister and I both told her if the worst you can do is fail and you’ve already accepted that, where’s the harm in trying?  Eventually, she applied to nursing school and now she’s an RN.

The point I’m trying to make is that you need to keep an open mind about whatever it is you are considering.  Sometimes, we surprise ourselves with what we can do! I recently started taking a weekly aerobics class.  This is a different class than my water aerobics because- yup! no pool!  It’s only a half hour but it feels like a lot more work and it also involves getting on the floor to do some stretches and exercises.  There are some wrestling mats that we use, and frankly I was more than a little concerned, since my knees are not the best.  I tried crawling under a desk a few weeks ago at the office and the pain on my arthritic knees was extreme and getting back up was seriously in doubt.  I was hoping I could do at least half of the workout and to my shock, I was able to do the whole thing, even on the mats.  I could get up and get down, if not smoothly, at least without too much trouble!  One of the instructors makes a point each time of telling me how good I am doing in the class.  I am by far the largest person in the class and probably the least mobile, but I show up each week, when some of the others don’t (there were four of us one week, including the two instructors!) He’s always glad to see me show up and keep trying, and even though I have no intentions of not showing up, it’s nice that he is so encouraging (besides keeping up with my activity, I also paid for the class and I don’t get a rebate for missed classes!)  The positive feedback makes me feel good, which is no doubt why he does it.  The class only runs for two months before the break for the holidays (it’s at the local community college) and I can tell already that I’m going to miss it when it’s over, and I will probably sign up for another one in the Spring semester.

That’s pretty good for someone who was doubtful she would be able to keep up with the half hour workout! That’s pretty much my point: if I had been too scared to take the class, I would never have known what I could do, and I would have stayed right where I was.  Six weeks into the class (again only half an hour each week), I can already see my progress.  The exercises are less of a struggle, I’m stronger and more flexible and I feel more confident each time I show up.  I’m also less tired and less sore the following day.  This is what I have gained by pushing myself just a little past my comfort zone.  I admit, it was a little uncomfortable thinking that I wouldn’t be able to get up off the floor and it would be embarrassing.  It was a little scary (rather more than a little actually) thinking that I’d have to sit out more than a few of the exercises because I wasn’t flexible enough or fit enough to do them.  I thought of The Simpsons episode again: “Can’t win, don’t try!” I thought about Belle, sitting in the kitchen doorway hissing at my dad, “the stranger in her house.”  Yeah, a 12 lb three-legged cat is sooo intimidating! But there she was, defending her territory regardless.  Ultimately, what was I scared of? Looking foolish in front of strangers because I dared to try improving myself?  I was reminded recently of a speech called “The Man in the Arena” [excerpted from “Citizenship in A Republic”] by Teddy Roosevelt (Elizabeth Benton read it on a recent Primal Potential podcast): “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena … who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…” It felt a lot like it did when I was in high school, running those laps: I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not, but if I was going to fail, it wasn’t going to be because I never tried!  Keep daring greatly, and you might surprise yourself by succeeding!






Living in a Food Focused World

Some of you know I have a cockapoo named Remy. He’s a little black curly mop about 12 lbs and almost 3 years old now.  Before him, I had a succession of Yorkies (very different dogs, physically and personality-wise!)  Where Henry (my last Yorkie) was independent and bossy, Remy is more mellow and focused on me.  One of Henry’s most adorable (eye roll) traits was to cock his ear when we were out in the yard to acknowledge, yes, I hear you calling me, and now I’m ignoring you, and he’d go off doing his own thing. Remy, while not exactly clingy, keeps his eye on me so if I head to the other side of the house, he keeps me in sight.

