Q. Glen, I am very very over weight! Am I too heavy to Exercise?
A. In the first article of this three-part series, I promised that if you can master the challenge of exercising regularly and overcome the difficulties you may encounter, then you would achieve something far more than the ability to burn additional calories—you’ll develop a set of self-management skills and the confidence you need to handle almost anything life might throw at you. That’s a pretty tall order. So now let’s talk about how to make that happen.
Let's start with a simple question: How do you feel right now about your prospects for becoming a consistent exerciser, and using fitness as a springboard to lose weight and get healthier?
If most of the time you feel "pretty good or better" about this question; or (best of all) if you’ve actually made some real progress with exercising and losing weight and don’t see any dark clouds looming on ther horizon, then you probably don’t need the rest of this article. Go do something more fun—like exercise!
If you’re still here (and I’m betting most of you are), then you are exactly where you ought to be. Nothing in the first two articles was very likely to change your life. I’m not going to say anything like that here either. I can’t. The best anyone else can do for you is say something or behave in a way that triggers what is already lurking inside you—a realization that you really do want to change this important aspect of your life, or the belief that you might actually be able to pull it off.
Here’s what I think is the situation for many of us who struggle with significant or morbid obesity: When what you are trying to do is very hard (this is), when you have a long way to go (you do), and when you have to overcome a history of contrary habits and attitudes (we all do), the unavoidable reality is that you are going to run into some rough patches along the way. Without some real and personal experience with this, only a hopelessly-cockeyed optimist would be feeling good about her prospects at this stage of the game.
And when I say “rough patches,” I’m not talking about the daily ups and downs and minor frustrations we all go through as part of our daily weight loss soap opera. I’m talking about those really deep doubts, worries, fears, and outbreaks of real despair and confusion that grab you once in a while and shake you all the way down to your toes—the kind that make you realize that there may have been some good reasons why you turned to food to help you manage your life in the first place; the kind that make you wonder whether you really want to upset this applecart right now. As they say, sometimes denial and repression are your friends.
Of course, everyone has their own demons to contend with, and no one gets by without troubles in this area. But chances are very high that—if you have a history of disordered relationships with food, other substances, and/or your own body—you may have more than your fair share of demons, and some of them may be particularly hard to get along with. The process of changing your lifestyle will rattle the cages of all your personal demons from time to time, and you will need to be able to cope with that when it happens.
But this isn’t necessarily bad news. In fact, it can be very good news. I know without doubt that there is a very direct, causal relationship between the depths of pain, sorrow, shame and fear I've faced in my life, and the heights of pleasure, joy, self-respect and courage I derive from living the best life I can—liver spots, saggy skin, and all. That’s why I can make the promise I made to you (at the beginning of all this) with confidence. There is much more going on inside you and much more to be won than a simple battle over exercise and weight. The difficulty lies in finding that still point at the center of the turning wheel—that place in your own mind where you can be fully with yourself, as you are, without being against yourself or merely for some imagined future version of yourself.
This is a difficult thing to do, which is why it's important to have specific goals and methods, beyond the usual goals associated with weight loss. Process goals help you find and use ways to calm yourself during hard times, keep the "small stuff" (like the number on the scale) in perspective, and develop friendly (or at least diplomatic) relations with the aspects of your personality that you aren't too proud of. The latter of which is crucial. There is no such thing as a healthy lifestyle that is based on denying, avoiding or hating any aspect of yourself. It’s about getting to know yourself well enough that you can make conscious choices without being pushed around by all the feelings, needs, attitudes and assumptions that you aren’t able or willing to look at directly.
Obviously, tons of books have been written about this kind of thing, but I don't have room for a book in this article. So, here are some very basic suggestions for process-focused goals you can add to your program:
- Make a playlist of your favorite music (or recorded poetry, inspirational readings, etc.) that calms you down and makes you feel better when all else fails. Use it often—before things get to the point where you have to. Ideally, take it with you and listen to it when you’re exercising.
- Think about why you want to lose weight and what you hope it will do for you. Do NOT be judgmental about whether your reasons and values are the “right” ones. Just put them all on your list. Try to identify the values and priorities you hold that give rise to those reasons and hopes. Then, go through each item on the list, asking yourself if and why there is any reason you have to lose weight before you can start working on other ways to make that particular goal become a reality.
- Do whatever you can think of to move towards making these larger goals happen. Use the same goal setting techniques you’re learning here at The WorkOut GEM: start with some simple fast-break goals, be specific, include ways to measure your progress, frame your goals in positive terms, etc. Keep in mind that merely losing the weight isn’t going to make many of these things happen automatically. If you’re waiting until the weight is gone to work on these other goals, you’re putting an awful lot of unnecessary pressure on your weight loss efforts. No wonder it’s so upsetting when the scale doesn’t cooperate, if you think that means you’re not making any progress towards what really matters to you!
- Find a “process buddy" who is willing to partner with you and add this process work into both of your programs. It’s a lot easier to do this together than by yourself.
My mission is to provide you with "Trusted Advice for a Healthier Life."
Yours in good health