Stress vs Hormones: Weight Loss Killers?

Most of us roll our eyes when it comes to stress: *sigh* “it’s a part of everyday life!” Yes, it is, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do something about it! It’s one thing to accept that we will always be dealing with stress of some type or another but it’s another thing to do nothing about it.  How many times have we shown up at an office meeting or some luncheon only to find stacks of bagels, donuts or pizza being served? We don’t shrug and say “it’s what’s on the menu!” as we stuff it in our mouths, do we? We choose not to eat it or we choose to eat only a small amount of it. Just because it’s there, like stress, doesn’t mean we just accept it as part of our every day lives.

For a lot of us, it’s easier to deal with the bagels and cream cheese at the staff meeting than it is to deal with the stress that goes with that meeting.  We learn to say no thank you to the carbs and candy but stress? “Doesn’t that mean I need to meditate for an hour every day or listen to some kind of mellow harp music?” Most of us handle it by eating something comforting as a distraction or we wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares (that would be me!) or we lie awake until 4:00 a.m. unable to shut off our brains, feeling our adrenaline and heart rates rising as we go over and over everything we are stressing about in our lives.

We are taught that stress isn’t a real “issue” when it comes to weight loss or even every day living.  It’s like traffic or hay fever or the dirty laundry that keeps piling up: “It happens! Deal with it!” Even when we’ve been told that our body doesn’t distinguish between an over-budget project at work and an axe-wielding maniac, we still go right on ‘dealing’ with the stress by eating too many muffins, sleeping all weekend or spending money like the proverbial drunken sailor. The real issue isn’t that we still don’t take stress seriously.

Stress will kill your weight loss.  Our weight, for good or not-so-good, is dictated by our hormones.  Our bodies release hormones to make us hungry, to tell us to stop eating, to tell us to burn fat and when to store it.  No matter what we try to do either by cutting calories or exercising until we want to throw up, it all depends on our hormones! Until we learn how to manage our hormones, we aren’t going to win the weight loss war. What we don’t always understand or remember is that stress affects our hormones!

That surge of adrenaline or cortisol we feel when someone reminds us the balloon payment on the mortgage is coming due is a hormone.  You know how your Fitbit tells you your heart rate just spiked when your boss left you an angry voicemail? That sudden spike is the result of the hormones stress triggered in your body. Stress triggers the release of glucose into our blood stream.  It’s that Fight or Flight Response we’ve heard about so often, giving us the energy boost to run away from that axe-wielding maniac or fight him to the death. That’s a good thing, right? Yes, if you are running away from a crazed killer or trying to catch the bus so your boss won’t jump all over you for being late again. If your response to the angry voicemail or the budget crisis is to sit down and go over your work schedule or your bank statement, then it’s not such a great response. Sitting there or not doing anything active means that extra glucose in your blood stream needs to get picked up by insulin and packed away as fat. (Remember? Insulin is a storage hormone.)

That’s how stress kills your weight loss: constantly keeping your glucose elevated means that you are constantly releasing insulin so not only are you not losing weight, you are becoming more and more insulin resistant.  That means it’s harder for you to lose weight overall because you constantly have insulin in your blood stream.  FYI: this is how you can eat less and less and still gain weight!

Most of us get stuck in this vicious cycle: our family and/ or doctor keeps harping on us to lose weight; we aren’t losing weight because of the stress and insulin resistance, so we stress on what we’re ‘doing wrong’ and usually dealing with others accusing us of cheating on our diet, but we know we aren’t so we must be doing something wrong because we aren’t losing weight so we continue to stress over why not, dammit?!

The weight loss stress gets added to our work stress, our family stress, the traffic stress and all the other stress that comes with just living our lives and whenever some health guru mentions ‘managing our stress,’ we roll our eyes again and mumble something about meditating to zither music. Ignoring the stress isn’t going to make it go away or help you to deal with it any more than wolfing down Oreos while we’re driving home will help us to deal with it.  Both responses have the same result: no weight loss.

You don’t have to listen to zither music or meditate or journal over your stress unless you choose to handle it that way. For some of us, being told to journal or meditate is almost as stressful as whatever situation we are trying to defuse.  What does matter is that we find a way to handle our stress without eating, without burying it or engaging in another behavior that’s going to cause more stress.  Some situations (like a sick family member) are simply out of our control so minimizing the stress from those reactions we can control becomes more important.  For some of us, our stress reliever is a funny movie or a favorite playlist or some quiet time.  Some of us like to exercise to relieve stress and for others, it’s prayer or controlled breathing.  For me, it’s a playlist, an audiobook or if I am at home, it’s my pets.  The only criteria is that your stress reliever has to work for you and most importantly, don’t stress over fighting the stress!

