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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Responsible Holiday Partying: Weight Loss & Holiday Temptations

Responsibility stinks.  There is something liberating about abdicating responsibility.  When you are not responsible for an action or a behavior, it allows you to act with impunity because “nothing is your fault.”  This is especially true when it comes to dieting and weight loss.  When you show up for that holiday gathering and everything offered to eat is full of calories, sugar, fat or carbs, what are supposed to do? You have to eat it! There’s no choice! It’s not your fault! That’s a wonderfully liberating feeling: you can eat without guilt!

Except….you really do have a choice.  You can say “no thank you” and not eat what is offered, or you can eat only a little of the healthiest options so as not to appear rude.  Holiday gatherings are always the hardest for those of us working to lose weight.  A lot of us choose to deal with these kinds of parties as Cheat Days. We essentially give ourselves permission to eat the way we want to eat when we’re out at a holiday event. We know there are going to be all kinds of treats of special foods and we aren’t going to be able to resist anyway, so we might as well eat them and enjoy them! “It’s a Cheat Day!”

Those of us who been down this road before know that while it looks good, it’s really a trap. The Holiday Season runs pretty much from October through January where I am and it’s usually full of potential Cheat Days: there’s the Halloween parties; there’s the Thanksgiving meals; there’s Christmas and Hanukkah parties, and then there’s the big New Year’s Eve bash.  Everyone everywhere is celebrating something and then there’s all the holiday treats that make it into the office and your home. Consumable gifts are very common, so there’s cookies, chocolates, cupcakes, candies and liquor going back and forth.  They’re there in the office break room, just calling to you! And we all know how it starts: “one won’t hurt!”

The temptation to abdicate responsibility is there: those sugary coffee drinks/ cupcakes/ cookies/ muffins are irresistible! “It’s only for the holidays! I’m allowed to celebrate, right?” Except we end up celebrating ourselves back into our “fat pants” and by New Year’s, we are resolving to lose those Christmas pounds we put back on! As a result, we end up starting the New Year feeling depressed, as if all the hard work we put in during the spring and summer was completely undone by the Holiday Season because, well, it was undone by holiday eating!

This is the Most Dangerous Time of the Year when it comes to weight loss because of the built-in excuses: we can’t keep resisting the temptation of all these delicious seasonal treats and we’re allowed to celebrate, aren’t we? Yes, we can ‘celebrate’ as much as we want to but at the risk of being a real Scrooge here, we don’t have to eat the cookies to have a good time at the party.

I admit I am a confirmed caffeine addict and this time of year, Starbucks is full of their ‘holiday beverages.’  Two of my favorites are the Eggnog Latte and the Chestnut Praline Latte, both of which are chock-full of calories and sugar! I love those things, but I discovered that I love them more when I don’t have them all the time. Usually, I have between two and four of them during the holiday season and I tend to reserve them for times when I am celebrating with friends.  Yes, I choose to celebrate by indulging in a rare holiday coffee beverage when I am out with friends, but I am just as likely to choose not to have one too.  My friends don’t know or care if I have the seasonal coffee drinks or not, and if we are having a bigger meal than usual later on, I might want to adjust my calories accordingly.  The point of getting together with my friends is to socialize, not stuff myself full of fat and sugar.

I know how tempting it is to give in and have something unusual and decadent! Some of these seasonal treats look amazing and I have tried a few of them. In my experience, most of them look better than they taste! A few years ago, I gave in and had a snowman cookie. While it looked yummy, it wasn’t. It was a bland overly sweet sugar cookie– tasteless in my opinion.  Cute and seasonal, yes; worth the sugar and calories? Definitely not! (I’d have done better to save those calories for an Eggnog Latte– that would have been worth it!)

We don’t have to Scrooge to lose weight in the holidays but we do need to take a page from his book and keep an eye on where we are spending our calories. I know there are people who scoff at calorie counting and while we don’t need to count every olive and nut we put in our mouths, we do need to keep an eye on the bigger picture! Having a cookie isn’t off limits but maybe we can cap the cookie count at two? The same is true for the parties and events: we don’t have to turn down the invitations but maybe it might be a good idea to decide which ones we are really going to eat at and which ones we’re going to do more hors d’oeurves, which ones we’re going to choose to have alcohol and which ones are going to be alcohol-free.

This is the time to celebrate and enjoy the company of family and friends. We don’t have to resist all the treats and temptations as long as we remember we are responsible for what we choose to eat.  Sometimes it really does help to remember all the hard work we’ve done during the year.  It took a long time to lose the weight we’ve lost so far.  Do we really want to put it all back on because we don’t want to pass on the snowman cookies?

 

Broaden Your Perspective: Weight Loss & Tunnel Vision

This is kind of a follow up to my last post about being consistent.  One of the reasons we go off the rails is that get locked into “All or Nothing” thinking.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Dead Poet’s Society, there’s the scene where Robin Williams takes the boys out into the courtyard and has them walk in a circle until they are marching as a unit (Dead Poets Society Lock Step Scene).  We fall into the same routine when we get locked into that All or Nothing Mentality: we are so laser-focused on staying low cal/ low carb/ clean eating/ keto /whatever, that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Today follows yesterday and tomorrow follows today and we need to eat clean, eat healthy, eat low carb…..ahhhhh!!! Suddenly, we’re looking in the fridge and all that’s there are bags of salad greens and boneless skinless turkey breast! “How the heck did that happen?!”

If those are foods you love to eat, then don’t worry about it.  I usually have bags of butter lettuce-spinach mix in my fridge mainly because it’s a favorite with me and my dogs (they love it!) As for turkey breast, not a fan at all! Even with skin, if it’s in my fridge, it’s an accident and it’ll probably end up in the dogs’ bowl unless I fry it up with something else or add it to a salad (even then…) But the point is that we get locked into thinking that anything other than steamed veggies or salad greens is unhealthy or too many calories or carbs.  The same thing with any other proteins than chicken/ turkey breast and egg whites.  Everything else has too much fat, too many calories or it’s just not healthy! So we end up subsisting on ‘healthy foods’ that we’ve eaten for weeks on end and we are dying for something different! There we are, picking up trash bags and paper towels at Walmart and before we know it, we’re walking out of the store with the paper towels, the trash bags and two boxes of microwave popcorn (one is kettle corn), a bag of Hershey’s miniatures and a 6 pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups! We don’t mean to go off the rails, but we just couldn’t take another day of egg white omelets, steamed broccoli and grilled chicken breast!

