It Really is All About You! Weight Loss & Doing It Yourself- or Not

I think I do a lot of posts about being independent. Like just about everything important in life, it’s a double-edged sword. Being independent means you make your own decisions but it can also mean you have to do things without a whole lot of help or even support.  There’s a price to be paid for anything of value and admittedly, there are a lot of days I wish I had more help and maybe not so much independence!

Unfortunately, we really can’t have it both ways. You can only rely on others for a limited amount of things without sacrificing a big chunk of your independence.  For example, if you are going to rely on someone else to do the majority of the grocery shopping, then you can’t complain too much when they come home with something you don’t want when the store was out of the product you chose. For me, the example that springs to mind is bagged salad greens.  I hate iceberg lettuce, and the popular mixes that come with shredded cabbages, carrot shavings and tons of iceberg are NOT on my list! The same goes for the Spring mix blend full of baby lettuces and radicchio.  My list of salad greens NOT welcome in my house includes: iceberg, radicchio, arugula and if I can avoid carrot shavings, bonus for me! Cabbage of any color is great; so are spinach, butter lettuces, endive, romaine or practically any other lettuce!

So if someone else is doing my grocery shopping and comes home with the wrong blend of salad for me, it’s my loss.  I can choose to eat the salad or not, but yelling at them for getting me the wrong kind of lettuce would be unfair. (It’s not like I have an allergy to radicchio or arugula!) If I don’t like the way they do the shopping, I can do it myself! But by relying on someone else to do something like this for you, you are tacitly agreeing not to scold them too harshly if they get the wrong items. When you rely on someone else to help you out or take over a regular chore that you normally do, you are giving up some of that independence in exchange for convenience.  It’s the price of asking for help, and there is nothing wrong with asking for help. We all need help occasionally and usually I get scolded by family and friends for making things harder on myself than they need to be because, frankly, it usually doesn’t occur to me to ask for help!

The most recent example is when my car died on the freeway, and after spending the morning getting it towed, I had to arrange for a rental while it was at the shop, and circumstances conspired to make that way more difficult than normal. So since my options were limited, I called a cab, which took over an hour to arrive and the driver, despite having a Garmin, didn’t know how to get to the rental car place. (What can I say? I was having a day!) When I was talking to my friends and my family later on about the whole “car situation,” most of them who either work from home or are retired asked me the same question: “Why didn’t you call me? I could’ve given you a ride!”  My well-thought out and eloquent response? “Duhhhhhh…..”

It had honestly not occurred to me that at least three of my friends in the area would have been able to run me down to get a rental in much less than time than waiting on a cab or an unreliable Uber/Lyft driver. I’m not being stubborn about ‘being self-reliant.’  I think it’s because I am so used to handling things on my own that the idea of calling a friend doesn’t even show up on my list of options.  While not being completely reliant on others has its benefits, this Doing It Myself mentality that I have really just limits my options and makes some things much harder than they need to be, as in the “car situation.”  Yes, it’s great that I can figure stuff out on my own and not have to call family constantly to help me out, but at the same time, I am isolating myself, not to mention stressing myself.  I am sacrificing ease and convenience for independence.  This situation isn’t any better than sacrificing independence for ease and convenience!

Most of us are far more familiar with those who are always completely dependent on others, either out of laziness or learned helplessness.  We learn to avoid these people pretty fast: they are the ones who always need you to run by their pharmacy/ other errands because they’re feeling too sick or are in too much pain or just can’t do it on their own; they are the ones who can’t find the address or phone number for anyone or anything because “the website/ google is confusing”; or they can’t change the batteries in the tv remote.  We all know people like this: they are utterly helpless and it’s a learned helplessness.  They’ve learned that they don’t need to do it on their own because if they are pathetic enough, someone will do it for them!  Why do they need to worry about it?

Obviously, there are many issues that come with this kind of learned helplessness/ laziness, including and especially abdicating responsibility.  If you are completely dependent on someone else to do your grocery shopping, then it’s not your fault if you only have junk food in the house! You didn’t buy it- they did! It makes it easy for nothing to be your fault or your responsibility since you are completely dependent on other people to ‘help you out.’ This is the opposite problem that I have (Doing It Myself mentality), but it’s still easy to fall victim to the same problem of abdicating responsibility. In my case, it’s because “I have too much to do and no one to help me!”

It really doesn’t matter if you are totally on your own or if you are totally dependent on others: sooner or later, you have to be the one to take action! It really is all about you and the decisions you make regarding your health and your lifestyle. We all hear comments about how we don’t have time to exercise because we are so busy or we can’t eat healthy because the family doesn’t like healthy food or that we get stuck eating junk food during the day because that’s what’s available at work. We make it easy to escape our responsibilities regarding our choices, either by blaming being busy or someone else’s failings.  If we don’t want to go to the gym because we don’t feel like it, then we need to own that decision. If it turns out that we were at the gym only three times (or less) in the last month, whose choice was it not to go? Do we get ‘workout credits’ with our bodies if we were really too busy or the trainer canceled?  Of course not! Busy, no trainer or just blowing it off, the result is the same: we didn’t exercise!

I’ve noticed that the things that are really important to people tend to be the things that don’t get left out of the schedule. Our favorite junk food keeps showing up at our house.  We manage to watch our favorite shows even though we are too busy to go to the gym or do the grocery shopping.  We manage to make our mani/ pedi appointments even if we cancel with our trainers.  It’s called priorities, and since those things are important to us, we make time for them!  The healthy eating, the workouts, going to bed on time, drinking more water instead of soda: all those fall to the wayside because they are not our priorities.  We can tell when they are important to us, because we will reschedule our workout, go to the grocery store instead of the nail salon or blow off a Friday night out to get some sleep! Our healthy is mostly the sum of our choices and if our health is pretty cruddy, whose choice was that?

