There’s No Competition! Weight Loss & Focusing on YOU (Not Everyone Else!)

We all know the popular platitudes: “keep your eyes on your own work,” “keep your eyes on the prize,” “stay in your own lane,” etc.  We’re fond of throwing them out whenever we hear other people discussing how much better someone else is doing with weight loss or healthy eating.  We’re quick to remind others about ‘staying in their own lane’ but when it comes to ourselves, that advice goes right out the window!

We don’t mean to be hypocritical: it’s just that humans tend to be competitive and most of us are in a hurry to lose as much weight as fast as we can, so when when we hear that someone else is having great success, we want to do what they’re doing! It’s natural: we want to be a success too! Competition aside, if a friend or coworker is doing something that works, then why shouldn’t we try it?  Makes sense, right?

Well, maybe. One of the reasons we use those platitudes like ‘stay in your own lane’ is because what works for someone else may not work for us. Weight loss and eating healthier is all dependent on our own personal health issues and our goals.  If your goal is weight loss, then following your friend’s diet may not be the right thing for you if her goal is eating healthier.  She may be losing a lot of weight fast simply because what she ate before she changed her diet was a lot of processed junk food.  Her new healthier diet might be full of nutritious whole foods which aren’t exactly low cal or conducive to weight loss.  Example: when I started my own weight loss journey, my goals were: #1) eat healthier; and #2) weight loss. The first thing I did was stop eating fast food and I lost about 40 lbs simply by cutting out the drive-thru. Then I stopped eating pasta and quick carbs like bread and white potatoes. I replaced a lot of that with nuts, (mainly macadamias and cashews) and sweet potatoes. All of those things are healthier foods than bread, cookies, pasta and potatoes, but they aren’t exactly ‘low calorie.’ I also replaced margarine with butter and left cheese in my diet, which are also not ‘low calorie.’  They are healthier than processed fake butter and processed ‘cheese food,’ but if weight loss and only weight loss is your goal, they aren’t really on a lot of ‘diet plans.’

So when I started this whole ‘eating healthier’ process, one of my goals was to lose weight but I also wanted to be healthier overall.  In short, I wanted to lose weight eating healthy whole foods instead of eating highly processed ‘diet foods.’ I also planned (and still plan) to eat this way for the rest of my life, so while I lost a lot of weight quickly, fast weight loss wasn’t and isn’t my priority.  (It was just an awesome reward for no longer living at the drive-thru!) However, when my family and friends saw I had dropped forty-plus pounds in a few weeks, they all wanted to know how I was doing it. They pretty much accepted the “No Fast Food Rule” as the no-brainer it is, but no potatoes? no bread? no pasta or rice or beans or corn? They were not on-board with those rules, even though I feel a whole lot healthier not eating those foods. And that’s the way it should be! I made changes based on my health and my goals which aren’t the same as theirs!

I have a friend who is always rolling her eyes at the ‘gluten-free’ craze: “now everything is gluten-free!” Believe me, if you are sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease, then yes! that’s a great thing! But for those of us who aren’t, is there any advantage to cutting out gluten? The general consensus seems to be ‘not really and especially not for your wallet!’ But being ‘gluten-free’ is popular now simply because there’s been a lot of media attention about it. People who have never been sensitive to gluten are swearing that they feel so much better now that they’re gluten-free while health professionals are suggesting it wasn’t the gluten in their diet that was causing the problems: it was the grains associated with gluten. In short, one of the reasons I feel much better not eating anything made with grains is because grains trigger inflammation, which irritates my osteoarthritis, so no grains, no inflammation, no arthritis pain! The reason my friend rolls her eyes is that buying gluten-free bread, cookies and pizza crust is more expensive than just leaving those foods out of your diet, so these people are paying more to eat what is essentially junk food.

We also need to keep our focus on our goals so we can do what’s best for us individually. Last week I attended a birthday luncheon for some friends at a local restaurant and one of the guests had recently started eating low carb, so it gave us a chance to compare low carb menus. He is eating low carb to keep his blood sugar under control and I am eating not so much low carb as whole food/ Paleo for weight loss.  Part of our discussion included nut butters: peanut butter, almond butter, ‘natural’ butters v the shelf stable varieties.  Peanuts aren’t a normal part of my diet: I like them and they’ve never made me sick, but at the same time, they don’t add a lot to my diet or health, so I choose not to eat them.  Peanuts are technically a legume (a bean) and I tend to avoid them overall.  Almonds are a ‘genuine nut’ but since I don’t like them very much, they are also not a big part of my diet.  My friend however isn’t eating Paleo like I am so flavored almonds, peanuts and peanut butters are part of his diet. His question centered around finding a shelf stable peanut butter he can take with him when he travels that isn’t full of sugar. He is also a fan of low carb tortillas and I avoid tortillas of all kinds, so my recommendation of a coconut wrap was an unnecessary inconvenient expense for him while his low carb tortilla would likely aggravate my arthritis. So, while it looks like we might be pursuing the same goals, we really aren’t: his eating habits wouldn’t be beneficial for me and mine would be overly complicated for him!

Not competing with others and keeping your eyes focused on your goals is also important because if you keep bouncing from one ‘sure-fire gonna work’ plan to another, you’ll never be consistent long enough to figure out what really works for you. If you want to make progress and improve your health, that means finding what works for you and staying with it, in your own lane, so to speak! I used to get a lot of questions about dairy and Paleo, since labels are another thing people like to throw around. There are Paleo advocates who insist ‘dairy isn’t Paleo,’ but as for me, since I’m not lactose intolerant either, I keep a little dairy in my diet. I do know that too much dairy does trigger a little sensitivity so I try to keep it to a minimum but that’s not because ‘dairy isn’t Paleo’: it’s because too much dairy doesn’t agree with me!

So whatever healthy eating or weight loss plan you are following, the only thing you need to focus on is whether it’s working for you or not. If your friend or neighbor is losing pounds really fast, give him a big congratulations and keep your eyes on your own work. If what you are doing isn’t working for you, then maybe it’s time to ask some questions, and the first question needs to be “what are your goals?” not “what are you doing?”

 

 

“Are We There Yet?” The Weight Loss Journey & The Garden Of Zen

Those of you with kids know how irritating that question is! In Shrek 2, there’s a hilarious scene with Donkey in the carriage asking Shrek and Fiona The Question as they travel to the Kingdom of Far Far Away.  My personal opinion is The Question is why so many cars now have backseats with ‘entertainment options,’ including headphone jacks and DVD players: no one wants to hear The Question!

No one wants to be asking it either, especially when it comes to weight loss! Whenever anyone undertakes a new weight loss or healthy living plan, the first question in their mind, whether they ask it or not, is “how long is this going to take?” Unfortunately, I believe anyone or any entity who gives you an answer is not being truthful.  We can give or get a conditional estimate that is most likely going to be extremely vague, conditional and nowhere near accurate– a ‘guesstimate’ at best, but that’s as good as you’re going to get! Forget guarantees– in my opinion, they are bald-faced lies buried under fine print. By the time you read through all that legalese, they have made it impossible for you to keep the conditions which entitle you to the money back refund! It’s bad enough that most of these weight loss companies steal your money by luring you in with their ‘guarantee’: they also steal your hope, your confidence and your faith in yourself.

It’s all because of The Question: we want to be done with this already! For most of us, the thought of spending months or years trying to lose weight or get more fit is just depressing. The only ‘good thing’ we can hope for is that ‘maybe it’ll be fun and we can make some new friends.’  It’s not entirely out of the question: we meet people at the gym or when we try new programs or classes. But usually, the entire ‘weight loss- healthy lifestyle’ is something of an embarrassing ordeal. We are embarrassed that we’re overweight, that we don’t look the way we want or the way that others think we should, or that we aren’t as fit or athletic as we want to be.  For those of us with kids, this can be especially difficult: we’re not healthy or fit enough to play with our kids or when we go to sports events and meet their friends/ teammates’ parents, we are obviously out of shape compared to them, and if we notice the differences, you can bet the kids do too!

Even if we manage to approach weight loss and being more active from a “this is going to be fun!” point of view, we are still stuck looking at the timeline that comes with any process.  How long until I’m smaller/ stronger/ fitter? Even if we’re not “There” yet, we’d still like to know that we’re making progress on our journey and with weight loss, it’s almost as if we’ve entered some kind of strange time warp, where every day is tripled and making even minimal progress takes forever! “OMG! Am I even getting close?!

