“E” is for Effort (& Excellence): Weight Loss & Missed Opportunities

Last night I got an unusual text from my sister.  She was watching the same rerun of My 600 lb Life that I was, although it was new to her.  I’ve mentioned before that I watch the show, reruns and all, because they are my version of a 12 Step meeting.  They remind me of some of my old bad habits (ugh! so reminded last weekend!) and overall they keep me motivated.  This particular episode was James K.’s story.  In so many ways, James is both motivating and incredibly frustrating.

We’ve all heard the expression that ‘water sinks to its lowest level’ and the same is true of our efforts.  If we don’t put forth any effort, we shouldn’t be surprised when we get no return, but usually we are shocked when we don’t get amazing results.  We’ve somehow gotten it into our heads that we can phone in the effort and get what we want without a lot of work. James puts forth nearly no effort at all but expects to get awesome results and is repeatedly disappointed when he fails to make any progress at all.

To recap, James is approximately mid-forties, weighs about 800 lbs and has been bedbound for nearly three years when we meet him. He lives with his girlfriend Lisa and their teenage daughter Bayley, who are his caretakers.  Both Lisa and Bayley are afraid that his eating will kill him because he gains about 30-40 lbs every year, and James himself is afraid that he’s going to die in his bed soon. Besides his super morbid obesity, James also has severe cellulitis infections in his legs, but he still wishes that his days “would start with food and end with food.”  He admits that if he doesn’t get what he wants to eat as soon as he demands it, he gets angry. Giving him something healthy only starts a fight.

James sets up a phone consultation with Dr. Nowzaradan, who advises him how dangerous it is to be super morbidly obese and immobile (bedbound).  He sends him a 1200 calorie diet, tells him to begin losing weight now and come to Houston.  If he is under 600 lbs when he arrives and there are no major health issues, he will schedule him for bariatric surgery as soon as he can.

My issue with James isn’t that he’s gained about 800 lbs: my issue is that he does as little as possible to help himself or improve his situation. He was well over 500 lbs when he fell and injured his ankle, landing him in the bed three years ago.  Since then, he’s continued to gain weight and it isn’t hard to see why.  When you aren’t being active and continue to eat as much as you did before, it’s an obvious result.  However, James has made no effort to change his eating habits, nor has he made any effort to get out to the bed.  He tells everyone he wants out of that bed and he’s ready to get back to his old life, but to make change, you need to put out some effort!

He and Lisa had initially planned to load him in the back of her van and drive to Houston but because of his weight and longtime immobility, both Dr. Nowzaradan and the EMTs they later call advise against it.  The EMTs also tell him he is wider than the van is so driving that far would be extremely painful (why ultimately James vetoes the idea.) James tries to get a bariatric ambulance to transport him from Kentucky to Texas but when the plans fall through and his fund-raising efforts (an online campaign) also fail to generate enough money, he uses this to justify his continued calorie consumption. Basically, it’s a depressing situation and the insurance company has given him a ‘death sentence,’ and the only thing that brings him any happiness is eating everything he wants to eat, so that’s what he’s going to do!

In this case, James is not even putting forth minimal effort: Lisa and his daughter set up the online campaign and Dr. Nowzaradan is fighting with the insurance company over the ambulance.  The least James can do is work his hardest on losing weight.  This is what the doctor had instructed him to do and frankly, it’s the best thing he can do for himself, but he doesn’t do it. He makes no effort to help himself.

Later, when he finally arrives in Houston, he weighs in at 791 lbs and continues to gain weight, ultimately reaching 843 lbs.  At the end of the year, James has gained back any weight lost while hospitalized on a controlled diet and has been told that he has congestive heart failure and his body is barely functioning.  Throughout that year, he blames circumstance for his lack of progress and ultimately accuses Dr. Nowzaradan of not helping him.  The simple truth is that he refuses to make any effort to help himself.  This dismal lack of effort is what makes James so frustrating but also so motivating.  His story is full of missed opportunities to help himself: he announces again and again how he’s ‘fired up’ to lose weight, but when his daughter offers to bring him his dumb bells, he waves her off.  When Lisa protests that the Chinese rice he wants isn’t on his diet, he has a tantrum, demanding it anyway. “I’m tired of fish and chicken!”

Anyone who has changed their eating habits can commiserate with this tantrum.  My dad actually jokes that I’ve eaten so much chicken, he expects me to sprout feathers any day now! There’s been more than a few days that the thought of eating more salad, veggies, chicken or anything else healthy makes me want to gag. There’s also been many days I’ve wanted to blow off my exercise classes because I’m tired, I don’t feel like it or I just want to do something else! We have all been there! But watching James give in over to his whims is also what makes his case so motivating.

We all have opportunities to improve our health and weight loss.  None of it comes easily to any of us. Change and progress require effort and if we want to make the most of our opportunities, then we have to put forth our maximum effort! Blowing off the opportunities is always easier but then we have to live the results of our lack of effort.  We can choose to blame circumstance and everyone around us for our lack of progress, but ultimately the choice to work as hard as we can is our own.  We can do what we want, like James, or we can do what’s best for us as hard or as uncomfortable as it may be.  In the end, giving in to our whims and blowing off efforts to help ourselves only seems easier.  Living with the extra weight is not only hard on our self-esteem: it’s hard on our health. For some of us, it means we have to go back to our “fat pants” or loosen the belt another notch instead of tightening it up.  In James’ case, his lack of effort landed him in the ICU with sepsis, fatty liver disease and kidney failure.  [At last report, he recovered enough to be discharged.]

We all have been disappointed with our results at times.  It’d be nice if they were always amazing and fabulous.  The least we can do is make the best of the opportunities provided to us by giving it our best effort.  When we don’t even do the least that we can do, we have no one to blame but ourselves for our failures. Watching James throw away opportunity after opportunity reminds me not to do the same.  It is a sad and scary lesson that James presents to us and hopefully we’ve all learned from it.

Deja Vu All Over Again?: Weight Loss & Motivation

There are a lot of technical definitions and explanations for deja vu.  Essentially, you feel like this situation or scene is familiar to you when it shouldn’t be.  In weight loss, this usually shows up when we’ve gone off the rails and gone back to our old eating habits.  We all know– or should know– what happens then: we feel like we used to feel! Depending on how long it’s been since we’ve put ourselves in that situation, we may or may not feel a little deja vu.

