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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Right Here, Right Now: Weight Loss & The Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Weight Loss & The Cheat Meal: It’s All About Mileage

There is not much more in dieting and weight loss that is more controversial than The Cheat Meal.  There are advocates who swear a Cheat Meal keeps you from going off the rails (and eating a whole cheesecake) and then there are detractors who swear that it creates cravings and leads to you eating the whole cheesecake you were trying to avoid! Depending on who or what you Google, you can find flood of “research” on both sides.  So, The Cheat Meal: yes or no?  My answer? “Eventually.”

I like to compare a Cheat Meal to taking a long road trip. Obviously when you are learning to drive or just gotten your license, are you going to take a long car trip?  Those of you with teen drivers, take a good look at them: are you going to let them drive a hundred miles by themselves with that brand new license in their pocket?  Of course not! They don’t have the experience! They might think that they do, but you and I both know that there are a lot of situations out there that they’ve never encountered. Once they’ve been around the block a few thousand times and maybe driven some distances with an adult, then they can set out on their own, when everyone is a little more confident in their ability to handle a car a long way from home on their own.

The Cheat Meal is the metaphorical Road Trip of your weight loss experience.  You remember the first time you had to back out of parking space into traffic? Just a little bit hairy! Remember the first time you got lost in a strange town? (Even scarier before Google Maps!) Or how about the first time your car died on the highway on the way to somewhere else? (“How can I call AAA when I don’t even know where I am?”) The first time these things happen to you, it’s scary and confusing and, let’s face it, you are more likely to make a mistake.  The same thing happens when you try indulging in a Cheat Meal too soon!

When you have been following your weight loss plan for some time, you develop consistency.  We all know that’s the cornerstone of weight loss: if you eat better 95% of the time, then you are going to be healthier simply because you aren’t eating a lot of unhealthy food. That is pretty much a given: healthy whole foods 95% of the time beat junk food 5% of the time.  The problem is, like our teen drivers, we think we know what we’re doing! We think we are consistent when our consistency is still pretty new. We think a few months is enough time for us to be “consistent.” When we compare it to driving we know that a few months behind the wheel is nothing! I don’t mean that you have be consistently eating healthy for five years before you can have a Cheat Meal, but let’s face it: when you get excited about having a Cheat Meal, that’s probably a clue that you haven’t been consistent long enough!

Most of us get a little apprehensive when we are planning a long road trip but how much of that anxiety is directly related to driving the car? I don’t mean being anxious about things like packing the car or confirming hotel reservations or making sure you brought sunscreen.  Other than plugging the hotel’s address into Google Maps or Garmin, most of us don’t think about the driving other than maybe “I’ve got gas, right?” That’s because at this point in our lives, actually driving a car is not a big deal.  We fuss over the little things like the cord for the iPod or the phone charger for the car, which are not really related to driving the car in traffic on the highway.  If you get anxious about passing someone on the highway or making a U turn at an intersection, maybe you aren’t ready to take that road trip behind the wheel.

It’s the same philosophy about weight loss and Cheat Meals.  When you have been consistent long enough, the actual food is less of an issue.  Usually, a Cheat Meal is connected with some kind of celebration or you’ve made a conscious decision to try something that looks as if it’s worth the calories or carbs. You decide to have a small piece of cake to celebrate someone’s wedding or you’ve never had real Cherries Jubilee, so you decide to take a taste. You aren’t worried that you’ll go back for more or eat too much because the food is about taking part in the celebration/ occasion going on around you and not really about the actual food.  If you get more excited about eating garden variety macaroni & cheese, pizza or birthday cake, then you probably don’t have enough “consistency mileage” to try a Cheat Meal.

At the risk of sounding like a Negative Nancy, when you don’t have enough experience being consistent with your healthy eating, Cheat Meals can lead to some major setbacks.  It really can lead to cravings or too many indulgences.  We get lulled into that false sense of security because we’ve been consistent for so many weeks or months and “we’ve got this!”  Maybe you have and maybe you haven’t, but getting all anxious about what you are going to be eating or afraid of having cravings afterwards are some pretty good signs that you haven’t been consistent long enough to indulge in a Cheat Meal.

Unfortunately, most of us reach this conclusion once we’ve eaten an entire pizza or a bag of Oreos and we feel like we’ve blown our weight loss plan to smithereens! Remember the first time you put a big dent in Mom’s minivan or Dad’s SUV? You and they were probably a bit upset at the time but ultimately, it was all okay. They forgave you because you were a new driver and hey, mistakes happen! That’s why we have insurance and, frankly, the only way to get better at driving a car is to get behind the wheel.  Realizing you don’t have the experience for a Cheat Meal is part of getting better and gaining more experience.  When you’ve dinged your weight loss plan with a Cheat Meal, it’s not the end of the road with your weight loss: it just means you’ve got to go around the block a few more times!

