The Non-Magical, Non-Mystery Tour

July 31, 2004

I live in Minnesota, very near the Mall of America. And from time to time, somebody asks me, “What’s the Mall of America like?” And I usually say something like this: “Well, on one hand, it’s remarkable — like being inside a pinball machine with a zillion people and a Sunglass Hut and a roller coaster and giant Lego dinosaurs that move. But on the other hand, you know . . . it’s a mall.”

I saw a comment somewhere the other day from somebody who was expressing frustration about the complicated march through fame of various diet schemes (no fat! no carbs! nothing but grapefruit! nothing cooked!). Her comment was that she was very tired of hearing about all of it, because in the end, as she put it, wasn’t it just a matter of eating less and exercising more?

Now, my natural reaction is to flinch at that, because it’s such an absurd oversimplification of everything, and it tends to discount a lot of very complex experiences that deserve more respect than that. Furthermore, it also tends to be followed by something that equates the simplicity of a task with the easy achievement of it. I mean, running a marathon is just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until you reach the finish line; the fact that it’s simple doesn’t make it easy. Same with quitting smoking. It’s as simple as never putting another cigarette in your mouth. Simple, not easy.

On the other hand, as much as I flinch at that description, it’s also true in a particular sense, the realization of which, I think, was really important for me personally in figuring out how to do this after years and years of feeling unable to. Because here’s the thing — I think after a certain number of years of gnashing your teeth over your inability to accomplish something, particularly if it’s been going on since you were a child or perhaps even as long as you can remember, you stop thinking of it as a regular, achievable, simple task.

It begins to feel like wish fulfillment, as if you would need a fairy godmother for it, or a wand, or at least some magic beans. (And no, soybeans do not count, even if you can make cars out of them or whatever the hell those smarty co-op types are always getting up to.) It begins to feel like it’s not something you would ever actually do, it’s something you pray will happen to you. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not suggesting that I ever became passive, sitting around hoping that lightning would strike and I would magically become thin without doing anything. I’m saying that I think I became discouraged to the point where I was sitting around waiting to turn into a different person who would be strong enough to work miracles that my regular self wasn’t capable of.

You can lose track of the part where it’s simple; where it’s possible, I think. There’s a sense in which the Mall of America is just a mall, you know? The Gap. Ritz Camera. Bath & Body Works. Casual Corner. It’s a big mall, and it’s an imposing mall, but for the most part, it’s made up of stuff you’ve seen. And similarly, there’s a sense in which changing what you eat and working out is life-altering and earth-shattering and forces you to take yourself apart and put yourself back together. But ina day-to-day sense, it’s also . . . just changing what you eat and working out. Eat breakfast. Eat lunch. Eat dinner. Eat some other stuff if you feel like it. Go for a walk. You’re done. There’s nothing there that you can’t do. It feels like there is, but there isn’t.

This is where my anger about the gastric bypass surgery doctors come in. I’m not here to judge the surgery people, particularly on the basis that it’s “the easy way out,” because hell, losing much of my intestines doesn’t sound easy to me, and neither do the accommodations you have to make afterwards. And for people who are appropriate candidates for it, if doctors want to present it as an option, that’s fine. But promotion of surgery has become an opportunity for doctors — medical professionals who should know better — to get their names in the paper saying that the reason to have surgery is that fat people cannot lose weight any other way. Cannot. Not “it’s hard,” not “we’re still exploring what works and what doesn’t,” not “it’s uphill.” Just plain “can’t.”

And that’s wrong. I am here to tell you, I have lost over a hundred pounds and not gained it back, and I am not special. I mean, everybody likes to believe she’s special, whatever, but in this sense? No. The hardest stuff to deal with has been, as I’ve said before, all of the nutty emotional nonsense that I unfortunately built up over twenty-five years of frustration and anxiety. That stuff was complicated. As far as the actual doing? Not easy — very, very hard much of the time. But not complicated. Not easy . . . but simple.

