Knocking on the Door: Weight Loss & Trying Something New

One of the things I have in common with many of my friends is that we like to try new things.  That doesn’t mean we jump on any bandwagon that comes along or that we are always running out to buy the latest and greatest of something, but it does mean when an opportunity to try something new comes along, we are more willing to give it a shot than other people.  We try to keep an open mind about things.  One of my personal ‘rules’ is that I will usually try something new at least twice, just in the case the first time was a fluke, as in the new barista at the Starbucks made your coffee incorrectly or the obnoxious instructor at the gym was a sub the first time you showed up.

Another one of my personal rules is “if you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be ‘no.'”  Shortly after I started working for my boss, we had a situation where we needed to get a trial date continued and he was reluctant to ask opposing counsel to agree to a continuance.  I commented, “it doesn’t hurt to ask because he may say yes and if he doesn’t, you’re right where you are now.” The look on his face told me he’d never thought of it that way and we ended up getting the continuance.  What I didn’t tell him is that I learned this little mantra after constantly going through “worst case scenarios” most of my life, which seems a little backward.  By constantly looking at the negative side of things, I learned to be optimistic, i.e. I am already in the ‘worst case situation’ so if they tell me no, I haven’t lost anything and I might gain something if the answer is yes!

This philosophy works pretty well with trying new things. I remember when I first started at my gym: I was afraid to try the Water Aerobics class.  I didn’t know what it was and the class description wasn’t very descriptive. I didn’t want to show up only to be told I couldn’t participate or that it was too much for me to do blah blah blah excuse excuse.  Eventually, I showed up at the pool in the middle of one of the classes by mistake and it looked like the members were having a lot of fun but I sat on the sidelines. Then the instructor asked me if I wanted to join them so I did. Now I realize that my only obstacles to joining the class were my own fear and doubt. The only thing holding me back was me!

Trying new things does require a little bravery and an open mind. You have to be willing to take a chance.  You also have to be willing to take a little criticism, both constructive and sometimes simply rude.  I got a lot of both when I started following Paleo, but I’ve not regretted it one bit. (Okay, so I do miss bread!) The truth is I tried it and it works for me and I like it a lot.  Whatever criticism I’ve gotten hasn’t been enough to change my mind, especially given all the benefits of Paleo for me.

However, we have to be a bit judicious about trying new things.  Jumping on every bandwagon that comes along isn’t a good idea.  Just because something is “new” doesn’t mean it’s great or even good, or that it will work for you.  Keto is one of the newest trends in weight loss.  I have tried it, but frankly, I like veggies too much to stay in ketosis.  A big part of my meals is usually a big salad or bowl of Brussels sprouts.  Another big trend is ‘fat bombs,’ especially for keto devotees. These are usually cream cheese or butter mixed with stevia and coco or another calorie free flavoring.  The idea is that you get a treat that won’t take you out of ketosis. They aren’t a bad idea, but they don’t work for me.  While they are keto-friendly, they are also full of calories (way more than Brussels sprouts!) and they don’t satisfy my hunger.  I can have two or three and still feel hungry but those two or three fat bombs have more calories than the big salad or bowl of coleslaw that will take me out of ketosis.

Kale is another one of these hot new ideas. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable which is being touted as a ‘superfood.’ Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts and are typically nutrient dense, high in fiber and low in starch.  They are also some of my favorite veggies, so I decided to try kale! I’d had in soup a few times but I learned that’s pretty much my limit for kale! Kale salads, creamed kale, sauteed kale are all a huge NO for me! I knocked on that door and now I’ve pad-locked it closed!

Some new ideas I don’t need to try out because I already know the answer, such as bulletproof coffee.  I like butter and I like coffee but I don’t need to try buttered coffee to know it doesn’t work for me.  An even worse suggestion is substituting coconut oil for the butter: I don’t like coconut flavored coffees. That doesn’t mean that they won’t work for someone else, and it doesn’t mean I won’t try them out later. I may find out that this is another instance where I am getting in my own way!

When I was in college, I took a German Short Fiction class and we spent a lot of time on Kafka, who is notoriously difficult.  One of the stories we read is called “Before The Law.”  It’s about a man who waits all his life for entry into the Law and never enters. Shortly before he dies, he asks the gatekeeper why no one else ever came to this door and he is told that “this doorway was made only for you.” This concept has stayed with me ever since.  If you don’t ask, the answer is always no and if you don’t knock, the door is always closed.  Something great may be waiting for you, but if you don’t even try, you will never know!

A Moment of Truth: Weight Loss & Right Now

I’ve heard it said that our lives are lived in moments, not hours or days.  When I look at my pets, I see that very clearly.  I know they remember what happened yesterday or this morning, but their focus is on what’s going on right now. We are taught all our lives to look to the future and make plans for tomorrow, but when it comes to staying on track with your weight loss and healthy eating, we need to be looking at right now.