When I weighed almost 440 lbs, I felt pretty terrible.  My knees hurt, my back hurt, and just standing was painful. These aches I knew were definitely weight-related but I was also up all night in the bathroom, I had terrible headaches when I woke up and a lot of times, I felt like I was getting hot flashes at night.  Since I am near the right age for hot flashes, I pretty much chalked those up to menopause.  It wasn’t until I changed what I ate that I realized my headaches, hot flashes and overall cruddy feeling were also tied to my weight and bad eating habits.

This past weekend, I experienced a major bout of deja vu and it was not a fun trip down Memory Lane! I spent a major portion of the long weekend hanging out with friends which meant I did a lot more indulging than I intended to do, mainly because I wasn’t paying attention half the time although the other half was intentional. Since I wasn’t paying attention, I did not realize until much later that I had had too much of pretty much everything! I know I can make excuses or blame my friends but the sad fact is I am responsible for my food choices.  It also doesn’t change what I chose to eat and drink, but the consequences were a literal wake up call to pay more attention to my choices!

Not too long ago I wrote about perspective and how we don’t know how good we can really feel because our idea of “feeling good” is a lot closer to “not feeling as bad as I normally do.”  The difference is that once we truly begin to feel great, we realize how awful we had been feeling before.  For me, some of the first positive effects were I no longer had terrible headaches in the morning and the ‘hot flashes’ went away as well as being up all night in the bathroom.  What I came to learn was that those were due to my over-consumption of quick carbohydrates, especially at night. The fewer of these quick carbs that I ate, the better I felt.  My joints began to feel better and I no longer felt like a stiff creaky old lady.  My energy leveled out instead of bouncing up and down and I stopped getting headaches and feeling mentally exhausted all the time. My legs, back and knees also stopped aching the more weight I lost, but I had expected those changes.  These other improvements were a complete surprise to me!

Like most of us, I had accepted the headaches, fake ‘hot flashes’ and being up all night as the “natural effects of aging,” even though I was still under 50 at the time.  The fact that these issues were driven by what I ate had never occurred to me.  It was obvious that my painful knees and back were due to carrying around 440 lbs, but just changing what I ate made a powerful improvement to my overall sense of well-being.  I was vividly reminded this past weekend of how powerful– and how delicate– this improvement really is!

To be blunt, I spent this past weekend on a carb binge! Things like popcorn, sugar, pastry and bread made their way into my diet and while there were some that I purposely chose to indulge in, there were a great many others that I dismissed since “they can’t really hurt me.” In short, I stopped paying attention to how many of these carb-heavy and sugar-rich foods I was eating.  That’s when I learned that yes, these foods can hurt me!

After a few short days of eating some of the things I used to eat on a regular basis, I went back to feeling the way I used to feel.  After not feeling like that for nearly four years, I had forgotten how truly awful it was. The morning-after headache was akin to a migraine and it lasted most of the night.  I was awake most of that night to feel it because I was running back and forth to the bathroom and when I wasn’t, I was lying awake with the covers thrown off because they were too hot. In fact, I had to turn down the thermostat because I felt too warm!  Even before I got that bad, I started feeling stiff and achy again: I was back to being the creaky old lady who was tired all the time. Being stiff, achy and tired again was bad enough without the additional effects! By the time I got up to go to work on Monday morning, I was truly and painfully regretting my choices over the weekend.

The result of this ‘deja vu all over again’ was that I was extremely motivated to go back to making healthy choices again! We all tell ourselves that eating low carb, nutrient dense whole foods is good for us, but sometimes we forget the consequences of not eating what’s best for us.  We tell ourselves that this is a permanent change to our lifestyle but it’s easy to recite the platitudes and slogans without making the real changes. Many of us lament the weight or water gain when we slip and I know I have done it, but it wasn’t until I revisited my old life that I discovered a new motivation.  I want to eat healthier not only to lose weight and feel good: I want to eat healthier so I never feel that horrible again!

We spend a lot of time looking for motivation and trying to keep the momentum going. Motivation tends to be short-lived.  Once it cools off, we start feeling cravings and begin making excuses for eating unhealthy foods.  I found new motivation the hard way:  if you really want to know why you started this weight loss journey, just take a short trip back to your old life.  Once you’ve lived a few days the way you did before, you’ll have all the motivation you need to get back on the road to living healthy!

 

Burning Calories?: Weight Loss & Exercise

I hear a lot of talk at the gym about “burning off the holiday calories.”  While some of us are joking about it, I know there are a lot of people whose primary purpose in going to the gym and working out is to burn calories and lose weight. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to burn off the pumpkin pie or the Halloween candy by working out.

We’ve all heard the expression “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.” Most weight loss professionals will tell you that what you eat and how much you eat is far more important than how much you work out. There are myths about exercising out there and people will use them to justify either what they are eating or why they are or aren’t working out. One of my favorites is “I don’t want to build muscle because it weighs more than fat and I want to lose weight!”

While I am certainly not a weight loss professional, I’ve come to a few conclusions about the importance of regular exercise.  I work out generally three times a week and it’s not to lose weight. What I eat has nothing to do with how much or how hard I work out and vice versa.  Eating more carbs than normal doesn’t change whether I decide to add or skip a workout, nor do I eat more because it was an extra tough workout.

For me, the chief benefits of regular exercise has more to do with simply staying active.  We’ve all heard the expression “use it or lose it” and it’s true with just about everything about the human body.  If we don’t keep using it (whatever It is), our body stops maintaining it.  As the Baby Boomers began aging, geriatric professionals began noticing certain trends such as decreased muscle mass, increased osteoporosis and more cognitive degeneration in the aging population.  Because the Baby Boomers are such a large demographic, they were able to reach a few conclusions that pretty much confirmed the Use it or Lose it philosophy.  If we don’t use our muscles, they atrophy and we are more likely to develop osteoporosis. The same is true of our brains: if we don’t regularly stimulate our senses and our minds, our brains will turn to mush!

