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!

Ladies and Gentlemen: Start Your Engines! Beginning Weight Loss Basics

Beginning your  new healthy eating lifestyle can be a double edged sword. Too many of us get lost in the planning and information stage. It’s easier to keep “gathering information” rather than actually taking action. But planning and gathering information is meant to be just a foundation. It’s a lot like getting directions off google: it gives you a way to go- a plan of action- but then you’ve got to get on the road! Sometimes when you get on the highway, you find there’s road work or detours. That means you’ve got to do some ‘recalculating.’ For some people, ‘recalculating’ or a change of plans is seen as failure. I prefer to think of it as ‘refining the process,’ because that’s exactly what it is. 

Brace yourself: we’re all different! That means whatever weight loss plan has worked great for you might not work great for me. Several months ago, my sister started eating low carb and she went pretty much straight from vegetarianism to keto in a few days with very little trouble. She was a little tired and low energy for a few days but other than that, she had very little difficulty with the transition. For me, transitioning from Paleo (low carb) to keto (low carb high fat) is a lot harder. The logistics are more complicated for me and the physical side effects take longer to work through. That doesn’t mean that keto won’t work for me or that somehow her body handles ketosis better than mine: it simply means we’re different. 

People are more than just their bodies: we’re made up of habits and  preferences in addition to the physical elements. We like different foods, have different goals, hobbies and habits. Some of us handle stress better than others and some of us are naturally more active than others. Some of us also have very real physical limitations, and we all start from different starting points! 

This is extremely important, even though it sounds like obvious common sense information. How many times have you compared your weight loss or workouts with someone else’s and felt like you’re ‘falling behind’? They’re doing so much better than you are and you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, but you must be doing something wrong because they’re ‘winning’ and you aren’t. So, like most of us, you start ‘re-evaluating’ your plan: what are they doing that you aren’t? 

Like I said earlier: double edged sword. If your only reason for changing your plan is Liz or Eddie is losing more weight or gaining more muscle faster than you are, that’s probably the wrong reason to make changes. If you are losing weight or building muscle and they’re just ‘faster’ at it than you are, you’re still winning! Remember- different bodies, different starting points, etc.? But, if your plan isn’t working, and by this I mean not losing weight, not building muscle or making progress towards your goals, then re-evaluation is legitimately warranted.

This is where the information gathering comes in, tempered by your habits, preferences and the rest of your unique qualities. Example: when I started eating Paleo, I had no problems adding in more cruciferous vegetables. I like cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, but the ‘kale craze’? Leave me out! The same with eggs: Paleo recipes love them as much as they love kale! So when I started, I modified most of the recipes to replace the stuff I don’t like for stuff I like better. Eventually, I opted for real eggs at breakfast instead of the substitutes (lots of hot sauce to kill the egg taste) but kale still isn’t on my menu. 

This means if your best friend’s menu plan is full of yogurt and you’re lactose intolerant, or just plain don’t like yogurt, then that may not be the diet for you, or you’ll need to make some major changes to follow it. This is where information gathering pays off. If you’re lactose intolerant, you may be able to switch from cow’s milk yogurt to sheep or goat milk. If you just don’t like yogurt, you may be able to make other swaps, or you can try researching other diets/ eating plans, if what you’re doing now isn’t working. 

There’s nothing wrong with starting your weight loss plan by gathering information and there’s nothing wrong with refining your plan once you get started. But you can’t keep doing the ‘refining’ your plan without putting it into action. Seriously, I tried a hundred different salad veggie combinations before I decided on one that I really like, and the same with salad dressings, but until I got on the road and actually ate the salads, it was all academic. You have to take action and try out your plan before you’ll know what works for you and what doesn’t. Another example: I tried a few different brands and flavors of protein powders before I settled on ones I liked; then I experimented with almond milk, coconut milk and some blends. Then, I came to the conclusion that protein shakes worked best for me on an occasional basis. That doesn’t mean all my ‘refining’ was a waste: it means I learned that real foods are better for my weight loss and my body. Protein shakes aren’t bad for me, but on a daily basis, I’m better off sticking with whole foods. 