At the risk of sounding like a pessimist, weight loss is not linear and there isn’t always a cause-effect relationship between what we eat, what we do, how much we weigh and how strong we are.  Other things such as stress, emotion and sleep affect our bodies and our weight.  We can eat great and work out all week but if we’re not sleeping well or if we’re anxious or seriously stressed, we may not see the result we are expecting.  We all know how frustrating that is, but it’s even more confusing: we don’t understand how we can be so “good” and still not lose the weight we want or think we should.  What did we do wrong? Why is this taking so long? How come I’m not There yet?!

This is where most of us do something we really regret out of anger, confusion, frustration and despair. We can throw ourselves into the weight loss process with a dangerous furor; we can give up and resign ourselves to be the “fat one” for the rest of our lives, or we can wallow in cookies or carbs.  Whatever it is, we usually end up regretting it because we’re either desperate to “make progress even if it kills me!” or just throwing in the towel because “I’m so done with this mess!” What none of us want to admit is that this process is never done and that once we finally get There, we have to work to stay There!

It takes a long time and it’s not linear because it’s organic. No, not talking about pesticide free, non-GMO stuff! I mean that your body is a living creature, not an artificial machine like your car.  There are dozens of things that impact your body, your lifestyle and your metabolism, which all have an impact on your weight and your health.  While we know that in our heads, it rarely filters down to where we live in our hearts, minds and souls. Here is good parallel: one of my friends grows tomatoes and pumpkins every year, although she is the first to admit she is not a gardener. She has a neighbor who is a good gardener along with a close friend who also loves gardening and is good at it.  My friend does her best every year to follow the protocols for the vegetables she’s planted and she takes care of them every day to make sure they are getting enough water without too much, enough fertilizer, bug spray, sunlight, etc.  In short, she’s being “very good” about nurturing her garden.  However, there are things she has to contend with, such as the heat wave we’ve had this year, the rampant aphid infestation, the fungus that came out of nowhere, and tomato worms which suddenly appeared.  Her tomatoes are struggling and her pumpkins are not doing as well as she’d hoped. By comparison, her next door neighbor’s tomatoes are doing great but her friend’s across town are in worse straits than hers. If it seems like there’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to why the neighbor 100 feet away has great plants and the expert gardener across town has plants that are barely alive while her own are ‘hanging in there,’ you are absolutely correct! There is no rhyme or reason, because the plants, like our bodies, are not machines. There’s a world of difference between each and every one of them, even if they are the same variety of tomato or pumpkin.  Each plant, like each of us, is an individual and while one may be doing fine where it is, its neighbor may get more or less sun, more or less water or have soil which is not as good.  One can have more bugs, more fungus or less mold or just be a stronger plant.  My friend gets just as frustrated and confused and angry with her garden as we do with our weight loss process: “I’m doing everything the way I’m supposed to so why isn’t this working?!” Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

The truth is all we can do is our best, whether it’s growing plants or losing weight to be healthier.  Just like the pumpkins and tomatoes, our bodies are living creatures and just because we live in those bodies, we think we can control them the way my friend wants to control her plants (I am in sympathy, wanting to control my orchids– but no dice!) Weight loss follows no schedule but its own, just the way her tomatoes will produce when they’re good and ready and not before, no matter how she tries to coax them along. We’re in the same boat trying to coax our bodies into losing a little more fat, building a little more muscle. Our bodies, like stubborn tomato plants, don’t always cooperate! Some years my friend has a spectacular harvest and some years she gets only a few tomatoes, but she always does her best and each year she is optimistic when she puts the plants in the ground.

All we can do is our best. We each start with the bodies we are born with and to some extent our genes dictate our outcome. All I can do is work every day to eat healthy, be active, get as much sleep as I can and manage my stress as well as I can. Being thin will not make me happy any more than being fit will make me happy unless I am happy already.  Being angry and frustrated because of my slow progress is not productive: it will not make me lose weight faster but it might slow it down even more. The bottom line is that if we keep doing our best and accept that “we’ll get there when we get there,” we will probably get there a little faster, and we will be happier along the way.  We know in our heads that weight loss and a healthier lifestyle are life-long processes.  Once we reach our goal weight, we still have to maintain it and eating Oreos and Whoppers isn’t going to help with that, so even once we’re There, we’re never Done.  This is not a bad thing! We need to remember why we are losing weight and working to be healthier: doesn’t it have something to do with living longer, being happier and spending more time with those we love? Maybe it is work, but it should be a work that we love for those that we love (and that includes us!) We just have to keep growing as best as we can and we’ll get there when we get there. Hopefully, no one gets a fungus along the way.

 

 

 

 

The Comfort Zone Workout: Weight Loss & Pushing Your Boundaries

Yesterday I was talking to one of my friends about her college age son.  He was in the enviable position of being offered two job opportunities: he had been offered a promotion at his current job and also offered a position at his church’s community outreach program.  While he definitely does not plan on a career in food service (his current job) and being active in his church is a major role in his life, he is not sure about taking the community outreach position because it is out of his comfort zone.

While most of us have never been in his position, we are all extremely familiar with our comfort zone and our reluctance to leave it. My friend knew right away that her son was nervous about trying something new.  While he is not a shy and retiring sort of person, this position at his church was just enough out of his comfort zone to make him give it serious thought. Many of us feel similar trepidation when faced with heading into unknown or unfamiliar territory, and that’s a good thing.  We should take such situations seriously, but there are a lot of us who automatically balk at leaving our comfort zone.

I admit: I am reluctant to the point of balking in some situations, especially those that have me driving somewhere I am utterly unfamiliar with, and the only thing that can make that situation worse is to put a deadline on it, as in “I must be at a certain location by X time and I have no idea where I am going.” [Insert pic of me screaming in terror here.] I know I can use Google Maps and MapQuest to get there, and both of them are on my phone, but the anxiety about trying to get to an unfamiliar address remains.  In fact, I faced it earlier this week having to drop off my car at a location I didn’t know in a town I am unfamiliar with by a certain time. While the anxiety and accompanying stress weren’t overwhelming, it was enough to put a dent in my week.

A funny thing happens when we do things that make us uncomfortable: these activities become more familiar and more comfortable. They stretch our comfort zone and by definition, our comfort zone grows and so do we. When I first started going to a gym, all I used was the treadmill. We all know how much equipment is at any gym, but it could have been nothing but treadmills for all I cared.  When I moved to my current gym, it was because I needed to work out in the pool. I was familiar with using one for physical therapy exercises because of my physiotherapist. Doing them on my own was a little out of my comfort zone, but not enough to hold me back.

Water aerobics however was another animal entirely! The gym had classes posted on their website: all I had to do was show up but I didn’t know anything about what the classes were like, what the trainers were like, what the other students were like, so I didn’t go. It was scary and unfamiliar and just enough out of my comfort zone that I didn’t want to try it… until the day I showed up at the gym to use the pool and it was full of people using water weights and pool noodles and there was a trainer putting them through their exercises. Obviously, it was a class and I sat on the bench waiting for them to be done.  The students didn’t look that different from me: most of them were in their forties or older and some were overweight, some weren’t and some had obvious mobility issues.  After about twenty minutes of waiting around, the trainer asked me if I wanted to join them, so I did! And it was a great workout, a lot of fun and I’ve been going every week for the last three years! But if I hadn’t shown up in the middle of a class, I might still be too entrenched in my comfort zone to try the classes on my own.

We’ve all heard the expression “try it- you’ll like it!” but most of us take that only as far as we feel comfortable. We’ve got our boundaries marked and beyond them we will not stray. We know our limits, when it’s okay to stretch a boundary and when it’s not.  For me, that’s usually exercises and workouts and there’s a very obvious reason for that: I’ve never been particularly athletic. Athletics, exercise, working out: they are all in unfamiliar territory for me, so I don’t like going there.  Food, on the other hand, is way too familiar for me, so if you want me to try a new yogurt flavor or a new vegetable or spice, then no problem! I am in the habit of trying new foods and flavors, even though some have been pretty awful! But trying a new exercise? Balk!

It goes back to comfort and familiarity.  If you are used to doing something, it’s no longer strange or difficult! It’s just the ‘getting used to it’ that makes us balk. It’s pretty much a no-brainer: we’re not comfortable, we’re not sure we’re doing it right (whatever ‘it’ is) so we don’t like doing it and we end up doing those things as little as possible or not at all.  I know: duhhhhh.  But what gets missed in that thinking is that the only reason we aren’t doing those things is because we aren’t used to doing them! The more we push out of our comfort zone, the more comfortable that strange territory becomes until it becomes normal for us.

