Recovery Time: Weight Loss & Rest

Many of us are used to hearing about “recovery time” or “rest day” when it comes to working out and exercise.  We’ve all heard that our muscles need time to recover from the exercise we put them through. The idea that our quads or our trapezius muscles need time to repair themselves after we spent a couple hours in the gym in Spin class or doing deadlifts makes total sense to us: we want healthy strong muscles, so we take care of them. All those lifts and hours on the bike aren’t going to do us any good if we don’t let our muscles recover! Bit of a No Brainer, right?

So why don’t we do the same thing with the rest of our body, including our brain? Somehow everything else connected to those muscles gets overlooked when it comes to rest and recovery time. It’s pretty basic: we give our muscles time to rest, but we don’t think of giving our brains or bodies time to rest.  Yes, I mean things like sleep and relaxation! This is where many of us roll our eyes and check out again, but sleep, rest and stress management are not only key pillars of our overall health, they are key pillars for our quality of life! Why are we working so hard to lose weight and build muscle if we spend our days stressed, exhausted and fuzzy headed? Trust me, when you feel like you’ve been run over, beaten up or are so stressed you shriek when your dog starts barking, how much protein you are getting on your keto meal plan doesn’t really matter. If you feel like crap, you are going to look like crap about 90% of the time and no one is going to compliment you on your weight loss. Instead, they will probably want to know if you’ve seen your doctor lately since you look like crap, sound like crap and obviously aren’t feeling your best! Not quite the response we were hoping for with all that nutrition and exercise!

We all want to look and feel our best. We want to be healthy so we can get the most out of our lives and spend it doing the things we enjoy with those we love the most.  That’s why we go to the gym, check out the supplements aisle and eat all that healthy organic food. Is it so odd to think that part of feeling and looking great means going to bed at a reasonable hour and getting the best quality sleep that we can? What advantage is there is not getting enough rest? We get in another hour of tv, social media, exercise or gaming?

We hear little expressions like ‘we have to suffer to look beautiful’ and the ever-popular ‘no pain, no gain,’ but like everything else, we’ve taken it to the extreme. There is a difference between the pinch involved with plucking your eye brows, delayed muscle soreness and being so exhausted you pour your morning coffee into your overnight oatmeal instead of your travel mug!

Aside from the physical exhaustion, there is the mental exhaustion that goes with not getting enough rest and relaxation.  How can you feel your best when you can’t think straight? Being tired and fuzzy headed just doesn’t screw up your overnight oatmeal: it can lead to serious problems, such as falling asleep at the wheel.  (As a paralegal at a personal injury firm, I see the collision reports regarding drowsy drivers.) Getting enough rest alone can go along way to relieving stress and we all know stress kills your weight loss. Letting stress take over your life means you are fighting your own body when it comes to trying to lose weight. FYI: when you fight with your body, your body wins, even if it means hanging onto those twenty pounds you want to lose!

Getting enough sleep and relaxation can seem pretty basic and there are a lot of us who think we are getting enough, but ask yourself these few simple questions: do you need your alarm to wake you up in the morning? If you regularly wake up with the alarm blaring in your ear, you are likely not getting enough sleep.  When you do wake up, do you feel alert or do you feel groggy? Do you find yourself getting sleepy in the afternoon or when you sit down to read something? Do you fall asleep in front of the tv at home? Do you sleep all day on your days off? All cues that your body needs more rest!

Some of us have problems sleeping because of the stress involved with our lives. There are some simple relaxation techniques and apps that can help with that; it’s just a matter of finding those that appeal to you.  There are also many over the counter sleep aids that aren’t habit forming which can also help.  Some simple tricks are keeping devices out of the bedroom, putting down your devices about an hour before bedtime and keeping a regular bedtime each night.  Keeping a cool dark room helps and for me, a noise machine blocks out distracting sounds (FYI: the ‘noise machine’ is an oscillating fan.)

Sleep and rest tend to get overlooked because a lot of us take them for granted. Sleep is what happens each night and rest becomes anything that’s not work-related, but in reality, that’s not true. If sleep came easily to us, we wouldn’t have all the ads for special pillows, beds and those sleep aids I mentioned above. The same thing with rest: it usually means putting down your phone or device and doing something that lets you relax instead of fretting over not getting enough Likes! Stress isn’t always about work and just because it’s not “work stress” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cause damage to us.

In reality, sleep and relaxation can require just as much practice and effort as weight loss and exercise. It can mean setting a reminder to go to bed on time or to turn off those devices and the tv.  It can mean scheduling time away from the things that stress you out like the phone or the computer. It means taking the time to develop new habits.  It took us some time to develop the gym habit and we’ve learned to enjoy going; in time, we might be surprised to find that we like our after dinner walk without the phone and don’t be shocked but we might even find yourself smiling while we do it!

 

Vacation Days?: Weight Loss & the Value of Rest

Some of you may remember the tv show Frasier from the ’90’s with Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney and Jane Leeves.  One episode that stayed with me involved Daphne’s quandary over where to go on her vacation: home to family in England or fun in the sun in Acapulco. Considering her dilemma, Frasier flashes back to when he moved home to Seattle and his becoming reacquainted with his dad Martin and brother Niles. Obviously the segment is fraught with complications and frustrations, and in the end, Frasier decides to give Daphne two vacations, telling her that family is important and worth the frustration but spending time with family usually means you need another vacation.

Too often we think that “rest and relaxation” is the same thing as “not being at work.”  Ask any stay-at-home parent about that and you will get an earful, I’m sure! There is a very real difference between doing something restful or relaxing and being busy, whether it’s at home, at work or with your family. I know I have spent more than a few weekends running errands for the pets, the car, the house and even for myself.  Just because it’s a “weekend” and it’s not “work related errands” doesn’t mean I don’t feel tired, frazzled and stressed when I get home! My boss has three young boys with busy sports schedules: some of his weekends are driving here and there, coaching this team and the other team. Come Monday morning, he’s probably more exhausted than when he left on Friday!

We tend to forget that rest and relaxation means we are conserving our energy or doing something that makes us feel rested or at least relieves stress.  Taking the car to be serviced doesn’t count as being “restful” unless, like me, I put my phone on Silent and spend the time listening to music, an audio book or a podcast. I made the car’s appointments a “stress reliever” by purposely being out of touch while I am there. While I am waiting around for the car, I am not scrolling through emails, making lists of things to get done or anything else that can be considered stressful.  I know that while I am there, it’s my time for myself.  

When we feel stressed, our bodies recognize it.  Whether it’s emotional or physical, our bodies react the same way, releasing hormones to deal with whatever danger or trouble we are experiencing.  Those hormones, primarily cortisol, cause the body to release glucose into the blood stream, which jacks your energy level way up. This can cause you to feel anxious, nervous or jittery, but it’s always followed by an energy crash, which leaves you tired, irritable and hungry. Chronic stress can impact your metabolism, leading the body to store calories because of whatever ‘danger’ you are facing.  Besides making it harder to lose weight, the anxiety, depression and fatigue can lead to emotional eating and cravings.  When our blood sugar is low, that’s when we feel the urge to grab crackers, a donut or a soft drink to boost the low glucose in the blood, which starts the roller coaster again: high blood sugar followed by the crash and the cravings.  This vicious cycle is one of the chief contributors to stress-induced weight gain!

