The WTH?!? Diet: Weight Loss & Listening to Your Body

I recently saw an ad on my local PBS station for a program about “what should I eat?” featuring a famous weight loss/ nutritionist doctor.  As much as I respect this doctor, I’m pretty sure this is a knee-jerk reaction to all the ‘healthy diet options’ spreading like wildfire all over the media.  Everywhere we turn we’re bombarded with ads for the ‘true weight loss diet’ and the ‘healthiest diet’ for athletes, people who want to lose weight and everyone else under the sun. And now, we’re getting slammed with the ‘DNA diet’ ads: “get your DNA tested and find out what diet works for you!”

I guess diets can’t get much more personalized than by testing your DNA, but at the same time, I wonder about the accuracy of those tests. I recently had mine tested (not for a diet plan but it was included in the package) and I was extremely unimpressed by the results.  According to the alleged experts, I should have lost weight (extremely slowly FYI) by eating a carb-heavy, low-fat, low-protein diet and while I apparently don’t drink as much coffee as the average person, “more coffee consumption might help [me] lose weight.”  Since the carb-heavy, low-fat, low-protein diet is what caused me to gain about 150 lbs through my 30’s & 40’s, I pretty much concluded their ‘analysis’ is garbage, especially since they concluded that based on a couple of genes, I’m supposedly not sensitive to refined carbs.  I cannot tell you how easily I am affected by a refined carb! If I have a normal sized piece of cake in the evening, I’m up all night in the bathroom, get nasty leg and foot cramps all night,  feel my blood sugar spike in the early morning, wake up with a ‘hangover headache’ and am absolutely starving within minutes of waking. These things only happen with refined carbs and/ or sugar! But according to the ‘expert analysis,’ I’m not ‘sensitive’ to refined carbs. Yeaahhhhh, riiight….

This is what’s missing with today’s diet-mania: we’re so busy listening to what the ‘experts’ are telling us to do that we aren’t listening to what our bodies are telling us about the food we’re eating! I listened to all the ‘experts’ back in the ’80’s & ’90’s who were pushing the heart-healthy whole grains and low fat diets.  I followed them as closely as I could, ate lots of whole grains, whole wheat and cut out all the fats that I could, and I slowly and steadily gained weight! I was seriously confused because I obviously wasn’t doing the diet right since I kept gaining weight! WTH?!? By the time I topped 400 lbs, I had pretty much given up.  Obviously there was something really wrong with how I was eating but I didn’t know what and all the ‘experts’ kept giving me the same information: low fat, lots of whole grains!

Most of you know that now I follow a Paleo diet and it’s not that I’m pushing my way of eating on anyone, but the fact is the basic Paleo philosophy works for me.  I eat as much whole unprocessed food as I can and more vegetables than meat.  I limit my grains, my legumes, my sugar and my dairy consumption.  While that’s part of most generic “Paleo diets,” I find I feel better and lose more weight without the grains, sugar and legumes in my diet, and while the DNA analysis didn’t mention anything about lactose intolerance, I noticed shortly before I ‘went Paleo’ that I felt really really cruddy after eating yogurt or having any dairy.  After giving it up entirely for a few months, I realized I could have a limited amount without feeling cruddy, but I still feel better keeping it to a minimum (cream in the coffee, a little cheese and yogurt on occasion).

The most important thing I learned from eating Paleo isn’t that “grains are bad for everyone!” or that “cavemen didn’t eat beans!” It’s that we need to listen to our bodies when it comes to what we’re eating! Most athletes are used to listening to their bodies when it comes to activities like running, swimming or whatever their specialty is.  If they normally run a marathon but their hamstrings start feeling it around mile 20, they stop! Their body is telling them something’s not right and to keep running is going to hurt them and they listen to it!

That’s what I didn’t do in my ’30’s when I was gaining weight on the low-fat high-carb diet.  My body was telling me “this isn’t good for us!” and I didn’t listen, until I had gained 400 lbs — major damage! Even though I knew something was wrong, I just assumed I wasn’t doing the diet correctly or that I wasn’t getting enough exercise or I was just eating too much (the last two were definitely true!) but it honestly never occurred to me that the food I was eating was also causing damage to my body.  “I’m not sensitive to gluten. I eat muffins all the time and never get sick!” Between the sugar and the carbs in the muffins I was eating, I was really screwing up my blood sugar! All the starches int those ‘healthy whole grains’ were killing me, slowly and painfully! But it was like I kept limping along in the marathon since ‘my feet don’t hurt- just my hamstrings.’ My body never got the chance to level out my blood sugar or burn fat because I was eating about every two-three hours (“it boosts your metabolism!”– not mine!) and I was eating more ‘healthy whole grains’ aka starches!

Once I stopped eating the processed foods, the starches, sugars and other ‘non-Paleo’ foods, what I found out was that my metabolism and my body really liked eating more leafy green vegetables (spinach, lettuce), more cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts) and more unprocessed foods in general. I basically went to as blank a food slate as I could and I realized I could tell the difference after eating bread and a day without eating bread. It was like I suddenly heard what my body had been trying to tell me all along: pasta ain’t good for us, honey, no matter how much whole grain it’s got in it! Once I began listening to my body, it made eating a whole lot easier. It doesn’t matter if I call it a Paleo diet, a keto diet or a Whole 30 diet: the name doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I feel good after I eat, I don’t feel like crap the next day, my body is healthier with what I’m eating and I’m also losing weight (bonus!)

The problem is that most people like having a food list or some kind of concrete food plan when it comes to dieting or eating healthier.  This is why so many of those packaged weight loss programs are so popular: you don’t have to make any decisions other than “do I want pizza or beef stew for lunch?” To be frank, for a lot of people making their own food decisions is walking the tightrope without a net. What happens if I make a mistake?  In this situation, mistakes are not a bad thing! For a long time, I couldn’t figure out why I’d have really horrible leg & foot cramps in the middle of the night so I started writing them down in my food journal when I got up in the morning, and after looking back a few weeks, I realized they always happened after I had something sugary/ starchy for dinner the night before! Hello!! No sugar/ starch with dinner= no nasty foot cramps! Problem solved!

Unfortunately the words “Food Journal” are right up there with “Root Canal” for a lot of people: “You mean I gotta write down everything I eat??” Yes, because that’s how we learn things! You are actually making your own diet as you go along. How do you know what works for you and what doesn’t if you don’t keep track of what you eat? It’s often said that you can’t evaluate what you don’t monitor, and we acknowledge that in other aspects of our lives.  When we look at our credit card bill, it comes with a summary of charges so we know who made what charge where and when and if there’s something on there that we don’t recognize, we call the company to let them know that’s not us! But we don’t look at it, if we just pay the bill and think “I must’ve really been busy with that card!” we’ll never know someone stole our account number and has been spending our money. We monitor our electrical usage (it goes up in summer!), our water bill (also up in summer!) and how much gas we’re putting in the car, but when it comes to keeping track of what we’re eating, ….. umm, fish and chips yesterday and I think it spaghetti the night before… I don’t remember breakfast… Then when we get nasty heartburn or feel like our body’s full of lead, we don’t have any frame of reference for why, so we go on eating the same foods and wondering why we sometimes feel cruddy. [FYI: isn’t this the Not Working For Me diet that made us overweight?]

‘Making your own diet’ only works when you keep track of what you’re eating and how you feel afterwards, but it doesn’t have to be an in-depth intensive account.  For me, I log it in an app and when I get home, I write it in my paper journal along with any notes about how I felt: super hungry at 3:00 p.m.; really tired or stressed all day; nasty leg cramps during the night, etc. I used to weigh and measure everything mainly so I’d have an idea of what five ounces of meat or a cup of spinach looked like. Now that I’ve got a good idea, I only weigh & measure if I want to double-check. It seriously takes me about five minutes to write down everything I ate and drank during the day.  It just needs to be enough to give me a frame of reference if I start feeling good, bad, or stop losing weight or worse start gaining. Keeping track is also how I learned that a little dairy is okay, starches are seriously not okay and a few legumes won’t hurt me. Is this a Paleo diet? I don’t know and I don’t care, because it’s my diet and it works for me but it only works when I pay attention. So what did you eat today?









