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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hard is Relative: Weight Loss & Facing The Difficult Realities

Some of you know that I am a legal secretary at a small personal injury firm.  I enjoy my job very much, although like all jobs, it can be stressful, irritating and sometimes downright crazy. What you might not know is that I got this job when the former secretary (Denise) had a stroke and was unable to return to work. According to other employees who worked with her, she was overweight with uncontrolled diabetes and was not proactive with her diet or exercise. Obviously she had significant health problems and while no one can blame her for those problems, there is a point in our health where our lifestyle plays a part, for good or ill. The few times I met her, I had thought she was in her late 60’s or early 70’s but I found out last week, she was only eight years older than me (I am 53).  I say “was” because, sadly, she passed away last week.

While I don’t know what might have prevented her from being proactive, I do know that judging her helps no one.  I also know from personal experience that my own health got progressively worse the longer I was grossly overweight, sedentary and eating all the foods I liked whether they were bad for my own diabetes or not. For a long time, I let my own bad attitude get in my way of doing anything about it. My health kept getting worse and it was my own fault! When I finally decided to do something about it, changing those few behaviors made huge improvements in my health.  Losing weight, being more active and watching what I ate have transformed my health and my life for the better.

This is another one of these No Brainer Moments: “of course, eating better and taking care of yourself improves your health! Hello!” Yeah, we all know that…..but we don’t do it, do we? Remember the last time someone offered you cookies or a glass of wine? Did you say yes? Or did you say no thank you? How about when you were out at the restaurant and there’s the bread basket or chips and guacamole? Did you pass on those or did you help yourself? This is where we usually respond with “it’s so hard to say no!” I hear you! I know it’s hard to say no to foods you love, especially if they are no longer part of your regular menu. Bread is my own personal bête noir It sneaks into my diet way more than I like to admit! But this is where we have to remind ourselves that ‘hard’ is relative: is saying no to the bread, cookies, chips, chocolate harder than huffing and puffing up the stairs because the elevator is out of order? Is making it to the gym regularly harder than limping around the grocery store because your knees and feet ache carrying all that extra weight? Which is harder: not eating a bagel with breakfast every day or constantly sticking your finger to check your blood sugar? How expensive are those test strips compared to munching on breadsticks at dinner?

Last night as walking into the store to pick up a few things, I remembered how much I used to dread going to the store for anything.  I hated having to park the car in the middle of the lot and then having to walk around the store.  I used to lean on the cart to take pressure off my back, knees and feet. I would be out of breath before I even reached the store and I dreaded having to go from one end of the store to the other to get what I came for.  After shifting from one leg to another standing in line, I would limp out to my car and practically fall in out of pain and exhaustion.  It freaking hurt doing “all that walking!” It was hard for me to do anything and I had a list of medications that was beginning to rival an elderly woman.  For the record, I took two medications for my diabetes and three for my blood pressure, plus an anti-inflammatory for my arthritis and one for pain. (I remember shocking my aunt when I let it slip that I had three medications for my blood pressure alone! I was in my mid-forties and about thirty years younger than her.) Now, I take only the anti-inflammatory regularly and the pain medication rarely.

When we think of the kind of life we want to live, we rarely think “I want to be healthy” or “I want to move without pain” until we aren’t healthy anymore and it hurts to move.  In those situations, we sometimes think “how did this happen to me?” For a lot of us, it was simply not paying attention to our health. It was eating too much of the things we like instead of foods that are good for us. It was too many days on the sofa and not enough walking and moving.  But for too many of us, our answer to “why did this happen?” is “arthritis/ heart disease/ hypertension/ diabetes run in my family.” Yes, all those things run in my family too, but I can take steps to minimize how they impact my life! That’s the whole point of giving your doctor your family history; hopefully, those conditions can be avoided with a little effort.

When I was 440 lbs, just living was hard. Standing for more than a few minutes was hard. Sitting was hard. Laying down on my back was difficult because it got hard to breathe at times. Everything was so much harder, from fitting in my car to leaning down to put on my socks! I would get depressed thinking about how hard everything was in my life because of my weight. However, if I was alone and something like bagels, bread or cheeseburgers came on my radar, I rarely if ever said no to them. In retrospect,  saying no to a burger and fries was a whole lot easier than bending over to pick up my pen. Passing on a venti caramel macchiato was a whole lot easier than stretching my seat belt across my big gut without cutting off my oxygen! Instead of making those ‘hard’ changes to improve my health, I bemoaned my terrible situation and felt sorry for myself!

On one level, we all know there are changes we can make to help our situation, whether it’s our health, our activity or anything else in our lives. We tell ourselves that these changes aren’t going to make a big impact or that the changes are simply too hard to make.  The reality is that we don’t want to make them, not because they are too hard or too small to help but because we don’t want to do the work.  Do I miss bagels, garlic bread and nachos? Yes I do.  Do I miss them enough to go back to limping across the parking lot and huffing and puffing up the stairs? Definitely not!

It’s still not super easy to say no to the foods I like, lying on the sofa in front of the tv or bailing on a workout because I don’t feel like it, but now I have a little perspective on what’s really hard and what only feels like it’s hard.  Being too tired, too heavy and in too much pain to enjoy my life is hard; saying no to a croissant only feels like it is!



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.

Weight Loss & Your Goals: Fight For The Holidays You Deserve!

For those of us working to lose weight, the holiday season really is “make it or break it,” and unfortunately, this is the time of year where a lot of us give up on our weight loss and work out goals. This is the time of year when we have obstacle after obstacle thrown in our path. There’s holiday parties, edible gifts, seasonal drinks and treats and everywhere we look, there’s temptation staring us in the face. It’s also freezing cold in the Northern Hemisphere! Face it: if you’re in Australia, New Zealand or South America, you can go surfing after your big Christmas dinner, but up here, you’ll freeze your buns off in a bathing suit! For a lot of us, that’s excuse enough to ditch the workout!

While we really do want to lose weight and be healthier, more than a few of us are looking for an excuse to give up, especially this time of year.  We want an excuse to eat all the holiday goodies that are only available for Christmas and Thanksgiving.  We hate the thought of missing out on something special because we know if we do, we’ll have to wait until next year, so we rationalize why it’s okay to eat or drink this particular treat. For a lot of us, it’s just easier to give up our goals ‘for the moment’ and we promise we’ll ‘get back to weight loss after the holidays.’

