Getting Out of Our Own Way: Weight Loss & Personal Responsibility

Humans love blame. We like pointing at someone or something and saying “it’s their fault!” This is especially true with weight and eating: it takes away our responsibility. If we aren’t in control of our circumstances, then how can we be to blame for what we did– or didn’t– do?

This is one of the most popular excuses when it comes to weight loss: “I couldn’t do it because of XYZ.”  I couldn’t eat healthy because it’s too expensive, because I didn’t have time to cook or I was too tired.  It’s the same when it comes to working out: start the litany of excuses here–  too tired, too busy, too expensive, etc.! We look at these as reasons or explanations but however you want to paint them, underneath all that whitewash they are still just excuses. We know that even if we don’t want to admit it to ourselves or anyone else.

How do I know they are excuses? Because we make the time and effort to do the things we want to do! How many of us have been “too busy” to get to the gym but we manage to make that sale at Pier 1? We are “too tired” to make a healthy dinner but we manage to stay up late enough to catch up on the Game of Thrones episodes we’ve missed?  We can’t afford the “healthy” groceries but we can still make it to TGI Fridays for beer and appetizers with our friends?

Obviously, we aren’t bad people nor are we lazy either.  Our priorities have just gotten a little skewed and rather than admit “I’d rather watch tv than go to the gym,” we come up with an excuse, as much for ourselves as for others. Most of us believe that watching tv, skipping the gym or sharing potato skins and beer with our friends means that we aren’t taking our weight and health seriously, and not putting those things first means that we’re bad people. Rather than admit to being “bad,” we create excuses and blame circumstances or other people for these supposed character flaws.

While I don’t want to give tacit permission for everyone to blow off their workouts and gobble down junk food, there is nothing wrong with taking time for yourself!  Personal responsibility doesn’t mean that you have to be “good” 24/ 7 or you are a lazy bad junk food addict: it means that you own your decisions.  If you’d rather binge some mindless tv or have a few beers with friends, then own the decision.  You are taking some time for YOU!  The problem comes when we construct an excuse rather than take responsibility for making a decision.

As Elizabeth Benton points out in her book Chasing Cupcakes [Chasing Cupcakes Book], if you have to rationalize your decision, it’s probably an excuse. No one rationalizes having Brussels sprouts instead of pizza. No one rationalizes going to the gym or passing on the beer and nachos! But switch those around and we are more than eager to explain why we had to have the pizza, beer and nachos and bail on our workout.  Owning our decisions means that we take responsibility for what we choose to do or not to do.  This means it’s an actual decision and not an excuse. You made a choice; you are not a victim of circumstance!

While this may not seem like it really matters, when it comes to weight loss, personal responsibility is extremely important.  Remember what I said at the beginning about excuses absolving us of responsibility? If we are not responsible, it means we have no power and are helpless to change our situation. It also makes it easier to confuse an excuse with a legitimate reason.

Some of you know I commute two hours for my job.  Usually, I go straight from my job to the gym on workout days, but if I am stuck in traffic and arrive late or not at all, that’s not an excuse: it’s a reason.  Had it not been for the traffic congestion, I would have made it to the workout.  If I just don’t feel like going and then blame it on the ‘bad traffic,’ that’s an excuse! There’s difference between the traffic interfering with my workout and my saying “I don’t want to go.” Do l really need a ‘reason’ not to go to my workout? Of course not! My going or not going has always been a voluntary choice but when I start giving myself excuses and believing them, I am giving away my power to control my circumstances.

There are a lot of examples of these power-stealing excuses on My 600 lb Life.  The patient hasn’t lost weight and it’s her family’s fault because they don’t want to eat healthy.  They just moved and they don’t have any way to cook healthy food so he’s had to eat takeout.  The patients complaint they are at the mercy of their family who brings them the food they eat. As Dr. Nowzaradan points out, just because the family brings them pizza, burgers & fries or chocolate cake doesn’t mean they have to eat it! “No one is shoving that food in your mouth!” We’ve all heard the expression “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” They are eating the junk food because they want to and using their families as the excuse not to change their eating habits.

Most of us are probably thinking, “well, duh! They eat it because they want it!” Hello, no brainer here! But for these patients, thinking that they don’t have to eat it is something of a paradigm shift.  They believe the excuses are really reasons. They really do have a choice when it comes to what they eat, whether they are at the mercy of their family or not. If the family wants pizza, they don’t have to eat it. If the family brings home burgers, again they can say no to eating burgers.  When one patient said he ate it because “I gotta eat something,” Dr. Nowzaradan’s response was “you’ve got 800 lbs of food on you– you don’t have to eat something!”

When we make excuses for not going to the gym, for eating potato chips or for pounding a pint of ice cream, we give away our power to control our decisions and make positive changes in our lives.  When we own our decisions, we are keeping that power. That doesn’t mean every decision we make will be a good one. I know I make quite a few that I really regret! But when that happens, that is my opportunity to look at it and tell myself “That was a dumb one! How can I avoid doing that again?” But when we hide behind an excuse, we turn ourselves into victims of circumstance. Instead of taking responsibility, we are at the mercy of others, be our families or the cruddy commuter traffic: “I can’t help it!”  Most of the time, that’s not true: we just don’t like feeling like a failure because of our choices. If we aren’t in control of the situation, we can’t be to blame, but when we give away our control, we can improve either. It really is our choice.

 

 

 

 

The Devil You Know Still Bites: Weight Loss & Old Habits

We all know it is hard changing our habits.  The more ingrained they are, the harder it is.  I have heard experts say that the more we do something the same way, the deeper it becomes entrenched into our brains, which explains how we manage to drive home while we are off in La-La Land thinking about the fight we had with our coworker, the latest news about the government shut-down or the final episode of Game of Thrones waiting for us.  Somehow, we find ourselves safe in our own driveway with no memory of how we got there!

