Living in a Food Focused World

Some of you know I have a cockapoo named Remy. He’s a little black curly mop about 12 lbs and almost 3 years old now.  Before him, I had a succession of Yorkies (very different dogs, physically and personality-wise!)  Where Henry (my last Yorkie) was independent and bossy, Remy is more mellow and focused on me.  One of Henry’s most adorable (eye roll) traits was to cock his ear when we were out in the yard to acknowledge, yes, I hear you calling me, and now I’m ignoring you, and he’d go off doing his own thing. Remy, while not exactly clingy, keeps his eye on me so if I head to the other side of the house, he keeps me in sight.

Probably Remy’s most distinctive trait is his lack of focus on food.  I had a Queensland mix (Sarah) who’s nickname was the “Shark.” I had heard it said of sharks that they will eat anything and if it doesn’t come back up, it’s food!  Sarah was like that: she ate all kinds of things that should have made her deadly ill (like an entire pound of Oreos in one night!) but she lived to a ripe old age.  My friend’s dog Watson is a lot like Sarah: there is no five second rule at her house because nothing edible is on the floor that long!  In my house, it’s closer to a five day rule. I fill Remy’s kibble bowl about once a week; he likes to eat when we go to bed and when we get up in the morning.  I give him dog cookies (loves peanut butter) and dog treats and people food, but most of them stick around in his various  beds or on my bed or in his bowl or on the floor until he either eats them days later, the cats   eat them (sometimes) or I finally throw them away because they look dirty.  Even the people food.  I come home in the afternoon and see last night’s leftover people food treat on his paper plate and as I’m throwing it out, I make the comment that there are starving dogs in South Modesto who would eat this in a heartbeat.  (This is after my cats have had a crack at it too!) I’ve finally reached the conclusion (yeah, I’m a little dense) that giving him people food treats are a waste of food, and it’s not like it’s broccoli or salad (although he does like iceberg lettuce, the weirdo!) or even bread or rice: this is chicken, pork, beef and eggs he’s snubbing with that curly schnozz!  Watson would snarf it in a heartbeat!

That’s because Watson is food focused and Remy is not.  If my friend wants Watson’s attention, she gets it with a treat: his motto is anything for a cookie!  Remy’s motto is anything for the toy!  Offering him a cookie is a waste of time: he’ll sniff it, and maybe take it politely and set it down somewhere (Watson has eaten a lot of Rem’s treats that way!)  Show him the ball or his stuffed animal, totally different story! Remy has scolded me for not noticing that he tossed the ball at my feet an entire minute ago and I still haven’t thrown it for him!  I’ve often thought about attaching one of my Fitbits to his collar so I can cheat at the Weekend Warrior challenge- I’m sure he’d beat anyone when he’s chasing his toys up and down the hallways and all around the yard!

So blah blah blah, why’s she babbling about the dogs?! Because WE are not that different! Most of us are either a lot like Watson and focused on food, or we are like Remy and totally unconcerned about it.  I’ve commented to my MFP friends that I need to be more like Remy because “who cares if there’s chicken thighs on  my paper plate! Throw the ball, Mom!” When I was in college, the most effective method for getting anyone to attend your function was to put “refreshments will be served” on your flyers.  It works pretty well in the business world too!  People will flock to wherever there is free food (and even if it is  not so free). As a society, we are focused on what we’re eating, what other people are eating, what’s better to eat, what’s bad for us and what we love to eat!  Our holidays revolve around food: Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinner and dessert, Christmas cookies and candy, New Year’s drinks and appetizers, and that’s just what’s in store for us in the coming months!  There’s still the rest of the year’s food focused holidays to deal with: Valentine’s, St. Paddy’s, Easter, Memorial Day, the Fourth, Labor Day, not to mention birthdays and anniversaries, graduations and other celebrations.  They usually involve some kind of food and a lot of times, some kind of cake or pastry.

I’m not condemning our food focus, because for most of our history as a species, food was hard to come by (and in some places, it still is!) Sharing food is sign of community and belonging: it’s how we reinforce our societal bonds. We gather with friends and family and share food and drink and comraderie. It’s an important part of our genetic make up; while other animals, my cats for example, will groom each other, we tend to bond over food.

So what happens when food is our Achilles heel? Do we choose not to attend these food oriented functions and miss out on most of our holidays and gatherings?  Do we just give up and subject ourselves to the enormous struggle of saying no to things like pumpkin pie, stuffing, mashed potatoes and endless cookies or do we strategically arrive after the table has been cleared and join the gathering late? All of these are viable options, and only you can decide which of these is easiest and/ or more convenient to you.  Of course, there are some other considerations involved with each choice depending on you and your goals.

Choosing not to attend: this is the probably the most effective as well as the harshest if your goal is simply to avoid the food.  It’s easier if you just don’t come face to face with all of the food, especially if they are things you really enjoyed eating, but there’s a hefty price to be paid with the isolation involved.  It means cutting yourself off from your community and family which for most of us is our support system.  This is not a good thing as it means you have no one to turn to when you need help or support of any kind.  For many people, not attending is also not an option because of FOMO (fear of missing out) on the food.  You skip the Halloween parties and miss out on the “special” cookies, candies, treats, etc.  (Is a pumpkin shaped Reese’s peanut butter cup really a treat?) For me, there are some things that I don’t like to miss out on, but the biggest “treat” for me is not the food- it’s the family and friends (yeah, I know it’s corny!)  I have a large extended family that gets together for the holidays and there is always an over-abundance of all kinds of food.  For me, not attending is not an option.  I don’t see my family enough in my opinion and so, each holiday, I come face to face with a table overflowing with all of the yummy stuff I grew up eating.  Is it hard saying no to all these things? You better believe it! If it gets to be too much, I make a habit of joining family in another room away from the food, and there have been times when I gave in and “tasted” -eye roll- some of it.  For me, the hazards of over-indulging at a family holiday are worth it for the shared family time.  Missing out on the food isn’t the issue for me; it’s not worth it to miss out on the family time.

Attending the gathering and facing the temptation: this one is the hardest when it comes to testing your resolve! As I said above, my family has a table full of temptations before, during and even after the meal.  There’s always the finger foods and appetizers followed by the yummy dinner full of all kinds of entrees and side dishes, then there’s the table full of desserts.  Seriously, we have enough food for at least two complete meals apiece for everyone!  We get there around noon and leave around six for most holidays and it’s nothing but eating in between: during the game, during the gifts, during the cooking itself- there’s always food readily available sitting there saying “I’m yummy!” One of the strategies I’ve employed (to moderate success, I admit) is sitting in another room away from the kitchen and dining room, but everyone has a plate full of food, so even there, it’s tempting me.  I serve myself the stuff that I think is healthiest (and a lot of times it’s something I brought) and I make a point to eat as slowly as I can.  As I said, I’ve had moderate success with this but it’s only one option.  Other options include planning your eating before you go to the gathering (another strategy I’ve used).  If you know you’re going to be eating more than usual for lunch/ dinner, then carefully plan what you eat beforehand.  This can include skipping breakfast or eating less breakfast so you can eat more at the gathering.  Another plan includes filling up before you go on healthy options, like having a large salad or meal full of veggies before you go to the gathering, so the food you are trying to avoid is less tempting to you.  You’re full and not so tempted (hopefully) to eat out of boredom or habit.  The biggest temptation (for me anyway) is to “graze” and eat a handful of this and a spoonful of that all day long.  I know for office workers during the holidays, subjected to endless trays of cookies and boxes of candies, one trick is to put whatever you were going to eat into a Ziploc bag and at the end of the day, you see how much you really would have eaten- usually way more than you thought it was! That’ll put the damper on grazing!

Strategically planning your arrival: I’m just going to come out and admit I think this is lame, but it works for some people.  For me, a big part of my socialization with my family actually involves preparing the meal.  I get to hang out in the kitchen with my aunts and uncles and cousins and make the food.  The added benefit is by the time the meal is ready and everyone else descends on the loaded table like a cloud of locusts, I and the rest of the kitchen crew are so tired of the food, we wait until everyone else has gone through and then we choose from what’s left, if we don’t have to refill the platters first.  It kind of puts a damper on the appetite for us. Arriving after the meal is done is not always possible, since for our family, about an hour after the meal, we serve dessert and after lingering over dessert, we start cleaning up and heading home. Waiting until the food is “gone” means missing out on most of the gathering for our family.  For my friends, it’s a better option.  They have the meal and dessert followed by several hours of games and chatting and socialization.  I can show up later, miss the food and still enjoy time with my friends.  These are also the friends who make holiday cookie trays for everyone full of the home-made cookies the recipient likes best, like lemon bars, mint chocolate chip cookies, chocolate dipped marshmallows and candied walnuts. (Some of my favorites!) After I started eating Paleo, they asked if I still wanted a cookie tray, and let me know they would not be offended if I said no, so I thanked them and declined.  Did I miss some really great once a year treats? Yes.  For about five minutes, which is about how long it takes to eat them. Did I still spend time with them during the holidays? Yes.  We just didn’t make the cookie tray a part of it.

Keeping it Low Key

I am blessed with family and friends who respect that I’m eating differently than I used to and, for the most part, differently than they do.  Most of them, like most of the world, eat a lot of processed foods and refined carbs, which I really avoid. If they offer something and I decline, they respect my “no thank you” and don’t keep pushing it at me.  In turn, I respect what they choose to eat.  When I was at their Super Bowl party last February, they had a table full of chips, dips, crackers, and some crudite (veggies). I didn’t criticize their choices.  It’s not my business what they want to eat.  If they’d asked my opinion, I would have given it, but I still wouldn’t have said “it’s all unhealthy processed junk!” (That’s not my opinion of their choices, btw!) Unfortunately, this is what a lot of people do when they start making healthier food choices: like any new convert, they feel the need to push their new point of view on everyone around them!  As a result, no one wants to spend time with them or eat with them.  Who wants to eat with someone who keeps trashing what you are trying to enjoy? Sadly, I have way too much experience with this one. My mom (the Constant Dieter) was always telling me whatever I was eating was full of fat, full of sugar, full of “empty calories.”  Even today, if I decide to put Splenda in my drink, she lets me know that “Splenda is the worst artificial sweetener there is! It’s full of chemicals that cause cancer!” (She has been known to say this to total strangers at Starbucks!)  I don’t know how true this is and frankly, it’s none of her business if I choose the Splenda or not.  At least she didn’t try to put her choice of sweetener in my beverage.  She’s tried stuff like that before and ended up spilling my glass all over the table.  It was annoying, but she felt really bad about it and hasn’t done it since.  But the point is that what you or I eat is no one else’s business.  No one needs to justify why they are or aren’t eating the tortilla chips, the sugar cookies, or whatever else is available.  What we decide to eat is extremely personal, in my opinion anyway, and the idea of someone trashing what anyone is eating is beyond rude.  It’s one thing to comment on not eating the cookies because they have coconut and you can’t stand it, or that they have peanuts and you’re allergic- that’s a matter of taste and safety.  It’s not a comment on how healthy/ unhealthy they are.  My best advice for handling people like my mom is to make an offhand comment like “we all gotta die of something!”

