Guilt By Association

“Dime con quién andas y te dire quién eres” (tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are).  It’s a Mexican saying that I think holds value, mainly since every culture has an expression conveying the same idea.  One of the ones I heard recently that’s less than flattering: “if you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.” It’s the same idea: who you hang with influences who you are.  Put simply: it’s peer pressure.  It goes back to the very heart of our species- we are essentially social creatures, whether it’s family bands or tribal or national.  We have ways of bonding with our chosen social group either through language, behavior, or other customs.  Standing out can be a way of choosing to disassociate ourselves, which can lead to us becoming separated from the group, either through our choice or theirs.  We learn it early in life: belonging is good.  Case in point: my uncle was driving home with his grandson, still a toddler in his carseat.  It was Easter and his grandson had a bag of jelly beans and was spitting out the pink ones.  Why? my uncle asked.  Because they’re girl jelly beans! He was only about three years old but he already knew what was associated with girls and he was not a girl, so they didn’t belong with him.

This idea of belonging to or being different from others in a group is reinforced throughout our lives.  As teens, we tend to wear our identities on our sleeves so to speak.  Athletes, musicians, rebels: whoever we are, we dress accordingly.  This is why many organizations and professions wear uniforms, even if they are not as regulated as those for the military.  When was the last time you walked into a legal office or a doctor’s office and saw your attorney in a t shirt, flip-flops and board shorts? Or your doctor for that matter?

The clothes are just one manifestation of how our associations affect our behavior and it’s why peer pressure is so effective and so dangerous.  If everyone else is drinking at the party, we feel the overwhelming pressure to drink as well, even if we don’t like it.  The pressure to be different is intense.  If you think I’m overstating this (or it’s just plain nonsense), ask any teen you know about peer pressure.  Being different can feel like being a man/ woman without a country! Everyone else is eating dessert at the restaurant and you choose not to have any- don’t even taste it!  “What’s up with you?”  It happened to me just the other night: I was out to dinner with my mom and took part of my meal home.  “You hardly ate anything!” Hah! I know what I ate and it was plenty! There’s a big box of the best in town pastries in the break room (thanks to the generous client) and everyone is having some.  “Is she allergic to gluten or something?” Even if they don’t pressure you to eat/ drink what they are, you still somehow end up feeling like you are different.  Recently, I was at a festival with a friend of mine and our meal came with a great big chunk of bread.  I left mine there and after a couple of minutes of confusion it dawned on my friend: “you don’t eat bread anymore!”  She didn’t mean to draw attention to my dietary changes, but it still was a little uncomfortable. Bread is not that big a deal, nor is my leaving it there, but there I was, being different!

Generally, we tend to go with the flow simply because it’s easier.  You are out with your friends and they order a slice of cheesecake with three forks, so a bite or two isn’t the end of the world! Even if you didn’t want any cheesecake at all? You are watching the game and your friend hands you a beer, even though you planned on not drinking, so you just make that one last all day. Those are better choices than eating the whole dessert or having multiple beers, but it’s still more than what you planned on having.  What do you do?  “No thanks, I’m too full!” That’s always an option, but sometimes with peer pressure, it only stokes the fire.

Of course, it works for the positive also!  If everyone else is going to the gym, don’t you feel the pressure to hit the gym as well? I know I feel it on MFP: all my fitness friends are posting their workouts and where’s mine? Well, I didn’t really make it to the gym today…..  Even though they don’t actually ask me about my workout, the fact that they are posting puts pressure on me to be more active.  I feel the need to join in and participate!  This is actually one of the reasons people seek out diet buddies; workout buddies, and the oh-so-cutesy: “accountabilibuddy.”  It works! If you are meeting someone at the gym twice a week and you decide to blow it off, you need to explain it to him/ her.  “Sorry- not going to make it today! Got too much to do!” Repeatedly blowing off the workout is going to get some questions: “hey, man, I thought you were serious about this!”  Now, you need to explain yourself.  You can blah blah excuse whatever to yourself but is your friend going to buy it? Probably not and after awhile, s/he’s not going to be meeting you anymore!

Experts and gurus like to point out that “being overweight is contagious!” If we hang out with “fat people,” we end up fat ourselves! One more reason not to be friends with the fat guy/ girl at the office! Yes, there is a correlation: our friends’ habits tend to rub off on us, but our habits tend to rub off on them too!  In my group of friends, I am now and have always been the biggest of us.  I was overweight when I made friends with them and even though I’ve lost a lot of weight, I still weigh more than they do (and this includes the husbands- yay????) I haven’t gotten fatter by being with them, and while they haven’t gotten fitter by being around me, they are now enjoying their little Fitbit trackers.  The point is that you don’t have to change your entire circle of friends if you want to be healthier or fitter.  If your friends don’t want to jog/ walk/ exercise with you, find some others who will! A few months ago I started taking the classes at my gym and now I see the same group each time I go and we chat and encourage each other.  I joined My Fitness Pal and have friends there that I chat with (it’s like Facebook for fitness/ nutrition).  You don’t have to dump your cheesecake and coffee loving friends; you just have to expand your circle. You also don’t have to eat what they eat: your real friends aren’t going to get in your face about not eating/ drinking what they do.  In fact, I met some of my friends over this past weekend and there was a bit of a delay.  When we did manage to meet, they both knew that I had already been by the coffee shop but they hadn’t and wanted to know if I just wanted to run some errands while they got coffee.  I went with them for coffee: they had some and I didn’t.  It wasn’t a big deal and I wasn’t sitting there feeling deprived over “not having more lattes.” We sat and chatted and waited for our other friend who was on her way.  We had a fun afternoon just the same.  My not having a second cup of coffee wasn’t a big deal: we were there to chat with each other and the coffee, even for them, wasn’t the point.

Experts and ‘those in the know’ are always quick to point out the short-cuts on how to lose weight or be healthier, but really there are none.  There are ways to make it more enjoyable or easier, like gym buddies or diet buddies (I now have more Fitbit friends) but really the heavy lifting is down to you (pun kinda intended). You are the one who needs to go out of your way to make the healthier changes life-long habits.  These may or may not include your present circle of friends.  It may be that you need to make new friends who share your same goals: yowza! that’s a pain in the butt! (sarcasm there!)  If your friends are anything like mine, there will be things you have in common and things you don’t.  One of my friends is a great gardener, another likes to decorate cakes, one is a gourmet and another is a Broadway fan.  I’m not a fan of any of those, but we all have things in common that we enjoy.  My thing now is fitness, and none of them are really into it, so now I have new fitness friends I can share it with.  It is easier when you have friends that you share things with, but really, your friend isn’t going to make you work out or make you say no to the cheesecake and peppermint mocha.  They are going to respect whatever decision you make.  You are the one who makes the decisions: your success does not depend on them, nor can you blame them for your failures (although sometimes, it would be nice!)  So, be a mensch and sit next to the fat guy/ girl at the office holiday party- you aren’t going to catch anything!

 

Watch Out for the Free Range Twinkies!

In light of the upcoming holidays and all the goodies that will be available to munch on and share, I thought this would be a timely warning as well as a little bit of humor.  It’s almost time for those annual make-them-and-break-them New Year’s Resolutions, so we can add this to the list of things we want to get done in 2017!

One of the newest podcasts I’ve been listening to is Alan Misner’s 40+ Fitness.  (Yep, I fit that demographic! Yikes!) It was episode 181 with Jeff Scot Philips, author of Big Fat Food Fraud and it was an enlightening look at the health food industry. Years ago, I read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and it was a long time before I could even look at a fast food restaurant! Unfortunately, I got over that, but I do eat much less of it now than I did before. (FYI: the book is way more informative than the movie- not really about the book, I think!) I am ordering Mr. Philips’ book: I think it will be a great complement to Schlosser’s fast food exposé.

Of the many shocking topics discussed on this podcast, the one I found most frustrating was the fact that food labels lie to us.  The manufacturer designs the labels and lists the ingredients and there is no agency (according to what I heard in the podcast) that regulates the accuracy of the ingredients list.  This is the label that we consumers RELY ON to decide if this is something we want to consume! Mr. Philips made the comment that a lot of consumers are trying to avoid MSG (monosodium glutamate) and so instead of putting it on the label as MSG, they call it something else (like “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”) put that on instead.  Joe Consumer comes along, reads the label: “cool! no MSG!” and buys it.  Except that he is getting MSG because the label lied to him.

Labels are designed for marketing, as Mr. Philips pointed out.  Cereals always say they are low-fat, because they want you to focus on that instead of the fact that they usually have a lot of sugar in them.  Alan Misner made a joke about “free range Twinkies” because it’s accurate: the Twinkies haven’t been caged up.  It’s silly, but it’s also like pointing out that your milk is gluten-free or that your cabbage was raised on an all-vegetarian diet.  Really?!  Yes, these are silly but they are not that much of a stretch from what manufacturers really do put on the labels.  They are designed to catch your attention and, like the magician on stage, divert your attention from what they are actually doing and getting you to focus on what they want you to see.  Yes, chocolate bars are gluten free, but they are full of sugar.  Yes, the pasta is low-fat, but it’s full of starch (essentially sugar once it hits your GI tract).  The same is true for the pasta sauce: they might point out that it’s got healthy olive oil, but it also has a lot of corn syrup (more sugar).

One of the other ways manufacturers fudge the labels is by changing the portion size. If they want to lower the calories per serving (Less than 300 calories per serving!), they make the servings smaller.  Instead of 12 ounces of juice, it’s 8 ounces.  I noticed it when the yogurt containers went from 8 oz to 6 oz to 5.3 oz.  Calories per serving dropped as low as 120, but then it’s almost three ounces less yogurt.  The amount of “sugar” also dropped.

I was really not surprised that manufacturers change the names of the ingredients to shy away from putting a hot button food ‘bad guy’ on the label.  (The latest is high fructose corn syrup.)  I’ve had friends with allergies who carefully peruse labels for their allergens and all the ways it can be hidden on a label.  The yogurt is another good example.  My dog likes it and when I buy it, I usually give him a little, but the artificial sweeteners aren’t good for dogs (like sugar alcohols, aspartame and sucralose) so I was checking the label to see if it had any.  I was initially looking for those products and not finding them, I noticed I didn’t see “sugar.”  What I did see was “evaporated cane juice”- sugar.

The practice of re-packaging the truth is particularly distressing when it comes to transfats.  As the host Alan pointed out on the podcast, transfats are man-made fats that your body cannot expel.  Once you eat them, they are stuck in your body FOREVER.  Every transfat you’ve ever eaten is still in your body, and now that the government has realized they are unhealthy, they are getting manufacturers away from them.  Once the amount of transfat is less than one gram per serving (<0), the manufacturer is allowed to say it has “No Transfats!” but what they may not point out to you is that the package of whatever you are looking at contains 4 servings, so you could be getting almost 4 grams of transfats if you consume the entire package.

