Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Week 5: Competition

I have a confession to make: I hate The Biggest Loser. The idea behind the show is somewhat noble: take obese people and give them the trainers and tools they need to take the weight off and the education and skills they need to keep it off. But for me, the idea isn’t enough to carry it. I rarely make it through an episode without crying in empathy for at least one of the contestants, and most of the time I’m a blubbering mess by the end of the show.

First of all, I want to make it clear that I do not in any way look down on the folks that have chosen to compete in The Biggest Loser. On the contrary, I find them incredibly brave. It’s hard enough to admit that you have a weight problem and need help, much less make that admission on National TV. I could barely make that admission to myself and a few close friends much less have it broadcasted to millions of strangers across the country. No, my problem with the show has nothing to do with the contestants.

It has everything to do with what the contestants experience on their competitive journey: the hours of relentless exercise, the strict diets, and the occasional intentional road bumps the producers throw in just to up the ratings. (During the last episode I watched, one team was locked in a room with nothing but junk food for an entire day.) Then there is the constant stress of wondering if that particular week is the week they’re going to get booted off the show.

And for me, watching the weigh-ins is the worst part. The incredulity I feel every time I watch a contestant struggle with shame because they only lost 5 or 6 pounds that week. Anyone that has ever seriously worked at losing weight in a healthy way will tell you that one should average a weight loss of one to two pounds per week. I’m elated if I manage to pull off a single pound in one week, much less two! So now that I’ve armed you with that knowledge, maybe you’ll understand why watching someone cry tears of shame because they only managed to lose 6 pounds in one week upsets me to no end. And rarely does anyone congratulate them on that weight loss. The focus is on the fact that they didn’t lose more, and that they might be going home. Am I the only person that finds this crazy?

The bottom line is, I do not believe that weight loss should be a competition. Taking this journey on my own is difficult enough. I refuse to pit myself against others when the playing field is anything BUT level. There are so many things that can cause weight gain, many of which are normal body functions and things I have absolutely no control over. Competing under such conditions does nothing but set me up for unneeded stress and disappointment, and who needs that?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Week 4: Accountability

I recently had someone ask me why I allowed my FitBit and LoseIt accounts to post my exercise and weight loss stats on Facebook. I have to admit I was extremely annoyed by the question, because I am more than certain that this person believed I was posting these things for the attention alone. I guess in a way, that kind of is the reason, but not quite in the way this person might think. It’s not about ego-stroking attention. It’s about accountability.

I post my FitBit adjustments on Facebook because I want them to be noticed, but more importantly, I want the absence of an adjustment post to be noticed more. You see, it’s the thought of someone actually asking me “Hey, what’s up? Why aren’t there any recent FitBit adjustments on your wall?” that often motivates me to get on that treadmill. If faced with a decision between running for an hour or trying to explain to someone why I decided not to, the running is going to win every single time. I hate shame. I hate the feeling of it and I hate having to make excuses for my own actions. So, yeah, sometimes the only reason I get on the treadmill is because I’d rather deal with the physical exertion than the emotions that go with explaining my inertia away.

The same goes for my weight loss and gain posts. If I stop and think “Eating this pie/cake/donut now may very well cause a weight gain this week, and on Sunday everyone is going to know it!”, chances are I’m not going to eat it. The knowledge that my friends and family are going to actually see my weekly progress is often the only thing that keeps me from eating more calories than I should.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I do love the positive attention I get when I post a significant weight loss or an exceptionally good calorie adjustment, and the words of kindness and support I get when I’m having an off week help me pick myself up and keep going. But in the end the accountability matters most. It helps me stay on my path to fitness.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Week 3: Diet

di et  noun  
  1. the kinds of food that a person, animal or community habitually eats
  2. a regular occupation or series of activities in which one participates
  3. a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.

If you hear the word “diet”, which of the above definitions comes to mind? I am betting that most people will think of definition number three. I am also betting that most people almost never think of definitions one and two. I know that it was that way for me before I started my most recent fitness journey. I also suspect that is one of the many reasons why I failed all those other times.

See, definition three up there has an underlying implication that those diet restrictions are temporary, and in the past that was exactly the mindset I had. I would think to myself “I only have to do this until I lose the weight and then I can go back to eating what I was eating before all of this.” Thinking about it now I see how absolutely ridiculous that was, and I’m not sure where my head was back then.

This time around, when I hear the word “diet” I think more along the lines of definitions one and two. When I say diet, I’m talking about the fact that I now eat mostly plant based foods with an occasional serving of meat or dairy. I’m on a “diet” of daily exercise and healthy food. In writing this seems like a small difference in perspective, but in reality it is significant. I’m not on a diet, but rather I've changed my diet. I've changed the series of activities I participate in on a daily basis. Permanently.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Week 2: Addiction

Once upon a time I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  I wasn’t there for myself, but had gone with a friend that needed my emotional support.  I went there expecting that I would only hold this person’s hand while they took a very difficult step towards recovery, and that my participation and emotional investment would end there.

I have never been so wrong about anything in my life.

I listened silently as each person related their struggles with alcohol addiction.  Their stories were serious and sometimes heart-wrenching.  It was all I could do to not weep as I listened to them tell of the physical and emotional struggles that they had to overcome or were still struggling with.  It was not an easy hour, and it became almost impossible to bear when from seemingly out of left field I had a sudden realization.  Every statement these folks had made about alcohol I could repeat verbatim if I replaced the word “alcohol” with “food”.

Oh my God, I thought.  I’m addicted to food.  

