Excuse Abuse: It’s Not My Fault!

We’ve all heard them; we’ve all said them: “it’s not my fault because…….”  We probably believed them when we said them, but really, who was to blame?  Those of you who have read some of my previous posts know I am a huge fan (eye roll) of My 600 lb Life and My Big Fat Fabulous Life, and those are pretty much regular excuse-o-ramas!  It’s always someone else’s fault if the patient gains weight or if Whitney eats badly or misses her training appointments.  There was always something beyond their control or it was someone else’s fault xyz happened.

I’ve heard it a thousand times: the patient had to move to Houston and they “had” to get fast food because that’s the only thing available on the road.  They have to feed their husband and kids and they like “insert junk food here.”  Whitney’s back has been hurting so her nutrition hasn’t been good.  She works out of town and has so many other activities going on so she’s missed her training appointments.  Her eating habits are so bad because “everything spills over onto everything else and then it’s the middle of the day and [she’s] starving.”

There are several problems with making excuses and abdicating responsibility.  The first is that it keeps you powerless.  Every time “something happens,” it keeps you from taking charge.  You are left being reactive instead of proactive.  Maybe this sounds like a lot of psychobabble, but it’s true.  Things are going to happen that are beyond your control, but you are still left with options.  Let’s look at some of the above scenarios and the excuses.

Scenario #1: you are on a road trip and will be eating on the road.  Yeah, fast food is the easiest option, especially if you are traveling with a lot of people or kids..  However, most fast food places these days have “healthier” options.  They may not be the best option, but they are available and even if you don’t opt for the pathetic fast food salad (there are some places that really do have great salads, but my experience with one of the larger chains has left me really disappointed!), you can still get a bunless burger, a grilled chicken breast sandwich (most have those too!) and you certainly don’t need the fries and sugary soda!  You can make the best of a bad situation.  You can also take a cooler (depending on how long you will on the road) and bring something healthier for you, or when you stop for gas, most of the gas station food marts have something with more choices, like cheese sticks, fruit, nuts or lunch meat.  Some of them even have veggie snack packs. (Maybe that’s just California because we are a little weird!)  Either way, there are some options!  This one I have to confess bugs me more than a little because I eat on the road all the time: breakfast for me is always eaten in the car, weekdays at least and I bring something healthy these days instead of getting fast food.  It’s an obvious excuse to eat the junk food they want to eat and choosing to remain powerless in that situation gives them the out they want to eat the crappy junk.

Scenario #2: They have to feed their husband and kids and they like “insert junk food here.”  This is one that I saw not too long ago on a 600 lb Life rerun.  The patient ordered 3 pizzas and a family size brownie for herself, her husband, her disabled 12 year old (I think he got fed through a feeding tube, incidentally), and her one year old baby.  She not only fed the baby the pizza, she fed it to her dog.  Most of you know that I make a habit of feeding my pets pretty much anything I eat as long as it’s safe for them. My pets are my “kids” and they are my responsibility, but they are still pets and not real children.  How much more important is it to feed your children nutritious food and teach them healthy eating habits?  The patient’s sister who was there and very disapproving of the pizzas made that very point, to which the patient responded with “this is what they like.”  Her husband would have eaten anything she wanted for dinner (he deferred to her regularly) and as for the baby- HE’S A BABY!! If you ask any kid what he wants for dinner, he’s pretty much going to say things like pizza and ice cream or fast food or things that taste good rather than things that are nutritious.  When was the last time an 8 year old said she wants broccoli for dinner? Or baked tilapia? Or a sweet potato?  Children learn their eating habits from their parents and other adults in their lives and as a parent, it’s your job to make sure that: #1) they are getting good nutrition; and #2) they are learning to make the right choices for themselves.  If your family’s eating habits aren’t good, then making positive changes for everyone is a good thing.  If the adults in your family insist on making “junk food” choices for themselves, then let them, because they are adults, but as the parent, it’s your job to make sure your children eat healthy nutritious food and learn to make good choices.  Ironically, my pets eat healthier than that woman’s family and they make their own choices in what to eat. (The last time I gave them cake, it sat there and got stale!)

Scenario #3: Whitney’s back has been hurting so her nutrition hasn’t been good.  Her trainer Will called it:  her back has nothing to do with what she is eating! It’s like saying “I had to eat junk food today because my shirt is yellow.”  One has nothing to do with the other!  Her back is hurting so does that mean she can’t cook?  Her back is hurting so does that mean she has to eat junk food? Or over eat? What does that have to do with anything?  If cooking is an issue, get something you don’t need to cook, like a salad kit or a rotisserie chicken.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that very same dinner sitting in my recliner with my tv tray.  It’s easy and takes almost no time.  You can mix up the salad sitting down and eat the chicken cold or heat it in the microwave, so if your back is hurting, no excuses!  It takes no more time to walk into the store and get those than it does to get drive thru.

Scenario #4: She works out of town and has so many other activities going on so she’s missed her training appointments.  Will called it again: she needs to budget her time, and so do we!  It’s great to have a lot of activities, but keep in mind, the more things you have in your schedule, the less time you have to focus on them.  I also work out of town and my commute is about 2 hours, so that’s four hours out of each weekday that is spent in the car.  Obviously my time there is severely limited, so I usually devote that time to listening to podcasts or calling my friends (on my hands-free of course).  I wish I had more time to read but again, it’s something that I need to fit into my schedule.  I do water aerobics twice a week and I’ve signed up for a resistance training class one night a week.  They offer it twice a week, but I’m not sure I can fit that in.  I would also like to take a dance class, but that’s also twice a week and I would have dance twice a week, water aerobics twice a week, resistance once a week, (all during the work week I might add!) and all of those on top of my job, my commute and other regular activities (like this blog, laundry, grocery shopping, errands, etc.) and I’d need to do it all and still get to bed at a reasonable hour!  Yeah, having a lot to do is not always a bad thing, but over-scheduling is just irresponsible.  The more you have on your plate, the less time you can devote to each of them!  Showing up exhausted and burnt out to water aerobics so I can just “phone it in” isn’t benefiting me.  Phoning it in at my job isn’t at all acceptable.  Sometimes people do this so they can feel accomplished, or because it gives them an excuse to phone it in.  As Whitney says in this episode, she’s missing her training appointments but she’s being “active” so it’s all good.  As Will tells her: no, it’s not good.  Just being “active” isn’t the same as not showing up for the training because he’s there to keep her focused and move her towards her goals.  She was also making a dance DVD and rehearsing for a dance competition.  The DVD is a one-time temporary thing and so is the dance competition, but she was having to cram in the rehearsals because she didn’t have a lot of time before the competition: maybe she should have not signed up for the competition? I’d really like to take the dance class, but really, how much can I cram into my schedule and still do it well? There’s also a yoga class I really want but again, how about rescheduling something?  How about being realistic?  Again, it’s called being an adult versus being a child: kids want everything but adults use discretion.  Be an adult, people!

Scenario #5: Her eating habits are so bad because “everything spills over onto everything else and then it’s the middle of the day and [she’s] starving.” This happens a lot to most of us. We think we have everything planned out and then, real life happens!  The best laid plans, blah blah blah- smack right in the middle of your day!  It happened to me twice last week and once the week before: I brought my healthy breakfast and lunch and then the day went sideways and my time for lunch went out the window!  By 2:00 p.m. I was starving and this would have been a perfect opportunity for me to say “I can stop for a giant mocha on the way home and get Jack in the Box for dinner!  After all, I missed lunch!” I could have completely rationalized the junk food, but that doesn’t move me forward to my goals: it’s an excuse for me to stuff my face with junk.  So when I couldn’t warm up my lunch (and I didn’t want to eat it cold), I had some of the nuts that I keep in my desk for situations like this!  That’s why they’re there!  They won’t spoil and they are a whole lot healthier than junk food.  They are not the best option (which would have been the turkey and veggies sitting in the office fridge) but they were enough to hold me over until I got home and had the chicken and salad which was waiting for me.  I learned the hard way that not planning for situations like these (and they happen to all of us!) is setting yourself up for disaster.  In Whitney’s case, I think her lack of planning is the problem.  Will had given her some healthy bars for those occasions, but she ate them all and didn’t replace them.  Again, I think this goes back to choosing to remain powerless so you can always use “real life” as the out to eat badly.

 “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves.”

As much as I dislike Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, this is one of my favorite quotes, and in this instance, it is exactly on point.  It’s easier and more convenient to blame fate, the universe, God, “real life,” or whatever for why you didn’t reach your goals, whatever they might be. Sometimes, things really do happen to you that you cannot control, but you still have options.  In the season finale, Whitney said something that really struck me; she said “I will probably be fat for the rest of my life.”   She had accepted that as fact and it struck me because at one time in my life I had come to the same conclusion.  “This is it; I’m just going to be fat all my life” and almost immediately as the thought was sinking into my brain, I felt a palpable sense of relief, and I realized I had just given myself permission to give up on ever being thinner, being healthier, trying to lose weight and improve my health and I had given myself license to eat whatever I want as much as I want and forget about ever exercising or trying to improve my health. Every health related goal I had went out the window with that thought.  “I’m giving up.”  That’s what I really should have told myself. I know that Whitney probably tells herself that she is still working on being healthier, but she always has her fallback excuse for not trying her hardest, for not giving it her all, for why she’s not making progress: she’s just destined to be fat.  That’s so disappointing, and I hope she rethinks her position and doesn’t give up on herself.

I know in my case, telling me that I can’t is pretty much guaranteed to make me try to prove you wrong.  I may not get there, but it won’t be for lack of trying.  I may never reach my goal weight but I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to get there.  Granted, I’m not going to do crazy things to try getting there (sadly, I had an aunt who killed herself to be thin and she died skinny.) I want to be healthy and fit and enjoy getting there.  Choosing to let someone or something else decide your day, let alone your fate, is pretty much a guarantee that you aren’t going to get to your goals.  That’s not to say you have to regulate and schedule every minute of the foreseeable future, but there’s nothing wrong with planning for a few detours along the way.  It’s the difference between an adventure and a catastrophe.  I’d rather have the adventure and get where I want to go eventually, even if it means eating nuts for lunch.

Be Gracious in Victory, Not Vindictive

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while may be familiar with a post I did (The Speck in Your Sister’s Eye) regarding comedian Kerryn Feehan and Whitney Thore of My Big Fat Fabulous Life (MBFFL).  Kerryn appeared on the show and she and Whitney disagreed- loudly- over Whitney’s approach to her weight and lifestyle and fat shaming in general.

Recently on part two of MBFFL’s season finale, Kerryn made another appearance.  The season finale (entitled “The Skinny”) was a round table type wrap up where they had the cast and host Shaun Robinson review certain moments from the season and offer their thoughts looking back at the various incidents.  Personally, I think Kerryn is to be applauded for walking into what was so obviously a lion’s den of disapproval straight from the get-go.  It was soon apparent that no one wanted to listen to her point of view on Whitney’s attitude and/ or approach to her weight and, although she frankly has a tendency to express herself crudely and hurtfully (maybe it’s the ‘comedic’ approach?), it was also very apparent that she genuinely felt she had come to have a frank and open discussion about the state of Whitney’s health.

