Be True to You: Staying on Track

This is what makes weight loss so hard.  When we talk about ‘staying on track’ or ‘getting back on the wagon,’ we make it sound like it’s only ONE thing we need to do, but really it isn’t.  If it were as simple as following a path or climbing back into a car, we could all do it, but a single phrase like ‘staying on track’ involves a whole lot of interrelated actions that all work toward a single goal: weight loss.  It’s all of these actions that cause the problems and make it so hard to do.

Most of us know what these actions are pretty much by heart: it’s not only what to eat, but what not to eat; it’s what to do and what not to do; and it’s also about how to think about yourself and about your goals.  Most people usually miss the whole mindset part of this because we tell ourselves it’s not as important as the eating and acting, but the thinking drives the eating and acting.  If our heads aren’t on straight, our actions and eating won’t be either.  When we get off track, we usually tell ourselves “I need to get my head together,” but as soon as we think we are ‘back together,’ we focus on the eating and actions again, until we find ourselves back off track- again!

Most of us start with our eating and we make two lists: What to Eat and What Not to Eat.  Usually the idea of How Much to Eat is tied up in that too.  We put down things like vegetables/ salads, chicken breast and lean meats, cottage cheese, and other typical ‘diet foods on the Good List, while the Bad List is full of cookies, chips, desserts and bakery items.  Ho-hum! Here we go again! We usually have a Calorie Limit too, so we can add up all the calories in the chicken breast and cottage cheese to make sure we don’t go over that magic number!

On the What Not to Do list, it’s usually pretty simple: no lying around on the sofa or recliner, less tv/ computer/ Facebook, or whatever non-active activity we like to do.  A lot of times, we include sleeping on this list, which is really a mistake! But we opt for less sleep and more exercise thinking along the old ‘move more, eat less’ standby for weight loss.  Obviously, moving more must be better for us than sleeping! We also include the No Snacking rule: no cookies, no candy, no bagels, no pizza and we avoid those parts of the stores or the breakroom at work, and we sit as far away from the bagels or pizza at the meetings and lunches.  We’re Being Good.

So we pack our food list full of the classic ‘healthy foods’ and our schedules full of as much exercise as we can do in a day, and we tell ourselves we are ‘getting back on track,’ and this time we are going to stay there! We think our determination is the right mindset and all we need is willpower to achieve our goals.

What most of us leave out of our mindset and our What Not to Do List is “don’t beat yourself up.” We’ve all done it: “I ate a bagel at the meeting! And it had cream cheese! And it was a huge bagel, too!”; “I had three slices of pepperoni pizza with the family for dinner!”; “Joanie had chocolate kisses on her desk and every time I walked by, I grabbed one or two! All day!!” We went off track again, so there must be something wrong with us.  We really really want to lose weight and be healthier, so why can’t we do it? The doctor told us we could end up diabetic/ hypertensive/ other health problems, so do we have a death wish since we can’t stick to the diet?

No, you don’t have a death wish and there’s nothing wrong with you, unless you count the beating-yourself-up behavior.  Hating yourself and self-recrimination doesn’t motivate people towards their goals.  All it does is make them (YOU) miserable. The problem (one of them anyway) is that you think of yourself as ‘broken’ or ‘substandard’ and unless you ‘fix’ yourself, you aren’t worth loving or valuing.  This is part of the wrong mindset that usually goes along with Staying on Track.  There’s nothing wrong with you, but we’ve all grown up looking at ourselves in the mirror and seeing what we don’t like.  That’s what we focus on: getting rid of the flabby thunderthighs and the batwing biceps and the muffin top.  Next time you are out in public, take a good long look at the rest of the world out there: there’s a lot of batwings, thunderthighs and muffin tops, even at the gym! That doesn’t mean we have to love our less-than-slender areas, but they don’t make us ugly and they don’t make us unlovable.  They make us human.

We also fall into the Perfection Rules! mindset when we Get Back on Track.  It’s a part of the beating ourselves up mentality: we had a bagel, the day is ruined, why not eat the Ben & Jerry’s? We’re already Off Track! The problem is that the next morning or that night, you’re going to be beating yourself up some more for the Ben & Jerry’s plus the bagel, and the next time you weigh in (another action on the ‘Good List’), you’re going to beat yourself up again if you haven’t lost the magic number of pounds.

All of this mindset and behavior needs to be on that What Not to Do List.  Don’t beat yourself up; don’t go all or nothing with perfection; and most of all, don’t set impossible goals! Don’t misunderstand me: goals are great. They give us something to aim for, but falling short of them shouldn’t be disaster. If you have the three slices of pizza, it’s not a national tragedy.  The same goes for not making it to your workout or sleeping in.

When most of us Get Back on Track, we try locking ourselves into rigid structures of behavior, eating and thinking.  For some of us, the rigid structure works, but for most of us, it just makes everything harder.  Setting really high goals is a good thing, as long as you have the steps to getting there in between. A goal such as losing thirty pounds in two months is really extreme for a lot of us, but setting a goal like losing a pound a week might be more realistic.  The same is true for the Good Foods/ Bad Foods lists and the Calorie Limit: these ‘lists’ should be more about sustainability rather than “off limits” & “diet foods.”

For most of us, the Calorie Limit is tied directly to what’s on these lists: avocados are out because they have too many calories; broccoli is in because it’s got so few! Both of those are pretty healthy for you in fact.  Avocados have a lot of fiber and a lot of healthy fat; broccoli also has a lot of fiber and both of them have a lot of nutrients.  Rather than eating for calories, if we eat for nutrition, we have more success overall.  We aren’t hungry all the time and we don’t feel deprived (major causes of going Off Track) and we usually have more energy.

When we feel good mentally and physically, it’s easier to Stay on Track.  This means actions like getting enough sleep, not pushing ourselves to stick to extreme workouts or schedules (i.e., if you sleep in on the weekend, it’s a good thing!) and allowing yourself time to relax and do what you enjoy.  It means things like allowing yourself a piece of pizza or a bagel now and then, and setting realistic goals for yourself.  This is a journey to a healthier self, not a punishment. Being miserable and thin isn’t any healthier than being miserable and overweight.  Staying on track is easier when you’re enjoying the journey and you’ll get there a lot faster if you eat the nutritious food you like, do the fun activities, and get some rest and relaxation.  You’ll like the person in mirror more and you’ll like the person you become.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NO WHINING!! (And No Excuses, Either!)

One of my favorite professors in graduate school was Dr. Doug Taylor.  He was a poetry scholar, both American and British, specializing in John Milton and Walt Whitman.  I took both classes from him and loved every minute of them.  In fact, after his sudden death in my last year of university, our annual graduate journal that year was dedicated to him: the epigraph included the last lines of the last stanza of Whitman’s Song of Myself.  It was my suggestion, as I can still vividly recall him reading those lines to our class.

If you had met him on campus, you would have thought he was a football coach or maybe something like an engineer.  He looked like a real hands-on kind of guy and in fact, he played football at Rutgers.  He definitely didn’t look like the stereotypical poetry professor (that guy taught Chaucer, which I also took… unfortunately.)  Dr. Taylor was perennially popular, mainly for his no nonsense approach.  Anyone who has been in college knows that as the end of the semester approaches and major assignments start coming due faster and faster, everyone- including the professors- start feeling the pressure.  One of ‘signs of semester end’ for those of us in the English department was Dr. Taylor’s “NO WHINING!” sign on his office door.  As each semester drew to a close, the professors would be closeted in their offices reading and grading and reading and grading and they hated to be interrupted, hence Doug Taylor’s sign.  If you showed up at his office door with an excuse about why your term paper wasn’t done or why you tanked the final or missed so many classes, he wasn’t buying it.  You had all semester to get things done and if you waited to the last week and “something happened,” you could take the class over again, take the D or F or apply for an Incomplete.  See that sign? No Whining! It wasn’t a big sign either, less than a quarter sheet of paper, a few inches really, but it got the job done.  He said it; he meant it!