Ultimately, those people who are either completely dependent on others or people like me who are way too busy doing it all myself have a few decisions to make.  We may have to learn to be more independent or to ask for help or even– gasp!— give up some other things on our schedules.  Yes, there will be times when we really are so busy it feels like we’re chasing our own tails, and yes, there will be times when the Uber driver gets lost and you miss your appointment.  There will be times when you show up at the luncheon and it’s full of the foods you’re trying to avoid.  Some things are just beyond our control no matter what we are prioritizing and we just have to accept that it really isn’t our fault. But we also need to take responsibility for the things we can control and the decisions we choose to make. Sometimes that means we have to ask for help and sometimes we have to do it ourselves since this is our life and our health and our responsibility.

“Don’t Text Your Ex!”: Weight Loss & Avoiding the Bad Habits That Lead to Gaining!

Most of us are really really familiar with “drunk dialing,” hopefully not from personal experience! This is when you’ve had a few drinks and your alcohol-infused brain thinks it’s a good idea to contact that guy/ girl who dumped you or whom you dumped months or years ago.  We all know how that ends: BADLY!  How many ways can we say humiliated?! Ugh! That’s one of the duties of a ‘wingman’ these days: make sure there is no drunk-dialing, no matter how wasted you get!

What we don’t realize is that we do the same thing with food.  Monday’s episode of the Primal Potential podcast (7/9/2018 # 498 Baby Steps to Massive Change) brought home this idea in a way I hadn’t thought of before.  I was familiar with the idea that when we’re tired, hungry, grumpy, etc., we don’t make good decisions no matter what it’s about, and we’ve all heard the cautionary tales about grocery shopping when we’re hungry, but Elizabeth Benton’s analogy puts it in a succinct and easy-to-remember phrase: “don’t text your ex!”  Eating when we’re tired or because we’re bored or lonely is the food equivalent of drunk dialing or texting your ex when you’re wasted: nothing good comes from that!  Are you going to have a serious conversation with him/ her about why you two broke up or why he/she/you cheated?  Is anything going to be resolved in a calm and adult manner, or are you going to leave a slurred/ typo-filled unintelligible message that will end up being the butt of future jokes and humiliation?  I’m guessing the embarrassing answer is the correct one in 99.99% of the situations!

When we’re tired or bored or looking for something to fill time, we’re doing the same thing: we’re falling back into behavior we know isn’t good for us!  There’s a reason we ‘broke up’ with Cheez-its or Doritos or the leftovers from last night! Unless our body is telling us that it needs fuel, there is no reason to go prowling through the kitchen.  We know better, just like when we’re sober, we know that contacting our ex is a really bad idea, but when our judgment is impaired by alcohol (or boredom or loneliness), we start considering things our rational brain would never entertain.

We’ve all been in that situation: dinner is over and we aren’t really hungry but we’re a little bored.  Maybe we’re flipping through the channels or scrolling through the phone and we want something to entertain us, so we wander into the kitchen and without really thinking about it, there we are looking in the fridge or the pantry: “anything good?”  We know we aren’t hungry, because if we were, we’d be considering things like scrambled eggs, making a salad or even sauteing some Brussels sprouts.  Even if we have those things in the fridge, we aren’t looking at them, because what we’re hungry for has nothing to do with food! We’re looking to fill a void: either boredom, loneliness, comfort, or some other kind of distraction.  Maybe we’re stressed because our hours at work have been cut or we’ve had a fight with someone we care about and we’re looking for something to distract us from the stress or just make us feel better emotionally.  The need we are trying to fill has nothing to do with hunger, but eating is how we have traditionally filled that void so that’s the habit we find ourselves going back to.

It really is like texting your ex. Think about the last time you chose to end a relationship: there was a reason.  Maybe she was always on Instagram or Facebook or texting when you were together, or maybe he only responded to your calls and texts when he felt like it.  Maybe he/ she was just emotionally distant or-  worse- too needy!  Whatever the reason, there was a reason you chose to end the relationship! But when you’re drunk or otherwise impaired, your rational judgment is literally Out of Order. Alcohol (and other intoxicants) lower your inhibitions and things that normally seem really really stupid suddenly seem like a great idea! Those bad ideas haven’t suddenly become great ideas: the only thing that’s changed is your perception of them!

The same thing happens with food.  How many times have you told someone “I don’t buy Doritos (or whatever) because once I start eating them, I finish the whole bag!” or “I only buy single cookies at the bakery because if I bought a box of them, I’d eat them all at once!” (Raising my hand here!) This is why we’ve heard so many cautionary tales about grocery shopping when we’re hungry: our judgment is out of whack as we cruise through the chip/ cookie/ cracker aisle and this is how we end up with the Doritos/ Oreos/ Cheez-its in our pantries at home.  When we’re thinking clearly, we don’t put them in our basket because we know what will happen when we get bored, feel lonely or ‘want something salty/ crunchy/ sweet.  Without thinking about it, we will wander into the kitchen and before we realize what’s happening, we’re bingeing Season 2 of Goliath and cramming down Oreos! We weren’t hungry but we were feeling really anxious about the project you’re working on and all the delays so you wanted something to distract you (Goliath) but you also went looking for something to comfort and reassure you (Oreos). The obvious- and rational-  solution is not bringing them into the house so we take the precaution of not shopping when hungry.

But eating to fill a void/ mindless eating can still happen even if it’s something ‘healthy.’ It doesn’t have to be junk food to the equivalent of texting your ex: if you aren’t hungry, you just sent that text! There are no Cheez-its, Doritos, Oreos or other junk food in my house, but I have been known to devour Greek yogurt, peaches, macadamia nuts, beef jerky, etc.  Things that I would normally consider ‘healthy’ (and things I had planned to take for lunch!) suddenly become a ‘text to my ex’ when I get stressed or feel anxious or whatever other feeling or void I am trying to expunge! I fall back into that bad habit and go back to the Mindless Eating Ex because I stop paying attention! My normal rational brain is Out of Order either because of the emotions I’m dealing with or because I just decided to check out mentally and not deal with whatever.  I know there is no legitimate reason I need to eat the entire bag of beef jerky or four containers of Greek yogurt, but ‘I’m not feeling well’ (that will not make me feel better!), or ‘I’m worried about someone’ (overeating won’t help them or me!)  I turn off the rational brain to avoid dealing with reality.  This is not unlike why we get drunk: we want to feel good or forget to feel bad. Food accomplishes the same thing for us: while we’re eating we’re enjoying the food or at least are distracted enough to forget what we’re trying to forget.