When Kerryn brought up the fact that Whitney is “struggling” with her health and weight, she was attacked.  When she defended herself by bringing up the funeral intervention thrown by her friends and family members, she was attacked again.  Whitney took offense to a response Kerryn made to her parents, saying it was disrespectful (I don’t think it was, but it’s purely subjective) and walked off the set.  (Kerryn also left.) Later, after everyone returned, Kerryn apologized to Whitney, telling her she believed she was clearly a beautiful, intelligent and charismatic person.  Whitney responded by saying since Kerryn did not include respect in her list of attributes, Kerryn obviously did not respect her and made a derogatory remark about Kerryn, who was then abruptly asked to leave by the host.

I have to say I was not impressed by Whitney’s behavior (or her friend Buddy’s for that matter).  Upon her return to the set after the blow up, Kerryn flat out stated that she believed she had been brought there to have a frank discussion about Whitney’s weight and that clearly was not going to happen. I think Kerryn began badly by saying that she believes Whitney’s friends are enabling her when it is quite obvious she is struggling with her weight (the words Kerryn used were she “waddles” when she walks).  I think this is part of Kerryn’s “bullying for positive change” philosophy which I don’t agree with but I don’t deny that Whitney does tend to waddle when she walks.  (I used to waddle myself when I weighed that much! It’s because moving 370+ lbs can be a bit of an effort!)

Kerryn’s abrasive personality aside, it was painfully clear that she was hurt by the multiple attacks on the set and it was also quite clear that although Whitney had the opportunity to handle the situation with grace and aplomb, she chose not to do so.  Instead, she threw Kerryn’s words back in her face and childishly decided to have a tantrum by leaving the set rather than using her alleged charisma and articulate manner to discuss the matter with Kerryn.  Loathe though I am to side with Kerryn, I do not think she was wrong when she said that Whitney’s friends and family are not helping her.  While I don’t think they coddle her (as Kerryn stated in the first episode), I think they do enable her.  Kerryn brought up the funeral intervention thrown by her friends and family after Whitney passed out at the dance-a-thon she put on.  She ended up at a cardiologist, who of course told her to lose weight, although he also told her she was physically fine.  Her friends and family were quite obviously scared for her and did the intervention hoping it would bring about positive change.  Whitney’s response was to walk out after the funeral without speaking to them and on the season finale, her comment to them was “Y’all are lucky I don’t hold a grudge!”  Frankly, it’s clear that she does hold grudges (don’t get me started about Caitie and the whole Big Girl Dance class debacle!) and again she missed the opportunity to express her gratitude that they cared so much to do that, even if she felt it was not the appropriate way to show their concern (I think she was much ruder to her dad in this instance than Kerryn ever was!)

For someone who is supposed to be charming and articulate, Whitney can be rudely defensive about her weight, and it is to be expected.  As she pointed out, she gets attacked  daily about her weight, mainly because she is putting herself out in the media. She read aloud some of the Twitter feed about her and it was beyond disgusting, although there were some positive comments.  She is to be congratulated for standing up for what she believes in despite the ugly remarks (I think they scared her mom and brought a few of them to tears they were so bad!) It’s easier (though not at all easy) to ignore comments from ignorant meatheads who don’t know you, but when your friends and family and your own body are telling you that you need to make some positive changes, those need to be acknowledged.  When asked about how she intended to handle her fainting spell, Whitney defensively replied that she intended to sleep better, exercise better and get better nutrition rather than lose weight.  I think she was trying to save face.  I’ve been down that road myself.  It’s easier to say things like that rather than admit you don’t know how to lose weight and keep it off.  Another of Whitney’s defensive remarks was that she’d lost 100 lbs before and of course gained back more, and she said she was not going to put herself through it again.  She shouldn’t because yo-yo dieting can wreck havoc on your metabolism, but making sustained long term changes to your lifestyle can help you lose weight, get better nutrition feel better and sleep better. But it means having to change how you are living, and sometimes that is a bigger impediment than most people want to admit.

I’m not going to sit here and tell Whitney how she should live her life.  She’s an intelligent adult who is more than capable of making her own decisions.  I like her and I think she would be someone I could have as a friend, but my point here is that she had the opportunity to show the world how really lovely and intelligent and gracious she can be and she opted not to do it.  One of my favorite people, Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential), shared a book on a podcast not long ago entitled The Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.  EB is a big fan of Stoic philosophy and, while I am not, one of the quotes she shared from the book stayed with me: be gracious in your victories and humble in your defeats.  It was so clear that Kerryn was humble in her flat-out annihilation on that episode and so clear that Whitney was anything but gracious.  I am so disappointed, not only that she came off as petty and vindictive, but that she missed the opportunity for real discussion of her no body shame message. She had the opportunity to discuss why one’s weight is not always a good indicator of health and how being confident in yourself does not depend on what you weigh or how many miles you can run.  Health and beauty and fitness are not about body size.  She would have been much better served if she had chosen to focus more on her physical and personal achievements and less on being defensive over her eating and her weight.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of her next season and hopefully she will learn from this unfortunate incident.  Again, kudos to Kerryn for putting herself in that minefield and showing what true grace looks like!

Open the Door and Let In Some Light

The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind. ~E. B. White

This is kind of a mini-rant that really has not a lot to do with weight loss but I think it has a lot to do with keeping a healthy positive attitude.

Backstory: I went to a Catholic high school and yes, some of my teachers were nuns and priests.  One of my favorite teachers was Sister Patrice.  She was a tiny woman, probably only about 5′ tall on a good day, and she probably weighed all of 100 lbs soaking wet, but (like the stereotype!) she was tough! You didn’t mess with Sr. Patrice! But as tough as she was (she dealt with teenagers all day long!), she was also very compassionate and very easy to approach if you had a problem.  One of the things I remember most about her is that on the last day of class for the seniors, as they turned in their final exam, she gave each of them a paper butterfly she had made with their name and a positive trait she had noticed about them over the years.  It was a little positive take-away for them as they grew up and went out into the world.  I remember that mine said “open minded” and it is something I have tried to foster in myself and others over the years.  (I lost that paper butterfly and I deeply regret it!)

For me, being open minded means not being prejudiced or judgmental of others and other points of view.  It doesn’t mean that we have to embrace everything that comes down the pike, but until we take a look at it and give it a fair shake, don’t judge it or dismiss it out of hand.  This attitude has served me well in my lifetime (thank you, Sr. Patrice!) and it has been to my advantage once I started losing weight.  Rather than focus on the “traditional” weight loss protocols, I kept an open mind and considered others that were still a little on the fringe, like Paleo.  Although it has been growing in popularity since 2009 (I think it began to plateau sometime around 2014-15), there are some who think of it as a fad or something untested.  My mother was one of these people.

Once I did a little research and decided I was going to try eating Paleo, I made the mistake of telling my mother, who promptly dismissed it as a fad and fly by night and unhealthy and whatever else “un-” she could come up with.  She tried selling me on some other diet books by other “experts.”  They may be legitimate experts, but these would be the diets I mentioned in other posts where I’d have to cut out all of some foods, eat only certain things and/ or smoothies for a week or so, do these exercises for x amount of time and then move onto the next phase, where I only eat these foods and smoothies and do only x exercises for x amount of time before moving onto the next phase! Hello- has she met me? I’m not going to stick with a program that regimented; it’ll be irritating and inconvenient and I certainly won’t enjoy it! Incidentally, when she tries programs like that, she doesn’t last either!

She pretty much pooh-poohed my Paleo idea and kept pushing other diets at me and I just went ahead and did it anyway.  The rest of my family and friends were very supportive (I think I get my open mindedness from my dad- his pov is generally “try it and if it doesn’t work, try something else”). So, even though I was having success with Paleo, it didn’t get her “endorsement” until Dr. Oz got behind it.  She kept going on and on about how Dr. Oz said it was good and he said it was effective and he said it had merit.  He wasn’t saying anything I didn’t already know, since I had researched Paleo and had been eating Paleo for several weeks by that time, but now it was “official” since Dr. Oz had given it his approval (eye roll).  For weeks after that, any time something about Paleo popped up in the news or social media or anywhere she saw it, I got a text telling me about it and how great it is!  No offense to Dr. Oz, but I don’t particularly like him or his show.  I have watched it and I’m sure he has some great medical credentials, but I can’t get behind a show that give you 10-15 minutes of information about a topic and then moves on to the next one.  I’m sorry but if I’m going to be trying whatever health fad he’s talking about, I’d like to know a little more about it! I don’t just want the highlights!

One of the reasons I’m having this mini-rant is that since I’ve become more attuned to the fitness and nutrition community and Paleo in particular, I’ve become more aware of different view points and avenues of health care, like ancestral health, functional medicine and the mobility movement (yeah, it’s the “movement movement”).  I listen to a variety of podcasts in these areas which opens the door to lot of people specializing in these fields (among others).  I am by no means any kind of fitness expert, but I would like to think I am an informed consumer.  If I come across a topic or an expert through one of these podcasts or websites, I like do a little research, see what it entails and what options it provides.  For example, there’s a lot out there on fermented foods, which are supposed to be good for the microbiota in your gut biome (this is biospeak for the good bacteria living in your intestines that allow you to break down and absorb certain foods). A lot of these experts offer advice on making your own kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha because it is so beneficial to your bacteria friends. It’s the same idea as taking probiotic supplements- it keeps your intestinal friends happy and healthy.  Bottom line for me after my research: I am definitely NOT making any of these things at home (with my ineptitude, I’d probably poison myself- I’ve killed sourdough starter)! But, I do eat more of these than I used to because I believe they are better for you than popping a supplement that’s supposed to do the same thing.  Do they actually work? I have not noticed anything bad happening and my body seems to be clicking right along so I’m sticking with it, especially since I like sauerkraut and kombucha (not so much the kimchi).  I’m sure my mom would say it’s all a placebo and it really doesn’t do anything.  Maybe, but let me tell you a little something about placebos.

Way back in the day, shortly after ibuprophen became widely available, I started taking it to sleep at night.  Those of you who have read some of my other posts know that my sleep patterns have been jacked up all my life (I really think I am a nocturnal human being) so sleeping at night has always been difficult for me.  But long before they came out with “Ibuprophen PM” with a “sleep aid” in your pain reliever, I used to take the regular ibuprophen when I had trouble sleeping: not having pain, but just having difficulty getting to sleep.  Within 20 minutes, without fail, I was deeply asleep.  Maybe I was feeling a little achey and the pain med took care of it, or maybe it was just a straight out placebo effect: it worked because I believed it worked.  I don’t know and I don’t care.  Does it work? Yes.  Does it hurt me? No.  Did I keep doing it? You bet! My goal in taking the ibuprophen was to get to sleep and it worked with no side effects.  Did I tell myself I was taking a pain reliever for something it was not designed for? Oh, hell no! Frankly, this is how we end up with a lot of medications: doctors prescribe it for one thing and it has a beneficial side effect and so it is approved for treatment of something else.  (I think that’s how they discovered rogaine!)  Maybe this is why years after I figured out the sleep benefits of ibuprophen the manufacturers made it “PM.”

