Emotional Eating – It’s an Excuse, Not a Coping Mechanism

“I’m an emotional eater” is probably one of the most common phrases in the weight loss community.  I hear it constantly on MFP (My Fitness Pal) and on My 600 lb Life.  It’s used as a coping mechanism for stress, depression and anxiety.  It’s a celebration when we’re happy.  Food basically either makes us feel good or it numbs and covers up whatever negative feelings we’re trying to avoid.  I remember having a fight with my mom, hanging up and then found myself staring into the fridge when I was completely not-hungry.

I also learned that I eat out of boredom.  For me, it was mainly in the evenings in front of the tv and there was nothing really to occupy my time other than the idiot box, so what do I have to eat? Anything good in the house? Or not good but still edible?  Boredom eating was (and still is) one of my biggest challenges.

I thought about it this morning on my way to work.  I listen to a rock station and a newer song came on the radio: “Rx (Medicate)” by Theory of a Deadman.  The lyrics were pretty much bang on target: “I am so frickin’ bored.  Nothing to do today.  I think I’ll medicate.”  Obviously, it’s more about pills and drugs than it is food, but for most of us ‘emotional eater,’ food is the same obsession as drugs, alcohol or anything else addictive.  It lights up the Pleasure Center in the brain just like nicotine, cocaine or beer, so it has the same effect on us.  It gives us pleasure, it distracts us from what we’re trying to avoid and when we’re done eating, we want more of the same.

There are a million problems with emotional eating just as there are with any addiction, but probably because food isn’t seen as something dangerous like the cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, we tend to let it slide.  ‘Eating our feelings’ is how we cope with things, even though we know we shouldn’t do it- it’s just one time! It’s only until the holidays/ special event is over!  I know it’s a crutch, but I just need to get over this XYZ right now.  I’m going to be a b*tch: these are all excuses!

One of my favorite episodes of My 600 lb Life is Dottie’s Story.  Dottie knew she was an emotional eater and she certainly had plenty of stress in her life (her older son was severely disabled with serious health problems).  Her sons were her main reason for wanting to lose weight because she needed to be there to take care of them.  As a result of her eating, she weighed nearly 700 lbs, and as Dr. Nowzaradan told her repeatedly, “you can’t take care of your kids if you’re immobile or dead.”  After nearly losing her oldest boy, she had gained nearly 40 more pounds, and on one particular night, dinner for her, her husband and her one year old baby was three medium pizzas and a 9×12 pan of brownies.  Her sister was trying to bring home the idea that ‘eating her stress’ isn’t going to solve anything; Dottie’s response was that “you have different coping mechanisms than I do,” and I agree with Dottie 100%.  We all have different coping mechanisms for the stress in our lives, and while Dottie doesn’t need to adopt her sister’s coping strategy any more than her sister should adopt Dottie’s, the point I think her sister was trying to make is that when one of our coping strategies (cigarettes, alcohol, food, gambling, etc.) becomes more harm than help, we need to change it to something else!  Eating our feelings is not a viable long term method for dealing with stress.  While most of us aren’t nearly 700 lbs, it is still not a practical or safe method for dealing with whatever is stressing us out.  Even though it may not seem ‘dangerous’ to eat a box of brownies or a pint of ice cream when we break up with our significant other or we have a huge fight with our boss, or whatever is going on in our lives (there’s always something!), let’s try substituting something that is obviously unhealthy, like drinking a fifth of vodka or a case of beer or gambling away $100 or more.  Those are obviously a little more problematic, since most of us can’t afford to throw away $100 or getting that drunk can kill you or someone else if you’re dumb enough to try driving afterwards.  Even if you tell yourself “I only do this when [insert event here] happens!”, does that still make it safe or okay?

The main problems I see with emotional eating are these: 1) what happens when you have a lot of stress/ anxiety on a regular or long term basis?; and 2) there is a cumulative effect.  This is why I maintain eating your feelings isn’t a viable strategy for dealing with your stress, anxiety and problems.

When you have a lot of stress all the time or just all at once, are you just going to keep eating your feelings?  Like the example I used earlier, if you suddenly started getting drunk or gambling on a regular basis, most of your friends and family would become concerned, but with eating, it’s a little less noticeable until the pounds start showing up.  Then a loved one might try to bring it up delicately, but it’s not something ‘serious’ like the drinking or gambling, where they might feel a little more justified in having a heart-to-heart for your benefit.

Except that eating your feelings is something dangerous, because of problem #2: the cumulative effect.  Most of us aren’t good at losing weight. For most of us, our weight tends to ratchet upwards with our age.  We talk with fondness about how thin and fit we were in high school and ‘wish I was still that thin!’ So the more stress we have as we go through life, the more we eat our feelings, those two or three extra pounds we gained when we broke up with Love of Our Life or when we lost our job or when we had that Family Crisis tend to add up: 3 lbs + 2 lbs + 3 lbs is suddenly 8 lbs.  Now imagine if we go up only three pounds a year? If we were 125 lbs when we graduated high school, by the time we are 28 (10 years down the road) that’s 30 lbs! And if we keep to that three lbs/ year, by the time we are forty, it’s 66 lbs!  So as we are getting older and our body is starting to feel its age, we are adding to the problems by giving it another 60 lbs to carry around.  Even worse, by the time most of us realize that our weight is getting out of control, around the 10 or 20 lbs number, we usually turn to the diet pills and problems that don’t work, throw us on the yo-yo diet track, and then our weight becomes one of those ‘stress triggers’ that cause us to eat our feelings! Yay! Let’s take that campfire and throw some lighter fluid on it to get it really going hot!!

