Drifting Along: Weight Loss & Going with the Flow

One of the dangers with weight loss and work out plans is what’s called “drifting.” This is where you kind of lose your drive or motivation and, while it’s not quite going through the motions, it’s close. You’ve lost your focus and are just floating along with the current, doing things the way you’ve always done them.

Drifting or going with the flow is a little different than what I refer to as my “comfortable old rut.”  You may have heard me refer to this rut when in some of my posts about trying to talk myself out of going to the gym or not making it to my workout class.  Even though my brain is frantically trying to come up with a ‘valid’ excuse why I can’t go, because I’m stuck in my rut, I find myself turning into the gym parking lot without thinking about it.  Why? Because my brain was on Autopilot and followed its comfortable rut and we end up going to the gym because it’s Monday or Wednesday.

With drifting, you aren’t paying attention to your workout or your eating: you are going through the motions without any conscious thought.  You are eating the foods on your eating plan, and doing your workouts but you are phoning it in. Are you engaged when you are working out?  Are you putting forth as much as effort as you can?  When it comes to your diet, even though you are choosing the fresh veggies, are you watching portion size?  Or dressings?  When you eat, do you check to make sure you are actually hungry or do you eat the ‘approved foods’ simply because it’s meal time?

Drifting is a lot like drowsy driving. Most of us have been behind the wheel when we are less than fully alert and it seriously scares the living daylights out of me. You can feel your eyelids getting heavy and usually you begin to weave in your own lane.  Usually the side of the road or the lane reflectors will wake you back up and then you slowly begin to drift off again.  Your reflexes are also less than optimal, since it takes you a couple extra seconds to realize that ‘something happened’ that caused the car ahead of you to stop or swerve and then you react.  Sometimes those two extra seconds are the difference between an accident and a close call.  You are literally on Autopilot, going through the motions without really paying attention to what is going on around you.  How can you pay attention? You’re half-asleep!

This is what happens when we drift or go with the flow.  We keep doing things the same way we’ve always done them– or at least, we think we are!  Whether we are or not, we need to be paying attention.  When we think we are doing things the same way as usual, drifting can mean things like our portions slowly get a little bigger because we aren’t paying attention.  The size of our burger patty goes from 3 oz to 4 oz then to nearly 5.  Our salad might also get bigger and while most veggies are fairly low cal (especially greens), the amount of salad dressing grows proportionally from two tablespoons to almost four. The same with our ‘coffee drink’: no longer the Tall, it’s now a Grande.  We aren’t really paying too much attention since it creeps up on you.  That ‘occasional’ Grande Dark Roast is now a Grande Latte or a Grande Macchiato.  The lunch salad with dressing on the side may not change, except that now you are using the whole container of dressing instead of half or less.  That ‘serving’ of nuts you normally have as a midday snack goes from a closed fist of nuts to an open handful, which is almost 50% more for some of us.

This isn’t because we’re being greedy: it’s because we aren’t really paying attention to what we are eating and how much we are eating.  We are going through the motions: “nuts are on my list, so nuts are safe!” An ounce of nuts is ‘safe,’ but that ‘handful’ is probably about two or more.  Not safe!  Just like the mayo you put in your ‘healthy tuna salad.’  Is it really two tablespoons or is it closer to twice that because you’re ‘eyeballing’ the amount as you go through the motions?

I don’t want to turn everyone into a Diet Weights & Measures Nazi, but I do want all of us to pay attention.  There’s nothing wrong with ‘eyeballing’ a portion size of meat or salad dressing, provided that every so often you ‘spot-check’ your assessment.  That can mean throwing that bit of flank steak on the scale to confirm that yep! that’s a 3 oz piece of meat!  The same with dressing or oils or nuts: check that the amount you served is the amount you think it is! It’s okay to have more as long as you recognize it: I had two servings of cheese, not one! It can be that one serving (1 oz) isn’t enough for you. The point is to eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed, and if two ounces of meat and cheese don’t cut it, then they don’t cut it.  It also means that eating five ounces of meat and four ounces of cheese is probably too much for most of us and will probably leave us feeling like a blob.

Paying attention also means that before we eat, we have to ask ourselves: “am I really hungry? Do I want to eat because it’s meal time or do I want to eat because I am actually hungry?” Sometimes it helps to check the time of day and remind yourself when you last ate.  For myself, I got into the habit of getting a snack on my way home from work, so every work day about 3:30-4:00, my stomach would start growling.  It was expecting its snack!  The time of day, the location where I was (usually a gas station) or my actions would trigger the Snack Memory, and given that I’d usually eaten my lunch between noon and one o’clock, I wasn’t really hungry! If I ignored the growling and just drove home, usually after twenty minutes, I wasn’t hungry anymore.

Waiting a while is one of the best ways to determine if your ‘hunger’ is really ‘eating memory.’ If your body really needs food, after about half an hour or so, you are probably still hungry. For most of us, we can probably afford to skip a meal or two.  Many fans of Intermittent Fasting (IF) like to point out that most times, when they’re on a fasting day, even if it’s been a day or so since they’ve eaten, their hunger will usually go away after about a half an hour or so. Hunger is just our body’s way of letting us know it’s expecting or it needs fuel.  This is why I like to do a mental check of what I ate when and how much I ate.  If I skipped breakfast and it’s now 11:00, then the hunger is usually genuine, especially depending on how much or little I had for dinner the night before.  If I had a breakfast wrap/ burrito and it’s about 11:00, then I am usually not genuinely hungry. It really means I’ve metabolized the carbs in the wrap or tortilla so my blood sugar is dropping which triggers the hunger response.  (I like to avoid carbs in the morning for this very reason!)