I think about that sign and Dr. Taylor whenever I start making excuses for why I’m not eating the way I should be or why I can’t make my workout or why I need a pass on whatever it is I’m trying to weasel out of.  See that sign? No Whining!  Am I really too tired/ sick/ sore to make it to my workout? If I had to work late and just plain didn’t make it to the gym until the class was over, then yeah, that’s a legitimate reason.  I was doing my job, but because I’m just not ‘feeling like it’? NO WHINING! The same goes for eating junk food: running around town, doing all kinds of errands and now “it’s late and I don’t want to cook so why not stop and get a burger or fried chicken?” Remember Dr. Taylor’s sign? Yeah, so stop whining! You’ve got a bag of salad and roasted chicken at home so put the salad on a plate and stick the chicken in the microwave.  Getting junk food would actually take LONGER!  Even if I didn’t have those things at home, which has happened recently, it takes no longer to get them at a grocery store than it does to go through a drive-thru. Run in, grab them, run out- healthier dinner in the bag!

I can give you the whole “discipline is important” lecture that lots of guidance counselors, study skills teachers and parents like to give, but I found more students responded better to the “habit explanation.”  Most of us live according to our habits, i.e. ‘Auto Pilot.’  We follow the same patterns every day with the necessary detours and when we ‘suddenly discover’ that we are way overweight, we’re genuinely confused. It doesn’t ‘feel’ like we’re eating badly, but when we shut off the Auto Pilot and take stock of what we are eating and what we are doing during a normal week, it can be surprising.  I know that 90% of what I do every day and every week is because I’m on Auto Pilot, and while changing courses on a real airplane’s Auto Pilot is just punching in a few numbers into the computer, changing a human being’s Auto Pilot is a whole lot harder: we have to reprogram our brains by building new habits.

There’s a boatload of books, podcasts, websites and other programs out there to help you build or change your habits.  I heard one the other day discussing our “lower brain” v our “upper brain.” It was full of a lot of technical hoopla but I don’t think he was wrong (It was On Air with Ella episode 139 with Jim Fortin if you want to hear it for yourself.)  For myself, I know it’s hard to learn/ change my habits because they are so firmly ingrained.  The more we do them, the more firmly they are ingrained, so the key is to stop doing them and do something else, and again, the more we do the ‘new habit,’ the more firmly that one becomes ingrained. This is how I can argue with myself during my two hour commute about how ‘my shoulder hurts,’ ‘I’ve got too much to do,’ etc so I should bail on my workout and then find myself turning into my gym’s parking lot even though I have already ‘decided’ not to go. The habit has been entrenched in the ‘Auto Pilot settings’ in my brain, so no matter what my ‘upper brain’ decided, the Auto Pilot ‘lower brain’ did what it wanted to do anyway.

The hard part is getting the new healthier habit entrenched, which means doing it on a regular basis.  This is what makes me think of Dr. Taylor’s NO WHINING! sign. That interval between changing a habit or building a new one is the dangerous ground.  For me, this is where I can actually talk myself out of going to my workout and finding myself pulling into my driveway instead of the gym. So when I start the whining and fumbling around with flimsy excuses, an image of Dr. Taylor’s sign will pop in my head.  Because really, I AM whining.  Eating healthier isn’t a burden or any more work than eating badly, and eating badly has the added baggage of making me feel crappy emotionally and physically, whereas eating healthier is going to make me feel a whole lot better.  The same goes for working out: am I going to feel better after spending an hour working out, or am I going to feel better after spending an hour scrolling through my social media or watching tv? Which of these actions are actual burdens and drains on my time and energy?  So why am I whining? Because it’s the change that’s hard, not the actual new habits! It’s tough reminding yourself: tomorrow is Wednesday, which is a workout day, so make sure you have the gym bag packed and you take it with you and then you have to remember to drive to the gym instead of going home. It’s the same with my cardio class at another place where I need change for the parking meter, so not only do I have to remember all of the above, but I also have to remind myself to get change before I get there! It means we consciously have to pay attention to what we are doing, which actually requires energy.  It’s why some mindset coaches will tell you to stop arguing with yourself or debating your actions, because it wears out your brain and saps your energy.  Those of you who have kids know this: monitoring them is real work! And so is monitoring ourselves! This is what makes building and changing our habits difficult: we have to be watching our thoughts and actions so we don’t slip into Auto Pilot.  Whining about why we can’t build the new habit is more work than actually doing the new habit.

The recent On Air with Ella podcast with Jim Fortin didn’t really tell me anything about changing habits that I didn’t already know, since I’ve spent the last two-plus years building and changing my habits. His advice is to ‘dismiss the urge’ and change your focus to something else.  What works best for me is telling myself simply NO (in the same tone I use for my pets) and moving forward with the new habit.  When I feel the urge to start making excuses or whining, yep! NO WHINING! Getting whatever it is done is a whole lot easier than trying to get out of it, and a whole lot more rewarding.  Just doing the healthier new habit literally is its own reward because we feel better emotionally and physically and we’ve moved one step closer to programming the new setting into our Auto Pilot.

It can be a real hassle to make a new habit, which is why there is an entire cottage built around it, and honestly, I wish I were better at some of my other bad habits… like leaving the dishes in the sink until they smell funny.  (For some reason, Dr Taylor’s sign doesn’t work so good on that one!) We are all Works in Progress, no matter how old we are.  We all have something we wish we did better or didn’t do at all. Maybe putting a sign up over my sink is an idea: NO WHINING!! And No Excuses Either!!

The Weight of Self-Worth

A friend of mine on MFP (My Fitness Pal) recently posted about “Plus Size Day.” Apparently it’s a day to celebrate being “plus-sized.”  In his post, he mentioned a parade full of larger people and how the news snippets were full of larger women making nasty comments about skinny people.  He concluded his post about how this day is to promote being the best You you can be, whatever your size, and he voiced his own concerns that maybe the best You doesn’t carry an extra 100 lbs.

While I realize he was just putting his opinion out there, this is the attitude I have lived with all my life. I’ve been overweight all my life and I’ve heard all the comments, from sad & pitying, to nasty & snide, to the passive aggressive- all of them.  Most of them now I just ignore: ignorant people will continue to be ignorant no matter what I tell them, but occasionally, they still make me mad. I understand why some of those larger women are angry: like me, they’ve spent their entire lives being told there is something wrong with them; they are somehow broken/ substandard/ a failure; or they are just flat out ugly. They don’t meet some arbitrary social standard of what is ‘pretty’ or ‘acceptable.’

People might think that thin has always been pretty but there was a time when plump and curvy was the standard for pretty.  Having curves, wide hips and an ample bosom meant you were prime for bearing children and survival.  Thin meant poverty, possible miscarriage and malnutrition.  When the most important thing a woman could bring to a marriage was her ability to produce offspring, choosing thin meant betting long odds, whereas plump was almost a sure thing. (For men, plump meant being a successful  provider.)

Obviously those days are long past, but the idea of beauty being relative hasn’t changed.  Every February, the media is full of biologists’ reports about the ‘biological recipe for attraction,’ and how some physical attributes or gestures cue us on a biological or subconscious level that someone is a potential mate or is attracted to us.  Whatever science and biology may dictate, attractiveness is still defined by the individual.  We still bring our own personal values to the table, and these include our values about ourselves.

