Dropping the Hammer: Weight Loss, Choices and Consequences

“Dream as if you’ll live forever; live as if you’ll die today”~ James Dean

Admittedly, that sounds a little bit grim but how many of us go through our lives putting off our dreams until tomorrow? Why are we waiting? That’s not an easy question to answer. We have lots of excuses but, really, not any reasons.

Yesterday at the gym, another member asked me about our water aerobics class. She had been sitting in the therapy spa watching us and wanted to know how often we had class and what kinds of exercises we did. Then she proceeded to tell me that she had a problem with her leg and her doctor had advised her to lose about 40 lbs. From there she went on to tell me how hard it was to lose weight and how she had been trying for months. I did try to tell her she needed to eat more vegetables than starches but she right away began giving me ‘reasons’ why that was hard too!

I know it’s hard to make changes. I know it’s hard to motivate yourself and stay motivated. Being consistent is damned hard work, but seriously, what choice do we have? Every episode of My 600 lb Life begins with the same sentiment: “I hate my life. I hate my body.” So why don’t they change how they are living and eating? They will-  and do-  tell us how hard it is to change, but we already know that. We are trying to make the same changes too!

There’s a parable about a man hitting himself in the head with a hammer as he is complaining about his head hurting.  Obviously, we know the answer, but we don’t realize that in our lives, we are that man! We are hurting ourselves, we want the hurt to stop but somehow, we don’t make the connection between our ‘hammers’ and our pain. Why don’t we make the changes we need to make? Why doesn’t that guy stop whacking his head with the hammer? I don’t know why either.

Short answer? Change is hard because it’s scary. Where do I start? What if I’m wrong? How can anything I do make any difference? When we look at ourselves as a Project, we feel overwhelmed. It doesn’t matter if it’s losing 20 lbs or losing 120 lbs: it feels like we’re buried before we even begin. We can listen to the ‘experts’ telling us to give up processed foods or sugar or carbs and we can almost hear the excuses forming in our brains. There is always something getting in our way of making changes, of making progress and that something is US. More accurately, it’s our fear. What if I can’t do it?

I’ve got a better question: what if you never try? If you never change your habits and your choices, then nothing ever changes! You will be stuck living the life you don’t want FOREVER. Look at that picture of yourself that you really hate. (We all have one!)  For me, it’s one where my face is so broad and bloated I almost look like it’s been flattened. I’m a little sweaty because I had to walk in across the parking lot and when you weigh as much as I did (440 lbs), walking is never easy. Remember what I said about every single episode of My 600 lb Life? That’s pretty much what I was telling myself every day: “I hate being this fat.” I wanted to change but I didn’t make any changes because “insert every excuse in the book here!”

I finally made changes because I was pushed to the wall.  My biggest excuse was my Job From Hell: I worked late every day; there was too much stress; blah blah blah. I had friends, family and coworkers telling me to get out of that job before it killed me and one morning, I realized they were right. I asked myself why I was staying at a job I hated and the answer was because of the benefits. Then, like the guy with the hammer, I realized that the benefits weren’t really ‘benefits’ if I died. I put down the hammer and began making changes. Part of those changes were to my horrible eating habits: since I wasn’t getting home at 8:00 p.m. every night, I stopped eating the horrible fast food which was a staple in my diet. Voila! I lost 40 lbs without really trying!

That’s when I started looking at my life and I literally began seeing ‘hammers’ everywhere! Making changes was still scary and still overwhelming, but I realized that if I don’t change, I will be hating my life forever. Like those patients on My 600 lbs Life, I’d be ‘waiting for my life to start’ until my life was over. It came down to one simple question: which is scarier– living a life I hate? or making the changes that scare me? That question I asked earlier: “What if I can’t do it?” I already know the answer.  It’s that fat ugly photo of my old life. There is honestly nothing in my life that is more frightening than living that life again.

Take a good look at that photo you hate and ask yourself this question: Is that a picture of the rest of your life or is that a picture of your life as it used to be? You can make one positive change today to make your life better than yesterday, and then tomorrow, do it again. One positive change every day is all it takes. Use that photo in your hand as your hammer but this time use it to build yourself a better life!

 

 

 

Consistency Isn’t a Four Letter Word: Weight Loss & ‘The Diet’

When I tell people I’ve lost over a hundred pounds, they usually assume that I had ‘The Surgery.’ When I tell them no, they want to know how I lost the weight, how long ago I lost it (going on 4 years now) and then they want to know how I’ve kept it off. Some of them are rather unhappy with my answer: I changed the way I ate. Permanently.

I think they expected some kind of secret magic answer as to how I haven’t gained all the weight back. It’s not magic and it’s really not a secret either. I made permanent lifestyle changes. I can understand their disappointment: this answer is simple to say but it’s hard to do! It means making the healthy choice every day. It means I have to be consistent, and no one likes being consistent! It’s a whole lotta work without time off for good behavior!

I usually tell people that watching My 600 lb Life is my version of a 12 Step Meeting.  They think I am joking but I’m not. Watching that show reminds me of all the bad food decisions I used to make and all of the excuses I used to tell myself. I still catch myself trying to use those excuses! We all know what they are: “this one thing won’t hurt” (Yes it will!); “I deserve a treat!” (It’s not a treat if it’s bad for you!); “I’ve been so good lately!” (So being bad is a reward?) This show keeps me focused on what happens when I decide to take a vacation from Consistency!

I know it can be a major disappointment to people when they realize they can’t “eat healthy,” lose the weight they want, and then go back to eating all the foods they used to eat. They are looking at a lifetime of no more pasta, no more garlic bread, no more milkshakes, or ice cream or peanut butter cups– whatever their particular vice is, it is PERMANENTLY off the menu! When you start down that road, it can feel kind of bleak. It did for me!