For those of you who don’t know, my mom suffers from a couple of autoimmune disorders which cause chronic pain and difficulty moving.  Some of the medications she takes have unpleasant side effects but so far, they seem to be working.  In my podcast wanderings I came across the Paleo Solution episode with Eileen Laird of Phoenix Helix.  She has a website and podcast about the Paleo AutoImmune Protocol which helped her tremendously with her rheumatoid arthritis (which my mom has).  One of the medications Ms. Laird mentioned was Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) which has been beneficial for a lot of RA sufferers, so I mentioned it to my mom.  I showed her how to download the podcast (which she has not and likely will not listen to) and I gave her the name of the drug, which she looked up and promptly pooh-poohed as being endorsed by a quack.  Apparently, RA is NOT one of the primary conditions this drug was developed for and LDN is not normally prescribed for RA and that was pretty much the end of the discussion.  Other than the doctor who first discovered it was beneficial for RA/ autoimmune disease was a quack and not a “real doctor.”  Apparently, he is one of those doctors who believes in herbs (eye roll)! OMG!!! Excuse me, but didn’t most early medications begin as herbs?! Isn’t that where aspirin came from?!   Acetylsalicylic acid is a compound found in willow tree bark and early HERBOLOGISTS recognized that it’s effects on fever and pain and so, years later, TA-DA!! We have aspirin!!

So, my mom is probably not going to mention LDN to her rheumatologist and I will have to go on listening to her complain about her pain and problems moving and the not so fun side effects of her current medication.  It’s unfortunate, because the LDN might work for her, but since it came from an alleged quack, it’s being dismissed out of hand.  She’s the only one being hurt by her close-mindedness.  (FYI: she was also unimpressed with another doctor I mentioned whom I thought had a lot to offer about type 2 diabetes and obesity; and there was the other doctor who was only a PhD and not an MD even though he’s also making big breakthroughs treating type 2 diabetes and obesity with diet.) I had hoped that she would at least discuss it with her rheumatologist but I guess I should be happy she at least googled it.

I personally think the world grows through having an open mind.  I reminded her that one of her favorite doctors (Mark Hyman) would have been considered a quack 2o years ago if he had put forth his high fat low sugar diet back then, but now, it’s considered a breakthrough and innovative.  In fact, Robert Atkins did put out that idea back then and he was considered a little wacky.  Now he is considered a pioneer.  It’s kind of ironic, because my mom has always been such a science geek: she was the avid Star Trek fan, a fan of new technology and even of trying exotic foods.  In some ways, she is very open minded, but new discoveries aren’t always based in hardware and before “science” was science, it was magic and alchemy.  It was as ephemeral as a vapor and as unexplained as a quasar.  Science is full of pioneers who used to quacks and crazies until time and experience proved them wrong.  Galileo was a heretic for proposing that the earth revolved around the sun and Joseph Lister was a quack for proposing that surgeons operate in antiseptic conditions.  Now their theories are considered fundamental science! It takes a lot of guts to sit on top of a thousand pounds of rocket fuel and get shot into space, but it also takes a lot of guts to drink a new elixir to cure your cold.  You never know what you’re going to learn and who you’re going to learn it from, but if you keep your door shut, no one is going to have the chance to walk in.

 

Pick Your Poison: It’s All Up to You!

Lately I have noticed several of my friends on MFP (My Fitness Pal) struggling with making healthy changes or just resenting/ getting tired of the ongoing “struggle to stay healthy.”  I know that struggle well! Pretty much every Sunday, I post my “weekly gripe” about prepping for the coming week! (Grrr!! Ruins my Sunday!) I know I’ve complained about it here, but I do it every week and even though I grouse mightily about it, I know it needs to be done.  Truth be told, I resent it the way I generally resent Mondays, the way I resent having to get up early every weekday morning, having to put gas in the car every other day, having to do laundry, etc.  It’s a “chore” and the lazy wastrel in me loathes doing chores! I actually take my laundry to a drop off service, so my version on “doing laundry” is sorting the clothes, putting them in the laundry bags and dropping them off then picking them up.  I don’t actually wash and fold the clothes myself.  One of my friends thinks I’m a little extravagant for paying someone else to do this for me, but frankly, it’s one less thing for me to do, I don’t have to cram it into my schedule in the evening/ weekend and I know it gets done right.  It’s worth it to me (besides it’s only my work clothes- the other stuff I still have to cram in on the weekends usually every couple weeks or so!)

I grouse, I whine, I do it anyway! So what’s the big deal?  The “deal” is that we all pick our own poison: either we choose something we hate to do that needs to be done or we do what we really want to do and the devil take the consequences! It would be really easy for me to shut off the alarm every morning, roll over in bed and say “f*** getting up!” (That’s pretty much what I think when I hear that hated alarm!) I am NOT a morning person.  Mornings for me start somewhere in the afternoon!  Mornings are when I go to sleep (like 1 or 2 AM!) But I get up anyway and drag my sorry butt down the hall to get ready for work.  This is called being responsible and being an adult and being accountable and all that good junk that comes with being a productive human being. At 5:45 a.m., being responsible, accountable and productive totally and completely sucks! I hate it but I do it anyway, because once I’m awake and coherent and sane, I love my job! I love being productive and learning things and helping people out.  It’s the process I can’t stand.  It’s the “getting there” that gets in the way!

It’s the same thing every Sunday when I wake up and know that it’s “prep day.” (ugly nasty groan here!) I know the day is only mine until about 2:00 p.m.  That’s pretty much the latest that I should go to the grocery store and start getting things done for the upcoming week. This is pretty much how the rest of the day goes:

2:00 p.m.  Grocery shopping; 3:00-3:30 p.m. Putting groceries away & start making lunch & breakfasts for next week;[ 5:00 p.m. Start Sunday’s dinner; 6:30ish Finish dinner; 7:00 p.m. Shower;] 7:45ish pack gym bag & lay out Monday’s clothes (& clothes for the rest of the week if feeling ambitious). 8:00 p.m. Set up coffee for the next day & pack the lunch bag. The rest of Sunday night is now devoted to me (usually PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery).

That’s pretty much the routine every Sunday afternoon & evening.  You wouldn’t think it would take up so much time, but it does.  It’s about 4 hours out of my weekend devoted to getting everything set up for the coming week, and this is not counting (obviously!) the housework and yardwork and other stuff that goes along with everyday life.  So every Sunday afternoon, I grouse and complain and resent having to do it, but I do it anyway.  It’s part of that being “responsible” junk I was discussing earlier: once it’s done, I’m a lot happier.  Because once it’s done, I feel accomplished: I got a lot done!  Once it’s done, I don’t have to worry about “what am I having for breakfast/ lunch/ dinner tomorrow (or the rest of the week)?”  Once it’s done, I don’t have to go to bed thinking “remember to wake up ten minutes earlier because we need to find what I’m wearing/ pack the gym bag/ make the coffee/ get food together to take.” FYI: during the week when I’m making dinner, I set up the coffee and pack my breakfast & lunch for the next day- why not? I’m already in the kitchen!

This has become as much a part of my regular routine as getting up the next day, getting gas in the car, feeding the pets, etc.  It’s been fully integrated into my lifestyle by this point and although it is as much fun as cleaning the litter box (now there’s a true to life image!), it’s just as necessary and we all feel a whole lot better when it’s done (including the cats)!

But I can still choose NOT to do it.  What happens if I blow off Sunday prep?  Let me illustrate that for you:

5:30- 6:15 a.m. Get up and dig through the drawers/ closet for my clothes, socks, etc. Pack gym bag (2 piece suit, towel, gym shoes, shorts, t shirt) 6:15 a.m. drive to fast food place for breakfast  6:30ish a.m. get gas & drive to work. 12:00ish have lunch delivered or drive to get it 3:15-5:30 p.m. drive home & get to gym 6:45 p.m. leave gym (wet from the pool) & go to grocery store 7:30ish get home & make dinner 8:00ish eat dinner.  The only real difference there would be if I went to a fast food place instead of the grocery store, which would give me another 45-hour of free time.That schedule above is what I used to do.  Just about every day.  And I did it for almost 6 years (minus the gym but add another 2-3 hours of job).  Because “I didn’t have time” on the weekends to prep for the week ahead.  It was a little more expensive than what I do now, cash-wise.  It was a LOT more expensive health-wise. What did those extra 4 hours on Sundays gain me: an extra 160 lbs (to date); elevated blood sugar; joint pain; back pain; pain walking & standing; a rotten trip to Disneyland (no walking or standing there!); and clothes that barely fit.  Got me a lot, didn’t it?  Real fun stuff too!

So every Sunday, I get to pick my poison: I can blow off the 4 hours of prep time and the blasted trip to the grocery store or I can fly by the seat of my pants and do it all as it comes due every single day. I can eat out every day all week and spare myself the cooking & shopping time.  I can choose to have more “free time!”  OH, HELL NO!! Every Sunday, I get my butt down to the local Safeway and I grumble as I go through my list and I b*tch as I make my lunches and pack my stupid gym bag and everything else on my weekly prep list, because as much as I BMW about it, I know -without a doubt- I would rather do this than go back to doing it the old way.  And truly, once it’s all done, I feel a lot better about having done it (and it gives me an extra fifteen minutes of snooze time & play time with the pets in the morning!).

This is the “poison” I pick.  We all get to choose our own; for some of my MFP friends, it’s choosing healthy foods over the convenient stuff, or getting the workout done; or maybe it’s meal planning and prep like me. What it is is actually less important that the fact we choose to do it.  Yeah, it’s a sacrifice.  Yeah, it’s a pain in the butt.  Yeah, it’s not always fun.  It’s a chore.  It’s a hassle.  It’s boring and it takes away from the fun stuff we’d much rather be doing (for me pretty much anything involving the pets or On Demand tv)! Many of my MFP friends were asking themselves why they keep doing it when it’s making them unhappy?  To start with the only thing really keeping them unhappy about it is their perspective.  I’m going to pull a page from Sam Clemens here: if you tell someone they have to whitewash a fence, they’re going to hate it, but if you tell them, they can’t, they will eventually pay you for the privilege of doing it (Tom Sawyer).  If you tell yourself over and over again what a pain in the butt it is to log your food every day, then, yes, it will be a pain in the butt. Each time you do it.  If you tell yourself this is an opportunity to learn something about yourself or to keep yourself moving towards your goals, then that’s what it becomes!  Yes, I grouse and grumble about meal prep, but I feel pretty good when it’s done and I know I can have those extra minutes (an entire hour or more) each weekday with my cockapoo and kitties.  Would I rather be scrambling for my clothes and lunch or wrestling with my cat and playing ball with my dog? No brainer! It’s a trade off I am happy to make (and I kinda like grousing about it- gives me something to b*tch about)! So, from my perspective, it’s a necessary chore.

Also, if this necessary chore isn’t working for you, then find one that does!  I used to take my laundry on Tuesdays, but I found it was stacking the front part of my week with too much to do, so I moved it to a later day of the week.  It still gets done, but now it’s more convenient for me.  I tried doing grocery shopping during the week but it was too much of a hassle trying to get it done during the work week when the trade off included getting to bed later.  The schedule I have now is the one that works best for me. It took a little fine tuning but so far, it’s working out pretty well.  If it weren’t working out, or if it stops working out in the future, I will have to change it.  It doesn’t have to be set in stone!

Probably the biggest mistake most people make when they try to make a new habit, healthy or not, is that they try to make ALL the changes at ONCE!  This is so not the way to do it! We all do a lot better making one change at a time and once that becomes a new habit, we make another change! We do it slowly and incorporate them into the routine once the “new” habit has become part of the routine.  When I started my prepping routine, I started making my lunches as part of last night’s dinners: I’d make more than enough because I used the leftovers for lunch or breakfast.  I started making breakfast on the weekends.  I started incorporating little habits one at a time and then fine tuning them until I got a routine that works.  I may go back to doing leftovers again- who knows? If it works out better, then yeah, I will, but this is part of the process of change.  We need to do what works best for us, what we feel good about and we need to keep a positive attitude about it!  This is what I mean when I say it’s all up to you! You can make it “the end of the world” and the “most awful experience ever” or you can focus on the benefits you get from it!  Each morning when I take ten minutes and wrestle with my pets, that schlepping to the grocery store Sunday afternoon pays off!  When I can spend a few extra minutes programming my iPod before I leave for work, it pays off!  Knowing I don’t have to make a mad dash soaking wet for the grocery store deli before all the rotisserie chickens are gone on Wednesday after water aerobics, it’s worth it!  We pick our poison and just because it may not be the yummiest flavor in the world doesn’t mean it has to taste awful either! We have alternatives; it’s up to us to make the best decision we can.  Bottoms up, everyone!

