Going Off the Rails! Weight Loss & Staying On Track

This would seem like the usual no-brainer: if you don’t stay with your healthy routine, you’re going to gain weight or at the very least, stop losing weight! Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, you didn’t lose weight before when you were eating burgers & fries, bowls of pasta and drinking all those sodas, so why should you lose weight eating them now? Like I said, it’s a no-brainer!

However, a funny thing happens when you’ve been following a healthy routine for a while: you lose focus. You start thinking “I’ve got this!”  It’s true: once you’ve been successfully losing weight or maintaining the loss for a few months, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what works for you and what doesn’t. That’s when it happens: you start going off track.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) calls it ‘drifting.’  I like to think of it as going off the rails, because what usually happens feels a lot like a train wreck to me!

Going off the rails usually starts with drifting.  It stems from that lack of focus and not being as careful as most of us need to be.  Th problem compounds on itself and then before you know it, you’re somewhere you don’t want to be and have to start the difficult process of getting back on track! We all know it’s easier to just stay on track and don’t let ourselves drift, but for most of us, it’s a lot like shutting the barn door after the horse has gotten out! In other words, by the time we know what to look for or that we should start looking, it’s too late and we’re in the middle of a train wreck!  I’m starting to feel a lot like Prof. Mad Eye Moody, shouting “Constant vigilance!” at everyone I see, but hopefully I’m not that bad yet (yeah, there’s another empty barn!)

It begins with little things, such as having a latte instead of just coffee with cream, or sharing a dessert with a friend at lunch.  By themselves, none of these qualify as ‘bad behavior,’ but we usually don’t stop with these little things.  The little things compound on each other and instead of being an occasional occurrence, they become once a week, then multiple times a week until they somehow turn into a ‘daily treat.’  Once in a while, they aren’t ‘train wreckers,’ but one after another on a regular or daily basis, they knock your carefully crafted healthy routine off the rails.  We all know this happens.  Like I said, it’s a no-brainer! The question is: since we all know this happens, why do we end up doing it?

That goes back to the other idea I mentioned above: “I’ve got this!”  We start feeling in control of our eating choices, our workouts, our activity, how much or how often we’re eating– whatever our particular weakness is! We’ve been ‘in control’ for a while now so we start thinking we can loosen our grip on the reins a bit. I don’t want to make it sound like having one cookie with a friend is going to send you on a wild out of control cookie binge or that you can never go down the bakery aisle at your local supermarket without fear of gobbling all their snickerdoodles, but keeping count of how many cookies you had in the last couple of weeks isn’t a bad idea.  It’s one thing to make a conscious decision to have a cookie or share a dessert or even splurge on fabulous garlic bread if that’s your thing, but when those treats become more than occasional or even daily, then we’re back wondering just when we went off the rails and how do we find our way back on track. Even worse, we’re going to have to ‘fix’ the damage that train wreck caused!

I’m going to use a dirty word here: tracking!  Yeah, yeah, no one likes tracking! It’s a hassle; it’s annoying; it takes a long time! Blah blah blah! I’m going to respond with one of my favorite words: crybaby! You think it’s a pain in the butt to write down everything you eat? How about having to stick your finger multiple times a day to check your blood sugar? How about having to pick up your diabetes medication every month or worse, giving yourself your daily insulin injection? Think that’s a pain in the butt?  How about pain in your knees because you gained your weight back? Or having to go back to your old ‘fat clothes’ because all those new clothes you bought don’t fit right anymore? Remember what it felt like getting dressed and wondering if this is the day the button pops off your pants at the office? Loathe though I am to admit it (because I was one of those tracking crybabies too!), tracking really does work. When we write down everything we eat every day, it’s easy to look back and see that you had six cookies on the weekend when were out with friends and you’ve had three more cookies after dinner this week and then there were the two cookies you got at Starbucks on your way home, and ….. OMG! that’s almost a dozen cookies this week! Ack! No more cookies! No more cookies!

That’s basically what tracking is for! When you can look back at the end of the week, or even just the end of the day, you can see where you went a little wacky with the sweets or the popcorn or whatever, and remind yourself that those foods are treats and not part of your regular menu.  They are to be indulged in for a special occasion and ‘Tuesday after work” isn’t a special occasion!

How you track is also up to you.  The most basic definition is just what I said above: writing down everything you eat and drink during the day.  Some people like to be very specific and write down how much they ate, when they ate and how they feel mentally and physically after eating.  If you want to weigh it all and count calories, that’s up to you.  For some of us, weighing and measuring can be a big help when you’re starting out because it gives you an idea of portion size.  When you look at the label on a bag of nuts and it says one serving is 28 grams and has 200 calories with five servings in a bag, it gives you all the relevant information except what 28 grams actually looks like!  The same thing is especially true with sauces like salad dressing.  We squeeze a bunch all over our salad because “that looks right” but how many calories did we put all over our healthy 35 calorie salad? 250? 350? Most salad dressings have about 120 calories per two tablespoon serving and once you get a good idea of how what two tablespoons actually looks like, you’ll understand how people can gain weight eating only ‘healthy salads’! The same thing happens with the cheese they put on that ‘healthy salad’ or on their bunless burger!

You don’t have to weigh or measure everything you eat and drink unless you want to, but if you suddenly find your healthy routine has become a train wreck and you don’t know how you got there, tracking is a good place to start getting back on that track! It gives you a direction and it lets you know when you make a wrong turn.  Even if it’s just the basic ‘what you ate without portion sizes,’ it can still let you know maybe you had too many carbs in the last month or maybe too much fat or maybe you just ate too much! Of course, that also means you have to look at it once in a while! I know a lot of people who never look at their bank statement and then wonder how they ended up being overdrawn on their account: ummm, it’s another no-brainer! Statements and food journals only work when you look at them!

I personally use two food journals: one paper and one online.  I like the paper one because I’ll make other notes in it but I also log what I eat into My Fitness Pal, which is available online and as an app. It has the added benefit of telling you how many calories, carbs, fat and protein are in what you ate, lets you keep a calorie limit and when you close out your diary for the day, will give you an estimate of how much you’d weigh ‘if every day were like today.’ Granted the estimate isn’t very accurate, but it shows you your trend. If your goal weight is 180 and you’re over your calorie limit and ‘you’d weigh 274 in five weeks if every day were like today,’ that’s not a good thing unless you already weigh over 274! My Fitness Pal (MFP) has several other benefits that I like but again, how you choose to stay on track is up to you.  The only requirement is that it has to work! No one wants to end up seeing all their hard work undone and that’s what happens when we go off track.  Keeping a food journal is a simple technique that needs to do nothing more than list what you ate and drank in a day. The trick is using it every day and looking at it on a regular basis. If you find your clothes are getting tight or that your knees are starting to hurt again, which is the bigger hassle: gaining your weight back or writing down what you’re eating?

The paper food journal I use: https://www.amazon.com/DIETMINDER-Personal-Fitness-Journal-Exercise/dp/0963796836

The food scale I use: https://www.amazon.com/Ozeri-ZK14-S-Digital-Multifunction-Kitchen/dp/B004164SRA/ref=sr_1_4?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1532037990&sr=1-4&keywords=ozeri+food+scale

 

 

 

“Don’t Text Your Ex!”: Weight Loss & Avoiding the Bad Habits That Lead to Gaining!

Most of us are really really familiar with “drunk dialing,” hopefully not from personal experience! This is when you’ve had a few drinks and your alcohol-infused brain thinks it’s a good idea to contact that guy/ girl who dumped you or whom you dumped months or years ago.  We all know how that ends: BADLY!  How many ways can we say humiliated?! Ugh! That’s one of the duties of a ‘wingman’ these days: make sure there is no drunk-dialing, no matter how wasted you get!