When most people think of stress, they think of work and all the other problems and tasks in their lives that eat up their time, but we can feel stressed simply by not getting enough sleep.  Feeling tired all the time is a stressor since your body is not getting enough recuperative time.

Taking time for yourself to do things that you enjoy is hard for a lot of us.  It feels like we are wasting time or not being productive or just plain goofing off.  What we don’t realize is that when we are chronically stressed and/ or constantly rushing and not getting enough rest, we are setting ourselves up not only for weight gain but for illness as well.  We see it happen in offices everywhere: people are rushed, always busy, always tired and then –bam!– they get sick! Even worse, they come to the office to work despite being ill and give it to everyone else! (FYI: when you don’t take the time to rest when you are ill, it takes you longer to get over it on top of giving it to everyone around you!)

One of the easiest ways to combat stress is to give yourself a certain amount of time on a regular basis to do something you enjoy without interruption.  This can be dinner time or evenings with your family.  It can be walking your dog, or it can simply be taking lunch with your phone on Silent. You can also designate one day or part of a day each week as “your day” when you do only the things you enjoy. For me, I usually take Saturday night as my night and during the week, I use my long commute to listen to music, books, etc. or chat with friends.  It may be a long drive but I make it as stress-free as I can.

Another easy way to relieve stress is simply going to bed at a reasonable time each night.  There are a lot of experts who tell you to optimize your sleep experience by sleeping in a completely dark cool room without distractions (people & pets) and to avoid electronic devices at least thirty minutes or more before going to bed.  Those are great ideas if they work for you, but if they don’t, don’t stress about it! For some of us, sleeping alone isn’t an option, so don’t feel you have to kick your partner out of the bed! (Talk about a stressful situation!) The same is true if cool rooms, or no lights or no devices also doesn’t work for you.  It may be that none of those factors is what’s causing your restless sleep: it could be you have too much on your mind! Try making positive changes to your nightly routine, such as doing something relaxing before bedtime and then setting up an environment that works for you. If you feel more or less rested the next morning, make a note and then make the appropriate changes.

The same goes for your Me Time: if one option doesn’t work, try making some adjustments.  If meditating or listening to calming music doesn’t work for you after you’ve given it a real chance, don’t push it! That causes more stress! There is no one way to reduce stress for everyone. We are all individuals and with a little thought, we can find methods that work for us.  I remember as a new college student, I was told to study in a quiet area, preferably a library, and I tried it but it was simply too distracting for me: every sound caught my attention and pulled me away from my reading! My solution: I studied in the student union with all the shouting, music and video games where I could block out all the noise and really concentrate. (Some of my friends had to pound on the table to get my attention!)

When it comes to stress and getting enough rest and relaxation, we need to find a method that works for us, whether that’s hanging out at the gym, relaxing with a book, walking the dog or just putting in earbuds with the music loud.  The most important thing to remember is making time for yourself to relax, even if it is in the middle of traffic!

Making Monsters: Weight Loss, Drama & Procrastination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Weight or Water? Weight Loss & Retaining (or Not Retaining) Water

I hate it when this happens: I get on the scale and it looks like I’ve gained weight.  My first thought? “It’s water weight! Right? I must be retaining water. Right? Because I can’t have gained weight?”

Yeeaahhh, riiigghhtt.  I couldn’t have gained weight so it must be water!  ……except it’s not.  It’s weight aka fat! But my first thought is pretty much the Number 1 excuse for why the number on the scale went up! Unless we made some kind of planned deviation from our eating plan, like a celebration or a holiday, gaining weight means we messed up somehow, either by eating the wrong things, too much overall or both.  Most of us know it’s not water, even if that’s the excuse our minds hide behind, and for me, after facing the grim truth that chocolate chip cookies are not Paleo and on my food list, I once again ban them from my shopping cart!

However, that doesn’t mean that our bodies don’t ever retain water. In certain circumstances, we do retain a certain amount of water in our tissues.  It’s not twenty or thirty pounds of water or maybe even ten, but depending on how much you weigh and the circumstances, it can be as much as 5 lbs. Five pounds can be a lot for but, again, it’s dependent on the circumstances, so you can’t just automatically dismiss that 5 lb gain as “water weight.”

Our weight fluctuates under everyday normal circumstances, even if we are ‘behaving ourselves.’ Water retention tends to be the biggest component in that fluctuation so if we find we’ve gone up a couple of pounds, it could really be that retained water.  Of course, the same holds when we find we’ve dropped a couple of pounds: it could be that water coming off! This is why so many weight loss professionals discount the scale or regular weigh-ins. Unfortunately, the scale is the easiest tool for us to use on a regular basis, so what we want to see is the downward trend over time. We want to see our weight going down, even if it does ‘bounce up’ a couple of pounds as long as it’s followed by a loss of the same amount or more.

However, depending on what we are eating, how we are moving and who we are, we can try to minimize our water weight.  The biggest culprits for retaining water are: 1) our diet; 2) our exercise; 3) our hormones; and 4) our stress levels. When we pay attention to these factors, we can have a better idea if that number on the scale is because we ate that pasta primavera last Tuesday or if it’s because it’s ‘That Time of the Month”!

Number 1 is number one for a reason, but not exactly like most of us might think.  When we think “water retention and diet”, we tend to think Salt.  Yes, salt is a big factor.  Salt is an electrolyte and our body keeps it in solution, so it’s not uncommon to eat a big bowl of salty popcorn and then feel puffy the next day. Usually in a day or so, we pass the water and we feel less puffy.  However, the other factor in that salty popcorn might take a bit longer to fade away.  That is the carbohydrates in the popcorn.  When it comes to carbs and retaining water, the best description of them is “little sponges.” Carbs soak up the water and it stays with us a while. No wonder you feel puffy after eating it! Between the salt and the carbs, hello! You’re retaining water for sure! When we eat a lot of carbs, even if it’s something not salty, if it’s a carbohydrate, it’s going to hold water, so a diet rich in carbs is going to show it on the scale.  Not only does your body store the excess carbs as fat, they also hold more water than protein or fat, so your weight will go up the more carbs you eat, salty or not.  I know from my own experience, after I’ve binged on carbs and then gone back to low carb/ no carb, after a couple of days it feels like I’m always running to the loo! It’s my body getting rid of all the stored water.

