The question I get asked first and the most is, “What made you decide to start?”
I get the question often on the Internet but as of late, I’ve attended a couple of lectures by my new boss (Dr. Jeffrey Galvin, MD) and he’s shared my story with the crowd, so I’ve been getting asked in person. Almost every single person who introduces themselves asks that question immediately after. It just dawned on me tonight why that is.
Some of them may be asking me out of curiosity but a lot of them must be asking me how to be dedicated to something when every bone in your body is telling you not to be. I could see the desperation in some of their faces that I was mistaking for amazement until I really started thinking about it. There’s an aura attached to weight loss that it is somehow hard or an extreme challenge; one of the most difficult things that someone can do. Whenever someone asks me what made me decide to start, I usually come back with, “I just had enough one day.”
It’s a programmed response; something that I just learned to say quickly to move the conversation along to the next point. It’s the weight loss equivalent of the guy at the McDonalds window giving you his standard canned spiel before the order can happen. While my standard answer remains perfectly true, it’s kind of a cop out. Every person who asks me is a unique human being whose happiness might hang in the balance. My standard canned response might not be enough to convince someone that they can do it too. So here goes my attempt to come up with a new, better answer.
What made me decide to start losing weight?
I spent years developing a defensive shell that solidified around every emotional response that I could have. If I was sad, it was someone else’s fault — or some event’s fault. If I felt happy, it was just the brief and unendurable calm before another storm of depression. If I felt handsome, it was because I saw someone uglier than me. If I felt ugly, it was because the world forced me into a corner; shunned me by making me fat and then abused me for it. I was constantly preyed upon by food conglomerates, the diet industry, and all of the skinny people; I was the victim of genetics. It was everything and everyone else’s fault and never my own.
What made me decide to start losing weight was ultimate cynicism. I became so cynical that I literally ran out of things to hate so I started to finally hate myself. I finally began to see myself as fallible and as my own worst enemy. It was only then that I became vulnerable. I stopped caring if whatever diet I tried was unsafe because I was ready to die anyway. I stopped caring if exercise would give me a heart attack. I read a post on a forum about a low carb diet, flung my arms out to the side, and stepped back into a trust fall.
I was either falling back into the embrace of life or I was entering a death spiral that would only last a few moments and then it’d be over. Fortunately, it was the former. Along the way, I discovered happiness for the first time in my life and I learned that instead of running from fears, the best course of action is to stare them down and run them over. I also learned that food is for fuel (^) and that in order to experience life the way I want to experience it — standing on top of it like the apex of a conquered mountain — I needed to treat it as such.
I eat food because it’s essential for me to keep breathing, which is essential for me to experience the good things in life. Food is just another chore like washing dishes. The only reason it needs to taste good is so that your body won’t reject it. We hold it in such high regard because we’ve gone and attached it to every good memory that we have — to every social event. It’s attached to almost every novel moment in our lives. We’ve trained our brains that food is what causes the happiness when we feel it. Our brains are rewarding the experiences that make us feel the best and every one of them includes food, so what do you think is happening?
Is the family around the table making you happy or is it what’s on the table? Is it the people smiling and laughing at your birthday party or is it the cake? Is it the crowd at a baseball game that’s exciting or the smell and taste of hot dogs? Food is part of the experience but it’s so available to us now that we learn to try to keep recreating happiness by over-indulging in the food. It’s cheap and it’s good for a quick fix. I’ve learned that successfully losing weight is about detaching food from my most novel experiences. I don’t have cheat days. I don’t cheat on holidays. When I feel happiness, it’s real, and the only way to feel it again is to go through the experience again, which makes me hunger for that instead of Christmas cookies.
So when you ask me what made me start and I reply, “I just had enough one day.”
What I really mean is, “I became so cynical that I finally ruined the only thing left that made me feel happy and it happened to be junk food.”