Broaden Your Perspective: Weight Loss & Tunnel Vision

This is kind of a follow up to my last post about being consistent.  One of the reasons we go off the rails is that get locked into “All or Nothing” thinking.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Dead Poet’s Society, there’s the scene where Robin Williams takes the boys out into the courtyard and has them walk in a circle until they are marching as a unit (Dead Poets Society Lock Step Scene).  We fall into the same routine when we get locked into that All or Nothing Mentality: we are so laser-focused on staying low cal/ low carb/ clean eating/ keto /whatever, that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Today follows yesterday and tomorrow follows today and we need to eat clean, eat healthy, eat low carb…..ahhhhh!!! Suddenly, we’re looking in the fridge and all that’s there are bags of salad greens and boneless skinless turkey breast! “How the heck did that happen?!”

If those are foods you love to eat, then don’t worry about it.  I usually have bags of butter lettuce-spinach mix in my fridge mainly because it’s a favorite with me and my dogs (they love it!) As for turkey breast, not a fan at all! Even with skin, if it’s in my fridge, it’s an accident and it’ll probably end up in the dogs’ bowl unless I fry it up with something else or add it to a salad (even then…) But the point is that we get locked into thinking that anything other than steamed veggies or salad greens is unhealthy or too many calories or carbs.  The same thing with any other proteins than chicken/ turkey breast and egg whites.  Everything else has too much fat, too many calories or it’s just not healthy! So we end up subsisting on ‘healthy foods’ that we’ve eaten for weeks on end and we are dying for something different! There we are, picking up trash bags and paper towels at Walmart and before we know it, we’re walking out of the store with the paper towels, the trash bags and two boxes of microwave popcorn (one is kettle corn), a bag of Hershey’s miniatures and a 6 pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups! We don’t mean to go off the rails, but we just couldn’t take another day of egg white omelets, steamed broccoli and grilled chicken breast!

We’ve been so focused on Healthy-Low Cal-Healthy-Low Cal-Healthy-Low Cal, march-march-marching along like Robin Williams’ school boys that we forget there are other foods that are also healthy and also fit in our weight loss plan.  We’ve lost sight of the forest because we’ve been staring so long at the trees right in front of us! This is a big reason why we suddenly snap and eat a whole bag of Doritos during the football game.  We don’t really like Doritos, but, hey, they weren’t carrot sticks! To add insult to injury, we beat ourselves up after we cram the empty bag into the bottom of the trash can: “what’s wrong with me? why do I always sabotage myself?”

The irony is that it wasn’t so much the Doritos that sabotaged your weight loss as it was the weeks of spinach- egg white omelets and steamed broccoli with chicken breast.  Yes, those are healthy and yes, they encouraged your weight loss, but they were also setting you up for a binge! I don’t mean that ‘eating healthy’ or ‘eating for weight loss’ is always going to deprive you and leave you bingeing your brains out on junk food, but limiting yourself to only a few “healthy” foods will cause you to crave something different- whatever that something might be!

It doesn’t happen only with “healthy” foods either. If you were eating junk food day after day, you’d start craving something homemade or something simple.  There have been times when we’ve all really wanted a crunchy salad, in my case it was because I’d been eating French fries forever! There are biologists who will tell you that humans’ love of diversity comes from a biological imperative to make sure we are getting enough nutrients. While that is no doubt true, it’s the $10 explanation for why we crave novelty and change.  When we’ve been eating beans forever, it doesn’t matter what it is that crosses our plates– we will eat it as long as it’s not beans!

While eating across a wider band of healthy foods is more likely to keep your hand out of the Doritos, it is also more likely to keep you healthier overall, for that very reason those expensive biologists mentioned! We’ve all heard the horror stories about Bob’s sister’s best friend Janis who lived on carrot sticks and fat-free ranch dressing, lost 50 lbs but turned bright orange! While that is an extreme example (yes, it does happen!), when we limit ourselves to only a few foods, we are also limiting our nutrition. Maybe you’ve heard the expression “eat across the rainbow”? Different colors in fruits and veggies signal different nutrients, so when you eat more colors, you get more nutrition that only eating the green ones or the yellow ones!

While staying consistent means staying healthy, it doesn’t mean it has to stay bland, tasteless or boring.  We can eat great food we love that’s good for us, low calorie, nutrient dense and full of flavor and stay consistent!  It just takes a little more imagination and we definitely need to remember the bigger picture but we should never be afraid to try something different!