In one respect those old platitudes are correct: if we don’t value and respect ourselves, no one else will either.  When we look at ourselves and see someone who is disgusting, unworthy, ugly, stupid or hopeless, it shows.  We communicate those ideas and attitudes to others, and worse yet, they are reflected back to us by them and over time, those beliefs become firmly entrenched in our psyche.  We are unworthy and unlovable and we have nothing of value to offer anyone else.  Whether those ideas start in ourselves and come back to us or come from outside and become part of us is irrelevant.  If we believe it, it becomes our truth. 

This is what I and almost every overweight person has been told for as long as they have been overweight.  Most of you reading this have been on the receiving end of a lot of free advice about how to lose weight; unsolicited attempts at ‘motivating’ you to lose weight; plenty of incentives to be thinner; and more than a few nasty comments about being a glutton, including the not-so-subtle implications that gluttony is a mortal sin and my being fat is sending me to Hell (thank you, Catholic school!) As a kid, I got them all the free and supposedly helpful advice about how to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with me; what I didn’t get was the idea that I’m fine just the way I am. When I was a kid, I probably carried an extra 20 lbs through middle school but the more people tried to ‘fix’ me, the more weight I gained, so by the time I hit high school, I was probably close to 200 lbs if not there already, and I kept slowly gaining weight. By the time I hit college, I was definitely over 250 and heading towards 300.

And the bigger I got, the more I heard about how flawed and unacceptable I was. My mom (the chief proponent of this attitude) pretty much gave up on me at that point.  Whatever was wrong with me, she wasn’t going to waste her time trying to fix me.  But I still got lots of criticism from the rest of society, because by then, I wasn’t just ‘plump and curvy’; I was certifiably FAT! I was the definition of ugly; of lazy; of gluttony. I had no redeeming values at all, because I was defined by my weight.  Whatever my mind or spirit might have to offer is completely negated by my fat body.

This idea that who I am is defined by how much weight I carry and what I look like eventually completely p*ssed me off.  Someone else was determining my value based entirely on what he or she saw, rather than who I actually was.  I was repeatedly being told by my professors and administrators and -yes, the same society that was condemning me- that it is flat out wrong to judge someone by their ethnicity, sexuality, religion, or physical capabilities, but it’s totally okay to call me a loser because of my weight! How stupid is that? Everyone is to be judged on the content of their character, except for that fat chick over there- she’s worthless because she weighs 300 lbs.

This is why I stopped listening to other people’s opinions of me and my weight.  It’s why when my mom decided to try and ‘fix’ me again (after my sister stopped talking to her), I pretty much ignored her attempts.  I would come home and find diet books left on my doorstep followed by a voicemail asking if I got the book she left: I just stacked them in a corner, and over the years, the stack got taller and taller, and dustier and dustier.  While I realize that part of her motivation was my slowly declining health, her attempts at ‘fixing’ me were accompanied by more of the same dangling incentives: I’d have all the guys I wanted; she’d buy me a brand new wardrobe; I’d be ‘gorgeous.’  Because obviously, I wasn’t attractive to anyone at my weight! (FYI: I didn’t tell her about my boyfriends because they sure didn’t share her attitude!)

I can’t lie and say I didn’t want to lose weight despite ignoring my mom’s and everyone else’s criticisms.  My desire to lose weight came not from thinking of myself as worthless, but instead came from my growing inability to do the things I wanted to do.  It’s hard to walk around and be active when you’re carrying 400 lbs.  The pain in my knees had more to do with my desire to be thinner than anything my mom had to tell me. I didn’t want to walk with a cane or end up diabetic or have to sleep with an oxygen mask because my independence was far more important to me than the opinions of strangers. While I wasn’t happy being 400 lbs, I did my best not to allow it to dictate my life any more than I allowed other’s opinions of me to do so either.  I lived my life the way I wanted to live my life.  I became the best Me I could be, whatever my size.  For the most part, I am still that same person: I do what I want, say what I want and think what I want. The only difference is that now I weigh 185 lbs less. I am the best Me I can be, despite carrying that “extra 100 lbs” my friend mentioned in his post.  Although I am still losing weight, it’s not so that I can hit my “ideal weight” or some arbitrary “goal weight” set by some doctor or BMI chart; it’s because I value my independence.  I like being able to do all the things I want to do, and I like trying new things.  Being thinner and healthier has added more valuable activities and abilities to my life, but at the same time, I also know that I am still obese. That “extra 100 lbs” is still there and strangers still judge me by my weight.  And you know what? I still don’t care. Who I am is not what I weigh, nor am I defined by what other people think of me.

You Decide: No One Can Make the Decision For You

When you are overweight, there is always someone who is ready and willing to tell you how to lose weight.  It’s easy, didn’t you know? All you have to do is “blah blah blah!” And the person giving the advice can be super stick thin or even a little chunky him or herself, but the point is YOU are overweight, and they’re going to “fix” you!

We all know there’s as many ways to lose weight as there are leaves on a tree.  None of them are easy and all of them take time and some of them may even work for you.  Nothing works for everyone and some things work better than others, but we all know that.  The one thing that successful weight loss has in common with all these plans, easy or not, is that YOU have to decide to do the work.  This is a pretty basic idea, but it’s one that gets missed more than you know, and it’s usually ‘helpful’ family and friends that miss it!

In 2003, I weighed about 375 lbs.  I’ve weighed in the high 300’s most of my adult life, give or take about 30 lbs.  For the record, in 2003, I had not seen a doctor in a long time, so I have no idea what my actual weight was.  In May of that year, I managed to break my right tibia (shinbone) and shatter my left wrist, both of which needed hardware surgically installed, and as a result I was pretty much an invalid for about three months.  It also meant that I had to stay with my mom, which is the point of this little anecdote, because my mom is a first class ‘fixer’! Believe me, whatever ails you, she has the answer! (This is sarcasm, FYI!)

Since I was stuck bedridden at my mom’s, she decided she was going to ‘make’ me lose weight.  I could only eat what she brought me, and at the time, what she brought me was mainly ‘diet food’ in the form of cottage cheese and fruit cocktail (lunch) and boneless skinless chicken breast with broccoli (dinner). My ‘treat’ for the day was usually breakfast, consisting of a sugary flavored mix-it-yourself coffee drink.  In hindsight, this ‘diet’ was a recipe for hunger and future weight gain, which was pretty much what happened.  At the time, I lost about 40 lbs and it was due to one thing: I could only eat what she fed me, and that wasn’t much.  I spent the day hungry because in hindsight, what she was feeding me was pretty much carb-heavy crap! The coffee drink was full of calories and short-acting sugar, which spiked my blood sugar, leading to a crash and hunger! The cottage cheese & canned fruit lunch did the same thing and dinner, which was by far the healthiest meal, was the only thing that didn’t spike my blood sugar, but it was also really low fat, which still left me hungry.  (FYI: I HATE chicken breast and always have!) So when I left my mom’s house, I was about 40 lbs lighter, but it taught me nothing about eating healthy other than my mom’s version of it left me hungry, headachy and cranky all day long.  I learned to hate dieting and once I was back home, I went right back to my old eating habits and gained back all the weight that had been starved off.

In retrospect, I only lost weight because I was a ‘captive dieter’; this diet was not my decision.  Not only did I not choose this ‘diet;’ I had not chosen to lose weight at all! My mom made this decision for me!! I know she meant well, but she could not and should not have made this decision for me.

Most of us, as chronic dieters, see this kind of ‘help’ a lot. We come home from work or a trip and discover that some ‘helpful’ family member has cleaned out all the ‘bad’ food. A ‘helpful’ family member comes home from the grocery store or the takeout place with bags of ‘healthy diet food.’ They do it because they really think they are helping us out: if we don’t have the tempting ‘bad food’ around, we won’t eat it!

