Beating the Clock: “I Don’t Have Time to Work on my Diet!”

This is going to be a little bit of a rant hopefully mixed with a little common sense.  One of the excuses I hear a lot (and that I personally used myself!) is “I don’t have time to work on my diet!”  The idea that a diet “takes time” comes mostly from the diet industry.  I think people genuinely believe that it takes a lot of time and preparation to “work on a diet.”  Part of it I think really is just an excuse to keep putting it off, but I blame most of this wrong-headed approach on the diet industry.  When you look at the programs that are advertised all over the media, it usually comes as some kind of package, either with food you have to pick out and order, or some kind of food list and meal prep instructions and all kinds of things you need to read, set up and/ or shop for.  They have to sell you something for the hefty amounts of money you are paying them!

In reality, “working on your diet” takes no more time than the way you are eating now.  You do not need to order any pre-packaged food off a website; you do not need a long list of special powders, pills, specialty foods or equipment.  All you need to work on your diet you most likely already have at home right now.  It’s not about doing anything special: you don’t need hours to do “meal prep” or create a “diet menu.”  There is really one thing you need to do to “work on your diet”: Make Better Choices.  It takes no more time than what you do already.  I know this for a fact, because it takes me no more time to make better choices now than it took for me to make really awful choices two years ago.

Pretty much anywhere you go to eat, whether in your job’s cafeteria, fast food or the grocery store, even a gas station mini-mart, you choose what you eat, and all you have to do is make a better choice than you did before!  Most cafeterias have some kind of salads, vegetables, cheeses, or yogurt in addition to whatever processed foods they have.  Some of the better ones can make you a wrap or you can always get the burger/ chicken breast sandwich and ask them to leave off the bun/ bread (you can always just throw it away yourself!)  Just because you are in the cafeteria doesn’t mean you have to have the burger, fries or spaghetti or whatever.  While you are there on your regular lunch hour, choose something healthier!

The same goes for eating at fast food or even a regular restaurant.  Salads are available at almost all fast food places, and certainly at a sit-down restaurant.  The same thing goes with the fast food burger (take off the bread and skip the fries!).  Some of them now have the “low carb burger” wrapped in lettuce.  You don’t have to have fries and the soda.  Get a bottle of water or if you want something sweet, get the diet soda.  Your eating doesn’t have to be perfect- it just has to be an improvement for you! You will still lose weight and be eating healthier!

The same goes when you are shopping at the grocery store: you don’t have to buy the packaged foods.  Most supermarkets have salad kits and steam-in-the-bag veggies.  They take no more time to prepare than the boxes of packaged foods you make now, whether on the stove or in the microwave. Most of them are 5 minutes or less, and if all you are doing is pouring the salad in the bowl and adding the seeds/ nuts and dressing, it’s maybe a couple of minutes at most! As for the rest of the meal, it doesn’t have to be complicated.  There are a variety of slow cookers and pressure cookers (Instant Pot comes to mind) that greatly simplify “meal prep.” You can either set up your entree to cook while you are at work or using an Instant Pot, cut the meal prep down to a few minutes.  Personally, I use my cast iron skillet, toaster oven or get the prepared meat out of the deli (usually rotisserie chicken or roast beef).  Making dinner for me takes no more time than hitting the drive-thru, and it has the extra bonus of already being at home.  I get a lot of stuff done at home while the dinner is on the stove/ in the oven: letting the pup out; feeding the cats; putting the laundry in, etc.  Instead of sitting in a smoggy smelly drive-thru, I’m at home taking care of things I need to take care of whether I make my own dinner or not.

It’s not any more difficult to make a “healthy” grocery list than it is to make an unhealthy one.  Instead of getting seven frozen dinners or seven boxes of rice or pasta mix, I get seven days worth of protein,  veggies, fruits (my preference is for fresh or frozen, but canned work too).  Instead of buying a box of frozen waffles, I buy a carton of eggs.  Instead of boxed mixes, I get vegetables:  Instead of processed foods, I get fresh meats, eggs, cheeses, etc.  It’s simply about choosing things that are minimally processed or healthier rather than things that not so great for you.  Shopping takes the same time whatever I am buying. Cooking doesn’t have to be some long complicated recipe out of a book: it can be throwing some pork chops or burgers on the stove and heating up some veggies.  Most of the time it’s 30 minutes or less, which is about what it takes to hit the drive thru and get home.

The same goes when you stop at the gas station for a snack: instead of getting the chips or the candy, get a cheese stick or some jerky.  They also have nuts, which are a great snack! Instead of the soda, get a bottle of water or a diet soda.

If you decide you want to buy a “diet book,” go for it!  I would also suggest you buy a book on nutrition, simply to give you an objective point of view.  There are a lot of books with solid weight loss/ healthy eating plans and many of them contain recipes.  If you don’t want to buy a book, there are a lot of websites that offer free information on nutrition and recipes.  One of my favorite sites is Primal Potential.  It has 100 Fat Loss Friendly Meal Ideas for free and she also did a podcast on healthy meals under $1.99 per serving.  Another of my favorite sites is Paleo Leap (I eat Paleo if you haven’t guessed!) I’m also a fan of Nom Nom Paleo, but her recipes are bit more involved, although extremely delicious!

A few words on meal prep: I know there are a lot of people who live and die by the meal prep idea.  They make a batch of soup, stew or meat on one day and eat it during the week.  There are just as many people who spend several hours cutting up their fruits, veggies, meats, etc and pack it all in the fridge or the freezer so they can heat it up in a couple of minutes or have them ready in the fridge.  That’s up to you: if that works for you and makes it easier, then it’s worth the investment.  For me, it’s too much of a hassle and it usually doesn’t work out for me.  My idea of quick and easy snacks are usually a bag of nuts or some Epic bars in my desk.  Personally, I think they keep better and last longer than the cut of celery or cucumbers, although I will prep radishes when I buy them.

The whole point is that “working on your diet” isn’t any more work than what you are doing now.  If you think that the way you are eating now is “working for you,” just ask yourself how you are feeling?  Are you happy with how you look and feel?  Do your clothes fit the way you want them to?  Do you have the energy you need and want?  Your diet doesn’t have to be perfect: it just has to be better. And ‘better’ is relative! Make a better choice this week and then when you feel a little more comfortable, make another better choice.  Your body will notice the improvements and you will start losing weight, without doing a lot of extra work.

You don’t need to do hours of meal prep or menu planning and your schedule doesn’t have to change: the only thing that changes are the choices you make regarding the foods you are eating.  Obviously, the diet industry does not like to tell you this, because they have a vested interest in selling you their products.  If you don’t buy their little food prep boxes, equipment, books or meal service, then they don’t make money.  Eating healthier doesn’t need a big investment of time or money, but it does require a little bit of common sense and careful thought.  You can work on eating better or you can work on staying where you are: it’s your choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming Unstoppable: Motivation Comes from Momentum

I’ve been hearing a lot about motivation lately. As one podcaster pointed out, there is an entire motivational industry and motivational speakers command some hefty fees for revving up their listeners.  Frankly, I have never been a fan of motivational speakers; one of my first bosses was always throwing Tony Robbins and Dale Carnegie around and, no offense to those gentlemen, but it got really old really fast (FYI: that boss got fired).

Motivational speeches and books are good starting points.  They get the blood pumping and the creative juices flowing, but they are really just the match. When you light a match, it flares up, burns for a few seconds and then it burns out (for you millenials who may not have ever used a match).  The point of the match is to use that flame to light your own fire. If you don’t touch the match to the kindling, then you are back in the cold darkness.  The speakers and books will get the ball rolling, but it’s up to you to keep it going and I’ve noticed that a lot of the speakers and books seem to gloss over this fact.  Most people either forget this or have never been taught that idea and as a result, they spend a lot of time looking for something or someone to motivate them. The irony is that the energy they are spending searching for outside motivation could be more beneficial in motivating themselves.

I really can’t fault them for looking for outside motivation, because keeping yourself motivated is a constant task. Every day you have to get up and find a reason to keep yourself ‘fired up’ and enthusiastic about your goals, whatever they might be.  It’s hard work and if you can find someone else to do it for you, then you can use their fire to stoke your own.  But too many of us let our own fires burn out and then literally have to ‘re-light the flame.’ This is why inspirational/ motivational apps and sites are so popular: people are looking for that outside impetus to keep going.

Outside motivation can be a good thing, if it really does keep you moving forward and better yet if gives you tools and practices you can use to keep yourself going, but the best tool for staying motivated is the forward movement itself. Movement builds momentum and the more momentum you build up, the easier and faster you keep moving.

If any of you have seen the movie Unstoppable about a runaway train, they try to stop the train with a device called a portable derailer (it’s supposed to knock it off the tracks) and when it doesn’t work, the boss is mystified; the derailer was “barely a bump” for the train, and the yardmaster Connie snaps at him “it’s a million pounds of train going 70 miles an hour!” She is not wrong: it takes about 5 miles for a train going 55 miles to stop. (FYI: the movie is based on a real incident.) Trains start moving slowly and to a lot of people they seem awkward and cumbersome, but once they are at speed, they are nearly impossible to stop.  (PSA here: Trying to beat a train is a death sentence because by the time the engineer sees you, IT IS TOO LATE TO STOP THE TRAIN! A MILLION POUNDS OF TRAIN WILL DEMOLISH YOU AND YOUR CAR!) [Side note here: the law firm where I work handles a lot of railroad cases and I deal with train v vehicle accidents all the time. The pictures are very unsettling.]

