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.

 

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…..