You Need to Come First!

One of the views I’ve heard a lot over the years is that “I need to make my family/ my job/ whatever my first priority!” Essentially, it’s the idea that everyone else’s needs and wants should come before yours.  That’s very noble and self-effacing, and also a little stupid, in my opinion.  It’s touted as the ideal and it’s generally accepted that if you put yourself before others, you are greedy and selfish. Really? Let’s take a look at that!

I used to put others before me all the time with my job, with my family, with pretty much everything in my life.  If I’m tired, I’ll just push through and get this project done at the office and so I’ll get home at 8:30 instead of 7:30. I’ll just handle it.  I’ll run my mom’s errands because she asked me and so what if I have to make a special trip to whatever store and then drive over to her place (also out of my way) so she doesn’t have to come pick up what I got for her.  I’ll just take care of it. I was taking care of everything and everyone but me.  That was a spectacularly bad idea! Not just bad– spectacularly bad!  Why? Because if you are in really sorry shape, how can you take care of anything or anyone else?  If you are too sick, too tired, too burnt out and not functioning well, you are not going to do anything well at all!  My former boss from hell frankly expected me to put my job and her needs before myself and if I didn’t, I was just a bad employee and a bad person in general (and she made sure I knew how disappointed she was with me!) So I was always exhausted and fuzzy-brained and eating badly (and feeling awful as a result) so I could take care of whatever she wanted done. I was so burnt out, stressed out and poorly nourished I was literally killing myself.  What did it get me?  Nothing good! A lot of sleepless nights and poor self-esteem. What did it get her and my job and everyone else in my life?  Nothing good there either! A lot of nasty recriminations. (FYI: she was so concerned about my health because ‘what am I going to do if you die?’ Not kidding here! That should have been a huge clue!)

If you want to take care of others, you need to take care of yourself first! You can’t help them if you need help too. I remember coming home from that job from hell usually close to 8:00 p.m., exhausted and burnt out. I’d eat whatever I’d gotten at the drive-thru and just collapse in my bed. I was so much fun to be around. I was too tired to play with my pets or do any housework. My weekends were split between sleeping and catching up on everything at home I didn’t get done during the week. So my friends and family didn’t see a lot of me either. My life was such a joyless existence and it was because I was putting everyone else’s needs before mine. I was so busy taking care of everyone else, I didn’t have any time or energy to take care of me.  My boss would nag me that I needed a hair cut or I never took any time to do my nails (she was very much into vanity) and I would think “when do I have time to get any of that done?”  I’d joke with my dog’s groomer that my dog gets to the “salon” more than I do.  Taking care of my pet was one thing I didn’t skimp on because he was a long haired dog- ’nuff said! Even then, it was one more ‘person’ I was putting before me.

You are not selfish or greedy for putting yourself first.  Think of it like this: if you see someone drowning and you know you can’t swim, are you just going to jump in with him? All you are going to do is drown alongside him! You are no help at all and now, you’ve gotten yourself in trouble too!  Let’s say someone at the office asks for help with a big project and you have five projects waiting on your desk- you are already swamped. “Sure, Bill, I’ll help with your project” because you want to be a good co-worker.  So now, you still have your five projects and part of Bill’s that you have clamoring for your time.  How much time and energy do you have to devote to Bill’s project?  How great a job will you be able to do? So if you miss the deadline on his project, he’s going to look bad and be pretty angry at you, and if you do manage to get it done, and-shocker here- you didn’t do a fabulous job, he’s still going to look bad and be unhappy with you.  Even if you do a fabulous job, he and his project look great, but what about your projects? Did you miss your deadlines and blow your projects to help out Bill?  If so, you may not be his co-worker much longer!

Managing your own time and energy isn’t being greedy; it’s being responsible.  If you are a parent, you know sometimes being responsible can make you unpopular but it’s a fact of life! As a parent, even if your child really wants to do all the activities and clubs, you know she may not have enough time for them, for schoolwork and for family and rest.  Are you just going to say yes because it’s what she wants and then let her get burned out? Of course not! As her parent, it’s your job to do what’s best for her!  Sometimes doing what’s best for others means that you have to take care of yourself too.  If you are supposed to take the kids and their friends out on a playdate on Saturday and you start feeling a little sick or worn out on Wednesday, maybe you have to tell the kids or family that you need to get to bed early that night.  Your spouse might have to fix dinner: sorry, hon, but I’m not up to it tonight!  If you really are still sick on Saturday, Jeff’s mom might have to sub for you or you might have to cancel the playdate.  I’m okay, you tell yourself; the kids are really looking forward to this trip.  Do you want a sick/ medicated parent driving your kid someplace or giving your kid the flu (or something worse)? I know I don’t!  It’s not good for you and it’s not good for them.  How much fun are you going to be on the trip anyway? And what happens if you get worse?  You might have to cut the trip short, or worse, you might have to have someone come pick up you and the kids to drive you all home.  No inconvenience there!  Wouldn’t it just be easier to handle this before it turns into a disaster? How popular are you going to be with the kids and their parents? And this includes your own kid, who is probably going to be embarrassed that you made him ‘look bad’ in front of his friends.

It’s wonderful knowing that people depend on you and view you as reliable and good at what you do, whether it’s taking care of business or taking care of your family.  It’s means you’re a responsible and conscientious person, but sometimes saying no is the responsible thing to do. Take your coworker Bill: he asks for help and you say ‘sorry, no.  I’ve got too much on my plate right now.’  He moves on to Sarah, who says yes and three weeks later, he and Sarah did a great job on his project, you had more time to work on your own and you all look good.  Suppose you are too sick to take the kids on their trip and you call Jeff’s mom, who is able to take them; you stay home getting over your flu and the kids have a great time- no disasters and no sick kids later on.  It’s not the end of the world when you say no.  Even if they are begging because “no one else can do it,” if you are already stretched to the limit (or more than you feel comfortable handling), then do the responsible thing and say ‘no.’

We all know there are times when sometimes you have to bite the bullet and stretch yourself; so maybe you stay late a few nights to get all your projects done and help Bill out, or you cancel something else on your schedule so you can get the extra rest and take the kids out on Saturday.  You make some allowances.  The difference here is that if these are exceptions rather than the rule, so you have that little extra in your tank to get you over this overload.  This was what I was not doing! Instead of staying late a couple of nights a month to take care of my boss’s needs, I was doing it just about every night.  Getting home on time was the exception and staying late was the norm.  This is why you say no the rest of the time: so when you really do have to take on the extra duties, you have that energy to give! If you’ve got nothing left to give because you are always swamped and always running hither and yon and always doing for everyone else but you, then when it comes time to help someone else out who really needs the help and has no one else to lend a hand, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel!

Your energy, time and attention are much like a bank account: if it’s invested and managed wisely, it grows and when you need the extra cash, there’s something there to draw on, but if you are constantly overspending, when you need some extra cash, the account is empty and, unlike cash, you can’t really borrow time, attention and energy from someone else! All you can do is ask for help, or better yet- tell them no. You aren’t Superman or Wonder Woman and there’s a limit to your resources.  If you are a responsible adult, then do the responsible thing.  A friend of my mom has a daughter Sarah who is living away from home for the first time and managing her own finances for the first time, and she called my mom a couple of weeks ago to ask if she could borrow some money.  She was broke and she had no groceries; instead of buying groceries, she’d gone to a local Indian casino and gambled it away.  Sarah was not happy to get a lecture about managing her money better or moving back home until she was a little more mature: she insisted she was a responsible independent adult!  Gambling the grocery money isn’t responsible and asking for a handout because of it isn’t being responsible.  It’s easy to see how irresponsible that is in Sarah’s situation, but how many of us do the same thing with our time, energy and attention? We fritter them away on other people (or on our own versions of the ‘casinos’ called tv, Facebook and Twitter, etc.) and when we open the metaphorical fridge door, we find it bare because we’ve got nothing left to spend.

If we are going to be the responsible, reliable, conscientious co-worker, employee, friend and parent, it means we need to manage our resources in a responsible manner.  It means that sometimes we have to say no.  It means that we have to make sure we are in a position to help out when someone truly needs help by first taking care of ourselves.  The irony is that most of us have no problem telling ourselves no.  We are used to denying ourselves the extra hour of sleep, the piece of chocolate cake, the night out at the movies or whatever we want to buy at the stores.  Self-denial is something to which we are very accustomed, but denying someone else access to our time and energy is something we find a lot harder.  Odds are Bill won’t be offended if you tell him you’re already stretched too thin (he might even appreciate it since you won’t botch his project!) and the parents of your kid’s friends will probably appreciate your not sharing your flu with their kids! Saying no is a lot harder than most of us think, but like every other healthy habit we are working on, it takes practice and the more you do it, the easier it gets, especially when your reserves start to grow! You start to have more energy and things that used to drain you aren’t so difficult anymore. Eventually, when you’ve sufficiently replenished your account, when someone asks for help again, you’ll have the reserves available to give them the help they need.  It was a long time before I was able to help anyone after I left the job from hell, because I literally had nothing left to give anyone, even to myself. I thought I was being conscientious, reliable and helpful but in reality I wasn’t helping anyone, least of all myself.

 

Thank You for a Great 2016!

This time next week, it’ll be 2017. Everyone will be in the throes of winding up any loose ends from 2016, recovering from the holidays, and getting started building healthy new habits. It can be a little overwhelming at such a hectic time of year, so I appreciate your taking the time to read my postings.

Although I have been doing this “fitness thing” for a couple of years now, I am still fairly new to fitness, nutrition and blogging, but I’ve learned a lot on this journey, and the focus of this blog is to share that information, resources and support with others.  When I started doing my own research, looking for information and support, I was a little lost. (Try googling “nutrition” or even “paleo diet” and see the flood of info that pops up!) My goal initially when I set up this blog was just to record and share my progress, but the more I learned, the more detours I encountered searching for info, and meeting others who were still in the dark about a lot of the things I was finding, I realized that the best use of this blog would be to share what I was finding. Frankly, sharing is how I first got some of my best resources and info: hearing about it from my fitness friends on My Fitness Pal (MFP).

One of the most important things I’ve learned this year is that we need to be savvy health consumers.  That is, we need to keep an open mind when it comes to new information but not blindly follow anyone who offers help or advice.  This is one of the reasons I will occasionally add in the “I’m not a healthcare professional” disclaimer and I provide (as much as possible) the source of my info so you can not only check it out for yourself but so you have the opportunity to check out some of the other links available.  It’s important to be open to new ideas (I believe this is how we grow as a civilization and individuals) but at the same time, we have to be careful that we don’t blindly follow the lead lemming off the cliff.  When it comes to health, we need to remember that what works for one person may not work for us, and more importantly, what is safe for someone else may not be safe for us! So, while we’re looking for new ways of getting fit or losing weight, we need to focus on what we can do safely and not “how much can I lose/ lift in two weeks doing X?” That idea is how people make themselves sick or end up in the hospital. In high school, my sister used to run almost daily. Eight times around the track (2 miles) was a nice run for her. When I had to do it for my PE final one year, I nearly passed out! (Truthfully, they gave me the option not to run, but I was stubborn…..) I took it slow and was the last one on the track but it still hurt to do it. Even though we’re sisters and grew up in the same house, our health, bodies and habits are still different. It’s what makes us individuals.

Some of the information that is out there is just irresponsible.  Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can add their two cents to the weight loss/ fitness conversation and just because they have a website or a YouTube feed, it doesn’t mean they are professionals or even that know what they are talking about.  As the information consumer, it’s your job to do a little research.  Some of you may recall the old saying caveat emptor: ‘buyer beware’ and it’s true more than ever today. There are so many people online who are giving out information (including me), some for free but many for money, and they may not have your best interests at heart.  Many of them mean well, I’m sure, but since they are not professionals, they may not know the whole story. (FYI: even professionals can be wrong!)  A good example of this is all the supplement companies and advocates who push them.  Even if it’s just something like a sleep supplement with magnesium, ‘more’ is not better, especially when it comes to certain supplements aka vitamins and minerals. Some vitamins like B & C are water soluble, which means it’s nearly impossible to overdose on them since you pass them through your urine, but other supplements are actually minerals and metals, like calcium and iron, and they don’t pass through your body quickly.  You can overdose on certain vitamins, minerals and supplements, which can have serious or dangerous consequences.  This is why when you buy these items, you need to buy them from reputable companies, read the informational pamphlet that comes with them, and hopefully you have researched the products before you bought them and discussed them with your healthcare professional.  I’m not telling you that you need to spend a mountain of time and money before you buy a bottle of valerian root or melatonin, but some people spend more time going through the reviews on Amazon before buying sneakers than they do before buying a bottle of something they are going to ingest!  Just because it works for others does not mean that it will be good for you.  Melatonin is actually a good example of this: I bought some a few years ago and: #1) it did NOT help me sleep; and #2) it made me really irritable, so I threw it away.  It works for a lot of people but not for me!

