When I look at this book in its entirety, it strikes me how every single strategy I’ve learned—really, every single point I make— is about putting yourself first. When you put yourself first you have high standards for yourself and your life. You expect to be happy and to have satisfying relationships with your family and friends, a job that is rewarding and fulfilling, time to pursue activities that bring you pleasure and joy, and the best possible health that you can achieve. You expect all of this, but you also know that you have to work for it. You are vigilant in your commitment to living well. That commitment means that you insist on the best of everything, not because you’re arrogant or selfish, but because you deserve the very best: the best food you can afford, the best physical condition you can attain, the best doctors available to you, the best relationships you can build, the best mental state you can cultivate.
Putting yourself first may sound simple—and it is absolutely necessary to accomplish this transformation—but it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It stands in complete opposition to everything that we’ve been taught, everything that we’ve assumed for most of our lives. We’ve always been told that we should put the needs of others ahead of our own. We should make do and be grateful for what we have. Well, that’s all great just so long as we don’t throw ourselves under the bus as a result. Unfortunately, many of those character traits that I assumed were admirable—being selfless, deferential, and dutiful—were the very qualities that made me fat. I sacrificed my own interests, needs, and desires because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do.
Before I could start putting myself first, though, I had to figure out proper boundaries. Some people seem to do this effortlessly; I envy them. My Doormat No More! campaign was my first attempt at setting some limits on what I would and wouldn’t do for others. Initially, I instituted this new policy for my kids, who, bless their little hearts, I’d trained to essentially take me for granted. I was their laundress and their chauffeur. I was deliverer of school lunches accidentally left at home and retriever of instruments absentmindedly forgotten on the band bus. One of my favorite Dr. Phil-isms (Dr. Phillip McGraw, of the TV show Dr. Phil fame) is that “you teach people how to treat you.” So true! I’d taught my kids to treat me as if my time had no value. Their problems became my problems. In short, I had no boundaries. How in heaven’s name was I ever gonna be able to put myself first if I had no boundaries?
Slowly, slowly, I started making changes. As I’ll discuss in chapter nine, I started walking for exercise, but it was also a way to get out of the house and spend some time alone. I listened to music I enjoyed in the car instead of deferring to others. I cooked food that I looked forward to eating, not worrying about whether anybody else would like it. And eventually I began giving voice to the feelings—good and bad—that I’d always stuffed down before.
Boundaries become an issue in weight loss when we allow other people or activities to run roughshod over our own interests. These can be overt demands (take the insistent two- year-old banging on the bathroom door . . . no really, please take him—he’s driving me nuts!) or the much more subtle passive activities that we fall into when we’re too tired to see straight. They can be the volunteer organizations that are near and dear to our hearts, which rely on us too heavily simply because we’re so damn dependable, or the hobbies we pursue because we enjoy them, but which leave us no time to plan healthy meals or exercise.
Learning to recognize boundaries and then set them appropriately was an important step in reclaiming myself. And having a sense of proper boundaries was absolutely vital before I could start to put myself first. Once I claimed ownership of my boundaries, I had a shot at turning things around…
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