Whenever you buy something packaged you are taking the risk that the manufacturer is telling you the truth. You should not have to be a food detective to determine if something is safe or healthy for you to eat.  This is one more reason to eat as much whole, non-GMO, and organic foods as possible.  Eggs, even though they come in a box and have a label, are essentially a whole food.  The same is true for your fruits, vegetables, and most meats. Choosing foods that are non-GMO, grass-fed, free-range/ cage-free, hormone & anti-biotic are all good, but the bottom line is anything that doesn’t come in a package is probably healthier than something that does.  Broccoli doesn’t have to tell you it’s hormone-free and is low fat. Even when it does come in a bag, the only thing on the ingredients list should be: broccoli.  Opting for whole foods is a small step towards being healthier and you don’t have to wait for the new year to start.  Learning to be a savvy label detective is something else you can do, whether you decide to eat more whole foods or not.  Next time you go to the grocery store, watch out for the lies on the labels, and watch out for those free-range Twinkies, too!

 

You May Already Be a Winner!

We’ve all had days like this: we ate okay for breakfast and we resisted the urge to add the holiday flavored syrup/ creamer to our coffee in the morning, and we did great for lunch but now, after the healthier than usual dinner, we went crazy and had a couple chocolate chip cookies! “What’s wrong with us?!” Or this scenario: we went on vacation and we had decided we weren’t going to “diet” on vacation, but now we’re back and we have to get into our routine again and it….just….feels…so…much…harder….than….before!  This is a tough one.  I don’t mean the whole ‘eating according to your healthy plan’ routine: I mean cutting yourself a break! Yes, we need to be accountable.  Yes, we need to be consistent.  Yes, that would be easy if we were all androids like Cmdr. Data or Vulcans like Mr. Spock.  (Trekkie here. Sorry!) But, for better or worse, we are simple humans and as both Data and Spock will tell you, humans are susceptible to emotion and are fundamentally illogical.  In other words, we know what’s good for us and we do what feels good instead, even if it’s not good for us.

We need to find that middle ground between stepping out of bounds occasionally and actually moving off the reservation.  As some of you know, I follow a Paleo eating plan, which means all those yummy crunchy grain products are off my menu pretty much all the time, and especially in the morning, but… I really wanted a breakfast wrap, so I had one.  I’d love to say that it was delicious and guilt-free, but as yummy as it was (and it was!), I kept thinking how it wasn’t good for me and I knew it and I still got it and here I am, eating this hot delicious wrap and I’m screwing up my whole eating plan for the day.  “What’s wrong with me?!”

Nothing is wrong with me, except my guilting myself for eating what I wanted.  Now if I had wraps every day or even more than once a week, then there would be a problem, but one wrap?! So, after a few minutes of guilt, I told myself to knock it off.  It’s a choice I made, so own it, and secondly, it’s not the end of my Paleo eating plan!  I don’t have to go back to ‘start’ and I don’t have to punish myself for eating off the plan. This is what I mean when I say we need to learn to give ourselves a break!

Too many of us feel the need to punish ourselves for not being perfect.  I was good until I had that cookie! I was good until I had a ‘insert off limits food here.’  No mea culpas necessary! You are a responsible individual and you can decide if you want a treat or not.  There’s a big difference between looking at the cookies, wanting one and deciding that one (or however many) can be allowed rather than seeing the cookies, having an irresistible craving for them and sneaking off with four or five in your hand.  Eating according to your cravings is not good and it’s not responsible eating; making a considered thoughtful choice is something else. I thought about having a wrap and chose to have one. The rest of the day and the next were in line with my eating plan; the wrap was a hot & yummy anomaly!

The other reason we feel the need to punish ourselves is because we aren’t doing ‘good enough!’  We use phrases like ‘out of control,’ ‘get my butt in gear,’ ‘get my head/ game together.’ Why? What are we doing that’s so wrong? We had a couple cookies after dinner?  We had a wrap for breakfast?  Damn, send in the Marines!! We need to whisked off to the nut house- we are outta control!! Except that it’s not funny and I’m not exaggerating, because that’s how we think of ourselves and that’s how we treat ourselves: “I had cookies- I’m bad! I had cookies- I’m bad! What’s wrong with me?!” Nothing is wrong with you either: you’re a regular person (see above reference to synthetic humans and alien species).  For most of us, this healthy eating and fitness lifestyle is still pretty new.  I’ve been doing this for two years, and while I may have a little more experience than some of you, I am far from an old pro! I am pretty used to eating according to my Paleo menu and it’s my default routine now.  That means it’s easier for me to say to things like cookies and potato chips and crackers because I’ve been doing it for over a year, but I’m still human and sometimes the cheesetoast at Sizzler looks good to me.  The chocolate covered pretzels at my friend’s party are kind of tempting.  Do I eat them? Rarely.  It’s not because I’m denying myself or doing penance for whatever imagined sin I thought I committed.  I say no most of the time because I know they aren’t good for me and as tempting as they are, I know that I really don’t want them.  They may taste good but they have consequences that aren’t worth it to me.  If I do have them, it’s not the end of the world or a fatal diet error; it’s an anomaly, and it usually serves to remind me of why I gave them up.  I usually feel kind of blah afterwards that has nothing to do with guilt: it’s like my body is saying “what the hell did you just eat and why did you eat it?!” (FYI: this is the same body that used to go into shellshock when I ate broccoli and now that it’s finally adjusted I go and give it cheesetoast again?!)

This is what Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) calls “All or Nothing” thinking, and it’s why so many of us give up trying to eat healthy or get fit.  Either you’re in or you’re out.  We are either staying on the straight and narrow path or we are off the reservation in the food wilderness!  When I was kid I used to play a board game called Aggravation, where we rolled the dice and moved our platoon of marbles around the board.  The goal was to get all our marbles to the end before the others did, and if someone landed on one of your marbles, you had to move it all the way back to the beginning to start over.  We are not marbles on a boardgame! When we have the cheesetoast or pretzels or anything else that’s “forbidden,” we don’t have to go back to Start! We don’t have to throw the board across the room in frustration!  We just have to remind ourselves that really no food is “forbidden” or “off limits.”  Eating Paleo doesn’t mean I never eat pasta or crackers again: it means I may eat it once in a while but it’s not a big part of my regular menu. Eating healthy doesn’t mean that you never eat cake again for the rest of your life: it simply means that cake is an occasional treat, not dessert every night!  Much of what we eat as every day foods now were never intended to be everyday foods.  Things like cookies and cake and chocolate were things made in celebration of a holiday or a special occasion.  (This is why we have things like birthday and wedding cakes, Christmas cookies and fruitcake.)

A lot of us get caught up in this dieting “on or off” mindset because this is what most diets teach: you follow this strict regime for X amount of days to lose X amount of weight.  Some of these diets are so structured, they set you up with weekly menus or goals you need to hit before you can move on to the next level and when you miss a goal or go off menu, they tell you to start again!  Really??  This is why so many of the diet books and programs my mom used to leave on my doorstep ended up in the bottomless pit of unused diets. These diets don’t teach you how to eat for health or nutrition; they teach you to diet! They teach a short term style of eating with one goal in mind: losing weight!  It’s not about being healthy or eating for long term nutrition or fitness- it’s all about the quick temporary fix.  This is why so many of us have spent so many years losing the same 10/ 20/ X lbs over and over again.  This is why I don’t say I am on the “Paleo diet”; I say that I eat Paleo, because I like eating this way and I intend to eat this way for the rest of my life.  It’s not about weight loss (although frankly, I think losing weight is awesome!); it’s about being healthier and fitter and feeling really great.

More importantly, it is a PROCESS! Whatever style of eating you decide on, anything that recommends you get up the next morning “fully onboard with their eating plan” is pretty much setting you up to fail, in my opinion.  When I decided to try Paleo, I did my research and downloaded some food lists and frankly, was shocked at all the things that were not considered Paleo.  It was pretty much everything I had been eating: bread, pasta, potatoes, sugars, grains, etc.  It was daunting, and I didn’t begin by throwing out everything non-Paleo from my cupboards.  I started by eliminating one or two items: pasta and potatoes.  I stopped eating those, until I felt I had a handle on it and I wasn’t going crazy craving them.  Then I moved on to breads and crackers, and so on.  It took a few weeks (really more like months!)  before I had everything non-Paleo off my menu.  I didn’t “start over” if I slipped up and had a piece of garlic bread a week or so after I stopped eating bread; it was an anomaly, and I kept going forward.  I made note of how after eating it, I started craving it again, and how that was not a good thing, and it reminded me that was one of the reasons I stopped eating it!  Learning to eat according to whatever healthy plan you choose is the same as learning any new skill: it takes time and patience but with practice comes improvement.  Yes, there will be a few bumps in the road, but you don’t give up. Every master was first an apprentice.  At some point in his life, Michelangelo didn’t know the first thing about drawing or painting.  Mozart at one point knew nothing about music (although I think he was probably one year old at the time- prodigy!) The same was true of all the great artists, musicians and scientists.  Everyone starts at the beginning and works their way forward.  We don’t win when we reach our goal weight or bench press X lbs like we did in high school.  Fitting into our wedding dress or a size 6 doesn’t make us winners.  We win every day we get up and keep moving forward with putting our health first! Even if we have the birthday cupcake or the breakfast wrap, when we keep moving forward, we keep getting better; we keep winning!

Eating for Nutrition v Eating for Weight Loss

We’ve all been told endlessly “we need to eat low-calorie, high-nutrient-dense foods to optimize our health!”  Yeah, yeah, blah, blah- but what does that really mean?  How often do you look at food and think the chicken has fewer calories than the beef, so I’ll choose the chicken.  The salad has fewer calories than the sweet potato, so I’m choosing the salad.  We make choices like this each day at home, in the grocery store, and at restaurants.  All of these foods, properly prepared (unbreaded chicken, beef that’s not part of a cheeseburger, and a salad isn’t swimming in dressing and croutons) are healthy options. They all have good nutrients, so that means I’m getting all my vitamins and nutrients, right?

Well, maybe.  Humans are what’s known as opportunistic omnivores, which is biospeak for “they eat whatever they find.”  When our Paleolithic ancestors were out on the plains and they came across a blackberry thicket full of berries, berries were on the menu for that night (and for however long the blackberries held out before being all eaten).  When someone killed an antelope, there was meat on the menu, or if they were near a river when the salmon were running, it was fish for dinner.  This means that humans ate a complex variety of different fruits, vegetables and proteins. (Personally, I think this is one of the problems with eating a lot of processed grain-based foods: too much of one thing and not enough of anything else.) Our bodies are used to getting nutrients from a variety of sources: whether we developed this way because of how we were foraging or we learned to forage because the ones that didn’t forage didn’t survive to have offspring is beside the point- this is how we are!  When we stick too much to a limited number of foods, whether whole foods or processed, we run into trouble.