But there’s a reason we don’t normally eat a whole bag of beef jerky or Doritos or finish off all the Greek  yogurt in the fridge. When we’re done, we have that same awful feeling we do when we look at our phones the next day and find the text or the phone call to our ex: “Please tell me I didn’t hit Send on this text to that jerk/ witch!” Oh, yes you did! Looking at the empty containers, bags and wrappers, we suddenly feel like the stupidest person on the planet: “What the hell was I thinking?!” You weren’t thinking! That’s the problem! Your brain was in the Off position, either due to the emotion/ situation (or in the case of the drunken text, alcohol.) Overeating, even if it’s not junk food, is never a reasonable rational thing to do.

When it comes to drunk dialing or drunken texts to our ex, this is why we bring a wingman with us to parties and clubs: the good ones won’t let you hit Send.  But when it comes to prowling through the kitchen, LG and Samsung haven’t yet developed the fridge that will automatically ask you “are you really hungry?” when you open it up after 8:00 p.m.  We have to learn to do it for ourselves.  We have to find a way to ‘sober up’ enough to ask ourselves why we are eating when we’re not hungry.  It can be something as simple as not eating in front of the tv, or not eating after dinner.  It can be something like only eating on plate or a bowl or at the kitchen table.  When you are pouring out bowl after bowl of Doritos, believe me, you will ‘sober up’ enough to realize “Yikes! This is bowl #3!”  In my case, I keep an old photo of myself on the fridge door: there I am in all my 440 lb ‘glory’! The feeling’s not quite the same as finding the text to my ex on phone, but it’s close enough for me!

 

 

 

Weight Loss & The Why: Does It Really Matter Why You Gained Weight?

I am going to admit right now that I have a love-hate relationship with asking Why.  There are a lot of scientific issues where I want to know why something occurs the way it does or how something came about in history.  I’m just curious that way and I realize that knowing the Why or the How doesn’t necessarily add anything to the outcome beyond satisfying my curiosity. When it comes to obesity and losing weight, I think knowing the Why can be risky.

When you end up gaining as much weight as I did (+/- 450 lbs), does it really matter Why I gained weight?  Other than a medical-physical reason such as a problem with my thyroid or another hormone, the Why is pretty much irrelevant. I can tell you when I started putting on a lot of weight and I know it correlates to my horrible home life while I was in middle school.  If you wanted a Why in my case, that would probably be it. Does it solve anything?  Does knowing that add anything to the outcome? Nope, not really! Living at home really really sucked and my escape from it was eating bags of chips, cookies and whatever else was available and doing it repeatedly.  End result: I learned to ‘solve’ my emotional stress with food. Not a whole lot of insight there: most people who are overweight ‘medicate’ themselves with food!

Does looking back at that extremely stressful time in my childhood and drawing the conclusion that I overate to soothe negative emotions help me with my current weight loss? That one can go either way: since I know I am a stress-eater, I can take steps to use other non-food methods to relieve my stress but do I have to go back to ‘when I first started to gain weight, it was because of the stress in my childhood and I overate to relieve that stress’? Again, most of us know by the time we are adults that we are stress-eaters and knowing that doesn’t contribute anything unless we take steps to manage our stress without food!  But beyond providing interesting but not necessarily useful information about ourselves, there is a small danger associated with digging up this Why.

That danger has to do with blame.  A recent post was about shifting the blame for why you aren’t losing weight or why you might be overweight now. Blaming it on our DNA or our family’s eating habits are common: it’s just an accident of biology or a family dynamic.  If a lot of your family is chubby or obese, you are just like everyone else! If you’ll excuse the pun, it’s no big deal!

The problem comes when you can point your finger at one act or one time in your life as The Reason Why and you refuse to move forward from that point. In my case, I can blame my initial weight gain on my parents’ crappy marriage and the roller-coaster home life that ensued. As I said before, knowing that doesn’t help me say no when I’m standing in Safeway’s bakery section debating whether I really ‘need’ that piece of German chocolate cake for dessert, but it does offer me an excuse to get it! “This is how I deal with stress and it’s been a horrible week!”; “I can’t help being obese- this is how I learned to deal with life!”; “I’ve been fat since I was a kid and it’s not my fault my parents didn’t stop me from eating!” Shifting blame, anyone?

For some of us, digging up the Why becomes our End Goal instead of developing healthier eating habits.  There are a million different reasons we might gain weight: a medical condition, an injury, an emotional issue, or the simple fact that food was scarce for a time in our lives and we learned to overcompensate. While all of these can be the cause of our weight gain, knowing that only helps us lose the weight if we take steps to correct the cause. In my case, it took me a few years to get distance and perspective on Why I gained the weight I did.  Obviously, while I was in the middle of that horrible home life, making a connection between scarfing bags of potato chips and zoning out so I don’t have to listen to my parents screaming at each other was pretty much impossible.  Looking back, it’s become pretty clear that my weight began to get out of control the crazier things got at home, but at the time I didn’t realize it was even possible to ‘medicate’ oneself with food.

After making the connection as an adult, it’s been pretty easy to draw connections between “I’m feeling crazy-stressed right now!” and the desire to wolf down carrot cake: “let’s forget how stressed we are by eating something yummy!” or even not-yummy.  Sometimes eating until we feel sick or eating just to eat or eating ‘so it’s all gone’: all of those are options to avoid the negative emotions we don’t want to deal with! I mean, it worked when I was a kid, didn’t it?

No, it didn’t work.  I felt better for the few minutes I was eating but gaining all that weight just made so many things that much harder.  It was hard to find clothes that fit; I was ridiculed by classmates, family members and even a few teachers for being overweight.  It was a continual problem between my mom and me.  Everything in my life that wasn’t already in chaos because of the poor family dynamics was thrown into chaos because of my ballooning weight.  My weight became the focus of how awful things were at home: my parents blamed my weight on each other; it was a constant landmine at home and the more there were problems at home, the more I ate and the bigger I got.  Eating my problems only added to my problems!