 

 

 

 

 

You Can Keep It Moving: Weight Loss & Not Looking Backwards

One of my all time favorite movies is Thelma & Louise. Aside from the fact that movie is full of first rate actors and has a killer soundtrack, I find it to be a very empowering film despite the ending (if you don’t know how it ends, I can’t help you!) One of the many themes in that film is “keep moving forward, ” which is something I hear repeated again and again in podcast episodes.

Most of these podcasts have to do with weight loss, health and fitness but this idea applies to just about anything in life: finances, jobs, relationships, etc. You would think it’s a no-brainer, but humans with our big brains and big egos easily get stuck in the past. Why? Because we like to dwell on things like people who wronged us, on situations we screwed up, on things that frightened us.  We get stuck looking back at these times and places emotionally and we forget to move forward. How many times have you heard someone say “I would do XYZ but I just can’t get past ABC?” As in, “I would start a new relationship but I just can’t get past that man/ woman who cheated on me.” Too many of us get stuck looking back at things we wish turned out differently and while there is value at figuring out what went wrong there so we can avoid the same mistake in the future, there will be no future until we start moving forward again!

Anxiety and emotional eating are the biggest culprits when it comes to weight loss sabotage. We all know this, but when it comes to getting over the anxiety and controlling our emotions, we get stuck.  We don’t know how to get past those negative feelings because we have no tools to control them other than eating! This is where most of us get stuck in a vicious cycle: I’m scared because I don’t know how to control my emotional eating and I’m afraid I’m going to wreck my weight loss and now that I’m scared and anxious, I really want to eat something but I know I can’t because it’ll wreck my weight loss but I don’t know how to stop being scared or how to calm down without eating something. It can go on and on until finally you either eat something (which starts another cycle of recrimination), or you find something to break you out of that cycle.

It’s okay to be scared and it’s okay to be anxious and it’s okay to say “I don’t know what to do.” These are legitimate human emotions and even the bravest person in the world has had these feelings.  You can switch out the adjective “bravest” with any other superlative you can think of: wisest, strongest, calmest, whatever, because every human who has ever lived has had these same emotions.  You are not broken when you feel them and there is nothing wrong with you when you feel them. The trouble starts when you allow these feelings to control you. When you get stuck on these emotions and can’t get past them, then there is a problem.

Do you remember when you were a kid and you were learning how to do something? It doesn’t matter if it was math or how to hit a baseball or how to dance: as a kid, we are expected to ask for help, and when we reached the “now what do I do?” stage, that’s just what we did.  We asked a teacher, a parent, family member or a friend and they helped us get through it. I’m sure there were times when we were a little embarrassed or shy but no one expects a kid to know how to do everything! It’s the whole point of growing up!

Sometimes though we had to figure it out on our own and that’s where some of us are still stuck in the problems of the past. Something bad happened and now you don’t know how to get past it. All of us have things in our past that were really awful, some more awful than others unfortunately. Most of us need help to past these things but we either don’t know how to ask for help or we are embarrassed that we need help.  After all, now we are adults and we aren’t supposed to need help so we keep trying to figure it out on our own, and this is where we get stuck with emotional eating. It makes us feel better and we forget for a while about whatever is scaring or upsetting us.

Eating an entire cheesecake or the whole can of Pringles is not helping us get past the bad memories, though: it is just a coping mechanism.  It’s also a coping mechanism that is hurting us physically and emotionally. Think about it. Which is more embarrassing: calling a health professional or eating that box of brownies? Which one are you going to regret more: calling your sibling to talk about how you are feeling or eating an entire pizza?

While I realize that this post is more about emotions than it is weight loss, I do know that overeating and obesity for a lot of us are only symptoms of deeper emotional issues, the same way that drugs, drinking or other vices are symptoms. Until we deal with the actual problem, any attempt to fix the symptoms is just damage control. Being stuck constantly trying one weight loss plan after another isn’t going to fix the real issue if your emotions are what you are trying to control with food.  The problem isn’t the food you’re putting in your mouth: it’s the emotions that are driving you to do it.