We’ve been so focused on Healthy-Low Cal-Healthy-Low Cal-Healthy-Low Cal, march-march-marching along like Robin Williams’ school boys that we forget there are other foods that are also healthy and also fit in our weight loss plan.  We’ve lost sight of the forest because we’ve been staring so long at the trees right in front of us! This is a big reason why we suddenly snap and eat a whole bag of Doritos during the football game.  We don’t really like Doritos, but, hey, they weren’t carrot sticks! To add insult to injury, we beat ourselves up after we cram the empty bag into the bottom of the trash can: “what’s wrong with me? why do I always sabotage myself?”

The irony is that it wasn’t so much the Doritos that sabotaged your weight loss as it was the weeks of spinach- egg white omelets and steamed broccoli with chicken breast.  Yes, those are healthy and yes, they encouraged your weight loss, but they were also setting you up for a binge! I don’t mean that ‘eating healthy’ or ‘eating for weight loss’ is always going to deprive you and leave you bingeing your brains out on junk food, but limiting yourself to only a few “healthy” foods will cause you to crave something different- whatever that something might be!

It doesn’t happen only with “healthy” foods either. If you were eating junk food day after day, you’d start craving something homemade or something simple.  There have been times when we’ve all really wanted a crunchy salad, in my case it was because I’d been eating French fries forever! There are biologists who will tell you that humans’ love of diversity comes from a biological imperative to make sure we are getting enough nutrients. While that is no doubt true, it’s the $10 explanation for why we crave novelty and change.  When we’ve been eating beans forever, it doesn’t matter what it is that crosses our plates– we will eat it as long as it’s not beans!

While eating across a wider band of healthy foods is more likely to keep your hand out of the Doritos, it is also more likely to keep you healthier overall, for that very reason those expensive biologists mentioned! We’ve all heard the horror stories about Bob’s sister’s best friend Janis who lived on carrot sticks and fat-free ranch dressing, lost 50 lbs but turned bright orange! While that is an extreme example (yes, it does happen!), when we limit ourselves to only a few foods, we are also limiting our nutrition. Maybe you’ve heard the expression “eat across the rainbow”? Different colors in fruits and veggies signal different nutrients, so when you eat more colors, you get more nutrition that only eating the green ones or the yellow ones!

While staying consistent means staying healthy, it doesn’t mean it has to stay bland, tasteless or boring.  We can eat great food we love that’s good for us, low calorie, nutrient dense and full of flavor and stay consistent!  It just takes a little more imagination and we definitely need to remember the bigger picture but we should never be afraid to try something different!

 

 

The Weight Loss Guarantee No One Talks About

When we see commercials for weight loss or fitness programs, they almost always have some kind of 30 day or six week guarantee.  You follow their program for the requisite number of days, and “if you don’t lose weight/ inches, we’ll refund your money!” Of course, there is always the caveat that “you WILL lose weight/ inches” because you’ll be following their program (yeahhhhh, riiiighht!) but no one ever guarantees that you’ll keep the weight off and won’t have to do this again.

There is one guaranteed method of losing weight and keeping it off, but no one likes to talk about it.  It’s not glamorous or ‘trending’ or novel.  It’s Consistency. We all know about it but we hate doing it, so most of us don’t!  We know we should eat more veggies and less processed/ packaged foods, but.…. We know we should avoid the sweets, the carbs, the treats that aren’t good for us, but……one won’t hurt, right??  We make exception after exception because it’s So & So’s birthday/ anniversary/ celebration etc.  Then it’s a holiday or another special occasion or a ‘special’ treat so we cram those treats down even though they’re # 10 or more on our list of ‘exceptions.’  Then we wonder how we got so far off-track or why we stopped making progress or how we managed to gain X amount of pounds when we haven’t eaten ‘that much!’  This is the first sign that we’ve become Inconsistent: we stop making progress, i.e. losing weight!

Then comes the second consequence of Inconsistency: “why is it so hard to resist temptation??” Because we have taught ourselves that we can eat whatever we want! Yes: we have taught ourselves this bad habit! It might be nice to blame all those people who had birthdays or brought cookies or shared candy or other treats but they didn’t make you eat them! Even if they pushed them at you with the “one won’t hurt” excuse, you were still free to say firmly but politely: “no thank you.” It also wouldn’t have been out of line to give the brief explanation: “they’re not good for me.”  But we didn’t say that, did we? We said “thanks!” and helped ourselves! ……And now here we are, our progress stalled or erased and we are once more struggling with cravings and temptations that we really want to give in to, when just a few months ago, we would hardly have noticed that the grocery store has that great bread from that restaurant chain or that the Peanut Butter M&M’s are on sale for Halloween.

This is where most people just tune out because no one wants to hear that it’s our own fault and that staying Consistent would have bypassed these issues entirely! We don’t want to be Consistent because it’s BORRR–INNNNGGG!! Eating nutritious healthy low calorie food every day is just so old and tired! I’m tired of eating healthy food that helps me lose weight! I want to eat all the cookies and bread and sugar that makes me feel like crap and makes me gain back all the weight! Of course, we don’t actually say that to ourselves but it’s still the truth.  We lie to ourselves by making the ‘celebration’ excuse or the ‘one won’t hurt’ excuse, but at the end of the day, the truth is that most of these treats that we want to eat don’t make us feel good, they get in the way of our reaching our goals, and they make it harder for us to resist temptation.  But they were yummy, right?

“Eh…they were okay….” This is also usually the truth.  Most of the time, these treats aren’t as good as we remember them being and even if they are good, they last only as long as it takes to eat them: about a minute or so.  Was that minute worth the cravings and sacrificing your progress?  Add all those minutes up and weigh them against feeling cruddy, gaining weight and fighting temptation: worth it? Yes or no?