Most people know to watch their diet for any water-retaining culprits but we don’t usually think of exercise as one.  When we exercise, especially more strenuous than usual, it causes ‘damage’ to our muscles, which then need some time to repair themselves.  This is how our muscles get stronger and why we need recovery time.  That ‘damage’ is normal: our muscles build themselves up during the repair. But to do that, muscles need water, so after exercising, our muscles retain water! This is why some people don’t weigh themselves the day after a workout: they know their muscles are full of water! This is one reason our trainers are always pushing us to drink during and after a workout: we’re sweaty and our muscles need the water too! Even if it feels like it wasn’t a strenuous workout, if your muscles feel a little sore, you are probably retaining a little water!

Hormones are another no-brainer for most of us (and the guys can skip this one!) If you are a woman of child-bearing years, you are eminently familiar with this scenario. For most of us, the week before our period, we puff up like a balloon as our body stores water in preparation either for growing a baby or getting ready to shed the uterine lining.  If you are pregnant, congratulations! And get ready for some major changes in your body! If you aren’t pregnant, your body will start shedding a lot of water in a few short days.  All of us women have been through this more than a few times, and if you are one of the lucky ones who doesn’t turn into a water balloon, you are the envy of every woman who does! That said, most of us know when not to weigh ourselves in order to avoid the appearance of weight gain.

Stress is another sneaky culprit with water weight.  When we are chronically stressed, either physically or emotionally, our body just recognizes it as “danger/ stress” and will hang on to the Basics to make sure you survive whatever stress you are facing.  For the body, those Basics are water and fuel aka fat. This is why so many health and fitness gurus are pushing stress management.  Incidentally, it’s also why they are pushing more sleep, since our body treats poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation as a stressor.  We all know how crappy we feel when we don’t sleep well or enough, so it takes a physical toll on our bodies beyond just exhaustion and low energy headaches: our body stores fat and water as a result! The problem is that most of us have a hard time knowing when we are getting enough rest and managing our stress, so when we get on the scale and see the number isn’t budging,– or worse, going up– it just seems to add to our frustration and stress! This is one of the benefits to adding a proper sleep schedule and stress management routine: they not only help feel better mentally and physically, they also help you lose weight!

When it comes to managing our water weight gain, it’s really just one part of a healthy lifestyle.  If we manage our carb intake, get enough sleep, relaxation and keep our bodies moving, we should be able to identify if the number on the scale includes a few pounds of water or not. We also need to know that water is not bad! Many pro athletes know that diuretics (“water pills”) are a quick and easy cheat for losing a few pounds in order to make their target weight.  But a “cheat” is exactly what they are if you are taking them just to lose weight! Dehydrating yourself either by not drinking enough or using diuretics can be dangerous.  Our bodies are dependent on water to send chemical signals to organs, including such vital organs as your heart, lungs and brain. No water, no signal, no life! Like so many other necessities, our bodies function properly in a narrow band of the Right Amount: too little water can cause as many problems as too much water. Our bodies are pretty good at keeping our water where it needs to be to keep you healthy: now it’s just up to us to do our part (and put down the popcorn and chocolate chip cookies!)

 

The Secret Saboteur: Weight Loss & Stress

Let’s be honest: stress gets the blame for a lot of things we screw up in our lives.  We forgot to make the car payment because we were stressed over our job; we missed our dentist appointment because we were stressed over the kids; and the classic: we blew our diet because we were just so stressed!

We are so used to hearing Stress being painted as the villain that we regularly dismiss it now. Friend:”yadda yadda yadda Stress made me do it yadda yadda!” You: “Yeah, whatever!” But while Stress might be a convenient villain, it doesn’t mean that it really isn’t a villain. In fact, Stress is as ubiquitous and all-pervasive as Sherlock Holmes’ arch-nemesis, Prof. Moriarty.  Stress seeps into every facet of our lives, working its corrosion into our best laid plans.  While you’re probably rolling your eyes and telling me, “duhhh! old news there!”, let me ask you “so what are you doing about it?”

When I was a kid (lo, those many decades ago!), drunk driving was no big deal. Everyone knew someone whose parents drove drunk a few times and even when I was in high school, no one thought twice about getting buzzed at some party out at the reservoir and then driving home. They were more concerned about getting busted by their parents than busted by the cops. The truth of the matter was that drunk driving was never a “big deal”….until it was. Once the general public became aware of how many lives are destroyed daily by drunk driving, then we saw it for the huge problem it really is.  But until we were actually paying attention, it was ‘nothing to worry about.’

While Stress normally doesn’t have the catastrophic and tragic results that drunk driving has, it still has some really negative results and depending on how severe the Stress is, it can be pretty bad. When it comes to weight loss, Stress is that secret saboteur that gets in your way, leads you astray and continually confounds your progress, and if your weight is contributing to a condition like diabetes, kidney, heart or liver disease, that can be just as catastrophic as a car accident!

For most of us, our weight isn’t life-threatening and usually doesn’t have such overreaching effects on our lives. It’s that annoying twenty pounds that makes us ‘feel fat’ when we wear jeans or keeps us from taking off the cover up on the beach.  Still, how much better would our lives and our health be minus that annoying twenty pounds? Probably a lot better! So… why haven’t we lost that weight? The answer probably has something to do with Stress!

Like I said before, we probably look at Stress as the ‘Convenient Villain’ that gets blamed for our over-eating, eating Forbidden Foods, skipping workouts, etc.  While Stress may not be the actual villain in those scenarios (admit it- you ate the chocolate cake because you wanted the chocolate cake!), it really is working against you! Whether it’s physical or emotional/ mental, when we feel stressed, we have a physical reaction which spreads throughout our bodies and damages us.

If you’ve never read any Sherlock Holmes, hopefully you’ve seen the Robert Downey, Jr. movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows where he shows Jude Law’s Watson his wall full of pictures, news clippings and notes all connected by strings to a central figure. In the stories, Holmes describes Moriarty as the spider in the center of web controlling it all.  Stress is the Moriarty spider in the center of our lives!

We all know about the Fight or Flight reaction we have when faced with a potentially dangerous or threatening situation.  Stress is part of that reaction.  Something happens that puts pressure on us, either mentally/ emotionally or physically, and our bodies react to it.  Most of us discount this Stress because hey, we aren’t going to die if we’re late back from lunch or if our morning meeting runs long and the 10:30 client has to wait a little while.  Our boss or the client might not be happy but some things (like traffic and long meetings) are out of our control.  It’s called the Modern World, people!

This is exactly my point: Stress is still in our lives, but because we don’t think “we’re going to die!“, we tend to discount it.  How bad can Stress be if it’s not going to kill us? The truth is that it is killing us, just very slowly.  Stress, especially chronic Stress, keeps our cortisol levels elevated.  Cortisol is the “stress hormone” and the main mechanism which causes so many of the problems related to Stress. Prolonged and recurring Stress, such as the kind that comes with a high pressure job or a hectic family life, effects us in ways we don’t think of as any “big deal.”  So we have “a few” sleepless nights; we forget the dentist appointment; we pour the coffee on the cereal in the morning because we’re preoccupied with the upcoming project. Nothing to freak out about, right?

