Building A Solid Road for Weight Loss: The Bottom Layers Count

One of the alleged perks of being an English Major is that literature isn’t created in a vacuum, which was my see-through excuse for minoring in history. Basically, people write about what they know and what happens around them. For those of you rolling your eyes, I’m volunteering Jonathan Swift and Lewis Carroll. Both of their most famous works (Gulliver’s Travels and Alice in Wonderland, respectively) are brilliant satires on the England of their time. 

The beauty- and flaw- of this interconnection is that it lends real depth and strength to the stories, which is why we remember the mini Lilliputians and the Red Queen shouting “off with their heads!”  The flaw is that the stories are strong enough to stand on their own and no one remembers why the Lilliputians are so little and why the Queen wants to behead everyone. 

So what does a didactic Queen Victoria and petty self-absorbed 18th century Englishmen have to do with weight loss? One word: foundation. Actually one adjective and one noun: strong foundation. When we build a strong foundation for weight loss, or rather a healthy lifestyle, the healthy lifestyle will eventually stand strong on its own. The sum becomes greater than its parts. We don’t need to know the ins and outs of the history behind Swift & Carroll to enjoy the stories on their own. Usually only nerds like me care about the history; the rest of the world just likes the story. 

Since literature is rather ephemeral,the history geek in me is going to give you a more concrete example: the Appian Way, or virtually any Roman road. The Romans understood- probably better than any other culture- that if you’re going to build something, you should build it to last. All across the former Roman Empire, the modern civilizations currently living there are still using the roads, aqueducts and bridges (among other things) built by the Romans a couple thousand years ago. The solid foundations of those ancient roads still hold up better than modern creations, putting up not only with 2000 years of traffic but also continuing to withstand our modern trucks, buses and cars. One of the major frustrations of modern engineers is- again- the Why behind the strength in the Roman roads. Why do they last when something “modern and sophisticated” collapses after some rain and a couple decades of use? The secret is literally the concrete in the foundation. Roman concrete and the foundation of the road is why they last. It’s the bottom layers that no one sees and everyone forgets that give them their staying power. 

So when we go to build our healthy lifestyle to eat better, be more active and lose weight, we tend to focus more on the superstructure than the foundation: we want something that “looks dramatic” rather than the mundane stuff no one notices. Example: we decide to do a 21 Day Detox or a 6 Week Keto Reset or a Five Day Fast rather than something ‘dull’ like tracking for 14 days. Why is tracking so important? Simply put: we can’t measure what we don’t monitor. How can we improve our diet if we don’t know what our diet really is? We might think that we’re ‘eating clean,’ ‘eating high protein,’or that we’re ‘eating less,’ but studies show we really do have selective memory. We may remember “breakfast, lunch and dinner,” but forget we snacked on the peppermint patties after lunch or the latte we had after breakfast or the peanuts we got on the way home from work. Likewise finishing the last slice of pizza in the fridge after dinner or the marshmallows and hot chocolate while watching tv. Those little memory lapses add up over time and eventually tip the scales, literally. Until we know what and how much and how often we eat and drink, we can’t measure any healthy progress or make real healthy changes. It’s not glamorous or exciting, but it’s a solid foundation for positive changes. Once we know what we’re eating, we can begin making real changes and even more importantly, we’ll know what works and what doesn’t. This last simple truth is priceless. Example: if you think you’re eating low carb but “don’t count” the peanuts you have several times a week after lunch, you may not be as low carb as you think, and if you’re trying to get into ketosis, those peanuts might be getting in your way. Or it might not be the peanuts: it may be your ‘few times a week’ latte or the combination of the three times a week latte and the handful of peanuts each afternoon at the office. We might think of these as ‘occasional indulgences,’ but how ‘occasional’ are they really? You’d know if you tracked. 

The same is true if you’re trying to improve your insulin resistance: the longer you go between meals, ie fasting, the better it is for your insulin, but if you’re not tracking, you may not realize that “supposed sugarless, calorie-free” snack you’re eating multiple times a week is what’s getting in your way. If you’ve changed everything else and it’s still not working, that snack may be the culprit, but again if you’re not tracking, that snack might keep sneaking by. 

Most people don’t like to track because they don’t want to measure or walk around with a notebook to write things down. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. Personally I like a paper journal because I keep other notes in it, like my mood or any pain (arthritis aggravated by grains), or just simple things like sleep quality. Most of us don’t realize we’re walking around with mini computers in our hands all day long. Tracking can be putting down what we eat in our notes app, downloading a tracking app like MFP (My Fitness Pal) or Fitbit (especially if we have a tracker), or something as simple as taking a pic of everything we eat! It can be as complex or as easy as you want, as long as it works for you, but until we have a clear picture of our bottom line, anything we try to build on top of that is off to a shaky start! 

Feast vs Famine: What You Eat is Worse than How Much

There’s always drama when it comes to holidays. We sit down at a table laden with a variety of different foods and we think if we just eat a little, we’ll be “okay.”  The truth is that while eating too much of anything is never good, the real culprit is what we eat. I was chatting with a friend recently who had just returned from a massive daylong shopping trip out of town and she was sitting down to a snack of cheese and crackers. She’d gotten a little light headed and when I ventured low blood sugar since she’d not eaten all day, she commented she’d had the venti eggnog Frappuccino so certainly plenty of sugar there! I told her what happens with a high sugar/ carb food: blood sugar spikes, insulin floods the blood stream, then usually crashes lower than before, so light headedness or shakes. I also said this is the blood sugar roller coaster we get stuck on: bagel or cereal for breakfast, crash after a couple hours, granola bar snack, crash/ hunger, sandwich & chips for lunch, mid afternoon crash, another carby snack, then dinner either with carbs or followed by a carby dessert. 

