Lose without being a loser
April 11, 2012 7:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to go from a mostly sedentary person who, frankly, is greedy, to someone who enjoys exercise and eats well. But working in an office full of gymbunnies and no-carbers is making it surprisingly hard...

So. I'm taking medication that, essentially, makes you fat and tired. I want to start exercising, not just to control the weight gain, but also for the mental benefits. I'm trying to focus on fitness and eating better rather than weight gain (so I'm not discouraged to look at a scale and see no loss, then give up) as it feels more positive. It's hard for me to exercise - I am dyspraxic, was picked on at school for being 'fat' (most of the time it was a hideous school uniform) and memories of school PE lesson humiliation echo in my ears, and I have to keep reminding myself that nobody is pointing and laughing. I've realised I like exercising on my own rather than in a group, and that I like being outdoors rather than in a grim gym-box, and I'm trying to run with that by walking more and trying Couch to 5K.

However, in the team on which I work, one person is on a weightloss program (think WeightWatchers), another swings between 'detox' and eating fried food for lunch, and others in the office are serious exercisers. One guy lost a lot of weight over the past few years, and is now someone who goes to the gym every day and running at the weekends. It's the kind of thing that makes me think that anyone could do it, but somehow it's having the opposite effect, making me think that exercise is for Them and not for Me.

The problem is - and I'm willing to concede that as a person with bipolar disorder I am paranoid - is that I'm probably the fattest person in the office, and I feel kind of judged. When there are snacks on the snack table, I've often been the first person there as I sit nearby, and comments have been made about this. (I had my birthday cake the day before and had a wee tiny piece so there was enough for the office, and one of these snarky folks was right behind me when I went to cut it, so it could be my sense of humour faliure, but it does get to me.) My yo-yo dieting co-worker went on Slim-Fast at the same time I tried it, and was a little smug when I couldn't hack more than three days (it doesn't mix with Seroquel, apparently, not if you want to be productive and awake.) And the more I feel like I'm not as fit and as exercise-friendly as everyone else, the more I see it's likely that I'll think 'what's the point' and eat something lardy. There is one particularly sympathetic person in the office who has spoken to me herself about her desire to change her weight (as in, 'I want to lose weight' rather than 'everyone who is size X wants to lose weight, don't they?') but because I have physical and medical issues which other people don't deal with it's hard to explain without, as my detoxing team-mate has said 'I only hear excuses..' Trying to train your body to only ask for food when it needs it is really, really difficult with the medication I take and when I put it like that it might sound like an excuse. I dunno.

I want exercise to be a positive addition to my life. I concede that I am often greedy and ill-disciplined when it leads to food hanging around, and as anyone who has comfort or compulsively eaten knows, it's a weird thing where you do something which will make you feel guilty five minutes later. How can I work on getting healthier myself without feeling like I'm being monitored or judged - even if it's all in my head?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Put up teeny, tiny barriers: If you know you *should* work out/run but don't want to, at least suit up and put your shoes on. Of all the times I've played that trick on myself, only twice did I just take the gear off without running. Regarding food: drink 8 oz water before every meal (good habit to be in) and make yourself drink 16oz before you can snack. If you can choke down the 16oz, you're free to snack. Often enough, you'll feel full just from the water.

And for god's sake, quit beating yourself up for being "greedy". That's the depression talking.
posted by notsnot at 7:28 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't go at it all-or-nothing style. Try working one habit into your life at a time. Try taking a walk just before bed (or after dinner, or before dinner, or before work, or on lunch, or whenever works for you), until you are doing that every day without thinking. It doesn't have to be a long walk, start with a 10 minute one. Once it's a habit, you can make it a longer walk, make it a jog or start a new habit, like packing a healthy lunch for work or something, it doesn't matter, don't worry about the next habit right now. Just try to get one going until its fairly effortless, and then try another.

Also, you need to stop feeling guilty. You're not 'greedy' and you're not a bad person for being overweight, with or without medications. Focus on being healthier not being skinnier.
posted by Garm at 7:33 PM on April 11, 2012

How can I work on getting healthier myself without feeling like I'm being monitored or judged - even if it's all in my head?