 

Processed Foods as a Whole (or Should That Be ‘Hole’?)

When I was a kid, I got a cookbook for Christmas one year and I was pretty excited.  (It was the Betty Crocker cookbook, FYI & before I finally killed it, it was covered with all kinds of spills and notes!) It seems kind of funny now to think that I used to cook regularly and I never thought twice about it.  Making pancakes on Sunday mornings consisted of milk, oil, eggs, baking powder, whole wheat and all purpose flour.  I think there was a little salt in there too!  People would look at me funny sometimes when I said that I did things like make tapioca pudding from scratch as well as the pancakes and other things most people make out of boxes and mixes.  It’s not that I’m some master chef– Hah! Hardly! I had these things on hand because I used them regularly (the tapioca also went in apple pies), and in retrospect, I think they tasted better than the stuff you get packaged and already made.  But more importantly, now that I look back, even though the food I was making may not have been the healthiest, it started mostly with whole foods: apples, butter, whole wheat flour, eggs, milk.

I’m going to take a page from the Oldster’s Handbook here: I remember when microwaves first came out.  I was a kid, maybe about 8 or so, and the 7-11 store near my house had one.  It was about as big as a conventional oven and no one was allowed to touch it except the store clerk.  If you wanted something that had to be microwaved like popcorn or a burrito (FYI: even the microwave popcorn was kept frozen back then!), you paid for it at the counter and then the clerk nuked it for you.  It was amazing! (My mom was convinced you got cancer from the microwaves, of course.) The idea of making food in minutes instead of hours was something out of Star Trek.  We were used to food taking, if not hours to prepare, at least a fair amount of time.  Processed food in the 1970’s mainly consisted of canned foods like soups, stews, chili beans, sardines, etc, and boxed items like pasta (mainly spaghetti back then) and rice.  There weren’t a lot of jarred sauces and certainly nothing in aseptic packaging or MREs.  If it wasn’t frozen or canned, your choices were limited.  (FYI: the bagels we got as kids were also frozen! And they weren’t the size of softballs, either!)  Most of us still made food that started out as something fresh from the meat counter or the produce section.

Of course as technology got better, processed foods became more prevalent.  I suppose consumers would say the quality of the product improved as well.  The TV dinners I had as a kid were definitely not high quality, usually consisting of overdone mystery meat, a puffed up mashed potatoey substance, shriveled peas and carrots, and a sticky gluey sugary mess.  They were pretty bad and they took almost an hour to cook but to us they were the height of technology and we ate them because we didn’t have anything else. We were more concerned with how they tasted rather than whether they were good for us.  We didn’t look at them as a regular part of our diet either: they were something on hand because we couldn’t get to the grocery store and make a real dinner before bedtime.  We knew that our “real” food was stuff like roasted chicken and homemade mashed potatoes, or spaghetti and salad.  But sometime in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, that changed.  Meals became something that started with a box of flavored rice or flavored pasta mix.  We still cooked it in a pan or a pot but it began and consisted mostly of something processed that came from a box or a jar.  We might add something else to is, like mushrooms or vegetables or meat, but the bulk of it was now something processed. And it proceeded to get more processed from there.

Listening to a podcast the other day (Paleo Solution & Katy Bowman was the guest), she said schools had put whole apples on the menu for the kids’ lunches and the kids were complaining that the apples were not only hard to hold, they were hard to eat because they had to bite into them and chew them.  I guess apples today for most kids come sliced up in plastic bags.  (Frankly, it’s a little scary to me to think that people don’t know what raw food looks like.) I guess for them oranges come in cans, unless they are the super sweet easy peel seedless mandarins.

The point of Ms. Bowman’s episode was really about movement, and how we are becoming a completely sedentary culture (I would use the word “lazy”) but my point is real food takes time to cook and to digest.  There’s a big movement now towards “slow food” and “whole food” but I would just call it “real food.”  That’s what it is: it’s food that has been as unaltered and unadulterated as possible.  It used to make me chuckle a little when I’d read the label on the loaf  of white bread: it had vitamins and nutrients added to it because the processing destroyed whatever vitamins, fiber and nutrients were in the whole food ingredients.  The reason processed food takes less time to cook is because it’s pre-cooked and for the most part, pre-digested.  There’s less work for your body to do because the work is half-done in the factory.  The food has been broken down into an easily accessible and easy to use form and then the manufacturers have mixed it with preservatives or whatever system they are using to extend the shelf-life so it can be shipped off to a store or a warehouse for however long it takes before someone decides to “heat and eat.” The farther the food is away from its natural state, the easier it is for the body to break down (meaning metabolize) and the fewer nutrients it has in it because most of them are destroyed during the processing (that’s kind of what the word means).  Some companies add nutrients to the food after processing, but there are issues with what’s known as “bio-availability.” (Just because your protein powder has x grams of protein per serving doesn’t mean that your body can actually absorb that protein!)

When experts and doctors and other health gurus talk about the obesity epidemic and the type 2 diabetes epidemic, they are quick to point the finger at sugar, trans fat, fast food & junk food (the “usual suspects”), but they are missing the rest of the gang.  These usual suspects are only the more visible culprits in the “bad food” mafia.  It’s processed foods in general that are the real guilty parties.  The sugar, trans fats, fast food & junk food are part of it, but it’s also the boxes of macaroni & cheese, the microwavable ready to eat meals, the canned soups, stews and meats, the frozen dinners, pies and cakes and the processed bakery goods. Basically, if it has an “ingredients” list and comes in a box or a bag, it’s been processed. That means the food has been broken down in some way, had chemicals/ preservatives added to it and probably things taken out. The more processed a food is, the farther away it is from its natural state and that’s what is making us unhealthy.  When you eat a processed food, like a bagel and cream cheese, the wheat has been broken down into a powder (flour) and it’s in an easily digestible form, so instead of getting all the nutrients from the wheat berry (as well as the indigestible fiber that goes through your body), your body only gets the starch, which is quickly turned into glucose which causes a rapid spike in your blood sugar, which causes a rapid spike in insulin, which then leads to a blood sugar crash once the glucose from the bagel is cleared from your blood.  Your body does not have to work for the glucose- it’s like getting dessert without having your dinner.  When you eat a whole food, even something like those big troublesome crunchy apples, you do get the natural sugar in the fruit, but you also get the fiber and the nutrients, since it’s a raw apple.  The fiber in the apple takes longer to process than the bagel, so the glucose hits your blood stream more slowly than the bagel’s starch.  There is less of a spike in your insulin secretion and that means your blood glucose levels stay steadier longer.  That’s a good thing, because one of the reasons we get hungry after eating a big plate of spaghetti or a bowl of cereal, or a bagel, is because once the blood sugar crashes, your body wants to raise it (in an effort to keep it steady) and it triggers your hunger.

This is how eating a lot of processed foods can cause weight gain: you eat the pasta, the potato chips, the crackers, insert processed food here, and then you get hungry an hour or so later, so you eat something else.  You are usually consuming way more calories than you need because your body is always trying to keep your blood sugar steady, but the processed foods keep causing  highs and lows: bagel= spike= crash; chips= spike = crash; fries= spike= crash.  You keep getting hungry, you keep eating, your body gains weight.  And worse yet, you’re getting fewer nutrients in the processed foods.  This is how overweight people end up suffering from malnutrition, because, really, how much nutrition is there in burgers, fries, and soda?

In addition to consuming more calories than you need, you never get a chance to burn off the fat your body is storing from the processed foods, because your body can’t burn fat and store it at the same time, and it only burns fat when there is no insulin in the blood, but if you are always eating easily metabolized starchy foods (like rice, pasta and chips), there is almost always insulin in the blood to clear the glucose the digestive system is pulling out of the processed foods.  So, you keep eating, keep getting hungry and keep putting on weight.  It’s a difficult and frustrating vicious cycle to get out of : you keep eating but you keep feeling hungry! (I was trapped there for most of my adult life! It’s hell!!)

So how do you get out of this metabolic nightmare? Eat as few processed foods as possible! That’s not to say you can’t ever have a bagel or a donut or pasta again; you just have to be a savvy consumer (literally)! If you do eat the bagel or the pasta, make sure you eat it with something that is not a simple or refined carb (that would be the bagel/ pasta), like broccoli or cheese or meat.  So if you have the pasta, have pasta primavera with lots of veggies and some meat, or have the bagel as part of a sandwich with meat or cheese or veggies.  The protein, fat and fiber in the non-processed foods help to delay and even out the metabolism of the processed foods.  If you eat the donut without a protein, fat or fiber, just remember that once the insulin clears the glucose from your blood, there’s going to be a crash and you’ll probably be hungry, not to mention low energy and maybe even drowsy. The best thing to do is to get away from eating things that are processed: no boxed foods, no refined carbs, no canned or frozen prepared foods.  The farther away it is from its natural state, the less nutrition it has and less time it’s going to take for your body to break it down. That’s not to say all things in boxes or bags are bad; I remember the last time I bought a bag of frozen cherries.  When I looked on the back the ingredients list read: “dark sweet cherries (may contain pits).” Your goal is to keep food as natural as possible. It’ll have more nutrition and take longer for your body to metabolize.  This is what you want because the longer it takes to hit your bloodstream, the steadier your blood glucose stays.  No spikes mean no crashes and that means your body can clear the glucose and move out of storage mode and into fat burning mode.  It means more nutrition for your body and less calories that get stored as fat.

This is how I finally managed to get out of that vicious carb cycle of hell: I phased the processed foods out of my diet. You don’t have to go cold-turkey all at once (I’m really not a fan of cold turkey, figuratively or otherwise!) It’s not difficult at all to do: when you run out of whatever processed food you had at home, buy a whole food instead when you go shopping! So if you are out of pancake mix or cereal or oatmeal, buy a whole breakfast food instead like eggs, bacon, sausage, yogurt or cottage cheese.  When you run out of pasta, buy veggies instead.  It takes a little meal planning and usually weekly shopping because whole foods tend not to have the same shelf life, but over time, you wind up with very few processed foods and more whole foods.  I buy a lot of bagged salad kits personally, because it’s just me at home and a whole bunch of salad greens are is too expensive besides the fact that they would probably go bad before I ate all of them (even eating salad five days a week like I usually do!) Even the bottle of salad dressing tends to go bad because I am not a fan of vinegar & oil.  I also buy sausages, bacon and cheese, but that’s about as processed as I get.  Everything else is fresh meat, fruits or veggies.  When you make this a practice over time, you transition slowly so it’s not a huge shift and it becomes a new habit, a healthier one.  If you want some great whole food meal ideas, there are a lot of websites with great information: Elizabeth Benton’s Primal Potential; Dr. David Ludwig’s Always Hungry; Paleo Leap; and Mark Sisson’s Mark’s Daily Apple. If you want to read more on this topic (from an actual professional with letters after his name), there is the aforementioned Dr. David Ludwig’s Always Hungry?; Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution; Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint; and Jason Fung’s Obesity Code as well as  Living Paleo for Dummies (which is what I started with).

