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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Convenience Foods: Weight Loss & Effortless Eating

One of my biggest problems continues to be weekends. When I am locked into my weekday work routine, it’s easier to stay on plan. Obviously, we have less variation in that work-a-day schedule so unless you have an office where people bring in treats or have catered conferences and luncheons, you only have what you have brought to eat into the office. Feeling hungry or want to snack? There are none because you didn’t bring any! Or, they are healthy snacks like nuts, string cheese or something else nutritious or low calorie.

Weekends, unscripted and constantly changing, are horrendous for me simply because there are too many opportunities for “unscheduled or improvised eating.”  If it’s a ‘Stay-At-Home’ weekend, it’s a little easier to stay closer to the target, but again the opportunities are still there to wander into the kitchen or to have seconds of lunch or dinner.  It’s not much different than the office: not a lot of snacky foods and the ones that are there are healthy or low cal, but too much of any food, healthy or not, isn’t good for you.  I try to keep easy to eat food like string cheese or nuts or beef sticks out of the house simply because they require no cooking or preparation.  When you feel the urge to eat our of boredom, the thought of getting out a pan to scramble some eggs or to put a chicken in the oven is too much of a hassle, not to mention the clean-up later! “I’m not that hungry!” But something ready to eat? Unwrap it, eat it and throw away the trash? Too much temptation there!

The same thing happens when you’re out running errands or shopping or just hanging out with friends: too much convenient ready to eat food! It’s easy to stop for lunch or a snack or even get a high calorie coffee drink and before you know it, you’ve consumed too much sugar, too much starch, too much fat or just too much! We tend not to pay attention to what we ate or even remember that we ate it because it was nearly effortless. We don’t have to deal with preparing it or cleaning up afterwards so our only real consideration is the cost in cash and calories, and we all know how easy it is to give in temptation or to make an excuse.  If we are out with friends, then it’s a ‘special occasion,’ or if we are running from one errand to another, we rationalize it because ‘I don’t have time to eat healthy.’ And let’s not forget the Impulse Buy: see it and throw it in your basket before you have time to think about it! Of course, once you get it home, well, ….I bought it so I might as well eat it….Really?

I remember one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients complaining that she wished “they’d close up all the bakeries” because they were her downfall. I can empathize because I am someone who looks at bread the way kids look at candy on Halloween. I can walk right past the chocolate, the chips and the soda without even noticing, but bread? That’s most often where I will linger, and the excuses start creeping into my thoughts: the dogs love bread too, so if I get this bag of rolls, I can give half of them to the dogs….. And they love warm cornbread too, so I can split this pan with them….. Yeeaahhhh, riiigghhhttt [insert eye roll here].  While the dogs may end up with part of whatever bread makes it into my home, the fact that I had half of it (or more) still isn’t a good thing!

Again, the problem goes back to how easy is it to eat? Bread is one of those foods that is right there ready to go! You can buy the kind you need to heat up or ready-to-bake and depending on how much ‘work’ that is for you, it’s still far less than making bread from scratch.  Even cornbread mixes, which usually only require you add two ingredients, are much easier than doing it all yourself.

While many health and weight loss gurus decry processed foods for their potentially unhealthy shelf-stable ingredients, in my opinion their biggest problem continues to be they are just too effortless! When we feel the urge to snack, we usually don’t choose these easy convenient foods because they are so wonderfully delicious– we choose them because we just have to open the package! They are as close to instant gratification as we can get with food!  While fast food, bakery and deli foods may have less of those unhealthy processed shelf-stable ingredients, they are just as problematic as the convenient packaged foods because all we have to do is hit the drive-thru or pop them into our basket. They are still as effortless as we can get.

Which is why the only “convenient  and effortless” foods at my house belong to the pets! It’s a ‘hassle’ to prepare food to eat.  It requires actual ‘work’ as in cooking or making a salad dressing.  Just last night I was grumbling to myself about having to cook: the only effortless food I regularly bring home is rotisserie chicken and I had finished the last of it the night before. Now, I had to get out the skillet and put the pork steaks on the stove…grumble grumble. Obviously, pork steaks aren’t a ‘snack food’ or ‘convenient,’ but that doesn’t mean we are doomed to go through the Food Preparation Production each night to keep from bingeing on hot dogs or refrigerator pasta.  When I do cook ‘real food,’ I usually cook the entire package, which means tonight all I have to do is reheat the leftovers.

