Running in Place: Getting Nowhere FAST!

I am not talking about a treadmill, or elliptical or even a stationary bike here! This is when we are frantically trying to make progress, busting our butts to move forward and we aren’t going anywhere at all!  This is the most frustrating position we find ourselves in as we try to lose weight or become more fit.  It’s even more frustrating than figuring out where to start, because at least in that situation, you have some kind of direction: how do I get started?

When we are ‘doing everything right’ and not making progress, it’s almost unbearable.  Obviously, we aren’t doing everything right, but what is it we are doing wrong?  Maybe it’s nothing we are doing but what we aren’t doing.  Maybe it’s something external that’s affecting us.  Maybe it’s a plateau. Maybe, maybe, maybe!! Still not helping us move forward!! What do I do? How do I fix this? Can I even be fixed??

I know you don’t want to hear this but the best way to figure this out is to slow down.  We need to approach this like a detective or a doctor and ask a few simple questions to narrow down the culprit: 1) When did I stop making progress? and 2) What has changed since that date?  If you are tracking your progress, this should be a matter of looking back through your journal or whatever you use.  Of course there isn’t going to be a big red flag proclaiming: THIS IS WHEN YOU WENT OFF TRACK! so you need to look back at the last date you know you were on target and then move forward to the present.  This is why you need to slow down, because even though it’s only two questions, there are a lot of things that come into play and if you aren’t tracking all of them, or at least making notes, then it’s going to be a little more complicated.  Another big reason you need to slow down is that if you just start making arbitrary changes, like “I’ll eat more protein and less carbs!”; “I’ll add more reps/ time to my workouts!”; “I’ll switch up my workouts from cardio to weight training!”, you might not be addressing the problem.  If the problem is too many indulgences, working out more might help, but not as much as cutting back on the indulgences.  Also, if the problem is over-training, adding in more workouts is just going to make it worse!

Like I said, it helps if you are tracking and depending on your personality.  I use the My Fitness Pal app but I also use a paper journal. The MFP app is good for nutrition calculation, water, counting calories and it’s awesome for support.  I also use the Fitbit app for calculating sleep and activity and the paper journal is also where I track my food, portions, macros, calories and all the little incidentals that I don’t put in MFP simply because it’s easier to write a little note and it’s a whole lot easier to flip through.  The paper journal I use is the DietMinder from MemoryMinder.com, although I get mine from Amazon.  It’s two pages per day and it’s good for 90 days.

When you start looking at your notes or journal, what you want to look for are things like the obvious and then move on to some of the more stealthy culprits:

  1. Too many calories, even if it’s just creeping up or down by a few calories a day or are you not being accurate with your portion sizes?
  2. Macros (fat, protein, carbs)- did your ratio change?
  3. Activity- are you moving more, less or did you change your routine?
  4. Sleeping less? Or more? Not good sleep?
  5. Stress level: up or down
  6. Water- how much are you getting?
  7. Other changes in eating habits, like eating out more, eating more or less salty/ sugary/ different foods; or fasting
  8.  Injury or illness: obviously if you’re hurt or sick, your body is going to put most of the focus on repair and recovery or it could affect your activity level
  9. Medication changes: this can have a huge impact on how your body burns or stores fuel!

One of the stupidest (and yes, I mean STUPID) statements I heard on My 600 lb Life is when a patient poo-poohed Dr. Now’s calorie limit, because she said “I can look at a food and immediately calculate the number of calories, the protein and the fat in it.” Seriously!! I almost fell out of my chair when I heard that! I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating portion sizes, but I still weigh my food to make sure that I’m eating the amount I think I’m eating, because calories sneak up on you this way.  They also get away from you the same way.  I fry some bacon and I think it’s about two ounces but it’s more like three, so there’s a lot more calories than I had estimated.  At the same time, if I think I’ve eaten more veggies than I have, then there’s less calories, but also less fiber and less vitamins.  Macros matter mainly because fat and protein tend to keep you feeling fuller longer than carbs do, so it may be that you think you’re getting enough of those necessary nutrients but you aren’t and as a result, you feel hungry and eat more.

It can also be that you’ve stopped being as active as you used to be while your calories have stayed the same.  That can be really confusing, because it may feel like you’re really busy, but that can be the stress playing tricks on you.  Stress and lack of sleep will also mess with your progress in big ways: your body goes into survival mode even if the stress isn’t physical.  The brain is still sending the Under Attack signal to your hormones and as a result you tend to store fat instead of burning it and you can also feel more hungry since the body is trying to hold on to everything it can, including food, fat and water.

Changes in medication can be really stealthy culprits and one of the biggest is insulin.  Many people who are obese are type 2 diabetic and if your doctor has you on a medication that produces or mimics insulin or suppresses your satiety hormone leptin or increases the hunger hormone ghrelin, you could be storing more fat due to insulin or insulin mimic, not feeling full when you’ve eaten enough (leptin) or feeling hungry all the time (ghrelin).  Several of my family members have been on steroids, especially Prednisone, which makes you feel hungry all the time! You never feel full while taking it! If your doctor has given you a new prescription or made changes, read the pamphlet that comes with it or look at some of the side effects that come with it.  Talk to your doctor or your pharmacist, because it may be a drug interaction that is behind it and not just the drug itself.  FYI: this includes herbal supplements and vitamins!

If you think you’ve found the culprit sabotaging your progress, you not only need to make changes, you need to track those changes! Note the changes you’re making and then give yourself some time to see if there is improvement.  Again, I know you don’t want to hear that we need to slow down, but seriously, if you’ve upped your workout times or changed your macros or calories, are you really going to see a change in three days or even a week? It may be the right change for you but if you wait a week and nope- not improving! let’s switch to keto!, you may have just sabotaged yourself!

Slowing down really stinks, but if you don’t take the time to figure out what’s going on and what you need to do, it doesn’t matter how “fast” you go or think you are going- because you still won’t be getting anywhere! Patience, tracking and a little investigation can go a long way to fixing problems that result in progress, even if it doesn’t feel like it.  Most of us would rather be fast than thorough, including me! When I feel like that, I look at Wyatt Earp’s quote stuck on my cubicle wall: “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” Bulls-eye!

 

 

Weight Loss From the 438 lbs POV: Overwhelmed & Paralyzed

I vividly remember being here.  I’m miserable.  Everything hurts. I know I need to do something, but I don’t know what to do.  It’s an overwhelming and utterly hopeless feeling.  It’s that Deer in the Headlights paralysis: I know I need to move but I just can’t.

It’s easy to look back at this situation and think “just do something! anything!” But at the time, I was so busy being focused on the problem that I wasn’t looking at ways around the problem. This is where most of us start and after having been on this wild ride for a while, I think it’s the hardest part! It’s like looking at a pile of shattered glass and being told you need to reassemble the Baccarat vase it used to be! We’re looking at the mess we made of our own bodies and, while we know we need to fix it, we don’t know where or how to begin.

Newton’s First Law of Physics: A body at rest stays at rest and a body in motion tends to remain in motion unless acted on by an external force.  I lucked out: an external force acted upon me and literally pushed me down the road to weight loss.  I would love to say that I found my way out of the headlights and figured out how to get started on my own, but truthfully, I got a helpful push, even though it didn’t really feel ‘helpful’ at the time.  This push (quitting the Job From Hell) required that I make essentially one change to my eating habits: I stopped eating out as much (unemployed- so no money!)  I was still eating out, still eating processed junk food, but it was less.  That one change alone is how I lost the first 40 lbs.  After that, I was a body in motion and all I had to do was stay in motion.

It’s getting in motion that is the hard part! We are fighting not only the inertia and the bad habits that have become deeply ingrained in our daily routines but also the feeling of being absolutely overwhelmed.  I can give you a whole bunch of descriptive metaphors, but most of us have been in that spot and are already too familiar with how it feels.  We’re trying to forget that feeling!

