Bob Greene's Total Body Makeover : An Accelerated Program of Exercise and Nutrition f
Kick-start your metabolism into high gear with Bob Greene's revolutionary new exercise and health program!
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Simon & Schuster
December 01, 2005
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Excerpt from Bob Greene's Total Body Makeover by Bob Greene
Chapter 1: Building a Sound Emotional Foundation
Most people poised to embark upon a 12-week body makeover program will begin by thinking about, and maybe even worrying about, how they're going to change their eating and exercise habits. But this program is different. It begins not with food or fitness, but with something that I think is equally, if not more, important: building a solid emotional foundation.
If you've tried lots of other weight loss programs before (and even if you haven't), putting diet and fitness concerns aside for a short while probably seems like a pretty crazy idea. In fact, it's the sanest thing you can do. If you want to transform your body, the first thing you need to do is transform your mind-set, your attitudes, your outlook, your way of seeing the world, and most critical of all, your way of seeing yourself.
The root of most people's weight problems, or any problems that relate to lack of motivation, is buried deep within. I have heard enough tales of stalled body makeover attempts to confidently say that virtually no one -- no one -- who hopes to lose weight and keep it off for good can succeed without first addressing her attitudes and the way it affects her behavior, then shoring up her level of motivation. You can cut calories and exercise all you want, but if you don't develop a strong emotional foundation first, everything you've built is likely to fall down like a house of cards. For long-term success, spend the time to make yourself emotionally healthy before you even think about adjusting your diet or joining a gym.
Building a new, healthier life for yourself is a lot like building a house: both require that you start by laying a foundation. Without a foundation to prop it up, a house cannot stand (at least for long). Likewise, without a strong emotional foundation, everything you achieve toward making your body over will not withstand the stress, strains, and temptations of daily life. The house, your body -- each needs a solid base.
So how do you build that base? It starts with four cornerstones. You might call them the mental equivalent of bricks and mortar: honesty, responsibility, commitment, and inner strength. They're the seeds of success for accomplishment in weight loss and, in fact, all areas of life. The reason is very simple: these four cornerstones provide you with what you need to stay resolute in the face of everyday challenges to your resolve. They also help you weather the storms that typically derail months and even years of effort. If you think about it, when someone fails to reach a goal, it's usually because there's been a breakdown in one of these four areas. But if you've got them all in check and are standing on steady emotional ground, nothing -- not relationship troubles, family crises, job stress, blows to your self-esteem, illness -- is going to keep you from achieving long-term success.
I want you to know, though, that honesty, responsibility, commitment, and inner strength are more than just concepts. Each represents a goal in itself, one that can be reached only by doing some serious soul-searching and self-evaluation. Much is often made about how difficult it is to eat right and exercise, but taking an honest look at yourself and working to change or fortify some fundamental aspects of your personality is an even greater challenge. So by asking you to lay the four cornerstones of a strong emotional foundation, I am asking you to gear up for what might be a tough, challenging, and perhaps even uncomfortable endeavor. Getting there may or may not be fun -- some people find that having those moments of self-revelation where everything comes together is quite wonderful, others don't.
But making the effort is entirely worth it.
Successful people who have made honesty, responsibility, commitment, and inner strength central to their very being have found that it changed them in ways they would never have imagined. That's because while, certainly, these are the keys to making your body over once and for all, they are also the keys to accomplishing anything.
As you go through the steps of conquering each cornerstone, you'll find you have the power to let go of the past and anything else that is stopping you from becoming the person you really want to be. I'm not going to kid you: the process can be rough. But make it through the emotional discomfort, and you'll find that you have emotional freedom and that the pleasure you can take in this empowering, life-changing experience will far outweigh the pain. If you're tired of feeling guilty about your actions and are disgusted with yourself for procrastinating, tired of feeling bad about the way you look, and fearful about the state of your health, this is the road you want to be on.
I want to qualify this a little bit before I go on. Just as there are exceptions to every rule, there are exceptions to the idea that most people need to do some soul-searching before they try to lose weight. Maybe you already have a good mind-set about eating and exercise, know yourself well, and take responsibility for your actions. Maybe you've just never had to be disciplined about eating and exercise before and simply need some help getting on to the right track. Perhaps committing to something isn't a problem for you as long as you have the right tools to work with. If you feel you don't need to spend the time working on your emotional foundation, then by all means move on to the next chapter. But it's not a bad idea to spend some time reading through the next sections just to reinforce the attitudes and actions that determine success (and failure).
So here's the deal: Take however long you need to be honest with yourself, assume responsibility for your actions, make a commitment to change your life, and use your inner strength to help you stick to your resolve. Then move on to the 12-week Total Body Makeover program and the task of achieving your goals. Believe me, years down the road, when you have transformed your body -- and kept it that way -- you won't regret taking this extra step in the least.
The First Cornerstone: Honesty
The process of change requires that you stop wearing blinders; you must be honest with yourself about who you are and why you do the things you do. It's funny how we can so often give an incisive psychological portrait of other people yet are frequently at pains to truly know ourselves. I'm asking you to be as insightful into your own psyche as you are into others'.
Lying to yourself is like having one big crack in your emotional foundation -- you're in trouble before you even get started. I've met people who've made a career out of deluding themselves and as a consequence never really accomplished what they wanted to. By making excuses, blaming others, putting things off -- and all the while telling themselves that they're not really doing the things that they are indeed doing -- they have doomed themselves to failure.
I can't stress enough how essential being honest about your strengths, your weaknesses, and even your past failures will be to your success. Recently I met with a client who was reluctant to answer any of my questions about his life. I wasn't trying to be nosy or to be a trainer/therapist. I was just trying to get a read on some of the issues that might be affecting his weight. I respected his privacy and certainly understood that it's not easy to share the details of your life with someone you barely know. But I also told him that when it comes to what he tells himself, reticence is a different matter. He didn't have to tell me what was going on, but not being truthful with himself would be self-defeating.
