You Are Stronger Than You Know: Weight Loss & Testing Your Mettle

This is something I have been repeating to myself for the last few weeks. It happens to all of us from time to time: we feel overwhelmed. Sometimes we’re fighting a bug or getting over it; sometimes it’s overwork or just stress or even just feeling really burned out.  It really doesn’t matter as much as the fact that we just really want to take a break– from everything!

You know the feeling: the alarm goes off and as we turn it off, the thought of calling in sick runs through our head.  You are on your way home from work, there’s nothing prepared for dinner and you feel too tired to cook, so ‘we can do takeout for one night, can’t we?’ Every little thing feels like a major production and the demands on your time and energy are really beginning to wear on you.

Before you give in and speed dial the Chinese Palace, take a deep breath and repeat after me: “you are stronger than you know!” Normally, I am not someone who subscribes to “feel good” mantras.  I am not discounting mantras as ‘hocus pocus,’ but like affirmations, they are highly personal.  Mantras and affirmations work for a lot of people, but for me, not so much. Standing in front of a mirror and telling myself “I am worth my best effort every day!” makes me want to roll my eyes.  I have heard others remark “if you don’t believe affirmations/ mantras work, tell your kids they are failures every morning and see the effect that has on them.” I firmly believe mantras and affirmations work when we believe them and, while I truly believe I am worth my best efforts every day, I also know that some days, we have to put others ahead of us. In short, Real Life catches up to us.  We have to get a project done, which means we work late, which means that healthy dinner we had planned isn’t looking good to us as we drive home, exhausted and already running late. “Hello, Chinese Palace?”

“You are stronger than you know.”  I’ve been repeating this particular mantra to myself a lot lately simply because I’ve been so busy! There’s been more going on at work, there’s been more going on socially, and I’ve got tendonitis in my right hand which is healing very slowly. On top of all this, I’m house/ dog sitting for my sister’s family which means I’ve got 8 dogs on my hands and as I was packing the car the morning of my departure, I tripped over the luggage and landed in the flower bed! A few bruises, some muscle strains and landed on the right hand– lovely! I really felt like giving up! But, I packed the car, loaded my own dogs (2 of the 8) and headed off to my sister’s. There are people and dogs depending on me!

Given everything that’s gone on in the last few weeks, it would be easy to give up: I need a break! And the truth is that I really do need a break, but not from taking care of myself! In fact, taking a break and getting some rest would qualify as ‘taking care of myself,’ since it would allow me to rest, catch up on some sleep and de-stress.  We all know what happens when we allow ourselves to become overworked, underslept and over-stressed: reference that sore throat mentioned above! We tend to get sick and worse, we tend to be chronically tired. You might think those should be reversed and that being sick is worse, but there’s a lot that stems from chronic exhaustion.  It takes us longer to recover from illness and injury (reference the tendonitis in my hand), we tend to make mistakes due to poor concentration and we tend to make poor decisions as well.  In short, when you are chronically tired, run down and over-stressed, your sleep quality goes down due to the stress, you tend to get more stressed more easily, you are likely to forget things or make errors, which can lead to more stress or injury and when you are faced with a choice like takeout or something healthier, you are more likely to choose the takeout since it’s one less thing for you to do!

Ideally, you should always be the first priority on your list since how can you take care of the others in your life is you are exhausted and burnt out?  As I said, “ideally!” We all know that’s not what happens as much as it should. But giving up and giving in to junk food isn’t going to make you less tired or less burnt out or more rested. More often than not, it’s going to make you feel worse than you did before. If it’s full of sugar or carbs, your blood sugar will likely spike then plummet. If it doesn’t have a lot of nutrition, it will probably add to your feeling run down and if it’s more junk than nutrition, you will probably feel hungry again a couple of hours later.

At the risk of sounding like an old lady, too many of us use the very good practice of “taking care of oneself” as an excuse to give up.  In short, we are becoming a culture of crybabies. It isn’t quite “he was mean to me so I’m not going to work/ school/ gym today” but sometimes it feels like it’s headed that way.  It’s one thing to take care of yourself, as in stand up for yourself when a coworker/ supervisor is mean, rude or otherwise inappropriate, or to stay home a day or two to fight off a cold or flu.  Staying home and getting some rest not only helps you recover faster, it keeps you from giving the bug to the rest of office! (Thank you for NOT sharing!) You know the people I’m talking about: they are the ones in the office who look for a reason not to come to work or to pass off the difficult assignments to you. Their lives are full of drama and stress and they need sympathy and attention because “it’s all too much to handle!”

Life has a way of wearing us down if we let it but we don’t have to let it get that bad.  More importantly, we don’t need to give up every time we get stub our toe! We really are stronger than we know but most of us throw in the towel before we even begin to test our mettle.  We’ve all heard stories of ordinary people who have survived some really hard situations and overcome tremendous obstacles: what we don’t realize is that the same kind of resilience and mental toughness is in all of us.  We just haven’t had to go there, so most of us think “I’d never survive something like that!” When the time comes, however, we surprise ourselves by finding the strength we thought we didn’t have.

Obviously, surviving a few tough weeks at work or at home doesn’t really qualify as a “life or death survival situation,” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t tough.  When we give up on taking care of our health because things aren’t going as smoothly as we’d like, it becomes a habit and like all bad habits, the more we practice them, the better we get! We never put ourselves to the test because when things start to look difficult, we start looking for shortcuts and escape routes to avoid whatever difficulties might be coming our way.