What we don’t realize is that we do the same thing with food.  Monday’s episode of the Primal Potential podcast (7/9/2018 # 498 Baby Steps to Massive Change) brought home this idea in a way I hadn’t thought of before.  I was familiar with the idea that when we’re tired, hungry, grumpy, etc., we don’t make good decisions no matter what it’s about, and we’ve all heard the cautionary tales about grocery shopping when we’re hungry, but Elizabeth Benton’s analogy puts it in a succinct and easy-to-remember phrase: “don’t text your ex!”  Eating when we’re tired or because we’re bored or lonely is the food equivalent of drunk dialing or texting your ex when you’re wasted: nothing good comes from that!  Are you going to have a serious conversation with him/ her about why you two broke up or why he/she/you cheated?  Is anything going to be resolved in a calm and adult manner, or are you going to leave a slurred/ typo-filled unintelligible message that will end up being the butt of future jokes and humiliation?  I’m guessing the embarrassing answer is the correct one in 99.99% of the situations!

When we’re tired or bored or looking for something to fill time, we’re doing the same thing: we’re falling back into behavior we know isn’t good for us!  There’s a reason we ‘broke up’ with Cheez-its or Doritos or the leftovers from last night! Unless our body is telling us that it needs fuel, there is no reason to go prowling through the kitchen.  We know better, just like when we’re sober, we know that contacting our ex is a really bad idea, but when our judgment is impaired by alcohol (or boredom or loneliness), we start considering things our rational brain would never entertain.

We’ve all been in that situation: dinner is over and we aren’t really hungry but we’re a little bored.  Maybe we’re flipping through the channels or scrolling through the phone and we want something to entertain us, so we wander into the kitchen and without really thinking about it, there we are looking in the fridge or the pantry: “anything good?”  We know we aren’t hungry, because if we were, we’d be considering things like scrambled eggs, making a salad or even sauteing some Brussels sprouts.  Even if we have those things in the fridge, we aren’t looking at them, because what we’re hungry for has nothing to do with food! We’re looking to fill a void: either boredom, loneliness, comfort, or some other kind of distraction.  Maybe we’re stressed because our hours at work have been cut or we’ve had a fight with someone we care about and we’re looking for something to distract us from the stress or just make us feel better emotionally.  The need we are trying to fill has nothing to do with hunger, but eating is how we have traditionally filled that void so that’s the habit we find ourselves going back to.

It really is like texting your ex. Think about the last time you chose to end a relationship: there was a reason.  Maybe she was always on Instagram or Facebook or texting when you were together, or maybe he only responded to your calls and texts when he felt like it.  Maybe he/ she was just emotionally distant or-  worse- too needy!  Whatever the reason, there was a reason you chose to end the relationship! But when you’re drunk or otherwise impaired, your rational judgment is literally Out of Order. Alcohol (and other intoxicants) lower your inhibitions and things that normally seem really really stupid suddenly seem like a great idea! Those bad ideas haven’t suddenly become great ideas: the only thing that’s changed is your perception of them!

The same thing happens with food.  How many times have you told someone “I don’t buy Doritos (or whatever) because once I start eating them, I finish the whole bag!” or “I only buy single cookies at the bakery because if I bought a box of them, I’d eat them all at once!” (Raising my hand here!) This is why we’ve heard so many cautionary tales about grocery shopping when we’re hungry: our judgment is out of whack as we cruise through the chip/ cookie/ cracker aisle and this is how we end up with the Doritos/ Oreos/ Cheez-its in our pantries at home.  When we’re thinking clearly, we don’t put them in our basket because we know what will happen when we get bored, feel lonely or ‘want something salty/ crunchy/ sweet.  Without thinking about it, we will wander into the kitchen and before we realize what’s happening, we’re bingeing Season 2 of Goliath and cramming down Oreos! We weren’t hungry but we were feeling really anxious about the project you’re working on and all the delays so you wanted something to distract you (Goliath) but you also went looking for something to comfort and reassure you (Oreos). The obvious- and rational-  solution is not bringing them into the house so we take the precaution of not shopping when hungry.

But eating to fill a void/ mindless eating can still happen even if it’s something ‘healthy.’ It doesn’t have to be junk food to the equivalent of texting your ex: if you aren’t hungry, you just sent that text! There are no Cheez-its, Doritos, Oreos or other junk food in my house, but I have been known to devour Greek yogurt, peaches, macadamia nuts, beef jerky, etc.  Things that I would normally consider ‘healthy’ (and things I had planned to take for lunch!) suddenly become a ‘text to my ex’ when I get stressed or feel anxious or whatever other feeling or void I am trying to expunge! I fall back into that bad habit and go back to the Mindless Eating Ex because I stop paying attention! My normal rational brain is Out of Order either because of the emotions I’m dealing with or because I just decided to check out mentally and not deal with whatever.  I know there is no legitimate reason I need to eat the entire bag of beef jerky or four containers of Greek yogurt, but ‘I’m not feeling well’ (that will not make me feel better!), or ‘I’m worried about someone’ (overeating won’t help them or me!)  I turn off the rational brain to avoid dealing with reality.  This is not unlike why we get drunk: we want to feel good or forget to feel bad. Food accomplishes the same thing for us: while we’re eating we’re enjoying the food or at least are distracted enough to forget what we’re trying to forget.

But there’s a reason we don’t normally eat a whole bag of beef jerky or Doritos or finish off all the Greek  yogurt in the fridge. When we’re done, we have that same awful feeling we do when we look at our phones the next day and find the text or the phone call to our ex: “Please tell me I didn’t hit Send on this text to that jerk/ witch!” Oh, yes you did! Looking at the empty containers, bags and wrappers, we suddenly feel like the stupidest person on the planet: “What the hell was I thinking?!” You weren’t thinking! That’s the problem! Your brain was in the Off position, either due to the emotion/ situation (or in the case of the drunken text, alcohol.) Overeating, even if it’s not junk food, is never a reasonable rational thing to do.

When it comes to drunk dialing or drunken texts to our ex, this is why we bring a wingman with us to parties and clubs: the good ones won’t let you hit Send.  But when it comes to prowling through the kitchen, LG and Samsung haven’t yet developed the fridge that will automatically ask you “are you really hungry?” when you open it up after 8:00 p.m.  We have to learn to do it for ourselves.  We have to find a way to ‘sober up’ enough to ask ourselves why we are eating when we’re not hungry.  It can be something as simple as not eating in front of the tv, or not eating after dinner.  It can be something like only eating on plate or a bowl or at the kitchen table.  When you are pouring out bowl after bowl of Doritos, believe me, you will ‘sober up’ enough to realize “Yikes! This is bowl #3!”  In my case, I keep an old photo of myself on the fridge door: there I am in all my 440 lb ‘glory’! The feeling’s not quite the same as finding the text to my ex on phone, but it’s close enough for me!

 

 

 

“I Don’t Eat That Much”: Weight Loss, Reality & Denial

We’ve all said the statement above, some of us more than others.  We order takeout, we serve ourselves at home or we buy something pre-made in a store and it doesn’t seem like it’s too much food. Do we really stop and look at the nutrition information or the number of servings per package?

The FDA recently had packaging labels changed to help combat the growing obesity epidemic.  Now they not only tell you how many servings per package/ bottle, how many calories in a serving but also how many calories in the whole package/ bottle.  Let’s be honest: when we buy something that has more than one serving per package or bottle, do we really have one and then save the rest for later? I know I don’t! That 20 ounce bottle of SoBe Green Tea doesn’t look like it has 200 calories but it does. And how many of those do we drink in a week? Or even just a hot summer day? It’s just one bottle! It’s not that much!

The problem is we say that about most of the things we eat and drink: it’s one taco or it’s one burger or it’s one piece of cake! It’s not that much! Those ‘not that muches’ add up over the course of a day, a month and a lifetime. One fast food lunch a day adds up pretty quickly, which would be bad enough but it also tends to be the start of a slippery slope leading to portion distortion and bad habits.  We get used to eating out at lunchtime during the week and then it spills over into our evenings and weekends.  The one fast food lunch becomes multiple fast food lunches and then the occasional dinner or weekend meal and the ‘not that much’ meal of a taco, burrito and soda or the burger, fries and soda start to add up fast. One of those meals once a month really isn’t that much, but it’s never just once a month, is it?