My advice: do something! anything! even if it’s the WRONG thing, it gets you in motion, and once there, you are literally on a roll.  Once you are headed somewhere, it’s easier to change direction than it is to start up again from a stopped position.  Of course, bouncing from one strategy to another isn’t helpful either but once you find something that works for you, it’s still easier to stick with that one strategy than to start from scratch again.

However, before you deal with that possibility, you first have to get moving, and that’s way easier said than done!  It’s NOT impossible and I don’t want to scare the living daylights out of you by telling you how hard it is, but I think recognizing that it’s not easy either gives you a better perspective and a better starting position.  I was listening to a podcast the other day where the host and his guest were giggling over how sometimes people overlook the simple fixes in favor of the more complex ‘fashionable’ trend of the day: “you want to lose weight? Track your calories! Fewer calories than you burn and you lose weight!” While it’s hard to argue with his logic, there was a part of me that was really offended by his attitude.  Yes, I agree with tracking; it helps with a lot of things besides calorie counting.  I also agree that trying the simple fix first is a better position than going for ‘fashionably complex and trendy.’  What offended me was his attitude that being stuck means you’re being stupid about it.  Personally, I was also offended by his attitude that low carb dieting is one of those fashionably complex temporary fixes.

I tried for more years than I want to admit to lose weight counting calories and eating those healthy whole grains, and it got me nowhere.  I tried the ‘simple fix’ and it didn’t work, so now what?  Being stuck and being overwhelmed does not make you stupid or hopeless, though the world is pretty good at making sure you think you are (like these two gigglers!) It means that your problem- your weight and your body- are not like the run-of-the-mill dieters out there.

Looking back from the vantage point of being un-stuck, I can see where I made my biggest blunder, and it was focusing on the problem!  Realizing that is one of those Homer Simpson moments for me (D’oh!! **smack**) because problem-solving is actually one of my better skills, but not with weight loss apparently.  I was looking at my weight- the number on the scale- and I was so focused on “OMG, I am so huge I will never be a normal weight or healthy again!”  What I should have been focused on was “what is one change I can make to improve my nutrition?” Wrong focus: “I’ve tried Nutrisystem; I’ve tried counting calories and nothing works for me!” Better focus: “Those don’t work so what haven’t I tried?”

It’s the difference between staying in motion and staying at rest. It’s easy to stay at rest, not moving, fretting over my weight and how “nothing works!”  You get so worked up but you aren’t actually moving- it just feels like you are.  Actually doing something is much harder.  It requires effort; it requires hope.  You have to hope that this next thing will work and then you actually have to try it!   Yes, the effort to get moving is a lot greater because you have been standing still, but you are worth that effort! It takes work to get moving.  It takes work to look for new strategies, and there’s a lot of energy invested not only in looking and hoping but also the doing. As I said, I vividly remember being in that position, so much so that I remember what street I was driving down when I was trying to talk myself into just giving up and being fat and unhealthy the rest of my miserable life.

There are some things in life that we all know are a real pain in the butt and are a major hassle: things like changing jobs, moving, repainting and remodeling your home.  We have jokes about them, like how all our friends are out of town the week you have to move into the new apartment.  We expect that it’s a hassle so we kind of mentally and sometimes physically prepare ourselves for it.  We toughen up and go into it with a “get it done!” attitude and if we are tired and sore from lugging boxes and packing up stuff, we expect it and deal with it.  It’s the cost of moving to a new place!  We don’t think of losing weight like that, and I think that’s why we are overwhelmed and confused.

“Why is this so hard?”  That’s what I remember thinking over and over again. I felt so powerless to do anything about my weight. Trying to find something new, even the thought of just trying again felt so hard, and everything in my head kept telling me that ‘weight loss shouldn’t be hard!’  It was like the giggling podcast guest was in my head back then: “just count calories!” Yeah… doesn’t work, jerk! Sometimes it takes a bit more than just ‘the simple fix!’

Getting started is both hard and easy: getting yourself in motion is hard because you are fighting the inertia, the feelings of hopelessness and powerless, the realization that it’s going to be a long hard fight, but you only need to make one change.  That’s the easy part. Make one healthy improvement to your nutrition.  It doesn’t have to be something major or something complex or awe-inspiring: it just has to be something better than what you are doing now.  With me, it was simply eating out less.  Not even ‘no eating out’- just ‘less than what I was doing before.’  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) made a similar change with fast food when she started.  That one change for me and for her started us moving and once in motion, we stayed in motion.

When we take the right approach to the task at hand, I think we are better prepared for the obstacles that come up along the way.  Thinking something is going to be easy and then finding out it’s much harder than we anticipated can knock us on our butts, and once down, we are tempted to stay there.  When we realize that the job is going to be  a tough one, we are better prepared and we expect that problems will arise: we start looking for ways to head them off.  Losing weight is not the no-brainer some of the supposed professionals tell us it is, but neither is it an impossibility.  It’s a hard job, but it’s one we can all do if we prepare for it and do the work.  We may get knocked down a few times (I know I’ve kissed the canvas quite a lot!) but once down, we need to get back up.  Remember: a moving target is harder to hit!

 

 

When We Believe Our Own Lies

This occurred to me recently when I was really tempted to do the “quick and simple thing” and get something for dinner that wasn’t the best choice.  It wasn’t exactly junk food: I thought I could pick up something at El Pollo Loco on my way home from the gym. I think they have good food, healthier than most, and I wanted to get a salad, but…. the salad dressing which I love has too many processed oils and if I got the salad I wanted, there’s the flour tortilla shell , so “I’ll just not eat that!” Yeahhhhh, riiiight!

And therein lies the problem.  I’ll tell myself I’ll only use half the dressing and not eat the tortilla shell, but we all know that won’t happen! Then I figured well, when I add it into MFP (My Fitness Pal), I don’t have to put in the tortilla shell or the dressing…. It was at this point that I stopped the bargaining with myself.  It doesn’t matter what I put in MFP or my paper journal- what matters is what I put in my mouth! I can lie to MFP and I can lie to myself, but I can’t lie to my body! My body knows what I ate and it’s not going to ‘fudge’ the calories or the processed oils or the carbs just because I ‘fudged’ on my food journals! I can lie to everyone-even myself-  and I can even believe the lie that “that little detour isn’t going to set me back much,” but my body and metabolism will show the truth: blood sugar spikes, cravings, and delayed progress on my goals.

It was the plain simple reality: if I really wanted to make progress, then choosing the Pollo Loco salad wasn’t going to get me there and no amount of lying or ‘fudging’ was going to change that either! Do I really want to make progress? Yes.  Will that food choice get me there? No.  So, I had my answer, and I came home from the gym and had the leftover rotisserie chicken and green salad that were in the fridge.

I’ve bargained with myself so many times over similar situations, and unfortunately, I’m pretty good at talking myself into bad decisions (not just with food and fitness, either!) This is where most of us run into trouble: bargaining to get what we want, and usually we ‘win’ because we want to believe the lie we tell ourselves.  We want to believe that eating the birthday cake at our nephew’s party won’t hold us back any more than the pizza at the same birthday party and the cookies and the fruit punch. “It’s one day!”  We tell ourselves that “we are adults and we’re entitled to make our own choices and eat what we want!”  Yup! Absolutely true- 100%! You are totally entitled to eat all the pizza, donuts, chocolate, Rice Krispy treats, and anything else you want to eat.  They don’t have food police (yet) and you aren’t breaking any diet-related laws.  But, you probably won’t make a whole lot of progress towards your goals either.  We trick ourselves into believing that we can eat all the ‘forbidden foods’ and still make progress. We’ll do some extra workouts, or we’ll fast the next day or two, or- when we fail to do those things- it’s just one day or one donut or one tostada salad with fried tortilla shell and creamy cilantro dressing!