I can only answer for myself: NO, they weren’t worth it.  Some were good (bread is nearly always yummy for me!) but at the same time, I know what happens to me when I eat bread: I retain water like a freakin’ sponge, my hunger shoots through the roof about an hour after eating it and the next day, my hands hurt.  Nothing like a pin-through-your-thumb-joint kind of pain to get your attention and remind you “Yep! You chose to eat that bread!” As much as I love bread, it’s not worth the ‘hangover’ I have to suffer through for the next couple of days or so until the grains and carbs get cleared from my body.

But is Consistency really boring?  Not unless we make it boring!  For most of us, there are a lot of foods on that healthy and nutritious list, but we either don’t want to make them or we just crave novelty. Right now, there are dozens of new books hitting the stores almost every day full of delicious, low calorie healthy recipes and, if you don’t want to buy a book, the same kinds of recipes are available for free on Instagram, Facebook, websites and blogs! All you have to do is Google!  You can eat something different that’s healthy, low calorie, low carb and unprocessed every day if you choose to do the work! (FYI: I Googled for you & there are links below!)

Myself, I choose not to do that much work with cooking! It’s too much of a hassle for me and I am seriously happy with much more simple recipes like “fried hamburger.”  I am also just as happy with steamed veggies, tossed salad and –whoa!– sweet potato fries! (Those last almost qualify as ‘a hassle’ for me!) But those are the kinds of foods I like to eat, and if I get bored, I can change it up by getting roasted chicken or simply switching to another protein that I enjoy such as pork, lamb or even an omelette.  The same is true with the vegetables: if I get bored with one, just switch to another! It sounds simple and it is! I don’t have to choose between Mexican or Chinese or Indian food in order to eat what I like, and even among those foods, there are still dishes I can enjoy that meet my guidelines.  Last week I met friends at a Mexican restaurant and had chicken caseras: grilled chicken on a bed of shredded cabbage and onions with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo– and it was really really good! Even more importantly, after enjoying something different and delicious, I didn’t feel cruddy afterwards!

Also as a bonus, how hard would it be for me to make something like that at home? It’s something even I could do: get a bag of shredded cabbage, chop an onion, chop up some rotisserie chicken breast and mix it up with some fresh pico, sour cream and guacamole! Yummy, healthy and– most shocking of all– it’s Consistent with my goals! I can eat something like this every week or every day and stay Consistent with my weight loss, health and nutrition goals! How boring is Consistency from this viewpoint?

What happens with most of us (me included) is we get stuck in a rut.  It’s easy to fill the fridge with rotisserie chicken and bagged veggies so we forget that there’s a whole array of foods and recipes that are available to us. In that situation, yes, Consistency is boring, but it doesn’t have to be! We don’t know what to look for or we get lazy and rather than try to find something new that stays within our eating guidelines, we go back to what we used to eat.  The problem is the way we used to eat is what caused us to gain weight and feel cruddy all the time.  We call it a treat or a special occasion but all we are treating ourselves to is failed goals, a blood sugar roller coaster, weight gain and added aches and pains.  Personally, I don’t think of any of those things as “treats!”

Food For Thought

Nom Nom Paleo

Paleo Leap

Primal Potential

Eating Clean

 

 

It Really IS About What Goes In Your Mouth!: Weight Loss, Food & Nutrition

I recently watched a rerun of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now? featuring an update on one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s most challenging patients, James K.  Like most of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, James grew up struggling with obesity and by the time he was in his ’30’s he was already over 500 lbs.  That’s when a leg injury left him bed-bound and he has not walked since that injury.  Unfortunately, being bed-bound has added to his weight gain and by the time we meet him in his initial episode, James estimates his weight at around 700 lbs. Speaking with James via computer, Dr. Nowzaradan gave him the basic diet he gives to all of his patients (1200 calories a day and no carbs) and advised him to begin losing weight immediately.

Getting to Houston to meet with Dr. Now was a struggle in itself as James needed a bariatric ambulance to take him from Kentucky to Texas and his insurance would not cover the cost.  James’ father ended up financing the transportation, but once in Texas with his daughter and girlfriend Lisa, he continued to struggle with the diet.  After four months in Kentucky, James arrived in Houston weighing 738 lbs. Dr. Now admitted him to the hospital to begin running tests and to put him on a controlled diet to get his weight down.  Unfortunately, after losing over 100 lbs in the hospital, James moved to his apartment to continue losing on his own, but what followed was the beginning of a vicious cycle of weight gain followed by hospitalization and controlled weight loss only to regain again at home.  Despite Dr. Now’s warnings regarding his deteriorating health, James and Lisa were unable to control his eating and he continued to gain weight. His constant gaining was followed by heart problems, kidney problems, and cellulitis infections in his legs.  After one arrival at the hospital, James and Lisa are shocked to learn that he’s at 843 lbs.

From the outside, it’d be easy to say “what the heck is wrong with you two?!” but they were as mystified as Dr. Now was frustrated.  Despite his repeated attempts to explain to them what they are doing wrong, they remained as confused and frustrated as Dr. Nowzaradan.  Obviously, something was going wrong, but they could not understand what it was.

Quite simply, it was the food. I know you are thinking “no sh*t, Sherlock!” right now, but for James and Lisa, it really was mystifying.  While they were obviously cheating on the diet more than they admitted, it wasn’t really the “cheat meals” that were causing the problems as much as it was all the other food he was also eating.  While I obviously wasn’t there with them and only know what I saw on the tv, I’ve got a pretty good guess as to some of the stumbling blocks tripping them up: 1) nutritional ignorance; 2) portion  distortion; and 3) cravings.

As a former Basic English instructor, I learned early on never to assume that people know “The Basics.” I remember going over a lesson on sentence construction, explaining how each sentence needs a subject consisting of a noun and a predicate consisting of a verb.  When I casually asked “does anyone have any questions?” I was promptly asked “what’s a noun?  Judging by the confused faces in the class, I gathered her question was echoed by most of my students. My carefully constructed lesson was pretty much wasted on them since I was essentially speaking gibberish!