The other thing that happens is portion distortion.  How much are we really eating? When I go out with my dad to our favorite salad bar buffet, I can get one spoonful of seafood salad, one spoonful of broccoli salad and one spoonful of fruit salad, but each spoon is a different size! Looking at it on the plate, how much food is it and when does it become too much?  The same thing happens if we order entrees at a restaurant: do we have to eat the whole entree? Is that chopped steak and veggies one serving or two?  It may not look like much, especially if you are used to getting a 6 oz sirloin steak (1.5 servings).  Most restaurants put more than one serving on a plate and that healthy green salad you order has enough dressing for two. When we ask for it on the side, that little container is nearly three servings of dressing and even if we only put half the container on our salad, we’re still getting more than one serving.

There’s nothing wrong with helping yourself to the 6 oz sirloin, green salad with three tablespoons of dressing and the steamed veggies with butter as long as we’re keeping track of how much we really ate. That meal sounds pretty yummy to me!  The problem is that we tell ourselves that it’s “not that much” or that it’s only “one meal” when it’s really closer to one and a half or two meals. It gets worse when we convince ourselves that we can have a “little treat” later since our meal of steak and veggies was so healthy! The meal was healthy, yes, but it was still more food than most of us need at one sitting and what do we end up choosing for our “little treat?” A lot of grocery stores now sell single slices of cake or single cookies, which is a good thing for people who live alone like me.  However, the Safeway sells cake slices that weigh 6 or 7 ounces (2 layers with frosting) and their double pack of cookies are each the size of my palm! The local chain closer to my house sells 3 oz cake slices (single frosted layer) and their single cookies are 2″ diameter instead of nearly 6.  So “one cookie” or “one slice of cake” has a very different meaning depending on where I buy it!

Many dieters are used to keeping a food diary either online or using a notebook and a calorie counting book. I use My Fitness Pal online and I keep a paper journal with notations for easy reference.  I also use a food scale to keep me honest! That one piece of chocolate fudge cake  cake that shows up as “0.08 cake” for 350 calories is a little fuzzy: how much is 0.08th of a cake?  Sometimes the database has ounces and sometimes it doesn’t: what kind of cake? where did you get it? is it homemade? The same goes for the cookies: weighing and measuring gives you some concrete numbers but it’s really not so much about how many calories you are eating– it’s as simple as how much you are eating!

If you are trying to stick with a calorie goal, that’s great! That works for some people and myself, I like to have a ballpark figure of how many calories I am consuming just so I don’t fall victim to this problem. Just knowing that you had two eggs, two ounces of bacon, three ounces of hamburger, a couple of cups of baby spinach with a hard boiled egg and two tablespoons of vinaigrette gives you an overall idea of what you have already consumed and what you should be thinking about for dinner.  Writing it all down and keeping notes about how active you were during the day and how hungry you were or weren’t after eating each meal also lets you know your overall energy baseline.  Is that enough food for you? Is it too much?  How hungry are you the next day? Does it leave you feeling tired, like not enough energy?

Most of us (like me) gain weight because we convince ourselves that we aren’t eating “that much food” when in truth, our plate can be a serving platter for others. We get used to eating foods that aren’t the healthiest, that have more calories than we think and we get used to eating a lot of food at one time.  When that happens, we literally stretch out our stomachs to the size of a watermelon or a football. We don’t do this on purpose and we aren’t being gluttons, but the portions and opportunities for eating creep up on us and that quarterpound burger that was so huge when we were in college isn’t enough for us in our forties, because our stomach has gotten bigger over the years.

Our eyes are used to seeing big portions and our stomachs are used to getting full and even our brains are telling us “it’s not that much food!” When we stop and look at the actual numbers: 3 oz, 6 oz, 20 oz and if we add in the calories, we get to 2000 calories pretty quickly.  Just a little bit of a reality check! “I’m eating how many calories in a day?!” “How many pounds of food did I eat today?!” So when we want to know why we’re not losing weight when we’re not eating ‘that much food,’ maybe we need to remind ourselves just how much food we’re really putting in our mouths.

“It’s Genetic!”: Weight Loss & Shifting Blame

One of the most common excuses for being overweight is genes. Lots of people who are overweight have grown up with overweight family members. A lot of it has to do with the family’s eating habits: either too much food, too much low quality/ processed food or too much of both. In that kind of situation, it’s easy to blame it on genetics or the family. “I’m big because my whole family is big! I can help it! You can’t fight your DNA!”

It’s true you’re stuck with your genes. I can color my hair and buy blue contacts but I’ll always be short with thick ankles! (If I could change one thing about my body, those ankles would be it!) But one of the things researchers are learning is that what we eat and how much of it can affect gene expression, which is the fancy term for what genes are turned on and which are turned off.  Whether we subscribe to gene expression or not, when it comes to what you put in your mouth, that’s all up to you!

We all know families with picky eaters: the kids who won’t touch vegetables or who only eat white bread. Sometimes it’s the adults who are picky:I have one adult cousin who won’t eat meat with skin and/ or bones!  (Really?!) Either way, it’s a personal choice that person has made and instead of pressuring them to eat like everyone else eats, we should applaud them for taking a stand for individuality.  For whatever reason, they’re not going to eat what they don’t want to eat!

Most of grew up eating what was put in front of us with the horror stories of starving kids elsewhere in the world who’d just love what you are snubbing on your plate! But too often, what was on our plate wasn’t the best food for us. I ate a lot of rice and noodles as a kid because that’s what was cheap and easy to cook. Pretty much every dinner was heavy on the carbs; breakfast was usually carb-heavy cereal and lunch was usually a sandwich with chips and a ‘juice drink.’  In short, my childhood meals went from one carbfest to another! Ironically, the things I complained about the most were the healthiest things in my meals: the lunchmeat in my sandwiches (still not a fan of Genoa salami or olive loaf!)

It would be easy to blame my size on my genes: a lot of my dad’s family is on the plumper side and the same for my mom’s (her nephew was 600+ lbs before dying at a young age).  Between the ‘bad genes’ and the poor family-taught eating habits, I’ve got this excuse nailed! “I’m fat because I’ve got fat genes and no one taught me how to eat healthy!” Boom! That’s done!

Except…… my family isn’t the one putting the food in my mouth.  Remember those picky kids? Family members! They stood up for not eating what everyone else wanted them to eat! True, they were pooh-poohed as being difficult, but at the end of the day, that food they didn’t want to eat was still on their plates uneaten! They chose what to eat and what not to eat, and there were a few who were literal picky eaters, as in they picked at their food a couple of times and left most of it on the plate. “He doesn’t eat enough to keep a mouse alive!”  Really? ‘Cause he looks pretty healthy to me!

While the Go Ahead & Eat It people definitely outnumbered the Picky Eaters in my family, as we all grew up, we all learned to eat differently and eating differently became the norm in our family: this one hates onions, that one won’t eat olives or mushrooms, that one is vegetarian, that one won’t eat fish, etc. So at most family gatherings, there were the foods without olives, onions or mushrooms, the veggie foods and only a couple fish dishes.  I leaned to make my chocolate chip cookies in two batches: those with extra nuts and those without any at all. This was simply how it was done once we became adults because we learned to choose what we wanted to eat.

And that’s what it comes down to: we choose what we put in our mouths.  Genes can’t be changed but our habits can be, and if gene expression has any validity, choosing to eat better can mean choosing to turn off those unhealthy genes.  We aren’t destined to be fat; we are choosing to be fat when we eat food we know aren’t good for us.  Yes, this is not what we want to hear since those of us who’ve been overweight from childhood grew up being ridiculed for being fat. As a kid, I heard a lot from family and other kids about my ‘choosing to be a glutton.’  As a kid, it was certainly not my choice: I didn’t know any better! Everyone ate chips, so why not me? Everyone had cookies, so what’s wrong with my having cookies? My parents fed me the rice, the bread, the pasta and the biscuits and the pancakes! Saying no to what they gave me got me in trouble but apparently eating them also got me in trouble because they made me fat! It was pretty much the same rock-and-hard-place situation for most overweight kids: eat what mom and dad gave you and continue to put on pounds, or say no to what they fed you and face recrimination and punishment. For me, it never occurred to me to say no to the rice or the pasta or anything else because it never occurred to me that my parents would feed me something unhealthy!  I don’t think it ever occurred to them that there was anything wrong with what they were feeding me, either!

