Focus: What Do You Really Want Weight Loss to Do For You?

I remember hearing a story about a woman who went to a new hair stylist and the stylist had a sign next to her station: “A hair cut won’t make you lose 10 pounds.” I am sure most hair stylists and other aestheticians are used to clients coming in and looking for something to make them thinner, younger and in my case, taller! While a good hair style, a facial or another kind of makeover can make you look younger and more attractive, when it comes to losing weight, we just have to do the work ourselves.

The problem is that some of us don’t want to do the work or we want it really fast but there are other issues that get overlooked with weight loss.  These are issues like being unhappy or unsatisfied with yourself or your life.  Rather than fixing the real issue, we try to fixing other parts of our lives or ourselves.  One of the most common examples is the couple who is desperately trying to get pregnant in an effort to save their marriage.  Those of us on the outside know that if the relationship isn’t good before there’s a child, having a child is not likely to help matters! The same thing happens if you are not happy with yourself or your life: losing weight, getting a new hair style or wardrobe or a makeover isn’t going to make you a happy person.  If you are unhappy that you are overweight or you hate your hair or think your makeup isn’t attractive, then yes, that will solve your problem, but if you are unhappy because you hate your job, you want a career change or your true passion is on a back burner because of everything else going on in your life, then how is a new hair style going to fix that? It’s the same with weight loss: it might make you feel better physically and even mentally, but it’s not going to change your dissatisfaction with your job and career.

There are so many of us who believe that “I’ll be happy when I lose the weight! Losing the weight will make me more confident!” Ummmm…..maybe…. but maybe not!  When we lose weight, we generally feel better physically which can also make us feel better mentally.  In my case, losing weight meant that I was no longer in pain all day so it helped my mood tremendously. Knowing I was healthier and able to do more physically was a huge mood booster, but at the same time, my weight was a major factor in my being unhappy.  The other major factor in my unhappiness was my horrible job: losing or not losing weight was not going to fix my unhappiness with my work situation.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of Emotional Eating: we get upset, we get stressed, we get anxious, so we eat! It’s a form of self-medicating, whether we are trying to relieve our anxiety with cookies, trying to fix our marriage with a pregnancy or trying to fix our unhappiness with weight loss. The self-medicating doesn’t fix our real issue: it just masks it so we forget about it for a while. Losing weight will make us feel better about ourselves for a while: we’ll probably get some compliments and feel more attractive, healthier and probably more confident, but eventually the real issue will rise to the surface again, just like our anxiety always comes back once the cookies are gone.

I’m not here to tell you to give up on losing weight or working towards your goals, but I am going to ask you what you really want out of your goals.  If your goal is being healthier, fitting in your clothes better, being able to move easier, then weight loss will definitely help with that! But if there is an ulterior motive, such as having more self-esteem or getting someone’s attention, then maybe you need to re-evaluate your goals.

Many times we blame our weight for things that have nothing to do with how much we weigh. Again, it can be things like “once I lose weight, my spouse will love me more,” or “once I lose weight, I will be more confident so I can ask for a raise, or get a new job or start dating more, etc.” We’ve all heard that before anyone else can love us, we have to love ourselves.  I know we tend to roll our eyes at that little platitude, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.  I like to phrase it in terms of value: if you don’t value who you are and what you are worth, then no one else is going to do it either. In short, if you don’t stand up for yourself, don’t be surprised when others walk all over you.  Your value has nothing to do with how much you do or don’t weigh.  Even though we live in our physical bodies, we are more than just flesh and blood.  Our minds and our bodies are connected: improving one sometimes means we need to work on the other half also.  Our ultimate goals should be to look as good as we feel and feel as good as we look!

 

Getting Away With Nothing!: Weight Loss & Fooling Yourself

We’ve all lied to ourselves when it comes to our weight and what we are eating. We tell ourselves that having another dinner roll isn’t going to be the end of the diet. We convince ourselves that we really deserve a treat for being so good.  My personal favorite is “I’ll be better tomorrow so I can have the bagel today!” Except tomorrow, there is something else that looks really good, so…… ‘tomorrow’ again?