 

 

The Weight Loss Guarantee No One Talks About

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food For Thought

Nom Nom Paleo

Paleo Leap

Primal Potential

Eating Clean

 

 

Gratitude Adjustment: Weight Loss & Positivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is Your Focus? : Weight Loss & The Complaint Department

Recently, Pacific Gas & Electric shut off the power to tens of thousands of customers in my state due to high winds and the resulting fire danger. My dad was one of those customers without power for two days. My big concern was the cold nights and the dark house but my dad assured me that he had his big flashlight and if it did get cold, he could always light a fire in the wood stove.  One of his phones, thankfully, was not cordless so he still had that since he gets no cell reception at his house.

This reminded me of many instances during my childhood when we had been without power. We lived in the country when I was in college and power failure was common.  I used to remark to friends and family that “we lose power every time there’s a big wind.” As a result, we had hurricane lamps, candles and we all got the big D cell Maglite for Christmas one year!  In fact, I’d gotten so used to doing homework by flashlight, I’d pull it out of my desk drawer as soon as the lights blinked. I learned to turn on the ‘auto-save’ on the computer and to save manually after major changes as well.  When the power went out, if we weren’t doing homework, the biggest inconvenience were things like heat/ AC and water (our well was electric); other than those, we had plenty of books and games to keep us entertained. No worries!

But for my mom, reading and games were never high on her list of Fun Things To Do.  I remember coming home with my dad from the grocery store and as we were carrying the groceries into the house, the lights went out. My mom, in her recliner with the tv on and the cordless phone in her hand, was angry as usual while the rest of us were more relaxed about it. I put the grocery bags on the kitchen counter and began putting the food away while my mom groused about being without power.  At one point she shouted at me “how can you put the groceries away in the dark?!” I grabbed a couple of items out from the bags and walked into the living room. Handing her one of them, I asked: “what’s this?” “I don’t know… cottage cheese or sour cream?” “And this?” “Cereal or crackers?” “So the cottage cheese goes in the fridge and the crackers go in the pantry.” End of discussion.

The point was that my mom just wanted to complain about the power being out.  She wasn’t interested in changing her behavior to deal with no power: she wanted to complain and be inconvenienced.  When most of us begin changing our eating either for health or weight loss, we tend to adopt my mom’s attitude: “It’s hard!” “It’s inconvenient!” “I don’t know how to do it!” “I don’t like that food!” We’d rather complain than make any adjustments or learn new habits.  The problem is that while we are busy complaining, we are not making progress and we are wasting time and energy in unproductive behavior. We get nothing beneficial from complaining and whining and pouting.

We all know that change is hard.  It means unlearning bad habits and learning new ones.  It takes time, patience and– most importantly– consistency! Complaining seems to be easier, since we feel like we get some kind of ‘result.’ A few months ago, the cable box for my tv service died. There were several frustrating and unsuccessful attempts to reboot it before disconnecting it, taking it to the local store, waiting around for a couple hours only to get home and go through the equally frustrating installation process. The whole time, I groused and complained and let everyone know how inconvenienced I was by this. To be honest, I took a kind of self-indulgent pleasure in letting everyone know how inconvenient it was. At the same time, I also knew that if I wanted tv again, this was what I had to do and there was no getting around it! It’s an irritating process but if I wanted to watch tv sooner rather than later, I had to do the work!

Changing our eating habits and how we think about what we eat is not that different: we have to uninstall the ‘faulty equipment’ and install a new, updated, version.  While complaining about it soothed my self-indulgent nature, it did nothing to help me get my cable service back. However, going through all the ‘inconvenient hassle’ not only got my service restored, it also saved me an extra $20 a month! So in the end, which served me better: grousing & whining or going through the hassle & doing the work?  (If you have to think about this, I can’t help you!)