An unwillingness to open up and to experience the discomfort that kind of honesty inevitably brings is a huge barrier to success. This process is about self-discovery, and those who go through it change not only the behaviors that previously kept them from dramatically altering their bodies but the behaviors that hampered their lives in other ways, too. Sometimes what you find out about yourself is embarrassing; sometimes it's painful; sometimes it's just depressing. But when you have that "Aha!" moment -- "Oh, that's why I've been doing that!" -- it can be very freeing. Imagine trying to fix a lamp that suddenly goes off without checking to see if the lightbulb is burned out. Your chances of getting the light back on aren't very high. Same thing here: if you've tried to lose weight again and again without determining what is fundamentally causing the problem, you're working in the dark. It's just not going to happen. Oh, you might lose the weight for a while, but before you know it, you're going to put it back on.
The point of doing some honest self-exploration is not to beat yourself up about your shortcomings. Rather, it's to learn something that you didn't know about yourself or, if you did know it on some level, to officially admit it to yourself. When you make these discoveries, it's important not to just gloss over them. Don't just tell yourself, "Yeah, I guess I stopped walking after work not because it was so late when I got home but because I really preferred to watch Jeopardy!" Pause and think more about it. Do you really like Jeopardy! that much, or are you using it as an excuse? Are you lazy? Are you embarrassed to be seen "fitness walking" around your neighborhood because you think it calls attention to your weight? Are you afraid that your significant other will be angry at you for taking the time for yourself? Do you simply have no energy (a problem that might be remedied by switching your workouts to the morning)? What is really going on? Your assignment is to find out. Replay decisions you've made, both good and bad, and analyze them. It's the only way you're going to break ingrained unhealthy behavior patterns.
Here's the story of how one client of mine did it. She asked herself some hard questions, and the answers helped her get onto the right track.
Who's Your Boss?
A friend introduced me to Bob, and the two of us enlisted him to help us lose weight and get fit. I got off to a good start: six weeks into my program, my regular workouts and the changes I'd made in my diet were having a noticeable impact. But then things started to go wrong. I began missing some of my exercise sessions, and I had to confess to Bob that I wasn't making healthy meals as often as before. I didn't see this as my fault, though. My kids were rebelling against the new, healthier menu, and my husband was making snide remarks about there being nothing good to eat in the house. Even my mother-in-law made comments about me being away from home so much now that I was exercising.
When Bob asked me why I'd cut back on both my healthy meals and my workouts, I blamed it on all the other people in my life: my kids, my husband, my mother-in-law. He asked me if I really thought that it was their fault and not my own. I admitted that I have had a tendency to blame other people when things don't work. Bob then asked me to take a good hard look at the present situation and be truthful about it: If I were to keep foods in the house that would satisfy my kids and husband, did that mean I would have to eat them too? Couldn't I be frank with my mother-in-law about how much meeting my weight loss goals meant to me? I realized he was right and that I alone and no one else was in control of my situation.
Over the next few weeks, I made it a point to speak honestly with my family, and to my surprise they were very understanding once I made it clear what I was trying to do. It not only improved my relationship with everybody but also got them on my side. In just outside of a year, I met my weight loss goals.
Abby had been in denial for a long time, but by finally facing up to the truth about herself, she was able to recover her fitness gains and go on to achieve even more. What I'm suggesting, though, is that you begin by assessing where you're at so that you don't find yourself grappling with obstacles in mid-makeover. Abby recovered, but many people do not. They just end up back where they started, wondering why they can never get the body they want.
I'll tell you another reason why it's so important to be honest with yourself at the outset. I have had many clients who believed that they simply lacked the proper discipline to turn down their favorite foods, when in reality their dilemma was much more complex. Many people eat because something is missing from their lives, and they don't connect it to their bad eating habits. It may have been that they never took the time or wanted to expend the energy to explore their feelings. It may have even been that exploring their feelings was simply too discomforting or painful, so they buried those feelings away beneath platefuls of food.
Sometimes it's obvious when we lie to ourselves, but other times we are simply not self-aware. Either way, you can find the truth if you make an effort to investigate who you really are. Do you feel as though you are a victim of life's circumstances or do you feel that you have control of your life? What makes you happy? What makes you sad? Are your relationships with other people distressing or joyful? What is your family history like, and how has it influenced your behavior? Have you experienced something traumatic in the past, and, if so, what are the mechanisms you've developed to cope with it? Do you use food as an anesthetic to deal with emotional pain? If you do, why is food your drug of choice?
These are some of the hard questions you need to ask yourself. Many of the issues they touch on may be sore spots, but, the only way you're going to be able to move forward is to deal with the past, then find a way to put it behind you. Bury the truth, and you'll have cracks in your foundation before you even start building; grasp the reality of your own life, and you'll be on your way to changing your body and your health for the better.
Self-discovery, I should add, doesn't end when you reach a certain weight or size; it's an ongoing process. So even though the exercises that follow are aimed at helping you begin the task of learning the truth about yourself, you need to continue to honestly examine your attitudes and actions on an ongoing basis. Just as giving up on exercise or, say, returning to night eating can undo all the good that's been done, so can losing the self-awareness you develop at the outset of this program.
Finally, it's important to note that being honest with yourself also means telling the truth about your strengths, not just your weaknesses. Discovering and acknowledging your assets is part of the process because you're going to need to rely on those strengths to help you succeed. So as you go through the following exercises, be mindful of the positive features of your personality. We all have weaknesses, but we all have strengths, too.
Get to Know Yourself
People who are successful at weight loss have asked the hard questions and responded with straightforward answers. No rationalizations, no excuses. Instead of taking a cosmetic approach to the problem, they've gotten to the root of their behavior, making change possible. A weight problem or chronic unhappiness with your body isn't like a cut; you can't just put a bandage on it and hope that it will heal. While excess weight is evident on the exterior, it really stems from inside you, which means that you have to dig down deep to remedy the situation.
Recently I heard someone say that the hardest thing to do in baseball is to hit a pitch that's going 95 miles per hour. But people do it every day, he said, and the reason is that they know what's coming at them and can prepare for it. I think that's a perfect metaphor for this truth-telling process. Losing weight and keeping it off is one of the hardest things you can do, but the people who do it do so because they know what to expect. They know themselves, and they know how to prepare for their reactions in certain situations. Someone who knows herself will know that a family holiday dinner is going to make her revert back to her old ways of eating with childlike abandon, and she can prepare for it by bringing along healthful dishes that will help her control her portions. Someone who knows the truth about herself will know that she feels self-conscious in exercise classes -- so she'll find an individual workout she likes or a trainer to work with instead. The more honest you are with yourself, the better you'll do on this program.