Those of us who have been working at this for a while know that if you go looking for an excuse, you will find one.  I can guarantee you that right now! There will always be a reason why it’s ‘a bad time’ or why ‘this is an exception’ or how eating or drinking XYZ is a ‘necessary comfort’ for you. There is always going to be stress or exceptions due to holidays or celebrations and comfort foods to soothe whatever ordeal you are going through.  At the risk of being b*tchy, that’s just how life is!

There are those of us who always have ‘something’ going on in our lives and then there are those who like to think of their lives as simple and uneventful.  The truth is that however we think of our lives, there is nearly always a built-in excuse for why we can’t eat as healthy as we should or why we can’t make the workout that we planned on. My built-in excuse is usually my commute, although right now, I am also making twice daily trips to take care of my mom’s dog while she is in the hospital, so on top of everything else going on in my life, I’ve got this added to it! So, if I wanted an excuse to get drive-thru or takeout or to skip my workout, bingo! Here it is!

It’s tempting to say “I can get back to eating healthy once this is over,” except that would be giving up on something that is important to me.  Obviously, it’s better to be healthier, thinner, stronger and more flexible than to be overweight, eating junk food, and sitting around instead of being active.  I can rationalize that ‘doing those thing for a couple weeks won’t kill me,’ but it will set me back on reaching my goals.  It’ll mean I will have to make up for the time I lost as well as any weight I might gain.  It also means that I will probably have to ‘get back into the healthy habits’ again and that can take some time and some work.

Is it worth it to give up on something that is valuable to me in exchange for something that is easy and expedient? Obviously, eating fast food is easy and expedient since I can get it cheaply almost anywhere.  There’s nothing I need to prepare; I just take it home and eat it! The same is true for skipping my workouts.  If I’m not at the pool exercising, I have more time to do everything else I need to get done and I don’t have to walk out of a gym fresh from a shower into the freezing cold November night! (That can be a bonus!) Class attendance usually drops off in the holidays since everyone has more things to do and frankly, I’m not the only one who doesn’t like walking out into the parking lot in the cold! So skipping the healthy eating and working out gives me more time to cross other items off my To-Do List! I’m not driving home in the freezing cold; I’m not running around for healthy groceries or busy preparing healthy meals at home.

So what is it exactly I am giving up when I give in to excuses and rationalizations? I am giving up everything I have worked for in the past years and everything I want for my future. Frankly, that’s a lot to give up. Even worse, I am just throwing it all away in exchange for momentary treats that aren’t worth these goals. It takes work to reach your goals and that work usually includes a lot of sacrifice. We all know about making sacrifices, even if that’s not how we think of them.  They were all those nights we stayed up studying or working on school projects when we’d rather be asleep or out with friends. It was all those times we passed on spending our money on a movie, a night out or something else we wanted so we could save it for something special like a vacation or a down-payment on a car.  It’s about trading our goals and values for those momentary desires.  Yes, a brownie would be good but is it worth giving up what I really want and have been working for? No it isn’t.  We don’t think of a brownie in those terms but maybe we should.  When we were saving for a new car, how many times did we weigh a night out with friends spending money against how much that would set us back on the new car?  Seventy-five dollars on dinner out, a movie and a night at the pub is $75 less in the New Car Fund! Believe me, that makes you pay attention! It only takes a few of those “$75 nights out” before your New Car Fund is gathering dust or worse, dwindling away.

Losing weight, being healthier, and being more active aren’t just goals for my future: they are my goals for life right now too! I remember how icky I felt after overeating, eating junk food and sitting around all day. Not only was I not making progress eating better, feeling better and losing weight, but I physically felt bad: my hands hurt; my knees hurt; my back hurt and I just didn’t feel well! It’s bad enough to give up on my progress and my goals, but to give up something so valuable in exchange for something that makes me so unhappy? How foolish is that! It’s like trading in your New Car Fund for a used car with bald tires and 100,000 miles on it. Not only are you not making progress on getting something you really want and need, you are giving it up for something that is just going to end up costing you!

And if you think giving up on your weight loss and workout goals isn’t going to cost you (or cost you that much), you aren’t being realistic. It’s not only going to cost you on time and progress lost towards those goals, it’s going to cost you every time you feel cruddy because what you ate wasn’t the best for you or when your knees or back or whatever else stiffens up because it isn’t getting exercised like before.  And those clothes you like wearing? What about when they don’t fit as well as they used to? The truth is that for most of us, we didn’t realize how bad we actually felt eating junk food and sitting around until we have something to compare it to.  Once you’ve gotten used to walking around the mall without huffing and puffing, realizing you are doing it again is shocking.  When you realize the fast food makes you feel like crap, you really notice how good you felt eating healthy.  You notice how much energy you had after working out instead of sitting around on the sofa in the evenings feeling like a slug. This is the real cost and it’s not just what you are giving away for your future– it’s what you are giving away for your present! It’s ultimately up to you: do you want to spend the holidays feeling like celebrating with family and friends or do you want to spend them on the sofa–again–wishing you felt like you did before?

Party Time!: Weight Loss & the Socialization of Food

When we think about food, we tend to focus on what it is and the calories involved rather than what it means to us, but it is the meaning behind the food that is usually what’s driving us to eat.  Food has psychological and social meanings to us.  When we think “cake” we tend to think “celebration.”  When we think about consolation or solace, it’s usually things like “ice cream” or “chocolate.” Or if it’s just plain comfort, it can be something warm and hearty like “soup” or “mac & cheese.” For me, even today, “enchiladas” means family holidays and gatherings. My mom said the word to me and instantly I envisioned my grandma’s house with a laden dining room table!  We’ve begun to think of the food itself as the actual event. How can we have a birthday without cake? What kind of Thanksgiving doesn’t have stuffing and pumpkin pie? We can’t watch a football game without beer and nachos any more than we can envision New Year’s Eve without champagne or alcohol.  For us, the FOOD has become the EVENT!