Elizabeth Benton likes to refer to this as “staying in the moment” and that’s a good way of looking at it. It’s easier for me to remember as “right now.” (Too much MTV in my wasted youth!) What is the choice in front of me right now? Do I want to give up my goals for what I want right now? What is the best decision for me to make right now?  In so many ways, it flies in the face of what we have been taught since we were kids: we need to think of the future instead of right now!

It’s almost counter-intuitive: we plan for our future by acting right now.  If someone wants to split a dessert at lunch, do I want to delay reaching my goal for the cheesecake right now? Should I plan to work out tomorrow since I don’t want to work out right now? Right now, what is the best decision I can make for reaching my weight loss goals? While some of you are probably rolling your eyes, too often we get tricked into swapping out Right Now for the Future.  I want cheesecake right now so in the Future, I will work out an extra session / skip lunch, etc.  We get sucked into constructing big plans for the Future or digging up information on weight loss or fitness and instead of taking action Right Now, we are busy planning for the Future.

There is nothing wrong with planning for the Future.  It’s always a good thing to know where you are going and how you are going to get there, but when that planning gets in the way of taking action, it’s not helpful.  You can always do something real and concrete Right Now instead of waiting until sometime in the Future when you have all the information you think you need.  The problem is that there will always be new information coming out on health, fitness and weight loss so on any day, there will always be something we don’t know.  Information is not action and only action will get you to your goals!

When they say our lives are made up of moments, they are talking about all those “right nows.”  That’s what our future is built on: what happens to us in the future actually depends on what we do right now.  If we keep sacrificing our Right Now for some Future action, we will never take action and we will never reach our goals.  We build our Future out of those momentary Right Nows each of us face each day.  Right now, you can be walking during your lunch. Right now you can be shopping for healthy whole foods.  Right now you can be at your gym or joining one.  Right now you can be making a healthy meal.  Right now, you can be saying yes to Brussels sprouts and no to donuts.  This is where our Future comes from; it comes from what we do Right Now.  What are you doing Right Now?

Van Halen: Right Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Monsters: Weight Loss, Drama & Procrastination

I am the Queen of Procrastination.  My internal mantra chants daily ‘if you can do it another day, then do it another day!’ As a result, I have gotten very good at the Last Minute Scramble for a lot of things, such as paying bills, running errands and returning phone calls.  It’s also made me very hard-nosed when I am on the receiving end of another person’s Last Minute Scramble.  We have all been in  the situation where someone is begging for a favor because they waited as long as they could before doing whatever needs to be done. The classic response is “how does your failure to plan make this my emergency?”

In all honesty, I really hate that Last Minute Scramble and one of the reasons I am so hard-nosed is because I know I put myself in that situation by putting off the task day after day.  It’s a monster of my own making and I don’t let myself slide when it comes to taking the lumps for procrastinating, so I’m usually not going to let anyone else slide either! The more I hate it and the harder it is, you would think that I would do it less often, especially when it comes to situations that can become complicated.  (Once was enough with the Last Minute Scramble on taxes, believe me!) Unfortunately, it usually takes a few times before it finally sinks in.

When it comes to weight loss and working out, procrastinating has become Standard Operating Procedure for a lot of us.  You know the drill: I’ll start Monday/ next month/ after the holidays/ after whatever event or celebration.  The problem is that unlike bills, taxes or making it to the store before it closes, there is no deadline for weight loss! However skilled we might be at the Last Minute Scramble, it needs a ‘last minute’ in order to get us into gear, and when there is no last minute deadline, our weight loss and work out goals are just hanging out there in limbo. Forever.

No one who procrastinates likes to think of themselves as lazy.  Laziness and procrastination are two separate entities.  We can be lazy and not a procrastinator, and some of us put off certain tasks because we are too busy doing other tasks.  Some of us will put off these other tasks because they will require a lot of time and/ or concentration, so we wait until we can commit to them without distraction.  In other cases, especially my own, we put off unpleasant tasks because doing them is certainly not fun, i.e. taxes or bills.

For a lot of us, weight loss and working out fits all those categories: it’s a lot of work, takes up a lot of time and isn’t any fun at all! To be honest, when you look at it with that kind of mindset, I can see how it ends up on the Never-To-Do List! It’s right up there with “Colonoscopy” and “Root Canal!” When we moan and groan about “being on a diet” and “going to the gym” and having to “give up all the food I love,” we are only adding to the reasons to put it off until the second Tuesday of Never! It’s awful for us because we make it as awful as possible!

