Where is Your Focus? : Weight Loss & The Complaint Department

Recently, Pacific Gas & Electric shut off the power to tens of thousands of customers in my state due to high winds and the resulting fire danger. My dad was one of those customers without power for two days. My big concern was the cold nights and the dark house but my dad assured me that he had his big flashlight and if it did get cold, he could always light a fire in the wood stove.  One of his phones, thankfully, was not cordless so he still had that since he gets no cell reception at his house.

This reminded me of many instances during my childhood when we had been without power. We lived in the country when I was in college and power failure was common.  I used to remark to friends and family that “we lose power every time there’s a big wind.” As a result, we had hurricane lamps, candles and we all got the big D cell Maglite for Christmas one year!  In fact, I’d gotten so used to doing homework by flashlight, I’d pull it out of my desk drawer as soon as the lights blinked. I learned to turn on the ‘auto-save’ on the computer and to save manually after major changes as well.  When the power went out, if we weren’t doing homework, the biggest inconvenience were things like heat/ AC and water (our well was electric); other than those, we had plenty of books and games to keep us entertained. No worries!

But for my mom, reading and games were never high on her list of Fun Things To Do.  I remember coming home with my dad from the grocery store and as we were carrying the groceries into the house, the lights went out. My mom, in her recliner with the tv on and the cordless phone in her hand, was angry as usual while the rest of us were more relaxed about it. I put the grocery bags on the kitchen counter and began putting the food away while my mom groused about being without power.  At one point she shouted at me “how can you put the groceries away in the dark?!” I grabbed a couple of items out from the bags and walked into the living room. Handing her one of them, I asked: “what’s this?” “I don’t know… cottage cheese or sour cream?” “And this?” “Cereal or crackers?” “So the cottage cheese goes in the fridge and the crackers go in the pantry.” End of discussion.

The point was that my mom just wanted to complain about the power being out.  She wasn’t interested in changing her behavior to deal with no power: she wanted to complain and be inconvenienced.  When most of us begin changing our eating either for health or weight loss, we tend to adopt my mom’s attitude: “It’s hard!” “It’s inconvenient!” “I don’t know how to do it!” “I don’t like that food!” We’d rather complain than make any adjustments or learn new habits.  The problem is that while we are busy complaining, we are not making progress and we are wasting time and energy in unproductive behavior. We get nothing beneficial from complaining and whining and pouting.

We all know that change is hard.  It means unlearning bad habits and learning new ones.  It takes time, patience and– most importantly– consistency! Complaining seems to be easier, since we feel like we get some kind of ‘result.’ A few months ago, the cable box for my tv service died. There were several frustrating and unsuccessful attempts to reboot it before disconnecting it, taking it to the local store, waiting around for a couple hours only to get home and go through the equally frustrating installation process. The whole time, I groused and complained and let everyone know how inconvenienced I was by this. To be honest, I took a kind of self-indulgent pleasure in letting everyone know how inconvenient it was. At the same time, I also knew that if I wanted tv again, this was what I had to do and there was no getting around it! It’s an irritating process but if I wanted to watch tv sooner rather than later, I had to do the work!

Changing our eating habits and how we think about what we eat is not that different: we have to uninstall the ‘faulty equipment’ and install a new, updated, version.  While complaining about it soothed my self-indulgent nature, it did nothing to help me get my cable service back. However, going through all the ‘inconvenient hassle’ not only got my service restored, it also saved me an extra $20 a month! So in the end, which served me better: grousing & whining or going through the hassle & doing the work?  (If you have to think about this, I can’t help you!)

We find ourselves in a similar situation when we have to change out how we eat and how we think about food. Most of us separate food into two camps: ‘Healthy Food’ and ‘Food That Tastes Good.’  The idea that food can be both good for you and taste good is nonsense to this way of thinking.  Either it’s something healthy that obviously tastes like grass, cardboard or is utterly flavorless, or it tastes good and is full of fat, calories and sugar! This kind of binary thinking is why most of us do well on a diet for a few days or weeks and then we binge on a bag of grocery store cookies.  It’s not that the cookies are delicious or yummy: it’s because we’ve been eating tasteless bland ‘healthy’ food for the last ten days! We need to stop that kind of thinking! If what you are eating doesn’t taste good, THEN STOP EATING IT!  It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘healthy’ or not: if you aren’t loving (or at least liking) what you are eating, you’re doing it wrong. Not everyone loves salads or vegetables but that doesn’t mean that you have to eat dried up cauliflower or wilted iceberg lettuce. Seriously, neither of those veggies are high on my list of foods, even when they’re fresh, but I do enjoy broccoli, Brussels sprouts and butter or red leaf lettuce, so when I make veggies at home, those are usually somewhere on my dinner plate. Just because everyone is eating ‘cauliflower rice’ doesn’t mean you have to eat it in order to be healthy or lose weight!