When we choose not to exercise out of fear of falling, we start on a vicious cycle that can really hurt us because one of the chief benefits of exercising is flexibility. We all know what it’s like when we’ve been sitting still in a plane or a car for several hours: we get up and we’re stiff.  Imagine how stiff you would be if you haven’t moved very much in several years! For a lot of us, that’s what has happened to us: we do the same four or five movements over and over again. We stand up, we sit down, we bend down from a sitting position, we lay down and get up from a sitting position. When was the last time you got up from the floor? When was the last time you bent down and touched your toes from a standing position? When was the last time you stretched up over your head or twisted around at the waist? Have you squatted down lately? All of these are important movements that keep those joint, muscles, bones and tendons in good working order.  Calories are not the point of exercising but being able to move is!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about falling myself.  I am rapidly approaching that “falling is dangerous” age: I’m a fifty-something female nearing menopause.  I’ve already had hardware installed due a fall about fifteen years ago.  I have screws in my leg along with a plate holding my wrist together.  If anyone should be afraid of falling, it’s me! As it happened recently, I got up in the middle of the night and as I was walking around the bed, I stepped on the dogs’ tennis ball, lost my balance and ended up sitting down hard on the bed.  This is where those three nights a week in the pool paid off for me: instead of falling over onto the bed (or worse, the dresser!), I twisted when I felt myself losing my balance.  It was a natural reflexive reaction: not balanced– move! Instead of landing on my side, which could have bruised some ribs or sprained my arm, I landed on my well-padded butt.  The next day, aside from feeling a little foolish, I had a couple sore muscles from twisting rather hard and fast, but otherwise, I was fine.

In fact, since that little accident, I have fallen again.  This time I was loading my duffel bag in the car and I tripped on the dangling strap.  Since I was outside, falling on the pavement could have resulted in more injuries, but I fell on the duffel, knee first and rolled into the flower bed. Again, the shoulder and knee that took the brunt of the fall were a bit sore but no bruises and no sprains.  And in my opinion, it’s because I make a point of exercising three times a week: I was able to move when I fell and not be stiff as a board.

People think that “working out” means you have to lift heavy weights, run hard or use a treadmill for hours at a time.  You can do that if you want to and it would probably be good exercise for you, but to keep your bones and muscles in good working order, all you need to do is use them on a regular basis, and as we get older, this is more important.  We’ve all heard that as we age, we begin losing muscle mass and bone density, and then when we add in the Use it or Lose it effect, not exercising regularly is a recipe for disaster.

We all know older people who are afraid of falling or have fallen and seriously injured themselves.  This is one of the chief excuses older people use for not exercising: “I’m afraid of falling or hurting myself.”  It’s a valid fear, especially if you’ve not worked out in a long time (or never) and if you have balance or health issues.  For me, balance was a big issue and in some instances, it still is.  That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t exercise or work out; it just means I should take a few precautions when I do. For me, one of those precautions is working out in a pool. My workout of choice is water aerobics: I get to exercise without being afraid of hurting myself by falling, and for those of people who think water aerobics isn’t a real workout, I dare you to try it!

I’ve been told by one of my trainers that most older people fall because they lose their flexibility in their core.  Essentially, they stiffen up between their shoulders and their knees, so when they lose their balance, they come crashing down like a tree in the forest.  This happened last year to my mom: she tripped on a throw rug and landed on her side, breaking her hip.  When our bodies are used to bending and twisting, it’s easier for us to protect ourselves and instead of hitting the floor on our side (there’s the cause of a lot of broken hips!), we can twist to land on our butts.  Or better yet, we can prevent ourselves from falling!

I have two small dogs along with a couple of cats, all of which increase my chances of either tripping over a toy (like the aforementioned tennis ball) or the actual pet.  One of my dogs is habitually within two feet of my two feet! I never turn around or step back anymore without looking! Still, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve gone to step over, around or next to a toy or a pet and found myself grabbing a door jamb, the wall or furniture to steady myself. I was reminded yesterday as I stepped over a moving Cockapoo that not only has the exercise increased my mobility and flexibility, it’s also improved my balance!

After three years of regular workouts, I have better balance and flexibility as a 50+ year old than I ever did in my 40’s.  It shows in my ability to walk longer and farther in addition to being able to bend, lift, squat and get up off the floor without using a chair to help myself up. When I got to my feet after falling in the flower bed, I was reminded of the last time I fell outside.  I had stepped back into a hole and landed flat on my back on the lawn.  At the time, I was in my mid-forties and went over like the proverbial tree in the woods. Although I didn’t injure myself, mainly because the lawn was soaking wet after weeks of rain, I had to use the lamp post near the walkway to help myself up simply because I couldn’t do it on my own! This time, although the wall of the house was right there, I was able to stand up in the flower bed without really thinking about it: I was more concerned if I’d cut myself on the bush I nearly hit.

Even though exercise isn’t a major factor in my weight loss, it remains one of my primary goals. Working out regularly has taught me a lot about the importance of staying active and staying flexible besides saving me from my own clumsiness. Until I had regained my balance and flexibility, I honestly had not realized how much I had truly lost and I don’t ever want to lose that again!

 

 

The Weight Loss Guarantee No One Talks About

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food For Thought

Nom Nom Paleo

Paleo Leap

Primal Potential

Eating Clean

 

 

Party Time!: Weight Loss & the Socialization of Food

When we think about food, we tend to focus on what it is and the calories involved rather than what it means to us, but it is the meaning behind the food that is usually what’s driving us to eat.  Food has psychological and social meanings to us.  When we think “cake” we tend to think “celebration.”  When we think about consolation or solace, it’s usually things like “ice cream” or “chocolate.” Or if it’s just plain comfort, it can be something warm and hearty like “soup” or “mac & cheese.” For me, even today, “enchiladas” means family holidays and gatherings. My mom said the word to me and instantly I envisioned my grandma’s house with a laden dining room table!  We’ve begun to think of the food itself as the actual event. How can we have a birthday without cake? What kind of Thanksgiving doesn’t have stuffing and pumpkin pie? We can’t watch a football game without beer and nachos any more than we can envision New Year’s Eve without champagne or alcohol.  For us, the FOOD has become the EVENT!