This is pretty much my point about momentum: it’s okay if you start slowly as long as you keep going because, like the train, you will build both speed and momentum.  It’s harder to derail you and a whole lot easier for you to keep going forward.  It becomes easier for you to incorporate new routines because you are already at speed and you are already on track. (This is where these expressions come from.) It’s the getting started that bogs down most people: they get frustrated because the diet industry is all about “quick results” but actual permanent weight loss is about the long term, as in “the rest of your life.”

Next time you see a weight loss/ diet plan/ fitness commercial, notice how many of them stress the quick results: ‘six weeks;’ ’30 days;’ ’14 days.’ As usual, in the small print under the pictures there is the “Results Not Typical” disclaimer. How many of these commercials stress keeping the weight off or permanent weight loss? I can only think of one and it’s for an exercise machine, because if you keep with your exercise, yes, you will most likely keep the weight off as long as you don’t eat too much of the wrong foods.

I have tried a lot of diet plans and meal services: they are very good at motivating you, especially once you see the weight coming off, but the catch is after a while, you lose the motivation.  Honestly, eating the same packaged foods over and over again gets old pretty quickly, and it’s the same with drinking the diet shakes and eating the same cardboard-y meal bars.  “I’m losing weight but I’m pretty miserable in the process”; that’s not exactly motivating.  The thought of eating like that permanently is absurd, especially since after a while, our bodies get used to the lower calorie intake and start slowing down the metabolism.  This is why Biggest Loser ‘winners’ end up eating 800 calories a day to maintain their weight loss: the metabolic damage is insane.  The thought of eating only 800 calories a day is pretty de-motivating to me!

What does keep us motivated? Results keep us motivated, yes, but enjoying what we are doing also keeps us motivated. But we have to remember that building a new habit begins slowly, like the train.  We need to build up speed but it’s not going to be quick.  This is how the diet & fitness industry makes its money: by giving us the quick results we want.  We burn hot like the match, but we burn out just as quickly.  We see the weight coming off and “yay! it’s working!” but three weeks later, as we are facing the prospect of yet another pre-packaged meal, cardboard-y bar or chalky shake, we have pretty much lost our enthusiasm. The gilt has worn off that lily, and choking down another one of those while everyone around us is eating something they enjoy just gets more and more daunting. There are some who will just ‘toughen up’ and keep with it for a couple more weeks or so, but the more this rigid diet plan goes on, the harder it gets, because these weight loss plans were designed to be quick but not sustainable.

Sustainable weight loss takes time: it will be slow and cumbersome as it gets started but over time, it will build up speed.  The problem is staying motivated while it builds up that speed and starts showing us the results we are impatiently waiting for, and again this is why the diet & fitness industry rakes in billions each year: we are not patient! One of my favorite lines from the movie Postcards from the Edge illustrates this idea perfectly: “Instant gratification takes too long!” We are accustomed to instant results and pretty much everything we deal with all day long encourages us to move faster and faster.  We have entire industries built around getting our purchases the next day or in two days. When I was kid, 6-8 weeks was pretty normal; now it seems like forever! Fast might be fun, but it’s rarely healthy, and it’s definitely not healthy for weight loss!

It’s the Fast-is-Better mindset that knocks us off our rails.  We might be set up perfectly for weight loss, but when two weeks goes by and we aren’t getting the ‘instant results’ we were hoping for, we drop off that ‘loser program’ and move on to something promising us ’14 lbs in 14 Days!’ We sabotage ourselves by looking for ‘fast’ rather than ‘forever.’  Fast is motivating: it makes us feel like we are actually doing something and making progress, while waiting and working for a couple weeks or longer before we start showing appreciable results feels like we are doing something wrong or worse, doing nothing at all. When we are expecting fast, slow is de-motivating to say the least.

Getting away from the Instant Gratification Mindset is the first step to staying motivated.  We need to change the ‘mile markers’ by which we gauge our progress.  Weight loss and healthy living are our destinations, not our mile markers.  The more we stay on our healthy living track by making healthy food choices and being active, the closer we get to our destinations, and the easier it gets to keep making them. Think about it: which would you rather have for breakfast: a cheese omelet or a meal replacement bar? Would you rather have roasted chicken and zucchini for dinner or a pre-packaged diet lasagna? It’s easy to say yes to the real food, and yes, those are whole foods which will get you to your weight loss destination.  You won’t get there as fast as the diet industry’s ‘bullet-train fast foods’ but you’ll enjoy the journey more, and better yet, there is no ‘return trip.’  It’s easier to stay on track when you enjoy what you are eating and doing, and the more you make the healthy choices, the easier it is to stay on track.  Count your healthy choices as your mile markers: how many can you make in a day?  How many did you make last week? Can you set a new personal best for activity or food choices? The longer you stay on track, the easier it becomes and after a while (NOT a couple of days), you will find you are feeling better, looking better and losing weight.  The farther down that track you go, the better look and feel, and the more momentum you build until you really do become unstoppable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What You Look Like is NOT Who You Are

I recently had a discussion with my mom about self-confidence.  I admit that I have little patience for people who are too concerned about what other people think of them.  In some ways, I am probably too unconcerned about others’ opinions of me. Part of this is I think my own denseness and part of it no doubt comes from the constant teasing from my classmates when I was in grade school.  I was ridiculed on a fairly regular basis for being: 1) Mexican; 2) poor; and 3) fat.  I actually didn’t start gaining weight until I was about 7th grade, so most of my grade school years, there was nothing I could do about being a poor Mexican (not as kid anyway) and after years of listening to the put-downs, I just started ignoring them.

At my workouts I see quite a few women (usually) who wear t-shirts and shorts to get in the pool or they insist on wearing a tankini or swim skirt because they don’t want to show their bellies or their upper thighs.  They want to be covered as much as possible.  I admit, the first swim suit I had was a tankini, but that was mainly because the only suits they had at the store were tankinis. The ones I’ve bought online are two pieces: a bralette with a high waisted swim short.  Those are the suits I like best (the tankini was really annoying). I’ve had a couple people make remarks about how I’m trying to flirt with the guys going in and out of the sauna (just friendly teasing) and a few other comments about how it looks like I’ve lost a ‘lot of weight’ after no doubt noticing my saggy skin.

The saggy skin was what really started this conversation with my mom.  I made a comment that my legs are starting to look like the patients on TLC’s Skin Tight and she asked me if I was close enough to my goal weight to have skin surgery. She commented that I will probably need at least two surgeries, one on my legs and one on my chest, torso and arms, which will include a breast lift. Honestly, I am in no rush to have surgery of any kind and I am not nearly close enough to consider surgery.  (I still have about 100 lbs to go!) and I told her, after she mentioned it a few times, that I will not be having my breasts done under any circumstances.

Many of the patients on Skin Tight are practically traumatized by their saggy skin. There are some (mainly guys) who are more concerned about the inconvenience it causes and the risk of infection more than their appearance. Many of the patients are extremely self-conscious about their appearance, describing themselves with words like ‘freak’ and ‘monster’ and I think my mom is a little confused that I am not much concerned about how I look at all.

Vanity and appearance are important to my mom, and she does not understand that it isn’t important to me. Beyond looking neat and clean, I don’t spend a whole lot of time on my appearance.  I’ve been told by more than a couple men that I’m not ‘girly’ enough and that it’s ‘not attractive.’ My vanity is pretty much confined to my hair: I like it long, but even then, I don’t spend a lot of time styling it.  When I was 16, I had one gray hair on the back of my head. It was very noticeable because the rest of my hair was very dark and my mom kept insisting that I pluck it out, which I didn’t.  As I grew older, I started getting a little bit of gray around my temples and face and she started making comments about coloring my hair.  I did color my hair a few times, but that was more of a lark trying different colors and not related to ‘hiding the gray.’  I commented to one of my stylists that I kind of missed my gray hair and he quipped “no worries, your friends are back!”

My point here is that what I look like has never been tied to my sense of self or self-esteem.  Maybe it was all that teasing in school (and life in general) that led to my being thick-skinned (and maybe a little dense), but who I am is not what I look like and it never has been and never will be.  This is the point of a lot of books, movies and plays: who you are is the person inside and the outside covering is just the vehicle for moving that person around.  Some of us are cute little Fiats and Minis and some of us are giant F-150’s and SUVs.  The only difference is that we are fairly limited in our body choices: there are some things we can change and some we can’t.  The problems happen when people start obsessing over things they can’t change about themselves.  Do I wish I were taller? Yeah, being short is kind of a pain.  Do I worry about it? Not really- I can’t change it.  Even things I did lament over as a kid (I wanted blue eyes like my dad), I grew out of them.  Now if I want blue eyes or any other color, all I have to do is buy the colored contacts.  I can have different eye colors each day (or two different colors if I want!) but I don’t.  It’s too much trouble and I know my eyes are brown.