This is what I need to take away from Why I Gained Weight: eating my emotions made everything worse! Going forward, I need to remind myself that eating cake or chips or bread or anything does not solve any problems at all unless that problem is “my body needs fuel.” Eating because I am hungry is the only reason I need to eat! Even then, I don’t have to eat “right now!” just because I am hungry, especially if there aren’t any healthy options around.  If I can wait until later when I can eat something healthy or something I really enjoy, then I can wait to eat.  We’ve all stared into the fridge or the pantry looking for something to eat and asking ourselves “what am I hungry for?”  We aren’t really hungry because if we were,  we’d eat what was there, whether it’s eggs, broccoli, a can of soup, etc.  The fact that we’re ‘hungry for something’ means we’re looking for comfort or distraction, not food!

We all have unhappy events in our lives, some of them much more traumatic than others.  Some of us learned to deal with these incidences by eating our emotions and some of us turned to other methods to deal with the emotional and psychological fallout.  However we’ve chosen to deal with them, if our method is unhealthy (like overeating), then it is adding to our problems, not helping us deal with them. When it comes to our weight, knowing Why we gained weight initially only helps us if we take that incident or learned habit and use it to find ways to correct the detrimental behavior.

Yes, it sucks having to find other ways of dealing with stress.  Sometimes we have to face the yucky emotions and just deal with them.  Stress is uncomfortable, but until we find a healthy way of dealing with our negative emotions and situations, eating our stress only adds to the stress in our lives.  It may be that we have to learn meditation or a breathing technique or prayer or even a counselor. All of these techniques are healthier than eating our emotions. There’s also no rule that says you have to find only one technique either! In some situations I simply tell myself “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it” because worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet is just adding more stress.  In some situations I go to the gym and spend some time in the pool.  My Go-To Stress Relievers? My pets! I go home, spend some time playing with them and they are such a healthy distraction that I feel better almost immediately (and they are calorie free!)

Coming Up For Air: Weight Loss & Getting Perspective

When it comes to losing weight, most of us know what are problems are.  We get lazy about food choices; we give in to cravings; we bail on our workouts because we just don’t feel like it– whatever the excuse is, we know it’s an excuse no matter how we try to justify it!

For some of us, though, we don’t know what the problem is until we are away from the problem.  I remember last year when my weight loss started to hit a few bumps and I was feeling really tired, really stressed and there were quite a few days when I made the ‘best fast food choice’ I could because I didn’t have time to cook.  I was very depressed about the whole situation, mainly blaming myself for making excuses. I was emailing a friend about what was going on in my life: I was working & commuting as usual (2 hrs each way x 5 days a week); I was taking care of my mom’s dogs (going by her place 3-5 times a week) and taking them to the groomers/ vet; I was taking care of my own errands (my dog, groceries & truck maintenance); I was trying to make my workouts (2-3 x week) and I had been doing this since August.  At the time of my email, it was November and of course, now I had to add holiday shopping into that list.  After spending most of one day each weekend with my mom’s dogs while she was in the hospital and going by her home evenings 3-4 times a week after I got off work/ gym/ grocery store, I was too tired to cook when I got home at 8 or 8:30 p.m.  If I didn’t have something healthy I could quickly heat up, then here comes the ‘healthy fast food!’  After taking care of my own pets, housework and dinner, I’d be lucky if I got to bed around 10:00 and then I’m getting up again at 5:30 a.m.  While it still feels like a lot of excuses to me, there were a few of my gym friends whose mouths dropped when I told them what I was doing on a regular basis, and had been doing for nearly four months straight.  No wonder I was tired and cranky!

When I actually stopped to re-read what I had written, I realized that’s a lot to cram into 168 hours a week, and that includes sleeping! Once I wrote it down as an objective list of what I was doing on a daily and weekly basis, I got perspective on my situation. There were legitimate reasons I was feeling so tired and cranky and my eating choices were seriously skewed. The point isn’t “great! I have reasons, not excuses!”; the point is that now I have some perspective on the situation, I can begin to formulate a planned response instead of just jumping from crisis to crisis!  In a lot of ways, this situation was nearly a mirror image of the last two years I worked The Job From Hell: late hours, poor eating choices, no activity, no sleep and triple stress!  I was too busy bouncing from crisis to crisis to stop and get perspective on my situation or figure out how to improve it.  This is the same situation that propelled my weight to nearly 440 lbs and caused my general health to head into the toilet.  In short, it nearly killed me and, while my health and weight were greatly improved by August 2017, I was heading back down the road to where I was in September 2014. Definitely not a good place to be!

Perspective is important, and not just when it comes to weight loss.  What I had been doing at The Job From Hell and those four months last year was slapping band-aids on problems that needed serious attention, and unfortunately, that’s what a lot of us do. When we aren’t being deluged with crises, we all know what kinds of problems can get by with a band-aid and what needs a real solution but when we are drowning in emergencies and ‘gotta do it now!’ situations, we can’t see that. We are too busy trying to keep from drowning to realize that we are bailing out an ocean liner with a teacup.  Maybe you’ve seen the commercial for car insurance where the driver spills his coffee and since he’s reacting to the spilled coffee, he doesn’t see the car in front of him.  It’s because our focus has shifted to what looks like an emergency.  Maybe it is a genuine emergency but unless we keep our focus where it needs to be, our overall situation will never improve.  This is why we need to step back and get a good objective view of what is really going on.

On a recent episode of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now?, we got an update on Erica’s weight loss journey. Her first episode was heart-breaking for me because while she lived alone, she was completely dependent on her brother, sister and niece for any assistance such as shopping and some personal care. Only her niece seemed to have any sympathy  or real concern for her situation.  Her brother was apathetic at best and her sister was downright cruel at times.  Although her sister and brother-in-law eventually helped her, it was blatantly obvious that it was not from the goodness of their hearts!  Their nasty snide remarks and threats to stop helping her made it clear that Erica had two choices: meekly accept the abuse or go it on her own.  As it was, their assistance was minimal at best and at worst, it literally put her life at risk. Rather than take the few days to drive her from Central California to Houston, they would only take her if she went on a plane, despite the risk of fatal complications involved with flying. With a flight of about five hours and weighing 661 lbs, Erica was in real danger of developing a fatal blood clot (deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism). As it was, upon her arrival in Houston, she ended up being hospitalized due to severe dehydration. (She was so dehydrated she had blood in her urine.)