One of the reasons most of us, including me, gained as much weight as we did is because we eat when we’re not hungry and we react to hunger like it’s the dinner bell. We eat because it’s meal time; we see a snack we like; someone offers us food; we’re getting something to drink so we get something to eat; we eat at every available opportunity!  It doesn’t make us gluttons: it means we’re reacting to our conditioning! Humans are pretty much hard-wired to eat when food is available because even just a few decades ago, food wasn’t all that accessible for some of us. Those of us with dogs know that most of them will eat the entire bowl of food or eat until they can’t eat anymore.  (I had a Queensland mix who’d eat until she threw up!) It’s the same idea: we don’t know when food will be available again, so fill ‘er up!

This was the same up until food became more convenient (i.e. processed) and cheaper but now that it’s pretty much available at any local gas station or vending machine, we are still eating every time food crosses our path! Now, we need to do a literal ‘gut check’ before we eat: are we really hungry or are we just eating to eat? It’s a little thing and to be honest it’s kind of a pain to remind ourselves each time we go to eat or drink something, but it helps us stay focused and it keeps us from drifting away.  In a sense, it keeps us tied to our goals.  There is nothing wrong with ‘going with the flow,’ as long as you are doing the steering and not letting circumstances and apathy guide your way!

 

 

As Perfect As We Need to Be: Weight Loss & Perfection

Many of us are familiar with the idea of “progress, not perfection.” In fact it is one of the slogans at my gym and I think it’s the right idea.  The problem with slogans however is that too many of us spout them and repeat them to others without stopping to think about what they really mean. One example from my own life (sooo embarrassing!): when I was learning to drive, an older experienced driver told me that before I pull out into traffic, no matter which way I am turning, look left right before I pull out because those are the drivers that will hit me first. I followed his advice, although I never really thought about it and years later when I was teaching my cousin to drive, I repeated the advice to her. Her face lit up: “Oh yeah! That’s smart advice!”  Me –thinking: “It is?? Why?? [pause] Oh, yeahhhh….” Translation: “Duhhhhhh!”

It is smart advice and it’s too bad I’d never considered it until my younger cousin made me think about what it meant! But this is how ideas can be passed around and not put into practice, despite being repeated on a regular basis. Too many of us see pithy slogans, repeat them to ourselves and others and then go on our merry way doing things the way we’ve always done them, and if that’s not the way that works for us, we get frustrated.  “Why does X work for everyone else but me?!”  Umm.. are you sure that it’s right for you??

There are a lot of us who fall into the “I can’t do XYZ” category.  As in, “I can’t eat Primal/ Paleo because I need a certain amount of carbs each day or my blood sugar drops too low;” or “I can’t be keto because my doctor wants me to limit my fat.”  Whatever your doctor told you, listen to your doctor! But when you use the ‘doctor’s orders’ for your excuse for not losing weight, there’s a problem!

No one begins at a perfect starting point! Even fitness gurus like Chris Powell and Jillian Michaels started out less than perfect! While they look amazing now, what we are seeing is the Final Product, not the First Draft.  No one- in weight loss or anything else– started out perfect their first time around.  The hang-up comes when we want to be as perfect as possible the first time out or even before we start.  We want to begin from a perfect starting point so we can get to the Final Product as soon as we can.  It’s an admirable sentiment, however unrealistic it is. There is no Universal Perfect Starting Point; there is just where we choose to start!

While I realize I might be making some enemies here, I don’t believe either Chris Powell or Jillian Michaels are perfect.  They look great and are in great shape, but I’m sure if you ask either of them to point out things about themselves they wish were better, they’d have a few items on the list!  Each of us excels at pointing out our flaws.  When we stand in front of a mirror and our friends and family tell us how great we look, we still think “yeah, except for my hips/ my chest/  my neck/ my butt/ my thighs/ my whatever.”

This is where the idea of perfection has gotten stuck in our heads.  We want to eat perfectly.  We want to work out perfectly.  We want to look as perfect as we can.  Those are very admirable goals, but again, how realistic are they?  Is anything or anyone in this world perfect? Who is eating the perfect diet? Who is doing the perfect work out?  Even if they are ‘perfect’ most of the time, what they are doing is ‘perfect’ for them!  There are people who eat a lot of veggies like leeks and kale and tomatoes.  That’s great, if you aren’t sensitive to allium veggies, cruciferous veggies or nightshades!  Some people have trouble with the excessive sulfur in allium veggies like leeks, onions, garlic, etc.  People with thyroid conditions are sometimes told to limit their cruciferous veggies like kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc.  For some of us, we are just sensitive to nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes). So when you look at someone else’s ‘perfect’ diet, it might be worse for you than the diet you are following now!  The same with their ‘perfect workout’: what works for them might hurt you!

[What sparked this particular post might seem fairly far afield. As a ‘recovering English major,’ I was reviewing John Milton’s Paradise Lost. (Talk about a heavy unrelated topic!)  But the commentary I recall most from my classes about this epic poem is that while God made humans flawed and imperfect, He made them as perfect as they need to be. Adam and Eve had everything they needed to exist forever in Eden.  They were lacking nothing but through their own choices were cast out of Paradise. Their choices were not imperfections.]

Whether you are Christian or not, the fact remains that each of us has the skills and ability we need to lose weight, eat better and be more active.  We don’t need to start at perfection and perfection as a goal remains relative.  What works great for me might not work at all for my sister or my friends. Each of us needs to begin at our own starting point and move forward.  Some of us might be starting at a much lower benchmark than others and some of us might not ever reach as high as someone else’s midpoint!  We need to seek our own perfect eating plan and fitness plan and stop comparing ourselves to others.  It’s okay to try something someone else is having success with eating or doing, but if it’s a huge failure for you, it’s not your failure! You did not fail- this particular tool just doesn’t work for you. One of my favorite podcasters, Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) has a favorite recipe that she eats often.  She calls it her ‘cabbage bowl’ which has raw shredded cabbage, bacon, an egg and usually avocado. She leaves the yolk runny and uses it with the avocado to make a kind of dressing.  If I had to eat raw runny egg yolk, I would seriously throw up! It’s one of the few foods that I have detested all my life.  (I only eat really hard cooked egg yolk with enough hot sauce on it to kill the taste!) I eat a lot of the other stuff in that recipe but not the egg! Does that mean my diet isn’t perfect? Not at all! It means the bacon avocado coleslaw I have is what works for me.