Ummm, that depends. You know how little treats add up when you’re trying to lose weight? How those two cookies at lunch aren’t a big deal but how those two cookies are joined by the bag of chips on the way home and the grande mocha in the morning and then the bowl of ice cream after dinner? One of those treats alone isn’t that big a deal but all of them together turn into a diet killer!  That’s what happens with your Stress:  a couple sleepless nights aren’t a big deal but they add up and are usually joined by Stress-triggered effects.  These are things like headaches, muscle tension/ pain, fatigue, digestive troubles as well as the sleepless nights.  Stress causes anxiety, feelings of restlessness, hopelessness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, inability to focus/ concentrate, anger and depression.  These can lead to eating disorders (over-eating and under-eating), angry outbursts, substance abuse (food, alcohol, drugs, tobacco) and social isolation.

Those high cortisol levels are mainly responsible for increased inflammation which many studies are now showing are behind a lot of our autoimmune disorders (such as arthritis and fibromyalgia) and also behind some of those problems I mentioned earlier: heart disease and kidney disease.

The sleepless nights aka Sleep Deprivation also has a whole host of negative effects, such as memory issues, mood changes, inability to focus/ concentrate (brain fog), drowsiness, weakened immunity, high blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes due to the increased levels of insulin, weight gain due to the resistance to leptin (the satiety hormone) and increased ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and the increased inflammation- again!  The attendant drowsiness that comes with chronic Sleep Deprivation is usually responsible for all manner of accidents, from tripping and falling to car accidents due to drowsy driving (it’s now listed on police collision reports!)

All of these negative effects are the result of Stress.  This is why I call it the secret saboteur. Stress really does sit in the center of the web of many of our health problems.  Our weight is just one of the many things that is affected by the ongoing Stress in our lives.  While we may not be fighting off a tiger or a wolf, we are now constantly bombarded by little stressors such as traffic congestion, late-paying clients, lost phones, too many activities and pressure from family and friends. It doesn’t help that we manufacture our own Stress when we stay up too late scrolling through Facebook or ordering online and then we feel rushed in the morning because of the traffic and where’s our phone and are you taking the kids to basketball tonight? All this Stress leads to poor eating choices, lack of exercise, giving in to hunger and cravings, over-eating, and increasing waistlines.  How can we be expected to lose weight with all this Stress in our lives?  This is where we blame Stress (“That’s why I ate the whole bag of Chips Ahoy!”) but what are we doing about all this Stress?

Let’s be honest: Stress is not going away, so we need to learn to manage it. There are a lot of strategies to manage your Stress (google that late at night!) and they include simple things like going to bed at the same reasonable time each night; making time for relaxing hobby (I like puzzles); being more physically active; socializing with friends or pets; relaxation techniques like yoga, deep breathing and meditation; and the simplest is absolutely free: keep a sense of humor! I know it’s easier said than done but at the end of the day, we need to decide what really deserves our immediate attention, what can wait until later and what we need to let go.  When my cable box recently died, after a fairly major tantrum that night, I put off replacing it until the weekend.  So I miss a week of tv! It’s not worth the Stress of rushing around to “get it done now!” As a result, it was fun “camping out” with my kindle for a few days and I got to spend more quality time with my pets (my favorite stress relievers)!

 

Trying and Trying Too Hard: More (Stress) is Not Better

One of the biggest issues we face in America and most Westernized industrial nations is the idea that “more is better.”  If some exercise is good, more must be better! If some B vitamins are good, more must be better! If some caffeine is good, more must be better, and so on and so on.  Obviously, more is NOT always better and with some things, like vitamins and supplements especially, more can be deadly.  Hint: when something says “do not exceed recommended dosage” on the label, follow the directions! Bonus hint: always read the directions on any medication, vitamin or supplement! Seriously, too much of certain ‘safe’ vitamins, supplements or even OTC remedies can kill you.

This More is Better idea has become a way of life for a lot of us, except when it comes to certain healthy routines.  We think nothing of overtraining, overworking, overeating, but when it comes to things like sleep, relaxation or even something as ‘woo-woo’ as meditation, we poo-poo the ideas and go back to overworking.  We seem to pride ourselves on being stressed to death by work and training and even so-called recreational activities like parties, classes or hobbies.  We’ve taught ourselves that every minute of every day must be scheduled with something ‘productive.’  As a result, we’re scheduling ourselves into our graves.

Even when it comes to healthy habits like eating better or being more active, we’ve scheduled ourselves with trainers and workouts and reading books, blogs or listening to podcasts. We’re trying to cram as much as we can into every day either with work, our healthy routines, our hobbies or even gathering more information. So, if we aren’t working at our job or our home, we’re working on ‘being healthy!’ Isn’t that awesome?  Ummmm…. not as awesome as you’d think!

Again, more is NOT better, especially when it comes to filling every nook and cranny of your life because we really are stressing ourselves to death.  The only times we even consider something like a ‘rest day’ is when it comes to training and in a lot of those cases, we ‘rest’ the muscles we worked out the day before. So if we do the upper body on Monday, we work out the lower body on Tuesday and then back to the upper body on Wednesday.  That should be plenty of rest, right?  Maybe for your biceps, triceps and rhomboids, but not for YOU. You might think and even feel like you’re doing okay and not feeling a lot of stress, but how much rest are you actually getting? After working eight hours and working out for another hour and then running some errands, you come home, have dinner, walk the dog, help out with cleaning up or housework, watch some tv and then go to bed so you scroll through blogs, Facebook or put on a podcast as you lie in bed.  By the time you actually fall asleep, it’s after midnight and then you’re up at 6:00 a.m. the next morning to do it all again! The only difference is on weekends when you can work out longer, run more errands for you and the family, read more blogs, Facebook or plug in more podcasts and stay up later because you don’t have to work on Sunday, unless you do bring work home so you get to schedule that into your weekend too!

All of this is stressful. We think we’re getting enough rest and relaxation when we do things like work out or walk the dog or scroll through Facebook, and for some of us, that may be true. If walking the dog is something you enjoy and you can relax while doing it, then don’t stop doing it.  The same thing with hobbies: if this is time that you have set aside for yourself and your own enjoyment, that really is awesome, but the real test is when you get up in the morning or sit down at the end of the night.  If you wake up to your alarm and feel as tired or achy or grumpy as you did the night before, you are not getting enough rest and recovery time. If you sit down to watch tv at night or lie in bed scrolling through your device and find yourself nodding off, then you are overscheduled and stressed out.  The same thing with weekends: if you sit down for ten minutes and fall asleep- bingo!! Not getting enough sleep! And FYI: the answer to not getting enough sleep isn’t more caffeine!

