I am fat. About 4 months ago, I looked into the mirror, and I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I looked hard at a recent photo of myself, and I wasn’t able to deny that I have really gained weight. Now I’m not deluding myself; I’m not morbidly obese. I already knew I was fat because my clothes didn’t fit the way they used to, and I have an added blob between my boobs and the stomach roll that was already there. I decided to step on the scale, which is something I stopped doing a long time ago because I became obsessed about the miniscule changes in my weight day to day. The scale just confirmed what I already knew—I weigh the most I have ever weighed in my life!
I like to eat, a lot. I didn’t always gain weight as easily as I do now. I’ve had jobs in the past where I moved around frequently, compared to my work now where I sit on my duff, sometimes for hours on end. Fried and sweet food taste so good! I know I should exercise more and eat more fruits and vegetables, but I don’t. I can rationalize that healthier foods cost more and take more time to prepare. I eat with other people, don’t you? They don’t want to eat vegetables. They want food that tastes good. It’s rude if I say no to food they offer me; I’ll insult them, right? At a recent dinner, I didn’t really want the pie with ice cream, I swear, and I ate it anyway.
I am in a lot of debt. I got sucked in by credit cards that gave me miles because I love to travel and get things that I think I’m getting for free. I pay as many bills as I can with my credit cards (see plural there?), racking up debt as well as points. This is not my first time in debt, by the way. That time was different, I say to myself, but I shouldn’t rationalize debt away either. I’m in debt because I want things as soon as possible instead of working and saving for them. And I rarely say no to myself or anyone else that I love and want to spend money on. Our family had financial emergencies too, which is really what credit cards were for in the past. Ultimately, I don’t live within my means.
Sound familiar? I know I’m not the only one in these situations. Most people in the United States struggle with weight and debt.
As a therapist, I believe it is important for me to work on my own mental health, which I have been doing since 1985. I try to be honest with myself–practice what I preach, you know? I have come a long way since I was in my late teens, and still, I struggle with things that are not discussed much anymore—decision making and delayed gratification.
In 12 step programs, delaying gratification is a big deal because a component of most addictions is the inability to do this. Over the past decades, neurologists have identified that addictions of all kinds change the pleasure pathways in our brain. This reinforces our mind and body’s dependence on something outside of ourselves to make us feel good. And it can be ANYTHING that brings us pleasure. Pair all that happens inside us with what we see going on around us. Media of all kinds capitalize on our affected cognitive state, and we fall prey to marketing that we need the latest, greatest, most lavish ____________. You fill in the blank. Our society is focused on immediacy, as information is at our fingertips, and many fast food restaurants stay open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Amazon will get you what you want as quickly as possible so we don’t even have to leave our homes. Drive up to Wal-Mart and have someone bring your groceries out to you. We want convenience, ease, which isn’t all bad, unless you’re like me and gain weight or rack up a ton of debt!
Where does decision making fit in all of this? Our brains remain tricky things. When I was at that dinner with friends, I made a decision in the moment. I didn’t really give it a second thought, and that’s the problem. Decision making is about being conscious of what you’re thinking and living in accordance with your values. Behavior is a result of a decision. I was told once that not making a decision is making a decision. What?! Yup! No one forced me to eat that piece of pie. By ignoring my thoughts and values, I didn’t face the difficult task of deciding to say no and potentially offending my host by having to explain that I want to lose weight. I’m sure you’ve been in a similar situation. Didn’t you walk away feeling worse about yourself in the long run, if you were willing to admit that to yourself? What’s worse—a friend being offended or you being offended by what you do or don’t do? The one person/relationship that is with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until you die is the relationship you have with yourself. When we do things we regret for whatever reason, we damage the relationship we have with ourselves.
What are we to do? How much more weight do I have to gain until I decide to do something different? Delaying gratification is not something we’re born with; it’s a muscle that we have to create. We have to identify when to flex that muscle, pretty much using it daily. And if for some reason we don’t need to use our delayed gratification muscle on one day, we truly need to maintain it daily. The difficulty with delayed gratification? It takes way more time for us to see results than immediate gratification. Duh, right? We have to learn to be uncomfortable, which is something that very few of us want to be!
I can spout all sorts of therapist clichés to help us build this delayed gratification muscle. It comes down to our decisions, on a daily basis, moment by moment basis. We have to be honest with ourselves and have our behavior match our words. Our relationship with ourselves depends on us being able to respect ourselves. The best part? At any minute of any day, we can decide to be honest with ourselves and our values, and have our behavior match our words.
Since I started writing this blog, I listened to myself. I have filled my plate with vegetables first, and if I want something sweet, I reach for a tangerine or grapes. I only need to make one decision at a time, and keep my behavior consistent with that decision. You bet I didn’t feel great physically at first, craving cookies, my weakness! And I have had an Oreo, just one, believe it or not! So far, my body and brain feel so much better though, and when I look in the mirror, I swear I can already see a difference. I could be fooling myself, but I’m going to keep doing it. It feels good to like myself because I truly am doing something about my weight. And I admitted to a friend that my debt is out of control, and she wants to help me think through how to repair that. Sometimes having support along the way makes the journey easier and faster, and that’s where I can come in.
If you’re interested in support and encouragement, please go to the contact page and reach out. I love getting to celebrate with folks when they feel better about themselves as well!