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Archive for July, 2012

If you’re like me, you get email. Lots of email. Significant amounts of email that come flooding in on multiple accounts. I get all sorts of messages every day and I am really good at ignoring all but the most important ones. If I spend more than 2 seconds on an email, it must be pretty important. However, there are some emails that I do like to look at even though I may never want to receive them again. These are the “special rewards” messages that come from places with loyalty programs. Specifically, restaurants with loyalty programs. Once upon a time, if there was a frequent diner card or special program offered by a restaurant, chances were I was on it. They are great ways to find out about new menu items, specials, discounts and, don’t forget, the free dessert offers whenever a birthday month rolls around. I get offers on Italian, BBQ, Pizza, Mexican, Burgers, traditional American comfort food, Asian, Thai, ice cream, mega chains and local places. I get information in the form of newsletters and updates about the newest must-eat-here-now! places. I get offers from groupon and livingsocial all about foods that I can get at great discounts. I get special offers from manufacturers who know that I have consumed their products in the past. It seems like a never-ending barrage of messages about things that I should consume if I want to be happy or treated or be part of the “in” crowd. Stumbleupon is always making sure I know about the newest food blog entries or recipe web sites since I checked off “food” “eating” “cooking” and “recipes” when I created my profile there. Every single one of these emails or offers reminds me of the behaviors that led me to the state I’m in today. Each one is a warning.

The marketing of food is huge. Billions of dollars are spent every year to get us to buy and eat foods that are, for the most part, very poor choices for what to put into our bodies. Marketers are very talented when it comes to presenting foods in a way that triggers a desire for a reward. After all, “Why wouldn’t I want to go get that new 1500 calorie meal from Joe’s Super Food Family Fun Time Emporium? It’s $5 off! That’s a great deal. I’m saving money. And, did you see the picture? Oh my God, it looks so amazing and fresh and delicious. Why are we still here and not in the car? Go go go!” See how that works? Create a perceived reward and the brain runs after it.

Now, half the time when I open my email, I’m reminded of how I was living. I see messages telling me about all the wonderful things I could have if I only listened to the marketer’s message. After all, they value me and want to be my personal friend. They wouldn’t make an offer like this to just anybody would they? Yes. They would. They do. All I am is a big, fat reliable source of income to the marketers. These messages remind me of that.

The other day, I was talking to my son about this. He was looking at a picture of a hamburger that was blown up to have an ant’s eye perspective. I was explaining to him how the burger in the picture was probably not even real. He was surprised when I told him that marketers often use plastic components to get the “more real than reality” look. I asked him what this burger would look like if he were to order it and have it brought to him. Even though he doesn’t eat burgers, he understood that what comes from the kitchen looks nothing like what’s on the menu. I ended the conversation by reminding him that the menu isn’t selling a burger, it’s selling the idea of a burger. That’s all they need to do is put a thought in your head and then let it mutate into a desire and an action. After the idea is in your head, their work is done.

My goal now is to keep the marketers out of my head. Lately, I’ve been trying to unsubscribe or filter these messages into the trash. While it is nice to have a reminder of what I did, I don’t think it’s a good idea to expose myself to these messages. It’s the mental equivalent of pushing myself away from the table and saying, “I’m done.” That’s another lesson I’m learning but it will have to wait for another post.

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If I could draw your attention to the upper right corner of this blog, you will see a notification about my weight as of my most recent weigh in. Today, it displays 10 pounds lost. While I am extremely  pleased to see that number there on the screen it’s not entirely accurate.

When I started this weight loss thing the first time around, I began at 330. This time, I started around 333. In reality, I’ve lost 13 pounds. Regardless of the real number though, the fact is that I’m seeing some really positive results. It’s been a challenge at times to stay focused and do the right thing but other times, it’s been as easy as possible to make the right decisions. That’s why I just posted the Zen Proverb that my Zen Center shared on their facebook page. Sometimes it’s hard and frustrating and feels like it will never work. Other days, it’s second nature to just sip on some water and walk and wave to the pounds as they fly away from me like something from a Dr. Who episode

But, life can’t always be like the best British sci-fi show to ever grace the air waves. In my experience, most of the time it’s not. So, it’s up to me to continue to do the right things at the right times and celebrate whenever I reach a marker that tells me I’m on the right path. And that’s how I found myself cheering me on as I looked down at the scale this morning and saw it stop at a number much lower than it was a few weeks ago. With the 320 number now firmly under my belt (that’s a weight loss joke there, why aren’t you laughing?), I feel prepared excited to get to the next big number. 310, here we come!

