This is the last in a series of eight posts detailing concepts and attitudes for sustainable personal change. As one would expect of someone maintaining a 155-pound loss for more than 20 years, my examples have to do with food and weight, but their point is to illustrate how anyone can achieve and maintain healthy change. Today’s concept: “Change is a choice.”
A few times, a parent of an overweight kid has asked me for advice about how to help the child lose weight. And though I do offer an answer, it’s not particularly satisfying: On most days, the most effective action might be, “nothing.”
That’s because, child or not, if someone doesn’t want to change, it’s all but impossible to force it.
I learned this the way most of us learn — through struggle and failure. I was chubby from the start, prompting my mom to suggest (impose) a diet when I was about 10. It was the Stillman Diet, in which I was to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. She put eight toothpicks on one side of the sink, and I was to move one over to the other side with each tumblerful.
My weight was already intertwined with my self-image by then, hating the attention it got me and cursing it for the experiences I missed out on. I can’t recall one thing being fat was good for.
And yet, I shifted all the toothpicks never, and doubt I ever moved even four.
There were other suggested (imposed) attempts later, escalating to three summers at fat camp, where, each year, I lost more weight than the year before, because I’d showed up weighing more than the year before. If you can be bundled off to an environment where all your food is controlled and you are made to be active throughout the day, you will lose weight. But then the summer ends.
Despite a couple of 130-pound-plus losses in my teens or 20s, it wasn’t until my 30s that I put my desire for change above the conditions required to achieve it, and even then, I was not transformed by lightning bolt. In retrospect, the best I can say is that I had the desire to change before I knew it.
Very briefly, a boss suggested I go to the Employee Assistance Program, which eventually referred me to a therapist. The first one didn’t click, and still I went back for another referral. That relationship last nine months before I concluded it wasn’t working for me. Therapist No. 3., Robert Deutsch of West Hartford, Conn., is the one that set me onto my recovery path.
To have therapy fail twice for me and still to go back again, I can only conclude I was ready to change. That’s not to say I knew I was ready, never mind having prepared myself for it. At the beginning, all I did was follow a suggestion to seek help.
Since then, I’ve had plenty more opportunities — to take other suggestions, to take new actions based on my own observations, or merely to continue taking the same actions that had been working to that point. At each juncture, I’ve had to choose, action or inaction, forward or back. Nothing says that I must do one or the other. Either way, I will experience the outcomes of my actions. I am free to choose.