The only way to get over the past is to make peace with it. For most of us that means looking back at these unhappy events and mentally telling them “you can’t hurt me anymore.” Looking at them is painful and usually scary.  We are all familiar with kids who are scared of the monster lurking in the corner, until you turn on the light and see it’s just the cat sleeping on the bookshelf. The monsters lose their power when you see them clearly in the light: that’s what making peace does to the monsters in our past.  Sometimes though we need help finding that emotional ‘light switch’ and until we ask for help, we’re stuck in the dark being afraid and left at the mercy of our fears. While food may help us forget we are afraid for a while, it’s not turning on the light for us or giving us the courage to get up and do it for ourselves. Asking for help also means taking action to move forward.  We need a hand to get over this bump in the road if we are going to make progress. Asking for help for some of us is considered weak or needy and it is neither. When we are drowning in the river, no one thinks it weak to ask for help so why is drowning in emotions any different?

Life is scary sometimes.  I’ve been through some pretty freaking scary situations myself and bad things happen to people who don’t deserve them and yes, good things happen to cruddy people who also don’t deserve them.  We don’t know what life has in store for us.  That’s what makes it scary and it’s also what makes it exciting. In a lot of cases the only difference is our perspective. Life has enough of its own obstacles to throw at us so we don’t need our fear and our emotions to hold us back. The only way to get through the scary parts is just keep moving forward, otherwise you are stuck with the fear and you already know that is not a good place to be. Keep moving!  Thelma & Louise: Better Not Look Down

 

Motivating Weight Loss: Oysters, Big Fruit & Cliches

Motivation is always a hot topic because it tends to be short-lived.  We hear a great podcast or see something online and we get all fired up.  We want to make progress and we want that progress to be fast! Go to it, guys! Burn that fat! Cut those carbs!

We all know it takes a lot of energy to keep at it, doing whatever program or plan we are following and the motivation eventually burns out because we can’t keep that fire going without constantly stoking it.  That means several times a week, we have to find something to keep that motivation burning hot so our progress doesn’t fizzle along with the motivational fires.

However, there’s something else that can keep us motivated that might not be as fun as listening to an inspirational podcast or a motivating YouTube video and that’s a bit uncomfortable because it’s discomfort. It’s not fun and it’s not pretty but it’s a major reason a lot of us end up losing weight and getting healthier.

I know lots of people like to use the idea of the little grit of sand that gets stuck in an oyster so the oyster turns it into a lovely pearl, blah blah, yadda yadda. Yeah. It’s a cute perky little cliche: we go from being ugly gritty sand into beautiful pearls! Ugh…. too perky for me! And any transformation into a ‘pearl’ takes a long long time- those pearls we pull out of those oysters took many many years to develop!

Of course, the cute perky response is that we are all ‘pearls’ to begin with, not gritty bits of dirt, but the truth is most of us feel like gritty bits of dirt. Why? Because we are uncomfortable! And though most of us come to loathe those feelings of discomfort, that discomfort is really what gives us constant encouragement to change.

Remember when you brought out your dressy blouse/ shirt for that important occasion only to be shocked that it’s too tight? Or when you went to button up your jeans and they also didn’t fit anymore? Even worse, you couldn’t get your good slacks up over your butt? How about all those times you had to suck in your gut to get the seatbelt in the car or the plane to reach across you? Or when you had to loosen the straps on your sandals because your feet are bigger than last summer?

It’s an embarrassing reality check and it makes us feel uncomfortable, just like all those chairs at restaurants where the arms dig into your thighs. Embarrassing. Uncomfortable.  This emotional and physical discomfort is important: it’s called an impetus. It’s what ultimately spurs some of us to change how we eat and how we live and it’s a daily reminder of why we need to change, so when we start thinking that “305 lbs isn’t the end of the world,” the next time we have to lay on the bed and suck in our gut to zip up our jeans (and then hope we don’t drop anything while we’re wearing them!), there’s that little annoyingly uncomfortable reminder of why 305 may not be the end of the world but it still doesn’t mean we have to live with it!

Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of online ads for Big Fig mattresses.  It’s a mattress for a “fuller figured” individual and the ads show a plus-sized person lounging comfortably on the mattress reading, sleeping, with their tablet, etc.  Frankly, instead of being intrigued, I was outraged.  Why are we making it easier for people to accept being fat?? Instead of encouraging them to lose weight, they are making it easier for them to stay where they are: overweight and possibly unhealthy.  Now before you jump all over me for criticizing the obese (of which I am one), I realize there is a need for ‘heavy duty’ mattresses for the ‘heavy duty’ sleeper. I also realize that by making it easier for people to feel comfortable with their weight, they are reducing their impetus to change.  In other words, unless you feel the discomforting reason to lose weight, it’s easier for you to stay the weight you are and as all of us obese people know, we rarely stay at that weight: most of us gain, either quickly or slowly, but gain nonetheless.  So while we might be 305 now in 2018, come 2020 we will probably be at least a few pounds closer to 350, and come 2022, probably closer still if we haven’t passed it already.  Why? It’s not because we want to be fat and unhealthy– it’s because we don’t have any nagging little uncomfortable reason to change how we are living! (Read about the mattress for yourself: Big Fig Mattress Review )

When I was in high school way back in the 1980’s, I was already at the limit for ‘plus-sized’ clothing and that was about a size 20 or so. I remember buying school clothes one year and the only pants they had in my size were horrible old-lady looking styles in some horribly bright reds and blues.  I was mortified that I would have to wear these to school!  (FYI: the only person at my school who was bigger than me made her own clothes!) Now, although I weigh a whole lot more than I did in high school, I can go to a variety of different stores and find a whole lot of gorgeous clothes in colors and styles that are actually too big for me! I can find clothes in brick-and-mortar stores in my town all the way up to 32-34! Why the change? Because Americans overall have gotten more and more obese! There is a market for these clothes in stores, not just online, just like there is a market for Big Fig mattresses! People who are ‘plus-sized’ need clothes and furniture and mattresses and seatbelt extenders and all kinds of accommodations.  In fact, if you are a business and cannot (or will not) accommodate a plus-sized client or employee, you might find yourself on the wrong end of some legal action.

I don’t want to encourage discrimination against the obese, especially since I could find myself on the receiving end of it. I love having a lot of clothing options as well as getting some cool shoes that fit too, but I worry that making it easier to be plus-sized is doing more harm than good.  Being constantly reminded that we are larger than is healthy for us is a good thing. It’s that constant discomfort that makes us want to change! Think about it: while you were out with your friends in those suck-in-your-gut jeans, was it easier or harder to say no to the fries with the burger or the cheesecake for dessert? Didn’t that metal button digging into your gut tell you “not a good idea?” How about that seatbelt that barely made it across your lap? Didn’t it remind you that a second trip to the buffet might be pushing it? Or those shoes that pinch or that blouse/shirt where taking a deep breath might cost you a button? All those little uncomfortable reminders are urging you to skip the buffet and have a yogurt instead or maybe forgo the House of Cards binge until after you’ve gone for long walk (you can take the dog so it’s not really ‘exercise’!)

I know there are people who are happy with their weight even though the rest of the world considers them obese.  I don’t want to point at them in condemnation. If they are happy with their health and their body, I congratulate them!  (I myself will probably always be considered obese by the rest of the world.) But I do want to question the wisdom of making us feel just a little too comfortable. We have plus-sized clothing, extra wide chairs and plus-sized mattresses  and those are good. Everyone deserves to be comfortable in their skin and in their home, but there is a price to pay for that comfort and I don’t mean the price tag on the clothing or furniture.  I mean the price tag on our health and our bodies. Most of us carrying extra weight feel it on our joints even if we don’t see it in our blood sugar or our blood pressure. We minimize the effect our weight has on our lives until it’s literally too much for us to ignore and by then, we’re suffering health problems from it.  Our weight keeps us from doing some things we might want to do because we are afraid of being embarrassed or because we physically can’t do the activity.  Those are the nagging little reminders that we can be healthier and more active, but then we go home to our comfy chairs and get into our comfy lounge clothes and we forget how uncomfortable we were.  All of us have some kind of limits on our lives, either those we put upon ourselves or those put upon us by circumstance.  Just make sure your weight isn’t something you’ve allowed to limit your life and happiness.

 

There’s No Competition! Weight Loss & Focusing on YOU (Not Everyone Else!)

We all know the popular platitudes: “keep your eyes on your own work,” “keep your eyes on the prize,” “stay in your own lane,” etc.  We’re fond of throwing them out whenever we hear other people discussing how much better someone else is doing with weight loss or healthy eating.  We’re quick to remind others about ‘staying in their own lane’ but when it comes to ourselves, that advice goes right out the window!

We don’t mean to be hypocritical: it’s just that humans tend to be competitive and most of us are in a hurry to lose as much weight as fast as we can, so when when we hear that someone else is having great success, we want to do what they’re doing! It’s natural: we want to be a success too! Competition aside, if a friend or coworker is doing something that works, then why shouldn’t we try it?  Makes sense, right?