If Only Wishing Made It So: You Can’t Lie Yourself to Weight Loss

When I was a kid there was a really popular margarine commercial with the tag line “it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” usually accompanied by some melodramatic thunder and lightning.  While we try all the time to fool our bodies with fake fat, manufactured oils and other weird processed ingredients, this post is about how we lie to ourselves about our progress.  We all do it at some time or another, whether it’s as simple as “I don’t eat cookies every day,” or “it’s one candy bar and I’ll work out later tonight.” When we try fooling ourselves into believing “we’re working on our weight loss,” the person we’re hurting the most is ourselves, not to mention everyone else who loves and depends on you.

Weighing ourselves on a regular basis is one way of tracking our progress but it’s not the most comprehensive way.  It’s hard to evaluate a process when you only look at the end result. Some of tools I like to recommend to people who are just starting out (or even those who are starting again) are a food scale and a diet tracker.  This is usually where 90% of us groan about having to weigh/ measure our food and then logging it into a food tracker.  Yes, it’s a pain but it keeps us honest.  This is what I mean about lying to ourselves about our progress. It’s one thing to grab a handful of macadamia nuts and say “this is one serving,” and it’s another to put it on the food scale, note that it’s really one and three-quarters serving, enter it into your diet app and realize you just ate 350 calories.  If you didn’t weigh and log that, it’s so easy to fool yourself into thinking you had “about 180-200 calories of healthy nuts!” Yes, macadamias are good for you, but too many calories at the end of the day are still too many calories.  “Why am I not losing weight when I’ve been working so hard on my diet?” Because you aren’t working on your diet- you only think you are. That’s where most of us make what I think of as ‘honest mistakes.’ You have good intentions but you don’t have the right tools to help you along. [FYI: I usually recommend an Ozeri digital food scale. It’s an America’s Test Kitchen best buy at roughly $12.00 from Amazon. I also use the My Fitness Pal app/ website (free) and I like to keep a paper journal (DietMinder about $15.00 on Amazon).]

As I said, those are ‘honest mistakes.’ Then there’s the outright lies to yourself, where you help yourself to biscuits with butter, caramel corn and chocolate fudge cookies and pretend you didn’t eat them. Or you bail on your work out because you’re ‘too busy’ and when your friends and family ask you how you’re doing on your weight loss, you lie about how “I’ve been working at it.” And if they ask how much weight you’ve lost recently, you lie again and say “I’ve been too busy to weigh myself lately.” If you had a nose like Pinocchio, it’d be stabbing them in the face. Your loved ones will probably believe you until it’s patently obvious that you’ve not been working at your weight loss. You can even lie to yourself by convincing yourself that the cookies, biscuits, and other junk food isn’t going to ‘derail’ your weight loss, but you can’t lie to your body.  Your body knows what you’ve been eating, not eating and how much activity you’ve been getting.  Your body won’t believe the lies you’ve been telling yourself and everyone just because you want it to. Your body is a lot like that scale and that diet tracker: you enter the data and it tallies up the calories, nutrients and lack of nutrients. The bad news is that it displays that data on your thighs, your belly, your butt and everywhere else for all the world to see.

We all wish we can be thinner, fitter and healthier, but wishing doesn’t make it so.  It takes hard work and it takes a commitment to change. As I said in a recent post, we can’t farm this out to someone else to handle for us like putting in new carpet or getting the house painted. We’ve got to do the heavy lifting on our own: things like deciding what to eat, how much to eat, when to work out and keeping ourselves motivated. None of this is easy and it’s okay to wish all this were easier, but at the end of the day, you have to commit to weight loss every day.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) likes to remind her listeners “every choice is a chance” and I believe that. You don’t have to scourge yourself because you had caramel corn at your friend’s Superbowl party and if you’re at a restaurant with amazing garlic bread, you don’t have to sit on your hands to keep from eating it.  I am saying that when you eat it, log it and don’t lie to yourself about it. Why log it? Aside from keeping tally on what you’ve eaten for the day, when you flip through the last couple weeks of your food journal (this is why I like a paper one too), it’s there on the pages that in addition to that caramel corn and garlic bread, you’ve also had those fudge cookies, the peanut butter cups and the sea salt chocolate caramels.  Hmmm, maybe that’s why you didn’t lose weight this week?  Maybe it’s a sign you need to redirect your focus back to eating more healthy unprocessed foods and less nutrient-vacant sugar-filled processed stuff? It’s harder to lie to yourself when you’re looking at an objective list of what you’ve eaten and how much activity you’ve gotten. Believe me, some people can look at the trashcan full of candy wrappers and tell themselves they’ve ‘been good,’ but their bodies know the truth: they’ve been eating junk, and the junk will eventually accumulate in their trunk!

Lest you interpret this as a “holier than thou” attitude, I confess a big part of this post is unfortunately inspired by my own Pinocchio-nose.  There’s been a lot of Paleo cookie wrappers, organic (and not so organic) popcorn and sweet potato chip bags in my trashcan lately, along with some ‘fair trade’ chocolate bar wrappers. It may be a higher quality of junk food than what I ate before, but bottom line, it’s still junk food: too much sugar, too many carbs and not a whole lot of what’s good for me.  Ultimately, just too many calories! I’ve been the one telling my family that I’ve been too busy to weigh because really I don’t want to see that I’ve not lost weight or actually gained some pounds. Do I really want to lose weight? Oh hell yes! But it only happens when we work at it every day and keep our focus and motivation trained on the good healthy habits we’ve spent a lot of time and effort cultivating.  I’m definitely not making progress by eating junk food and pretending I didn’t! We all wish weight loss were quick and easy. It isn’t and all the wishing– or lying- in the world will not make it so!












Building A Solid Road for Weight Loss: The Bottom Layers Count

One of the alleged perks of being an English Major is that literature isn’t created in a vacuum, which was my see-through excuse for minoring in history. Basically, people write about what they know and what happens around them. For those of you rolling your eyes, I’m volunteering Jonathan Swift and Lewis Carroll. Both of their most famous works (Gulliver’s Travels and Alice in Wonderland, respectively) are brilliant satires on the England of their time. 

The beauty- and flaw- of this interconnection is that it lends real depth and strength to the stories, which is why we remember the mini Lilliputians and the Red Queen shouting “off with their heads!”  The flaw is that the stories are strong enough to stand on their own and no one remembers why the Lilliputians are so little and why the Queen wants to behead everyone. 

So what does a didactic Queen Victoria and petty self-absorbed 18th century Englishmen have to do with weight loss? One word: foundation. Actually one adjective and one noun: strong foundation. When we build a strong foundation for weight loss, or rather a healthy lifestyle, the healthy lifestyle will eventually stand strong on its own. The sum becomes greater than its parts. We don’t need to know the ins and outs of the history behind Swift & Carroll to enjoy the stories on their own. Usually only nerds like me care about the history; the rest of the world just likes the story. 

Since literature is rather ephemeral,the history geek in me is going to give you a more concrete example: the Appian Way, or virtually any Roman road. The Romans understood- probably better than any other culture- that if you’re going to build something, you should build it to last. All across the former Roman Empire, the modern civilizations currently living there are still using the roads, aqueducts and bridges (among other things) built by the Romans a couple thousand years ago. The solid foundations of those ancient roads still hold up better than modern creations, putting up not only with 2000 years of traffic but also continuing to withstand our modern trucks, buses and cars. One of the major frustrations of modern engineers is- again- the Why behind the strength in the Roman roads. Why do they last when something “modern and sophisticated” collapses after some rain and a couple decades of use? The secret is literally the concrete in the foundation. Roman concrete and the foundation of the road is why they last. It’s the bottom layers that no one sees and everyone forgets that give them their staying power. 

