Weight Loss & Your Priorities: What’s Your ROI?

I know a lot of money gurus will tell you that if you want to know a person’s priorities, take a look at their bank accounts and credit card statements. In some ways, that’s true but I think looking a how a person spends their time, perhaps in addition to their money, will give you a better idea of what is important to them.

When someone makes time in their daily lives to spend it with friends or to spend it in front of a tv, you know what is important to them.  It doesn’t mean the tv watcher is a bad person or that the friend-oriented person is better: it simply means they have different values and priorities.  In short, you put your time, effort and money towards what you value most.

I have a lot of friends who are fans of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.  They spend a lot of time watching those and follow several shows.  They usually roll their eyes at me when I remind them “I have cable.” I get more eye rolls when I tell them I don’t have a smart tv or a DVR either.  I like tv and it’s usually on in the evenings and weekends, but I seriously only follow about a half dozen shows during the year, which averages out to about 4 nights a week that I’m really paying attention to what’s on tv.  Even worse, if I miss one of those episodes, oh, well! If it’s not available OnDemand, I just have to wait for a rerun! Obviously, tv is not one of my priorities.

However, if you want to talk about my dogs and cat, then you’ll see that both of them have treats and toys on monthly subscription with Amazon. They have standing appointments at their groomer (the dogs anyway) and the house is deluged in toys.  Also, my schedule tends to get worked around them: mornings and evenings are devoted to spending time with them, play dates are regularly scheduled and they made a special trip to Santa this year.  In short, my pets take up a lot of my time and money.  That’s because they are a priority with me! Sometimes, taking care of them is a really big headache but even if I do grumble about it, there is no way I’m giving them up.  They are too important to me!

When it comes to our health and weight loss goals, the time, effort and money we put into them are the real indicators of how important they are to us.  They don’t have to be THE most important things in our lives, but when they end up at the bottom of our list of Things to Do on a regular basis, they are obviously NOT important to us.  So, if they keep ending up being the last things we spend time on, why are we surprised to find out we aren’t losing weight and our health isn’t improving?

We all know someone (maybe it’s us) who keeps complaining that they aren’t losing weight when they’re “working so hard!” Before we begin looking for explanations or excuses, we need to take a good look at how much time we are investing in our weight loss. While exercise and activity are important to our health, weight loss is primarily driven by our diet, so let’s start with the obvious: how often are we eating? What are we eating and how much of it? Grazing or snacking all day is a big indicator that we are spending time on our diet, but it’s the wrong kind of time with the wrong kind of activity!

How much time do we spend on meal planning, preparation and buying food? If the answer is “not a lot,” then there’s another clue. Preparing a meal doesn’t have to take hours in order to be healthy but it shouldn’t consist of throwing a frozen meal in the microwave or ordering takeout.  Most of my meals at home take about a half hour or less but grocery shopping just for me normally takes an hour or so, maybe longer if something I want is at another store.  The staples are generally salad greens and fresh fruits and veggies, fresh meat and chicken, milk, eggs, coffee, water, stevia, cheese and uncured bacon.  Preparing them doesn’t take long, since most of the veggies are steamed and the salad greens just come out of the box and onto a plate.  The time I invest in healthy food comes mainly from getting it at the store and planning out what I’m going to have that week.  My Sunday afternoons are always set aside for grocery shopping: it’s just become part of my routine.

Another priority in my life is going to the gym.  I do water aerobics normally three times a week, so there is time invested in packing the gym bag, rinsing out my swim suit and rearranging my schedule to make sure I can make it to the gym at the appointed time.  Two of the workouts have regular classes, so my day is scheduled around what time do I have to be there, when do I need to leave and do I need to move an errand to another day that doesn’t conflict with my workout? The third workout day floats, so again, I need to clear my schedule to make sure the gym bag is packed and I get there on time.  In fact, my friends tease me because if it’s Monday or Wednesday, “she’s on her way to the gym!” Incidentally, my dogs also know my schedule because if the class is cancelled due to a holiday and I come home early, I catch them napping instead of waiting at the door!

Financial gurus talk a lot about ROI: Return On Investment.  We forget that our Return depends on what we invest.  If weight loss and better health are what we are after and we aren’t getting the Return we want, then we need to look at how much we are actually investing and that doesn’t mean money. Most of us are familiar with buying the fresh veggies and letting them moulder in the fridge.  We may have spent the money on them, but they aren’t actually “invested” unless we eat them! The same is true of that gym membership that costs you $25 a month: unless you are using it, you aren’t really investing in your health. For money experts, ROI is measured in dollars but when we’re investing in ourselves, the ROI is pounds lost, strength gained and other intangibles.  When we are talking about the ROI for our health and weight loss, it’s not about the money: it’s about the time and the effort we invest in ourselves. If we aren’t at the top of our list of priorities, that might explain that low Return we’re getting!

 

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!

Gaming the System? Weight Loss & Eating Like an Adult

When most people think of “gaming the system,” weight loss and dieting are usually not the first things that spring to mind– unless of course you are one of those ‘perennial dieters.’  Unfortunately, most of us (me included!) fall into this category: we are always trying to lose weight! And since we are always in a hurry to lose as much weight as we can as fast as possible, we’ve gotten pretty good at “gaming the weight loss system.”

