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

 

There’s No Competition! Weight Loss & Focusing on YOU (Not Everyone Else!)

We all know the popular platitudes: “keep your eyes on your own work,” “keep your eyes on the prize,” “stay in your own lane,” etc.  We’re fond of throwing them out whenever we hear other people discussing how much better someone else is doing with weight loss or healthy eating.  We’re quick to remind others about ‘staying in their own lane’ but when it comes to ourselves, that advice goes right out the window!

We don’t mean to be hypocritical: it’s just that humans tend to be competitive and most of us are in a hurry to lose as much weight as fast as we can, so when when we hear that someone else is having great success, we want to do what they’re doing! It’s natural: we want to be a success too! Competition aside, if a friend or coworker is doing something that works, then why shouldn’t we try it?  Makes sense, right?

Well, maybe. One of the reasons we use those platitudes like ‘stay in your own lane’ is because what works for someone else may not work for us. Weight loss and eating healthier is all dependent on our own personal health issues and our goals.  If your goal is weight loss, then following your friend’s diet may not be the right thing for you if her goal is eating healthier.  She may be losing a lot of weight fast simply because what she ate before she changed her diet was a lot of processed junk food.  Her new healthier diet might be full of nutritious whole foods which aren’t exactly low cal or conducive to weight loss.  Example: when I started my own weight loss journey, my goals were: #1) eat healthier; and #2) weight loss. The first thing I did was stop eating fast food and I lost about 40 lbs simply by cutting out the drive-thru. Then I stopped eating pasta and quick carbs like bread and white potatoes. I replaced a lot of that with nuts, (mainly macadamias and cashews) and sweet potatoes. All of those things are healthier foods than bread, cookies, pasta and potatoes, but they aren’t exactly ‘low calorie.’ I also replaced margarine with butter and left cheese in my diet, which are also not ‘low calorie.’  They are healthier than processed fake butter and processed ‘cheese food,’ but if weight loss and only weight loss is your goal, they aren’t really on a lot of ‘diet plans.’

So when I started this whole ‘eating healthier’ process, one of my goals was to lose weight but I also wanted to be healthier overall.  In short, I wanted to lose weight eating healthy whole foods instead of eating highly processed ‘diet foods.’ I also planned (and still plan) to eat this way for the rest of my life, so while I lost a lot of weight quickly, fast weight loss wasn’t and isn’t my priority.  (It was just an awesome reward for no longer living at the drive-thru!) However, when my family and friends saw I had dropped forty-plus pounds in a few weeks, they all wanted to know how I was doing it. They pretty much accepted the “No Fast Food Rule” as the no-brainer it is, but no potatoes? no bread? no pasta or rice or beans or corn? They were not on-board with those rules, even though I feel a whole lot healthier not eating those foods. And that’s the way it should be! I made changes based on my health and my goals which aren’t the same as theirs!

I have a friend who is always rolling her eyes at the ‘gluten-free’ craze: “now everything is gluten-free!” Believe me, if you are sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease, then yes! that’s a great thing! But for those of us who aren’t, is there any advantage to cutting out gluten? The general consensus seems to be ‘not really and especially not for your wallet!’ But being ‘gluten-free’ is popular now simply because there’s been a lot of media attention about it. People who have never been sensitive to gluten are swearing that they feel so much better now that they’re gluten-free while health professionals are suggesting it wasn’t the gluten in their diet that was causing the problems: it was the grains associated with gluten. In short, one of the reasons I feel much better not eating anything made with grains is because grains trigger inflammation, which irritates my osteoarthritis, so no grains, no inflammation, no arthritis pain! The reason my friend rolls her eyes is that buying gluten-free bread, cookies and pizza crust is more expensive than just leaving those foods out of your diet, so these people are paying more to eat what is essentially junk food.