‘One’ probably won’t do terrible damage to your progress, but even though we tell ourselves it’s only ‘one,’ is it really just ‘one’?  This is why I like to keep a paper food journal (it’s easier to flip through than an app)- I can go back and look at all the ‘ones’ that weren’t going to set me back: there’s the cashew brittle from See’s Candy; there’s the chocolate cake from O’Brien’s Market; there’s the pretzel bagels from Trader Joe’s, and the licorice, and the white cake from Safeway…. and you can see it’s a whole lotta ‘ones’! But each time I persuaded myself that it’s just one, it really wasn’t.  It was just the latest in a long string of ‘ones’!  All of those little detours took me so far off track that I gained back almost twenty lbs! I remember thinking ‘how the heck did I get here?!’ and it was really simple: I believed the lies I wanted to believe.  I am a great liar and I lied to myself about how these ‘ones’ didn’t matter! Twenty pounds later, the reality is that one and one and one and one  ad infinitum eventually add up!

This doesn’t mean that we need to deny ourselves every little treat forever out of fear of gaining or going off track, but we need to be realistic when it comes to taking detours.  Sometimes we are very good when it comes to policing our families and our pets.  I know when my furry children want extra treats or ask for something that’s not good for them, I am pretty good at telling them no for their own good.  Too many treats make for a fat kitty or a pup with an upset stomach, but when it comes to me? Well, one treat won’t be too bad…….. and so it begins! (Maybe if I put the pets in charge of my treats…..???) This is one of the reasons I keep the paper journal to flip through when I start thinking that “one isn’t the end of the world” because yes, the world will go on but my weight loss probably won’t! Is the licorice or pretzel bagel or whatever it is really worth the setback?  Maybe it won’t be such a setback on its own, but on top of what I ‘treated’ myself to yesterday, it’s just too much too soon.  This is why we need to take a good hard look at what we are telling ourselves and take an objective assessment.  In plain language, are we lying to ourselves again? Hint: if you need to convince yourself or rationalize it, then, yeah, you probably are lying! If it really were a good choice, you don’t need to explain or rationalize or bargain yourself into making the decision.  When was the last time you had to convince yourself to eat the broccoli or carrots?

Sometimes, it’s not as cut and dried as salad v chocolate cake, and you would think it would get easier, but… (oh, you knew it was coming!) the longer we are on this journey, the more complicated the choices become.  It really is an interactive test: once you get past the easy questions, ie the Salad v Cake level, they start getting more complicated: how much is a ‘real’ serving?; how can you tell when you are really ‘satisfied’ v eating until you feel full?; which processed foods are too processed and where do you draw the line?  This really is a good thing, although it won’t always feel like it. It’s because you are getting better at making the easy choices that you are starting to recognize the subtleties in the harder choices. Let’s face it: when you mostly eat fast food like I did, the question of bottled salad dressing full of processed vegetable oils never comes up! You’re still salad v fries level and salad is obviously better.  Once the salad becomes your default choice, then you start realizing that you can improve on the choices you’re making, and you take it to the next level.  It’s a sign of your continued growth and improvement.

If we do decide that the treat is worth it- and sometimes they are- we need to remember 1) it is a treat, which by definition means it’s something out of the ordinary! [‘Daily’ is not a treat- that’s a meal!]; 2) If it’s not worth it, don’t eat it! One of the mindsets we develop over the years is that if we start to eat something, we think we need to finish it.  Part of it is the ‘don’t waste food’ mindset, which isn’t a bad one, but at the same time, if we start eating something and it really isn’t enjoyable, stop eating it!  Either throw it away, save it for another day or feed it to the pets! It’s like the old joke where one woman is telling her friend about dinner at a restaurant: “the food was really awful!! And the portions were so small!!”  Admittedly, it took me a while to get that joke because that was my mindset: eat the food even if it’s awful, because not eating it is wasteful. But if it doesn’t taste good, why eat it?  Especially if it’s supposed to be a treat! Eating something awful isn’t a treat- it’s a punishment!

Before we end up putting the treat in our grocery cart, however, we need to take a good long look at what we are telling ourselves: are we justifying the choice because it’s what we want to hear or are we being honest about our choice? My biggest hint really is the rationalization/ bargaining beforehand: if I have to explain my choice to myself, then it’s probably a lie.  I’m not too tired or too busy to work out.  I don’t need the cookies, bagels or toast because “I’ve been really good.”  If I want something special, then it better be worth the effort!  The problem is not only is it easier to believe the lies we tell ourselves, but we really want to believe them! We want to eat the foods that comfort and please us and we want to make progress too! We really want love getting results, but then that carrot cake looks so good! It might even taste good, but the truth is when you stop making progress, that carrot cake will be pretty bitter.  Lies never taste as good as the truth.

 

 

Stop the All the Drama and Take A Lesson From Johnny Depp

Most of us probably realize that we make our own obstacles.  One of things I used to say about our clients at my old job is that they make their own problems and they are good at what they do!  It’s not only true about our clients (it was a bankruptcy law firm) but it also reminded me that I’m pretty dang good at it too!

We are really good at getting in our own way: when we buy things at the grocery store that we know we shouldn’t be eating; when we schedule things right in the middle of our workout appointments; when we choose restaurants and other eateries that we know won’t have a great selection for us.  We make things harder for ourselves when we do these things.  Sometimes we make these decisions in a fit of optimism- “I can buy my kids the Oreos and not eat any!”; “I can meet my friends for drinks and make one beer last all night!” When we are successful, we feel really proud of ourselves and that adds to our growing confidence, but the reverse is also true: failure usually means we come down on ourselves pretty hard.  Normally, we don’t just criticize ourselves- we annihilate ourselves! It isn’t just that we were ‘foolishly optimistic’ in thinking we could say no to the Oreos, drinks or whatever: we were stupid! how could I be so weak?! how could I think I could say no when I never have before?! what’s wrong with me?! and so on and so on.

Yes, because we could not say no and stop eating the Oreos, we are the worst person on the planet.  Talk about drama! We eat a whole sleeve of cookies and we treat ourselves like something the cat threw up! I know: I’ve done it to myself more times than I can count- pointing the finger at the woman in the mirror here.  I have had to slap myself metaphorically to put things in perspective.  It’s cookies, not nuclear weapons! I’m not roasting puppies or running over helpless little old ladies! Frankly, I don’t think I treat myself as badly as some of my fitness friends do: the things they say about themselves when they screw up are shocking and a more than a little scary sometimes.  Maybe it’s because I have more distance on the situation than they do and I am not emotionally tied to their mistake, but yikes!

The truth is that we are much harder on ourselves than we are on others.  The same friend who says horrible things about herself will be genuinely sympathetic and encouraging to someone else who made a similar mistake, and I think that’s key in learning to deal with our own failings.  If you can’t say it to someone else, don’t say it to yourself!  That is pretty much the philosophy that I am using with myself now. When I screw something up, #1) I try to learn from it; and #2) I don’t beat myself up over it.  Yeah, we blew it- so why did we blow it and how can we move forward from here?  I treat myself like I am one of my fitness friends. I admit, it was a little weird at first (it still is!) but so far, I think it’s working. I’m not letting myself wallow in recrimination, self-pity and melodrama. Instead I am focusing on moving forward.  In a way, it forces me to stay positive, focus on my goals and making the next best choice.

One of the other things that happens to us when we keep crushing our own spirits because we don’t meet our expectations is that it makes us afraid to try anything new or different.  This whole aspect of ‘Fearing New and Different’ usually gets overlooked in all the drama we heap on ourselves, but this is just as important as not burying ourselves in criticism.  I came across a quote from Johnny Depp this morning: “I like the challenge of trying different things and wondering whether it’s going to work or if I’m going to fall flat on my face.” We don’t grow if we don’t push our boundaries. If we stay in our safe little routine, all we do is stagnate safely .  I am a good one for loving my little routine: if it’s 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, I’m at my water aerobics! If’s it’s a Sunday afternoon, I’m usually at the grocery store! et cetera, et cetera. Being a routine-a-holic works for me and against me: it’s harder to get me out of my safe routine, so I am less likely to get into trouble, but at the same time, it keeps me locked into doing things one way all the time.  Trying something new, whether a new food, new exercise plan, or new way of eating means I risk screwing up.  I might not like the new thing, or I might be really bad at it, or it could really derail the progress I’ve already made.  We’ve learned to fear failure and I don’t think it’s a good thing.  New = risk while routine = safe.  It looks like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Stay safe and keep doing what works for you!  Most of us only try new things when our safe routine stops working for us. (OMG! Now what do I do?!)

