A version of this post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
I used to believe that I was destined to be 350 pounds. That the psych medications I was required to take for my own well-being were surely the cause of my poor or uncontrolled eating. Everyone else had simply won a ‘health lottery’, but I had to struggle with my weight. I don’t really ever recall a time in my life where I would describe myself as thin (excluding the three years when I was in recovery with Overeaters Anonymous following a medical scare).
This year my wife and I didn’t have a big New Year’s Resolution send-off. We simply began following the food plans prescribed by our nutritionist on January 4. It was quiet, uneventful, and we both started without commenting to one another or sharing with family. All of a sudden, a miracle happened, and I started to lose weight.
During my previous weight loss ‘attempts’ I would weigh myself religiously while eating poorly, and get frustrated that the weight wasn’t falling off as it had during the start of OA. Of course, I told myself that I was following the same food plan – so it must be the medications. I would go to the nutritionist and tell her that I was eating exactly what she suggested and something else was to blame. If you ever want to see what it is like to be in denial, pay a nutritionist, then lie to them! For that matter, the same applies to therapists, doctors, clients and partners.
For 2016, I decided that everything would be different. I would ask myself daily “how happy am I?” and answer honestly. I found out that the external image I put on for the world wasn’t aligning with my internal thoughts and feelings. The expectation that a bathroom scale would reflect my fictional diet instead of my daily eating was laughable. At the time I didn’t see it, but looking back, it would have been impossible to reach my goals while eating two cheeseburgers and four hot dogs at a barbeque. Was I fooling anyone but myself when I ate five or six slices of pizza for dinner? I was so good at selling myself the story that I would get on the scale and be absolutely astonished that I was gaining rather than losing weight.
So what changed?
This year, I am taking the same medications that I have been on since 2009. I still travel in airports twice a month. I am not working out or exercising. I eat out in restaurants daily. I take naps on the weekends to recover the lost sleep from having two young children, a hectic work schedule, and to help with self care for my diagnosis. My life and food plan hasn’t changed.
I can attribute my new found weight loss to exactly one thing: awareness. After I became hyper-vigilant about everything that I consumed, I realized that for 10 years, when I said that I was following my food plan, I wasn’t even close.
For example, on a vacation this year, I ordered a roast beef au jus. It came on garlic French bread with fries and melted cheese. It looked and smelled amazing! It was a hot summer day and I was on a patio near the water, celebrating my wife’s birthday and our five year anniversary. Of course I was entitled to eat this meal and dessert – why not? I started telling myself, “you only get to go around this life once!” But I made some adjustments to the meal to better fit my food plan: I skipped the chips and got a side of vegetables. My side salad was ordered with dressing on the side. When the meal arrived I got ready to dig in, but this time something was different. On a whim, I decided to use my wife’s food scale to weigh the bread and sandwich. Surely my standard changes would be enough?
To my surprise, the bread weighed 4.5 oz! That is the equivalent of eating four and a half slices of bread with butter on each slice. The roast beef was only 2.5 oz! That was the equivalent of eating two and a half servings of string cheese. Weighing my meal made me realize that the ‘healthier’ version of my meal would contain close to 300% more bread and almost 400% less protein than I needed. Does that seem healthy?
In the past I would have simply eaten what the restaurant served to me and railed against the bathroom scale for refusing to cooperate the next morning. In this scenario, where is the positive reinforcement for my ‘healthy’ choice?
My newfound awareness allowed me to eat the proper serving sizes by making adjustments based on real measurements rather than going through the motions. I helped myself bridge the gap by removing the top of the sandwich and adding protein donated from my wife’s dinner. I started to realize that how much I prefer weighing my food than myself.
In the first week of August I lost six pounds! The funny thing is that I was genuinely surprised when it happened. The voice in my head was telling me nothing had changed, so there was no logical reason for the weight loss. It just didn’t make sense. I have to slow down and remind myself daily that my changed level of awareness was responsible for my weight loss.
Awareness is not only the key to my weight loss, but to my happiness, too. The same scenario that I have described with food also applies to my marriage, my parenting, my clients, my employees and my own well-being. The more I throw myself into The Happiness Formula of practicing Gratitude + Spirituality + Mindfulness = Awareness = Happiness™, the more I begin to experience a new level of daily living. My awareness removes my ability to use my diagnosis or any other excuse as a rationalization for not feeling well.
Remember that happiness isn’t always about feeling good. It is about being present and aware that you are empowered to make changes which affect the outcomes in your life!