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!

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!

 

If You Ate It, OWN IT!: Weight Loss & Responsibility

Responsibility is a real issue when it comes to weight loss. We never like to admit that we were ‘bad’ and went off our diet or bailed on exercise just because we felt like it. We make ourselves feel better by dredging up an excuse or we rationalize why we ‘had to do’ what we did. In reality, whether we call it an excuse or a rationalization or a reason, the bottom line is our behavior is our responsibility.

Being responsible can be a real pain in the butt!  Remember when you were a kid and reached the “too old for a baby-sitter” age? It meant that you were old enough and trusted enough to stay home alone or old enough to watch your younger siblings. You were probably feeling a little proud but a little nervous too. It meant that you were responsible! It also meant that you were in charge, either of whomever you were watching or at the very least, in charge of your own behavior: YOU are in control!

As we can recall from being a kid, being in charge can be a little heady at times but to steal a phrase from the wise and immortal Stan Lee: “With great power comes great responsibility.” If you are in charge, you are responsible for what happens, whether it’s a great outcome or something not-so-great.  It was enough to make Peter Parker wish he wasn’t Spiderman and it’s enough to make us wish that we weren’t in charge of our own eating habits!

Unfortunately, what we eat really is our responsibility. Unless someone has a gun to our heads and it forcing us to eat those Krispy Kremes, we made the decision to eat them! Even if we are starving because we’ve missed breakfast and lunch and now we’ve showed up at some appointment and they’ve offered us those donuts, it is entirely within our abilities to say “no thank you!”  Yes, I know– harsh! But will we fall over dead if we’ve missed breakfast and lunch? Probably not! Barring a hypoglycemic fainting spell, we will probably be okay (if starving) until we can get something healthier for us, but this is when we start rationalizing why we had to eat something not on our diet.

I’ve said it before and it’s worth saying again: when we tell ourselves we are constantly at the mercy of others or circumstances, we cut off our own power to make positive changes! In plain simple language, if we have to eat what others make us eat, then how can we make positive changes to what we eat? Of course, others aren’t ‘making us eat anything,’ unless it’s those Krispy Kremes or that bag of Doritos or the family size box of Cheezits! Those we ‘had to eat’ because we really wanted them and came up with a justification for why they ‘made’ us eat them! In most cases, it’s what ‘they’ brought home for dinner or ‘they’ were eating them in front of us when ‘they’ knew we were trying to lose weight. For a lot of us, believing ‘they made us eat those’ absolves us of our responsibility for choosing to eat badly. But it also robs us of our power to make any positive changes too!

On a recent episode of My 600 Life, Dr. Nowzaradan’s patient Maja did something I had never seen before, and frankly, it shocked me. At 33, Maja weighed in at 689 lbs.  After her initial consultation, she went back to Oregon with her boyfriend Christian and over two months, she lost about 93 lbs, nearly the 100 the doctor wanted her to lose.  She was approved for bariatric surgery and proceeded to move to Houston as Dr. Nowzaradan had instructed.  The move to Texas unfortunately exacerbated the deteriorating relationship between Maja and her boyfriend. They fought all the way from Oregon to Houston and when Maja checked in with the doctor, he wanted her to come in to get weighed: she had lost only 9 lbs. The doctor cancelled her surgery with instructions to get back on track and lose another 50 lbs. Crying, Maja lashed out at Christian: “This is all your fault! You’re costing me my weight loss surgery! This is nobody’s fault but yours, Christian!” Really?

This melt-down in the doctor’s office wasn’t an anomaly: throughout her initial trip to Houston for the consultation, everything that was hard or didn’t go the way she wanted it to go was met with tears and blame. While packing for the trip, Christian wasn’t ‘taking it seriously’ and wasn’t being helpful enough for her.  Walking through the airport was ‘hard’ and she blamed the customer service woman she had talked to: she had ‘lied to [Maja] about how far it was.’ When she reached the car rental agency, they had reserved the wrong car for her and when Maja tried to squeeze in behind the wheel, her leg got stuck and she nearly fell out of the car. Christian had to help her out by laying her down on the ground so she could pull her leg out. Maja again started crying: she didn’t know how to get up and didn’t know what to do. Christian suggested she use the car to pull herself up and then she walked back to the car rental agency, cried again and demanded the car she had initially reserved.

