Where Do I Begin?: Weight Loss & The First Step

I had coffee the other day with a friend I hadn’t seen in some time and eventually the conversation turned to weight loss. Like a lot of people, she’s been fighting the same 20-30 lbs for years and she usually manages to lose a few pounds, only to put them back on.  Sound familiar, anyone? I told her I was still doing Paleo and received the confused-not-quite-blank expression I’ve come to expect.  Most people have heard of The Paleo Diet but really don’t know what it means other than the “It’s a lot of MEAT!” soundbyte.

Also, like most of us, she felt a little overwhelmed by “what do I do first?” Really, it doesn’t matter what you do first as long as you choose something within your capabilities and do that one thing only until you feel comfortable with it.  This is rather a long-winded way of saying “PICK SOMETHING!” Too often we look at the landscape for weight loss (or any goal, really) and we want to make the best start that we can, but we get bogged down by: 1) the  overwhelming number of ‘starting points’; and 2) the magnitude of the change we want to achieve.  We don’t want to make a ‘wrong’ choice and fail, so we end up not really starting at all, or we choose too many ‘starting points’ and end up quitting because we get overwhelmed.

The other big stumbling block is the Diet Mentality, in which we get roped into thinking we are only “doing this” until we lose the weight we want to lose. We all know what happens next: the weight comes back!  Obviously, once we stop ‘being good’ and go back to eating the way we did before The Diet, we’ve blown all our hard work!  In order to maintain permanent weight loss, we need to make permanent lifestyle changes.  This is part of that ‘overwhelming’ goal I mentioned before, but big changes come through small steps!

Because Sarah asked about Paleo, I told her that it’s mainly whole natural foods, no grains, legumes, sugars and a lot of non-starchy vegetables. Predictably, she made a face: she loves grains and cereals and isn’t a big fan of non-starchy veggies.  A big part of her diet has always been white potatoes and ‘quick carbs’ such as pasta, bread, cereal and sugar. While white potatoes were never huge on my menu, grains of all kinds were a major staple of my diet, along with a fair amount of sugar. I told her when I started cutting these foods out of my diet, I did it one at a time.  I started with potatoes since they were easiest for me, and once I had a handle on making healthier substitutions for the potatoes, I moved on to pasta, which was harder, until I felt confident enough to remove breads.  In all honesty, breads of all kinds remain my biggest temptation and I told her that.  You can offer me chocolate, candy, cookie or any kind of “treat” and I can turn it down without batting an eye, but offer me a biscuit? “Get thee behind me, Satan!” Even if I do turn it down, I will think about that biscuit for days afterwards! I tried to reinforce that it’s a series of steps and you don’t try to make every change at once. 

I recommended she begin with a healthy breakfast like Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) suggests.  You start with one meal and work on that one until you get it down, then move on to lunch, dinner and any snacks.  I also recommended she get a food journal and a food scale. While there are a lot of weight loss gurus (Elizabeth included) who don’t recommend the food scale, I do because I am very aware of portion inflation.  Just because Cheesecake Factory brought you one slice of cheesecake, that doesn’t mean what they brought you is ‘one portion.’  (It is likely three!)  A food scale is a simple reality check for how much you are really eating.  The food journal is just a simple way of keeping track of what you are eating, so later on if you aren’t getting the results that you want, you can see what might be behind that slow-down.

As I said, I was having coffee with my friend, which included a grande maple pecan latte, and a bag of Moon Cheese.  Later on when I got home, those went in my food journal.  While they won’t torpedo my diet, recording them keeps me honest so they don’t become regular parts of my weekly routine.  Having an occasional sugary latte isn’t a catastrophe but when one a month becomes one a week and then several a week, those lattes will have an impact (as will several accompanying bags of Moon Cheese!).  When I write them down, it’s easier to go back through the months and see where there may have been a few too many ‘special occasion lattes’!

I also recommended she listen to some of the podcasts aimed at giving listeners a foundation for fat loss and the reasons behind her recommendations such as the Fat Loss Basics Series (https://primalpotential.com/ep-121-fat-loss-basics/) and the episode on the Golden Rules (https://primalpotential.com/195-golden-rules-of-carbs-and-fat-loss/). I am not in any way affiliated with Elizabeth Benton; I’m just a fan and I think she offers solid advice based on your speed and the changes you are willing to make.  Of all the weight loss professionals I’ve listened to, she is one who listens to you.

