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.

 

 

 

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.