Making a plan is a great place to start but don’t be afraid of change and don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s a learning curve but don’t forget we’re all individuals and our plan needs to reflect our individuality. 

Ignorance Hurts! Weight Loss & New Ideas

One of the most painful stereotypes regarding the obese is that they are gluttons, followed hard by the second most painful stereotype: they are lazy.  Neither statement is true in most cases.  Most people who go on diets adhere closely to the program; they eat their diet food, measure their portions, say no to the cheats and treats.  They lose some weight, maybe even hit their goal, but then we all know what happens next: rebound weight gain!  They feel like failures and society for the most part believes they must have screwed up somewhere or just gone off their diet.

The truth is that, like most people, I tried very hard to lose weight.  I played sports; I tried to eat the healthy food.  My mom was always pushing one diet or another at me, and most of them were pretty awful and I never lost much weight.  Some of her plans included a fast-metabolism program, where I eliminate certain foods from my diet, drink smoothies according to the book’s recipe list, and then the following week, I make more changes to my diet to include/ eliminate more foods, and then make even more changes the next week!  This was guaranteed to jump-start my metabolism so I would burn off weight in no time at all!  Another one of her guaranteed fixes included drinking a smoothie made with an expensive powder (like $30 a pound!) and this powder would ‘bind’ to the sugar/ carbs/ whatever to keep it from being absorbed, so I would lose a lot of weight fast!  One of these diets included the questionably ‘healthy’ meal of buttered egg noodles on a regular basis.  Even as a teenager, I really didn’t think buttered noodles counted as ‘diet food’ and it didn’t take long before I stopped listening to my mom’s fad diet schemes.

However weird and wacky some of these diet plans might have been, my mom had the right idea: we need to keep learning and stay open to new ideas.  What we all thought was the ‘right answer’ when I was growing up (low fat-high carb and eat less-move more) is more than likely NOT the right answer!  We know that carbs turn into glucose in the body and that chronically high glucose leads to insulin resistance which keeps the body from metabolizing stored body fat.  Essentially, the more carbs you eat and the more often you eat them, the less body fat you burn off.  All that advice we were given about eating every two-three hours isn’t ‘jump-starting’ our metabolism but it is keeping us overweight.  The carb roller coaster is why we feel tired two hours after lunch and why that afternoon granola bar makes us feel energized.

When you open yourself up to new ideas, there’s always the danger of getting taken for a ride.  This is why if you are going to keep learning new things, you need to do your homework! I confess I am one of those who poo-poo’d the Paleo diet as one more weird freaky fad diet to be avoided, and I did it without learning anything about it.  I simply lumped into another one of those ‘flash in the pan & sell as many books as possible’ marketing schemes.  Bad, bad, bad! I should know better and I’m going to blame a cynical outlook on weight loss for my poor judgment! Before I made a snap judgment, I should have taken a look at what the Paleo/ Caveman Diet proponents were actually saying.

I’m not going to tell you that Paleo is 100% effective for everyone, because I honestly have no idea if it is.  I can tell you that after years of reading about other weird fad diets and trying a few of them that this one made the most sense to me.  The number one reason for me is that it’s a pretty basic plan: eat real whole food.  I don’t have to go looking for some expensive powder or a long list of strange smoothie ingredients, and I don’t have to drink all my food for weeks at time while doing XYZ exercises.  I simply avoid the processed foods.  Essentially, if it comes packaged in a box or a bag and has chemical gobbledygook ingredients, I should probably leave it on the shelf.