Our brains know that’s not the case, but somewhere in our psyche, the two have become almost inseparable.  We’ve convinced ourselves that if we don’t have “THE” food associated with whatever event is taking place, then we’ve missed out on the actual event.  How can we go out with friends without having drinks? How can we celebrate Fourth of July without hot dogs, burgers or beer? Hanging out with friends doesn’t require alcohol any more than the fireworks and parades on July 4th need burgers and beer in order to take place. While it seems like it’s easy to disentangle the food and drinks from the celebration or holiday, it’s only easy on a physical level.  Anyone can show up at Thanksgiving and not eat the pie and stuffing just like no one is going to shove cake and ice cream into your mouth at your granny’s birthday party.  You can attend the events without being forced to eat everything that’s there, but our psyches don’t understand that.

Our minds– not our brains–have intertwined eating with celebrating, so while you can go to a family holiday and not eat the pie, the enchiladas or the stuffing and the cake, your mind is not only telling you that you missed out on all the yummy goodies, it is telling you that you missed the big celebration because it “doesn’t feel right.”  You may have brought a gift, given Granny a big birthday hug and sang “Happy Birthday” as she blew out the candles, but because you didn’t have a piece of her cake, you “missed the birthday.”  Logically, our brains roll their inner eyes and shake their figurative heads at this foolishness, but our minds are confused: something is missing! It doesn’t feel like a birthday party!

Obviously, part of this comes from changing our routines (not eating all the stuff you normally eat) and part of it is our own awkwardness at being seen as different from the others.  Since we didn’t “do like everyone else did,” we feel like we are standing out like a sore thumb and “everyone” must have noticed that we said no to the beer, the birthday cake or whatever is being served.  Somehow, it makes hanging out with friends feel less like socializing and more like an ordeal.  Saying no to the beer, appetizers or cake can feel rude, almost as if you need to explain why you aren’t joining in with everyone else.

Normally, this is where I would just be a b*tch about it and tell you to tell everyone else that what you eat or drink is not their business, but when Granny offers you a piece of her birthday cake, you really can’t tell her to mind her own business (especially on her birthday!) In all honesty, if most of your friends ask why you said no to the fried calamari or fried cheese, tell them the truth: you are trying to eat healthier; you are saving your calories for the entree (or dessert or whatever); or that you aren’t hungry.  Your friends might tease you about “going healthy” on them, but they should support your decision to improve your health.  (They are your friends and want you around for a long while!)

The same thing is true with family and Granny.  Even if they do push you to have a piece of cake (“One slice won’t hurt you!”), it’s up to you how much you want to push back.  Granny may not understand that the sugar-carb combo will completely jack your blood sugar but if telling her “no thanks” is going to be traumatic for you or her, then discretion is sometimes the better part of valor.  Most of your family will support your decision to be healthier even if it does feel a little awkward at times. I was fortunately blessed with a family of such different eaters that not eating the carbs was barely noticed at my  family gatherings and when it was noticed, the exchange went something like this: “did you want any rice?” “No thanks.” “Okay,”(sets the bowl of rice on the table).

Changing your ‘celebration routine’ takes practice.  I know no one likes to hear this but the more you practice, the easier it gets. Giving in to the cake, the appetizers, the alcohol or the carbs might make you feel like you ‘celebrated’ the occasion, but it also sets you back from your goals.  Is that really what you want? There were reasons you chose to eat healthier.  For most of us, those included feeling better physically and mentally. improving your health and generally living better longer.  When we deviate from our weight loss and nutrition plan to ‘join in’ at the movies with popcorn and candy, we not only delayed our progress, but we make ourselves feel worse overall. We feel guilty for eating the foods that aren’t good for us and for some of us, we feel worse physically. That sugar-carb combo is going to spike your blood sugar and then dump it way below your baseline, so that mood-energy roller coaster is going to do you any good! Once we get home, we start feeling the physical effects of eating the foods that aren’t good for us and we feel the emotional effects as well: those feelings of guilt and failure.  We’ve also made it harder for us to say no to those foods and our friends the next time this happens!

Virtue is its own reward, which is a fancy way of saying that when you say no thanks, you’ll feel better about it in the long run. Being upfront with family and friends is the simplest way to handle these situation. “That doesn’t agree with me” or “that makes me feel tired/ wired/ bloated/ [insert adjective here]” are the easiest and most truthful explanations. In an age when everyone is gluten-free,  lactose-intolerant, or just plain allergic, most people won’t question your choices.  The more you change how you think about socialization and food, the easier it is to stay with the changes and keep eating healthy even at a party.  The food is part of the fun, yes, but it’s not the purpose of the party. Aren’t you really there to spend time with Granny?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fear of Missing Out, But What Should We Really Be Afraid Of?

I’ve never understood Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) when it comes to food. I think it’s because there are just some foods I really don’t like, so when they’re offered or available, I just automatically say No thanks.  Other than these particular foods, I’ve always been more than happy to sample, often and as much as possible!

Over the summer, I heard a lot about FOMO, maybe because it was wedding season or because of all the barbecues and parties.  I know at my sister’s wedding, I certainly sampled quite a few things that aren’t normally on my menu! (Some were pretty good, too!) But again, it wasn’t FOMO that put those items on my plate.  It would have been just as easy to leave them off, and there were quite a few items that didn’t make it on my plate too!

I’ve always been an adventurous eater.  It was one of the good things I learned from my mom: just because it looks weird or different doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it out!  It’s one of the things I share with my best friend.  We’ll go to a restaurant for the first time and we’ll pick something we’ve never had before because hey- that looks different! Of course, not all of these experiments are winners, but we remain undeterred!

From what I’ve heard and seen, when it comes to FOMO, people are afraid they are missing Something Amazing.  Usually, they go out to a special event or restaurant and there is a food or drink that looks like it’s amazing or others who’ve tasted it have already said “It’s AMAZING!” and they are dying to try it!  I can sympathize:  I am not normally a beer drinker (or alcohol of any kind).  This is partly because alcoholism runs in my family and it’s partly because alcohol usually doesn’t taste good to me.  I concluded that if I’m going to drink beer (or alcohol), then it really is going to be amazing because otherwise it’s not worth the awful taste. Recently, my friends and I went out to a local microbrewery that has a reputation for making some awesome beers, and one of the items on the menu is a “Beer Sampler” where you choose five brews and you get a five ounce glass of each.  Two of my friends usually get that when we go, but honestly, that’s a lot of beer that I probably won’t finish!  I opted to choose two glasses of two different beers that I wanted to try.  One really was amazing, and the other was good and different, but not something I would order again. I normally don’t finish it, but it actually tasted better the warmer it got. FYI: I am a total beer snob- American beer tastes really really awful to me!