Adjusting your Focus

The plain truth of the matter is that most of the world is focused on what they are eating and what everyone else is eating.  There’s always some report on how something is bad for you, better for you or  what food is “guaranteed to give you cancer” (eye roll), and it’s hard not to focus on what you are eating for dinner, ate for breakfast or are eating right now.  Food is fuel for the body but it’s also a physical and social enjoyment as well, and it’s hard to be the loner at the table who’s not having the same thing as everyone else, or even just eating something different.  It draws attention in a way we might not like, but unless someone is rude about it, there’s no need to worry about it.  If anyone does ask, “you’re not having anything?” just tell them you aren’t hungry or it doesn’t appeal to you- something polite and noncommital and move on from the topic.  There is a lot going on in the coming months, and yes, there will be food everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the focus of your social life.  Choose the friends and family and leave the food for everyone else. You might be getting together to have lunch or Thanksgiving dinner or watch the Super Bowl, but is the food really the point of the gathering?  Even when you go to lunch with someone, yes, the meal is important but after making your healthier food choices, focus on the company and not the giant cheesesteak sandwich they ordered. I remind myself that my cockapoo would rather have a hug from me than a cookie and the point of hanging out with my friends has everything to do with them and nothing to do with whatever snacks are on the table!

 

 

 

 

Identity Crisis: Losing Yourself in the Process & the Fear of Success

Obviously, I was desperate to lose weight.  I had been trying to do that for most of my adult life and had failed utterly and completely.  When I finally stumbled into the right process for me (Paleo living), I was beyond estatic!  I was so happy that I was FINALLY losing weight and it wasn’t coming back and I was not totally miserable in the process! I just wanted to tell everyone: this is working for me!! (LOL- it’s one of the reasons I started this blog!)

I have been at this nearly two years now (I count January 2015 as my ‘start date’) and I have lost about 165 lbs (164.4).  That’s about an average size adult human. I used to look at my total weight loss and tell myself “that’s a toddler” or “that’s a kid” and lately it was “that’s about a whole person.”  At first it was a little funny, thinking I was carrying those extra forty pounds around like someone would carry their child, and then the higher the number the more it was a little frightening thinking I had been carrying so much extra weight on my enitre body.  As it climbed higher into the 100’s, I would think about how my knees and my back and feet would hurt and I’d realize it was the same as carrying around another person with me 24/7.  I’ve heard pregnant women complain about how heavy the baby is and how awkward it can be to move around, and the average woman gains only 25-30 lbs when pregnant.  For someone who was not overweight before, it’s still a lot of weight and it’s mostly located in one awkward area of the body.  I was carrying so much more than that all over my body and it was not a temporary condition! Worse, I kept gaining weight. Before I finally lost weight, I was carrying the equivalent of two large men around all the time (I weighed 438 lbs and I’m 5’4″). I knew I needed to lose weight and that I was unhealthy, but at the same time, the discomfort from my weight gain had been slow and insidious.  I’ve heard it said that if you throw a frog in a pot of boiling water, it’ll jump right out, but if you put it in a pot of cold water and slowly increase the heat, the frog will stay there and die ( someone please save the frog! no cooking frogs please!).  I was the frog: I had been gaining at a relatively slow but steady rate and the discomfort slowly increased but like the frog, I was not paying a whole lot of attention. On one level, I knew this was killing me, but it wasn’t killing me so fast that I felt I needed to do something about it. It wasn’t until my health became so bad due to other factors that I was finally motivated to make changes that ultimately led to my losing weight.

Now I’m a little over the halfway mark to my goal weight (150 lbs). At some point, in the rather near future now, I’m going to have to talk to my doctor about getting some of my loose skin removed, although I would prefer to wait as long as possible.  The problem with loose skin isn’t so much that it’s unattractive as it can become a source of infection.  It folds up on itself and rubs in places where it’s not supposed to be and these wounds can easily become infected.  Mine is not that bad yet, but it’s getting there, especially on my legs.  Knowing me it will probably come down to which is the bigger pain in the butt: the loose skin or the surgery?  When the answer is the loose skin, I’ll probably call my doctor.  The bad part about that is that I have a high tolerance for irritation, so I’m hoping I don’t get an infection before I finally decide to go get cut up.

There have been a lot of physical changes these past two years.  The loose skin is only one change and maybe the most noticeable. My body is literally shrinking in on itself. Parts of me are sagging that never did before and it’s a little uncomfortable at times having to deal with that.  I swim a couple days a week, so I am used to seeing myself in the gym mirror in my swimsuit looking like a deflated balloon (even more so since I’ve gone to a smaller two piece). I feel my bones more prominently and there’s a lot less pain in my back, knees and feet. Moving is a lot easier and so is sleeping.  My clothes are hanging on me now and even my shoes fit better. Shoes I could barely fit in two years ago now fit well with a little extra room to tighten them up. My younger and smaller sister has started giving me her old clothes (she’s also lost weight) and I was rather shocked when I got dressed this morning and I put on a shirt that I didn’t think would fit, but it fit just fine.  I really didn’t think I’d lost that much weight.

That statement seems to be at the crux of my current mindset. I am in denial regarding how much weight I’ve lost and how much smaller I seem to be getting.  At first, it was kind of fun thinking I actually need to buy smaller clothes.  I don’t ever recall a time in my life when I was complaining that all my clothes are too big and I need smaller sizes.  I have a couple of shirts that feel like I’m wrapped in a sail and the free t-shirt I got when I joined my gym (even though I got the bigger size) is now my nightshirt since it comes down so far on me.  I recently ordered new swimsuits online and a couple days after I submitted my order, I realized maybe I should have ordered a size down (I was getting in the pool- go figure).  The reason I needed new swimsuits is that the ones I have are starting to slip off in the water. (The new ones fit just fine!) Back in August, as I noticed how my pants flap and a lot of them now have safety pins and binder clips keeping them up, I figured I’d wait until October to buy some new ones.  Now October is here and I’m telling myself, as even the “good fitting pants” now need a binder clip, maybe I should wait until the new year.  I keep telling myself that I haven’t lost “that much weight” and these 3X pants still fit too well for me to think about moving down to 2X.  The size 24 shirts still fit nice enough that moving down to 22 is “probably not a good idea.”  That worked until this morning when the shirt I put on is one of my sister’s 2x hand-me-downs and it fits better than my old sail-size 24s.

The physical changes and the denial about the overall weight loss are only one part of the problem.  I’m pretty used to the saggy skin and not too concerned about it, and while the baggy clothes are becoming more of a problem (buying new clothes has always been so depressing!) The bigger ‘problem’ is that I’m changing in ways I never thought about and while you wouldn’t think it would be something that upsets me, it really does bother me more than a little.  Whenever I notice it, there is always a feeling of disquiet in me, because it feels like I am losing who I am.

Fear of Success

And I think that is exactly what is happening: the person I used to be, the person I am familiar with, is no longer entirely there.  There has always been a lot of attention given the fear of failure and how to get over that, but not so much to fear of success.  Some people have never heard of it and automatically dismiss it as one of those psycho-babble ideas: “Really?? You’re afraid of succeeding?? Of winning?? Of completing what you set out to do??”  Ask any athlete who has won Wimbledon for example: how much pressure is there to win next year, and the year after?  Ask Tiger Woods after he won the Masters: any pressure there, Tiger?? Once you do what you set out to do, there is enormous pressure to keep winning.  You don’t just “win and leave”: you are expected to keep performing at the same level! A band puts out a fabulous album: automatically, critics put out the idea that the next one might not be as good.  An actor wins the Oscar: the next film is automatically compared to the “Oscar-winning performance.”  While everyone is familiar with the price of failure, there is a hidden cost to winning as well.

With weight loss, it’s pretty straightforward: “she lost the weight, yeah, but can she keep it off?” Anyone who has lost weight knows the mantras: “don’t gain. don’t eat. don’t gain. don’t eat.”  It’s usually followed by the dreaded daily self-interrogation: “are my pants getting tight? why doesn’t my bra/ shirt/ socks fit as loose as they used to? does my face look fat?!” When it comes to weight loss & keeping it off, most battle-scarred veterans are used to the war never ending; we don’t “win”- we just keep fighting.  People tell us the greater the battle, the greater the glory, and they leave off the part about defending that win.  I remember how devastating it felt when I gained back the 40 lbs I had lost on NutriSystem, and then I gained more back as well.  (Haven’t we all been there?)  It’s salt in the wound honestly.  It’s like the weight is dancing on your grave: “yeah, you thought you’d ditched me but now I’m back and I’m bigger and stronger than ever!! bwahahaha!”

It’s not enough to succeed in losing weight and getting fitter; you have to maintain that fitness.  This is where so many people just pack it in and go home, usually because the changes they made to lose the weight were not permanent lifestyle changes.  They monitored what they ate long enough and consistently enough to lose X amount of pounds, but once it’s gone, they go back to the way they ate before which led to the gain of X amount of pounds. This is the “revolving door dieting mentality” that keeps the weight loss industry flourishing. For anyone to keep winning the “weight loss war,” we must make permanent life style changes: we keep making healthy food choices; we stay active; going to the gym and/ or walking daily are now normal habits and eating unhealthy foods are the exception rather than the rule.  It’s not so much that our habits need to change as much as we ourselves need to change.

This is where I find myself: I am changing into someone else and that is causing a little bit of an identity crisis (‘little bit’- eye roll!!)  I find I am experiencing some anxiety when I find myself not falling into my regular old habits.  This is actually a good thing because my regular old habits were the habits that led to my being 438 lbs.  I know what the old me would have done (bought at least two pieces of Safeway carrot cake!) and the new ‘transitional’ me would have looked at the cake, wanted it and walked away from it, but this new healthier me is not even noticing the carrot cake and walks right by without even looking (she’s looking at the eggs of all things!), and when I find myself doing things like not paying attention to things that formerly were important (either as ‘bad for me treats’ or ‘things to be resisted’), I feel a little bit of anxiety, because I don’t know who this person is, and worse yet, I don’t know what her pitfalls are.  The old me was pretty easy: carrot cake, pasta, bagels, cookies and yeah, yogurt, cheese and anything with cream sauce.  The me I thought I was (the transitional me) is a little harder but still a known quantity: bacon, broccoli, salads, chicken and Epic bars.  This new person? So far I know she’s not into carrot cake, apple fritters, chips and cheese toast.  Beyond that, she’s still pretty nebulous.  I get to find out what her strengths and weaknesses are.  I’m not even really sure what she looks like, but apparently, she’s thinner than I am and getting thinner.