The problem is that it takes away our choice to say no to the temptations.  It takes away our decision to choose for ourselves.  Someone else has decided for us, which is the same as no decision at all. This means that our resolve to be healthier and our faith in ourselves to do the work is untested.  This is the same as no resolve or faith at all.  My last post was about believing in yourself and building your self confidence.  Your self-confidence only grows through your repeated success.  Think about it: if you don’t practice your free throws before the game, when it comes time to make them when it counts, how well do you think you are going to do? A big part of believing in yourself with weight loss comes from actually deciding to do it and then doing it!

We build our confidence by reaffirming our decision to lose weight (or eat healthier or exercise more or whatever) by making the right choice over and over.  Every time we resist the temptation to eat the junk food or keep the workout appointment or choose the healthier option, we are telling ourselves that we have the strength and resolve to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves.  BUT, if someone else is always making this decision for us, then we build no confidence at all!

Remember being in school? It’s the same as having someone else do your homework.  You practice the German phrases at home, then show up to take the test, but if you just copy someone else’s homework each night, when the test comes and you’re supposed to translate the phrase: “wo sind meine Schuhe?”, what are you going to write down? How about “ich habe kein Idee,” which means “I have no idea!”

The weight loss homework is when you’re at home watching tv or scrolling through Facebook and you start craving chips. If your Helpful Family Member has thrown them all out, then it’s easier to say no, unless you decide to run to the store to get them.  It’s the same with all the temptations: there’s a Coldstone commercial and suddenly, you want ice cream but if your Helpful Family Member has cleaned out the freezer, your opportunity to say no is lost. He or she made the decision for you.

The test for weight loss or eating healthier comes for us when we are on our own.  We’re doing the shopping and you pass the bakery in the grocery store.  The donuts smell wonderful and they have giant slices of your favorite cake and those yummy sugar cookies are there.  This is where the rubber meets the road: no one in the store is going to tell you no and the store sure isn’t going to throw away all the temptations just so you won’t buy and eat them! We have to decide to say no to them.

I see a lot of this kind of thinking on My 600 lb Life: “I don’t want to go to the store and see all the food I can’t eat!”; “I wish they’d close down all the bakeries so I don’t have to go hit them up!” No one is going to follow you around being the Food Police and stopping you from eating the pizza or chips or cupcakes.  You have to make that decision for yourself.  When my mom decided what I was going to eat during those three months I was bedridden, I had no choice in the matter so I didn’t learn how to say no, and when I went home, I decided what I was going to eat (and believe me, it wasn’t chicken breast!!)

The irony is that many people think it’s easier to let someone else decide, and in one sense it is: we can’t eat what we don’t have.  If I start craving chips on a Saturday afternoon and there are none in the house, then it’s a done deal: I’m not eating chips!  The difference is that there are no chips in my house because I decided not to buy them.  I made the decision that I am not eating them anymore.  Saying no to chips is easy now, but it sure as hell was not when I started! I’d avoid the chips and crackers aisle at the stores, and that was pretty easy because of how most stores are organized.  The bakery was a whole different story! At my store, the bakery is right next to the dairy and the eggs, so to get anything healthy- like the eggs or yogurt or cheese or even the cream for my coffee- I’d have to walk right by the bagels, the cookies, the carrot cake that I love! And there were too many times those other things ended up in my cart! But every time I looked at them and said “NO,” it got easier to say “NO” again.  I was deciding not to eat them! And I have decided over and over again, so now I not only have the strength and resolve to look at things like chips and garlic bread and carrot cake and know that I can resist them but i know that I don’t need to eat them; I don’t want to eat them; and even more importantly, these healthier choices have become a habit!

When someone else makes all the hard choices for you, then you don’t build the strength and confidence you need to make the hard choices when it counts.  You get good at doing hard things by practicing, and if you get no practice, what do you learn? Not much! I didn’t learn a whole lot about ‘healthy eating’ or ‘healthy choices’ those three months I lived with my mom because the choice was never up to me! When you’re facing the hard choice at the restaurant or the grocery store, it’s all up to you, and you have to decide for yourself.  In the end, no one else can live your life for you.

Seeds of Confidence: Growing Slowly

We’ve all heard the saying “nothing succeeds like success.”  It’s one of those sayings we can all parrot but don’t really think about what they mean, if they mean anything at all. But, in my opinion, the idea is that success builds upon itself.  Think about it: we invest with companies and people who have a proven track record.  We know they can do what they said, so we feel confident in giving them our trust and our money.

The same is true with confidence: it also builds upon itself. I remember watching yet one more episode of My 600 lb Life in which the patient Erica was having difficulty getting help from her family with her weight loss.  She needed someone to help her set up a new living situation, and one of her biggest problems was her lack of self-confidence.  Basically, she didn’t believe in herself and when you saw her family dynamic, it was easy to understand why.  Her brother had essentially written her off as a lost cause and her sister and brother in law pretty much treated her like something they stepped in and had to scrape off their shoe.  Her father (who did not appear in the episode) had called her Godzilla when she was growing up and her brother admitted that their father was probably embarrassed by Erica’s size.  The only one who had believed in Erica and tried to help her was her mother, who had passed away a few years earlier.  Essentially, with the exception of her niece, Erica was ignored by her family, the overall message being she’s a failure at life and isn’t worth their time or effort to try to save.

Paradoxically, once Erica starts on the diet, her sister makes it clear to her that she completely expects her to fail and at the same time taunts her for not staying on the diet.  This is the atmosphere that Erica grew up in and this is probably the biggest and truest reason that she weighs 600+ lbs.  When you are told repeatedly by the people who are supposed to love and support you that you are worthless and a failure, you begin to believe it.  It’s a living example of my favorite line from The Simpsons: “Can’t win- don’t try! Got it!”

Erica is just an example of what so many of us internalize: “I can’t do this.”  Whatever ‘this’ is doesn’t matter, because we go into the project believing we have already failed.  It can be running a marathon, doing your taxes, painting a room- it does not matter if we approach it as if it’s an impossible task.  We make a token attempt and when we fall flat, we aren’t surprised and shrug it off as “I was right!”  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: I know I can’t do this; I try to do this; and I fail. “Told you so!”

Most of us approach weight loss with the same kind of baggage- we bring all our past failures with us along with an attitude of “why should this time be any different?” It’s our internal dialog more than anything that kills our success. We tell ourselves that we aren’t good at diets; that we can’t make the kinds of changes to lose weight; and sometimes we tell ourselves that we are just destined to be the “fat one.”  It’s a bizarre attempt at protecting ourselves from the failure “we know is coming” because if we don’t get our hopes up, we don’t get hurt as bad in the fall.  We feel comfortable with failure- it’s a known quantity.

We have no confidence in ourselves and it is this lack of self-confidence that keeps us eating gigantic Costco muffins all day.  It keeps us from getting up out of our chair and making the changes we need to make.  The changes themselves are not difficult to make: walking around the block; eating more veggies and less starches; not grazing through a bag of chips or crackers all day.  Obviously, there’s a lot more than these simple changes to losing weight, but don’t forget: nothing succeeds like success.

This is where confidence, success and motivation converge. When we start getting things right, we start building confidence, and the more we get right, the more we want to try getting other things right too! The more we accomplish, the more we realize what we can do, and this is motivation.  We want to try more things and the more we succeed, the stronger our confidence becomes.

But confidence doesn’t happen by accident.  One of the pitfalls is that it takes a long time to build confidence.  It’s one of the reasons this blog is titled “Taking the Long Weigh to Skinny.”  It doesn’t happen overnight, but we have to believe in ourselves just to make the attempt- and I don’t mean that token try just to show that we ‘tried.’  Confidence is hard for most of us.  Some people are born either with a great deal of self-confidence or the pigheadedness to keep getting back up after falling flat.  No one succeeds all the time, no matter how confident they are, and when we find ourselves face down on the floor, we can either stay there or get back up to try again. It’s our choice.