I’m not trying to be an alarmist or blow things out of proportion here, but eating our feelings has somehow attained status as a viable coping mechanism in our culture. There’s the stereotype of crying women with the pint of ice cream watching a love story on tv after a break up. It’s become ‘acceptable’ but that doesn’t make it a real strategy for dealing with stress, anxiety or negative emotions.  This is what Dottie’s sister was trying to explain to her: “you can eat your feelings, but it’s not going to help you deal with the underlying problem.”  We all need to find a way to deal with those problems and emotions, because we all have them in our lives.

I get it: it sucks! It truly does! It feels so much easier to eat a cookie (or several cookies) than to deal with the real problem, such as your significant other cheating, losing your job, having a fight with a sibling, or a serious health concern in your family.  Real problems suck and it sucks dealing with them.  Try dealing with them when your weight is also becoming a problem! Now you have the problem plus your own aching knees, incipient diabetes, or a hernia.  Remember when you were a kid and your mom wanted to dig out the splinter in your finger or rip off the band-aid on your arm? “No! It’ll hurt!” Yeah, it did- for a few minutes! Then your finger or your arm stopped stinging and the wounds healed and you forgot about them.  It’s the same way with your other problems, though not as quick.  Finding a way to deal with the problems, either by journaling, seeing a therapist or finding some other method based on who or what you’re dealing with will probably take some time and no doubt some trial and error, but in the long run, learning how to deal with a difficult situation will serve your health- and your confidence- much better than continuing to hide behind a pizza, doughnuts or a bag of chips.

 

Burdens, Blessings, Obstacles and Opportunities: Using Them to Your Best Advantage in Weight Loss

I know from experience that when most of us begin making healthy changes to our lifestyles, or even just start planning on these changes, we are met right away with burdens and obstacles.  It’s like the world, Fate or the Universe is plotting to keep us fat and unhealthy!  Even though we know that’s not the truth, there’s a lot of days when it sure feels like it!

Then there’s just the whole matter of logistics: family members, work schedules, school schedules, and every day annoyances like meetings, luncheons, conferences, traffic and the always popular seasonal parties.  How do we integrate our plan for healthy choices in the middle of all we have going on? Most of us try to work it in for a few days or a few weeks and then collapse under the burden of all our obstacles.  “There’s just too much getting in the way!”  Sometimes, the Universe wins despite all our best plans!  The tricks I’ve found are: 1) not to be discouraged; and 2) how to turn a ‘burden’ into a ‘blessing.’

I am certainly no philosopher or theologian, but through my reading and my Liberal Arts education, I’ve learned a few things.  One of the books I had to read in college was the Teachings of Chuang Tzu, a 3rd Century Taoist philosopher.  It’s definitely what I refer to as a ‘sponge book,’ meaning when you read a parable, it probably won’t make sense to you right away- you have to let it soak in.  Gradually, you begin to understand the meaning.  It’s a difficult philosophy to get through and unfortunately, our professor began his course (Humanities) with that book.  Our class went from about 50 to about 20 in a few short weeks.  But the overall gist of his teachings on the Tao is, in my opinion, not that different from Stoicism (the Greco-Roman philosophy with the capital S) or Zen Buddhism: we are all part of the One and until we learn to accept that, we will always be unhappy.

That doesn’t mean that we just have to accept that we will always be fat, unhappy and unhealthy.  It means we have to find ways to make what looks like a burden or an obstacle be a blessing to us instead.  Believe me, I am certainly not one of those happy little “turn that frown upside down” perky people!  Most of my Disney stuff has either Grumpy, Eeyore or Donald Duck on it- not the happy campers! But, basically, if sh*t happens, I can either wallow in it, or find a way out of it (this is Trick #2). Example: I commute 2 hours every morning and every evening five days a week.  Essentially, all those fitness gurus who say “move every hour” are wasting their breath on me during my commute because I’ve got at least 20 hours a week on my butt in my car.  I can either use that as an obstacle or an excuse not to exercise or lose weight, or I can find a way to use it to my advantage.  So, all those podcasts that I listen to? You got it- in the car either on the way to work or on the way home! The same with audiobooks or just to de-stress either by listening to a favorite playlist or using my Bluetooth to catch up with friends.  And yes, I realize the irony of de-stressing while stuck in traffic.  That’s the other trick: traffic, like sh*t, happens! I can either freak out about it or just accept it as part of life! My current boss is pretty sanguine about it- I am usually more irritated by being late than he is, but either way, my freaking out isn’t going to change the flow of traffic and all it’s going to do is raise my anxiety and blood pressure.

If you listen to someone like Chuang Tzu, when we have something that looks like a burden or an obstacle, changing our perspective changes the obstacle itself.  Many of my friends groan when they think of my commute, but to me, it’s an opportunity.  Seriously, without being ‘trapped in the car for so many hours,’ when would I find the time to listen to podcasts and audiobooks?  I’d have to find it somewhere else in my week! This situation is perfect for it! Not a lot else that I can do in the car but listen!