Okay, try this as an experiment: Think about something you have in your kitchen that you could eat. Don’t eat it, just think about it for about ten seconds. Close your eyes if necessary. Okay, did you do it? Did you think about it and choose not to eat it? Congratulations, you’re following the Linda Plan. And I’m only partly being facetious. One of the biggest revelations to me was the “You’re doing it right now” moment. I think I expected that for a big accomplishment, there would be enormous moments, like Rocky on the Art Museum steps or something. But there aren’t very many of those. I mean, sure, you work out, and you get off the treadmill all sweaty, and yes, you have visions of yourself saving the world from . . . the Visigoths or the Vandals or whomever. But usually, it’s not like that.

Look, you just had your dressing on the side. Look, you just had Cheerios for breakfast instead of a donut. Look, you just went to Starbucks and had the skim latte instead of the mocha and scone. Look, you just took the stairs. Look, you got on and off a step for a half-hour while you were watching part of What Not To Wear. You’re doing it right now. That’s it — that’s what it looks like. If I made up a photo album of this process in my own case, that’s what it would look like. It would be, you know, pictures of me eating seven Triscuits instead of sitting in front of the TV with a box of Cheez-Its. Look, there I am with a beer and some baked tortilla chips. Look, there I am drinking water. Look, there I am Sweating to the Oldies. (Oh, yes. I did it. We’ll talk about it another day. I beg you not to judge.)

It’s really not that glamorous. It’s not magical. And I don’t say that in the insulting, condescending, “there is no magic bullet, lazy-ass, so take responsibility” kind of way. I say it in the “there’s nothing there that you aren’t perfectly capable of doing” kind of way.

I think it’s healthy to think of the Mall of America as nothing but a string of retail shops that sell mostly the same stuff you can get anywhere else while still holding in your head the notion that it is a landmark, a big achievement, and very impressive when you first see it. Similarly, I think it’s healthy to think of changing all of these habits as nothing but a series of really not very singularly significant decisions.

You’re probably doing it right now.

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32 Responses to “The Non-Magical, Non-Mystery Tour”

  1. lesliele Says:

    Woohoo! First Comment!! 😉

    I just wanted to say that over the past few weeks I’ve been absorbing what you’ve had to say. I’ve been thinking, pondering, speculating… And then the other day, I went to put some margarine (I can’t believe it’s not butta’) on a microwaved baked potato. Just for the hell of it, I looked at the calorie count, and measured. I have not measured since I was 10 and my parents were on low fat/low cholesterol diets (which didn’t work). I was astounded that I had been SEVERELY underestimating the amount of margarine that I use on a daily basis. 80 calores a tbs. I must use 8 at a time…. that is a whopping 640 calories– EXTRA on the *healthy* foods I’ve been eating.

    I am no longer in denial that I’ve been doing all I can. I haven’t. I’ve been decieving myself. And today was the first day I have been 100%. Going out for breakfast with friends, I got a chicken omelet with half the cheese. I only ate one piece of whole wheat dry toast. I drank water. And I had grits instead of home fries drowned in ketchup.

    I’m doing it.

    Thanks.

  2. Missy Says:

    I too Sweat to the Oldies. There is no shame in it! LOL

    I love your writing, and you are so correct. What stunned me lately was the realization that the only difference between this round on Weight Watchers and the last one was…last time I quit. It’s very simple. We all know what to do.

  3. ayni Says:

    Another fantastic common-sense entry! Keep them coming, please 😀 Your way of putting things is such a fresh perspective.

  4. Kaffy Says:

    Absolutely. It’s about making conscious decisions every single day that add up. Some of them are little decisions, some are bigger decisions. No one choice will make a difference. It’s the build up of a string of choices. And, it’s knowing that when you make a worse choice over a better one (big ol’ piece of chocolate cake instead of fruit for example), it’s not the end of the world. Just make your next choice, your next decision a better one.

  5. Molly Says:

    This entry brought tears to my eyes. I’m not even sure why yet. I know I’ve been a magical thinker, a game-player, a rule-breaker, a weight-loss trickster and hoper…but until recently, I haven’t just followed a common-sense plan for a healthy life. It’s working and I feel so relieved. Thank you for putting your words out there – they’re lovely.

  6. Jay Says:

    Another great entry full of sage advice and detailed imagery.

    Well…until the ‘Sweating to the Oldies’. That was kinda scary, but only because I wasn’t ready for it 🙂

  7. Lee Ann Says:

    I think that is true of people in just a general sense, not only for trying to get healthy physically; but also trying to improve our lives in every facet of them. Small decisions are what make up the greater part our lives.

