Weight Loss

Personal Responsibility

Last night, I was looking through an old sketchbook/notepad and I found a grocery list from around 2006.  I was living in Philadelphia, I was a full time student, and I was obese.  Here’s what was on the list:

  • cilantro
  • red pepper
  • purple onion
  • cheese
  • sour cream
  • lettuce
  • black beans
  • milk
  • fat-free cream
  • grapefruit juice
  • eggs
  • potatoes
  • bread
  • limes
  • jalapeno
  • garlic
  • onions
  • tortilla chips

It struck me that I could make almost this exact list today, if I actually made shopping lists.  So I found myself asking myself, “Where was I going wrong?  What caused be to become and remain obese?”

I ask myself that question a lot and have for the past 3.5 years since I started this lifestyle change adventure.  How can you make sure you don’t ever do it again without examining what you did wrong?

The answer is extremely simple: portion size.  I really didn’t eat that poorly, most of the time.  Sure, I ate some fast food, some potato chips, and drank a lot of beer.  But in general, most of the time, I ate strikingly similar things to what I eat now.  I used to go to Reading Terminal Market, which like a giant farmers market inside an old train station, and buy all kinds of fancy produce.  I’ve always loved that stuff.

I wasn’t all that sedentary either, now that I’m really thinking about it.  I used to walk everywhere.  I didn’t own a car.  Those trips to Reading Terminal were on foot.  I walked to and from school, work, friend’s houses, the bar, and everywhere I went.  No, I didn’t “exercise,” but I was on my feet a lot more than most people.  I waited tables at a restaurant for awhile where the kitchen and bar were on the first floor and the tables were upstairs.  8 hours a day going up and down stairs?  Definitely not sedentary.

Comments on my Facebook page have got me thinking about the way other people talk about “what fat people should do” and it always involves something on the lines of “take personal responsibility for yourself” which I always read in a condescending tone, whether it is intended that way or not.

I mean, I think about what I was like when I was fat and why I didn’t “take personal responsibility” and change myself for so long.  The best answer I can come up with is that it simply wasn’t a priority to me.  I had other things to do.  I was busy.  Life was going on.  I was dealing with things.  I didn’t want to.

I wonder if people who have never been fat think we just sit around crying all the time wishing to God or anyone who will listen that we would please wake up Not Fat and making excuses for ourselves all day while stuffing our faces full of crappy food and refusing to believe that this is all our fault.

I never felt that way.  Being fat didn’t make me stupid.  I was pretty sure that if I wanted to not be fat, I would have to change my eating habits and lifestyle.  In fact, when I finally did decide I wanted to change, I was wildly successful.  See?  Not stupid.  Sure, sometimes I thought, “It would be nice not to be fat” but I also thought “It would be nice to have a million dollars.”  And then I went on about my busy, friend-filled, amusing, depressing, exciting, dreary, ever-changing, dramatic, romantic, independent life.  Just like everyone else, fat or thin.

So why did I eat too much?  Was it because I was lazy?  Was it because I was weak?  No!  It actually wasn’t.  I ate too much because that is how I learned to eat.  Nobody ever taught me to stop eating.  My mother told me about the starving children in Africa.  She gave us easy access to snack foods galore and all the TV I could watch.  Eating too much, eating for taste, eating for boredom, eating for stress and sadness, these were my ways of life before I was even a teenager.  Why would that be different when I left home?  It wasn’t, I continued eating the way I learned.

I think changing our own lives IS a matter of personal responsibility.  Nobody can do it but you.  Nobody else can make you want to.  Nobody else can do it for you.

But I think the reasons people find themselves obese and find it very difficult to change are many, varied, and far more complex than personal responsibility.   Trying to change the way you have eaten since childhood is wicked hard, I’m not going to lie.  It takes a monumental effort over a long period of time.  It requires some dedication.  And you know what?  I think for a long time in my life, I didn’t have the motivation and energy in me to deal with it.  I had to deal with a lot of other difficult things in my life, and I’m damned proud I am where I am right now after coming through some very hard situations far beyond my control.

Once I was settled down, had that secure job and the secure relationship with someone supportive, I was ready to choose to make that change.

Energy is a finite resource.  I will not feel guilty for my life, just because I was fat.  I know in my heart, it didn’t mean I was lazy or weak.  I know in my heart, the reasons I became obese were on many levels not my fault (and believe me, it is really difficult for me to say those three words.  I’m generally convinced that everything is my fault.)  I also know in my heart that I was able to change because I was ready, whereas before I was not ready.  Some people are not ready, yet.

Now take notice, I was able to change my life using my awesome powers of Personal Responsibility.  Here I am!  I exercise regularly, I eat great, and I’m maintaining my 120 pound weight loss.  I did it all by myself.  And at the same time, I am able to see all the reasons it took me 30 years of my life to do it and understand, it was complicated and know that I am rationally examining the facts, not making excuses for myself.

Obstacles aren’t the same thing as excuses.  I think sometimes people are discouraged from talking about their obstacles because other people just accuse them of making excuses.  Only YOU know what’s really an obstacle to you and what’s an excuse.  Don’t let anyone else make you feel guilty if you haven’t found the strength, time, or desire to take personal responsibility just yet.  It’s your life and there are a lot of ways to live it.  It’s your path to make.