When it comes to driving home, getting ready for work or picking up the kids, that unthinking habit is a good thing, but when it comes to how we eat, how we shop and how active we are, it’s not such a good thing, especially if you are trying to improve those.  One of the reasons it’s hard to make changes to old entrenched habits is that it means we have to stop and think about those changes.  That means it requires our attention and therefore more energy devoted to a task that was formerly on autopilot.

We are all familiar with this scenario: we are out at a restaurant and looking at the menu. There are a lot of items we would normally have chosen depending on what we are ‘hungry for,’ but now we have to stop and look at the calories or the carbs involved. Now instead of looking for something that appeals to us, we are looking for something healthy which also appeals to us! Obviously the Go-To Healthy Option is a salad, “dressing on the side, please!” but having salad every time we go out not only gets old, it makes us feel like we’re wearing a sign that says “HI! I’M DIETING!”

That’s what’s so tempting about giving in ‘now and then.’ It’s easy to look at the salad options, realize we’re just burned out on anything with lettuce and order something else that’s familiar. Or, we use our companions as an excuse: they were all ready to order and I was still trying to figure it out, so I just picked something I liked! I’ll do better tonight/ tomorrow/ next time!

Then there is the “I just forgot” excuse, as in we were out getting lunch, buying groceries and we bought something out of habit because we ‘forgot’ we don’t eat that anymore. We were on autopilot. In short, we weren’t paying attention to what we were doing. I know that can feel like we’re pointing fingers but this is how most of us function in life.  Imagine if we had to think about everything we do all day: what’s that ringing sound? It’s the phone. I need to answer that.  Am I at work ” hello business name” or at home?

I’m not being trying to be facetious here. Our brains cover all that in about two seconds after we first hear the phone and we answer it automatically without jumping through all those hoops.  It might be a couple more seconds if we’re in the middle of something and we decide not to answer it, but this is where autopilot kicks in, saving us time and trouble.  But when we are trying to change our habits, we need to remind ourselves to pay attention in certain situations.  It feels like a huge hassle because what used to take a couple minutes now takes ten or fifteen. “Really?? It’s just cooking oil! It’s not that big a deal!”

We also use the “Confused” excuse: I was looking at the labels and I had no idea what any of this meant, so I bought what I normally buy instead! We have probably seen others at the supermarket with that baffled expression on their faces as they are reading and comparing labels. We have probably been that person, reading labels until our eyes glaze over and we just throw something into the cart! Again, “it’s not that big a deal!”

Except all those “little deals” add up! I recently downloaded one of those apps that lets you squirrel away the change from your purchases into a savings account.  After a week, I checked my account as usual and noticed there was a deduction for five dollars and change, then a few days later, it was nine dollars and change, and by the end of the month, it was about thirty dollars deducted from my account that month.  And it was all leftover change! Of course, it had all gone into my savings account, but it was a bigger deduction than I had thought it would be because individually they were “no big deal!”

It’s the same thing when we are trying to make improvements to how we eat and how active we are. Each time we tell ourselves, “it’s no big deal,” we are dropping a few coins into that Old Habit jar and if we kept track of how many times we did that, we wouldn’t be surprised when we realize it’s already April and we haven’t lost any weight, we are still having a bagel with breakfast and the ice cream in the freezer is still being replenished on a regular basis! Why? Because we haven’t done the work to change our habits! All those times we got confused or forgot or didn’t have the time and told ourselves “no big deal” added up to no changes being made and that is a big deal: it’s your life!

We all know the expression: caught between the devil you know and the devil you don’t.  Most of us opt for that old familiar devil just because it is familiar. Choosing between the chicken fajitas and the beef enchiladas? “I’ve had the enchiladas but I don’t know how spicy the fajitas are, so I’m sticking with the enchiladas!” Wondering if you should join that gym near your house? “I don’t know how to use those machines and Doug at the office hurt his shoulder at the gym last month, and I don’t want to get hurt. Maybe I should keep working out at home…” but how much are you really working out at home? Fifteen minutes of dumb bell curls while you’re watching tv? I know, because I’ve done that and called it ‘working out!’

We all know that change takes time and effort and while we all want the benefits of the change, we are less enthusiastic about doing the work to get us there.  We try to make changes, realize it’s confusing, it’s a little scary and just plain uncomfortable.  So we end up keeping company with that devil we know. The most important thing we don’t realize about that devil? He’s still a devil and he still bites! It may feel safe and comfortable to have the chicken enchiladas and work out in front of the tv but remember why you wanted to change back when you started this? You wanted to be able to keep up with your kids/ grandkids at the park. The dress you wanted to wear at your anniversary party was a little snug. You picked up your tool box and could barely lift it.  Whatever your reason, health or vanity, you wanted to feel better, look better and be stronger, but that devil you don’t know scared you off with confusing labels, intimidating work out equipment and just plain uncomfortable situations. This is the Unknown, after all!  Who knows what can happen to us? But that’s the point: who knows what improvements we can make if we try? We might enjoy the gym and even make some friends! We can discover that stir fried veggies are not only healthy but taste delicious! We might learn we love cooking and making our own recipes! We might even learn that we feel so much better when we eat better, which can lead to a whole host of other side effects, like sleeping better, having more energy and being happier in general! This is the Unknown, after all!