I have found that the podcasts and websites I like the best not only offer good information on a variety of nutrition and fitness/ health topics but they always caution their clients that everyone is different and what works for others may not work for them.  They usually mention that if you have a health condition, make sure you are okay to do/ take whatever they are talking about, i.e. melatonin or a fitness regimen.  I try to follow their example: I’m sharing what I have learned and some of the resources that I have found reliable and trustworthy, but you know your body better than anyone else, so if you have questions, concerns, doubts or even if you just want more info, please do some more digging! I love answering questions and offering my opinions (who doesn’t love that!), but I am in no way the final authority on any topic and definitely not an authority on your health! Don’t be shy about telling anyone that something is not working for you.  This goes for your doctor too! Just because they have letters after their name, it does not make them the Final Word on anything.  Many years ago, I broke my leg: I cracked the tibial plateau (the top of your shin bone), so even though it was broken, it didn’t look broken. I had x-rays done at Urgent Care where the radiologist told me it was broken and sent me to the hospital ER to be admitted. The ER doc was in a rush (as usual), looked at my  leg & the x-ray for 5 seconds, proclaimed “it’s fine” and started out the door.  I told him the radiologist had said it was broken, so he stopped, looked again and in those two minutes, my leg went from “fine” to “broken” to “a bad break.”  Had I not stopped him, he would have sent me home with a broken leg which, according to my orthopedic surgeon, would have split like a piece of kindling the first time I stepped hard on it which would have required surgery with installation of plates and screws, not to mention incisions down both sides of my leg.  All because the ER doc didn’t pause to look at my films and I kept my mouth shut out of fear of contradicting him. You live in your body every day; you know how it feels and when something isn’t right.  Never be afraid to ask questions of any health professional (or someone just offering information) when it comes to your health and your body.  You are your own best advocate! I will never be offended if you don’t agree with me or if you have questions, or if you just want to know more info.  I try to cite my sources in my posts, but if I forget, I am always available through comments on this blog or at takingthelongweightoskinny@gmail.com. Have a Happy New Year, everyone and thank you for making 2016 one of my best years yet!

 

Reflections of Change:Learning Not to Be Critical of Yourself

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I hate mirrors.  I’ve never been really fond of them (too many ghost stories involving mirrors when I was a kid) and as I got more and more obese, there was never any pleasure at looking at my reflection.  Occasionally, I would look at my face and think my eyes were kind of nice or my hair wasn’t bad, but that’s about as good as it got.  As for the rest of me, full body mirrors did not exist!

Even now when I look in the mirror every morning, I manage not to see the rest of me and focus only on the matter at hand, i.e. teeth, hair, makeup.  When I do look at the reflection, it’s usually a little critical: my chin is getting saggier; I’m getting wrinkles by my nose and mouth; my grey hair is more noticeable; etc.  It’s an objective observation as much as it can be; I’m not happy about the situation, but at the same time, I realize my options are fairly limited to remedy the situation.  I can probably get some kind of expensive plastic surgery to fix the chin, and maybe some collagen for the wrinkles, and the hair stylist can easily handle the grey.  But beyond maybe getting my hair colored, I’m really not interested in doing anything else.  My vanity is fairly limited by my impatience.  I don’t want to spend my time trying to look younger or thinner or ‘less wrinkled.’  It’s not a priority for me.  My boss from hell was horribly vain and I spent a great deal of my day making her ‘beauty appointments’ for waxing, botox, hair stylist, nails, etc.  I don’t have much interest in going down that road.

But at the same time, the changes that come with losing weight are beginning to register more and more.  Recently at the gym,  after changing into my swim suit, I passed by the full length mirror in the locker room.  It’s a tri-fold mirror, so you can see ALL of you.  Normally there’s some young little thing in front making sure her workout clothes aren’t rumpled and her hair/ makeup look good, but this time, there was no one, so I paused… and I looked.

Honestly…. I’m pretty wrinkly.  It looks like I’m wearing an outfit that is too big for me, because really, that’s what’s happening: I am shrinking inside my skin.  I knew it was coming.  You can’t weigh as much as I did and expect no consequences when you lose weight.  In fact, I used that as an excuse for a long time: “I don’t want loose skin and I don’t want surgery, so I’m not losing weight.”  After losing 170 lbs (the equivalent of an adult male), I’ve pretty much got loose skin everywhere.  My legs, belly and butt look the worst: droopier and wrinkly, with ‘pouches’ of wrinkled loose skin in some places.  My breasts have also gotten droopier as well as my arms and my chin. My bones are becoming more prominent: you can see my collarbone now; my hips, knees and elbows are bonier; even my head and feet have gotten smaller as my shoes and my hats seem bigger. (You know you’re fat when your head shrinks!)

Since this isn’t something I normally do, I took the time to look at my legs and my butt.  Yep, even more wrinkly and a lot droopier than before.  What’s the quip?: “that is not a good look for you!” That’s the truth! Like I said, I never thought of myself as being vain or overly concerned with my appearance (I had a guy tell me once that I didn’t know how to be a “girl” because I didn’t flirt or primp or whatever he thought “girls” are supposed to do! and yes, he was a first class jerk!) So, I spent a couple of minutes getting a good look at the state of my ongoing wrinkliness and made a mental note: yep, not a good look I’ve got going on here, and then went out to the pool.

On the one hand, it’s a little concerning because I’ve started dating again and I really don’t want to look unattractive, but I’m fairly realistic.  This is what I look like and any guy who is going to be more interested in what I look like than who I am isn’t a guy I am going to be dating very long, much like the first class jerk above.  The truth is I think the older I get, the b*tchier I get (I’m becoming Maxine from the Hallmark cards & calendars, complete with the little dog who knows better!) I no longer fuss over if I’m pretty enough or demure enough or “what happens if I never meet a guy?” but I also realize that I am in the minority when it comes to body image. It’s not because I’m super confident and secure in my appearance: it’s that I’ve already spent a big part of my life worrying about what others think of my appearance and it hasn’t gotten me very much except a lot of tears and sleepless nights (ergo I’ve turned into Maxine: get in my face and I’ll get right back in yours!) I remember being in grade school listening to a couple of boys sitting ahead of me discussing the good and not-so-good parts of my body. In fact, I remember most of my classmates throughout grade school telling me on many occasions what was wrong with my body and asking me (repeatedly) why I was so fat.  I also remember all the heartbreak that comes with the guy I like dating someone else because I’m just not attractive enough.  Then there’s the whole too-fat-for-sports issues and there’s always the family feedback.  They all meant well and were trying to help, but really, it just came across as “what’s wrong with you and why are you such a disappointment & embarrassment?”  That’s not what they said of course; they offered all kinds of ‘helpful advice’ to try and lose weight and be more active.  My all-time favorite is my mom chanting “chew! chew! chew!” at restaurants whenever I took a bite so I wouldn’t ‘bolt my food.’  Let me tell you, if there were EVER an incentive to bolt your food, THAT would be it! Is it any wonder that I’ve turned into a crabby old(ish) woman?

I see a lot of people on MFP and other sites who are very concerned about their body image.  They worry about how they look and whether their thighs are too thick or their upper arms are too flabby.  A lot of patients on My 600 lb Life and Skin Tight (TLC programs) are obsessed with ‘getting skin surgery’ so they can ‘look normal.’  I recall one woman practically in tears over the loose flabby skin because she desperately wanted to be beautiful.  One thing I’ve learned is that beauty comes from inside.  I know it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t meant it’s not true.  Everyone has a different idea of what is beautiful or handsome and even when scientists try to quantify what people are attracted to through biology, there are still exceptions: people who are considered beautiful/ handsome even though they don’t meet the ‘biological’ standards.  It comes down to confidence and personality: people who are attractive despite their physical appearance.

I realize that it’s not just a matter of vanity when it comes to your appearance; it’s a matter of self-esteem and self-care.  You want to reflect how you feel about yourself: this is me and I’m proud of me! I believe that’s a healthy self-image.  The problems come when we are not concerned with our self-care (i.e. we don’t take care of ourselves); when we are overly concerned about what others think of us; and when we are overly critical of ourselves.  None of those are healthy situations.  In the first case, not taking care of yourself is often an indication of depression/ altered mental status or sometimes an organic physical abnormality (like a brain tumor or chemical imbalance).  In the second case, being too concerned with other people’s opinions of you and your appearance is generally thought to be low self-esteem, but it can also be related to the third case, which is now usually diagnosed as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).  This is a disorder in which the patient obsesses over a perceived flaw in their body/ appearance.  This is an mental disorder that requires medical treatment.  It’s not thinking “I have ugly hair” or “my ears are too big.”  It is literally obsessing over it and having these negative persistent thoughts destroy your quality of life.

Most of us who have a weight problem or a loose skin problem fall somewhere in the middle of these: we are trying to take care of ourselves (losing weight/ getting healthier) but it gets very discouraging when no matter what we do, we cannot hide or minimize our size, our loose skin or some other aspect of our bodies that we are unhappy with.  Sometimes, we give up on trying to look our best.  Every comment on our appearance can become a perceived slight or criticism of us and we focus on our flaws.  We are always trying to live up to someone else’s standards.  It’s a very demoralizing, humiliating and unpleasant place to be.  It’s like trying to run in quicksand, because we feel like we never make any progress and keep sinking.  It’s because we are basing our self-worth on a temporary situation (our physical appearance) and we are depending on others for validation of that self-worth.  Let’s be honest: our looks are temporary.  One of my favorite lines from Shakespeare’s sonnets speaks to that: “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks/ Within his bending sickle’s compass come” (Sonnet 116). While you may not get ugly as you grow older, your appearance will change. That’s why it’s important to love and respect yourself and surround yourself with people who love and respect who you are, not what you look like. This is what most people have trouble with: loving and respecting themselves. It’s one of those cheesy clichéd platitudes that we hear over and over again, usually in a sappy ‘chick flick.’

As much as I hate to say it, it’s true: if you don’t love and respect yourself enough to stand up for yourself and/ or what you believe in, how can you expect anyone else to value you and your beliefs? It starts with you.  You are more than your appearance and more than your weight.  Those are temporary conditions that will change over time, whether you or anyone else likes it or not.  Until you look in the mirror and see yourself for the person you are inside and value that person, you will always find flaws in yourself.  What you look like is of minor importance. What you weigh matters only as far as your health. The true value is the whole person inside.  It’s okay to look at yourself and be a little critical, as in ‘I really need to get a hair cut’ or ‘I really need to cut back on the sweet desserts!’ But to look at yourself and see yourself as ‘ugly’ or ‘deformed’ is to demean and belittle your true value.  When I paused at the gym mirror and got a good look at myself, yeah, I was not happy with the saggy wrinkly skin.  I’ve always wished that I had delicate ankles and wrists, and I’d like to have nice legs too, but then I’ve always wanted blue eyes too!  Now that I can get contacts to color my eyes blue, did I go get them? Nope! They aren’t worth my effort, and everyone who knows me knows my eyes are brown.  So, I made note that I am definitely getting droopier everywhere I don’t want to be droopy, and then I went on my way.  It’s not a big deal to me, because I know what I look like isn’t who I am.  It’s taken me a long time to get here and I realize that I am lucky: not everyone reaches this place in life and  I hope you are here with me.

Failure is NOT an Option: Healthier Eating Plans for Weight Loss & Nutrition

This is probably the biggest time of the entire year for the weight loss and fitness industry.  Summer is another big time, but the start of the new year always has people trying to capitalize on starting new healthy habits and losing weight, so it’s not surprising that I’m seeing way more commercials for fitness and weight loss equipment and diet plans.