Having leftovers is almost a forgotten practice. When people think of leftovers today, it’s usually leftover pizza, leftover fried chicken or maybe leftover Chinese.  Most of them are processed foods, as in there are three pieces of last night’s pizza or chicken in fridge. The hassle involved with cooking ‘real food’ each night is one of the reasons convenient effortless food has become so popular, but I also think it’s one of the reasons we’ve become so unhealthy in general.  Like me, we get home from work or errands and when we think about ‘what’s for dinner?’, you have the same response I did last night: “Crap! I have to cook!” So we get in the habit of keeping easy effortless food close at hand: we head home via Jack in the Box or we call in a To-Go order at the Chinese place, or we have something at home that goes right from the fridge/ freezer into the microwave! It’s easy to eat, takes little to no work and before we know it, we’ve eaten dinner so fast that by the time our stomach has noticed it’s full of food, we’ve moved on to dessert! How many of us have finished a pint of ice cream because we’re ‘hungry’ only to feel stuffed and bloated afterwards? (Raising my hand here!)

This is one of the other benefits of eating less convenient, not so effortless foods: it also takes time to eat them! Even the rotisserie chicken that makes a weekly appearance at my house has to be cut up and eaten off the bones rather than being boneless nuggets. Most convenient foods are highly processed so they are easy to eat (I think of them as ‘pre-digested’ since a lot of the work with chewing and metabolizing is already done in the processing.) How easy is it to eat a slice of pizza compared to cutting up a pork steak? Compare tossing french fries into your mouth with eating a salad full of raw veggies? Neither of them is a major production but those few extra minutes means your stomach has a little more time to notice it’s full of food before you start stuffing it with more!

Sticking with the less than convenient foods is a simple way of keeping your hand out of the cookie jar or bag of chips: when you have to make them yourself, it makes you ask yourself  “am I really that hungry?” Starting with real whole foods not only means you’re staying away from unstable fats and chemical preservatives, it also means that when you sit down to eat, you aren’t eating out of boredom or habit.  Another bonus I have noticed when something processed and effortless makes it into my kitchen is that the more you eat real whole foods, the more you taste the chemicals in those convenient foods.  They might be effortless to eat but they tend to taste like the plastic they were wrapped in too!

 

Right Here, Right Now: Weight Loss & The Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Pain Scale: Weight Loss, Discomfort & Pain

One of the expressions I really really hate hearing is “no pain, no gain,” as if in order to make any kind of progress, you have to hurt yourself! That seems a little counter-productive: “let me blow out my back lifting 150 lbs so I can have really great biceps!” I know that no one really thinks like that, but it does happen.  We’ve been told by countless trainers and fitness programs that we need to “push past our comfort zone” to make progress! Pushing past the Comfort Zone, yes; pushing into the Pain Zone, no!

Anyone familiar with the medical profession or even just medical shows is likely familiar with the Pain Scale: “on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you’ve ever felt and one being no pain, where is your pain at on the scale?” If you’ve had surgery or broken a bone, you are no doubt familiar with the scale numbers up past five, and if you’ve sprained a muscle or a joint, you are probably familiar with the numbers on the lower half too, but what isn’t on that scale is Discomfort. I really believe that we need to add that to the scale (maybe as – 1 or -2?) to keep people from confusing Pain with Discomfort.

Pain is usually sharp or stabbing or a deep ache because it’s our body’s way of telling us we have an injury! If you are out running or you are lifting weights and you feel a sharp pain in your arm, leg or shoulder and it hurts to use it, that is pain! If something starts swelling, like your wrist or ankle, or if it stiffens up, you have obviously injured yourself.  A tearing sensation is another indication that there is something wrong and that what you are feeling is really pain.

