Doing For Yourself: Weight Loss & Decision Fatigue

There is a lot to be said for doing things yourself.  The list of things I prefer others to do for me is pretty short and mainly consists of driving places I don’t like to go.  Obviously the more others do for you, the less you do for yourself, but what we forget is how much of the decision-making is out of your control.  When I let someone else do the driving, we leave on their schedule, follow the route they want to take, stop when they want to stop and return when they want to return.  A friend of mine was visiting some long time friends who had moved some distance away and she went along as a passenger with some mutual friends. It was going to take a couple of hours to drive there and since her car is a compact, they all decided to take the bigger car and she would not be driving.  The trip was going great….. until the driver and family decided they wanted to stay much longer than they initially planned on.  As a result, my friend ended up getting home well past midnight (instead of around seven or eight).  She was very tired and fairly concerned about her dog, who had been left inside in the dark, since she’d planned on getting home when it was still daylight (summer time).  She came home to a dark house and a frantic dog who could hardly hold it much longer.  Next time, she vowed she was taking her car and they could meet her there!

This is an example of unintended and unforeseen abdication of control.  My friend was perfectly happy contributing to the gas and letting someone else work the GPS but what she hadn’t intended to give up was the freedom to decide when to leave.  They had agreed to leave at a certain time, but the driver made an ‘executive decision’ and as a passenger, she had no choice in the matter. She was literally along for the ride.

This happens to us whenever we let others do things for us.  We lose our control of the situation and depending on what it is they are doing for us, we might not learn how to do it for ourselves. Being ignorant keeps us under their control too!  Dr. Nowzaradan on My 600 lb Life looks for this controlling mentality in his patients’ enablers.  Some of them are content to keep the patient dependent on them since this dependence gives them control over the patient.  Obviously if you can’t go to the grocery store, you are dependent on someone else to do it for you and you are at their mercy when it comes to what they buy!

I remember one of his patients shopping at a grocery store for the first time.  Although he had a personal care assistant with him, he was essentially on his own in the store, making his own decisions.  As they passed the produce section, he pointed to a fruit and asked his assistant what it was: “That’s a mango?!” It was fairly obvious that there was more than the just the mango that was unfamiliar to him, but he had always had others do things for him and he was reluctant to have to do them for himself. It’s hard learning to do things for yourself.

One of the excuses Dr. Nowzaradan hears a lot is “I have to eat what they bring me.”  While a lot of his patients are either bed-bound or cannot stand long enough to cook for themselves, most of us are not in that situation.  We let someone else make the decision about meals or food and we just accept it, even if pasta or chicken nuggets really aren’t on our meal plan. “Oh, well. It’s what he/she/ they made for dinner!” We are letting them do the planning, preparing and cooking because we don’t want to be bothered with it. When we’re out with friends, they decide on the restaurant because we let them.

There is actually a syndrome called Decision Fatigue.  According to studies, the more decisions we make in a limited amount of time, the more our mental resources are depleted and the worse our decisions become.  The studies theorize this is why we opt for pizza at the end of a long day: our willpower and mental resources are zero so rather than try to get water from a dry well, we choose something ‘easy’ which isn’t the best choice for us!

But we can’t get decision fatigue if we don’t make any decisions! If we let others make all or most of our decisions for us, not only are we at their mercy, we are at the mercy of their decision fatigue! They’ve likely been making decisions all day and they come home to find us waiting for dinner: “I’d like to order a large pizza…..”

If our ability to make decisions is like a muscle, then we need to make sure it doesn’t get flabby.  We also know muscles atrophy when they aren’t used so we need to keep it toned.  That means when our friend asks if we have any preferences about where to go for lunch, we can say “anything but fast food!” That’s a decision, albeit a simple one.  I get that question every time I go out to meet friends: they want to know if I have any thoughts about getting food.  Usually, I don’t so my own decision is along those lines: “anything but sandwiches!” or “I’m open to ABC or XYZ.”  We don’t have to reply with “I wanted a grilled chicken breast with roast red peppers and garlic zucchini noodles.”  You can always ask “what are my options?” or “what did you want?” and go from there!

The other problem that comes with letting others do for you is that you don’t learn how to do it yourself.  As a legal secretary, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to an attorney at another firm whose told me “my assistant is out sick today and I don’t know how to fax something over to you.” You can also substitute “scan” for “fax.”  The idea is the same: as the attorney, they are used to giving the documents to the assistant slash secretary and having them get it filed or transmitted or somehow taken care of and when the assistant is out, the attorney is hobbled. One of mine keeps trying to ‘fax’ on our scanner and doesn’t know how to access the voicemail on our new phone system- I have to keep showing him! While it is beyond annoying to have to stop to show him or fix the scanner, he really gets points for trying to do these on his own.  He doesn’t want to be at the mercy of someone else when it comes to getting things done.

One of the commercials I see a lot is one encouraging parents to teach their children to cook, a very necessary skill! I know there are a lot of parents who don’t do it because they don’t want their kids getting hurt in the kitchen when no one else is home.  It’s a valid fear, but they are also dooming their child to take out and microwave food when they get older. My 27 year old cousin had no idea how to cook anything other than condensed soup and microwave bacon when he moved out.  Seriously, no joke.  Why? Because MOM always cooked for him!

Think about how many decisions we make when it comes to weight loss. We decide what we are going to eat, how much we are going to eat, how often we are going to eat, and in each of those decisions are many little decisions. If we are going to have eggs for breakfast: fried, scrambled, boiled, poached? Quiche or frittata?  with veggies? with crust? with meat or cheese? Do we want anything with the eggs? How many eggs? What about skipping breakfast? What about lunch? With just those two meals alone, it’s easy to see how we can get decision fatigue! But like any muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets, and with a little planning, we can learn to skirt decision fatigue. For my part, when I come home, I make sure I have healthy options because I made healthy choices when I wasn’t fatigued.  I don’t have everything planned out for dinner, but I have some salad greens and some healthy protein choices that don’t take a lot of work.

I’d like to say that this came naturally to me, but it didn’t.  It was one of those things I learned on my own, and I learned it because I chose to make my own decisions over and over again at the grocery store. It took some time to try out one choice and try another when that one didn’t work out as well as I wanted.  It was a lot of flexing that decision muscle on a long learning curve.  It took practice to get that planning muscle strong and toned but it was worth the effort! As with any exercise, the more you do it, the easier it gets!

The more we learn to do on our own with shopping, cooking and planning, the more choices we have available to us.  The more we can grow, experiment and find things that work for us and not only with weight loss. When we learn to do things for ourselves, we feel more secure when we let someone else make a decision for us.  If we feel secure with making choices at a fast food restaurant, it’s okay if our family wants fast food for dinner.  We can get them what they want and still get ourselves something that we feel good about too.   It takes practice and it means we have to make a decision for ourselves.  It’s not always easy but like riding a bike, we never forget how to do it, and we’re never just along for ride!

 

Weight Loss & The Best Intentions: Plans Are NOT Action

We all know what they say about the road to Hell. They might as well cross out that destination and replace it with Weight Loss.  We all intend to eat better; we all intend to exercise more and we all certainly intend to stop snacking on junk food.  Those intentions and a $1.08 will get you a cup of coffee at McDonald’s! We can “intend” all we want but until we actually DO something, it’s all just talk!

I realized again how important it is to follow up our intentions with our actions while I was watching the most recent episode of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now?  This episode featured an update on Sean, the young man in his late twenties who lived with his enabler mom. Following his surgery, now in the third year of his weight loss journey, Sean has had a tremendously stressful and difficult few months.  He loses his mother to renal failure and then many of his belongings and his apartment to hurricane Harvey. During these difficult months, he begins to gain weight, eventually reaching 600 lbs again. While this kind of stress and tragedy are certainly triggers for emotional eating, Sean’s biggest stumbling block continues to be his lack of action.  Although he has a therapist, he stops treating with him and pressures Dr. Nowzaradan to get him admitted to a care facility rather than live on his own.  He is forced to move into a smaller apartment, but continues to view it as ‘temporary’ until he can move into a care facility.  His father comes from California to help him move, but Sean seems disappointed that his father is unable to take care of him himself.  Sean has to live on his own which means doing things on his own.