Erica’s overall attitude was more negative than most patients. It was apparent she had made a difficult last-ditch effort to save her life and she had almost no support from her family. She was not only struggling against her own issues: she had to fight her family’s negativity as well.

It wasn’t until after she had moved to Houston and been living there for a while that she realized her separation from her family and the situation in California allowed her to get perspective on her struggles. When she had to return to California due to finances, she was able to put together a planned response to the issues she knew she was going to have to face. As a result of getting perspective and formulating a plan, Erica was able to make significant progress on her weight loss and at the end of this update, she was within 60-70 lbs of her goal weight.

Getting perspective is hard, mainly because we’re too close to the problem to realize we’re drowning. This is one reason some kind of support community is so important to success: you get the benefit of perspective. You don’t have to get a therapist like Erica did; in my case, I was just emailing a friend. I also share my frustrations and experiences in an online community (My Fitness Pal). A supportive community of any kind not only provides encouragement, ideas and suggestions but it also lets someone who is not drowning in your situation to offer an objective opinion, even if it’s something as simple as “don’t you think that’s a lot of changes all at once?” (They were right!) Perspective allows you to make well considered decisions instead of just reacting to what’s going on around you. It allows you to exercise some control over a situation that may not be entirely within your control. It allows you to develop contingency plans, which in my case meant keeping quick-cooking healthy food on hand (eggs, steam-ready veggies) so I didn’t have to resort to ‘so-called healthy fast food.’

It’s not easy for some of us to find a supportive community and a lot of us think we don’t need one. We do. All the other times I tried to lose weight failed and a big part of that failure was because I was toughing it out on my own. Ironically, having no perspective on my situation kept me from seeing I was drowning all alone and it didn’t have to be that way. Your support community doesn’t have to be others involved in weight loss: some of my biggest supporters are my friends who don’t need to lose weight! They offer motivation, ideas, encouragement and that so necessary objective perspective. Being my friends is all they need to do: giving me their honest opinions, listening when I need a sympathetic sounding board and occasionally helping me come up for air.

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)!

 

Weight Loss & The Sympathy Junkie: Just Say NO!

I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about “sympathy junkies” in some of my posts. I have a lot of experience with people who have this disorder.  While I know one of the terms for it is Munchhausen Syndrome and others call it narcissism, I usually boil it down the “Look at Me!” mentality.  Whatever it is going on with them, these people want to be the center of attention.  They are firm believers in the motto “there’s no such thing as bad publicity!” Hah! I can think of a few celebrities and corporations that would disagree: it’s not always a good thing to have people focused on you.

There’s nothing wrong with positive attention.  If you’ve done something good, we all like the pat on the head and the “attaboy/ attagirl!”  But most of us are also familiar with the schoolyard bully who’d hit kids just to get the teacher’s attention because he wasn’t getting any at home. For this kid, any attention was positive attention because it was better than NO attention.

For some of us, this idea of attention has become connected to our weight loss and health improvement goals.  Most times, it’s a good thing: we lose weight, we become more fit, we eat healthier and we get a lot of positive attention from our family and friends.  They’re proud of our success and the positive attention encourages us to keep making positive changes and to continue to do well.  That’s how it’s supposed to work and most of the time, that’s what happens with us.

For some of us, mainly the sympathy junkies, they’re like the schoolyard bullies: they want any kind of attention, and if they can’t get it by doing something good, they’ll get it for being helpless or having some kind of problem.  We all know people who have problem after problem and their lives are one trainwreck after another. “Poor Mimi! Nothing good ever happens to her!”  The irony is that Mimi and others like her are only happy when they’re miserable, while the rest of us just silently groan and ask “what’s wrong with Mimi today?” There is no real sympathy left because she’s cried wolf every day since you met her.

I gave serious thought before writing about this topic and I had put it on the back burner for several weeks, because, really, does it relate to weight loss?  The very day I had reviewed it and decided I was going to table it indefinitely, something happened that reminded me that yes, this is a topic that can affect our weight loss.

For starters, we definitely do not want to be Mimi the Munchhausen Moaner whom no one wants to be around! There’s a reason no one likes her: she’s always complaining, always helpless and always wants all of your time and attention.  (For the record: it can be Mike the Munchhausen Moaner, too!)

For most of us, when we hit a snag with our workouts or a plateau in our weight loss, we bring up our problem because we are looking for a solution. We’re obviously not doing something right or we’ve injured ourselves or we need to make a change, so we’re asking for help.  Sympathy is nice, but it’s not going to help me recover from my injury or make progress with my weight loss. Solutions only, please!

The sympathy junkies don’t want solutions- they just want your sympathy and attention! When you start coming up with alternate workouts or changes to their eating plans, they usually start coming up with reasons why that doesn’t work for them. They can’t change their workout because of this ailment or other injury; they can’t change how their eating habits because of blah blah blah.  That’s a huge clue you are dealing with a sympathy junkie: they’ve got an infinite number of excuses or failing that, they’re great at failing! They tried and failed and now they’re just doomed. (Cue the melodramatic music!) It’s also a huge clue if you find excuses tripping glibly off your tongue: you are not looking for an actual solution to your problem!

Most of us don’t have this problem: we want a solution so we can move forward.  Mimi (or Mike) is our real problem: we have one or more of them in our lives! To be blunt, they are giant sinkholes. They waste our time and our energy and frankly, they wear on our nerves.  It would be different if they wanted to improve or a solution to their problem but they don’t.  They just want you either to do something for them or pay attention to them.