Well, maybe. One of the reasons we use those platitudes like ‘stay in your own lane’ is because what works for someone else may not work for us. Weight loss and eating healthier is all dependent on our own personal health issues and our goals.  If your goal is weight loss, then following your friend’s diet may not be the right thing for you if her goal is eating healthier.  She may be losing a lot of weight fast simply because what she ate before she changed her diet was a lot of processed junk food.  Her new healthier diet might be full of nutritious whole foods which aren’t exactly low cal or conducive to weight loss.  Example: when I started my own weight loss journey, my goals were: #1) eat healthier; and #2) weight loss. The first thing I did was stop eating fast food and I lost about 40 lbs simply by cutting out the drive-thru. Then I stopped eating pasta and quick carbs like bread and white potatoes. I replaced a lot of that with nuts, (mainly macadamias and cashews) and sweet potatoes. All of those things are healthier foods than bread, cookies, pasta and potatoes, but they aren’t exactly ‘low calorie.’ I also replaced margarine with butter and left cheese in my diet, which are also not ‘low calorie.’  They are healthier than processed fake butter and processed ‘cheese food,’ but if weight loss and only weight loss is your goal, they aren’t really on a lot of ‘diet plans.’

So when I started this whole ‘eating healthier’ process, one of my goals was to lose weight but I also wanted to be healthier overall.  In short, I wanted to lose weight eating healthy whole foods instead of eating highly processed ‘diet foods.’ I also planned (and still plan) to eat this way for the rest of my life, so while I lost a lot of weight quickly, fast weight loss wasn’t and isn’t my priority.  (It was just an awesome reward for no longer living at the drive-thru!) However, when my family and friends saw I had dropped forty-plus pounds in a few weeks, they all wanted to know how I was doing it. They pretty much accepted the “No Fast Food Rule” as the no-brainer it is, but no potatoes? no bread? no pasta or rice or beans or corn? They were not on-board with those rules, even though I feel a whole lot healthier not eating those foods. And that’s the way it should be! I made changes based on my health and my goals which aren’t the same as theirs!

I have a friend who is always rolling her eyes at the ‘gluten-free’ craze: “now everything is gluten-free!” Believe me, if you are sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease, then yes! that’s a great thing! But for those of us who aren’t, is there any advantage to cutting out gluten? The general consensus seems to be ‘not really and especially not for your wallet!’ But being ‘gluten-free’ is popular now simply because there’s been a lot of media attention about it. People who have never been sensitive to gluten are swearing that they feel so much better now that they’re gluten-free while health professionals are suggesting it wasn’t the gluten in their diet that was causing the problems: it was the grains associated with gluten. In short, one of the reasons I feel much better not eating anything made with grains is because grains trigger inflammation, which irritates my osteoarthritis, so no grains, no inflammation, no arthritis pain! The reason my friend rolls her eyes is that buying gluten-free bread, cookies and pizza crust is more expensive than just leaving those foods out of your diet, so these people are paying more to eat what is essentially junk food.

We also need to keep our focus on our goals so we can do what’s best for us individually. Last week I attended a birthday luncheon for some friends at a local restaurant and one of the guests had recently started eating low carb, so it gave us a chance to compare low carb menus. He is eating low carb to keep his blood sugar under control and I am eating not so much low carb as whole food/ Paleo for weight loss.  Part of our discussion included nut butters: peanut butter, almond butter, ‘natural’ butters v the shelf stable varieties.  Peanuts aren’t a normal part of my diet: I like them and they’ve never made me sick, but at the same time, they don’t add a lot to my diet or health, so I choose not to eat them.  Peanuts are technically a legume (a bean) and I tend to avoid them overall.  Almonds are a ‘genuine nut’ but since I don’t like them very much, they are also not a big part of my diet.  My friend however isn’t eating Paleo like I am so flavored almonds, peanuts and peanut butters are part of his diet. His question centered around finding a shelf stable peanut butter he can take with him when he travels that isn’t full of sugar. He is also a fan of low carb tortillas and I avoid tortillas of all kinds, so my recommendation of a coconut wrap was an unnecessary inconvenient expense for him while his low carb tortilla would likely aggravate my arthritis. So, while it looks like we might be pursuing the same goals, we really aren’t: his eating habits wouldn’t be beneficial for me and mine would be overly complicated for him!