The same is true for one of the most common complaints I hear: ‘no one else in my family wants to eat healthy!’ Awesome!! Seriously, when we live alone like me, I don’t have any of those temptations in my house unless I bring them in. Don’t want them tempting you? Don’t buy them! Then we go out to a conference and there are those evil bagels daring me not to eat them! It’s hard, because I don’t face that temptation at home.  When you are constantly looking at your kids’ chips or spouse’s ice cream or garlic bread, then you get used to seeing all the foods that aren’t on your healthy diet and even more important, you get used to not-eating them! Their siren song of “eat me!” fades away because you have stopped listening to it- you are stronger than the garlic bread, ice cream, chips or bagels.  The key of course is not-eating them, which does take some strength to start out, just like it takes some strength for me not to put them in my cart at the store (“I can have one and give the rest to my dad/ sister/ friends”- riiiight!! Not happening!!) The trick is to look at this obstacle as practice.  If you face these temptations every day at home, the pizza at the work luncheon is no match for you!

The other trick is not getting discouraged when you either give in to temptation or something gets in the way of your success.  In other words, those times when the Universe wins.  In my case, the Universe won recently: I usually have a water aerobics class on Mondays and I got stuck on Sunday (my prep day) helping my mom, so I planned on going grocery shopping after my Monday class.  Those were my best-laid plans upon which the Universe wrought its usual havoc. I ended up working an hour and a half later than usual, due to delays at court and with clients, so I figured I’d missed my workout class, but then thanks to traffic (yay?), I ended up getting home even later still: those two hours took three and grocery shopping at 7:30 p.m. was really not appealing.  I opted for the healthiest fast food I could get: grilled chicken and coleslaw- yay…. The trick is that yes, the Universe won on Monday, but Monday is one day.  It’s not the rest of my life! (at least I hope not!)  The key is to make more healthy decisions that unhealthy ones.  One bad day or one bad week should not be the end of your healthy plan! I didn’t get to be 438 lbs by eating one bad fast food dinner at Jack in the Box; it was a pattern of bad choices that built upon itself and resulted in my being miserably unhealthy.  My choices are give up and be unhealthy and unhappy and fat, or keep the faith and try for better.  Even when the Universe wins.  Even when it feels like the deck is stacked against me (hey, 438?!?)  Even if it’s just as simple as taking a seeming failure (“I had biscuits with my chicken and coleslaw! Ugh!”) and using it as a teaching tool for you not to do it again (those stomach cramps during the night? think it was from the flour in the biscuits?? Hello!!)

There are a lot of Motivational Gurus who like to use phrases like “be the captain of your destiny” to encourage you to ‘be in control.’  While I think it’s really motivational, I also think it’s setting you up for a big fall.  A lot of ‘your destiny’ has to do with things that happen around you and to you.  A big part of my outlook and my weight loss success is accepting there are things in my life that are in my control and as for everything else, all I can do is control my reaction.  Like Monday, when I realized I was not going to get off work in time to make my class, when I realized I was stuck in traffic and was getting home way later than I thought- I could have gotten angry, I could have had a tantrum and what would I have gained by that? Just stress and anxiety! I’ve got enough of both of those in my life and I sure don’t need to make any more for myself! It happened, so I made the best I could out of my situation (although I did get a bit snippy at the car in the drive thru ahead of me at 7:30! And that didn’t get me anything either!)

Seriously, it’s taken me a really really long time (like forty-plus years!) to realize that not getting angry at the Universe is an option and it’s not admitting defeat.  It’s simply changing strategies.  There’s an obstacle in your way? Go around it! I can gripe and whine and b*tch about spending 20 hours a week in the car and it won’t change my situation; it’ll just make me tense and upset and angry. What can I do that’s productive while I’m in the car? I can listen to something informative or enjoyable- problem solved! It’s not an obstacle anymore; I made it an opportunity instead!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a Deep Breath and Calm Down! Letting Go of the Weight Loss Drama

Some people love drama, and I don’t mean This Is Us.  They love the drama in their lives and they love creating drama.  It makes them feel important or successful or in some way validates the stress in their lives.  My former Boss From Hell was one of those Drama Queens.  She’d wait until the last minute to write her motion or brief or whatever was due and then it was Drama City all day long!  She was ‘on a deadline’ and couldn’t talk to anyone.  The Associate and I hated it because it usually meant one or both of us would end up working late and driving it to the post office while the other one was stuck at the office filing it electronically with the Court.  She did it on purpose, because if the Associate had already finished the pleading days earlier, she would wait until the due date to ‘review’ it, which really meant she rewrote it and turned a 4 page brief into a 24 page brief.  (In one case, the judge actually put a page limit on all briefs because he had to read them!)

She was only one of the Drama Queens in my life (I’ll spare you the others!)  The point is that she created most of the drama in her life.  The solution was usually pretty simple, but she didn’t want a solution- she wanted the drama!  It created a big “look at me” scene where she got to be the center of attention.  Most of us enjoy being the center of attention at some time or another, especially if it’s for something we did well.  But when we create drama to use as an excuse, then it becomes a problem!