“Refuse to be Put Here”: Weight Loss & Overcoming Obstacles

One day when I was in middle school, the teacher brought in pictures of optical illusions and other pictures that could be tricky if you didn’t take the time to examine them closely. Most of us are familiar with the optical illusions these days: the black and white pic of a vase that has faces silhouetted on either side; the old woman-young woman pic; and then the wordplay: “be sure to read this this carefully” and my all-time favorite, “refuse to be put here.”

That last one really confused our class.  We were all about 12 or 13 years old and didn’t understand even after the teacher explained that public trash cans (or dust bins) in England had that legend on them: Refuse To Be Put Here.  We were wondering why the English would want to put us in trash cans, and if they did, why are they telling us to refuse being put there? That’s when the teacher explained that we were confusing the verb ‘refuse’ (ree-fyooz) meaning ‘to decline or reject’ with the noun ‘refuse’ (reff-yooss) meaning ‘scraps or garbage.’

All these years later, that legend still makes me smile: it’s a little bit of absurd cultural miscommunication.  I think that phrase has stuck with me because most people tend to see what is familiar and go no further than that. We tend not to look at what is really there: we just see the surface, as in the other phrase: “be sure to read this this carefully.” Most of us miss the second ‘this’ because our eyes skim the sentence and our brains automatically translate it into what we expect it to say.

When I taught English, I used to tell my students to have a friend proof-read their essays or wait a few hours before doing it yourself because the same effect will happen.  Our brains know what we meant to say so when we read the essay, our brains will automatically gloss over any errors. Even though we read the mistakes, we don’t really see them.

The same thing happens to us when we try to make positive changes to our eating or exercise habits. It can happen with any habit we try to change because we tend to get locked into one way of thinking or acting.  We are still stuck in our old routines and the new routine doesn’t quite make sense to us yet.  We are still reading ‘ree-fyooz’ instead of ‘reff-yooss.’ We get confused and fall back into old patterns instead of looking at what is really in front of us. Is that really an obstacle or is it an opportunity to change our old routine?

While this may sound like a complicated idea, it really isn’t.  Example: you are going out for lunch with family and at the last minute, they decide to go to a sandwich shop. Your old routine would be “I guess I’m stuck eating a sandwich or nothing!” and rather than feel awkward not eating, you would just eat a sandwich. Are you really stuck eating a sandwich? Or can you ask for a lettuce wrap instead? Or maybe asking for the sandwich open-faced and leaving the bread behind? When it comes to making the best choice for us in unexpected situations, we all need a little practice looking at situations differently.

We’ve all heard phrases like “thinking outside the box” so often that they’ve become cliche.  They no longer have any real meaning to us anymore.  We don’t have to examine every single situation or go to extremes to change our habits, but we do have to learn to pause before falling back into old habits and routines.  Suppose you are meeting a friend at the gym to work out and you get a last minute text saying they’re stuck with a client and won’t be going.  What are your options? Go alone or not go at all? How about rescheduling? How about calling someone else? If you don’t like going to the gym alone, how about another activity, like walking the dog, or even just taking a walk by yourself or with another friend?

Recently, I was swamped over the weekend, when I usually do my grocery shopping, and frankly, I bailed on it. I just decided I am too lazy to go to the store on Sunday so I am staying home! Later that night, I took a look at my schedule and realized that I was busy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening so shopping would either be after 8:00 p.m. or not at all, unless I wanted to bail on the gym.  Hmmmmm…..maybe being lazy was a mistake….. I made a quick survey of what I had in the fridge: a bag of salad greens, two half bottles of dressing, a sweet potato, a left over pork steak, five hot dogs, a package of bacon and a dozen eggs.  After finishing the salad and the pork steak, it’s been ‘breakfast for dinner’ so far this week! My being lazy put me in an awkward situation and my old routine would have “I guess I have to get takeout until I can get to the store!”

We get used to thinking in terms of Option A and Option B. In my case above, it’s miss the gym to get groceries or get takeout.  There is also Option C: go shopping after gym at 8:00 p.m.  None of these is an attractive option to me, so I chose Option D: eat what I had available! While this isn’t a radical decision now, a few years ago it would have been. The thought of not having takeout when I obviously had no “dinner options” would have left me stymied. By my old standards, I had “no food” in the house, so takeout or shopping were my only options.

We face situations on a regular basis where we are presented with Option A and Option B: I am running late for work and I have no gas in the car. I have no time to make coffee and I have nothing in the house for breakfast. Since I am running late, I have no time to stop to pick up something. Gas is a necessary non-negotiable so obviously Option A is ‘gas station breakfast’ and Option B is get takeout breakfast and be late for work, which is also non-negotiable for me.  What about Option C: have breakfast at work? Of course this only works if you have something to eat at the office, but since I bring my lunch supplies routinely, ‘lunch for breakfast’ is an option for me. (Frankly, this is one of the reasons I bring lunch supplies to the office.) Option D is to skip breakfast altogether, have coffee at the office and have lunch later on.  Still totally doable!

Learning to look at things from a different angle isn’t hard once we stop and think about what is in front of us; it’s that “stopping and thinking” that trips us up. I think this is why I remember that phrase from middle school: when you are presented with a confusing situation, ‘ree-fyooz’ to be put here!

 

What You Want or What You Need?: Weight Loss & The Emotions Involved with Eating

Some of the phrases we hear a lot on My 600 lb Life are “I need to eat something that tastes good;” “food is the only thing that calms me down;” and “food never lets me down.” While it’s easy to judge these patients and their obsession with food, we do the same things in our own lives.  These patients are confusing what they want with what they need.  What they need is comfort or relief from stress and anxiety and instead of truly fulfilling that need, they distract themselves with food.