I have a strong suspicion that this was part of the problem with James and Lisa.  While it’s one thing to pass out a diet plan with recommended and/ or ‘forbidden’ foods listed on it, it’s another entirely to learn to read nutrition labels or simply to identify what other foods should be included on that list of ‘forbidden foods.’  I remember a very long time ago when my dad’s doctor advised him to lower his sugar intake and my mom complained about his eating bread. I asked “what does bread have to do with how much sugar he eats?” At the time, I had no idea that bread (a starchy carbohydrate) is metabolized like sugar in the body.  In essence, a starchy carb like bread is viewed as a long string of sugars in the body. While it doesn’t look like sugar, technically our bodies turn it into sugar. It’s one thing to look at a slice of bread and think “starch” and see that one slice is allowed on the diet and it’s another thing to look at a bowl of brown rice and think it’s okay. If it’s not specifically mentioned on the diet plan, then where does that go? Is it allowed? Not allowed? For some people, it’s common sense but for others, it’s a mystery.  While those of us who’ve spent a lifetime eating off one diet plan or another know what to do, for those who have never ventured into “Diet World,” it’s literally foreign territory.  Having the doctor tell you “no carbs!” might as well have been “no finkerrupz!” for all the sense it makes to you. (Let’s not mention ‘total carbs’ vs ‘net carbs’!)

While some of you are rolling your eyes, let me remind you that we all start somewhere different when we begin this diet journey and even though a nutritionist may have been sent out to help James and Lisa learn more about food overall, not all nutritionists and/ or dieticians are created equal.  I remember my own dietician basically giving me a list of rules to follow (again regarding carbs) without ever asking me if I knew what a carbohydrate was! However, as a reader and an information-gatherer in general, when I started asking questions about nutrition, I decided that the internet (though convenient) wasn’t comprehensive enough for me and I went off to the bookstore and came home with Nutrition for Dummies.Nutrition for Dummies ) I am a big fan of the Dummies books because they assume you know nothing about the topic, so you can start at your own level.  I also realize that some people are offended when you suggest these books to them (“she called me a dummy!”)  Frankly, I have a large library of Dummies books because in my opinion, there’s a whole lotta stuff I don’t know crap about and pretending that I know more than I do is the only thing that really makes me a Dummy!

There’s also another pitfall that catches most people unawares: “I thought I knew what I was doing but I really didn’t!” This was my error when I was teaching sentence construction: I thought I was giving my students The Basics but it turned out it wasn’t basic enough! In short, I thought I knew where to start but I didn’t! Hospitals have also learned this lesson the hard way.  When patients arrive for a procedure, they make the patient explain to the nurse what’s going to happen to them.  This is the best way of making sure the patient understands what is really going to happen! I am sure James and Lisa thought he was following the diet and only cheating a little bit, when  in fact, he was probably cheating more than he wanted to admit and also eating foods that weren’t on the diet although they thought that they were.

Then there is the whole issue of portion size.  This is one of the reasons I recommend a food scale in the beginning at least (Ozeri Food Scale). When someone is used to eating a slice of cake that weighs in at a half-pound or a sandwich the size of a loaf of bread, they usually have no idea what an actual ‘portion’ looks like.  The idea that a sandwich consists of two regular slices of bread, 2 oz of meat and maybe one ounce of cheese is a real shock.  A hamburger patty really isn’t supposed to be one-third of a pound or more; it’s supposed to be about 3 oz! The same thing with a chicken breast or a piece of steak– about 3-4 oz is a ‘serving size.’  The general rule of thumb is that your protein is supposed to be about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand, not the size of your head!

It’s easy to jeer at someone weighing 700 -plus pounds who clearly doesn’t understand why he weighs so much, but the truth is that a lot of us are in the same boat.  The only difference is that while James can’t understand why he’s still over 700 lbs, we can’t figure out why we still can’t lose these same twenty pounds we’ve been trying to lose since college.  It’s usually that Terrible Trio I mentioned above: a combination of nutritional ignorance, portion distortion and cravings.  We think we are eating healthier foods in the right amounts but until we do a little investigating, we may not realize that while sweet potatoes and brown rice are better for us than white potatoes and white rice, they still have a lot of carbs and starch in them.  We also think that a serving is one whole sweet potato no matter the size or that we can eat twice as much brown rice as white rice. The truth is while we are eating healthier, we may not be eating healthy enough to lose the weight we want.

Cravings are another story entirely.  Everyone who’s tried to lose weight has fallen victim to this one, some of us more often than others.  It really doesn’t matter what the craving is for, either.  Whether it’s chocolate, bread, nuts or even something healthy like a salad, if we eat too much of it, it’s not good for us.  If it’s something not on our ‘recommended foods’ list, it only adds to the problem.  While it’s not usually a disaster when we give in to the cravings, we don’t often realize that giving in prolongs the problem.  In short, if you ‘indulge’ once a week, you begin to expect that indulgence and when you try to skip it after repeatedly giving in, it only makes it harder to resist.  For someone like James, who’s probably never resisted a temptation, the cravings can be unbearably difficult. For someone like Lisa who is used to giving him what he wants, the response is probably close to automatic: he wants it? he gets it.

Making the changes James and Lisa need to make to lose weight and improve his health likely requires more adjustments and education than they anticipated.  It means a complete restructuring of their home life and habits.  It not only means throwing out all the foods not on the diet, it means re-learning how to eat, how to buy food that’s healthy and how to think about what we eat. Like most of us, James thought he could out-exercise his cheating and bad food choices, but we all know we’d be jogging all day to ‘cancel out’ that burger and fries lunch or the pie or whatever ‘indulgence’ we had.  Losing weight permanently takes significant changes and these need to be permanent if our weight loss is to stay permanent.  That means re-thinking what’s normally on the menu and what’s not, what a real portion size is and what’s too much, and whether that slice of carrot cake is really worth it.  It means keeping an open mind about The Basics and even changing those Basics if need be.  It’s not an easy adjustment to make but when your quality of life depends on it, are you really going to trade that for carrot cake?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss & Holiday Treats: Yummy or Not, Here They Come!

