Do Temporary Fixes Offer Lasting Change?

Are we fooling ourselves and hindering our efforts with temporary changes?

Posted Aug 03, 2014

Gregg McBride The Weight-Ing Game Psychology Today

My friend Erika and I back in the day, when I weighed in excess of 450 pounds.

Gregg McBride The Weight-Ing Game Psychology Today

My friend Erika and I today (with me at a healthier weight).

What I'm about to share isn't pretty. But it does address some of the unattractive side effects of being morbidly obese. And although I thought the following was something I'd never publicly share, I realize that owning it is one of the tools I can use to make sure I never again tip the scales at over 450 pounds -- and perhaps inspire you to win your won battle of the bulge.

As you might imagine (or might be aware of through first-hand experience), life in the fat zone is pretty unpleasant across the board. But besides suffering the physical side effects of my gluttony (acid indigestion, labored breathing, profuse sweating, sleepless nights), I was also dealing with the fear of being mistaken for a woman.

At 450+ pounds, I had bigger "breasts" (AKA man boobs) than most of my female friends at the time. Add to that, the overhang from my belly was so enormous that my penis had pretty much retracted into my pelvis -- giving my crotch an appearance more inline with "camel toe" than one of masculine prowess. The "perm" I had recently gotten for my hair wasn't helping any of my angst either. (Although getting said perm did prove I still cared about my looks -- even though the only clothing I could fit into during that time was size 4XL sweatpants and an oversized gag T-shirt I'd won at a bookstore because it actually fit -- much to the shock of my friend Erika, who was there to witness the exchange.)

Feeling all this combined angst, I decided it was time to take action. But instead of getting sane about my health and changing my eating and exercise habits, I resorted to other measures. The first was to grow a beard in order to be sure that my "manly" facial hair would keep me from ever being mistaken for being female. But wait, there's more. I also began stuffing the crotch in my sweatpants with a pair of rolled-up socks to help create a "bulge effect." At last, I was sure that there would be no confusion in regard to my manliness during the few times I allowed myself to be seen in public. (At over 450 pounds, I had become a virtual recluse.)

Cut to one late evening at a grocery store, when I pushed my cart down a surprisingly crowded aisle and a little girl screamed out to her mother, "Mommy! Mommy! Why does that man have boobs?”

Everyone turned. Everyone stared. I'm not sure if I was more embarrassed of my heaving man boobs or my cart that was full of the most fattening food products available at the market. As the wheels of my cart squeaked loudly, I pushed past the inquisitive child (resisting the urge to push the cart she was sitting in deep into a tall, pyramid-like display of cereal boxes) and quickly abandoned my cart and left the store.

Turns out my masculine makeover didn't really work all that well. Although today I see it as one more step on the path toward finally waking up and realizing that what I needed to do was not manipulate my excess weight, but get rid of it.

I share this whale of a tale not only for your amusement (although trust me, it's fine to laugh at it -- I certainly do), but to perhaps inspire you to think about what methods you might be using to "fix" your health that really do not carry much weight (much less have little or no effect in the long run).

By examining the ways in which we're trying to fool ourselves into thinking our condition can be lived with, we might just jump ahead a couple of steps and move onto some real -- and surprisingly simple -- changes that can have a lasting effect on not only our overall health, but also our psyche.

If you want to share some of the attempted shortcuts you've taken when working toward a goal that proved to be quite useless, I promise I won't laugh. Instead, I'll give you a knowing wink and a gentle smile. And if we happen to chuckle together, then so be it. After all, sometimes the best lessons can also be the most amusing.