The Weight Loss = Health Misconception

First, I have to be clear that I am not an MD or dietitian. I have studied the sciences; hard, social and psychological so when I read the research I do understand what is being reported. It is crucial that we, as a society, stop accepting something as gospel just because an MD published it. I am not saying that the information they, and others are providing is not correct just that we need to question everything. Nutrition research as a whole is inconclusive so I beg you to not just jump on the most recent plan. I read a lot about nutrition, fitness and health as a whole. Lately, I have run into MDs saying that exercise does not matter for weight loss. If you do not pause once reading or hearing that phrase you will miss how empty this statement is.

Your weight does not define you or your health. It is a factor of health and often weight gain is a result of something else before it turns into a cause of further dysfunction. Weight loss, by itself, is possible without fitness or counseling but what about everything else? You can cut carbs and loose those extra pounds or count calories (something that seems to be going out of fashion) or a combination. The thing is that loosing 10 or even 20 pounds does not mean you are healthy.

People with an acceptable number on the scale can suffer from all sorts of ailments that we generally associate with obesity. Overweight people can have great stamina, strength, bone health and happiness.

I am not saying that weight loss is something to ignore just that it is not the only thing to worry about if you are concerned about holistic health. Exercise strengthens your bodies structural integrity. It also gives you mental and emotional vitality. To top it off focusing on the scale can be discouraging!!!!!! Often, the mental block caused by that focus intern causes failure. If you set performance goals and stick to a plan you will see results. Weight loss then becomes a side effect and you are emotionally/mentally stimulated with your bodies positive feedback mechanism to continue to challenge yourself.

Weight loss does NOT help build strong bones. Your bones need impact and movement to be strong. Weight loss does NOT build cardiovascular wellness (I admit it reduces the stress placed on the system but does not strengthen the system). Weight loss, depending on how it is done, can slow down mental acuity and reduce your emotional coping skills. Movement increases the links made in the brain and quickens the responses. Exercise provides endorphins that provide lasting joy and a feeling of power and peace.

Helping people loose weight as well as become strong mentally and physically is my passion. My point is simply that weight loss does not stand alone and it is time we change the conversation.

“It’s Embarrassing”

Have you ever thought that going to the gym is too embarrassing? I definitely had that same thought hundreds of times. Recently, I have been talking to friends and family. The common theme in almost every conversation is that the gym is an embarrassing place to be. I understand the phrase fully and am at a loss as to how to convince those people I care about that the gym is not a place to fear or feel self conscious. What words could I possibly say to convince you to throw out self doubt?

We use the word “embarrassing” in casual conversation almost daily. What is the real meaning of this casual term and how can we remove it from our vocabulary? Embarrassing in an adjective used to describe something that makes us feel self-conscious. From an athletic conversation “performance anxiety” is a better description of the phenomenon. Performance anxiety is a consequence of fear and cognitive interference which results in withdrawal (Smith, Smoll & Schultz, 1990). We punish ourselves because we are afraid of a self-perceived expectation of our abilities.

Since this is all internal we can make a decision to change it. Let’s work backwards, step by step to see how we can accomplish this intellectual challenge. Once we can understand something from an intellectual perspective we can move on to changing the emotion and the resulting behavior. I found this great article concerning strategies for overcoming embarrassment. https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-overcome-embarrassment/

Let’s begin with the self-perceived expectation of our own abilities. I challenge you to write down what you think you should be able to do. PAUSE Was what you wrote down based on what you see others doing? Was it based on what you could do when you were 20 years old? Now write down your current activity level. Somewhere in between these 2 items is a realistic expectation. When I was morbidly obese and stepped into the gym for the first time in years. I looked around and saw people running, jumping lifting heavy weights and my first instinct was to do what they were doing. Because the expectation I had of myself was not realistic I was embarrassed. The first thing I did wrong was to compare myself with others. We ALL MUST STOP this practice. Many say it is human nature I say it is a learned behavior. If I am correct, and it is a learned behavior, then we can can teach ourselves to stop the unhealthy comparison.

Now that your self-perceived expectation has been adjusted then the rest of embarrassment falls apart at the seams. If we shut down the unrealistic expectation then we cannot be afraid anymore of not being able to perform. Hence the cognitive interference that we build for ourselves dissolves and failure is not possible. Every time you catch yourself saying that something is embarrassing investigate the reason you believe this to be true. I bet it is because you are afraid to fail. The only way to fail in life is to not try because all progress is a success even if that progress is simply learning what not to do.

Time Investment + Habit Change = Exponential Return

I don’t think it matters if you are a medical professional or working fast food, we know what is good for us.  If we know, why don’t we do the right thing for our physical being?  Is our daily activity habitual?  I know mine is.  I find great comfort in routine and this was one of the reasons beginning the journey to health was difficult.  We struggle as human beings to see outside our current space.  So how can we change where we are?  When was last time you decided to do something different?