If you're at a loss as to where to begin, the following exercises will help. I've profiled eight of the most common types of behaviors that lead to failure and indicate a need for some soul-searching. If one or more of the behaviors sound all too familiar, it's a call for you to ask yourself some probing questions. I'll guide you by giving you some things to think about, but you need to rely on yourself for the answers. Be completely honest even if it hurts. Personally, I think that writing things down really aids in this kind of soul-searching, but whether you want to record the answers to the questions you ask yourself or just mull them over is up to you.
If you've read any of my other books, some of the questions might seem familiar: Do you procrastinate? Are you an immediate gratification junkie? Do you put the blame on other people and make excuses for why you don't eat right or exercise? I ask them again not because I lack imagination but because after talking to hundreds of people about their weight problems, I know that procrastination, the need for immediate gratification, blaming, excuse making, and all the other issues that this section deals with are exceptionally common. One or more of them is almost always at the core of an overweight person's predicament. And these issues cut across all lines -- age, gender, race, profession, financial class. People from all walks of life deal with them.
This isn't to say that something other than the problems I identify here might be tripping you up. These exercises are limited in scope. Create other questions for yourself that are specific to your individual life. Think about things people have told you about yourself, both good and bad. Do they apply? Anything that allows you to discover more about yourself will help you with this endeavor. Believe me, the time you spend reflecting on what you think and feel will be time well spent.
I really want to drive that point home because many people feel that such exercises are a waste of time or that doing them is just not their style. Even a close friend told me that she had liked one of my earlier books but could never see herself doing the emotional exercises; she just wasn't the "type" -- though I believed she was exactly the type of person who actually needed to do them the most. Interestingly, she recently began working with someone who gave her very similar exercises to try; she's been doing them and making progress. So even if you don't consider yourself the soul-searching type, give them a try. What have you got to lose?
Cutting Corners: Are you always looking for the easy way out?
In matters of traveling from, say, Albuquerque to Santa Fe, taking shortcuts may be a desirable, even wise plan of attack. In matters of changing your life, however, cutting corners is simply foolish. Much as I'd like to tell you that there's an easy way to lose weight and keep it off, there is no easy way.
Now, be honest -- have you tried "miracle" schemes, diets, pills, or the like that promise to whittle your body down without any work on your part at all? Even if you haven't fallen for any of these gimmicks of the diet trade, ask yourself if you ever really work hard to achieve your goals. It doesn't even have to be weight loss-related. It could be anything, from something at work to something in your home life. Are you always looking to accomplish something by doing as little effort as possible? How many times have you taken shortcuts or done far less than your best when trying to achieve something? How did it work out? Were you satisfied with the results? Would you say you were successful? Be honest about why you took the easy route. Has it been a lifelong habit, or did something happen to change the way you approach a challenge? Ask yourself, too, why you cut corners. Out of laziness? Impatience? Fear of failing if you take a more challenging path?
To get anywhere in life, you have to be dedicated and hardworking. Cutting corners, on the other hand, is the sure road to failure. If you hope to accomplish anything worthwhile, you've got to do the work. And I don't just mean that you have to work at weight loss (though of course you do). Putting forth a valiant effort is the prime ingredient for success in everything, from maintaining a loving relationship and raising a family to advancing in a career. The hard workers succeed; the corner cutters typically do not.
So why aren't you working hard? If laziness is your problem, you need to pick yourself up and get going. Realize, too, that energy begets energy. You know the old saying "If you want something done, give it to a busy person"? The more you do, the more you can do, and I believe the same holds true when it comes to putting effort into reaching a goal. Once you get going, working hard will be easier for you. You'll get into it, and the lazy person in your past will seem like a stranger.
If impatience is your problem, consider that most accomplishments achieved overnight tend to fall apart just as rapidly. Patience, as they say, is a virtue, and while taking shortcuts may get you some rapid results, they're not results that will be likely to stick around. (See page 30 for more on the perils of immediate gratification.)
Some people cut corners for an entirely different reason: they feel that they're just not capable of doing the work. If that's true in your case, you've got to work on building your confidence. Believe in yourself! The work ahead may be hard, but you'll be taking it one step at a time, which will make it easier. Think of Tawni, whom you met in the introduction and who went from being bedridden to running marathons. She didn't jump out of bed and head for the finish line. She went step by step, building on each small success. That's what you're going to do, too.
Making Excuses: Do you always have a "reason" for not making good on your commitments?
Excuse makers are people who always, always find a reason for not doing what they've committed to do, whether that commitment was to themselves or to others. Excuse makers are never at a loss for a creative reason for their actions, but when you examine the justification it almost always breaks down.
Excuses are big obstacles in the road to change, though you may not even be aware that you're making them. Instead, you may just view them as "reasons." When you're late for an appointment or you break a promise to do somebody a favor, do you say, "I was late for lunch because of the traffic" when the real reason is "I was late for lunch because even though I know there is always traffic at this hour, I was talking on the phone and didn't leave early enough" and the bottom line was "I was late for lunch because I put my desire to continue a conversation before someone else's desire not to sit alone waiting at a table for a half hour"?
If you're capable of making excuses like that, you are probably also capable of making excuses for not exercising and eating right. How many times have you lied to yourself about why you didn't make it to the gym or why you ended up ordering a pizza for dinner? Do you tell yourself things like "Well, my ankle was kind of hurting" and "That's what the kids wanted for dinner" instead of admitting "I just didn't feel like working out" and "That's what I wanted for dinner"?
I think you know deep down when you're kidding yourself. Now's the time to own up to it and to investigate the real reasons behind your behaviors.
