Weekend woes, relationships, and dieting

Posted: March 6, 2011 in Q&A

The blog has a pulse, but it’s very low.  In an attempt to revive it, I thought I’d start sharing some of the emails I receive from the many people who send me questions.  Others can hopefully learn a thing or two and I don’t have to worry about coming up with topics to write about when I barely have time to exercise myself.  I do have 2 articles that should be coming out within the next week.  The first is the final part of the “State of the Industry” article and the second is a very simplistic article about the Pareto Principle and basic food rules. 

In the meantime though, here’s a relatively recent exchange I had with someone via email.  Her comments are in red.

I see that you work with morbidly obese clients. While I am not morbidly obese, I am overweight. My biggest obstacle is food. I go to the gym regularly, enjoy being outdoors and I live in New York where I walk a lot, but I’m just maintaining my current weight (which is not where I want to be) because I over-eat on the weekends. I will do very well on the weekdays but as soon as Friday night comes around, I’m off the wagon for three days. If you look at my food diary, you’ll see that I usually don’t log on the weekends because it would be ridiculous (probably 3000 calories/day) and I don’t want to guilt of seeing it in “black and white.” YET, I continue to do this.

What advice do you give your clients to get their eating under control?

Well that’s a problem that’s widespread among people, but the causes of it are very unique to the individual.

A few questions:

1. Are there foods that trigger the uncontrolled eating?

2. Are there environmental cues that trigger the uncontrolled eating?

3. Why do you want to lose weight?

4. What does it mean to you, truly, if you don’t lose weight?

1. Foods that trigger uncontrolled eating: typically they are carb-heavy and/or starchy things like pizza, white bread, tortillas and potatoes. I also overdo it when it comes to cheese. I can eat pizza to the point of sickness, which is a little sad to admit. I am not too into sweets. I can control myself around cake, cookies, etc.

2. Environmental cues that trigger the uncontrolled eating: unfortunately, being with my boyfriend and going to his house in Long Island. We switch back and forth every weekend and it seems I can be “better” when we’re at my apartment. He lives in a basement apartment and his parents are right upstairs. His mom is Italian and cooks really well. Enough said. Also being at sports bars, where we like to go and watch the Yankees. If we sit there for a 3 hour game I inevitably open up that menu. And if I don’t, the boyfriend will…and I do not stop him.

3. Why I want to lose weight: I like feeling pretty and sexy. I’ve gained about 10 pounds since meeting the BF (when I was at my lowest weight ever) and I felt better during sex without the extra 10 pounds, so I think it would be freaking great if I was at my goal weight. I love shopping for clothes and I want to expand my store choices. I want to feel better in a bathing suit. I want things to be less jiggly all over. At my heaviest, I could not go straight through the subway turnstyle, I had to turn my body sideways to fit. Those victories made me want to lose more. I guess now that I can fit comfortably in an airplane seat, I’ve lost some motivation. More recently my boyfriend and I have talked about marriage and kids. I don’t want to get pregnant and still be overweight.

4. Truly, if I don’t lose weight…I’m afraid of what will happen. Even though I have established going to the gym and I am dedicated to physical activity, on a weekly basis I am eating more calories than I’m burning and like the 10 pounds I’ve gained in two and half years, I’m just scared of that increment continuing to tick away. I don’t want to go back to where I was. If I don’t lose weight, it means unhappiness…perpetual unhappiness.

So the short of it is you need to condition yourself to bypass short-term gratification for the benefit of long-term gratification. Right? It’s the choices you make in “the heat of the moment” that are conflicting with what’s ultimately making you unhappy.

Interrupting the automaticity that accompanies the “right now” is easier said than done, I understand.

But start with small changes. For starters, let your boyfriend know how you feel. If he cares about you, he’ll do what he can to make things easier for you in the weight control department. Inform him of what this means to you. That’ll help minimize the chances of totally blowing things when you go to see him.