Blame and tears appear to be Maja’s way of handling difficult situations. Because she is at the mercy of others (her parents, the car rental people, the ‘lying’ customer service woman, Christian, etc), she can’t control her reactions, so nothing is her responsibility.   What she eats, what she doesn’t eat: none of it is under her control. Really?

Maja is an extreme example of what most of us do every day: we blame our friends or family for ‘tempting us’ with unhealthy foods we like to eat. This past weekend, I was out with a friend for cheeseburgers and chocolate candy, and this is on top of the Girl Scout cookies I bought from another friend’s granddaughter! I don’t blame my friends for what I ate or didn’t eat on the weekend any more than I blame the Girl Scouts for making cookies.  I chose to eat what I ate (cheeseburger, sweet potato fries, jalapeno poppers, chocolate) and I own my choices. I chose to eat those foods just like I chose not to eat the cookies and other tempting junk food that was available.  Just because they are there or even offered to us does not mean that we have to eat them!

Owning our choices means we take responsibility, for the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff. Blaming others or circumstances has another deadly drawback: it teaches us to be helpless.  Not only do we have no responsibility, but having no power over our situation means we are helpless to help ourselves. That’s what it means to be at the mercy of others and circumstances.  The longer we rely on others for everything, the harder it is to learn how to do anything for ourselves, including helping ourselves and making our own decisions. 

Maja’s fall in the parking garage with the rental car struck a chord with me. In 2012, when I weighed about 440 lbs, I fell on my front lawn. My lawn is slightly slanted and while I was unloading my car, I stepped back into a hole near a sprinkler head. I knew the hole was there and normally managed to avoid it, but not this time.  It was dark; it was on the slant; I lost my balance and fell over on my butt and back onto the lawn.  As I was falling, my only thought was “miss the bricks! miss the bricks!” Luckily, I did miss my brick lamppost and because it had been raining a lot, my lawn was fairly soft and muddy.  Nevertheless, 440 lbs is a lot of weight to come down hard on my butt, my back and my head.  I went down like a proverbial tree in a forest! Once down, alone at night in the dark on my lawn, I lay there for a moment to see what hurt, and then, like Maja, I wondered how to get back up.  Like Maja, I rolled over onto my knees, crawled over to the brick lamppost and used it to help myself back up.  Then, I finished unloading my car, went inside and changed out of my muddy clothes.  Yes, I was a little a stiff the next day, but no hysterics, no tears, no blame.

The difference between my situation and Maja’s is learned behavior.  Maja went right off to the rental car agency and blamed them for her falling. I suppose I could have blamed my gardeners for making a big hole near the sprinkler head, but I knew the hole was there and unsuccessfully tried to avoid it. It’s a fact of life: things happen! Stress happens; unhappy relationships happen; emotional conflict happens! The more we learn to take back our power to make our own decisions, the stronger we are, whether it’s saying no to the box of Thin Mints or to dealing with a bad rental car experience. (Unfortunately, I also have experience with not fitting behind the wheel of rental cars!)

Being responsible starts with owning your choices and decisions.  It’s not always easy and it can be pretty embarrassing at times, but choosing to blame others not only takes away your responsibility: it takes away your power. The more you give away the blame, the more you give away your power. It’s time to take back what is rightfully yours: your power to choose what you eat and what you don’t eat! Whether you say yes to the donut or not, the choice is yours. Own it.

 

Weight Loss: Inside & Out

When we think of weight loss, we tend to focus on our outward appearance. How much thinner do we look? How has our shape changed? How many clothing sizes have we dropped? Our outside appearance is where our focus goes and we believe our emotions will follow along. We assume we will be happier, less stressed, less self-conscious and more confident as our appearance improves.

In some ways that is true: when we feel better physically, we tend to feel better emotionally and mentally.  But that isn’t always the case and this divergence usually causes confusion, anxiety and frustration when we realize that even though we seem to be losing weight or getting fitter, we aren’t any happier, calmer or confident.