I also explained this is why we usually gain weight: our bodies don’t burn fat until we’ve cleared insulin and glucose from our blood stream and the carb roller coaster keeps us from doing either. Until we stop eating the sugars and simple carbs and eat more protein, fats and fiber, we’re going to be stuck on that roller coaster, being hungry, shaky, and unable to lose weight. 

So when we sit down to our holiday feasts this year, many of us will take a spoon of this, a taste of that and a bite of a dessert- basically avoiding the feast in favor of famine to keep from gaining weight. In fact, sticking to roasted low starch veggies, green salad, and turkey or ham(or whatever protein your family likes), you’ll probably be okay. Keep the carbs and sugar to a minimum but don’t skimp on the fat, protein and fiber. You’ll not only feel like you had a real feast, you won’t gain the weight you want to avoid! Happy Thanksgiving! 

Emotional Eating – It’s an Excuse, Not a Coping Mechanism

“I’m an emotional eater” is probably one of the most common phrases in the weight loss community.  I hear it constantly on MFP (My Fitness Pal) and on My 600 lb Life.  It’s used as a coping mechanism for stress, depression and anxiety.  It’s a celebration when we’re happy.  Food basically either makes us feel good or it numbs and covers up whatever negative feelings we’re trying to avoid.  I remember having a fight with my mom, hanging up and then found myself staring into the fridge when I was completely not-hungry.

I also learned that I eat out of boredom.  For me, it was mainly in the evenings in front of the tv and there was nothing really to occupy my time other than the idiot box, so what do I have to eat? Anything good in the house? Or not good but still edible?  Boredom eating was (and still is) one of my biggest challenges.

I thought about it this morning on my way to work.  I listen to a rock station and a newer song came on the radio: “Rx (Medicate)” by Theory of a Deadman.  The lyrics were pretty much bang on target: “I am so frickin’ bored.  Nothing to do today.  I think I’ll medicate.”  Obviously, it’s more about pills and drugs than it is food, but for most of us ‘emotional eater,’ food is the same obsession as drugs, alcohol or anything else addictive.  It lights up the Pleasure Center in the brain just like nicotine, cocaine or beer, so it has the same effect on us.  It gives us pleasure, it distracts us from what we’re trying to avoid and when we’re done eating, we want more of the same.

There are a million problems with emotional eating just as there are with any addiction, but probably because food isn’t seen as something dangerous like the cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, we tend to let it slide.  ‘Eating our feelings’ is how we cope with things, even though we know we shouldn’t do it- it’s just one time! It’s only until the holidays/ special event is over!  I know it’s a crutch, but I just need to get over this XYZ right now.  I’m going to be a b*tch: these are all excuses!

One of my favorite episodes of My 600 lb Life is Dottie’s Story.  Dottie knew she was an emotional eater and she certainly had plenty of stress in her life (her older son was severely disabled with serious health problems).  Her sons were her main reason for wanting to lose weight because she needed to be there to take care of them.  As a result of her eating, she weighed nearly 700 lbs, and as Dr. Nowzaradan told her repeatedly, “you can’t take care of your kids if you’re immobile or dead.”  After nearly losing her oldest boy, she had gained nearly 40 more pounds, and on one particular night, dinner for her, her husband and her one year old baby was three medium pizzas and a 9×12 pan of brownies.  Her sister was trying to bring home the idea that ‘eating her stress’ isn’t going to solve anything; Dottie’s response was that “you have different coping mechanisms than I do,” and I agree with Dottie 100%.  We all have different coping mechanisms for the stress in our lives, and while Dottie doesn’t need to adopt her sister’s coping strategy any more than her sister should adopt Dottie’s, the point I think her sister was trying to make is that when one of our coping strategies (cigarettes, alcohol, food, gambling, etc.) becomes more harm than help, we need to change it to something else!  Eating our feelings is not a viable long term method for dealing with stress.  While most of us aren’t nearly 700 lbs, it is still not a practical or safe method for dealing with whatever is stressing us out.  Even though it may not seem ‘dangerous’ to eat a box of brownies or a pint of ice cream when we break up with our significant other or we have a huge fight with our boss, or whatever is going on in our lives (there’s always something!), let’s try substituting something that is obviously unhealthy, like drinking a fifth of vodka or a case of beer or gambling away $100 or more.  Those are obviously a little more problematic, since most of us can’t afford to throw away $100 or getting that drunk can kill you or someone else if you’re dumb enough to try driving afterwards.  Even if you tell yourself “I only do this when [insert event here] happens!”, does that still make it safe or okay?

The main problems I see with emotional eating are these: 1) what happens when you have a lot of stress/ anxiety on a regular or long term basis?; and 2) there is a cumulative effect.  This is why I maintain eating your feelings isn’t a viable strategy for dealing with your stress, anxiety and problems.

When you have a lot of stress all the time or just all at once, are you just going to keep eating your feelings?  Like the example I used earlier, if you suddenly started getting drunk or gambling on a regular basis, most of your friends and family would become concerned, but with eating, it’s a little less noticeable until the pounds start showing up.  Then a loved one might try to bring it up delicately, but it’s not something ‘serious’ like the drinking or gambling, where they might feel a little more justified in having a heart-to-heart for your benefit.