I go to the gym usually three times a week for water aerobics.  In the summertime, the classes are usually so full we run out of room in the pool, but once the cold weather gets here, the attendance drops off dramatically.  It’s cold; it’s rainy and no one wants to get out of the pool or the shower and walk out into a cold, wet parking lot.  Ugh! I thought about it earlier this week as I was hurrying into the gym and I knew it was going to be really chilly when I left class in about an hour or so.  There was a time when I would consider bailing out on the workout but now that it has become a firmly entrenched habit, the thought never crossed my mind.  Now I actually look forward to going to the gym.  It’s not that I’m a hard-core gym-rat: even though the point of going is getting a good workout, the focus is on seeing my friends. In fact, the third ‘class’ isn’t actually a class offered by the gym at all; it’s a bunch of us who show up at a pre-arranged time to work out together.  The activity itself hasn’t changed, but my mindset has.

I know there are books and other programs designed to help people with procrastination.  Building new, healthy or productive habits is a big business and for some of these, the focus is on stopping the procrastination.  In a way, it’s a little ironic: people want to do something about putting off tasks they don’t want to do! What many of us don’t realize is that it’s not your activity that has to change: it’s your focus and your mindset! When the focus shifted from ‘something I should do’ to ‘something I want to do,’ the workout stopped being a task to put off.  Why would I put off something I am looking forward to enjoying? There are times when I’m irritated because I have to ‘cram in the workout’ on a day when I have a lot to do already, but it’s not the workout that is annoying– it’s everything else that’s crowding my schedule!

The same thing is true when it comes to eating healthier.  When having something nutritious and healthy for dinner is something to look forward to instead of another chore to get done, it’s no longer something that needs to be put off.  I mentioned in a recent post that most of the time, people don’t realize how bad they feel on a normal basis because this is how they always feel.  They think they are fine because they have never felt any other way.  Example: where I live, I am surrounded by noise.  I live near a hospital with a helipad, a couple blocks from a fire station, a block away from railroad tracks and between two churches which also have schools. Between the ambulances, the helicopters, the  trains, the fire trucks, the church and school bells, there is always noise in the background at my house.  A few years ago, I went on vacation with my sister and her family and our hotel was literally across the street from a fire station.  The morning after our first night, everyone but me was complaining about “that fire truck blaring all night!” I didn’t hear a thing.  I am sure my ears heard the siren but since I hear sirens all the time, my brain didn’t wake me up.  It’s just normal background noise!

The same thing happens to us when we stop eating  junk food or highly processed foods.  Once we’ve stopped eating them for a while, we suddenly realize we feel different. We don’t feel tired or sluggish anymore; our digestive tract feels lighter or better; we have more energy and our sleep is more restorative.  Once we realize what it’s really like to feel good, we suddenly realize how bad we really felt before, especially if we relapse and go back to eating the unhealthier foods we used to eat.  After even a few days of eating more high carb/ high sugar foods than normal, I can feel a difference in my joints and my mood.  Even my sleep is different and it’s because of the change in my diet.

This realization that how I feel is directly tied to how I am eating has changed my focus.  Yes, I really want to lose weight but the real focus is “I don’t want to feel cruddy again.” Feeling cruddy isn’t something I look forward to, but feeling good? Sleeping well? Having more energy? Yes, I look forward to that! That is how I want to feel all the time, so eating healthier is not something to ‘put off for another day!’ There is also the bonus that I lose weight when I eat healthier and that eating the way I used to eat means I can start gaining weight.  I don’t need to gain weight to remember how awful I felt when I weighed 438 lbs.  Everything hurt and it hurt all the time!  So while others might think “I can start my diet in the New Year so it doesn’t ruin my holidays,” for me it’s the other way around: “I don’t want to ruin my holidays so I am sticking with my weight loss plan!”

When it comes to procrastinating, the only real Cure is changing how you think about it.  When you make it something you want to do, there is no reason to put it off.  We are used to tricking our kids into doing their homework or getting good grades by rewarding them and that is what we are doing with ourselves when it comes to things we would rather put off. Once we focus on the reward, it’s not a chore but something to enjoy.  Going to the pool gives me an opportunity to hang out with my friends.  That’s my ‘reward’ even though I also have more energy, flexibility and sleep better.  I do notice those benefits from the exercise, but honestly, I just like hanging out with my friends! In contrast, there is no reward for eating fast food or junk food for me: after eating it, I feel heavy, bloated, and cruddy.  It plays havoc on my digestive tract (not fun!) and actually causes pain in my joints.  Believe me, none of those things are ‘rewarding!’  Eating healthier and cleaner means I feel better overall and I also lose weight.  Why would I put off eating healthier and being more active for another day when I can do it now and feel great today?  All it takes is changing your focus!