We do the same thing, just on a lesser scale.  For a lot of women, there’s the Chocolate Cliche: we fight or break up with our significant other and immediately head for the chocolate.  We sometimes substitute ‘chocolate’ for ‘ice cream.’  For guys, it’s usually beer: they drink away the emotional upset.  Whether, beer, chocolate or ice cream, we are medicating the unpleasant emotions with calories!

While most of us are familiar with the “emotional eating” concept, being aware of it is only beneficial if we change our behavior.  On a recent episode, one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients was still making excuses for her lack of weight loss, and upon finding out she had gained about 40 lbs instead of losing the 50 the doctor had wanted, she immediately began using stress as an excuse: “I’m an emotional eater and I’ve been under so much stress lately!” She is using emotional eating as an explanation for why she gained weight when it is really just an excuse.  Like most of us, she’s using her emotions as permission to overeat.

When we get stressed, upset or anxious, we tend to distract ourselves with food by telling ourselves that the food comforts us.  It makes us feel good and it distracts us from the fact that we are upset or we are worried.  Distraction is not comfort: when the distraction is gone, i.e. we’ve eaten all the food, the stressor returns along with the realization that we just finished an entire pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk (chocolate and ice cream!) Now we feel the original stress and usually some guilt for eating all the ice cream: where are the potato chips??

The food is what we think we want, i.e., solace and comfort, but what we really need is a way to deal with our negative emotions. We need true comfort, not a yummy calorie-rich distraction! Real comfort makes you feel better after the ‘comfort’ is over. (Little hint: if you feel guilty about the ‘comfort’ afterward, it’s not true comfort!) True comfort can be as simple as talking to a friend or family member about whatever is upsetting you.  It can be prayer or meditation or a controlled breathing technique.  It can also be as simple as putting on a playlist and singing along or just spending time with your pets! Those last two examples are staples in my life: when I get stressed, I will put on one of my favorite playlists and concentrate on how much I enjoy the music.  If I’m at home, I focus on my pets, how much I love them, how much enjoyment and love they bring into my life.  Calling a friend is also a staple for me, whether it’s asking for some advice or just venting about my problem.  Once I have relaxed a little and the stress or anxiety has stopped freaking me out, I can usually think about the situation a little more clearly. None of those have any guilt associated with them and they definitely don’t have calories! But, they all relieve my stress, anxiety and negative emotions.

There is also the misconception that feeling negative emotions is bad. Many of us are raised with the idea that we should never feel bad or have negative emotions. I don’t believe negative emotions are a bad thing.  It’s normal to be upset when you’ve had a fight with someone you love.  It’s normal to be frightened or scared or anxious.  Feeling sad is also a normal human emotion.  The emotions aren’t what’s bad: yes, they are uncomfortable, but the problems really arise when we handle these emotions badly. We normally handle them badly because we are anxious to get away from them as fast as we can. This is why nearly all of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients are referred to a therapist: to learn to deal with the negative emotions driving them to overeat.

I recall one of the therapists meeting with a patient (Erica Wall) and discussing a traumatic event in her past. Erica admitted to feeling very uncomfortable while discussing the event and the therapist responded by telling her that even though she felt uncomfortable, she was still safe and nothing bad was happening. Learning to sit with that uncomfortable feeling is a big step towards her healing. She made the same point I did above: it’s okay to feel uncomfortable, sad or upset at times.

The problem is that no one wants or likes feeling negative emotions.  Why feel bad or anxious when you can feel good or happy? Bring on those cupcakes! Obviously, learning how to deal with negative emotions in a positive manner takes a little practice. Some of us– okay, most of us!– can feel a bit panicky when the negative emotions start flooding through our nervous system.  We start looking for the quickest escape route: chocolate? sugar? chips? This is normal procedure for us.  I remember after one argument with my mother, I ‘came to’ staring into the fridge and I didn’t even remember opening the door!

The reason I remember this little episode is that once I realized I was looking for something to eat because I was upset at my mother, I made a conscious choice not to eat anything.  Rather than soothing my anxiety and negative emotions, I chose to handle them differently. (In this instance, I think I went on MFP and vented about my mother.) Allowing myself to feel angry and upset without eating my emotions helped me learn to deal with them.  It didn’t feel great, but it wasn’t the end of the world either! Yes, I was upset for awhile, but after venting my frustration and not eating as a result, I actually felt rather proud of myself for handling it differently, instead of dealing with it like I used to and then feeling guilty for eating all the leftovers in my fridge!

One of the therapist Go-Tos for dealing with negative emotions is journaling.  Writing down how you feel is one way of safely venting the negativity. No one ever has to see it but you, and if you want to shred it afterwards, that’s your choice! For a lot of people, it’s a good place to start learning to deal with the uncomfortable emotions we all have in our lives. Too often we feel foolish or awkward discussing our emotions, especially the ones we don’t want to deal with, but it’s this awkwardness and reluctance that gives them power over us.  It is also why therapists are in such demand: we aren’t taught to deal with these emotions growing up so as adults we have to look to professionals for the help we need.  There is no shame in getting help or looking for solutions outside ourselves. The real shame is when  we remain locked in the emotional prison we made for ourselves.

 

 

Weight Loss & Your Priorities: What’s Your ROI?

I know a lot of money gurus will tell you that if you want to know a person’s priorities, take a look at their bank accounts and credit card statements. In some ways, that’s true but I think looking a how a person spends their time, perhaps in addition to their money, will give you a better idea of what is important to them.

When someone makes time in their daily lives to spend it with friends or to spend it in front of a tv, you know what is important to them.  It doesn’t mean the tv watcher is a bad person or that the friend-oriented person is better: it simply means they have different values and priorities.  In short, you put your time, effort and money towards what you value most.