Even though we are now adults,  there is still a lot of blame-shifting going on, only this time it isn’t our parents we are blaming, it’s our own family.  “My kids hate vegetables!” “My spouse loves potatoes!” “I’m the only one trying to eat healthy!” Remember those picky eaters I mentioned above?  Just because there are potatoes, rice or cookies on the table or in the house, that doesn’t mean you have to eat them!  Face it, as one of the parents in the family, you don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to eat.  It’s not like making your kid eat his broccoli (though if he really hates it, maybe try another veg for him?) Even when it comes to eating out, you can either be That Person who orders the chicken alfredo but get it over broccoli instead of pasta, or you can be a little more casual and simply leave the stuff you don’t want to eat on the plate.  I’ve ordered lots of stuff that came ‘on a bed of rice’ and left the rice behind. Just because something is offered or available to you does not make you obligated to eat it!  If someone offered you something you really detested, would you have any trouble saying no? (In my case, if kale were the only thing to eat in the house, I would be extremely thin!)

Now that I am an adult, what I eat is up to me. I can choose the junk food or I can choose something healthy- whatever I eat and how much of it is entirely up to me. While I may be at the mercy of my DNA with some things, like these icky ankles, myopia, and predispositions to diabetes and hypertension, that doesn’t mean I am “doomed to be fat and sickly” the rest of my life.  How and what I eat, how active I am, how I manage stress and how much sleep I get– among other things– are all up to me and each of those affects my health and my metabolism.  As easy at it would be to blame our genes or our family, your DNA is just the framework of your body: what you choose to build on that framework is all up to you!

Yay, Whole Foods!: Supplements, Nutrition & Weight Loss

I’m a huge fan of whole foods and I don’t mean the supermarket chain.  (I’m not knocking them; I’ve shopped there before but there isn’t one in my town.) I’m talking about the real as-close-to-right-out-of-the-ground whole foods. Apparently, they are one of the hot trends right now in the food and nutrition arena. One of the other hot trends is biohacking.  Biohacking is a loose term for finding ways to get what you want from your body (or from something else organic) by using some kind of quick trick or other means.  One of the most well known biohackers is Dave Asprey, ‘inventor’ of Bulletproof coffee.  Essentially, Bulletproof coffee is a high energy drink you make yourself that keeps you full and can keep you in ketosis if that’s your thing.  (Ketosis can also be called another biohack by some people.) While I found a lot of descriptions and examples of biohacking, I didn’t really find anything that defines it.  The best example for me is what I used to do when I couldn’t get to sleep at night: I used a placebo of sorts. I’d take a couple of plain ibuprophen.  (Not the PM version because it didn’t exist then!) Generally, within twenty minutes of taking the generic Advil, even if I wasn’t in pain, I’d start to get sleepy and be out before I knew it.  It worked every time.

One of the drawbacks to biohacking is that sometimes people try it with nutrition, which usually comes out to taking handfuls of supplements, smoothies or protein shakes.  I have heard Dave Asprey on podcasts talking about taking about 20 or more supplements and while I don’t want to malign supplements or those that use them (I take a few myself!), I do want to point out that just because you take 2000 mg of Calcium every day, that doesn’t mean you have all your Calcium needs covered.  One important issue that gets marginalized– with both supplements and whole foods– is the subject of bioavailability.   Bioavailability is pretty much just what it sounds like: the nutrients in the supplement or food either is or isn’t available to be absorbed by your body.  This is important because if you’re eating bushels of spinach thinking you’re getting your iron RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance), then you’re sadly mistaken. While the nutritional information label on that bag of spinach may say it’s loaded with iron, it’s not in a form your body can absorb!

Example: being a bit of a geek-groupie, I watch The Big Bang Theory and in one episode Penny was out shopping with Sheldon, who in typical Sheldon fashion, criticized her choices of vitamins and supplements.  He told her (paraphrasing here) that he could help her get her vitamins and minerals because what she had in her hands was “a recipe for expensive pee.” We think we’re getting enough vitamins and minerals and all that good nutritional stuff because we’re popping those supplements daily, but the fact of the matter is while we may be swallowing the pills, they may not be staying in our bodies!  Some nutrients need ‘helpers’ to be absorbed and others may just be plain unavailable! This is what Sheldon meant when he told Penny she was making ‘expensive pee.’ We can take all the supplements and protein shakes in the world and if the nutrients aren’t available, they just pass right through our bodies and do nothing for us but drain our wallets.

Supplement manufacturers usually take a big hit on this topic because while a protein powder label may say it had 25 mg of protein per scoop, what’s actually available to be absorbed is maybe half of that.  We need to check labels for the amount that’s bioavailable.  The protein is there: we just can’t use it. The same is true for supplements: just because it’s there on the label doesn’t mean we actually get the benefit.  Unfortunately people tend to think that whole foods have ‘solved’ this problem which isn’t the case, although they do have a slight advantage. Many whole foods- like spinach- have lots of nutrients, minerals and vitamins, but plants have defenses too, and a lot of their defenses rely on keeping their nutrition unavailable to those who eat them.  For example, while spinach, broccoli and other dark leafy greens have calcium, they also have oxalic acid which binds to the calcium so we can’t absorb it. So while we may eat  five cups of broccoli, we may only end up getting less than half the calcium we think we got.

The advantage to choosing to rely more on whole foods than supplements comes from tradition, in my opinion.  We tend to prepare a lot of foods in ways to make them more bioavailable.  Take creamed spinach: that oxalic acid doesn’t care if it binds to the calcium in the spinach or the calcium in the cream, so we’re getting more calcium in that creamed spinach than if we ate plain spinach.  There’s a similar benefit to eating the traditional beans & rice that come in many cultures: legumes and rice both contain incomplete proteins so if we ate them alone, we wouldn’t get any protein benefit, but by eating them together, we get the proteins.

Whole foods also have a slight advantage because of the ‘whole package’ deal.  For some foods, like white potatoes, there are a lot of vitamins in the skins but once those foods get processed (say into potato flakes), the skins are discarded and we don’t get those vitamins.  We’ve heard a lot of similar stories about other fruits and veggies: eat the whole fruit/ veg rather than just part of it (apple sauce or veggie juice). This also why people advocate eating the whole egg instead of just the whites where the protein is concentrated: the yolk has beneficial nutrition such as vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

There are a lot of diets that rely on nutrition bars and protein shakes to promote weight loss, but again bioavailability bites you in the butt! There might be 100% of all your RDA on those labels but how much remains in your body? How many times does someone you know who relies on those bars and shakes complain of being tired or not feeling great? Yes, they’re losing weight but is feeling cruddy a great trade off? Are they hungry a lot? I know I was when I was on those diets- tired and feeling really blah. Not the benefit I wanted with my weight loss!

I am not saying you should throw out your bottles of vitamins and supplements. I’ve got quite a collection of those myself but I don’t depend on those bottles to make sure I get all my vitamins and minerals. Remember the word ‘Supplement’ means to ‘add to’ something else. I try to get most of my vitamins, minerals and nutrition from whole natural foods and then use vitamins and supplements to make up any differences that might be lacking.  I’m sure my diet has some holes in it. No one’s is perfect, I’m sure! The point is that I feel better eating mostly whole foods and- not to brag- but a lot of people have been asking me what I use on my skin because it looks so much better.  Umm, nothing? No lotion, no cream- just soap and water! Unless broccoli, eggs, fish and butter lettuce count!

 

 

DIY Weight Loss: No One Else Can Do It For You

You would think that’s pretty obvious: you can’t hire someone to lose your weight for you. In our society, however, we hire out as much of the hard parts of everything we can, and unfortunately, it’s those hard parts in weight loss that matter the most.

When it comes to weight loss, most of us look for three things when we choose a weight loss plan: 1) it works; 2) it’s easy; and 3) it’s fast. Sounds like great criteria, right? And really, it is. No one wants to waste time with a plan that doesn’t work, is more complicated than it should be and takes a long time to deliver results, or worse, delivers failure.

Our approach to choosing a weight loss plan isn’t much different than choosing a plan for a cell phone or Netflix. We talk to our friends: what do they have and what is working for them? There’s nothing wrong with information gathering; we aren’t asking our friends to lose our weight for us since they obviously can’t. The problem mainly comes when we sign up for one of the popular diets or weight loss plans.

