Welcome to the part of the show where I, Charlotte, answer other people’s mail. Not because the original answer was bad – they are generally quite good! – but because I have lots of opinions that nobody asks me about:)
Go Ask Alice
If you are old enough to remember the ’80s, which I was 10 when they ended and I can still sing the Strawberry Shortcake song so I totally qualify, then you will remember one of the greatest literary hoaxes/horrific stories of all time: Go Ask Alice. This is not the Go Ask Alice I am talking about here (but I feel I must tell everyone about the hoax because that book scared the CRAP out of me as a kid. And it’s not even true!!!).
No, Go Ask Alice is the name for Columbia University’s online health services. Students write in with their most pressing health questions and Alice answers them in a very non-Brady manner. Seriously, browse through the archives and I don’t care who you are, you will be much educated. Probably about stuff that you’d rather not know about (third nipples are normal!). But still, definitely fascinating and very comprehensive.
One of the letters of the week caught my eye (I’ve edited it for brevity):
I am interested in finding a place to go to lose weight that costs no money. I have heard of weight loss camps but they cost too much.
I have been putting off my life for nine years now because I am not satisfied with the way I look or feel. I am twenty-three-years-old and desperate at this point because I have tried everything, including many therapists. My life is passing me by but I only seem to care less as time goes on. Thanks for your help.
Alice provides a wonderful answer but she missed a couple of big points.
Here’s my answer:
Dear WC (Did you know that means “water closet” in Britain? Those wacky British.),
I am very bothered by the fact that you feel “desperate.” All weight loss concerns aside, I find it very telling that you only seem to “care less as time goes on.” You sound depressed. Another symptom of depression can be weight gain and loss of motivation. You say you talked to many therapists but have you ever been evaluated for depression? It is more prevalent than people talk about and can be exacerbated by a big life change like, say, going to college. Your mental health is my first concern.
Secondly, I am surprised that you think a weight-loss camp would be the answer to your woes. It is unfortunate but we live in a society where food is omnipresent and self-control is not. Secluding yourself in a special environment will only teach you skills that work in that environment. You are smarter and stronger than that! Besides, there are no free weight-loss camps that I know of.
Which is not to say that there is nothing you can do. But you have to know it will be hard. Worth it, but hard. People want weight loss to be easy (and really, “losing” something usually is). Here are a few hard tips to get you started.
1. Be gentle with yourself. It turns out that the majority of our weight is determined by our genes (check out my HuffPo post on this new research & the ensuing discussion over there) and hating yourself thin only works in the short term. I know this from experience.
2. It’s all about support. Tell your family. Tell your friends. Join an online community. Find a weight loss buddy. Become accountable to someone besides yourself.
3. Give yourself permission to make mistakes without calling the whole experiment a failure.
4. Find out what works for you and your body. Try everything! Make it an adventure instead of an ordeal.
5. Acknowledge that it’s going to be hard sometimes. But anything worth having is worth working for.
Notice I’ve said nothing about counting calories or which program is best or even where to begin with exercise? That’s because you’ll figure that part out once you have the other pieces in place. Our bodies want to be happy and healthy, which doesn’t mean stick thin either, and once you give it permission to not be perfect and to have fun, then I think you’ll start seeing results.
Hugs & Kicks,
I have the smartest readers on the web. For reals. I discover this every day as I read your comments and your own blogs. I know you have some things to tell WC – let me know what you’ve discovered about finding your healthy weight! And hey, if you have any advice about weight-loss camps bring that on too!
Cartoon Credit: Basic Instructions