  8. ladymisstree Says:

    And it’s not just the little things we’re doing every day. It’s the little bit you lose here, the little bit you lose there. I’ve been losing .2kg (.4lb) on average a week. It’s tiny. But one day, each of those tiny little losses will add up to that goal weight. Baby steps, acorns and oaks.

    Another stellar entry.

  9. Heather Says:

    You rule.

  10. Nicole Says:

    That’s fantastic advice. I notice that I do the best when my little decisions are wiser. So instead of just watching tv I stretch while I watch or do some pilates during the commercials. I ask myself if it’s really necessary to eat the ice cream that I’m thinking about and decide that it isn’t… and then I notice a difference in my measurements. All those small choices add up.

  11. Nancy Says:

    One of the phrases on a WW bookmark I have says “There’s always another choice.” I find myself going back to that idea over and over again. I’ve been doing WW (this time) for 3 months and have lost over 37 pounds. I know that what I am doing is working.

    But I still want to be able to stop making choices. I want to not have to think about what I eat. Someone asked me what the hardest part of WW is. I think she thought I’d say somehting like, “I hate writing down what I eat all the time,” or “I hate exercising,” or “I hate ignoring that box of donuts in the break room.”

    Not true. For me, the hardest thing is never being able to let up. It’s so hard to not ever be able to STOP being 100% conscious of everything I do in terms of food. And you know what? I never will. My body ain’t made that way, I know that now.

  12. Tracy Jill Says:

    So true and well put. Weight loss so often seems like a journey to discover yourself – or as you put it – taking apart yourself and reassembling. The simplicity of the changes you can make are completely overshadowed by the emotional and social and cultural negativities to prevent you from finding that simplicity. Since beginning my own personal weight loss journey – I am finding that the hardest part is becoming emotionally healthy. My body is changing in all sorts of amazing ways, but sometimes my emotions drag behind the progress of my body. So many things built up for so many years – tell me that I can’t lose weight and that I am destined to be overweight all my life. I am told that I need unhealthy food to make myself feel better. I don’t listen to those things anymore – but it is still hard to combat it, but I can do it. I know that soon I will reach my goal and can stop letting my emotional self keep me from being the most efficient and best person that I can be.

    It is great to realize that I am not alone in my struggles, because sometimes it does feel so lonely.

  13. DeAnn Says:

    I HAVE to tell myself it’s simple more often because I have such a hard time just getting to the gym or whatever. That’s the battle for me: getting started.

  14. Kimmy Says:

    God, yes. These things that you’re writing, they’re not state secrets. But for some reason they are sometimes so hard to find for ourselves. Maybe because we’re fighting ourselves to get there. I discovered the guy at the other end of my rope last week. Thanks, Linda. You’re helping me with every entry, and it means a lot.

  15. Lora Says:

    “What stunned me lately was the realization that the only difference between this round on Weight Watchers and the last one was…last time I quit. It’s very simple. We all know what to do.”

    that is so true, and the same goes for me. i know what to do to lose weight, being overweight is not something i’m cursed with…i can change it. i just need to have the motivation to make the day to day choices and changes.

    “For me, the hardest thing is never being able to let up. It’s so hard to not ever be able to STOP being 100% conscious of everything I do in terms of food.”

    i feel the exact same way. i feel like food (and weight watchers) is on my mind 24/7. but, that may not be a bad thing if it reminds me to do good and make the right choices.

    Linda, again, thank you for a piece that speaks directly to me. how did you get inside my thoughts once again and articulate them so perfectly?

  16. Heidi Says:

    A little over a year ago I lost over 70 pounds by just doing it–working out and eating consciously…

    People noticed and people that I had never even said “hello” to stopped me in the hallway of my office to ask me how I did it. When I told them my simple equation of working out each and every day and eating less and consciously, they looked incredulous and asked me again, “No, how did you really do it? Are you on the fat burn combo?” They were all extremely disappointed when I confirmed that it was just diet and exercise. It was as if I had dashed their dreams against the rocks of reality…for them, then, there were no magic beans. Most of them did not want to believe me, so I think, they chose not to and are still searching for something more miraculous than what’s within their grasp.

