A few days ago I wrote a post where I had to answer a difficult question a friend posed to me.
If I was making good eating choices, then how did I get so big?
It stemmed from a discussion where she suggested that my eating habits in the presence of other people and by myself were different. She was both right and wrong.
Some critical self-analysis lead to a few horrifying revelations you can read about here, about where I had been. Today, I’m here to discuss where I am and where I’m going. The responses to those practices that created the hole I’m trying to dig out of.
In many cases, I’m going to be repeating the same thing over and over here, because the truth is, different applications of the same root concept are the answers.
I’m pretty overweight and while I’m very active and in the best shape I’ve been in for …well, as long as I can remember, really; I’m not out of the woods yet, in terms of my goals or just generally being healthy. I’ve still got a ways to go, but I am confident that I will get where I’m going, due in part to being forcefully mindful of the things I am discussing in this post. Being aware is a big part of winning the fight.
Problem 1: Unconscious eating.
Unconscious eating becomes conscious eating. Doi. Start paying attention to everything you eat. Everything. I keep to a pretty strict calorie budget, and I use a calorie counter to keep me accountable with it. My Fitness Pal is my app of choice, if there’s a better choice out there, I haven’t seen it. Fitocracy is another favorite of mine, although one I struggle to remember to use.
Of course, it’s not this simple, it takes time and dedication to break the habits of looking in the fridge when you shouldn’t.
If you are going to snack, make better choices. I bring water and fruit to my Pathfinder game. I don’t buy unhealthy snacks because old habits die hard. I’m only human and I know it doesn’t take but a few pebbles to start an avalanche. Once or twice in this process, I bought something bad, thinking I would/could ration properly, etc. Both times, old habits won out. So now I don’t tempt fate. Sure there’s an argument here to be made for “well, just learn self-control, fatty,” but I choose to exercise this as not exposing myself to the temptation in the first place. I’m not missing much anyway, honestly. When it comes down to it, those foods are just designed to press that pleasure button and don’t really give me any reward but to want more of it. Pass.
Problem 2: Holiday binging.
More mindfulness. Being resolute not to do it. This is one place where I have cut myself a little tiny bit of slack in that I have not avoided the foods associated with the holidays. Last week on July 4th, I had some barbecue and potato salad. I also avoided other meals that day (I know that’s not good, I made a special exception for this) and I didn’t go crazy with it. I also took a walk after the meal, which is something else that I had not previously done with other holidays. I can do with a lot of denial, but I also understand that if you become too unyielding in your restraint, it may begin to chafe. Once that happens, you’re a lot more likely to rebel against it, which is self-defeating. Let yourself indulge, but do so infrequently and responsibly.
Problem 3: Cooking For Forty Humans
This can be a tricky one, but it’s possible to work around. Plan your grocery shopping by means of what meals you will prepare before you go, and do not deviate from that list. You know what you mean to make, and buy only those things and actually make those things. A little order goes a long way here. Another thing I do is careful rationing here. Frozen meals may be processed and host to a number of evils I’m not going to bother discussing, but some of the Healthy Choice meals are not totally awful for you, and with the portion already doled out, you can’t really overdo it unless you are actively and intentionally doing so. Same goes for the Greek yogurt I have in the morning. The only time I really have to be careful is dinner, and by the time I’m coming into dinner, I already know what I am making, what my calorie budget is, and how much I can get out of it. One out of three meals takes a little more effort. That’s really not so difficult; just like with every good habit, it takes time to make it a habit.
If you’re a member of the Clean Plate Club, that’s okay. You’re fighting a battle on many fronts here, so you need to pick your battles carefully. I still eat everything on my plate. I just make extra sure that there is a lot of control exercised in what goes onto it, and more importantly, how much.
That pleasure button I mentioned earlier is not the only one you have. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times. Move. Get a taste of those endorphins, feel that high, use it to build upon itself. Stop deflecting, stop making excuses for yourself. GET. UP. AND. MOVE.
Once you build a little momentum, you will see progress, and that progress is exciting. Use that progress and the resulting excitement as your new baseline persona. Take stock of how good you feel, and how you don’t want to let that person down. Think of all the things that person wants to do, and how close you are to being able to do them. You’d be amazed at how strong this concept is. Own it.
Still, easier said than done, right? The first steps are the hardest ones. You don’t know where to start. You have a treadmill in the basement collecting dust, and walking is boring. You’re already out of shape and pushing too hard could result in injury. (Been there, done that, several times over) If you don’t take that first step, you’ll never make the progress to get past these.
I personally can’t stand treadmills. I know plenty of people who get on them, zone out and walk for a few miles. Does not compute. I hate that the scenery never changes and that I’m not going anywhere. I’ve never been able to pay attention to TV while exercising. Your mileage may vary, but walking is one of the best “entry level” exercises. I still walk, I just can’t do it on a treadmill. I do it in a park. Or at the zoo. Or maybe the art museum. Or in one of the more culturally active vibrant areas with lots going on to look at. Grab a friend and make it a social outing. See, while it’s true that your peak exercise may involve raising and sustaining your heart rate, you’re still burning a lot more calories walking around with frequent stops to look at things than you are sitting around. These things don’t even feel like exercise, but they are.
If you’re like me though, you want to feel the burn, and if you’re in the kind of shape I’m in, that means hitting the gym.
Which means working out…in front of people. The first few times I did this, it took a lot of tunnel vision to get me past feeling self-conscious about it. All too often, I feel like I am the lone fatty there, surrounded by people who are just there for maintenance of their already toned bodies. In a typical workout, the sweat I can wring from my shirt weighs more than the average gym attendant. I completely get the fat guy public exercise anxiety. You’re going to look ridiculous exerting yourself. This keeps a lot of people out of the gym. It kept me out for a long time, until I hammered in a few key facts through my thick, cheese-cushioned skull.
1. No one there knows me. There’s no reason to believe that they are watching and judging that didn’t start in my head, and even if they are, who cares? They are not ever going to say anything, and you’re unlikely to have to deal with them in any capacity. For the most part, people mind their own business.
2. You’re doing something about it. This is a big point. You may be out of shape, but you’re taking action to change that, which is a LOT more than a LOT of people can say. That’s a really big deal and something to be proud of.
3. This last point may be just me, but I have a chip on my shoulder for the whole world. I have a fierce competitive streak, and when I go to the gym, I’m there to prove that there’s nothing there that those other people can do that I cannot. Yes, I know I’m silly. Yes, I know I’m vain. Carly Simon even wrote a song about me, for fuck’s sake. But it’s also something that drives me, and the end justifies the means. So if you have a competitive streak (and seeing how 4 of my 5 readers are game nerds, I bet you do), remember that it has more uses than just at the game table.
The payoff is awesome, the activity decidedly less so. I’ve become a bit of an endorphin junkie, and there are still days where I have to talk myself into kicking it up a notch. It gets easier the more you do it.
These have been the “secrets” of my success so far. Talking about them has fired me up to get even more active (so I advise you to do the same). Remember, anyone can do this. I know your problems because they are my problems. And you can do this because I can do this, and do not have any special abilities that you do not.
What are your pitfalls? What’s working for you to correct them?