The Weight is Over – Week 34: Staying Strong, Despite Social Pressure

I’m not exactly sure how, or when it happened, but some time during this last seven-month health and fitness journey with Matthew Lister at Align Private Training, something unexpected happened: As my body changed, so did my brain, and with it my thinking about “forbidden” food and drink.


I’ve never had that happen with another weight-loss endeavor. As Matthew is fond of saying: “Did you succeed because I told you something you didn’t know about what foods you should or shouldn’t eat or drink? No. You already knew.”

He’s right. But there was something magically life-changing about embarking on this radical health-and-fitness program with Matthew, and seeing what my body could do when pushed to its physical limit. And when that happened, it also changed the way I look at food, eating and drinking.

I’ve lost about 30 pounds and many inches. I’ve gained strength, confidence, health and vitality. As Matthew said a few weeks ago, I’m never going back to that former way of living, thinking and eating again. Just knowing that makes me feel as if I’ve won life’s greatest lottery.

Not that I’m perfect. I’m still learning, such as when I returned from our family camping trip on the coast and I told Matthew how proud he should be of me for not eating a single s’more. Not one. And Lord knows I had lots of people urging me to have just one.

Matthew: “So you stayed on program the whole time?”

Me: “No, I had wine almost every night. But I didn’t have s’mores.”

Cue laughter.

It’s sort of like my retail math logic that used to drive one husband crazy, where I figured I was actually saving money by spending money at a sale.

But the longer I’m on this journey, the more I’ve noticed something: Sometimes people – good people – try to talk me out of staying “on program” – temporarily, of course.

Just for this one day. Just for this one meal. Just for this one drink. Just for this one piece of dessert. Come on, you’re on vacation! Come on, this is a special occasion! Come on, you’ve been so good! Reward yourself! Here, we’ll order dessert and we can all split it.

ice creams with toppings

It’s like that cartoon with the little devil on one shoulder and the little angel on the other. But this time, the little devils are often people we love, who supposedly love us, too.

It reminds me of my friend whose husband had a bad habit of suddenly starting the routine of bringing donuts home every time she started a new diet. It’s hard enough to “stay on program” with the internal messages, let alone dealing with the outside pressure.

It turns out I’m not the only one who wrestles with this issue. This week at Align, a group of us had a lively discussion about this very topic (as we worked out – four consecutive sets of 5-minute cardio sprints). Here are phrases others said they’ve heard during their health-and-fitness journeys:

You’ve been so good, why not treat yourself?

Come on, you deserve it!

You’re looking too thin (nobody’s said that to me yet, but I live for the day).

Life is short!

One Align buddy said she was recently pressured by someone to eat a chocolate chip cookie, although she stood firm and didn’t cave in. We joked about how great it would feel if the tables were turned.

Hey, put down that cookie! Come on, life’s short. You don’t want to make it shorter by being overweight and unhealthy.

Of course, nobody would say that. It would be considered rude. But really, isn’t it even more rude to attempt to derail someone’s weight-loss and health efforts?

Matthew R. Lister of Align Private Training.

Matthew R. Lister of Align Private Training. Photo by Brad Garrison.

Matthew – our trainer, coach and, on this particular day, therapist – joined in on the conversation. He said the greatest act of love is to support the person you care about by not asking them to go off program. He pointed out that when people say things like the messages I mentioned, it’s not about us, but themThey feel uncomfortable with (fill in the blank): our success, our will power, our weight-loss.

Maybe they say those things because they hate to lose an eating/drinking buddy.

Or maybe it’s because they see me changing, and it makes them nervous, so they want the old me back. The thing is, the old me was unhealthy and unhappy with myself. The old me gave so much of myself that I had nothing left for myself. Except food.

ginger cookie

Matthew calls that syndrome the caregiver’s dilemma. He said caregiver types (which I am – and I’m working on it) give and give and give until we’re empty, spent and exhausted. Those messages, the ones like, “I deserve this” – are classic justifications for ingesting crap that makes us feel good in the short term, but it’s the worst possible thing we can do to ourselves. I call it foodicide.

The other day I was hanging out with a couple of people, one of whom was talking about a favorite Starbucks drink she orders a few times a week. I don’t remember the exact name, but it was something like a venti caramel-something frappuccino with whipped cream. When I said I shuddered at the thought of that calorie count, she smiled sheepishly.

“Oh, I already know,” she said. “It’s something like 700, or even 800 calories.”

She laughed and shrugged.

“It’s my treat – that, or ice cream.”

This woman happens to be extremely overweight.  She works multiple jobs and takes care of multiple people – everyone but herself. At this rate, she’s looking at death by treats – one frappuccino or bowl of ice cream at a time.

I’m haunted by that conversation because there were times the old me said those very words: It’s my treat. I deserve it.

Now, the new me treats myself with things that have nothing to do with food: A pedicure, some pretty new underwear, a massage, a float in the pool with a book, a guiltless nap.

My ultimate treat for myself is not taking the old, unhealthy me back.

And speaking of treats, you may recall the concoction I recently created that I thought tasted like pizza: Cottage cheese topped with fresh tomatoes, basil, salt, pepper and olive oil. (Some of you disagreed.)

I have a new one for you, one that tastes amazingly reminiscent of cheesecake. Consider it a treat, a healthy one, from the new me to the new you.

peaches and ricotta

Almost Like Cheesecake

1/4 cup ricotta cheese

1/3 peach, sliced

Put ricotta cheese in a bowl. Top with sliced peaches. Close your eyes. Doesn’t it taste a little like New York cheesecake? You’re welcome.


Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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