We really want to believe what we tell ourselves when we say we will be better tomorrow because we really do mean it, but along with ‘meaning it,’ there is also that little voice that says our excuse is just that: an excuse to get what we want! Do we need that piece of bread and butter? No, we don’t but we really really want it! Did we have to buy those Girl Scout cookies? Of course not! We could have just made a donation and walked away without them except that we really really wanted them! It’s the same process when we come up with excuses to bail on our workouts or anything else we don’t want to do! Even if we don’t really believe our own lies, we think we are fooling others and getting away with something. Nope! The truth is we aren’t fooling anyone, let alone ourselves!

The biggest lie we tell ourselves has to do with changing our eating habits. How we eat has everything to do with weight loss and our health, and if we aren’t going to make the necessary changes, we are wasting our time. The dinner roll, the bagel, the brownie, the ‘being better tomorrow’: all of those habits and excuses need to change for anything positive to happen!

You can call it a Pity Party or Crocodile Tears, but it’s all the same: “poor pitiful me!” At one time or another, almost all of us have used our diets or our weight as an excuse to get what we want.  In a recent episode of My 600 lb Life, Dr. Nowzaradan’s patient Maja was very good at crying on command to try getting pity from others.  When she falls in the parking garage, once she is back on her feet, she immediately starts crying. When her boyfriend asks why, she says “Because that was really hard and embarrassing!” When she returns to the rental car counter, she explains about her fall and starts crying again.  When Dr. Nowzaradan calls her on her weight gain, she turns on the tears right away.  He points out later that her tears are analogous to a child getting caught at the cookie jar: she’s sorry that she got caught, not that she ate the cookies!

We aren’t sorry we ate the cookies either, or the dinner roll or the bagel: what we are sorry about is that those extra calories and carbs are going to get in the way of our weight loss! We ate them; we liked them and we aren’t sorry! However, we try fooling ourselves and others by saying we were really hungry or we’d been very good or that ‘one’ won’t make a big difference. That’s true: one won’t make a difference, but it isn’t just one, is it?

The irony is that when we make excuses about how hard it is to stick to a diet, to build new habits or to exercise more, those statements aren’t lies. When we start out on a diet, healthy habits or being more active, it is hard– at first! Eating healthier takes a little practice and it’s easy to slip back into our comfort zone full of mac & cheese and garlic bread. It’s easy to forget to go to the gym, to turn off the phone and go to bed, to drink more water.  It’s hard because we are still learning the habit, but the only way to learn a new habit (or new anything) is to practice it! That means, those excuses really are excuses even though it really is hard! The fact that it’s hard just means we have to keep trying harder.

Not practicing your new habit is a self-fulfilling prophecy: eating healthy is hard so I don’t eat healthy, so it continues to be hard, so I continue not eating healthy because it’s still so hard and so on and so on until you wake up one day and wonder how you got to be 440 lbs! The fact that it is hard is true, but it’s NOT an excuse! Yes, it is hard work but –not a news flash here– the more we do it, the easier it gets! As Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) points out often, ‘easy is earned.’ You want your healthy new diet to be easy? Then practice it! You want to make it to the gym regularly? Then you need to make a practice of getting to the gym regularly! What we do often tends to be easy but until then, it takes work and work, especially if it’s hard, can be a real hassle. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, though!

For most of us, we like to frame our new habits as positive statements.  We write them down and put them where we can see them to remind ourselves of the things we should be doing now, such as “I am eating healthier!” and “I go to the gym regularly!” These perky positive mantras work for a lot of people but have you ever tried phrasing these ideas in the negative? Such as “I don’t eat junk food,” or “I don’t blow off the gym”? Those statements can be just as effective or maybe more so.  Eating three cookies is healthier than eating the whole box, but if your statement is “I don’t eat sugar,” then you just caught yourself in a lie. If you keep” postponing” your workout, aren’t you really blowing off the gym? That is using the truth to kick your mental butt into gear instead of using the truth to let you slide some more!

