October 22, 2009

Thanks, Yoda - I'll Take It From Here

Photo: AndresRueda

My brother once dated a woman who had four sons. Her "names" for them were Numbers One through Four. Charming, I know. You're captivated already, aren't you? Same with me. My husband and I have a son too and whenever we were in the presence of this woman she would launch into some parenting issue and end with the same, "and that's my advice to you about boys." Well, uh, thanks Yoda, but it's not like we even asked for your advice so why don't you mind your own business. Happily, once she felt secure with our parents' approval (they didn't like her either) she ignored us completely and instead spent all her time trying to solidify that all-important parent-girlfriend bond with those Zen master qualities of hers. To everyone's relief, she life-coached her way out of our lives and was soon off advising others in a galaxy far, far away. There's nothing that can clear a room faster that a know-it-all Mensa poseur - with the possible exception of the clam dip turning. Call the Algonquin and book that round table - party of one.

It's easy enough to blow off unsolicited advice because we've become pretty good at figuring out who's the real McCoy versus some pontificator who loves the sound of their own voice. People love to give advice - especially on topics with which they have little to no experience - such as childrearing, making money and interior design. As we continue to mature and have managed to stay out of jail, hold down a job, have kids, avoid Social Services/police interventions in relation to said kids, we begin thinking that we are the masters of our domain. Maybe our thinking starts becoming a little rigid (especially when children are thrown into the mix) and we settle into some hard and fast routines.

Then the day arrives when your doctor says you've got to do something proactive to improve your health. And you say, "I don't need no stinkin' advice - just give me a pill." You've gotten yourself this far without anyone's help and you figure you'll be just fine from here on out. But you're not fine and the physical problems continue to mount. The doctor says again that you must lose weight or be more active and still you resist. Hey - who knows better what you need than you? Certainly not some highly educated, trained professional with years of experience on her side.

When the day comes that you get winded from just tying your shoes or don't like having to whip out the Vaseline to wedge yourself into a restaurant booth, you decide to join a gym. You sign up for the complimentary workout session with a professional trainer. He or she shows you how to work the equipment and tells you that weight loss is 30% exercise and 70% diet. And you smile and nod and think to yourself, "I know what I'm doing. Thanks for the input, though." And because you love the novelty of it all, you invert that equation and make it mostly about the exercise and ignore the diet altogether.

After a little time passes you find that you're not making any progress at all. You still fell sluggish and look ten years older than you should. You always come to your defense first and divert blame away from yourself...until one day you're honest enough to finally confront your own flawed thinking. "Hmmm, why would I go to a doctor and not take her advice?" or, "I haven't lost much weight so maybe that trainer really did know what he was talking about. Maybe I really don't have all the answers." It's a good day when you've made the distinction about taking advice from your brother-in-law and taking advice from your doctor.

When your accountant says you owe money to the IRS, do you take that as a suggestion or do you pay up? Unless you love the look and feel of cold stell window treatments, you do what he says. Ever try to remove your own appendix? Give yourself a root canal? I certainly hope not. That's what professionals are for. And so it should be in respecting those professionals and their advice on how to improve your life through diet and exercise.

I know it touches a nerve with a lot of us when we're told we're overweight. We immediately become defensive and our guard goes up and rarely comes back down again; keeping us trapped in this situation. Perhaps it's because we're living in such a superficial society that places way too much importance on how we look versus the more complex and worthy attributes like kindness and compassion. It's hard NOT to take it personally. But if taking our own advice hasn't gotten us to a better place then it's probably time to start listening to the experts.

Start by taking the emotion out of it (and obesity has a lot of emotion tied up in it) and think of it as any other health issue that needs attention, like a bad appendix or tooth. These people know what they're doing and they're trying to help. Isn't that why you went to them in the first place? To quote a famous movie line, "It's nothing personal, it's just business."


  1. Great advice...except the taxes part, if I don't pay my taxes I may end up at the head of the IRS...it could happen!

  2. Great post. Very true that we sometimes allow ourselves to get trapped by our own pride of thinking we know better than the professionals.