This idea of a ‘temporary change’ comes up a lot on the show. Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients believe they can ‘be good’ for a while, get The Surgery and then eventually go back to eating like they did before.  They think The Surgery will ‘fix’ them so they don’t have to be consistently good with their diet. Truthfully, that’s a lovely fantasy and I wish it were true, but in Real Life, what you eat matters! In reality, all those foods you think you love eating? They become way less important compared to how you feel physically and after a while, you don’t miss them anymore.

Permanent changes are fundamental changes and the farther you get away from the way things used to be, the less hold they have on you.  Before I lost the weight, a big part of my regular eating routine was eating out and that menu was full of bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. Recently, I got treated to several dinners out at restaurants to celebrate my birthday and the morning after one of those dinners at an Italian restaurant, I realized I hadn’t had pasta in probably a couple of years or more. I used to love pasta, but it’s not on my menu anymore because it doesn’t make me feel good after eating it.  My dinner the night before had been fish with sauteed veggies. I felt good eating it, it was satisfying and when I went home, I didn’t feel hungry later on. So why would I eat pasta that’s not going to make me feel as great? Honestly, I don’t miss pasta anymore and I hadn’t thought about my choice not to eat it until that morning.

About the same time I was eating out a lot, my gym decided to be a real pain in the butt. For the last four years, I’ve been going to water aerobics classes two days a week. They only offer two evening classes during the week and none on weekends so some of us in the class get together on Friday or Saturday to work out on our own.  A couple of weeks ago, my gym decided to cancel our Monday class because the instructor is on an extended medical leave. In the past, my first thought would have been “whoo hoo! I’ve got Mondays off!” but now it was “WTH?? I’m going anyway!” So that’s what I did! I showed up for my workout like I do every Monday evening, and so did a lot of my friends.  Now on Mondays, we make our own class, just without the instructor, kind of like our Friday or Saturday ‘classes.’

The gym has been another part of my permanent lifestyle change for the last four years. I like it; it makes me happy and I feel better afterwards. Of course, if I didn’t feel well or had to work late or had another appointment, I would have made a different choice, but those options aren’t the rule. The rule is Mondays and Wednesdays are workout days, not because I ‘have to’ but because I like it! I also like seeing my friends, so it’s not only a healthy exercise; it’s a healthy social activity as well.

I know for a lot of people, being consistent sounds hard or it sounds like I live a life of deprivation.  Actually, when I was 440 lbs (sadly, not a typo!), I was feeling pretty deprived. Being that big was physically and mentally painful! The physical pain was pretty obvious: back, hips, knees, feet- they all hurt all the time! Lying down was best except for the sleep apnea and even sitting hurt my back.  Mentally, I was always afraid of going anywhere new simply because I’d be wondering “what if I don’t fit?” And I don’t mean ‘fitting in!’ Do I fit in the chairs at that theater/ restaurant/ vehicle/ conference room/ wherever? Do you know how embarrassing and painful it is to sit in a chair and have your thighs bulge over the arms? How about trying to sit in an older theater where the seats are smaller and not adjustable? Let’s cram my fat butt in those! Just worrying over trying to maneuver my large body was enough anxiety to make me consider bailing on any new situation. And forget doing any walking! If I couldn’t park somewhere close by without another car next to me, I’d freak out. There’s nothing like walking in the door huffing and puffing like I ran a marathon! Or worrying someone will park too close and I wouldn’t be able to get back into my car- more fun! Let’s not discuss the particular torture that are stairs….

Deprived? Yes, I was very deprived! I didn’t go to a lot of places because of my weight. The places I did go to were those where I had no choice or I felt that I could maneuver my 440 lbs body well enough. Even in those places, it was still somewhat embarrassing that I had to go sideways through some obstacles. Like most situations in life, it was a trade-off: I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and as much as I wanted, but as for going anywhere or doing anything? Nope! That’s what I was giving up!

Now I go a lot of places. Besides the gym, I went to our local Highland Games this fall and walked all over the fairgrounds without having to stop every few minutes to rest. In 2017, I toured the Queen Mary several times in one weekend, going up and down many flights of stairs! When I go someplace new, I park wherever is convenient for me, not where it’s closest. Standing up and walking no longer requires a moment of thought and a deep breath before doing it. When I make plans to go anywhere, my first thoughts aren’t “can I fit there?” or “how much walking/ standing is involved?” Believe me, not having to wonder about that is pretty liberating! In addition to the walking, standing and fitting, there’s not having to get up to pee every two hours, even at night. There are a lot of changes to my new lifestyle and most of them don’t revolve around food.

So what did I trade to be able to do all these things? I gave up processed foods: the mac & cheese which was a staple at my house; the other pastas; fast food; sugar; cookies, cakes, brownies; chips & crackers of all kinds; breads, cereals and oatmeals; pretty much anything that came in a box! Do I miss it? Not really. I was watching one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients eat a huge bowl of cereal last week and I remembered that I used to eat cereal: “oh, yeah….” That’s how much I missed it! Chips, crackers, pasta: most of those foods I don’t even think about anymore unless they cross my path. Bread, especially garlic bread and croissants, I miss the most, mainly because they cross my path on a regular basis. Giving up these foods doesn’t mean I never ever eat them: it means when I do eat them, I make sure they are worth it and they are the exception instead of the rule.

It doesn’t take much to remind me what it was like when processed starchy foods were the staples of my diet: waking up every two hours to pee; my joints aching from the inflammation; not being able to fit into chairs. To be honest just the constant bathroom breaks are enough to remind me why I don’t eat bread every day or why cookies are an occasional treat instead of dessert each night!

Just remembering how I felt before I lost the weight is enough to keep the weight off for good. I keep some pictures of myself around to remind myself of what I looked like back then, but it’s not the pictures which are the impetus to stay consistent: it’s the aches and pains; the embarrassment; the inconvenience; the constant running off to the ladies’.  So whenever someone asks me if giving up processed foods makes me feel deprived? Not one little bit!