There is no reason to compare yourself against anyone else.  You are unique and while there are some basic healthy human guidelines to follow, no one else can tell you that you’re a failure for not eating or working out like they do.  Are you eating healthier, according to you? Are you being more active than you used to be?  If the answers to those are yes, then you are doing just fine, and if you think you can make improvements, great! As long as they work for you!  If they aren’t working out for you, find something that does, and odds are, it won’t be someone else’s eating or workout plan!

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)!

 

Tunnel Vision: Weight Loss & Broadening Your Vision

We’re all prone to tunnel vision at some time or another. We get locked into one way of thinking and forget that we locked the door ourselves. When it comes to weight loss, we often don’t realize we’re locked into tunnel vision because we’ve never seen outside the tunnel. Even when presented with outside-the-tunnel options, we may not recognize them as options they are: to us, they may seem crazy or completely out of our reach!

When it comes to weight loss, so many of us think in the ‘All or Nothing’ mindset: either we’re completely on board with our diet or we’ve blown the whole thing. This is where most of us get stuck in the tunnel. We look at our Diet as difficult, restrictive, bland and miserable. We see it as something temporary and our goal is to get done with it so we can go back to our Normal Life aka Eating Like Before.  Welcome to the Diet Tunnel!

The most successful weight loss plans aren’t diets: they’re lifestyle changes— as in permanent. But permanent doesn’t mean we’re locked into that Diet Tunnel. It doesn’t mean we can’t ever eat bread or pizza or cinnamon rolls again. It means we are selective about when we eat them. It means we think about what we eat before we eat it! Not thinking before eating is how many of us gained as much weight as we did.  We see it; we want it; we eat it! At the end of the day, most of us never thought about how much we ate during the day, unless we were super stuffed. If we did happen to think about it, we either moaned about how “out of control” we are or we gloss over it and leave out some of the foods that we tell ourselves ‘don’t count.’  These would be things like the odd bites of pastry or the handful of chips at lunch or the energy bar we picked up at the gas station to ‘tide us over’ until dinner.

Five tortilla chips really don’t amount to much but five chips + one Quest bar + half a danish begin to add up over the day and the week and finally take up residence on your muffin-top belly.  They count, but how much they count depends on you and whether you thought about them before you ate them! This is where most of us are in that Diet Tunnel: we see the chip basket on the table and our first thought is “NO CHIPS!” Having a few chips is okay as long as you think about them and then before you grab that Quest bar on the way home, you pause: “I already had a handful of chips and half a danish.  Maybe I should skip the bar.”  If you really want that bar, maybe you skip the butter on the Brussels sprouts at dinner or cut the sweet potato in half.  You are in charge of your eating and you don’t get points for making yourself miserable, starving yourself or eating only lettuce.  This is why the permanent lifestyle changes win out over the Diet Mentality: once we learn to eat healthy things we enjoy in a way that keeps us healthy and losing weight, we don’t have to moan and groan about the chips or the ice cream or the bagels.  The key is balance, not deprivation!

The other place where most people get tripped up is when it comes to eating at home.  In an effort to promote healthy eating, a lot of magazines, books and websites publish recipes: healthy food, usually low calorie or low carb, and full of flavor!  It’s a great idea…IF you enjoy cooking!! Some of us aren’t fond of long ingredient lists or complicated steps or hours of prep time. That doesn’t mean I’m stuck with boring bland food unless I get take out or go out to eat.  It means I have to look outside that Tunnel and see what options are available to me that I feel comfortable making at home.  This can mean putting something in the slow cooker when I leave for work; it can mean preparing a lot of food on the weekend and putting it in the fridge or freezer.  Usually for me it means I make three or four burgers, steaks or ribs on one night and heat up the rest during the week. (I usually undercook the ones I’m saving for later so when I heat them up again, they aren’t overcooked.)  This works for me because I don’t need to eat something complicated: I like simple food.  For me, ‘make it yourself coleslaw’ and a pan-fried pork steak are just fine for me! That doesn’t mean they’re bland either: I usually dress them up with some of my favorite spice blends.

If you really don’t feel like cooking, there are healthy options at most grocery stores.  My old standby is still bagged salad/ veggies and rotisserie chicken! They also have frozen burgers ready to reheat, frozen quiche and many other healthy options you just need to reheat.

Getting out of the Tunnel doesn’t just mean food or cooking: it also means activity.  When your main evening activities are sitting in front of the tv and eating;or getting online and eating; or reading and eating; or [insert sedentary activity here] and eating, you need to look for something else to fill your time.  Believe me, doing what you used to do and thinking about not-eating is just rubbing salt in the wound.  It’s a lot like an alcoholic hanging out with his drinking buddies and thinking about not-drinking. When my uncle stopped drinking, he started hanging out with my dad a lot.  There were phone calls every night except for his Meeting Night and lots of activities on the weekends and it was for the same reason: my dad has never been a drinker so when he’s with my dad, it’s never an issue or an option.  While we may not all be food addicts, we still have behavior that triggers us to eat out of habit.  How many of us automatically stand in the popcorn & soda line when we enter a theater?