I have a lot of friends who are fans of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.  They spend a lot of time watching those and follow several shows.  They usually roll their eyes at me when I remind them “I have cable.” I get more eye rolls when I tell them I don’t have a smart tv or a DVR either.  I like tv and it’s usually on in the evenings and weekends, but I seriously only follow about a half dozen shows during the year, which averages out to about 4 nights a week that I’m really paying attention to what’s on tv.  Even worse, if I miss one of those episodes, oh, well! If it’s not available OnDemand, I just have to wait for a rerun! Obviously, tv is not one of my priorities.

However, if you want to talk about my dogs and cat, then you’ll see that both of them have treats and toys on monthly subscription with Amazon. They have standing appointments at their groomer (the dogs anyway) and the house is deluged in toys.  Also, my schedule tends to get worked around them: mornings and evenings are devoted to spending time with them, play dates are regularly scheduled and they made a special trip to Santa this year.  In short, my pets take up a lot of my time and money.  That’s because they are a priority with me! Sometimes, taking care of them is a really big headache but even if I do grumble about it, there is no way I’m giving them up.  They are too important to me!

When it comes to our health and weight loss goals, the time, effort and money we put into them are the real indicators of how important they are to us.  They don’t have to be THE most important things in our lives, but when they end up at the bottom of our list of Things to Do on a regular basis, they are obviously NOT important to us.  So, if they keep ending up being the last things we spend time on, why are we surprised to find out we aren’t losing weight and our health isn’t improving?

We all know someone (maybe it’s us) who keeps complaining that they aren’t losing weight when they’re “working so hard!” Before we begin looking for explanations or excuses, we need to take a good look at how much time we are investing in our weight loss. While exercise and activity are important to our health, weight loss is primarily driven by our diet, so let’s start with the obvious: how often are we eating? What are we eating and how much of it? Grazing or snacking all day is a big indicator that we are spending time on our diet, but it’s the wrong kind of time with the wrong kind of activity!

How much time do we spend on meal planning, preparation and buying food? If the answer is “not a lot,” then there’s another clue. Preparing a meal doesn’t have to take hours in order to be healthy but it shouldn’t consist of throwing a frozen meal in the microwave or ordering takeout.  Most of my meals at home take about a half hour or less but grocery shopping just for me normally takes an hour or so, maybe longer if something I want is at another store.  The staples are generally salad greens and fresh fruits and veggies, fresh meat and chicken, milk, eggs, coffee, water, stevia, cheese and uncured bacon.  Preparing them doesn’t take long, since most of the veggies are steamed and the salad greens just come out of the box and onto a plate.  The time I invest in healthy food comes mainly from getting it at the store and planning out what I’m going to have that week.  My Sunday afternoons are always set aside for grocery shopping: it’s just become part of my routine.

Another priority in my life is going to the gym.  I do water aerobics normally three times a week, so there is time invested in packing the gym bag, rinsing out my swim suit and rearranging my schedule to make sure I can make it to the gym at the appointed time.  Two of the workouts have regular classes, so my day is scheduled around what time do I have to be there, when do I need to leave and do I need to move an errand to another day that doesn’t conflict with my workout? The third workout day floats, so again, I need to clear my schedule to make sure the gym bag is packed and I get there on time.  In fact, my friends tease me because if it’s Monday or Wednesday, “she’s on her way to the gym!” Incidentally, my dogs also know my schedule because if the class is cancelled due to a holiday and I come home early, I catch them napping instead of waiting at the door!

Financial gurus talk a lot about ROI: Return On Investment.  We forget that our Return depends on what we invest.  If weight loss and better health are what we are after and we aren’t getting the Return we want, then we need to look at how much we are actually investing and that doesn’t mean money. Most of us are familiar with buying the fresh veggies and letting them moulder in the fridge.  We may have spent the money on them, but they aren’t actually “invested” unless we eat them! The same is true of that gym membership that costs you $25 a month: unless you are using it, you aren’t really investing in your health. For money experts, ROI is measured in dollars but when we’re investing in ourselves, the ROI is pounds lost, strength gained and other intangibles.  When we are talking about the ROI for our health and weight loss, it’s not about the money: it’s about the time and the effort we invest in ourselves. If we aren’t at the top of our list of priorities, that might explain that low Return we’re getting!

 

Vacation Days?: Weight Loss & the Value of Rest

Some of you may remember the tv show Frasier from the ’90’s with Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney and Jane Leeves.  One episode that stayed with me involved Daphne’s quandary over where to go on her vacation: home to family in England or fun in the sun in Acapulco. Considering her dilemma, Frasier flashes back to when he moved home to Seattle and his becoming reacquainted with his dad Martin and brother Niles. Obviously the segment is fraught with complications and frustrations, and in the end, Frasier decides to give Daphne two vacations, telling her that family is important and worth the frustration but spending time with family usually means you need another vacation.

Too often we think that “rest and relaxation” is the same thing as “not being at work.”  Ask any stay-at-home parent about that and you will get an earful, I’m sure! There is a very real difference between doing something restful or relaxing and being busy, whether it’s at home, at work or with your family. I know I have spent more than a few weekends running errands for the pets, the car, the house and even for myself.  Just because it’s a “weekend” and it’s not “work related errands” doesn’t mean I don’t feel tired, frazzled and stressed when I get home! My boss has three young boys with busy sports schedules: some of his weekends are driving here and there, coaching this team and the other team. Come Monday morning, he’s probably more exhausted than when he left on Friday!