I am also having anxiety when I find I’ve lost weight.  (What the hell is THAT all about?!?) I have to admit, this would make me laugh if it didn’t cause so much disquiet in me.  I am actually stressing about LOSING weight and  NOT having a problem resisting the carrot cake kryptonite!! I used to wish for problems like these, so now- wish granted! Frankly, it’s all part of the ongoing transition to someone healthier, fitter and hopefully, happier than the person I used to be.  Yes, there is anxiety involved now with not only learning the new healthier habits but maintaining them and the weight loss as well as finding new strengths and probably the weaknesses as well.  I am becoming someone new and it’s a little hard letting go of the person I used to be.  For so long, she was the devil I knew, even though she was 370+ lbs for more than ten years, wearing size 4x pants and size 24/26 shirts, and could hardly walk from one end of the mall to the other. When I looked in the mirror, I saw someone I recognized even if I didn’t like her very much.  For many months now, when I look in the mirror, I saw someone who surprised me and who still surprises me.  Honestly, I don’t handle surprises very well, but I’m getting used to them.  I suppose I’d better.  This new person looks like she’s making herself at home.

Accentuating the Positives!

Some of you know that one of my favorite people is Elizabeth Benton of Primal Potential, and part of her morning routine is what she calls “gratitude.”  She takes a few minutes each morning to feel gratitude for something or someone in her life.  She’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not thinking “I’m grateful for my health/ family/ job/ whatever;” it’s taking the time to think of something or someone specific and feeling the positive emotion of gratitude for that person or event.

I’m the first to confess that I’m just not good at that kind of thing.  I usually don’t have time in the morning to do a morning routine that involves meditation or deep breathing or anything like that because, frankly, I’m not a morning person and I’d probably fall asleep if I tried it.  So for a long time, I thought that gratitude is just something I’m not able to do, which was a little disappointing because one of the key benefits to doing this is that it relieves stress (which we all have too much of!) and it focuses your day on something positive.  Then one morning not too long ago, as I woke up and got dressed, I snuggled with my dog and wrestled with the kitten and rubbed my older kitty’s chin.  It wasn’t a big deal because I do that every morning whether it’s a work day or not, and as I was throwing the ball for my dog, watching him jump back on the bed with it in his mouth and toss it at me so I can throw it again, I realized this is my version of gratitude.

My pets are my “kids.”  When people ask me if I live alone, I always say: “it’s me, the dog and my two cats,” so no, I don’t think of myself as living alone.  I come home and talk to them, I spend time playing with them and they are a huge part of my day and my life.  I guess I don’t have time to do “gratitude” in the morning because I am too busy appreciating my furry children.  (I’m the geek who frets about getting their egg over easy on weekends because they like a runny yolk! eye roll!)

Overcooked eggs aside, the point is that gratitude, although an easy way to work on stress, has other benefits such as a more optimistic outlook, more emotionally satisfying relationships, better sleep and longer life. (FYI: if you are interested in Elizabeth’s morning routine, it is available on her website!) You spend a few minutes each day focusing on someone or something you are grateful for and you concentrate on your gratitude for them/ it until you feel the positive emotions.  Morning is good because it relaxes you and gets your mind focused on something positive as you start your day.  In the evening is also good because this way as you reflect on the events/ people in your day, you are pulling up something positive and again, it relaxes you towards the evening and it focuses your mind on something positive as you prepare to go to sleep or unwind at the end of the day.  There’s also no rule that says you can’t do both!  I know as I get closer to the end of my commute, I start thinking of my pets and spending time with them.  When I go to bed, the rest of my “pack” does as well. We spend a few minutes at the end of the day like we do at the beginning: playing, snuggling, and paying attention to each other.  (Yeah, I really need to get a life! eye roll).

The easiest way to practice gratitude is the method I described above: spending a few minutes of the day focusing on what you are grateful for. Others keep a gratitude journal (either a paper one or on an app).  Either way, there are some tips for being grateful:

  1.  Don’t phone it in! You need to really think about it and really feel it! Phoning it in: “I’m thankful for my spouse; I’m thankful for my health; I’m thankful for my job, blah blah blah.”  Are you really feeling it?  Because if you aren’t, then this is one more chore to do that is not going to benefit you. If you are truly feeling grateful for those things, that’s the point, but if you are just phoning it in, you need to take a few minutes and feel the emotion!
  2. Don’t rush through it.  One of the reasons I thought I didn’t have time for gratitude is that it was first described to me as being part of a morning routine, and as I’ve said, I am so not a morning person! This would be one more thing that I have to cram in to my usually tightly scheduled mornings, on top of already not being happy about getting up so early!  Find some time when you can cultivate this as a regular practice, so you can truly get the benefits from it.  Mornings are good because they focus the mind on something positive for the day and lower your stress levels so you go into your day feeling refreshed.  Evenings are also good because you can choose something positive to focus on out of a day that was probably stressful and release some of the built-up stress. Practicing gratitude at the end of the day is also a good way to relax, slough off the day’s cares and go to sleep feeling better.  Whenever you decide to practice it, make sure you can focus on it without interruptions for a few minutes.
  3. Writing it down can also be a good way to explore the emotions. Sometimes as we organize our thoughts to express them, we discover things about ourselves and our emotions.  You don’t have to write out your gratitude journal, but it can help.  You can also include pictures and doodles or drawings or maybe even bits of poems and quotes.  It doesn’t have to be all your words, as long as it makes you feel the positive emotions about the people & things in your life that you are grateful for.
  4. Focus on the positive! This is a journal about the positive parts of your life, so if your spouse/ kids/ boss/ whoever really bugged you today, this is not the place to complain about it!  Odds are, you probably really are grateful they are in your life (the spouse & kids, anyway) but if you want to vent about how thick-headed they are, do it someplace else. You are trying to focus on the good things in this journal (or this moment if you are not writing about it), so leave off the negativity.  In fact, if they really have been a pain, focusing on why you love them so much might be a good way to get over those annoying negative feelings!

 Stress Really is Killer

This gratitude exercise might seem a little silly for some, especially the first time you read about it. “Really?? What does this have to do with weight loss or healthy living??” One of the things more and more doctors are learning is that stress really will kill you.  I found out the hard way.  When I worked that job from hell, I was ten hours at work and four hours in the car (2 hour commute each way).  I spent all day with the boss from hell hanging over my shoulder pouncing on every thing I did that she didn’t like or didn’t understand, and when she wasn’t in the office, she was calling and emailing.  This is a woman who would go to Hawaii or New York and still call and email about the office!  And it didn’t stop when I left the office: she would call me on my way to and from work, either giving me a list of things to do or rehashing what didn’t get done.  Telling her I can’t take notes while driving didn’t have any impact on her (this was a woman who had me follow her to the restroom so I could take notes while she ‘did her business.’  Really!) As a result of my schedule, my eating habits were atrociously unhealthy and I was mentally and physically exhausted.  I was always ‘ON’ and my sleep was horrible.  I never got enough rest and my blood pressure was out of control.  I had stress induced asthma and panic attacks.  There were times on the drive home after her phone calls that I would have to pull over because I was too upset to drive!  The worst things about this whole situation are these: 1) I thought this was normal; 2) I thought there was something wrong with me.

In a way there was something wrong with me: I was still at that job.  When I finally left (it was seriously either leave or die), after a few weeks, I noticed some positive changes.  The first was that I was no longer exhausted because I was finally getting some restful sleep.  The stress induced asthma and panic attacks both went away.  I had expected that the panic attacks would stop but the doctor told me the asthma vanished because the stress was gone. Until then, I didn’t know it was stress induced!  My blood pressure dropped to nearly normal in a few weeks, and I lost about 40 lbs.  Part of that I’m sure is because my eating habits changed in positive ways, but I also learned that when your body is feeling stress, whether physical or mental, it goes into survival mode, which means it’s going to conserve as much fuel as possible.  So in addition to my atrocious high calorie low nutrition diet, all of that nervous energy I had from the increased stress wasn’t even helping me to burn fat- it was helping me to store it!! (Honestly, just remembering that awful time in my life, I can feel my stress level rising!)

So what does this have to do with gratitude? Have you ever tried feeling stressed or negative while you are experiencing a positive emotion? What happens to your body and your mind when you are feeling positive emotions?  Your attitude lightens up; your mind is clear and cheerful and your spirit is lighter.  Your body relaxes and any tension eases.  You breathe more deeply and your blood pressure goes down. Feeling positive emotions has a positive effect on your body.  It gives your body a break from the constant grind.  You get a chance to slow down and take some physical and mental rest.  In time, it helps you develop a more positive outlook in general, which is a good thing.  You appreciate the important people in your lives more deeply because you are constantly focusing on just how important they are to you, and in turn, they are usually more appreciative of you too! No one wants to go through life being miserable and unhappy (except maybe my former boss!) or being around these kind of people.  My stressful situation was a little extreme, but most of us have stress in our lives from jobs, family, and other things, and being in a constant state of stress keeps cortisol and blood pressure elevated; it interferes with sleep and rest, with appetite and eating habits, and it eats away at the mental functions too.  The more you are trying to do, the more you are trying to focus on multiple things, the less efficient you are and the more likely you are to forget things, which just adds to the stress!  Your mind and body always feel like they are under attack (because they are!) and like me, it’s always ‘ON’ and trying to defend itself.  Eventually, your health starts to deteriorate because your body never gets a chance to rest and recuperate from the constant barrage of stressful messages coming in. This is what happened to me before I finally left.  Bottom line: stress kills your quality of life before it ultimately kills you through poor health.

If your life is as stressed as mine used to be, you really need to take stock of your situation and maybe make some hard choices.  But giving yourself a few moments every day to focus on who and what are positive about your life is one way to give your mind, body and spirit a break.  It can ultimately change your focus to something lighter, happier and more positive.  How you choose to engage in gratitude is up to you.  Whether you choose to do this through writing, through meditation, prayer, or through quality family time is your choice and you can’t choose wrong! Find a few moments each day to focus on what’s good in your life.  It may not cure all your ills, but it will make your life a better, happier place to be!

(If you are interested in learning more about gratitude, please google the Tiny Buddha website: Turn Pain to Joy)

One Size Does Not Fit ALL!