Telling yourself that ‘it’s hard to give up junk food’ isn’t a reason to eat junk food: it’s an excuse to eat the Taco Bell you really want.  We trick ourselves into believing we are doing better when we are really just making it tougher. Yes, it is hard to change your habits and it is easier to eat the foods we always have, but excuses like “it’s hard” aren’t fooling anyone.  Until we are sorry we ate the cookies, it’s going to stay hard and all the crocodile tears in the world aren’t going to change that fact.

Going It Alone?: Weight Loss & The Support Group

There are a lot of people who roll their eyes when you ask them if they get any support when it comes to weight loss. There is a spectrum when it comes to the idea of Support: one extreme feels support is for ninnies and the other are those who are desperate for the support.  There are people who are perfectly okay with eating differently than everyone else in the house and won’t have any trouble saying no thanks to tortilla chips, and then there are those who prefer not to have temptation staring them in the face each time they open the pantry door.

Most of us know where our weak spots are: they are the little holes in the bucket where the water drips through.  Admittedly, for some of us it’s hard to admit that we need support or help and the flip-side is that others are so desperate for help, it’s almost like they need training wheels! Wherever you fall on the spectrum, there are only two basic things you need to remember: 1) there is nothing wrong with asking for help; and 2) no one else can do it for you.

At one point or another, we all need help and support, even if it’s just “hey, I found this great recipe for garlic shrimp!” It’s also a great feeling to know that other people also have intense cravings for sugary treats or balk at giving up the cream in their coffee.  You are not the only who finds it hard to say no and in my case, complaining about it makes me feel a whole lot better! Support, like motivation, is personal and changes with your journey and your goals. What worked for you when you began likely isn’t going to work for you after a year or so.

Weight loss, unfortunately, is dependent on our habits, and we all know developing a new habit is a monumental pain in the butt! This is why so many of us, even if we aren’t fans of support groups and structure, tend to rely heavily on both when we get started.  Remember what I said above about training wheels? Like learning to ride a bike, we need to find our balance when it comes to eating healthy and being more active: what is too much compared with what isn’t enough. Once we get find that balance, the training wheels just tend to get in the way.

Too many people reject the idea of support because they are thinking in terms of “support groups” such as Weight Watchers or Overeaters Anonymous.  In reality, all we really need is a supportive community.  That can be something as simple as family members, friends,  a Diet or Exercise Buddy or even an online group such as My Fitness Pal or the Primal Potential Facebook Group (both free and open to all).  Depending on the level of commitment you want, your community can be as intense or laid-back as you need! The point is that when you need that support, whether it’s just advice or to vent or commiseration, that group is there to provide the help you’re looking for.  It doesn’t even have to be a two-way street: when I started, I listened to a lot of podcasts that gave me information, helpful advice and different perspectives on weight loss, exercise and how to eat healthier.  Although I tuned in to them often, when it came to ‘talking back’ to them, it was only when I needed it.

I also have a supportive community through My Fitness Pal, where I am more interactive.  It’s also online, so it’s on my own schedule again, but it’s a great place to get advice, ask questions or even get some important feedback.  Recently I posted about a change I’d made to my eating habits but after doing so, I was very tired and low energy.  Even though I was making more of a statement rather than asking for advice, one of my fitness friends pointed out that I’d essentially changed my diet to a keto diet (unintentionally) and what I was feeling was likely ‘keto flu.’ Bingo! Problem solved! After a few more modifications, I am feeling much better.

Obviously, my support community has changed as my weight loss journey has progressed and it even changes from week to week. Some days we feel we need more support than others, but the most important part is that the support is there when I need it!  I also find being more supportive of others helps keep my own goals in focus. As I pointed out above, there is nothing wrong in asking for help, advice or even just a different point of view, especially if you are starting a new process or habit.  Trying to go it alone is often a recipe for disaster!