I’m addicted to food.  That phrase started to echo through my head as the meeting finished, and by the time I had returned to the car with my friend I was sobbing.  My emotions were all over the scale, from shame, to anxiety, to an immense relief that I had taken an important step towards understanding the nature of my life-long unhealthy relationship with food.  I was a food addict, and that explained so much.

But a day later I started to second guess myself.  Surely I couldn't be addicted to food in the way an alcoholic was addicted to alcohol?  It wasn't that bad, was it?  I mean, I wasn't going to die from a food binge like an alcoholic might die from alcohol poisoning, right?  I kept coming up with excuses in my head as to why the notion of food addiction was ridiculous, but there was a nagging voice in my head that would not stay quiet.  You’re a food addict, no matter how many different ways you might try to deny it.

This kind of dialogue went on in my head for over a year before I became fed up with my internal conflict.  So I do what I always do when I have a question about something:  I went to Google’s homepage and searched the words “food addiction”.  The search returned 174 million results.  The first item pointed to a WebMD article titled “Food Addiction Signs and Treatment”.   Another link I found was a questionnaire created by Narcotics Anonymous to help people figure out whether or not they are drug addicts.  I found that if I changed the questions so that the words “drug or drugs” was replaced with “food” I answered 24 out of 29 questions with a “yes”.  Those questions included:

Have you ever substituted one food for another, thinking that one particular food was the problem?
Have you ever manipulated or lied to someone to obtain food? 
Have you ever stolen food or stolen to obtain food?
Do you avoid people or places that do not approve of you eating food? 
Has your job or school performance ever suffered from the effects of overeating?
Have you ever lied about what or how much you eat?
Does the thought of running out of food terrify you? 
Have you ever felt defensive, guilty or ashamed about eating food?
Have you ever eaten food because of emotional pain or stress? 
Do you continue to overeat despite negative consequences?

Yes, in my early grade school days I actually did steal money from my mother to buy my daily fix of fat and sugar.  I would avoid people that pointed out my overeating.  I would get raging mad if anyone even thought about questioning the amount or quality of food going into my mouth.  I’d start eating a bag of chips thinking “I can stop after a few,” and an hour later find myself holding an empty bag.  Something at school would stress me out and all I could think about was getting home to eat whatever so I could feel better.  I would come home from school, sneak food from my mom’s snack drawer and eat nearly 2000 calories and then later eat an entire dinner without giving it a second thought.  I would feel horribly ill afterwards, but that never stopped me from doing it again and again and again.  I could go on and on with examples here, but I think you might get the picture now.   Food addiction is apparently a very real thing, and I really am an addict.

Of course they always tell addicts that the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem.  Even after I had that realization it took me nearly a year before I actually acted on it.  Fighting an addiction is more than just removing the substance from your environment.  There are a myriad of emotional, physical and environmental changes involved, and every one of these aspects needs to be addressed, no matter how big or small.  I had to learn how to stop beating myself up and that it was okay to be human and make mistakes.  I know in words this seems like such a trivial thing, but in reality, I was my own worst enemy when it came to overcoming my addictive behaviors.  I had to completely reprogram my internal dialogue so that my little internal voice would stop saying things like “Why are you even trying?  You know you’ll just fail again.”  This took a substantial amount of time, and I still catch myself thinking derogatory thoughts about myself.  Thankfully, that happens less and less these days.

Now, this is the sixth time in my life that I have made a major concerted effort to get myself physically fit.  But I have this feeling that it is going to be different this time around, because I finally understand one very important thing: just as a recovering alcoholic will always be a recovering alcoholic, I will always be a recovering food addict.  I can never stop counting calories, and there are certain foods that I just have to avoid.  But you know what?  I’m okay with that.  I understand that about myself now, and that knowledge makes it much easier to control myself when I am in a situation that tempts me to eat more than I should.  There are days when this is really easy. Then there are days when I am literally tugging on my hair to distract myself because I just want that glazed donut so much that I am unable to focus on anything else.   But at least now I understand where that behavior is coming from, and I know not to give in to the temptation.   I must always remind myself that I cannot go back to doing things the way I was before.  I will always have to remain vigilant.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Week 1: Courage

When I first started my fitness journey, I thought about starting a public blog.  I thought about it off and on for nearly a week before I gave the idea a pass.  Looking back on that decision now, I realize it was a decision governed by fear.  I was afraid that I was going to fail, and who wants to chronicle their own failure and share it with the world?   Instead I started a physical scrapbook and started to record my journey with both pictures and text on those pages.  I did this for nearly four months before I started to realize it wasn’t enough.  There was a little part of me that kept pushing for an online blog, and that “voice” became even stronger when I was faced with difficult choices or dealing with the myriad of emotional issues that arise when I am faced with ignorance disguised as well-meant sentiments.  There are things on this journey that have really angered me.  Others have made me incredibly happy.

And I feel the need to honestly share those things, and it is a need that I can no longer ignore.  Yes, I’m still afraid, but I’m told by close friends and family that it is to be expected. After all, I intend to be completely honest about my feelings and experiences in this blog, and that leaves me out there and vulnerable.  But I think (and hope) that maybe chronicling my own journey, with all of its ups and downs, will help others on similar journeys feel that they are not alone in their struggle.

That being said, this post is the first in my Project 52, which I’ve titled “Weighing In With Words.”  Each post will center around a word or phrase that has deeply affected me on this journey, and I’ll be posting at least once a week for the next year.   And “courage” is a good word to start with, because after struggling with years of self-doubt and sometimes debilitating fear of complete and total failure, I’ve finally found my own.