Excuses are a sure sign that you're not ready to do the hard work of change that lies in front of you. On the other hand, if you're willing to call yourself on your excuses and see them for what they are -- diversionary tactics you're using to keep yourself from feeling awful about making bad choices or ways to defend your current way of life -- then there's hope. You need to realize that making excuses affects not just you but others in your life. Sometimes excuses can be legitimate, but mostly they're just dishonest. If you're always giving yourself a pass (and asking other people to do the same), you're never going to get anywhere. So acknowledge your excuses past and present and resolve to remove them from your vocabulary.
People who succeed at weight loss give up on making excuses. They don't let themselves off the hook. They're not always perfect, but when they aren't, they take responsibility for their actions and then move on. Most important, they follow up on their promises in the first place so that they don't have any reason to fabricate excuses. If you want to succeed, you have to make excuses unacceptable. Eventually, your goal should be to rarely have a need to make excuses. Once you're committed to making your body over, you'll be so self-disciplined that you'll make good on your promises -- there will be no reason to have to try to justify your bad behavior because it won't exist. First, though, you need to look at the excuses you're throwing out now, own up to the real reasons for your actions, and contemplate ways you can change.
Giving Up Easily: Do setbacks routinely knock you off course?
Life is full of setbacks, but some people don't see them for what they really are: temporary, not permanent, hindrances. What happens to you when the gains you made in an area -- be it losing weight, mastering a sport or hobby, succeeding on the job -- either stagnate or reverse? Do you usually just give up? Do you feel discouraged and angry? How much of a perfectionist are you? Do you think that anything that can't be done perfectly shouldn't be done at all?
I think it's fair to say that nobody who has succeeded in any area of life has made it without experiencing setbacks. If you're disheartened by even small disappointments, you're going to find it difficult to reach your goals. Have you already let setbacks deter you in the past? And -- think carefully here -- was the setback really such a failure? What makes you feel as though you have to be perfect or that you won't be able to recover from a defeat? Now think about instances when you didn't let setbacks stop you from reaching your goal. When have you and when haven't you persevered, and what was the difference between the two experiences?
If you haven't noticed by now that life is a roller coaster, then you haven't been paying attention. You're going to have ups and downs -- everybody does -- and your success is going to hinge on how well you weather the downs. Many people I know use setbacks to let themselves off the hook. Consciously or unconsciously, they secretly want the opportunity to get out of the hard work of change or to confirm that they weren't meant to achieve what they set out to do. Sometimes these are hard traits to recognize in yourself. It's really important to acknowledge how you have dealt with disappointments in the past and to dig deep to understand why you let them knock you off course.
Don't be someone who lets setbacks invalidate all your previous efforts and keep you from making ongoing attempts to change your life. Don't use them as an excuse to give up. Not being able to sweep minor failures under the carpet and get on with life is a major reason for ultimate failure. Don't give in to the little failures -- they'll just turn into big ones. Keep your focus on the progress you've made. Be prepared to experience setbacks, to acknowledge them, and then to move on.
Part of this is being realistic. Know, for instance, that if one night you slip up and eat a piece of cake, you're not going to weigh three pounds more the next day. More important, there's no reason not to get back on track. Setbacks can be depressing, but don't use the disappointment you're feeling as a justification for overeating and forgoing exercise. Successful people have an ability to roll with the punches, a skill you're going to need to master if you too hope to succeed. Some people come by the skill naturally, but others have to develop it, and you can do that by focusing on the truth: setbacks are bumps in the road; they are not the end of the road.
Immediate Gratification: Are you impatient if you don't see results right away? Do you opt for what feels good now over what will feel good later?
If there is a litmus test for success at weight loss, getting fit, and changing your health profile, it's whether you constantly need immediate gratification. People who can defer gratification usually lose weight and become healthy and fit; those who live for immediate gratification usually don't. If you can't master the urge to satisfy yourself in the short term, you're going to have a long, hard road in front of you.
Impatience is rampant these days, and it's not hard to see why. We live in a "fast" society: everything from information on the Internet to food comes to us quickly -- more quickly than we might even have imagined just a few short years ago. It's no wonder, then, that most people are intolerant of anything short of immediate gratification. But are you chronically impatient? Does your desire to have everything right now extend to all aspects of your life? Are you anxious to be on the next rung of your career ladder when you've just started your new job? Do you want your financial investments to pay off overnight? Do you expect to be instantaneously accomplished at any skill, from tennis to painting, you take on yourself to learn? When it comes to your body, do you want to participate in an exercise class, go home, and see a different body in the mirror? Do you want to eat less on one day and weigh less the very next?
Getting what you want right now doesn't jibe with achieving weight loss; you must be willing to delay gratification. Many an immediate gratification junkie has given up because he or she didn't see change right away. These people are also prone to opting for what makes them happy in the short term over what will make them happy in the long term. How many times have you chosen a piece of cake for dessert because it offers instant fulfillment over the delayed satisfaction of having a thinner, healthier body? How many times have you skipped a workout to sleep late now, the prospect of being fitter later be damned? You can probably detect this same kind of behavior in other areas. Was there a time, for instance, when you bought yourself a new outfit instead of tucking the money away towards vacation? Are there times when, to the contrary, you've waited to get the things you want? How did that feel, and can you see yourself doing it again?
Deflecting temptation and delaying satisfaction aren't easy. But succeeding at making yourself over depends on your ability to delay gratification, to pass on temptations by looking and striving toward the future. This is one of the hardest parts, if not the hardest, of making yourself over. You have to be willing to make sacrifices. You can't (literally and figuratively) have your cake and eat it, too.
But if you've lived your life giving in to the need for immediate satisfaction, how do you change? One thing that helps is to constantly remind yourself of what your goals are and how important they are to you. When temptation strikes during this 12-week program (and it will!), picture yourself accomplishing what you've set out to and reflect on how gratifying it will be if you can just get past the moment of temptation. (And often it is just a moment -- sometimes if you just wait for a minute or two instead of acting right away, the desire will pass.) It can also help to surround yourself with reminders of what you want to achieve: an article of clothing you hope to fit into one day; pictures of yourself at a weight you aim to return to; entry blanks for 5K or 10K runs you want to participate in; pamphlets for hiking or biking trips you'd like to go on when you're fit enough. Anytime you're tempted to miss an exercise session or eat something you know isn't good for you, use these talismans to remind you of your goals. You might even try writing down what you're giving up and what, in the future, you'll get in return. Seeing it in black and white may make your choice much clearer.