Rid your house and ask him to rid his of the foods you can’t control. If you know temptation gets the better of you, then strip these foods of their power. Unless there’s a true addiction going on, your cravings won’t be strong enough to drive you to bypass eating what’s “on hand” and travel for your binge food.

Write out a list of your whys and read them every morning and every night. Set up reminders in conspicuous places to get your mind thinking on the right track as frequently as possible.

Ultimately, you have a choice. You either live in accordance to what it is you say you want OR you talk a big game yet do the polar opposite when life’s smacking you in the face. Control is attainable, you just have to be willing to reach out and grab the reigns.

You’re certainly not alone. The weekends are tough for most folks I work with. It makes sense, too. As a society, we’re conditioned to let loose on the weekends. We work hard during the weeks so we can play hard during the weekends. The weeks, for most of us, contain a lot of structure and rigidity, so it’s easy to couple structure and rigidity with meaningful exercise and nutrition.

In addition to this, most people have not only been conditioned to let loose on the weekends since they were kids… they’ve also been conditioned to eat poorly during this time, too. Think about when you used to go out to eat with your parents. When you’d get to have sleep overs at friends houses. When you’d have birthday parties. Weekends.

So put your game face on and decide that you’re going to improve your lifestyle during the weekends. I’m not asking you to be a bore. There are ways to live loosely on the weekends without gorging yourself.

First step should be breaking the association you have with relaxation and eating. Relaxation doesn’t have to accompany eating crap and lots of it.

Also, eat to live. Don’t live to eat. Many people, especially Americans, plan their fun times on the weekends around food. It’s amazing to me how most everyone I encounter perceives eating with friends as a good time. For me… hell, that’s a bore. I’ve conditioned myself to grab food with my friends on the go so we can get to where we’re heading to have fun. That might be a hike. Or fishing. Or bike riding. Or whatever keeps me moving. Living.

Food is simply the fuel that keeps me going.

Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy a nice meal on occasion with my wife and friends. But it’s not a weekend ritual. And when I do go out and have a nice, giant meal… I don’t let it turn into my entire weekend. I make healthy choices beyond that.

Which brings me to my last point. Prepare healthy choices in advance going into the weekend. Have fruit salads made, lean meats cooked, fresh veggies ready to bite into.

In my experience, it’s about slowly regaining power/control of your habits on the weekends. It won’t happen overnight but the more you practice it and the more habits you adopt, the more you’ll override your unhealthy conditioning with your healthy conditioning. The more you’ll believe that you do have it in you to make better choices.

But the fact remains that you have to want this. You can’t just say it. You have to mean it. And have very good, emotionally-backed, powerful reasons backing what you mean. Without them, consistency and longevity aren’t going to be a reality.

A couple of things really stood out for me:

regarding my boyfriend: “inform him what this means to you.” I’ve told him I want to be healthier and I bemoan my (our) bad choices to him but he doesn’t know why I want to change and he doesn’t know how I feel it will benefit our relationship and make it stronger. This is something I’m actually energized to talk with him about.

Your observation that the structure of a work week helps so much to keep a good eating and exercise plan on track. Monday through Friday I wake up at the same time, I go to bed at the same time, I take lunch at the same time, I go to my gym classes and do my laundry on the designated day and it’s easy to align my my eating. Then the weekend comes and all of sudden I’m not on a schedule; I’m sleeping in, staying out late and feeling like it’s my downtime and I can do whatever I want and basically associating my time to relax with food. Another point that I’ve been oblivious to.

Even though I’ve heard some of this before (eating to live and not the reverse, not making socializing with friends about food or eating out), you still gave me a lot to think about. Also thanks for being straight with me. I do need to put up or shut up. I gotta put the game face on and get myself together.

I may turn your email into bullet points and adding that to my list of “whys.”

Based on my experience this is quite a common issue. Guys are happy the way you are and, due to their own insecurities, might be offended or scared of you losing weight and becoming “more sexy.” His mind starts going crazy with thoughts like, “What does that mean for me once she’s sexy?”, “Will she leave me for someone better looking once all is said and done?”, “I have no interest in getting fit – will this break our relationship?”