Gaming the system means that we jump at the quick fix option instead of trying to make lasting changes.  Obviously we tend to see quick results with the quick fix, but we forget that ‘quick’ usually isn’t lasting, and let’s face it, while we want quick, lasting is what we are really after! No one likes losing those stubborn twenty pounds only to gain it back (and usually a couple more) and have to lose it all over again.

The problem is that ‘lasting’ takes too long and we get tired of waiting and frankly, tired of doing the work without seeing real results.  It doesn’t make us irresponsible or lazy or mean that we have no will power– it simply means that we’re human. Enter the quick fix with those quick results! But those quick fixes are usually something more drastic than the lasting change option, which is why we see those results so fast.

One of my mom’s famous quick fixes was meal replacement bars and shakes.  Instead of having breakfast and lunch, you have the shake/ bar and then a ‘healthy dinner.’  (Sound familiar, anyone?) We end up cutting out a lot of calories, so we lose weight fast, which makes us really happy for a while. Have you ever lasted on that program for more than a few weeks? I know I can barely manage one week because the shakes and bars taste so awful to me! We all know what happens as soon as you stop with the bars and shakes: Hello, weight gain!

The same thing happens with ‘diet food’ programs: once we stop eating the packaged low-cal meals, we begin to gain back whatever we lost while eating them. If all you want is to lose a few pounds so you look fabulous at the wedding or special event, that’s fine.  There’s an end date to the quick fix and if you gain it back, you are okay with that.  Seriously, though, there aren’t very many of us who are eating the bars, shakes and diet food just because we want a temporary weight loss! We’d rather lose weight permanently so we can look and feel great all the time.

When we opt for the long term lasting change method, the weight comes off slowly and steadily because we are learning as we go. We learn what healthy foods we enjoy and help us lose weight.  We learn how to eat when we’re hungry and how to stop when we’re no longer hungry. That may sound pretty simplistic, but think about it: ‘feeling full’ is not the same as ‘not being hungry!’ Most of us eat until we feel full, which usually means we’ve over-eaten, and many of us also sit down to eat without asking ourselves “am I even hungry?”

Making lasting changes means a lot of us have to change how we think about food and hunger, and that can feel pretty embarrassing to some of us.  Do we really need to learn how to monitor our hunger?  Do we really need to be told to stop eating when we’re not hungry anymore? For a lot of people, yes! Growing up, many of us were made to eat whatever our parents served us and if we didn’t eat “enough,” we were punished for it! I saw plenty of my cousins who had to force down food they didn’t want, either because they didn’t like it or weren’t hungry, just to make their parents happy.  This is what many of us were taught to do as children and many of us (like my cousins’ parents) grew up to force our own children to eat as well.  It was “meal time,” so we “have to eat!” The whole idea of not being hungry isn’t part of that equation, so is it any surprise that many of us sit down to eat at the appointed times and that we eat all or most of what is served to us?  This is what we were taught to do!

For me, this is a big part of what makes those quick fix meal and/ or meal replacement programs such a quagmire: we aren’t learning how to change our thinking about food, meals or hunger.  We are simply substituting one prescribed ‘meal’ for another! Instead of having a real food breakfast, we’re having a shake.  Instead of eating a real food lunch, we’re eating a bar.  Instead of eating a real food dinner, we’re microwaving a packaged meal.  No wonder many of us do so well on the meal replacement systems only to stumble when we try eating real food again: instead of learning what’s good for us and how much of it satisfies our hunger, we are eating what someone else decided was good for us, just like we did when we were kids! When we start eating real food again, we really are like little kids not knowing what to eat or how much of it. As parents, we know we don’t let the kids choose they want to eat all the time because we know it’ll be something like cereal three times a day or fast food for dinner each night.  We accept that children don’t know how to eat well-balanced meals but how many of those ‘kid meals’ sound like something we eat on a semi-regular basis? How many of us come home from work and rather than fix something nutritious, we settle for cereal eaten at the kitchen sink? Or we hit the drive thru for the third time because we’re late getting home again?

We know it’s not healthy for us and we tell ourselves that it’s not our “normal” way of eating, but at the same time, it’s our fall-back meal.  No time to heat something up? Cereal time! Or toaster pastries or granola bars etc.  The same thing happens when we come home late, or are too tired to cook or just don’t want what we’ve got at home: we get drive thru or take out or microwave a packaged meal. Is it any wonder that we have problems with our weight and our health when we eat like kids?

Changing how we think about eating isn’t fast and it takes a fair bit of practice but when we stop opting for the quick fix we end up making some real lasting progress with out health and our weight loss.  We only really win the game when we stop playing with our food!

Resolutions & Reality: Weight Loss & Your Goals

It’s that time of year again! You know what I mean: the grocery stores are full of people looking for healthy veggies, the tv is full of ads for programs designed to help you “look better and feel great!,” and the gym is packed full of newbies who can’t find the locker room.  That’s because everyone wants to start the New Year off right by keeping their health and weight loss resolutions, so they– and we– are jumping into 2019 with both feet!