Turn Off the Food Faucet!: Weight Loss & Five Simple Steps

We hear expressions like this one almost daily: “Stuck in a hole? Then stop digging!” You would think it’s common sense, but sometimes we get so caught up in what’s going on in front of our faces that we miss what’s really behind the problem. Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) has an analogy I really like: you’re in a boat with a hole in the bottom so you start bailing out water as fast as you can, but bailing doesn’t fix the problem. You have to fix that hole to fix your problem!

Of course a hole in the bottom of your rowboat is pretty noticeable but when it comes to weight loss, figuring out why you are not losing weight, or gaining- even worse- can be more of a problem! There are millions of books, infomercials, websites, podcasts, pdfs and blogs about how to lose weight because finding the problem is so damned hard. Solving the weight loss problem a billion dollar industry and everyone wants a piece of that pie! (yeah, it’s a pun!)

It took me nearly 45 years to figure out a few simple truths that started my weight loss and have kept me from gaining it back. Whether they are the legitimate Answer to the Weight Loss Problem or not, they work and they aren’t rocket science (good thing ’cause I suck at math & physics!)  You don’t need to follow them in any order but when you do all five, in my experience, you lose weight and you don’t gain it back!

First Step: Eat whole foods.

This is pretty basic: whole foods tend to have more fiber and nutrients than processed foods, which are usually carb-rich and nutrient-poor. In short, whole foods, like eggs, raw fruits and veggies, cheeses and meats, fill you up faster and keep you filled up longer than processed foods. This is because they take longer to digest than processed foods. Also, foods like eggs and meat are mostly healthy fats and proteins. Your body has receptors which signal when you’ve eaten enough of these, so you get the “I’m full” feeling. With carbs, there are no receptors so we eat and eat and eat until stomach discomforts signals we’re full! That’s how we get full on a small steak but can binge a whole bag of potato chips!

 

Second Step: Only eat when you are hungry.

This should also be pretty basic, except we’ve been trained to eat according to a schedule! How many times have you seen kids who aren’t hungry out at a restaurant being told they “have to eat”? We also encourage our kids to eat everything on their plate too! Then the kids grow up and turn into us: eating according to a clock and eating everything (usually) on the plate! For some of us, we can’t really tell if we are actually hungry or if our stomach is expecting to be fed at a certain time each day! Believe it or not, if you think you are hungry and you wait about twenty minutes or so, you might be surprised to find that you really aren’t hungry anymore! Skipping a couple of meals or at least holding off on them will give you a pretty good sense of what real hunger feels like instead of ‘meal memory’!

The second part of this is to stop eating when before you feel full! By that time, you have likely eaten too much, so eat slowly and when you realize you are no longer hungry, stop eating.  Again, this is connected to the “clean your plate” mentality we learned as kids!

Third Step: No snacking.

Snacking is something most of us grew up with.  When I was a kid, we were always told that snacks ruin our dinner or if we had a snack, we wouldn’t be hungry at meal time. Then sometime in the 1970’s, some food manufacturer came up with the idea of “snack foods,” which has turned into an entire industry! We can buy “snack-sized” foods and “snack packs” at the store so we don’t have worry about fainting from hunger in the middle of the day.  In my opinion, snacking is why so many of us are overweight. We’ve been told that snacks are good for our metabolism and we should eat every two hours.  Both Dr. Nowzaradan (My 600 lb Life, TLC) and Dr. Jason Fung (The Obesity Code; The Diabetes Code) emphatically state that there is no such thing as a healthy snack! Why? Hyperinsulinemia (too much insulin) is why we gain weight: it’s a storage hormone. It’s what takes glucose out of the blood into the cells where it gets turned into FAT! All foods, not just carbs, trigger insulin, so that healthy snack of cheese or an apple or carrot sticks still triggers insulin. We burn fat when there is no insulin in our blood but if we are eating every two hours, when does that happen? Ummm… never? Bingo! Listen to grandma: no snacking!

Fourth Step: Pause before eating.

This step and the next seem like they don’t have much to do with weight loss, but these two steps really do help.  Remember the last time you had a craving or when you got really anxious about something going on and felt that urge to grab anything to eat? This is when that pause gets between you and the bag of Oreos! It is kind of an offshoot of Step Two: checking to see if you are really hungry.  Odds are that you aren’t really hungry: you either saw/ smelled/ or heard of something you really wanted or you are trying to distract yourself from your problem by eating something. I know whenever I get anxious, it’s my first reaction! Pausing before you reach for the chocolate or starting prowling through the fridge lets you redirect that urge. It gives you time to realize that you really don’t want the chips, you just want to feel better or that the only reason you want to eat is that you can smell the garlic bread someone had for lunch! It gives you time to take control away from the craving and the emotional eating. Take a walk; meditate; turn on some music: they can all help and they don’t involve eating!

Fifth Step: Rest and relaxation.

We’ve all been told that stress and lack of sleep don’t help with weight loss, and a lot of us just roll our eyes and flip the page.  Going back to the flooding rowboat analogy, imagine that hole in your boat is stuck somewhere you can’t see it. You know that water is coming in but you don’t know where it’s coming from so you can’t fix it. Stress and lack of sleep take their toll on your body. Your body releases cortisol (the stress hormone) which triggers your body to release glucose for quick energy, which means- you guessed it! Insulin! Because most of our stress (including the sleep deprivation) is chronic and not associated with physical activity anymore (like running away from a bear), that means our body is always triggering cortisol, glucose and insulin! Your stress is that hidden hole in your boat that keeps letting water flood in! Learning to relax such as meditating, taking a walk, listening to music, playing with kids or pets, reading or hey, here’s an idea- taking a NAP: all of these can help with stress and getting your body to calm down some. You will be surprised at how much better you’ll feel physically and mentally! Even better, you’ll lose some weight!

