Losing weight is hard. Does this sound obvious to you? Because it doesn’t to me. To me, all I see are success stories of people who can lose 5, 10, 15, 30 pounds at what seems to be the blink of the eye.
We cheer on others for being able to shed pounds, and that’s great! But is it me, or is the “hard work” part not emphasized enough? ‘Cause, you know… I like to know what I’m getting myself into. But I’m a cynic and most people (myself included) need positive reinforcements. If we feel it can’t be done, why bother? I guess this is why the internet is full of success stories. No one wants to hear how you failed. No one wants to hear that you ate that chocolate bar when you should have been hitting the gym. That is not the stuff of dreams. But I’m here to tell you that failure DOES happen. Repeatedly. I often reach for the chocolate bar (actually, it’s more of a wine glass, but you get me). Two steps forward, one step back. And I’m not writing this in the hope of having people “cheer me on”. Whilst I recognise it is a sweet gesture, my (very small) inner cynic takes a step back and says ‘ick’. I’m more interested in pointing out the reasons it is difficult, and what obstacles need to be overcome to get there. Seriously, I cannot be the only one struggling, and as I think of some of these, I get angry. Very angry. You might pick up on this.
This is not a criticism or a commentary on healthy body image. I’m not saying people SHOULD be losing weight, I am merely pointing out that for those of us that WANT to in a healthy, consistent way, possibly with the help of a nutritionist, it is TOUGH.
#1 – Lack of self awareness: *holds hand up* I am a self-confessed advocate of self-awareness. I try to keep abreast of my actions, and notice what I’m doing. (And what others are doing. Not proud of this. More on it later.) Sometimes for change to happen, you need to look into the past. The key question here is: why have you put on weight? This is followed by other, more action-oriented questions: Why have you kept it on? What has prevented you from achieving your goal? What are you going to do about it? For some, the answer is easy: I‘ve had children, and I”m struggling to lose the baby weight. I have a thyroid problem. I’m too busy at work, and need to be at my desk all day. For me, I’ve been trying to lose weight for years. Not that I’ve been humongous, but I’ve never been slender either. I’d like to see what that feels like. This is the first year that I’ve acknowledged that I am an emotional eater. And I have been in therapy for years. Seriously. It took me four years to notice. I’ve also noticed what makes me put on weight – boredom. When I am dissatisfied with my life and not stimulated, I end up sitting on my ass unable to find motivation. Sitting on your ass and loving food do not a happy weight loss plan make. And what makes me struggle to lose it? Lack of discipline. Which I will elaborate on below. Bottom line: Know thyself, and you will be able to act.
#2 – Not knowing your limitations: I had already put on weight when I decided to quit smoking on October 30th, 2013. I thought to myself: “You know what? You’ve already put on weight. If you’re going to start leading a more healthly lifestyle, you may as well quit smoking now so that you don’t balloon up again once you lose the weight. And you know what else? Your lungs are going to get stronger. MUCH stronger. SUPER strong. I bet you’ll be running! A marathon! Next year!” Um, right. As if. If I run on the treadmill for two minutes continuously, I think that is worthy of fanfare. And I’ve been working out properly (with cardio and weights and shit) for two months. It’s taking AGES for my lungs to improve. But they ARE improving. So my limitation isn’t really that I was once a smoker that couldn’t run. My limitation is that I have VERY LITTLE PATIENCE. I”m shocked it’s taken me this long to see an improvement. I”m glad I’m seeing it because at one point, I felt disheartened, like I have many times in the past, and ready to throw in the towel. I feel as though the weight should just FALL off, and my concept of space and time would become abstract and I would be at the Berlin marathon finish line tomorrow (I don’t know why Berlin). But alas, I see that that is not going to happen, at least not anytime soon. Losing weight isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. How ironic.
#3 – Lack of food awareness: So. Yesterday my mind was blown. Look at this photo. What do you see?
At a quick glance, you see bliss, curves, indulgence, chocolate, raspberries, some statistics, and 3% fat. Now if you are trying to keep fat content low, a good rule of thumb is: fat% + sugar% < 10%. Another quick look, and you think oh, 9% sugars, hmm that’s high I guess, because with the 3% fat that adds up to 12% of bad stuff, but if I’m only 2% off my 10% limit, that’s not too bad right? Let’s munch one of these bad boys and get healthy!
Now take a closer look:
Do you see it? Underneath the statistics? Look closely. It doesn’t say this snack has 3% fat per serving. It says it has 3% fat of an adult’s guidline daily amount. *sound of mind exploding* So if it says 2g is 3% of an adult’s daily amount, than what we really learn by reading this label is that an adult’s daily guideline amount of fat should be 67g. Fan-fucking-tastic.