A lot of us start out not knowing what to eat that’s healthy and so we default to The Usual Diet Foods, such as ice berg salads with low cal dressing and dried out skinless chicken breasts.  Those are also on my list of Unfavorite Foods, so I eventually learned to change that meal into something I do enjoy.  My healthy ‘chicken and salad’ dinner consists of a chicken thigh with a spinach-butter lettuce mix with oil and vinegar.  Not a major shift, but it’s enough of a shift so that I actually enjoy my dinner instead of suffering through a meal that’s going to leave me unsatisfied.

When I started eating healthier, it took some time to figure out how to swap out unhealthy or unfavorite foods for healthy food I enjoyed but again, it wasn’t a complicated process.  It just took practice and consistency!  It also means that you have to give up the self-indulgent complaining and whining about it.  If your focus is constantly what a hassle and inconvenience this process is for you, then you aren’t going to be able to focus on any better options available to you.  Seriously, if you want to focus on how awful it is eating skinless chicken breast with dry cauliflower every night and complain about how much you hate it to everyone you know, that’s your choice. However, your energy can be better spent finding something just as healthy and nutritious that you really enjoy eating.  Unfortunately, when your focus is on eating healthy food that you really love that helps you lose weight, there’s not a whole lot to complain about it– darn it!

 

It Really IS About What Goes In Your Mouth!: Weight Loss, Food & Nutrition

I recently watched a rerun of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now? featuring an update on one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s most challenging patients, James K.  Like most of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, James grew up struggling with obesity and by the time he was in his ’30’s he was already over 500 lbs.  That’s when a leg injury left him bed-bound and he has not walked since that injury.  Unfortunately, being bed-bound has added to his weight gain and by the time we meet him in his initial episode, James estimates his weight at around 700 lbs. Speaking with James via computer, Dr. Nowzaradan gave him the basic diet he gives to all of his patients (1200 calories a day and no carbs) and advised him to begin losing weight immediately.

Getting to Houston to meet with Dr. Now was a struggle in itself as James needed a bariatric ambulance to take him from Kentucky to Texas and his insurance would not cover the cost.  James’ father ended up financing the transportation, but once in Texas with his daughter and girlfriend Lisa, he continued to struggle with the diet.  After four months in Kentucky, James arrived in Houston weighing 738 lbs. Dr. Now admitted him to the hospital to begin running tests and to put him on a controlled diet to get his weight down.  Unfortunately, after losing over 100 lbs in the hospital, James moved to his apartment to continue losing on his own, but what followed was the beginning of a vicious cycle of weight gain followed by hospitalization and controlled weight loss only to regain again at home.  Despite Dr. Now’s warnings regarding his deteriorating health, James and Lisa were unable to control his eating and he continued to gain weight. His constant gaining was followed by heart problems, kidney problems, and cellulitis infections in his legs.  After one arrival at the hospital, James and Lisa are shocked to learn that he’s at 843 lbs.

From the outside, it’d be easy to say “what the heck is wrong with you two?!” but they were as mystified as Dr. Now was frustrated.  Despite his repeated attempts to explain to them what they are doing wrong, they remained as confused and frustrated as Dr. Nowzaradan.  Obviously, something was going wrong, but they could not understand what it was.

Quite simply, it was the food. I know you are thinking “no sh*t, Sherlock!” right now, but for James and Lisa, it really was mystifying.  While they were obviously cheating on the diet more than they admitted, it wasn’t really the “cheat meals” that were causing the problems as much as it was all the other food he was also eating.  While I obviously wasn’t there with them and only know what I saw on the tv, I’ve got a pretty good guess as to some of the stumbling blocks tripping them up: 1) nutritional ignorance; 2) portion  distortion; and 3) cravings.

As a former Basic English instructor, I learned early on never to assume that people know “The Basics.” I remember going over a lesson on sentence construction, explaining how each sentence needs a subject consisting of a noun and a predicate consisting of a verb.  When I casually asked “does anyone have any questions?” I was promptly asked “what’s a noun?  Judging by the confused faces in the class, I gathered her question was echoed by most of my students. My carefully constructed lesson was pretty much wasted on them since I was essentially speaking gibberish!