We are coming up on the holiday season, and after the Summer Swim Suit Season, this is probably the one that dieters hate most.  “OMG! There’s food EVERYWHERE!” And, it’s never very healthy food either.  It would be different if we had trays of roasted Brussels sprouts on every flat surface or people brought platters full of carrot sticks to share at work, but other than the occasional luncheon crudité platter that no one touches and eventually dries out, most of the holiday food is sweet and full of calories and carbs, but not a lot of anything nutritious.

This is where we feel super-self-conscious about turning down the proffered cookies or the pumpkin bread or anything else some tries to share with us.  We don’t want to be rude and we don’t want to feel like we’re making everyone else feel bad for eating them.  “He/she’s being so good and not eating any of these!”  At the risk of being Negative Nancy, you are not responsible for anyone’s guilt: if they feel guilty for eating the brownies and sugar cookie snowmen, that is their responsibility! (Those ‘treats’ aren’t any healthier for them than they are for you!) If they want to spend January and February losing those Holiday Pounds, that is their choice: you choose not to gain them!

The other danger with all these ‘treats’ is that most of them are just there for the mindless eating. We tend not to pay attention and just grab what’s next to us and eat it, whether it’s something we like or not. Frankly, I ate a lot of Twizzlers that way.  I don’t like Twizzlers and never have (they taste like bland sugary plastic to me.) If you give me a choice of licorice, I’d choose Red Vines (or black) every time! Twizzlers? Blecchh! But somehow, when there was nothing else left in the Halloween candy bowl, yup! I ate them! Why?? Ummm…. because they were there…..?? Yes. Really. That was the reason: they were there!  Even worse, while I was eating them, I would be thinking how they weren’t really good and how I wished they were really Red Vines, but that didn’t stop me from finishing off the bland plasticky Twizzlers! It really is mindless eating. While no one forced me to eat junk food I didn’t really like, the idea of saying no to them was utterly foreign to me.”You mean I can just throw them away? But that’s a waste of food!” As if there were anything nutritious about Twizzlers! (No offense to Twizzlers.)

The point of having a treat is to give yourself something a little special, as in doing something good for yourself.  Is stuffing your face full of blah run-of-the-mill sugar cookies doing something special for yourself? It’s like me with the Twizzlers! If I’d really wanted to treat myself to something I’d enjoy that wasn’t nutritious, I’d have gone to the grocery store and bought a package of the licorice I really do enjoy instead of eating “plastic candy.”  There are better ways of “treating” yourself than junk food but we tend not to think of them as real ‘treats.’  These can be real foods like apples, figs or nuts, or something like utterly radical like going to bed an hour earlier! They are not only beneficial to your mind and body, but who knows? You might actually enjoy them!

How you define a ‘treat’ is totally up to you.  One of my special treats for dessert is dish of dried figs and some Brie.  It’s basically a fruit & cheese plate but I love it!  A treat also doesn’t have to be food.  Some of you may know I have two poodle mixes, Remy (5) and Bentley (18 months) and while they are both poodle mixes, they have very different personalities. Bentley loves a new cookie or a chewer but Remy? His idea of a treat is several minutes of playing fetch! Give him a choice of a food treat or his favorite fetch ball, and woof! throw the ball! If he even takes the cookie from my hand, it’s left in his bed for Bentley to steal.  He’d rather play with the ball every time.  Why? Because for him, playing fetch is something more special than any cookie or chewer I can offer. He doesn’t care if Bentley eats all his cookies and if all the chewers end up in Bentley’s bed, as long as the fetch toys stay in his!

In the end, it’s up to you to decide what is really a treat for you.  If you love Twizzlers and decide that’s what you are going to indulge in this holiday, good for you! (I will gladly donate my share!) My only advice when it comes to treats, Twizzlers or not, is this: make sure it is something you mindfully enjoy! Whether it’s taking a day off to binge The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with a bowl of popcorn, or sleeping late on Sunday morning or even finishing off the last of the pumpkin loaf, as long as it is something special and enjoyable to you and you are paying attention to your enjoyment of it, then it really counts as a TREAT.  Scarfing down the last popcorn ball as you’re running out the door to Target doesn’t count as a treat because, really, did you enjoy that popcorn ball? If and when you decide to treat yourself, then make the most of it! Set aside the time to enjoy that bowl of popcorn! Save the pumpkin loaf for a time when you can eat it without being rushed or distracted! Or if it’s sleeping in or lounging on the sofa with a book, then do it without distraction or interruption.  This is your treat after all, whether it’s edible or not!

 

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!

 

Weight Loss & The Cheat Meal: It’s All About Mileage

There is not much more in dieting and weight loss that is more controversial than The Cheat Meal.  There are advocates who swear a Cheat Meal keeps you from going off the rails (and eating a whole cheesecake) and then there are detractors who swear that it creates cravings and leads to you eating the whole cheesecake you were trying to avoid! Depending on who or what you Google, you can find flood of “research” on both sides.  So, The Cheat Meal: yes or no?  My answer? “Eventually.”

I like to compare a Cheat Meal to taking a long road trip. Obviously when you are learning to drive or just gotten your license, are you going to take a long car trip?  Those of you with teen drivers, take a good look at them: are you going to let them drive a hundred miles by themselves with that brand new license in their pocket?  Of course not! They don’t have the experience! They might think that they do, but you and I both know that there are a lot of situations out there that they’ve never encountered. Once they’ve been around the block a few thousand times and maybe driven some distances with an adult, then they can set out on their own, when everyone is a little more confident in their ability to handle a car a long way from home on their own.

The Cheat Meal is the metaphorical Road Trip of your weight loss experience.  You remember the first time you had to back out of parking space into traffic? Just a little bit hairy! Remember the first time you got lost in a strange town? (Even scarier before Google Maps!) Or how about the first time your car died on the highway on the way to somewhere else? (“How can I call AAA when I don’t even know where I am?”) The first time these things happen to you, it’s scary and confusing and, let’s face it, you are more likely to make a mistake.  The same thing happens when you try indulging in a Cheat Meal too soon!