For some of us, this unhappiness and lingering lack of confidence comes from our bodies still not living up to our ideal.  We lost thirty pounds but we still have those “thunder thighs,” or now our upper arms look worse because our weight loss has drawn attention to our flabby “bat wings.” We look in the mirror and instead of seeing success, we see more ‘body issues’ due to the weight loss! Instead of being glad about our success and more confident in ourselves, we feel more self-conscious and less self-confident!

For others, we are mystified that, even though we’ve lost weight and gotten to the dress or pant size we’ve dreamed about, we are still unhappy and still feeling anxious.  “Isn’t this what I’ve always wanted? So why am I still so unhappy?” We still feel like we used to feel when we were overweight and we don’t know what’s wrong with us. We conclude that we must be broken somehow since we’ve reached our goal and “nothing has changed inside. I’m still broken!”

In a lot of ways, this frustration and confusion is because our image of ourselves is inside out.  We think that our outside appearance reflects who we are inside.  We’ve probably seen hundreds of examples of this in society and the media, from Shakespeare’s evil twisted hunchback in Richard III to the more modern movie Shallow Hal with actor Jack Black.  How many times have we seen movies where the villain looks slimy or deformed and every viewer knows instantly “he’s the bad guy!” There is a correlation between who we are inside and how we appear, but most of us believe that a beautiful outside will create a beautiful inside.  Instead, it’s the beautiful inside that radiates outward.

A lot of who we are mentally and emotionally shows up in our physical appearance.  This doesn’t mean all overweight people are insecure because there is something wrong emotionally inside but it does mean that fixing the outside isn’t always going to fix the inside. If you were an unhappy person before you lost weight, you will likely still be unhappy when once you’ve lost weight.  This doesn’t mean you are ‘unfixable’ but it does mean you can’t fix the outside without fixing the inside. It can also mean that fixing the inside first makes it easier to fix the outside!

Happy people tend to take better care of themselves, and again, people who feel better tend to feel better emotionally. Elizabeth Benton (Chasing Cupcakes) spends most of her book pointing out this correlation. If you fix what is making you unhappy, anxious and insecure, it can  make it easier to lose weight and ‘fix’ the outside. This is one of the reasons psychotherapy is a major component of Dr. Nowzaradan’s weight loss program on My 600 lb Life.  While he starts his patients with the diet and bariatric surgery in order to get them as healthy as possible as fast as possible, the second and most important step is therapy.  As he points out in nearly every episode, unless the patient deals with the emotional issues leading them to overeat, they will eventually go back to overeating despite the surgery. In fact, some of the patients who come to him have already had bariatric surgery, not dealt with the emotional inside issues and have again reached 500+ pounds. They thought that by fixing the outside (their weight), they would fix the inside (their emotions): in other words, “I’ll be happy once I’ve lost weight!”

This frustration and confusion is common in most of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients: “I thought having the surgery would take away my cravings!” We’ve gone through this ourselves when we’ve lost weight but still fight the urge to scarf down a box of donuts or bag of chips. It’s because for most of us the weight is the physical symptom of what’s really bothering us. Most of us would call ourselves emotional eaters but despite knowing our out-of-control emotions lead us to that bag of chips and box of donuts, we try to white-knuckle our way through life! While we may initially lose weight, eventually our emotions overwhelm us and we suddenly find ourselves halfway through the bag of Double-Stuf Oreos without realizing how that happened. The cycle of unhappiness and frustration begins again: “Why did I do this? Why can’t I control myself? What’s wrong with me?” followed by more emotional eating!

Not all of us need therapy in order to fix our inside self. For some of us, it’s as simple as getting away from a toxic person or situation. In my case, a lot of my emotional issues went away once I left a job I hated. While I knew it was a major source of stress in my life, it wasn’t until I got out of that job that I realized how utterly unhappy it had made me, how insecure my boss made me feel and how extremely stressed even when I wasn’t at work.  I would wake up with panic attacks in the middle of the night over that job and my boss would call me while I was driving to give me a list of ‘things to do’ once I got in the office.  It was expected that I would be at work on time (not unreasonable) and stay until my job was done, even if that meant staying until 8:00 p.m., despite her knowing it was a two hour commute for me to get home! When I did get home, no matter the time, I was usually emotionally drained and feeling like a failure. I was constantly asking myself ‘what’s wrong with me?’ about everything in my life! All I wanted to do was forget how unhappy I was and I used food to do that.

