Waistline: The Eternal Struggle


If you’re like me, you’re one of the millions of people who struggle with their weight.

If you’re like me, you dread going to the doctor’s office because you know you’ll inevitably hear some variation of the message, “Hey, lose some weight, fat ass!”

Ok, none of my doctors have ever called me “fat ass,” as that would be highly unprofessional (and a little mean-spirited), but the message was the same nonetheless.

If you’re like me, you’ve even joined a gym, purged your fridge and pantry of junk food and sugary treats, restocked with vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and anything else with enough fiber to clog up a bull elephant.

Laxatives are your friends. Trust me on that.

Maybe you’ve even come up with a workout schedule, found a variety of workout routines you won’t hate doing, and started keeping a food and exercise journal.

You’re committed, and you fully intend to eat healthy, stick to your exercise schedule, and finally get in shape.

But life has a nasty habit of getting in the way.

We’re busy with work, kids, and all of the other time-consuming obligations that come with being a responsible adult. Our daily time and energy is limited. And sure, we find a way to balance our jobs/kids/responsibilities and a gym routine for a while.

But eventually, we run out of stamina.

We get tired, if not overwhelmed, and we’re forced to face the reality that something has to give. And though it might pain us to do so, we start going to the gym less and less frequently until, one day, we wake up and realize it’s been three months since we’ve gone. That’s a low moment. Not only are we confronted with the realization that we’ve given up on working out, but the gym is still charging us every month whether we’ve gone or not.

Now we feel guilty, fat, and maybe even fiscally irresponsible.

But it’s ok (at least we tell ourselves), because we’ve been eating healthy…haven’t we? I mean, we bought all that healthy stuff at the grocery store. And even though it takes 45 minutes to cook a pot of brown rice, we’ve been making healthy food for dinner…mostly.

If you don’t count the hand full of crackers we ate while cooking because we’re ravenous at the end of the day…or that bag of Cheetos we had in place of lunch because we didn’t have time for anything else, or because we forgot to pack something healthy that day, or because we slept through our alarm, and it was Cheetos or nothing because it was all we could do to get out the front door on time. And yes, maybe we accidentally left the kitchen sink running all day, and our water bill will be double what it normally is, but we made it through another day, and sometimes that alone is a major achievement.

And we have to wake up tomorrow morning and do it all over again.

As I’m explaining this to my doctor, she’s looking at me like I just told her about some adventure I had involving some magic beans, a giant, and freakishly overgrown greenery.

“Well, given your family history and your lack of mobility, it would be in your best interest to be lighter and in better shape,” she tells me.

She’s right, of course.

My family has a long history of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. The men on both my mom and dad’s side tend to be big, strong, barrel-chested bastards whose hearts explode once they hit their early 50’s.

My dad’s dad did have two quintuple bypass surgeries. The doctors told him there was nothing left to bypass, and that if he didn’t change his eating habits and start exercising, he would absolutely die of a heart attack.

He passed away a few years ago of, you guessed it, heart failure.

My mom’s father passed away from congestive heart failure two weeks ago.

My doctor would like me to avoid following in their footsteps. Not just because it’s part of her Hippocratic Oath, but because she’s a good doctor, and she cares.

Despite her constantly reminding to lose weight, I like her a lot.

One of the things I like about her is she’s big on preventative care. Let’s cut these problems off at the pass, so that we can avoid something like quintuple bypass surgery – something I imagine that’s as unpleasant as it sounds.

Here’s the thing.

Losing weight is hard.

Nothing revelatory about that statement. To say so is cliché, especially in a country in which, according to a quick Google search, 69% of the population is overweight and 32.5% is obese. Not surprising considering how much sugar, salt, fat, and processed food product is in the pre-packaged foods we get from vending machines, convenience stores, and other places which make these foods widely and readily available.

I’m not saying our national or personal weight problems are the fault of these retailers, though they’re not exactly aiding the situation either.

I’m not saying the fault lies with the manufacturers of these products, though, again, they seem to be capitalizing on our collective lack of impulse control, time to prepare healthy meals and snacks, and the fact that, because many of us are often over-worked and underpaid, at the end of the day, we’ll hit up a drive-thru because it’s cheap, its quick, and we’re dead-ass tired.