We also need to keep our focus on our goals so we can do what’s best for us individually. Last week I attended a birthday luncheon for some friends at a local restaurant and one of the guests had recently started eating low carb, so it gave us a chance to compare low carb menus. He is eating low carb to keep his blood sugar under control and I am eating not so much low carb as whole food/ Paleo for weight loss.  Part of our discussion included nut butters: peanut butter, almond butter, ‘natural’ butters v the shelf stable varieties.  Peanuts aren’t a normal part of my diet: I like them and they’ve never made me sick, but at the same time, they don’t add a lot to my diet or health, so I choose not to eat them.  Peanuts are technically a legume (a bean) and I tend to avoid them overall.  Almonds are a ‘genuine nut’ but since I don’t like them very much, they are also not a big part of my diet.  My friend however isn’t eating Paleo like I am so flavored almonds, peanuts and peanut butters are part of his diet. His question centered around finding a shelf stable peanut butter he can take with him when he travels that isn’t full of sugar. He is also a fan of low carb tortillas and I avoid tortillas of all kinds, so my recommendation of a coconut wrap was an unnecessary inconvenient expense for him while his low carb tortilla would likely aggravate my arthritis. So, while it looks like we might be pursuing the same goals, we really aren’t: his eating habits wouldn’t be beneficial for me and mine would be overly complicated for him!

Not competing with others and keeping your eyes focused on your goals is also important because if you keep bouncing from one ‘sure-fire gonna work’ plan to another, you’ll never be consistent long enough to figure out what really works for you. If you want to make progress and improve your health, that means finding what works for you and staying with it, in your own lane, so to speak! I used to get a lot of questions about dairy and Paleo, since labels are another thing people like to throw around. There are Paleo advocates who insist ‘dairy isn’t Paleo,’ but as for me, since I’m not lactose intolerant either, I keep a little dairy in my diet. I do know that too much dairy does trigger a little sensitivity so I try to keep it to a minimum but that’s not because ‘dairy isn’t Paleo’: it’s because too much dairy doesn’t agree with me!

So whatever healthy eating or weight loss plan you are following, the only thing you need to focus on is whether it’s working for you or not. If your friend or neighbor is losing pounds really fast, give him a big congratulations and keep your eyes on your own work. If what you are doing isn’t working for you, then maybe it’s time to ask some questions, and the first question needs to be “what are your goals?” not “what are you doing?”

 

 

“Are We There Yet?” The Weight Loss Journey & The Garden Of Zen

Those of you with kids know how irritating that question is! In Shrek 2, there’s a hilarious scene with Donkey in the carriage asking Shrek and Fiona The Question as they travel to the Kingdom of Far Far Away.  My personal opinion is The Question is why so many cars now have backseats with ‘entertainment options,’ including headphone jacks and DVD players: no one wants to hear The Question!

No one wants to be asking it either, especially when it comes to weight loss! Whenever anyone undertakes a new weight loss or healthy living plan, the first question in their mind, whether they ask it or not, is “how long is this going to take?” Unfortunately, I believe anyone or any entity who gives you an answer is not being truthful.  We can give or get a conditional estimate that is most likely going to be extremely vague, conditional and nowhere near accurate– a ‘guesstimate’ at best, but that’s as good as you’re going to get! Forget guarantees– in my opinion, they are bald-faced lies buried under fine print. By the time you read through all that legalese, they have made it impossible for you to keep the conditions which entitle you to the money back refund! It’s bad enough that most of these weight loss companies steal your money by luring you in with their ‘guarantee’: they also steal your hope, your confidence and your faith in yourself.

It’s all because of The Question: we want to be done with this already! For most of us, the thought of spending months or years trying to lose weight or get more fit is just depressing. The only ‘good thing’ we can hope for is that ‘maybe it’ll be fun and we can make some new friends.’  It’s not entirely out of the question: we meet people at the gym or when we try new programs or classes. But usually, the entire ‘weight loss- healthy lifestyle’ is something of an embarrassing ordeal. We are embarrassed that we’re overweight, that we don’t look the way we want or the way that others think we should, or that we aren’t as fit or athletic as we want to be.  For those of us with kids, this can be especially difficult: we’re not healthy or fit enough to play with our kids or when we go to sports events and meet their friends/ teammates’ parents, we are obviously out of shape compared to them, and if we notice the differences, you can bet the kids do too!