Except that eating your feelings is something dangerous, because of problem #2: the cumulative effect.  Most of us aren’t good at losing weight. For most of us, our weight tends to ratchet upwards with our age.  We talk with fondness about how thin and fit we were in high school and ‘wish I was still that thin!’ So the more stress we have as we go through life, the more we eat our feelings, those two or three extra pounds we gained when we broke up with Love of Our Life or when we lost our job or when we had that Family Crisis tend to add up: 3 lbs + 2 lbs + 3 lbs is suddenly 8 lbs.  Now imagine if we go up only three pounds a year? If we were 125 lbs when we graduated high school, by the time we are 28 (10 years down the road) that’s 30 lbs! And if we keep to that three lbs/ year, by the time we are forty, it’s 66 lbs!  So as we are getting older and our body is starting to feel its age, we are adding to the problems by giving it another 60 lbs to carry around.  Even worse, by the time most of us realize that our weight is getting out of control, around the 10 or 20 lbs number, we usually turn to the diet pills and problems that don’t work, throw us on the yo-yo diet track, and then our weight becomes one of those ‘stress triggers’ that cause us to eat our feelings! Yay! Let’s take that campfire and throw some lighter fluid on it to get it really going hot!!

I’m not trying to be an alarmist or blow things out of proportion here, but eating our feelings has somehow attained status as a viable coping mechanism in our culture. There’s the stereotype of crying women with the pint of ice cream watching a love story on tv after a break up. It’s become ‘acceptable’ but that doesn’t make it a real strategy for dealing with stress, anxiety or negative emotions.  This is what Dottie’s sister was trying to explain to her: “you can eat your feelings, but it’s not going to help you deal with the underlying problem.”  We all need to find a way to deal with those problems and emotions, because we all have them in our lives.

I get it: it sucks! It truly does! It feels so much easier to eat a cookie (or several cookies) than to deal with the real problem, such as your significant other cheating, losing your job, having a fight with a sibling, or a serious health concern in your family.  Real problems suck and it sucks dealing with them.  Try dealing with them when your weight is also becoming a problem! Now you have the problem plus your own aching knees, incipient diabetes, or a hernia.  Remember when you were a kid and your mom wanted to dig out the splinter in your finger or rip off the band-aid on your arm? “No! It’ll hurt!” Yeah, it did- for a few minutes! Then your finger or your arm stopped stinging and the wounds healed and you forgot about them.  It’s the same way with your other problems, though not as quick.  Finding a way to deal with the problems, either by journaling, seeing a therapist or finding some other method based on who or what you’re dealing with will probably take some time and no doubt some trial and error, but in the long run, learning how to deal with a difficult situation will serve your health- and your confidence- much better than continuing to hide behind a pizza, doughnuts or a bag of chips.

 

Holiday Cheer and Weight Loss

For those of you in the USA, next Thursday is Thanksgiving.  It’s a time to get together with family and eat until we pass out on the sofa in front of the football game and/ or Macy’s Parade.  Usually, if you are trying to lose weight, you don’t know if you should dread all the food you know you’re going to eat (or at least want to) or if you’re going to use the holiday as an excuse to eat until your belt has to come off.

I am not going to make this easy for you: it’s your decision and there is no ‘wrong’ choice.  Despite what others have to say, there is no Food Police and whatever you decide to eat or not eat, you won’t be given demerits or extra credit points.  There’s no bonus for saying no to the pumpkin pie or the stuffing.

I will give you my own best advice, having faced a few of these holidays while trying to lose weight, and my best advice is this: eat what you know you won’t regret! I know it sounds like a cop out, but really this whole ‘healthy eating thing’ we’re trying to do isn’t something we just do ‘sometimes’ or when we feel like we’re having a good day.  This really is a lifestyle, so it means eating without guilt (remember no Food Police!) It also means we eat the same way (or we should) whether others are watching or not.  We’ve all done the sneak-eating, where we hope no one notices the box of Chips Ahoy is missing and that we ate all or most of them!  What we eat is completely our business! Our bodies, our health, our food! Please understand that I am not telling you to take the deep dish apple pie off the buffet and eat the whole thing , although if you want to, you can.  I am just wondering if you will regret it on Friday, because I know I would!  I am telling you that having a piece of pie or cake or stuffing or whatever you choose is not a reason to beat yourself up, if you want it and will not regret it later!  That’s pretty much the operative phrase here: if you won’t regret it.  The caveat to this whole idea of regret is pretty much basic Cause and Effect.  Everything you eat has an effect on your body, your health, weight and your goals.  It’s that savvy shopper rule: you get what you pay for!  If you don’t mind paying for the stuffing, yams with marshmallows, pumpkin pie and carrot cake with all the aftereffects of roller coaster blood sugar, cravings and hunger and maybe a weight stall or even a gain, then that’s your business.  You are prepared to pay for what you ate, you enjoyed it and you aren’t sorry, so don’t let anyone try guilting you over your choices.

However, it you are trying to bargain your way out of the cost, such as things like “I won’t eat anything the day before/ after Thanksgiving,” you may be out of luck! It’s a lot harder to go without to make up for bingeing, and usually it doesn’t work.  Unless you’ve been fasting for a while, it’s hard to make it through the initial couple of days especially if you don’t know what pitfalls to look out for and usually by the time the holiday arrives, you’re STARVING and end up eating way more than feels good.  (FYI: if you do want to try legitimate fasting, read Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Complete Guide to Fasting or google the “Intensive Dietary Management Program”.) The trick isn’t to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other: the key is stay fairly consistent.  As in, I might eat a couple of things not normally on my menu for the holiday, but I’m not going nuts over the carrot cake!