When I started cutting carbs out of my regular diet, it was nearly unbelievably difficult. They were a major staple of how I had been eating.  Breakfast was a bagel or breakfast sandwich, lunch was another sandwich or rice bowl and dinner was usually rice, pasta or more sandwiches, and don’t forget dessert: cookies, cake, pie. More than half of what I ate was bread, pasta, potatoes or rice.  What else is there to eat? Coming up with low carb/ no carb replacements took more work than I was used to putting into shopping or cooking. Getting groceries took over an hour: is this low carb? does this have carbs or sugar? what about peas? are they Paleo-friendly? OMG! It took forever!

But again, the more I did it, the more normal it became. Instead of automatically thinking of dinner as meat and pasta or meat and rice, it’s meat and veg or meat and salad, or even just salad! Grocery shopping takes me a half an hour if there is a line for checkout and less if there isn’t. Going out to eat with friends isn’t a huge ordeal anymore: it’s another no-brainer instead of another anxiety-filled appointment like the one I had earlier this week. It’s not strange or difficult anymore because I am used to doing it.  It’s just getting over the ‘getting used to it.’

That’s where we need to push ourselves and that’s why we have to do it. We don’t need to take risks to be healthier, but we should push our comfort zone a little so that it keeps growing and we can keep growing with it.  Whether it’s trying a new food or a new way of eating or working out, we shouldn’t be afraid to grow.  Who knows? You might like it and you might even make some friends along the way.  The friend I mentioned above? I met her in my water aerobics class.

 

Weight or Water? Weight Loss & Retaining (or Not Retaining) Water

I hate it when this happens: I get on the scale and it looks like I’ve gained weight.  My first thought? “It’s water weight! Right? I must be retaining water. Right? Because I can’t have gained weight?”

Yeeaahhh, riiigghhtt.  I couldn’t have gained weight so it must be water!  ……except it’s not.  It’s weight aka fat! But my first thought is pretty much the Number 1 excuse for why the number on the scale went up! Unless we made some kind of planned deviation from our eating plan, like a celebration or a holiday, gaining weight means we messed up somehow, either by eating the wrong things, too much overall or both.  Most of us know it’s not water, even if that’s the excuse our minds hide behind, and for me, after facing the grim truth that chocolate chip cookies are not Paleo and on my food list, I once again ban them from my shopping cart!

However, that doesn’t mean that our bodies don’t ever retain water. In certain circumstances, we do retain a certain amount of water in our tissues.  It’s not twenty or thirty pounds of water or maybe even ten, but depending on how much you weigh and the circumstances, it can be as much as 5 lbs. Five pounds can be a lot for but, again, it’s dependent on the circumstances, so you can’t just automatically dismiss that 5 lb gain as “water weight.”

Our weight fluctuates under everyday normal circumstances, even if we are ‘behaving ourselves.’ Water retention tends to be the biggest component in that fluctuation so if we find we’ve gone up a couple of pounds, it could really be that retained water.  Of course, the same holds when we find we’ve dropped a couple of pounds: it could be that water coming off! This is why so many weight loss professionals discount the scale or regular weigh-ins. Unfortunately, the scale is the easiest tool for us to use on a regular basis, so what we want to see is the downward trend over time. We want to see our weight going down, even if it does ‘bounce up’ a couple of pounds as long as it’s followed by a loss of the same amount or more.

However, depending on what we are eating, how we are moving and who we are, we can try to minimize our water weight.  The biggest culprits for retaining water are: 1) our diet; 2) our exercise; 3) our hormones; and 4) our stress levels. When we pay attention to these factors, we can have a better idea if that number on the scale is because we ate that pasta primavera last Tuesday or if it’s because it’s ‘That Time of the Month”!

Number 1 is number one for a reason, but not exactly like most of us might think.  When we think “water retention and diet”, we tend to think Salt.  Yes, salt is a big factor.  Salt is an electrolyte and our body keeps it in solution, so it’s not uncommon to eat a big bowl of salty popcorn and then feel puffy the next day. Usually in a day or so, we pass the water and we feel less puffy.  However, the other factor in that salty popcorn might take a bit longer to fade away.  That is the carbohydrates in the popcorn.  When it comes to carbs and retaining water, the best description of them is “little sponges.” Carbs soak up the water and it stays with us a while. No wonder you feel puffy after eating it! Between the salt and the carbs, hello! You’re retaining water for sure! When we eat a lot of carbs, even if it’s something not salty, if it’s a carbohydrate, it’s going to hold water, so a diet rich in carbs is going to show it on the scale.  Not only does your body store the excess carbs as fat, they also hold more water than protein or fat, so your weight will go up the more carbs you eat, salty or not.  I know from my own experience, after I’ve binged on carbs and then gone back to low carb/ no carb, after a couple of days it feels like I’m always running to the loo! It’s my body getting rid of all the stored water.

Most people know to watch their diet for any water-retaining culprits but we don’t usually think of exercise as one.  When we exercise, especially more strenuous than usual, it causes ‘damage’ to our muscles, which then need some time to repair themselves.  This is how our muscles get stronger and why we need recovery time.  That ‘damage’ is normal: our muscles build themselves up during the repair. But to do that, muscles need water, so after exercising, our muscles retain water! This is why some people don’t weigh themselves the day after a workout: they know their muscles are full of water! This is one reason our trainers are always pushing us to drink during and after a workout: we’re sweaty and our muscles need the water too! Even if it feels like it wasn’t a strenuous workout, if your muscles feel a little sore, you are probably retaining a little water!

Hormones are another no-brainer for most of us (and the guys can skip this one!) If you are a woman of child-bearing years, you are eminently familiar with this scenario. For most of us, the week before our period, we puff up like a balloon as our body stores water in preparation either for growing a baby or getting ready to shed the uterine lining.  If you are pregnant, congratulations! And get ready for some major changes in your body! If you aren’t pregnant, your body will start shedding a lot of water in a few short days.  All of us women have been through this more than a few times, and if you are one of the lucky ones who doesn’t turn into a water balloon, you are the envy of every woman who does! That said, most of us know when not to weigh ourselves in order to avoid the appearance of weight gain.

Stress is another sneaky culprit with water weight.  When we are chronically stressed, either physically or emotionally, our body just recognizes it as “danger/ stress” and will hang on to the Basics to make sure you survive whatever stress you are facing.  For the body, those Basics are water and fuel aka fat. This is why so many health and fitness gurus are pushing stress management.  Incidentally, it’s also why they are pushing more sleep, since our body treats poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation as a stressor.  We all know how crappy we feel when we don’t sleep well or enough, so it takes a physical toll on our bodies beyond just exhaustion and low energy headaches: our body stores fat and water as a result! The problem is that most of us have a hard time knowing when we are getting enough rest and managing our stress, so when we get on the scale and see the number isn’t budging,– or worse, going up– it just seems to add to our frustration and stress! This is one of the benefits to adding a proper sleep schedule and stress management routine: they not only help feel better mentally and physically, they also help you lose weight!

When it comes to managing our water weight gain, it’s really just one part of a healthy lifestyle.  If we manage our carb intake, get enough sleep, relaxation and keep our bodies moving, we should be able to identify if the number on the scale includes a few pounds of water or not. We also need to know that water is not bad! Many pro athletes know that diuretics (“water pills”) are a quick and easy cheat for losing a few pounds in order to make their target weight.  But a “cheat” is exactly what they are if you are taking them just to lose weight! Dehydrating yourself either by not drinking enough or using diuretics can be dangerous.  Our bodies are dependent on water to send chemical signals to organs, including such vital organs as your heart, lungs and brain. No water, no signal, no life! Like so many other necessities, our bodies function properly in a narrow band of the Right Amount: too little water can cause as many problems as too much water. Our bodies are pretty good at keeping our water where it needs to be to keep you healthy: now it’s just up to us to do our part (and put down the popcorn and chocolate chip cookies!)