We make the drama in our lives a problem when we try losing weight because we tend to use it as excuse to stay locked into our old bad habits: we can’t make it to the gym because we have to pick up the kids or we have to work late.  We can’t ‘eat healthy’ because there’s a work luncheon and they’re bringing in sandwiches or pizza or something else so you have to eat that! Or you can’t cook something healthy because you were stuck working late for the crazy Boss From Hell again and so you have to pick up fast food. Oh, wait- that last one was actually me, more times than I can count!  And it’s a good example of what I’m talking about.

When we use the drama in our lives as an excuse not to make the healthy or simply happier changes we are ‘trying to make,’ then the drama goes beyond being just an excuse and becomes something harmful.  It becomes something that actually hurts us and can quite probably kill us.  Yes, I know I’m sounding awfully dramatic myself here, but I also know the last six months I worked the Job From Hell, I was quite literally scared it was going to kill me, and after I quit that job, several of my family and friends said the same thing.  I was so stressed I couldn’t sleep, my nerves were shot and I was having panic attacks, I was eating crappy junk food all the time, my weight was going up about as fast as my health was going to hell.  Why did I let myself get so sick and unhealthy? Because I was wrapped up in the all the drama too!

Why did I eat so much crappy fast food? Because I worked late almost every night! I was just too tired and emotionally drained to worry about making anything reasonably healthy!  Why was I so tired all the time? Because I was so stressed over my crazy job I could hardly sleep! I was so invested in the drama The Job From Hell generated that it never occurred to me to take a step back and get some perspective on it.  A glaringly huge Simple Fix I see now is switching out the fast food for healthier just-as-fast options!  Recently, my home life has gotten crazier than normal and I’ve been joking that I’m keeping the same hours I did at TJFH, but the biggest change is that when I am driving home at 7:15 or 7:30 at night and there’s nothing to eat or nothing prepared, instead of stopping at a fast food place (and I pass several), I stop at a grocery store and I pick up a bag of salad and something like cold rotisserie chicken.  It doesn’t take any longer than it did going through a drive-thru (and in some cases less time) and while it may not be what I planned on or wanted, it’s a whole lot healthier! Truth be told, it makes me feel much better mentally and physically than the fast food.  There are a few days, knowing I have the salad and something I can throw in the cast iron skillet waiting at home, I just go home and cook it!  The meat will cook while I throw the salad together and eat that; and other days, I just settle for scrambled eggs.

The situation is still pretty much the same: I’ve got too much going on, a lot of stress in my life, I’m tired and hungry and I just want to get home, relax with my dog and have dinner.  What’s changed is how I choose to focus on the Solution rather than the Drama.

Sometimes there is no Solution: I got stuck working late and now I’ve missed my water aerobics class.  But I still have a choice about investing in the Drama.  I missed the class so I can either go home and get some rest or go to the pool and do some swimming.  Either option is viable, because odds are I probably need the rest, but if it’s not too late and I feel like it, I can just go to the pool.  There have been several days I showed up at the pool when the class had only ten minutes left: I show up, get ten minutes of water aerobics and then swim for another half hour or so.  No drama, no gnashing of teeth or wringing of hands and no huge convoluted Story about how everything in my life is a trainwreck.

That last part is pretty important.  Investing in the Drama creates stress in your life, which causes a stress response in your body.  It’s okay to feel stress, because it happens to everyone, and most of the time, it’s an appropriate response to what’s going on in your life.  But when you manufacture the stress, like The Boss From Hell did, or when you bury yourself emotionally in that stress, you are causing a higher than normal or prolonged stress response in your body.  Your body goes on high alert: your blood pressure, breathing and heart rate usually go up and you become tense.  If this situation lasts more than a few hours, it can and usually does affect your sleep.  Your body doesn’t care if this is an emotional stress (you got bad news about a family member), a work stress (your financial report is late and the boss is mad) or a physical stress (someone hit you). Stress means danger, so it conserves your resources, i.e. your fat stores.  You might need the extra energy to recover from whatever happened or to survive an extended period of deprivation.  That’s how we are designed: something is wrong and we need to make sure we survive! This is one of the reasons it was nearly impossible for me to lose weight working at TJFH: my body was constantly on high alert, conserving all it could!

When you invest yourself emotionally in the stressful situation, you’ve lost your perspective on it.  It’s hard to get your distance on the situation and see things clearly, because it means you have to let go of that drama. You have to admit that maybe you’ve not made the best choices you could have and that this drama is an excuse to keep hitting the drive-thru.  It’s your excuse for not reaching- or even working on- the goals you’ve set.  It’s hard to let go of the drama and even harder still to admit that maybe you screwed up.  Blaming the drama is easier: it absolves you of your mistakes but it also robs you of your power.  You can’t “make good choices” because something or someone else has prevented you from doing that.  How can I be expected to work out two or three times a week when I’m constantly leaving for work at 6:30 a.m. and getting home at 8:00 p.m. at night?  When am I supposed to find the time? (FYI: that is my current schedule right now!)  We make the time for the things that are important to us.  Some of those nights when I get home that late, it’s because I went to the gym.  Yes, it makes for another long day in an ongoing series of long days, but like the grocery store ‘fast food,’ I feel better emotionally (“I’m so proud I made my workout!”) and physically (no “I’m so stiff from sitting down all day.”) Letting go of the drama means that I weigh my choices objectively: is the workout going to make me feel better or do I need the rest more? Sometimes, it’s the rest and sometimes, it’s the workout, but either way, I made my choice without Investing in the Drama.  I refuse to allow the chaos and drama in my life to make my choices for me. Whatever drama is going on in my life, my behavior is still my choice, and the only drama I ‘invest’ in these days is on the tv.