I don’t mean to tell you that what you look like doesn’t matter.  Taking pride in your appearance is a good thing; I believe it speaks to our self-confidence. I think liking how you look is a good thing, but when you are more concerned about what others think of your appearance than your own feelings, I think that isn’t a good thing.  I’m not talking about your spouse or significant other: I mean strangers or coworkers and people who are not so important to you.  As long as you are happy with your appearance, then what other people think is pretty much irrelevant, but the bottom line is that our appearance will change over time, “by chance or Nature’s changing course untrimm’d.” We need to be more concerned with how we feel about ourselves than what others think of us.  Having self-confidence and being secure in ourselves is more attractive than our hair style, color  or anything else about how we look.  We spend too much time and effort trying to impress others with our appearance when what really matters is what’s inside. Everything else fades with time, whether we want it to or not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting Simply and Simply Starting

I’m not trying to be clever here, but these two ideas really do go together.  I see some of my fitness friends lamenting how they’ve gotten off track and they don’t know how to get back into a healthy routine and I see a lot of other comments from people who want to start either eating better, working out or just being healthier and they don’t know where to start.  They’re stuck at the starting line.  I suppose I could pretend to be wise and throw out the famous Lao Tzu quote: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” (comes up all the time on motivational apps!) but really it’s not my style.  My advice is usually “Pick one! Just do SOMETHING!”

Indecision makes me nuts. (It was seriously the most irritating thing about reading Hamlet- yay, dithering about in iambic pentameter!) When it comes to starting out on a healthier lifestyle, really all you need to do is choose ONE thing and start doing it. Ideally, you should start with tracking your food/ drink and activities, but even if you just start by limiting your soda, your processed foods, adding in more vegetables- any one of those is a start and you begin to build momentum.  You have begun to build a platform!

The sad truth is that too many people rely on old incorrect advice, like the ol’ Calories In- Calories Out model (CICO).  That’s great if you only plan to do it for a couple weeks so you can lose enough to get into the tux or dress for the reunion/ whatever event.  If you plan to lose weight permanently (usually more than a few pounds) and want to be healthier overall, CICO can be really problematic.  Some people listen to their doctors who usually give them a “diet plan” that’s based on CICO.  What most people don’t know (including me who heard about it from multiple sources while researching nutrition): med students are only required to have about 24 hours of education in nutrition.  (I seriously think I have more hours in Shakespeare studies!) That’s the equivalent of one semester of information! If you want to get your nutrition and weight loss information from a healthcare professional, which is really a great idea, then ask for a referral to a nutritionist or registered dietician within  your health plan.  These are the people who have studied what nutrients a human body needs and how the metabolism works!  This is the information that most people (including me) think they are getting from their doctor.

Another sad truths is that most people think in order to lose weight they need to do tons of exercise.  They go full bore on their exercise and activity and still eat the same way they have for years.  I see this idea a lot on billboards for local gyms saying things like “I work out because: I love deep dish pizza!” That’s great: I love deep dish pizza too, but working out like crazy so you can eat pizza, cinnamon rolls and all the cheese curls you can grab is not going to stop you from gaining weight, never mind losing weight!  Most health professionals will tell you that weight loss, specifically fat loss, is 90% nutrition and 10 % exercise.  This is why many of them tell you to change your diet first and then work on getting more activity.

I know from experience, including my own, that it feels easier to start exercising more because changing your diet seems way too complicated: “I don’t have time or want to read a book about nutrition/ diet plans/ whatever else someone suggested, so I’ll just walk on the treadmill or use the elliptical.” Exercise is a good thing, and even better once you get into a habit, but seriously, changing your diet can be just as easy. Like the title of this post says, start simply and simply start! It’s not rocket science, no matter what Dr. Famous Guy says in his Best Selling Diet Book.  It’s ONE change: make it and you’ve started! You are on your way!

Ideally, you start by tracking your food and activity every day for at least a week or two.  I DON’T mean counting calories, weighing your food or eating ‘diet food.’ Just write down what you ate or drank and when.  Before you eat, it’s also helpful to write down if you are hungry, really hungry, not hungry and if you’re tired, energetic, ‘okay’ or ‘stressed.’  It wouldn’t hurt either if you also track how much you sleep and the sleep quality.  Yeah, I know that sounds like a lot of stuff, but bare bones, start with the food and activity- you can add in the others later. I mention them because all those factors (sleep, stress, hunger & energy) can effect your weight loss, but you don’t need to know all of this information to start.  Information Overload is another trap we fall into when we plan to lose weight.  We do not need to know everything about weight loss to track.  There is a reason for tracking.  I know a lot of people think of it as a waste of time, but if you don’t have a record of what you started with and what changes you made, you won’t know what is responsible for your outcome. In other words, if you had bagels for breakfast three days in a row and felt like crap by 11:00 and then you switched to cottage cheese for breakfast one day and felt great all morning, are you sure you’re going to remember? “I felt great on Thursday but what was different? Was that the day the canteen was out of bagels, so I had cottage cheese instead?” This is why we write things down: we don’t always make the connection between the 3:00 slump and the Chinese food for lunch or the morning-after blahs and the high carb dinner the night before.

Even if you opt not to track, healthy eating habits don’t have to be complicated.  I know a lot of people who say they hate to cook after I tell them I eat mostly whole foods.  They make a face: “I don’t like to cook/ I don’t have time to cook.” Seriously, I am the laziest person I know.  I spent most of my childhood cooking for my family and cooking is the last thing I want to do after driving two hours to get home.  I want to park in my recliner, play with my pup and do nothing for a while! Eating whole foods doesn’t have to be complicated: I eat a lot of fresh salads: I throw a bunch of veggies in a bowl and pour some olive oil & balsamic vinegar! I eat rotisserie chicken from the deli! I throw some grassfed meat in a frying pan to cook while I eat the veggies! Maybe it’s not gourmet, but it’s not complicated either, and it’s what I like.  I can also tell you that I feel a whole lot better after eating it than I do after eating fast food or something processed.  I also don’t cook every night.  There are a lot of nights when I cook enough for two or three meals and put the leftovers in the fridge.  Then I’m reheating it in the microwave while I’m eating my veggies.  There are a lot of healthy cookbooks that have 30 minute meals. After years of eating fast food, I can tell you stopping at the drive thru takes about the same amount of time as throwing something on the stove, and it’s got the bonus option of being at home doing other things instead of sitting in the car breathing all the carbon monoxide from all the cars lined up at the window. It’s a little cheaper too.  If you pay $7 for the rotisserie chicken (at least 4 meals) and $5 for the box of mixed salad greens (at least another 4 meals), that’s $12 for 4 meals or $3 a meal. Technically, it’s a bit more if you add things like salad dressing and maybe some tomatoes, but usually the bottles of olive oil & balsamic vinegar last a month or more and the box of tomatoes (also $5) lasts all week, so it comes out about $1 serving. It’s healthier than the fast food which usually costs more, takes about the same time and makes you feel like sludge afterwards.

But you don’t have to start with “eating whole foods” right off the bat either! One change: eat one meal at home once a week; eat at home on weekends; switch one processed food for one whole food; when you run out of pasta/ rice/ mashed potato mix, buy fresh or frozen veggies instead.  We’ve all seen the “extreme” shows where the fitness guru cleans out the trainee’s kitchen and chucks all the “bad food” in the trash and fills everything with whole grain, grass fed and blah blah healthy stuff.  It’s scary! AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT!! One of my fitness friends made the same lament to me, and I told her “when you run out of oatmeal, buy eggs instead!” She was trying to go low carb for breakfast, but the idea is still the same. It’s what I did: when I ran out of mac & cheese, I bought broccoli in its place.

By making one healthy change you start moving, and the more you move forward, the easier it is to build momentum and keep moving forward!  You don’t have to learn everything about nutrition before you start: I think of it as on the job training! I am already moving forward and I am learning as I go. If I had waited until I had a clear cut plan, I might not have ever started, because frankly, it’s intimidating! Once you start looking closely at nutrition, metabolism and fitness, you realize what you don’t know!  Let me rephrase: I realized what I didn’t know, and it was daunting! But because I was already moving forward and making progress, the momentum I had built up kept me moving forward! One change: I stopped eating fast food.  From there, I moved to replacing the mac & cheese with veggies, and then to having low carb breakfasts, and then to eating organic meat, and another change and another change.  The more I learned, the more I refined my way of eating but I was already making progress on my weight loss and overall health. I was already seeing the results and the changes were becoming part of my regular habits, so on top of eating healthier, I was losing weight, being healthier, being more active and I wasn’t miserable! I didn’t hate my diet and fitness, and I wasn’t counting the days until I could go back to eating the way I used to eat.  When I do eat something like fast food or processed food, it doesn’t taste as good as what I usually eat, so no temptation there!

Eating healthier, losing weight, being more fit: whatever your goal is doesn’t have to be complicated or a big hassle.  It starts simply with one change, and if you don’t know where to start, just pick one thing to change, and there you go! You’ve started!  Find one thing you can change easily and make the change.  Bonus info: if you don’t like that change, find another one to make! It’s not carved in stone or tattooed on your forehead! To paraphrase wise old Lao Tzu, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but you’ve got to take that single step!

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I Can Lose Weight, You Can Do It Too!