When we’re used to getting a bag of chips and sitting down to watch our usual show or we hit the Starbucks to grab a Frappucino and scroll through our Instagram, those are triggers.  We can still watch our show and scroll but we are usually conscious that ‘something is missing.’  Triggering the craving is making it harder than it needs to be! It’s keeping us locked in the Tunnel as well as pushing us over the edge when it comes to ‘sticking to our Diet.’  That doesn’t mean you can’t ever watch tv or hit up a Starbucks, but it does mean that you have to think outside the Tunnel.  That can be something as simple as watching tv and keeping your hands occupied with something else, such as folding laundry, writing in your journal, playing tug of war with your dog, or (in my case) doing my nails. There was a transition period, since I obviously can’t do my nails every night, but once I got in the habit of doing something other than eating while in front of the tv, the trigger went away.  The same is true for just about any behavior or activity: if it triggers the impulse to eat, either replace the eating with something else or re-evaluate that activity’s importance in your life. If sitting at Starbucks is too much temptation, find someplace else with WiFi to scroll through your phone. (My gym has free WiFi!) Or maybe you make a new ‘phone’ habit, like doing it at home or you check your social media at home on the laptop?

It takes some practice to find out what’s outside the Tunnel and what options will work for you and what won’t. I hear a lot about “batch cooking” on healthy lifestyle podcasts but while making that much food doesn’t work for me, I do a version of it that does: instead of cooking one burger or serving of veggies every night, I do enough for two or three and just warm up the rest. When I hit Starbucks, instead of a macchiato or a latte, it’s brewed coffee or an americano with cream.  Sometimes I’m really out there and just get tea! The activities don’t have to be drastically different- they just have to be different enough to change your triggers and keep you on track with your weight loss goals.

Having a solid support system is critical when it comes to seeing outside the Tunnel.  As I mentioned before, if we’re not used to looking at things differently, we probably won’t see the options available. This is where having resources come in. I have a fitness community (My Fitness Pal) but you can still use any supportive community (Facebook, Instagram) or even website with ideas or recipes (Nom Nom Paleo; Primal Potential, etc).  The idea is to surround yourself with options and try them out! There is a way out of the Diet Tunnel but until you unlock that door yourself, you may never get out.

Weight Loss & Confidence: The Confidence Has to Come First

Most of you know I am a rabid fan of My 600 lb Life on TLC, mainly because it’s my version of a 12 step program: it reminds me of where I came from and points out some of the common pitfalls.  I noticed on the most recent episodes that Dr. Nowzaradan has a large cardboard display in his waiting room.  The display shows a shapely happy young woman and the text reads: “Take weight off. Put CONFIDENCE ON!”

I know as a rule the better you feel about yourself, the more confident you feel.  I also know that being happy, being confident and liking yourself have very little to do with how much you do, or don’t, weigh.

I watch a lot of movies and one that I really like is Runaway Jury, with John Cusack, Rachel Weisz and the incomparable Gene Hackman.  He plays a jury analyst who finds the weak spots in the jurors and then pressures them to vote his way.  There’s a scene in the movie where he and his team are watching footage of potential jurors to pick out their weaknesses and one of them is an overweight woman walking down the street.  As she passes a man walking a large dog, she moves to the other side of the sidewalk and one of Hackman’s team comments “she’s definitely self-conscious about her weight!” Hackman remarks “Maybe she just doesn’t like dogs.”

There’s always a lot of talk in the weight loss and fitness arenas about being comfortable in your own skin. This doesn’t mean you have to love everything about your body but it means you have to accept who you are.  To paraphrase the Serenity Prayer, there are things about myself I can change, there are things I can’t, and I need to accept the ones I can’t.  In spite of those things I’d like to change if I could, I still need to be comfortable with who I am.

Example: even if I reach and maintain my ideal body weight, I will never be tall. I am 5’4″ and other than getting shorter as I grow older, my height isn’t going to change. I will also never have delicate wrists and ankles.  My wrists and ankles will always be as thick as a man’s.  No matter how much weight I lose, this won’t change more than a little bit because they aren’t thick because of fat- it’s the actual bones! All those lovely graceful bracelets and ankelets my classmates wore in high school were not made for wrists and ankles the size of a guy’s so all I could do was envy them.  I think I resented this fact of life even more than I resented being fat! I knew I could change my weight but bones? Not likely! Even plastic surgery wasn’t going to give me graceful little ankles like my sister has or the tiny delicate wrists that my cousins have- I am stuck with the “tree trunks” like my aunts and grandma!

Accepting who you are is where confidence starts.  Once you’ve accepted who you are, you begin to feel more secure in yourself.  You know what your capabilities are and what you need help with. Knowing your limitations and your strengths allows you to feel more confident in your job and in dealing with others, and it has nothing to do with how much you weigh.  But if you are not confident in who you are, then you are going to have a problem when you want to make any kind of positive changes in your life and this includes weight loss!

Confidence comes from inner strength and this is where change begins.  If you don’t have the strength to make the necessary changes to improve your life, your health and your eating, how do you expect to make any positive changes at all?  Most people acknowledge confidence and inner strength are necessary for a lot of life-improvements like going to school or changing jobs, but when it comes to weight loss, that gets left behind.  You need to have inner strength and confidence in yourself to make those changes too!  These start with things like saying no to old habits and temptations.  Even if you don’t quite know where to start, you do know that junk food is not going to be helpful, so you can always start by saying no to those temptations! It’s harder if you are the only one in your family who eats those things or has a weight issue.  We all know it’s hard enough saying no to the potato chip craving or Oreos & ice cream habit without being surrounded by family members who are happily indulging!

It takes a certain amount of confidence to watch other people eating the things you love and say no. Sometimes your friends and family members will try to coax you into joining in, either because they don’t want you to feel left out, they feel guilty for indulging in front of you or just feel guilty for eating it period! Remember all those lectures you heard in high school about saying no to peer pressure? This is where they come in handy! You need to have the strength and confidence to say no even if it’s your favorite pizza!