Proponents of Paleo have suggested that one of the reasons it took a long time for this way of eating (most don’t like the word ‘diet’) is that other than cookbooks and how-to books, there’s not a lot of marketing to go along with Paleo.  This is one of the failings of the Weight Loss Industry– because it is an industry!  People make money selling others like me the Hope of Losing Weight, usually in some package or some program that we have to pay for.  There are whole aisles at the grocery store full of packaged diet food, mostly full of chemicals, preservatives and other things that may not be good for us. We can lose weight eating those processed foods, usually only until we stop eating them.  This was my major question when I was losing weight on Nutrisystem: what happens when I stop eating their boxed food?  Easy! I gain weight again, because the focus is mainly on eating their food, not how I should be eating (supposedly that comes later, but I never got to that part!)

This is why Paleo works for me: it’s real whole simple food and I don’t have to buy the “Paleo” brand of food, although now there are brands like Primal Kitchen that fit the criteria, but it’s up to you if you want to buy them- you don’t need them to eat Paleo. If I want to buy some simple salad dressing instead of making it myself, I can buy it and not have to worry about it being full of canola oil, but if I want to make a simple vinaigrette, I can still do it.  The bottom line for Paleo is to keep your food as real, whole and unprocessed as possible.  Like I said, simple!

The point I’m trying to make is that if one thing doesn’t work for you, keep an open mind and keep learning about other methods that might work.  You need to give it an honest attempt (one week probably isn’t long enough) but if it’s not sustainable, you should probably cross it off your list.  A temporary fix is always and only temporary, just like all fad diets- once you stop eating their food or following their program, you’ll gain the weight back.  Paleo is no different in this way: if I were to go back to eating the processed foods I ate growing up, I would gain back the weight. What makes it work for me is that I’m still eating real food and it’s real food I like eating, like salad and spare ribs.  I feel better when I eat it instead of feeling hungry and tired after eating the fettucine alfredo.  I like what I eat, I don’t have to buy weird expensive ingredients or take handfuls of pills.  If I had done my homework about Paleo when I first heard about it, I’d probably have lost weight years before I did and no doubt saved myself some grief.  By choosing to stay ignorant and cynical, I only hurt myself.  Shame on me for being narrow-minded!

[Since learning about it, I’ve read some other great books that follow the same kind of idea: Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson; The Paleo Solution and Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf; Always Hungry? by David Ludwig, and Melissa Hartwig of Whole 30 has just come out with two new books.  All of these advocate eating unprocessed nutrient dense foods and keeping the processed ingredients to a minimum.  However you choose to eat, choose nutrition over convenience when possible and always go for unprocessed.]

Denial and Weight Loss: If You Don’t Admit It’s Broke, You Can’t Begin to Fix It!

We hear so much about denial and self help groups, it’s become cliche, which is really not a good thing.  It’s important to point it out when we see it, but at the same time, people have gotten good at denying their denial.  We get the “That’s denial!” phrase thrown at us so often, we don’t even hear it anymore or we come up with excuses for why we aren’t in denial, but there we are, still denying we have a problem, whatever that problem might be: “I’m okay, really!”

That’s what makes denial so important and so insidious.  One of the problems we regularly have at the office is our internet goes down.  It’s pretty obvious: we can’t get online so we call someone out to fix it, and it gets fixed.  That’s the easy part: the less obvious problem (at least to the boss) is that our ISP stinks! The boss doesn’t want to deal with changing providers because it’s a headache, so he puts up with spotty service. That’s where the denial comes in: by not admitting that our ISP is truly crummy, we are dealing with the recurring problem of no service at all.  Instead of fixing the real problem (crummy ISP), we are left dealing with the symptoms (no service).

One of the people I work with has serious knee problems.  She’s actually had both knees replaced and she’s having problems with recovering from the last surgery.  She’s remarked to me and her employer that she’s probably put on about “fifteen or twenty pounds” because she’s been so immobile due to the complications from her last surgery, which was last December, FYI.  I really had to bite my tongue.  She estimated her weight to be “about 265.  I just took a guess!”  I don’t know if my shock showed on my face.  In a way, I hope it did because then she might actually get on a scale to see how much she really does weigh.  I know how much I weigh; at last weigh-in a few weeks ago, I was about 255-260, and she looks like she outweighs me by about 70 lbs.  She actually looks like what I used to weigh most of my adult life: 375.