Believe it or not, they do affect our weight loss because they are sapping time that could be put to working out or meal planning or another activity.  They sap our energy so that by the time we are done dealing with their “Drama du jour,” we’re too mentally or physically exhausted to take care of ourselves, and they add to our stress since we are usually expected to drop everything to deal with that Drama du jour again in the middle of our day or week. So much for our workout/ walk/ grocery trip! Goodbye healthy lunch since now we’ve got to scarf it (or something else) on the way to deal with Mimi or Mike! Not to mention keeping us up nights either with resentment or just fretting over what they’re going to drop on us next!

Lack of sleep and chronic stress trigger our bodies to hang on to our energy stores, aka body fat.  We’re fighting the tide when we don’t get enough rest or are always stressed out. (Haven’t we all got enough of our own problems?) Not to mention the sabotage to our healthy meal planning, eating habits and workouts.  We might have something healthy at home ready to prepare but then we get stuck at Mike’s house because of another disaster he needs our help with so by the time we get home, it’s either eat nothing at all or what’s quick? (Too often, ‘quick’ ends up being the healthiest option at the drive-thru.) It interferes with meal planning or meal prep for the same reasons: we set aside time to do it and then Hurricane Mimi hits and all that goes out the window! So when we go to bed that night, we may not have accomplished all we needed to, so now we’re fretting about “what do I do for meals the rest of the week?” and “what’s next with Mimi?”

Obviously, if Mimi / Mike is not a relative, removing her/ him from your circle of friends is easier, but if they’re relatives, then it’s more problematic. Telling them you’re too busy may not be a viable option, but ultimately you need to understand that while he and she are not doing you any favors, you are not doing them any favors either by jumping every time they call.

One of the issues Dr. Nowzaradan (My 600 lb Life) has to deal with on a regular basis is his patients’ enablers.  These are the people who make it easy for his patients to eat 10,000+ calories daily because they either buy it for them, bring it to them or both! Obviously, if it’s hard for you to walk or drive, you’re not going to be wandering around the grocery store filling your cart with brownies, chips or candy and if it’s hard for you to fit behind a steering wheel, you’re not going to be hitting Dunkin Donuts, Sonic or KFC multiple times a day.  His patients get to 500 lbs or more because there are people who do this for them, and they are obviously not doing these super morbidly obese patients any favors.  This is what an enabler does: make it easy for the bad behavior to continue.

Every time you come when Mimi or Mike has their daily disaster, you make it easy for them to continue this attention-seeking behavior. When their toilet gets stopped up or their cell phone dies or they have a flat tire, they can do what everyone else does and call a plumber, the auto club or take the phone to the wireless store. When they have a problem and call you, give them a solution and go on with your day.  When they keep calling with excuses or why they need your help, you do not have to answer! They’ll either take your advice or eventually stop calling you. FYI: be prepared for a tantrum and a lot of passive-aggressive retaliation about how you’re too busy to help them out.  The answer is “Yes, I am too busy! Sorry about that!” I know this sounds harsh, especially if Mike/ Mimi is a relative, but the more they lean on you, the more dependent they become.  Unless they are an actual invalid, this is not good for them because when the time comes for them to act on their own (and it always does), they won’t know what to do because you (or someone else) has always taken care of them!

The Mimi in my life sparks a lot of anger and resentment which not only keeps me up nights, but I’ve recently learned that I do not make the healthiest meal choices when I am angry at her. When dealing with her daily disaster, I am more prone to grab something that I know is not good for me because I am not paying attention to what I am doing: my focus is what she just dumped on me and how angry I am. While blaming Mimi for my bad choice is one excuse I can make, the truth is that it’s my fault for not dealing with Mimi. Allowing the Mimis and Mikes in our lives to run roughshod over our plans and goals is simply an excuse we make for our own failures and in the end we become mini versions of them by blaming them for our behavior: “I’d have reached by goal by now but Mike/ Mimi kept getting in my way.” Sound familiar? Sounds a bit scary to me!

 

 

A Slippery Slope: Weight Loss & Falling Down The Learning Curve

We are an instant society.  We’ve got instant soup, instant pots, instant messages, and even Instagram. Our unofficial motto should be “instant gratification takes too long!” The problem with this Instant Philosophy is that while technology is instant, human beings are not. We can take a long time to absorb new information and learn new habits and procedures, and even if we learn things relatively quickly (as in a few days), we are frustrated with this seeming “delay.”  We want instant results!

Learning anything new or even trying something different is difficult at first.  It gets easier…. eventually.  It’s that holding out until it gets easier that is the hardest part and until we reach that point, it just seems to take longer to do, and when we do it “wrong” we have to do it again, or it just adds to our delay and that’s when we start falling down that learning curve! We ask ourselves if this is really worth it? Is it going to do whatever we want it to do? How long do I have to wait until I know?  Why does everything take so damn long?!

Welcome to the Human Experience! This is why we get so frustrated with ourselves and others when it comes to weight loss.  We all know that– tragically– weight loss isn’t instant. There’s a long list of “isn’ts” when it comes to weight loss: in addition to not being instant, weight loss isn’t linear, it isn’t permanent, it isn’t easy! Weight loss is slow, difficult and full of ups and downs.  That’s why most of us dread weight loss and making almost any kind of change to our eating and exercise.  We go through the process of trying something new, learning a new habit or procedure, then we have to get consistent with this new process and then- only after we’ve been consistent for a reasonable period of time- we get to find out if it actually works! It’s an almost painful process of trial and error! It’s as far removed from Instant as it can get!

But the biggest stumbling block isn’t that our new eating plan is wrong or that our new exercise program is messing up our weight loss: it’s that we give up on the process out of frustration.  There’s a learning curve that comes with making changes and being consistent with those changes.  To be blunt, the Instant mentality is messing us up and until we get that mentality out of our head, we’re going to keep messing up!

This is why fad diets and food replacement programs work so well in the short term.  They seem to give us the instant results we want.  We do something drastic, as in fasting for X amount of days taking only XYZ supplement or ABC diet shakes, or we just switch out our regular meals for the diet food from the Weight Loss Company.  Wow, we lose weight fast! …… At least until we stop with the fasting, the diet shakes, supplements and processed diet food and the weight comes back!

