Your Fat Cardiologist*

It's OK to be where you are. You don't have to stay there.

Your Fat Cardiologist* - It's OK to be where you are.  You don't have to stay there.

Be Weird: Yesterday didn’t happen

In May of 2011, I ran a half marathon in horrible weather averaging slightly less than 11 minutes per mile.  In 2013, I ran a 7 minute mile and regularly ran for 90 minutes straight at an 8 mile per minute pace.  Tonight I ran for 36 straight minutes at a 12 mile per minute pace.  I’m most proud of tonight’s run.

“It’s humbling to start fresh.  It takes a lot of courage.  But it can be reinvigorating.  You just have to put your ego on a shelf and tell it to be quiet.” – Jennifer Ritchie Payette

For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to run for a half hour continuously.  I haven’t been able to do it because my legs have gotten tired.  Actually, that’s not completely correct.  My legs have gotten tired because I’ve started out at the 8 mile per minute pace and lost steam rapidly.  It seems like common sense, but after my knee injury, I’m not going to be able to start right where I left off.  What I used to do doesn’t matter.  The only thing that matters is getting better today.

As I was running, I was thinking about this in other areas of weight loss.  I have a friend who hits a certain weight, becomes uncomfortable, and begins dieting and exercising.  He then hits a weight where he’s comfortable and slacks off.  This cycle repeats itself over and over.  He’s asked me multiple times how to deal with this and I haven’t had a good answer until now.  I haven’t had a good answer because I’m the exact same way.  But the answer is pretty simple: I have to accept that yesterday didn’t happen.

What this means is that whether yesterday was a good day or a bad day has no effect on what I do today.  I can only control what happens today.  If I’m on a business trip, I can control what I eat, whether I exercise, and how much I drink.  What I can’t control is if I ate poorly, failed to exercise, and had too much to drink the day before.  I also can’t control if I ate well, exercised, and didn’t drink any alcohol the day before.  Can I learn from each situation?  Does it matter?  Not today.

It’s true that in order to lose weight—or accomplish anything of substance—that you have to string multiple days of doing the wise thing together.  But you can’t get to 2 days without getting to 1 or to 3 without getting to 2.  Whatever happened yesterday is irrelevant to what happens today.  It’s great that you’ve lost 10 pounds in June, but that doesn’t have anything to do with whether you’ll lose weight in July.  And I used to be able to run a mile in 7 minutes or run a half marathon, but I can’t anymore.  It doesn’t matter that I used to be able to do those things.  Two weeks ago, I couldn’t run for 30 minutes straight at a relatively slow pace.  Two weeks ago, that really frustrated me.  But I had to stop focusing on what I used to be able to do and instead focus on getting better.  Today, I got better.  Tomorrow, that doesn’t matter. 

 

Be Weird: Acknowledge your cognitive dissonance

Concept from Andy Stanley

Concept from Andy Stanley

Did you know the world was supposed to end on December 21, 1954?  That was the prediction by Marian Keech, a Chicago housewife, who’s cult was infiltrated by a psychologist named Leon Festinger.  His hypothesis was that instead of the cult members becoming discouraged after that date passed that they would become even stronger in their beliefs.  Indeed, many people who had never shared their beliefs started aggressively sharing and recruiting new members.1  How is it that even after the prediction failed that the cult members’ belief got even stronger?  Cognitive dissonance.

Luke 14:11 – “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

I remember a time in high school when I was lifting weights and wasn’t doing it correctly.  A teammate tried to come over and suggest that I wasn’t doing it correctly and I snapped at him, not because he was wrong but because I didn’t like accepting that I was.  I think each of us can probably come up with a time where we got angry at somebody else not because they were wrong, but because they pointed out that we were wrong.  I can think of multiple times where people pointed out my weight and I did that very thing.

The principle behind cognitive dissonance is that when our beliefs are pointed out or proven wrong,  there is a tension (or dissonance) in what is true and what we believe is true.  Thus, there are only two options: 1) We change our beliefs or 2) We dig deeper in our beliefs despite the evidence.  The “normal” thing to do is to dig deeper.  While this is evidenced by the cult members mentioned above, clearly we do this as well in our day-to-day lives.  The “weird” thing to do is to change our beliefs, to take responsibility for what we’re doing wrong, to admit the areas where we are at fault.

