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!

Gratitude Adjustment: Weight Loss & Positivity

Almost all of us know someone who’s never happy about anything.  Even if something good happens, they manage to find a negative about it.  As my grandpa used to say, “if he won a million dollars, he’d complain about the taxes!”  These days I joke a lot about how I’m never happy with our office thermostat: I complain when it’s cold, and I complain when they turn on the heat in the office- whatever the temperature is in our office, it’s not right for me! So I spend most of my time either wearing a sweater or with my desk fan on.  The difference between “being negative” and my fake-complaining is that I know my boss is trying to accommodate me but obviously, there are going to be people who in the office who don’t like my temperature setting either.  My boss is doing the best he can for everyone here and I know that, so if it’s too warm or stuffy for me, I turn on the fan on my desk and if it’s too chilly, I put on my sweater, and I will kid him about it every chance I get!

People who are true Negative Nancys / Neds are people who don’t acknowledge that others are doing the best they can to make everyone happy.  Whatever is going on, they automatically assume the worst. The traffic is always bad; the restaurant always gets their order wrong; if they win a million dollars, they’d have to share the pot with a hundred people plus pay the taxes! Nothing is ever right or good for them so they are always miserable!

I know a few people like that and my comment is usually something along the lines of “he’s only happy when he’s miserable.” I’ve stopped going out of my way to accommodate them or make them happy because it’s never going to be good enough anyway.  I know that’s a cop-out and I do try to do my best for them, but at the same time, I know whatever I do is going to be wrong.

We’ve all heard about the benefits of keeping a positive attitude and looking on the bright side of things. Usually we (meaning me!) roll our eyes and tune out without a second thought, but when we do that, we not only lose out on any benefits, we condemn those around us to our bad attitudes. I know there is a lot of media attention about Gratitude Journals and Gratitude Routines, either morning, evening or both, and while some of it can come off as “Feel-Good Mumbo-Jumbo,” that doesn’t make it worthless or nonsense.

One of the suggestions that usually made me roll my eyes and sigh deeply was the Morning Gratitude Routine (any morning routine, actually!) I don’t have a lot of time in the mornings because of my commute: I need to be out of my house by 6:45 a.m. and to be on the freeway by 7:00 to make it to work by 9:00 a.m.  Since I am so NOT a morning person, that means if I get up at 6:00 a.m., I have overslept! Where can I cram fifteen or twenty ‘calm’ minutes into my morning?  I spend the whole time looking at my watch! I have alarms on my phone to let me know the time before I even leave the house! And you want me to spend 15-20 minutes calmly focusing on what I’m grateful for or how I’m going to ‘win the day’? [Huge eye roll with exasperated sigh right about now!]

Then I realized that I do have a ‘morning gratitude routine.’  It’s just not like one everyone suggests: every morning I spend about 15-20 minutes focusing on my dogs.  I’ve actually built that time into my morning, getting up in time to spend those minutes playing with them, petting and holding them. We spend about 10-15 minutes when we first get up, telling each other good morning and playing with their toys, and then another five minutes or so on my lap before I leave for work.  While it’s not writing in a journal or focusing on ‘winning the day,’ it does set the mood for the day.  I am grateful for my dogs and their positive attitudes are infectious: it’s hard to be negative when you have a happy dog on your lap who just wants to play and be held. When I leave the house, even if I woke up in a bad mood, am feeling rushed or thinking of my busy day as I go out the door, I always feel better for having spent a few moments bonding with my dogs.

So, what does a good mood have to do with weight loss? A LOT more than most people think!  For starters, people who are happy or have a positive outlook are more likely to take better care of themselves. When you feel good about yourself or life in general, you are less likely to ‘medicate’ yourself with food or anything else.  Most of us look to sugar or treats to make ourselves feel better or happier, but when you already feel that way, there is less temptation and if you are offered treats, they are easier to refuse.

You are also more likely to be active.  When we feel good, we usually have more energy and are more productive.  We feel more confident and get more done at home and at work. In other words, when we are enjoying our lives and feeling positive about ourselves, we are less likely to grab a cheesecake and camp out on the sofa bingeing a tv show to escape from our own lives.

Happy positive people take more pride in their appearance, are nicer to others, are more productive, more active and tend to eat better than people who are pessimistic or have a negative outlook on life. So while taking a few moments every day to focus on the positive things in your life is good for your health and weight loss, it’s just plain good for you overall!

How you choose to focus on the positive is completely up to you! There are people who love and swear by their Gratitude Journals.  Those do have the added bonus of being able to look back on what you’ve written, but for some of us, just the act of sitting down with pen in hand to put your gratitude down on paper is enough to kill the positive mood.  There are people who take joy in spending time with their family and kids in the morning the way I do with my dogs, and there are others who choose prayer or meditation.  And it also doesn’t have to be in the morning (although it does tend to set the tone for the day).  I have a different evening routine with my dogs and cats (the cats ignore me in the mornings- also not morning people!)  I spend a few moments when I get home and more time when we go to bed, plus they are usually on my lap or on my feet when I am home anyway.

What you choose to do is less important than the ritual’s overall importance to you.  Reminding yourself of the good things and people in your life and their significance to you is the point.  When we focus on weight loss, most of us are used to counting our calories to make progress but we need to remind ourselves that we might make more progress if we count our blessings as well!

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.

 

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

 

If You’re Happy & You Know It, Why Are You Eating Cupcakes?: Weight Loss & Attitude Adjustment

I’ve been hearing a lot in the media about being happy.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) is always reminding listeners that outside things aren’t going to fix your emotional issues and just yesterday I heard that idea repeated on a morning radio show that has nothing to do with weight loss. I hate to sound Zen about it, but happiness comes from inside.  Those cupcakes, that new gadget or a pair of shoes aren’t going to make you happy.  The same goes for people: our happiness and sense of self-worth cannot be dependent on someone else validating us. Unfortunately, that’s what most of us do!