“Eat across the rainbow”: you have probably heard the advice from nutritionists and dieticians and seen it in a lot of blogs.  It’s a little cheesy and cutesy, but it’s correct.  Mostly people apply it to fruits and vegetables, eating all the different colors.  Different colors in fruits & veggies pretty much mean different nutrients but it should also apply to the proteins, which usually get left out since people don’t think of them as “color.”  Most people when they think “eating healthy” usually limit themselves to the leaner “naked” proteins (such as grilled chicken breast) instead of fattier proteins like beef, pork, eggs or even just chicken thighs but they make an effort to eat a variety of the fruits and veggies.  Most people think of those when it comes to “vitamins” and tend to think of meats only in terms of “protein.”  This is one of the biggest reasons I advise people to get a good basic nutrition book when they start to eat healthy.  Whatever diet or lifestyle book/ program you choose, make sure it has a comprehensive section covering the basics of nutrition.  I always recommend Nutrition for Dummies because it’s easy to understand and has lots of charts in it.  It doesn’t assume you know the definition of something or that you will look it up: it gives it to you, usually with an example!

Most vegetarians and vegans will tell you that you can get enough protein from plants, and most people know that some plants have more protein than others, but the vitamins and nutrients that are in the animal proteins tend to be glossed over.  If people think of any “protein” having vitamins, it’s usually ‘fish and Omega-3,’ but meat has more than just protein in it! If any of you have ever tried being vegetarian or vegan, you may already know that one of the difficult vitamins to get on a plant based diet is B12.  B12 (cyanocobalamin) is a vital nutrient and not having enough can cause major health problems, like dying!  Not getting enough B12 can cause fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart problems and cognitive/ memory problems.  It can eventually kill you! Many years ago, my friend and I tried vegetarianism, so of course, I bought the Dummies book and one of the things it discussed was the importance of B12 because this vitamin is found mostly in animal protein aka MEAT! You can get it in some animal products, like grass-fed dairy and cage-free eggs if you are vegetarian, but if you are vegan, it’s a lot harder.  The Dummies book just recommended a supplement if you go vegan.  Recently, on yet another TLC show (Untold Stories of the ER), there was college girl who came in with jaundice, fatigue, and shortness of breath and when the doctor found out she was a strict vegan, she checked her B12 levels and you guessed it-  dangerously low!   You need the B12 for hemoglobin to function properly: no hemoglobin, no oxygen to your brain and body, ergo no YOU.  One little vitamin shot and the little college student was pretty much good to go! But not getting enough vitamin B12 nearly killed her.

As for that Omega-3 mentioned above, most people who are not fish eaters usually end up going with the football shaped fish oil supplement.  Lately, these supplements have been catching a lot of heat over quality control. Omega-3 fatty acids are good for your triglyceride levels, brain function (especially for Alzheimer’s and depression) and they’re good for rheumatoid arthritis.  If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that I’ve got arthritis in both knees (osteoarthritis) and I used to take fish oil on a regular basis, until I realized it was actually causing pain in my knees.  This is because of poor quality control in the industry in general: oils can go rancid and when they do, they cause inflammation instead of relieving it, so my fish oil supplement went out with the trash.  Instead, I eat more fish now. I like fish, so it’s not a problem for me, but for some people, eating fish is really unpleasant (I like it and sometimes I get sick of it, too!) For non-fish eaters, grass-fed beef, cage-free/ enriched eggs, edamame and walnuts are all good alternatives to boost your Omega-3 intake.  (In general, grass-fed meats have more Omega-3 because the animals get it from the grass they eat.  Grain-fed animals get less in their diet so there is less in the meat.) One alternative to improve your Omega-3 absorption is to decrease your intake of Omega-6. Omega-6 fatty acid can have some benefits (again brain function, cardiovascular disease and nerve function) but it is also pro-inflammatory (which is not good for arthritis)  It also interferes with absorption of Omega-3.  Both require the same receptors to be absorbed and used by the body.  Decades ago, this was not much of a problem because people consumed Omega-3 and Omega-6 pretty much at a one to one ratio: they were consuming the same amounts of each.  Now, however, much of what we consume in processed foods contains polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) usually in things like vegetable oils, which are high in Omega-6. Now we are consuming ten times as much Omega-6 as we do Omega-3, and the Omega-3 is getting short-changed.  If we eat a salad with grilled tuna or sardines (Omega-3) but we also top it with sunflower seeds, croutons toasted in safflower oil and a dressing made with mayonnaise or soybean oil,  we just pretty much cancelled out whatever Omega-3 we might have had a chance to absorb.  Even if we avoid things like crop oils (corn, safflower, soybean, canola, etc), these oils are in a lot of processed foods like potato chips, bakery goods, fast foods, salad dressings, condiments, in addition to natural whole foods like nuts, seeds and some conventional grain fed meats. Since these PUFAs are a man-made invention, they tend to be unstable to start with, and now that we know they are interfering with Omega-3 absorption, this is one more reason I choose to limit processed foods in my diet.

Minerals are another nutrient that tends to get overlooked.  Our bodies usually only require trace amounts of the necessary minerals like selenium, magnesium, iron and calcium but not having enough of those trace amounts can be really harmful. Anyone who has suffered from post-workout muscle cramps knows they need to boos their electrolytes, which were probably lost in perspiration.  These include some of these minerals, like calcium, magnesium and potassium.  Muscles need these to function properly, and the heart is probably the most important muscle in our body.  Again, no minerals, no heart, no YOU. We don’t need a lot, but if you aren’t getting enough, you will have problems.  Anemia is a common problem with vegetarians and vegans, because a primary source of iron is red meat, which they avoid.  Anemia is low blood hemoglobin (see the vegan college student example above) which can cause tiredness and low energy. Again, eating whole foods, especially things like grass-fed beef & other meats, cage-free eggs, fish & shellfish, legumes, nuts, seeds and leafy greens are good sources for most of the minerals our bodies need.

Obviously our Paleolithic ancestors didn’t look at food and calculate vitamins and minerals in each thing they ate, but because they managed to eat a wide variety of foods and they ate seasonally, they were able to stay healthy and flourish.  Eating seasonally is something that also gets overlooked because now fruits and vegetables are usually available all year round.  This doesn’t mean that we need to avoid apples in the middle of winter or citrus during the summertime; it just means to get as much variety in your diet as possible.  When berries are in season, eat them!  When squash is in season, eat it! When you are doing your shopping, don’t just stick to the easy stuff or the routine: make a habit of changing up the menu as much as you can.  Not only will it keep you from getting bored of the same old chicken-and-broccoli dinner, it’ll keep you healthier by getting more vitamins and minerals in your diet. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that ‘skinny’ does not equal ‘healthy’ (no matter what the name of this blog is!)

I don’t mean to be an alarmist or scare you away from trying veganism or even vegetarianism. (Processed foods are scary all by themselves!)  I am telling you that whatever eating plan you decide on should include enough vitamins and nutrients to keep you healthy, even if it means just taking a supplement or a multivitamin. The goal is not to consume a handfuls of pills every day; most nutrients and minerals are best consumed in the foods themselves, since nutrients work best in conjunction with each other.  This is why you most often find calcium together with vitamin D- you need the D to absorb the calcium.

Getting your nutrients through food also helps avoid over-consumption.  TOO MUCH IS NOT A GOOD THING!! Some vitamins and minerals can be FATAL in high doses.  Vitamin D is one of them: it can lead to irreversible heart damage.  Minerals like sodium and selenium can also be fatal in high dosages.  Consuming handfuls of supplements and vitamins without paying attention to the dosage can be harmful to your health. A few years ago, I was taking a calcium supplement along with a multivitamin, but I was upping the dosage of the calcium (which of course came with the vitamin D booster) and I started feeling like I was having heart palpitations.  Once I backed off the calcium and D combo, they went away.  It turns out that on top of the multivitamin (which also had D), I was just getting too much of it for my system.  Whatever supplements and vitamins you take, please check the dosages and the ingredients to make sure you aren’t getting more than you need.  It’s also a good idea to make sure your doctor(s) have complete lists of all the medications, vitamins, supplements and herbal compounds you take.  Some years ago, the herb St. John’s Wort was very popular, but it was causing problems for some people because it was reacting with medications they were taking and some were simply taking too much.  If you are prescribed medications, please read the little pamphlet that comes with it. This also goes for the vitamins you take. It sounds silly, but a friend of mine was advised by her doctor to take a vitamin D supplement and after 3 months, she went back for a blood test and found her levels had risen only a fraction and she didn’t know why it was so low.  I asked her if she was eating when she took the pill; no, it was on an empty stomach like all her meds.  Vitamin D is fat-soluble: no fat, no absorption.  All those pills she took for 3 months weren’t absorbed because she hadn’t read the label that says “take with food.”

I’m definitely not a health or nutrition expert by any stretch of the imagination, which is why I always recommend you do your research before you take action.  Even if you aren’t starting a new healthy eating plan or looking into vegetarianism/ veganism, you need to have a good basic nutrition book. I can personally recommend Nutrition for Dummies: easy to read, great explanations and charts, but what matters is what you are comfortable with.  I know most of us focus on weight loss and I’m really not any different; I often have to push myself out of the chicken-and-broccoli rut. Despite what it may look like from this post, I am really not a fan of beef or eggs! Sometimes eating for nutrition means eating something with a little more calories rather than eating for weight loss. Yes, I really want to be skinny, but being skinny doesn’t count for much if I’m too sick to enjoy it.

It’s the Most Wonderfully Stressful Time of the Year!

Some of you know I used to be a teacher.  I taught Basic English at a local community college and every November and December, it was always the same: prepping for finals, grading the term papers, meeting with panicking students and more grading, grading, grading, so we can turn in our final grades to Admin and  get all of it done before the third week in December! (As a grad student, one of my professors used to post signs on his closed office door; one said “No Whining,” and the other said “Go Away.” The grad students got it; the undergrads didn’t.)  Each December, I would foolishly hope this would be the year I could actually enjoy the season and then it finally dawned on me that every December was going to be the same.  I eventually learned to deal with it better but it wasn’t until I left academia that my holiday seasons settled down.  A little.

As we all know, this is the season of giving, the season of joy, the season of STRESS! It’s a long list of things that we “need” to do in order to “celebrate” the season.  Have we hung lights? Our wreath? Are our decorations up? Have we sent cards? Have we bought cards?  What about the stamps for those cards?  What about the gifts for the family? And do we even have a tree to put them under? What about the dinner? Just thinking about it all can get our stress levels rising and if you have small kids, it goes up even more (thank you, Santa!) This is just the “regular” stress- now add in your new healthy eating and fitness plan! Aack! Yeah- on top of all this, you are supposed to make time for exercise, meal planning and healthy eating! No wonder so many of us just put our fitness goals on hold until the New Year. Trying to eat healthy on top of Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas cookies, holiday parties and New Year’s celebrations is a lot.  For the rest of the year, homes and offices are going to be swimming in cookies, cakes, breads, candies, alcohol and just treats of all shapes and sizes!  The one good thing about most of the shopping at actual stores (and not online) is that we’ll be out there moving around, running from one place to another and probably hiking in from the hinterlands of the various parking lots! The good thing about the online shopping is that it at least comes to you and takes a little less actual time (though more lead time thanks to delivery) so you can cram some more things to do into your already overstuffed list!