This is where most of us are when “we know we need to lose weight, but we aren’t that overweight. It’s not that bad!”  One of the phrases I hear in pretty much every episode of My 600 lb Life comes right after the patient steps on the scale for their first meeting with Dr. Nowzaradan: “I’m shocked”;  “I can’t believe I weigh this much”;  “I didn’t think it had gotten so bad”; or some variation of this. They knew they were obviously overweight but they were in denial over how out of control the situation really was.  There was one patient who refused to look at the number on the scale.  It sounds silly, but I understand it: I used to do the same thing. Every time I’d get on the scale for a check-up with my doctor, I would close my eyes so I wouldn’t see the digital readout right in front of my face.  Why? Easy! If I don’t see how much I weigh, I don’t have to admit it’s killing me and I don’t have to deal with the consequences of my eating! Yay for me! Except… it was agony living in denial.

I’m not exaggerating: it hurt to walk, to stand, to sit.  I was moving 375 lbs for most of my adult life every time I stood up, went to the grocery store, whenever I had to do anything!  For most of my life, even though I weighed so much, I was pretty mobile and there weren’t too many ‘inconveniences’ that went with my weight.  It wasn’t until I got over the 400 lb mark that it really began to take a toll, and when you gain weight at that size, you feel every pound you gain! But, if you don’t look at the number, if you don’t admit you ‘have a problem,’ you don’t have to deal with it.  It’s nothing you have to address right away.  You can ‘get by’ and deal with the symptoms rather than the real issue: your weight.

For me, these symptoms included things like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, arthritic knees and degenerative disc disease.  Dealing with the symptoms meant taking 6 prescriptions, two for each of these!  It meant sticking my finger at least once a day to check my blood sugar; it meant it hurt still hurt to walk, sit or stand, despite the pain medication and the anti-inflammatory.  Rather than deal with the issue of my weight and my eating choices, it was easier to pop a bunch of meds and live with the pain.  Except… it really wasn’t easier.

This is why denial is killing so many of the obese and super obese and those with eating-related health problems, like diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney and heart disease.  If you don’t admit you have a problem, then you can’t take steps to fix it.  You have to look at the problem in order to address it and move forward.  Closing your eyes so you don’t see the number keeps you right where you are: doing nothing and going nowhere.  The irony was that even as I closed my eyes, I knew why I was closing them, and I still did it! I knew I was in denial over my eating choices and my ever-increasing weight, but I still thought it was easier than having to face some hard realities.

For most of us, losing weight is really really hard.  It’s hard to make changes; it’s hard to know what’s the ‘right way’ or the ‘best way.’  We feel overwhelmed and hopeless because ‘nothing works’ and sooner or later, even if we have some success, we end up pretty close to where we started.  That’s the Reality we are trying to avoid facing and we opt for denial instead.  But the truth is that is not Reality.  Yes, losing weight involves making changes and not all of those changes are easy,  but taking action is normally not as hard as we think it will be. Making small improvements can yield some significant benefits. Feeling better physically and emotionally are huge rewards to start with, and any improvement is still improvement! For me, that one simple change was I just stopped eating fast food and I lost about 40 lbs! That was my reality and it was an easy fix.  For someone else it can be as simple as not drinking soda or not eating bagels for breakfast.

But we can’t make improvements, large or small, until we come face to face with the number on the scale.  We have to open our eyes first and admit that we have a problem and that dealing only with the symptoms isn’t going to fix it.  Until we admit that there’s a problem- that something is out of control- we can’t even begin to fix anything.  As an added benefit, just taking action, no matter how small, is a morale booster.  It gives us hope and a sense of control- we are doing something and we are open to suggestions! Now if only I can get my boss to admit our ISP is a problem……


Building A Solid Road for Weight Loss: The Bottom Layers Count

One of the alleged perks of being an English Major is that literature isn’t created in a vacuum, which was my see-through excuse for minoring in history. Basically, people write about what they know and what happens around them. For those of you rolling your eyes, I’m volunteering Jonathan Swift and Lewis Carroll. Both of their most famous works (Gulliver’s Travels and Alice in Wonderland, respectively) are brilliant satires on the England of their time. 

