The Secret Saboteur: Weight Loss & Stress

Let’s be honest: stress gets the blame for a lot of things we screw up in our lives.  We forgot to make the car payment because we were stressed over our job; we missed our dentist appointment because we were stressed over the kids; and the classic: we blew our diet because we were just so stressed!

We are so used to hearing Stress being painted as the villain that we regularly dismiss it now. Friend:”yadda yadda yadda Stress made me do it yadda yadda!” You: “Yeah, whatever!” But while Stress might be a convenient villain, it doesn’t mean that it really isn’t a villain. In fact, Stress is as ubiquitous and all-pervasive as Sherlock Holmes’ arch-nemesis, Prof. Moriarty.  Stress seeps into every facet of our lives, working its corrosion into our best laid plans.  While you’re probably rolling your eyes and telling me, “duhhh! old news there!”, let me ask you “so what are you doing about it?”

When I was a kid (lo, those many decades ago!), drunk driving was no big deal. Everyone knew someone whose parents drove drunk a few times and even when I was in high school, no one thought twice about getting buzzed at some party out at the reservoir and then driving home. They were more concerned about getting busted by their parents than busted by the cops. The truth of the matter was that drunk driving was never a “big deal”….until it was. Once the general public became aware of how many lives are destroyed daily by drunk driving, then we saw it for the huge problem it really is.  But until we were actually paying attention, it was ‘nothing to worry about.’

While Stress normally doesn’t have the catastrophic and tragic results that drunk driving has, it still has some really negative results and depending on how severe the Stress is, it can be pretty bad. When it comes to weight loss, Stress is that secret saboteur that gets in your way, leads you astray and continually confounds your progress, and if your weight is contributing to a condition like diabetes, kidney, heart or liver disease, that can be just as catastrophic as a car accident!

For most of us, our weight isn’t life-threatening and usually doesn’t have such overreaching effects on our lives. It’s that annoying twenty pounds that makes us ‘feel fat’ when we wear jeans or keeps us from taking off the cover up on the beach.  Still, how much better would our lives and our health be minus that annoying twenty pounds? Probably a lot better! So… why haven’t we lost that weight? The answer probably has something to do with Stress!

Like I said before, we probably look at Stress as the ‘Convenient Villain’ that gets blamed for our over-eating, eating Forbidden Foods, skipping workouts, etc.  While Stress may not be the actual villain in those scenarios (admit it- you ate the chocolate cake because you wanted the chocolate cake!), it really is working against you! Whether it’s physical or emotional/ mental, when we feel stressed, we have a physical reaction which spreads throughout our bodies and damages us.

If you’ve never read any Sherlock Holmes, hopefully you’ve seen the Robert Downey, Jr. movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows where he shows Jude Law’s Watson his wall full of pictures, news clippings and notes all connected by strings to a central figure. In the stories, Holmes describes Moriarty as the spider in the center of web controlling it all.  Stress is the Moriarty spider in the center of our lives!

We all know about the Fight or Flight reaction we have when faced with a potentially dangerous or threatening situation.  Stress is part of that reaction.  Something happens that puts pressure on us, either mentally/ emotionally or physically, and our bodies react to it.  Most of us discount this Stress because hey, we aren’t going to die if we’re late back from lunch or if our morning meeting runs long and the 10:30 client has to wait a little while.  Our boss or the client might not be happy but some things (like traffic and long meetings) are out of our control.  It’s called the Modern World, people!

This is exactly my point: Stress is still in our lives, but because we don’t think “we’re going to die!“, we tend to discount it.  How bad can Stress be if it’s not going to kill us? The truth is that it is killing us, just very slowly.  Stress, especially chronic Stress, keeps our cortisol levels elevated.  Cortisol is the “stress hormone” and the main mechanism which causes so many of the problems related to Stress. Prolonged and recurring Stress, such as the kind that comes with a high pressure job or a hectic family life, effects us in ways we don’t think of as any “big deal.”  So we have “a few” sleepless nights; we forget the dentist appointment; we pour the coffee on the cereal in the morning because we’re preoccupied with the upcoming project. Nothing to freak out about, right?

Ummm, that depends. You know how little treats add up when you’re trying to lose weight? How those two cookies at lunch aren’t a big deal but how those two cookies are joined by the bag of chips on the way home and the grande mocha in the morning and then the bowl of ice cream after dinner? One of those treats alone isn’t that big a deal but all of them together turn into a diet killer!  That’s what happens with your Stress:  a couple sleepless nights aren’t a big deal but they add up and are usually joined by Stress-triggered effects.  These are things like headaches, muscle tension/ pain, fatigue, digestive troubles as well as the sleepless nights.  Stress causes anxiety, feelings of restlessness, hopelessness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, inability to focus/ concentrate, anger and depression.  These can lead to eating disorders (over-eating and under-eating), angry outbursts, substance abuse (food, alcohol, drugs, tobacco) and social isolation.

Those high cortisol levels are mainly responsible for increased inflammation which many studies are now showing are behind a lot of our autoimmune disorders (such as arthritis and fibromyalgia) and also behind some of those problems I mentioned earlier: heart disease and kidney disease.

The sleepless nights aka Sleep Deprivation also has a whole host of negative effects, such as memory issues, mood changes, inability to focus/ concentrate (brain fog), drowsiness, weakened immunity, high blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes due to the increased levels of insulin, weight gain due to the resistance to leptin (the satiety hormone) and increased ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and the increased inflammation- again!  The attendant drowsiness that comes with chronic Sleep Deprivation is usually responsible for all manner of accidents, from tripping and falling to car accidents due to drowsy driving (it’s now listed on police collision reports!)

All of these negative effects are the result of Stress.  This is why I call it the secret saboteur. Stress really does sit in the center of the web of many of our health problems.  Our weight is just one of the many things that is affected by the ongoing Stress in our lives.  While we may not be fighting off a tiger or a wolf, we are now constantly bombarded by little stressors such as traffic congestion, late-paying clients, lost phones, too many activities and pressure from family and friends. It doesn’t help that we manufacture our own Stress when we stay up too late scrolling through Facebook or ordering online and then we feel rushed in the morning because of the traffic and where’s our phone and are you taking the kids to basketball tonight? All this Stress leads to poor eating choices, lack of exercise, giving in to hunger and cravings, over-eating, and increasing waistlines.  How can we be expected to lose weight with all this Stress in our lives?  This is where we blame Stress (“That’s why I ate the whole bag of Chips Ahoy!”) but what are we doing about all this Stress?

Let’s be honest: Stress is not going away, so we need to learn to manage it. There are a lot of strategies to manage your Stress (google that late at night!) and they include simple things like going to bed at the same reasonable time each night; making time for relaxing hobby (I like puzzles); being more physically active; socializing with friends or pets; relaxation techniques like yoga, deep breathing and meditation; and the simplest is absolutely free: keep a sense of humor! I know it’s easier said than done but at the end of the day, we need to decide what really deserves our immediate attention, what can wait until later and what we need to let go.  When my cable box recently died, after a fairly major tantrum that night, I put off replacing it until the weekend.  So I miss a week of tv! It’s not worth the Stress of rushing around to “get it done now!” As a result, it was fun “camping out” with my kindle for a few days and I got to spend more quality time with my pets (my favorite stress relievers)!

 

The Devil We Know & The Devil We Don’t: Fear & Weight Loss

When I worked at The Job From Hell, The Boss used to berate me for “not embracing change.” I think she believed I was afraid of it. There’s a difference between fearing change and being annoyed with it.  Frankly, I don’t like change because it interferes with my routine and as The Boss rightly noted, I love my routines!  Change means I have to learn to do things differently, which takes time and can be confusing and so very frustrating! There are some things for which I have a high tolerance (such as traffic) but others things, like learning to access voicemail on a new phone system, not so much! I’m not afraid of learning something new.  Learning is fun for me, but when it gets in my way, not fun.