We find ourselves in a similar situation when we have to change out how we eat and how we think about food. Most of us separate food into two camps: ‘Healthy Food’ and ‘Food That Tastes Good.’  The idea that food can be both good for you and taste good is nonsense to this way of thinking.  Either it’s something healthy that obviously tastes like grass, cardboard or is utterly flavorless, or it tastes good and is full of fat, calories and sugar! This kind of binary thinking is why most of us do well on a diet for a few days or weeks and then we binge on a bag of grocery store cookies.  It’s not that the cookies are delicious or yummy: it’s because we’ve been eating tasteless bland ‘healthy’ food for the last ten days! We need to stop that kind of thinking! If what you are eating doesn’t taste good, THEN STOP EATING IT!  It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘healthy’ or not: if you aren’t loving (or at least liking) what you are eating, you’re doing it wrong. Not everyone loves salads or vegetables but that doesn’t mean that you have to eat dried up cauliflower or wilted iceberg lettuce. Seriously, neither of those veggies are high on my list of foods, even when they’re fresh, but I do enjoy broccoli, Brussels sprouts and butter or red leaf lettuce, so when I make veggies at home, those are usually somewhere on my dinner plate. Just because everyone is eating ‘cauliflower rice’ doesn’t mean you have to eat it in order to be healthy or lose weight!

A lot of us start out not knowing what to eat that’s healthy and so we default to The Usual Diet Foods, such as ice berg salads with low cal dressing and dried out skinless chicken breasts.  Those are also on my list of Unfavorite Foods, so I eventually learned to change that meal into something I do enjoy.  My healthy ‘chicken and salad’ dinner consists of a chicken thigh with a spinach-butter lettuce mix with oil and vinegar.  Not a major shift, but it’s enough of a shift so that I actually enjoy my dinner instead of suffering through a meal that’s going to leave me unsatisfied.

When I started eating healthier, it took some time to figure out how to swap out unhealthy or unfavorite foods for healthy food I enjoyed but again, it wasn’t a complicated process.  It just took practice and consistency!  It also means that you have to give up the self-indulgent complaining and whining about it.  If your focus is constantly what a hassle and inconvenience this process is for you, then you aren’t going to be able to focus on any better options available to you.  Seriously, if you want to focus on how awful it is eating skinless chicken breast with dry cauliflower every night and complain about how much you hate it to everyone you know, that’s your choice. However, your energy can be better spent finding something just as healthy and nutritious that you really enjoy eating.  Unfortunately, when your focus is on eating healthy food that you really love that helps you lose weight, there’s not a whole lot to complain about it– darn it!

 

It Really IS About What Goes In Your Mouth!: Weight Loss, Food & Nutrition

I recently watched a rerun of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now? featuring an update on one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s most challenging patients, James K.  Like most of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, James grew up struggling with obesity and by the time he was in his ’30’s he was already over 500 lbs.  That’s when a leg injury left him bed-bound and he has not walked since that injury.  Unfortunately, being bed-bound has added to his weight gain and by the time we meet him in his initial episode, James estimates his weight at around 700 lbs. Speaking with James via computer, Dr. Nowzaradan gave him the basic diet he gives to all of his patients (1200 calories a day and no carbs) and advised him to begin losing weight immediately.

Getting to Houston to meet with Dr. Now was a struggle in itself as James needed a bariatric ambulance to take him from Kentucky to Texas and his insurance would not cover the cost.  James’ father ended up financing the transportation, but once in Texas with his daughter and girlfriend Lisa, he continued to struggle with the diet.  After four months in Kentucky, James arrived in Houston weighing 738 lbs. Dr. Now admitted him to the hospital to begin running tests and to put him on a controlled diet to get his weight down.  Unfortunately, after losing over 100 lbs in the hospital, James moved to his apartment to continue losing on his own, but what followed was the beginning of a vicious cycle of weight gain followed by hospitalization and controlled weight loss only to regain again at home.  Despite Dr. Now’s warnings regarding his deteriorating health, James and Lisa were unable to control his eating and he continued to gain weight. His constant gaining was followed by heart problems, kidney problems, and cellulitis infections in his legs.  After one arrival at the hospital, James and Lisa are shocked to learn that he’s at 843 lbs.

From the outside, it’d be easy to say “what the heck is wrong with you two?!” but they were as mystified as Dr. Now was frustrated.  Despite his repeated attempts to explain to them what they are doing wrong, they remained as confused and frustrated as Dr. Nowzaradan.  Obviously, something was going wrong, but they could not understand what it was.

Quite simply, it was the food. I know you are thinking “no sh*t, Sherlock!” right now, but for James and Lisa, it really was mystifying.  While they were obviously cheating on the diet more than they admitted, it wasn’t really the “cheat meals” that were causing the problems as much as it was all the other food he was also eating.  While I obviously wasn’t there with them and only know what I saw on the tv, I’ve got a pretty good guess as to some of the stumbling blocks tripping them up: 1) nutritional ignorance; 2) portion  distortion; and 3) cravings.