  3. There is so much emotion & self hate that gets caught up in all of this & being overweight or obese. Yes, people need to do the right thing BUT they do have to get that mental stuff straight. Sometimes it appears easy... eat better, move, don't eat more calories than you burn off... but it often becomes more complex.

    I am not making excuses for the people being overweight, just that the mental sometimes holds us back & yes, we need to get past that part or resolve it. Whatever it takes to get healthy.

  4. I have a son and a daughter. My son would probably love it if I started calling him Number 1.

  5. @Jodi - I couldn't agree more! Tackling any big life changes - losing weight, quitting smoking - really requires getting it right in your head first. And as you say, that is the key. Trying to force the physical issues without first finding the pieces of the mental/emotional puzzle often turns into an exercise in futility.

  6. That's nice. But I think I know what I'm doing thank you very much.


  7. Excellent advice! It's just so hard to take the emotions out of being overweight. But it's true, I couldn't change my bad habits until I began to look at them objectively. Thanks for the insightful post.

  8. Fabulous. Exactly what I needed to hear.

    I agree with you, but it's also the emotional aspect in emotional eating. But, that's a different topic isn't it? Or, is it?

  9. It's funny how easy it is to ignore the obvios truths offered form people who are jsut trying to help. I remember thinking I knew better.
    Then I realised that the whole eat less and exercise wasn't just bollox...it was true.
    GO figure :)

  10. Boy, do I disagree.

    Weight problems are fundamentally different from owing money to the taxman or even from quitting smoking.

    There are a myriad of reasons why people are overweight. Many of them have nothing to do with choice. Some people can eat whatever they please and maintain their weight. They may not actually be "healthy", but they're not overweight. Many people have to be hyper-vigilant and gain weight easily without eating huge amounts of food.

    We know that women's weight varies a lot more than men, that women even burn fewer calories at rest than men, that women actually need some fat on their bodies in order to menstruate, get pregnant and nurse their babies. Do you really think that all the women who gain weight and have trouble getting it off after pregnancy are lazy so-and-sos? I don't.

    Then there are all the emotional issues related to food. Without solving some of those deep-seated issues, stopping the binges is just a pipe dream.

    And then, there is the most basic of all issues: you have to eat to stay alive. I know it's difficult to quit smoking, but you can actually survive without smoking--in fact, you'll be in much better shape if you stop. But no one can stop eating completely. You die. For many people, food is the enemy and it's mighty tough to have to have let that enemy into your body several times a day without totally going off track, especially if your overeating is related to emotional issues.

    Weight loss or weight control is one of the most complicated issues we face in the Western world. If it were simply as easy as listening to your doctor's common sense advice, we wouldn't see so many overweight or obese people around us. But we do.

    The success rate for losing weight and keeping it off is abysmally low. Maybe less so for all the people who regularly participate in the weight loss sites, but we know what the truth is for the vast, vast majority of people: some will lose weight, maye only 5% will keep it off.

    I'm not trying to discourage anyone here. All I know is that finding one's way and successfully slaying the weight monster is an incredibly personal and often complicated process. So far, statistically speaking, our society is doing a great job at losing the battle.

  11. I do agree that we do need to listen to the professionals and take their advice (trust me, I'm a lawyer...)- but in the end each of us is left having to actually do something about it personally. And it is hard (simple, but hard).

    oh and should I feel bad about referring to my daughters as thing 1 and thing 2?

  12. Great post. I like your insights.
    Healthy Lifestyle

  13. Look at what George Forman named his kids!!

  14. Terrific post.

    Thanks for a sage and witty approach.


  15. You know, there's a whole blog dedicated to stories about how, when it comes to people who are overweight, many health professionals stop being so "professional" and lose focus on everything but the number on the scale. http://fathealth.wordpress.com/
    Maybe that's part of why people don't take that advice - because they've heard it at every doctor visit since they first crossed the invisible line into "fat", whether it was relevant to their complaint or not.