Honestly, when I went looking for a more nutritious lifestyle, I had no intention of moving away from processed foods (I seriously had about 10 boxes of mac & cheese in my cupboard).  I decided on Paleo because it was the simplest and it used real “normal”food. I thought it was something I could enjoy long term, and so far, I am! Over the course of the last year and a half, what I have learned is that processed foods (not carbs or fat or red meat, or sugar, etc) are the real problem.  We eat too much of them because they are too easy to prepare and they are cheap and last forever on the shelf! I have had a few processed foods since I went Paleo, but the majority of what I eat now are whole natural foods.  I’ve learned not only do they taste better, but they are better for me and the health benefits I’ve gained from them are monumental to me: I have lost 160 lbs, no longer take medication for my blood sugar and my mobility is far better than it ever was at 438 lbs. FYI: I threw out the last two boxes of mac & cheese!

 

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream: Sleep is Not a Luxury!

One of the things I used to hear a lot of is: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” We live in a culture that seems to glorify stress, over-work and exhaustion. They have become social markers of how important we are: the busier we are the better! The less we sleep, the more important we are, the tougher we are-it’s a perverse badge of honor in some professional circles.

The truth of the matter is that our lack of sleep and rest is making us sicker, not healthier and certainly not fitter. We acknowledge there are some risks to sleep deprivation: drowsy driving, poor concentration, irritability and general physical exhaustion, but the true cost of sleep deprivation is far deeper than just those symptoms.

Our natural sleep-wake cycle is called our circadian rhythms. It’s why the hamster you had as a kid slept all day and ran in his squeaky wheel all night. Hamsters are nocturnal; humans are naturally diurnal, which means we are hard-wired to be awake all day while the hamster is snoozing in sawdust.

If you watch nature shows, you can see the differences in animals who are predators and those who are their prey. They are physically different: most prey animals have eyes on the sides of their heads to watch for predators, while the predators have what’s called binocular vision, meaning eyes in the front of their head, like lions, wolves and us humans. Most nocturnal animals have large eyes to gather the little light available at night, while diurnal animals have smaller eyes as daylight is usually pretty plentiful. Being nocturnal and being a predator are not mutually exclusive: owls are nocturnal predators; cats are also nocturnal predators; humans are diurnal predators. We have evolved to hunt during the daytime while your house cat has evolved to hunt at night, since their prey (usually your hamster and his relatives) are active at night.

This is why people who work at night have difficulty sleeping during the day and trouble staying awake at night. It’s one of the reasons night shift workers usually get a higher pay differential, because they are fighting the natural rhythm of their bodies to do their jobs. It usually puts a harder stress on them and can sometimes take a physical toll in mental fuzziness, physical tiredness and other health problems. It’s why night jobs usually have a high turnover rate: no one wants to work at night.

Humans are hard wired to wake up once the sun is up and to get less active and sleepier as the sunlight wanes. But this cycle evolved when the only light available was sunlight and firelight, and obviously we have a lot more light sources now. We have way more artificial light than natural light in our lives today and this artificial light affects us in more ways than just our circadian rhythms, but for right now, I’m just talking about the sleep-wake cycle. We use this artificial light to fool ourselves into staying up way after the sun has gone down. This is not a good thing. We have gotten away from our natural cycles and this has a detrimental effect on our lives and our weight loss.

One of the reasons we need to sleep is that it restores our bodies and our brains. This is why sleep deprivation and chronic insomnia leads to mental fuzziness, inability to concentrate, irritability and eventually insanity. (People who are unable to sleep eventually go crazy and die- not kidding here, sleep is that important!) Sleep allows our brains to update and do basic restorative repair; it’s a lot like when your computer updates and patches are installed in software. This is why your IT people tell you, while it’s okay to leave your computer on most of the time, you still need to restart it occasionally. Sleep is a restart for your brain; I personally think it’s why we have really weird dreams like hearing the color blue or seeing a sound or tasting a feeling. It’s your brain updating pathways and reinforcing connections with your senses and your body.

But it’s not just your brain that needs the restoration. When you sleep, your body releases different hormones, like the sleep hormone melatonin and the growth hormone to repair itself and replenishes other hormones, like the satiety hormone leptin. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body and brain don’t have enough time to fix everything that needs to be taken care of and when you wake up the next day, you are already functioning at a deficit. Your body acknowledges that it’s being stressed and the daytime hormones like cortisol (a stress hormone) end up on over drive. Cortisol can impact your weight loss by interfering with insulin, which shuttles glucose out of your blood and stores it for later use. This interferes with weight loss because when your body is releasing insulin, it’s not burning fat. Your body’s first cortisol surge is in the morning to wake you up and get you moving; the cortisol also impacts your insulin and glucose storing capabilities to encourage your body to store its energy from breakfast (maybe because you’re already up and energized, there’s no need to burn the energy/ fat now).

In the evening, when the sunlight wanes, so does our cortisol but our melatonin levels go up. We start feeling a little less energetic and getting more lethargic in preparation for sleep. The darker it gets, the sleepier we get until we do fall asleep and our body goes into restorative mode. When we delay sleep and make it a luxury, we are harming our bodies. We cannot be our best selves if we are not in top condition. I think it’s ironic that most of us will take our cars in for service every 3000 miles and make sure we use the top tier gas and oil but we don’t do this for ourselves. We feed ourselves the equivalent of cheap gas (aka junk food) and put off changing the oil and servicing it (not enough sleep/ rest). We don’t think twice about doing this to our bodies, but the fact is we can get a new car; we can’t get a new body!

It doesn’t take a lot to get back into the habit of listening to our bodies. Most of us make a habit of NOT listening to our body cues. When we get tired, we just push through to “get stuff done,” and we get up earlier because we “have things to do.” When we keep pushing when our bodies are tired, this is not good. While I recognize that life happens outside our bodies and we have other obligations, we also have an obligation to ourselves. We cannot be our best selves for others if we are always functioning at less than optimum, whether it’s family or our job. Eventually, the poor conditioning catches up with us and it starts showing, sometimes just with mental fuzziness and irritability, but sometimes we get physically ill. Our immune system is not getting restored along with everything else.

How much sleep you need depends on you. Most experts agree that humans need between 8 and 10 hours each night. Only you can figure out how much you need for yourself. Start by tracking how much you sleep and how you feel the next day. If you have a Fitbit or another fitness tracker, most of them have this function; if it’s not actually on the device, it’s usually an option on their website. You can also just do it old school by writing down when you go to bed and when you get up in the morning. If nothing else, it gives you a good ballpark. Like everything else, it’s a learning curve because you are unique. Some people need 10 hours and others are okay with 7. I hear about people who say they are great with 5 or less, but only they know for them. I know that’s not enough for me.

We need to make sleep a priority along with things like eating well and being active. This means we need to make a habit of getting to bed at an hour to give us enough time to get to sleep and get good rest. If we get up earlier than most, that means getting to bed earlier than most. It can be kind of irritating at first, since most of us had not had a “bedtime” since we were kids. But sleep isn’t optional and if we want to be our best selves, we need to make it another important part of our lives.

I know this can be pretty tricky, because we are all individuals, and frankly, this was a lot harder for me than going to the gym or eating well because my circadian rhythms are seriously jacked up (to use the technical term- eye roll). We’ve all heard terms like “night owl” and “early bird” or “morning person.” I am a certified night owl. Although humans are hard wired to be diurnal, I believe I am as close to a nocturnal human being as possible. We all have our natural sleep wake cycles, but mine are very different from most peoples. When left to my own devices (meaning I make my own schedule and don’t have to be someplace at a regular time), I usually get to sleep around two in the morning and wake up around one in the afternoon. This has been my normal cycle since I was a kid. Waking up early (meaning before 10:00 a.m.) can be seriously painful for me. Staying awake in the day is sometimes as hard for me as people who work nights: it’s normally the time I’m asleep. I wonder sometimes if it’s genetic or if it’s learned, since my sister is the same way. (I’ve gotten texts from her at 1:30 a.m. and she is not surprised when I reply within a couple of minutes, nor am I surprised to get her texts.)

I seriously think I get a cortisol surge in the evening as I tend to “wake up” as the night goes on when I can keep my own hours. Since I can’t keep my own hours with my present job, it’s an ongoing struggle to get enough sleep and I’m not always successful. My normal inclination is to be awake at night, which means I’m pretty restless at night. I rarely sleep through the night (like a daytime sleeper, I’m pretty wakeful) and I get my best deepest sleep after 4 or 5 in the morning, which isn’t good because my alarm is set for 5:30! Because waking up early in the morning is usually painful for me and I don’t sleep well at night, I usually have to go to bed much earlier than I like to make sure I have enough time to fall asleep and stay asleep. Since I have to be up and out the door by 6:30 a.m. and the snooze button, although it pretends to be my friend, really isn’t. The longer I put off getting up, the more rushed and difficult and painful it becomes. Being up early is quite a struggle for me and, aside from being painful, it saps a lot of my energy and the earlier I am up, I find the faster I get tired in the evening. It literally drains me, which really doesn’t make for me being my best self. The important thing is that since I know this about me, I am always working on ways to improve my sleep.

Since I am a creature of routine, you would think that I would go right to it to make it easier for me to fall asleep, but it’s still an ongoing project for me.  I know a sleep sounds app usually does a good job putting me to sleep fairly quickly (silence just makes the small sounds extra distracting to me- give me noise and I’ll ignore it!).  I know reading in bed is also very relaxing, but it’ll take me an hour or so to get sleepy.  I know experts also say to turn the lights off, since our skin has photoreceptors which tells your body there’s light out.  I can vouch for that, since I was seriously nyctophobic as a kid (fear of darkness), I slept with a light on and when that light went off, I woke up- sometimes just as the light was fading due to failing bulb or power outage. (I still sleep with a light on but now it’s due to cats and pets and assorted pet toys all over the floor, the bed, the hallway, etc.)  Experts also tell you to keep things quiet and dark and still so you can sleep, but we are all individuals and that combo will keep me completely wide awake.  We all need to figure out what works for us, but once we pay attention to our body’s cues, it’s pretty good at telling us what it needs. We just need to get better at listening to it.

Beating Yourself at Your Own Game: Restructuring Your Habits

Recently, Elizabeth Benton (PrimalPotential.com) asked a question at the end of a podcast about what really made a difference in my weight loss journey. (FYI: she is hosting a women’s transformation weekend in person this November. Info is on her website if you want to go!) It was an interesting question and I thought about it all day: what made the biggest change for me? I came to the obvious conclusion that changing my habits was the most important factor, but how did I make those changes? I realized that it was three little but critical things that made all the difference.

Priority has to come first!

Really, it does! You have to decide what is important to you and what needs to come first in your life. Is it your health? Your job? Your family? What comes first on that list needs to go first in your life. It’s easier said than done, because if you really want to prioritize anything, be it work, family, fitness, whatever, it’s not actually a “priority” until you take action and make it so. You can tell your priorities because you choose them over other things. For example, if you value time with your friends, it shows in your scheduling. You make time for them and reschedule things around time with them. If your job is a priority, you work late, you work through lunch, you show up early, because this is what’s important to you. If you value your health and nutrition, you make time to put it first before other things. When I used to eat out a lot (I think Jack in the Box stock dropped when I gave it up!), I was making my tv time a priority over my health. I chose to get fast food, eat it in front of the tv and go to bed. On weekends, I thought I was choosing time with my pets and sleeping over nutrition, because I missed the opportunity every weekend to plan healthy meals. I didn’t realize how my physical misery was impacting my pets’ lives: I was not a fun person to be around because my physical health made me miserable.