As a former Basic English instructor, I learned early on never to assume that people know “The Basics.” I remember going over a lesson on sentence construction, explaining how each sentence needs a subject consisting of a noun and a predicate consisting of a verb.  When I casually asked “does anyone have any questions?” I was promptly asked “what’s a noun?  Judging by the confused faces in the class, I gathered her question was echoed by most of my students. My carefully constructed lesson was pretty much wasted on them since I was essentially speaking gibberish!

I have a strong suspicion that this was part of the problem with James and Lisa.  While it’s one thing to pass out a diet plan with recommended and/ or ‘forbidden’ foods listed on it, it’s another entirely to learn to read nutrition labels or simply to identify what other foods should be included on that list of ‘forbidden foods.’  I remember a very long time ago when my dad’s doctor advised him to lower his sugar intake and my mom complained about his eating bread. I asked “what does bread have to do with how much sugar he eats?” At the time, I had no idea that bread (a starchy carbohydrate) is metabolized like sugar in the body.  In essence, a starchy carb like bread is viewed as a long string of sugars in the body. While it doesn’t look like sugar, technically our bodies turn it into sugar. It’s one thing to look at a slice of bread and think “starch” and see that one slice is allowed on the diet and it’s another thing to look at a bowl of brown rice and think it’s okay. If it’s not specifically mentioned on the diet plan, then where does that go? Is it allowed? Not allowed? For some people, it’s common sense but for others, it’s a mystery.  While those of us who’ve spent a lifetime eating off one diet plan or another know what to do, for those who have never ventured into “Diet World,” it’s literally foreign territory.  Having the doctor tell you “no carbs!” might as well have been “no finkerrupz!” for all the sense it makes to you. (Let’s not mention ‘total carbs’ vs ‘net carbs’!)

While some of you are rolling your eyes, let me remind you that we all start somewhere different when we begin this diet journey and even though a nutritionist may have been sent out to help James and Lisa learn more about food overall, not all nutritionists and/ or dieticians are created equal.  I remember my own dietician basically giving me a list of rules to follow (again regarding carbs) without ever asking me if I knew what a carbohydrate was! However, as a reader and an information-gatherer in general, when I started asking questions about nutrition, I decided that the internet (though convenient) wasn’t comprehensive enough for me and I went off to the bookstore and came home with Nutrition for Dummies.Nutrition for Dummies ) I am a big fan of the Dummies books because they assume you know nothing about the topic, so you can start at your own level.  I also realize that some people are offended when you suggest these books to them (“she called me a dummy!”)  Frankly, I have a large library of Dummies books because in my opinion, there’s a whole lotta stuff I don’t know crap about and pretending that I know more than I do is the only thing that really makes me a Dummy!

There’s also another pitfall that catches most people unawares: “I thought I knew what I was doing but I really didn’t!” This was my error when I was teaching sentence construction: I thought I was giving my students The Basics but it turned out it wasn’t basic enough! In short, I thought I knew where to start but I didn’t! Hospitals have also learned this lesson the hard way.  When patients arrive for a procedure, they make the patient explain to the nurse what’s going to happen to them.  This is the best way of making sure the patient understands what is really going to happen! I am sure James and Lisa thought he was following the diet and only cheating a little bit, when  in fact, he was probably cheating more than he wanted to admit and also eating foods that weren’t on the diet although they thought that they were.

Then there is the whole issue of portion size.  This is one of the reasons I recommend a food scale in the beginning at least (Ozeri Food Scale). When someone is used to eating a slice of cake that weighs in at a half-pound or a sandwich the size of a loaf of bread, they usually have no idea what an actual ‘portion’ looks like.  The idea that a sandwich consists of two regular slices of bread, 2 oz of meat and maybe one ounce of cheese is a real shock.  A hamburger patty really isn’t supposed to be one-third of a pound or more; it’s supposed to be about 3 oz! The same thing with a chicken breast or a piece of steak– about 3-4 oz is a ‘serving size.’  The general rule of thumb is that your protein is supposed to be about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand, not the size of your head!