The ACTUAL fat content can be seen on the side bar.
Total fat is 14%!* Add to that the carbs which sugars… which of course is not given out as a percentage so you need to work it out ([40/77 *100 = 52%] pro-rata to 27% = 14% out of 100g) and you’ve got 28% of crap that you’re adding to your diet for no good reason. My nutritionist pointed this out to me to show me how disillusioned I am about what I eat and what I consider healthy. Had you asked me about this one week ago, I would have taken pride in knowing how to understand sugar content courtesy of Sarah Wilson, who also advocates reading labels and warns about the perils of eating sugar, but I would have totally disregarded fat. I have officially been schooled. If you want to debunk some more food myths, check this out. The point is, what we think we know about food has been carefully constructed by marketing experts. And if knowledge is power, surely it can be channeled towards healthier eating habits. A girl can hope.
#4 – Being over 30: I didn’t actually know this, but Google kindly informed me that our body fat increases by 30% incrementally after the age of 30.
#5 – Lack of focus: What did I do with my – oh look at that puppy! Distractions are becoming increasingly prominent in this technologically evolved world of ours, and it’s not suprising. However, did you know our willpower is limited? This means you can only achieve one goal at a time (MAXIMUM: two), without depleting your willpower completely. I have very little willpower because now that I’m having a career break, my ONLY goal is to have a healthy lifestyle, which means eating better and exercising. And it is trying, let me tell you. The minute I decide to start writing, or start meditating, or get distracted/start setting ANY OTHER GOAL, something gives. I start nail-biting. Or eating. And I cannot concentrate or prioritise on what is most important to me at this moment: losing weight. I have NO IDEA how women with children, or people with jobs, or both, every lose any weight. They deserve $millions in prizes for their amazing amazing accomplishment.
#6 – Lack of time: Going back to the kids thing. Lady, you don’t have time to be concerned about this, unless you can afford to get round-the-clock help, and even then, bloody hell it is tough. Be kind to yourself, and be patient. The right opportunity will present itself. And to people that are glued to their desk jobs, it’s ok. Sometimes work has a higher value than your health. This happened to me. I needed to quit my job to have the time to really focus on my lifestyle. I realize I’m in a privileged position, but my point is don’t let your priority for work last forever, especially if you need to make lifestyle changes.
#7 – Stress: My philosophy is that everyone needs a vice. Mine is drinking (it used to also be smoking). And, like many others, sometimes I will have a drink to kill the pain. But drinking and overeating become a massive problem when that is the only outlet you have for your stress. Learning to manage your stress is very important. Everything in moderation, even moreso when you are trying to lose weight. Also, did you know when you are stressed, fat gathers round your belly? Research has shown that there is a strong connection between the gut and our moods.
#8 – Lack of support: I can’t believe how much I have to defend my choice to eat more healthily. Yes, defend. I have people around me who I feel are trying to sabotage my every move. They’re the ones who say “you don’t need to lose weight, you are just fine the way you are, as long as you eat healthily“** Really? I had no idea. Thanks alot. Meanwhile they are pushing food around on their plates and struggling with their own body issues. Or they say they don’t “trust” your diet because it is too extreme and how dare you have a mid-afternoon snack of 8 almonds, is your nutritionist trying to kill you? Just continue eating healthily** and you’ll be fine. Oh… healthily, you say? You mean I should trust you to dictate what I eat because you see my actual choices and changes in eating habits as a direct THREAT to your very life over the recommendations of a trusted, qualified professional? Is THAT what you are saying? Rage. It is exhausting to have to defend myself everytime I eat. I know no man is an island, and I have to recognise that their feeling threatened has actually very little do with me. At the same time, it doesn’t help, so I have to keep a distance. Which wreaks havoc on my social life, and it means that I can’t go out as much as I used to.
#9 – Too much support: I’m sensitive, ok? You don’t need to go on and on regarding what a great choice I’ve made to lose weight, and that I look SO much better now than I did before, and that I will look really so much better soon, hopefully. First of all, fuck you. I’m going to eat something and gain weight just to piss you off (yes, psychoanalysts would have a field day with this reaction, but my anger is real). Second, lay the fuck off. This is my body. It is how I exist in the world. And, whether you like it or not, it deserves respect and love. I”m not sure everyone sees this as an obstacle to weight loss, maybe its my own personal configuration that finds rage in too much support.