I can hear you thinking it: duhhhh! no-brainer! But before you click off the page, let me give you this scenario: you are working out with dumb bells and you do a lot of reps with a lot of weight and the next day, your shoulders and arms hurt a lot. Is that pain or is that discomfort? Obviously, your upper body is probably going to be a little stiff and really sore from the workout, but did you injure yourself? The only way to answer that question is how much pain you are in and how long it takes you to get over it.  Achy muscles aren’t really pain (injury): they are discomfort.  When you’ve been walking a lot and your legs and feet are tired or you have burning in your muscles from exertion, or even if you are a little short of breath and your heart is pumping, you are feeling Discomfort, not actual Pain. Granted, it probably hurts to walk and you will probably be a little stiff the next day, but compare that with an injury. Say you fell and sprained your ankle while on that walk: your ankle would likely swell and you would not be able to put much weight on it, if any at all. If you’ve ever twisted an ankle or sprained any joint, you know that’s much higher on the Pain Scale than sore feet and legs!

If something you are doing causes pain, that’s a clear indication that you need to stop what you are doing, but many of us are in the opposite end of the equation: we are so afraid of Pain that as soon as we feel Discomfort, we stop.  While you don’t need to work out to the point of causing Pain, Discomfort is neither Pain nor Injury.

I admit I have hard time with the Pain Scale, mainly because it is highly individualized.  I was recently at my doctor’s office for a routine check up and we went through the Pain Scale as it relates to the arthritis in my knees and back.  I was asked to “rate my pain”: average day; bad days; better days; blah blah blah.  My problem is that I have a high tolerance for pain: when something ‘hurts,’ I ask myself the question I’ve put to you here. “Is this Pain or is this Discomfort?” Most of the time, it is just Discomfort, as in sitting causes an ache in my back or walking a lot causes an ache or stiffness in my knees.  Does it hurt enough to keep me from walking or sitting? When it does, it’s actually graduated to Pain.  That is how I differentiate between the two: when it keeps me awake at night, again it’s grown from Discomfort to Pain.

It’s up to you to determine your threshold between Pain and Discomfort.  You are the one who lives in your body and if your workout instructor wants you to do more than you feel comfortable with doing, then tell her! Even if it’s just more Discomfort than you want to live with, you are allowed to say no. One of the exercises my trainer likes to do really aggravates an old shoulder injury of mine, so I modify it to keep my shoulder from hurting the next day. I am reasonably sure it’s not an actual injury, but it bothers me enough that I don’t like dealing with it.  Does that mean I am slacking off on my workout? Not at all since I am the one who has to deal with a shoulder that hurts when I raise my arm over my head or reach for anything.  Is it Pain or just Discomfort? While I don’t usually take anything when it happens, I’d call it Discomfort, but at the same time feeling the twinge each time I raise my arm or reach, it is still uncomfortable!

This brings us to the other issue when it comes to Pain and Discomfort: how we medicate ourselves.  Many of us are told repeatedly that if it hurts, take a pill! “There’s no reason to be in Pain!” That is correct.  Pain is debilitating and depressing and chronic pain drains victims of concentration, energy and happiness. There is no reason to suffer with it if you can alleviate it.  But again, Discomfort is not Pain, and while you are the judge of what counts as Pain or Discomfort in your body, we should not be afraid of feeling a little Discomfort, especially if our fear of ‘hurting’ is getting in the way our being active. Sore muscles and a little stiffness should not be anything to be afraid of and if it’s too much Discomfort for you, it is a temporary condition! There is a reason trainers shout No Pain, No Gain at their clients: the more you use those muscles, the more you have to work to make them sore. In short, if you keep moving those muscles and joints, they will get stronger and eventually, they will hurt less, so while it’s not exactly “No Pain, No Gain,” it’s close enough to make the point.

 

 

Feeling the Burn?: Fitness Isn’t About Weight Loss

One of the myths about weight loss is that we have to exercise if we are going to lose weight.  Exercise and being active are great things and they can really improve our quality of life, but when it comes to losing weight, exercise is only about 10% of the equation.  The truth is that our diet and nutrition make up the other 90%.

We’ve all heard the expression “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet,” and it’s the truth.  When you think about that burger and fries you had on the weekend, it’s likely over 1100 calories.  How many sit-ups, crunches and miles on the treadmill will it take to burn off 1100 calories? Depending on your weight and muscle mass, you could spend all day in the gym working to get off those calories, let alone burning anything else you ate that day!