It’s easy to jeer at someone weighing 700 -plus pounds who clearly doesn’t understand why he weighs so much, but the truth is that a lot of us are in the same boat.  The only difference is that while James can’t understand why he’s still over 700 lbs, we can’t figure out why we still can’t lose these same twenty pounds we’ve been trying to lose since college.  It’s usually that Terrible Trio I mentioned above: a combination of nutritional ignorance, portion distortion and cravings.  We think we are eating healthier foods in the right amounts but until we do a little investigating, we may not realize that while sweet potatoes and brown rice are better for us than white potatoes and white rice, they still have a lot of carbs and starch in them.  We also think that a serving is one whole sweet potato no matter the size or that we can eat twice as much brown rice as white rice. The truth is while we are eating healthier, we may not be eating healthy enough to lose the weight we want.

Cravings are another story entirely.  Everyone who’s tried to lose weight has fallen victim to this one, some of us more often than others.  It really doesn’t matter what the craving is for, either.  Whether it’s chocolate, bread, nuts or even something healthy like a salad, if we eat too much of it, it’s not good for us.  If it’s something not on our ‘recommended foods’ list, it only adds to the problem.  While it’s not usually a disaster when we give in to the cravings, we don’t often realize that giving in prolongs the problem.  In short, if you ‘indulge’ once a week, you begin to expect that indulgence and when you try to skip it after repeatedly giving in, it only makes it harder to resist.  For someone like James, who’s probably never resisted a temptation, the cravings can be unbearably difficult. For someone like Lisa who is used to giving him what he wants, the response is probably close to automatic: he wants it? he gets it.

Making the changes James and Lisa need to make to lose weight and improve his health likely requires more adjustments and education than they anticipated.  It means a complete restructuring of their home life and habits.  It not only means throwing out all the foods not on the diet, it means re-learning how to eat, how to buy food that’s healthy and how to think about what we eat. Like most of us, James thought he could out-exercise his cheating and bad food choices, but we all know we’d be jogging all day to ‘cancel out’ that burger and fries lunch or the pie or whatever ‘indulgence’ we had.  Losing weight permanently takes significant changes and these need to be permanent if our weight loss is to stay permanent.  That means re-thinking what’s normally on the menu and what’s not, what a real portion size is and what’s too much, and whether that slice of carrot cake is really worth it.  It means keeping an open mind about The Basics and even changing those Basics if need be.  It’s not an easy adjustment to make but when your quality of life depends on it, are you really going to trade that for carrot cake?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Be True To You: Weight Loss & Self-Confidence

Self-confidence has a huge influence on weight loss. There are a lot of people who think that losing weight boosts your self-confidence and, while that does happen, if you aren’t already self-confident and sure of yourself before you lose weight, losing the weight isn’t magically going to make you confident and secure.  In fact, the more insecure you are before you lose weight, the harder it is to lose the weight at all.  While there are a lot who think this makes for a vicious self-defeating cycle, being insecure about yourself isn’t going to get any better after you lose weight.  You’ll just be doubting you’ve done enough to meet everyone’s expectations.

I like to think of self-confidence as being true to who you are. It takes some guts to be yourself, especially if everyone else in your life is telling you that you’re wrong or that you are too different in some way.  The United States is a bit of a paradox: we cheer individuality as long as it’s not too “individual,” if you know what I mean.  In short, if you’re too weird or different, you stand out and then somehow, that’s not good.  I’ve been lucky in that way: I was always different from my classmates, so what the heck? They’re going to be picking on me anyway!

Being self-confident means that you make your own decisions no matter what everyone else says or thinks, and that can mean standing up for yourself.  It can mean choosing things that are different from what your family and friends like.  It can also mean putting up with their criticism and ridicule, which as we know is uncomfortable and difficult. It can be a difficult choice for some.  Being different can be a real struggle since we usually have to fight against the tide of conformity.  Probably the best illustration I know comes from the movie Out of Africa where Robert Redford’s character Denys Finch-Hatton is explaining his lifestyle to Meryl Streep’s Karen Blixen:  “I don’t want to live someone else’s idea of how to live. Don’t ask me to do that. I don’t want to find out one day that I’m at the end of someone else’s life.” (Out of Africa) 

This quote really put the movie into perspective for me, (mainly because until this quote, I had been thinking his character was just a great big jerk).  It also put life in general into perspective because he is right: if you live your life by someone else’s rules, you will have missed out on living your own life! Maybe this sounds a bit drastic for the topic of weight loss, but I don’t think so.  Think about how many times friends, family members, weight loss ‘professionals’ and the media tell you how to lose weight. There is a lot of subtle subtext that if you don’t do it their way, you are doing it wrong or you will fail and gain it all back! It’s not their body and it’s not their life but they imply that they know better than you about your own health. Sometimes, that really is true, but it’s still your decision to make. You are allowed to ask about credentials and training and source information when it comes to your health and if they don’t want to share that information, for me, that’s a huge red flag that maybe I don’t want to listen to their advice.