But staying safe really does mean stagnation and stagnation is boring. How can you know if you are good at something or even if you like it until you try it?  What keeps most of us from trying new or different is that fear of failure again.  What if I screw it up? What if I don’t like it?  What if I’m really bad at it? Here’s one: what if you like it even if you are really bad at it? A couple of months ago, I took a belly dancing class and I discovered a few things about myself: 1) I am really not coordinated!; 2) I really really suck at belly dancing!; and 3) I am so damn stubborn, I went out and bought a DVD after the class ended! I definitely fell flat on my face with that one! But even though I stink at it, I like it.  It’s a good exercise (the reason I took it) and if I quit now, I lose the opportunity to get better.  I also learned that it helps my balance, coordination and flexibility.  I don’t have to great at it to enjoy it; I just have to keep trying!  Even though I was probably one of the worst dancers in the class (if not the worst!) I learned a lot and I had a lot of fun while I was dancing badly.  I was also a little embarrassed, a little frustrated and really sorry when the class ended.  Hence, getting the DVD and I’ll be signing up in the fall for the next class. Yes, it’s challenging, and yes, it means I figuratively fell on my face, but it also means I challenged myself.  I refuse to be sorry for learning new things, for trying something different or for failing to be perfect.  Odds are I will keep pushing my boundaries. Another favorite Johnny Depp quote that works here? “Now bring me that horizon!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Myth of Multi-Tasking: Laser Sights v Scattershot 

It’s kind of weird how something you hear that is seemingly unimportant sticks with you and actually becomes influential in your life. Many years ago, I was buying a printer-copier and the salesperson was asking me what I planned on doing with the machine: did I want to print text? photos? copying? faxing? And he told me that the more things the machine does, the fewer things it does well. This idea has stuck with me for literally fifteen years because it’s also true about us: the fewer things we are doing, the fewer things we are doing well.  While people like to brag about being able to multi-task, the reality is that people cannot multi-task.  We are just jumping back and forth from one task to another.  It looks like we are doing many things at once but what we are really doing is bouncing around.  The more we bounce around, the more chances there are to miss something, the less time we have to focus on each task and so there are fewer things we do well.

When I worked for the Boss From Hell, she insisted that everyone in the office multi-task.  I was used to bouncing from one task to another, most of which were scattered on my desk, but it really bothered our associate who much preferred to concentrate on one task, do it well and move on to the next task.  Another great truth I learned at that job: really smart people know we all work differently and let others work the ways that work best for them but insecure people micro-manage out of fear of losing control.  This is exactly what happened at the Job From Hell.  While multi-tasking isn’t my preferred work method, I am used to bouncing around.  Frankly, it comes with being a secretary- er, legal assistant:  I have to drop what I’m doing to answer the phone or the door and deal with whatever/ whoever just dropped into  our laps.  I also have to keep an eye on what I was doing at the time and what is next on my list.

While lawyers also have to do a little of this (emergency motions, client crises or a sudden call from someone you’ve been waiting for), most of that outside noise and interference has to get by me first.  (My boss’s callers think he’s the busiest guy on the planet because he’s always in a conference or on a courtcall!) What’s really going on is that he’s working on a project (someone’s demand or lawsuit) and doesn’t need the interruption.  While this is a good thing, in that it allows him to concentrate and do his best work and actually work faster, most callers don’t really understand that he’s in the middle of a project because we have all be taught that we “need to multi-task!”- He needs to take their call now!

The Associate at the Job From Hell hated being forced to multi-task.  He hated being interrupted when he was trying to concentrate and whenever he protested, the Boss would just screech at him about multi-tasking. He used to point out that multi-tasking is a myth, since the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. (Since he got his undergraduate degree in microbiology from UC Davis, I tend to agree with him!) I didn’t need much convincing, since I was already of the opinion that, like most machines, the more things we do at once, the fewer we do well.  I’ve seen evidence in my work when there are misspellings and wrong names/ words used in documents because someone interrupts me while I’m working.  This is why I am such a fiend about proof-reading! (I even hate finding errors in my blog posts!) Mistakes happen when we are distracted, and really that is what’s happening when we are bouncing from one task to another: we are being distracted by other tasks we are supposed to be working on.

This doesn’t mean that we should stick to doing one task at a time; most of us can handle a little bouncing around, especially if we’re parents.  I know I do a lot of it at home: putting something on the stove, letting the dog out, filling their water bowl, responding to a text, sorting through the mail, etc.  It’s a normal way of life! Women are usually stereotyped as being better at multi-tasking than men since in hunter-gatherer societies, women did the gathering, child-minding and house/ camp-keeping.  Men were out hunting.  One task for the men and many tasks for the women.  I don’t know how true that is since I’m guessing there’s more than just “one thing” when it comes to hunting, but this is what society has loaded us with.  It was the Boss From Hell’s justification for why the Associate wasn’t good at multi-tasking: he’s a guy!

This idea that we should and can be able to multi-task is a problem when it comes to losing weight and eating better, especially if we are new to it.  It is one more thing we are doing on top of everything else going on in our lives.  It should be easy.  The ‘experts and professionals’ keep telling us that it is easy.  I will tell you that it does get easier, especially if you have been doing it for a while.  It gets a bit like driving a car: the stuff you can do without thinking about (like keeping the car in the lane, slowing for a turn) gets shoved to the back of the brain while you focus on the important stuff, like the car in front of you cutting you off.  Once you know what you normally get at restaurants and supermarkets, you don’t have to struggle so much over which foods have sugar and what entrees are full of carbs or vegetable oils: you learn the brands and the foods that work best for you and it’s like staying in your lane. That way, you can stay focused on the harder stuff, like keeping your scheduled workouts when other things start crowding your schedule.

But like anything else, the more things you have clamoring for your attention, the less attention gets paid to those smaller details.  I have learned the hard way that when I am on the phone with friends while I’m shopping, I am more likely to come home with things I didn’t intend to buy and really don’t need.  How did it happen? “Oooh, is this new? what’s in it? chat chat chat (and it goes in the cart and in my bag and then I get home and) how did this get here? It’s not good for me!” It’s simple: I was distracted and wasn’t paying attention.  I was ‘multi-tasking.’ This is what happens when we get stressed either by something demanding our attention or when our schedules change unexpectedly: the things that were pretty routine and didn’t take a lot of time and attention suddenly get ‘lost in translation.’ We forget about them because they were so automatic before or they just get pushed out of the way: we miss a workout because something else is now in that timeslot and then our workout never makes it back on our schedule because it’s Friday and ‘that’s not a workout day.’  We were bouncing from one task to another and, because our focus is somewhere else, suddenly we realize we are out of our healthy routine- “how the heck did that happen? I know this! I had this! This should be a no-brainer by now!”

Before you start kicking yourself for screwing up, don’t even go there! Stop and think about everything you have on your plate right now, even the ‘no-brainer’ stuff, like picking up the kids from school; paying the bills; putting gas in the car; keeping and making appointments for the family, the pets, yourself; things like grocery/ shopping lists; getting the car serviced; and other little things, like birthdays, anniversaries, returning family/ friend phone calls.  Anything special going on like a wedding or graduation? It’s that time of year! Planning a vacation or long weekend? It’s that time of year too! And that’s not including everything you have going on at work! And on top of all of ‘normal life,’ you’re trying to eat better and keep your workouts.  “Let’s see: I can get in a workout after I get the tires rotated and picking up Mom and Dad’s anniversary gift on Tuesday and then I can get in another one on Saturday after I drop the dog at the groomers and before Jeffery’s soccer game that afternoon. Oh, yeah! I got to pick up the dog too!”  Welcome to the Real World! This is why so many people start out with great plans to eat better and get more activity and then fall flat on their faces.  It’s a lot to juggle and juggling is not only hard (you try keeping all those balls in the air!) but it takes a heck of a lot of determination (ha- you thought I was going to say ‘practice’ didn’t you!)