Use imagery, too. When you're standing in front of the refrigerator deciding whether or not to dive into the leftovers from dinner, conjure up images of yourself reaching your goal. Keep that vision in your mind's eye, and it will help you get through tough times.
Focus on the positive things that are happening. Too often people have their eyes only on the main prize -- a fitter body -- when there are many smaller prizes to be had as well. As you get fitter, do you find yourself feeling better? Sleeping better? Do you have the energy to do things, such as playing with your kids, that you weren't able to do before? Have you discovered that you have the strength to lift weights? Have you become fit enough to increase your level of aerobic exercise? These are all important accomplishments that signal that you are becoming healthier -- and that really should be your number one goal. Good health is the ultimate reward.
Here is something else that I think will eventually get you through times of temptation: habit. As you get going on this program, you will develop new, healthier habits. If you show some strength -- and this, obviously, is the most challenging part -- pretty soon your need for immediate gratification will subside as your healthy habits take over. Sloughing off exercise will be less of a temptation when you're in the habit of working out. Likewise, eating foods that you know aren't healthful will be less alluring when you are used to consuming more nutritious foods. I'm not saying that temptation ever completely goes away, but if you can avoid caving in early on, it does get easier as you go along.
What I'm asking you to do here is to think differently about the fleeting pleasure of giving into temptation. Small sacrifices now will have a big payoff later. Stay focused on your goal of making your body over, and you'll be less prone to giving in to immediate gratification.
Laying Blame: Do you always find someone or something else to blame for your actions?
The easiest way to let yourself off the hook for something you're ashamed of or embarrassed about is to lay blame elsewhere. The recipient of your blame might be your job, your family, some nebulous force in the universe -- it doesn't really matter. If you're not taking responsibility for your own actions or failings, you are never going to be able to make changes and stick with them.
In my line of work, I see a lot of blamers. Blamers don't feel as though they're in control of their own life, and, like excuse makers, they're always trying to justify their actions. Think a minute about your obligations to others and whether they keep you from fulfilling your obligations to yourself. Do you devote the time you could be exercising to your work instead? Do you let your family's food needs take precedence over your own? There's no doubt that work and family should be priorities, but why can't your own needs also be satisfied? Isn't there a happy medium that you may be overlooking? Contemplate the family and work situations that have led you to give up on your goals. Be honest about whether you used them as excuses or they were legitimate. Say, for instance, that you give up morning walks because they didn't give you enough time to get the kids ready for school. Okay, so why couldn't you get up a half hour earlier or get a walk in later in the day? These are the kinds of things I want you to think about as you consider where you're laying the blame for your behavior.
What worthwhile thing have you accomplished in your life? Did you do so by making it a top priority? Chances are the answer is yes. Life just doesn't work any other way. It follows, then, that if you're going to change your life, you have to be among your top priorities. That means that if you don't accomplish what you planned to, you are to blame -- not anyone or anything else.
Reshuffling your life to put health and fitness goals front and center can be unsettling. But look at it this way: you are going to be a much better friend, spouse, significant other, parent, employee, employer -- whichever role(s) you play in daily life -- if you are happy and healthy. Maybe the airline metaphor is overused, but let me throw it out there anyway. There's a reason why, in case of emergency, the flight attendants ask you to first place the oxygen mask over your own face before assisting children: you're not going to do them any good if you can't breathe yourself! The same is true when it comes to your health: though you may think you are sacrificing your own goals for others, in fact, you are doing them a disservice by not being the best you can be. If you stay on track, your relationships with others will benefit tremendously, and you will also be setting a good example for people you care about and who care about you. This is especially important if you are a parent. Kids mimic their parents' behavior, and, especially in this age of increasing childhood obesity, it's essential to present them with good role models.
I know what you may be thinking: Reprioritizing is easier said than done! How can I reorder my work or family obligations? If you think creatively, there is always a way. You may have to be more efficient in your other responsibilities; you may have to let some things go and concede that, say, not everything in your house will be put away perfectly or that you will have to say no to covering for a coworker.
One woman who shared her makeover story with me for my Web site faced this problem. Her family protested when she stopped bringing junk food into the house, but when she stood her ground, they eventually came around. "I have a family history of diabetes, and not only did I not want that for myself, I didn't want it for my children or husband," she said. "Now I keep bags of oranges and apples and granola and flavored water in the house instead of chips and soda. The whole family has gotten healthier, and my husband has lost weight, too. At first I got a few frowns, but it's better now -- and there is still room for treats in our lives. It's just that now we go out and get ice cream on occasion instead of always keeping a gallon of ice cream in the freezer."
When you think about your obligations to others, be certain that you aren't using those responsibilities as an excuse to let yourself off the hook. If you're just being lazy or avoiding the unpleasant, be honest about it. You're never going to get to the next step if you don't face up to the real reasons why you've failed in the past.
Making Her Health a Priority
Many women continue to carry some "baby weight" after they have a child. Multiply it by five -- I am the mother of five children, ages 3 to 14 -- and you can see my predicament. After giving birth to my last child, I found that I weighed 421 pounds.
It may sound surprising, but I had never tried diets or exercise before. Three years ago, though, I was rummaging through a used-book sale and I came upon Bob and Oprah's book Make the Connection. I found that the book spoke to me. I looked through it and thought to myself, "I could really do this."
The book stresses that you really have to have a plan and that you should chart your food and water intake as well as everything about your exercise. Keeping a journal is something I still do today. At the end of the week, I look over what I've done and think about what I could have done better. I might, for instance, see that I ate a bran muffin for breakfast, which sounded healthy at the time but, upon reflection, I know deep down has too many calories. Next week, the bran muffin will be out.
So far, I have lost 140 pounds and while I'm not at my goal weight yet, I am continuing to work toward it. And my life has changed drastically. I have so much more energy, am a much more active person, and am eating much more healthfully -- as is everyone else in my family.