So, your mission -should you decide to accept it- is to keep working on your fitness goals, get all your holiday tasks accomplished and NOT turn into Scrooge in the process! Truth be told, last year, my fitness goals pretty much went out the window due to too many holiday cookies and every other treat under the tree (though I missed the fruitcake I managed to get this year!)  This year, I am a little more prepared and little more accustomed to my regular healthy eating plan.  Like everyone else, I’m aiming for my fitness goals and aiming at staying merry.  We shall see how close I come to hitting the mark!

The first step I think is just being prepared.  Knowing you are going to a holiday party or dinner is half the battle.  You can choose to eat something healthy and filling before you go, so there is just less room for the less healthy options and hopefully less temptation to indulge.  You can also do the opposite and NOT eat, so you can choose some of the healthier choices that will hopefully be available (even if you have to bring them yourself). That way you can eat at the party/ dinner without overeating. If you go to a lot of parties, you can choose to eat a little lighter just in general to balance out the “party days” when there’s a higher chance you’ll overindulge.

Another important step is saying no to the temptations. Let’s face it: the supermarkets are going to be chock-full of iced holiday sugar cookies, and when you’ve had one, you’ve had them all!  It’s not like it’s Aunt Minnie’s handmade Christmas fudge or Grandma’s handmade banana cream pie. Something made special is more likely to be worth it, even if it’s not about the taste.  (I’d give anything to have my grandma’s banana cream pie again!) You can go to the parties and politely say no to the treats they push at you out of holiday cheer and you don’t have to tell them that you’re eating healthy or trying to lose weight.  A friend of mine gets a cookie (or piece of cake), takes a bit or two and carries it around so when they ask her if she wants something, she can say she’s still working on the last one! Saying no is a little bit easier when you already know the “treats” aren’t really going to be worth it, and this is where being on the Good Boys and Girls list can really pay off for you! This comes with changing your palate, which takes some time.  When you’ve gotten away from eating cookies, candy, and sweets in general, they taste different when you eat them again.  This goes for any foods, really.  Once you break the craving for them by not eating them for a prolonged period of time, they lose their hold on you.  When you do eat them again, they don’t taste quite as yummy, so there is less chance of them becoming “crave-worthy” again.  This happened to me just this past Halloween: I had a Payday bar, which had always been one of my favorites, and I had not had one for several months. It was my Halloween “treat” but, while it didn’t taste bad, it didn’t taste spectacular either.  It really tasted very sweet and sugary, and while I didn’t hate it, I know I won’t be craving another one any time soon! So, if you’ve not had a lot of cookies lately, should you decide to indulge in one of the festive iced sugar cookies or whatever cookies/ treats you choose, I think you may be a little surprised to find it’s worth it to say no to them.  They won’t taste as delicious as they look and when you realize each cookie you eat is taking you backwards from your goals, it really makes it easy to say no to sugary Christmas cookies and overly sweet holiday cakes.

Most of us who are working on health and fitness goals tend to focus on eating and not eating, but we tend to overlook the stress that just comes with the holidays.  Stress and sleeplessness are huge factors in weight loss, but because they don’t go in our mouths (emotional eating aside), we sweep them to the side: “I can’t deal with that now!” and we do so at our peril.  Stress and sleeplessness increase the cortisol levels in our body and interfere with our body’s ability to burn fat and recover.  That means even if we are eating relatively well, we may not lose weight or recover as well from our workouts because we aren’t sleeping and relaxing.  Who has time for that?!  That’s the same excuse so many of us use when we put off exercising: we don’t have time.  I’m going to be a little harsh here: when people say they don’t have time to exercise it’s because they don’t make time for exercise.  We make time for things that are important to us and for some people, clearly exercise isn’t important.  I know there are people whose days are literally jam-packed from sunrise well past sunset with things that are nonnegotiable, and those are not the people I’m talking about.  But if you have time to watch your favorite tv shows or play your favorite games or scroll through Facebook, you have the time: you are just choosing Facebook, The Walking Dead or Assassin’s Creed over exercise.  It’s the same for relaxing and sleeping.  I learned the hard way (via the job from hell) about choosing what’s important to me, so I make time for workouts, shopping for healthy foods, getting to bed on time and play time with my pets.  That might not seem like really important stuff, but each of those plays an important part in my weight loss and health, both mental and physical.  Obviously, eating healthy and exercise are good for my body but so are getting enough sleep and playing with my pets. When I work out, eat well, and am well rested, I am just a happier healthier person overall.  It makes it easier for me to deal with problems that come up and it actually helps me handle stress better, because I am not already chronically stressed.  We’ve all had days when everything just seems to go wrong and we just want to get home and sit down but when we walk in the front door we find the dog has dumped over the trash can and dragged it all over the house, and we just lose it!  We started yelling at the dog, at the kids/ family who didn’t take the trash out and we stomp all over the house, shouting.  It’s the sour cherry on top of the stress sundae.  Welcome to the holiday season!

No one can stop bad days from happening, but if you make it a practice to find time to rest and relax (de-stressing), they are easier to handle.  Even if you have a lot of things on your plate, you handle them better when you aren’t already frazzled.  I’m not talking about procrastination; I’m talking about stress management.  Going to bed on time or at reasonable hour to get an adequate number of hours of sleep helps your body recover.  It means you don’t get up already tired and cranky.  Spending time doing something you enjoy gives your brain a break and lessens the cortisol and other stress hormones in your bloodstream, in addition to helping your mood.  (This is why I spend time with my pets!)  It doesn’t have to be something you add to your schedule; it can be simply adjusting something in your schedule.  For example, one of my favorite tv shows is NCIS, so when that show is on, it’s my time.  If you call or text me during the show, I will probably ignore it until -maybe- a commercial break.  I usually have my dog or cat(s) on my lap and I’m not scrolling through MFP or anything else I “need” to catch up on.  I’m enjoying my tv show and my pets.  I block out time for playing with pets, usually on the weekends or evenings and pretty much ignore the phone, texts and emails.  This is time for me and the furry kids.  It can be something as simple as taking off the Bluetooth on the drive to work and putting on your favorite playlist instead.  It can be taking your time at the grocery store or wandering through a bookstore (or any other store) while you are “getting your errands done”  and if you happen to get a few Christmas presents or other errands accomplished, kudos to you!  Remember how Scrooge turned into Scrooge: he was focused on getting ahead and missed what really matters in life, or rather who. The holidays are about sharing time with those who matter most to us; the cookies, the treats, the parties, the gifts- they’re all fun and nice to have, but the point of the party isn’t the cookies any more than the point of the gifts is the growing balance on your rewards card.  It’s the people you share them with, and no one wants to share time with grumpy old Ebeneezer.  Remember that when you’re slogging through the parking lots and looking at one more tray of iced reindeer sugar cookies: it’s about the people you love and the ones who love you.  Be good to them and be good to you, because you are important to them too!

 

Working Weekends

One of the things I hear a lot on the Primal Potential podcast and MFP (My Fitness Pal website) is the lament “I’m good all week and then I go off the rails on the weekends!”  When we’re in our workday routine, it’s easy to stay in that routine, mainly because our days tend to be so tightly scheduled: getting up and getting the family out the door; getting to work; staying busy on the job; running errands on the way home, including any workouts; getting home and getting dinner done; taking care of the family and anything else that needs attention. The lack of free time actually works in our favor here: we don’t have the time or the opportunity to snack or overeat because we’re focused on checking the next task off our list.

The free time on the weekends (and also in the evenings- the #2 opportunity to go off the rails) is a real hurdle for everyone to overcome.  (It’s one that I continue to deal with!) There are some big obstacles that present themselves mainly on weekends, and they all add up to making weekends tougher.  Short of tightly scheduling their weekends (not good for quality of life), most people are at a loss to keep their eating & lack of activity in check.

Too much time for eating: this is pretty much the big one!  We get to sleep in later and make a “real breakfast” which includes things like pancakes, waffles, french toast, etc.  It’s the weekend so it’s a “special” breakfast.  There’s time for pastries, maybe a special coffee like a mocha or a latte, and there’s time for seconds of everything.  We’re at home more so it’s really easy to wander into the kitchen, and hey, there’s leftover cinnamon rolls!  We open the fridge door and munch on more leftovers or grab a handful of nuts from the pantry.  Most of the time, we aren’t hungry and we don’t even realize what we’re doing.  We’re eating out of boredom and distraction.  This is why so many of us try to fill our weekends or get out of the house as much as possible.  While both of these can be good short-term solutions, it doesn’t work in the long run, especially if you have kids.

Making a few changes to your habits here can help.  You can still have the “special” breakfast and make the pancakes, etc., for the family.  You do not have to eat them! Depending on what your goals are, you can have one or two, whatever is an improvement for you!  The family can have the cinnamon rolls- you can have eggs!  Or if you have that kid who won’t eat a whole roll/ pancake, split one with him/ her instead of having a whole one yourself.  You can always change your “special” breakfast to ‘make your own omelet’ bar.  Create a fillings/ toppings bar where everyone gets to put what they in/ on their omelet.

These strategies also work if your “special” weekend meal is lunch or dinner.  They like tacos, burgers, Chinese on the weekend?  For a taco bar or burger bar, you can leave off the shell or the bun.  You don’t have to eat the rice or fries even if the others do eat them.  You can have salad, coleslaw, sweet potato fries (fewer carbs and good nutrition!) They can have the Chinese and again you can have veggies instead of rice! Egg foo yung is usually just eggs and veggies!  Just choose a couple entrees that aren’t breaded and swimming in a sweet sauce.

Eating out with family and friends: this is one I deal with a lot! At least twice a month, I have lunch out with my dad.  A lot of how you handle this depends on the place you choose to eat.  The best bet actually is a buffet or a salad bar.  I’m not telling you that you have to eat only salads, but these restaurants tend to offer more choices in whatever combinations you want.  The veggies are usually raw or lightly cooked so there’s less breaded, fried or drowning-in-sauces options.  I know there’s a lot of temptation with “all you can eat” and all kinds of not so healthy choices but it really is your best option for putting together a healthy plate.  My dad’s favorite place to eat has a salad bar.  It includes a “hot bar” with chicken wings, taco bar, soups and nachos.  I start with a green salad then have some more prepared salads and I avoid the stuff that’s less than healthy.  It’s been a process but making a habit of filling up on the crunchy veggies and lean proteins (not the chicken wings or chicken nuggets) has worked for me.

Of course, that’s the best scenario.  What happens if you end up at a place without a salad bar or a buffet?  Most places these days have healthier options so you can always choose off that section.  If the menu is available online, you can take the opportunity to scope out your choices at your leisure- without a waiter staring at you with pen poised.  You can also make substitutions.  A lot of places offer grilled shrimp skewers on a bed of rice.  I like the shrimp but not the rice: “can I have that with broccoli instead of the rice?”  I do the same thing at my favorite Japanese restaurant.  The bento box I like comes with salad and- again- rice: “can I have extra salad instead of the rice?”  My friend likes a sandwich shop for lunch: “can I get that in a wrap?”  It’s a matter of learning to tailor your food choices outside of your home, and it’s a skill you need to work on, unless you plan on only eating at home for the rest of your life.  The key is not being afraid of making mistakes or trying something new.  Don’t worry about being self-conscious. Most restaurants these days are used to people asking about the menu due to allergies to nuts, milk and gluten. Personally, I think people spend too much time worrying about what other people think.  Your family and friends will be supportive and if the restaurant/ wait staff has a problem with it, I guess they don’t want your business in the future!