It wasn’t that I was ‘afraid’ of missing out on some great beer.  I’d been to this microbrewery before and not touched a drop of beer or any alcohol and I didn’t think I’d missed anything special or amazing.  This time, however, I felt like trying something new and so I did.  I had a good time, had one great beer and one a little better than average, and I don’t regret my choices (at least with the beer!)

There are a lot of times at my friends’ places, they’ll mix some great drinks or have some really amazing food (my friend is an awesome chef!) but I don’t feel that saying no thanks means I’m going to miss out on Something Amazing.  My friend knows I eat differently than she does and sometimes I will have a small taste to be polite (or if she wants to know if it’s missing something), but really, if I say no and pass on Something Amazing, what have I really missed out on?

That’s what it comes down to for me.  Bottom line: it’s food.  Even if it’s a food I probably won’t have an opportunity to try again (i.e. something at a resort or vacation spot I might not get back to), what have I really lost out on?  Tasting an amazing cheesecake/ pastry/ alcohol/ etc?  It’s FOOD! Tasting it is not going to change my life and it probably won’t add anything to it either, just like not tasting it isn’t going to take anything away from my life. It might be enjoyable; it might not be enjoyable, but either way missing out or not isn’t something that I should be afraid of.

Maybe that’s a little extreme, but when some people mention FOMO, they really are nervous and afraid.  I can understand it if others are pressuring you to try something.  I’ve tasted a lot of stuff just to be polite but that was because of FOOO (Fear of Offending Others), definitely not FOMO. There are some things that I am afraid of missing out on, and none of those things are food.  I’m afraid of missing out on a trip with friend or family; I’m afraid of not being able to do activities I want to do, like working out, walking or playing with my pets; I’m afraid of being too big to buy the clothes that I like or to fit in my car or drive for a long period of time because my legs or back hurts.  I am afraid of missing out on experiences, activities and time with people I care about; for me, missing out on food doesn’t even rate!

In 2012, I went on a trip to Disneyland with my friends, and that experience really hit home for me, because that was something that really meant a lot to me and because of my weight, it was not a good experience.  I essentially ‘missed out’ on doing a lot of things I wanted to do with them because I was too big to fit on the ride, fit in the seats or walk as far as they could.  That is something I really regret missing out on, so compared to that, food just doesn’t rate! Compared to running around Anaheim with my friends having a once in a lifetime experience, eating even Something Amazing doesn’t even come close! Missing out on an Amazing Cookie or an Amazing Meatloaf Sandwich or an Amazing Wine isn’t something to be afraid of; missing out on spending quality time doing Something You Love with People You Love is what we really need to fear.











Living in a Food Focused World

Some of you know I have a cockapoo named Remy. He’s a little black curly mop about 12 lbs and almost 3 years old now.  Before him, I had a succession of Yorkies (very different dogs, physically and personality-wise!)  Where Henry (my last Yorkie) was independent and bossy, Remy is more mellow and focused on me.  One of Henry’s most adorable (eye roll) traits was to cock his ear when we were out in the yard to acknowledge, yes, I hear you calling me, and now I’m ignoring you, and he’d go off doing his own thing. Remy, while not exactly clingy, keeps his eye on me so if I head to the other side of the house, he keeps me in sight.

Probably Remy’s most distinctive trait is his lack of focus on food.  I had a Queensland mix (Sarah) who’s nickname was the “Shark.” I had heard it said of sharks that they will eat anything and if it doesn’t come back up, it’s food!  Sarah was like that: she ate all kinds of things that should have made her deadly ill (like an entire pound of Oreos in one night!) but she lived to a ripe old age.  My friend’s dog Watson is a lot like Sarah: there is no five second rule at her house because nothing edible is on the floor that long!  In my house, it’s closer to a five day rule. I fill Remy’s kibble bowl about once a week; he likes to eat when we go to bed and when we get up in the morning.  I give him dog cookies (loves peanut butter) and dog treats and people food, but most of them stick around in his various  beds or on my bed or in his bowl or on the floor until he either eats them days later, the cats   eat them (sometimes) or I finally throw them away because they look dirty.  Even the people food.  I come home in the afternoon and see last night’s leftover people food treat on his paper plate and as I’m throwing it out, I make the comment that there are starving dogs in South Modesto who would eat this in a heartbeat.  (This is after my cats have had a crack at it too!) I’ve finally reached the conclusion (yeah, I’m a little dense) that giving him people food treats are a waste of food, and it’s not like it’s broccoli or salad (although he does like iceberg lettuce, the weirdo!) or even bread or rice: this is chicken, pork, beef and eggs he’s snubbing with that curly schnozz!  Watson would snarf it in a heartbeat!

That’s because Watson is food focused and Remy is not.  If my friend wants Watson’s attention, she gets it with a treat: his motto is anything for a cookie!  Remy’s motto is anything for the toy!  Offering him a cookie is a waste of time: he’ll sniff it, and maybe take it politely and set it down somewhere (Watson has eaten a lot of Rem’s treats that way!)  Show him the ball or his stuffed animal, totally different story! Remy has scolded me for not noticing that he tossed the ball at my feet an entire minute ago and I still haven’t thrown it for him!  I’ve often thought about attaching one of my Fitbits to his collar so I can cheat at the Weekend Warrior challenge- I’m sure he’d beat anyone when he’s chasing his toys up and down the hallways and all around the yard!

So blah blah blah, why’s she babbling about the dogs?! Because WE are not that different! Most of us are either a lot like Watson and focused on food, or we are like Remy and totally unconcerned about it.  I’ve commented to my MFP friends that I need to be more like Remy because “who cares if there’s chicken thighs on  my paper plate! Throw the ball, Mom!” When I was in college, the most effective method for getting anyone to attend your function was to put “refreshments will be served” on your flyers.  It works pretty well in the business world too!  People will flock to wherever there is free food (and even if it is  not so free). As a society, we are focused on what we’re eating, what other people are eating, what’s better to eat, what’s bad for us and what we love to eat!  Our holidays revolve around food: Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinner and dessert, Christmas cookies and candy, New Year’s drinks and appetizers, and that’s just what’s in store for us in the coming months!  There’s still the rest of the year’s food focused holidays to deal with: Valentine’s, St. Paddy’s, Easter, Memorial Day, the Fourth, Labor Day, not to mention birthdays and anniversaries, graduations and other celebrations.  They usually involve some kind of food and a lot of times, some kind of cake or pastry.