For me, that’s what it comes down to: whatever I want to do or not do is ultimately my choice.  (For the record, I’m one of the pigheaded ones.) For most of my life, my choice was “I’m just destined to be the fat one” as I kept getting bigger and bigger.  I was going through the photos on my phone a couple of nights ago, and I found photos of me I didn’t know or had forgotten I had and I was seriously shocked at my size.  Even in a selfie from just two years ago, I could not believe how big I was- and I had already lost about 50 lbs by then! It was a series of choices to just keep making more positive changes until it was no longer “I think I can do this” but rather “I am getting this done!” It wasn’t an easy process learning to believe in myself when I’d spent a lifetime telling myself that I was the ‘fat one.’ I chose to believe that was true, until I chose to believe that I could be someone else, but getting there meant I had to believe in myself.  It meant trying again and again until I got it right, but it also meant giving up that comfortable feeling of failure.

 

Mindset: A Healthy Body Starts in Your Head

Mindset has become one of the new buzzwords in social media, and while I’m usually not a fan of following a trend, in this case they are right.  Mindset is an incredibly important part of achieving any goal and it’s usually the part that is discounted or overlooked, mainly because we are in a hurry to get to our goal.

I admit I am someone who rushes.  I’m one of those “don’t give me that ‘positive reinforcement’ crap! Just tell me how to do it!” people.  Over the years, this philosophy had NOT served me well. (Big shock, I know!)  I’ve learned the hard way that rushing to my goal without watching where I am going or how to get there is a recipe for disaster.  Remember the last time you went to make cookies (or lasagna or whatever)?  You pull out the recipe and check to make sure you have all the ingredients and tools you need before you start; otherwise it’s mix the flour, the salt, the baking soda and then cream the butter, brown sugar, white sugar and the vanilla.  Ooops!! No vanilla! And the brown sugar is hard as a rock too!!  Let’s go to the store.  Now once we’ve mixed the wet and the dry ingredients, we need to add the chocolate chips.  Ooops!! Forgot we used those last week!! Back to the store!! Now we add the nuts…?? Do we have nuts??

Frankly, no one over twelve years old makes cookies that way, and usually we only have to go through that once before we learn to read the recipe first.  It’s common sense, but when it comes to getting to our goals, we have a tendency to throw common sense out the window.  After all, our goals aren’t Nestle Toll House Cookies!  We don’t need baking soda, flour and butter to get there!

But what we do need is equally important.  Just like we need flour as a basis for those cookies, we need the proper mindset to reach our goals.  Everything else depends on that mindset, just like making those cookies with everything BUT the flour would be a complete mess! No flour – no cookies; no mindset – no goals!

Mindset is what everything else is built on and what holds it all together as we progress to our goals.  How we think about ourselves is the biggest part of reaching our goals, and this is what I mean when I say mindset is overlooked.  On the simplest, most basic level, it is our confidence in ourselves: if I believe I can do this, I will do this!

I recently saw a Mysteries at the Museum episode that included Niagara Falls and Nik Wallenda.  As a member of the iconic Flying Wallendas family, already known for death-defying stunts, in 2012 he decided he was going to be the first person to walk a high wire across the widest part of Niagara Falls (the Horseshoe Falls).  At night, no less! Let’s think about this: I’m going to walk 1800 feet on a slippery two inch diameter cable across Niagara Falls (windy, wet and misty) in the dark where one missed step is Certain Death.  As he stepped out onto that wire with only a thin cable attached to a ‘safety harness,’ do you think he was telling himself, “I got a good chance at getting this right”? That’s a pretty stupid question, but how many times have we tried to reach our goals telling ourselves that very same phrase? (FYI: you can see his walk on Youtube!)

We undermine our confidence in little ways and by giving ourselves little escape hatches.  These are thoughts like ‘it’s okay to eat dessert when I’m out with friends,’ or ‘I always eat too much on the weekends.’ These are self-fulfilling prophecies: you thought it was going to happen, so you made it happen, whether you consciously thought about it or not! Giving yourself to permission to overeat  (even if it’s ‘healthy foods’) or eat when you’re not hungry is one way that we set ourselves up to fall short of our goals.  We don’t have to be super-strict or hyper-vigilant or drag ourselves to the gym even though we’ve got a hacking cough, but we need to keep our goals in focus by keeping our thoughts focused on reaching them.

Remember the last time you went for a job interview and you paid attention to the little details, like making sure your hair wasn’t shaggy and out of control; you didn’t have tuna-breath or spinach in your teeth; your suit was pressed; your shoes were shined; your briefcase/ purse didn’t look like it was going to explode, etc? It’s that kind of thinking: because you never know what an interviewer is going to notice and what might be a deal-breaker, you try to control for all possibilities.

For weight loss or fitness, it’s changing around your thinking from “I can eat dessert when I’m out with friends” to “I’ll only eat half my dessert” or even “I choose not to eat dessert.” It’s telling yourself “I’m going to stick to my eating plan this weekend” or “I’m being more mindful of my eating choices” or “I’m only eating when I am truly hungry.” It’s noticing the details that we normally gloss over when it comes to food and eating and making our workouts. When we look at ourselves in the mirror before we leave for the job interview, the details are what we are looking for.  When we go out the door to hit the mall or the grocery store, do we even look in the mirror beyond yeah, I’m dressed?

When something or someone is important to us, it shows in our lives. We do little things for our family or spouse/ partner because they really matter to us.  We put in our best efforts at our job because we take pride in our work. When we make the decision to think about our goals with the same kind of positive mindfulness that we take to something else like our jobs, our families or our finances, the investment shows in our progress.  We work for what we value, and when we tell ourselves that eating the whole sleeve of Oreos isn’t a big deal, we aren’t only not valuing our goal, we aren’t valuing ourselves! We wake up feeling cruddy because we ate badly the day before and we didn’t get enough sleep, even though eating better and getting more sleep are two of our goals. We put them on the back burner because the drive-thru was convenient and the cheesecake was available and then we stayed up past midnight because we were scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, and shopping online.  It’s spend now, pay later mentality.  I’m eating what I want and doing what I want now and I’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow, but soon enough tomorrow is today and we wake up feeling bloated, tired and achy: “I’ve gotta do something about this! I’m going to do better today!” but then the drive-thru is convenient and there’s donuts in the break room and Starz is showing Alien: Convenant at 11:00 p.m. ‘Doing something’ and ‘Being better’ starts with being mindful about tomorrow today: “if I eat these donuts and stay up to 2:30 a.m., how am I going to feel when the alarm goes off at 6?” An even better question is “what can I do today to make me feel awesome tomorrow?”

When we keep those thoughts in our head, they eventually become second nature: they become habit.  It can be a bit awkward at first but it gets easier with practice just like everything else. Earlier this year, California passed a shopping bag law: all grocery stores now charge for disposable bags and many stores posted signs on their front entrances reminding customers about their reusable bags. The first few weeks it was normal to hear someone get to the register: “I forgot my bags!” Now, months later, although the reminders are still on the doors, you see everyone crossing the parking lot with bags in hand.  It became a habit: got my keys, got my purse, got my bags!

When it comes to food choices and fitness, it’s as simple as thinking before eating or before skipping the workout: “am I skipping this for a legitimate reason (working late; really sick; unexpected occurrence) or am I blowing it off?”; “Am I eating this because I’m honestly hungry, or because I’m bored or I ‘really want it’?”; “Am I up late because I need to finish this project for tomorrow or because I just want to stay up?” (Really, that last one is one of my hardest. I like being up late and I hate getting up in early!)