The FDA lied to me (and everyone else)!

I am the first to admit that I am not any kind of health/ fitness expert.  I never have been and one look at my medical records would verify that! But like most people out there, I think, I tried to follow the best advice for healthy living and healthy eating.  So when everyone was freaking out about high fat, high meat diets, and all the benefits of whole grains, I followed their advice.  For years, I could not figure out what I was doing wrong as I continued to gain weight through college and grad school and somewhere towards the early 2000’s, I came to the conclusion, that whatever it was I was doing wrong was way beyond me and I was just doomed to be fat all my life.

About that point, I pretty much stopped paying attention to what I was eating and just ate what I wanted, though I tried to keep it in some kind of moderation (usually failing miserably), and it wasn’t until the end of 2014 (about this time two years ago) that I FINALLY figured out what I was doing wrong, began to lose weight and began to feel like an actual human being who had a chance to live a healthy lifestyle.  As some of you know, it was a complete and total accident that I stumbled onto my huge (no pun intended- well, maybe) diet problem:  I had been following the FDA guidelines on their Food Pyramid.

In the early 1990’s (1992 to be exact) the FDA’s Food Pyramid recommended eating daily 6-11 servings of grains, rice, cereals & pastas, 3-5 servings of vegetables, 2-4 servings of fruits, 2-3 servings of meats & fish, 2-3 servings of dairy and to eat fats and sugars “sparingly.”  (They update these guidelines every 5 years or so.) In 1992, I was in college and literally my weight gain started to soar.  It was seriously out of control and the more I kept eating the low fat, high carb/ high “whole grain” diet everyone was pushing at me, the more weight I kept gaining.  Like I said, eventually I just gave up.

It turns out that everyone else following the same diet was also gaining weight at a high rate too.  We had an epidemic of obesity and type II diabetes by the time I finished college.  It kept right on rising (I think it still is) and now the doctors know why: it was the low fat, high carb/ high whole grain diet that everyone was eating– at their recommendation!!  Now the best doctors are telling us something very different than what they told us 25 years ago. Now they are telling us that high fat does not cause heart disease; it’s sugar that causes the most damage in the body.  What they are not explaining fully is that all those “whole grains” & grain products (this includes rice, cereals, pastas, corn & corn products, etc) turns into sugar in the body.  When you eat a candy bar, your body breaks it down into glucose, which is a sugar, and the body releases insulin to remove it from the blood stream and it is stored in the body as fat or glycogen for later use as a fuel.  What the doctors aren’t telling you is that all those grain/ grain products they were advising us to eat 6-11 servings of each day, are made up of starches, which are long strings of sugar, and are turned just as quickly into glucose by the body and the body goes through the same routine.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a bowl of pasta, a bagel, an ear of corn or a candy bar: it all turns into glucose pretty fast in the body and it’s stored as fat or glycogen.  (They may as well have told us to have 6 candy bars daily- the effect would have been the same!)

So there we all were: eating lots of grains, cereals and pastas like they said to do, and we were gaining weight, and becoming insulin resistant to boot too!  I figured out (22 years later!) that one of the reasons I was gaining weight was that all of those carbs were being stored as fat in my body, and they weren’t being burned later on because in order to burn fat, the blood stream needs to be cleared of insulin.  If there is glucose in the blood, there is insulin in the blood and the body can only store fat when insulin is present.  It’s an either-or situation: either the body is storing fat (insulin is present) or it is burning fat (insulin is not present). There was always insulin and glucose in my blood stream because I was eating those recommended grain products for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks: bagels, cereals,  breakfast sandwich, pasta, sandwiches, granola bars; cereal bars, etc.  (Does this sound like the stuff everyone else was eating??) My body was clearing the glucose from breakfast only to have it replaced with the glucose from lunch and then once that was cleared, there was the snack glucose and then the dinner glucose and knowing me, probably dessert glucose as well!!

You know that old saying that  if you have Chinese food, you’ll only be hungry again in an hour? This is why:once your body clears the glucose from your blood stream, obviously your blood glucose is low, and it’s usually lower than it was before you ate whatever it was you ate, so your brain sends out a signal that you need to raise your blood glucose, and that signal is hunger.  This creates a vicious cycle: you eat carbs (either because they’re “good for you” or you like them- whatever reason); your blood sugar spikes; your body releases insulin to clear the glucose; your blood sugar bottoms out once the glucose is cleared and your brain tells you that you need to eat.  This is why you can eat a huge meal of pork fried rice, chicken chow mein and broccoli beef over rice chased down with a fortune cookie and be hungry an hour later.  You know you just ate, but your brain says you’re hungry.  This is how you can have a breakfast full of good for you whole grains and then munch on a granola bar about an hour and half later.  You have a sandwich and whole wheat crackers for lunch and then munch on a bunch more crackers a couple hours later.  You have pasta and shrimp for dinner and then have a couple of cookies while watching tv an hour or so later.  By the time your body has cleared the glucose from the prior meal or snack, you’re dumping more glucose into the system!  It’s not your fault- this is what we were all told and this is not unusual for most people!  That is a perfectly reasonable daily diet laid out above and it’s a diet that will most probably keep you gaining weight.  It’s not that different from the diet I was on for most of my college years and I kept steadily gaining weight, until I just gave up and ate all kinds of junk food because NOTHING WAS WORKING FOR ME!!

As much as I would love to lay all the blame on the FDA, I can’t.  They meant well.  Even though I was following their guidelines, which were made with the best of intentions for everyone, I was simply eating too much and it was too much of the wrong things, so it was a perfect storm of weight loss chaos for me (and everyone else it turns out as well)! After I reached around the 370 mark, my weight pretty much stayed in that neighborhood for several years.  I would periodically try dieting, again using the low fat high carb model, and I would lose weight and then slowly gain it all back.  It wasn’t until things got really bad with my job and my eating habits that it really began to rise again, and it took a major life crisis to stop it.  The only good thing out of that crisis (aside from leaving the job from hell) was that I learned how to eat for weight loss and overall health.  It involved making permanent lifestyle and eating changes.

As the title of this post states, one size does not fit everyone.  The FDA, in putting out guidelines, is trying to help people eat better, which is to be commended, and obviously they cannot tailor a plan to fit each individual: that’s why they are called “guidelines.” It would be a whole lot easier if we could just take a simple test and get an easy to follow instruction manual on how to eat for our body type & lifestyle, but unfortunately we have to find out through trial and error, mostly.  What works for one person may not work for someone else, even if you are related.  My sister is a vegetarian and she is also losing weight eating a lot of the foods that I don’t eat.  The same is true for me: I eat a Paleo/ Primal diet now which includes a lot of animal products she doesn’t eat and I am also losing weight.  My sister’s diet includes a lot of starches and simple carbs and mine includes a lot of meat & fish.  Pretty much the only things we have in common are dairy (although mine is much less than hers) and non-starchy vegetables.

You would think it would be easy to figure out what to eat.  I mean, if you have a cat, you know you don’t feed it oats and grass, just like you don’t feed your rabbit meat and eggs.  Because humans are omnivores (meaning we eat everything), we think our diet must include “everything.”  Humans have been trying to figure out what we eat for as long as we have been humans; basically, we eat something and if it makes us sick, we cross it off the list and don’t eat it again.  This is fine if you are a caveman (or cave person) but with our big brains and modern conveniences, we techno-savvy homo sapiens think we should know better.  We can literally touch the stars but we can’t figure out what we should be eating?! As a wise and savvy engineer once remarked, “the more you overhaul the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain” (Mr. Scott).  He was right: just because we can make computers that fit in our palms doesn’t mean we should be eating “super techno franken foods.”  The shortest distance between points A & B is still a straight line.  1 + 1 is still 2.  One of the other things my Paleo/ Primal “cave man” diet has in  common with my sister’s animal-friendly vegetarian diet is that we both eat very few processed foods.  Most of what we eat is pretty close to its natural state: the vegetables are as fresh and organic as they can be and so are the eggs, dairy and in my case, the meats too.

I can’t tell you that “eating Paleo/ Primal” is the way to go anymore than I can say “eating vegetarian” or keto or low fat or any other diet is the way to go.  All I can tell you is what works for me.  Before I starting eating Paleo, my weight was out of control, I had high blood sugar and I was always hungry, always tired and felt pretty awful in general.  Now that I eat very few processed foods and grain products, my blood sugar is completely normal, I’ve lost 163 lbs and I have a lot more energy and feel pretty good overall. I wish I could tell everyone that I found the magic potion that makes us all feel wonderful and lose weight, but, alas, not so.  I honestly believe that some things I’ve learned are true: that too many processed starchy foods cause high blood glucose which prohibits fat burning and that processed foods are less healthy for you than organic whole foods.  Beyond those, I think everyone needs to decide for themselves what works best, and we need to remember that what works for one does not work for all.  I’ve had many people tell me that “keto is the way to go!” and I know that keto is too hard for me and it does not make me feel good.  I’ve also had a lot of people tell me that Paleo did not fix my blood sugar problem because “I bet if you ate a bagel, your blood sugar would go up!” Duh!!! That’s how blood sugar works! When anyone eats anything, your blood sugar goes up!! (That’s why you test it 2 hours after eating- if it’s still high after 2 hours, then you have a problem!) Some people really don’t enjoy eating Paleo/ Primal even if they lose weight. I know when I tried going vegetarian in college, I really didn’t like it. I like veggies but not that much! My sister on the other hand doesn’t like eating meat or fish (especially fish!)

I think the most important thing I learned after this lifelong struggle is that when someone tells you they have The Answer, don’t believe them!  Either they are flat out lying to you or they are making a good faith honest mistake. This is why the weight loss & fitness industries flourish: every few months someone has The Answer and they’ll be happy to share it with you for $19.99 plus shipping and handling! All I’m going to do is tell you to listen to your body (for free!) and be patient.  Take notes in your diet journal about what you are eating and how it makes you feel.  Record your measurements and/ or weight every couple of weeks.  Take notes about your activities/ exercises and how they make you feel (same journal).  If you like how you feel, if you are losing weight, getting fitter, then keep going.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a specialized “diet with a name;” what matters is that you feel better! But the one caveat I’m going to put out there is that you need to be patient and give your body some time to adjust and time to lose weight and quite possibly heal.  I had to stop eating dairy for a long time before I could eat it again without feeling wretched from lactose intolerance.  I still have to be careful not to have too much too often, but a little is okay for me.  I know I was really addicted to starches and I’d really crave bread for days after eating one piece of toast.  It was a long time before I could see it and not want it.  I’ve learned that while bread tastes really good, it’s not good for me.  My sister on the other hand enjoys it without feeling awful afterwards.