What really drives weight loss is a consistent healthy diet. What foods go into that diet is up to you.  There are always people who promote one style of eating over another but the real test is you and your body.  If you can lose weight and feel healthy on a vegan diet, then go for it! Personally, I can’t do the “vegan thing” but I do manage vegetarian on occasion. I am a fan of Paleo, which contains a whole lot of veggies contrary to those people who think it’s all about meat, but whatever works for you is the only thing that counts.

The first thing about weight loss and diet everyone thinks of is calories of course.  We need to eat fewer calories than our bodies burn so that it can burn the stored calories aka ‘fat.’ Too many people take this Calories In v Calories Out (CICO) thinking to the extreme and do a starvation diet and heavy exercise to lose as much weight as fast as they can.  This is the kind of thinking that got The Biggest Loser ‘winners’ into trouble.  Our bodies have a one track mentality: stay alive! So when it comes to low calorie input and heavy calorie expenditure, it turns down all the other systems it controls in order to conserve resources (aka ‘fat) so that it has calories to burn later on.  This is why we often feel tired or cold when we go on the Crash diet: our body is reacting to the drastically reduced calories.  It is also why people like those Biggest Loser ‘winners’ can exercise over two hours a day, eat 1000 calories and still gain weight: our metabolic set point has been lowered by low calorie input + high calorie output.

The fact is that eating a healthy diet consistently is what works the best without our feeling fatigued all the time, working out all the time and starving all the time.  Our bodies don’t turn down the metabolic set point and we can still lose weight.

So why exercise? Because another truth about our bodies is “use it or lose it.” If we don’t use the muscles and systems we have, our bodies stop putting in the maintenance.  Remember when you broke your arm or leg and after six weeks in the cast, your arm/ leg was a lot smaller than the other one (not to mention hairier?) It’s because for those few weeks, you didn’t use the muscles in that limb, so they atrophied. The same thing happens with our bones: not being used? The body sends those minerals to somewhere else in the body where they can be used or just expels them. This is the reason working out with weights has become a hot issue for older people who want to save bone mass: it not only builds muscles but bones as well! When we get out and move our muscles and bones, our bodies keep maintaining them. It’s when we stop moving and lifting and walking and bending and stretching that our bodies stop putting resources into our bones and muscles, and seriously, other than bones and muscles, what else are we made of?

The other benefit to exercise is that it keeps our joints lubricated, so to speak.  You know when you’ve been sitting for a long period of time and when you stand up, you feel stiff? Imagine how stiff you’d feel if you’d been sitting for days!  There is a science behind how our bodies begin creating a sitting framework that we have to break out of once we begin moving again, but the simple truth is that if we don’t move, our joints, muscles and bones forget how to do it.  They are out of practice and this is dangerous because this is where people get hurt. We all know that one of the biggest dangers for older people is falling and breaking a hip. These fractures usually result in surgery and it’s the beginning of a downward spiral for many of these patients. The sad part is that many people stop being active because they are afraid of breaking a hip or a bone, which leads to decreased bone and muscle mass and stiff joints, which just makes them more vulnerable to falling and breaking a bone.  Talk about a downward spiral!

I have heard trainers advise that it’s the stiffness in the waist and hips that cause most people to lose their balance.  They don’t reach, bend, twist or squat so the middle part of their body (the torso or core) loses the ability to do so, and when they are knocked off balance, they fall instead of twisting or sitting or reaching.  Result? Broken bone!  While I am not a young thing anymore, I like to think I’m not exactly “old” yet (yeah, I’m deluding myself!) but I recently had a similar experience which really added to my understanding of how this happens. I got up in the middle of the night and as I was walking around the bed to get to the hallway, I stepped on one of the dogs’ tennis balls and lost my balance.  Instead of falling like a tree straight on the bed on my side, I twisted and ended up sitting down hard on the bed.  While I don’t think hitting the bed would’ve broken anything, my butt still has a lot more padding than my ribs or my arm so instead of ending up with bruises, I ended up with just a little muscle strain from the hard twist and in less than a couple of days, it was forgotten (after I picked up the tennis balls!) When people fall, they usually don’t have time to think “how can I fall so I don’t hurt myself?” but our bodies react to protect themselves. I didn’t think “twist so you land on your butt!”; my body just did it once I realized I’d lost my balance. The fact that I was able to move to minimize any injury is due to regular exercise: two-three times a week in the pool.  Even if you can’t get to a gym or exercise regularly, all you need to practice squats is a chair: sit down, stand up, repeat as often as possible! If you can add a stretch to the other side of your knees, even better.