Sometimes the confidence comes in being independent. Doing something differently than you’ve done before or something different from what everyone else does can be a struggle. It makes you feel like you’re standing out in a field with a great big target on your head. In my office, most of the other workers get takeout.  They walk in with their bags and boxes and sometimes the whole office smells like nachos or Chinese.  I usually have tuna that I prepare in our kitchenette.  Hmm… burrito bowl or tuna fish?  Since we’ve moved to a new location, there are a lot of local restaurants that actually have some healthier options like a lettuce wrap ‘sandwich’ or the burrito bowl, technically, I can ‘eat healthy’ and still have takeout.  I have done it a few times before we had a fridge installed, but even though it’s still ‘healthy,’ it’s also more expensive than I like and it’s still more calories than the tuna. Do I want to blow that many calories on a burrito bowl when I can use them for something I might prefer at dinner?  Frankly, I’d rather have a bowl of strawberries than a burrito bowl or a lettuce-wich, so I stick with the tuna! It’s tempting to follow the crowd and order out or go pick it up, but I know what works for me and my budget and it isn’t takeout!

Confidence in ourselves means that we accept the fact that we might screw it up on occasion. No one gets everything right all the time and especially not the first time! Welcome to the Human Race! Certain things happen when we fail: we learn from our mistakes! Not only do we learn what we did wrong but we also learn a little humility too. There will always be people who revel in the failure of others and those are the people who use someone’s mistake to make themselves feel better about themselves.  Don’t be intimidated by that person! They are the ones who are afraid everyone will see how small and insecure they really are. They are the ones without confidence, without strength and without independence.  They’re the ones who give up, follow the crowd and won’t try anything new without first seeing how the ‘Guinea pigs’ fared.

Being confident in yourself means when you look at yourself and your life, you are happy with what you see and the person you are is someone you like.  If this isn’t the case, it’s your choice to stay that person or change for the better.  No one can do it for you, especially with weight loss! We must all decide for ourselves: are we worth the effort to make the changes or not?  Yes, we are!

Playing to Lose: Weight Loss & The Blame Game

We’ve all played this particular game! Whether it involves weight loss or not, we’ve all blamed our failures on someone else at some point in our lives.  Usually we’re angry at being embarrassed or called to answer for our failing, or we just don’t want to take responsibility for not reaching our goals. There’s always a reason that prevented us from doing what we were supposed to do!

Sometimes, there really is a reason, such as I was supposed to get these documents done, but I needed material from someone who failed to provide it therefore, the documents aren’t completed.  When my boss asks why, my answer is simple: “I can’t present information I don’t have.”  The problem comes when confuse ‘reasons’ and ‘excuses.’

When it comes to eating, we are used to looking for excuses.  I know I am! One of the typical excuses is “I forgot my lunch so I had to order out and there weren’t any healthy options available!” That’s an excuse to eat junk food. A reason to eat junk food? Hmmm….. [sound of crickets here]…..I honestly can’t think of a reason for eating junk food. Unless your blood sugar is dangerously low, you can probably wait to eat until there’s a healthier option.  Incidentally, it takes about a teaspoon of sugar to even out your blood glucose, which is why many diabetics have a piece of hard candy around in case their sugar does drop that low.  One piece of hard candy, as in a little Jolly Rancher! Certainly not a burger, fries, and a Coke! The point is that we want to eat what we want to eat, whether it’s healthy or not, and lacking a legitimate reason to scarf down cookies, we come up with an excuse and use that instead.

Sometimes getting it wrong is a reason for not reaching weight loss goals.  We thought we were doing the right thing, but it turns out we were wrong! This happens a lot with things like salad dressing.  We bought the Lite dressing because it has “50% fewer calories than our original!” We just miss the part that says the original has 300 calories per two tablespoons! So that Lite dressing still has 150 calories in an ounce (since one tablespoon is a half-ounce!) Then there’s the whole sense of portion size! We pour on some dressing, eyeball it and yeah, that’s about a couple ounces, thinking one tablespoon is one ounce! So instead of getting it right with the Lite salad dressing, we’re actually getting it all wrong: we’re getting 300 calories in the dressing alone on that salad! As many practiced dieters know, that’s where the calories are in salad and vegetables- it’s usually what we put on them to make them ‘delicious’!

When we fail at reaching our goals or we go off track, it’s embarrassing to admit that you wanted the cupcakes or the chips more than you wanted to lose weight.  It’s admitting that you can’t control your cravings or that your desire for whatever food you ate is more important to you than being healthy.  It feels like you’re choosing to be sick or fat or unhappy rather than be thinner, fitter and more confident.  No one wants to think, let alone admit, that we chose to be fat rather than saying no to Oreos.  Surely we couldn’t have made that choice, so there must be some reason that we had to eat the Oreos, the Ruffles or the cheeseburger! Someone or something else must be to blame!

While blaming someone or something else might soothe your conscience for a little while, it has some toxic side effects.  It robs you of responsibility and your free will.  If there is always someone or something else keeping you from making good choices, then you have no free will at all: you are constantly at the mercy of others or fate or whoever you are blaming for your poor choices! How can you improve if the deck is always stacked against you? The fact is, unless someone held you down and force-fed you Krispy Kremes and Whoppers, you chose to eat those foods. Your failing to take responsibility for those choices by blaming circumstance is not helping you. It’s keeping you helpless and keeping you from making progress. When we are constantly blaming others, we start seeing excuses everywhere and we become locked into that thought pattern, and once locked in, it’s hard to get out. We get in the habit of choosing the excuse instead of choosing to be responsible.

Recently I wrote about healthy eating on the road which is a common excuse for eating junk food.  You and your family stop at a fast food restaurant while on a long car trip and everyone is ordering burgers, fries, and soda. You see there is a salad on the menu but you really want the burger meal everyone else is ordering. Excuse: “It’s too hard to eat a salad sitting in a car since I have to hold the bowl or balance it on my lap, so I have to have the burger.”  You wanted a “reason” to have to eat the burger and you found one, but you really have a choice.  You can choose the salad and while it might be more difficult, you can still eat it or you can ask your family to eat in the restaurant rather than eat on the road.  How long does it take to eat a salad- fifteen or twenty minutes?