I think Mark Sisson made a great point in his interview on the Primal Potential podcast when he said most Americans think in terms of “how much can I eat without gaining weight?”  This is pretty much how we view Thanksgiving: how much can I wolf down before it’s too much?  I know there is no Food Police, but this is the same idea we have with a lot of things (like money!) that really gets us into trouble.  I used to see the same idea on billboards for my gym all the time: “I work out because: [fill in the blank]” and it’s usually been ‘filled in’ with a phrase such as “I like four cheese pizza!”  I understand that ideation really well.  I used to eat most of a medium thick crust loaded pizza and bread stick and wings on a fairly regular basis.  And, no, I didn’t work out then.  And pretty much every time I looked at the two or three pieces of pizza left over in the fridge, I’d either feel guilty that I ate so much of it or I’d try congratulating myself on not eating ALL of it!  That is not the best mindset to view what you eat! Unfortunately, this is how most of view the holidays: “well, at least I didn’t eat all the [insert holiday treat here]!”

I am going to give you some good advice if you are feeling nervous going into the holidays.  Stay away from appetizers or snacks that are just fast carbs or sugar.  At my relative’s house, there’s always a huge bowl of chips and dip, but there’s usually a veggie tray too.  I stick with the veggies: they are more filling, fewer calories (if minimal dip) and more nutritious.  I also stick with the veggies and the meats at the meal: not a lot of yams, or potatoes, and more of the salad or roasted veggies and the turkey.  I do a spoonful of stuffing and maybe a spoonful of macaroni salad.  I also say no to the bread, because usually they’re store-bought heat and serve rolls (not worth it to me).  As for dessert, if there is something I want to try, I do a small slice or serving.  The key is to enjoy the food, not feel like it’s put me in a coma! It is also 100% okay to say no to anything on the table or anything you are offered!

If we want to be successful over the coming holidays, we need to eat without guilt or shame or excuses. If we want to eat the pie, then eat the pie- as long as you know what you are prepared to pay for it! If it’s more important to you to lose a couple more pounds before Christmas or New Year’s, then don’t eat the pie.  You know you will regret it when you put on that special outfit for the holiday and it’s too tight or doesn’t look as good as you want it to.  If you feel okay paying that price, then don’t feel guilty about what you ate or didn’t eat.  It’s also okay not to eat everything on your plate! Sometimes, especially at holidays, we serve ourselves too much or someone else is too generous with the food.  It’s okay to say it’s too much, or take some home or to leave it behind (here, kitty, kitty!) There’s no law that says we need to binge or we need to deny ourselves. Remember- no Food Police! No guilt, no excuses, no shame! Eat what you feel good about eating, either because you want to celebrate the holiday or you are okay paying the price for it! Your body, your health- your rules!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burdens, Blessings, Obstacles and Opportunities: Using Them to Your Best Advantage in Weight Loss

I know from experience that when most of us begin making healthy changes to our lifestyles, or even just start planning on these changes, we are met right away with burdens and obstacles.  It’s like the world, Fate or the Universe is plotting to keep us fat and unhealthy!  Even though we know that’s not the truth, there’s a lot of days when it sure feels like it!

Then there’s just the whole matter of logistics: family members, work schedules, school schedules, and every day annoyances like meetings, luncheons, conferences, traffic and the always popular seasonal parties.  How do we integrate our plan for healthy choices in the middle of all we have going on? Most of us try to work it in for a few days or a few weeks and then collapse under the burden of all our obstacles.  “There’s just too much getting in the way!”  Sometimes, the Universe wins despite all our best plans!  The tricks I’ve found are: 1) not to be discouraged; and 2) how to turn a ‘burden’ into a ‘blessing.’

I am certainly no philosopher or theologian, but through my reading and my Liberal Arts education, I’ve learned a few things.  One of the books I had to read in college was the Teachings of Chuang Tzu, a 3rd Century Taoist philosopher.  It’s definitely what I refer to as a ‘sponge book,’ meaning when you read a parable, it probably won’t make sense to you right away- you have to let it soak in.  Gradually, you begin to understand the meaning.  It’s a difficult philosophy to get through and unfortunately, our professor began his course (Humanities) with that book.  Our class went from about 50 to about 20 in a few short weeks.  But the overall gist of his teachings on the Tao is, in my opinion, not that different from Stoicism (the Greco-Roman philosophy with the capital S) or Zen Buddhism: we are all part of the One and until we learn to accept that, we will always be unhappy.

That doesn’t mean that we just have to accept that we will always be fat, unhappy and unhealthy.  It means we have to find ways to make what looks like a burden or an obstacle be a blessing to us instead.  Believe me, I am certainly not one of those happy little “turn that frown upside down” perky people!  Most of my Disney stuff has either Grumpy, Eeyore or Donald Duck on it- not the happy campers! But, basically, if sh*t happens, I can either wallow in it, or find a way out of it (this is Trick #2). Example: I commute 2 hours every morning and every evening five days a week.  Essentially, all those fitness gurus who say “move every hour” are wasting their breath on me during my commute because I’ve got at least 20 hours a week on my butt in my car.  I can either use that as an obstacle or an excuse not to exercise or lose weight, or I can find a way to use it to my advantage.  So, all those podcasts that I listen to? You got it- in the car either on the way to work or on the way home! The same with audiobooks or just to de-stress either by listening to a favorite playlist or using my Bluetooth to catch up with friends.  And yes, I realize the irony of de-stressing while stuck in traffic.  That’s the other trick: traffic, like sh*t, happens! I can either freak out about it or just accept it as part of life! My current boss is pretty sanguine about it- I am usually more irritated by being late than he is, but either way, my freaking out isn’t going to change the flow of traffic and all it’s going to do is raise my anxiety and blood pressure.