There are some benefits to weight loss with working out: you do burn calories when you exercise and you maintain or build muscle, which burns more calories than fat, so the more muscles you build, the more you exercise, the more calories your body can burn.  Many people also find that the more they move, the more they want to move! Honestly, I dreaded the thought of working out even in the pool, and I am still reluctant to change clothes and take time out of my day to work out, but once I am there and afterwards, I have to admit that I feel much better and frankly, it’s a lot of fun to move! Unfortunately, when people believe that exercise is going to be the key to weight loss, they get angry or disappointed when they spend a lot of time at the gym and lose only a minimal amount of weight.  That’s because they are still eating most of the same foods that caused them to gain the weight.  Real weight loss begins and ends with what goes into your mouth! Exercise and activity are important components in a healthy lifestyle, even if they don’t have major parts to play in weight loss. Staying as mobile and flexible as possible is the best thing you can do for yourself and your weight because a body in motion tends to stay in motion while a body at rest just gets stiff.

Motivating Weight Loss: Oysters, Big Fruit & Cliches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Comfort Zone Workout: Weight Loss & Pushing Your Boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Doing For Yourself: Weight Loss & Decision Fatigue

There is a lot to be said for doing things yourself.  The list of things I prefer others to do for me is pretty short and mainly consists of driving places I don’t like to go.  Obviously the more others do for you, the less you do for yourself, but what we forget is how much of the decision-making is out of your control.  When I let someone else do the driving, we leave on their schedule, follow the route they want to take, stop when they want to stop and return when they want to return.  A friend of mine was visiting some long time friends who had moved some distance away and she went along as a passenger with some mutual friends. It was going to take a couple of hours to drive there and since her car is a compact, they all decided to take the bigger car and she would not be driving.  The trip was going great….. until the driver and family decided they wanted to stay much longer than they initially planned on.  As a result, my friend ended up getting home well past midnight (instead of around seven or eight).  She was very tired and fairly concerned about her dog, who had been left inside in the dark, since she’d planned on getting home when it was still daylight (summer time).  She came home to a dark house and a frantic dog who could hardly hold it much longer.  Next time, she vowed she was taking her car and they could meet her there!

This is an example of unintended and unforeseen abdication of control.  My friend was perfectly happy contributing to the gas and letting someone else work the GPS but what she hadn’t intended to give up was the freedom to decide when to leave.  They had agreed to leave at a certain time, but the driver made an ‘executive decision’ and as a passenger, she had no choice in the matter. She was literally along for the ride.

This happens to us whenever we let others do things for us.  We lose our control of the situation and depending on what it is they are doing for us, we might not learn how to do it for ourselves. Being ignorant keeps us under their control too!  Dr. Nowzaradan on My 600 lb Life looks for this controlling mentality in his patients’ enablers.  Some of them are content to keep the patient dependent on them since this dependence gives them control over the patient.  Obviously if you can’t go to the grocery store, you are dependent on someone else to do it for you and you are at their mercy when it comes to what they buy!

I remember one of his patients shopping at a grocery store for the first time.  Although he had a personal care assistant with him, he was essentially on his own in the store, making his own decisions.  As they passed the produce section, he pointed to a fruit and asked his assistant what it was: “That’s a mango?!” It was fairly obvious that there was more than the just the mango that was unfamiliar to him, but he had always had others do things for him and he was reluctant to have to do them for himself. It’s hard learning to do things for yourself.

One of the excuses Dr. Nowzaradan hears a lot is “I have to eat what they bring me.”  While a lot of his patients are either bed-bound or cannot stand long enough to cook for themselves, most of us are not in that situation.  We let someone else make the decision about meals or food and we just accept it, even if pasta or chicken nuggets really aren’t on our meal plan. “Oh, well. It’s what he/she/ they made for dinner!” We are letting them do the planning, preparing and cooking because we don’t want to be bothered with it. When we’re out with friends, they decide on the restaurant because we let them.