This post is about blatant motivation and encouragement.  I’m not going to sugarcoat anything, because for most of us, losing weight is probably about the hardest thing we’ve ever tried to do. But this post isn’t about how hard it is or how to suffer through the tough times. This post is about success and being healthy and making it easy, because, yes, losing weight can be easy if you choose to make it that way! I don’t mean to tell you that it’s your fault you haven’t lost weight before now, or that you’ve been doing it wrong all these years, but I will tell you that we have all been taught the wrong way to lose weight and that has been our problem! We have all been correctly following the instructions we’ve been given, but the instructions are wrong.  If someone gives us directions to Boise and we follow them to the letter, that’s great, but not if we are trying to get to Boston! This is pretty much what has happened to most of us: we were aiming for permanent weight loss and what we got was only temporary at best!

I seriously never believed I could lose weight for good.  I never believed I could lose a significant amount of weight and if you had told me even two years ago that I would have lost as much weight as I have without surgery, I would have flat out called you a lying insert really offensive expletive here.  But, I have lost weight; I have not put weight back on; I am not miserable; and I am still losing weight.  It’s not a magic trick; I’m not taking any kind of pills or special powders; and I have a lot more energy than I have had in a long time.  FYI: I am over the half century mark and approaching menopause (I’m not there yet, but I can see it from here!) I only mention this because a lot of older adults just don’t even try because they think it can’t be done! I know when I hit forty, I thought I was just destined to be super morbidly obese for the rest of my life! That really is the BMI classification for my condition: super morbid obesity. I had a Body Mass Index of 75 (438 lbs).  Anything over 50 is “super obese.” For reference, the ideal BMI is between 19-25; overweight is 25-30; obese is over 30; severely obese is over 35; and morbidly obese is over 40.  I am still morbidly obese at 44, but it’s way better than 75!

So what did I do to lose weight? I just made some simple permanent changes to my eating habits. I know: it’s kind of a let-down.  Duhhhh!!! Isn’t that what dieting is about?! You aren’t wrong, but the two important adjectives in that sentence are “simple” and “permanent.” I didn’t start doing a whole new routine and I didn’t start doing anything complicated.  I simply stopped eating fast food on a regular basis. Truly, that is how I started losing weight.  Because my work schedule changed dramatically (which had nothing to do with my wanting to lose weight, FYI), I stopped eating fast food and started eating at home more, and I lost about 40 lbs without really even realizing it. That’s how big I was- I knew I had lost weight but I didn’t realize it was that much!  Frankly, I was amazed that such a simple change had made such a huge difference, so I decided to make another healthy change, and then another and it just kept going from there.

Eventually, I did a little research.  Since I had the time, I started looking into some of the various nutritional plans and healthier eating habits.  I decided on Paleo mainly because it’s pretty simple and simple works for me.  I know people who think Paleo is not for them because “it’s just a lot of meat!”  It isn’t a lot of meat- it’s a lot of vegetables, and while it doesn’t “cut out carbs” or “cut out bread,” it does minimize simple carbs considerably.  It’s mostly about eating whole foods, which works for me in so many ways.

The difference between the changes I made this time and changes I’d made on other diets before is that I made these changes permanent and they were simple changes to make.  I also didn’t make a dozen changes all at once. Since I wasn’t eating out as much, when I went grocery shopping, I just switched the pasta I usually bought for something like broccoli, salad or squash. As I used up the boxes of processed foods in my house, I just replaced them with whole food items: eggs instead of bagels; broccoli instead of rice mix; sausage instead of cereal; and some items I didn’t need to change because they were already healthy options.  Rotisserie chicken is one of them. I had pretty much always eaten a lot of rotisserie chicken; the problems came from what I ate with it, which was usually a lot of pasta and bread.  Would it be better if it were organically grown chicken? No doubt, but is conventional chicken better than processed meat products? Again, no doubt. This is a key concept with simple permanent changes: make the best choice you can in the situation presented to you.  I do get organic when I can find it and afford it, but if I can’t then I make the best selection I can.  ‘Conventional’ whole foods are still better for you than processed foods.  It’s like that old joke: two hikers are out in the woods when they run into a grizzly bear.  The first hiker drops his pack and starts to run and his friend says “are you nuts?! you can’t outrun a grizzly!” and the first hiker says “nope, I just have to run faster than you!”  You don’t have eat “certified organic whole foods”- you just have to eat more whole foods than processed.  You don’t have to throw out all the boxes and packages in your kitchen at once- you can do it over time. When you run out of boxes of mac & cheese, get zucchini instead! And yes, you can do frozen vegetables! (Canned are up to you but personally, I have never been a fan of canned.)

This is the other big concept: since I was making these changes permanent, I chose what I wanted to change on my own schedule.  I wasn’t doing a planned scheduled diet where in Phase 1, I do X and after two weeks, it’s Phase 2 and I start doing Y and on and on.  There was nothing to ‘phase in or out’ unless I wanted to phase it in or out, and if I changed my mind, big deal! I don’t have to ‘start over!’  My diet, my timeline, my choices! One of the things I used to eat a lot of was bread and when I decided I was going to eat less of it, yes, it was a little tough since one of the few restaurants I went to on a more regular basis has some really great bread.  I chose not to eat it and smelling it, watching my family eat it and not having any was a little tough at first, but after a while, I realized a few things: 1) cravings go away when you stop giving in to them; 2) I was proud of myself for not eating the bread; 3) if I did eat the bread, it wasn’t the end of the world; and 4) when I did eat it, it was a bit of a let-down and just not worth all the drama.  That’s pretty much how it went with most of the foods I decided to pass up: more drama than anything else.  Are there some foods that are still great and fabulous even after not eating them for a long time? Oh, hell yes! (Peanut butter cups are still king!) But when I do decide to eat them, they are as yummy as they ever were, but I can eat one and not eat the whole bag.  I enjoy them but I don’t crave them anymore and if anyone had ever told me that I would be able to keep an open bag of anything chocolate in my cabinet and not fixate on it like my dog fixates on his toy, I’d have called you the same really offensive name as above! It’s taken a couple of years to get to this point, but while it was a longer transition than a lot of diet programs promise, it didn’t cost me any more than regular groceries and I don’t have to worry about “when the diet ends” or giving in to cravings. I don’t have to worry about going back to ‘bad old habits’ because those old habits don’t appeal to me anymore! The last time I had a Jack in the Box burger (and I had been on a first name basis with the drive thru guy!), I didn’t feel guilty about it, but it didn’t taste really great either. It’s the same thing as when I blow off a workout: I don’t feel guilty about it, but I also don’t feel as good as I do when I don’t blow it off. The incentive to go back to the old bad habits isn’t there. but there is an incentive to keep the healthy new habits: eating better makes me feel better and keeping my workouts makes me feel good.

I know it’s not rocket science, but it really does work.  By making simple permanent choices on my own schedule, I have lost 182 lbs since October 2014. I am pretty much the laziest, most unmotivated person I’ve ever met.Honestly for the first year, I didn’t even exercise. But I was consistent with my changes. In addition to being lazy, I like to keep to a routine (less work to do! I made the laziness work for me!) so my routine became my habit. I chose what I liked and that alone is incentive to keep going back to it.  I just kept making one better choice than the last choice I made and over time, I lost weight, developed healthier habits and then decided I felt like being active. I don’t have to outrun the diet industry or Jack in the Box; I just have to run faster than the last bad choice I made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caveat Emptor: Being a Savvy Fitness Shopper

Information is a double edged sword: it’s always good to learn new things, even if it’s just new information on an old topic, but sometimes that new info or idea is distracting.  When it suddenly becomes “The Thing that Everyone is Doing,” there’s always an urge to jump on the bandwagon.  Sometimes, doing your own thing makes you feel like you’re missing out or you’re off in a corner by yourself.  We want to be with the crowd (we’re social creatures after all) and suddenly being alone doesn’t feel good. It also makes it hard when you’re looking for support and motivation: “Everyone else on MFP is doing keto/ IF/ LCHF but me.” It’s hard not to feel like we’ve missed something, but at the same time, if what we are doing is working for us, then we tell ourselves why mess with a good thing?

This is why we have to be informed consumers: jumping from one weight loss program to the next is a formula for failure.  We will accomplish nothing beyond frustration and wasted money and possible metabolic damage, none of which are good things.  It’s great to keep an open mind and learn new things, because eventually, most of us reach a point where what we are doing stops working for us or we are ready to make a change for whatever reason.  But if we try keto one month and then move on to IF the next month and then maybe try Paleo the month after that, we are not being consistent long enough to earn any success at any of them.  As Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) likes to remind us, consistency is what earns us our easy as well as our success.  How can you make something a habit, and therefore easier on us, if we aren’t consistent enough to make it a habit? How do we know if we’ve achieved any kind of success at any of these programs, if after four weeks of keto and two weeks of IF, you realize you’ve lost 6 pounds.  Great! Was that because of the keto or the IF?  Well…… the IF was what I was doing last, so I guess it’s the IF? Yeah, that’s why there’s a question mark.  Are you sure it was the IF or maybe it was keto or maybe it was because you started CrossFit three weeks ago or you dabbled a little in Whole30 when you switched to the IF.  Maybe it was all of those or one of those or who knows?