Connected: Being Part of a Pack- er- Tribe?

I recently heard a podcast about ‘Longevity village’ in China.  This is an isolated village (or at least it used to be!) where the residents routinely live 100 years or pretty close to it.  Once researchers found out about it, they naturally had to figure out why these people were living so long and were so healthy. From what I heard, most of it was the obvious: hard physical work that keeps them mobile most of the day; getting up and going to bed with the sun; clean fresh food and water; natural optimism when it comes to stress; and strong social connections.  The strong social connections is what catches a lot of people by surprise.  What does it matter if you have a positive social network?  Being a devoted pet parent, it’s easier for me to understand than for someone who doesn’t spend 90% of their time around four legged individuals.

Some of you know I am a hard core TLC addict, and I’ve been seeing ads for a new show called The Putmans, which has yet to premiere.  It’s about an extended family all living in one home, which is about 25 people.  I grew up in an atypical family and although we didn’t all live in the same household, we regularly interacted.  If any of you have seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, my family was really similar.  There’s the scene where Tula gets busted because her cousin sees her with her boyfriend who tells her aunt who gets in her face about him.  That was pretty much how I grew up: lots of relatives who all live in the same town so we run into each other all over.  We also had a tradition of getting together on Sunday afternoon/ evenings.  We would eat dinner and spend time talking, playing games or passing around parts of the newspaper.  Usually the television would be off and any devices would be put away.  This was time we spent being together and holidays were simply to ‘all day version’ of Sunday afternoons.  These weekly get-togethers ended when my grandparents passed away (we met at their house) and they are one of the things that I miss most.  Although I still connect with my family, it’s mainly over the phone or through social media.  While the host of the podcast feels this is still a viable connection, for me, it lacks the real connection of being in the same room with them.

SinceI grew up having my family around me, it was normal to stop at a bakery or business where a relative worked.  Seeing them in stores or around town was and still is normal.  Even as a child I was very aware that this was not how it was with most of my classmates and colleagues (my grandparents lived into their 90’s, so this tradition lasted well into my 40’s).  I also came to realize that for friends and colleagues who grew up in other countries that this was very normal for them.  For them, running into a relative while shopping or having coffee with friends was just part of every day life and most of my foreign-born friends soon came to realize that most American families have a different idea of ‘family.’

I’m not criticizing anyone’s idea of ‘family,’ but having grown up with one version and now living a more ‘standardized’ version, I know which version I prefer.  I miss the connections and interactions with family, and while many of them are happy connecting through social media, I’m pretty lame when it comes to apps like Facebook or Instagram. The important aspect is the Connection.  Humans are social creatures and we don’t do well in isolation. This is what makes positive social interaction important to our health.

There is a reason that solitary confinement is a punishment, not only in prisons but also as children.  Remember all those times we misbehaved and got sent to our room?  It’s solitary confinement: if you can’t work well or play well others, then you’re going to be alone.  Across the world, cultures have traditionally used a form of isolation or ostracism to punish those who disrupt the society at large, and it tends to be successful.  Loneliness is a huge problem, even in our cyber-connected society, and it leads to a host of health problems.  As the author of The Longevity Plan pointed out, people who have strong and positive social connections live about seven years longer than those without them.

Having grown up with pets all my life, I have seen the interaction among them.  Dogs are as social as humans are and while we travel in ‘tribes’ and dogs travel in ‘packs,’ it’s all the same thing: this is my social unit.  We eat together, we sleep together, we play together and we work together.  This is how we survive. (Cats are less social, but they also strengthen their societal bonds in the same ways.) If any of you are familiar with Dr. Jane Goodall’s observations of chimps, our closest primate cousins also travel in tribes and follow the same kinds of bonding behaviors: grooming; sleeping; eating; playing; working.  We are more successful, productive and safer in our groups. A chimp, dog, cat or human is far safer in their group than on their own.

I have a very clear memory of when I began living alone, or at least being the only human in my house. It was the day my sister moved away to college: I said good bye and watched her drive away and as I walked back into the house, I realized that I was alone.  More specifically, I realized that changing the lightbulb in the garage had new implications for me: if I fell off the ladder, it could be days before anyone realized something had happened to me. This is one of the reasons ’emergency pendants’ are such big business now: more of us live alone and face the same dangers.

Falling off the ladder aside, positive social connections promote a positive outlook.  When we’re happy, we have others to share our joy and when we’re upset or angry, we have others to commiserate and share our burden. We have others to help with a project, come up with plans or even help with the physical labor. Remember the expression ‘many hands make light work’? Being alone makes everything harder, even the every day tasks most of us don’t really think about.  Living alone, if I don’t do the dishes, they sit in the sink until I do them.  The same with throwing out the trash, making a meal, doing the laundry, and the shopping and the rest of the housework.  If I don’t do it, there is no one else in my house who will.  That means all of the work falls to me, which means I have less time to pursue things I enjoy or to socialize.