That’s not a bad thing to do! I know I have made some changes and spent my New Year’s Day setting up some financial and fitness goals too! The problem is that when we make “resolutions” we tend to classify them as “things I have to do” and they end up on a mental list with tasks like Cleaning Out the Garage; Digging the Flowerbed; Getting the Tax Software Downloaded; and Hanging New Curtain Rods. In other words, these are the tasks that no one wants to do so they keep getting shoved to the bottom of the list.  We all know what happens with those tasks: we dread doing them, hate it when we actually do them and usually do them poorly if we do them at all!

The point of any goal is to improve the quality of your life, not make your life miserable because you have to give up pasta and candy bars, but that’s what happens when we focus on the “resolution” mindset.  It’s not that different from the “dieting” mindset that many of us fall into when we want to lose weight.  We make working towards our goals one of those “hate-to-do-it” tasks instead of an activity to make your life better.  That kind of attitude is why my gym will be packed tonight but back to normal come the first week in March. New members will be burnt out with “having to go to the gym” and will give it up as something that’s too much trouble to keep doing.

When you mentally put your new healthy resolution on the same level as Getting My Teeth Drilled, you are setting yourself up to fail.  It doesn’t matter if it’s drinking more water, going to the gym or giving up your after-dinner ice cream: when you are doing something you dread or hate doing, it’s not something that is going to last, which means it’s another failure to add to your list and those failures can be pretty debilitating.  Those failures are why we keep making the same resolutions year after year to eat healthier and lose those same 20 lbs we’ve been trying to lose for the last 20 years.  The goals are good goals well worth achieving, but year after year we’re just going about it the hard way.

Our resolutions are intended to build healthy habits that make us feel better about ourselves. If we want our healthy New Year’s resolutions to become lasting habits that get us to our goals (and that improved quality of life!), we have to set ourselves up to succeed.  That means if you don’t like going to the gym for a Spin class or to do circuit training, find something else at the gym that you do enjoy doing! It may be that the gym isn’t the right place for you to be.  That doesn’t mean you trash your resolution to be more active: it means you find an activity that you really enjoy! It may be that taking a walk outdoors is something you like much better than walking on the treadmill.  It can be that you’d rather be riding a bike outside rather than sitting in a Spin class listening to pop-rock on the gym’s PA.

We need to frame our resolutions in a way to keep us making progress.  The end goal isn’t “Going to the Gym”: the goal is to feel better physically! It’s to be able to move without hurting or to become stronger.  That goal is what we want and if the gym isn’t going to get us there, we need to find something that is!

It’s the same thing with eating healthier. We don’t have to start eating foods we hate in order to get more nutrition or lose weight.  Believe me, if a requirement for eating healthy meant having kale every day, I’d never do it! I have a friend who feels the same way about Brussels sprouts: those little bowling balls never hit her plate! However, there is usually a fair amount of just-as-healthy broccoli and cabbage on both of our plates. One of our little jokes is that neither of us never met a cabbage we didn’t like! We can all eat lots of healthy nutritious vegetables without having to eat things we don’t like. Trying to choke down a kale salad day every day might be healthy but if you are going to give it up after a couple of weeks, it’s not going to move the needle with your health and weight loss.

Sooner or later, we all have to do things that we’d rather not do.  We do them grudgingly because we know they are ultimately required, whether it’s getting a root canal or doing our taxes. Our resolutions shouldn’t be on the same level as a task we’d rather avoid. Remember the goals behind the resolution: Feeling better? Not puffing when we climb the stairs? Being able to run around with your kids or grandkids? Those are goals worth reaching and getting there should not be a chore! How you choose to get there is up to you. Wouldn’t it be great if it was also something that improved the quality of your life? Imagine doing something you enjoyed that was actually helping you feel better about yourself! That sounds like a resolution worth keeping to me!

You Do You & I’ll Do Me: Following Your Own Weight Loss Plan

This time of year, there is always someone ready to tell you that you are “doing it wrong.” We are bombarded by fitness and weight loss programs and meal delivery systems designed to help us lose weight, eat healthier and maximize our nutrition. Of course, all of them come with a price tag, and some of those are pretty hefty too! (Maybe they need a slimming regimen!)

The truth is that all of us are individuals which means we all have different needs and preferences.  I remember when the Cabbage Diet was popular.  I don’t know how effective it was but I do remember hearing people complain that they’d try that diet except “I hate cabbage!” I am sure there were some people who choked it down just so they could lose weight but that’s the problem with following someone else’s regimen: it may not work for you.  I am sure all there were quite a few non-cabbage-loving dieters who gained back whatever weight they lost on that Cabbage Diet because they stopped following the diet once they either 1) lost weight, or 2) gave up on it.

The reason we follow diets we hate is because we somehow got the idea that weight loss is supposed to be an unhappy unpleasant experience.  We’ve all heard the joke about the World’s Easiest Diet: “if it tastes good, spit it out!” A lot of us think that’s the way diets are supposed to be, full of awful-tasting, ‘healthy’ food that we’d never eat normally.  We suffer through eating foods we hate until we lose the weight we want or we just can’t take eating that awful stuff anymore.  Either way, we go back to eating the foods that led to us gaining the weight and while we may like what we’re eating, we’re completely unhappy with how we look and feel.