It really is like an investment: when we value our goals by being more mindful, we start seeing the progress in our health and weight loss. Our actions follow our thoughts: when we are confident in ourselves, we are confident in our actions and when we know our actions deliver, our confidence continues to grow.  That’s where success starts: not in our actions but in our thoughts.

 

 

 

Accounting 101: Keeping the Books!

In some ways, I am very lucky when it comes to eating healthy.  I live alone, aside from some really picky pets who most days don’t care what I am eating.  For most people, they would think that is completely awesome- no one else is complaining about “mom’s healthy food kick” or “dad’s eating organic again!”  Plus, the chances of my dog or cats dragging bags of potato chips or blueberry muffins into the house are practically nil (although the dog might try with the muffins!) Living alone means I don’t have to tailor what I want to eat around what everyone else wants to eat, so no “making two dinners” or dealing with a junk food junkie.  When it comes to deciding what to eat, my decision is the only one that counts: I can eat whatever I want, because I am accountable only to myself.

It also means that if I want to scarf a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in front of NCIS, there’s no one to see me do it.  There’s no hiding the empty carton in the trash can or even stuffing the new pint in the back of the freezer. The same goes for Pop Tarts, chips, or cupcakes. No one else is going to go through the groceries, the fridge, freezer or the cabinets: I can eat whatever I want, because I am accountable only to myself.

And therein lies the problem! I can fill my cart with fresh veggies, grass fed meats and free range eggs, or I can fill it with ice cream, crackers and boxes of processed foods. It’s all up to me: no one is going to look in the cabinet and say: “I didn’t know Cheez Its were on your diet!” No one is going to shame me into behaving myself and no one is going give me disapproving look if I decide to eat a whole box of fried chicken.  It’s all my call what I eat or don’t eat, or if I work out or don’t work out.  I am the one who’s keeping track.

This is why so many people like to have a diet buddy or as they call it now, an ‘accountabili-buddy.’  This is usually someone who meets you to go work out, but even then, if you live alone, you can still go home and eat your way through a box of donuts.  Many diet and fitness apps (like My Fitness Pal) do their best to hold you accountable, but again, it requires your being honest about what you are actually putting in your mouth and how much you move your body. Being accountable only to yourself means that no one else is going to push you to get up on Saturdays to take your run through the park or check that you made your work out class on your way home from the office.  No one is keeping count but you.

I once heard integrity defined as “how one behaves when no one else is watching,” and that’s what it comes down to in this case especially.  I was having a really stressful day recently (there’s been a lot of those lately!) and I had stopped at the pharmacy to pick up some cough medicine.  I was tired, stressed, feeling sick and while I was waiting in line with my bottle of cough syrup and my bag of sugar free cough drops, the woman ahead of me was arguing over her coupons the cashier couldn’t take. Right below the counter in front of me were racks and racks of candy, including many of my favorites (pretty much anything with peanut butter!) and the more I looked at them, the more I thought “I can pick one. Or two. Two wouldn’t be bad.” There was no one to know that I ate them or even how many I had.  No one was going to check my trash for candy wrappers and when I logged my food in my journal and in my MFP app, I could just leave them out so it would look like I ate really good that day.  No one would know…. but me.  When I finally left the pharmacy, I had my cough syrup and my cough drops and the candy stayed at the store.

It wasn’t really a case of white-knuckling it past the candy or having an iron will: it was a combination of things actually.  1) I would know I ate the candy, no matter what I put in my journal or app. 2) Eating the candy would not help my weight loss and could lead to sugar cravings later on.  The biggest factor was- honestly- number 3: the last time I had candy, it didn’t taste very good!  After running through all those in my head, the candy wasn’t worth it.  It’d be a lot of calories, a lot of sugar but not a lot of enjoyment. This is where people like me, living alone, need to develop our own accountability system, and it comes not from white-knuckling it or having an iron will, but from habits and learning from mistakes.  I’ve had candy not so long ago: it was a similar situation and the candy was a complete impulse buy.  It was on the counter and rung up before I really thought about it, so once I got home, you bet I ate it!  And yep! wasn’t very good and yep! I regretted eating it! This is where the Learning From Mistakes part comes in.  When faced with a similar choice, I remembered that it wasn’t yummy or worth the calories and so it was easier to leave it behind.

The Habit part takes more work, because it means that you have to build a new or different habit over time, and we only do that by making the same decisions over and over again.  For me, this was things like keeping my hand out of the bread basket at restaurants, and not going by the bakery in the grocery store, and staying away from the chips aisle too! This is where a lot of us give in, mainly because we approach it the wrong way.  I know it’s been the downfall of a lot of my diets: I go cold-turkey and give up everything I love to eat all at once. I go from eating my “regular diet” to “steamed broccoli and skinless chicken breast” overnight and usually after a couple of weeks (if that long!), I give in and devour a whole box of Stove Top Stuffing.  This time I took the time to build my habits: I gave up one or two things at a time (like bread and pasta) until I didn’t have to sit on my hands to keep from putting them on my plate.  Then I moved on to another food and another food until I had built a healthy habit around eating whole foods that are low in carbs and high in nutrition (this is just my own healthy eating plan). By the time I had reached that point, things like automatically eating bread or putting a couple bags of Peanut Butter M&Ms in my cart were no longer ‘automatic.’  I didn’t crave them anymore, and I also discovered the reason that Snickers bar didn’t taste great: I had lost my taste for those kinds of foods.

This is the heart of holding yourself accountable: you know the return on your investment is there, but you have to put in the work to get it.  Staying the course to build your new habit is the hardest and most important part because it requires integrity.  You have to hold true to your goals even though no one else is watching.

You have to be your own accountabili-buddy and figure out what motivates you to stay on track to your goals.  There are a lot of people who use their Why to keep focused: Why do I want to be healthier? I have a spouse and kids;” or “I want to be healthy enough to have a long and active retirement!”  Other people focus on the goals themselves: “If I eat that or skip my workouts, I’ll fail to achieve my goal!” (This is the one that works for me!)

Whether you have a family or live alone like me, finding ways to hold ourselves accountable can be a bit tricky.  I know I am as good as talking myself into eating a cupcake as I am at talking myself out of it! We have to work to build the habits that will get us where we want to go and remember the mistakes that took us off track. We need to keep our own account and keep the books honest!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear of Missing Out, But What Should We Really Be Afraid Of?

I’ve never understood Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) when it comes to food. I think it’s because there are just some foods I really don’t like, so when they’re offered or available, I just automatically say No thanks.  Other than these particular foods, I’ve always been more than happy to sample, often and as much as possible!

Over the summer, I heard a lot about FOMO, maybe because it was wedding season or because of all the barbecues and parties.  I know at my sister’s wedding, I certainly sampled quite a few things that aren’t normally on my menu! (Some were pretty good, too!) But again, it wasn’t FOMO that put those items on my plate.  It would have been just as easy to leave them off, and there were quite a few items that didn’t make it on my plate too!

I’ve always been an adventurous eater.  It was one of the good things I learned from my mom: just because it looks weird or different doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it out!  It’s one of the things I share with my best friend.  We’ll go to a restaurant for the first time and we’ll pick something we’ve never had before because hey- that looks different! Of course, not all of these experiments are winners, but we remain undeterred!