If you listen to someone like Chuang Tzu, when we have something that looks like a burden or an obstacle, changing our perspective changes the obstacle itself.  Many of my friends groan when they think of my commute, but to me, it’s an opportunity.  Seriously, without being ‘trapped in the car for so many hours,’ when would I find the time to listen to podcasts and audiobooks?  I’d have to find it somewhere else in my week! This situation is perfect for it! Not a lot else that I can do in the car but listen!

The same is true for one of the most common complaints I hear: ‘no one else in my family wants to eat healthy!’ Awesome!! Seriously, when we live alone like me, I don’t have any of those temptations in my house unless I bring them in. Don’t want them tempting you? Don’t buy them! Then we go out to a conference and there are those evil bagels daring me not to eat them! It’s hard, because I don’t face that temptation at home.  When you are constantly looking at your kids’ chips or spouse’s ice cream or garlic bread, then you get used to seeing all the foods that aren’t on your healthy diet and even more important, you get used to not-eating them! Their siren song of “eat me!” fades away because you have stopped listening to it- you are stronger than the garlic bread, ice cream, chips or bagels.  The key of course is not-eating them, which does take some strength to start out, just like it takes some strength for me not to put them in my cart at the store (“I can have one and give the rest to my dad/ sister/ friends”- riiiight!! Not happening!!) The trick is to look at this obstacle as practice.  If you face these temptations every day at home, the pizza at the work luncheon is no match for you!

The other trick is not getting discouraged when you either give in to temptation or something gets in the way of your success.  In other words, those times when the Universe wins.  In my case, the Universe won recently: I usually have a water aerobics class on Mondays and I got stuck on Sunday (my prep day) helping my mom, so I planned on going grocery shopping after my Monday class.  Those were my best-laid plans upon which the Universe wrought its usual havoc. I ended up working an hour and a half later than usual, due to delays at court and with clients, so I figured I’d missed my workout class, but then thanks to traffic (yay?), I ended up getting home even later still: those two hours took three and grocery shopping at 7:30 p.m. was really not appealing.  I opted for the healthiest fast food I could get: grilled chicken and coleslaw- yay…. The trick is that yes, the Universe won on Monday, but Monday is one day.  It’s not the rest of my life! (at least I hope not!)  The key is to make more healthy decisions that unhealthy ones.  One bad day or one bad week should not be the end of your healthy plan! I didn’t get to be 438 lbs by eating one bad fast food dinner at Jack in the Box; it was a pattern of bad choices that built upon itself and resulted in my being miserably unhealthy.  My choices are give up and be unhealthy and unhappy and fat, or keep the faith and try for better.  Even when the Universe wins.  Even when it feels like the deck is stacked against me (hey, 438?!?)  Even if it’s just as simple as taking a seeming failure (“I had biscuits with my chicken and coleslaw! Ugh!”) and using it as a teaching tool for you not to do it again (those stomach cramps during the night? think it was from the flour in the biscuits?? Hello!!)

There are a lot of Motivational Gurus who like to use phrases like “be the captain of your destiny” to encourage you to ‘be in control.’  While I think it’s really motivational, I also think it’s setting you up for a big fall.  A lot of ‘your destiny’ has to do with things that happen around you and to you.  A big part of my outlook and my weight loss success is accepting there are things in my life that are in my control and as for everything else, all I can do is control my reaction.  Like Monday, when I realized I was not going to get off work in time to make my class, when I realized I was stuck in traffic and was getting home way later than I thought- I could have gotten angry, I could have had a tantrum and what would I have gained by that? Just stress and anxiety! I’ve got enough of both of those in my life and I sure don’t need to make any more for myself! It happened, so I made the best I could out of my situation (although I did get a bit snippy at the car in the drive thru ahead of me at 7:30! And that didn’t get me anything either!)

Seriously, it’s taken me a really really long time (like forty-plus years!) to realize that not getting angry at the Universe is an option and it’s not admitting defeat.  It’s simply changing strategies.  There’s an obstacle in your way? Go around it! I can gripe and whine and b*tch about spending 20 hours a week in the car and it won’t change my situation; it’ll just make me tense and upset and angry. What can I do that’s productive while I’m in the car? I can listen to something informative or enjoyable- problem solved! It’s not an obstacle anymore; I made it an opportunity instead!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jumping Through Hoops: There’s Always a Loophole!

Most of us are used to things like paperwork, phone trees and red tape: nothing is ever simple anymore! Calling an agency to get a stupid fax number means giving out your name, your number and whatever ‘file’ or ‘reference’ number you’re ‘calling about’!  Seriously??  “I’m calling to get a dang fax number!! As soon as you get the dang fax, you’ll know what this is about!!”

The truth is that ‘modern life’ is full of different kinds of stressors and hassles and it’s a never-ending drama.  As soon as one problem resolves itself, another pops up.  Welcome to the Real World!  While we all know this, we usually don’t deal with it very well when it comes to weight loss, eating healthy and working out.  We use reality and its issues as excuses to blow off the healthy meal choice, the workout schedule or losing weight: “I can’t deal with one more thing today- it’ll have to wait until tomorrow/ next week/ after the holidays.”