I have a strong suspicion that this was part of the problem with James and Lisa.  While it’s one thing to pass out a diet plan with recommended and/ or ‘forbidden’ foods listed on it, it’s another entirely to learn to read nutrition labels or simply to identify what other foods should be included on that list of ‘forbidden foods.’  I remember a very long time ago when my dad’s doctor advised him to lower his sugar intake and my mom complained about his eating bread. I asked “what does bread have to do with how much sugar he eats?” At the time, I had no idea that bread (a starchy carbohydrate) is metabolized like sugar in the body.  In essence, a starchy carb like bread is viewed as a long string of sugars in the body. While it doesn’t look like sugar, technically our bodies turn it into sugar. It’s one thing to look at a slice of bread and think “starch” and see that one slice is allowed on the diet and it’s another thing to look at a bowl of brown rice and think it’s okay. If it’s not specifically mentioned on the diet plan, then where does that go? Is it allowed? Not allowed? For some people, it’s common sense but for others, it’s a mystery.  While those of us who’ve spent a lifetime eating off one diet plan or another know what to do, for those who have never ventured into “Diet World,” it’s literally foreign territory.  Having the doctor tell you “no carbs!” might as well have been “no finkerrupz!” for all the sense it makes to you. (Let’s not mention ‘total carbs’ vs ‘net carbs’!)

While some of you are rolling your eyes, let me remind you that we all start somewhere different when we begin this diet journey and even though a nutritionist may have been sent out to help James and Lisa learn more about food overall, not all nutritionists and/ or dieticians are created equal.  I remember my own dietician basically giving me a list of rules to follow (again regarding carbs) without ever asking me if I knew what a carbohydrate was! However, as a reader and an information-gatherer in general, when I started asking questions about nutrition, I decided that the internet (though convenient) wasn’t comprehensive enough for me and I went off to the bookstore and came home with Nutrition for Dummies.Nutrition for Dummies ) I am a big fan of the Dummies books because they assume you know nothing about the topic, so you can start at your own level.  I also realize that some people are offended when you suggest these books to them (“she called me a dummy!”)  Frankly, I have a large library of Dummies books because in my opinion, there’s a whole lotta stuff I don’t know crap about and pretending that I know more than I do is the only thing that really makes me a Dummy!

There’s also another pitfall that catches most people unawares: “I thought I knew what I was doing but I really didn’t!” This was my error when I was teaching sentence construction: I thought I was giving my students The Basics but it turned out it wasn’t basic enough! In short, I thought I knew where to start but I didn’t! Hospitals have also learned this lesson the hard way.  When patients arrive for a procedure, they make the patient explain to the nurse what’s going to happen to them.  This is the best way of making sure the patient understands what is really going to happen! I am sure James and Lisa thought he was following the diet and only cheating a little bit, when  in fact, he was probably cheating more than he wanted to admit and also eating foods that weren’t on the diet although they thought that they were.

Then there is the whole issue of portion size.  This is one of the reasons I recommend a food scale in the beginning at least (Ozeri Food Scale). When someone is used to eating a slice of cake that weighs in at a half-pound or a sandwich the size of a loaf of bread, they usually have no idea what an actual ‘portion’ looks like.  The idea that a sandwich consists of two regular slices of bread, 2 oz of meat and maybe one ounce of cheese is a real shock.  A hamburger patty really isn’t supposed to be one-third of a pound or more; it’s supposed to be about 3 oz! The same thing with a chicken breast or a piece of steak– about 3-4 oz is a ‘serving size.’  The general rule of thumb is that your protein is supposed to be about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand, not the size of your head!

It’s easy to jeer at someone weighing 700 -plus pounds who clearly doesn’t understand why he weighs so much, but the truth is that a lot of us are in the same boat.  The only difference is that while James can’t understand why he’s still over 700 lbs, we can’t figure out why we still can’t lose these same twenty pounds we’ve been trying to lose since college.  It’s usually that Terrible Trio I mentioned above: a combination of nutritional ignorance, portion distortion and cravings.  We think we are eating healthier foods in the right amounts but until we do a little investigating, we may not realize that while sweet potatoes and brown rice are better for us than white potatoes and white rice, they still have a lot of carbs and starch in them.  We also think that a serving is one whole sweet potato no matter the size or that we can eat twice as much brown rice as white rice. The truth is while we are eating healthier, we may not be eating healthy enough to lose the weight we want.