So what percentage of your weight is your fault?  5%?  10%?  50%?  Regardless of the percentage, is there something you can do to change that percentage?  Maybe they’re not all your fault.  Maybe there are outside circumstances.  Your boss is piling the work on.  Your kids have to be driven to all of their activities.  Your parents’ health is failing and you have to take care of them.  But through it all, can you admit that some percentage is your fault? 

The natural human reaction is to resist taking responsibility for our part in a failure, particularly one as sensitive as our weight.  The truth is that until we accept that we are responsible, until we accept that there are things we can do independent of the other things we can’t control, we’re just going to stay stuck in neutral or—even worse—reverse. 

This isn’t normal.  It isn’t normal to accept our own failure.  It isn’t normal to put together a list of the things we need to do better.  It isn’t normal to post that list on the refrigerator and tell people that we care about that we’re going to change those things.  It isn’t normal to stop saying, “if only my wife could….” or “if only my kids didn’t….” or “if only my genes were…”.

The question we need to ask doesn’t have anything to do with other people or what they can do or should do.  It doesn’t have to do with calories or diets or exercise plans.  It doesn’t have to do with the weather or our boss’ demands or our kids’ demands.   The question we need to ask isn’t normal, it’s weird.  It’s simply this:

“What part of my behavior is my fault, and how can I change it?”

 

  1. Festinger, Riecken, and Schacter, When Prophecy Fails, Harper-Torchbooks, 1954.

Dare to be weird

A few weeks ago, I told a story about my daughter being called weird by another boy in class.  She was clearly bothered by the name-calling, and I assured her she was perfect and not weird at all.  But I had a nagging feeling while I was reassuring her.  The thing is….I want her to be weird.

Proverbs 1:15-16 – “My son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.”

A recent survey I read said that the median retirement savings for ages 25-32, 33-44, and 45-54 is $12000, $61000, and $101000, respectively (note: this survey did not ask anything about debt).1  A 45-year old who wants to retire at 65 and has an income of $55000 per year needs approximately $1.1 million dollars to retire.2  Regardless of how you spin it, even with 20 years left until retirement, they are woefully underfunded.  They are going to have to save a significant chunk of their income to get there, which in this culture, is clearly weird.

According to the CDC, more than 1/3 of U.S. adults are classified as obese.  Another 1/3 are classified as overweight.  Now, whether you believe that BMI is the be-all indicator of health (I do not) is irrelevant.  What this means is that “normal” in our culture is to have suboptimal health.  Regardless of how you spin it, 30-60% of the U.S. population needs to make changes in their lives to live longer.  They are going to have to stop eating as much and exercise more, which in this culture, is clearly weird.

So when that little boy taunted my daughter, he meant that being weird as an insult.  But it isn’t.  I want her to love her job (70% of Americans don’t3).  I want her to have a happy long-term marriage (50%+ U.S. first marriages end in divorce4).  I want her to avoid debt, save for retirement, and give her time and her money freely.  I want her to be healthy, both so she’s around a long time, but also so that the quality of her life is high (anybody with sore knees will second this one).  I can’t think of anything I want more for her than to be weird. 

And I want the same thing for you.  Imagine going to the gym and not being concerned about what other people think about you.  Imagine going to a restaurant with friends and not feeling guilty about what you’re eating.  Imagine getting up to run when nobody else is awake.  Imagine not allowing food to control you.  Imagine losing 10, 15, 20% of your weight.  The next few posts, we’re going to talk about how to do this.  We’re going to dare to be weird.

 

  1.  http://money.cnn.com/calculator/retirement/retirement-need/
  2. http://www.learnvest.com/2012/11/retirement-savings-by-age-how-do-you-compare/
  3. http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/163007/state-american-workplace.aspx
  4. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/divorce.htm

Acknowledge your scars

ScarFour and a half months after my surgery, I’ve been cleared to do everything I used to do with the exception of contact sports.  I should be cleared for that in another 6 weeks.  Beyond feeling some stiffness when I overwork it or stand too long, my knee feels completely normal.  There are even times when I forget that I injured it.  But I don’t forget when I step on a basketball court or onto a treadmill.  Not because it hurts, but because my mind doesn’t want to go through that pain again.  Not only is there a gnarly scar on my knee, but there’s an emotional scar that I’m dealing with.