More time to lay around on the sofa: let’s pull up Netflix or Hulu and catch up on some tv!  While a lot of us also use the time to play some sports or catch up on some gym time, we also like to relax. While there’s nothing wrong with activities like reading, watching the game or something else that’s not really active, it does mean there’s less activity while you’re reading.  Even if you don’t overeat or you stick to your healthy choices, being less active can mean you’ve consumed more calories than your body needs.  This is one issue that I struggle with pretty much every week.  During the week, I can get in some exercise and activity, even if it’s just walking around the office, but on the weekends, there’s fewer opportunities for me, since a lot of my household chores are things like folding clothes, doing dishes and changing the linens.  They don’t really count as being “active.”

This is where we have to be creative: some of my new strategies are shifting a lot of my errands to the weekends. Nothing like walking all around Target or Costco to get in some steps (not to mention crossing the mammoth parking lots on weekends!)  There’s also the pup who loves a walk, so off we go to the campus (nice locale with lights and security). Of course, there’s always the old stand-by: going to the gym.  At a bare minimum, I make a habit of walking around the house and yard as much as possible, even if it’s just getting up at each commercial break to get something from the bedroom or the kitchen or wherever.  When I was living with my dad in college, we had a cat who loved to sleep on my dad’s lap in the evenings.  He was huge (about 25 lbs) and once he curled up, he was immovable for the evening.  My dad would complain about how heavy he was and how he never changed position: “why doesn’t he ever sleep on you?!”  Because I got up every commercial break! Not that I was trying to be “active”- I got up to put the laundry in the dryer, to put the socks away, to clear the table, to load the dishwasher, etc.  Every ten minutes or so, I was up and out of my chair while my dad stayed seated.  Much to my pup’s dismay (he likes sitting on my lap too), it’s a habit I’ve picked up again!

These aren’t weekend only strategies; these are the same habits you use all week: making healthy choices in the office isn’t all that different from making healthy choices out at Chili’s.  Only the location and your companions have changed.  Getting up and moving around the office is the same as getting up and moving around the house.  Choosing the crudité over the donuts in the break room is the same as choosing the eggs over the waffles at the breakfast table at home.  It may take a bit more creativity but it’s worth the effort.  Think of it in terms of reaching your goals: if you take five steps forward, why would you want to take two steps back each week?  All the hard work you accomplished during the week: no to donuts, no to lattes/ mochas, yes to broccoli and no to the baked potato, yes to the workout and no to that extra episode of Walking Dead, but then on the weekends, it’s mochas, waffles, nachos and three hours of watching the game, pizza with the guys and a Harry Bosch binge, and who has time to hit the gym after a night of beer and shooters with the girls? Yeah, those are all fun and delicious, but they pretty much just wiped out the five days of focusing on getting fit and strong and healthy.  You don’t have to live like a nun or a yogi 24-7-365 to reach your goals, but you do have to make some smart choices.  If you want the pizza (and hey, who doesn’t love pizza?), maybe think about limiting the beer or skipping the waffles in the morning.  Watch the game and have the nachos, but get to the gym or the pool later to balance it out.  It’s like choosing the burger but not the fries; it takes a little practice, but you are worth the effort, and when your buddies get jealous that you look better in jeans and t shirt than they do, smile and offer them another beer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best Tips for Weight Loss/ Fitness

When it comes to losing weight, people always want to take the short cut.  It’s understandable: just give me the “down & dirty” so I can get this over with!  The problem is a lot of times that advice gets distilled into Calories in – Calories Out, or The Top Five Most Success Methods for Fast Weight Loss or something “packageable” like that.  Weight loss isn’t something you can stick in a box or distill down into a simple formula.  It’s a little messy and complicated and time-consuming, a lot like the behavior that got you to where you are.

Despite its inherent messiness, I’m going to give you my best advice for losing weight and getting fitter.  These behaviors have served me well and continue to do so over the past two years and are the major reasons I’ve lost 165 lbs.  In no particular order:

  1. sugar
  2. sleep
  3. stress management
  4.  golden rules of carbs & fat loss
  5. whole foods/ processed food, simple carbs- little sponges!
  6. water
  7. moving
  8. good fats
  9. logging
  10. meal prep

Sugar

Need I say more? (Well, yeah, kinda) This is in practically everything we eat that comes in a box, bag, bottle or can.  Sugar is what my mom used to call ’empty calories,’ because it has no nutritive value but has a lot of calories.  Doctors are finding now that sugar is behind a lot more health concerns than they initially thought (they are always finding something!), but my goal here isn’t to educate you on how ‘evil’ sugar is; it’s simply to tell you to remove it from your diet as much as possible.  This actually gets easier if you follow the rest of my tips, because refined sugar does not appear a lot in nature.  The bottom line you need to know about why it’s not good for weight loss: sugar is quickly metabolized by the body into glucose which triggers insulin secretion, which is a storage hormone.  Your body stores the glucose as fat, and even if you ate a lot of sugar, it ALL gets stored and none gets burned as long as insulin is in the bloodstream.  The more sugar you ate, the longer the insulin is in the blood and the more calories are stored rather than burned.  End result: you put on fat and fast!

Sleep

I know a lot of people blow this off because “what the heck can sleep have to do with losing weight?!” Yeah, I know that because that’s what I always thought.  Sleep was for the lazy.  Sleep was unproductive.  My favorite sleep related comment: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”  For some reason, I thought that made me sound tough.  (Actually, it made me sound stupid, but what the heck, I was young(er) and dumber than I am now….. riiight!)  Sleep has to do with hormones and body repair and stress relief (stress is coming up below- in a good way!) When you sleep, your body gets a chance to relax and it releases beneficial hormones that allow the body to metabolize the proteins and fats and other nutrients you’ve consumed into things like muscle.  The body burns fuel when you’re sleeping (part of the basal metabolic rate) and you want to build and repair muscle.  Not only does it keep you strong, but it requires more fuel to maintain muscle than it does to maintain fat.  When you don’t get enough sleep, your body doesn’t get a chance to release the restorative hormones which build and repair the body, increasing the muscle mass and allowing the body to use what it’s taken in.  You are also more tired when you get less sleep or less restorative sleep, which means you are more likely just to eat more calories.  I was an admitted scoffer on the whole “sleep is good for weight loss” idea until I started getting more sleep: I was less tired, eating less because I actually got some rest, and wasn’t chugging coffee/ caffeine five times a day because I was exhausted, so when I actually got some sleep, it was real sleep not tossing and turning (the lack of stress also helped here too!).  End result: I was losing weight faster.  I have since noticed that when my sleep now is screwed up for whatever reason, my weight loss suffers!

Stress Management

This is another one that everyone (including me) scoffed at, because “really?? does stress have anything to do with weight?” Oh, h*ll, yeah! Like the whole ‘sleep is good for you’ idea, I had to learn this the hard way. (Hmm, the more I learn about getting healthy, the more I’m learning I can be really dense- like rock hard!) Again this has to do with hormones.  One of the hormones that gets released when you are stressed is cortisol.  Cortisol is an energy regulating hormone.  It’s what wakes you up in the morning, and it’s responsible for releasing glucose into the blood stream.  Your body normally releases cortisol at certain times in the day (namely in the morning and a smaller surge in the later part of the day), but it is also released when you face stress, whether physical or mental.  Your body does not differentiate between the stress you feel when a project at work goes badly or if you are nearly hit by a truck- it kicks out the cortisol and adrenaline to deal with the sudden demand for energy.  The problem comes when you are constantly feeling stressed and your body is constantly putting out the cortisol.  This means that there is always glucose in the blood stream.  Normally, cortisol turns off the insulin so your body can burn the glucose immediately (so you have energy to run away fast from the giant bear about to eat you). This means cortisol is making your cells insulin resistant, which starts a vicious cycle; even though there is always glucose in the blood stream, your cells aren’t using it because it’s being stored, so your brain is telling you to eat something.  It’s because the cortisol and insulin are cutting off the other’s effectiveness, which can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes (where I was at).

Essentially, you are always putting out cortisol and glucose and insulin and it’s a train-wreck: nothing is working like it should and you are constantly storing the glucose as fat and constantly hungry and constantly gaining weight.  Like I said, I was a scoffer until I quit the job from hell, the stress went away and I lost 40 lbs in about two months.  So, yeah, stress has something to do with weight loss!

The Golden Rules of Carbs and Fat Loss

This is one I owe directly and completely to Elizabeth Benton! If you want to know more about this, please go to her website PrimalPotential.com and check it out there.  I’m just going to give you a quick breakdown, mainly because it’s directly related to cortisol and glucose which we just went over and because it’s really basic: Don’t eat carbs in the morning! I know there are all kinds of blogs and weight loss ‘gurus’ who will tell you to eat your carbs in the morning so you have all day to burn them off, but I learned from Elizabeth that this idea does not work. You get your biggest cortisol surge in the morning and because you’ve been fasting all night (that’s where the word ‘breakfast’ comes from!), your body is most sensitive to cortisol and insulin in the morning, so when you have that bowl of cereal or the bagel, your body reacts more intensely to both hormones, so the cortisol keeps more glucose in the blood and your body pumps out a lot of insulin so you are in fat storage mode much longer than if you had bacon and eggs instead.  Remember that insulin only reacts to glucose.  When you eat fat and protein, they take longer to metabolize than carbs, so they don’t hit the bloodstream right away, delaying the secretion of insulin, and there are no carbs in fat or protein, so they are not converted to glucose! (Not going to cover gluconeogenisis here!) So, no carbs for breakfast means no insulin in the blood and no fat storage mode for you! You are burning energy instead.  So, the fewer the carbs you eat in the morning, the more fat/ glucose you burn and less gets stored.  Carbs are best eaten later in the day (like dinner) because your cortisol surges are done for the day and the body is putting out more melatonin (the sleep hormone) and carbs help elevate the levels of melatonin, serotonin and tryptophan, which can make you sleepy.  (This is why so many people get sleepy after a big meal.) Since you are winding down for the day, this helps you relax and get more sleep.

