Be True to You: Staying on Track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Decide: No One Can Make the Decision For You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeds of Confidence: Growing Slowly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Accounting 101: Keeping the Books!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motivation: Why v How

Let’s start with the obvious: motivation is hard.  I don’t know anyone who jumps out of bed, saying “I can’t wait to get to the gym and bust my butt doing burpees and pull-ups!” (If that’s you, please introduce yourself: I’d like to know what planet you’re from!) The irony is that most of us usually feel pretty great after we’ve been to the gym or the pool or done whatever workout we prefer.  Even if we’re exhausted, our mood is usually up and we feel proud of ourselves and a lot of times, we feel really strong physically.  That’s pretty much our reward for getting our butts out of bed and working our bodies.  The problem is that before we get our butts up, we pretty much feel like slugs- at least I do anyway! I don’t want to get up; I don’t want to change into workout clothes or my swimsuit; I don’t want to get down to the gym.  Why can’t I just stay at home and do other stuff I want to do?  Whiny, I know!  Actually, the first thought that usually goes through my day when the alarm clock goes off is “I hate getting up!” It’s almost reflex: the clock goes off- “I hate getting up!” and yes, there is an emphasis on the word ‘hate.’

It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that I really like my job and my boss, I like driving the commute everyone else thinks is horrible and that once I get to work or in the car, I really like my day. It’s the getting up and getting started that’s hard, and that’s because we have to find the motivation.

Purists point out that there is a difference between Motivation and Inspiration, but as far as the dictionary is concerned, they are synonyms.  Motivation/ Inspiration is the reason for doing something.  In the Weight Loss world, they like to talk about your Why, as in “why do you want to lose weight?”  People usually say things like “I have kids and I want to see them grow up and have kids of their own”; “I want to take a trip to Wherever and I want to enjoy it”; or “I don’t want to be old and helpless.” Experts always point out that ‘revisiting your Why’ is a good way to keep yourself motivated.

But seriously, the connection between your Why and getting your butt out of bed to go to the gym or not eat the pretzels or buying the healthier whole foods is a lot like the old nursery rhyme: you remember the one that goes “For want of a nail, a kingdom is lost”?  [“For want of a nail, a horeshoe was lost; for want of a shoe, a horse was lost; for want of a horse, a rider was lost; for want of a rider, a message was lost; for want of a message, a battle was lost; for want of a battle a kingdom was lost, and all for the want of a nail.”] It’s about drawing the connections between the Big Picture and the Little Picture, but this is usually where we lose our motivation. Most of us rationalize our decision to give in to what we want now: we’ve been under a lot of stress; we’ve been working really hard; it’s just one day/ donut; the store doesn’t have the brand of whatever; does this one thing really really matter in the Big Picture? This is where we need to connect the dots and remind ourselves of our Motivation: “I really want to enjoy walking all over Disneyland/ New Orleans/ Paris”; “I really want to have fun playing with my kids/ grandkids/ dogs.”

I’ll be honest: trying to connect to my Why doesn’t work much for me.  Yes, I’d love to be really fit and strong and be able to take the steps to the top of the Tower of London or wherever else, but telling myself that this oatmeal raisin cookie and caramel macchiato are going to stop me from doing that really doesn’t work.  In the Big Picture, it’s not that 11 oatmeal cookies and a dozen macchiatos are still okay but 12 cookies and 13 macchiatos are just too much and my body is going to give out when I’m halfway up the Tower because it’s just one too many of each of them! (Drama city, here I come!) For me, it’s about creating a habit. When I moan and groan about how I really don’t want to go to the pool or my workout and I really just want to go home and play with my dog and read my book, I don’t even try connecting to my Why- I tell myself that I don’t want to get into the habit of blowing it off.

I work out in the evenings, so for me, it’s stopping at the gym before I get home and there are a lot of days that I try talking myself out of my work out on the drive home: it’s too hot; I’m really tired; I’m not feeling really good/ have a headache; I have too much to do at home; blah blah excuse excuse.  But because I am such a creature of habit, I find myself driving to the gym even as I’m telling myself why I’m not going to my work out. My ‘Motivation’ is that I’ve done it so many times, I do it almost out of reflex.  For me, my true motivation for working out and eating healthy is simply staying in the habit. If I start blowing it off, blowing it off will become my new habit.  That’s what keeps me grabbing my gym bag and finding myself at the gym even when my brain is whining about being too tired.

What really works for me is telling myself that going back to eating cookies and super sweet coffees drinks is going the wrong direction; it creates bad habits that lead me away from what I want, just like blowing off a work out.  The distinction is small, yes, but it’s enough to connect the dots for me.  When other people look at a cookie or a donut and remind themselves of Why they want to be healthier/ thinner/ fitter, I look at the Forbidden Action and tell myself ‘this will lead me to a bad habit.’  Instead of focusing on my goal, I focus on my actions: one cookie now leads to another cookie and then more cookies and then I have to learn not to eat cookies again, and that was hard the first time, so I don’t want to go there!’