The payroll company I work for is in the process of a major software upgrade.  The functionality of this upgrade is unbelievable at times.  I am sincerely excited about the possibilities this brings!  My excitement does not out way my hesitation and often frustration!  I know how to utilize our old software and can manipulate data to meet client needs efficiently and without hesitation.  My point is that what I have been doing day in and day out is what I am holding on to even though if I spend one day figuring how a new function works it may save me the equivalent of three days in just the first month.   As a result, my return is 3 times my investment.  If this were a financial investment the answer is simple.  As a time, investment it is a bit more difficult.  Last, as a change in my routine it can be outright nerve wracking!

Now let’s point this idea at health.  With today’s hectic life style and high stress jobs time is precious!  We work all day and when we get home we want to spend time with family or quite frankly, just relax!  Time and effort spent today, tomorrow and the next day will save you wayyyyy more than time in your future.  Focusing on Health Treatment today rather than Disease Treatment tomorrow saves you and your loved one’s time, stress, money and pain (physical and emotional). 

Excess weight causes a plethora of trouble down the road, but I am just going to focus on one aspect because of how tangible it is.  The general idea can be expanded into all the other troublesome realms of excess weight.  Throughout our lives we put stress on all of our joints and they slowly breakdown. Excess force (from weight or overuse) causes the tissue to breakdown faster than is natural.  As the tissue breaks down you feel PAIN!  Very strong, physical, tangible PAIN.  Right now, my own mother is not able to walk because of the pain associated with arthritis in her hips.  She is now experiencing a very real result of prolonged excess force placed on her joints.  The only way to relieve pain is to lose weight but, when you cannot move how is that a possibility?  Her time, her life and her money are all wrapped up in excruciating PAIN!  This is not a life that I want for myself or my family. 

I know that if I am not healthy now I will be spending my retirement in a chair just like my mom.  I want to be traveling world enjoying my life with my partner!  I want to be able to spend time with the younger generation of my family and be able to keep up with them.  Don’t you?  Many of you have children and your future will have grandchildren.  Do you want to be able to play with the kids, enjoy life and all it has to offer?  If so, then you must take steps NOW!  Your future depends on it!  Your family’s happiness in the future depends on it!

Failure

I am afraid of failure but not afraid to admit it.  My fear has kept me from trying endless new things.  As I contemplate taking on a new challenge butterflies swell in my gut.  I told my partner, “I want to try ….xyz but I am so afraid to fail.”  He asked, “What does failure look like?”  I did not have an answer.  I know what the ideal situation is in my vision and I know what the next step down and the step below that look like, but I cannot think of any outcome that would constitute failure.

Is failure one of the reasons you avoid setting goals or taking risks?  When you set a goal to lose 25 pounds what is failure?  Anything that happens can only be positive!  Losing as little as 5 pounds is a success even just making a small step in the direction of health is a success.  So how can any outcome be considered a failure.  Next time you say to yourself, “I’m just going to fail” try to define failure with something tangible.  If you learn anything, loose one pound, do one more push up, eat one milligram less sugar in a day it is a W I N.  So, every time you slide backward stop calling it a failure because you learned something, and you did something good for yourself. Keep trying and you can get were you want to be!

Self-Care

One thing that is so easy to forget is that health and fitness require time and energy.  Are you one of the many is this world that feel the need to care for others first?  What do they tell you just before the plane takes off?  If the plane goes down, put your oxygen mask on first, then help those around you.  It is no different in every day life. 

               As a child I was raised in a very conservative home where the woman’s purpose was to be the care taker.  I was taught to serve first.  This philosophy is as tangible as if it made up my physical being.  I see this issue in so many men and women that struggle with their health.  Many of these people I greatly admire!  The issue is that it isn’t sustainable!  I know someone who owns a growing small business.  Who do you think he puts first?  He treats employees as if they are family and clients like best friends. He works himself to levels of exhaustion that very few of us can even imagine.  When I was in the worst of my decline I worked in Social Services and fought to help those that needed help but fell through the cracks.  My entire day was filled with desperation and my nights spent searching for solutions for the those that did not quite qualify under program guidelines.  If I spend 9 hours a day at an office, then 4 hours collecting food, gift cards for necessities and cooking and cleaning for elderly neighbors what is left?  Not only was the time gone, but the energy depleted.  I didn’t even give myself enough to cook a balanced meal or take a walk.  I was sick all the time and didn’t give myself a day to rest even then.

               This does not mean that those that are healthy are selfish by any means.  They more easily practice proper self-care.  In this way they can sustain higher levels of care for others.  Those of us that struggle with this often make ourselves sick before we take a break.  It is our bodies way of forcing us to focus on our own wellbeing.  Who do you think I rely on when I get sick?  Someone, who understands this philosophy and is strong enough when I am worn out. 

               Write down 3 things that make you feel peaceful and energized.  I challenge you to begin your journey here.  Practice 3 things that make you feel good about yourself and your life on a regular basis.  My hope is that you experience the importance of viewing yourself outside the realm of caring for others.