The beauty- and flaw- of this interconnection is that it lends real depth and strength to the stories, which is why we remember the mini Lilliputians and the Red Queen shouting “off with their heads!”  The flaw is that the stories are strong enough to stand on their own and no one remembers why the Lilliputians are so little and why the Queen wants to behead everyone. 

So what does a didactic Queen Victoria and petty self-absorbed 18th century Englishmen have to do with weight loss? One word: foundation. Actually one adjective and one noun: strong foundation. When we build a strong foundation for weight loss, or rather a healthy lifestyle, the healthy lifestyle will eventually stand strong on its own. The sum becomes greater than its parts. We don’t need to know the ins and outs of the history behind Swift & Carroll to enjoy the stories on their own. Usually only nerds like me care about the history; the rest of the world just likes the story. 

Since literature is rather ephemeral,the history geek in me is going to give you a more concrete example: the Appian Way, or virtually any Roman road. The Romans understood- probably better than any other culture- that if you’re going to build something, you should build it to last. All across the former Roman Empire, the modern civilizations currently living there are still using the roads, aqueducts and bridges (among other things) built by the Romans a couple thousand years ago. The solid foundations of those ancient roads still hold up better than modern creations, putting up not only with 2000 years of traffic but also continuing to withstand our modern trucks, buses and cars. One of the major frustrations of modern engineers is- again- the Why behind the strength in the Roman roads. Why do they last when something “modern and sophisticated” collapses after some rain and a couple decades of use? The secret is literally the concrete in the foundation. Roman concrete and the foundation of the road is why they last. It’s the bottom layers that no one sees and everyone forgets that give them their staying power. 

So when we go to build our healthy lifestyle to eat better, be more active and lose weight, we tend to focus more on the superstructure than the foundation: we want something that “looks dramatic” rather than the mundane stuff no one notices. Example: we decide to do a 21 Day Detox or a 6 Week Keto Reset or a Five Day Fast rather than something ‘dull’ like tracking for 14 days. Why is tracking so important? Simply put: we can’t measure what we don’t monitor. How can we improve our diet if we don’t know what our diet really is? We might think that we’re ‘eating clean,’ ‘eating high protein,’or that we’re ‘eating less,’ but studies show we really do have selective memory. We may remember “breakfast, lunch and dinner,” but forget we snacked on the peppermint patties after lunch or the latte we had after breakfast or the peanuts we got on the way home from work. Likewise finishing the last slice of pizza in the fridge after dinner or the marshmallows and hot chocolate while watching tv. Those little memory lapses add up over time and eventually tip the scales, literally. Until we know what and how much and how often we eat and drink, we can’t measure any healthy progress or make real healthy changes. It’s not glamorous or exciting, but it’s a solid foundation for positive changes. Once we know what we’re eating, we can begin making real changes and even more importantly, we’ll know what works and what doesn’t. This last simple truth is priceless. Example: if you think you’re eating low carb but “don’t count” the peanuts you have several times a week after lunch, you may not be as low carb as you think, and if you’re trying to get into ketosis, those peanuts might be getting in your way. Or it might not be the peanuts: it may be your ‘few times a week’ latte or the combination of the three times a week latte and the handful of peanuts each afternoon at the office. We might think of these as ‘occasional indulgences,’ but how ‘occasional’ are they really? You’d know if you tracked. 

The same is true if you’re trying to improve your insulin resistance: the longer you go between meals, ie fasting, the better it is for your insulin, but if you’re not tracking, you may not realize that “supposed sugarless, calorie-free” snack you’re eating multiple times a week is what’s getting in your way. If you’ve changed everything else and it’s still not working, that snack may be the culprit, but again if you’re not tracking, that snack might keep sneaking by. 