He gets back on his feet in a new apartment largely due to the generosity and assistance of others but once he has passed the ‘living situation’ crisis, he goes back to the emotional eating while continuing to justify his need to ‘take a break’ to ‘recover’ from everything he’s been through. That’s the first Red Flag!

I’ve fallen into that particular trap myself so I know how inviting it is! It’s the Weight Loss version of a Honey Trap: it looks warm and safe and comforting when it’s everything but! It lures us in and before we know it, we are right where Sean is: gaining weight without really paying attention! I am not going to point fingers at Sean since I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to suffer such devastating losses. Even Dr. Nowzaradan gave him a pass for the weight gain following his mother’s death; however, he also reminded him to keep treating with his therapist to find constructive ways of dealing with his emotions.  Having a resource as insightful as Dr Paradise is not to be thrown away so thoughtlessly; but that is exactly what Sean seems to do.

As Dr. Paradise had pointed out in an earlier session, Sean is intimidated by Dr. Nowzaradan as an authority figure and it is quite possible that Dr. Paradise has become a similar authority figure, which means he is also to be avoided as much as possible.  Why? Because both of them will hold him accountable for his overeating and poor eating choices. This is part of the danger involved with the Taking a Break scenario: once you have indulged until you feel safe, you have to deal with the consequences of your indulgences, which is usually weight gain! I am actually involved in the process of extricating myself from my own particular Honey Trap, so I know it’s not easy and it’s more than a little humiliating!

However, Sean continues to avoid both of his doctors because he’s ‘taking a break to get back on his feet’ but actually he is spending a lot of time sitting down.  I don’t mean to be flippant, because one of his complaints is how difficult it is to move around.  For those of us who have seen the earlier episodes, this is the second Red Flag! The last time Sean complained about how hard it was to move around, he’d gained almost 100 lbs, reaching a mind-boggling 1003 lbs.  When his mother passed away, Sean was fairly mobile in the 500’s but when he went back to see Dr. Nowzaradan, he was essentially 600 lbs again.  Anyone who has been overweight knows we don’t need to gain 100 lbs or be 600 lbs to notice unpleasant changes in our bodies.  When our knees ache a little more, when our pants or tops are a bit too tight, when we feel a little winded walking across the big parking lot– that’s our body telling us we’re carrying too much weight! When ‘squeaking by’ the file cabinets really is ‘squeaking,’ we know we’ve put on a few pounds.  This is when we need to stop talking about losing weight and start doing something about it!

For Sean, the first clue is that it’s harder to get around.  This is where Dr. Nowzaradan essentially gives him the pass on his weight gain, but rather than take action during his housing crisis– an admittedly difficult situation– Sean continues eating badly and overeating.  By the time the situation is resolved (a couple months), Sean is having a very hard time moving around.  He is content to sit on his new chair with a sheet spread over his lap so he doesn’t have to get dressed with a bucket to function as his toilet ‘when it gets too hard to get to the bathroom.’  As he opens the door to get his pizza, ‘dressed’ only in the sheet, he admits it’s not on his diet, but he really needs to take a break right now.  He laments that the Personal Care Assistant doesn’t come every day like she’s supposed to and on the days she doesn’t come “my bucket doesn’t get emptied.” He called Dr. Nowzaradan primarily to get the Personal Care Assistant assigned but also about the rashes on his skin becoming worse due to his lack of poor hygiene (which Sean denies)  because bathing has also become much more difficult. How much clearer can it be that he needs to stop talking about “going to get back on the diet” and just do it already?!

By the time he goes back to the hospital, he has obviously gained more than a few pounds and appears to be back over 700 again. The rashes have now become open infected wounds and forced his hand. Doing nothing and ignoring the infection could kill him and will kill him faster than his overeating. He tells Dr. Nowzaradan that this is a wake-up for him and he’s ‘going’ to get back on his diet, but the doctor’s reply is frank and a little harsh: “I’ve heard that before from you.”

That statement, more than the painful open wounds, is the real wake-up here.  How many times have we said that to ourselves? “It’s time to get serious about the weight loss/ poor eating choices/ blowing off workouts?” I know I’ve said it to myself through much of the last two months:” Okay, no more banana bread!” “I need to stop eating candy!” “I’ve got to get back to my regular eating plan!” And…. we all know how that turns out….

While Sean is obviously an extreme example of The Best Intentions, ‘going to do something’ is NOT the same as doing something! ‘Planning to make healthy changes’ does NOT mean you are implementing those changes! I’ve been ‘planning’ on eating right for the last 8 weeks or more and it wasn’t until the past three days that those ‘plans’ actually became actions!  Of course, my metabolism didn’t give me credit for those 8 weeks’ worth of plans: it didn’t tell me “your plans were pretty good so I’m deducting 10 lbs off this weight gain due to those good plans!” Like Sean, I have to deal with the consequences of my poor eating choices and my ‘taking a break’ mentality.  That means I have to deal with cravings and weight gain and admit to the doctor that I screwed up! It’s not fun and it’s more than a little humiliating.  However, once we begin actively doing something, we begin to feel better almost immediately, mentally, emotionally and physically. I’m not stressing over my ‘plans to eat better’ because now I am actually doing it! I’m not feeling guilty about eating bread and popcorn because I’m not eating them anymore and physically, my joints don’t ache because of the grains and my knees pop a little less and if my clothes are a little snug right now, I know that I am already doing something to fix that!

We all make plans to eat better and eat less and be more active, and plans aren’t all bad unless they stay plans.  Planning fools us into believing we are doing something but planning is NOT doing! We all intend to be the best versions of ourselves and we make plans to implement those changes.  No one plans to end up alone eating pizza in an arm chair and peeing in a bucket. But if we don’t turn those plans into actions, sitting alone with peanut butter cups in a recliner is a very real possibility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss & Cravings: The Pause Before You Go Over the Edge

Raise your hand if this has happened to you: you make a well-thought out decision to share a dessert with a friend and then a few days later, you start craving something similar and before you realize what’s going on, you’ve eaten way more sweets, desserts and other not-so-good for you foods than you have in the last few months! Can you all see me waving my hand in the air like Hermione Granger in class? Except my answer is actually the wrong answer! No one wants to be in that situation, like a car skidding out of control before sliding into the ditch. It’s a disaster waiting to happen!

You would think that the problem was that well-considered decision to share a dessert: “if only I hadn’t had those three bites of cheesecake!” That may be one way of dealing with it. I know there are lots of people who just say no to things they consider triggers.  They choose to view it as an addiction and anyone who knows addicts knows “you can’t have just one [fill in the blank here.] If you were okay with never having cheesecake or chips or whatever your particular weakness is ever again, that would solve your problem. If you don’t want cravings for bread, just don’t ever eat bread again.  Never ever.

For some people, that can be a pretty bleak view, looking at the rest of your life without ever eating things you like, such as cheesecake, brownies, bread or cookies along with a host of other things! On one hand, it’s just food. It isn’t like you’re giving up electricity for the rest of your life! There are thousands of people who’ve lived their entire lives without ever tasting a brownie or cheesecake! (Come to think of it, there are thousands of people who live their lives now without electricity!) Seriously, it’s not the end of the world, but it is something that brings a little bit of happiness into your life.  At least it does for those few minutes you are eating it!

If we are being truthful, it also brings a lot of pain into our lives too. I remember in college there were times I’d come home from the store with a frozen cheesecake and as soon as it was thawed out, I’d eat the whole thing.  Of course, I didn’t intend to, but…. We all know how that story ends: “I just couldn’t stop once I started eating it!” And once I was stuck holding the empty tray for a seven inch cheesecake, I’d feel awful. Not only did I feel horrible emotionally, but physically, I felt like a beached whale because obviously I wasn’t hungry when I ate it! I ate it because it was there!