Our brains know that’s not the case, but somewhere in our psyche, the two have become almost inseparable.  We’ve convinced ourselves that if we don’t have “THE” food associated with whatever event is taking place, then we’ve missed out on the actual event.  How can we go out with friends without having drinks? How can we celebrate Fourth of July without hot dogs, burgers or beer? Hanging out with friends doesn’t require alcohol any more than the fireworks and parades on July 4th need burgers and beer in order to take place. While it seems like it’s easy to disentangle the food and drinks from the celebration or holiday, it’s only easy on a physical level.  Anyone can show up at Thanksgiving and not eat the pie and stuffing just like no one is going to shove cake and ice cream into your mouth at your granny’s birthday party.  You can attend the events without being forced to eat everything that’s there, but our psyches don’t understand that.

Our minds– not our brains–have intertwined eating with celebrating, so while you can go to a family holiday and not eat the pie, the enchiladas or the stuffing and the cake, your mind is not only telling you that you missed out on all the yummy goodies, it is telling you that you missed the big celebration because it “doesn’t feel right.”  You may have brought a gift, given Granny a big birthday hug and sang “Happy Birthday” as she blew out the candles, but because you didn’t have a piece of her cake, you “missed the birthday.”  Logically, our brains roll their inner eyes and shake their figurative heads at this foolishness, but our minds are confused: something is missing! It doesn’t feel like a birthday party!

Obviously, part of this comes from changing our routines (not eating all the stuff you normally eat) and part of it is our own awkwardness at being seen as different from the others.  Since we didn’t “do like everyone else did,” we feel like we are standing out like a sore thumb and “everyone” must have noticed that we said no to the beer, the birthday cake or whatever is being served.  Somehow, it makes hanging out with friends feel less like socializing and more like an ordeal.  Saying no to the beer, appetizers or cake can feel rude, almost as if you need to explain why you aren’t joining in with everyone else.

Normally, this is where I would just be a b*tch about it and tell you to tell everyone else that what you eat or drink is not their business, but when Granny offers you a piece of her birthday cake, you really can’t tell her to mind her own business (especially on her birthday!) In all honesty, if most of your friends ask why you said no to the fried calamari or fried cheese, tell them the truth: you are trying to eat healthier; you are saving your calories for the entree (or dessert or whatever); or that you aren’t hungry.  Your friends might tease you about “going healthy” on them, but they should support your decision to improve your health.  (They are your friends and want you around for a long while!)

The same thing is true with family and Granny.  Even if they do push you to have a piece of cake (“One slice won’t hurt you!”), it’s up to you how much you want to push back.  Granny may not understand that the sugar-carb combo will completely jack your blood sugar but if telling her “no thanks” is going to be traumatic for you or her, then discretion is sometimes the better part of valor.  Most of your family will support your decision to be healthier even if it does feel a little awkward at times. I was fortunately blessed with a family of such different eaters that not eating the carbs was barely noticed at my  family gatherings and when it was noticed, the exchange went something like this: “did you want any rice?” “No thanks.” “Okay,”(sets the bowl of rice on the table).

Changing your ‘celebration routine’ takes practice.  I know no one likes to hear this but the more you practice, the easier it gets. Giving in to the cake, the appetizers, the alcohol or the carbs might make you feel like you ‘celebrated’ the occasion, but it also sets you back from your goals.  Is that really what you want? There were reasons you chose to eat healthier.  For most of us, those included feeling better physically and mentally. improving your health and generally living better longer.  When we deviate from our weight loss and nutrition plan to ‘join in’ at the movies with popcorn and candy, we not only delayed our progress, but we make ourselves feel worse overall. We feel guilty for eating the foods that aren’t good for us and for some of us, we feel worse physically. That sugar-carb combo is going to spike your blood sugar and then dump it way below your baseline, so that mood-energy roller coaster is going to do you any good! Once we get home, we start feeling the physical effects of eating the foods that aren’t good for us and we feel the emotional effects as well: those feelings of guilt and failure.  We’ve also made it harder for us to say no to those foods and our friends the next time this happens!

Virtue is its own reward, which is a fancy way of saying that when you say no thanks, you’ll feel better about it in the long run. Being upfront with family and friends is the simplest way to handle these situation. “That doesn’t agree with me” or “that makes me feel tired/ wired/ bloated/ [insert adjective here]” are the easiest and most truthful explanations. In an age when everyone is gluten-free,  lactose-intolerant, or just plain allergic, most people won’t question your choices.  The more you change how you think about socialization and food, the easier it is to stay with the changes and keep eating healthy even at a party.  The food is part of the fun, yes, but it’s not the purpose of the party. Aren’t you really there to spend time with Granny?

Gratitude Adjustment: Weight Loss & Positivity

Almost all of us know someone who’s never happy about anything.  Even if something good happens, they manage to find a negative about it.  As my grandpa used to say, “if he won a million dollars, he’d complain about the taxes!”  These days I joke a lot about how I’m never happy with our office thermostat: I complain when it’s cold, and I complain when they turn on the heat in the office- whatever the temperature is in our office, it’s not right for me! So I spend most of my time either wearing a sweater or with my desk fan on.  The difference between “being negative” and my fake-complaining is that I know my boss is trying to accommodate me but obviously, there are going to be people who in the office who don’t like my temperature setting either.  My boss is doing the best he can for everyone here and I know that, so if it’s too warm or stuffy for me, I turn on the fan on my desk and if it’s too chilly, I put on my sweater, and I will kid him about it every chance I get!

People who are true Negative Nancys / Neds are people who don’t acknowledge that others are doing the best they can to make everyone happy.  Whatever is going on, they automatically assume the worst. The traffic is always bad; the restaurant always gets their order wrong; if they win a million dollars, they’d have to share the pot with a hundred people plus pay the taxes! Nothing is ever right or good for them so they are always miserable!

I know a few people like that and my comment is usually something along the lines of “he’s only happy when he’s miserable.” I’ve stopped going out of my way to accommodate them or make them happy because it’s never going to be good enough anyway.  I know that’s a cop-out and I do try to do my best for them, but at the same time, I know whatever I do is going to be wrong.

We’ve all heard about the benefits of keeping a positive attitude and looking on the bright side of things. Usually we (meaning me!) roll our eyes and tune out without a second thought, but when we do that, we not only lose out on any benefits, we condemn those around us to our bad attitudes. I know there is a lot of media attention about Gratitude Journals and Gratitude Routines, either morning, evening or both, and while some of it can come off as “Feel-Good Mumbo-Jumbo,” that doesn’t make it worthless or nonsense.