This is of course a simplified version of how I dealt with a major source of my emotional issues, but obviously not all of them.  I had been an overweight emotional eater before long before I went to work for The Boss From Hell, and I still feel the urge to distract myself with food when I get extremely stressed now that I work somewhere else. The biggest turning point was leaving the source of such unhappiness and anxiety (The Job From Hell) and the second biggest turning point was realizing that food was a distraction, not a solution. Now when I feel the urge to eat something because I am stressed or upset, I look for a solution instead. Sometimes, it’s as simple as finding a non-food distraction, since not every situation has a real solution, but knowing that eating isn’t going to help is still a step in the right direction.

Dealing with the source of my anxiety and emotional issues was a huge step in getting cravings and over-eating under control. Even if I had a craving or urge to eat, it was easier to find something else that was enjoyable to distract me or just make me feel better about myself overall.  The emotions were better controlled, the eating was better controlled, the weight loss was making progress and instead of that vicious cycle, I was in an ‘improvement cycle.’  The better I felt physically as the weight came off, the better I felt emotionally, which led to my taking better care of myself physically and the cycle continued!

Our stress and emotions will always be a part of our lives no matter and learning to deal with them is an ongoing struggle no matter how much we weigh. The key is learning to be happy in the skin that we are in now rather than pinning our hopes for happiness on some future goal or achievement. It’s not always easy to look in the mirror and love the person looking back despite the thunder thighs and flabby bat wings. None of us are broken or unfixable just as none of us are perfect. Just accepting that we are all works in progress can be enough of a starting point.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Vacation Days?: Weight Loss & the Value of Rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Regrets!: Thanksgiving & Weight Loss

Most of us who are trying to lose weight quake in our shoes when we think of Thanksgiving dinner. We envision a table loaded with as much food as we can crowd onto the surface and the usual plan for the day is eating ourselves into a coma.  At least that’s the stereotype and even if we don’t eat everything in sight, most of us trying to lose weight go to bed Thanksgiving night feeling pretty miserable about how much we ate that day.

I have been pretty blessed with my family holiday get-togethers.  While we had at least a couple tables full of food, desserts and appetizers (and more in the kitchen), long before I started this weight loss journey, I learned that holidays and family celebrations weren’t about the food: they were about the family.  I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true.  Yes, there were family members who brought some great food that I only got to eat when there was a family gathering, but that wasn’t the point of getting together.

Our family gatherings were always held at my grandparents’ home (now my uncle’s) and we do pot-luck.  Everyone brings a dish and there are some that are prepared there the morning of the gathering (the meal is served at 1:00 p.m. – you snooze, you lose!) Most of the family would show up between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m.  I showed up at 11:00 a.m. to help set the table and help my aunt and grandmother finish up what needed to be finished, but my real purpose in showing up early was that I got to spend that time with them! That was the big draw in getting there early: I got to talk to them without a houseful of family vying for their attention! I got to chat with my grandparents, my uncle, my dad when there wasn’t a crowd I had to shout over.

By the time everything is ready, my aunt, uncle and I had been hard at cooking and prepping for at least an hour and a half. The meal is served buffet-style (we usually had about forty people) and so everyone serves themselves and finds a place to sit and eat.  Usually we would have to refill some serving bowls before everyone got through the line just once so, again, that would be a job for me and my aunt.  Have you ever wondered how people who work around delicious food don’t weigh a 1000 lbs? It’s easy: by the time you’ve mashed it, stirred it, simmered it, poured it, spooned it and served it, it’s not so yummy anymore and believe me, the last thing you want to do is eat it!  My aunt and I would usually get through the buffet at the tail end of the line while others are going back for seconds.  It’s not that we don’t like the food: it’s that we’re a little tired and we really want to sit down and not look at food!

While there were a lot of family gatherings and holidays where I definitely overate, they were not the norm for me.  I was (and still am) more likely to overeat at home alone.  At holidays, by the time everyone had eaten and we’d cleared the table, it was time for dessert and we went through a shortened version of the midday meal.  My aunt and I were usually more focused on getting everything on and off the table in a timely efficient manner and getting the dishes done (no dishwasher at Grandma’s!) While we managed to get something to eat and even some dessert, eating wasn’t the focus of the holiday!