If you are feeling a little confused with all of the jargon, it’s on purpose.  Weight loss, nutrition and fitness are huge businesses and jargon is one of the ways people make you feel like you are missing out and you need to join their program! It makes them sound like they really REALLY know what they are doing and so you should listen to them! Just because people can throw around a lot of techno-terms and stats doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about or that what they are selling is good for you. (There’s a commercial out right now for a financial service company that has customers speaking with  DJ who is pretending to be a financial advisor and he fools them by using all the right jargon.)  I am not selling anyone anything, but I have been on the receiving end of a whole lot of sales pitches.  One of the expressions I use a lot with people is this: Why listen to your friends and family who are trying to sell you something when you can listen to the sales clerk who only has your best interests at heart?  (yeah, it’s backwards and that’s also on purpose!) This is what we do when we are presented with a sales pitch and our friends/ family offer their free advice.  We are sooo tempted to go with the flashy sales pitch- “I can buy these little colored boxes to put my food in so I can eat right!” The important verb in that sentence is BUY. Someone is trying to separate you from your money, but it sounds a whole lot flashier than your sister’s idea of maybe using a food scale and regular old plastic sandwich bags. Why spend $20 on a plain old boring food scale when you can make three easy payments of $19.99 (+ S&H) and get those cute colored boxes, a diet book and an exercise DVD? If you are really going to use them and stick with their program for a few months at least, then I would say go for it.  BUT (and we knew it was coming!) most of us won’t do that.  We’ll try it until it’s not fun and new or we don’t think it’s “working” fast enough, or we see something else that we think we might like better!

The simple truth is that we need to be patient with whatever approach we try and we need to be realistic about those approaches we do try. This is where my mom and I parted ways: she was always pushing me to try new approaches/ diets/ magic powders/ exercise gizmos that were the newest latest thing, which 1) may not be the best choice for me; and 2) may not be a good thing- PERIOD!  There are a lot of programs and ideas out there that can be harmful and we assume that if we see an advertisement for something, it must be safe, since “they can’t sell it if it’s harmful, right?” Ummm, …….maybe.  It’s not up to the manufacturer to make sure things are safe for everyone, and even if it’s not dangerous, they may just be selling unrealistic expectations. How many times have you seen the commercials for some weight loss program and they show you those ‘amazing’ before and after pics? We all know down in the corners it says “results not typical,” but it’s a lot like selling lottery tickets: you probably won’t win, but the chance is always there, and as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play! So you buy the program and play their game.  In most cases, as long as you follow their program, most people will lose weight. The problem comes when you stop following the program.  Many of them promise to help you transition from their food products to regular food, but most of us tend to go back to our old habits and gain the weight back again.

This is why we need to approach weight loss, fitness and healthy living the same way we approach other “products.” Most of the time when we are out shopping, we know when we buy on impulse, and most of us are pretty good at stopping ourselves from buying something like the great big shiny gas grill that can hold 17 steaks and has a burner to heat up the chili. Whatever “grill” or shiny new toy we are looking at, if it’s a substantial expenditure, we ask ourselves “how many times will I really use this?” It’s the same thing when the car salesman tries to up-sell us on those wonderful heated seats for an extra $1000- really?! $1000 to heat up your bum while the car is getting warm? Is your bum really that sensitive?? If you can afford it, then go for it, but for me- I’m happy if my windshield de-fogs in 15 minutes; as for my bum, I’ve got a lot of insulation!

Weight loss, fitness and healthy living should not be impulse buys or lottery tickets.  We really should approach them like we are buying a car or new smart phone, because like our cars and phones, we will be living with them every day, and if they are a hassle, we won’t use them.  This is why we have jokes about treadmills being the world’s most expensive coat racks and used sports equipment stores are in business. We buy them on impulse, in a fit of good intentions, and they sit there taking up space and getting dusty.  The same goes with gym memberships: we sign up, agree to auto-pay and then when someone asks you what gym you belong to, you have to pull out your keychain to check the name on the tag:  “oh, yeah! That one! I think it’s East Avenue….” I am just as guilty as everyone else when it comes to the fitness impulse buy, although I tend to be a little cheaper about it (used equipment and discount gyms).

On the other hand, I think it’s a good idea to keep an open mind about new techniques, especially if what you are doing now isn’t working for you or you don’t like it as much as you thought you would. Most of us have traded in a few cars and upgraded our phones, but when we did it, we checked out what we were getting and compared it to what we were giving up before we did it.  If you’re looking for a new weight loss/ fitness plan, make sure that you’ve stuck with the one you’re on long enough to know that it either isn’t working for you or you don’t like it before moving on to something else. Listen to those who have done it before: some plans like a ketogenic diet (keto) or intermittent fasting (IF) require some adjustment time. If the plan you’re on now wasn’t a carefully considered choice, then make sure the next plan you choose is something you decide on like a new phone or a new car: how many of us got that really big smart phone because it was cool and new and then we realized what a hassle it was because it was so big and awkward to hold? We traded it in ASAP because it was unwieldy and we had to use it every single day.  When we approach a prospective weight loss/ fitness plan, we need to ask ourselves the same kind of questions: how much of a hassle will it be for me to get to this gym two or three times (or more) a week?  If I decide on Paleo, how difficult is it going to be to stop eating things like bread, cereal and pasta on a regular basis?  If I decide on whole foods, how much trouble is it going to be for me to prepare 90% of my food myself?

Most things worth doing are worth making an adjustment in our daily lives, like exercising regularly, being more active and eating healthier.  We know this and in that way, it’s different than buying a car or a phone: yeah, there’s a little bit of change, but not really.  Cars and phones are all pretty similar, but eating healthier and changing how we move and how often? They can be HUGE adjustments, which is why we need to take the time to give them and us a fair chance. I think this is why most of us buy on impulse: we know it’s a big change and we think we can handle it and then we realize we can’t or don’t want to make that big a change and there we are using the treadmill as drying rack.

This is where we need to be realistic: too much of a change is too much work and it’s often overwhelming. Maybe you really do want to try keto or IF, but if most of your meals come in a box or from the drive thru window, maybe you should try something a little simpler first.  This question is not unlike the massive car payment for that brand new SUV with the heated seats: yeah, if you stretch your budget you can make it work, but do you really want to stretch it that much?  Then there’s the used SUV without the heated seats but it gets good mileage and it’s in good shape and the payment is a lot better. It’s better than the car you’ve got now and you can easily afford that payment: for most of us, it’s a no-brainer and we go with the used car.  We need to have the same approach when we look at things like clean eating, a gym membership or any other lifestyle change: is it a good fit for us?

Personally, I was a total carboholic before I started Paleo.  Most of my diet was bread, pasta potatoes and fast food. Seriously, about 80-90% of every meal I ate was a processed carbohydrate like bagels, bread, wraps, toast, pasta or some kind of cereal bar. I bought boxes of mac and cheese by the case. When I decided that Paleo was what I wanted to do, I seriously asked myself if this was going to work for and after a few days, I decided to start by giving up the potatoes, and then I moved forward slowly.  It took the better part of a year before I had given up all the things on the “not Paleo friendly” list and now, more than two years along, I don’t miss them.  Garlic bread can be really yummy, but it’s not the temptation it used to be. Paleo is something I can live with and really enjoy.  It wasn’t an easy change but it was definitely worth the changes I made. It’s not for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be.  It just has to be what’s right for me.  Now, keto on the other hand……

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quick Tip: Being Full is NOT a Good Thing!

We all know what it’s like to feel hunger.  It’s the number one bête noire of dieters.  We hate feeling hungry: it’s embarrassing when our stomach growls in front of others and it’s just generally uncomfortable. We are told repeatedly that hunger is our body’s way of telling us it needs fuel so when we feel hungry, we should eat!

The problem is that we program our bodies to expect food at certain times of the day. (I usually think of this as “snack memory ” or “meal memory.”) This is why we tend to feel hungry at certain times during the day: our body is remembering that this is when it’s normally fed and it’s expecting to be fed again. This is why on days when we’ve been really active, we feel like we’ve “worked up an appetite” for lunch or dinner.  On those occasions, our body most likely really needs fuel, while on most days, the hunger we feel is meal memory. Our bodies are also programmed to feel hungry when we smell food: our digestive system is preparing to go to work since “food is in the air.” Even though we may have just eaten, we feel hungry again because something smells good!

This is one of the biggest problems people have when they try intuitive eating (eating when your body needs fuel rather than eating according to the clock.) My body routinely told me it’s hungry about 3:30 every afternoon because that is when I am most likely to eat a snack on my way home.  Why do I eat the snack? Because my body tells me it’s hungry.  But it’s only telling me it’s hungry because this is when I usually have a snack.  Hmmm. Notice the circular reasoning there?  It took me a while to figure it out, but if I don’t eat a snack at 3:30 every afternoon, usually in about 20 minutes or so, I stop being hungry.  My stomach realizes “gee, no one is feeding me so I guess I need to move on.” This is how we learn the difference between snack memory and real hunger. Real hunger just intensifies the longer you go unfed. Your stomach goes from sending a mild hunger signal to growling noisily and really making you uncomfortable: You need fuel, buddy! Once you learn the difference between the two, it’s easier to dismiss the hunger pangs of snack memory vs the real hunger of your body needs to refuel.