When it comes to weight loss, there is usually a lot of fear involved.  There’s the obvious Fear of Failure but there’s also Fear of Success.  Most of us have faced Fear of Failure (FOF) before and we’re usually way too familiar with this one!: “What if I can’t lose weight?”; “What if I don’t know what I’m doing wrong?”; “What if it’s too hard to stick with it?”  What we don’t expect is to be afraid of success and a lot of times we don’t recognize it when we experience it.

Fear of Success (FOS) can have its roots in fear of change.  If we are successful in losing weight, that means there will be some changes in our lives, but what kind of changes?  What does that mean for us? What if we lose a lot of weight and then gain it back? Do we know how to keep it off? What happens if we have ugly saggy skin? What if the saggy skin looks worse than being overweight?  What if our spouse/ partner isn’t attracted to us anymore? What if our friends/ family don’t like our new lifestyle? That is the voice of Fear trying to undermine your success and self-confidence!

Fear is like water and once it soaks in, it’s hard to get it out again and it can be devastating. Water erodes and cracks rock; it can wash away entire cities. All we have to do is look at the Grand Canyon to see the power of water: fear can be just as overwhelming if you let it. But if you don’t let it soak in and wash you away, fear has no control over you.

One of my favorite tv shows is Buffy, The Vampire Slayer (roll your eyes- I’m used to it!)  One of the reasons I liked it so much is because the message behind the episodes actually had meaning.  In this particular Halloween episode, Buffy and her friends go to a ‘haunted house party’ in which a fear demon has been unleashed. As she and each of her friends enter the house, they become separated from each other and come face to face with their worst fears. Once they break the spell and actually face the demon, he is only about four inches tall, so Buffy squashes him like the bug he is.

That particular episode is a great metaphor for how fear works, its impact in our lives and how its true nature looks bigger than it really is. Fear makes us feel alone, as if there is no one who can help us, no one who understands and how if others ‘really knew us,’ they wouldn’t love us anymore.  When we give in to fear, we allow it to isolate us and take over our lives. Our fears dominate us and keep us feeling alone and helpless. We can’t go to others for help because ‘no one can help us’ and we feel we have to keep hiding our fears and our true selves to hang on to the lives we have. It isn’t until we bring those fears out into the light of day that we see how tiny and insignificant they really are: they just seemed monstrously huge!

I am not going to make light of facing our fears. (I’ve got a few fear demons locked in my own closet!) But eventually, there comes a point when you either have to give up and give in to fear or you have to face it down and stomp on it.  When it comes to Fear of Failure, we expect that. All we need to do is google and we’ll have a 100,000 answers in 8.4 seconds! Surely, one of those will answer your problem? Maybe and if nothing else, you have about a 100,000 starting points! It’s the Fear of Success that blindsides us and we usually don’t realize what that nagging little voice is.

I know one of my excuses for not losing weight was loose saggy skin.  If I lost weight, then I’d have all this ugly saggy skin and the only way to get rid of it is surgery and since I didn’t want surgery, I didn’t want to lose weight.  I reasoned that I was preventing a problem by ‘choosing’ not to lose weight.  What I was really doing was hiding behind my fears: I was afraid that I couldn’t lose weight.  I was afraid others would find out I was ‘on a diet’ and when I didn’t lose the weight, they’d think I was stupid or lazy or a glutton or [insert negative adjective here].

I was also afraid of what I would do if I actually did lose the weight and did have to deal with that loose saggy skin! Instead of looking like a tick about to pop, I’d be looking like a melted candle or a deflated balloon. Yay! Even more unattractive! What if I l gained it all back?  We’ve all heard the stats on the Rebound Gain: people lose forty pounds and gain back sixty and then it’s even harder to lose it again! Does that mean I can get even bigger than 440 lbs?!

Then there’s the fear of losing weight the ‘wrong way’ and ending up in a worse situation than obesity (though in my case, is there anything much worse than Super Morbid Obesity?)  I ran into a similar situation when I started following a Paleo diet: criticism from others. “It’s not healthy”; “it’s a fad diet”; “you’ll end up vitamin-deficient and malnourished.” My mom, who is a retired Registered Nurse, was one of those critics.  Initially there was so much wrong with eating Paleo according to her.  Even though I was successfully losing weight I was doing it in a way that was sure to make me sicker than before! If I had not been so resolutely obstinate, it would have frightened me away from eventual success.  It can be scary thinking that what looks like success is actually something that ends up hurting you, which is what happened with my aunt whose gastric bypass led to fatal complications.  As a medical professional, my mom is an actual authority figure and her recommendations are usually valid. All you have to do is pick a weight loss plan and google it and there’s another 10,000 horror stories about people who got sick and/ or died from eating Paleo/ keto/ fasting/ having surgery.  It worked for them until XYZ happened  and then they died or nearly died! These kind of anecdotes scare you into thinking “I’m fat but at least I’m alive and otherwise healthy!”

Really? It’s that old joke about the guy who fell off the skyscraper: as he fell past the windows, people heard him saying “so far, so good.”  That’s really what’s going on with obesity: so far, so good.  It’s the punchline from the other version of the skyscraper joke: it’s not the fall that kills you; it’s the sudden stop at the bottom.  Our weight has consequences that take their toll on our health.  Sometimes it’s Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Sometimes it’s Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), and most often it’s Type 2 Diabetes (D2).  The real problem is that these conditions have become so prevalent in our society because of the obesity epidemic that they aren’t seen as the serious conditions they truly are.  We see commercials for drugs to control or minimize the effect of COPD, CHF and D2.  We see happy people with portable oxygen machines and long acting insulin pens and other medications that make it easier to live with the effects of obesity.  The longer we are obese, the more it harms our health.  Like water it wears away at us until the cracks begin to show.  Eventually, we can’t patch them up anymore and the health problem actually becomes a life threatening situation.  Not being able to breathe is a problem. Having a heart that doesn’t pump efficiently is a problem. Having your organs shut down because of toxic blood sugar levels is a problem.

By making these problems seem manageable, we are denying they are actually problems and making it easier to hide behind our fears: “I don’t have to face my fear of being obese because it’s not causing me problems!” Except I can’t breathe sometimes and some days my fingertips are blue and I have to check my blood sugar three times a day and take some pills.  We are more afraid of looking stupid and failing at weight loss or having ugly saggy skin or losing weight the wrong way than we are of the serious long term consequences of our obesity.  We’re looking at the spectre of serious health problems and instead of seeing Freddy Kruger, we see Sully from Monsters, Inc., when our fear is the real blowhard but that D2 really is Freddy. When we break through the paralyzing spell fear has over us, like Buffy and the Scoobies, we see it for what they is: just an annoying little pest. So just step on the little bug before Freddy shows up!

Fearlessly Being You: Weight Loss & Liking Who You Are

I am sure we are all familiar with the self-help mantras “you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you,” and the ever-popular Serenity Prayer. I accept that these mantras have merit, but they’re a little too mainstream for me.  I much prefer the somewhat quirky “wherever you go, there you are!”  I feel it not only speaks to where you are in life, but who you are as well.

One of the newer podcasts I’ve been listening to is The Wellness Force podcast with Josh Trent and while I’m still not sure he’s going to fit with my lifestyle, one of the recent podcasts he had was with professional volleyball player Kelly Claes who used an expression that really resonated with me: “fearlessly authentic.”  The inspirational quote app that I use updated earlier this year and now allows me to create tags for my favorite quotes and the first tag I created is “#fearless.”  Simply put: sometimes you need to be fearless to get where you want to go!