Too many of us have a Dieting Mentality where we change how we eat long enough to lose a few pounds and then we go back to “eating normal food.” If we want our weight loss to last, we have to change how we eat permanently and it’s hard to do if we are stuck eating foods we really don’t like! If someone told me all I’d have to do to lose fifty pounds is follow a Kidney Bean Diet, I’d never last, no matter how ‘easy’ it was supposed to be! I was one of those kids who picked out the kidney beans from my Three Bean Salad.  I’d leave them behind from any dish they were in. In fact, there are very few beans or legumes I like, so no matter how healthy and nutritious they are, I’ve never eaten much of them. Cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables are another story: I eat a lot of those on a regular basis and always have.

It seems like common sense, but when it comes to weight loss, too many of us will try anything! You want me to eat grapefruit twice a day? Got it!  You want me to drink nasty horrible-tasting protein shakes twice a day? No problem! Choke down kale with every meal? Sure thing! Those plans will probably work as far as losing weight initially, but when it comes to long-term? How long before you start justifying donuts or pizza? Or even just skipping the morning protein shake in favor of something you actually enjoy eating?

Bottom line: if you want your weight loss to last, you need to eat healthy foods that you actually enjoy eating on a regular basis, not just until you’ve lost ten or twenty pounds.  Unfortunately, that means whatever weight loss diet you might start off with, you’ve got to personalize it for you.  If you don’t like eggs, then don’t eat them even if the diet says to eat them as your protein source! Any diet that limits what you eat to a small number of selections is probably not going to work long term for anyone.  There should be a fair number of suggested foods to allow you to choose healthy alternatives that you enjoy eating.

You can lose weight and you can keep it off long term, but you have to stop focusing on what other people are doing or what other people want you to do, unless it’s a routine that you can follow long term.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t ever have pizza or donuts again, but it shouldn’t mean you are stuck eating grapefruit, kale or protein bars for the rest of your life either.  Remember, the reason you want to lose weight is so you can enjoy your life more and for me, an enjoyable life has as little kale as possible!

Changing Directions: Weight Loss & Getting There

We’ve all heard the expression “dieting doesn’t work.” We know it’s a temporary solution to a permanent situation but that still doesn’t help much.  We know we shouldn’t eat the entire giant burrito at lunch, but we do anyway.  We know that eggnog latte we sucked down this morning was at least 500 calories so we really don’t need another this afternoon, but here we are ordering one! The solution to weight loss is simple: permanently change what we eat and how much.  But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy!

Professionals debate whether Food Addiction is a real addiction or not, and there are the inevitable comparisons to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Overeaters Anonymous takes the ‘Twelve Step’ approach to weight loss and while I am not a member of such a program, I do have family members who are. One of the first things they did when they started their recovery is to change their environment. Specifically, if all your friends drink or do drugs, you need some new friends! When it comes to drugs and alcohol, we expect that. We recognize that we can’t expect recovering alcoholics to hang out at the bar not drinking with their friends who are any more than we can expect drug addicts to hang out with their friends who are always getting high.  There’s simply too much temptation to fall back into the addiction they’re trying to break!

So what do we do about weight loss?  As Food Addiction believers like to point out: you can live without alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, but sooner or later, we all need to eat! It’s not like we can hang out without people who don’t eat! It gets even harder when there is a holiday or celebration, since nearly all cultures celebrate with special foods! How are we supposed to deal with our addiction when we have to go back to it to survive?

Whatever you believe about Food Addiction, anyone who wants to lose weight without gaining it back has to accept making some permanent lifestyle changes, not unlike the recovering alcoholic or addict. You may not need to ditch those ‘food-eating friends,’ but you will probably need to change how you interact with them! It doesn’t even have to be major changes but we all know that if you are going to San Francisco, you don’t enter a San Diego address into your GPS! If you want to change your destination, you have to change your route.  Doing things the way you did before is only going to get you somewhere you don’t want to be!

Easier said than done! If only it were as easy as plugging in a new address into Google Maps! Unfortunately, a lot of weight loss gurus like to tell us that it really isn’t too difficult. I always wonder how many of them had weight problems, because they usually look really fit and thin! I know that does many a great disservice, but all of us who struggle with our weight know how hard and painful it can be.  Watching a spokesperson with a chiseled six-pack tell us that we can lose 15 lbs in 6 weeks by making ‘5 easy changes!’ makes me want to kick in my tv! Or scarf a whole pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk…. Either way, it’s not a good feeling.

Psychologists like to call this behavior modification and we have all used it and had it used on us before.  Remember when your parents grounded you for getting home late? Remember when you scolded your puppy for wetting on the floor? Those are some simple examples: you do X and Y happens to you, so if you don’t want X to happen to you again, then don’t do Y! With weight loss, the X we are trying to avoid is gaining weight but it’s more complicated than that.  We are not only trying to avoid weight gain, we want to go in the opposite direction!

We not only need to figure out what Y we need to avoid, we need to map an entirely new route for somewhere else. For a lot of us, this feels like trying to climb Everest with only a windbreaker and some walking shoes– totally impossible! The truth is that it’s not impossible if we know what we’re looking for and that skinny six-pack guy on the infomercial with his 5 easy changes is more interested in your money than helping you find the answers.