I admit, I am someone who likes to figure things out on my own.  This is not always a great practice and it’s one of the reasons just about every other attempt to lose weight remained an ‘attempt to lose weight!’ It’s like learning a new language: how do you know if you are understanding and being understood if you are talking in a vacuum? Trying to lose weight without any support is just making it harder on yourself and increasing your chances of giving up.

The other end of the spectrum isn’t productive either: having a supportive community is a great help, but all that heavy lifting is your job and yours alone.  Back to the language analogy, a study-buddy is great but you’ve got to be able to talk the talk yourself! Whether it’s taking a test for a class or finding yourself alone in Barcelona, si tu no hablas la lengua, tienes un grande problema! (if you don’t speak the language, you’ve got a big problem!) Leaning too much on others doesn’t get you very far and can lead to ‘excuse abuse.’  We’ve all been guilty of that: my family wants pizza, so I have to have pizza; it’s my wife’s birthday so I have to eat cake; or my favorite catch-all excuse: ‘no one is supporting me!’

Whether your family decides to make healthy eating choices or not, what you choose to eat or not eat is ultimately up to you. Too often, I see and hear complaints about how family members or coworkers keep bringing ‘forbidden foods’ into the home or office, so it’s easy to blame them for ‘not being supportive enough.’ I admit, having that safety zone is great: when I go home, the only temptations are the ones that I brought into the house myself; but the office or my friends’ homes are very different situations.  Even with all the support possible at home, going out into the real world means there’s going to be lots of opportunities to eat those forbidden foods! When we are learning to find our balance, it’s nice to be able to stay safely at home, but sooner or later, we need to take those training wheels off and ride on our own.  No one else can do that for us, no matter how supportive they are, but still it’s nice to know that someone else is riding along next to you.

 

 

Motivation: Keeping The Motor Running

Motivation is definitely one of the most asked questions when it comes to weight loss, eating healthy and exercising.  Everyone wants to know how to stay motivated! All kind of health and exercise professionals yammer on about “building consistency” and “staying motivated,” but seriously, when you work late, have a lot of tasks still on your plate for the evening, you’re already drained emotionally and physically, it’s a helluva lot harder to do what you know you should do vs. what would be easiest for you. Sometimes the easy thing is what you should do, i.e. “the healthy thing,” but more than often, it isn’t.

This is the stumbling block that gets all of us at one time or another and to be honest, it gets really easy to be irritated at some professional who gives us The Lecture about how we all get tired; how stress is just part of life; and this is where ‘the tough get going,’ blah blah blah.  We can hear it in our heads as we are stuck in traffic on our way to yet another errand on our long list before we can even think about getting home to cold leftovers or nothing available for dinner at all.

So what’s our motivation for finding the energy to make something healthy or make it to the gym or say no to the fast food on the way back from the bank or the pharmacy? This is the where all those platitudes and lectures go right out the window– and I don’t mean in a bad “I stuffed my face with junk food, so now I feel like a giant slug” kind of way! That’s because what keeps you motivated– what keeps your motor running– is entirely up to YOU! This is your life, your goal and your choice and listening to some guru’s lecture on ‘fueling your body fabulously’ is probably just going to irritate you. (I know they irritate ME!)

One of the things that works for me is keeping quick healthy foods available. There have been days when I get home too tired or too late to make a real dinner, so I settle for some scrambled eggs. They’re fast, they’re healthy and I won’t feel like crap afterwards.  Believe it or not, not feeling like a giant slug is a huge motivator for me. I’ve given in to the fast food and frankly, it makes me feel sick later on, so even though it’s right there, it is off my list!

I do have some Go-To’s that are a close second place, and those are usually something from the supermarket, either a rotisserie chicken, a bag of salad, a deli wrap (not the best but sometimes there isn’t any chicken left!) or even just some hummus and veggies.  My only ‘rules’ are it has to be something I can feel good about that won’t make me feel like a slug afterwards! FYI: there is nothing wrong with some plain yogurt and heading to bed for some well-needed rest!