Now that I make my health and nutrition a priority, I spend a few hours every weekend getting healthy groceries and prepping healthy meals I can take with me or prepare at home with little fuss. I spend a couple hours a week going to the gym and because I feel so much better physically, I am able to engage with my pets in fun ways (as well as friends and family)! We actually enjoy spending time together and have way more fun, despite that time doing other things. We have quality time that matters instead of “quantity” time that stinks. When you look at my schedule, you can see that I make time for the things that are important to me: my family, friends and pets, my health and nutrition, and my job. It’s pretty much in that order, (although I lump “family, friends and pets” as one.) The ones I love come first and in order to do the best for them, I need to take care of myself. I can’t take care of anyone if I’m a wreck! So when you look at your regular schedule, whether you mean to or not, you can see what you make your priorities and if you don’t think they are in the right order, you can always change them. It’s your schedule and you are in charge!

Objective: Study Yourself!

Restructuring your priorities is just the start. Of course, sometimes it’s hard to know what your priorities are if you don’t pay attention. Elizabeth Benton is a strong advocate of tracking (journaling) and she has also told listeners to “observe yourself like a scientist,” and in this area, my sister and I kind of have a leg up. For whatever reason, both of us grew up looking at ourselves and others the way a scientist would (maybe it was too much Star Trek as a kid?) Observing with a logical Spock POV was kind of the norm for us, so when it came to illogical or counterproductive behavior, we were usually aware of it, even if we didn’t know how to, or even want, to change said behavior. For most of us, keeping a journal is the easiest way of getting an objective look at your behavior. So if you want to make changes to your priorities and/ or behavior but don’t know what to change, start by keeping a journal. Don’t worry about making changes other than keeping a journal. Write down what you eat, when you eat, how you feel during the day, and your activity. If you keep a regular schedule, then you’ve got a good start. Write down everything- it only takes a few minutes a day, and after about a week, take a look at it. For me, I used to have a big cup of coffee and a snack every weekday about 10:30 a.m., and every day, about 10:30 a.m. at work if I hadn’t had my snack, I’d get “hungry.” It wasn’t that I was really hungry; it was a “snack memory.” On days when I felt really tired, I could see it was because I had short-changed my carbs. When I had more carbs, I felt less fatigued. On days after I worked out, I’d wake up really hungry. Instead of wondering what I was doing wrong, I could look at my behavior and eating & exercise habits and make informed changes. Unless you know where you’ve been, you really don’t know where you’re going. What’s the point in making changes if you don’t analyze the results? It might have been that really low carbs had nothing to do with my being tired; it might have been that I had just been staying up too late, but unless I took a look at what I was doing and what I had changed, I would be floundering and exhausted and not know how to fix it.

Be a Part of the Solution: Solving Problems!

“Fixing it” is the next part of this equation and it is a little bit more of a mindset.  Organizing your priorities and writing things down are a part of the mindset, but being a problem solver can be a bit tricky if it’s not your natural perspective. As I said above, my sister and I grew up with a Star Trek mentality (I think I was 8 before I realized Mr. Spock wasn’t a real person and, boy, was I devastated!) So looking at things and people and society the way a futuristic explorer really helps you keep your distance, which is part of the “objectivity” mindset in journaling.  But problem-solving is a real mindset and it sometimes means you have to think differently.  For some people, when they see a problem, they focus on the problem: “I can’t go any further because of X.” For other people, they focus not on the problem, but what options are available to them: “X is in my way, but if I do Y, I can bypass X.” Again, I was lucky as a kid, because both of my parents have a problem-solving outlook (maybe that’s why Mr. Spock appealed to me so much!). For example, I recently went a friend’s birthday party at a restaurant I had never been to and their menu was not available online (what’s up with that? It’s 2016!) All I knew was “they have great pizza!” but pizza isn’t something I wanted to do, so instead of thinking:”Crap! I’m going to have to eat something awful that won’t be in line with my goals!,” I looked at the menu and I made the best choices I could.  They had sandwiches and I could get a steak roll or sourdough and I could get a salad instead of fries.  These were part of the regular menu options, so I didn’t have to ask for substitutions.  I don’t do a lot of sandwiches, but I do them on occasion and I’d rather have sourdough than a steak roll anyway, so I made those choices.  My friends ordered a lot of appetizers but I chose not to have any (mainly because I chose to split a brownie dessert with a friend, which was really good!) The restaurant screwed up and gave me fries in addition to my salad, so my friends got have my fries as an appetizer too! I ended up having a little more to eat than I usually do, but it wasn’t a disaster, I had a good time and no one thought I was being difficult or fussy, and I got to take home part of my sandwich for my pets.

Instead of thinking that the restaurant and the party were problems, I chose to look at the options I had available to me rather than just seeing the potential problems.  When you come up against a problem (damn, I forgot my lunch!), getting upset or worried or frustrated are natural, but they don’t help the situation much.  Admittedly, sometimes I have a mini-tantrum for a few minutes, then I tell myself “tantrum’s over- now fix this; what can I do?” Let’s see: I can stop at McDonald’s and get a couple sausage biscuits and just eat the sausage.  I can run down the street to the corner market and get a couple of lunchables and leave the crackers.  Do I have any nuts in my desk drawer?” I actually keep nuts in my desk drawer now and an applesauce in the office fridge because I forgot my lunch a few times.  That’s a problem solving perspective.

Putting It Together and Making New Habits

Once you get all of these put together, it’s easier to start making new healthy habits. It takes a bit of restructuring and some trial and error, but it pays off eventually.  You have to accept that there is a learning curve and all new habits take time.

One of the biggest problems I had with my poor eating habits was that I always wanted to eat when I watched tv.  I’d sit down in the evening and even if I had just had dinner, my natural inclination was to eat something: watch tv and eat.  It was really hard to fight that.  I’d sit there and think “don’t eat. don’t eat. don’t eat” until I’d go to bed and then I’d lie there thinking “am I hungry? I didn’t eat” until I fell asleep.  Obviously these were not good practices! I knew from my journaling that after dinner was a likely time for me to want to eat and my priorities were to not stuff myself silly, so I looked for things to occupy my time when I was most likely to stuff myself full of calories.  I started doing my nails in the evenings, because as I told myself repeatedly “I can’t raid the fridge with wet nails!”  On nights when I didn’t do my nails (because they were already done!), I’d get on My Fitness Pal and post in the forums or respond to friends, because not only was I not eating while I was doing this, it was also keeping me focused on my goals! After a few months, I realized that eating after dinner wasn’t a problem for me anymore, even if I wasn’t manicuring the heck out of my nails (they actually look kinda raggedy now!) or cruising my app.  In fact it took me a while to realize that I no longer felt the urge to stare into the fridge thinking about what I could eat.  My habits had changed and now I spend time doing other things and not fighting the boredom eating urge, even if I am watching tv.

Progress and change happen when you make them happen, and they don’t require massive restructuring of your lifestyle.  It starts with getting your priorities in order and then reinforcing your priorities with your choices.  It moves further along when you track your activities, food and feelings so you can analyze your behavior and see where you need to make changes to keep you in line with your priorities (there’s that Spockspeak again!).  If you aren’t used to doing either of these things, it could take a little time getting used to them, but again, there’s that learning curve!  Be patient with yourself!  Continue reinforcing your priorities with your choices.  Continue your journaling, and when you do run into a problem, focus on your options.  It’s okay to throw a little tantrum- I personally think it helps to relieve the tension! But once it’s done, look at what’s in your way and how to get around it.  This problem solving mindset has benefits outside the weight loss/ fitness world too.  As a legal assistant, sometimes my attorney gets stressed about submitting paperwork to the court or opposing counsel, and I remind him to just do the best he can and if we need to, we can do an amended.  It gives him an option so he’s not focusing on “THE DEADLINE” and he (and I) can focus on what needs to be done!

Obviously, when it comes to changing your habits, these techniques have to work in your real world.  Too many times people fail because they don’t integrate their new habits and lifestyle changes into their whole world; they try to keep the changes part of the “weight loss/ diet/ fitness” box in their lives, but we don’t live that way.  Eating Paleo is easy when I’m at home, but I don’t always stay at home; I hang out with others and if I can’t eat the same way when I am with friends, then that eating style isn’t going to be a success for me.  In order to stay on track, I have to be able to solve problems, see where my problems are and make beating those problems a priority!  It took some time to be successful at it, but the payoff is priceless!  Don’t give up when you come face to face with a problem- just do your best and if you need to, you can do an amended!

 

Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin (but Sometimes It’s a Lot of Skin!)

As some of you know, I am a bona fide TLC addict, particularly the weight related shows like My 600 lb Life, Skin Tight and My Big Fat Fabulous Life.  One of the recurring themes in all of these shows is the idea of being comfortable with who you are, no matter what you look like.  (It’s actually a common theme in almost all the TLC shows.) Many of the shows’ stars battle with self-esteem issues and being accepted by the world in general. This is a fight many of us go through even if we don’t have body image issues.

Recently, I downloaded an audio book which also deals with body image: specifically what the author calls “body love,” and it caught my interest because it’s part of the “no body shame” movement which Whitney Way Thore (My Big Fat Fabulous Life) endorses.  The book is called Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker.  I admit, I have not finished the book, but I am already a little disappointed.  I was really interested in the premise of the book, which is (in a nutshell) “don’t apologize for being who you are, even if you’re fat,” but by Chapter 5, it’s devolved to attacking an alleged patriarchal society bent on keeping women (and also men) focused on fitting into unattainable archetypes of beauty/ body image and hating fat people.  It seems that Ms. Baker was one of those people who hated herself for being fat because society told her she was inadequate for being fat and now that she’s learned to love and accept herself for who she is, she is bent on attacking the society that made her feel bad and vilifies fat people.

I do not dispute that the media focuses on impossible beauty ideals for men and women.  I do not dispute that people who are fat are abused in the media and by society in general.  I have been fat since childhood, and I am still fatter now (after having lost 150+ lbs) than Ms. Baker is now.  What I found disheartening is Ms. Baker’s attitude towards the newest beauty ideal, which she says is the health and fitness movement.  The new ‘beautiful’ is being healthy and those of us (yes, us because I took this personally) who ‘buy into’ the new trend of ‘going Paleo and getting healthy’ do so in a vain attempt to live up to society’s broken view of who and what is beautiful.  While I applaud Ms. Baker’s message of “love yourself for who you are,” there is a distinct aroma of sour grapes attached to her attacks on society in general.  It seems that her message is only half “you are a great and marvelous person no matter your weight or body type” and half “society is stupid, backwards and bent on keeping others down, especially women and women of color.” I pretty much fit into her “brown fat woman” box: I’m a large Latina- always have been and probably always will be.  I am one of those people who has always been made fun of and been made to feel different, if not for being fat, for being Mexican, so yeah, I know a little about being marginalized.  (As a kid in grade school, my classmates asked me if Mexicans really do eat beans and tortillas at every meal, among other things!)