There are a lot of places to start and you don’t have to start with breakfast or go Paleo or even listen to Primal Potential, but you do have to make a choice. Choose one change you want to make, and once you’ve got that one down, move on to the next one.  It might seem like you aren’t ‘going fast enough’ but does fast really matter when you won’t have to make that same trip again next year?

 

You Can’t Fix Anything If You Don’t Know What’s Broken: Weight Loss, Report Cards & Ostriches

This is one some of us have a hard time dealing with, me included.  It means confronting the problem, whatever that problem might be.  We’ve got to look at it, examine it and come face to face with The Bad News. It’s frightening and upsetting because that means we can’t ignore the problem anymore: now that we’ve faced it, we have to deal with it!

Ugh….reality sucks! Especially when we can’t hide behind ignorance or apathy anymore.  I know in my case, once I face The Bad News, I can’t hide behind apathy anymore because it keeps nagging at me.  When it was something nebulous or unknown, it was easier to shove it into the background: “I’ll deal with it later…”  but when I know the ugly reality of the situation, it doesn’t ‘shove’ so easily and has the annoying habit of waking me up in the middle of the night with a panic attack, or something similar.  Yay…..reality…. whoo hoo….

But as bad as it is or isn’t, whatever that problem might be, it’s something I have to face if I want to fix it because the simple truth is we can’t fix something if we don’t know what’s broken.  Imagine you take your car to a mechanic because it’s making a noise, and instead of looking under the hood, the mechanic says “it could be the alternator so I’m going to replace it and we’ll see how it runs afterwards.” WTH??? You’d drive your noisy car to another mechanic who’s going to examine it to see exactly what’s wrong and how it can be fixed. No guessing: this is what’s wrong and this is how we fix it!

But when it’s something else, like our weight or health or nutrition, we keep sticking our heads in the sand. “It kinda feels like maybe I put on a couple pounds over the last couple months so I’ll just eat better from now on…..That’ll fix it…..” Insert giant eye roll here! Obviously, you don’t have to jump on the scale or whip out the tape measure every day or even every week, but if you don’t objectively evaluate your progress, you won’t know how much progress you are making, if you are making progress or if you have started backsliding.  The same thing goes with your eating and activity: if you don’t keep track, how do you know if what you are eating is working for you, or if your activity level has changed?  Plain simple fact here: if you don’t keep an eye on it, how do you know how you are doing?

This is why schools send home report cards.  Imagine telling yourself “the kids must be doing okay in school since they haven’t flunked out yet.” HELLO!! You’d like to know your kid’s having problems in chemistry before he or she flunks the class! You probably don’t expect him or her to show you every test or assignment for every class (hence the report card), but you still keep track so you can deal with any problems they might be having before it becomes a crisis! This is also why schools have parents sign the report cards and notices: “we told you your kid was flunking out and you acknowledge that we told you.”

Sticking your head in the sand seems a lot easier to do than tracking our progress but it really isn’t. The real hassle is finding out that you gained twenty pounds and the tux you bought for an event doesn’t fit anymore. If you had been paying attention, you might have been able to prevent that while the tux still fit but you were busy being an ostrich!

Keeping track of what you ate, how active you were, how much weight or inches you’ve gained/ lost is less of a hassle than most people think it is.  I know people roll their eyes and sigh deeply when we talk about “Tracking” (I was one of those people!) but it really is important if you are serious about your health, weight or nutrition.  It doesn’t mean that you have to weigh out everything you eat and count each calorie or step but it does mean you invest a few minutes each day to write it down. Again more sighs and eye rolling: “I have to write it down?? every day??”  Think about this: you are investing about five minutes each day in your health.  How much time is five minutes? It’s thirty-five minutes a week, if you spend five whole minutes writing this information down. That’s about the length of a sitcom plus a commercial break afterwards.  While you might choose to look at it as a waste of time, you can also choose to look at it as investment in your health. I know we hate looking at this stuff and dealing with it, but seriously if your health isn’t good, what kind of effect does that have on the rest of your life? Little bit of an impact maybe? A lot more hassle than renting a replacement tux!

You also can’t expect others to fix things for you while you sit on your butt and do nothing to help fix it yourself.  I’ve met a lot of these people: supposedly they are utterly helpless to do things on their own.  They don’t have groceries because they can’t go to the store for some reason or another; they only have junk food because “healthy” food is too expensive; they can’t exercise or be active because ‘something always hurts.’ They have long lists of things that they can’t do or can’t do without help.  In some cases, this may be true and it’s okay to ask for help.  Frankly I think not asking for help when you need it is pretty dumb, but the majority of the things on their lists are things they just don’t want to do either because it’s “a hassle” or they don’t want to deal with it themselves.