It’s a little ironic that humans pride ourselves on our individuality, but when it comes to eating and exercising, we still look for the One Size Fits All approach.  Most of us go through the majority of our lives crammed into the One Size diet- and we all know how well those One Size sweatshirts fit: some of us have to roll up the sleeves and the some of us end up ripping a seam! It’s not comfortable wearing someone else’s clothes, so why would you want to eat someone else’s food?

 

 

 

 

How to Help Someone Make Positive Changes

This one is admittedly pretty tricky! It comes way too close to the “pushing them to make positive changes” boundary, which is almost guaranteed to make the person you’re pushing NOT want to make any changes at all.

I wish someone had told my mom about this when I was younger, because she pushed and pushed and PUSHED! Of course, every time she pushed me, I balked like a stubborn donkey and would not make any changes at all.  As easy as it would be to blame my mom for my unhealthy lifestyle lasting as long as it did, I can’t, because she was right that my lifestyle was completely and totally unhealthy but at the same time, it’s the old “lead a horse to water” scenario. The more she kept nagging me about it, the more I tuned her out and just plain got mad about it.  For most people, nagging does not work- it only makes people mad.  It certainly does for just about everyone in my family.  Angry people do not listen- they are too caught up in being angry!

But this also puts family members and friends in a bit of an awkward position.  Someone you care about is trying to make positive health changes, either losing weight or getting fitter (usually both) and you want to be supportive without being a nag.  What the heck do you do?  How does this change your relationship, if it even does?  Do you try to be supportive or do you pretend nothing has changed at all?  If you pretend nothing has changed, does that mean you’re not being supportive and being a bad friend?

I know it’s been a bit of a challenge for my friends, because most of our get-togethers revolve around food, as I’m sure most people’s do.  We get together for lunch, for movies, for festivals that usually have a lot of food involved, and of course they want to be supportive, but at the same time, they don’t want to get stuck eating salad after salad because of where we go to eat.  There are a couple of places that they really love that have absolutely delicious bad-for-you food.  If it’s not beer-battered and deep fried, it’s full of refined carbs and sugar.  There’s very little on those menus that fall in my eating plan.  Our normal plan of action is to choose a place on consensus, so if one of us has had sandwiches or Chinese all week and really wants something else, we figure it out, but sometimes, they really want to go to that Bad-for-You place, so I can either veto it or just lump it and make the best choices I can when I get there.  (It’s a struggle for us too- do we stop eating out with our friends or do we just go off the reservation each time we do? There’s always an adjustment for someone!)

Most of the time with my friends, it’s not a problem, because they are considerate about my eating changes and I’m not a freaked out drill sergeant when it comes to choices. If I know we are going to a place that doesn’t have the best choices, I make some adjustments beforehand, like not eating any carbs or not eating any fat or sometimes just not eating!  I meet my dad for lunch a couple of times a month and the place he likes best has a salad bar, which really works for me, but I also make it a habit not to have breakfast before we go, because I know I’m going to be having more calories than usual for lunch. Most of it is veggies, protein and some fat, which is what my breakfast and lunch would be on a normal day anyway; I just lump it into one meal when I see him.

This weekend is another example of eating out with my friends: we are having a pet play date, which means I drop my dog at their place and we go to lunch (usually after the rugrats are a little worn out and ready for a break).  Lunch can be anything and we usually pick the place when we meet up; it can be sandwiches, Mexican, Italian or Asian.  It usually depends on what they have been having all week, since my eating is pretty standard these days, and this time of year, “lunch” usually includes a run by Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

“We are now entering the ‘Adjustment Zone!'”

This process is really not that different from the way it’s always been: we ask if there’s anything anyone has really been wanting (for example, my friend & I are both big fans of KFC coleslaw, which is not that bad for you- yay!) or if there’s anything anyone really wants to avoid (like having had sandwiches three days in a row), so it’s generally a consensus and most of the places we go, I can choose something healthy or make healthier substitutions.  If it is one of those notoriously bad-for-you places, my choice is either lump it or veto it, and out of consideration, they don’t choose those places very often, and when they do, I usually choose to just lump it!

It’s a whole lot harder when you live with the people who are making healthy changes! I remember times when my mom had the fridge or cabinets full of her “diet food” and I know some of my fitness friends have a really hard time when their kids or their spouse (who are not making healthy changes) bring home things like cupcakes or candy or soda or decide they want pizza or Chinese for dinner. It’s hard to get excited about salad, steamed broccoli or rotisserie chicken when everyone else is having the stuffed crust meat lovers chased down with red velvet cupcakes! “Yay, I’m making a healthy choice” feels a lot more like missing out on those occasions.  This can be a really difficult situation for a lot of families, because you (as the “fitness fan”) can either veto the pizza/ Chinese/ tempting food (if that is an option- might be outvoted!), or you can watch everyone else eat it while you have your own healthy choices, or you can lump it and just eat what everyone else is eating and there goes that day’s healthy choices out the window! (I think a recent pizza commercial calls the vetoing salad lover ‘Sally Soul Smasher’- now that’s complimentary- eye roll!) But the choice is up to you.  There are some things that I am okay with watching everyone else eat because they don’t appeal to me and then there are some things that just sit there sending “I’m so yummy” messages right to my brain! (Ironically, I’m more tempted by yogurt than cake!)

As the Supportive Family Member (SFM), you really have a lot more options than the “fitness fan.”  The Fitness Fan (FF) can either eat it or not eat it (or veto it) and they have to make that internal struggle.  The SFM can always choose to eat the foods they love outside the house, not to eat it at all or to eat it all so there’s none left to tempt anyone else.  If you know there is something your FF really loves and struggles to avoid (like chocolate), then bringing home a box of chocolate bars can really be mean.  Admittedly, most people just do it without thinking- it never crosses their minds that what they are bringing home could present a temptation to the FF! And of course, this is where the problems start! For the FF, it could feel like an attack or like the rest of the family doesn’t care or “they want me to be fat!” and this is usually not the case. For kids especially, the whole issue of “is this something I shouldn’t bring home?” never comes into their heads unless someone has a severe allergy in their family, and even then they probably only think in terms of the allergy.  When someone has never tried to make concerted efforts to change their eating habits, the idea of “good food, bad food” is really the last thing they think about.  The store had a sale on their favorite ice cream so they brought it home.  They went by the market and brought home holiday cookies, or there were boy scouts selling caramel corn outside the post office so they bought a couple of bags.  For someone who is trying to eat better, all of these foods are possible trouble, but for everyone else, it’s not a big deal.  It’s easy for us FFs to roll our eyes and say, “yeah- YOU don’t have to worry about eating the whole box/ bag/ carton!” But to paraphrase a snarky comment, “since when does YOUR lack of willpower create a problem for me?” I remember a patient on My 600 lb Life saying she wished they could just close down all the bakeries so that way she couldn’t “hit them up,” and yeah, it would be nice if all the bad-for-you food were banned or rationed by the “Food Police,” but we all know that’s not an option!  So this is where the FF has to learn to bite the bullet instead of  the cupcakes. It really is their fight and as the SFM, all you can do is offer that help and support and try not to put too much temptation in their path, especially at first.  Ultimately, the FF has to learn to say no to things that aren’t in line with their goals, but like any habit, they get better with practice.  Once they start seeing results and the cravings go away (or become more manageable at least!), then they probably won’t freak out if you bring home the Costco gallon jug of Red Vines, but the first few weeks, that would probably cause a meltdown.

Now for a few words on keeping your mouth shut and FYI:  this goes for the FF and the SFM.  As I said at the beginning of this post, nagging and pushing are not conducive to cooperation.  As the FF, keep your mouth shut about whatever anyone else is eating and/ or doing!  Telling your loved ones that eating processed foods or using Splenda or binge-watching House of Cards while sprawled on the sofa for six hours is going to kill them is guaranteed to p*ss them off!  It does not promote positive change in the slightest! (My mom still nags about Splenda! eye roll!) IF they ask you about the changes you’re making, feel free to share it, but until they do, don’t push your new habits on them!  As for the SFM, keep your mouth shut whenever the FF goes off track.  If there are donuts in the house because of company and the FF indulges, remarking “I didn’t know donuts are on your diet!” is just going to encourage failure, not success.  It creates a sense of embarrassment, failure and defeat, and hopelessness.  If the FF asks “who wants to split a donut?” please volunteer!  If they are doing great and looking healthier or any other positive changes, please tell them how proud you are of their success! Nitpicking on how much they are eating or not eating, working out or not working out, falling off the wagon occasionally: these are more likely to be interpreted as criticism, not advice or encouragement.  IF the FF is acting in a manner you really think is unhealthy (ie starving themselves, or exercising way too much so they get sick) speaking up is most definitely warranted, but other than offering encouragement and helpful supportive suggestions (ie how about broccoli instead of salad today? you had salad all week!), the fewer comments the better.

It doesn’t have to be a difficult adjustment for everyone involved when someone in the family decides to make healthier choices.  Most difficulties come in the initial transition period but once it becomes a regular routine, things usually settle down.  For the SFMs, it means being a little more considerate about bringing the Halloween candy or other treats into the house and for the FFs, it means not freaking out when faced with temptation.  There is always the option to join them in making the healthy choices.  Being a diet or workout buddy can not only help both of you improve your health, but it can also be a fun way to strengthen the relationship.  It’s an extra step that is definitely not required! One of the common mistakes the FF often makes (especially as a parent or spouse) is to try to force everyone else to join them on the fitness bandwagon.  This is pretty much a guaranteed ‘epic fail’! (See above re: ‘nagging!’) Most of the heavy lifting falls on the Fitness Fan’s shoulders; your job as a Supportive Family Member is just to lend a hand when needed!

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step~ Lao Tzu

I would call this cliche trite except for the fact that, besides being absolutely correct, this is where so many people get stuck.  They know they need to lose weight and/ or get healthier.  They’ve read the blogs and the websites and the books.  Their doctors, friends and family members have been harping about it. They want to do it.  They just don’t know how to get started!  “Do I exercise more?  Do I need to do anything before I start exercising more? What exercise should I do?  Does yoga count?  What about walking? Do I need a treadmill?  Do I have to go a certain pace?  Maybe I should try to lose weight before I start exercising? What diet should I use?”