This is what most of us are afraid of when it comes to cravings: once we start, we can’t stop, so it’s easier just never ‘starting.’ The problem is that we blame our cravings on self-control and that’s only a small part of the problem. When we don’t have cookies in the house and we start craving cookies, how many of us are going to leave the house to buy cookies? But, if the cookies are in the house already, it’s all too easy to ‘wander’ into the kitchen and grab one or two. Or three or four.  If they’re small, maybe five… And that’s where we blame our lack of self-control or we blame the cookies for being so good or we blame the family member who brought them home!

Part of the problem is the craving, especially if it’s something sweet.  Sugar really is addictive (Gary Taubes’ book The Case Against Sugar is a great resource!) Foods like bread (my own private weakness) are simple carbs, which the body metabolizes like sugar, so even if it’s garlic bread, to my body, it’s a ‘sugar’ and just a leetle bit addictive! So blaming self-control for not being able to stop ourselves eating a whole bread basket or cheesecake can be a legitimate defense.

However, the plain simple truth is that we knew better when we ate the cheesecake or bread that started our latest sugar binge! If you know that you’re going to be craving sugar within a week of sharing that dessert at lunch with your friend, is it really so difficult to tell your friend “no thanks” when she offers? A friend will understand when you say no to the dessert and you are under no obligation to indulge in something that will cause problems later.  So not starting is one way of dealing with the cravings: no trigger = no craving = no binge.  Problem solved! Yeah…riiighhhttt!

However a trigger food like that shared dessert is not the only reason we develop cravings.  In my case, a lot of the cravings come from boredom. How many of us binge in the evenings? (Hermione Granger here again!) I’m watching tv and I’ve got nothing to do with my hands, so let’s wander into the kitchen and see if there’s anything to snack on! Danger, Will Robinson!  Believe me, if I had a robot, it’d be stationed in the kitchen door each night after dinner! I’m obviously not hungry because I just finished dinner; my problem is I’m feeling bored! Somehow my brain equates boredom with the need to eat something, preferably sweet! “Find something sweet to eat and eat it until it’s gone or you feel like you’re going to throw up!” Really, that was my evening operation for most of my life! In the event I had nothing sweet in the house, Plan B substituted ‘salty’ for ‘sweet’ and the Last Ditch Back Up Plan was substitute ‘salty’ for ‘anything in the house!’ I really really wish I could say I was exaggerating, but I’m not.

But the good thing to come out of this debacle is that since I know what triggers my cravings, I can take steps to stop it before it skids wildly out of control. If bored and feeling the cravings start, I look for something to do other than eating! Even if it’s something like scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or– even better– My Fitness Pal! It can be logging my food and reminding myself how much I’ve already eaten, so how can I be hungry? It can be writing notes for this blog, playing with my dogs or doing my nails (my most recent distraction). It just needs to be something to keep my hands busy so I’m not eating to satisfy a craving that has nothing to do with hunger.

Another trigger for a lot of us is emotion.  How many of us have heard and used the expression ’emotional eater’?  Again, it’s a legitimate issue but once we realize it’s our trigger, we need to take steps to cut off the craving/ binge before it starts.  This issue is obviously more complex than just alleviating boredom.  If emotion or stress is a serious problem in your life, you might need to meet with someone to help you find constructive ways of dealing with it that don’t involve eating. For most of us who find ourselves staring into the fridge after a fight with a loved one or opening a surprise bill not in our budget or some other stressor, it can be less problematic. We have to find a way to alleviate our anxiety that doesn’t involve eating. In some ways, it’s easy and in other ways, it’s not so easy! Suppose your method of ‘coping’ with a problem is eating an entire bag of chips. While you’re eating the chips, you’re not feeling anxious or stressed (as much), but when those chips are gone, the anxiety and stress come back, usually coupled with the guilt for scarfing down a whole bag of Ruffles! Now what do you do? This is where some of us will find something else to eat and  repeat the cycle while others of us will either find a way to deal with the cause of our anxiety or we find something else to soothe it.  In my case, after eating a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s or the bag of Ruffles or King’s Hawaiian, I’d turn to my pets. My pets are a huge source of comfort to me! Depending on what the problem is, there is also venting on Facebook or calling a friend to share the anxiety and frustration.  Most of us who have normal every day stress and anxiety in our lives have methods for dealing with it; the problem is our knee-jerk reaction to eat our emotions first! What we need to learn is to cut off that reaction to ‘soothe’ our anxiety with food.

You’re probably thinking, “Duhhh!  So tell me something I don’t know!” It’s not rocket science, but it does take patience and practice. We all know the trick about not losing our temper by counting to ten and this isn’t much different.  It involves taking a couple minutes to see into the future: “I’m emotional and I want to eat something, but how am I going to feel when I’m done eating?” Usually the answer will be “pretty cruddy!” or “worse than I do now!” The object is to step into those few seconds between feeling the anxiety-eating trigger and the actual eating! As I said it takes practice and it takes patience. It’s a seemingly simple behavior modification technique. The actual action is simple: stopping the knee-jerk reaction to eat by switching it with another action; it’s ‘seemingly simple’ because changing behavior can be a difficult process. This is where the patience and practice come into action.

We have to remember to ask ourselves that question when we feel like eating because of our emotions and then simply skip the eating! Instead of eating all the potato chips and then holding my dog, I just pick up the dog! Or I start venting online or to my friends or whatever I can do to relieve the anxiety and emotion without eating.  The good thing about this technique is that is also works with those sugar-addiction cravings I mentioned at the beginning.  When we feel the urge to eat whatever it is we’re craving, we need to remind ourselves of how cruddy we’re going to feel after we’ve eaten it.  It can be we feel guilty or ashamed or physically terrible.  In my case, sugar or simple carbs like bread really cause pain in my hands. When I stop eating the sugar, I can feel the improvement within a couple of days. When I start craving something either because of boredom, anxiety or just wanting that not-so-healthy forbidden food, I ask myself how I’m going to feel after eating it. Remembering how bad my hands felt is an obvious deterrent!

It still takes a lot of patience and a whole lot of practice.  There are some times I really really want it and eat it anyway, and when I end up regretting it, I remind myself there’s a reason it’s on my not-to-be-eaten list, especially if my hands start hurting! The craving for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups is followed by “is it worth your hands aching for a week? Remember how smushed and stale the last ones were? Not to mention 400 calories!” Changing our behavior takes time and we have to be patient with ourselves.  Remembering to pause before grabbing the King’s Hawaiian takes practice and when we screw it up (because we will!), we have to be patient and forgive ourselves. Cravings are what kill most weight loss practices and that’s what this is: it’s a practice!  We won’t get it right the first time we try it but the more we do it, the easier it is to remember and the longer that pause becomes. The knee-jerk reaction to eat our boredom, anxiety and cravings becomes less of a reaction and more of a decision.  That’s what we are really looking for: the ability to make a decision instead of being out of control.

 

 

 

Going Off the Rails! Weight Loss & Staying On Track

This would seem like the usual no-brainer: if you don’t stay with your healthy routine, you’re going to gain weight or at the very least, stop losing weight! Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, you didn’t lose weight before when you were eating burgers & fries, bowls of pasta and drinking all those sodas, so why should you lose weight eating them now? Like I said, it’s a no-brainer!

However, a funny thing happens when you’ve been following a healthy routine for a while: you lose focus. You start thinking “I’ve got this!”  It’s true: once you’ve been successfully losing weight or maintaining the loss for a few months, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what works for you and what doesn’t. That’s when it happens: you start going off track.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) calls it ‘drifting.’  I like to think of it as going off the rails, because what usually happens feels a lot like a train wreck to me!