I tell myself all the time, "Run Snarl Furillo's race. Don't run anybody else's race. Run Snarl Furillo's race." Basically, you can't do fitness the exact same way as anyone else because you aren't exactly the same as anyone else, and if you try to run someone else's race, you're setting yourself up to fail.

Every time you wonder if you shouldn't have eaten some particular thing, or if you should try a different fitness plan than what you're doing, or if you shouldn't give up on exercise altogether, tell yourself, "I'm running my race. I'm not running anyone else's race; I'm running MY race," and keep doing what you know is working for YOU.

Send anybody who gives you shit about this to me, I'll straighten them out.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:33 PM on April 11, 2012 [12 favorites]

Small, progressive steps. Kaizen, or continuous improvement, is a great way of creating good habits. Begin with manageable steps, and as those become ingrained, expand upon them.

For me, what works best is goal setting. The SMART process for goals setting has been very good for me. Tracking progress to clear, measurable goals is the best thing you can do to see your improvements.

What does 'fitness' mean to you? What does 'eating better' mean to you? These are not questions you have to answer in this thread, but answering them will help you set goals and attain them.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:39 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wow, I identify with your question a lot! So much, that I got up and ate a handful of Easter chocolate before I started typing.

There are some difference, which I'll outline so you have a sense of where I'm coming from. I was a small thin kid, so I don't have that childhood baggage. I danced as a teenager, though, and so never ever felt thin enough, even though I was actually tiny. I have sucked all my life at any kind of sport involving teams or a projectile. I don't engage or participate in dieting of any kind. I spent about 6 weeks last spring on a variety of drugs that made me sleep all day and pack on 3 lbs a week, but now I'm on one that is more likely to cause weight loss and makes me feel pretty peppy.

OK, so first, your co-workers sounds like jerks. Fuck 'em.

As for exercise, what works for me is not Exercising, basically. I have no intention of ever spending time in a gym, for example, or taking a step class, or playing soccer. But I still live a really active life. I don't drive a car, and so walk, on average 7-10 km a day. When I buy groceries, I carry them home. When I'm in a hurry, I ride my bike. Sometimes I do yoga to relax and stretch out achy limbs. I play Just Dance with my kid on the Wii. In summer, I play around in the water, also known as swimming.

All those activities mesh with my idea of myself as a person and how I inhabit the world. None of them set off the alarms bells that say "EXERCISE! EXERCISE! YOU SUCK AT IT! YOU WILL FAIL!" and drive me to the ice cream. I'm just walking around, and playing in the pool, you know?

As for food at work, for me there are two kinds: the kind I really want (a slice of my own birthday cake!) and the kind I'm eating because I'm bored and need a reason to leave my desk (someone else's kids stale Hallowe'en candy!). For the former, I eat it with pleasure. For the latter, I take a walk. Sometimes it's a walk outside, sometimes it's just a walk to the other side of the building to chat for 2 minutes with a co-worker I like. It really is the break I'm usually after, the food is just an excuse.

I don't know if my approach is the best, but my coping mechanism when I'm in a situation where there is competitiveness and comparison and judging is to just disengage. The trick is to find ways to make the disengagement fruitful. I've also accepted that what I consider exercise doesn't "count" in the eyes of the sporty. But just because I'm not wearing expensive running shoes and walking 5K on a treadmill in a gym while watching CNN, doesn't mean my 5K out in the world doesn't count.
posted by looli at 7:44 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I also work with a bunch of crash-dieters and they drive me insane! I don't understand the mega-exercisers either, that is completely de-motivating for me.

I am on Weight Watchers but I try not to be preachy about it. They do encourage you to "move more" and to try to incorporate exercise into your daily life, which I think is a good way for anyone to start. Even just a half-hour walk with my dogs is a good day's exercise. Try starting small. There are many many levels of exercise between "none" and "marathon."
posted by radioamy at 7:47 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd focus a little about how to set some boundaries with the people at work who are judging you. "Can you please repeat that?" to someone who snarks you about taking food, and refusing to engage from a defensive position with anyone who talks to you about your dieting and exercise. To the "I only hear excuses" person, "That's too bad, I thought you'd be a good person to have this sort of conversation with." or other tactics which maybe some other commentators will contribute.