One of the suggestions that usually made me roll my eyes and sigh deeply was the Morning Gratitude Routine (any morning routine, actually!) I don’t have a lot of time in the mornings because of my commute: I need to be out of my house by 6:45 a.m. and to be on the freeway by 7:00 to make it to work by 9:00 a.m.  Since I am so NOT a morning person, that means if I get up at 6:00 a.m., I have overslept! Where can I cram fifteen or twenty ‘calm’ minutes into my morning?  I spend the whole time looking at my watch! I have alarms on my phone to let me know the time before I even leave the house! And you want me to spend 15-20 minutes calmly focusing on what I’m grateful for or how I’m going to ‘win the day’? [Huge eye roll with exasperated sigh right about now!]

Then I realized that I do have a ‘morning gratitude routine.’  It’s just not like one everyone suggests: every morning I spend about 15-20 minutes focusing on my dogs.  I’ve actually built that time into my morning, getting up in time to spend those minutes playing with them, petting and holding them. We spend about 10-15 minutes when we first get up, telling each other good morning and playing with their toys, and then another five minutes or so on my lap before I leave for work.  While it’s not writing in a journal or focusing on ‘winning the day,’ it does set the mood for the day.  I am grateful for my dogs and their positive attitudes are infectious: it’s hard to be negative when you have a happy dog on your lap who just wants to play and be held. When I leave the house, even if I woke up in a bad mood, am feeling rushed or thinking of my busy day as I go out the door, I always feel better for having spent a few moments bonding with my dogs.

So, what does a good mood have to do with weight loss? A LOT more than most people think!  For starters, people who are happy or have a positive outlook are more likely to take better care of themselves. When you feel good about yourself or life in general, you are less likely to ‘medicate’ yourself with food or anything else.  Most of us look to sugar or treats to make ourselves feel better or happier, but when you already feel that way, there is less temptation and if you are offered treats, they are easier to refuse.

You are also more likely to be active.  When we feel good, we usually have more energy and are more productive.  We feel more confident and get more done at home and at work. In other words, when we are enjoying our lives and feeling positive about ourselves, we are less likely to grab a cheesecake and camp out on the sofa bingeing a tv show to escape from our own lives.

Happy positive people take more pride in their appearance, are nicer to others, are more productive, more active and tend to eat better than people who are pessimistic or have a negative outlook on life. So while taking a few moments every day to focus on the positive things in your life is good for your health and weight loss, it’s just plain good for you overall!

How you choose to focus on the positive is completely up to you! There are people who love and swear by their Gratitude Journals.  Those do have the added bonus of being able to look back on what you’ve written, but for some of us, just the act of sitting down with pen in hand to put your gratitude down on paper is enough to kill the positive mood.  There are people who take joy in spending time with their family and kids in the morning the way I do with my dogs, and there are others who choose prayer or meditation.  And it also doesn’t have to be in the morning (although it does tend to set the tone for the day).  I have a different evening routine with my dogs and cats (the cats ignore me in the mornings- also not morning people!)  I spend a few moments when I get home and more time when we go to bed, plus they are usually on my lap or on my feet when I am home anyway.

What you choose to do is less important than the ritual’s overall importance to you.  Reminding yourself of the good things and people in your life and their significance to you is the point.  When we focus on weight loss, most of us are used to counting our calories to make progress but we need to remind ourselves that we might make more progress if we count our blessings as well!

Where Do I Begin?: Weight Loss & The First Step

I had coffee the other day with a friend I hadn’t seen in some time and eventually the conversation turned to weight loss. Like a lot of people, she’s been fighting the same 20-30 lbs for years and she usually manages to lose a few pounds, only to put them back on.  Sound familiar, anyone? I told her I was still doing Paleo and received the confused-not-quite-blank expression I’ve come to expect.  Most people have heard of The Paleo Diet but really don’t know what it means other than the “It’s a lot of MEAT!” soundbyte.

Also, like most of us, she felt a little overwhelmed by “what do I do first?” Really, it doesn’t matter what you do first as long as you choose something within your capabilities and do that one thing only until you feel comfortable with it.  This is rather a long-winded way of saying “PICK SOMETHING!” Too often we look at the landscape for weight loss (or any goal, really) and we want to make the best start that we can, but we get bogged down by: 1) the  overwhelming number of ‘starting points’; and 2) the magnitude of the change we want to achieve.  We don’t want to make a ‘wrong’ choice and fail, so we end up not really starting at all, or we choose too many ‘starting points’ and end up quitting because we get overwhelmed.

The other big stumbling block is the Diet Mentality, in which we get roped into thinking we are only “doing this” until we lose the weight we want to lose. We all know what happens next: the weight comes back!  Obviously, once we stop ‘being good’ and go back to eating the way we did before The Diet, we’ve blown all our hard work!  In order to maintain permanent weight loss, we need to make permanent lifestyle changes.  This is part of that ‘overwhelming’ goal I mentioned before, but big changes come through small steps!

Because Sarah asked about Paleo, I told her that it’s mainly whole natural foods, no grains, legumes, sugars and a lot of non-starchy vegetables. Predictably, she made a face: she loves grains and cereals and isn’t a big fan of non-starchy veggies.  A big part of her diet has always been white potatoes and ‘quick carbs’ such as pasta, bread, cereal and sugar. While white potatoes were never huge on my menu, grains of all kinds were a major staple of my diet, along with a fair amount of sugar. I told her when I started cutting these foods out of my diet, I did it one at a time.  I started with potatoes since they were easiest for me, and once I had a handle on making healthier substitutions for the potatoes, I moved on to pasta, which was harder, until I felt confident enough to remove breads.  In all honesty, breads of all kinds remain my biggest temptation and I told her that.  You can offer me chocolate, candy, cookie or any kind of “treat” and I can turn it down without batting an eye, but offer me a biscuit? “Get thee behind me, Satan!” Even if I do turn it down, I will think about that biscuit for days afterwards! I tried to reinforce that it’s a series of steps and you don’t try to make every change at once. 