One of the easiest ways to find out what changes you need to make in order to make your weight loss permanent is to track what you eat.  I know everyone hates doing it, but we all need a starting point, especially if we want to measure how much progress we’ve made.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.  You can use any notebook or pocket diary and there are a lot of free popular apps on available. It’s up to you how detailed you want to be with your food descriptions but you do need to be consistent.  After a couple of weeks of writing down everything you eat and drink, you’ll have a realistic idea of how much and what foods are typical for you.  Then, you can start making changes!

Most of us eat more than we think we do and we have unrealistic ideas of portion size and calorie count.  You don’t need to weigh everything but if the hamburger for lunch was two patties bigger than the palm of your hand, you need to write that down.  Also, if there were three parts to the bun and two slices of cheese, those need to be written down!  So when we start to make changes, we shouldn’t plan sweeping global changes to our food. Telling yourself “I’m starting keto on Monday” or “I’m going Paleo tomorrow” is going to make you feel like you’re back on Everest in that windbreaker!

The best approach is a little like Google Maps: you know how the app shows you both the whole route with the next turn highlighted at the top? That’s the way you need to do this! You know what your ultimate goal is but your focus needs to be on your next turn, not that freeway offramp by your destination! You’re not even on the freeway yet! Focus on getting to the onramp first!

Start with a small step.  Elizabeth Benton suggests starting with breakfast (a good idea!) but it can be something as simple as cutting out the sweets or giving up soda.  It can also be something like cutting your portion sizes in half.  Once you’ve gotten the first step under control, whatever you’ve chosen, then you can move on to the next step.  This can be working on a better lunch, cutting out more carbs, or replacing more processed foods with whole foods. However you choose to eat (keto, Paleo, Whole 30, etc), most of us are in a hurry to get there but rushing is another bad step.  To use the Google Maps analogy, when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, it’s easier to get lost because you aren’t focused on following the directions.  You want to take shortcuts that don’t always work. Our bodies don’t change overnight so any changes we make won’t show results overnight either!

Remember back to that Twelve Step program I mentioned earlier? Another important point is “one day at a time.” You can’t go from getting drunk on Friday to being sober four years on Monday! You have to earn those four years one day at a time! By being patient, dealing with situations as they come up and learning from mistakes, we eventually figure out what triggers our cravings, what our weaknesses are and how we need to avoid them.  It’s the same, whether we’re trying to stay sober or lose 50 lbs.

By being patient and learning what we are doing now that’s not healthy for us, we learn how to make positive changes to our eating and our behavior.  Our focus needs to be on making positive changes and taking positive steps. We can look at the distance we have to travel and wish it didn’t take so long, but wishing isn’t going to get us to our goal weight.  The only thing that will is making those changes and making them day after day after day.  It’s not a quick trip but the best part about it is that once you get there, it’s for good! Welcome to the neighborhood!

 

 

 

Taking a Short Cut?: Weight Loss & Real Food

Weight loss is a very lucrative industry, especially in America.  As we become less and less mobile and food continues to be more and more easily obtainable, we keep getting more and more obese.  You would think food would become healthier, and in some cases, it has, but overall, the more food is processed, the more nutrition is lost.

In most cases, manufacturers enrich their finished products with vitamins, minerals and other essentials to make them healthier.  In some cases, it’s the result of a government campaign, as in breads, cereals and milk, which are routinely fortified. While these fortified products are better than the unfortified version, there are still questions about how healthy highly processed foods are for us.  Yes, they may have “all the required vitamins” to satisfy the recommended daily allowances, but what else is in there?

One of the commercials I’ve been seeing a lot is for a vegetable juice drink which compares itself to a banana.  The commercial asserts that the little can of juice drink has as much potassium as the banana, claiming “it’s a post work out snack you don’t have to peel.”  This statement makes me roll my eyes every time I hear it.  I am not claiming the commercial is lying about the potassium levels, but we’re comparing juice to a whole food. Something which is as highly processed as juice is likely not as nutrient dense as a whole food, especially when it comes to fiber.

It’s bad enough that nutrition and fiber are taken out of foods in processing: other things are added in to make them more shelf-stable, to preserve “freshness” and taste and to make them look prettier. That can of vegetable juice has less fiber, likely less nutrition from the vegetables themselves and way more sodium than the vegetables it was made from, since the vitamin C and betacarotene are added. However, it is much easier to carry around a little can of veggie juice than the actual vegetables!

That is the primary reason people choose processed foods over whole natural foods: convenience!  How many times have we bought fresh fruits and veggies only to have them spoil in our fridge? (Raising my hand here!) It happens more than I like with spinach, lettuce and cabbage.  It happens to me most often with milk, and in fact, it happened–again!-– last weekend! I love coffee but I only drink it with cream.  I also only drink coffee at home on the weekend (since that’s when I spend the most time there), so I went about making coffee only to realize right before I turned on the machine that the cream in the fridge had spoiled. No cream, no coffee! As I added it to the grocery list, I considered buying something shelf-stable that wouldn’t spoil for weeks so this wouldn’t keep happening to me.

How much easier it would be for me to have powdered cream sitting in my cupboard for me to use whenever I needed it!  I wouldn’t have to worry about spoilage and I could have coffee without first checking to make sure I have cream.  Wow, wouldn’t that be great! Except the list of ingredients on the powdered creamer reads like a chemistry experiment because it really is more chemicals than actual food! Does it taste good? Most definitely! I admit it: I love the stuff and used it for years for mainly because it’s convenient and good tasting.