Again, don't defend yourself in these situations, call out the other person's lack of entitlement to the conversation, or put them on the defensive if you must engage, and this applies also to the negative self-talk happening in your head.

As for the exercising, I'd make sure you're framing it more as a process thing than a results thing, and see if you can synergize it with other things in your life, like walking to run errands, listening to podcasts you're interested in on your iPod while you're doing it or (this is a long shot, but it worked for me) flying a kite.

Also, pay attention to how much better you feel afterwards, and how much better you feel in general when you've been doing it for a few days.

You may also want to keep a record of your progress on a calendar. You may get that extra burst of motivation if you can visualize the streak you're trying to continue.

FWIW, I exercise more than anyone else I know, and I always think the most highly of the overweight people and the senior citizens at the Y, people who are doing the best with what they have and making fitness a part of their life. I've also called friends out and limited friendships with people who fat-shame.

What your coworkers are doing REALLY isn't cool, but hopefully there are one or two of them with a more enlightened attitude towards things, who see you as having something in common with them rather than focusing on an obvious difference that, not coincidentally, allows them to feel superior to you. The comments and bad attitude are totally, 100% a reflection of their shitty character, and have nothing to do with who you are as a person.
posted by alphanerd at 8:00 PM on April 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

I asked this question the other week which had a lot of great responses. My best take away message from it, and the things I've had to remind myself the most are the following two things;

1. It's not about them, it's about me being healthy.

2. We pretend that we all have a fair and equal shake at things, but that just isn't true. We are not born on equal playing fields.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:05 PM on April 11, 2012

Since I haven't seen anyone else mention it yet: don't just accept that you have to be on medication that makes you fat and tired, that makes you hungrier, that prevents you from doing SlimFast when you want to. For most issues there are multiple meds, herbs, and lifestyle changes that can help. If this one has side effects that are unacceptable (and they sound unacceptable to me) then try other things.

As another poster said, losing weight, exercising, and dietary changes are incredibly individual and don't let anyone (including your own internal voice) tell you you are doing it the wrong way.

With that said, I will share some things that have helped me: I like to select modest goals so I am setting myself up for success rather than failure. To that end, my current goal is to do 3 hours of exercise a week, other than work (I work part-time as a massage therapist, so I get some activity that way). I track it on a spreadsheet, along with other goals I have for the week, and the cell turns green when I have reached 3 hours for that week. I found it was too annoying and time-consuming to try to calculate how many calories I was burning, to differentiate types of exercise, etc. So I just focus on time spent. That could be made up of leisurely things like walking the dog, or more strenuous things like hiking or swimming. Sometimes I do more than 3 hours, but I don't raise my goal, because I want it to be well within reach and I want to continue to feel positive about my track record of success.

Some people might be the opposite and thrive on extreme challenges, but for me, that just makes me depressed the first time I fail a challenge, and is likely to lead to a cycle of demotivation and depression. I am guessing from your post that you may be the same way.

As for the one supportive person at work: maybe you two can have a buddy system where you take walks on your lunch breaks or something?
posted by parrot_person at 8:10 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you have a talk therapist in addition to the meds, consider bringing this up with him/her. I did this work very specifically recently when my insurance company insisted I do ten sessions with a personal trainer.
posted by looli at 8:11 PM on April 11, 2012

I was always sucky in gym and am
not particularly coordinated or athletic.

But I don't mind walking to work, and it turns out that biking and cross-country skiing are kind of fun. So I do those things, instead of Exercising.