When you have been following your weight loss plan for some time, you develop consistency.  We all know that’s the cornerstone of weight loss: if you eat better 95% of the time, then you are going to be healthier simply because you aren’t eating a lot of unhealthy food. That is pretty much a given: healthy whole foods 95% of the time beat junk food 5% of the time.  The problem is, like our teen drivers, we think we know what we’re doing! We think we are consistent when our consistency is still pretty new. We think a few months is enough time for us to be “consistent.” When we compare it to driving we know that a few months behind the wheel is nothing! I don’t mean that you have be consistently eating healthy for five years before you can have a Cheat Meal, but let’s face it: when you get excited about having a Cheat Meal, that’s probably a clue that you haven’t been consistent long enough!

Most of us get a little apprehensive when we are planning a long road trip but how much of that anxiety is directly related to driving the car? I don’t mean being anxious about things like packing the car or confirming hotel reservations or making sure you brought sunscreen.  Other than plugging the hotel’s address into Google Maps or Garmin, most of us don’t think about the driving other than maybe “I’ve got gas, right?” That’s because at this point in our lives, actually driving a car is not a big deal.  We fuss over the little things like the cord for the iPod or the phone charger for the car, which are not really related to driving the car in traffic on the highway.  If you get anxious about passing someone on the highway or making a U turn at an intersection, maybe you aren’t ready to take that road trip behind the wheel.

It’s the same philosophy about weight loss and Cheat Meals.  When you have been consistent long enough, the actual food is less of an issue.  Usually, a Cheat Meal is connected with some kind of celebration or you’ve made a conscious decision to try something that looks as if it’s worth the calories or carbs. You decide to have a small piece of cake to celebrate someone’s wedding or you’ve never had real Cherries Jubilee, so you decide to take a taste. You aren’t worried that you’ll go back for more or eat too much because the food is about taking part in the celebration/ occasion going on around you and not really about the actual food.  If you get more excited about eating garden variety macaroni & cheese, pizza or birthday cake, then you probably don’t have enough “consistency mileage” to try a Cheat Meal.

At the risk of sounding like a Negative Nancy, when you don’t have enough experience being consistent with your healthy eating, Cheat Meals can lead to some major setbacks.  It really can lead to cravings or too many indulgences.  We get lulled into that false sense of security because we’ve been consistent for so many weeks or months and “we’ve got this!”  Maybe you have and maybe you haven’t, but getting all anxious about what you are going to be eating or afraid of having cravings afterwards are some pretty good signs that you haven’t been consistent long enough to indulge in a Cheat Meal.

Unfortunately, most of us reach this conclusion once we’ve eaten an entire pizza or a bag of Oreos and we feel like we’ve blown our weight loss plan to smithereens! Remember the first time you put a big dent in Mom’s minivan or Dad’s SUV? You and they were probably a bit upset at the time but ultimately, it was all okay. They forgave you because you were a new driver and hey, mistakes happen! That’s why we have insurance and, frankly, the only way to get better at driving a car is to get behind the wheel.  Realizing you don’t have the experience for a Cheat Meal is part of getting better and gaining more experience.  When you’ve dinged your weight loss plan with a Cheat Meal, it’s not the end of the road with your weight loss: it just means you’ve got to go around the block a few more times!

 

 

 

 

 

Weight or Water? Weight Loss & Retaining (or Not Retaining) Water

I hate it when this happens: I get on the scale and it looks like I’ve gained weight.  My first thought? “It’s water weight! Right? I must be retaining water. Right? Because I can’t have gained weight?”

Yeeaahhh, riiigghhtt.  I couldn’t have gained weight so it must be water!  ……except it’s not.  It’s weight aka fat! But my first thought is pretty much the Number 1 excuse for why the number on the scale went up! Unless we made some kind of planned deviation from our eating plan, like a celebration or a holiday, gaining weight means we messed up somehow, either by eating the wrong things, too much overall or both.  Most of us know it’s not water, even if that’s the excuse our minds hide behind, and for me, after facing the grim truth that chocolate chip cookies are not Paleo and on my food list, I once again ban them from my shopping cart!

However, that doesn’t mean that our bodies don’t ever retain water. In certain circumstances, we do retain a certain amount of water in our tissues.  It’s not twenty or thirty pounds of water or maybe even ten, but depending on how much you weigh and the circumstances, it can be as much as 5 lbs. Five pounds can be a lot for but, again, it’s dependent on the circumstances, so you can’t just automatically dismiss that 5 lb gain as “water weight.”

Our weight fluctuates under everyday normal circumstances, even if we are ‘behaving ourselves.’ Water retention tends to be the biggest component in that fluctuation so if we find we’ve gone up a couple of pounds, it could really be that retained water.  Of course, the same holds when we find we’ve dropped a couple of pounds: it could be that water coming off! This is why so many weight loss professionals discount the scale or regular weigh-ins. Unfortunately, the scale is the easiest tool for us to use on a regular basis, so what we want to see is the downward trend over time. We want to see our weight going down, even if it does ‘bounce up’ a couple of pounds as long as it’s followed by a loss of the same amount or more.

However, depending on what we are eating, how we are moving and who we are, we can try to minimize our water weight.  The biggest culprits for retaining water are: 1) our diet; 2) our exercise; 3) our hormones; and 4) our stress levels. When we pay attention to these factors, we can have a better idea if that number on the scale is because we ate that pasta primavera last Tuesday or if it’s because it’s ‘That Time of the Month”!

Number 1 is number one for a reason, but not exactly like most of us might think.  When we think “water retention and diet”, we tend to think Salt.  Yes, salt is a big factor.  Salt is an electrolyte and our body keeps it in solution, so it’s not uncommon to eat a big bowl of salty popcorn and then feel puffy the next day. Usually in a day or so, we pass the water and we feel less puffy.  However, the other factor in that salty popcorn might take a bit longer to fade away.  That is the carbohydrates in the popcorn.  When it comes to carbs and retaining water, the best description of them is “little sponges.” Carbs soak up the water and it stays with us a while. No wonder you feel puffy after eating it! Between the salt and the carbs, hello! You’re retaining water for sure! When we eat a lot of carbs, even if it’s something not salty, if it’s a carbohydrate, it’s going to hold water, so a diet rich in carbs is going to show it on the scale.  Not only does your body store the excess carbs as fat, they also hold more water than protein or fat, so your weight will go up the more carbs you eat, salty or not.  I know from my own experience, after I’ve binged on carbs and then gone back to low carb/ no carb, after a couple of days it feels like I’m always running to the loo! It’s my body getting rid of all the stored water.