As I said, I haven’t finished her book yet, but so far, it seems like she is saying if you want to change your body and how you look, then you’ve been tricked and/ or bullied into buying into society’s flawed standard of beauty equals worth and you are either doomed, lying to and hating yourself  or both.  The fact that she specifically singled out ‘going Paleo’ (which is what I did) felt like a personal slap in the face. I did not decide to lose weight because I was told to by my doctor (my doctor has been telling me for years to lose weight!); I did not decide to lose weight because my mom and/ or family have been telling me to lose weight (been hearing that all my life- thank you!); nor did I decide to lose weight because my boss/ society/ media/ a guy wanted me to lose weight.  I decided to lose weight because I was feeling miserable physically.  I have been heavy all my life and until I reached 400+ lbs, my weight was not really interfering with my enjoyment of my life.  I could do pretty much whatever I wanted to do with few health problems (most of those hereditary).  When it began to be physically painful to walk or stand for any length of time, when it screwed up my trip to Disneyland, that is when I realized I needed to make a change! When my weight got in my way, it was time for a change.  It had nothing to do with what other people or society/ media was telling me about myself.  Many years ago, I had hair so long I could sit on it.  Truly, whenever I sat down, I had to lean forward to pull my hair out from under my butt or sweep it off to the side before I sat down.  It got caught on just about everything: power windows, seatbelts, chairs, etc.  I had to untuck it from my pants and it took almost half a bottle of shampoo each time I washed it.  People either loved it or hated it and it was getting to be a pain in the butt to me, but until I literally sprained my shoulder brushing it out, I didn’t get it cut any more than a couple inches at a time.  Once I had had enough, I went to a salon and had her cut off three feet. She verified three times that I really wanted that much cut off, and I did and I left her a nice tip once it was done.  End of story.  I had the same attitude towards my weight: once it got in the way, it’s time to take action!

I am not trying to be a size 2 or even a size 6.  If I never lose another pound (and I weigh 280 now), I am quite happy with myself.  I feel so much better physically and I love the way I eat now, because I feel it helps me so much better.  It’s nothing to do with achieving some mystical ideal of health or beauty: it’s about being comfortable in my own body.  I am much more comfortable being able to walk  and stand for long periods of time.  I like feeling physically stronger and I like having more energy.  My body is a happier place to be for me now, and I frankly resent Ms. Baker’s insinuation that I am changing my body in response to some outside impetus that somehow made me feel that being 438 lbs was “ugly.”  I don’t think I was ugly at 438 (there were certainly guys who didn’t think I was ugly).  I do know that my body hurt at that weight and I was feeling very limited physically with what I could do.  There were things that I wanted to do that I knew my body was incapable of doing because of its physical condition.

Some of you might have read my previous post about Whitney Thore entitled How Fabulous is Being Fat? Not Very in which I really did encourage her to lose some weight, and I do so not because she is “fat” or “ugly”; I do so because she was being limited physically by her poor health due to her weight.  I actually weighed what she weighs for most of my adult life and when you start passing out from moderate exertion or you are always hurting or if you throw your back out reaching for the shampoo, it’s pretty much your body’s way of telling you that something is really wrong here and you should probably make some changes. I know it really sucks to make those kinds of changes, because I had to make them.  I didn’t have an emotional or mental problem being that weight, by which I mean I didn’t look in the mirror and hate myself or my body because I was so big.  My problem was my physical health, and it was really getting in the way of my enjoyment of my life.  I can understand how Whitney and Jes Baker are happy being fat, because if it hadn’t been for things like constantly hurting and being physically unable to do the things I liked doing, I probably wouldn’t have made any changes either.  It’s about being comfortable in your own skin, and when you can’t be comfortable for whatever reason either mental, emotional or physical, then you need to fix the problem.  If that means accepting you’re big or getting in better shape physically, so be it. Only you can decide what’s best for you. I know that I am happier with the way I live now and how I feel physically because I can do the things I enjoy doing.  If I keep losing weight I will eventually have to deal with a lot of loose flabby skin, which I will probably handle the same way I handled my extra long hair: if it gets in my way, it needs to go, but until then, who cares? (I know a lot of people on Skin Tight get really concerned with how it looks and how it makes them feel “ugly.” I’ve been asked by some of my fitness friends how I deal with it, and frankly, it’s not a problem, although I will admit it looks pretty weird.  Weird doesn’t bother me.)

I admit I have reached the chapter where she is covering the philosophy of Linda Bacon, PhD, author of Health at Every Size.  (While I have not read her book, I have heard about her philosophy and I pretty much subscribe to it.) Dr. Bacon’s philosophy sounds pretty basic to me, but is rather shocking to some people: you don’t have to be thin to be healthy and just because you’re thin doesn’t mean that you are healthy.  It’s pretty much the philosophy I grew up with.  There are a lot of larger people in my family and I saw quite a few who were large and basically healthy and some that were thin who were always having health problems. Ms. Baker goes on to discuss things like ‘flexible eating,’ which sounds to me like a fancy way of saying ‘lifestyle change.’ She spends considerable time bashing diets and I agree with her when she says diets don’t work.  I believe they don’t because when you make temporary changes, you get temporary results.  If you want to go on a crash diet to lose 25 lbs so you can fit in an outfit for a wedding, reunion, holiday (whatever), then great! Go to it! But understand that once the diet is over and you go back to eating the way you normally do, you will gain the weight back (and maybe more) because you probably damaged your metabolism dieting.  As long as you know that, do whatever you want!  If you want to make permanent changes to your health and fitness, you need to make permanent changes to your lifestyle.  That’s just my opinion, but I think a lot of other people agree with me.

I have not finished Ms. Baker’s book and I’m frankly wondering if I really want to finish it, because to me, it sounds more and more like sour grapes on her part.  I hate to resort to ad hominem attacks, but it feels a lot like she is attacking society/ media out of anger and revenge for hating her body for so long.  She takes issue with terms like “stress eating,” “emotional eating” and “bingeing.”  I’m sorry but when you eat an entire bag of potato chips (and I mean the family size bag!) because you got some bad news or your boss screamed at you all day, and your emotions are running high, I think that qualifies as stress eating.  When you eat a whole carton of Ben & Jerry’s and a dozen oatmeal cookies when you have a fight with your boyfriend/ girlfriend, I think that qualifies as emotional eating, and when you just go through the pantry eating everything with sugar or starch in it until you feel like you’re going to vomit, I think that probably qualifies as a binge.  Facts are facts: you can call a tomato a love apple, but that doesn’t change what it is.

The rational part of me wants to hear her out and finish her book, but the emotional impatient part of me is really done with her.  She got hurt by what other people thought of her body because she internalized their judgments.  I’m going to let you in on a secret here that you might not have picked up on: I’m a real b*tch.  I’d like to say it’s something I grew into as an adult, but as a kid, I saw signs of it. (When I was in high school, I was the stage manager for our senior play because I got things done and kept everyone in line.  I was the only one who was not invited to the cast party because the rest of the cast thought I was a total b*tch, & frankly, it still makes me giggle, because the play went off fabulously and I still don’t care that I wasn’t invited!) I have not always been immune to others’ opinions of me and my weight and my body, but for the most part, unless they are someone whose opinion I value, I don’t give a damn what they think of me. I applaud Ms. Baker’s message to love and value who you are no matter what size (or any other descriptor) you happen to be.  That message definitely needs to be well broadcast to everyone! But the fact that she still seems to be bitter about not loving herself when she was younger is really getting in her way.  She spends a lot of time justifying why society/ media is wrong, what’s wrong with it, and why it’s not a crime to be fat and love yourself.  I think she also spends a lot of time attacking those who do want to be closer to society’s ideal body image as being gullible and wasting their time while she applauds people who dare to do what they want to do.  If you want to be closer to society’s ideal body image, isn’t that your choice?  Aren’t you doing what you want to do? Or are you not doing what she wants you to do?

Maybe it’s her youth and emotions that are getting in the way of her message.  Personally, I also think she swears too much.  She does warn you in her intro that she swears a lot and I think that also gets in the way of her message.  Seriously, she uses a sh*t-ton of f*cking four letter obscenities every other f*cking sentence- no sh*t, y’all! And that’s pretty much how she sounds.  I’m certainly no puritan, but I think the shock value of certain words wears off the more you hear/ see them.  I also think if you have to resort to obscenities repeatedly to get your point across, then maybe your point isn’t valid, no matter what it is.

 

Lessons I Learned from My Cockapoo (Or Finding Your Inner Puppy!)

People who know me know that I spend way too much time with my pets, especially my cockapoo.  I saw a bumper sticker on a car while I was in traffic one day and I really wish I could have asked her where she got it.  It said “My husband said it was either him or the dog.  Me and the dog are a lot happier now!” (Not to knock all you married people, but if you marry a dedicated pet person (male or female), you should have had clue before you said “I do.”)

I spend a great deal of my time with my pets.  They are extremely important to me and are essentially my fur babies.  I think of them and treat them as if they are people.  They have a pretty good understanding of me, my habits and my moods.  Even the kitten I’ve had for about a month now is really picking up on my habits (and everyone else’s!).  My babies are Yzma (my grumpy 13 year old cat), Ursula (the demon kitten from hell), and Remy (my almost 3 year old little black cockapoo).  I joke with people that he’s a “Cajun cockapoo” (only partly because his name is Cajun French) because he’s been “blackened.”

The main reason I say I need to be more like my cockapoo is because he is not obsessed with food.  He is actually the first dog I’ve ever had who is not completely focused on what I’m eating and getting some of it. I’ve had dogs who were total “chow hounds,” and the five-second rule didn’t apply at my house because the food item usually didn’t last five seconds on the floor if it even made it to the floor! I’ve also had dogs who were a little more sanguine about people food and treats- they wanted them, but they were okay with waiting, mainly because they knew they were going to get them.

Remy is a totally different kind of creature.  People food is optional to him.  If he wants it or is hungry, it’s good, but if he doesn’t want it/ like it, then the cats can have it if they want it.  There are a few things he will almost always eat (Brie, half and half, mackerel) and there are some things I can pretty much guarantee that he won’t be interested in (bacon that I cook, eggs, chicken & most meats- no, those aren’t backwards).

If any of you are dog people, then you probably expect your dog to be very food-driven.  It’s the easiest way to teach your dog a new trick or reinforce an old one. My best friend’s lab Watson will do anything for a treat.  Anything left uneaten by another pet is fair game and does not last long unattended. Remy however just isn’t focused on food.

Like all my pets, Remy and the girls get part of what I eat (provided it is safe for them, of course).  Lately it’s a lot of fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs, and the occasional splash of half and half.  The biggest surprise for me is that a lot of times Remy  just isn’t interested in most of it. (FYI: he likes iceberg lettuce- the weirdo!)  He’ll sniff his plate and if he isn’t hungry or doesn’t want it, he leaves it there.  Sometimes, he’ll eat a little if the girls want it or if he was saving it for later maybe. But usually, if he doesn’t want it, he’ll give a token woof (to say “don’t think you’re entitled to that!”) and let them eat what they want. I know he’s not sick because when we go to bed, he usually eats his kibble (loves it!) and the Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter dog biscuits but as far as the people treats, eh, not really interested! Thanks, but no thanks!

