Photo: Geof Kern
I used to worry. A lot. About things large and small, about what was happening with the world and with me, about the future, the present, the pie I ate the night before. I agonized over relationships—were they destined to break up? And my hips—were they fated to break down? Unfortunately, I got better at it: I went from stressing about garden-variety worries that anyone would regard as reasonable to logging many unhappy hours catastrophizing about the possibility of highly unlikely disasters.
I was hardly alone in this; I have friends who've also turned worrying into a second job. And so I wondered: Why do we worry so much? It turns out that we can thank, or blame, our evolutionary heritage. In prehistoric times, worry kept us from wandering into the lion's den. Today we're much safer, in the grand scheme of things, but that sensitive warning system isn't easily dialed down. So it sits around wondering if so-and-so likes us, suspecting that the boss is being nice to us because we're about to get fired, and conjuring all the other doomsday scenarios that keep us up at night.
One day, after becoming paralyzed over what to have for lunch—too fattening? too much meat? were the vegetables full of pesticides?—I got fed up. I was sick of obsessing about my health, of feeling the pain in my shoulders from the weight of the world, of knowing that tomorrow's forecast was always going to be cloudy with a chance of regret.
I made a list of my worries, asked my friends for theirs, and took them to a group of experts to find out how we should handle them. What the pros had to say could soothe even the most nervous soul—and lead to a sudden surge in the world's population of "What, me worry?" types. All together now: Whew.
1. I have a bad feeling: I'm never going to lose this weight.
You can't put all your emotional eggs in the weight loss basket. People say, "I'll be happy when I reach this size…," but that's a problem, because either you don't reach the goal, or you do—and you're no happier than you were 40 pounds ago. Then you ask yourself why you did all this work, you go back to the way you were before, and the lose-gain-lose cycle begins.
Instead of worrying about the future, work toward leading a fulfilled life today. That will naturally make you want to be healthy. Eating right and exercising are my two fields, but when I meet with a client, I ask her about the things that really hold the secret to her success—what the most important areas of her life are, and how she feels about each one.
So do a little self-discovery. Look at what brings you joy and what isn't going so well. Have a life plan as opposed to a weight plan. Next, figure out how active you're willing to be and how much time you can devote to exercise. Then balance the calories—but don't deprive yourself. I've never found anyone who should be eating fewer than 1,500 calories.
Finally, set realistic goals, or you're bound to fail. Adjust your thinking about what's healthy for you, given your genetics. Some of the healthiest people on the planet are heavier than what we claim is the ideal. Being realistic is not only important, it's empowering. — Bob Greene
(Greene is the author of The Best Life Diet [Simon & Schuster].)