When we decide we want to be healthier, right along with advice like “eating right” is the advice about “be more active”. That really is good advice, but we only read those two and seem to miss the “get more sleep” and “manage stress” advice.  Part of this is a cultural work ethic and part of this is just that ‘more is better’ attitude again. We think being more active means getting more things done in the day, especially since we need to cram in the time for the blogs, the podcasts, the workouts, the healthy grocery shopping and everything else that we already had scheduled in our day.  ‘Being more active’ has very little to do with ‘getting things done.’  I can sit at my computer typing pleadings and correspondence all day long and while I may get a whole lot of documents done, it also means I’m sitting on my butt not being active. The same goes with listening to podcasts or reading blogs.  Unless I’m doing that on a treadmill or on bike, I am not being active although I might be ‘getting things done.’ Sometimes we have to be a little creative when it comes to getting things done and being more active, but it also means not scheduling ourselves to death. For me, this means listening to podcasts in the car while I am driving to work: as long as I’m stuck sitting on my butt, why not get something done that I can do sitting down? As for being more active, when I make time in my week for working out, that means I have to look at anything else I’ve scheduled in my week and choosing either to move activities or discontinue them completely because there is a finite amount of time in our days and weeks! We can’t do everything: we need to be selective with our time.

Part of this time and stress management means I set an alarm on my phone to go to bed.  While this sounds a little silly (an adult with a bedtime like a five year old?), it means that when I wake up in the morning, I’m not a grumpy old b*tch.  Silly as it seems, setting a bedtime and keeping it has had major and positive impact on my stress and my health.  I am about as close to a vampire as you can get without burning up in the sun and going to bed at 10:00 p.m. is about the same as other people going to bed in the middle of the day.  However, reluctant though I am to keep my regular bedtime, I notice that when I do, I wake up before the alarm goes off and, while I’m never happy about getting up in the morning, I am not exhausted and snapping at the pets. It also means that if I’m feeling tired at 9:00 p.m., I don’t stay up unless I’m working on something.  “Working on something” doesn’t mean posting online or reading a book or blog and definitely not watching tv.  It means things like finishing the dishes or changing the cats’ litter box- stuff that really can’t wait until tomorrow (unless it has to)!

Getting enough rest and stress management are actually two separate ideas.  If you are not getting enough rest, your body will feel the stress even if you think you don’t.  Being chronically sleep deprived is a stressor on the body and the mind.  All those ‘senior moments’ you have are probably stress and sleep related. You know you can’t think clearly when you’re tired but when you’re chronically tired, you begin to think being a little fuzzy minded is normal.  For those of us who wear glasses, we don’t realize how much our vision has changed until we visit the optometrist and she tries out new lenses on us- wow! Talk about clear! For those of you who don’t wear glasses, next time you’re at the drug store, try looking through the reading glasses while you’re there, then once you take them off, you’ll understand. The same thing happens when we’re always tired, always a little fuzzy and always a step or two behind.  It’s not because we’re getting older- it’s because we’re not getting enough sleep!

The same thing happens when we’re always stressed. Remember what I said above about snapping at my pets? Remember when your kid asked you something and snapped at her? It might have been something simple like going over to a friends or watching something on the living room tv, but you bit her head off.  We have a finite amount of patience, too.  We’d like to think it’s limitless but the more we go through in a day, the less patience we have when we get home and unfortunately, the ones waiting for us at home who have to deal with the leftover bits of patience we’ve got are the ones we love the most.  We snap and grumble and huff at them when they want to spend time with us and they don’t deserve that. This is especially bad when we bring work home with us.  Some of us are lucky enough to leave the job at the office, but we can still bring home the worry and the stress. I’ve heard of people who designate the first thirty minutes or more at home as ‘unwind’ time.  That means let mom or dad change clothes, take a shower, lay down, whatever before asking questions or cornering them over something. For me, that ‘unwind’ time (odd as it seems) is my drive home. This is when I will call friends on my Bluetooth, put on an audiobook or play list or just drive in silence. This is my time and even though it’s spent in traffic, I get very grumpy when people call to bug me during my drive time!

If walking the dog is your unwind time, don’t stop doing it and it might be a good idea to let others know that when they interrupt you while you’re walking Max, it is not a good thing! If you don’t have some time or ritual set aside to de-stress, set up something and let your family and friends know that this is your time for yourself and it needs to have a permanent home in your schedule. It’s like getting enough sleep: when you wake up not hating your day, the more you can not only enjoy it but the more productive you can be overall.  When you don’t manage your stress, it spreads into the rest of your life and wears away at things you used to love. You end up not sleeping well, not enjoying your job and either not enjoying time with your loved ones or being too tired to enjoy it.  What’s the point in eating right and working out if you’re too tired and stressed to enjoy the life your working so hard to achieve?  News flash: even if you are eating right and working out, it all gets cancelled out by being overtired and overstressed.  Remember: more is NOT better!

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Emotional Eating: Dealing with Stress

This probably the most common excuse for overeating, eating the wrong foods or just plain bingeing. We either use food to distract us or comfort us. We want something yummy to make us feel good. It’s completely understandable: we’re anxious, uptight and we want those negative emotions to go away. Food is something that does that for us. Things like ice cream or chocolate or potato chips set off our pleasure center in the brain. It’s why we think of them as addictive. It doesn’t have to be sugary or salty: as long as they relieve our negative emotions, we will keep coming back to them when we feel the stress.

It’s easy to make healthy choices when we’re feeling good but once things start getting complicated, we feel it’s okay to ‘have a treat’ or ‘take a break,’ but actually it’s the worst thing we can do. Giving ourselves permission to make unhealthy choices, whether it’s cookies or skipping a workout, is simply reinforcing our old stress relieving routines which kept us from our fitness goals to begin with. There will always be stress in our lives: it’s an unhappy fact of life. Learning to change our habits in times of stress is another tough stressor but it’s a necessary one. Once we learn how not to stress-eat or make excuses, we make a quantum leap forward. Let’s be honest here: we’re under stress, we eat a stack of cookies, we feel better for the five-ten minutes it took to eat them, then we feel guilty about the cookies on top of the stress that started it all, then we worry over whether we’ve either stalled or gained weight. More stress and bad news!

There’s also the whole physical effects that come with our bad choices besides the stall/ gain. We usually don’t realize it until we get away from the poor choices, but things like chips, cookies, and other processed foods are ‘quick’ carbs. We use terms and phrases like ‘chocoholic’ or ‘sugar addiction’ and we’re not wrong: our bodies learn to crave the processed foods because they’re quick energy. One of the reasons they’re not good for us is because they spike our blood sugar, which is followed by a rapid drop, which results in the cravings for sugar or other quick carbs. These processed foods are full of calories but low in nutrition and they perpetuate our cravings. What about any of that is good for us? The less we eat of these foods, the less we crave them and once we lose our taste for them we realize a few things: we feel better physically and mentally when we don’t eat them. Unfortunately it’s not until we eat them again that we realize how just plain awful they make us feel compared to eating something healthier. They don’t taste as good as they used to, they’re not good for us and they make us feel ‘ugh.’ So, why are we eating them?? Because we were feeling stressed and that’s what we do when we’re stressed!