We all know what it means to eat our emotions. At the risk of sounding like an escapee from a Star Trek convention, when we let our emotions run our lives, chaos ensues! This doesn’t mean we have to crush our emotions down inside us and never let them out— that is just as bad as allowing them to run loose! The truth is that a lot of us are overweight because we never learn how to deal with our emotions.  We are taught that we should always be happy and that feeling sad, worried, unhappy or any other ‘negative’ emotion is a bad thing which needs to be avoided at all times.  It is okay to be sad or unhappy or anxious.  Those are all perfectly normal emotions and our problem is we need to accept those emotions when we feel them.

This is where I remind you that I am not a therapist or any kind of health care professional.  However, I am person who has dealt with some pretty cruddy emotions throughout life. When I get stressed, anxious, bored or angry, my usual way of dealing with it was to find something to eat- anything would do!- and eat until I forgot about it or the emotion faded. It took a long time (as in, most of my adult life!) before I finally learned that emotional eating is just making everything worse, including my health.  We all know how we feel after we’ve done it: ashamed, guilty, upset at ourselves, which triggers the urge to eat again!

It’s okay when we don’t feel happy.  It’s okay to be sad and to admit that “I’m just feeling a little sad today!” The media and other people lump emotions like sadness, anger, anxiety, and others like them as ‘negative’ emotions.  Given the situation, they might be completely appropriate!  Last week is good example for me:  July 26th is my grandfather’s birthday.  He died seven years ago.  I was very close with both of my grandparents and I miss them very much.  When I think about them (like now), I usually start tearing up.  Feeling sad, crying, and missing them are not negative emotions.  Yes, I am sad because they are not here anymore, but these emotions come from the strong bond we had when they were here.  In short, I miss them because I still love them and that is not a negative thing!

Feeling angry, being anxious or upset can be perfectly appropriate emotions.  If I’m worried about a friend of mine who’s not been well, if I am upset because I can’t find something important I am looking for or if I am anxious about an upcoming interview, then these are all normal.  Even if I am recalling a bad situation and I feel that anger or anxiety again, it is still normal.  What is not normal is allowing those emotions to dominate our lives or to refuse to deal with them. When we obsess over people who have hurt us or wronged us or cut us off in traffic, or when we refuse to feel these emotions because they aren’t ‘happy feelings,’ then we are hurting ourselves.  We need to find a way to feel these not-happy emotions without obsessing over them or pushing them away or running from them with food.  When we accept that they are normal emotions and it’s normal to feel them, we are one step closer to letting go of the emotional eating chaos and we are one step closer to being happier overall.

Obviously, if you have serious emotional issues or if you have problems learning to deal with your emotions, you should find a qualified professional to help you with this. FYI: if you need a professional, you are still normal! Most of us, especially men in my generation, are not taught how to deal with not-happy emotions, which is where a lot of our problems come from.  We are taught that if we are not happy all the time, we are somehow broken or defective, but being happy 24/7 is impossible! Things happen in life which are not always fun to deal with and so we find ways to cope, and some of those coping methods hurt us.

One of the ways I learned to cope with some of these not-happy feelings is just by venting. Most of us do it, but again society and the media sometimes looks down on this practice. I will post about something online, write about it in a blog or call my friend and just rant about it. Frankly, I will have a little tantrum about whatever it is that has made me angry, and then once it’s over, the feeling is gone. Having a tantrum is usually seen as being juvenile, but if I’m angry I am allowed to feel angry and if no one is hurt or insulted by my tantrum and the anger is expended, what’s the problem? Bear in mind, I have my tantrum at home (where only my pets can hear me and they are used to hearing me swear a lot) and no one else is affected by it. The same is true for sadness: we’ve all heard about ‘women going on a crying jag’ after a break-up or a fight, and there is usually a negative connotation for that as well, but if I feel like crying, especially over losing a loved one, then it’s normal. Venting or expending the emotion lets you feel it and deal with it and then it’s out.

From my experience, when we suppress emotions, they will eventually come out and usually in inappropriate ways or times.  I heard one therapist refer to is as “gunnysacking.” You get mad because your significant other leaves their clothes lying around but instead of dealing with it, you shove it down inside and you keep shoving things like not taking out the trash, not paying the bills, popping their gum, etc., into that same emotional gunnysack until she comes home late without telling you she’s running late and then you explode at her. The same thing happens when we keep pushing down anxiety or sadness or anger: our emotional gunnysack keeps getting packed tighter and tighter until it finally rips open and when we come up for air, we’re surrounded by pizza boxes and cheesecake tins. Done that a few times!

Happiness isn’t just a state of mind: it’s a process. In order to be happy, we have to let ourselves feel not-happy.  You know that emotional void everyone tries to fill with food? It’s there because we are suppressing our emotions! When we let ourselves feel all of our emotions, there is no void– so there’s nothing to stuff full of cupcakes! That means when she leaves her shoes in the hallway for everyone to trip on, you have to tell her it upsets you.  When you feel like crying because you had a really crappy day, let yourself cry.  When he forgot your birthday, tell him it hurt your feelings, and it’s okay to feel hurt that he did! It literally clears the emotional air and when your riot of emotions isn’t simmering just below the surface, something amazing happens: happiness bubbles to the top.  You find you are too busy being happy to eat the cupcakes in the office. Instead, you find you want to eat something that makes you feel proud or productive or just healthy. You don’t want to stop feeling good by eating something that makes you feel blah.  What’s more, you become more aware of what foods or practices make you feel good and which make you feel blah!  When you’re happy and you know it, you don’t need the cupcakes– because you can’t clap your hands when they’re full of food!