I’m saying determination this time because we are inevitably going to screw it up now and then.  When that happens, we can either give it up or we can keep it up: it’s our choice. But when we tell ourselves that we’re doing something wrong or there’s something wrong with us, that’s when we usually give up in confusion and frustration.  The only thing ‘wrong’ is that idea that we can keep adding task after task onto our lists and schedules and expect them all to fit in and if they don’t, it’s because we aren’t ‘good enough.’  Not true! There are only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week and 52 weeks in a year: we cannot fit in every task we want to do or even need to do, no matter how good we are at ‘multi-tasking.’  Those who are good at it learn to prioritize: what needs to get done now, what can be done later and what can be done when we have time (those are my categories anyway, for better or worse).  Sometimes we have to ask for help (can you pick up the dog so I can hit the gym?) or sometimes we have to let something go (looks like I’ll have to do skip that kombucha class I wanted to take). This is where I will challenge you to keep yourself a priority: you might not be one of the ‘things that need to get done now’ but do not put yourself as one of the ‘things to get done when I have time.’ When you are tempted to drop yourself off your list, remember: when you feel better and are healthier, you are a better parent, better spouse, better friend and better employee.  Short-changing yourself means you are short-changing everyone else in your life.  You may not have to learn to juggle your schedule, but a little bouncing might not hurt too much, and when the balls start dropping on you, take a deep breath and try again! You are worth the effort (and so is everyone else in your life!)

 

 

You Are More Than Just Your Body!

I was listening to yet another podcast today and some of the things the guest mentioned  really irritated me.  It’s a viewpoint that I hear now and then, and each time it really makes me what to stand up and shout at someone: it’s the idea that women are emotional over how their bodies look because they are most often judged by their appearance.  As I said, this point of view really lights my fuse because it’s a freaking stereotype! Of course, that does not mean that it isn’t true: a lot of women get very emotional over gaining weight and all people are often judged on their appearance.  This entire idea that women are generally ashamed and emotional over their appearance is one of the few things that makes me angry, and frankly, I am pretty slow to anger.

This whole stereotype confused me for a long time while I was growing up.  I have been told all my life that I am an atypical female. (In our gender-fluid modern culture, I should clarify that I was born and remain a heterosexual female.) Maybe because I was mostly raised by my dad, I have been told that I lack certain ‘female’ mannerisms (like primping and flirting); that I tend to shop like a man (I go to the store, buy what I came for and leave), and that I approach problems like a man (offer a solution rather than commiserating).  I’ve read a few essays on the way men and women communicate and think (my favorites are by Deborah Tannen) and I have come to the conclusion that I have a male-oriented outlook about a lot of things.  This means that when men get confused or irritated when their wives/ girlfriends cry “my butt is huge!,” I am just as confused and irritated as they are: “so, what am I supposed to do about it? You’re the one who keeps buying the chocolate cake/ pasta/ frappucinos.” I don’t mean to sound callous, because I have also looked in the mirror and said the same thing: “damn, my butt is ginormous!!” but usually it’s without the wail of “this happened to me against my will.”  When I acknowledge my butt/ thighs/ ankles/ whatever is fat/ huge/ not looking the way I would like it to look, it’s usually accompanied by irritation at myself, because I am the reason it doesn’t look the way I want.  I don’t want someone to tell me what isn’t true- that my butt is not ginormous when I can clearly see that it is- but a few good ideas about how to make it smaller might be appreciated!  Of course, this is not what most women want; they want to be reassured they are still worthy of being loved, because for some women, their self-worth is wrapped up in a small butt and other assorted body parts.

For most of my life, my own self-assessments regarding body size were also accompanied by feelings of helplessness, disappointment and more than a little confusion.  Why wasn’t I able to make the changes that I wanted to make?  In most cases, it’s simply because it was hard work, but even when I did do the work, I didn’t get the results I wanted (I’m still blaming those 11 daily servings of ‘healthy whole carbs aka grains’ the USDA advised me to eat but whatever…!) I mostly missed the whole emotional stigma of being seen as ugly or unattractive by the rest of society, most likely because I have been overweight almost all my life. The constant criticism grew to be just more background noise in a sea of noise constantly telling me how I didn’t measure up to what ‘society’ says women should be. I wasn’t ‘girlish enough’; I made guys feel inadequate by being smarter than they were; I was too independent.  Geez! How dare I base my feelings of self-worth on my independence, intelligence and judgment! I was lucky: these were the things that were valued in my family. My dad never said he was disappointed my sister and I weren’t boys: he took us camping, shooting and fishing just the same. Nor did he encourage us to be “girly.” He did encourage us to read, make our own choices and do what we believed is the right thing to do.  Most of the women in my family are strong, opinionated and independent, even my maternal grandmother, who was not one of my favorite people. The men in my family treat them as equals, and although there were some traditional roles that were respected, it was never about ‘the women not being equal.’ No one in my family was judged on what they looked like, whether it was genetic (shortness and glasses run in my family) or whether it was about their weight (we have all sizes): any judgments were made on their choices.  If you chose to party all night and blow off your midterms, you really screwed up and they would let you know it! Being overweight, wearing glasses, being 4’10”, losing your hair, or being tall and thin- it was just a fact of life! You are who you are!

So whenever I hear people complaining about how ugly they look, how overweight they are, how some body part doesn’t look the way it’s “supposed to look,” I get pretty irritated.  I believe it perpetuates the idea that we all need to fit into stereotypical roles and if we don’t fit, we get dinged for it.  Somehow, we screwed up and we should be ashamed of ourselves.  I think it’s a little funny that if we don’t feel ashamed for not fitting it, we should be ashamed of not being ashamed! More evidence of our ongoing shortcomings! I was reminded not too long ago that most people don’t like being made to feel different or be made fun of.  Kind of obvious, but when being different is your way of life, you tend to forget that others are sensitive to it.  In one way, it’s made me pretty stubborn and independent, and in some ways it’s made me callous and insensitive to others.  While I’m pretty sure ‘independent’ is good, I’m not so sure about the others.

We are ultimately a combination of our choices, our genetics and our environment.  We are born with certain dents, and we collect more either through our own decisions and those life dishes out.  I don’t know anyone who has turned out the way they thought they would when they were kids.  We can either cry over the bumps and lumps or we can keep going despite or because of them.  Yes, I have a ginormous butt and I can either cry about it, do something about it, or learn to live with it.  Right now, I am doing something about it, and while I am, I choose not to cry over it.  Not too long ago, I paused to look at my reflection at the gym before I got in the pool and I realized my saggy skin is really looking saggier than usual.  Periodically my mom asks me when am I going to talk to my doctor about it.  Usually my answer is “I don’t know.”  I still wear short sleeves and tank tops and shorts despite the saggy skin.  I worked hard for those wrinkles and I am not about to let someone else’s opinion deter me! (This is where ‘stubborn’ is good!)

I think we all need to meet somewhere in the middle ground: I can certainly work on being more sensitive and less stubborn, and I think those who are too concerned about their self-image can work on being a little more independent and self-reliant.  We can all benefit by being more concerned about others’ feelings and having more confidence in ourselves.  We are more than the physical body we see in the mirror, and the people who love us do so despite our failings, physical and otherwise.  None of us are perfect, physically, mentally or spiritually.  We can all stand some improvement.  It’s how we grow and remembering that our own bodies are as imperfect as everyone else’s might make us a little more caring and empathetic when someone else is feeling the sting of being different.

 

 

“Maximizing Your Potential”: Don’t Let the Jargon Get in Your Way

One of the first jobs I worked was with a manager who was a huge fan of Dale Carnegie and Tony Robbins.  He was always throwing out little maxims about how to get ahead and be successful.  I probably would have been more impressed if he hadn’t been the manager of a local pizza restaurant, which wasn’t even his own franchise- it was a corporate store! What made me and every other employee roll their eyes was the way he always acted as if he were on the fast-track to being a millionaire.