On and on the questions race.

Guys can be silly and stupid.

If you really love him and he’s the man you want to be with, I think it’s a matter of having a very frank discussion with him. Let him know that you’re not doing this for him or the relationship. You’re doing this for you. You’re not happy with your physical self and want to pursue improving it. Indirectly, a happier more confident you will lead to a happier, sturdier relationship… so there’s benefits all around.

Let him know that even if he finds you sexy, that doesn’t override the feelings you have internally. While you appreciate his appreciation of your body, again, this is about you and what you want.

Sometimes you have to spell it out for us guys.

And if it’s a matter of him being insecure about what this sort of change will ultimately mean for the relationship, you need to help build his confidence up.

The reality is if you’re with someone who isn’t on board with your fitness endeavor… either consciously or subconsciously they’re going to sabotage your efforts every chance they get. It’s human nature.

Best to the both of you and my door is always open.

  1. BeardedFitness says:

    Good response to a common question. I had not given a thought about past experiences wiring us for our behaviors now and in the future. Well thought out. I do see how blame could be put forth toward the boyfriend. However, it still comes down to her (or the person in question) to take ownership of themselves. Best of luck to everyone that has the issues. And thanks for this post. I might write something as a tag along with this. Take care of yourself.

    • Thanks man. And if you think about it, our minds, for the most part, an amalgamation of genetic proclivities and environmental experiences. And our brains are plastic. They used to believe that its plasticity turned off after a certain age, but newer data is suggesting this isn’t true. Granted, things are much more plastic when we’re younger and still developing, which is why for us older folks, it’s hard to change. Quitting smoking, changing your eating habits, looking at porn on the net…. all things most folks have a very hard time changing. But the point is… change is possible.

      This is why I’m never quick to judge people. We don’t know their histories. It’s very easy to hold people to your own standards based on your own experiences and beliefs… but it’s completely illogical and unfair.

      Yes the overweight person is fat because they eat too much and move too little. They are to blame for their condition. But things that were mostly out of their control can be driving the behavior that’s causing the condition. And don’t get me wrong… a sense of entitlement is a huge problem in this country if you ask me. At the same time though, I think we need to be a little more fair when assessing the ease of which some people can change.

      Thanks for tuning in!

  2. julie says:

    Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid calorie dense, nutrition light food. We have a ton of work lunches, and believe you me, it wouldn’t look very good at all for me to bring my own stuff. So pizza, sandwiches, Italian, falafal, whatever it is. I gained 10 pounds from working at this place. To minimize further gains, I have to practice major portion control. Pizza may be tasty, even more so because I don’t often eat white bread, but I try to stick with one or two small slices and a big salad, as opposed to 3 slices, and skip the dessert, unless it’s truly awesome (cookies are rarely awesome, most cakes are not worth it). I have to live in the real world, and it’s hard to get a job, so this is how I deal with work meetings, and other free food.

    • I’ve clients who are in the same boat Julie. Some have helped make paradigm shifts at their companies by directly working with the people who are responsible for ordering food. It’s in the company’s best interest to keep their employees health and vibrant, so it shouldn’t go against the grain so much as long as you frame it correctly.

      Even if changing what everyone else is eating isn’t possible though, I don’t see what’s so wrong with choosing to eat differently. We’re free to choose whatever it is that passes our lips and if someone is going to judge you based on these choices… screw them!

      Sure, I can see how it might make someone a bit uncomfortable. It forms a bit of cognitive dissonance for those around you. They know what you’re doing is “good” and “healthy” and what they’re doing is not. But changing what they’re doing is harder than simply ragging on you until you conform, which erases the dissonance. Which is why there are so many saboteurs out there.

      Anyhow, on a different note, as long as you’re not gorging yourself each day to a point where you’re unable to control your calories to match your goals… I don’t see a problem with eating pizza and the like. I like to tell people that as consistently as possible strive to cover the basics – adequate protein, healthy fats, fruits, and veggies. Once that basis is covered, everything else is fair game within your calorie limits.

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