And sure, I feel inadequate regularly because my friends all do x activity more/better/more frequently than I do, which is frustrating. But I try to not do that kind of comparing (I'm not terribly successful, but I do try.)
posted by leahwrenn at 8:24 PM on April 11, 2012

Perhaps consider the notion that self-care doesn't have to be a communal experience? It was only when I decided to start taking care of myself without telling anyone about it/drawing attention to it that the habit actually stuck. I think it worked because it let me focus on what *I* was getting out of it...which was not feeling like crap anymore.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:27 PM on April 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

Wait, why do you need to talk about these topics with your co-workers? Why do they need to know whether you are drinking Slim-Fast or the medications you are on or what exercise you are doing? Normally these things are none of the business of anyone's co-workers. Often, I find that when people make judgmental statements to us, it's because we have given the opportunity to do so by discussing things with them that would normally be none of their business. For the co-worker who said you were making excuses the first mistake was "explaining" yourself to him/her in the first place. You don't owe that person any explanations but the topic probably should not have been broached with him/her to begin with because that opens it up to making it their business and something they have tacit approval to give their opinions on.

And why do you need to know whether they are drinking Slim-Fast or doing Weight Watchers? If they just talk about it around the office it's unavoidable but it sounds like you are actively engaging in one-on-one conversations with them about it, why?

Not a rhetorical question, I am genuinely wondering this.
posted by cairdeas at 8:28 PM on April 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

About a year ago I started going back to the gym after a several-year hiatus. At first I was lucky if I made it in once a month. Then I managed to make it a couple of times a month. Then once a week. Then a couple times a week. I am/have been every bit as fat, tired and greedy* as you, but now I get nicotine-withdrawal-style twitchy if I don't see the inside of my gym every other day. Going to the gym/exercise in general is like any other habit; you have to build it over a long period of time, then one day you wake up and don't have to push yourself as hard.

the man of twists and turns' point about small, manageable steps is good, and I'd add some form of reinforcement to that, whether it's a composition book with dates and goals written in pencil, or an Excel spreadsheet, or the MeFi Fitocracy group or something else entirely.

The same goes for eating healthy. I still binge eat, but do so less than I did before. I can now be satisfied by eating an apple instead of a quart of ice cream. I will still eat a quart of ice cream in one sitting, given half an opportunity, but I now I do so maybe once a week where before it was daily.

It's great that you've found activities that are better suited to you, but have you considered casting your net even wider, for example dance classes, martial arts, swimming or some other activity that appeals to you more viscerally? I'm a nut for martial arts, I just found a dojo that teaches sword fighting and I am INCREDIBLY EXCITED for the opportunity to swing heavy objects around while scampering to avoid being hit. I anticipate that it will push me to my physical limits, and I could not be happier. Chances are there is an activity that will similarly excite you. Find it and revel.

Go as slowly as you need to. Going too fast and then not getting the results you were expected is a great way to talk yourself out of making the changes you want to make. Give yourself years rather than weeks or months. Recognize every meal as a chance.

*these ended up not necessarily being true for me; I would wager that they aren't necessarily true for you either. Self-image doesn't seem to be tied to objective reality very often.
posted by lekvar at 8:42 PM on April 11, 2012

I think there's a ton of really useful stuff in the answers you've got so far. I'm adding my voice to most of it!

1) Incremental, mesaurable and manageable goals.
This echoes Garm, and the man of twists and turns comments (The twisty man's comment in general is awesome, particularly the latter part of it). I can also

2) Screw everyone else's goals. Your goals are your goals, and as referred to upthread: your race is your race.

3) Dis-engage from those whacked conversations with your co-workers. THere's nothing good in those conversations, and they're persistent. It sounds like you may have a sensible person to chat to, chat to them. Otherwise just stop talking to co-workers about this stuff. They're being idiots and jerks.

I have a suggestion for having a crack at Health Month (there's a metafilter team, and a bunch of MetaTalk threads on the program). I've found HM to be really useful for me in two main areas:

i) keeping me honest, and keeping me committed without the gut-wrenching despair and desire to burn bridges resulting from the occassional fuckup. Some days are grey, tomorrow needn't be.

ii) it's keeping me from letting my desire to CHANGE EVERYTHING THAT'S WRONG RIGHT NOW! take over and trip me up. I've slowed myself down and chosen a few things that I suck at doing with any habitude. This allows me to create these habits without chucking in a bunch of static from my head about how i need to do this that and the other to really be achieving.