Whole Foods v Processed Foods

I did an entire blog post on this but it’s key to weight loss, in my opinion. Simply put, eat foods that are as close to their original state as possible.  Bagels are not created by nature, even it says “ALL NATURAL!” on the label.  (FYI: a label is another cue something may not be in its ‘natural’ state!) Sweet potatoes on the other hand come right out of the ground in pretty much the same shape and form as they are in the produce section.  These days a lot of produce do have labels on them: my apples usually have a little sticker telling me the variety and the producer’s logo. The more processed a food is, the more it’s broken down (pre-digested if you will) which means the easier it is for your body to break down and a lot of times, the fewer nutrients it contains.  One of the things that makes me roll my eyes is that to make the bagel, they have to process the wheat, which means they take out most of the stuff that gives wheat its value, like fiber and protein and vitamins and then they have to add some of those back to bump up the nutrient quota!  Let’s take a look at my apples:  there’s the bulk raw apple with the stem, the seeds, and the peel that I get from the produce section, there’s the applesauce that I get from the canned fruit section and the apple juice that I get in the juices.  All of them are made with apples, but the juice is the most processed of the three.  All that’s left of the apple is the liquid sugar and a few vitamins.  The applesauce is a better choice than juice, because in addition to the apple’s sugars, there is some of the fiber left and probably a few more vitamins but the raw apple is the only one in its natural state: nothing has been removed, even the parts we won’t eat like the seeds and the stem.  We can eat the peel, the flesh and get the juices too.  We get the benefit of the whole apple: fiber, sugar and vitamins.  It’s the same with the sweet potato: you get the whole vegetable, not just parts!  Because it has not been processed, nothing has been broken down and nothing has been taken out. That means it takes longer to metabolize, is usually more filling and there’s more nutritional bang per calorie buck!

Water

This is another one where everyone rolls their eyes! We’ve all heard it but do we do it?  Water is one of those things that we take for granted but our body is made up mostly of water.  Not enough water and bad things happen. Right now, California is suffering from the worst drought in a century so water is on every Californian’s mind.  Our lawns and landscaping are dying because there isn’t enough water and we do it to our own bodies voluntarily!  Unlike our lawn, our body can’t turn yellow in spots to let you know that it needs more water! What does turn yellow? Yeah, you know! and the darker yellow the worse the internal drought!  Like our lawns, we also dry up, but we don’t notice it because we aren’t paying attention.  Our lips, skin and mouth get dry, as do our eyes and the rest of our mucus membranes.  We just put on lip balm and lotion and eye drops instead of getting a drink!  We do drink a lot of other things besides water, like coffee, soda, tea, alcohol and sports drinks.  What we really need is just plain water without the additives, because in some cases, whatever water you take in with the drink is being used to process the additives (like caffeine and ethyl alcohols) in the drink.  Plain simple water is best.  Staying hydrated means your body isn’t retaining water.  As we Californians know too well right now, each drop is precious so we don’t waste anything! Our bodies do the same thing: no water coming in? no water going out! This means we retain as much as we can. (I know this happens to me!) Things that normally get expelled are not getting expelled because the body is hanging onto the water. Dry mouth, thirst and dark urine is the simplest ways to tell if you are not getting enough water.  Drinking enough water also keeps you from overeating as well, because some of the time when we think we’re hungry, what we really want is water. It not only keeps us full, it’s good for the body (it’s really hard to drink too much water) and it’s got no calories! So next time, don’t get a soda or coffee- just get a water!

Moving

Obviously, I mean just regular activity! As a species, when we had to get from point A to point B, we had one option: get up and walk!  Now, we ask ourselves what we need from point B, send them an email and have it same-day delivered!  It would be funny and sad, but it’s true!  We don’t need to walk around the grocery store: we get our groceries delivered to our doorstep!  We don’t need to walk through the department store: we order online.  When I was a kid, my sister and I used to walk to the movie theater two and half miles away from us (yeah, I know- it’s supposed to be 5 miles in the snow to school!)  It was pretty much an all day outing: on the way over, we would stop at the local drugstore, get some candy and soda, walk the rest of the way to the theater and after the movie we would walk home.  Our biggest concerns were the storage facility with the scary big dog and the parts of the street that had no sidewalks.  We didn’t know or care how far away it was: we wanted to see the movie!  We really didn’t notice how long the walk was because we were too busy talking and watching for traffic, and on the way home, we were usually too busy going on about the movie we just saw.  Our parents either didn’t worry or didn’t know that we did it (we were kind of latch key kids). Today, if someone suggested I walk down to that same theater from my old house, I would think they were nuts: “do you know how far that is?!”  The indignation would probably mean more if I hadn’t done it so often as a middle schooler, but this is how our lifestyles have changed. We don’t even get up to give our boss down the hall an update on our project- we email him!  Someone buzzes the intercom to be let in and we don’t get up to open the door- we press the button next to the intercom (and sometimes whine about having to get up to go to the intercom)! This isn’t about going to the gym three times a week to work out, although that’s not a bad idea; this is about moving as much as possible during the day.  Our sedentary lifestyle is having a huge impact on our bodies and I don’t just mean our weight gain.  As a society, we are suffering musculoskeletal changes and problems from prolonged sitting.  In peoplespeak, it means our bones, joints and muscles are hurting from being stuck in positions we weren’t built to be in for long periods.  Those hunched shoulders and back?  The carpal tunnel?  The stiff knees, hips and low back?  All from sitting: at the desk, in the car, on the sofa, etc.  Moving as much as possible isn’t just good for burning more calories and raising your basal metabolic rate; it’s good for your posture and your overall health.  A lot of activity trackers have reminders to move that you can turn on.  My new one buzzes me every hour to remind me to get up and check the paper in the copy room down the hall.

 Good Fats

Most of us remember the “fat scare” of the ’80’s: anything with fat was a deadly weapon and it is to be avoided at all costs in favor of ‘healthy whole grains.’  We all know where that took us: right into obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics, and it didn’t do much for the heart disease problems, either! Bottom line for most of us: our bodies need fat.  Every cell in our bodies has and needs fat to repair itself and function.  Without fat, we die.  It’s that simple.  (Some of us are also old enough to remember the creepy X-Files episode in which Timothy Carhart played a fat-sucking vampire! Yeah- creepy!) Without fat, our bodies start breaking down, plus our bodies actually burn it as fuel. But the fat scare wasn’t totally without merit: some fats are better than others.  Basically, stick with fats that appear in nature and avoid crop or grain fats, as they are generally unstable.  If it’s an unstable fat when it comes from the factory, it’s going to be an unstable fat when it’s incorporated into your cells.  Animal fats like those in butter and meats, although saturated, are still better for you than the unstable crop oil fats. (They don’t have to be your major source of fat!) Things like olive, coconut and avocado oils are also good stable fats, and they usually taste better than some of the crop oils.  Fats are also very satisfying; yes, they have more calories than carbs or protein, because they have more energy and your body runs longer after a meal with lots of healthy fats, meaning you are more likely to feel full for a longer period of time than after a meal with more carbs and protein.  So, having a salad with some chicken, cheese, avocado, broccoli and an olive oil vinaigrette is probably more filling than a simple salad with ranch.

Logging your meals & activity

People either really hate this or they really agree with it (guess which one I am?)  It’s not that hard and it doesn’t have to take a long time, but it’s a wealth of information!  Simply write down what you eat and when you eat it, and when you work out and what you did.  Elizabeth Benton also advises to write down how you felt afterwards.  I usually do it if I notice something out of the ordinary. IT’S NOT ABOUT COUNTING CALORIES, although you can if you want.  It’s about finding out what works for you!  For example: I used to eat a banana every morning for breakfast.  By the time I reached the office, having eaten my banana on my 2 hour commute, I was usually pretty hungry around 10:00- like starving hungry!  Every day my journal said “starving by lunchtime.” So, I switched to eating string cheese in the morning instead, and ta-da, not so hungry by 10:00 a.m. This is where you write these things down, so when you’re trying to figure out why you are falling asleep at your desk at 3:30, you can look at your journal and see that you started getting sleepy in the afternoons about the same time you started having X for lunch.  Maybe it’s just not enough food for you.  Maybe it’s something your body burns fast and then you have the after-lunch energy crash.  Sometimes, a workout really saps your energy and makes you feel like you’re starving. That might be something you want to change but you need to track the changes to know what works best for you. I know when I have a sugary dessert in the evening (whether fruit or pastry), I will usually have a “I feel like a drank a bottle of tequila” morning because of an overnight blood sugar spike-and-crash.  Of course, it doesn’t have to be the negatives that you track: I’ve noticed that since switching to higher protein lunches, I have a lot more energy, and after workouts, I usually feel pretty energetic the next day, in addition to sleeping really well the night before.  This is why a lot of people who don’t log food and activity feel lost a few weeks into their new weight loss/ fitness plan: they know it’s not working but they don’t know how to fix it because they have no record of what they’ve done.  Think like a scientist and keep track, so when you hit that bump in the road (we all do), you know how you got there and can figure out how to get around it.

Meal Prep

This is another one people don’t like to do: it’s a pain; it’s a hassle; it takes too long; what if I change my mind?  Blah-blah-blah! I’ve heard (and used) that same list of excuses, and yes, every Sunday I b*tch about having to get the shopping done and get everything set up for the coming week, but I’ll tell you this on my word of honor, when I bailed on it last time and used the blah blah list of excuses, it was so much more of a pain, and a hassle and it took so much longer because I wanted that extra two hours to sit on my butt and goof off on Sunday afternoon! I had to scramble for something to take for lunch and then hit the grocery store on the way home from work, because I didn’t have anything prepared at home!  I had to stop for my coffee and a jacked up breakfast because the food I would normally have ready to go wasn’t even in the house!  So, guess who did a mid-week mini- food prep?  and guess who got her butt down to Safeway that next Sunday?  You don’t have to make a week’s worth of meals on the weekend (or whenever): all you have to do is figure out what you are going to be eating for the next week! Mine is as lax as possible (because I’m fundamentally lazy)! I buy enough meat/protein to get me through the week and enough vegetables to do the same. So I might have some chicken, some pork, some sweet potatoes and broccoli in my fridge, along with some apples, some string cheese, more chicken for lunch and some half and half for my coffee (really, that’s pretty much my weekly grocery list).  Nothing is pre-cooked or packaged in my lunch container, but it’s prepped enough so the night before, I stick it all in my lunchbag in the fridge and get the coffee set up for the morning, so I just turn on the coffee maker in the morning, pour it in my travel mug and grab the lunchbag out of the fridge.  When I come home in the evening, I put the chicken on the stove, stick the broccoli in the microwave and it’s dinner! Usually takes about an hour, give or take, chicken & broccoli v sweet potato fries.  Pretty much the only thing I do pre-cook would be the chicken for lunch, depending on what kind I get.  Usually a lot of my lunch is from my dinner: I make enough for dinner and lunch and stick that in my lunchbag.  It’s a little bit of planning or if you want, it can be the full-bore make-it-and-stick-it-in-the-fridge/freezer prep.  It’s what you want it to be, but knowing what you have planned and getting it set up ahead of time takes a lot of the guesswork out of eating healthy and leads to more consistency, which leads to more results, and isn’t that what you are after?

Finally!!