So when we go to build our healthy lifestyle to eat better, be more active and lose weight, we tend to focus more on the superstructure than the foundation: we want something that “looks dramatic” rather than the mundane stuff no one notices. Example: we decide to do a 21 Day Detox or a 6 Week Keto Reset or a Five Day Fast rather than something ‘dull’ like tracking for 14 days. Why is tracking so important? Simply put: we can’t measure what we don’t monitor. How can we improve our diet if we don’t know what our diet really is? We might think that we’re ‘eating clean,’ ‘eating high protein,’or that we’re ‘eating less,’ but studies show we really do have selective memory. We may remember “breakfast, lunch and dinner,” but forget we snacked on the peppermint patties after lunch or the latte we had after breakfast or the peanuts we got on the way home from work. Likewise finishing the last slice of pizza in the fridge after dinner or the marshmallows and hot chocolate while watching tv. Those little memory lapses add up over time and eventually tip the scales, literally. Until we know what and how much and how often we eat and drink, we can’t measure any healthy progress or make real healthy changes. It’s not glamorous or exciting, but it’s a solid foundation for positive changes. Once we know what we’re eating, we can begin making real changes and even more importantly, we’ll know what works and what doesn’t. This last simple truth is priceless. Example: if you think you’re eating low carb but “don’t count” the peanuts you have several times a week after lunch, you may not be as low carb as you think, and if you’re trying to get into ketosis, those peanuts might be getting in your way. Or it might not be the peanuts: it may be your ‘few times a week’ latte or the combination of the three times a week latte and the handful of peanuts each afternoon at the office. We might think of these as ‘occasional indulgences,’ but how ‘occasional’ are they really? You’d know if you tracked. 

The same is true if you’re trying to improve your insulin resistance: the longer you go between meals, ie fasting, the better it is for your insulin, but if you’re not tracking, you may not realize that “supposed sugarless, calorie-free” snack you’re eating multiple times a week is what’s getting in your way. If you’ve changed everything else and it’s still not working, that snack may be the culprit, but again if you’re not tracking, that snack might keep sneaking by. 

Most people don’t like to track because they don’t want to measure or walk around with a notebook to write things down. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. Personally I like a paper journal because I keep other notes in it, like my mood or any pain (arthritis aggravated by grains), or just simple things like sleep quality. Most of us don’t realize we’re walking around with mini computers in our hands all day long. Tracking can be putting down what we eat in our notes app, downloading a tracking app like MFP (My Fitness Pal) or Fitbit (especially if we have a tracker), or something as simple as taking a pic of everything we eat! It can be as complex or as easy as you want, as long as it works for you, but until we have a clear picture of our bottom line, anything we try to build on top of that is off to a shaky start! 

Running in Place: Getting Nowhere FAST!

I am not talking about a treadmill, or elliptical or even a stationary bike here! This is when we are frantically trying to make progress, busting our butts to move forward and we aren’t going anywhere at all!  This is the most frustrating position we find ourselves in as we try to lose weight or become more fit.  It’s even more frustrating than figuring out where to start, because at least in that situation, you have some kind of direction: how do I get started?

When we are ‘doing everything right’ and not making progress, it’s almost unbearable.  Obviously, we aren’t doing everything right, but what is it we are doing wrong?  Maybe it’s nothing we are doing but what we aren’t doing.  Maybe it’s something external that’s affecting us.  Maybe it’s a plateau. Maybe, maybe, maybe!! Still not helping us move forward!! What do I do? How do I fix this? Can I even be fixed??

I know you don’t want to hear this but the best way to figure this out is to slow down.  We need to approach this like a detective or a doctor and ask a few simple questions to narrow down the culprit: 1) When did I stop making progress? and 2) What has changed since that date?  If you are tracking your progress, this should be a matter of looking back through your journal or whatever you use.  Of course there isn’t going to be a big red flag proclaiming: THIS IS WHEN YOU WENT OFF TRACK! so you need to look back at the last date you know you were on target and then move forward to the present.  This is why you need to slow down, because even though it’s only two questions, there are a lot of things that come into play and if you aren’t tracking all of them, or at least making notes, then it’s going to be a little more complicated.  Another big reason you need to slow down is that if you just start making arbitrary changes, like “I’ll eat more protein and less carbs!”; “I’ll add more reps/ time to my workouts!”; “I’ll switch up my workouts from cardio to weight training!”, you might not be addressing the problem.  If the problem is too many indulgences, working out more might help, but not as much as cutting back on the indulgences.  Also, if the problem is over-training, adding in more workouts is just going to make it worse!

Like I said, it helps if you are tracking and depending on your personality.  I use the My Fitness Pal app but I also use a paper journal. The MFP app is good for nutrition calculation, water, counting calories and it’s awesome for support.  I also use the Fitbit app for calculating sleep and activity and the paper journal is also where I track my food, portions, macros, calories and all the little incidentals that I don’t put in MFP simply because it’s easier to write a little note and it’s a whole lot easier to flip through.  The paper journal I use is the DietMinder from, although I get mine from Amazon.  It’s two pages per day and it’s good for 90 days.

When you start looking at your notes or journal, what you want to look for are things like the obvious and then move on to some of the more stealthy culprits:

  1. Too many calories, even if it’s just creeping up or down by a few calories a day or are you not being accurate with your portion sizes?
  2. Macros (fat, protein, carbs)- did your ratio change?
  3. Activity- are you moving more, less or did you change your routine?
  4. Sleeping less? Or more? Not good sleep?
  5. Stress level: up or down
  6. Water- how much are you getting?
  7. Other changes in eating habits, like eating out more, eating more or less salty/ sugary/ different foods; or fasting
  8.  Injury or illness: obviously if you’re hurt or sick, your body is going to put most of the focus on repair and recovery or it could affect your activity level
  9. Medication changes: this can have a huge impact on how your body burns or stores fuel!

One of the stupidest (and yes, I mean STUPID) statements I heard on My 600 lb Life is when a patient poo-poohed Dr. Now’s calorie limit, because she said “I can look at a food and immediately calculate the number of calories, the protein and the fat in it.” Seriously!! I almost fell out of my chair when I heard that! I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating portion sizes, but I still weigh my food to make sure that I’m eating the amount I think I’m eating, because calories sneak up on you this way.  They also get away from you the same way.  I fry some bacon and I think it’s about two ounces but it’s more like three, so there’s a lot more calories than I had estimated.  At the same time, if I think I’ve eaten more veggies than I have, then there’s less calories, but also less fiber and less vitamins.  Macros matter mainly because fat and protein tend to keep you feeling fuller longer than carbs do, so it may be that you think you’re getting enough of those necessary nutrients but you aren’t and as a result, you feel hungry and eat more.

It can also be that you’ve stopped being as active as you used to be while your calories have stayed the same.  That can be really confusing, because it may feel like you’re really busy, but that can be the stress playing tricks on you.  Stress and lack of sleep will also mess with your progress in big ways: your body goes into survival mode even if the stress isn’t physical.  The brain is still sending the Under Attack signal to your hormones and as a result you tend to store fat instead of burning it and you can also feel more hungry since the body is trying to hold on to everything it can, including food, fat and water.

Changes in medication can be really stealthy culprits and one of the biggest is insulin.  Many people who are obese are type 2 diabetic and if your doctor has you on a medication that produces or mimics insulin or suppresses your satiety hormone leptin or increases the hunger hormone ghrelin, you could be storing more fat due to insulin or insulin mimic, not feeling full when you’ve eaten enough (leptin) or feeling hungry all the time (ghrelin).  Several of my family members have been on steroids, especially Prednisone, which makes you feel hungry all the time! You never feel full while taking it! If your doctor has given you a new prescription or made changes, read the pamphlet that comes with it or look at some of the side effects that come with it.  Talk to your doctor or your pharmacist, because it may be a drug interaction that is behind it and not just the drug itself.  FYI: this includes herbal supplements and vitamins!