Even if we manage to approach weight loss and being more active from a “this is going to be fun!” point of view, we are still stuck looking at the timeline that comes with any process.  How long until I’m smaller/ stronger/ fitter? Even if we’re not “There” yet, we’d still like to know that we’re making progress on our journey and with weight loss, it’s almost as if we’ve entered some kind of strange time warp, where every day is tripled and making even minimal progress takes forever! “OMG! Am I even getting close?!

At the risk of sounding like a pessimist, weight loss is not linear and there isn’t always a cause-effect relationship between what we eat, what we do, how much we weigh and how strong we are.  Other things such as stress, emotion and sleep affect our bodies and our weight.  We can eat great and work out all week but if we’re not sleeping well or if we’re anxious or seriously stressed, we may not see the result we are expecting.  We all know how frustrating that is, but it’s even more confusing: we don’t understand how we can be so “good” and still not lose the weight we want or think we should.  What did we do wrong? Why is this taking so long? How come I’m not There yet?!

This is where most of us do something we really regret out of anger, confusion, frustration and despair. We can throw ourselves into the weight loss process with a dangerous furor; we can give up and resign ourselves to be the “fat one” for the rest of our lives, or we can wallow in cookies or carbs.  Whatever it is, we usually end up regretting it because we’re either desperate to “make progress even if it kills me!” or just throwing in the towel because “I’m so done with this mess!” What none of us want to admit is that this process is never done and that once we finally get There, we have to work to stay There!

It takes a long time and it’s not linear because it’s organic. No, not talking about pesticide free, non-GMO stuff! I mean that your body is a living creature, not an artificial machine like your car.  There are dozens of things that impact your body, your lifestyle and your metabolism, which all have an impact on your weight and your health.  While we know that in our heads, it rarely filters down to where we live in our hearts, minds and souls. Here is good parallel: one of my friends grows tomatoes and pumpkins every year, although she is the first to admit she is not a gardener. She has a neighbor who is a good gardener along with a close friend who also loves gardening and is good at it.  My friend does her best every year to follow the protocols for the vegetables she’s planted and she takes care of them every day to make sure they are getting enough water without too much, enough fertilizer, bug spray, sunlight, etc.  In short, she’s being “very good” about nurturing her garden.  However, there are things she has to contend with, such as the heat wave we’ve had this year, the rampant aphid infestation, the fungus that came out of nowhere, and tomato worms which suddenly appeared.  Her tomatoes are struggling and her pumpkins are not doing as well as she’d hoped. By comparison, her next door neighbor’s tomatoes are doing great but her friend’s across town are in worse straits than hers. If it seems like there’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to why the neighbor 100 feet away has great plants and the expert gardener across town has plants that are barely alive while her own are ‘hanging in there,’ you are absolutely correct! There is no rhyme or reason, because the plants, like our bodies, are not machines. There’s a world of difference between each and every one of them, even if they are the same variety of tomato or pumpkin.  Each plant, like each of us, is an individual and while one may be doing fine where it is, its neighbor may get more or less sun, more or less water or have soil which is not as good.  One can have more bugs, more fungus or less mold or just be a stronger plant.  My friend gets just as frustrated and confused and angry with her garden as we do with our weight loss process: “I’m doing everything the way I’m supposed to so why isn’t this working?!” Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

The truth is all we can do is our best, whether it’s growing plants or losing weight to be healthier.  Just like the pumpkins and tomatoes, our bodies are living creatures and just because we live in those bodies, we think we can control them the way my friend wants to control her plants (I am in sympathy, wanting to control my orchids– but no dice!) Weight loss follows no schedule but its own, just the way her tomatoes will produce when they’re good and ready and not before, no matter how she tries to coax them along. We’re in the same boat trying to coax our bodies into losing a little more fat, building a little more muscle. Our bodies, like stubborn tomato plants, don’t always cooperate! Some years my friend has a spectacular harvest and some years she gets only a few tomatoes, but she always does her best and each year she is optimistic when she puts the plants in the ground.