You reasonably can’t expect someone else to deal with all the unpleasant issues in your life while you do nothing to help yourself.  You also can’t just bury your head in the sand and pretend these unpleasant things don’t exist.  Heaven knows how tempting that is! But sooner or later, you are going to have to deal with these Ugly Realities, whether it’s you’re gaining weight, your health is deteriorating or even your clothes are getting a bit tight. Most of us try hard to avoid dealing with anything we don’t want to face and honestly that’s normal to some degree, but when we turn into ostriches, we’re only adding to the problems we are already ignoring.

You don’t have to track your weight, food or activity but when you suddenly realize that you only have two pair of nice slacks to wear and all the other pants that fit have spandex, you won’t have to ask yourself “when/ how did I gain so much weight?” Writing down what you ate, how much you ate, how much you weigh or how active you are is a simple way of just keeping an eye on your progress or status.  “This is where I am today!” If you don’t like where you are or you want to stay there, you have some perspective on what is working, what is not working or what is getting away from you. How you choose to keep track of this information is up to you.  Some people like putting it in an app and some like writing it in a journal or notebook– that decision is up to you, but not keeping track of basic information is just burying your head in the sand, and when you come up for air at last, you’re likely to find the landscape has changed in some really unpleasant ways.

 

 

Going Off the Rails! Weight Loss & Staying On Track

This would seem like the usual no-brainer: if you don’t stay with your healthy routine, you’re going to gain weight or at the very least, stop losing weight! Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, you didn’t lose weight before when you were eating burgers & fries, bowls of pasta and drinking all those sodas, so why should you lose weight eating them now? Like I said, it’s a no-brainer!

However, a funny thing happens when you’ve been following a healthy routine for a while: you lose focus. You start thinking “I’ve got this!”  It’s true: once you’ve been successfully losing weight or maintaining the loss for a few months, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what works for you and what doesn’t. That’s when it happens: you start going off track.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) calls it ‘drifting.’  I like to think of it as going off the rails, because what usually happens feels a lot like a train wreck to me!

Going off the rails usually starts with drifting.  It stems from that lack of focus and not being as careful as most of us need to be.  Th problem compounds on itself and then before you know it, you’re somewhere you don’t want to be and have to start the difficult process of getting back on track! We all know it’s easier to just stay on track and don’t let ourselves drift, but for most of us, it’s a lot like shutting the barn door after the horse has gotten out! In other words, by the time we know what to look for or that we should start looking, it’s too late and we’re in the middle of a train wreck!  I’m starting to feel a lot like Prof. Mad Eye Moody, shouting “Constant vigilance!” at everyone I see, but hopefully I’m not that bad yet (yeah, there’s another empty barn!)

It begins with little things, such as having a latte instead of just coffee with cream, or sharing a dessert with a friend at lunch.  By themselves, none of these qualify as ‘bad behavior,’ but we usually don’t stop with these little things.  The little things compound on each other and instead of being an occasional occurrence, they become once a week, then multiple times a week until they somehow turn into a ‘daily treat.’  Once in a while, they aren’t ‘train wreckers,’ but one after another on a regular or daily basis, they knock your carefully crafted healthy routine off the rails.  We all know this happens.  Like I said, it’s a no-brainer! The question is: since we all know this happens, why do we end up doing it?

That goes back to the other idea I mentioned above: “I’ve got this!”  We start feeling in control of our eating choices, our workouts, our activity, how much or how often we’re eating– whatever our particular weakness is! We’ve been ‘in control’ for a while now so we start thinking we can loosen our grip on the reins a bit. I don’t want to make it sound like having one cookie with a friend is going to send you on a wild out of control cookie binge or that you can never go down the bakery aisle at your local supermarket without fear of gobbling all their snickerdoodles, but keeping count of how many cookies you had in the last couple of weeks isn’t a bad idea.  It’s one thing to make a conscious decision to have a cookie or share a dessert or even splurge on fabulous garlic bread if that’s your thing, but when those treats become more than occasional or even daily, then we’re back wondering just when we went off the rails and how do we find our way back on track. Even worse, we’re going to have to ‘fix’ the damage that train wreck caused!