If you think you’ve found the culprit sabotaging your progress, you not only need to make changes, you need to track those changes! Note the changes you’re making and then give yourself some time to see if there is improvement.  Again, I know you don’t want to hear that we need to slow down, but seriously, if you’ve upped your workout times or changed your macros or calories, are you really going to see a change in three days or even a week? It may be the right change for you but if you wait a week and nope- not improving! let’s switch to keto!, you may have just sabotaged yourself!

Slowing down really stinks, but if you don’t take the time to figure out what’s going on and what you need to do, it doesn’t matter how “fast” you go or think you are going- because you still won’t be getting anywhere! Patience, tracking and a little investigation can go a long way to fixing problems that result in progress, even if it doesn’t feel like it.  Most of us would rather be fast than thorough, including me! When I feel like that, I look at Wyatt Earp’s quote stuck on my cubicle wall: “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” Bulls-eye!



My Body- My Way! Even If It’s Not Working?

For most of our lives, we were taught to listen to the doctor or the health professional because he/ she knew a whole lot more than we did.  This practice got a lot of us in all kinds of health trouble.  We took medications that made us feel weird or caused more problems because “the doctor said so.”  So the new trend became “listen to your body” and we started taking our cues from ourselves, and while I think that’s a step in the right direction, listening to our bodies can sometimes get in our way.  Ideally, the better way is somewhere in between.

I am very lucky in that I have a doctor I can trust and who listens to me.  That last part is very important.  While most of us trust our doctors (at least until they give us a reason not to trust them), if your doctor isn’t listening to your feedback, I really think you need to find a new doctor.  It really is a back and forth situation: you tell the doctor what your symptoms are, and she makes a diagnosis and prescribes a treatment.  If the treatment isn’t working or causes additional problems, you need to let her know that.  Sometimes the response might be “give it a little time” and sometimes the response is to try another treatment.  I’ve had a variety of  these responses from my doctor.  She prescribed a medication and the side effects are bothersome but not terrible: “give it some time.”  It’s still bothersome: “let’s try something else.”  Recently, I stopped taking my blood pressure medication because I was getting light-headed when I stood up.  My doctor had told me that because of my weight loss, my blood pressure was dropping closer to normal and I might not need it much longer. I was a little skeptical since hypertension runs in my family (along with myopia and astigmatism), but sure enough, once I stopped taking the medication, the light-headedness went away.  I emailed her and when I went in recently for my regular check up, my BP was normal after being off the drug for about a month.  “Don’t take it anymore.”

This is an good example of me listening to my body and my doctor listening to me. It means we all have to communicate and listen, and sometimes it’s hard to do and sometimes it’s a pain in the butt.  It means I have to pay attention to what’s going on with me.  Sometimes it’s something easy like standing up after adjusting the strap on my sandals and the room starts spinning- “okay, that’s not normal!”  Other times, it’s less obvious, like feeling bloated after drinking coffee.  Because there’s usually some time between drinking the coffee and the after-effect of feeling bloated, we might not make the connection.  This is where it can be a pain in the butt: when we notice we’re repeatedly not feeling right but the cause isn’t immediately identifiable, we have to do a little investigating. This is where a food journal comes in handy. I don’t use it for counting calories, but I do keep track of what I eat, when I eat and how I feel throughout the day.  That way if I’m always starving or always feeling full or just feeling ugh, I can look at what I’ve eaten and see if there’s a correlation.  I know I can eat a handful of nuts and still be hungry an hour later while eating an avocado is more satisfying.

The other half of this equation is to talking to the doctor.  Emailing her and letting her know that I’ve been light-headed and stopped the medication is also important.  If I hadn’t listened to my body and kept taking the pill, low BP is just as bad as high BP.  Aside from passing out and possibly injuring myself, it causes damage to the organs and brain (blood and oxygen are kind of important!) If I hadn’t told her I was feeling light-headed, she might not know I have a problem and tell me to stop the medication until I showed up in her office and she took my pressure.  Even then, it might not have been immediately apparent.  Doctors are people and sometimes things get missed even by the best.  This is where you need to ask questions and be your own advocate.  Not too long ago, there used to Public Service Announcements (PSAs) showing people asking a jillion questions about the special at the restaurant, the mileage on a new car, the minutes on a phone plan and then showing up at their doctor: “any questions?” “Nope!” The point was we interrogate people about everything except what’s really important.  One of my friends lost someone really close to her because her family member would not ask the doctor questions regarding her diagnosis or treatment.  Even though her condition continued to deteriorate and her family pushed for answers, she never questioned the doctor or the treatment, until it was too late.  By the time she started demanding answers, the cancer was too advanced.

I actually lean the other way: I can be a real pain in the butt to the doctor, asking about diagnosis, medications and treatment options.  When I broke my arm and leg several years ago, I was sitting in the ER listening to the doctor explain everything to my mother the former nurse in medical jargon (I was 30-something at the time!) and I interrupted him with an emphatic “NO.”  He looked at me like I had two heads and despite my mom’s trying to shoo him out the door, since I was the patient, he had to listen to ME. All I wanted was for him to explain the procedure to me since I was the one who was going to have surgery! Once he did, I had no problems with his treatment, but too many people sit there and let things be done to them that they don’t understand.  I think that PSA makes a good point: we need to be savvy health consumers too and if your doctor isn’t listening to you, find one who will!

Aside from not asking health care professionals enough questions, we also have a problem with not listening to our bodies.  Sometimes this is because we aren’t paying attention and sometimes it’s because our body is giving us an answer we don’t want to hear, as in fitness and weight loss.  We plug our numbers into an online calorie calculator and we get a number, which may be too high or too low for us.  Usually the problem with being too low is that we have to limit ourselves to 1500 or 1200 calories a day when we’ve been eating around 2500 or so.  Sometimes the number is too high because we’ve overestimated our physical activity.  Incidentally, just because XYZ is a ‘great exercise,’ it may not work for you. Everyone says walking is a great simple exercise that ‘really works!’  Maybe it is, but walking on a treadmill is agony for my knees after about 20 minutes! This was obviously not the answer I wanted and when our body fails to give us the answer we want (usually losing weight), we usually choose the answer we want instead.  When we feel hungry and low energy with a low calorie limit, we think it’s because the number is too low, so we move it up to a number we like better, even if it’s too high for us to lose weight.  (You don’t need to starve but you do need a calorie deficit.) Sometimes if we’ve been told to avoid certain foods rather than pay so much attention to calories, we do the same thing: I feel so hungry/ low energy and these foods make me feel better! I remember hearing one of the patients on My 600 lb Life actually say: “I can’t function without won tons!” Like so many of us, she had fooled herself into believing that she knew better because ‘I know my body!’ (Incidentally, she only lost approximately 30 lbs, leaving her weight about 500 lbs the last time I saw her.) While I don’t doubt that most of us know our bodies better than most doctors when it comes to some things, there are times to defer to the doctor! The broken arm and leg incident is a good example: the hospital staff kept trying to stuff pain medication down me, but my pain was manageable.  I could do without the meds as long as no one was touching my wrist.  Once they started to set it, they strongly advised to me to allow the medication, and I deferred to them.  I may know my own body, but as for setting a shattered wrist? I don’t think so!  When you try something your way and you keep not getting the answer you want, it’s time to listen to the doctor. For years I followed the FDA’s guidelines and made sure I stayed low fat and high carb, which kept me fat no matter how little or how much I ate of them.  So even though I felt fine in that I wasn’t ‘starving or low energy,’ the rest of my body was dying under my weight! But doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time is the definition of insanity!  Time to listen to a doctor! I chose to listen to Dr. Nowzaradan, who puts his patients on a low carb high protein diet.  After a few weeks of that, I was losing more weight faster than ever before, I wasn’t hungry all the time and the rest of my body was beginning to recover. I have never met the man, but his specialty is bariatrics and it was clear my way wasn’t working! It may be ‘my body,’ but ‘my way’ wasn’t getting me anywhere! Sometimes we need to listen to our bodies, even if we don’t like what they are saying.