Unfortunately, in addition to being shelf-stable and delicious, it also has so many things that I don’t like, such as preservatives, corn syrup solids and trans fat.  Yes, if you look on the labels of many of these, they say they are “free of trans fats.”  They are allowed to say that if the serving size is very small. Even though you are getting only a small amount of trans fats with each serving, let’s consider how much of that stuff you, or rather I, consume! I don’t put in one or two tablespoons (1 serving) mainly because I drink great big mugs of coffee and usually more than one daily.  So over the course of a weekend, I’m going to have probably six or eight tablespoons each day.  That’s a lot of “little amounts” which build up into a real number! (Seriously, I think all the trans fats & saccharin I’ve eaten over the years have become part of my DNA–ugh!)

Then there are all the extra calories that come with that shelf-stable powdered creamer! Once I reminded myself of why I stopped using that stuff, I ended up putting a small carton of half and half in my shopping cart.  I know what’s in that and most importantly, my body knows what’s in it too! This is the problem with chemical preservatives and additives: some of these things were invented in the last century and our organs don’t know what to do with these things, especially trans fats! As a result, these unstable compounds just get stored in our bodies. Some chemical compounds can really disrupt your gut bacteria, resulting in poor nutrient absorption or even a more serious disorder such Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).  Anyone who has had any kind of digestive disorder knows what kind of havoc they can wreak not only on your health but on your daily life. The last time I had a stomach bug was bad enough for me!

Not all processed foods are unhealthy but they should not be the majority of your meals. The best way to minimize your intake of trans fats, preservatives or other unhealthy chemicals is to eat as few processed foods as possible. I occasionally buy refrigerated or frozen foods out of the sheer convenience.  They are mostly fruit or vegetables and they tend to be minimally processed. Usually they are raw frozen foods and the ingredient labels read” sweet potatoes” or “green cabbage,” but I do buy the occasional frozen entree or other processed bagged item. However, these items are “occasional.”  The majority of what I eat doesn’t come in a bag or a can: it comes in butcher paper from the meat counter or in its own natural (and sometimes edible) wrapper.  There’s something to be said for the vitamins and nutrition in those natural vegetable wrappers: I can guarantee you they taste better than that juice can!

 

 

 

A Moment of Truth: Weight Loss & Right Now

I’ve heard it said that our lives are lived in moments, not hours or days.  When I look at my pets, I see that very clearly.  I know they remember what happened yesterday or this morning, but their focus is on what’s going on right now. We are taught all our lives to look to the future and make plans for tomorrow, but when it comes to staying on track with your weight loss and healthy eating, we need to be looking at right now.

Elizabeth Benton likes to refer to this as “staying in the moment” and that’s a good way of looking at it. It’s easier for me to remember as “right now.” (Too much MTV in my wasted youth!) What is the choice in front of me right now? Do I want to give up my goals for what I want right now? What is the best decision for me to make right now?  In so many ways, it flies in the face of what we have been taught since we were kids: we need to think of the future instead of right now!

It’s almost counter-intuitive: we plan for our future by acting right now.  If someone wants to split a dessert at lunch, do I want to delay reaching my goal for the cheesecake right now? Should I plan to work out tomorrow since I don’t want to work out right now? Right now, what is the best decision I can make for reaching my weight loss goals? While some of you are probably rolling your eyes, too often we get tricked into swapping out Right Now for the Future.  I want cheesecake right now so in the Future, I will work out an extra session / skip lunch, etc.  We get sucked into constructing big plans for the Future or digging up information on weight loss or fitness and instead of taking action Right Now, we are busy planning for the Future.

There is nothing wrong with planning for the Future.  It’s always a good thing to know where you are going and how you are going to get there, but when that planning gets in the way of taking action, it’s not helpful.  You can always do something real and concrete Right Now instead of waiting until sometime in the Future when you have all the information you think you need.  The problem is that there will always be new information coming out on health, fitness and weight loss so on any day, there will always be something we don’t know.  Information is not action and only action will get you to your goals!

When they say our lives are made up of moments, they are talking about all those “right nows.”  That’s what our future is built on: what happens to us in the future actually depends on what we do right now.  If we keep sacrificing our Right Now for some Future action, we will never take action and we will never reach our goals.  We build our Future out of those momentary Right Nows each of us face each day.  Right now, you can be walking during your lunch. Right now you can be shopping for healthy whole foods.  Right now you can be at your gym or joining one.  Right now you can be making a healthy meal.  Right now, you can be saying yes to Brussels sprouts and no to donuts.  This is where our Future comes from; it comes from what we do Right Now.  What are you doing Right Now?

Van Halen: Right Now

One Thing: Weight Loss, Patience & Progress

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time with my dad who has always been a fan of Westerns.  By the time I was in middle school, I was not only familiar with the Duke but also the large cast of cowboy regulars, including (among others) Ben Johnson, Ward Bond, Richard Boone, and Jack Palance.