Most of us start out life with our parents setting our goals and aspirations.  This is pretty normal: as a kid, you really don’t know what’s what so you look to your parents for guidance and somewhere along the line, you realize you don’t want to be a doctor or a teacher but an artist or a baseball player or an engineer.  You start finding yourself and finding your own way.  Again, this is pretty normal.

But when you’re a kid and you’re overweight, you face some different obstacles. Most parents either believe ‘it’s a phase’ and you’ll ‘grow out of it’ or they start trying to guide you out of it. Sometimes their guidance is encouraging you to be more active, play sports or eat healthier foods.  Sometimes, it’s humiliation and recrimination. Even if they don’t mean to do it, sometimes it feels like their love and acceptance hinges on how much you do or don’t weigh. They may not ever say it, but we feel their disappointment and disapproval of our weight and from those unspoken feelings, we begin to feel that we are simply inadequate, lacking and a failure.

Growing up is hard enough without feeling like you are a failure as a person. While this post is about weight loss and obesity, it happens to kids for all kinds of things: not being pretty enough; not being a good enough athlete; not being smart enough.  Parents don’t mean to do it, but they place their own expectations on their children and when they fall short of those expectations, the child internalizes the disappointment as being their own personal failure. When it comes to weight loss, it can lead to a lifetime eating disorder, among other things. Generally children who feel inadequate either begin to crave their parents’ approval or they go the opposite direction. (Guess which way I went!)

For me as an overweight child, I was constantly being told “if only you lost weight, [insert good thing here].”  If I lost weight, I’d have boys lining up at my door.  If I lost weight, I could wear all the pretty clothes.  If I lost weight, I could have a whole new wardrobe.  Basically, if I lost weight, I’d be perfect.

Except I didn’t lose weight.  I stayed obese and after years of failing to win my mom’s approval (she was the most critical), I eventually gave up trying to get something I was so obviously never going to get.  (While my dad wasn’t exactly happy with my weight either, he was more focused on other goals such as college and a career.) This is where I learned to be fearless when it came to being me.

What I mean by “fearless” is that I simply stopped apologizing for being obese and not being perfect. It also means that I accepted myself for the person I was at that time and not who I was going to be at some time in the future.  This is paramount because until we accept who we are right now, we’ll always be stuck putting off our lives until some future time ‘when we’re thinner.’ While you’re probably thinking that’s a no-brainer, this idea sometimes gets internalized with the “I’m not good enough” mentality and before you realize it, it’s part of who we are.  Unfortunately, it’s usually the part that holds us back from living the life we want.

One of the constants on My 600 lb Life is patients saying how they need to have surgery so “I can get my life back” or “start living my life.”  Many of them probably never considered that their lives don’t have to be on hold because of their weight.

Obviously there are a lot of issues behind their compulsive overeating but I think a portion of it comes from that ‘waiting to be perfect’ mentality. They can’t move forward because they believe there is something wrong with the person they are right now. Being morbidly obese- and especially super morbidly obese- is a fact of life that has to be dealt with but when you put your life on hold until you are ‘fixed,’ it can mean waiting forever. Most of are familiar with the ‘perfect outfit’ in our closet that we can’t wear until we lose 20 lbs or so, and we hang onto it until it’s no longer in style and we have to give it away without ever wearing it… and we replace it with another perfect outfit we’ll never wear. Imagine that’s your life: always waiting for it to ‘start’ until you’ve got no time left.

Wherever- and whoever- you are is all you’ve got. There were a lot of times I was rejected because of my weight. I was told I wouldn’t advance or be successful in some jobs because of my weight, that guys wouldn’t find me attractive because of my weight, that my weight was always going to hold me back from doing things I wanted to do. Some of these statements were and still are true.

But I’ve lived all my adult life obese, mostly around 375 lbs. Once I learned to stop apologizing for being fat and imperfect and fearlessly live my life on my terms, my weight took a backseat to the rest of my life. Yes, there were times it got in the way and there were a lot of times I wished I were thinner. FYI: I also wished I were taller, too! But for most of my life I refused to let my weight make me miserable.

When my weight did finally become a problem I had to deal with, it still took a backseat to an even bigger problem, mainly my depression over The Job From Hell. That job seriously made me hate my life and who I’d become and it wasn’t until I dealt with that as well as the mental and emotional fallout from that job that I was able to deal with my weight. When I learned to like myself again, it gave me the strength to take advantage of new and unexpected opportunities which led to some serious weight loss.

Even though I’ve lost nearly 170 lbs, most of the world still considers me obese. There are a lot of family members who would be happier if I lost another 100 lbs. I’m still eating healthy and I’m still being as active as I can be, but my weight doesn’t define me anymore now than it did when I was 375. I am still more than just the number on the scale. For most of my life, I liked and accepted myself for the person I was, and I like who I am now. The difference is that now I’m 170 lbs lighter. It was my acceptance of myself that gave me the strength to grow and succeed and make the necessary changes. My acceptance of who I am gives me the courage to live fearlessly and do what’s right for me instead of following advice that doesn’t work for me, whether it’s for weight loss or anything else. If I hadn’t had the strength and courage to live fearlessly, I’d never have tried the Paleo diet; I’d never have gone to a gym or tried water aerobics; I’d never have joined My Fitness Pal, or started blogging, and I’d likely never have lost the weight I’ve lost. Liking myself, accepting myself and trusting myself has allowed me to continue growing into someone I like better who is happier and healthier than she used to be. But weight loss isn’t what’s made me happier and healthier: it’s the byproduct of learning to like myself again.

Sometimes we think we know where we’re going. We all have an idea of where we want to be but a lot of times, that’s not where we end up. That’s why I like that quirky mantra so much: “wherever you go, there you are!” And if you don’t like where you are, have the courage to go somewhere else!

A Slippery Slope: Weight Loss & Falling Down The Learning Curve

We are an instant society.  We’ve got instant soup, instant pots, instant messages, and even Instagram. Our unofficial motto should be “instant gratification takes too long!” The problem with this Instant Philosophy is that while technology is instant, human beings are not. We can take a long time to absorb new information and learn new habits and procedures, and even if we learn things relatively quickly (as in a few days), we are frustrated with this seeming “delay.”  We want instant results!

Learning anything new or even trying something different is difficult at first.  It gets easier…. eventually.  It’s that holding out until it gets easier that is the hardest part and until we reach that point, it just seems to take longer to do, and when we do it “wrong” we have to do it again, or it just adds to our delay and that’s when we start falling down that learning curve! We ask ourselves if this is really worth it? Is it going to do whatever we want it to do? How long do I have to wait until I know?  Why does everything take so damn long?!

Welcome to the Human Experience! This is why we get so frustrated with ourselves and others when it comes to weight loss.  We all know that– tragically– weight loss isn’t instant. There’s a long list of “isn’ts” when it comes to weight loss: in addition to not being instant, weight loss isn’t linear, it isn’t permanent, it isn’t easy! Weight loss is slow, difficult and full of ups and downs.  That’s why most of us dread weight loss and making almost any kind of change to our eating and exercise.  We go through the process of trying something new, learning a new habit or procedure, then we have to get consistent with this new process and then- only after we’ve been consistent for a reasonable period of time- we get to find out if it actually works! It’s an almost painful process of trial and error! It’s as far removed from Instant as it can get!