I’m not condemning our food focus, because for most of our history as a species, food was hard to come by (and in some places, it still is!) Sharing food is sign of community and belonging: it’s how we reinforce our societal bonds. We gather with friends and family and share food and drink and comraderie. It’s an important part of our genetic make up; while other animals, my cats for example, will groom each other, we tend to bond over food.

So what happens when food is our Achilles heel? Do we choose not to attend these food oriented functions and miss out on most of our holidays and gatherings?  Do we just give up and subject ourselves to the enormous struggle of saying no to things like pumpkin pie, stuffing, mashed potatoes and endless cookies or do we strategically arrive after the table has been cleared and join the gathering late? All of these are viable options, and only you can decide which of these is easiest and/ or more convenient to you.  Of course, there are some other considerations involved with each choice depending on you and your goals.

Choosing not to attend: this is the probably the most effective as well as the harshest if your goal is simply to avoid the food.  It’s easier if you just don’t come face to face with all of the food, especially if they are things you really enjoyed eating, but there’s a hefty price to be paid with the isolation involved.  It means cutting yourself off from your community and family which for most of us is our support system.  This is not a good thing as it means you have no one to turn to when you need help or support of any kind.  For many people, not attending is also not an option because of FOMO (fear of missing out) on the food.  You skip the Halloween parties and miss out on the “special” cookies, candies, treats, etc.  (Is a pumpkin shaped Reese’s peanut butter cup really a treat?) For me, there are some things that I don’t like to miss out on, but the biggest “treat” for me is not the food- it’s the family and friends (yeah, I know it’s corny!)  I have a large extended family that gets together for the holidays and there is always an over-abundance of all kinds of food.  For me, not attending is not an option.  I don’t see my family enough in my opinion and so, each holiday, I come face to face with a table overflowing with all of the yummy stuff I grew up eating.  Is it hard saying no to all these things? You better believe it! If it gets to be too much, I make a habit of joining family in another room away from the food, and there have been times when I gave in and “tasted” -eye roll- some of it.  For me, the hazards of over-indulging at a family holiday are worth it for the shared family time.  Missing out on the food isn’t the issue for me; it’s not worth it to miss out on the family time.

Attending the gathering and facing the temptation: this one is the hardest when it comes to testing your resolve! As I said above, my family has a table full of temptations before, during and even after the meal.  There’s always the finger foods and appetizers followed by the yummy dinner full of all kinds of entrees and side dishes, then there’s the table full of desserts.  Seriously, we have enough food for at least two complete meals apiece for everyone!  We get there around noon and leave around six for most holidays and it’s nothing but eating in between: during the game, during the gifts, during the cooking itself- there’s always food readily available sitting there saying “I’m yummy!” One of the strategies I’ve employed (to moderate success, I admit) is sitting in another room away from the kitchen and dining room, but everyone has a plate full of food, so even there, it’s tempting me.  I serve myself the stuff that I think is healthiest (and a lot of times it’s something I brought) and I make a point to eat as slowly as I can.  As I said, I’ve had moderate success with this but it’s only one option.  Other options include planning your eating before you go to the gathering (another strategy I’ve used).  If you know you’re going to be eating more than usual for lunch/ dinner, then carefully plan what you eat beforehand.  This can include skipping breakfast or eating less breakfast so you can eat more at the gathering.  Another plan includes filling up before you go on healthy options, like having a large salad or meal full of veggies before you go to the gathering, so the food you are trying to avoid is less tempting to you.  You’re full and not so tempted (hopefully) to eat out of boredom or habit.  The biggest temptation (for me anyway) is to “graze” and eat a handful of this and a spoonful of that all day long.  I know for office workers during the holidays, subjected to endless trays of cookies and boxes of candies, one trick is to put whatever you were going to eat into a Ziploc bag and at the end of the day, you see how much you really would have eaten- usually way more than you thought it was! That’ll put the damper on grazing!

Strategically planning your arrival: I’m just going to come out and admit I think this is lame, but it works for some people.  For me, a big part of my socialization with my family actually involves preparing the meal.  I get to hang out in the kitchen with my aunts and uncles and cousins and make the food.  The added benefit is by the time the meal is ready and everyone else descends on the loaded table like a cloud of locusts, I and the rest of the kitchen crew are so tired of the food, we wait until everyone else has gone through and then we choose from what’s left, if we don’t have to refill the platters first.  It kind of puts a damper on the appetite for us. Arriving after the meal is done is not always possible, since for our family, about an hour after the meal, we serve dessert and after lingering over dessert, we start cleaning up and heading home. Waiting until the food is “gone” means missing out on most of the gathering for our family.  For my friends, it’s a better option.  They have the meal and dessert followed by several hours of games and chatting and socialization.  I can show up later, miss the food and still enjoy time with my friends.  These are also the friends who make holiday cookie trays for everyone full of the home-made cookies the recipient likes best, like lemon bars, mint chocolate chip cookies, chocolate dipped marshmallows and candied walnuts. (Some of my favorites!) After I started eating Paleo, they asked if I still wanted a cookie tray, and let me know they would not be offended if I said no, so I thanked them and declined.  Did I miss some really great once a year treats? Yes.  For about five minutes, which is about how long it takes to eat them. Did I still spend time with them during the holidays? Yes.  We just didn’t make the cookie tray a part of it.