One of the best steps I took was to follow Bob's advice to have an eating cutoff time three hours before bedtime. The first month that I started the program, I didn't really see any weight loss, but as soon as I instituted that rule, I lost three pounds. That's probably because I was a big-time night eater. I would get up at three in the morning and eat a big bowl of Lucky Charms or Sugar Pops with full-fat milk. Now I'm rarely hungry enough to eat after my cutoff time, and when I am I know it's because I haven't eaten well during the day.
Changing my eating habits was a gradual process because not only did I have to alter my habits, I had to wean my kids off some of the foods we typically had in the house. So I did things like replace Froot Loops with Cheerios, and once the kids got used to it, they were perfectly happy. I stopped buying potato chips and started sneaking healthy foods like brown rice and beans into casseroles. I bought everyone in the household his and her own water bottle. I found that if there are no other options, they'll eat and drink what's there. If they put up a fuss, I just tell them, "This is for my health."
I began the exercise part of my program by walking. At first it was all I was able to do. Once I got up to speed, I joined a gym, and now I do a variety of different cardiovascular exercises. I work out on the elliptical trainer, ride the stationary bike, and walk on the treadmill. Once I started weight training, more inches came off. My weight actually went up a little, but I came down in body fat. I now go to the gym six days a week and strength train two to three times weekly.
When you have five children, it's not easy to fit in exercise, but I made it a priority. I decided that I was going to give myself permission to put myself first, because at the end of the day I'm able to do a lot more for other people when I'm also doing something for myself. So even when I was working, I made sure that I had some time to exercise. I schedule the kids' activities around the time I go to the gym or walk. I tell them, "This is the time I have available to take you places," and it seems to work out. They often walk with me, although they could keep up with me better in the beginning. Now that I walk faster, it's a little harder for them.
My being active has benefited my children. Now I have the energy to stay up in the evenings and watch the boys play basketball. We hike and backpack, and I play with the kids at the playground. Once I was on the swing, and a woman came up and asked me if I wasn't embarrassed to be on the swing because I was so heavy. Another time I was Rollerblading, and some people worried about what they would do if I fell. Would they have to pick me up? Despite the hurtful things that people say, I decided I was not going to just sit on a park bench and watch my children. My daughter jogs and one day I'd like to be able to run with her and to help my boys with soccer.
I want to be part of my kids' lives. I want my children to learn to be healthy and to question what's in the things they're eating. I do things like instead of ordering a take-out pizza, I make my own with whole wheat crust, lots of veggies, and lean Canadian bacon on top. My kids love it and have learned that healthy food can taste good, too.
One of the hard things about losing weight when you have a lot to lose is that people might not notice it at first. I lost about 70 pounds before people started noticing. And even if the numbers on the scale are dropping, they never feel like they're going low enough. So I had to learn to look for other ways to measure my success. One of them was my dress size. When I was a size 32 dress, I bought a 24, and now wear that dress. I'm going to buy myself a size 16 bathing suit this year in anticipation of where I'll be next summer. I also measure myself, because inches lost tell part of the story too. I still weigh myself, but only about once a month.
I have found that the more I stick to my program, the more committed I become. But before you become committed, I think you have to find a reason for doing what you're going to do. My reason was and still is simple: I want to be a good mom to my kids!
Losing weight has changed my life in ways that I would never have imagined. For example, people are starting to ask me how I've lost weight, and I tell them my story, which has helped me to make new friends -- being so heavy had tended to make me shy away from people in the past. I also never used to go to the movies because I couldn't fit into the seat, but recently I went with my kids. It was the first time in their lives that we all went to the movies as a family. All along they thought I was crying because of the movie, but I was really crying because I realized that I am now able to do "normal things" like sitting in a booth at a restaurant as well.
I think my relationship with my husband has also improved. I notice that I don't put myself down and that I accept the blame when things aren't going right. I have also accepted the fact that I have made some bad choices, not just in the foods I used to buy but in the way I spent money and paid the bills. I had bad habits when it came to those things, and now I budget our money and have learned to spend wisely. I used to buy things to comfort myself and to make myself feel better -- things like lotions and body sprays and perfumes. But now I am confident enough to say I am worth it. I am worth being happy, and I don't need those things to make me happy. Just by living my life I am happy, and by being productive I am making a difference in my life and in the lives of my children. Most people think that loving yourself is a given, but I never did. I see that I had no self-love because I wouldn't take care of myself. Now, though, I'm learning to love and accept myself with all my assets and all my flaws as well.
Enabling Saboteurs: Do you let other people prevent you from succeeding?
You just read about how family and other people close to you can sometimes interfere with the process of change. Sometimes, the problem is not so much that you're laying the blame on other people but that you are allowing other people to dictate the choices you make. Often people sabotage those they love. It may be, for instance, that you have a significant other who is not only unsupportive of your goals but who actively tries to interfere with them by making derogatory remarks, refusing to alter his or her schedule to help you make time for exercise, acting hurt or angry if you want him or her to change the type of food they make for you, even "not letting" you do things such as joining a gym or participating in a walking group. These are just some of things saboteurs do, sometimes unconsciously, although sometimes with full awareness.
And why, subconsciously or not, do they do it at all? Sometimes it can be jealousy -- they don't want you to become more attractive to other people, or if they lack willpower of their own, they're envious of your determination. Some people feel threatened by having someone close to them change because it forces them to look at their own situation and challenges them to do something about it. Some people are just used to exercising control over what their significant other does and doesn't do. Generally, what drives all of these things is fear: they are afraid of being left behind. You are improving yourself, which may cause them either to fear that you will elevate yourself right out of their sphere of influence or to fear that you will become "better" than they are because they haven't also done what they need to do to change.
Look at your own situation and think about it. Do you feel anxious when trying to cut calories or increase your exercise because you know that you're going to hear some smart remarks from -- or even experience the anger of -- your friends or family? Do friends or other people close to you try to entice you to eat foods that are fattening or to skip your workouts and go out to dinner instead? Do they tell stories about others who have tried to make healthful changes and failed? Open up your ears and eyes to see what's really going on.