That, and because all that fat, salt, and grease make for a damn tasty burger, burrito, chicken leg, etc.

Plus, we have access to that kind of food at all times. For example, on my drive home from the University of Arizona’s gym, which was only about a mile-and-a-half down 6th Ave. from my apartment, I’d pass two taco stands, a bakery, a burger joint, and a Dairy Queen with a drive-thru. I had to look straight ahead, or risk giving into my growling stomach and completely erase the work I’d done in the gym.

Fast-food restaurants are omnipresent. It seems like nearly every street corner is home to fast-food restaurants offering all the tasty things we should, at best, eat on occasion. The smell of French fries permeates the air, comes in through our cars, and worms its way into our noses, tempting us to break our diets. Now we’re using our limited energy supply to resist the siren song of crispy, golden, slim-cut potatoes.

Oh man, I could go for some right now. It would be so easy, and no one would know…

But I’d know. And I’d feel guilty about it afterwards. Don’t we all? We knew better. But in the moment, we didn’t care. That’s when all the negative self-talk starts.

“I ate a Big Mac, so I guess I’ll be fat forever. It’s just as well. I deserve to be fat. I mean, I couldn’t even get to the gym one day this week. Also, I had a piece of cake Monday because it was someone’s birthday at work, and it would be rude to refuse a piece of birthday cake, and besides, who doesn’t love a piece of birthday cake?” or whatever your inner monologue tells you. Regardless, we so easily give way to self-criticism when our overthinking pairs up with self-doubt or, worse, depression. What little motivation we can muster is decisively quashed by sometimes as little as one dietary slip up.

So we give up.

And what do we so often do to feel better, at least in the short term? Well, if you’re like me, you turn to food. Specifically, sugar.


Because who doesn’t feel better halfway through a bag of M&Ms, a pint of ice cream, or whatever your sugar-fix of choice is?

Hey, it’s called “comfort food” for a reason.

And yet, if you’re trying to lose weight, or just feel better in the long term, sugar, especially processed or refined sugars, is one of the worst things you can ingest. It causes you blood-sugar levels to fluctuate, so you alternate between riding high and sinking low – a great recipe for mood-swings.

Moreover, sugar, even more than fats, cause us to gain weight. According to Dr. Mark Hyman of the Cleveland Clinic, “When blood sugar rises, insulin spikes and drives all our body’s fuel into fat cells, especially around the belly. This triggers more hunger, cravings, and overeating.” For example, you ever eat a sugary treat from a bakery – a brownie, a bear claw, a cinnamon roll (I’m actually drooling as I type this) – and an hour later, you’re hungry again, despite the fact that the treat you ate contained enough calories to constitute a small meal? I’ve been guilty of this, often as a result of feeling depressed, tired, or just needing a quick pick-me-up, and found myself ravenous well before it was time for me to eat an actual meal.

Interestingly, Dr. Hyman goes on to say, eating healthy fats can help you burn more calories than eating the same amount of carbs.” This would be foods like fish, avocados, olive oil, and nuts – not donuts, cheeseburgers, or bacon.

Or a bacon-cheeseburger donut. That could totally be a thing.

Yet, it’s the junk food that we crave, or at least I do. Food cravings paired with an “all or nothing” approach to weight-loss is why I’ve yet to be successful in the long term. Yes, I know the way I sometimes eat isn’t healthy. Yes, I know I should make time to exercise. Yes, I know I need to find some kind of balance so I don’t get overwhelmed and give up, because consistency is one of the keys to long-term success.

“Knowing is half the battle,” G.I. Joe taught us in the 80’s. But it’s the easy half.

It’s putting that knowledge to use that causes me, and so many others like me, to stumble and fall and feel guilty for doing so.

So if you're struggling with your waistline, know you're not alone. I feel your frustration and share your struggle.

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  1. Hyman, Mark MD. “Health Essentials” The Cleveland Clinic, Feb. 26, 2016. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/podcasts/health-essentials 10/14/20

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