Jack Palance is probably best remembered in the Under-50 crowd for his last movie, City Slickers, for which he won a Best Supporting Oscar in 1992.  (It’s also the one where he did one-handed pushups on the stage!) For those of you who haven’t seen this movie, it’s about a burnt-out executive and his friends (Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern) who go on a modern day cattle drive as a vacation.  They are going to play Cowboys and Jack Palance’s Curly, the real deal, offers Crystal some advice about the meaning of life: to paraphrase, it’s one thing. You find your ‘one thing’ and stick to it.  Everything else doesn’t mean crap (Curly’s Law- One Thing).

While cowboys, cattle drives and crusty old actors might not seem relevant to weight loss, Curly’s Law has a lot to do with it! Most of us– me included– want to get to our goal weight RIGHT NOW! Yesterday is not soon enough for us! All of us have been guilty of trying to rush this but weight loss, health, fitness, whatever your goal is, cannot be rushed. Our bodies need time to burn fat, to build muscle or to repair the damage caused by a lifetime of poor eating and lack of activity. It doesn’t happen overnight or even over the course of a couple of weeks! So, in an effort to ‘speed things up,’ we try doing everything we can to lose as much weight as we can in the shortest amount of time. In short, we try to do everything at once!

Before we go loading up on all the supplements, protein shakes and filling our fridge with the latest superfoods, remember one thing, and that is One… Thing.  Find the one thing you want to start with and that’s what you focus on! Before you start making excuses about how if doing one thing is good, then more things must be better and faster, it’s also harder! If your plan is waking up a half hour earlier so you can spend that time on the treadmill before you jump in the shower and go to work and you opt to have a protein shake for breakfast and then walk during lunch time and then prepare a healthy dinner in the evening, meditate for twenty minutes and turn off the tv or tablet an hour before going to bed along with drinking 8 glasses of water all day and journaling before you fall asleep, that really sounds like a great routine! I know a lot of people who would approve a healthy plan like that, focused on good nutrition, lots of exercise followed by quality rest and relaxation!

If you also think it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is a whole lot of work! It also sounds really healthy so there are probably more than a few of us who are busy drawing up similar schedules to start on bright and early on Monday morning or even for January 1st.  The problem is that after a few short weeks, whenever you start, you’ll find yourself falling behind on your new Healthy Routine.  It’s not that you lack willpower or stamina or are lazy.  It’s that Real Life gets in the way! Because you are starting so many new routines at once (even if you call it ‘one’), you haven’t had the chance to build them up into regular habits.

What happens to your Healthy Routine when you get stuck running an errand during your ‘meditation time’? What happens when you have to work through your ‘lunchtime walking’ to finish a project that goes to the client by mid-afternoon? What do you do when you sleep through your alarm or have to work late into the evening or anything else that happens unexpectedly in our lives? When we get knocked off balance and start missing our new goals, it’s easier to forget to get back on track or worse, we get discouraged and give up on them.  No one likes to hear this either, but it takes time to develop a new habit, just like it takes time to lose weight and build muscle! Remember: One Thing.

One thing is easier to do than two or three or five.  One thing is easier to keep track of than two or four, and when you focus on one thing, you can do your best with it instead of giving it a few minutes of your attention every day.  When you are already in the habit of eating healthy, it’s easier to adjust when you are faced with non-healthy choices.  When you are in the habit of waking up a half hour earlier, it’s harder to oversleep and easier to get back into your routine.  When all of these new behaviors aren’t new anymore and are part of your normal routine, there is actually less to remember and much less work.

Think about it: you don’t make a list of things you need to do when you get up every morning, like shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, find your keys, find your phone, grab your purse/ briefcase, grab your coat, etc.  Likewise, you don’t use GPS to find your way home from work every day either.  In fact, these are the kinds of things most of us do on Auto Pilot because we have done them repeatedly. This is our goal with our Healthy Routine!

This is actually how I knew that my gym routine had become a habit: not only did I pack my gym bag in the morning on gym days without a reminder, I also drove to the gym without thinking about it! Yes, it took time to develop this habit, but once it became a part of my routine I had to remind myself not to bring my gym bag on holidays when the gym closed early! The gym is one less thing for me to focus on, which means I can focus my attention on something else I want to work on in my Healthy Routine, like going to bed on time!

There is a bonus once we remember to do One Thing and that is we keep making progress even if we aren’t doing everything we want on our Healthy Routine.  While we may be struggling with the work outs or the meditation, once we’ve got the lunch time walking and the healthy dinners down pat, those habits are still moving us towards our goals! We are still making progress and the more we build on a strong foundation, the faster we progress to our goals.  We just need to be patient and remember: One Thing.

 

 

“E” is for Effort (& Excellence): Weight Loss & Missed Opportunities

Last night I got an unusual text from my sister.  She was watching the same rerun of My 600 lb Life that I was, although it was new to her.  I’ve mentioned before that I watch the show, reruns and all, because they are my version of a 12 Step meeting.  They remind me of some of my old bad habits (ugh! so reminded last weekend!) and overall they keep me motivated.  This particular episode was James K.’s story.  In so many ways, James is both motivating and incredibly frustrating.

We’ve all heard the expression that ‘water sinks to its lowest level’ and the same is true of our efforts.  If we don’t put forth any effort, we shouldn’t be surprised when we get no return, but usually we are shocked when we don’t get amazing results.  We’ve somehow gotten it into our heads that we can phone in the effort and get what we want without a lot of work. James puts forth nearly no effort at all but expects to get awesome results and is repeatedly disappointed when he fails to make any progress at all.