The sad part is that everyone really wants to improve their lives and health but most of those who try will give up by the end of February.  Not because they aren’t sincere, but because they are frustrated and overwhelmed.  They are trying to change too much too soon, usually and it’s not surprising that they lose focus and start feeling like a failure.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) usually compares this to teaching a child to read: she says you start with the alphabet, not The Iliad!  I usually think of weight lifting: you don’t walk into the gym on the first day and load up the bar with 150 lbs! You start with maybe 10, or just the empty bar!  You know you can’t deadlift 150 lbs- you’ll hurt yourself!  But when we start new fitness/ eating plans, we do the equivalent of 150 lbs and then we wonder why we failed: “what’s wrong with me?!”  There’s nothing wrong with YOU– it’s your method! I recently did a post on New Year’s resolutions and how to succeed at them (Making a List and Checking It Twice: Those Nagging New Year’s Resolutions).  This post is about what healthy eating plan you want to do!

There are a lot of diets out there and new ones coming out every day.  The truth is everyone is different and your way of eating for optimal health is not going to be like anyone else’s.  This is why the weight loss industry is pretty much always booming: people try to fit into someone else’s diet and when it doesn’t work- or work fast enough- they drop it and start shopping for another one!  The key to success with healthy weight, healthy nutrition and fitness is to find your own diet! Easier said than done, but that’s what this post is going to help you with!  Once you find what works for you, you’re there. You just have to keep doing what you’re doing. Little tip: if you aren’t happy doing what you’re doing, it isn’t the right plan for you!  Anyone can lose weight eating chicken breast and steamed broccoli 365 days a year but if it makes you miserable, you won’t keep doing it (and even if you stuck with it, you didn’t get ‘healthy’ so you can be miserable!)

There are a variety of healthy eating plans or Ways of Eating (WOE) that don’t require you to buy pre-packaged foods or attend meetings or do anything other than maybe download a list of foods or a short outline of the plan.  Having tried a few of the other more restrictive eating plans (buying their packaged foods from a service), I personally think these less restrictive WOEs are a better option: you can buy the food anywhere and they are a lot more flexible if you run into an unforeseen situation.  Some of the healthy eating plans I considered are: Mediterranean diet; ketogenic/ keto diet (not really flexible); High Fat Low Carb (HFLC); Atkins; Whole 30; Whole Foods; Paleo/ Primal (what I eat); Intermittent Fasting (IF);  and vegetarian (& related forms); vegan;.  There are also the various diets put out there by certain professionals such as the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP); the Wahls Protocol; Dr. Hyman’s Eat Fat Get Thin diet; Dr. Ludwig’s Always Hungry? diet; and Elle Russ’ Thyroid Solution diet. (Some of these are obviously trying to fix health problems other than just weight, but that might be part of why you’re looking to improve your health.)  Some of these diets are really similar and it’s only the details that matter, but it’s the devil in those details that can make all the difference!

The more generic diets (diet here means “foods an individual habitually consumes”) tend to be a little more flexible than the “sponsored” diets. I think that’s because these are the ways communities ate for generations and someone finally noticed and wrote a book about it!  For me,  that lends a little more credibility to them since generations of people ate that way and remained relatively healthy. [Disclaimer time:I am not affiliated with anyone but me and I make no money off of any of these diets/ WOEs. I am not a health professional: just another informed consumer!]

The Mediterranean Diet: As the name implies, this is the diet consumed by communities around the Mediterranean and its big focus is on fruits, veggies, grain & grain products (breads, pastas), legumes, olives & olive oils, and nuts/ seeds. It also advocates eating fish and seafood a few times a week, dairy and eggs in moderate amounts more often/ daily and meats and sweets the least. The focus is on whole unprocessed foods and limits red meats, emphasizing proteins from seafood and even though it does advocate eating pasta and grains, the idea is that they are not a big portion of the diet and are to be balanced out by the vegetables, legumes and proteins.

High Fat Low Carb (HFLC): In a lot of ways, this is kind of a freestyle version of the more regimented Atkins diet.  It promotes exactly what it says: you eat high amounts of healthy fats, moderate to high amounts of proteins and keep your carbs low.  The trick here is “healthy fats.”  Generally, there are still a lot of people out there who are afraid of saturated fats from red meats. Healthy fats are foods such as avocados, coconut oil/ butter, olives/ olive oil, and fats from proteins like fish, meat and eggs.  The prevailing thought is that if it’s a naturally occurring fat, it’s healthy in the right proportions.  Man-made fats like trans fats and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) from crop oils (soybean, corn, canola, safflower, etc) are generally unstable and cannot be used by the body or expelled, so they are there inside you forever doing nothing good. This is what scares most people away from this diet, but in healthy amounts, I don’t think they are harmful: it’s the “healthy amounts” again that are the issue. I tend to keep my fats higher than my carbs and protein in my diet by a small margin, and I do this by eating only natural fats and I limit the saturated fats from red meats.  By keeping the carbs low (and hopefully limiting them to complex carbs from vegetables), you can maximize your weight loss and nutrition.

Atkins diet: This is again much like the HFLC diet described above except it’s broken down into 4 “phases” in which you limit your intake of the macros (fat, protein, carbohydrate). For those of you who don’t know, this diet was created by the late Dr. Robert Atkins.  It starts you off by severely limiting your carbs, and then you begin phasing in more carbs from vegetables and nuts.  The bulk of your calories come from healthy fats and proteins.  This is a “sponsored” diet with a website, community and a line of packaged foods following the diet protocol. Initially, this diet took a lot of abuse for advocating high fat at a time when fat=death, but studies continue to bear out Dr. Atkins’ findings.

Whole 30: This is a WOE that obviously focuses on eating whole natural foods.  The term Whole 30 is actually another sponsored diet (see Whole30.com) with a list of rules for their eating program, focusing on whole foods (minus certain foods like sugars/sweeteners, grains, alcohols, dairy, legumes, etc) and it’s “30” because it’s a month long program.  This program has had a lot of success, and like the Atkins site, it offers books, communities and support to help you succeed. It also has rules like no measuring, no weighing, and no analyzing body composition during the program (but it’s okay to do before and after.)

Whole foods: A less stringent version focuses simply on eating whole foods.  (This has nothing to do with the grocery store chain of the same name!) Basically, you eat foods that are as close to their natural state as possible before you prepare them. For example, when you eat sweet potato fries, you buy the sweet potatoes and cut them up into fries yourself; the flash frozen bag of sweet potato fries is not a whole food. Apples are a whole food; applesauce is processed.  The point of this WOE is that you are not getting any (hopefully) of the chemical additives, preservatives and PUFAs that come in processed foods and are getting more of the natural vitamins, nutrients and fiber that comes in the unprocessed foods naturally.  This WOE isn’t focused on the macros but more on the natural state of the foods, and it also emphasizes organic and non-GMO foods.  This WOE is focused on nutrition, which is a good thing!

Paleo/ Primal: This is the WOE that I follow, so it’s the one I know best! Paleo gets it’s name from the supposed diet eaten by Paleolithic (hunter-gatherer) peoples, so it focuses on whole natural foods, but it initially took a lot of heat because it’s low carb and specifically avoids grains (including rice & corn), grain-products, legumes (including soy & peanuts), starchy vegetables (white potatoes, taro), refined sugars, dairy, and crop oils (canola, corn, vegetable).  This WOE focuses on vegetables, proteins (meats, eggs, seafood, poultry), good fats (coconut, olive, avocado), and nuts, seeds and fruit in moderation. The big difference between Paleo and Primal is the dairy: Primal allows it. Other than that,  I have not found any differences.  The focus of this diet is to avoid grains and processed foods in general.  Like the Whole Foods diet above, if you want sweet potato fries, they enter your house as the raw tubers from the produce section.

Ketogenic/ keto diet:  This diet is not very flexible and I have to say some people have a lot of difficulty with it, but those that manage to stick with it have had some fabulous results with weight loss, nutrition, energy levels and insulin resistance especially. Keto is extremely low carb, and by that I mean like 20 grams or less. By comparison, on Paleo, my carbs are generally around 100 grams per day, so keto has you eating almost no carbohydrates at all, either simple (bread) or complex (ie spinach).  The idea is that the body turns carbs into glucose which is used as fuel, but our bodies can also use ketones which are made from fat, so if you don’t eat carbs/ glucose, your body is forced to use fat/ ketones, either from what you eat or your body fat.  Most of the calories on the keto diet come either from fat or protein and you need to be careful not to eat too much protein because your body can turn protein into glucose (gluconeogenesis) which will be used as fuel. When you stop eating carbs/ glucose, your body will go into a state called ketosis, which means it’s burning fat.  Sometimes you hear people talk about “sugar burners” and “fat burners.”  If your body is using mainly glucose & carbs, you are a sugar burner; if it’s using mainly ketones, you’re a fat burner and if you can go back and forth between the two, you’re metabolically flexible (way too much terminology for me!)  FYI: sometimes this diet gets confused with ketoacidosis, which is a dangerous condition for diabetics.  It means your blood sugar and ketones are high and you need to get to a hospital ASAP.  This diet is really great for people who are reversing type 2 diabetes since it drastically reduces your blood sugar and increases your sensitivity to insulin (kind of the opposite of diabetes). People have difficulty keeping away from carbs, increasing their fat intake, and when you first start reducing your carbs that low, you generally feel pretty awful for the first couple of weeks (they call it “keto flu” because it’s so similar).  Personally, I have MFP friends who love this way of eating, but I have never been able to 1) keep my carbs that low; and 2) make it past the keto flu.

Intermittent Fasting (IF): This is not so much a diet about what you eat but about how you eat.  It’s fairly similar to Paleo/ Primal/ Ketogenic in that it’s great for reversing insulin resistance.  Just like it says, you fast for either several hours or several days.  The idea is not to starve yourself or drastically lower your calories (which can tank your Basic Metabolic Rate- think Biggest Losers who gained it back).  Apparently, when you fast, your body switches to burning fat like in ketosis.  There are studies which show IF has quite a few health benefits besides increasing insulin sensitivity and proponents say that instead of being tired and hungry all the time, like people would expect, the opposite is true: they have more energy and aren’t hungry.  When you fast, you do need to increase your water intake and also your sodium and electrolytes (they get flushed out with the urine at a higher rate). You can fast for either a few hours (12 hour eating window and 12 hour fasting is usually the starting times) or you can fast for a few days or longer. Proponents also state that the first two days of fasting are the hardest and after that, your body has made the transition and it’s pretty easy.  It is advisable that you don’t try IF unless you are in reasonably good health, not suffering from any illnesses and definitely not if you are pregnant.

Vegetarian/ Vegan diets: These diets, while also about health and nutrition, usually have a moral component as well.  Most people who follow these diets do so not only out of a desire to be healthier but because they don’t believe in eating animals (vegetarianism) or using products from animals (veganism). There are a lot of health benefits to a plant based diet, especially when it comes to reducing saturated fat and some of the less than positive attributes of meat. There are some different types of vegetarianism, such as people who only eat fish (pescetarians) and people who eat eggs and milk (lacto-ovo vegetarians) and other forms.  Vegans don’t use anything that comes from an animal: no milk, eggs, leather, or gelatin, etc, if it uses parts of an animal or is produced by an animal.  I do want to caution that there can be health concerns with this diet, as one of the essential vitamins we need is B12, which is very hard to get in sufficient quantities from plants alone. Those of you who have read past posts may recall I spoke about a college student who ended up in the ER because she was B12 deficient.  This deficiency can kill you since you need the B12 for your body to use oxygen: no B12= no life= no you!  If you do elect a vegan/ vegetarian diet and are not already taking a B12 supplement, you may want to consider it. There are possible other concerns, as with any WOE, so be sure to research all eating plans thoroughly and if you can’t find the answers to your questions, please see a nutritionist or dietician.

As for the remaining “sponsored diets,” they tend to run from the fairly complex and regimented (designed help you recover from a specific condition) such as the Autoimmune Protocol to the mildly structured such as the Always Hungry diet. Most of these have books and websites, like Atkins and Whole30, to help guide you through them.  Dr. Ludwig’s website has a lot of free info.  I have read Dr. Ludwig’s Always Hungry? book and it offers a great comparison with the Atkins and Mediterranean diets.  Almost all of these ways of eating have books or websites available to you.  Some of the sites I like are Primal Potential (site & podcast with more free info), Paleo Leap, Dr. Jason Fung’s Intensive Dietary Management blog, Jimmy Moore’s Living La Vida Low Carb (site & podcast).  Some of the books I like in addition to Dr. Ludwig’s are Living Paleo for Dummies, Vegetarianism for Dummies, Mediterranean Diet for Dummies, Keto Clarity by Jimmy Moore, The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung and The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore.  These are only a few of the books and websites available. A note about the Dummies books: I like them because they assume you know absolutely nothing about the topic.  Even if you are familiar with it, it doesn’t hurt to at least review what you think you know, because I have come across info that was new to me, even though I’d already researched the topic.  It turns out I was less thorough than I thought!