Once we do decide to eat, most of fall prey to the number two bête noire of dieters: eating too much. There’s a lag time between when the food hits the stomach and when the brain recognizes that we’ve refueled.  The stomach sends a signal via hormones to the brain that enough food is in the tank, and the brain responds by turning off the ghrelin hunger hormone. The problem is that lag time is about twenty minutes or so and by the time we realize “hey, I’m not hungry anymore,” our stomach is full (sometimes painfully full!) and we’ve usually eaten too much. We are so used to the full stomach being the signal that we’ve had enough to eat instead of the feeling of being satisfied. This usually happens because portion sizes in modern society are way out of line with what our bodies need and secondly, because most of us don’t monitor our appetite while we are eating.  A lot of us grew up with the mentality that we eat what’s on our plate. When mom and dad were feeding us, that was okay, because they usually gave us appropriate amounts, but at restaurants, what’s on our plate can be as much as two servings or more. I remember once at a fancy four star restaurant in Anaheim, my sister, our friend and I all ordered the same dinner and were each served two large chops, a huge mound of garlic mashed potatoes, and a mound of broccoli in addition to the a small loaf of bread and about a half pound of butter already set on table.  It was enough for six people! We could have easily ordered two of those meals, had enough to eat and still taken some home.  As it was, a lot of the food went to waste since there wasn’t a refrigerator in our motel room.

Once we know what the problem is, the solution is pretty easy. When we do sit down to eat, if we are eating at home, serve yourself the appropriate portion sizes. If you aren’t sure about the portion size, there are a lot of databases that can help you with that (I like My Fitness Pal).  If you go out to eat, then remind yourself that it’s normal and expected to leave food on your plate. Just ask for a box or bag to bring it home. It’s also okay to split meals or dishes with your friends.  When I go to my friend’s favorite burger place, we usually split the “individual” size garlic fries because the “regular” size feeds a family of four (no kidding).  While you are eating, whether at home or out, take a short pause about halfway through your meal.  If you are out with friends, just pause and chat a little bit. At home, since it’s just me and my pets, I usually have my veggies first while my meat is cooking, and by the time I’m done with those, I serve the meat and judge my hunger from there.  Usually I only fix one serving at a time and if I need to put some in the fridge, it’s okay too.

As a culture, we have gotten used to “eating our fill,” which is one of the reasons Western societies are so obese. By the time we realize we are full, we have eaten too much, and yes, our stomach does stretch out so it takes more and more to fill us up and we keep getting bigger and bigger. It’s one of the comments we hear a lot on My 600 lb Life: “I don’t ever get full!” and I’ve heard Dr. Nowzaradan make similar comments when he performs their bypasses: “His stomach is so large, it’s impossible to get full.” Being full is not a good thing, but, like eating when we are not hungry, it’s a habit we can unlearn. We need to re-learn what it feels like to satisfy our hunger and eat until we recognize that feeling rather than eating until our plate is empty or our stomach is full. It takes a little practice, just like learning to tell the difference between real hunger and “time to eat.” Both of these seem like insignificant details, but they’re the devils that keep tripping us up when we try to lose weight. Learning to sidestep both these little devils will put us a lot farther down the path we want to go!

 

The War for Independence: Stand Up for Yourself 

Being tolerant of others is important to me, whether it’s their beliefs, habits or point of view but I do admit that sometimes I really have to work at it, especially when it comes to being helplessly dependent on someone. I admit it: I have no tolerance for learned helplessness. I see a lot of it when it comes to poor eating habits or just the whole “I can’t” attitude. On My 600 lb Life, Dr. Nowzaradan fights this learned helplessness a lot and I share his frustration. I’ve seen many of his patients insist they can’t walk, they can’t exercise or they ‘have to eat’ what their families eat because they ‘have no choice!’

By the time many of his patients show up in his waiting room, they are so large they can barely walk or stand and many of them are in wheelchairs.  Some are on gurneys because they have not stood up for years.  They do not have a physical deformity or medical condition that will prevent their standing or walking, other than the super morbid obesity that brought them to Dr. Nowzaradan, and yes, super morbid obesity is the classification for anyone with Body Mass Index of 50 or more.  For reference, I have a BMI of about 44 (I am morbidly obese).

They have choices, even if they think they do not: they’re choosing the family’s junk food. They can stand up, they can walk and they can exercise: they are choosing not to try. For whatever reason, they are opting to stay an invalid or to stay unhealthy and unhappy. Being ill, dependent, or needy fills a need in them that they might not be aware of. They have chosen to stay in the bed or the wheelchair and not work at getting better. They are choosing to remain helpless! I recall one patient who practically cried and whimpered every time the doctor asked to her stand up, until he got really pushy about it and then she defended herself pretty handily.  It suited her to be strong then, but when it comes to working to make herself better, it was easier to cry and have someone bring her the milkshake and the ice cream.

Yeah, I am being b*tchy about it.  I have no tolerance for the “poor me- I’m so helpless and in pain” attitude.  It makes me absolutely nuts. I am sure they are in pain, because I have felt that kind of pain where your knees, legs and feet ache from your weight; where your back is sore from keeping your great big gut standing up straight (or close to it); and where even sitting or lying down is either painful, hard to breathe or both.  Yep- definitely been there.  I know what it’s like when you don’t want to stand up because your knees or your hips will pop, crack or burn and when you lie down in bed, you have to have pillows to prop you up so you won’t suffocate under the weight of your own chest.  Been there too! It’s not a good place to be: it’s scary and it’s lonely, but they are there from choice.  Literally all the choices they have made have led them there and the choices they are continuing to make are keeping them there.

I’d like to say I am not passing judgment, but yes, I am.  It’s not because I’ve been there and I got out of it so they can too! It’s just plain simple reality: my choices were what got me there and my choices are what got me out of it.  It’s one of the things that used to frustrate me horribly when I was also super morbidly obese (I had a BMI of 75).  I knew that I needed to make changes to get better, but at the same time, I didn’t know what changes to make.  I kept trying different things hoping something would stick, because for me, not trying is the same as giving up.  There were days when I thought “yeah, just give up! It’s easier!” and when I did, I confess I was just too stubborn to accept it.  My only concession was that, even if I wasn’t successful, at least I would keep trying.

So many of them show up at Dr. Now’s door without first trying to help themselves.  Granted there are almost as many who have tried diets, bariatric surgery and other weight loss strategies and I applaud their attempts.  They have been proactive and are still working at helping themselves.  I went to a bariatric surgeon myself (he was a total butthead, BTW) and opted not to have the surgery.  It’s the ‘helpless- I have no choice’ patients that I have no tolerance for.

They may not believe that they have choices, but they do.  They can choose to let someone else make the decisions for them or they can choose to make their own.  There is a reason I use the word “work”- because it is work to get better.  It’s hard and it’s frustrating and there are days you really want to cry and give up and have a tantrum.  It takes a long time and will probably be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done. There will be days when you see someone else doing something easily and without thought and it will make you angry that it’s so much harder for you, but crying “it’s not fair!!” won’t fix it or make it any easier.  And I would like to say it gets easier the more you do it, and in some ways it does.  The more active you are, the more weight you lose, the more you practice making healthy food choices, the easier it is to keep doing them, but it took you a long time to get unhealthy, and it takes a long time to regain the health you lost.  I have been doing this for literally 1000 days and I am still not where I want to be as far as my weight or my health.  There are no short cuts and, when you relapse (aka screw up), it takes time just to get back to where you were when you “relapsed,” let alone make progress from there!

In some ways, I can see how it easier to be unhealthy and helpless and leave everything for someone else to do.  You don’t have to wash the dishes, do the grocery shopping, run errands, do laundry or even go to work (super morbid obesity is a disability in most states).  You can lie in bed and read, watch tv, be online, or whatever else you want to do.  You can be helpless and not responsible for your condition.  I get it: not only is it easier but you can also get everyone’s pity because you are so helpless and in such pain.  I am very familiar with sympathy junkies and Munchhausen syndrome: “Look at me- I hurt so much! Poor me- I can’t take care of myself! I am so helpless!” I can see the appeal: choose hard and sometimes painful work that possibly goes on forever or choose to lie in bed and have everyone else feel sorry for you and take care of you.

I honestly don’t think I could do it.  It’s not that I’m “so responsible” or “so active” or a “dedicated worker” or anything like that.  I like to do things myself and being helpless means having to put up with someone else.  Ironically, I don’t have the patience to be helpless and wait for someone else to take care of me: my inherent selfishness makes me a very independent person. I have been where these ‘helpless’ patients are:  In 2003, I broke my arm and my leg and needed surgery.  I have a pin under my knee holding my leg together and a plate and five screws in my wrist.  I was about 400 lbs at the time and the anesthetist didn’t want to put me under unless he had to (he had to) and it was almost four months before I was able to take care of myself again.  I couldn’t use a wheelchair or crutches because of my broken wrist and I couldn’t walk because of the broken leg.  I couldn’t get up, couldn’t dress myself and all I could do was lie in bed and read, watch tv or go online (just like them).  It nearly killed me.  I had six weeks of recovery from surgery and  then I had nearly two months of physical therapy for my wrist and my leg since I had been immobile for so long.  Yes, it was a lot of work! It was hard and it was sweaty and it hurt! And when the doctor asked if I wanted to do more PT, I said yes! They gave me exercises to do at home, and I admit, I didn’t always do the leg exercises (I figured I’d just walk more) but I did the work to get me out of the bed and back on my own.