I’m going to use a dirty word here: tracking!  Yeah, yeah, no one likes tracking! It’s a hassle; it’s annoying; it takes a long time! Blah blah blah! I’m going to respond with one of my favorite words: crybaby! You think it’s a pain in the butt to write down everything you eat? How about having to stick your finger multiple times a day to check your blood sugar? How about having to pick up your diabetes medication every month or worse, giving yourself your daily insulin injection? Think that’s a pain in the butt?  How about pain in your knees because you gained your weight back? Or having to go back to your old ‘fat clothes’ because all those new clothes you bought don’t fit right anymore? Remember what it felt like getting dressed and wondering if this is the day the button pops off your pants at the office? Loathe though I am to admit it (because I was one of those tracking crybabies too!), tracking really does work. When we write down everything we eat every day, it’s easy to look back and see that you had six cookies on the weekend when were out with friends and you’ve had three more cookies after dinner this week and then there were the two cookies you got at Starbucks on your way home, and ….. OMG! that’s almost a dozen cookies this week! Ack! No more cookies! No more cookies!

That’s basically what tracking is for! When you can look back at the end of the week, or even just the end of the day, you can see where you went a little wacky with the sweets or the popcorn or whatever, and remind yourself that those foods are treats and not part of your regular menu.  They are to be indulged in for a special occasion and ‘Tuesday after work” isn’t a special occasion!

How you track is also up to you.  The most basic definition is just what I said above: writing down everything you eat and drink during the day.  Some people like to be very specific and write down how much they ate, when they ate and how they feel mentally and physically after eating.  If you want to weigh it all and count calories, that’s up to you.  For some of us, weighing and measuring can be a big help when you’re starting out because it gives you an idea of portion size.  When you look at the label on a bag of nuts and it says one serving is 28 grams and has 200 calories with five servings in a bag, it gives you all the relevant information except what 28 grams actually looks like!  The same thing is especially true with sauces like salad dressing.  We squeeze a bunch all over our salad because “that looks right” but how many calories did we put all over our healthy 35 calorie salad? 250? 350? Most salad dressings have about 120 calories per two tablespoon serving and once you get a good idea of how what two tablespoons actually looks like, you’ll understand how people can gain weight eating only ‘healthy salads’! The same thing happens with the cheese they put on that ‘healthy salad’ or on their bunless burger!

You don’t have to weigh or measure everything you eat and drink unless you want to, but if you suddenly find your healthy routine has become a train wreck and you don’t know how you got there, tracking is a good place to start getting back on that track! It gives you a direction and it lets you know when you make a wrong turn.  Even if it’s just the basic ‘what you ate without portion sizes,’ it can still let you know maybe you had too many carbs in the last month or maybe too much fat or maybe you just ate too much! Of course, that also means you have to look at it once in a while! I know a lot of people who never look at their bank statement and then wonder how they ended up being overdrawn on their account: ummm, it’s another no-brainer! Statements and food journals only work when you look at them!

I personally use two food journals: one paper and one online.  I like the paper one because I’ll make other notes in it but I also log what I eat into My Fitness Pal, which is available online and as an app. It has the added benefit of telling you how many calories, carbs, fat and protein are in what you ate, lets you keep a calorie limit and when you close out your diary for the day, will give you an estimate of how much you’d weigh ‘if every day were like today.’ Granted the estimate isn’t very accurate, but it shows you your trend. If your goal weight is 180 and you’re over your calorie limit and ‘you’d weigh 274 in five weeks if every day were like today,’ that’s not a good thing unless you already weigh over 274! My Fitness Pal (MFP) has several other benefits that I like but again, how you choose to stay on track is up to you.  The only requirement is that it has to work! No one wants to end up seeing all their hard work undone and that’s what happens when we go off track.  Keeping a food journal is a simple technique that needs to do nothing more than list what you ate and drank in a day. The trick is using it every day and looking at it on a regular basis. If you find your clothes are getting tight or that your knees are starting to hurt again, which is the bigger hassle: gaining your weight back or writing down what you’re eating?

The paper food journal I use: https://www.amazon.com/DIETMINDER-Personal-Fitness-Journal-Exercise/dp/0963796836

The food scale I use: https://www.amazon.com/Ozeri-ZK14-S-Digital-Multifunction-Kitchen/dp/B004164SRA/ref=sr_1_4?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1532037990&sr=1-4&keywords=ozeri+food+scale

 

 

 

“I Don’t Eat That Much”: Weight Loss, Reality & Denial

We’ve all said the statement above, some of us more than others.  We order takeout, we serve ourselves at home or we buy something pre-made in a store and it doesn’t seem like it’s too much food. Do we really stop and look at the nutrition information or the number of servings per package?