I realize there are always a lot of temptations at Thanksgiving. For me, the biggest temptation aside from the actual turkey are my cousin’s homemade enchiladas. (We’re Mexican, so in addition to the traditional Thanksgiving fixings, there’s beans, enchiladas and Grandpa’s chili.)  There’s also my aunt’s homemade macaroni salad and the chili.  Because I only get these at family gatherings, it’s always tempting to eat more of those foods than is really good for me, so I have to remind myself that there is a saturation point.  This is the point where I get enough that I feel satisfied but don’t feel that I overdid it.  We all know that point: that’s the usual feeling we get when we go to bed regretting how much we ate! The trick for me has always been to serve myself a spoonful or two of the foods I really want to eat.  I don’t have to eat a little of everything, so my plate usually only has the foods I really love on it.  Yes, I like mashed potatoes, especially those from scratch, and I like stuffing too, but even homemade mashed potatoes are still pretty run of the mill and unless my cousin made the stuffing, I don’t need to eat either of those! When I finally sit down to eat, my plate pretty much has only the foods I mentioned above: turkey, my aunt’s salad, a half an enchilada and some chili, usually a spoonful or so of each and that’s my Thanksgiving dinner!

When it comes to dessert, I follow the same method.  If there is something that looks really great or is homemade (one of my cousins is a pastry chef), then I’ll have a small piece of that, but grocery store pie? Usually not. Again, I remind myself that I don’t need to eat something just because it’s there or it’s been offered to me.

I also make a point of reminding myself that if I’m not hungry, I don’t need to eat.  Most of us eat according to the clock or the availability of food.  “It’s dinnertime so I have to eat.” “The food is on the table, so it’s time to eat.” “They offered it to me and if I don’t eat it, I’m being rude.”  I know I’ve told myself those statements more times than I can count! But we only need to eat when our body is legitimately hungry, and I use the word ‘legitimately’ for a reason.  Our body can trick us into thinking we are hungry.  I usually ‘feel hungry’ around 3:30 because that’s usually when I will stop and get a coffee or a snack on my way home, so my body reminds me: 3:30- time to eat! This happens no matter if I’ve had lunch, had a late lunch, or skipped lunch! My body thinks 3:30 is “eating time!”

The other thing that happens to a lot of us is we smell food and our stomach starts rumbling: time to eat! This is a normal biological function: the smell of the food literally starts the digestive juices flowing and our stomach and mouth prepare themselves to digest what we’re smelling.  At Thanksgiving dinner, pretty much most houses are going to be smelling like all kinds of food all day long! Even though our stomachs are growling, we need to remind ourselves of what we just ate!

For me, one thing that definitely keeps me from constantly nibbling or going back for seconds is to walk away from the fully loaded table.  Spending time talking with family I haven’t seen in a while means I can’t eat while I’m talking.  I also can’t eat while doing the dishes! Think of it this way: if you are busy cleaning up, not only will you be a big hit with your aunts, grandmother, mom and the rest of the clean up crew, you’ll also be saving a lot of calories you don’t need to eat! This Thanksgiving, go to bed with no regrets: make sure you spend your time with the people in your life you are thankful for.  You’ve got the rest of your life to eat turkey and pumpkin pie.

What Are You Looking For? Weight Loss & Our Expectations

One of the most annoying things about certain weight loss professionals (for me anyway) is that they always want to know “why do you want to lose weight?”  I understand why they ask that, because most dieters don’t have as much weight as I do to lose.  They are looking at losing (usually) thirty pounds or less and while their journey is just as important as mine, what is driving them to lose weight is a little different than my impetus.

One of the stupidest things I ever saw on My 600 lb Life was a therapist who showed up at the house of a bed-bound patient weighing well over 500 lbs and she asked the patient: “why do you want to lose weight?” Though the patient was a very uncooperative and uncompliant woman, I had to agree with her response: “that’s the most asinine question I’ve ever heard!”

While carrying around an extra 20 or 30 lbs isn’t healthy for you, it’s a lot different when that extra weight is 130 lbs! When you are that obese, weight loss isn’t about fitting in those skinny jeans for the family trip or looking great when you go to the High School Reunion! It’s about sleeping without a CPAP; it’s about being able to walk across the Walmart parking lot without panting; it’s about climbing a staircase without being afraid of having a heart attack or passing out!