My apologies for the longer than average post but I think this should give you some place to start or some ideas for positive changes to your own routine.  Most of these I learned the hard way and from wiser souls than I am (again, check out Primal Potential- she’s very accessible!)  I’m just passing on the good intel (or at least what works for me!)  I practice all of these and they have served me well.  I’ve lost 165 lbs to do over the last two years, and except for one really long plateau that was totally my own fault (curse you, 2015 holidays!), my weight loss has been pretty consistent!  As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motivation: Surprising Yourself & Pushing the Envelope

How many times have you watched someone doing something and said to yourself: “I could never do that in a million years!” This is one of those instances where ignorance is truly bliss, because if you don’t know that you can’t do it, you’ll probably try, and who knows- maybe you really can do it!  I used to think about this a lot with my cat Belle.  She was a tall big boned green eyed calico who was a rescue from a local vet. Some high school kids brought her in as a kitten when they heard her crying in a dumpster.  She’d been hit by a car and just tossed in like trash, and as a result she lost a back leg.  When I brought her home the week after Thanksgiving, she still had the stitches from the amputation, and after taking a couple of days to get used to me, my house and my dogs, she promptly scaled the pet-gate and the Christmas tree.  She got into everything she could, because no one told her she couldn’t. (She was also the vicious “attack cat” whenever anyone came to the house- my four-legged cat hides under the bed!)

She was not the first “disabled” cat our family has had.  When we were in college, we had Mowgli who was blind.  One eye was opaque due to scarring from an infection and the other had to be removed (same infection).  She also climbed everywhere (including the NordicTrac) and got into every bag we had, every closet and under everywhere she would fit: “Be careful with that! Mowgli’s probably in it!” and she was!  She didn’t know she was blind and couldn’t do everything “normal” cats could.  Like Belle, no one had ever told her she couldn’t, so she did whatever she wanted.

You’d think people would have more sense than our pets, but I think we are in danger of convincing ourselves there are things we can’t do, either from fear of failure or embarrassment.  We think we can’t so we don’t even try and as a result, we end up being right: we cannot do it (whatever “it” is).  The task does not defeat us: we defeat ourselves!  “We have met the enemy and they are us!”

I have a bit of a reputation for trying almost anything. It’s not because I’m some kind of super confident and self assured person (oh so not me!); it’s because of a couple of things that happened my senior year in high school.  One of them I’ve mentioned on this blog before: at our final exam, one of my teachers, Sister Patrice (yes, I went to Catholic high school) gave every senior a paper butterfly with a positive trait she had noticed about them and mine said “open minded.”  Part of my “I’ll try anything” mindset comes from that.  I’ve tried hard not to lose it over the years and I think it’s done me good.

The second thing that taught me to try even though failure looked imminent was my senior PE final: we had to run two miles (8 times around the track).  We didn’t have to beat a time; we just had to finish.  I was the second fattest girl in my class (in the whole school FYI) and after she announced what the final was (we got a week or so to train for it), the teacher, Coach Betty, told me that I and the other girl, Jennifer, were exempt from running, obviously because of our weight.  I don’t think Jennifer ran the track (she was exempt from PE altogether), but the thought of being “the only one who didn’t run” in my period was far more mortifying than failure, so I changed into my shorts and sneakers and ran with the rest of them.  On the day of the final, I was the last lone runner on the track, but I finished all 8 laps.  I was panting, could hardly breathe and could hardly walk back to the locker room, but I’ll never forget the smile on Coach Betty’s face.  She was so proud of me.  She said “you knew you could do it!”  Actually I didn’t, but to give up without trying was way more embarrassing than falling flat on my face.  If I failed, at least I made a good attempt and all I had to do was keep running.  I figured it’d be less embarrassing to pass out on the track trying to do it than not to run at all.

In much the same way that we can overestimate ourselves, we also underestimate our abilities.  Before we even try, we think we’ll fail and that fear of failure and the accompanying embarrassment is overwhelming.  We’re afraid of being laughed at, being humiliated, having everyone staring and making comments. We love being the center of attention when we do something right and we hate being the butt of the jokes when we screw up.  But in most cases it’s only the fear itself that is the only boogeyman we’ve got to watch out for. Many times, the failure itself, if it actually happens, is seen as mostly a bump in the road by everyone else.  You tried, you failed, you move on and so does everyone else.  You are the only one who makes a big deal out of it. You are afraid of the fear of looking foolish, and once you accept that everyone looks foolish at one time or another, it’s no big deal.

Sometimes not knowing that you can’t do something leaves you open to the possibilities; it’s almost like knowing that you can’t keeps you from doing it. Case in point: in 2003, I shattered my left wrist.  My hand was actually pushed into my arm about an inch- it was like my wrist was gone.  The break was so bad the doctor told me he’d never seen a wrist look like that. The word he used to describe my metacarpals (the bones in my wrist) was “gravel.”  I ended up having a plate put in with five screws to secure it to whatever wasn’t broken.  I was in a cast for six weeks and ended up spending about 10 weeks in physical therapy.  If any of you have ever had PT, you know they evaluate you when you first show up and then they do it again when you finish to measure your improvement.  When I started, I could not touch my fingers to my palm, let alone bend my wrist.  It was frozen solid and frankly it scared me more than a little.  So, let’s just say I was motivated.

When I left PT, they did their final evaluation and I had approximately 90% of my hand/ wrist function back.  I could pick up fine objects like pins and ball bearings, and I could move my wrist forward, backward and twist it around.  Pretty much the only thing I could not do was press my palm against a flat surface like a table or a wall because it hurt and I could feel the screws in my bones.  The other thing I could not do is carry a bag with a strap across the incision/ scar (like women do with a purse), because again I feel the screws biting into my bones.  So, overall, I was pretty happy, and so was the therapist.  She told me that they had estimated I would only regain about 70% of my wrist function because of the break and the surgery.  I was shocked: no one had told me the prognosis was so grim (they didn’t think it was grim but I sure as h*ll did)!  I often wonder if my knowing would have made a difference.

I’ve always been one of those people who tries things even though failure looks imminent, and those two events in my life (three actually) really reassured me that I wasn’t wrong to try. (This is code for “I’m no longer afraid of looking like a doofus!”) By contrast, my friend G. was the exact opposite.  She was my sister’s roommate when my sis moved back to the valley, and she was working as an administrative assistant in an office but what she really wanted to do was be a nurse.  When my sister asked her why she didn’t apply to nursing school, she immediately came up with “reasons”: she wasn’t smart enough; it was too hard; her family told her she couldn’t do it; all kinds of reasons why she would fail.  It reminds me of an episode on the The Simpsons where Homer gives Bart some “fatherly” advice and Bart replies:”Can’t win, don’t try! Got it!” This was G.’s thinking completely: don’t even try it because you won’t make it.  My sister and I both told her if the worst you can do is fail and you’ve already accepted that, where’s the harm in trying?  Eventually, she applied to nursing school and now she’s an RN.

The point I’m trying to make is that you need to keep an open mind about whatever it is you are considering.  Sometimes, we surprise ourselves with what we can do! I recently started taking a weekly aerobics class.  This is a different class than my water aerobics because- yup! no pool!  It’s only a half hour but it feels like a lot more work and it also involves getting on the floor to do some stretches and exercises.  There are some wrestling mats that we use, and frankly I was more than a little concerned, since my knees are not the best.  I tried crawling under a desk a few weeks ago at the office and the pain on my arthritic knees was extreme and getting back up was seriously in doubt.  I was hoping I could do at least half of the workout and to my shock, I was able to do the whole thing, even on the mats.  I could get up and get down, if not smoothly, at least without too much trouble!  One of the instructors makes a point each time of telling me how good I am doing in the class.  I am by far the largest person in the class and probably the least mobile, but I show up each week, when some of the others don’t (there were four of us one week, including the two instructors!) He’s always glad to see me show up and keep trying, and even though I have no intentions of not showing up, it’s nice that he is so encouraging (besides keeping up with my activity, I also paid for the class and I don’t get a rebate for missed classes!)  The positive feedback makes me feel good, which is no doubt why he does it.  The class only runs for two months before the break for the holidays (it’s at the local community college) and I can tell already that I’m going to miss it when it’s over, and I will probably sign up for another one in the Spring semester.

That’s pretty good for someone who was doubtful she would be able to keep up with the half hour workout! That’s pretty much my point: if I had been too scared to take the class, I would never have known what I could do, and I would have stayed right where I was.  Six weeks into the class (again only half an hour each week), I can already see my progress.  The exercises are less of a struggle, I’m stronger and more flexible and I feel more confident each time I show up.  I’m also less tired and less sore the following day.  This is what I have gained by pushing myself just a little past my comfort zone.  I admit, it was a little uncomfortable thinking that I wouldn’t be able to get up off the floor and it would be embarrassing.  It was a little scary (rather more than a little actually) thinking that I’d have to sit out more than a few of the exercises because I wasn’t flexible enough or fit enough to do them.  I thought of The Simpsons episode again: “Can’t win, don’t try!” I thought about Belle, sitting in the kitchen doorway hissing at my dad, “the stranger in her house.”  Yeah, a 12 lb three-legged cat is sooo intimidating! But there she was, defending her territory regardless.  Ultimately, what was I scared of? Looking foolish in front of strangers because I dared to try improving myself?  I was reminded recently of a speech called “The Man in the Arena” [excerpted from “Citizenship in A Republic”] by Teddy Roosevelt (Elizabeth Benton read it on a recent Primal Potential podcast): “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena … who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…” It felt a lot like it did when I was in high school, running those laps: I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not, but if I was going to fail, it wasn’t going to be because I never tried!  Keep daring greatly, and you might surprise yourself by succeeding!

 

 

 

 

 

Broken Promises & Being Your Own Worst Enemy

One of the things I hear a lot on the Primal Potential podcast and on MFP (My Fitness Pal) is the idea that, because you blew it today or this week, that you’ll start again fresh on Monday, or tomorrow, or whatever convenient date is approaching.  As we head into the holiday season, for a lot of us that date will of course be the New Year.  I have to confess, this idea of “I’ll start tomorrow!” (as Elizabeth Benton terms it) was initially foreign to me.  Not because I’m so good at not blowing it (yeahhhh, riiiiight-eye roll) but because I really never planned on “starting.”  I’d try to “eat better,” blow it and well, so much for today!  There was never any idea of starting over; it was pretty much one constant flub-up after another without any planning or organization. To say that I didn’t know what I was doing is being charitable- I was a total diet disaster!

This idea of planning a start date for a diet/ eating plan was a little mystifying to me, but the more I listened to Elizabeth’s podcast and saw what my MFP friends were posting, I soon became acquainted with the idea of “starting fresh.” I understand the concept but the constant “damage control monitor” in me rebelled at the idea of just trashing the rest of the day/ week/ year and starting fresh on another date.  Maybe it’s from all those years as a student, but when you really botch a midterm and/ or project, you really can’t say “I’ll just retake the course next semester!”- you do as much as you can to salvage what remains of your grade! I think that mentality has been thoroughly ingrained into me, so yeah, if I totally blew it on lunch because we went out the Death By Deep Fried restaurant, I’d usually do as much as I could to save the rest of the day, whether I was “dieting” or not. My natural inclination is if you completely lost control (or chose to indulge) at one meal, or on one day, then you don’t give up the rest of the day/ week; you start making better choices right away (even if they were only marginally better at first)!  Yeah, you went way overboard at breakfast today! Admit it, own it and move on!  Make better choices at lunch today!  Or, if your breakfast was really satisfying, skip lunch entirely and just have two meals for today.  Actually, this is kind of what I do on weekends when I have lunch out with my dad- I stick to coffee for breakfast, have a bigger lunch and then have dinner that evening. This is what I did when my friends treated me to a birthday lunch at Death By Deep Fried- it was a surprise (and a total Paleo disaster!), so there was no dinner that night!