I recommended she begin with a healthy breakfast like Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) suggests.  You start with one meal and work on that one until you get it down, then move on to lunch, dinner and any snacks.  I also recommended she get a food journal and a food scale. While there are a lot of weight loss gurus (Elizabeth included) who don’t recommend the food scale, I do because I am very aware of portion inflation.  Just because Cheesecake Factory brought you one slice of cheesecake, that doesn’t mean what they brought you is ‘one portion.’  (It is likely three!)  A food scale is a simple reality check for how much you are really eating.  The food journal is just a simple way of keeping track of what you are eating, so later on if you aren’t getting the results that you want, you can see what might be behind that slow-down.

As I said, I was having coffee with my friend, which included a grande maple pecan latte, and a bag of Moon Cheese.  Later on when I got home, those went in my food journal.  While they won’t torpedo my diet, recording them keeps me honest so they don’t become regular parts of my weekly routine.  Having an occasional sugary latte isn’t a catastrophe but when one a month becomes one a week and then several a week, those lattes will have an impact (as will several accompanying bags of Moon Cheese!).  When I write them down, it’s easier to go back through the months and see where there may have been a few too many ‘special occasion lattes’!

I also recommended she listen to some of the podcasts aimed at giving listeners a foundation for fat loss and the reasons behind her recommendations such as the Fat Loss Basics Series (https://primalpotential.com/ep-121-fat-loss-basics/) and the episode on the Golden Rules (https://primalpotential.com/195-golden-rules-of-carbs-and-fat-loss/). I am not in any way affiliated with Elizabeth Benton; I’m just a fan and I think she offers solid advice based on your speed and the changes you are willing to make.  Of all the weight loss professionals I’ve listened to, she is one who listens to you.

There are a lot of places to start and you don’t have to start with breakfast or go Paleo or even listen to Primal Potential, but you do have to make a choice. Choose one change you want to make, and once you’ve got that one down, move on to the next one.  It might seem like you aren’t ‘going fast enough’ but does fast really matter when you won’t have to make that same trip again next year?

 

The Pain Scale: Weight Loss, Discomfort & Pain

One of the expressions I really really hate hearing is “no pain, no gain,” as if in order to make any kind of progress, you have to hurt yourself! That seems a little counter-productive: “let me blow out my back lifting 150 lbs so I can have really great biceps!” I know that no one really thinks like that, but it does happen.  We’ve been told by countless trainers and fitness programs that we need to “push past our comfort zone” to make progress! Pushing past the Comfort Zone, yes; pushing into the Pain Zone, no!

Anyone familiar with the medical profession or even just medical shows is likely familiar with the Pain Scale: “on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you’ve ever felt and one being no pain, where is your pain at on the scale?” If you’ve had surgery or broken a bone, you are no doubt familiar with the scale numbers up past five, and if you’ve sprained a muscle or a joint, you are probably familiar with the numbers on the lower half too, but what isn’t on that scale is Discomfort. I really believe that we need to add that to the scale (maybe as – 1 or -2?) to keep people from confusing Pain with Discomfort.

Pain is usually sharp or stabbing or a deep ache because it’s our body’s way of telling us we have an injury! If you are out running or you are lifting weights and you feel a sharp pain in your arm, leg or shoulder and it hurts to use it, that is pain! If something starts swelling, like your wrist or ankle, or if it stiffens up, you have obviously injured yourself.  A tearing sensation is another indication that there is something wrong and that what you are feeling is really pain.

I can hear you thinking it: duhhhh! no-brainer! But before you click off the page, let me give you this scenario: you are working out with dumb bells and you do a lot of reps with a lot of weight and the next day, your shoulders and arms hurt a lot. Is that pain or is that discomfort? Obviously, your upper body is probably going to be a little stiff and really sore from the workout, but did you injure yourself? The only way to answer that question is how much pain you are in and how long it takes you to get over it.  Achy muscles aren’t really pain (injury): they are discomfort.  When you’ve been walking a lot and your legs and feet are tired or you have burning in your muscles from exertion, or even if you are a little short of breath and your heart is pumping, you are feeling Discomfort, not actual Pain. Granted, it probably hurts to walk and you will probably be a little stiff the next day, but compare that with an injury. Say you fell and sprained your ankle while on that walk: your ankle would likely swell and you would not be able to put much weight on it, if any at all. If you’ve ever twisted an ankle or sprained any joint, you know that’s much higher on the Pain Scale than sore feet and legs!

If something you are doing causes pain, that’s a clear indication that you need to stop what you are doing, but many of us are in the opposite end of the equation: we are so afraid of Pain that as soon as we feel Discomfort, we stop.  While you don’t need to work out to the point of causing Pain, Discomfort is neither Pain nor Injury.

I admit I have hard time with the Pain Scale, mainly because it is highly individualized.  I was recently at my doctor’s office for a routine check up and we went through the Pain Scale as it relates to the arthritis in my knees and back.  I was asked to “rate my pain”: average day; bad days; better days; blah blah blah.  My problem is that I have a high tolerance for pain: when something ‘hurts,’ I ask myself the question I’ve put to you here. “Is this Pain or is this Discomfort?” Most of the time, it is just Discomfort, as in sitting causes an ache in my back or walking a lot causes an ache or stiffness in my knees.  Does it hurt enough to keep me from walking or sitting? When it does, it’s actually graduated to Pain.  That is how I differentiate between the two: when it keeps me awake at night, again it’s grown from Discomfort to Pain.

It’s up to you to determine your threshold between Pain and Discomfort.  You are the one who lives in your body and if your workout instructor wants you to do more than you feel comfortable with doing, then tell her! Even if it’s just more Discomfort than you want to live with, you are allowed to say no. One of the exercises my trainer likes to do really aggravates an old shoulder injury of mine, so I modify it to keep my shoulder from hurting the next day. I am reasonably sure it’s not an actual injury, but it bothers me enough that I don’t like dealing with it.  Does that mean I am slacking off on my workout? Not at all since I am the one who has to deal with a shoulder that hurts when I raise my arm over my head or reach for anything.  Is it Pain or just Discomfort? While I don’t usually take anything when it happens, I’d call it Discomfort, but at the same time feeling the twinge each time I raise my arm or reach, it is still uncomfortable!