But the biggest stumbling block isn’t that our new eating plan is wrong or that our new exercise program is messing up our weight loss: it’s that we give up on the process out of frustration.  There’s a learning curve that comes with making changes and being consistent with those changes.  To be blunt, the Instant mentality is messing us up and until we get that mentality out of our head, we’re going to keep messing up!

This is why fad diets and food replacement programs work so well in the short term.  They seem to give us the instant results we want.  We do something drastic, as in fasting for X amount of days taking only XYZ supplement or ABC diet shakes, or we just switch out our regular meals for the diet food from the Weight Loss Company.  Wow, we lose weight fast! …… At least until we stop with the fasting, the diet shakes, supplements and processed diet food and the weight comes back!

Making long term changes yields long term results, but it also takes a long time for the changes to show up. Making long term changes, even though they aren’t usually difficult, means we have to be consistent with them once we learn them, and that means changing our habits! Enter Frustration- the arch-nemesis of Instant! Let’s say we’re switching to a low carb breakfast, something fairly simple and easy to do! It’s one meal! So instead of having the bagel and cream cheese with a latte, we’re going to have string cheese and coffee with cream (some of us don’t do black!) Seems easy enough, but….. we’ve got to do it….every day… on a long term basis! So we start doing it and before we start seeing results, we start getting frustrated.  For starters, we really really want that bagel and latte! Then, we ‘forgot’ our string cheese so we need to get something else so we get a breakfast burrito (it’s kinda low carb, isn’t it? Umm… NO!)  Then we get tired of the cheese and the coffee: “I want something warm! I want something crunchy! This cheese doesn’t fill me up so I’m still hungry!”

This is why we aren’t losing weight: we aren’t being consistent.  How often did we get tired of the bagel and cream cheese? Did that bagel fill us up? Think about it: we finished our bagel about 9:00 a.m. and then went for a snack around 11:00 a.m. Not really filling if you’re hungry in two hours! There’s a learning curve when it comes to new habits and new procedures.  We not only need to be consistent with these habits in order to get any results but we need to be consistent to learn them! This means being patient! If we keep not-doing them, we’re going to keep not-losing weight and not-learning the new healthier habits!

When we talk ourselves into not doing the new habits, we are talking ourselves into failure again.  We think that we can’t lose weight because weight loss is hard so we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  That’s what turns the Learning Curve into a Slippery Slope! We try eating the low carb breakfast but we ‘forget’ and have the bagel or we ‘cheat’ and have a breakfast burrito and after a couple of weeks of ‘kind of’ having the low carb breakfast, we still haven’t lost any weight ( Burrito/Bagel: 8; Low Carb Breakfast: 6) and so we give up. “See? I told you I can’t lose weight!” Or we convinced ourselves that the low carb breakfast (or whatever) doesn’t work for us, because we ‘really tried it’. Really?? Consistently? Every day? “Ummmm…. kinda…?” Kinda doesn’t count!

The irony is that we want Instant Weight Loss Results but we talk ourselves into Instant Weight Loss Failure, because- again- we want Instant! Let’s face it: Instant is easy.  How much work can there be when it’s instant? Instant oatmeal: just add hot water and it’s five minutes to yum! Old fashioned “quick cooking” oatmeal: heat up the water on the stove, add the oatmeal and stir and stir and stir for about 20 minutes. “You mean I got to wait for the water to boil and then I gotta cook it for 20 minutes? And stir it too?! OMG!! Oh hell no!!” (Let’s not even talk about stove-top pudding vs instant! )

Learning to do something differently takes work and patience. It means dealing with things that are frustrating and making mistakes and above all it means not giving up! I know how frustrating and confusing new processes are.  One of my resolutions for 2018 is money management which means (cue ominous music) making a budget and sticking to it! After weight loss, this is probably the most frustrating, confusing and dreaded task in our lives. Not only am I counting calories now, I’m counting my pennies! After dinner, I sit down and log all my food, drinks and exercise, which is pretty much routine after a couple of years, but then I pull out my Budget Book, grab my iPhone and start going through my expenses, bank balances and any bills that have hit since yesterday **sigh**.  Makes for a thrilling evening though, because my blood pressure and frustration levels definitely go up!! There were so many nights I just wanted to chuck the whole process and go back to living paycheck to paycheck like so many other people do. “It’s not a sin, is it? If I can’t go on vacation, it’s not the end of the world, but what happens when I need to replace my car?”

However-– and this is important– after doing this for a couple of months, I’ve noticed some important things, such as I’m spending more on impulse purchases than I thought I was and by monitoring a few important categories, I’ve managed to save twice as much money as before. (This is not unlike skipping the potato chips, choosing the spinach and losing a few more pounds. Score!) The frustration headaches and evenings spent covered in pencil shavings and eraser dust have actually paid off and I’m getting some positive results. It’s not magic (although looking at my bank balance really feels like it is!): it was consistency and hard work and climbing back up that learning curve.  The end result is that if I hadn’t put in the hard work, all my frustration would have been for nothing and I’d be back to scraping up my change to get an Americano instead of watching my savings account get bigger.  Or to put it in weight loss terminology: I’d be eating the bagels every morning, getting hungry before noon and wondering why weight loss is so hard for me.

[FYI: I chose the book You Need A Budget by Jesse Mecham; they have a  free podcast, and a website, software and an app, which are not free, but they offer a free 30 day trial. I found they paid for themselves in a couple of months.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put Down the Phone: Weight Loss & Our Devices

Some of you know I commute five days a week for my job. It’s about four hours round trip and while most people get really frustrated in traffic, I’ve mostly come to enjoy the time to myself. Of course there are some things that still really really irritate me and nothing irritates me more than seeing a driver with a cellphone in their hand.

I live in California and driving or texting while holding your phone is against the law. Using a Bluetooth device is allowed but if you’re caught holding your phone, it’s going to cost you. If you’re lucky, it’s just going to be a few hundred dollars, and if you’re not lucky, you or someone else could be hurt or die.

Unfortunately it’s still one of those laws that most people ignore. I’ve seen cops and CHP (California Highway Patrol) driving with phones in their hands. I was waiting at a traffic light one day watching the woman in the car next to me chatting away on her phone. Then she hung up, put it down, then picked up another one to make another call! I really wanted to roll down my window and holler at her to hang it up.

A few months ago I got a magnet for the back of my truck that says “Put Down The Phone.” I believe it really should say “damn phone!” Recently I’ve been seeing commercials for car insurance with the character Mayhem (actor Dean Winters) pretending to be a cellphone stuck under the console buzzing away.  Obviously the driver of the car smashes into the rear of a stopped vehicle and frankly, the commercials make me laugh. I know car accidents aren’t funny.  For the record, I work as a paralegal at a personal injury law firm and 98% of our clients are car accident victims and some of their accidents are the result of some fool on a cellphone. When I use my phone while I’m driving, I use my Bluetooth and when it’s not working (which is often), then my options are not making the call or pulling into a parking lot. Usually, it’s not a difficult decision: the call can wait.

I realize that this is not what most people would do. Since cellphones and other devices have become pervasive in our world, we are trained to reach for the cell when it goes off. Being out of cell range or – gasp!- turning your phone off is practically unheard of.  We are so connected to our devices and phones in particular that they are taking their toll on us in ways we are just beginning to discover.

I saw a health advisory discussing more and more patients coming to their doctors with “text neck” from holding their head at an uncomfortable angle because of texting. The solution? I completely expected the host to say: “put down the phone!” My jaw dropped when she said the solution is to hold your phone higher so it’s on a closer level with your eyes so you don’t have to bend your head. OMG! How about not texting/ scrolling/ emailing six hours a day?