Probably Remy’s most distinctive trait is his lack of focus on food.  I had a Queensland mix (Sarah) who’s nickname was the “Shark.” I had heard it said of sharks that they will eat anything and if it doesn’t come back up, it’s food!  Sarah was like that: she ate all kinds of things that should have made her deadly ill (like an entire pound of Oreos in one night!) but she lived to a ripe old age.  My friend’s dog Watson is a lot like Sarah: there is no five second rule at her house because nothing edible is on the floor that long!  In my house, it’s closer to a five day rule. I fill Remy’s kibble bowl about once a week; he likes to eat when we go to bed and when we get up in the morning.  I give him dog cookies (loves peanut butter) and dog treats and people food, but most of them stick around in his various  beds or on my bed or in his bowl or on the floor until he either eats them days later, the cats   eat them (sometimes) or I finally throw them away because they look dirty.  Even the people food.  I come home in the afternoon and see last night’s leftover people food treat on his paper plate and as I’m throwing it out, I make the comment that there are starving dogs in South Modesto who would eat this in a heartbeat.  (This is after my cats have had a crack at it too!) I’ve finally reached the conclusion (yeah, I’m a little dense) that giving him people food treats are a waste of food, and it’s not like it’s broccoli or salad (although he does like iceberg lettuce, the weirdo!) or even bread or rice: this is chicken, pork, beef and eggs he’s snubbing with that curly schnozz!  Watson would snarf it in a heartbeat!

That’s because Watson is food focused and Remy is not.  If my friend wants Watson’s attention, she gets it with a treat: his motto is anything for a cookie!  Remy’s motto is anything for the toy!  Offering him a cookie is a waste of time: he’ll sniff it, and maybe take it politely and set it down somewhere (Watson has eaten a lot of Rem’s treats that way!)  Show him the ball or his stuffed animal, totally different story! Remy has scolded me for not noticing that he tossed the ball at my feet an entire minute ago and I still haven’t thrown it for him!  I’ve often thought about attaching one of my Fitbits to his collar so I can cheat at the Weekend Warrior challenge- I’m sure he’d beat anyone when he’s chasing his toys up and down the hallways and all around the yard!

So blah blah blah, why’s she babbling about the dogs?! Because WE are not that different! Most of us are either a lot like Watson and focused on food, or we are like Remy and totally unconcerned about it.  I’ve commented to my MFP friends that I need to be more like Remy because “who cares if there’s chicken thighs on  my paper plate! Throw the ball, Mom!” When I was in college, the most effective method for getting anyone to attend your function was to put “refreshments will be served” on your flyers.  It works pretty well in the business world too!  People will flock to wherever there is free food (and even if it is  not so free). As a society, we are focused on what we’re eating, what other people are eating, what’s better to eat, what’s bad for us and what we love to eat!  Our holidays revolve around food: Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinner and dessert, Christmas cookies and candy, New Year’s drinks and appetizers, and that’s just what’s in store for us in the coming months!  There’s still the rest of the year’s food focused holidays to deal with: Valentine’s, St. Paddy’s, Easter, Memorial Day, the Fourth, Labor Day, not to mention birthdays and anniversaries, graduations and other celebrations.  They usually involve some kind of food and a lot of times, some kind of cake or pastry.

I’m not condemning our food focus, because for most of our history as a species, food was hard to come by (and in some places, it still is!) Sharing food is sign of community and belonging: it’s how we reinforce our societal bonds. We gather with friends and family and share food and drink and comraderie. It’s an important part of our genetic make up; while other animals, my cats for example, will groom each other, we tend to bond over food.

So what happens when food is our Achilles heel? Do we choose not to attend these food oriented functions and miss out on most of our holidays and gatherings?  Do we just give up and subject ourselves to the enormous struggle of saying no to things like pumpkin pie, stuffing, mashed potatoes and endless cookies or do we strategically arrive after the table has been cleared and join the gathering late? All of these are viable options, and only you can decide which of these is easiest and/ or more convenient to you.  Of course, there are some other considerations involved with each choice depending on you and your goals.

Choosing not to attend: this is the probably the most effective as well as the harshest if your goal is simply to avoid the food.  It’s easier if you just don’t come face to face with all of the food, especially if they are things you really enjoyed eating, but there’s a hefty price to be paid with the isolation involved.  It means cutting yourself off from your community and family which for most of us is our support system.  This is not a good thing as it means you have no one to turn to when you need help or support of any kind.  For many people, not attending is also not an option because of FOMO (fear of missing out) on the food.  You skip the Halloween parties and miss out on the “special” cookies, candies, treats, etc.  (Is a pumpkin shaped Reese’s peanut butter cup really a treat?) For me, there are some things that I don’t like to miss out on, but the biggest “treat” for me is not the food- it’s the family and friends (yeah, I know it’s corny!)  I have a large extended family that gets together for the holidays and there is always an over-abundance of all kinds of food.  For me, not attending is not an option.  I don’t see my family enough in my opinion and so, each holiday, I come face to face with a table overflowing with all of the yummy stuff I grew up eating.  Is it hard saying no to all these things? You better believe it! If it gets to be too much, I make a habit of joining family in another room away from the food, and there have been times when I gave in and “tasted” -eye roll- some of it.  For me, the hazards of over-indulging at a family holiday are worth it for the shared family time.  Missing out on the food isn’t the issue for me; it’s not worth it to miss out on the family time.