This kind of waffling and confusion frankly reminds me of when I was a kid and we were going out to dinner as a family.  My parents would wait until we were all packed in the car and then begin asking each other: “Where do you want to go?”  “I don’t know.”  “Where do you want to go?”  “How about this place?”  “What about that other place?”  Aaaaahhhh!! JUST PICK ONE!! That’s pretty much what it comes down to: it doesn’t matter so much where you start as long as you start somewhere! None of this is carved in stone.  This is very much the journey that Lao Tzu mentions above.  I personally like to think of it as an adventure.  I know the destination, but as to how I get there, that’s pretty flexible.  If you make a wrong turn, find another way! Leaving it fairly flexible is a good thing. So maybe you try the yoga and it works out pretty good.  Fabulous!  You’ve started! Once you’ve got the yoga down, think about adding something else to the routine, like cardio or maybe changing your eating habits. Or maybe the yoga doesn’t work out for you; it’s still great! Now you can cross that off your list and try something else, like swimming or cardio or Zumba!  You are out there making choices and making progress, learning what works for you and what doesn’t! You are on your way!

Too many people either don’t know where to start and so they never start, or they go the other direction and try everything at once, get overwhelmed and give up. So many people are afraid of making a “wrong” choice, but this isn’t a test.  If you choose something that doesn’t fit for you, no one is going to dock you points and kick you out of the “getting fit” club!  Like the journey old Lao Tzu speaks of above, we have to get there one step at a time, one choice at a time.  If you choose wrong, you get a guaranteed do-over so don’t be afraid to try something new!  Choose one thing and try it out! (I don’t mean that you can’t do two or more things at once, like cutting out dairy and hitting the gym twice a week.  If you can handle multiple changes without feeling overwhelmed, then go for it!)  If it works for you, keep going and start adding to your list.  But for so many people, just knowing where to begin is overwhelming and I blame it on information overload.

Picking the Right Path (or Maybe Going Left?)

Yeah, it’s a feeble attempt at a joke, but I think this is genuinely a part of the problem.  When we decide to look at our options for getting healthier or working out, most of do one (or more) of three things: 1) we google it!; 2) we go to a bookstore/ gym/ health food store; 3) we ask our friends! I know in my case, I was honed in on google, watched all the tv shows on weight loss that I could and yelped the heck out of the local gyms.  As for friends, none of mine are into health and weight loss, and my sister goes the vegetarian route (which is not for me), so I was left out there, but this is where most people get their information.  Some of us do go to our doctors, but sadly (as I’ve mentioned in other posts) doctors do not have a lot of training in nutrition and for most of them, the Calories In- Calories Out model is what they use (also known as “Eat Less-Move More”).  This model has really come under fire lately.  So there you are, standing in the Weight Loss section of your local Barnes & Noble, looking at about a hundred different titles on losing weight, eating healthier, going Vegan, going Paleo, going Veggie, going Mediterranean, Low Glycemic Diet, Blood Sugar Solution Diet, Always Hungry? Diet, ad infinitum!  It’s hard to choose which one you want to look at, let alone which one you want to buy!  And let’s face it, you don’t have time to research all of them, so if you’re like me, you do some googling, or pull some books off the shelves and start crossing some of these off your list.

This is where most of start into uncharted waters: we need to choose a healthy weight loss/ fitness lifestyle and we need to know where to start or at least which direction to go.  This person says X, that one says X+1, and this other “guru” says avoid X altogether and go straight for Z! Who do we listen to, or do we scrap all of them and “listen to our bodies?” Ideally, listening to our bodies is the way to go, but as I recently posted, our bodies and our brains don’t communicate very well (my body used to tell me on a regular basis that it needs more Jack in the Box and tortilla chips!)  Some of us really want a detailed road map and for some of us, all we want is a push in the right direction- we’ll figure out the rest on the way, but frankly a lot of us feel lost and defeated before we ever start.  This is pretty much where I was when I just decided I’m destined to be the “fat woman” forever.  I knew where I didn’t want to go and what I didn’t want to do, but as for what I really needed, I had not a clue! (Honestly, I literally stumbled onto the right path, and I don’t want you all stumbling around in the dark, hoping for a lucky break!)

To Thine Own Self Be True

Polonius was an old blowhard (it’s a Hamlet quote again-sorry!) but in this case, the old windbag was exactly right.  My mom spent a great deal of my adult life throwing the newest fad diet books at me; I was always coming home and finding them hanging on my doorknob and “s/he really knows what s/he’s talking about!”  These books were how I knew what not to do and what I didn’t want. Many of them involve eating special foods or using special “enzymes/ powders,” following some regimented exercise and eating plan, and this is where the above advice chimes in: is this something you want to do? or like to do?  and are likely to do for a prolonged period without problems?  My answer:most definitely not! I don’t like having to make anything complex, something where I’m always checking my calendar “do I start phase 2 today or tomorrow?- ah, damn it was yesterday!”, something that requires me going to a special store to get the “miracle enzyme” (eye roll). Nope, even if I started it and I really really wanted it (believe me, I did), I know me pretty good and I am ultimately a lazy bum with a lot of things, and this one will start slipping away pretty quick and then I’ll be right back where I was to start with, only without all the money I spent on the miracle enzyme and none of the benefits left!  If it’s not something simple, easy to follow and easy to shop for, forget it- because I won’t do it! I’ll eventually mess something up (like most people) and then I’m off track and I may even have to start all over again!  None of these are conducive to success!

When I considered “going Paleo,” I approached it the way I approached all of the “fad diets” I’d been given by my mom: I poked it with a stick to see if it bit me!  It’s a metaphor, but it’s one that works! I didn’t want to invest time and money in another money pit that wasn’t going to work for me.  It had the general simplicity that I liked: no regimented schedules and really no “weird/ miracle” foods.  Most of the books and websites on Paleo I looked at all had the lists of foods that are Paleo, the ones that aren’t, the gray areas (Paleo v Primal, etc ) and most offered the same advice when it came to transitioning to Paleo.  There were a couple that offered the “30 day reset” mentality, but most of them suggested just begin by eliminating one or two non-Paleo foods at a time and keep adding to the list.  It’s a slow and simple transition: stop eating one food that isn’t Paleo (like bread) and add in something that is (like cauliflower).  It wasn’t drastic and it allowed for gradual changes but with gradual progress, so even if I wasn’t “completely Paleo,” I was still going forward and still noticing positive changes that were very encouraging! The biggest and most difficult factor in this decision was taking a good long look at the list of “forbidden foods” and asking myself, in all seriousness, if these were foods I could give up for good.  These are foods like bread, cereal, grain-products, most legumes (including peanuts), sugars and some other foods. For me the biggest hurdle is the grain products. (Dairy is one of the gray areas.) I love breads and pastas and crackers/ chips probably more than sugar.  Actually, they are much yummier with sugar and dairy added to them!  (Waffles with butter and syrup- yay!!) Give me a choice between bagels and bacon & eggs for breakfast, I’ll take the bagel every time. Or oatmeal.  Or pancakes. Or just plain toast.  I was a confirmed carboholic, and the more processed and refined the carbs, the yummier they are.  I can’t tell you how many nights my dinner was a bag of chips and salsa with cheese.  So looking at a list of foods that were my undoubted favorites, not to mention basic staples of what I ate almost every day, it was a big question for me: can I really give these up on a long term basis (code for “the rest of my life”)? Of course, if I ate them once in a while, I wasn’t going to get kicked out of the tribe or banned from any website.  In fact, a lot of websites advocated the 80-20 rule (you eat Paleo 80% of the time). (Personally, I don’t think it works for me, but that’s my choice and I’m happy with that!)

It might seem like it’s a silly meaningless question for someone who’s never tried to lose weight, but it is actually a very serious question.  This is the question most people don’t ask themselves when they start on a crash diet or when they decide they are giving up a particular food or going to hit the gym/ work out five days a week: “Is this behavior something I can do long term?” This is why most of these fad/ crash diets/ exercise programs fail: it’s hard to stick with extreme behavior on a long term basis.  (This is also why those tv show contestants gain it all back!) If it’s not something you enjoy doing, there is no impetus to keep it going.  Even if you do lose weight or get stronger, if it’s just too hard, you are tempted every day every time to skip it “just this once” which turns into more and more often until you are totally off track and back to where you started.

This is why I ignored the diet books my mother kept giving me: I knew none of the programs was sustainable for me, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake with any “program” I started, because they would be just as ineffective.  This is where you have to come face to face with yourself when you consider what course you are going to take to get you to your goals: is this something I can do for the long haul? Whatever diet/ exercise program you choose, this is the first question you need to ask yourself, because this will ultimately determine your success.  If you cannot be consistent and make long term lifestyle changes, whatever progress you make will be short-lived.  My mom, for all her “dieting expertise,” was almost always following one diet program or another and none of them involved long term lifestyle changes: they were all “eat our food, lose weight and feel great!” Until she stopped eating their food and gained the weight back.  Or they were “follow this schedule with these smoothies” until she got off schedule and the weight came back.  If you decide to go Atkins, South Beach, Zone, or whatever you decide, you need to be consistent!  If you hate it, or don’t feel good on it, then it doesn’t work for you!  If you have to force yourself to eat what’s on your plate, it probably is not the food for you.  I know one of my biggest problems with Paleo is that most of the cookbooks and websites were full of egg recipes. Ugh!! If you were to ask me the one food that I hate more than any other, it would be egg yolks, hands-down!  (I used to make egg salad sandwiches in college and my Yorkie always got the yolks- it was more eggwhite salad sandwiches!) The chefs would give advice like “leave the yolk a little creamy so it can blend with the rest of the salad/ veggies/ whatever” and I’d want to throw up- seriously! So for probably the first year I did Paleo, I made all the recipes with egg whites and egg substitutes.  Eventually, I got around to eating real eggs (still yuck) but I cook the yolks extra hard and kill the taste with hot sauce.  My dog likes them a whole lot better than the egg whites (he likes a runny yolk)! But if I could not find a work-around for the eggs, Paleo might have been something that I had to give up because I really can’t eat eggs every day.  For example, my sister is vegetarian and she really likes tofu.  I can’t stand the stuff (luckily, soy is not Paleo) so this was not a good choice for me when I tried it back in college.  Between not eating meat and not eating tofu, I actually became anemic. Not good for health or consistency!

Commitmentphobia

Most of us want to be healthier, whether it means losing weight and/ or being more active, and the health/ weight loss industry feeds on our confusion.  There are trainers and experts out there who will tell you the truth: if this isn’t something you can do consistently, DON’T DO IT!  There are also a lot who just want your money and don’t care if you are successful or not.  Part of the problem is obviously us:  too many of us pick a diet or exercise program the way we pick out a new shirt or shoes: we look at it a little bit, try it on, bring it home and it sits there in the closet because it “doesn’t fit like it did in the store.”  We need to treat it more like we are buying a car or a house: the investment is comparable because this will be something we are living with for a very long time! You can’t put your car, your house or your health in the donation box for Goodwill at the end of the year! Gym owners love the New Year when everyone signs up to make good on their resolutions, but come March and April, the crowd has really thinned out as “real life” starts getting in the way: it’s not convenient; there’s too much going on; it’s not fun anymore.  This is why you have to make the commitment to be consistent.  This is also why I was b*tching at myself last week- I was blowing off half my workouts and avoiding the gym! (The new Monday night trainer isn’t fun- waah waah…) I know what I need to do but I just wasn’t doing it, and this is where I had the ‘come-to-Jesus’ talk with myself about what really matters to me.