We tend to forget that rest and relaxation means we are conserving our energy or doing something that makes us feel rested or at least relieves stress.  Taking the car to be serviced doesn’t count as being “restful” unless, like me, I put my phone on Silent and spend the time listening to music, an audio book or a podcast. I made the car’s appointments a “stress reliever” by purposely being out of touch while I am there. While I am waiting around for the car, I am not scrolling through emails, making lists of things to get done or anything else that can be considered stressful.  I know that while I am there, it’s my time for myself.  

When we feel stressed, our bodies recognize it.  Whether it’s emotional or physical, our bodies react the same way, releasing hormones to deal with whatever danger or trouble we are experiencing.  Those hormones, primarily cortisol, cause the body to release glucose into the blood stream, which jacks your energy level way up. This can cause you to feel anxious, nervous or jittery, but it’s always followed by an energy crash, which leaves you tired, irritable and hungry. Chronic stress can impact your metabolism, leading the body to store calories because of whatever ‘danger’ you are facing.  Besides making it harder to lose weight, the anxiety, depression and fatigue can lead to emotional eating and cravings.  When our blood sugar is low, that’s when we feel the urge to grab crackers, a donut or a soft drink to boost the low glucose in the blood, which starts the roller coaster again: high blood sugar followed by the crash and the cravings.  This vicious cycle is one of the chief contributors to stress-induced weight gain!

When most people think of stress, they think of work and all the other problems and tasks in their lives that eat up their time, but we can feel stressed simply by not getting enough sleep.  Feeling tired all the time is a stressor since your body is not getting enough recuperative time.

Taking time for yourself to do things that you enjoy is hard for a lot of us.  It feels like we are wasting time or not being productive or just plain goofing off.  What we don’t realize is that when we are chronically stressed and/ or constantly rushing and not getting enough rest, we are setting ourselves up not only for weight gain but for illness as well.  We see it happen in offices everywhere: people are rushed, always busy, always tired and then –bam!– they get sick! Even worse, they come to the office to work despite being ill and give it to everyone else! (FYI: when you don’t take the time to rest when you are ill, it takes you longer to get over it on top of giving it to everyone around you!)

One of the easiest ways to combat stress is to give yourself a certain amount of time on a regular basis to do something you enjoy without interruption.  This can be dinner time or evenings with your family.  It can be walking your dog, or it can simply be taking lunch with your phone on Silent. You can also designate one day or part of a day each week as “your day” when you do only the things you enjoy. For me, I usually take Saturday night as my night and during the week, I use my long commute to listen to music, books, etc. or chat with friends.  It may be a long drive but I make it as stress-free as I can.

Another easy way to relieve stress is simply going to bed at a reasonable time each night.  There are a lot of experts who tell you to optimize your sleep experience by sleeping in a completely dark cool room without distractions (people & pets) and to avoid electronic devices at least thirty minutes or more before going to bed.  Those are great ideas if they work for you, but if they don’t, don’t stress about it! For some of us, sleeping alone isn’t an option, so don’t feel you have to kick your partner out of the bed! (Talk about a stressful situation!) The same is true if cool rooms, or no lights or no devices also doesn’t work for you.  It may be that none of those factors is what’s causing your restless sleep: it could be you have too much on your mind! Try making positive changes to your nightly routine, such as doing something relaxing before bedtime and then setting up an environment that works for you. If you feel more or less rested the next morning, make a note and then make the appropriate changes.

The same goes for your Me Time: if one option doesn’t work, try making some adjustments.  If meditating or listening to calming music doesn’t work for you after you’ve given it a real chance, don’t push it! That causes more stress! There is no one way to reduce stress for everyone. We are all individuals and with a little thought, we can find methods that work for us.  I remember as a new college student, I was told to study in a quiet area, preferably a library, and I tried it but it was simply too distracting for me: every sound caught my attention and pulled me away from my reading! My solution: I studied in the student union with all the shouting, music and video games where I could block out all the noise and really concentrate. (Some of my friends had to pound on the table to get my attention!)

When it comes to stress and getting enough rest and relaxation, we need to find a method that works for us, whether that’s hanging out at the gym, relaxing with a book, walking the dog or just putting in earbuds with the music loud.  The most important thing to remember is making time for yourself to relax, even if it is in the middle of traffic!

No Offense, But Serenity Sucks! Weight Loss & Not Giving In to the “Inevitable”

We’ve all heard of the Serenity Prayer, and while I try hard not to roll my eyes whenever anyone mentions it, I admit that in some instances, you really do have to accept the things you cannot change and hope you can recognize what those things are.

However, how many times have we looked at a situation and just decided “I guess that’s just something I can’t change so I’m just have to accept it.” Is this really something we can’t change or are we just giving up? That’s what I mean when I say serenity sucks! How many times do we lump a situation in with other “I can’t change these” situations just because they are really hard? I”m not going to give you the old Edison ‘50,000 ways not to make a light bulb’ story but I am going to toss out of his best quotes: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Yes, change is hard. Yes, you may fail many times before you finally succeed. Does that mean you should just give up because it’s hard? No! It means we need to keep trying. I know we’ve all heard horror stories about someone who “just kept trying” and ended up spending their entire life struggling with something they could never achieve.  [The 19th Century Computer Genius] Sometimes we end up doing the best we can and still not hit the goal, but, at the risk of becoming existential, is the ‘goal’ really the point, or is it really the journey itself?

I have struggled with my weight since I was in 5th grade. Throughout my teenage and adult life, I’ve lived with the “Fat” label attached to everything I’ve done. In college, one of my managers told me I’d never rise any farther in the company because I was fat, and later as an adult, I had another boss send me to a bariatric surgeon. I’ve come home to find the latest diet books on my doorstep courtesy of my mother, who’s also offered all kinds of bribes from new wardrobes to European vacations as incentives to lose weight.  “Weight Loss” has always been the shining sparkly magical goal always out of reach during my life.  I’ve been told that everything in my life will be better “once you lose weight!”