From what I’ve heard and seen, when it comes to FOMO, people are afraid they are missing Something Amazing.  Usually, they go out to a special event or restaurant and there is a food or drink that looks like it’s amazing or others who’ve tasted it have already said “It’s AMAZING!” and they are dying to try it!  I can sympathize:  I am not normally a beer drinker (or alcohol of any kind).  This is partly because alcoholism runs in my family and it’s partly because alcohol usually doesn’t taste good to me.  I concluded that if I’m going to drink beer (or alcohol), then it really is going to be amazing because otherwise it’s not worth the awful taste. Recently, my friends and I went out to a local microbrewery that has a reputation for making some awesome beers, and one of the items on the menu is a “Beer Sampler” where you choose five brews and you get a five ounce glass of each.  Two of my friends usually get that when we go, but honestly, that’s a lot of beer that I probably won’t finish!  I opted to choose two glasses of two different beers that I wanted to try.  One really was amazing, and the other was good and different, but not something I would order again. I normally don’t finish it, but it actually tasted better the warmer it got. FYI: I am a total beer snob- American beer tastes really really awful to me!

It wasn’t that I was ‘afraid’ of missing out on some great beer.  I’d been to this microbrewery before and not touched a drop of beer or any alcohol and I didn’t think I’d missed anything special or amazing.  This time, however, I felt like trying something new and so I did.  I had a good time, had one great beer and one a little better than average, and I don’t regret my choices (at least with the beer!)

There are a lot of times at my friends’ places, they’ll mix some great drinks or have some really amazing food (my friend is an awesome chef!) but I don’t feel that saying no thanks means I’m going to miss out on Something Amazing.  My friend knows I eat differently than she does and sometimes I will have a small taste to be polite (or if she wants to know if it’s missing something), but really, if I say no and pass on Something Amazing, what have I really missed out on?

That’s what it comes down to for me.  Bottom line: it’s food.  Even if it’s a food I probably won’t have an opportunity to try again (i.e. something at a resort or vacation spot I might not get back to), what have I really lost out on?  Tasting an amazing cheesecake/ pastry/ alcohol/ etc?  It’s FOOD! Tasting it is not going to change my life and it probably won’t add anything to it either, just like not tasting it isn’t going to take anything away from my life. It might be enjoyable; it might not be enjoyable, but either way missing out or not isn’t something that I should be afraid of.

Maybe that’s a little extreme, but when some people mention FOMO, they really are nervous and afraid.  I can understand it if others are pressuring you to try something.  I’ve tasted a lot of stuff just to be polite but that was because of FOOO (Fear of Offending Others), definitely not FOMO. There are some things that I am afraid of missing out on, and none of those things are food.  I’m afraid of missing out on a trip with friend or family; I’m afraid of not being able to do activities I want to do, like working out, walking or playing with my pets; I’m afraid of being too big to buy the clothes that I like or to fit in my car or drive for a long period of time because my legs or back hurts.  I am afraid of missing out on experiences, activities and time with people I care about; for me, missing out on food doesn’t even rate!

In 2012, I went on a trip to Disneyland with my friends, and that experience really hit home for me, because that was something that really meant a lot to me and because of my weight, it was not a good experience.  I essentially ‘missed out’ on doing a lot of things I wanted to do with them because I was too big to fit on the ride, fit in the seats or walk as far as they could.  That is something I really regret missing out on, so compared to that, food just doesn’t rate! Compared to running around Anaheim with my friends having a once in a lifetime experience, eating even Something Amazing doesn’t even come close! Missing out on an Amazing Cookie or an Amazing Meatloaf Sandwich or an Amazing Wine isn’t something to be afraid of; missing out on spending quality time doing Something You Love with People You Love is what we really need to fear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Problems: White-Knuckling, Deadlines & Ultimatums with Weight Loss

For many years, I worked at a bankruptcy law firm aka The Job From Hell.  The job was great, but the boss was ‘Insert Expletives Here.’  One of the things I learned at that job was that most of our clients’ problems were problems they had made themselves.  I used to quip “our clients make their own problems, and they are good at what they do!”  It helped me realize that, yep! I’m also good at making my own troubles!

When it comes to fitness and weight loss- especially- we need to face this reality: most of our problems are problems we made.  Part of it really is our own manufacturing and I think part of it is problem-solving mentality.  We’ve all heard the expression “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” and I’d like to change that to “if you’re focusing on the problem, you’re not looking for the solution.”  I was talking to another legal assistant recently whose boss was on his way back from a cross-country flight.  Part of their practice requires that they publish legal notices and, short version, they need to pick up the court filing in one city (not where their office is) and submit it in yet another city, none of which are close to their home office, so the assistant was saying: “that will be an entire day on the road right after he’s back from his trip and he has a court appearance that morning.”  I asked him about sending a messenger. (Court runners/ messengers are an entire industry for just that very reason.)  “Oh, yeah, that’s a good idea!”  The assistant was so focused on the problem that he was missing a very obvious solution (anyone not so involved would have suggested a runner.)

We do the same thing: we focus on the problem to the point that we can’t see any solutions that present themselves. Some people will do it out of a need for drama.  They like being frantic or being the center of attention: look at me! I have so many problems! Just FYI: no one gets points for being a drama queen/ king! In order to find a solution, you have to step back from Drama Mode and start looking at ways around or through the problem. Sometimes it really is hard, because the problems can cause anxiety (the cause of the drama) and it’s hard to remain objective. This is where you might want to talk to someone who isn’t emotionally invested in the problem and get some objective opinions (like my fellow legal assistant did).  Sometimes it’s embarrassing to admit your problem to someone else (“Every time I fight with my mom, I eat a pint of ice cream or all the cookies or anything that’s left in the house.”) No one likes sharing dirty laundry but if you really want a solution to the problem that you are too close to, then you need to get an objective opinion from someone who is: 1) not going to point fingers; 2) not emotionally invested; 3) can offer a reasonable solution.  If your spouse is tired of listening to you complain about fighting with your mom or your eating everything in sight or is just going to tell you to ‘deal with it,’ then do not ask your spouse.  This might be one of those problems that you post on My Fitness Pal or you ask a level-headed friend about.

Then there are the Problems We Make Ourselves.  (I’m not including mom in here because ’emotional eating due to mom’ is kind of a reaction that we can learn to get a handle on once we’re feeling more confident.)  The Problems We Make Ourselves are things like white-knuckling it or creating deadlines and ultimatums. These largely come from Dieting Mentality aka tunnel-vision.  Dieting Mentality is thinking along the lines of “I just need to get to X date or X goal, and then I’m done!”  I see this a lot on My 600 lb Life, but we’ve all done it: “I only have to hang on until I lose 20 lbs and then I’m good!”  In the case of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients on the show, prior to scheduling them for weight loss surgery, he always has his patients lose a certain amount of weight to prove they can control their eating habit.  Many times the patients fall right into Dieting Mentality: I only need to control myself long enough to get the surgery and then the surgery will solve everything!  NOT SO! and Dr. Nowzaradan is the first to tell them that the surgery will only limit the amount of food they can eat at one time; they can still eat all day and still gain weight after the surgery! Dieting Mentality is pretty much the default mentality for a lot of us when it comes to losing weight or changing our eating habits.  It’s natural, and not just for weight loss.  We do the same thing when it comes to money also: I can’t buy anything until after payday, and then I can go shopping!  But weight loss, fitness or money, it’s all the same thinking and it’s that thinking that gets us into trouble with eating, going to the gym and draining the bank account.

Dieting Mentality has a deadline attached to it: this current way of eating ‘ends’ either on this date or when you reach this weight, so we just need to white-knuckle it until we ‘get there.’  This tunnel-vision thinking keeps us from looking at our situation any other way, which keeps us in the same vicious cycle: “I need to lose 20 lbs for Special Occasion, so I’m going to white-knuckle it until I reach Deadline and then I’m done!  I have to make my Goal or I’ve failed!” With Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, it’s much more drastic, since they need to lose hundreds of pounds because their health is at serious risk, and I think it contributes to much of their Dieting Mentality, but 20 lbs or 220 lbs, when we approach weight loss, working out and better nutrition, we all tend to have the same focus on an End Point, whether a Goal Weight or a Date. We go into the process thinking that I only have to ‘be good’ until the End Point, and then I can go back to eating the way I like to eat.