Don’t get me wrong here: having self-confidence is a great thing (and boy, did he!)  Keeping your eyes focused on your goals is also a great thing, but what made everyone giggle behind his back was the way he always had a quick quote and/ or rule for whatever situation we were dealing with: “you can be part of the solution or you can be part of the problem.” Yeah, that’s a pithy little quote, but I’m not sure he knew what it meant or how to apply it to whatever situation we were working on.  (FYI: he got transferred to the boonies and then fired!)

Every since then, I have really developed a bias against this kind of motivational jargon.  I have never found it to be effective (I’m way too cynical) but also I think it gets in people’s way.  Motivational speakers like to use phrases like “maximizing your potential” and “taking massive determined action.” I’m sorry but that’s a little vague to me.  To be blunt, what the hell does that mean for my situation?  How the hell am I supposed to know if my potential is being maximized or if my action was massive and determined enough?  Maybe I’m just being hypercritical (yeah, I am!) but I believe those phrases probably gets the audience’s blood pumping and when they walk out of the speech, they are all fired up to go out and act massively and determinedly and maximize that potential (yeah! go get ’em, Tony/ Dale/ whoever).  But then they get back to their desk and they’re looking at what’s on their plate and………”so…..where do I go from here? What’s my next step?  What does maximizing and acting massively look like for me?”

That’s my problem with motivational jargon: it’s far too vague and amorphous to be very effective for me.  Because it’s in a quick pithy little ‘sound-bite,’ it’s too general to be effective for the average person (or a cynical old crab like me anyways!)  I have mentioned before that I have post-it notes full of ‘inspirational quotes’ all over my cubicle.  The pic above only shows a few of them but as you can see, most of them are not short and ‘pithy.’  One of my favorites is by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel): “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  Another favorite by Miguel Cervantes: “I know who I am and who I may be if I choose” and the one that probably most applies to working towards your goals is by Thomas Edison: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  Two I do have that are short and might be classified as pithy are from Hannibal:”We will either find a way or make one” and by ‘Yoda’ (George Lucas, I am assuming): “Do or do not.  There is no try.”

Most of my ‘inspirational’ quotes are wordy and offer advice, generally about working hard, keeping your eye on your goals and making the most of your opportunities. When I sit down at my desk, these are the ‘maxims’ that give me direction, and for me that is the difference between “maximizing my potential” or “acting massively and determinedly”  and actually doing something that gets me farther along my path. When faced with a difficult task, I “do or do not.”  I either “find a way or make one.” And I always say what I think and be who I am- I am too old and crabby to change now! For some people, the pithy sound-bite motivational maxims work; it gets their blood pumping and they are on fire to make progress!  For others, they need a little more direction and guidance.

It is no different when it comes to losing weight or getting fitter: the old “no pain no gain” sound-bites don’t work for a lot of people, especially when they are stuck at someone’s party or as a guest out somewhere.  What kind of motivational advice do some diet gurus give? “Go hard or go home?” Does that really help a lot of people? Sometimes I believe it really puts a focus on things for me: don’t give in to temptation or peer pressure, but most of the time, it’s not what keeps me moving towards my goals.  Probably the worst thing about this kind of ‘go hard’ motivation is the way it makes us feel when we didn’t ‘go hard’ and had the piece of cake or the fried chicken or just too much of anything.  It makes us feel hopeless, worthless and helpless.  Offering a little more guidance and direction helps more when it comes to facing the overstocked buffet table full of unhealthy food or the morning after having eaten the overstocked buffet table: “what is the next best choice you can make to move you towards your goals?” “How do you want to feel in an hour/ tomorrow/ next week and what will make you feel like that?” This is the kind of motivational advice that I like best.  It offers a little direction and it’s specific to me. Yes, there is the table full of potato salad, fried cheese, croissant sandwiches and deep dish pizza, but how do I want to feel tomorrow?  Yes, I had the pizza, the beer and the deep fried ice cream last night, but what is the next best choice I can make this morning?

Maybe it’s a little simplistic but simple works for me.  Jargon just puts me off.  It burns hot and fast and then burns out; reaching your goals, whether fitness, weight loss or owning a Fortune 500 company takes hard work and long hours and lots of dedication.  You might get there by ‘maximizing your potential,’ but you’re more likely to get there by making the next best choice for you.  Another of my favorite quotes? “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything” (Wyatt Earp- and he ought to know!)

Changing Directions: When Just Losing Weight isn’t Enough Anymore

If you ask almost anyone who is overweight what they want most in life, I can pretty much guarantee you that “being thin” would make their top ten wishes, if not their top five.  Having been overweight since I was about 12, I used to have dreams about being thin. I don’t have to tell you how unpleasant it is being ridiculed and criticized by strangers, doctors, family, fellow students (& a couple of teachers) for being overweight.  It’s a character flaw: I’m either lazy or a glutton.  You have no idea how much fun it is in Catholic School when the teacher is covering the 7 Deadly Sins, which include Gluttony and Sloth (Laziness).  It’s the equivalent of being told you are on the fast track to Hell, and the rest of the class (& this teacher in particular) makes sure you know it!

Needless to say, I’ve tried most of my life to lose weight and eventually, I pretty much gave up somewhere in my mid-thirties. It felt like I had tried literally everything and nothing was working, so I was just destined to be the fat one in the family.  I tried to console myself with stories about dieters actually eating less than most people but still gaining weight and that our metabolism is what determines our weight, not how much we eat. Those kinds of stories made me feel better for about 10 seconds before reality hit me in the face again: whether it was ‘my fault’ or not, it was still pretty miserable being fat.  I learned to live with it, but if you gave me three wishes, my first would be to be thin; my second would be good health for my family; and my third would be a toss-up between being super-rich or marrying the man of my dreams (hey, as long as I’m wishing…..!)

There’s a really old expression: “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”  I really doubt most people know where it comes from or what it really means anymore, so I’m going to update it for the 21st century: “when someone gives you a free car, don’t look under the hood or check the mileage.”  This expression came to mind the other day as I was at the gym and I was thinking about what my goals are.  Two years ago, it was real simple: “I want to be thin.” Now, it’s more like: “I want to be fit.” Being thin is good, but being fit and strong is better.  Two years ago, losing nearly two hundred pounds was the same as winning the lottery:  “My number one wish came true! Whoo hoo!!” But now it’s feels like I want more than just being thin; I want to be strong and fit and athletic. It’s like I got that free car and now I’m lifting up the hood to check out the motor and the mileage.  It’s good, but it’s not good enough anymore.

While there’s the niggling feeling of looking a gift horse in the mouth, the fact is that this is a completely normal development.  Most of us change our goals the closer we get to accomplishing them. The horizon keeps advancing the closer we get to it, because if we didn’t keep pushing our goals, we would stagnate and stop growing as individuals and as a society.  The more we learn and grow, the more we want and the farther we want to go.  We see this most clearly in children: they start crawling around, then walking around and before you know it, they are running out the door.  They climb higher in trees, on the jungle gym, on anything they can find.  They keep pushing their limits and when we grow into adults, while we may change how we push our limits, most of us keep pushing.

Am I happy I have lost weight? No brainer, that one!  Do I feel guilty for wanting to be more than ‘just thinner’? No, I don’t.  Occasionally, I hear experts and coaches talking about keeping a strong connection to your Why, as in “why do you want to lose weight?”  For a lot of people, it’s things like wanting to see their kids/ grandkids grow up; wanting to look good for a wedding/ special event; or wanting to live longer and stave off disease.  For me, it’s wacky things like wanting to be able to tie my shoes without holding my breath or sucking in my gut; wanting to walk fast/ far/ long distances. It’s things like wanting to be active or do things without first stopping to think: do I fit in that seat/ chair/ space?  Can I do that without getting stuck and/ or hurting myself?  So, for me, wanting to be fit and strong and- dare I even hope?- athletic is the natural next step for my Why.  To paraphrase Muhammed Ali, it’s not the mountains ahead that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe. That pebble for me has always been things like tying my shoes, putting on socks, walking for any distance or length of time, sitting in chairs with arms: anything that causes embarrassment, discomfort or even pain- things that keep me from doing what I want to do! Pretty much no one I know thinks about how long they are going to have to stand and walk when they need to pick up a few things from the store, but for a long time, it was the first thing that came to my mind when I needed to go to Target or the mall: how far out am I going to have to park? is what I need close to the entrance? are the lines going to be really long? can I carry that thing out to and in from my car? I was starting to think like a disabled old woman and I wasn’t even 50!