The FDA recently had packaging labels changed to help combat the growing obesity epidemic.  Now they not only tell you how many servings per package/ bottle, how many calories in a serving but also how many calories in the whole package/ bottle.  Let’s be honest: when we buy something that has more than one serving per package or bottle, do we really have one and then save the rest for later? I know I don’t! That 20 ounce bottle of SoBe Green Tea doesn’t look like it has 200 calories but it does. And how many of those do we drink in a week? Or even just a hot summer day? It’s just one bottle! It’s not that much!

The problem is we say that about most of the things we eat and drink: it’s one taco or it’s one burger or it’s one piece of cake! It’s not that much! Those ‘not that muches’ add up over the course of a day, a month and a lifetime. One fast food lunch a day adds up pretty quickly, which would be bad enough but it also tends to be the start of a slippery slope leading to portion distortion and bad habits.  We get used to eating out at lunchtime during the week and then it spills over into our evenings and weekends.  The one fast food lunch becomes multiple fast food lunches and then the occasional dinner or weekend meal and the ‘not that much’ meal of a taco, burrito and soda or the burger, fries and soda start to add up fast. One of those meals once a month really isn’t that much, but it’s never just once a month, is it?

The other thing that happens is portion distortion.  How much are we really eating? When I go out with my dad to our favorite salad bar buffet, I can get one spoonful of seafood salad, one spoonful of broccoli salad and one spoonful of fruit salad, but each spoon is a different size! Looking at it on the plate, how much food is it and when does it become too much?  The same thing happens if we order entrees at a restaurant: do we have to eat the whole entree? Is that chopped steak and veggies one serving or two?  It may not look like much, especially if you are used to getting a 6 oz sirloin steak (1.5 servings).  Most restaurants put more than one serving on a plate and that healthy green salad you order has enough dressing for two. When we ask for it on the side, that little container is nearly three servings of dressing and even if we only put half the container on our salad, we’re still getting more than one serving.

There’s nothing wrong with helping yourself to the 6 oz sirloin, green salad with three tablespoons of dressing and the steamed veggies with butter as long as we’re keeping track of how much we really ate. That meal sounds pretty yummy to me!  The problem is that we tell ourselves that it’s “not that much” or that it’s only “one meal” when it’s really closer to one and a half or two meals. It gets worse when we convince ourselves that we can have a “little treat” later since our meal of steak and veggies was so healthy! The meal was healthy, yes, but it was still more food than most of us need at one sitting and what do we end up choosing for our “little treat?” A lot of grocery stores now sell single slices of cake or single cookies, which is a good thing for people who live alone like me.  However, the Safeway sells cake slices that weigh 6 or 7 ounces (2 layers with frosting) and their double pack of cookies are each the size of my palm! The local chain closer to my house sells 3 oz cake slices (single frosted layer) and their single cookies are 2″ diameter instead of nearly 6.  So “one cookie” or “one slice of cake” has a very different meaning depending on where I buy it!

Many dieters are used to keeping a food diary either online or using a notebook and a calorie counting book. I use My Fitness Pal online and I keep a paper journal with notations for easy reference.  I also use a food scale to keep me honest! That one piece of chocolate fudge cake  cake that shows up as “0.08 cake” for 350 calories is a little fuzzy: how much is 0.08th of a cake?  Sometimes the database has ounces and sometimes it doesn’t: what kind of cake? where did you get it? is it homemade? The same goes for the cookies: weighing and measuring gives you some concrete numbers but it’s really not so much about how many calories you are eating– it’s as simple as how much you are eating!

If you are trying to stick with a calorie goal, that’s great! That works for some people and myself, I like to have a ballpark figure of how many calories I am consuming just so I don’t fall victim to this problem. Just knowing that you had two eggs, two ounces of bacon, three ounces of hamburger, a couple of cups of baby spinach with a hard boiled egg and two tablespoons of vinaigrette gives you an overall idea of what you have already consumed and what you should be thinking about for dinner.  Writing it all down and keeping notes about how active you were during the day and how hungry you were or weren’t after eating each meal also lets you know your overall energy baseline.  Is that enough food for you? Is it too much?  How hungry are you the next day? Does it leave you feeling tired, like not enough energy?