We need to get in the practice of toughing it when it’s appropriate and taking time to rest when we really need it.  FYI: “rest” doesn’t mean “takeout” or “ice cream”– it means getting some sleep, eating something nutritious and maybe getting a little sunlight.  It can mean walking the dogs down to the park and rolling around on the lawn with them. Taking care of yourself is the most restful thing you can for yourself and it’s pretty dang healthy too!

 

 

Know Where You’re Going: Weight Loss & Getting There

Obviously with weight loss, most of us are eagerly anticipating the day we reach our goals.  We just have to get there first! I can hear you groaning out there, because I just groaned myself.  Ugh! How long is this going to take? It would be easier if we didn’t have so many problems and setbacks, but they are a sad fact of life.

It’s called a Weight Loss Journey for a reason: we need to get ourselves from Here to There. For anyone who’s never had to go this route, it looks straightforward, but when you’ve started down this road a few times, you know it’s never as easy as it looks! It’s a lot like entering the Dark Forest at the edge of Hogwarts: who knows what’s in there just waiting to get you? It could be cookies or holiday treats or birthday cake or something else that’s deliciously fattening and unhealthy!

I am the first to admit that whenever I get in the car to head somewhere I’ve never been before, I am filled with anxiety and trepidation. Thankfully, I learned from my dad: when you don’t know where you are going, get a map!  While it’s not always the answer, at least you have some idea of the landscape: “if I can get to X, then I’ll know where I am and how to get where I’m going!”

I like to use driving analogies mainly because I drive a lot during the week.  One of the things that annoys me a lot are people who suddenly realize that this street is their turn and they are in the wrong lane: “I need to make a right turn but I’m in the middle lane!” Their options are: 1) continue straight, change lanes, turn around and come back to the street they need; or 2) try to crowd over/ cut in and make that turn. So what do they do? You’d be surprised how many try to wedge over sideways to make that turn, cutting off others and leaving their tail end blocking the middle lane, so now they’re in both lanes and no one can get by until they move! They do the same thing when they’re on the freeway and realize halfway up the exit ramp that it’s the wrong exit and cut across back into traffic! For someone who gets nervous driving to unknown places, these can seem like ‘logical’ solutions to the errors, but in reality, it’s unsafe and dangerous.  It may seem okay to crowd in to keep from missing your turn when you’re afraid of getting lost, but seriously, I’ve missed my turn several times (and also taken the wrong exit in the dark on a strange highway in the middle of the night.)  You really can drive up to the next street and turn around to make a left turn to take that street and when you get off the highway, you can get back on to make it to the correct exit!

You can do the same with weight loss! It only feels like it’s time to panic or freak out, but really it isn’t. How many times do we feel like giving up or panicking when we realize our weight loss plan isn’t going the way we think it should be going? We wanted to have a healthy sensible lunch and ended up at the sandwich place– somehow!– and now we’ve eaten a foot-long sub and some potato salad. “That isn’t what was supposed to happen! Now what?” Do we do the equivalent of turning around to go home and start again tomorrow? Or do we make the radical lane change and skip dinner? Or do we keep on going making appropriate changes to our route?

Weight loss is not that different.  We are heading somewhere that we really don’t know and we don’t know the pitfalls we may encounter on the way, so at least we should have some idea of how we are going to get there. The most important part of this journey, apart from getting there, is not giving up!

If we did miss our turn or get lost driving somewhere, we don’t go all the way home to start again, nor do we just start driving aimlessly trying to find where we need to go.  We pull over somewhere safe and take stock of our location: this is where I am and this is where I want to go, so how do I get from here to there safely? Just because it’s a weight loss journey instead of a car trip doesn’t mean we have to do something drastic or unsafe to reach our destination.  When we realize we made a wrong turn or went off our route, we need to calm down enough to make a sensible decision.  There are a lot of people who will skip a meal after overeating or will fast the day after bingeing.  Whether those are safe or sensible options depends on you.  If you had a huge lunch and later that evening still aren’t hungry, then why eat? If you are eating because “it’s dinner time” and you really aren’t hungry, then maybe skipping that meal is a good idea. Too many people try to make up for ‘being bad’ by fasting but it’s not always the solution to overeating.  The solution for overeating is not to overeat! Fasting every time you binge isn’t really practical and doesn’t solve the underlying problem!  It’s like constantly dawdling at home, then jumping in your car and racing to work trying to make it on time! Do you really make it on time when you leave late? Usually not!

The same thing happens when we decide to overeat because it’s a holiday, or an event, or “I’m stressed,” and think we’ll “make up” for it by fasting the next day or two.  That’s not a realistic plan for reaching our goals and even if we reach our weight loss goal, do you realistically think we’ll stay there? We need to map out our route, figuring out what works best for us and what isn’t realistic for who we are.

Some of us do really well skipping breakfast, having a bigger lunch and then a light dinner. For others of us, having a big breakfast, skipping lunch and having a sensible dinner works better.  Some of us like having our meals broken up evenly. This is where we have to make some decisions based on what works for our unique bodies rather than what ‘professionals’ say is best. I know a lot of people who love and swear by Bulletproof Coffee or the Keto Diet.  I really don’t like ‘buttered’ coffee and while I like eating keto, I also like fruits and veggies.  That doesn’t make those people wrong or me right, unless I am talking about my own journey to my own goals.  Following another’s route to their weight loss goals isn’t going to get me to mine!