    Besides, losing weight has not, as far as I know, been proven to lower risks for anything in the long term. Being at a lower weight to start with has been correlated with lower risks for some things (and higher risks for others), but those aren't the same. The problem is that there's no method of weight loss that's effective at keeping the weight off for 5+ years for more than about 5% of the population. Lots of methods can lower your weight for periods less than that, but there's nothing that meets that gold standard. So there's no studies about the effects of losing weight in the long-term, because there's no way to get a large enough random sample.

    That said, exercising and eating a healthy diet are great! But that has nothing to do with weight loss. Plenty of fat people eat healthy diets and exercise, but they're still fat.

  16. It seems that our reception to advice over some unwelcome fat issues correlates with the extent of denial over our weight and the reasons why we are overweight to begin with.

    A-1 post, Gigi!

  17. I need to lose weight? LOL!

  18. Weight issues and issues of depression go hand in hand...we cannot admit we are overweight, because we perceive that it has a stigma attached to it, no differently than we perceive a stigma with depression.

    We need to concern ourselves with our HEALTH. If you had a head cold, or arthritis or cancer, you would take steps to get healthy. Why do we treat weight issues and mental health issues like they're any different????? Your health is your health.

    Thanks for posting this.

  19. Okay.

    Disclaimer: whenever I say "you" here, I don't mean any specific "you," I swear.

    Full disclosure: I have a pretty severely f'd up body image, the tl;dr version involves being told repeatedly by people whose opinions mattered to me that I was capital-F Fat when I was 14, 5' 4", and 130 pounds until I started believing it and later on, living with a guy for four years who basically did the same thing; I'm now 35, 5' 4" and 165 pounds and a size 10-12 which I logically know is not what any reasonable person would consider Fat, and yet every once in a while, mostly when some unreasonable person decides to get up in my business about something I'm putting in my grocery basket or ordering at a restaurant, or when some unreasonable person makes a comment about how fat someone like, say, Serena Williams is, that has a tendency to slingshot me right back to thinking "wow, maybe I really am just f'ing fat."

    That said, I really, really hate it when someone looks at me and assumes I never exercise and I eat nothing but fast food, based entirely on the size of my body. It doesn't happen as often as I did when I was pushing 200 pounds, but yes, it still happens.

    Yes, I could probably stand to eat better, and who couldn't? But I do make an effort to eat well. Two of my favorite things in the world are spinach and broccoli. And I guarantee I probably get more exercise in one day than most of the people who think my weight is their business get all week. I run three or four days a week; I'm up to a minimum of about four miles a day with a six-or-seven mile long run on the weekend (except when I decide to take a 20-mile bike ride instead). I haven't driven a car in over ten years. I bike. Everywhere. Between five and fifteen miles, every single day depending on how many errands I have to run, with anywhere between ten to thirty pounds of crap in a backpack or bungee-corded to my package rack.

    I don't sit on the couch stuffing donuts in my face all day, I don't appreciate it when someone assumes I do, and I don't think it's unreasonable for me to get angry about being called something I'm not.

    I also hate it when someone looks at me and tells me how unhealthy I am or am going to be, as if they actually care. Never mind the fact that I haven't taken a single sick day in over two years and the last time I did, it was a combination of jet lag + plane germs that knocked me on my ass for three days.

    What people need to get through their heads is that "fat" does not automatically equal "unhealthy." "Fat" + "sedentary" + "crappy diet," maybe, but here's the important part once again: not all fat people are sedentary and eat crap and you have no business assuming they do. I don't know why this is so hard for some people to understand. I really don't.

    I can and do control two things: what I eat, and how much I move. I can't control how my body reacts to that, and I am not about to resort to stupid, dangerous crap like fad diets or drugs just because a healthy diet and a good amount of exercise isn't enough to whittle my weight down to some arbitrary number on a chart.

    So I'm sorry, but when someone makes assumptions about me that aren't true, and when that person decides to say stupid, demeaning, hurtful crap to me based on those assumptions, I have every right to get defensive. I am not lazy or unhealthy or selfish or stupid or any of the other negative things some people equate "fat" with in their heads, and I have every right to get mad when someone calls me such.

    In conclusion: mind yer own beeswax about other peoples' weight.


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