As for getting to the gym when I don’t feel like it? Another personal motivator is asking myself “how will I feel about bailing on it later on?” If I am making excuses to myself for not going, then I really need to go! It also helps that I have friends at my gym and my not-going means I miss out on time with friends. For some of the classes, I bring the workout soundtrack and equipment, so my not-going means the rest of the class is disappointed. While I don’t have an actual obligation (as in I won’t get booted from the class), there is a sense of commitment which is pretty important to me.  Not disappointing the class or friends is usually more important to me than being tired or feeling stressed– ironic, but true!

That’s why listening to some guru blather on about breaking promises I made to myself typically falls on deaf ears with me. I know my schedule and I know how I feel, so if dinner ends up being a deli wrap, I am not going to sweat breaking a promise to myself about ‘fueling my body fabulously!’ Motivation is completely personal and that’s what makes it so hard. We keep looking for motivation outside of ourselves but in the end, it comes down to what works for us.

The other problem with motivation is that, when we are unmotivated or we give in to something like fast food, we tend to beat ourselves up and go running back to the Motivational Mantras we find online.  There is nothing wrong with those mantras if you like them, but we need to remember that while these professionals might have good advice, they are also not living your life. One of the mantras I like to keep in mind? “Make the best choice you can in this situation.” If that ‘best choice’ is a deli wrap, I am not going to apologize for it, nor am I going to apologize if I skip my workout to go home and fall into bed! We all need to learn our limits, when to push and when to back off. Finding our own motivators takes a little work but once we find them, they are kind of hard to ignore. It didn’t take long for the ‘no fast food’ or the ‘bailing on the workout’ motivators to kick in. They make it easier for me to keep the engine running on making the right choices for me, but they probably make others just roll their eyes! Only you know what works for you: after all, it’s your motor you’re revving up!

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!

 

 

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!

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

 

 

 

 

Food Is Only Half the Battle: Weight Loss & Why We Overeat

This is another one of those No Brainers that tends to get overlooked: when we try to lose weight, we focus on changing our behavior but not the reasons behind our behavior.  In other words, we are trying to fix the outcome without fixing the cause!

Simple example: every day you come home and find your dog left an ‘accident’ on your rug, so every day you punish your dog for making a mess in the house. It seems simple enough but why did the dog have the accident in the house? Does he have a dog door? Is there someone to let him out during the day? Does he have a potty pad where he should go instead? If the answer to all those questions is “no,” then punishing your dog isn’t going to change anything! Every day you will come home to find the same mess because you aren’t changing the cause of the behavior, i.e. the dog has nowhere else to go!

For the dog, it’s an easy fix: dog door, potty pad, dog sitter, etc., but when it comes to overeating or snacking or anything food related, it’s much murkier. We are dealing with psychology, emotions and inner conflicts. As we all know, these kinds of causes are just plain messier and way more painful than installing a doggie door! Messy, painful and confusing emotions are the real reason this important part of the weight loss gets overlooked.  Bariatric surgery is becoming more common as the obesity epidemic keeps growing, but for years, physicians and surgeons kept focusing on changing the behavior without looking for the root causes of obesity.  This is like telling an alcoholic “stop drinking!” and walking away.  We all know that doesn’t work!

This is where I remind everyone that I am not a health care professional and I am just offering my opinion here. For most of us, being overweight isn’t life-threatening: it’s more of an inconvenience and embarrassment. For those who are morbidly obese with the attendant health issues like diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, it really can be a matter of life and death. Bariatric surgery such as the lap band, gastric bypass or gastric sleeve are only short-term fixes. The patient will lose weight but without fixing the cause of the overeating through counseling, eventually the weight comes back when the patient goes back to the same bad behaviors. As I mentioned in a previous post, Dr. Nowzaradan of My 600 lb Life is seeing more patients who have regained the weight after prior surgeries because they did not get the counseling needed to resolve the issues causing them to overeat.