There also isn’t anything wrong with trying a new “route,” especially if yours isn’t getting you there.  If Bulletproof Coffee, keto or Paleo isn’t giving you the progress you want to make, then it is time to try a new route, but don’t ditch what is working just to try something new and different. Think about your goals and the progress you are making right now and how something different or new might help you get there. I know it sounds silly to remind you to stay calm and think clearly, but seriously, have you or anyone ever made a good decision based on panic, fear, or impulse? Probably not! Fasting for seven days might sound like a good idea when you want to drop five pounds quickly, but when you’re drained, foggy-headed and starving on day three, I’m betting the thought of stopping by the drive thru on the way home sounds a lot better! The problem is that your impulse decision on the seven day fast drove you to the drive-thru, and not to where you really want to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s MY Party!: Weight Loss & The Pity Party

I don’t think I’d ever heard that expression until last year: the Pity Party. I am way too familiar with the idea: “It’s hard! I can’t do it! No one understands! No one helps me!” Blah blah blah…. Yes, I am mean and generally unsympathetic. Everyone has hard things and hard times in their lives! Some of us have more of those hard times than others, and if you are one of those people, then I will do all I can to help you, but there is big percentage of Pity Partyers who either just want attention (sympathy junkies) or others to take care of things for them (mooches).

Recently, I came across one of these Partyers who just wanted everyone else to do things for her.  She was in a bind of her own making and wanted others to bail her out.  Once it became apparent she was not going to do anything to help herself, the party was over! There is nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it as long as you are willing to help yourself.  If you have been fighting sugar cravings, then telling your friends you’re trying to avoid sugar so “please don’t invite me places where I will be tempted!”is a logical request.  When I was new to Paleo, bread was my biggest craving (and it still is), so my friends checked with me before suggesting restaurants. I very much appreciated their concern because they knew I was trying to avoid those kinds of situations!

We all feel sorry for ourselves at some point or another, whether it’s weight loss related or not. All of us have looked in the mirror and felt sorry for ourselves because it feels like we’ve been working so hard on losing weight for so long and we still weigh so much and we’ll never lose the weight…. Actually, that kind of describes my morning! Then, Reality kicks in! Yes, we still haven’t lost all the weight because we’ve been eating off the reservation a little more than we should and if we paid more attention to those foods that aren’t good for us, we’d probably be a little (a lot??) closer to our goals!

That’s the difference between a Pity Party and a momentary wave of self-pity: we accept responsibility.  If you have been working hard and not going rogue like me and still not losing weight, maybe you need professional advice from a nutritionist or bariatric doctor, but for most of us, this isn’t the case.  One of my little mantras from when I was a Bankruptcy paralegal was “our clients make their own problems and they are good at what they do!” The same thing applies in weight loss! The majority of us make our own problems by buying foods that we know we shouldn’t and once at home, we binge on them because they are too tempting! Buying tempting food for family members isn’t what I am talking about. If your kids eat granola bars and they are one of your temptations, then that is a legitimate issue, but if you are buying mango salt water taffy and you are the one who loves it, then don’t pretend you are at the mercy of your family and “no one helps or understands!” If the family doesn’t care if there’s taffy, mango or not, then you are making your own problem.

Another one of my temptations is yogurt. It’s my Dessert of Choice! And it’s not really good for me, because of the sugar and the dairy, but somehow it keeps finding its way into my fridge.  I can make excuses about how I can have it for dinner/ breakfast/ lunch; I can rationalize “it’s better than pudding” but it still doesn’t belong in my house.  I can even lament that I can’t resist the craving– “it’s so hard for me!”  Blah blah– I know better! Why is it in my house? Because I bought it! I know it’s not good for me and I bought it anyway, so when I was feeling sorry for myself and overwhelmed this morning, there is no Pity Party because I made these decisions. I made this problem!

There are a lot of us who really are at the mercy of family members who fill the fridge and the kitchen with foods that tempt us.  Those are real issues: you come home hungry and tired and you planned on throwing together some steamed veggies with a piece of grilled chicken, but when you open the fridge, there’s your family’s leftover pizza.  All you have to do is heat that up or even eat it cold if that’s how you like it! It really is tempting: a plate and 2 minutes vs preparing a healthier dinner. Yeah, that’s a real temptation!

I have friends who tell me I am lucky I live alone since I don’t have those kinds of temptations but I have temptations of another kind: the “I don’t have time to cook” temptations.  It would be easy for me to throw myself a massive “I’m all alone with no one to help me!” Pity Party.  I have to do all the shopping, all the housework, all the bills, all the pet care, all the cooking and meal prep, all the errands on top of working, commuting and working out.  And if I want a social life, I have to fit that in there too! It’s just me, all by myself, so when I come home late and I’m tired and I still have to cook, it would be easy for me to rationalize getting something delivered or picking up takeout on the way home, or even– The Drive-Thru! Why not? It’s just me with all those responsibilities.

Will having a Pity Party improve anything? Absolutely not! It solves nothing about my situation or getting me to my goals. It just gets in the way! I can cry to everyone I know about how hard it is ‘doing for myself’ and maybe some friends will contribute a few helpful ideas or errands, but if I ask for help, I have friends and family who will do that anyway. Just so we are clear: asking for help is not the same as having a Pity Party. When you have The Party, it’s the adult equivalent of having a tantrum where everything and everyone stops to look at you wailing about how awful everything is for you. Asking for help is you being rational and calling a friend: “hey if you are going to Costco this week, can you get me some paper towels? Let me know how much they are and when I pick them up I can pay you for them! Thanks!” There’s difference between dealing with our situations, each of which has their own challenges, as responsible adults and having a Whine Fest.