This brings us to the other issue when it comes to Pain and Discomfort: how we medicate ourselves.  Many of us are told repeatedly that if it hurts, take a pill! “There’s no reason to be in Pain!” That is correct.  Pain is debilitating and depressing and chronic pain drains victims of concentration, energy and happiness. There is no reason to suffer with it if you can alleviate it.  But again, Discomfort is not Pain, and while you are the judge of what counts as Pain or Discomfort in your body, we should not be afraid of feeling a little Discomfort, especially if our fear of ‘hurting’ is getting in the way our being active. Sore muscles and a little stiffness should not be anything to be afraid of and if it’s too much Discomfort for you, it is a temporary condition! There is a reason trainers shout No Pain, No Gain at their clients: the more you use those muscles, the more you have to work to make them sore. In short, if you keep moving those muscles and joints, they will get stronger and eventually, they will hurt less, so while it’s not exactly “No Pain, No Gain,” it’s close enough to make the point.

 

 

Feeling the Burn?: Fitness Isn’t About Weight Loss

One of the myths about weight loss is that we have to exercise if we are going to lose weight.  Exercise and being active are great things and they can really improve our quality of life, but when it comes to losing weight, exercise is only about 10% of the equation.  The truth is that our diet and nutrition make up the other 90%.

We’ve all heard the expression “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet,” and it’s the truth.  When you think about that burger and fries you had on the weekend, it’s likely over 1100 calories.  How many sit-ups, crunches and miles on the treadmill will it take to burn off 1100 calories? Depending on your weight and muscle mass, you could spend all day in the gym working to get off those calories, let alone burning anything else you ate that day!

What really drives weight loss is a consistent healthy diet. What foods go into that diet is up to you.  There are always people who promote one style of eating over another but the real test is you and your body.  If you can lose weight and feel healthy on a vegan diet, then go for it! Personally, I can’t do the “vegan thing” but I do manage vegetarian on occasion. I am a fan of Paleo, which contains a whole lot of veggies contrary to those people who think it’s all about meat, but whatever works for you is the only thing that counts.

The first thing about weight loss and diet everyone thinks of is calories of course.  We need to eat fewer calories than our bodies burn so that it can burn the stored calories aka ‘fat.’ Too many people take this Calories In v Calories Out (CICO) thinking to the extreme and do a starvation diet and heavy exercise to lose as much weight as fast as they can.  This is the kind of thinking that got The Biggest Loser ‘winners’ into trouble.  Our bodies have a one track mentality: stay alive! So when it comes to low calorie input and heavy calorie expenditure, it turns down all the other systems it controls in order to conserve resources (aka ‘fat) so that it has calories to burn later on.  This is why we often feel tired or cold when we go on the Crash diet: our body is reacting to the drastically reduced calories.  It is also why people like those Biggest Loser ‘winners’ can exercise over two hours a day, eat 1000 calories and still gain weight: our metabolic set point has been lowered by low calorie input + high calorie output.

The fact is that eating a healthy diet consistently is what works the best without our feeling fatigued all the time, working out all the time and starving all the time.  Our bodies don’t turn down the metabolic set point and we can still lose weight.

So why exercise? Because another truth about our bodies is “use it or lose it.” If we don’t use the muscles and systems we have, our bodies stop putting in the maintenance.  Remember when you broke your arm or leg and after six weeks in the cast, your arm/ leg was a lot smaller than the other one (not to mention hairier?) It’s because for those few weeks, you didn’t use the muscles in that limb, so they atrophied. The same thing happens with our bones: not being used? The body sends those minerals to somewhere else in the body where they can be used or just expels them. This is the reason working out with weights has become a hot issue for older people who want to save bone mass: it not only builds muscles but bones as well! When we get out and move our muscles and bones, our bodies keep maintaining them. It’s when we stop moving and lifting and walking and bending and stretching that our bodies stop putting resources into our bones and muscles, and seriously, other than bones and muscles, what else are we made of?

The other benefit to exercise is that it keeps our joints lubricated, so to speak.  You know when you’ve been sitting for a long period of time and when you stand up, you feel stiff? Imagine how stiff you’d feel if you’d been sitting for days!  There is a science behind how our bodies begin creating a sitting framework that we have to break out of once we begin moving again, but the simple truth is that if we don’t move, our joints, muscles and bones forget how to do it.  They are out of practice and this is dangerous because this is where people get hurt. We all know that one of the biggest dangers for older people is falling and breaking a hip. These fractures usually result in surgery and it’s the beginning of a downward spiral for many of these patients. The sad part is that many people stop being active because they are afraid of breaking a hip or a bone, which leads to decreased bone and muscle mass and stiff joints, which just makes them more vulnerable to falling and breaking a bone.  Talk about a downward spiral!

I have heard trainers advise that it’s the stiffness in the waist and hips that cause most people to lose their balance.  They don’t reach, bend, twist or squat so the middle part of their body (the torso or core) loses the ability to do so, and when they are knocked off balance, they fall instead of twisting or sitting or reaching.  Result? Broken bone!  While I am not a young thing anymore, I like to think I’m not exactly “old” yet (yeah, I’m deluding myself!) but I recently had a similar experience which really added to my understanding of how this happens. I got up in the middle of the night and as I was walking around the bed to get to the hallway, I stepped on one of the dogs’ tennis balls and lost my balance.  Instead of falling like a tree straight on the bed on my side, I twisted and ended up sitting down hard on the bed.  While I don’t think hitting the bed would’ve broken anything, my butt still has a lot more padding than my ribs or my arm so instead of ending up with bruises, I ended up with just a little muscle strain from the hard twist and in less than a couple of days, it was forgotten (after I picked up the tennis balls!) When people fall, they usually don’t have time to think “how can I fall so I don’t hurt myself?” but our bodies react to protect themselves. I didn’t think “twist so you land on your butt!”; my body just did it once I realized I’d lost my balance. The fact that I was able to move to minimize any injury is due to regular exercise: two-three times a week in the pool.  Even if you can’t get to a gym or exercise regularly, all you need to practice squats is a chair: sit down, stand up, repeat as often as possible! If you can add a stretch to the other side of your knees, even better.