Another example: your family wants pizza on movie night so you go to a pizza place and everyone is eating the pizza. They have a salad bar but rather than “making everyone uncomfortable by choosing to eat healthy,” you choose the pizza.  Or maybe you say you want the salad bar but everyone cajoles you into “living it up” and eating the pizza instead.  You chose to eat the pizza and everyone else’s feelings or opinions are the “reason you couldn’t have salad.”  This may sound a little harsh, but everyone else’s feelings and opinions are not your responsibility.  You are responsible for your feelings, your choices and your behavior.  You are also responsible for your health and while it may sound childish to think that you chose the pizza over your health, when you blame everyone else’s feelings for your “having to eat the pizza,” you are saying their feelings are more important than your health.  How foolish is that? Rather than bruise their feelings, you chose to eat a few thousand calories of pizza instead of a few hundred calories of salad bar!

It’s a difficult transition to make: moving from blaming circumstances to taking responsibility.  I’ve recently been responsible for choosing sweet potato chips over my regular salad, as well as way too much whipped cream on my strawberries.  And there’s been a few bags of pork rinds in there that I chose also! Why? Because they taste good and I wanted them.  I am not happy with myself for choosing them but no one held me hostage and forced me to eat them.  While this is where most people beat themselves up for these poor choices (as in “why did I do that? why do I sabotage myself?”), choosing to take responsibility instead of blaming some flaw in myself means I can make better choices! Choosing to be responsible doesn’t mean that I am choosing to live a life of abstinence. It simply means that I am responsible for my choices, good or bad. I am not at the mercy of circumstances or someone else or even my own failings: I made one choice- I can make another! I can choose to eat healthier foods and I can choose not to buy chips, whipped cream, or other junk foods I know will tempt me. I can choose not to put them in the grocery cart! This is part of being responsible and it’s the first step in making progress. I am choosing to take responsibility for my choices and I’m choosing not to play the Blame Game.

 

Opportunities v Problems: Your Attitude Makes a Difference!

We’ve probably all heard the optimistic aphorism “a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet!” and while that sounds way too cheerful for me, there is a lot of truth to it.  The first time you met your best friend or your spouse/ significant other, they were a stranger to you.  Imagine how different your life would be if you didn’t meet them! This is the point of that perky little saying: you never know who that stranger will be in your life until you get to meet them, so keep an open mind.

When it comes to problems, we also need to keep an open mind.  What looks like a problem can actually be an opportunity if we keep an open mind. It may not be what you want or what you think it should be, but if you leave yourself open to the possibilities, who knows what can happen?

One of the tv shows I like to watch is Mysteries at the Museum (I’m a history geek!) and if there’s a common theme that runs throughout the show, it’s that a problem may be an opportunity you weren’t looking for. Some of the things that we use (and pretty much take for granted every day) were initially someone’s problem or failure.  These are things like super glue, kevlar and post-it notes.  Speaking for myself as an office worker, life is so much better with post-it notes! The point is that all of these things were initially seen as failures or problems by their inventors.  Kevlar started out to be a lightweight material for tires and although it eventually ended up in tires, how much more has it done for law enforcement and the military?  Super glue started out to be shatterproof sites for rifles but ended up fixing something for just about everyone! Post-it note glue was supposed to be another super sticky glue but in the end, its lack-of-stickiness turned out to be its saving grace!

While some failures and problems never amount to more than failures and problems, the point is that we will never know until we try seeing the situation from another angle.  If our attitude is simply: “this sucks!,” then yes, it most definitely sucks and that’s the end of that opportunity! When it comes to our eating habits, what looks like it might be a problem can actually be an opportunity to make healthy changes.  I know there are a lot of people who complain about not being able to stay on their diet while traveling. It’s a common theme on My 600 lb Life: “there’s no such thing as healthy fast food and there’s not a lot of healthy choices besides fast food!”  We all know it’s an excuse to eat the junk food they really want to eat, as anyone who has been to a McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Arby’s or even a KFC knows there are healthy choices available.  Almost every fast food restaurant at least offers a salad. How yummy it is may be debatable, but in my experience Wendy’s and Arby’s offers the best salad options, and KFC offers real grilled chicken instead of breaded and fried.  When you stop for gas, you don’t have buy donuts, candy and soda: you can usually get jerky, nuts, fruit and water.  There are also a lot of restaurants attached to gas stations and travel stops so you have more options there too! Staying overnight at a hotel has the best options since there are usually restaurants in walking distance and delivery (either via the restaurant or an app) is also a possibility.  We can either lock ourselves into Problem Mode (“X is my only choice!”) or you can keep an open mind and look at what else is possible. “Healthier fast food” doesn’t have to a ‘travel only’ option either; the next time your family wants burgers and fries, you can always say “okay” and order yourself the salad or bunless burger!

Even if something is a real genuine problem, keeping an open mind leaves yourself open to the positive.  Recently, my cable box died. It’s totally dead, won’t even come on and needs to be disconnected and replaced. This means I can’t do it until the weekend and since it died on a Monday night, yay…. a whole week without the tv…. While I don’t have a lot of programs I regularly watch (generally 3-4 nights a week), I am pretty loyal to those I do, so it’s a major inconvenience,viewing-wise. Getting a replacement is going to be a huge hassle I am not looking forward to and will probably take up a good part of my already crowded weekend! So I can grouse and moan and complain (of which I have already done plenty!) and leave it at that… OR I can look at what opportunities might be hidden in this obstacle.

