Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Bigger isn't always better

I have three cats, and although they provide me with a lot of comfort and companionship, I readily admit that I am not fond of litter-box duty. While shopping recently, I noticed that Meijer had a sale on cat litter, but it was a 40 pound bag of Tidy Cat. I typically purchase several smaller bags, but always one to save money, I bought the large bag that was on sale, thinking it was a ‘great idea.’ Yesterday, however, I thought differently and questioned my judgement when I struggled to bring the bag out of my vehicle in the wee hours of the morning to change the litter before work.

It must have been a ‘better day” physically when I purchased the bag a few weeks ago because I don’t remember it being that difficult to get the bag into the truck, but yesterday morning, it took a lot of effort to carry the bag in the house, open it and go about my task. The bag was awkward, heavy, and very difficult to hold on to as I moved it to the ‘litter-box’ room and then attempted to hold/pour and fill the box. I ended up spilling litter all over, and ultimately decided, that the extra effort needed to handle that size bag with arthritic hands was certainly not worth the dollar or two I saved. Needless to say, I’ll be buying the smaller bags from now on.

Although recently my mind has been saturated with thoughts of accounting principles, business administration definitions (my college classes), and student success, I know that God always uses these ordinary experiences to motivate and encourage me on my journey, so I began to ponder about that silly cat-litter. I kept thinking about how physically difficult it was to carry those 40 pounds up 3 steps, through the patio, down the hallway. It may have just been a ‘rough morning” but I had to put the bag down twice before reaching my destination. I could feel my heart pumping and kept thinking how much strain/stress just 40 little pounds made, and how tired I was after that simple chore. No wonder I was so physically exhausted, in extreme pain, always out-of-breath, and barely able to stand up just 5 years ago: I was carrying the equivalent of 6 of those litter bags around on a daily basis. YIKES! If you are questioning if losing even 15-20 pounds makes a difference, try carrying around a couple of bags of flour or a couple of gallons of water for a little while and see how it affects your body and energy level.

I also thought about how the media has influenced us to believe that ‘bigger is better’ and having ‘more’ is better than less. Certainly, purchasing a larger quantity of an item is cheaper (hence Sam’s and Costco’s success), but is it always better? For those of us addicted to food, I don’t think so. Although I haven’t eaten a cookie or potato chip in 5 years, I still struggle with portion control, only now, it’s healthier food. I can eat a quart-and-a-half of strawberries in one day, just as easily as I can eat a quart. I purchased a bulk size container of Greek yogurt a few months ago (equivalent to about 5 individual cartons), in order to save money and finished it in two days! I don’t recall ever eating 5 individual yogurts in two days, but because the yogurt was there; I ate it….a spoonful or two at-a-time throughout the day. I did the same thing with that big bag of Skinny Pop popcorn I purchased at the warehouse last month. In those case, bigger is cheaper…but for my journey, certainly not better!

In terms of weight-loss/diet/exercise, we often fall victim to the same kind of thinking when we begin a weight-loss  or exercise plan that is very restrictive, sometimes extreme, and promises ‘fast results.” In the beginning, we are ‘gung-ho” and are motivated so we go to the gym and walk 5 miles on the treadmill, lift weights, do “whatever it is people do at the gym (I really don’t know about gyms)’ and work-out so hard that we can hardly move. More often than not, we don’t stick with such a regime, simply because it is ‘too physically demanding, too fast.” I am more likely to continue to walk a mile or two every day for life if I start out slowly, than I am to start out with five miles a day, only to quit after a couple of week because it is too lofty a goal. Bigger/faster/tougher isn’t always better. Rather, slower, consistent movement, done more often is more likely to become a habit that one can maintain for life. Changing the cat litter with a 10 or 20 pound bag of litter is a manageable chore and I am more apt to do it more often with a smaller bag than with another 40 pound bag.  I am more likely to lift my 10-pound weights several times a day, every day, for longer period of time, than I am to start out with 15 pound weights, giving up the habit after only a few days because it is too taxing on my body and my arms/shoulders hurt.  Too big, too fast, too far, etc., isn’t always better. For me, slow and steady, wins the race.

The same holds true for the promise of ‘quick weight loss” programs or pills that guarantee results. Sure, one might lose weight very quickly, if all he/she eats is protein shakes or juices for several weeks, but I wonder….how long can a person do that? How long can one live on diet-pills or other extreme measures? Is it sustainable?  Will one really go the rest of one’s life without eating real food? What happens when one eats real food again or goes off the diet pills?  I’m not EVER going to question one’s journey or method to change because I personally believe that a person’s journey is PERSONAL….and one that each person must choose for him/herself, but for me….I made the decision on day one that I would not do anything in the beginning that I was not willing to do for the rest of my life. For me, that meant switching from French vanilla coffee creamer to a sugar free version because I simply did not want to drink black coffee for the rest of my life. Will I ever do it? Perhaps, but I haven’t yet. I’ve said it before….if you aren’t willing to give it up “for life”, then figure out how to incorporate it into your eating plan. If you can’t see a future without chocolate, try switching to 3 Hershey’s kisses or a fun-size candy bar, making adjustments as needed to compensate for the calories.

When I began my journey five years ago, I went ‘cold-turkey” on some things, and to this day, have not EVER eaten it since. Candy, chips, sugar, regular bread, cookies are among those things, but I attribute that to nothing more than God’s miraculous grace. Phasing out other things, like soda, was a slower, more manageable process of switching first to diet soda, then to alternating a bottle of diet soda with a bottle of carbonated water, to eventually just flavored water. I went from a ‘more-than-2-liter a day” soda habit to only an occasional (maybe a small bottle of diet coke every 2-3 months) habit. I was seriously addicted to soda and I’m not sure that I would have stuck with it beyond a few days had I just stopped, although I was able to do that with the sugar/sweets, etc. Slowly changing your portion size or what you eat might be a better solution for some.

I have never smoked, or been addicted to drugs or alcohol, so I don’t even presume to advise on beating that habit, but I can surmise that going ‘cold turkey” is probably the only way to do that (with the use of nicotine gum/patches/withdrawal drugs/support programs), because ‘substance abuse’ is a different battle, and giving advice is better left to professionals in that field. I’d be interested in hearing from those in our groups on whether ‘cutting back’ on those substances worked for you.

I guess if I were to give a suggestion it would be this:  Be careful about setting too big a goal: instead, set a bunch of ‘little ones.”  Be mindful about going too restrictive in your food choices; instead, find a way to reduce your caloric intake in a way that you can be satisfied with for life. And, make moving more a priority, but do so in ways that are enjoyable and sustainable. 

Sure, a bigger bag cat litter will save me money, but it doesn’t make the job easier, so I doubt I’ll buy that size again. Certainly, a fad or restrictive diet will yield quick results, but it that always better? Absolutely, losing 50 pounds is a very big, but achievable goal, but losing 5…and then another 5….and then 5 more is easier.  Cheaper….faster… bigger…may not always be better, but that is for you to decide!  You are in charge of your journey, and the choices you make along the way….it doesn’t matter how or when you get there, just take a step today in the right direction!