Think You're Too Heavy to Exercise? - Part 3

In the first article of this three-part series, I promised that if you can master the challenge of exercising regularly and overcome the difficulties you may encounter, then you would achieve something far more than the ability to burn additional calories—you’ll develop a set of self-management skills and the confidence you need to handle almost anything life might throw at you. That’s a pretty tall order. So now let’s talk about how to make that happen.

Let's start with a simple question: How do you feel right now about your prospects for becoming a consistent exerciser, and using fitness as a springboard to lose weight and get healthier?

If most of the time you feel "pretty good or better" about this question; or (best of all) if you’ve actually made some real progress with exercising and losing weight and don’t see any dark clouds looming on ther horizon, then you probably don’t need the rest of this article. Go do something more fun—like exercise!

If you’re still here (and I’m betting most of you are), then you are exactly where you ought to be. Nothing in the first two articles was very likely to change your life. I’m not going to say anything like that here either. I can’t. The best anyone else can do for you is say something or behave in a way that triggers what is already lurking inside you—a realization that you really do want to change this important aspect of your life, or the belief that you might actually be able to pull it off.

Here’s what I think is the situation for many of us who struggle with significant or morbid obesity: When what you are trying to do is very hard (this is), when you have a long way to go (you do), and when you have to overcome a history of contrary habits and attitudes (we all do), the unavoidable reality is that you are going to run into some rough patches along the way. Without some real and personal experience with this, only a hopelessly-cockeyed optimist would be feeling good about her prospects at this stage of the game.

And when I say “rough patches,” I’m not talking about the daily ups and downs and minor frustrations we all go through as part of our daily weight loss soap opera. I’m talking about those really deep doubts, worries, fears, and outbreaks of real despair and confusion that grab you once in a while and shake you all the way down to your toes—the kind that make you realize that there may have been some good reasons why you turned to food to help you manage your life in the first place; the kind that make you wonder whether you really want to upset this applecart right now. As they say, sometimes denial and repression are your friends.

Of course, everyone has their own demons to contend with, and no one gets by without troubles in this area. But chances are very high that—if you have a history of disordered relationships with food, other substances, and/or your own body—you may have more than your fair share of demons, and some of them may be particularly hard to get along with. The process of changing your lifestyle will rattle the cages of all your personal demons from time to time, and you will need to be able to cope with that when it happens.

But this isn’t necessarily bad news. In fact, it can be very good news. I know without doubt that there is a very direct, causal relationship between the depths of pain, sorrow, shame and fear I've faced in my life, and the heights of pleasure, joy, self-respect and courage I derive from living the best life I can—liver spots, saggy skin, and all. That’s why I can make the promise I made to you (at the beginning of all this) with confidence. There is much more going on inside you and much more to be won than a simple battle over exercise and weight. The difficulty lies in finding that still point at the center of the turning wheel—that place in your own mind where you can be fully with yourself, as you are, without being against yourself or merely for some imagined future version of yourself.

This is a difficult thing to do, which is why it's important to have specific goals and methods, beyond the usual goals associated with weight loss. Process goals help you find and use ways to calm yourself during hard times, keep the "small stuff" (like the number on the scale) in perspective, and develop friendly (or at least diplomatic) relations with the aspects of your personality that you aren't too proud of. The latter of which is crucial. There is no such thing as a healthy lifestyle that is based on denying, avoiding or hating any aspect of yourself. It’s about getting to know yourself well enough that you can make conscious choices without being pushed around by all the feelings, needs, attitudes and assumptions that you aren’t able or willing to look at directly.

Obviously, tons of books have been written about this kind of thing, but I don't have room for a book in this article. So, here are some very basic suggestions for process-focused goals you can add to your program:
  1. Make a playlist of your favorite music (or recorded poetry, inspirational readings, etc.) that calms you down and makes you feel better when all else fails. Use it often—before things get to the point where you have to. Ideally, take it with you and listen to it when you’re exercising.
  2. Think about why you want to lose weight and what you hope it will do for you. Do NOT be judgmental about whether your reasons and values are the “right” ones. Just put them all on your list. Try to identify the values and priorities you hold that give rise to those reasons and hopes. Then, go through each item on the list, asking yourself if and why there is any reason you have to lose weight before you can start working on other ways to make that particular goal become a reality.
  3. Do whatever you can think of to move towards making these larger goals happen. Use the same goal setting techniques you’re learning here at SparkPeople: start with some simple fast-break goals, be specific, include ways to measure your progress, frame your goals in positive terms, etc. Keep in mind that merely losing the weight isn’t going to make many of these things happen automatically. If you’re waiting until the weight is gone to work on these other goals, you’re putting an awful lot of unnecessary pressure on your weight loss efforts. No wonder it’s so upsetting when the scale doesn’t cooperate, if you think that means you’re not making any progress towards what really matters to you!
  4. Find a “process buddy" who is willing to partner with you and add this process work into both of your programs. It’s a lot easier to do this together than by yourself.
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Member Comments

great set of articles - took a lot away from this-- now to put it into practice! Report
Dean Anderson, you have given me a breakthrough. I have been exercising consistently, tracking food, and losing weight now for 2 months in a SparkPeople Challenge and was afraid about keeping the momentum once it finishes. Your article is such a gift. I realized the following: My reason/hope is So that I respect and am grateful to myself and my choices (instead of being embarrassed by, disgusted with, angry at myself). My core value is Dignity! And there is no reason I have to wait for thin to work on that: Choose life-giving, instead of soul-sucking, behaviors by doing the following:
1) Work on tasks instead of procrastinating.
2) Honor your need for healthy food, exercise, and sleep