On the first and most obvious level, it means I have a lot more free time than before! I confess: I went for the tv-substitute and streamed a lot of my Amazon Watchlist to my tablet! These were shows I’d been meaning to catch up on but didn’t have the time, so now that my regular tv is unavailable- Hello Detective Bosch! Seasons Three and Four are now on my To-Do list! It also means that since mindless eating and tv seem to go hand-in-hand, although this is the tv-subsitute, I don’t typically “watch” my tablet in the living room where the tv is.  I watch it in the bedroom, where eating options are a bit more problematic.  As in, it’s too easy for a furry housemate to stick his or her nose in my dinner plate! So dinner this week has been eaten without being glued to the ‘television’ and there’s less opportunities for snacking, wandering back and forth between the living room and fridge/ pantry.  As for the furballs, they love being in the bedroom since we’re all pretty much on the same level: more fetch and more playtime.  Overall it means there’s just been less tv , more pet-time and more sleep! Geez! Less eating, less temptation, more play and more sleep! Yikes! What an horrendous ordeal this has been!

Of course, it’s still going to be a headache getting the cable box exchanged and everything set up so I’ll be up and running.  The point is that I can look at this as a little adventure, camping out with the tablet or I can simply view it as a problem.  I’m also viewing it as an opportunity to clean out the cabinet where the cable box goes! Since we’ve already got to ‘dismantle’ all those cords and wires, why not make some improvements to that mess? While I certainly don’t want to come off as some perky little Pollyanna when it comes to obstacles and problems, how we react to them is entirely up to us. After moaning and grousing about my ‘new problem,’ I looked at my options and came up with something that works for me in the interim.  Of course, Set-Up Saturday with the new cable box might be an entirely different obstacle…….

 

It’s Never As Good As We Remember: Weight Loss & Scraping the Butter Off the Bread

I think it’s human nature: as soon as you tell someone that they can’t have something, they immediately begin craving it. Suddenly whatever it is becomes much more desirable and seductive and delicious because we can’t have it. It is no longer allowed, so of course “I really really want it!”

We only want it because we’ve been told either by someone else or by ourselves that it’s off limits.  Whatever ‘it’ is hasn’t changed: only our perception has but it’s that perception that makes all the difference! Until we change our perception of the Forbidden Foods, we’re fighting a losing battle.

Bread is one of the worst for me: I can eat bread, rolls and biscuits all day long.  Butter- no butter- no difference! I’m not sensitive to gluten so it’s not like eating bread is a major catastrophe for me.  I have noticed that the joints in my hands hurt the next day and because of the high carbs, I feel a little ‘blown up,’ but in general, neither of these are bad enough to keep me from craving it.

What does keep me from craving it is telling myself that I can have it if I want it.  Once I take it off that Forbidden Foods list, it loses its seductive appeal.  The trick is telling myself that I can have it if I want it, but why would I want it? The first answer that pops in my head is “because it’s soo good!” [Think of Homer Simpson and donuts here!] This is when I start asking myself some questions and reminding myself of the last time I had bread.  There were some flatbreads that I bought which looked really tempting and were really gluey and kind of tasteless. Then there were some biscuits that were really dry and pasty and they stuck in my throat.  How many of the rolls had no flavor or were too sweet or had no texture or were also gluey?  How many had a funny aftertaste? So… 185 calories and 22 carbs of crumbly gluey tastelessness: yum??

Thinking of it from that point of view takes away most of the desire: do I really want to spend my calories and carbs on something that I’m going to regret eating? Not to mention the ‘fallout’ I feel after eating bread: aside from the puffy feeling and achy hands, I get really really hungry afterwards since the carbs and starch send my blood sugar skyhigh and then crashing down.  I have a biscuit for breakfast and by lunchtime, my stomach is growling loudly.  If I have string cheese, no growling at all! Bread also tends to make we want more bread, because of the starch roller coaster.  I’ve also noticed it tends to start the “Search for the Perfect Bread.” Since the bread I ate last time wasn’t as good as I remembered, maybe this other one will be better? Maybe that’s the Perfect Bread!

That’s part of the problem! We remember these delicious Forbidden Foods as tasting wonderful and incredibly delicious, but they rarely live up to our idealized memories.  We idealize them simply because we can’t have them anymore and since we can’t have them, they must be the most delicious food ever! That is, until we cheat and taste them and then we are disappointed. Disappointed but undeterred! That other bread/ cupcake/ chocolate must be the best one ever!

Our forbidding ourselves to eat them alone make them extremely desirable and our memory of how good they were becomes exaggerated so we build them up to irresistible status in our heads.  We’re setting ourselves up to go off the rails when we do this! This is why I remember how great that flatbread looked and how awful it tasted! I remember those biscuits that turned to pasty floury glop when I chewed them (why didn’t I spit them out?! Ugh!) That’s the reality of the ‘bread situation’: they don’t taste as good as I think they will and I end up with achy hands, puffy feet and am up all night in the bathroom! Yay, bread??

When we take away the mystique by replacing it with cold hard  reality, we usually realize we don’t really want what’s in front of us: we want the Idealized Version that only exists in our heads. There is something else that happens when we resist temptation: our palate changes.  That’s why the yummy biscuits I remember don’t taste so yummy anymore.  I’ve literally lost my taste for them and instead of being super-delicious, they’re dry or doughy or blah.  Maybe they were yummy compared to other processed bread foods, but now they are only yuck.  And they make my hands hurt and they make me retain water so I’m puffy until I’m up all night flushing out the carbs.  Not super-delicious in my book anymore!

Mindset really has everything to do with the cravings.  When I was a kid, I used to love chocolate.  I was blessed to grow up near a See’s Candy store so great chocolate was a common occurrence in my life! Until I got my Queensland Heeler, Sarah.  She also loved chocolate and could get it out of the cupboards, off the counters and almost anywhere.  I was always afraid she’d die of chocolate poisoning or that my Yorkie, Henry, would be poisoned on the chocolate she got out of the pantry.  So I made a simple decision: no chocolate in my house.  Nothing chocolate made it past my front door and over time, I realized I just stopped eating chocolate.  There was no rule saying I couldn’t have it while I was out, but because of the danger to my dogs, it wasn’t something that was normally on my menu anymore. It was also a lot easier to keep it out of my house than I had thought it would be: there was no ‘bargaining’ about eating it now and then fasting for a couple of days.  The rule was hard and fast: the dogs get into the chocolate and they could die.  No bargaining there!