One of the most exciting things for me happened just about a year ago: I went to the Queen Mary last Memorial Day weekend with my sister and a friend of ours. While there are elevators, most of the ship has stairs and it’s a bit narrow in spaces (it was built in 1936ish) and while we were there, we covered the ship on our own from stem to stern and top to bottom and took two tours, all of which included visiting the engine room three times! (Google the map of the ship and you’ll see what I mean!) All told, we covered about 12 miles of walking that weekend, and that included spending about 8 hours round trip in the car.  About three years earlier, I had gone to Disneyland with a couple of friends, and while it entailed a lot of walking, it was nothing like the Queen Mary, which was pretty much nothing but walking and standing (no rides, no carts, no ‘transportation’ options). I nearly died at Disneyland that trip: it hurt to cross the parking lot, to cross the park, to do any shopping.  I didn’t want to ruin the trip for my friends, so there was a lot of my sitting around and ‘guarding our shopping bags’ while they went off to enjoy a ride, a show or more shopping.  The Queen Mary trip was such a contrast since the friend we went with had recently hurt her knee and brought her crutches along.  Instead of my sitting around and watching our shopping bags, it was our friend.  I got to run down to get her something to drink or carry her crutches as she hopped down a staircase.  She had an actual injury getting in her way, but in my case, I was just too unhealthy to do normal things.

Losing a lot of the weight alone made a significant improvement on my health.  My back and my knees felt so much better, which made it a lot easier to move around.  My overall health was much improved even without working out or being more active.  But, as so often happens, one thing leads to another: since it was a lot easier to move around, it made me want to do more.  Since I could walk without pain, why not walk more?  Since I could be more active without getting short of breath or feeling like I was going to die, why not do more activities?  Like a kid, I found the more I could do, the more I wanted to push my boundaries.  I guess this is why people do crazy things like run marathons: they’re asking themselves “how much farther can I go?”

I have no intention of running a marathon, though at some point, I might try walking one.  I’d really like to try a ‘mudder’ (kind of like an obstacle course with a lot of mud, obviously), but probably not anytime soon.  Right now, I’m just enjoying my continued weight loss and pushing my boundaries.  I think it’s a positive sign of continuing to grow and discover new capabilities on my part.  People often call this a “weight loss journey” and it really is: I am going somewhere I have not been since I was a kid.  It also reminds me of the slogan “Life is a journey- enjoy the ride!” Not only am I enjoying it, I’m enjoying all the little stops along the way!

What You Look Like is NOT Who You Are

I recently had a discussion with my mom about self-confidence.  I admit that I have little patience for people who are too concerned about what other people think of them.  In some ways, I am probably too unconcerned about others’ opinions of me. Part of this is I think my own denseness and part of it no doubt comes from the constant teasing from my classmates when I was in grade school.  I was ridiculed on a fairly regular basis for being: 1) Mexican; 2) poor; and 3) fat.  I actually didn’t start gaining weight until I was about 7th grade, so most of my grade school years, there was nothing I could do about being a poor Mexican (not as kid anyway) and after years of listening to the put-downs, I just started ignoring them.

At my workouts I see quite a few women (usually) who wear t-shirts and shorts to get in the pool or they insist on wearing a tankini or swim skirt because they don’t want to show their bellies or their upper thighs.  They want to be covered as much as possible.  I admit, the first swim suit I had was a tankini, but that was mainly because the only suits they had at the store were tankinis. The ones I’ve bought online are two pieces: a bralette with a high waisted swim short.  Those are the suits I like best (the tankini was really annoying). I’ve had a couple people make remarks about how I’m trying to flirt with the guys going in and out of the sauna (just friendly teasing) and a few other comments about how it looks like I’ve lost a ‘lot of weight’ after no doubt noticing my saggy skin.

The saggy skin was what really started this conversation with my mom.  I made a comment that my legs are starting to look like the patients on TLC’s Skin Tight and she asked me if I was close enough to my goal weight to have skin surgery. She commented that I will probably need at least two surgeries, one on my legs and one on my chest, torso and arms, which will include a breast lift. Honestly, I am in no rush to have surgery of any kind and I am not nearly close enough to consider surgery.  (I still have about 100 lbs to go!) and I told her, after she mentioned it a few times, that I will not be having my breasts done under any circumstances.

Many of the patients on Skin Tight are practically traumatized by their saggy skin. There are some (mainly guys) who are more concerned about the inconvenience it causes and the risk of infection more than their appearance. Many of the patients are extremely self-conscious about their appearance, describing themselves with words like ‘freak’ and ‘monster’ and I think my mom is a little confused that I am not much concerned about how I look at all.

Vanity and appearance are important to my mom, and she does not understand that it isn’t important to me. Beyond looking neat and clean, I don’t spend a whole lot of time on my appearance.  I’ve been told by more than a couple men that I’m not ‘girly’ enough and that it’s ‘not attractive.’ My vanity is pretty much confined to my hair: I like it long, but even then, I don’t spend a lot of time styling it.  When I was 16, I had one gray hair on the back of my head. It was very noticeable because the rest of my hair was very dark and my mom kept insisting that I pluck it out, which I didn’t.  As I grew older, I started getting a little bit of gray around my temples and face and she started making comments about coloring my hair.  I did color my hair a few times, but that was more of a lark trying different colors and not related to ‘hiding the gray.’  I commented to one of my stylists that I kind of missed my gray hair and he quipped “no worries, your friends are back!”

My point here is that what I look like has never been tied to my sense of self or self-esteem.  Maybe it was all that teasing in school (and life in general) that led to my being thick-skinned (and maybe a little dense), but who I am is not what I look like and it never has been and never will be.  This is the point of a lot of books, movies and plays: who you are is the person inside and the outside covering is just the vehicle for moving that person around.  Some of us are cute little Fiats and Minis and some of us are giant F-150’s and SUVs.  The only difference is that we are fairly limited in our body choices: there are some things we can change and some we can’t.  The problems happen when people start obsessing over things they can’t change about themselves.  Do I wish I were taller? Yeah, being short is kind of a pain.  Do I worry about it? Not really- I can’t change it.  Even things I did lament over as a kid (I wanted blue eyes like my dad), I grew out of them.  Now if I want blue eyes or any other color, all I have to do is buy the colored contacts.  I can have different eye colors each day (or two different colors if I want!) but I don’t.  It’s too much trouble and I know my eyes are brown.

I don’t mean to tell you that what you look like doesn’t matter.  Taking pride in your appearance is a good thing; I believe it speaks to our self-confidence. I think liking how you look is a good thing, but when you are more concerned about what others think of your appearance than your own feelings, I think that isn’t a good thing.  I’m not talking about your spouse or significant other: I mean strangers or coworkers and people who are not so important to you.  As long as you are happy with your appearance, then what other people think is pretty much irrelevant, but the bottom line is that our appearance will change over time, “by chance or Nature’s changing course untrimm’d.” We need to be more concerned with how we feel about ourselves than what others think of us.  Having self-confidence and being secure in ourselves is more attractive than our hair style, color  or anything else about how we look.  We spend too much time and effort trying to impress others with our appearance when what really matters is what’s inside. Everything else fades with time, whether we want it to or not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Realities of Being Thinner: When the Honeymoon is Over

For most of my adult life, I have been overweight.  My weight gain really started when I was in middle school and continued at a fairly steady pace until I seemed to plateau around the 375 mark in my early forties.  I wasn’t really happy being so big, but I was able to get around okay and the pain and inconvenience were tolerable.  If I wasn’t happy, at least I wasn’t miserable.