Going off the rails usually starts with drifting.  It stems from that lack of focus and not being as careful as most of us need to be.  Th problem compounds on itself and then before you know it, you’re somewhere you don’t want to be and have to start the difficult process of getting back on track! We all know it’s easier to just stay on track and don’t let ourselves drift, but for most of us, it’s a lot like shutting the barn door after the horse has gotten out! In other words, by the time we know what to look for or that we should start looking, it’s too late and we’re in the middle of a train wreck!  I’m starting to feel a lot like Prof. Mad Eye Moody, shouting “Constant vigilance!” at everyone I see, but hopefully I’m not that bad yet (yeah, there’s another empty barn!)

It begins with little things, such as having a latte instead of just coffee with cream, or sharing a dessert with a friend at lunch.  By themselves, none of these qualify as ‘bad behavior,’ but we usually don’t stop with these little things.  The little things compound on each other and instead of being an occasional occurrence, they become once a week, then multiple times a week until they somehow turn into a ‘daily treat.’  Once in a while, they aren’t ‘train wreckers,’ but one after another on a regular or daily basis, they knock your carefully crafted healthy routine off the rails.  We all know this happens.  Like I said, it’s a no-brainer! The question is: since we all know this happens, why do we end up doing it?

That goes back to the other idea I mentioned above: “I’ve got this!”  We start feeling in control of our eating choices, our workouts, our activity, how much or how often we’re eating– whatever our particular weakness is! We’ve been ‘in control’ for a while now so we start thinking we can loosen our grip on the reins a bit. I don’t want to make it sound like having one cookie with a friend is going to send you on a wild out of control cookie binge or that you can never go down the bakery aisle at your local supermarket without fear of gobbling all their snickerdoodles, but keeping count of how many cookies you had in the last couple of weeks isn’t a bad idea.  It’s one thing to make a conscious decision to have a cookie or share a dessert or even splurge on fabulous garlic bread if that’s your thing, but when those treats become more than occasional or even daily, then we’re back wondering just when we went off the rails and how do we find our way back on track. Even worse, we’re going to have to ‘fix’ the damage that train wreck caused!

I’m going to use a dirty word here: tracking!  Yeah, yeah, no one likes tracking! It’s a hassle; it’s annoying; it takes a long time! Blah blah blah! I’m going to respond with one of my favorite words: crybaby! You think it’s a pain in the butt to write down everything you eat? How about having to stick your finger multiple times a day to check your blood sugar? How about having to pick up your diabetes medication every month or worse, giving yourself your daily insulin injection? Think that’s a pain in the butt?  How about pain in your knees because you gained your weight back? Or having to go back to your old ‘fat clothes’ because all those new clothes you bought don’t fit right anymore? Remember what it felt like getting dressed and wondering if this is the day the button pops off your pants at the office? Loathe though I am to admit it (because I was one of those tracking crybabies too!), tracking really does work. When we write down everything we eat every day, it’s easy to look back and see that you had six cookies on the weekend when were out with friends and you’ve had three more cookies after dinner this week and then there were the two cookies you got at Starbucks on your way home, and ….. OMG! that’s almost a dozen cookies this week! Ack! No more cookies! No more cookies!

That’s basically what tracking is for! When you can look back at the end of the week, or even just the end of the day, you can see where you went a little wacky with the sweets or the popcorn or whatever, and remind yourself that those foods are treats and not part of your regular menu.  They are to be indulged in for a special occasion and ‘Tuesday after work” isn’t a special occasion!

How you track is also up to you.  The most basic definition is just what I said above: writing down everything you eat and drink during the day.  Some people like to be very specific and write down how much they ate, when they ate and how they feel mentally and physically after eating.  If you want to weigh it all and count calories, that’s up to you.  For some of us, weighing and measuring can be a big help when you’re starting out because it gives you an idea of portion size.  When you look at the label on a bag of nuts and it says one serving is 28 grams and has 200 calories with five servings in a bag, it gives you all the relevant information except what 28 grams actually looks like!  The same thing is especially true with sauces like salad dressing.  We squeeze a bunch all over our salad because “that looks right” but how many calories did we put all over our healthy 35 calorie salad? 250? 350? Most salad dressings have about 120 calories per two tablespoon serving and once you get a good idea of how what two tablespoons actually looks like, you’ll understand how people can gain weight eating only ‘healthy salads’! The same thing happens with the cheese they put on that ‘healthy salad’ or on their bunless burger!

You don’t have to weigh or measure everything you eat and drink unless you want to, but if you suddenly find your healthy routine has become a train wreck and you don’t know how you got there, tracking is a good place to start getting back on that track! It gives you a direction and it lets you know when you make a wrong turn.  Even if it’s just the basic ‘what you ate without portion sizes,’ it can still let you know maybe you had too many carbs in the last month or maybe too much fat or maybe you just ate too much! Of course, that also means you have to look at it once in a while! I know a lot of people who never look at their bank statement and then wonder how they ended up being overdrawn on their account: ummm, it’s another no-brainer! Statements and food journals only work when you look at them!

I personally use two food journals: one paper and one online.  I like the paper one because I’ll make other notes in it but I also log what I eat into My Fitness Pal, which is available online and as an app. It has the added benefit of telling you how many calories, carbs, fat and protein are in what you ate, lets you keep a calorie limit and when you close out your diary for the day, will give you an estimate of how much you’d weigh ‘if every day were like today.’ Granted the estimate isn’t very accurate, but it shows you your trend. If your goal weight is 180 and you’re over your calorie limit and ‘you’d weigh 274 in five weeks if every day were like today,’ that’s not a good thing unless you already weigh over 274! My Fitness Pal (MFP) has several other benefits that I like but again, how you choose to stay on track is up to you.  The only requirement is that it has to work! No one wants to end up seeing all their hard work undone and that’s what happens when we go off track.  Keeping a food journal is a simple technique that needs to do nothing more than list what you ate and drank in a day. The trick is using it every day and looking at it on a regular basis. If you find your clothes are getting tight or that your knees are starting to hurt again, which is the bigger hassle: gaining your weight back or writing down what you’re eating?

The paper food journal I use: https://www.amazon.com/DIETMINDER-Personal-Fitness-Journal-Exercise/dp/0963796836

The food scale I use: https://www.amazon.com/Ozeri-ZK14-S-Digital-Multifunction-Kitchen/dp/B004164SRA/ref=sr_1_4?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1532037990&sr=1-4&keywords=ozeri+food+scale

 

 

 

If You Can’t Hear Anything Nice, Maybe You’re Not Really Listening: Weight Loss & Criticism??

We’ve all been told at one time or another that if we can’t say anything nice, we shouldn’t say anything at all.  I think that’s good advice if all you have to say is something mean or negative. Most of us have also heard the expression “think before you speak,” but we rarely hear any good advice about listening. Maybe that’s because we’re not listening?

In all seriousness, we not only hear what we want to hear, what we hear is usually run through a filter of what we were expecting to hear.  In other words, if we are expecting negativity, that’s what we’re going to hear.  Although it sounds complicated, it really isn’t. Example: my mom has historically been my biggest critic.  All through my childhood, it always seemed like I wasn’t smart enough, ambitious enough and I definitely  wasn’t thin enough! She would be the one to point out that my clothes or makeup or hair weren’t very flattering or that I’d gained more weight.  There was usually very little that was complimentary from her unless it was that ‘I didn’t screw up as big as she thought I would!’ As a result, my knee-jerk reaction to anything she says is to ‘hit back’ since I am expecting to get ‘hit,’ so to speak. Secondly, I’m not really listening to what she’s saying because I’m already halfway to some mean-spirited retort!

The problems with this all-too-common scenario are obvious: forget about ‘listening with an open mind’! How about starting with ‘listening while not in Attack Mode’?  It would be easy to blame my mom for always putting me on high alert: “if you weren’t always so critical of everything I did, then I wouldn’t be like this!” Maybe that worked when I was a kid, but I haven’t been a kid for a really long time now.  That means it’s all on me! (Yikes! Talk about the world going crazy!) All joking aside, as easy as it would be to lay all this at my mom’s door and just walk away from any responsibility for my responses, that’s the problem right there: they are my responses!

