DEAR FFG: I have gained more than 100 pounds in the 13 years since the death of my mother. I feel I have successfully dealt with her death but I have totally lost the motivation to exercise like I used to. I absolutely HATE to look at myself in the mirror, and I feel so unattractive. I read many health and wellness books and I know what I need to do, but I can’t stay motivated long enough to actually do it. The longest has only been two weeks. Help! — Annie
DEAR ANNIE: First, let me say that I’m so sorry for your loss. Despite the fact that it was 13 years ago, I know that the effects of losing a parent lingers. I recently lost my father, and feel that I am in some way forever changed. But enough about me … this is about you, about your health and your weight and your moving on. And that’s the thing — despite the fact that you say you’ve successfully dealt with your mother’s death, I think your weight is in part a symbol of your grief. Sometimes what we think of as a lack of motivation could be basic fear. Ask yourself: Why am I afraid to lose the weight? The answer could be that you’re afraid to truly move on to the next phase of your life. You have to be willing to take those steps in a healthy direction, to inch out on that tightrope between the person you are now to the healthier, fitter, happier person you could be. It’s not really about the number on the scale—it’s about moving forward, caring for yourself, choosing to engage in behaviors and activities that will really nurture you. So often, we fool ourselves into believing that the massive piece of frozen Snickers pie is what our bodies, minds and souls need, but that’s just a high-caloric Bandaid. It’s easier to stuff ourselves with food than to deal with the heavy, deep and real issues. So … here’s what I would suggest.
Ask yourself why you’re afraid, and list the answers. Think about how things might change for you as you make healthy changes in your life — the good, the bad, the scary — and list them, too. Be brutally honest with yourself. You may uncover issues you didn’t anticipate. Then, keep that list handy as you take small steps toward regaining your healthy life. And I mean small: I know you feel like you have a lot of weight to lose, but that desperation could be one of the reasons why you have had trouble sustaining momentum with your fitness program. You may be expecting too much too soon — and, since it sounds like you once were more dedicated to exercise, you may be judging yourself against your formerly fitter self. Think instead about today, about moving from today forward. Try finding a fitness activity that’s gentle and fun: yoga, Zoomba, belly dancing. These activities work on both body and mind, which is what you need. Build your confidence slowly, give yourself credit for what you ARE doing instead of judging yourself for what you’re not. Revisit your list of fears regularly for a reality check: Are any of those fears becoming fact? Are you finding others surfacing? How are you dealing with them? Are you seeing new, positive changes in yourself? If you find yourself still struggling, or if you see that your grief is a continuing issue, consider seeing a counselor or joining a bereavement group. Best, best wishes on your journey.