 

 

Whole Foods are Habit Forming!: Weight Loss & Giving Up the Junk

We’ve all heard that junk food- and especially sugar- are addictive. To some extent that is true, but it’s true because we made it true! We’ve gotten accustomed to eating sugary junk food so that’s what our palates and subconscious have come to expect.  We are all familiar with Pavlov’s dog, only in our case we are the dog and sugar is the bell!

Anyone who has tried to make a New Year’s Resolution or build a new habit knows that it all comes down to repetition. You do it over and over and over again until it becomes lodged in our brains and we can do it without effort or even thinking about it.  It happened to me yesterday: I was leaving the office and as I got in my car, I reminded myself I had to pick up my dry cleaning and it had to be picked up that day. I put the claim ticket on my console, pulled out of the parking lot and got in the wrong lane out of habit! The dry cleaning was on the north and home was on the south so of course, like I do 95% of the time, I got in the south bound lane, after telling myself not to do it! What can I say? Habit won!

This same kind of repetition is how we end up craving sugar and junk food: we eat it over and over again! We aren’t born addicted to Hostess cupcakes and Lays potato chips, but because they end up in our mouths so often, we start to expect and then crave them. We don’t even taste them anymore: it’s just the sugar and carbs we are expecting!  Compared to sugar-rich snacks, foods like broccoli and spinach seem to come up short, but the same principles apply: if you eat them enough, eventually your palate and your subconscious will start to expect them!

It seems silly but it’s true.  A couple of years ago, I was out with friends celebrating a birthday and the guest of honor had chosen a pizza place.  There were lots of appetizers on the table like fried cheese and beer battered shrimp.  I had chosen an antipasto salad for my entree and after politely declining all the appetizers, when my entree arrived, I actually said “yay, salad!” out loud and I meant it when I said it. It still surprises me, because while I don’t hate veggies or salad, I didn’t realize until I saw it how much I was looking forward to the salad! I’d taught myself that salad was delicious.

Something similar happened just last week at the grocery store: I wanted Brussels sprouts for dinner.  I had salad greens in the fridge but on the way home, I started wanting (dare I say “craving”?) Brussels sprouts and I was so disappointed that the store was out of the fresh ones that I like! When I was a kid, you’d have to pay me to eat them, and now I was craving the dang things!

It’s all about repetition: we want the foods we are used to eating.  Our brains and our palates expect them on a regular basis. Dinner for me is usually salad, veggies or both along with some kind of meat: chicken, beef, lamb or pork.  When I get hungry, this is what my palate and my brain start looking for! Without thinking about it, I end up in the produce section of the stores looking at the lettuces: “baby spinach mix? butter lettuce?” Some times I mix it up with other produce like tomatoes, mushrooms, etc., but dinner for me usually begins with a big pile of green leaves!

Compared to what I used to eat regularly, salad can seem pretty blah. This is one of the biggest complaints when it comes to eating whole natural foods: “they don’t taste great.” Actually, it’s not that baby spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts don’t taste good: it’s that you aren’t used to eating them! Once you get used to eating whole foods, you develop a taste for them the way you developed a taste for those boxes of cupcakes and bags of potato chips.

Example: remember the first time you tasted beer? I am pretty sure you made a face! That first sip of beer is universally awful but as an adult, you certainly don’t think it tastes horrible.  You probably have your favorite brands and brews, but that first time? Ugh! So how did you get used to the taste of beer? By drinking it over and over, of course! (In high school, one of my sister’s friends got busted by her dad when he let her taste his beer and the fact that she didn’t make that face told him this wasn’t her first beer!)

The same thing happens in reverse: when you stop eating the junk food and sugar, it stops tasting good. You lose your taste for them. I used to eat a lot of fast food on a regular basis. I was seriously on a first name basis with the Jack in the Box drive-thru guy (his name was Dennis.) Once I stopped eating it for a few months, I decided to ‘treat’ myself to the same dinner I’d had several times a week for months. Same meal; same drive-thru, but what a difference! It certainly didn’t taste delicious and in truth it just tasted really weird to me! It wasn’t the food that changed: it was me!

It wasn’t just my palate that changed either. Not only did the fast food not taste good to me: it made me feel bad. It’s cliche to say ‘you are what you eat,’ but we all know how true that is. Changing what I ate not only changed my taste buds: it changed how I felt and how I looked. Not only did I lose 40 lbs by just giving up junk food, my skin looked better and I felt a whole lot better, emotionally and physically. It was a combination of not eating junk and eating more nutritious whole foods instead. Why eat the weird fast food that makes me feel like a blob when I can eat the fresh vegetables that make me feel good?

It is a lot like Pavlov’s dog: a learned response to stimulus. The sound of the bell is the sound of a treat! If we rang the bell and gave the dog something that tastes bad each time, he’s not going care how often you ring that bell! What you’ve got, he doesn’t want! Does all that junk food really taste good? Or are we just used to eating it?

It’s Not Just Food We Need to Let Go: Weight Loss & Forgiveness

When we think of emotions, eating and weight loss, the first thought that comes to mind is “emotional eating.” It’s become a cliche excuse: why am I overweight? “Because I’m an emotional eater of course!” However, our emotions can get in the way of our weight loss in other ways.

Anger isn’t something we think about when we think of weight loss. Again, some of us have been known to eat out of anger, but it gets in our way especially when we choose to hang on to that anger rather than let it go. One example that comes to mind is eating out of spite or resentment. This was especially true for me when I was a kid. As an overweight child, I was constantly hounded by my parents about my size and whatever I happened to eat.  (FYI: if you have an overweight child, this is NOT the way to handle it!)  Potato chips, sandwiches, mac & cheese, even fruit: “Don’t eat too much!”; “Haven’t you had enough?” I hated the negative attention, hated being watched all the time and I was angry that ‘everyone else can eat what they want,’ so when I was alone, I ate whatever I wanted! It became reflex: there are cupcakes and no one to tell me no, so I ate them! I was out at a store and I had the money to buy junk food, so I bought it and ate it! While I knew this behavior wasn’t good for me, it was my way of demonstrating my anger at the way I was ‘persecuted’ by others.  Did I want to lose weight? Yes and no.  I wanted to be thinner but I also knew that my weight upset and embarrassed my parents, who in turn embarrassed me by constantly badgering me about my weight, so it was my way of getting back at them. Talk about dysfunctional!

