January 12, 2020

Sheer Willpower and Reaching a Healthy Weight in 2020

When my family went to Cleveland to catch a flight to Punta Cana back in 2014, we stayed the night at a hotel the night before our flight. We were flipping through the channels on TV that night, and we came across a show called Naked and Afraid. Sounds like an odd choice of shows, based on the name, but we loved it!

If you're not familiar, here is the gist: A man and a woman (strangers to each other) are taken somewhere very remote (usually a jungle or uninhabited island of some sort--the Amazon, remote parts of Africa, etc.) They are dropped off without any food, water, or clothes (hence, the "naked" part). They each get a one small tool (almost always it's a fire starter, a cooking pot, or a machete). Then, they must try to survive for 21 days on their own, living off the land.

First, they look for a water source; then build a shelter, try to get food, and just try to stay alive amidst all sorts of things that would send me packing on Day 1. They endure severe bug bites and reactions, encounter snakes and other wildlife, and some of them wind up getting sick from drinking contaminated water if they can't get a fire started to boil it. It's very intense!

The thing is, they don't win anything for doing this--they are there simply because they want to test out their survival skills. It blows my mind that anyone would voluntarily go through what they do, but I'm always in awe of it. They usually lose from 15-30 pounds over the course of 21 days, because they have very little food (only what they can find and/or kill, which is next to nothing most of the time).

The thing that amazes me the most about the show is the sheer willpower that these people have. They are allowed "tap out" any time they want and go home, but the majority of the contestants simply force themselves to endure the "torture" (that's what it looks like to me!) to prove to themselves that they can. It's crazy!

Whenever I watch it, I think about how strong human willpower can be. If the contestants can go through all of those things--things that would probably make me want to die--VOLUNTARILY on the show, why is it so hard for me to muster up some willpower for my eating habits sometimes?

When thinking of it that way, I know that I truly can do ANYTHING (at least for a few weeks' time) when it comes to something that requires willpower (well, maybe not the two-week carbohydrate intolerance test, bahahaha). I don't think these people on the show necessarily have more willpower than others; I just think they want something bad enough to do whatever it takes.

That's how I felt when I was losing weight in 2009-2010--I wouldn't let ANYTHING or ANYONE change my mind about my decisions regarding food. I did what was best for me at the time, and nobody was going to tell me otherwise. It was a very powerful feeling!

When I decided to start running in 2010, I focused on the goal of running a 5K in October with my friend Renee. Somewhere along the line, I just became more and more determined to get faster and run farther. And running was something that stuck for me!

When I decided in 2017 that I wanted to pay off our $14,000 of credit card debt, I made up my mind that THIS was going to be the time that I did it. I'd tried to come up with budgets so many times before, but it never stuck. Maybe it was the fact that I'd gotten adjusted to my bipolar meds and was feeling stable and not so impulsive, but I managed to have the willpower to stick to the budget even when it was super hard. And we got our debt paid off! That was over a year ago, but we are still following the budget today. I don't ever want to be in credit card debt again.

Even while following our budget, I managed to remodel our entire home over the period of nearly a year. In the past, I probably would have started a project or two and then left it, but this time I was determined to see it through. And because of that, I developed a love for all things DIY, which is pretty cool!

And last year, when I decided to give up alcohol for all of 2019, it was like nothing could stop me. I wouldn't let any outside force change my mind, no matter what. And it worked! I had determination rather than motivation. And some serious willpower. (I know some people don't like the word "willpower", but I like it--I feel like it's just a way of saying that you're being very strong in something that you need to do in order to get what you want. Most people associate it with weight loss, but it can be used with all sorts of goals.)

A couple of days ago, I had to pick up my dad from the car dealership, and we began to talk about sobriety. He was an alcoholic until I was eight years old, but went into rehab and hasn't touched alcohol since then. I told him that now that my alcohol-free year is up (even though I decided to keep going with it, for an indefinite amount of time), I feel like I'm really struggling about whether I want to continue it.

I made it to my "finish line" that I'd set for December 31, 2019, and when I was looking through pictures on my computer recently, I admit that it made me miss drinking. (I'm not talking about getting drunk--I just mean having a glass or two of wine with Jerry or friends; and even saving and counting the calories for it!)

My dad told me some truths that I really needed to hear. Many of you may find what he said to be harsh or mean, but I don't see it that way at all. It was truthful and did not sugar-coat anything (my dad is anything but a sugar-coater). He wasn't trying to be hurtful when he said it; just honest.

I had told him how I gained 30 pounds, replacing alcohol with food, which was keeping me from losing the weight. I told him how unhappy I've become about that. And after acknowledging that, he told me that he'd noticed that I "looked bigger". When I'd picked him up, and was walking toward him, he said at first he wasn't sure if it was me because of my size. Please don't think he meant any harm by this! I was glad someone finally said it.

Looking at the photos side by side, I can't see a HUGE difference, but I can certainly see it. I definitely cannot fit into those clothes from before. I think the jeans were a size 4 and the top was a small. It today's picture, I'm wearing size medium workout pants and a size large sweatshirt. (I was holding up the dollar because I found it in the pocket of the jeans I was trying on at Salvation Army.)

But more so than seeing the difference, I really FEEL it. I definitely won't get into how much of a difference there is when I'm naked, hahaha. And of course, when taking today's photo, I chose the most flattering of about 10...)

Anyway, my dad had a reason for telling me this...

He said that I need to replace the determination I had for giving up alcohol with something else. And since I had gained weight, I could focus on taking the weight off as my replacement, if I chose to. He said he knows that I already know how to do it, as I've done it before; and that I have the determination within me because of the difficult things I've done (the weight loss, the running, paying off our debt, remodeling our home, and the alcohol-free year).