And once one starts with the habit-forming it's great! Hold onto the memory of how you feel after doing whatever form of exercise you do. It's a good feeling. And for me it's beneficial to remind myself I can feel that way if I do up the laces my shoes and go and do something.

Good luck to you!
posted by pymsical at 9:17 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah this is kind of a personal topic to just bring up with coworkers and the like. I'm probably one of those annoying exercising people and so are a bunch of people I work with and I can't think that we ever discuss it beyond a "heard you did well in that race- awesome!" or "what did you do last weekend? I did X" kind of way. I do find that less fit friends or coworkers often try to bring conversations that start with activity type talk around to their weight and emotions about their weight or their health or how they sucked at PE as a kid and wish they could just run or whatever and honestly? I don't care. I'll fade asap and I'll avoid them in the future if they keep doing it. But I'll do the same if a coworker constantly complains about their love life or their terrible relationship with their mother, it has nothing to do with anyone's pants size. It's just way too personal and making people uncomfortable. There are however plenty of people who looovee to hear everyone's business because then they can get all up in it. Sounds like you work with a bunch of these people. They're not necessarily malicious, they may even be well-meaning, but they are pushy and as you've noticed, not very cool about boundaries or politeness or noticing that they're stomping all over your feelings. At worst people will coax information out of you and use it to control you later on. Like tiny cult leaders.

tl, dr: I don't want to hear about people's relationship or financial or emotional issues at work. Period. If the coworker is also someone I've become close friends with we can talk about it outside of work but not in the office.
posted by fshgrl at 10:14 PM on April 11, 2012

I make some concessions so I'm close enough to work to cycle in, then exercise isn't something I have to do, going to work each day is something I have to do, and exercise just happens in my life every day without needing any willpower or planning or sacrificing of free time.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:18 AM on April 12, 2012

(I'm not suggesting you do the same thing, but that you think about the same method - finding something in your life that you can tweak so that exercise just happens without needing time or willpower.)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:22 AM on April 12, 2012

One thing that worked for me was finding a reasonably-priced place to exercise (for me, a gym, but I can see a community center or a park or whatever working just as well) that I actually want to go. Then I can get myself to the gym with a promise of a coffee or a soak in the soaking pool, or whatever...and then I am there. As others have pointed out, one you're there, you do the exercise. So I get to work out and then have the coffee or the soak. I love the gym, so I want to go back.
posted by Wylla at 1:42 AM on April 12, 2012

The answers to this question may help - it also written from the POV of someone who is blessed with co-workers who love talking about weight loss.

But you know what... I would just not discuss this stuff with your co-workers. It is a fraught subject like politics. I just don't believe it belongs in the office. When they talk about it, I would just not engage.

I too am significantly overweight and have some very exercise-conscious co-workers. That's fine, good for them; the only time it bugs me is when one of them crows about how much weight she's lost and how great she looks now and how gross she looked before (even at her fattest she was tiny compared to me). But whatever, she's not saying it to me, and it's valid for her. If it ever bothers me, I tell myself it's not about me, and if anything it reflects badly on her to be all like "Yeah I'm so glad I'm not fat anymore, fat people are gross amirite?" when there's a fat person in the room. It's inconsiderate on her part. But it is not in any way a reflection on me.

As to people who comment directly to you, seriously, FUCK em. In a professional way, of course. "Last I checked, what I ate was my business." Then disengage. When someone is a jerk to you, it only reflects on what a jerk they are, and not on you, your weight, or your need to eat.

Eating less and exercising more is the only way any of us can lose weight, but don't try to do it all at the same time. Focus on the exercise for now; as you note, it will help from a mental health point of view too. Incorporate it into your routine. Walking is a great way to do this as it can be incorporated into your commute either to and from work without you needing to add an extra "element" to your day if you see what I mean. And make it enjoyable; I love keeping my iPod updated with great songs. It's a pleasure to stride along while singing along to music I love. It doesn't feel like a chore at all.