Of course, I was a kid at the time and I was still very angry, hurt and humiliated by how I was treated. I remember being out at a restaurant with my family and every time I took a bite of food, my mom would chant “chew! chew! chew!” The fact that I recall this episode more than forty years later says a little bit about how much it hurt me, so yes, I think my anger was justified. Was it helpful? Oh hell no!

There are instances where anger can be motivating, but this anger was really spiteful and I held onto that anger way too long.  I used it to get back at my mom mainly and there was some pride in there which also got in my way.  I called it righteous indignation and told myself I was happy being overweight. It really didn’t bother me…. except I hated buying clothes because I had to go to the ‘fat girl’ stores. And I hated getting my hair cut because I had trouble fitting in the stylists’ chairs. And walking anywhere hurt. And standing hurt. And my shoes had to be special-ordered because my feet were so wide.

You get the picture: being angry and indignant was more important to me than doing anything about my health and my weight or the quality of my life! Aside from being an emotional eater, I was stubbornly refusing to try to lose weight because of how ‘persecuted’ I had always been. My pride was part of it too. We all know how hard it is to lose weight. What if I tried and I failed? How stupid would I look then? So in order not to look stupid, I refused to try at all! (Yeah….let’s look at being ‘stupid’ again….)

Sometimes we bury our emotional hurt so deep inside us that we don’t realize how much damage it’s actually doing to us.  It’s like an infection spreading inside that we can’t see although we slap a band-aid on the cut on our hand. We think that band-aid took care of the wound and it’ll heal soon enough, but when it’s an emotional wound, the hurt festers inside us and doesn’t go away.  We might acknowledge that “yeah, I eat my emotions,” but until you lance that emotional infection, it’s going to keep festering. You might learn to distract yourself with something other than food, but that hurt won’t go away until you let it out.

As I’ve mentioned before, Dr. Nowzaradan (My 600 lb Life, TLC) routinely sends his patients to therapy to deal with the emotions which drove them to compulsive eating.  Some patients are resistant to going because they don’t see the connection between their compulsive eating and whatever happened to them in the past. In several instances, the therapist will encourage them to forgive those who’ve hurt them in the past.  One patient flat out stated she wasn’t ready or able to forgive those who hurt her since she didn’t think they deserved it.  The therapist, Lola Clay, pointed out what most of us know already: forgiving those who’ve hurt us is for our benefit, not the one who did the hurting. When we forgive, we let go of our anger and pain, so they lose their power over us. I remember being told that the flip side of Love isn’t Hate; it’s Apathy. Whether you love someone or hate them, they are the focus of your emotion. When you don’t care about someone (apathy), they obviously aren’t your focus! When you give up that emotional focus, whatever they do- or don’t do- to you is no big deal.

In my case, forgiving my parents, especially my mom, meant doing a whole lot of growing up! Once I started to let go of my anger and resentment, I realized that they were trying to help me, even if they didn’t exactly know how to do it. (Who does?) Yes, they made mistakes and God knows, I made some real whoppers too! More importantly, I was able to admit that I really needed the help! I didn’t know how to help myself but I let my anger, pride and resentment get in the way of asking for it and accepting it when it was offered.

If we truly want to heal and start making progress with weight loss, it means letting go of these old hurts and the negative behaviors that go along with them, such as refusing to keep an open mind because “I already know that!” or refusing help when someone offers out of wounded pride or doing things our way because “I know what works for me!” Do you really? Because if you knew what worked for you, it would have worked already, wouldn’t it? (That last one is a perennial pitfall for me!) We might think that we have no hurts or emotional wounds to let go of, but think about it. How about when a friend makes an offhand comment not intended to hurt, but still stings (“Are you on another diet?”) or when your spouse buys you a belt or a dress that’s way too big (“he thinks I’m a size 26?!) The embarrassment and the hurt can fester into resentment, which can come out as that emotional eating binge or get pushed down to mix with other hurts to become self-destructive hopelessness.  In this instance, we really need to be the bigger person by forgiving others, whether they meant it or not.  Even if they don’t deserve to be forgiven, we have to do. We’ve got enough to carry around without adding any more!

Speed Up Your Health By Slowing Down: Weight Loss & Slow Food

Some of you might have heard about the “Slow Food Movement” in the restaurant industry (Slow Food).  Essentially, it’s about creating healthy nutritious food in a green sustainable community, which isn’t a bad idea.  There are a lot of reasons why slow food isn’t just good for the environment and local community but also good for you.

At the risk of sounding like your grandma, I am old enough to remember (barely!) when fast food was still something of a novelty. When I was a kid, the main street in my hometown had more drug stores, gift stores or Five-and Dimes than it did fast food chains and the fast food places it did have were local independents.  When the first McDonald’s opened in our town, it was kind of a big deal. Because fast food was still new, it wasn’t something we had every day or even on a regular basis.  Food made at home, from scratch, was more the norm.

It’s not just restaurants that have ‘fast food’ either. Processed foods were also something new back then and most of us thought of it as something good. We can make mashed potatoes in ten minutes instead of an hour. Macaroni and cheese takes fifteen minutes instead of all day.  Oatmeal and rice take no time at all now that we have microwaves! So now that fast food and processed food have been around ‘forever,’ how are those working out for us?  Ummmmmm…. let’s think about that!