Cravings are another story entirely.  Everyone who’s tried to lose weight has fallen victim to this one, some of us more often than others.  It really doesn’t matter what the craving is for, either.  Whether it’s chocolate, bread, nuts or even something healthy like a salad, if we eat too much of it, it’s not good for us.  If it’s something not on our ‘recommended foods’ list, it only adds to the problem.  While it’s not usually a disaster when we give in to the cravings, we don’t often realize that giving in prolongs the problem.  In short, if you ‘indulge’ once a week, you begin to expect that indulgence and when you try to skip it after repeatedly giving in, it only makes it harder to resist.  For someone like James, who’s probably never resisted a temptation, the cravings can be unbearably difficult. For someone like Lisa who is used to giving him what he wants, the response is probably close to automatic: he wants it? he gets it.

Making the changes James and Lisa need to make to lose weight and improve his health likely requires more adjustments and education than they anticipated.  It means a complete restructuring of their home life and habits.  It not only means throwing out all the foods not on the diet, it means re-learning how to eat, how to buy food that’s healthy and how to think about what we eat. Like most of us, James thought he could out-exercise his cheating and bad food choices, but we all know we’d be jogging all day to ‘cancel out’ that burger and fries lunch or the pie or whatever ‘indulgence’ we had.  Losing weight permanently takes significant changes and these need to be permanent if our weight loss is to stay permanent.  That means re-thinking what’s normally on the menu and what’s not, what a real portion size is and what’s too much, and whether that slice of carrot cake is really worth it.  It means keeping an open mind about The Basics and even changing those Basics if need be.  It’s not an easy adjustment to make but when your quality of life depends on it, are you really going to trade that for carrot cake?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss & Holiday Treats: Yummy or Not, Here They Come!

We are coming up on the holiday season, and after the Summer Swim Suit Season, this is probably the one that dieters hate most.  “OMG! There’s food EVERYWHERE!” And, it’s never very healthy food either.  It would be different if we had trays of roasted Brussels sprouts on every flat surface or people brought platters full of carrot sticks to share at work, but other than the occasional luncheon crudité platter that no one touches and eventually dries out, most of the holiday food is sweet and full of calories and carbs, but not a lot of anything nutritious.

This is where we feel super-self-conscious about turning down the proffered cookies or the pumpkin bread or anything else some tries to share with us.  We don’t want to be rude and we don’t want to feel like we’re making everyone else feel bad for eating them.  “He/she’s being so good and not eating any of these!”  At the risk of being Negative Nancy, you are not responsible for anyone’s guilt: if they feel guilty for eating the brownies and sugar cookie snowmen, that is their responsibility! (Those ‘treats’ aren’t any healthier for them than they are for you!) If they want to spend January and February losing those Holiday Pounds, that is their choice: you choose not to gain them!

The other danger with all these ‘treats’ is that most of them are just there for the mindless eating. We tend not to pay attention and just grab what’s next to us and eat it, whether it’s something we like or not. Frankly, I ate a lot of Twizzlers that way.  I don’t like Twizzlers and never have (they taste like bland sugary plastic to me.) If you give me a choice of licorice, I’d choose Red Vines (or black) every time! Twizzlers? Blecchh! But somehow, when there was nothing else left in the Halloween candy bowl, yup! I ate them! Why?? Ummm…. because they were there…..?? Yes. Really. That was the reason: they were there!  Even worse, while I was eating them, I would be thinking how they weren’t really good and how I wished they were really Red Vines, but that didn’t stop me from finishing off the bland plasticky Twizzlers! It really is mindless eating. While no one forced me to eat junk food I didn’t really like, the idea of saying no to them was utterly foreign to me.”You mean I can just throw them away? But that’s a waste of food!” As if there were anything nutritious about Twizzlers! (No offense to Twizzlers.)

The point of having a treat is to give yourself something a little special, as in doing something good for yourself.  Is stuffing your face full of blah run-of-the-mill sugar cookies doing something special for yourself? It’s like me with the Twizzlers! If I’d really wanted to treat myself to something I’d enjoy that wasn’t nutritious, I’d have gone to the grocery store and bought a package of the licorice I really do enjoy instead of eating “plastic candy.”  There are better ways of “treating” yourself than junk food but we tend not to think of them as real ‘treats.’  These can be real foods like apples, figs or nuts, or something like utterly radical like going to bed an hour earlier! They are not only beneficial to your mind and body, but who knows? You might actually enjoy them!