Most of us (like me) gain weight because we convince ourselves that we aren’t eating “that much food” when in truth, our plate can be a serving platter for others. We get used to eating foods that aren’t the healthiest, that have more calories than we think and we get used to eating a lot of food at one time.  When that happens, we literally stretch out our stomachs to the size of a watermelon or a football. We don’t do this on purpose and we aren’t being gluttons, but the portions and opportunities for eating creep up on us and that quarterpound burger that was so huge when we were in college isn’t enough for us in our forties, because our stomach has gotten bigger over the years.

Our eyes are used to seeing big portions and our stomachs are used to getting full and even our brains are telling us “it’s not that much food!” When we stop and look at the actual numbers: 3 oz, 6 oz, 20 oz and if we add in the calories, we get to 2000 calories pretty quickly.  Just a little bit of a reality check! “I’m eating how many calories in a day?!” “How many pounds of food did I eat today?!” So when we want to know why we’re not losing weight when we’re not eating ‘that much food,’ maybe we need to remind ourselves just how much food we’re really putting in our mouths.

Drifting Along: Weight Loss & Going with the Flow

One of the dangers with weight loss and work out plans is what’s called “drifting.” This is where you kind of lose your drive or motivation and, while it’s not quite going through the motions, it’s close. You’ve lost your focus and are just floating along with the current, doing things the way you’ve always done them.

Drifting or going with the flow is a little different than what I refer to as my “comfortable old rut.”  You may have heard me refer to this rut when in some of my posts about trying to talk myself out of going to the gym or not making it to my workout class.  Even though my brain is frantically trying to come up with a ‘valid’ excuse why I can’t go, because I’m stuck in my rut, I find myself turning into the gym parking lot without thinking about it.  Why? Because my brain was on Autopilot and followed its comfortable rut and we end up going to the gym because it’s Monday or Wednesday.

With drifting, you aren’t paying attention to your workout or your eating: you are going through the motions without any conscious thought.  You are eating the foods on your eating plan, and doing your workouts but you are phoning it in. Are you engaged when you are working out?  Are you putting forth as much as effort as you can?  When it comes to your diet, even though you are choosing the fresh veggies, are you watching portion size?  Or dressings?  When you eat, do you check to make sure you are actually hungry or do you eat the ‘approved foods’ simply because it’s meal time?

Drifting is a lot like drowsy driving. Most of us have been behind the wheel when we are less than fully alert and it seriously scares the living daylights out of me. You can feel your eyelids getting heavy and usually you begin to weave in your own lane.  Usually the side of the road or the lane reflectors will wake you back up and then you slowly begin to drift off again.  Your reflexes are also less than optimal, since it takes you a couple extra seconds to realize that ‘something happened’ that caused the car ahead of you to stop or swerve and then you react.  Sometimes those two extra seconds are the difference between an accident and a close call.  You are literally on Autopilot, going through the motions without really paying attention to what is going on around you.  How can you pay attention? You’re half-asleep!

This is what happens when we drift or go with the flow.  We keep doing things the same way we’ve always done them– or at least, we think we are!  Whether we are or not, we need to be paying attention.  When we think we are doing things the same way as usual, drifting can mean things like our portions slowly get a little bigger because we aren’t paying attention.  The size of our burger patty goes from 3 oz to 4 oz then to nearly 5.  Our salad might also get bigger and while most veggies are fairly low cal (especially greens), the amount of salad dressing grows proportionally from two tablespoons to almost four. The same with our ‘coffee drink’: no longer the Tall, it’s now a Grande.  We aren’t really paying too much attention since it creeps up on you.  That ‘occasional’ Grande Dark Roast is now a Grande Latte or a Grande Macchiato.  The lunch salad with dressing on the side may not change, except that now you are using the whole container of dressing instead of half or less.  That ‘serving’ of nuts you normally have as a midday snack goes from a closed fist of nuts to an open handful, which is almost 50% more for some of us.

This isn’t because we’re being greedy: it’s because we aren’t really paying attention to what we are eating and how much we are eating.  We are going through the motions: “nuts are on my list, so nuts are safe!” An ounce of nuts is ‘safe,’ but that ‘handful’ is probably about two or more.  Not safe!  Just like the mayo you put in your ‘healthy tuna salad.’  Is it really two tablespoons or is it closer to twice that because you’re ‘eyeballing’ the amount as you go through the motions?