It’s important to be an informed consumer and learn about a diet/ nutrition/ fitness plan before you start (remember the vegan college student!), but don’t get so caught up in learning “everything about all of them” that you don’t start any of them!  It’s also not a one-shot deal: if you start Whole30, decide it’s not for you and you want to try IF, you don’t have to wait until next year or the end of the month or any date in particular.  Give it a fair test run (remember keto and IF take a few days to get through the “flu”) but if you don’t like it, try something else! Also, don’t let anyone tell you what’s right or wrong for your way of eating and lifestyle.  Unless it’s something horribly unhealthy (like starving yourself, bingeing/ purging, etc), you are the one who knows yourself best.  My only requirements are: 1) does it provide a solid nutritional foundation?; and 2) is it something I will enjoy doing long term?  If the answer to either of those questions is ‘no,’ then I would keep looking.  If you have any questions, you can leave a comment here or send me an email at takingthelongweightoskinny@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

Blame It on the Rain (or the Bad Day or the Fussy Kids, etc)! Making Excuses for Emotional Eating

As many of you know, I am a zealous fan of My 600 lb Life and bariatric surgeon Dr. Younan Nowzaradan.  [FYI: the new season premieres January 4, 2017!] When he first meets with a patient, he always asks about how they came to weigh as much as they do.  Occasionally, the patient is someone who just admits they have bad eating habits but many of them have some kind of excuse and do their best to fob off responsibility on something or someone else: “I’m an emotional eater” or “I never feel full.”  I know in my case it was just bad eating habits: too much of whatever I wanted all the time.  I had tried losing weight but it always came back and it wasn’t until I found the right eating plan for me that I was finally able to lose weight and keep it off.

I often joke with my family and friends that the tv show functions as my version of a 12 step program.  It keeps me focused on my goals and reminds me where I came from.  Many times it also brings me face to face with my own problems and excuses.  On a recent rerun, the patient was having a lot of issues with excuses.  She admitted that she dealt with problems by eating: it was her coping mechanism but at the same time, her kids were her excuse for her being overweight (she was 654 lbs).  When Dr. Nowzaradan asked her how she got to be this weight, her immediate response was ‘because of having two kids and having to stay home and take care of them and one is disabled.’  Basically, it was all because of the kids. She was under a lot of stress with her oldest son, who was severely disabled and her youngest was only a year old. They depended on her and no one could take care of them like she could, but at the same time, she was using them as an excuse to eat whatever she wanted as much as she wanted.  When her oldest ended up hospitalized, she justified eating whatever she wanted by saying “she had to put her son first.”  Maybe I’m just heartless, but I fail to see how her son being in the hospital means she has to eat fries, pizza, burgers and pie in enormous amounts.

I realize food is her coping mechanism.  For those few minutes while she is eating, she is not thinking about whatever stressful situation she is in.  At the same time, she also knows that her weight is putting her life at risk and if for nothing else, she needs to take care of her own health or her sons will grow up without their mother.  While her son was in the hospital for 5 weeks, she managed to gain another 30 lbs and kept repeating how she had to put her son first because he was her top priority.  Her health had to come second to his.  He needs her to eat huge amounts of fast food while he lies in the hospital bed on the ventilator?  She wasn’t being asked to go out of town or to attend classes or anything except to monitor her food intake and stay on her diet.  She can eat vegetables at the hospital the same as the burgers and fries.  The veggies won’t have the same soporific effect as the fast food and sweets but her husband can bring her a salad the same as he can bring her pizza.  She was choosing to make poor eating choices because she didn’t want to deal with her stressful situation.  I can understand that but it’s not until she understands it that she can make progress.

This particular patient finally understood that if she didn’t put her own health first, she wasn’t going to be around to take care of her family.  If they mean as much to her as she says they do, then she had to lose weight or her children will be growing up without a mother.  (She was able to make the changes and was well on her way to her goal weight at the show’s conclusion.)

Most of us don’t get anywhere near her weight or mine, but many of us do the same things: there’s always a reason for why we’re eating and what we’re eating and none of those reasons are “I just want to do it.”  Eating for a lot of us is a form of escapism: we don’t want to deal with our reality and this is how we choose to get away.  For some people, it’s tv shows or gaming or drinking/ drugs or gambling or anything else.  When we feel stress, we run to to our release valve, our crutch, our escape hatch. This is one of the biggest pitfalls we have to learn to sidestep once we decide we’re going to lose weight or get healthier.  We can have all the healthy groceries and food/ eating plans we need; we can hit the gym regularly and get our 10,000 daily steps, but when stress comes knocking on our doors (and it always does!), we revert right back to escape hatch!  Even once we realize “it’s stress that’s making me eat/ gain weight!”, there’s still the question “if not food as a stress release, then what?”  That’s our challenge: we need to learn to replace the ‘food escape hatch’ with something healthier (or at least not food)!  Anything in excess is not healthy, even if it’s something like exercise, so we need to learn to deal with our stressful situations in ways that don’t hurt us, either through excess exercise, eating, sleep or medications.  For most of us, realizing we are stress eaters is the easy part; we try to outsmart ourselves by not keeping the junk food- the stress defusing food- in the house, but how many times have we found ourselves munching something we’re not really fond of us (like walnuts or candied yams) simply because it was there and we just had a huge fight with someone we care about and now we’re all wound up and stressed and what’s in the pantry?!? It’s really not about the food itself.  Brownies are always great when we’re stressed and the chocolate is so yummy but it’s the act of eating that is usually what relieves our stress: like Dr. Now’s patient above, for those few minutes, we’re feeling the pleasure of eating and not the stressful situation we’re in.  Even though my biggest trigger was boredom in the evenings (and tv), whenever I had a fight with my mom or sister, I’d find myself staring into the fridge, looking for whatever was quick and available! (I see you there, avocado!)

I’d love to tell you “just do XYZ and that’ll take care of the stress!” but that’s not happening.  All of us process stress differently, despite being stress/ emotional eaters.  The eating is a distraction; our choices are either to learn to deal with the stressful situation or at the very least find another healthier distraction.  Ideally, learning to handle the stress is the best way, but that may require the services of a trained professional.  In the interim, finding a healthier distraction is still an option. I often see my friends on MFP (My Fitness Pal) urging others who are stressed out to exercise their way through it.  This is not a bad option: physical exertion is a great way to deal with stress/ anxiety and it has a few bonuses: burning calories, toning muscles and the endorphin boost.  But again, anything in excess is not healthy, so if there is a lot of stress in your life (and that’s everyone, right?) then you need to find more than way of dealing with it.  Exercise can always be one way, but there are others.

Some people like to journal: get all the anger and anxiety and confusion out on paper.  This also has the benefit of letting you think through your situation, maybe getting some clarity on it and getting a little distance.  I remember reading about one author who used to write vicious and scathing letters to the object of his anger, seal them up complete with postage, ready to go in the mail and then would rip them up the next day.  One of the things I do is similar: I have a shouting fit and stomp around the house for about five minutes, and once I’ve vented, it’s done- moving on! Some people accomplish the same thing by posting a rant on MFP/ Facebook/ etc: someone has done X to me and this is what I think of them! It has the same effect as lancing an infected wound: left to fester, the negative emotions grow and spread, but once they’ve been expelled, the wound is clean and healing can begin.

Another thing I like to do when I’m stressed is spend time with my pets.  I had a fight with someone I care about, they made me angry and now instead of eating my anger and anxiety, I am distracting myself with one of my furry children.  They offer unconditional affection (at least the dog does- the cats I’m pretty sure have some prerequisites attached!) and they are pretty soothing.  Not only are they get some attention and some exercise, but I am too!

The point is you need to find out what works for you when the stress hits.  There is always going to be some kind of stress or situation which is going to try and derail your progress, so you need to find a way to defuse or reduce the emotion driving you to eat.  Whether you opt for hitting the gym, getting outside, journaling, yoga, meditation, posting online, a nice long soak in the tub or playing with the dog, as long as it relieves your stress without hurting you or filling you full of calories and poor nutrition, that’s all that matters. The best solution of course is to fix whatever the stressful situation is (if it can be fixed of course) but there are always those situations which can’t be fixed (an injured or sick loved one, for example) but the problems will still be there when you’re done with whatever you choose, so we all need to learn to deal with them in healthy ways.

These situations won’t always be ‘dire straits’ either.  We are all aware of those: a family member gets hurt; job problems; moving, etc.  Those are the problems we think of when we think of stress, but it’s the little stresses that also drive us to eat our emotions: coming home and finding out the cat has cleaned off the entryway table; the kids are fighting with each other over something trivial; the boss is nagging about the filing piling up; there’s construction on your route to work/ home and now it takes longer.  All of these are pretty normal every day aggravations but they can also influence how we eat.  These are the stresses that we can fix! We know it takes longer to get to work so we don’t make anything healthy at home so we can stop at the fast food place next to the gas station since you have to get gas anyway- I’ll just hit the drive thru! I had to work a little late to finish up with the filing so I’ll get a latte on the way home- it’s going to be late when I get dinner done! Since the kids are out of control, I’m just going to order in some pizza so they’ll be quiet and leave me alone for two minutes! All of these are some of the little ways that stress sabotages your healthy eating.  The key with these little “naggravations” is to take charge and adjust your schedule and attitude.  Since you know it takes longer to get to work, get up a little earlier so you can fix your healthy breakfast, or make something the night before that you can take with you. I usually bring something I can eat in the car and set up the coffee maker and my travel mug the night before.  All I have to do is pour the coffee and grab the lunch bag (with my breakfast already in it) and go out the door. If I stop for a latte on the way home, I just adjust my dinner to account for the no sugar latte I get, or I opt for coffee or tea instead of the dessert-drink.  If the kids are fighting, how about disciplining the kids?  Or get them the pizza and get yourself a salad or veggies to go with one slice of pizza for you?

For most of us, food is comforting.  It’s a pleasant distraction that relieves our daily stress and gives us a few moments of relaxation, but when we abuse it, it goes from being our friend to being our enemy.  I know for me, it became a vicious cycle: I really need to lose weight because everything hurts; oooh! cheesecake!! dang it, I shouldn’t have had that cheesecake- I need to lose weight because everything hurts!  oooh! brownies!…….Taking charge of the situational naggravations not only defuses them and gives you a healthy out, it also builds your confidence so the next one gets easier to handle. The more you learn to deal with them in healthier ways, the easier they are to handle.  For example: I came home the last week to find out that the cat had cleaned off my entry way table and dumped over my little shelving unit (I could hardly open the front door!)  After throwing my stomping/ shouting tantrum, I put everything back together, and eventually calmed down enough to have my regular dinner and I started thinking about options for keeping her off the table. Four days ago, I came home and saw she had cleaned off the window sill in the kitchen.  There was less of a stomping tantrum and a lot more double sided tape (Sticky Paws brand) which was put down on the window sill and on the edges of the entry way table.  With any luck, that problem is solved! No emotional “I had a bad day” eating; just a lot of venting (to everyone in sight too)! The point is that the second time this problem came up, I was a lot less emotional and more invested in finding a solution.