I’m not going to lie: after losing 130-plus pounds, there are a whole lot of things in my life that really are better! Walking, moving, sleeping, being active: all of these are much better having lost that much weight. Physically, I feel better overall.  Emotionally? I still feel like the Fat Woman, mainly because I still need to lose probably another 100 lbs.  Does that mean I still haven’t hit my Weight Loss Goal? Does that mean I will never hit my Goal? Should I just accept that I can’t change this and accept that I will always be fat? I’ve been trying to do this since I was 11 years old and I’ve still only achieved partial success.

Struggling with my weight, trying not to gain, trying to lose pounds and failing over and over has taught me a lot over my lifetime, because at one time, I did just give up. In my forties, I just accepted  “I will always be fat and I should just learn to live with it.” What happened? I wasn’t any happier having “accepted being fat.” Telling myself that I didn’t have to try to lose weight or look at new diets or say no to chips because “hey, I can’t change being fat!” did not stop my wanting to be thinner and healthier or hating the fact that everything hurt and was harder for me at my weight.

Having achieved a measure of success, I have learned that it really isn’t the Goal that matters: it’s the Getting-There that is the point. The struggle to lose weight has truly been overwhelming at some points but having struggled, having failed, having given up and having returned to the fight, I have learned that it is the struggle that gives you strength.  I don’t have to hit a certain magical Weight Loss Goal to be happy.  I don’t have to look the way everyone else thinks I should look.  I can be smart, attractive, and professional at any weight. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself.  Even if there are things about myself that I want to change but never can, am I going to feel proud of myself for giving up and accepting that I can’t change this, or am I going to feel proud of myself for continuing to try?

I am sure there are people who think I should just accept that I will always be obese, especially at this point in my life.  I am also sure there are people who think I am trying to lose weight “the wrong way.” There are always people who are happy to tell you what you should do and how you should do it and what you are doing wrong.  A lifetime of fighting my weight has definitely taught me that! But giving up? Never again!

Gaming the System? Weight Loss & Eating Like an Adult

When most people think of “gaming the system,” weight loss and dieting are usually not the first things that spring to mind– unless of course you are one of those ‘perennial dieters.’  Unfortunately, most of us (me included!) fall into this category: we are always trying to lose weight! And since we are always in a hurry to lose as much weight as we can as fast as possible, we’ve gotten pretty good at “gaming the weight loss system.”

Gaming the system means that we jump at the quick fix option instead of trying to make lasting changes.  Obviously we tend to see quick results with the quick fix, but we forget that ‘quick’ usually isn’t lasting, and let’s face it, while we want quick, lasting is what we are really after! No one likes losing those stubborn twenty pounds only to gain it back (and usually a couple more) and have to lose it all over again.

The problem is that ‘lasting’ takes too long and we get tired of waiting and frankly, tired of doing the work without seeing real results.  It doesn’t make us irresponsible or lazy or mean that we have no will power– it simply means that we’re human. Enter the quick fix with those quick results! But those quick fixes are usually something more drastic than the lasting change option, which is why we see those results so fast.

One of my mom’s famous quick fixes was meal replacement bars and shakes.  Instead of having breakfast and lunch, you have the shake/ bar and then a ‘healthy dinner.’  (Sound familiar, anyone?) We end up cutting out a lot of calories, so we lose weight fast, which makes us really happy for a while. Have you ever lasted on that program for more than a few weeks? I know I can barely manage one week because the shakes and bars taste so awful to me! We all know what happens as soon as you stop with the bars and shakes: Hello, weight gain!

The same thing happens with ‘diet food’ programs: once we stop eating the packaged low-cal meals, we begin to gain back whatever we lost while eating them. If all you want is to lose a few pounds so you look fabulous at the wedding or special event, that’s fine.  There’s an end date to the quick fix and if you gain it back, you are okay with that.  Seriously, though, there aren’t very many of us who are eating the bars, shakes and diet food just because we want a temporary weight loss! We’d rather lose weight permanently so we can look and feel great all the time.

When we opt for the long term lasting change method, the weight comes off slowly and steadily because we are learning as we go. We learn what healthy foods we enjoy and help us lose weight.  We learn how to eat when we’re hungry and how to stop when we’re no longer hungry. That may sound pretty simplistic, but think about it: ‘feeling full’ is not the same as ‘not being hungry!’ Most of us eat until we feel full, which usually means we’ve over-eaten, and many of us also sit down to eat without asking ourselves “am I even hungry?”

Making lasting changes means a lot of us have to change how we think about food and hunger, and that can feel pretty embarrassing to some of us.  Do we really need to learn how to monitor our hunger?  Do we really need to be told to stop eating when we’re not hungry anymore? For a lot of people, yes! Growing up, many of us were made to eat whatever our parents served us and if we didn’t eat “enough,” we were punished for it! I saw plenty of my cousins who had to force down food they didn’t want, either because they didn’t like it or weren’t hungry, just to make their parents happy.  This is what many of us were taught to do as children and many of us (like my cousins’ parents) grew up to force our own children to eat as well.  It was “meal time,” so we “have to eat!” The whole idea of not being hungry isn’t part of that equation, so is it any surprise that many of us sit down to eat at the appointed times and that we eat all or most of what is served to us?  This is what we were taught to do!

