Most people who are overweight or obese have an unhealthy relationship with food. I believe that my unhealthiness and “fatness” were due to three fundamental issues: (1) lacking knowledge in basic nutrition, (2) lack of exercise and physical activity, and (3) a lack of respect for myself, leading to the consumption of food for pleasure rather than nutrition. I didn’t become fat overnight; I got a little bit fatter each and every day until I tipped the scale at just under 210 lbs.
A close friend of mine underwent weight loss surgery about a year or two ago and has lost a lot of weight since. I remember speaking to her not long after the procedure and she shared with me that the most striking side-effect of the surgery was the emotional toll it had on her. She could not eat a lot of the foods she enjoyed before and she had to eat very, very small portions. I can only describe this emotional side-effect as a break-up with food.
Chocolate is like the crystal meth of the food world. This may seem a bit extreme but there is a reason that the total value of chocolate confectionary sales in the UK was £2.5bn in 2014, and this doesn’t even include sugar confectionary. Discovering this statistic made me feel like a member of a national group of chocolate addicts. Chocolate doesn’t just taste good; for a lot of people, it feels good. In brief, chocolate contains an amino acid from which dopamine is derived and dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is a source of feelings of pleasure and happiness in the brain. In addition to feeding your brain more dopamine, chocolate also contains phenylethylamine; a mood elevator that causes a slight increase in pulse and raised blood-glucose levels. If there is such a thing as a ‘food drug’, chocolate is it.
Imagine trying to break up with an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend and seeing them literally everywhere you go; the grocery store, the gas station, the shopping mall, the pharmacy, the workplace, the train station, the television, and the list goes on. For someone who has an emotional relationship with food or who is addicted to food, it is like a break-up but without the Ben and Jerry’s. One side of your brain is telling you that you will enjoy consuming the chocolate bar (or whichever junk food you are addicted to) due to the enjoyment of the taste but the other side of your brain is telling you it has zero nutritional content and will not contribute positively to your body in any way, shape or form. You experience this perpetual internal conflict, and making the right decision may seem easy to people who have never struggled with their weight, but for someone who has, it is damn hard.
To those individuals who criticise overweight people for having a lack of self-control or a lack of willpower; to some degree, you are correct. When I was heavily overweight, my self-control was virtually non-existent. The answer was always ‘yes please’; I ignored the consequences and a lot of the time I was in denial. However, people who commit to actually losing weight pretty much commit to undergoing their own self-lead rehab and cognitive behavioural therapy, where they change the entire way they think about food and exercise. This requires a huge amount of self-control and willpower. Food is not for pleasure; it’s for nutrition. Exercise is not punishment for that food you ate; it’s a way to keep your body fit and healthy.
Go to Youtube and type in ‘Jillian Michaels’ and a video of this energetic, feisty, slightly-insane personal trainer will come up in your search results. I watched this video over and over and when I was in the gym, I actually closed my eyes and pretended that Jillian Michaels was right there next to me, screaming at me to keep going. I used to have a chart from a health magazine which showed me how long I would have to run or exercise for in order to burn off a chocolate bar or a packet of pretzels or a slice of pizza. After I quit smoking and started working out, I began to walk everywhere and took the stairs whenever I could. Making small changes like this can make a big difference in the long run. Remember, it’s not a phase; you are changing your lifestyle and making adjustments to your daily routine. Walk the long way home. Don’t walk down the candy aisle when you are grocery shopping. Go and volunteer at a homeless shelter on a Friday night instead of going clubbing. These are just some examples of things I did and I will give you many more in future posts. To this day I am thankful and grateful for all the people who helped me during my transformation. If you’re trying to change, don’t wait until tomorrow; start now. “People underestimate their capacity for change; there is never a right time to do a difficult thing.” -John Porter
Next Week… “Doctors Can’t Lie to You”