Want to Lose Weight, Get Fit, Be Healthy?
I will eat better, or less, or stop snacking… I will start an exercise routine, or exercise more often, or walk more every day… I will go on a diet, or lose weight, or get fit…
Sound familiar? If not in your voice, your husband’s or wife’s, your child’s or friend’s, patient’s or co-worker’s or favorite TV character’s… We are forever making commitments, setting goals, striving to change our behavior, to achieve better health, makeover our body, or make someone else happy.
But most people don’t get where they set out to go. They run out of steam, or time, or emotional capacity to manage the psychological aspects of behavior change. The brightly-colored produce molds in the fridge, the running shoes sit lonely in the closet, and the scale gets shoved behind the door under the toilet paper.
I am NOT trying to shame you, that was my voice you heard in the first sentence too! I have been here more times than I can count, and as an exercise scientist and wellness professional, I know that most people who set these kinds of goals have abandoned them within six weeks. It is so disheartening to set out with a tingle of excitement and shortly thereafter watch as your drive disappears around a corner, leaving you with the feeling of complete and utter failure. You still long for that change, but now you’re also frustrated because you couldn’t make it happen!
But two years ago, on January 21, 2018, a kaleidoscopic shift happened. I opened a message from my doctor containing the results of my annual physical, and the numbers freaked me the FUCK out! I’d gained more weight than I thought possible, my blood glucose, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels had skyrocketed, and my doctor wanted to put me on meds. I was petrified, and angry too! And I was ready to do something about it. I opened a Word Doc and started typing:
I want to lose 20 lbs by my birthday, June 20th, when I will turn 55 years old. WHY?
· Not because I have to satisfy society’s perception of what I “should” weight.
· Not to lower my BMI, which is NOT a valid measure of the healthfulness of my size.
· NOT to “fit in” to my doctor’s idea of what of I “should” weigh.
· NOT because I have a poor body image or to attract a future partner.
I want to lose these 20 lbs because it has been a ball & chain around my neck for more than 10 years — ever since my cholesterol shot up and I asked the nurse why that would have happened and she looked at my chart and said, “You gained 20 pounds. What did you expect?” I want my LDL to go back down to a reasonable number and I don’t want to have to go on cholesterol-reducing drugs. And I don’t want to turn 55 years old weighing 174 pounds. It’s just wrong, for me, for my happiness, for my healthiness, for my back and my knees. I want to control the things in my life that have resulted in me gaining this weight and not being able to take it off: stress, anxiety, and depression. These things have resulted in me drinking too much, and binging, and using food and drink as a way to comfort myself. I need to create new comforts in my life so my relationship with food and drink returns to one of balance and peace, not overindulgence and guilty pleasure!!
I can do this!
This “manifesto,” as I now call it, came out complete, without thought, editing, or effort. And when words flow through me like this, when I write as if I am merely a vessel through which the universe expresses itself, I know it is pure truth. So I made this promise to myself, and only myself — to lose 20 pounds by my birthday, and if my cholesterol did not go down, to consider medication. I knew, better than most, that if I could find a way to balance my personal and professional life, I could discover solace, and change my relationship with food and drink to one of respect and harmony.
Synchronicity being what it is, my mom had a book she’d recently used to develop some new eating habits. After reading a couple of chapters, I was intrigued but needed to vet the concepts, so I bought a related book: WHOLE, by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of the China Study. I was immediately engrossed in understanding how my experience fit within our culture’s issues surrounding food, and by February I had flipped the switch.
Yes, I went cold-turkey, from a pescatarian (a seafood-eating vegetarian) to a “no-processed-food-eating vegan”, also known as eating a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet. And for me, it was easy. Why? Because I knew exactly what I wanted- a new life! My manifesto crystallized that for me, and reading Campbell’s book was like reading the Bible. It gave me the resources, understanding, and faith I needed to make a change in my behavior that was almost 55 years in the making. And the good news…?
Within one month of changing my diet, I was able to quit taking heartburn meds every night, my depression and anxiety receded, my energy went through the roof and I was back to exercising regularly. I’ve always found that positive behavior changes seem to string together, and if I hold on tight and follow that thread I can bring joy into my life and spread that joy around to others. And yes, in January 2019, the scale showed I’d lost 60 pounds, and the blood test revealed normal glucose and triglyceride levels, and a 115 point drop in my cholesterol.
Now, here’s the good news for those of you out there somewhere, reading this and thinking… “yeah, right, I could never do that…”
YES, YOU CAN!
I don’t have steel-reinforced willpower. I don’t possess super-powers that allow me to do what you can’t. I am just a woman who got in touch with her inner genius, her soul, her true voice, and paid attention to what she heard. I committed to helping myself, I made it the most important thing in my life, because I realized it was the biggest thing I could do to help the chaotic world around me.
I believe that by learning to apply compassion inward, by being self-compassionate, you learn to maximize your capacity to express compassion toward others. By shifting my focus inward, and listening to my whole self, I realized that if I wanted to be part of making the world a better place to live, I had to live right, and that meant taking care of my home — my body — first, before anything else.
I had discovered the KEY factor that differentiates between successful and unsuccessful behavior change, the thing that determines if you stick with your New Year’s resolution or drop it like a hot potato… I found my WHY. “What WHY?” you ask. The WHY that drives you to do what you do. It is different for each person and given behavior, but it’s there… without a doubt! You may have to dig and be a bit patient, but with effort you’ll find it, that reason you do what you do, whether it’s eating a piece of pizza, or a stalk of broccoli, taking an extra walk around the block or binge-watching Netflix. The WHY is a self-directed, unique, intrinsic reason, to ACT.
Once I found my WHY, my desire to optimize my wellness so I could help others find joy in doing the same, and that priority was clear in my heart and my mind, the rest was easy. I saw that it wasn’t selfish to focus on myself, rather, it was a commitment to help right the whole world, and that commitment started at home… my home- my body. That focus, that drive, that motivation, moved me past the daily grind of “this is too hard, this takes too much time, I want ice cream, I want cheese, I can’t eat with my friends, people are making fun of me…..” to a place where each thing I chose to put in my mouth became part of a sacred commitment to my fellow humans, animals, the environment and the soul of the world.
By adopting a Whole Food Plant-Based lifestyle, I say to the world “I am NOT OK with the Standard American Diet (SAD) and all the disease and environmental havoc it wreaks. I am NOT OK with the waste and the pollution and the subliminal advertising and the more(or BIGGER)-is-always-better mindset. I am NOT OK with using food as a substitute for real joy and as a salve for emotional wounds. I will NOT accept the crap that food manufacturers want to sell me, and I will NOT just shut up about it!
I stand for REAL food, taking the time to honor the only home I’ll live in forever and helping my fellow humans create wellness in their own lives. I wouldn’t presume to tell you what is right for you, but I do know that asking yourself the “WHY” question is always a good idea whether you are setting goals, pondering their failure, or just trying to understand your daily habits. Go ahead, take that first baby step… take a good, hard, long look inward, and discover your WHY.