I’m not going to lie: I love my phone, my iPod and my tablet, not to mention my desktop. I spend several hours a week on this blog and my pet blog (myfourleggedfamilyandme.wordpress.com) which means I’m obviously attached to my device or computer. Even though I wouldn’t dream of leaving home without my devices and the chargers for them, I also know that I don’t use my devices as much as other people do. There are a lot of people who are on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and other sites for several hours a day. I also don’t check my email every day- gasp! Also unheard of in today’s technocentric world! There’s a time and a place to use these things and sometimes that time is “not right now.”

As I said, I am not anti-device: I just think we need to have a little more discretion about when and where we use them, and I don’t just mean “while you are driving a car.” There are the obvious health risks that come with chronic device usage, like overexposure to blue light (impairs sleep), eye strain, headaches, the text neck mentioned above, carpal tunnel and tendonitis in the hands, fingers and wrists from chronic typing, texting and scrolling, but there’s the other less obvious health associated problems that come from being overly attached to our devices.  These are things like chronic sitting.  This is one that usually smacks me literally in the butt: I usually type my blog posts at my desktop which means if I’m not interrupted, I could end up sitting there at my desk for an hour or more, and this is just for one blog post! This means when I do get up, I’m usually a little stiffer than usual. Chronic sitting at a desk isn’t good for your legs, hips, back, shoulders, neck or eyes.  (For more on the dangers of chronic sitting, check out Deskbound by Kelly Starrett.) There is also how we are becoming more and more disconnected from the people we care about. Remember, humans are social creatures and we need a certain amount of contact with others to stay emotionally healthy! We’re familiar with the now cliche family sitting around the living room or kitchen table all glued to their devices, communicating through texts even though they are in the same room. This is cliche because it happens in real life now, and now that everyone is getting an Echo, Dot or other Alexa-enabled device, it’s become easier: “Alexa, call the garage”; “Alexa, call the kitchen.”

The chronic sitting and the disconnectedness are bad enough but chronic device usage is more insidious because it directly interferes with our daily activity. When I am glued to my desk top typing away, I am not getting up and moving around, which is why I am stiff.  When mom or dad needs to call little Janie or Mikey to the dinner table, they just send a text or have Alexa call the living room or bedroom rather than walk down the hall or up the stairs.  That lack-of-activity adds up!  We have the same effect when we order paper towels or other household necessities online and have them delivered to our house rather than going to the store and walking around to get them ourselves.  All of these daily little activities have gone away in favor of doing it on a device. Are you out of cat food? Get it delivered! Out of detergent? Get it delivered! And while you’re at it, order dinner to be delivered too!

I’m a huge fan of Amazon’s Subscribe & Save where I get some supplies delivered monthly and I also get an Autoship from Thrive Market each month as well.  I’m not going to lie about how convenient it is, especially since most of what I order is a hassle for me to buy locally (or plain unavailable). I will point out that I make at least one or two trips to local stores each week, and when I do buy online, I pick it up in the store if I can, partly because I’m impatient and I want what I ordered today dammit! and partly because if I’m going to order it online, I might as well get what exercise I can picking it up! Remember, activity is necessary for our health, let alone weight loss! Sitting on the sofa, the recliner, or even at the desk not only isn’t burning calories or building muscle, it’s an invitation to eat while you’re there! How many of us have devoured a bag or box of junk food just because it was there in front of you? And I’ll bet you don’t remember eating it all and definitely didn’t enjoy most of it!

This is the most insidious way that our devices inhibit our weight loss and contribute to our weight gain. Not only are we stuck on the sofa mindlessly munching popcorn while we watch YouTube on our phones, we ‘don’t have time’ to work out anymore. We’re too busy on Instagram or Facebook to go for a walk, a run or go to the gym.  Why would we take a walk and spend some time face to face with our friends when we can stay at home, eat brownies and do Facetime? Why would we even go outside to get some healthy sunlight when we can be shopping online for a Joovv light?  Then we could get healthy sunlight in the middle of the night when we’re liking things on Facebook! Let’s not even talk about staying up late into the night instead of sleeping because we’re on our devices! (Formerly guilty of this one also! I stopped when my forearms began to hurt from holding my tablet! Bad, bad, bad!) Your body interprets lack of sleep as stress and as Megan Ramos (The Obesity Code Podcast) stated recently, even if you’re eating right and working out, you won’t be losing weight if your body is under stress!

I love my devices and technology but I am also aware that all technology isn’t good for me or everyone else for that matter.  As I said above, I’m a paralegal at a law firm, and I am also the receptionist which means all the phone calls come through me.  When I came to work here, all of our attorneys had phones with intercoms, so when someone called for them, I could put the caller on hold and buzz the attorney to announce the caller. At my old job, we didn’t have intercoms, but our office was one large room with offices attached, so our intercom was “DAVID! THE COURT’S ON LINE TWO!” unless we happened to have clients in the office, in which case I got up. When I came to work here, hollering wasn’t an option, so I did what came naturally: I got up, walked down the hall and told the attorney face to face who was on the line for them rather than buzzing them (that seems rude to me).  When one of our attorneys semi-retired, he moved out of his office to a cubicle and he elected not to have his “intercom” moved to his new phone.  Now when someone calls for him, buzzing his line isn’t an option: I have to get up to announce his call.  It’s a little amusing for me because both he and his wife (a frequent caller) apologize when I get up to tell him he’s got a call.  Even though I tell them both it’s not a problem, I know they are used to the old receptionist who just buzzed everyone.  Incidentally, the receptionist I replaced at this job was not only overweight with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, she eventually had a stroke and had to retire on disability.  Believe me, getting up and walking down the hall to tell Rick he’s got a call is not a problem for me!

 

 

 

Trying and Trying Too Hard: More (Stress) is Not Better

One of the biggest issues we face in America and most Westernized industrial nations is the idea that “more is better.”  If some exercise is good, more must be better! If some B vitamins are good, more must be better! If some caffeine is good, more must be better, and so on and so on.  Obviously, more is NOT always better and with some things, like vitamins and supplements especially, more can be deadly.  Hint: when something says “do not exceed recommended dosage” on the label, follow the directions! Bonus hint: always read the directions on any medication, vitamin or supplement! Seriously, too much of certain ‘safe’ vitamins, supplements or even OTC remedies can kill you.

This More is Better idea has become a way of life for a lot of us, except when it comes to certain healthy routines.  We think nothing of overtraining, overworking, overeating, but when it comes to things like sleep, relaxation or even something as ‘woo-woo’ as meditation, we poo-poo the ideas and go back to overworking.  We seem to pride ourselves on being stressed to death by work and training and even so-called recreational activities like parties, classes or hobbies.  We’ve taught ourselves that every minute of every day must be scheduled with something ‘productive.’  As a result, we’re scheduling ourselves into our graves.

Even when it comes to healthy habits like eating better or being more active, we’ve scheduled ourselves with trainers and workouts and reading books, blogs or listening to podcasts. We’re trying to cram as much as we can into every day either with work, our healthy routines, our hobbies or even gathering more information. So, if we aren’t working at our job or our home, we’re working on ‘being healthy!’ Isn’t that awesome?  Ummmm…. not as awesome as you’d think!

Again, more is NOT better, especially when it comes to filling every nook and cranny of your life because we really are stressing ourselves to death.  The only times we even consider something like a ‘rest day’ is when it comes to training and in a lot of those cases, we ‘rest’ the muscles we worked out the day before. So if we do the upper body on Monday, we work out the lower body on Tuesday and then back to the upper body on Wednesday.  That should be plenty of rest, right?  Maybe for your biceps, triceps and rhomboids, but not for YOU. You might think and even feel like you’re doing okay and not feeling a lot of stress, but how much rest are you actually getting? After working eight hours and working out for another hour and then running some errands, you come home, have dinner, walk the dog, help out with cleaning up or housework, watch some tv and then go to bed so you scroll through blogs, Facebook or put on a podcast as you lie in bed.  By the time you actually fall asleep, it’s after midnight and then you’re up at 6:00 a.m. the next morning to do it all again! The only difference is on weekends when you can work out longer, run more errands for you and the family, read more blogs, Facebook or plug in more podcasts and stay up later because you don’t have to work on Sunday, unless you do bring work home so you get to schedule that into your weekend too!