 

I learned the hard way that our choices can keep us feeling sick or they can help us to get better.  Ironically, the choice I made that ultimately helped me improve my health so much really didn’t have much to do with eating: I quit a job that was making me miserable. Leaving that job had a snowball effect: it caused me to do things differently and as a result, I made different choices that had positive effects on my eating and my health.  When I hear a patient saying that he has no idea if he’s eating under the calories Dr. Now recommended because his mom keeps track of that, I wanted to tell him that’s part of his problem! “Dr. Now wants me at 800 calories.  I have no idea what that is in actual food.” (It’s a Sourdough Jack and a Chobani Blueberry yogurt!) He is handing over responsibility for his health and his food choices to someone else!  This patient weighed close to 1000 lbs and could barely stand up- what was his excuse for not taking control of his own food choices? He had none.

None of us is helpless unless we choose to be. Barring injury or illness, we literally make our own beds and we can choose to wallow in them or we can choose to get up.  It is rarely easy, but choosing to lay there and give control of your life to someone else is much much more painful.

The Realities of Being Thinner: When the Honeymoon is Over

For most of my adult life, I have been overweight.  My weight gain really started when I was in middle school and continued at a fairly steady pace until I seemed to plateau around the 375 mark in my early forties.  I wasn’t really happy being so big, but I was able to get around okay and the pain and inconvenience were tolerable.  If I wasn’t happy, at least I wasn’t miserable.

That changed with the Job From Hell: the more stressful the job became, the more difficulty I had handling it and as a result my weight went up by almost 65 lbs, and in that 65 lbs lay the difference between “livable” and “utter misery.”

Since then, I have lost  almost 18o lbs.  My weight is now 260.  I think the last time I weighed this much was in the late 1980’s, which would put me in college.  While the number still looks significant, given I have been told by various “authorities” that my ideal body weight is between 120-150.  By those estimates, I am still 100 lbs over what I should weigh. In fact, I would have no difficulty qualifying for almost any kind of bariatric surgery since I am still morbidly obese. Anyone who has lost a significant amount of weight knows two things: 1) weight loss fluctuates, sometimes dramatically; and 2) your body does not always change in ways that you like.

I have to admit that at first my weight loss was rapid and without almost any fluctuations.  Because I was almost 450 lbs, positive changes to my eating resulted in rapid dramatic weight loss. Just changing what I ate from processed carbohydrates to more nutrient dense high protein whole foods, my body lost weight quickly since I had been eating so many carbs, most of which my body just stored as fat since it rarely had the opportunity to burn any.  I kept eating because I was stuck on the carb roller coaster: once the body processes all the carbs into storable fat, the blood sugar drops, triggering the brain to release ghrelin (the hunger hormone) to raise the blood sugar again, so I’d eat more carbs, and ride the ride again, and again, and again.  Just getting off the ride, my body was no longer taking in the carbs aka storable fat and was burning some of what was there.  I dropped almost 100 lbs in the first year alone and it was almost one year before I hit my first significant plateau.

In the two years since then, I have hit a few slow-downs and plateaus, because as my body weight dropped, it had less stored fat to burn, and it required less calories to maintain.  This is why calorie intake drops as weight drops.  The Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body needs just to stay alive. In plain language, when you’re sitting on the couch bingeing The Walking Dead, this is what your body burns.  Your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) is what you burn when you are out running around, working out, just working or doing what you normally do when you’re not bingeing TWD.  To lose weight you need a calorie deficit: if your TDEE is 2400, you need to eat less than 2400 so your body can burn stored fat, but you should not eat less than your BMR since your body can start cannibalizing itself by breaking down muscle.  Between those two numbers is the sweet spot, and the more weight you lose, the more muscle you build, the more those numbers change. You have to hang on to that shifting sweet spot, which is one of the reasons weight loss fluctuates and is never linear nor constant.  What I was doing for the first year of my weight loss worked great, until it stopped working.  That’s because my weight had reached a point where I was no longer hitting the sweet spot: I needed to change how I was eating and what my activities were to raise my TDEE and/ or my BMR.  Building muscle raised my BMR because we all know that it takes more calories to maintain muscle than it does fat. I needed to raise my TDEE because the more energy I burned being active in the day, the fewer calories were being stored.  Also more activity can mean more muscle building, which raises the BMR. I also needed to make sure I was eating at a deficit, but not such a deficit as to cause damage to my body (starving myself).

Generally, the easiest way to make sure you’re still hitting the sweet spot is to keep moving.  The more active you are, the more calories you’re burning and hopefully, the more muscle you are building. You also need to keep your diet moving: try new things, keep eating seasonally and don’t get stuck in a rut with the same foods (this is one of my problems). Eating seasonally is one of the easier ways to keep fueling your body differently.  If you mostly eat squash and root veggies in the fall and winter, eat more leafy greens in the spring and summer.  Eating berries in the summer is a good way to fuel your body differently as well as get different nutrients.  Trying new foods is another way to find out what works for you. Your body is amazingly adaptive and it’s always searching for homeostasis: its own sweet spot where it’s taking in as many calories as it’s burning.  The fact that you keep trying to lose weight (either by lowering calorie intake and/ or output) means you are fighting your body’s natural tendency for homeostasis.  It’s an odd kind of dance where both of you keep trying to get ahead of each other.  So as you lose weight, you will hit slow downs and stalls (plateaus) and you will bounce up a few pounds or more (especially if you’re female or if you are building muscle).  The best way to handle this is to make sure your overall trend is going down. I know it’s easier said than done, since I still tend to get really frustrated and impatient with plateaus.

Your body will also change in ways you don’t like. Usually, as we start to get thinner, we get pretty excited about losing weight and our friends start telling us how good we look.  That’s the fun stuff: seeing your legs, your face, your waist get smaller and more shapely.  You also start noticing you have muscles now! Yay for me! It’s kind of like a honeymoon period in your weight loss journey- everything is going great and you’re liking what you see! Your clothes start getting bigger and you start fitting into smaller sizes, accentuating your weight loss. You start being able to do more in everyday life and when you work out.  One day you realize you are holding a plank for well over a minute without really thinking about it and remember when it was hard just to get into that position! You start feeling really fit and accomplished and proud of yourself.

Then it begins: honeymoon is over and the less than fun realities begin arriving.  For me, it started with my thighs and my belly: my skin started getting looser, and looser, and it started getting saggy.  I noticed when I was doing my pool exercises that it floats and ripples more like cloth than skin. I started noticing odd bulges (varicose veins) that I had never seen before because they were hidden by the fat.  The more weight I lost, the more wrinkly saggy areas showed up, as well as odd divots in my lower legs where the muscles are more visible under the loose skin.  The skin on my belly, hips and butt also started sagging and now I’ve been told that I have a droopy butt.  I also have ‘batwings’ on my upper arms, wrinkles on my face now that it’s smaller and a turkey neck under my chin.  There are times when I feel a lot like a melting candle (especially lying down) as my loose skin puddles around me on the bed or floor. It’s hard to feel accomplished, strong and fit when you look and feel like a deflated balloon, all stretched out of shape and wrinkled.

I never thought I would lose as much weight as I have and it wasn’t until I had lost about 70 lbs or so, and I began to notice the loose skin, that I realized skin removal surgery was something I was going to have to deal with.  Seriously not thrilled about it, and therefore I am putting it off until it becomes absolutely necessary.  I did discuss it with my doctor, who also felt that it wasn’t anything I needed to worry about until I stopped losing weight or the loose skin became an infection risk. Until then, I just had to live with it, and I am okay with that.

To be honest, one of my excuses for not losing weight was that I didn’t want to have skin removal surgery. I realized at some point around 300+ lbs that even if I lost weight, the only way to take care of the loose skin is to have it surgically removed, which is a really unpleasant experience.  It’s a long invasive surgery with a long and painful recovery period and it can leave lasting effects. Almost anyone who has had surgery knows that the incision scars never feel normal again and even the most skilled of plastic surgeons can only minimize the scars as much as your body will allow.  If you are someone whose body doesn’t heal smoothly and cleanly from cuts and wounds (like mine), your body may never look normal. Looking normal is extremely important to most people.

I have only a vague memory of looking ‘normal.’ My mom has a picture of me when I was in 6th grade where I was goofing off as she snapped the picture. In this picture, I am not overweight and I think it’s the last photo I have of myself looking like a normal pre-teen kid.  In the forty years since then, I have grown used to looking and feeling different from everyone else.  ‘Not-normal’ is my normal and I have also come to realize that many people have problems accepting that they are different from the mainstream.  I remember when I was an overweight teen trying on swimsuits with my mom and her mother, and being told by my grandmother that I wasn’t going to find a swimsuit I liked because none of them would cover my fat. (She was a real peach, my maternal grandmother!) In the years since, I’ve grown used to people making rude remarks, laughing at me and treating me differently because of my weight. I learned to ignore most of it since it says more about their narrow-mindedness than my weight problem. At the pool, I’ve noticed some of my classmates walk out to the pool with towels wrapped around to hide their bodies. I know I look wrinkly, saggy and kind of deformed.  I also know that I feel stronger, lighter and I enjoy my life a lot more than I did before. If looking a little freakish is the cost of feeling a whole lot better, then I am happy to pay it! Our appearance is always temporary and changing anyway.  No doubt I will continue to look saggier and wrinklier as I continue to lose weight.  The day may come when it bothers me enough to do something about it, but until that day, I will view the wrinkles as signs of my ongoing success. I worked hard for them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excuse Abuse: How Blaming Others is Holding You Back

We’ve all heard a lot about the Abuse Excuse.  It was very popular with criminal defense attorneys in the 90’s. Basically, the person who got killed or injured deserved it because they had repeatedly abused the person who was accused of doing the hurting or killing. The defense would use the Abuse Excuse to try convincing the jury that the defendant was so messed up by the abuse, they didn’t know or couldn’t help what they did.