 

If You’re Happy & You Know It, Why Are You Eating Cupcakes?: Weight Loss & Attitude Adjustment

I’ve been hearing a lot in the media about being happy.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) is always reminding listeners that outside things aren’t going to fix your emotional issues and just yesterday I heard that idea repeated on a morning radio show that has nothing to do with weight loss. I hate to sound Zen about it, but happiness comes from inside.  Those cupcakes, that new gadget or a pair of shoes aren’t going to make you happy.  The same goes for people: our happiness and sense of self-worth cannot be dependent on someone else validating us. Unfortunately, that’s what most of us do!

We all know what it means to eat our emotions. At the risk of sounding like an escapee from a Star Trek convention, when we let our emotions run our lives, chaos ensues! This doesn’t mean we have to crush our emotions down inside us and never let them out— that is just as bad as allowing them to run loose! The truth is that a lot of us are overweight because we never learn how to deal with our emotions.  We are taught that we should always be happy and that feeling sad, worried, unhappy or any other ‘negative’ emotion is a bad thing which needs to be avoided at all times.  It is okay to be sad or unhappy or anxious.  Those are all perfectly normal emotions and our problem is we need to accept those emotions when we feel them.

This is where I remind you that I am not a therapist or any kind of health care professional.  However, I am person who has dealt with some pretty cruddy emotions throughout life. When I get stressed, anxious, bored or angry, my usual way of dealing with it was to find something to eat- anything would do!- and eat until I forgot about it or the emotion faded. It took a long time (as in, most of my adult life!) before I finally learned that emotional eating is just making everything worse, including my health.  We all know how we feel after we’ve done it: ashamed, guilty, upset at ourselves, which triggers the urge to eat again!

It’s okay when we don’t feel happy.  It’s okay to be sad and to admit that “I’m just feeling a little sad today!” The media and other people lump emotions like sadness, anger, anxiety, and others like them as ‘negative’ emotions.  Given the situation, they might be completely appropriate!  Last week is good example for me:  July 26th is my grandfather’s birthday.  He died seven years ago.  I was very close with both of my grandparents and I miss them very much.  When I think about them (like now), I usually start tearing up.  Feeling sad, crying, and missing them are not negative emotions.  Yes, I am sad because they are not here anymore, but these emotions come from the strong bond we had when they were here.  In short, I miss them because I still love them and that is not a negative thing!

Feeling angry, being anxious or upset can be perfectly appropriate emotions.  If I’m worried about a friend of mine who’s not been well, if I am upset because I can’t find something important I am looking for or if I am anxious about an upcoming interview, then these are all normal.  Even if I am recalling a bad situation and I feel that anger or anxiety again, it is still normal.  What is not normal is allowing those emotions to dominate our lives or to refuse to deal with them. When we obsess over people who have hurt us or wronged us or cut us off in traffic, or when we refuse to feel these emotions because they aren’t ‘happy feelings,’ then we are hurting ourselves.  We need to find a way to feel these not-happy emotions without obsessing over them or pushing them away or running from them with food.  When we accept that they are normal emotions and it’s normal to feel them, we are one step closer to letting go of the emotional eating chaos and we are one step closer to being happier overall.

Obviously, if you have serious emotional issues or if you have problems learning to deal with your emotions, you should find a qualified professional to help you with this. FYI: if you need a professional, you are still normal! Most of us, especially men in my generation, are not taught how to deal with not-happy emotions, which is where a lot of our problems come from.  We are taught that if we are not happy all the time, we are somehow broken or defective, but being happy 24/7 is impossible! Things happen in life which are not always fun to deal with and so we find ways to cope, and some of those coping methods hurt us.

One of the ways I learned to cope with some of these not-happy feelings is just by venting. Most of us do it, but again society and the media sometimes looks down on this practice. I will post about something online, write about it in a blog or call my friend and just rant about it. Frankly, I will have a little tantrum about whatever it is that has made me angry, and then once it’s over, the feeling is gone. Having a tantrum is usually seen as being juvenile, but if I’m angry I am allowed to feel angry and if no one is hurt or insulted by my tantrum and the anger is expended, what’s the problem? Bear in mind, I have my tantrum at home (where only my pets can hear me and they are used to hearing me swear a lot) and no one else is affected by it. The same is true for sadness: we’ve all heard about ‘women going on a crying jag’ after a break-up or a fight, and there is usually a negative connotation for that as well, but if I feel like crying, especially over losing a loved one, then it’s normal. Venting or expending the emotion lets you feel it and deal with it and then it’s out.

From my experience, when we suppress emotions, they will eventually come out and usually in inappropriate ways or times.  I heard one therapist refer to is as “gunnysacking.” You get mad because your significant other leaves their clothes lying around but instead of dealing with it, you shove it down inside and you keep shoving things like not taking out the trash, not paying the bills, popping their gum, etc., into that same emotional gunnysack until she comes home late without telling you she’s running late and then you explode at her. The same thing happens when we keep pushing down anxiety or sadness or anger: our emotional gunnysack keeps getting packed tighter and tighter until it finally rips open and when we come up for air, we’re surrounded by pizza boxes and cheesecake tins. Done that a few times!

Happiness isn’t just a state of mind: it’s a process. In order to be happy, we have to let ourselves feel not-happy.  You know that emotional void everyone tries to fill with food? It’s there because we are suppressing our emotions! When we let ourselves feel all of our emotions, there is no void– so there’s nothing to stuff full of cupcakes! That means when she leaves her shoes in the hallway for everyone to trip on, you have to tell her it upsets you.  When you feel like crying because you had a really crappy day, let yourself cry.  When he forgot your birthday, tell him it hurt your feelings, and it’s okay to feel hurt that he did! It literally clears the emotional air and when your riot of emotions isn’t simmering just below the surface, something amazing happens: happiness bubbles to the top.  You find you are too busy being happy to eat the cupcakes in the office. Instead, you find you want to eat something that makes you feel proud or productive or just healthy. You don’t want to stop feeling good by eating something that makes you feel blah.  What’s more, you become more aware of what foods or practices make you feel good and which make you feel blah!  When you’re happy and you know it, you don’t need the cupcakes– because you can’t clap your hands when they’re full of food!

 

Doing For Yourself: Weight Loss & Decision Fatigue

There is a lot to be said for doing things yourself.  The list of things I prefer others to do for me is pretty short and mainly consists of driving places I don’t like to go.  Obviously the more others do for you, the less you do for yourself, but what we forget is how much of the decision-making is out of your control.  When I let someone else do the driving, we leave on their schedule, follow the route they want to take, stop when they want to stop and return when they want to return.  A friend of mine was visiting some long time friends who had moved some distance away and she went along as a passenger with some mutual friends. It was going to take a couple of hours to drive there and since her car is a compact, they all decided to take the bigger car and she would not be driving.  The trip was going great….. until the driver and family decided they wanted to stay much longer than they initially planned on.  As a result, my friend ended up getting home well past midnight (instead of around seven or eight).  She was very tired and fairly concerned about her dog, who had been left inside in the dark, since she’d planned on getting home when it was still daylight (summer time).  She came home to a dark house and a frantic dog who could hardly hold it much longer.  Next time, she vowed she was taking her car and they could meet her there!

This is an example of unintended and unforeseen abdication of control.  My friend was perfectly happy contributing to the gas and letting someone else work the GPS but what she hadn’t intended to give up was the freedom to decide when to leave.  They had agreed to leave at a certain time, but the driver made an ‘executive decision’ and as a passenger, she had no choice in the matter. She was literally along for the ride.

This happens to us whenever we let others do things for us.  We lose our control of the situation and depending on what it is they are doing for us, we might not learn how to do it for ourselves. Being ignorant keeps us under their control too!  Dr. Nowzaradan on My 600 lb Life looks for this controlling mentality in his patients’ enablers.  Some of them are content to keep the patient dependent on them since this dependence gives them control over the patient.  Obviously if you can’t go to the grocery store, you are dependent on someone else to do it for you and you are at their mercy when it comes to what they buy!

I remember one of his patients shopping at a grocery store for the first time.  Although he had a personal care assistant with him, he was essentially on his own in the store, making his own decisions.  As they passed the produce section, he pointed to a fruit and asked his assistant what it was: “That’s a mango?!” It was fairly obvious that there was more than the just the mango that was unfamiliar to him, but he had always had others do things for him and he was reluctant to have to do them for himself. It’s hard learning to do things for yourself.