I don’t want to turn everyone into a Diet Weights & Measures Nazi, but I do want all of us to pay attention.  There’s nothing wrong with ‘eyeballing’ a portion size of meat or salad dressing, provided that every so often you ‘spot-check’ your assessment.  That can mean throwing that bit of flank steak on the scale to confirm that yep! that’s a 3 oz piece of meat!  The same with dressing or oils or nuts: check that the amount you served is the amount you think it is! It’s okay to have more as long as you recognize it: I had two servings of cheese, not one! It can be that one serving (1 oz) isn’t enough for you. The point is to eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed, and if two ounces of meat and cheese don’t cut it, then they don’t cut it.  It also means that eating five ounces of meat and four ounces of cheese is probably too much for most of us and will probably leave us feeling like a blob.

Paying attention also means that before we eat, we have to ask ourselves: “am I really hungry? Do I want to eat because it’s meal time or do I want to eat because I am actually hungry?” Sometimes it helps to check the time of day and remind yourself when you last ate.  For myself, I got into the habit of getting a snack on my way home from work, so every work day about 3:30-4:00, my stomach would start growling.  It was expecting its snack!  The time of day, the location where I was (usually a gas station) or my actions would trigger the Snack Memory, and given that I’d usually eaten my lunch between noon and one o’clock, I wasn’t really hungry! If I ignored the growling and just drove home, usually after twenty minutes, I wasn’t hungry anymore.

Waiting a while is one of the best ways to determine if your ‘hunger’ is really ‘eating memory.’ If your body really needs food, after about half an hour or so, you are probably still hungry. For most of us, we can probably afford to skip a meal or two.  Many fans of Intermittent Fasting (IF) like to point out that most times, when they’re on a fasting day, even if it’s been a day or so since they’ve eaten, their hunger will usually go away after about a half an hour or so. Hunger is just our body’s way of letting us know it’s expecting or it needs fuel.  This is why I like to do a mental check of what I ate when and how much I ate.  If I skipped breakfast and it’s now 11:00, then the hunger is usually genuine, especially depending on how much or little I had for dinner the night before.  If I had a breakfast wrap/ burrito and it’s about 11:00, then I am usually not genuinely hungry. It really means I’ve metabolized the carbs in the wrap or tortilla so my blood sugar is dropping which triggers the hunger response.  (I like to avoid carbs in the morning for this very reason!)

One of the reasons most of us, including me, gained as much weight as we did is because we eat when we’re not hungry and we react to hunger like it’s the dinner bell. We eat because it’s meal time; we see a snack we like; someone offers us food; we’re getting something to drink so we get something to eat; we eat at every available opportunity!  It doesn’t make us gluttons: it means we’re reacting to our conditioning! Humans are pretty much hard-wired to eat when food is available because even just a few decades ago, food wasn’t all that accessible for some of us. Those of us with dogs know that most of them will eat the entire bowl of food or eat until they can’t eat anymore.  (I had a Queensland mix who’d eat until she threw up!) It’s the same idea: we don’t know when food will be available again, so fill ‘er up!

This was the same up until food became more convenient (i.e. processed) and cheaper but now that it’s pretty much available at any local gas station or vending machine, we are still eating every time food crosses our path! Now, we need to do a literal ‘gut check’ before we eat: are we really hungry or are we just eating to eat? It’s a little thing and to be honest it’s kind of a pain to remind ourselves each time we go to eat or drink something, but it helps us stay focused and it keeps us from drifting away.  In a sense, it keeps us tied to our goals.  There is nothing wrong with ‘going with the flow,’ as long as you are doing the steering and not letting circumstances and apathy guide your way!

 

 

Watch Where You’re Going! Weight Loss & “Constant Vigilance”

We’ve all heard the phrase “keep your chin up!” It’s supposed to keep you feeling like a success and encourage you to stay strong.  It also really helps if you want to know where you are going. Realistically, if you don’t watch where you are walking, you will probably trip over something, but it also works for weight loss since if you don’t watch where your weight loss is going, you probably won’t get there.

While I’m not necessarily talking about tracking (people react so negatively to that term!), I am suggesting that not paying attention is a proven method for failure.  Not paying attention makes it easy to give in to excuses, to make exceptions and to ‘plan for later,’ until one day you get on the scale and realize that you’ve not lost any more weight or — horrors!you’ve gained! How the heck did that happen?!