All we can do is our best. We each start with the bodies we are born with and to some extent our genes dictate our outcome. All I can do is work every day to eat healthy, be active, get as much sleep as I can and manage my stress as well as I can. Being thin will not make me happy any more than being fit will make me happy unless I am happy already.  Being angry and frustrated because of my slow progress is not productive: it will not make me lose weight faster but it might slow it down even more. The bottom line is that if we keep doing our best and accept that “we’ll get there when we get there,” we will probably get there a little faster, and we will be happier along the way.  We know in our heads that weight loss and a healthier lifestyle are life-long processes.  Once we reach our goal weight, we still have to maintain it and eating Oreos and Whoppers isn’t going to help with that, so even once we’re There, we’re never Done.  This is not a bad thing! We need to remember why we are losing weight and working to be healthier: doesn’t it have something to do with living longer, being happier and spending more time with those we love? Maybe it is work, but it should be a work that we love for those that we love (and that includes us!) We just have to keep growing as best as we can and we’ll get there when we get there. Hopefully, no one gets a fungus along the way.

 

 

 

 

Weight or Water? Weight Loss & Retaining (or Not Retaining) Water

I hate it when this happens: I get on the scale and it looks like I’ve gained weight.  My first thought? “It’s water weight! Right? I must be retaining water. Right? Because I can’t have gained weight?”

Yeeaahhh, riiigghhtt.  I couldn’t have gained weight so it must be water!  ……except it’s not.  It’s weight aka fat! But my first thought is pretty much the Number 1 excuse for why the number on the scale went up! Unless we made some kind of planned deviation from our eating plan, like a celebration or a holiday, gaining weight means we messed up somehow, either by eating the wrong things, too much overall or both.  Most of us know it’s not water, even if that’s the excuse our minds hide behind, and for me, after facing the grim truth that chocolate chip cookies are not Paleo and on my food list, I once again ban them from my shopping cart!

However, that doesn’t mean that our bodies don’t ever retain water. In certain circumstances, we do retain a certain amount of water in our tissues.  It’s not twenty or thirty pounds of water or maybe even ten, but depending on how much you weigh and the circumstances, it can be as much as 5 lbs. Five pounds can be a lot for but, again, it’s dependent on the circumstances, so you can’t just automatically dismiss that 5 lb gain as “water weight.”

Our weight fluctuates under everyday normal circumstances, even if we are ‘behaving ourselves.’ Water retention tends to be the biggest component in that fluctuation so if we find we’ve gone up a couple of pounds, it could really be that retained water.  Of course, the same holds when we find we’ve dropped a couple of pounds: it could be that water coming off! This is why so many weight loss professionals discount the scale or regular weigh-ins. Unfortunately, the scale is the easiest tool for us to use on a regular basis, so what we want to see is the downward trend over time. We want to see our weight going down, even if it does ‘bounce up’ a couple of pounds as long as it’s followed by a loss of the same amount or more.

However, depending on what we are eating, how we are moving and who we are, we can try to minimize our water weight.  The biggest culprits for retaining water are: 1) our diet; 2) our exercise; 3) our hormones; and 4) our stress levels. When we pay attention to these factors, we can have a better idea if that number on the scale is because we ate that pasta primavera last Tuesday or if it’s because it’s ‘That Time of the Month”!