Everyone’s situation is difficult at times and they all have their own challenges, whether it’s going it alone or dealing with a family where everyone eats differently.  My lifestyle isn’t any harder or easier than anyone else’s: it’s just different.  In my situation, I can ask for help.  If you are part of a family who brings home temptation or eats all your healthy options, then your best option is a conversation.  One of the best I’ve heard is the tempting foods go in a certain drawer in the fridge or the kitchen, or vice versa and your stuff is separate from theirs.  Your family and friends are usually happy to help you out, provided you ask like a rational adult; otherwise don’t be surprised if they offer you some cheese to go with that whine!

Want to Finish Strong? Just Keep Running! Weight Loss & Keeping Yourself Moving

There is a lot on social media about “finishing strong” lately.  Even my own water aerobics trainer shouted it at us yesterday as we were splashing around in the pool.  I can understand it: a lot of times we might start strong but as we get increasingly tired or keeping the pace gets hard, we start to slow down like a wind-up toy until we are barely going through the motions. Sometimes, if we are fairly tired towards the end of the workout, we start out going through the motions! If fitness is your goal, this is not the way to get there!

It’s not the way to get there with weight loss either! For a lot of us, the week looks like this: we start out on Monday eating great, making healthy choices, saying no to temptation and then over the next few days, the stress of working, family and daily life starts getting to us. We start feeling really stressed or really rushed because things happen that get in the way of our carefully laid plans and so we start “improvising.” We don’t have time to eat that healthy salad we brought with us so lunch today is a sandwich.  We get stuck having to run an unscheduled errand at the end of the day so rather than fix that healthy dinner we had planned, we opt for something processed but “healthy” and then we worked late and had an early morning so breakfast is something takeout but “on the healthier” side on the way to work.  By Friday, our weight loss plan looks nothing like what you actually planned for the week and you count it as a Win if your dinner Friday night is anywhere close to “healthy!”  As for the weekend, who’s had any chance to make plans for healthy eating? You’ve been too busy!

I know that reality can be a real monkey wrench in the middle of carefully laid plans.  We start out strong but somewhere along the line our resolution crumbles along with our plans. It’s not our fault that Real Life screwed it up!  Seriously?! This is news to you? Where have you been living and how can I move there? Because thinking that everything is always going to go according plan all the time or even just most of the time is living in a fantasy world. Most of us hardened Real World citizens make our plans and if even half of them go as we’d like, we consider ourselves lucky, but we make our plans in spite of Real Life.  There is always the chance than more will go right than not but regardless of how much goes along with the plan or not, we hold fast to our resolution to start strong and finish stronger!

I know this sounds like a lot of cheerleading motivational jargon but the truth of the matter is that our success with weight loss, fitness or anything else we want to achieve begins and ends with our resolve.  No one can make us eat healthy or choose the carrot over the candy bar, especially when we’re on our own.  I heard it said once that the definition of integrity is what one does when no one is watching.  If you pull up to that stop sign in the middle of the night and you are alone on the road, do you stop or do you just blow right through it? I know that Common Sense would say if there is no cross traffic and you are the only car on the road for miles, why stop? In response, let me refer you to a high school classmate who came to that same conclusion and blew through the stop sign only to be pulled over by the police cruiser hiding in the shadows with the lights off.

If he had stopped, there wouldn’t have been any issue, but he thought he could get away with something.  A lot of times, this tends to be our mentality too when our resolution starts to waver. We begin rationalizing excuses why it’s okay to make the choice to eat what’s tempting rather than what’s on our plan.  It’s that damned Real Life again! I don’t have time to cook after running all these unscheduled errands so I have to get takeout! I couldn’t finish my salad so this snack is okay (it makes up for lunch!) NO. It’s NOT okay. Not if you want to reach your weight loss goals.

Anyone can start strong.  All it takes is a little planning. We get on the road to eating healthy and for the first day or so, things are great because they are easy.  Once things start getting bumpy, this is where our resolution gets tested. How committed are we to these goals? Notice: I said goals,” not “plans.” Plans change (there’s that Real Life again!) and our choices aren’t ‘the carrot or the candy bar,’ it’s do we want to finish the week strong or do we want to give up and ‘start strong’ again next week? Hint: there’s a difference between Serial Starters and Finishers. Two or three days of great healthy eating are canceled out by four or five days of really crappy or even mediocre eating! If you are always starting, it means you aren’t finishing! It also means you aren’t making any progress to your goals.

When our resolve starts to waver or our plans end up going out the window again, we have to be strong enough to keep our focus on our goals.  That might mean skipping a meal if what’s best for us isn’t an option.  Just because it’s noon doesn’t mean we have to eat “lunch.” It’s okay to wait to eat something healthy later rather than eat junk food.  It’s also true that we don’t have to eat tacos just because our conference is serving them to us. We don’t have to drink sugary coffee drinks just because they are in season or our friends are all drinking them. Even if we like them, the question really is what we want more: our goals or tacos, seasonal lattes or the candy bars.

Too often we tell ourselves that we can never have these foods again, which isn’t true, but it goes back to our resolve. We know what our trigger foods are.  Some of us can have a holiday coffee and never feel the urge for another one (me, for example!) One holiday latte won’t trigger a binge for me, but a Kings Hawaiian roll? One of those turns into four before I know it!  Well, not really…. because I know bread is a trigger for me. This is where I have to ask myself: do I want the bread more than I want my goals? Because not only will the bread throw my weight loss plans out the window, it’ll also make me feel cruddy physically too.  So not only will I feel bad not finishing the week strong, I’ll plain just feel bad! So where is the Win eating the bread? The few minutes it takes to eat it?  Sound like a Lose-Lose to me!