Most people know to watch their diet for any water-retaining culprits but we don’t usually think of exercise as one.  When we exercise, especially more strenuous than usual, it causes ‘damage’ to our muscles, which then need some time to repair themselves.  This is how our muscles get stronger and why we need recovery time.  That ‘damage’ is normal: our muscles build themselves up during the repair. But to do that, muscles need water, so after exercising, our muscles retain water! This is why some people don’t weigh themselves the day after a workout: they know their muscles are full of water! This is one reason our trainers are always pushing us to drink during and after a workout: we’re sweaty and our muscles need the water too! Even if it feels like it wasn’t a strenuous workout, if your muscles feel a little sore, you are probably retaining a little water!

Hormones are another no-brainer for most of us (and the guys can skip this one!) If you are a woman of child-bearing years, you are eminently familiar with this scenario. For most of us, the week before our period, we puff up like a balloon as our body stores water in preparation either for growing a baby or getting ready to shed the uterine lining.  If you are pregnant, congratulations! And get ready for some major changes in your body! If you aren’t pregnant, your body will start shedding a lot of water in a few short days.  All of us women have been through this more than a few times, and if you are one of the lucky ones who doesn’t turn into a water balloon, you are the envy of every woman who does! That said, most of us know when not to weigh ourselves in order to avoid the appearance of weight gain.

Stress is another sneaky culprit with water weight.  When we are chronically stressed, either physically or emotionally, our body just recognizes it as “danger/ stress” and will hang on to the Basics to make sure you survive whatever stress you are facing.  For the body, those Basics are water and fuel aka fat. This is why so many health and fitness gurus are pushing stress management.  Incidentally, it’s also why they are pushing more sleep, since our body treats poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation as a stressor.  We all know how crappy we feel when we don’t sleep well or enough, so it takes a physical toll on our bodies beyond just exhaustion and low energy headaches: our body stores fat and water as a result! The problem is that most of us have a hard time knowing when we are getting enough rest and managing our stress, so when we get on the scale and see the number isn’t budging,– or worse, going up– it just seems to add to our frustration and stress! This is one of the benefits to adding a proper sleep schedule and stress management routine: they not only help feel better mentally and physically, they also help you lose weight!

When it comes to managing our water weight gain, it’s really just one part of a healthy lifestyle.  If we manage our carb intake, get enough sleep, relaxation and keep our bodies moving, we should be able to identify if the number on the scale includes a few pounds of water or not. We also need to know that water is not bad! Many pro athletes know that diuretics (“water pills”) are a quick and easy cheat for losing a few pounds in order to make their target weight.  But a “cheat” is exactly what they are if you are taking them just to lose weight! Dehydrating yourself either by not drinking enough or using diuretics can be dangerous.  Our bodies are dependent on water to send chemical signals to organs, including such vital organs as your heart, lungs and brain. No water, no signal, no life! Like so many other necessities, our bodies function properly in a narrow band of the Right Amount: too little water can cause as many problems as too much water. Our bodies are pretty good at keeping our water where it needs to be to keep you healthy: now it’s just up to us to do our part (and put down the popcorn and chocolate chip cookies!)

 

Weight Loss & Cravings: The Pause Before You Go Over the Edge

Raise your hand if this has happened to you: you make a well-thought out decision to share a dessert with a friend and then a few days later, you start craving something similar and before you realize what’s going on, you’ve eaten way more sweets, desserts and other not-so-good for you foods than you have in the last few months! Can you all see me waving my hand in the air like Hermione Granger in class? Except my answer is actually the wrong answer! No one wants to be in that situation, like a car skidding out of control before sliding into the ditch. It’s a disaster waiting to happen!

You would think that the problem was that well-considered decision to share a dessert: “if only I hadn’t had those three bites of cheesecake!” That may be one way of dealing with it. I know there are lots of people who just say no to things they consider triggers.  They choose to view it as an addiction and anyone who knows addicts knows “you can’t have just one [fill in the blank here.] If you were okay with never having cheesecake or chips or whatever your particular weakness is ever again, that would solve your problem. If you don’t want cravings for bread, just don’t ever eat bread again.  Never ever.

For some people, that can be a pretty bleak view, looking at the rest of your life without ever eating things you like, such as cheesecake, brownies, bread or cookies along with a host of other things! On one hand, it’s just food. It isn’t like you’re giving up electricity for the rest of your life! There are thousands of people who’ve lived their entire lives without ever tasting a brownie or cheesecake! (Come to think of it, there are thousands of people who live their lives now without electricity!) Seriously, it’s not the end of the world, but it is something that brings a little bit of happiness into your life.  At least it does for those few minutes you are eating it!

If we are being truthful, it also brings a lot of pain into our lives too. I remember in college there were times I’d come home from the store with a frozen cheesecake and as soon as it was thawed out, I’d eat the whole thing.  Of course, I didn’t intend to, but…. We all know how that story ends: “I just couldn’t stop once I started eating it!” And once I was stuck holding the empty tray for a seven inch cheesecake, I’d feel awful. Not only did I feel horrible emotionally, but physically, I felt like a beached whale because obviously I wasn’t hungry when I ate it! I ate it because it was there!

This is what most of us are afraid of when it comes to cravings: once we start, we can’t stop, so it’s easier just never ‘starting.’ The problem is that we blame our cravings on self-control and that’s only a small part of the problem. When we don’t have cookies in the house and we start craving cookies, how many of us are going to leave the house to buy cookies? But, if the cookies are in the house already, it’s all too easy to ‘wander’ into the kitchen and grab one or two. Or three or four.  If they’re small, maybe five… And that’s where we blame our lack of self-control or we blame the cookies for being so good or we blame the family member who brought them home!

Part of the problem is the craving, especially if it’s something sweet.  Sugar really is addictive (Gary Taubes’ book The Case Against Sugar is a great resource!) Foods like bread (my own private weakness) are simple carbs, which the body metabolizes like sugar, so even if it’s garlic bread, to my body, it’s a ‘sugar’ and just a leetle bit addictive! So blaming self-control for not being able to stop ourselves eating a whole bread basket or cheesecake can be a legitimate defense.