Most people don’t like to track because they don’t want to measure or walk around with a notebook to write things down. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. Personally I like a paper journal because I keep other notes in it, like my mood or any pain (arthritis aggravated by grains), or just simple things like sleep quality. Most of us don’t realize we’re walking around with mini computers in our hands all day long. Tracking can be putting down what we eat in our notes app, downloading a tracking app like MFP (My Fitness Pal) or Fitbit (especially if we have a tracker), or something as simple as taking a pic of everything we eat! It can be as complex or as easy as you want, as long as it works for you, but until we have a clear picture of our bottom line, anything we try to build on top of that is off to a shaky start! 

Emotional Eating – It’s an Excuse, Not a Coping Mechanism

“I’m an emotional eater” is probably one of the most common phrases in the weight loss community.  I hear it constantly on MFP (My Fitness Pal) and on My 600 lb Life.  It’s used as a coping mechanism for stress, depression and anxiety.  It’s a celebration when we’re happy.  Food basically either makes us feel good or it numbs and covers up whatever negative feelings we’re trying to avoid.  I remember having a fight with my mom, hanging up and then found myself staring into the fridge when I was completely not-hungry.

I also learned that I eat out of boredom.  For me, it was mainly in the evenings in front of the tv and there was nothing really to occupy my time other than the idiot box, so what do I have to eat? Anything good in the house? Or not good but still edible?  Boredom eating was (and still is) one of my biggest challenges.

I thought about it this morning on my way to work.  I listen to a rock station and a newer song came on the radio: “Rx (Medicate)” by Theory of a Deadman.  The lyrics were pretty much bang on target: “I am so frickin’ bored.  Nothing to do today.  I think I’ll medicate.”  Obviously, it’s more about pills and drugs than it is food, but for most of us ‘emotional eater,’ food is the same obsession as drugs, alcohol or anything else addictive.  It lights up the Pleasure Center in the brain just like nicotine, cocaine or beer, so it has the same effect on us.  It gives us pleasure, it distracts us from what we’re trying to avoid and when we’re done eating, we want more of the same.

There are a million problems with emotional eating just as there are with any addiction, but probably because food isn’t seen as something dangerous like the cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, we tend to let it slide.  ‘Eating our feelings’ is how we cope with things, even though we know we shouldn’t do it- it’s just one time! It’s only until the holidays/ special event is over!  I know it’s a crutch, but I just need to get over this XYZ right now.  I’m going to be a b*tch: these are all excuses!

One of my favorite episodes of My 600 lb Life is Dottie’s Story.  Dottie knew she was an emotional eater and she certainly had plenty of stress in her life (her older son was severely disabled with serious health problems).  Her sons were her main reason for wanting to lose weight because she needed to be there to take care of them.  As a result of her eating, she weighed nearly 700 lbs, and as Dr. Nowzaradan told her repeatedly, “you can’t take care of your kids if you’re immobile or dead.”  After nearly losing her oldest boy, she had gained nearly 40 more pounds, and on one particular night, dinner for her, her husband and her one year old baby was three medium pizzas and a 9×12 pan of brownies.  Her sister was trying to bring home the idea that ‘eating her stress’ isn’t going to solve anything; Dottie’s response was that “you have different coping mechanisms than I do,” and I agree with Dottie 100%.  We all have different coping mechanisms for the stress in our lives, and while Dottie doesn’t need to adopt her sister’s coping strategy any more than her sister should adopt Dottie’s, the point I think her sister was trying to make is that when one of our coping strategies (cigarettes, alcohol, food, gambling, etc.) becomes more harm than help, we need to change it to something else!  Eating our feelings is not a viable long term method for dealing with stress.  While most of us aren’t nearly 700 lbs, it is still not a practical or safe method for dealing with whatever is stressing us out.  Even though it may not seem ‘dangerous’ to eat a box of brownies or a pint of ice cream when we break up with our significant other or we have a huge fight with our boss, or whatever is going on in our lives (there’s always something!), let’s try substituting something that is obviously unhealthy, like drinking a fifth of vodka or a case of beer or gambling away $100 or more.  Those are obviously a little more problematic, since most of us can’t afford to throw away $100 or getting that drunk can kill you or someone else if you’re dumb enough to try driving afterwards.  Even if you tell yourself “I only do this when [insert event here] happens!”, does that still make it safe or okay?