All of this is stressful. We think we’re getting enough rest and relaxation when we do things like work out or walk the dog or scroll through Facebook, and for some of us, that may be true. If walking the dog is something you enjoy and you can relax while doing it, then don’t stop doing it.  The same thing with hobbies: if this is time that you have set aside for yourself and your own enjoyment, that really is awesome, but the real test is when you get up in the morning or sit down at the end of the night.  If you wake up to your alarm and feel as tired or achy or grumpy as you did the night before, you are not getting enough rest and recovery time. If you sit down to watch tv at night or lie in bed scrolling through your device and find yourself nodding off, then you are overscheduled and stressed out.  The same thing with weekends: if you sit down for ten minutes and fall asleep- bingo!! Not getting enough sleep! And FYI: the answer to not getting enough sleep isn’t more caffeine!

When we decide we want to be healthier, right along with advice like “eating right” is the advice about “be more active”. That really is good advice, but we only read those two and seem to miss the “get more sleep” and “manage stress” advice.  Part of this is a cultural work ethic and part of this is just that ‘more is better’ attitude again. We think being more active means getting more things done in the day, especially since we need to cram in the time for the blogs, the podcasts, the workouts, the healthy grocery shopping and everything else that we already had scheduled in our day.  ‘Being more active’ has very little to do with ‘getting things done.’  I can sit at my computer typing pleadings and correspondence all day long and while I may get a whole lot of documents done, it also means I’m sitting on my butt not being active. The same goes with listening to podcasts or reading blogs.  Unless I’m doing that on a treadmill or on bike, I am not being active although I might be ‘getting things done.’ Sometimes we have to be a little creative when it comes to getting things done and being more active, but it also means not scheduling ourselves to death. For me, this means listening to podcasts in the car while I am driving to work: as long as I’m stuck sitting on my butt, why not get something done that I can do sitting down? As for being more active, when I make time in my week for working out, that means I have to look at anything else I’ve scheduled in my week and choosing either to move activities or discontinue them completely because there is a finite amount of time in our days and weeks! We can’t do everything: we need to be selective with our time.

Part of this time and stress management means I set an alarm on my phone to go to bed.  While this sounds a little silly (an adult with a bedtime like a five year old?), it means that when I wake up in the morning, I’m not a grumpy old b*tch.  Silly as it seems, setting a bedtime and keeping it has had major and positive impact on my stress and my health.  I am about as close to a vampire as you can get without burning up in the sun and going to bed at 10:00 p.m. is about the same as other people going to bed in the middle of the day.  However, reluctant though I am to keep my regular bedtime, I notice that when I do, I wake up before the alarm goes off and, while I’m never happy about getting up in the morning, I am not exhausted and snapping at the pets. It also means that if I’m feeling tired at 9:00 p.m., I don’t stay up unless I’m working on something.  “Working on something” doesn’t mean posting online or reading a book or blog and definitely not watching tv.  It means things like finishing the dishes or changing the cats’ litter box- stuff that really can’t wait until tomorrow (unless it has to)!

Getting enough rest and stress management are actually two separate ideas.  If you are not getting enough rest, your body will feel the stress even if you think you don’t.  Being chronically sleep deprived is a stressor on the body and the mind.  All those ‘senior moments’ you have are probably stress and sleep related. You know you can’t think clearly when you’re tired but when you’re chronically tired, you begin to think being a little fuzzy minded is normal.  For those of us who wear glasses, we don’t realize how much our vision has changed until we visit the optometrist and she tries out new lenses on us- wow! Talk about clear! For those of you who don’t wear glasses, next time you’re at the drug store, try looking through the reading glasses while you’re there, then once you take them off, you’ll understand. The same thing happens when we’re always tired, always a little fuzzy and always a step or two behind.  It’s not because we’re getting older- it’s because we’re not getting enough sleep!

The same thing happens when we’re always stressed. Remember what I said above about snapping at my pets? Remember when your kid asked you something and snapped at her? It might have been something simple like going over to a friends or watching something on the living room tv, but you bit her head off.  We have a finite amount of patience, too.  We’d like to think it’s limitless but the more we go through in a day, the less patience we have when we get home and unfortunately, the ones waiting for us at home who have to deal with the leftover bits of patience we’ve got are the ones we love the most.  We snap and grumble and huff at them when they want to spend time with us and they don’t deserve that. This is especially bad when we bring work home with us.  Some of us are lucky enough to leave the job at the office, but we can still bring home the worry and the stress. I’ve heard of people who designate the first thirty minutes or more at home as ‘unwind’ time.  That means let mom or dad change clothes, take a shower, lay down, whatever before asking questions or cornering them over something. For me, that ‘unwind’ time (odd as it seems) is my drive home. This is when I will call friends on my Bluetooth, put on an audiobook or play list or just drive in silence. This is my time and even though it’s spent in traffic, I get very grumpy when people call to bug me during my drive time!

If walking the dog is your unwind time, don’t stop doing it and it might be a good idea to let others know that when they interrupt you while you’re walking Max, it is not a good thing! If you don’t have some time or ritual set aside to de-stress, set up something and let your family and friends know that this is your time for yourself and it needs to have a permanent home in your schedule. It’s like getting enough sleep: when you wake up not hating your day, the more you can not only enjoy it but the more productive you can be overall.  When you don’t manage your stress, it spreads into the rest of your life and wears away at things you used to love. You end up not sleeping well, not enjoying your job and either not enjoying time with your loved ones or being too tired to enjoy it.  What’s the point in eating right and working out if you’re too tired and stressed to enjoy the life your working so hard to achieve?  News flash: even if you are eating right and working out, it all gets cancelled out by being overtired and overstressed.  Remember: more is NOT better!

 

 

 

 

Walking Out Onto the Ledge: Don’t Be Afraid of Failing

Some of you may be watching the new series on TNT The Alienist.  One of the characters in that show is Theodore Roosevelt. Before the show premiered, I read the book and there’s a bit of background about TR.  Most of us know him from his presidency and his adventures afterwards around the world as an explorer of sorts, but long before he was Mr. President or Mr. Police Commissioner, he was a rather sickly child.  One of the reasons his family and friends believe he was so outgoing and “take-charge” was that he had spent a lot of time as a child fighting to be strong and outgoing.  As a result, there are quite a few inspirational quotes about trying and failing attributed to him.  Most are familiar with the one about “if he fails, at least he fails daring greatly.”  While I like that quote (I think a car manufacturer used it in an ad not too long ago), the quote I like best of his actually appeared on my phone’s app this week: “It is hard to fail but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”  That pretty much says it all.  For some of us, this is what we are counting on: we can’t fail if we don’t try. We’d all feel safer if we had a guarantee that we’d win, or at least not fail, but the only guarantee is that if you never get in the game, you will never winThat means you are a guaranteed loser!