The catch is that this is one more process we have to learn.  That’s what makes the emotional eating such a quick and easy fix: our only issue is what are we going to eat?  We eat it, feel better for five or ten minutes and then we have to deal with the aftermath, but we don’t usually think of the aftermath until we’ve swallowed the last bite of whatever we ate!  It’s something we learned as children usually so it’s deeply ingrained and automatic: aack! we had a fight! I need chocolate!  Learning to do something else when we’re stressed takes not only finding out what helps with the stress, but then stopping the auto pilot eating response and choosing to do the new routine.  It takes time, practice and patience! This is important: I know everyone says this and “yeah, yeah I know that!” but when we blow it the next time the boss has a screaming fit at work and eat a pint of Cherry Garcia in front of the tv that night, we’re going to come down on ourselves like a ton of bricks for not following our new routine of deep breathing or yoga or whatever we chose.  Changing our behavior takes time and effort (it’s why so many people give up on new healthy habits!) So give yourself a break when you’re beating yourself up as you stare into the empty Cherry Garcia carton. A big tip that worked for me when I found myself standing in front of the open fridge after fighting with my mom: STOP!! Realize what you are doing (stress eating) and make a choice to do something different (pets, yoga, computer game, etc).  It took a bit of practice and for a while, it wasn’t as effective as eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, but what also helped reinforce my new behavior was telling myself: X already screwed up my mood/ day/ plans and I’m not going to let X screw up my healthy weight loss! Imagine if after all the anxiety and stress over whatever happened and eating your emotions, you get on the scale next week and see you’ve gained weight! Talk about adding insult to injury! When you go off track with the stress eating, make a note of what happened after the stress occurred (hindsight is always 20/20!) and the next time something happens, STOP!! Think about what your next choice is, and make it a good one! Then you can congratulate yourself on handling the negative situation better, staying on your healthy plan and you’ll have more confidence for the next time something comes up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Three C’s of Sleep and Weight Loss

I think I’m becoming a nag about sleep habits.  Some of this is because my own sleep has been so backward all my life and the other reason- the more important reason- is that sleep affects the rest of our health in a truly profound way.

Most people push sleep to the back burner because it’s usually viewed as ‘down time’ and ‘wasted time.’  “Time spent sleeping is time you could be using to do something productive!”  HELLO!!  Your time asleep is productive time!  It’s time your body and BRAIN are using to repair itself! We learn that after exercise, we need ‘recovery time’ so your muscles and joints can rebuild and don’t burn out or get injured at our next exercise session- your body and brain are the same! Each day, we use our ENTIRE body for our regular everyday activities, which may or may not include that next exercise session.  Our body processes what we eat and drink, moves us around our world, performs our daily activities and our brain processes every thing we perceive and controls every thing our body does. And you think YOU’RE tired at the end of the day?! If we don’t get enough sleep- meaning quality sleep- our body feels it, even if we don’t perceive it, and the more sleep deprived we are, the greater the effect on our body and brain.

In my job as a paralegal, one of the documents I see on a fairly regular basis is a Traffic Collision Report, and I am not surprised there is a box on there in the section under Sobriety-Drugs-Physical labeled ‘Sleepy/ fatigued.’  I commute 2 hours each way five days a week and when I get tired while I’m driving, it’s a very scary feeling! My solution is to pull over, walk around a bit and get some caffeine, but really, that’s just a stop-gap measure until I get home.  What I need to do is get more sleep!

Unfortunately, we live in a society that does not prioritize sleep: it’s something we ‘have to do’ but it’s not our ‘best use of our time.’ The bottom line is that we all know we need to get more sleep and that sleep is good for us but most of us pooh-pooh the idea of doing anything about it because we don’t see the tangible results of getting more sleep. Yes, we feel more rested but blah blah.  Yes, we are more alert but blah blah pooh pooh.  Show me something I can measure!!  So, how about weight loss?

It wasn’t until I started getting more sleep and learning more about aspects of healthy living other than food and exercise that I learned the effect sleep deprivation has on weight loss: elevated cortisol levels; cravings; and poor food choices. (I like to call them the 3 C’s of Sleep.)

Elevated Cortisol Levels:  There’s a lot being thrown around the health/ fitness world right now about adrenal fatigue and whether it’s real or not.  Frankly, I don’t know: both arguments seem pretty good to me, but what concerns me more is the fact that when you don’t get enough sleep, it puts stress on the body.  Your body feels the lack of rest and repair, which keep the cortisol levels higher than normal, so your body is hanging on to whatever resources it can in case it’s going to need them. Your body doesn’t know what is causing this stress, just that the stress is there and that means it’s an emergency situation. This means your body spends more time in fat storage than in fat burning.  Getting enough sleep regularly lets your body burn more fat.  (FYI: chronic stress will do the same thing to your body, so it’s important to have good stress management skills!)

Cravings: I hear about cravings almost every day.  People are afraid of cravings because it makes it so hard to stick to what you know you need to do. You know that the chips, the noodles, the candy, etc isn’t good for you; it’s not good for your weight loss or your blood sugar, but you’re craving it!  As you walk through the break room, there’s that plate of cookies someone is sharing and before you can stop yourself, you’ve munched down two of them- dang it!!  I’m going to make a guess and say you were probably a little low energy when those cookies were devoured. Remember the last time you had a really bad craving for something? Again, it was probably something sweet or crunchy, like chocolate, cookies, pasta or chips.  It was most likely because you were tired and low energy.  Your body sent out the signal for fast fuel- something full of sugar or simple carbs which can be quickly converted to glucose! You probably know people who are really perky and peppy and full of energy all the time (I really hate those people!! J/k!!)  Those are usually the people who go to bed early or at a regular time every night. They get plenty of sleep and they are probably the people who usually pass on the cookies and candy passed around the office, because their body has plenty of energy.  It doesn’t need the fast fuel and if they do have a cookie, it’s because they want the cookie, not the quick sugar rush.  Getting enough sleep won’t derail all cravings, but it will derail the low energy gotta-make-it-to-the-end-of-the-day slump that hits a lot of people.  When you are well rested, your body knows how to take care of itself, and when you aren’t giving it what it needs, it will make you want what it needs- like the energy from the quick sugar rush of the crummy office cookies!

Poor Food Choices: This is another complaint I hear almost every day: “I was doing great until I got home and all there was to eat was the leftover pizza, so I scarfed all there was!” Or something similar.  I know this one way too well! This was the one that derailed me so many times when I was working the job from hell: There’s nothing quick for dinner and it’s late and I’m tired so I swing by Jack in the Box, say hi to Dennis at the drive thru and go home with a sourdough jack, fries, diet Dr. Pepper and possibly some jalapeno poppers to boot.  Really. Not making that up.  That was my dinner more nights than I can count (and sometimes there was cheesecake/ chocolate cake along with it).  My biggest clue should have been that my dog wouldn’t eat the cheesecake or the burger, but hey, he’s not only smarter, fitter and more active than I am– he also gets more sleep than me!!  This pitfall is kind of a cross between poor planning and lack of sleep, but they contribute to each other.  When you are tired, you are not as alert (obviously) and you are more likely to go with the easy choice.  This is why so many people have trouble with poor food choices early in the day but especially late in the day/ evening.  It’s been a long day and they go home to nothing ready or available, so they give in to the poor choices, whether it’s the not so healthy leftovers from other family members or the fast food options I chose.  One strategy is plan ahead: now when I go home, I usually have something fast I can throw in a bowl like salad or heat quickly like veggies (microwave 3 minutes!) and something I can cook on the stove while I’m eating the veggies. That way, even if it’s late, I’ve got a healthy choice so sayonara, Jack!  The other strategy is to get more sleep- since this doesn’t only happen at the end of the day! People give in to ‘easy’ whenever they are tired because they don’t have the energy to resist or to think up better options.  How many times have you found yourself staring at fast food menu because you’re on a road trip, you’ve been driving for three hours and you just want something to eat fast? Just pull over to the first food option you see and even it’s some place you don’t like, there you are ordering something (they can’t mess up a burger, can they? They can!) Next time you find yourself eating something less than optimal, ask yourself what your energy level was when you made that choice and I’m going to bet you were tired.

Lack of sleep is sabotaging your weight loss! It’s the plain simple truth: you want to lose more weight? Get more sleep! It seems counter-intuitive: if I want to lose weight, I need to be more active! I should exercise more instead of sleeping more!  Exercise is good, but healthy activity followed by healthy sleep is a two-punch combo that’s guaranteed not only to make you feel better and have more energy, it’ll help you lose weight! Next time you step on the scale and find the number is still higher than you like, sleep on it!!

Child’s Play: What We Learn as Children Has a Lifelong Effect

Those of you with children are no doubt very aware that you are your children’s first teachers.  Babies begin modeling behavior almost from the very start.  We smile at our babies and they learn to smile back.  They are little sponges and watch us constantly to see what we do, how we do it without even wondering the why behind the action.  My cousin’s son used to sit at the breakfast table with his dad and “read” a magazine (even though he was still a baby) because his dad read at the table. (FYI the “baby” is now studying robotics someplace back East.) But the idea here is that his parents were readers and put a value on books and learning and so little Alex did too.

This parental modeling covers everything in our lives: how we deal with friends and family; how we handle stress and problems; how we drive; and of course, how we eat.  Most of us either follow in our parents’ footsteps or we go the other way, ie our parents taught how not to do something well.  As children we don’t really know any different and just tend to follow the path they’ve laid out for us, but as adults, our discretion and hopefully our better judgment takes over and we begin to make choices.  Either we do it like dear old mom and dad, or we do it our own way.  I know for me, one of the things that sticks out is that we never had any band-aids in the house.  I was forever cutting myself, sticking myself (I still have a scar on my thumb from when I was 12) and I was always stuck rummaging around in the bathroom drawer for a loose band-aid.  It probably wouldn’t have stuck out in my head so much except for the fact that my mom was a registered nurse and in that bathroom drawer would be her kelly clamps, rolls of tape and packets of gauze, but rarely any band-aids.  Instead of the cobbler’s kids having no shoes, it was the nurse’s kids having no band-aids.  As an adult, I make sure I have a box of band-aids in my house along with hydrogen peroxide (small bathroom, middle shelf).

One of the other things I learned growing up is to put my keys and purse in the same place every day when I come home.  It makes it so much easier when I need to go someplace.  In fact, in one instance, it may have saved my dog’s life.  My Yorkie started choking and I had to rush him to the emergency vet.  I remember grabbing my keys (I don’t recall grabbing my purse, but I must have since I had it with me in the car).  It was what EMTs call a “scoop and run”: I grabbed him and ran out the door.  I learned to put those things in the same place after years of listening to my mom rant about about how she can’t find her keys and/ or purse and is going to be late for work and why aren’t we helping her find them??  Years after this choking incident I remember thinking what would have happened if I just left my keys wherever when I came home and had to spend ten minutes looking for them?  Scary thought! (FYI my Yorkie was okay- apparently, throwing him in the passenger seat dislodged the piece of meat he was choking on!)

Our eating and fitness habits are no different than everything else.  We either learn to eat and exercise the way our parents did or we go the other way.  Sadly, I pretty much followed in my parents’ footsteps in that regard.  It wasn’t that they have horrible eating habits; they eat the standard American diet, and while my mom used to make a habit of using her treadmill, my dad got plenty of activity at his job.  I learned to eat the way they ate but my activity was not like theirs.  I got a lot of walking and physical activity as a kid and as a college student, but my eating was way over the limit and I slowly gained weight as I grew older.  By the time I reached high school, I was very overweight, and although I got more walking in as I went to college (the campus was huge and I crossed it multiple times a day), I still continued to gain slowly until I graduated and went to work- then the weight loss really skyrocketed!  My parents’ eating and activity pretty much stayed the same over time (neither of them is overweight), but my eating was slowly increasing and worsening and my activity was dropping rapidly.  These were the changes I made over time as an adult, and they were obviously not good for me. I didn’t learn good eating and exercise habits as kid and it wasn’t for my parents’ lack of trying.  My dad made a habit of having brussels sprouts and broccoli on a regular basis because they were vegetables he enjoys. I saw a lot of vegetables in my house as a kid and my parents ate a lot of them.  My mom was always using some kind of exercise equipment, but I was never interested in using any of it much.  The habits were there for me to follow, but as I grew up, I chose different activities (soccer and basketball) until my adult schedule interfered and my activities came to a screeching halt.  (One of the good food habits I learned from my mom was trying different kinds of foods- I learned as a kid to eat Japanese, Indian, and other exotic foods. This was a big advantage once I went Paleo- different foods are normal to me!)

One of the reasons I think there was such a disparity between my parents’ eating habits and activity and my own as I grew up is that there was a fundamental shift in both “everyday foods” and “everyday activities” sometime in my adolescence: 70’s-80’s.  (Yes, I really am that old! ugh!) While there were things like hamburger restaurants and drive-ins, most of the processed foods were foods you had to go out to get.  When I was a kid, one of my fondest memories was having burgers at the McDonald’s on the main street, and it was mainly because we’d sit in the car, feeding the fries to the squirrels in the vacant lot next door.  We didn’t eat a lot of McDonald’s because it was “going out” and so most of the foods we ate at home still came into the house in their raw or natural form: the broccoli, brussels sprouts and other veggies, the meats from the butcher section, rice, even the “pasta sauce” pretty much came in as plain tomato sauce.  The pasta was about as processed as most stuff got, at least until the late ’70’s.  Then there was shift to more processed foods.