Attending the gathering and facing the temptation: this one is the hardest when it comes to testing your resolve! As I said above, my family has a table full of temptations before, during and even after the meal.  There’s always the finger foods and appetizers followed by the yummy dinner full of all kinds of entrees and side dishes, then there’s the table full of desserts.  Seriously, we have enough food for at least two complete meals apiece for everyone!  We get there around noon and leave around six for most holidays and it’s nothing but eating in between: during the game, during the gifts, during the cooking itself- there’s always food readily available sitting there saying “I’m yummy!” One of the strategies I’ve employed (to moderate success, I admit) is sitting in another room away from the kitchen and dining room, but everyone has a plate full of food, so even there, it’s tempting me.  I serve myself the stuff that I think is healthiest (and a lot of times it’s something I brought) and I make a point to eat as slowly as I can.  As I said, I’ve had moderate success with this but it’s only one option.  Other options include planning your eating before you go to the gathering (another strategy I’ve used).  If you know you’re going to be eating more than usual for lunch/ dinner, then carefully plan what you eat beforehand.  This can include skipping breakfast or eating less breakfast so you can eat more at the gathering.  Another plan includes filling up before you go on healthy options, like having a large salad or meal full of veggies before you go to the gathering, so the food you are trying to avoid is less tempting to you.  You’re full and not so tempted (hopefully) to eat out of boredom or habit.  The biggest temptation (for me anyway) is to “graze” and eat a handful of this and a spoonful of that all day long.  I know for office workers during the holidays, subjected to endless trays of cookies and boxes of candies, one trick is to put whatever you were going to eat into a Ziploc bag and at the end of the day, you see how much you really would have eaten- usually way more than you thought it was! That’ll put the damper on grazing!

Strategically planning your arrival: I’m just going to come out and admit I think this is lame, but it works for some people.  For me, a big part of my socialization with my family actually involves preparing the meal.  I get to hang out in the kitchen with my aunts and uncles and cousins and make the food.  The added benefit is by the time the meal is ready and everyone else descends on the loaded table like a cloud of locusts, I and the rest of the kitchen crew are so tired of the food, we wait until everyone else has gone through and then we choose from what’s left, if we don’t have to refill the platters first.  It kind of puts a damper on the appetite for us. Arriving after the meal is done is not always possible, since for our family, about an hour after the meal, we serve dessert and after lingering over dessert, we start cleaning up and heading home. Waiting until the food is “gone” means missing out on most of the gathering for our family.  For my friends, it’s a better option.  They have the meal and dessert followed by several hours of games and chatting and socialization.  I can show up later, miss the food and still enjoy time with my friends.  These are also the friends who make holiday cookie trays for everyone full of the home-made cookies the recipient likes best, like lemon bars, mint chocolate chip cookies, chocolate dipped marshmallows and candied walnuts. (Some of my favorites!) After I started eating Paleo, they asked if I still wanted a cookie tray, and let me know they would not be offended if I said no, so I thanked them and declined.  Did I miss some really great once a year treats? Yes.  For about five minutes, which is about how long it takes to eat them. Did I still spend time with them during the holidays? Yes.  We just didn’t make the cookie tray a part of it.