It’s a little bit of a catch-22: we’re freaking out over the negative emotions, so we go to what calms us down, but then we freak out because now we just ‘blew our diet’- no win situation.  But sometimes learning a new healthy habit doesn’t help either: we’re freaking out and we try the ‘healthy thing’ but it doesn’t really seem to help since it’s not the old comforting routine.  We’re still feeling the urge to do the ‘old habit,’ and we’re left stressing out with the negative emotions.  This transition period is usually where we give up and revert to the emotional eating we wanted to avoid.

It’s easy to sit here and say “stress isn’t an excuse! Don’t eat your emotions!”  In reality, when we are stressed, we aren’t thinking clearly because we’re under emotional duress (the fancy way of saying we’re freaking out!)  The law in fact recognizes this and makes exceptions to agreements made under emotional duress.  However, we have to be stronger than the negative emotions and learn new ways to cope with stress.  It’s not easy and it’s fun but until we learn how to deal with our bad habits and our negative emotions, we’re going to keep doing it. This is what makes that transition period so extremely difficult. Not only are we dealing with whatever triggered the stress response, but we’re trying to deal with learning new behaviors at the same time.  So in the middle of all of this emotional turmoil, we’re supposed to be clear-headed enough to tell ourselves to be patient and learn the new healthy habits because, in the long run, we’ll be better off.

Being a responsible adult really stinks at times and this is definitely one of those times! I vividly remember trying to be “responsible and healthy” about dealing with my stress and I still found myself staring into the fridge after the argument with my mom! I wasn’t hungry at all, but it was pretty easy to figure out what the trigger was! Luckily, I realized what I was doing and shut the door, but then, I was still left with the stress….

The first thing you need to realize is that screwing up isn’t the end of the world.  This is a learning situation, so there’s going to be mistakes and it’s going to be a little trial and error before you find out how to get over it.  The second thing you need to realize is that eating was your distraction from the negative emotions, so you are going to need to find a new distraction or learn to deal with the negative stress and emotions.  Obviously, learning to deal with the emotions is the best way to handle it, but until you do, you need to find a distraction that calms you down and doesn’t involve food!  Most people opt for exercise: it stimulates ‘feel good’ hormones and it burns calories.  Sometimes, however, when your body is occupied, your mind starts going to whatever you are trying to forget.  We all know how it is when we go to bed and then your day starts running through your head! I find this happens a lot to me when I start working out: body busy, brain not busy- so it goes right to whatever was bothering me! Sometimes it helps to focus on your form or counting your repetitions.

Even if you do opt for exercise as a distraction, it’s better to have more than one way of handling the stress.  We aren’t always going to be some place where we can start lifting or doing lunges or whatever we do when we exercise.  You need to have some other options available to you.  For some people, meditation works well because it teaches you focus on clearing your mind so you can relax instead of stress out. For other people, games, puzzles or reading work a little better since they distract the mind but require a little less practice at “thinking about nothing.”  It all depends on you. No doubt we all remember getting to the bottom of the page or the end of the chapter and have no recollection of what we just read: while our eyes were busy scanning the page, our brain was somewhere else!  This is actually the number one reason I had such a hard time (and still do) learning through audio. It’s much easier for me to dismiss what I’m hearing as background noise and focus on something else than it is for me to dismiss what I’m seeing or doing and focus on something in my head.  That was a good thing when I had to study in a noisy cafeteria as a kid but when I’m trying to listen to a book or a lecture, not so much!

This is where you need to spend a little time learning what works for you as a stress reliever.  Again, reading might not work so well but a puzzle or a game that forces you to focus might work a little better.  We all know there is no shortage of computer games and puzzles!  While playing a game to relax might seem like a waste of time, it’s really stress-management.  That’s why these games are so popular.  [Seriously, how many versions of ‘find the hidden object’ and ‘candy crush’ clones do we need?]  As a culture, we are super stressed! This is another reason why we eat so much.  It’s an easy thoughtless distraction.  Don’t think about the nasty letter we got from XYZ; think about the donut we’re going to get at the Krispy Kreme drive-thru on the way home! Don’t think about how we’re going to pay to fix the leaky shower: think about what we’re going to have for dinner instead! Games and puzzles are seen as a waste of time, like yoga and meditation.  It’s not for ‘serious minded business people.’  Somehow relaxation and stress-management have been overlooked by a lot of the health and nutrition industry, aright along with sleep, and are only now beginning to get the attention they deserve.  If we are so stressed out that we can’t sleep, that we are eating junk food to stay awake and distract ourselves from the unending stress, that our blood pressure is so high we’re in danger of a stroke, what difference does it make if we’re successful at our jobs?  One of my mom’s supervisors was someone who was a workaholic.  She was always working an extra shift and holidays because she wanted to have enough money put away for retirement with her husband.  It’s an admirable sentiment and one that most of us would agree with.  Unfortunately, a few months after she retired, she had a major stroke that left her paralyzed for the remaining few months of her life and her husband spent her retirement money taking trips with another woman.

We’ve all heard stories like that: “Mr. Jones worked hard all his life, and a few months after he retired, he died!!” Unfortunately, what we take away from those stories is “don’t retire! you’ll die!!”  The point is that the cumulative effect of chronic stress, chronic sleep deprivation and poor diet is what kills us. Learning to manage our stress has other benefits than just not overeating.  Once we learn to manage our negative emotions in healthy ways we not only lose weight, we allow ourselves to relax and heal mentally and physically.  We need to take the time to enjoy the life we have right now rather than kill ourselves working for the life we want to have when and if we live long enough to retire.

Watch Where You’re Going! Looking Up From Our Devices

This one probably sounds like it’s got nothing to do with weight loss, but our devices are insidious little creatures that really eat at different aspects of our lives.  Our health is just one of those things that slowly gets ground up by them.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of commercials that involve the family piled in the car and everyone is wearing headphones staring at their devices.  I heard a recent podcast where the two hosts were sharing an Uber with another woman who was too busy swiping on her dating app to look up at the two eligible young men in the car with her.  Myself, I’ve seen scores of men and women walking along the street, in the gym or in the stores, headphones attached, eyes glued on their devices. I really don’t need to tell you this is unhealthy behavior.

For starters, it’s just not safe to be walking through traffic and not paying attention.  That falls under the “Duhhh!” category.  You don’t even have to be plugged into your phone to do that: I was recently driving up the side street to our parking lot when a gardener with his blower on and his earplugs in stepped backwards WITHOUT LOOKING into the street! He nearly hit ME because he was not paying attention! I’ve seen so many pedestrians crossing streets without looking, run into people and things on the sidewalk because their eyes were glued to their phones. I can’t begin to count the ways you can be hurt doing that!