Things like boxed dinners and frozen foods became cheaper and more accessible.  I remember when Eggo waffles hit the market and they were really popular at our house! The same with frozen bagels, instant oatmeal and boxed rice/pasta mixes.  They made cooking easy!  No more standing over the stove making sure the rice didn’t burn or the waffles didn’t overflow out of the waffle iron.  Dinner was a snap and so was breakfast and even lunch wasn’t complicated anymore since processed lunchmeats and white bread were cheap and easy!  So, as I grew up, I was eating way more processed foods than my parents’ when they were my age.  My eating habits revolved around what came in a box or a bag, and while my parents and I still ate a lot of the same things, they still leaned more towards the whole foods they had grown up on and enjoyed.  My favorite foods had a wrapper; theirs usually had a stem.

The other big shift was activity: it was the dawn of the electronic age.  Atari and Nintendo hit the marketplace and ‘playtime’ slowly went from chasing each other around the yard to chasing Donkey Kong all over the tv screen.  As I grew up, I (along with most of my generation) became more and more sedentary. I wasn’t very active to begin with.  I was always more of a reader than an athlete or a outdoorsy type. I have always been more at home in front of a typewriter than a computer. [For those of you who don’t know, a typewriter is an old fashioned hand operated word processor- only kind of kidding here since I’ve met twenty-somethings who say they’ve never seen one before.]

Both of these fundamental shifts- cheap processed food and a more sedentary lifestyle- led to a lifetime of unhealthy habits and poor dietary choices.  I grew up eating processed foods full of easily metabolized carbs and few nutrients (besides being low fat and high in sugar) and I spent most of my time seated, either in front of the computer, tv or with a book.  Looking back, it’s no wonder I gained weight along with most of my generation.  We all grew up doing a lot of the same activities: tv, computers, music, books and eating a lot of the same foods: snack cakes, candy bars, chips, microwave popcorn, lunchmeats and other processed and fast foods.  Obviously not all of us grew up to weigh over 400lbs, but many of us grew up overweight.  When epidemiologists talk about the “epidemic of type 2 diabetes and obesity,” my generation is the one they are talking about.  While our parents were used to getting out and doing physical things, most of us grew up with less active pursuits.  The habits our parents learned as children pretty much stayed with them: being active, eating whole foods and not sitting for hours in front of electronic devices, and while they may have leaned to more sedentary habits as they aged and became more familiar with technology, they didn’t become as overweight as we did.  My generation and I grew into our sedentarism and found more ways to exploit it: instead of getting up and driving out to get food, we can now get it delivered from our computers.  We don’t even have to get up to use the phone plugged into the wall: if we can’t order online, our cell is right next to us! Then we grouse about getting up to get the food brought to our doorstep.

To be fair no one saw these kinds of lifestyle shifts coming and I for one know my parents promoted healthy activity (I just wasn’t good at it!) But now, most of us are parents (and some of us grandparents) and we are the ones doing the modeling for the younger generations.  At the grocery store, I see parents with their kids in tow pushing carts full of processed foods: frozen prepared meals, boxed meals, bags of bagels, chips, buns and boxes of snack cakes, sodas and “juice drinks.”  These are what they are feeding their kids and these are what the kids are learning to eat.  I do see parents with carts full of fresh and frozen vegetables and fruits and more whole foods, but they are far outnumbered by the ones with the easy to eat and metabolize processed foods.  At one store I saw a little girl following behind her dad: she looked about 8 years old and was already extremely obese, and her arms were full of boxes of macaroni and cheese. I feel bad for her, because I know what is coming her way: a lifetime of struggling with her health, her weight and a lot of emotional pain.

Our challenge is to change a lifetime of bad habits and in doing so, we can model better habits for our families.  When we make a habit of limiting our time at the computer/ phone/ tv and spend more time being active, we are teaching it to our kids.  The activity doesn’t have to be something labeled “exercise”; it can be gardening, taking the dog for a walk, or just playing with the dog, playing outside with the kids; it can even be going shopping and just walking around the mall for a few hours!  The point is to get up and move!  We can do the same with food: when we eat, make a habit of choosing whole foods.  Don’t think in terms of “diet” (which will teach the kids not to eat it): think in terms of nutrition.  Choose foods for their nutrient value, not their calories.  This teaches kids (and some older ‘kids’ too) that healthy food tastes good and is good for you.  It also teaches them that real food takes a little time to prepare, too!  Cooking can be family time too!  At holidays, most of our family would crowd into the kitchen as we prepared the meal, because most of our food took time to cook or even just warm up!  These are the happiest memories of holidays with my grandparents.

As we realize the consequences of a lifetime of processed foods and sedentary habits, there is more of a push to change them. Obviously computers, phones and Facebook aren’t going away but there is also a growing trend to spend time being active: take the phone out and make a video of you doing something! Body cameras are really fueling this idea: that way you can record your ski trip, hike, bike ride, whatever without having to hold your phone! You can be active and be on your device at the same time! Just because we grew up with bad habits doesn’t mean we have to live with them all our lives; habits can be unlearned as well.  The trick is to learn something new and better for you and hopefully, teach it to your family.

Making a List and Checking It Twice: Those Nagging New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve been doing this “fitness thing” for a couple of years now and I remember last January when everyone on MFP (My Fitness Pal) was complaining how crowded the gym was!  They went for their regular workouts and found the gym was packed with all the “newbies” lining up for equipment and crowding the classes.  The general response across the board was “wait a few weeks and it’ll be back to normal!”  Happily for most of us chronic gym rats, that’s what happened: by the end of February/ beginning of March, the gym was back to normal.  Good for us; not so good for everyone whose New Year’s resolution was to get fit!

So, how exactly do you keep a resolution (New Year’s or otherwise) to get fit/ eat healthier? I’ve got two words for you: 1) Baby; and 2) Steps! Yeah, I know it sounds silly and it takes too long and everyone else is out there crushing it nightly at the gym and juicing the heck out of every leafy green thing they can find! And there you are, looking like a wuss, taking baby steps!  Need I remind you of the tortoise and the hare?  You can be off like a shot, but this is a marathon, not a sprint, and biologists will tell you rabbits are built for speed, not stamina. Long distance runners will tell you the same thing: you need to pace yourself!  [FYI: the first marathon runner who ran the 26.2 miles from the battle of Marathon to Athens to announce the Athenian victory to the city DIED after making the announcement!]

This is all about sustainability! All of us who regularly haunt the gym (or in my case, the pool) have worked it into our regular schedules.  This is a habit with us and we regularly schedule around our workouts.  For example, if I’m going to run errands after work, I never do it on Mondays or Wednesdays because I have my water fitness classes those nights.  Maybe two nights a week doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’m still going after all these months. (I also just bought some pool gear so now I can do the same workout on Friday nights too!) A lot of the newbies who were crowding into the pool in January and February are no longer coming. Hitting the gym or weights or whatever four times a week is great, if you have the time.  If you can fit those in every week month after month, you’re definitely crushing it (and frankly, I’m a little jealous)! I don’t have that much free time in my schedule and I really don’t know a lot of people who do.  That’s the problem for most people: they want to get healthy but they think that in order to get great results, they have to show up at the gym several times a week.

They also think they need to clean out their kitchen of everything that even remotely looks or tastes good or fattening or “unhealthy.” So the juicers and blenders and spiralizers and other gadgets come out of hiding (like they do every January) and are put through their paces for roughly six weeks or so.  Like the constant trips to the gym, all that rigorous “healthiness” starts to wear thin after a while.  Really, how many spinach, cucumber and cranberry smoothies can someone drink?? (I know I’m soo tired of Epic bars myself! Ugh!) It’s also more difficult if you have a family to contend with: kids and spouses who are not doing the “fitness thing” with you also have to adapt to the new schedules and habits.  These can create substantial impositions on their lives: “sorry, hon, can’t pick up/ drop off the kids because I’m at the gym!”; “yes, we’re having kale salad tonight again!”; “no cinnamon rolls in the house- daddy’s on a diet!”; “More spinach?!

Do you know why baby steps are called “baby steps”?  Because- like a baby- you are learning how to do something! If you’ve ever tried learning a new language, you don’t pick up Don Quixote in the original Spanish! You start with a few easy phrases: Hola, mucho gusto, por favor, gracias, de nada, etc.  You create a foundation to build on; otherwise you get lost in unfamiliar territory.  Fitness and healthy nutrition are no different.  Build yourself a solid platform you can rely on and then keep building. Ideally, you should make a list of healthy habits you want to incorporate into your life and start with just the first one, then every month (once you’ve successfully added in the first), add in another.  For example:

  1. Drinking 6 glasses of water daily
  2. Tracking your food/ drinks/ activity
  3. Going to the gym twice a week (or once)
  4. Getting more sleep (at least 7 hours)
  5. Giving up (or reducing) bread/ pasta
  6. Eating cruciferous veggies daily (1 meal)
  7. Getting 5000 steps a day (or whatever number works for you)
  8. Eating at least one whole food meal daily
  9. Practicing gratitude/ stress management
  10. Giving up (or reducing) sugar
  11. Stop snacking between meals/ evenings
  12. Eating more organic/ non GMO foods

I admit this list does not look very impressive, but that’s because it’s things you will actually do and enjoy– not overwhelm you with “healthiness.” These are just some examples, but if you don’t know where or how to start this list has some easy examples and it should easily take you through 2017.  I know they look like something you can start all at once, but this is where most people run into trouble.  They’ve got this list of things they need to focus on and when real life hits, these “little things” get lost in the shuffle: “I can work on eating healthier after the huge office project is done! I’ll worry about getting more exercise after the meetings are over!  I’ll focus on getting my steps in once the merger is completed!” Before you know it, it’s April and you maybe get to the gym once or twice a month, your Fitbit is gathering dust on your nightstand, and you’re still regularly eating ravioli and English muffins.  This is about having one thing that you focus on for one month or so until you know longer have to think about doing it: it’s become a habit.  Congrats! Cross that one off your list and move on to #2!  By June, when everyone is complaining that they didn’t lose the weight or work out more during the winter and now it’s swimsuit season, you’ll look way better than most of your friends & office mates.  You’ll be more active, leaner and fitter and eating a whole lot healthier, and when they’re asking you how you stayed on track, you can tell them: baby steps!

Instead of trying to make a bundle of changes all at once, you made one change a month and built yourself a sturdy foundation.  (In other words, you learned your vocabulary before you started on sentences.)  It’s not glamorous or exciting or dramatic, but it’s effective. This is why this process is overlooked by a lot of people.  When it comes to fitness and weight loss, the slow steady ‘be the tortoise’ approach isn’t what people want to hear or see: everyone wants the quick fix and the magic pill. In the next couple of months, there are going to be a lot of commercials for ‘super-quick’ fitness & weight loss products & programs: “you can lose weight & look great in 14 minutes a day!“Pack all your food in our colored portion control boxes and you’ll lose weight without boring calorie counting!” They are all very tempting and some of them actually work….. as long as you stick with the program.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) tells her clients & listeners regularly: “short term solutions provide short term results” But most people are focused more on “fast and dramatic” and ignore the “temporary and unsustainable” part of the program: “I’ll worry about that later!”

People also run into trouble when they think they have to be perfect. They’re supposed to be cutting back on the simple carbs (breads, pastas & cookies) and they end up at a Mexican restaurant and before they know it, they’ve eaten half a basket of chips and salsa: “Crap! I screwed up!”  Yeah, those chips are definitely not low carb or whole food (even if they are corn tortilla chips).  Two more words for you: 1) so; and 2) what?  Yeah- so what?  You screwed up and had some chips! It’s not the end of your fitness journey; the nutrition police don’t throw you off the Fitness Team; the gym doesn’t shred your membership card! Sometimes when you’re learning a new habit, you forget and follow your old routine by mistake.  When I was trying out Bulletproof coffee, I kept adding my usual cream and stevia every morning because I was half asleep on autopilot; I had to stop buying the cream and stevia so it wouldn’t be there for me to put in by mistake! It took a little time but eventually, I got there. When you flub up, you get up and try again. If you ever learned to ski, you know the first few times, you spent a lot of time in the snow, either face first or on your butt! The same thing when you learned to ride your bike- the training wheels got a lot of mileage! But that’s why they’re there!  Something odd happens when we try something that’s not on the regular “growing pains” list or maybe it just happens when we turn into adults: we stop giving ourselves a break and start holding ourselves to ridiculous standards. It’s like we give ourselves one attempt at something new and if we goof it up (as most of us will!), it’s “too bad- so sad! thanks for playing!”  This isn’t the last at-bat of the last game of the World Series!  It’s not fourth and goal with 10 seconds on the clock of Super Bowl! If you flub up with the chips three days into “low carbing it,” you don’t lose the championship or the game or even your gym membership: you just stop eating the chips!  You just move on to the next good decision.  These are your training wheels!  They are your baby steps, because you really are still learning this!