Keeping it Low Key

I am blessed with family and friends who respect that I’m eating differently than I used to and, for the most part, differently than they do.  Most of them, like most of the world, eat a lot of processed foods and refined carbs, which I really avoid. If they offer something and I decline, they respect my “no thank you” and don’t keep pushing it at me.  In turn, I respect what they choose to eat.  When I was at their Super Bowl party last February, they had a table full of chips, dips, crackers, and some crudite (veggies). I didn’t criticize their choices.  It’s not my business what they want to eat.  If they’d asked my opinion, I would have given it, but I still wouldn’t have said “it’s all unhealthy processed junk!” (That’s not my opinion of their choices, btw!) Unfortunately, this is what a lot of people do when they start making healthier food choices: like any new convert, they feel the need to push their new point of view on everyone around them!  As a result, no one wants to spend time with them or eat with them.  Who wants to eat with someone who keeps trashing what you are trying to enjoy? Sadly, I have way too much experience with this one. My mom (the Constant Dieter) was always telling me whatever I was eating was full of fat, full of sugar, full of “empty calories.”  Even today, if I decide to put Splenda in my drink, she lets me know that “Splenda is the worst artificial sweetener there is! It’s full of chemicals that cause cancer!” (She has been known to say this to total strangers at Starbucks!)  I don’t know how true this is and frankly, it’s none of her business if I choose the Splenda or not.  At least she didn’t try to put her choice of sweetener in my beverage.  She’s tried stuff like that before and ended up spilling my glass all over the table.  It was annoying, but she felt really bad about it and hasn’t done it since.  But the point is that what you or I eat is no one else’s business.  No one needs to justify why they are or aren’t eating the tortilla chips, the sugar cookies, or whatever else is available.  What we decide to eat is extremely personal, in my opinion anyway, and the idea of someone trashing what anyone is eating is beyond rude.  It’s one thing to comment on not eating the cookies because they have coconut and you can’t stand it, or that they have peanuts and you’re allergic- that’s a matter of taste and safety.  It’s not a comment on how healthy/ unhealthy they are.  My best advice for handling people like my mom is to make an offhand comment like “we all gotta die of something!”

Adjusting your Focus

The plain truth of the matter is that most of the world is focused on what they are eating and what everyone else is eating.  There’s always some report on how something is bad for you, better for you or  what food is “guaranteed to give you cancer” (eye roll), and it’s hard not to focus on what you are eating for dinner, ate for breakfast or are eating right now.  Food is fuel for the body but it’s also a physical and social enjoyment as well, and it’s hard to be the loner at the table who’s not having the same thing as everyone else, or even just eating something different.  It draws attention in a way we might not like, but unless someone is rude about it, there’s no need to worry about it.  If anyone does ask, “you’re not having anything?” just tell them you aren’t hungry or it doesn’t appeal to you- something polite and noncommital and move on from the topic.  There is a lot going on in the coming months, and yes, there will be food everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the focus of your social life.  Choose the friends and family and leave the food for everyone else. You might be getting together to have lunch or Thanksgiving dinner or watch the Super Bowl, but is the food really the point of the gathering?  Even when you go to lunch with someone, yes, the meal is important but after making your healthier food choices, focus on the company and not the giant cheesesteak sandwich they ordered. I remind myself that my cockapoo would rather have a hug from me than a cookie and the point of hanging out with my friends has everything to do with them and nothing to do with whatever snacks are on the table!





When It’s Not Okay to be “Okay”

A very very long time ago there was a popular book entitled I’m OK, You’re OK.  I didn’t read it (I was actually a toddler back then), but from what I understand it was one of those self-help psych books about how to work through life’s problems and situations. Generally, I think it’s okay to accept people’s differences and to accept the different situations life has handed you.  Obviously, there are some things you can change and some things you can’t and the challenges come when you’re faced with something you (or someone else) can change, but you’re not sure how to make it happen.

What’s really started to get under my skin lately is the idea that “everything is okay.”  You really overate today and most of it was stuff you’re trying to avoid- “that’s okay! It’s one day! You’ll do better tomorrow!”  You’ve blown off your workouts for the last week because you just didn’t feel like going- “that’s okay! Everyone needs a break! You can get back to it tomorrow!” You’ve been stressing out over work/ family/ whatever and not sleeping well and staying up late- “that’s okay! We all have problems and we need to learn to deal with them!”  NO, THIS IS NOT OKAY!! NONE OF THIS IS “OKAY”!!

Yeah, I know: I probably sound like a crabby b*tch right now. Actually, I’m usually a little torn in situations like those above.  On one hand, I don’t want to be unsupportive and tell someone that they really blew it and need to toughen up; but on the other hand, I don’t want to condone (or encourage) “bad” behavior.  A lot of times it feels like a choice between condoning their lack of effort or being the b*tch, so I usually try to find a middle ground: “yes, today was a disaster with the poor food choices and/ or lack of exercise, but you need to try harder to find out why you made the choices you did.”