Finishing strong takes practice because it’s hard. Starting and even starting strong is easy by comparison. It’s a lot like a marathon. Anyone can start a marathon: you stand at the starting line and run a step or two: congrats! you just started a marathon! But no one gets awards for starting because it’s the finishing that counts! When things get hard and people start dropping out of the race, the ones who keep running keep running because they’ve practiced. They’ve run this race before and they know what to do when it gets hard.  It’s a whole lot of work and practice but they keep running: they know their goal is up ahead and they just have to keep running to get there.  When our weeks get tough and everyone else starts giving up, remember our goals are also in our reach. We just have to keep running until we reach the finish line.

Convenience Foods: Weight Loss & Effortless Eating

One of my biggest problems continues to be weekends. When I am locked into my weekday work routine, it’s easier to stay on plan. Obviously, we have less variation in that work-a-day schedule so unless you have an office where people bring in treats or have catered conferences and luncheons, you only have what you have brought to eat into the office. Feeling hungry or want to snack? There are none because you didn’t bring any! Or, they are healthy snacks like nuts, string cheese or something else nutritious or low calorie.

Weekends, unscripted and constantly changing, are horrendous for me simply because there are too many opportunities for “unscheduled or improvised eating.”  If it’s a ‘Stay-At-Home’ weekend, it’s a little easier to stay closer to the target, but again the opportunities are still there to wander into the kitchen or to have seconds of lunch or dinner.  It’s not much different than the office: not a lot of snacky foods and the ones that are there are healthy or low cal, but too much of any food, healthy or not, isn’t good for you.  I try to keep easy to eat food like string cheese or nuts or beef sticks out of the house simply because they require no cooking or preparation.  When you feel the urge to eat our of boredom, the thought of getting out a pan to scramble some eggs or to put a chicken in the oven is too much of a hassle, not to mention the clean-up later! “I’m not that hungry!” But something ready to eat? Unwrap it, eat it and throw away the trash? Too much temptation there!

The same thing happens when you’re out running errands or shopping or just hanging out with friends: too much convenient ready to eat food! It’s easy to stop for lunch or a snack or even get a high calorie coffee drink and before you know it, you’ve consumed too much sugar, too much starch, too much fat or just too much! We tend not to pay attention to what we ate or even remember that we ate it because it was nearly effortless. We don’t have to deal with preparing it or cleaning up afterwards so our only real consideration is the cost in cash and calories, and we all know how easy it is to give in temptation or to make an excuse.  If we are out with friends, then it’s a ‘special occasion,’ or if we are running from one errand to another, we rationalize it because ‘I don’t have time to eat healthy.’ And let’s not forget the Impulse Buy: see it and throw it in your basket before you have time to think about it! Of course, once you get it home, well, ….I bought it so I might as well eat it….Really?

I remember one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients complaining that she wished “they’d close up all the bakeries” because they were her downfall. I can empathize because I am someone who looks at bread the way kids look at candy on Halloween. I can walk right past the chocolate, the chips and the soda without even noticing, but bread? That’s most often where I will linger, and the excuses start creeping into my thoughts: the dogs love bread too, so if I get this bag of rolls, I can give half of them to the dogs….. And they love warm cornbread too, so I can split this pan with them….. Yeeaahhhh, riiigghhhttt [insert eye roll here].  While the dogs may end up with part of whatever bread makes it into my home, the fact that I had half of it (or more) still isn’t a good thing!

Again, the problem goes back to how easy is it to eat? Bread is one of those foods that is right there ready to go! You can buy the kind you need to heat up or ready-to-bake and depending on how much ‘work’ that is for you, it’s still far less than making bread from scratch.  Even cornbread mixes, which usually only require you add two ingredients, are much easier than doing it all yourself.

While many health and weight loss gurus decry processed foods for their potentially unhealthy shelf-stable ingredients, in my opinion their biggest problem continues to be they are just too effortless! When we feel the urge to snack, we usually don’t choose these easy convenient foods because they are so wonderfully delicious– we choose them because we just have to open the package! They are as close to instant gratification as we can get with food!  While fast food, bakery and deli foods may have less of those unhealthy processed shelf-stable ingredients, they are just as problematic as the convenient packaged foods because all we have to do is hit the drive-thru or pop them into our basket. They are still as effortless as we can get.

Which is why the only “convenient  and effortless” foods at my house belong to the pets! It’s a ‘hassle’ to prepare food to eat.  It requires actual ‘work’ as in cooking or making a salad dressing.  Just last night I was grumbling to myself about having to cook: the only effortless food I regularly bring home is rotisserie chicken and I had finished the last of it the night before. Now, I had to get out the skillet and put the pork steaks on the stove…grumble grumble. Obviously, pork steaks aren’t a ‘snack food’ or ‘convenient,’ but that doesn’t mean we are doomed to go through the Food Preparation Production each night to keep from bingeing on hot dogs or refrigerator pasta.  When I do cook ‘real food,’ I usually cook the entire package, which means tonight all I have to do is reheat the leftovers.

