Even though I’m open to a bit of a cheateroo from time to time, generally, I try to avoid eating processed foods where I can. Don’t get me wrong – I’m nowhere even approaching perfect – but as a rule, most of the stuff I […]
Month: October 2012
As the wise man Mr T. once said, it’s not where you come from, it’s where you’re going. And I’d be inclined to agree, especially on this whole health business. I don’t think it’s ever too late to make a difference to your lifestyle, regardless of where you’re starting from – and I think aiming high is important… Just so long as you don’t aim too high.
Yep, that’s right. I’m suggesting you aim for okay. Mediocre. Alright. And I’ll tell you why.
I am the absolute queen of a very special form of self-torture known as Unrealistic Goal Setting. Say I’ve got a day off work dedicated to my PhD – I’ll start out expecting to read six books cover to cover, and write 10,000 words. Or, say I’ve got guests for dinner – I’ll expect to be able to whip up a three course gourmet meal in just under an hour, usually whilst consuming the best part of a bottle of wine.
Needless to say, neither of these things ever, ever turn out like I’ve planned – usually the former turns out to be 6 hours on Twitter and a quick flick through a magazine, and the latter a last minute trip to the chip shop – and as a result, for a long time, I was a consistent source of disappointment to myself. And so I’d eat to cheer myself up. And then I’d gain weight, and then be even more annoyed at myself, so have to work even harder, and… You get the idea. It’s bad juju.
There’s one notable exception to my unrealistic goal setting, though, and that’s my weight.
When I first started out, at 290lbs, I didn’t expect to ever see the 160lb mark. I didn’t expect to succeed at all, let alone drop almost half my body weight, fix my own broken knees and end up running a weight loss blog. That stuff wasn’t on the agenda. At that point, I’d have been happy to lose ten pounds, but I had my doubts as to whether that would happen at all.
Maybe it’s because I’d always been a fat girl, so I couldn’t imagine a life where I wasn’t overweight. Or maybe I just didn’t have the confidence in myself to believe that would happen. I certainly didn’t feel like my body was something I could control. The constant knee pain and illness; the gnawing discomfort of wearing a belt or trying to find a bra that fit; the sense of despair on encountering stairs; these were all things that seemed inevitable. I didn’t dwell on them, because they were just a part of life that I thought I’d be dealing with forever – so my expectations on joining the gym were very low indeed.
When I lost the first 5lbs, I was shocked. And so I aimed for 10lbs, reached it, and was stunned. 15lbs came and went, then 20, 25 and 30. I’d need to use every word under “amazed” in the thesaurus to explain how each of these felt.
Bear in mind, even having lost, say, 60lbs, I didn’t expect to get to where I am – but each time I hit a new goal, another one would crop up along the way. Getting to 200lbs was a huge one for me; and 195 was, possibly, even bigger, because it gave me a fairly decent buffer for those everyday fluctuations where I’d still be under 200lbs. Happy days.
I didn’t begin to expect success until I reached about 180lbs, and even then it was because Matt had ironed out the programme by this point so that if I did everything perfectly, I’d be near enough guaranteed to reach all my goals. And that expectation comes with a disclaimer that I’ve had to remind myself of a lot. If I’d been perfect, I’d be at my target weight right now – but instead of being perfect, I’ve been living.
In the last five months, I’ve been to a festival (something I never thought I’d do because I couldn’t sit on the floor for fear of not being able to get back up); I’ve had many, many big nights out (and in) with food and wine aplenty; I’ve had patches where I’ve been resting bad shoulders and knees; and in the last fortnight I’ve eaten such a lot of cake at endless birthday parties that I’m thinking of auditioning for a guest judge spot on Cupcake Wars.
In that time, I’ve also lost almost 40lbs, reduced my body fat percentage by 10%, and gained a whole load of muscle.
Traditional diet logic would say that I’ve failed on multiple occasions – but remember, this is a long term process. Being able to live – and live damn well, if you don’t mind me saying – whilst steadily losing weight, in a healthy, consistent way, has to be the big goal here.
So many of us set ourselves unrealistic goals, usually with unrealistic deadlines attached – especially in the weight loss arena. Expecting to drop ten pounds in a week, for instance, is wholly unrealistic, unless you’re either very, very overweight, or using the dark arts of the diet world to make that happen.
With weight loss, if you aim for good, or okay, or even mediocre, you’re far more likely to achieve a huge success than if you set yourself unrealistic goals. Not only that, but you’re more likely to amaze yourself at every milestone because you made it there whilst living your life to the full.
So just on this one thing, I suggest a revolution in thinking. Don’t aim for a perfect existence. Aim for good life, well lived. If you can eat well, and stick to your workouts most of the time, but give yourself a break now and then, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to be happy, and really, truly well.
And that, my friends, is why it’s okay to just do okay.
Today is World Mental Health Day – an initiative by the World Health Organisation which is designed to “raise public awareness about mental health issues. The day promotes open discussion of mental disorders, and investments in prevention, promotion and treatment services.”
