Can’t Buy Me Solutions

Elsie, a 48-year-old married woman with one son, wanted to lose weight. Over the 24 years that she was married, she gained an average of three pounds a year, which didn’t seem like much. Now seventy-something pounds overweight, she has become self-conscious about her appearance, avoiding the water, short sleeves and many social gatherings. Her relationship with her husband changed. She complained that he showed no interest in sex, while he indicated that he lost interest in an overweight wife. Also, Elsie’s weight influenced her feelings about her own attractiveness and reduced her sexual confidence.

Elsie was determined to lose weight. She bought a treadmill, a tummy cruncher from TV that rolls under the bed and all kinds of supplements that claimed to speed up metabolism. She used the treadmill exactly twice, the supplements didn’t work and the tummy cruncher remained under the bed. When those solutions didn’t work, Elsie went to an expensive and prestigious university clinic where she lost over 65 pounds. Most of the weight returned in a year.

We all know how to lose weight—eat less and better, and exercise more. I know it sounds easy, but it ain’t as easy as buying a solution. When many people are required to change, be it losing weight, getting stronger, developing skills or breaking negative habits, they look to buy a magical solution rather than make the effort to change. People rely on drugs, legal and not, to handle their emotional problems. Predictably, some of these drugs amplify the problems.

TV infomercials are full of allegedly quick solutions. We can become rich with real estate, strong and beautiful with machines and ointments, and become a gourmet chef with the right small appliance. My favorite is becoming organized by buying an organizer.

I was once in the golf pro shop when a brand new player wanted know which ball was best. Ralph the pro had to keep down his laughter when he explained that it made no difference at that level. “No,” said the golfer, “I want the most expensive balls!” I smiled knowing that if he were anything like me, he would simply lose expensive balls rather than used ones. He thought he could buy a good golf game.

I worked in rehabilitation clinics in the VA and in St. Charles Hospital. There was a clear correlation between how hard people worked and the rehab outcome. I remain impressed remembering the enormous effort of Tony, a twenty-year-old man paralyzed in an auto accident. Tony brought back significant strength through hard work, but still had residues of the accident. He would not have recovered nearly as much function without his tremendous effort. Years later, I was in cardio-rehab after a heart attack. I worked quite hard and today I have no physical limitations. While there, I saw a friend, Vinnie Bove, who was mayor of Belle Terre and a major hospital benefactor. Because of his significant donations, the staff seemed shy to work him hard. “Vinnie,” I yelled, “get off your ass and push that bike!” Vinnie, who was a good guy, at first got his back up, but then started pushing, increasing his energy and endurance. But there were others whose recoveries were compromised by their delusions that the work would be done by the equipment and not by them.

Wouldn’t it be grand if we could buy solutions—especially if, like in the infomercials, they said, “Wait! Wait!” and offered us a bargain. Yet, overwhelmingly, there are really no alternatives to old-fashioned effort.

Now where the hell is that organizer I bought? I can’t find it!