One of the excuses Dr. Nowzaradan hears a lot is “I have to eat what they bring me.”  While a lot of his patients are either bed-bound or cannot stand long enough to cook for themselves, most of us are not in that situation.  We let someone else make the decision about meals or food and we just accept it, even if pasta or chicken nuggets really aren’t on our meal plan. “Oh, well. It’s what he/she/ they made for dinner!” We are letting them do the planning, preparing and cooking because we don’t want to be bothered with it. When we’re out with friends, they decide on the restaurant because we let them.

There is actually a syndrome called Decision Fatigue.  According to studies, the more decisions we make in a limited amount of time, the more our mental resources are depleted and the worse our decisions become.  The studies theorize this is why we opt for pizza at the end of a long day: our willpower and mental resources are zero so rather than try to get water from a dry well, we choose something ‘easy’ which isn’t the best choice for us!

But we can’t get decision fatigue if we don’t make any decisions! If we let others make all or most of our decisions for us, not only are we at their mercy, we are at the mercy of their decision fatigue! They’ve likely been making decisions all day and they come home to find us waiting for dinner: “I’d like to order a large pizza…..”

If our ability to make decisions is like a muscle, then we need to make sure it doesn’t get flabby.  We also know muscles atrophy when they aren’t used so we need to keep it toned.  That means when our friend asks if we have any preferences about where to go for lunch, we can say “anything but fast food!” That’s a decision, albeit a simple one.  I get that question every time I go out to meet friends: they want to know if I have any thoughts about getting food.  Usually, I don’t so my own decision is along those lines: “anything but sandwiches!” or “I’m open to ABC or XYZ.”  We don’t have to reply with “I wanted a grilled chicken breast with roast red peppers and garlic zucchini noodles.”  You can always ask “what are my options?” or “what did you want?” and go from there!

The other problem that comes with letting others do for you is that you don’t learn how to do it yourself.  As a legal secretary, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to an attorney at another firm whose told me “my assistant is out sick today and I don’t know how to fax something over to you.” You can also substitute “scan” for “fax.”  The idea is the same: as the attorney, they are used to giving the documents to the assistant slash secretary and having them get it filed or transmitted or somehow taken care of and when the assistant is out, the attorney is hobbled. One of mine keeps trying to ‘fax’ on our scanner and doesn’t know how to access the voicemail on our new phone system- I have to keep showing him! While it is beyond annoying to have to stop to show him or fix the scanner, he really gets points for trying to do these on his own.  He doesn’t want to be at the mercy of someone else when it comes to getting things done.

One of the commercials I see a lot is one encouraging parents to teach their children to cook, a very necessary skill! I know there are a lot of parents who don’t do it because they don’t want their kids getting hurt in the kitchen when no one else is home.  It’s a valid fear, but they are also dooming their child to take out and microwave food when they get older. My 27 year old cousin had no idea how to cook anything other than condensed soup and microwave bacon when he moved out.  Seriously, no joke.  Why? Because MOM always cooked for him!

Think about how many decisions we make when it comes to weight loss. We decide what we are going to eat, how much we are going to eat, how often we are going to eat, and in each of those decisions are many little decisions. If we are going to have eggs for breakfast: fried, scrambled, boiled, poached? Quiche or frittata?  with veggies? with crust? with meat or cheese? Do we want anything with the eggs? How many eggs? What about skipping breakfast? What about lunch? With just those two meals alone, it’s easy to see how we can get decision fatigue! But like any muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets, and with a little planning, we can learn to skirt decision fatigue. For my part, when I come home, I make sure I have healthy options because I made healthy choices when I wasn’t fatigued.  I don’t have everything planned out for dinner, but I have some salad greens and some healthy protein choices that don’t take a lot of work.

I’d like to say that this came naturally to me, but it didn’t.  It was one of those things I learned on my own, and I learned it because I chose to make my own decisions over and over again at the grocery store. It took some time to try out one choice and try another when that one didn’t work out as well as I wanted.  It was a lot of flexing that decision muscle on a long learning curve.  It took practice to get that planning muscle strong and toned but it was worth the effort! As with any exercise, the more you do it, the easier it gets!

The more we learn to do on our own with shopping, cooking and planning, the more choices we have available to us.  The more we can grow, experiment and find things that work for us and not only with weight loss. When we learn to do things for ourselves, we feel more secure when we let someone else make a decision for us.  If we feel secure with making choices at a fast food restaurant, it’s okay if our family wants fast food for dinner.  We can get them what they want and still get ourselves something that we feel good about too.   It takes practice and it means we have to make a decision for ourselves.  It’s not always easy but like riding a bike, we never forget how to do it, and we’re never just along for ride!

 

Weight Loss & The Best Intentions: Plans Are NOT Action

We all know what they say about the road to Hell. They might as well cross out that destination and replace it with Weight Loss.  We all intend to eat better; we all intend to exercise more and we all certainly intend to stop snacking on junk food.  Those intentions and a $1.08 will get you a cup of coffee at McDonald’s! We can “intend” all we want but until we actually DO something, it’s all just talk!

I realized again how important it is to follow up our intentions with our actions while I was watching the most recent episode of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now?  This episode featured an update on Sean, the young man in his late twenties who lived with his enabler mom. Following his surgery, now in the third year of his weight loss journey, Sean has had a tremendously stressful and difficult few months.  He loses his mother to renal failure and then many of his belongings and his apartment to hurricane Harvey. During these difficult months, he begins to gain weight, eventually reaching 600 lbs again. While this kind of stress and tragedy are certainly triggers for emotional eating, Sean’s biggest stumbling block continues to be his lack of action.  Although he has a therapist, he stops treating with him and pressures Dr. Nowzaradan to get him admitted to a care facility rather than live on his own.  He is forced to move into a smaller apartment, but continues to view it as ‘temporary’ until he can move into a care facility.  His father comes from California to help him move, but Sean seems disappointed that his father is unable to take care of him himself.  Sean has to live on his own which means doing things on his own.

He gets back on his feet in a new apartment largely due to the generosity and assistance of others but once he has passed the ‘living situation’ crisis, he goes back to the emotional eating while continuing to justify his need to ‘take a break’ to ‘recover’ from everything he’s been through. That’s the first Red Flag!

I’ve fallen into that particular trap myself so I know how inviting it is! It’s the Weight Loss version of a Honey Trap: it looks warm and safe and comforting when it’s everything but! It lures us in and before we know it, we are right where Sean is: gaining weight without really paying attention! I am not going to point fingers at Sean since I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to suffer such devastating losses. Even Dr. Nowzaradan gave him a pass for the weight gain following his mother’s death; however, he also reminded him to keep treating with his therapist to find constructive ways of dealing with his emotions.  Having a resource as insightful as Dr Paradise is not to be thrown away so thoughtlessly; but that is exactly what Sean seems to do.

As Dr. Paradise had pointed out in an earlier session, Sean is intimidated by Dr. Nowzaradan as an authority figure and it is quite possible that Dr. Paradise has become a similar authority figure, which means he is also to be avoided as much as possible.  Why? Because both of them will hold him accountable for his overeating and poor eating choices. This is part of the danger involved with the Taking a Break scenario: once you have indulged until you feel safe, you have to deal with the consequences of your indulgences, which is usually weight gain! I am actually involved in the process of extricating myself from my own particular Honey Trap, so I know it’s not easy and it’s more than a little humiliating!

However, Sean continues to avoid both of his doctors because he’s ‘taking a break to get back on his feet’ but actually he is spending a lot of time sitting down.  I don’t mean to be flippant, because one of his complaints is how difficult it is to move around.  For those of us who have seen the earlier episodes, this is the second Red Flag! The last time Sean complained about how hard it was to move around, he’d gained almost 100 lbs, reaching a mind-boggling 1003 lbs.  When his mother passed away, Sean was fairly mobile in the 500’s but when he went back to see Dr. Nowzaradan, he was essentially 600 lbs again.  Anyone who has been overweight knows we don’t need to gain 100 lbs or be 600 lbs to notice unpleasant changes in our bodies.  When our knees ache a little more, when our pants or tops are a bit too tight, when we feel a little winded walking across the big parking lot– that’s our body telling us we’re carrying too much weight! When ‘squeaking by’ the file cabinets really is ‘squeaking,’ we know we’ve put on a few pounds.  This is when we need to stop talking about losing weight and start doing something about it!