This year, the theme is depression, which affects over 350 million people worldwide.
350 million people. Pretty amazing for a disease that can make you feel like you’re all alone in the world.
I’ve not really talked about this on the blog before, but in the interests of an open discussion – which is what World Mental Health Day is all about – I’m going to take the first step and share my own experience of it, in the hope that it might help someone else. Pass it on, and all that.
Last January, I went to the doctor. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what wasn’t right – I wasn’t ill, and nothing outwardly was wrong – but something just didn’t feel good. I had a knotted up feeling in my chest, and I desperately, desperately wanted to stay home and avoid everyone and everything. Not possible, given I was juggling a full-time job and an PhD – but I went to the doctor because I felt like I’d reached a point where I couldn’t quite balance these things on my own any more.
As soon as I started to try to explain it, I started to cry. It was the first time I’d talked about it to anyone – and that wasn’t for want of people to talk to. My family and my friends are all amazing, and I know I could’ve discussed it with them had I wanted to – in fact, I really wish I had, because I know someone very close to me was going through a very similar thing at the time. But for some reason, I couldn’t quite bring myself to sit down and have the conversation. I hadn’t really planned to have it with the doctor that day, but it just came out.
And I’m really glad it did.
I didn’t need much treatment – I had some medication for a couple of weeks, just to give me the time to give myself a bit of a break and get some sleep, and had a few conversations with a professional who helped me to revise my priorities and work out what was really important. Six weeks later, I’d made the decision to get back on the programme and get fit. I haven’t looked back.
The problem is that people don’t want to talk about it – or “waste anyone’s time” – if they think they’re only a little bit depressed. That’s a lack of self-confidence in itself, undermining the idea that you’re important enough, and that your feelings are worthy enough, to warrant a discussion. The image a lot of us have of depression is that you’ve got to be on the verge of a breakdown to need to talk to someone, but that’s just not true. Depression can take a huge number of forms – and very few of them live up to the cliched images of what constitutes “depressed.” I know I didn’t fit the bill – I was being the bubbly fat girl, I had a good job, great relationships with family and friends, and I was flying on the PhD.
Once I’d been diagnosed, though, a lot of things started to fit into place. It explained why I’d have long periods of almost ridiculous productivity, followed by weeks of panicking that I couldn’t cope, alternating between not sleeping, and needing to sleep all the time. It explained why I’d feel completely differently about my relationships, my body and everything else, from week to week. And it gave me the clarity to see that I wasn’t living my life to the full because I was letting certain things hold me back – with my weight being just one of a number of factors that I needed to address.
It’s also given me the ability to trust and pay attention to myself and my emotions that now means I can see the downward times coming, dig in my heels, and build up my little fort of resources I now have to deal with it. Things like yoga, meditation, and listening to music aren’t just things I do for pleasure – they’re the weapons I use to keep myself together when I feel like I’m having a bit of a wobble. Which I still do, from time to time.
That’s why when I wrote my post on Sunday on dealing with stress, it was as much for me as it was for you guys, much as I love you – because I still have to take the time to remind myself what’s important and how to get on. No matter how far along you get on a journey like this, you still have to keep yourself in check from time to time to avoid falling back into negative habits. I think that’s good practice whether you’re depressed or not.
I strongly believe that it’s never, ever too late to get better, so long as you have the resources you need to do so. They might be medical – and I’d strongly recommend taking the time to talk to your doctor if you think there’s even the slightest chance you’re suffering from depression – but they can be all sorts of other things. I’ve got a piece coming out in MindBodyGreen later today called “Why You Already Have Everything You Need to Be Happy” because you really, really do. Treatment for depression – in any form – is just a method to help you to find the resources you already have in you. That’s it.
Again, though, I’m going to go back to the thing I seem to say all the time at the moment – that what I’ve done is a lifestyle change. Given I started this year in a much more grim place, those two words do have quite a strong meaning for me, as much as I feel like they’re kind of an awkward cliche. If I’d gone on a traditional “diet” at the start of the year, I’d probably have ended up even more depressed than I already was. What’s far more important than losing weight is being healthy – and that’s just as important on the mental front as it is the physical.
Without facing up to what’s wrong, you won’t be able to work out how to make it right – so please don’t be afraid to look for help. You can, and you will get through it – and in the end, you’ll be so much better for it. I’m happy now, and I’m healthy on the inside and out. My life has changed more than I could ever have expected it to that day I went to see my doctor.
I know, now, that I can cope – in fact, I can kick butt – but I couldn’t have done that without initially acknowledging that I had issues with my mental health. And that’s why, today, I’m writing this post. Because you can turn it around, and you really can be happy – but you have to be completely honest with yourself, and give yourself the opportunity to get the help you need.
That’s why I think World Mental Health Day is important – because it gives us the opportunity to be totally honest and open about illnesses that can be very lonely, and very isolating. It’s an opportunity not just to address our own issues, but to share with, and hopefully offer some support to, other people – and if that’s not a good cause, I don’t know what is. Health is an all-round thing, and achieving wellbeing should never just be about weight loss. Far more than that, it’s about being happy – so today, give yourself and those around you the opportunity to do just that.