You don't live alone in a cave; I know your family and social relationships are very important to you. But you have to take a look at those relationships for what they are. If someone is not being supportive of you or is actually trying to sabotage your efforts to lose weight and improve your health, that relationship needs to change. The best-case scenario is to get that person on board not only to support and encourage you to but to join you in getting healthy. You may find however, that you will have to reevaluate that relationship. Here's a story that illustrates the best-case scenario.
Dee and James's Story
Dee: I am five feet, two inches and used to wear a size 20. I had to shed about 60 pounds to reach my goal. Looking back, I realize that though I lost all that weight in about six months, it took about 12 years for me to find the will to change my lifestyle and my way of eating. All that time I had been dieting off and on, losing and gaining but never getting anywhere. I always wanted to be able to say "I did it!" I wanted to experience the joy. I wanted to be who I am now, wearing size 10. I had prayed for it for years. I had prayed alone, I had prayed with my husband. And then one day I saw Bob's article in O magazine, and it all came together. I said to myself, "This time I will be able to do it." I filled out the form and mailed it to Bob and Oprah.
It would not have happened without my husband's support. I told him that this was a turning point in my life -- that I had signed a Contract with Myself and that I needed him to help me keep my word. I asked him to play a role in my diet for six months. I asked him not to bring any food into the house that wasn't on my diet. No soft drinks, no sweets, no junk-food snacks, no fried chicken. James is a very good man. We have been married 18 years. He agreed on the spot to help me.
James: In the past, when Dee was dieting I didn't participate. She had tried several plans, none of them with lasting results. But this time I could tell it was different. She was serious. She explained that it would increase her chance of success if I followed the diet with her. I didn't think much about it. "Sure," I said, "I'll do it with you!"
Maybe it was my male ego, but I didn't think that I had to lose that much weight. I was 210 pounds at the time, with a 38-inch waist, and pretty confident about my looks. But then the first week, I lost about eight pounds, my clothes got looser, and I felt better. "Wow," I thought, "I have to keep doing this thing!" I lost 35 pounds, and now I have a 32-inch waist. I am in it for the long run.
Dee: The new eating plan was simple. A friend of ours who had lost a lot of weight had given it to me. We had to eliminate sugar, salt, bread, and soft drinks. We also had to give up fried food. We are from the South, natives of Tennessee, and have lived in Memphis, Nashville, and now Atlanta. Fried food is a tradition with us. We had to learn a completely different way of cooking. We began to grill fish, chicken, and beef.
James: We had a gas grill on our porch. We fired it up! We grilled in the rain. We grilled in winter. We grilled twice a day. We grilled food in advance and then put it in the freezer. It was great. And I was happy to help Dee prepare meals and be so much part of the whole process. Not to mention that the cleaning up afterward was much simpler than when she was cooking on a stove!
Dee: We removed all the products that would cause us to gain weight or tempt us to eat when we were not hungry. I stopped buying oil, quite a switch for me! I also stopped using a lot of butter -- I used to use so much in mashed potatoes and on the green vegetables. We got rid of the salt and instead learned to cook with herbs, spices, and garlic powder. We filled our refrigerator and pantry with healthy snacks such as applesauce, fresh pineapple chunks, and sugar-free Jell-O.
I realized that changing one's ways is a question of discipline. Without it, no one can give up old habits or learn new techniques. In general, I stopped thinking about taste and instead focused on the foods' benefits to my health and weight.
We told our teenage children that if they wanted to eat sweets or unhealthy food, they would have to buy their own single servings or eat at the mall. They agreed. Sometimes my son teases me and tells me that he loved me just as much when I was my fat, warm, and cuddly self!
Members of our extended family are supportive as well. At the beginning they weren't sure, but now they know that I mean it when I say that I don't eat fried food anymore. At the last family gathering, they grilled food instead of frying it. I was very impressed.
James: Our exercise routine has been the same for the last 20 years. Dee and I exercise on the treadmill at home for about 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. Maybe that's why, at our age and in spite of the excess weight we have carried around all these years, we have maintained good health -- we have good blood pressure, low cholesterol, and are not diabetic. I am 40 and Dee is 42, but we feel and look years younger since we changed our diet and dropped all those pounds.
Together, we have relearned how to eat. Now we pray every night out of gratitude. Our prayers keep us focused and motivated.
Dee had it pretty easy with James. She asked him to be supportive, and he didn't hesitate to jump on her bandwagon. Some of you might not have it so easy, but you still need to take that first step, which is to ask your partner, family, and/or friends to help you out. Let them know that you are serious about your commitment to change, then show them you are serious about change through your actions. Ultimately, you can really strengthen your relationships by starting a dialogue about your needs and asserting your independence. Remember, though, that whether your friends and family are supportive or not, the buck still stops with you. They may make it more difficult for you to accomplish your goals, but if you really want to do so, no one can stop you from achieving them.
If encouragement and assistance aren't forthcoming, you'll need to do some serious thinking about whether you want to continue to have a relationship with the person or persons who are being unsupportive. In some cases, you may need to move on. Many people have found that in fact the real change they needed to make was not what they ate for dinner, but something much larger: they needed to change or let go of a relationship, and once they did, making changes in their health-related behavior came a lot more easily. (See Angela's story on page 68.)
Procrastination: Do you never do today what you can put off till tomorrow?
Everybody puts things off once in a while, but chronic procrastinators put off just about everything. The trouble is, they often put off things so long that they never get around to doing them at all. How well does this describe you? If you are a procrastinator, why do you let things slide? Is it laziness, or is it fear of change? Replay some of the times when you've procrastinated, then ask yourself what stood in your way. It's really crucial that you be honest here because in order to succeed you have to break the cycle of procrastination, and to do that you have to understand why you drag your feet all the time. Dig down deep on this one: Are you simply avoiding the discomfort of making healthy changes, or are you worried that your life will change in ways that you may not be able to cope with?
I wish we had another word for lazy. The "L" word is just about the worst thing you can label someone in this society; no one likes to be called lazy. But I'm not talking about always-sitting-in-a-La-Z-Boy-chair-with-a-mai-tai kind of lazy, I'm talking about emotional laziness (okay, and when it comes to exercise, some physical laziness, too). You know things need to change, but you don't make the effort. You're always putting things off and taking the easy way out. Letting yourself off the hook. That's the kind of lazy I'm talking about.