13 thoughts on “Personal Responsibility

  1. Great post girl! I’ll take it a step further & replace “obstacles” with “challenges.” You know as well as I do how powerful perspective is, & I’ve found this simple choice of words to be very powerful. If I make a given situation an excuse, it is a reason not to do my part. If I view it as an obstacle, it may or may not stop me from reaching my goals. If I call it a challenge, it becomes something I have the ability to work around.

    I agree that becoming obese absent some medical condition that causes it is partially a result of what we grew up doing. Being open-minded enough to accept that maybe there’s a better way & acknowledging we can always learn & improve is the key to achieving your goals. You are living proof of that. You are awesome!

  2. the one thing on that list I take acception to is the fat-free cream – I think it is important that we consume lots of good fats. I would make that real cream and real butter and coconut fat, and make sure to get enuf every day!

  3. Great post! There are plenty of “skinny people” who are not healthy. I am 44 and noticed my “middle” has a jiggle. It’s enough for me personally to want to make a lifestyle change by eating heathlier and regular exercise. Not easy to make changes…old habits are hard to break, but so worth it. I love all the information you provide. I tried the roasted beets and they are a favorite with me and my oldest daughter. Thank you for your story.

  4. I hope this isn’t a stupid question but how did you get to the point of where you would stop overeating? I try my best to eat well but I struggle with binging. I have a hard time finding that point where my body knows to stop. Its a constant battle for me and I am not sure how to start eating normally again. I count calories which helps, but a lot of the time, I just go over the allotted daily amounts, which begs for the question, what is the point of tracking if I am only going to go over??? I would love to get your feedback on how to retrain my stomach or my mind because I struggle in eating and knowing when to stop. Most times, I feel as if I have to eat until my stomach hurts, which I know is wrong but impulsively, I can’t seem to stop taking myself there.

    1. Keep trying. If you are counting calories, count them even if you go over so you are accountable to yourself. I started thinking of the “too full” feeling as horrible, painful, and disgusting. The more I thought of it that way, the less appealing it became. It took me about a year to feel like I really had myself under control when it came to overeating. I never do it anymore because I’m convinced it makes me feel awful. Even on Thanksgiving, I won’t gorge myself. The longer you go without doing it, the easier it will be not to do it. I also stopped keeping junky snack food around the house. no chips, no cookies, no crackers, etc. If I do want to eat something else, even though I’m not really hungry, I have fruit.

    2. Eva, I also find that I overstuff sometimes. Not as much now as I used to, but it is a disgusting feeling when I do. I have some ideas based on my own experience. Measure food when eating at home. Fix your plate and either store or throw out the leftovers. Make yourself wait at least 20 minutes before you go back and add more to your plate if that’s an issue. If you’re eating out, don’t order “bottomless” things like chips and salsa. I find I really go crazy in those situations. Also, try splitting entrees with a friend. It’s automatic portion control. If you’re alone, split the entree and box up half to go. I like the term “comfortably full”. You will find that place, just keep listening to your body. And remember too, that you will always have another opportunity to eat that special food, so you don’t have to gorge on it this time, there’ll be another time. Best wishes to you!

  5. Love your posts and your story. Thank you for sharing it. My challenge is taking the time for myself. I’m working on it. 🙂

  6. Thank you! I’m looking at myself trying to take a similar journey. I have done it once before and I know I can do it again, but I’m darn frustrated. I’m glad I found your page. I just want to be a size 12/14 again right now. I’m currently fitting into old size18 pants from a size 20 (approx 11lbs lost) but I’ve been here for a couple months. Smh

  7. “I think changing our own lives IS a matter of personal responsibility. Nobody can do it but you. Nobody else can make you want to. Nobody else can do it for you.”

    Thank you for this. It has, more or less, become me new mantra.

  8. I feel like, if I were a smarter person (!), I would have written this myself!! This is EXACTLY how I have felt. I struggle with my weight, but oh my word do I have tons of health knowledge!!! I spew it out to family, friends and coworkers all the time – probably much to their annoyance. I just haven’t been able to make it a priority for myself until now. I’m finally ready! So happy to have found your site!

  9. I have just found this blog and am feeling a mixture of trepidation and excitement. My overheating and lack of portion control is a secret to my two young sons. My husband thinks it is lack of self control. I have a high powered job where people think its the baby weight failing to shift but really, it’s like you said, it’s years of using food for a purpose other than for fuel, albeit tasty fuel….I was just much better at starving myself and hiding it when I was younger….I used to eat leftover sandwiches from the dustbins of the school classrooms when I was 17, but I looked pretty good as I could also starve pretty well. I was a fat kid eating two Big Macs and a milkshake in one sitting, but no one told me that it was unhealthy (yet my parents are doctors !). I then went on an apple diet when I was 11 after discovering my mums weight watchers magazines and learnt the calorie content of just about every food on the planet, priding myself that my waist was smaller than my head circumference…and I stayed slim by eating green beans with ketchup or other such low cal foods, in between binges of cereal, cakes, peanut butter etc, stealing my flat mates food…anyway, 20 years later…
    No pressure, but your blog may just be be the trigger to my being ready to tackle this.
    Thank you

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