These plans fit the criteria above: they’re fast, they’re easy and they seem to work. Check that again: they seem to work. What makes them easy and fast is that it’s all laid out: most of the food is already prepared, the meals are set up for you and all you have to do is heat and eat. All the hard work is done for you: you just make your choice from your stash of diet food. That’s what makes it easy and it works as long as you stick with the plan and most of these plans work pretty quick, because everything you’re eating is controlled.

So what’s the problem? Isn’t that what we want: fast, easy & practically guaranteed? Yes, it’s what we want but the problem is we aren’t doing it for ourselves. We hired out all those hard parts and those are the parts that matter. We aren’t actually making our own food choices: we’ve hired someone to do it for us. We’re not deciding how much we eat or even what we’re eating- we’ve let someone else make those decisions for us. And when it comes to sustainable weight loss, those are the important decisions that matter.

The problem with those popular diet plans is that they don’t teach us anything about how to eat healthy and how to make good food choices. That’s why the results aren’t permanent: once we stop eating their pre-packaged prepared food, we usually go back to eating what we ate before, usually something high-calorie, highly processed and not healthy for us. Obviously we aren’t trying to undo the success we had with our weight loss plan but once we’ve stopped eating their food, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between a bag of diet cheese puffs and a bag of ‘reduced calorie’ cheese puffs.  The same thing with diet frozen lasagna from our diet plan manufacturers and ‘low cal’ frozen lasagna in the grocery store.  What do we learn on the weight loss plan we bought? We learned to eat packages that say “diet” or “low calorie.”

What makes weight loss so hard (and those diet/ weight loss programs so tempting) is that real sustainable weight loss and healthy eating means we actually have to look at what we’re eating, how much we’re eating, and how often we’re eating.  Simply put, it’s a pain in the butt! It means reading labels for nutritional information, ingredients and serving size- literally, the fine print! It means going to the grocery store on a regular basis, buying fresh foods and- ack!!- cooking!  This is pretty much what most of us are trying to avoid and the weight loss plan people know that.  That’s why these “plans” are so popular year after year- you take the food out of the box, heat it and yay- you’ve just made dinner!  But think about it: how much of their business is repeat business? As in “I lost twenty pounds on Nutrisystem/ Jenny Craig/ Weight Watchers last year so I’ll sign up for them again since I gained it all back.”  This is also what we’re trying to avoid!

It really isn’t a choice between cooking or endless dieting, but it does mean that we have to learn how to eat on our own.  There will be some cooking involved but not the complex process most of us dread. There are a lot of healthy meals that can be prepared in thirty minutes and with a small investment in a pressure cooker/ slow cooker, even some of the more complex dishes can be prepared with a minimum of fuss.  Seriously, you put the food in the machine and set the timer. All you need to do is figure out when you want to eat it: half an hour or at the end of the day. (I bought an Express Crock Pot for my dad last Christmas because it does both and he loves it.) My own dinner last night took longer for me to eat it than it did to cook it: lamb chops in the cast iron skillet and fresh asparagus in the microwave steamer. It was about twenty minutes to prepare all told.  If I had gotten rotisserie chicken, it would have been faster. It’s easy, it’s fast and it’s healthy, and nothing came out of a package.  How complicated is that? It’s food that I really like eating and I got to prepare it the way I like it.

We’ve got to do it ourselves when it comes to deciding what and how to eat unless we plan on spending the rest of our lives eating diet food out of boxes and bags.  That means spending a little time on a learning curve. It also means that once we’ve learned what we like to eat, what works for us and how easy it is to prepare, we start picking up speed on that curve. One of the tips that works for a lot of people who aren’t fans of the kitchen is batch cooking.  This is where you prepare food for several meals and either freeze it or save it in the fridge. This can be something as generic as meatloaf or baked potatoes or chili, or something as ‘fancy’ as frittata muffins (omelets baked in muffin tins). I do a version of this when I make pork ribs or burgers: I make enough for two or three days and put the rest in the fridge. The ones I plan on saving for later I pull off the stove/ oven a little early so they don’t overcook when I reheat them.

Confession time: there’s a certain pride that comes from knowing how to do it yourself.  There’s a sense of independence and self-reliance that balances out whatever DIY hassle might be involved. It means you don’t have to be confused when your friends insist on going out to dinner and the menu doesn’t have a “lighter side” section.  When you know what is healthy for you, you can choose for yourself and feel confident in your choices.  Example: I eat Paleo (lots of veggies and some protein). I lose weight, feel better, have more energy and I like what I’m eating. When I go out with my mom, she likes the Olive Garden, so my favorite meal there is broccoli with baked fish. I get salad and leave the breadsticks (I never liked their breadsticks, so no loss for me there!) Something similar happens when I go out with friends: they like Asian so I get the chicken teriyaki, light sauce, no rice but all the stir-fried veggies (cabbage, celery, carrots, broccoli, bean sprouts). I’ve never been a fan of white rice, so again no loss for me!

Yes, it took a while to feel comfortable on this learning curve and learning to do it myself was a pain in the beginning. It was a lot of reading labels and figuring out that cauliflower rice, no matter how popular, isn’t popular with me. It also took a while to figure out that I really like steamed veggies and if I feel like something different, I can always steam a different veg or throw together a quick salad. It’s also kind of fun sharing my salad with my dog who is practically vegetarian! You don’t have to choose to eat Paleo or vegetarian or keto; you just have to choose healthy foods in reasonable portions.  You also don’t have to make a radical change to how you eat or how much you eat.  You get to decide all these important personal matters for yourself.  The point is that once you learn how to do it for yourself it’s actually easier than always depending on someone or something else. You make your own choices and you choose what works for you.  It can be as boring or as adventurous as you want it because you’re the one making the decisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Not-So-Lovely Affair With Food: Weight Loss & Eating With Abandon

On a recent episode of My 600 lb Life, we watched a patient devouring a dozen donuts for breakfast.  She sat there with a box of a dozen mixed varieties, eating one after the other. I hate to admit it but I was so jealous- and I don’t even like donuts!

It wasn’t so much that I wanted donuts but rather I was jealous that she was eating with abandon.  She was eating whatever she wanted as much as she wanted and whenever she felt like it! I was so jealous because it’s a wonderful and heady experience to stuff yourself until you are full of whatever yummy food you want to eat.  It’s eating without caring about the consequences.  The donuts don’t really matter: it’s the same jealous feeling when I watch them eat pizza (especially a thick crust pizza) or when they eat pasta or bread or pretty much anything.  I remember how it felt to sit there with a huge amount of whatever I wanted and I could eat until I was absolutely stuffed full. For those few moments I was eating, it was a wonderful feeling. The food was so satisfying and tasted so good. I savored every bite and made it last as long as I could.  If there happened to be leftovers, I could look forward to savoring them too!

But once the eating was over, the feelings were almost as horrible as the eating had been satisfying. The guilt was usually liberally sprinkled with excuses: this was all I ate today; it was a special occasion (as in Friday!) or I was ‘treating’ myself.  Whatever the excuses were, they didn’t cancel out the guilt for eating so much. There is no excuse for eating an entire medium pan pizza when you weigh 300-plus lbs! I certainly wasn’t starving or undergoing some kind of ‘pizza deficiency’! So why did I eat so much? Because just the feeling of eating with abandon was enough! It felt like freedom!

Then reality smacks you hard in the face: your stomach hurts after eating so much; your knees and back hurt from being three times as big as you should be; you feel like crap because you shouldn’t be eating pizza at all, let alone the whole thing with wings and breadsticks! And forget about that pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer! (yeahhhhhh, riiiighhht!! Not happening!)

Obviously, I know how good it feels to eat without caring about the consequences and I know how bad the guilt is afterwards.  I’ve heard Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients talk about their love affair with food and how comforting food is and how food doesn’t hurt you or betray your trust! But oh, how wrong they are! There is nothing comforting in eating until your stomach feels like bursting and there is certainly nothing comforting in your legs and hips aching because you’ve got three times the weight on them that they are supposed to carry.  Food in those amounts definitely hurts your body with the voluminous calories and hurts your spirit with the shame and guilt.  As for betraying you? The food that is supposed to nourish you and keep you healthy is killing you slowly, miserably and painfully. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is!