For most of us, the best thing about processed food is that it saves us time. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. For holidays and family gatherings, I would spend most of the day in the kitchen with my grandma and my aunts.  That is where I learned to make all kinds of foods that I could probably get at a restaurant or in a grocery store now, but none of it would taste like what I made in that kitchen with my family. Not everything that came out of my grandma’s kitchen was completely homemade, but most of it started as a whole food.  Grandpa’s chile started with fresh jalapenos he cut up, garlic he peeled and mashed and pork steak he cut up himself.  The only can he opened was the tomato sauce.  All of those ingredients were sauteed and simmered for a couple of hours or so.  My grandma’s adobo recipe began with pork steak and chicken cut and boiled in vinegar and water with her blend of spices added.  After a couple of hours or so, it was served over rice that had been steaming on the stove next to it!

As a kid, most of the food we ate started out as whole potatoes, whole dried beans, whole chickens from the butcher and rice from bins at the grocery store.  Our salads were lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers that we washed and sliced or shredded ourselves. Making dinner wasn’t ten or fifteen minutes of opening a plastic bag while something heats up in the microwave.  Preparing food took longer because it started out as close to whole as possible!

A few years ago I was watching one of those chef competition shows with Gordon Ramsay, something I normally don’t watch, but I was glad I saw this episode. There were about five or so contestants who all touted their cooking skills as ‘chef quality’ and this show was to weed out the pretenders. The first chore? Take this whole chicken and cut it into eight equal pieces.  I was unimpressed with the task until most of these wannabe chefs looked at the chicken and their eyes glazed over: they had no idea what to do! REALLY?!?!  I’ve been cutting my own chickens since I was about twelve and I am certainly no chef! Even at twelve, I could have done a better job than some of them did.

Another incident I recall had to do with potato salad.  At a luncheon, I was talking to the woman next to me about potato salad (it came out of a box!) and I mentioned that when I made it, I sometimes added tuna to make it more of a main dish. When she asked me about making it, she commented “isn’t it hard to take the skin off all those little pieces of potato?” I waited to see if she was joking (she wasn’t) so I told her gently “You peel the potatoes before you cut them up and boil them.”

As I mentioned above, I am definitely not a chef and until incidents like those above, I never really considered how far away we have grown from whole natural unprocessed foods. Yes, they can take longer to prepare but they also have more nutrition and less chemical additives and stabilizers. Most of us know this but what we might not realize is that processed foods are quicker because they are in a lot of ways “pre-cooked” and “pre-digested.” That box of potato flakes are potatoes which have been so highly processed they have virtually no fiber or vitamins or minerals. They have virtually no protein and no fiber, although they do have a little potassium (150 mg) and iron and even less vitamin C.  What else is in those ‘potato flakes?’ Sometimes it’s stuff we can’t pronounce, let alone spell! (Ingredients in Instant Potatoes)  I am sure that comes as no surprise to a lot of us: there are chemicals in our processed foods! Yes, let’s all roll our eyes at that one!

Think about it for a minute: we are eating food with less nutrition but with more chemicals. How much of what we are eating is actually food? And what do those chemicals do to our bodies? While listening to a couple of my favorite books for the second time (The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung and Brainmaker by Dr. David Perlmutter), I was reminded of a few things. Margarine is only one molecule away from becoming plastic; transfats cannot be expelled from our bodies, and artificial sweeteners not only raise our insulin levels, they kill our gut bacteria. Humans invented most of these chemicals in the last century so they are absolutely foreign to our bodies. Our bodies have no idea how to process them or expel them, so some of them end up in our liver or fat permanently because these compounds are recognized as “food” (because they aren’t). There are a lot of chemicals in processed foods that were never intended to be “food,” such as the sawdust in your processed grated cheese.  The manufacturers put it in there to keep the cheese from clumping together but our digestive bacteria and our intestines don’t know what to do with it, so…. what happens to it? (Woody Cheese?)  FYI: it’s not just in Parmesan, either!

It’s not just about nutrition: processed food can get in the way of your weight loss. Remember I called it “pre-digested”? That’s because the manufacturers have already begun the digestion for you! That is why it takes less time to cook! Consider those mashed potatoes: when they are made from potato flakes, the potatoes have been cooked, dried out and then processed with chemicals so they won’t spoil on the shelves.  When you eat them, it takes no time at all to digest them because 90% of what your body would do to them has already been done to them! Mashed potatoes from whole potatoes have more vitamins and fiber because those parts haven’t been removed or broken down yet. A simpler example is broccoli: raw broccoli is a whole lot crunchier because the fiber isn’t broken down by the cooking process. It’s the same reason canned green beans are mushier than fresh or even thawed frozen green beans. The canning process requires cooking while freezing doesn’t.  This is why your nutritionist will tell you if you can’t get fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen is the next best thing.  On the can, the label usually reads “green beans, water, salt” while your bag of frozen beans reads “green beans.” The biggest difference is the fiber and nutrition which aren’t lost in the cooking.

Faster processed food means it’s digested faster, hits our blood stream faster and so we get hungry again faster.  Add to that there is less nutrition in what we are eating but more stuff that is making us fatter, such as the carbs, transfats and sugars. As someone who eats a Paleo diet, rice is one of those things I like to stay away from, but it’s not the natural rice that makes people fat.  Many cultures using rice as a traditional staple in their diets weren’t obese until their diet became more Westernized.  It’s not the steamed rice that makes them fat: it’s the processed Western diet that did that! Real whole food takes longer to prepare, has more nutrition and is something your body knows how to digest. It also takes longer to be absorbed so we tend to stay full longer. It just makes more sense! One of my friends jokingly calls the processed cheese food she buys “plastic cheese” because of the individual plastic wrapper on each slice. She doesn’t know how right she is!