Having leftovers is almost a forgotten practice. When people think of leftovers today, it’s usually leftover pizza, leftover fried chicken or maybe leftover Chinese.  Most of them are processed foods, as in there are three pieces of last night’s pizza or chicken in fridge. The hassle involved with cooking ‘real food’ each night is one of the reasons convenient effortless food has become so popular, but I also think it’s one of the reasons we’ve become so unhealthy in general.  Like me, we get home from work or errands and when we think about ‘what’s for dinner?’, you have the same response I did last night: “Crap! I have to cook!” So we get in the habit of keeping easy effortless food close at hand: we head home via Jack in the Box or we call in a To-Go order at the Chinese place, or we have something at home that goes right from the fridge/ freezer into the microwave! It’s easy to eat, takes little to no work and before we know it, we’ve eaten dinner so fast that by the time our stomach has noticed it’s full of food, we’ve moved on to dessert! How many of us have finished a pint of ice cream because we’re ‘hungry’ only to feel stuffed and bloated afterwards? (Raising my hand here!)

This is one of the other benefits of eating less convenient, not so effortless foods: it also takes time to eat them! Even the rotisserie chicken that makes a weekly appearance at my house has to be cut up and eaten off the bones rather than being boneless nuggets. Most convenient foods are highly processed so they are easy to eat (I think of them as ‘pre-digested’ since a lot of the work with chewing and metabolizing is already done in the processing.) How easy is it to eat a slice of pizza compared to cutting up a pork steak? Compare tossing french fries into your mouth with eating a salad full of raw veggies? Neither of them is a major production but those few extra minutes means your stomach has a little more time to notice it’s full of food before you start stuffing it with more!

Sticking with the less than convenient foods is a simple way of keeping your hand out of the cookie jar or bag of chips: when you have to make them yourself, it makes you ask yourself  “am I really that hungry?” Starting with real whole foods not only means you’re staying away from unstable fats and chemical preservatives, it also means that when you sit down to eat, you aren’t eating out of boredom or habit.  Another bonus I have noticed when something processed and effortless makes it into my kitchen is that the more you eat real whole foods, the more you taste the chemicals in those convenient foods.  They might be effortless to eat but they tend to taste like the plastic they were wrapped in too!

 

Get Out of Your Head and Get Over It!: Weight Loss & Making Our Own Obstacles

This is a tough topic.  Most of us are reluctant to admit that we are the biggest problem we have when it comes to eating healthy, losing weight and being fit. We all like to think we have our act together when it comes to the “Important Stuff,” but the truth is that the things that matter most in our lives are the same things we have the biggest problems handling.

When most of us decide we are going finally going to lose weight and be more active, we are firmly resolved in our intent.  Yay! We made The Decision! Now, we just have to put that decision into action! …..Ummmmm….. okay….. going to lose weight……. yah… And there is our first obstacle! We know what we want to do and most of the time, we know how we want to do it, but actually doing it is where we trip ourselves up and end up face first on the pavement! Words and decisions are not action and the only thing that will get us to our goals is taking action! That usually includes doing certain things, such as making it to the gym on a regular basis, and not doing certain things, like leaving the bread in the bread basket! Frankly, these are easier said than done and that’s why weight loss and fitness are so hard for most of us.

Smoking is a prime example. Almost everyone knows someone who smokes and nearly every smoker has gone through a similar process: 1) They make the decision to quit smoking; and 2) they take action to quit smoking.  At least, they want to take action to quit smoking! When you ask them how their “Quitting Smoking” plan is going, you get answers like “I quit the quitting. It’s too hard!”

Everyone knows that tobacco and nicotine are addictive, which is a major reason it’s such a hard habit to break: you are dealing with an addiction!  Weight loss gurus constantly debate whether food is actually an addiction, but the question is really academic if you have a weight problem.  I believe that sugar is addictive (The Case Against Sugar, Gary Taubes) but even if you are not a ‘sugar addict,’ for most of us eating is calming, comforting and habitual. For many of us, our lives revolve around eating whether we planned it that way or not.

So when we make the decision to lose weight and be more fit, we are making a decision that will impact more than just mealtimes and then when we start taking action to eat healthier, we discover how big that decision really is! Think about it: we meet friends to do some shopping and someone suggests lunch or coffee; we go out to the movies and there’s popcorn, soda and candy; we take a trip to the coast so we ‘must’ try the local restaurants; there’s a family celebration: cake, snacks, drinks; we stay home and binge the new season of a favorite show– snacks, anyone? Food has become interwoven with our cultures and our habits, so when we make a seemingly simple decision to eat healthier, it becomes this huge issue that is so complicated, we can’t ever get out of it! OMG! It’s everywhere! I’ll never get away!

WRONG!!  The only thing stopping you from taking action is your thinking! When you go to the movies with friends, are they forcing you to eat popcorn and Twizzlers? When you meet your friends for coffee or lunch, are they making you eat croissants or pasta?  You don’t have to munch potato chips mindlessly while bingeing House of Cards on your own sofa and chowing down on lobster rolls isn’t a requirement for going to the coast.  It’s just habit and your own thoughts that make you think you ‘should’ or ‘must’ eat these things!  For a lot of occasions, eating is not the central activity: it’s not required for movies or tv and it’s not the point of shopping or sight-seeing.  It has become an accepted and habitual activity when we do these thing so when we meet up with friends, it’s expected that we will have lattes and croissants, but our friends won’t reject us if we say no to them. It’s our heads that tell us “you’ll be different!” if you don’t eat. When we go someplace new and we don’t try the local specialty, we’re afraid we’ll miss an amazing food, or that our family will shun us if we don’t have a piece of Aunt Lisa’s birthday cake. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves and we don’t want to appear ‘different.’