For Sean, the first clue is that it’s harder to get around.  This is where Dr. Nowzaradan essentially gives him the pass on his weight gain, but rather than take action during his housing crisis– an admittedly difficult situation– Sean continues eating badly and overeating.  By the time the situation is resolved (a couple months), Sean is having a very hard time moving around.  He is content to sit on his new chair with a sheet spread over his lap so he doesn’t have to get dressed with a bucket to function as his toilet ‘when it gets too hard to get to the bathroom.’  As he opens the door to get his pizza, ‘dressed’ only in the sheet, he admits it’s not on his diet, but he really needs to take a break right now.  He laments that the Personal Care Assistant doesn’t come every day like she’s supposed to and on the days she doesn’t come “my bucket doesn’t get emptied.” He called Dr. Nowzaradan primarily to get the Personal Care Assistant assigned but also about the rashes on his skin becoming worse due to his lack of poor hygiene (which Sean denies)  because bathing has also become much more difficult. How much clearer can it be that he needs to stop talking about “going to get back on the diet” and just do it already?!

By the time he goes back to the hospital, he has obviously gained more than a few pounds and appears to be back over 700 again. The rashes have now become open infected wounds and forced his hand. Doing nothing and ignoring the infection could kill him and will kill him faster than his overeating. He tells Dr. Nowzaradan that this is a wake-up for him and he’s ‘going’ to get back on his diet, but the doctor’s reply is frank and a little harsh: “I’ve heard that before from you.”

That statement, more than the painful open wounds, is the real wake-up here.  How many times have we said that to ourselves? “It’s time to get serious about the weight loss/ poor eating choices/ blowing off workouts?” I know I’ve said it to myself through much of the last two months:” Okay, no more banana bread!” “I need to stop eating candy!” “I’ve got to get back to my regular eating plan!” And…. we all know how that turns out….

While Sean is obviously an extreme example of The Best Intentions, ‘going to do something’ is NOT the same as doing something! ‘Planning to make healthy changes’ does NOT mean you are implementing those changes! I’ve been ‘planning’ on eating right for the last 8 weeks or more and it wasn’t until the past three days that those ‘plans’ actually became actions!  Of course, my metabolism didn’t give me credit for those 8 weeks’ worth of plans: it didn’t tell me “your plans were pretty good so I’m deducting 10 lbs off this weight gain due to those good plans!” Like Sean, I have to deal with the consequences of my poor eating choices and my ‘taking a break’ mentality.  That means I have to deal with cravings and weight gain and admit to the doctor that I screwed up! It’s not fun and it’s more than a little humiliating.  However, once we begin actively doing something, we begin to feel better almost immediately, mentally, emotionally and physically. I’m not stressing over my ‘plans to eat better’ because now I am actually doing it! I’m not feeling guilty about eating bread and popcorn because I’m not eating them anymore and physically, my joints don’t ache because of the grains and my knees pop a little less and if my clothes are a little snug right now, I know that I am already doing something to fix that!

We all make plans to eat better and eat less and be more active, and plans aren’t all bad unless they stay plans.  Planning fools us into believing we are doing something but planning is NOT doing! We all intend to be the best versions of ourselves and we make plans to implement those changes.  No one plans to end up alone eating pizza in an arm chair and peeing in a bucket. But if we don’t turn those plans into actions, sitting alone with peanut butter cups in a recliner is a very real possibility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss & Cravings: The Pause Before You Go Over the Edge

Raise your hand if this has happened to you: you make a well-thought out decision to share a dessert with a friend and then a few days later, you start craving something similar and before you realize what’s going on, you’ve eaten way more sweets, desserts and other not-so-good for you foods than you have in the last few months! Can you all see me waving my hand in the air like Hermione Granger in class? Except my answer is actually the wrong answer! No one wants to be in that situation, like a car skidding out of control before sliding into the ditch. It’s a disaster waiting to happen!

You would think that the problem was that well-considered decision to share a dessert: “if only I hadn’t had those three bites of cheesecake!” That may be one way of dealing with it. I know there are lots of people who just say no to things they consider triggers.  They choose to view it as an addiction and anyone who knows addicts knows “you can’t have just one [fill in the blank here.] If you were okay with never having cheesecake or chips or whatever your particular weakness is ever again, that would solve your problem. If you don’t want cravings for bread, just don’t ever eat bread again.  Never ever.

For some people, that can be a pretty bleak view, looking at the rest of your life without ever eating things you like, such as cheesecake, brownies, bread or cookies along with a host of other things! On one hand, it’s just food. It isn’t like you’re giving up electricity for the rest of your life! There are thousands of people who’ve lived their entire lives without ever tasting a brownie or cheesecake! (Come to think of it, there are thousands of people who live their lives now without electricity!) Seriously, it’s not the end of the world, but it is something that brings a little bit of happiness into your life.  At least it does for those few minutes you are eating it!

If we are being truthful, it also brings a lot of pain into our lives too. I remember in college there were times I’d come home from the store with a frozen cheesecake and as soon as it was thawed out, I’d eat the whole thing.  Of course, I didn’t intend to, but…. We all know how that story ends: “I just couldn’t stop once I started eating it!” And once I was stuck holding the empty tray for a seven inch cheesecake, I’d feel awful. Not only did I feel horrible emotionally, but physically, I felt like a beached whale because obviously I wasn’t hungry when I ate it! I ate it because it was there!

This is what most of us are afraid of when it comes to cravings: once we start, we can’t stop, so it’s easier just never ‘starting.’ The problem is that we blame our cravings on self-control and that’s only a small part of the problem. When we don’t have cookies in the house and we start craving cookies, how many of us are going to leave the house to buy cookies? But, if the cookies are in the house already, it’s all too easy to ‘wander’ into the kitchen and grab one or two. Or three or four.  If they’re small, maybe five… And that’s where we blame our lack of self-control or we blame the cookies for being so good or we blame the family member who brought them home!

Part of the problem is the craving, especially if it’s something sweet.  Sugar really is addictive (Gary Taubes’ book The Case Against Sugar is a great resource!) Foods like bread (my own private weakness) are simple carbs, which the body metabolizes like sugar, so even if it’s garlic bread, to my body, it’s a ‘sugar’ and just a leetle bit addictive! So blaming self-control for not being able to stop ourselves eating a whole bread basket or cheesecake can be a legitimate defense.

However, the plain simple truth is that we knew better when we ate the cheesecake or bread that started our latest sugar binge! If you know that you’re going to be craving sugar within a week of sharing that dessert at lunch with your friend, is it really so difficult to tell your friend “no thanks” when she offers? A friend will understand when you say no to the dessert and you are under no obligation to indulge in something that will cause problems later.  So not starting is one way of dealing with the cravings: no trigger = no craving = no binge.  Problem solved! Yeah…riiighhhttt!

However a trigger food like that shared dessert is not the only reason we develop cravings.  In my case, a lot of the cravings come from boredom. How many of us binge in the evenings? (Hermione Granger here again!) I’m watching tv and I’ve got nothing to do with my hands, so let’s wander into the kitchen and see if there’s anything to snack on! Danger, Will Robinson!  Believe me, if I had a robot, it’d be stationed in the kitchen door each night after dinner! I’m obviously not hungry because I just finished dinner; my problem is I’m feeling bored! Somehow my brain equates boredom with the need to eat something, preferably sweet! “Find something sweet to eat and eat it until it’s gone or you feel like you’re going to throw up!” Really, that was my evening operation for most of my life! In the event I had nothing sweet in the house, Plan B substituted ‘salty’ for ‘sweet’ and the Last Ditch Back Up Plan was substitute ‘salty’ for ‘anything in the house!’ I really really wish I could say I was exaggerating, but I’m not.

But the good thing to come out of this debacle is that since I know what triggers my cravings, I can take steps to stop it before it skids wildly out of control. If bored and feeling the cravings start, I look for something to do other than eating! Even if it’s something like scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or– even better– My Fitness Pal! It can be logging my food and reminding myself how much I’ve already eaten, so how can I be hungry? It can be writing notes for this blog, playing with my dogs or doing my nails (my most recent distraction). It just needs to be something to keep my hands busy so I’m not eating to satisfy a craving that has nothing to do with hunger.

