Step 1: No More Denial
I’ve learned a lot on this weight loss journey that I’ve been on, but if I had to pick the number one most important thing that’s allowed me to succeed it would be this:
Weight loss and denial are two diametrically opposed forces.
Can’t have ‘em both. They can’t occupy the same space. Sort of like matter and anti-matter.
Now, when I say “denial”, I don’t mean that I was unaware that I was overweight. I do own mirrors. Several of them. But, since I wasn’t ALWAYS fat, somewhere along the way I developed the ability to ignore the fact that I was getting bigger and bigger.
Well, mostly ignore. Every once in a while reality would crash down, I’d feel like crap, I’d resolve to do something about it, I’d fail, I’d feel like crap again. I couldn’t stand that crappy feeling so I’d go back into denial to escape from it. Denial was a defense mechanism for me that kept me buffered from dealing with my problem or the pain it was causing me in any real or meaningful way.
I think anyone who has a weight problem (and no, I’m not talking about those skinny bitches who are always complaining about needing to lose 10 lbs. when what they really need to do is EAT SOMETHING once in a while) has probably fallen into this trap. Otherwise, we’d have successfully stopped the weight from piling on years ago, right? But it’s easy to ignore a few pounds here and there until one morning you wake up and now you’ve got what seems to be an insurmountable amount of weight to lose.
Do any of these sound familiar:
“Okay, so I’m not as skinny as I was in high school. Who is?”
“Yeah, I could lose some weight, but I don’t look THAT bad.”
“I’m already fat so who cares if I eat this cookie/piece of cake/entire carton of ice cream?”
So, how do you get off the denial roller coaster? Personally, I think it takes something big. Something life-altering. Because, again, if it was easy, we’d have done it already. I firmly believe it’s not a matter of will power. Everyone has will power – otherwise none of us would get out of bed in the morning when the alarm clock goes off. But will power is too weak to stand up to a problem this big.
What is this “something big?” I know what mine was, but I suspect it will be different for everyone. However, since this is MY plan, we’ll go with what worked for me. It started small…with a simple prayer: “God, please help me lose weight.”
Let me tell you, be careful what you pray for because prayer? It’s some pretty powerful stuff. I just thought I was asking for some help not taking a second (or third) doughnut on Friday mornings. What I didn’t realize (because of that lovely down comforter of denial) was that God had a plan for my life. He wanted it to be better than it was. Happier. More fulfilling. And, as a side benefit of all those things I’d get weight loss, too. But, to make all that happen, he had to get rid of all the things that weren’t working. Which was pretty much my whole entire life. Emotionally abusive husband? Gone. Depressingly dead marriage. Outta here. Dead-end, boring-as-hell job which gave me plenty of free time and incentive to stuff my face? History.
In other words, my entire life was standing in the way of me losing weight and being healthy and happy. So, my entire life had to go. Which it did.
And it was painful.
And it sucked. Big time.
And normally, it would have been grounds for me to gain another 20 (okay 50) lbs. But when everything gets completely stripped away like that and you’re left with only yourself and your faith in God, it gets pretty hard to keep that blanket of denial over your head. I finally was forced to sit up, take a good look around and deal with what I saw.
Now, am I suggesting that you jettison your entire life or go run join your local church before lunch time? Nope. I AM saying that it’s time to open your eyes, take a look around and figure out what in your life is working or not working for you. What is contributing to your weight problem? What are you going to have to do to make that mental change that will finally allow you to succeed THIS time?
I know not everyone is going to want to hear this, but for me, it was my faith. As things began to crumble around me, I prayed to God like I’ve never prayed before. I told him that I was powerless in trying to overcome my weight problem. I’d tried and failed so many times and I was terrified to go through that again. My marriage was hanging by a thread, I had a toddler to raise, the X had ruined us financially, I’d just lost both my grandmothers in less than a month and I didn’t really see how I could possibly attempt another diet right then.
So I asked God to take the burden on for me. I suppose this is sort of like the first step in a 12-step program where you admit you’re powerless over whatever your problem is and that you need help to overcome it. Frankly, I cannot imagine having achieved a 75 lb. weight loss without His help. I’m just not that strong and I couldn’t have made the attitude adjustment or the life changes I needed to make without Him directing everything according to his plan.
So, after all that meandering drivel, what actions do you need to take for Step 1?
There are two. First part is to take a good long look in the spiritual/emotional mirror and face up to whatever you find there. If you’re a person of faith, enlist God’s help with making these changes in your life.
Some suggested areas to look at:
Is there something wrong in your life that needs to be dealt with? Job problems, marital problems, an ailing parent, etc.? Start looking for resources to help you tackle this area and get it under control.
Do you have health issues that could be contributing to your weight? Seek out the right doctors and don’t take no for an answer until you get results. I’ll talk more about this one in an upcoming entry.