Keeping it Low Key

I am blessed with family and friends who respect that I’m eating differently than I used to and, for the most part, differently than they do.  Most of them, like most of the world, eat a lot of processed foods and refined carbs, which I really avoid. If they offer something and I decline, they respect my “no thank you” and don’t keep pushing it at me.  In turn, I respect what they choose to eat.  When I was at their Super Bowl party last February, they had a table full of chips, dips, crackers, and some crudite (veggies). I didn’t criticize their choices.  It’s not my business what they want to eat.  If they’d asked my opinion, I would have given it, but I still wouldn’t have said “it’s all unhealthy processed junk!” (That’s not my opinion of their choices, btw!) Unfortunately, this is what a lot of people do when they start making healthier food choices: like any new convert, they feel the need to push their new point of view on everyone around them!  As a result, no one wants to spend time with them or eat with them.  Who wants to eat with someone who keeps trashing what you are trying to enjoy? Sadly, I have way too much experience with this one. My mom (the Constant Dieter) was always telling me whatever I was eating was full of fat, full of sugar, full of “empty calories.”  Even today, if I decide to put Splenda in my drink, she lets me know that “Splenda is the worst artificial sweetener there is! It’s full of chemicals that cause cancer!” (She has been known to say this to total strangers at Starbucks!)  I don’t know how true this is and frankly, it’s none of her business if I choose the Splenda or not.  At least she didn’t try to put her choice of sweetener in my beverage.  She’s tried stuff like that before and ended up spilling my glass all over the table.  It was annoying, but she felt really bad about it and hasn’t done it since.  But the point is that what you or I eat is no one else’s business.  No one needs to justify why they are or aren’t eating the tortilla chips, the sugar cookies, or whatever else is available.  What we decide to eat is extremely personal, in my opinion anyway, and the idea of someone trashing what anyone is eating is beyond rude.  It’s one thing to comment on not eating the cookies because they have coconut and you can’t stand it, or that they have peanuts and you’re allergic- that’s a matter of taste and safety.  It’s not a comment on how healthy/ unhealthy they are.  My best advice for handling people like my mom is to make an offhand comment like “we all gotta die of something!”

Adjusting your Focus

The plain truth of the matter is that most of the world is focused on what they are eating and what everyone else is eating.  There’s always some report on how something is bad for you, better for you or  what food is “guaranteed to give you cancer” (eye roll), and it’s hard not to focus on what you are eating for dinner, ate for breakfast or are eating right now.  Food is fuel for the body but it’s also a physical and social enjoyment as well, and it’s hard to be the loner at the table who’s not having the same thing as everyone else, or even just eating something different.  It draws attention in a way we might not like, but unless someone is rude about it, there’s no need to worry about it.  If anyone does ask, “you’re not having anything?” just tell them you aren’t hungry or it doesn’t appeal to you- something polite and noncommital and move on from the topic.  There is a lot going on in the coming months, and yes, there will be food everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the focus of your social life.  Choose the friends and family and leave the food for everyone else. You might be getting together to have lunch or Thanksgiving dinner or watch the Super Bowl, but is the food really the point of the gathering?  Even when you go to lunch with someone, yes, the meal is important but after making your healthier food choices, focus on the company and not the giant cheesesteak sandwich they ordered. I remind myself that my cockapoo would rather have a hug from me than a cookie and the point of hanging out with my friends has everything to do with them and nothing to do with whatever snacks are on the table!





How to Help Someone Make Positive Changes

This one is admittedly pretty tricky! It comes way too close to the “pushing them to make positive changes” boundary, which is almost guaranteed to make the person you’re pushing NOT want to make any changes at all.

I wish someone had told my mom about this when I was younger, because she pushed and pushed and PUSHED! Of course, every time she pushed me, I balked like a stubborn donkey and would not make any changes at all.  As easy as it would be to blame my mom for my unhealthy lifestyle lasting as long as it did, I can’t, because she was right that my lifestyle was completely and totally unhealthy but at the same time, it’s the old “lead a horse to water” scenario. The more she kept nagging me about it, the more I tuned her out and just plain got mad about it.  For most people, nagging does not work- it only makes people mad.  It certainly does for just about everyone in my family.  Angry people do not listen- they are too caught up in being angry!

But this also puts family members and friends in a bit of an awkward position.  Someone you care about is trying to make positive health changes, either losing weight or getting fitter (usually both) and you want to be supportive without being a nag.  What the heck do you do?  How does this change your relationship, if it even does?  Do you try to be supportive or do you pretend nothing has changed at all?  If you pretend nothing has changed, does that mean you’re not being supportive and being a bad friend?

I know it’s been a bit of a challenge for my friends, because most of our get-togethers revolve around food, as I’m sure most people’s do.  We get together for lunch, for movies, for festivals that usually have a lot of food involved, and of course they want to be supportive, but at the same time, they don’t want to get stuck eating salad after salad because of where we go to eat.  There are a couple of places that they really love that have absolutely delicious bad-for-you food.  If it’s not beer-battered and deep fried, it’s full of refined carbs and sugar.  There’s very little on those menus that fall in my eating plan.  Our normal plan of action is to choose a place on consensus, so if one of us has had sandwiches or Chinese all week and really wants something else, we figure it out, but sometimes, they really want to go to that Bad-for-You place, so I can either veto it or just lump it and make the best choices I can when I get there.  (It’s a struggle for us too- do we stop eating out with our friends or do we just go off the reservation each time we do? There’s always an adjustment for someone!)

Most of the time with my friends, it’s not a problem, because they are considerate about my eating changes and I’m not a freaked out drill sergeant when it comes to choices. If I know we are going to a place that doesn’t have the best choices, I make some adjustments beforehand, like not eating any carbs or not eating any fat or sometimes just not eating!  I meet my dad for lunch a couple of times a month and the place he likes best has a salad bar, which really works for me, but I also make it a habit not to have breakfast before we go, because I know I’m going to be having more calories than usual for lunch. Most of it is veggies, protein and some fat, which is what my breakfast and lunch would be on a normal day anyway; I just lump it into one meal when I see him.

This weekend is another example of eating out with my friends: we are having a pet play date, which means I drop my dog at their place and we go to lunch (usually after the rugrats are a little worn out and ready for a break).  Lunch can be anything and we usually pick the place when we meet up; it can be sandwiches, Mexican, Italian or Asian.  It usually depends on what they have been having all week, since my eating is pretty standard these days, and this time of year, “lunch” usually includes a run by Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

“We are now entering the ‘Adjustment Zone!'”

This process is really not that different from the way it’s always been: we ask if there’s anything anyone has really been wanting (for example, my friend & I are both big fans of KFC coleslaw, which is not that bad for you- yay!) or if there’s anything anyone really wants to avoid (like having had sandwiches three days in a row), so it’s generally a consensus and most of the places we go, I can choose something healthy or make healthier substitutions.  If it is one of those notoriously bad-for-you places, my choice is either lump it or veto it, and out of consideration, they don’t choose those places very often, and when they do, I usually choose to just lump it!