There are a lot of people who are really attached to the whole “fresh start” idea and it’s not without merit, but I think this is one of those good ideas that has been corrupted by excuse abuse.  The idea of starting fresh on a certain date allows you to prepare mentally for the process.  It also allows you to get all your ducks in a row, like getting rid of all the foods that are not on your new eating plan and picking out some good alternatives.  One of the changes I made was I bought a lunch kit: the insulated bag, food containers and a water bottle.  In the past, I always ate takeout for breakfast and lunch; in my new lifestyle, I bring my meals with me.  In the past, I ate a lot of boxed pasta mixes and in my new eating plan, I eat more veggies, so when I was transitioning, it was a simple process of buying some fresh veggies instead of processed foods and not restocking the boxes as they ran out (I eventually threw out the last one!) It’s not unlike people who quit smoking: they mentally prepare themselves for the day when they will officially be a “non-smoker,” pitch the last of the cigarettes, and stock up on things they think they’ll need like nicotine gum and/ or patches.  Writing in a start date on your calendar is a good way to get ready for the “official start” of your healthier lifestyle.

The abuse happens when people repeatedly “start over fresh” because they keep giving in to temptation.  You are almost two weeks into your new healthy lifestyle and you’ve been doing okay, despite the temptations, cravings and bad habits.  Then, you’re running late, have a less than satisfying protein bar for breakfast and come rushing into your morning meeting –BOOM! plateful of donuts on the conference room table! oooh, and there’s buttermilk bars- your favorite!! mmmm, they smell so good! and the aftertaste of that getting-yuckier-by-the-minute protein bar is still in your mouth! I can have a half of one, right? That won’t be so bad! Well, I ate more than half, so I might as well eat the whole thing! It’s only one donut….. I can start again tomorrow, can’t I?

Or instead of the morning meeting’s donuts, it’s the impromptu lunch out with friends or co-workers: they love that Mexican restaurant, and their chips are always hot and fresh! and they make their own tortillas each morning! So you succumb to the chips and tortillas and beans and rice and heck, I’ve already blown it, so let’s splurge on the deep-fried ice cream (yeah, it’s a thing!) “I can start again tomorrow, can’t I?”

It becomes a loophole- an excuse mantra, if you will- for indulging in the things you know aren’t going to move you towards your goals.  Rather than saying no to the buttermilk bars, you give in and “redeem yourself” by agreeing to start fresh the next day.  Rather than saying no to the carrot cake (my own kryptonite!), it’s okay to have one slice since I’m going to be starting fresh again on Monday! Tomorrow is going to be a killer-strict hold-fast-to-those-goals day!! The problem is tomorrow never comes! Literally, when you wake up in the morning, it’s Today, not Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is always a good day to get your ducks in a row and start fresh! The problem is it’s not the diet or healthy lifestyle that keeps getting postponed- it’s your goals!  It’s your success that keeps getting farther and farther away! I italicized the “your” for a reason, because the person you hurt the most when you push the date back again and again is YOU! How can you ever be a winner if you don’t even get in the game?  We used to have a lottery slogan in California: if you want to win, you have to play! And it’s true!  I will never win a gold medal for skiing, and I can say that with absolute certainty because I have never been on skis. I have no desire even to try skiing, so I know I’ll never been world class, let alone an Olympic medalist! If you want to be healthier, lose weight, be more athletic, it means you have to engage in that behavior! It means you have to play the game!

Training & Practice isn’t just for the Gym

I used to teach Basic English (waaay back in the 90’s- aack!), and in addition to writing essays, my students had to read a book. Since most of them were freshman and more than a few were straight from English as a Second Language classes, it wasn’t a big book, but most of them were not recreational readers.  I would tell them that reading is a skill and the more you practice, the easier it gets. I would tell them when they begin the book, read for at least five minutes without stopping, or as long as they could before they started getting antsy.  Next time, read for ten minutes.  Just increase the time each time (or every couple of times) and they were usually surprised that it got easier.  Many of them had never thought of themselves as “readers” but it’s just practice and like any skill, if you don’t keep practicing, you lose your edge!  I used to ask them (and this will really date me!) “Do you think Michael Jordan practices?  You better believe it!”

Most of us who go into the healthy living/ eating arena aren’t that different from my former students: we don’t think of ourselves as healthy individuals or healthy eaters because we’ve never practiced it. It’s a skill we really stink at because unlike people who have always worked out or made healthy choices, we don’t have any consistency or familiarity with either of these areas.  It’s awkward and uncomfortable at first when we have to make healthy choices or go to work out.  We feel unsure and the idea that other people are looking at us at the gym, or impatiently waiting for us to order at the restaurant, makes us feel self-conscious.  We are hesitant, which makes it difficult to practice consistency, which lends itself to a vicious cycle: we feel awkward, so we don’t do it often, and because we don’t do it often, we feel awkward and so we continue not to do it!  Obviously if we made healthy choices more often, we would feel more comfortable and it would be less of an issue until it became a non-issue entirely!

For me as a reader, I grew up watching my dad and my grandparents read just about every day.  My dad took us to the library on a regular basis and my grandparents had a set time every afternoon when they read the paper or their books.  It was normal for me to pick up a book and read for long periods because I enjoyed it (I still read recreationally almost every day).  I had seen family members do it and it was no big deal: no whining, no fanfare, just every day, enjoyable behavior. Making healthy choices to be more active or eat more whole foods isn’t that different.  We just need to practice long enough until it becomes a habit. We hone our skills with practice and consistency and lo and behold, the buttermilk bars are no longer a temptation because our palate has changed and they aren’t as great as they used to be. We learn through trial and error what works best for us and what we need to avoid.  This means that we have to risk being unsure, making mistakes, having people ask us questions that maybe feel a little awkward at times.  It means we have to put ourselves out there a little.  Our real friends and family will be supportive and, in my opinion, everyone else doesn’t matter! So what if the waiter sighs impatiently while you ask questions about the glazed salmon and fresh vegetables?  Who cares if the other guys at the gym roll their eyes when you grab the 10# free weights?  You have just as much right to be there as they do, and as for the waiter, his tip depends on you! (Minus $1 for each sigh!)

As a child in the library, I often wandered out of the Children’s Section into the mainstream areas and at home I usually picked up the books my dad finished.  (FYI: James Bond is most definitely not for kids!)  As a result, I was the only kid in my freshman history class to know the difference between a rifle and a musket (it’s the grooves aka rifling in the barrel; increases accuracy and speed of the rifle’s bullet). Did my parents care that I was reading way above my age level? Definitely not! I did learn that I am not an Ian Fleming fan but that history is pretty awesome! Did classmates think I was weird? Some of them, but when they needed help on their Iliad term papers, I was really popular!  The point is being different didn’t stop me from doing what I liked doing.  If they thought I was weird, I really didn’t care. The reading and learning were more valuable to me than my classmates’ opinions of me.  (Personally, I never saw the thrill in getting stoned/ wasted in the school parking lot, but that’s just me!)

Risk v Reward

You have to decide what’s important to you: learning to make healthy choices regarding your food and activity or feeling awkward at gyms and restaurants. Does looking like a newbie or a dork in front of strangers matter more to you than your health and well-being? (Granted, it’s a little more awkward in front of friends/ family, but they should be supportive!) Your goals are important to you, whether it’s eating healthier, getting fitter, or even something like just being strong enough to do a hand stand; it matters to you! The reason is really beside the point. Every time you set out to reach your goals, you are telling yourself that you matter and you are worth the effort! It’s a promise you are making to yourself to improve your health, your strength, your fitness: I will do this! Each time you give up your goals for the momentary thrill of the buttermilk bar, the thrill of playing hooky from the workout in favor of the Walking Dead binge, you are breaking a promise to yourself.  You are putting your dreams last in favor of the momentary whims.  Will the donut taste good? Probably.  For about five minutes.  Will the tv show be fun? Probably. For as long as it lasts. What will either of those gain you?  Not much.  Making the healthy choice not to eat the donut and to hit the workout, on the other hand, will give you more confidence in your healthy choices and move you a little further to your goals.  Your body will appreciate the exercise and get stronger.  You’ll be more confident in the gym.  Your metabolism will appreciate the healthier food and your blood sugar will be more even, and maybe you will even burn some fat instead of the donut you didn’t eat!  Your palate will change and move away from craving sugar and refined carbs, and you’ll have fewer cravings for the simple processed foods.  All of these positives come from keeping your promise to be a healthier person.  Weigh those against the fleeting momentary pleasures of donuts and tv (or whatever else tries to lure you away)!

Strange things happen when you keep your promises to yourself: 1) you get stronger- mentally and physically!  I drop off my laundry every week and it’s generally around 20 lbs.  I used to need both hands to lift and carry the bag, but not anymore.  Because now I keep my workout appointments.  I used to hate getting milk and eggs at my supermarket because they were right next to the bakery, and I could smell the cakes, donuts and cookies.  It was such a temptation for me, but now I just walk right by them without a thought.  Even when I stop to look at them, they are not appealing, because I know how much better I feel when I don’t eat them (they don’t really taste as great anymore either)!  Neither of these accomplishments would have happened if I hadn’t kept my promises to myself, and frankly, I learned this the hard way, after breaking them over and over again (yeah, I’m a little slow)!

2) You become more confident in yourself. As mentioned above, the more you do something, the easier it gets, so eventually, even when you come up against something that is a little beyond your comfort zone, it’s still not much of a stretch because you’ve done something similar for so long.  By the time my friends took me out for my birthday lunch at Death By Deep Fried, I had been making healthy choices at restaurants for a while, and even though there was very little on that menu that fit in my eating plan (it was a Paleo train wreck!), it wasn’t that big a deal.  I made the best choices that I could and skipped dinner that evening. The “I’ll start tomorrow” excuse wasn’t even an option for me! There was no need to “start fresh” the next day, because I chose not to quit!

3) The more you choose not to quit, the easier it gets to keep going! You build momentum and the more you see the results of not quitting, the more you want to keep going!  This is what finally happened to me.  After biting the bullet, keeping my workout appointments, and saying no to the “treats,” I became more confident, I became stronger, and – gasp!- I started seeing results! The more I saw results, the more I wanted to keep going forward! I finally got under 300 lbs!  (After almost 20 years!) Yowza– was I thrilled!!  Carrot cake be damned! Who needs it when it feels like this to hit a milestone like that?! Why would I ever want to quit for a donut so I can “start fresh tomorrow” when I am kicking butt with my goals today?!  Success breeds success and when you stop breaking your promises to yourself, and keep them instead, you go from being your worst enemy to being your strongest ally! You deserve the best and don’t let others’ opinions stand in your way!