Do you have a good support system in place? People who will help you with items 1 & 2 above and be there for you during the process and not sabotage you?
What’s your ultimate goal? Is it realistic? We can’t all be a size 0, you know, and it’s time to just admit it. Is your weight issue genetic? You might have to work harder or have more modest goals if that’s the case. Same if you are extremely overweight. Maybe in that case, any weight loss is a supreme accomplishment and you might want to make your goal more about being healthier, living longer, cleaning up your diet, etc. That’s where I started (because, you know, exercise is yucky!) and I lost my first 30 lbs. JUST by cleaning up my eating habits a LITTLE bit. More on that later.
What’s your lifestyle like? Are you a bona fide couch potato (like me)? How will you get around that? Maybe you’re an overscheduled, stressed out, go-getter and you need to consider slowing down or simplifying some things to make room for exercise. Or, you need to plan healthy eating strategies for when you’re on the go. McDonald’s doesn’t count.
What motivates you? And no, chocolate is not an acceptable answer. Do you want to sleep better? Live longer for your kids? Those are a couple of mine, but if you’ve read anywhere else in this column, you know fashion played a huge role for me, too.
Second action is…and please try not to hate me here…buy a scale if you don’t already have one. Get on it and deal with what it says. And, yeah, I know, it sucks. I was firmly convinced for years that having a scale and weighing myself daily or weekly would only make me feel worse about myself and therefore stymie any attempts at weight loss. But, in the end, I found avoiding that number only helped me stay deeper in denial. After all, if I wasn’t sure exactly how much I weighed, then I couldn’t be THAT overweight, right? In fact, I convinced myself that as long as I was under 200 lbs., I was okay. And of course, I HAD to be under 200 lbs because how I could I possibly weigh over 200 lbs.? Just not possible.
Until the day I stepped on that scale and it read 225. Even now, I hate admitting that number in public, but I’m doing it so you know that A. I can take my own medicine (no more denial!) and B. So that you know I wasn’t just a “few lbs.” overweight and that if I can get down from that level, ANYONE can do this!
Now I get on the scale every morning and I even have this nifty Excel chart I made up to track my numbers. Because that’s just how I roll, yo. I like to chart things into nice, neat little categories. I am somewhat of a freak, but then, if you’ve been reading this blog, you already knew that so let’s move on, m’kay?
I’m not saying you have to do this daily – maybe a weekly weigh in is better for you. I am saying that accurate information is necessary for ME to keep myself from falling back into denial. It also helps me stay on track each day – if I’m on a downward trend, I can have that extra cookie today or at least recognize that if I eat that extra cookie, it means an extra 20 minutes at the gym that night. And hey, sometimes I choose to eat the cookie. Sometimes I don’t. The point is, I’m making an informed choice. I know what the consequences of that choice are going to be. Before I put that cookie into my mouth I can ask myself “is this something that is moving me closer to my goal or farther away?”
The scale also helps me identify when I hit plateaus and need to think about tweaking my food/exercise regimen again because my body has adapted to what I’ve been doing. I think plateaus are the main obstacle to sticking with a food/exercise life change. It’s easy to stay motivated when you’re seeing real progress. It gets a lot more frustrating when that progress grinds to a halt and you start to ask yourself “okay, tell me again WHY I’m working out 3 nights a week if it’s not doing anything.” Therefore, being able to recognize a plateau and take steps to overcome it is a hugely important part of making a permanent change.
One suggestion I have for not letting the scale become more than an information-gathering tool is to not make your ultimate goal be a particular weight or even a certain number of pounds lost. Make your goal about being healthier, having more energy or, if you must have something specific, pick a (realistic) clothing size. My first goal when I started out was to just clean up my life and be able to sleep better at night and have more energy in the daytime. After that, my goal was to not be limited to shopping only in plus-size clothing stores. I didn’t even have a particular size in mind – I just wanted to buy clothes somewhere other than Lane Bryant.
I’m probably coming off like one of those reformed smokers who is on a campaign to make EVERYONE quit smoking. That’s not my intention. I just think that I can’t be the only person struggling with these issues and we all have a duty to help inspire and support one another.
Even if you decide you’re ultimately happy with where you are (and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you’re being honest with yourself and your physical health is good – no diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.), I think a good life inventory on occasion is never a bad thing.
In the next entry on this topic, I’ll go a bit more into how I got to be overweight in the first place, the emotional and body image issues that played a part and the underlying medical problems that also contributed. I think it’s important to recognize that weight is SO not about will power or having a sweet tooth.
Maybe some of my personal issues will strike a chord with someone and help them take a step on the path toward health. Because while the weight loss is a terrific side effect, that’s not what it’s all about.
P.S. Yes, posts on other, non-diet-related topics are forthcoming. But I just got back from a week of vacation (hence the lack of recent posts) and this is what I had ready to go. So, this is what you're getting.