What is a health crisis?


Generally, it is only a phrase which refers to major public health issues.  They are major health concerns that affect communities both from a medical and economic stand point.  So how can we define a personal health crisis?  Is there such a thing?

According to the World Health Organization: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”  https://www.who.int/suggestions/faq/en/

Dictionary.com defines crisis as: “a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined;turning point.” https://www.dictionary.com/browse/crisis

With these definitions I am pretty sure that each one of us can have a Health Crisis at any point in our lives!

Finding out your blood pressure is through the roof or you have diabetes.  What about cancer, blindness, paralysis, severe depression.  Only you know if your situation is a crisis!

My “Health Crisis” was the day I had my hysterectomy.  Before that moment I was falling; after, I decided to climb.  Do you have the courage to reverse the fall before you hit the bottom? I did not!!!

I admit my eating habits were far from great and my physical activity relatively low but not in a way that could, on its own, result in 300 pounds.  I turned to MDs saying begging for help.  After several tests they were banging their heads against the wall as was I.  One gynecologist said “this is not going to result in anything but, it’s the last guess I have.”  I had a biopsy, the next day pre-op labs and the following day was on the table.  Before surgery the surgeon and I sat facing each other one last time.  He said, after we remove your uterus and cervix we will be able to take a closer look at the tissue and know for sure if it is cancer or not.  If it is cancer we will remove your ovaries as standard.  However, if it is not positive do you want me to remove the ovaries or leave them.  Because I was in severe pain for 10+ years and I did not want to risk future problems I said, “take them out no matter what!”.  For me that was the ONLY option.  I was desperate for the pain to stop and I knew if they remained the pain would continue.

That morning I was 34, with a 56 inch waist, unable to sleep, taking 7 prescriptions, in excruciating pain all the time and suffering from severe depression.  4 hours later the situation remained, but my mindset changed.  Finally, a doctor listened to my cries.  I decided to continue the hunt for solutions, questioning MDs until they provided an answer! One at a time, solutions were discovered over a span of several years. Now I’m 42, with a 26 inch waist, taking only 1 prescription on top of my HRT, no longer suffering from constant pain and my depression is under control.  One day, one moment in time, changed my view of what was possible and that saved my life!

Find Support

Really look around you and see who is there.  When I started my journey, I was essentially alone in my desire to feel better and my goal was to be able to buy clothes from a regular store.  That was my ultimate vision!  Now I am in a completely different place with a new, fresh, more powerful mind set.  I was speaking to a woman at the gym a few weeks ago that was about the size I was back in 2010.  She was just getting started with her healing process.  She asked a question that triggered an in-depth conversation about our past struggles and she was shocked when I told her I used to be 300 pounds.  She asked, “How did you do it”? My answer is always the same, “hard work, patience with myself, and personal support”.  There are many pillars involved with success but the topic here is personal support.

There are varying degrees and styles of support.  Your personal needs will change as you progress and as the vision of yourself and your path adjust to the moment.  I went through 3 major support levels.  At the beginning of my exploration I was on my own!  The I was surrounded by those that provided as much emotional support as anyone could ever ask for but simultaneously, surrounded me with fresh baked goods and comfort food.  My current level of support is as good as it gets!  My partner makes sure I have everything I need to succeed.  He understands fitness and the dedication it takes!

When I was starting this path alone my goal consisted of being able to buy clothes from a regular store.  At the time it seemed like a big deal and when I managed to reach that check point I stagnated.  Alone I was not able to see the potential I had.  If you do not envision your future then how can you reach it.  This is one of the reasons you need people that know and care about you.  If you stand at the base of mount hood how far will you climb if you are on your own?  If someone knows where you are but is unable to be by your side, you will push harder and feel safer.  But think for just a moment, what if you have someone that not only holds your hand but carries the climbing ropes and the ability to catch you if you fall and lift you when you’re struggling. 

Alone I was able to do the baby steps but since I couldn’t even see the possibility of reaching the peak I didn’t set goals that would get me there.  Once I was surrounded by those that deeply care about my wellbeing my steps grew but I was carrying all of my own equipment and slipping on the ice.  Sometimes I slid miles backwards, went home, took a break and when I was ready to try again I went back to mountain and started climbing the same part of the path that I had already conquered.   Regaining one’s health is not always direct and the struggles are what make us strong enough to go further.

Now, the goals I am setting are much bigger than I ever imagined they could be when this whole process began but it took someone to push me to see what was possible.  It isn’t just any push though, it took someone who knows fitness, knows his own value and could see what I could become before I could see it myself.  It took positive feedback from someone I value and respect.  Now I am setting goals concerning the amount of weight I can lift and how fast I can run. I am not standing on the top of the mountain yet but I can feel it.  I’m breathing in possibility and exhaling doubt.

What each of us needs is different.  There is no prescription, which is why I push searching within yourself.  Figure out what you need to succeed and reach out.