Okay…so when exactly are you not going to have ‘something going on?’  Here’s my Real Life example: my mother had major back surgery the first week of August (it is now the middle of November) and since then has been in a convalescent hospital.  My dad (who is her retired ex-husband) has been visiting her every other day, mainly to shuttle her stuff back and forth between her house and the hospital and pick up her mail.  It also means he’s been caring for her dogs those days.  The days he doesn’t come (he lives 75 miles away), I’ve been going to her house to care for her dogs and bring in her mail.  I work five days a week with a 4 hour commute round trip; I work out three days a week and on the weekends, I spend a half day Saturdays and Sundays at her house to give her dogs some outside time and some people time.  This means I’m usually leaving for work around 6:45 a.m. (normal time) but I’m getting home around 8:00 p.m. which is not normal, even on workout nights!  In addition to my job, her dogs and my work out schedule, I also have my own pets and my own errands (like vehicle maintenance, grooming appointments and oh yeah a personal life?)  So right in the middle of this mess, my car decides to break down for the second time in less than a month, which means I had to borrow my sister’s car- so grateful!! But mine took a week to get repaired, mainly due to the incompetence of the repair shop.  As a result, I missed one workout because I was getting my car towed, and I missed the following day’s workout because we thought my mom was getting out of the hospital and we had to pick up her belongings.  By the time we realized that wasn’t happening, I’d missed my class! This past Monday, still driving my sister’s car, I showed up at my gym for my workout class only to realize my membership tag was on my car keys. In the shop with my car! GRRR!!! Luckily, my gym has an app with my ‘card’ on it, so I was able to make it to that class at least!

The point isn’t that I’ve got a buttload of excuses not to make my workouts, not to prepare a healthy dinner (at 8:00 p.m.) and plenty of excuses to eat fast food and lay around the house ‘resting.’  I’ve got great ‘reasons’ to ‘worry about my goals later.’  The point is that if I just decided to ‘take a break’ from my goals and go back to working out and eating healthy after my mom gets home from the hospital, I’d’ve been waiting for three months already! “Let me put my goals on hold for a quarter of the year, and counting!”

The point is that life is always this way!  It’s kind of how life works: we do what we want in spite of the real world! Believe me, I’m not some superwoman; there are a few nights where I blew off my cardio class to go home and go to bed (like at 7:30 p.m.)! I figured if I were too dang tired to make it to my workout, then I was at least going to do something productive and get some much needed sleep! Although I think it was a better decision that further exhausting myself, I am still not happy about it, mainly because the cardio class is only 8 sessions and it’s not included in my gym membership (where I can show up at the pool to do a workout on my own).

I admit that my weight loss has suffered, mainly because stress and lack of sleep really get in the way.  There have also been some holiday-related treats which probably would have happened without the added stress as an excuse to splurge. The point I am trying to make is that we need to fight for our goals despite what life throws at us.  It’s okay to pick your battles, like when I opted to go home to bed rather than making my cardio class.  I had to ask myself which would be more benefit to me, and honestly, I still think I was a little lazy, even though I pretty much fell asleep as soon as I got into bed! As for waiting until the craziness to stop? I’d be waiting forever! My goals are important to me and I know it’s going to take work to get there, even without the nutty schedule I’ve got right now.

The point I’m trying to reinforce is that if we want to find an excuse or a ‘reason’ to do or not do something, we will always find it.  There will always be something that’s ‘not convenient,’ such as working late, being sick, having a lot of errands, feeling stressed, or just not ‘feeling like it.’  I know at the pool, the classes have been getting smaller and smaller, partly I am sure due to the colder weather, and partly because of the upcoming holidays.  People are busy and that’s their choice, but if you claim you are ‘working hard’ towards your goals, then why are you letting excuses get in your way?

There are a lot of people, including some of my friends, who look at how busy my life is and tell me that I’m entitled to take a day off.  I think they’re right, especially since the last time I let myself get run down, I caught a cold.  I also know that skipping my classes doesn’t make me feel better- it adds to my stress because ‘now I missed a workout!’  I’d rather make my workout, do something I enjoy doing with people I like and feel better mentally and physically.  If my workouts don’t make me feel better, then I am not going to do them, and neither should you! I chose these classes because I like how they make me feel- getting the exercise and building strength are bonuses to me.  They are what I want to do and what I would be doing with my time if Real Life weren’t getting in my way, so they are not a sacrifice or a burden- they are my ‘fun time.’

I’ve heard it said that we make the time for things that are important to us, and I believe that is true.  One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Thomas Paine: “what we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” I remind myself of that often.  If it didn’t cost us anything, then we don’t value it enough.  That’s why I make the time for workouts and for eating healthy.  Getting this far has been a lot of work and effort and throwing it away to eat chips and burgers and other junk food is simply not an option for me.  Finding workout classes that I enjoy was more effort and time as well as money, so throwing those away aren’t options either! These things- my health and my happiness- are important to me, which is why I will be driving to the gym after work and then driving to my mom’s to feed and play with the dogs and then driving home to throw together a salad and reheating rotisserie chicken for the hundredth time! (FYI: not taking care of her dogs is also not an option!) I worked hard to get here, and I’m not going to hop through some ‘excuse loophole’ to cheat myself out of my hard work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Variety of Hobgoblins: Consistency Doesn’t Have to Be Boring!

One of the quotes I used to hear a lot is the “consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds”  by Ralph Waldo Emerson (the complete quote actually says “a foolish consistency”).  I think most people use it to mean getting stuck in a rut is easier than thinking of solutions all day.  Why use your brain all day long when you can follow the same little track?  In other words, consistency is for boring stupid people.  Remember, “variety is the spice of life!”