The one that really makes me laugh is when they are doing it in the gym.  Where’s the logic in that?: Hmm, let’s go work out and spend an hour sitting in the lounge not working out because I’m glued to my phone! Granted, I see lots of people busy on the machines, weights and treadmills with their headphones attached as they are working out, and I think that’s great! If you’re taking your phone to the gym, that’s how it should be used, but sitting around in the locker room, the lounge or out front doing nothing but texting or swiping over and over again is a waste of your gym time.  Unless you’re trying to find out where your gym buddy is (and how long does that take?), you’ll have spent an hour in the gym sitting around doing nothing! A good healthy use of your time? Not hardly!

The one that really bugs me is when the families are in the car and everyone is doing something on their devices: “let’s get together and ignore each other as a family!” Really, people? I remember when car makers began putting DVD players in the cars so the kids/ people in the back could watch a movie on the way.  I remember thinking then that was not a good idea.  Parents love it for one simple reason: “are we there yet??” Yes, it puts an end to whining and complaining, but it also kills any family interaction. When we used to take car trips (way back in the Olden Days), we used to listen to the radio and sing along badly; we’d play games like License Plate Alphabet or Landmarks.  Maybe it wasn’t as exciting as watching the latest Fast & Furious or playing Candy Crush or whatever on your device, but at least my family spent some time talking to each other.

This might seem like it doesn’t have a lot to do with weight loss, but it’s part of our overall health.  Sitting around at home, in the gym or wherever, while you’re glued to your device isn’t healthy because #1) you are sitting!  Even if you are walking in traffic, you might be walking, but you aren’t looking where you are going!  #2) That bent over posture isn’t healthy: your neck and shoulders are rounded and it limits your ability to move (don’t believe me? Read Kelly Starrett’s Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World!) Our devices are destroying our mobility.  #3) The artificial blue light emitted by those devices are playing havoc with our circadian rhythms.  We are up all night scrolling through Instagram instead of sleeping and when we try to sleep, we are lying there awake because we’ve wired up our brains. Our body is interpreting the blue light as daylight, so it’s time to be awake, even if it’s 3:30 a.m.  Our brains think it’s daytime when humans should be awake.  #4) We are sacrificing our human interactions and relationships.  When is it better to meet people via an app instead of interacting with real live people? Again, there are the half-funny commercials where family members are texting each other across the breakfast table. They are only half funny because people really do it: let me send you a text instead of actually talking to you, even if you are in the same room with me!

The cumulative effect of too much device-focused living is becoming more and more apparent.  The obesity and lack of mobility is what most people think of: we are out of shape, unable to do simple physical activity and the physical stress of sitting with rounded shoulders and repetitive stress injury on our hands and wrists is showing up in younger and younger patients.  Not to mention the PSA (public service announcements) directed both at drivers and pedestrians about watching out for the phone-focused person on the street and in the car! Again: “Duhhh!” category!  We are chronically sleep deprived because we are too busy binge-watching, streaming something, Facebooking/ Instagramming or playing games instead of sleeping.  The lack of sleep takes a toll on the brain and the body: we have chronic brain fog, inability to focus and fall asleep at our desks because we were too busy watching silly cat videos on YouTube.  (I love a cat video as much as the next person, but at 1:00 a.m.???) Human interaction seems like the least important aspect: “But I am making contact with other people through my phone!”  I’m sorry but that is not actual interaction- you are interacting with a device! We are becoming increasingly isolated and humans have developed as social creatures.  Biologists have noted that animals that are social creatures, such as birds, primates and canines, feel stressed when they are isolated.  They will bond with other creatures in order to secure that feeling of being part of a group. (Check out all of those funny animal friends videos- that’s why they’re together!) As a college student, we watched the video of the baby chimp in the enclosure with two fake mothers: one was a wire framework with a bottle of milk attached and the other was a wire framework covered in fur.  The baby chimp spent all its time clinging to the fur covered mother and only went to the milk-mother when it was hungry.  Honestly, it broke my heart seeing that poor baby missing its mother.  We are not so different: being alone stresses us as social creatures.  We need actual interaction that involves hearing, seeing and touching!  (Robb Wolf brings this up in Wired to Eat.)  I admit that I am also not good at this: I am well aware that relationships are a major stressor for most people, including me!  I substitute a lot of my human interaction with my pets (natural stress relievers).  Although I do make a point of spending time with the people who are important to me (and NOT via the phone/ device), I also spend a lot of one on one time with my pets. In fact, my pets are pretty good at shoving the device out of my face so I can pay attention to them! When they do, I put the device away.  After all, they did ask me nicely!

I know this seems like a bit of a rant, but when we are stressed, not sleeping and certainly not being active, do you think we are losing weight and eating healthy? Nope! Do you think we are making good food choices when we are exhausted, stressed and feeling cruddy? Also, nope!Our body interprets the stress and the lack of sleep as an emergency situation and we are not burning fat, but storing it instead! It’s a simple fix: put the device away at certain times of the day, like being in the gym or before you go to bed or frankly, just turn it off at dinner and leave it off so you can spend time with the family, wind down and get some sleep! You can binge Breaking Bad together another time! Instead, spend some time with the real people in your life!

Burnout: When We Get Singed

We all know this feeling: we have so much to do and are constantly jumping from project to project, whether at home, at the office, or for most of us, a combination of both.  We have all these projects at work going on, and then we leave work to take care of all the projects we have going on at home. It feels like we are always “on” and there is no time to recover or rest.  Being overworked, whether it’s necessary tasks or just “fun stuff,” it takes a toll on us and sooner or later, we crash.

Life is not about cramming in as much as you can just because you can, nor is it about being constantly overloaded with tasks, whether they are ‘fun’ or not.  This is something I have to keep telling myself on a pretty regular basis.  Just because I have ’empty days’ on my calendar doesn’t meant that I can cram in another ‘activity.’  Normally I make a habit of spending one day home with my pets (usually a weekend or a holiday).  Part of this is because I want to spend time with them (they are usually pretty fond of ‘lap time’) which means I need to be sitting down for a while, but part of this is so that I get a chance to rest and de-stress.

But, as so often happens, the best laid plans of mice and men……! Life makes its own plans and for better or worse, we usually get swept along.  This is pretty much where we just have to ‘sit down, shut up and hold on,’ as the saying goes.  My life has pretty much not been my own since about the middle of February (it is now May).  Part of it was silly me, scheduling things when I thought I was in control of my own life, and part of it was events out of my control.  In February, my sister’s in-laws had a death in the family and they had to fly out of state suddenly, so I got to pet & house-sit for a week.  Kind of inconvenient, but not as inconvenient as losing a family member, and it put a minor crimp in my plans: I lost a weekend but not a big deal.  A couple of weeks later, my sister and her family had booked an outing on the coast (prior to the death) and the friend who was supposed to house & pet-sit for the long weekend had something come up, so…. I got to do it again! Kind of inconvenient again, but it happens, and this time, I lost a a bigger weekend. [I take a vacation day the weekend after my birthday, and that was the weekend I lost that time.]  Then, my sister lost her father in law, and was out of state again for a few days: more house & pet-sitting.