How you define a ‘treat’ is totally up to you.  One of my special treats for dessert is dish of dried figs and some Brie.  It’s basically a fruit & cheese plate but I love it!  A treat also doesn’t have to be food.  Some of you may know I have two poodle mixes, Remy (5) and Bentley (18 months) and while they are both poodle mixes, they have very different personalities. Bentley loves a new cookie or a chewer but Remy? His idea of a treat is several minutes of playing fetch! Give him a choice of a food treat or his favorite fetch ball, and woof! throw the ball! If he even takes the cookie from my hand, it’s left in his bed for Bentley to steal.  He’d rather play with the ball every time.  Why? Because for him, playing fetch is something more special than any cookie or chewer I can offer. He doesn’t care if Bentley eats all his cookies and if all the chewers end up in Bentley’s bed, as long as the fetch toys stay in his!

In the end, it’s up to you to decide what is really a treat for you.  If you love Twizzlers and decide that’s what you are going to indulge in this holiday, good for you! (I will gladly donate my share!) My only advice when it comes to treats, Twizzlers or not, is this: make sure it is something you mindfully enjoy! Whether it’s taking a day off to binge The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with a bowl of popcorn, or sleeping late on Sunday morning or even finishing off the last of the pumpkin loaf, as long as it is something special and enjoyable to you and you are paying attention to your enjoyment of it, then it really counts as a TREAT.  Scarfing down the last popcorn ball as you’re running out the door to Target doesn’t count as a treat because, really, did you enjoy that popcorn ball? If and when you decide to treat yourself, then make the most of it! Set aside the time to enjoy that bowl of popcorn! Save the pumpkin loaf for a time when you can eat it without being rushed or distracted! Or if it’s sleeping in or lounging on the sofa with a book, then do it without distraction or interruption.  This is your treat after all, whether it’s edible or not!

 

Where Do I Begin?: Weight Loss & The First Step

I had coffee the other day with a friend I hadn’t seen in some time and eventually the conversation turned to weight loss. Like a lot of people, she’s been fighting the same 20-30 lbs for years and she usually manages to lose a few pounds, only to put them back on.  Sound familiar, anyone? I told her I was still doing Paleo and received the confused-not-quite-blank expression I’ve come to expect.  Most people have heard of The Paleo Diet but really don’t know what it means other than the “It’s a lot of MEAT!” soundbyte.

Also, like most of us, she felt a little overwhelmed by “what do I do first?” Really, it doesn’t matter what you do first as long as you choose something within your capabilities and do that one thing only until you feel comfortable with it.  This is rather a long-winded way of saying “PICK SOMETHING!” Too often we look at the landscape for weight loss (or any goal, really) and we want to make the best start that we can, but we get bogged down by: 1) the  overwhelming number of ‘starting points’; and 2) the magnitude of the change we want to achieve.  We don’t want to make a ‘wrong’ choice and fail, so we end up not really starting at all, or we choose too many ‘starting points’ and end up quitting because we get overwhelmed.

The other big stumbling block is the Diet Mentality, in which we get roped into thinking we are only “doing this” until we lose the weight we want to lose. We all know what happens next: the weight comes back!  Obviously, once we stop ‘being good’ and go back to eating the way we did before The Diet, we’ve blown all our hard work!  In order to maintain permanent weight loss, we need to make permanent lifestyle changes.  This is part of that ‘overwhelming’ goal I mentioned before, but big changes come through small steps!

Because Sarah asked about Paleo, I told her that it’s mainly whole natural foods, no grains, legumes, sugars and a lot of non-starchy vegetables. Predictably, she made a face: she loves grains and cereals and isn’t a big fan of non-starchy veggies.  A big part of her diet has always been white potatoes and ‘quick carbs’ such as pasta, bread, cereal and sugar. While white potatoes were never huge on my menu, grains of all kinds were a major staple of my diet, along with a fair amount of sugar. I told her when I started cutting these foods out of my diet, I did it one at a time.  I started with potatoes since they were easiest for me, and once I had a handle on making healthier substitutions for the potatoes, I moved on to pasta, which was harder, until I felt confident enough to remove breads.  In all honesty, breads of all kinds remain my biggest temptation and I told her that.  You can offer me chocolate, candy, cookie or any kind of “treat” and I can turn it down without batting an eye, but offer me a biscuit? “Get thee behind me, Satan!” Even if I do turn it down, I will think about that biscuit for days afterwards! I tried to reinforce that it’s a series of steps and you don’t try to make every change at once. 