There is actually a syndrome called Decision Fatigue.  According to studies, the more decisions we make in a limited amount of time, the more our mental resources are depleted and the worse our decisions become.  The studies theorize this is why we opt for pizza at the end of a long day: our willpower and mental resources are zero so rather than try to get water from a dry well, we choose something ‘easy’ which isn’t the best choice for us!

But we can’t get decision fatigue if we don’t make any decisions! If we let others make all or most of our decisions for us, not only are we at their mercy, we are at the mercy of their decision fatigue! They’ve likely been making decisions all day and they come home to find us waiting for dinner: “I’d like to order a large pizza…..”

If our ability to make decisions is like a muscle, then we need to make sure it doesn’t get flabby.  We also know muscles atrophy when they aren’t used so we need to keep it toned.  That means when our friend asks if we have any preferences about where to go for lunch, we can say “anything but fast food!” That’s a decision, albeit a simple one.  I get that question every time I go out to meet friends: they want to know if I have any thoughts about getting food.  Usually, I don’t so my own decision is along those lines: “anything but sandwiches!” or “I’m open to ABC or XYZ.”  We don’t have to reply with “I wanted a grilled chicken breast with roast red peppers and garlic zucchini noodles.”  You can always ask “what are my options?” or “what did you want?” and go from there!

The other problem that comes with letting others do for you is that you don’t learn how to do it yourself.  As a legal secretary, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to an attorney at another firm whose told me “my assistant is out sick today and I don’t know how to fax something over to you.” You can also substitute “scan” for “fax.”  The idea is the same: as the attorney, they are used to giving the documents to the assistant slash secretary and having them get it filed or transmitted or somehow taken care of and when the assistant is out, the attorney is hobbled. One of mine keeps trying to ‘fax’ on our scanner and doesn’t know how to access the voicemail on our new phone system- I have to keep showing him! While it is beyond annoying to have to stop to show him or fix the scanner, he really gets points for trying to do these on his own.  He doesn’t want to be at the mercy of someone else when it comes to getting things done.

One of the commercials I see a lot is one encouraging parents to teach their children to cook, a very necessary skill! I know there are a lot of parents who don’t do it because they don’t want their kids getting hurt in the kitchen when no one else is home.  It’s a valid fear, but they are also dooming their child to take out and microwave food when they get older. My 27 year old cousin had no idea how to cook anything other than condensed soup and microwave bacon when he moved out.  Seriously, no joke.  Why? Because MOM always cooked for him!

Think about how many decisions we make when it comes to weight loss. We decide what we are going to eat, how much we are going to eat, how often we are going to eat, and in each of those decisions are many little decisions. If we are going to have eggs for breakfast: fried, scrambled, boiled, poached? Quiche or frittata?  with veggies? with crust? with meat or cheese? Do we want anything with the eggs? How many eggs? What about skipping breakfast? What about lunch? With just those two meals alone, it’s easy to see how we can get decision fatigue! But like any muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets, and with a little planning, we can learn to skirt decision fatigue. For my part, when I come home, I make sure I have healthy options because I made healthy choices when I wasn’t fatigued.  I don’t have everything planned out for dinner, but I have some salad greens and some healthy protein choices that don’t take a lot of work.

I’d like to say that this came naturally to me, but it didn’t.  It was one of those things I learned on my own, and I learned it because I chose to make my own decisions over and over again at the grocery store. It took some time to try out one choice and try another when that one didn’t work out as well as I wanted.  It was a lot of flexing that decision muscle on a long learning curve.  It took practice to get that planning muscle strong and toned but it was worth the effort! As with any exercise, the more you do it, the easier it gets!

The more we learn to do on our own with shopping, cooking and planning, the more choices we have available to us.  The more we can grow, experiment and find things that work for us and not only with weight loss. When we learn to do things for ourselves, we feel more secure when we let someone else make a decision for us.  If we feel secure with making choices at a fast food restaurant, it’s okay if our family wants fast food for dinner.  We can get them what they want and still get ourselves something that we feel good about too.   It takes practice and it means we have to make a decision for ourselves.  It’s not always easy but like riding a bike, we never forget how to do it, and we’re never just along for ride!