That changed with the Job From Hell: the more stressful the job became, the more difficulty I had handling it and as a result my weight went up by almost 65 lbs, and in that 65 lbs lay the difference between “livable” and “utter misery.”

Since then, I have lost  almost 18o lbs.  My weight is now 260.  I think the last time I weighed this much was in the late 1980’s, which would put me in college.  While the number still looks significant, given I have been told by various “authorities” that my ideal body weight is between 120-150.  By those estimates, I am still 100 lbs over what I should weigh. In fact, I would have no difficulty qualifying for almost any kind of bariatric surgery since I am still morbidly obese. Anyone who has lost a significant amount of weight knows two things: 1) weight loss fluctuates, sometimes dramatically; and 2) your body does not always change in ways that you like.

I have to admit that at first my weight loss was rapid and without almost any fluctuations.  Because I was almost 450 lbs, positive changes to my eating resulted in rapid dramatic weight loss. Just changing what I ate from processed carbohydrates to more nutrient dense high protein whole foods, my body lost weight quickly since I had been eating so many carbs, most of which my body just stored as fat since it rarely had the opportunity to burn any.  I kept eating because I was stuck on the carb roller coaster: once the body processes all the carbs into storable fat, the blood sugar drops, triggering the brain to release ghrelin (the hunger hormone) to raise the blood sugar again, so I’d eat more carbs, and ride the ride again, and again, and again.  Just getting off the ride, my body was no longer taking in the carbs aka storable fat and was burning some of what was there.  I dropped almost 100 lbs in the first year alone and it was almost one year before I hit my first significant plateau.

In the two years since then, I have hit a few slow-downs and plateaus, because as my body weight dropped, it had less stored fat to burn, and it required less calories to maintain.  This is why calorie intake drops as weight drops.  The Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body needs just to stay alive. In plain language, when you’re sitting on the couch bingeing The Walking Dead, this is what your body burns.  Your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) is what you burn when you are out running around, working out, just working or doing what you normally do when you’re not bingeing TWD.  To lose weight you need a calorie deficit: if your TDEE is 2400, you need to eat less than 2400 so your body can burn stored fat, but you should not eat less than your BMR since your body can start cannibalizing itself by breaking down muscle.  Between those two numbers is the sweet spot, and the more weight you lose, the more muscle you build, the more those numbers change. You have to hang on to that shifting sweet spot, which is one of the reasons weight loss fluctuates and is never linear nor constant.  What I was doing for the first year of my weight loss worked great, until it stopped working.  That’s because my weight had reached a point where I was no longer hitting the sweet spot: I needed to change how I was eating and what my activities were to raise my TDEE and/ or my BMR.  Building muscle raised my BMR because we all know that it takes more calories to maintain muscle than it does fat. I needed to raise my TDEE because the more energy I burned being active in the day, the fewer calories were being stored.  Also more activity can mean more muscle building, which raises the BMR. I also needed to make sure I was eating at a deficit, but not such a deficit as to cause damage to my body (starving myself).

Generally, the easiest way to make sure you’re still hitting the sweet spot is to keep moving.  The more active you are, the more calories you’re burning and hopefully, the more muscle you are building. You also need to keep your diet moving: try new things, keep eating seasonally and don’t get stuck in a rut with the same foods (this is one of my problems). Eating seasonally is one of the easier ways to keep fueling your body differently.  If you mostly eat squash and root veggies in the fall and winter, eat more leafy greens in the spring and summer.  Eating berries in the summer is a good way to fuel your body differently as well as get different nutrients.  Trying new foods is another way to find out what works for you. Your body is amazingly adaptive and it’s always searching for homeostasis: its own sweet spot where it’s taking in as many calories as it’s burning.  The fact that you keep trying to lose weight (either by lowering calorie intake and/ or output) means you are fighting your body’s natural tendency for homeostasis.  It’s an odd kind of dance where both of you keep trying to get ahead of each other.  So as you lose weight, you will hit slow downs and stalls (plateaus) and you will bounce up a few pounds or more (especially if you’re female or if you are building muscle).  The best way to handle this is to make sure your overall trend is going down. I know it’s easier said than done, since I still tend to get really frustrated and impatient with plateaus.

Your body will also change in ways you don’t like. Usually, as we start to get thinner, we get pretty excited about losing weight and our friends start telling us how good we look.  That’s the fun stuff: seeing your legs, your face, your waist get smaller and more shapely.  You also start noticing you have muscles now! Yay for me! It’s kind of like a honeymoon period in your weight loss journey- everything is going great and you’re liking what you see! Your clothes start getting bigger and you start fitting into smaller sizes, accentuating your weight loss. You start being able to do more in everyday life and when you work out.  One day you realize you are holding a plank for well over a minute without really thinking about it and remember when it was hard just to get into that position! You start feeling really fit and accomplished and proud of yourself.

Then it begins: honeymoon is over and the less than fun realities begin arriving.  For me, it started with my thighs and my belly: my skin started getting looser, and looser, and it started getting saggy.  I noticed when I was doing my pool exercises that it floats and ripples more like cloth than skin. I started noticing odd bulges (varicose veins) that I had never seen before because they were hidden by the fat.  The more weight I lost, the more wrinkly saggy areas showed up, as well as odd divots in my lower legs where the muscles are more visible under the loose skin.  The skin on my belly, hips and butt also started sagging and now I’ve been told that I have a droopy butt.  I also have ‘batwings’ on my upper arms, wrinkles on my face now that it’s smaller and a turkey neck under my chin.  There are times when I feel a lot like a melting candle (especially lying down) as my loose skin puddles around me on the bed or floor. It’s hard to feel accomplished, strong and fit when you look and feel like a deflated balloon, all stretched out of shape and wrinkled.

I never thought I would lose as much weight as I have and it wasn’t until I had lost about 70 lbs or so, and I began to notice the loose skin, that I realized skin removal surgery was something I was going to have to deal with.  Seriously not thrilled about it, and therefore I am putting it off until it becomes absolutely necessary.  I did discuss it with my doctor, who also felt that it wasn’t anything I needed to worry about until I stopped losing weight or the loose skin became an infection risk. Until then, I just had to live with it, and I am okay with that.

To be honest, one of my excuses for not losing weight was that I didn’t want to have skin removal surgery. I realized at some point around 300+ lbs that even if I lost weight, the only way to take care of the loose skin is to have it surgically removed, which is a really unpleasant experience.  It’s a long invasive surgery with a long and painful recovery period and it can leave lasting effects. Almost anyone who has had surgery knows that the incision scars never feel normal again and even the most skilled of plastic surgeons can only minimize the scars as much as your body will allow.  If you are someone whose body doesn’t heal smoothly and cleanly from cuts and wounds (like mine), your body may never look normal. Looking normal is extremely important to most people.

I have only a vague memory of looking ‘normal.’ My mom has a picture of me when I was in 6th grade where I was goofing off as she snapped the picture. In this picture, I am not overweight and I think it’s the last photo I have of myself looking like a normal pre-teen kid.  In the forty years since then, I have grown used to looking and feeling different from everyone else.  ‘Not-normal’ is my normal and I have also come to realize that many people have problems accepting that they are different from the mainstream.  I remember when I was an overweight teen trying on swimsuits with my mom and her mother, and being told by my grandmother that I wasn’t going to find a swimsuit I liked because none of them would cover my fat. (She was a real peach, my maternal grandmother!) In the years since, I’ve grown used to people making rude remarks, laughing at me and treating me differently because of my weight. I learned to ignore most of it since it says more about their narrow-mindedness than my weight problem. At the pool, I’ve noticed some of my classmates walk out to the pool with towels wrapped around to hide their bodies. I know I look wrinkly, saggy and kind of deformed.  I also know that I feel stronger, lighter and I enjoy my life a lot more than I did before. If looking a little freakish is the cost of feeling a whole lot better, then I am happy to pay it! Our appearance is always temporary and changing anyway.  No doubt I will continue to look saggier and wrinklier as I continue to lose weight.  The day may come when it bothers me enough to do something about it, but until that day, I will view the wrinkles as signs of my ongoing success. I worked hard for them!