Thank you. Report
By far the best article I have ever read, and I'm not even finished! Report
Outstanding article, one that could be written only by someone who has been there and truly gets it, which is what makes it so effective. And I love the timing, it's helping me lift up and out of temporary stuckness. I truly believe we get what we need when we need it, as long as we are open to receiving -- so thanks, Dean, I really did need this! You truly are an inspiration. Report
Great article. I agree one hundred percent with BILLALEX70. Report
Great article, it puts words to frrlings I have just discovered. I am in the gym now just starting to do 10 minute bike and 10 minute treadmill at a snail pace but I feel great after I do it!!! Getting a little sore after workouts but once soreness goes away I feel lighter on my feet. Don't know if that is possible after 3 days or not but hey I will take the mood uplift in my spirit.

11 Report
All of the information you provided was very logical and thought-provoking
. Being practical is a necessity but emotions like fear, insecurity, feeling unworthy, etc. oftentimes can consume us and, I don't know about anyone else, but it is during those times when I find myself acting on auto-pilot and, before I know it, a bag a chips is "missing." The suggestions you gave for recording the whats and whys of something that is happening before, during, and after were very insightful and I definitely plan to try them. Thank you! Report
This is the best article ever. I struggle daily. I exercise to lose weight. I eat right to lose weight. I sometimes get very frustrated with my inability to meet all of my exercise goals. I always wonder, if I am the only one who feels this way. I am not sad enough to shed tears but instead I experience a ridiculous amount of frustration and i don't always know what to do with that energy so I exercise more. To date I have lost 19 lbs but it have 140 more lbs to go and I am wondering if I will make it. This article was the motivation that I truly needed. Report
I really needed to read this today. I'm tired of being obese, I'm tired of always being tired. it's good to hear that only being able to do 5 minutes on the treadmill is okay.

I think what I really needed to hear though was that today it's going to be hard, and tomorrow is going to be hard too, and so is the next day. I've had those spark days - where I've walked around the block, or did a few minutes on the treadmill, or followed along to a exercise video - sat down and thought woah I feel good. Then I don't do it again for 3 months. I guess I thought some magic brain cell would click on and I would
suddenly want to do exercise - yeah not so much. Report
Good Morning Dean~

I've returned to your article series many times but for some reason today, it clicked. The information fell into place and I have a calm understanding of where I'm at and where I'm going. Thank you so very much. Report
Thanks Dean for helping to realize I'm not alone. Now I don't feel so lazy because I'm having to start with chair exercises. Report
Dean, thanks! I have been asked to give a talk at a new Weight Watchers Store in a Success Live. Much of what you say so closely hits the mark of what I will be saying. It was great to read it.

For me the key to getting myself healthy was just getting into a move-groove. It was all one big ball. The more I moved the more I lost weight the more I moved ... I now cannot sit still to watch a two hour movie on television. Back in the day, I was able to plant myself, grow roots and watch all. day. long. SOmetimes, if the story is interesting, I will continue to watch for the whole two hours, but I am up out of my chair, moving around the room, on the floor playing with my dog (just imagine THAT!), walking in place, stretching, exercising, MOVING.

Somewhere, the lifestyle kicked in. I went to my doctor because among other things I wanted to talk to him about my weight program. When I started marathon training (!) I quickly gained 10 pounds. He is an athlete so he of all people would be the guy to talk to, even as not-a-doctor but as a fellow athlete. One thing I need was to get my WW max weight raised. I told him I didn't like going from a 24 to a 26 BMI. "Don't worry. That number is for the old you. The baseline inactive person needs the 25 to be his upper limit. If you are as active as you are, one point will not be a problem."

Then he spoke the key line. "It's not as much about the number on the scale for you anymore as it is about being up and active. Out of the chair. Away from the TV. Out on your bike, in the pool, running around town in your little Maryland flag short. Yeah, I see you and I am proud of you. You came in here with sky high cholesterol, bad blood pressure, certain you were dying. Now I use your case to encourage people to do what they need to do to get active and healthy."

Wow! When even my athlete-doctor can use me for inspiration, I am humbled and proud all at once. Report
This article is a gift! It is just what we need when everything seems to be overwhelming. Thanks for this article! Report
Thanks so much for these articles. Although many have expressed their thanks, I am very, very thankful because I have never been in the condition I am today. Looking forward to really devouring these more thoroughly. Report
Thanks for these articles! In the past, I have occasionally felt like it was too late for me. I know that's not true, but I has taken strength and courage for me to realize it and take action.

I will be heading to the gym at lunch time for the first time since I signed up for a membership two weeks ago. I can do this! Report


About The Author

Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.
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