I recommended she begin with a healthy breakfast like Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) suggests.  You start with one meal and work on that one until you get it down, then move on to lunch, dinner and any snacks.  I also recommended she get a food journal and a food scale. While there are a lot of weight loss gurus (Elizabeth included) who don’t recommend the food scale, I do because I am very aware of portion inflation.  Just because Cheesecake Factory brought you one slice of cheesecake, that doesn’t mean what they brought you is ‘one portion.’  (It is likely three!)  A food scale is a simple reality check for how much you are really eating.  The food journal is just a simple way of keeping track of what you are eating, so later on if you aren’t getting the results that you want, you can see what might be behind that slow-down.

As I said, I was having coffee with my friend, which included a grande maple pecan latte, and a bag of Moon Cheese.  Later on when I got home, those went in my food journal.  While they won’t torpedo my diet, recording them keeps me honest so they don’t become regular parts of my weekly routine.  Having an occasional sugary latte isn’t a catastrophe but when one a month becomes one a week and then several a week, those lattes will have an impact (as will several accompanying bags of Moon Cheese!).  When I write them down, it’s easier to go back through the months and see where there may have been a few too many ‘special occasion lattes’!

I also recommended she listen to some of the podcasts aimed at giving listeners a foundation for fat loss and the reasons behind her recommendations such as the Fat Loss Basics Series (https://primalpotential.com/ep-121-fat-loss-basics/) and the episode on the Golden Rules (https://primalpotential.com/195-golden-rules-of-carbs-and-fat-loss/). I am not in any way affiliated with Elizabeth Benton; I’m just a fan and I think she offers solid advice based on your speed and the changes you are willing to make.  Of all the weight loss professionals I’ve listened to, she is one who listens to you.

There are a lot of places to start and you don’t have to start with breakfast or go Paleo or even listen to Primal Potential, but you do have to make a choice. Choose one change you want to make, and once you’ve got that one down, move on to the next one.  It might seem like you aren’t ‘going fast enough’ but does fast really matter when you won’t have to make that same trip again next year?

 

You Can’t Fix Anything If You Don’t Know What’s Broken: Weight Loss, Report Cards & Ostriches

This is one some of us have a hard time dealing with, me included.  It means confronting the problem, whatever that problem might be.  We’ve got to look at it, examine it and come face to face with The Bad News. It’s frightening and upsetting because that means we can’t ignore the problem anymore: now that we’ve faced it, we have to deal with it!

Ugh….reality sucks! Especially when we can’t hide behind ignorance or apathy anymore.  I know in my case, once I face The Bad News, I can’t hide behind apathy anymore because it keeps nagging at me.  When it was something nebulous or unknown, it was easier to shove it into the background: “I’ll deal with it later…”  but when I know the ugly reality of the situation, it doesn’t ‘shove’ so easily and has the annoying habit of waking me up in the middle of the night with a panic attack, or something similar.  Yay…..reality…. whoo hoo….

But as bad as it is or isn’t, whatever that problem might be, it’s something I have to face if I want to fix it because the simple truth is we can’t fix something if we don’t know what’s broken.  Imagine you take your car to a mechanic because it’s making a noise, and instead of looking under the hood, the mechanic says “it could be the alternator so I’m going to replace it and we’ll see how it runs afterwards.” WTH??? You’d drive your noisy car to another mechanic who’s going to examine it to see exactly what’s wrong and how it can be fixed. No guessing: this is what’s wrong and this is how we fix it!

But when it’s something else, like our weight or health or nutrition, we keep sticking our heads in the sand. “It kinda feels like maybe I put on a couple pounds over the last couple months so I’ll just eat better from now on…..That’ll fix it…..” Insert giant eye roll here! Obviously, you don’t have to jump on the scale or whip out the tape measure every day or even every week, but if you don’t objectively evaluate your progress, you won’t know how much progress you are making, if you are making progress or if you have started backsliding.  The same thing goes with your eating and activity: if you don’t keep track, how do you know if what you are eating is working for you, or if your activity level has changed?  Plain simple fact here: if you don’t keep an eye on it, how do you know how you are doing?