Get Off the Island! Don’t Be Afraid of Community

At some point in the course of our education, most of us have had to read something by Ernest Hemingway. Being an eminently employable English major means I’ve actually read several things by him, but the first was For Whom the Bell Tolls. On a side note, I’d like to think it helped motivate me to fierce independence and mild (okay, moderate!) feminism. There are a few things I like about Hemingway, but for me the best part of this particular book is that it was my first exposure to John Donne.  For those of you who aren’t utterly fascinated by old dead British dudes, John Donne was a poet and cleric who died about 1631.  He is most well known for his metaphysical poems, especially the one below from which Hemingway takes his title.

No Man is an Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee                                                                                                                                         ~ John Donne
Brief little poetic explication here: it’s about how we are all a part of a larger community and every human is connected to every other human.  I think this is why Hemingway chose this poem for his book about the Spanish Civil War- no matter who dies in battle, we are all the lesser for their loss. The death knell is for ourselves, no matter who died.

Yikes, now there’s a happy thought!  But really, the idea is a good one, and I think it’s tremendously important when it comes to weight loss and fitness.  Most of us try to go it alone when we try to eat healthy, lose weight and make better fitness choices.  Either because we are embarrassed by how out of shape we are, how ‘awful’ we think our habits are, because we don’t know how to ask for help, or we don’t think that we need any: (“I shouldn’t need help to know how to eat, for Heaven’s sake!”)  Yeah, we do need help! For a long time, I didn’t know there was help available other than a paid program like Overeaters Anonymous or Weight Watchers. While I don’t want to say that going it alone is guaranteed failure (although it was for me), I do want to let you know that toughing it out by yourself is just making it so very much harder than it needs to be!

I was thinking about communities the other day and I guess that’s why this poem popped into my head.  Bits of Donne’s poem have become cliche in today’s world, but like so many cliches, we hear them, repeat them, but do we remember what they mean?  We roll our eyes when someone tells us “remember, no man is an island!” but we rarely think about this truth in our own lives, especially when it comes to something like weight loss.

This is the reason we have things like ‘accountabili-buddies’ and ‘fitness friends’ and ‘work out buddies.’ Toughing it out by your solitary self is halfway to disaster! Community offers more than just moral support- they are a resource for information and ideas too, and don’t knock the moral support! Remember the last time you tried dieting during the holidays? The office is full of cookies and fudge and candy and there you are with your diet soda and salad- YUM! I know when things like that happen in my office, it helps me tremendously to open up the MFP app on my phone and grouse about it!  I am sharing my frustration with my fitness friends, and I inevitably get back some support,  commiseration and some ideas on how to avoid scarfing all the frosted candy cane cookies. A community also shares ideas about what’s working for them, how you can make positive changes and some other sources of help and information. Today one of my fitness friends shared her recipe for bulletproof coffee, which was miles better than the last recipe I used! Hers actually sounded like something I might want to drink (mine went down the drain)! I got Elizabeth Benton’s name (Primal Potential podcast) from a fitness friend and she has been an invaluable resource, which I have happily shared as much as I can.

A community of any kind is basically a network to help its members share information and provide assistance.  We use them in our jobs and churches and in our social lives.  Facebook? Instagram? Crowd-sourcing? They are all networks and as social creatures, networking is what we are made to do! But when it comes to weight loss and fitness, we balk, mainly for the reasons I mentioned earlier: embarrassment and shame.  This is why so many of us fail with our fitness goals.  We don’t want to look like we don’t know what we’re doing, even if we don’t!I know I’m preaching to the choir a bit here. Since you’re reading this blog, you’re at least reaching out for information and support (WTG, you!) While I always encourage questions or comments on this blog, there’s other support out there that’s a bit more interactive. Facebook is always popular. You can post on your own wall or join a dedicated group. Most of the podcasts I listen to have Facebook forums: Metabolic Radio; 40+Fitness, Primal Potential, 2 Keto Dudes. Many also have Instagram accounts too.  You can join the conversation for info and support. 

You can also join an online site like My Fitness Pal (MFP).  I’m honestly not familiar with a lot of these, mainly because I just like MFP. It’s a lot like a fitness oriented Facebook with sections for tracking your food, water, weight, fitness goals as well as forums for asking questions, joining a challenge or message your friends. I credit MFP with a lot of my success- the support, information and feedback have been invaluable. 

While you don’t have to join MFP or any other online group, you’re not doing yourself any favors going it alone. Finding support and community can be as invaluable for you as it has been for me. You don’t have to be super active in any forum you join- that’s up to you- but finding a community makes it easier. Do yourself a favor and get off the island! 


When We Believe Our Own Lies

This occurred to me recently when I was really tempted to do the “quick and simple thing” and get something for dinner that wasn’t the best choice.  It wasn’t exactly junk food: I thought I could pick up something at El Pollo Loco on my way home from the gym. I think they have good food, healthier than most, and I wanted to get a salad, but…. the salad dressing which I love has too many processed oils and if I got the salad I wanted, there’s the flour tortilla shell , so “I’ll just not eat that!” Yeahhhhh, riiiight!

And therein lies the problem.  I’ll tell myself I’ll only use half the dressing and not eat the tortilla shell, but we all know that won’t happen! Then I figured well, when I add it into MFP (My Fitness Pal), I don’t have to put in the tortilla shell or the dressing…. It was at this point that I stopped the bargaining with myself.  It doesn’t matter what I put in MFP or my paper journal- what matters is what I put in my mouth! I can lie to MFP and I can lie to myself, but I can’t lie to my body! My body knows what I ate and it’s not going to ‘fudge’ the calories or the processed oils or the carbs just because I ‘fudged’ on my food journals! I can lie to everyone-even myself-  and I can even believe the lie that “that little detour isn’t going to set me back much,” but my body and metabolism will show the truth: blood sugar spikes, cravings, and delayed progress on my goals.

It was the plain simple reality: if I really wanted to make progress, then choosing the Pollo Loco salad wasn’t going to get me there and no amount of lying or ‘fudging’ was going to change that either! Do I really want to make progress? Yes.  Will that food choice get me there? No.  So, I had my answer, and I came home from the gym and had the leftover rotisserie chicken and green salad that were in the fridge.

I’ve bargained with myself so many times over similar situations, and unfortunately, I’m pretty good at talking myself into bad decisions (not just with food and fitness, either!) This is where most of us run into trouble: bargaining to get what we want, and usually we ‘win’ because we want to believe the lie we tell ourselves.  We want to believe that eating the birthday cake at our nephew’s party won’t hold us back any more than the pizza at the same birthday party and the cookies and the fruit punch. “It’s one day!”  We tell ourselves that “we are adults and we’re entitled to make our own choices and eat what we want!”  Yup! Absolutely true- 100%! You are totally entitled to eat all the pizza, donuts, chocolate, Rice Krispy treats, and anything else you want to eat.  They don’t have food police (yet) and you aren’t breaking any diet-related laws.  But, you probably won’t make a whole lot of progress towards your goals either.  We trick ourselves into believing that we can eat all the ‘forbidden foods’ and still make progress. We’ll do some extra workouts, or we’ll fast the next day or two, or- when we fail to do those things- it’s just one day or one donut or one tostada salad with fried tortilla shell and creamy cilantro dressing!