That kind of thinking is keeping us from reaching our goals.  Our head is making this process harder than it needs to be and we keep listening to those thoughts, partly out of fear and partly because it keeps us following the same reassuring behaviors.  We don’t want to fail at weight loss when everyone knows we are on a diet: it’s another way of drawing attention to ourselves. “Oh, dear. Sheila isn’t losing much weight, is she?” So we try not to ‘advertise’ the fact that we’re on a weight loss plan by not changing how we eat in public.  We don’t want to be the one at the table who’s not eating the brownies while everyone else is commenting on how yummy they are. It keeps us eating the same foods and following the same behaviors which means we are still not losing weight!

Taking action means we have to do things differently and that can mean some real changes in your old habits. That usually means your friends and family will notice these changes, and at the risk of sounding like old Aunt Lisa, “your real friends will support your changes!” (Your real friends are going to want to hang around with you, having fun and when you can’t walk around the mall without stopping to sit down every ten minutes, it’s not as much fun!) Aside from being supportive, if everyone knows you are eating healthier, then how likely are you to load your plate with potato chips at the family picnic? In this instance, their scrutiny (whether real or imagined) is going to help you reinforce those new habits you are putting into action!

Fear of missing out is all in our heads, just like fear of being different or fear of ridicule.  In many cases, our fear of these things is way out of proportion than the actual event, if it ever occurs. Once we get out of our heads, many of these obstacles vanish.  It makes it easier to build healthier habits if we aren’t so hung up on being afraid of missing out or of being different. Is it so bad if everyone knows that you don’t eat bread? (In today’s ‘gluten-free’ society, you might just blend in more!) More importantly, remember that Decision you made at the start of this process? There were legitimate reasons behind that Decision: important events like teaching your kids to swim, going hiking with your significant other, attending your children’s weddings; babysitting your grandkids, and maybe taking another trip to the Grand Canyon with your family.  Those are all great events, but you have to be healthy and fit enough to live long enough to enjoy them. Fear of missing out on coffee and beignets seems kind of silly by comparison, doesn’t it? What are you really afraid of missing?

 

Right Here, Right Now: Weight Loss & The Moment

We hear a lot about ‘staying in the moment’ when it comes to weight loss and our diets.  It’s good advice but I think the message gets lost in the verbiage.  Instead of not seeing the forest for the trees, we aren’t getting the point because of the slogan.

Staying in the moment is a relatively simple instruction: what can you do right now? Too often we are focused on how we screwed up yesterday or we worry about what’s coming up.  There’s nothing we can do about either of those: the past is over and done with and the future isn’t here yet.  This is usually where people start ‘planning’ for what’s coming up.  While I am all for having a Plan, a lot of us like to get lost in the planning and strategizing phase! Planning and strategizing aren’t actually actions! We can ‘plan’ to make good choices and we can ‘strategize’ on how to avoid temptation, but when It actually happens, the only thing that matters is what we do right here, right now, in that moment of choice.  We had ‘planned’ on avoiding sugar and we had ‘strategized’ about how to say no to tempting sweets, but right now we are looking at the warm chocolate chip cookies being proffered by a friend: now what? Whatever our strategies might have been, it all comes down to what we do right here, right now.  Do we say “tempting, but no thank you!” in a firm polite tone? Do we say “no thanks…” in a diffident unsure voice? Do we hesitate and say “ummm…. maybe just one?”

We’ve all caved in to temptation which is usually followed by recrimination and regret and then we allow those emotions to beat us up for days afterwards.  We like to think that we use our regret to fuel our resolve and our plan to ‘do better’ but in most cases, it just stresses and depresses us.  We tend to see it as more failure and lack of willpower on our part. Rather than strengthening our resolve, our dwelling on past failures only emphasizes our pattern of failure: “We screwed up last time, so what’s to stop us from screwing up again? Our willpower that caved when faced with chocolate chip cookies? Hah!”

This is the beauty of focusing on right here, right now: forget yesterday, last week, last time and don’t worry about what’s coming up tomorrow or next month. All we are looking at is the choice in front of us and our resolve only needs to be as strong as ‘make the best choice possible right here, right now.’ If the Best Choice is no thank you to the cookies, then that’s what we do! If the Best Choice is packing the gym bag so working out is an option later, then that’s what we do!

Dwelling on past mistakes has another consequence: it reinforces the failures. If we constantly focus on our ‘habit of failing,’ then that becomes our default behavior.  Our lack of willpower becomes our default, as in “I never make the right choice” or “I never pass on the sweets.” When I am faced with temptation, I usually flash back to the last time it happened: didn’t say no then, so I guess I just can’t say no! Why do I remember is so clearly? Because I spent days afterwards beating myself up over two stupid cookies, which as now become four stupid cookies because ‘I just can’t say no!’

I know: it sounds too simple and we are still tempted by cookies and bingeing on whole seasons of television shows and we fear we aren’t working hard enough or making progress fast enough. Berating ourselves emotionally is part of the problem. However, no matter what we are doing, not doing, planning or wanting to do, none of it is as powerful as making the right choice in the situation right in front of you. Focusing on the right choice right here right now has another benefit: it also become a habit.  When we are in the habit of turning down things we don’t want, don’t need, or want to avoid, then making the right choice also becomes a habit.  We let go of fretting over ‘what do I do when the hors d’oevres come to me?’ or ‘last time I ate four of those!’ and we focus instead on taking action! We don’t drown ourselves in regret for past mistakes or anxiety over what’s coming because we are devoting our energy to action! All you need to do is focus: Right Choice, Right Here, Right Now.