What does get his attention?  What does drive him?  His toys! He loves to chase his toys! When I come home at the end of the day, it’s cuddle cuddle, run and get the toy! Then it’s “throw it! throw it! throw it!”  He will woof at me if I get distracted and don’t throw it. If it gets stuck on a shelf (bouncing off his nose usually), “whine cry woof! I can’t get my toy!” It happened this morning in fact.  I usually throw his toy (usually a stuffed animal or the soft ball) while I get dressed and ready for work, and this morning the ball bounced off his nose and landed on the dresser where he could see it but not reach it. “Whine whine woof! I can’t get the toy!” If I were to offer him a treat, like one of his cookies or a dried chicken strip, he’d probably stick it in his bed or let it drop, but no- the toy comes first!

So why am I talking about my goofy dog? Because believe it or not, I’m learning a few things from him, such as food is necessary to sustain life and sometimes just because it’s yummy, but for the most part, it’s not a big deal! Play time and cuddle time and sleeping are all much more important than food.  He spends a big chunk of his time now playing with Ursula.  They chase each other and wrestle quite a bit and he’d rather be doing that than eating.  They also spend a lot of time sleeping in the pet bed, or my bed, and he even spends some time grooming and getting groomed by Yzma.  All of these are things he’d rather do than eat (or guard) a plate of chicken breast.  He gets more upset when Yzma is sleeping on his toy (or too close to it) than when she eats the hamburger I set down for him.  He’ll defend his toy; the hamburger not so much.  She can eat all she wants because the important thing is his toy.  I often think that no one had to remind him that food is fuel; he knows it instinctively. He doesn’t confuse food with love or acceptance or a coping mechanism for stress: food is what you need when your body needs fuel and you get hungry.  On the other hand, I have to remind myself that when I want to show Remy love and affection and acceptance or calm him down, I need to hold or play with him.  Playing with him is the best way to show him how important he is to me because the bit of food (people or pet) isn’t going to make any difference to him.  Being active with him, playing with the ball, going to the dog park or taking a walk is what he loves to do.

Remy keeps reminding me that food should not be my focus either.  It’s okay to enjoy it, like he loves the TJ peanut butter cookies, but really being active and having fun and spending time with the ones you love are really what needs to be our focus.  You wouldn’t think that we top of the food chain human beings need to be reminded of what’s really important in our lives, but every time I come home to that curly little black mop, I know he’ll keep me focused on what really matters (and it’s not the rotisserie chicken!)

TMI: Buried by Information Overload

I’m an info junkie.  I completely subscribe to Erasmus’ attitude: “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” Every time I go to the bookstore, I’m always looking at the nutrition books: oooh! there’s one on Paleo that I haven’t looked at yet! Look- there’s one by so-and-so on fitness! (eye roll) Like I really need another book! Or magazine.  Or article or website or podcast.  Usually when we talk about TMI, it’s because someone just told us something we really didn’t need to hear (usually it’s something gross or waaay too personal). But TMI (too much information) can be a real problem, especially when it comes to something like weight loss, fitness or nutrition.

The health industry is a huge ever-evolving entity.  There’s always a new study or a new gimmick hitting the internet.  (I heard someone today mention the “taco diet.” Really?? A taco diet?!) While a river of free flowing information is a good thing, it can also turn into a flood that washes you away or at least your good intentions.  If you tried to follow everyone’s advice, you wouldn’t get very far at all.  In fact, it’d be kind of tough to eat your carbs in the morning to make sure you have time to burn them off and then to eat your carbs only in the evening so you don’t get an exaggerated insulin response by eating them in the morning.  Yeah, you read those statements right; one school of thought advocates carbs in the morning and another advocates carbs in the evening.  Nutrition and health are a lot like religion: there are a lot of them out there so you need to find the one that speaks to you and that’s the one you follow.  That doesn’t mean the others are wrong or that yours is wrong; it really a matter of faith and finding the one that works for you.

My sister chooses to be vegetarian.  It works for her and she has been following that for several years with great success.  I however like being an omnivore and lately I’ve had a lot of good success with that.  My sister eats more refined carbohydrates than I do and she doesn’t have any problems.  I however do have problems when I eat too many refined carbs.  They really don’t agree with me. She also eats a lot more cheese and dairy than I do and again has no problems.  Dairy doesn’t like me very much, so I keep it to a minimum, mainly because I like it so much in my coffee and the occasional snack, but too much is not good for me.

I generally follow a Paleo/primal diet.  Again, depending on who you listen to, my eating patterns could be considered Paleo (minimal processed foods) or primal (because there’s dairy in there!) but does it really matter what you call it?  If I adhered to a strict Paleo philosophy, I might leave out the dairy altogether and probably a few other foods that I occasionally eat (like rice and a few other occasional anomalies). Others might say that I’m actually a primal eater, because I do include dairy and the occasional legumes and grain products.  The important thing is that my way of eating works for me: I like it and my body seems to be healthier.

The hard part isn’t what I decide to call my “diet”; the hard part was deciding what to choose.  (I really don’t think of it as a diet.  To me, this is a permanent lifestyle change and the word “diet” implies it’s a temporary thing.  Ooops! TMI!) There are a lot of diets and weight loss plans out there, literally bookshelves full of them!  When you go through the health/ fitness/ nutrition section of the bookstore or library, you can easily been overwhelmed by information overload. Too much info jamming your brain’s servers! How do you know which one to pick?! Where do you even start?! This is why the weight loss industry is a booming industry: people start something, it doesn’t work for them (for whatever reason), so they ditch it and go on to the next one. Unfortunately for them, it usually means spending not only time but money on whatever approach failed for them. This not only puts money in the pockets of the weight loss industry, it breeds discouragement and frustration in the buyer.  (Right now in my garage, I have boxes of Nutrisystem packaged foods that didn’t work for me that I still need to throw out!)

Just sorting through the various books and websites and programs can be a daunting task.  This is why so many people opt for the simple solution: they ask a friend or relative what diet they are on.  This has some advantages and disadvantages.  Obviously one of the good things is that they now have a “diet buddy” and we all know it’s easier to lose weight/ exercise more if you have someone doing it with you for support and motivation.  The not so good thing is that what works for them may not work for you.  Like my earlier example with my sister’s vegetarianism: I tried that years ago when I was in college and in addition to getting a little anemic, I discovered I’m really pretty picky with my vegetables and all the grain and dairy products were really not good for me! (It’s kind of the opposite of what I eat now, actually!) So if you start on the same diet that your friend/ family member is on, and it doesn’t work for you, it can lead to increased frustration, confusion and disappointment: “what am I doing wrong? I’ve been on this diet for a month and lost 2 lbs- she’d lost ten by this time! I’m doing the same things! Why aren’t I losing weight?” It can lead to some drastic steps, like over exercising or undereating in an attempt to “make the diet work” when the plain simple truth might just be that that “diet plan” doesn’t work for you.

I think the first clue that a diet isn’t going to work is approaching it like a diet, with what Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) calls a “dieting mindset.” Approaching weight loss/ healthy living like it’s a diet means thinking of it as a temporary thing, and Elizabeth likes to say “I don’t work hard for temporary.” When I went looking for a healthier diet, I didn’t look at it as “how long will it take me to lose X lbs on this diet?”; I asked myself “is this something I can do for the rest of my life?”  (Believe me, asking myself if I could live the rest of my life without eating all the bread & pasta I can devour in every day was a serious question for me!)  I really think this is the best way to approach a new diet.  If it’s not going to be something you can do every day for the foreseeable future and enjoy it, then DON’T DO IT! It will not work because waking up every morning to continue a lifestyle you hate is not worth it and you will eventually sabotage yourself. (I lived the life from hell already- spare yourself the pain!) If your new diet means eating kale and grilled chicken breast every day and you hate kale and chicken breast (YUCK!), then are you really going to keep doing it? Is there incentive to keep it up? More importantly, is it going to make you happy? When I started my new eating style, I ate a lot of chicken thighs and broccoli (really, I’m surprised I didn’t turn green!), but I really like chicken thighs and broccoli and I enjoyed eating it several times a week.  It was in line with my health goals, I liked it, it made me happy and that was incentive enough to keep doing it over and over again. By contrast, I wanted to try a ketogenic diet.  I’d heard a lot of good things about it and most people recognize it as a short term diet, so I figured I’d try it for few weeks and see if I got any benefit from it. DISASTER! I couldn’t even get into ketosis because I could not get past the “keto flu.” It was a horrible experience for me- I felt awful pretty much all of the time and once I realized what was going on, I stopped it.  I have friends who do keto and love it and do great on it, but it’s definitely not for me.

Whatever new eating plan you decide on, those need to be some serious considerations.  You need to choose something that you’ll enjoy doing and then make the adjustments over time.  My mom was always giving me diet books that required me to make radical changes right away or eat/ make weird foods that would really just annoy me over time and then make another change to another weird food/ ingredient! I didn’t even try them because I know I’m going to be able to keep it up.

Another important thing you need to do when you start your new eating plan is to TRACK YOUR FOOD & FEELINGS!  If you’ve never done this before and don’t know what it is, Elizabeth Benton has some great tracking ideas and templates on her site PrimalPotential.com.  (I said it before and I’ll probably keep saying it: if you haven’t checked out her site, she’s got awesome ideas and most of them are free! I’m not affiliated- just a fan!) I personally use a DietMinder journal.  They are available at MemoryMinder.com and Amazon.  I like them because they are pre-formatted but still flexible. Use the pages you want and ignore the ones you don’t.  But the bottom line for tracking is to write down what you eat and your response to it. Example: I used to eat a breakfast burrito in the morning about 7:30: tortilla, eggs, sausage & cheese.  By 10:30, I was hungry and feeling kind of cruddy.  On days when I just had sausage, I didn’t get hungry until around noon, and I didn’t feel all tired and drained.  Conclusion: the burrito wasn’t working for me.  I ditched the burrito.  The same thing happened when I tried the keto diet: I looked at the last week after feeling completely awful and realized that my carbs were under 100 g (closer to 50-80) all of those days, but before that, when my carbs were over 100 g, I felt pretty good, and I realized what my problem was. Ditched the keto.

You should also weigh or take measurements, whichever you prefer.  Our weight naturally fluctuates so I started out weighing every four to six weeks.  Now I weigh weekly but I weigh every Friday morning about the same time in the same clothes, and if it is fluctuating, I don’t freak out.  I also take measurements, because it shows me where I am losing inches (waist and hips are usually fat loss) and where I am building muscle (biceps). However you want to measure your gains and losses, make note of where you are starting from, track your food, track your feelings/ energy level (the DietMinder has a notes section) and then give it a few days, either a couple weeks or a month.  If you are really not enjoying the changes, even if you are losing weight, it’s a big clue that it’s not a great plan for you and you should probably either make some changes or find a different plan.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the health/ nutrition/ fitness information out there and you need to be a savvy shopper.  Look at what the diet or eating style entails.  If you’re someone who loves making smoothies or eating kale and that’s what it requires, then go for it and don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t work.  But you need to follow a few simple guidelines to give yourself the best opportunities for success: 1) track your food and progress; 2) make gradual changes to your eating/ exercise; 3) keep your eyes on your own work.  You aren’t competing with anyone else and what works for your sister or your friends may not work for you.If it ends up not working for you, like my disastrous keto experiment-ugh!, then move on to find something else.  This is your health we’re talking about so don’t jump on the nearest fad. Take some time and look at what’s out there, and even if you don’t find an actual “diet,” you can still make positive changes and you can still track those changes, and continue to make improvements.  (It’s what I did until I heard about Paleo.) You are the one who decides what’s right for you.  If you like your changes, and you are making good progress, then don’t let anyone dissuade you.  Just tell them you’re on the “Insert Your Name Here” diet!