Even taking care of my pets falls to the sole human in the pack (2 cats, 1 dog, 1 human).  I notice a lot of the same bonding behavior among us even though we are different species: they will all groom each other, play with each other, sleep next to each other and eat together.  As the lone biped, I am not exempt: they include me as much as they can with playing, licking and sitting on me.  When we go to sleep at night, all four of us end up in the same room and usually on the same bed. I realize that most people think it’s pretty weird to consider animals as part of a family unit, but I really grew up treating them as people (they are a Who not an It.) I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter so much what we interact with so much as the fact that we do interact.  If we feel we are connected and feel the benefits of those connections, then it doesn’t matter if the connection is with a phone, a tablet or a dog or a cat.  We benefit from knowing that we are not alone.  Recently, in fact, I was at home without my dog since I had returned from a trip on a Sunday and could not pick him up until the following day.  When I went to bed that night, I was very aware that there was no dog in my house and I didn’t feel as safe as I do when he is there (he’s all of 12 lbs!) The cats were also aware that one of our pack was missing and were looking for him in the house, which felt oddly empty without his bouncing around. I know my furry little family unit looks a lot different than most and while they may not be human, they are most definitely my tribe.

A House of Cards: Building Tolerance

This is a tough topic for me.  I try very hard to cultivate patience and tolerance, mainly because letting circumstances stress you out is just so unhealthy in every way.  There are some situations that I tolerate that make other people absolutely nuts and they think I am some kind of Zen meditation guru because I don’t flip out. These are mainly things like traffic or the general public.  I commute two hours each way five days a week and flipping out whenever there’s an accident slowing everything to a crawl or complete stop isn’t going to speed things up one iota.  Dealing with the public takes a little more patience, but people are people. When I was in college once, I was reading in the cafeteria and a small group of students sat down right next to me (although there was plenty of space) and they started pawing through the parts of the newspaper I had finished and they were chatting loudly, and I just ignored them.  It wasn’t until one of them grabbed a napkin off my tray and sneezed that I started to leave.  That’s when I found out they were actually psych students and they were testing personal boundaries: how much do people tolerate others invading their personal space.  They asked me a lot of questions because I had put up with a lot, and basically when you are in public, you are in a shared area, so I put up with it.  Just like in traffic, I am one of many in a shared environment.  I do like a bit more manners than I used to (meaning use your blinker when you change lanes, dammit!!) but like the table in the cafeteria, it’s not all mine and I am not the boss.

Believe me, I am not as patient or as tolerant as I seem. There are a lot of times where I am swearing under my breath or I am biting my lip to keep from saying something rude.  I just have no tolerance for a lot of things anymore.  I remember one day I was at the supermarket and a family with a lot of young children was basically letting them run wild through the store.  They were really running through the aisles, and one little girl in her pretty frilly Sunday dress was happily poking a rainbow trout in the meat department, calling out “Mami!  Mira! Mira!” (Mommy, look, look!”).  I have no patience for situations like that (it happened again just the other day).  It’s not that I don’t like kids: what I don’t like is when people don’t exercise a few manners.  I feel the same way about people who let their dogs run wild: you aren’t doing the kids or the dogs any favors by not teaching them manners or self-control.  It just makes things harder for them later on. When I go to someone’s house and their dog jumps on me, I doesn’t bother me. Odds are, I already have dog and cat hair all over me, their dog is smelling my pets and unless they have muddy feet, I’m okay with a big ‘doggie hug.’ But I have to take my cue from the dog owner: if they are telling him to get down or lie down, I have to back them up and tell him no because they are trying to teach their dog manners.  Not all guests are as dog friendly as I am. The same is true with kids: we’ve all been talking to a parent when the kid comes rushing in and interrupts. The kid doesn’t know any better and a responsible parent will gently instruct him. What tries my patience are the parents (of kids and pets) who don’t teach manners: it creates problems for the kids/ pets who don’t understand why people react negatively to them as well as creating problems for the rest of us who have to deal with out of control kids/ pets.

Usually, those kinds of situations just result in me swearing quietly and rolling my eyes.  It’s the ‘trigger’ situations where I really need to build tolerance.  Those are the situations where I usually have to deal with someone difficult.  I don’t mean someone in the general public, although it can be. It’s usually someone who is inconsiderate or self-absorbed or who is just plain rude and/ or ignorant. One of my little mantras used to “I have no tolerance for the intolerant.” Yeah, it’s pithy but it also doesn’t mean much! Rude intolerant people are the ones we should be most tolerant of, and they are the ones who cause me to lose it almost every time. Being rude back to them only reinforces their wrong behavior, while being more accommodating to them and ignoring their rudeness (ideally) should make them more aware of how wrong their actions are.  In other words, it makes them feel stupid. I find this is pretty much the only thing that makes them aware of how inconsiderate and foolish their behavior really is.  Basically, someone is being obnoxious and when you don’t rise to their bait, it only emphasizes how childish they are.  This is the person in the store who is obnoxious or condescending to the person behind the counter (and you are standing right there next to Ms. Loudmouth), or this is the person who has a tantrum because you won’t drop everything to handle their problem.

I would like to say that I handle these situations with grace and aplomb and I make them feel stupid and ignorant every time.  Oh hell no!! I usually do the exact opposite and have a fit at them. I feel my stress level starting to rise; my sighs grow deeper; I start grinding my teeth and then I usually snap at them.  I just lose my patience.  These are the times that I really need to work on building more tolerance.  It’s easy to be tolerant in difficult situations where everyone else is being calm and understanding. I’ve been the caller who’s trying to get information and the person on the other end trying to give me what I want is having a hard time finding it. It’s easy to listen to apologies and commiserate patiently with them. When someone is polite, even if you are not in a good frame of mind, it’s easier to be patient and understanding, but when they are rude or childish and you are not in a good mood, this is when it’s hardest to be tolerant of bad behavior.