Not competing with others and keeping your eyes focused on your goals is also important because if you keep bouncing from one ‘sure-fire gonna work’ plan to another, you’ll never be consistent long enough to figure out what really works for you. If you want to make progress and improve your health, that means finding what works for you and staying with it, in your own lane, so to speak! I used to get a lot of questions about dairy and Paleo, since labels are another thing people like to throw around. There are Paleo advocates who insist ‘dairy isn’t Paleo,’ but as for me, since I’m not lactose intolerant either, I keep a little dairy in my diet. I do know that too much dairy does trigger a little sensitivity so I try to keep it to a minimum but that’s not because ‘dairy isn’t Paleo’: it’s because too much dairy doesn’t agree with me!

So whatever healthy eating or weight loss plan you are following, the only thing you need to focus on is whether it’s working for you or not. If your friend or neighbor is losing pounds really fast, give him a big congratulations and keep your eyes on your own work. If what you are doing isn’t working for you, then maybe it’s time to ask some questions, and the first question needs to be “what are your goals?” not “what are you doing?”

 

 

“Are We There Yet?” The Weight Loss Journey & The Garden Of Zen

Those of you with kids know how irritating that question is! In Shrek 2, there’s a hilarious scene with Donkey in the carriage asking Shrek and Fiona The Question as they travel to the Kingdom of Far Far Away.  My personal opinion is The Question is why so many cars now have backseats with ‘entertainment options,’ including headphone jacks and DVD players: no one wants to hear The Question!

No one wants to be asking it either, especially when it comes to weight loss! Whenever anyone undertakes a new weight loss or healthy living plan, the first question in their mind, whether they ask it or not, is “how long is this going to take?” Unfortunately, I believe anyone or any entity who gives you an answer is not being truthful.  We can give or get a conditional estimate that is most likely going to be extremely vague, conditional and nowhere near accurate– a ‘guesstimate’ at best, but that’s as good as you’re going to get! Forget guarantees– in my opinion, they are bald-faced lies buried under fine print. By the time you read through all that legalese, they have made it impossible for you to keep the conditions which entitle you to the money back refund! It’s bad enough that most of these weight loss companies steal your money by luring you in with their ‘guarantee’: they also steal your hope, your confidence and your faith in yourself.

It’s all because of The Question: we want to be done with this already! For most of us, the thought of spending months or years trying to lose weight or get more fit is just depressing. The only ‘good thing’ we can hope for is that ‘maybe it’ll be fun and we can make some new friends.’  It’s not entirely out of the question: we meet people at the gym or when we try new programs or classes. But usually, the entire ‘weight loss- healthy lifestyle’ is something of an embarrassing ordeal. We are embarrassed that we’re overweight, that we don’t look the way we want or the way that others think we should, or that we aren’t as fit or athletic as we want to be.  For those of us with kids, this can be especially difficult: we’re not healthy or fit enough to play with our kids or when we go to sports events and meet their friends/ teammates’ parents, we are obviously out of shape compared to them, and if we notice the differences, you can bet the kids do too!

Even if we manage to approach weight loss and being more active from a “this is going to be fun!” point of view, we are still stuck looking at the timeline that comes with any process.  How long until I’m smaller/ stronger/ fitter? Even if we’re not “There” yet, we’d still like to know that we’re making progress on our journey and with weight loss, it’s almost as if we’ve entered some kind of strange time warp, where every day is tripled and making even minimal progress takes forever! “OMG! Am I even getting close?!

At the risk of sounding like a pessimist, weight loss is not linear and there isn’t always a cause-effect relationship between what we eat, what we do, how much we weigh and how strong we are.  Other things such as stress, emotion and sleep affect our bodies and our weight.  We can eat great and work out all week but if we’re not sleeping well or if we’re anxious or seriously stressed, we may not see the result we are expecting.  We all know how frustrating that is, but it’s even more confusing: we don’t understand how we can be so “good” and still not lose the weight we want or think we should.  What did we do wrong? Why is this taking so long? How come I’m not There yet?!

This is where most of us do something we really regret out of anger, confusion, frustration and despair. We can throw ourselves into the weight loss process with a dangerous furor; we can give up and resign ourselves to be the “fat one” for the rest of our lives, or we can wallow in cookies or carbs.  Whatever it is, we usually end up regretting it because we’re either desperate to “make progress even if it kills me!” or just throwing in the towel because “I’m so done with this mess!” What none of us want to admit is that this process is never done and that once we finally get There, we have to work to stay There!