If laziness is behind your procrastination, you have to change -- now. What's often overlooked about procrastination is what accompanies it: feelings of guilt and anger at oneself. So take the bull by the horns and get going. Start a cycle of positive momentum by taking small steps toward your goals each day and feeling good about each of those steps that you take. Make a list of all the things you need to get you going -- whether it be arranging for child care so you can exercise, joining a gym, stocking your kitchen with healthful foods, or visiting a farmers' market. Write down a start date for each, and then stick to that calendar.
If laziness is not your problem, is it fear? What are you afraid of? Change takes you from your comfort zone into the unknown, so it's not unusual to feel anxious. But to make your body over, you must be willing to live outside your comfort zone. That's a trait all of the successful folks you're reading about possess: they're brave.
Fear of change stops lots of people in their tracks. People who have this fear sometimes even breathe a sigh of relief when they encounter a setback because it allows them to go back to their old ways. But what is it that's so scary? For some people it's actually fear of success. Being overweight helps make many people feel as if they are invisible. Losing weight literally uncovers them, ending or at least reducing their self-imposed protection from everyday life. Often they seek ways to sabotage themselves so that they can return to the safety their excess weight provides. Or they just procrastinate and don't start at all.
If this is you, take heart. When you do find the courage to risk change and experience it in small doses, at your own rate, you'll be in for wonderful life changes. You can't know what the water is like until you put a toe in. So start small, but do start, and see where it leads. There aren't many people who can say that losing weight has been detrimental to their life. Sure, you will have adjustments to make and you will have to deal with people complimenting you and paying attention to you in admiring ways. Nice as that is, it can also make you wonder why they weren't paying attention to you before. It's a good question, but the answer doesn't really matter (and is best left to social scientists). What matters in the end is that by making your body over, you will be a healthier and -- odds are -- happier person. Ask yourself what you would leave behind if you lost weight. Probably nothing worth holding on to. Fear is not always an easy thing to overcome, but once you do, your life will change for the better.
Dwelling in the Past: Do you blame your current life on something that happened a long time ago?
There's no doubt that our past shapes us in fundamental ways. Yet none of us has to be defined by what happened in our formative years. By asking if you're dwelling in the past, I'm asking if you can't let go of long-ago incidents and relationships that affected you deeply. Has your self-image been shaped by earlier events to such a degree that it's hindering your future? How attached are you to the present? Do you feel paralyzed because you can't see yourself any other way than the way you are now?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to take some time and revisit the past. It may cause you discomfort or even pain, I know, but it's an essential part of the truth-telling process. Dredge up any memories that have to do with how you feel about your body. It may be related to how members of your family or those close to you treated you. For instance, some people who were taunted for being fat by parents or siblings end up staying that way because they use food to soothe away the pain of being ridiculed. It could be some type of abuse you were subject to, either physical or emotional, that's caused you to hide behind your weight. Maybe your problem has more to do with your familial approach to food. Many families equate food with love, and to reject food is to reject love. As you reflect, think about how you've learned to cope with any painful issues, incidents, or relationships. They may hold the key to why you're holding on to being overweight.
The past is past. It's time to start living in the present and making changes that will enhance your future. While certainly what happened long ago has influenced your life, that's no excuse for using it as a crutch. Successful people break the cycle of self-abuse that comes from clinging to unpleasant or even horrible experiences. Show some strength and stop blaming events, family, significant others, anyone or anything else for your eating and exercise habits. You can't change the past, but you can change how you deal with it. Join life. Life has both pleasures and pain, and you learn from both. If you're ready to do that, you're ready to begin making your body over.
Asking the Big Questions
Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring your life into focus. I was 39 years old and had ended up in the hospital in critical condition, my body overcome by diabetes. I'm a big man, six feet two, but the 310 pounds I was carrying was taking a big toll on both my body and my mind.
When the fog of that episode began to lift, I had to ask myself why I wasn't achieving what I desired. It wasn't as if I didn't try to be healthy, but I had a lot of the wrong ideas about things. I was lifting weights six times a week and eating lots of hamburgers and steaks. I'd work out for two hours and then go eat fried chicken, figuring that I was exercising the calories away. I tried different diets and even tried visualizing myself at a healthy weight, but the pounds kept piling on month after month.
When I was 18, I was applying for a summer job when I was approached by Oprah, who happened to be in the same place that day. She must have sensed my depression, because she offered some kind words. She told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be, and she made me promise I wouldn't give up. Just to be kind back, I agreed.
Twenty-two years later, when my struggle with weight brought me to the place where I had no choice but to maintain a healthier diet, there Oprah was again. This time, she was eighty-five pounds lighter and had kept the weight off for more than two years with help of Bob Greene. Part of my reeducation on eating was found in Make the Connection by Bob and Oprah. Reading through Oprah's stories about her own weight loss battles along with the encouragement and advice she and Bob provided helped walk me toward a healthier and happier existence.
Most important, I asked myself, "Why am I here, and how can I battle what I cannot see?" The answer came to me through keeping a daily journal. It allowed me to ask myself powerful and, at times, painful questions. Answering those questions became my private therapy session, helping me to take a good hard look at what I was truly battling. One of the things that I realized was that because of the abuse I'd suffered as a child I was trying to make myself big so no one could take advantage of me ever again. Not surprisingly, I was not succeeding at trying to be big and lose weight at the same time.
Since I made that connection, I have become 30 pounds lighter and much healthier. For the first time I realized what I was doing, and I was able to let it all go. I've learned to eat more nutritiously, and even though I sometimes eat foods I know I shouldn't, I have been able to maintain a healthier diet. I've gone from taking insulin three times a day to twice a week. I do cardiovascular exercise every day, generally doing 20 to 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes to an hour in the evenings. In the summer and spring I walk, and in the winter and fall I do tae bo. I also work out on the treadmill and elliptical machine and do wind sprints on the track. I've cut back my weight training to one day a week (for some reason lifting causes my blood sugar to rise). I have 20 more pounds to go before I achieve the body I've been visualizing, but I'm making progress.