I am definitely not a weight loss professional, but I am someone who has spent my life struggling with my weight.  It’s one of the many things that made me different from my classmates and it’s been the source of a lot of ridicule and criticism from family as well as strangers.  Everyone knew the best way for me to lose weight and if I didn’t listen to their advice, I was some kind of idiot or worse, I just liked being fat!  I was fat because I was a glutton; I was fat because I was lazy; I was fat because it was in my DNA; I was fat because because because! I’ve spent most of my life being told by others ‘why’ I was fat and how to lose weight even though some of these people barely knew me!

Needless to say that after a lot of tears and self-doubt, I grew a thick skin. (I’m sure they thought that added to my weight too!) When I decided to start eating Paleo, I got a fair bit of criticism. There is a huge majority that believe that grains are heart-healthy and that all fat is evil because it causes heart disease and that if you don’t eat enough carbs, you will be chronically fatigued.  I’ve been given advice to go vegetarian, go vegan, and been told countless times that “Paleo is too much meat!”  However, it got harder and harder for them to argue with my “weirdo fad diet” when the weight started coming off and staying off! Eventually, they stopped criticizing me and my diet because nothing succeeds like success. I lost weight and am still losing weight and I haven’t ended up in the hospital with chronic fatigue, deadly heart disease and/ or malnutrition.  FYI: my doctor really likes my cholesterol numbers, too!

It really can be a hard thing to stand up for yourself and do things your way when the rest of the world is telling you you’re wrong.  By the time I decided to try Paleo, I’d spent a lifetime being told I was wrong or just weird.  When I chose German instead of Spanish in college, I was criticized by family (German’s not ‘marketable’) and by total strangers for ‘rejecting my Hispanic heritage’.  When I opted not to marry or have children, I was told it’s because I’m not feminine or ‘attractive’ enough (I had a few offers– no thanks!)  When I discovered Queen, hard rock and heavy metal music in my 20’s, I was told I was going through a ‘rebellious phase’ since no one else in my life listened to it.  It’s a ‘phase’ that’s lasted 30 years since I still listen to it (my hard rock friends now roll their eyes at my growing Green Day addiction but oh, well!) As I said, I’ve got a thick skin and this is where Mr. Finch-Hatton’s quote has stood me in good stead: I choose to live my life by my rules because it’s my life!

When it comes to choosing how you want to lose weight, the choice is yours, not anyone else’s.  The only advice I can give you is probably the stuff you know already: is it safe? does it work? do you enjoy it?  If the answers to all those questions are “yes,” then who cares if people tell you that Whole 30 is better or going vegetarian is healthier or that sticking with Weight Watchers is the way to go? If you think diets like Paleo and Atkins are dangerous, dumb or just not practical, good for you! You made a decision that works for you! It’s your body, your lifestyle and your health.  Do what works for you.  You are the one who has to live with your body. You don’t want to wake up some day and discover the body you’re living in is the result of someone else’s rules.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Comfort Zone Workout: Weight Loss & Pushing Your Boundaries

Yesterday I was talking to one of my friends about her college age son.  He was in the enviable position of being offered two job opportunities: he had been offered a promotion at his current job and also offered a position at his church’s community outreach program.  While he definitely does not plan on a career in food service (his current job) and being active in his church is a major role in his life, he is not sure about taking the community outreach position because it is out of his comfort zone.

While most of us have never been in his position, we are all extremely familiar with our comfort zone and our reluctance to leave it. My friend knew right away that her son was nervous about trying something new.  While he is not a shy and retiring sort of person, this position at his church was just enough out of his comfort zone to make him give it serious thought. Many of us feel similar trepidation when faced with heading into unknown or unfamiliar territory, and that’s a good thing.  We should take such situations seriously, but there are a lot of us who automatically balk at leaving our comfort zone.