If we are going to hold others responsible for their words and behavior, then we need to do the same for ourselves! That means instead of jumping all over someone for what they just said, maybe we should listen to what they have to say before we attack them. This idea of Listening means we first need to listen with an open mind and then think about what they said before we respond. Remember that “think before you speak” I mentioned earlier? This saying always reminds me of another line from The Simpsons: Lisa wisely telling Homer “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt,” to which Homer makes a typically foolish response.  Key point here: don’t be Homer!

Truthfully, my mom brings out the Homer in me. It’s partly because of a childhood full of criticism, disappointment and recrimination. After thousands of verbal slings and arrows, my automatic reflex is to return fire immediately after her opening volley, but that means I’m also automatically assuming that whatever she has to say is going to be another criticism, and that’s not always the case anymore. Sometimes she has a good idea or– gasp!— something nice to say about me, which means my mean or cold-hearted retort makes me small, petty or just plain stupid.  My automatic reflex may have been born out of a painful childhood, but now as an adult, I can choose either to fix that or let it continue.  That choice is not a childish defense mechanism: it is an actual choice I am making with a clear head. That means I am responsible for my responses and my behavior! Yikes! Yeah, that’s one of those Lisa & Homer moments! Who am I going to be today?

When it comes to our weight loss and exercise, most of us are in the same camp: all we seem to hear is criticism from our family and loved ones.  The ones who were always there to point out that Boston cream pie isn’t on your diet and that the sourdough garlic bread you had with lunch isn’t Paleo are the same ones who always make you feel like a failure with their criticism.  Your diet isn’t the right one; you aren’t exercising enough and obviously you must be doing something wrong because “you haven’t lost much weight in the last month, have you?” It’s easy to run all those statements through the filter of criticism and fire off a few return volleys back at them.  It’s easy to begin to feel like “everyone criticizes” and “no one has anything good to say about my weight loss.”  After that, it’s a short ride to feeling stressed and depressed and “I’m such a failure again!” We all know the danger that carries with it: emotional eating!

But before we open the bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and go to town, let’s try using our Listening Mode instead of our reflex Attack Mode. Not everything everyone says to you is criticism.  Sometimes it’s just an observation or sometimes it’s a question. Sometimes there is a compliment involved, but until you listen with an open mind, you might never hear anything but criticism! Sometimes just keeping an open mind when one of your critics makes a comment is much harder than it looks. It means thinking about what they just said and staying silent until you can think of an appropriate response while your emotions are screaming at you to attack. Example: you tell a family member you want to try a three day water fast and her response is “you think you can do that?”  This is one of those phrases that is open to interpretation.  If it were a text, you’d hope there’d be an emoji attached to give you an idea of how they mean it: either a Scream face; eye-roll; mind blown; or at least an OMG! It can mean “wow! that’s extreme! do you think you can handle it?” or it can mean “yikes! is that healthy?” or it can mean “yeah, right! you won’t last three hours!” Most of us who feel we’ve been criticized to death go right for that last one! We don’t even consider there are other interpretations: “Obviously, my mom thinks I have no self-control!”

That’s where the pause, listen, interpret and thinking before we speak keep us from putting our foot in our mouth and hurting someone’s feelings when they only meant well.  When I started eating Paleo, my mom kept pushing other diets at me and encouraging me to eat differently. It was easy for me to ignore her suggestions because what I was hearing was “you don’t know what you’re doing again!” when now I realize it could have easily been “are you sure that’s healthy?” It seriously took a while for that to sink in because I was hearing it through the “criticism filter” instead of listening with an open mind. It’s ironic. I try to keep an open mind about just about everything else in my life: food, nutrition, exercise, pets, books, movies, etc! But when it comes to my mom, I just automatically assume she’s got something negative and critical to say.  That narrow-mindedness is all my own fault, since it’s a choice I made.  And it’s not a good choice, either!

We started out on our journey to improve our health and our lives, and most of us were laser focused on ourselves, but that laser focus can also lock us into seeing only what we are expecting to see and hear. Changing for the better means thinking about old things in new ways, and sometimes that means realizing that the person you always thought of as a critic might actually want to help you.  We can’t make those realizations without keeping an open mind and really listening to what they have to say.  Even Homer has a good day now and then!

It Really is All About You! Weight Loss & Doing It Yourself- or Not

I think I do a lot of posts about being independent. Like just about everything important in life, it’s a double-edged sword. Being independent means you make your own decisions but it can also mean you have to do things without a whole lot of help or even support.  There’s a price to be paid for anything of value and admittedly, there are a lot of days I wish I had more help and maybe not so much independence!

Unfortunately, we really can’t have it both ways. You can only rely on others for a limited amount of things without sacrificing a big chunk of your independence.  For example, if you are going to rely on someone else to do the majority of the grocery shopping, then you can’t complain too much when they come home with something you don’t want when the store was out of the product you chose. For me, the example that springs to mind is bagged salad greens.  I hate iceberg lettuce, and the popular mixes that come with shredded cabbages, carrot shavings and tons of iceberg are NOT on my list! The same goes for the Spring mix blend full of baby lettuces and radicchio.  My list of salad greens NOT welcome in my house includes: iceberg, radicchio, arugula and if I can avoid carrot shavings, bonus for me! Cabbage of any color is great; so are spinach, butter lettuces, endive, romaine or practically any other lettuce!

So if someone else is doing my grocery shopping and comes home with the wrong blend of salad for me, it’s my loss.  I can choose to eat the salad or not, but yelling at them for getting me the wrong kind of lettuce would be unfair. (It’s not like I have an allergy to radicchio or arugula!) If I don’t like the way they do the shopping, I can do it myself! But by relying on someone else to do something like this for you, you are tacitly agreeing not to scold them too harshly if they get the wrong items. When you rely on someone else to help you out or take over a regular chore that you normally do, you are giving up some of that independence in exchange for convenience.  It’s the price of asking for help, and there is nothing wrong with asking for help. We all need help occasionally and usually I get scolded by family and friends for making things harder on myself than they need to be because, frankly, it usually doesn’t occur to me to ask for help!

The most recent example is when my car died on the freeway, and after spending the morning getting it towed, I had to arrange for a rental while it was at the shop, and circumstances conspired to make that way more difficult than normal. So since my options were limited, I called a cab, which took over an hour to arrive and the driver, despite having a Garmin, didn’t know how to get to the rental car place. (What can I say? I was having a day!) When I was talking to my friends and my family later on about the whole “car situation,” most of them who either work from home or are retired asked me the same question: “Why didn’t you call me? I could’ve given you a ride!”  My well-thought out and eloquent response? “Duhhhhhh…..”

It had honestly not occurred to me that at least three of my friends in the area would have been able to run me down to get a rental in much less than time than waiting on a cab or an unreliable Uber/Lyft driver. I’m not being stubborn about ‘being self-reliant.’  I think it’s because I am so used to handling things on my own that the idea of calling a friend doesn’t even show up on my list of options.  While not being completely reliant on others has its benefits, this Doing It Myself mentality that I have really just limits my options and makes some things much harder than they need to be, as in the “car situation.”  Yes, it’s great that I can figure stuff out on my own and not have to call family constantly to help me out, but at the same time, I am isolating myself, not to mention stressing myself.  I am sacrificing ease and convenience for independence.  This situation isn’t any better than sacrificing independence for ease and convenience!

Most of us are far more familiar with those who are always completely dependent on others, either out of laziness or learned helplessness.  We learn to avoid these people pretty fast: they are the ones who always need you to run by their pharmacy/ other errands because they’re feeling too sick or are in too much pain or just can’t do it on their own; they are the ones who can’t find the address or phone number for anyone or anything because “the website/ google is confusing”; or they can’t change the batteries in the tv remote.  We all know people like this: they are utterly helpless and it’s a learned helplessness.  They’ve learned that they don’t need to do it on their own because if they are pathetic enough, someone will do it for them!  Why do they need to worry about it?