I was listening to a podcast today, and one of the hosts was telling a listener that “it’s okay” to be unhappy with her weight and “it’s okay” to struggle with her body image and “it’s okay not to be okay.”  WHAT THE HECK DOES THAT MEAN?  I think we have become too okay with everything being “okay!” At some point someone has to stand up and say no, this behavior/ attitude/ whatever is NOT okay. It’s not okay to make poor food choices day after day and tell yourself that you don’t do this “all the time” and you’ll do better next time.  It’s not okay to blow off your workouts half the time and tell yourself it’s because of the stress or the crappy traffic or you’re just “not feeling it.”  It’s not okay to stay up late half the week because it’s “a special tv show” or you’ve got “a lot to get done.”  It’s not okay to hit snooze over and over again each morning because “it’s cold, you’re tired, you don’t want to get up, you can get five more minutes.”  Yes, I’m being b*tchy, and I’m being b*tchy at me!  These are my examples of bad behavior for the last couple of weeks at least: too many “treats,” slacking off on activity and exercise, staying up late and lagging in bed in the morning.  None of this is okay: it’s not moving me towards my goals or teaching me any consistency.  Telling me “it’s okay” is giving me free rein to act badly! This is where I tell myself what I said earlier: “You screwed it up today and you need to look at why you did that so the next time this situation comes up, you have your counterargument ready!”

You had a doughnut: It was a really crappy week and I wanted to do something nice for me so I got my favorite doughnut (and it was really really good too!) Counterargument: That “yummy” doughnut spiked your sugar, made you hungry later and had the same calories as a salad or a piece of chicken but no nutrition, and that’s “something nice for you?”

You blew off your workout (again): I really didn’t feel like rushing to the gym and changing really quick so I could make it to the class on time and I really hate to be late! Counterargument: So instead of being late, you missed class entirely! You didn’t replace that activity with something else and so instead of feeling accomplished and energized, you feel guilty and like the slacker you are, and you didn’t even do anything productive instead!

You repeatedly hit snooze in the morning: I really hate getting up.  It’s cold and it’s still dark and I don’t need to get gas/ coffee/ drop laundry.  Counterargument: So instead of getting up with enough time to make it to work without worrying about traffic and having a few extra minutes to get settled/ make more coffee, you’re lying in bed whining? And if the freeway is a parking lot (again), you’re just going to be late? Remember how much you hate being late? Is that few extra minutes (half hour) worth stressing over being late?

Obviously I’m talking to myself here; I would never be so harsh to someone asking for help or advice, but the bottom line is that when we make excuses for ourselves or for others, letting them off the hook with “it’s okay,” we are giving them a pass to stay the unhealthy course they (or we) are trying to change.  It is okay to be human and not be perfect; expecting perfection is unrealistic, but we have to acknowledge that we are moving towards a goal of consistency and overall improvement.  If we don’t keep moving, we stagnate in complacency and we go nowhere! I spent too many years of my life being “okay” with my body weight and my  living fat default lifestyle, and much as I’d like to say I went nowhere, I did make progress- for the worse!  My health continued to deteriorate, my life was miserable and I hit 438 lbs.  But it was all “okay” because I was “doing the best I can.” HAH!! If I’d worked at it, I could have done better and made small improvements that wouldn’t overwhelm me but would ultimately lead to overall better health and lifestyle choices. But I didn’t do that because everything was “okay,” until it wasn’t. What happened was a major life event resulting in months of depression and recovery.  Definitely not fun.  Definitely not okay.