  17. Mindy Says:

    I have been on WW for eleven months now, and I am down 55 pounds. Your mall article hit home, and made me think of a particularly bad habit I used to have that I am slowly changing. Pre WW, every time I bought anything, I bought food as well. The check out line in the grocery store…candy bar. Buying gas….candy bar. Borders….candy bar. Mall…for any reason…pretzel and soda. Drug store…candy bar. Blockbuster….BIG candy bar. Office supply store…candy bar. Every purchase…every time. I haven’t done this in eleven months. That alone is probably responsible for about 10 to 15 of the pounds I have lost.

  18. Mandy Says:

    You’re so awesome.

  19. Karen Says:

    Great article, again, Linda.

    Mindy, I really identify with your bad food-buying habit. I used to be someone who thought of every event in terms of the food that went with it. Pretzel at the mall, sure, but I would be even be a little happy when I got a cold. Chicken soup! Tea and toast! My favorite moments in Paris? Cheese & bread & wine! Going to a movie? Popcorn & candy! It’s not even that there is anything wrong with having these things, it’s just that I didn’t really even WANT them for the taste, it was part of the experience. It was hard to stop thinking that way. I still struggle with it. Sometimes I still have something, I just try to think of a better alternative. Decaf coffee at the movies, healthier game snacks on Sundays. I have to be conscious all the time. Small choices, baby steps…

  20. Kim Says:

    That’s the toughest part for me. I may eat a slimfast bar for breakfast (meal bars my ASS…I’m hungry again an hour later) but while I’m doing it? I’m getting depressed about NOT have chicken tenders and french fries for dinner. The RIGHT NOW part is the hardest for me. But obviously the most needed.

    Good entry.

  21. Joelle Says:

    Dude. There’s no magic bullet, lazy ass. 🙂 I keep hoping there will be, though, but alas, I still subscribe to this philosophy.

    This is a great post, though. i needed it this week.

  22. FatGirl Says:

    Thank you for mentioning the GPS angle. The thing that I thought about that recently, and this is completely anecdotal, based on who I know has had the surgery, I’m sure that doctor’s records would refute this completely; but that’s hard to remember when all you do see is what you know. Anyway, the thing about the people I know who have had it is that they have all been skinny at one point in their lives, and just got fat later in life.

    And it just goes to show how absolutely scary it is for some people to be fat. They would rather have themselves cut open and have their insides rearranged and have to rearrange a lifetime of choices, rather than just changing things for a year or two in order to get the weight off. I do agree that doctors bear some responsibility for this, as they do as you say and advise that fat people CAN’T LOSE WEIGHT. Really. REALLY. It’s impossible, is it?

    It is not a tragedy to be fat. Yes, it is unhealthy and yes people should work to be as fit as they can be. But in that transition time between fat and fit, you are not going to die if you LOOK fat.

  23. FatGirl Says:

    And of course, I meant GBS angle. The surgery. Not the satellite location thing.

  24. Malora Says:

    I despise comedians who say “forget the fad diets, just put down the doughnut!” Still, I’m ambivalent about fad diets. I understand the criticisms: that you gain the weight back as soon as you go off them; that they’re nutritionally unsound; that they’re the lazy way to lose weight. My feeling is this: fad diets don’t work when people use them INSTEAD of learning healthy eating and exercise habits.

    Im on a low-carb diet, and it’s worked for me. But I combine low carb with healthy low fat and low calorie meals, and exercise. Using low-carb as an excuse to not exercise and eat bacon and cheese all day is not the way to go. Similarly, I have no problem with people who “cheat” and use diet pills to get through the occasional afternoon craving. But I am concerned about people who pop pills all day and starve themselves to a low weight without learning anything about healthy habits.

    As for GBS–I was watching a program on obese teenagers where a boy was waiting to see if his insurance would pay for his GBS. He seemed to cling to the (by no means guaranteed) chance that he would get approval for surgery. Whenever his mother suggested a healthy alternative to junk food, he would reply, “It doesn’t matter, because after my surgery, I’ll lose weight.” He didn’t realize that what mattered were those daily decisions about junk food.