Does that sting a little? Good! It should sting.  Failure and losing should not be attractive or pleasant. They should be the impetus to improvement and trying harder.  One of the lyrics I like so much in Green Day’s “Still Breathing” is the phrase “As I walk out on the ledge, are you scared to death to live?” I think that this is truer for more of us than we want to admit.  Living is hard.  Living takes work.  It’s a lot of skinned knees even at the best of times. I remember watching one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients who was only 25 years old but well over 500 lbs crying about “it shouldn’t be this hard to be a person!”  Really? Who guaranteed that it was going to be easy?  How about those people who are homeless?  Did they just miss out on that guarantee? How about those with disabilities or who suffered terrible tragedies in their lives?  Where are their guarantees that life is easy?  We can all cry about how hard it is to live and to be a person too, and I am sure many of us have.  I know I’ve whined about it myself.

But ultimately, that’s what it is: whining, and also looking for an excuse.  People think there is no glory or greatness in being a person, but your life is what you make it.  I know it’s a cliche, but a lot of times things are cliche because they are true! One of the stories from Homer’s Odyssey has to do with Achilles making a choice to live a short but glorious life or to live a long and boring one.  (If you don’t know which one he chose, I can’t help you.)  The point is that our lives are the product of our choices and if you let fear dictate your choices, your life will probably be pretty miserable.

Some of you may read my other blog about my pets (My Four-Legged Family & Me) and one of the dogs I mention a lot is my Yorkie Henry.  Henry was pretty fearless throughout his life.  I used to say “he’s fearless so I’m always scared to death!” He’d think nothing of jumping from my shoulder to the dresser or climbing onto the table or growling at my sister’s 110 lb Husky mix.  He was almost 5 lbs and wasn’t even 12 inches tall, but he was was fearless! He wasn’t foolhardy (he knew I had his back when he growled at Marlow) but he also wasn’t going to let his size dictate who bossed him around.  It might sound a little weird to say that your almost-five-pound dog is your inspiration, but frankly I don’t care.  Henry did a lot of things and went a lot of places that other dogs might not get to do because I knew he could handle it.  I loved taking him to Disneyland and Universal Studios and he went to the mountains and the beach too.  I have to admit, he was a little intimidated by the ocean but hey, I know humans who are intimidated by the ocean.

The point is that living takes work and like most things, it takes practice to get it right, especially if you want to get the most out of your life and health.  Nothing worth doing comes without a price and for most of us that price is failing once in a while.  Success is less about luck and strategy than it is about pure perseverance.  It means not being afraid to get your hands dirty or get egg on your face. If you let the fear of looking foolish get between you and your goal or even just the life you want to have, you have much bigger issues than looking like a fool: you’re missing out on your life.

Living the life you want is a success on its own but success comes through trial and failure and trying again. Try googling “famous failures” and you’ll easily get a couple dozen lists of famous people who screwed up royally at least once in their lives. These are people like Einstein, Spielberg, Rowling, Lincoln, Jobs, Gates and of course, Edison, but the list is endless. When you think of three time Oscar winner Stephen Spielberg, is failure what you think of? Or foolishness or embarrassment? Of course not! You think of classic films like Schindler’s List, ET, or Jaws, but such groundbreaking films would never have been made if Spielberg had let failure and fear stop him.

Failure is why most of us are afraid to try anything new or different. When it comes to making healthy eating choices or working out, in some ways, it’s even more awkward.  Many of us feel like we shouldn’t need “instructions” on how to eat and how to be active, so on top of the idea that we’re already doing it ‘wrong,’ we don’t want to admit that we don’t know how to start doing it ‘right.’ We don’t want to admit that we don’t know what we’re doing and we’re afraid of looking stupid. Take it from someone who’s used to looking stupid- once you get used to it, you realize some important truths: most people don’t care; most people have been right there looking stupid themselves; and most people are willing to help you out.

Most of us won’t have millions of people watching us fail if we blow our diet or bail on our workouts. If we fail to finish our 5k or gain back a few pounds, it’s not going to be a fifty million dollar failure with the world watching us: it’ll just be those we love most in the world. So it’ll just feel like it’s the whole world. I know we all want to make our loved ones proud. We want their love and admiration but seriously if we’re afraid of looking foolish in front of the ones we love the most and who love us the most, what does that say about our relationship? Shouldn’t we feel safest with them? If someone has to bear witness to our most embarrassing screw-ups, shouldn’t it be the ones we know won’t use them to hurt us? Don’t you think they’d be proud of our trying to improve our health and quality of life?

When we’re afraid of failing, afraid of looking foolish or afraid of being wrong, we close ourselves off from the world but also the ones we love. That 25 year old 500-plus patient of Dr. Nowzaradan’s learned something important: it wasn’t fear of disappointing others that was holding her back from living her life, but it was her fear of disappointing herself.  She was the one holding herself back.  That’s what happens when we let fear and failure get in our way: we hold ourselves back from living the life we want to live- not fate, not the Universe or God, and not other people. No one else makes the choices for us- we do and when we choose to hide from the hard things in life, we ultimately choose no life at all.  One of my other favorite quotes in my cubicle is from Don Quixote: “I know who I am and who I may be if I choose.” I know who I am. Who do you choose to be?

The Excuse Beat-Down: Weight Loss & Fighting the Good Fight

There’s always a reason not to exercise, just like there’s always a reason to put off dieting for another week or month or until after a certain date.  If you are looking for a reason ‘not to,’ they are everywhere. As my grandpa would say, you can’t turn around without tripping over one!  What we don’t see– what’s not so obvious- are the thousands of reasons for doing the opposite.  There are just as many better reasons to lose the weight, to exercise, and to eat healthier.  We don’t see them because we aren’t looking for them: we’re too busy looking for the excuses! In some ways these reasons to be healthy are far more obvious and far more important, but we tend to sweep them to the wayside because…….. because…………….ummmm, what’s my reason for not doing this again?

Let’s see: last time it was because it was raining and you didn’t want to get wet coming out of the gym, and the time before that you’d had a long day and hadn’t eaten all day which gave you a headache and the time before that it was the office Christmas party and you love gingerbread cookies.  And that’s only a sampling of the reasons for not going to the gym or eating healthier. If you actually wrote them all down every time you bailed on your attempts to improve your health, you’d probably feel pretty foolish.  I know I do when I write them down in my food & activity journal.  They look like lame excuses because they are lame excuses!

Now compare those lame reasons for bailing with the reasons for being healthier: you got kids? Bingo! Reason No. 1! Got a spouse/ partner? Bingo! Reason No. 2! How about anyone who depends on you? Yep- Reason No. 3! Those are just the obvious ones. Then there’s the other more personal reasons, like your painful knees/ feet/ back, your imminent diabetes, your high blood pressure, the way you huff and puff like a train struggling uphill whenever you climb stairs or walk across the parking lot, the way the buttons strain on your shirt/ blouse and the jacket you can’t zip anymore. Those are pretty obvious too, but the fact is that we ignore them like we ignore the fact that we can’t play with our kids because we aren’t healthy enough and how we can’t walk the dog because we have to stop more than he does (and it’s not to mark a tree!)

We ignore the important reasons to change because change is unpleasant and difficult work.  Big non-surprise there! We like eating burgers and fries; we like laying around on the sofa bingeing This is Us; we like eating popcorn and cheesecake and not exercising because, really, who likes getting all sweaty and having sore muscles? Yes, we know that we should eat better, we know we could be more active but it falls in the Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda category of all those things we know we should do or could do or would do if circumstances ever gelled correctly. Kind of like winning the lottery: I should put more money in my 401k but if I win the lottery……

Eating better and being healthier is probably in the top ten on our list of Things To Do When I Get The Time, closely followed by things like paint the house, landscape the yard, and organize my retirement portfolio, so our odds of getting to it are sometime between “before we die” and “never.” Unfortunately, since we aren’t eating better, being more active and becoming healthier, our odds of dying sooner than we think we will are getting better and better every day.  That light you see at the end of the tunnel isn’t the rosy glow of a long retirement tooling around the Southwest in your RV with your spouse; it’s the train bearing down on you carrying a lifetime of donuts, frappuccinos and laying around on the sofa.