It takes a long time and it’s not linear because it’s organic. No, not talking about pesticide free, non-GMO stuff! I mean that your body is a living creature, not an artificial machine like your car.  There are dozens of things that impact your body, your lifestyle and your metabolism, which all have an impact on your weight and your health.  While we know that in our heads, it rarely filters down to where we live in our hearts, minds and souls. Here is good parallel: one of my friends grows tomatoes and pumpkins every year, although she is the first to admit she is not a gardener. She has a neighbor who is a good gardener along with a close friend who also loves gardening and is good at it.  My friend does her best every year to follow the protocols for the vegetables she’s planted and she takes care of them every day to make sure they are getting enough water without too much, enough fertilizer, bug spray, sunlight, etc.  In short, she’s being “very good” about nurturing her garden.  However, there are things she has to contend with, such as the heat wave we’ve had this year, the rampant aphid infestation, the fungus that came out of nowhere, and tomato worms which suddenly appeared.  Her tomatoes are struggling and her pumpkins are not doing as well as she’d hoped. By comparison, her next door neighbor’s tomatoes are doing great but her friend’s across town are in worse straits than hers. If it seems like there’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to why the neighbor 100 feet away has great plants and the expert gardener across town has plants that are barely alive while her own are ‘hanging in there,’ you are absolutely correct! There is no rhyme or reason, because the plants, like our bodies, are not machines. There’s a world of difference between each and every one of them, even if they are the same variety of tomato or pumpkin.  Each plant, like each of us, is an individual and while one may be doing fine where it is, its neighbor may get more or less sun, more or less water or have soil which is not as good.  One can have more bugs, more fungus or less mold or just be a stronger plant.  My friend gets just as frustrated and confused and angry with her garden as we do with our weight loss process: “I’m doing everything the way I’m supposed to so why isn’t this working?!” Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

The truth is all we can do is our best, whether it’s growing plants or losing weight to be healthier.  Just like the pumpkins and tomatoes, our bodies are living creatures and just because we live in those bodies, we think we can control them the way my friend wants to control her plants (I am in sympathy, wanting to control my orchids– but no dice!) Weight loss follows no schedule but its own, just the way her tomatoes will produce when they’re good and ready and not before, no matter how she tries to coax them along. We’re in the same boat trying to coax our bodies into losing a little more fat, building a little more muscle. Our bodies, like stubborn tomato plants, don’t always cooperate! Some years my friend has a spectacular harvest and some years she gets only a few tomatoes, but she always does her best and each year she is optimistic when she puts the plants in the ground.

All we can do is our best. We each start with the bodies we are born with and to some extent our genes dictate our outcome. All I can do is work every day to eat healthy, be active, get as much sleep as I can and manage my stress as well as I can. Being thin will not make me happy any more than being fit will make me happy unless I am happy already.  Being angry and frustrated because of my slow progress is not productive: it will not make me lose weight faster but it might slow it down even more. The bottom line is that if we keep doing our best and accept that “we’ll get there when we get there,” we will probably get there a little faster, and we will be happier along the way.  We know in our heads that weight loss and a healthier lifestyle are life-long processes.  Once we reach our goal weight, we still have to maintain it and eating Oreos and Whoppers isn’t going to help with that, so even once we’re There, we’re never Done.  This is not a bad thing! We need to remember why we are losing weight and working to be healthier: doesn’t it have something to do with living longer, being happier and spending more time with those we love? Maybe it is work, but it should be a work that we love for those that we love (and that includes us!) We just have to keep growing as best as we can and we’ll get there when we get there. Hopefully, no one gets a fungus along the way.

 

 

 

 

The Comfort Zone Workout: Weight Loss & Pushing Your Boundaries

Yesterday I was talking to one of my friends about her college age son.  He was in the enviable position of being offered two job opportunities: he had been offered a promotion at his current job and also offered a position at his church’s community outreach program.  While he definitely does not plan on a career in food service (his current job) and being active in his church is a major role in his life, he is not sure about taking the community outreach position because it is out of his comfort zone.

While most of us have never been in his position, we are all extremely familiar with our comfort zone and our reluctance to leave it. My friend knew right away that her son was nervous about trying something new.  While he is not a shy and retiring sort of person, this position at his church was just enough out of his comfort zone to make him give it serious thought. Many of us feel similar trepidation when faced with heading into unknown or unfamiliar territory, and that’s a good thing.  We should take such situations seriously, but there are a lot of us who automatically balk at leaving our comfort zone.