I matter to me.  More importantly, (since I don’t have kids) I matter to my pets! Who do you matter to?  When I was 438 lbs, I was no fun at all for me, my family and friends, and my pets.  I sat in my recliner because my knees hurt, my back hurt and I got so tired just trying to walk anywhere.  I slept a lot because it hurt to do anything and taking the pup to the park or for a walk or even to play in the yard was a major undertaking for me! My inability to move ruined my trip to Disneyland and ruined a lot of my life.  Once I started losing weight and was able to move without pain (and breathing hard from exertion), it was a big incentive to me to stay committed to my goals.  I may never be a size 10 but it’s important to me to stay active and keep working to my goals.  I just plain feel better!  I know there are people out there who think “the hell with the dog/ pets,” but as much as he likes doing things with me, I like doing things with him! It’s important to me! That’s why I stay committed to eating what’s healthy for me and being active.  Yeah, tortilla chips, Jack in the Box and peanut butter cups are good, but they are not as good as playing ball with my dog or taking a tour with my sister around Long Beach or just shopping all day all over the outlets with my friends! These are things that matter to me and my quality of life.  These are the reasons I stay committed to my weight loss, however grumpy it makes me.  Whatever the reasons you have for becoming a healthier you, you need to commit to them and to you!  You are the one living in that body and if it hurts or is awkward, you are the one who has to deal with it. Some people post their reasons for getting healthy where they can see them every day; some keep them in their pocket or their purse;  mine sit on my lap and sleep on my bed.  They might not have been the reasons I actually started but they are the reasons I do it every day.  This can be a great adventure and I intend to enjoy every moment of it (even if the Monday night trainer isn’t fun!)

 

When It’s Not Okay to be “Okay”

A very very long time ago there was a popular book entitled I’m OK, You’re OK.  I didn’t read it (I was actually a toddler back then), but from what I understand it was one of those self-help psych books about how to work through life’s problems and situations. Generally, I think it’s okay to accept people’s differences and to accept the different situations life has handed you.  Obviously, there are some things you can change and some things you can’t and the challenges come when you’re faced with something you (or someone else) can change, but you’re not sure how to make it happen.

What’s really started to get under my skin lately is the idea that “everything is okay.”  You really overate today and most of it was stuff you’re trying to avoid- “that’s okay! It’s one day! You’ll do better tomorrow!”  You’ve blown off your workouts for the last week because you just didn’t feel like going- “that’s okay! Everyone needs a break! You can get back to it tomorrow!” You’ve been stressing out over work/ family/ whatever and not sleeping well and staying up late- “that’s okay! We all have problems and we need to learn to deal with them!”  NO, THIS IS NOT OKAY!! NONE OF THIS IS “OKAY”!!

Yeah, I know: I probably sound like a crabby b*tch right now. Actually, I’m usually a little torn in situations like those above.  On one hand, I don’t want to be unsupportive and tell someone that they really blew it and need to toughen up; but on the other hand, I don’t want to condone (or encourage) “bad” behavior.  A lot of times it feels like a choice between condoning their lack of effort or being the b*tch, so I usually try to find a middle ground: “yes, today was a disaster with the poor food choices and/ or lack of exercise, but you need to try harder to find out why you made the choices you did.”

I was listening to a podcast today, and one of the hosts was telling a listener that “it’s okay” to be unhappy with her weight and “it’s okay” to struggle with her body image and “it’s okay not to be okay.”  WHAT THE HECK DOES THAT MEAN?  I think we have become too okay with everything being “okay!” At some point someone has to stand up and say no, this behavior/ attitude/ whatever is NOT okay. It’s not okay to make poor food choices day after day and tell yourself that you don’t do this “all the time” and you’ll do better next time.  It’s not okay to blow off your workouts half the time and tell yourself it’s because of the stress or the crappy traffic or you’re just “not feeling it.”  It’s not okay to stay up late half the week because it’s “a special tv show” or you’ve got “a lot to get done.”  It’s not okay to hit snooze over and over again each morning because “it’s cold, you’re tired, you don’t want to get up, you can get five more minutes.”  Yes, I’m being b*tchy, and I’m being b*tchy at me!  These are my examples of bad behavior for the last couple of weeks at least: too many “treats,” slacking off on activity and exercise, staying up late and lagging in bed in the morning.  None of this is okay: it’s not moving me towards my goals or teaching me any consistency.  Telling me “it’s okay” is giving me free rein to act badly! This is where I tell myself what I said earlier: “You screwed it up today and you need to look at why you did that so the next time this situation comes up, you have your counterargument ready!”

You had a doughnut: It was a really crappy week and I wanted to do something nice for me so I got my favorite doughnut (and it was really really good too!) Counterargument: That “yummy” doughnut spiked your sugar, made you hungry later and had the same calories as a salad or a piece of chicken but no nutrition, and that’s “something nice for you?”

You blew off your workout (again): I really didn’t feel like rushing to the gym and changing really quick so I could make it to the class on time and I really hate to be late! Counterargument: So instead of being late, you missed class entirely! You didn’t replace that activity with something else and so instead of feeling accomplished and energized, you feel guilty and like the slacker you are, and you didn’t even do anything productive instead!

You repeatedly hit snooze in the morning: I really hate getting up.  It’s cold and it’s still dark and I don’t need to get gas/ coffee/ drop laundry.  Counterargument: So instead of getting up with enough time to make it to work without worrying about traffic and having a few extra minutes to get settled/ make more coffee, you’re lying in bed whining? And if the freeway is a parking lot (again), you’re just going to be late? Remember how much you hate being late? Is that few extra minutes (half hour) worth stressing over being late?

Obviously I’m talking to myself here; I would never be so harsh to someone asking for help or advice, but the bottom line is that when we make excuses for ourselves or for others, letting them off the hook with “it’s okay,” we are giving them a pass to stay the unhealthy course they (or we) are trying to change.  It is okay to be human and not be perfect; expecting perfection is unrealistic, but we have to acknowledge that we are moving towards a goal of consistency and overall improvement.  If we don’t keep moving, we stagnate in complacency and we go nowhere! I spent too many years of my life being “okay” with my body weight and my  living fat default lifestyle, and much as I’d like to say I went nowhere, I did make progress- for the worse!  My health continued to deteriorate, my life was miserable and I hit 438 lbs.  But it was all “okay” because I was “doing the best I can.” HAH!! If I’d worked at it, I could have done better and made small improvements that wouldn’t overwhelm me but would ultimately lead to overall better health and lifestyle choices. But I didn’t do that because everything was “okay,” until it wasn’t. What happened was a major life event resulting in months of depression and recovery.  Definitely not fun.  Definitely not okay.

It’s those little changes that we need to focus on and these are the things that get overlooked when we tell people it’s okay to have a treat once in a while, or blow off your workouts, or whatever the poor choice was.  Scolding someone for eating a doughnut or a hot dog or whatever probably isn’t going to help them make better choices: it’s just going to make them feel guilty and/ or like a failure.  I was on the receiving end of a lot of those lectures from my mother for most of my life and the one thing I did learn from all of them is how spectacularly ineffective they are.  I feel for me personally change comes from finding out why I made the choice that I made. The “snooze button battle” is a good example of a change I’m struggling with right now.  I really really hate getting up early and every night I tell myself I’m not hitting snooze and every morning I hit the button again.  (Aaargh!!) Arguing with myself has been as marvelously effective as my mother’s lectures.  Going to bed earlier has not been effective either.  Lagging is bed is not okay because of the traffic delays and the before-work errands that I need to do that can’t be done at another time (usually gas & laundry), so reminding myself that there is a reason I need to get up at a certain time is not as effective as I would like it to be.  I may just have to be “the b*tch” and make myself do it, but telling myself that this counterproductive behavior is “okay” is not helping me be more consistent or productive but it is causing stress due to tighter time constraints at a time of day when I’m already not my best.  It really is not okay for me to continue doing this. Accepting this behavior just lets the problem drag on being a problem!

Some of you know I watch a lot of TLC, including My Big Fat Fabulous Life with Whitney Thore.  Whitney weighs about 370 lbs and she’s “okay with being fat.” In the season 3 finale, she said she had accepted that she would probably be fat all her life, and I was so sorry to hear that.  I don’t think everyone needs to be skinny, but I remember making a similar decision when I weighed in the same neighborhood.  I realized, almost at the same moment I made the decision, that I wasn’t “accepting” anything- I was giving up, and more, I was giving myself a free pass to eat whatever I wanted as much as I wanted and to never have to think about exercising again.  I was “the fat woman” and it was okay! Except that it wasn’t. It’s a little ironic, because the fighter in me realized in that same moment that I had given up and she refused to accept it!  As soon as I realized I’d given up, the fighter in me said, “oh, hell, no!” and kept on fighting.  I gave up on giving up.  It is NOT okay to accept defeat without a fight.  Yes, there are some things you will never be able to change, but there are almost always ways to make improvements! Yes, I blew off workouts and ate doughnuts and have been staying up too late- but I can change those things!  Yes, I weighed 438 lbs, had horribly painful knees and stress induced asthma and panic attacks- but I changed those! Yes, I still weigh 275 lbs and I have loose saggy skin on most of my body- I am changing those things!  I can acknowledge that I screwed up without judging myself or shaming myself or beating myself up.  People stumble, they fall, and they get up and do better! Telling them it’s okay to stumble and fall is acknowledging that they’re human, but telling them it’s okay not to get up and do better is most definitely NOT okay!

Miscommunication: Not Understanding What Your Body is Telling You

One of the things I hear a lot of in My 600 lb Life is “I can’t exercise more because it hurts!” As easy as it would be to dismiss these patients being quitters or lazy or “insert negative comment here,” this one is actually something that makes sense.  Pain is our body’s way of telling us that whatever you’re doing is not a good thing.  It seems pretty obvious: you touch a hot pan, it hurts and you let go; you try lifting something that’s way too heavy, your back hurts, you put it down.  It seems pretty straightforward.  Even my workout instructors tell me “if it hurts, stop immediately,” but then there’s usually her little caveat: “discomfort is okay but pain is not.”  Discomfort??  Okay, so how do we tell the difference between pain and discomfort??