It’s a whole lot harder when you live with the people who are making healthy changes! I remember times when my mom had the fridge or cabinets full of her “diet food” and I know some of my fitness friends have a really hard time when their kids or their spouse (who are not making healthy changes) bring home things like cupcakes or candy or soda or decide they want pizza or Chinese for dinner. It’s hard to get excited about salad, steamed broccoli or rotisserie chicken when everyone else is having the stuffed crust meat lovers chased down with red velvet cupcakes! “Yay, I’m making a healthy choice” feels a lot more like missing out on those occasions.  This can be a really difficult situation for a lot of families, because you (as the “fitness fan”) can either veto the pizza/ Chinese/ tempting food (if that is an option- might be outvoted!), or you can watch everyone else eat it while you have your own healthy choices, or you can lump it and just eat what everyone else is eating and there goes that day’s healthy choices out the window! (I think a recent pizza commercial calls the vetoing salad lover ‘Sally Soul Smasher’- now that’s complimentary- eye roll!) But the choice is up to you.  There are some things that I am okay with watching everyone else eat because they don’t appeal to me and then there are some things that just sit there sending “I’m so yummy” messages right to my brain! (Ironically, I’m more tempted by yogurt than cake!)

As the Supportive Family Member (SFM), you really have a lot more options than the “fitness fan.”  The Fitness Fan (FF) can either eat it or not eat it (or veto it) and they have to make that internal struggle.  The SFM can always choose to eat the foods they love outside the house, not to eat it at all or to eat it all so there’s none left to tempt anyone else.  If you know there is something your FF really loves and struggles to avoid (like chocolate), then bringing home a box of chocolate bars can really be mean.  Admittedly, most people just do it without thinking- it never crosses their minds that what they are bringing home could present a temptation to the FF! And of course, this is where the problems start! For the FF, it could feel like an attack or like the rest of the family doesn’t care or “they want me to be fat!” and this is usually not the case. For kids especially, the whole issue of “is this something I shouldn’t bring home?” never comes into their heads unless someone has a severe allergy in their family, and even then they probably only think in terms of the allergy.  When someone has never tried to make concerted efforts to change their eating habits, the idea of “good food, bad food” is really the last thing they think about.  The store had a sale on their favorite ice cream so they brought it home.  They went by the market and brought home holiday cookies, or there were boy scouts selling caramel corn outside the post office so they bought a couple of bags.  For someone who is trying to eat better, all of these foods are possible trouble, but for everyone else, it’s not a big deal.  It’s easy for us FFs to roll our eyes and say, “yeah- YOU don’t have to worry about eating the whole box/ bag/ carton!” But to paraphrase a snarky comment, “since when does YOUR lack of willpower create a problem for me?” I remember a patient on My 600 lb Life saying she wished they could just close down all the bakeries so that way she couldn’t “hit them up,” and yeah, it would be nice if all the bad-for-you food were banned or rationed by the “Food Police,” but we all know that’s not an option!  So this is where the FF has to learn to bite the bullet instead of  the cupcakes. It really is their fight and as the SFM, all you can do is offer that help and support and try not to put too much temptation in their path, especially at first.  Ultimately, the FF has to learn to say no to things that aren’t in line with their goals, but like any habit, they get better with practice.  Once they start seeing results and the cravings go away (or become more manageable at least!), then they probably won’t freak out if you bring home the Costco gallon jug of Red Vines, but the first few weeks, that would probably cause a meltdown.

Now for a few words on keeping your mouth shut and FYI:  this goes for the FF and the SFM.  As I said at the beginning of this post, nagging and pushing are not conducive to cooperation.  As the FF, keep your mouth shut about whatever anyone else is eating and/ or doing!  Telling your loved ones that eating processed foods or using Splenda or binge-watching House of Cards while sprawled on the sofa for six hours is going to kill them is guaranteed to p*ss them off!  It does not promote positive change in the slightest! (My mom still nags about Splenda! eye roll!) IF they ask you about the changes you’re making, feel free to share it, but until they do, don’t push your new habits on them!  As for the SFM, keep your mouth shut whenever the FF goes off track.  If there are donuts in the house because of company and the FF indulges, remarking “I didn’t know donuts are on your diet!” is just going to encourage failure, not success.  It creates a sense of embarrassment, failure and defeat, and hopelessness.  If the FF asks “who wants to split a donut?” please volunteer!  If they are doing great and looking healthier or any other positive changes, please tell them how proud you are of their success! Nitpicking on how much they are eating or not eating, working out or not working out, falling off the wagon occasionally: these are more likely to be interpreted as criticism, not advice or encouragement.  IF the FF is acting in a manner you really think is unhealthy (ie starving themselves, or exercising way too much so they get sick) speaking up is most definitely warranted, but other than offering encouragement and helpful supportive suggestions (ie how about broccoli instead of salad today? you had salad all week!), the fewer comments the better.

It doesn’t have to be a difficult adjustment for everyone involved when someone in the family decides to make healthier choices.  Most difficulties come in the initial transition period but once it becomes a regular routine, things usually settle down.  For the SFMs, it means being a little more considerate about bringing the Halloween candy or other treats into the house and for the FFs, it means not freaking out when faced with temptation.  There is always the option to join them in making the healthy choices.  Being a diet or workout buddy can not only help both of you improve your health, but it can also be a fun way to strengthen the relationship.  It’s an extra step that is definitely not required! One of the common mistakes the FF often makes (especially as a parent or spouse) is to try to force everyone else to join them on the fitness bandwagon.  This is pretty much a guaranteed ‘epic fail’! (See above re: ‘nagging!’) Most of the heavy lifting falls on the Fitness Fan’s shoulders; your job as a Supportive Family Member is just to lend a hand when needed!