Number 1 is number one for a reason, but not exactly like most of us might think.  When we think “water retention and diet”, we tend to think Salt.  Yes, salt is a big factor.  Salt is an electrolyte and our body keeps it in solution, so it’s not uncommon to eat a big bowl of salty popcorn and then feel puffy the next day. Usually in a day or so, we pass the water and we feel less puffy.  However, the other factor in that salty popcorn might take a bit longer to fade away.  That is the carbohydrates in the popcorn.  When it comes to carbs and retaining water, the best description of them is “little sponges.” Carbs soak up the water and it stays with us a while. No wonder you feel puffy after eating it! Between the salt and the carbs, hello! You’re retaining water for sure! When we eat a lot of carbs, even if it’s something not salty, if it’s a carbohydrate, it’s going to hold water, so a diet rich in carbs is going to show it on the scale.  Not only does your body store the excess carbs as fat, they also hold more water than protein or fat, so your weight will go up the more carbs you eat, salty or not.  I know from my own experience, after I’ve binged on carbs and then gone back to low carb/ no carb, after a couple of days it feels like I’m always running to the loo! It’s my body getting rid of all the stored water.

Most people know to watch their diet for any water-retaining culprits but we don’t usually think of exercise as one.  When we exercise, especially more strenuous than usual, it causes ‘damage’ to our muscles, which then need some time to repair themselves.  This is how our muscles get stronger and why we need recovery time.  That ‘damage’ is normal: our muscles build themselves up during the repair. But to do that, muscles need water, so after exercising, our muscles retain water! This is why some people don’t weigh themselves the day after a workout: they know their muscles are full of water! This is one reason our trainers are always pushing us to drink during and after a workout: we’re sweaty and our muscles need the water too! Even if it feels like it wasn’t a strenuous workout, if your muscles feel a little sore, you are probably retaining a little water!

Hormones are another no-brainer for most of us (and the guys can skip this one!) If you are a woman of child-bearing years, you are eminently familiar with this scenario. For most of us, the week before our period, we puff up like a balloon as our body stores water in preparation either for growing a baby or getting ready to shed the uterine lining.  If you are pregnant, congratulations! And get ready for some major changes in your body! If you aren’t pregnant, your body will start shedding a lot of water in a few short days.  All of us women have been through this more than a few times, and if you are one of the lucky ones who doesn’t turn into a water balloon, you are the envy of every woman who does! That said, most of us know when not to weigh ourselves in order to avoid the appearance of weight gain.

Stress is another sneaky culprit with water weight.  When we are chronically stressed, either physically or emotionally, our body just recognizes it as “danger/ stress” and will hang on to the Basics to make sure you survive whatever stress you are facing.  For the body, those Basics are water and fuel aka fat. This is why so many health and fitness gurus are pushing stress management.  Incidentally, it’s also why they are pushing more sleep, since our body treats poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation as a stressor.  We all know how crappy we feel when we don’t sleep well or enough, so it takes a physical toll on our bodies beyond just exhaustion and low energy headaches: our body stores fat and water as a result! The problem is that most of us have a hard time knowing when we are getting enough rest and managing our stress, so when we get on the scale and see the number isn’t budging,– or worse, going up– it just seems to add to our frustration and stress! This is one of the benefits to adding a proper sleep schedule and stress management routine: they not only help feel better mentally and physically, they also help you lose weight!

When it comes to managing our water weight gain, it’s really just one part of a healthy lifestyle.  If we manage our carb intake, get enough sleep, relaxation and keep our bodies moving, we should be able to identify if the number on the scale includes a few pounds of water or not. We also need to know that water is not bad! Many pro athletes know that diuretics (“water pills”) are a quick and easy cheat for losing a few pounds in order to make their target weight.  But a “cheat” is exactly what they are if you are taking them just to lose weight! Dehydrating yourself either by not drinking enough or using diuretics can be dangerous.  Our bodies are dependent on water to send chemical signals to organs, including such vital organs as your heart, lungs and brain. No water, no signal, no life! Like so many other necessities, our bodies function properly in a narrow band of the Right Amount: too little water can cause as many problems as too much water. Our bodies are pretty good at keeping our water where it needs to be to keep you healthy: now it’s just up to us to do our part (and put down the popcorn and chocolate chip cookies!)

 

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!