Another trigger for a lot of us is emotion.  How many of us have heard and used the expression ’emotional eater’?  Again, it’s a legitimate issue but once we realize it’s our trigger, we need to take steps to cut off the craving/ binge before it starts.  This issue is obviously more complex than just alleviating boredom.  If emotion or stress is a serious problem in your life, you might need to meet with someone to help you find constructive ways of dealing with it that don’t involve eating. For most of us who find ourselves staring into the fridge after a fight with a loved one or opening a surprise bill not in our budget or some other stressor, it can be less problematic. We have to find a way to alleviate our anxiety that doesn’t involve eating. In some ways, it’s easy and in other ways, it’s not so easy! Suppose your method of ‘coping’ with a problem is eating an entire bag of chips. While you’re eating the chips, you’re not feeling anxious or stressed (as much), but when those chips are gone, the anxiety and stress come back, usually coupled with the guilt for scarfing down a whole bag of Ruffles! Now what do you do? This is where some of us will find something else to eat and  repeat the cycle while others of us will either find a way to deal with the cause of our anxiety or we find something else to soothe it.  In my case, after eating a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s or the bag of Ruffles or King’s Hawaiian, I’d turn to my pets. My pets are a huge source of comfort to me! Depending on what the problem is, there is also venting on Facebook or calling a friend to share the anxiety and frustration.  Most of us who have normal every day stress and anxiety in our lives have methods for dealing with it; the problem is our knee-jerk reaction to eat our emotions first! What we need to learn is to cut off that reaction to ‘soothe’ our anxiety with food.

You’re probably thinking, “Duhhh!  So tell me something I don’t know!” It’s not rocket science, but it does take patience and practice. We all know the trick about not losing our temper by counting to ten and this isn’t much different.  It involves taking a couple minutes to see into the future: “I’m emotional and I want to eat something, but how am I going to feel when I’m done eating?” Usually the answer will be “pretty cruddy!” or “worse than I do now!” The object is to step into those few seconds between feeling the anxiety-eating trigger and the actual eating! As I said it takes practice and it takes patience. It’s a seemingly simple behavior modification technique. The actual action is simple: stopping the knee-jerk reaction to eat by switching it with another action; it’s ‘seemingly simple’ because changing behavior can be a difficult process. This is where the patience and practice come into action.

We have to remember to ask ourselves that question when we feel like eating because of our emotions and then simply skip the eating! Instead of eating all the potato chips and then holding my dog, I just pick up the dog! Or I start venting online or to my friends or whatever I can do to relieve the anxiety and emotion without eating.  The good thing about this technique is that is also works with those sugar-addiction cravings I mentioned at the beginning.  When we feel the urge to eat whatever it is we’re craving, we need to remind ourselves of how cruddy we’re going to feel after we’ve eaten it.  It can be we feel guilty or ashamed or physically terrible.  In my case, sugar or simple carbs like bread really cause pain in my hands. When I stop eating the sugar, I can feel the improvement within a couple of days. When I start craving something either because of boredom, anxiety or just wanting that not-so-healthy forbidden food, I ask myself how I’m going to feel after eating it. Remembering how bad my hands felt is an obvious deterrent!

It still takes a lot of patience and a whole lot of practice.  There are some times I really really want it and eat it anyway, and when I end up regretting it, I remind myself there’s a reason it’s on my not-to-be-eaten list, especially if my hands start hurting! The craving for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups is followed by “is it worth your hands aching for a week? Remember how smushed and stale the last ones were? Not to mention 400 calories!” Changing our behavior takes time and we have to be patient with ourselves.  Remembering to pause before grabbing the King’s Hawaiian takes practice and when we screw it up (because we will!), we have to be patient and forgive ourselves. Cravings are what kill most weight loss practices and that’s what this is: it’s a practice!  We won’t get it right the first time we try it but the more we do it, the easier it is to remember and the longer that pause becomes. The knee-jerk reaction to eat our boredom, anxiety and cravings becomes less of a reaction and more of a decision.  That’s what we are really looking for: the ability to make a decision instead of being out of control.

 

 

 

Going Off the Rails! Weight Loss & Staying On Track

This would seem like the usual no-brainer: if you don’t stay with your healthy routine, you’re going to gain weight or at the very least, stop losing weight! Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, you didn’t lose weight before when you were eating burgers & fries, bowls of pasta and drinking all those sodas, so why should you lose weight eating them now? Like I said, it’s a no-brainer!

However, a funny thing happens when you’ve been following a healthy routine for a while: you lose focus. You start thinking “I’ve got this!”  It’s true: once you’ve been successfully losing weight or maintaining the loss for a few months, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what works for you and what doesn’t. That’s when it happens: you start going off track.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) calls it ‘drifting.’  I like to think of it as going off the rails, because what usually happens feels a lot like a train wreck to me!

Going off the rails usually starts with drifting.  It stems from that lack of focus and not being as careful as most of us need to be.  Th problem compounds on itself and then before you know it, you’re somewhere you don’t want to be and have to start the difficult process of getting back on track! We all know it’s easier to just stay on track and don’t let ourselves drift, but for most of us, it’s a lot like shutting the barn door after the horse has gotten out! In other words, by the time we know what to look for or that we should start looking, it’s too late and we’re in the middle of a train wreck!  I’m starting to feel a lot like Prof. Mad Eye Moody, shouting “Constant vigilance!” at everyone I see, but hopefully I’m not that bad yet (yeah, there’s another empty barn!)

It begins with little things, such as having a latte instead of just coffee with cream, or sharing a dessert with a friend at lunch.  By themselves, none of these qualify as ‘bad behavior,’ but we usually don’t stop with these little things.  The little things compound on each other and instead of being an occasional occurrence, they become once a week, then multiple times a week until they somehow turn into a ‘daily treat.’  Once in a while, they aren’t ‘train wreckers,’ but one after another on a regular or daily basis, they knock your carefully crafted healthy routine off the rails.  We all know this happens.  Like I said, it’s a no-brainer! The question is: since we all know this happens, why do we end up doing it?

That goes back to the other idea I mentioned above: “I’ve got this!”  We start feeling in control of our eating choices, our workouts, our activity, how much or how often we’re eating– whatever our particular weakness is! We’ve been ‘in control’ for a while now so we start thinking we can loosen our grip on the reins a bit. I don’t want to make it sound like having one cookie with a friend is going to send you on a wild out of control cookie binge or that you can never go down the bakery aisle at your local supermarket without fear of gobbling all their snickerdoodles, but keeping count of how many cookies you had in the last couple of weeks isn’t a bad idea.  It’s one thing to make a conscious decision to have a cookie or share a dessert or even splurge on fabulous garlic bread if that’s your thing, but when those treats become more than occasional or even daily, then we’re back wondering just when we went off the rails and how do we find our way back on track. Even worse, we’re going to have to ‘fix’ the damage that train wreck caused!

I’m going to use a dirty word here: tracking!  Yeah, yeah, no one likes tracking! It’s a hassle; it’s annoying; it takes a long time! Blah blah blah! I’m going to respond with one of my favorite words: crybaby! You think it’s a pain in the butt to write down everything you eat? How about having to stick your finger multiple times a day to check your blood sugar? How about having to pick up your diabetes medication every month or worse, giving yourself your daily insulin injection? Think that’s a pain in the butt?  How about pain in your knees because you gained your weight back? Or having to go back to your old ‘fat clothes’ because all those new clothes you bought don’t fit right anymore? Remember what it felt like getting dressed and wondering if this is the day the button pops off your pants at the office? Loathe though I am to admit it (because I was one of those tracking crybabies too!), tracking really does work. When we write down everything we eat every day, it’s easy to look back and see that you had six cookies on the weekend when were out with friends and you’ve had three more cookies after dinner this week and then there were the two cookies you got at Starbucks on your way home, and ….. OMG! that’s almost a dozen cookies this week! Ack! No more cookies! No more cookies!

That’s basically what tracking is for! When you can look back at the end of the week, or even just the end of the day, you can see where you went a little wacky with the sweets or the popcorn or whatever, and remind yourself that those foods are treats and not part of your regular menu.  They are to be indulged in for a special occasion and ‘Tuesday after work” isn’t a special occasion!

How you track is also up to you.  The most basic definition is just what I said above: writing down everything you eat and drink during the day.  Some people like to be very specific and write down how much they ate, when they ate and how they feel mentally and physically after eating.  If you want to weigh it all and count calories, that’s up to you.  For some of us, weighing and measuring can be a big help when you’re starting out because it gives you an idea of portion size.  When you look at the label on a bag of nuts and it says one serving is 28 grams and has 200 calories with five servings in a bag, it gives you all the relevant information except what 28 grams actually looks like!  The same thing is especially true with sauces like salad dressing.  We squeeze a bunch all over our salad because “that looks right” but how many calories did we put all over our healthy 35 calorie salad? 250? 350? Most salad dressings have about 120 calories per two tablespoon serving and once you get a good idea of how what two tablespoons actually looks like, you’ll understand how people can gain weight eating only ‘healthy salads’! The same thing happens with the cheese they put on that ‘healthy salad’ or on their bunless burger!