For a lot of us, our Why is important, but it’s only important if it keeps you motivated. Motivation is what gets us up and off to the gym.  It’s what stops us from eating the junk food and keeps us buying the healthy stuff.  We can have the greatest intentions and inspirations in the world, but until those inspirations become actions, they are really just pipe dreams.  Why we want to lose weight or be fit isn’t as important as How we get there, because it’s the Getting There that really matters!

Baggage Claim: Love, Apathy & Forgiveness

One of the mantras we hear about a lot from therapists and other health care professionals is that “forgiveness is for you, not for the person who hurt you.” The bottom line is that as long as you are hanging onto the anger and hate, the person who hurt you has some kind of control or influence over you.  People often say that the opposite of love is hate and that’s not true: the opposite of love is apathy.  Basically, if you truly don’t care about the other person, you don’t care enough to think about them or allow them into your life at all.  Hating that person keeps him or her in your life; apathy removes all traces.

I was watching the TLC program 90 Day Fiance: Happily Ever After? where one of the women had just gotten a divorce from her foreign-born husband and made a big deal of getting in his face to make sure he knew that “I’m over him!” The truth is, no matter what she’d telling herself, the fact that she is going so far out of her way to get in his face and make trouble for him with Immigration tells me that she is most definitely not over him.  While I think she has a valid point that her ex is a slug who used her to get a green card, the fact that she allows so much of her life to be influenced by him and what’s he’s doing shows that she’s not ready to cut ties with him. While she probably does not love him anymore, she still ‘cares’ enough to want to hurt him.

Apathy means letting go of the person who hurt you entirely.  It means you don’t care if he or she meets someone else, moves away, or drops off the face of the planet. It means you have gone on with your life and this person is just someone in your past who no longer has any effect or influence over you.  It’s a wonderful thought to contemplate, but much harder to accomplish than it sounds.

Therapists like to promote the idea of ‘Forgiveness,’ so you can have some kind of ‘Closure.’ The point is that this is all about you and not about them. I frankly prefer the “I-Don’t-Give-A-Damn” philosophy that comes with apathy.  Who they are and what they did is all over with and they can either go to hell or go to Texas because I don’t really care anymore. For me, the idea of Forgiveness means I have to care enough about what they did to me to warrant closure, and while I like to talk tough, sometimes letting go of the anger is much harder than I’d like it to be.

While I am definitely not a therapist or any kind of health care professional, I know my own emotional landscape and its pitfalls pretty well.  For example, I know it takes a lot to make me angry, and I mean really angry.  Irritation comes up pretty quick and usually fades about as fast. (I admit I am easily irritated which is getting worse the older I get.) Real anger takes a long time to build up and it doesn’t go away anytime soon.  If you’ve gone to the trouble to make me that angry, I’m going to stay angry for awhile and if you try talking to me, you are flat out wasting your breath because 1) I am too angry to pay any attention to what you’re saying; and 2) I am not done being angry yet. You’ve gone to a damn lot of trouble to get me that worked up and it takes me a while to expend all that energy that you’ve stirred up.  Once I’m done being angry, I’m much more amenable to listening to what you might want to say, but until then, fat chance!

The point is that holding onto negative emotions like rage/ anger, hurt, hate and fear keep the person responsible in your life.  That means if you are trying to grow into a healthier person, you aren’t going to get very far dragging all that baggage with you. These kinds of negative emotions are what keep us eating all that supposed ‘comfort food’ and it’s what keeps us reliving traumas that drive us to eat.  Plain and simple, they keep us from moving forward with our lives: we never move beyond the point where they hurt us.  When we hang onto that anger, hurt or humiliation, we keep reliving the moment and ‘refreshing’ the negative emotions. Letting go of those emotions and the person involved with them, whether through Forgiveness & Closure or plain old apathy,  allows them to fade away at last.  We all know that negative emotions can make us eat more, can undermine our confidence, cause us to doubt our judgment, make us feel insignificant or stupid, but they also make us physically ill.  Those who hang onto negative emotions have more physical health problems and illnesses (including things like cancer) than those who learn to let go of them. Some health care professionals theorize that the negative emotions fester like an infection until they actually take a physical form.  In other words, our negative emotions can be strong enough to kill us if we aren’t careful.

As I said above, we all know what we should do, but actually doing it is a whole other thing.  There is one particular family member in my life who is a completely toxic person and being around her is completely unhealthy.  I have developed a thick skin when it comes to her rudeness and narcissism, but it’s a lot like eating something to which you have an allergy, i.e. “eating gluten gives me terrible cramps, but I’m going to eat it anyway.” If only avoiding this person were as easy as avoiding gluten! Reaching a point of forgiveness with this person is nearly impossible for me, because- simply put- I’m not done being angry yet.  However, I have found that with each of her thoughtless narcissistic transgressions, I am getting closer to apathy.  I don’t want to ‘forgive’ her because, to me, that means I require some kind of closure to be shut of her in my life: frankly, I’d just rather close the door on her and move on. Right now, because she is still connected to other people in my life whom I care about deeply, that is not possible, so I am stuck in an unenviable middle ground.  Until I learn either to ignore her narcissism or not allow her to make me angry, I’m going to be carrying around a lot more baggage than I care to.

 

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.