This is why the newbies at the gym drop off six weeks into the New Year and the rest of the regulars are still there.  They’ve taken the time to work these healthy habits into their regular lives.  I went to the grocery store without my list the other day (I thought I had it in my pocket- what can I say?) So when I realized I’d left it at home, I just went through my usual circuit at the store: produce section, meat, coffee, health, pets, dairy. It was pretty much autopilot, but that’s what made it easy. When I reached an area where I normally shopped, I knew what I was there to get, did a quick mental check (am I out of that?) and moved on to the next section! This is what makes it easy to stay with it and this is the difference between sustainability and “temporary solutions.”  It would have been harder for me to do my grocery shopping last year when it was still a new process, but now it’s normal and I don’t have to worry about having to fall back on boxes of mac & cheese and hot dogs “in case I don’t have anything for dinner.”

There’s nothing glamorous about taking baby steps and following the “tortoise” route.  There are no dramatic changes- yet! The dramatic “holy cow, you look great!” comes later in the year, when you show up for the 2017 office Christmas party and people who haven’t seen you for several months get another look at you.  The dramatic looks start coming about June or August when you’ve had six or eight months to get the baby steps rolling.  Once the sustainable changes start showing, the “wow! you look good!” remarks will start coming more and more often (which is some great motivation, too!) but the best part of knowing that your improvements are showing is also knowing that you don’t have to worry about “how long can I keep this up?” and “what happens when I can’t do this any longer?”  This is what no one talks about when they’re pushing the super-quick ‘look great in 21 days’ programs at you: what happens when the 21 days are over?  what happens when you can’t keep doing the boogie board exercises or can’t keep packing dinner in the portion controlled boxes?  The bottom line: if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing to lose weight/ get fit, YOU WON’T KEEP DOING IT!  You have to find what works for you, what you enjoy doing and then make it part of your normal every day life.  It’s a little bit of work, it’s not oh-so-dramatic, and Chris Powell isn’t going to show up at your house to turn your garage into a mini-gym, but on New Year’s Eve 2017, you won’t be at a party with a muffin top and a huge piece of something unhealthy on your plate,  getting ready to start ‘getting healthy’ all over again!  When everyone else is making New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight, exercise more and eat healthier, your resolutions for 2018 will be things like “learn to surf,””start kick-boxing,” and “try hot yoga.” You’ll already be healthy and getting healthier because all those good habits are now part of your normal, and it’ll have been a lot easier and a lot less pain than killing yourself in the gym every night in January 2017! It’s one new habit a month and each month, you add a new one!  be the tortoise and finish the race!  And try not to laugh at all the exhausted rabbits you pass on the way!

CICO: Calories May Matter, but They Sure Don’t Count!

It took me a while to figure out what “CICO” stood for: Calories In Calories Out.  I should know that one by heart, since I spent most of my adolescence listening to my mom go on about it!  One of the phrases I learned to hate: ‘bank your calories.’  It’s right up there with ‘in lieu of a meal.’  Both of those phrases make me really want to hit someone! (so not kidding here!)

As some of you know, I have been educated in ‘calories’ since I was about 13 years old until about two years ago: 35 years of calorie counting! It eventually became the dull roar in the background that I learned to ignore.  My mom meant well of course but it never stopped feeling like there was something inherently wrong with me.  I was always ‘broken’ or ‘substandard.’ I seriously think it’s why most of my pets are the ones no one else wanted: I needed to show them that they had value and they were precious.

When most of the fitness and nutrition world starting condemning the CICO model, I laughed.  Calories are not what weight loss is about after all! All those “experts” were dead-wrong (they were wrong about fat, too!) Calories do count, because if you eat too much of anything, you’re going to gain weight, but keeping your calories under a certain number isn’t what’s going to help you lose weight.  It’s not the calories you need to control: it’s your hormones!

Specifically: insulin, cortisol, ghrelin, leptin and melatonin.  Those are the chief hormones that you want to keep tabs on, because when those are out of control, they can make you miserable! Not to mention stressed out, overweight and sleep deprived!  This is the part where I remind you I am not a doctor and have no medical training at all.  (Unless living for 50 years in an overweight body counts!) Since I’ve begun losing weight, nutrition, weight loss and fitness have become a huge part of my life. Since I spent years doing it wrong, I want to make sure I don’t trade one health problem (super morbid obesity for another- malnutrition)!  This happens way more than people think!  Many of the patients seen by Dr. Nowzaradan (TLC’s My 600 lb Life) weigh more than 500 lbs, have a body mass index of at least 85 and many of them are malnourished.  This is because a lot of what they eat is unhealthy junk food or nutritionally vacant simple carbs (like chips or bagels): lots of calories but no nutrition.  Most people who focus on weight management do so at the expense of nutrition.  They are so busy counting the calories they are eating, they don’t think to count the nutrients they are (or aren’t) getting in those calories!

It’s not the calories in what you eat that matters: it’s what you are actually eating!  Shane Pace (Metabolic Radio podcast & website) likes to remind listeners that calories are information. They are a unit of energy, not Weight Watchers points. (He also likes to remind listeners that calories are invented unit of measurement- “people eat FOOD, not CALORIES!”)  Three hundred calories of beef, three hundred calories of coconut oil and three hundred calories of whole wheat bread are all the same number of calories, but they all affect your metabolism- and your hormones- very differently! Generally, what you want to keep control over is the insulin.  Insulin reacts to the glucose in your blood stream and anything you eat or drink (except maybe plain water) is going to have an effect on the glucose levels, and consequently the insulin levels.  The more glucose in your blood, the more insulin, and this matters because while insulin is present in your bloodstream, your body is storing fat, not burning it.  Your body metabolizes the food you eat into either glucose (carbs), fat/ triglycerides or amino acids (proteins).  The more carbs and the simpler the carbs, the more glucose in the blood and the more insulin in response to the glucose. What you want to manage is the insulin response to the foods you eat, which can be done by making sure the carbs you do eat are the complex carbs that come from non-starchy vegetables.  Starch=sugar=glucose= more insulin in the bloodstream.

So getting back to three hundred calorie examples above: 300 calories of beef will break down to fat and amino acids; the coconut oil is only fat and will enter the blood as a fat/ triglyceride, and the whole wheat bread (a starch) will break down into glucose. The starch will metabolize quickly, will spike the glucose and subsequent insulin response to clear the glucose, which will cause the blood sugar (glucose) levels in the blood to drop dramatically.  This is the after-eating “crash” that hits a lot of people about 2:00-3:00 p.m. after their chips-and-sandwich lunch at the office.  This is why people have that afternoon slump about 3:00 p.m.

The beef and the fat however won’t cause an insulin spike or the subsequent “crash.”  Both of these macronutrients (fat and protein) take longer to break down so there is a slower and steadier release of nutrients into the blood so instead of sending you on an energy rollercoaster, you cruise along at the same pace.  Your brain and body like to have the blood sugar as even as possible.  The  steady nutrient release from the fat and protein will do that, unlike the starchy whole wheat bread.

There is also another side effect from the “after lunch crash”: most people get hungry again.  Their brain receives the signal that blood sugar is low and triggers ghrelin, the hunger hormone. For a lot of us, this also manifests as cravings for starchy things like chips, crackers and breads.  These are most quickly metabolized into energy and so that’s what the body wants- fast energy to get that falling blood sugar back up! The problem is that this is one more ride on the glucose rollercoaster: you go up fast and fall just as quickly- there is no steady even ride with starches!  This is something I can speak to from personal experience: this is the ride I was stuck on for a couple of decades at least: I’d eat something starchy, go up, crash, get hungry and do it all over again!  The problem is “300 calories!”  300 calories of bread for breakfast; 150 calories of granola bar snack, 300 calories of bread for lunch, another 150 calories for bagel snack, 300 calories of pasta for dinner and another 200 calories of cookies for dessert.  That’s 1400 calories, assuming I didn’t eat or drink anything else during the day (which was really unlikely)!  “I’m hungry so my body must need fuel!” What my body needed was for the glucose levels to stay even and steady- not jump up and down every couple of hours!  So while my brain was trying to even out the blood sugar, I was eating way more calories than I needed, most of which was just getting stored since I never had a chance to get out of fat-storage mode thanks to the glucose and insulin in my bloodstream, and I kept gaining weight and kept getting tired and hungry all the time.  My hormones were a wreck and I kept bouncing between insulin and ghrelin releases.

The other hormones mentioned above (cortisol, leptin and melatonin) are all necessary to keep your body in a healthy balance. Leptin is the satiety hormone.  It’s ghrelin’s counterpart and turns off your hunger, but it takes a little bit of time to hit the brain.  This is why one of the strategies for weight loss includes eating more slowly.  Remember Thanksgiving where you felt like a beached whale because you ate too much?  You probably ate too much too fast so by the time the leptin hit your brain, your stomach was already way too full.  Eating more slowly allows the leptin to be released (triggered by the fat in the blood) and get to the brain to turn off the hunger.  This is another reason the protein and fat are more satisfying: since they take longer to metabolize, they are in the blood longer and the more leptin (“hunger is off” hormone) to send that message to the brain.

Leptin is also affected by sleep: poor sleep habits lead to poor leptin production.  This is because the body is always tired and the brain is turning off the leptin, because you obviously need more energy(cue the ghrelin and carb cravings!) This is where the melatonin and cortisol come into play!  Melatonin is a sleep hormone and cortisol is a stress hormone (bit of oversimplification here).  Cortisol is the hormone that wakes you up in the morning and it has another surge later in the day, and drops off in the afternoon.  Melatonin does the opposite (the same as ghrelin): it surges later in the day and early evening and wanes early in the morning because melatonin promotes relaxation and sleep.  When there is too much cortisol in the blood, melatonin production is off so all those sleepless nights when you tossed and turned because of job stress? You can thank the cortisol for that!  You were stressed out over something and the body reacts to stress by releasing the cortisol for alertness and energy in a dangerous situation.  (Obviously if you are about to be eaten by a bear, being sleepy, mellow and relaxed are not conducive to your survival!) Cortisol also intensifies the insulin spike in the morning (grab that energy so you’ll have it when you need it to run from that bear- or irate boss!) So that breakfast sandwich you have not only spikes your insulin, the cortisol makes sure the insulin is in the blood for as long as possible!

Melatonin however is carb friendly, and the more carbs you have, the more melatonin is in the blood, the more relaxed you are and the easier it is to sleep.  The more rested you are, the more leptin is produced and less ghrelin is released. To put it simply:

  1. Stay away from starchy carbs, especially in the morning;
  2. Eat more nutrient dense non-starchy foods like meats, leafy or cruciferous veggies, and healthy fats like olives or avocados or their oils;
  3. Manage your stress;
  4. Develop consistent healthy sleep habits.

[Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) has distilled this into what she calls The Golden Rules of Carbs and Fat Loss. You can find it on her website by doing a simple search!  She’s awesome!]

For those of us who were raised on the CICO model and cannot imagine trying to lose weight without counting calories, let me tell you flat out: managing hormones worked for me! After 35+ years of counting calories and NOT losing weight, I’ve followed the hormone management model above for the last eighteen months (I went Paleo in April 2015) and I’ve lost 171 lbs, reversed type 2 diabetes, lowered my blood pressure and resolved my asthma.  So, yes, this works!  Despite this, I do know people who’ve had a lot of success with the CICO model; they manage their calories and have lost weight. However, it has never worked for me and for most people I know!  Even if I (or my friends) do lose weight on CICO, eventually the weight comes back.  But if you can manage your calories and stay under (or at) the right number, then go for it!  If you can be happily productive by staying at 1500 calories (0r whatever number), then ignore what I’m telling you here!  Most people don’t want to look at calorie numbers all day every day. They just want to eat healthy delicious food (not calories as Shane reminds us!)