    And that is true about so many things in life. Wherever you are in life, you got there by a lot of little decisions that cumulated over time. People love overnight success stories because it’s the life version of the quick-fix diet. Many of us want to hear that the way to write a book is in a flash of inspiration that drives you to write the entire thing in two weeks. That the way to become a star is to have someone discover you on the street. It’s far less appealing to hear about writing a few pages every day, or to struggle in obscurity for years. Probably because it’s easier to wait for the magic touch of success than to scrutinize our daily routines and change the way we’ve been going through life.

    Anyway, your entry was inspirational. By sitting here and not going into the kitchen, I’m making one of those decisions that will cumulate in weight loss. It’s not doing much for my other goals, but one thing at a time. 🙂

  25. Zeb Says:

    “Furthermore, it also tends to be followed by something that equates the simplicity of a task with the easy achievement of it.”
    Exactly what I’ve been trying to get accross for ages to my family.

  26. Marianne Says:

    I just found your site. I just want to tell you that I read a LOT of diet/fitness/weight loss related journals and sites and yours is one of the best I have ever read. I plan on reading today’s entry every day every day every day! I’ve never heard such profound truth in such simple words. It is exactly what I have been trying to explain to myself and, to a lesser extent, my husband. It is hard for even ME to understand why something so simple can be so damn difficult and for someone who doesn’t have a problem with food and eating, it seems nearly impossible for them to understand. I think I’ll email this entry to my husband at work….yeah.

  27. Shannin Says:

    Great post. The LA Times has an article in their health section that pretty much says that low carb is good, if you’re eating the right foods and keep your fat and calories under control.

    It is a matter of eating the right calories, getting enough exercise and developing a healthy relationship with food — so easy and yet so hard.


  28. Linda, how did you become so wise? Every time I read one of your posts, I have to smack my forehead all coulda-hadda-V8, for the way you so plainly and intelligently put things that I haven’t been able to articulate in twenty years.

    Anyway, thank you. I particularly needed this article, this week. I am “doing it now,” even if inadvertently…like when the coffee cart is out of regular cream cheese, so I had light. Or the vending machine demanded exact change. Fine, all right, doing it now…if with a little paranormal intervention of some sort, apparently.

    Also, the brightly stated “I’m doing it now!” sounds just dirty enough to cheer me–like flexing a Naughty Muscle whilst checking one’s e-mail.

  29. mystie Says:

    Hey I used to live in Minneapolis, so I am quite familiar w/the MOA. I miss it actually…it’s one stop shopping, and now that they have IKEA 🙂 Yeah baby. I live in Los Angeles now, and actually I love it here. I love your blog keep up the good work 😉 Mystie

  30. DeAnn Says:

    It takes me almost five days to figure this out, but I didn’t receive a notify e-mail for this post.

    I check it every day, though, so I knew when you posted. Just thought I’d let you know, in case you need to kick your notify people in the butt!

  31. Amy Says:

    So good, yet again…thoughts straight outta my head. I long for that quick fix, knowing it’s not there. But you are right, it’s just a mall- just a decision. Do I eat the ice cream and kick myself for it, or do I skip the ice cream and feel like a hero. Great, now I’m crying. I’d rather feel like a hero, but I just keep chosing the ice cream.

    “I’m saying that I think I became discouraged to the point where I was sitting around waiting to turn into a different person who would be strong enough to work miracles that my regular self wasn’t capable of.”

    I am strong…damn it! I go to the gym everyday at 5:30 am. I work in a man’s world. I GAVE BIRTH!!!! But I can’t make a freaking good choice on foods? What’s up witht that. When I put it into words, it just sounds so rediculous! Great, now I’ve stopped crying, and I’m just flat out pissed off.

    Did you realize you could evoke this many emotions with a journal post???

    Thankyouthankyouthankyou for this post. I can’t believe it’s exactly what I needed! I’m going to print it and make like a million copies to keep everywhere! Thanks again…look forward to the next one!

  32. Jenny Says:

    Wow. I can’t really speak to the efficacy of your advice in re: weight loss, but you are onto something insofar as simply living is concerned. Mad props from this corner (which would have done well to read this essay, oh, say, 4 weeks earlier). Longer thoughts at http://journey-to-ithaca.diary-x.com's Aug. 16 entry.


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