So why does this matter? Because stress has such a negative effect on our health: it manifests in things like poor sleep, poor concentration/ focus, poor food choices (as in “I’m having a bad day so I need a treat!” or “I don’t have the patience to cook tonight!”) It also effects our blood pressure (no kidding!), our cortisol levels (which lead to fat storage and increased hunger) but also other things that we may not attribute to stress.  In my case, I have noticed that the more stressed I am, the more I am likely to grind my teeth (bruxism) when I sleep, which leads to jaw pain and toothaches, which in turn makes it hard to eat, especially things like healthy crunchy vegetables. Aside from having trouble eating anything that isn’t highly processed, walking around with a painful jaw isn’t a whole lot of fun either!

We can’t always avoid unpleasant situations, so the best action is to be more tolerant of obnoxious people.  When we allow them to trigger our stress and our own obnoxious behavior, we are the ones who suffer. Our quality of life is less because we allowed their bad behavior to influence ours. Their quality of life is most likely not good to start with: can you imagine how it must feel walking around all day every day believing that you are constantly under attack? (I think this is how most of them feel because in my experience this is how most of them act.) Unfortunately, we learn how to cope in bad situations by living through bad situations.  It’s how I learned to be more ‘Zen’ about traffic and it’s how I learned to be more tolerant of the public in general.  Maybe because I am around the ‘problem people’ in my life so much that I have lost patience with them.  Maybe I should try taking advantage of all the opportunities to practice and be more grateful for the practice, but so far, it just keeps getting harder…..

 

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.

 

Giving in to Stress is Deal with the Devil

When you are on a fitness or weight loss journey, we are used to taking the budget approach to calories and fitness. A lot of our calorie calculators look like a long math problem: 1200 calories + 1350 food = -150 calories + 400 exercise = 250 calories left over. Yes! I can eat that 200 calorie cup of yogurt after dinner! It’d be nice if it really was so simple, but the truth is that metabolism isn’t so cut and dry, and more than food and exercise affect it.
What we don’t realize is that almost everything we do in our lives has a cost and a consequence, whether weight related or not. Relationships, work, food, exercise, and every day life: they all have a cost in our lives and a lot of times, that cost is hidden.
We’re get used to looking at labels and putting on our activity trackers with our watch or jewelry. We diligently log our food and water, and we make a point of getting more sleep. These are all good healthy habits we should be proud of, but when it comes to the stress in our lives, we don’t see it as something with a cost, or at least a cost that can be controlled.
Stress, both good and bad, is a normal part of life. That’s a given but we don’t always think about the effects stress has on us or on our health, fitness and weight loss. Even ‘good stress’ like exercise or a vacation trip, puts pressure on our health. We’ve all heard the expression “a vacation from the vacation.” It’s because the packing, the traveling, the being away from home, and then all the unpacking, laundry, and fitting back into every day life: you guessed it! There’s stress! Even if the vacation was wonderful and relaxing, getting back into your routine can take some work.
There are other stressors in our lives we may not recognize, like helping someone out. Even something as simple as picking up someone’s mail or feeding their cat while they’re gone can be a stress, especially if you already have a busy schedule. It’s one more thing to get into your day, and the more of those “little easy things” you add to your day, the more stress you are under. We’re used to thinking of calories and exercise adding up, but stress also has a cumulative effect.
When we don’t manage our stress like we manage the rest of our health, simply put we are buying trouble. Managing our stress can be as simple as not cramming our schedule full to bursting, even if it’s “healthy” stress like exercise. (That’s why we need recovery/ rest days.) “Fun stress” also takes a toll, if you finish the end of every day or every weekend exhausted. Stress relieving activities don’t have to be things like yoga or meditation: they can be simple things like walking the dog, taking the kids to the park, or just spending some leisurely time in the pool. Other choices: doing a puzzle or crossword, getting a manicure, reading a book. Essentially, if it’s something you enjoy that’s restful, then you need to make time for it in your schedule on a regular basis, but cramming it in just so you have “stress relief” may work against you. These should be activities that don’t really have a timer attached.
We know there’s limits on our calories and our time for sleep and exercise, but they are also limits on how much stress we can handle. We’re mindful of things like gluten, sugar, and overtraining, but we also need to be mindful of what else we sign up for when we sign up for the other non-health activities in our lives.

Unexpected Poisons: Toxic People & Relationships

Most of us who are trying to be healthier work at eliminating toxins from our lives.  These are things like chemicals in our food and environment.  Most of us know not to use Teflon or plastics with BPA and we avoid crops grown with Round Up.  We consciously choose organic and non-GMO to stay as healthy as possible.