Our thoughts and our focus are creating these problems.  If we don’t approach weight loss, good nutrition and fitness with a Dieting Mentality, how much easier would it be? How does not having an End Point change our thinking about losing weight, eating better and being more active? For some of us, it is pure panic: “Aack!! I have to eat like this forever?!?”  Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m telling you, and that’s why I’m also telling you- as several much more educated health professionals will also tell you- that diets don’t work for this very reason!  If you only want to lose enough weight to fit into an outfit you’re going to wear once at the aforementioned Special Occasion, then follow the diet.  But, if you want to improve your health overall by losing weight, being more active and getting better nutrition, a diet may get you there temporarily.  Staying there means sticking to the diet forever.  The problem is that most diets- as we all know- are pretty extreme, which makes them impossible to stick with long term.  This is why Dieting Mentality is the curse that keeps us trapped in the vicious cycle of constant dieting: we lose the weight, gain it back off the diet, go back on the diet, lose the weight, gain it back, ad infinitum. 

Try looking at it this way: we didn’t gain that 60 lbs because we went to Disneyland and ate all the treats or we went on that cruise and at two desserts every night.  Those probably contributed a few pounds to the 60, but the real cause of those 60 lbs on our butt and thighs is eating a bag of Cheetos during The Walking Dead each week and half a bag of Oreos during Survivor, and grabbing a donut in the break room each Friday and scrolling through Facebook and Instagram all day on the weekends. Those 60 lbs are the product of a LIFESTYLE, not an event like a Queen of the South binge with pizza and beer.  Dieting Mentality is focused on the ‘events;’ real permanent change comes with a lifestyle. If we approach weight loss, fitness and nutrition like a new lifestyle (as in smaller healthy changes that are permanent), then we don’t have to worry about white-knuckling it, deadlines or any ultimatums, because there are none!  How many of us beat ourselves up when we get emotional (as in ‘fight with mom’) and eat all the Cheez-its? (Me, raising my hand here!) Same goes for the donuts in the break room on Friday or going to a friend’s for a Game of Thrones binge with burgers and beer. We don’t have to white-knuckle it and bring our veggie coconut wrap and lime-infused water so we can ‘be good.’ (I’m also not saying eat five double cheeseburgers and finish off a six-pack!)  But if we approach this as a lifestyle of choosing healthier foods and activities that is on-going rather than an extreme race with a finish line, then we can have a burger and a beer and maybe even some chips without beating ourselves up.  We can have half a donut or even a whole one and we can enjoy a scoop of ice cream as we’re watching zombies get blown away.  The biggest problem with weight loss and good nutrition isn’t what to eat or how much to eat; it’s the problems we make ourselves by putting a deadline on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perspective: Seeing the Elephant in the Room

One of the best things about being an eminently employable English major is that I come across a lot of different literature from many different cultures.  One of my favorites is “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”  It’s an Indian parable about perspectives found in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts, so all we really know about its origins is that it is ancient.  The story goes that six blind men learn that an elephant was brought to their village and having not experienced one before, they go to “see” the animal with their hands.  Each man touches a different part of the elephant and comes away with a different viewpoint than the others.  One feels the tusk and determines that an elephant is like a spear; another feels its tail and concludes it looks like a rope; another feels the ear and thinks it looks like a fan; another feels its leg and says it looks like a tree trunk; one feels its side and believes an elephant is like a wall; and the last touches its trunk and believes the elephant is like a snake.  From there, the story varies with the text but the point is that each is seeing only one part and one perspective of the elephant. In order to really determine what an elephant looks like, they need to see the whole creature or at least compare their findings, because each of them is correct about the part that they touched, but none of them is correct in what an elephant truly looks like.

Perspective is massively important when it comes to weight loss, health and fitness, and it’s where so many of us get in trouble.  It’s easy to lose weight if you don’t care about being healthy, and the same is true about fitness. Most of us think in terms of “losing weight” or “getting fit,” but neither of those are important if we don’t think in terms of Being Healthy (the whole elephant.)  When I was in college, I had a roommate who was also overweight.  We really commiserated over it because we both liked a lot of the same foods and we both tried being vegetarian and both of us ended up gaining weight.  I ran into her a few years after she moved out (both of us were in the pharmacy line, FYI) and I didn’t recognize her because she had lost so much weight.  Unfortunately, it was due to Type I diabetes.  Her pancreas had stopped functioning and now she was insulin dependent. She had to check her blood sugar several times a day and inject insulin before every meal to control her blood sugar. I remember her telling me she had always dreamed of losing weight, but this was not how she thought it would happen.  She was over a hundred pounds thinner than she had been when she lived with me but she certainly was not healthy.  Even worse, she was pregnant with her second child which put both her life and her baby’s at risk!

When we approach weight loss or fitness, we can’t just focus on the one aspect that we want to prioritize, otherwise we lose sight of the whole elephant. “Being thin” or “being muscular” is of no importance if you aren’t healthy also.  Some of you know that I lost an aunt in 2003 due to complications from anorexia.  She’d had a gastric bypass, which in my opinion she did not need as she barely weighed 200 lbs, but the end result was that she stopped eating, which is not an uncommon side effect of the bypass.  Ultimately, she ended up collapsing, catching an infection and dying. She was the same age as I am now, and while I’m not exactly young anymore, I have a lot to look forward to and so did she. But she had also always dreamed of being thin, and for months prior to her death, family members had been begging her to see a doctor, because it was so painfully obvious that she was not healthy or happy.  Unfortunately, no one could help her.

Some of us do the same thing with exercise: we lose sight of our overall health, which is what really matters.  We’ve all heard the stories of people who over-exercise, or eat and then work out super hard to burn off all the calories they ate.  Some of us try to “out exercise” a bad diet, but most nutritionists and doctors will tell you that 90% of weight loss comes through your food choices and the remaining 10% is your activity. Basically, you can exercise until your arms fall off but if you’re eating donuts and drinking Pepsi every morning for breakfast, you’re not going to be accomplishing much!

Most of us are in a hurry to reach our goals- I know I am! But over-training and starving ourselves isn’t the way to “get cut” and/ or “get thin.”  Drastically cutting calories and working out really really hard are stressors on the body, so our body goes into conservation mode if we stick with these practices for a long time.  We will probably lose some weight and maybe build some muscle at first, but the longer we stick with it, the more the body begins to conserve its fat stores.  This looks like it might be a famine or some kind of catastrophe: basically a lot of hard work and not a lot of calories coming in.  The body’s first priority is survival: nothing else matters if it (i.e. YOU) don’t survive another day, so it takes steps to make sure you last as long as possible.  This is why Biggest Loser ‘winners’ end up gaining weight eating 1000 calories a day: their bodies have slowed their metabolisms so much after a prolonged period of starvation and hard exercise (i.e. the tv show), that now any calories coming in over the subsistence level gets stored! The body is trying to protect itself against another catastrophe where it (the ‘winner’) drastically lost weight.

Obviously, that is not a healthy situation to be in.  I really want to lose a lot of weight and I’d really like to have more muscles, especially as I’m getting older.  I don’t want to be the helpless old lady (with the zillion cats!) but I also know that it’s going to take some time to lose weight and gain muscle in a healthy way.  That means growing long term healthy habits like eating for nutrition without starving myself and being more active without over-training or injuring myself.  Both of those mean that it’s going to take some time, since my body and metabolism are going to make slow healthy adaptations to my new lifestyle.  I need to keep my eye on the ultimate goal of Being Healthy rather than my chosen perspective of Being Thin.  As I’ve learned the hard way, being thin doesn’t count for much if you’re too sick to enjoy it.