Obviously, there are many issues that come with this kind of learned helplessness/ laziness, including and especially abdicating responsibility.  If you are completely dependent on someone else to do your grocery shopping, then it’s not your fault if you only have junk food in the house! You didn’t buy it- they did! It makes it easy for nothing to be your fault or your responsibility since you are completely dependent on other people to ‘help you out.’ This is the opposite problem that I have (Doing It Myself mentality), but it’s still easy to fall victim to the same problem of abdicating responsibility. In my case, it’s because “I have too much to do and no one to help me!”

It really doesn’t matter if you are totally on your own or if you are totally dependent on others: sooner or later, you have to be the one to take action! It really is all about you and the decisions you make regarding your health and your lifestyle. We all hear comments about how we don’t have time to exercise because we are so busy or we can’t eat healthy because the family doesn’t like healthy food or that we get stuck eating junk food during the day because that’s what’s available at work. We make it easy to escape our responsibilities regarding our choices, either by blaming being busy or someone else’s failings.  If we don’t want to go to the gym because we don’t feel like it, then we need to own that decision. If it turns out that we were at the gym only three times (or less) in the last month, whose choice was it not to go? Do we get ‘workout credits’ with our bodies if we were really too busy or the trainer canceled?  Of course not! Busy, no trainer or just blowing it off, the result is the same: we didn’t exercise!

I’ve noticed that the things that are really important to people tend to be the things that don’t get left out of the schedule. Our favorite junk food keeps showing up at our house.  We manage to watch our favorite shows even though we are too busy to go to the gym or do the grocery shopping.  We manage to make our mani/ pedi appointments even if we cancel with our trainers.  It’s called priorities, and since those things are important to us, we make time for them!  The healthy eating, the workouts, going to bed on time, drinking more water instead of soda: all those fall to the wayside because they are not our priorities.  We can tell when they are important to us, because we will reschedule our workout, go to the grocery store instead of the nail salon or blow off a Friday night out to get some sleep! Our healthy is mostly the sum of our choices and if our health is pretty cruddy, whose choice was that?

Ultimately, those people who are either completely dependent on others or people like me who are way too busy doing it all myself have a few decisions to make.  We may have to learn to be more independent or to ask for help or even– gasp!— give up some other things on our schedules.  Yes, there will be times when we really are so busy it feels like we’re chasing our own tails, and yes, there will be times when the Uber driver gets lost and you miss your appointment.  There will be times when you show up at the luncheon and it’s full of the foods you’re trying to avoid.  Some things are just beyond our control no matter what we are prioritizing and we just have to accept that it really isn’t our fault. But we also need to take responsibility for the things we can control and the decisions we choose to make. Sometimes that means we have to ask for help and sometimes we have to do it ourselves since this is our life and our health and our responsibility.

“Don’t Text Your Ex!”: Weight Loss & Avoiding the Bad Habits That Lead to Gaining!

Most of us are really really familiar with “drunk dialing,” hopefully not from personal experience! This is when you’ve had a few drinks and your alcohol-infused brain thinks it’s a good idea to contact that guy/ girl who dumped you or whom you dumped months or years ago.  We all know how that ends: BADLY!  How many ways can we say humiliated?! Ugh! That’s one of the duties of a ‘wingman’ these days: make sure there is no drunk-dialing, no matter how wasted you get!

What we don’t realize is that we do the same thing with food.  Monday’s episode of the Primal Potential podcast (7/9/2018 # 498 Baby Steps to Massive Change) brought home this idea in a way I hadn’t thought of before.  I was familiar with the idea that when we’re tired, hungry, grumpy, etc., we don’t make good decisions no matter what it’s about, and we’ve all heard the cautionary tales about grocery shopping when we’re hungry, but Elizabeth Benton’s analogy puts it in a succinct and easy-to-remember phrase: “don’t text your ex!”  Eating when we’re tired or because we’re bored or lonely is the food equivalent of drunk dialing or texting your ex when you’re wasted: nothing good comes from that!  Are you going to have a serious conversation with him/ her about why you two broke up or why he/she/you cheated?  Is anything going to be resolved in a calm and adult manner, or are you going to leave a slurred/ typo-filled unintelligible message that will end up being the butt of future jokes and humiliation?  I’m guessing the embarrassing answer is the correct one in 99.99% of the situations!

When we’re tired or bored or looking for something to fill time, we’re doing the same thing: we’re falling back into behavior we know isn’t good for us!  There’s a reason we ‘broke up’ with Cheez-its or Doritos or the leftovers from last night! Unless our body is telling us that it needs fuel, there is no reason to go prowling through the kitchen.  We know better, just like when we’re sober, we know that contacting our ex is a really bad idea, but when our judgment is impaired by alcohol (or boredom or loneliness), we start considering things our rational brain would never entertain.

We’ve all been in that situation: dinner is over and we aren’t really hungry but we’re a little bored.  Maybe we’re flipping through the channels or scrolling through the phone and we want something to entertain us, so we wander into the kitchen and without really thinking about it, there we are looking in the fridge or the pantry: “anything good?”  We know we aren’t hungry, because if we were, we’d be considering things like scrambled eggs, making a salad or even sauteing some Brussels sprouts.  Even if we have those things in the fridge, we aren’t looking at them, because what we’re hungry for has nothing to do with food! We’re looking to fill a void: either boredom, loneliness, comfort, or some other kind of distraction.  Maybe we’re stressed because our hours at work have been cut or we’ve had a fight with someone we care about and we’re looking for something to distract us from the stress or just make us feel better emotionally.  The need we are trying to fill has nothing to do with hunger, but eating is how we have traditionally filled that void so that’s the habit we find ourselves going back to.

It really is like texting your ex. Think about the last time you chose to end a relationship: there was a reason.  Maybe she was always on Instagram or Facebook or texting when you were together, or maybe he only responded to your calls and texts when he felt like it.  Maybe he/ she was just emotionally distant or-  worse- too needy!  Whatever the reason, there was a reason you chose to end the relationship! But when you’re drunk or otherwise impaired, your rational judgment is literally Out of Order. Alcohol (and other intoxicants) lower your inhibitions and things that normally seem really really stupid suddenly seem like a great idea! Those bad ideas haven’t suddenly become great ideas: the only thing that’s changed is your perception of them!

The same thing happens with food.  How many times have you told someone “I don’t buy Doritos (or whatever) because once I start eating them, I finish the whole bag!” or “I only buy single cookies at the bakery because if I bought a box of them, I’d eat them all at once!” (Raising my hand here!) This is why we’ve heard so many cautionary tales about grocery shopping when we’re hungry: our judgment is out of whack as we cruise through the chip/ cookie/ cracker aisle and this is how we end up with the Doritos/ Oreos/ Cheez-its in our pantries at home.  When we’re thinking clearly, we don’t put them in our basket because we know what will happen when we get bored, feel lonely or ‘want something salty/ crunchy/ sweet.  Without thinking about it, we will wander into the kitchen and before we realize what’s happening, we’re bingeing Season 2 of Goliath and cramming down Oreos! We weren’t hungry but we were feeling really anxious about the project you’re working on and all the delays so you wanted something to distract you (Goliath) but you also went looking for something to comfort and reassure you (Oreos). The obvious- and rational-  solution is not bringing them into the house so we take the precaution of not shopping when hungry.

But eating to fill a void/ mindless eating can still happen even if it’s something ‘healthy.’ It doesn’t have to be junk food to the equivalent of texting your ex: if you aren’t hungry, you just sent that text! There are no Cheez-its, Doritos, Oreos or other junk food in my house, but I have been known to devour Greek yogurt, peaches, macadamia nuts, beef jerky, etc.  Things that I would normally consider ‘healthy’ (and things I had planned to take for lunch!) suddenly become a ‘text to my ex’ when I get stressed or feel anxious or whatever other feeling or void I am trying to expunge! I fall back into that bad habit and go back to the Mindless Eating Ex because I stop paying attention! My normal rational brain is Out of Order either because of the emotions I’m dealing with or because I just decided to check out mentally and not deal with whatever.  I know there is no legitimate reason I need to eat the entire bag of beef jerky or four containers of Greek yogurt, but ‘I’m not feeling well’ (that will not make me feel better!), or ‘I’m worried about someone’ (overeating won’t help them or me!)  I turn off the rational brain to avoid dealing with reality.  This is not unlike why we get drunk: we want to feel good or forget to feel bad. Food accomplishes the same thing for us: while we’re eating we’re enjoying the food or at least are distracted enough to forget what we’re trying to forget.