Of course most of us don’t have that hard and fast rule: eating bread isn’t going to kill me or even make me sick enough to feel it, but by telling myself if I really want it, I can have it makes it easier to remember why I choose not to have it. It is a choice that I make either to have it or not have it.  It does not control me.  Somewhere out there maybe there is a Perfect Bread that’ll be as delectable as the Idealized Version in my head, but I seriously don’t want to eat all the cruddy stuff available trying to find it!

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!

Watch Where You’re Going! Weight Loss & “Constant Vigilance”

We’ve all heard the phrase “keep your chin up!” It’s supposed to keep you feeling like a success and encourage you to stay strong.  It also really helps if you want to know where you are going. Realistically, if you don’t watch where you are walking, you will probably trip over something, but it also works for weight loss since if you don’t watch where your weight loss is going, you probably won’t get there.

While I’m not necessarily talking about tracking (people react so negatively to that term!), I am suggesting that not paying attention is a proven method for failure.  Not paying attention makes it easy to give in to excuses, to make exceptions and to ‘plan for later,’ until one day you get on the scale and realize that you’ve not lost any more weight or — horrors!you’ve gained! How the heck did that happen?!

Not to be a nag, but if you were paying attention, you’d know how that happened! And if you are honest with yourself, looking back, it’s fairly obvious how that number got on the scale. For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, you might remember Professor Mad-Eye Moody’s refrain of “Constant vigilance!” and while you don’t have to be super strict with yourself, being aware and paying attention are the most important parts of weight loss.  That simply means if you’re out with friends on a Friday night, it’s okay to choose the jalapeno poppers and beer as long as you are aware that they’re not going to be ‘fat loss friendly’ and that making a weekly habit of them is going to slow (or stop) your weight loss unless you make some adjustments to your eating plan to take out some things that you enjoy less.  While this seems like a no-brainer, the problem comes with making exception after exception or ‘adjustment after adjustment’ until we have ‘adjusted’ our way from weight loss to weight gain.

There are a lot of dieters who simply refuse to track because “I know what I eat!”  Unfortunately, these are often the same people who get up one day and wonder why their pants feel a little snug and then when they get on the scale or take out the tape measure, are shocked to discover that they’ve put on a few pounds. It’s like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky! “How could I have gained weight?!”  Well, if they had tracked what they ate, they’d have a pretty good idea of where those pounds came from: the month of Fridays out with friends; the bagels they had a couple times or more a week for the last three weeks; that pizza party for the kid’s birthday along with the cake and ice cream… and hot dogs, chips, wings and pretzels at the baseball game, and then there was dinner out with friends (pasta, garlic bread and tiramisu with wine).  Those ‘exceptions’ to our healthy eating plan somehow stopped being actual ‘exceptions’ and pretty much became the rule.  They probably felt like true exceptions at the time, since they were most likely spread out over a month or more, but when taken together, it seems pretty obvious that they really aren’t aberrations to how you eat any more. That’s what makes tracking so valuable.  We really do forget what we ate and how much we ate, even if we really are paying attention. We look at the big plate of pasta and garlic bread and think “yeah, I’ll remember eating this!”  Maybe for a day or so, but after a week, when our friends suggest the nachos and beer out at the pub, we may not remember that Tuesday night pasta on Saturday night.  Or those bagel bites we had on the Wednesday morning meeting. Or that we had small slice of cake on Monday because it was Cheryl-at-the-office’s birthday.  All these things add up and on Sunday when we stand on the scale or whip out the tape measure, we might be a bit perplexed that there’s no loss.  Instead of being confused and wondering why you hit a plateau, if you had a record of what you’ve eaten for the past week, you could see why that ‘plateau’ is really just poor eating choices.

Tracking your food doesn’t mean that you have to weigh everything you eat and count each nut and seed that goes in your mouth.  It’s really as simple as watching where you are going and noting where you have been.  If it’s a handful of macadamias, you don’t need to weigh them.  If it’s a small slice of cake, you don’t have to ‘estimate the ounces’ or what’s in the frosting– you just need to make a note of what you ate.  Writing it down as you eat it or at the end of the day is the least you need to do.  Although I have an app on my phone, I like using a paper food journal since it’s easier for me to flip through.  I like putting it in the app right after or before I eat it so I don’t have the time to ‘adjust’ the portion sizes.  (It’s amazing that a half a bagel at noon can seem more like a a third of a bagel by the evening- it wasn’t that big, was it?)

This is part of the same thing that happens after a month or so of ‘exceptions.’  “I’ve been really good/ really trying, so why did I gain weight?” The stark black and white reality of what actually passed through your lips explains those extra pounds on your hips! When you- or since we’re being honest here- I flip back over the past weeks, and there’s page after page with entries like “bread,” “cookies,” “frozen yogurt,” “chocolate,” “chocolate,” “dark chocolate” (just to change things up!), it’s pretty obvious why my bathing suit is a little tighter than it used to be.  I can blame ‘poor sleep’ and ‘lots of stress’ all I want but until I pay more attention to all those ‘exceptions,’ I’m not going to be losing any more weight!

However you choose to pay attention, watching where you are going as well as where you have been are good strategies for making sure you end up where you want to be! Even if it’s just in the Notes app on your phone, if you decide to eat something not fat loss friendly, it wouldn’t hurt to write it down in the Notes, so when your friends ask you if you want nachos and beer this weekend, you can open your app, remember that pasta and garlic bread on Tuesday and opt for either just the beer, just the nachos or neither.  You don’t have to be Constantly Vigilant, but keeping an eye out for trouble can keep you from unwanted surprises.