‘One’ probably won’t do terrible damage to your progress, but even though we tell ourselves it’s only ‘one,’ is it really just ‘one’?  This is why I like to keep a paper food journal (it’s easier to flip through than an app)- I can go back and look at all the ‘ones’ that weren’t going to set me back: there’s the cashew brittle from See’s Candy; there’s the chocolate cake from O’Brien’s Market; there’s the pretzel bagels from Trader Joe’s, and the licorice, and the white cake from Safeway…. and you can see it’s a whole lotta ‘ones’! But each time I persuaded myself that it’s just one, it really wasn’t.  It was just the latest in a long string of ‘ones’!  All of those little detours took me so far off track that I gained back almost twenty lbs! I remember thinking ‘how the heck did I get here?!’ and it was really simple: I believed the lies I wanted to believe.  I am a great liar and I lied to myself about how these ‘ones’ didn’t matter! Twenty pounds later, the reality is that one and one and one and one  ad infinitum eventually add up!

This doesn’t mean that we need to deny ourselves every little treat forever out of fear of gaining or going off track, but we need to be realistic when it comes to taking detours.  Sometimes we are very good when it comes to policing our families and our pets.  I know when my furry children want extra treats or ask for something that’s not good for them, I am pretty good at telling them no for their own good.  Too many treats make for a fat kitty or a pup with an upset stomach, but when it comes to me? Well, one treat won’t be too bad…….. and so it begins! (Maybe if I put the pets in charge of my treats…..???) This is one of the reasons I keep the paper journal to flip through when I start thinking that “one isn’t the end of the world” because yes, the world will go on but my weight loss probably won’t! Is the licorice or pretzel bagel or whatever it is really worth the setback?  Maybe it won’t be such a setback on its own, but on top of what I ‘treated’ myself to yesterday, it’s just too much too soon.  This is why we need to take a good hard look at what we are telling ourselves and take an objective assessment.  In plain language, are we lying to ourselves again? Hint: if you need to convince yourself or rationalize it, then, yeah, you probably are lying! If it really were a good choice, you don’t need to explain or rationalize or bargain yourself into making the decision.  When was the last time you had to convince yourself to eat the broccoli or carrots?

Sometimes, it’s not as cut and dried as salad v chocolate cake, and you would think it would get easier, but… (oh, you knew it was coming!) the longer we are on this journey, the more complicated the choices become.  It really is an interactive test: once you get past the easy questions, ie the Salad v Cake level, they start getting more complicated: how much is a ‘real’ serving?; how can you tell when you are really ‘satisfied’ v eating until you feel full?; which processed foods are too processed and where do you draw the line?  This really is a good thing, although it won’t always feel like it. It’s because you are getting better at making the easy choices that you are starting to recognize the subtleties in the harder choices. Let’s face it: when you mostly eat fast food like I did, the question of bottled salad dressing full of processed vegetable oils never comes up! You’re still salad v fries level and salad is obviously better.  Once the salad becomes your default choice, then you start realizing that you can improve on the choices you’re making, and you take it to the next level.  It’s a sign of your continued growth and improvement.

If we do decide that the treat is worth it- and sometimes they are- we need to remember 1) it is a treat, which by definition means it’s something out of the ordinary! [‘Daily’ is not a treat- that’s a meal!]; 2) If it’s not worth it, don’t eat it! One of the mindsets we develop over the years is that if we start to eat something, we think we need to finish it.  Part of it is the ‘don’t waste food’ mindset, which isn’t a bad one, but at the same time, if we start eating something and it really isn’t enjoyable, stop eating it!  Either throw it away, save it for another day or feed it to the pets! It’s like the old joke where one woman is telling her friend about dinner at a restaurant: “the food was really awful!! And the portions were so small!!”  Admittedly, it took me a while to get that joke because that was my mindset: eat the food even if it’s awful, because not eating it is wasteful. But if it doesn’t taste good, why eat it?  Especially if it’s supposed to be a treat! Eating something awful isn’t a treat- it’s a punishment!

Before we end up putting the treat in our grocery cart, however, we need to take a good long look at what we are telling ourselves: are we justifying the choice because it’s what we want to hear or are we being honest about our choice? My biggest hint really is the rationalization/ bargaining beforehand: if I have to explain my choice to myself, then it’s probably a lie.  I’m not too tired or too busy to work out.  I don’t need the cookies, bagels or toast because “I’ve been really good.”  If I want something special, then it better be worth the effort!  The problem is not only is it easier to believe the lies we tell ourselves, but we really want to believe them! We want to eat the foods that comfort and please us and we want to make progress too! We really want love getting results, but then that carrot cake looks so good! It might even taste good, but the truth is when you stop making progress, that carrot cake will be pretty bitter.  Lies never taste as good as the truth.



Burnout: When We Get Singed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







Starting Simply and Simply Starting

I’m not trying to be clever here, but these two ideas really do go together.  I see some of my fitness friends lamenting how they’ve gotten off track and they don’t know how to get back into a healthy routine and I see a lot of other comments from people who want to start either eating better, working out or just being healthier and they don’t know where to start.  They’re stuck at the starting line.  I suppose I could pretend to be wise and throw out the famous Lao Tzu quote: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” (comes up all the time on motivational apps!) but really it’s not my style.  My advice is usually “Pick one! Just do SOMETHING!”

Indecision makes me nuts. (It was seriously the most irritating thing about reading Hamlet- yay, dithering about in iambic pentameter!) When it comes to starting out on a healthier lifestyle, really all you need to do is choose ONE thing and start doing it. Ideally, you should start with tracking your food/ drink and activities, but even if you just start by limiting your soda, your processed foods, adding in more vegetables- any one of those is a start and you begin to build momentum.  You have begun to build a platform!

The sad truth is that too many people rely on old incorrect advice, like the ol’ Calories In- Calories Out model (CICO).  That’s great if you only plan to do it for a couple weeks so you can lose enough to get into the tux or dress for the reunion/ whatever event.  If you plan to lose weight permanently (usually more than a few pounds) and want to be healthier overall, CICO can be really problematic.  Some people listen to their doctors who usually give them a “diet plan” that’s based on CICO.  What most people don’t know (including me who heard about it from multiple sources while researching nutrition): med students are only required to have about 24 hours of education in nutrition.  (I seriously think I have more hours in Shakespeare studies!) That’s the equivalent of one semester of information! If you want to get your nutrition and weight loss information from a healthcare professional, which is really a great idea, then ask for a referral to a nutritionist or registered dietician within  your health plan.  These are the people who have studied what nutrients a human body needs and how the metabolism works!  This is the information that most people (including me) think they are getting from their doctor.

Another sad truths is that most people think in order to lose weight they need to do tons of exercise.  They go full bore on their exercise and activity and still eat the same way they have for years.  I see this idea a lot on billboards for local gyms saying things like “I work out because: I love deep dish pizza!” That’s great: I love deep dish pizza too, but working out like crazy so you can eat pizza, cinnamon rolls and all the cheese curls you can grab is not going to stop you from gaining weight, never mind losing weight!  Most health professionals will tell you that weight loss, specifically fat loss, is 90% nutrition and 10 % exercise.  This is why many of them tell you to change your diet first and then work on getting more activity.

I know from experience, including my own, that it feels easier to start exercising more because changing your diet seems way too complicated: “I don’t have time or want to read a book about nutrition/ diet plans/ whatever else someone suggested, so I’ll just walk on the treadmill or use the elliptical.” Exercise is a good thing, and even better once you get into a habit, but seriously, changing your diet can be just as easy. Like the title of this post says, start simply and simply start! It’s not rocket science, no matter what Dr. Famous Guy says in his Best Selling Diet Book.  It’s ONE change: make it and you’ve started! You are on your way!