But there’s a reason we don’t normally eat a whole bag of beef jerky or Doritos or finish off all the Greek  yogurt in the fridge. When we’re done, we have that same awful feeling we do when we look at our phones the next day and find the text or the phone call to our ex: “Please tell me I didn’t hit Send on this text to that jerk/ witch!” Oh, yes you did! Looking at the empty containers, bags and wrappers, we suddenly feel like the stupidest person on the planet: “What the hell was I thinking?!” You weren’t thinking! That’s the problem! Your brain was in the Off position, either due to the emotion/ situation (or in the case of the drunken text, alcohol.) Overeating, even if it’s not junk food, is never a reasonable rational thing to do.

When it comes to drunk dialing or drunken texts to our ex, this is why we bring a wingman with us to parties and clubs: the good ones won’t let you hit Send.  But when it comes to prowling through the kitchen, LG and Samsung haven’t yet developed the fridge that will automatically ask you “are you really hungry?” when you open it up after 8:00 p.m.  We have to learn to do it for ourselves.  We have to find a way to ‘sober up’ enough to ask ourselves why we are eating when we’re not hungry.  It can be something as simple as not eating in front of the tv, or not eating after dinner.  It can be something like only eating on plate or a bowl or at the kitchen table.  When you are pouring out bowl after bowl of Doritos, believe me, you will ‘sober up’ enough to realize “Yikes! This is bowl #3!”  In my case, I keep an old photo of myself on the fridge door: there I am in all my 440 lb ‘glory’! The feeling’s not quite the same as finding the text to my ex on phone, but it’s close enough for me!

 

 

 

Minus the Negatives: Weight Loss & Positive Reinforcement

Most of us who are trying to lose weight tend to focus on the negatives and what we’re doing wrong.  I believe it comes from too much outside influence.  We all have that family member or ‘friend’ who is only too eager to point out where and how you messed up again.  So naturally, that’s what we look for since our errors have been pointed out repeatedly (and gleefully) by everyone in our lives to whom we turn for guidance.

At the risk of doing it again, that’s wrong!  Seriously, though, while it can be helpful, focusing only on the negatives and the errors is negative reinforcement.  Some of you may remember that I have dogs (I also have a pet blog where I blab about them endlessly!) But I’ve learned a lot from having dogs in my life since forever and one of the most important things I’ve learned is the value of positive reinforcement.

When I started college (back in the ’80’s– aack!), one of my first classes was Intro to Psychology where the professor explained the difference between negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement, and since I had recently gotten my first Yorkie, I decided I would use positive reinforcement to teach him and he learned so fast that I’ve used it with all my dogs.  It’s the only way I teach my pets what I want them to do and not do.  What’s more important is that it’s fostered a sense of trust among us and a natural inclination to listen to each other.

We all know what negative reinforcement is even if we don’t know what it’s called.  It’s where your dog pees on the rug and you shout and spank him and rub his nose in it so he “knows not to do it again!”  I’m pretty sure that’s never worked for anyone I know who has dogs.  It teaches them to hide from you and to be afraid of you.  With positive reinforcement, if I find that one of them peed on the rug, I point at it, tell them “no” in a firm voice and then clean it up.  No shouting or spanking or nose-rubbing.  When we go outside and they do their business where they’re supposed to, I make a big deal about how they’re the best doggies in the whole world ( because they are!) and it encourages them to do it again.  They make the connections: “outside= yay! great doggies! and inside = blah.” Why pee inside and get blah when I can pee on the lawn and be the best puppy in the whole world?  I gotta pee anyway so why not get praised for it?

Some people think that adding negative reinforcement to that increases the connection: “inside = bad spanking but outside = good doggie!”  The problem is that whole ‘teaching them to be afraid of you’ plus dogs (and people) develop a tolerance to scolding and negative treatment.  We learn to deal with it.  Anyone with teenagers know this: no matter how much you yell at your kids for not taking out the trash, they just block it out.  They stop listening, and so do the dogs.

Praise however is a different matter.  When I tell my dogs how great they are, they are always paying attention to that.  They love getting petted and get excited when I tell them how good they are, so they are getting the point: “I did something good and I want to repeat it as often as I can so I can get more hugs and pats and toys.” You would think they would get bored with it, but over the years of using positive reinforcement with my dogs, I have found they respond better to it, learn faster once they make the connections and they seem to pay better attention to me when I talk to them.  They listen and respond to me and I think I pay more attention to what they tell me too.

When it comes to eating better and weight loss, we tend to use the same tools we do for the dogs peeing on the rug: we shout at ourselves, belittle ourselves and do the emotional equivalent to rubbing our nose in the spot.  We had dessert when we went out last night: “I’m sabotaging myself! Why do I keep making the same bad choices? I can’t say no to temptation! I’m never going to lose this weight! What’s wrong with me?” We look at ourselves in the mirror and point out our muffin top, our chubby thighs, our great big butt, and that bra spillover that just makes our arms and chest look awful.  We’re trying to reinforce to ourselves how much weight we need to lose so stop with the desserts, stupid!

Does it really work for anyone? Or does it just make us feel like crappy failures because we ate dessert when we obviously look like an escapee from a Fat Farm? The same thing happens to us that happens when we go bonkers at the dog because he piddled on the rug: we ‘hide’ until we eventually stop listening to it.  When someone asks how we’re doing on our weight loss, we gloss over or omit our recent transgressions and tell them we’re doing “fine” or “okay.”  When someone points out that “maybe you’d do better if you didn’t have dessert or bread or cookies or frappuccinos,” our emotions are all over the place (anger; embarrassment; shame; frustration; hurt) or we’ve been chastised slash reprimanded so often that we don’t hear it anymore, a la teenagers: “yeah yeah yeah, I screwed up again! Whatever!” It doesn’t matter if we are the ones doing it to ourselves or if it’s that alleged friend or even someone who truly cares about us: after awhile, getting our nose rubbed in our screw-ups stops being effective.

What’s worse is that we stop trying!  It’s not that we want to give up; it’s that the constant accrual of screw-ups keeps growing and in the face of the overwhelming ‘failures,’ we simply feel defeated. “I’ve blown my diet four times this week and it’s only Wednesday- like one more screw up is going to matter now!”  This kind of thinking really doesn’t lend itself to success, does it?  Even if we are motivated to ‘win today!’, once that negative thinking creeps in, there goes our motivation! We all know that it’s hard staying motivated because it requires constant stoking like a camp fire: if we aren’t adding fuel to the motivational fire, it goes out, and remembering to keep it hot is work.  We all need motivation from time to time but staying motivated when you and others are always pointing out your failures is even harder, and we have all become experts at de-motivating ourselves that way.

This where positive reinforcement makes everything so much easier: instead of rubbing your nose in your mistake (and it’s only a mistake- not a failure!), how about you praise yourself every time you do something right?: “I had salad today instead of a burger! Yay, me!”; “I made my workout even though I didn’t want to go! Whoo hoo!”; “I said no to Barbara’s cookies at the office! Killing it here!”  It might feel a little weird or downright silly at first if you aren’t used to it, but it starts a trend. Instead of cataloguing what you’ve done wrong, you are keeping tabs on your good decisions and– most importantly– you are making yourself feel good about that list! This has the opposite effect of that negative list: if I’ve done so great on all of these situations, I can easily do it on this one! It builds confidence instead of tearing it down.  When someone asks “how are you doing on your diet?” you can give specific examples of how well you are doing: “I’m eating tons of healthy veggies and haven’t had a cookie in three weeks!” It makes it easier to say no to temptation because, heck, you’ve been saying no for over a month! Even if there is a mistake, not pointing out your muffin top and rubbing your nose in the one mistake lets you get over it and move on to the next success: “I can say no next time since I’m in the habit of saying no.” And should you make a serious decision to have dessert to celebrate a special occasion, it’s easier to remind yourself “I didn’t give in to temptation because I chose to have the cake.”