For me, this is a big part of what makes those quick fix meal and/ or meal replacement programs such a quagmire: we aren’t learning how to change our thinking about food, meals or hunger.  We are simply substituting one prescribed ‘meal’ for another! Instead of having a real food breakfast, we’re having a shake.  Instead of eating a real food lunch, we’re eating a bar.  Instead of eating a real food dinner, we’re microwaving a packaged meal.  No wonder many of us do so well on the meal replacement systems only to stumble when we try eating real food again: instead of learning what’s good for us and how much of it satisfies our hunger, we are eating what someone else decided was good for us, just like we did when we were kids! When we start eating real food again, we really are like little kids not knowing what to eat or how much of it. As parents, we know we don’t let the kids choose they want to eat all the time because we know it’ll be something like cereal three times a day or fast food for dinner each night.  We accept that children don’t know how to eat well-balanced meals but how many of those ‘kid meals’ sound like something we eat on a semi-regular basis? How many of us come home from work and rather than fix something nutritious, we settle for cereal eaten at the kitchen sink? Or we hit the drive thru for the third time because we’re late getting home again?

We know it’s not healthy for us and we tell ourselves that it’s not our “normal” way of eating, but at the same time, it’s our fall-back meal.  No time to heat something up? Cereal time! Or toaster pastries or granola bars etc.  The same thing happens when we come home late, or are too tired to cook or just don’t want what we’ve got at home: we get drive thru or take out or microwave a packaged meal. Is it any wonder that we have problems with our weight and our health when we eat like kids?

Changing how we think about eating isn’t fast and it takes a fair bit of practice but when we stop opting for the quick fix we end up making some real lasting progress with out health and our weight loss.  We only really win the game when we stop playing with our food!

Resolutions & Reality: Weight Loss & Your Goals

It’s that time of year again! You know what I mean: the grocery stores are full of people looking for healthy veggies, the tv is full of ads for programs designed to help you “look better and feel great!,” and the gym is packed full of newbies who can’t find the locker room.  That’s because everyone wants to start the New Year off right by keeping their health and weight loss resolutions, so they– and we– are jumping into 2019 with both feet!

That’s not a bad thing to do! I know I have made some changes and spent my New Year’s Day setting up some financial and fitness goals too! The problem is that when we make “resolutions” we tend to classify them as “things I have to do” and they end up on a mental list with tasks like Cleaning Out the Garage; Digging the Flowerbed; Getting the Tax Software Downloaded; and Hanging New Curtain Rods. In other words, these are the tasks that no one wants to do so they keep getting shoved to the bottom of the list.  We all know what happens with those tasks: we dread doing them, hate it when we actually do them and usually do them poorly if we do them at all!

The point of any goal is to improve the quality of your life, not make your life miserable because you have to give up pasta and candy bars, but that’s what happens when we focus on the “resolution” mindset.  It’s not that different from the “dieting” mindset that many of us fall into when we want to lose weight.  We make working towards our goals one of those “hate-to-do-it” tasks instead of an activity to make your life better.  That kind of attitude is why my gym will be packed tonight but back to normal come the first week in March. New members will be burnt out with “having to go to the gym” and will give it up as something that’s too much trouble to keep doing.

When you mentally put your new healthy resolution on the same level as Getting My Teeth Drilled, you are setting yourself up to fail.  It doesn’t matter if it’s drinking more water, going to the gym or giving up your after-dinner ice cream: when you are doing something you dread or hate doing, it’s not something that is going to last, which means it’s another failure to add to your list and those failures can be pretty debilitating.  Those failures are why we keep making the same resolutions year after year to eat healthier and lose those same 20 lbs we’ve been trying to lose for the last 20 years.  The goals are good goals well worth achieving, but year after year we’re just going about it the hard way.

Our resolutions are intended to build healthy habits that make us feel better about ourselves. If we want our healthy New Year’s resolutions to become lasting habits that get us to our goals (and that improved quality of life!), we have to set ourselves up to succeed.  That means if you don’t like going to the gym for a Spin class or to do circuit training, find something else at the gym that you do enjoy doing! It may be that the gym isn’t the right place for you to be.  That doesn’t mean you trash your resolution to be more active: it means you find an activity that you really enjoy! It may be that taking a walk outdoors is something you like much better than walking on the treadmill.  It can be that you’d rather be riding a bike outside rather than sitting in a Spin class listening to pop-rock on the gym’s PA.

We need to frame our resolutions in a way to keep us making progress.  The end goal isn’t “Going to the Gym”: the goal is to feel better physically! It’s to be able to move without hurting or to become stronger.  That goal is what we want and if the gym isn’t going to get us there, we need to find something that is!

It’s the same thing with eating healthier. We don’t have to start eating foods we hate in order to get more nutrition or lose weight.  Believe me, if a requirement for eating healthy meant having kale every day, I’d never do it! I have a friend who feels the same way about Brussels sprouts: those little bowling balls never hit her plate! However, there is usually a fair amount of just-as-healthy broccoli and cabbage on both of our plates. One of our little jokes is that neither of us never met a cabbage we didn’t like! We can all eat lots of healthy nutritious vegetables without having to eat things we don’t like. Trying to choke down a kale salad day every day might be healthy but if you are going to give it up after a couple of weeks, it’s not going to move the needle with your health and weight loss.

Sooner or later, we all have to do things that we’d rather not do.  We do them grudgingly because we know they are ultimately required, whether it’s getting a root canal or doing our taxes. Our resolutions shouldn’t be on the same level as a task we’d rather avoid. Remember the goals behind the resolution: Feeling better? Not puffing when we climb the stairs? Being able to run around with your kids or grandkids? Those are goals worth reaching and getting there should not be a chore! How you choose to get there is up to you. Wouldn’t it be great if it was also something that improved the quality of your life? Imagine doing something you enjoyed that was actually helping you feel better about yourself! That sounds like a resolution worth keeping to me!