I admit: I am reluctant to the point of balking in some situations, especially those that have me driving somewhere I am utterly unfamiliar with, and the only thing that can make that situation worse is to put a deadline on it, as in “I must be at a certain location by X time and I have no idea where I am going.” [Insert pic of me screaming in terror here.] I know I can use Google Maps and MapQuest to get there, and both of them are on my phone, but the anxiety about trying to get to an unfamiliar address remains.  In fact, I faced it earlier this week having to drop off my car at a location I didn’t know in a town I am unfamiliar with by a certain time. While the anxiety and accompanying stress weren’t overwhelming, it was enough to put a dent in my week.

A funny thing happens when we do things that make us uncomfortable: these activities become more familiar and more comfortable. They stretch our comfort zone and by definition, our comfort zone grows and so do we. When I first started going to a gym, all I used was the treadmill. We all know how much equipment is at any gym, but it could have been nothing but treadmills for all I cared.  When I moved to my current gym, it was because I needed to work out in the pool. I was familiar with using one for physical therapy exercises because of my physiotherapist. Doing them on my own was a little out of my comfort zone, but not enough to hold me back.

Water aerobics however was another animal entirely! The gym had classes posted on their website: all I had to do was show up but I didn’t know anything about what the classes were like, what the trainers were like, what the other students were like, so I didn’t go. It was scary and unfamiliar and just enough out of my comfort zone that I didn’t want to try it… until the day I showed up at the gym to use the pool and it was full of people using water weights and pool noodles and there was a trainer putting them through their exercises. Obviously, it was a class and I sat on the bench waiting for them to be done.  The students didn’t look that different from me: most of them were in their forties or older and some were overweight, some weren’t and some had obvious mobility issues.  After about twenty minutes of waiting around, the trainer asked me if I wanted to join them, so I did! And it was a great workout, a lot of fun and I’ve been going every week for the last three years! But if I hadn’t shown up in the middle of a class, I might still be too entrenched in my comfort zone to try the classes on my own.

We’ve all heard the expression “try it- you’ll like it!” but most of us take that only as far as we feel comfortable. We’ve got our boundaries marked and beyond them we will not stray. We know our limits, when it’s okay to stretch a boundary and when it’s not.  For me, that’s usually exercises and workouts and there’s a very obvious reason for that: I’ve never been particularly athletic. Athletics, exercise, working out: they are all in unfamiliar territory for me, so I don’t like going there.  Food, on the other hand, is way too familiar for me, so if you want me to try a new yogurt flavor or a new vegetable or spice, then no problem! I am in the habit of trying new foods and flavors, even though some have been pretty awful! But trying a new exercise? Balk!

It goes back to comfort and familiarity.  If you are used to doing something, it’s no longer strange or difficult! It’s just the ‘getting used to it’ that makes us balk. It’s pretty much a no-brainer: we’re not comfortable, we’re not sure we’re doing it right (whatever ‘it’ is) so we don’t like doing it and we end up doing those things as little as possible or not at all.  I know: duhhhhh.  But what gets missed in that thinking is that the only reason we aren’t doing those things is because we aren’t used to doing them! The more we push out of our comfort zone, the more comfortable that strange territory becomes until it becomes normal for us.

When I started cutting carbs out of my regular diet, it was nearly unbelievably difficult. They were a major staple of how I had been eating.  Breakfast was a bagel or breakfast sandwich, lunch was another sandwich or rice bowl and dinner was usually rice, pasta or more sandwiches, and don’t forget dessert: cookies, cake, pie. More than half of what I ate was bread, pasta, potatoes or rice.  What else is there to eat? Coming up with low carb/ no carb replacements took more work than I was used to putting into shopping or cooking. Getting groceries took over an hour: is this low carb? does this have carbs or sugar? what about peas? are they Paleo-friendly? OMG! It took forever!

But again, the more I did it, the more normal it became. Instead of automatically thinking of dinner as meat and pasta or meat and rice, it’s meat and veg or meat and salad, or even just salad! Grocery shopping takes me a half an hour if there is a line for checkout and less if there isn’t. Going out to eat with friends isn’t a huge ordeal anymore: it’s another no-brainer instead of another anxiety-filled appointment like the one I had earlier this week. It’s not strange or difficult anymore because I am used to doing it.  It’s just getting over the ‘getting used to it.’

That’s where we need to push ourselves and that’s why we have to do it. We don’t need to take risks to be healthier, but we should push our comfort zone a little so that it keeps growing and we can keep growing with it.  Whether it’s trying a new food or a new way of eating or working out, we shouldn’t be afraid to grow.  Who knows? You might like it and you might even make some friends along the way.  The friend I mentioned above? I met her in my water aerobics class.