You don’t have to weigh or measure everything you eat and drink unless you want to, but if you suddenly find your healthy routine has become a train wreck and you don’t know how you got there, tracking is a good place to start getting back on that track! It gives you a direction and it lets you know when you make a wrong turn.  Even if it’s just the basic ‘what you ate without portion sizes,’ it can still let you know maybe you had too many carbs in the last month or maybe too much fat or maybe you just ate too much! Of course, that also means you have to look at it once in a while! I know a lot of people who never look at their bank statement and then wonder how they ended up being overdrawn on their account: ummm, it’s another no-brainer! Statements and food journals only work when you look at them!

I personally use two food journals: one paper and one online.  I like the paper one because I’ll make other notes in it but I also log what I eat into My Fitness Pal, which is available online and as an app. It has the added benefit of telling you how many calories, carbs, fat and protein are in what you ate, lets you keep a calorie limit and when you close out your diary for the day, will give you an estimate of how much you’d weigh ‘if every day were like today.’ Granted the estimate isn’t very accurate, but it shows you your trend. If your goal weight is 180 and you’re over your calorie limit and ‘you’d weigh 274 in five weeks if every day were like today,’ that’s not a good thing unless you already weigh over 274! My Fitness Pal (MFP) has several other benefits that I like but again, how you choose to stay on track is up to you.  The only requirement is that it has to work! No one wants to end up seeing all their hard work undone and that’s what happens when we go off track.  Keeping a food journal is a simple technique that needs to do nothing more than list what you ate and drank in a day. The trick is using it every day and looking at it on a regular basis. If you find your clothes are getting tight or that your knees are starting to hurt again, which is the bigger hassle: gaining your weight back or writing down what you’re eating?

The paper food journal I use: https://www.amazon.com/DIETMINDER-Personal-Fitness-Journal-Exercise/dp/0963796836

The food scale I use: https://www.amazon.com/Ozeri-ZK14-S-Digital-Multifunction-Kitchen/dp/B004164SRA/ref=sr_1_4?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1532037990&sr=1-4&keywords=ozeri+food+scale

 

 

 

If You Can’t Hear Anything Nice, Maybe You’re Not Really Listening: Weight Loss & Criticism??

We’ve all been told at one time or another that if we can’t say anything nice, we shouldn’t say anything at all.  I think that’s good advice if all you have to say is something mean or negative. Most of us have also heard the expression “think before you speak,” but we rarely hear any good advice about listening. Maybe that’s because we’re not listening?

In all seriousness, we not only hear what we want to hear, what we hear is usually run through a filter of what we were expecting to hear.  In other words, if we are expecting negativity, that’s what we’re going to hear.  Although it sounds complicated, it really isn’t. Example: my mom has historically been my biggest critic.  All through my childhood, it always seemed like I wasn’t smart enough, ambitious enough and I definitely  wasn’t thin enough! She would be the one to point out that my clothes or makeup or hair weren’t very flattering or that I’d gained more weight.  There was usually very little that was complimentary from her unless it was that ‘I didn’t screw up as big as she thought I would!’ As a result, my knee-jerk reaction to anything she says is to ‘hit back’ since I am expecting to get ‘hit,’ so to speak. Secondly, I’m not really listening to what she’s saying because I’m already halfway to some mean-spirited retort!

The problems with this all-too-common scenario are obvious: forget about ‘listening with an open mind’! How about starting with ‘listening while not in Attack Mode’?  It would be easy to blame my mom for always putting me on high alert: “if you weren’t always so critical of everything I did, then I wouldn’t be like this!” Maybe that worked when I was a kid, but I haven’t been a kid for a really long time now.  That means it’s all on me! (Yikes! Talk about the world going crazy!) All joking aside, as easy as it would be to lay all this at my mom’s door and just walk away from any responsibility for my responses, that’s the problem right there: they are my responses!

If we are going to hold others responsible for their words and behavior, then we need to do the same for ourselves! That means instead of jumping all over someone for what they just said, maybe we should listen to what they have to say before we attack them. This idea of Listening means we first need to listen with an open mind and then think about what they said before we respond. Remember that “think before you speak” I mentioned earlier? This saying always reminds me of another line from The Simpsons: Lisa wisely telling Homer “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt,” to which Homer makes a typically foolish response.  Key point here: don’t be Homer!

Truthfully, my mom brings out the Homer in me. It’s partly because of a childhood full of criticism, disappointment and recrimination. After thousands of verbal slings and arrows, my automatic reflex is to return fire immediately after her opening volley, but that means I’m also automatically assuming that whatever she has to say is going to be another criticism, and that’s not always the case anymore. Sometimes she has a good idea or– gasp!— something nice to say about me, which means my mean or cold-hearted retort makes me small, petty or just plain stupid.  My automatic reflex may have been born out of a painful childhood, but now as an adult, I can choose either to fix that or let it continue.  That choice is not a childish defense mechanism: it is an actual choice I am making with a clear head. That means I am responsible for my responses and my behavior! Yikes! Yeah, that’s one of those Lisa & Homer moments! Who am I going to be today?

When it comes to our weight loss and exercise, most of us are in the same camp: all we seem to hear is criticism from our family and loved ones.  The ones who were always there to point out that Boston cream pie isn’t on your diet and that the sourdough garlic bread you had with lunch isn’t Paleo are the same ones who always make you feel like a failure with their criticism.  Your diet isn’t the right one; you aren’t exercising enough and obviously you must be doing something wrong because “you haven’t lost much weight in the last month, have you?” It’s easy to run all those statements through the filter of criticism and fire off a few return volleys back at them.  It’s easy to begin to feel like “everyone criticizes” and “no one has anything good to say about my weight loss.”  After that, it’s a short ride to feeling stressed and depressed and “I’m such a failure again!” We all know the danger that carries with it: emotional eating!

But before we open the bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and go to town, let’s try using our Listening Mode instead of our reflex Attack Mode. Not everything everyone says to you is criticism.  Sometimes it’s just an observation or sometimes it’s a question. Sometimes there is a compliment involved, but until you listen with an open mind, you might never hear anything but criticism! Sometimes just keeping an open mind when one of your critics makes a comment is much harder than it looks. It means thinking about what they just said and staying silent until you can think of an appropriate response while your emotions are screaming at you to attack. Example: you tell a family member you want to try a three day water fast and her response is “you think you can do that?”  This is one of those phrases that is open to interpretation.  If it were a text, you’d hope there’d be an emoji attached to give you an idea of how they mean it: either a Scream face; eye-roll; mind blown; or at least an OMG! It can mean “wow! that’s extreme! do you think you can handle it?” or it can mean “yikes! is that healthy?” or it can mean “yeah, right! you won’t last three hours!” Most of us who feel we’ve been criticized to death go right for that last one! We don’t even consider there are other interpretations: “Obviously, my mom thinks I have no self-control!”

That’s where the pause, listen, interpret and thinking before we speak keep us from putting our foot in our mouth and hurting someone’s feelings when they only meant well.  When I started eating Paleo, my mom kept pushing other diets at me and encouraging me to eat differently. It was easy for me to ignore her suggestions because what I was hearing was “you don’t know what you’re doing again!” when now I realize it could have easily been “are you sure that’s healthy?” It seriously took a while for that to sink in because I was hearing it through the “criticism filter” instead of listening with an open mind. It’s ironic. I try to keep an open mind about just about everything else in my life: food, nutrition, exercise, pets, books, movies, etc! But when it comes to my mom, I just automatically assume she’s got something negative and critical to say.  That narrow-mindedness is all my own fault, since it’s a choice I made.  And it’s not a good choice, either!

We started out on our journey to improve our health and our lives, and most of us were laser focused on ourselves, but that laser focus can also lock us into seeing only what we are expecting to see and hear. Changing for the better means thinking about old things in new ways, and sometimes that means realizing that the person you always thought of as a critic might actually want to help you.  We can’t make those realizations without keeping an open mind and really listening to what they have to say.  Even Homer has a good day now and then!