It’s those little changes that we need to focus on and these are the things that get overlooked when we tell people it’s okay to have a treat once in a while, or blow off your workouts, or whatever the poor choice was.  Scolding someone for eating a doughnut or a hot dog or whatever probably isn’t going to help them make better choices: it’s just going to make them feel guilty and/ or like a failure.  I was on the receiving end of a lot of those lectures from my mother for most of my life and the one thing I did learn from all of them is how spectacularly ineffective they are.  I feel for me personally change comes from finding out why I made the choice that I made. The “snooze button battle” is a good example of a change I’m struggling with right now.  I really really hate getting up early and every night I tell myself I’m not hitting snooze and every morning I hit the button again.  (Aaargh!!) Arguing with myself has been as marvelously effective as my mother’s lectures.  Going to bed earlier has not been effective either.  Lagging is bed is not okay because of the traffic delays and the before-work errands that I need to do that can’t be done at another time (usually gas & laundry), so reminding myself that there is a reason I need to get up at a certain time is not as effective as I would like it to be.  I may just have to be “the b*tch” and make myself do it, but telling myself that this counterproductive behavior is “okay” is not helping me be more consistent or productive but it is causing stress due to tighter time constraints at a time of day when I’m already not my best.  It really is not okay for me to continue doing this. Accepting this behavior just lets the problem drag on being a problem!

Some of you know I watch a lot of TLC, including My Big Fat Fabulous Life with Whitney Thore.  Whitney weighs about 370 lbs and she’s “okay with being fat.” In the season 3 finale, she said she had accepted that she would probably be fat all her life, and I was so sorry to hear that.  I don’t think everyone needs to be skinny, but I remember making a similar decision when I weighed in the same neighborhood.  I realized, almost at the same moment I made the decision, that I wasn’t “accepting” anything- I was giving up, and more, I was giving myself a free pass to eat whatever I wanted as much as I wanted and to never have to think about exercising again.  I was “the fat woman” and it was okay! Except that it wasn’t. It’s a little ironic, because the fighter in me realized in that same moment that I had given up and she refused to accept it!  As soon as I realized I’d given up, the fighter in me said, “oh, hell, no!” and kept on fighting.  I gave up on giving up.  It is NOT okay to accept defeat without a fight.  Yes, there are some things you will never be able to change, but there are almost always ways to make improvements! Yes, I blew off workouts and ate doughnuts and have been staying up too late- but I can change those things!  Yes, I weighed 438 lbs, had horribly painful knees and stress induced asthma and panic attacks- but I changed those! Yes, I still weigh 275 lbs and I have loose saggy skin on most of my body- I am changing those things!  I can acknowledge that I screwed up without judging myself or shaming myself or beating myself up.  People stumble, they fall, and they get up and do better! Telling them it’s okay to stumble and fall is acknowledging that they’re human, but telling them it’s okay not to get up and do better is most definitely NOT okay!

Be Gracious in Victory, Not Vindictive

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while may be familiar with a post I did (The Speck in Your Sister’s Eye) regarding comedian Kerryn Feehan and Whitney Thore of My Big Fat Fabulous Life (MBFFL).  Kerryn appeared on the show and she and Whitney disagreed- loudly- over Whitney’s approach to her weight and lifestyle and fat shaming in general.

Recently on part two of MBFFL’s season finale, Kerryn made another appearance.  The season finale (entitled “The Skinny”) was a round table type wrap up where they had the cast and host Shaun Robinson review certain moments from the season and offer their thoughts looking back at the various incidents.  Personally, I think Kerryn is to be applauded for walking into what was so obviously a lion’s den of disapproval straight from the get-go.  It was soon apparent that no one wanted to listen to her point of view on Whitney’s attitude and/ or approach to her weight and, although she frankly has a tendency to express herself crudely and hurtfully (maybe it’s the ‘comedic’ approach?), it was also very apparent that she genuinely felt she had come to have a frank and open discussion about the state of Whitney’s health.

When Kerryn brought up the fact that Whitney is “struggling” with her health and weight, she was attacked.  When she defended herself by bringing up the funeral intervention thrown by her friends and family members, she was attacked again.  Whitney took offense to a response Kerryn made to her parents, saying it was disrespectful (I don’t think it was, but it’s purely subjective) and walked off the set.  (Kerryn also left.) Later, after everyone returned, Kerryn apologized to Whitney, telling her she believed she was clearly a beautiful, intelligent and charismatic person.  Whitney responded by saying since Kerryn did not include respect in her list of attributes, Kerryn obviously did not respect her and made a derogatory remark about Kerryn, who was then abruptly asked to leave by the host.