When I mentioned that I want to lose this weight that I picked up, he said that I have the determination there, I just need to put it to use and really focus on it. Make that my new mission.

And even though it's something I've thought about and wrote about a hundred billion times, something about the way he said it really made sense to me. Especially the truth about noticing my weight gain. Nobody ever mentions it, but I want the truth! I was glad to hear that.

So, I'd really like to get back to what has worked for me in the past. Nothing drastic. Basically, this is what I did to lose the weight back then:

  • Eating smaller portions (whether it was counting WW points, calories, or just eyeballing the smaller portions). Moderation was key. I used to use a dry erase board on my fridge to plan out my day the night before--what I was going to eat. That took the thinking out of it and made it less stressful at mealtimes.
  • Making slightly better choices, changes that I was willing to live with forever, and gradually changing my taste buds to enjoy healthier foods. (I wrote a post about this here)
  • Saving enough calories for a "treat" at the end of the day--something to look forward to. (Here is a post about how I used calorie counting to get back to my goal weight; I need to re-read this!)
  • Exercise - After I'd lost 60 pounds, I started walking to train for the Indy Mini half marathon. Then I started running. Whether it was three times a week or six times a week, training for a race or for just for fitness, I ran.
  • Setting goals - When I was losing weight, I constantly had a pair of jeans that were a size smaller than my current pair. I'd try them on once a week, and then when they fit, I'd buy a pair in a size smaller. It was fun to always have that small goal to look forward to! But I also love setting running goals and weight loss goals. Writing those down and thinking of them often helped me a lot when working on them. 

And that was it--it's so simple! (Definitely not to be confused with "easy", however--making unfamiliar, uncomfortable choices was very hard!) I would REALLY like to get back down to a healthy weight this summer, when it's the 10-year anniversary of my reaching a healthy BMI.

So, instead of thinking about what I'm struggling with (anxiety, mainly) I want to start to put that energy and focus into something positive--my goals for this year. I set the goals for a reason, and I was feeling motivated at the time. When the two-week carbohydrate intolerance test didn't work out for me, I didn't have a back-up plan.

After having the chat with my dad, I decided that this is my back-up plan. Do the basics that I know helped me, and have the sheer determination/willpower to stick it out. Get it over with! I KNOW that losing weight isn't the most important thing in the world. But I'm not feeling my best right now, and I want to lose the extra pounds not just for vain reasons, but also to feel better!

And when I'm feeling like I "need" ice cream to help with anxiety, I will think of those crazy people on Naked and Afraid who are eating termites and drinking contaminated water... on purpose! 😂


  1. Fantastic insight and good luck! My family and I love that show and always watch it when it is on, people's sheer grit to get through is so impressive. :)

  2. I love this post and really needed to read it! I am in the same boat and want to feel better and focus on my health. I absolutely know what works for me and what doesn't, but I often over-complicate things. It's time to go back to the basics. Thank you for your honesty and for inspiring me. You are so determined and will crush this!

  3. I am rooting for you and currently in the process of mustering my own determination. We CAN DO THIS. We've done harder things.

  4. Katie, long-time reader here: you are so inspiring because of your candor and persistence. It's so hard to feel as if you've gotten into a groove and everything's working -- and then it isn't. We've all been there, and it is so reassuring to hear how you keep getting up and tackling those challenges, because that's all any of us can do. Cheering for you!

  5. Sounds like your dad both loves you and "gets" you-- you are blessed! I have often revisited your discussion of determination vs. motivation. I find it helpful! Sounds like you are in a good position to let that determination work for you again.

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I was doing great on WW for a month or so before Christmas (even thru Thanksgiving) but have not gotten back on track since. Plus I gained 4 lbs over Christmas. Your/your dad's advice of just doing it is really good and true. I know I CAN do it, I've just got to do it....

  7. I love naked and afraid and I am so with you...I would NEVER even give it a try!! We leave the discovery channel on for our dogs all the time tho...and I love when naked and afraid is on and I get distracted! hahaha great post and it really hits home for me right now as well!

  8. I'm with you Katie! I've gone back to Weight Watchers but so far haven't been able to stick with it for any number of reasons (insert avast list of excuses here). But you are so right, I've done it before, I know what I need to do and number one is stop making excuses and just make it a priority! I need to focus.

  9. I think of you saying "there is a difference between motivation and determination" quite often. I lost 40 pounds about 3 years ago from an all time high of 203. I actually was at peace with my weight. I wasn't trying to hide from anyone or restrict myself - I truly felt like I was at peace with my size. But I fell in love with dancing about 5 years ago and I realized that I wanted to leap higher when I danced and my physical weight was making that harder for me to do. So I found this deep sense of determination to get lighter so I could leap higher. It was a totally different reason to lose weight than anything I'd felt before. It also helped that I was at a place of acceptance. This effort was really just sheer determination to dance better. Lately, I have gotten a bit relaxed about the things that worked for me when I reduced my weight and I'd also like to refocus my determination this year. Thank you for the post.

  10. I am at the point you were when you first decided to lose weight & became successful: around 260lbs. I am, however, nearly twice the age you were at that time: nearly 43. I have found some information & suggestions here that are not common on many weight loss sites, but I am grateful that you shared them, because to someone like they are worth a try. I really like the idea of reserving some calories - daily - for a treat, having an item of clothing one size too small to aim for, and the idea of registering for an organized walk or run in the future to give yourself a goal & make yourself accountable. I'm going to try all of these, along with some of your great-sounding recipes (I've only tried your fantastic pizza dough, to date) to make yet another attempt at improving my life. You are an inspiration and you are brave - for dragging the shameful and often-scoffed-at ideas of food addiction & binge eating out into the light. Thank you!


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