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A Zen Proverb

My Zen Center recently posted this on their facebook page.

Once a student went to the Zen Master and said, “My meditation is horrible!! I feel so distracted…. my legs hurt… sometimes I fall asleep. It is just horrible!!”

The teacher replied, “Don’t worry, it will pass.”

A week later, the student came back to his teacher and said, “My mediation is wonderful!! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive. It is just wonderful!!”

The master replied, “Don’t worry, it will pass.”

 

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I consider myself lucky. Actually, I think I’m very lucky. The fact that my weight is at an unhealthy level but I have not had to deal with the negative side effects of being obese makes me feel lucky indeed. When I think about all the things carrying around an extra hundred pounds can do to a person’s body, it scares me. However, I haven’t had to deal with diabetes, heart problems, GERD, high blood pressure or many of the other issues that come with extra weight. The question is, how long will my luck hold out?

I’m not stupid. I know that it’s only a matter of time before it catches up with me. I’ve known this for a while and it hasn’t been a big enough motivator for change. Lately though, I’ve been paying attention to the quality of life issues that being obese has already caused me. I have sleep apnea and have to use a CPAP machine to keep me breathing at night. I have knees that tend to be more sore than they should and I occasionally hear them make interesting popping sounds when I walk up stairs. My feet hurt a lot and I have to use inserts to provide the extra support that they need. Someone asked me the other day why I don’t wear my beloved Chucks any more and I had to explain that the inserts I use don’t work too well in them so if I do wear them, it causes my feet to hurt too much.

Some of my favorite footwear

I know if I want to improve my quality of life I need to get rid of these extra pounds. That’s why I’ve set goals that I can work toward other than just the number that pops up on the scale. I want to be able to wear my Chucks again and not feel pain after a couple of hours. I hope to be able to make it through the night without having a mask strapped to my face while air is forced through my nose. I want to be able to walk up a flight of stairs without listening to a creaking and cracking sound that is, when I think about it, quite disturbing. In the end, I’m not just trying to lose weight, I’m trying to have a better life. These are concrete and very real results that I can focus on and they help to motivate me to make the right choices.

Without these other goals, I would be trying to get to an idea. My weight hasn’t been in the lower 200s in such a long time that remembering what it was like to weigh that little is practically impossible. It doesn’t help that even when I had a healthy weight I felt like I was too big so I don’t have too many memories about what it’s like to be a “skinny person”.  That’s why focusing on weight alone isn’t going to cut it. Weighing less is a concept that is ephemeral and difficult to visualize. Not having sleep apnea is much easier to think about. Wearing black canvas shoes that come up past my ankles is concrete. Having the energy to do everything I want to do is something I can latch on to. When I think about it, this isn’t about weight at all, it’s about living the life I want. It’s about having the freedom to live a life free of preventable medical problems.

As a Buddhist I try to be aware of the problems caused by attachment to things, desires or dreams. It is possible to have a goal and not be attached to it but it can be hard. If I am to succeed again in losing this weight, I will need to set goals without attachments to them. Eventually, I’ll have to set other goals and have other things to keep me motivated to stay healthy. Being aware that eventually I will have to throw my current goals away as I achieve them is one way to refrain from attachment. I am also trying to be cognizant of the reality that having a healthy weight and having a better quality of life will not do a thing to change my situation. My self, my true self, will not have changed at all. My self will come in a smaller package but it’s still going to have all of its desires and demands and suffering and delusions. While goals are great for getting a better body, I need to maintain a perspective about them that won’t weigh down my mind. If I’m not willing to take the Chucks off my feet once I can wear them again, I won’t be spending too much time on the meditation cushion. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, but meditating with shoes on is very uncomfortable.

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Today was an easy day for being good. I had a healthy breakfast, an amazing jerk tofu wrap from a local vegetarian friendly restaurant by my office and drank a lot of water. This evening, I went with the kids down to York Beach. It’s a very touristy area of Maine but it’s also a lot of fun. We played games and walked around. We went to a candy shop and we ate dinner. Since I’d been so good with everything today, I was going to get whatever on the menu looked good for dinner. I’m trying to not starve myself because that’s not a healthy choice either. However, the choices I’d made throughout the day added up to a much smaller amount of calories than I should have if I want to lose weight gradually. It really felt nice to walk into the place we had dinner and know that regardless of what I chose, I’d still have made all the right decisions for the day.