I have to say I was not impressed by Whitney’s behavior (or her friend Buddy’s for that matter).  Upon her return to the set after the blow up, Kerryn flat out stated that she believed she had been brought there to have a frank discussion about Whitney’s weight and that clearly was not going to happen. I think Kerryn began badly by saying that she believes Whitney’s friends are enabling her when it is quite obvious she is struggling with her weight (the words Kerryn used were she “waddles” when she walks).  I think this is part of Kerryn’s “bullying for positive change” philosophy which I don’t agree with but I don’t deny that Whitney does tend to waddle when she walks.  (I used to waddle myself when I weighed that much! It’s because moving 370+ lbs can be a bit of an effort!)

Kerryn’s abrasive personality aside, it was painfully clear that she was hurt by the multiple attacks on the set and it was also quite clear that although Whitney had the opportunity to handle the situation with grace and aplomb, she chose not to do so.  Instead, she threw Kerryn’s words back in her face and childishly decided to have a tantrum by leaving the set rather than using her alleged charisma and articulate manner to discuss the matter with Kerryn.  Loathe though I am to side with Kerryn, I do not think she was wrong when she said that Whitney’s friends and family are not helping her.  While I don’t think they coddle her (as Kerryn stated in the first episode), I think they do enable her.  Kerryn brought up the funeral intervention thrown by her friends and family after Whitney passed out at the dance-a-thon she put on.  She ended up at a cardiologist, who of course told her to lose weight, although he also told her she was physically fine.  Her friends and family were quite obviously scared for her and did the intervention hoping it would bring about positive change.  Whitney’s response was to walk out after the funeral without speaking to them and on the season finale, her comment to them was “Y’all are lucky I don’t hold a grudge!”  Frankly, it’s clear that she does hold grudges (don’t get me started about Caitie and the whole Big Girl Dance class debacle!) and again she missed the opportunity to express her gratitude that they cared so much to do that, even if she felt it was not the appropriate way to show their concern (I think she was much ruder to her dad in this instance than Kerryn ever was!)

For someone who is supposed to be charming and articulate, Whitney can be rudely defensive about her weight, and it is to be expected.  As she pointed out, she gets attacked  daily about her weight, mainly because she is putting herself out in the media. She read aloud some of the Twitter feed about her and it was beyond disgusting, although there were some positive comments.  She is to be congratulated for standing up for what she believes in despite the ugly remarks (I think they scared her mom and brought a few of them to tears they were so bad!) It’s easier (though not at all easy) to ignore comments from ignorant meatheads who don’t know you, but when your friends and family and your own body are telling you that you need to make some positive changes, those need to be acknowledged.  When asked about how she intended to handle her fainting spell, Whitney defensively replied that she intended to sleep better, exercise better and get better nutrition rather than lose weight.  I think she was trying to save face.  I’ve been down that road myself.  It’s easier to say things like that rather than admit you don’t know how to lose weight and keep it off.  Another of Whitney’s defensive remarks was that she’d lost 100 lbs before and of course gained back more, and she said she was not going to put herself through it again.  She shouldn’t because yo-yo dieting can wreck havoc on your metabolism, but making sustained long term changes to your lifestyle can help you lose weight, get better nutrition feel better and sleep better. But it means having to change how you are living, and sometimes that is a bigger impediment than most people want to admit.

I’m not going to sit here and tell Whitney how she should live her life.  She’s an intelligent adult who is more than capable of making her own decisions.  I like her and I think she would be someone I could have as a friend, but my point here is that she had the opportunity to show the world how really lovely and intelligent and gracious she can be and she opted not to do it.  One of my favorite people, Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential), shared a book on a podcast not long ago entitled The Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.  EB is a big fan of Stoic philosophy and, while I am not, one of the quotes she shared from the book stayed with me: be gracious in your victories and humble in your defeats.  It was so clear that Kerryn was humble in her flat-out annihilation on that episode and so clear that Whitney was anything but gracious.  I am so disappointed, not only that she came off as petty and vindictive, but that she missed the opportunity for real discussion of her no body shame message. She had the opportunity to discuss why one’s weight is not always a good indicator of health and how being confident in yourself does not depend on what you weigh or how many miles you can run.  Health and beauty and fitness are not about body size.  She would have been much better served if she had chosen to focus more on her physical and personal achievements and less on being defensive over her eating and her weight.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of her next season and hopefully she will learn from this unfortunate incident.  Again, kudos to Kerryn for putting herself in that minefield and showing what true grace looks like!