How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
I love this truism. Fabulous reminder that to accomplish fantastically big things, you simply break them down into a bunch of LITTLE pieces.
That is how you clean your house. Plan for a big event. Earn a college degree.
And it’s exactly how you would go about eating an elephant.
Triple digit weight loss staring you in the face… Desperate to reverse a disease that has had you in a stranglehold for 10+ years… You have to THINK small, start small. The big picture can quickly overwhelm you into submission before you even get started.
I remember the intense anxiety and fledgling bravado I felt when I finally decided to own the idea that I was going to lose 200+ pounds and tackle T2 diabetes. I was desperately tired of being fat. I wanted OFF of insulin. And I knew, had been told multiple times, had dug up the research; odds were overwhelmingly against me being successful with either endeavor.
A freaking elephant was charging straight for me.
I remember thinking panicky, repetitive, self-defeating thoughts when I was trying to make the mental leap to start fighting for my life;
- No way in hell is this actually going to happen. BUT I have to start. T2 diabetes is going to kill me. Start or die. Those are my choices. Damn. My choices suck.
- I don’t think I even weighed less than 160 pounds when I was born. (Sorry mom.) That’s my ‘goal weight’?!
- I have to lose more than what MOST people ever weigh.
- This will take YEARS.
- I have to change everything. EVERY SINGLE THING.
- What if I can’t beat diabetes? What if I have done too much damage to my body?
- What if it is TRUE that once you go on injectable insulin you are screwed? It’s all over. You can never lose weight.
- Do I know anyone who has lost a huge amount of weight and kept it off? Anyone?(Crickets.)
- Do I know anyone who has reversed T2 diabetes? (Crickets. Again.)
- No one understands how hard this is going to be. NO ONE. HOLY CRAP. I am alone.
- Food. Oh no… Food. Why does this have to involve food?
- Exercise? Are you freaking kidding me?! Wear Spandex in front of PEOPLE? No way… That alone WILL kill me.
- WHERE do I even begin? (Panic. Tears. Shame.)
- Once I get started I can never, ever, stop… This is for the REST OF MY LIFE.
Repeat cycle. Re-inforce negative thinking. Talk yourself out of taking action because you can’t really do this…
THEN… Then I went to lunch with my friend Jennifer Vina.
I was at the point where the idea of mega-weight loss and abolishing diabetes and getting healthy was fighting hard to become stronger than my list of fears. (Or if I am being a drama queen, sappy, happy my reflection on that time is that my desire to LIVE was finally becoming stronger than my fear of dying…)
Anyway, I remember verbally vomiting all over Jennifer. Confiding in her what I really wanted to do in an unorganized, frantic, tear-filled fashion. I was finally saying this out loud to another person. She listened to it all. Then she made me write everything down. How much I weighed. What I wanted to lose. How long it would take. Precise dates. What would happen if I lost a pound a week? No fears allowed. No hedging. Unwavering encouragement. She gently, but pointedly, forced me to think about what I wanted and exactly how to get there.
She SHOWED me how to eat the elephant.
I left with my plan written down on a napkin. And a huge life-gift. She had convinced me I could do it. I could do ANYTHING. I just had to break it down… It was the first time I felt that this might all be possible. My confidence would come and go, many, many times. Still does to be honest. BUT this first hint of confidence was amazing!
‘You just have to start. Then don’t stop. Just don’t stop.’ (Her simple encouragement has morphed into one of my consistent running mantras when things get tough.)
Everyone’s start and progress and success looks different – even if we are trying to eat the same weight loss/T2 diabetes elephant.
PLEASE take a moment to acknowledge that idea.
The biggest tensions I have had with people about my journey is that they think that’s what theirs should look like. That is NOT how this works. NOT at all.
YOU have to own your own journey and success and work. Don’t compare. I learned the hard way that comparisons are useless, painful and demoralizing. Own your journey. This has to be about finding what works for you.
Eat your own damn elephant. 🙂
If you want to try someone’s idea or habit to see if it will fit/work for you? Solid idea! I do it all the time. COMPARING? Not good. Not at all. Just to be clear.
In case one of these ideas seems like something you might want to try ‘on’ for yourself to see if it might work, this is how I got started:
- Wrote down the facts, goals, roughed-out plans. Writing it down made it real and made it not so danged scary.
- I told a handful of good friends. I reached out to the people who had watched me try and fail repeatedly and loved me anyway. I called them and said ‘I’m doing this – I’m serious…” Wade, Hannah, Liz, Deb, Anneke. I asked them to stick with me. I asked for permission to check in. Gave them permission to check in with me. I promised to not be defensive.
- I got approval from my doctor. I was morbidly obese and a T2 diabetic. Turns out when a patient expresses a firm desire and has a plan of action to try to get their health back; docs are SUPER supportive.
- I picked ONE thing at a time to work on. Small things. Drinking more water. Writing down my food. Going for a walk each day. I picked one healthy habit and worked on it until I was comfortable that it wouldn’t go away. Then I picked a new one to learn.
One last story or caveat… 🙂 When tackling lifestyle changes, do NOT try to make a ton of changes all at the same time. I tried that. Gung-ho, ready to fight and change my life. But making ALL of the sweeping changes at one time was a TOTAL disaster. It was simply TOO much change, too shocking. I had a major, epic, short-lived meltdown. Wade took my frantic call and STRONGLY suggested that maybe we should focus on just ONE thing at a time... ‘Let’s just take one concrete, healthy thing at a time. And freaking BREATHE Bets. Just breathe.’ 🙂
ONE bite at a time. Just one, small bite at a time…
THAT is how I learned to eat an elephant.