However, the plain simple truth is that we knew better when we ate the cheesecake or bread that started our latest sugar binge! If you know that you’re going to be craving sugar within a week of sharing that dessert at lunch with your friend, is it really so difficult to tell your friend “no thanks” when she offers? A friend will understand when you say no to the dessert and you are under no obligation to indulge in something that will cause problems later.  So not starting is one way of dealing with the cravings: no trigger = no craving = no binge.  Problem solved! Yeah…riiighhhttt!

However a trigger food like that shared dessert is not the only reason we develop cravings.  In my case, a lot of the cravings come from boredom. How many of us binge in the evenings? (Hermione Granger here again!) I’m watching tv and I’ve got nothing to do with my hands, so let’s wander into the kitchen and see if there’s anything to snack on! Danger, Will Robinson!  Believe me, if I had a robot, it’d be stationed in the kitchen door each night after dinner! I’m obviously not hungry because I just finished dinner; my problem is I’m feeling bored! Somehow my brain equates boredom with the need to eat something, preferably sweet! “Find something sweet to eat and eat it until it’s gone or you feel like you’re going to throw up!” Really, that was my evening operation for most of my life! In the event I had nothing sweet in the house, Plan B substituted ‘salty’ for ‘sweet’ and the Last Ditch Back Up Plan was substitute ‘salty’ for ‘anything in the house!’ I really really wish I could say I was exaggerating, but I’m not.

But the good thing to come out of this debacle is that since I know what triggers my cravings, I can take steps to stop it before it skids wildly out of control. If bored and feeling the cravings start, I look for something to do other than eating! Even if it’s something like scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or– even better– My Fitness Pal! It can be logging my food and reminding myself how much I’ve already eaten, so how can I be hungry? It can be writing notes for this blog, playing with my dogs or doing my nails (my most recent distraction). It just needs to be something to keep my hands busy so I’m not eating to satisfy a craving that has nothing to do with hunger.

Another trigger for a lot of us is emotion.  How many of us have heard and used the expression ’emotional eater’?  Again, it’s a legitimate issue but once we realize it’s our trigger, we need to take steps to cut off the craving/ binge before it starts.  This issue is obviously more complex than just alleviating boredom.  If emotion or stress is a serious problem in your life, you might need to meet with someone to help you find constructive ways of dealing with it that don’t involve eating. For most of us who find ourselves staring into the fridge after a fight with a loved one or opening a surprise bill not in our budget or some other stressor, it can be less problematic. We have to find a way to alleviate our anxiety that doesn’t involve eating. In some ways, it’s easy and in other ways, it’s not so easy! Suppose your method of ‘coping’ with a problem is eating an entire bag of chips. While you’re eating the chips, you’re not feeling anxious or stressed (as much), but when those chips are gone, the anxiety and stress come back, usually coupled with the guilt for scarfing down a whole bag of Ruffles! Now what do you do? This is where some of us will find something else to eat and  repeat the cycle while others of us will either find a way to deal with the cause of our anxiety or we find something else to soothe it.  In my case, after eating a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s or the bag of Ruffles or King’s Hawaiian, I’d turn to my pets. My pets are a huge source of comfort to me! Depending on what the problem is, there is also venting on Facebook or calling a friend to share the anxiety and frustration.  Most of us who have normal every day stress and anxiety in our lives have methods for dealing with it; the problem is our knee-jerk reaction to eat our emotions first! What we need to learn is to cut off that reaction to ‘soothe’ our anxiety with food.

You’re probably thinking, “Duhhh!  So tell me something I don’t know!” It’s not rocket science, but it does take patience and practice. We all know the trick about not losing our temper by counting to ten and this isn’t much different.  It involves taking a couple minutes to see into the future: “I’m emotional and I want to eat something, but how am I going to feel when I’m done eating?” Usually the answer will be “pretty cruddy!” or “worse than I do now!” The object is to step into those few seconds between feeling the anxiety-eating trigger and the actual eating! As I said it takes practice and it takes patience. It’s a seemingly simple behavior modification technique. The actual action is simple: stopping the knee-jerk reaction to eat by switching it with another action; it’s ‘seemingly simple’ because changing behavior can be a difficult process. This is where the patience and practice come into action.

We have to remember to ask ourselves that question when we feel like eating because of our emotions and then simply skip the eating! Instead of eating all the potato chips and then holding my dog, I just pick up the dog! Or I start venting online or to my friends or whatever I can do to relieve the anxiety and emotion without eating.  The good thing about this technique is that is also works with those sugar-addiction cravings I mentioned at the beginning.  When we feel the urge to eat whatever it is we’re craving, we need to remind ourselves of how cruddy we’re going to feel after we’ve eaten it.  It can be we feel guilty or ashamed or physically terrible.  In my case, sugar or simple carbs like bread really cause pain in my hands. When I stop eating the sugar, I can feel the improvement within a couple of days. When I start craving something either because of boredom, anxiety or just wanting that not-so-healthy forbidden food, I ask myself how I’m going to feel after eating it. Remembering how bad my hands felt is an obvious deterrent!

It still takes a lot of patience and a whole lot of practice.  There are some times I really really want it and eat it anyway, and when I end up regretting it, I remind myself there’s a reason it’s on my not-to-be-eaten list, especially if my hands start hurting! The craving for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups is followed by “is it worth your hands aching for a week? Remember how smushed and stale the last ones were? Not to mention 400 calories!” Changing our behavior takes time and we have to be patient with ourselves.  Remembering to pause before grabbing the King’s Hawaiian takes practice and when we screw it up (because we will!), we have to be patient and forgive ourselves. Cravings are what kill most weight loss practices and that’s what this is: it’s a practice!  We won’t get it right the first time we try it but the more we do it, the easier it is to remember and the longer that pause becomes. The knee-jerk reaction to eat our boredom, anxiety and cravings becomes less of a reaction and more of a decision.  That’s what we are really looking for: the ability to make a decision instead of being out of control.