This is why schools send home report cards.  Imagine telling yourself “the kids must be doing okay in school since they haven’t flunked out yet.” HELLO!! You’d like to know your kid’s having problems in chemistry before he or she flunks the class! You probably don’t expect him or her to show you every test or assignment for every class (hence the report card), but you still keep track so you can deal with any problems they might be having before it becomes a crisis! This is also why schools have parents sign the report cards and notices: “we told you your kid was flunking out and you acknowledge that we told you.”

Sticking your head in the sand seems a lot easier to do than tracking our progress but it really isn’t. The real hassle is finding out that you gained twenty pounds and the tux you bought for an event doesn’t fit anymore. If you had been paying attention, you might have been able to prevent that while the tux still fit but you were busy being an ostrich!

Keeping track of what you ate, how active you were, how much weight or inches you’ve gained/ lost is less of a hassle than most people think it is.  I know people roll their eyes and sigh deeply when we talk about “Tracking” (I was one of those people!) but it really is important if you are serious about your health, weight or nutrition.  It doesn’t mean that you have to weigh out everything you eat and count each calorie or step but it does mean you invest a few minutes each day to write it down. Again more sighs and eye rolling: “I have to write it down?? every day??”  Think about this: you are investing about five minutes each day in your health.  How much time is five minutes? It’s thirty-five minutes a week, if you spend five whole minutes writing this information down. That’s about the length of a sitcom plus a commercial break afterwards.  While you might choose to look at it as a waste of time, you can also choose to look at it as investment in your health. I know we hate looking at this stuff and dealing with it, but seriously if your health isn’t good, what kind of effect does that have on the rest of your life? Little bit of an impact maybe? A lot more hassle than renting a replacement tux!

You also can’t expect others to fix things for you while you sit on your butt and do nothing to help fix it yourself.  I’ve met a lot of these people: supposedly they are utterly helpless to do things on their own.  They don’t have groceries because they can’t go to the store for some reason or another; they only have junk food because “healthy” food is too expensive; they can’t exercise or be active because ‘something always hurts.’ They have long lists of things that they can’t do or can’t do without help.  In some cases, this may be true and it’s okay to ask for help.  Frankly I think not asking for help when you need it is pretty dumb, but the majority of the things on their lists are things they just don’t want to do either because it’s “a hassle” or they don’t want to deal with it themselves.

You reasonably can’t expect someone else to deal with all the unpleasant issues in your life while you do nothing to help yourself.  You also can’t just bury your head in the sand and pretend these unpleasant things don’t exist.  Heaven knows how tempting that is! But sooner or later, you are going to have to deal with these Ugly Realities, whether it’s you’re gaining weight, your health is deteriorating or even your clothes are getting a bit tight. Most of us try hard to avoid dealing with anything we don’t want to face and honestly that’s normal to some degree, but when we turn into ostriches, we’re only adding to the problems we are already ignoring.

You don’t have to track your weight, food or activity but when you suddenly realize that you only have two pair of nice slacks to wear and all the other pants that fit have spandex, you won’t have to ask yourself “when/ how did I gain so much weight?” Writing down what you ate, how much you ate, how much you weigh or how active you are is a simple way of just keeping an eye on your progress or status.  “This is where I am today!” If you don’t like where you are or you want to stay there, you have some perspective on what is working, what is not working or what is getting away from you. How you choose to keep track of this information is up to you.  Some people like putting it in an app and some like writing it in a journal or notebook– that decision is up to you, but not keeping track of basic information is just burying your head in the sand, and when you come up for air at last, you’re likely to find the landscape has changed in some really unpleasant ways.

 

 

Be True To You: Weight Loss & Self-Confidence

Self-confidence has a huge influence on weight loss. There are a lot of people who think that losing weight boosts your self-confidence and, while that does happen, if you aren’t already self-confident and sure of yourself before you lose weight, losing the weight isn’t magically going to make you confident and secure.  In fact, the more insecure you are before you lose weight, the harder it is to lose the weight at all.  While there are a lot who think this makes for a vicious self-defeating cycle, being insecure about yourself isn’t going to get any better after you lose weight.  You’ll just be doubting you’ve done enough to meet everyone’s expectations.

I like to think of self-confidence as being true to who you are. It takes some guts to be yourself, especially if everyone else in your life is telling you that you’re wrong or that you are too different in some way.  The United States is a bit of a paradox: we cheer individuality as long as it’s not too “individual,” if you know what I mean.  In short, if you’re too weird or different, you stand out and then somehow, that’s not good.  I’ve been lucky in that way: I was always different from my classmates, so what the heck? They’re going to be picking on me anyway!