You can see the problem when it comes to weight loss: we are constantly being told by others to be consistent when it comes to our healthy eating habits, and we are constantly (consistently??) being told by others that we need variety in our lives to keep us from getting bored with the ‘healthy stuff.’  Some of the complaints I hear a lot is that ‘healthy food doesn’t taste so great’ and ‘I get bored fast eating healthy.’  I’m not going to lie: I can eat the same thing over and over again and rarely get bored with it, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the ‘healthy stuff’ or not.  I used to eat the same Jack in the Box meal night after night, and that’s just one example.  It has nothing to do with how yummy or not-yummy something is; for me, it’s usually how hungry or not-hungry I am and whether I ‘want to eat’ or not. So, for me, while I understand what they mean, it’s never been much of a problem for me.

The exception was processed foods vs whole foods.  The more processed a food is, the more chemicals and ‘flavor boosters’ it has in it.  These foods are designed to keep you eating more of them by being ‘highly palatable.’  That’s a nice way of saying they are addictive (‘betcha can’t eat just one!’) So when you taste something that’s processed, it never tastes like something made from a whole food.  I recently saw a salsa taste test on America’s Test Kitchen where the tester tried to fool the host: along with the sample of jarred processed salsas for her to taste was a homemade sample made right there in the test kitchen. It tasted different, obviously (she used the word ‘fresh’ to describe it).  What she wasn’t tasting were all the chemicals and preservatives used in the jarred salsa to keep it from spoiling or to ‘boost the flavor.’  For me, when I stopped eating processed foods and started eating more whole foods, the blandness was the most noticeable change.  Although I knew why it tasted blander and was kind of expecting it, it was still an adjustment. However, eating more whole and nutrient dense foods was more important to me than just taste, so I stuck with it.  I was boringly consistent!

And it paid off! In that first year, I lost almost 100 lbs by not starving myself, not exercising myself to death (hardly exercised at all, really!) and by not eating ‘weird diet food.’ I simply stopped eating high carb processed foods for more low carb whole foods (veggies).  In that first year, I stopped two diabetes medications and in the second year I stopped my hypertension medication too!  Still not killing myself with exercise or starving or eating weird diet food! Being healthy and losing weight has more to do with giving your body the right nutrition rather than counting calories or macros or killing yourself with kettlebells.  Eating real nutrient dense food instead of something that comes in a box or a can or a powder will do more for your weight loss than doing seven workouts a week!

When it came to eating healthy food, I was boringly consistent (that hobgoblin is now my pet!) and I used it to my advantage. I ate a lot of the same kinds of foods over and over again: things like spinach, salad greens, shredded cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts (not so much cauliflower) and a lot of different unprocessed meats like roasted chicken, beef, lamb, and pork.  On weekends, it’s a lot of bacon or sausage and eggs for breakfast.  So while it may look pretty boring, I do spice it up with what I like! I used to make my own simple salad dressing: balsamic or apple cider vinegar, olive or avocado oil and Trader Joes 21 Seasoning Salute or any other spice blend that I like.  (Now, honestly I use mainly Primal Kitchen brand salad dressings because they are made with avocado oil.)  I also make my own spice blend for my meats. I sprinkle on a mix of garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, curry powder and sometimes a little red pepper flakes.  Trader Joes just came out with a garlic salt blend that works pretty good too!  As for the salads, I add in things like avocados, onions (green, red or white), peppers of all colors, sprouts, radishes, carrot shreds, heirloom tomatoes and anything else that looks good in the produce department!

Another thing happened while I was being boringly consistent with healthy eating choices: when I tasted the processed foods I used to enjoy so much, they just tasted weird to me.  When I started eating whole foods, I noticed the absence of all those chemicals in the natural foods, but when I ate the processed foods again, I could really taste them!  And it wasn’t just ‘fake cherry flavor’ that I was tasting: I was tasting all the chemicals and additives they put in during processing.  It’s as if all those ‘flavor boosters’ are there to hide the chemical taste in the food.  It doesn’t taste good to me anymore, which makes it easier to give up.  Remember when you were a kid and the first time you tasted coffee or beer and you probably made a face or spit it out? “Why do grownups drink that yuck?!” Because grownups get used to the taste! Just like we get used to the taste of the sugary sweet jarred pasta sauce and the fake mapley taste in the fake maple syrup (personally, I used the real stuff when I made pancakes- another acquired taste!)

While my menus may look like the same boring thing night after night (“I had salad and rotisserie chicken again last night”), there is quite a lot of variety in there!  Think about it: long before people began processing food in factories, all their foods were ‘whole foods’ and we developed as many different ways of cooking it as there are people on the planet! If you are tired of Mexican, how about Chinese? Tired of Chinese? Then how about Moroccan? That plain piece of beef can be Italian, Indonesian, or Southwestern! Whole foods don’t have to be boring, unless you want them to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“YOU Have to Want This”: Weight Loss, Mindset & Motivation

I know this sounds like a stupidly obvious statement, but remember the last time you did something because someone (most likely someone important to you) told you that you should do it? So you did it, but maybe you didn’t do it very well or you didn’t like doing it? We all know what it’s like doing something when our heart just isn’t in it, and sometimes that makes it ten times harder than it has to be.  I remember not too long ago, I went over to a friend’s party and I had been looking forward to it when I agreed to go, but then everything in between got really busy and I was pretty fried by the date of the party and really, all I wanted to do was stay home and catch up on some other things.  But… my friends were really looking forward to my being there and I didn’t want to disappoint them, and I told myself it’d be fun once I got there, so I went.  It wasn’t a disaster but it seemed to last forever and when I got home, I was even more tired than before.  It was pretty much my one ‘free day’ out of my weekend, since Sunday is usually ‘prep for the week’ day.  I went to please my friends but if it had been up to me, I’d’ve just stayed home.