And, you know, put up barriers against your over-sharing co-workers. They are allowed to talk about these things, but to you it's a trigger for bad feelings, so protect yourself. Get earphones. Change the subject. Just ignore. Don't feel bad for having these feelings. Good luck.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:33 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you aware of your tremendous amount of negative self-talk? You've got to try to get that under control. Look at the words you use to describe yourself: Loser, greedy, fat, fattest, sense of humor failure, couldn't hack it, greedy, ill-disciplined, monitored, judged. Add to that, if you are being descriptive instead of reporting a medical diagnosis: Dyspraxic, bipolar, paranoid. Other people's interactions with you: Pointing and laughing, picking on, judging, snarky, smug.

Take a second look at all of these. I would bet there are some parts of your body that are quite nice -- sparkly eyes or shapely ankles or beautiful hands or shiny hair or a ready smile. You are persistent in reaching your goals, not a failure who can't hack it. You enjoy life and aren't afraid of a piece of birthday cake or the Couch to 5K or self-improvement of your physical and mental health, which isn't being greedy and ill-disciplined. You sound like a pretty awesome person, honestly.

You are surrounded by people who are so focused on themselves that they can't possibly monitor and judge you. The comments about your Slimfast trial, or the detox "excuses", or the birthday cake -- they are telling you more about themselves than what they think of you.
posted by Houstonian at 4:11 AM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

You absolutely need to take a "fuck off" attitude toward the people in your office, even if it's only inside your head. From what you wrote it seems that you tie up your morals about eating with your existence in the workplace. But you still have to stick to your plan after you leave for the day.

Stop caring so much about the other people, their success and their perspectives on you and your body. Your life is simpler and easier to manage without spending your energy on people whom you don't really need to care about in order to get by in life. You're around them because you're paid to be in the same building as them. Stop judging yourself by the metrics of a stranger. When it comes to the workplace and your personal life, you should be an island.

I can see how the daily slog of being surrounded by things to avoid can get frustrating. Healthy snacks brought from home will take both your mind and your appetite off communal office chow. I really recommend Weight Watchers. I had mega-success that changed my life and it's pretty much made for office workers. They have multiple sane and helpful articles on how to handle this exact situation, as well as plenty of tips for stuff you can bring from home.

And I don't mean to be harsh, but the bipolar thing is an excuse. Non-bipolar people deal with these exact same obstacles, as evidenced by the many similar AskMe questions. The only commonality between all these questions is that the asker hasn't yet found a way to get over their excuses and just commit to whatever it is they want to do.
posted by theraflu at 5:07 AM on April 12, 2012

You seem aware of this, but slim-fast binges and detoxing and other yo-yo habits are really unhealthy. Heck, I'd argue that super-low-carb is really unhealthy. Even the Healthy people in your office have no good input into your Personal Health. They aren't in your body, they can't know what is good or not for You.

Things that have helped me: making nutrition an issue of self-care, limiting sugar (because I find it addictive, but not Eliminating it), telling myself that home-made treats are Way better than crappy candy and thus the only thing I'll eat when it's out at work, going for walks over lunch-time, joining a really welcoming and inclusive gym where I workout harder than I would alone.

This is all about what works for You. Forget the haters, love yourself and your body in the ways that make you Happy.
posted by ldthomps at 7:33 AM on April 12, 2012

I want to lose 50 pounds and get fit. I gave myself 2 years to do it.

What's working for me: tracking exercise on sparkpeople.com (which is free). Eating more healthfully, I lost 10 pounds in the first month, which was a huge boost. I joined a gym that's on the way home from my subway stop with 24/7 access, bought a few exercise DVDs and started walking. I also measured key points and track how much smaller my waist, hips and bust are getting.

Even if I don't "work out" every day, I do both the gym and a mile walk on Sundays, which is also weigh in day.

I'm down 30 pounds in a year and half, wearing smaller clothes and getting lots of compliments. Now I'm focusing more on fitness, and gave myself a year's extension to lose the last 20 pounds. My goal is "fit by fifty."
posted by MichelleinMD at 9:31 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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