#10 – Magazines: this is my kryptonite, because I love love love fashion, and I love feeling stylish and looking good. Unfortunately, the things I like aren’t suited for my body shape at the moment, which is disappointing, and hurts my wallet. Why? Because to “fill the void” of the thing I actually want, an Alexander Wang skirt that only goes up to a size 8, I end up buying other stuff in the hopes that they transform my body.*** Maybe this is a personality flaw – I don’t think I’ll stop shopping if I lose weight, quite the opposite. But I do think I will be looking for “fillers” less. (ironically, this same rationale applies to snacks. For example, when I want chocolate, in order to avoid eating it, I find one of those graphs that state ‘substitute x [chocolate] with y [nuts]‘, so I end up having a ton of nuts, which lack the sweetness of chocolate, so I add fruit and honey, which lack the X-factor of chocolate, so I end up eating chocolate AS WELL. Catch-22. Do you see how the calories add up? I would have been better off just eating the damn chocolate!)
#11 – Love of food: I am definitely a foodie. I equate loving food to loving life. I want to taste everything. Alot. I think the cure to this is not to change what I eat, but how I eat. Mindfulness helps slow the process down and can even increase the pleasure, but when you love food and you’re in a new restaurant and you wnat to try everything, oh, and you’re hungry, well, one thing leads to another and you end up polishing off that plate of sweet potato and prosciutto ravioli in gorgonzola sauce, in addition to the huge ball of mozzarella you had before and the breadsticks and the bottle of wine you’ve shared with your friend. Eating slowly is so difficult, but I want to know that I can continue to eat what I like in the future, even if it is in smaller portions and at a slower pace.
#12 – Change is hard: I’m not working at the moment, and this is my only real goal, and IT IS HARD. When it comes to eating habits (or any habits) change is hard. Possibly because it means changing your identity – I don’t want to let go of being a “food lover” as described above, because not loving food has negative connotations for me about happiness and life – but also because changing your thinking is hard too. There is a little statistic circling the internet saying that we have around 60,000 thoughts per day, and 90% of those are repeated daily. Do you understand what that means? If that statistic is true, it becomes notoriously difficult to change your thinking, and therefore your habits. I couldn’t find evidence of the 90% statistic, but you can read more about the structure and consequences of repetitive thinking here if you like.
#13 – Greek culture: I dare you to say no to a Greek offering a treat. They will go full metal guilt trip on you. Here in Greece, people love to celebrate, usually with food. It’s ironic the number of pastry shops we have given the image-conscious nature of the nation. I secretly believe this is why we have name days. Just so we have one more reason to celebrate. It is a fantastic part of our culture, but it clearly has a dark side. Back at the office, I would have people GENUINELY get upset and moody with me because I didn’t eat a cookie their wife made, or take a pastry to celebrate a birthday, or refused to eat pizza to celebrate the manager’s anniversary. You just can’t say no to food in Greece, it is deeply offending. The only person who ever got away with it was this girl, a former colleague, who would just tell people she didn’t eat sugar. She did have to defend her choice a little bit, but most of the time, people were so completely dumbfounded, they didn’t know what to say. No sugar? She must be crazy. So she got away with it. I envied her grace under pressure. Fortunately, I no longer work in an office here, but it is an uphill battle to say no, let me tell you. Something about offering food and feeling loved, if I had to guess.
#14 – Hating sweat: this one isn’t so much about food but more about exercise, which I find go hand-in-hand. I hate sweating. It feels disgusting to me. But I know it needs to happen so I can lose weight. So I try to trick myself into liking it. Like, when I’m running and supersweaty, I tell my brain to tell my head how much I enjoy the feeling. It’s a type of reverse aversion therapy. I’m not sure it’s working, but its not NOT working. I’m still exercising and sweating.
#15 – Thinking about your body: It happened about two years ago. I saw a photo of myself at 18, and I thought, wow. I look GREAT. I can’t believe how much time I spent worrying about my weight, and being mean to myself, when I could have been having fun! Stop thinking about your body so much. Stop with the self-criticism and the putting yourself down. You are on the right track and you are doing fine as you are right now. I often give myself these instructions, especially since seeing that photo. Now almost every past photo of me, I think I look great. I don’t want to spend so much time concerned with my body when I could be going out and having a fantastic time. I don’t want ot regret wasting time again. It’s a great reminder to let go and enjoy life. After all, it’s finite. Whats the point of losing weight if you’re not going to enjoy yourself?
So this is why I am struggling to lose weight. Is there anything else I haven’t thought of? How about you? Have you struggled to lose weight? What did you do about it?
* How fucking clever are marketeers?
**Incidentally, healthily to them means in a way that reassures them that how they eat is fine, which is to say, not at all. Something they vehemently deny.
***When I say transform my body, I mean getting rid of percentages of body fat that simply needs to go. No matter my size, I will be curvy. I will have boobs. This makes me happy. I just wish the clothes I liked fit me the way I know they should.