As I’ve said over and over, I am not a doctor (or any kind of health professional) but this is what I’ve learned from other professionals. Namely: Elizabeth Benton at PrimalPotential.com; Shane Pace & Taylor Empey at MetabolicRadio.com; Alan Misner at 40+ Fitness.com;  Dr. David Ludwig Always Hungry?; Dr. Jason Fung The Obesity Code among others.  I’m also a fan of Living Paleo for Dummies and Nutrition for Dummies for some basic information.  If you are interested in eating Paleo, I also subscribe to Paleo Magazine (and their podcast) as it’s a great resource for all things Paleo and Primal.  Another awesome tool for information and support is My Fitness Pal.  It’s set up as a calorie counting site/ app, but it’s a lot like Facebook for fitness/ nutrition minded people and has some great resources (not to mention all my awesome friends!) I did a blog post on my favorite resources (“Sharing is Caring”).  You can also reach me at takingthelongweightoskinny@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Eat, Therefore I Am…Not Losing Weight

I really wish we came with an instruction manual!  When I was a student and teacher, one of my standard mantras was “when all else fails, read the directions!”  It worked, especially for kinesthetic learners like me who try to figure it out on our own.  If the “common sense” method doesn’t work, look in the dang instructions!  So, believe me, we would all benefit from a “How to Be a Healthy Human” instruction manual, complete with that little Trouble-Shooting section in the back.  “Hmmmm….c, c, c….cataracts….. cramps…. constipation! Here we go!” It would make things a lot easier, especially for those of you with kids! As a pet parent, I’ve been through a lot of breed books for Yorkies , and it just makes it easier if you know that Yorkies are prone to sensitive stomachs, so if he ate a little something spicy or rich and spit up a little while later, it’s not a major deal, unless he keeps spitting up.

Unfortunately, our “instruction manuals” come from a variety of sources, some not as reliable as others and many are sadly out of date, so we get to do it the hard way- through trial and error! Eating is one of the those things that looks deceptively easy but is so much harder, as we all know. What to eat, when to eat, what not to eat and even how to eat: there have been so many “instruction books” on these topics that support and contradict each other, it’s no wonder that most of us just give up- “okay, so I’m just stuck being the fat one in the family!”

I should know: I am a professional bad eater.  By that I mean I graduated out of amateur status decades ago!  You don’t get to be 438 lbs just dabbling at it!  I was listening to a podcast recently (40+ Fitness episode 173 with guests Dr. Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore).  The topic was fasting to improve health and Jimmy was explaining how he was doing it to help cure his insulin resistance since he’d gotten to 410 lbs before losing weight.  The competitor in me immediately thought: “hah! I beat you!”, followed by “hmmm, that’s not a good thing, is it?” Nope, so not a good thing.  I see pictures of myself (the ones I thought weren’t too bad- ugh!) and it’s apparent that yep, I was definitely in the professionally bad category.  Dr. Nowzaradan of My 600 lb Life always asks new patients how they got to their current weight in the 500+ range, and my answer would be: I just ate whatever I wanted as much as I wanted whenever I wanted.  If someone offered me cheesecake and I’d just finished a burger, fries and milkshake, sure! who doesn’t love cheesecake!  (Sadly, I think that was my dinner a lot of nights!)

I know most of us are not as bad as I was, but we do a lot of the same things, just not to the extremes I reached.  We have breakfast and a couple hours later at work, we have a little snack as we wander through the break room (yum! cheez-its!).  We have lunch and someone brought cookies and they’re sharing- thanks, munch munch!  We stop for a latte on the way home, have dinner and then a little snack afterwards as we clean up, maybe just finish off the rest of the garlic bread (it doesn’t keep well), and then, anyone want ice cream? It’s just a handful of crackers, a couple of cookies, a little milk, a couple slices of bread and then a scoop of ice cream.  It doesn’t feel like a lot when you eat it, because it’s spaced throughout the day but when you look at it all written down, it starts to look like a lot!  That’s because it is a lot, and it’s a lot of extra food on top of what you’re already eating! This is one reason I like keeping a food and activity journal.  Writing it all down shows you what you’ve eaten, so if you didn’t eat a lot and you’re starving when you get home, maybe that’s the reason.  Or maybe what you ate is why you’re hungry: when I have a breakfast sandwich in the morning, I’m a lot hungrier by lunchtime than if I had something like a cheese omelet. The same happens if I have a latte in the morning.  So, even though I’ve had a lot of calories, they weren’t the kind that last (fat or protein).  Even though my stomach is growling, I don’t eat. (This has to do with the blood sugar rollercoaster thanks to the simple carbs.)

This was a huge part of my eating problem; frankly, it’s the reason I gave up trying to control my eating.  I was eating plenty and it was supposed to be ‘healthy’ but I was still getting hungry.  “Well, if I’m hungry, my body must need something to eat.”  The same thing if I’m tired: “my energy is really low, so I must need to eat something!”  WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!

This is where the instruction manual comes in: I’m eating a lot and I’m gaining weight but I’m tired and hungry all the time! This is one of those situations where the ‘obvious common sense’ answer is only going to make it worse!  One of the attorneys at our office (I’m now a legal assistant) has a plant on his desk with droopy yellow leaves and he was complaining: I don’t know why it’s so brown- I water it once a week!  That’s the problem: overwatering.  When plants get droopy yellow/ brown leaves, it only looks like it’s dried out- it’s actually drowning!  We are the same way: our hunger and low energy only looks like a lack of food issue- it’s really a wrong food issue!  Just like the plant is getting too much water, I was eating too much of the wrong foods which were only making the problem worse, and like the plant, giving me more of what’s making me worse is just going to perpetuate the problem.

The wrong food for me was the abundance of simple refined carbs I was eating.  They were quick energy and they were what my body was craving, so that’s what I ate: lots of those ‘healthy whole grains.’  They hit my bloodstream really fast, due to their being simple refined carbs (like whole grain wheat toast) and then just as quickly, they are cleared out and now I’m crashing about an hour later, so….. more toast! or whole wheat crackers! and the cycle repeats itself.  So, I’m constantly eating and constantly getting hungry and constantly gaining weight.

The answer was counter-intuitive: eat things that don’t hit my bloodstream as fast and take longer to metabolize.  The energy boost is not as fast,  but it lasts a lot longer.  I’m not hungry an hour after eating and I’m not crashing.  It’s like not-watering the plant and hoping it greens up.  (FYI: it worked- the plant is now pushing new leaves!)  The same thing worked for me once I stopped eating all those simple refined carbs.  All that fat, meat and eggs everyone had told me to avoid became a major part of my diet (along with the veggies everyone is always told to eat), and voila! I don’t crash two hours after eating; I don’t get sleepy after lunch and whoo hoo! I’m losing weight! I wish someone had explained this to me when I was twenty-something! It would have made a lot of things a whole lot easier.

That was probably the biggest and most important change to my diet that had a positive impact on my health.  When I use the word “diet” here, I don’t mean a weight-loss diet; I mean the literal definition: the foods a person or animal habitually consumes. Changing what I was “habitually consuming” from simple refined grain based products to proteins and healthy fats has had an enormously positive affect on my total health, but it’s not the only one.  Another positive change has been eating intuitively. This means that when you get hungry, your body is telling you that you need fuel.  Okay, so that should be easy enough….. but hang on, wasn’t that how I got into this mess to start to start with?

Yep! Absolutely right! That’s why I really want the instruction manual! That’s the way it’s supposed to work, but the blood sugar rollercoaster thanks to those ‘healthy whole grains’ was screwing up the system! It’s like putting used batteries in your flashlight: if you put in new ones, you only have to change them every few weeks or so, but if you put in defective or used batteries, you are always having to change them!  Instead of fueling my body with healthy fats, proteins and complex carbs, I was trying to fuel it with simple refined carbs and was running out of energy every couple hours or so.  The complex carbs and proteins last four to five hours usually before I get hungry (depending on whether I work out or not), but just doing every day things (like driving or walking around the office), I was always hungry after grain based carbs like crackers or even a sandwich.  A lot of bloggers, podcasters and experts (like Dr. David Ludwig specifically) recommend that we eat intuitively to lose or maintain  weight.  That’s a little scary to me (actually a lot more than ‘a little’)!  It’s like getting bitten by a dog and then being told to pet the dog again: “uhhhh, the one that just bit me?!” “Yeah, that’s the one!” The idea is that now that I know what I should be eating, I should be ‘safe.’  But….. I really thought I was ‘safe’ when I tried it before! (niiiice doggie!) We are constantly told to eat only when we’re hungry and then, only until we are ‘satisfied,’ as opposed to being ‘full.’  I have never been good at either of those things!  It’s a lot of listening to your body but it means we need to interpret our bodies’ signals correctly.  I previously did a post about miscommunication, because I am clearly not fluent in whatever language my body speaks!

That’s the point, however: we have lost touch with our own bodies!  It’s like living in a house and having to hunt down the bathroom each time we need to use it! When we were babies, we knew what it was saying, even if we didn’t have the language skills to tell our parents we needed a new diaper!  We need to learn to what our bodies are trying to tell us: this is what ‘tired’ feels like; this is what ‘satisfied’ feels like; this is what ‘normal’ feels like, etc.  We have grown away from listening to what our body needs because we have been telling it what we think it needs for too long! Eating intuitively is difficult.  I’ve tried it since I got ‘bit by the whole-grain dog’ and it wasn’t a big success.  It’s time to try it again, because I need to know what my body needs and what it’s saying to me.  I am better at it than some people (too much Star Trek as a kid) but still, it’s a mystery to me in a lot of ways.  This is why we are chronically stressed, chronically exhausted, chronically overweight.  Really stressed? Take a pill!  Really tired? Take a pill! Really overweight? Take a pill – and eat more healthy whole grains! Then when the pills stop working, we really start to break down!  We no longer have any idea what it feels like to live in our bodies when they aren’t being medicated or stressed or exhausted.  We need to get back to our base line and that means we first have to find it!

When my sister was in college, she lived off campus and like most college students, her apartment was filled with a lot of second hand furniture.  One of those was a coffee table my dad had gotten when he first moved out on his own.  We’d seen it in almost all of his homes through the years: black painted wood, with the shelf underneath and the art deco-ish legs.  There was a little lip on the outside of the top. My sister decided to refinish it and started stripping off the paint, only to find there was a parquet wood design under that black paint.  My dad told her the table had originally had glass on top to protect the parquet, but it had gotten broken and he’d painted it.  Underneath the plain black paint was a beautiful wooden inlaid table but it’d been covered up for so long he forgot about it and we’d never known about it.  We need to strip away all of the outside influences that are obscuring our original design and learn to communicate with our bodies.  We need to know what it feels like to be hungry, to be satisfied, to be tired, to be rested, to be calm, etc.  Only when we know what those feel like can we figure out how to move forward.

Eating intuitively is one way to start finding your baseline.  When you get hungry, take a few notes.  When did you eat last?  What was it?  Are you really super hungry?  Is it your office-mate’s lunch you smell?  Take notes about what you eat: when, what, how much, how hungry were you when you ate.  I’m trying to eat intuitively again and it’s going a little better than last time but it’s still a process.  This is not about counting calories.  Lately, my “calorie counter” has been telling me that I’m way under my calorie limit to lose weight, but if I’m not hungry, I don’t need to eat those extra 400 calories! Yes, I was hungry after my work out and I had a good dinner (chicken, sweet potato fries and an apple).  I thought about having something else, but I wasn’t hungry so I didn’t eat it.  When I got up this morning, I still wasn’t hungry, although when I did get hungry later, I had breakfast.  It’s not about eating according to the clock, or starving yourself, or eating according to a calorie counter.  It’s about finally listening to your body when it tells you what it needs. It’s a process (like everything else we have to learn), and sometimes when I’m trying to figure out if I need to eat, I feel a little like I’m talking to one of my pets: are you hungry? do you need to go out? did your toy get stuck on the bookshelf again? what do you want???  But it’s worth the effort if you learn how to speak your body’s language. You learn what ‘real hunger’ is and what is “it’s snack-time, dude!”  It also helps when you need to know the difference between what foods work for you and what aren’t so good for you: things like gluten, lactose or even just the simple carbs.  Be the bio-detective and learn your body’s language.  Most importantly, remember that when it comes to your own health and fitness, you are the only expert on you!