This is the key to the miscommunication with pain.  If you’ve been sitting on a plane (or car) for three hours straight and you finally arrive, you are going to be a little stiff getting up and walking.  (There is a pretty interesting explanation for this but it’s a whole different blog post!) Stiffness is pretty obviously discomfort, but when these patients tell Dr. Nowzaradan that it hurts to walk and they can’t walk because their knees/ legs hurt, they are honestly reporting the truth.  They are listening to their bodies but they are not understanding what their bodies are telling them.  What they are actually interpreting as pain is actually discomfort in most cases.  There are patients who do have knee damage (due to their weight usually but sometimes other reasons) and they need to have their joints replaced or repaired, but most of them are simply feeling the effects of being immobile for so long, like when you’ve been stuck in that car for 3 hours- only magnify it by several years!  Joints and muscles and tendons and other structural parts used to move the body have essentially rusted into position. Like any tool, the more you use it, the easier it is to use.  It’s used to moving and being flexible, but since these patients move as little as possible, their joints are used to disuse and any motion often feels like pain to them.  If you are normally a mobile person who has been stuck in a tiny plane seat for several hours, you know when you get up, you are going to be a little stiff.  If you play basketball for three hours straight, running and jumping up and down the court, you know your muscles are going to be sore afterwards.  This is normal and you know it’s discomfort and not pain because you are a mobile individual.  These patients are not normal mobile people.  For example, I recently had two workouts back to back which really concentrated on my upper arms and shoulders.  The muscles got really tired during the first workout and the next morning they were a little sore.  I didn’t think I’d hurt myself or that I was in pain because I knew it was from the workout; I was a little leery of working them out again that evening because I knew they would be very sore later on, but I didn’t think I was going to hurt myself. I’m definitely not a fit or athletic individual, but I move as much as I can. I knew I was feeling discomfort from having worked them hard when they are not used to it.  (If anything those two workouts convinced me that I definitely need to work on my upper arms more often!)

Dr. Now usually tells his patients that the more they move, the less they will hurt and many of them are surprised to find out this is the truth.  I know this is true for my arthritic knees; for me there is a sweet spot between moving them the way they need to be moved, moving them too much and causing actual pain and not moving them enough so they end up frozen.  This is an actual danger with my knees: immobility breeds immobility.  If I don’t use it, I’ll lose it- truly!  I had been using a treadmill, but while walking is good, the impact on my knees was causing pain and more damage, hence the water aerobics I do now.  Still lots of motion and use but much less impact.  In fact, many of Dr. Now’s patients end up in the pool in water aerobics.

This is one of the ways we misunderstand what our bodies are telling us.  For many of us who are getting back to being mobile, or starting different kinds of workouts for different muscle groups, it really is a tough call distinguishing between discomfort and pain.  I know in my case, I was mistaking the painful knees from the treadmill as just discomfort and one of the reasons I saw my doctor is “why isn’t it going away?  Am I doing something wrong?” (Yeah!! Hello!!) But sometimes this is what we have to do: if the “discomfort” isn’t going away or is getting worse, maybe it really is pain and you should see your doctor.  You need to find your dividing line between the two.

One of the most common miscommunications between our bodies and our brains is when we are “hungry.”  You would think this would be another easy lob, but it’s not.  (When you get right down to it, it’s a wonder we understand anything our bodies are telling us!) Most of us feel “hungry” for a variety of reasons:1) we really are hungry because our bodies need fuel;2) we smell food and our digestive tract starts preparing to digest it by secreting saliva and stomach acid, resulting in the feeling of hunger; 3) we’re actually thirsty but our brain is interpreting it as hunger; 4) our stomach/ body is used to being fed at a particular time and so it’s “preparing to be fed,” like when you end up eating a meal hours later than usual; 5) if you ate something with a lot of refined/ simple carbs and/ or sugar, once your blood sugar drops, sometimes lower than before you ate, so your body will usually signal that it wants to raise your blood sugar again, usually about 2 hours after you ate the carb-heavy food. This is where we need to decode the message our body is sending us.  For me, once I feel hungry or my stomach starts growling, I start asking myself questions: a) (if I’m at the office) did my cubicle neighbor just sit down with his lunch/ snack and am I reacting the aroma of his food? (usually YES!!); b) is it 10:30-11:00? This is when I tend to get coffee and I add a little cream, so my stomach is probably letting me know it’s expecting coffee (the same thing happens between 3:30-4:00 when I get something to drink on my way home); c) is it “lunchtime”?  I usually have breakfast around 7:00 a.m. , so by noon, it’s been about 5 hours since I ate & it could be a real request for fuel; d) did I eat a lot of carbs and not a lot of protein/ fat, so my body is reacting to the low blood sugar?  If that’s the case, I definitely ignore the hunger or I eat something high protein; e) have I had anything to drink other than the coffee at breakfast? If not, I have some water and wait a while to see if I’m still hungry.

This might sound like too much work for a simple growling stomach, but for me, one of my problems when I was living my fat default lifestyle was that I always felt hungry and I was always confused about should I eat or should I not.  I found out later it was because I was doing a lot of the “low fat- high carb” FDA approved (FEDERAL DISASTER ADVICE in my humble opinion!) dietary suggestions.  I was not getting any kind of fat (good or bad) as a fuel source in my diet and was eating a lot of the refined grain products (those simple carbs mentioned above) so my blood sugar kept spiking and tanking and my body was trying to keep it even, so eat carbs-get hungry-eat more carbs-get hungry again and the result was I gained weight and had constant blood sugar issues and fatigue. (Thanks, FDA!!)  Now when I feel hungry, I run through my little list, determine what the “hunger” message actually is as best I can and try to react appropriately.

One of the other ways our bodies talk to us is with food sensitivities and inflammation.  This is linked to a whole plethora of possible problems depending on how long the inflammation and sensitivities have been going on.  This is the biggest and most difficult problem of all to solve.  Doctors are discovering that inflammation is usually linked to a lot of autoimmune disorders, including things like rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fibromyalgia and thyroid dysfunction, among others.  Usually it begins with leaky gut/ intestinal permeability.  The foods we ingest are absorbed in our small intestine.  If the lining of the small intestine becomes inflamed, undigested foods and other irritants can slip through the lining and end up in our blood stream, but since they haven’t been properly “absorbed,” our immune system treats them like invaders and over time, our immune system becomes hyper-reactive and starts attacking things it shouldn’t be attacking.  What’s worse is that some of the invaders it might be attacking look very similar to hormones or tissue that belong in our body and it starts attacking them.  This is very common in people who are sensitive to gluten: the protein that causes problems in gluten (gliaden) looks very similar in molecular structure to our thyroid hormones and eventually, the immune system can end up attacking your thyroid, ultimately causing problems there.

The problem with food sensitivities and inflammation of your small intestine is that you don’t usually feel that inflammation.  It doesn’t give you a stomachache or cramps or abdominal pain (usually). It manifests in other ways: usually something not related to your bowels becomes inflamed.  I know in my case, my knees were causing me pain and I wasn’t doing anything different activity-wise.  I was doing my regular water aerobics, walking the same amount of steps, not taking stairs, so I was a little confused.  Then, I remembered that I had started taking fish oil supplements again.  There have been recent reports that since fish oil supplements (Omega-3 fatty acids) aren’t well regulated, some of the supplements on the market are actually rancid, which creates the inflammation they are supposed to suppress.  I stopped taking them for two weeks, my knees got better; I started them up again, and within a week, my knees were hurting again.  I stopped and threw them out and no more knee pain.  If I hadn’t heard those reports, I would probably still be taking the fish oil, still having painful knees and probably just be thinking it’s my arthritis.

This is where a lot of people are: they have something that hurts and they don’t know it’s something they ate.  In some cases, it’s pretty easy to notice: every time you eat dairy and you have gas and cramping and diarrhea.  My sister is sensitive to cherries: she eats them and she starts coughing usually within a few minutes. But most things are like my fish oil.  There’s no direct link between me taking my fish oil every morning or evening and my knees hurting all day.  Even worse, unless the reaction is something serious or extremely disruptive, we don’t go see the doctor to see if we do have a food sensitivity.  This situation is compounded by the regular and continued irritation of the small bowel.  We all know what happens if you have a cut that goes not only untreated, but is continually aggravated.  You cut your hand and don’t clean it or put a bandage on it and every day, you use your hand, re-opening the wound and getting it dirty and still don’t treat it.  It becomes infected and only once it’s a real problem do you seek treatment for it.  The problem with that scenario is by then it is a major health issue, which in the case of leaky gut can be a thyroid condition or an autoimmune disorder

I’m not telling you to run to the doctor to take a food sensitivity test.  You have to be the judge of your own health situation.  If you aren’t having any problems or something that you think might be a problem, then there’s no need to worry.  You can do your own little experiment if you want by simply eliminating some of the common food allergens out of your diet for two to four weeks (unfortunately it has to be a complete elimination- code for “no cheating!”) and see if you notice any changes.  If you feel better or something does change, add one thing back for a couple weeks and see if you feel any different.  If your headaches or whatever symptom comes back, you are probably sensitive to whatever you added back.  Make a note, eliminate it again (like my fish oil experiment) and move forward with another one.  Some of the most common allergens are gluten (wheat), dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes (including peanuts), caffeine, corn, and  GMOs (genetically modified foods/ organisms).  This is not comprehensive list, so if you want to try this, try googling common food allergens.  A lot of times people who are sensitive to gluten are sensitive to other foods that have similar-looking proteins, like in corn and dairy, so if you are sensitive to gluten, you may have to give up those as well.  Sometimes, after you have stopped the constant irritation of your intestinal lining and your immune system calms down, you can go back to eating these foods (maybe the dairy and corn but not the gluten), and other times you can’t.  You need to decide what is best for you.  In my case, I’m a little lactose intolerant,(yeah, totally not fudging there -eye roll!) and when I went Paleo I stopped eating any dairy months (even the cream in my coffee- which nearly killed me!) and eventually, months later, I found I could have small amounts of it, but when I had more than a few ounces every day, I started feeling the effects again.  I know that I really should eliminate it entirely, but what can I say? I like living dangerously! (And it may come back to bite me in the end!)

I’m doing the best I can to decode my body’s messages to me.  Some of them are still pretty mysterious and I have no idea what it’s trying to tell me, but I’m still trying! The only way we really know if we’re doing what’s right for us and our health is to listen to our body.  It’d be a whole lot easier if it spoke in a language we can easily understand, but it’s doing the best it can.  The least we can do it is listen and not ignore the signals it’s sending us!