Not to be a nag, but if you were paying attention, you’d know how that happened! And if you are honest with yourself, looking back, it’s fairly obvious how that number got on the scale. For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, you might remember Professor Mad-Eye Moody’s refrain of “Constant vigilance!” and while you don’t have to be super strict with yourself, being aware and paying attention are the most important parts of weight loss.  That simply means if you’re out with friends on a Friday night, it’s okay to choose the jalapeno poppers and beer as long as you are aware that they’re not going to be ‘fat loss friendly’ and that making a weekly habit of them is going to slow (or stop) your weight loss unless you make some adjustments to your eating plan to take out some things that you enjoy less.  While this seems like a no-brainer, the problem comes with making exception after exception or ‘adjustment after adjustment’ until we have ‘adjusted’ our way from weight loss to weight gain.

There are a lot of dieters who simply refuse to track because “I know what I eat!”  Unfortunately, these are often the same people who get up one day and wonder why their pants feel a little snug and then when they get on the scale or take out the tape measure, are shocked to discover that they’ve put on a few pounds. It’s like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky! “How could I have gained weight?!”  Well, if they had tracked what they ate, they’d have a pretty good idea of where those pounds came from: the month of Fridays out with friends; the bagels they had a couple times or more a week for the last three weeks; that pizza party for the kid’s birthday along with the cake and ice cream… and hot dogs, chips, wings and pretzels at the baseball game, and then there was dinner out with friends (pasta, garlic bread and tiramisu with wine).  Those ‘exceptions’ to our healthy eating plan somehow stopped being actual ‘exceptions’ and pretty much became the rule.  They probably felt like true exceptions at the time, since they were most likely spread out over a month or more, but when taken together, it seems pretty obvious that they really aren’t aberrations to how you eat any more. That’s what makes tracking so valuable.  We really do forget what we ate and how much we ate, even if we really are paying attention. We look at the big plate of pasta and garlic bread and think “yeah, I’ll remember eating this!”  Maybe for a day or so, but after a week, when our friends suggest the nachos and beer out at the pub, we may not remember that Tuesday night pasta on Saturday night.  Or those bagel bites we had on the Wednesday morning meeting. Or that we had small slice of cake on Monday because it was Cheryl-at-the-office’s birthday.  All these things add up and on Sunday when we stand on the scale or whip out the tape measure, we might be a bit perplexed that there’s no loss.  Instead of being confused and wondering why you hit a plateau, if you had a record of what you’ve eaten for the past week, you could see why that ‘plateau’ is really just poor eating choices.

Tracking your food doesn’t mean that you have to weigh everything you eat and count each nut and seed that goes in your mouth.  It’s really as simple as watching where you are going and noting where you have been.  If it’s a handful of macadamias, you don’t need to weigh them.  If it’s a small slice of cake, you don’t have to ‘estimate the ounces’ or what’s in the frosting– you just need to make a note of what you ate.  Writing it down as you eat it or at the end of the day is the least you need to do.  Although I have an app on my phone, I like using a paper food journal since it’s easier for me to flip through.  I like putting it in the app right after or before I eat it so I don’t have the time to ‘adjust’ the portion sizes.  (It’s amazing that a half a bagel at noon can seem more like a a third of a bagel by the evening- it wasn’t that big, was it?)

This is part of the same thing that happens after a month or so of ‘exceptions.’  “I’ve been really good/ really trying, so why did I gain weight?” The stark black and white reality of what actually passed through your lips explains those extra pounds on your hips! When you- or since we’re being honest here- I flip back over the past weeks, and there’s page after page with entries like “bread,” “cookies,” “frozen yogurt,” “chocolate,” “chocolate,” “dark chocolate” (just to change things up!), it’s pretty obvious why my bathing suit is a little tighter than it used to be.  I can blame ‘poor sleep’ and ‘lots of stress’ all I want but until I pay more attention to all those ‘exceptions,’ I’m not going to be losing any more weight!

However you choose to pay attention, watching where you are going as well as where you have been are good strategies for making sure you end up where you want to be! Even if it’s just in the Notes app on your phone, if you decide to eat something not fat loss friendly, it wouldn’t hurt to write it down in the Notes, so when your friends ask you if you want nachos and beer this weekend, you can open your app, remember that pasta and garlic bread on Tuesday and opt for either just the beer, just the nachos or neither.  You don’t have to be Constantly Vigilant, but keeping an eye out for trouble can keep you from unwanted surprises.

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 MemoryMinder.com, although I get mine from Amazon.  It’s two pages per day and it’s good for 90 days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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