Waiting for the Gopher: Staying on Track

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

With all due respect to TR, I think doing nothing has its place, especially in the weight loss world. It reminds me of a cat my grandmother had a long time ago.  My grandparents lived on a ranch and there were always gophers around. We’d have to watch our step on the lawn because of the gopher holes, and she had one cat who stalked those little diggers relentlessly.  One summer day, she was sitting patiently a couple feet from the newest hole, staring at it,  and she waited. And waited. And waited.  She didn’t move a muscle: no yawning, scratching, lying down.  She was a cat statue and some of us commented on it, because we knew she was waiting for the gopher, and sure ‘nough: the last thing that gopher did was pop his nose out of the hole, and all we saw was the blur of that cat pouncing, reaching into the hole and pulling the gopher out- there was a brief blurry fight and then the cat dashed off with her reward.  SUCCESS!! The entire process took several hours of no movement followed by a few seconds of furious activity before she finally got her just dessert, but the cat didn’t give up.

It would have been easy for the cat to lay down, stop being vigilant, take a bath, close her eyes: that gopher will surely pop up soon, but she knew she needed to be focused.  When he popped up, if he saw or smelled her, he’d be gone and the opportunity would be lost.  She surely wasn’t going to starve if she didn’t get the gopher, since my grandparents provided her with a home and food, but then she wouldn’t get what she wanted: the gopher (maybe they are the version of cat caviar- who knows?) We are a lot like the cat, much more so than we really want to admit.  We are waiting for the “gopher.”

It probably feels like we are standing still, keeping our eyes focused on the scale, waiting for the number to drop, and it feels like we have been standing there since the beginning of time. We keep following the diet, doing the exercise, saying no to all the forbidden foods we used to eat regularly, passing on the beer and drinks with our friends, and it’s. taking. for. f***ing. ever!! We just want it to be DONE already!! (Ahhh!!) I know.  I’m there with you!! I’ve been doing this for about a year and a half and I’m not even halfway to my goals!! I’m soo tired of no/ slow progress; dropping two pounds, up one and a half, down three, up two, down, up, down, up.  The good news is I’m slowly ratcheting downward, but it’s in small increments, and it’s sure as hell not a fast drop!!

And while I’m “being good” and following my weight loss program (mostly Paleo), everyone else is not running to the gym and is eating the chips and chocolate, and not paying any attention to their weight or their health and they look pretty happy and healthy. I’m denying (read: punishing) myself and not reaping any measurable benefit! I’m stuck in Weight Loss Limbo: the Land That Time Forgot (booming echo-voice). I’m the cat waiting for the gopher. BTW, how did that cat know that gopher was going to come up out that hole??


She didn’t.  How could she?  She’s a cat, but she followed her instincts. This is where our “big brains” do us wrong: we talk ourselves out of being patient.  Sooner or later, the gopher would pop up and the cat would be there waiting, but only if she were patient enough. If she opted to lay down, take a bath, go sleep in the shade, the gopher would show himself, and then go back down, and the cat would have missed her opportunity. Sooner or later, the number on the scale will drop, but only IF – bigger “if” here for us- we stay focused and patient with our eyes on our goals.The gopher will stick his head up, whether the cat is there or not, but if we stop following our weight loss program, there will be no “gopher” for us: the scale will most definitely move, but in the direction we don’t want it to go.  More than missing out on our reward, we will have really punished ourselves by going backwards.

This is the difference between “doing nothing” and “doing the wrong thing.” It feels like we are doing nothing and going nowhere, but really we are being patient and being focused. The cat was very still, but she was very focused, which is saying a lot because there were a lot of people walking and talking on the other part of the lawn.  She was ignoring us and staying focused on the gopher hole.  We need to ignore everyone else, eating the burgers and fries and drinking the beer and hanging out, while we focus on our goals.  We don’t have be “cat statues,” but we do need to be vigilant- because the number on the scale will go down, but only if we have been patient enough.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work~ Thomas Edison

This is our opportunity to stand strong and do the work.  Edison was right, because opportunity doesn’t knock on our door like the Prize Patrol with a big ol’ weight loss check for us.  We don’t send in the “I wanna lose weight” entry and then “win” out of the blue: “Yay- I lost 25 pounds!!” Uh….. no.  Losing weight is work.  Worse, it’s work that takes a long time.  It’s hard work, which is why everyone hates it and the weight loss/ fitness industry is making money hand over fist with plans, potions, and gizmos that are “guaranteed” (eye roll riiiight wink) to make you lose weight quickly, easily and painlessly. We’ve all seen the late commercials for a certain unnamed pill that will make you lose weight superfast no sweat!! If it were really that easy, everyone would be thin and/ or healthy.  You would buy the little box of pills and in a couple of months be thin as a rail and that would be the end of it.

We all know that’s not true. This is where people get into trouble trying to avoid the hard work that goes with losing weight and/ or getting healthy.  They opt for the short cut- the “magic pill”- that has short term effects which wear off and lead to weight gain, or even worse, have devastating health effects. They take the potions, have unnecessary and often irreversible surgery and more often than not, end up in the same situation they were before, if they don’t end up worse.  (Sadly, I’ve known people who opted for the short cut and died as a result. It’s one of the things that keeps me motivated to do it the old fashioned hard way!)

It takes a long time for you to change your habits and it takes a long time for your body to change. This is what makes weight loss so incredibly frustrating, because we live in a world where everything is almost instantaneous.  Weight loss and getting healthy are the complete opposite of “instant.” It’s a series of opportunities that lead one to another, building into a habit, which leads to sustained changes in your body.  It’s tough, because even though we know the opportunities aren’t just going to come knocking on our door, they come masked in situations that look like birthday parties, nights out with the gang, and the donuts at the Monday morning meetings.  These sound and look like work, because they are, dressed in temptation.  You can do the work and make the healthy choice that will move you farther down the path to your goal, or you can not do the work and miss the opportunity. You can say no to the donuts, the drinks, the birthday cake; say yes to the apple, the seltzer. This is where, like the cat, you have the choice to give up or stay focused. The cat could have given up on the gopher and gone rubbing up against us at the BBQ and gotten some hamburger for no trouble at all (I bet it tastes better than raw gopher!) but she didn’t.  She was focused.  She was motivated! Aren’t we tougher and smarter than a cat?? (If my kitty heard me say this, I’d be as dead as that gopher!) This is where we either give up or stand up:  “I’ve been following my diet for ten months and I’ve only lost ten measly pounds! Mmmm, pound cake… I wonder if I can get some at the bakery??” or “Dammit- I can do this! I didn’t come this far to back down now!!” This is where we either throw in the towel or pull on the overalls! This is where doing “nothing” really is doing the right thing!