Am I being just a little heavy handed here? GOOD!! Take a look at those kids of yours running around the backyard. Some day they’re probably going to get married and have kids of their own and you may not be around to see that because you like potato chips and waffles more than you like spinach and taking a walk during your lunch! Imagine the love of your life cruising through the sunny Southwest with someone else because you’re too busy doing anything else to swim a few laps every week and say no to the seconds on the apple fritters! This is what it comes down to: if you aren’t investing in your own health, you are throwing away your future.  We see all the financial planning advertisements for our retirement accounts: imagine saving for a great retirement only to have your spouse spend it with someone else. Stings a bit, yes? Think it won’t happen to you? Think again! It happened to one of my mom’s longtime coworkers: she worked all the extra shifts, carried a few extra pounds and had stress levels out the roof and within a year of her retirement, she had a massive stroke which eventually killed her and that huge retirement portfolio she’d worked so hard to build? Her husband took his new girlfriend on a trip to Europe!  It also happened to the husband of our bookkeeper at my last job: within a few months of retirement, he developed a serious health problem and died a few weeks after their return from Italy.  His wife (my coworker) was grateful he’d been healthy enough to make the trip they’d always dreamed of taking, but now she’s spending her retirement alone.

Is there anything more important than investing in a long healthy life? One of the commercials I’ve been seeing lately compares your body to your car: “imagine you could have any car you wanted but it would be the only car you ever have in your entire life…” I think the ad is for a DNA service but the idea behind it is a sound one: many of us take better care of our cars than we do our own bodies! We drive past the ‘cheap gas’ because it makes your engine knock or you don’t get good mileage, but after putting in the premium gas, we’ll walk into the micro-mart to get a soda, a bag of chips and a candy bar.  Really?? Your car is too important for ‘junk food’ but your own body isn’t?  You’ll make time to get the tires rotated but you can’t make time for a walk or a swim? News flash, people: when your car needs a new fuel pump, your mechanic can get one installed in a couple of days, but if your body needs a new heart (or any other organ), you could literally die waiting for that order to come in!  And frankly, some of our parts aren’t replaceable!

I really don’t mean to be a scary, depressing b*tch about this, but eating better and taking better care of yourself really isn’t a major chore. It’s a series of simple little things that can be fun, and in the long run provide you with a longer healthier life.  It really is things as simple as saying no to potato chips most of the time or no to a second frappuccino or even just taking a walk every other day or running around the park with your kids a couple of times a week. Doing as much as you can do just to eat better, healthier, whole foods and taking some time to be more active can do wonders for your health.  Walking the dog every day doesn’t have to be a chore: it can be a relaxing walk in the fresh air and if you go with your kids or spouse, it’s family time, relaxation and exercise- all of which are good for your mind and body! Make dinner time family time too by taking the time to prepare the meal together, even if all the kids can do is set the table or toss the salad.  It can even be something as simple as turning off the tv and devices at a certain time in the evening and spending some time relaxing with your spouse/ partner or even just getting more sleep! Improving your health can truly improve the quality of your life as well as the length.  After all, when you’re strolling through Paris with the love of your life, would you rather have them holding your hand or pushing your wheelchair?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building A Solid Road for Weight Loss: Mapping Your Route

As I mentioned in my last post, a solid foundation is necessary for success when it comes to a healthy living routine and weight loss.  Without a strong foundation, you’re off to a shaky start!  For some of you, this is pretty much a no-brainer and for others, it’s just a pain in the butt: it takes too much time; it’s too slow; it’s boring!

It can be all of those things, especially if the way you’re building this foundation isn’t working for you, and if it is taking too much time, then it most likely is not working for you.  But a healthy living routine- which includes weight loss- is not “one routine.” It’s an interconnected web of many habits.  Remember those layers I mentioned in the last post? Layers upon layers create a solid foundation and build a lasting successful routine.  Without that foundation, what are you really building on?

Another integral part of your healthy routine is figuring out what you want and what you want most or what you need first.  In other words, if you want to lose weight (and most of us do!), you need to figure out how you’re going to do that.  For some people, they think they can keep eating like they usually do and just add a whole lot more exercise or activity into their routine.  While exercise is a part of a healthy routine, it’s not going to counteract a diet full of snacks, junk food or just too much food- period.  Also, if you’ve been pretty sedentary up to this point, beginning a vigorous exercise program might end up injuring you, or at the very least, overwhelm you.  This is something I see every January at my gym.  In November and December, the parking lot is usually pretty empty, because everyone is out holiday shopping or just avoiding the cold, but come January, good luck finding a parking spot!  Everyone is there to start on their healthy exercise program! By March, the parking lot is pretty much back to the regular gym rats; all the New Year Newbies have burned out or given up.

One of the other wrong turns many people make when they map out their weight loss plan is they cut calories and they do it drastically! “If cutting a little food is good, then cutting a lot of food is better!”  Ummmm, not really.  One of the things that usually gets left out of that plan is nutrition.  People flip over the package to look at the calories rather than the nutritional value that goes along with the food. Eggs are one of those things that gets a really bad rap in that regard: two eggs are about 140 calories, and most people look at the fat and cholesterol content.  They opt for ‘egg whites,’ which have no fat, no cholesterol and fewer calories.  While I prefer egg whites because I don’t like egg yolk (tastes horrible to me!), I’ve learned to eat them mainly because of their nutritional value.  Believe it or not, fat, cholesterol and the vitamins in the egg yolks are necessary for our good health!  This is why eggs are a high-value food in nature; the yolk is the nutrient sac for the growing embryo.  It has everything a growing body needs to start out healthy!  No yolk, no chick!

The same thing is true when it comes to a protein like grass-fed beef (another one on my Unfavorites List).  People look at the fat, cholesterol and calories, but grass-fed beef is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, something most of us lack.  All the vitamins and nutrition in the grass gets stored in the steer which becomes your burger or steak.  It’s a healthier option for you rather than grain-fed cattle, which can have a lot of the antibiotics, hormones and pesticides/ herbicides from the grain the steer ate.

The other pitfall that traps a lot of people is they try making too many changes at once. That’s what usually happens when we try the Dramatic and Daring to avoid the Dull and Boring. We try the Whole 30 or Keto Reset because we want to cover as much as we can as fast as we can. That’s understandable but if you’ve been eating like most Americans (lots of processed foods, high carbs, low fat, lots of crop oils, etc) those are a lot of complicated changes at once! It can cause some stomach upset, some confusion, and it’s a lot to coordinate. Most people get overwhelmed, especially if they’re making a lot of changes to their activities, trying to drink more water, eat less sugar and sleep more. It’s like you wake up one day and tell yourself “from now on, I’m only going to speak Spanish!” If Spanish isn’t your native language or you don’t know it very well, suddenly getting a simple medium size coffee can be a production!

However if you’ve be practicing several times a week, you might have to think about it, but you could get something pretty close to what you want without too much trouble.

That’s the whole point of laying a foundation and mapping out your route. The more of those simple habits you make part of your daily routine, the easier it is to build on them. It’s the equivalent of learning a handful of Spanish a day. You’re not going to be giving speeches anytime soon but you’ll get there eventually. It’s not glamorous but it gets the job done. The point is that you end up make many small doable changes over time that get you where you want to go, instead of trying to make a massive overhaul all at once. One route gets you to your destination; the other just gets you lost in the wilderness. 

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!