Making long term changes yields long term results, but it also takes a long time for the changes to show up. Making long term changes, even though they aren’t usually difficult, means we have to be consistent with them once we learn them, and that means changing our habits! Enter Frustration- the arch-nemesis of Instant! Let’s say we’re switching to a low carb breakfast, something fairly simple and easy to do! It’s one meal! So instead of having the bagel and cream cheese with a latte, we’re going to have string cheese and coffee with cream (some of us don’t do black!) Seems easy enough, but….. we’ve got to do it….every day… on a long term basis! So we start doing it and before we start seeing results, we start getting frustrated.  For starters, we really really want that bagel and latte! Then, we ‘forgot’ our string cheese so we need to get something else so we get a breakfast burrito (it’s kinda low carb, isn’t it? Umm… NO!)  Then we get tired of the cheese and the coffee: “I want something warm! I want something crunchy! This cheese doesn’t fill me up so I’m still hungry!”

This is why we aren’t losing weight: we aren’t being consistent.  How often did we get tired of the bagel and cream cheese? Did that bagel fill us up? Think about it: we finished our bagel about 9:00 a.m. and then went for a snack around 11:00 a.m. Not really filling if you’re hungry in two hours! There’s a learning curve when it comes to new habits and new procedures.  We not only need to be consistent with these habits in order to get any results but we need to be consistent to learn them! This means being patient! If we keep not-doing them, we’re going to keep not-losing weight and not-learning the new healthier habits!

When we talk ourselves into not doing the new habits, we are talking ourselves into failure again.  We think that we can’t lose weight because weight loss is hard so we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  That’s what turns the Learning Curve into a Slippery Slope! We try eating the low carb breakfast but we ‘forget’ and have the bagel or we ‘cheat’ and have a breakfast burrito and after a couple of weeks of ‘kind of’ having the low carb breakfast, we still haven’t lost any weight ( Burrito/Bagel: 8; Low Carb Breakfast: 6) and so we give up. “See? I told you I can’t lose weight!” Or we convinced ourselves that the low carb breakfast (or whatever) doesn’t work for us, because we ‘really tried it’. Really?? Consistently? Every day? “Ummmm…. kinda…?” Kinda doesn’t count!

The irony is that we want Instant Weight Loss Results but we talk ourselves into Instant Weight Loss Failure, because- again- we want Instant! Let’s face it: Instant is easy.  How much work can there be when it’s instant? Instant oatmeal: just add hot water and it’s five minutes to yum! Old fashioned “quick cooking” oatmeal: heat up the water on the stove, add the oatmeal and stir and stir and stir for about 20 minutes. “You mean I got to wait for the water to boil and then I gotta cook it for 20 minutes? And stir it too?! OMG!! Oh hell no!!” (Let’s not even talk about stove-top pudding vs instant! )

Learning to do something differently takes work and patience. It means dealing with things that are frustrating and making mistakes and above all it means not giving up! I know how frustrating and confusing new processes are.  One of my resolutions for 2018 is money management which means (cue ominous music) making a budget and sticking to it! After weight loss, this is probably the most frustrating, confusing and dreaded task in our lives. Not only am I counting calories now, I’m counting my pennies! After dinner, I sit down and log all my food, drinks and exercise, which is pretty much routine after a couple of years, but then I pull out my Budget Book, grab my iPhone and start going through my expenses, bank balances and any bills that have hit since yesterday **sigh**.  Makes for a thrilling evening though, because my blood pressure and frustration levels definitely go up!! There were so many nights I just wanted to chuck the whole process and go back to living paycheck to paycheck like so many other people do. “It’s not a sin, is it? If I can’t go on vacation, it’s not the end of the world, but what happens when I need to replace my car?”

However-– and this is important– after doing this for a couple of months, I’ve noticed some important things, such as I’m spending more on impulse purchases than I thought I was and by monitoring a few important categories, I’ve managed to save twice as much money as before. (This is not unlike skipping the potato chips, choosing the spinach and losing a few more pounds. Score!) The frustration headaches and evenings spent covered in pencil shavings and eraser dust have actually paid off and I’m getting some positive results. It’s not magic (although looking at my bank balance really feels like it is!): it was consistency and hard work and climbing back up that learning curve.  The end result is that if I hadn’t put in the hard work, all my frustration would have been for nothing and I’d be back to scraping up my change to get an Americano instead of watching my savings account get bigger.  Or to put it in weight loss terminology: I’d be eating the bagels every morning, getting hungry before noon and wondering why weight loss is so hard for me.

[FYI: I chose the book You Need A Budget by Jesse Mecham; they have a  free podcast, and a website, software and an app, which are not free, but they offer a free 30 day trial. I found they paid for themselves in a couple of months.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Band-Aids, Weight Loss & Facing the Ugly Truth

The phrase “emotional eater” is something we’ve all heard.  It’s become a cliché, right up there with “I eat my emotions.”  When you talk to most dieters about why they overeat, this is usually what they say, or they use the sister phrase “I’m a stress eater.”  Same thing: you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed or stressed and so you eat something to distract you or make you feel better. Food has become your emotional band-aid.

So when we try to make healthy changes to our eating and exercise habits, we focus- obviously- on what we eat, how much we eat, and how much activity we get.  Hello!! It’s weight loss!! Duhhhhh….. What else would we focus on?

Ummmm… how about our emotions?  As in “the emotions that drive us to overeat”?  Again, My 600 lb Life is full of great examples of this. The patient struggles to lose enough weight to qualify for bariatric surgery and after the surgery still struggles with the urge to overeat.  It’s usually at this point that the patient is referred to a therapist to deal with these emotions.  Over and over again, the patient will use their emotions, their life experiences and their circumstances as an excuse for overeating.  Some will even say that food is their coping mechanism, but while they struggle to control their eating, they aren’t dealing with the root cause of their urge to eat: their emotions!  But that’s what the therapist is for.

