No one trusts a skinny food critic.
That sentiment was a pretty awesome excuse to gorge myself on pastries and pork fat morning, noon and night, and when I set out to un-fat my ass -- high-calorie job requirements be damned -- it was a major mental stumbling block that I had to overcome before I could really start to achieve results.
Could a food critic who looked like she ordered carrots and hummus as a meal really be trusted? Although I do my reviewing anonymously, my colleagues know what I look like. Would they worry that I couldn't do the job, no matter how much I assured them that I was eating out -- and eating a lot -- several times a week?
And then, my relationship with food goes a lot deeper than my job. I talk and think about food almost constantly. I've built friendships around eating, and I've garnered a reputation in my social circle for being the girl who's up for any culinary adventure at any time, whether that's driving 100 miles for a cinnamon roll or insisting a group make a green-chile run at 4 a.m. Moreover, I judged people who weren't as adventurous about food, and had a quiet disdain for people who made a lot of modifications to dishes. Food aversions made me scoff, and who said that a dessert was "too rich" got written off immediately with a flippant comment: "There's no such thing as too rich."
In many, many ways, my eating habits define who I am, from my profession to my personal life. Worse, my opinions on exercise didn't exactly counterbalance my propensity toward binging -- long story short, I took great pride in being unathletic, and I loved to make fun of active types.
Here comes the part of losing weight that a lot of people would rather not talk about, me included, since I'm generally not into sharing feelings in a sort of kumbaya circle in which everyone has to hug. Unfortunately, though, shedding pounds -- especially if you're looking to shed a lot of pounds -- isn't just about a diet and exercise plan. You need a mental game plan, too.
"Losing weight would be way easier if I locked you in my house for a couple of months and didn't let you interact with anyone," Jamie Atlas, personal trainer at Bonza Bodies, told me when I first showed up at his studio. "But that's not the reality, and so you've got to get in the game mentally." He had plenty of anecdotes about the importance of that, too, like the phenomenon of yo-yo dieting or the fact that a huge majority of people who have gastric bypass or lapband surgery eventually settle back into being overweight. He also told me a story about a former client: She'd lost a lot of weight, but instead of leading a happier, healthier life, she noticed changes in how her friends and co-workers treated her; when she couldn't get comfortable with those interactions, and she contentedly gained the weight back.
Ultimately, he explained, this is a lifestyle change -- and that meant changing my outlook as much as it meant doing the right things.
He gave me a few strategies to get me started. Planning a step ahead, for instance, by perusing menus at non-work venues for the best options. Never being caught hungry. Telling people I was too hungry to start drinking right away, so I made sure to eat something high in protein before slowly sipping my one glass of wine. And making adjustments slowly but surely, so I'd be less likely to panic and cheat.
His strategies worked, because forming new habits was an effective start to tackling my mental roadblocks. Each time I forced myself to work out or ate my high protein breakfast or skipped the taco truck when I wasn't eating for work, it became easier to do the right thing again. And as results continued to roll in, I became more comfortable with not just the changes themselves, but also explaining why I eat the way I do when I'm not at work. To my surprise, people were incredibly understanding. I've even come to proudly view myself as athletic -- because, as it turns out, I kind of am.
But I'd be lying if I said I don't still wrestle with this. In fact, it's been the hardest struggle of all, since every time I pass up an aperitif or chance to gorge on a platter of nachos when I'm out with friends, a little part of me rolls its eyes.
So I treat my commitment as if, as Jamie puts it, I were a Mama Bear and it was my cub -- and I don't let anything get in the way of my success, even if I have temporary lapses. And I keep working at the mental game, mostly by talking out my history with food with friends I trust and analyzing how and why I got here. Because anyone can drop a bunch of pounds. But to remain successful -- to really make a lifestyle change -- you've got to identify your own personal "no one trusts a skinny food critic" excuse and work through it.
Following the plan? The step-by-step:
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