Ideally, you start by tracking your food and activity every day for at least a week or two.  I DON’T mean counting calories, weighing your food or eating ‘diet food.’ Just write down what you ate or drank and when.  Before you eat, it’s also helpful to write down if you are hungry, really hungry, not hungry and if you’re tired, energetic, ‘okay’ or ‘stressed.’  It wouldn’t hurt either if you also track how much you sleep and the sleep quality.  Yeah, I know that sounds like a lot of stuff, but bare bones, start with the food and activity- you can add in the others later. I mention them because all those factors (sleep, stress, hunger & energy) can effect your weight loss, but you don’t need to know all of this information to start.  Information Overload is another trap we fall into when we plan to lose weight.  We do not need to know everything about weight loss to track.  There is a reason for tracking.  I know a lot of people think of it as a waste of time, but if you don’t have a record of what you started with and what changes you made, you won’t know what is responsible for your outcome. In other words, if you had bagels for breakfast three days in a row and felt like crap by 11:00 and then you switched to cottage cheese for breakfast one day and felt great all morning, are you sure you’re going to remember? “I felt great on Thursday but what was different? Was that the day the canteen was out of bagels, so I had cottage cheese instead?” This is why we write things down: we don’t always make the connection between the 3:00 slump and the Chinese food for lunch or the morning-after blahs and the high carb dinner the night before.

Even if you opt not to track, healthy eating habits don’t have to be complicated.  I know a lot of people who say they hate to cook after I tell them I eat mostly whole foods.  They make a face: “I don’t like to cook/ I don’t have time to cook.” Seriously, I am the laziest person I know.  I spent most of my childhood cooking for my family and cooking is the last thing I want to do after driving two hours to get home.  I want to park in my recliner, play with my pup and do nothing for a while! Eating whole foods doesn’t have to be complicated: I eat a lot of fresh salads: I throw a bunch of veggies in a bowl and pour some olive oil & balsamic vinegar! I eat rotisserie chicken from the deli! I throw some grassfed meat in a frying pan to cook while I eat the veggies! Maybe it’s not gourmet, but it’s not complicated either, and it’s what I like.  I can also tell you that I feel a whole lot better after eating it than I do after eating fast food or something processed.  I also don’t cook every night.  There are a lot of nights when I cook enough for two or three meals and put the leftovers in the fridge.  Then I’m reheating it in the microwave while I’m eating my veggies.  There are a lot of healthy cookbooks that have 30 minute meals. After years of eating fast food, I can tell you stopping at the drive thru takes about the same amount of time as throwing something on the stove, and it’s got the bonus option of being at home doing other things instead of sitting in the car breathing all the carbon monoxide from all the cars lined up at the window. It’s a little cheaper too.  If you pay $7 for the rotisserie chicken (at least 4 meals) and $5 for the box of mixed salad greens (at least another 4 meals), that’s $12 for 4 meals or $3 a meal. Technically, it’s a bit more if you add things like salad dressing and maybe some tomatoes, but usually the bottles of olive oil & balsamic vinegar last a month or more and the box of tomatoes (also $5) lasts all week, so it comes out about $1 serving. It’s healthier than the fast food which usually costs more, takes about the same time and makes you feel like sludge afterwards.

But you don’t have to start with “eating whole foods” right off the bat either! One change: eat one meal at home once a week; eat at home on weekends; switch one processed food for one whole food; when you run out of pasta/ rice/ mashed potato mix, buy fresh or frozen veggies instead.  We’ve all seen the “extreme” shows where the fitness guru cleans out the trainee’s kitchen and chucks all the “bad food” in the trash and fills everything with whole grain, grass fed and blah blah healthy stuff.  It’s scary! AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT!! One of my fitness friends made the same lament to me, and I told her “when you run out of oatmeal, buy eggs instead!” She was trying to go low carb for breakfast, but the idea is still the same. It’s what I did: when I ran out of mac & cheese, I bought broccoli in its place.

By making one healthy change you start moving, and the more you move forward, the easier it is to build momentum and keep moving forward!  You don’t have to learn everything about nutrition before you start: I think of it as on the job training! I am already moving forward and I am learning as I go. If I had waited until I had a clear cut plan, I might not have ever started, because frankly, it’s intimidating! Once you start looking closely at nutrition, metabolism and fitness, you realize what you don’t know!  Let me rephrase: I realized what I didn’t know, and it was daunting! But because I was already moving forward and making progress, the momentum I had built up kept me moving forward! One change: I stopped eating fast food.  From there, I moved to replacing the mac & cheese with veggies, and then to having low carb breakfasts, and then to eating organic meat, and another change and another change.  The more I learned, the more I refined my way of eating but I was already making progress on my weight loss and overall health. I was already seeing the results and the changes were becoming part of my regular habits, so on top of eating healthier, I was losing weight, being healthier, being more active and I wasn’t miserable! I didn’t hate my diet and fitness, and I wasn’t counting the days until I could go back to eating the way I used to eat.  When I do eat something like fast food or processed food, it doesn’t taste as good as what I usually eat, so no temptation there!

Eating healthier, losing weight, being more fit: whatever your goal is doesn’t have to be complicated or a big hassle.  It starts simply with one change, and if you don’t know where to start, just pick one thing to change, and there you go! You’ve started!  Find one thing you can change easily and make the change.  Bonus info: if you don’t like that change, find another one to make! It’s not carved in stone or tattooed on your forehead! To paraphrase wise old Lao Tzu, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but you’ve got to take that single step!







Denial: A Little Word with a Huge Impact

The medical definition of denial:  “a psychological defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality” (Merriam Webster emphasis added). Personally, I think denial kills more people than almost anything else.  I have no stats on this and I don’t even know if anyone has ever studied it, but think about it: “I don’t have heart disease.”  “I’m not a diabetic.”  “I’m not addicted to XYZ.” Saying it isn’t true does not make it true, no matter how often you say it or how loudly you say it.  You may not want it to be true, but no matter what you want or what you believe, if it is true, sooner or later, you will have to deal with it. The only issue is going to be if you are dealing with it voluntarily or if you are forced to deal with it by being admitted to the hospital for a medical emergency. 

Most people who are obese have a variety of medical issues, especially when you get to be about my weight.  Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, joint pain & deterioration and fatty liver disease are just a few of them.  Frankly, a lot of them can be remedied or at least mitigated, by losing weight.  Of course, many of these patients only grudgingly admit that they even have a weight problem: “I’m big boned!” (A few extra pounds is “big-boned;” weighing 250 lbs is a “weight problem!”) Denial is insidious and it works against you constantly. You refuse to believe you have a weight problem so you don’t take any steps to make positive changes.  The weight problem compounds other health conditions but even if you deal with those (i.e. taking diabetes medication), by not dealing with the weight, you are hampering any help the medication is giving you.

“There are none so blind as those who will not see.”   We have all kinds of similar sayings but the meaning is all the same: “I refuse to believe this.”  Legally the term is “willful blindness” and depending on the charges, you can get into some serious trouble over it, because you should have seen or known X was occurring. (In other words, it was obvious to everyone but you!)

It takes a lot strength to come face to face with your problems.  It often means admitting something painful, embarrassing, awkward. It feels like you’ve failed and let people down. It’s one of the hardest things many people ever do in their lives. It means dealing with the weaknesses in yourself and whatever mistakes you made.  It means that other people might learn about your flaws and errors.  In all honesty, there are mistakes and weaknesses that I have admitted to myself, but not to others, because frankly, it’s just way too embarrassing.  Yep, I SCREWED UP BIG TIME!! Thanks for listening- please leave me alone in my shame now! While I may not have shared my flaws, errors and shame with everyone, I did admit to myself that I had/ have a problem and I cannot handle it on my own.  I got help for my problem or I took steps to remedy it (most of them, anyway…)

Denial, i.e. not dealing with it, often just makes it worse. In the case of disease, it takes a greater toll on your health and in some cases, can cause irreparable harm.  In my case, not dealing with my type 2 diabetes has left with me some minor neuropathy in my right calf.  Part of this problem was plain old denial (I don’t have diabetes) and part of it was not knowing how to manage it.  By learning to manage it, my blood sugar and my weight, I no longer have this problem, but the neuropathy remains.