You might be asking, what’s the big deal staying at your sister’s house?  My sister lives twenty minutes away from my job (on the other side) and I live an hour and a half from my job.  This means, I have to take my dog with me, which means a two hour drive to my sister’s to drop him off and then drive back to work.  The nice thing is it takes me 20 minutes to get to my sister’s after work while I’m there; the not so nice thing is they have 6 dogs of their own, 3 with health issues, of which 2 require medication twice daily and they all stay in the house. Then, going back to my home, I get to drive back to my sister’s, load up my dog and bag and drive two hours home.  Not much of a weekend left by the time I get there, especially since no one has been at my house since I left and there are things that I need to take care of.

That was pretty much my March and April; also going on those months, silly me had signed up for two different classes (both of which were non-refundable) so there were some days I missed on those classes, and then there was just work stress: we had a couple of ’emergencies’ that required my working late (more missed workouts) and then when I decided to try my ‘birthday weekend’ again, my dad ended up in Urgent Care due to a bad reaction to his new medication.  This ended up being 6 hours in Urgent Care, followed by driving him home (he lives an hour and half from me) and then I had to drive home myself,  since his trailer has no room for guests (got home at 1:30 a.m.) but I had to get my mom so we could bring his truck home the next day, so another three plus hours of driving.  That was my second ‘three day weekend’! Both weekends I had a total of one day off- the only good thing was that if I hadn’t taken 3 days, I’d’ve had NO days off.  And on top of all this, I’m trying to keep up with my classes, workouts, job and just life in general.  Saying I have been over-stressed is an understatement.

Since the last failed attempt at a three day weekend, my dad is doing much better (doc changed his meds back) and one of my classes ended.  I was considering signing up for another one (apparently I was still under the delusion that my life was my own) and had not made up my mind when I went to bed last Saturday night.  That night I dreamed that my sister, her family, my family and I were all living in one bed, which was already crowded and more and more people kept crowding in.  It was so crowded no one could move or get comfortable.  When I woke up Sunday morning, I realized that my subconscious had more sense than my waking brain: I’ve got too much going on in my life right now.  Time to slow things down a little.

We’ve all heard that stress sabotages your weight loss and health in general but most of us don’t realize the extent to which it jams us up.  Most of us think of the obvious: missing workouts and exercise.  That’s just the scratching the surface. If we’re lucky, we can reschedule a workout or two, but then there’s the mental and emotional exhaustion.  We’re just drained, walking around with our shoulders all tightly hunched up.  (I started using my Fitbit’s reminders to move as reminders to relax my shoulders!) Being so drained is bad: we’re too tired to make good food choices (“I don’t have time/ want to deal with this now! That’s close enough to healthy!”) or we give in to temptation (“I’ve been so stressed and this will be a nice treat!”)  The other thing is that our body is getting the ‘danger’ signal, so our cortisol is elevated.  This means that our body is hanging on to whatever fuel it can in case we need to run for our lives or prepare to wait out a prolonged famine.  Either way, we’re storing more than we’re burning, and since we aren’t making great food choices, we’re probably over eating, eating the wrong things or (like me!) doing both! None of those is good for health, fitness or weight loss! On top of all that bad eating and high cortisol, we are probably not getting enough sleep either and the sleep we are getting isn’t quality sleep.  We all know what it’s like lying in bed thinking of everything that’s going on and what are you going to do if XYZ doesn’t work out and blah blah blah- it’s two A.M. and I have to get up in four hours and I haven’t slept at all! Ironically, realizing you need to get up shortly just adds to the stress of the moment, so you are less likely to get any quality sleep!

Sleep is when your body and brain restore themselves.  It gives your body a chance to adjust the hormones and make its repairs and it gives your brain a chance to process what’s going on and recuperate from the day.  There is more to sleep than just ‘feeling rested’ when you get up the next day: the less sleep you have, both quality and quantity, the more stress your body feels.  Not sleeping equals more stress to the body.  Not only are you continuing to add to the stress but you are taking away the down-time your body needs to recover from the stress it’s already under. Think of it like the oil in your car: you need to change it, but you keep putting it off and in addition, you keep driving more and more.  Eventually, either the oil burns out and degrades to the point where it’s useless, and you have engine damage; it dries out (you have NO oil left!) and your engine overheats; or eventually you change it.  Ironically, most of take better care of our cars (which can be replaced) than we do our bodies (we get only ONE).

I know what happens when you live under constant stress: it happened to me almost three years ago.  I had become so overweight, so physically damaged from stress and poor health choices, I had to quit my job or die.  Not being dramatic here: the constant stress and all its accompanying ills left me barely able to function. My nerves were so frayed I was having anxiety attacks; I was eating junk because I was so physically exhausted, but sleep was nearly impossible due to the anxiety attacks and stress.  When I did sleep, it was more like passing out than anything close to restorative.

I wish I could say that burnout doesn’t happen to us or there is always a way to avoid it.  Sometimes, things just happen, and when they do, we can only do our best to maintain our healthy routine as much as possible.  While I was staying at my sister’s, although I did miss a few workout classes, I was able to still make healthy food choices and get some quality sleep.  My stress escalated with the prolonged disruption of my routine and it got harder and harder to keep to it. That’s called real life and it’s not an excuse to throw away healthy choices or habits: I owe it to myself to make the best choices I can in the situation presented to me.  Sometimes it means not doing something I would otherwise consider a healthy choice, like choosing to forgo another exercise class than cramming another one into my already hectic schedule.  Sometimes it means going home and going to bed rather than running another errand, or staying home to rest (or sleep) rather than going out with friends.  Sometimes it means that a treat I might otherwise allow myself is not really a treat, because it’s really just one more bad choice on top of other bad choices already eaten.  In other words, “leave the garlic bread alone because you’ve had too much bread and sugar already this week!” Sometimes, it also means that adding more exercise to a busy week is not healthy, especially if you are having pain in your joints.  I admit, I did keep my workout despite having pain in the joints with the hardware installed (pins & plates) even though it probably wasn’t the best idea, but I modified some of the harder exercises.  It made me feel a little more in control just keeping the appointment.

When burnout happens, we need to recognize that we are under stress and need to make recuperation a priority.  Even though it may not feel like the best use of our time, we need to take a step back, take a few deep breaths and decompress.  If that means turning off the phone, tv, computer, then we need to do it. If it means telling family members no, then as hard as it is, we need to do it.  We cannot help anyone else if we are not in good shape ourselves, mentally or physically.  Burnout is like a physical wound: we take care of an injury or a sprain, but we often let the less obvious wounds from stress fester and grow worse.  Burnout is as much an injury as a sprain or a cut: we need to give ourselves the opportunity to heal rather than letting the wound grow worse.