At first you notice that your clothes begin to shrink. Then you realize at some point that you are quickly getting out of breath after walking short distances or climbing a few flights of stairs. You no longer have the energy for activities you used to enjoy or tasks you handled once with ease. Maybe you begin to feel older and less agile than you expected at your age. Or you are diagnosed with a chronic illness and are now dependent on certain medications. If you could undo all that, wouldn’t you?
Weight loss is like any other health story. Something went wrong somewhere along the way. You could have read the signs and recognize the symptoms. You should have paid more attention and taken action sooner. Now things keep getting worse, first insidiously, then more dramatically. Eventually, there is no denying that something needs to be done.
Is Not a Single Act or Event
But the Journey of a Lifetime
If you recognize the scenario, you are not alone. Nearly two thirds of Americans are overweight today. One third is considered obese. The trend continues unabated. Year after year obesity rates keep going up with no end in sight. Many chronic diseases, like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma and even certain forms of cancer, are directly connected to weight problems. We are facing a serious concern for our public health.
But these are just statistics. What is rarely mentioned behind the numbers is the amount of real suffering and desperation that could be perfectly prevented with a few healthy lifestyle changes.
Healthy living as a journey
As a clinical dietitian and health counselor I believe strongly in the power of positive lifestyle choices. Living more health-consciously may not save you from ever getting sick or even allow you to live longer, but the quality of your life will definitely improve tremendously, not only with regards to your physical well-being but in many other aspects as well.
The vast majority of my clients struggle with weight issues and weight-related illnesses. Doctors refer them to me as their last best hope “before the knife.” (I suppose the latter refers to gastric surgery.) Many have tried and failed to manage their weight for a long time, in some cases since childhood.
Trying to lose weight can feel like a long journey, even an odyssey. You start out full of hope, but you don’t really know where it will lead you. I like the metaphor of the journey because that’s what healing and regaining one’s health really is. Not a quick fix but an ongoing process that takes time and care.
Like with any trip, voyage, tour, expedition or pilgrimage, you have to plan ahead. You have to make a decision that this is where you want to go, the path you want to take and that it is the right time to do so. There are lots of important issues to be considered, some of which may play a decisive role in the success or failure of your endeavor.
Even if you can see clearly the road in front of you, don’t think you’re going to have a quick and easy run. Staying healthy and fit is a challenge that gets harder over time, not easier. You will be asked to make serious commitments and muster a lot of stamina to keep going. At times it may require more than you initially expected. So pace yourself. Don’t take on too much at once. This is not a race that eventually comes to an end, whether you win or lose. Be patient with yourself, but never stop moving forward.
Is this the right path for you?
One of the reasons why many traditional health programs fail is that they require everyone to play by the same rules and apply the same techniques. A one-fits-all approach may not work for you. And why should it? For example, eliminating snacking between meals as part of weight management can be easy for some people who love their work and immerse themselves in their projects. It may be harder for those who have boring jobs. A regular exercise regimen may not fit into a hectic schedule, but it can be ideal for retired people. Some folks are more likely to succeed when they feel supported by a like-minded group. Others move better at their own pace.
If your actions don’t match your personality or the situation you’re in at a particular time in your life, you will not likely be able to realize your intentions, no matter how hard you try. Surveying the territory, if you will, is your first crucial step. Look for the direction that fits you and then stay the course.
Here is another important point I want you to consider: When you try to make major changes in your lifestyle- and eating habits, don’t get stuck too much with the details, like analyzing your personal preferences, e.g. why you like meat and potatoes better than tofu and rice. Look for something more fundamental. Keep in mind that your “likes” and “dislikes” have not developed by chance. What stimulates you and gets your attention is closely related to who you are, not just physically, but also intellectually, emotionally, socially and everything else that makes up the fabric of your being.
Don’t travel alone
I also want to encourage you not to do the hard work all by yourself. Talk to your family and close friends and include them as much as possible in the process. They too will be impacted by your efforts and the changes you will undergo over time. You will need their loving support when the going gets tough.
Keep in mind that, in some ways, you will become a different person. Sometimes, you may even feel like a stranger to them. Take those effects into account and communicate clearly with your loved ones about the potential consequences for your relationships. Those who truly love you will want nothing but the very best for you.
Good luck and bon voyage.