But when it comes to the toxic people in our lives, we have a lot more trouble spotting them, and even when we do recognize them as being toxic, cutting ties with them is much harder than switching the brand of detergent we use.  For most of us, the toxic people in our lives tend to be the ones who are hard to avoid, like bosses, coworkers, or family members.  Realistically, if you have a friend who is an emotional drain on you, they usually don’t stay your friend for very long.  I had a ‘friend’ who only called me when he needed something; the rest of the time, he couldn’t be bothered with me, so one day when he called and asked me for a favor, I just flat out told him: “I haven’t heard from you in more than 6 months and the first words out of your mouth are ‘can you do me a favor?’ Call me back when you can be a real friend.”  He did call and apologize and ‘make nice,’ because he really needed the favor, but it was the last time I spoke to him. No loss there.

The toxic people we have real trouble with are the ones who are fixtures in our lives.  How can you cut ties with your boss or coworker without changing jobs?  Is avoiding someone who is a real drain worth the hassle of finding a new job? And why should you be the one to leave when the other person is the problem? Chances are they are a problem for others also.  Then there are the family members: cutting ties with them can be cutting ties with a whole section of your family, and if you happen to live with them, almost impossible.  In these cases, we usually just put up with the ‘toxicity’ rather than causing major upheaval in our lives.  It’s an unconscious cost-benefit analysis: is cutting ties going to be worth all the drama and uncertainty that’s going to come with it?

Honestly, this is where most of us sigh and ‘man-up’ and just live with the ongoing stress and negativity that comes with having these people in our lives.  To use another business analogy, it’s ‘the cost of doing business.’ There’s the sense that we are overreacting or being childish if we refuse contact with someone in our family.  We think we may cause a major family rift if we cut ties with someone or it could mean that cutting ties with one person means we lose contact with someone we really want to stay close with.

It’s not an easy decision to make either for work or for family, but sometimes the poison that is making you sick in your life isn’t what you’re eating: it is an actual person in your life.  If you were gluten-sensitive, you wouldn’t think twice about avoiding bread and telling others that you are gluten-free.  The same if you have a peanut allergy or any other kind of sensitivity: it’s a fact of life- XYZ makes you sick!

I have mentioned The Boss From Hell before in this blog and I know there are a lot of people who make similar references to ‘bad bosses’ in their own lives.  This woman literally made me ill and nearly killed me, and not just me either!  The Associate at this job also suffered from similar panic attacks, anxiety and stress related problems.  He and I both had trouble sleeping, concentrating and I actually developed a slight tremor and heart palpitations while at that job. What was worse was that it didn’t stop when I left the office: this woman would call and text me while I was at home, on my commute and on weekends, and as far as she was concerned, it was part of my job!  And she did the same to the Associate.  The last straw was when I was driving home and she called to complain about what I hadn’t done that day (namely call FedEx to see why she wasn’t getting a discount on the mirrors she’d ordered for her home that FedEx had delivered broken) and why I hadn’t finished my other duties that day (mainly because I spent much of my day on the phone with FedEx and the mirror retailer).  I practically had to pull over on the freeway because I was so upset.  The next day, I went to work and quit. And she could not understand why I was quitting or why a few months later, the Associate quit too!

Of course there was a lot of stress and uncertainty with finding a new job, but by the time I made the decision to quit, it was pretty much black and white: I either take my chances with the Unknown or I die at this job, because it was no longer a matter of ‘if this job will kill me,’ but ‘when this job kills me.’ [ Just as a point of reference, there were a lot of people who kind of giggled and said I had the boss right out of The Devil Wears Prada.  I didn’t see the movie until my job had already begun making me ill, and I could not (and still haven’t) seen the whole movie because certain scenes cause stressful flashbacks but if you have seen it, my boss was a lot like Meryl Streep’s character, only not as nice. ]

Most of the toxic people in our lives are not as black and white as The Boss From Hell, but the point is that they are just as toxic.  Sadly, most of us are familiar with the domestic violence situation where we are on the outside shaking our heads: why do they keep going back to their abusers? Because behind all the abuse, the victim remembers times when their abuser was kind and sweet and a different person.  Once they get some distance on the most recent abuse, they start missing the ‘good times,’ even if we can’t see or identify them as being ‘good.’ I think this is why we put up with toxic family members: underneath all the poison, they are ‘family’ or ‘blood’ and so we put up with being treated like trash, being taken advantage of or being verbally or physically abused.  “It’s family and that’s what we do for family.”

The truth is that ‘family’ isn’t any more synonymous with abuse than is ‘friendship’ or ‘work environment.’  We should not have to put up with being victimized or abused or mistreated because someone is a ‘friend,’ ‘family member,’ ‘coworker,’ or ‘boss.’  If a stranger treated you the same way, most of us wouldn’t hesitate to call the cops or walk away from them forever, but because there is this connection, we accept their bad behavior.  The result is that the situation causes you stress and quite possibly illness.  Oftentimes, once we get some distance on the most recent instance of bad behavior, like victims of domestic violence, we start remembering when times were better and that ‘they aren’t always like that.’  The truth is that when you go back to socializing or working with them, you are condoning their bad behavior of you. Many of them, like The Boss From Hell, do not even accept that their behavior was bad.  You need to decide if they are worth the abuse.  Looking back on my situation, I confess I stayed with her for much longer than I should have, because as is often the case, the relationship didn’t start out awful and I thought of her for a long time as a friend, even after people starting telling me- in earnest- that this job was going to kill me. Only you can decide if the toxic people in your life are worth the pain and stress, but frankly, the ones we love shouldn’t be the ones who hurt us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.