 

The Pain Scale: Weight Loss, Discomfort & Pain

One of the expressions I really really hate hearing is “no pain, no gain,” as if in order to make any kind of progress, you have to hurt yourself! That seems a little counter-productive: “let me blow out my back lifting 150 lbs so I can have really great biceps!” I know that no one really thinks like that, but it does happen.  We’ve been told by countless trainers and fitness programs that we need to “push past our comfort zone” to make progress! Pushing past the Comfort Zone, yes; pushing into the Pain Zone, no!

Anyone familiar with the medical profession or even just medical shows is likely familiar with the Pain Scale: “on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you’ve ever felt and one being no pain, where is your pain at on the scale?” If you’ve had surgery or broken a bone, you are no doubt familiar with the scale numbers up past five, and if you’ve sprained a muscle or a joint, you are probably familiar with the numbers on the lower half too, but what isn’t on that scale is Discomfort. I really believe that we need to add that to the scale (maybe as – 1 or -2?) to keep people from confusing Pain with Discomfort.

Pain is usually sharp or stabbing or a deep ache because it’s our body’s way of telling us we have an injury! If you are out running or you are lifting weights and you feel a sharp pain in your arm, leg or shoulder and it hurts to use it, that is pain! If something starts swelling, like your wrist or ankle, or if it stiffens up, you have obviously injured yourself.  A tearing sensation is another indication that there is something wrong and that what you are feeling is really pain.

I can hear you thinking it: duhhhh! no-brainer! But before you click off the page, let me give you this scenario: you are working out with dumb bells and you do a lot of reps with a lot of weight and the next day, your shoulders and arms hurt a lot. Is that pain or is that discomfort? Obviously, your upper body is probably going to be a little stiff and really sore from the workout, but did you injure yourself? The only way to answer that question is how much pain you are in and how long it takes you to get over it.  Achy muscles aren’t really pain (injury): they are discomfort.  When you’ve been walking a lot and your legs and feet are tired or you have burning in your muscles from exertion, or even if you are a little short of breath and your heart is pumping, you are feeling Discomfort, not actual Pain. Granted, it probably hurts to walk and you will probably be a little stiff the next day, but compare that with an injury. Say you fell and sprained your ankle while on that walk: your ankle would likely swell and you would not be able to put much weight on it, if any at all. If you’ve ever twisted an ankle or sprained any joint, you know that’s much higher on the Pain Scale than sore feet and legs!

If something you are doing causes pain, that’s a clear indication that you need to stop what you are doing, but many of us are in the opposite end of the equation: we are so afraid of Pain that as soon as we feel Discomfort, we stop.  While you don’t need to work out to the point of causing Pain, Discomfort is neither Pain nor Injury.

I admit I have hard time with the Pain Scale, mainly because it is highly individualized.  I was recently at my doctor’s office for a routine check up and we went through the Pain Scale as it relates to the arthritis in my knees and back.  I was asked to “rate my pain”: average day; bad days; better days; blah blah blah.  My problem is that I have a high tolerance for pain: when something ‘hurts,’ I ask myself the question I’ve put to you here. “Is this Pain or is this Discomfort?” Most of the time, it is just Discomfort, as in sitting causes an ache in my back or walking a lot causes an ache or stiffness in my knees.  Does it hurt enough to keep me from walking or sitting? When it does, it’s actually graduated to Pain.  That is how I differentiate between the two: when it keeps me awake at night, again it’s grown from Discomfort to Pain.

It’s up to you to determine your threshold between Pain and Discomfort.  You are the one who lives in your body and if your workout instructor wants you to do more than you feel comfortable with doing, then tell her! Even if it’s just more Discomfort than you want to live with, you are allowed to say no. One of the exercises my trainer likes to do really aggravates an old shoulder injury of mine, so I modify it to keep my shoulder from hurting the next day. I am reasonably sure it’s not an actual injury, but it bothers me enough that I don’t like dealing with it.  Does that mean I am slacking off on my workout? Not at all since I am the one who has to deal with a shoulder that hurts when I raise my arm over my head or reach for anything.  Is it Pain or just Discomfort? While I don’t usually take anything when it happens, I’d call it Discomfort, but at the same time feeling the twinge each time I raise my arm or reach, it is still uncomfortable!

This brings us to the other issue when it comes to Pain and Discomfort: how we medicate ourselves.  Many of us are told repeatedly that if it hurts, take a pill! “There’s no reason to be in Pain!” That is correct.  Pain is debilitating and depressing and chronic pain drains victims of concentration, energy and happiness. There is no reason to suffer with it if you can alleviate it.  But again, Discomfort is not Pain, and while you are the judge of what counts as Pain or Discomfort in your body, we should not be afraid of feeling a little Discomfort, especially if our fear of ‘hurting’ is getting in the way our being active. Sore muscles and a little stiffness should not be anything to be afraid of and if it’s too much Discomfort for you, it is a temporary condition! There is a reason trainers shout No Pain, No Gain at their clients: the more you use those muscles, the more you have to work to make them sore. In short, if you keep moving those muscles and joints, they will get stronger and eventually, they will hurt less, so while it’s not exactly “No Pain, No Gain,” it’s close enough to make the point.