Even if we aren’t morbidly obese, we still need to fix the causes of our overeating. Many of us will admit that we are emotional eaters, but we use that phrase as a reason or rationalization for our overeating. It’s become an acceptable band-aid for many of us: I get stressed and I eat! End of story! Let’s substitute the eating with another behavior: I get stressed and I do drugs! End of story? Of course not, but for many drug addicts, this is how the addiction started and it’s still their response to stress. What is the difference between stress eating and stress drug usage? Other than possibly going to jail for illicit drugs, not very much! (There are many drug users who simply refill their Xanax or Vicodin prescriptions.) The responsive behavior (drugs, eating, smoking, drinking, gambling, etc) are triggered by something else and until we find out what that cause is and fix that, any kind of fix will be short term.

Obviously, we don’t have to go running off to the therapist because we want to lose weight, but there is some value in taking the time to pay attention to what triggers the impulse to eat. Likely, there will be multiple triggers, such as stress or boredom.  Sometimes it is fairly easy, as in the stress, but other times it will be more complex. For some of us, there was a scarcity of food growing up, so we learned to eat as much as we could whenever we got the chance.  Sometimes, it is a way of asserting control over our lives or an act of defiance, especially if you grew up criticized for your weight.  In other cases, our weight was a way of getting attention from others in the family, especially if there are rules like “no donuts in the house” or “don’t eat those in front of mom/ dad.” It makes you the center of attention.

Of course, dredging up these kinds of feelings usually creates unease and feelings of stress (cue the potato chips!) Our immediate response is normally an angry “I’m not like that at all!” But sometimes we are. We just don’t realize it because as soon as we start feeling those unpleasant feelings and thinking those unwelcome thoughts, we go right to our escape hatch! In my case, stress and anxiety were clear triggers for eating, as well as boredom. Later, I realized that eating was also my ‘cure’ for loneliness and feelings of rejection. It was also both an act of control and defiance: my weight was an issue growing up and my mom was always criticizing whatever I ate! When I was eating alone in my room, there was no one to tell me not to eat and I felt free to do whatever I wanted to do! And that was some of the reasons I was about 300 lbs when I graduated high school….

Fixing these causes first begins with acknowledging that they exist. Once we can admit to ourselves that we have feelings of inadequacy or rejection or loneliness, we can begin to move past them. It might seem like these things have nothing to do with weight loss, but they do, just like they are triggers for any other addictions out there.  We are all familiar with the classic alcoholic’s excuse of ‘drinking to forget.’ How different is it that we binge on Oreos to distract ourselves from a bad day or a fight with our spouse? We feel stressed over money, we eat to distract ourselves. We feel lonely, we eat to console ourselves. We were told we aren’t attractive, we eat to forget the hurt feelings. We are constantly told not to eat, so we eat to assert our independence. We feel ignored, so we make our eating an issue for everyone: now everyone has to pay attention to me! Eating is our way of not admitting or dealing with how we feel.

Once we admit that we have these feelings, the next important step is reminding yourself that these are not negative feelings and you are not a bad person for having them! This sense of “I want attention so I must be bad/ selfish/ needy/ whatever” is why we distract or medicate ourselves with food. It’s a normal human reaction, just as any emotion is! We all feel stressed, hurt, needy or lonely at times. Admitting that you feel that way, it’s a normal feeling and it is okay to feel it is when we begin to move past the need to medicate ourselves with food. Unfortunately, it takes a little practice to learn that it’s okay if we aren’t always happy, perky and well-adjusted.  Those so-called ‘negative emotions’ are normally discouraged by most families.

Think of your dog again: how many times has your dog approached you wanting to play, sit on your lap or just want your attention? He’s not a bad dog: he just wants to be held or play with you or be comforted if he’s scared. For most of us, we give him the attention he wants! Companionship is one reason we got a dog in the first place.  We don’t scold him for not being more independent or berate him for being needy. Why do we do those things to ourselves (or others in our lives)? Getting past the causes of our overeating is the only certain method of stopping that behavior. We don’t have to run off to therapy; it can be as simple as talking with a trusted friend, or even as simple as hugging your dog the next time you feel hurt or lonely. He may not be as sweet as the Oreos but I bet he will be a lot more satisfying than a sugar binge!