1 John 4:18 – “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

Not everybody has blown out their knee, but we can all empathize with emotional scars.  I think back to when I got caught plagiarizing in 6th grade.  You may have noticed that I provide proper credit and links for each picture that is posted on this blog, and that each of them are approved for common usage.  That’s not an accident.  That incident in 6th grade has forever shaped how I approach citing other people’s work.  The scar fades over time, but it still leaves a mark that doesn’t ever go away.

This is related to weight loss in that anybody who is overweight has scars too.  I still describe myself as “fat” and have been fortunate enough to add “balding” to that categorization relatively recently.  When calling myself fat, I’ve had multiple people tell me that I’m not fat, that I’m being too hard on myself, and in one case, that it was offensive to actual fat people.  But I still have those scars.  I’m still the kid who couldn’t get a date in high school.  The kid who couldn’t find a pair of pants that fit for baseball without special ordering them.  The kid who shied away from doing things that he wanted to do because of how he looked. 

But that’s the key word in each of those phrases: kid.  The goal should be to become an adult.  A kid buries their feelings when they’re fat while an adult embraces those feelings.  A kid wishes for things to change while an adult commits to a change.  A kid hopes to be able to make better eating choices while an adult puts together a plan to ensure they make better eating choices.   A kid avoids other people because they feel ashamed while an adult involves other people to hold them accountable.  And a kid loses inspiration quickly while an adult continues to look for sources of inspiration every day in their life.

I believe that a good definition of maturity is the ability to apply what one knows.  Being mature—being an adult—is not about how much you know, but whether you can apply what you know.  Being mature has nothing to do with whether you know exactly what you should eat or whether you have perfect form when you’re lifting weights at the gym, but about actually eating less food (whether it’s good for you or not) and just starting to lift weights (whether you’re maximizing each rep or not).  A kid allows a lack of knowledge to prevent them from ever starting.  An adult understands that starting is the only way to gain the knowledge they need.  So start being an adult.  Start personally growing in your maturity.  Start acknowledging your scars, but don’t let them define you.  Just start.

Did you have your kids just to pick up toys?

I have two children.  They have to clean up their toys at the end of the day before bath and cartoons.  If they don’t clean up the toys, then they don’t get cartoons (they still do get the bath).  They know the rules, and they know the consequences.  But there are times when those rules can be bent, or even broken.  If another kid has come over and made the mess, if we went out to eat and are getting home late, or if one of them is sick or not feeling well.  The point is, there is some flexibility to the rules that we’ve set forth depending on the circumstance.  After all, we didn’t have kids just so they’d be there to pick up the toys.

Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

I think this is important when considering how we approach being healthier and weight loss in general.  The fact is, there are rules that we need to follow over the long-term to be healthy.

  • Eat less than you burn
  • Exercise regularly
  • Write down what you eat
  • Set attainable goals

Each of these is a rule: eventually you’re going to be called to account for whether you followed these rules or not.  Whether you did or you didn’t, it will show in your waistline and on the scale.

But none of this means that there isn’t some room for bending or even breaking the rules, or to show yourself some grace associated with those rules.  Rules are important, but they should come second.  I was reminded of this when we went to the beach this weekend.  We had a great time with great friends, and while I ate more than I should have, I ate less than I would have in the past.  And to be honest, that’s a real victory for me.  I got home and hadn’t gained any weight, and I’m happy with that.  Sometimes treading water is ok.  Sometimes not gaining a pound is as big (if not a bigger) accomplishment than losing five pounds.

Life is meant to be enjoyed.  Part of why I write this blog is that I believe you can lose weight while still eating things you enjoy.  What’s the point of living if you’re not going to enjoy any of it?  Your weight situation may be a mess, and it definitely needs to be cleaned up.  But life can’t be just about cleaning up the mess, otherwise we’ll finally get the mess cleaned up and have a miserable existence to show for it. 

I want you to get healthy, more than you know.  But life is about people and relationships, not rules.  If you find yourself avoiding enriching situations (dinner with friends, dates with a spouse, cake/ice cream with your kids) regularly because of the rules, you’ve gone too far.  Give yourself some grace.  Give yourself some time.  Give yourself an opportunity to break a rule every once in a while.  Rules are important, but not as important as your relationships.  Build relationships, and you’ll have no shortage of motivation to get healthy.

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