And that’s the thing: it was up to me.  I’m sure my friends would have understood even though they’d have been disappointed, but I didn’t want to disappoint them.  It was fun, though probably not as relaxing as lying on the sofa reading a book or working a puzzle or just playing with the dog.  It made for a long day and a short weekend, which made the following week a little longer than it should have been.  The point is that since my heart wasn’t in it, it was harder than it had to be, and that was a party!  Imagine doing something that’s pretty hard to start with, like losing weight and being healthier.  Now imagine that your heart isn’t in it.  So what do you think your success rate is going to be?

The problem is that when it comes to losing weight, we all think it’s what we want to do.  Surely no one in their right mind wants to be fat and unhealthy! Right?? But when it comes to weight loss, it’s not as simple as that.  “Of course I want to lose weight! Why would I want to be fat?!?” If weight loss were as simple as changing your shirt or cutting your hair or even just having the bariatric surgery, we would probably all do it without a second thought (well, maybe a second thought about the surgery), but the truth of the matter is that it is damn hard because it’s not just one thing we have to change.  It’s not just “don’t eat donuts” and we lose weight, or “get a gym membership” and we lose weight.  Even when it comes to the surgery, anyone who has seen My 600 lb Life has heard Dr. Nowzaradan tell his patients that without controlling their eating habits, the surgery will be wasted.  Weight loss isn’t just changing one thing: it’s changing nearly our entire lifestyle.  It’s a complex network of changes that need to be made and many of them depend on each other.

It’s not like dominos, where if one falls the whole network falls apart, but rather it’s like navigation. If you verge off course by one degree, the longer you travel, the farther off course you are going to be, and eventually you will be totally lost.  That ‘one degree’ will become 10 or 20 degrees in a very short amount of time.  You can still get back on course once you realize where you went off track, but it will take some time to get back to where you were before you ‘went one degree off.’ We’ve all done this: we’re ‘eating healthy’ but then it’s someone’s birthday (or something else that’s ‘special’) so we treat ourselves to a Forbidden Food and we tell ourselves, it’s just one time, but then a couple days later, we have something else that’s special and then we maybe have a little more of something ‘healthy’ than we should or we feel like munching in the evening even though we aren’t hungry after dinner and then a couple weeks later we look at the dinner on our plate or the scale or our ‘fat pants’ are tight again, and we ask ourselves ‘what happened to my diet?’ The bad decisions- the being off course one degree- builds on itself the same way the good decisions do.  It’s because weight loss- and weight gain- are all interwoven into our lifestyle, and that’s what makes them so hard to change.  If it were as easy as “don’t eat donuts,” we could all lose weight without thinking about it!

This is why we really have to want to lose weight.  It’s a helluva lot of work to change one habit- there’s an entire industry geared to help us do that, and when it comes to losing weight, eating healthier and being more active, we have to incorporate healthy new habits while getting rid of the bad unhealthy habits. We are changing our behaviors left and right, and to do both those things successfully (because we all know how to do them badly!), we have to change the way we think about food, eating and activity, and that means it’s a whole lotta work! Therefore, if your heart isn’t in it, if you’re only doing it because someone you love said you ‘should’ do, if you do not really want this for yourself, YOU WILL FAIL.  Please understand that just because you fail at this doesn’t mean that you don’t really want it- it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you or you have some kind of subconscious self-destructive streak.  It just means you probably took the wrong approach or you took on too much at once, but if you do not want to make these changes for yourself, then you don’t have the motivation you need to get started on a pretty big and difficult project, and you won’t have the drive to stick with this project, because it is a Project.  It’s not a ‘diet,’ and it’s not temporary.  Being overweight and unhealthy is the result of that being one degree off course: it’s the result of a long series of food and lifestyle choices.  One degree + one degree + one degree + one degree over 40+ years = 438 lbs + bad knees + type 2 diabetes.  Correcting that course is done pretty much the same way: one good choice + more good choices + years of making those same good choices.  It’s not “don’t eat donuts” only on Tuesdays or only until the end of the year: it’s “don’t eat donuts” every day for the foreseeable future.  It means you have to keep making the course corrections every day all the time wherever you are, and that is work.  We’ve all agreed to ‘be good’ because Someone Important wants you to be healthier, but how many of us have been out with friends and mumbled ‘don’t tell my Someone Important’ as we stuff pizza or chips in our mouth?  Just because they don’t see you eat the Forbidden Food doesn’t mean that your body ignores it; it just means the Someone Important won’t scold you for eating it.  ‘Not getting caught’ does not equal success at weight loss and nutrition.  Success comes from not-eating the chips and pizza and choosing the vegetables and healthy options instead. If we really want it and we are committed to making those changes, we will get the success we want. It means we have to become the Someone Important when it comes to making these changes.  We are the ones who are telling ourselves not to eat the Junior Mints or the chips and we have to remember to bring our gym bag because we are going to the spin class tonight and we have to go for a walk at lunch time rather than sitting at our desk and shopping online.

The things that are important to us- the things we really want- are what drive our behavior and our decisions.  They keep us focused on our goals; they keep us on course to where we want to go. It means we have to do the hard work making changes all the time, not just when it suits us or someone else is watching.  If we really want it and we are really committed to it, then we put in the hard work because the goal is worth it to us.  There is a nice little bonus to putting in all the heavy lifting that goes with making all the lifestyle changes, and it’s not just that we reach our goals: it’s that the more we make the everyday changes, the easier they become! And sometime, long before we reach our goals, we realize that all that hard work isn’t really work anymore!