Our love affair with food is really an illicit love affair. When you are having an affair, you hide your relationship out of shame, meeting your lover in places where you can’t be seen.  Once the passion is spent, you slink back to your spouse and try to forget how you are hurting him/ her with your betrayal. You hide your guilt and make secret promises never to do that again, and you mean it- at least until the passion overwhelms you and you sneak off to meet your lover again.  The only difference between that illicit affair and the one with food is that the person you are hurting the most is yourself.  You are betraying yourself when you gorge without care on whatever you want for that moment.  Is it worth the guilt and the shame and the pain you feel afterwards?  Hardly!  But for those few moments of delicious freedom….? For those brief minutes, we convince ourselves it’s worth it, but then afterwards we are drowning in the regret and recriminations that always come, that we know always follow our eating.

Some people refer to this as bingeing, but it doesn’t have to be an all-out session of gorging ourselves to qualify for the regret. It can be something as simple as the breakfast that we really want but isn’t the best choice for us. For me that can be pancakes or the breakfast sandwich that I love, or something as simple as finishing off the bag of licorice after dinner.  It’s not good for me and I’m certainly not hungry: I just really want it so I give in the momentary desire and then try convincing myself that “it wasn’t that much!” For some people, a binge is an entire cheesecake, a pint (or more) of ice cream and a bag of Cheetos; for others, an 8 oz bag of licorice is enough of a binge. The point is it is eating without control and without caring.  In short, it’s eating with abandon.

It’s true: having an apple instead of an apple pie is certainly better for you, but the point is giving in to the desire to eat. I wasn’t hungry- I just wanted to eat! When I give in and eat the apple or the donut or the licorice, I’m giving in to that desire to eat without caring again.  I do care, so instead of the donut, I choose an apple.  It’s like I’m only cheating “a little bit.”  If your spouse/ partner were cheating on you, would you make a distinction between a “little bit” and a “lot”?  Is there really a distinction?

Ultimately, no one else can make us stop. They can threaten or cajole or bribe, but we are the ones who must make the decision.  I have seen Dr. Nowzaradan take some fairly drastic steps to save patients from their own self-destructive actions after his dire warnings that one cold or flu is enough to kill them. Despite knowing that they are mere weeks from dying, they continue to eat and continue to gain (or regain) weight.  In most cases, drastic steps means physically limiting their ability to eat either by performing a bypass, a sleeve or by inserting a gastric balloon (this is where the patient swallows a balloon which is inflated in the stomach to take up space and prevent them from eating so much). In most of these cases, the surgery or procedure is already risky, but without it, they will keep eating and the question isn’t “if they die in surgery,” but “when they die from obesity complications.” This statement isn’t as histrionic as it sounds: it happened to my cousin.  He was over 600 lbs and was unable to control his eating.  I have also seen other TLC programs where the 600+ patient died from their obesity.  Like my cousin, their weight pushed their bodies over the limit until their bodies gave out.

For most of us, the situation isn’t as dire. There’s no life and death involved. Instead, it’s the quality of the life we want. Do we want to feel confident when we go out dancing? Do we want to be afraid of what’s on the menu at the new restaurant? Do we want to be able to go swimming without wondering what we look like in our swimsuit? Do we want to climb the tree or jungle gym with our kids?  These aren’t life or death questions, but sometimes when we’re sitting on the sidelines watching others enjoy their lives, they sure feel like it. It’s a simple decision: would I rather live with joyful abandon or eat without caring about what comes next?

Lowering The Bar: Focusing on Your Weight Loss Goals

One of the things that I see regularly on My 600 lb Life is patients who are practically immobile or are completely bedridden. From my vantage point and pretty much anyone else’s, it’s really easy to point out how they screwed up and complain that they are so lazy.  Whenever I feel the urge to start pointing out their errors, I remember that Bible verse about the mote in your brother’s eye and the log in your own: it’s easy to point out other’s failings and ignore your own screw-ups.

This is one of the reasons I watch the show: it reminds me of my own errors and how to avoid making them again or just making them worse.  These bedridden or almost immobile patients are a constant reminder of how easy it is to get stuck in what feels like an impossible situation. No one plans to become immobile or bedridden, and even though some patients will say “it just happened to me,” barring a serious accident, it didn’t ‘just happen’ to them. It happens when you lower the bar again and again. People get tricked into lowering the bar in what they believe is a temporary solution, but it’s a slippery slope and before they know it, there they are, stuck in a bed or in a wheelchair.

There’s a difference between lowering the bar and backtracking.  Backtracking is what happens to a lot of us after the holidays or after we’ve been on vacation.  We’ve gotten away from our healthy eating routines and when we go to get back into it, it’s tougher than we thought. I’m a good example of this: over the holidays, I ate a lot of breads, yogurt and other things that are normally not part of my healthy routine, and it’s a big adjustment going back to the way I normally eat.  Some things are harder to give up because they were hard to give up the first time (I should know better, but…….) I decided to backtrack a little: I gave up eating the yogurts and cookies but left in some of the other stuff like sweet potato chips and the cornbread because doing it all at once is making it harder than it has to be.  Even though I still have bread or chips a couple of times a week (or more to be honest), I’ve gotten rid of the other unhealthy stuff and am working on getting rid of those extra carbs that I don’t need.  The breads and chips are on my menu’s Temporary list because they are not going become permanent additions! I am in the process of removing them.  I backtracked on my healthy eating routine to build up some stamina and momentum to reach my goal of removing them from my regular grocery list.

Lowering the bar is something different: if I decided that giving up these foods was just too hard and I permanently leave them in a few times a week, that would be lowering the bar on my goals and expectations.  Backtracking means I am still working to meet my goal: I just have to work back up to it; Lowering the Bar means I’ve changed my goal to meet my current situation. This is how those immobile patients get stuck being immobile.  An example would be going to the grocery store.  Many of them have difficulty walking around the store, so rather than huff and puff and keep walking, they opt to use the motorized cart when they shop.  They probably tell themselves it’s just until they can walk around the store again, but they don’t change how they eat or how much they walk.  If anything, they walk less than before because now when they go shopping, they aren’t walking in the store at all- they are using the motorized cart.  It happens at home: they’re in bed and instead of getting up to get something to eat, they just shout for whoever’s home: “Sadie! I’m hongry!” “Hey, Mom! Can I please get something to eat?” “Bailey! Where’s breakfast?” Why? Because getting up and moving is a pain in the butt and just plain painful in general! In a lot of ways, it’s a gut response (to use a really bad but true pun): if it hurts, it’s reflex to ask someone else to do it for you, but in their situations, they really need to get up and move more, as well as stop eating so much.  For these immobile patients, unfortunately it’s become second nature to depend on others or depend on a device. They have lowered the bar on their goals and their progress.  Grocery shopping now includes using the motorized cart; moving around their house or neighborhood involves using a motorized wheelchair or scooter. They feel everyone staring at them because “I’m too fat to get around” but instead of keeping the goal to be more active and more independent, they lower the bar to avoid going out in public and become even less active.  They aren’t working at being more mobile: they have adjusted to their immobility.

I’ve been stuck in a bed due to an injury, and when these patients say it’s awful, I have an idea what they mean. I did a lot of physical therapy to recover from my injury because it was so awful.  I also know what it’s like to huff and puff and struggle to get around.  In 2012, I went to Disneyland with some friends, and even though it’s always been a lot of walking, I’d never had trouble like I did on that particular trip.  Of course, I’d never weighed as much as I did on any other trip either! In 2012, I was about 400 lbs and moving that much weight around the park was seriously painful and difficult. The thought of using one of those motorized scooters was embarrassing, so I did the next least-most embarrassing thing: I ‘watched the bags’ most of the time.  We’d take the monorail to the shopping area and I’d sit someplace while everyone else went to see a show or buy something or just do some shopping, and they’d come leave their bags with me and go somewhere else while I just sat there! Embarrassed and disappointed doesn’t come close to describing how I felt.  What I took away from that trip wasn’t “I need to figure out how to get around on a scooter” or “how do I get others to do things for me.”  If I’d wanted a scooter, I could have had one, and my friends would have been happy to bring me a burger or pretzel or anything I wanted to eat.  What I took away from that humiliating experience was “I need to lose some damned weight!”  Even though it took me a couple of years to get my act together, the memory of that humiliating trip kept me focused on working on my mobility, even if I wasn’t successful until the end of 2014!