When I looked at the menu I saw a large collection of food designed for the American palate: foods high in fat and sodium and sugar. There were combinations of meat and eggs and cheese and potatoes in so many different ways it boggles the mind. I could have anything on the menu and not feel bad about it. That’s why when the waitress took our order I proudly requested the vegetarian burger. That’s right, the vegetarian burger. After only about a week of trying to be aware of what I am putting into my body and to make healthy choices, I really wanted that vegetarian burger. That makes today the first all-vegetarian day I’ve had in a long time. I ended up being “good” even when I knew I didn’t have to. It was like a switch has been thrown and I’m really wanting to do the right thing and I’m excited to be doing it. Since I really did want to allow myself to indulge in something I tried an egg cream for the first time. I’ve got to say I can see what all those New Yorkers rave about. It was a really great drink and, because it was a specially made item, didn’t come with free refills. It’s a little hard to go overboard on things if they don’t keep topping off your cup every time they walk by! In the end, I left the restaurant feeling like I had just won a big battle that I wasn’t even aware I’d been fighting.

That’s why I find myself writing a post when I should be getting ready for bed. I am pleased with what I’ve done today and feel encouraged to keep making progress as tomorrow. So, when breakfast comes, I’ll make a good decision and have a healthy breakfast. Then, I’ll follow that up with more healthy choices throughout the day and we’ll see if I can make this a 2 day in a row streak.

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What happens when you start something, make great progress, redefine what a “normal” life is and then lose it all? That’s a question I’m asking myself lately because that’s what I did. I lost over 60 pounds and felt better than I had in a very long time. The next 40 pounds seemed like a small bump in the road compared to the hurdles I had already crossed. Losing weight was second nature at that point and I was going to coast to my goal. Then my life got turned upside down. Then it got turned upside down again and again and again. I spent 2011 and the first part of 2012 just struggling to keep my head above the emotional waters I was drowning in. I was in survival mode and all the progress I’d made evaporated. Sixty pounds down, sixty-five back up. The clothes that were stuck in the back of the closet never to be worn again made their way to the front and even they started to feel a little tight. I didn’t have the energy or the emotional bandwidth to focus on being healthy or mindful. I was still meditating and that helped me to stay focused through the turbulence and make decisions that reduced the suffering of myself and others but I wasn’t able to draw strength from it to be mindful of what I was putting inside myself.

And now, here I am. Back at square one. I watched my scale go over the 33o mark and not stop. I lost hope of ever losing again. I figured I was doomed to a life of medical complications from obesity. I had failed. Then, at this very low point, I remembered that this is how I felt when I first started to lose weight. I re-read some of my old posts and saw that I was repeating 2010 all over again. I realized if I did it once, I could do it again. I talked with a friend about the need to make positive life choices and started to focus once again on doing that. The emotional turmoil I was dealing with has mostly subsided and I have learned how to cope and with things and process issues as they arise. I could do it.  I will do. I am doing it.

I’ve started exercising again. I haven’t had soda for a week. I’m paying attention to the food choices I make and I’m trying to plan ahead to have healthy foods when it is time to eat. I am focusing on why I eat what I do and asking myself if it’s a good idea to eat it. I’ve already lost seven pounds. There is a saying in Zen, “Correct Situation, Correct Function, Correct Action” and I’m trying to put this into practice when I sit down to eat. At a meal time, the situation is to provide my body the fuel it needs to be healthy. The correct function is to eat mindfully and be aware of how my body responds to eating. The correct action is to eat foods that are healthy for my body and to stop once I’ve provided the fuel my body needs. When I find myself craving sugar or fats or unhealthy foods I am asking myself what the correct action and correct function is for the situation I find myself in. Ten times out of ten, the correct function and action is to not eat the unhealthy food or drink the sugary drink. I haven’t made healthy decisions every single time but more often than not I am. When I do make the wrong choice I am making it a point to have compassion on myself and to pay close attention to the long-term negative effects of the bad choice rather than the short-term reward of a quick fix. Reminding myself that after the soda there is a crash and being mindful of that crash makes it easier to resist the next time around. Last night I wanted a soda so bad I could taste it. I chose to focus on the task that I was supposed to be doing instead and sent a text message to a friend for support and a reminder that I’m making the right choice. It was just one small victory in a long chain of good decisions that will lead me back to good health.

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