To recap, James is approximately mid-forties, weighs about 800 lbs and has been bedbound for nearly three years when we meet him. He lives with his girlfriend Lisa and their teenage daughter Bayley, who are his caretakers.  Both Lisa and Bayley are afraid that his eating will kill him because he gains about 30-40 lbs every year, and James himself is afraid that he’s going to die in his bed soon. Besides his super morbid obesity, James also has severe cellulitis infections in his legs, but he still wishes that his days “would start with food and end with food.”  He admits that if he doesn’t get what he wants to eat as soon as he demands it, he gets angry. Giving him something healthy only starts a fight.

James sets up a phone consultation with Dr. Nowzaradan, who advises him how dangerous it is to be super morbidly obese and immobile (bedbound).  He sends him a 1200 calorie diet, tells him to begin losing weight now and come to Houston.  If he is under 600 lbs when he arrives and there are no major health issues, he will schedule him for bariatric surgery as soon as he can.

My issue with James isn’t that he’s gained about 800 lbs: my issue is that he does as little as possible to help himself or improve his situation. He was well over 500 lbs when he fell and injured his ankle, landing him in the bed three years ago.  Since then, he’s continued to gain weight and it isn’t hard to see why.  When you aren’t being active and continue to eat as much as you did before, it’s an obvious result.  However, James has made no effort to change his eating habits, nor has he made any effort to get out to the bed.  He tells everyone he wants out of that bed and he’s ready to get back to his old life, but to make change, you need to put out some effort!

He and Lisa had initially planned to load him in the back of her van and drive to Houston but because of his weight and longtime immobility, both Dr. Nowzaradan and the EMTs they later call advise against it.  The EMTs also tell him he is wider than the van is so driving that far would be extremely painful (why ultimately James vetoes the idea.) James tries to get a bariatric ambulance to transport him from Kentucky to Texas but when the plans fall through and his fund-raising efforts (an online campaign) also fail to generate enough money, he uses this to justify his continued calorie consumption. Basically, it’s a depressing situation and the insurance company has given him a ‘death sentence,’ and the only thing that brings him any happiness is eating everything he wants to eat, so that’s what he’s going to do!

In this case, James is not even putting forth minimal effort: Lisa and his daughter set up the online campaign and Dr. Nowzaradan is fighting with the insurance company over the ambulance.  The least James can do is work his hardest on losing weight.  This is what the doctor had instructed him to do and frankly, it’s the best thing he can do for himself, but he doesn’t do it. He makes no effort to help himself.

Later, when he finally arrives in Houston, he weighs in at 791 lbs and continues to gain weight, ultimately reaching 843 lbs.  At the end of the year, James has gained back any weight lost while hospitalized on a controlled diet and has been told that he has congestive heart failure and his body is barely functioning.  Throughout that year, he blames circumstance for his lack of progress and ultimately accuses Dr. Nowzaradan of not helping him.  The simple truth is that he refuses to make any effort to help himself.  This dismal lack of effort is what makes James so frustrating but also so motivating.  His story is full of missed opportunities to help himself: he announces again and again how he’s ‘fired up’ to lose weight, but when his daughter offers to bring him his dumb bells, he waves her off.  When Lisa protests that the Chinese rice he wants isn’t on his diet, he has a tantrum, demanding it anyway. “I’m tired of fish and chicken!”

Anyone who has changed their eating habits can commiserate with this tantrum.  My dad actually jokes that I’ve eaten so much chicken, he expects me to sprout feathers any day now! There’s been more than a few days that the thought of eating more salad, veggies, chicken or anything else healthy makes me want to gag. There’s also been many days I’ve wanted to blow off my exercise classes because I’m tired, I don’t feel like it or I just want to do something else! We have all been there! But watching James give in over to his whims is also what makes his case so motivating.

We all have opportunities to improve our health and weight loss.  None of it comes easily to any of us. Change and progress require effort and if we want to make the most of our opportunities, then we have to put forth our maximum effort! Blowing off the opportunities is always easier but then we have to live the results of our lack of effort.  We can choose to blame circumstance and everyone around us for our lack of progress, but ultimately the choice to work as hard as we can is our own.  We can do what we want, like James, or we can do what’s best for us as hard or as uncomfortable as it may be.  In the end, giving in to our whims and blowing off efforts to help ourselves only seems easier.  Living with the extra weight is not only hard on our self-esteem: it’s hard on our health. For some of us, it means we have to go back to our “fat pants” or loosen the belt another notch instead of tightening it up.  In James’ case, his lack of effort landed him in the ICU with sepsis, fatty liver disease and kidney failure.  [At last report, he recovered enough to be discharged.]

We all have been disappointed with our results at times.  It’d be nice if they were always amazing and fabulous.  The least we can do is make the best of the opportunities provided to us by giving it our best effort.  When we don’t even do the least that we can do, we have no one to blame but ourselves for our failures. Watching James throw away opportunity after opportunity reminds me not to do the same.  It is a sad and scary lesson that James presents to us and hopefully we’ve all learned from it.