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Want It? Then Get It!: Weight Loss & Finding Your Strength

One of my favorite books is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. I remember the night I read the book.  My sister had come for a weekend visit from college and brought the book with her. She had borrowed it from someone in the dorms and was nearly done with it. After she told me about it, I was dying to read it but she finished it Saturday evening and gave it to me so I could at least start it before she left on Sunday.  I sat up all night so I could finish it before she took it back with her.

What I loved about this book is that it is about strength, specifically the strength to be the person you want to be. Ironically, one of the main characters is Evelyn Couch, a lost overweight housewife and Ninny Threadgoode, a friend she makes while visiting her mother-in-law at an assisted living facility. Ninny tells Evelyn about her family and friends she knew in Depression-era Alabama, Ruth, Idgie, their son, Sipsey, George and their family.  What quickly becomes clear is that in order to live the lives they want to live, these people had to be strong and they in turn inspire Evelyn to be strong. (FYI: The book is much much better than the movie, as usual!)

Without going too deeply into ‘English teacher mode,’ Evelyn and Idgie (Imogene) are foils of each other. Evelyn lets everyone tell her what to do; she gets flustered easily; she kind of knows what she wants but isn’t sure and is less sure about how to get it. By contrast, Idgie never lets anyone tell her what to do, knows what she wants and knows how to get it.  In an era where blacks and whites can’t eat or sit in the same restaurants, Idgie and Ruth do it anyway. At a time when women are supposed to be demure and delicate, Idgie is headstrong and independent. This story is all about finding your strength.

Believe it or not, strength really has a lot to do with weight loss. I don’t mean finding the strength to say no to the plate of brownies or the box of ice cream bars; I mean finding the strength to pursue your goals. Getting to your goal requires strength and determination.  You have to be able to work hard without getting discouraged or let others get in your way. Sometimes that means standing up for yourself when everyone else is telling you you are wrong and sometimes it really is telling yourself no when someone offers you cookies. Yes, it’s hard and yes, it’s work!

In the most recent episode of My 600 lb Life, Destinee is 27 years old and 668 lbs.  She has already been through a lot: growing up in foster care, her mother in prison for part of that time, meeting and losing her dad, coming out as gay and transgender and losing her brother at a young age. Deciding to live as woman in a rural area, it’s not hard to understand that Destinee feels overwhelmed. Other than a very supportive family, food is the other part of her support system. Already, Destinee appears to be the personification of strength: she is living the life she has chosen. But when Dr. Nowzaradan asks her about trying to lose weight before, her answer is “no, I haven’t really tried.”

Really? Why not? She’s admitted that she’s afraid of falling in the shower and being unable to get up, among other things.  She describes how much it hurts to sit, to stand and just to move, but she’s not tried to lose weight before deciding on surgery? While we all have stumbling blocks when it comes to losing weight or changing any kind of behavior, one of Destinee’s issues is simply hard work. It’s hard to make changes to something as basic as our eating habits and she doesn’t want to do the work. Throughout her journey, she makes excuses, gives in to cravings, and keeps falling back into old habits. This is a familiar situation for all of us: I know I have done it more times than I can count! She’s already proven she has the strength to make some pretty hard choices to get to her goals, but in this instance, she is looking for the quick fix. She wants to lose the weight without having to work for it.

I’m not blaming her or criticizing her: if I could lose the weight without putting out any effort, I would so be there already! That’s not reality, though. In real life, it takes strength to get up and work for it every day. When it’s something we really want, then we put out the effort to get it. She’s already decided that she wants to live as a woman and has taken some damn hard steps to make the transition, so you would think losing weight would be easier! It’s the same for all of us: we have to ask ourselves how much we really want it! Do we want the cookies more than we want to lose weight? Would we rather lose weight or have another serving of mashed potatoes? Do we want that bagel more or less than we want to put on our jeans without lying down to zip them up? What do we want more and what are we willing to do to get it?

In Destinee’s case, after a few false starts, Destinee finds her motivation. As with most things in life, it comes down to the simple truth: if you want it, you have to work for it. Most of don’t know how strong we are until it looks like what we desire the most is about to get away from us.  That’s when we learn what we are truly capable of doing. Don’t wait that long! Find your strength now and you’ll be surprised how fast you get to your goals!

 

 

 

Breaking the Code: Weight Loss & The Secret Formula

On the surface, this looks like another No Brainer: how do you lose weight? Eat less, move more! Duhhhh….. except anyone who’s tried that knows it doesn’t work for long. Besides not working, it’s hard and it’s miserable!

If you were to ask ten random people of random weight on the street “why do people gain weight?”, you would likely get a variety of answers such as eating too much, eating too much sugar, eating too much junk food, eating too much fat, eating too many carbs,  not enough cardio, not enough weight lifting, not enough vegetables, etc.  There are as many answers as there are people on the street to ask! Are all of them wrong? Some of them have to be right, …right?

Well, yes and no.  I’m not being a smart-ass here. Because there isn’t just one reason we gain weight! Think back to some of the excuses we’ve given about why we’ve put on “a few extra pounds,” such as too many Girl Scout cookies; it was the holidays; missed a few workouts; been out more with friends than normal; a lot of stress; bad sleeping/ late nights, etc.  While most of us know they are excuses, we usually feel there’s a germ of truth to them and we are right: those are all possible reasons why we’ve gained a few pounds, but they are all just as likely not to be the sole reason we’ve gained weight!

In reality, it tends to be a formula: we mix a few sleepless nights, with some extra work related stress, throw in some missed workouts, a few (boxes of) Girl Scout cookies and other sugary carbs and then mix in some extra snacks and ta-daa! We’ve gained some weight! Congratulations on winning the Chubby Award! Now: how do we get rid of it?

We get rid of it pretty much the same way we got it: we have to undo that formula! The problem is that we didn’t take notes when we were gaining weight because we weren’t really paying attention. (If we’d been paying more attention, we probably wouldn’t have gained the weight we did!) Essentially, we need to follow a basic formula for weight loss and tweak it to fit our individual metabolism, and that formula is most definitely NOT “Eat Less, Move More!”