Other issues might mean that you are making things harder for yourself and could be sabotaging yourself.  Two of the issues I see a lot on MFP and also My 600 lb Life are emotional eating and toxic relationships.  Emotional eating comes up so often, it’s a wonder if there is anyone who isn’t an emotional eater!  Most of us know it and admit it: it’s just a fact of life! I get stressed, I eat; I get angry, I eat; I get sad/ depressed/ happy/ worried- whatever, I EAT! Once you realize and admit this fact, you can take steps to resolve this problem, but until you admit there is an actual problem, you cannot and will not be able to resolve it.

A recent example of this was on My 600 lb Life this season: one of the patients refuses to admit she is an emotional eater and when she met with the therapist, she denied she had any issues with emotional eating and walked out of therapy stating it was a waste of her time.  When I watched her episode, she described a childhood and adolescence full of feelings of loneliness, rejection, inadequacy, sadness and even a suicide attempt, after which she flatly stated that her weight gain spiraled out of control, but nope, she is NOT an emotional eater! Her episode ended with her struggling with cravings, afraid of going back to old habits and feeling that she would have to go on alone because no one else knew how to help her.  The truth of the matter (in my opinion anyway) is that her therapist and Dr. Nowzaradan were trying to help her, but until she admits that her emotions affect her eating, she is making this process much harder than it has to be.  I believe she is having cravings and struggling to control her eating because her sense of isolation and the stress of daily life are triggering her old coping mechanism: eating her emotions.  Until she learns to deal with her emotions with something other than food, she will continue to struggle.  It’s something I have had to face myself.  I had long realized that I ate out of boredom, and I took steps to make sure I always had something to do in the evenings when I usually ate in front of the tv (for months I had the most elegantly manicured nails!) When I had a fight with my mom one evening and found myself staring into the fridge, I realized “oh crap! I’m eating because I’m stressed!” It was a tough transition to find a way to deal with my emotions that didn’t involve food (it’s still a bit hairy at times) but I know that when I feel anger, stress, fear, anxiety, I am most likely to eat something just to calm myself down and I can cut that off before it happens.  I can choose to do something else, but this particular patient, by denying even the existence of the problem, cannot take those steps.  She is hamstringing herself with the only option left: toughing it out the hard way.

The other issue I see a lot is toxic relationships.  There is someone in your life whose sole function seems to be to denigrate you, sabotage you or just make life as difficult as possible for you. These can be people you work with or family members and sometimes even your spouse.  One of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients had a husband who preferred his wife be super morbidly obese.  One on hand, he was concerned her weight might lead to her death, leaving their young daughter without a mother, but on the other hand, he wanted a wife who was super obese.  He was inconsiderate, unsupportive and went out of his way to make things harder for her.  On one occasion, he was going out to pick up dinner for the family and she asked for a salad, to which he retorted :”I’m not getting you a salad.  If you want to eat grass, you can go out in the yard and graze!”  Predictably, they ended up getting a divorce, but first she had to come to terms with the fact that her husband was not only unwilling to change his own habits, but was going out of his way to sabotage her own efforts to improve her health.

It would be great if everyone in your life was really helpful and supportive, but that is extremely rare.  Most of us have people in our lives who run the gamut from helpful to not helpful and/ or indifferent.  The  ones we really need to watch for are the ones who are downright toxic.  If this person (and hopefully there is only one) is a coworker or someone not related, it’s easier to deal with.  If they are someone you work with, depending on just how toxic they are, you can complain to your supervisor about their obnoxious and inappropriate behavior.  When that person is someone in your family, it’s a lot harder to deal with.  It hurts to think of someone you love or loved or who is supposed to love you going out of their way to be hurtful. We deny there is a problem: he’s having a bad day; she doesn’t mean that; she’s just scared of change; he’s doesn’t want to be inconvenienced.  Sometimes those excuses are true, but when you find yourself making excuse after excuse for the hurtful, disparaging comments and behavior, it’s time for a reality check.  Denying that this person really is toxic can be hurting you.  You may have to decide if this is a person you want to keep in your life, and that can be a hard decision for some of us to make.  It may be that you have to sever your relationship with that person or at the very least accept that they do not have your best interests at heart.  Depending on who this person might be, whether a sibling, parent, child or spouse, this can cause major upheaval in your life and coming to terms with not only severing the relationship but also having to deal with the resulting fallout can be a factor in continuing to deny that there is a problem! If your brother, for example, is the toxic individual you want to avoid, severing the relationship can lead to fallout with your parents and other siblings.  Yes, it can be complicated and hurtful, but until you admit there is a problem, you are stuck in the hurtful situation.

Sometimes we are simply too close to the problem.  Our emotions get in our way and blind us to what’s really happening.  When I was in college I had some friends who used to tell me I should have been a therapist (oh hell no!) because they would complain about whatever or whoever was causing problems in their life and usually what I would do is ‘clarify the situation’ by restating what they had just told me, and sometimes offering my advice on how to resolve the issue.  Generally, what they found most helpful was that I restated their problem and since they could analyze my statement objectively, it helped them get clarity on their situation.  Once you can look at a situation objectively- stepping back from the emotions- it’s easier to see how to help yourself.  I wasn’t offering any kind of therapy to my friends: I was just their sounding board, and we can do something similar in keeping a journal.  I don’t mean a food journal; I mean the old fashioned “dear diary” kind of journal.  If you write down what you are thinking and feeling, it’s a lot easier to see what is really going on inside you. You have to think to write out your emotions; you have to put your feelings into words, and once you do that, in my experience anyway, you can get a better handle on what you are feeling and then you can begin to take steps to help yourself.  Sometimes, you need to vent your feelings, take a couple of days to get over the feelings and then go back and get a good look at your situation.  This isn’t just about emotional eating either; this is how we see destructive patterns in ourselves.  X happens and we react by doing Y which leads to more of Z.  The boss is a jerk to me, I eat an entire bag of chips or a pie or just way too much and then I feel physically ill, feel more shame and become more depressed, which leads to more emotional eating.  Substitute ‘alcohol’ or ‘pills’ or any other destructive behavior for ‘food,’ and yes, there is a real problem there!  This is how most of these destructive patterns start, and then they continue to escalate unless steps are taken to change the behavior.

Most of us are aware if we have a problem: “I keep running out of money at the end of the month but I don’t know where my money goes!” Obviously you are overspending somewhere or need a better budget.  “I keep gaining weight no matter what I do!” Are you eating too much or eating the wrong things? Journals and budgets can help, but sometimes we need another pair of eyes.  Sometimes, we are so deeply buried in our own problems that we can’t see something is going on with us.  If anything, we are only aware that we are hurting or that things never seem to go our way.  This is where you can either seek help from a professional or a trusted friend.  Ask them to speak frankly with you and when you promise that you won’t get offended or angry, you do have to mean that! There is a saying: real friends say the hard things to your face and good things behind your back. That’s what a real friend does: you are eating way too much and I’m worried about your health! When they do speak plainly and frankly to you, you have to listen with an open mind.  You have to be ready to change and that may involve asking your friends and family to help you do that.

Living in denial is not a good place to be.  It often keeps you in pain and keeps you from improving your life.  Obviously, there is a whole lot more to denial than just emotional eating and toxic relationships.  Denial is flat out dangerous in my opinion. It’s hard, it’s ugly, and it hurts.  It’s a lot like lancing an infected wound.  Although the infection  may be slowly killing us, we are afraid of causing more hurt to an already sensitive and painful area, but it’s the only way to let the infection out and once cleaned, the wound can heal quickly.  Once you come face to face with whatever your problems or issues are, just taking action to help yourself ease the hurt and pain.  It takes strength and courage to face your demons, but once you do, they lose their power over you.