The main problems I see with emotional eating are these: 1) what happens when you have a lot of stress/ anxiety on a regular or long term basis?; and 2) there is a cumulative effect.  This is why I maintain eating your feelings isn’t a viable strategy for dealing with your stress, anxiety and problems.

When you have a lot of stress all the time or just all at once, are you just going to keep eating your feelings?  Like the example I used earlier, if you suddenly started getting drunk or gambling on a regular basis, most of your friends and family would become concerned, but with eating, it’s a little less noticeable until the pounds start showing up.  Then a loved one might try to bring it up delicately, but it’s not something ‘serious’ like the drinking or gambling, where they might feel a little more justified in having a heart-to-heart for your benefit.

Except that eating your feelings is something dangerous, because of problem #2: the cumulative effect.  Most of us aren’t good at losing weight. For most of us, our weight tends to ratchet upwards with our age.  We talk with fondness about how thin and fit we were in high school and ‘wish I was still that thin!’ So the more stress we have as we go through life, the more we eat our feelings, those two or three extra pounds we gained when we broke up with Love of Our Life or when we lost our job or when we had that Family Crisis tend to add up: 3 lbs + 2 lbs + 3 lbs is suddenly 8 lbs.  Now imagine if we go up only three pounds a year? If we were 125 lbs when we graduated high school, by the time we are 28 (10 years down the road) that’s 30 lbs! And if we keep to that three lbs/ year, by the time we are forty, it’s 66 lbs!  So as we are getting older and our body is starting to feel its age, we are adding to the problems by giving it another 60 lbs to carry around.  Even worse, by the time most of us realize that our weight is getting out of control, around the 10 or 20 lbs number, we usually turn to the diet pills and problems that don’t work, throw us on the yo-yo diet track, and then our weight becomes one of those ‘stress triggers’ that cause us to eat our feelings! Yay! Let’s take that campfire and throw some lighter fluid on it to get it really going hot!!

I’m not trying to be an alarmist or blow things out of proportion here, but eating our feelings has somehow attained status as a viable coping mechanism in our culture. There’s the stereotype of crying women with the pint of ice cream watching a love story on tv after a break up. It’s become ‘acceptable’ but that doesn’t make it a real strategy for dealing with stress, anxiety or negative emotions.  This is what Dottie’s sister was trying to explain to her: “you can eat your feelings, but it’s not going to help you deal with the underlying problem.”  We all need to find a way to deal with those problems and emotions, because we all have them in our lives.

I get it: it sucks! It truly does! It feels so much easier to eat a cookie (or several cookies) than to deal with the real problem, such as your significant other cheating, losing your job, having a fight with a sibling, or a serious health concern in your family.  Real problems suck and it sucks dealing with them.  Try dealing with them when your weight is also becoming a problem! Now you have the problem plus your own aching knees, incipient diabetes, or a hernia.  Remember when you were a kid and your mom wanted to dig out the splinter in your finger or rip off the band-aid on your arm? “No! It’ll hurt!” Yeah, it did- for a few minutes! Then your finger or your arm stopped stinging and the wounds healed and you forgot about them.  It’s the same way with your other problems, though not as quick.  Finding a way to deal with the problems, either by journaling, seeing a therapist or finding some other method based on who or what you’re dealing with will probably take some time and no doubt some trial and error, but in the long run, learning how to deal with a difficult situation will serve your health- and your confidence- much better than continuing to hide behind a pizza, doughnuts or a bag of chips.