There are a lot of people who don’t want to deal with these issues.  No one does- and that includes me! It means we have to come face to face with what we spend a great deal of time and energy avoiding.  We’ve all had similar experiences: I need to call my mom and talk to her about XYZ; dealing with her always ends up in a fight or listening to her hours-long litany of what’s wrong in her life; even texting her can be problematic, let alone talking to her; are there any bananas left in the kitchen? On the surface, this appears to be a complete non sequitor– one thing has nothing to do with the other, but in reality, the whole bananas issue comes directly from the stress I feel having to deal with my mom.  I am distracting myself by rummaging through the pantry for bananas, they’re yummy and soothing so they make me feel better, they’re full of sugar and carbs so they solve the physical stress response and I don’t have to think about or deal with my mom while I’m eating them.  Mission accomplished!

Unless your mission is to lose weight and eat better! This is what happens with most of us: two seemingly unconnected events that result in our slowly gaining weight or at the very least not losing weight, and we usually end up either beating ourselves up over not controlling our urge to eat or white-knuckling through the cravings.  None of these are healthy for us: not the stress/ emotional eating; not the beating on ourselves and not the white-knuckling.  To add insult to injury, it becomes a vicious cycle: we stress-eat, we feel angry/ frustrated/ guilty; we stress-eat, repeat repeat repeat.

What we really need to do is deal with our emotions and our stressors.  To go back to my example, that means “dealing with mom” instead of scrounging up the last of the bananas. Hopefully for most of us, we won’t need a therapist, but it still means facing some ugly uncomfortable truths. It also means finding something else to use as a coping mechanism instead of food. The best answer is to find healthy ways to deal with what we are trying to avoid, but finding interim substitutes that aren’t harmful are still a better band-aid for our emotions than donuts, chips or even bananas.

Which leads to the other big problem with emotional eating: denial.  As in “I don’t have an emotional issue; I just don’t like dealing with my mom!” This reminds me of the old joke of the smoker puffing away on a cigarette while smugly telling others “I can quit anytime I want!”  If your reaction to stress or difficult situations is to find something to eat, then you need to find another way to cope with your stress! Seriously, there’s a connection and an issue even if it’s not one that leads you to be 600 lbs or even 400 lbs like me.  You can keep slapping band-aids on your emotions to hide them but the emotions aren’t going away. All you are doing is covering them up: the wound is still there.

This is usually where Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients either deny they need a therapist or they realize how much they really needed one! It’s not until their band-aids are taken away that they realize how much hurt they were really hanging onto. This is where the issue of being happy enters into weight loss.  The majority of people who want to lose weight believe that losing the weight will make them happy.  We’ve all said it to ourselves: “when I lose those 50 lbs, I’ll be happy!”; “If only I could lose this weight, I’d be happy!”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  Whatever problems we’re hiding from with food will still be there even if we give up the food. With Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, they are forced to deal with their issues because of the bariatric surgery.  Their stomachs have been cut down to a size where even a hamburger or a sandwich is too much food at once, so they can’t eat every time they feel the stress: this means they are left face to face with whatever painful situation they were trying to escape (enter the therapist!)  For the rest of us who don’t have a stomach the size of a small orange, we usually end up cheating: “hey, these Reese’s peanut butter hearts are only 170 calories each! Yummy!!” It’s avoidance behavior (the band-aid) and it’s why most people end up losing and gaining the same ten or fifteen pounds over the course of their lives. We’re trying to avoid the negative emotions and the food band-aid as well with mixed success: lose ten lbs, gain five lbs, lose five lbs, gain ten lbs.  It all depends on how much stress and emotion we are dealing with at the moment and how much we are using food to hide from it!

For Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, their emotional reality usually hits them in the face when they’ve had the surgery, lost a couple hundred pounds and are still struggling with overeating and their unhappiness. “What’s wrong? Why aren’t I happy now that I’m finally ‘getting my life back’?” The reality is the food was just the band-aid: now they’ve got to find a way to heal the emotional wounds they were hiding from. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some kind of emotional damage, even if it’s just something like not having a good relationship with a family member. We’ve got job stress, family stress, and just life stress in general. Welcome to the human experience! There’s no getting away from stress, emotions and frustrations- it comes with living, and slapping a food band-aid over our problems is a sure guarantee you’ll gain weight.  The sooner we all learn to find healthier ways of dealing with our stress and emotions, the healthier we’ll be overall because it’s not just our weight that suffers.

Our emotions affect the entirety of our lives: our bodies, our minds, our relationships and our spirit. How many times have you had a bad day at work or just a negative experience with someone else, come home and snapped at your spouse/ child/ pets? Usually with me, it’s something stupid that irritated me, I get home and my dogs jump on my lap and usually the puppy smacks my glasses (this happens every day with him) but since I’m p*ssed about something else, I yell at them for jumping on me or getting in my way (regular dog behavior). We all know this is unhealthy and unfair, and most of the time, we apologize to whomever we’ve wronged.  What is not so easy to realize is the way the stress and emotions prey on our sleep (bad dreams, sleepless nights), our relationships (snapping at family/ friends) or our bodies and spirits (fatigue, malaise, feeling overwhelmed or helpless or just lost).  All of this is our stress and emotions sucking the joy out of our lives.  When we hide from them with food, we feel happy for a while because of the food and then we wrongly assume our problem is the food, when it’s the emotions behind the food.

Food is only one band-aid that we use. Other band-aids are alcohol, gambling, shopping, sex, social media, gaming, or whatever we use to distract ourselves, including exercise.  When my sister was in college I could always tell when she had a major project or exam because she’d go jogging again and again and again.  That was her stress band-aid; mine was food. Obviously, dealing with stress and emotions sucks.  Therapists and other professionals are only one way of handling something ugly and uncomfortable.  Other ways include journaling, meditation or anything really that you enjoy that helps you relax.  The key isn’t avoiding the ugly emotions but finding a way to face them, accept their ugliness and take away their power over you. One therapist reminded her patient that forgiveness isn’t for the person who wronged her: it’s for the patient herself.  Forgiving her abuser takes away his power over her.  When we learn to deal with the stress and emotions we all face every day, we take away their power over us. Yes, it’s going to sting, but it always does when you rip off a band-aid.

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.