When it comes to weight loss and making healthy choices, we do something similar.  We keep finding excuses for why we can’t lose weight or eat healthier or work out.  We abuse our excuses by using them over and over again to give us permission to keep eating badly, for skipping our workouts or for just not doing the work. We all know the excuses: “I’m so busy!”; “I’m so tired!”; “My knee/ back/ whatever hurts!”; “It’s been a really tough day/ week/ month!”; “I’ve got a lot on my plate right now so I can do it when X is over”; and our all-time favorite:”it’s someone else’s fault.”

I’m not going to discuss the validity of your excuses because I am sure some of them are valid at times.  We all are really busy, we have a lot going on, many of us have chronic pain or bad joints, and a lot of us generally feel pretty cruddy most of the time.  Welcome to the modern world! We all need a break and for most of us, adding in healthy eating and working out is just adding more things to do on a list that is already too long.  I know the feeling: I work out twice a week, I commute 4 hours each workday, I live alone so all the household duties are also on my plate, and I crammed in another workout recently plus I post to this blog twice a week.  Just the list of things I need to do is a bit long and then there’s whatever I want to do that I try to cram in there also. I’m not complaining, because I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for all of this.  It comes down to a matter of priorities: what we need to get done- what’s important to us- those things get done and the things that are less important or that can wait a little get shoved to the back of the line. It’s normal. That’s how priorities are supposed to work.  The problems come when our priorities are skewed and the tasks that really should be waiting a while are pushed to the front in favor of those that are more important. It’s excuse abuse: instead of abusing alcohol, drugs or food, we abuse excuses, and like too much alcohol, drugs or food, they end up hurting us too.

Our excuses are our way of justifying why things like losing weight, eating healthier and working out are not priorities and why they should get shoved to the back of the line.  That is what it boils down to: if these things were important to us, they would get done. Our excuses are how we justify to ourselves why these goals are not important to us or why something else is more important. Really, how important is it to lose weight, eat healthier and stay active?  It’s critical.  That’s how important it is!  It’s not about “looking good” or “being thin.” It’s about being healthy and if you aren’t healthy, not only are you not going to feel good, but you are opening the door to disease and physical disorders such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and inflammation, just to name a few.  Inflammation is now thought to be the source of a host of illnesses, including heart disease and thyroid conditions. All of these conditions stemming from poor eating choices and lack of activity will make your life more difficult if not downright unpleasant and frankly, some of them can kill you.  I think that qualifies “eating healthier, losing weight and being active” as critical priorities. Obviously, you don’t have to drop everything, quit your job and make your health your sole priority (even though that’s kind of how I handled it, but I was pretty much knocking on Death’s door at the time), but how hard is it to take a few hours a week to improve your health?  That’s what it comes down to: a few hours a week.  That’s all it takes to buy and prepare healthier foods and add in some more activity. It’s not hours each day (although at first new habits take a little longer).  It comes down to a couple hours of shopping each week, a couple hours of working out each week and about 45 minutes to an hour each day cooking and prepping food (about the same time it takes to drive out to a fast food place or a restaurant).  Since I cook at home, I’m usually watching tv, playing with the dog, on the phone or online while my food is cooking- not any different from when I’m eating the take out!

When it comes to our priorities and excuses, we can tell ourselves we are doing our best, but the all-time favorite is usually our fallback excuse for why it wasn’t done: “someone else is to blame!” After all, there is only so much that’s in our control and we can’t control anyone else, so when they mess with our schedules, what can we do? This is how our priorities end up skewed: we put the blame on someone else.  “I wanted to eat healthy but my family only wants junk food/ fast food/ take out.”  The blaming-someone-else excuse is classic on My 600 lb Life.  Frankly, I’m a little surprised there isn’t a poster in the doctor’s office that says “Blaming someone else is not a valid reason not to lose weight.” Yes, there are things that are out of our control; the only thing we can do is control our response to these things.  Example: last summer I was invited to a birthday luncheon at a restaurant I had never heard of.  There was no menu online and all I knew about it was “the pizza’s really great!”  Pizza is not on my list of preferred choices, so my options were; 1) not attend; or 2) take a chance on the menu.  So I took a chance on the menu and there weren’t a lot of great choices for me: most of them were sandwiches with a whole lot of bread, pastas, the pizzas, and deep fried appetizers.  So rather than say, “I had to eat those things because someone else chose the restaurant even though I really wanted to eat healthy,” I said no thank you to offers of deep fried appetizers and pizza and had a really great salad and a sandwich minus the bread (which left the meat, cheese and veggies).  It wasn’t my preference but I made the best choices I could in the situation. Blaming someone else was not an option: no one was going to force me to eat deep fried cheese, calamari and pizza! I did split a brownie á la mode with one of my friends, but I chose to do that, just like I chose the salad and the breadless sandwich and not eating the appetizers!

Yes, changing your priorities is work and sometimes it’s more work than we wanted.  Confession: I am really REALLY lazy.  I’m that cliché where you open the dictionary to “Lazy” and there’s my selfie! If I could stay in bed reading or playing with the dog all day, I’d do it.  On some weekends, I don’t even get out of my pajamas until late Sunday afternoon (only because I have to!)  Yep, I am that lazy! So you can imagine the idea of “working out” went over like gangbusters with me.  It’s right up there with cooking my own food, grocery shopping and housework:”Really? you want me to go out someplace and do a lot of activity and have nothing to show for it but ‘good health’?  Or you want me to go to the store, buy a lot of whole foods, then lug them all home, put them all away and then take them out later and cook them?!  Have you not heard of ‘restaurants’ or ‘take out’???”  That’s pretty much how my brain works.  I hate that every Sunday I have to go through the whole grocery shopping ordeal, and that each night I have to set up my breakfast and lunch for the next day, and depending on what day it is, I have to pack my gym bag for my workout.  I hate getting home late from exercising, usually cold and wet, and then having to cook or at the very least heat up dinner.  Do you know how many take out/ fast food places I pass on my way home from working out? The biggest draw for me when it comes to eating out isn’t that “oooh, it’s so yummy;” it’s that I don’t have to cook the dang meal or clean up afterwards! So when it comes to priorities, “eating healthier, losing weight and being active” were always pretty low on the list and as for excuses not to do those things, I have always been extremely creative! I am the epitome of the couch potato. Give me a task to do and I will whip up an excuse faster than Martha Stewart whips up another “Good Thing”!

The easiest, simplest and most often used excuse for not eating healthier, not losing weight and not being active is blaming someone else. Except it’s not valid 99% of the time. What is the real reason for not doing those things? “I didn’t want to.”  That’s the bottom line, what it boils down to, and where the buck stops: I. Did. Not. Want. To.   We make excuses to make ourselves feel better and to give ourselves a pass on the bad behavior.  We tell ourselves I wouldn’t have overeaten but they kept pushing the food at me.  They chose a bad restaurant. There was nothing at the party but chips and cookies.  All they had to drink was sugary sodas.  We blame someone else for our acquiescence.  Rather than choose not to eat/ drink things we know aren’t good for us or aren’t on our preferred eating plan, we give in and blame someone else for our failure to make progress.  Frankly, that was my excuse for gaining/ not losing weight when I worked the Job From Hell.  I handled the increasingly stressful situation badly and rather than do the “hard stuff” (grocery shopping, cooking and exercising), I did the “easy stuff” instead: I sat around, wasn’t active and ate all the take out and fast food I wanted.  That was when I learned about what is really hard: it nearly killed me. I’m not kidding. My health went down the toilet and it hurt to walk, to sit, to stand, to breathe and it kept getting worse.  It didn’t matter if I blamed myself, the Boss From Hell or anyone else: I was the one who was getting hurt, and  was the only one who could change that. Your body doesn’t care who you blame; the only thing that matters to your body is whether or not those priorities are getting done.  Are you eating healthier? Are you taking care of yourself? Are you being active?  If not, your body does not give you a pass– your health just keeps getting worse. You need to stop shifting the responsibility to others and take control of your own decisions.  (This goes for others things in addition to health and eating, too!) You don’t want to eat burgers and fries, so tell the family or whoever that you’re voting no on the fast food, and if you get outvoted, you still don’t have to eat the burgers and fries!  FYI: most fast food places have salads now, so if you’re stuck at McDonald’s or Jack in the Box, get a salad! Or eat a burger without the bun (Carl’s Jr. is advertising that very menu choice now!) You can even decide not to eat anything! Yeah, it might not be fun, but if nothing there looks appealing to you, then choose not to eat! It might be a little uncomfortable, but I’m pretty sure you won’t die! (although if you do have a medical condition that requires you eat, then eat something, even if it’s just a little thing.)

Taking responsibility sucks.  It’s right up there with grocery shopping, cooking and housework. It’s part of being an adult but I’m telling you truthfully, the cost of not taking responsibility is far too high and there are no refunds.  It’s terrible health, physical misery and growing despair.  You are the only one who can change that by taking responsibility for your decisions, by not making excuses and by not blaming others for your choices.  Your body will not give you a pass, but it will give you inflammation, extra pounds and a lot of pain. You can blame everyone else all you want: you are still one who hurts.