However, as annoying as that question is, I understand the impetus behind it.  For a lot of us, whether it’s 10 lbs or 100 lbs, we believe inside that “once I lose this weight, I will be finally be happy!” When we make our weight the major problem and obstacle in our lives, it becomes the scapegoat for everything that’s wrong: “I haven’t gotten the promotion because of my weight”; “I can’t find someone who loves me because of my weight”; “I’m unhappy in my life because I’m not comfortable with myself because of my weight.”  Sorry to tell everyone: the weight is a problem but not THE problem! The real problem is YOU. Specifically, it’s your mindset: happiness doesn’t come from outside– it comes from within!

We’ve heard all the platitudes about beauty being in the eye of the beholder and similar sayings. (My personal favorite is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind; therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.”)  Just because their ancient and we’ve heard them all a million times doesn’t make them wrong but because we’ve heard them so often, we’ve stopped paying attention.  We don’t stop to think about what the expressions actually mean, and the same is true when it comes to our happiness.

We’ve all heard that if we want someone else to love us, we first have to love ourselves.  No one will love someone who hates himself and being happy starts the same way.  How can we be happy if we hate who we are? We don’t have to love everything about our lives, but we do have to accept who we are and that we are a worthwhile person who deserves to be happy, even if we weigh 450 lbs! We have to learn to love ourselves even if there are things that we wish were different or things we are working to change, and loving who we are right now is the first step to being happy!

“Yeah…great….I love me…what does that have to do with losing weight?” Actually, it has a lot to do with losing weight. Let’s be honest: weight loss is hard work, especially at the beginning.  Remember when you had to do something you really didn’t want to do (like taxes, maybe?) Remember how it was hard and you dreaded it and put it off as much as you could? When you don’t love and value yourself, how well do you take care of yourself? How much do you get down on yourself?  I know of people who routinely treat themselves so badly it would be considered abusive if someone else did it to them.  These are things like calling themselves morons or idiots or telling themselves that they don’t deserve good things because they’re trash.  They’ve been convinced that they are worthless and that’s how they treat themselves, so when it comes to weight loss, why bother buying the healthy nutritious food when they’re just going to blow this diet like they’ve blown every other diet they’ve tried?  “That program/ food/ gym is expensive and I’m just going to screw it up, so why waste the money?”

The same thing happens when they’re faced with temptation: “I might as well eat the leftover Halloween candy since I’m going to blow this sooner or later…” No one wants to love Sid or Cindy Sadsack because they’re always negative and depressing.  The truly sad thing about them is that they also tell themselves that once they’ve lost weight, they will be deserving of love and happiness but their negative attitude to themselves is what’s keeping them from being happy and loved right now as well as keeping them from losing weight!

When you are happy or at least in a good mood, you are more confident.  You are more likely to try a challenge or try your best at everything that comes your way.  You just plain take better care of yourself!  A guy might wear a brighter tie than normal or a woman might put on a little more makeup.  When faced with temptation, rather than tell themselves “I’m going to screw up anyway!,” they are more likely to pass on the indulgence because “I can do this!” They just plain feel better about who they are right now!  They don’t need the sugar, the indulgence or the food to bolster their mood, so it’s easier to say no. They are more likely not to avoid emotional eating  due to depression, loneliness, stress or boredom.  They are too busy feeling happy and good about themselves.  They are more likely to exercise and stay active because being happy usually energizes us while depression, loneliness and sadness leave us feeling drained.

The trick is to learn to love yourself and be happy with who you are right now.  When you are happy with who you are now, you don’t have to wait until you’ve hit your weight loss goals to feel happy.  The sad truth is that being thin won’t make you happy.  Things and outside influences don’t make you happy.  They might make you feel better, but real happiness comes from how you see and feel about yourself.  [Spoiler alert:  If you haven’t seen Citizen Kane and don’t want the end ruined for you, stop reading here!]

When a dying Orson Welles looks into the snowglobe and whispers “Rosebud” at the beginning of Citizen Kane, it begins the fruitless search to find out “who is Rosebud?” Like a lot of us, the characters all miss the point. Rosebud was a memory of the last time Charles Foster Kane was truly happy: as an 8 year old boy playing in the snow with a beat up wooden sled.  Alone in a giant empty castle of a house after a life of wealth and influence, he still was still searching for that lost happiness.

[Spoiler alert over!] True happiness doesn’t come from what you have or what you look like: it comes from who you are inside. All of us have to wait to be thinner and healthier but we don’t have to wait to be truly happy and when we are happier, we will probably lose weight a little faster!