I hate sunny self-help stuff. While I understand the need for a positive and hopeful outlook for making personal change, I also know that efforts at weight loss tend to produce a lot of negative feelings. Managing those feelings by anticipating them and having strategies for dealing with them seem pretty key to me. So that’s what this post is about.
Among the things I’ve learned so far in this weight loss struggle, I’d say the most important are these:
(1) Take my time. I didn’t get fat in a day and I won’t get skinny in a day. Make small changes I can live with over the long-term and don’t do what the people on the reality shows do. Leo Babauta’s stuff over at zen habits has been invaluable to me as I’ve tried to change my habits.
(2) Assume that it will feel at least somewhat chaotic and difficult most if not all of the time and that most “public” eating at restaurants and catered meals will be challenging or even miserable for me. Managing this is critical: I try to eat as well as I can even if I leave the restaurant or meal hungry. Have some backup foods with me always (nuts, apples, RXBARs, etc.) and eat those afterward. Over the long months I’ve been doing this, I’ve gotten better at being prepared, but for months it felt like absolute mayhem– like the ship had sunk and I was just swimming from one piece of flotsam to another.
(3) The considerable amount of time I spend in prayer (particularly the Jesus Prayer) seems to help in learning to turn away problematic or self-defeating thoughts and in learning compassion for myself. This is probably a whole series of future blog posts!
(4) Assume that obesity is a chronic condition that needs to be managed forever. That’s right: Chronic. We are all terminal patients anyway, fella. Deciding that I am not going to be fat is a decision I am making about how I will live out the rest of my life, and it’s a decision that involves making the uncomfortable claim that I matter and that this is a form of suffering that is ultimately– even if at times ambiguously– redemptive. But this redemption does not resolve itself at my goal weight.
(5) Accept frequent failure as part of the game and learn from it. I probably do something wrong Every. Single. Day. That’s less true now, five months in, but the first few months felt like a minefield. I had to accept that. You should, too.
(6) I had to realize that you can be hungry and not die. You can learn to observe and distract yourself from hunger until you can get to healthy food. It is not optimal to skip meals, but if I’m at a thing and they’re serving pizza and sodas and that scene is unavoidable, I just don’t eat anything. I’ve also learned to anticipate such scenarios and to apologize and just tell hosts that I’m on a very restrictive diet by doctor’s orders. Which is true. If you need that excuse, call your doctor and ask, “Can you please tell me to eat food that’s good for me?” I’ll bet you’ll get the answer you seek and then you’ve got doctor’s orders.
(7) Deal with the fact that “success” won’t happen when I meet my weight loss goal. That is the first battle in a long war. The victory in that battle is absolutely worth celebrating, as are the small successes along the way. They all are. It’s just that I need to string together a lot of victories. Accept that the success of this endeavor will only become really clear 5-10 years from now. In fact, I’ll be honest that during the last month I’ve been drifting away from my big “goal” (lose 100 lbs) and toward the idea of continuous improvement and long-term health. Weight loss would be one of many markers for my well-being.
(8) If the food that’s presented to me is just really bad for me but it’s unavoidable and I have to eat it, I’ll use portion control as a strategy. But here’s the key: I didn’t get to be 100 pounds overweight by having a good eye for portions. So, I have made it my strategy to take smaller portions than look adequate to me. I need to walk away from a buffet line a bit disappointed. I’ll try to see what some skinny person put on her plate before me and try to get about that much or even a bit less.
(9) I had to realize that in a sense I am choosing my suffering: It’s either the suffering of trying to be healthy despite my desires OR the suffering of obesity and its complications. During weight loss, I get both.
(10) The way the American food system is set up right now is that it’s expensive to eat well. But when I’m at restaurants and I want a salad instead of fries and they tell me it’s a five dollar upcharge for the salad, I’ll still get the salad. Get rid of your cable or sell your Beanie Babies or whatever you need to do, but go all in and realize that this is the cost of being healthy.
(11) There’s an old saying that I think is true: We get to heaven together, but we go to hell alone. I think this is true for a big change like this. I have benefitted so much from the kindness of others. But that kindness has often been given in a pretty passive way: They put up with me eating strange stuff, turning down invitations, etc. They wish me luck. They compliment me even when the changes aren’t really noticeable. And maybe this is why prayer has been so foundational for me: Everyone else has their own problems, and there are few human “guardian angels” with the time or energy to take you on as a project in an active way.
But the good thing is that all the tools are already there within, given, I think, by God. If you are overweight, you are probably already suffering in some sense. The basic shift that change requires is the willingness to suffer differently.