I’ve been sent this by quite a few people over the last 24 hours – so thanks to Jen, Sarah, Maggie (and Maggie’s sister!), Maria, Marina and Catherine for sending it my way. Keep the good links a’comin’! You might have seen it already, but […]
Yesterday, I read this quote reported to be from Christina Aguilera (it’s since been denied – but bear with me on this), who said she told her record label the following when working on her new album – because apparently, no amount of talent will help you if you’re fat:
I told them during this Lotus recording, “You are working with a fat girl. Know it now and get over it.” They need a reminder sometimes that I don’t belong to them. It’s my body. My body can’t put anyone in jeopardy of not making money anymore-my body is just not on the table that way anymore.
Aguilera is a mum-of-one, and she’s 31 years old – and I’m willing to bet that a hell of a lot of people would still buy her records regardless of her weight. In an ideal world, her weight wouldn’t matter, because she has an amazing voice and a very real talent. But oh, for an ideal world.
The fact that her decision not to lose weight for the promotion of this album is news (because even though these quotes aren’t true, let’s face it – it’s a notable fact to most media outlets that she isn’t a size 0 this time around) says a lot of powerful and depressing things about the pressure that celebrities are under to maintain a certain weight – something that we should all bear in mind when we’re looking at the still-heavily-photoshopped pictures of celebs in magazines. Even they, with all the personal trainers, chefs, stylists, and make-up artists in the world, can’t manage to look good enough to escape the airbrush. There is no – I repeat, no – hope for the rest of us to look like that. So do yourself a favour, and stop trying.
But that’s another issue.
There’s another thing that this story made me think about, and that’s the role that your weight can play in your career. I personally think I lost out on a couple of jobs I was more than qualified to do when I was heavier, because the perception is in our society that fat means a lot of things other than just that you enjoy an extra slice of pizza from time to time. I was lucky, in the end, to get my job because my current employers saw something in me beyond being overweight – but I’d already lost over four stone by that point. Progress had already been made.
I put this out to Facebook, and had some rather interesting responses. Had anyone else felt like they’d missed out on opportunities because of their weight – or did I just have a (pardon the phrase) chip on my shoulder? I popped my email address on there, because I thought it might be wise to give people the opportunity to keep this anonymous, because it’s a tricky topic – and I did have a number of responses. Here’s what one said:
I’ve definitely been discriminated against at my workplace, continually passed over for promotion because I am overweight. Even though I’m more qualified and experienced than the people who now work above me.
I know I’ve missed out on a job before because I was overweight, but I’ve lost a lot of weight and last week I was selecting candidates for a position that reports in to me. It was totally level between the final two candidates (relevant experience, qualifications, personality) but we had to make the decision that the candidate who wasn’t overweight was the better one for the job. I don’t know why and I felt bad about it later on, but it just seemed to make more sense to make that decision.
Firstly, I applaud this person for being so honest. Recognising, and admitting, the reason behind that choice is a bold thing to do, because it’s not a nice thing to have to admit. It’s depressing. But apparently, it’s also not all that uncommon. Case in point:
According to the peer-reviewed BMC Public Health, HR professionals consistently “underestimated the occupational prestige of obese individuals and overestimated it for normal-weight individuals.” The study was compiled by showing pictures of obese individuals to 127 human resource professionals, who were asked to allocate a profession for each person, from high prestige jobs like doctors, to other positions like cashier.
Obese people “were more often disqualified from being hired and less often nominated for a supervisory position, while non-ethnic normal-weight individuals were favored.”
This is in the US, mind – but I don’t think it’s something that only happens on that side of the pond. It’s depressing. It’s wrong. But it does happen.
I’m not really sure what to say about this, if I’m completely honest – because the benefits to losing weight have been so huge for me, personally, that I wouldn’t want to advocate that being morbidly obese is a healthy way to live. And at the end of the day, health is the most important thing.
But how you look shouldn’t be a factor in stopping you from getting a job – especially if you’re only heavy compared to the other interviewee at the table. Especially because you’re more likely to be overweight if you’re from a low-income background – meaning that if you’re poor, you’re more likely to be fat, and if you’re fat, you’re less likely to get a job that will help you to stop being poor. Meaning you’re pretty much trapped.
It seems to me that there are only two things we need do in a situation like this, though. We do need to try to change attitudes about discrimination on all fronts – from gender, to skin colour, to weight – by changing our own attitudes towards the way we look, and moving away from the focus on looks that means this sort of thing happens.
But at the same time, better education on nutrition and exercise for people who don’t necessarily have access to that needs to be available to those who need it, to stop obesity being an issue in the first place. Changing attitudes will take a long time to achieve, because it’s a cultural shift that needs to happen – but improving people’s education and access to wellbeing… That’s something we could start doing right now. There’s a lot that needs to be done, but it’s not impossible.
So… Thoughts, anyone?