There are some benefits to weight loss with working out: you do burn calories when you exercise and you maintain or build muscle, which burns more calories than fat, so the more muscles you build, the more you exercise, the more calories your body can burn.  Many people also find that the more they move, the more they want to move! Honestly, I dreaded the thought of working out even in the pool, and I am still reluctant to change clothes and take time out of my day to work out, but once I am there and afterwards, I have to admit that I feel much better and frankly, it’s a lot of fun to move! Unfortunately, when people believe that exercise is going to be the key to weight loss, they get angry or disappointed when they spend a lot of time at the gym and lose only a minimal amount of weight.  That’s because they are still eating most of the same foods that caused them to gain the weight.  Real weight loss begins and ends with what goes into your mouth! Exercise and activity are important components in a healthy lifestyle, even if they don’t have major parts to play in weight loss. Staying as mobile and flexible as possible is the best thing you can do for yourself and your weight because a body in motion tends to stay in motion while a body at rest just gets stiff.

You Can Keep It Moving: Weight Loss & Not Looking Backwards

One of my all time favorite movies is Thelma & Louise. Aside from the fact that movie is full of first rate actors and has a killer soundtrack, I find it to be a very empowering film despite the ending (if you don’t know how it ends, I can’t help you!) One of the many themes in that film is “keep moving forward, ” which is something I hear repeated again and again in podcast episodes.

Most of these podcasts have to do with weight loss, health and fitness but this idea applies to just about anything in life: finances, jobs, relationships, etc. You would think it’s a no-brainer, but humans with our big brains and big egos easily get stuck in the past. Why? Because we like to dwell on things like people who wronged us, on situations we screwed up, on things that frightened us.  We get stuck looking back at these times and places emotionally and we forget to move forward. How many times have you heard someone say “I would do XYZ but I just can’t get past ABC?” As in, “I would start a new relationship but I just can’t get past that man/ woman who cheated on me.” Too many of us get stuck looking back at things we wish turned out differently and while there is value at figuring out what went wrong there so we can avoid the same mistake in the future, there will be no future until we start moving forward again!

Anxiety and emotional eating are the biggest culprits when it comes to weight loss sabotage. We all know this, but when it comes to getting over the anxiety and controlling our emotions, we get stuck.  We don’t know how to get past those negative feelings because we have no tools to control them other than eating! This is where most of us get stuck in a vicious cycle: I’m scared because I don’t know how to control my emotional eating and I’m afraid I’m going to wreck my weight loss and now that I’m scared and anxious, I really want to eat something but I know I can’t because it’ll wreck my weight loss but I don’t know how to stop being scared or how to calm down without eating something. It can go on and on until finally you either eat something (which starts another cycle of recrimination), or you find something to break you out of that cycle.

It’s okay to be scared and it’s okay to be anxious and it’s okay to say “I don’t know what to do.” These are legitimate human emotions and even the bravest person in the world has had these feelings.  You can switch out the adjective “bravest” with any other superlative you can think of: wisest, strongest, calmest, whatever, because every human who has ever lived has had these same emotions.  You are not broken when you feel them and there is nothing wrong with you when you feel them. The trouble starts when you allow these feelings to control you. When you get stuck on these emotions and can’t get past them, then there is a problem.

Do you remember when you were a kid and you were learning how to do something? It doesn’t matter if it was math or how to hit a baseball or how to dance: as a kid, we are expected to ask for help, and when we reached the “now what do I do?” stage, that’s just what we did.  We asked a teacher, a parent, family member or a friend and they helped us get through it. I’m sure there were times when we were a little embarrassed or shy but no one expects a kid to know how to do everything! It’s the whole point of growing up!

Sometimes though we had to figure it out on our own and that’s where some of us are still stuck in the problems of the past. Something bad happened and now you don’t know how to get past it. All of us have things in our past that were really awful, some more awful than others unfortunately. Most of us need help to past these things but we either don’t know how to ask for help or we are embarrassed that we need help.  After all, now we are adults and we aren’t supposed to need help so we keep trying to figure it out on our own, and this is where we get stuck with emotional eating. It makes us feel better and we forget for a while about whatever is scaring or upsetting us.

Eating an entire cheesecake or the whole can of Pringles is not helping us get past the bad memories, though: it is just a coping mechanism.  It’s also a coping mechanism that is hurting us physically and emotionally. Think about it. Which is more embarrassing: calling a health professional or eating that box of brownies? Which one are you going to regret more: calling your sibling to talk about how you are feeling or eating an entire pizza?

While I realize that this post is more about emotions than it is weight loss, I do know that overeating and obesity for a lot of us are only symptoms of deeper emotional issues, the same way that drugs, drinking or other vices are symptoms. Until we deal with the actual problem, any attempt to fix the symptoms is just damage control. Being stuck constantly trying one weight loss plan after another isn’t going to fix the real issue if your emotions are what you are trying to control with food.  The problem isn’t the food you’re putting in your mouth: it’s the emotions that are driving you to do it.

The only way to get over the past is to make peace with it. For most of us that means looking back at these unhappy events and mentally telling them “you can’t hurt me anymore.” Looking at them is painful and usually scary.  We are all familiar with kids who are scared of the monster lurking in the corner, until you turn on the light and see it’s just the cat sleeping on the bookshelf. The monsters lose their power when you see them clearly in the light: that’s what making peace does to the monsters in our past.  Sometimes though we need help finding that emotional ‘light switch’ and until we ask for help, we’re stuck in the dark being afraid and left at the mercy of our fears. While food may help us forget we are afraid for a while, it’s not turning on the light for us or giving us the courage to get up and do it for ourselves. Asking for help also means taking action to move forward.  We need a hand to get over this bump in the road if we are going to make progress. Asking for help for some of us is considered weak or needy and it is neither. When we are drowning in the river, no one thinks it weak to ask for help so why is drowning in emotions any different?

Life is scary sometimes.  I’ve been through some pretty freaking scary situations myself and bad things happen to people who don’t deserve them and yes, good things happen to cruddy people who also don’t deserve them.  We don’t know what life has in store for us.  That’s what makes it scary and it’s also what makes it exciting. In a lot of cases the only difference is our perspective. Life has enough of its own obstacles to throw at us so we don’t need our fear and our emotions to hold us back. The only way to get through the scary parts is just keep moving forward, otherwise you are stuck with the fear and you already know that is not a good place to be. Keep moving!  Thelma & Louise: Better Not Look Down