Being self-confident means that you make your own decisions no matter what everyone else says or thinks, and that can mean standing up for yourself.  It can mean choosing things that are different from what your family and friends like.  It can also mean putting up with their criticism and ridicule, which as we know is uncomfortable and difficult. It can be a difficult choice for some.  Being different can be a real struggle since we usually have to fight against the tide of conformity.  Probably the best illustration I know comes from the movie Out of Africa where Robert Redford’s character Denys Finch-Hatton is explaining his lifestyle to Meryl Streep’s Karen Blixen:  “I don’t want to live someone else’s idea of how to live. Don’t ask me to do that. I don’t want to find out one day that I’m at the end of someone else’s life.” (Out of Africa) 

This quote really put the movie into perspective for me, (mainly because until this quote, I had been thinking his character was just a great big jerk).  It also put life in general into perspective because he is right: if you live your life by someone else’s rules, you will have missed out on living your own life! Maybe this sounds a bit drastic for the topic of weight loss, but I don’t think so.  Think about how many times friends, family members, weight loss ‘professionals’ and the media tell you how to lose weight. There is a lot of subtle subtext that if you don’t do it their way, you are doing it wrong or you will fail and gain it all back! It’s not their body and it’s not their life but they imply that they know better than you about your own health. Sometimes, that really is true, but it’s still your decision to make. You are allowed to ask about credentials and training and source information when it comes to your health and if they don’t want to share that information, for me, that’s a huge red flag that maybe I don’t want to listen to their advice.

I am definitely not a weight loss professional, but I am someone who has spent my life struggling with my weight.  It’s one of the many things that made me different from my classmates and it’s been the source of a lot of ridicule and criticism from family as well as strangers.  Everyone knew the best way for me to lose weight and if I didn’t listen to their advice, I was some kind of idiot or worse, I just liked being fat!  I was fat because I was a glutton; I was fat because I was lazy; I was fat because it was in my DNA; I was fat because because because! I’ve spent most of my life being told by others ‘why’ I was fat and how to lose weight even though some of these people barely knew me!

Needless to say that after a lot of tears and self-doubt, I grew a thick skin. (I’m sure they thought that added to my weight too!) When I decided to start eating Paleo, I got a fair bit of criticism. There is a huge majority that believe that grains are heart-healthy and that all fat is evil because it causes heart disease and that if you don’t eat enough carbs, you will be chronically fatigued.  I’ve been given advice to go vegetarian, go vegan, and been told countless times that “Paleo is too much meat!”  However, it got harder and harder for them to argue with my “weirdo fad diet” when the weight started coming off and staying off! Eventually, they stopped criticizing me and my diet because nothing succeeds like success. I lost weight and am still losing weight and I haven’t ended up in the hospital with chronic fatigue, deadly heart disease and/ or malnutrition.  FYI: my doctor really likes my cholesterol numbers, too!

It really can be a hard thing to stand up for yourself and do things your way when the rest of the world is telling you you’re wrong.  By the time I decided to try Paleo, I’d spent a lifetime being told I was wrong or just weird.  When I chose German instead of Spanish in college, I was criticized by family (German’s not ‘marketable’) and by total strangers for ‘rejecting my Hispanic heritage’.  When I opted not to marry or have children, I was told it’s because I’m not feminine or ‘attractive’ enough (I had a few offers– no thanks!)  When I discovered Queen, hard rock and heavy metal music in my 20’s, I was told I was going through a ‘rebellious phase’ since no one else in my life listened to it.  It’s a ‘phase’ that’s lasted 30 years since I still listen to it (my hard rock friends now roll their eyes at my growing Green Day addiction but oh, well!) As I said, I’ve got a thick skin and this is where Mr. Finch-Hatton’s quote has stood me in good stead: I choose to live my life by my rules because it’s my life!

When it comes to choosing how you want to lose weight, the choice is yours, not anyone else’s.  The only advice I can give you is probably the stuff you know already: is it safe? does it work? do you enjoy it?  If the answers to all those questions are “yes,” then who cares if people tell you that Whole 30 is better or going vegetarian is healthier or that sticking with Weight Watchers is the way to go? If you think diets like Paleo and Atkins are dangerous, dumb or just not practical, good for you! You made a decision that works for you! It’s your body, your lifestyle and your health.  Do what works for you.  You are the one who has to live with your body. You don’t want to wake up some day and discover the body you’re living in is the result of someone else’s rules.