I admit: I am reluctant to the point of balking in some situations, especially those that have me driving somewhere I am utterly unfamiliar with, and the only thing that can make that situation worse is to put a deadline on it, as in “I must be at a certain location by X time and I have no idea where I am going.” [Insert pic of me screaming in terror here.] I know I can use Google Maps and MapQuest to get there, and both of them are on my phone, but the anxiety about trying to get to an unfamiliar address remains.  In fact, I faced it earlier this week having to drop off my car at a location I didn’t know in a town I am unfamiliar with by a certain time. While the anxiety and accompanying stress weren’t overwhelming, it was enough to put a dent in my week.

A funny thing happens when we do things that make us uncomfortable: these activities become more familiar and more comfortable. They stretch our comfort zone and by definition, our comfort zone grows and so do we. When I first started going to a gym, all I used was the treadmill. We all know how much equipment is at any gym, but it could have been nothing but treadmills for all I cared.  When I moved to my current gym, it was because I needed to work out in the pool. I was familiar with using one for physical therapy exercises because of my physiotherapist. Doing them on my own was a little out of my comfort zone, but not enough to hold me back.

Water aerobics however was another animal entirely! The gym had classes posted on their website: all I had to do was show up but I didn’t know anything about what the classes were like, what the trainers were like, what the other students were like, so I didn’t go. It was scary and unfamiliar and just enough out of my comfort zone that I didn’t want to try it… until the day I showed up at the gym to use the pool and it was full of people using water weights and pool noodles and there was a trainer putting them through their exercises. Obviously, it was a class and I sat on the bench waiting for them to be done.  The students didn’t look that different from me: most of them were in their forties or older and some were overweight, some weren’t and some had obvious mobility issues.  After about twenty minutes of waiting around, the trainer asked me if I wanted to join them, so I did! And it was a great workout, a lot of fun and I’ve been going every week for the last three years! But if I hadn’t shown up in the middle of a class, I might still be too entrenched in my comfort zone to try the classes on my own.

We’ve all heard the expression “try it- you’ll like it!” but most of us take that only as far as we feel comfortable. We’ve got our boundaries marked and beyond them we will not stray. We know our limits, when it’s okay to stretch a boundary and when it’s not.  For me, that’s usually exercises and workouts and there’s a very obvious reason for that: I’ve never been particularly athletic. Athletics, exercise, working out: they are all in unfamiliar territory for me, so I don’t like going there.  Food, on the other hand, is way too familiar for me, so if you want me to try a new yogurt flavor or a new vegetable or spice, then no problem! I am in the habit of trying new foods and flavors, even though some have been pretty awful! But trying a new exercise? Balk!

It goes back to comfort and familiarity.  If you are used to doing something, it’s no longer strange or difficult! It’s just the ‘getting used to it’ that makes us balk. It’s pretty much a no-brainer: we’re not comfortable, we’re not sure we’re doing it right (whatever ‘it’ is) so we don’t like doing it and we end up doing those things as little as possible or not at all.  I know: duhhhhh.  But what gets missed in that thinking is that the only reason we aren’t doing those things is because we aren’t used to doing them! The more we push out of our comfort zone, the more comfortable that strange territory becomes until it becomes normal for us.

When I started cutting carbs out of my regular diet, it was nearly unbelievably difficult. They were a major staple of how I had been eating.  Breakfast was a bagel or breakfast sandwich, lunch was another sandwich or rice bowl and dinner was usually rice, pasta or more sandwiches, and don’t forget dessert: cookies, cake, pie. More than half of what I ate was bread, pasta, potatoes or rice.  What else is there to eat? Coming up with low carb/ no carb replacements took more work than I was used to putting into shopping or cooking. Getting groceries took over an hour: is this low carb? does this have carbs or sugar? what about peas? are they Paleo-friendly? OMG! It took forever!

But again, the more I did it, the more normal it became. Instead of automatically thinking of dinner as meat and pasta or meat and rice, it’s meat and veg or meat and salad, or even just salad! Grocery shopping takes me a half an hour if there is a line for checkout and less if there isn’t. Going out to eat with friends isn’t a huge ordeal anymore: it’s another no-brainer instead of another anxiety-filled appointment like the one I had earlier this week. It’s not strange or difficult anymore because I am used to doing it.  It’s just getting over the ‘getting used to it.’

That’s where we need to push ourselves and that’s why we have to do it. We don’t need to take risks to be healthier, but we should push our comfort zone a little so that it keeps growing and we can keep growing with it.  Whether it’s trying a new food or a new way of eating or working out, we shouldn’t be afraid to grow.  Who knows? You might like it and you might even make some friends along the way.  The friend I mentioned above? I met her in my water aerobics class.