A decade or so before I finally lost weight, in the midst of one of my more earnest attempts at dieting, I enlisted the help of a nutritional counselor. She was a sort of hybrid nutritionist and behavioral coach who had me record what I ate for the week and then take it to her for examination and review. She and I would go over the journal in detail, talking through my successes and setbacks. This might have been a very helpful approach if I’d been ready to meet her halfway. Certainly, I wanted to lose weight. I wished, hoped, and even prayed I’d lose weight. But as we all know, if that were enough, who’d be fat?
I remember the counselor saying to me at the very beginning of our first session, “ This is going to be a lot of work. Are you prepared for this kind of change to your lifestyle?” I was about fifty pounds overweight at the time and hoping to get pregnant again, but reluctant to do so because I knew from experience how hard pregnancy was on my body. I knew it would mean even more weight gain.
“Well, honestly,” I confessed to her, “I’m not sure. I pretty much like my life the way it is. I just don’t want to be fat.” Ah, if only! If only I could have continued to eat whatever I wanted (my modus operandi at the time), whenever I wanted, as much as I wanted . . . and just not continue to gain weight. She let out a big sigh and, though she retained her professional demeanor, gave me a look that said, “C’mon, lady! Work with me here!”
No surprise that I didn’t last long with her. She meant serious business, and I was far from being ready to change. I endured another decade of being fat, and added another seventy pounds to my body, before I found the courage to change.
When I wrote about this experience in my book, what I was talking about was my own ambivalence about losing weight.
As I said, it’s not that I didn’t want to lose weight; I think it’s clear, I desperately wanted to. But as we all know, all the desperation in the world – or hoping, dreaming, wishing, or even praying – will make no difference if you’re not willing to do the work. At the time of my meeting with the nutrition counselor I was ambivalent about making the necessary changes to my lifestyle in order for me to lose weight.
I was pretty damn comfortable eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
True, I didn’t like the consequences, but apparently that wasn’t enough for me to really, fundamentally change my habits.
We’ve all experienced this ambivalence. We have our routines: choosing restaurants we like to go to, knowing full-well we’re gonna order their specialty double bacon cheeseburger, keeping an “emergency” snack stash in our desk (which we break into nearly every afternoon), telling ourselves we’re going to exercise regularly, and then just … not.
Ambivalence is that little voice in your head that says: “You know, it’s not a big deal if you don’t go to the gym today.” Or: “It’s Friday, man! Chill-lax!”
And you cave because in the moment it really doesn’t seem like a big deal. You really don’t want to deny yourself that treat, and you’re exhausted so going to the gym seems unappealing anyway.
Afterwards – of course – you regret your decision. You look in the mirror and mentally kick yourself for failing yet again. You make a pact with yourself to be stronger next time and you do a little more hoping, wishing, dreaming, and praying.
Ambivalence wins, yet again.
My life went along this path for decades. As I tell in my book, it might have gone this way until I died (likely years earlier than was necessary due to my weight) except for the rock bottom experience that shook me and my ambivalence to the core. As painful as that experience was, I see now that it was a gift.
I often wonder, does everyone who experiences life-changing transformation have a “rock bottom”? Truthfully, I have no idea.
I do know that ambivalence is the antithesis of change.
If we’re willing to settle then we’re guaranteed more of the same.
It was only when I decided that I was unwilling to accept the status quo that I finally committed to changing my habits. Forever.