Positive reinforcement gives you another reason to make the right choice: not only are you doing something healthy for your body and your weight loss, your celebrating your wins gives you a reason to feel good about yourself– period!  Remember my dogs? Praising them for listening when I tell them no or for sitting still in the car encourages them to do it over and over again.  They get to go more places because they behave themselves plus they get the big bonus of being the best doggies in the world!  When you make the right choices for your health and weight loss, not only do you feel and look better physically, but your confidence gets a big bonus as well: “Score! I killed it today on my diet! Yay, me!” The bonuses add up and are more powerful motivators than rubbing your nose in the screw-ups: who wants constant reminders of our mistakes when we can focus on our growing list of wins? If winning yesterday makes you feel awesome, how hard is it to stay motivated to win again today? Not hard! “I’m on a roll!” vs. “How can I not screw up today?”

Most of us aren’t used to positive reinforcement.  All those Negative Nancys and Neds like to poo-poo it as “feel-good fluff.” They give you the unimpressed eye-roll when you congratulate yourself on having the veggies instead of the fries: “like those veggies make a real difference!”  However these are the same people who will nag you forever about that candy bar you had on the way home, as if that candy bar is going to add thirty pounds on you! (Knowing you feel good about your choices and your progress also allows you to poo-poo their negative comments.)  When you feel good about yourself, it’s easier to make good choices and stay motivated, because you are literally your own cheering section.  Instead of working to overcome the obstacles you are creating for yourself, you are giving yourself a leg up on the ladder to success. Whoo hoo! Yay, you!

 

Everything’s Outta Control! Weight Loss, Circumstances & Others’ Responses

We’ve all been there: you show up at a luncheon and everything is high carb, full of fat, gluten-filled or otherwise designed to ruin your diet.  It’ s like they did it on purpose! At least, that’s how it feels to you as you look over the offerings on the table.  Your brain is spinning: “there’s nothing I can eat! Even the ‘salad’ is pasta!” It feels like your choices are: 1) blow your diet; or 2) eat nothing. For most of us, we end up choosing the smallest amount of the least diet-wrecking choice and nibbling on it, or jumping in with both feet and figure “today’s blown!”  Even though what we end up eating is entirely our choice, it sure feels like whoever set up the luncheon had no consideration about your eating style.

In most cases, even for something work related, organizers/ caterers check with the employers regarding dietary preferences.  It’s not uncommon to have employees who are vegan/ vegetarian, low carb, gluten-sensitive, or have other dietary requirements and if someone is required to show up for their job, it’s normal for the organizer to make as many accommodations as they can.  Even for social functions, like a reception or a party, there are usually as many choices as possible for people who don’t eat meat, don’t eat dairy, don’t eat wheat/ gluten, are sugar-free or eat low carb. Food service is quickly becoming a minefield with all the eating styles and food allergies, so while many make the accommodations that they can, something will usually get missed!

While it’s easy to put bad lunch choices down to poor planning by the job’s caterer, it’s different when the person planning the menu is aware of your diet.  Obviously, you don’t expect everything on the menu to meet your dietary requirements.  If you’re low carb, you can’t expect there to be no bread, chips or potatoes if you show up to a friend’s BBQ, although you would expect there to be some low carb/ no carb foods available, especially if your friend is well aware of your eating style.  Are they trying to sabotage you?  Are they jealous of your weight loss or are they trying to tell you– albeit passive-aggressively– that they think your new diet is stupid? Or maybe they just don’t care? Whether they were just clueless or simply forgot, it’s easy to blame a day of terrible food choices on someone else, but the truth of the matter is that you ultimately made the decision so if you want to know who’s really at fault, that would be the person in the mirror!

It feels like it goes against the grain: why should you be punished for their screw up? You are trying to lose weight and be healthier and they just sabotaged your eating plan! They should be more supportive of you, right? Yes, I believe family and friends should support your healthy lifestyle, but in reality, it’s not their job to plan for your diet. It would be great if their Memorial Day BBQ didn’t have huge bowls of chips and trays of Rice Krispy treats to tempt you, but they did. Of course, you can’t expect everyone to eat the way you do and neither do your hosts, so there’s those chips, marshmallow treats, and plenty of other yummy crunchy bites for everyone else to eat. You don’t have to eat them.

It’s your choice whether you eat the foods that aren’t good for you.  No one likes to hear that.  It’s easier to blame someone else for tempting you or pushing the Forbidden Foods at you, but you can always say no. It’s all a matter of priorities.  One of the examples Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) uses is this: “if someone told you your children would be harmed if you ate another french fry, would you even be tempted?” Of course not! While her example is a little bit extreme (just a wee bit!), it puts your choices into perspective, because it really is your choice! Think about all those times you’ve walked through the grocery stores and there’s stacks of donuts or cookies or racks of potato chips and you walked by without putting them into your basket.  You made a choice not to buy those items.

I know: it’s different when you’re at a BBQ or a luncheon and they’re sitting out where you can see them and smell them and it’s so easy to tell yourself “it’s just one Rice Krispy treat…” Maybe it is just one for you, but most of the time, it isn’t.  Even if it’s just the one at the BBQ, you remember how yummy it was and then before you know it, you’ve bought one at a Starbucks or a Circle K or even a box at the store.  It starts the downward slide into a full out carb binge!  Dang-it!! It’s because of that BBQ!  If they hadn’t had those dang treats out, I’d have never eaten the first one!

That’s what we tell ourselves and I would seriously like to believe it.  If my friends hadn’t had that onion dip at their BBQ, I wouldn’t have eaten those potato chips! If they hadn’t had bowls of yogurt covered pretzels, I wouldn’t have eaten those either! It makes me feel better to blame someone else, but I know it’s not the truth. They had the carb-o-licious stuff that’s not good for me but they also had trays of meats, cheeses and veggies which I could have eaten, and I did have some of those….in addition to all the stuff I should have kept out of my mouth!  My friends are supportive of me (see the veggies, meats and cheeses) but they also don’t eat like I do. It’s not their job to be the Paleo Police and make sure I don’t go off-track, and they respect me enough to let me make my own choices.

Even if we are good about keeping the carbs and sugar (or whatever you’re trying to avoid) out of your home, sooner or later, you have to venture out into the world.  You’re going to be standing at the check out and there’s those candy bars you adore, or you’ll be at lunch with friends who ordered fries and they don’t eat them all.  We are all faced with temptation eventually and we have to be ready to say no or to accept the risks of saying yes.  It’s all up to us in the end. Even if we are really good and our friends and family are really good, we can’t avoid all temptation! It’s part of reality!

Of course, some of us have people in our lives who are jerks.  Most of us are familiar with that co-worker who’s always laughing at people who try to eat healthy.  They’re the ones eating the Krispy Kremes in your face or waving the brownies at everyone else.  It would be great if everyone could be supportive or at least polite.  Again, not reality! But the truth is that they’re being a jerk has nothing to do with what you eat. At the end of the day, am I going to feel better eating what’s good for me or will I feel better giving in to temptation and eating foods that not only make me feel like a guilty failure? Or make me feel awful physically?

I can’t control who brings donuts to the meetings or the chips to the BBQ any more than they can control my decision not to eat any of them. I can only control what I eat and how I want to feel. Sometimes it feels like a cop out to blame myself when I give in to the temptation, especially when everyone at the luncheon or the meeting knows I’m trying to eat better. They didn’t have to bring bagels or danishes or croissants, and I tell myself that I didn’t have to eat them.  Shifting the blame onto others for what I ate doesn’t make them any more responsible for my eating. All it does is make me feel powerless in the face of their temptations and that is definitely a feeling I want to avoid.