Remember those excuses listed above: cookies, holidays, stress, sleepless nights, snacking? Those are all part of the reason we gained weight. We all know that sugar and refined carbs such as bread, pasta and cereals are all broken down into sugar by our digestive tract. As quick carbs, they boost our blood sugar and insulin and then they get stored as fat in the body.  We also know that stress boosts our cortisol levels which means there is more glucose in our blood stream and glucose means insulin again, so again being chronically stressed translates to “stored as fat” by our bodies. The busy holidays and sleepless or late nights translate to “stress” so again: “stored as fat!” Constant snacking? “Stored as fat!” In order to convince our bodies that it is okay to burn fat and lose weight, we need to do a few things consistently! 

The simple formula to lose weight? 1) Reduce stress; 2) Avoid processed foods; 3) Stop snacking; 4) Fast more often.  A couple bonus tips: 1) Add a little vinegar to your diet; and 2) Add more fiber. Before you start rolling your eyes about fasting, this is not my weight loss formula. This is from The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung. Dr. Fung makes a few simple suggestions such as adding in more natural fats, more fiber, moderate protein consumption, managing stress and above all, avoid processed foods and constant snacking.

Geez, that almost sounds too simplistic! And a little nutty too! But before you cross off Dr. Fung as another kooky diet doctor, he’s arrived at this simple formula after years of working with diabetes patients.  Dr. Fung is a nephrologist, which means he’s a kidney doctor, and as anyone with diabetes can tell you, one of the biggest problems diabetics have is kidney failure. What’s the best way to stop kidney damage? Don’t get diabetes! What’s one way of not getting diabetes? Don’t get obese! After treating thousands of obese diabetics, he’s learned a few things about what makes people fat. His simple answer is insulin resistance (insulinemia). In short, chronically high insulin leads to insulin resistance which leads to weight gain. If you want to lose weight, you need to reduce your insulin resistance. Most of us jump right to cutting out refined carbs and sugars (which is a great idea) but we usually don’t think of the other two major culprits with insulin. It’s not just about keeping your blood sugar low: it’s about keeping your insulin levels low too.  We mistakenly believe that if our blood sugar is low, our insulin is too, and it’s not the case.

We all know the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat.  Most of us have been taught to avoid fat at all costs, and many of us also avoid carbs too, so that means we go whole hog on the protein! What we don’t realize is that too much protein gets converted to glucose. Our bodies can store fat and carbs but they can’t store protein, so it gets converted to glucose and then it’s converted to fat! (Yes! That healthy protein ends up on our butt!) Protein also raises our insulin levels, though not as much as carbs, and fat has nearly no effect on our insulin at all.

Most of us also know that whole food carbs such as fruit and veggies have less of blood sugar spike than processed carbs like bread and sugar. Whole foods have a lot of fiber so they are absorbed more slowly and there is less of a spike. Also, all that fiber makes us full faster and we stay full longer. Ever know anyone to eat a whole pound of Brussels sprouts at one meal? Compare that with someone eating a whole box of cookies or an entire pint of ice cream. Fiber = full!

So we moderate the protein, cut back on the processed foods, add in some healthy fats (avocados have healthy fat plus plenty of fiber too!), manage our stress and we still don’t lose weight? That’s because most of us are still doing the number one behaviors that keeps our insulin levels high: we snack. How many of us have been told that ‘constant grazing’ will keep us thin? As Dr. Fung states, “if we were meant to graze, we’d be cows!” To be blunt: any food raises our insulin, and when we keep snacking all day long, our insulin never gets the chance to drop! Because it never goes down, our bodies become resistant to it, and the vicious cycle continues.

Here’s a simple example of what happens with insulin resistance. I live between two churches which both have schools, behind a hospital with a helipad and within two blocks of a fire station.  When I am home, I hear school bells, church bells, helicopters and sirens all day long. I have heard them so often that I don’t pay attention to them anymore. In fact, a few years ago, I took a trip with some friends and our motel room was literally across the street from a fire station (we could see it from the room’s door).  The morning after our first night, everyone was complaining about the constant sirens during the night- except me! Because I heard them all the time, my brain stopped noticing them! When our insulin is high all the time, it becomes the sirens which we eventually stop hearing, so we have to make them louder to get noticed. That means we secrete more and more insulin to be effective. The only way to get insulin low and keep it there (so we notice it) is to stop eating! It means no snacking! It also means skipping a few meals now and then.

It doesn’t mean we have to starve ourselves in order to lose weight, but it does mean we need to be sensible about how often we eat. Most of us have been told that we need to eat three meals and three snacks during the day. In fact, my favorite food journal comes with Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner headings, along with Mid-Morning Snack, Mid-Day Snack and Evening Snack! Even if they are ‘healthy whole foods,’ I am sure Dr. Fung would agree with Dr. Nowzaradan’s emphatic proclamation “there is no such thing as a healthy snack!” (My 600 lb Life, TLC) Even a healthy snack keeps our insulin levels elevated, and the only way to lose weight is to lower our insulin and keep it low! Three meals a day are more than enough. It also won’t kill us to skip a meal or two, especially if we aren’t hungry! Dr. Fung makes a clear distinction between ‘starving’ our bodies with chronically reduced calorie intake vs. intermittent fasting, which is periods of low to no calories in-between periods of regular calorie intake.

This idea of not eating every two hours or so might seem kind of weird since a lot of us grew up being constantly fed. Skipping a couple meals or more probably seems crazier, but the simple truth is the more often we eat, the bigger we get. To drop those “few extra pounds,” we have to drop our insulin levels, and that means making some changes to what and when we eat. In his book, Dr. Fung offers some level-headed advice: “Listen to your grandma! ‘No snacking!'”

For a quick summary of Dr. Fung’s book, see Fast Life Hacks: The Obesity Code