Lowering the bar and backtracking have a lot in common, and backtracking can turn into lowering the bar if you never make progress or if you just plain give up.  I can even fool myself into thinking I’m still backtracking- and thereby making progress- if I keep pushing back my ‘goal date’ or scaling back my progress.  If I plan to start February without any bread or chips in my diet, but decide to change that to the end of February or I decide to leave in chips for a while longer and then they just never go away, that would be lowering the bar. If I really decide I like sweet potato chips and want to include them permanently, it’s still not a crime. I can eat what I want, but I really need to evaluate my Why for doing it.  Am I leaving them in because it’s too hard to give them up, or am I leaving them in because I really like the chips and I can still reach my weight loss goals with them in my diet?  If those chips are preventing me from reaching my goals, I need to ask myself “did I just lower the bar on my goals?”

To be fair, most people start off with backtracking, as in “I’ll stop with the sugar for now and I’ll work on the extra carbs later,” but then they never go back to working on those extra carbs, so the carbs stay in their diet and the bar gets lowered by default.  They didn’t mean to change their goals or stop working on their progress: it just seems to have ‘happened’ to them.  At the risk of sounding like a nag, it happened because they weren’t actively working on it. This is why it’s so hard to eat better and lose weight and be more active: it actually is work! And even if it’s not something you work on daily, it’s something that needs attention on a regular if not weekly basis.  It’s not that different from mowing your lawn. You can have automatic sprinklers to keep it watered but other than hiring a gardener, there isn’t an ‘automatic mower’ (at least not yet!) You need to mow your lawn on a regular basis or pay to have someone do it for you- either way, it needs your attention! If you don’t keep it mowed, your neighbors will let you know you need to do something about it.

This is what happens with most of these patients who end up immobile: they keep putting off working on losing weight and being more active until they physically can’t move around anymore, and even then, they do the equivalent of ‘automatic sprinklers’ and have family members feed them and take care of them, but as to doing the work themselves, it doesn’t happen.  Without their meaning to do it, they’ve abandoned their goals for healthy eating and being active through simple neglect, much like the lawn that keeps getting longer and shaggier week after week.

This is why we need to be mindful with our goals.  It’s one of the reasons I keep a food & activity journal; it’s why I watch reruns of My 600 lb Life; and it’s one of the reasons I maintain this blog.  I am very aware of what happens when backtracking turns into lowering the bar through neglect and procrastination. Focusing my attention on a nearly daily basis on what I am eating, how much I am eating, how active I am keeps me from dropping the bar lower or simply avoiding the bar altogether.  It’s an easy trap to fall into: one day you’re walking around Fantasyland with your friends and the next day, you’re watching their bags.  I can tell you from experience that’s a lonely and painful place to be, even in the Happiest Place on Earth.

 

Band-Aids, Weight Loss & Facing the Ugly Truth

The phrase “emotional eater” is something we’ve all heard.  It’s become a cliché, right up there with “I eat my emotions.”  When you talk to most dieters about why they overeat, this is usually what they say, or they use the sister phrase “I’m a stress eater.”  Same thing: you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed or stressed and so you eat something to distract you or make you feel better. Food has become your emotional band-aid.

So when we try to make healthy changes to our eating and exercise habits, we focus- obviously- on what we eat, how much we eat, and how much activity we get.  Hello!! It’s weight loss!! Duhhhhh….. What else would we focus on?

Ummmm… how about our emotions?  As in “the emotions that drive us to overeat”?  Again, My 600 lb Life is full of great examples of this. The patient struggles to lose enough weight to qualify for bariatric surgery and after the surgery still struggles with the urge to overeat.  It’s usually at this point that the patient is referred to a therapist to deal with these emotions.  Over and over again, the patient will use their emotions, their life experiences and their circumstances as an excuse for overeating.  Some will even say that food is their coping mechanism, but while they struggle to control their eating, they aren’t dealing with the root cause of their urge to eat: their emotions!  But that’s what the therapist is for.

There are a lot of people who don’t want to deal with these issues.  No one does- and that includes me! It means we have to come face to face with what we spend a great deal of time and energy avoiding.  We’ve all had similar experiences: I need to call my mom and talk to her about XYZ; dealing with her always ends up in a fight or listening to her hours-long litany of what’s wrong in her life; even texting her can be problematic, let alone talking to her; are there any bananas left in the kitchen? On the surface, this appears to be a complete non sequitor– one thing has nothing to do with the other, but in reality, the whole bananas issue comes directly from the stress I feel having to deal with my mom.  I am distracting myself by rummaging through the pantry for bananas, they’re yummy and soothing so they make me feel better, they’re full of sugar and carbs so they solve the physical stress response and I don’t have to think about or deal with my mom while I’m eating them.  Mission accomplished!

Unless your mission is to lose weight and eat better! This is what happens with most of us: two seemingly unconnected events that result in our slowly gaining weight or at the very least not losing weight, and we usually end up either beating ourselves up over not controlling our urge to eat or white-knuckling through the cravings.  None of these are healthy for us: not the stress/ emotional eating; not the beating on ourselves and not the white-knuckling.  To add insult to injury, it becomes a vicious cycle: we stress-eat, we feel angry/ frustrated/ guilty; we stress-eat, repeat repeat repeat.

What we really need to do is deal with our emotions and our stressors.  To go back to my example, that means “dealing with mom” instead of scrounging up the last of the bananas. Hopefully for most of us, we won’t need a therapist, but it still means facing some ugly uncomfortable truths. It also means finding something else to use as a coping mechanism instead of food. The best answer is to find healthy ways to deal with what we are trying to avoid, but finding interim substitutes that aren’t harmful are still a better band-aid for our emotions than donuts, chips or even bananas.

Which leads to the other big problem with emotional eating: denial.  As in “I don’t have an emotional issue; I just don’t like dealing with my mom!” This reminds me of the old joke of the smoker puffing away on a cigarette while smugly telling others “I can quit anytime I want!”  If your reaction to stress or difficult situations is to find something to eat, then you need to find another way to cope with your stress! Seriously, there’s a connection and an issue even if it’s not one that leads you to be 600 lbs or even 400 lbs like me.  You can keep slapping band-aids on your emotions to hide them but the emotions aren’t going away. All you are doing is covering them up: the wound is still there.

This is usually where Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients either deny they need a therapist or they realize how much they really needed one! It’s not until their band-aids are taken away that they realize how much hurt they were really hanging onto. This is where the issue of being happy enters into weight loss.  The majority of people who want to lose weight believe that losing the weight will make them happy.  We’ve all said it to ourselves: “when I lose those 50 lbs, I’ll be happy!”; “If only I could lose this weight, I’d be happy!”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  Whatever problems we’re hiding from with food will still be there even if we give up the food. With Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, they are forced to deal with their issues because of the bariatric surgery.  Their stomachs have been cut down to a size where even a hamburger or a sandwich is too much food at once, so they can’t eat every time they feel the stress: this means they are left face to face with whatever painful situation they were trying to escape (enter the therapist!)  For the rest of us who don’t have a stomach the size of a small orange, we usually end up cheating: “hey, these Reese’s peanut butter hearts are only 170 calories each! Yummy!!” It’s avoidance behavior (the band-aid) and it’s why most people end up losing and gaining the same ten or fifteen pounds over the course of their lives. We’re trying to avoid the negative emotions and the food band-aid as well with mixed success: lose ten lbs, gain five lbs, lose five lbs, gain ten lbs.  It all depends on how much stress and emotion we are dealing with at the moment and how much we are using food to hide from it!

For Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, their emotional reality usually hits them in the face when they’ve had the surgery, lost a couple hundred pounds and are still struggling with overeating and their unhappiness. “What’s wrong? Why aren’t I happy now that I’m finally ‘getting my life back’?” The reality is the food was just the band-aid: now they’ve got to find a way to heal the emotional wounds they were hiding from. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some kind of emotional damage, even if it’s just something like not having a good relationship with a family member. We’ve got job stress, family stress, and just life stress in general. Welcome to the human experience! There’s no getting away from stress, emotions and frustrations- it comes with living, and slapping a food band-aid over our problems is a sure guarantee you’ll gain weight.  The sooner we all learn to find healthier ways of dealing with our stress and emotions, the healthier we’ll be overall because it’s not just our weight that suffers.

Our emotions affect the entirety of our lives: our bodies, our minds, our relationships and our spirit. How many times have you had a bad day at work or just a negative experience with someone else, come home and snapped at your spouse/ child/ pets? Usually with me, it’s something stupid that irritated me, I get home and my dogs jump on my lap and usually the puppy smacks my glasses (this happens every day with him) but since I’m p*ssed about something else, I yell at them for jumping on me or getting in my way (regular dog behavior). We all know this is unhealthy and unfair, and most of the time, we apologize to whomever we’ve wronged.  What is not so easy to realize is the way the stress and emotions prey on our sleep (bad dreams, sleepless nights), our relationships (snapping at family/ friends) or our bodies and spirits (fatigue, malaise, feeling overwhelmed or helpless or just lost).  All of this is our stress and emotions sucking the joy out of our lives.  When we hide from them with food, we feel happy for a while because of the food and then we wrongly assume our problem is the food, when it’s the emotions behind the food.

Food is only one band-aid that we use. Other band-aids are alcohol, gambling, shopping, sex, social media, gaming, or whatever we use to distract ourselves, including exercise.  When my sister was in college I could always tell when she had a major project or exam because she’d go jogging again and again and again.  That was her stress band-aid; mine was food. Obviously, dealing with stress and emotions sucks.  Therapists and other professionals are only one way of handling something ugly and uncomfortable.  Other ways include journaling, meditation or anything really that you enjoy that helps you relax.  The key isn’t avoiding the ugly emotions but finding a way to face them, accept their ugliness and take away their power over you. One therapist reminded her patient that forgiveness isn’t for the person who wronged her: it’s for the patient herself.  Forgiving her abuser takes away his power over her.  When we learn to deal with the stress and emotions we all face every day, we take away their power over us. Yes, it’s going to sting, but it always does when you rip off a band-aid.

Portion Distortion: The Weight Loss Landmine

We’ve all heard about portion distortion when it comes to weight loss.  We go out to eat and look at the food on our plate and even though we know “this is more than one serving,” we usually don’t know how many servings are really there in front of us.  But it’s not just restaurants that do it to us: almost everything we buy has bigger than normal servings now.

At the risk of sounding like my grandma, when I was a kid, we’d buy frozen bagels at the grocery store (fresh bagels weren’t in stores or even bakeries).  The bagel was about the size of an English muffin, maybe a little thicker. Now, a bagel is literally twice the size of those frozen 1970’s bagels! One half of today’s bagel is the size of one of those frozen Lender’s bagels I got as a kid.  When you read the nutrition label on most of these, one serving is half a bagel!

The problem is that most of us don’t really pay attention to the serving size: one bagel = one serving, right? That makes sense, doesn’t it? It does, but that’s not what we’re getting.  Recently, standing in line at the grocery store, I looked at the wrapper on a King Size Payday bar: 150 calories a serving.  Logically, since it was a King Size bar, I thought there were two servings in this bar, but nope! It’s three!  It’s not 300 calories I was holding in my hand; it was 450!

Most of us really hate having to weigh and measure what we eat.  It’s one of the reasons so many of us give up on weight loss (it’s a major hassle) or we’re frustrated because our diet ‘isn’t working’ (because we aren’t weighing/ measuring). We also get lazy when it comes to reading the labels on packaging (another hassle!)  It’s bad enough to read them for calories or fat/ carb content, but then we buy the small package of cottage cheese and assume it’s one serving because it’s so small! But once we look at the amount per serving and number of servings per package, we realize that we just ate two servings of cottage cheese: really?! a half cup is a single serving?! it’s such a small amount!!

It is small to us now, but that’s part of the Portion Distortion landmine.  We know that what we are getting served either in a package or a restaurant is more than one serving: it’s pretty much common knowledge now.  What most of us don’t realize is how many servings there actually are in that package! (Think back to my Payday bar!) So while we acknowledge we’re walking in a mine field, we don’t know how many landmines are actually surrounding us! We think we know how much is a serving (it’s one cup of yogurt, right?) but our inner food scale has been miscalibrated by years of eating more than one serving at each sitting.  We eat the small container of cottage cheese or the whole bagel (or the whole package of M&Ms) and we think it’s one serving, because that’s what we’ve always eaten.  When we go out to restaurant and order a steak with fries and a salad with the salad dressing already on it, we think “okay, that’s more than a serving of steak and probably the fries too, but the salad is probably okay.” Depending on the size of the steak, it might be three servings (it’s 4 oz for steak) so it’s an 8 oz steak, it’s two, but if it’s a 12 oz steak (it’s a better bargain), that’s three.  As for the fries, it can easily be three servings depending on how generous the restaurant is (or if they have ‘bottomless’ fries!) As for the salad, again the serving size might be okay but what’s on it? Cheese? Croutons? Egg? and a serving of salad dressing is 2 tbs and most restaurants put closer to three or four.  FYI: that little cup of dressing for those of us who order it ‘on the side?’ Four!  The only advantage is that we can choose to use only half of it!

Somehow over the last forty-some years, the packages and portions have slowly increased and most of us have lazily gotten used to eating a whole package or close to it. I noticed it first with potato chips.  The ‘small’ bag kept getting bigger, and either we didn’t notice or we didn’t care.  The size of soft drink cups also increased and we kept right on ordering the ‘small’ even though it went from 8 oz to 12 to 16.  About ten years ago I went to the movies with my sister and a friend and we split an extra large soda between the three of us.  No problem because it was- no kidding- a bucket of soda! As in two quarts!!

Because we’re used to eating an entire package or restaurant ‘serving’ at one time, we are conditioned to think it’s okay.  There’s something a little off about saving half a package for later (it doesn’t stay fresh!) and bringing home leftovers from the restaurant is a hassle (the boxes leak!) and as for splitting a plate with a friend at the restaurant? (Please! That’s being cheap!) So rather than ‘be wasteful’ and leave food on the plate or throw it in the trash, we eat it all and feel stuffed…. until we get used to eating it all and then that oversized portion becomes the ‘normal amount.’  This is how one cup of cottage cheese has become a ‘serving’ and an 8 oz steak has become a ‘serving’ and the bagel the size of our face has become a ‘serving!’ Our bellies, our appetites, and- even worse- our perception have all become as distorted as the portions in front of us.

Going back to eating one normal-sized serving feels like we’re cheating ourselves since that ‘normal’ amount feels more like half of what is normally on our plate. It takes some time to adjust our perceptions, bellies and appetites again, but eventually, we get there.  We also don’t have to go from the 12 oz steak straight to the 4 oz either.  There’s no harm in going from 12 to 8 or 6- since it’s still progress! We also need to get used to the idea of either sharing what we’re eating (as in splitting a plate or a sandwich or wrap) or bringing something home. The same goes for only eating a serving and putting the rest in the fridge or pantry (that’s why they make baggies!) FYI: in a lot of places, the ‘child sized’ portion is still pretty close to normal! After years of ordering the ‘medium’ frozen yogurt (a pint!), the child size (4 oz) seemed paltry… until I was with a friend who ordered the medium and OMG! it’s huge! I’m fairly lucky in that I have pets, and I have no qualms with sharing my food with them, provided it’s safe for them.  I’ve also noticed that my pets have better food sense than I do: they don’t eat when they’re not hungry and one of my dogs will fight me for my salad and leave my frozen yogurt alone!

It’s a lot like getting new glasses: the first few days, it feels you’re walking on the rolling deck of a ship, and then one day, you wake up and it’s all normal again. Once we realize that we’ve been seeing isn’t what we think it is, it’s easier to recognize not only that we’re standing on a portion distortion landmine, but how big a bomb it really is!